Geneva 2018 Reflections – The Lion the Cross and the Curve

Two significant saloon cars debuted at Palexpo this week, but according to our man pounding the show floor, only one makes the grade.

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As any traveller will tell you, getting upgraded from economy is much easier said than done. Indeed, the more habituated one is to travel economy, the key to that threshold appears even more arbitrary and capricious. PSA knows all about this. Having squandered brand-Peugeot’s upmarket credentials during the 1980s and having got their creepy ‘drive-sexy’ phase out of the way latterly, the Lion of Belfort has been painfully clawing its way back to some semblance of stylistic and reputational credibility.

Last year’s EcotY-winning 3008 crossover marked a turning point for Peugeot, being perhaps the first Sochaux product to suggest a tangible return to form; a view espoused both by the press and buying public alike. Sales too have proven robust, with the model in a strong third position ahead of rivals like Kia/Hyundai, Ford and Renault.

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But in the D-segment saloon sector, the fading 508 model has struggled against the likes of VW’s dominant Passat on one hand and upmarket German marques on the other. So this week’s showing of its replacement cannot come a moment too soon. The new 508, which eschews the once inviolate three-volume arrangement for more of a Skodaesque hatch, has elicited a broadly warm reception from the massed press corps, but what does our German correspondent make of it?

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“It’s not bad, I have to say. I was quite disappointed at first, but the more I saw it, the more I got it. Even that DRL, those fangs – they’re okay. I could live without them but they’re not as jarring as on a Talisman, for example. Yes, you could debate the black rear lights, which are a bit ’80s, but the basic proportions are very good for a front wheel drive saloon and the detailing is just on certain occasions a little overdone. But next to pretty much everything which came out in that class recently, it’s superior, and certainly far superior to its immediate predecessor”.

Moving inside, the news is even more positive. “The cockpit is very good, apart from the piano black, of course, which is not particularly practical. But in terms of the ergonomics and how they integrate the monitor and so on, it’s quite smart and rather unusual, in a good way.”

Audi spent fruitless decades in the premium lounge’s anteroom, before eventually gaining admittance. Now an established upmarket player, perhaps the good people in Ingolstadt don’t feel they need to try so hard. Certainly, it’s undeniable that Audi design, that once inviolate bastion of glacial, considered understatement and exquisitely scribed surfacing has become mired in a protracted creative slump; one the departure of previous styling chief, Wolfgang Egger has done little to assuage.

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Frankly, the 2014 appointment of Marc Lichte, while heralding change, has merely delivered a series of stylistic disappointments which range from the holy mortifying shame of the Q2 to the bloated vapidity of last year’s A8 flagship and everywhere in between – the single unifying factor being a mystifying degree of visual bankruptcy. Geneva sees the last of a trio of cars which took their inspiration from the well-received 2014 Prologue concept make its debut – the new A6 saloon.

It’s also the last of the big-hitters in this corner of the premium lounge to be replaced and despite remaining a credibly resilient sales performer to the end, holding a firm third place in its segment across Europe, it’s facing serious inroads by Volvo’s disruptive 90-series saloon / estate range. This means the new model must do more than simply hold station. And while there’s little doubt that Audi has got the fundamentals broadly right, the styling appears to be another matter altogether.

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Described by one design commentator as ‘the worst Audi of all‘, our Auto-Didaktic critic was not prepared to give it even that much credit, telling us, “The A6 is a shocker – it’s just shockingly bad. There’s just none of the restraint that used to come with Audi and makes its predecessor look like a masterpiece. The basic stance is okay, but not outstanding in any way. However, the surfacing is completely overdone and the detail is utterly overwrought”.

Fussy is a word that ought never be spoken in relation to the styling of an Audi, but we’re clearly not in Kansas (or indeed Ingolstadt as we know it) any more. “That crease on the rear door is just inexplicable – there’s no reason for that kink to be there. It just makes no sense whatsoever. It’s like a detail on some second rate Chinese design. I’m lost for words when it comes to the Marc Lichte cars. This is even less convincing than the 5-Series.”

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The bitter irony is that pretenders like Peugeot have to try twice as hard for the kind of volumes Audi would dismiss as abject failure. The new 508 on the surface of things at least, looks like being a creditable contender for class honours. Whether it can give the three rings of Ingolstadt any cause for concern is most likely a matter of fantasy, but given the relative stylistic effort expended, it could be argued that such an unlikely turn of affairs would appear entirely merited.

Further Geneva impressions are available here

Author: Eóin Doyle

Founding Editor. Content Provider.

12 thoughts on “Geneva 2018 Reflections – The Lion the Cross and the Curve”

  1. Most of the industry seems to have become overly pleased with what it can now achieve in terms of pressing creases into metal panels. Designers are indulging in gratuitous over-detailing, ‘just because we can’. What one is witnessing is a convergence of designs – this Peugeot and that Audi are now less differentiated than ever even though both sets of designers seems to be trying harder to add value in the quantity and level of sophistication of panel pressing features.

    1. A couple of years ago someone invented a way of making creases in panels not by using presses but by moving the panel between a pair of rolls. Those are much cheaper and the creases are much sharper than they’d be if they were stamped. As always, such achievements trigger a fashion and the feater is over-used until everybody has enough of it. Just like black bonnets in the Sixties or spoilers in the Eighties or rectangular exhausts in the Nineties.

  2. The new A6 is indeed pretty awful. All the undue hype about Audi’s ‘new styling direction’ has increased the pressure unnecessarily.

    The Peugeot on the other hand is pretty good. Some of the detailing jars – that silly trim detail on the C pillar for one. BMW has given up its Hoffmeister kink so Peugeot could have just lifted it wholesale.

    The silly side plate – sized steering wheel and WALL-E instrument binnacle will put me off, though.

  3. There is something quite “80’s” about the 508 (I mean that as a compliment). It’s smaller and lighter than the model it replaces, so perhaps that contributes to its ‘tighter’ look. The interior somewhat reminds me of the Renault 25’s, but I like it, nevertheless (it took time to get used to the look of it) and I think the ‘piano key’ shortcut buttons should work well – better than trying to jab at a screen while on the move.

    Incidentally, I think I may have spotted a new styling trope – the reverse-rake rear panel. The Audi A7 has had one for a while (I recognise it’s a tribute to an earlier model) and the Volvo S90 hints at one, too. I think it’s an attractive feature, but I wonder if it’s about to become much more common. That said, there must be a limit to its application (longer saloons and coupés).

  4. Some of you, like me perhaps, have been troubled by the fate of all those displaced lines and creases, now that good old Bob Lesnik has no further use for them. Many of you have written in to express your concern and to offer ‘thoughts and prayers’ for their safety – especially during the recent cold snap. So it’s a matter of some considerable relief and one for which Audi’s Marc Lichte deserves enormous credit, that Ingolstadt has seen fit to offer both asylum and gainful employment to the lines and creases for which Mercedes-Benz has no further use.

    1. This is pretty woeful. Thanks to Kris for offering to get so close to the car. The rear lamp solution does not belong on an Audi and I can´t think who might offer such an untidy assemblage of lines. Audi wrote the book on automotive design austerity and did very well indeed following those guidelines. That´s demonstrated by the fact their cars look good long after they cease production. This one has the disposable look of certain other marques at their notional worst.
      The 508 looks a lot better with that chrome detail on the C-pillar than the fussy black tab on the car I showed a few days back.

  5. The reverse-rake rear panel – well spotted! It’s a feature I really like, and for me it’s exactly what set the Audi A7 apart from all the other Audi designs. If I think of it, many of the cars I own(ed) have a hint of it: Citroën GS, CX and Xantia. However, in my mind, I always link it with Italianate elegance, without having a certain example in mind. More generally, it lightens the silhouette, which is a brave (and welcome) deed in today’s design landscape.

    What amused me in the text was the remark that the 508 looks good “for a FWD saloon”. I don’t know if this was Kris’ intention, but usually this means that it looks like it has RWD proportions.
    Why?
    There are many examples of very well (if not conventionally) proportioned FWD saloons. Peugeot had some of them in the 1980s, and Lancia’s saloons from the 1960s sport some of the most interesting proportions one can have. Of course this is overshadowed by many examples where the long front overhang together with a long boot lead to an ungainly short wheelbase, or where the overall proportions were better suited for a fastback/hatchback (the last Citroën C5 with its short boot, for example).

    1. You’re correct in pointing out my sloppy wording, Simon.

      Peugeot has a rich heritage of pleasingly proportioned FDW saloons, up to and very much including the 406. Since then, the demerits of that layout have been highlighted in borderline grotesque a manner by Peugeot’s offerings in this sector. The new 508 is very much a (literal) return to form in this regard. It’s also far superior to cars like the Renault Talisman or, to a lesser extent, the new Insignia, which struggle to turn the combination of long overhangs and ample extremities into a satisfying whole.

    2. Kris, I know that you’re a man of broad automotive taste, so my remark wasn’t pointed towards you in the first place. I just find it funny (or laughable) how FWD is almost synonymous with ‘bad proportions’ in some people’s eyes.

    1. Perhaps with all those lines and creases there wasn’t room for the fourth one. Mind you, with a gaping maw that wide, there’s probably room for another brace of ’em. Could it be that Mr. Lichte understands the concept of restraint after all?

      Never too late to correct a typo. Thanks for pointing it out, Padraig.

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