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