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  • irishtimes.com - Posted: September 27, 2012 @ 8:55 am

    Sir Not Appearing At The Motor Show

    Neil Briscoe

    Those of you who’ve read my recent review of the Mercedes CLS Shooting Brake will not have failed to notice that I’m a bit of an estate car fan. So much so that I consider them to be the superior species, the apogee of the car world. They make all those tall, bulky SUVs and MPVs just look silly, much of the time.

    So how delighted I was to see at the Paris show that the CLS Shooting Brake is about to get a play-mate and even more delighted to see that it’s coming from Porsche. The Panamera Sport Turismo is still officially a concept car, but its appearance in such realistic form on Porsche’s show stand surely means that it is only a hair’s breadth from production. The specification is mouth-watering using as it does the existing 3.0-litre V6 petrol engine tied in to a new stack of lithium-ion batteries which can be recharged from a domestic socket. This plugin hybird arrangement yields, claims Porsche, a dramatic 410bhp combined with a diminutive 82g/km of Co2. Homo Supernus indeed.

    Ticking all my personal boxes as it does (powerful, frugal, practical, Porsche badge on the front) the Panamera Sport Turismo did get me thinking about absences, specifically absences from the Paris show. You see, a while back, we were promised that Porsche was working hard on a new car, a four-door sports saloon, that would sit beneath the Panamera in the current range and act as a rival to the likes of high-end BMW 5 Series and Mercedes E-Class models. (Half)-Jokingly referred to as the Pajun (Panamera Junior) here was another car that seriously got my fancies tickled. While Porsche’s high-end models, bedecked with turbos, four wheel drive and whale-tails as they tend to be, garner all the headlines, it is almost always the lesser, more basic models that prove the most satisfying. It’s the case with the Boxster (2.7 is much more enjoyable to drive than the 3.4 S), 911 (base Carrera is the sweetest one) and I suspect that if it ever happens, the Panamera Minor will be awesomely good, quite apart from the fact that it brings four-door Porsche ownership fractionally closer to my car buying budget (€2 and a half-eaten packet of Tayto in part-ex, since you ask).

    So why is it not in Paris? Well, obviously because it’s not ready yet, but the mystery is murkier than merely that. Porsche is now, of course, a fully integrated member of the sprawling Volkswagen family and as such, its present and future model ranges have to be carefully thought out so as not to tread to deeply or heavily on the territory of a cousin. Given that competing with the likes of high end BMW and Mercedes models would also put the Pajun on a collision course with Audi’s S6 and S7, you might start to think that someone might have driven the Pajun plans out into the woods at night and told them it was time for “walkies.”

    And the Pajun isn’t the only one sadly missing from the rostrum. Where’s the Alfa Romeo Giulia?

    Alfa’s stand at Paris is, according to its own bumf, “a spectacular stand that brings the brand’s more dynamic and vital spirit to the fore.” Fair enough, and I do like the look of the special edition Mito that pays homage to that model’s use as the safety car for the Superbike World Championship, but the whole operation is looking a bit thin and threadbare. The Giulia is Alfa’s replacement for the now-departed 159, but it’s also more. It is meant to be the fulcrum around which a true re-invention of the Alfa Romeo brand will pivot; a proper rival to the BMW 3 Series and a shining statement of what a future Alfa will be like. But it’s not here. Why?

    A couple of reasons really. First and foremost, Fiat (and Alfa, Abarth, Lancia, Chrysler, Jeep and Dodge) boss Sergio Marchionne has screwed the lid down tight on any new model programmes for the moment, especially those which would need strong European sales. The razzmatazz of the Paris show is enticing, but right now it’s a thin facade behind which lies stagnant or falling sales and serious economic woes for all European-based car makers – even the premium ones now following announcements of cost-cutting an production reductions by Mercedes and Porsche this week. Marchionne’s response to the crisis has been sensible but dramatic; nothing new until we ride this out. That’s why the new Fiat Punto has been effectively cancelled and why there’s a Giulia-shaped hole on the Alfa stand.

    Of course, we should have seen the Giulia at the Geneva motor show earlier this year, but that was put back because Marchionne has twice sent the car and its styling back to the drawing board, dramatically lengthening its development cycle. That’s good, becuase it proves that Alfa is working harder than ever to make this crucial model right first time, but bad because it leaves Alfa with little to sell right now and less to talk about.

    A similar fate has befallen the small Jeep model, putatively called Jeepster, that will spin off from the Fiat 500 L. It will still happen and will likely take a bow at January’s Detroit motor show, but it’s a shame not to even see a hint of it at Paris.

    It may seem churlish to complain about what’s not at the show when there is such a plethora of new cars to see and talk about, but it must be noticed that an awful lot of the new metal on show (Jaguar F-Type, new Range Rover, Kia Carens, Opel Adam etc etc.) had been heavily plugged and shown off beforehand.

    Thanks goodness then for Porsche, for bringing along something surprising, if not necessarily the surprise we were expecting.

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