Europeans may be short of cash but there was no shortage of posh cars - as well as some for the average driver - at the Paris motor show. Driven was there too.
Europe's collective wallet may be bleeding, but you wouldn't have thought so when the doors were flung open at the Paris motor show.
The world's automotive industry put on a brave face but it was hard to get past the fact that some manufacturers are cutting sales projections and hunkering down to weather further misery, while others are crossing their fingers that the whole wobbling mess might just go away.
But the sheer breadth of shining new products on show this year made it easy to forget the black fiscal clouds hanging over the continent, with high-end stars such as Peugeot's polarising Onyx concept (and matching hybrid super-scooter), an electric blue metallic Electric Drive SLS Mercedes-Benz, Jaguar's F-Type, McLaren's P1 ubercar and a resurrection of Maserati's famous Ghibli nameplate.
Machines for the rest of us include Volkswagen's seventh-generation Golf, the new Mazda6 and its natural enemy, the Mondeo; a rorty update to Audi's S3; Chevrolet's tough-to-love Manchester United-pimping Trax; the highly-anticipated Peugeot 208 GTi and Vauxhall/Opel's dubiously-named Adam, which can be highly individualised by customers at no extra cost.
Legions of bizarre-looking electric cars ranged from cute and clever, and in some cases plainly ridiculous, and showed the growth of the EV is rampant at the smaller end of the automotive industry. Should these ambitious little companies survive long enough to get their crazy composite-shelled machines on the roads, it will open up a very different boutique motoring marketplace that will be far more accessible than low-run vehicles have traditionally been.
While there was an obvious commitment to reducing the environmental impact of the industry as a whole, Greenpeace wasn't having a bar of it. Three members were arrested after dropping a huge flag into the Golf 7 presentation reading: "Volkswagen: nous fume" (we smoke). In fairness to Volkswagen, the new Golf is the cleanest version ever, with its brilliant diesel returning hybrid-like numbers - 3.2l/100km combined, and 85g/km of CO2.
Local campaigners were dominant, with the Peugeot/Citroen and Renault rivalry perfectly illustrated by their stands. Peugeot's began with the Onyx concept, its brilliant use of materials like high-density paper and an angular, low-slung body to die for, matching 400cc hybrid scooter that can nudge 150km/h, while mixing in the new 208 and its lovely GTi derivative and other range staples such as the 4008.
Citroen showed a host of people-moving machinery that had more hidden storage space than a Coatesville mansion with the delightfully low-slung Numero 9 concept spinning in the middle. Its hero was the new cabrio version of the DS3. The Tubik concept fronted up, too - a modern take on the mighty custom van of the 70s.
Renault faced Peugeot and Citroen with a giant display wall that could peel back corneas and fry brains at 200m. Video and colourbursts were projected across new Clios, all neatly organised by hue in a little Renault rainbow. The Clio is a great-looking hatch, punctuated by a turbo-toting RS version, echoing the staunch look of the recently released RS265 Megane. There were a few iterations of its tiny Twizy electric, quite alluring despite its strange seating configuration and unnecessary two-door layout.
Partner Nissan bolstered Renault's presence and, while showing a lot of familiar product, did present the genius piece of engineering that is DeltaWing Le Mans racer, and the weirdly attractive little Pivo, that pivots (clever) on a dime, using its rear wheels. Highlight was the well-formed Terra zero-emission concept SUV, a tasteful design step with strong lines.
In both sedan and wagon forms, the new Mazda6 is a larger version that we're used to in New Zealand, and features highly sophisticated lines and a beautiful front end. By time you read this, we will have driven the new car in France and will be able to provide more information on the trio of diesel and petrol options that will be available at home - see Saturday's Driven for more.
The balance of Mazda's show was fairly familiar, including the updated 2013 MX-5 that we'll welcome to New Zealand in a matter of weeks. The new 6 was the company's star, no doubt, showcasing the company's progress with SkyActiv - the 2.2 diesel is emitting just 103g/km of C02, less than Ford's impressive little three-pot EcoBoost engine.
Ford's new Mondeo was on display, with its Aston-ish angles and the bulbous bonnet which will soon be hiding that wee one-litre EcoBoost that's in the Focus and Fiesta. Clever as it is, putting the 92kW mill into a weighty player like the Mondeo, might be a dumb move.
New from the Toyota stable is the fantastic-looking LF-CC 2+2 coupe. Aside from its astonishingly distasteful orange-licked interior, that is. The car screams the new Lexus design language - the chromed spindle grille becoming more of a focal point than the brand's generally conservative buyer may accept. But it is still only a concept.
Porsche impressed with a remodelled Panamera concept - the e-Hybrid plug-in Sport Turismo, capable of 130km/h while running on battery only, and Porsche claims an almost-unbelievable 3.5l/100km and 82g/km. The remodelled rear end on the concept car has turned Panamera into what it always should have been - and it is quite beautiful in the metal.
Before the show, one of the most anticipated machines was McLaren's F1 replacement, the P1. It is beautiful. While the company is being typically coy on mechanical details, one interesting aspect is the rear wing, which not only pops up when required, but slides backwards and forwards to suit airflow. Clever.
A hugely pleasant surprise sat on a sloping wall on the Mercedes-Benz stand - the already gorgeous SLS, refinished in a wild, reflective electric blue (right), and fed by an Electric Drive powerplant.
This is the production version. Well-heeled buyers will be forking over more than €400,000 ($620,000) to be at the dominant end of the EV spectrum. An electric motor at each corner gives it 552kW and a giant-felling 1000Nm of torque. If I were packing electric components into quirky little packages like those aforementioned EV boutiques, I'd be shaking like a leaf.
The Jaguar F-Type and the new Range Rover - best of "British" - deservedly grabbed a lot of attention, with one of the Range Rovers levitating over a pool of water. Land Rover's new take on the famous nameplate is a nice one, with a pared-back interior featuring a clean centre stack with some solid back buttons and a wholly purposeful overall stance that looks to the future without insulting its heritage.
And then there's the Jag. The F-Type was always going to be the most talked-about vehicle at the show, so it was nice to see the finished product rather than the disguised version that we've been teased with.
It will tote three engine options, two supercharged sixes or a supercharged V8. There's already talk that the two-litre EcoBoost that has found its place in everything from sensible Volvos to the quietly Falcon will be slotted in later. It was discouraging to see that only eight-speed automatics will be fitted to a car that traces its lineage - in name, anyway - back to greats like the E-Type and D-Type.By Matt Greenop Email Matt