Limousines and Supercars Debut at Beijing Motor Show
The gulf between perception and reality is often enough to swallow entire countries whole. Take China, for example. The images many still conjure up in their heads when thinking about the Asian giant might come down to squalid shanty towns oppressed by communist overlords. But with the free market taking a greater hold with each passing day, the People's Republic is quickly emerging as a vital market for purveyors of luxury goods, including high-end automobiles. Sure, the average peasant may be able to afford little more than a rickety bicycle, but with the world's largest population numbering over a billion people, even the top fraction of the socio-economic strata can overshadow entire nations.
Against such a backdrop, it should come as no great surprise that the world's premium automakers scrambled to the Chinese capital this year with a wide array of exotic and luxury automobiles. In fact the cars making their world debuts at this year's Beijing Motor Show were enough on their own to outshine the last major international exposition in Manhattan. Follow the jump to see what all the fuss was about.
The debuts which the high-end marques under the sprawling Volkswagen Group umbrella rolled out in Beijing might have been enough on their own to constitute their own show. First and foremost came the new flagship limousine from Audi, the long-wheelbase A8 L on which we reported on last week. Measuring 17.5 feet long, the A8 L packs a cavernous rear space – complete with fully adjustable, reclining and climate controlled seats, a center console with integrated mini-fridge, twin 10.2-inch LCD displays and a 19-speaker Bang & Olufsen audio system – all driven by a 500-horsepower W12 engine driving all four wheels through a brand new eight-speed automatic transmission
The new Audi limo was joined by parent company Volkswagen's new Phaeton. A refreshed version of the range-topping luxury sedan which Volkswagen debuted in 2003 (and subsequently updated last year) offers a staggering array of technology that would make a Mercedes blush. The new-for-2011 Phaeton features digital cameras capable of reading road-side traffic signs and a navigation system integrating Google Maps, and is available with diesel or gasoline engines in six-, eight- or twelve-cylinder formats in two wheelbase lengths, giving the admittedly more prestigious nameplates from its home country a run for their proverbial money.
The company's British luxury marque Bentley didn't miss the opportunity to impress the crowds in Beijing either, rolling out a pair of special editions aimed specifically at the Chinese market. The Continental Flying Spur Speed China has been catered to local tastes with a more compliant suspension and muffled exhaust note that only serves to soften "the world's fastest luxury four-door saloon". The Continental GT Design Series China, meanwhile, upgrades on the popular ultra-luxe cpupe with three-tone leather interior and unique paint schemes.
Finally Lamborghini, another high-end automaker in the Volkswagen Group, took the occasion to debut a special edition Murcielago that, along with epic levels of performance, also boasts what is quite possibly the longest name in the automotive industry. The Lamborghini Murcielago LP670-4 SuperVeloce China Limited Edition packs the same 670-horsepower V12 as the "standard" model, but decked out in this special edition with bright orange trim over the otherwise subdued gray bodywork.
Lamborghini, however, wasn't the only exotic Italian sportscar-maker to unveil a new flagship in Beijing. Arch-rival Ferrari came to the Chinese capital with the new 599 GTO, making its world debut at the Pekin show. the fastest road-going Ferrari ever made, the new 599 GTO draws on past legends like the 60s-era 250 GTO and 80s-era 288 GTO, carrying the torch with the latest developments from Ferrari's ongoing F1-derived development program. With 661 horsepower coming out of the high-revving 6-liter V12 and a state-of-the-art lightweight chassis, the 599 GTO's 3.35-second sprint to 60 is rivaled only by the speed with which the entire run of 599 examples were sold – at around half a million dollars apiece – before the supercar ever reached the show stand.
Meanwhile the Daimler group rolled into Beijing with several new debuts. At the top end, Maybach unveiled a considerable refresh for its range. Available in 57 and 62 guises and in standard or more powerful S trim levels, the updated Maybach limos benefit from more efficient engines, refreshed bodywork and an interior packed with such luxury features as reclining rear seats, an electro-chromatic glass roof panel, a 19-inch flat-screen television monitor and even available crystal trim on the sumptuous leather upholstery.
Mercedes-Benz was also there in full force, premiering a new long-wheelbase version of its mid-range E-Class luxury sedan for the Chinese market. But the bigger draw from the Silver Star marque was the CLS Shooting Break concept. Previewing the next generation of svelte saloons from Mercedes, the CLS Shooting Break concept departs form the "four-door coupe" shape pioneered by the current CLS and adopts the Shooting Break body-style, traditionally applied to custom coupes with a wagon-like rear cargo space.
An even great surprise, however, came from BMW. The Bavarian automaker wowed the crowds with the new Gran Coupé Concept, which like the Mercedes CLS concept transcends traditional market segments and configurations with a fresh take on the four-door coupe format recently explored by the likes of the Porsche Panamera and Aston Martin Rapide. Expected to preview the next-generation 6 Series – be it in two-door or four-door format – the Gran Coupé further cements BMW's position as a market leader in segment-crossing already evident from vehicles like the 5 Series Gran Turismo and X6 crossover.
Like Mercedes, BMW also unveiled a stretched version of its mid-range sedan. Positioned between the existing 5 Series and 7 Series sedans, the 5 Series Long Wheelbase will be built in China specifically for the Chinese market, packing nearly half a foot of extra legroom in the back, complete with the latest in-car entertainment system, folding tables and adjustable sunshades.
Finally China's own automakers took their own stab at the stretched format with the Geely Emgrand GE. Taking its lead from such Japanese luxury marques as Lexus, Infiniti and Acura, Geely is launching its own Emgrand sub-brand with this hybrid limousine riding on a 124-inch wheelbase and offering all the luxury and prestige local premium buyers are looking for in a home-grown offering that, arguably more than all the imports on display in Beijing, serves as a sign of the times in what's rapidly emerging as one of the most vital luxury markets in the world.