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2012 Paris Auto Show: A Car Buyer’s Perspective

  • Old favorites are reinvented.
  • Fresh models could become new favorites.
  • Hybrid technology remains important.

The 2012 Paris Auto Show is home turf for automakers like Renault and Peugeot. This is their big chance to wheel out an extravagant concept or three and prove that they still have relevance in the wider world with bold designs and innovative thinking.

But this holds about as much interest for American car buyers as conducting a conversation in Latin. For the non-French companies, though, Paris 2012 sees a more down-to-earth approach–even playing things safe. New generations of vehicles, such as the VW Golf and Land Rover Range Rover, take no chances with their core audience.

Most European cars that sell in the United States skew toward the higher-dollar end, and buyers will find plenty of choice heading their way–most notably with the new Jaguar F-Type convertible, the leaping cat’s first sports machine in decades.

Porsche made an unexpected splash with its Panamera Sport Turismo study. The company’s luxury 5-door sedan/hatchback had a new rear end grafted on, making it look more wagon-like. Even though such things are subjective, this treatment has been almost universally well received. The concept even had a plug-in-hybrid drivetrain. If this points to Porsche’s future, then it’s rosy.

But Porsche makes sports cars, remember? Somewhat drowned out by the rest of the ballyhoo, the company premiered new versions of its latest 911 that will definitely make the trip west: the all-wheel-drive 2013 Carrera 4 and 2013 Carrera 4S, exerting 350 horsepower and 400 hp respectively. Instead of spreading out its model launches, Porsche released both coupe and cabriolet body styles at the same time.

Potential MINI customers will remember Paris 2012 as the time when their options grew by a whole new model–the 2013 MINI Paceman, basically a coupe version of the Countryman–and an even more hardcore iteration of the original Cooper, the 2013 MINI John Cooper Works GP.

The JCW GP is a limited edition, with only 2,000 examples being built and 500 of those set aside for buyers in the United States. A hike of seven horses over the regular JCW brings the total to 218 hp from its 1.6-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder engine. The interior hosts just two Recaro sport seats, with the rear seating ditched in the interest of lightness, while the roof sports a carbon fiber rear wing.

The sprint from 0 to 60 mph happens in under 6.2 seconds, and top speed is 150 mph, making this the quickest production MINI so far. No pricing yet, but the 2013 John Cooper Works GP will start rolling off the assembly line later this year.

And that, ladies and gentlemen, was Paris. Next stop, the 2012 Los Angeles Auto Show at the end of November, where more than 20 world premieres are expected.

What it means to you: Overall, the Paris show has seen car manufacturers forsake frivolity in favor of gravity.

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