Showrooms of the Champs-Élysées – February 2015

Even on a grey and rather refreshingly cold Sunday in February, Paris has plenty to offer. The absence of crowds during the morning suggested that many were either enjoying a lie-in or had found an indoor location to linger over the coffee and croissants, so I was able to amble up and down the Champs-Élysées without it feeling crowded, or even moderately busy. Not only is this a lovely stroll, with views of the grand buildings that line the side of the wide boulevard from the Place des Etoiles and Arc de Triomphe at the north western end all the way down to the Place de la Concorde, but it afford the opportunity to call into a number of car showrooms en route, something I have done on most recent visits to the city, and which I have always enjoyed. As ever, there was plenty to see in what constitute one of the sights of Paris. For sure. you could probably buy a car from any of them, but all 5 are there more for some brand awareness, with a range of attractions which go beyond just the cars on display. However, it was those which I came to see, and which are presented here:


Citroen’s C-42 showroom is the most spectacular of all 5, with a huge glass front to the building, and inside, a series of platforms on every floor and mezzanine on which a single car is placed. A staircase winds round the front and sides, so you get great views up and down of the displays, or if you turn round, of the street outside. Theme for the display during my visit was all around “the making of a Citroen”, so unlike previous times when I have called in, there were not complete cars on every level.  Indeed, there was only one, an example of the newly facelifted C4, a rather anonymously styled family hatchback which sits well below most people’s radars. The recent changes, worthwhile though they are, are unlikely to change that much, either.

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Otherwise, there was a “body in white” (or rather in yellow!) C4 Cactus, as well as a clay styling buck for the car, an interior mock-up and a chassis as well as one of the robots that is used in the assembly process. A number of display around the side walls provided additional detail on the various processes involved in getting from concept to a production model that you and I can buy.

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On the ground floor, there was a concept to see. the C-AirPlay, dating from 2005 when it was shown at the Bologna Auto Show.

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The basement contained a WTCC example of the C4 Élysée

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This showroom is not quite on the Champs-Élysées, but it still counts as one of the five. It has the smallest floor area, but more than makes up for this by extending over a number of floors, so there are still plenty of cars squeezed in.  With a number of brands in the portfolio, though, there can only ever be a subset of models available for inspection. On the ground floor, it was Jeep, with a Wrangler Rubicon and the recently released Renegade vying for attention. A Cherokee was in the glassed in display half way up the stairs.

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Fiat models shown were a Panda Cross and a limited edition 500L “Petit Bateau” as well as the new 500X.

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The Lancia Ypsilon was tucked almost apologetically into a corner. This stylish supermini sells strongly in Italy and decently well in much of the rest of Europe. Shown here was an Elle model.

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We will hear from Alfa later in the year with the launch of their 3 Series rival which may or may not be Giulia. Meanwhile, the top of the range apart from the 4C Compeitizione models are the Giulietta cars and the new Sprint version was available for inspection. This is a good looking car, still.

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Final car down in the basement was an Abarth 595C in the new for 2015 bi-colore colour scheme of Rally Beige and Record Grey. I don’t expect this particular colour combination to be a big seller, but of course my tastes and those of everyone else are not always in total sync.

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There was a Maserati Ghibli in another of the glass display cases, but reflections and its position completely defeated the photographer.

This Abarth 500 was parked up outside. Whether it was part of the dealership, or there by chance, I am not sure, but I felt it deserved inclusion here. (No bias!)

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A motor-sport theme dominated the Mercedes showroom, with the 2013 Formula 1 WO4 car of the type that was driven by Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton.

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Two DTM cars were also shown. Based on the C Class Coupe, the 4 litre engines generate 500 bhp, and there is a 6 speed gearbox through which to tap into the power. The cars weigh just 1100kg.

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Of the cars that you can buy, there was a CLA45AMG and a lesser A Class (tucked away right at the back).

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The layout of the Peugeot showroom is such that it always feels the most crowded, even though it does not contain many cars. Centrepiece was the sizeable 2008 Dakar Rally car. This is a 2008 only in name, although the overall line is at least close enough for you to be sure it is a Peugeot.

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Also on display was the 208 T16 Pikes Peak car which competed so effectively on this challenging “race to the clouds”.

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Marking the 30th anniversary of the much loved 205 GTi was a nice black example of this classic and the 30th Anniversary Edition of the latest car, the 208 GTi, complete with the distinctive split black and red paint finish.

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Centrepiece at the Atelier Renault was the new 5th generation Espace which goes on sale shortly. I first saw this vehicle at the Paris Show back in October 2014, and since then, there has been no real mention of it in the automotive press, so it was good to get the opportunity of a second look. This iteration is quite a departure from the previous 4 generations. Rather than offering a boxy type vehicle optimised to offer the maximum space for up to 7 occupants and their luggage, Renault have evolved this version to be more like an SUV. It’s still a physically large vehicle, from the outside, but inside, the feeling of roominess is gone. There is a decent amount of space for those in the middle row of seats, but the rear-most row are definitely cramped and for children only and when these are erect, there is next to no luggage room at all. Interior quality does look to be a step up from what went before, though. Will the change of direction work? Possibly. The market does seem to have moved from MPV/MiniVans to SUV/Crossovers, so perhaps Renault have judged well, but the fact that there are no plans to sell it in the UK suggests that Renault are perhaps not that optimistic that outside France it will find that ready a market. We shall see.

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Further back in the showroom were some more familiar cars that have been on sale for a while: Clio, Captur and the new Twingo. Whilst I like the styling of the new Twingo (something I cannot say about the Clio), the interior is a huge disappointment, with particularly nasty low-rent plastics. I do want to try one, though, to see what it is like.

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I hope I don’t get to drive a Clio again. I sampled one last year, and awarded it my “lemon the year” brickbat. Unpleasant in so many respects, I cannot work out why the UK press have claimed it is almost as good as a Fiesta. In my opinion, it is miles off in just about every respect.

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Reminder of the contribution made by Renault to the world of motor sport and Formula 1 came from the Red Bull RB8 car that was at the front of the showroom, on the right as you entered.

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Displays in the showrooms are changed a number of times a year, so since it was 4 months since my last visit, I had assumed that there would be something different to see in each of the 5. Whilst that was indeed true for the 4 marques already reported on above, in Toyota’s case, little had changed since October. Upstairs, much was being made of the fact that the facelifted Yaris (with a comedy front end, in my opinion, that shows how gauche Toyota’s stylists are when it comes to try to inject some character into their cars) is made in France.

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Downstairs, the Aygo was still the car which dominated the show space, with several examples of this small city car on show.

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Highlight for most (me included) was the Endurance Racer which was on a turntable to the right of the entrance door.

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As ever, an engaging couple of hours from my day in central Paris.

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