Canary Wharf MotorExpo – June 2015

The last official British Motor Show, a title “owned” by the SMMT and therefore whose use is carefully controlled, was held in 2008 at the ExCel in London’s Docklands. Since then all that has been offered to the British public have been various regional offerings, none of which have quite the same status or impact for manufacturers as those events held in Geneva, Frankfurt,  Paris, Detroit and other world cities, although the Moving Motor Show that precedes the annual Goodwood Festival of Speed gets quite close in many respects. And yet, there are still vast numbers of people in the UK who will turn out for car-related events, as evidenced by the crowds that turn out in all weathers at all manner of different venues around the country. Unless you want to head overseas – something which many people do now do, thanks to the low cost airlines, to see an assembly of new cars in one place, for most people, the best that can be achieved is some sort of regional offering. These tend to be dealer supported events, and hence the cars on show are those from their stock, and they vary from very limited (the recently held event in Bristol being a case in point) to quite comprehensive. Of this type of event, held around the country,  one of the few with a national profile is the Canary Wharf MotorExpo. Taking place during a week in early June, this event has apparently been running for 20 years now, one of a trio that the organisers hold (New York and Toronto being their other venues). Running for a whole week, the idea is that they house a number of cars close to where a large of number people work (over 100,000 people are based in Canary Wharf), and a number of models are available for demo drives on local roads. I’ve attended this event most years since I started working in central London,. and what was initially a really impressive show – focused on higher end models, in deference to the target audience of Canary Wharf workers, has, to my mind, dwindled to something that is going to take less than an hour to see in its full extent, a consequence to some extent of the reduced space available and also, I suspect, simply less interest from participating dealers and manufacturers. Looking at the event’s own web-site before attending, the 2015 MotorExpo promised to be really impressive, with the suggestion that there would be plenty of high end cars to see. Whilst most of the show cars were from the more premium and prestige brands, the reality turned out to be rather less than the promotional material suggested. It was worth a journey of 5 stops on the Jubilee Line from the office, and an hour of my time, but I would not say that it was worth a special trip into London, with one possible exception, which will be fairly evident in the report. Here is what there was to see.


This was the first time that Abarth have been at this event, and they were certainly capturing lots of interest with a prominent display position at the top of the steps coming up from Canary Wharf tube station heading towards Canada Square. The same box-like “stand” as had been in Bournemouth was present here, though it housed just two cars. One of them was a regular 500 Customer, equipped with a simulator in which you could test your reactions – responding to a green light with a stab of the accelerator pedal. I would willingly have done this again, as last time round the reward for so doing was a useful Abarth-branded knapsack and a huge Scorpion logo-ed towel which I am now using at the squash club. Sadly, they’d run out of these goodies, so I contented myself by looking at, and sitting in the Launch Edition 180 Competizione which was the more prominent of the two display cars. Finished in Cordolo Red, this is a great looking car to my admittedly biased eyes, and with all the standard kit that you get as well as the more powerful engine, a very tempting proposition.

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With a kerb-side location, the test cars that you could book and take out for a blast were right next to the stand. There was just a 500 Custom there when I first arrived, but on my return, my eye homed in on the Biposto. Whilst looking at it, the stand staff told me that it was not actually booked up for the next 30 minutes, so needless to say I abandoned all thoughts of returning to the office until I had been behind the wheel. My conclusions are to be found in a full Road Test, published separately. I know that  although a number of people booked a test drive and then failed to turn up (which is how I got lucky), but my fellow Abarth enthusiasts made the trip to Canary Wharf simply to get to drive this car, and everyone enjoyed the experience. Clearly this is how you get people to attend Motor Shows!

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Two Astons represented the range here, a V8 Vantage and the latest Vanquish Volante.

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Another newcomer to the event was Audi, who occupied a large area just outside one side of the entrances to One Canada Square that has housed BMW in previous years. The theme here was most definitely RS, with the top of the tree versions of three of the range, RS3, RS6 and RS7 joined by the latest TT Coupe in TT-S guise and the RS Q3. None of these cars really shout out particularly that they are quite so potent, which to my mind is a Good Thing, though I know that others disagree and bemoan the fact that the looks are almost too subtle.

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Audi had an RS4 and an RS6 in the test drive area. Had I been more organised or had more time, it would have been fun to get behind the wheel of both.

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Imperials, a dealer who had supplied a number of different marques for the event, had the latest Continental GTC Speed on show.

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In previous years, BMW have had a stand area, but this time there were simply a couple of their latest models parked up on the concourse area near the entrance to the Tube Station, an M4 and an X6, also supplied by Imperials.

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The Ferrari cars were inside and had rope barriers around them, so close to the car that they touched the bodywork, and ruined photography. I relented in the case of the 458 Speciale, but otherwise the camera could not be bothered, as the supplying dealer clearly did no want people to get good photos of their cars.

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I got cornered on the Inifinti stand by one of those brand reps who says that they want to know who visited, but in reality all they are trying to get is to get (not so warm) leads, so the price for these particular photos has been a number of emails including one from the local (in the looses sense of the word, given the paucity of dealers for the brand in the UK) noting that I had not responded to the mailing of an e-brochure. Shown here were the latest models including the Q70 was revised earlier in 2015 with a 2.2 litre diesel replacing the previous 3 litre model, as well as the rather disappointing Q50 that is hardly setting the sales charts on fire, and the QX70 (once called the FX series) and QX50 (formerly the EX). The cars are nice enough, especially for the US market, and now that they have the requisite diesel engines they sort of compete with the obvious premium brand rivals, better than fellow Japanese marque Lexus in some ways, but the lack of dealers would be irritating, and there’s nothing so compelling to make the car appeal over and above any rival.

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There was lots of nice stuff on the Jaguar stand. This was a chance to have another look at the XE. Finally in production and available if you take your shoe box of fivers down to your nearest Jaguar dealer, this is a good looking car from the outside and with a great interior. It is a bit tight for those in the back, but that would appear to be about the only downside, as by all accounts, it is the car to beat from a driving point of view. One of these days Jaguar will stop asking me re-re-re-re-register my interest in the car and actually co-operate with a test drive so I can experience it for myself.

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Even better in the looks department is the F Type, a car pretty much universally praised by everyone as one of the best looking cars on sale at present. It comes with a glorious soundtrack as well. Convertible and Coupe models were shown here along with the Project Seven version that we are told will be made in very small quantities.

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Completing the display were examples of the XF – a car that will be replaced by an all-new model later in the year – and the large XJ saloon.

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The dramatic Aventador was parked up inside, and – surprisingly – was attracting less attention than the Ferrari round the corner.

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Like Jaguar, the Land Rover display was split between indoors and outdoors. The majority of vehicles were outside, where one example of each model in the range could be seen, and these were complemented by a Range Rover Sport and a range Rover LWB parked up indoors.

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I also got talking to a lady on the Lexus stand, and needless to say, she was hoping I was going to agree with her assertion that the new NX is a thing of beauty. Of course. I did not, as I think it is contrived, and trying far to hard with all those creases and angles and lines, quite apart from the now trademark spindle grille. She told me that 90& of people think that the car looks good. I suggested that this could be because an awful lot of people do not comment, as whilst there are people who approve, there are an awful lot of people who are literally aghast at the latest Lexus designs. From there we talked about Lexus’ new styling direction, and how it is a bold move. and how it will be interesting to see if it comes off for the brand or not. She did observe rather wistfully, looking at the adjacent Mercedes stand, that Lexus cannot compete with the Three Pointed Star or BMW on volume, which is odd, as the resources of parent company Toyota are at least as great as those of the German marques, and Lexus sells very strongly in the US, so I suggested that perhaps they had not optimised their strategy for Europe. Offering an entry level petrol model (with high emissions, relatively) and an costly Hybrid is the wrong way round. BMW sell loads of 318d and 320d and very few 335d models, and if Lexus want to sell cars in volume then they need to compete where the sales volume is. She did not disagree. So we parted company agreeing that we would not (and this is by intent) agree on the aesthetics of the cars.

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The RC-F that was on show was, to my mind, just as gawky as the NX, with a carbon fibre bonnet making this £60k car look like it should be on a gaming system not the public road.

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More familiar models included the latest IS and CT cars.

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Pride of place in the Lotus display went to the Evora 400. A comprehensively reworked version of Hethel’s Cayman challenger, this car is due to go on sale soon for £75,000. Excellent though the car no doubt is, it strikes me that this is an awful lot of money – we are talking Cayman GT4 levels of price – so it had better to be outstandingly good not just to drive, but to own. Let’s hope it is.

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Also far from cheap, but clearly now selling, albeit in small numbers – is the latest 3.5 litre engined Exige and there was one of these to inspect, too.

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Almost impossible to photograph, thanks to a combination of their colour and the light falling into the foyer of the building where they were parked were a couple of the latest Maserati saloons, a Ghibli and a Quattroporte.

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Occupying a corner of the outdoor display area, next to Lexus, was Mercedes. Here is another brand where the stylists have courted controversy, with a range of cars that have strayed far from the classical elegance for which the marque was once renowned, into one where lines, creases and surfaces conspire to make the cars look like the stylist has tried too hard for no good reason. A number of the latest products were on display, with pride of place going to the AMG C63, newly available on the UK market. This is a car that I very much want to try, as despite the loss of that sonorous 6.3 litre V8 that sat under the bonnet of its predecessor, it is by all accounts still a stonkingly good car.

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Other Mercedes models on show have been available for a little longer, and included the disappointing CLA, the ugly GLA, the latest C Class saloon,  an E Class Convertible, the open-topped SLK sports car and the soon to be updated ML SUV.

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A second hand Maybach was parked up in the indoor section of the show.

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Renowned prestige dealer HR Owen had a couple of models on show inside the foyer of One Canada Square, as well as a demo Wraith parked up outside.

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The rear-engined Smart cars that share their underpinnings with the Renault Twingo are now on sale in the UK. Whereas the Renault has cute looks on its side, these things, to my eyes, just look odd. Received wisdom is that they are not that good to drive, and they are significantly more costly than the Twingo, so it is hard to predict many conquest sales. Smart-faithful will no doubt like the ForTwo, but the ForFour faces a harder battle for buyer’s money.

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The Tesla stand was much the busiest, with a crowd of people around the cars when I attended – mid afternoon, when the rest of the event was pretty quiet – hence no photos of the static cars, but I did get one of the demo car that was parked up. The workers of Canary Wharf are probably right on target for this large executive car, so it is no surprise that the area was so busy.

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Highlight of the Volvo stand was the new XC90. We were told in the show material that this would be the car’s UK debut, but of course that turned out to be incorrect, as the model had been shown at the Wilton House event the previous weekend, having gone on sale in the UK days before. That notwithstanding, I had the chance to get a good look, something which has not been easy at the various shows where I have seen it since unveiling last year, as the car attracts a lot of attention, and deservedly so, too. An elegant machine from the outside, it is the interior which impresses even more, with a fabulous Swedish elegant simplicity to the quality appointments and ambience, quite apart from all those well thought out practical touches which should return this car to the very top of its class, a position occupied by its predecessor for much of its long life. I’m not in the market for a car of this type, but if I was, at least until the Jaguar F-Pace comes out, this is the one I would want.

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The rest of Volvo’s range was well represented with one example of each of the different models offered, including V40 in regular and XC guises an, S60, a V60 Polestar, XC60, V70 and S80.

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Apart from my blast out in the Biposto, I have to say that this was a rather disappointing show. It has got steadily less well populated in recent years. The fact that previously the Show Guide was thick A4 sized book and this year it was a very small pocket fan-fold says it all, really. I suspect the cost of putting the event on versus the incremental return make it increasingly hard to justify the spend of marketing monies. That, of course, is what killed the British Motor Show, and it would be a shame if it does the same to events the next tier down in size and scope like this one. Let’s see what happens in 2016.

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