Click to enlarge picture

The new Jaguar X-TYPE arrives in the United States this summer as the most affordable Jaguar, starting under $30,000.

Add in the star power of a Land Rover Defender that was driven by actress Angelina Jolie for an upcoming movie, and you have the makings for this year's powerhouse Salon International de l'Automobile in Geneva, Switzerland.

The motor show, which is the first of the season in Europe, is open to the public March 1-11 at the city's Palexpo. More than 700,000 visitors are expected to attend.

Most European Models Not U.S. Bound

Although dozens of new models were unveiled to the media against the backdrop of the beautiful Swiss Alps, few of these vehicles will be seen on American roads, especially in the near term.

A key exception is the Jaguar X-TYPE, which finally came out from under wraps after months of only automaker-provided photography.

The new sedan arrives in North America this summer as the most affordable Jaguar, with a starting manufacturer's suggested retail price of $29,950. It's the automaker's first compact in 30 years and Jaguar's first all-wheel-drive car.

With a Jaguar-like front end, complete with "leaper" on the bonnet, the X-TYPE is designed to expand Jaguar's sales substantially. Some estimates have Jaguar's sales doubling after introduction of the X-TYPE.

The new car will be offered with a choice of engines. The 194-horsepower 2.5-liter AJ-V6 will be available with either a five-speed manual gearbox or optional five-speed automatic transmission. The 231-horsepower 3.0-liter AJ-V6 will come with a standard automatic, with a manual as a no-cost option.

Note that both V6s are derived from the same AJ-V6 in the larger Jaguar S-TYPE.

Vanquishing the Need for Speed

For the lucky few in the States with substantial wealth—and substantial lust for power and image—Aston Martin unveiled its new, V12 Vanquish.

The new flagship model carries a price tag of at least $200,000 and has no gear shifter. Instead, it has fingertip-controlled Formula One-style paddles behind the steering wheel that shift the six-speed transmission in less than 250 milliseconds—less than a blink of an eye.

And that 6.0-liter V12? It puts out a lusty 460 horsepower, has a top speed of 190 mph and goes from 0-to-60 mph in less than 5 seconds.

The V12 Vanquish body is constructed from aluminum, carbon fiber and composite materials. It comes as either a two-seater or 2+2-seat coupe, and every model is hand-built to the exact requirements of each customer at the company's factory in the English hamlet of Newport Pagnell.

There is, quite literally, an endless range of body colors and an amazing choice of Connolly hide upholstery for this car. Each V12 Vanquish will get eight coats of paint and be fitted with eight Connolly hides. Wilton carpet is plentiful inside.

Just 300 will be built annually, and Aston Martin officials have already said that advance orders from U.S. customers will account for more than 30 percent of the sales during the second half of 2001.

Passat Ups the Power

Volkswagen just began selling its improved 2001.5 Passat in the States. But in Geneva, the German carmaker showed it has further plans for its midsize sedan.

The first Passat with an eight-cylinder engine debuted with an unusual, twin-V design dubbed the W-8. The 4.0-liter compact powerplant is capable of generating 275 horsepower and some 275 lb-ft of torque.

The car on display is one with VW's 4Motion all-wheel-drive system. The new engine is expected to make it to our shores in some VW Passats by sometime next year.

Jolie Drives a Land Rover

OK, everyone in love with Angelina Jolie, take notice: The vehicle she drives in her upcoming movie, Tomb Raider, is on display at the Geneva Motor Show.

Stateside we must wait until June, when Paramount Pictures releases the movie, to check out this modified Land Rover Defender.

But Land Rover buffs won't be surprised to hear that Jolie—in the starring role of Lara Croft—uses her trusty vehicle to navigate remote and rugged locations.

Defenders aren't sold in the United States any more, but Jolie seems more than comfortable in her film vehicle, which was modified with aluminum tread plates and bumpers, a unique grille, four Safari headlamps glaring from a roof rack, and an expedition tool kit.

Jolie isn't the only one driving a Land Rover, by the way. The bad guys in the flick drive Land Rover Discovery vehicles, and Lara's archenemy, Powell, drives a Range Rover. Not to be left out is Land Rover's Freelander, a small wagon-like vehicle that will be coming to the U.S. this fall. It also has a part in Tomb Raider.

But sadly, we're told, the Defender still isn't returning to U.S. showrooms.

More Disappearing B-Pillars

Mazda unveiled a new concept vehicle, the MX Sport Tourer, at Geneva.

Like the RX-8 concept that debuted at the North American International Auto Show 2001 in Detroit this past January, the Sport Tourer showcases Mazda's freestyle door system.

In both concept cars there is no center pillar. Rather, both cars have wide-open four-door passenger cabins framed by what Mazda calls freestyle doors. Each front door is front-hinged; each rear door is rear-hinged, and there's no center pillar separating the two.

Mazda's head of research and development, Phil Martens, had told MSN Autos in Detroit that the RX-8, if approved for production as expected, would come to the States with a freestyle door system.

Dual powerplants—one powering the front wheels, the other powering the back wheels—is another innovation on the Sport Tourer.

Mazda calls it a new, hybrid four-wheel-drive system where a lightweight, 2.0-liter gasoline engine powers the front wheels and an electric motor powers the rear wheels. Drivers can use front-drive in normal road conditions. They can use the zero-emission rear-drive electric motor in urban areas and have four-wheel drive available for rugged terrain.

Additionally, the Sport Tourer has a "Zoom-Zoom" button on the steering wheel. Pushing the button activates the rear-drive electric motor for extra power when passing other vehicles. Now that sounds like fun!