Tag Archives: Jens Meiners

The Continental: More G-Wagens, a New Škoda, and Happy Birthday to an Icon

By Jens Meiners

The Continental

Each week, our German correspondent slices and dices the latest rumblings, news, and quick-hit driving impressions from the other side of the pond. His byline may say Jens Meiners, but we simply call him . . . the Continental.

A nice success story for my favorite off-roader, the Mercedes-Benz G-class: The Swiss army has decided to replace the 4189 G-wagens currently in service with brand-new versions. The old vehicles have been in the fleet for two decades and are fitted with 2.3-liter gasoline engines, but the new Gs get a 184-horsepower, 3.0-liter V-6 turbodiesel and a five-speed slushbox.

The Swiss army models are part of the 461 vehicle line, which has been partially substituted by the more plush and advanced 463 series since 1990. However, the 461 remained in production for military and government use, and it was even offered to private customers as well. Today, the purposeful 461 is still offered in several global markets as the G300 CDI Professional. It’s not cheap; in Germany, it costs almost exactly two-thirds as much as the G500 (which is sold as the $113,905 G550 in the U.S.). Cost aside, it is the quintessential G-wagen—and, philosophically, the opposite of the recent embarrassment that is the G63 AMG 6×6.

Skoda Rapid Spaceback

New Škoda!

Another attractive Škoda signifies both the brand’s strength and the return of the hatchback in Europe. The Rapid, essentially a low-cost vehicle that is rebadged as the SEAT Toledo and the Volkswagen Santana, now comes as a five-door hatchback. Škoda’s boss told me about it over dinner last year: It is called the Spaceback and is 7.1 inches shorter than the sedan and more useful. From the rear view, the large glass area looks futuristic, but the side view, with a third window behind the rear door opening, recalls a station wagon.

It is interesting to compare the Rapid with the Volkswagen Golf Mk VII: The Spaceback’s length and height is almost identical to the VW’s specs, but it is slightly narrower. The Škoda’s platform is a mixture of components from the Volkswagen Polo and previous-generation Golf, and therefore it does not reach the latest Golf’s level of sophistication. A lot of the Golf’s (mostly optional) assistance systems are not available here, and the engine range is topped by a 122-horsepower, 1.4-liter four. For customers looking at a GTI or a fully optioned regular Golf, the Rapid Spaceback won’t be an option. But for those who merely seek reliable transportation, the Czech relative might work just as well. Especially since it is a very pleasant and convincing car from behind the wheel, as I found out last year when I drove the Rapid sedan at its launch in Bratislava.

Opel Vivaro

Opel’s Stylish Van

The Opel Vivaro is the offspring of a curious cooperation, being essentially a rebadged Renault Trafic that was styled under the tutelage of former Renault chief designer Patrick Le Quement. And it will soldier …read more

Source: FULL ARTICLE at Car & Driver

The Continental: Goodwood Festival, a Fantastic Peugeot, VW and Diesel News

By Jens Meiners

Peugeot RCZ R

Each week, our German correspondent slices and dices the latest rumblings, news, and quick-hit driving impressions from the other side of the pond. His byline may say Jens Meiners, but we simply call him . . . the Continental.

This powerful Peugeot bowed at Goodwood.

Mere weeks after our very own John Lamm went for a spin in the Italdesign Giugiaro Parcour, the one-of-a-kind concept suffered a literal blow at the Goodwood Festival of Speed. We hope the crashed, Lamborghini-powered sports car/SUV, which required some 50,000 man-hours to build, will be fixed.

Peugeot RCZ R

Besides hosting some crashes, Goodwood also served as the backdrop for a few new vehicle launches. There was the 154-mph Skoda Octavia RS reveal, and now Peugeot has unveiled a 266-horsepower variation of its two-seat RCZ sports car dubbed the RCZ R. It is powered by a version of the 1.6-liter “Prince” engine that was co-developed with BMW; a version is used by Mini, as well as several Peugeot and Citroën models. The RCZ R’s mill is called EP6CDTR, and it is force-fed by a twin-scroll turbocharger to deliver 243 lb-ft of torque. The sprint from 0 to 62 mph takes 5.9 seconds, and Peugeot governs the top speed at 155 mph. Based on the 308 compact sedan, the RCZ is a beautifully executed and fun-to-drive sports car that competes directly with the Audi TTS and Nissan 370Z.

I hear that Audi is celebrating 30 years of its quattro GmbH subsidiary with three special editions. The brand will make 30 units (each) of the A5 cabriolet, the RS6 Avant, and the RS7 Sportback. They are distinguished by their color schemes and equipment level, but they don’t have exclusive performance options. There’s no word on whether the A5 or the RS7 variants will be offered in the U.S.; regardless, I predict they will be sold out in no time. Besides, the RS6 Avant is not sold in the U.S.—sorry to bring that up again.

For the 2014 model year, Volkswagen has killed the V-6–powered Touareg in the German market. Only the V-6 and V-8 TDI remain, as well as the annoying hybrid. Other markets keep the V-6 (actually a VR-6), and the Middle East even gets the fantastic 4.2-liter V-8. For an SUV that once ruled the segment with a W-12 engine—it was available on the first-generation Touareg, and almost ruined me when I tested it for two weeks thanks to its vociferous appetite—killing a regular gasoline option is kind of sad.

VW Golf BlueMotion

No need to apologize to the birds: The Golf BlueMotion doesn’t need wind power.

GTD, Diesel Impresses

Of course, VW’s diesel engines are fairly impressive. At the launch of the Euro-spec SportWagen in Amsterdam last week, I had the opportunity to drive the Golf BlueMotion, which, despite a sprightly 105-horsepower 1.6-liter TDI, …read more

Source: FULL ARTICLE at Car & Driver

The Continental: Professor Lenz on EVs, Schaeffler’s Hub Motor, and Product News

By Jens Meiners

The Continental

Each week, our German correspondent slices and dices the latest rumblings, news, and quick-hit driving impressions from the other side of the pond. His byline may say Jens Meiners, but we simply call him . . . the Continental.

Just hype? If so, at least one engineer thinks EV’s time in the limelight has passed.

Next week, the inner circle of the powertrain engineering world convenes at the Vienna Engine Symposium. I expect this year’s meeting will again be exciting, as further advances in the internal combustion engine could render the complex and expensive efforts at electrification futile. Professor Hans-Peter Lenz from Vienna, who leads the Symposium, takes delight in the fact that “the EV hype is over and has been replaced by fact-based reporting.” He states that “every new engine generation achieves gains of about 20 percent in terms of efficiency, emissions, and power. This means that the efficiency of conventional powertrains grows at a higher rate than the progress of electric powertrains.”

Moreover, the argument that fossil-fuel supplies will run out within our lifetimes seems to be solidly demolished by the advent of hydraulic fracturing (fracking) technology. (And oil is still going to be around as well.) At a recent BMW event, a German engineer roundly dismissed the hydraulic tech: “Fracking is not the way.” But this seems to be a specifically German perspective. It is the same country that’s shutting down perfectly good nuclear power stations without consulting its neighbors—because of a tsunami in Japan.

Speakers in Vienna will include Daimler’s R&D chief Thomas Weber, his BMW counterpart Herbert Diess, and Volkswagen CEO Martin Winterkorn. Their appearance promises to provide rare insight in technological and corporate strategies. I am looking forward to this as an absolute highlight of the automotive year.

Mercedes-Benz Unimog testing

A New Unimog

Daimler is launching a face-lifted version of its Unimog truck, a commercial vehicle with both a cult-like following and unsurpassed off-road capabilities. (The former partly due to the latter.) The next Unimog will meet Euro-6 emissions regulations, it receives an upgraded electronics architecture, and revised styling inside and out. We will even see a huge, Mercedes-Benz SL–inspired grill grace the ‘Mog’s front end; testing is underway in Scandinavia.

Volvo S60 Polestar

Sporty Volvo

Chinese-owned Volvo is serious about launching its Polestar high-performance line, and the S60 Polestar is the first full-on Polestar model to make it into dealerships. It is powered by a version of Volvo’s ubiquitous turbocharged straight-six, tweaked to produce 350 horsepower at 5700 rpm. That is 50 horsepower more than the regular S60 T6 and 25 more than the S60 T6 R-Design. Maximum torque is rated at “over 368″ lb-ft from 2800 to 4750 rpm. To squeeze out the extra power, Volvo has replaced the S60′s turbocharger and intercooler with bigger units and installed a free-flow exhaust system. The sedan’s Aisin-supplied six-speed automatic is unchanged. But Volvo has upgraded

From: http://feedproxy.google.com/~r/caranddriver/blog/~3/dhAcGtW5_qw/

The Continental: Design Talk, Powertrains from Europe, and Praise for Jaguar

By Jens Meiners

Each week, our German correspondent slices and dices the latest rumblings, news, and quick-hit driving impressions from the other side of the pond. His byline may say Jens Meiners, but we simply call him . . . the Continental.

A Take on the WRX

Subaru is removing the WRX from the Impreza lineup, as further evidenced by the WRX concept that debuted at the New York auto show. It is shorter than the Impreza sedan, but features a far longer wheelbase and way more style. For me, though, the proportions don’t work. The heritage of the WRX is that of a rally car, not a long-distance cruiser, where directional stability takes precedence over agility. The ultra-low roof makes the fuselage look extra boxy, but at least it evokes the characteristic 1970s to 1990s Japanese hardtop sedans. Not that a WRX should really pander to that legacy. In fact, a large part of the car’s traditional appeal is that it’s a perfectly normal sedan, heavily modified and turned into a missile. The WRX has not only exposed the potential hidden in every Impreza, it also has kept the original model’s practicality. I think the new car is fine, but as a successor of the Impreza WRX, it is difficult to accept. Hopefully Mitsubishi sticks to the proven formula with the next iterations of the Lancer Evolution, but I am not holding my breath.

Subaru WRX concept

GM’s German subsidiary, Opel, is launching a major powertrain offensive. The company plans on launching three new engine families by 2016. One is a 1.6-liter diesel with 134 horsepower that replaces the current 1.7-liter and 2.0-liter turbodiesels. The second is a 1.6-liter, direct-injection gasoline engine that makes either 168 or 197 horsepower. And the third engine is a “small-displacement gasoline engine,” details of which will be unveiled later.

Opel also has a fresh transmission strategy, which includes replacing the current six-speed automatic with an eight-speed autobox. The expected gains in efficiency amount to a meager three percent. For the tiny Adam and Corsa, Opel will offer an automated single-clutch five-speed transmission—a decision I find surprising. This cheap solution has clear comfort disadvantages compared to a torque-converter or dual-clutch automatic.

Chinese-owned carmaker Volvo also is communicating new powertrain technologies. A new diesel four-cylinder diesel will replace its current five-cylinder engine. The diesel’s so-called “i-ART” technology features a computer on top of each injector; injection pressure is extremly high at 2500 bar (over 36,000 psi). Down the road, the brand is hedging its powertrain future solely on four-cylinder engines; currently, it offers a gasoline inline-five and a straight-six. Until recently, a nice Yamaha-supplied V-8 was offered as well. Says Derek Crabb, the brand’s chief powertrain engineer: “Our four-cylinder engines will offer higher performance than today’s six-cylinder units and lower fuel consumption than the current four-cylinder generation. On top of that, electrification will bring us up into power figures

From: http://feedproxy.google.com/~r/caranddriver/blog/~3/_V6EPATqlYA/

The Continental: The Good, the Bad, and the Ho-Hum from the 2013 New York Auto Show

By Jens Meiners

Each week, our German correspondent slices and dices the latest rumblings, news, and quick-hit driving impressions from the other side of the pond. His byline may say Jens Meiners, but we simply call him . . . the Continental.

Another New York auto show has come and gone, and this year’s was a good one. Most manufacturers were present in the Big Apple last week, and there was a number of new vehicle launches. Somewhat unsurprisingly, the 2015 Volkswagen Golf won World Car of the Year honors, and the Porsche Boxster/Cayman duo was voted World Performance Car. The Tesla Model S earned the World Green Car nod, while the Jaguar F-Type roadster took the well-deserved World Car Design of the Year award.

Consulting firm Prime Research surveyed the 66 World Car Awards jurors, a global group of motor journalists which includes myself, and came up with some interesting results. While connectivity and efficiency still rank among the most important topics worthy of coverage, E-mobility has most definitely fallen out of favor. It dropped to sixth—from third last year—out out of ten topics of focus.

Asked only about alternative powertrains, journalists ranked the most conservative approach—the plug-in hybrid—above the range-extended electric vehicle, reversing the two options’ rankings from last year. Only the plug-in hybrid was evaluated more positively than last fall, while ratings for the range-extended EV, fuel-cell-electric, and battery-electric dropped sharply. The media’s love affair with the EV—which I was never quite able to understand—seems to be over.

2012 Mini John Cooper Works Coupe - rear three-quarter view

Just before the New York show, BMW let a few journalists sample a prototype three-cylinder engine in a European 1-series hatchback body. Contributing editor Csaba Csere has already levied a thorough assessment of the technology, and I too liked the little engine—it is a cheerful, lively motor with a sporty exhaust note. BMW readily admits that the three’s 1.5-liter displacement is not ideal in terms of noise and vibration, but it is the best compromise for fuel economy. The three-banger is part of an engine family that will include four- and six-cylinder gasoline and diesel engines. It might sound odd, but I found the three-cylinder engine to have more character than most four-cylinder engines. Bring it on. A quick side note: The upcoming BMW M4 and its four-door sister model, the M3, will get an engine based on the current N55 straight-six, not a member of this new engine family.

BMW rival Audi presented the A3 sedan, but not exactly at the show itself. Not wanting to spoil its own upcoming Shanghai show debut, Audi definitely wanted to spoil the Mercedes-Benz CLA45 AMG‘s big reveal. So it put …read more

Source: FULL ARTICLE at Car & Driver

The Continental: A Huge Price Drop on the Z, Fisker’s Plans, and an Eternal Favorite

By Jens Meiners

The Continental

Each week, our German correspondent slices and dices the latest rumblings, news, and quick-hit driving impressions from the other side of the pond. His byline may say Jens Meiners, but we simply call him . . . the Continental.

The Subaru BRZ/Toyota GT 86 twins—the latter sold as the Scion FR-S in the U.S.—are shaking up the automotive world. The Toyota is selling from €30,450 in Europe, the Subaru begins at €29,500. Now Nissan is reacting by lowering the price of the slightly facelifted 370Z from €38,750 to €32,900. It might not sound like a big deal, but the Z suddenly is well within reach of those customers looking at the new Subaru/Toyota, and now costs less than the last-gen 350Z did at launch. That older Z retailed for €33,850 when it was introduced in Germany in 2003. Some might call the price cut a move of desperation, but Ponz Pandikuthira, Nissan Europe’s general manager for the 370Z, chooses to portray it as an act of altruism: “While other carmakers would likely have used the opportunity to raise prices, Nissan is preserving the character of the 370Z as an affordable sports car and making it available to an even larger circle of customers,” he volunteers.

Volkswagen Cross Caddy

VW’s Crossover Commercial Vehicle

Volkswagen is expanding its lineup of crossovers with a high-riding derivative of the Caddy light commercial vehicle. Called the Cross Caddy, the new crossover comes with a choice of nine engines and available all-wheel drive, which requires either the 110- or 140-hp diesel engine. The Caddy is a nice enough commercial vehicle and a favorite among cost-conscious families. It’s also preferred by traffic police, who use its tinted tailgate windows to hide their radar equipment; this also means it is unloved by professional speeders.

It’s Not the Cars?

Europeans are subjected to constant lectures about the merits of public transportation and how using it is supposedly in the interest of saving the environment. Now the “Deutsche Umwelthilfe,” a questionable, aggressively anti-automobile NGO, is unexpectedly sharing some less-than-rosy truths about public transportation. According to a recent study, 60 percent of communal buses do not have an effective particulate filter and only 14 percent are equipped with a NOX catalyser. The bus operators, often public corporations, cite high costs as reason for the tardiness in upgrading their fleet. Oh, really? Car owners certainly feel their pain.

Fisker Atlantic

What Fisker’s New owners Might Get

I recently spent some time with Fisker co-founder Berthold Koehler and the now departed founder Henrik Fisker. They revealed a few new details regarding the Atlantic mid-size sedan and announced at least two further models down the road. The Atlantic is supposed to command roughly half of the flagship Karma‘s price, amounting to around $50,000–$60,000. Like its big brother, the Atlantic is intended to be an electric car with a range-extending …read more
Source: FULL ARTICLE at Car & Driver

The Continental: Lingering Questions from the 2013 Geneva Auto Show

By Jens Meiners

The Continental

Each week, our German correspondent slices and dices the latest rumblings, news, and quick-hit driving impressions from the other side of the pond. His byline may say Jens Meiners, but we simply call him . . . the Continental.

No manual for you!

As this story is published, the Geneva auto show is in its second week. For me, the show triggered as many questions as it provided answers, and I could not identify a dominant theme for the show, which seemed to be weaker than usual on concept cars. Here are some random but thought-provoking observations:

Porsche and Manuals

The industry, unfortunately, is working to get rid of manual transmissions. Porsche is fitting its latest 911 GT3 with a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic, and when questioned about the move, the automaker responded with a flurry of rhetorical questions such as whether the company should go back to carburetors and or ditch ABS. Of course, the dual-clutch auto provides superior shifting times. But I contest the notion that it is therefore the only logical choice for the GT3. Shifting gears is an essential part of operating a car, over which I wish to exercise total control; even with paddle-actuated shifts, there is an extra layer between me and the car. And the dual-clutch automatic is heavier than a manual transmission, to boot. I hear that the upcoming GT3 RS could become available with a manual transmission. This is excellent news.

Porsche and others would do well to reflect on the enthusiastic reaction towards the Subaru BRZ/Scion FR-S/Toyota GT-86. It came in second in the European Car of the Year votes and placed among the top four in the World Car Awards; the actual winner will be announced later this month. The sports-car trio’s popularity is a powerful message to the industry: People love light-weight, tossable sports cars, even if they’re low on sophistication. And they love a manual. (The cars didn’t get votes because of their available slushboxes).

Qoros GQ3

Qoros Charging On

Qoros could permanently change the perception of Chinese cars. Funded by an Israeli-Chinese cooperation and engineereed with input from Austrian and German engineers, these cars are bordering on premium in content and appearance. The long-term dedication is visible in the three body variations shown in Geneva; an SUV is sure to come, as are further variations in the future. Qoros displays a consistent, attractive styling language (at which some German manufacturers need to take a hard look). Safety will not be an issue, the cars are expected to pass the (overrated) NCAP tests with flying colors. And Qoros also triggered the amusing footnote which is Audi’s lawsuit against the Chinese company’s use of the “GQ3″ moniker. Transforming the image of the Chinese auto industry, and topping it off with exposing the Volkswagen Group’s nervousness—no wonder Qoros executives were all smiles at this show.

<img class="aligncenter size-large wp-image-108015" title="2014 Alfa Romeo 4C" src="http://blog.caranddriver.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/03/2014-Alfa-Romeo-4C-313-626×382.jpg" alt="2014 Alfa …read more
Source: FULL ARTICLE at Car & Driver

The Continental: Movement at Daimler, News from Fiat, and Speed Saves Lives

By Jens Meiners

The Continental

Each week, our German correspondent slices and dices the latest rumblings, news, and quick-hit driving impressions from the other side of the pond. His byline may say Jens Meiners, but we simply call him . . . the Continental.

In a surprise move, the supervisory board of Daimler has extended CEO Dieter Zetsche’ s contract by three years. It had been expected that he would stay in office for another five years, which is customary in Germany. The contract for research and development chief Thomas Weber has also been renewed for only three years, despite Daimler’s ledership role in future technologies. At the same time, current production and purchasing chief Wolfgang Bernhard, formerly head of AMG (he also was Chrysler CFO and Volkswagen brand CEO), becomes head of Daimler’s truck division. He swaps positions with Andreas Renschler, whose resume includes heading up Daimler’s Smart division.

The reshuffling of the board reveals that things are not all smiles in Stuttgart-Untertürkheim. Wolfgang Bernhard is being groomed as Zetsche’s successor, but he has never gotten along smoothly with the employee side of things, a faction which enjoys significant clout on the supervisory board. Now Renschler is back in the game. But it is also possible that 59-year-old Zetsche will get a new contract three years from now.

Over the next few years, Daimler needs to fix its China business, which is lagging far behind Audi and BMW. The Mercedes brand’s reputation largely hinges on the success of the upcoming next-generation S-class; the smashing success of the (fantastically engineered) new A-class will need to be sustained over the next few years. On the design front, Mercedes might wish to strike a balance between appealing to those coveted buyers who wear their baseball caps backwards, and the (currently poorly attended) rest of us.

Thomas Weber in Bangalore

Betting on India

Daimler has opened its largest research and development center outside of Germany—and not in China or America, but in Bangalore, India. The country “is one of the core markets for [the] growth strategy Mercedes-Benz 2020, and it has enormous potential,” says board member Thomas Weber. In 1996, Daimler-Benz started kicked off its research and development activities in India with ten employees. Today, India is a center of competence for IT, electrics/electronics (EE), as well as computer aided design (CAD) and computer aided engineering (CAE). The center’s opening is good news for the company and for Weber, and I was hoping to be there to report in more detail. But, alas, the Indian embassy did not process my visa application in time.

Fiat Panda

Fiat’s Present and Lancia’s Past

Fiat has lowered the price of the still-fresh Panda. In Germany, it now starts at €8,990 (including 19-percent sales tax). Fiat still sells the previous generation model, called the Panda Classic, alongside the new one. The price cut is not a very good sign, but struggling Fiat needs all the sales it can get. …read more
Source: FULL ARTICLE at Car & Driver

The Continental: Audi’s War of Letters, Industry Politics in Italy, and A45 AMG Ancestors

By Jens Meiners

The Continental

Each week, our German correspondent slices and dices the latest rumblings, news, and quick-hit driving impressions from the other side of the pond. His byline may say Jens Meiners, but we simply call him . . . the Continental.

Audi has dragged up-and-coming Chinese car company Qoros to court over its choice of nomenclature. Qoros is a joint venture between Chinese carmaker Chery and Israel Corporation, and it has hired a number of high-profile executives, including former Mini chief designer Gert Hildebrand, and retains Austrian R & D specialist Magna Steyr to handle much of its development work. Qoros’ cars will be shown at the 2013 Geneva auto show next month, including the GQ3 sedan. Audi, whose crossover lineup uses the Q-plus-number naming structure, has taken offense at the use of the Q in Qoros’ model designation—and the German automaker won a first round at a regional court in Hamburg.

Curiously, Audi does not seem to care about Infiniti’s recent move to badge its entire future lineup with the letter Q followed by some numbers. An e-mail I received from Audi’s press department on January 17 states that “[Audi has] no problem with the nomenclature of Infiniti.” What, no problem with Infiniti Q50, but a problem with the Qoros GQ3? Perhaps this is because Infiniti first launched its Q45 back when Audi was still peddling the 80/90 and 100/200.

Coda sedan

Coda’s Fade-Out

What’s up with Coda? A few weeks ago, the electric vehicle maker announced “a furlough and a review of strategic options.” The company wouldn’t confirm any more than that, but I gather—and so have a few other observers—that Coda is in trouble. The company had acquired a vast number of unfinished bodies of the Hafei Saibao, also known as “the economic sedan in collaboration with Pininfarina Design Company,” according to Hafei’s website. The idea was to electrify the bodies with powertrains provided by Colorado-based supplier UQM, as well as a powerful and competitive battery pack. But—again, Coda neither confirms nor denies the rumor—the company has sold no more than 300 of its $37,250 Coda sedans so far.

Coda had recruited top-level management from the financial and automotive world. Looking at the weak base product, a Chinese interpretation of a decade-old Mitsubishi Lancer (Pininfarina connection notwithstanding), you wonder what made them think they could make inroads in the auto market. I am told the company’s business model was largely based on a $300-million-plus federal loan. I also hear the company was hoping to be taken over by an established carmaker, and in fact came close to a deal with Nissan. None of this materialised. Now a dealer is reportedly slashing prices to $25,000. It looks like the gamble is failing.

Against the “Cavaliere”

It is election time in Italy, and the auto industry is heavily involved in the struggle between scandal-ridden, longtime center-right Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi and his successor, the center-left Eurocrat Mario Monti. While trying to save the country’s finances, Monti’s …read more
Source: FULL ARTICLE at Car & Driver

The Continental: The Ultimate Golf VI, Plus Some Geneva Auto Show Debuts

By Jens Meiners

The Continental

Each week, our German correspondent slices and dices the latest rumblings, news, and quick-hit driving impressions from the other side of the pond. His byline may say Jens Meiners, but we simply call him . . . the Continental.

American enthusiasts, eat your hearts out: The ultimate Golf VI is here, and it won’t come to the U.S. Volkswagen has launched the Golf R Cabriolet, powered by the hardtop R’s 265-hp, turbocharged four-cylinder engine. It comes only with VW’s well-proven six-speed dual-clutch automatic. The launch of this model could strike observers as curious, since the all-new, next-generation Golf VII just arrived. But a Cabriolet based on the new Golf is a considerable distance away; at least the regular Golf VI Cabriolet previewed some VII styling elements—such as its more angular taillight contour—so it shouldn’t look like a total outlier in Volkswagen showrooms. The car looks great, is the most powerful offering in its class by far, and its performance should nearly catapult it into Boxster territory.

Mercedes-Benz CLA250 Edition One

I have criticized the compact Mercedes-Benz CLA‘s styling, but must admit the car’s look is daring and funky. Especially so is the Edition One version, which is being offered in Europe for twelve months at a hefty premium of almost €7000. The interior is contemporary and ultra-sporty, with a yellow-on-black scheme Benz is calling Neon Art. It goes well with the black-painted AMG wheels and available matte-silver paint.

Citroën Technospace

Citroën is perfecting the compact people-mover with its Technospace concept car, which previews the successor of the C4 Picasso. It is muscular, well-proportioned, and features an unusual and futuristic headlight treatment which will hopefully be carried over to the series production model. The interior is dominated by a huge, 12-inch screen.

Honda Civic wagon concept

Honda is launching the Civic wagon concept, a vehicle that also is close in execution to an upcoming series production model. The production car will be offered with a range of gasoline and diesel engines, and I think it would make a great addition to Honda’s lineup on the U.S. market—if Honda ever decided to send it here. The Civic sedan that is sold in America leaves me cold, and this year’s hastily deployed facelift hasn’t changed that.

SsangYong Rodius

One of the most curious vehicles of all time, the SsangYong Rodius, is getting a slightly less-offensively styled replacement. Called Rodius (or Stavic or Korando Turismo) it offers up to eleven seats and is powered by a 155-hp, diesel four-cylinder mated to either a six-speed manual or a Mercedes-designed five-speed automatic. Otherwise, the Rodius draws heavily from SsangYong’s outdated parts bin. So far, the company—owned by Indian carmaker Mahindra—has not claimed the Rodius’s platform is shared with the Mercedes-Benz S-class, as it did with the car’s predecessor.

<img class="aligncenter size-large wp-image-104871" title="Suzuki …read more
Source: FULL ARTICLE at Car & Driver

The Continental: BMW Sells Husqvarna, An Electric City Car, Goodbye to the C6, and a Bad VW Group Decision

By Jens Meiners

The Continental

Each week, our German correspondent slices and dices the latest rumblings, news, and quick-hit driving impressions from the other side of the pond. His byline may say Jens Meiners, but we simply call him . . . the Continental.

BMW C evolution

BMW has sold off Husqvarna to the Austrian Pierer Industrie AG, which owns motorcycle-maker KTM. The Bavarians had bought the (originally) Swedish company in 2008 and never achieved the sales and financial targets that were set with the purchase. Now BMW is serving up a politically correct explanation, saying that the realignment of its motorcycle business without Husqvarna will focus on “urban mobility and e-mobility.” It kind of reminds me of the reasoning in 2009 for pulling out of F1, in which reasons of “sustainability and environmental consciousness” were cited.

BMW has announced it is expanding its remaining motorcycle presence with an electric scooter called C Evolution and also talks of “further innovative vehicle concepts.” Perhaps the time is right for something like BMW’s C1, the Bertone-built city scooter sold between 2000 and 2003. It offered partial weather protection and was conceived as an alternative to city cars, but only sold in low numbers and was yanked from the market prematurely.

Technical University of Munich Visio.M

Meanwhile, work is progressing on the Visio.M, an electric city vehicle developed by the Technical University of Munich with assistance from consortial leaders BMW, Daimler, and a number of suppliers and public entities. The passenger cell will be made of carbon fiber, and it will be powered by a asynchronous electric motor coupled to an extremely lightweight transmission. Anti-lock brakes are standard, as is a torque-vectoring system. It is an interesting project, but I know for a fact that it does not rank highly on BMW’s list of priorities. The Visio.M is a tiny vehicle, and as of today, there are no plans to integrate it into BMW’s model range—ever.

Citroën C6

Adieu, C6! 

It has been over a month, but this deserves mention: The Citroën C6 is history, and the last one rolled off the assembly line in December. Based on the smaller C5 sedan, the C6 was a car that was compromised in many ways. I have tested several of them over the years, and while the air suspension provided a generally good ride, it was jittery over smaller bumps; the steering was utterly overboosted, Cadillac XTS–style; and the frameless side windows tended to be pulled out of their guides at over 130 mph. To get them fully up again, you needed to slow down to 80 mph. In 2009, the C6′s gasoline V-6 was killed, somewhat disingeniously leaving the luxurious Citroën only with diesel engines.

Citroën C6 interior

What’s more, the C6 is a prime example of how not to launch a car. The C6 Lignage—which previewed the design of the production C6—was shown in 1999, a full six years before the car went on sale. Offered at a far higher price point, it never matched the success of its predecessor, the angular and futuristic XM.

On the plus side, the C6 was a daring design, evoking memories of the classic Citroën DS and CX sedans. Its interior was stunning, with details such as gliding covers in the doors, and generously applied Mukonto wood, the sort used by the Zulu tribe to make spears. Far from perfect, the C6 had character. I liked it.

SEAT Ibiza Cupra

SEAT’s Flawed Hot Hatch

The hot hatch segment is in full bloom again in Europe. The latest entry is the SEAT Ibiza Cupra, a sister model to the Volkswagen Polo GTI with a 180-hp, turbocharged and supercharged 1.4-liter engine and a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic. Sadly, no manual is offered. Come on, in this class? Surely, there should be enough volume in the sporty versions of the Ibiza (and the architecturally similar Audi A1, Škoda Fabia, and VW Polo), to justify the application of a six-speed manual, like in their lesser siblings. It’s a good thing that PSA still offers two vehicles in this class with a manual: The Citroën DS3 Racing and the Peugeot 208 GTi. I’ll take one of those over an automatic VW Group car any time.

2013 Honda Accord

Sampling an American Favorite

It was interesting to spend some time behind the wheel of the U.S.-market Honda Accord. For over a decade, the European and American Accord models have been different vehicles. American customers get a variation of the European Accord in the form of Acura’s TSX. I sampled the U.S. Accord in all available engine and transmission configurations, and my hands-down favorite, unsurprisingly, was the V-6 coupe equipped with the manual transmission. It handled so well and sounded so sweet that I would consider it against a 3-series coupe or Audi A5. It’s less of a love affair with the CVT, which seems to reflect a little too long before actually performing the belt adjustments needed for acceleration. The standard inline-four is surprisingly silky, the body is tight, and the suspension is competent, almost BMW-like, under spirited driving.

2013 Honda Accord interior

When you look closely at the Accord, you can see some cost-cutting, like the exposed trunk hinges. And I don’t get the instrument panel, which is a garbled assemblage of buttons and monitors. There are many ways to enter data into the navigation system, none of which works intuitively. And the styling? It is better than the previous generation, which displayed a jarring disconnect between the front end and the rest of the car, but I wouldn’t call it exciting. Nevertheless, I am not surprised at the Accord’s popularity among Americans. The too-innocent skin hides a chassis and an engine that tease you to play.

Source: FULL ARTICLE at Car & Driver

The Continental: Corporate Collaborations, Designer Yachts, and the Best Off-Roader

By Jens Meiners

The Continental

Each week, our German correspondent slices and dices the latest rumblings, news, and quick-hit driving impressions from the other side of the pond. His byline may say Jens Meiners, but we simply call him . . . the Continental. 

Toyota and BMW collaboration

BMW and Toyota have announced the next steps in their cooperation: Following an exploratory phase, they have come to binding agreements to work on a fuel-cell system, high-energy lithium-air batteries, light-weight technology, and a mid-size sports car. The feasibility study on that sports car will be finished by the end of 2013, and it could lead to a common platform. The project is connected to the light-weight technology effort, which will contribute know-how to the sports car’s development, if it comes to fruition.

We already know about BMW’s contract to supply Toyota with 1.6-liter and 2.0-liter four-cylinder diesel engines. BMW can be congratulated on finding a partner that actually means business; previously announced contracts with Saab and Carbon Motors have led to nothing. Toyota is obviously as serious about becoming a maker of sporty cars as BMW is about becoming “green.” Toyota’s new strategy is a welcome change seeing as how memories of the Celica, MR2 and Supra have been buried under an onslaught of hybrids and J.D.Power–inspired family barges.

Nissan Juke NISMO

Meanwhile, Nissan is underscoring its sporty credentials with the launch of its NISMO sub-brand in Europe. The first two dedicated models will be the Juke NISMO and the 370Z NISMO. The Juke receives a body kit, red mirror caps, 225/45 rubber on 18-inch rims, and a mild power and torque boost that raise output from 188 horsepower to 197 and from 177 lb-ft of torque to 184. The cheerful car on steroids comes with either a six-speed manual and front-wheel drive, or a CVT automatic and all-wheel drive. Neither of these two combinations, I regret to say, is particularly pleasant. A more-powerful version with around 220 horsepower is in the works. No details on the 370Z Nismo are available yet.

Fiat and Mazda have finally signed the contract to produce an Alfa Romeo roadster at the Mazda plant in Hiroshima, Japan, beginning in 2015. The rear-wheel-drive two-seater will be a sister model to the Mazda MX-5 Miata, and it will fill a gaping void in Alfa Romeo’s lineup. The brand last offered a Spider in 2010. The Alfa Romeo and Mazda versions will have unique engine portfolios, according to the companies’ joint statement.

Meanwhile, Fiat-Chrysler CEO Sergio Marchionne promises that the mid-engine Alfa Romeo 4C sports car will hit North American turf before the end of the year. I hear it will be an expensive car, rivaling the Porsche Cayman and Boxster, and that its styling language should not be seen as indicative of future Alfa Romeo models. The face of the 4C, like those of the MiTo and the Giulietta, is still inspired by the 8C Competizione. Other future Alfa Romeo models will be more angular and contemporary in style.

Opel Cascada convertible

Some German Cars

Opel has announced pricing for the Astra-based Cascada convertible, which begins at €21,802, before taxes, or $29,350 at current exchange rates. At this price, it comes with a 118-hp gasoline engine, fabric seats, and hubcaps. However, Opel is trying to position the droptop as an Audi A5 cabriolet and Mercedes-Benz E-class competitor, the latter of which costs twice as much as the Cascada. But the Cascada’s true competition is the Peugeot 308 CC, Renault Mégane coupe-cabriolet, and the slightly more compact Volkswagen Golf cabriolet. The Cascada is priced right and should do well in this less-expensive yet competitive field.

Volkswagen T3 kint sweater

Volkswagen shows that you don’t have to take your heritage all that seriously by displaying a T3—known in the U.S. as the Vanagon—fully clad in knitware. A couple of VW commercial vehicle employees spotted a classic bus thus treated while vacationing in Thailand and decided to replicate the application. It turns out that the employees’ female spouses were required to finish the ambitious project. About 2500 hours went into the 100-pound-plus knit sweater for the unique T3, which can be admired in the Volkswagen Museum until the end of March.

The German magazine Auto Bild reports that Audi will launch a Q6 crossover, positioned just above the Q5. Following the recipe of the rakish BMW X6, it will be distinguished by a steeply raked windshield and a low, fastback roofline. The car will be built in Mexico, according to Auto Bild.

Outremer 5X catamaran

Former Renault chief designer Patrick Le Quément, one of my personal design heroes, not only is creating a new design school, but also works as a successful designer of upper-crust yachts. Two of his designs, the Outremer 5X catamaran (pictured above) and the trawler Garcia GT54, were just named European Boats of the Year at the Düsseldorf boat show. Congratulations!

Mercedes-Benz G550

Highway Tested: Mercedes-Benz Geländewagen

Have I ever mentioned I am in love with the Mercedes-Benz G-wagen? It has been a couple of years since I last drove a one, but I recently had the pleasure of spending a week in a G550. Since then, the G received an interior makeover for 2013, which works well. I was surprised at the standard, 5.5-liter V-8′s aggressive tuning and growl—this Benz sounds like an AMG, and it takes off with a vengeance. Although the cabin is lavishly equipped, the G-Wagen does not and cannot hide its roots as a military vehicle engineered in the 1970s.

But it is relatively quiet, comfortable, effortless, and fast. It is a miracle, considering what the original G-wagen handled like (it was bad), and Mercedes has not exactly invested vast funds into updating the vehicle. There are a bunch of dashboard components from the corporate parts bin, and the exterior trim is off-the-shelf fare. But all that is part of the G’s charm. I wonder if Land Rover could pull off a similar job with the Defender, instead of reinventing it at the risk of turning it into a Toyota-FJ-Cruiser-like caricature.

Source: FULL ARTICLE at Car & Driver

The Continental: Best and Worst of the 2013 Detroit Auto Show

By Jens Meiners

The Continental

Each week, our German correspondent slices and dices the latest rumblings, news, and quick-hit driving impressions from the other side of the pond. His byline may say Jens Meiners, but we simply call him . . . the Continental.

Volkswagen CrossBlue concept

Detroit is the most important American auto show by far. As a German, it is endlessly fascinating to check out the American and Asian cars at the show, many of which are not sold in my home country. Those that are sold there often come with vastly different powertrains and design features. This year’s Detroit show was rife with awesome styling concepts and even a few surprises. Here is my personal take on some of the cars and technologies I came across on the show floor.

Best Concept: Volkswagen CrossBlue. Yes, I know the styling doesn’t knock anyone’s socks off, but it is well executed to the last beautiful detail—and it packs a lot of them, such as the angular, U-shaped daytime running lights. The concept’s interior is futuristic and it boasts quite forward-looking technology, such as a Schaeffler-supplied electric rear axle. Volkswagen’s MQB modular architecture is designed to incorporate this unit with few changes, and we will see it on production VW Group cars soon.

Lincoln MKC concept

Worst Concept: Lincoln MKC Concept. Ford’s design department under J Mays seems to be falling back into an old pattern. Remember the Ford Five Hundred, a blatant ripoff of Peter Schreyer’s Volkswagen B5 Passat? I can just imagine Mays ordering Lincoln chief designer Max Wolff to take an Audi Q5 and morph it to the Ford Escape’s package. From the side window opening to the wraparound tailgate, the MKC is embarrassingly lacking in originality. Several Ford designers have worked in Audi and VW design, but shouldn’t they be allowed to move on?

2014 Chevrolet Corvette Stingray

Best Production Car: Chevrolet Corvette. America’s sports-car icon is taking a big leap forward. Its styling is aggressive enough to appeal not only to the aging Corvette collector crowd, but also to a new, younger set of buyers. The front grille may be somewhat unexceptional, but the headlight design is refreshing; the side view is novel and even slightly Italian; and the angry rear end is simply fantastic. Thank you, Chevrolet, for not allowing this icon to be clinic’d to death. The C7 Vette goes the extra 25 percent the C6 wasn’t allowed to go, and as a result it will be considered a great Corvette.

2014 Jeep Compass Latitude

Worst Production Car: Jeep Compass. This car is hardly worth mentioning, but it represents the mindset that prevails when “car guys” take the back seat in a car’s development. Cynically exploiting the Jeep brand, this pseudo-SUV has become a barely acceptable vehicle almost seven years after its launch. It resembled a diminutive Grand Cherokee for a few years, but now its big brother is getting a facelift, leaving the Compass behind yet again. It is a sad fact that the Compass was conceived when Dieter Zetsche and Wolfgang Bernhard were calling the shots at Chrysler, as they are now at Mercedes-Benz.

2014 Cadillac ELR

Best Exterior: Cadillac ELR. The series production ELR does not deviate far from the look laid down by the stunning Converj concept from a few years back, and I like everything about it. Slim, futuristic, and true to Cadillac’s unique design language, it brings enormous appeal to the notion of owning an electric vehicle. Let’s hope that the ELR’s on-road performance, with its boosted Volt powertrain, is anywhere near what the styling promises, so that it won’t need the VL Industries treatment (see below).

2014 Mercedes-Benz CLA

Worst Exterior: Mercedes-Benz CLA. Almost eight years ago, I wrote a requiem for German design in a commentary for Automotive News. Back then, I argued that restraint and simplicity have gone out the door in favor of voluptuous lines and nonfunctional styling—and that was before Gorden Wagener became head of design at Mercedes-Benz. From my somewhat purist perspective, things certainly haven’t improved. That said, taste in styling is personal, and anyone who likes the looks of the CLA, a self-proclaimed “style rebel,” will be positively thrilled by its dynamic capabilities. And I concede the small Benz’s look is functional: It has the one of the lowest drag coefficients of all series production vehicles on the market.

By the way, as we are speaking of simplicity and restraint: Why did every Audi—the high-performance 2014 RS7 included—on the stand in Detroit have chrome wheels?

Best Interior: Toyota Avalon. I opened the door of this Japanese Buick only to check if they still fitted a front bench seat; the last Avalon I bothered to peek into (some years ago) was so equipped. To my utter surprise, I was met with one of the most beautifully styled instrument panels I’ve seen in this class. It has a layered surface, soft and hand-stitched padding, and a brushed-metal center zone fitted with precisely machined knobs just like on a 1970s high-end stereo. (Which most Avalon customers likely vividly remember.)

2013 Cadillac XTS Platinum interior

Worst Interior: Any Cadillac with CUE. Actually, GM’s luxury brand has some of the best interiors in the marketplace—clever, functional, aesthetically pleasing. But for me, the CUE infotainment system ruins the experience. Not only is it slow to respond and sometimes counterintuitive, I deplore the pitiful graphics. Come on, an ancient telephone receiver to symbolize the phone function? An antique globe to represent navigation? There even are 1970s-style symbolized bodies for the climate controls and OnStar, plus a child’s drawing of a cloud for the weather. It gets worse as you move on, delving into a world of overlapping rectangles and wide, empty spaces on the screen. This inexplicable mix of shapes and styles is unworthy of Cadillac. Ford’s SYNC, with all of its shortcomings, is an application that is far more pleasant to look at.

VL Automotive Destino

Biggest Surprise: VL Industries Destino. This Fisker Karma, stripped of its battery pack and electric powertrain, delivers one of the nastiest blows to E-mobility to date. The factory Karma is built around the notion of “sustainable mobility,” and VL’s dumping a naturally aspirated or supercharged 6.2-liter Corvette V-8 into its engine bay is about as sensitive as showing up at the local co-op in a camo-colored Hummer H1. The incredulous eyes of my European colleagues upon stumbling over the Destino were priceless. Can this be allowed? Yes.

Acura NSX Concept

Biggest Yawn: Acura NSX. It seems time to move beyond the NSX sports car even before this never-ending launch is finally over. I really look forward to driving the actual car, but the new model’s surprise factor and mystique will have been squandered by the time it hits the road.

Ford Atlas concept

Best Truck: Ford Atlas. Okay, this will be another long-haul launch, but for now, this thinly veiled next-generation F-150 is bold, well executed, and pleasantly technical in its styling language. I like the look, and I like the fact that it appeared in Detroit by surprise.

2014 Chevrolet Silverado 1500 LTZ

Worst Truck: GM’s new-for-2014 full-size pickup trucks for GMC and Chevrolet. GM’s design leadership in trucks was last asserted with the 1988 C/K—and lost to the Dodge Ram in 1994. Since then, it has been a downhill slide for the General, with the 2014 Chevy and GMC trucks figuring as the current low point. I suppose the trucks aspire to boldness, but, in fact, the pair represents one of the most timid redesigns I have seen. Apart from a few gimmicky details, calling these rigs “evolutionary” would be an overstatement.

Source: FULL ARTICLE at Car & Driver

The Continental: Kicking Off the Year in Detroit and Product Tidbits from Europe and Asia

By Jens Meiners

The Continental

Each week, our German correspondent slices and dices the latest rumblings, news, and quick-hit driving impressions from the other side of the pond. His byline may say Jens Meiners, but we simply call him . . . the Continental.

2014 Lexus IS350 F Sport

I skipped the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas and decided to kick off 2013 with a real auto show:  the unfortunately named North American International Auto Show in Detroit. Press events begin on Sunday, and the number of debuts confirms its role as the most important auto show on your turf. Among the many cars to be shown there, I am most curious about the 2014 Cadillac ELR. Not that I am a big fan of electrics—but I believe this Cadillac will be an extremely desirable vehicle, and not the least because of its styling.

Another interesting one is the 2014 Lexus IS sedan, which probably tries a bit too hard to be both sporty and original. The hourglass-shaped grille is has been dubbed the “Diablo grille” in Europe, but is referred to as a “spindle grille” in the US. Perhaps this is so god-fearing customers won’t be offended? We at Car and Driver, who started the Save the Manuals campaign, are offended by the fact that the manual transmission is history on the IS.

Lexus LF-CC concept

Hopefully Lexus will at least give us an adequate replacement for the awesome IS F, which—alongside the chubby and unimpressive IS convertible—carries on into 2014 on the outgoing IS platform. It’s possible that neither the IS F nor the convertible will get a direct replacement. Instead, Lexus is pondering a two-door coupe, similar to the LF-CC concept it showed off at last year’s Paris auto show. The coupe would be available with an ultra-powerful 5.0-liter V-8. Go for it, Lexus!

AMG is launching a number of fantastic cars this year. We know about the new compact A45 AMG hatchback and CLA45 AMG sedan, as well as the updated E63 AMG and the CLS63 AMG, which both will get a 4MATIC all-wheel drive system. It has been confirmed that all-wheel drive also will be standard on the AMG derivatives of the new S-class flagship.

Hyundai i30 coupe

Mass-Market News

Hyundai is launching its i30 coupe in Europe, the third i30 body variation after the five-door hatchback and station wagon. The i30 is a sister model of the Elantra GT you get in the U.S., but the three-door version isn’t headed for your shores. Hyundai’s got the i30 coupe’s lineup position covered by the larger Elantra coupe, which has a big trunk and classic two-door style. I like the compact i30 coupe better, but actually, it wouldn’t be so easy to adapt it to the U.S. market. Despite wearing nearly identical sheetmetal, underneath the European i30 is not as close to the five-door Elantra GT as one might think. It has a unique rear suspension and a very different engine portfolio, including several powerful diesels.

Mitsubishi Mirage five-door

The new, entry-level Mitsubishi Mirage is launching in Europe with the name “Space Star.” The moniker was pulled from the brand’s past, where it adorned a less-than-glorious high-roof compact sold between 1998 and 2005. It was available with an advanced gas-fed, direct-injection engine that just about financially crippled Mitsubishi in its time. Otherwise, the Space Star was forgettable—just like the new car. The Mirage’s conservative styling takes the safe route, and it seems to signify an unfortunate trend. Nissan is following exactly the same strategy with its current Micra/March. The predecessors of both the small Mitsubishi and Nissan both had daring and interesting, if a little polarizing, styling.

Nissan has kicked off production of its Leaf electric vehicle in Smyrna, Tennessee; shortly, it will be made in Europe as well. Production capacity in Smyrna is 150,000 units annually for the Leaf alone. Contrast that with the EV’s sales figures, which have kept a safe distance (on the low side)  from the 10,000-unit mark both in 2011 and 2012. Let’s hope Nissan doesn’t choke on all of that production capacity, which is bound to go mostly unused unless sales of the range-deprived Leaf take off like a rocket. Quite honestly, I couldn’t think of a reason why they would.

Renault Captur

Renault is launching a new, small crossover called Captur and based on the Renault/Nissan B-segment platform shared with the Nissan Cube and Juke. The Captur is even smaller, and arguably better-looking, than the tiny Buick Encore.

MAN / Volkswagen truck

Let’s Divorce

A long-standing cooperation between Mercedes-Benz and Volkswagen could come to an end. Since 1996, Volkswagen has been rebadging Daimler’s Sprinter commercial van as the LT and later as the Crafter. But word in Germany is that Daimler wants to rejuvenate an old connection with MAN, the Munich-based truck maker which now belongs to the Volkswagen empire. As early as 1979, MAN and VW cooperated on a small truck based on the old Volkswagen LT; in fact, derivatives are still sold in South America as the VW Delivery and VW Worker. It looks like the Crafter’s replacement will be co-developed with MAN.

Source: FULL ARTICLE at Car & Driver