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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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!
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