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.
AMG head Ola Källenius told me last week in New York that the upcoming AMG version of the SLK will be a benchmark in efficiency. And he confirms it will be normally aspirated—no turbo, no hybrid. Details are to come later this year. Källenius also hints at an upcoming AMG version of the next three-door A-class. It would need to make “more than 300 hp.” What’s more, Källenius will also take a closer look at the platform’s other derivatives. There won’t be an AMG version of the five-door B-class, but an AMG version of the sleek four-door sedan that Daimler likes to describe as a “compact CLS” shouldn’t be ruled out . . .
Not only AMG is pushing for more power and speed. Opel, GM’s struggling German subsidiary, is launching high-powered versions of the Corsa subcompact and the mid-size Insignia, the Buick Regal’s twin brother. With a turbocharged, 207-hp, 1.6-liter four, the Corsa OPC Nürburgring Edition reaches 143 mph. I have driven the regular, 189-hp Corsa OPC and walked away highly impressed. It is an extremely competent racer—with a sweet exhaust note reminiscent of the Mazdaspeed 3's—and 207 hp will make it even better. On the other side of the spectrum, the Insignia OPC is now offered without a top-speed governor. This OPC goes by the highly imaginative “Unlimited” moniker and is propelled by a 2.8-liter, 320-hp turbo V-6, to a new stop speed of 168 mph. Good.
Speaking of speed, the laudable efforts of the Texas and Kansas legislatures to raise the speed limits have prompted me to take a survey of the status in Europe. And it’s nice that amidst all the calls to act “responsibly” behind the wheel there is actually growing room to exercise responsibility without too much coercion. Even the prototypical nanny state, Sweden, has raised its limit from 68 to 75 mph a few years ago. But it gets better: This January, Poland raised its speed limit to 87 mph. The Czech Republic and Slovakia are discussing raising the speed limit to 100 mph. In Great Britain, prime minister David Cameron promised to “end the war on motorists”—before the election. After his win, many speed cameras were turned off. But there has been a half-reversal: Some of the cash cows have been turned on again in a few counties.
In Switzerland, the parliament has passed a motion not to require taxi drivers to carry child seats anymore. “In the entire country, not a single such accident has happened with an unsecured child,” says representative Jacqueline Fehr.
The incessant clamoring for daytime running lights led to them being mandated in Austria in late 2005. It took decades to get the regulation to drive with your lights on all day installed—and two years to take it down. And in the German state of Hassia, outgoing minister president Roland Koch took speed limits off dozens of autobahn stretches. More good news: The “environmental zones” which supposedly aim to limit particulate emissions (but have proven useless) are falling out of favor. The planned launch in Dresden has been axed, and Hannover might now get rid of its zone.
GM’s Interior Direction
At the New York show, I spoke with Crystal Windham, director of GM passenger-car interior design. She showed me the next Malibu‘s interior, which is innovative and handsome—although not a huge step forward from the current, already pleasant Malibu. A sweet touch: the horizontal motif of the air vents, which stretches across the dashboard and flows into the door panels. The horizontal stripes hide the air vents left and right. It would be far nicer if the vents were functional across the dashboard, but the packaging for that proved impossible. At night, the effect will be beautiful, thanks to ice-blue ambient lighting.
This ambient lighting will become a Chevrolet signature, says Windham, but you will continue to find it on Buick models. Is the Chinese market a strong influence on GM design? Not necessarily: “We find the Chinese customers appreciate our American styling heritage,” she says. But there even is a positive influence from China: Many car owners in China are sitting not in the driver’s seat, but in the rear seat as being chauffeured is a standard means of transportation for the upper middle class. And this leads designers to put a lot of emphasis on a luxurious experience in the second row. What about instrumentation? Windham believes that it is a good idea to let drivers customize the panels, within the limits of safety and ergonomics.
GM design seems to be on the right track, and the emphasis on a classic American look proves its newfound self-confidence.