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Thursday, June 9, 2011

The Continental: Some Europe-Only Products, Opera Windows for the M-class, and the Boxster’s Inspiration

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.

I thought it was supposed to get a Chrysler grille, but Lancia merely added horizontal bars to the face of its Delta. Pretty much nothing else is changed as the compact hatchback enters the second half of its life cycle. The Delta’s strong point, in my opinion, is its tasteful and spacious interior. Dynamically, it is a cruiser of highly artificial flavor. The Delta is a rare sight on European roads—and the new grille won’t change that. Oh, and the top-level trim is now called “Gold” instead of “Oro.” I suppose that solves a mystery for Lancia’s target group (which is merging with Chrysler’s). Did I mention that 30 years ago Lancia put Greek letters on the tailgates of the Beta, Gamma, and Delta, instead of spelling out the nameplates? Back then, Lancia drivers appreciated the aristocratic touch. It was a different time for the brand.

Toyota’s unloved daughter brand, Daihatsu, is leaving the European market in 2013. Curiously, it is now adding a new model, the Charade, which uses a traditional nameplate. This time around, however, it merely is a rebadged Toyota Yaris (the current iteration of which is due for replacement at Toyota). The cute and powerful turbocharged Charades of the 1980s are sorely missed. This new Charade won’t be.

Opel’s new boss, Karl-Friedrich Stracke, confirms the brand will bring an electric minicar to market in 2013. It will be a variation of a conventionally powered city car that is expected to launch a few months earlier. The new minicar won’t have a range extender and is realistically limited to city use. It will be interesting to see what this E-car will do to Opel’s bottom line, which could well be GM’s least impressive and needs drastic improvement.

The third-generation Mercedes-Benz M-class will be officially unveiled very soon, and the prototypes driving around Stuttgart—such as this one I came across on Thursday—aren’t wearing much camouflage anymore. Let’s reserve judgment on the styling until all of the camo is off, but I found the vehicle’s roll behavior just as remarkable as those opera windows (which won’t survive the next few weeks).

Speaking of SUVs, an Audi source tells me that there is not much life in the Q7 V-12 TDI any more. Its incredible 5.9-liter V-12 turbo-diesel produces 500 hp and 738 lb-ft of torque, available on a plateau from 1750 to 3250 rpm. I tested the car extensively at its Düsseldorf launch, and it still is the most impressive SUV I’ve ever piloted. Sales, however, have been pathetic, and this engine will neither be put into any other Audi (an R8 V-12 TDI prototype exists), nor will it get a successor. In fact, even the days of the Audi 4.2-liter V-8 TDI, which makes 340 hp in the Q7 and 350 hp in the A8, could be numbered. Audi has pushed its 3.0-liter V-6 TDI to 313 hp in the new A6, and the room for a diesel beyond that is getting small. If Audi walks away from V-8 diesels, the brand will follow the lead of BMW and Mercedes: both abandoned their V-8 diesels some time ago.

Browsing through my collection of old literature, I found this Porsche Boxster brochure from 2000, which paints the Boxster as the reincarnation of the 550A. Page two and three are reserved for photos of the 550A and explanations of how its spirit lives on in the Boxster; on page four the Boxster is shown for the first time, with the tagline “Dedicated to the tradition of the Porsche 550A, the Boxster already is a classic.”

Recently, I’ve heard little of the Boxster-550 connection as Porsche is pondering a new entry-level model. This new model, Porsche executives are hinting, would itself be “inspired by the 550.”

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