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.
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’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 on for considerable time, despite the fact that Renault/Nissan has since partnered up with Daimler. The little brother of the Trafic/Vivaro, the Renault Kangoo, has now been rebadged as the Mercedes-Benz Citan.
I think that the bug-eyed Trafic/Vivaro, which is fitted with a four-cylinder turbodiesel, still looks fresh twelve years after its launch. This year, there is a Color Edition that adds more style to a great design. Certainly, the Vivaro is a more interesting vehicle than the Nissan NV200, which is also sold as the Chevrolet Express City.
- First Drive: 2015 Volkswagen GTI
- Instrumented Test: 2013 Mercedes-Benz G63 AMG
- Prototype Drive: Mercedes-Benz G63 AMG 6×6
Happy Birthday, Syd Mead!
The visions of the future that our political “leaders” provide are polluted with public transportation, electricity-generating windmills, and smiley-faced city vehicles. But there is a different vision for the future out there—and no one has formulated it better than the designer and futurist Syd Mead. He has virtually defined science fiction; his designs combine the aesthetics of the steel age and the computer age. Syd came up with the designs for the movies Blade Runner and Tron, and he has created countless illustrations and works of art. He is considered a source of inspiration by generations of automotive designers, and continues to give advice to his younger peers. Let’s hope that Syd’s awesome visions eventually prevail. This Thursday, on July 17, this giant of the design community turned 80. Happy birthday!