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 Oschersleben meeting is to Opel what the Wörthersee meeting is to Volkswagen: The one annual event where tens of thousands of enthusiasts come together to celebrate their cars—unbridled, unapologetic, and largely free of sophisticated taste. Opel was present with a large number of current vehicles, but the best part was the tuned and detailed classic Opels. Check out the gallery at the bottom of this post for a visual taste of the event’s awesomeness.
While the future of the legendary Nürburgring racetrack following the spectacular failure of a politically fueled amusement park project is uncertain, I am happy to report that another German racetrack has opened its doors. Built on a former NATO ammunition depot, the Bilster Berg resort features a 2.6-mile track designed by the ubiquitous Hermann Tilke. The estimated average speed with a Porsche 911 GT3 is 105 mph, with a lap time of just under two minutes. The track is designed for racing and as a testing facility, and there is an adjacent off-road area. I look forward to driving on it. A nice touch: it is entirely privately financed.
Ah, racing. The Manthey team (you won’t find better 911 racing experts) is launching two racers everyone can afford. Okay, so they’re both 1:43 scale models of the 911 GT3, but they commemorate the victory at the 2011 Nürburgring 24-hour race. (You can check out both models at Manthey’s website here, but be warned, it’s in German.) Cleverly, one of the models is even designed to appear as though it just finished the race, with an almost “post-battle” look.
Congratulations from Munich
The Porsche 911 is turning 50 this year, and Mini jovially celebrated with a photo shoot to “congratulate the 911.” Four years its elder, the original Mini—BMW prefers to speak of the “classic Mini”—has achieved iconic status similar to the 911. In a press release, BMW rightly points out that “not every modification enjoyed universal praise, take the switch from air cooling to water cooling at Porsche or the extra focus on comfort and luxury of the first Mini (sic) built by BMW.” BMW also states that both it and Porsche have “demonstrated an open mind to adding new models to their ranges . . . in many respects, the Panamera and Cayenne broke through similarly symbolic boundaries as the Countryman and Paceman.” A lucid comment.
The 2014 BMW X5 will come to the U.S. market with a 300-horsepower, 3.0-liter inline-six; a 445-horsepower, 4.4-liter V-8; and a 255-horsepower, 3.0-liter diesel inline-six. In Europe, the lineup includes three additional, very interesting diesel engines: An ultra-efficient 215-horsepower, 2.0-liter four in the sDrive25d and xDrive25d; a 309-horsepower, 3.0-liter inline-six in the xDrive40d; and a 376-horsepower, 3.0-liter inline-six in the M50d. The latter model, rated at 546 lb-ft of torque, is fitted with three turbochargers and belongs to the M Performance line of vehicles. It is a veritable autobahn stormer.
The Nissan March / Micra, once a stylish alternative to the likes of the Volkswagen Polo and the Opel Corsa, has been repositioned in 2010 to compete mainly in emerging markets such as Asia and South America. The dull and conservative styling, personally approved by Carlos Ghosn, has actually been something of an embarrassment to Nissan designers. An extensive facelift aimed at the European market now aims to fix the predicament. It actually does so with some success; despite a more determined look and an aggressive mouth, it is neither beautiful nor innovative, but at least it will no longer put observers into an instant coma.
Mercedes Style Points
This week, the last W221 S-class rolled off the line in Stuttgart-Sindelfingen. Styled under the tutelage of now-retired chief designer Peter Pfeiffer and his successor, Gorden Wagener, just over 500,000 units have been built since 2005. That’s more than any other S-class in history, despite the stalled luxury car marked in Europe. I vividly remember the W221′s driving launch in the Swiss resort of St. Moritz, which led to more than one speeding fine. When it comes to their traffic laws, the Swiss are strict, and for high-speed driving, there is always the autobahn just north of the border. It also was one of the earlier press launches where no wine was offered with lunch, an attempt to get some of us off the questionable habit. An impressive “water menu” was presented. The wine needed to be special ordered.
- Instrumented Test: 2012 Porsche 911 Carrera
- Instrumented Test: 2013 Nissan Sentra SL 1.8
- First Drive: 2014 Mercedes-Benz E250 BluetTec Diesel
It sounds strange, but the logo is one of the most important aspects of a vehicle’s design—and no one knows that better than Mercedes-Benz. My colleague Ed Lapham of Automotive News reported years ago that Wolfgang Bernhard, who is touted as Dieter Zetsche’s successor at Daimler, once pointed out another carmaker’s logo and asked: “Why would an automaker take its logo, which should be an icon of the brand, and make it a trunk release button so that fingers continually touch and debase the emblem?” Perhaps Bernhard, who served a stint at Volkswagen—a company known for using its rear emblem for trunk-opening duty—a few years after this comment, is behind Daimler’s latest offering: An illuminated three-pointed star, which draws extra attention to the logo at night.
The LED system can be dealer-installed on the current C-, E-, GL-, GLK-, M-, and CLS-class models. Mercedes, for its part, calls it “bright, but sophisticated.” The star will be available on further models down the road, but only on those not equipped with the optional Distronic radar-based adaptive cruise-control system. Those vehicles wear a hologram-like emblem instead of a solid star, a feature that is jokingly referred to in the design community as “star in aspic.”