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.
Oops. Volkswagen has lost a court battle against Suzuki, the Japanese carmaker in which it holds almost a 20 percent stake (although Suzuki wishes to have the shares back). What was it about? VW wanted to protect the “GTI” moniker against Suzuki, which had reserved the “Swift GTi” designation. Volkswagen argued this would confuse customers, but failed to convince the judges.
GTI and Other Poorly Protected Nameplates
In fact, it’s hard to keep track of all the vehicles that various carmakers have adorned with a “GTI” badge. There was the Citroën CX GTi luxury sedan, a late-1970s icon, and the Peugeot 205 GTi, a quintessential hot hatch when the Golf had moved upmarket. The GTi badge graced the Citroën AX and Visa subcompacts and the BX mid-size sedan; it is used by Peugeot even today on the 308, a direct Golf competitor. Mitsubishi, Nissan, Rover, and Toyota have used it—and, of course, Suzuki. The second-gen Swift, sister model to the abominable Geo Metro, was a seriously quick car in GTi mode. What’s more, VW’s subsidiary SEAT has used the GTi moniker on several models. VW itself has relegated it to a hardly distinguishable trim level with the Golf IV. It was used on the Lupo, the Polo, the Brazilian Gol, the Golf, and the Scirocco. Today, it designates the second-best cars in VW’s lineup, below the R models. So they want to keep others from using it? Please.
The VW Group is obsessed with snatching up and guarding nameplates. Shortly after VW failed to acquire Maserati, the company named the fourth-generation Jetta the “Bora,” sending car enthusiasts all over the globe into uncontrollable fits—the Italian carmaker had previously used the name on a mid-engine V-8 coupe. Audi has tried to keep Maserati from using the Quattroporte nameplate; the Quattroporte (whose name means “four-door” in Italian), of course, was launched almost 20 years before Audi decided to put its Quattro all-wheel-drive system into an Audi 4000–based coupe.
A Proper Entry-Level Beetle
Volkswagen has launched the Beetle with smaller engines specifically for the European market. There is a 1.2-liter TSI and a 1.6-liter TDI engine, both producing a mere 105 hp. My colleague Matthias Knödler drove them and reports that the 1.2-liter TSI is quick and agile, loves to be revved, and is an entirely adequate unit. The 1.6 TDI, by contrast, is too loud and not up to the premium standard of the car. There also is a 160-hp, 1.4-liter TSI “twincharger” with a supercharger and a turbocharger. With this engine, the Beetle is a bit quicker than the 1.2 TSI model, but the extra weight—more than 190 pounds—can clearly be felt. Better to stick with the 1.2 TSI, or go all the way to the 2.0 TSI, or the 2.0 TDI. The 2.5-liter five, a variation of the “Iron Gustav” EA113 engine, is offered in the U.S. but not exported to Europe.
An Electric with a Gasoline Heater
While Matthias was driving the Beetle in Lisbon, I flew to Kiruna in northern Sweden, a town known for iron ore mining—and its recreational activities including dog sledding, snowmobiling, and Northern Light observation. The purpose of the trip was to drive the Volvo C30 Electric under extreme conditions. But alas, temperatures were in the high 20s, and therefore Volvo put the cars into containers with sub-zero temperatures overnight. They started up flawlessly in the morning, and heating up the interior was a matter of minutes (small wonder). The Chinese-owned carmaker says the car can travel more than 90 miles on a single charge; 70 miles are easily reached, we were told. But when my co-driver and I returned from the 50-mile test run, with comfortable temperatures in the 20s, there was juice left for only three more miles, after the car had moved into a reduced-power mode aptly symbolized by a turtle on the dashboard.
But it was partly our fault: We pushed the car repeatedly to its 80-mph limiter, and for 10 or so miles, we relied solely on the electric immersion heater. When we saw the range drop, we swiftly enabled the 8-hp fuel-operated heater again. That’s right, this fully electric car is heated by a system that runs on bioethanol or gasoline and is fed from a three-gallon-plus fuel tank. When heating up, it can use more than one quart per hour; consumption drops to a half-quart per hour under normal winter conditions. You can switch off the fuel-operated heater, but—like us—you will quickly learn to appreciate its range-extending capabilities.
I liked the level of execution on the C30 Electric. It is reasonably quick and feels like a substantial car. But the fuel-powered heater highlights the absurdity of the battery-electric vehicle. Its tiny fuel tank holds more energy than the car’s 600-pound battery pack. Memo to proponents of the pure electric: the mood could be swinging. So far, 250 units have been built; a few hundred more will be done with Siemens after the current series is finished.
Volvo’s Gift to the Industry
While the C30 Electric is not a major threat to anyone, Volvo’s new V40 has disgusted industry executives with its “pedestrian airbag” that covers the hood and parts of the windshield and A-pillars when it deploys. The fact that “ped pro” has been allowed into regulation to the current extent is an epic failure of the automotive industry. Cost is outrageous, the cars grow in size, styling suffers—and the life-saving effect, according to industry studies, is virtually zero. The airbag that turns the road into a mattress has yet to be invented. A German executive shares this: “We hoped we could avoid this thing, but thanks to Volvo, it seems as if we have to offer it as well.” Congratulations, everyone.
The “Pirate” is Out
Your window to buy one of today’s coolest cars has closed: BMW will no longer take orders for the 1-series M coupe. Production will continue until summer, but all cars are spoken for. The awesome rear-driver will then make room in BMW’s Leipzig plant for new derivatives of the 1-series. There’s some hope we’ll get a car like the 135i M Performance concept unveiled in Geneva. It would be powered by the single-turbo N55 engine.
Trackback from your site.