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Old 09-19-2011, 10:20 AM   #1
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The Continental: Driving an Audi S8 Prototype, VWs Up! Plans, Ford Design and ST Tidbits

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 couple weeks back, I was allowed to drive a prototype of the Audi S8 with the new, twin-turbocharged 4.0-liter V-8and able to push it up to 120 mph briefly. The new, compact V-8 is a fantastic engine with very little turbo lag and a beautiful growl, although it still lacks the ultra-quick response of the supercharged engines from Cadillac and Jaguar. It was co-developed by Audi and Bentley and will also be available in the base Continental GT. How is that for an entry-level engine?

The powerplant, which comes with standard cylinder deactivation, is close in character to AMGs twin-turbocharged 5.5-liter V-8, which I first drove last summer in a prototype of the S63 AMG. Lets compare the two: The S63 AMG is a rear-wheel-drive sedan with a seven-speed automatic transmission, and it tips the scales at nearly 4700 pounds; the Audi S8 comes with Quattro all-wheel drive, an eight-speed automatic, and thanks to its all-aluminum body, it weighs just over 4300 pounds. The 5.5-liter AMG engine is stronger, producing 536 hp at 5500 rpm and 590 lb-ft of torque from 2000 to 4500 rpm. Whats more, you can order a performance package, which adds 27 hp and a remarkable 74 lb-ft of torque. By contrast, the 4.0-liter Audi engine produces a bit less power520 hp at 5800 rpm. Maximum torque is significantly lower at 479 lb-ft, but it is available from 1700 to 5500 rpm.

On the road, the Benz cant make use of its power advantage: The S63 AMG runs from 0 to 62 mph in a claimed 4.5 seconds, or 4.4 with the performance package; Audi says the all-wheel-drive S8 charges to the same speed in just 4.2 seconds. Both cars are governed at 155 mph, but you can get the AMG with a modified governor that allows it to reach 186 mph. No word yet from Audi on its policy for the S8, but previously, only the RS models were available with a modified governor.

Speaking of, the next RS6 will get a variation of the new twin-turbo V-8 as well, but for the R8 supercar, the future, according to Audi development chief Michael Dick, still holds a high-revving, naturally aspirated V-10. Interestingly, VW crashed Audis V-8 cylinder-deactivation event with its own announcement of the same technology on a 1.4-liter four, which was released on the very same day.

Notes on the Up!

VWs top brass was present at the launch of the Up! in Wolfsburg. The tiny car has a lot going for it, but I just cant make sense of the engine strategy, with only two naturally aspirated gasoline engines available at launch. They perform just fine, but without real enthusiasm. Where is a turbocharged performance versionand, more important, where is a diesel? Nowhere in the foreseeable future, which doesnt bode well for diesel technology.

Instead, VW will add a version powered by compressed natural gas. Finding fuel stations and filling the high-security tanks is an absolute nightmare with CNG vehicles, which I avoid like the plague (and electrics) if I need to go anywhere beyond my little Bavarian hometown. The price premium for the CNG version will be similar to that of a hypothetical diesel.

Whatever VWs reason not to offer a diesel, thankfully there are alternatives here, such as the nicely executed Kia Rio. Its entry-level turbodiesel is far more efficient and torquey than the Up!s naturally aspirated gasoline engines.

Except for the initial engine selection, there is a lot to like about the Up!. Its styling is super clean and product-design-like, and details like the glass rear hatch prove that in the battle of styling versus cost-cutting, the designers often prevailed. Unusually for this class, the Up! is engineered to be fitted with wheels measuring up to 17 inches. Nice.

VW Group R&D chief Ulrich Hackenberg tells me that the Up! could easily be modified to be sold in the U.S., but there are no concrete plans yet.

On a different note, he says that rumors VW might join NASCAR have no basis. That topic lost relevance about the time when VW switched from rear to front engines, Hackenberg jokes.

What are Secretaries Going to Drive?

Plans to bring the Jetta coupe to market have been put on hold. The market is too small, I am told by VW. Are two-door coupes dying? Ford wont have a Focus coupe, either. The market for these secretaries sports cars is shrinking. They are almost an embarrassment to us, a Ford executive offered at the launch of the Evos concept car in Berlin. Which pretty much leaves the market to the Honda Civic and the Kia Forte.

Mays Takes a Jab at the Competition

Present at the Evos launch was Ford design chief J Mays, who says that the Evos shows a first-time-ever global design DNA for the brand. In a knock at other carmakers, he says that while manufacturers around the globe have imitated kinetic design, dare I say added more complexity to it, we have made a left turn. We are going exactly the other direction, in fact we are simplifying our design language. The new face of Ford, says Mays, includes the trapezoidal grille. This, of course, is a design cue that Ive spotted on Hyundai concept cars well before it appeared on the Ford Fiesta and Mondeo. It somehow reminds me of the Ford Five Hundred, whichat Mays behestwas little more than a VW Passat B5 morphed to the Ford D3 platform.

2012 Ford Focus ST

Ive reported before that Ford will bring the Focus ST to market in the U.S., but only as a five-door hatchback. We now know Europe will get an ST station wagon as well. The brand is currently deliberating whether the upcoming Fiesta ST, powered by a turbocharged 1.6 with 178 hp, will come to the U.S. as well. And the U.S. might also eventually get a Focus with a 1.0-liter three-cylinder engine, which is slated for a European launch in early 2012. Ford is running a number of prototypes in the U.S., and the feedback is encouraging, according to an executive.

Text Source: Car & Driver

Last edited by warneej; 09-20-2011 at 06:43 AM.
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