The Continental: Small Mercedes Engines, Good News for Mitsubishi, and Bad News for the Honda FCX
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 am currently participating in the Mercedes-Benz B-class launch in Vienna, and while this dull compact van does not exactly stir the senses, it gives a valuable indication of some future engines.
The gasoline engine in the B-class is a 1.6-liter, turbocharged, direct-injection four, internally called M270. Its most powerful current iteration is in the B200 with 154 hp. A tweaked version, code-named M274, is being developed for use in rear-wheel-drive platforms as well. The M270′s short stroke could be significantly enlarged. When placed in a rear-wheel-drive car, there will be room for a larger turbo as well. The advent of the M274 will lead to a gradual phasing-out of the current M271, a turbocharged 1.8 with up to 201 hp. The M270/274 can do more: Expect an AMG derivative making around 300 hp.
The diesel engine in the B-class is a derivative of the ubiquitous OM651, a 2.1-liter four-cylinder turbo-diesel that’s available in anything from the C-class to the S-class and the Sprinter van in Europe. The B-class uses a smaller, 1.8-liter version, which hasn’t lost a lot of weight—it still uses a cast-iron block. Balancing shafts keep noise and vibration at an acceptable level. This smaller diesel could be used for Mercedes’ rear-wheel-drive cars as well, I am told.
Will the U.S. market get these Mercedes engines? Perhaps, but it depends on fuel prices. Should you look forward to them? The M270 is pleasant, torquey, and willing—so, yes. The OM651 works well in its 2.1-liter, 201-hp configuration in the bigger Benzes. But the 107-hp and 134-hp 1.8 left me cold.
Continuing in the downsized four-cylinder vein, Alfa Romeo has announced a 1.8-liter turbo designed to produce up to 300 hp. Alfa and Maserati chief Harald Wester says the engine is an “extremely important step in the repositioning” of the brand, yet the company also says that this engine’s traits are “characteristic for Alfa Romeo.” “The U.S. is our primary goal,” says Wester. (Alfa has once again delayed its North American relaunch, this time to either 2013 or 2014. Who even knows anymore?) The company says the engine can be mounted transversely or longitudinally. Longitudinally? Perhaps Chrysler will be allowed to help itself to Alfa’s parts bin soon.
Mitsubishi Sells a Few More Cars
Mitsubishi isn’t doing well, but the company is getting some relief from PSA. The French carmaking conglomerate already relies on the Japanese for its small electric cars and big crossover vehicles: The i-MiEV is sold in Europe as the Citroën C-Zero and the Peugeot iOn; the Mitsubishi Outlander is offered at a significant premium as the Citroën C-Crosser and the Peugeot 4007. Now Mitsubishi has managed to peddle the Outlander Sport as well: It will grace dealerships as the Citroën C4 Aircross (above) and the Peugeot 4008 (below). PSA has, admittedly,done a good job restyling the Mitsubishi. The C-pillar of the C4 Aircross looks downright futuristic. I suppose that they will be sold for thousands more than the Mitsubishi Outlander Sport (called the ASX in Europe), which speaks volumes of Mitsbishi’s lack of brand equity.
Zero Demand for the Honda FCX
I am told by a European source that, since its launch in 2008, only 46 units of the Honda FCX Clarity hydrogen-powered sedan have been built. Thirty of those are located in the U.S., 14 in Japan, and two in Europe. Weren’t they going to build 200? It seems there is zero demand for this zero-emissions vehicle.
Autobahn Tested: Citroën DS4
I wondered what Citroën was up to when it announced the launch of a premium “DS” line. Another line of retro cars, like those maxi-sized Minis gracing the world’s more affluent neighborhoods? No, thankfully. In fact, Citroën used the line “Anti-Retro” for advertising the DS3, its first DS model. I just spent two weeks in the DS4, a compact hatchback that is a bit difficult to categorize. It is taller than a regular compact yet not quite a crossover, it hides its rear doors and doesn’t even have movable rear windows, yet its rear seats are surprisingly spacious. Power comes from a 197-hp, 1.6-liter turbo co-developed with BMW, and is sent to the front wheels through a six-speed manual; top speed is an ungoverned 146 mph. I enjoyed the DS4 immensely, from its extra-tall windshield that provides a great view of the sky to its ultra-contemporary interior with black-and-white leather seats.
By Jens Meiners