The Continental: A Toyota You Don’t Know Of Loses Its V-12, and a Familiar Audi Loses Its Rear

The Continental

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.

Toyota Century

Before we dive into the updates from Europe, there are two vehicle bore-ifications that need to be addressed. The first pertains to one of the most fascinating vehicles built today losing its V-12–powered edge. I hear that the Toyota Century luxury sedan, the epitome of conservatism and a favorite with traditionally minded top executives in Japan, will soon lose the hand-built 5.0-liter V-12 that produces up to 280 serene horsepower. Replacing the grand twelve will be a hybridized V-8. How vulgar, not to mention inappropriate, for a sedan that appears stuck in the late 1970s.

Audi RS7 and S7.

On a similar note, another favorite of mine, the Audi A7, will soon become less distinguished. The A7 is the beautiful sister model of the A6, a car whose greenhouse reminds me of 1970s icons like the Citroën CX and the Rover SD1 and whose sharply cropped Kamm tail rear-end style evokes Italian sports cars like the Maserati Merak and Khamsin. It seems that customers have trouble with the radical tail of the A7, and so as a result, the next generation will get a more mainstream butt. I am assured it will still be a beautiful car, but my expectations have been lowered.

Kia Picanto in Frankfurt last week.

A Tiny Kia Highlights European Preferences

Last week, I attended the launch of the updated Kia Picanto in Frankfurt. The tiniest of Kias is significantly smaller than, say, the Rio sold stateside, but it is a decent car nevertheless. Fitted with a 65-hp three-banger or an 84-hp four-cylinder, the Picanto doesn’t exactly wow the driver. (The smaller engine sounds better, but it needs to be revved for maximum haste.) Even so, the level of equipment is remarkable; for example, you can get the Picanto with a full-size telematics system, automatic air conditioning, and a heated steering wheel. The Picanto is just one example of minicars in Europe and Asia that are so much better and more sophisticated than entry-level cars in the United States. Small doesn’t equal cheap out there.

The Kia Sportspace is the Optima Wagon.

And Europe is still happily addicted to the station wagon; Kia provides proof, here, as well. I learned that the Kia Sportspace concept, which debuted to acclaim at the 2015 Geneva auto show, was not merely a teaser for the next-gen Optima sedan. The hot concept also previewed an actual station-wagon version of the Optima, which will be offered in Europe only. That car will be the sister model of the just-facelifted Hyundai i40 wagon.



S1jens

What’s More Fun Than the GTI?

One of the greater advantages of living in Europe is the impressive selection of hot hatches. For me, one of them actually beats the Volkswagen GTI, the vehicle that I had considered the best in its segment. A few weeks ago, I drove the GTI side-by-side with a somewhat distant relative, the Audi S1 quattro. Both cars cost about the same, and they are powered by essentially the same 2.0-liter TFSI, which is rated at 220 horsepower in the European-spec GTI and 230 horsepower in the S1. The Audi is smaller, based on the VW Polo’s PQ25 platform, while the one-size-up GTI is based on the VW Group’s new MQB architecture.

Size matters, because the more compact S1 just feels far more playful and tossable than the grown-up GTI. It’s also louder, and thanks to standard all-wheel drive, it is possible to have power-on fun with its tail. And while my GTI test car was fitted with the six-speed dual-clutch automatic, the S1 comes with a six-speed manual only. The little Audi is so much more aggressive than the GTI that it has instantly become my favorite hot hatch.

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