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The Continental: Lancia’s New Chryslers, Renault’s R-Space Concept Leaks, Greenpeace
In what likely is Lancia’s most extensive product offensive ever, the Geneva auto show will witness the launch of the “Lancia” Flavia (a.k.a. Chrysler 200), the “Lancia” Thema (a.k.a. Chrysler 300), the “Lancia” Grand Voyager (self-explanatory), and the Lancia Ypsilon (carrying forward a historic product line initiated by another brand, Autobianchi).
Matthias's Lancia Flavia
The few remaining Lancia loyalists must be seething at the use of renowned nameplates on rebadged Chryslers. While the Thema is already a child of the Fiat era, the Flavia was a Lancia through and through. My friend Matthias has one, and we sometimes use it to drive historic rallies together. It’s a fantastic car, built to the highest standards in its time, and most thoughtfully executed. Qualities you would not immediately associate with the face-lifted Sebring. Matthias wasn’t happy when I forwarded him the factory-Photoshopped pictures of the new Flavia . . .
The Ypsilon, on the other hand, is an original effort, available with two- and four-cylinder engines. It is a luxurious urban minicar, and nicely equipped—but it doesn’t seem that Lancia is even remotely interested in speaking to the male audience that used to be attracted by a Lancia/Autobianchi A112 Abarth or a Y10 GT. Prepare for a flurry of special editions co-branded with fashion labels.
Meanwhile, Fiat is adding the Freemont to its lineup, a rebadged Dodge Journey. The difference? Europe gets diesels. Looking at the Freemont, I wonder what happened to Fiat. The brand’s cars used to be fun, agile, and elegant.
Renault Leaks and the Volt Police
Renault has somewhat clumsily leaked perfect pictures and details of its R-Space concept car, which will be launched at the Geneva auto show as well. Renault “won’t comment” on the pictures. The R-Space gives further indication of the French brand’s styling direction after last week’s Captur concept (which came complete with an on-the-record press release).
Does the Volt need this? The Opel Ampera, a rebadged Chevrolet Volt, is being tested as a police car, we are informed. There is something that some people find cool about police cars, so there. I am sure the cops will be thrilled. Its performance should be comparable to the forgotten Dodge St. Regis (with 318-cubic-inch engine and California emissions controls).
EVs Not So Green?
Greenpeace, the notorious NGO, is lambasting electric cars: they don’t sufficiently contribute to reducing CO2 emissions, the organization says. That’s true, of course, given that Germany relies heavily on fossil energy to produce electricity. Nuclear power, of course is not an option Greenpeace would deem acceptable. The power source needs to be “regenerative,” like those windmills that mostly stand still in the California desert. Greenpeace also says that reaching a range of 300 miles in an electric car is a pipe dream. Amen.
More fun is rally world champion Juha Kankkunen’s wild drive on the Baltic Sea. He took a virtually stock Bentley Continental Supersports convertible and drove it at 205.48 mph on a frozen stretch of water. I doubt he set the cruise control, which I am happy to report is possible to do in a Bentley at this speed (but not for U.S.-market models).
Autobahn Tested: SEAT Exeo
The last-generation Audi A4 (internal code name B7) survives, rebadged as the SEAT Exeo. In 2008, Audi shipped the production line to Martorell, Spain, and the car was restyled with a new front and rear end. Inside, the A4 sedan dashboard was replaced with the A4 Cabriolet’s unit, an undertaking that was not as trivial as it might seem.
I drove the top-of-the-line Exeo with the 211-hp 2.0-liter TFSI engine driving the front wheels. Its weight distribution is less favorable than on the current (B8) A4 with its modular-longitudinal platform. But the Exeo is altogether lighter and more compact. The engine emits a pleasantly sporty sound, all the way to the ungoverned 152-mph top speed. At €28,090, the Exeo 2.0 TFSI is far cheaper than the new A4, which costs €34,950 with this engine. It’s a steal among compact performance sedans—and for €900 more, you can get it as a station wagon.
The bad news? I don’t think that recycling last-gen Audis will do much for SEAT’s brand image.