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Auto blogWed, 27 Nov 2013 08:57:00 EST
The argument is made in a Reuters article: Audi is falling behind other luxury brands, such as Mercedes-Benz and BMW, due to a lack of research-and-development spending and "brain drain," or the migration of top executives and R&D chiefs to other parts of the Volkswagen Group. Reuters notes that Audi's current R&D chief is the third in 16 months.
Audi, which contributed to 40 percent of VW Group's $11.6 billion in profit the first nine months of the year, is delivering cars at a record pace: 1.31 million were delivered from January to October 2013 versus BMW's 1.35 million. Yet Audi, Reuters reports, doesn't have a halo car akin to BMW's new electrified i3 and i8 or an answer to Mercedes' plug-in-hybrid S-Class, and the R&D spending at Audi is less than BMW and Mercedes by a fair margin. It's noted in the article, however, that Audi benefits from other R&D spending within VW Group.
Reuters mentions that BMW "trumpets its new 'i' series" and the new Mercedes CLA and GLA ranges are winning "rave reviews" as part of its argument that Audi's recent lack of technological innovation could hurt future sales. Those cars do pack tons of new technology, some of which are firsts for mainstream production cars. But last time we checked, the i3 could be causing BMW's stock to slide, the CLA isn't receiving the rave reviews that Reuters would have you believe and the GLA hasn't been reviewed yet.
BMW's decision to make the upcoming 2-Series Active Tourer front-wheel drive has been polarizing to say the least, but like it or not, that is the direction the company will go in the near future - one rumor put the number as high as 23 front-wheel-drive models for Mini and BMW combined. The next-generation X1 won't send all its power to the front wheels, though, when it launches in early 2016. While it will use the same platform as the Active Tourer, rumors suggest all models will use all-wheel drive - at least at launch.
A "high-ranking," unnamed BMW manager confirmed to AutoWeek that the new model will switch to transversely-mounted three- and four-cylinder engines and the same six-speed manual and eight-speed automatic transmissions as the Active Tourer. The new, smaller platform will allow for more efficient packaging, and despite the smaller size, interior space will remain comparable. All the changes should make it significantly lighter too.
Don't start wailing just yet because BMW surely won't be entirely abandoning sporty models. AutoWeek claims that the Bavarians are working on a higher-output version of the 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder with power closer to 300 horsepower, about a 72-hp boost. It's also rumored to offer a sporty version of the X1 that may be called the X2.
Alpina has been lovingly modifying BMWs for half a century, but as we learned during a tour of the company's HQ in Buchloe, Germany, Alpina has been in the wine distribution business for nearly as long. The company has an estimated million bottles on reserve in two warehouses and a beautiful wine cellar/tasting room on property in western Bavaria, just yards from where its 1,500 hand-crafted automobiles per year are produced.
What does that have to do with the new B6 Gran Coupe? Well, it may help make sense of the overall character of Alpina's automobiles, especially vis-à-vis the similarly priced, similarly powerful M Cars that BMW sells in far greater numbers. Alpinas are built by wine connoisseurs for wine connoisseurs, or wine connoisseur types; they are not rip-snortin' racecars for the road - that's M's domain. Alpinas are esoteric, rich in character and nuanced. But make no mistake: they are very, very fast.
Our brief first drive of the B6 Gran Coupe - the only 6 Series-based Alpina we'll get in the US for 2015 - took place on German autobahns and Austrian alpine roads, where the car is more at home than anywhere in the world, both literally and figuratively. With 540 horsepower and 540 pound-feet of torque on tap from its twin-turbocharged 4.4-liter V8 and xDrive all-wheel drive, the B6 is said to be able to hit 60 miles per hour in 3.7 seconds on its way to a top speed of 198 mph, a massive 43 mph faster than the M6, which is electronically limited to 155 mph. Yet even at insane speeds - we saw an indicated 190 mph on one particularly lonely stretch of Autobahn - the B6 feels more luxurious than sporty, taking the countenance of a low-slung Bentley Continental GT or an Aston Martin Rapide S, not a knife-edged supercar. It doesn't feel scintillating like a Porsche 911 GT2; rather it feels rock steady, like the 4,780-pound luxury sedan it is.