The Continental: ZF’s Gear Mania, a Sublime Mercedes, and Cross These Droptops Off Your List

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.

2014 Jeep Cherokee with 9-speed auto

There’s a nine-speed automatic up there somewhere . . .

Recently, supplier ZF took us behind the scenes of its transmission and chassis technology. Unsurprisingly, the industry-wide trend toward ever more gears and speeds is alive and well within ZF, as evidenced by the company’s recent customer portfolio. Although Maserati still uses a ZF six-speed torque-converter automatic, there is the eight-speed automatic used by Audi, BMW, Range Rover, etc, and Porsche has its seven-speed PDK dual-clutch transmission that was developed with ZF. And now comes ZF’s nine-speed transmission, which—and this has been reported before—will be launched in the Range Rover Evoque and the 2014 Jeep Cherokee. Later, it will appear in some Cadillac models.

The gearbox’s vast ratio spread helps efficiency, with ZF claiming that while the extra gears in the eight-speed bump fuel economy by around 10 percent over a six-speed, the jump from eight to the nine speeds helps gain another 10 to 15 percent. This seems ambitious to me. The nine-speed took four and a half years to develop, according to ZF, and features an electric pump instead of a hydraulic accumulator for its engine stop-start functionality. Important to more aggressive drivers: The shifting times with the eight- and nine-speed transmissions are almost identical, at 250 to 300 milliseconds; for reference, a dual-clutch transmission can do the deed in 100 to 300 milliseconds.

In other tech news, we may soon see a low-cost version of continuous damping control that operates on the rear axle only. That’s where the tech matters most, anyway, as rear passengers and luggage can place vastly differing loads onto the rear of the vehicle. Compared to a four-corner adaptive damper setup, the cost of the rear-axle system, predictably, is nearly halved. ZF’s “CDC 1XL” system will be rushed into production by two yet-unidentified German carmakers.

Volkswagen Eos convertible

Convertibles That Won’t Happen

Rumor has it that the Volkwagen Eos won’t get a successor after the current model is phased out. The aging Eos was launched in 2006 and is based on the PQ46 platform, a variation of the last-generation Golf’s PQ35 architecture. Introduced at the height of the retractable-hardtop rage, the Eos cleverly incorporated a glass sunroof into its Rube Goldberg–esque roof. The top was furnished by roof supplier Webasto, whose relationship with VW has since deteriorated over problems with the current Beetle’s panoramic roof. In Europe, convertible lovers will be able to choose the Golf Cabriolet; in the U.S. market, if the Eos indeed lacks a successor, VW’s droptop strategy is still unclear.

Another convertible that won’t be happening is a folding-top version of the Mercedes-Benz A-class hatch. Instead, the A-class, B-class, CLA-class, and GLA-class—which all use a variation of the same platform—will be joined by a station-wagon version of the CLA dubbed a Shooting Brake. No matter, as I suspect that the next-generation A-class will offer a topless variant.

Saks Fifth Avenue Gucci

Printing Cadillacs

Last week, I wrote about the Saks Fifth Avenue Cadillac ELR. Searching for any other connection Saks may have with Cadillac, I browsed the store’s online catalog and stumbled across a value-priced $145 Gucci t-shirt that supposedly has a “Cadillac print.” Can you guess what the car on the shirt really is? For starters, it’s awesome, though Gucci—let alone Saks—should know better.

Instrumented Test: 2014 Mercedes-Benz E350 4MATIC Wagon
First Drive: 2014 Mercedes-Benz CLA250 / CLA250 4MATIC
First Drive: 2014 Jeep Cherokee Trailhawk V-6 4

About Jens Meiners