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Monaco's Prince Albert, Honda Motor Bikes, DCX's Pacifica, Lincoln's Aviator, Ford's Volvo and Other Happy Notes - Only In This Month's Letter From Europe

PHOTO (select to view enlarged photo)
TACH's Andrew Frankl Interviews Prince Albert

PHOTO (select to view enlarged photo)
TACH's Andrew Frankl Interviews New Honda

By Andrew Frankl European Bureau Chief

The end of May is traditionally an exciting time of the year for me as it includes my annual pilgrimage to Monaco for the Grand Prix. This year was no exception and with the race on June 1 even the weather was warmer than normally. If you’ve never been then this is one race, one week-end worth saving for. If Formula One is not your scene then by all means stop in the Principality for a day, but without the sounds and excitement of the race it is just another tourist destination.

On the positive side it is wonderful to see the drivers inches from the guardrails, on the negative side the prices and the crowds can be somewhat overbearing. Still, especially if you have local friends, it can be a blast. For me the highlight, as always, was interviewing
Prince Albert, the heir apparent. A charming, intelligent man who is working very hard to keep Monaco on the world tourist map. As he pointed out there are all sorts of new and exciting destinations which is why the Grand Prix is so important as a way of staying in the international limelight. Not to mention the many millions of dollars it brings.

This year Monaco offered an extra attraction for me. Honda very kindly invited me to participate in what they called the “ Honda experience”. They rented a chateau in France, flew in some journalists and let us loose on their trail bikes and quad bikes. The following day we even had a chance to drive some Honda powered speed boats, not a bad way to reach the paddock in Monaco. They also arranged for one of their drivers, Jenson Button to join us for lunch and his boss, David Richards for dinner so all in all a very good time was had by all. The underlying message was clear-yes, we make cars, yes we make engines but we also make bikes, quads and a variety of other things. At one point I fully expected a lawn mower as well but the owners of the chateau didn’t seem too keen on that!

Back at SFO it was nice to be greeted by a new, 2003 Lincoln Aviator, the Navigator’s little brother. Well, not exactly tiny but more manageable and very pleasant to drive. At 45 thousand dollars it wasn’t exactly a give-away but then it did have every conceivable extra bar the proverbial kitchen sink. (That too could have been fitted had we folded some seats down.) With a relatively gentle right foot 18-19 miles per gallon was perfectly attainable. This of course is Ford Motor Company’s 100th anniversary. If the quality of the Aviator is the shape of things to come then I am sure they can look forward to another hundred although they’ll need to plug some gaps, something to take on the Honda Accords and Toyota Camrys.

Talking to Bob Dover, one of their most senior executives during the Monaco Grand Prix he was happy to report record sales for the Range Rover and for Volvo’s XC90. Talking of Volvo I have been driving their 2004 C70 convertible. If I describe it as a nice car for nice people you’ll probably think I am putting it down but you would be wrong. I readily accept that this is not a car to rob a bank in, the acceleration is not that of a BMW M3 and having tried to fit a set of golf clubs in the trunk I can testify that the second set would have to go on the back seat. On the other hand I would be hard pushed to find a nicer way to cruise around California with the top down. The seats are comfortable, the 2.3 liter 5 cylinder turbocharged engine is fine, the stereo system is nothing short of sensational and the A/C was a life saver in the 110 degree heat of Novato. Would I have it as a first car? Probably not. It is not ideal for carrying lots of stuff so taking it skiing is probably out of the question in spite of the very well insulated soft top which comes down, unaided in record time. I’ve seen several round Marin and from my limited market research it seems to appeal to ladies who do lunch. With a fuel consumption of 25 miles per gallon they could even afford the dressing on their salads!

I’ve just been driving the new Chrysler Pacifica and very nice it was too. It has a base price of $32,300 dollars, the one I had arrived with a total sticker price of $41,365. It is quite clear from the finish and the overall quality that the Daimler/Chrysler merger is now beginning to gel. The designs are more exciting and even though Chrysler may be losing a lot of money this year I am convinced that they’ll turn that round soon. Especially if they keep coming out with new models such as the all-wheel drive Pacifica.

We used it for the nicest possible occasion- a wedding! As you would expect it had to carry a great deal of luggage and most importantly my 92 year old Mother in Law! Driving up to Silverado in Napa with the outside temperature climbing to over 100 degrees the A/C coped admirably and while she could not quite figure out how to use the DVD it was there for her to try.

The description “Fully equipped” does not do justice to the Pacifica. Airbags, side bags, inflatable knee bags, a navigational system in the middle of the speedometer (a first I believe), tire pressure monitoring system, the list is endless.

On the road the Pacifica’s 6 cylinder engine is a little bit less powerful than I would have liked, with four skiers plus all the winter paraphernalia it would get there- eventually. Another 50 horses would not be missed. The fuel consumption worked out at a very reasonable 21.5 miles per gallon, a huge improvement on big SUVs which are happy to average 15 .

I’ve been studying the optional equipment list to see what could be dropped to reduce the price back towards $32, 000 without sacrificing too much. If you don’t need premium leather low back bucket seats there is a saving of 890 dollars. Heated seats are not needed in many places, that’s another 500. If you know where you are going at all times then there is another 1595 dollars saved on the navigational system. No children? Who needs a rear seat video system? ($1070 saved.) An interesting extra is the power lift-gate. It sounds like one of those reversing trash trucks-beep, beep, beep while it opens at the push of a button. Great, but what happens if you are on a slope or if things have not been tied down?

A nice gimmick but one I would delete. Another 400 saved. If we add all these together- $4455 dollars then we have a perfectly nice 4 wheel drive crossover vehicle –still with a sunroof and a premium sound system but for under 37 thousand dollars and that is before you start asking for discounts! Certainly a worthy new arrival. No wonder they’ve sold over 6500 in June alone. With Pacifica and the beautiful Crossfire I feel that Chrysler are entering a new age. They’ve certainly waited long enough.