Car Magazine Honesty(sic), BMW, Hybrids, Honda, Mercedes, Cadillac, Lutz and Purves - All in this months - Letter From Europe


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"Crappy" BMW 1 Series


By Andrew Frankl European Bureau Chief

After some 22 years at the helm (with my partner) of outspoken CAR Magazine I still find the contrast between British and American enthusiast publications astonishing.

I am not saying that magazines such as Car & Driver never criticize anything beyond the positioning of the ashtray but when it comes to really dishing it out to a major advertiser they and the other magazines tend to hold back.

Let me give you an example of what-in my opinion- would never get published in a major automotive publication in the States: articles by Jeremy Clarkson.

Even though he writes these truly vitriolic articles in Rupert Murdoch’s Sunday Times the manufacturers don’t have an option…they have to advertise in the biggest quality Sunday paper in Britain. Consequently they have to grin and bear sentences such as “ I am choosing the words for my conclusion with even more care than usual. So here it goes. The BMW 1 series is crap.”

Can you see that sentence in C&D? I can’t. I think the Publishing Director would have a seizure on the spot. This is how it was and to some extent still is with CAR Magazine-we used to give’ em hell. In the Good, the bad and the ugly section the Datsun Cherry Y was simply described as “Y indeed”, I think you get the idea.

BMW
Certainly BMW head honcho Tom Purves here in the States saw the 1-series and for that matter his entire range in a totally different light.

We had a good chat at the LA Auto Show which will appear in a forthcoming issue of Bimmer Magazine. Tom was brutally honest when admitting that

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BMW’s styling and the iDrive polarized his potential customers. I’ve always loved BMWs and said from day one that for me and most people like me the 7 series was just too clever by half. Not surprisingly the iDrive was simplified for the 5 series and also for the forthcoming 3 series.

BMW is making a big song and dance about hydrogen power, I am not convinced that they are on the right road. Right now if I were a betting man I would put my money on clean diesel and/or hybrids.

VOLKSWAGEN
VW are co-operating with Shell to develop a completely sulfur-free, natural gas-derived synthetic diesel. Diesel pumps already exist so the
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infrastructure is already there, with hydrogen the initial investment would run into billions. Also, while hybrids are economical in a stop-go environment they are not particularly economical on the highway, whereas diesels such as the VW Golf TDI and Passat TDI and the Mercedes clean diesel powered vehicles are.

MERCEDES
My wife and I loved the Mercedes E320 CDI, an exceptional diesel powered automobile. No more waiting for the glowing red

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light to out, no more blue smoke from the exhaust, in fact it was quite difficult to even tell that we were driving a diesel. At 50 thousand dollars it wasn’t exactly a bargain but with 37 miles per gallon it still seemed like a pretty reasonable proposition. Every conceivable extra from dual zone automatic climate control to bur walnut trim, 50 thousand miles warranty, a multitude of air-bags, the list is endless in a car that is quiet, economical and highly desirable.

AUDI
After the Mercedes we found Audi’s 2005 4.2 A6 quattro a little bit rough and ready. At 56 thousand dollars it also seemed

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somewhat expensive. If anything the 335 horsepower V8 was too powerful, too jumpy, it lacked subtlety as did the rather fierce brakes. Audi are past masters of quattros, especially competition ones.

Many years ago Audi had a French lady, Michelle Mouton driving for them and she won just about every rally and hill climb she’d entered. That

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competitive spirit runs through this car, its DNA is clearly visible especially under fierce acceleration. Just because it wasn’t for me does not mean that it is a bad car in any shape or form, for a businessman in a hurry on a German autobahn I am sure it would be first or second choice. It is an engineer’s dream with a 6 speed automatic transmission which can also be used manually. The standard equipment is just as lavish as in the E320 and it really is a matter of preferences. I don’t drive as quickly as I used to and for me the E320 diesel is a more attractive proposition.

CADILLAC
I've known GM’s Bob Lutz since 1970 so it was nice to run into him at the LA Show and to tell him about my

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adventures in Cadillac’s new Escalade EXT. This combination of luxury SUV and pick-up truck was new to me and I am still waiting for someone to explain the reason for it. Having said that, it was a God-send during the snow storms in the Sierras. That 6 liter engine came in very handy in the deep snow. It was so deep that twice I started to dig out the wrong car before I’d discovered my mistake. Not a truck I would buy as my needs are very different most of the time, but an awesome piece of machinery for those who want to haul hay during the day and drive to the Opera in the evening.

GM is having a huge go trying to catch up with the Japanese manufacturers and they seem to succeeding at the high end. By their own admission it will be a while before they can start taking sales away from Toyota and Honda at the lower end.

LA MUSINGS
An interested spectator at the LA Show was none other than Oscar winning actor Dustin Hoffman. He showed great interest in Ford’s new Mustang and spent quite a bit of time in it. The Mustang was a huge hit and I am sure it will be walking out of the showrooms without any discounts.

All in all LA proved that car makers will never change. As long as there is a niche-they will go for it. At one end we had Hummers and big trucks, at the other hybrids and highly efficient diesels. Love them or hate them-cars in all shapes and sizes are here to stay.

HONDA
Talking of here to stay, Honda’s Accord seems to have been around forever. The reason, it was good, it is good and I dare say it will always be good. Inexpensive to run, fun to drive and thanks to the

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latest navigational system impossible to get lost in. Better than any held-held device I’ve ever come across. The coupe with the latest V6 engine went like smoke and my only complaint was that sometimes reverse gear proved somewhat problematical. The six forward gears on the other hand worked admirably. The four door Hybrid version was sort of all right. It is quite expensive and the fuel savings would only be significant for someone who spends two-three hours a day on San Francisco’s Bay Bridge in the morning and afternoon commute. There is nothing wrong with it but compared to the “normal” V6 coupe it was a bit of a disappointment . There was something wrong with the steering as it was unusually vague, a bit like big American cars of the 60s and 70s.

My advice, unless you are trying to save Mother Earth by having hybrid-and I am afraid it will make very little difference- stick with the regular Accord which is the gold standard of reliability. Every single member of the family has or has had one and all of them did well over 100 thousand miles without any trouble whatsoever.

Till next time, Andrew.

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