Kudos, Scoffs, Observations and Oh Yeah New Cars in This Month's Letter From Europe


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By Andrew Frankl
European Bureau Chief
The Auto Channel

I don’t think I’ve ever called a BMW silly in 14 years of writing for The Auto Channel. Until now. The 2010 X6 M should never have been made. It is 100% surplus to requirements. For 93 thousand dollars –admittedly with some extras-it really is quite unnecessary. Why create a monster which does 12 to a gallon ? It may be as quick as a Ferrari but would you really like to be in the back seat at 130 miles per hour going round a sweeping bend. I doubt it. 4-500 horsepower at the switch of a button? Who needs it? Frankly-nobody. We took it to Monterey and it really wasn’t very much fun at all. The seats were rock hard, the head-up display could only be seen if you took your sunglasses off, the interior was antiquated with lots of tiny little buttons scattered about, the dash was black and depressing-need I go on? Yes, it did get us there and back and yes, I did manage to get 16 miles per gallon by not exceeding 75 miles per hour. This bright red missile was attracting a great deal of interest from the cops even when it was standing still! Styling is a personal thing but I’ve yet to find anyone who liked it. With all those wonderful BMW engines, such as the 3 liter or the great new diesel and with wagons readily available in four-wheel drive take my advice-cross it off your list. Unless you are the sort of person who is rich, aggressive, intolerant and unpleasant. An image no manufacturer wants to be associated with. The global warming score of the X6 M is 2 out of 10. Pretty dismal. Please guys, as we all know you normally make some of the finest cars in the World. This is definitely not one of them. Drop it. Well, maybe not. I had a breakfast meeting with one of BMW’s senior executives in New York the other day who tells me that the Russians and the Chinese love them and can’t have enough of them. That says it all I suppose.

Wish I could be nicer to the new Subaru Outback which followed the X6. Over the years I have been a huge admirer of this Japanese automaker, a thinking man’s SUV alternative, the choice of most locals in Tahoe and at other ski resorts. This particular one came with a sort of all right manual gearbox and a definitely not all right idiotic hand brake consisting of a button below the steering wheel on the left hand side. Parking brake with Hill Holder function is what they call it. Appalling is what I call it. Plus it was gutless. Might have something to do with this partial super-ultra-low emission business, trust me, don’t buy this one. Even the fuel consumption is pathetic at around 22 miles per gallon. There several other Outbacks with bigger engines, automatic gearboxes and proper hand brakes. From a very fine company this particular specification is one to avoid. I had a long chat with a very nice lady-an old friend-who works for Subaru. I’ve tried to explain, maybe not very well that after year and years of excellence this was a shock to the system. There are manufacturers where one tends to say, well, what do you expect from so-and so but it was never the case with Subaru. I’ve been promised one with a bigger engine and hopefully a proper hand-brake. Will let you know. In the meantime I’ve checked out their cars on their stand at the LA Show. Each and every one had a proper hand brake! And the concept car look very good indeed.

Had a Lincoln MKT for a couple of days. Huge fun! Some people think it is ugly, others that it’s quirky, it is certainly different. I liked it. There was no mistaking it in a crowded car park. Great engine, great seats, great features, I am looking forward to a longer test in due course.

After a week in New York it was wonderful to get back to San Francisco and Jaguar’s rather beautiful XF waiting in the Park & Fly car park. What a treat! For readers who’ve been to New York will know what I mean when I say that it isn’t so much Fifth Avenue as Soho. Hip, modern, a car for young successful people who go to Soho House and not to Essex House. And probably stay at the Crosby Street Hotel. At 62 thousand dollars it isn’t exactly cheap but it does cost less than the E550 which I’ve been driving of late. Now that is definitely a Fifth Avenue car. I had lunch with one of the editors of the New York Times at a place called Michael’s at 24 West 55th street and you had enough Mercedes chauffeurs waiting outside to start a poker club. So it really is a case of horses for courses. It so happens there is nothing in it. The Jag ‘ s V8 produces 385, the V8 Merc 382. Consequently both are very quick indeed. The Jaguar is more sporty and looks very different from previous models. To a casual observer the Mercedes looks exactly as it did 10 years ago. As one would expect at over 60 thousand dollars both cars have every imaginable extra money can buy. You need to have the patience of a Saint to figure all the radio/dvd/navigation systems but I suppose with the advent of the iPhone we’ re all becoming more savvy at it. As for personal choice, well, the Mercedes is very beautiful in a somewhat elderly way, whereas with the Jaguar I can only quote the song : you make me feel so young. And it did.

While all this was happening Ford Motor Company invited me to a function in Sausalito. Yet again they rolled out their analyst George Pipas, a man of charm and knowledge. He pointed out just how quickly SUVs are going out of fashion and how crossovers are gaining ground. Well, the brand new Taurus SHO AWD was neither but it didn’t half go! At over 44 thousand dollars I would have been tempted to invent another name, most people’s idea of a Taurus starts at around 20 grand. Might be a bit difficult to explain it to the neighbors until you take it for a spin. The engine is great as is the gearbox . As for the pedal shifts, well, we all know that Ford will realize the error of their ways and change that silly nonsense of changing up and down on either side soon.

That is exactly how it is in the Jaguar which was, until recently owned by them! I’ve just the small print and realized that the SHO is not on sale. All somewhat confusing as the information sheet came with a price on it! Oh, well, never mind, when it does reach a showroom near you do have a good look. One of the best cars Ford have made in a very very long time.

I am sure my colleagues will be providing a full LA Show report, in the meantime let me just mention how ungrateful journalists can get. Audi-in their corporate wisdom decided to spend something in excess of 15 million dollars on the launch of their new A8. The car will not be on sale for another year but I suppose they knew what they were doing. I ran into a couple of German journalists at the LA Show . Apparently they were flown over in a chartered plane to Miami. And even though everything was paid for and they had a chance to enjoy the scene and the sea there were some still grumbling. The reason: you don’t get air miles on charters!

Oh Well, more from this “grateful” journalist in next month’s Letter from Europe.

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