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Letter From Europe – California Dreamin': 2020 Mazda CX-30, 2020 Lexus IS 300, Drooled Over Lexus LC 500 Convertible, and 2020 Chevrolet Bolt +VIDEO

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By Andrew Frankl
European Bureau Chief
The Auto Channel

Mark Twain was right. The coldest Winter is July in San Francisco. Testing Mazda’s CX-30 was fine until I had to step outside to take some pictures. Foggy and COLD and yet, just a few miles up the road it was bright sunshine and California warm.

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Ok enough of the weather report. There are cars and SUVs which you keep forever such as the Highlander, but hand on heart Mazda’s CX-30 is not one of them.

 It looked very spectacular in a crystal metallic red and didn’t put a foot wrong but it was just pedestrian. Started, stopped, accelerated but somehow the excitement, the pizzazz was missing. One thing that was definitely not missing was a long list of extras. Everything but kitchen sink was included in the price! A far cry from almost every other other manufacturer. 

The 2.5 engine was all right if somewhat noisy, it definitely missed some sophistication. Hard to define  but some engines just sound right. This one didn’t although it did do the work.

The interior was a bit gloomy, all black-a bit depressive.

On the other hand the Government figures for  fuel economy (27 mpg overall ) and a very impressive smog rating of  7 out of 10 are very welcome, many cars don’t get past the 5 mark.

186 horsepower.. Lake Tahoe..5 up plus luggage would be a hard slog in the slow lane behind the multitude of trucks. Overtaking  up the hills is tough at the best of times, having done the trip at least 40 times over the years to keep my sanity I would always go for a V6 or a V8 engine unless of course it is a Tesla.

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According to Naohito Saga-program manager for the CX-30 this new model (came out in 2019) is targeting drivers who are still single ?! (surely they should be in a Miata) or starting a family.

That I can understand, there is plenty of room for a baby seat, a pram and all the necessary paraphernalia. Very sensibly, chief engineer Ryo Yanagisawa admitted in a roundabout way that the CX-30  would be more acceptable in Europe or in Japan as a family car for five.

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As for the name? Mazda had a little problem because while the CX-30 does not make sense In terms of 3-5-7-9 they invented the name as the crossover is between the 3 and the 5. Never heard of that one before.

All in all a very complete product with truly no extras at a highly competitive price of 29 thousand dollars. The competition in that price range is pretty ferocious so do have a look at what Subaru, Honda, Chevrolet, Ford, VW, Nissan and Toyota have to offer before you put down your hard earned dollars.

I have to admit that the 2020 RC 300 from Lexus IS a very different proposition but than so it should be costing a truly scary 55 thousand dollars. Must admit the looks alone justify a good 5000 dollars of it, the “ultrasonic blue mica” caused comments and stares both at the Belvedere Tennis Club and also at the San Francisco Yacht club,  places which have seen some upmarket cars in their times. A stunner was the general consensus.

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What they didn’t know was that my RC F Sport was the least exciting in the range from a mechanical point of view. The 4 cylinder turbo was pushing out a relatively modest 241 horsepower which was ok for a boulevard cruiser but not  for a real charger. Fear not, Lexus did think of that by adding a 306 horsepower V6 to the range which definitely would be my choice having spent the best part of 50 years driving Ferrari, Maserati and Astons.

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My test car had an exceptionally smooth 8 speed automatic transmission  and came with rear wheel drive. The F Sport added suspension tuning and three drive modes-Eco-which I have been using-Normal and Sport.

Cruising around Marin County Eco was perfectly adequate and resulted in an overall mileage of  32 mpg, way above official figures. Had I been doing the Government test the official figure would have been much higher than 5 out of 10.

The Mark Levinson audio system was  truly sensational. The Lexus was delivered by my good friend Marco so I knew that it would be tuned to a jazz station, his favorite and mine. Students of jazz know just difficult it is to hear the double base, frequently overpowered by the drummer. This system picked up everything and was a joy to listen to especially with 17 speakers!

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There were little things you only notice if you drive 20-30 different cars a year. The windscreen wiper cleaned on the first sweep and furthermore left most of the windscreem squeeky clean.

The Lexus brochure shows the RC range is glorious beige, much preferable to the test car’s gloomy black. The rear seats are fine but are strictly for children which is normal in a coupe.


One of the many things I loved were the orange calipers which added a very classy upmarket touch to the RC. All in all wonderful experience but when I put my order is could I  please have it with a bigger engine and with beige interior. A class act. 

It turns out I talked too soon. Just as I was getting ready to send this "Letter from Europe" to the Editor I saw the just published article about the Lexus LC 500 Convertible with 471 HP from a 5 liter V8, I literally drooled over it. It sounds like a million dollars, it looks a million but you can have it for just 100 grand. I think Mercedes will have some serious competition...what do you think?.

2020 Chevrolet Bolt (Not Volt)

From $100 thou to 40 after the Lexus I tested GM’s BOLT, an all electric automobile.

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First things first the build quality is much improved. The doors  close with a satisfying clunk, it really is chalk and cheese from the previous one.

Can you drive it over 200 miles-yes you can. Is it economical? Very. A genuine-will it get me to Tahoe from SF-product.


Is the typeface of the speedo the same as Apple’s? Yes. First thing both my daughter and I have noticed. Very attractive indeed.

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Acceleration is rapid thanks to the 66-kilowatt-hour battery pack. Charging will take 10 hours on a 240-volt connector which is no big deal overnight and if it is an emergency situation plug it in outside Whole Foods and by the time you’ve loaded up on fresh vegetables and the obligatory almond milk you will have enough juice (if you pardon the pun) to get you home.

The Bolt -on its excellent-Michelin tires-is very quiet but the ride is bouncy bouncy. The controls are a bit of a mixed blessing. 

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The seats are not very comfortable, short and more to the point have those truly awful levers which will drive  you insane and are hard to live with. I appreciate that electric seats are obviously electric and are not battery friendly but I would be happy to sacrifice a few of the 259 miles in exchange.

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The gearbox does take getting used to and you can end up in neutral. Mind you this happens in a 150 thousand dollar Maserati as well.

The so-called extras are all included so a big well done on that, forward collision warning, city-speed automatic braking with pedestrian detection, blind spot warning. The sound system is all right without being exceptional.

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All in all there can be no question that GM is on the right track but before buying one I would wait for the 2021 by which time all the small niggles will have been sorted. On the other hand if your priority is mileage then you can't really do any better for the money.

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Well that's it for this month...stay safe and stay well .