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Maybach; Hyundai; LR3; Volvo; GM; Plus Other In-sites in November 2004 Letter From Europe

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Volvo XC 90

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2005 Buick Rendezvous

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Hyundai XG 350

Maybach 62

From Andrew Frankl
European Bureau Chief

I had a very pleasant surprise the other day - the Hyundai XG350.

After Jaguars and BMWs you might think that I am a hypocrite but let us look at value for money. The Jag I drove last month had a sticker in excess of 60 big ones whereas the similarly sized Hyundai is yours for a mere 25 or so thousand dollars. It has a torquey 3.5 liter V6 engine and while it certainly does not sound or pull like a BMW or a Jaguar it was no embarrassment on the highway.

The XG350 is huge and very, very comfortable indeed. Yes, it does wallow over undulations and the steering is a far cry from say Nissan but if your idea of transportation is essentially to go from A to B and not how the car handles on the limit then there is nothing wrong with the Hyundai at all.

I am sure pushed hard over twisty roads it could make passengers pretty sea-sick but honestly, how many XG350 buyers will want to do that? The trunk is massive, the seats are comfortable, the stereo system is fine and if I had to drive it from Darien, Connecticut to Redondo Beach California in a re-enactment of the 1979 Cannonball Run, A…I could do it and B…with a good co-driver do it in two and a half days. That is how long it took us in 1979 and I am pretty sure the XG350 would be up for the job. Fuel consumption worked out at over 20 miles per gallon of regular, another plus in the car’s favor.

Saab, Subaru, GM and finally the Volvo XC90 V8

Even though the Hyundai was nice it certainly wasn’t half as exciting as Volvo’s new XC90 V8!

As senior Volvo executives confessed to me off the record in Arizona during the launch, Volvo's parent company Ford did two good things. The first was to buy them, the second-to leave them well alone. Rare, if not unheard of in the world of automobiles.

One just has to look at GM’s botched attempts at trying to make something out of Saab and Subaru. Both were fine until Detroit started messing with them. Even though Ford is not unknown for stupid mistakes-think of those abominable Norwegian plastic elctric cars in this instance they’ve really scored a bulls-eye. On the one hand they are learning a great deal about safety from the Swedes but on the other they leave them alone. Instead of trying to stuff one of their venerable V8-s into the XC 90 (it would not have fitted anyway) they allowed Volvo to search for a suitable V8 to give the award winning XC a little bit of extra oomph.

Even though I am not a great Richard Perry-Jones fan, this time he did give some good advice. I am only guessing but Yamaha as the V-8 engine source may well have come from conversations with Herbie Blash who works for the FIA as well as for Yamaha in the UK.

Regardless of the circumstances they found a gem, a jewel in the crown. The 60 degree Yamaha V8 sounds great and does a superb job. The displacement is 4.41 liters, the compressions ratio is 10.4:1. There are four valves per cylinders in an engine which has a maximum torque of 325 lb/ft. The gearbox is a six speed automatic which can also be used as a manual which I found very useful on some steep hills on the infamous Apache Trail. One mistake and we would have been in the Roosevelt Dam 600 feet below.

The acceleration is a very respectable 6.9 seconds from 0-60 and on a private road we also had the Volvo zooming along at a perfectly safe 100 miles per hour. Exactly what a wealthy German family would be doing on the autobahn on their way to Zurs or Lech in Austria for a week’s skiing. The V8 is quite a milestone for Volvo, they’ve been in business since 1927 and this is the first time they’ve got round to having one. It is no coincidence that the Volvo is seen as a “blue car”, according to a politician who’ll remain nameless, if you own a Volvo, do yoga and care about the environment you are most probably voted for Kerry. I am sure Volvo are happy to sell their cars to anyone and everyone but with their highly commendable ULEV II success it does not strike me as a Texas automobile. ULEV II by the way stands for ultra low emission vehicle, stage II) and the Yahama V8 is the first one to achieve it. With four catalitic coverters even the folks in Mill Valley in Marin County would applaud Volvo’s attempts as producing as clean a vehicle as possible. Volvo plans to sell a very modest 15 thousand units a year, which at around 45 thousand dollars strikes me as a very modest target.

Dislikes? I wasn’t crazy about the instrumentation, some of the dials were hard to see. Would I buy one? Probably not. I have 7 year old S70 in the UK which runs like a dream and in the United States I would probably find the XC 90 too big for my requirements. A four wheel drive 70 is all I need but if you have a lot of children or are doing the school run with a lot of children then let me stick my neck out and say that I do not know of a safer way of transporting them.

Maybach 62

Moving on from the very practical to the truly sensational I drove a Maybach 62 the other day. We were invited to a charity function and without going into too many details let me just say that it was full of the sort of people who could all afford a Maybach with the exception of yours sincerely. Still, we thought, why not ask our very good friends at Mercedes-Maybach’s parent company- and see if we could borrow one for the evening. They were wonderful. Not only did they let us have the car for the evening, it came with an immaculately dressed chauffeur called Brad. He very kindly allowed me to drive his charge, a huge machine which sells for approximately 360 thousand dollars. A vast amount of money but as some of our readers may well be able to afford it let me give you some statistics.

The Maybach 62 has a 543 horsepower twin-turbocharged V-12 engine capable of speeds well in excess of 130 miles per hour. (The cops on the Golden Gate bridge would have loved me doing even half of that!) It has a 5-speed automatic transmission, 19 inch aluminium alloy wheels, hand-sewn Grand Nappa leather. A refrigerated rear console with sterling silver champagne flutes, GPS navigation, Sirius Satellite radio, 21(!!) speaker Bose sound system and of course his and hers DVD/TV s built into the back of the front seats. I am exactly 6 ft tall so after handing the car back to Brad I settled into the back seat. After pressing a few buttons I was fully reclined watching the 6 o’clock news.

Outrageous? Absolutely. Amazing? Totally. Have I ever driven anything like it? Never, nor am I likely to. Was it a very special experience? Without a shadow of a doubt. If I were Mercedes/Maybach I would take it to technical colleges to show students what can be done when money is no object and also to point out some of the features which with time will filter down to everyday automobiles. It was the nearest thing to Concorde on wheels. Maybach-thank you.

More on GM

The recent Buick was a disappointment. While they are desperately trying to regain some market share with new products unfortunately they’ve lumbered them with silly names which I find almost impossible to believe. For whatever reasons I will not go into foreigners in general and the French in particular are not the flavor of the month. Yet what do we have? Some products with names like Rendevous, Terraza and LaCrosse.

How my old friend Bob Lutz could allow these to go through defies my imagination. Luckily Buick is doing well in China but could do a great deal better at home should they have chosen names people can at least pronounce if not spell. Yet, the very same people had the good sense to change Daewoo into Chevrolet and give the brilliant new Cadillac the name and the sensational new commercial it deserves.

Land Rover LR3

Must say I found the new Land Rover LR3 a bit of a disappointment compared to the Volvo XC90 V8 although I dare say in the middle of the Sahara desert it would probably conquer all before it. Still trying to figure out why they put a seemingly very ill person into the commercial, while the LR3 is clearly very rugged, the guy looked in urgent need of the nearest emergency ward. Pity.

Best and Worst Thoughts

Finally, as the following few weeks will be very hectic indeed allow me to pass out some accolades. These are purely subjective so feel free to disagree!

Best value in the muscle car stakes: Ford’s new Mustang…a steal at $25 thou.
Most sensible car: Toyota Prius: 6 months waiting list says it all.
Best commercial: Caddy- shall we dance.
Worst commercial- anything with 5000 dollars cash back.
Most pleasant surprise: new Chryslers-great quality, great value
Most beautiful new car: Ferrari’s 430

Happy holidays!