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Saturn Aura, Chevy Aveo, Saturn Sky; Jaguar XKR and Others in "Letter from Europe"

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Letter from Europe
Andrew Frankl
European Bureau Chief

Where is the “H” ? was my question. The man I’ve asked seemed puzzled but cottoned on after a second or two. Oh, he said with a smile, I am not Hungarian, my family are from Croatia.

For those uninitiated with Central European names I should explain that Horvat with an h on the end as in Horvath is Hungarian, without it, as in Horvat-Croatian. Anyway, having established that both our families lived under the Austro-Hungarian Empire we got onto matters of more topical interest- cars in general and GM cars in particular. Dr Gary L. Horvat-is Assistant Chief Engineer for GM’s V6 engines so clearly we had a great deal to talk about.

As I found out over the years that while PR people have to put a spin on things especially if the company is in dire trouble, engineers tend to talk straight at all times. As was the case with Gary. To be fair there was no need to put out any spin by anyone as it seems that GM really is turning the corner. .

Sometimes it is easy to forget just how huge GM really is. We read about their troubles, plan closures and so on, forgetting that when it is all said and done what happens to them affects millions of people. Young people might find this irrelevant or too historical but let me remind them that had GM not built all those tanks and had Ford not built all those B24s they would be speaking either German or Japanese today. 60 years on they are of course busy building automobiles, some good some not so good. .

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Saturn Aura Concept
“Gary’s “ V6 engine in the new Saturn Aura for instance is an absolute delight. Let me out it another way-the day all GM products are as good as the Saturn Aura they’ll have nothing to worry about ...

After a 100 yards I’ve asked a colleague sitting next to me what on Earth is going on? The engine sounded like the 6 cylinder unit of a BMW,

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the interior was every bit as good as in Toyotas and Hondas, there was no torque steer from the front wheel drive car and it was so silent that before I knew the speedo was creeping towards the 100 mph mark! .

I’ve now seen the ads for the Aura and they are partially right. Certainly not “like always” but definitely “ like never before”. .

We also had a chance to test the Saturn Sky. The engine is fine, the gearbox is a delight, some of the details are less so. The trunk-with the top down is so small that Gary ended up with my carry on case on his lap for 50 odd miles! .

On the other hand On Star worked just fine, we could hear it even with the top down. I like the system, it is nice and reassuring to hear a human voice when one is lost. .

All in all a huge change for Saturn, all they’ve got to do now is to get people into the showrooms. The product speaks for itself like never before. .

I would like to be equally complimentary about Chevrolet’s Aveo but I can’t. It isn’t awful, it is just

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modest. At around 11 thousand dollars on the road (after some hard bargaining) it will get you for A to B but that is about it. The mechanical equivalent of a dish washer or a washing machine I suppose. The worst part is the underdeveloped engine. It sounds dreadful and it is pretty dreadful. To be fair it did get me to my destination and as a first new car it would probably be the dream of millions but it still deserves a more refined engine regardless of cost. .

If Honda can do it GM should be able to do it as well.

Warwickshire in England is a long way from San Diego but we had just as

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much fun in Jaguar’s XKR. The car, the XK version of which we were lucky enough to drive in Mexico earlier this year is a serious piece of kit. Parent company Ford maybe in serious trouble but it certainly does not manifest itself on this excellent product.

After the drive in Mexico we suggested that 400 horses were needed to give Porsche a run for their money and this is exactly what Jaguar have done. We are looking forward to a proper appraisal in the United States-Jaguar’s most important market. .

Meanwhile my trusted Volvo S70 –born in 1997- goes on and on. It looks as good as new and because it is a Volvo people in England will treat it with understanding, something they do not extend to BMW drivers. .

This is very strange, while in California BMW is just another automobile in Britain BMW drivers have acquired a rather unfortunate reputation for carving up others. Pity, because there is nothing wrong with the cars. This was reinforced when I got into the latest iteration of the highly successful 5 series, the 530 Xi. We didn’t get a chance to test it under severe conditions but I am sure it would have coped admirably. The bits we didn’t like before such as the iDrive and the bells are still there but the rest of the car is just fine. .

BMW have been developing some major fuel saving devices together with GM and Mercedes Benz, when these come to fruition expect fuel consumption to improve by anything up to 25%. It is a pretty complex subject but it based on regenerating energy which would otherwise be wasted. .

A bit like Toyota’s Prius. Interestingly enough all manufacturers are spending fortunes on alternative sources of fuel while the price of gas has just dropped from over 3 dollars a gallon to under 2.50. .

Still, with a large percentage of the World’s oil supplies in totally unreliable hands alternatives are needed-and soon. .

Talk with you next month; .