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Audi A3, Lincoln MKZ, Infiniti M35, Lincoln Navigator and (VERY)Pithy Comments In This Months Letter From Europe

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Letter from Europe
Andrew Frankl
European Bureau Chief
February 2007

Things have been a bit hectic lately, partly because I’ve become the co-host of a radio show called The Automotive Journal on KNEW 910 every Saturday morning between 11-12.

Huge fun but as it is live it does call for a certain amount of self- restraint as there are no second takes and no editors to sub out the bad bits.

On the actual driving side I’ve had an assortment of cars, some good, some so-so and one in particular really exciting.

The little, bright red Audi A3 turned out to be an absolute blast, a quintessential pocket rocket. At its base price of 26 grand it is a steal, at the “all extras” added price of 36 thousand less so. Still, not only does it go like smoke, but the 2 liter 200 horsepower DOHC engine also delivers 32 miles per gallon.

In 12 year old grandson Freddie I have an instant judge of what is cool and what isn’t and all I can say is that weeks after the Audi had gone back he asked for it again! Does not happen very often.

It certainly was not the case with the Lincoln MKZ, an exceptionally modest automobile for 35 thousand dollars including extras. Even the base price is over 31 thousand. Let‘s be clear. Ford are in big poo and their only salvation is new boy Alan Mullaly.

The Lincoln went on sale before he joined as head honcho and it has cost cutting written all over it. How a car company, any car company can launch a car with P, R, N, D, and L instead of D followed by 3, 2 and 1 is completely beyond me. Hyundai and Kia have these basic requirements at less than half the price. Pathetic if you ask me. Just like saving money by not having a passenger’s grab handle on the Edge. Talking of which reminds me of their appalling print advertising campaign.

The Edge on the rail about to fall into a river with a couple walking past without giving it a glance is truly awful. Frankly the agency are ripping Ford off at a time when they had to borrow billions to survive. Mind you, someone at Ford presumably approved this load of rubbish. Hopefully a former employee.

Coming back to the MKZ, in my book it is not a buy. The Fusion, which is virtually identical is a vastly better bet.

Infiniti’s M35 is a great car ruined by bells. Lane changing bells which will drive you insane. It even drove Infiniti’s PR people insane until they’ve managed to find the disabling button. Essentially every time you changed lanes it went beep, beep, beep, beep. A pity, because the rest of the car is just fine.

Somewhat overpriced at 54 thousand dollars-Mercedes country- but it is very comfortable with the trusted 3.5 liter DOHC 24-valve V6 engine giving 25 miles per gallon on the highway.

The navigation system should be an object lesson to all other car companies-especially BMW- as it is simply brilliant. A lot of the extras are Bose sound related and quite frankly unless you are a serious music freak who has to hear the pianissimo in Beethoven’s Violin concerto played by the excellent Joshua Bell you could save thousands.

The nearer you get to the base price of 44 thousand dollars the more attractive the M35 becomes. Unless you are prepared to forgo some of the luxury bits both outside and inside the M35 and settle for its less expensive brother, the Maxima.

Nissan’s flagship is available for 28 thousand dollars-less the usual discounts- and if you are prepared to give up some of the extras you could probably keep it at around 30 thousand dollars at which price it is very good value indeed. It is also very quick , something to bear in mind as tickets are not hard to come by these days.

My current charge is Lincoln’s Navigator, the company’s answer to the Caddy Escalade.

Luckily I had a chance to drive the latter over the holidays so comparisons are easy. The Caddy is definitely more bling-bling-a vital ingredient in today’s world.

The instruments, the whole interior is more likely to appeal to rappers and basketball players. On the more practical side the Navigator’s rear seats fold down at the press of a button, a huge plus as taking the two rear seats out of the Caddy was a major hassle and inconvenience. Both have huge engines and you do have to be a saint to get over 15 miles per gallon but it can be done!

The Navigator certainly has presence, it even impressed friends whom we took for a spin as they disembarked from the Queen Mary in San Francisco. It would also swallow a dozen golf clubs with ease. Both the Caddy and the Navigator cost around 60 big ones so haggling is very much the order of the day.

In Europe there is tremendous pressure on all car manufacturers to reduce CO2 emissions, consequently the days of big SUVs over there are definitely numbered. The pressure is really on to find alternative sources of fuel such as bio diesel. There are some cars-unheard of in the United States -such as the Citroen C1 which already meet the very stiff European Commission standards but these are few in numbers. Range Rovers, Jeeps and BMW X5s are facing tough times ahead.

The storm has yet to reach the United States but whether we like big trucks or not I am afraid their fate in the long run is inevitable. Diesel, hybrid, electric or hydrogen driven crossovers and cars are definitely the way we are heading, with some countries moving more slowly then others!

That’s it for now.