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Making Pledges, Zoom Zooming; CTSing, V10 ing and Other (Th)ings in This Months Letter From Europe

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By Andrew Frankl
European Bureau Chief
The Auto Channel

Even though this letter from Europe is supposed to be all about cars let me digress for a second to something even more important than the number of seats in a Cadillac Escalade. For most readers this won’t seem like a big deal but it was for me. Last week I became a citizen of the United States together with 1459 other happy folks from 93 different countries!

At San Francisco’s Masonic Hall there wasn’t a dry eye in the house, especially as they called all the Mexicans to stand up! I’ve nerve seen so many happy people in my life! So as I am about to catch my Virgin Atlantic flight to London I will, for the first time travel with an American passport! Trust me, it is a very big deal indeed. But enough of me, let us get back to what Mr. Co-publisher Gordon pays me for- writing about automobiles.

I have been driving some small SUVs lately, the Grand Vitara from Suzuki and the Tribute Hybrid from Mazda. A modest pair of automobiles I regret to report. The Suzuki felt so wafer thin I was just hoping I would not hit anything beyond a fly. Mercifully I didn’t. It got me to the Western Automotive Journalists’ test day and it got me back to San Francisco but that was about it. The ride was iffy, the engine was iffy and the radio was positively iffy. No wonder Consumer Reports also had very little good to say about it. The annoying thing is that Suzuki are nearly there- a different gauge of steel, a more sophisticated engine and better interior fittings. I know it all costs money but it could make the difference between success and failure.

The Mazda was a surprise as most other Mazdas are very good indeed. So much so that most new Fords are based on Mazda designs. Well, this is the one what got away. The steering was about as straight as Robert Mugabe and the brakes about as direct as Max Mosley, President of the FIA who was caught, literally with his pants down in London’s fashionable Chelsea district. The one saving grace was the amazing fuel consumption, no laughing matter in these times of the 4 dollars a gallon gas. In fact many people may well forgive the inadequacies because of the miracle of hybrid.

There is plenty of room inside and the finish is certainly excellent. The radio is modest but the worst feature is the hand brake release. Try and find it and Heaven help you if you are obese. Si simply cannot bend over sufficiently to reach that silly lever.

Mercifully I got behind the wheel of something very different, a Cadillac CTS and what a great car it turned out to be. It isn’t very often that I agree with my somewhat biased peers but this time I do. The Cadillac people really did think of everything.

The Cadillac CTS is a joy; to drive, to find all the buttons in all the logical places, they even tuned the exhaust system to sound like a sports car. Readable, clear instruments, excellent radio, even acceptable fuel consumption, a very nice, all-American automobile all-round. One suggestion-a BMW/Mercedes quality diesel engine and they would really have them walking out of the showrooms.

I thought I was done with great cars when a V10 (!) Audi 6S turned up in bright red. My goodness, it was the same engine as they have in the Lamborghini Gallardo.

Had the car been in any other color nobody but nobody would have known that this humble looking machine was a 150 miles per hour rocket. Well, apart from the off V10 badge here and there. Grandson Freddy simply couldn’t believe it, it was Christmas and Hanukkah rolled into in May!

The sight, the sound, the acceleration-another world. There are pedal shifters for those keen on playing Danica Patrick but for the rest of us there is a full auto mode as well. Much as I love this Audi-and I really do-for most folks it is a bit of an overkill.

Maybe in the still wide open roads in parts of Germany or in Outer Siberia where traffic cops are very few and far between but for the everyday commuter it really is a ticket waiting to happen. You have to have the patience of a saint not to speed.

The car is quiet, the massive engine is quiet as a church mouse (as long as you just tap it gently) but when you really hit the loud pedal it isn’t a mouse any more, it is very much a growling tiger. The sound, that wonderful mechanical symphony is to die for. I had several young drivers in considerably more modest automobiles asking me just to rev the engine as I left them in my wake.

Did I do the Audi justice? Regrettably no. It had a great deal more to offer than I was capable of and to be fair the circumstances were not in my favor either. Imagine getting a speeding ticket on your way to the passport office ! So, what is the verdict? Too much of a wonderful thing for 99% of people. The color-bright red-is really asking for trouble. If your heart is set the V10, for goodness sake get yourself one in metallic silver or white or dark blue but definitely not red!

Consumption: well with something like 500 horsepower on tap you can hardly expect 40 to a gallon, in fact you would have to be very gentle to get more than 19mpg. My advice-take it for a spin, have a wonderful time and go back to the Audi showroom to pick up a diesel A6 which must be in the works. Audi are THE masters of great diesel engines- go for it.

Oh, before I forget, if your heart is really set on the V10 S6 do ask for what is a “delete option”. Namely, tell the factory to leave off the V10 badges. Yes, it can be done and it would probably save you a great deal of agro from the cops and also from purveyors of Grand Theft Auto. Don’t say you haven’t been warned!