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Volvo XC60, Jaguar XF, Dodge SXT, Nissan Murano In this Months Letter From Europe

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Letter from Europe—
Andrew Frankl
European Bureau Chief
The Auto Channel

As always when I write about Volvo cars I have to start with a confession. I own one, in fact it is the only car I own. An S70. It may not be new -1997- but when it is cleaned and polished it sparkles and goes like a train. Consequently I am biased about the cars from Gothenburg. The Swedes make honest cars. I’ve yet to meet someone who said they hated Volvo. Just like iPhone aficionados with their phones they will forgive their Volvos when things go wrong. Which, I hasten to add is not very often.

Having said all of that the XC60 is a fine as opposed to great product. It certainly looks good but to my mind-for 99% of the potential buyers- it cannot compete with the tried and tested XC70. The 70 series is a by-word for Mums the World over and I can’t quite see that perception changing. Yes, the XC60 has new features such as “City Safety” which is a driver support system aimed at preventing or mitigating collisions occurring at 19 miles per hour or less but for me this concept is wrong. In my opinion it will lead to careless driving, texting “because the car will look after itself in slow-speed collisions” and will make drivers less alert. I am a huge fan of Volvo’s safety systems-many of which have been transplanted into Ford’s SUVs but this is not one of them.

My other problem is with the engine. Built in Wales I am afraid it is not one of the 7 wonders of the World. Put it alongside Nissan’s 3.5 liter DOHC V6 engine and you’ll feel and hear the difference. For some reason Ford’s engineers have gone off the boil, read any specialist titles, read the various comparisons and while Ford (Volvo’s owners) score quite well in many areas, when it comes to engines they invariable come at or near the bottom. I dare not even mention BMW’s legendary 6 cylinder engine which is in a class of its own.

The official fuel consumption figures confirm this . I get 20 miles per gallon in town and 26/27 on the highway in my 12 year old S70 so I am afraid 16 in town and 22 on the highway does not stir my soul.

What will is the forthcoming diesel engine-already available in Europe which will dramatically improve on these modest figures.

The XC60’s interior on the other hand is just fine. After hours on the twisting roads in Northern California we felt fresh and relaxed. The power adjustable seats were excellent as was the high performance sound system. The XC60 certainly looks terrific from every angle and caused quite a stir among the locals when we stopped in Petaluma. While this is of minimal interest to readers I have to mention our trip to Alcatraz. Volvo USA have always been highly creative when it comes to launches of their new cars and SUVs and this time-much to everyone’s total surprise-we ended up having dinner in Alcatraz. One hour in this dingy, spooky prison, especially in the dark will put you off crime forever!

As for the XC60..well, I know that Volvo owners are an especially loyal bunch which I observe daily in Marin County as old 544s (YES!) and 240 wagons roll by. So I were one of these loyal folks (which I am but in the UK) I would either hang on to my current Volvo and wait a bit for the diesel, or get an XC60 from the dealer with a firm promise that he’ll call you as soon as the diesels are on the boat from Europe. The current version has just gone on sale at around 37 thousand dollars, very much on par with its rivals.

One rival which is somewhat less expensive is Nissan’s 2009 Murano SL AWD. Grandson Freddy and I had a chance to take it to the mountains and it performed exceptionally well. I am a huge fan of the company’s 265 hp 3.5 liter DOHC engine which seems to propel just about everything in Nissan’s range.

Skiers know just how much stuff one needs in the mountains but to the Murano’s credit it swallowed the skis, boots, bags and everything else with ease. We were lucky with the weather going up to Tahoe but of course once there it was time for shovels. And-let us not forget- for the Nissan to start in sub-zero temperatures. First we had to find it under the snow remembering that last time we were there we started digging out the wrong SUV! Once we did find it after a great deal of digging the Munaro started at the press of the button.

One can argue about the Murano’s new looks, shark noses seem to be the “in” thing at present as witnessed in the latest Lincoln MKS as well. I liked the looks, I liked just about everything about this crossover . At $29,480 dollars it is remarkable value and I am sure that with a bit of hard bargaining long-suffering Nissan dealers would throw in some extras as well. The dual panel moon roof seems a bit silly and pointless to me but the premium package for a $1000 which includes a great Bose audio system and lots of other goodies is worth having.

Fuel consumption on the 200 mile run worked out at just over 23 miles per gallon at a steady 70 miles per hour.

The Jaguar XF is of course an entirely different kettle of fish. A very fine luxury saloon car which-much to my regret -was launched just as the World’s economy was taking a nose dive. New owners Tata with the help of the British Government are doing all they can to keep it in business and I very much hope that they’ll be able to do so. Regardless of ownership Jaguar is as British as fish and chips, a national icon. Just like with the Murano one can argue with the looks but once inside it is undisputable luxury all the way. The 300 horsepower V8 engine purred along so quietly that we were able to enjoy Ben Webster on the saxophone to the exclusion of all other sounds. Jaguar test drivers are-and always have been – in a class of their own so when it comes to ride and handling the big cat gets 10 out of 10.

The fuel consumption is nothing short of astonishing, who would expect 25 miles per gallon from a V8 engine?

So, I hear you ask, is the XF the perfect car? Of course not, there is no such thing. Mechanically I would be hard pushed to fault it; from a comfort point of view I would have liked more room for the passengers in the back. It also suffers from the what is it syndrome, unheard of regarding a Jaguar until now. Let’s face it-looking at it from the front it could be anything, from the back it is an Aston Martin. No surprise there-both cars were designed by Ian Callum.

The price –before serious negotiations begin- is around 58 thousand dollars but I am sure if you were to walk into a dealer cash in hand you could have one for $50 thousand or less.

It is just a crying shame that Jaguar’s previous bosses in Detroit got their X type so wrong. It was going to provide volume and a worthy rival to BMW’s awesome 3 series. Alas, it turned out to be a flop. I know that there are prototypes of a great new Jaguar sports car being tested in the North of Finland and elsewhere, the question is will the money run out before it can be built. There is an immense amount of goodwill towards Jaguar, like so many others I badly want them to survive.

The Dodge Avenger SXT is a perfectly OK car. There is nothing wrong with it-apart from the sound of the engine which sounds like a scalded cat-but the trouble is it is OK. Just OK. People a lot brighter than I cannot figure out what to do with Chrysler. Maybe now that Fiat have come into the picture-or hopefully rescue-things could improve rather dramatically. The Italians are brilliant at producing small, economical cars and combined with Chrysler’s exceptional big trucks and Jeeps the turn round could be quite dramatic. If, just like with Jaguar, the money doesn’t run out in the meantime. Alfas produced at one of Chrysler’s idle plants would be a huge hit as would the highly economical Fiats which are about Toyota Corolla size.

In the meantime Chrysler has to struggle on with what there is in the cupboard. It is a great name but it will take a lot more than the Avenger SXT to save it. For the record the SXT costs between 21-25 thousand dollars. I am afraid at that price there are better Hondas and Toyotas to be had.