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Lotus, Karting, Qashqai; Jaguar; BMW and Honda In This Months Letter From Europe

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By Andrew Frankl
European Bureau Chief
The Auto Channel

London September 30, 2009; After our annual Italian extravaganza it was time to get a reality check. First we went off to the Hungarian Grand Prix for the 24th consecutive time. It was blisteringly hot but luckily Nissan came to my rescue in the form of a Qashqai. A what I hear you ask? Well, it is quite similar to the Nissan Rogue which is available in the States but with a name which I also found a bit strange.

Well, silly or not silly, the crossover is selling very well all over Europe. The model I had courtesy of Norbert Mihalyi , the company’s very helpful PR boss was the 2 liter diesel with a 6 speed auto box. As Norbert explained it was a workhorse, the sort of automobile one could throw lots of stuff into plus umpteen kids and yet, in the evening it was ready to take you to the Opera House.

In the first 6 months of 2009 they’ve sold over 2300 Nissans in Hungary, putting them way ahead of Alfa, Audi, BMW,Honda, Saab and Subaru.Nissan offers a wide range of products in Hungary from the Micra to the X-Trail but Qahqai is their best selling product. Having driven I know why.

Getting back into the UK we found our 12 year old trusted Volvo waiting and then Jaguar very kindly came up with their excellent XF diesel. But before I tell you all about it let me digress to something a little bit different.

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Go-karts. Like all 14 year old boys grandson Freddy loves go-karts. To say that he is a bit lucky is an understatement but to cut a long story short he ended up at the world famous Buckmore Park just about 45 miles down the road from London, England. Why the fame? Well ,current World Champion Lewis Hamilton learned his craft here as did Jenson Button who is leading this year’s World Championship.

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What astonished me was the kindness, the attention given to someone who was clearly just visiting and was not about to be discovered as the next champion. Managing Director Bib Sisley is one of the dynamos behind the sport.

Before you ask let me give you the e mail

And if you would like to earn some Brownie points with little Johnny after dragging him from the Changing of the Guard to the Tower of London via some Museum or another hop on a train at Victoria Station go to Chatham (the nearest station) and let him have a great day! Furthermore if you really want to impress him get into a kart and have a go yourself and watch your street cred quadruple!

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Coming back to the Jaguar XF diesel , well, it really is a well-sorted car. I know that back in the States diesel is still a bit of a red herring but trust me technology has made it a lot cleaner is has ever been. Most people would have problems telling it from the petrol version. With 5.9 seconds to 0-60 it certainly didn’t hang around and while we didn’t try the top speed of 155 miles hour

I had no reason to disbelieve it, the Jaguar folks are not like that. The 69.5 liter fuel tank would certainly enable you to drive from London to Scotland without stopping. One particularly impressive feature was the navigational system with the truly brilliant voice command. It got us from Chelsea in London to the Lotus factory in Hethel, near Norwich without missing a turn.

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There was something special about driving in one great British car to another regardless of the fact that one is owned by an Indian company and the other by one in Malaysia. The fact of the matter is that the engineers, designers and the lads who build the cars are British. Must say Lotus have come an awfully long way since the days of founder Colin Chapman.

“Chunky” as he was known to all and sundry was a brilliant engineer. Regrettably build quality was not his forte. Just like owners of early Ferraris owners always carried lots of spare parts with them.

Times have of course changed and these days Lotus cars are every bit as reliable as Toyotas or Hondas. Especially as the latest Lotus, the Evora has an all –alloy 3.5 liter V6 DOHC engine straight from-you’ll never guess- Toyota Camry. No, I wouldn’t have believed it either had I not seen the engine sitting on pallets ready to be dropped into the Evora. Fear not, the new car is still very much a Lotus, something that became evident the minute we took it to the local pub with grandson Freddie.

The word that comes to mind is superglue, the only way to describe the Evora on the road. The first touch of the brakes, the very first roundabout you know you are in a Lotus, something Chapman would be proud of. Having a beautiful manual 6 speed gear box just added to the fun. Fuel consumption is over 30 miles per gallon and if you are a Lotus aficionado who needs just a little but comfort the Evora is your answer.

While BMW were one of the companies not exhibiting at Pebble they were kind enough to let me have their excellent 335i for the journey from Marin County.

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After a long flight from London I needed something as solid and and reliable as the Bimmer. From an engineering point of view it is still a great car but I think that the interior is in desperate need of a face-lift. The dash, the instruments are very 20th century indeed. I am writing this before the forthcoming Frankfurt Show so maybe changes will be introduced there.

On the other hand I did get over 25 miles per gallon at a steady 75 miles per hour so I suppose one could say that what really matters is still just fine.

In fact let me go further. Having stepped from the 335i straight into a V6 Honda Accord the contrast was just staggering. Yes, I know the difference in price but there is no excuse for the wishy-washy steering and the spongy brakes. This is what I keep coming back to. All sorts of car companies do bits as well as BMW but none of them ever get the whole engineering package together like the team from Munich.

The one thing that bothers me -and it really is none of my business - concerns the compulsory retirement age of 60 at the company. I do know some of the brilliant people who had to move on even though they are mentally and physically 100% fit. Maybe time to reconsider.

Coming back to Pebble for a moment, well, in case you’ve never been it is a bizarre occasion. One could say this is the place where the rich come to play. Without wishing to be particularly bitchy-which is not my style anyway-had I been walking around with a magnet an awful lot of ladies would have looked very different indeed as parts of their anatomy would have, shall we say, moved several inches downwards. Still, the hats were magnificent and the Governor was very funny hemming it up with Jay Leno. One way or another it was quite a week-end!

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As for the 2009 Honda Accord it is a very fine product, predictable to the nth degree. You know it will always start, always stop, will give you about 30 miles and will never go wrong. You can fool some people some of the time but you cannot have a best-seller year in year out which is what the Honda is. Its reputation for reliability is unparalleled. As for the list of extras-well, there isn’t one! Everything, but everything is included.

Is it the most exciting automobile on Earth? No. Is it tremendous value for money at 31 thousand? Yes. People often ask me what sort of car should they buy? I always say that if it reliability that they are after in a comfortable 5 seater then the Accord is the answer.

That's it for now...cheerio!