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Mazda, BMW, Acura, Suzuki in This Month's Letter From Europe

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By Andrew Frankl
European Bureau Chief
The Auto Channel

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I had a call from a nice lady at Mazda. In all the years of testing cars this is the very first time someone from a company had taken the trouble to phone and ask what I’d thought about their product. Well, there wasn’t too much to complain about. There was one truly silly mistake which they should have spotted during testing. With the Sun shining from behind the car the driver’s side mirror is filled with reflection which makes it quite useless and in turn dangerous. I suppose one could prevent it by putting some black masking tape on the dash. My other complaint was about the harsh engine sound, it did sound somewhat agricultural.

Apart from that the Mazda 3 is a very nice product. Attractive to look at and fun to drive. It most definitely was not developed with the blue rinse brigade in mind, handling, steering are sports car like. Well done. I was told to expect 29 miles per gallon and got 28 and a half-close enough. The highlight in 110 degrees had to be the exceptional A/C which worked like a charm. The navigational system was so small as to be useless, Mazda like all other manufacturers-Mercedes and BMW included-should take lessons from Acura in this respect.

Talking of Acura I got one for test somewhat unexpectedly just as we were about to leave for Tahoe City. With two sets of golf clubs, food for a cast of thousands plus blankets, chairs and whatever else my wife could think of we were off. Two hundred plus miles later the fuel gauge was getting pretty near to the red line so we stopped to refuel. 19 miles per gallon is what we’ve got, a bit of a disappointment in this day and age.

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The 2010 Acura RDX SH-AWD Tech ( to give its full and truly silly name) only takes premium fuel. I am sure Acura have more economical products in the pipeline. Maybe by reducing the weight by using lighter materials, maybe by tweaking the engine.

While the steering and suspension were just fine the engine certainly struggled in the mountains and sounded somewhat out of breath. Just like me. Apart that all went well, one thing we’ve noticed was the exceptional turning circle. May seem like an irrelevance but everyone who has ever made a three point turn into a six point turn will appreciate what I am talking about.

The seats are fine, the a/c is a bit fiddly but the nav system is excellent as it is in all Hondas and Acuras. With all the paraphernalia a trip like entails the various seating configurations worked really well. The car was also rock solid. Would I have one for 38 thousand dollars? Possibly but I might just go for the MDX with the 6 cylinder engine . One had to give Acura credit for including just about everything in the price in sharp contrast to some manufacturers where you can end up paying extra for XM Satellite radio, navigation system, rearview camera and an amazing surround sound system with 10 speakers. On the other hand I wasn’t overly impressed with Acura’s own, official environmental performance figures: global warming 5 out of 10, smog score also 5 out of 10. Come on guys, you can do better than that!

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Talking of extras the BMW 750Li Sedan is probably king of the road. The suggested retail price is 84,200 dollars. The car that came for test had a suggested retail price of $110,170 dollars!! So you could buy a perfectly nice car such as a Honda or a Toyota on the price of extras alone! Yes. But it wouldn’t be a BMW. Especially not an executive express in the Maserati Quattroporte class.
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I’ve been lucky enough to spend several thousand miles in the Italian rival, mainly in the South of France. A stunning automobile with a 4.7 liter Ferrari engine. This is probably the only aspect the BMW cannot match the other being the sheer presence of the Maserati.

On the other hand there is a great deal to be said for a CEO mobile which looks just like another silver grey BMW. Maybe a bit longer but for the average punter it is a Bimmer, pure and simple. Simple? Anything but! A turbine like 4.4 liter 32 valve turbocharged V-8 engine with direct fuel injection , a beautiful 6 speed gearbox with automatic and manual mode, massive disc brakes, the list really is endless.

One particularly great feature was the choice of three suspension settings. Why I hear you ask? Well, it so happens my 98 ½ year old Mother in Law came to see us. One simple click and the suspension setting became comfort instead of sport. She loved the ride and back in the Old People’s home in no time at all!

Fuel consumption is between 14 and 22 miles per gallon, better than in a Maserati but quite frankly if you are the sort of tycoon this car is designed for the price of refueling will be less of a concern than your company’s share price.

All in all an exceptional automobile. Complaints? Well, the usual ones which I’ve been complaining about for years. The indicators still have a mind of their own and the speedometer still has twice as many dials as needed. May these be the biggest mistakes car makers produce!

Finally I must just pay tribute to the build quality and in particular the paint work. BMW 7 series class.

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The Suzuki SX4 was understandably a bit of a cold shower after the 7 series. Not many cars wouldn’t have been. Still, in all honestly I was glad when the SX4 was taken away, I simply didn’t like it. The engine sounded very rough and not the least bit anxious to produce what little horsepower it possessed, the seats were rough, the interior uninspiring. I kept thinking of the great Suzuki motor cycles one of which propelled my hero Barry Sheene to world championship titles. Or take the Hayabusa, one of the greatest road bikes of all times. No . The SX4 is better than waiting for a bus on a rainy day but that is about it. Before you cry snob let me add that I loved the Honda Fit so it isn’t a matter of cost. The Fit has charisma, the Suzuki had a charisma by-pass. It is as simple as that.

I had a bit of a mixed day with the new Lincolns. The venue was stunning so whoever found it deserves sincere congratulations. In Richmond, one of the least safe parts of the Bay Area they came up with this gem. Apparently it was first a Ford car plant then a tank manufacturing facility during WW2. Some kind person recently had it restored and it is now ready from car presentations to wedding to parties.

Amazing. As are some of the new features on the Lincolns. My problem was and still is the confusion with all the various names. I drove to the presentation in an Acura RDX and was presented with an MKS, an MKT and an MKZ. Go figure as the saying goes. Still, the good news was Ford’s ecoboost engine which is a huge improvement on the ancient and pretty modest Duratec. It was probably first made in the foundry in Dagenham, England when I worked for the company in the 60s.

I will wait to test the MKT which is full of fascinating gizmos but in the meantime let me tell you about the worst automotive ad I’ve seen in 40 years. It features an MKS which is cleaner, faster, smarter than, you’ll never guess , another MKS, albeit with the 3.7 liter engine. Namely they are knocking their own product . I had a chance to ask one of their executives who blamed it on their lawyers! The picture at the top of the page shows, er, how can I put it, like someone having a pee and I am being politically correct in the description. Appalling. A case of the product selling in spite of the ad. I am sure ad chief , the diminutive Martin Sorrell didn’t see it before it was shown to the client. Laughable.

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There was also plenty to laugh about Mazda’s adorable MX-5. Not so much laugh I suppose as smile. I cannot remember the last time I’ve asked my wife if I could go shopping. In fact 5 minutes after the little yellow peril arrived I was taking it for a spin. Well, not quite. For that it would have needed more power. The 167 horsepower 2 liter engine is modest. Sort of all right but could do with another 50 horses.

At around 25 thousand dollars after some heavy haggling it still isn’t a bargain but I would be hard pushed to name any other car which would be this much fun in sunny California. It actually does look as though it is smiling. Trust me. Have a look from the front. Of course the bright yellow color does help. It was also great to have a proper, six speed stick shift.

The interior was somewhat Spartan and there was virtually no room for bits and bobs. The trunk, as you would expect is tiny but then this is a tiny car! Would I like to commute in it in a major city? Certainly not. Is it huge fun as a second car? Absolutely. You would have to install a new radio because the one that comes fitted is awful, Yugo class.

Still, if you own this car and live where the commute is a 25 minutes dash around Hollister or on Carmel Valley Road you would be smiling all the way.