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Silly Cars, A (Real) Naughty Volvo and Helan Gar In This Month's Letter from Europe

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SEE ALSO: Lincoln Buyers Guide
SEE ALSO: Volvo Buyers Guide
SEE ALSO: Chrysler Buyers Guide
SEE ALSO: Infiniti Buyers Guide
SEE ALSO: Find Your Perfect Automotive Match - E-Carmony

by Andrew Frankl
European Bureau Chief
The Auto Channel

October 2, 2010; Let me start with the bad news. Ford cannot be serious with the new Lincoln MKS. At 56 thousand dollars including all the extras it is just not an acceptable proposition. More of a big whale than an automobile. It is big all right, the trunk simply swallowed all that Costco could throw at it and then some. It is also very comfortable inside provided you can see where you are going.

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You certainly won’t be going too far if the Sun is shining. In 40 years of testing cars big and small, including East German Trabants and Ferrari 599s I have never, ever come across such a glaring mistake as thebrushed aluminum on the facia of the MKS. I can only assume that it was designed in a darkened room and was never taken out in the sunshine. It simply blinds you. Even with sunglasses on. I am sure hapless buyers-although I doubt that there will be many at this highly inflated price - will either take it back or cover it up with some black tape.

Come on guys. In amongst all the exciting new cars you are in the middle of launching how did the most expensive get through with this silly nonsense.

The new Ecoboost engine was sort of all right, it hesitated before delivering the goods. When it did then it was very quick indeed. What was good about the MKS? Well, the handling certainly wasn’t but the radio/navigation system was fine. As was the A/C and the rear view camera. And the seats were comfortable.

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Pity about the rest. I don’t often say this but at 56 K this is not a car to buy. I shudder when I read drivel from colleagues who talk about subdued good looks. Yes. Just like a Sherman tank. As for someone else who suggested that there was nothing garish about it, well, let’s just say that tastes differ. The MKS is a classic example of “let’s throw lots of chrome at it and some people with minimal taste will buy it.”

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Equally silly but remarkably well put together was Chrysler’s 300C SRT8. The wrong car at the wrong time but at least it was exciting. Beautiful instruments, comfortable seats, well-tuned suspension and an Oh, my life a 6.1liter V8 SRT Hemi engine. The sort of dinosaur we will look back upon with great affection. In this age of lithium batteries and all sorts of other 21 century gizmos it was wonderful to floor it , hang on and listen with the windows down. For true petrol heads it was, it is massive fun. Mind you, not for long as at 13 miles per gallon you’ll be spending a lot of time at gas stations as Toyota hybrids go by.

Now that Chrysler is under new and competent management courtesy of Fiat, stand by for a bit of Maserati/Ferrari influence which can only be good. The 300C is not exactly a giveaway at 44-49 thousand dollars but here you get more fun for your money than in most things on 4 wheels. And, in common with the Lincoln it has tons of room for four adults. At 120 miles per hour.

Driving an Infiniti EX 35 last month was a wonderful contrast to the Lincoln. A truly clever design with excellent taste inside and out. The dash is elegant, the instruments are clear, the proximity key is brilliant, especially when you are struggling with bags galore. The engine is the 297 hp V6 which propels several Infiniti and Nissan models.

I particularly like the versatility of the EX 35's seating arrangements, the sort of thing you only find out trying to fit several sets of golf clubs or other paraphernalia. Prices start at 33 thousand dollars and even the top of the range AWD with bells and whistles is well under $40K. In a word- I was seriously impressed .

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On to more positive impressions; I’ve just returned from an 840 mile trip in Volvo’s new 2011 S60 and that is not counting the 250 or so miles with a colleague the day before! So, after well over 1000 miles I think I ‘ve got to know the car fairly well. For the record I am the proud owner of a 1997 Volvo S70 which I love and which runs like a dream.

The latest “naughty” S60 with all the bells and whistles costs about 43 thousand dollars for which you get a turbo charged 3 liter engine, all wheel drive and an exceptionally well built car. There wasn’t a single rattle anywhere and it was reassuring to learn that even though the company is now in Chinese hands all the research will continue in Gothenburg, Sweden. So –thank God- the legendary safety lives on.

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The S60 was particularly happy on long sweeping curves and it was huge fun to prove it while old friend and colleague Larry Crane was busy doing his Julie Andrews impersonation by climbing every mountain to take some remarkable photographs. For truly enthusiastic driving I missed the paddle shifters and in fairness to the Volvo folks who were present off the record they admitted that they missed it just as much as we did. I am sure it will arrive in the future.

For less enthusiastic drivers I think the base model would be perfectly adequate just like I wouldn’t bet against a diesel . These are readily available in Europe and as Volvo don’t have a problem with diesels in the image sense such as for instance Jaguar have in North America a 5 cylinder diesel would make a great deal of sense. My fuel consumption at speeds of between 50 and 75 all the way worked out at 24.6 miles per gallon. This is almost identical to my 1997 S70 in England.

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The seats were brilliant then and are brilliant now. 840 miles is, as we all know, a very long way and at the end of the journey we may have been dog tired but there were no back aches to speak of. With the back seats folded the car swallowed everything we threw at it including two very large golf bags . Incidentally the quality of the interior finish, the stitched leather seats and surrounds were of supercar quality as in Maserati or Ferrari.

Talking of supercars we did get a chance to put our foot down on an adorable, unknown race track in the middle of Oregon which was far more difficult than Silverstone , a place I know well. The acceleration reminded me of those Volvo V70 wagons (yes!) which the company used for touring car racing 15-20 years ago and the British cops use to this day. The trip from Portland to Belvedere via Bandon was far more representative than driving with a colleague and the S60 came through with flying colors. Apart from the navigation system which we had trouble figuring out and the radio which we positively hated.

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I am sure that the car is aimed at younger, more tech savvy drivers but as I am neither so several of the gizmos were lost on me. ( I am OK with my iPhone and my iPad but the navigation system was beyond me.) As the engineers who are developing these systems also tend to be young I get left behind yearning for my old Volvo’s simplicity. To be fair when I figured out the CD the sound quality was superb. All in all I would describe the system as too clever by half. For me. But probably just the ticket for those 30-40 years old –mainly guys I think-looking for a naughty Volvo.

Another thing which I though was very 20th century-the key. Even BMW have discontinued the system where you have to pop in the key-and hope it doesn’t jump out. And press a button to start the car .Silly. My wife’s 4 year old Toyota Prius has proximity keys so come on guys, in between the smorgasbord and the Helan Gar this should not be beyond your capabilities.

Oh, and thanks for the ride.

See you all next month, A.