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Snowy X Marks The M56x Infiniti Spot, Ford Fiesta Surprise Suprise In This Months Letter From Europe

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By Andrew Frankl
European Bureau Chief
The Auto Channel

I would be a total hypocrite if I did not admit that our destination for a recent road test was the scene of the 1960 Winter Olympics-Squaw Valley in California.

At first we were due to drive the Ford Edge, then a Suburban and finally an Infiniti M56x. Talk about hitting a jackpot! The 2011 Infiniti M56x was equipped with all-wheel drive and 420 horses, same as the Maserati Quattroporte, I can report that the Infiniti was an absolute delight.

At under 70 thousand dollars I cannot think of another car which offered such speed, stability and comfort. The 56x is most definitely in Mercedes S class/BMW 740 territory for a great deal less money.

The only problem is has is the oft mentioned “what is it” factor. If you are a tycoon or a prime minister of a country the chances are you will insist on an instantly recognizable status symbol with probably a three pointed star on the hood. If on the other hand impressing people with your car in not your cup of tea the 56x would make an immense amount of sense.

Mother nature (and we) threw everything at our 56X; snow and ice on the road, a pair of skis, boots and several bags inside, in fact the car was so full some of the jumpers and shoes ended up behind the back seats. The flap for the skis was just the ticket, without it we would have had major problems.

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Marin County California was nice and sunny when we left but towards Auburn things started to get serious. Several people stopped and started putting chains on in freezing snow. We on the other hand just sailed past, curious as to the grip of the Infiniti with a 5.6 liter engine and the above mentioned 420 horses. I am sure had it not been 4 wheel drive we to would have had to stop. But we had the ”X” factor in our favor and it never let us down.

As you’ll from the pictures it was a case of let’s make sure we are digging out the right car! Well, we did. And it started on the button-every time.

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Initially I had visions of having to stop for fuel every five minutes. Well, as the photo shows we got 19.2 miles per gallon which, for a car and engine this size is pretty remarkable. Naturally we had snow mode and not sport mode, in the latter, driven hard I am sure it would have been a lot less.

I’ve sat in considerably less comfortable seats at the San Francisco Opera and I had far fewer aches-like none-after a 4 hour drive than after a 3 hour production of The Marriage of Figaro. I’ve always laughed at heated steering wheels-until now. What a clever idea.

In fact at the risk of sounding like a PR man we had great difficulties picking faults. Yes, the trunk is a tad small and demisting could be faster but now I really am nitpicking.

An exceptional automobile, they just have to figure out the bit about the image. There are worse cars with more halos, hopefully the marketing wizards at Infiniti can pull the proverbial rabbit out of the bag.

Not very long ago brave souls would have been able to buy shares in Ford Motor Company for about 2 dollars. At the time writing, two and a half years later the shares are around 18 dollars. Remarkable by any standards.

It is partly due to the brilliance of ex-Boeing boss Alan Mulally who had the guts to borrow 23 billion dollars and a Brit by the name of Lewis Booth who masterminded crucial improvements in the engineering and styling of the entire range.

Like most of us he was seriously unimpressed by Jacques Nasser and Nick Scheele, previous CEOs of moderate distinction. Whether my friends in Dearborn will agree or not the decisive factor came when they allowed Ford of Europe to design and transplant the best they could offer. Hence the new Fiesta that I’ve been testing in and around San Francisco.

What a difference 35 years make! The 1976 Mark 1 had a four speed manual gearbox and if you wanted a/c you had to wind the window down. The 2011 version not only has A/C, power door locks, keyless entry, audio input jack, automatic gearbox, airbags-the works. With a little care you will also get 34 miles per gallon. The only part I am not very impressed by is the engine, a 1.6 liter Duratec. Feels a bit gutless, a few extra cc-s and a bit more oomph would be welcome.

The styling is exceptional, you just have to look at it side by side with the original from ’76. The marketing-something Ford have been good at even when the cars were modest- is excellent, linking into TV hits such as American Idol is a clever way to reach the elusive youngsters looking for their first car.

Handling good, ride nice and firm, build quality better than ever. Ford-way to go!

While the excellent little Fiesta was not a surprise the 2011 Nissan Sentra certainly was.

The Sentra always had a bit of negative sex appeal, if you went to a dinner party you might proudly announce how the iPhone helped with the navigation without mentioning the car you’d left outside. The name may have stayed the same but the 2011 version was a most pleasant surprise!

The 2.0 liter DOHC 4-cylinder engine was just fine especially in view of the PZEV rating which tends to strangle engines . I am not a Nissan sales person but how they can offer A/C, Nav system (!) rear view monitor (remember when it was only available on a 60 thou Lexus?), power windows, keyless ignition, air bags galore, literally the kitchen sink. How they can make money on it I will never know.

Actually I do know. Nissan, Ford and other major manufacturers are utilizing their huge purchasing powers right across the range and instead of keeping the previously exclusive bits such as power door locks to use an example, they pass it down the line to the cheapest cars of their automotive empires. They benefit and we benefit. Power -sliding Moonroof in a 20 thousand dollar car?! Unimaginable 10 or 15 years ago.

Coming back to practicalities just like the Ford Fiesta, the Nissan Sentra will also do well over 30 miles per gallon. Tremendous value for the money and with great respect to the electric Leaf and the forthcoming electric Fords as things stand in 2011-who needs them?

Oh, I nearly forgot. The man with the iPhone and the Leaf, don’t bother asking-he will tell you about both before the first glass of Pinot is poured!

That’s it for this month.