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SUV's In This Month's Letter From Europe

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By Andrew Frankl
European Bureau Chief
The Auto Channel

I hate starting my letter with what I can only describe as a lemon. Dear oh, dear the 2012 Mitsubishi Outlander Sport is a massive disappointment. You might argue that you get a lot of metal for about 27 thousand dollars but something has to propel it forward! The totally anemic 2 liter is just that.

Many years ago Ralph Nader wrote a book entitled Unsafe at any Speed. Well, Ralph can relax. There is no speed involved. Regrettably the company spent money on things that don’t matter a great deal such as a moon roof that seems to go on forever. Pretty, but essential it certainly is not. The sound system is good, as are the seats and it goes-after a fashion. But, dear reader, I am not going to waste your time or mine for that matter-check out the competitors before you consider buying one. There are several vastly better products to be had.

I would much rather save up for an Infiniti 2012 EX35 AWD which is excellent. Admittedly it will set you back the best part of 40 thousand dollars but it is worth it. Nissan’s trusted 3.5 V6, 297 horsepower, all wheel drive with snow mode, 7 speed automatic transmission, you name it. The seats are just like armchairs-comfortable, adjustable, heated with adjustable lumbar support. Reminds me of the reading room of the Royal Automobile Club in London. This time I am not going to waste your time, if you can afford it-buy it. It is that good.

Infiniti came from nowhere to take on Lexus and Acura. In book they are succeeding big time. Mercedes have been coming for a very long time, over 100 years to be precise. Their ML 550 is a pretty awesome machine with a 4.6 liter Bi-turbo 32 valve aluminum V8. To say that 400 horsepower is adequate is an understatement. It is plenty in fact I would suggest that for most rich Mums a smaller , maybe three and a half liter would suffice. Actually the price might sound huge at 66 thousand dollars but once you take away the extras you are talking about 58 thou. Still a lot of money but these days you get the sort of quality that was missing from the early MLs.

On our way to the Chandon winery (where else one might ask) it was quiet and comfortable. It was particularly quiet as we had huge problems figuring out the radio. Silly as it may sound, folks who can afford the ML by and large are not that young-unless they work for Facebook, Yelp or Google-so having to press buttons umpteen times to find something as basic as 88.5 takes forever. It is that good.

Just like at BMW the technicians concerned assume that we are all as brilliant as they are. Anyway, cruising at 70 miles an hour we did get 20 miles per gallon, clearly in town it would be less.

Mercedes are rather cleverly hedging their bets, they are continuing with their big engines, with their AMG tuning division while developing new, fuel efficient cars made in places as diverse as Hungary and China.

I absolutely loved Range Rover’s Evoque until I saw the price. With all the extras it comes to a whopping 57 thousand dollars, an awful lot of money for a 2 liter 240 horsepower 4 cylinder engine. It was fine in sunny Belvedere, how it would cope with a family of five plus luggage all the way to Lake Tahoe at 7000 ft. I am not certain. It is unquestionably loveable. Looks terrific, easy to drive and terrific, precise steering. It will also give you 28 miles per gallon. The interior was designed with the help of Mrs. David Beckham, formerly one of the Spice girl, currently a highly successful dress designer and Mum of four!

And it shows. The problem is that all her loving touches help to push the price up from a very reasonable 41 thousand dollars to 57. The rear entertainment system providing 2 8 inch video display screens, DVD player, remote control and wireless headphones come to 2500 dollars and define “cool” personified. The very British premium leather seat look stunning and are stunning. The company’s belief in the product shows in the 6 year unlimited mileage corrosion warranty. A far cry from the olden days when Range Rovers were synonymous with rust. But even then the hill-climbing abilities were never in doubt.

Coming back to the turbocharged direct fuel injection engine it sounded nice it is just a shame I didn’t get a chance to have the car for a longer period. It was a huge success at the tennis club where members only ask for the keys from me when it I turn up in something special. That the Evoque got tons of awards all over the World is fully justified, although I still feel that at just under 60 thousand dollars you would need a 6 cylinder engine to convince punters not to go automatically to the nearest Mercedes or BMW dealer.

Which would be a mistake.

That’s it for this month…back to Europe this week, have a nice summer.