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CC, Olé!, JX And Nice To Be Back: In This Month's Letter From Europe

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By Andrew Frankl
European Bureau Chief
The Auto Channel

After several weeks in and out of hospitals it was nice to get behind the wheel,(Ed.Note - nice to have you back Andrew), as silly as it may sound, it wasn’t that easy. General anesthetics has a funny way of hitting you weeks later when least expected. Mercifully I didn’t hit anything or anyone (only joking)

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On to the busisness at hand. I tested the Volkswagen CC Sport, and, what “lightening package “stood for I have absolutely no idea but it is a fine automobile all the same. I am of course biased because the engine comes from Gyor in Hungary. The plant is far and away the most successful automotive facility in the country supplying the 2 liter, 200 horsepower, 207lbs-ft turbocharged engine to VW factories all over the World. Having said that maybe the engine is due for a bit of a face-lift, redesign, call it what you like because 25 miles per gallon in this day and age is not a very appealing concept. I am sure that driven carefully on the highway in 6th gear and without the a/c blasting away 35 miles per gallon is what could be achieved.

The black interior is depressing as all black interiors are. This being a VW there are no rattles of any kind but the whole experience of the CC I’ve found rather dull. We have two VWs in the family, one, a Jetta has been around for 10 years and still running fine in spite of all the dings it has been getting in city traffic

Personally I hate manual gearboxes with that silly, fiddly electronic handbrake which is a nightmare on the steep hills of San Francisco. If you can afford the V6 automatic then go for it, you’ll enjoy the extra oomph and the ease of the automatic .

I would describe the CC is a solid, dependable workhorse but without the pizzazz VW is often capable of. Prices range from 30-40 thousand dollars where the competition is fierce.

Olé!It is certainly very different from Ford’s little Fiesta which has been around for 35 years. They’ve sold 15 million in that time, an amazing achievement. The funny thing is that initially Ford didn’t know what to call the small car until someone suggested the name Fiesta. All fine and dandy except that the name was owned by GM. If my memory serves me right it was a Ford family member who made the call along the lines of would you mind if we used it as a name for our small car? The top man at GM said no problems and that was the end of the matter.

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The Fiesta I have been driving of late is of course very different from the original one which, with hindsight, was pretty ugly. The 2013 version is certainly very attractive looking. It is also full of the sort of goodies that didn’t even exist 35 years ago. Heated mirrors? Audio input jack? Power locks with remote control?-the list is endless. The 1.6 liter engine is fine and remarkably quiet much to my surprise as little cars tend to have screamers which mercifully this one isn’t. Fuel consumption-according to the company is 33 miles per gallon which, as always, depends on the circumstances.

To check the size and agility I took the Fiesta up Belvedere island in Marin County not far from the Golden Gate bridge . This is one of the most expensive bits of real estate in the United States where large houses are selling for anything up to 50 million dollars, especially with views of the City and the bridge. This is all very well but rich folks in big houses have a retinue of gardeners, repair men and so on. Consequently the narrow road leading up the hill is a nightmare to navigate. This is where the Fiesta showed its mettle. Dodging into the smallest openings I’ve managed to avoid the trucks hurtling down the hill.

20 thousand dollars is a lot of money for a small car but bearing in mind the updates, the excellent brakes and the equally good automatic gearbox I would certainly put it on my shopping list. . Just as I was writing this reviews came the sad news that Ford were closing their Dagenham plant in England. First and foremost it is tragic for the workers; hopefully they will find jobs in the auto industry even if it means relocating. There are several success stories elsewhere, Jaguar and Range Rover being prime examples.

For me this is personal, Ford Motor Company gave me my first job at Dagenham back in 1962 more or less exactly 50 years ago. Even after moving on we’ve enjoyed a very cordial working relationship. Long may it continue. I was surprised to learn that customers had various problems with their new Fords although on one count I totally agree. The much hyped 5 years old Sync system is a load of rubbish. I don’t know whether to blame Microsoft who’ve designed it or Ford who’ve endorsed it.

As I’ve only had the new Explorer for two and a half days I barely had time to drive it. It certainly looks terrific in metallic green and went well with its new 3.5 liter V6 engine. The base price is just under 40 thousand dollars but by the time you’ve added on all the extra it is more like 48 grand. I am looking forward to a proper test this winter.

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Infiniti’s JX35 AWD is another automobile I would like to test under tougher circumstances. AWD is great in the mountains but t certainly wasn’t needed in and around San Francisco where the temperatures were in the 80s. On the other hand I had a chance to test the A/C which was just fine.

The 3.5 liter engine has been around in Infiniti-s and Nissans alike, 265 horses were just fine on Highway 101, not so sure about going up to Lake Tahoe with 5 up plus skis , boots and all the associated clobber. Of course it would get there but progress would be somewhat leisurely. Still, with the tech package, the Bose speakers and dual 7 inch color monitors the little ones would have little to complain about. The field at around 50-55 thousand dollars is pretty crowded with fine products such as the Acura MDX and the BMW X5. I don’t think the JX is necessarily better than either of these although in terms of comfort I do think it is ahead. The seats are just exceptional, the fuel consumption at 20 mpg less so.

Infiniti have decided to put a lot of promotional dollars into Grand Prix racing and they are certainly backing the right horse in Sebastian Vettel who could well become world champion for the third time in a couple of weeks’ time Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso permitting.

That it for now, stay tuned for more in my next Letter From Europe.