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RX Love, Stingray Joy, Ford and Cadillac ELR Hisses IN This Months Letter From Europe

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By Andrew Frankl
European Bureau Chief
The Auto Channel

It isn't very often that I am fooled by an automobile but I have admit the 2013 Lexus RX350 did just that. Without looking at the price or the specifications I've assumed the price to be in the 60s. Well, even with extras it only came to 52 thousand dollars. If not exactly a bargain-a lot of SUV for the money.

The 3.5 liter 270 HP engine is just fine but what really surprised me was the fuel economy. In ECO mode I was getting 26-27 miles per gallon, pretty amazing figures but it a far cry from our own Prius. My wife Suzie absolutely loves it and it really and truly does 44-45 miles per gallon on the cheapest gas.

I am told that over 1 million have been sold. Toyota were the hybrid pioneers and at the time an awful lot of people thought it would never work, would never sell and would lose Toyota a fortune. Well, 1 million customers can't be wrong. It would not be my choice for an automobile, it is a little bit too small for my liking and the dynamics are not exactly scintillating but for shopping and small trip it is just fine. It is interesting how a few years ago there were very few indeed in leafy Belvedere. Now our parking lots are rapidly filling up with them.

But back to the Lexus RX350 which seem to fill up the rest of the parking lot. Actually that isn't quite fair, we have the odd Mercedes, a new Audi Q5, a brace of BMWs and an old Porsche. What we don't have is a Ford.

Interestingly the man next door who has a glorious Porsche just bought his wife a Volt! They insisted that I should drive it. Between you and I and the gate post I hated it. Vastly overpriced, there must be at least 20 cars I could name that I would rather drive for a lot less money.

The one car which is not selling as well as I would have expected is the little Nissan Leaf which is adorable. Maybe one day it will catch on.

The RX350 I drove had an F designation which I didn't quite understand. To my mind the 350 is what it is-safe, comfortable transport for people who are not looking for excitement. Lexus won't like to hear this but the demographics are not on their side, every lady in their 80s-and there are plenty of those around here- seem to be driving 350s. Several of them are getting on a bit, just like the owners but I've yet to see a tow truck anywhere near them.

I know that Toyota and Lexus are trying to change their appeal to younger people, a bit like Nissan with the Infiniti but I think they should leave the 350 alone. It has its own niche, its own customer base and they love it The fact that according to the government it has an overall safety rating of five stars must reassure all the young folks whose Mums and Grannies drive the 350 that even if they make a mistake which they frequently do-they will still be safe.

As for luxury and convenience features I would be hard pushed to find one missing. I was listening Liszt's first piano concerto and it was concert hall quality. Getting to 90.3 FM was a bit of a challenge as the little lever, a bit like an Apple mouse was far too sensitive and I kept ending up somewhere else.

On the convenience/safety side the rear reversing light camera is a piece of magic which is a Godsend in busy Whole Foods parking lots. Let me put it another way-if you are looking for safety, comfort, total reliability and relative economy I don't think there is a better alternative at 50 thousand dollars. Yes, it does look a bit dated but unless you have to have the latest singing dancing automobile at this price the Lexus 350 is your answer. It most definitely AARP's Car of the Year!

Talking about Car of the Year the whole thing has become a bit of a joke. Take Car & Driver. To keep everybody happy, especially the bean counters they have their 10 best cars of the year. Honestly. At least it is a successful publication. Sometimes the most obscure titles give meaningless awards, often the recipients have never even heard of them.

But to the good news. My old friend Bob Lutz has done it again. A sprightly 80 year old he shoved a huge Corvette V8 into a Fisker. Without all the razzmatazz, special effects, leggy blondes and all that he stole the Detroit Auto Show.

Of course it did help that he is and also has been the auto writers darling but still-to get a full page editorial in the Wall Street Journal had all the other, "proper" automakers green with envy.

I got the feeling that the EV hysteria was cooling a bit and that most customers while appreciating improved fuel consumption preferred what I would describe as normal cars. Things like Toyota Corollas. You don't sell 9 million of anything unless people like them.

The German auto makers are having a field day and the car park at the Belvedere tennis club is certainly full of them. Right now the Audi 7 seems to be the favorite among the younger folks while the grey haired brigade tend to run around in Lexus or Mercedes SUVs.

Interestingly enough the only time you see a Ford is when someone makes a delivery. Pity.

Infiniti's Q50 looks terrific. It is a very clever piece of marketing, essentially a Nissan based product with bells and the corresponding higher profit margin. They are very much involved with the 2016 Olympics in Brazil, a smart move in an emerging nation.

The 2014 Stingray Corvette is great news for GM and consequently for Detroit. The critics are of course divided but I don't think it matters one iota as lovers of this great marque cannot wait to get their hands on them.

As opposed to Cadillac's Volt based ELR coupe which will cover 35 miles on battery power before its 4-cylinder gasoline engine kicks in. At around 60 thousand dollars I think it will be the lemon if the year.