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Exotica, Mundanica and SUVica In This Months Letter From Europe

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By Andrew Frankl
European Bureau Chief
The Auto Channel

As regular readers know only too well if I had to drive exotica such as Ferraris and Lamborghinis I had to get on a plane, change in London, fly on to Bologna, go to the factories, drive and fly home. Before you start feeling sorry for me -I love every minute of it. Even getting stuck in a snowstorm in the little town of Abetone about an hour from Maranello was fun in a bizarre sort of way .

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Still, for home comfort you cannot beat Aston Martin. During Labor Day weekend they very kindly turned at the St Francisco Yacht Club, about three hundred yards from where we live, when in the States.

Having enjoyed their hospitality at Pebble Beach a few days earlier it was certainly a lovely surprise. Their logic was simple-most people who can afford to be members of the Club (which we most certainly are not) should consider an Aston as their daily transport.

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The test drives in glorious sunshine were up and down the twisty road of nearby Tiburon. The temptation proved too great so as the enclosed photos show I had a great time. The Vantage S with a 4.7 liter V8 engine produces over 400 horse power and sounds absolutely delightful. Having driven stick shifts for an awfully long time I had no problem driving up and down the hills but I think most locals would prefer an automatic. The price of the convertible is around 150 thousand dollars, less than a Ferrari or a Lamborghini. If you are looking for what I would call exotica, the Aston should definitely be on the list of cars to be considered.

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Mitsubishi Motors 2014 H360 Custom Outlander
An SUV which will most definitely be on my consider for purchase list is Mitsubishi’s 2014 Outlander 3.0 GT S-AWC. I am told that some of my colleagues didn’t like it-I did. For a start we loaded it up to the gills and headed for Lake Tahoe. The engine, a 3 liter gem was amazingly economical provided I didn’t get carried away with the loud pedal. The official chart suggested 23 miles per gallon, It was an awful lot nearer to 30. It also felt considerably more solid than previous Mitsubishis I’ve driven so I wasn’t all that surprised that the 2014 model earned a Government top safety award, one of only two, the other being Subaru’s Forester.

The styling is not as aggressive as it was on the previous model but quite frankly who needs an aggressive looking SUV? Surely the whole purpose is to get anything up to 7 people from A to B in safety and comfort although I will be the first to admit that the third row is for smallish children only. One of my colleagues thought that the Mitsu 2014 Outlander should be more fun and should have less understeer. Once again all I can say it that it wasn’t designed to be hurled around corners. On the other hand as a sensible SUV, from inflatable kayaks to all the paraphernalia, it makes a lot of sense at around 30 thousand dollars. There is a GT package for about 6000 dollars, hopefully you don’t have to have all of it as for instance I find nav systems totally unnecessary. First of all most people know where they are going and if not there is an iPhone. All in all we had fun in the Outlander with special praise going to the A/C which was brilliant.

Wish I could be as enthusiastic about Kia’s Sorento. Dear oh dear. What a massive disappointment. The moment I touched the shiny steering wheel which was an impossibly to grip I knew we would never be friends. And we were not.

One of those SUVs that some colleagues cannot stop gushing over just wasn’t me. The fact that the battery went flat shortly after I left the tiniest light on didn’t help either, unlike almost all other automobiles there was no warning of any kind. Plenty of unnecessary bells apart from the only one I needed. I am told that KIA prices are competitive, well; I certainly didn’t think the Sorento was a bargain at 36 thousand dollars. I see from the sheet that came with the car that it was originally delivered to the W hotel in Scottsdale, obviously for a press junket. I have been on a number of them over the years and by and large these are pretty useless events as the driving bears little relationship to everyday life. No luggage, no wife, no screaming Johnnies just smooth talking PR and marketing men trying to glorify what is often a pretty mundane product. As is the case with Kia’s Sorento, a silly name for an average product.

Incidentally this is the first time in years that I have not been able to get anywhere near the official fuel consumption. I make a habit of exceeding it in just about everything except maybe an Aston Martin. This time round I couldn’t even get to 18 miles per gallon which in this and age is quite frankly pretty unacceptable.

If there is a people carrier I am 200 per cent familiar with it is Honda’s Odyssey. We have had one in the family for three years and it never missed a beat. We are talking about two adults, three children, a Labrador, bags full of food, drinks and diapers. Yes, at times it did look like a battlefield inside but it wasn’t leased as a backdrop for a fashion show. The Odyssey’s 248 horsepower 3.5 liter engine never missed a beat and the fuel economy of 22 miles per gallon was perfectly reasonable bearing in mind the weight and the long hikes up to Tahoe City.

I have to admit that the AM/FM audio system was no use whatsoever; with three little guys chattering away, listening to music was out of the question.

The Odyssey is big and one might say cumbersome in supermarket parking lots but you can’t have everything.

The family are now moving on to a Toyota Highlander which is smaller but with the diminishing number of diapers it was possible to move down a size. I promise to keep you posted. One final thing about the Honda-what you see is what you get. The seemingly high price of 44 thousand dollars includes every conceivable extra. Try that with a BMW or an Audi and see far you get.

See you next month.