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Lexus Love, BMW Boasting and An Almost Perfect Prius In This Month's Letter from Europe

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By Andrew Frankl
European Bureau Chief
The Auto Channel

This letter in the making for quite a while. Partly because I have very tied up with my newly released book, which I pleased to say is selling very well. Having printed 499 copies I am down to the last 100 and it was only published at the beginning of November.

But let us turn to cars. First the Toyota Prius. No, I am not going to give you chapter and verse, let me illustrate the story by a simple fact. I was attending the Grand Prix of the Americas in Austin Texas when I needed a taxi . The guy arrived in a Prius which did look a little worse for wear. How many miles have you done in this thing-I’ve asked gently. 244 thousand was the proud answer. There is nothing to add-game set and match to the Prius. I should add that we too have one, never missed a beat but it is a long way away from even one hundred thousand miles.

From the Toyota family came the Lexus RX350. It arrived the same day as my books. I actually met the truck just outside Ferrari of San Francisco’s service center. They were amazingly helpful but did make it clear that I could only leave the books there for a short while. The Lexus came to the rescue. I folded down the back seat and loaded the SUV up to the gills. I was a bit concerned but I shouldn’t have been. The RX did everything I’ve asked from it. It does have a great engine, otherwise Lotus would not be using it in the Evora. It is a tremendous package which people with sufficient funds will buy as it will run and run seemingly forever; certainly judging by the number we have and have had in Belvedere.

The Lexus does have a major rival in BMW's latest X5 35i.

We have had a pretty tough week recently and were lucky to have something as solid and reliable as the 2014 big Bimmer. The M Sport does come on top of the 55 thou basic as does the dynamic handling package at $3600 so by the time you add it up you are looking at 68 big ones. What you do get is a 3 liter twin turbo inline 6 cylinder engine which is a marvel. Not a terribly economic marvel at 21 miles per gallon but from a dynamic point of view you just can’t beat it. I was in the local Apple store yesterday and while they were fixing my new 5S I had a chat with the guy. He has had several BMWs but was thinking of maybe getting an Audi for a change. After a brief conversation he was on his way back to Sonnen for his new X3. What clinched it was of course BMW’s slogan-the ultimate driving machine. And it is. I’ve said this before-every other manufacturer advertises that this can have a car which is faster, wider, smaller, more economical, whatever. At the end of the day it may add up to some BMW features but not to all of them.

Which is not to say that the X5 is perfect. The speedo still has about 100 little lines of it showing how fast you are going-they could drop half and we could see more. That little economy gauge is also a bit silly, surely the dial should move from red to green but that is a detail. The control knob which had all customers and journalists in fits of anger has had a facelift, that truly ridiculous 8 way knob is history, we are now down to four directions. The navigation system is also a lot better, a lot easier to read than before.

Having driven the 5 series with a diesel engine in Europe I still think that is the way to go as it would give all the existing features and better economy as well.

To change the BMW subject, I just drove the 2014 Chrysler's 200S, it’s surely “all right” rather than spectacular. It did everything you wanted it to do, without too much excitement or pizzazz. The company is on a roll under new management and lots of new products. This is not one of them. Their strength is in Jeeps one of which will be coming my way soon

As this is the last letter of the year thank you for staying the course, we’ve been together here on The Auto Channel since 1996. Happy holidays and a happy and prosperous 2014!