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Silverado, Boo for Subaru, QX80, Old Lexus Ladies and Volvo S60 In This Months Letter from Europe


Andrew Frankl
European Bureau Chief

I am reliably informed that there were quite a few chuckles in the offices of Page One Automotive of late. The cause-my road test of GM’s latest, 2014 Silverado “High County 4WD Crew”, a big truck with a 6.2 liter V8 engine and a 6 speed automatic gearbox. Yours for a mere 52 thousand dollars. A lot of money for sure but then it ain’t no ordinary truck. No Sir! Ready for the rough? Certainly. Rough truck-certainly not. If you were to cut it in half leaving just the cab you would be in a lap of luxury. Electric power steering, anti lock brakes, tire pressure monitor, Nav system, you could have been in one of GM’s car except a bit higher. Leather upholstered seats-heated or cooled, remote keyless entry, A/C, the list goes on and on.

And for literally millions of Americans this is part of the American dream. A truck for work and play all in one. You might be carrying ladders or logs during the week, come Saturday morning it is time for the bicycles or the coolers or for towing a boat. A truck for all seasons.

The reason for the giggles at Page One was because I tend to drive exotic cars. Well, you can hardly work for a Ferrari magazine and not drive Ferraris or in some cases Lamborghinis. Even a Pagani who happen to be in Modena, just round the corner from the big guys So yes, the Silverado is a far cry from all those fancy Italian machines . But is was not just huge but huge fun as well. I got a bit of ribbing at the Belvedere Tennis Club, there was some talk about suspended memberships and all that but they were only kidding. The neighbors were also seriously underwhelmed but who cares? The grand children loved it, wanted to play in it all day.

More to the point for readers who consider buying one-they should certainly put it on their shopping list. The fuel consumption is a creditable 17 miles per gallon, 20 on the highway. One negative-road bumps. To be avoided as landings on the other side will be very hard indeed.

My needs do not call for the Silverado but having spent a week in it I really enjoyed it. Now where is that Jaguar F type I’ve been promised a year ago?!

I have a tennis partner, Ed Jacobson- a lovely guy. An orthopedic surgeon, ski guide, you name it. Except for his one weakness- cars. Or more specifically A car. His beloved 1997 SVX Subaru, a pretty rare automobile. Ed has been coming to the club for years with his beloved dog Betsy. Then , one day he turned up in a borrowed SUV. He was broken hearted. I wrote off my car he said, clearly devastated.

A couple of later he was his usual smiling self again. I found one in Florida! With that he traded in all his precious United miles for a round trip to Orlando, rented a car, drove another 125 miles, slept in a Howard Johnson, got up, went to see the owner of an identical 1997 SVX, parted with a few thousand dollars and by the following evening he was back in Marin. Not bad for for an 80 year old! The car, on a trailer, followed a few days later. Now that is what I call devotion.

I did try to tell Subaru about this rather nice story but I am persona non grata as a few years back I dared to criticize something on one of their precious automobiles. Their press office has a simple rule-one strike and you are out! Press offices vary, some take it on the chin, others get all broody and upset.

Oh well, I am currently consoling myself in a 2014 Lexus ES 350. I could go on and on about the car’s virtues but the one that struck me instantly was the sound insulation. In a class of its own. I can now understand those old ladies around Belvedere whose 350s seem to have been around nearly as long as they have. Comfortable, reliable-what else do they need? Fuel consumption is meaningless, getting to Whole Foods and back is all that matters. It is literally as simple as that. I know that Lexus are working on more exciting products but I would respectfully suggest that for a certain category of customers the ES 350 is just the job.

The 5.6 liter 2014 QX80 AWD is certainly a very different proposition. It looks like a bit like an elephant, a gentle one at that. Some of my colleagues hate it and are ready to tear it shreds. It is always easy, especially if you’ve never tried using it on a trip to the mountains with a cast of thousands.

There, up at Incline Village the first person I bumped into was someone from San Jose, driving, yes, you’ve guessed it -the QX80. He loves it and so did I. Not feeling in top form for the first time in my life I handed the keys over to my wife. It took a while for her climb up into the driving seat-not easy for a 6 footer either but once you are up there the views are magnificent. I couldn’t quite see Russia like a former ex-politician from her window but looking ahead on the road was a doddle. You also felt a bit like , here comes the old cliché-King of the Road.

The fuel consumption-as you would expect from this loveable monster -was a challenge. When we got the QX80 the average fuel consumption was down to 14.2 mpg but with judicious driving I managed to get it up to 16.7. Nothing to write home about but it does depend on how many people you are carrying. With five up it becomes a reasonable and very comfortable proposition.

It is of course a niche automobile. At 80 thousand dollars a pop it has to be. Also there aren’t that many families who need anything this big. If you do-the luxury is breathtaking.

Huge leather seats, rear seats that can be turned in just about every direction, duel 7 inch color monitors for the children with wireless headphones, cruise control, forward collision warning, the list is never ending.

On the performance side there is the 400 horsepower engine. The 413 lb-ft torque, snow mode, tow mode, you need it-just dial it in.

Would I buy one? Quite frankly - no. It was wonderful to be able to test it and enjoy the luxury. Living in 25 mile per hour sleepy Belvedere by the Bay it would make absolutely no sense. Had I won the mega lotto and bought a ski chalet in the Sierras it would have been different. But to quote the legendary Bob Hope :”Thanks for the memory”.

The Q70S looked so good I thought it was a Maserati. A refined, quick 5 seater. Equipped with Infiniti’s tried and tested 3.7 liter engine it is quick. Very quick. The Q70 comes with the highest safety credentials. The combined safety rating of 5 starts is as good as its gets. So you have a lot of speed, lots of safety stars, 330 horsepower, a 7 speed auto transmission so what could possibly be wrong? The price I am afraid.

The Q70 3.7 costs a whopping 64 thousand dollars. The company have taken a sheet out of BMW’s and Audi’s song book. They have a car selling for 49 thousand dollars and then start adding extras. And more extras. Technology package-3 grand. Sport touring package-another two grand. Another sport package-3750 grand. We haven’t finished yet! Now comes the premium package-yours for a mere 4200 dollars. So, when it is all said and done you have added 15 thousand dollars. Add to this a so-so 21 miles per gallon and what you have is an Infiniti which doesn’t quite deliver. Or as the headmaster used to say at the end of term: “could do better”.

Volvo’s S60 T5 has a certain deja vu feeling about it. The company has had a bit of a rough time with the Chinese takeover, consequently there haven’t been any new products for a while. The S60 is an old friend and I still maintain that if you have to have an accident make sure you are driving an S60. It has a higher safety rating than any other car I’ve ever come across. Feels rock solid.

The downside is the engine which has been around for a very very long time. The 2.5 liter turbo has seen better days. I am sure there is a new one in the pipeline. The various knobs and buttons are also a bit of a nightmare, my trusted S70 from the 1997 was a lot simpler and better. Never missed a beat by the way.

Everybody loves Volvo and everybody want them to succeed. People get very emotional about their 240s and other battered wagons, having seen their new concept cars I am sure they are on the way back. In the meantime this particular T5 had a fuel economy of 22.5 mpg, nothing to write home about. The price-without the extras which I see as pretty non-essential was 32 thousand dollars but I am sure with a bit of haggling it could be had for around 30. That is Altima country and at that point I would give some serious thought to a Volvo T5 even it is getting a but old in the tooth.

Talking of Altima the company have done a super job on the interior, I am not sure about what is under the hood. The engine, just like in the Volvo has seen better days and must be due for a facelift.

That would make it a very attractive proposition indeed.

The 2014 Toyota Prius was a newer version of an old friend. My wife has one and is very happy with it but immediately noticed that the new one was more solid. It also handled much better and the fuel economy improved to a genuine 50 miles per gallon. The one fly in the ointment is the price. Toyota joined the trend by adding extras until you end up with a sticker price of nearly 36 thousand dollars. Having visited our-very helpful-local dealer (Toyota of Marin) clearly there are deals to be had .

Also, whether you need the advanced technology packet for 4,323 dollars is another matter. A lot of it relates to music-JBL speakers, Sirius XM, music via blue tooth, entune with Bing (?!) . The base price is 30,000 dollars and that is where the negotiations should really start. I have tons of snooty, stuck up colleagues who regard the Prius with total disdain. Well, dear colleagues, you can fool some of the people some of the time but 1 million of them? I doubt it somehow.