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Letter From Europe: Sweet Subaru(s), Devastating Dodge, Maserati Ghibli

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Letter from Europe
Andrew Frankl
European Bureau Chief
The Auto Channel

The lady in front me at the 76 gas station was busy cleaning of the Forester which looked brand new to me. Do you like it was the obvious question seeing that I was in a Subaru Crosstrek. “love it” she said, some of my friends are already on their third.

Clearly Subaru were and are on a roll if you pardon the pun. Confession time- several years ago I had a Subaru for test and I hated it. Further more  I’ve said so in print . Result- a lengthy blacklist which has now been lifted. 

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Now I’ve had to choices: should I be a goodie two shoes to make sure that the blacklist is something of the past or should I write it as I find it. I did of course decide on the latter. First the good news: first thing I’ve noticed was the much missed and much loved proper hand brake. That electronic one much loved by car companies was always one of my pet hates. 

Just like this ridiculous horn on Ferraris. For years and years it was where it belonged-in the middle of the steering wheel. Then a few years ago they’ve decided to put on the steering wheel in the shape of two small indentations. Pathetic. Now, after all the complaints they’ve come to their senses and restored the horn into its rightful place. So re the handbrake-thank you Subaru.

More good news-the Crosstrek never missed a beat and owing to my legendary light right foot I’ve easily  exceeded the 29 miles per gallon combined city’/highway economy as per the documentation I’ve received from the company.

Further good news-the blind spot detection and the  lane change assist were a blessing, especially in South San Francisco where driving standards are, say we say, modest.

Give me Marin County drivers every time!

Now for the bad news. Well, not THAT bad but  certainly not good. The engine. Seriously modest. Once you get up to 70 miles per hour it will cruise forever but getting there is a bit of a struggle. The Crosstrek desperately needs more oomph. A 2.5 or 3 liter engine would solve the problem.

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Apart from that everything was fine. Subaru has a tremendous reputation among people living around Lake Tahoe, a quick trip to Safeway in Tahoe City will confirm that. The locals are hardy folks and they need reliability, especially during the Winter. Outbacks, Foresters, you name it.

All in all the Crosstrek confirmed all the good features the company is famous for, a bigger engine would be most welcome.

One engine that would definitely be too big for the Crosstrek is the 6.4 liter beast powering the Dodge Challenger R/T Scat pack.

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At 37 thousand dollars (43 with extras) this has to be the hairiest car on sale anywhere in the World.

Clearly not destined for Marin County which is the PC capital of the United States but hey, there are another 49 States after all.

So if you happen to live in Texas the Dodge could be just the ticket in more ways than one. The chance of outdriving the police is nil as they all drive the very same car! So find yourself a private road, preferably lose gravel and you will have an astonishingly good time.

Don’t get me wrong. I was not given a ticket in sleepy Tiburon where the speed limit is 25 miles per hour but this is Prius country so why waste all those wonderful ponies?!  Our office is in Novato and when I turn up in something as appetizing as the Dodge there is a long line of volunteers waiting to take this baby for a spin.

It does of course have all the usual gizmos but buyers are more interested in the horsepower and the sound than in anything else.

The amusing thing is that all auto writers become little boys when it comes to the Challenger. The nostalgia is dripping from the i Macs reminiscing back to the days when i Mac was just Steve Job’s dream. Smokey and the Bandit, Burt Reynolds, that crazy cop played by Jackie Gleason.

So when I hear about self-drive and all these weird and wonderful things all I could suggest is a quick blast in a Dodge Challenger before it becomes  part of the nearest auto museum. It is that much fun!

I normally test Maserati's in Italy but as a new Ghibli came my way I certainly wasn’t complaining. A Ferrari engine, beautiful paintwork, excellent instruments. But unfortunately the gearbox is still not right. It is still virtually impossible to do a three point turn in a hurry.

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The other problem is the ergonomics. There is little room in the back for grown-ups. On the road of course it goes rather rapidly and the sound of that Ferrari engine is as mesmerizing as ever. The company just launched a crossover called Levante.

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Cross overs are all the rage these days, Jaguar have just launched one as well and would you believe their sales have doubled. F-Pace might be a silly name but it clearly does not seem to bother the punters.

That’s it for this month folks, we are off to England to visit the Aston Martin factory. Their new DB11 is coming off the production line on September 1 and if I am lucky The Auto Channel might just drive it off the line.

I’ve done a few things in my time but that would be a first!

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Stay Tuned.