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Letter from Europe May 2018 - Road Tests

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Letter from Europe
Andrew Frankl
European Bureau Chief
The Auto Channel

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The annual Western Automotive Journalists’ function was a very pleasant affair. Lots of new and exciting cars to drive and lots of nice people to meet. Old mate Andrew Cutler was back in the saddle at Mini, Ashley Gillam proved that not all Mercedes NA PR people are stuck up and snooty, Aileen Clarke of Infiniti was a joy to talk to, the evening wouldn’t have been complete without talking Formula One with Jessica Tullman of Subaru and of course no WAJ event would have been complete without the one and only Scott Brown from Chrysler/Ram/Fiat Group, you name it.

Ford produced Dan Jones, the sort of PR guy from Britain who had all the hallmarks of his predecessor Simon Sproule who worked his way from Ford Transit trucks to being head honcho No 2 at Aston Martin. Such a contrast to the motley collection Ford have in LA with the exception of the inimitable John Clinard. When I mentioned to Dan that I was banned from getting test cars in SF because the people I write for are too wealthy (?!) he nearly choked on his gin and tonic..

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Still. As it was a test day I was able to get into the new Mustang and thought it was tremendous value for money. Not very subtle in canary yellow but maybe some cops are color blind.

Vernon Lindholm clearly believed in the product as he let me have a go on the off-road section in the rain in his very own truck! Brave man. Would not have been too difficult to stuff it into one of those huge trees...which I didn’t. Talking of Toyota I had a chance to zap up to Squaw Valley for one last bash on the slopes. Also had a meeting with the PR lady up there who unfortunately was sick as a dog but was well enough to see me just before I had to leave. The good news is that you can now ski just about everywhere from Aspen (yes, the posh one) to Mammoth to Deer Valley. The season ticket is the best part of a thousand dollars but with day passes getting near the 200 dollars mark skiing is rapidly becoming a rich man’s sport much to my regret. The RAV on the other hand is a very fine, rugged product for about 30 thousand dollars. The official figures for consumption are 23 and 29 respectively, on the way home I managed 34 mg . Apparently Toyota were aware of the engine’s rapidly advancing years and are updating it as we speak.

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The Camry I tested before is America’s best selling car and it is easy to see why. The styling is also much improved. I got 45 miles per gallon and I am sure you could buy one for about 35 thousand dollars or even less if you can leave without an 1800 dollar audio package. Astonishing how Ford just watched Toyota and Honda sale past over the years. I blame the product planners and of course pretty but pretty hopeless ex-CEO Mark Fields.

The new guy is trying to put things right but it will take a while.

Infiniti’s 2018 Q50 red sport 400 is truly a wolf is sheep’s clothing. It is also a driver’s delight t!

The new-and brilliant-3 liter V6 twin turbo engine produces 400 horsepower in a relatively small body produces blistering acceleration. As it is rear wheel drive (hurrah) it feels and drives like a BMW 3 series. It is also very expensive at 60 thousand dollars. Let me stick my neck out. The 2018 Infiniti Q50 is a great car in the wrong body. It is crying to be a convertible. I know there is a coupe but it isn’t the same as a sports car with the top down.

The Q50 has everything to make it an affordable Mustang rival, the power, the glorious rear wheel steering and of course Renault/Nissan’s might behind it. Not many people know that the French/Japanese auto giant is up there with Toyota, Volkswagen and GM.

Would it sell at 60 grand? Absolutely.

Must admit Mazda’s CX-9 left me stone cold. It is bland, expensive and dull.

On top of it the smog rating is a pretty abysmal 3 out of 10. To be fair it is fully equipped to such an extent that there are virtually no extras to be had with the exception of the soul red metallic red color. I cannot quite understand that a company producing the astonishingly good and exciting Miata could also produce this CX-9 which ( from what I hear) is not particularly reliable, has a pretty so-so rear visibility , all in all an SUV to skip. There are much better ones at the price. In this instance pretty-and it does look good- is not enough to justify the purchase price.

On the other hand Volkswagen’s Golf Sportswagen TSI S w/ 4 motion (whatever all that silly nonsense means) is stunning value for 24 thousand dollars. I cannot think of another automobile that offers this much for the money. Sturdy, spacious, reliable, the sort of wagon you can fit three children and lot of odds and sods into. I know several owners who swear by them. In fairness VW might be selling it at cost in order to regain their market share after the diesel which has just taken the scalp of head honcho Winterkorn. So while I whole heartedly

Endorse the Golf wagon, I am not going to be quite so enthusiastic about the VW Atlas. Prices at anything between 30-48 thousand dollars it is big. Very big. Three comfortable rows of seats

But I just could not get exciting about it. If I said that I had a whale of a time most people will understand what I am taking about. The fuel economy is nothing to write home about and even with the V6 engine it is a bit gutless. This is new territory for VW and I would describe it as work in progress.