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Letter from Europe- 2018 That Was The Year That Was


By Andrew Frankl
European Bureau Chief

Who would have thought that a year full of Ferrari and Maserati supercars would end on a test drive of a GMC Canyon Denali?! Well folks, it did. Must admit the genteel folks in leafy Belvedere are not used to seeing trucks unless Xfinity turn up to fix broken down TV connections which do with monotonous regularity but you know what?! They just had to get used to it. I wasn’t too sure myself but the Denali turned out to be great. Comfortable, quick with a V6 engine, 4 wheel drive, four door, four seats-the works. Wasn’t that long ago that SUVs were a seriously rough and ready proposition. No more.

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The 8 speed automatic transmission was fine and I enjoyed driving the Denali but drivers beware. If the truck is not fully loaded the tail can break away under acceleration, especially in the rain. But then why would you want to buy a truck unless you need to carry things?

As a safety issue I must salute the exceptional rear vision camera, a blessing. So were heated wing mirrors.

Admittedly the Government’s fuel economy and smog rating did show that the V 6 engine is getting long in the tooth, hopefully GM have something more modern in the pipeline.

I cannot pretend that the Denali is top of my automotive shopping list but if I were to change professions it would at the top of the tree. People often forget when they buy expensive German cars and SUVs the number of dealers is small compared to GM dealers-there is one in just about every village. A big plus if you need something in a hurry.

As for the price of the Denali these vary enormously. The least expensive GMS Canyon costs only 22 thousand dollars, the Denali I tested comes in at over 40 thou.

After my initial hesitation I had fun.

While the Denali is not for me the Toyota Highlander definitely is. I remember raving about it way back in January and I have not changed my mind. Exceptional quality, exceptional product.

In many ways so was the Mazda Miata-huge fun at a small price. Nearest thing to a go-kart, I had a smile on my face every time I got into the driver’s seat. A gem. The other Mazdas were pretty boring, definitely not on my shopping list. Any more than the huge VW Atlas which handled like a whale. On the other hand every other VW was not just excellent but also exceptional value for money. The company is desperate to buy back market share and they seem to be succeeding. Their 40 year old-much modified-Golf GTi is still the benchmark for young families with small children.

The Lexus NS 300 struck me as a jazzed up Toyota Prius and nothing to write to home about.

On the other hand the Lexus LC 900h truly stopped the traffic in Tiburon, a place where exotic cars are more the rule than the exception. This Lexus had an interior like no other car I have ever driven, every detail was immaculate.

The Range Rover remains the SUV to take to the Sierras or to the Symphony, bit like a Rolex on 4 wheels

Unfortunately I didn’t get a chance to drive a Mercedes - there is one coming tomorrow ! I don’t think Motor Trend magazine is Mercedes’ fav magazine at the moment very much either as in their latest issue this is what they had to say about the much hyped and not particularly good looking CLS-Class. “This car falls on all counts. It looks like a blob and doesn’t drive much better than one”. One reason I liked this comment so much is because it was written by Australian journo Angus MacKenzie who in his previous life was Editor of Britain’s CAR magazine; I should add that for over 24 years I was co-owner of the magazine sharing its stewardship with another Australian journalist. This comment was very “CAR”, the sort of put-down that sent PR and marketing directors into a fit threatening the magazine with all sorts of threats such as no more test cars and certainly no more advertising. Still, after a while they’ve realized that their products were in need of improvement the ads came back and so did the test car. So well done to Angus. For years US mags have been pulling their punches, in MT’s case no more. Well done.

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I have been having a lot of fun with Subaru’s Crosstrek Hybrid. It arrived fully charged

So far I have not had to switch over to gas which would have given me an extra 350 miles.

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So all in all you can get from San Francisco to LA without stopping for fuel. At home it will take you 5 hours to charge the battery on a 120 household outlet but only two hours when you use a 240V -level 2-outlet. So realistically speaking if you do a major shopping trip at Costco by the time you have finished pushing one of those massive carts around The Subaru will be fully charged. I’ve mentioned during a previous Subaru test that owners are a bit like a tribe. Once they join they never seem to leave. I have just learned that 97 percent of Subarus sold in the last 10 years are still on the road.

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All-wheel drive is a big plus of course, especially in rural areas and the 8.7 inches of ground clearance is an added plus.

As you would expect the Crosstrek is a huge favorite with cyclists and in conjunction with Thule-the gold standard in roof accessory design-are ready for the folks getting ready to conquer Mount Tamalpais on a Saturday morning.

The car’s instrumentation is excellent. Why? It is simple. You don’t need an engineering degree like in a BMW or a Mercedes to find a station. The sound quality is also first class. The multimedia system does everything other systems do but without all the frustration. On the road I appreciated lane assist . All in I would recommend the Crosstrek without hesitation to someone who does a short commute and can therefore do it on EV alone and especially nature lovers who go their destination in silence passing grateful cyclists who do not have to inhale the fumes from gas tanks and especially from diesels. 35 thousand dollars it strikes me as a fair price. One thing to bear in mind-various tax credits are rapidly changing downwards to don’t expect huge rebates.

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On the down side-would I like a little bit more power. 137 hp is definitely on the low side.

And now for something totally different. My book-Frankly Frankl-life, love, luck and automobiles. With a print run of only 499 copies it is selling rather rapidly. The buyers are from all over the United States and Europe. I love how they don’t just send 55 dollars but very often send notes referring to my main job as GP Editor of FORZA, the magazine about Ferraris.” I admire your candidness” said Don from Florida while Gerry from Holland, MI liked “my insights”. So it is fun all the way. If you would like to buy a copy while dwindling stocks last send me an e mail at to discuss dedications, shipping and all other relevant details.

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Happy New Year to all faithful Autochannel readers, stand by for more tests and more fun in 2019.