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Reflections Of 2019, Letter From Europe: Kia Niro Car Of The Year, Royal Land Rover, Subaru Positive Reflections, Volkswagen Kudos, Miata Love, Maserati Chills, Bizarre BMW, Ford and Lincoln Blacklist


By Andrew Frankl
European Bureau Chief
The Auto Channel

Greetings from sunny California and all the best for 2020.

After all the fast and exotic  cars it may come as a slight surprise that my Car of the Year is Kia’s Niro EV.

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I know, you must think your European Editor  had one too many drinks  during the festivities, well, no.

The Niro will never ever win design awards for looks but then it didn’t set out to be particularly good looking. The emphasis was on the EV range which is over 230 miles-I tested it and the figures are true. As we all know advertising agencies are notorious for making outrageous claims so it’s good to know that in this instance the figures are correct.

The Niro has a 64-kWh battery which takes about 10 hours to charge unless you are near one of those ultrafast charging stations which they have in places such as Mill Valley, California just outside   Whole Foods markets.

The Niro is front wheel drive and well-appointed with room for 5 passengers.

On a new internet site for automotive  media professionals, someone posed the question with regards to the writer's car choice of the year. When I put down the Niro I expected colleagues falling off their chairs laughing. On the contrary. One of them said that her choice was a Bolt and another bemoned the fact that the Niro EV is not available nationwide.

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Having said that, I would be a hypocrite if I did not confess that just how wonderful the Range Rover  was in truly horrendous weather. Some people had reliability problems, I didn’t have any. It is Her Majesty’s favourite choice of transport. Yes, I know, she is 93 years old but still drives one although obviously not in the middle of London.

Young readers-especially those who have yet to see The Crown on Netflix probably don’t realize that as Princess Elizabeth, as she was then, drove British Army trucks in 1944/45.

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Very much loved she actually stood  and clapped for the first  time ever during the 75th anniversary of the D Day landings when veterans from Britain, America and Canada came on to the stage just outside Buckingham Palace. There wasn’t a dry eye in the house including Her Majesty.

As for the Royal Range Rover it has a very potent 3 liter V6 engine with 355 horsepower. Sitting  above the traffic in the beautifully finished cabin the Range Rover is still a class act which will become obvious as soon as you enter. Prices vary from about 70 thousand dollars and up, if you like the thought of posing in one of them just check that the pre-delivery inspection found and rectified all the faults. Fewer than before but not unheard of.

I’ve had a chance to drive a number of Subaru's and all I can say is that the company makes what I call honest automobiles. Nothing fancy, just like the Niro no design awards for styling just honest to goodness engineering.

The Subaru Ascent provided superb visibility, total comfort and tons of room. At around 40 thousand dollars it is also remarkbly good value for money although the ultimate value for money has to be the Legacy. Apart from the in-car electronics which are a nightmare, everything works just fine and starting at 22 thousand it has to be the deal of the year. The base engine is a bit gutless so I would go for the 182 hp 2.5 liter turbo.

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My Canadian cousin swears by the WRX and anyone who follows off road racing knows why. It also comes with a manual gearbox which seems to be a disappearing art. Pity.

I am waiting for a Subaru EV to appear, I am sure it will be great fun. As for the marque is concerned I have yet to meet anyone who was’t satisfied with their purchase. Pretty rare if you think about it.

Volkswagen let me test a number of their cars. The company-as we know-went through horrendous times which were their own making. Now they are trying to make amends with very attractive prices. The build quality is first class while the interiors tend to be spartan.

The view from the driver’s seat in my road test in San Francisco was exceptional, the whole cabin was spacious. I liked the V6 engine and got well over 20 miles per gallon on my way to the Western Automotive test day in Monterey. I also think the Atlas is a tremendous value at around 32 thousand dollars although you will pay a lot more for an AWD  and a premium trim option. I found the local dealer a bit pathetic but that is another story. 

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The E Golf, I am still in love with, it's incredible value at around 30 thousand dollars. All the great Golf qualities and an EV  as well.

The GTi which I had a chance to drive just before the holidays remains as a yardstick for something quick,with a superb six speed manual gearbox. Astonishing that after 40 years people still get all nostalgic about  their first GTi all these years later. Just think for a second-how many cars have just three letters which will immediately start a conversation: GTO, Hemi,  NSX, GTi, 911. Quite a gathering..

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Costing a great deal more and consequently far more lavish was Maserati's Levante. With a 3.8 liter V6 Turbo it took me up to Prince Albert’s Monaco Palace in no time at all. Let me explain-this is a reception  you cannot get into by waving your Amex Black Card and I admit that driving up the hill in Maserati’s finest Is always a huge thrill. The Maser is having quite a tough time in the States consequently there are huge deals to be had. The Ferrari derived engine sounds great, it goes like smoke, it sounds amazing but it is up against SUVs such as the Range Rover for a great deal less.

For sheer fun my Number One car has to be Mazda’s MX-5 Miata . You simply cannot stop smiling as you take the roof off in seconds and hey presto let the good times roll. It is simply not possible to have more fun in anything for 24 thousand dollars. I took a 6ft 3 tall former pilot and he could not stop grinning until I dropped him off at home. Noisy? Sure. Bit uncomfortable? Sure. But then so are go karts. Very much a blow the cobwebs sort of car, owners swear by them and keep them seemingly forever.

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BMW’s i3 was a bizarre proposition. Very well built but with a short range and two plus two seating it didn’t really catch on which is why it is being discontinued. It as also very expensive at 50 thousand dollars, more than  the brilliant bigger Niro.

The Chevrolet Bolt was very intesting with stunning colours and a long range. Not quite the Niro’s build quality but getting there.

Several people at the tennis club have replaced their gas driven cars for this little gem. Will be seeing more and more of them in the future. At 43 thousand it is also comptitively priced,

What is astonishing that the cars and trucks getting all the accolades seem to come from South Korea. Kia and Hyundai were regarded as some sort of a joke not that many years ago-no more. And the other winner to my mind are the folks at Subaru.

Fords and Lincoln  cars and SUVs I was not able to drive as I am on the company’s black list. Seems a bit silly but the local company guy really does not like me and that is the end of the story. Funny way to run a PR department. Seeing that Ford UK gave me my first job, I went with Mr Ford to Le Mans 1966, raced across America in a Ford Transit in Cannonball - on which the movie was based - and have driven every other make including Rolls Royce, it makes no sense to me but if it makes the little guy happy-so be it.

In 2020 and on I am expecting huge changes, partly-don't laugh- because of the Greta effect. Diesel is as good as history and with more and more hybrids  and EVs the automotive scene is changing rapidly.

All I would like to do is report on it all in a year’s time. Stay tuned for another 25 years here on The Auto Channel

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