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Letter From Europe - SUV's Tame, Rough, Cheap, Expensive...But All Good


Letter from Europe
Andrew Frankl
Senior Editor
European Bureau Chief

This month I'm here in the States.

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I’ve just returned from a quick skiing weekend at Northstar courtesy of Mitsubishi’s 2020 Outlander Sport 2.4 liter GT AWC.

Many of my peers don’t rate it too highly, I think their criticism is somewhat over the top.

First and most importantly did it get me to Tahoe in three hours? Yes. Did I get amazing fuel economy in ECO mode? Yes. On the way home-downhill for about 75 miles I got well over 30 miles per gallon. To give you idea I left Belvedere in Marin with a full tank and not only did I not need to stop at Truckee, there was enough gas left in the tank until just outside Sacramento on the way back!

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Being on my own it was amusing to watch the charging of the light brigade, namely the newly rich techies charging along in their big Audis expecting all lesser mortals to get out of their way. Pathetic.

So apart from getting me there and back safe and sound (thank you forward collision mitigation system) what was right and what was wrong.

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Well, the 2.4 liter MIVEC DOHC 4-cylinder engine was all right as opposed to brilliant, I might have had problems passing trucks on the way up had I had three more passengers and luggage.

The seating position was fine so there were no aches and pains after three hours at the wheel.

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I liked the updated styling and the very attractive paint work.

I was less fond of the infotainment system, the speakers definitely need an upgrade. The system itself is a bit confusing for those of us not possessing an engineering degree.

At 28 thousand dollars the Mitsu enters a very full field of competitors, as always I am sure the 28 grand is negotiable.

The 100 thousand mile powertrain warranty is very reassuring as is the 7 year/100 thousand mile anti corrosion warranty.

Thrill a minute it isn’t but around 25 thousand dollars the only car which can do that it is the Mazda Miata which brings me swiftly on to the subject of the company’s CX-9.

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The first thing that the Mazda CX-9 blew me away with was the incredibly luxurious interior. It was so bright and squeeky clean that I would suggest a different color for anyone with children.

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The CX-9 is not exactly tiny but it does handle more than adequately. The engine, a 2.5 liter turbo works well, but as always a V6 would have been nice for that extra oomph especially with 4-5 passengers. Some of those would have to be relatively small and agile to get out of the third row seats once they’ve managed to get in.

I wish all cars and SUVs had forward warning with automatic emergency braking as standard.

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The price range of 32—45 thousand dollars seems fair, the CX-9 is fully capable of holding its own in a very competitive segment.

I had to pop in to the local dealer in Marin County. The salesmen were all dealing with potential buyers. When I finally managed to get hold of one of the managers he was having his lunch at 4 in the afternoon…says it all really.

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The bugbear-and this is not unique to Mazda-is the highly complicated infotainment system which needs a serious detox. The engineers the world over assume that everybody is as clever as they are.The biggest culprits are Mercedes and BMW but regrettably most manufacturers follow. Pity.

Coming back to the nitty-gritty I did a lot better than the 22 mpg Mazda claimed and I should salute the first class gearbox mated to the 227 horsepower engine.

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All in all you won’t be whistling “you make me feel so young”-that is the preserve of the Miata But the CX-9 should definitely be on your shopping list of reasonably prized three row SUVs.

Lexus’s SUV is a lot easier to drive than to pronounce its name.

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Imagine a gaggle of ladies Chardonnay in hand discussing husbands, divorces, lawyers, ski trips and inevitably automobiles.

What are you driving at the moment Sylvia? Oh, a Lexus 2020/9454 A RX 450hL AWD SUV. Isn’t everyone? Of course. Anyway, it was part of the divorce settlement..

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So Sylvia do you like it? Not the ex silly, the Lexus. Well, it is a lot more quiet with with its 308 hp V6 engine, never misses a beat and returns 29 miles per gallon. Lot healthier than the ex’s gallons of Johnnie Walker Black Label. It was also a lot more fun listening to Yo-Yo Ma as he mesmerizes with his artistry playing Bach’s Cello Suite No 1 on the exceptional sound system of the Lexus.

Yes, it is 3500 dollars extra but if you have a long commute it is definitely worth it.

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As we all know many cars drop in price the minute they leave the showroom. So it is noticeable how a 2016 RH 450 AWD can still fetch 32 thousand dollars. I think the reason is simple-people who buy a Lexus RH tend to be less aggressive, more gentle. The RX is not a sportscar and is not pretending to be one. I know as we have several owners in our block. Some of them prefer hybrids (which I believe actually drives better) others not. The saving of a few gas dollars a year does not sound like a lot so it really is more environmental consideration.

Would it be my choice for a drive down I-5 to Los Angeles? In total peace and quiet? Probably. OK, on a twisty road the handling is not up to par with some more sporty automobiles but the almost silent engine, the seats, the overall finish makes me feel very comfortable. And you also know that nothing will ever go wrong.

On the downside if the techie in the family is your son and daughter ask them to explain the infosystem.. simple it isn’t.

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I love the sunshine but for while testing the Toyota 4Runner I was hoping for rain, mud and snow. The Toyota 4Runner was ready! I took it up Mountain Tamalpais in search of some challenge but alas all the exciting unmade roads were blocked by huge boulders. Consequently I was left with the main road. I cannot pretend that I was blown away as I was by the Lexus.

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Yes, I know that the two are meant for different audiences but even so the military green paint and seriously mean looks the 4Runner does need some upgrades.

The 4 liter V6 engine is ready but also rough. The neighbors hated it. Of course on an unmade, muddy road would have been very different. In low range with 4WD it would have been like Julie Andrews in the Sound of Music and would have climbed every mountain. For once the controls were simple, lots of knobs and buttons. With a very generous ground clearance and underbody skid plates it would have been very difficult to get stuck. The huge tires don’t really lend themselves to boulevard cruising, consequently in leafy Tiburon the ride was bouncy and at times the 4Runner did a good impersonation of the leaning tower of Pisa.

All in all a competent machine which with a bit of fine tuning could be even better. Well that's it from sunny month Europe...who knows.