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Letter From Europe; Hot New M-B, Audi e-tron, Land Rover, Sun Valley Filled With Snow and Nice People


By Andrew Frankl
European Bureau Chief
The Auto Channel

Not often that a test car causes a commotion in leafy, sleepy Belvedere, but when the canary yellow 2020 Mercedes CLA250 4 matic rolled into the parking lot it was surrounded by neighbors young and old. How much was the inevitable first question and does it come  as a coupe or as a convertible. I have not heard even a whisper from M-B about a convertible but it would certainly be fun.

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Let me confess. When exciting cars come for test I immediately head to Novato-HQ of my long-time friend's Ross Periodicals publishers of FORZA, Excellence and Corvette to name but three of their titles.

Their editors get first dibs, the art directors pop down, grab the keys and I just hang around waiting for them to return with the car hopefully in one piece. There is no need for questions, the huge smiles on their faces always tell the story.

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This time round I could see the smiles from 100 yards away. Yes, the little yellow monster has that effect on people.

It is also part of the company’s new philosophy. 20-30 years ago Mercedes were famous for their yellow taxis at Frankfurt’s railway station or as trasnsport for old ladies. No more! One of the reasons why Mercedes are in Grand Prix racing is to broaden their appeal to hip, young folks trying to get them out of their small Hondas or Toyotas. The early  CLAs admittly were quite frankly a bit grim but things have changed dramatically.  Lots of high tech features such as adaptive cruise control and lane keeping assitance.

The latter I absolutely hated, it is a sudden and very unpleasant lurch. I was also unimpressed by the tiny red triangle indicating that cars were passing. Doubling its size would be a good start. Like today please. Check out Volvo’s solution.

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While the base price is a seemingly attractive 38 thousand dollars the least expensive version I saw at my local dealer was over 41 thou. But that is nothing! The AMG version I have been testing costs 54 big ones 16 more than the base price.

Some of the extras you could probably do without such as the heated front seats if you live in Southen California. Sirius XM - is it really necessary? I think the answer is not to fiddle with the small details but to drive a hard bargain. In any case you do get an excellent 2 liter inline 4 turbo engine with 221 horsepower. The 7 speed automatic transmission worked perfectly as did the brakes.

As far as the color  of the Mercedes is concerned unless you are an extrovert I would suggest something a little bit more subtle. Handling, ride are great unlike the rear seats and of course the lowered roofline does exclude tall people from the back. But if you like something sporty, something I would describe as “new Mercedes”, you should definitely take it for a spin.

Expensive it may be but a lot of fun it definitely is!

Another Mercedes that came my way arrived in stunning metallic red.

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The 2020 GLC 4MATIC SUV is great. The interior is sumptuous, truly elegant. On the practical side we took it to Park and Fly at SFO full of ski gear. Rear folded in a second, the skiis and bags disappeared, all mod cons as the saying goes.

The 2 liter Inline 4turbo engine is just fine although climbing up to  Tahoe with 4 people and luggage it might get somewhat out of breath.

I was sad to see that the Government ratings are not very favourable-5 out of 10 for fuel economy and 6 for smog rating.

On the other hand the LED liughts are excellent and the design is fresh and welcoming. The 9 speed automatic gearbox works fine and as far as fuel consumption is concerned on Northern California’s 101 highway I recorded a very respectable 30 miles per gallon.

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Like every autowriter in the World I cannot pretend that I don’t find the difference between the suggested retail price and the total sales price frustrating but the choice is yours. The GLC starts at 44 thou, the one I had  arrived with a 64 thou sticker price, a mere 20 grand on top!

The base  product is fine, the trick is to decide what  you really need from the 20 grand extra pack. The beautiful interior is 3800 dollars extra, if you have dogs you may delete this option. Same for the very atractive AMG wheels.Nobody buys cars anymore without haggling so I would say-go for it!

The base product is fresh, fine and good value at 44 thousand dollars. The rest is up to your negotiating skills. Definitely worth a trip to the dealer.

Sometimes when it comes to testing new cars you just get lucky. Lexus have a long term contract with Pebble Beach, Toyota with Squaw Valley and Audi with a great hotel in Sun Valley. I am sure they have others as well but this is where I came upon a virtually  brand new Audi e-tron.

As a first timer in Idaho I was completely blown away by the place. The kindness, the friendliness, the attitude. Attitude I hear you say. Indeed. It does not exist. That belongs to Aspen where they spray magnums of Veuve Clicquot at a bar named Could 9 half way up the mountain . 

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No folks, Sun Valley is for real people and the new Audi e-tron is for real drivers. It is of course all electric and goes like smoke. The roads were dry and deserted so it never occured to me to lift off before hitting 100 miles per hour. The e-tron interior is like a British gentleman’s club, supremely comfortable. The downside is the range, just about 200 miles. Let me explain.

A lot of  well heeled people from the Bay Area spend their weekends commuting from Tiburon to Squaw Valley or North Star. The distance is about 200 miles and during Christmas for instance the Tron just couldn’t do it. Heater, heated seats, radio...the range would rapidly drop to 150. Audi do have a gizmo which enables the e-tron to be partially refueled in 10 minutes which would give drivers an extra 54 miles. Still, with the big Teslas hitting 300 miles 200 will not cut the mustard, until the range is extended as I am sure it will be.

Apart from the range it is an excellent product and if you are not a skier and the golf course is just round the corner the Tron could be your answer. It is expensive, don’t expect  to get one under 75 thousand dollars which incidentally is where Jaguar’s excellent I-PACE is, the Tron’s major rival.

A brave new World indeed.

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Coming back to the real, rough and tumble world. SUVs don’t come any tougher than Land Rover’s Discovery. To my surprise it arrived with a 3 liter diesel engine. With all the bad press diesels have been having lately I wasn’t sure what to expect.  Well, I should have known better.

The engine -apart from the first few seconds-was as quiet as a church mouse. 254 horsepower, 443lb-ft torque this Disco was ready to do a Julie Andrews and climb every moumntain. If fact we did go up to Marin County’s answer to Mount Everest-Tamalpais with an elevation of 2,572 feet. The new James Bond film-now postponed until November because of the virus features several Discovery's and Defenders from Land Rover.

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I remember the very first one way back in 1971 which were great until rust took over. How times have changed! The price of 75 thousand dollars includes lots of extras which you could probably do without. The base is 61 thou. Rugged, reliable and lots of fun.

Well that's enough fun for this month...don't forget to wash your hands often don't touch your face and be carefull out there.