St. Barth, Wine Country, Up The Hill To The Sierra, Ferrari, Kia, Caddy, Mercedes, B For Buick and Basketball In This Month's Letter From Europe
Go to St Barth said Auto Channel’s CEO Bob Gordon and see what the famous, the infamous and the rich folks are up too. It was difficult to say no to the Boss so after a great dealing of trepidation I put on two masks and grabbed a bottle of sanitizer. The rest was part luck part judgment but I got there.
This being the Auto Channel you may wondering what all the rich folks were driving.
Well, if I tell you that the number 1 choice was the Mini Moke you might be surprised, but trust me-the roads are narrow and the locals drive pretty quickly.
Your reporter ended up driving a Kia Picanto which is the absolute simplest product that has ever emerged from the South Korean auto maker. For my purposes it was just fine. Of course there is always an exception to every rule, a Russian oligarch found the traffic too much to bear and flew by helicopter to his yacht. Flight time 1 min 45 seconds.
There were of course scenes that would have stopped the traffic almost anywhere. It was a photo shoot for a young lady from California who has 14 million followers on Instagram. I am told that it is a very lucrative business and I must admit it was not an unpleasant sight. Her name is Alexis Ren and she seemed to be pleasant and charming .
Some of her entourage was less so but I suppose they were protecting the star. But, having established that the rich are different from us it was time to fly back to equally sunny Belvedere.
First assignment was to test drive Ferrari’s brand new Roma. I would have preferred a few days to recover from the trip but it was a now or never situation. Wonderful car of course but it is what the English would describe as too clever by half. The tech folks in Maranello got a bit carried away and if you were to buy one you would definitely need lessons concerning the various switches and controls. But the basics, the bits that really matter such as the engine and gearbox worked just fine.
I thought maybe I could take some time off but duty called in the shape of Mercedes Benz’s GLE 63S. On massive Michelin tires it turned out to be quite a machine. There are less expensive versions of the E class but this baby - the one I’ve tested- at around 115 thousand dollars really has everything bar the kitchen sink which of course would fit comfortably into the trunk.
It is not for the faint-hearted though as the AMG version will accelerate 0-60 in 3.7 seconds courtesy of a 603 horsepower engine .
In all fairness you have to ask yourself and your bank manager if you need that massive great engine or should you maybe dial back into something the same size but more affordable. But if you can afford the AMG expect 19 miles per gallon and the sonorous sounds of the hand-crafted AMG 4 liter bi-turbo with additional EQ boost. As an engineering feat it is pretty awesome. The 9 speed automatic transmission worked perfectly and bearing in mind the size of the Mercedes it was nimble. The ride was positively on the firm side which I enjoyed very much, especially after testing the Ferrari with similar ride characteristics.
Dislikes? I don’t normally say there was very little I found wrong but once in a while an automobile comes along which can justify its pretty high asking price. Rivals? I would mention the Range Rover and Porsche’s Cayenne. Would I buy one? In all honesty no. I find the C class is just the right size for me but if you have a chalet in Northstar or Incline Village the E class with all the trimmings is just the ticket for you.
As luck would have it I had nearly as much fun in little brother GLA250 4matic as I had in the 603 horsepower monster. My neighbor Mel is a patent lawyer for the wine industry of Napa and Sonoma. At the last count he had 350 clients including some heavy hitters with prices in the $500 dollar plus category such as Harlan. There was no question of spending that sort of money so we headed up to White Rock whose wines were in the $60-$100 region.
As my lawyer friend volunteered to drive I had a chance to try their excellent Cabernet. The caves were amazing as were the barrels imported from France. The Chardonnay would have been perfect with some grilled salmon and the Cab with virtually anything. Next destination a very upmarket establishment by the name of Trefethen. Very imposing indeed and the Merc felt very much at home.
You can imagine the popularity of their $219 dollar Cabernet Halo which is not available online and is currently out of stock. The private dining room is what dreams are made of so its the next time for us as we had to hit the road on to our next destination, an excellent watering hole and huge Bay Area favorite -Don Giovanni. Jam packed by people clearly delighted to be out in the open air. We had one additional stop on the way home at Hudson Ranch who were selling their excellent wines much more in my price range at $59 dollars a bottle. The baby Mercedes took our wine country trip in its stride delivering well over 30 miles per gallon. The 0-60 figure clearly was no match for that of big brother but 5.7 was perfectly acceptable from the turbocharged and intercooler DOHC 16 valve inline 4, aluminum block and head with direct fuel injection.
The 250 would be perfectly fine for two grown ups and two children . The build quality is excellent and the price at around 40 thousand dollars is very reasonable. Just think-you could have almost three of these for the price of the E. So unless you have a fistful of Apple shares and a boxful of bitcoins under the bed stick with the little one and have a very nice holiday or two on the change.
Sponsorship is a funny old business. You could back a team which loses in the first round or you could get lucky and put your money on the final four games in the March Madness. Arise Buick Envision and yes, whoever came up with the idea and the money should get promoted. In case you’ve missed it the semi-final between between Gonzaga and UCLA was one of the ultimate nail biters of all times. 90-90 after extra time, the buzzer goes but freshman Jalen Suggs has one final throw from just inside the halfway line. Yes, you’ve guessed it. The sort of shot papers have been writing about it ever since. The Wall Street Journal’s Jason Gay is still recovering having filed a first class report.
The following day we had the local -to the Bay Area -Women’s final . Stratford managed to beat Arizona i much to everyone’s delight on campus.
The game between Baylor and Gonzaga we don’t talk about, it was too humiliating for the boys from Spokane. But the point I am trying to make is while millions were watching who were the lead sponsors,-the makers of Buick’s excellent Envision.
Just like the Mercedes it also has a 4 cylinder engine with 230 horses to be precise. We threw everything at it from a quick dash up to Northstar to shopping at Whole Foods and everything in between. The first thing that blew my socks off were the exceptional cameras front and back, probably the best I’ve ever come across. The SUV was very comfortable with much-improved build quality. Fuel consumption came it at 31 miles per gallon and the prices at around $32-$40 thousand dollars depending on the various extras.
Not many people know the historical connection with China where the Buick has an almost mythical status, to find out why you will have to read the history books. To have sold over 1 million Buick's in that vast country is the envy of all other manufacturers. Would I buy one? The only reason I hesitate is because my circumstances have changed.
At around 32 thousand dollars it represents excellent value. I have two complaints ,the Buick has a tendency to lean. Not as much as the Leaning Tower of Pisa but could still be a bit unpleasant after a big lunch in Napa. The other is the almost invisible warning triangle. Yes, ultimately I did find it but with trucks racing around Sacramento when I needed it the first time it took a few seconds.
Suggestion-copy the “redness” of the arrow on the climate change. It would make all the difference. All in all a much improved very fine product.
Last but not least came Cadillac’s CT4-V with a 325-hp,2.7 liter turbo 4 cylinder engine. The name itself is very significant and there are some styling hints of yesteryear’s great, legendary Caddys.
The front seats are supremely comfortable, the rear less so. As always I took my good friend Peter for a test drive and with his 6.3 frame plus my 6ft there was very little room in the back for anyone over the age of 10. Let me add though that most people are somewhat shorter in which case of course this would not apply. Build quality is first class, it is a case of noblesse oblige, you cannot have a badly finished automobile with a Cadillac badge! Handling was razor sharp and the ride was sporty, exactly how I like it. 10 speed auto worked well and would have been even more fun with the 3.0 liter turbocharged V6 from big brother CT5. The interior was great, loved the steering wheel, the instrumentation and the general feel of quality in the “office”. First class radio, excellent sound quality. Fuel consumption’s around 25 mpg, respectable but not exceptional.
The price at around $43 thousand dollars after some heavy bargaining- is good value and having a shining new Caddy in your garage will have the neighbors drool with envy. Well that's it for this months globe-trotter...be well stay safe … see you next month.