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Letter From Europe - Chevy Tahoe, Subaru Forrester, Kia Sorento, Chevrolet Corvette, BMW 3 Series


By Andrew Frankl
European Bureau Chief
The Auto Channel

California This Month: After driving a number of exotic sports cars such as the Lexus LC500 and Ferrari’s F8 spider who would have thought that I would love Chevy’s new Tahoe? It is huge said one neighbor, you will never get that into the car  port said another. Well, I’ve managed to prove both of them wrong.

Continuing our by now regular trips to the wine country, this time we headed for Sonoma’s Glen Ellen where some friends are producing an excellent Merlot with the Happy Endings label.

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Knowing that the owners were in the middle of reconstruction  our choice of a High Country Chevrolet Tahoe could not have been more appropriate. There was never any question of the Chevy with its 6.2 liter engine wouldn’t, couldn’t cope with whatever was thrown last it. As luck would have it the owner of the winery also had a 1954 Chevy pick-up on site to it came together rather well.

As always, I drove to Sonoma while my erstwhile lawyer friend was enjoying the scenery from his excellent vantage point. I must admit that getting into the Tahoe requires a step up, but there was one  which came into sight once the doors were opened. Clever stuff!

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Bearing in mind the sheer size of the Tahoe it was rather impressive that we were able to get 20 miles per gallon. 

With the recently introduced independent rear suspension ride comfort and road handling we were just fine and it also made life a lot more comfortable for those in the third row of seats.

The Tahoe is amazingly comfortable and the so-called infotainment-is remarkably easy to use.  Mercedes, Lexus , BMW please copy.

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I had considerably more fun in the Chevy Tahoe than I did in Subaru’s Forester Sport. I couldn’t wait for it to be taken away and I don’t think  I have said that about any car or truck in 25 years.

First of all simply,  I could not understand Consumer Report’s sycophantic drivel. They gave the Forester  89 points which  is just about the highest ever and I just wish they would explain what the big deal is.

First they say that the acceleration  isn’t exhilarating which is another way of putting gutless and the engine noise isn’t the most pleasant, this is PC talk for unpleasant.

Having worked for CAR magazine in Britain for 25 years this sort of nonsense I find hard to accept. As luck or should I say bad luck would have it I ended up with the Sport version. This has shiny bits presumably to make it look more sporty and the result  is an abysmal reflection in the mirrors the likes of which I have never seen.  It was so bad that I’ve immediately contacted their PR department. Ultimately I’ve got an e mail back from Todd Hill, Subaru's Product Public Relations Manager who informed  me that according to the service people they have had very few complaints. Which does not make it right. I’ve recommended Subaru's to two relatives and both confirmed my findings but as they in Canada they have a great deal  less Sun especially during the Winter.

As for the rest of the test the Forester Sport is all right. No more, no less. It is of course rugged otherwise you would not see them around Lake Tahoe year in year out. It is roomy and there is excellent visibility as long as there is no sunshine. Such a pity that some clever marketing guy decided to jazz up the perfectly fine Forester by adding silly bits. I promise to let you know when they’ve made the changes.

On our trip  we did manage to get 30 miles per gallon which is  pretty remarkable. The infotainment system was simple to use although the speaker were so-so. The lane changing bells drove me insane, so with the permanent annoyance of the reflection I was delighted to greet Kia’s Sorento. 

A breath of fresh air is how I would describe it. The Kia Sorento X line AWD is excellent. My best friend has had three and is deliriously happy. Having driven the Sorento  all over Northern California I am in full agreement.

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The vehicle I had for test  had a sticker price of 44 thousand dollars but it also had every conceivable extra short of the kitchen sink although  that too could have been carried once the third row seats were folded. Talking of the third row it would be great for children, climbing in for adults would require a great deal of agility which many of us don’t possess. The new X line I drove for test was all wheel drive and an extra inch of ground clearance. It  also comes with 20 inch alloy wheels and minor cosmetic improvements.

Depending on your needs you could start off with the basic Sorrento at around 30 thousand  dollars moving up to the 44 thou model I’ve just mentioned.

The Sorento now has a  2.5 liter turbo engine replacing the V6 from the previous model. It has 311 lb-ft torque which is more than sufficient.  The 8 speed dual clutch auto transmission worked effortlessly on the highway and also in the hills as well.

The drive assist technology is truly amazing, especially cyclist avoiding gizmo which is something I’ve never seen before. With all the other assist systems you would have to be seriously dim to hit anything or anyone. As always, I’ve managed to get more miles per gallon than the official figure, this time 30.5. 

Like everybody else I used to look at South Korean cars with some suspicion. No more. You simply get more for your money. I am used to looking at the long lists of extras, well, with the Sorento it comes to all of 500 dollars.

Then of course there is the 10 year, 100,000 mile powertrain warranty and a 60,000 mile basic warranty  and roadside assistance.

The friends I’ve mentioned drive down to Los Angeles several times a year taking their dog with them. I am mentioning this because not all dogs like to travel long distances, this one in the Sorento is one happy pooch.

I took the car to FORZA’s editorial office in Novato. In addition, this small  publishing company has several  other  titles such as Excellence and Corvette, all the editors came out to kick tires .

I don’t own a Kia and have no  ulterior motive  to be complimentary but I don’t see why I should knock it because quite frankly you would be hard pushed to find something equally good with all these extras for 40 thousand dollars.

Just as I was moving to report on the new Corvette an e mail came from old friend and KIA PR head honcho  James Hope confirming that yes, the V 6 did  go away having been replaced by the  2.5 liter turbo.

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One of the attached photos shows my good friends Peter and Carole jumping out of their Sorento and checking out all the updates on “mine.” A good time was had by all!

Much as I loved the Sorento I would be a  hypocrite if I didn’t confess to drooling when the brand new Chevy Corvette appeared at my door. I have been driving cars-big and small, good and bad but I must confess this one blew my socks off.

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As Grand Prix Editor and occasional feature writer for FORZA, the magazine about Ferraris, I have driven several Ferraris of late including one with 800 horsepower. Cost: 450 thousand dollars. Corvette: 80 thousand dollars. Difference in top speed; 180  miles per hour or  220 is  mph hardly relevant to most of us.  So at this let me be jingoistic. The C8-the first mid engined Corvette ever was so much fun that I was sorely tempted to write out a cheque and keep it.

Clearly GM bought a Lambo and a Ferrari and took them into tiny little pieces. This is  common practice among manufacturers, I remember that when the Mini came out back in 1959 Ford Motor Company took it apart and came to the conclusion that because it was quite complicated  and therefore if Mini made any money it would be something like 5 dollars per car. At the same time Ford of Britain launched a cheap and cheerful Cortina which went on to sell millions and pots of money.

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But back to the Corvette, the ultimate show stopper. The week before it arrived I was driving an 800 hp Ferrari Superfast and nobody took notice. Until I revved the engine..but the C8 had more attention, more high fives and more adulation than all the previous cars put together and I am going back many years. Everybody and his uncle wanted to be taken for a ride. A friend-a Ferrari owner -drove up from Atherton and was just shaking his head in disbelief.

There is-not surprisingly-a waiting list which has been aggravated by the recent shortage of chips from the Far East. Why the excitement? First and foremost the looks. You will not mistake it for anything else, ever. Secondly the performance. We are talking Ferrari acceleration for a third of the cost. Finally it is GM’s flagship based on tried and tested mechanicals. It might look like something from Mars but any qualified GM dealer should be able to fix things and there are plenty of them all over the country.

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Fourthly the comfort. Once you are in it the Corvette is as comfortable as any sports car. It has a unique system to all the various gauges which I personally loved. The detachable roof is easy to undo but then it becomes a two person operation as you have to lift it out, open the trunk and slide it in. Could be a bit tricky should you run into a hailstorm...Ferrari have a better solution, would be good to copy it.

Is it a family car? Definitely not. A dating car-absolutely. Mention it on Bumble or OKCupid or Zoosk and you will be inundated with replies. By the way it is very easy to drive so we are not talking about some macho mobile for a second.


Should I have sent a cheque to GM instead of returning the car? Truth be told if I had a garage I probably would have done. As it is let me just quote the old tune “Thanks for the memory”.

Most cars would have been a bit off a let-down after the Corvette but BMW’s 3 series certainly wasn’t. It is one of those iconic cars which have been around for a long time, bit like VW’s Golf and every year or two is just gets a little bit better, more refined.

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There is however no mistaking the BMW looks. The test car came with a 330E moniker meaning that if fully charged it was good for approximately 20 miles using no gas at all. Once you are past the 20 miles mark the punchy 2.O turbo 4 cylinder engine kicks in imperceptibly.

The build quality is as good as always and the interior is first rate. To call it a five seater is a slight exaggeration but for four people it is just fine. You can fit one large golf bag into the trunk, if there are two of you playing the bag would have to stay at home. 

Prices vary depending on the specification, the range of is pretty astonishing. You can have a 2.0 turbo, a 2 liter hybrid, a 3 liter turbo all the way to the 3 liter 6 turbo which will give you 503 hp. For good measure there are wagons and convertibles as well. The 3 liter is an old favorite of mine,  one of the finest engines around.

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The dashboard and the whole infotainment is a bit off a mess, there are gauges and dials everywhere. Needs patience. The sound system on the other is excellent in fact when I got home from a meeting I’ve switched off the engine but stayed in my very comfortable driver’s seat listening to Liszt’s First Piano Concerto. The clarity was amazing.

Would I recommend the 3 series? without a doubt. Hundreds of thousands of people can’t be wrong, in fact in Britain it became a sign of success when tens of thousands  of upwardly mobile people traded in their Fords for a shiny BMW.

What is very clever in the 330e is that in Sports mode there is an Extraboost function which, delivers an extra 40 horsepower for up to 10 seconds, exactly what you need trying to pass slow cars and even slower trucks on the way to Squaw Valley.

So why spend your hard-earned cash on an E rather than a  regular BMW? Simple. If you live in Tiburon and your office is in one junction up on 101 in Corte Madera at Nordstrom or Barnes and Noble you could commute five days a week without using any gas at all and with prices hovering just below 5 dollars a gallon we are talking serious money.

There of course people who say if you are into EVs why not get a Tesla. Reasonable question but to my end the build quality of the BMW is vastly superior as are the dynamic qualities.

Would I redesign the dashboard and make it more user friendly? Absolutely. Would it stop me from buying the 330e-no.  It is a car with a lot of pluses and very few minuses.

Now let me get back to Liszt’s Piano Concerto. The  Symphony Hall is in the process of re-opening in San the meantime the sound system in the Bimmer is just fine.