Letter From Europe; Toyota, Volvo, Audi, Lexus, Kia, MINI and Jaguar, Whew.
European Bureau Chief
The Auto Channel
With I-80 to the Sierras closed and San Francisco pretty well saturated my transport for the week could not have been more perfect.
It may be an old warhorse and may be lacking in some refinements, but who needs refinements at a time like this? The Toyota 4Runner is certainly tough enough for off-roading but even its most ardent fans will admit that it is time for a change.
Certainly not in terms of ruggedness, but to give you an example. Rivals brands often offer a small step which retracts once you are inside. I am 6ft tall and relatively healthy but getting in and out is definitely a bit of a stretch. At 5ft 2” I would suggest it is almost impossible.
Fuel consumption. This is where I am a bit of specialist exceeding the figures given out by the manufacturers. This time I failed. Cruising on 101 at a steady 60 miles an hour and lifting off at every opportunity I got 17.5 mpg. To see how the 4Runner coped with mountains I had a go at Mount Tam the highest we have in the Bay Area.
The 4Runner literally stormed up without any trouble at all, it was all very reassuring. The fuel consumption dropped to 15 mpg, hardly surprising. I have mentioned this before, but I know that in that huge parts bin Toyota have back at the factory there is a newer, more economical engine that could replace the current 4 liter V-6.
Handling and the ride need an update, I am sure that is in the pipeline somewhere.
The controls on the other hand were first class, huge buttons and knobs which were infinitely preferable to the fiddly tiny buttons one has to live with in other brands.
The cargo area is huge and easily accessible. Towing capacity in 5000 lb, also very impressive. All in all the 4Runner is tough as nails and will go anywhere.
The changes I’ve mentioned are, I am sure on the way.
Good value at $35 thou, less so at $5O.
Next. Volvo’s XC60 B6 AWD R-design is a fine product.
Regular readers know that I am seriously biased as far as Swedish manufacturers are concerned having owned a much loved S70 for something like 12 years in Europe.
Never missed a beat and this test car didn’t miss a beat either.
Yet again my distinguished Lawyer friend and I took it to the wine country, this time a winery not too far from the legendary Sears Point race track. Ramsgate was our first port of call but we found the place outrageously expensive so we moved to a couple of more user friendly establishments.
The Volvo was very much in its element, cruising majestically while we were enjoying the amenities. Well, we would have but the fascia and the instruments are a bit of a mess, a very long way from being intuitive, finding the right radio channels was also a pain.
As expected mechanically the car was fine. The 2 liter turbo producing the best part of 300 horsepower was fine. I don’t know what it would have been like going to Tahoe with five people plus luggage but I hope I can try one day.
As you would expect from a car produced in Gothenburg where the temperature can get well under freezing all the vital components such as the engine, the transmission and of course the wipers-front and rear were of the highest quality. I’ve driven Volvos in Sweden and can testify just how vital they are in a snowstorm. On the California test I didn’t need all wheel drive which I was hoping to test but as mentioned earlier, all roads to the Sierras were closed. Next time.
Fuel consumption was a very respectable 26 miles per gallon but the price did strike me as somewhat over the top at 65 thousand dollars. You may not need a premium speaker for 3200 dollars and you may not needs a graphical head up display. So with some thought you may get nearer to the list price of 55 thousand dollars and don’t forget that depending how many cars the dealer has in stock he may throw in some of the extras to clinch a deal.
I still see Volvo S70s in Marin County, just like the one I had 20 years ago. That says it all really...go see your dealer.
I submit a pic of Audi’s EV, a very attractive machine indeed. This is a car which is on permanent loan to a hotel in Sun Valley, very clever product placement indeed.
Lexus’s smallest entry level offering is the UX250h. A very deceptive machine indeed. Having never visited Bodega Bay before the UX offered a perfect excuse and it nearly got me into trouble as well. Once I got over the truly whiny acceleration, in other words once we got up to speed I thought I was dreaming. Without any warning or drama we were doing 90 miles per hour until I very wisely slowed down.
Well, the UX was so comfortable that it was easy to get carried away. The fuel consumption was an outstanding 38 miles per gallon and as there were only two of us there was plenty of room. The back seats are for children, definitely not for adults who happen to be over 5ft 6.
The handling was just fine but sporty it isn’t. The 181 hp is adequate, especially once you have reached your required traveling speed of say “65” miles per hour. The price range depending on the specification is around 35 thousand dollars which is reasonable although to be fair there are larger alternatives for the same price. I may be wrong but I see the UX as an upmarket suburban car for people who have graduated from the Prius -same feeling but more elegant and with a bit more panache.
The new Toyota Sienna is absolutely excellent.
There is so much room inside it is amazing. The very comfortable seats fold to such an extent that I am sure a baby grand piano could be carried all the way to Symphony Hall. As for school runs, well, half the class could get in no trouble.
The price of this ultimate people carrier is between 35 and 50 thousand dollars depending on the specification. Regardless of the price the engine remains the same-a hybrid gas electric 2.5 liter engine which will never win trophies for stunning acceleration-7.9 0-60 is ok rather than spectacular but the consumption is truly stunning at 35 miles per gallon. On the cheapest gas I hasten to add .
I loved the hand free sliding doors, the 7 USB ports to keep all little Johnnies happy in the back. If you were planning a cross country trip with 4 children I would be hard pushed to recommend anything else.
The test car came on Michelin tires, the thinking man’s tire.
Kia’s Sorento (For 2022 "Carnival"> Hybrid EX is one fine machine.
Dear friends are on their 3rd Sorento and would not consider anything else. They did a 3000 mile trip not long ago from Tiburon all they way up to Montana and the Sorento never missed a beat. The test car I had a 281 hp turbo 4 cylinder engine with good acceleration and fuel economy. I was particularly impressed by the excellent infotainment, an object lesson to all other manufacturers. In fact all my colleagues give the Sorento high marks for comfort something I can only confirm.
The price is a very highly competitive between 29-42 thousand dollars. As far as fuel consumption is concerned I’ve yet again exceeded the official 25 mpg as with my policy off when possible I’ve achieved 27.5!
All in all a solid, reliable automobile which should be on your shopping list if you need three rows of seats with room for 6 or 7 people.
The Mini Cooper “S” brought back more memories than all other cars put together! I lived in London when the Mini-brainchild of Sir Alec Issigonis was launched back in 1959. In many ways it heralded a new Britain, a more confident Britain emerging from WW2 and the rationing that followed. The 60s were the time when Mini, the mini skirt and swinging Britain came to be.
I remember driving the Mini back then, to be fair it was pretty basic and a very far cry from the one I had for test here in California 63 years later. For many years it made very little money, the British companies which owned made a pig’s ear of it and it wasn’t until BMW bought it that it became a quality product which is what it is today.
In 2020 nearly 300 hundred thousand Minis were sold world-wide. A friend of mine has one, 6 years old but she absolutely loves it. One of the reasons has to be the outstanding dealership in Marin County, probably the best in the USA. Highly qualified engineers who know their customers by their first names.
Going back to Britain in the 60s there was a wonderful photo in the Wall Street Journal not long ago showing a white Mini, lot of girls in Mini skirts and of course the inevitable traffic warden in the process of issuing a ticket. Happy days.
I am pleased to say that certain crazy habits associated with the Mini are still very much alive such as the craze to pack as many people into a Mini as possible. The Guinness Book of records just had to modified as 28..yes 28 young ladies broke the record by piling into one. 4 in the trunk, lots hanging out but this is the sort of craze the Brits are famous for.
I have just been listening to an excellent presentation by the Mini USA team which was all about three exciting products. As there is an embargo I am afraid I cannot reveal more but stay near to The Auto Channel for late breaking information and your local dealer as these versions are likely to be in very high demand indeed.
Mini may be owned by BMW-who are doing an excellent job of it but it is still made in Britain by British workers, something I very much appreciate.
My next test car is also made in Britain, in Solihull, near Birmingham the epicenter of British manufacturing.
Once more the owners-Tata of India-have had the good sense to leave the manufacturing in Britain by workers who are probably third generation on the factory floor.
The Jaguar F-Pace was a very special treat indeed. Well, what else can you call a small SUV with 550 horsepower and 516 lb—ft torque ?!
The skis were in the back-thanks to the folding seats within seconds and without further ado we were off to Northstar in the Sierras. I drove on the way up in complete safety, assured that if needed the 550 horses would come to my rescue. There were one or two instances when some brave sole decided to do a hara-kiri in order to pass me (in a Prius) going downhill, but when we came to the hilly section it was sayonara to him and every other car, truck and SUV.
At the end of the day there is simply no substitute for 550 horses. The astonishing thing is-and you’ll see this on the enclosed photograph-is that the Jag was doing over 20 miles per gallon.
A serious feat of engineering. The 8 speed gearbox was fine as was the handling which of course was always the hallmark of Jaguars. The infotainment system was absolutely first class and apart from anything else it looked very elegant indeed. The seats were truly comfortable and after three hours we did not step out full of aches and pains. In fact we were ready to hit the slopes.
The roads were dry but I dare say the AWD system would have coped with anything short of as blizzard!
We did have a highly entertaining episode on the way home when daughter and fellow Autochannel contributor took the wheel. She was really enjoying the Jag when all of a sudden near Sacramento a highly tuned Mustang carved her up. Luckily the upgraded coped with the emergency without any sweaty palms, we just continued on our merry way. The young man in the Mustang wasn’t quite sure what he was doing, one minute he was next to us, next minute behind us. So far so good until he decided for reasons beyond our comprehension that he would do his version of Smokey and the Bandit. Weaving between four lanes he was doing at least 110 miles per hour. It was fairly predictable that it was not going to end well. Within seconds we saw the blue light on the CHP officer’s car and the chase was on. Just like in the movies except that this was for real! Even though the Jag could have kept up either with the bad guy or with the cop car we decided that common sense should prevail. So as we were cruising at 70 miles per hour it took us a good 20 minutes to catch up with the participants. By the time we got there the rather foolish young man was already in cuffs! I have no idea what the charges were going to be beyond dangerous driving so as nobody else suffered in any shape or form all I can say is thank you for the entertainment.
The Jaguar sells for 85 thousand dollars but before you say wow, that is a lot of money -which it is-there are no, repeat no extra charges for anything apart from the destination delivery.
I have a horrible feeling that just like Ferrari and Aston Martin Jaguar will end up with more EVs, so if you like the sound of a glorious V8 -like I do-and will stick with it until the very last gas station is converted to EVs I suggest you get one and have a great time. We certainly did!
Well that it for this very busy and exciting month...with things getting back to normal I hope that Europe will be on my next month's byline, stay well.