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Letter from Europe - September 2022


by Andrew Frankl
European Bureau Chief
The Auto Channel

Sad month for us Brits but the show must go on.

I have to start with an apology. Had an invitation to see the folks at Rebelle. As it was just across the Golden Gate bridge I thought I would pop over to the Presidio to find out what this is all about.

Shame on me. Turns out that Rebelle is a rally now in its 8th year. Upon closer inspection I came to the conclusion that it is an American version of the Paris=Dakar rally.

Luckily I have been to Senegal to see the final stage of the rally. There are some differences, this one is for ladies only.

A team entry costs 14 thousand dollars. There is a driver and a navigator and this is where it gets interesting. NO phones, no devices of any kind just the way sailors and travelers used to get around: a compass, a ruler and that’s about it.

The rally takes 7 days in Californian and Utah deserts. Having seen some footage from last year’s adventures it is very hard work. Sleeping in a tent in the middle of a sand storm or changing a flat tire in the sand or digging the truck out-definitely not the faint hearted. I saw some of the trucks-Toyotas and Rivians-all credit to the all-electric company.

So well done Rebelle and I hope the 2023 event will be a massive success.

Definitely not made for the rally is the delightful Bolt EV 2ST which landed in Belvedere just in time for my trip across the Bridge .

First impressions-at prices starting at around 26 thousand dollars compared to last week’s nightmare Volvo C40-buy,l it! I would.

I should really give you an update on the Volvo saga. I had a technical; question and tried to talk or text with at Volvo’s HQ. To make a long story short it has all been resolved-on the communication front but I still have reservations about the lurch which I personally could not live with. End of story.

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The Bolt can be had for about 28 thousand dollars but it would come without lots of goodies.

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At 35 thousand it is still an attractive proposition. Folks around here loved the looks, the new, comfortable seats, the much improved infotainment system and the general feel of the Bolt.

It has a very impressive 259 mile range when fully charged. Would I risk a trip to Tahoe?

Assuming no traffic jams and no 100 degree temperature outside I might. Bit iffy to be honest.

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As it is front wheel drive there are certain limitations under snowy conditions. What I like is that GM had the guts to stop production when they had a massive recall program and came back fighting. It really is chalk and cheese between Bolt Mark 1 and the current model. I found the ride and handling perfectly satisfactory and was delighted to see Michelin's on the Bolt.

In many ways it is like a signal-we are in this for a long haul and we are not cutting corners on lesser tires. Truth be told tires are the first thing I look at whether it is a Ferrari or a Bolt.

Would I buy it for about 35 thou? Yes. Does it require a different technique to drive it from gas driven cars? For sure but having said that we might as well learn as within 10 years most of us will be driving EVs. I must confess as an asthmatic I welcome it with open arms.

It isn’t until you stand next to a gas powered car that you realized just harmful CO2 really is. Being a bit of a dreamer I would love to see cars like the Bolt come with solar panels on the roof to charge the batteries. I know it would not be a smash hit in London but on the West Coast of California it most definitely would be! Can’t be too far away!

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Just as the Bolt was leaving having made lots of friends KIA’s amazing looking 2023 Sportage landed in the parking lot. In what KIA describe as a shadow matte gray color looks mean, menacing and very James Bondish.

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Mercedes AMG cars costing well over 100 thousand dollars have the same exterior so I immediately looked at the price-38 thousand dollars!

As I am writing this in the middle of the US Tennis Open all I can say is that “you cannot be serious”. The best looking car under 40 thousand dollars I’ve ever seen. So far so good but where is the beef? How is the engine? How comfortable is the Sportage?

Well, the 1.6 liter turbocharged hybrid is fine rather being a knockout. Between 50-70 I could have used more oomph but than I’ve always liked bigger engines.

For most customers it’s perfectly acceptable. The 6 speed automatic transmission is smooth and quiet and the paddle shifters are nicely placed, not huge like in some other cars, just the right size.

The interior is a work of art.I was in a tight spot outside Costco but the various visual and audible aids got me out of a jam. You would have to be very clumsy indeed to hit the neighbors’ dustbin!

I really and truly am not an extension of KIA’s Public Relations department but at under 40 grand the Sportage is a knock-out. The extras-often adding 10 thousand dollars to the base prize are included. Let me give you an idea. Panoramic sunroof, 18” dark alloy wheels , surround- view monitor, ventilated front seats, literally everything bar the kitchen sink. If all this wasn’t enough how about a 10 year/100 mile limited powertrain warranty .

As far as the fuel consumption is concerned for once I could not beat the official figures getting just 33 miles per gallon as opposed to 38 as per the Government figures. When it is all said and done you owe it to yourself to try the Sportage against all comers in the under 40 thou category. You will be pleasantly surprised. I know I was.

First thing first with the Mercedes GLB. Whoever designed the A/C gets a medal from me. It was over 100 degrees in Northern California and without this brilliant A/C I would have been in serious trouble.The GLB is a fine product, thousand times better than the rather modest A class. It is extremely comfortable and very elegant.

Our postman who gave me a hard time over Toyota’s Tundra gave me a thumbs up this time round.

Once you decipher the infotainment it is fine but getting there is a challenge. Like in all new cars and SUVs the engineers design these systems for their own entertainment. Superbly qualified sound engineers design these things assuming that we are all as qualified as they are which of course is not the case with us punters.

Anyway, the GLB is no better and no worse any other manufacturer and being Mercedes they do have first class salesmen and technicians. I can vouch for their professionalism as the parking lot at the Belvedere Tennis Club is at least 50 percent comes from Stuttgart. Or maybe from another plant.

All credit to MB for opening a plant back in 1995 in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. It employs over 4500 people and an absolute blessing for the local community.

Back to the does come in 2 or four wheel drive and has lots of modern gizmos such as pedestrian detection. On the road I found it responsive although, as always, I would have preferred a little bit more horsepower. I am referring to that vital 45-65 miles per hour where rapid overtaken becomes vital. Fuel consumption came out at just under 30 miles per gallon-impressive.

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Would I buy or recommend one-absolutely although you have to remember that new rivals such as KIA’s amazing EV6 are just round the corner. Talking of which I can’t wait to test a Mercedes EV, as soon as I get one you will be the first to know.

They will be up against KIA’s EV6 “WIND” RWD auto which is definitely top of the EV world at 48 thousand dollars including absolutely everything. The official Government are astonishing. Fuel economy and greenhouse gas rating is 10 out of 10 as is the smog rating.

The bit about the “WIND” is a bit confusing, there are several EV6 varieties, you have the GT-Line at around 70 thousand dollars (by someone trying to make a quick buck) then the Wind and the Light, does get confusing .

The Wind- which is what I’ve been driving costs around 48 thousand dollars but such is the demand that you may have to pay more than the sticker price. The range is over 300 miles. Will definitely get you to Tahoe from the Bay Area .

Of course regardless how good your EV is right now most charging stations are uncovered both here and in Europe with the exception of Norway.

I have seen drawings of a new Shell EV charging station and it does look very exciting. They simply remove the gas pumps and replace them with EV chargers under cover! Yes please ! Even though the Wind version is not particularly quick it was fine for my purposes but I did look envy at the GT which goes like smoke.

My car came on Kumho tires which were OK, interestingly enough for the top of range KIA specify Michelin's, always a tell tale sign.

The French company has been in this business for over a century and I always describe them as a thinking man’s tire.

Just like the Sportage the EV6 comes with a 10 year 100,000 mile powertrain warranty and 5 year 60,000 mile limited basic warranty.

The interior is a delight with dual panoramic 12.3” display, excellent air conditioning, recycled fabric/vegan leather seats )very comfortable by the way), lumbar support, the works.

Would I recommend the EV6 ? Absolutely, 100 percent. Top of the EV tree. You owe it to yourself to take it -for a test drive.Right now there is a premium to pay but I think it is worth it.

Thats it for me this month stay well and drive with care.