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Letter from Europe; California Pot Holes, Mercedes-AMG GLE 53 SUV Vs. Ferrari; Kia Vs Kia, QX55 Vs.


By Andrew Frankl
European Bureau Chief
The Auto Channel

When the nice gentleman from Page One arrived with the keys to my tester, the new 2023 Mercedes AMG53 I headed straight for FORZA’s offices in Novato.

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For the uninitiated FORZA is a magazine about Ferrari's so any other product is viewed with a certain amount of suspicion by the Editor. I suggested a quick test drive and to my amazement not only did he drive it a great deal more quickly than I did but actually and not grudgingly  agreed that the AMG 53 was a very nice car.

I should add that he literally just stepped out of Ferrari ’s 296 so praise for a car costing less than 1/3 rd  of the Maranello machine was praise indeed.

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During my visit to the  Ferrari factory in back in May I also had  a chance to drive the 296 with its 800 or so horsepower. Not for the fainthearted although you can  also drift along at 25 miles per hour silently.

The AMG offered 429 horsepower or about half but unless I may respectfully suggest that it is more than plenty for 99 percent of the clientele who tend to be  in their 50s or 60s so whether 0-60 is 3 seconds or 4 seconds in neither here or there.

The Merc is turbocharged and supercharged also comes with a tuned sports suspension and menacing looking exhaust pipes. 4 to be precise. It has a little gizmo which if you press changes the sound the exhaust to a serious roar. Every little Johnnie’s dream..

Regular readers know that my friend Mel who is a patent lawyer is 90 years old. We recently tested there F type Jaguar and when I ran the story under the headline of 80 at 90 he became a local  celeb to such an extent that a neighbor compared him to Sean Connnery ! It did occur to us that we should do a 90 at 90 but common sense prevailed. He did once or twice press the loud pedal but simply to shake off curious onlookers two inches from our rear bumper.

The real piece de resistance came when his Mel's Son and Grandson turned up. Within seconds they figured out all the various bells and whistles so clearly-as I’ve suggested in my recent C300 road test  -the cars are perfectly drivable for someone like Mel but if you are looking to get the maximum out of the 429 horses there are ways of doing it . Especially if your relatives are senior executives at Apple.

Consequently I ended up with  a 4 way massage system which I knew absolutely nothing about. Huge fun!

But most of all the happiest moment came when I gave the keys back. Might sound crazy  but after the horrendous rainstorms we had in Marin County the roads are full of pot holes. Big ones. To avoid them not only called for maximum concentration on 280 during my visit to Stanford  but also very rapid movements  to stay out of trouble. To put it another way the steering was razor sharp.

I very much enjoyed the sunroof which went up or down during a 15 second stop at a traffic light. The sound system was also excellent. Listening to Mendelssohn with the top down in blazing sunshine-hard to beat. Especially in January..

The color came in for some criticism from purists. The metallic  maroon was certainly different  from most other cars, I found it perfectly OK.

One thing of a practical nature caught me out. Our parking lot is not completely flat and the doors are very heavy and spring loaded. Should  you be in a similar situation be careful as my left shin will testify.

All in all I had a wonderful time the 53. Let me stick my neck out-if you are waiting for the brilliant Ferrari 296GTS at 300 thou plus buy this ’53 for under one hundred. Of course it is still a lot of money and for certain trips not very practical. Skiing is a no-no and two sets of golf clubs with the top down is also questionable.   But with a wife and two  children who are under 10-it would be a huge hit and of course the neighbors would be green with envy.

I am told that something called Chat GPT is the latest AI gizmo which passes exams, writes poems and a million other things. I would just like to assure you that  this road test was not written by AI but by me  bashing away at an Apple desktop.  Which is exactly how it is going to be in the future.

Talking of the future I am just about to finish testing KIA's Nero SX Touring. which is part of the Nero family. There is the EX at 27 thousand, the Touring at 32, the SX at 34, and finally the SX PHEV at 41 thousand.

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I will not pretend that it is easy to adjust from over 400 horsepower to 139 but it is of course part of the job. I have been a KIA fan for years but I must admit that I prefer something more powerful in California. In St Barts the little Picanto is a huge hit. You see these so called influencers descending from the St Barts Commuter plane ( 8 minutes from nearby St Martin) and they all head to the rental car counters offering mostly Picantos and Suzukis. Anything bigger and you have problems navigating the very narrow street next to very large rocks and drops. So by local standards it would be seen as a biggish car.

I have to be honest, I was keeping my fingers crossed for a KIA EV6, which has just been voted North American Utility Vehicle of the Year, hopefully next time.

As you know by now every time I get a new test car the postmen and the neighbors descend on it and spend some time in it.  I have a truly wonderful neighbor who asked me to take her to Sausalito, a pretty but also pretty steep little town not far from where I live. I’ve asked her afterwards for her honest opinion and she said it was OK. Everything was OK but nothing really was outstanding and is has nothing to do with the price. This Nero was seriously underpowered, definitely needs more oomph.

It also has a pretty modest heater which made life somewhat unpleasant for the first few miles.

The looks are great, the finish is great but there are better cars out there in the 30-40thou range. Mazda comes to mind.

Looking at KIA’s range I drool when I see the  EV6GT 576 horsepower 545 lb.-ft torque. 3.4 seconds from 0-60...a humble request to my friends at KIA next time may  I please test one. The Nero I had is OK but as the lady said just OK. Don’t get me wrong there are millions of people who dream of having a nice car like the Nero.

In Sweden and Denmark the Nero is a huge success topping the charts in the fast growing plug-in market. I mention these countries which are both successful, full of intelligent people who the choice of absolutely anything and everything.

Moving on to a somewhat unfortunate event, my 60 year old relationship with Ford Motor Company is coming to end. It was wonderful and I will always be grateful. Probably sounds like a fairytale today.. a recruiter !! turning up at a University in Britain (not Oxford, not Cambridge, not the London School of Economics) in Sheffield, an industrial town in the North of England. How and why Barry Wilson, the recruiter turned up there I will never know but God bless him!

Many years later he was my guest at the Royal Automobile Club in London and was happy that I proved him right. The story is long and nearly had a happy end. Working with the legendary Walter Hayes-probably the best PR man of all times, being there when the negotiations started between Ford, Colin Chapman and Keith Duckworth culminating in the engine which scored over 150 victories, the Cannonball run in a specially modified Ford Transit, happy days.

Imagine the feeling..I was there at the plant watching my Ford Cortina rolling off the production line knowing that some of the components in it were purchased by me for the company. (I was in the purchasing department). Or meeting Mr Henry Ford II at Le Mans.

Meeting Edsel Ford in California, interviewing Michael Schumacher back in 1984 when he was driving a Ford engined Benetton, all wonderful memories.

I was hoping to finish the story with a two hour photo shoot in LA but my request was rejected out of hand by someone at Ford’s Western Region office. I won’t name him but I was sufficiently offended to send an e mail to Ford boss Jim Farley. I will let you know if I ever get an answer.

I didn’t of course because  all the bosses seem terrified of this one person who hates me with a vengeance. My crime: too successful and living in 94920. If I have a choice between living in the Tenderloin in San Francisco with a Ford test car or living in Belvedere without one I think you can guess the answer.

Anyway, if you do want to read about my 60 years at and with Ford it is all in my book “Frankly Frankl” and available on Amazon. I printed 1000 copies, have 10 left.

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The people who are much nicer to me work either at Page One or at Infiniti. Realizing that I was somewhat stuck in LA courtesy of this person at Ford they very kindly came to my rescue with a shiny 2023 Infiniti QX55 AWD. For some reason my colleagues at various sites and publications are not in love with the QX55,

I think they are missing the point. They go out with stop watches and all sorts of measuring gauges and report that the handling or the ride in extreme circumstances are not on par with BMW. Not many products are. My trip to Malibu Beach and a splendid lunch at Soho House did not necessitate extreme anything apart from comfort which I had in abundance. The seats were great, the interior was beautifully finished and when I headed back to Beverly Hills the QX looked the part on the corner  of Canon and Brighton, the epicenter of Lala Land.

Could it do with a bit more power? Of course it could. Could the handling be sharper? Yes. Would I be happy to drive it from LA to the Bay Area-happily.

Would it be my first choice on 20 consecutive hairpins? No.

Is 61 thousand a bit on the steep side? Absolutely. Can you, should you haggle? Without a shadow of a doubt. But  don’t take as gospel the verdicts of these 22 year old wannabes, test the QX55. I think you will be pleasantly surprised!

That's it from my stay in now sunny California ...back to dark grey Europe ...stay well.