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Merc, Alfa, Subby and Land Rover In This Months Letter From Europe


Letter From Europe
Andrew Frankl

2024 Land Rover Defender

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Apart from Ferraris and Lamborghinis few cars or SUV sell above the asking price. More likely it is the other way around. Well, here is a surprise. After all sports of trials and tribulations Land Rover have come up with a product which is actually 20-30 thousand dollars over list , selling price and there is a waiting for it all over the world.

The Land Rover Defender starts at a highly competitive price of 70 thousand dollars and it is built like a brick house. Rock solid.

I didn’t like it-I loved it. I drove it across the Golden Gate Bridge enjoying the view from the elevated seating position and tackled some rough terrain as well.  Top of the class. It really is the best of both worlds. You can commute, you can do a Julie Andrews and climb every mountain-the Defender is your answer. The one I had for test, the 400 had a sonorous V6 pushing out 395 horsepower-plenty for a family plus skis and boots to zoom all the way to Northstar.

The fuel consumption might be nothing to write home about but driven gently I managed 22 mpg.

The price range and the choices are bewildering. You kick off at around 60 grand with the little 2 liter engine-not recommended for the mountains-and you can go all the way to the 110 Carpathian Edition for a not so humble 120 thousand dollars. For that you get everything apart from a bear unless you actually go to the Carpathian Mountains.

Let e save you the trouble of a Google search-they are very beautiful mountains in Transylvania  known as the birthplace of Dracula. Bit like the Loch Ness Monster in Scotland, people are still looking for it.

One thing is for sure-the Land Rover T. Would definitely get you there across Belgium,Germany, Austria and Hungary without encountering any mountains but wait till you get there and start going up to 8000 feet. Apart from bears you will also find wolves, chamois and lynxes.

The Defender is of course not perfect, no car or SUV ever is. I found the almost invisibly little warning signs in the huge mirrors almost invisible in the Californian sunshine.

More and more manufacturers are switching to red and the ones leading the pack actually incorporate it in the cowling which-apart from anything else does not mist up. Very highly recommended. The infotainment was clearly designed by a techie who assumed that all Defender driver would be in the 30-40 range with engineering degrees of one kind i another. Definitely not Latin or Ancient Greek.

Ad hominem, ad hoc or ad lib will not help you, ad nauseam sums up my feelings on the subject.

But, let’s face it we all have friends, children or grand children who could -and did- find the BBC World Service after a while. The map section is an apology compared to say the Mercedes C43 before the Defender but fair is fair when I hit the restaurant section it did roll them off one after the other.

So in spite of these niggling  problems I would loved to have one. After all even I could learn the info switches eventually.

For the record my fellow tester and senior Apple executive loved it in equal measures.

2024 Subaru Impreza RS

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Subaru Impreza RS It is pretty remarkable that Subaru-one of my top value for money-automobiles can actually offer 4 wheel in an attracted body for 22 thousand dollars. It has to be the bargain of all times.

The one I had for test, the RS is of course more expensive and more powerful-a 2.5 liter 182 hp-it is still great value. It is-like all models are sold as a five door hatchback. I am not a huge CVT Favorite but it seems to be working all right in the Subaru's.

There are all sorts of goodies Such as the dual pinion electric power steering rack from the WRX. There is also a new electric brake booster. The 11.6 inch touch display is a bit complicated for someone who did not go to technical college but I did figure it out in the end. The larger fuel tank- up from 13.2 gallons to 16.6 is very welcome. Prices are incredibly competitive. The car I had for test-the RS comes in just under 30 thousand dollars, an absolute bargain.

Have to admit that the power is not exactly overwhelming but if you essentially just want to potter around and do not dream of rally-winning WRXs then it’s just fine. To get 4 wheel drive at these bargain basement prices is just amazing.

OK, the 0-60 time of 7.8 is definitely not something to brag about but as the saying goes-horses for courses. Driven gently I got 30 miles per gallon. The warranty does not come close to Hyundai or Kia ,both of them offering powertrain coverage for up to 10 years or 100 thousand miles but in this respect the Koreans are in a class of their own.

All in all if I needed a car, a car I could afford and drive gently in leafy Belvedere at 25 miles per hour the base Subarus would be just fine. Of course folks with grey hair remember the rally world champions of yesteryear. The company is still active in rallying and for oldies like me it will always be synonymous with my mate Dave Richards who masterminded victories and world championship titles over the years. A great company with probably the best value that I can think of. You owe it to yourself to test one. At 22 thou hope could you go wrong ?

2024 Mercedes-Benz C43

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I was about to write about Mercedes’ excellent C43 when the news came that 7 times world champion Lewis Hamilton was leaving Mercedes after all these years and going to arch rival for the 2025 season.

As in addition to being European Bureau Chief The Auto Channel I am also GP Editor of Forza, a magazine abut Ferraris , the phones, messages, e mails, you name it. I understand his motives which are not really about the millions of which he has several hundred already, but first and foremost it was the desire to get behind the wheel of the red machine from Maranello. Ayrton Senna was going to drive one but got tragically killed at Imola in a Williams.

Do I think he will be world champion? Personally I don’t. But from the sheer excitement point of view for the entire F1 community it will be fascinating to watch.

But coming back to the C43 it is what the Brits call a Q car. Namely that it is a lot quicker than it is supposed to be. For the uninitiated it is a C class Mercedes the kind you see all over Marin County and all over America. It is so quick that I fully expected a V6 or even a V8 engine. On the contrary! This C class 4 cylinder AMG has a top speed of over 270 kilometers per hour which is not what the California Highway Patrol would like to see between Corte Madera and Novato.

408 horses assisted by a turbo charger and a bit of F1 technology. The electric motor spins up the turbocharger to reduce lag and the 48-volt hybrid system gives an extra boost as well. The C43 sounds like big brotherC63 but does of course deliver a bit less.

Regular readers know that my neighbor Mel always takes all the cars that come for test with the exception of exotica he would have problems getting into. He and I both remarked on the stiff suspension accentuated by the pot holes. Otherwise it was really easy to drive. The trunk was plenty big enough to take home my new pride and joy-a 24 inch iMac.I had the precious one for 10 years and when I’ve asked abut the trade in value they informed me that it was precisely NIL.

But coming back to the C43 the inside is beautifully finished, excellent sporty seats and lots of carbon fiber trim. The above mentioned top speed is strictly for the German autobahns but even here in America a 0-100 kilometers acceleration does come in rather handy. Would I buy one or put it on my short list? Absolutely. It isn’t exactly a bargain at around 65 thousand dollars but if you want to be seen as a law abiding citizen and still have the ability To go for a quick blast to the shore while surprising other drives-go for it. You should definitely pop in to your local dealers and take it for a spin but take care, this baby must just surprise you!

2024 Alfa Romeo Tonale

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Alfa Romeo Tonale I must confess to a serious bias towards Alfa’s first hybrid automobile. Has anyone bothered to test the name outside Italy? Rally Royce had top drop the name MIST rather rapidly then it transpired that it wasn’t a very nice word in Germany. Hence my problem with the Tonale. I can just hear the conversation in a bar. What are you driving these days John? A Tonale? Sorry? A toe nail? Come on, you cannot be serious as John McEnroe would have said.

The Tonale’s American sister the Hornet is the same car without the silliness. Don’t get me wrong-the car in metallic green looks stunning. It also has an excellent EV range which means that for the first 30 miles you listen to the birds instead of chasing them away. It was the same experience in Ferrari’s 296 and I loved it. On the road the Tonale is ok rather than spectacular in an Alfa sense. Alfa aficionados are a special breed having been brought up on some off the finest automobiles of all times.

Well, the Tonale is not one off them. It does have a fully independent suspension and is also has adaptive dampers but all in all it is somewhat underwhelming. It is also up against the Volvo XC40-which I hated-the BMW X1 which I loved and the Mercedes GLB class which is sort of all right.

Yes, the more I drove the Tonale the more I was missing the Gulia or the Stelio which are real Alfas. It is also a good 10 thousand dollars more than the Hornet. The two are built on the same production line, the only difference is the badge. I think that new owners Stellantis assume that people will pay over the top for the Alfa name. Alfa yes, Tonale no.

In the meantime it does come with a 10.3 inch touchscreen infotainment system. It shares their Connect 5 software which is shared with several other cars under the Stelantis umbrella . That makes a great deal of sense as it saves a fortune and also gives the purchasing manager more muscle as the volume is that much higher. Would I buy one? Probably not. If I had to I would take the silly Tonale badge off but even then The Hornet which I’ve tested since it a far more sensible proposition.

Well that;s it for this month...stay safe comes spring.