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Cars We Don't Get To Test

by Bob Hagin

October 29, 2001

During the course of a year we evaluate approximately 156 various vehicles, but there are usually a half-dozen or so that we'd like to try but just can't seem to get.

But we nonetheless feel that our readers are entitled to be apprised of vehicles in every niche of the automotive market. The following are some of the machines we didn't get to appraise last year:

MERCEDES G-CLASS - We get lots of Mercedes vehicles to evaluate and some of them are pretty expensive, like the big S600 sedan. But there's one that we've never been asked to evaluate and it's arguably the oldest in the line. The first Mercedes G1 Gelaendewagen all-terrain machine appeared in '26 as a lumbering open touring car with two driven axles in back. The current version, the G500, is more conventional than its ancestor and has a reputation for being unstoppable in off-road situations. It's looks are interesting, at best, but it isn't a beauty like its M-Series SUV stablemates. The Gelaendewagen has remained pretty much the same for over 20 years and they're almost hand-built in the DaimlerChrysler plant in Graz, Austria. There's a plethora of Gelaendewagen models, but they aren't sold here by authorized Mercedes dealers, so those new ones that show up come in through the gray market. So far, we haven't been asked to check one out. For those of you who don't speak German, Gelaendewagen means "terrain vehicle."

VOLKSWAGEN D1 - We also get lots of Volkswagens to try out and some of them are very fancy since the company has long ago shed its "people's car" image. But unlike some of the "long-lead" (auto magazine) writers, we weren't invited to try its newest model, labeled simply the D1. It's definitely out of character for VW in that its competitors are Mercedes-Benz and BMW luxury liners. The D1 is reported to be in the neighborhood of $75,000 and is bigger than the S-Series Benz. It has all the bells-and-whistles that go with fancy upscale cars (leather, polished wood, navigation, concert hall sound system, etc.) but its available engines are remarkable. They include a 6.0-liter W12 (three rows of four cylinder banks), a 5.0-liter V10 turbo diesel that puts out 553 pound-feet of torque, one that's currently found in the VW Passat, and a couple of other "lesser" powerplants.

LAMBORGHINI MURCIELAGO - To be honest, we weren't surprised that we weren't asked to try out the new Lamborghini Murcielago supercar. In all the years we've been evaluating cars, the various owners of Lamborghini (its current owner is Volkswagen of Germany) have never even acknowledged our existence much less offer us a car. The new model replaces the aging Diablo, and it's a coupe, of course, with 570 horses and a top speed of 205 MPH. To keep the Murcielago on the pavement at those speeds and to feed sufficient cooling air into the engine, there are a couple of relatively small "wings" that sprout out from the rear quarter-panels when the car hits a certain speed and modulate themselves to introduce more or less air into the engine room. Its 6.0-liter 12-cylinder engine is mounted amidships and drives all four wheels all the time. It can jump to 100 MPH is just under four seconds and can stop as fast as it accelerates. If we're ever get asked to try a new Lambo, we'd promise not to use any more than half-throttle and to keep the gas tank full.

ASTON MARTIN VANQUISH - And again we didn't get a chance to drive the new V12 Aston Martin Vantage supercar. We thought we might have a chance now, because like Jaguar and Lincoln, the British car is part of Ford's Premier Automotive Group of fancy machinery and we get those cars once in a while. The newest Vantage model is powered by a very high-tech 6.0-liter V12 engine that puts out 460 horsepower and 400 pound-feet of torque. In traditional British fashion, the engine is mounted up front and drives the rear wheels. The slick six-speed transmission can be shifted by small "paddles" attached to the steering column, just like a Formula One racer. For rich but lazy drivers, the transmission can be set in an automatic mode for driving around London, New York or Beverly Hills. Ford CEO Jac Nasser spent a lot of time developing the Premier Automotive Group, his pet project, and now it's paying off. Unfortunately for him, he just got fired.

LOTUS ELISE - We've never had the opportunity to drive any new Lotus models, not even its first production model, the spartan Lotus Seven do-it-yourself model of 1957. Over the years Lotus cars became more sophisticated but we were always overlooked by the company, which may be due in part to the fact that like Lamborghini, Lotus has had many owners, including our own General Motors for a while. The little Lotus Elise is the newest of the "affordable" Lotus models and it's reputed to have been inspired by the Lotus 23 sports-racer of 40 years ago, a car I had a nodding acquaintance with back then. Like the 23, the Elise is mid-engined and also powered by a small displacement four-banger engine, a unit it shares with the not-for-America MGF. It has a tight-fitting two-seater roadster body that carries two people and maybe a couple of tooth brushes. For the past couple of years we've tried to contact Lotus Cars, USA for an Elise to try out but they've brushed us off.

I guess that we could list many other cars and trucks that pass us by, but we've decided to pass on them. It's just too depressing.