A Jalopnik Contemplates Europe: Car-Related Ramblings from the Depths of Jet Lag

England is car hell. Let's forget about the expensively obvious for a moment (insane taxes, equally insane gas prices, doubly insane speed cameras on every corner and under your bed) and the plain daf (Clarkson thinks the Jaguar XK is cooler than the upcoming Dodge Challenger) and look at the cars themselves. They suck! Nine out of ten cars in Old Blighty are 1.9-Liter French diesels. The rest are Korean brands you don't even want to know about. (SsangYong Rexton II, anyone?) Sure, you will see an occasional large BMW "saloon," but closer inspection will reveal it to be a 520d SE with a 1995cc oil burner and tiny wheels (though, it does — slowly — get 41mpg). Audis sell pretty well in London, but the overwhelming majority of them are three-door A3s with puny engines. In other words, rebadged Golfs. (Jump baby, jump)

For as much guff as we in the automotive press (and especially us Swedish Mafia types) give an uninspired car like Chevy's Impala, transport said car to England and its blah by stateside standards looks are suddenly more handsome than 90% of the grimy little boxes puttering about London. Which is weird. Moreover, while I can't stand penis-substitute SUVs (Hummer H2, me looking at you), at least they have presence. Posturing is, if nothing else, visually interesting. And as my sister loves pointing out, H2s appear to be from the future. Whereas new cars in "Cool Britannia" appear to be from France and are therefore rotten looking with huge asses.

Personal transportation in Spain was a bit more interesting. And by more interesting I mean Renault Twingos and Smart ForTwos were all over the streets of Barcelona. The latter of which I really dig, while the former is more frighteningly anthropomorphic than a Nissan Micra. I have a theory as to why DCX is withholding the much discussed Smart cars from American streets. The almighty San Francisco Department of Parking and Traffic would stand to lose hundreds of millions of dollars in parking ticket revenues. Think I'm insane? You've never owned a car in San Francisco. And if you agree with me you have. Anyhow, most cars in Spain were also French and tiny and, well, rather meh.

There was one eye-opener — how utterly fantastic big cars looked. Buy an Audi A8 here in the states and you have a vehicle that dimensionally isn't much different than your Aunt's Avalon. In fact, it's about the same size as the Buick you just rented from Enterprise while visiting your Aunt and her Avalon over the holidays. But in London and Barcelona at least, Audi's big sedan truly is uber. Forget the ALUMINUM UND SHTEEL shtick, let's talk stance; a black A8 on wet cobblestones next to a teal Fiat Punto is devastating. Where I live, 7-Series are more common than Fords (no, really) and even as Bangled as they are, the big Bimmers basically blend into the background out here in Los Angeles. But on the narrow, wrought-ironed off streets of London they look like Dolph Lundgren in Rocky IV. Prussian physical perfection. Other cars that impressed; Maserati Quattroporte, Audi A6 Avant, Chrysler 300C, Jaguar XJ, Mercedes S550. Cars that looked like a Ford Taurus; Jaguar XK.

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