Established 1978

“Germanic Indulgences”

by David Swig

I’ve always been a fan of German cars. Germany is a country that has fully embraced the automobile and elevates driving to an art. Its automobiles, with supple powertrains and an inherent feeling of solidness, have always drawn this writer. It’s no wonder that you see so many Audis, Porsches, Mercedes-Benzes, and BMWs populating San Francisco and surrounding regions—it seems I’m not alone in my preference.

Though the Swig automotive collecting tastes usually lean Italian, the cars chosen for daily driving have often been German. But we’re starting to add more German to the collecting side. I recently bought a 1982 Porsche 911 in order to get a little taste of that addictive old-school Porsche experience. The tactile thrill of driving an old 911 just isn’t found in any other type of car.

Perhaps it can be extrapolated that the Germans manage to engineer a bit of personality into most, if not all, of the cars they produce. I recently had the chance to drive three, which all appealed to my senses in different ways.

2014 Volkswagen Beetle R-Line

To car aficionados, the VW Golf GTI represented just about the perfect all-around car. It still does; it’s quick, practical, and stylish, with a pleasing and comfortable interior. Its closely related sibling, the (new) Beetle, is now in its second generation. Knowing that this new car shares its platform with the VW Jetta, I was eager to spend some time in it to learn more.

2014 VW Beetle R-Line

2014 VW Beetle R-Line

First off, the car looks more aggressive than the original new Beetle. I drove the more performance-oriented R-Line version, which features a 2-liter turbo four cylinder that’s good for 210 horsepower, not bad for a city car! The car has a sporty feel on 19-inch wheels and with sport suspension—something you can really throw around the corners when the moment calls for it, much like a Golf GTI.

And the amenities are quite plentiful, as well; the test car came fully equipped with a big sliding/tilting sunroof, a Fender premium sound system, and touch-screen navigation, along with all the other goodies you’ll want. For $32,030 out the door, it’s not bad at all for a stylish Golf alternative. VW also offers a TDI Clean Diesel version, which just might be the smartest choice of all.

2014 BMW 428i Coupe

BMW’s long-standing 3-Series range of cars has become a nomenclature reserved for sedans, station wagons, and “Gran Turismo” hatchback sedans. Coupes and convertibles now fall under the 4-Series banner, along with a new sleek fastback small sedan, dubbed the 4-Series Gran Coupe.

The 2014 428i Coupe arrived on the driveway and it was love at first sight. Its clean design is very appealing and, to a casual observer, the car might not look terribly different from the outgoing 3-Series Coupe—but upon further inspection, it is clear that the new 4-Series is distinctly different and significantly sleeker, overall, than the previous model.

The 428i offers all the pleasing, driver-focused BMW driving dynamics you’d expect, with a welcoming interior that is simple, and not overwrought. Its twin-turbo 2-liter 4-cylinder engine is fast, making short work of any distance, and offering good economy. At about $48,000 as-tested (with around $7,000 in options), the 428i is not cheap, but it remains a style leader.

2014 Mercedes-Benz E550 Cabriolet

Mercedes’s V8-powered E-Class models have long provided the experience of Germanic, white-collar hot rodding to its drivers worldwide.

This particular E550 Cabriolet—the priciest car driven this month at $81,615—made no attempts to conceal its identity or the fact that it has a 402-horsepower biturbo 4.6-liter V8 under the hood. Its bright Mars Red and subtle V8 growl are good fun, but you might want a more restrained color to retain some degree of stealth, if intending to explore any of the speeds to which this car is capable.

In a throwback to old luxury car fashion, the automatic transmission is actually mounted on the column, while optional black Nappa leather seats cosset the occupants. You’ll particularly like the Cabriolet’s sophisticated one-touch power top with its retractable folding cover. And you might consider its distance-sensitive cruise control—part of an optional $2,800 “Driver Assistance Package”—used to ensure that you won’t run into the car ahead of you on Highway 101.

The E550 proved to be a great choice for a plein air weekend ride through the Santa Cruz Mountains, including old favorites Pescadero, Stage, and Alpine Roads, and the twists and turns of Highway 84 and Highway 9. Of course, a lunch stop at Alice’s Restaurant—a legendary local hangout for back road driver types—was mandatory!

David Swig is a car enthusiast and a regular participant in historic car activities. He is an expert on specialty collector cars, especially sports racing cars.

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