Open Road

Euro road trip and the not-so-wunderbar Autobahn

Busting the myth of unlimited, unlimited speed and other musings.

It's been a while since I spent an extended period of time driving throughout Germany on the Autobahn. Having returned from such a trip, I've noted some observations from an American perspective.

One – The Autobahn is no longer the balls-to-the-wall speed nirvana that legend suggests. It may have been closer to that ideal twenty years ago - but population growth and open borders, along with a corresponding increase in the number of vehicles, has resulted in traffic jams and construction zones that slow traffic to a crawl – or a stand still. There are still plenty of relatively brief unlimited speed zones, but with such heavy traffic, one's confidence in cruising at 120 mph next to an ancient Fiat with its bumper hanging off is severely limited.

Two – Lane discipline. Mock the Germans for being over-organized and socially uptight, but their well-trained drivers exercise extraordinary lane discipline. For a technical driver, this is something to behold. Everyone – from the guy in the S8 to the girl in a Fabia – drives with a purpose that is exemplified in near perfect lane discipline. The left lane is for passing and lighting your afterburners – everyone else stays right. When you come up on someone from behind at a higher speed, they always move out of the way. In contrast, American drivers are undisciplined asshats. This became blindingly apparent after a few weeks on the Autobahn.

Three – Big, powerful sport sedans make sense - over there. Indeed, they are required to feel safe and nailed down at triple digit speeds while smoothly shifting lanes, avoiding accidents and reacting to unexpected construction zones. I envied the big German sport sedan drivers blowing past me on rails as I teetered along at 115 mph in my otherwise quite capable Opel Insignia rental (I would have killed to have had my GS 350). But in the states, especially in the Northeast where I live, such powerful, capable and expensive sports sedans are overkill. A typical driver in America would rarely, if ever, tap into such a car's full potential, while it is fully-accessible on a daily basis in Germany. I still want one. But they are overkill. I didn't realize this until I watched them prowl in their native habitat.

Four – Engine Choices. My Opel (GM) Insignia Sports Tourer (wagon!) had a 1.6CTi engine that ran at sanely-high speeds with 4 occupants, plus luggage, and still returned more than 60 mpg! Who cares about 0 to 60 times when you can drive such a well-equipped, practical, adequately-powered car with that kind of efficiency? I get that high fuel prices have forced European buyers to open their minds enough to have their cake and eat it too. And diesel gate didn't help with American perceptions either – but achieving that kind of economy with so little compromise makes sense for a lot of people's wallets. You can get similar engine choices in your big Audi, Mercedes or BMW too. But car manufacturers don't give Americans those choices. Smaller engines are also cheaper to buy, further lowering your cost ownership. I think it's time for Americans to have similar choices.

Five – VW has a stupid US-market strategy. German-bred VWs are much (MUCH) nicer than the boring appliances that they peddle stateside. Take the Passat - the Euro version is an entirely different class of vehicle. It inspires passion - which one would never say about the Chattanooga-sourced Passat built for what German's must think are fat, lazy, uninspired American buyers. It's no wonder sales of Passats in the US are in the toilet. Compare the Euro-market Passat B8 to the invisible North American Passat and you will see what I mean. Give us the B8! If it steals a few sales from Audi, who cares - you still sold a car! Be happy! Besides, I'd bet my last dollar that you would steal many more sales from Honda, Mazda and Toyota. And that should be your goal. Stupid!

Six – Apparently, butter is a condiment.

What are your thoughts and perspectives on European vs American drivers, cars and available roadside sustenance?

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