Managed to grab a few days skiing with the family recently. Our transport for the 320 mile schlep from LA to Mammoth Mountain and back was a Lincoln Navigator L. The long wheelbase Lincoln is the American SUV from central casting -- big, brash and blinged, with a pre-Governator Schwarzenegger swagger. Oh, and power everything, even running boards.
Over the top? Maybe. But with five adults aboard (the youngest kids are 19 now) plus a sizeable pile of bulky ski luggage, we pretty much filled it.
The Lincoln's 5.4-liter V-8 churns out a lazy 300hp that struggles to haul around almost 6300lb of steel, glass, and chrome. But the independent rear suspension means the Lincoln rides better than GM's GMT900 utes, and there's more legroom for passengers in the third row. It lounged along the freeway at a comfy 70-80mph, and the all-wheel drive proved useful on the snowy mammoth Mountain roads.
Rolling past the rugged peaks of the eastern Sierras, I thought back to the last time we drove to the ski slopes -- a 650 mile trip from London to Megeve, in the French Alps, in a Citroen C8 minivan. Same job. Completely different toolkit. And, perhaps, a glimpse into the future for American drivers.
The C8 was powered by a 136hp 2.0-liter, four cylinder diesel hooked up to a six speed manual transmission, driving the front wheels only. It also had power everything, except running boards. And while it's hard to make a minivan -- even a Citroen minivan -- look remotely cool, the C8's high-style centre-mounted instruments provided a spark of the Gallic wackiness this storied French marque has long been famous for.
The Navigator is no thrill ride. The C8, which had less than half the power to haul around about two-thirds the Lincoln's mass, was even less so. Acceleration was decidedly leisurely -- Citroen claims it takes a languid 11.9secs to reach 62mph, about three whole seconds longer than the Lincoln. Once I worked through the gears, however, the C8 cruised the French autoroutes at 80mph all day long, just as comfortably as the giant Navigator.
The main functional difference between the two? The Lincoln's gas mileage was in the mid to high teens, while the Citroen's was in the mid to high 20s.
Despite the grumbling from Detroit's automakers, the 35mpg CAFE target mandated for 2020 is technically achievable. The technology is not what really worries them. What really worries them is whether you will accept the fact your future family hauler is probably going to be a lot less like a Lincoln Navigator L, and a lot more like a Citroen C8.