Who needs the autoroute?
I must have done something right in the past six months (seems unlikely, but there you go). Last time I took a car to a major international motor show - last September's Paris show - PH editor Chris-R had me chugging up the autoroute in our endearing but rather hard-going PH Fleet Land Rover Defender.
his C63 AMG estate, the newest addition to the PH fleet.
In tow behind us were PH competition winners and fledgling Geneva show reporters Mike and Dan in the oh-so-yellow PH fleet Seat Leon Cupra R (you can read all about their Geneva exploits and their thoughts on the fast Seat in their own words here). Ahead of us lay 600-plus miles of road trip.
A pleasingly empty series of British motorways and a hassle-free Chunnel run had us out into the grey dreariness of north-eastern France (is it ever anything other than sullenly overcast in that part of the world?) before we knew it and, once in France, the C63 munched away at the autoroute with gusto. It whisked us along in comfort, entertaining myself and snapper Steve Hall with a glorious V8 gargle and a sharp shove in the back on the stretches where there were no pesky gendarmes in sight.
The main reason for this last fiddling was that, as France got more interesting, we planned to take a detour off the prescribed autoroute itinerary and indulge ourselves in some of France's quieter back roads.
The lightly trafficked road turned out to be a joy - Well sighted, and as near to empty as you could reasonably expect. And the C63, if not quite the perfect tool for this sort of road, certainly proved itself a more-than-capable companion. The soulful V8 fairly hurled it down the road, while tenacious grip and unerring stability allowed it to deal with the faster, more open sections with nonchalant ease at the sort of pace that would land you in a lot of trouble should one of the boys in blue spot your antics.
It was perhaps a little cumbersome for the tighter switchback sections, with all that weight giving it a slight tendency toward understeer, but a squeeze on the ESP switch and a judicious application of throttle could easily more than neutralise this.
The good intentions didn't last long, however, as Steve spotted a wiggly red line in our European road atlas that promised more switchback fun. Unfortunately this turned out to be one of the main routes into Geneva and was clogged with frustratingly slow and heavy traffic. Worse still, it went over what was for all intents and purposes an Alp (yes, I know we were actually going over the Jura mountain range), and what had been balmy spring sunshine became unnervingly cold, with snow lining the sides of the road. But the road remained clear of the white stuff. We (eventually) made it into Annecy, having managed to queue up in every traffic jam in Geneva along the way, at 9pm CET, some 13 hours after we had set off.
Where the Seat most emphatically won, however, was its touring range. Even with fuel consumption that rarely crawled beyond the low-to-mid 20s mpg, the Cupra never needed more than three-quarters of a tank when the C63 was gasping for a drink, despite the Merc's 11-litre advantage over the Seat's 55-litre tank.
The return journey was broadly a mirror image of the outward leg, although we took the motorway straight out of Geneva rather than clambering back over the N5. We also made the brief but more or less obligatory stop by the old GP circuit grandstands at Reims for a few early evening shots.
As we rumbled beneath the English Channel we chatted about our thoughts on our respective mounts.