This is the final iteration of our Europe North to South adventure. Check out the previous iterations here: Part 1: Stockholm and Central Sweden, Part 2: Kustvägen to Finland, Part 3: The journey to North Cape, Part 4: To the Russian border, Part 5: Driving through Lapland, Finland, Part 6: Paris to Granada, Andalusia and Part 7: Ronda, Gibraltar and Tarifa.
Belying the title of this series, we have pushed past Gibraltar to reach the actual southernmost point in Continental Europe: Tarifa. Now we are headed east to Cadiz, which would end up being the most bewitching city of the entire Spanish section of this trip. Then, a stop to majestic Seville before Gretchen and I head back to Paris, and time for a review.
The work of entanglement Cadiz is guilty of starts way before arriving in town. Located at the very end of a thin isthmus (see map below), reaching Cadiz seems like driving on a never-ending straight line into the sea. When we finally hit the walled old town, it looks like an inaccessible fortress. And this spectacular situation has attracted human settlement for… the longest time in Europe, it turns out. Cadiz is indeed considered to be the oldest continuously inhabited settlement in Europe, with historians dating its founding to the arrival of Phoenicians in 800 BC. Although the remnants of that period are long gone, there is a quiet serenity and confidence exuding from this place that has remained unchallenged for millennia.
The streets are narrow but inundated with light. The sounds are omnipresent and otherworldly: the discreet but continuous chant of locusts, mixed with the mocking cawing of seagulls and the helplessly generous laughs of its inhabitants. Time slows down to a standstill in Cadiz, where life is made of eating freshly caught fish, drinking cheap beer and watching the waves crash by. I could definitely get used to it, and what a way to end this adventure that took me to Cape North.
Cadiz car landscape
Driving between Tarifa and Cadiz I spotted two Renault Koleos, testing in the heat of southern Spain well ahead of their European launch planned for Q2 2016. The Koleos is already on sale in China where it world premiered at the Beijing Auto Show last April. As for the Cadiz car park, it is fiercely Spanish despite the town being so close to Africa. There are lots of every generation of Seat Ibiza, as well as Toledos as private cars – not taxis – a rarity in every other Spanish town we visited. Skoda is also popular here.
Plaza de España, Seville (click to enlarge). Picture Héctor Cardona
Seville is our last stop before heading back to Barcelona, then Paris. Gretchen struggled a bit in the criss-crossing narrow streets of its old centre, and as it was the case in Granada, underground parking takes a particularity agile skill set. These Spanish towns are best visited by foot, and Seville showed its majestic beauty under a scorchingly hot sun. The highlight for me: by a large margin Plaza de España, hugged by buildings with a unique colourset made of red brick and blue tiles. Nowhere else in the world have I seen this architectural mix before, and it makes this Plaza all the more unique. There is so much beauty concentrated in one place that it become dizzying. Or perhaps it was the heat.
Eco-friendly taxis in Seville Gretchen catching her breath in Barcelona, before the 1.100 km ride to Paris.
I wish I could have lingered for another week and had time to check out such iconic cities as Cordoba or Valencia, but the Mercedes C-Class Coupe loan was for one week. Not that I am complaining! Having been able to explore so many fantastically beautiful sites in so little time has been a blast, and made possible by the zippiness of Gretchen, always up for a quick drive to the next town despite her reluctant and slow-to-start GPS. More on this in the review below.
The last stretch of the trip takes two full days and an almost round 2.000 km (2.031 to be exact), that’s the distance between Seville and Paris via Barcelona where I drop my co-test driver Héctor. I pushed Gretchen to high speeds on the highway but, again, she didn’t seem to notice, with no discernible change in her behaviour from 100 to 170 km/h. Arriving in Paris one minutes before my cutoff time (phew!) after a well-deserved grooming for the Coupe, the odo indicates 4.553 km (2.829 miles) and just under 50h of driving. Average fuel consumption stands at a very respectable 6.1 l/100km or 38.6 mpg for an average speed of 91 km/h or 57 mph. It’s now time to tell you what I think about Gretchen…
This is how all seats should be adjusted. Gretchen’s gearbox.
– Interior comfort is definitely Gretchen’s best asset in my opinion. Driving feels like you are sitting in a comfortable sofa at home watching TV. The seats are electronically adjustable in the way it should have been all along (see picture above). More intuitive is impossible.
– All buttons transpire luxury and sportiness in the cockpit, the touch is smooth and robust. It all works perfectly.
– Automatically adjusting seat belts create a deep feeling of security as soon as you sit down.
– Gearbox is placed where you’d normally have your indicators. After some adaptation, this quickly becomes very intuitive. Unless you drive this as a second or third car.
– Exterior looks are undeniably sexy, racy and Gretchen knows it. You will get noticed holding her by the hand. People will wow, admire, stare and some will even dare to ask about her. I’m still talking about the Mercedes.
– Road performances are solid, responsive and reliable, albeit there’s a lack of je ne sais quoi, a bit of spice, a hunger that I could never find.
Mercedes: what’s with the fragile screen on the dashboard?
– This has become my pet hate in all Mercedes, but: what’s with the awkwardly positioned touch screen? It looks like it’s constantly about to break off the dashboard. Perhaps more annoyingly: it’s not a touch screen! Commands are way down in between the two seats, meaning dangerous long time spend coordinating your eyes with your hands as you monitor it. And the screen navigation between GPS, music and other items is convoluted, making you come back to a main menu each time. In other words, it’s close to impossible to use the screen while driving. While this may have been on purpose and for security objectives, it defeats the very objective of having a screen on board. Mercedes: please fix.
– This is not a practical car, it’s a frivolous one. Granted, it was never meant to be, but driving long distances every day for 8 days makes this even more glaring. There is no space for sunglasses, coffees or water bottles near the front seats, the USB cable doesn’t fit properly, etc. For over 60.000 € I was frankly expecting a lot more effort to make this ride an utterly pleasurable one. Think of it this way: this is a car you buy when you already have three, to take over the weekend and drive to your beach residence. Not to drive from Paris to Cadiz and back. So there. But still.
– Other gremlins include the GPS taking ages to get on with it: you practically have time to cross an entire mid-sized city for it to realise what you are doing. Also: all alert sounds are rather aggressive compared to the Volvo XC90 I drove in Sweden. Oops, I promised I wouldn’t make any comparisons…Too late.
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This concludes our European North to South Series, I hope you enjoyed reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it.
Stay tuned for another adventure, this time back at home in Australia…