Automotive special

  • 2005-08-24
In the fourteen years since the Baltic states regained independence, the Ladas and Zigulis that once lined the streets of Vilnius, Riga and Tallinn have been replaced by almost every international model out there 's BMW, Mercedes-Benz, Audi, Honda, Mitsubishi. Today, some of the world's savviest vehicles can be found in the Baltics. To find out which autos are the trendiest, The Baltic Times has compiled a list of some of the finest models - and more importantly, who drives them.

Bernhard L. Loew,

regional director

and manager

of the Schlossle

Hotel Group

Kia Sorrento 2004

Since he spends much of the year driving through the wild Latvian countryside on hunting trips, Mr. Loew chose the sporty Kia Sorrento. "I was looking for a combination family car 's something with comfort but rugged enough for the countryside," the avid hunter explains. "I'm very happy with the Kia Sorrento 's it has everything that I need. It's been used and used. I've taken it through deep water, deep snow, pushed its four-wheel drive, and sometimes I even carry game in the back after a trip. The car is easy to maintain, good on fuel and drives fantastic."

Mr. Loew says that he and his wife have always had two cars 's one a multi-purpose family vehicle, and the second a fancy car. "I usually never keep a car longer than three years, first of all because I get tired of it, and secondly because the resale value is still good after three years," Loew explains. "I have had so many different types and models of car 's all dependent on my lifestyle." Yet, above vehicle name, comes service. "I've had different cars for different needs. More important than the car's reliability is the company service. I've sold a car just because I received poor service at the garage. I've been very happy with Mercedes and Kia so far."

Despite also owning a BMW 645, Loew keeps a modest view. "Society should never make the mistake of judging a person by their car," he says. "It's the person who is important, not the car. We don't yet have a middle class in Riga, it's just starting to emerge. We have people with a significant income who buy certain brands according to prestige. But this is true for any country undergoing big political change."

Patrizio Bertoni,


of SB Logistics

Lexus RX300

Mr. Bertoni admits right away that he knows more about trucks than he does cars, but that didn't stop him from choosing his own private car very carefully. He says he prefers sports cars most (could we expect otherwise from an Italian?), but as a Riga resident he needs something that can handle the local conditions, from the harsh winters to the infinite number of potholes. "I chose the Lexus RX300 as a compromise between engine power, quality and price," he says, "and I am really satisfied." In his pithy summation, the SUV "is exactly the car for this kind of town."

Ilmars Bricis,

professional athlete,


Lexus IS200

Mr. Bricis says he bought his IS200 Lexus two-and-a-half years ago. It was only natural that, as a sportsman, he wanted a sporty set of wheels, but he still says the main criteria were prestige and reliability. The latter was particularly important, he adds, and the auto dealer Wess helped convince him that the Lexus IS200 was the way to go. "In the two-and-a-half years that I've owned the car it hasn't let me down." One could hardly think of a better recommendation.

Romans Baumanis,

vice president

and managing


of the PBN Company

Saab 9-5 SE 2000

Mr. Baumanis was lucky enough to stumble across his Saab 9-5 SE with a bargain discount. "I found this Saab by accident 's it was one year old and a good offer. I liked the look of it, so I took the car for a test drive and it felt good. I am still driving it, and I'm still happy," he says.

"Although I don't exceed the speed limit, I appreciate the car's ability to overtake trucks," Baumanis continues. "It has a 2.3 turbo engine, which can come in handy. This is something I appreciate. It handles Latvia's road conditions perfectly."

The businessman adds that he especially enjoys taking the Saab on long drives to northern Italy for skiing trips. "We've gone three times already, and the journeys are always comfortable - 2,000 kilometers one way."

"For us [my wife and I] it's a good compromise between comfort, price and quality," he sums up. "I don't really care if it's fashionable or prestigious. It's our only family vehicle."

Thaddeus Stitzman


chairman & CEO of


Owns and represents

leading brands of wine

and premium food


Saab 9-3 Convertible

AERO (Cabriolet)

Although Mr. Wolff originally wanted a sports car, he felt that a casual car would be more appropriate for Riga. "[The Saab 9-3] has all the appointments of a Porche or BMW M-class, but it's more practical. In New York or Miami these cars would have been fine, but the roads here are rough 's you need something strong," the businessman explains.

"I just took delivery of the car so I still have less than 2,000 kilometers on it. Everyone asks me: Why a convertible in a place with such weather? There are two ways to look at it. One, the sun comes out less often and therefore, when it does you need to catch it. Also, in the bigger picture, this car is for traveling elsewhere in Europe. As for Riga, parking is the biggest problem."

In the short time he's lived in Riga, Wolff has noticed an elevated sense of competition among drivers. "People tend to be a little spiteful when they see you in a nice car 's they cut you off more, he says. "I didn't buy the car to make a big statement. You could compare a Manhattan taxi driver with a normal person here when it comes to road courtesy 's they both drive fast with no braking, no quarter to drivers."

Stig Friberg,

trade commissioner

of Exportradet

Swedish Trade Coucil

Volvo V70

While Mr. Friberg admits to being a Volvo loyalist, he asserts that it's not just because he's a Swede. "Most of my cars have been Volvos independent of where I have lived. I like the car and the values the company Volvo stands for," he explains.

But living in downtown Riga, Friberg finds he hardly ever needs to use the car. "I have covered 10,000 kilometers in two years. Since I only drive to get out of town, I don't experience any problems with parking. As far as Riga traffic, there are drivers with attitude who often speed, push and try to jump traffic lights. To be honest, I have never seen so many car accidents [as in Latvia] in any other country or place that I've lived."

Juri Ivanov,

chairman & CEO

of Reester, a

leading Estonian


of safety footwear


S-Type 3.0 executive

When choosing the Jaguar S-Type 3.0, Mr. Ivanov considered both style and quality. "The Jaguar looks smart, and at the same time has preserved all the best traditions of executive salons," he says. "It has a modest exterior appearance and a classical interior design, the latter with all the hi-tech features a contemporary executive car must include."

"Someone may consider the BMW 5-series or Mercedes E-class as a default choice for executive outings. But I find those automobiles too soulless. Plus, carjackers in Estonia would prefer stealing German automobiles, as it is much easier to get rid of them afterwards," he jokes.

When commenting on Estonia's driving culture, Ivanov believes it has greatly improved. "Driving etiquette is getting better every year, along with shoulder-to-shoulder national well-being. I suppose that various police campaigns are also effective. Driving violations are expensive, and local drivers do care about the rules of the road."