Automotive technology is developing in a new direction. Not only are automakers striving to create safer, better performing cars, they're innovating to cut costs. Even as the market expands, many brands are holding the line on prices. Even some rather extravagant luxury brands are bringing products to market at lower prices than last year. Meanwhile, more affordable cars are gaining in quality and features that used to be found only at the upper reaches of the marketplace. Value is key in all new products, and that doesn't just apply to passenger cars.
Trucks are taking a steadily increasing portion fo new vehicle sales, with minivans and sport-utility wagons leading the way. Some of this is a decision to purchase a practical family vehicle and, in some cases, a matter of fashion. But recognizing the trends, the manufacturers are giving buyers more of what they want: comfort, style, features and performance. It's still possible, but getting more difficult to purchase a poorly designed vehicle.
BMW 7 SERIES
This large sedan represents the pinnacle of BMW engineering. And the new-for-'95 7-Series now raises the standard set by the previous model. Although completely redesigned, styling is intentionally similar to the last model. Longer, wider and taller, the new 7-Series is a substantial automobile. Initially, the 7-Series will be offered in 740i and long-wheelbase 740iL configurations. A 282-horsepower V-8 and 5-speed automatic transmission give the 740s performance that could embarrass a number of sports cars, and the bank-vault body structure, legendary BMW suspension design, and sophisticated traction control system promise handling and responsiveness that belie the car's 2-ton-plus weight.
Inside this $60,000 sedan is a staggering array of features, including steering wheel-mounted controls for climate control, audio system, cruise control and cellular phone. Later in the year, an even more extravagant V-12-powered 750iL will be added to the lineup, featuring 323-horsepower, more features, and a price approaching six figures.
Because the cost was high and the perceived improvement minimal, the Super HICAS 4-wheel steering that had been part of the Touring Package is no longer available. Otherwise, the Q45 remains as a mildly eccentric interpretation of the modern luxury sedan. It did become a bit more mainstream last year with the addition of a chrome grille, larger headlights and interior wood accents.
With 278 horsepower supplied by a rousing 4.5-liter V-8, the Q45 is among the fastest sedans on the road. For this motive strength, you'll be charged a gas guzzler tax (included in the price of the car) and continue to pay at the fuel pump. But the quiet and sedate ride will never make you suffer, while the sophisticated suspension will also enable the aggressive driver to keep up a quick pace on any road.
Starting out above $50,000, Infiniti is no longer a bargain alternative to a BMW, but you will receive superb quality backed by an excellent record of dealer service.
For 1995, this large, plush and very powerful luxury coupe comes into sharper focus. An increase in engine power, subtle but effective styling updates, numerous chassis improvements, and some slick electronics earn a more polished, sophisticated reputation.
Eldorado is exceptionally powerful by any standard, with base models rated at an impressive 275 horsepower, and the performance-oriented Touring Coupe tuned for 300 horsepower. Complementing the 32-valve, 4.6-liter V-8 engine is a new Integrated Chassis Control System that electronically combines the standard anti-lock brakes, traction control, electronically controlled struts, and power steering.
The result is improved cornering, stopping and greater confidence on slippery pavement - without compromising Cadillac's luxurious ride. Eldorado's more athletic look is set off by new alloy wheels, extensive power accessories, and leather and wood interior trim for a starting price of $38,220.
LINCOLN TOWN CAR
Lincoln's big rear-drive sedan enters the new model year with a new grille, headlights and taillights. A driver-selectable steering system no gives you a choice of heavy, medium or light steering effort. Of course, the Town Car is never really sporty. This is the most traditional of the American luxury cars, a rectangular, formal presence on the road, providing what seems like acres of interior space for six adults.
The Town Car rides on a rear-wheel drive, full-frame chassis and is powered by a thoroughly modern 210-horsepower 4.6-liter overhead cam V-8 coupled to a smooth 4-speed electronically controlled automatic transmission. Yet this sedan stands apart from other luxury cars in being proud of being old-fashioned, with plenty of imitation wood trim and layers of chrome. Seats are overstuffed and plush, and the ride is library quiet, giving the feeling of motoring down the highway in a classy living room. This car is aimed at those who want everyone aboard to be comfortable and contented. With prices starting at $36,400, you get a large helping of luxury.
This represents the first remake of the LS400 since its 1990 introduction. Despite being extensively renewed, styling is remarkably unchanged. Closer inspection reveals a 1.4-inch increase in the wheelbase, with more interior space given to rear seat passengers. Yet weight is reduced more than 200 pounds and the 250-horsepower 32-valve V-8 engine gains another 10 horsepower for improved acceleration. As always, the LS400 remains a 4-door sedan with a list of standard features as long as they come. Yet there are still a few costly options to increase the $51,200 starting price.
What is most impressive about this car is simply the level of quality in each detail, from the fit of the glove compartment door to the mesh of its latch. And while you can purchase better performance for less money, few cars combine this level of luxury and performance so effortlessly. This may not be the perfect car, but it has become the benchmark to which the others compare themselves.
ROLLS ROYCE FLYING SPUR
Taking nothing away from its elegant style and lavish appointments, Rolls Royce is injecting more might into its mainstay sedan. By turbocharging the 6.75-liter V-8 engine of the Silver Spur, it becomes a Flying Spur, the fastest Rolls Royce sedan motorcar ever offered. But only a limited number of these examples of supreme motorized craftsmanship will cross the Atlantic. Required wherewithal is $225,000 American.
Should a Flying Spur not be adequately exotic for your stable of motor carriages, you have one brief last chance to own a new Rolls Royce convertible. Twenty-eight years after making its debut as the Silver Shadow, Corniche production ends soon. Rather than exit quietly, the last 20 will be renamed Corniche S and gain the same turbocharged engine as the Flying Spur. Just as that Spur takes sedan honors, the Corniche S is the fastest convertible in the company's history. Priced at a not inconsequential $315,000, this is the mechanical apex of this exquisitely built motorcar.
For 1995 Mercedes-Benz did something it formerly promised it would never do: The company lowered prices on its flagship sedans. Still, with a starting price of $65,900 and the V-12 flagship coupe model topping out at an unchanged $133,300 (plus gas guzzler tax), nobody will accuse the German marque of being the value alternative. Price reductions are a result of slow sales of these behemoth vehicles, along with higher quality competition from the likes of Lexus and Infiniti.
If flamboyance and the flaunting of wealth is to your liking, these are cars that supply an abundance of technology and comfort. Interiors are rich, although not plush. You get a choice of 6-, 8- or 12-cylinder engines and the only diesel offering in a luxury sedan. Performance ranges from sluggish with the diesel to silken power with either V-8 or V-12 engines. For '95 a facelift slightly softens the exterior look and in kowtowing to U.S. market demands, you now get five cup holders. For better performance in slippery conditions, these rear-drive cars have traction control standard.
Although the changes are not obvious to nonaficionados of the brand, a closer examination shows the 960 to be extensively revised for 1995. A lower, well-equipped price of $29,990 is evident, however. There's a wider track with more refined suspension upgrades handling. The 24-valve inline-6 engine was redesigned for more low-rpm torque, better suited to American driving styles. The 4-speed electronically controlled automatic allows quick yet smooth acceleration. Styling changes include slimmer headlights, a smaller grille and new bumpers, but the Volvo family styling lineage is firmly intact.
Crash protection continues as a preeminent Volvo theme with further body structure reinforcement added to this already tanklike platform. Standard safety features include dual air bags, anti-lock brakes and daytime running lights. Interior comfort is improved with a more ergonomic dashboard and simplified controls.
In both sedan and station wagon forms, the 960 is a solid vehicle with competence in all levels of handling, comfort and luxury.
In its second generation, the Legend now starts around $35,000 for the base L sedan and reaches to over $42,000 for a full-boat LS coupe. Slightly smaller than its Lexus and Infiniti counterparts, the Legend is a mid-size, beautifully assembled car offered in coupe and sedan body styles. The coupe IS powered by a highly tuned 230-horsepower 24-valve V-6 that drives the front wheels through either a 6-speed manual or 4-speed automatic transmission. The coupes are tailored for performance before luxury.
The sedans are offered in base L, luxury LS and sport sedan GS trim. L and LS sedans use a slightly more docile 200-horsepower V-6, where the GS employs the more powerful engine and 6-speed...