1996 Black Enterprise Auto Guide.

Author:Koblenz, Jay
Position:Buyers Guide
 
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In the automotive industry, 1995 is proving to be a mixed year. And 1996 portends more of the same (or less, as the case may be). Sales are down compared to an outstanding 1994, but the market is still stronger than the previous few years.

What this means for the buyers is more and often better choices. Production capacity is up, meaning there are plenty of vehicles out there that must be sold. Hence, there are bargains.

The hot spot has been in trucks, primarily sport-utility vehicles (SUVs). They are in such high demand, manufacturers seem to be raising prices with abandon. Competition is certainly improving the breed, but demand means prices (and profits) are also at record height. If you want to follow the SUV trend, you're simply going to get less value for your money than in a passenger car.

Meanwhile, technology is bringing the cost of many worthwhile features down. With competition heating up, expect that trend to continue well into and beyond the 1997 model year.

BMW 7-SERIES

After having introduced a new 7-Series sedan last fall, there are still more changes for 1996. The 740iL gets an increase in its V-8 engine, from 4.0 to 4.5 liters, improving torque and low-end performance. Horsepower will increase minimally from the 1995 rating of 282.

Traction control becomes standard on the 740i. A new feature that may be a first in the industry comes to the 750iL: a heated steering wheel!

The 740 is available as the 740i or the 740iL, the "L" denoting a 4.5-inch longer wheelbase and more rear seat room. Either way, the interior is large, luxurious and comfortable. Handling and road manners are impeccabte. The most palpable blemish is the excessive number of buttons on the dashboard. One very worthwhile option is the Comfort Seat with its articulating backrest, arguably the best seat in the industry.

The 750iL is the long wheel base car with some added features, including a 322-horsepower V-12 engine, Prices range from around $60,000 to just above $90,00O.

MERCEDES-BENZ E320

Leading off a new generation of E-class sedan, the E320 retains little but the engine from the previous model. With this car, Mercedes-Benz finally joins the modern world by offering such mechanical features as rack-and-pinion steering and a double wishbone front suspension, items competitors have had for more than a decade.

Mercedes is also adding length, more than two inches overall and more than an inch to the wheelbase. The idea is to gain interior room to maintain a competitive pace. Although there won't be any changes to the engine, the transmission is a new five-speed automatic. Also following the competition by a decade, this transmission engine design, bringing its first V-6 to the table. Meanwhile, a V-8-powered E420 will arrive part-way though the model year. Styling remains Mercedes traditional--a bit stodgy and conservative. However, round headlands provide a more lively demeanor from the front view. Although Mercedes has reduced its production costs, pricing should start a bit higher than the 1995 model at just under $44,000.

JAGUAR XJS

Jaguar's XJS is nearing the end of its very long run. Model year 1996 will be the last for this car. An all-new replacement vehicle, the first designed jointly with owner Ford Motor Co., arrives in 1997.

Meanwhile, the on-again, off-again V-12 engine is off again for this final model year. Also gone is the coupe version, leaving just one model of the XJS left to carry on: the six-cylinder convertible. The 4.0-liter inline-6 has 237 horsepower, enough to push this car along at a reasonable clip. But the V-12 engine will be missed. When the replacement comes in a bit more than a year, it will have Jaguar's first modem V-8.

Designed more than 20 years ago the XJS offers Old World style and charm. The metal curves, the wood is genuine and the leather aromatic.

Excess weight that is a problem in acceleration and fuel economy does help to make the Jaguar's ride smooth. Although comfort is better than most competitors, handling is now a bit below par for the class. Prices haven't been set for the 1996 model year, but the 1995 equivalent ended near $62,000.

CHRYSLER LHS

Sometime during the 1996 model year, the LHS will stand alone. Its identical twin, the New Yorker, is being dropped. (Thus ending the longest continuously running nameplate on the market today.) New Yorker fans will find the LHS nearly the same, and a new option will be the bench seat that made the New Yorker a (marginal) six-passenger sedan. Other clang, this fall include a new built-in HomeLink transmitter remote garage door opener. There's an improved sound system with a combined compact disc and cassette unit along with a new integral electric antenna mounted in the rear window.

Standard equipment is quite plentiful. All LHS models include leather seats, 16- inch aluminum wheels, power seats, automatic Climate control, traction control and a host of other amenities.

With the 214 horsepower, 3.5-liter 24-valve V-6 engine, acceleration is quite adequate. This falls short of the V-8 engines found in rivals from Cadillac and Lincoln, but so does the $30,255 price tag. Inside, there's plenty of room for people and cargo to ride in luxurious comfort.

ACURA TL

Acura recently introduced this all-new car to replace the slow-selling! Vigor. Although it remains similar to the Vigor, the TL is larger and includes a more powerful version.

Starting off is the 2.5TL with a 176-horsepower five-cylinder engine. Standard equipment includes automatic climate control, tilt steering column, cruise control, power accessories, power driver's seat and AM/FM/cassette with CD player.

For those who lust after more power, the 3.2TL gets the same engine Acura uses in the larger Legend: a 200-horsepower V-6. This engine requires a bit of surgery to the front sheet metal, making the 3.2 slightly longer. The model gets leather upholstery standard (it's optional on the 2.5) and adds a keyless remote entry system.

Acura's TL cars are competent in every respect. However, they are less sporty than past Acura offerings. The most obvious indication is that this is the first car from the Acura brand not offered with a manual transmission. Prices start at $27,900 and top out at $35,500 for a 3.5TL with Al the options.

BENTLEY AZURE

Ownership of an Azure comes only to those who meet some rather specific requirements. First, you must have an appreciation for subtle indications of excellence, such as the perfect leather lining of the glove box and precision movement of the chromed latch. You must also be patient. With 1995 production limited to just 118 worldwide (on 26 of which will be brought to the U.S.), it's impossible to just purchase one from--dare we say--dealer stock. If you wait until next year, production will rise enough to provide the "colonies" with 70 more.

Then, of course, is the one small factor of financial wherewithal. You'll have to come up with $319,000, plus taxes, to actually purchase this most exclusive of motorcars.

For such largess, you are permitted to acquire the first new Bentley convertible in decades. This imposing two-door includes a massive 6.8-liter turbocharged V-8 that will astonish you with expeditious acceleration. Yet its road manners are majestic. Royalty only gets to ride in limousines. For those who take motoring seriously, Azure is a far better source of glamour and merriment.

LINCOLN TOWN CAR

Lincoln's huge rear-drive luxury sedan is observing the division's 75th anniversary with a Diamond Anniversary model. Virtually dripping with luxury, this special edition includes supple leather seating surfaces with a distinctive anniversary emblem.

If you choose the top-of-the-line Cartier model, for 1996 two features are added: real wood on the instrument panel and rear-seat vanity mirrors.

While the Town Car seems a throwback to times past, with its huge size and square shape, it brings a host of modern technology to the table. Every Lincoln Town Car is powered by a 210-horsepower 4.6-liter V-8 engine linked to a four-speed automatic overdrive transmission. A dual airbag supplemental restraint system and a four-wheel disc anti-lock braking system head a long list of standard safety features.

You can't achieve sporty handling in the largest Lincoln. But you do Let that creamy soft ride and ultra quiet interior that may never we attained by the likes of Lexus or Mercedes. Starting around $37,000, you won't get more comfort at twice the price.

CADILLAC SEVILLE STS

Cadillac is advancing the technology of its cars in sometimes subtle ways. New developments in controlling the suspension with computers gives the STS (Seville Touring Sedan) excellent road feel without harming that soft Cadillac ride. The STS actually rides better than the SLS (Seville Luxury Sedan), making it the easy choice for those who can afford one.

The most obvious visual change for '96 is a revised dashboard. Although this adds to an attractive interior, the ergonomic function is actually a slight downgrade from the prior model. Overly large instruments can be hidden by the steering wheel, and the gear indicator light is so bright as to truly annoy.

Back to the plus side, dual-zone climate control is available to allow driver and front passenger to reach differing levels of comfort. A new option automatically turns on the windshield wipers and adjusts their speed to the rate of the downpour.

Meanwhile, you still have a choice of a rousing 275-horsepower V-8 in the SLS or an even more stirring 300 horsepower with the STS. Base prices are $42,995 and $47,495, respectively. Both include ample space for five passengers, a very smooth shifting transmission and responsive handling,

AUDI A4

Audi's smallest sedan makes a big leap forward in sophistication this year, with a new name, slick new styling and an advanced new suspension. Previously called the Audi 90, this compact sedan is roughly the same size as last year's car, Although interior accommodations have...

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