Reviews of 16 new vehicles
On track to reach a new sales record for 1999, the automotive industry is also hauling in tremendous profits. Everybody seems fat and happy. Even companies such as Nissan and Mitsubishi, which lost millions during much of the 1990s, are back in the black. But the biggest winners are the biggest players, particularly those that have plenty of trucks and SUVs in their lineups. There seems to be no end in sight for the boom in the SUV and pickup truck markets, and forecasters expect this could last as long as relatively cheap gasoline continues to be a mainstay of the American economy.
Fortunately, that doesn't mean we'll see nothing but trucks. Cars will again grow taller to help buyers in a more affordable segment get a better view of the road in traffic. Witness new offerings like Toyota's Echo. But quick-moving brands are taking advantage of the booming economy by offering cars that may not he as practical but are certainly fun to drive. Honda's S2000 epitomizes this trend perfectly.
As protection against future downturns and the increasing expense of introducing new products to market, the industry continues to consolidate, DaimlerChrysler has completed its merger, putting Mercedes-Benz and all the former Chrysler brands under one German roof. Ford bought Volvo this year, and Nissan hooked up less formally with France's Renault.
Audi A6 www.audi.com
Though refined in almost every way, the A6 has often been criticized for being a bit anemic. For 2000, Audi is changing that in a big way. Those not wishing to pay for more power can still obtain the A6 2.8 in sedan or Avant (wagon) form, beginning at $33,950. Those wishing more motivation beneath the hood can obtain one of two new engines, a 250-horsepower bi-turbocharged 2.7T-liter V6 or a thunderous 300-horsepower 4.2-liter V8. Both engines have five valves per cylinder and are available solely in the sedan model with Audi's famed Quattro all-wheel drive system. The 2.7T is also available with a six-speed manual transmission. More typical--and standard with the V8--is the five-speed Tiptronic automatic with a semi-manual mode. The 2.7T begins at $38,550, the V8 at $48,900.
Either of these engines will turn the A6 into a rollicking good performance sedan. The V8-powered car is aimed a bit more toward the luxury market while the bi-turbo is for the performance-minded.
Cadillac DeVille www.cadillac.com
Cadillac is in a quandary right now. The DeVille, its best-selling car, has the oldest demographics, yet many of the automaker's buyers are so old they won't be purchasing another car. This means Cadillac must undertake careful changes that won't alienate the seniors who are its mainstay customers while seeking out younger buyers.
A new DeVille moves to the same platform as the Seville. This means it's a smaller car, losing a couple of inches here and there. The hope is customers will make the trade-off in reduced interior room for improved performance and driving feel. Although the V8 engines retain the same 275- and 300-horsepower ratings, Cadillac claims significant improvements within. The Concours name is gone, replaced by a trio of models: base, high-luxury and touring. Prices should remain in the same $40,000-and-up bracket. A new technology introduced in this car is Night Vision, an infrared system designed to provide a look beyond the headlamps at the road ahead.
Chevrolet Impala www.chevrolet.com
The Impala name returns to the Chevrolet line-up, although this time the model has a front-wheel drive platform with a V6 engine rather than the rear-wheel drive with a V8 that had been its legacy. This time the car is closely related to the also new Monte Carlo. With a starting price of $19,265, which can climb to a little over $25,000 when the car is fully loaded, the Impala is a full-size family sedan with interior room at a relatively reasonable price.