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FORTUNE Picks Top Ten Vehicles for the New Millennium

26 January 1999

FORTUNE Picks Top Ten Vehicles for the New Millennium

    NEW YORK--Jan. 26, 1999--

    Chrysler PT Cruiser tops the list

    The Chrysler PT Cruiser heads FORTUNE's list of the top ten vehicles for the new millennium, followed by the Ford Thunderbird, Mercedes S- Class, BMW X5 and the Jaguar S-Type. FORTUNE senior editor and automotive columnist Sue Zesiger made the picks at the annual auto show in Detroit and reports them in the February 15 issue.
    Completing the top ten list of what Zesiger calls "groundbreaking vehicles" are the Ford Focus, the Audi TT, the Honda S2000, the Lincoln Blackwood, and the Lexus IS.
    Zesiger notes that "nostalgia-drunk, luxury-drenched models stole the show in Detroit, proving that, once again, America's love affair with automobiles is in full swing." She reports that a few designers quietly hinted that at the heart of the retro boom is a darker truth: As cars are forced to become more efficient in emissions and aerodynamics there will be less room to play sculpturally.
    The "crouching, pointy-nosed" Chrysler PT Cruiser captured the No. 1 spot on Zesiger's list. "Not only is the hot-rod design scheme eye-grabbing, fresh, and very ZZ Top, but its unique shape (car on the outside, minivan on the inside) will undoubtedly cause the competition to scramble for their own versions," she writes. Of the Ford Thunderbird, No. 2 on the list, Zesiger says "The elegant back-to-basics interior is devoid of doodads - just turquoise-colored T-bird insignias, matching turquoise hands on the jewelry-like gauges, and lots of leather and chrome." The Thunderbird is one of four Ford vehicles on the top-ten list.
    The No. 3 car, the Mercedes S-Class, is loaded with technology, including "the world's first smart cruise-control system, which uses a radar sensor to automatically maintain a preset distance behind the car ahead." Zesiger's pick for No. 4, the BMW X5, is a car-SUV hybrid that leans heavily to the auto side, designed for on-road use, from asphalt to dirt, but not for heavy-duty off-road trekking. The Jaguar S-Type is No. 5 on the list; Zesiger says the futuristic yet retro S-Type is "unlike anything else on the road."
    No. 6, the Ford Focus, "throws away all the junk-box design references and fools your eye into thinking something far more expensive is coming down the road." Audi's "backward-glancing" TT sports car is No. 7, combining "astonishing attention to design detail with Teutonic solidity and road-holding capabilities. Honda's S2000 is No. 8, with high marks for its "sleek and uncomplicated design (no overuse of retro gizmos here, just a simple shape that recalls the company's early chain-driven S500 and S600 sports cars) and its 240-horsepower four-cylinder engine." The Lincoln Blackwood is No. 9 and has "the most flair" of the three SUV-pickup hybrid production versions introduced by Ford. Completing the list at No. 10 is the Lexus IS; "with a tight little body and edgy racer touches like chronograph-inspired gauges and drilled aluminum pedals, the IS just might give the BMW 3-Series some competition - but it lands at No. 10 because the otherwise difficult-to-criticize Japanese company should have come up with a vehicle in this category a long time ago.

NOTE: The February 15 issue of FORTUNE will be available on newsstands beginning February 1. For more information or to schedule an interview with a FORTUNE writer or editor, contact Meredith Halpern at 212/522-6724.