The Auto Channel
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The Largest Independent Automotive Research Resource
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by Bill Maloney

Here's part two in our coverage of the newest of the new cars and new names hitting the auto market for l996. Still to come...and we will bring it to you are the Cadillac Catera, the Olds Antares, and the Oldsmobile Intrigue.

TOYOTA introduced their new luxury AVALON four door last year and it has been a hit. Built in Kentucky, Toyota calls it the most American of all Toyotas. It's a MOVE UP vehicle for Camry, Maxima and Honda Accord owners. Avalon replaces the Cressida and is powered by a 24 valve V6 with 192 horsepower. It seats six what with its column mounted gear shift. As a luxury option it offers individual rear seat reading lights...just like the Mercedes. This front wheel drive car has ABS, dual airbags, an 18 gallon fuel tank and 29 mile highway fuel economy. Around $26,000.

Another completely restyled car from the Ford stable is the MERCURY SABLE WAGON. It's a bit Ford Taurus-like except it has less chrome and a more traditional rear window. The interior noise has been eliminated and just like a Q45 Infinity, you cannot hear the engine running unless you look at your tach. They may make a high performance version like Ford did with the T-Bird SHO. The car...though it doesn't look it, is almost 8 inches longer than last years model. Everything about the car is round. Rounded exterior styling...rounded dash panel for the instruments, rounded door latches/handles and interior styling features. It has a 200hp 3 liter V6 as an option and is priced about 20 grand. Minivans are all the rage...all the car makers are building minivans and the guys that started it all...CHRYSLER. They were at the right place at the right time. The public was ready for a six-seven passenger semi station wagon/truck/sport utility. It works. Chrysler keeps updating these models...and there are a bunch of them and for 1996 it has a sexier shape and sliding doors on BOTH sides. It is 7 inches longer than last years in the LXI model and the top of the line power plant is a V6, 3.8 liter with 166 horsepower. Not a real hot rod but a real good people hauler. Besides an abundance of cup holders and cooling vents, Chrysler's mini vans support a set of rollers under the rear seat for easy removal. We drove it 2000 miles and it was a delight. $16,000 - $27.000.

Then from the austerity of the no frills, purpose built, four gauges and a gear shift Prowler, WE shift to opulence city... the all new $320,000 BENTLY AZURE. Named after the blue sky's of the Mediterranean Sea this four place convertible reaches the automotive luxury pinnacle. The body is by famed Pininfarina of Italy and Ferrari fame. It flies along via a 6-1/2 liter turbocharged V8 with intercooler.

Creature comforts are connoly leather and lambswool carpets plus the finest burr walnut veneer trims. It's electronically harnessed to not exceed 150MPH. There's a waiting list for orders which require a 30 grand deposit. Mike Tyson bought four of these luxo rag tops for his pals.

AUDI builds fine automobiles and while they have never received plaudits for zaphatic, sleek styling they are marvels of automotive engineering...and at the leading edge of technology in all departments. The new Audi A4 takes the place of the 80/90 models and is a bit shorter and wider and sports a revised suspension system that makes for nimble handling. The power is a 2.8 liter V6 with 172 horsepower driving the front wheels and is available as a quattro version. This is one of the most streamlined Audis ever with a drag coefficient of 0.29. That's sports car good. The interior features wood trim and if you want a new automotive buzz word...this one from Audi...the handling impression is one of tightness...well constructed, safe, solid...goes anywhere...been there, done that. Prices start around $28,000.

So much for the German cars. Korean built cars are making inroads and even coming up with concept cars to share the auto show spotlight with major manufacturers. Take HYUNDAI for instance. Makers of the Elantra, Sonata and Accent they also have an "exercise" car in the HCD 3. Very interesting two. It is billed as a performance off road sport utility. Power is a 2 liter 4 banger and it sure looks like fun what with its roll top roof and 240 HP.

Jaguar owned by Ford Motor Company doesn't seem to make any sudden or drastic restyling features to its line of sleek models but then again...why should they? The car's styling is timeless. They've dropped the 2 door coupe and retained the XJS convertible. The wheel base for the top of the line Vanden Plas...63 grand... has been extended. Jaguar's first supercharged car, the XJR sports sedan boasts 322 horsepower at 5000 RPM and has an intercooler. The car has a top speed of 155 MPH which ain't bad for a heavy luxury sedan. Smoked maple interior trim, long a Jaguar trademark, is abundant. The car rides on 17 inch alloy wheels with Pirelli P Zero tires. Would you believe this model...the sedan is 20 years old. The XJR sports sedan has a sticker price of $66,270.

There was a time when CHRYSLER corporation's key to keeping the doors open were tuned to sales of their successful JEEP. That was then and this is now and Jeep sales continue to skyrocket. Jeeps are in and Chrysler is offering them in a variety of flavors. For 1996 the top of the line $30,000 Grand Cherokee gets dual airbags, a larger grill, better cooling and some engine tweaks plus quadra trac full time all wheel drive. Standard motor is an antiquated inline 6 putting out 185 ponies. Go for the 5 liter 220HP V8...though you will be getting only 14 miles city.

Another very popular drop top sportster is VOLKSWAGEN'S redesigned four place Cabrio. It looks like and is a fun car to drive. For'96 it has a revised and stiffer suspension setup plus a 115HP motor with a wider torque band. Would you believe this little convertible has 10% more interior room than the pricey BMW 318 soft top. It usual, a fixed roll bar and the top, though hand operated like model Ts, is really a cinch to cinch. It has front wheel drive and, this year, (full on) running lights. $19,000.

One way to describe the styling of the DODGE RAM truck and van lineup is BRUTISH in appearance. Very aggressive countenance as they would say in the design studios and ad agency think tanks. And these models are selling very well. The Ram sport receives a new sequential multiport fuel injection system for '96 plus a newly designed electronic automatic transmission. The Dakota gets a new 2.5 liter 120 horsepower motor and new colors including Kiwi pearl. These models are built in St. Louis, Missouri.

HYUNDAI is putting a big promotional push behind its $9000 two door 4 cylinder model with the 105 horsepower engine. It has dual airbags for 1996, optional anti lock brakes plus optional moon roof, automatic transmission and tinted glass. ACCENT comes as a four door sedan and a 3 door hatchback. Nice dollar value. Great gas mileage at 36 highway.

BUICK'S new and sleek RIVIERA has garnered rave revues from the press and car buying prospects. The 4 passenger performance coupe now has a 240 horsepower supercharged V6 power plant. Like the Olds Aurora it represents GMs division to tell the BMW crowd that we too can make very attractive and affordable personal cars. $27,000.

The SUZUKI ESTEEM is an all new car for 1996 with the intention of telling the car buying world..."we, Suzuki, have arrived". The four door Esteem looks like a real car and is designed to compete with Honda Civic, Nissan Sentra and Plymouth Neon. The Esteem has the largest interior of any car in this class. It's powered by a 4 cylinder 98 horsepower, 16 valve motor and has dual airbags. Priced at $12.000, it is a neat package especially at 36 per gallon highway.

Next week we'll show and tell about the dream cars being introduced to public reaction from Ford, Hyundai, Audi, Lincoln, Buick and Chrysler Corporation. Don't forget...Keep the TACH in the black!

Look for Newest Wheels '96 videos on family cars plus sports and GTs at your video stores and libraries everywhere.

And don't forget to buckle up for safety.