About: Autolove

Joe Mavilia is a syndicated columnist with more than 35 years in the automotive industry. He is a member of the Motor Press Guild and Automotive Press Association. His reviews have been published in print media including the Los Angeles Times, The Golden Transcript - Colorado, La Feria News - Texas, The Pasadena Weekly - California, and others around the country, including www.theweekenddrive.com where he is the West Coast Editor. Reviews and Opinion Columns may also be seen in Sunnews.org and The Country Journal every week in the Antelope Valley, CA. I hope they are helpful

Recent Posts by Autolove

1998 Mercedes-Benz CLK (194)

 

Overview:

The CLK coupe is easy to get used to and with a suggested retail price of $39,850, that might be enough for some of you who are looking in that price range. It would be enough for me, because in answer to a very often asked question, \”what car would I buy for myself\”, I quickly respond – I don’t know, because there are too many variables. How much money do I have to spend on a car?

Mercedes is at the top of my list, but if you’re like me, your mood and your situation in life will dictate which car you buy. If money weren’t an object, one of each would do just fine, but since that isn’t likely for most of us, the car that satisfies most of my wants and needs right now would probably be Mercedes.

It is simply the best overall car in my opinion. It is elegant, safety conscious and a real performer. Simply put, no other car feels like a Mercedes. It’s a wonderful handling car for such an elegant, smooth riding, powerful, quiet and one that makes a statement about the quality of life we choose to live. It is 500 pounds heavier than the BMW M3 and other competitors, for example. It is as macho as Jaguar is dainty, which explains why Jag’s appeal more to the female driver.

In the area of reliability, Mercedes-Benz is rated very good on the list of problems per 100 cars according to J.D. Powers. In addition, this CLK has great styling and it gives the impression that it is much larger than it is. It feels like a four door; however, if you take a lot of long trips with four people this coupe will quickly show its size. Although the CLK resembles the E-Class it is lower and its grill, headlights and windshield are more swept back, which I like a lot.

It has a spacious trunk that is nearly the same size as in the C-Class sedan and is 11 cu ft as compared to the BMW M3 Coupe that has a 9 cu ft trunk. In addition the standard 60/40 split folding seatback allows for even more carrying capacity. To make it easier to get in and out of the rear seat, CLK provides an Easy Entry system that quickly moves the seat forward. My engineer friend, Merkle, owns the new M3 and takes exception with the industry inclusion of M3 as a competitor of the CLK. He says they are very different kinds of cars. He feels the M3 is more of a performance car and the CLK is more of a luxury car. Ok Merkle, I’ll give you that, and take the luxury over 0-60 in 5.7 seconds.

Speaking of power, the CLK320 comes with an all-new 3.2-liter V6 215-hp engine that will take you from 0-60 miles per hour in a respectable 6.9 seconds. The sports car handling and the luxury car ride that I love, comes from the same double wishbone front suspension as the SLK roadster and the same five-link independent rear suspension design used on all Mercedes passenger cars.

I also love high tech stuff and it doesn’t get much better. Mercedes is tops on such features as the ASR traction control that keeps you safe on slippery roads whether caused by rain, snow or even gravel. It detects when one rear wheel is spinning faster than the other and selectively applies the brake to that wheel to restore traction, and if that’s not enough it will reduce engine power by backing off the electronic throttle, more quickly than the driver could possibly react.

The Competition:

Arguably – BMW M3 $39,700 – $45,900 Cadillac Eldorado $38,495 – $42,695 Lexus SC 300/400 $40,900 – $52,700 Lincoln Mark VIII $37,830 – $39,320 Volvo $38,995. But in my book Mercedes is unique and in a class of its own.

Good News:

Luxurious features, new exciting styling, plush ride and great safety features, few problems per hundred cars.

Bad News:

Road feel is numbed for a performance car.

Standard Equipment:

3.2 liter V6 215 hp engine, 5-speed automatic trans, dual air bags plus side air bag, 4-wheel disc ABS brakes, traction control, leather upholstery and burl walnut wood trim; Bose 8-speaker audio system with cassette player and weatherband; dual-zone climate control with filter; 10-way power-adjustable front seats with 3-position memory, express-down power windows & door locks, tilt steering, dual heated power side-view mirrors; rear defrost, cruise control, alloy wheels, and the most advanced anti-theft system called SmartKey

Gas Stats:

EPA numbers are 21 City and 29 Highway MPG.

Pricing:

MSRP is $ 39,850

 

1998 Cirrus LXi 4-door Sedan (197)

Overview:
The Cirrus LXi is “cookie cutter” but it won’t kill the budget. Good old American ingenuity. What began at the turn of the 20th century with Henry Ford’s Model T and later the Model A, continues with companies like Chrysler. Well, Ford’s only came in one color back then – black, and cost was affordable enough for anyone at about $800. Chrysler makes cars that are still aFordable and they come in some pretty nice colorstoo. If you don’t need the snob appeal of a pricey car like the Infiniti Q45 that we talked about recently, you can have two Cirrus’s and bankten grand. For most of us on limited budgets, two Cirrus’s and ten grand in the bank might just be a better decision.

As you know, Chrysler was nearly in the toilet until Lee Iacocca bailed them out not so many years ago. They surely know how to compete in this tough car market and Mercedes-Benz must agree since they are now a part of Chrysler, or is it the other way around. Pretty interesting times, eh?

My engineer friend, Merkel, helps me to get real and keep my perspective. He reminds me of “We the people…” in America who are so bombarded with media hype that we can’t be bothered with “just the facts, nothing but the facts”. We’re often blinded to the truth by being told over and over again how we need or can’t live without what we’re being sold. “People are getting smarter”, says Merkel. Perhaps, but a bad guy in the 30’s said “Tell a lie often enough and people will believe it” would have done better for the world if he’d become an advertising executive. Dad told me “Don’t believe anything you hear and only half of what you see”. You were right dad.

Well, here are a few facts you can believe. Cirrus was first introduced in 1995 as a midsize and the most affordable Chrysler they make. It is essentially unchanged from 1997. And finally, the Cirrus has some pretty impressive competition that you will surely want to investigate. The Buick Century, for example, is nearly identical in features, and since people buy on emotion the Buick may look better to you. Let’s be honest, some us wouldn’t be caught dead in a foreign car or visa versa, just because it’s built THERE. Don’t tell anyone that some VW’s are made in Mexico, some Mercedes are made in America and some Cadillac’s and Ford’s are made in Germany. Life is getting so complicated you can’t bitch about anything. Next thing you know they’ll be building cars in Africa.

Is nothing sacred?

The competition:

Buick Century $18,215 – $19,575, Chevrolet Malibu $15,670 – $18,620, Dodge Stratus $14,840 – $17,665, Honda Civic $10,650 – $16,480, Hyundai Sonata $14,749 – $18,549, Mazda 626 $15,550 – $23,240, Mercury Mystique $13,960 – $17,270, Volkswagen Jetta $14,595 – $20,955.

Good News:

Priced well. Best rating in problems per 100 cars of the competition listed here, per JD Powers. Couldn’t find any Bad News.

Bad News:

See Good News.

Standard Equipment:

2.5 liter 168 horsepower V6 engine, 4 speed automatic trans, dual air bags, front disc with rear drum ABS brakes, keyless entry, rear child door locks, power speed sensitive rack & pinion steering, air conditioning, power windows & door locks, cruise control, tilt steering column & leather wrapped wheel, AM/FM cassette radio, fold down rear seat, fog lights and dual power / heated side mirrors.

Gas Stats:

19 City and 28 Highway MPG.

Pricing:

MSRP is $19,460

1998 Infiniti Q45t (196)

Overview:
An ad campaign for the Infiniti Q45 states \”Own one and you’ll understand\”. That insightful statement is quite true for the Flagship model from Infiniti. Also true is that they are \”plain Jane\” and not real inspiring from a styling standpoint. It is very unassuming and could be mistaken for a much less expensive car.

They simply don’t grab your attention like the Cadillac STS for example. The Cad is distinctive in styling and the Infiniti is, well \”cookie cutter\”. I believe folks who spend fifty grand for a car want other folks to know that fact. But the flip side is that this unassuming design us subtle and some feel they don’t want or need showy.

That being said, I’ll modify Infiniti’s statement and say you only need to \”drive one\” to see the difference and understand. What you’ll understand is how elegant a feeling it is to drive an automobile of this quality. My racing bud Price Cobb (at Indy as I\’m writing this) says cars like this Infiniti are boring. OK Price, I’ll give you that one, but you’re a wild and crazy race driver and get high on abusing tires, engines, suspension not to mention your nerves. This Infiniti pays attention to detail and the fit of components and body pieces is among the best.

I think back on my commuter days to L.A. many years ago and I really found peace and quiet during that hour or so of my day. Most of those years I made the trek a Cadillac and the time was pre-Infiniti, (it is only in its ninth year of production). If you think about it there are only two places to really relax, and be alone…the water closet and your commute to and from the office. For me the Q45 turns an ordinary road into an extra-ordinary driving experience of comfort and convenience. For the exec who feels he deserves to pamper himself with high tech stuff, like the rear Multi-link suspension (for maximum tire contact with the road), Traction Control, (that directs the power from the wheels that are slipping to the wheels that are gripping) will likely justify the cost. The Q45 comes in two models – Standard and this Touring model with a more sporty addition of a sport-tuned suspension, 5-spoke performance cast aluminum alloy wheels, rear spoiler, black-out grille, heated front seats, a trunk mounted 6-disc CD changer, and a perforated leather-wrapped sports steering wheel.

From the outside this Q45 is soft spoken and on the inside you melt into the soft comfort and quiet performance. You’ll experience power without the noise. You can throw on some soft music, turn off the cell phone and ignore the outside world. You’re sandwiched between the two realities of the office and home, each with their own demands. You may decide to keep driving. Next stop – the twilight zone.

The Competition:

Acura RL $42,000, Audi A8 $57,400 – $65,000, BMW 5-Series $38,900- $88,900, Cadillac Seville $42,495 – $46,995, Lexus LS 400 – $52,900, Lincoln Continental $37,930, Mercedes-Benz E-Class $41,800 -$50,600

Good News:

Great ride and great safety standard features. Known for quality and workmanship.

Bad News:

Styling is a bland and unexciting.

Standard Equipment:

4.1 liter 266 Horsepower DOHC V8 engine, 4-speed automatic transmission, speed sensitive power steering, sport tuned suspension, traction control, 4-wheel power anti-lock disc brakes, power tilt and slide sunroof, heated remote outside mirrors, leather and wood trim, 10 way power driver’s and front passenger seats with lumbar support, heated front seats, automatic temperature control, dual air bags & Front seat side air bags, 200 watt 8 speaker Bose audio system with in-dash CD and cassette plus trunk mounted 6 disc CD autochanger, power antenna, power tilt and telescopic steering column, power windows, door locks and fuel filler door, cruise control, door and trunk released, intermittent wipers, child safety rear door locks, keyless remote entry system plus security system.

Gas Stats:

18 City and 23 Highway MPG.

Pricing:

MSRP is $49,900

1998 Dodge Durango SLT (193)

Overview: 
OK, so what’s all the excitement about this Dodge Durango utility vehicle? Is it because macho guys get off on rugged manly things like the recent Dodge truck line that is everything we like? Yep, we’re different animals and this Durango like its brother the Dakota and their daddy Dodge Ram give men that rugged, flex your muscles feeling. The look and feel is like a shaved down 18-wheeler that makes these Dodge trucks all man. Don’t misunderstand me gals, you can climb on and drive one too, because the macho stuff is catching. It just feels good to get behind the wheel of something with a little substance. It reminds me of one of my Harley T-shirt’s that say, SIZE DOES COUNT. I think I’ve had enough of those frilly cars with doilies on the armrests. This is a mans truck and Dodge makes no bones about it. And if you opt for the big block Magnum V8 you’ll know what I mean when you start it up. You will wear the back tires bald if you don’t exercise a little restraint. You can just hear Tim Allen grunt his approval of the 5.2 liter 318 cu in V8, multiport fuel injection, mated to a 4-speed automatic transmission with a lockup torque converter…. Aargh. Of course he would improve the power a little and get the 5.9-liter V8 that is another option.

Just as I got settled in and comfortable that this Durango is made for a man, Shirley says, “Hey Joe, you’re driving the exact truck I’m buying. I’ve looked at every one that’s made and this is the best by far.” Uhhhhh?!…yeah, ok sounds good to me Shirley. So what’d ya like best about the Durango? “Just everything”, she says, “it looks great, has the best seating configuration of any of the SUV’s I looked at, and I mean I looked at them all – trust me.”

Well Shirley, I do trust you, and you’re right on. I didn’t want to give this Durango back. I usually like the turn around day because it’s exciting to move into the next new and interesting car, but some models I just hate to give back. I really wanted to drive the Durango another week but oh well. So I’ll get to ride in Shirley’s.

From the minute you step into this utility vehicle you get a sense of confidence. As much as I like the Jeep line I just get a feeling of command in the Durango. I’d like to hear what you think about this car. I know there’s been a lot of talk, but are folks buying them?

Good news: 
A selection of V6 or two optional V8 engines. Command styling. Seats up to 8. Tow capacity over 7,000 pounds. Competitive pricing.

Bad news: 
Big V8 sucks up lots of gas.

The competition: 
Chevrolet Blazer $21,663 – $25,176, Chevrolet Tahoe $23,585 – $31,985, Ford Expedition $28,225 – $34,690, GMC Jimmy $21,786 – $25,855, Isuzu Trooper $26,550, Jeep Grand Cherokee $25,945 – $38,275, Land Rover Discovery $35,000 – $38,000, Mercedes-Benz M-Class $33,950, Toyota 4Runner $20,558 – $34,618.

Standard Equipment:
3.9-liter V6 230 horsepower engine, (5.2-liter V8 230 hp or a 245-hp 5.9-liter V8 are optional), air conditioning, power steering, rear defroster, AM/FM stereo cassette, dual air bags, power front disc rear drum ABS brakes, luggage rack and dual power mirrors.

Gas Stats:
13 City and 17 Highway MPG.

Pricing: 
MSRP is $25,810 and the model I drove included the optional SLT-Plus Package that includes tilt steering wheel, cruise control, power windows & door locks, keyless entry and aluminum wheels for $1800; skid plates, overhead console, third seat, magnum 5.2 liter 230 hp engine, upgraded tires and interior decor and destination charges added $2,720 and after a Dodge discount of $700 the total came to $29,630.

1998 Plymouth Neon (192)

Overview:
Chrysler has come a long way and their products are a testimony to the American will to survive and succeed. First impressions are lasting, someone said, and I must admit I was pleasantly surprised when I stepped into this Plymouth Neon. Surely “basic” came to mind and I suspect you’ll agree. In fact, many features that are optional on Ford Escort, for example, are not even available on the Neon. Not necessarily a bad thing, because when you’re looking for inexpensive transportation great mileage is more important than a few frills.

This car was introduced in 1994 and is available in a 4-door sedan or 2-door coupe. Like the new “high in demand – high priced” VW Bug, both are manufactured in Mexico. I can’t imagine why more American imports don’t take advantage of the great labor resource of Mexico. If you’ve seen these two cars you’ll know that the place of manufacture is the only thing they have in common. This Neon and the competition listed below are true economy cars. And it’s interesting to note that just about half are from American automakers. That would appear to indicate the U.S. is back in the race to provide affordable cars to American consumers.

I have to tell you this car really grows on you. A lot of cars are “forgettable”, but I’m real impressed with the overall feel of this car. I predict it will be a real winner for Chrysler, and that means it will be a winner for those who buy one. At prices like this everyone can own a new well-built reliable car. Henry Ford probably said something like that a hundred years ago.

Good news: 
Very affordable. Roomy inside and lots of trunk space. Great gas mileage.

Bad news:
Several features, like cruise control, tilt wheel and power rear windows are not available options. Low horsepower (150 hp engine is an option).

The competition: 
Chevrolet Cavalier $11,610 – $19,410, Ford Escort $11,330 – $13,080, Honda Civic $10,650 – $16,480, Hyundai Elantra $11,499 – $12,549, Kia Sephia $9,995 – $10,995, Mazda Protege $12,145 – $15,295, Nissan Sentra $11,499 – $16,749, Pontiac Sunfire $12,495 – $19,495, Saturn SL $10,595 – $12,755, Toyota Corolla $11,908 – $14,798

Standard Equipment:
2.0 liter 4-cylinder 132 horsepower engine, 5-speed manual transmission, dual airbags, rear door child safety locks, power front disc with rear drum brakes, power rack & pinion steering, 4-wheel independent suspension, 4-speaker AM/FM radio, remote trunk release.

Gas Stats:
29 City and 41 Highway MPG.

Pricing: 
MSRP is $ 11,555. The model I drove included air conditioning, power sunroof, leather wrapped steering wheel and shift knob, power front windows, power locks and mirrors, cassette & CD changer with 6-speakers and special candy apple red paint. The total as equipped came to $14,445.

1998 Buick Park Avenue Ultra (191)

Overview:

The Park Avenue Ultra is elegant and it’s American as apple pie and Chevrolet. My friend Jason is from Detroit and says his dad would kill him if he bought a foreign car.

He respects his dad and his loyalty to MO-town, the town that survives because of such passion. And why not! I spend a lot of time in Golden, CO. – the home of Coors – and I’m appalled at the bar scene there because they seem to drink Bud in defiance of what should be their home town hero, Coors.

Well, Jason’s dad is right on, and as I keep preaching, the best buys in most American towns today are American cars. They’ve paid for their sins and earned the right to another chance. This country has a rich history dominated by great automotive innovation and we’ve had a love affair with the automobile for over a hundred years. Few affairs can boast of such durability in Bill Clinton’s world. Isn’t it nice to know folks in Detroit still hang in with old faithful- well at least their indiscretions don’t make the news.

Buick has lost its baby fat and its styling is lean and mean. Remember the 50’s when Buick helped coin the term “Road Hog” with the release of the Roadmaster model? They were tanks and even if no bigger and heavier than others of the day they somehow looked bigger.

The Park Avenue is Buick’s flagship sedan that replaced the Electra, is slightly larger and on the same platform as the Riviera and Oldsmobile Aurora. The supercharged Ultra should appeal to young professionals with an eye to traditional American cars with great performance. The instant acceleration you get from a supercharger is awesome. And this flagship is heaped with features that are very expensive options with many competitors.

Good news: It’s American. The ride is smooth. Well appointed – you get more features than the competition for the money.

Bad news: Cars like Mercedes-Benz has great engineering too and I believe the stiffest competitor listed below. The Volvo would be my second choice in the competitive line-up.

The Competition:

BMW 5-Series $53,300, Infiniti I30 $31,500, Lexus ES 300 $30,790, Mazda Millenia $36,595, Mercedes-Benz C-Class $35,400, Mitsubishi Diamante $33,050, Volvo S70 $34,010.

Standard Equipment:

3.8-liter 205 horsepower V6 boosted to 240 with the supercharger, 4-speed auto trans, air conditioning, power steering, door locks, windows and mirrors, tilt steering wheel, cruise control, AM/FM stereo cassette and CD, moisture-sensing wipers, traction control, 6-way dual power heated front seats, leather, illuminated keyless entry, dual airbags, anti-lock brake system (ABS), child safety locks, computer information center, theft deterrent system, delayed lights and locking system and tinted glass.

Gas Stats:

EPA numbers are 18 City and 27 Highway MPG.

Pricing:

MSRP base retail price is $30,675 for the 4-door sedan and the Ultra base is $35,550. The model I drove added special wheels, trunk mounted CD changer and a few other goodies that brought the price to $38,410.

1998 Mercedes-Benz C-Class C280 (190)

Overview:

The C-Class is the entry-level Mercedes-Benz, but how can you not love ‘em all. Perhaps my most memorable Mercedes experience was on the autobahns of Europe. I got so used to driving fast with confidence I wondered why we don’t have \”no speed limit\” freeways in this country.

The confidence I felt came from driving a car built to handle the \”no speed limit\” autobahns, plus the universally \”good\” drivers of Europe. The requirements to get a license in Europe are much more stringent than here in the U.S. And another observation I made was that three cars dominate the fast lane in Germany. Mercedes-Benz, BMW and Audi. Porsche was hardly to be seen.

Not all European countries are as liberal with the speed laws as is Germany. I got nailed in Austria for speeding, and it wasn’t that I didn’t know there was a limit there, but rather because a Mercedes is so at home at high speeds you can easily forget how fast you’re going. And in the wide-open spaces Mercedes gives you that feeling of standing still at 70 mph. At 200 kilometers per hour or about 120 mph Mercedes-Benz really shines.

The C-Class was introduced in 1993 and it replaced the 190. It is available in two trims: C230 and C280 4-door sedans. The number simply indicates how big the engine is in liters, or in this case 2.8 liters. Mercedes have changed little in appearance over the years except for performance engineering. Perhaps that’s what I like about European cars. They avoid fashion changes and fads that might be ok in women’s fashions, but not as necessary to woo a man into buying or not buying a car. Apparently I’m not the only one who appreciates the same look from year-to-year that we get from cars like the Mercedes-Benz, because they sell tons of ‘em. Anyway one typical kind of change that Mercedes-Benz has made for 1998 is a sensor that de-activates the passenger airbag if the weight in the passenger seat is less than 26 pounds. That innovation will surely become a requirement on all cars to protect small children. SmartKey is another slick innovation in the new Mercedes that is perhaps the most unusual. It is an electronic space age device that looks a bit like the typical remote keyless entry controller without the notched metal key part. The plastic remote unit emits a radio frequency to lock and unlock doors, and a separate system to start the car. You insert the key fob into the slot on the dashboard and twist. An infrared beam electronically unlocks the steering column and starts the engine. Not all design innovations have been stellar from Stuttgart. I’ve owned two Mercedes and hated the airbag suspension design on the 300SEL but totally loved everything about the 450 SEL.

The Competition:

Acura TL $33,150, Audi A6 $33,750, Cadillac Catera $33,610, Infiniti I30 $31,500, Lexus ES 300 $30,790, Mazda Millenia $36,595, Mitsubishi Diamante $33,050, Volvo S70 $34,010.

I\’ve driven all and it would be a tough decision. Snob appeal would prompt buying the Mercedes. A sense of value would prompt buying the Volvo. My patriotic sense would prompt buying the Cadillac. My sense of risk would prompt buying the Audi, and my fondness for the Japanese people would prompt buying one of the others.

Good News:

Affordable (same pricing as 1997). First class engineering and solid construction. New V6 engine for American drivers. Back windows roll down all the way. Big trunk\’s low opening allows easy loading.

Bad News:

Not as roomy as much of the competition. Center rear seating is uncomfortable. Narrow rear doors make getting in and out difficult.

Standard Equipment:

2.8-liter V6 194 horsepower engine, 5-speed automatic trans, dual airbags, 4-wheel anti-lock brake system (ABS), climate control, anti theft and remote entry system, 15-inch aluminum alloy wheels, side-impact protection, power windows, central locking, cruise control, 8-speaker sound system with cassette, burlwood trim, traction control and passenger weight sensor.

Gas Stats:

EPA numbers are 21 City and 27 Highway MPG.

Pricing:

MSRP is $ 35,400

1998 Oldsmobile Intrigue (188)

Overview:

Intrigue. Among other definitions it means a clandestine love affair. Exactly what I had with this Oldsmobile Intrigue while testing it in the beautiful state of Colorado. Living in California we miss the spontaneous weather changes so common to Colorado so I thoroughly love my brief sojourns in Denver. The days can change from dry to fluffy

flakes of snow to create a veil of white. For testing cars, it gives a whole new meaning to the need for “Traction Control”. But I have to tell you; I love to drive under adverse conditions because it is just plain fun. I won’t soon forget the exhilarating feeling of spinning out in a BMW 318i on the snow-covered roads on the way to Winter Park, CO. To me that’s a natural high in addition to being at 8,000 feet on the edge. Crazy… perhaps.

I suspect I didn’t push the envelope as much with this Olds because it doesn’t have the mystique of BMW and the perception that they handle better. And the trouble with cars that are noted for having great handling characteristics is that you tend to push the limits to see if it’s true. Partner and friend Price Cobb is an international race driver. We often talk about the cars we drive and write about in our similar columns. Price admits that outside of racing he sees very little need for the suspension you pay for on more expensive cars like Mercedes and BMW. He says, “Sure, it is noticeable in racing where there is a need for the best that engineering can deliver. There is no speed limit other than what the car can handle, but for average highway driving conditions the tires are much more important”.

As for this Intrigue, it’s an Oldsmobile and I’m always impressed by the great value Olds has delivered over the years. Dad always owned an Olds and because he thought they were great cars, I thought they were great cars. Another affinity he had for Olds was they were born about the same time. Right at the turn of the century guys like Ransom Olds were having a somewhat clandestine love affair with the automotive revolution. Sounds a bit like Bill Gates, et al, and the computer revolution today. Anyway, while Henry Ford was perfecting his Model T, William C. Durant combined the Buick, Oldsmobile, and Oakland companies and, later, Cadillac, to form GM. The firm started by Louis Chevrolet was added ten years later in 1918. Olds is rooted in a rich history of racing, and they still are. Today, all cars on the IRL circuit (Indy racing) run either Nissan or Aurora (Olds) engines. Of course they aren’t quite the same as what you get in your production Oldsmobile. The racing version puts out roughly 700 horsepower.

Good News:

The Intrigue is priced very competitively. (Olds did the same thing when they introduced the Aurora and the price went up each model year after. I believe that will happen with this new Intrigue because it is a great deal right now).

Bad News:

Like the Aurora, if you don’t buy now you can count on price increases the next time you look at it.

The Competition:

I believe the Intrigue is at the top of the competitive heap which includes Buick Regal $21 – $23K, Chevrolet Lumina $17- 20K, Dodge Intrepid $20- 22 K, Ford Taurus $18 – 29 K, Nissan Maxima $21 – $27 K, Pontiac Grand Prix $19- 21K, Toyota Camry $17 – $25K and Volkswagen Passat $21 – 26K.

Standard Equipment:

3.8 liter V6 engine, 4 speed automatic trans, dual air bags, 4-wheel anti-lock disc brakes, traction control, rear window defogger, cornering lamps, power windows and door locks, anti theft system, child security, reclining buckets with driver 6-way power settings, AM/FM stereo with Cassette, climate control, cruise control, power outside mirrors and Leather wrapped tilt steering wheel.

Gas Stats:

EPA numbers are 19 City and 30 Highway MPG.

Pricing:

MSRP is $ 22,100 and with leather, (Autobahn Package) including H rated tires and heavy duty brakes, upgraded stereo with CD etc., steering wheel touch controls for radio and cruise control the total is an unbelievable $24,200.

1998 Honda Passport 4 Door 4WD EXL (187)

Overview: 
This week I used my Passport to truck about between Old Pasadena and the high desert where this 4-wheel drive RV is as much at home as it is going to the theatre in Beverly Hills. No bull, and that’s the nice thing about the most well rounded automobile on the road today. Lexus puts out the LX450 luxury RV and I found myself comparing this new, longer and wider Passport with the LX450. It has simulated wood grain trim that adds further to give it a plush car-like interior. The popularity of RV’s is testimony to the fact that practicality still occupies the foremost spot in consumer’s minds.

Recently I commented that the Honda Prelude was losing market share big time, and what picked up the slack in sales for Honda was its Passport and CR-V models. We vote with our dollars and with the long lasting recession for us in California it is clear that people have opted to spend their money wisely. Is it possible family values are returning and we look to a car that provides for everyone’s needs? Well, if RV sales figures are a good indicator, the answer is yes.

This is one of my favorites in the line-up of RV’s that we have to chose from, because it’s a Honda. As you may know I tend to favor American cars because they are a great value right now. But I also appreciate the quality edge you get from products from Honda. There is a definite crossover from other products from Honda. I was thoroughly enchanted with the Acura NSX but also marveled at the great engineering this Honda division car displayed. Paul Durant, one of the hottest race car drivers today shared my enthusiasm in a conversation we had this past week about the NSX.

Good news: 

Ease of use button operated, shift on the fly, 4-wheel drive. Assembled in US with 55% of parts from the US and Canada. RV’s set high for great road visibility.

Bad news: 

If there is any, it has to be the sway you feel on cornering, which is typical of most RV’s because they set high off the ground.

The competition: 

Chevrolet Blazer $21,663 – $25,176, Chevrolet Tahoe $23,585 – $31,985, Ford Expedition $28,225 – $34,690, GMC Jimmy $21,786 – $25,855, Isuzu Trooper $26,550, Jeep Grand Cherokee $25,945 – $38,275, Land Rover Discovery $35,000 – $38,000 Mercedes-Benz M-Class $33,950, Toyota 4Runner $20,558 – $34,618.

Standard Equipment:

3.2 liter 6-cylinder 205 horsepower engine, 4-speed automatic trans, 4-wheel drive, power steering, 4-wheel anti-lock power disc brakes, child proof door locks, dual airbags, remote keyless entry, air, leather trim and wheel cover, stereo with cassette and CD, cruise control power door locks and windows, adjustable steering, power moonroof, roof rack, power mirrors, fog lights and more.

Gas Stats:

EPA numbers are 16 City and 20 Highway MPG.

Pricing: 

1998 Honda Prelude SH (186)

Overview:

Let’s take a look at the Honda Prelude this week. It comes in a base and SH models. I can’t say I didn’t enjoy the ride, but it just isn’t my cup of tea. I think they are great for young singles or newly married couples who want to combine the sports car feel with space for little passengers. Honda cars have always had a good reputation in the construction and reliable categories. So you may want to hold on to it for the kids, which is what my wife and I did, and it worked out great. It gave us an excuse to go out and buy a new car. By the time you give it to your 16 year old you’ll need a car that’s easier to get in and out of and you may need some added space to put your walker anyway.

I was amazed at how many Honda’s are on the road, but then you tend to notice every car on the road like the one you’re driving. Everywhere I looked there was another Honda. And Honda owners are like a cult. They are staunchly loyal and continue to grow in number. The Prelude was introduced in 1979 and contributed to overall company sales with nearly 80,000 units in 1986. Ten years later they dropped to less than one sixth, or about 12,000 units. Buyers have simply gravitated to sedans and sport-utility vehicles as indicated by the growth in sales of the Passport Sport Utility, Odyssey (van) and the Accord which was the number one choice of American consumers, with impressive sales of over 382,000 unit in ’96. Honda experienced record U.S. sales of 803,707 units in 1997 in spite of the decline in Prelude sales. Wow, that’s very impressive, and it represents an all-time record for the company.

Don’t you think the government should set an immigration quota on Honda cars? No, I don’t either, especially since about 90% are produced in North America. Ain’t the free enterprise system great? People vote for things with their dollars and thus provide the best testimony for any product we buy. That doesn’t apply to everything, of course, and just because everybody’s rug rat had to have a Cabbage Patch doll didn’t mean you should have run right out to buy one. Fad’s come and go, but making an investment as large as a car shows that people tend to get smarter in direct proportion to the cost. And it makes good sense to follow the sales volume of cars. You expect the doll to find its way to the bottom of the pile in a short time, but you’ll want your car to stand the test of time. Personally I like to have a lot of company when it comes to buying car number one because then I can justify buying a Ferrari or Poor-sha as car number two.

My father-in-law was pretty conservative and bought a little Honda Civic years ago. It was cute, got great gas mileage and reminded me of the bumper cars at the old Long Beach Pike. My VW at the time wasn’t much bigger. When in Poland recently I was reminded of that old Civic Pop had, because the Fiat 650 looks a lot like the Civic and every other car on their roads is a Fiat.

Good news: 

Honda has a good reputation. There are a lot of them on the road. Front seating is roomy and comfortable. 195 horsepower – powerful. A bunch of standard stuff and a kick to drive.

Bad news: 

Small back seat. Diminishing sales so I predict they will be discontinued soon.

The competition:

Acura Integra $21,600, Chevrolet Camaro $27,450, Dodge Avenger $17,460, Eagle Talon $20,715, Ford Mustang $28,430, Mitsubishi Eclipse $26,660, Nissan 240SX $24,449, Toyota Celica $26,058

Standard Equipment:

2.2 liter 195 horsepower inline 4-cylinder VTEC engine, 5-speed manual transmission, power rack & pinion steering, dual air bags, power windows, mirrors and door locks, cruise control, air conditioning, power moonroof with tilt feature, adjustable steering column, 6-speaker stereo system with CD player, rear spoiler, traction control and alloy wheels.

Gas Stats:

EPA numbers are 23 City and 27 Highway MPG.

Pricing: 

MSRP is $25,800.

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