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 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.

1998 Honda CR-V

Overview: 
If reaction to the CR-V in America is as good as its introduction in Japan it will do great. It Honda’s newest sport utility they say is virtually the same size as a Honda Passport and is14 inches longer than a Toyota RAV4. It is all-wheel-drive with 4-wheel double wishbone independent suspension. It’s not intended for rugged off-roading but a picnic it can handle and even has a table that folds out of the cargo area! It is definitely a young peoples vehicle and is priced pretty well.

The CR-V comes in three trims: LX 2WD, LX 4WD and EX 4WD. I’ve driven most of the competition listed below, and the CR-V stands up very well in comparison to all of them. It would appear the Toyota RAV-4 is the closest, but even it doesn’t offer as much standard features as the CR-V. At first blush I didn’t agree that the Montero and Jeep are in the same class, because the CR-V has more of the look and feel of a wanna-be SUV and the stature of the other two fit the full size SUV profile. The CR-V seems to fit somewhere between the Tracker and a Blazer, for example.

Good news:

Good price for a lot of features, Honda reliability, and good mileage for a UV.

Bad news: 

It’s not really an off-road vehicle. It will be a SUV when it grows up.

The competition: 

Chevrolet Tracker $13,655 – $15,605, Jeep Cherokee $15,540 – $24,480, Kia Sportage $14,895 – $18,495, Mitsubishi Montero Sport $18,030 – $32,250, Subaru Forester $18,695 – $22,195, Suzuki Sidekick $13,099 – $19,399, Toyota RAV4 $15,388 – $17,658.

Standard Equipment:

2.0-liter DOHC in-line 4-cylinder engine that produces 126 horsepower, 4-speed automatic trans, dual airbags, full-time 4WD, child safety locks (anti-lock brake system – ABS on the EX). Standard features on the LX include air conditioning, power door locks and windows, cruise control, AM/FM stereo, and the removable cargo floor that becomes a picnic table. The EX adds remote keyless entry, a CD player, alloy wheels and body-color door handles and mirrors.

Gas Stats:

22 City and 25 Highway MPG.

Pricing: 

MSRP is $20,400

1998 Mazda Millenia S (184)

Overview:

This week I got practical in the Mazda Millenia S, 4-door sedan. After a series of racy sports cars like the BMW Z3 and the Porsche Boxster, it’s important to get my feet back on the ground and then into a car for more than two people. Too much excitement is not healthy. In any case, you really have to buy the car that fits your present need and mother would approve of this 5 passenger car.

In the sports cars it was, \”Sorry mom, I have this real little car and can’t take you with us to Tahoe. Maybe next time\”. If you have a family and the kids have to bring a friend, there are some tradeoffs you have to adjust to. Trade in the Boxster and get real. Then you can tell your mother-in-law the car is big enough but there are too many people going. Maybe next time.

Last year I tested the 5 passenger, 4-door Mazda Protégé and was impressed with it especially for a car that only costs fifteen grand. Sure it was basic, but for a young family with the need for reliable day to day transportation and with a limited budget, it was great. Ilona thought it was noisy but you can buy ear plugs, or for another $20K you can upgrade to the Millenia.

Good news: I

t’s practical, reliable, smooth ride, quiet and I couldn’t find anything to bitch about.

Bad News:

Plain, unexciting.

Some of the competition

Acura TL ($33K), Audi A4 ($30K), Buick Park Avenue ($35K), Cadillac Catera ($30K), Infiniti I30 ($31K), Lexus ES 300 ($30K), Mercedes-Benz C-Class ($35K), Saab 900 ($42K), Toyota Avalon ($28K), Mitsubishi Diamante ($32K), and the Volvo S70 ($34K).

Standard Equipment:

2.3 liter 210 horsepower V6 engine, 4-speed automatic transmission, power rack & pinion steering, power 4-wheel anti-lock disc brakes, cruise control, dual airbags, keyless entry with anti-theft system, traction control, leather, power front seats, climate control, stereo with CD player, tilt steering column, power windows and door locks, power moonroof and power side mirrors.

Gas Stats:

EPA numbers are 20 City and 28 Highway MPG.

Pricing:

MSRP is $36,595.

1998 Porsche Boxster (183)

Overview:

Automobile is from the Greek autos, “self” and Latin mobilis, “movable”. But this weeks Porsche Boxster (from the “boxer” engine design and “roadster” from the open, two-seat design) comes to us from Stuttgart, in the south of Germany. Just a hop-skip-and-jump over the Alps into Italy. Kind of like driving to Vegas for the weekend. Unfortunately I didn’t have the good fortune to test it there. But I did give it the Crest Test. Wow. It’s better than sky diving guys, so leave your honey at home and live on the edge. Slide your tush into this, made for the rebel in you, Por-sha for a natural high. If you want elegant speed go for the Lexus SC 400, but if you want to get real loose, $40 grand will put you in a great ride with this Boxster. The ’98 model is the same as ’97 with the exception of the inclusion of standard front and side air bags for ’98.

Friend Merkel didn’t like the front and back MacPherson-type strut suspension that is old technology, dating all the way back to the ‘70’s. Oh well. Even so, Merkel I have to tell you, I didn’t sense any real loss of handling. I did agree with his praise of the Acura NSX’s unique double wishbone suspension and did notice the fantastic handling over the Crest. But at $90 grand the NSX should have some trick stuff, right?

For those who were disappointed with the BMW Z3 with an underpowered Miata style 4-banger, you’ll be pleased with the performance from this 2.5-liter horizontally opposed 6-cylinder engine. It puts out 201 horsepower and does 0-60 in just 6.9 seconds. They indicate a top speed of 149, but I didn’t feel close to lift off at 130.

Cool: It’s new. Everyone just has to look because it’s definitely different. It’s a Porsche that’s not a 914 attempt at affordable. Great mid-engine performance. Snuggles up with you for a comfortable mix of man and machine. Convertible top tucks away neatly, automatically, effortlessly. His and her trunks for longer distance travel storage space, even with the top down. Flat out fun to drive.

Un-cool: Poor visibility to the side and rear mostly due to roll bars and nature of convertibles in general. Loosy-goosy. That is, it’s not as solid and smooth as it could be. The clear plastic rear wind deflector rattles if you leave it in and the purpose is to cut air buffeting and quieter operation with the top down. Left side ignition key switch. Yes, I know it’s a tradition, but it’s also annoying unless you’re a southpaw. Parking brake must be set to put the top down.

Standard Equipment:

2.5 liter 201 horsepower six cylinder (water cooled) mid-engine, 5-speed manual transmission, power steering, 4-wheel anti-lock 4-piston disc brakes, power top and windows, front and side air bags, anti-theft remote locking system, fog lights, climate control, heated power side mirrors and cassette stereo.

Gas Stats:

19 city and 27 highway mpg.

Pricing:

MSRP for is $39,980. The sport package adds $3,235.

1998 BMW Z3 Roadster (Convertible) (181)

Overview:

This week I had the opportunity to revisit a man’s Miata, the BMW Z3. I drove the first year (1996) model and it looks pretty much the same. Not so surprising for cars that come to us from Europe. I’ve driven most of what BMW (Bavarian Motor Works) has to offer and I suspect I love BMW partly because they retain the same look and feel from year to year plus they are different from other cars on the road. Jag has that same quality. Cars like this stand out in our memories because they are faithfully recognizable. Like an old friend or your favorite slippers, sweats or dog spot sitting next to that couch potato you call your spouse. They are tried and true.

The changes since ’96 have been refinements mostly except the 2.8-liter 6-cylinder engine that was sorely needed. The larger engine is accompanied by a 2.5-inch wider rear track and 3.4 inch wider body stance. The 1.9-liter engine just didn’t put it in the performance class it needed to be in, and thus the comparison with the Miata. Some of the other refinements for ’98 include roll bars, power soft top or removable hard top options and improved seats.

You know, life can be boring enough without settling for “cookie cutter cars” that all blend together and are all too abundant on America’s roads. Think about it. You simply can’t miss a Mercedes Benz, BMW or a Jag coming down the road. Unique and exciting cars like Acura’s NSX and the new Porsche Boxster renew my hope for sports car enthusiasts. I have to say I’ve warmed up to this Z3 since I contrasted the ’96 model to the Mazda Miata. American consumers obviously did too as they bought a whopping 29,000 of them, since 1996. They were manufactured in Spartanburg, South Carolina…say what? Yep, right here in America, and 70% of that facilities production was exported in the same period. Hold on here – does that mean wages are less here than in Europe. Moving right along, this time I found myself comparing the Z3 to the NSX and Boxster. This maturing Z3 is more than an upscale Miata. Handling characteristics of these three emerging competitors is unmistakably similar and I expect BMW will push even harder to be a player in this portion of their market. My opinion changed mostly because of the Boxster where the comparison was especially apparent on the demanding conditions of Angeles Crest Highway and Willow Springs racetrack. The Z3 stood proud at the end of the road.

Ilona wonders why I drive the way I do. I don’t know Ilona. Perhaps it’s because guys have different genes than women. They have that age-old need to perform. They have deeper voices, grow hair where they shouldn’t, grunt, spit and scratch in places gals only do in private. Perhaps I just love driving and I especially love driving BMW’s because they are great performers. They love to handle the curves as much as I do.

Cool:

Distinctive styling, recognizable badge, classy, great performance, comfortable, lots of features and fun to drive.

Un-cool:

Past history of high frequency of needed repairs and higher cost of parts than logic would dictate, high price tag for that badge and I just can’t warm up to the red instrumentation.

Standard Equipment

Most everything is standard and the same on both the 1.9-liter 4-cylinder and 2.8-liter 6-cylinder engine. 5-speed manual trans, anti-lock braking system, dual airbags, 4-wheel power disc brakes, theft protection, central locking system, engine speed sensitive variable assist rack and pinion power steering, cruise control, foglights, air conditioning, anti-theft AM/FM stereo cassette radio, 4-way driver and 2-way passenger power seats, power windows and outside mirrors.

Gas Stats:

23/19 city and 32/26 highway mpg on the 1.9 and 2.8 liter engines, respectively.

Pricing

MSRP for is $29,425 for the 1.9 and $35,900 for the 2.8 liter. What do you get for the extra six grand? 6-cylinder engine, 3.4 inch wider rear body, 4-way power passenger seat, leather, upgraded radio, ventilated front discs, limited slip differential and front spoiler with grid air intake. Let’s see, $6 K over 36 months…..

 

Your comments are welcomed. My e-mail is joe@atthewheel.com

Copyright © 2006 – An Automotive Love Affair

1998 Toyota Supra (178)

This week’s Toyota Supra was a quick trip back to the Mitsubishi 3000 GT we did a few weeks ago. These two cars are very similar, not only in looks, but in features and performance. Both are exciting cars to drive which reminds me that life is too short for boring. Cars like this will put starch in your shorts. Know what I mean. I do have one bitch even though I liked this Supra. First impressions are very important and I think Supra goofed by not improving the sound quality when you close the doors. A little thing like that can cause you to get turned off and fall out of love. Simply put, the doors sounded tinny and hollow, and that quality is probably the second thing you notice right after eye appeal. The designer’s must have been twins because both cars look great, like two blondes in the same jumpsuit from Frederick’s of Hollywood. You can picture “Slick Willie” in either. Wait, I didn’t mean it that way. On the other hand, if the shoe fits….!

Price wise the two cars are pretty close too. Base models are $31K for Supra and $28K for the GT. The turbo models are $40K and $46K respectively. You may recall the GT has a unique 4-wheel steering design for (some say) better handling. That could explain some of the cost difference.

Even though the Supra and Mitsubishi 3000GT are very close matches, three American cars need to be included in your comparison. The Chevrolet Camaro $16-27 K, Ford Mustang $15-28 K and Pontiac Firebird $18-29 K are very worthy competitors. For the price differences you have to admit these American challengers get real attractive. And don’t be mesmerized by the foreign car mystique. American cars are perhaps the best buys pound for pound and dollar for dollar, in today’s market. American car manufacturers were beat up pretty bad in the ‘60’s and ‘70’s, but the humbling experience made them better companies and thus they now put out better products.

Aunt Pate swore by the Supra she owned about 10 years ago but now she drives a Mercedes Benz. I think she’s long forgotten the days of her sports car Supra and also how often our men in blue stopped her. Do you think cops pick on racy looking cars or do drivers of racy looking cars draw more attention to themselves?

Anyway, once I got settled and forgot the tinny doors, I enjoyed Supra’s performance and probably drove faster than I should have. Just ask Ilona about my heavy foot. She keeps reminding me to slow down, and when I have a turbo model I really get carried away. I think I love the feeling of acceleration as much as sex. However this Supra is powered by a normally aspirated in-line 6-cylinder 225 horsepower engine, so acceleration was a little disappointing. I tested the turbo model on the racetrack and wet my pants. It puts out nearly 100 horsepower more, at 320 and although you can live without it, I recommend you consider the turbo strongly. I found the extra boost (arguably) a necessity for freeway driving and in passing situations.

On the 3000 GT review, I nit-picked the fact that the rear spoiler obstructed rear view visibility since it falls “smack dab” in the middle of the rear window. That is not the case with the Supra. The arch of the spoiler on the Supra outlines the contour of the rear window and thus it is barely noticeable. There is good news and bad news regarding seating, which is rated a 4-seater on both. The bad news is the rear seats are too small for adults. The good news is you don’t have to worry about back seat drivers. Oh no, I’ll probably hear about that comment from Ilona.

The cockpit is ‘driver friendly’ in that everything cants toward you. It seems to make a definite statement that the driver should be separated from the passenger. When you think about it, most cars today either have center consoles or split seats that separate folks in the front seat. Some cars have fold down armrests to do the same thing in the rear seat. Do you ever wonder why this separation has become so popular over the years? Remember when cars had bench seats and seat belts weren’t yet the law, and when you went around a corner the passenger would slide over right next to the driver. Pretty romantic, eh… in an automotive sort of way. If you’re not old enough, can you imagine life before seat belts on cars or helmets for motorcycles, bicycles and roller skates? I suspect it won’t be long before you won’t dare strap on your skis or snowboard without a helmet. Perhaps one day the law will require that you don’t leave the house without a full body suit of armor. That would cover it all. No more danger from drive-by shootings, slip and fall lawsuits, etc. ad nauseum.

Hell, I think I’ll buy a Ford Model T, another Harley and move to Colorado and go skiing through the trees. Oh for the simple life. I wish Jim Laris would do a Cigar Smoke column on protecting us from ourselves. He’s old enough to appreciate the good old days, if he can still remember them. Just kidding Jim.

Standard Equipment: 
3.0 liter in-line 6-cylinder engine, 5-speed manual trans, speed sensing power rack and pinion steering, 4-wheel anti-lock disc brakes, dual air bags, aluminum alloy wheels, fog lights, power mirrors, tinted glass, power windows and door locks, tilt wheel, cruise control, climate control, stereo with cassette player, theft deterrent system, leather wrapped steering wheel and carpeted floor mats.

Gas Stats:
18 City / 23 Highway MPG.

Pricing: 
Manufacturers Suggested Retail Price is $29,500.

For the dealer nearest you call 1 800 331 4331.

1998 Audi A-6 (176)

Overview:

This week’s Audi A-6 is a triumph over much of the past product put out by the company. Like the BMW, Audi’s were just too expensive to maintain. Brother John’s experience from running a foreign car repair service business for many years was my barometer for the cars to stay away from. Right there with BMW and Jaguar was the Audi. High maintenance cars were good for John albeit not so good for the owners. John was honest, to a fault, and I’m sure his long time customers miss him, even though they probably have dumped their old Audi’s by now. John used to remind me that he didn’t build ‘em, but only fixed ‘em. It’s a tough job, but someone has to do it. Funny though how the mechanic often times takes the heat for poorly designed and manufactured cars.

Audi also got some bad press along the way. Many think they were unfairly maligned in the media for braking problems some years ago. I don’t know how true those reports were, but my race-driving partner, Price Cobb, did some personal testing back then and here’s what he has to say. “60 Minutes did an expose on the Audi saying that these cars had a run-away problem and that somehow the car went berserk and gave itself tons of power and made the brakes inoperative at the same time. So I took a new car off the showroom floor onto the highway and accelerated up to the speed limit, THEN I floored the gas pedal AND applied the brake and still brought the car to a halt! In all the hoopla, the saddest of all was that ‘60 Minutes’ almost cost the Audi Company their business with no apologies to AUDI for what were considered botched tests.”

Few companies can come back from that kind of bad press. And right or wrong, if folks don’t vote for a product with their dollars, it will surely die. Somehow Audi got its act together and survived an almost sure death. This new generation of their car is a whole ‘nuther story and a very impressive car that appears to have overcome its poor image. My brother-in-law, who used to own Porsche and Audi dealerships said, “when I was in that business you couldn’t give either of them away”. Today, Mark drives a Porsche and after driving this A-6 he told me how impressed he was. Ok Mark; see we do agree on more than one thing.

Business, of course, is a numbers game and one need only look at Audi sales figures to get a picture of how people changed their minds about Audi over the years. Audi began selling cars in America in 1969 with unit sales of 7,691 and they grew steadily peaking out at annual sales of 74,061 units in 1985. From there sales plummeted to a low of 12,528 units in 1993. Sales are back up with annual unit sales of 27,379 in 1996.

My first impression of the A-6 muffled my initial bias that it would be a dog even though friends in the industry had been telling me what a great car it was. I was determined to keep an open mind, so I suppressed the vision of shit falling off as I drove. But I also had flashbacks to my experience on the autobahns of Germany. The fast lane was almost exclusively populated by Mercedes, BMW and Audi, in that order. Obviously the Germans think highly of this new generation Audi automobile.

Competition for the Audi A-6 includes the Acura TL, BMW 5-Series, Cadillac Catera, Infiniti I30, Lexus GS 300/400, Mazda Millenia, Mercedes-Benz C-Class, Saab 9000, Volvo S70.

Personally I don’t like the red instrumentation, and prefer the softer colors like white or green that are easier on the eyes, but overall I have to give this A-6 a high recommendation for your test drive line-up.

Standard Equipment:

2.8 liter 200 horsepower V6 engine, 5-speed automatic transmission with Tiptronic, 4-wheel anti-lock disc brakes that are vented in the front and solid in the rear, alloy wheels, speed sensitive power steering, front and side air bags in front seat, anti-theft alarm with remote keyless entry, fog lights, dual power mirrors, climate control, power widows, tilt and telescopic steering column, wood trim and AM/FM stereo with cassette.

Gas Stats:
17 City / 28 Highway MPG.

Pricing:

Manufacturers Suggested Retail Price is $33,750 and the model I tested included a 6-disc CD changer upgraded audio package for $1,300, Cold weather package for $750, glass power / tilt and slide sunroof, memory outside mirrors and driver seat and auto dimming inside rearview mirror for $1,500 and leather upholstery for $1,550. After destination charges of $500 the total came to $39,350.

For the dealer nearest you call 1 800 822-2834.

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