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 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.

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.

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