Koblenz, Jay, Black Enterprise
The big buzz on the automotive front lately has been about business, overshadowing even the products themselves. Some of this news will have a direct impact on the products you buy and the prices you pay, while other effects won't show up for months.
Some of the most immediate effects stem from last summer's General Motors' strike. Although settled for now, differences still remain. Meanwhile. the company's most popular vehicles are in short Supply without discounts for consumers. To regain company loyalty, there will be fire-sale pricing on slower-selling products.
In other news, there's a new entrant into the U.S. auto market. Daewoo, the newest South Korean car company, offers three models, including a subcompact (Lanos), a midsize sedan (Leganza) and a compact (Nubira). At first glance, these cars look to be of higher quality than other Korean models.
When it comes down to products, SUVs are still where the action is. Because they've hit such a hot fashion button with the auto-buying public, people are willing to pay thousands more for them than for equally equipped, more comfortable and safer passenger cars. This is the price of fashion. Those who prefer cars (and minivans) are, by far, getting the better deals.
The best overall deals are in minivans and midsize and compact sedans. Manufacturers still have an overabundance and must move these vehicles out, even if it means taking lower profits,
The last and perhaps most important news item of 1998 was the purchase of Chrysler Corp. by Daimler-Benz to form the mega company, Daimler-Chrysler. It'll be years before we know how well this combination works. but beware of the clash of two very different and powerful corporate cultures.
Conceived as a modern rendition of the luxury performance car, the Arnage and a new addition, the Rolls Royce Silver Seraph, have instead become victims of corporate ego. Just as this refined motorcar is going on sale, the parent company is being bought, sliced and diced. The Bentley name will soon become part of Volkswagen, while BMW gets the Rolls Royce moniker.
For now, the Arnage goes on sale as part of Rolls Royce Motor Cars Ltd. While shape and style remain firmly in the Old World tradition of elegance, there is more modern thought beneath this $204,000 sedan. This is the first Bentley to be built with a monocoque body design, which allows for better handling, maneuverability and ride. Under the bonnet is a 4.5-liter V-8 engine, sourced from and turbocharged by BMW. This power plant sends 350 horsepower to the rear wheels via a five-speed automatic transmission.
For the next few years, Volkswagen will continue building the cars in England. BMW will supply much of the underpinnings, including the engines. But according to the latest agreement, after five years Volkswagen keeps the factories and Bentley name while BMW gets the Rolls Royce name. The future beyond that is unknown. But we have likely seen the last new Bentley designed in conjunction with a Rolls Royce.
Cadillac's most popular car maintains the corporate image as a large, comfortable way to retire. For 1999, the update is a new seat option that has a massage feature. It may feel to some like an unruly youngster kicking you from behind, but others may find it a simpler way to remain awake and alert on longer journeys.
Meanwhile, the rest of the car remains the same. You have a choice of the standard model with 275 horsepower or the sportier Concourse with another 25 horsepower, although some low-rpm torque is sacrificed in the process. All this power sent through the front wheels means torque steer is ever present. Unfortunately, a heavy throttle will cause the steering wheel to be pulled strongly to one side. Traction control tames things a bit, but V-8-powered Cadillacs can be somewhat disconcerting to drive. (This is one reason why all V-8-powered imports remain rear-wheel drive.)
Inside, the Deville is the most roomy of Cadillacs with ample space for people and cargo. This $38,000 to $45,000 sedan can be equipped to the hilt with luxury features. Its size prevents nimbleness, but this retro-styled box of a car is the epitome of grand old style.
Despite Ford's ownership of the company, Jaguar's sedan remains the quintessential British motor car. Long and low slung, the shape is unmistakable. Inside, there is authentic wood, plush leather and rich chrome that seems barely changed since the 1930s. The style and demeanor bespeaks elegance with a bit of lavishness.
Yet despite the Old World charm, the XJ8 also manages to keep up with modern themes. The 4.0-liter V-8 sends 290 horsepower to the rear wheels via a five-speed automatic transmission, enough to propel the XJ8 along with the most hasty of luxury sedans. And there's more: the XJR gains another 80 horsepower via supercharging.
The XJ series is comprised of four models. Heading up the fine is the XJ8 at just over $55,000, and its stretched counterpart, the XJ8L. The more lavish Vanden Plas name adds more luxury while the high performance model, the XJR, tops the line at around $68,000.
Although the XJ8 may lack the ultimate build quality of a Lexus LS400 or the solidity of a Mercedes-Benz S-Class, the Jaguar retains its unique charisma that is all too often lacking in modern automobiles.
Of the two newest Chrysler cars, the LHS is aimed at the more traditional American buyer. It is longer than its sibling 300M, with greater interior room and a more plush ride. The result is a Chrysler that harkens back to an age when this company's cars held a dramatic presence on the road. A huge, chromed grille leads the way, mimicking a Ferrari. The windshield is swept back sharply to make the car appear more like a coupe than a sedan.
The interior design creates more drama with chrome-surrounded instruments styled like the face of an expensive watch. There's ample room for five adults, although the sweep of the roof line does make entry and exit somewhat of a challenge.
While there are many cues to remind the viewer of great cars of the past, the one unfortunate reminder is Chrysler's still-below-par build quality. Gaps between metal panels leave one wondering if this can really compete with other cars in the $29,000 to $31,000 range. Certainly, the LHS has the room, style and features. The 253-horsepower V-6 provides ample thrust and the luxury level is acceptable. All this makes one wish that the company could build its cars with the same level of quality seen at Toyota or Honda, or even rival domestic brands.
MERCEDES BENZ CLK CABRIOLET
With the CLK320, Marcedes-Benz already had quite a winning entry in the luxury coupe field. But to make sure potential customers don't lose interest, after just one year on the market, the company is adding an important new option: a folding top. The CLK Cabriolet will retract its soft top neatly beneath a hard boot, all with the push of a button. When raised, the top is lined and insulated. If you're concerned about safety, pop-up roll bars snap into place instantly in the event the worst happens.
By getting the Cabriolet, the price of the CLK rises from around $41,000 to $41,200 plus destination and options. The rest of the CLK320's goodness remains unchanged, including the potent V-6 engine, slick five-speed automatic transmission, sophisticated suspension and meaty 16-in. tires. To help keep things in control, you can add optional ESP (Electronic Stability Program), a feature that puts automotive meaning to the words "spin control."
If opening up your luxury coupe to the wind isn't enough of a thrill, you can get even more power. For $700 more than the Cabriolet. the CLK430 aims 275 V-8 horsepower at monster 17-in. tires. You can't fold the top on this one, but you can shake a leg.
BUICK PARK AVENUE
As one of the last purveyors of time-honored American cars, Buick brings full-size luxury to the forefront. There are no claims of "European sportiness" here. Instead, you get room for six adults. The ride is aimed more at comfort than wringing another mile per hour around the skid pad. Under the hood is a large and well-proven V-6. If 205 horsepower isn't enough, the blower gives you another 35.
Despite traditional ideas, the application is purely modern. The power under the hood flows evenly through a smooth-shifting automatic transmission. Should the road surface become slippery, traction control is available to tame the driving experience. That supple ride provides just enough feedback to the driver to allow sporty driving when desired.
Within the passenger …
Questia, a part of Gale, Cengage Learning. www.questia.com
Publication information: Article title: BlackEnterprise AutoGuide. Contributors: Koblenz, Jay - Author. Magazine title: Black Enterprise. Volume: 29. Issue: 4 Publication date: November 1998. Page number: 153+. © 2007 Earl G. Graves Publishing Co., Inc. COPYRIGHT 1998 Gale Group.
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