February 14, 1997

And, Here Are The Stars Of The 1997 Auto Show!

 

ACURA

3.5RL

$41,000-44,000

This model replaced the Legend in 1995 and enters the New Year unchanged. Leather is standard and so is taste. Get the uplevel Premium package and traction control helps contain the 210-hp 3.5-liter V-6. The 3.5RL is elegant, silent and competent on the road. Typical of Acura, all the details are in order.

CL-Series

$22,000-27,000

You’ll find an unexpected level of luxury inside both CL coupes. Two engines are available - a 2.2-liter, 145-hp four and an all-new 3-liter VTEC V-6 that makes 200 hp. But what most folks will find most attractive about the CL is an interior that will convince you you’ve entered a $35,000 luxury-mobile. Excellent execution.

Integra

$16,500-22,000

Unchanged for ‘97, the Integra still comes in coupe and sedan body styles and in a range of peformance options. Base is the affordable RS, a new GS model adds a level of luxury and the GS-R gets Acura’s brilliant 170-hp VTEC inline four.

NSX

$81,000-85,000

The NSX has never earned the respect it deserves from the auto-buying public but it’s a beauty: Some call it the world’s best allaround sports car, and a sweet-singing, 270-hp 3-liter DOHC V-6, mounted midships, adds its piece. The NSX failed Teresa’s Grocery Sack Test, but this aluminum hotrod is stunningly easy to drive fast and pleases all the senses with old-world style and grace.

Acura TL-Series

$28,500-33,500

Like their siblings, the TL sedans go long on quiet quality and understated luxury. Powerplants are two - a 2.5-liter inline five (176 hp) and a 3.2 liter SOHC V-6 that makes 200 hp. Outstanding ride and handling characteristics, sophisticated powertrains and comfortable interiors make the TL cars strong competitors in the entry-level luxury market.

SLX

$34,500-39,000

This is Acura’s way of doing a sport-ute: turn one of the best on the market into a better one. In this case, it’s Isuzu’s excellent Trooper that gets the once-over. It’s one of the roomiest SUVs on the market, one of the best-built and one of the most pleasing to drive. In Audi’s hands it takes on a definitively uplevel persona, without breaking the bank. A 3.2-liter, 190-hp V-6 is the only engine offering.

AUDI

A4

$22,500-27,000

An aggressive new pricing policy slashes the cost of an A4 by thousands. For ‘97, there’s a new, turbocharged, 150-hp inline four along with the 2.8-liter SOHC V-6 that makes 172 hp. Both borrow Ferrari’s five-valve per-cylinder configuration. A new multilink front suspension eliminates torque steer, the excellent Quattro all-wheel-drive system is now a $1,600 stand-alone option and the 5-speed automatic is programmed with 200 discrete shifting strategies.

A6

$33,000-34,500

The A6 gets improvements to central locking, remote locking and alarm systems. There’s a new value packages that gives you 16-inch wheels, glass sunroof and Quattroall-wheel drive. Power is by a 172-hp, 2.8-liter V-6 and ABS, automatic transmission and 8-way power seats are standard. Front and AWD configurations are available and sedan and wagon iterations.

A8

$33,000-62,000

Audi’s new U.S. flagship uses an aluminum-alloy space frame to cut weight, gets its power from a 3.7-liter, 230-hp V-8 or a 4.2-liter V-8 that makes 300. It is said to be supremely quiet, extremely competent on the road and a marvel of engineering. And just in case you should get into trouble, four side airbags will help bail you out. The Quattro AWD system is a stand-alone option.

Cabriolet

$37,500-43,000

For ‘97, Audi’s top-downer gets new headrests, optional 16-inch wheels and enhanced standard speakers. Power comes from a 172-hp V-6 and comes in FWD configuration only. Among sporty convertibles, it’s one of the best.

BUICK

Century

$17,000-21,000

The all-new Century is a looker. And it gets a stiffer unibody, fully independent suspension, a wheelbase that’s 4.1 inches longer, wider track and bigger tires. There’s just one engine, the 3.1-liter, 160-hp V-6 that was optional last year. The 6-passenger Century gets more room front and back and a much tastier interior. Buy the Century Custom or Century Limited sedan and you also get dual-zone automatic climate control.

LeSabre

$22,000-25,500

Changes for LeSabre include a new front end with a distinctive chrome grille. There are new front and rear lights with new fascias, better seats and new walnut applique to warm the interior. There’s just one engine, but it’s a good one, GM’s venerable 3.8-liter, 205-hp V-6.

Park Avenue/Park Avenue Ultra

$30,000-35,000

This one’s all-new, too. Built on the Riviera platform, it gets more room, a quieter ride, improved ride quality and an entirely new interior. The new seats are good ones and a dual-zone climate control system is standard. Power is by the 3.8-liter V-6, either naturally aspirated with 205 ponies or supercharged with a plentiful 240.

Regal

$20,000-25,000

After two years of revisions, Regal goes all-new for ‘97. It will arrive in the spring with new styling inside and out, improved ride and handling and an improved chassis. The base engine will be the 205-hp Series II 3800 V-6 with the 240-hp supercharged mill optional. At first, Regal will be offered only as a sedan; a coupe will come later.

Riviera

$30,000 base

For ‘97, the stylish and luxurious loses unspring weight, thanks to a basketful of new aluminum suspension components. There’s also a touch more travel in the suspension, more feel in the variable-assist steering system and larger brakes up front. The main power plant is still the 205 hp 3.8-liter V-6, while the 240-hp supercharged version is optional.

Skylark

$16,000-18,500

Buick’s small car is available in Limited and Gran Sport versions and coupe and sedan body styles. The base engine is a 155-hp 2.4-liter twin cam four and a 155-hp 3.1-liter V-6 is optional - it offers a ton more torque and quieter operation. New this year is standard ABS.

CADILLAC

Catera

$29,995-35,000

Do U.S. buyers want a German-built Cadillac? Time will tell. The Catera is based on the successful, rear-drive Opel Omega and is ready to compete with BMW, Infiniti, Lexus and Acura in the entry-level luxury category. A 200-hp, 3-liter DOHC V-6 and a European-style suspension should help set this one apart. It’s offered in just one trim level and such goodies as traction control are standard. Leather is an option and so is an 8-speaker Bose sound system with trunk-mounted CD changer.

Concours

$36,500-41,500

The full-size, front-drive Deville gets a facelift with new front fenders and front and rear fascias. The DeVille motors on with the 275-hp. 4.6 liter DOHC Northstar V-8, while the Concours gets the 300-hp Northstar, plus a new console and seating for five. Side airbags are standard and the cool OnStar cellular/GPS tracking system is optional.

Eldorado

$40,500-44,000

The icon is surprisingly sleek for its size and tastefully subdued in its execution. The interior is all wood and leather and the powerplants are all muscle. The base 4.6-liter V-8 makes 275 hp, while the Eldorado Touring Coupe (ETC) goes 300. This year, the ETC gets Cadillac’s nifty Integrated Chassis Control with Stability Enhancement, giving you lots of control on slippery surfaces - even while applying the steam.

Seville

$44,000-48,500

The The sport-luxury Seville is available in two models: the SLS and the uplevel Seville Touring Coupe (STS). Both are sumptiously finished and offer quiet and sensous ride quality. The 275-hp SLS carries over with minor changes; the 300-hp STS gets the new electronic Stability Enhancement System which makes it a safer, more manageable ride than ever.

CHRYSLER

Cirrus

$18,000-22,000

This car was a success from the moment it left the plant in ‘95 - and two years later nothing much has changed. It’s still a spacious little runner with classic styling and a fine ride. You can choose between a 2.4-liter, 150-hp DOHC four or a 2.5-liter SOHC V6 that makes 168 hp. Dual airbags and ABS are standard.

Concorde

$20,500-24,500

For ‘97, Chrysler has dropped the old base engine, a 3.3-liter V-6, and made standard the previous uplevel 3.5-liter V-6 that goes 214 hp. One of Chrysler’s first “cab-forward” models, Concorde is still noteworthy for its voluminous interior and excellent creature comforts. New for ‘96 are 16-inch wheels and improved noise, harshness and vibration controls.

LHS

$30,000-32,000

There’s no more New Yorker, which leaves the LHS as the sole big-car offering in the Chrysler family. Everything is standard, including leather seats, alloy wheels, Chrysler’s uplevel, 214-hp V6 and huge back seats. Only a moonroof and CD player are optional. This year, sees improvements to the automatic transmission and a better cassette player/radio in the base version.

Sebring

$16,000-21,000

With its coupe-and-convertible lineup, Sebring cover’s Chrysler’s sporty mid-size needs. The roomy coupe gets its base power from a 2-liter, 140 hp four, while the convertible opens with a 2.4-liter four that makes 150 ponies. Both share the same 163-hp, 2.5-liter V-6 as the uplevel offering. Double-wishbone suspension gives these cars a superb ride for the class.

Town & Country

$26,500-33,500

This is the luxo-mobile of minivans, a full-tilt comfort and convenience package that bathes occupants in all kind of opulence. There are long and short wheelbases and 2WD and AWD models. All three trim levels now get a standard sliding door on the driver’s side and a good deal of work has gon into quieting the already silent interior. Standard power is a 3.3-liter, 158-hp V6, but a 166-hp, 3.8-liter V6 is optional.

EAGLE

Talon

$14,000-20,500

With its turbocharged 210-hp engine, all-wheel-drive and muscular body style, the Talon TSi is quite a little hotrod. But even with the 140-hp base engine, it’s still a nicelooking little car with better-than-average performance. For ‘97, the base-level Esi gets a freshened body style and a laundry list such changes as a spoiler, cupholders and a 6-way adjustable driver’s seat.

Vision

$20,500-24,500

The most aggressive of Chrysler’s LH trio, the Vision gets refinements to its transmission logic software and a better base sound system. The 3.5 liter V-6 is now available on the base Esi model and there’s one new exterior color. Base power is a 3.3-liter, 161-hp V-6, while the 3.5-liter SOHC V-6 puts out 214 hp.

FORD

Aerostar

$18,500-25,000

Destined for the scrap heap when Ford introduced the more contemporary Windstar, the Aerostar hung on. Body-on-frame construction give it truck- like purpose and rear- and all-wheel-drive lend year-round versatility - plus you can tow 4400 lbs with the thing. Choose between a 140-hp, 3 liter V-6 and a 152-hp, 4-liter V-6, and between long and short wheelbases.

Aspire

$9,500-12,000

In the words of the industry, Aspire has been “decontented” to help it remain competitive in the entry-level wars, but dual airbags are standard and ABS and a four-speed automatic are options. There’s just one engine, a 63-hp, 1.3-liter SOHC four. This year, side-impact protection is up to ‘97 spec side-impact standards. Acceleration with the automatic is enhanced, thanks to a shorter ring-and-pinion setup.

Contour

$14,500-17,000

This might be your choice if you’re looking for a fun-to-drive family car. Its sporty European heritage shines through loud and clear, especially if you go for the optional 2.5-liter, DOHC 165-hp V6. The base engine is a 125-hp twin-cam Zetec four. Rigid unibody and a fine suspension get credit for the fine ride and handling characteristics. In ‘97, all Contour models get a standard trunk light.

Crown Victoria

$22,500-30,000

The Crown Victoria fills the bill for those desiring a traditional 6- passenger, rear-wheel-drive sedan - in fact, it’s the last full-size domestic sedan made. A V-8 is standard, of course, and, with the optional 210-hp 4.6-liter under the hood, there’s enough oomph to tow 5,000 lbs. This year, the steering system gets better on-center feel and stability. A natural gas version turns out 175 hp.

Escort

$11,000-14,000

There’s an all-new Contour for ‘97 and it looks and feels an awful lot like its elder sibling, the Contour, which is a good thing. The coupe is gone this year and the sedan and station wagons are quieter, smoother and more refined than ever. The only engine offering is a 110-hp, 2-liter four; acceleration isn’t superb but fuel economy is - 28 city/37 highway.

Mustang

$15,000-31,000

The base Mustang engine continues to be the150-hp, 3.8-liter V6 but the real excitement happens when you add a couple of cylinders: Two modular 4.6-liter V-8 are optional - the SOHC version makes 215 hp, while a DOHC version in the limited-production Cobra goes 305 hp. New for ‘97 is a Passive Anti-theft System that uses a specially coded key, and a more ergonomic shift handle for automatic transmission models.

Probe

$15,000-17,000

Ford’s small sports coupe is received a styling update last year, so this year it soldiers on. You can make the conservative - and budget-conscious choice - with the 118-hp base four, or step up to the 2.5-liter, 164-hp V-6 that powers the GT. The GT gets a host of upgrades to go with the power bump, including a hot wheel/tire setup and a truly impressive amount of lateral grip. i

Taurus

$18,500-27,000

A fully re-designed Taurus emerged last year, a sleeker, quieter and more competent family sedan that’s as fun to drive as it is to look at. It’s one of the most competent of all the domestic sedans and the SHO option, with its 235-hp Yamaha-built V-8 is something of a hot rod. Two V-6s offer 145 and 200 hp, respectively. Ford has brought the price down a bit this year, making the Taurus one of the better values in its class.

Thunderbird

$18,500-26,000

For ‘97, Ford’s handsome rear-drive Thunderbird gets a better overdrive equipped automatic transmission. There’s also an updated instrument cluster with new batch of warning lights - alas, the voltmeter and oil pressure gauges have been deleted. A new center console features easy access cupholders and the passenger-side footwell gets its own courtesy light. A 145-hp 3.8-liter V-6 is standard, a 205-hp 4.6-liter V-8 is optional. 3.8-liter V8.

Windstar

$20,500-25,500

Windstar fights back at the driver-side doors offered by Chrysler and GM with a huge driver’s door that provides access to the rear seating section. There are also new seat fabrics, headrests in the second- and third-row seats and new styling up front, new wheels and new bodyside molding. The base, 3-liter V-6 makes 145-hp, while the optional 3.8-liter V-6 gets 200.

FORD TRUCKS

Econoline/Club Wagon

$19,000-32,000

There’s a new interior for ‘97 with increased legroom and, in most models, a passenger-side airbag, as well. But the big news is a revamped powertrain lineup. The old straight-six base engine is gone in favor of a 4.2-liter, 205-hp V-6. Three Triton powerplants join the family, too, two V-8s (4.6/5.4-liters; 215/235 hp) and a 6.8-liter, 265-hp V-10. The optional 7.3-liter, 210-hp turbodiesel carries over.

Expedition

$27,500-34,000

Ford’s new Tahoe/Yukon fighter took off like a rocket when it was introduced in early winter. Taking its styling cues from the Explorer, the Expedition offers room for up to eight and a modern, comfortable ergonomic package. The base engine is a 4.6-liter V-8 that makes 215 hp, while an optional 5.4-liter V-8 makes 230 hp.

Explorer

$19,000-34,000

For ‘97 the best-selling Explorer gets to new uplevel editions - a Limited and an Eddie Bauer - and a nice, new engine, too. It’s a SOHC V-6 that makes 205-hp. The base engine is a 4-liter OHV V-67 that goes 160-hp, while the optional 5-liter V-8 makes 210 hp and a whalloping 280 pound-feet of torque at 3500 rpm.

F-Series Pickups

$14,500-27,000

The curvy new F-150 arrived last year and this year it’s the F-250’s turn. It, too, gets a new body, dual airbags and a nuber of engine options. F-150/250 engine choices include a 4.2-liter/210 V-6 and a couple of V-8s - a 4.6-liter/220 hp mill or a 5.4-liter/ 235 hp powerplant.and 5.8-liter/210 hp. The F-250 HD, F-350 and F-Super Duty retain the old body style and engine selections range from a 5.8-liter/210 hp V-8 to a 7.3-liter turbodiesel that makes 215 hp.

Ranger Pickup

$11,000-20,000

The Ranger’s old uplevel four-speed automatic gets a new fifth gear between first and second for better acceleration and greater towing power. It’s teamed with the uplelvel, 160-hp, 4-liter V-6. The other two engine choices are the base, 2.3-liter 112-hp four or a 147-hp, 3-liter OHV V-6.

GMC TRUCK

Jimmy

$20,500-24,000

Buyers of GMC’s compact sport-ute Jimmy get to choose from among five suspensions, rear-drive, four-wheel drive and full-time all-wheel drive. This year, there’s an improved ABS controller, enhancements to the automatic transmission, Bilstein gas shocks and a reconfigured menu of options. The sole engine offering is a 4.3-liter V-6 that makes 190-hp.

Safari

$19,500-22,000

Like its Chevrolet cousin, the Astro, the Safari features rugged, body-on-frame construction, rear- or all-wheel-drive and a 4.3-liter, 190-hp V6 engine that gives it a 5,500-lb towing capacity. The only engine is the same 190-hp, 4.3-liter V-6 that powers the Jimmy. This year, the Safari gets daytime running lights and detail improvements.

Savana

$19,000-26,000

The Savana full-size van replaced the old Rally/Vandura last year, offering seating for up to 15 or a trailering capacity of 10,000 lbs. Engine choices range from a 195-hp V-6 to a 290-hp V8, and a 200-hp turbodiesel V-8. You might be surprised to discover what quiet and comfortable ride the big hauler offers.

Sierra

$14,500-25,000

Passengers get an airbag this year and there are improvements to the transmission and steering gear. Otherise, the full-size Sierra sails into ‘97 intact. There is a slew of body style options to choose from, RWD and 4WD and a bunch of engines, including a base 4.3-liter, 200-hp V-6 and a gaggle of V-8s, including a few that burn alternative fuels.

Sonoma

$11,500-19,500

Rear-drive versions of the compact Sonoma truck benefit from improvements to the frame which yield a stiffer body and improved ride. You’ll see changes to the base four-cylinder engine and the optional automatic transmission. Sonoma aims to satisfy every truck buyer with a slew of cab and cargo-bed options. The base engine is a 2.2-liter four that makes 118 hp, while an optional V-6 makes 175, 180 or 190 hp.

Suburban

$24,500-28,500

The biggest passenger-hauler among SUVs, the Suburban can accommodate nine, swallow 150 cubic feet of cargo and tow nearly anything with a trailer tongue. Engine options include the base, 255-hp, 5.7-liter OHV V-8, a 290 hp, 7.4-liter OHV V8 or a 190-hp, 6.5-liter turbodiesel V-8. Hauling capacity ranges from 6,000 lbs to 10,000 lbs and you can pick between rear-wheel and four-wheel drive systems.

Yukon

$23,500-31,500

Up to three feet shorter than the behemoth Suburban, the Yukon sport-ute offers the same mechanicals as its big brother with somewhat less cargo space and one less row of seats. For the Yukon, GMC provides two engine choices, the base, 255-hp, 5.7-liter OHV V8 or the 180-hp, 5.7-liter turbodiesel V8. This year, a passenger airbag and speed-sensitive steering are now standard.

HONDA

Accord

$15,500-25,500

Despite the decline of the passenger car, Honda’s Accord motors on, offering Taurus competition for best-selling car honors. Everything about the Accord is first-class, from creature comforts to body integrity. Base engine is a 130-hp, 2.2-liter four; a 2.2-liter VTEC four makes 145 hp and the top-line 2.7-liter V-6 goes 170hp. Minor changes only for ‘97.

CR-V

$19,500-20,500

Honda’s all-new subcompact-SUV goes head to head with Toyota’s RAV4. A roomy interior, pleasant road manners and on-demand 4WD has already made it a big hit in Japan. The CR-V is a front-driver until wheel-slip occurs, when the rear wheels are automatically powered up. Double-wishbone suspension at all four corners provide a very nice ride. There’s just one, well-equipped, trim level and the only engine is a 130-hp, 2-liter four.

Civic

$10,500-17,500

Introduced in ‘95, the new Civic is a beauty - handsome styling, improved structural rigidity and roomy, functional interiors. Coupes, sedans and hatchbacks are available and three engine options range from a 106-hp, 1.6-liter four to a 1.6-liter four that makes 127 hp. The lineup includes one innovation, a continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT) that really works!

del Sol

$15,000-20,000

Last year was rumored to be the swan-song for the fun little, removable roof del Sol. But here it is again. Based on the previous-generation Civic, the del Sol offers three engine options, including a 160-hp VTEC variant. Remove the roof panels and lower the electric rear window, and the tight little del Sol becomes an open-air treat.

Odyssey

$23,500-28,000

It took Honda forever to get into the minivan wars but it did it with a flourish. The Odyssey headed for new territory with two swing-out doors instead of the typical single slider. And Honda stuck to its four-cylinder guns with the 140-hp, 2.2-liter, SOHC four. A double-wishbone, all-independent suspension gives the Odyssey a low, sedan-like stance and the rear bench folds into the floor without a trace to offer impressive cargo space.

Passport

$18,000-29,500

No changes this year for Passport, Honda’s answer to Ford’s Explorer and the Chevy Blazer. Based on the Isuzu Rodeo, it boasts 5-person capacity or room for 75 cubic feet of your stuff. And all-aluminum, 190-hp 3.2-liter SOHC V6 is optional, and a 120-hp, 2.6-liter SOHC four is the base powerplant.

Prelude

$23,500-$28,000

Honda has retooled its sport coupe into something of a hybrid - more practical and yet more exciting at the same time. The excitement comes from a 195-hp DOHC VTEC four and a radical new suspension than minimizes understeer; the practicality comes in the form of a more spacious interior, a larger trunk and more conventional styling. There’s also a trick automatic transmission that allows the driver to shift up and down through the gears.

HYUNDAI

Accent

$8,500-$11,000

Sure it’s basic, but it’s also a satisfying little ride. Sedan and hatchback bodystyles are available and last year, Hyundai gave us the Accent GT, a 16-valve,105-hp sporty coupe with sport-tuned suspension, 14-inch performance tires, alloy wheels, fog lamps, tachometer and rear decklid spoiler. More prosaic Accents have a base price of about $8,000, and that includes dual airbags, a nice design and a strong-enough, 92-hp, SOHC, 1.5-liter four. Can you say value?

Elantra

$11,000-14,000

Forget the old horror stories; we’re talking a new Hyundai here - one that puts together cars that stay put together. The only engine offered is a 130-hp 1.8-liter four which, as it turns out, is plenty. And the interior is surprisingly well assembled. You get a lot more for your money than you might expect; in fact, you can still pick up a loaded Elantra for something well under $15,000.

Sonata

$14,500-18,500

While you weren’t watching, someone redesigned the Sonata. The front end is completely new and the tail has been touched up. This is a quieter, smoother and more pleasing Sonata, too. You can get it with a 137-hp, 2 liter four or a torquey, 142-hp 3-liter V-6. Standard features include air conditioning, AM/FM/cassette stereo and dual airbags.

Tiburon

$13,000-16,500

If you’re in the market for a sporty little coupe, you owe yourself a look at this one. The all-new Tiburon has a sleek bodyshape and its independent suspension was tweaked by the miracle-workers at Porsche. Base power is a 1.8-liter, 130-hp four, while an uplevel, 2-liter four makes 140 hp. It’s an attractive little package that should give some of the veterans fits.

INFINITI

I30

$29,500-33,500

The G20 is gone so last year’s front-drive deb takes over the entry-level slot. The I30 is based on Nissan’s successful Maxima, right down to the willing 3-liter, DOHC, 190-hp V6 engine and superb ride-and-handling package. But there’s also an extra 90 lbs of sound-proofing and restyled front and rear fascias, plus all the other goodies one expects from this near-luxury class. It’s fast, it’s comfortable and it’s ready to move you.

J30

$36,000-38,000

Although the J30’s egg-shaped body style never truly caught the public’s fancy, the J30 remains a first-class luxury sport coupe. It’s a rear driver with all-independent suspension. Its 3-liter V-6 makes 210 hp and an optional J30t touring package offers stiffer, more responsive handling and a decklid spoiler. Changes for ‘97 include new exterior colors, improved side-impact protection and the deletion of the white leather option.

Q45

$48,000-51,000

It’s smaller on the outside, larger on the inside. It’s lighter, more fuel efficient and prettier. It’s the all-new Q45. Displacement is down from 4.5 to 4.1-liters and horsepower from 278 to 266. Purists will complain (rightly) that it’s not the driver’s car it once was, but there weren’t enough enthusiasts around to keep the old model going. Still a contender.

QX-4

$39,500-50,000

Infiniti’s dressed-up version of the Nissan Pathfinder gets a full-time AWD system and the kind of fit and finish Infinity owners expect. All the working gear is straight out of the Pathfinder, including the 168-hp 3.3-liter V-6, strut front and five-link rear suspension and tight-as-a-drum unibody. When you ask for yours, by sure to say it right - it’s Q-By-four.

ISUZU

Hombre

$11,500-12,500

New last year, the little truck is based on GM’s Sonoma. It has its own sheet metal and it’s aimed at the economy end of the market, with but a handful of options and just two trim levels. collaboration between Isuzu and GM. Based on the domestic S-Series/Sonoma mechanicals, the Hombre gets new Japanese-designed sheet metal. Power steering, ABS and daytime running lights are standard.

Oasis

$24,000-26,000

The Oasis is a rebadged Honda’s Odyssey minivan which squares the deal, since Honda’s Passport SUV is a rebadged Isuzu Rodeo. The Oasis gets all the nice Odyssey touches - dual swinging doors, all-independent, double-wishbone suspension, seating for six or seven and a rear seat that folds flat into the floor. Dual airbags and ABS are standard. a 2.2-liter four provides the motivation with 140-hp.

Rodeo

$18,000-29,000

This year, Rodeo gets a quieter transfer case and 16-inch wheels. Last year, its optional V-6 engine got a bump of 15 horsepower, to 190 - it powers all 4-wheel drive models. Base power is a 120-hp, 2.6 liter SOHC four, with a smooth-running 190-hp 3-liter making the uplevel boost.

Trooper

$23,000-39,000

If there are any doubts about the Trooper’s worthiness, consider this - this is the rig Acura bases its SLX on. The Trooper can be loaded up and taken to the opera, or taken out to the duck blind. Interestingly, with just one engine choice, a 190-hp V-6, even the base Trooper gets the same powerplant as its upscale siblings. Dual airbags are standard and you get to choose between 2- and 4-wheel drive systems.

JEEP

Cherokee

$15,000-23,000

Later in the year, Jeep will introduce it’s new-generation Cherokee, including all-new sheet metal and a redesigned interior. As before, there will be two- and four-door models, and uplevel Country version and two engine offerings, a 2.5-liter four that makes 125 hp and a 4-liter V-6 that goes 190-hp.

Grand Cherokee

$23,000-35,000

This is the rig that started the trend toward uplevel, V-8-powered SUVs. There were a bunch of changes last year, and fewer this year - the ABS has been improved and there’s a better base AM/FM/cassette. Heavy haulers will want to know that the big, 220-hp 4-liter V-8 is now available on rear-wheel drive models. The base engine is a 185 hp, 4-liter V-6. You can pick from among three-drive systems and with an optional tow package, you can tow up to 6500 pounds.

Wrangler

$13,500-19,000

A new Wrangler arrived last spring, with Grand Cherokee-inspired sheet metal and better off-road performance. The all-new interior helps civilize the Wrangler, as does a new suspension. The choice of powertrains remains the same - a 125-hp, 2.5-liter OHV four or the 190-hp, 4-liter V-6 out of the Cherokee family, both improved for ‘97 with better low-end torque and reduced noise and vibration.

KIA

Sephia

$9,500-12,000 Beneficiary of a mid-‘95 facelift, the compact sedan Sephia is virtually unchanged again for ‘97. A 122-hp, DOHC 1.8-liter four is now standard in all states but California, where the base engine is a 105-hp, 1.6-liter DOHC four. Dual airbags are standard on all Sephias sold with the larger engine.

Sportage

$14,500-1,500

For ‘97, Kia’s mini-SUV gets a driver-side knee airbag to help guard against those injuries to the lower extremeties. There are two- and four-door models and , as of this year, just a single engine choice - it’s a 2-liter four that makes 130 hp. Heavier than its Geo Tracker/Suzuki Sidekick competition, the Sportage can be optioned with more opulant extras, including leather and uplevel sound system.

LEXUS

ES 300

$32,000-39,000

Lexus’s front-drive ES sedan has been through the redesign mill. It has more body rigidity than before, is roomier and more quiet and rides on a wheelbase that’s grown by two inches. It has new suspension geometry, improved steering and an optional adaptive dampening system for a smoother ride and improved handling. The 3-liter V-6 under the hood has gained an additional 12 hp, and now makes 200 ponies.

GS 300

$45,000-47,000

The obvious change is a redesigned rear end with new tail lamps and new badging; the less obvious one is a new five-speed automatic transmission. The result of a software rewrite, it gets closer ratios and a taller final drive, without any increase in size or weight. Also new: optional chrome plated aluminum wheels. The only powerplant continues to be a 3-liter, inline six that makes 220 hp.

LS 400

$53,000-58.000

For ‘97, the Lexus flagship gets front side airbags. Otherwise, all is unchanged following significant revisions last year. The LS 400 is still one of the most quiet, elegant and substantial cars on the road. Its interior is a model of ergonomic design and the exterior spells class. A 260-hp, 4-liter DOHC V-8 still resides under the hood and Lexus engineers stil deserve an award for crafted the dash so that a full-size glove box and a 6-CD changer both fit up front.

LX 450

$47,500-55,000

Lexus hopes to win over its passenger car owners with this opulant Land Cruiser-based sport-ute. The LX 450 gets new sheet metal and an interior that leans on Lexus styling touches. Power is by the same 212-hp, 4.5-liter V6 that powers the Land Cruiser. Needless to say, every conceivable creature comfort will be attended to. No changes for ‘97.

SC 300/SC 400

$43,500-52,500

The SC twins one a V-6, the other a V-8 - enter the new year with aggressive new body work. The look has been revised both front and rear, and new aero skirts add drama. The SC 400 gets a leather upgrade to the LS 400’s butter-soft standards and the sedan’s engine too, a 260-hp 3 liter V8, while the SC 300 gets by on the same 220-hp 3-liter inline six that powers the Supra.

LINCOLN

Continental

$35,000-46,000

Following a full makeover a couple of years ago, changes to the powerful, front-drive Continental are invisible but significant. The old front air springs have been replaced with steel coils to improve ride quality, all speed traction control is now standard, as are the electrochromatic rear-view mirrorand two-way adjustable lumbar support. The 260-hp 4.6 liter V-8 still makes the steam.

Mark VIII

$41.000-49,000

Lincoln’s Lexus-fighter gets a solid re-do this year with all-new sheetmetal, a snazzy neon taillight setup and LED directional indicators in the side mirrors. And, in a major improvement, reflective light from the headlights is up 2.7 times on low-beam setting. Tons of power remain on tap from the 280-hp, DOHC 4.6-liter V8, or the 290-hp LSC upgrade. It’s the only rear-drive domestic coupe in its class and handles accordingly.

Town Car

$38,000-43,500

With the demise of Cadillac’s Fleetwood, Lincoln’s flagship is the only full-size rear-drive luxury domestic sedan in production. Town Car emphasizes interior spaciousness and complete creature comfort over almost any other attribute - that’s why it’s the choice of limo builders everywhere. This year, there’s an improved steering system. A 4.6-liter V8 produces either 190 or 210 hp quietly and a silken suspension soaks up rough road surfaces like a sponge.

MAZDA

626

$16,000-23,500

Mazda’s handsome compact sedan received significant revisions in ‘96, so there are minor changes only for ‘97. The 626 is comfortable, roomy and surprisingly fun to drive. The two engine choices are a 2-liter, 118-hp DOHC four or a 160-hp, 2.5-liter DOHC V-6, but what really sets the 626 apart is the spacious interior and its sporting nature, a charateristic of all the Mazdas.

Millenia

$28,500-37,000

The 929 has departed the Mazda family, leaving the excellent Millenia as the marque’s luxury entry. It’s Millenia is a lovely, comfortable and solid front-driver with a remarkable engine option. If you forgo the standard, 170-hp, 2.5-liter V6 for the Miller Cycle engine, you get a 210-hp, supercharged V6 that offers the performance of a V-8 with the fuel economy of a six. This year, there are new headlights, a revised center console with (thankfully) better cupholders and improved acceleration on base and L models.

MPV

$23,000-28,500

For ‘97, Mazda dumped the base DX model, leaving just the LX and ES, both of which are available as rear-wheel or four-wheel drivers. Mazda’s minivan opts for swing-out rear doors for a car-like feel and the interior accommodates up to eight. There’s a single engine choice, a 155-hp, 3 liter V-6.

MX-5 Miata

$19,000-25,500

Thank Miata for the proliferation of two-seat, open-top sports cars - it proved there’s still a market for fun in the sun. And although the price has risen since its introduction, Miata is still a fine little value. After significant upgrades in ‘96, the Miata gets a detachable hardtop this year, along with improved side-impact protection.

MX-6, $20,500-26,500

This sharp-looking little hotrod comes off the same assembly line as Ford’s Probe, and the two cars share mechanicals - a base 118-hp, 2-liter DOHC four or the optional 164-hp 2.5-liter DOHC V-6. It’s a fine and fun to-drive car in its base form, but opt for the LS version and you move into the sport coupe class. This year, all MX-6s get standard air conditioning and upgraded side impact protection. - but the MX-6 is a touch more luxurious tha sporty.

Protege

$13,500-16,000

In just its third model year, the little, front-drive Protege has established itself as a roomy subcompact with creature comforts to spare. This year, it gets a new front end, instrument panel and upholstery, and the automatic transmission has been improved. Choose a 92-hp, 1.5-liter DOHC four or the uplevel, 122-hp, 1.8-liter DOHC four, both of which are refined little engines.

B-Series Truck

$10,000-26,000

Built by Ford, Mazda’s trucks have taken on a whole new personality in the past few years. For ‘97 Mazda has trimmed the family by eliminating the top-tier LE model and the 2.3-liter 4WD model. The litte four it makes 112 hp - can still be had in the base 2WD configuration. Otherwise, you can choose between a 3-liter V-6 that makes147 hp and a 4-liter V-6 good for 160 hp. All enjoy 100,000-mile service intervals.

MERCURY

Cougar XR7

$18,500-26,000

It’s Cougar’s 30th birthday and they’re celebrating with a special anniversary model. It gets unique paint and emblems, large tires and distinctive wheels. TIf you order it with the 205-hp, 4.6-liter SOHC V-8, you’ll even get a sport suspension. Otherwise, all Cougars get four-wheel disc brakes and a new instrument cluster and console. Improvements to the automatic transmission should improve durability. The base 3.8-liter V-6 makes 140-hp.

Grand Marquis

$23,000-33,000

Here’s one way to get full-size comforts without paying the luxury tax - the big, rear-drive Grand Marquis. Along with its Crown Victoria cousin over at Ford, the Grand Marquis is the last of the full-size family sedans. Standard power is a 190-hp, OHV, 4.6-liter V8, with a 210-hp, 4.6-liter, SOHC V8 optional. It’ll even tow 5,000 lbs. Buy the optional handling package, and you get the latter. New this year, is an improved steering system with better on-center feel and improved responsiveness.

Mountaineer

$27,000-34,000

Take the ever-popular Ford Explorer, add full-time AWD (rear-drive is also available), add a basket-full of standard gear and slim down the engine options to one and you have Mercury’s new compact SUV, the Mountaineer. It has a distinctly van-like feel, yet it’s off-road capable and its 210-hp 5d-liter V-8 has plenty of towing capacity.

Mystique

$15,500-24,000

The Mystique is Mercury’s version of Ford’s international car, the Contour. It’s just a couple years old, so no major changes yet - just a new courtesy light in the trunk - but you do get your choice of two trim levels and two engine options, one a 125-hp, 2-liter, DOHC four; the other a 170-hp, DOHC, 2.5-liter V6. Its European flair and feel give the Mystique a presence generally lacking in this price range.

Sable

$19,000-31,000

Completely redesigned for ‘96, the Sable steps up the international competition with world-class styling, quality and feel. It’s more rigid than before, and thus quieter and more durable. The base engine is a 145-hp, 3-liter, OHV V6, while an optional DOHC, 3-liter V-6 waits in the wings with 200 hp.

Tracer

$11,000-14,000

Along with Ford’s Escort, Tracer gets a makeover this year - and what a difference. The new car is stiffer, quieter, more comfortable and better handling. There are two body styles, sedan and wagon, but the only engine offered this year is a 110-hp, 2-liter SOHC four. Dual airbags are standard and ABS is optional.

Villager

$21,000-28,000

Somewhat smaller than a conventional minivan, the Villager offers the utility of a van with easier-to-manage exterior dimensions. It has a cool third seat that slides forward out of the way and Nissan build quality - the Villager is built on the same assembly line as Nissan’s Quest. The only engine is a 151-hp, SOHC, 3-liter V6. This year, Villager comes up to ‘97 side-impact requirements.

MITSUBISHI

3000GT

$27,000-60,000

If you’re feeling wild-and-crazy, the 3000GT VR-4 might be the car for you, an all-wheel-drive, twin-turbo fire breather that makes 320 hp. If you’re more inclined to go mild, the base engine is a 3-liter, SOHC V-6 that makes 161 hp, while the midlevel choice is a 218-hp, DOHC, 3-liter V-6. The base and mid-range SL are front-drive. SL and VR-4 versions are available with a retractable hardtop, known as the Spyder. All models receive a slight facelift for ‘97.

Diamante

$26,000-34,000

The much-overlooked, front-drive, luxury-oriented Diamante gets a complete makeover this year, inside and out. New sheetmetal betrays a bluff, Germanic visage while the interior rivals the best in terms of comfort and features. The ES sedan, while plenty nice on its own terms, plays base model to the fully outfitted top-line LS. Both models are built in Australia and both share a powerful new engine, a 210-hp 3.5-liter V-6.

Eclipse

$15,200-25,600

This US-built twin of the Eagle Talon, is a zippy little rig, especially when ordered with the optional 210-hp, 2-liter turbocharged four. But the base engine ain’t shabby, either; it’s a 140-hp, DOHC, 2-liter four. A top of-the-line GSX version gets the turbo plus all-wheel-drive. You can pick either engine if you opt for the very smart Spyder convertible.

Galant

$15,500-24,000

The compact Galant moves up a notch in the food chain with a number of changes inside and out. A new front end stands out among a number of styling upgrades, better insulation hushes the interior, which also feels larger, thanks to some nifty revisions. There’s a better sound system, too, and a smarter automatic transmission. Midlevel E and uplevel LS models get better seats. Base engine is a 141-hp 2.4-liter four, while a 2.5-liter, 163-hp V-6 is optional on the LS.

Mirage

$10,400-16,500

If you haven’t looked into Mirage lately, maybe you owe yourself a peak. With all-new sheetmetal and a mechanical makeover, this is one of the most dramatically improved cars of the year. It’s quieter and smoother and it handles better, too - lots better. Mirage also sports a significant number of features that make it a real value in its class. Base DE models get a 92-hp four, while the LS runs on a 113-hp, 1.8-liter four.

Montero

$28,000-42,000

A glance at the price tag tells you Mitsubishi aims this one at the Ranger Rover/ Land Cruiser market. Montero combines good looks, a ton of creature comforts and advanced technology - including an ActiveTrac drive system that lets you switch to four-wheel drive at speeds up to 62 mph - in a single, pleasing package. This year, there’s just a single engine offering, a 3.5-liter V-6that makes 200 hp.

Montero Sport

$20,000-25,000

Based on the old Mighty Max platform, the Montero Sport fits into the SUV market just a niche below the upscale Montero. It’s lighter, lower and shorter than its sibling, but it gives away little in the creature comforts category. There are two engines, a 2.4-liter four that’s good for 116 hp and a 177 hp 3-liter V-6.

NISSAN

200SX

$12,500-16,500

A sport-coupe based on the Sentra, the 200SX packs a lot of fun into a small package. The base engine is a 100-hp, DOHC, 1.6-liter four, but the upgrade 2-liter, DOHC four in the SE-R packages gives you a willing 140 hp. Best, few front-drive cars handle better than this one, and perhaps none at this price. The only new news for ‘97 is bad news for Californians - the racey SE-R is no longer available there.

240SX

$18,500-22,500

The 240SX’s sporting nature has been tempered somewhat by a push for more luxury, although it still provides tons o’ fun. It’s the only rear-driver in this class, it has a fine all-independent suspension and its only engine options pumps out a healthy 155 hp. All that equals a great drive, plus plenty of creature comforts inside, where it counts. Dual airbags are standard.

Altima

$16,000-21,500

In keeping with Nissan’s sporty image, the Altima marries a zealous outlook with modern comforts. The 150-hp, DOHC, 2.4-liter V6 makes 150 hp, which is plenty to keep things buzzing. If you like a firm suspension, go for the sport-minded SE package. This year, the uplevel GXE model gets a leather-lined interior and an optional Limited Edition Package.

Maxima

$21,500-27,000

So good Infiniti could base its new I30 luxury sedan on it without blushing. A modest facelift and detail improvements distinguish it from last year’s model. The only powerplant is a splendid, 190-hp, DOHC, 3-liter V-6. For ultimate performance, pick the SE package with its upgraded suspension and slick-shifting 5-speed stick shift.

Pathfinder

$23,000-33,000

New in ‘96, the Pathfinder is larger and roomier than its predecessor. It utilizes unibody construction for a quieter, more sophisticated ride and greater body integrity. There’s more room inside, creature comforts abound and ABS and dual airbags are standard. There are three trim levels, but only one engine, a capable 180-hp, 3-liter SOHC V-6.

Pickup

$11,000-21,000

Last year, the optional V-6 engine was deleted from Nissan’s pickup lineup, leaving the durable, 134-hp, 2.4-liter SOHC inline four to do the duties. A driver-side airbag is standard, and you can have your choice of regular or extended cabs, 2-wheel or 4-wheel drive. All versions get standard rear ABS.

Quest

$21,500-26,000

Like its Mercury Villager sibling, the Quest provides a ton of minivan versatility and accommodations in a smallish package. Cram seven passengers into this sweet-driving rig or load it up with camping gear; the build quality and body integrity won’t let you down. The only engine is a 151-hp, 3-lioter V-6.

Sentra

$11,000-17,000

No major changes for ‘97. Instead, Sentra motors on, offering the comfie, roomy and fun-to-drive qualities that we’ve appreciate since the debut of the current-generation model in ‘95. Even the entry-level GXE is well equipped, the SE will appeal to your sporting nature and the GLE is the loaded up and ready to roll. Power for all models is by a 110-hp, DOHC, 1.6-liter four.

OLDSMOBILE

Achieva

$15,500-18,500

Oldsmobile’s value-price strategy just keeps on working: Take the Achieva: Even the base model is packaged with a full complement of features - automatic transmission, air conditioning, traction control, ABS, power mirrors and more. The base engine is a 150-hp 2.4-liter four and a 155-hp, 3.1-liter V-6 is optional. For ‘97, Achieva upgrades to ‘97 side-impact standards.

Aurora

$35,000-39,000

Aurora gets some cool new stuff - a built-in three-channel remote garage opener, mirror-mounted electronic compass and a passenger-side mirror that tilts down to show you the curb in Reverse. Also, there’s a new in-dash CD player, but otherwise Aurora continues as a 250-hp luxury import-fighter. It’s solid, quiet and oh-so comfie and its 250-hp V 8 engine goes one up on the foreign competition, all of whom boast V-6 power in this price range.

Bravada

$30,500-34,000

Full-time all-wheel-drive and more creature comforts than you can shake a stick at turn Oldsmobile’s SUV into a year-round commuter vehicle that will spoil you rotten. Standard gear includes leather upholstery, ABS, driver-side airbags and, of course, that AWD system that means you never have to worry about change the settings. Bravada utilizes the same 190 hp, 4.3-liter, OHV V6 that powers its GMC Jimmy and Chevy Blazer cousins. This year, fourwheel disc brakes are standard, there’s a new liftgate system and the transmission receives improvements.

Cutlass

$16,500-20,000

An all-new Cutlass debuts this year to replace the departed Ciera. Its 107-inch wheelbase provides for a spacious interior and excellent ride quality, and the new unibody is stiff and quiet. Like its siblings, Cutlass is well stocked with standard equipment and a 3.1-liter V-6 puts out a solid 160 hp. It’s definitely worth a look if you’re browsing in the compact sedan market.

Cutlass Supreme

$16,500-24,000

This is the last year for the Cutlass Supreme - it’s slated for replacement this year by the all-new Intrigue. Meanwhile, the ‘97 edition gets standard aluminum wheels, power trunk release and ‘97-standard side-impact protection. This year, there’s just a single engine offering, a 3.1-liter V-6 that makes 160-hp.

Eighty Eight

$22,500-25,000

Here’s how far Oldsmobile has come: The Eighty Eight recently bested Toyota’s Camry and Nissan’s Maxima in the J.D. Power Initial Quality Survey. It’s a full-size sedan that can accommodate six with the front bench in place. The upscale LS edition gets aluminum wheels, keyless entry and optional leather. The only engine option is a powerful 205-hp, 3.8-liter V-6.

LSS

$27,000-30,000

Once a special-edition Eighty Eight, the high-content LSS has broken off as a separate model. Based on the Eighty Eight platform, the LSS gets the 3.8-liter, 205-hp V6 as the base engine and a supercharged, 240-hp, OHV, 3.8-liter V-6 as an option. The interior is modeled after the Aurora’s - including that car’s excellent seats - and a power sunroof, CD player and block heater are the only options. This year, theres improved side-impact protection, a new center console along with other interior upgrades and a taller final-drive ration.

Regency

$29,000-34,000

The new Regency is really the old Ninety Eight with a new name, an improved automatic transmission and ‘97-style side-impact protection. This roomy, six-passenger sedan sports front-wheel drive and a 3.8-liter V-6 that pumps out 205 hp.

Silhouette

$22,500-$25,000

There’s an all-new Silhouette with a new look and new sheet metal replacing the old composite skin. The interior accommodates seven passengers or as many sheets of 8X10-foot plywood as you care to stack up. As you would expect from Oldsmobile, even the base model is loaded. You can order yours with a power passenger-side door and you can get a a 180-hp, 3.4-liter, OHV, V-6 and it gets better mileage, too. Order the extended-wheelbase version and you can get a sliding driver-side door, too.

PLYMOUTH

Breeze

$15,000-17,000

Here’s a car built for the frugal-at-heart. The Breeze is a deconted version of the roomy Chrysler Cirrus/Dodge Stratus twins, which means you get a surplus of interior space for your hard-earned dollar. Breeze is not exactly Spartan - air conditioning is standard and the interior is pleasingly well designed - but it gives the buyer another option in the perennial value vs. cost equation. In keeping with its low-price orientation, only one engine is offered, a 132-hp, 2-liter, SOHC four.

Neon

$9,500-17,000

Plymouth’s version of the Neon gets improved side-impact protection and a fuel pan designed to cut engine noise. ABS is available on all models, and the Highline and Sport versions can be ordered with remote keyless entry and power sunroof. You can even take Neon to the races by ordering the base model with the Competition Group option. Choose from two engines, a 132-hp 2-liter SOHC four or a 150-hp, 2-liter DOHC four.

Prowler

$35,000

The lusty neo-street rod Prowler becomes a reality this year, when 3000 early production models hit the streets. With its lightweight aluminum frame, inboard suspension with aluminum arms and aluminum rear disc brakes, the Prowler is something of a technological marvel. It borrows its 214-hp 3.5-liter V-6 from the LH sedans, so you can forget setting the local drag strip record, but with 0-60 runs at around seven seconds, it ain’t a slug, either.

Voyager

$17,500-$21,000

Now that GM is seriously in the minivan fray, we should see an acceleration in the evolution of the minivan. For ‘97, Plymouth’s Voyager gets an improved automatic transmission and ABS, a quieter interior a better standard sound systems. You make your selection from among two lengths, four engines, two drive layouts (front and all-wheel-drive) and two trim levels. The 166-hp V-6 has been dropped, leaving you with these choice - 150-hp, 2.4-liter four, a 150-hp 3-liter V-6 or a 158-hp 3.1 liter V-6 that runs on gasoline or compressed natural gas.

PONTIAC

Bonneville

$22,500-27,500

Last year, the Bonneville got a makeover inside and out; this year, it gets a transmission upgrade on supercharged models. The roomy and aggressive new Bonneville has 205-hp, 3.8-liter V6 as base go-power; add a supercharger and the 3.8 makes an impressive 240 ponies. It’s a wonderful engine and this is a real bang-for-the-buck hot rod.

Firebird

$17,000-29,000

For ‘97, Pontiac’s muscle car gets air conditioning, standard, in all models. There’s also a new, esthetically pleasing windshield wiper system and, hold your breath, a convertible version of the too-hot WS6 model. New last year, the WS6 has a sport suspension and a 305-hp 5.7-liter V-8 that manages 0-60 in five seconds and change. The other powerplants are a 3.8-liter. OHV, V-6 that makes 200 hp and a 5.7-liter 285-hp V-8.

Grand Am

$14,500-18,000

If you’re seeking a sporty attitude and a reasonable price tag in a small rig, the Grand Am might be your car. Inside and out, it’s designed to say fun. A 150-hp 2.4-liter four provides the base power, with a 155-hp 3.2 liter V-6 on standby. Traction control is standard when you order a automatic; ABS is standard on all models.

Grand Prix

$19,500-25,000

This is a makeover year for the Grand Prix, starting with an all-new and satisfyingly rigid unibody that rests on a wheelbase that’s three inches longer than last year. Then there’s the roomy new interior, the new suspension and the new set of engine choices. Take your pick from a 160 hp, 3.1-liter V-6, a 195-hp 3.8-liter V-6 or a 240-hp supercharged 3.8 liter V-6.

Sunfire

$12,000-21,000

Pick your Sunfire in coupe, sedan or convertible bodystyles and load it up with a 120-hp 2.2-liter four or a 150-hp 2.4-liter four - any way you do it, it’s one of the cuter offerings in the small-car category. Even the base SE model gets ABS and a bunch of convenience items, standard, and the GT coupe is the family hotrod, with its 150-pony powerplant. Buy the optional automatic transmission and they throw in an Enhanced Traction System, no charge.

Trans Sport

$21,500-24,500

In keeping with Pontiac’s sporting nature, that division’s version of the all-new GM minivan gets a somewhat hotter body style than its Chevy and Oldsmobile cousins. There’s also a Montana edition that aims to blur the line between minivan and sport-ute. The body panels are now steel, not plastic, and you can seat eight. There’s only one engine, a 180-hp, 3.4-liter V-6, but a slew of options let you outfit your Trans Sport just the way you like it.

SAAB

900

$24,500-41,000

Saab’s distinctive 900, completely redesigned in ‘94, got a 5-door Turbo sedan variant in ‘96 and holds the fort in ‘97. Saabs are practical, fun and just a little unconventional. If you like the idea of a car that’s a pleasure to drive and has nearly as much interior space as a full-size sedan, try a Saab 900. Base engine in the 900 series is a 150-hp, 2.3-liter, DOHC four, while the SE gets a 185-hp turbocharged four or a 170-hp, 2.5-liter, DOHC V-6. Just for fun, try the very suave convertible.

9000

$32,500-42,500

This Saab is roomier and a shade more elegant that its smaller sibling - but it, too, utilizes hatchback styling and fold-down rear seats to offer jumbo-size passenger and cargo carrying capabilities. Just like the 900, it’s a blast to drive, thanks to a passel of powerful and efficient engine choices. Base power is a turbocharged, 170-hp 2.3-liter four. The same engine with a different turbo unit makes 210 and 225 ponies, depending on whether you choose the automatic or stick versions and a 3-liter V-6 makes 210 hp.

SATURN

$11,000-19,000

Last year, the sedan and wagon got the full facelift treatment and this year it’s the coupe’s turn. Now it rides on the same longer wheelbase as its siblings and gets the same underbody, too. It has a sleek new bodystyle and more interior space, including a much-needed increase in headroom. As always, all vertical body panels are made of a durable polymer and two engines are offered - both are 1.9-liter fours but one puts out 100 hp, while the other makes 120 hp.

SUBARU

Impreza

$13,500-18,500

It’s so-long to FWD Subarus, beginning with Impreza - now they’re available in AWD configs only. The whole Impreza lineup - coupe, sedan and wagon - gets a facelife consisting of a new front bumper, grille and hood. Models range from the economical Brighton with its 1.8-liter, 115 hp flat four to the offroad-ready Impreza Outback Sport Wagon with its 137-hp, 2.2-liter flat four. That engine also powers the mid-level models.

Legacy

$17,000-25,500

With AWD now a standard Subaru feature, Legacy strengthens its position as America’s most utilitarian family car. The Outback wagon is a smash hit with its elevated ground clearance and host of safety features and this year, there’s a new Outback Limited model with leather seats, gold trim accents and alloy wheels. Base engine is a 137-hp, 2.2-liter flat four while a 2.5-liter flat-four puts out 165 hp, up 10 from last year. You’ll find it under the hood of the Limited, the Lsi and the new 2.5GT sedan. The economical Brighton anchors the family.

SVX

$30,000-35,500

The FWD version is gone, there’s a new grille and the tires receive a higher speed rating. Overall, though, this remains one of the most remarkable and unusual cars on the market. With styling by Gugliaro, a dramatic interior and a 230-hp, 3.3-liter flat-six engine, it’s a complete sports/GT package with a healthy dose of luxury thrown in for good measure.

SUZUKI

Esteem

$11,400-15,500

The small-but-roomy Esteem appeared last year Suzuki’s entry into the compact-sedan market. With honest room for four, dual airbags and a 98 hp, 1.6-liter SOHC four, the Esteem is carving out a nice niche in the competitive small-car market. Opt for the uplevel GLX and you can pick ABS, cruise-control and a four-speed automatic in a single option package.

Sidekick

$13,000-21,000

With the addition of the wide-track, 120-hp Sport model last year, ‘97 is a season for tweaking. The canvas-topped two-door Sidekick gets standard power steering and the hard-top four-door now has standard air conditioning and power windows and doorlocks. Base power is a 95-hp, 1.6-liter DOHC four.

Swift

$9,000-10,50

The little Swift is one of the most economical ways available to get yourself into a brand-new car. Its miserly 1.3-liter, SOHC inline-four makes just 70 hp, but betters 40 mpg on the highway. There’s nothing fancy about the Swift, just good, solid entry-level motoring and room for four in a pinch.

X-90

$14,000-16,500

The mini-SUV category may or may not be The Next Big Thing, but Suzuki has a leg up with its oddball X-90. Based on the Sidekick platform, it’s a 2-seater, with four-wheel-drive and a 95-hp, 1.6-liter SOHC four for power. Removable roof panels and ABS are standard and you get your choice of a 5-speed manual or 4-speed automatic. Look to this one for fun in the sun, though it’s not bad in the snow, either.

TOYOTA

4Runner

$22,000-33,000

All-new for the ‘96 model year, the Tacoma Truck-based 4Runner is larger, roomier, safer and more powerful than before. A longer wheelbase produces a better ride and rack-and-pinion steering help our with the road manners. Dual airbags are standard, as is ABS on 6-cylinder models. There are three trim levels and two engine options: a 142-hp, 2.4-liter DOHC four is the base engine; the optional engine is a 190-hp, 3.4-liter DOHC V6.

Avalon

$24,000-31,000

Toyota’s largest car is built in America for Americans - six of them at once. Avalon combines tons of interior volume with such domestic touches as a column shifter that comes when you order a front bench seat. New this year is standard ABS, alloy wheels and an on-glass radio antenna. Traction control is a an all-new option. The only engine offering is the Camry’s 192-hp, 3-liter DOHC V6.

Camry

$17,000-25,500

It’s a nimbler, more fun-to-drive Camry that greets the new model year. Riding on a platform that’s stretched by two inches, it gets an all-new exterior and a roomier interior. Somehow, they’ve made it quieter and smoother and while they were at it they gave it more power, via the optional 194-hp 3-liter V-6. Base power is a 2.2-liter four that goes 133 hp.

Celica

$19,000-31,000

The MR2 is gone and lamented, so the front-drive Celica is your pick if you hanker for a sporty Toyota. Last year’s redesign involved new front and rear fascias, more sound insulation and a rear spoiler for the three-door liftback models. This year, the GT coupe has been deleted but the GT liftback and convertible live on, powered by a 130-hp, 2.2-liter four. Base power is a 110-hp, 1.8-liter DOHC four.

Corolla

$13,800-20,000

This year, Toyota’s veneral subcompact sedan gets a new Classic Edition which gives the base model a host of popular options, all packaged at a reduced price. In other news, the wagon has been deleted and all Corolla’s will receive enhanced side-impact protection. Take your pick from two four-cylinder powerplants, a 1.6-liter that makes 100 hp and a 105 hp 1.8 liter version.

Land Cruiser

$40,000-53,000

In ‘95, Land Cruiser got a new instrument panel, dual airbags and height adjustable shoulder harnesses. This year, nothing changes. Power is by a 212-hp, 4.5-liter DOHC V6. An automatic transmission and full-time all wheel-drive are standard. Locking hubs are optional, so in low range, all wheels get equal power.

Paseo

$13,000-15,500

Hot on the heels of a Paseo makeover comes this, a new Paseo convertible. Created by ASC, the same folks who did the nifty Celica droptop, the package includes structural modifications to maintain body rigidity. The top is insulated and manually operated. Paseo’s 2+2 interior has been slightly modified for the new year and the only power remains the 93-hp 1.5-liter four.

Previa

$24,500-32,500

In ‘96, the normally aspirated engine went away leaving all Previas with a supercharged, 161-hp, 2.4-liter DOHC four under the hood (well, not exactly under the hood, but that’s anothe story). At any rate, an all-new Toyota minivan is on the near horizon, so this year there are few changes to the Previa. It’s still sturdy, comfortable and all-Toyota. Available in rear wheel and all wheel-drive.

RAV4

$16,000-21,000

The odd name has a real meaning - “Recreational Active Vehicle with 4WD” and the RAV4 is ready for anything. Unibody construction gives it a car-like ride, but full-time AWD and a 7-inch ground clearance make it a hit off-pavement. The RAV4’s well-equipped interior carries four and the list of standard equipment is a long one. The only engine is a 120-hp, 2-liter, DOHC four; a 5-speed manual transmission is standard; a 4-speed automatic is available on the 4-door model.

Supra

$39,000-50,500

There is a God: Toyota has reinstated the six-speed manual transmission which it deleted last year from the sensational twinturbo Supra, as if it will ever matter to you and me. Still this is a wonderful car to fuel one’s dreams - it’s surprisingly civilized for a machine that turns out 320 hp (220 if you pick the non-turbo rendition). For ‘97, the body has been strengthened for improved stability and steering feel and the headlights and taillamps have been revised, along with the lower front fascia.

T100 Pickup

$14,000-32,000

In ‘95, the midsize T100 got an Xtra cab model and a new, optional V-6 engine that makes 190-hp without any fuss or bother. Base power is a 150-hp, 2.7-liter DOHC four. The T100 is an odd-duck, a not-quitei-fullsize pickup that boasts a fullsize payload. It’s tough and durable and though it hasn’t a V-8 under the hood, it acts as if it does.

Tacoma

$11,000-23,000

Toyota’s compact truck gets new front-end sheet metal that bolsters the truck’s rough-and-ready image. Other changes are limited to a new options structure that allows broader availability of your favorite accessories. A142-hp, 2.4-liter four powers the RWD models, while the 4X4s get a 150-hp, 2.7-liter four. Both can be had with a 190-hp, 3.4-liter DOHC V-6.

Tercel

$10,500-12,500

Toyota has simplified the buying of a Tercel by merging two trim levels into one. For ‘97, the only version is the CE, which combines features from the old base and DX trim levels. Fourteen-inch wheels are now standard and there are new bumper moldings, exterior mirrors and improvements to the interior. The only engine is a 93-hp, 1.5-liter four. With EPA ratings of 31 city/39 highway, Tercel is an economy king, and it gets a full measure of Toyota quality, as well.

VOLKSWAGEN

Cabrio

$21,500-24,000

The little, open-top Cabrio is packed with value: dual airbags, ABS, an anti-theft system and the slickest manually-operated top in the business are all standard. The top itself is a work of art - all six layers of it - and the 115-hp, 2-liter SOHC four motates the little rig just fine. This year, there’s a new uplevel edition that packages many of the more popular options at a value price and there’s some speculation that there’s a power top in the works.

Golf

$13,500-14,500

Want practicality? Try Volkswagen’s new Turbo Direct Injection (TDI) diesel-engine option. With the right driver, it’s good for 50 miles-per gallon in everyday driving. Otherwise, the 115-hp, 20-liter SOHC four is the engine of record (and, at 24/32, it’s no slouch in the economy numbers, either).

GTI

$16,500-20,000

Last year, the GTI got a power implant in the form of the potent, 172-hp 2.8-liter, SOHC V6. With a ton of low-end torque, a very capable sport suspension and a slick 5-speed shifter, it’s a little riot to drive. For ‘97, there are suspension upgrades, which should make this little squirter even more popular on the autocross circuit.

Jetta

$14,500-21,000

If you pick the 172-hp, 2.8-liter, SOHC V-6 VR6 model, you’ve picked a hot little 4-door slingshot. A tight, Teutonic ride teams with a firm suspension and great brakes for a real road show. A more sedate, 115-hp, 2-liter SOHC four is base power. Coming soon: VW’s super-economical 90 hp, 50 mpg turbodiesel four (how’s a driving range of 700 miles strike you?).

Passat

$18,000-26,000

Whether you choose it in sedan or station wagon form, the roomy Passat doubles as a weekend racer when equipped with the torquey 172-hp V-6 also found in the Jetta and GTI VR6. It’s a familiar theme, but VW has chosen to grace these cars with world-class suspensions and brakes to go along with all that power, so why not have some fun? VW’s new, clean burning, super-efficient turbodiesel is finally here, too.

MEMO: This sidebar appeared with the story: GLOSSARY This is a list of abbreviations used throughout this section. ABS anti-lock brakes SOHC single-overhead cams DOHC double overhead cams OHV overhead valves AWD all-wheel drive FWD front-wheel drive RWD rear-wheel drive 4X4 four-wheel drive 4X2 two-wheel drive

This sidebar appeared with the story: GLOSSARY This is a list of abbreviations used throughout this section. ABS anti-lock brakes SOHC single-overhead cams DOHC double overhead cams OHV overhead valves AWD all-wheel drive FWD front-wheel drive RWD rear-wheel drive 4X4 four-wheel drive 4X2 two-wheel drive

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