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The New Cars of 1997

By Eric EvartsStaff writer of The Christian Science Monitor / November 8, 1996



BOSTON

This will be a good year for car buyers.

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Dream-car factories are cranking out stunning new models, and many more-ordinary cars have gotten better.

*Prices, after spiraling ever-higher for 15 years, are leveling off - in a few cases dropping: Lincoln has cut $4,000 off the price of its Continental and Mark VIII. Toyota, GM, and Audi offer new lower-priced models.

*General Motors is striking back at rivals with impressive new minivans and mid-size sedans. Also, following Ford's lead, GM is adding a third door to ease entry to the back seat of its extended-cab pickups.

*Three new electric vehicles debut in the California market.

*In sports cars, the trend is toward retro styles as companies with a long sports-car heritage go back to their roots.

This year's large crop of new vehicles is partly the result of carmakers' efforts to shorten design-to-production cycles. The following pages present highlights of new cars and light trucks that have been significantly redesigned or have significant engine or drivetrain changes for 1997.

Sports cars

Jaguar XK8

The first all-new Jaguar in more than 10 years comes as a voluptuous coupe or roadster, and with Jaguar's first V-8 engine in history. The lines are meant to evoke Jaguar's much-loved E-type of the 1960s, which still appears on posters in the homes of car aficionados everywhere. The XK8 replaces the XJ-S, and will sell for around $75,000.

Porsche Boxster

Though the long-awaited Boxster, the first all-new model from Porsche in 18 years - and the first one purists will consider a 'real' Porsche in 30 years - will debut in January, you can't buy one. The first year's production is already sold out. But now's the time to put down your $40,000-plus to get in line for a '98. The mid-engine two-seat convertible draws on the basic theme of the mid-'50s Porsche 550 Spyder (the one James Dean drove) and uses a smaller 2.5-liter, water-cooled version of the famous Porsche 911 six-cylinder engine. For those who can afford it, it's worth waiting in line for this instant classic.

Mercedes-Benz SLK 230

Kompressor

In January, Mercedes will roll out its small SLK roadster, meant to appeal to younger, less-affluent, fun-seeking buyers. The SLK will list for about $40,000 and have a steel top that folds electrically and stows in the trunk. The car is reminiscent of a 1950s Mercedes roadster (the 190 SL; Nieman-Marcus will offer them as a pair in its Christmas catalog this year). Its supercharged engine recalls the enormous supercharged Mercedes of the '30s.

Plymouth Prowler

The Plymouth Prowler is 1997's most outrageous new car - an effort by Chrysler to put some pizazz back into its Plymouth brand. The car looks like a 1930s antique restored to a work of art. It's not. It's a thoroughly modern, if spartan, status symbol. The two-seat roadster's color palette consists of candy-grape paint with a gray leather interior and grape dashboard. Though the bathtub of a car looks like a hot rod, it doesn't sound like one, with the 3.3-liter V-6 engine and automatic transmission of the Eagle Vision sedan.

All 3,000 '97 Prowlers are already spoken for.

Chevrolet Corvette

The first all-new Corvette in 13 years is expected to hit showrooms in the spring. Details so far are sketchy, as Chevrolet has been striving to keep the car under wraps until January.

Ferrari 550 Maranello

Ferrari is going back to its roots with this new front-engine V-12 sports car. It's not as low and racy as most recent Ferraris, but captures the spirit of Ferrari's more comfortable long-distance tourers of the 1960s.

BMW Z5