Carmakers Slug It Out With Bold New '99s
Competition, mergers, and savvy shoppers inspire excitement in new car designs. Carmakers Slug It Out With Bold New '99s
BOSTON — More competition marks the 1999 model year following the giant Daimler-Chrysler merger.
That merger has set automakers on edge as they race to dodge or capitalize on other rumored buyouts.
It brings home the point that independent automakers - even big, profitable ones - face a tough road ahead.
The American economy is tightening. Global deflation is looming. And Web-surfing buyers are armed with more bargaining knowledge than ever, driving prices - and profits - down.
* General Motors has eliminated several slow-selling models, and more are on the chopping block. It is also expanding its pickup truck lineup and has introduced the best revision yet of its full-size trucks.
* Ford's Lincoln-Mercury division is gunning for younger buyers.
* Toyota wants a bigger piece of the US full-size pickup truck market.
* And Volkswagen, along with its Audi division, is developing more and more creative products for different market segments built from just a few manufacturing platforms.
A perhaps bizarre-looking variant of James Bond's convertible BMW Z3, the $42,000 M-coupe has just two seats slung behind BMW's monster, 241-horsepower six-cylinder engine. The car's one purpose: Go fast.
A high-powered front-wheel-drive two-seat roadster takes on the Mazda Miata mano mano for 2000.
Mazda's playful sports car grows slightly roomier inside with a more aggressive, masculine image. The car now sports a real glass rear window, 145 horsepower, and a $20,000 price tag.
Porsche 911 Cabrio
Last year Porsche completely redesigned its revered 911 for the first time since its 1964 introduction. And a sophisticated, comfortable convertible debuted for '99. Prices start at $74,000.
SPORTY COUPES AND CONVERTIBLES
Toyota Camry Solara
Capitalizing on a small but growing market for two-door coupes, Toyota revived its Camry coupe after a two-year hiatus. The new $19,000 two-door flaunts completely different and much sportier styling than the ordinary Camry or its predecessor - plus a new last name.
Choice of some of the best and brightest, this elegant, $43,000 Mercedes convertible is Chrysler chairman Robert Eaton's new company car.
So no one mistakes its small CLK coupe for a mere image gimmick, Mercedes drops in a 275 horsepower V-8 for road-ripping performance. Price: $45,000.
Volkswagen New Beetle 1.8T
Volkswagen, too, plans to stuff a high-performance, turbocharged, Audi four-cylinder into its New Beetle this spring to make the car as fun to drive as it is to look at.
Expect a new racy alternative this spring to Audi's traditionally conservative coupes and convertibles. For less than $35,000, the TT coupe sports all-wheel drive plus a turbocharged, four-cylinder engine that outruns the Porsche Boxster, Mercedes-Benz SLK, and BMW Z3.
Mercury revives its little coupe, this time with modern, racy styling. At $16,000, it's one of the last few affordable sporty hatchbacks.
Ford revamps its legendary sports car, with harder-edged styling, more horsepower, and more room inside. Prices should remain between $17,000 and $28,000.
Korean conglomerate Daewoo hopes to find a new niche in America - entry-level transportation for college students. This tiny hatchback anchors the lineup at $12,000.
Daewoo's mid-level offering comes as a four-door sedan, five-door hatchback, or a wagon. It includes power windows, remote locks, and leather seats for $14,000.
This replacement for the Escort, due in 2000, is taller, boxier, and funkier-looking. It may be Ford's first successful world car.
A $12,000 economy car for individualists, the Protege shrinks a bit outside, grows a bigger engine, and has boxier but still-stylish looks.
The first mass-market gasoline-electric hybrid arrives in the US next summer and gets 60 miles per gallon. It has four doors, and Toyota plans to market it as a second family car for commuting.
It's already the bestselling car in Europe, and, at $14,000, the larger, fourth-generation Golf should recapture some market share for VW when it debuts here this fall.
Acura's new mid-level sedan has more room and more power than its predecessor. It's loaded with goodies, including an on-board navigation system, for less than $30,000.
Larger, more comfortable, even, impossibly, more elegant, BMW's entry-sedans - the 323i and 328i - are all new for '99. New coupes, convertibles, and a hatchback will follow in later years.
The top of Daewoo's US lineup rivals the Toyota Camry in size and offers more features for $3,000 less. Some call the styling Lexus-like.
Hyundai's flagship Sonata gets smoother styling and more horsepower, but it may not be enough to turn around the company's sagging sales.
Nissan's up-scale division reintroduces its entry-level sports sedan, this time an elegant European design. The $21,000, price buys a four-cylinder engine, plenty of room, and a sophisticated flair.
Mercedes-Benz pumps up the tempo in its $30,000 entry-level four-cylinder sedan with an added supercharger, making this the "C230 Kompressor."
Mitsubishi has freshened its bread-and-butter sedan with graceful styling, more room, and an optional V-6 engine. Prices still start around $17,000.
Oldsmobile's $17,000 version of GM's new compact sedans offers the smoothest styling of the bunch and aims at import buyers with tight steering and simple controls.
Oldsmobile enhanced the image of its $23,000 import-fighter with a smaller, higher-tech, and cleaner new engine.
Pontiac Grand Am
Pontiac's bestselling model is the sportiest of GM's new compacts with slightly more horsepower and radically aggressive styling for $18,000.
For the first time, Saturn will have a second, completely different model. The bigger LS sedan should appear next year, and a wagon may follow. The LS still uses plastic body panels, but is not built at Saturn's revolutionary Tennessee factory.
Saab decided to focus on performance this year, offering nothing less than turbocharged engines. For 1999, it ups the ante with a big 200-horsepower turbo in its small 900 hatchback: $26,000 plus.
Subaru Outback SUS
Capitalizing on the success of its Outback wagons, Subaru has extended the line to its Legacy "sport utility sedan".
No longer just a Golf with a trunk, the Jetta has a curvier, sportier look with a family resemblance to the popular Passat. Quality is improved as well.
A new small Volvo sedan and wagon come to the US in 2000, with four-cylinder engines and more affordable prices in the $20,000 range.
Volvo's bread-and butter sedan gets the all-wheel-drive option the wagon had last year.
Infinity has restyled its flagship to look more aggressive and less American.
Lincoln's attempt to lure import buyers should roll out next June. It's smaller than a Continental, has rear-wheel drive, and comes with either a V-8 or V-6: $30,000 to $40,000.
Less is more for the Mercedes flagship, scheduled for debut next fall. The new S-class is smaller and loses such extravagances as double-paned windows in favor of snappier looks and a lower price - think $60,000 to $100,000 rather than $65,000 to $140,000.
As close as Saab has ever moved to the mainstream. Yet this $30,000 sedan still offers such Saab quirks as seats with cooling fans, the world's first asymmetrical turbocharger, and active headrest restraints.
Continuing its move up-market and toward more prominent styling, Volvo brings a new large, round-look sedan to the top of its lineup this fall. Expect prices in the $50,000 to $55,000 range. A wagon plus more powerful engines will follow.
Audi A6 Avant
Volkswagen's upscale division, Audi, gave its sleek new A6 a $43,000 price tag, all-wheel-drive, leather, and all the frills.
BMW brings back the sportiest wagon on the market, a variant of its mid-size 5-series. This one's available with BMW's foot-stompin' V-8 and a slide-out, rear-load floor for just under $60,000.
The first four-door wagon from the Swedish automaker offers more style than its national rival, Volvo, a slide-out floor and all the quirky innovation of the 95 sedan.
VW stretched its new Passat lineup to include the perennial favorite wagon. For $20,000, you get a four-cylinder turbo engine. A V-6 and all-wheel-drive should come later in the year.
Honda's first mainstream minivan has more cargo room than rivals, flexible seating (Odyssey's trademark), and dual-powered sliding doors. At $23,615, it costs less than the little minivan it replaces and is more fun to drive than rivals.
Finally catching up in the four-door wars, the new Windstar offers more refined styling and, still, the biggest engine in the business.
These minivan twins also get a fourth door for '99, more power, and even more-flexible seating than before for $24,000.
After a six-year hiatus from the minivan market it pioneered, VW returns its boxy, front-wheel-drive Eurovan to the states. This one addresses complaints about power with VW's compact, powerful VR6 engine.
Small Sport Utility Vehicles (SUVs)
Chevrolet's version of the Suzuki Vitara isn't available with the V-6 and comes in a two-door convertible model. The Tracker may not survive GM's model-line cuts, though.
This tall, funky-looking, two-door SUV promises more room than some four-doors and has a V-6 and full-time all-wheel-drive. It's an old-fashioned off-road SUV aimed at Gen-Xers.
Suzuki Vitara/Grand Vitara
Vitara takes over from Suzuki's popular Sidekick. It still caters to off-roaders more than commuters, but the Grand Vitara offers the only V-6 in the segment for less than $25,000.
Not satisfied with a new wagon, BMW will jump into the luxury SUV market this winter with its so-called "sport-activity vehicle." The new SAV should boast better performance and more car-like manners than other luxury SUVs. The SAV name, though, may not stick.
GMC gussies up its compact Jimmy SUV with leather, CD changer, and an optional moonroof to compete in the luxury segment.
Jeep Grand Cherokee
Chrysler revamped the best-selling Grand Cherokee just before the Daimler merger - more room, more power, better fuel economy, and still $28,000 to start. It may be the most versatile SUV on the market today.
Land Rover Discovery
Land Rover enlarges the Discovery with a bus-like rear end to accommodate more cargo or passengers.
Mercedes offers a new V-8 version of its sport-utility for $43,750.
As mid-size SUVs have escalated to the $30,000 price range, Nissan saw a void of a basic, affordable, off-roadable SUVs for younger buyers. Expect the Xterra to answer that need early next summer.
The Toyota 4Runner Limited gets a new all-wheel-drive system that should be much more sure-footed in the snow.
Cadillac Escalade/GMC Denali
General Motors' GMC division dressed up the Yukon into the $43,000 leather-clad Denali. Now Cadillac sticks its crest on to create the Lincoln-Navigator-fighting Escalade.
Ford plans the biggest SUV ever to do battle with Chevrolet's behemoth Suburban. Picture an enclosed version of one of Ford's new Super Duty pickups.
General Motors rolls out its first new big pickups in a decade, with by far the most rear-seat room in extended cabs, a new line of more efficient, powerful engines, and the first full-time all-wheel-drive system in any pickup: $16,000 to $30,000.
Ford Super Duty series
Ford has developed a two-pronged big pickup strategy. The Super Duties are a separate line that starts at 8,500-pound capacity. They're BIG.
Nissan reintroduces a V-6 in its new small-pickup line, but only in the $18,000 King Cab 4x4. A four-door Frontier follows next summer.
Toyota's long-awaited new competitor in the full-size pick-up wars arrives next year, with a Lexus V-8, four doors, and enough American character to steal some of the Big Three's truck thunder.