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Contemporary classics.

There was a time when luxury cars were easily defined; they were big, boasted about their boulevard ride and had many comfort and convenience features that separated them from lesser automobiles. They were the ultimate statements of societal "arrival" designed to impress others as much as the owner.

This changed in the 1970s when the Europeans came on the scene. Mercedes, BMW, Jaguar and others became the models of distinction. A new emphasis on driving involvement emerged and status was not merely measured by size.

In 1986, the Acura Legend convinced consumers that the economical and reliable Japanese cars they had loved in the past worked just as well in larger, more luxurious versions in performance and features, for significantly less.

In 1989, Lexus and Infiniti took over where Acura left off. The LS400 and Q45 went substantially up-market to deliver world-class technology, performance and luxury and gained the top position in owner satisfaction in the annual J.D. Power and Associates initial Quality Study. The car's successes were strongly a result of the outstanding value they offered, even at their $40,000-plus price tags. They also catered directly to the changing values of the American consumer, whereby status was measured by the intelligence of the purchase, rather than the price tag.

Trends in the 1990s further reflect the consumer's ability to dictate the market. Outstanding performance, luxury, reliability and technology are merely prerequisites for consideration. Value is critical and overpayment unnecessary. Manufacturers have gotten the message and all are moving toward world-class luxury automobiles that are greatly superior to their predecessors. Even cars in the $25,000 range deliver features and luxuries that were previously reserved for the most expensive cars.

American manufacturers are now showing new competitiveness in products. General Motors in 1992 introduced completely new Sevilles and Eldorados. Lincoln introduces its new Mark VIII, joining the Continental, already one of the most technologically advanced luxury cars produced. Over the next year or so Chrysler is expected to introduce a luxury car based on its new, acclaimed LH cars.

For 1993, Japanese luxury cars continue to proliferate. Lexus' flagship LS 400 receives a face-lift. Infiniti face-lifts its Q45 and emphasizes its recently introduced J30. Acura also freshens the Legend. Mazda's 929 continues to lead in style, while Mitsubishi's Diamante does so in technology.

BMW streamlines its 7-series sedans and offers eight-cylinder engines. Mercedes debuts a new 190 in 1994, offering more room and performance, while Saab brings out a new 9000. Audi's new 90 joins its recently introduced 100 series.

The years to come will show even more competitive products in this growing segment. Mazda will introduce a new luxury division, Amati, in the spring of 1994. GM is expected to bring out a new Riviera in 1994 and a four-door Tornado.

No matter how you define your luxury car, buyers for 1993 and beyond have a seemingly endless choice of world-class automobiles offering value, performance, technology and luxury.

MAZDA 929

Mazda's premium sedan takes aim at the artistic soul with its fluid lines and severely tapered front and rear contours. Such a design skillfully disguises its size and bulk, making the car appear trim and athletic. Mazda's largest sedan is actually much bigger than it looks.

Beneath its sculpted flanks is a 24-valve V-6 engine 195 horsepower to the rear wheels. The car's suspension is focused on a smooth ride, with crisp handling getting second billing. Like the land yachts of yore,this approach is geared towards comfort at some sacrifice of driving confidence.

Inside, the availability of wood on the console adds some extra warmth. Dual air bags and anti-lock brakes maintain the sense of safety. Passenger comfort is supplied with automatic air-conditioning, AM/FM/cassette stereo, eight-way power driver's seat and the usual power accessories. Prices start at roughly $30,000.

LEXUS ES300

The ES300, new last year, is handily trouncing a number of more expensive competitors in terms of value and style. The Lexus entry-level model starts at just a bit under $30,000.

Power in the four-door goes to the front wheels from a 3.0-liter, 24-valve, V-6 engine with 185 very harmonious horsepower. Transmission is five-speed manual or electronically controlled four-speed automatic.

Smooth, flowing curves attest to the state of the art in shaping mass production sheet metal. Inside, switches and controls are so perfectly placed and designed, they seem to work more by your thoughts than motions.

The driver's well-being is attended to via a long list of features, including a driver air bag, anti-lock brakes, tilt steering wheel, automatic climate control, remote entry system and multi-adjustable power front seats.

INFINITI J30

Distinctive styling is the hall mark of Infiniti's new J30 sedan. Designed to look unlike most of its competitors, the ovoid look is controversial, but the interior, elegant and ergonomic, is perfect Playing in the middle ground between "almost" and "true" luxury, the J30 is amply endowed. Standard equipment includes a smooth and potent 210-horsepower, 24-valve, 3.0-liter V-6, an electronically controlled four-speed automatic transmission, lots of wood and leather, power everything, including trunk release, sunroof, driver and front passenger seats, a superb Bose CD audio system, keyless less remote and automatic climate control.

As Seems required of new luxury cars these days, there is a new gimmick: a very soft light mounted in the headliner. At night, this provides warm glow on the instrument panel and dash-board board. And if you don't like it you

The J30 is $34,000; another $2,000 nets he J30t for a bit more sportiness.

BMW 325i

The 3-Series cars are now available in coupe and sedan models with a choice of either four- or six-cylinder engines. (A six-cylinder convertible, the 325iC, with old 3-Series styling continues for a while until a ragtop on the new body arrives.)

The mainstay of the line continues to be the 325i sedan. Under the hood of any 325i is a 24-valve DOHC inline six-cylinder with 189 horsepower. Six-cylinder sedans startout about $28,000, while the coupe adds $1,100 more. The old-style convertible sneaks in at $36,000 (but will probably be more next spring when if s built on the latest 3-Series body).

The 318i is powered by a 16-valve DOHC inline four-cylinder with 138 horsepower. As is typical of BMW, expect first-rate construction quality, impressive fit and finish, and a chassis that feels tightly made, for a price in the mid-$20,000s.

ACURA LEGEND

The Legend doesn't change this fall. (Engineers at Honda's luxury Division are spending their time on a replacement for the aging Integra, to be followed by a larger, more luxurious sedan.) Acura's top model continues as both coupe and sedan, with 24-valve, 200-horsepower V-6 and front-wheel drive.

Sedans are available three ways: Base, L and LS. The coupe is sold as either L or LS. For just under $30,000, base models include dual air bags, and-lock disc brakes, air-conditioning, power locks and windows, AM/FM/cassette stereo, security alarm, and more. If you move up to the L (just over $30,000 for the four-door and another $2,000 or so for the coupe), you get power sunroof, power memory driver's seat steering wheel with radio controls and more.

With the LS, around $36,000 (sedan) or $38,000 (coupe), additional gear abounds, including automatic air-conditioning, Bose system, power front passenger seat and leather upholstery.

SAAB 9000CS

Saabs rarely receive drastic changes, so a mild face-lift for the 9000CS brings only new headlamps, a lowered nose and higher tail. There's a five-door hatchback and four-door sedan. Engine choices are either a 150-horsepower, 16-valve, 2.3-liter four-cylinder or the same engine with turbo, which yields 200 horsepower. Transmission choice is a five-speed manual or four-speed automatic.

The 9000CS excels in comfort. Five people ride in luxury, and three adults fit in the back seat comfortably. Trunk space in the sedan is ample, while the hatchback is almost a station wagon.

The 9000CS, priced from $26,000 to $35,000, includes a driver air bag, anti-lock brakes, air-conditioning, an AM/FM/cassette stereo and a variety of power equipment Top-of-the-line models offer turbo, traction control, climate control, power sunroof and wood interior trim, for a solid comfortable ride.

BUICK PARK AVENUE

Buick's top-of-the-line sedan combines the qualities of ample interior room, stately elegance and good old-fashioned luxury. There are base and Ultra models. Mechanically, the Ultra earns its title via a supercharger on its 3.8-liter V-6 engine. It increases horsepower to 205 from 170.

The Ultra is distinguished from the base model by its different wheels and extra chrome trim. Inside is an intriguing wrap-around instrument panel that spills over onto both doors. While generally pleasing to the eye, the instruments are too small for quick checking.

This is a car that's kind to all six occupants. The Ultra even includes dual controls to allow the driver and front-seat passenger to adjust temperatures separately. There's a long list of standard features on this well-equipped, full-size, front-drive luxury sedan.

Acceleration is decent and more generous with the turbo.

MERCURY GRAND MARQUIS

Although entirely new for 1992, this traditional, full-size, rear-drive sedan has more notable changes for '93. A passenger air bag goes from option to standard, and an electronically controlled automatic transmission brings smoother shifting.

This rendition of the Grand Marquis is elegant and traditional, with contours that meet aerodynamic requirements and fashion. Inside old-fashioned square gauges, or optional digital instruments, refuse to pretend this is a sporty car.

Instead, it blends the goodness of the past with today's technology. The overhead cam V-8 is smooth, quiet and powerful. It drives the rear wheels, which can be fitted with traction control.

A soft ride coddles up to six adults and trunk is cavernous. You'll even be surprised by the excellent fuel economy of this just-over-$20,000 $20,000 big sedan: better than 20 mpg average.

AUDI 100

Green seems to be the "in- color for cars these days - literally and figuratively - and Audi is at the forefront The company is trying to stake a claim as one of the most environmentally friendly automakers. Like many others, the company is dropping ozone-depleting air-conditioning refrigerant in another move, Audi is now trimming its interior with a more common walnut rather than the endangered Canadian elm; this after discarding the rain-forest-grown zebrano wood a few years back.

Of course, the top of the line CS Quattro still incorporates one of the most sophisticated full-time all-wheel drive systems on the market All Audi 100 models are powered by a 2.8-liter V-6 with an adequate 172 horsepower. Last year, Quattros got automatic transmissions. Prices range from just under $30,000 to about $40,000 for the Quattro station wagon.

EAGLE VISION

Of the three new sedans at Chrysler (Vision, Chrysier Concorde, Dodge Intrepid), the Vision offers the most in terms of style and excitement. And since Eagle's job is to steal sales from import brands, it has the best performance specs.

There are two models of the Vision, the ESi and TSi. The first starts out with a stalwart 3.3-liter V-6, producing 153 horsepower. Move up to the TSi and you receive a more exciting 3.5-liter SOHC 24-valve V-6 that pumps out 214 horsepower. Both team with electronically controlled, four-speed automatics that shift quietly and efficiently.

Equipment includes driver and passenger air bags, four-wheel-disc brakes, air-conditioning and more. With the TSi, you get anti-lock brakes (an option on the ESi) and optional traction control.

Price starts around $17,000 for the ESi and $22,500 for the TSi. Both are roomy performers that have analysts talking about Chrysler.
COPYRIGHT 1992 Earl G. Graves Publishing Co., Inc.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1992, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Title Annotation:Black Enterprise 1993 Auto Guide; competitively-priced Japanese luxury cars
Author:Katzka, Paul
Publication:Black Enterprise
Article Type:Buyers Guide
Date:Nov 1, 1992
Words:1938
Previous Article:Stately elegance.
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