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Efficient compacts.

One look up at the urban sky and it's evident a crisis is at hand. That burning in your eyes and every deep breath you take bring a desire for change. Whether that change is for the good is a matter of considerable controversy. But no matter if we're headed in the right direction or not, the race is on and several contenders are running hard.

The battle is joined in California because that's where the air is foul and the California Air Resources Board (CARB) is powerful. Automakers are being forced to build and sell vehicles that run on fuels other than traditional gasoline. (They are also being forced to build electric vehicles, although that technology is still far from being practical from a consumer standpoint. Only government fleets will be operating on batteries any time soon.)

This fall, the Big Three automakers are building vehicles available to the public that will run on fuel other than gasoline. These cars are being offered, "Not because of a ground swell of demand by the public," says Doug Teague, executive engineer, Advanced Emissions and Regulatory Programs at Chrysler Corp., but because of the combination of government requirements and a simple matter of concern about the future of the business.

The figures are small, for now, with fewer than 10,000 cars expected to reach the market in 1993. That could change eventually: "In the long run, we think alternative fuels will play an important role," says Beth Ardisana, planning manager, Alternative Fuels Engineering and Planning at Ford Motor Co.

Being offered to the public now are FFVs, or "flexible fuel vehicles." These can operate on anything from straight gasoline to a combination of 85% methanol/15% gasoline,, or anything in between. Ford is building 2,800 Taurus FFVs and Chrysler is building about 3,500 Dodge Spirit and Plymouth Acclaim FFVs.

"Our first buyers will be fleet owners," says Ardisana. She also believes consumers who have access to methanol might like the idea that the cars produce only about 20% to 30% of the ozone-causing emissions of a gasoline-powered car.

Performance is actually the same or better with methanol, say both Teague and Ardisana, although gasoline produces better mileage. That's one reason why the FFVs have larger fuel tanks. FFVs are convenient because they also can operate on gasoline when that's the only fuel around.

Another fuel likely to do well is natural gas, which Teague states can result in, "the lowest emissions internal combustion engine available to the public." - But natural gas requires large, cylindrical tanks that are difficult to place in smaller vehicles. For now, Ford and Chrysler are building only full-size vans and trucks to run on natural gas. Another improvement is reformulated gasoline, which could become 10% to 30% cleaner than it is today.

Will there be a smorgasbord of fuels available in the 21st Century? Ardisana believes, "There will be a few niche fuels, like the way gasoline and diesel coexist today." But you don't need to consider selling your present car immediately. Says Ardisana,

"In the next 10 or 20 years, the predominant fuel will be gasoline. It will be more expensive and cleaner gasoline, but gasoline."


Competing against the likes of Honda, Toyota and Ford, Nissan was ill-equipped with the Stanza. This fall, a rather peculiarly styled new version of that car gains a new name. It's still a bit smaller than the competition and can't be equipped with a V-6 engine, but it does offer a few extra features.

This is the first Nissan in this class to offer a standard driver air bag. The engine is a 2.4-liter, 16-valve four-cylinder with a very healthy 150 horsepower. The Altima is a front-drive, four-door sedan available in four different trim levels.

The XE has relatively few frills. The GXE includes only slightly nicer trim, but can be equipped with options that add more luxury. The SE is the sporty model. At this level, items like air-conditioning and four-speaker stereo become standard. The GLE is top of the line, available with an automatic transmission only. Anti-lock brakes are available on all models. Prices range from $12,999 to 16,524.


Like its twin, the Toyota Corolla, the all-new Prizm is larger, quieter and more comfortable. It gets a driver air bag and choice of 1.6- or 1.8-liter four-cylinder engine, with 105 and 115 horsepower, respectively. Inside, the Prizm has a cockpit-oriented look, with controls and instruments canted towards the driver.

There are two models of the Prizm, standard and LSi, both four-door sedans. A five-speed manual transmission is standard and an automatic is optional. The 1.8 comes with a four-speed automatic. Not only does it help performance, but it improves fuel economy. With the 1.6-liter engine, you can only get a three-speed automatic. Anti-lock brakes are optional on all models.

With prices starting at just over $10,000, the Prizm is a real value. The smaller engine is fine for budget-minded folks, but the 1.8-liter gives better performance, even with the automatic.


This year the efficiently engineered Civic family adds a more sophisticated, albeit less innovative, successor to the highly entertaining CRX - the targa-styled del Sol. With removable roof and roll-bar styling, it's a fashionable alternative to the pure roadster. At $13,200 to $15,750, depending on model, del Sol is exciting and affordable.

The rest of the Civic Line shouldn't be overlooked either. Civic hatchbacks come in base CX, mid-line DX and high-performance Si, with horsepower ranging from 70 to 125. There is also a unique high-model called the VX, but the penalty is sluggish acceleration. Sedans start with the price leader DX, and mid-line LX. Top of the line is the EX, with anti-lock brakes, sunroof, full power accessories and the high-performance engine. Every Civic also has a driver air bag.

Prices for Honda's modest transportation mobiles start around $8,500, but can top $15,000.


Escort gets a mild face-lift. Ford is now offering to California buyers Escorts with the market's most modern catalytic converter, making it the cleanest in emissions of any car available.

The three-door Pony is the price leader, with the LX the next step up, adding such things as better upholstery, split-folding rear seat and AM/FM stereo. It's available in any hatchback (3 or 5 doors), sedan or station wagon. The GT three-door is the high-performance model, with a more powerful engine, wider wheels and tires, and four-wheel disc brakes. The LX-E sedan gets much of the same treatment including the more potent engine. The base 1.9-liter four-cylinder engine puts only 88 horsepower, but torque is a good 108 foot-pounds. The 1.8-liter 16-valve delivers a rousing 127 horsepower. Shortcoming: no air bag.

Prices range from $8,730 to $13,000. But there is a choice of body styles for one price.


With its pop-culture styling and available V-6 engine the tiny MX-3 has tremendous appeal.

Every MX-3 shares the same tear-drop design, but the hot GS model benefits from the jewel-like, 130-horsepower, 1.8-liter V-6. With dual overhead cams, 24 valves, electronically controlled sequential fuel injection and a tuned intake system, this engine will rev high enough to make enthusiasts grin. There are competitors that are more powerful and faster, but none can match the sound and feel of the smallest mass-produced V-6 on the U.S. market

In base trim,the MX-3 looses its status as a high-tech pocket rocket settling for being cute and economical. The 1.6-liter four-cylinder engine, smaller wheels and tires and less aggressive suspension give away performance in the name of ride comfort, fuel economy and a lower price. The price is about $11,875, compared to about $14,000 plus options for the GS.


The all-new Corolla is bigger and moves to the compact class. Among improvements are a larger engine option and driver air bag. Anti-lock brakes are optional on all models. The Corolla is also much quiter and more comfortable. It retains its well-designed interior and is still a pleasure to drive.

The Prizm and Corolla are built in a jointly owned factory in California, although additional Corollas come from Japan and Ontario, Canada.

Unique to Toyota, however, is a luxurious little station wagon model. It's available only in the DX level. The sedan is available as base, DX and LE. The base includes a 105-horsepower, 1.6-liter engine and a five-speed manual or three-speed automatic. DX and LE get the 1.8-liter and a five-speed manual (not available in LE) or four-speed automatic. The larger engine adds only 10 horsepower, but it performs better at low and mid-range speeds. Prices go from $11,198 to $15,218 with options, making the Corolla a mini-luxury car.


Dodge is returning to the Spirit of the a family sedan. Last year's super-high-performance model, the R/T, is gone. In its stead is something from the other end of the spectrum, a flexible-fuel version that can run on a mix of methanol and gasoline. Most of these will go to governmental agencies.

There are two sedans: base and ES. The base has a 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine with an anemic 100 horsepower. A 3.0-liter V-6 is optional on the ES and offers a good boost in power and smoothness. A five-speed manual transmission is standard with the four and a three-speed automatic available with either engine. A smoother shifting four-speed automatic is also available; it aids performance and economy.

Styling is plainly utilitarian, but there's plenty of room inside for five adults (or six in a pinch with the optional front bench seat). There's value, not excitement in this car, which starts under $12,000 and tops out at around $15,000.


Built by Mitsubishi's Diamond Star plant in Illinois, the Laser is a near-clone in of the Eagle Talon and Mitsubishi eclipse. While mechanically the same, the Laser sells for less, making it the best deal. Four versions are offered: base model, RS, RS Turbo and RS Turbo AWD. Starting out around $11,500, it's a sporty looking car with economy performance. But spend around $17,000 and you get resounding performance.

Base engine is the 1.8-liter four-cylinder with 92 horsepower. The RS gets a 2.0-liter, 16-valve four-cylinder engine and 135 horsepower. Add turbocharging and you hit an impressive 195 horsepower, although you also have to put up with front-drive torque steer. The ultimate Laser includes the turbo with all-wheel drive, making this a super performer in any weather.

Because of the Mitsubishi heritage, there's no air bag; all Chrysler cars, however, have standard air bags.


Bringing up the affordable end of the compact segment, the Topaz and its identical twin, the Ford Tempo, are comfortable and utilitarian. The biggest change is a reduction in the number of models: The LS, LTS and XR5 are gone, leaving only the Topaz GS, as a two- or four-door. In this case, consolidation means value, as the Topaz is likely to be marketed with discount packages. Prices start out at $10,296, giving the Topaz a price advantage over most competitors.

The base engine is a 96-horsepower, 2.3-liter four-cylinder, connected to a five-speed manual or three-speed automatic. A 3.0-liter V-6 is optional. This engine puts out 130 horsepower with a manual transmission and 135 horsepower with the automatic.

While the Topaz was among the earliest cars to offer an air bag optionally, the standard motorized seatbelts remain.


The Paseo, a new nameplate for '92, gets a driver's side air bag for '93. But in an odd move, Toyota left the passenger with the intrusive and annoying two-point door-mounted belt The Paseo and its sibling, the Tercel, both have this setup and will be the only cars on the market with it Also new are optional anti-lock brakes and slightly larger tires.

Paseo shares much of it's underpinnings with Tercel, but has a more powerful engine and sporting suspension. Paseo's 1.5-liter, 16-valve four-cylinder engine produces a modest 100 horsepower, which actually goes a long way in this lightweight vehicle. The net result is good economy of operation and lower insurance premiums.

The Paseo is bargain fun (starting around $11,500) with some extra style. A five-speed manual is standard and four-speed automatic is optional, as are sunroof, rear spoiler, cruise control, alloywheels, airconditioning and upgraded audio systems.
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
Author:Koblenz, Jay
Publication:Black Enterprise
Article Type:Buyers Guide
Date:Nov 1, 1992
Previous Article:Family features.
Next Article:Grand touring.

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