While the truck theme–particularly the sport-utility arena–continues to expand, there is another automotive segment on the growth trend. Sports cars, which have been on the wane throughout the 1990s, are returning. Although the Japanese have largely abandoned this market (witness the recent demise of the 300ZX, RX-7 and MR2) the European and domestic brands are coming out with new and quite fascinating merchandise. High performance enthusiasts will have a banner 1997.
Meanwhile, imports are making greater inroads by offering more for the money. Domestic brands have failed to take advantage of the rapid escalation of Japanese car pricing in the early part of the decade, matching price increase for price increase. Since 1996 and thus far this year, the yen has continued to decline relative to the dollar. While the Japanese have held the line–and sometimes even lowered prices recently-the domestics have raised them significantly. This quest for quick profits results in reduced market share, potentially sacrificing longterm rewards. Asian automakers are beginning to regain the position as value leaders. European brands are also benefiting from currency fluctuations | and domestic brand shortsightedness, and are offering more value to American customers.
Already a contender for being the most attractive sedan in its class, Audi’s A4 became an even better value for 1997. Although it’s still available with the 2.8-liter V6 engine, the new 1.8-liter engine provides a better driving experience while reducing the base price by a whopping $4,440. All you lose is a center armrest (get your dealer to install one for a modest fee) and the wood trim, replaced by a high-tech graphite look. Acceleration to GO mph is slower by a mere 0.1 second (automatic) or .02 seconds (manual), but the seat-of-the-pants feeling actually seems quicker.
For $23,490, you still get a seriously fun-to-drive sedan with automatic climate control, power everything and anti-lock brakes. You can add a sport package with bigger tires for $1,000. But the most useful item is the $1,600 Quattro option, among the world’s most sophisticated allwheel-drive systems.
The new powerplant is the first five-valve-per-cylinder production engine in the U.S. It’s turbocharged and produces 150 horsepower and plenty of torque beginning at a low 1750 rpm. The A4 steps out smartly with the computerized five-speed automatic transmission ($975), or gives the driver even finer control with the five speed manual. Powerful brakes and a sophisticated independent suspension provide delightful cornering, while ride quaky is just slightly on the firm side. It all makes for a performance/luxury bargain.
With sport-utility vehicles continuing to earn record profits at the high end of the automotive spectrum, Infiniti decided to join the growing ranks of luxury brands offering a truck. By taking Nissan Division’s Pathfinder and adding a few styling elements, a more grandiose interior treatment and a more sophisticated 4WD or “All Mode” system, the QX4 was born.
For $36,045, the QX4 comes loaded with an automatic climate control, a Bose audio system with CD player, leacher power seats and an alarm. The only options are heated seats, a power