1997 Black Enterprise Auto Guide

The latest in cars and auto trends for the new model year

has been caught without one. However, they managed to find something more than dose enough already in the stable. Mazda’s MPV minivan is already available with one of the toughest 4WD systems in a minivan. By adding some visual touches, including eyebrow fender flares, a more aggressive grille, luggage rack, alloy wheels and rear bumper guards, the MPV looks appropriate in the sport-utility role.

The rear-drive IX starts off at $23,575 and gains the All-Sport Package for another $880. But the 4WD models already include the package, beginning at $27,375 and reaching a bit over $30,000 with all the options. This is one of two vans on the market with four swing-out doors and windows that roll all the way down. And the MPV is the only one available with 4WD. That 4WD system is part time, requiring just the push of a button to shift power to all four wheels. Another button can lock the center differential for really slippery work, something you don’t get on other minivans.

The smooth-running 155-horsepower V6 provides adequate power through a four-speed automatic transmission. Handling is toward the top end of the minivan spectrum and quality is first rate. It will tow more than 4,000 pounds and carry up to eight people, although two rows of adults and one row of children are all that can be comfortable.

Honda is joining the fray by offering its first sport-utility vehicle. (It already sells the Passport, but that’s actually a substandard truck built by Isuzu.) Although the CR-V is based on the subcompact Civic, you couldn’t really tell by looking at it. For one thing, it’s much larger. Passenger room is greater than a Jeep Cherokee, for example.

In typical Honda fashion, there are no options. For $19,695, all CR-Vs are quite well-equipped with such features as air conditioning, AM/FM/cassette stereo, power windows/door locks/mirrors, cruise control, tilt steering split/folding rear seat and a Micron Air Filtration system. A second model priced $1,000 higher and adds anti-lock brakes and alloy wheels. A peppy 2.0- liter engine provides good power over a wide range via a four-speed automatic transmission. A full-time allwheel-drive system normally sends Dower to the front wheels, but diverts energy instantly to the rear if any slipping is detected. A comfortable, quiet ride and good handling make the CR-V very competitive.

Because it’s based on a car, you don’t get low-range gearing for serious off-road clambering. But with more than eight inches of ground clearance, the CR-V can handle some of the nastiest dirt roads and worst weather. And when the sun comes out, Honda even includes an integrated picnic table.

Dodge has had a tough time figuring the compact truck market. At first, it called the Dakota a “midsize,” making it a class of one. Since few people understood the concept, it has reverted to calling it the largest of the compact trucks. With a starting price of $ 13,235, the price seems small enough. But with popular options, this bare-bones price easily escalates into the mid-$20,000

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