the Limited. Both are available in either rear-wheel or 4-wheel drive. The Laredo’s base 4WD system is the Selec-Trac system. Optional on Laredo and standard on Limited 4WD models is the Quadra-Drive II. This system can quickly sense when a wheel is slipping and transfer torque to whichever wheel has the most traction.
Among the Grand Cherokee’s best traits is its ability to go off-road without greatly reducing on-pavement handling.
Base models are equipped with a slightly modified version of the in-line-6 engine that has powered Jeeps since the vehicle’s American Motors days. Prices start near $28,000 and can reach to around $40,000 for a fully equipped model.
Although it retains the same name as the old rear-drive minivan, the new front-drive MPV is an entirely different vehicle. Still smaller than most minivans on the market, this one has acquired all the latest tricks of the trade in minivan innovations. Like most current minivans, the MPV has four doors. But Mazda has the first sliding doors that include windows that roll down, a boon to the comfort of second-row occupants.
Not unique but still very thoughtful features include a third-row seat that pops into or out of the floor, a center seat that splits apart in the middle to become separate bucket seats and an available in-dash six-disc CD changer.
The engine is built by Mazda’s majority holder, Ford. The 2.5-liter engine is the smallest V6 offered in a minivan, and the 170 horsepower is rather underwhelming. Fortunately, it runs smoothly, and the automatic transmission shifts precisely.
The redesigned Eclipse remains a rather swoopy-looking car. No longer part of the lineup are the turbocharged engine and all-wheel drive. The top model now gets a potent 3.0-liter V6 engine. The convertible model is absent temporarily, but is anticipated to return by next spring. The 2.0-liter 4-cylinder engine is also gone, so the choice is between a 154-horsepower 2.4-liter 4-cylinder or the 205-horsepower V6, making the Eclipse one of the quickest cars in its category. Both engines are available with either manual or automatic transmission. In all but the base model, the automatic includes a Sportronic semi-manual mode. Ride and handling vary according to trim, but choices range from comfortable to firm but much more sporty.
The new interior is well designed and ergonomically friendly. Prices begin at $18,312 and should top out just below $25,000 for a fully loaded V6 model.
Representing the Mercedes-Benz interpretation of state-of-the-art in luxury sedans, the S430 and S500 manage to feel lightweight and nimble despite pressing down upon the Earth with more than two tons of steel, aluminum, leather, rubber and wood. Powerful V8 engines produce either 275 or 302 horsepower, and the computer-controlled suspension holds the road firmly in its grip while also ensuring occupant comfort. Starting out at $70,295, the S430 is priced about $4,000 cheaper than the car it replaces. The S500 begins at $79,445 (including the $1,000 gas-guzzler tax) and can still see many thousands more in options.
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