2000 Winter Auto Guide

Reviews of 16 new vehicles

the S-Class, it’s that the car is overinfused with technical wizardry. The COMAND System-intended to relieve designers of having to add too many buttons-serves more to confuse and draw attention from the driving task. Fortunately, driving this car is pure delight.

Nissan’s flagship sedan is new and once again worthy of its eminent position. Of greatest interest is a large boost in horsepower, from 190 to 222. The 3.0-liter V6 is ready to take the car to greater speed whenever asked. An improved platform makes good use of the engine, with an interior that remains quiet and a suspension ready to handle whatever task is requested. Three trim levels vary the competence. At $21,049, the most affordable GXE is comfortable and capable, while the sporting SE sacrifices a bit of ride for much improved cornering finesse. At $26,249, plus options, the GLE is the most luxurious, with a pliant ride that gives up a bit of handling ability. It’s not available with a manual transmission.

Standard features are plentiful, with comfortably supportive seats and practical ergonomics. The underpinnings share duty with the more expensive Infiniti I30, but the Maxima seems to provide as much ability for less outlay.

Just like its predecessor, the second-generation Avalon retains the same basic platform as the Camry. But this time, the structure and entire vehicle are so enhanced, you’d have to conduct an engineering study to tell. Already the first Japanese-brand car to be classified in the full-size category, the new Avalon is larger and better in virtually every way. Styling has gone from mundane to outright handsome. Serene ride comfort places this car firmly in the luxury category, and the features list would seem appropriate for cars costing more than the estimated $25,000 to $30,000.

Available items include Vehicle Skid Control and Brake Assist, assets in active safety. The 210-horsepower 3.0-liter V6 engine gives a smooth and invigorating ride. Even the base audio system is an aural delight, while a JBL upgrade will tempt you to live in the car. The Avalon is the kind of car that could really worry some high-priced competitors.

A couple of decades ago, before the term SUV was coined, such vehicles were simply pickup trucks with a covered rear end. By producing the Xterra, Nissan has taken this archetypal idea and brought it up to date. Less luxurious than Nissan’s Pathfinder, Xterra is intended for more rugged use. Styling reflects this intent to attract those who need a real truck, or think they do.

A basic 143-horsepower 4-cylinder rear-drive model begins at $17,349, but you’ll quickly graduate to $20,499 with a 170-horsepower V6 4×4. Although prices can reach well into the upper $20,000 arena, the Xterra still represents good value compared to other, equally capable SUVs. The Xterra is heavy, so it’s not particularly quick, and the part-time 4WD system may be rugged but lacks sophistication. You can’t have such luxuries as leather upholstery. Despite the rudimentary appeal, the Xterra is quiet, fairly comfortable and cleverly

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