Black Enterprise Auto Guide

Reviews of 36 new vehicles arriving in 1999

what the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration says you should know to keep your tots riding safely.

A rear-facing infant seat should never be placed in the front seat of a vehicle equipped with an active passenger air bag. An inflated air bag could injure or kill a child.

To counter this, technology is being developed by one company that will detect the size of the person facing the air bag and deploy it at a force safe enough to prevent injury. Mercedes-Benz and Porsche offer systems that deflate the air bag when a special child restraint is installed in the front seat.

Children are safest when properly restrained in the back seat. Built-in child seats that are forward facing and more convenient than add-on seats, are offered in some models and are designed to restrain children at least one year old and weighing 20 pounds.

All rear center seats must be equipped with a lap belt or lap and shoulder belt. All rear outboard seating positions must include a lap and shoulder belts. Some manufacturers include lap and shoulder belts in rear center seats. –V.L.G.

With the all-new S8O, Volvo completes a transition it began with the 850 back in 1993. That was the first time Volvo offered front-wheel drive. This replaces the S90–the last of the rear-wheel drive Volvos–as the top-of-the-line Volvo sedan. Starting out around $37,000 and reaching well into the low-$40,000 arena, the S80 offers a choice of two different levels. They differ primarily by engines. Starting out is a 2.9-liter inline-six that puts out 201 horsepower. The upper grade has a smaller 2.8-liter inline-six, but it’s turbocharged to the tune of 268 horsepower.

Of greatest technical interest is the fact that the S80 is the first modern front-wheel drive car to have an inline-six engine mounted transversely. This enables a shorter engine compartment and more efficient use of space.

Typical of Volvo, crash protection is high on the priority list. The S80 joins Mercedes-Benz as the first car to offer an “inflatable curtain” air bag that is designed to protect the head and upper torso in a side impact. Styling of the S80 is smoother than any Volvo since the 1960s. Finally, a Volvo sedan that doesn’t look like the box it came in.

Soldiering on as the cheapest car at Chrysler Corp., the Dodge Neon (also the Plymouth Neon) is in its last year in current form. For 2000, expect a new Neon with far better quality. This small, rounded car has as its greatest asset one of the most powerful engines in this class. For cars in the $11,500 to $16,000 price range, the 132-horsepower 2.0-liter four-cylinder power plant supplies plenty of pep. If that isn’t enough, there’s a 150-horsepower version of the same engine. That one requires more rpm to make the power and you’ll get plenty of noise along with the improved acceleration.

When it arrived for 1995, the Neon was a revelation for Dodge, a sporty little car that was cute and peppy. But the years have

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