and most powerful of minivans. A 3.5-liter V-6 pumps out a very generous 210 horsepower. But more than raw power, this is a very smooth engine that works well with the attached automatic transmission. Honda’s VTEC system ensures good power throughout the rpm range.
Ride and handling are the best of the minivan set, with a wide track and rear double-wishbone suspension. Four doors are standard, and you’ll find clever features. The third row seat folds flat into the floor or opens to leave a gaping cargo space that lets you of golf clubs upright in the back. The ventilation system keeps everybody happy, all outboard passengers have their own light and both sliding doors are powered in the uplevel EX model. In all models, the second row can slide together as a bench or separate as bucket seats. Pricing isn’t set yet, but should fall in the typical low- to mid-$20,000 range.
JEEP GRAND CHEROKEE
When Jeep designed the new Grand Cherokee, they didn’t know they would share parenthood with Mercedes-Benz. So one goal was to compete against the Mercedes ML320. And with its sister Dodge Division having recently introduced the Durango, Jeep felt free to send the Grand Cherokee into more expensive territory. Although prices aren’t set at this writing, expect them to head upward from around $27,000 to $40,000.
Despite being a relatively new vehicle, the shape and size haven’t changed much. Interior room is no better with one exception: that spare tire that took up a large portion of the cargo area is now hidden under the vehicle.
The standard drivetrain remains unchanged, the 4.0-liter inline-six. Both the 5.2- and 5.9-liter V-8 engines are gone, replaced by a 4.7-liter V-8. The 235 horsepower is 15 better than the old 5.2-liter engine, although torque is down a bit.
A new optional “Quadra-Drive” full-time four-wheel drive system should ensure that Jeep maintains a good reputation for off-road worthiness. Expect some sacrifices in on-road comfort and handling as a result. The old proven Selec-Trac part-full-time system remains available. Rear-drive models are still price leaders.
SUZUKI GRAND VITARA
Tired of being picked on by the other car companies in the SUV playground, Suzuki is striking back. No longer willing to play second fiddle, the Sidekick name is gone. It is replaced by a more grandiose nameplate, the Grand Vitara to be exact.
Priced to go up against such vehicles as the Toyota RAV4 and Honda CR-V, the Grand Vitara is unique in the class by virtue of being a real truck-based SUV. The four-wheel drive model includes a two-speed transfer case, giving it a low range for serious off-road ability. The body-on-frame construction is for heavier use.
Rear-drive models start out around $18,500 with the top four-wheel drive model under $30,000. all models include one feature not available in any direct competitor: a V-6 engine. This small 2.5-liter V-6 puts out 155 horsepower, more than any vehicle in this class except a Subaru Forester. This is also one smooth running engine that works well with an easy shifting manual