Choices for the new sedans begin with the 323i and its 170-horsepower 2.5-liter inline-6 engine and $27,000 price tag. The 193-horsepower 328i adds luxury equipment for its $34,000 price tag, which can be pushed to around $40,000 when optioned to the hilt. There’s more rear seat room than before and while the dashboard lacks the ergonomic simplicity of
a Lexus or Acura, it’s easier to understand than other BMWs. While creature comforts are improved, it takes only a short drive to understand that this is a brand willing to give up some riding comfort to ensure a smile on the driver’s face.
Designed and built together with the LHS, the 300M takes the same underpinnings and heads toward a sportier end of the spectrum. For about the same $29,000 starting price, this sedan is smaller than the LHS, with less room for rear-seat passengers and cargo. The idea is to appeal to a more European-oriented audience. However, if you want a sportier aspect to your full-size sedan, you must spend the extra $255 for the Performance Handling Group.
Standard is the quite peppy 3.5-liter V-6 powering the front wheels, the same found in the LHS. The look is slightly less dramatic, with a more sharply clipped rear end. The interior is quite similar to its sibling with white-faced instruments and ample luxury features.
Shortcomings include a trunk with a smallish opening and the folding seat backs that cannot be locked, leaving you with no more security than a hatchback. Compared to equally priced imports, the 300M supplies power in profusion, generous interior room and styling that’s as up-to-date as next year’s calendar.
SAAB9-3 Saab offers a most unusual combination of features in all of its cars. They’re quite sporty in nature, with good power and handling, plus that elusive fun-to-drive quality that has you looking forward to a trip to the grocery store. Yet Saabs are practical cars with back seats that can accommodate adults (even in the convertible!) and a cargo hold that rivals a station wagon. Then there’s also Saab’s unique features, including an ignition key between the seats.
For 1999, the 9-3 (which recently replaced the 900) gets a power boost in the SE trim level. While the S model maintains its 185 horsepower, the SE now sends 200 horsepower to the front tires. Both cars have a turbocharged 2.0-liter engine. There are three body styles: two-door, four-door hatchback and two-door convertible.
Prices begin at around $26,000 for a well-equipped car including a powerful stereo and an electrostatically filtered air conditioning system.
The SE adds about $6,000 for more power and luxury, including automatic climate control, driver seat memory, walnut trim and plenty of leather. Expect to spend around $40,000 when you opt for one of the most practical convertibles on the market. – www.saab.com
A NEW POSITION FOR AIR BAGS
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration says that of the 45,000 air bag on/off switches it has authorized since last November, just 2,307 have been implemented. The NHTSA has published on its Web site