Spring Auto Guide, 1999

Our picks of the best vehicles this season

passenger space. The Discovery is also going more high-tech with a number of new features. Starting off are electronic controls to assist traction and handling. Active Cornering Enhancement is a complicated new option designed to reduce body roll during cornering. Beyond ABS is Electronic Brake Distribution that varies braking between front and rear axles as needed. Four-wheel traction control prevents wheelspin at speeds up to 62 mph. Finally, Hill Descent Control can be used in low range to automatically apply the brakes for going down very steep hills.
Still unchanged is Discovery’s compact SUV form with room for five, plus jump seats for two children in the back-a sophisticated 4WD system that’s adept at off-road travel. With a price tag ranging from $34,775 to $44,000, the only truly unfortunate aspect is the ancient V-8 engine that puts out a sub-par 188 horsepower from its 4.0 liters.

Mercedes-Benz E55
www.mercedes-benz.com
Subtle power is the theme with the E55. Take a standard issue E-Class sedan, pump it up with a 5.5-liter 349-horsepower V-8, toss in monster 18-inch tires and a beefed up double-wishbone suspension and you have the makings of a true super car. Capable of reaching 60 mph in less than five and a half seconds, this is one $69,100 vehicle where you get your money’s worth.
Courtesy of German car-tuning company AMG, this is the fastest 4-door you can buy (at least until BMW’s new M5 arrives). It will provide all the performance and thrills of some rather spectacular sports cars costing as much or more.
Inside, the main differences are sporty seats to hold you in place, some more flashy graphics and a huge grin on the driver’s face. Wide tires and electronic stability program tame the car’s behavior for more mundane chores. A five-speed automatic transmission always finds the right gear. Perhaps the most endearing feature of the E55 is that it’s content to drive peacefully every day to work or the grocery store. That is until a Corvette or Ferrari pulls up alongside, then that driver’s grin turns smug.

Mercury Villager
www.mercuryvehicles.com
The original Villager was a pleasant minivan that was quickly outmoded as competitors soon began offering more power and four doors. For 1999, Mercury catches up. It’s also a larger and more comfortable minivan this time around. It gains nearly five inches in length and becomes an inch wider.
As before, the Villager is a joint venture with Nissan, which supplies many of the parts, including the drivetrain. It’s built in Ohio along with near-twin, the Nissan Quest.
The new engine is a 3.3-liter V-6 that was first seen in the Nissan Pathfinder. It puts out a reasonable 170 horsepower, but with plenty of power available at low engine speeds for good acceleration in traffic. When equipped with optional 16-inch tires, the Villager is a bit more sporty than most minivans and the ride remains quiet and controlled. There are a number of clever features, including a rear package shelf for two levels of cargo. There are plenty of nooks and crannies for storage and

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