Spring Auto Guide, 1999

Our picks of the best vehicles this season

powerful DOHC engine. However, the standard SOHC still provides 132 horsepower and enough torque to keep this among the front-runners for cars in this segment. That price begins at $12,890, although it will quickly escalate until somewhere in the mid to high teens when fully equipped. Styling is quite similar to the original, enough not to be noticed by people who don’t pay attention to this car. A host of changes from the full-frame door to the stiffer body are aimed at improving this car.

Saab 9-5
From the driver’s seat, it’s literally quite easy to forget this is a station wagon. More than any other wag
on, the Saab 9-5 completely duplicates the driving feel and dynamics of the sedan. This is true whether you enjoy the comfort on an open highway or the sporty suspension through a twisting mountain road. Both the turbo-charged 170-horsepower 4-cylinder and 200-horsepower V-6 engines provide ample thrust and the availability of a manual transmission (with the 4-cylinder) means you can have some real fun, an unusual benefit for a wagon.
Most people buy wagons to haul goods, but the Saab 9-5 does it with grace and aplomb. A pull-out cargo floor extends to the rear to make loading easier. A system of cargo tie-downs is strong enough to lift the car.
Safety is attended to in so many ways, from the unique whiplash-resistant head restraints to the head/thorax side airbags, this is one confident way to travel. Wagon prices aren’t set, but should be about $1,000 or so more than the $30,545 starting price of the sedan, ranging into the high $30,000 territory.

Saturn Coupe
Coupe sales, particularly at the lower end of the market where Saturn resides, have been suffering in recent years. Several brands have dropped 2-door name plates as sales dwindled. Saturn, with only one car to its brand name, is more reticent about leaving the market. Instead of deleting the coupe, it’s adding a new twist. Following the success of adding extra doors to extended cab pickups, Saturn has done the same thing with its coupe. Just behind the driver’s door is a small, forward-opening rear door.
The novelty of a 3-door coupe has met with initial sales success, but it remains a question for the long term. It makes loading cargo into the rear more convenient, but takes away a bit of passenger hip room. While it makes it more convenient to install a baby seat, it forces you to do so on the street side, creating a more hazardous condition. Eventually, we could see a 4-door coupe, which may simply have people reconsidering a sporty sedan. Meanwhile, Saturn Coupes range from $12,385 to nearly $20,000.

Volkswagen Jetta
Volkswagen is on a roll these days, enjoying the sort of success and acclaim it hasn’t seen in decades. For 1999, we have received a new Jetta, the best-selling VW in America. This small sedan still retains a slightly improved version of the stalwart, yet mild 115-horsepower 2.0-liter 4-cylinder engine. Yet it proves more peppy than the numbers indicate.

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