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NEW MODEL PREVIEW

A Guide to the '00s and Beyond

October 21, 1999|JOHN O'DELL | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Mercedes-Benz designo editions of the SLK roadster, SL roadsters, S-Class sedans, CLK lineup and E-Class sedans and wagons debut in the 2000 model year, offering buyers the opportunity to order special paint and two-tone upholstery combinations in colors such as electric green and copper.

The Rest: The C-Class sedans and wagons are unchanged, as are the SL roadsters and the SLK hardtop convertible--a vest-pocket roadster with a marvelous folding metal roof that hides away in the trunk and comes in at about half the price of the bigger SL.

In the Wings: Mercedes has said it will bring out the ultra-luxury Maybach, to compete with Rolls-Royce and Bentley, as early as 2001.

Mercury

Worth Noting: Ford Motor Co. says it will quit ignoring its Mercury unit--rumored earlier this year to be on its way to the junkyard--and start developing new products for it. Mercury also launched a new advertising campaign this month, fueling speculation that it really will be around for a bit longer.

New: The '00 Sable, like its stablemate, the Ford Taurus, gets a new skin, more interior room, a redesigned instrument panel, adjustable brake and accelerator pedals and side air bags. The base 3.0-liter V-6 gets boosted to 153 horsepower, a gain of eight horses, and all Sables now come with standard 16-inch wheels.

Changes: The Cougar, new for '99, is unchanged except for the mid-2000 introduction of a sportier version with a 200-horsepower V-6. The present V-6 model tops out at 170 horses. The Tracer economy car has been dropped, and production of the Mystique will end in December.

The Rest: The Mountaineer SUV--Mercury's version of the Ford Explorer--gets more options and the Villager minivan, first cousin to the Nissan Quest, slight comfort and convenience package upgrades.

Mitsubishi

Worth Noting: The 3000GT, which once ran with Toyota Supras, Mazda RX-7s and Nissan Zs, has been phased out. Say goodbye to the last high-end sports coupe from Japan.

New: The Eclipse is redesigned from the ground up for 2000, with styling cues from the SST concept and the discontinued 3000GT and an optional 3.0-liter, 200-horsepower V-6 tuned to provide almost as much oomph as the previous generation's turbocharged model. The base 2.4-liter, four-cylinder engine produces 147 horsepower in California emissions tune, up from 138 last year.

Changes: The Montero Sport gets a freshened exterior, a new rear suspension and substantial interior upgrades. The Galant, all new last year, offers a number of new features, including traction control for the LS and GTZ models and a sportier suspension for the GTZ.

The Rest: More standard features and new exterior colors for the luxury Diamante sedan, more standard features for the entry-level Mirage sedan and coupe.

Nissan

New: Nissan has a lot of neat stuff for 2000, but most of it hit dealer showrooms earlier this year, leaving the company with a face-lifted Altima as its major new offering for the fall. An all-new 2000 Sentra sedan is due early next year.

The Xterra has been Nissan's big news so far for the 2000 model year: an SUV that goes back to the genre's truck roots and doesn't pretend to be a luxury sedan, a sports car or anything else. Styling is nifty, and standard features and options are plentiful, including water-resistant neoprene seat covers and a V-6 engine.

Nissan also hit showrooms early this year with a redesigned Maxima that is longer and more powerful than its predecessor. The Maxima's 3.0-liter V-6 now puts out 222 horsepower, up from 190 in the '99 model. The Maxima gets new standard features such as anti-lock brakes and keyless entry at a price that averages about $2,000 less than last year's models.

Another early '00 model for Nissan was the Frontier Crew Cab, the first of the four-door, short-bed mini-pickups that will soon be flooding the market.

The Sentra will arrive with a new base 1.8-liter, four-cylinder engine rated at about 135 horsepower; that's up from the 1.6-liter, 115-horse base engine in '99. An optional 2.0-liter, four-cylinder motor will deliver an estimated 145 horsepower, up from 140 last year. The car will get all new styling from Nissan Design International in La Jolla.

Changes: The Altima sedan sports redesigned front and rear fascias to give it the longer, wider look that consumers are demanding in the small-sedan market. The suspension was stiffened, and the 2.4-liter, four-cylinder power plant gets five more horses for a total of 155.

The Rest: No changes for Nissan's electric vehicle, the Altra EV.

In the Wings: Nissan faces a complete corporate make-over after nearly going under last year before being rescued by Renault of France. There are a number of possibilities for the Japanese company, and some future products will be unveiled this week at the hometown Tokyo Motor Show. One thing we know for sure is that the revered Nissan Z sports car will be resurrected as a 2002 model, though smaller and a lot less expensive than the last Zs built in 1997.

Oldsmobile

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