The mid-size Optima sedan, due in December, shares a platform and numerous mechanical components, including a base 150-horsepower inline-4 engine and an optional 170-horse V-6, with the Sonata from Kia parent Hyundai Motor. Optima pricing hasn't been set yet but is expected to range from $14,000 to $21,000.
The Rest: No changes for the Sephia or, except for a new, upscale LTD trim level, for the Sportage mini-SUV.
In the Wings: The Sedona minivan, first promised for this year as a 2001 model, has been pushed back to next year as a 2002. Kia also plans to introduce a second, larger SUV in model year 2003.
New: Though its wares are more often seen in rap music videos than on the highway, the Italian company continues to push the supercar envelope. Now owned, but not governed, by Volkswagen, Lamborghini introduces the new Diablo 6.0 VT coupe for 2001. Touting a 6.0-liter V-12 engine generating 550 horsepower, the car uses a viscous traction four-wheel-drive system to propel it past 220 mph. Explain that to your local CHP officer.
Unlike with its predecessors, the majority of the Diablo 6.0's body is built with carbon fiber. The roof remains steel for structural purposes and the doors aluminum for safety. With carbon fiber, aluminum and leather throughout, the interior is a combination of high-tech and luxury. The complete optional equipment list for a Diablo? Custom fitted luggage and mouton floor mats. What else would feel right against Ferragamo loafers?
Worth Noting: This venerable brand was added to Ford Motor's Premier Automotive Group this year, but nothing much has been done to the line as Ford figures out what to do with it--and how. As a result, it looks as if the long-awaited U.S. introduction of the Freelander, a mini-ute, will be held up until 2002.
The Rest: The Range Rover and Discovery SUVs are largely unchanged.
New: The BMW-fighting IS 300 sports sedan and the LS 430 sedan, which aims to keep Lexus fanciers in the family and dissuade them from looking at Mercedes-Benz's S-Class, are this year's headliners for Toyota Motor Corp.'s luxury line.
The IS 300 features a look that is distinctly more European than Japanese; track-bred handling capabilities that give BMW's 3-Series cars a run; a 215-horsepower inline-6 engine as smooth as a politician's stump speech; and a price that starts at a Bimmer-beating $31,000. On the downside, there's almost no back seat and, until the 2002 models start arriving, no manual transmission to help move the wedge-shaped sedan (which is luscious in screaming lemon yellow, by the way) through its paces.
The redesigned LS 430, Lexus' flagship, arrived this fall with a subtly updated body, a longer wheelbase and a torquier 4.3-liter V-8 that retains the same 290-horsepower rating as the 2000 model. And options--oh, yes, options: yaw control; Global Positioning Satellite navigation system; intelligent suspension that adapts to various driving conditions; voice-activated telephone; power adjustable rear seats with heaters and a massage function; front seats with individual heating and cooling; a high-end sound installation by home audio system superstar Mark Levinson, etc., etc., etc. Pricing starts at about $55,000.
Changes: The SC line takes a one-year hiatus, with a whole new approach to the sports coupe concept coming.
The Rest: A few tweaks and caresses for the remaining Lexii but nothing significant.
In the Wings: The new SC, which might better be called the SC-C--for coupe-convertible, will be arrive next year as a 2002 model. It is a 2+2 (meaning it has two front seats and two tiny patches of leather in back that pass, for insurance purposes, as rear seats--good for grocery bags, bowling balls or small pets) with a retracting metal hardtop. Push a button and the top folds away into the trunk (leaving enough room there for something about the size of a set of golf clubs), designed by the same company that did the hideaway aluminum lid for Mercedes-Benz's SLK. The power plant is a new 4.3-liter, 300-horsepower V-8.
Worth Noting: There are no new models for Ford's domestic luxury division this year, but Lincoln is offering free scheduled maintenance on all models for three years or 36,000 miles.
Changes: The LS line, new last year, gets connected with voice-activated cell phones linked to a 24-hour emergency assistance service as well as to providers of news, weather, sports and stock market information and voice-only e-mail. The Town Car adds adjustable pedals (an idea that first surfaced in the more plebeian Ford line two years ago), and its 4.6-liter V-8 gets boosted to 240 horsepower in top-of-the-line models.