Buyer's Guide: 2001 Autos

Smart cars: Next year's autos will have an array of clever features--from onboard computers to electric-powered engines.

October 1, 2000

You might call this the year of the digital automobile.

The 2001 models usher in an array of electronic features and options that promise significant advances in safety, performance, and comfort. That may be especially good news for real estate salespeople who use their car as a second office.

“We’ve entered a world where you measure a car’s speed in gigahertz and pipeline bursts, not horsepower,” says Ford Motor Co.’s design director, J Mays. As if to prove the point, Ford will roll out the world’s first factory-installed onboard Internet systems this fall. Separately, General Motors’ flagship Cadillac division will debut a similar system. They’ll both provide a range of interactive features, including e-mail, Internet access, and onboard navigation.

Other big digital news for 2001 is the year-end debut of two new subscription broadcasting services, Sirius Satellite Radio and XM Satellite Radio--each set to broadcast mostly commercial-free music, news, and chat on 50 or more stations. To get these CD-quality services, expect to pay about $10 per month.

Safety first

Such systems are designed to inform and entertain, but other onboard digital devices will meet more basic necessities, such as safety, according to Ford’s e-vehicle chief, Brian Kelley.

The most popular of the safety systems, GM’s OnStar, will be offered this fall in roughly 40 models as either standard or optional equipment. Car trouble? Need an ambulance? Simply touch a button, and help will come screaming your way. These systems will even be smart enough to summon aid automatically when an accident is severe enough to trigger the car’s air bags.

Mercedes-Benz has introduced its own emergency call system, dubbed Tele Aid. What’s in store for 2001 Mercedes isn’t ready to reveal, but it might include Internet access and an OnStar-like concierge service.

Digital technology is revolutionizing virtually every safety feature of the automobile, from antilock brakes to “smart” suspension systems, which you’ll find on most BMW 5-and 7-Series models and a wide range of other luxury vehicles.

Meanwhile, the 2001 model year will bring the long-anticipated U.S. launch of the Mercedes-Benz Distronic system. Generically known as active, adaptive, or intelligent cruise control, this set-and-forget system lets you use cruise even in heavy traffic. If a slower car cuts in front, the system will back off the throttle and even gently apply the brakes in order to maintain a safe distance. When traffic clears, you speed up again.

Comfortable crossovers

Of course, electronics aren’t everything. Another significant trend for 2001 is the arrival of a new wave of “crossover vehicles.” These blend the cargo capacity of a sport utility vehicle with the comfort of a sedan--ideal for carrying a load of passengers.

Although the Mazda Tribute may look like an SUV, its macho body is mounted atop a car-like chassis. Only the most diehard off-roaders will mind; the combination delivers a surprisingly competent and far-more-manageable ride than traditional sport-utes--and with noticeably better fuel economy.

The first of the crossovers, the Jeep GrandCherokee, debuted nine years ago but still pleases with car-like comfort. The Cherokee will undergo a total redesign in 2002. Meanwhile, other automakers are targeting the luxury market, with products like the new Acura MDX. For something more wagonlike, try Audi’s All-Road or the updated Volvo Cross Country.

As design barriers fall, carmakers are combining once-distinct truck segments as well. There’s the pickup-SUV melding Ford Explorer SportTrac and the Chevrolet Avalanche. The Avalanche, due out in mid-2001, will offer two rows of seats and a unique “midgate” fold-down door between the pickup bed and the SUV cabin, letting users to carry extra-long cargo, such as a 4-by-8-foot sheet of plywood or a pile of For Sale signs.

All in all, it’ll be an extraordinary year with cars that anticipate your needs like never before.

‘Green‘ cars take root

There are plenty of ways to impress your outdoorsy clientele and go “green” for the 2001 model year, including an array of bifuel vehicles, such as the Ford Taurus, which can run on gasoline, methanol, or a mix of the two.

One of the year’s most significant new green machines is the Toyota Prius. This hybrid-electric vehicle, or HEV, combines a small gasoline engine and an electric motor under the hood. Prius starts off under battery power, then switches to the internal combustion engine. Under heavy acceleration, it can draw power from both. When you brake or cruise, it recaptures wasted energy to charge up its batteries.

But will Prius charge up the marketplace? Toyota delayed its U.S. launch for nearly two years (it debuted in Japan in 1998) to tweak its performance. But the automaker can only be encouraged by the early progress of Honda’s HEV, the teardrop-shaped, two-seat Insight, which is outstripping Honda’s admittedly modest early projections.

HEVs don’t have the zero-emission advantages of purely battery-powered vehicles, but they also don’t have the range limitations or the need to charge up, often overnight.

Nissan is introducing a version of its Sentra that meets California’s incredibly stiff SULEV (super-ultra-low-emissions vehicle) standard. That means that after 100,000 miles, it would emit only 2.3 pounds of smog-forming hydrocarbons, little more than what you’d get by spilling a quart of gasoline.

Volvo is taking a very different approach to clean air. Its S80, V70, and S/V40 models will feature the PremAir radiator. It’s coated with a new catalytic material that actually breaks down ozone as you drive, turning it back into its basic component: fresh air.

Moderately priced sedans

For more information from any manufacturer, visit the company’s Web site.

 

MANUFACTURER/MODEL/MSRP* POWERTRAIN COMFORT FEATURES SAFETY FEATURES DESCRIPTION
Dodge Stratus SE
www.chryslercars.com
$17,800
(+ $575 destination)
2.4-liter, 150-hp
I-4 (base engine) or 2.7-liter, 200-hp V-6
Split-fold rear seats,
eight-way power seats available; premium CD audio available; trunk capacity = 16 cubic feet
Multistage dual front air bags, optional side air bag curtains; disc brakes, ABS-plus optional The completely redesigned 2001 Stratusis 4 inches longer and a bit taller than last generation’s sedan, with a sportier appearance, quieter ride, and improved riding and handling.
Chrysler Sebring LX
www.chryslercars.com
$17,945
(+ $575 destination)
2.4-liter, 150-hp
I-4 (base engine) or 2.7-liter, 200-hp V-6
Split-fold rear seats,
eight-way power seats available; premium CD audio available; trunk capacity = 16 cubic feet
Multistage dual front air bags, optional side air bag curtains; disc brakes, ABS-plus optional It was previously called the Cirrus but now shares its moniker with Chrysler’s compact coupe and convertible models. The top goals for the 2001 remake were to reduce noise, improve quality,
and provide a more refined ride and feel.
Volkswagen Passat
www.vw.com
$21,450
(+ $525 destination)
1.8-liter, 150-hp
I-4 (base engine) or 2.8-liter, 190-hp V-6; new W-8 due late in 2001 model year
Eight-speaker CD sound system; rain sensor wipers; optional “auto-manual” transmission; heated seats; trunk capacity = 14 cubic feet Dual front and side air bags, new head curtain side air bags; antilock brakes and traction control standard Newly restyled for 2001, with plenty of new safety and comfort features. It’s taken the Passat a while to gain recognition, but it’s become an affordable import alternative for those who don’t want another me-too sedan.

For more information from any manufacturer, visit the company’s Web site

This list isn’t comprehensive; NAR doesn’t evaluate or endorse these products and isn’t responsible for changes in company information.
 
LUXURY SEDANS

MANUFACTURER/MODEL/MSRP* POWERTRAIN COMFORT FEATURES SAFETY FEATURES DESCRIPTION
Audi A4**
www.audi.com
$24,540
(+ $550 destination)
2.8-liter, 190-hp V-6 or 1.8-liter, 170-hp with ULEV(ultra-low-emission vehicle) rating Navigation system available; 150-watt Bose CD audio system; heated seats; trunk capacity = 13.7 cubic feet New side-guard head air bag standard; stability control available; antilock brakes, traction control, and seat belt pretensioners standard The Audi A4, with an interior makeover, helps define the concept of “entry luxury.” It’s a sleek, sporty Euro-styled sedan with plenty of pep.
Volvo S60
www.volvocars.com
$26,500
(+ $575 destination)
2.4-liter, 168-hp
I-5 (base engine);
2.4-liter, 198-hp light-pressure turbo I-5; 2.3-liter, 247-hp high-pressure turbo I-4
Heated seats; CD premium audio, optional in-dash, three-disc changer; navigation system; emergency
call system; trunk capacity = 13.5 cubic feet
Side air bags, inflatable head curtains; anti-whiplash seats; five seat belt pretensioners; antilock brakes and traction control standard All-new for 2001, the S60 replaces the slightly larger S70 sedan. The new model underscores Volvo’s effort to move away from its traditional boxy and strictly utilitarian styling.
Mercedes C-Class
www.mbusa.com
final figures unavailable; expect about $30,000
(+ $645 destination)
C320: 3.2-liter,
215-hp V-6 (base engine); C240:
2.6-liter, 168-hp V-6
Premium CD audio system; heated seats; navigation system; automatic climate control; rain sensor wipers; trunk capacity = 12 cubic feet Dual front and side air bags; antilock brakes; traction control; electronic stability control This all-new “Baby Benz” for 2001 bears a clear family resemblance to the top-line Mercedes
S-Class. The new C-Class is far better outfitted than its predecessor, with an array of standard and optional equipment and a more refined interior
Lexus LS 430
www.lexus.com
final figures unavailable;
expect about $54,000
(+ $495 destination)
All-new 4.3-liter,
290-hp V-8
Premium CD audio system; navigation computer; front and rear seat heaters and coolers in ultraluxury package; trunk capacity = 20.2 cubic feet Front and side air bags, side curtains; antilock brakes; traction control; electronic stability control The original LS 400 redefined the concept of luxury, making it quiet and affordable yet lavish. The third-generation model, now dubbed the LS430, adds plenty of extra features and a new, high-performance engine.

SUVs and MINIVANS

For more information from any manufacturer, visit the company’s Web site. This list isn’t comprehensive; NAR doesn’t evaluate or endorse these products and isn’t responsible for changes in company information.

MANUFACTURER/MODEL/MSRP* POWERTRAIN COMFORT FEATURES SAFETY FEATURES CARGO CAPACITY DESCRIPTION
Chrysler Voyager
www.chryslercars.com
$19,605
(+ $615 destination)
2.4-liter, 150-hp
V-6 (base engine) or 3.3-liter, 180-hp V-6
Three-way seating;
air conditioning; extra power outlets; eight-way power driver’s seat, easy-out roller driver seats.
Dual front multistage air bags, side air bags optional All seats up:
15.1 cubic feet;
all seats down: 142.3 cubic feet
If the name seems a bit off, that’s because this best-selling minivan used
to be designated a Plymouth. Although DaimlerChrysler has dropped that brand, the Voyager sails on in completely updated form with the 2001 edition.
Chrysler Town &
Country LX
www.chryslercars.com
$24,430
(+ $615 destination)
3.3-liter, 180-hp
V-6 (base engine)
or 3.8-liter, 210-hp
V-6 (3.5-liter, 230-hp
V-6 coming midyear)
The most powerful engine in its class; three-row seating; power liftgate, power sliding doors; premium CD system; heated seats Dual front multistage air bags, optional
side air bags; antilock brakes standard; all-wheel drive available
All seats up:
20 cubic feet;
all seats removed: 167.9 cubic feet
The Town & Country has been completely redesigned for 2001, with designers emphasizing luxury features, which appeal to professionals and empty nesters.
Acura MDX
www.acura.com
mid to high $30,000
(+ $455 destination)
3.5-liter, 240-hp V-6 Three rows of seats; premium audio system; rear seat air-conditioning; storage bins and boxes; navigation system available Dual-stage front air bags, side air bags;
seat belt pretensioners; antilock brakes; traction control; four-wheel drive
All seats up:
14.8 cubic feet; second and third row down:
81.5 cubic feet
Acura’s first SUV developed in-house, the MDX is designed to deliver a mix of luxurious comfort and extreme utility. A car-based crossover, it delivers improved riding comfort and handling but sacrifices little in terms of off-roadability.
Toyota Sequoia
www.toyota.com
N/A (due out in December)
4.7-liter, 240-hp
V-8 with ULEV
(ultra-low-emission vehicle) rating
Three-row seating for eight; premium audio system; two- or four-wheel-drive Antilock brakes; traction control; dual front air bags and curtain-shield side air bags; optional
vehicle stability control
N/A Toyota has so far kept details of the brand new Sequoia close to the vest,
but it’s designed to fill a niche between the compact 4Runner and the premium Land Cruiser. It will boast extra seating
and a full 11 inches of ground clearance.

*MSRP = Manufacturer’s suggested retail price. All prices listed are base prices. These figures can vary substantially, depending on upgraded model lines, option packages, and other accessories. Where noted, 2001 prices were not finalized at press time.

 

This list isn’t comprehensive; NAR doesn’t evaluate or endorse these products and isn’t responsible for changes in company information.


This is not intended to be a comprehensive list of the products in this category. NAR doesn’t evaluate or endorse these products and isn’t responsible for changes in product info. Prices are the vendors’ suggested retail prices and are subject to change.

Paul A. Eisenstein is publisher of The Detroit Bureau. He has more than 30 years of experience covering the auto industry for a broad range of print, broadcast, and electronic media.

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