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High End Cars Get Higher for 2001

Big Bucks Equal Boffo Wheels

By Jim Bray

Times are good and, other than high taxes and a severe loss of personal freedom, the fruits of the economy leave many of us with a nice wad of cash burning a hole in our pockets.

What better time to think about a set of wheels that will give maximum driving pleasure and last a goodly number of years to boot?

We’re talking higher end than average vehicles, of course, and for 2001 the world’s carmakers are unveiling a plethora of new and/or improved “luxo-boxes” designed not only to separate the buying public from maxi-bucks, but to return mucho mobile bliss in return.

‘Twas not always so. Once, luxury cars were well built, well appointed, and pompous. Then, about a decade ago, the Japanese decided to do to that market segment what they did to – well, just about every other market segment before: offer a better deal than the traditional suspects. It didn’t matter that, in this case, the traditional suspects were expensive and German, British, and American.

In the process, the high end car market was given a swift kick in the behind that has energized the industry and made for some mighty interesting wheels.

The upcoming model year promises to be the best yet, if you can believe the hype. Even so-called entry level luxury cars (if thirty grand can be called entry level) are showing a lot of neat stuff, as evidenced by such new models as the recently-introduced Lexus IS300, the “baby Benz” C series of Mercedes, and the upcoming M3 by BMW.

The Lexus is meant to compete with the likes of the BMW 3 series and, despite the lack of a standard transmission (which is supposedly on the way), has managed to turn quite a few heads and open quite a few wallets.

The Germans aren’t taking this assault sitting down, of course. As they did when the original Lexus, Infiniti and, to a lesser extent, Acura, raised their attractive heads, they’re striking back with all they have – and they have puh-lenty.



Mercedes Benz, for example, is unleashing what promises to be a terrific new “C” class model (designated the C240 and C320) for 2001, dumping its excellent four banger in favor of 18 valve, six cylinder engines matched with a 6 speed standard or five speed automatic transmission (the 320, alas, only has the automatic “shifter”).

Incidentally, the S-Class Mercedes now has a V-12 powered model available, and I would imagine it must really move!

BMW is also upgrading the “entry level” 3 series models’ sixes, to 2.5 and 3 liters, which will give a few more horses to “the ultimate driving machines.” As if this isn’t enough, also coming will be an all-wheel-drive option and the new, 330 horsepower M3 – the sport edition of the popular series. Should be extremely interesting…

An all-new Q45 is on tap from Japan’s Infiniti. The original was a lovely vehicle, but kind of got lost in the drooling hoopla over the Lexus LS40, which was introduced about the same time. Since then, Infiniti seems to have misplaced its nerve, so hopefully the new one will be as bold a stroke as the original. The third generation Q45 will be longer and have toys like a DVD-based navigation system, for drivers who just refuse to keep their eyes on the road. The 4.5 liter V8 is being upgraded to 340 horsepower so, if nothing else, the new Q should have plenty of get up and go.

Speaking of the LS400, as of model year 2001 it is no more. Mourn not, however, but get ready to welcome the virtually all new LS430, which not only has a bigger engine and more horsepower, but which is also more aerodynamic and includes such innovations as a laser enhanced cruise control that’s supposed to keep your car a safe distance behind those other yahoos on the road.

You may have noticed the omission of some famous names like Audi, Cadillac, Jaguar, Rolls Royce, and the like. This doesn’t mean they don’t offer some wonderful wheels, just that they aren’t changing a lot between model year 2000 and 2001.

So if your ship doesn’t come in this year, there’ll undoubtedly be even neater stuff coming along in model years to come.

It’s an interesting time to be a car buff.

Jim Bray's technology columns are distributed by the TechnoFILE Syndicate. Copyright Jim Bray

Jim Bray is a member of the Automobile Journalists Association of Canada. His columns are available through the TechnoFile Syndicate.

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