Hot Wheels For Big Wheels

Here's the annual feast of two- and four-wheel vehicles that may be of interest to IW's executive readers. They're chosen on their relatively low-cost/high-quality relationship and represent some of the best products the world has to offer. Less than $20,000

BMW R 1200 C

Seemingly flying in the face of BMW's traditional emphasis on touring and function, the company's first cruiser nonetheless does not compromise the basic tenets of motorcycling. The torquey twin-cylinder engine (1,170 cc), long stable wheelbase (65 in.), and low seat height are complemented by such options as antilock brakes, heated handgrips, lockable leather saddlebags, and a tankbag that doubles as a backpack. The gearbox includes extra-low first and second for around-town cruising, with high fifth for reduced rpm at highway speeds. Movie buffs will remember the cruiser starring alongside the BMW 750il luxury sedan in the James Bond film Tomorrow Never Dies. $20,000 to $30,000

MX-5 Miata

Updating a successful design always brings risk, but Mazda offers a more powerful (140 hp), stiffer, and arguably better-looking roadster in the latest iteration of the Miata. While weight and overall dimensions are essentially the same as the first-generation model, the car has gained 42% more trunk space. SCCA enthusiasts will probably opt for the Sports Package that includes 15-in. alloy wheels, three-spoke NARDI leather-wrapped steering wheel, Torsen limited-slip differential, sport suspension with Bilstein shocks, front air dam and rear spoiler, and a strut bar between the front suspension towers. Top-down comfort is boosted with the addition of a Windblocker that virtually eliminates the reverse flow of air into the cockpit. $30,000 to $40,000

Saab 9-5 SE

Those who worried about GM's influence should take comfort in Saab's 9-5 performance sedan. Some enthusiasts call it the best Saab yet, with plenty of innovative touches for out-of-the-box thinkers. For example, the body is said to be Opel-related, yet there are eight patents in process covering unique impact deflection features that continue the company's emphasis on occupant safety. Tradition continues to place the ignition switch on the floor between the front seats where Saab says it is easy to see, reach, and operate. In addition to heating the seats, Saab cools them, too -- via fans that draw air through the perforated front leather cushions. The 3.0-liter turbocharged V-6 (standard on the 9-5 SE) is rated at 200 hp. $40,000 to $50,000

GMC Yukon Denali

Tired of front-wheel-drive econoboxes? Step up to GMC's Yukon Denali and join the pleasure of heated leather seats, a 350-cu.-in. V-8 rated at 255 hp, and four-wheel drive. With the new Auto Trac active transfer case, pressing the Auto 4WD button puts the vehicle in standby four-wheel-drive mode. The vehicle is basically in two-wheel drive until a condition occurs to automatically activate four-wheel drive. Other modes: two-wheel drive, four-wheel high, and four-wheel low. Maximum trailering capacity is 6,500 lb, all the while cosseting the occupants with the luxuries of a premium Bose sound system and interior accents of Zebrano wood. Want even more? Cadillac's version is called the Escalade.

Lincoln Town Car

O.K., you have a Porsche 911 to take you to the office, but this is a sedan that can handle serious missions -- like taking a foursome and their golf bags to the club. Still rear-wheel drive, the body-on-frame design is offered in three versions -- the Executive, Signature, and Cartier -- with the power supplied by a 4.6-liter V-8 supplying either 205 or 220 hp. Safety features include side air bags for front-seat passengers, traction control, and voice-activated cellular phone (optional). A limousine builder's package also is offered. $50,000 to $60,000

Lotus Sport Elise

Face it. You've achieved success through a career of working smart and hard and driving Camrys. So isn't it time for some recompense? Consider the Lotus Sport Elise. (Lotus says a West Coast computer company is ordering eight for its staff, calling them "mental health machines.") Legal only on tracks, the Sport Elise is a race version of the Elise road car available in Europe. Your driving reward is provided by a 1,477.3-lb vehicle propelled by a 190-hp Rover K Series 1.8-liter engine with a red line of 8,000 rpm. Lotus claims 0 to 62 mph in 4.4 seconds. Vroom-vroom! 50,000 to 60,000

Jaguar XKR Coupe

Europe only. Jaguar says the largest market for its supercharged XKR coupe is Germany, which ought to suggest how European buyers are positioning this 370-hp rocket. The engine is the same 4.0-liter V-8 that powers the XJR sports saloon -- a luxury sedan whose presence is quite an irritation to Mercedes, Porsche, and BMW. Here's why: The same engine in the XKR is rated by the factory at 0 to 60 in a mere 5.2 seconds (5.3 seconds for the ragtop, which prices out at 66,300). Now the bad news for U.S. buyers: EPA delays mean you'll have to wait until 1999 to buy it -- unless you move to Europe. 9 million to 10 million

Toyota Century

Japan only. You're in Tokyo at the helm of a Japanese subsidiary, and to conform you select this 5.0-liter V-12 sedan, an executive limousine that Toyota markets only in Japan. What you're conforming to is a luxury standard that Toyota describes as being superior to the Lexis LS 400 -- its top-of-the-line U.S. entry. For example, increased rigidity of moving and structural components, such as pistons and the cylinder block, decreases vibration by about 10% compared with the LS 400 with its V-8 engine. Other features include six air bags (front and sides), air suspension, and provision for detecting partially closed rear doors and automatically closing them. $120,000 to $130,000

Mercedes-Benz SL600 Roadster

Tired of buying what everybody else is driving? That's less likely to happen with this limited-production roadster. Mercedes-Benz claims it is the only roadster in the world powered by a 12-cylinder engine. Producing 389 hp, the 6.0-liter powerplant can rocket the SL600 from 0 to 60 in 5.9 seconds. For even more performance, a sport package can be fitted by renowned Mercedes-Benz tuner AMG. For the economy-minded, a V-8 powered version, the SL500, starts at $81,000.
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