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 $1,300 E-Bike There's no top to lower to feel the wind in your hair, but to be noticed on the silent battery-powered E-Bike it would help to be as famous as Lee Iacocca. He's the entrepreneur behind EV Global Motors Co., Los Angeles. Range per four-hour charge is 20 miles in flat country, but using battery power is optional. Run with it off and save the juice for hills. Under power, top speed is about 15 mph. No driver's license required. Think of the free parking! Less than $20,000 Toyota Prius Hybrid If you've tired of the battery-powered limitations of GM's EV1 and yearn to be without a recharging leash, consider the Prius (PREE-us) sedan. Called a hybrid because the powertrain teams gasoline and battery powerplants, the Prius will enable you to be environmentally responsible while not having to worry about stopping to recharge. (No cord is supplied.) Driving excitement is not accelera-tion -- 0-60 takes 14.1 seconds with a full charge, 20.7 seconds with the battery empty. Instead, technophiles will glory in the engineering brilliance and technical innovations that allow 10 onboard computers to integrate the powertrain for a seamless driving experience. It's available now in Japan -- get on the list for U.S. delivery in 2000. $30,000 to $40,000 Lincoln LS The lust for a luxury sport sedan once meant European, and it still does, but the continental flavor now comes in a U.S.-produced vehicle. The European ties of the new Lincoln LS start with German-born chief designer Helmut Schrader and extend to a platform shared with the Jaguar S-Type. Each rendition of the platform is well disguised with the Lincoln offering stiffer, firmer, more Germanic handling in contrast to the plush British tradition of the Jaguar. Another important difference is the pricing -- approximately $10,000 less than the Jaguar. The LS is available with either a V-6 or V-8. Both manual and automatic transmissions are available. $35,000 to $50,000 Ford Excursion Does your sport utility have to be bigger than everybody else's? Owners of the Ford Excursion can exult in dimensions significantly bigger than the Chevy Suburban -- 7.2 in. longer, 3.3 in. wider, and almost 6 in. higher (with the four-wheel drive option). And Ford says it all fits into a standard garage. Eight people can ride with you -- and there's 48 cu ft of luggage space behind the third-row seat. Towing capacity ranges from 6,200 lb to 10,000 lb with the 6.8-liter V-10 (gasoline) or the Navistar-supplied 7.3-liter V-8 diesel. Chevrolet Corvette hardtop In business or pleasure, the best performance doesn't always require the biggest investment. With Corvettes, for example, the quickest is the cheapest. The model is the hardtop, the first fixed-roof version since the 1963-67 Sting Ray Coupe. The hardtop is quicker because it weighs less than the convertible and hatchback coupe in the current lineup (the hatchback adds 79 lb that subtracts from the coupe's acceleration). Bottom line: Sacrifice the amenities of the convertible or hatchback, and you will pay less and lead the pack. $40,000 to $50,000 Porsche Boxster S Why a Boxster S when your order for the original (which was introduced in January 1997) hasn't come in yet? That's easy -- power! The S-model increases engine displacement to 3,179 cc, closer to the top-of-the-line Carrera 911 at 3,387 cc than the standard Boxster at 2,480 cc. Also making the S-model more satisfying: 80% of maximum torque is available at 2,000 rpm. Top track speed is 162 mph with a sprint to 62 mph taking only 5.9 seconds. Vroom, Vroom! $70,000 to $90,000 Mercedes-Benz S500 This is not your father's S-Class! This all-new symbol of global success and power has been endowed with a fresh presentation of attributes that make it easy to understand why foreign-made luxury cars dominate even the American market. Now 500 lb lighter, the four-door, rear-wheel-drive sedan (121.5-in. wheelbase) does 0-60 mph in just 6.1 seconds. Power comes from a five-liter V-8 (single cam, 24 valves). But be prepared for so many thoughtful high-tech creature comforts that learning to master them all may be a challenge. Fortunately, it comes with its own version of Cliff's Notes! The option list includes seat cooling and heating via 10 fans that quietly force cool or warm air through the upholstery. $165,000-plus Aston Martin DB7 Vantage V-12 Has the mere 335 hp of the standard DB7 engine (a 3.2-liter 6) kept you away from enjoying the exclusivity of an Aston Martin? Then the 420 hp of the new V-12 was made for you. Expect it to reach 60 mph in a mere 4.9 seconds with a top speed of 180 mph. The company says the engine develops 85% of its maximum torque at 1,500 rpm. In keeping with understatement, the more powerful model is only subtly differentiated from the standard DB7. The most obvious clue: 10-spoke wheels.

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