S-SERIES —No changes to the gasoline-powered versions of this pickup, but at midyear Chevy had 900 fleet orders for new electric-powered versions that can cruise at 60 mph for 40 miles, says GM. C/K PICKUP—-The four-speed automatic transmissions have been refined for softer shifts, and a passenger-side airbag with a disable switch is standard on all models. C H R Y S L E R CIRRUS—The gold badges you've seen on these mid-size sedans were late- 1996 additions, but a new floor console and trip computer come with the 1997s. CONCORDE—The optional 3.5-liter twin-cam V-6 is now standard, as it is on the bigger LHS. LHS—You can get yours in Deep Amethyst Pearl, and the New Yorker is still dead. SEBRING—Flashy new optional 10- spoke, 17-inch alloy wheels mark the '97s, and halfway through 1996 the convertible model got the 2.4-liter four-cylinder of the Cirrus. Sebring hardtops keep the Neon's 2.0-liter as the base-model four-banger offering. TOWN & COUNTRY—The four-wheel- drive model returns, and traction control is now optional on the front-drivers. DODGE NEON —Four-wheel disc brakes are again optional on all models, and "Tango" fabric is a new option for the interior. STRATUS—No major changes, but body-color fascias are now standard. INTREPID—The 214-hp 3.5-liter V-6 and the AutoStick shifter introduced last year, both available on the uplevel ES model, are now options on the base Intrepid. AVENGER—The 163-hp 2.5-liter V-6 is an option on the base Avenger and the Avenger ES. It still comes only with a four-speed automatic transmission. VIPER—The RT/10 gets a new top that seals better. The new GTS coupe is not just a hardtop Viper, but an exotic GT costing about $73,000. It went on sale in July. CARAVAN—The four-wheel-drive model is reinlroduced, and it uses the same viscous center-differential setup that we liked best when we drove five vans to Prudhoe Bay, Alaska, one winter. RAM WAGON—This van dates back to 1971, but restylings and powertrain refinements keep it current. This year the front vent-wing windows are fixed for theft resistance, says the company. DAKOTA—A new body shows a family resemblance to the bigger Ram pickup, and the Dakota grows two inches in width. The 5.2-liter V-8 gets a I0-hp boost to 230, and you can still get this engine with a five-speed manual transmission, a rare combination in the truck world these days. A third door, however, is not expected until the 1999 model year. RAM—Nifty leather seats and wood dashboard trim are now available on this big pickup, and a four-door Club Cab model will appear in '98. E A G L E SUMMIT—Never as fast as the Neon, but a slick runner nonetheless, the Mitsubishi-built sedan and its sister wagon disappear for '97. VISION —Like the similar Dodge Intrepid, the base Vision ESi can now get the 214-hp 3.5-liter V-6, but the AutoStick shifter still comes only on the uplevel TSi model. TALON—The zippy TSi AWD model gets big 17-inch wheels and tires, and new bumper and grille covers update the looks of the little coupe. FORD ASPIRE —A shorter final-drive ratio for automatic-transmission models makes it feel quicker, and the bumpers and the grille are restyled. ESCORT —The hatchback GT and the other hatchback models are gone, but a host of minor refinements—such as an increase in power from 88 hp to 110 hp, better sound insulation, a tighter front suspension, and new, smoother sheet- metal—keep this economy leader competitive. The body looks somewhat like a mini-Taurus. Beefier frame members in front and tighter suspension bushings in back give the car more handling precision. A new GT coupe version with a zinger 16-valve four-cylinder will arrive in the 1998 model year. CONTOUR—No big changes for this increasingly popular little sedan. TAURUS—The V-8 SHO model you read about here in July was a 1996 model, of which 5000 were made. The '97 version will keep the same $26,480 price and the same 3.4-liter V-8 making 235 hp. The latest model's front anti-roll bar is thicker, and the Z-rated tires made by Goodyear are exclusive to the SHO, as on the 1996 version. More-pedestrian Tauruses get recalibrated automatic transmissions and a new denim-blue paint color. CROWN VICTORIA—The steering gear was redesigned to provide more precise feel, but otherwise, the Big Bertha sedan continues unchanged. PROBE—The 164-hp GT model gets a new badge, the only change to this Michigan-built sports coupe. MUSTANG —A new automatic-transmission shifter handle looks more like a Nintendo joystick, and Aztec Gold and Autumn Orange are the two new colors. THUNDERBIRD—Last year a major styling makeover didn't cure the T-Bird's slipping sales, but Ford is leaving the big two-door alone for 1997. WINDSTAR—The midyear 1998 Windstar will offer an extended driver's door in lieu of a sliding left-rear door. AEROSTAR— A five-speed automatic transmission is now available with the 4.0-liter pushrod V-6. EXPLORER—An optional overhead- cam 205-hp V-6 is available. It makes 45 more hp than the still-available 4.0- liter pushrod V-6. A new five-speed automatic comes with the pushrod and SOHC V-6s, and the optional full-time four-wheel-drive system gets some refinements for smoother operation.
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