Toyota Sequoia springs from the Tundra pickup, with its 4.7L V-8. Sequoia breaks the 10-second barrier to 60 mph with a 9.8-second run. It works well as a cross-country companion, especially in the two-wheel-drive version, which improves fuel economy. The driving position is the usual top Toyota accommodation. The ride is a tad trucky and thereís plenty of lean on corners. For 2003, it has a new load-leveling suspension system.
Sequoia comes at a price of $31,265, but the options are tempting. They include comfy leather power seats, a moonroof, and four-wheel drive.
Lexus RX300 is the vanguard of car-based SUVs that aim to provide the practicality of an SUV with the handling of a car. The car heritage brings high styling as well as a nice ride. Inside, the automatic transmission lever is housed in a center pod that juts out from the instrument panel. The gearshift falls easily to hand and the driving position is first-rate. Outside, the styling looks like a streamlined SUV box.
On the road, the front-drive V-6 heats up to 60 mph in a cool 10.6 seconds. It handles curves like a Toyota Camry, the progenitor of the RX300. No new features for 2003 bring it in with a base price of $33,955.
After years doing duty as a larger vehicle Ė including a stint as a four-door sedan Ė Ford Thunderbird returns to its original configuration as a coupe/convertible.
Styling was the key to the original T-Birdís success, and itís still the best thing about the new version. It has the egg-crate grille and a hood scoop, and thereís a hint of fender louvers. Even the side portholes in the hardtop have made a comeback!
Although the original had vague steering, a mushy ride, and seating like an easy chair, the modern T-bird offers sharper steering and a kind of floating taut suspension. Handling stays flat and true around high-speed curves. But this is still a personal luxury car, not a sportster; it works best cruising the beach, not cruising the continent. And if its beauty is only skin deep, thatís deep enough for many car buyers.
The 3.9L V-8 gets to 60 mph in a respectable 7.2 seconds. In keeping with its roots as a luxury coupe, the Thunderbird has a base price of $35,945.
Volvo S80ís motto might be "Let us entertain you." The 75th anniversary edition adds a DVD player with two video screens in the front headrests, a refrigerator in the rear shelf (with Swedish crystal glasses), a pop-up navigation screen, an electric rear sunshade, and an umbrella holder.
All this comes in a pretty competent car, too. Twin turbos churn the 272-horsepower engine to 60 mph in 7.8 seconds. Front-wheel drive limits road handling to competent but not exciting. The S80 is another long-distance comfort cruiser, unchanged for 2003, weighing in at $38,450 without options.
Tied for eighth place on the Buyer Satisfaction Index, Cadillac Escalade has a chunky, neo-industrial front end with retro vertically stacked headlights. Inside, thereís leather and wood aplenty; seating is commendably high and handsome. The Escaladeís 6L V-6 gets to 60 mph in a refined 8.4 seconds. The ride is firm, and this SUV comports itself decently on curves. A luxury vehicle based on the Chevrolet Suburban, the Escalade retails for a base of $47,990.
For drivers who liked previous versions of Lincoln Navigator, 2003 will be a very good year. Except for a return of the massive Lincoln chrome, the 2003 model SUV looks nearly the same on the outside Ė itís still the same brute ute. The interior, however, is brand new. Walnut burl trim abounds, and the second-row seating retains bucket seats, a big center console, and entertainment gear. Behind the wheel, the handling gets better this year with four-wheel independent suspension and rack-and-pinion steering. The 5.4L V-8 gets to 60 mph in just under 10 seconds. At a base price of $48,775, itís the top-priced Lincoln on the market.
Since owner satisfaction translates to future sales for an automotive brand, all the cars on the Buyers Satisfaction Index should fare well in the future among upscale Hispanics. (For a look at what CEOs currently own, see table: "Hispanic Business 500 CEO Cars"). As long as manufacturers continue to produce an eclectic assortment of models, CEOs should find a vehicle for every fancy in a nearby showroom.
Ralph Gray is auto editor for "Hispanic Business."