Now that the preview season has drawn to a close and the bulk of the '91s are in dealer showrooms, it's time to hand out a few awards before J.D. Power grabs all the good ones with its influential quality surveys.
MOST IMPROVED CAR: The Taurus SHO. Ford finally refined the finicky 5-speed transmission, and the manual now shifts as smooth as butter for 1991. Real pleasure rather than pain to drive an SHO now.MOST INNOVATIVE: The Infiniti Q-45 with active suspension to control vehicle motion. Active suspension converts just about any stretch of road into a straightaway. Too bad the system costs $4,000.
MOST WANTED: Tie between the Acura NSX and the Lamborghini Diablo. The NSX starts at $60,000 (some have offered $100,000), while the Diablo starts at $211,000 and the bidding is up to $300,000. Only 1,000 NSXs will be sold in the United States the rest of the year, and only 250 Diablos - and they're spoken for until 1994.
MOST FUEL EFFICIENT: The mini GEO Metro, with a 53 mpg city/58 mpg highway rating.
LEAST FUEL EFFICIENT: The Lamborghini Diablo, with a 9 mpg city/14 mpg highway rating.
MOST INSANE: Any motorist who would rather have a GEO Metro in the drive than the Diablo, regardless of the mileage.
LITTLE CHANGES THAT COUNT: Tie. Anti-lock brakes added to the Mazda Miata and anti-lock brakes and 4-wheel-drive added as options to the Chrysler minivans.
MOST EXPENSIVE GAMBLE: The $3.5 billion Saturn from General Motors.
MOST CUP HOLDERS: Chrysler minivans, which also offer juice-box holders.
COMPANY WORTH WATCHING: Tie. Mazda, to see if option packaging rather than rebates helps sell cars; Isuzu, supplier of the Storm to Chevrolet and now marketer of its own Rodeo utility vehicle; Chrysler, to see if Fiat comes to the rescue or Honda finally wakes up and makes an offer.
MOST UNUSUAL NAME: Isuzu Rodeo, with the Mazda Navajo utility vehicle close behind. If and when GM comes out with the battery-powered Impact, it will be the hands-down winner.
MOST NOTEWORTHY COOPERATIVE EFFORT: Ford and Mazda joining forces so that Mazda now offers a Navajo 4-wheel-drive utility vehicle built by Ford.
RIGHT PLACE AT THE RIGHT TIME AWARD: Just when gas prices skyrocket, Toyota and Nissan come up with all-new versions of their most fuel-efficient subcompacts, Toyota's Tercel and Nissan's Sentra.
MOST DISAPPOINTING: Pontiac Grand Prix GTP and Chevy Lumina Z34. Both will offer the new 3.4-liter 200-210 horsepower V-6 engine, but neither will appear before December at the earliest.