The Ideal Car? Audi Wagon, Survey Says

Car buyers might be wild about zippy little roadsters and hulking sport-utility vehicles, but it was a station wagon--the sporty Audi A4 Avant--that placed first in the Automobile Club of Southern California's annual "target car" rating.

The recently released annual report ranks vehicles that come closest to being the ideal passenger car, based on a survey of club members' vehicular tastes and needs.

Another wagon, the Suzuki Esteem, was named best overall value for the lowest price. The Dodge Ram 1500 4x4 Quad Cab SLT pickup was the highest-ranked truck.

The club evaluates how close new cars come to meeting ideals culled from survey responses filed by more than 12,000 club members. The 12 key features include braking, ride quality, handling, crash-worthiness and fuel economy.

Although the club picks a best value based on price, cost is not a consideration in the ratings--the reason, club engineer Steve Mazor says, that luxury cars usually top the list. The highest score possible is 100 points, but no vehicle has come close in the 30-year-old survey, Mazor says.

For 1998, top finishers after the $37,000 Audi, with its all-time high score of 69.9 points, were the $48,000 Lexus GS400 sedan at 69.1 points; the $54,000 Mercedes-Benz E320 wagon, 69 points; the $55,000 Lexus LS400 sedan, 66 points; and the $45,000 Mercedes-Benz CLK320 coupe, 65.8 points.

The $13,000 Suzuki wagon scored 54.2 points. The $31,500 Dodge Ram, rated on a higher-scoring truck index, received 76.8 points.

Copies of the complete rankings of 200 cars and trucks tested during the last five years, including 54 1998 models, can be purchased at Auto Club offices.

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