Car Manufacturer Legends and History
Acura Cadillac GMC Jaguar Lincoln Mercury Porsche Suzuki
Aston Martin Chevrolet Honda Jeep Jeep MINI Rolls-Royce Toyota
Audi Chrysler HUMMER Kia Maserati Mitsubishi Saab Volkswagen
Bentley Dodge Hyundai Lamborghini Maybach Nissan Saturn Volvo
BMW Ferrari Infiniti Land Rover Mazda Panoz Scion
Buick Ford Isuzu Lexus Mercedes-Benz Pontiac Subaru

Acura is an upscale automaker known for offering cars with impressive levels of luxury, features and performance. Generally, Acura cars are not considered as glitzy or as glamorous as the premium European makes. Depending on your viewpoint, this can be a positive or a negative trait, but either way there's no denying the quality of Acura's vehicles, nor their compelling prices and overall value. The company also continually scores well in J.D. Power quality and satisfaction surveys.

The history of Acura is relatively short. Parent company Honda introduced the Acura brand to the U.S. market in 1986 in an effort to create a separate luxury division for its products. At first, it was just a two-car show: the Legend sedan, which was the first true Japanese luxury car sold in America, and the Integra sport coupe and sedan. Though essentially a marketing creation for the North American market (there are still no "Acura's" sold in Europe or Japan, only Hondas), the Acura brand was immediately successful. Consumers liked the features, performance and upscale image of Acura cars, along with the fact that Acura's were backed by Honda's reputation for reliability and low ownership costs. In 1991, Acura introduced its crown jewel: the NSX sports car. The all-aluminum NSX was a true rival to the era's top performers and, in typical Acura fashion, undercut them in terms of price.

As Acura's product line grew in the 1990s, however, the company struggled a bit with the brand image it hoped to project. Some of its products were duds and it risked alienating loyal customers when it replaced the Legend and Integra names with alphanumeric designations. The company quickly keyed into consumers' rising interest in luxury SUVs in the mid-'90s with the SLX. Unfortunately, the SLX was a rebadged version of an Isuzu SUV and its quality did not match customers' expectations.

For the new millennium, however, Acura was fully dedicated toward revamping its product range. An all-new SUV called the MDX debuted in 2001. Designed in-house by Acura, it incorporated numerous family-friendly features, including a third-row seat, and was immediately popular with consumers. The following year, the company introduced the successor to the Integra, the new Acura RSX sport coupe. Acura introduced an all-new entry-level sport sedan called the TSX for the 2004 model year. That year Acura also performed a complete redesign of its most popular model, the midsize TL sedan, followed in 2005 with a redesign of its flagship RL luxury sedan. All three cars are entertaining to drive, packed with technology and thousands of dollars less expensive than their European competitors.

Aston Martin
Aston Martin Founders Lionel Martin and Robert Bamford started Aston Martin in 1914 in a small West London workshop. Originally the marque was known chiefly in racing circles, eventually extending itself to gran touring vehicles, mostly under the DB nomenclature. Aston Martin has never been about quantity as much as quality; in its 88 years of existence, it has built little over 16,000 vehicles, each hand-crafted of the finest materials. Not as widely known in popular culture as Ferraris, Aston Martins are mostly associated with British entities such as royal families and James Bond; the DB5 starred in the 1964 Bond film Gold finger. For 2002, the flagship Vanquish rounds out the lineup with its breath-taking looks and plentiful horsepower. After a series of bankruptcies and exchanges of ownership throughout its history, Aston Martin was acquired in 1987 by Ford Motor Company and is now a part of Ford's Premier Auto Group.

In business for more than 100 years, Audi is an automaker that makes luxury cars and SUVs. The company was born in Germany and has remained Deutschland-based to this day.

"Audi Automobile Works" entered the German car-manufacturing business in 1910 and remained independent until the Great Depression. Because Audi's founder, August Horch, had left a 10-year-old company bearing his own name, he chose a Latin form of his name -- Audi -- for his new company. Audi joined with three other auto manufacturers in 1932 to form Auto Union. Audi, the only surviving nameplate from that union, was purchased by Volkswagen in 1964.

Every manufacturer has its defining moments. For Audi, one such moment came in March 1980 at the Geneva Motor Show. The automaker unveiled the Audi Quattro, an all-wheel-drive sport coupe. Previously, this drive concept had been seen only in trucks and off-road vehicles; the Quattro was the first high-performance vehicle with all-wheel drive and it met with a wildly enthusiastic response on the show floor. The Quattro's all-wheel-drive system went on to help Audi win accolades in Motorsports and it was eventually integrated into the entire model range.

The Quattro coupe no longer exists, but its name lives on; "Quattro" is the moniker given to Audi's all-wheel-drive system. Audi's early experience as a trailblazer with all-wheel drive was a sign of things to come, one that foreshadowed the company's commitment to being on the cutting edge of technology. Additionally, Audi is one of only a handful of manufacturers to make vehicles that utilize aluminum space frame technology. Aluminum-made vehicles are significantly lighter than their steel-bodied counterparts. This weight advantage can help improve handling, acceleration and fuel consumption, as well as noise, vibration and harshness. And the automaker is one of only a few to offer vehicles equipped with continually variable transmissions (CVTs).

Those who have sat in a modern Audi are not likely to forget it. The manufacturer has distinguished itself with its superbly crafted interiors, and an Audi cabin is a symphony of luxury and ergonomic design. Materials quality is beyond reproach, even in entry-luxury models like the A3 and A4. Those lucky enough to garner seat time in the top-of-the-line Audi A8 are treated to one of the most stylish cabins in existence, a plush cocoon of the finest wood and leather.

It's true that Audi typically trails its German peers when it comes to name recognition and prestige. But in many cases, its vehicles offer levels of luxury and performance that meet and even exceed that of brands that are more widely coveted. Best of all, this outstanding quality doesn't demand a premium price, and Audis typically have a lower price than those of the luxury cars from the company's chief competitors

The Bentley brand is to luxury cars what Everest is to mountains. Those with wallets deep enough to meet the six-figure price tags of the company's vehicles are treated to towering levels of refinement and prestige. Bentley coupes and sedans are mostly hand-assembled in Great Britain at the manufacturer's state-of-the-art Crewe factory. This fusion of old-world craftsmanship with new-world technology is what the Bentley marque is all about.

Founded by Walter Owen Bentley, Bentley Motors was born in England in 1919. Two years later, the first model debuted, the rapid "3-litre" Bentley. Larger cars followed, and racing success at Le Mans earned the Bentley motorcars status among British sports car enthusiasts. Financial woes (brought on in part by the Wall Street Crash of 1929) triggered the brand's sale to Rolls-Royce in 1931. The first new Bentley after this event was the "3 1/2-litre," introduced in 1933 and based on a Rolls chassis that never saw production.

In subsequent decades, Bentley slowly slid into anonymity with vehicles that, at times, were little more than rebadged Rolls-Royces. The company's fortunes finally took an upturn in 1980s. A new company policy dictated a more distinctive brand image, and it yielded the Mulsanne Turbo sedan, named after the famous corner on the Le Mans circuit. Bentley sales increased, and in 1998 BMW began supplying engines to both the Bentley and Rolls-Royce brands. This relationship created a conflict when Volkswagen made a surprise bid later that year and acquired both marques, but the two German automakers reached an agreement that saw VW handing over control of Rolls to BMW in 2003, while keeping Bentley and the Crewe factory.

VW's ownership has given Bentley the opportunity to expand its model range and improve quality. The traditional Bentley qualities remain, however. A Bentley cabin has all the elegance of a Windsor Castle drawing room. Leather and wood trim have become popular in less prestigious nameplates, but Bentley vaults the concept to new heights of opulence, gracing almost every square inch of its interiors with premium hide and timber. Bentley owners seeking a one-of-a-kind vehicle are able to get just that thanks to the extraordinary degree of customization that the brand offers. Fabrics and colors may be handpicked by the customer from an existing selection, or Bentley can completely customize the interior colors to the customer's liking. The manufacturer's coupes and sedans are powered by a series of surprisingly muscular engines. Sportier Bentley models are motivated by a VW-designed twin-turbocharged 12-cylinder engine that generates more than 550 horsepower.

There are high-dollar ultraluxury cruisers, and then there are Bentleys. Whether it's the Arnage sedan or the Continental GT coupe, these luxury cars are sumptuous enough to make even the most jaded tycoon purr with delight.

BMW is an acronym for Bayerische Motoren Werke AG -- or, in English, Bavarian Motor Works. Whatever you call it, the German-based company is one of the world's most respected automakers, renowned for crafting luxury cars and SUVs that offer superior levels of driving enjoyment.

Founded in Munich, the company began in the early 1910s as an aircraft manufacturer. BMW's current logo, designed to represent white propeller blades against a blue sky, reflects these origins; its blue-and-white color scheme also references Bavaria's blue-and-white checkered flag.

It wasn't until 1928 that production began on the first BMW automobile, the Dixi. The car proved tremendously popular, and its success helped the manufacturer weather the Depression. BMW's best-known pre-World War II vehicle was the Type 328 roadster, a supple two-seater that racked up over 120 victories on the motorsport circuit between 1936 and 1940. Postwar BMW cars maintained this tradition, winning several racing, rallying and hill climb victories.

The early 1950s saw the launch of the BMW 501, a roomy, voluptuous sedan that was resplendent with all of the hopefulness of that era. It was soon followed by the 502 which was powered by the world's first light-alloy V8, foreshadowing BMW's ongoing commitment to developing new technology. The best-selling BMW of that decade was the Isetta, a petite two-seat "microcar" typically powered by a 12- or 13-horsepower engine. The mid-'50s also saw the debut of the limited production and breathtakingly beautiful 507 sports car which had an alloy body and used the 502's V8 for propulsion. In the 1960s, BMW sales strengthened significantly, thanks in part to the immense popularity of the 1500, a sporty family sedan.

By the 1970s, BMW was establishing itself as a full-fledged car company. It was a pioneer for many emerging technologies, including turbocharging and advanced vehicle electronics. This was also the period when BMW of North America was established and consumers, who coveted both sports and luxury cars became loyal "Bimmer" owners. The '70s also saw the birth of BMW's three-tier sport sedan range consisting of the 3 Series, 5 Series and 7 Series cars and the creation of its performance M division.

More recently, the company has been expanding its reach worldwide. It opened its first U.S. manufacturing plant in the latter half of the 1990s and has expanded its brand empire to include Mini and Rolls-Royce. BMW also continues to build motorcycles, something it has done since the 1920s.

The automaker's famous advertising slogan describes each of its vehicles as "the ultimate driving machine," and it's not mere hyperbole. Over the past couple of decades, BMWs have become the standard for performance and luxury in most of the "over $30,000" segments. With family-friendly wagons, crisp sedans, distinctive coupes, nimble sports cars and spacious SUVs offered, BMW's model roster is diverse. But its luxury vehicles all share a common characteristic: the ability to make drivers feel gloriously connected to the road.

Owned by General Motors, Buick is one of this country's oldest brands, with a rich tradition of innovation that dates back to the turn of the century. Aimed at traditional American luxury-car buyers, Buick cars tend to place a priority on a plush ride rather than sporty performance. Although historically known for catering to retirement-age customers with its full-size sedans, the automaker's lineup now includes SUVs and minivans designed to bring younger buyers into the showrooms of Buick dealers.

The company was founded in 1903 by David Dunbar Buick, a Scottish industrialist. He built his first car in 1904; called the Model B, it had a two-cylinder engine with an advanced-for-its-time overhead-valve cylinder head design. In 1907, Buick unveiled its first four-cylinder production car, dubbed the Model D. The following year, the Flint, Michigan-based Buick Motor Company was bought by William C. Durant as part of a new company called General Motors. By 1914, all Buick cars were built with six-cylinder engines and purchased primarily by upper-class professionals, thus earning the nickname "doctor's cars."

The manufacturer proved itself a trailblazer in the early 1920s when it introduced four-wheel brakes. This technology had been seen before on custom-built cars, but Buick was the first to figure out how to successfully apply it to mass-produced vehicles. Eight-cylinder Buick cars emerged in the 1930s and became immensely popular; these advanced engines received steady improvements for several years. The '30s also saw Buick's introduction of the industry's first rear turn signal to use a flasher.

Models such as the Estate Wagon and the ever popular Roadmaster kept Buicks happily ensconced in driveways all across the nation in the 1940s. In 1948, Buick introduced Dynaflow, the first torque converter-type automatic transmission offered in U.S. passenger cars. The 1950s and 1960s witnessed Buick continuing to zoom ahead of the curve; it was among the first to offer vehicles with power brakes and steering, and 12-volt electrical systems. The marque was also behind the introduction of the first American V6 passenger car engine.

Buick made its name as a manufacturer of stately land barges, such as the Electra 225, but by the '70s and '80s, the automaker had downsized its offerings to meet changing demand. For 1977, Buick unveiled a lineup of smaller, revamped luxury and full-size sedans. In the Reagan years, compact and midsize sedans secured a firm foothold in the automaker's lineup.

Today, Buick specializes in plush sedans, SUVs and even offers a minivan. As is the case with some other GM brands, however, it is struggling to find a secure niche against increased globalization and competition. In an ideal future, it will be able to attract younger customers with new products without abandoning its rich heritage or alienating its traditionally loyal customers.

Owned by General Motors, Cadillac is America's most prestigious domestic luxury automaker. For most of its existence, the company was known exclusively for its cushy, senior-friendly sedans, but in more recent years the automaker has revised and expanded its lineup in a successful effort to attract a new, younger generation of clientele. Cadillac's roster now includes SUVs (its Escalade ute is a favorite of both rappers and suburban moms), trucks and two-passenger convertibles.

Born in 1902, Cadillac was founded by Henry Martyn Leland, a manufacturer of automotive components. He named the company after a noted French explorer who discovered Detroit in the early 1700s. Leland helped create one of the company's earliest offerings -- the Cadillac Osceola, noted for being the industry's first concept car and the first closed-body car made in America. Only one Osceola was made, but it helped spark a trend; closed bodies caught on and spread like wildfire through the industry.

Cadillac quickly gained a reputation for specializing in precise craftsmanship and for using standardized parts. The success of early Cadillac's like the Model A and the "30" made the brand a sales success, so much so that the automaker was purchased by General Motors in 1909. The marque became GM's luxury car division, and its list of innovations grew. Cadillac was the first U.S. manufacturer to produce a V8, the first in the auto industry to use thermostatic control of a cooling system, and the first to offer dash-controlled headlights. During the 1930s, the brand earned a strong reputation for producing powerful and smooth V12 and V16 engines.

Soon after World War II, Cadillac history hit a high point as its tail finned and chrome-laden cars became the epitome of American postwar automotive style. Cadillac's tailfin took its cue from Lockheed's P38 Lightning Aircraft, and was the brainchild of designer Frank Hershey. Vehicles like the Coupe de Ville and Fleetwood El Dorado made Cadillac a staple in upscale neighborhoods and among the Hollywood set.

By the 1960s, Cadillac's flashy tailfins had given way to a new styling cue: vertical taillights. This attribute was in evidence on one of Cadillac's most successful new cars of that decade, the Fleetwood Sixty Special. The Fleetwood offered luxury features that were cutting-edge for its day, such as fold-down writing tables, footrests and a tilt-telescoping steering wheel.

The gas crunch of the 1970s, however, started a downward trend for the company. Cadillac's Titanic-sized behemoths that ruled the highways in previous decades were increasingly out of touch and out of favor. Cadillac responded to the changing times by downscaling the dimensions of many vehicles in its lineup. Despite this smart maneuvering, the automaker's fortunes suffered in the late '70s when it unveiled a diesel engine that quickly earned a reputation for spotty performance.

The 1980s saw the launch of the Seville, a vehicle whose unique bustle-back styling sparked a trend and inspired its share of imitators. That decade also witnessed the rollout of the Cimarron, a compact built from the same platform as the Chevy Cavalier. The Cimarron never caught on with the public; many felt its weak sales stemmed from a lack of uniqueness relative to its less expensive twin. Cadillac launched a series of new V8s over the course of the decade. Many of the engines were notoriously unreliable, and the automaker lost thousands of customers in the wake of the fallout to newer import auto brands.

By the '90s, Cadillac's days as a top-selling trendsetter seemed to be over. In response to flagging sales, the automaker revised its outlook and its vehicles, conjuring up an exciting "Art & Science" design philosophy that helped give the company new life. With styling cues that included sharp, almost severe lines and stacked headlamps, Art & Science was first seen on the Cadillac's 1999 Evoq concept roadster. By the 2000s, this bold new look had reinvigorated the company's sales, and spawned hits such as the Escalade (which holds the distinction of being Cadillac's first truck-based vehicle) and the CTS.

This fresh styling, coupled with improvements in performance and overall product quality, has done a great deal to help Cadillac recover some of its previous status. Today's Cadillac's are known for offering powerful engines, chiseled lines and a full accoutrement of luxury features.

Chevrolet sells an impressively wide range of vehicles, from subcompact hatchbacks to huge vans and SUVs. If you're looking for a reasonably priced vehicle, the odds are that Chevy will have something to fit your needs.

In 1911, after William C. Durant had been ousted from General Motors, he joined forces with Swiss-born racecar driver Louis Chevrolet to found the Chevrolet Motor Car Company. The company's first offering was the Classic Six. Introduced in 1912, this five-passenger touring sedan boasted an engine that could top 65 miles per hour, and a standard features list that included electric lights and a folding top. Chevrolet's storied bowtie logo made its first appearance in 1914. According to Chevy lore, Durant created the logo after being inspired by the wallpaper pattern of his Paris hotel room.

Another vehicle, the 490, was introduced in 1915 and met with huge success. Sales hit the 100,000 mark, and by 1918, Chevrolet's profitability allowed Durant to purchase enough shares in GM to regain control. Chevrolet quickly became another division of GM, earning honors as GM's largest volume division by the mid-1920s.

Chevrolet grew from strength to strength. By 1927, the company had managed to outsell Ford, with sales in excess of 1 million units. The company helped make life for drivers and passengers everywhere a whole lot smoother in 1934 when it introduced independent front suspension. This technology becomes even more valuable when one considers how rough the roads were back in those days.

By the 1950s, Chevrolet, GM's entry-level division, had added power brakes, seats and windows to its list of available features, allowing luxury for those on a tighter budget. The company introduced its alluring Corvette in 1953; the vehicle was the first production car with a fiberglass body. The 1960s saw the unveiling of the popular, air-cooled Corvair compact, which held the distinction of being the first domestic production car with all-round independent suspension. That decade also witnessed the launch of the compact Nova and the sporty Camaro, the latter Chevrolet's answer to the wildly successful Ford Mustang. The Camaro proved an instant hit, comprising 10 percent of Chevrolet's total sales in 1967, its first year of production.

In the 1970s, Chevy responded to changing preferences by introducing small cars like the Vega and the Chevette, and by downsizing larger models such as the Caprice and Malibu. The company combated the market domination of foreign nameplates in the 1980s by rolling out the Cavalier. This was also the period where trucks and SUVs started to become increasingly popular with the general consumer, and the brand's mid- and full-size models continue to this day to be some of the most popular on the road.

Chevrolet stands tall as the manufacturer of some of the most famous American cars and trucks of all time, including the '57 Bel Air, the Corvette, the Camaro, the Blazer and the Suburban. Today, the company continues to create the most popular brands in GM's lineup

Chrysler is generally considered part of the Big Three, a title that refers to the traditional triumvirate of domestic automakers. The accuracy of this classification is open for debate, as Chrysler joined with Daimler, the parent company of Mercedes-Benz, to create DaimlerChrysler in the late '90s. But there's no debating the fact that Chrysler has experienced a revival of sorts over the past few years.

Born in 1925, Chrysler Corporation was founded by Walter P. Chrysler, a noted machinist; he'd purchased the Maxwell Motor Corporation of Detroit and used it as the foundation for his new company. The automaker quickly earned a reputation for advanced engineering. In 1928, Chrysler Corporation expanded with the purchase of Dodge and the creation of the DeSoto and Plymouth divisions.

The 1930s saw Chrysler boldly looking toward the future with the introduction of its revolutionary Airflow. Powered by a front-mounted inline eight, the car was one of the first to be designed with aerodynamics in mind, and featured swooping lines and a prominent grille. Perhaps a bit too ahead of its time, the Airflow was a flop with the public. Chrysler was able to survive the lean years of the Depression due to strong sales generated by its entry-level Dodge and Plymouth brands, whose vehicles boasted more traditional designs and much lower price tags.

Chrysler shined postwar. For a period in the late 1940s, it even surpassed Ford as the No. 2 U.S. automaker. The company's storied "Hemi" V8 engine made its debut in 1951. Offering 180 horsepower, it was a significant improvement over Chrysler's previous 135-hp V8. The Hemi engine was meant to trounce the V8 offered by Cadillac, Chrysler's rival, and it kick-started Detroit's horsepower race of the '50s and '60s. The '50s also saw the debut of treasured Chrysler classics like the handsome Town and Country and the sleek 300C.

By 1961, Chrysler had trimmed its line of brands by dropping the DeSoto nameplate. New technologies were also afoot, such as unibody construction (Chrysler was the first of the Big Three to introduce it) and the replacement of generators with alternators for a car's charging system. In the latter half of the '60s, Chrysler was heavily involved with NASCAR and producing performance-oriented cars.

At the same time, however, dark clouds were gathering. As with other domestic automakers, the 1970s proved to be a difficult decade for Chrysler due to the oil crisis, new government regulations and changing consumer tastes. A costly and ineffective overseas expansion further hurt the company's bottom line. By the late '70s, the company was in such financial disarray that it petitioned the government for $1.5 billion in loan guarantees to save it from bankruptcy.

Thanks to impressive public campaigning by then-chairman Lee Iacocca, the debut of the well-received K-car platform and the creation of the modern minivan, sales had improved dramatically by the mid-'80s. The government's loan was paid off seven years early. The picture further brightened in the late 1980s with Chrysler's purchase of American Motors Corporation (which netted the company the Jeep brand) and a joint venture with Mitsubishi known as Diamond Star Motors.

Success continued through the early 1990s. In 1998, German-based Daimler-Benz merged with Chrysler to form DaimlerChrysler. At the time, this deal was presented as a merger of equals. But it quickly became apparent that it was more of a purchase, with Daimler being the dominant partner. To Daimler's chagrin, however, Chrysler's financial situation had once again dropped into the red. To counter, cutbacks were made and German technology and engineering applied. In the past few years this remedy has finally borne fruit. Thanks to new models and improved efficiencies, Chrysler is now the healthiest of the Big Three automakers.

Anyone who doubts an automaker's ability to give itself a convincing image makeover need only look at Dodge's recent efforts. After years of producing vehicles that offered middle-of-the-road looks and mediocre handling, the manufacturer gave its lineup a significant overhaul, redesigning many of its vehicles to offer aggressive styling and above-average performance. As a result, Dodge found itself attracting a whole new group of consumers, and sales improved.

Two brothers, Horace and John Dodge, began the Dodge Brothers Motor Vehicle company in 1914, after having worked as manufacturers of bicycles and automotive parts. Their first vehicle was a touring car that proved a fast favorite with car buyers; it was soon joined by a roadster and a four-door sedan. By 1917, the company's model line had grown to include trucks. Dodge cars and trucks were used as staff vehicles and ambulances in World War I.

Dodge was briefly owned by a banking firm and subsequently sold by its new owner to the Chrysler Corporation in 1928. From there, the brand slowly evolved into the division responsible for trucks and performance-oriented cars. Post WWII, Dodge introduced vehicles like the military-inspired Power Wagon truck, Hemi-powered Coronet and the Royal Lancer; in addition, the manufacturer began offering dealer-installed air conditioning.

Vehicles like the Dodge Dart and the Custom 880 kept the manufacturer in American driveways throughout the 1960s. That decade also saw the launch of one of Dodge's most iconic vehicles, the Charger. Dodge's muscle car was based on the Coronet platform, and featured a fastback roofline, hidden headlamps and a full-width tail lamp panel. Best of all, the Charger could pack one heck of a wallop under the hood. A 318-cubic-inch V8 was standard, but buyers seeking maximum brawn could upgrade to a 426-cubic-inch, 425-hp Hemi V8. The company also introduced a Mustang-fighting pony car, called the Challenger, in 1970.

Like other American auto manufacturers, Dodge's fortunes started to slip in the '70s due to changing tastes and increased competition. The company was saved from extinction in the early '80s thanks to government loans and the sales success of its Omni and Aries economy cars (the former a blatant copy of the VW Rabbit). But 1984 was when Dodge made its mark in the history books with the introduction of the wildly popular Caravan. Ideal for families and able to seat up to seven, the space-efficient Caravan started a whole new vehicle segment -- the minivan. The early '90s saw the company wow the public with the V10-powered Viper roadster and an all-new Ram pickup.

Today, Dodge is a division of DaimlerChrysler, a result of the merger of the German company Daimler (owner of Mercedes-Benz) and Chrysler. The company's lineup includes everything from trucks, minivans and SUVs to high-performance coupes and sedans. Automotive consumers interested in buying a domestic vehicle that's a bit different than the norm should take a look at what Dodge has to offer

Enzo Ferrari worked at Alfa Romeo through most of the 1920s before deciding to build his own racing and road cars. After years of modifying and building racing cars using Fiat and Alfa Romeo components, Ferrari set up shop in Maranello, Italy, and produced his own car in 1948, the Tipo ("Type") 166. As would be the Ferrari tradition for many years, its name was derived from the displacement of a single cylinder in cubic centimeters. As it was a V12, total displacement equaled just 2 liters. Throughout the 1950s and 1960s, such greats as the 250 GT, 250 GTO and 275 GTB were produced, clothed in beautiful bodies that were penned by Pininfarina, the design house that Ferrari still uses to this day. Other memorable models followed throughout the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s, such as the 246 Dino, 365 GTB Daytona, 512BB, 308 GTS (the Magnum P.I. TV show car), Testarossa, 355 and 550 Maranello. Various roof styles were available on some of the models, including Berlinetta (coupe) and Spider (convertible). Other models of note include the F40, produced in 1988 to celebrate Ferrari's 40 years of building automobiles. Coincidentally, that was also the year Enzo died. Presently, Fiat owns Ferrari, and incredible sports cars, such as the 360 Modena, still roll out of Maranello.

For more than 100 years now, Ford Motor Company has been selling mass-produced automobiles in the United States and around the globe. Known as one of the Big Three American manufacturers, Ford has attracted millions of loyal customers with a wide range of dynamic and innovative products that offer considerable value for the money. The automaker's trucks and SUVs have been especially popular. For decades, Ford's F-Series truck has been the best-selling vehicle in America.

The company was founded by Henry Ford in 1903. Ford dreamed of building a car for the masses, and that's precisely what he did. Beginning with 1903's Model A, the Michigan-based company gradually rolled out a lineup of conservatively priced vehicles that were typically named using the letters of the alphabet. Perhaps the best-known Ford of this series is the immortal Model T of 1908-1927, which was bought by 16.5 million Americans during its 20-year lifespan and was affordable enough for Ford's own factory workers to purchase. Ford's early years were also distinguished by its introduction of the moving assembly line. It was the first to utilize this more cost-effective method of production, and its innovation became a mainstay of the manufacturing process.

Ford expanded into the luxury-car market with its purchase of Lincoln Motor Company in 1925. Over the next few years, the company broadened its focus even further by creating the Mercury division to produce midpriced cars. By the late '30s, Ford had unveiled the stylish Lincoln Zephyr, introduced a low-priced V8 engine and built over 25 million vehicles.

The postwar era saw the introduction of the legendary Ford Thunderbird. Offering performance wedded to luxury features like power windows, the Thunderbird was a huge hit. Another model of that decade, the Edsel, met with a somewhat less enthusiastic reception. In the wake of abysmal sales, the car was discontinued just a few months into its third model year.

Ford regained its footing in the early 1960s with the introduction of the compact Falcon, a model that was warmly received by the public. By the middle of the decade the automaker had given enthusiasts something to cheer about with the launch of the sporty Ford Mustang, a car that went on to become one of the biggest sellers of its day. Buyers adored the Mustang's low price, available powerful V8 engines and sleek styling. The Mustang even created a brand-new vehicle category: the pony car.

By the 1970s, Ford, like other domestic automakers, was starting to suffer the effects of changing consumer tastes and new government regulations. Many of its cars became shadows of their former selves. But the seeds of rebirth were planted in this decade. In 1979, the company acquired a stake in Mazda; this move would later aid Ford significantly in co-development projects. It also emerged with a new mindset of global competitiveness. By the mid- to late '80s, Ford was showing new strength with its popular Escort and Taurus models while further expanding its empire with the purchase of the Jaguar and Aston Martin brands.

Ford rode a wave of popularity in the 1990s, thanks in part to the success of its Explorer midsize SUV. The ute was a hit and played a huge role in ushering in the era of the SUV. In 1999, Ford expanded its family yet again with the purchase of Volvo's car division, and, in 2000, it acquired Land Rover. For awhile, there was talk of Ford even taking General Motors' spot as the No. 1 automaker in the world.

But the new millennium has seen a downturn for Ford. Increased competition, a continuing operating loss for Jaguar, legacy costs and a reliance on SUVs for profit have taken their toll. To compensate, the company has introduced a wave of new products, including an all-new Mustang that borrows many styling cues from the pony car's glory days. The future is uncertain but if past business cycles are any indication the company will likely be seeing brighter days ahead.

For more than 100 years now, Ford Motor Company has been selling mass-produced automobiles in the United States and around the globe. Known as one of the Big Three American manufacturers, Ford has attracted millions of loyal customers with a wide range of dynamic and innovative products that offer considerable value for the money. The automaker's trucks and SUVs have been especially popular. For decades, Ford's F-Series truck has been the best-selling vehicle in America.

The company was founded by Henry Ford in 1903. Ford dreamed of building a car for the masses, and that's precisely what he did. Beginning with 1903's Model A, the Michigan-based company gradually rolled out a lineup of conservatively priced vehicles that were typically named using the letters of the alphabet. Perhaps the best-known Ford of this series is the immortal Model T of 1908-1927, which was bought by 16.5 million Americans during its 20-year lifespan and was affordable enough for Ford's own factory workers to purchase. Ford's early years were also distinguished by its introduction of the moving assembly line. It was the first to utilize this more cost-effective method of production, and its innovation became a mainstay of the manufacturing process.

Ford expanded into the luxury-car market with its purchase of Lincoln Motor Company in 1925. Over the next few years, the company broadened its focus even further by creating the Mercury division to produce midpriced cars. By the late '30s, Ford had unveiled the stylish Lincoln Zephyr, introduced a low-priced V8 engine and built over 25 million vehicles.

The postwar era saw the introduction of the legendary Ford Thunderbird. Offering performance wedded to luxury features like power windows, the Thunderbird was a huge hit. Another model of that decade, the Edsel, met with a somewhat less enthusiastic reception. In the wake of abysmal sales, the car was discontinued just a few months into its third model year.

Ford regained its footing in the early 1960s with the introduction of the compact Falcon, a model that was warmly received by the public. By the middle of the decade the automaker had given enthusiasts something to cheer about with the launch of the sporty Ford Mustang, a car that went on to become one of the biggest sellers of its day. Buyers adored the Mustang's low price, available powerful V8 engines and sleek styling. The Mustang even created a brand-new vehicle category: the pony car.

By the 1970s, Ford, like other domestic automakers, was starting to suffer the effects of changing consumer tastes and new government regulations. Many of its cars became shadows of their former selves. But the seeds of rebirth were planted in this decade. In 1979, the company acquired a stake in Mazda; this move would later aid Ford significantly in co-development projects. It also emerged with a new mindset of global competitiveness. By the mid- to late '80s, Ford was showing new strength with its popular Escort and Taurus models while further expanding its empire with the purchase of the Jaguar and Aston Martin brands.

Ford rode a wave of popularity in the 1990s, thanks in part to the success of its Explorer midsize SUV. The ute was a hit and played a huge role in ushering in the era of the SUV. In 1999, Ford expanded its family yet again with the purchase of Volvo's car division, and, in 2000, it acquired Land Rover. For awhile, there was talk of Ford even taking General Motors' spot as the No. 1 automaker in the world.

But the new millennium has seen a downturn for Ford. Increased competition, a continuing operating loss for Jaguar, legacy costs and a reliance on SUVs for profit have taken their toll. To compensate, the company has introduced a wave of new products, including an all-new Mustang that borrows many styling cues from the pony car's glory days. The future is uncertain but if past business cycles are any indication the company will likely be seeing brighter days ahead.

Why are Honda vehicles so highly regarded by American drivers? Certainly, their excellent reputation for reliability and quality is a major factor. But it also has to do with the overall driving and owning experience. Read any Honda review and you'll likely notice common themes such as thoughtful design, a friendly nature, better-than-average fuel economy and attention to safety.

Japan-based Honda Motor Company was founded in 1948 by Soichiro Honda. The company got its start making motorbikes. Japan had been rendered cash poor and petrol-starved after World War II, and its citizens were hurting for an inexpensive, fuel-efficient mode of transportation. Honda's first motorcycles mated engines with bicycles to create a motorbike that was cheap to make and cheap to operate.

Honda's bikes quickly evolved into conveyances far more sophisticated than mere motors stuck into bicycle frames. The manufacturer's 1949 D-Type could reach speeds of up to 50 mph, and offered a steel frame as well as front and rear suspension. The 1950s saw the launch of the successful Juno scooter, built to steal market share from the Vespa knockoffs that were popular in Japan at that time. In the latter part of that decade, Honda introduced the ultra-successful C100 Super Cub. The bike was remarkably easy to operate and featured a crossbar-free frame that made it popular with women; it went on to become the first Honda motorbike sold in the U.S. as part of the establishment of American Honda Co. in 1959.

By the early 1960s, the Honda had built its first automobiles for the Japanese home market and entered Formula One racing. But it wasn't until 1970 that it imported its first car, the diminutive N600, to the U.S. The automaker initially had a hard time sparking interest in American buyers, but that all changed in 1973 with the introduction of the Civic. The car offered larger dimensions than Honda's previous models even though it was still relatively petite compared to compact American cars). The Civic's fuel efficiency (an important selling point given that decade's energy crisis) and affordability made it Honda's first American success story. By 1976, the Civic had been joined by the Accord, which quickly became a favorite with U.S. consumers as well.

By the 1980s, Honda's success and its reputation as a maker of reliable cars and motorcycles continued to grow. It began building Accords in the U.S. in 1982 and by 1989 had earned the distinction of making America's most popular car. This was also the decade in which Honda created the Acura brand as a way to sell more upscale and luxurious vehicles. Throughout this decade and into the 1990s, Honda continued to innovate through such technologies as VTEC variable valve timing, aluminum body construction, improved safety features and new gasoline/electric hybrid powertrains.

Today, Honda's lineup runs the gamut. Included are fuel-sipping hybrids, spacious minivans, reliable family sedans, rugged SUVs and even a pickup. The manufacturer is a standard-bearer in many segments; models like the Civic and the Accord are considered benchmarks in their respective classes.

Few vehicles are as instantly recognizable as a Hummer SUV. Unapologetically boxy and impossibly wide, these rugged vehicles were originally built for military use, and it shows. For Hummer aficionados, the fact that these mammoth rock-crawlers are tank-like both in appearance and nature is a selling point, not a flaw. Go to a Hummer dealer and all you'll see are SUVs. There is no such thing as a Hummer car, at least not yet.

The Hummer brand can actually trace its roots back to another military icon -- the Jeep. Designed by the Willys-Overland company in the 1940s, the Jeep became so popular that when Henry J. Kaiser purchased the Willys-Overland company in 1953, the name was changed to Kaiser-Jeep. In 1970, American Motors bought Kaiser-Jeep and renamed it the Jeep Corporation. At that point, Jeep was producing vehicles through two divisions: the Commercial Products division in Toledo, Ohio, and the Government Products division in South Bend, Indiana.

A year later, the Government Products division was spun off as a wholly owned subsidiary known as AM General. In the early 1980s, the company, now owned by the LTV Corporation, designed a vehicle to compete for a contract offered by the U.S. Army. Called the High Mobility Multi-Purpose Wheeled Vehicle (HMMWV, or Humvee, as it came to be known), it was designed to serve as the military's main light tactical vehicle. AM General won a 1983 production contract (the first of many with the U.S. Army) that required the delivery of 55,000 vehicles over a five-year period.

AM General's Humvees distinguished themselves in active duty during the Persian Gulf War in the early '90s. The vehicle's wartime prowess garnered a great deal of positive publicity, and not just within military circles. As a result, AM General (now under the ownership of the Renco Group) decided to introduce a civilian version of the Humvee, dubbed the Hummer, in 1992. In 1999, General Motors bought the rights to the Hummer brand name and became responsible for the development, marketing and distribution of future Hummer SUVs.

The original Hummer, now called the H1, is still very much a niche offering and only a small number are produced each year. This exclusivity has played a part in making the pricey SUV a rather conspicuous status symbol. Under GM's guidance, the brand has expanded to include additional vehicles that still possess the Hummer bravado but with civilized road matters better suited for general public consumption.

A relative newcomer to the American marketplace, Hyundai is a Korean automaker with a product line that has improved considerably over the past few years. Hyundai cars and SUVs provide a high level of content for an affordable price, and are currently backed by one of the industry's longest warranties.

In 1947, Chung Ju Yung founded the Hyundai Civil Engineering Company. Mere months later, the outfit was bombed in the Korean War. However, the company regained its footing to distinguish itself as one of Korea's leading construction enterprises during the 1950s.

By the late 1960s, Chung had turned his attention to the automobile industry. The Korean government at that time believed that it made more sense to import vehicles than produce them domestically, and had made its opinion known. Still, Chung opted to follow his own convictions, and in 1967, he founded the Hyundai Motor Company.

The company quickly established an alliance with one of the industry's oldest automakers, signing a two-year contract with Ford in 1968 to share assembly technology. Hyundai's first car, the Cortina, was created from that partnership. The manufacturer's first car to be built and designed in Korea was the compact Pony (although the car was based on Japanese technology courtesy of Mitsubishi). The vehicle made its debut in 1974, and the following year, Hyundai began exporting it to overseas markets.

Hyundai entered the U.S. market in 1986 with the introduction of its subcompact Excel. The car was an immediate hit, with its supreme affordability being a primary selling point; more than 100,000 Excels were sold stateside in the first seven months. By 1988, Hyundai had begun to produce cars using its own technology. The midsize Sonata was the first fruit borne of this endeavor.

Unfortunately, Hyundai's nascent image was soon tarnished by the poor durability and reliability of its vehicles. Sales tanked. However, rather than abandon the American market in the '90s, Hyundai chose to invest heavily in new product designs and improvements in overall quality and reliability.

The decision started to pay off by the start of the new millennium as the quality, performance and overall desirability of Hyundai cars increased sharply. The company has also smoothed over any lingering doubts about quality by enacting an extraordinarily long warranty period. Though Hyundai's product lineup is smaller than those of most other manufacturers, it gains economies of scale through Kia, another Korean auto brand, which it purchased in 1998. These days, Hyundai is known for producing vehicles that offer great value at low prices.

Infiniti is an upscale automaker from Japan. Though most of its vehicles are related to those sold by parent company Nissan, Infiniti looks to achieve a premium status by infusing its cars and SUVs with spirited performance and additional luxury content.

The Infiniti brand was launched for the 1990 model year. Its purpose back then, as it is now, was to create and sell premium vehicles in America that wouldn't have otherwise fit in with Nissan's more mainstream image. In its first full year, Infiniti started out with two luxury cars, the Q45 and the M30; the entry-level G20 was introduced soon after. Initially, the brand's sales were disappointing, a fact many attribute to some of Infiniti's poorly received advertising at the time. The company's initial campaign aimed to bring about brand awareness with Zen-influenced spots that focused on nature. However, the ads didn't show the actual cars, and many believe this omission did no favors for a company that was hoping to have buyers recognize and clamor for its vehicles.

As the 1990s moved along, Infiniti slowly added more vehicles to its lineup. The Q45 found its market (though it was still outsold by competing offerings from Lexus). The car's 278-horsepower V8 was class-leading in its day. On top of that, the Q45 offered cutting-edge technology; it was the first vehicle to offer an active suspension system. By the late '90s, Infiniti had rolled out the QX4, an SUV that was based on the Pathfinder. The sport-ute's truck platform gave it a leg up in off-road performance relative to competing SUVs.

Sales across the Infiniti lineup grew steadily throughout the '90s. Still, by the end of the decade, the marque fell short of both Lexus and Acura in terms of popularity. The early 2000s saw Infiniti making a determined effort to sharpen its focus and upgrade its products. Its stated intention was to create vehicles of exceptionally high quality and performance. The Q45 was redesigned with this goal in mind, but it was the introduction of the entry-level G35 in 2003 that finally gave Infiniti the kick-start it sorely needed. Based on the FM platform, the car, in both sedan and coupe versions, met with immediate sales success. The FX35/FX45 soon followed, a crossover SUV that emphasizes performance, mating sports-car handling with the utility of a wagon.

Today, Infiniti still trails competing marques like BMW, Audi and Lexus in brand recognition and popularity. However, recent improvements in its product line have not gone unnoticed, and the brand has won the respect and praise of buyers and automotive journalists alike.

For now, Isuzu SUVs and trucks are all that you'll see at your local Isuzu dealer; it's been quite a few years since there's been an Isuzu car. The company's specialized lineup is more a function of circumstance than choice. In recent years, Isuzu has seen its share of hard times; a lack of funding for both new product investment and marketing has forced the company to rely heavily on its partnership with GM. Both of the models in its line are derived from existing GM products.

Isuzu, which means "50 bells," is the name of a river that flows through a province dotted with ancient Shinto shrines in Japan. The company's roots date back to 1916, when Tokyo Ishikawajima Shipbuilding and Engineering Company first decided to broaden its business to include automobile manufacturing. The company forged a technical union with the U.K.-based Wolseley Motor Company in 1918. Its debut licensed offering, the A9 car, soon followed, as did its first truck, the CP. By 1949, the company's name had been changed to the more succinct Isuzu.

In the postwar years, production of Isuzu trucks boomed. The company's vehicles played a significant role in Japan's reconstruction effort, and were used to ferry clothes, food and other essentials. In 1953, Isuzu rolled out the Hillman Minx passenger car, the product of a technical union with Rootes, a U.K. outfit.

The 1960s saw the launch of passenger cars like the Florian, the Bellett and the 117 Coupe, as well as trucks like the WASP. In 1971, Isuzu entered into a partnership with General Motors. The Gemini, released a couple of years later, was the first Isuzu vehicle to be produced from the pairing.

By the 1980s, Isuzu had landed on American shores. The Pup was the first Isuzu sold in the U.S. market. The Trooper, an SUV available in two- or four-door form, was introduced in 1983 and quickly became popular in that new market segment. The company entered into a joint venture with Subaru in 1987, a union that spawned the Isuzu Rodeo and the Isuzu Pickup. Less popular than the trucks were the cars, such as the dated I-Mark sedan and the handsome, Italian-designed Impulse sport coupe.

The company's sales were relatively strong in the 1990s, thanks in part to the increasing success of the Trooper, which by that time had grown in size and luxury. The Trooper was one of the models responsible for the massive popularity of the SUV vehicle category during that decade. In 1999, GM upped its stake in Isuzu to assume the role of majority shareholder.

The new millennium brought bad news, however. Previous bestsellers like the Rodeo and the Trooper were outclassed by newer, fresher competition, and sales plummeted. The Rodeo and the Axiom (a crossover SUV) were dropped from the lineup in 2004. Currently, Isuzu's lineup comprises just two vehicles a truck and an SUV, both of which are based on GM products.

Jaguar cars have a long history of elegant styling and sporting performance. The brand was born in the United Kingdom, and for years, its vehicles were synonymous with the old-world luxury of the British upper classes. Even though the marque is now owned by Ford, Jaguar cars still bear the unmistakable gleam of traditional English refinement.

The company traces its roots to the Swallow Sidecar Company, founded in 1922 by Bill Lyons and William Walmsley. Based in Blackpool, England, the company produced a popular line of aluminum motorcycle sidecars. Swallow eventually switched its focus to automobile production, changing its name to SS Cars Ltd. in 1933. The first vehicle to carry the Jaguar name was the SS Jaguar 100, released in 1935.

After World War II, SS Cars switched its moniker to Jaguar so as not to be associated with the Nazi paramilitary organization that bore the same initials. Its first postwar offering was 1948's Mark V. The luxury sedan was joined that year by the XK 120, a sports car that was the fastest production automobile of its day its name was derived from its top speed. The XK 120 proved quite popular, and helped Jaguar establish a strong presence in the sports car market.

By the 1950s, Jaguar had begun exporting luxury vehicles to the United States. Created just for the American market, the Mark VII Saloon was introduced in 1951; Jaguar quickly realized it had a hit on its hands. In 1956, the car took the prize at the Monte Carlo Rally. Later in the decade, Jaguar added the Mark VIII and Mark IX to its lineup.

The 1960s saw the launch of one of Jaguar's most well-known models. The E-type coupe, or XK-E as it was known in the U.S., blended performance and refinement, wrapped in a sexy package. The success of groups like the Beatles and the Rolling Stones and icons like Twiggy, the fashion model, made British culture a hot commodity during the '60s a fact that had positive implications for Jaguar's popularity in the U.S.

A decade later, Jaguar introduced the XJ6C and XJ12C coupes, as well as the XJ-S. A new V12 was put in the XJ12, making it the fastest production sedan of its day. The 1980s saw Jaguar continuing to raise the bar in performance with the launch of the XJ-S HE and a true world supercar, the XJ220. By this time, however, Jaguar also faced increased competition from German automakers and adverse exchange rates. The company's managers decided to recognize the potential value of a partnership with another company. This decision ultimately led to a full buyout of Jaguar by Ford in 1990.

Ford's influence (and financial support) was evident with the 1997 launch of Jaguar's XK8 and supercharged XKR sports cars. Powering both was Jaguar's new AJ-V8, a compact yet powerful engine that was also used in certain Land Rover vehicles. In recent years, Jaguar has made an effort to broaden its product line with the introduction of lower-priced, entry-luxury vehicles. Today, the marque is known for offering cars that boast distinctive styling, sporting performance and luxurious interiors.

If you're thinking about purchasing a vehicle rugged enough to finesse rocky trails, chances are, one make comes to mind: Jeep. This specialty automotive manufacturer has a long history of producing trucks and SUVs capable of off-highway adventures so much so that the term jeep is used by many to refer to all SUVs, whether the vehicle in question is a true Jeep or not.

Jeep took root in WWII as the name of the now-iconic four-wheel-drive military vehicle produced by Willys-Overland and Ford for the U.S. Army. The name's origin is somewhat of a mystery; popular belief is that it morphed from "GP," or "general purpose," though others have suggested that it was a nickname derived from a character featured in the Popeye comic strip of the time.

The mid-1940s saw the introduction of the first civilian Jeep, the CJ-2A. It offered many features not available on military versions, such as a tailgate, an external fuel cap and a side-mounted spare tire, and was targeted mainly toward farmers and construction workers.

Civilian Jeeps caught on with the public, and by the 1950s, new models such as the CJ-3B and the CJ-5 had been introduced. The CJ-5 had the longest production run of any Jeep vehicle, continuing for 30 years after its introduction in the early '50s. The company changed owners during this decade as Willys-Overland was sold to Kaiser in 1953.

Jeep broke new ground in the 1960s with the debut of its Wagoneer. Geared toward active families, this early SUV was the first four-wheel-drive vehicle equipped with an automatic transmission. A new "Dauntless" V6 became available as an option on the CJ-5 and CJ-6 in 1965. This was the first time that a Jeep CJ could be equipped with a V6. Packing 155 horses, the engine's horsepower almost doubled that offered by the standard four-cylinder.

By the 1970s, Jeep had changed ownership yet again, with the purchase of Kaiser-Jeep by American Motors Corporation. New models like the CJ-7 and the Scrambler were rolled out. Additionally, the company unveiled some new technology with the introduction of the world's first automatic full-time four-wheel-drive system. Dubbed Quadra-Trac, it was available in the CJ-7 as well as in full-size Jeep trucks and wagons. During this decade, Jeep's fortunes soared as four-wheel-drive vehicles became increasingly popular with large sections of American buyers.

The 1980s saw the introduction of the Cherokee and Wrangler. The Cherokee was one of the first of the new breed of SUVs midsize wagons that skyrocketed in popularity as the decade progressed. The Wrangler replaced the CJ series in 1987 and offered the raw functionality of the CJ along with more features designed to add a measure of comfort to the rugged ute. That year also saw the purchase of American Motors by Chrysler, with the Jeep brand becoming part of Chrysler's Jeep/Eagle division.

In the wake of the 1998 merger between Chrysler and Daimler-Benz, Jeep is now part of the DaimlerChrysler lineup. Though always a relatively low-volume manufacturer, Jeep has maintained a loyal group of customers thanks to its focused mission of building fearless, go-anywhere vehicles.

Kia Motors is a Korean automaker that caters to budget-minded consumers. The company's vehicles are priced below competing models and typically represent a good value when taking into consideration their high feature content.

Founded in Korea in 1944, Kia started as a producer of steel tubing and bicycle parts. The company's name has its roots in the Chinese language, and means "to arise, to come up out of Asia." By the early 1950s, the company had produced Korea's first bicycle; by the latter part of the decade, Kia had branched out into motor scooters, with the rollout of the C100.

The 1960s saw Kia expanding its lineup to include motorcycles and three-wheeled cargo vehicles. Naturally, the next logical step was automobile production, and the company began moving in this direction in the early 1970s. By 1973, Kia had built a facility designed to make its automotive dreams a reality; its Sohari plant held the distinction of being Korea's first fully integrated automobile production facility, and went on to spawn Korea's first internal-combustion gasoline engine. A year later, Kia unveiled the Brisa, Korea's first passenger car. By the end of the decade, Kia's technology was being used to manufacture vehicles like the Peugeot 604 and the Fiat 132.

By the late '80s, Kia's lineup included new models like the Concord, Capital, Potentia and Pride. In 1987, Ford brought the Pride to U.S. shores, rebadging it as the Ford Festiva. A few years later, Kia's Avella was also imported by Ford, and marketed in North America as the Ford Aspire.

Kia began selling vehicles in the U.S. under its own marque in the early '90s, trumpeting its presence with the introduction of the Sephia. The car's rollout was gradual; in the early days of its production, the Sephia was only available in selected Western states. By the mid-'90s, SUVs had emerged as a phenomenally popular vehicle category, coveted by drivers for their roominess and versatility; Kia caught this wave with the introduction of its Sportage SUV in 1995. By the end of the '90s, Kia's nationwide rollout was complete, with dealerships in every state but North Dakota.

Financial difficulties in the late '90s prevented Kia from expanding its lineup, and Hyundai, Korea's other major automaker, acquired the company in a merger in 1998. Since then, Kia has introduced several new models and now has something to offer virtually every budget-minded buyer in the U.S. market. Kia has been on an upswing since its purchase by Hyundai, with improvements in build quality and overall refinement. Reliability had previously been a weak point, but improvements in that area and the initiation of a substantial warranty program in 2001 have bolstered the company's reputation with consumers.

Beloved by enthusiasts everywhere, Lamborghini cars are built for speed and to look the part. Extreme style and extreme performance are the chief characteristics of Ferrari's national rival. Unless your zip code is 90210, you're not likely to see a scissor-doored Lamborghini ahead of you in the Starbucks drive-thru or parked next to you at the mall; these are exclusive automobiles designed to cater to a small, very specialized audience.

During World War II, company founder Ferruccio Lamborghini served with the Italian Air Force's mechanics corps, where he became proficient at working with engines. After the war, Italy was plagued with scarcity; one such shortage involved tractors. Sensing an opportunity, Lamborghini purchased surplus military machines and reconfigured them as tractors. It was a canny move that resulted in a thriving business for the young entrepreneur, one that quickly made him a very wealthy man.

By the 1950s, Lamborghini's business had become even more successful, expanding to include heaters and air-conditioning units. As a car enthusiast, Lamborghini drove the best sports cars of the day. Somewhat disappointed with the Ferraris, he vowed to build a better car. Armed with millions of lira in investment money, he retreated to the small village of Sant'Agata to build a state-of-the-art automotive factory. On his payroll was noted automotive engineer Giotto Bizzarrini, who'd previously worked at Ferrari.

Automobili Lamborghini SpA. was officially founded in 1963. That same year, the very first Lamborghini, the 350GT, made its debut at the Turin Motor Show. The car's name came from its engine size, a 3.5-liter four-cam V12. Then came the 400GT, which was produced until 1968. But it was the stunning midengine Miura, produced from 1966-'73, that catapulted Lamborghini to worldwide acclaim.

Lamborghini's tractor business suffered hard times in the early '70s, which led him to sell a controlling interest of Automobili Lamborghini SpA to a Swiss industrialist. The Italian's problems were worsened by that decade's oil crisis, and he wound up selling the remaining amount of his shares. The company invested millions in the development of a new vehicle, the military truck-style Cheetah, but its sales were disappointing. By the end of the decade, the automaker had declared bankruptcy.

The company got back on its feet in the 1980s. The key was Lamborghini's over-the-top Countach. Though introduced way back in 1974, the Countach, now fully styled with angles and vents, was the perfect exotic sports car for that's decade's mentality. Perhaps hoping to cash in on the firm's revived popularity, the company's managers sold Lamborghini to Chrysler in 1987.

Another change of ownership took place in 1994, when Lamborghini was acquired by three Far Eastern companies. Megatech was the largest of the trio and the primary shareholder. By the late 1990s, Lamborghini was in financial hot water once again. As before, the lack of a diversified product lineup was hurting the company's ability to compete globally. It was acquired by Volkswagen (which also owns other luxury marques such as Audi and Bentley) in 1998.

Lamborghini has rolled out models such as the four-seat Espada and various V8 sports cars, but it is the midengine supercars that identify the marque. Models like the wild Countach and the Diablo of the 1990s are instantly recognizable as Lamborghini cars, with their sinister styling by Marcello Gandini promising equally outlandish performance. Though some may question the current German/Italian marriage, the products of this merger, the 200-mph Murcielago (the Diablo's successor) and the equally breathtaking Gallardo, leave no doubt as to its benefit.

Land Rover
The 1950s saw Land Rovers moving toward increased power and refinement. Launched in 1958, the Series II offered added horsepower and a somewhat less rudimentary exterior, with sills designed to disguise the exhaust and chassis. The first diesel-powered Rover was also produced during these years. The Series IIA came next, in a production run that lasted from 1961-'71. As the '60s drew to a close, Rover was acquired by Leyland Motors Ltd. (which would later become British Leyland).

Land Rover's storied Range Rover made its debut in 1970. Equipped with a V8 engine and a body made mostly of aluminum, the stylish vehicle was more consumer-oriented than its predecessors. In the mid-'70s, British Leyland was nationalized; by the mid-'80s, the company renamed the Rover Group had been acquired by British Aerospace.

The automaker officially entered the U.S. automotive market in 1987 when the Range Rover made its debut on American shores. It was followed in 1989 by the Discovery, which was initially offered only in two-door form. The Discovery was the first all-new Land Rover in 19 years.

In the 1990s, the sudden popularity of the burgeoning SUV segment placed the brand in an enviable position. In response, Land Rover's vehicles, while still retaining their go-anywhere attitude, became more luxurious, particularly after BMW bought the company in 1995.

The Land Rover family of vehicles has continued to grow. The late '90s saw the introduction of the Freelander; the compact sport-ute held the distinction of being the first production vehicle to offer Hill Descent Control. This system helps optimize maneuverability when descending steep slopes by automatically braking to keep the vehicle's speed in check. By the end of the decade, the company had changed hands once again. It was sold to Ford in 2000.

In the past, Land Rover has not had a particularly good reputation for reliability, but it has shown improvements in this regard in recent years. Today, the company is known for luxury SUVs with the latest amenities as well as superb off-road capability.

Lexus has earned a well-deserved reputation for turning out utterly refined luxury vehicles. The hallmarks of this brand are a quiet, well-crafted cabin, a plush ride and commendable performance from powerful, nearly silent engines.

Launched by Toyota in the fall of 1989, the Lexus line represents the company's effort to create a world-class luxury-car brand. Groundwork for the Lexus line was laid in the mid-'80s, when the company began tapping U.S. focus groups in an attempt to define design concepts best suited for American consumers. Hundreds of prototypes were built and tested on Germany's autobahn and on U.S. roads.

In early 1989, Lexus unveiled its first two models (which would debut for the 1990 model year) -- the entry-level ES 250 and the flagship LS 400. The LS 400 was lauded by both journalists and consumers alike for offering a stellar luxury-car experience, with a remarkably silent cabin and a refined engine. The cars were, however, panned by some for being somewhat less exciting than their European competitors because of bland styling and a suspension that placed plush ride quality over sporty handling dynamics.

By the early 1990s, the Lexus brand was expanded to other markets, including the United Kingdom, Canada and Australia. Additional cars were also added to the lineup, including the SC 300 and SC 400 coupes and the brand's first luxury performance sedan, the GS 300. Over the next few years, the company grew its line to include SUVs, with the addition of the LX 450 and RX 300. By the end of the decade, Lexus had sold over a million vehicles in the U.S. The 2000s saw Lexus proving itself a trendsetter with the launch of the world's first luxury hybrid SUV, the RX 400h.

In the years since its inception, the Lexus brand has distinguished itself time and again in quality and reliability surveys. The brand may not offer as much passion as its Teutonic rivals, but for drivers interested in vehicles that emphasize quality, dependability and comfort, the Lexus marque can't be beat.

Lincoln is an automaker with a long history of building upscale vehicles for the American market. A division of Ford, Lincoln differentiates its vehicles through additional luxury features, more powerful engines and unique styling. The automaker's lineup includes cars, pickups and SUVs.

The company was established in 1917 by Henry Leland, an automotive parts manufacturer who had previously founded the Cadillac brand. He named the company after his boyhood hero: the 16th U.S. president, Abraham Lincoln. Early Lincoln models include the L Series and the K Series. The company quickly hit dire straits, however, and was bought by Ford Motor Company in 1922.

Lincoln had found its niche in the luxury-car segment by the 1930s, riding high with the likes of Cadillac as a purveyor of premium status-mobiles. The 1936 model year saw Lincoln's launch of the popular Zephyr. The car's name and styling were inspired by the sleek lines of the Burlington Zephyr, a diesel-powered express train that boasted record-setting speed. This luxury car was a big hit for Lincoln; at one point, nearly 80 percent of all Lincolns sold were Zephyrs.

The '40s also saw the rise of the glamorous Continental. The vehicle's development was shepherded by Edsel Ford, son of Ford's founder Henry Ford. After World War II, Lincoln maintained its premium status with vehicles like the Mark II and the '60s-era Continentals, which gained fame through their "suicide-style" rear doors and use as U.S. presidential limousines. The Continental Mark III luxury coupe rolled out in 1968 and by the late '60s, over 1 million Continentals had been built.

The 1970s saw the launch of the Mark IV as well as a new Lincoln, the Versailles. The Versailles was the first midsize sedan from the marque, and right from the start, it missed the mark with the public. The Versailles was based on the Ford Granada platform, and many blamed its failure on its obvious similarity to its less exclusive and less expensive twin.

In 1981, Lincoln released its now iconic Town Car, the full-size luxury sedan that has since served as the marque's flagship. Though its moniker had been used to designate trim levels in previous years, 1981 was the year in which the Town Car came into existence as a model. Lincoln also distinguished itself during these years as the first American car line to offer antilock braking. The Mark series continued to evolve, and shrunk down considerably with the debut of the Mark VI. That velvet-lined cruiser was followed mid-decade by the Mark VII, which was more European in nature and could be powered by a BMW turbodiesel engine.

The '90s saw the debut of the last Mark, the Mark VIII, which featured a four-cam V8 and air suspension. By this time, sport-utility vehicles had emerged as segment to be reckoned, and Lincoln made the most of this trend by launching its very first SUV, the Navigator, for 1998. Dripping with leather-swathed affluence, the luxury SUV was a breakout hit. More recently, Lincoln has expanded its lineup with a pickup truck and entry-level models in hopes of attracting a new generation of consumers. Many of its offerings fall short of the competition in areas such as athleticism and refinement. Still, the marque is a favorite of car buyers seeking a generous dose of all-American luxury.

Founded in Britain, Lotus is very much a specialty outfit, with output limited to high-performance racecars and sports cars known for their sleek and lightweight designs. Though its cars are prized by enthusiasts seeking maximum handling performance, Lotus has never been particularly keen on sales volume, and it rarely has more than one or two models for sale at a time.

The marque was founded by racing enthusiast Anthony Colin Chapman. The first Lotus was built in 1948, and used by Chapman to compete in races. By 1955, Chapman had officially formed Lotus Cars Ltd. A company milestone was reached two years later with the unveiling of the innovative Lotus Elite. This remarkably light coupe owed its featherweight status to its fiberglass unibody construction. Though the use of fiberglass for a car's body wasn't unique, the Elite was the first vehicle to use this material both in its skeleton and its skin. The resultant weight savings helped the Elite to distinguish itself at Le Mans and other notable races around the world.

The 1960s saw Lotus expanding its line with the addition of the Elan. First available as a roadster, the car offered a twin-cam engine, four-wheel disc brakes and a four-wheel independent suspension. Hardtop versions were later offered. By 1967, Lotus had added the Elan Plus 2 to its lineup. Dubbed Lotus' first family car, the Plus 2 was just as sporty as the Elan, but more practical thanks to a bigger cabin and the addition of two jump seats.

Lotus discontinued the Elite in 1972, but the name was revived in 1974. The new Elite was a four-passenger model with a 160-horsepower engine. Two years later, the Lotus family grew yet again, with the addition of the Esprit. The two-seat sports car continued Lotus' ethos of lightweight design, and it was instantly recognizable due to its distinctive wedge-shaped exterior and appearance in two James Bond movies.

Movie stardom aside, this was not a good decade for Lotus. The brand's vehicles had evolved significantly since the first Elite cruised off showroom floors. Lotus cars of the 1970s were bigger, costlier and more expensive than their predecessors, and the brand had muscled its way into a segment populated by the likes of Ferrari and Porsche. Lotus cars were now premium-priced exotics; unfortunately for the brand, this segment saw a dramatic fall-off in demand in the wake of that era's fuel crisis, a fact that caused the automaker to suffer significant losses.

In 1986, General Motors took full control of Lotus and created Lotus Cars USA in 1987. That relationship lasted until 1993, when GM sold Lotus to Bugatti. Bugatti's ownership was even shorter; Lotus was sold to a Malaysian firm in 1996. The same year, Lotus began producing the flyweight Elise, a car that would quickly become the company's main product and financial savior. The Elise was finally imported to North America in 2004 after safety and emission considerations were overcome.

Today, Lotus still remains true to Chapman's original desire of producing lightweight and race-oriented sports cars. With tight cabin accommodations and minimal comfort and storage features, modern Lotus cars make poor grocery-getters. But for the enthusiast looking for a car that offers world-class handling and style at a reasonable price, the Lotus brand is hard to beat.

Italian sports-car excitement doesn't have to come at super-steep prices. Maserati has made a name for itself as a maker of lust-worthy exotics that, though costly, are bargains relative to their stratospherically priced competition. Maserati cars currently come in a number of configurations that range from an open sports car to a spacious luxury sport sedan.

The company was founded in 1914 by six Maserati brothers: Carlo, Bindo, Alfieri, Mario, Ettore and Ernesto. Based in Bologna, Italy, the brothers were racing enthusiasts and planned to craft racecars for private use. Mario, an artist, was believed to have based the company's trident emblem on a statue of the mythological god Neptune found in a Bologna square.

Throughout the '20s and '30s, the Maserati brothers scored many wins around the globe in their custom-built racecars. In 1937, the surviving brothers sold their stake in the company to the Orsi family, who moved the company's headquarters to Modena. A couple of years later, one of the automaker's cars won the prestigious Indianapolis 500.

Postwar, Maserati continued to rack up impressive racing victories with cars like the famous Tipo 60 and 61 "Birdcage" models. The company didn't start building road cars until the A6 coupe, which was made from 1947-'57. With only 138 cars produced in that long span, most of Maserati's money came from its other products: spark plugs and car batteries. The Maserati 3500 GT, fitted with a double-overhead-cam inline six, debuted in the mid-1950s.

By the 1960s, the automaker had shifted its focus from racecars to road cars. The company rolled out sexy models like the Mistral Coupe and the Sebring. But it wasn't until 1966, with the introduction of the sleek Giugiaro-styled Ghibli, that Maserati fielded a truly powerful (330-horsepower V8) and sexy Italian sports car. In 1968, the marque was purchased by Citro n.

Throughout the 1970s, Maserati made the most of its partnership with Citro n, using some of that company's suspension and steering components in Maserati cars such as the V8 Bora and V6 Merak models. The decade's fuel crisis took its toll, though, wreaking havoc and killing demand for the sort of gas-guzzling sports cars that were Maserati's specialty. Citro n was driven into bankruptcy and Maserati was placed in liquidation. In 1975, the company was purchased by Alejandro de Tomaso, an Argentinean who had a previous life as a successful racecar driver. He quickly rolled out a new model, the Quattroporte III, a four-door luxury sedan.

The 1980s were an especially dark time for Maserati. Its main model for the U.S. market, the Biturbo, was bland and notoriously unreliable. In 1991, the company stopped importing cars into the U.S. completely. Fiat bought Maserati in 1993 and variants of the Biturbo continued to be produced until the factory closed in 1997 for a total refurbishing. During this time, Ferrari bought 50 percent of Maserati; Ferrari went on to acquire full control of the marque. After the factory's rebirth, Maserati started production of a pair of world-class cars, the current two-seat Spyder roadster and the four-seat Coupe. With powerful V8 engines, the availability of an F1-style gearbox, styling by Giugiaro and vastly improved build quality, the new Maserati cars were introduced to the U.S. market for 2002 and have restored prestige to this Italian sports car company.

In 2005, Maserati was split from Ferrari but remained within the Fiat fold. That year also saw the reintroduction of the Quattroporte luxury sport sedan. Today's Maseratis may lack the brand recognition of the marque's Italian rival, but they hold the advantage of being considerably more affordable while still offering sexy Italian styling and supercar performance.

With a highly focused lineup that consists of just two incredibly sumptuous touring sedans, Maybach creates luxury cars that are as exclusive as they are expensive. The automaker's vehicles are custom-built to each customer's taste.

A long list of options, colors and interior furnishings can be applied to any vehicle, but you won't find a selection of popularly equipped Maybachs waiting on dealer lots. Instead, you must order your vehicle by visiting a Maybach dealer's "Commissioning Studio," housed within a Mercedes-Benz dealership.

The company's name comes from Wilhelm Maybach, one of Germany's first automotive engineers. He designed the first car that bore a Mercedes badge in 1901 and later collaborated with Graf Zeppelin to design and produce engines for the airships known as Zeppelins. With his engineer son Karl by his side, the automaker crafted the very first Maybach in 1919. Based on a Mercedes-Benz chassis, the Type W1 was an experimental project designed to give Maybach the opportunity to test-drive a few of his favorite engineering concepts.

A couple of years later, the engineer evolved this prototype into a vehicle intended for public use the Maybach Type W3, which made its debut at the Berlin Motor Show in 1921. Other models followed. Unveiled in 1929, the Type Zeppelin DS 8 was one of the best-known Maybachs, and exhibited remarkable timelessness and durability. The car was powered by a 200-horsepower V12 and was capable of reaching a top speed of 93 mph.

The company's 1936 limousine, the Type SW 38, offered luxurious seating for seven via five standard seats and two folding seats. As a brand, Maybach's epoch was short-lived, however. By 1941, production of Maybach automobiles ceased as the company shifted its focus to manufacturing engines for military, marine and rail purposes. With considerable effort from Daimler-Benz, the Maybach brand was resurrected in 2003 with a lineup consisting of a pair of luxury sedan models, the 57 and the similar but longer 62. Today's Maybachs are hand-made in Germany, made to order according to customer requests. As in the past, supremely luxurious interiors and extremely powerful and smooth power plants (in this case twin-turbo V12 engines) are the hallmarks of the marque.

A price tag well into six-figure territory means that these are luxury cars solely for those with mountains of money to spend, but the lucky few able to afford this luxury will find themselves cocooned in vehicles that offer the ultimate in automotive extravagance.

There are affordable cars, and then there are cars that offer thrilling performance. Rarely do the two ever converge, but Japanese automaker Mazda has made it a tradition of coming up with vehicles that combine both of these eminently desirable traits.

The Toyo Cork Kogyo Company, founded in 1920 in Hiroshima, Japan, used the name "Mazda" for its first three-wheeled truck, built in 1931. Company founder Jujiro Matsuda chose the word "Mazda" because it was the name of the Zoroastrian god of good and light. Work on a small sedan began in the late 1930s, but development was halted so the company could pitch in with Japan's war effort. In the wake of World War II and the rebuilding that followed, the company refocused its efforts on car development and manufacturing.

By 1960, the first Mazda automobile the R360 coupe was developed, and the company's foray into the production of passenger vehicles began in full force. Other landmark developments were soon to follow. In 1961, the company entered into a technical partnership with NSU and Wankel to develop and produce rotary engines, a union that led to Mazda's distinguishing itself as the only manufacturer to offer three engine configurations: conventional gasoline piston, diesel and rotary. The '60s also saw the introduction of the company's first pickup, the B-Series 1500, as well as its first rotary-engine vehicle, the 110S Cosmo Sport.

Mazda began selling cars in the U.S. in 1970. In the early part of the decade, the automaker rolled out the RX-2. Powered by the noted 12A rotary, the RX-2 introduced America to Mazda's effort to build fun-to-drive and affordable cars. The decade also saw the introduction of the RX-3, RX-4 and now iconic rotary-powered RX-7 sports car. In 1979, the Ford Motor Company purchased a 25 percent stake in Mazda after the Japanese company encountered a number of financial difficulties.

The 1980s was a decade of rebirth for Mazda. The company officially took on the Mazda name (though all its vehicles since its launch in the '20s have carried that brand). It also witnessed an upswing in sales sparked by successful new products like the 323 (which was first called the GLC in the American market) and 626. The 1990 model year saw the launch of a car that would prove a huge hit for Mazda: the MX-5 Miata. Lauded for its responsive handling and affordability, the drop-top has been a consistent favorite, and now holds the distinction of being the world's best-selling roadster.

Mazda began the 1990s with a bang by winning Le Mans with the 787B; it was the first time a Japanese automaker had won the prestigious race, and marked the only win for a rotary engine. Vehicles like the RX-7 and MX-5 Miata scored kudos from automotive journalists, and landed on many top 10 lists. However, save for the Miata, the company's vehicles experienced declining sales in the U.S., and the company's fortunes suffered as a result.

The new millennium has seen Mazda regain its stride. The automaker has invested in new development, with impressive results. New models like the Mazda 3, Mazda 6 and RX-8 have broadened the company's customer base and won over a whole new generation of fans.

"Oh Lord, won't you buy me a Mercedes-Benz?" That's the opening line of "Mercedes-Benz," a song most famously recorded by singer Janis Joplin in the early 1970s. The tune gently poked fun at materialism and our desire for the finer things in life. It's fitting that the renowned German marque figures prominently in the lyric. Mercedes-Benz has long been known for crafting vehicles that emphasize luxury and refinement. For many, its vehicles are sleek symbols of status, success and achievement.

In January of 1886, Karl Benz unveiled the world's first automobile, a three-wheeled vehicle dubbed the Benz Patent Motor Car. A few months later, Gottlieb Daimler and his chief engineer Wilhelm Maybach rolled out a four-wheeled vehicle powered by his Daimler engine. The first Mercedes was crafted in 1901, shortly after Daimler's death. Built by Maybach, the car was commissioned by Emil Jellinek, one of Daimler's primary distributors, and was ultimately named after Jellinek's daughter, Mercedes.

In 1926, the companies founded by Daimler and Benz merged to form Daimler-Benz AG, and the Mercedes-Benz brand was born. The company's insignia was a three-pointed star wreathed in a laurel; the star was dreamed up by Daimler years earlier, and its three points signified the fact that his engines were for use in vehicles that traveled land, air and sea.

Right from the start, the Mercedes-Benz name was synonymous with automotive excellence. One of the automaker's earliest vehicles, the 1931 Mercedes-Benz 170, distinguished itself as the world's first production car to offer a technology that was nothing short of extraordinary for the day: four-wheel independent suspension. The '30s and '40s saw Mercedes establishing itself as the brand of choice for car buyers seeking the ultimate in luxury, thanks to coveted cruisers like the 380 and 540K.

The 1950s witnessed the introduction of the Mercedes-Benz 300 SL "Gullwing," a sports car that has been described as being the world's first supercar. With its dramatic styling and race-bred technology, the 300 SL reigns today as a classic coveted by collectors worldwide. The decade also saw Daimler-Benz making strides in the area of safety technology. The company's Mercedes-Benz 220 sedans were the first vehicles to incorporate its patented "crumple zone" body design, created to absorb impact in the event of a crash.

In 1963, the company cemented its reputation as the home of automotive luxury with the launch of the Mercedes-Benz 600. The elegant, luxurious sedan was also available as a limousine and featured an ahead-of-its-time air suspension system and a V8 engine that boasted 300 horsepower. The decade also saw the launch of the Mercedes-Benz 300 SEL 6.3. This full-size sedan went from zero to 60 in under seven seconds, distinguishing itself as the quickest luxury car is its day.

The 1970s saw the birth of the brand's storied S-Class line of vehicles, opulent sedans and coupes that coddled passengers with powerful engines and a long list of luxury features. The decade also saw Mercedes continuing on the cutting edge of safety technology, by being the first to offer antilock brakes in its vehicles.

Daimler-Benz's safety advancements continued in the 1980s. Its cars were the first to offer airbags and traction control. The manufacturer also raised the bar in terms of ride comfort and handling when it introduced multilink rear suspension. The technology debuted on the compact Mercedes-Benz 190 E, and it remains a vital component of the company's chassis engineering to this day.

Mercedes-Benz vehicles got an extra dose of power and performance in the 1990s, thanks to the manufacturer's partnership with AMG, a performance and tuning shop that was eventually purchased by the company to help produce high-performance versions of some of its vehicles. The first AMG model offered in the U.S. was the sporty C36 AMG in 1995; since then, Mercedes has gone on to offer an AMG-tuned version of almost all of its vehicles.

The company's current lineup is the most comprehensive in its history. With a variety of sedans, coupes, SUVs and roadsters filling Mercedes showrooms, it seems like the only thing missing is a pickup truck. Surely, the fact that Janis Joplin's song holds as much relevance today as it did more than three decades ago is a strong indicator that the brand's premier status is still very much intact.

Mercury is a domestic automaker and a division of Ford Motor Company. The Mercury brand is marketed as being somewhat more upscale than Ford; it applies unique styling details and special features to its vehicles as a way of enhancing their desirability relative to similar Ford products.

In the 1930s, Edsel Ford, Henry Ford's son, saw an opportunity to create an additional brand within the Ford hierarchy, one that would slot vehicles between the everyman Ford Deluxes and premium Lincoln Zephyrs. To achieve this, Edsel felt the vehicles of this new brand should offer distinctive styling along with innovative features and better capabilities. He named the new division "Mercury," after the Roman mythological god. The 1939 Mercury Eight was the division's first car. It distinguished itself from similar Ford products thanks to a 95-horsepower engine that offered 10 more horses than the Ford V8.

The Eight proved to be a hit, with more than 155,000 sold by the early 1940s. Production stopped during World War II; after the war, the Mercury brand was realigned more closely with Lincoln. The company grew from strength to strength in the '50s, establishing itself as a home of vehicles offering style, performance and cutting-edge technology. A dash of glamour was added to the automaker's image when James Dean appeared onscreen in a Mercury car in the film Rebel Without A Cause.

The 1960s saw the introduction of Mercury's Comet and Meteor vehicles. The Comet featured diminutive dimensions and luxury accoutrements, while the Meteor was a midsize family car that followed the trend toward more reasonably sized cars. Racetrack wins boosted awareness of the Comet and helped the model make a big splash in terms of sales. By the end of the decade, the iconic Mercury Cougar, a variation of the Mustang, had been rolled out, taking its place in the pantheon of legendary early muscle cars.

Hit hard by that decade's oil crisis, consumers during the 1970s were hungry for smaller vehicles that offered improved fuel efficiency. Mercury created vehicles like the Capri and the Bobcat to fill this need. Mercury cars were well received, and its sales grew during a decade that was filled with turbulence and uncertainty for many competing marques. The brand took a stab at broadening its consumer base in the '80s by diversifying and expanding its lineup, which grew to include vehicles like the subcompact Lynx. Mercury enjoyed success with the 1986 launch of the Sable, a fraternal twin to the Ford Taurus whose sleek, aerodynamic lines served to diminish drag and improve fuel efficiency.

Minivans and SUVs came into their own during the 1990s, and Mercury made the most of these trends by introducing its Villager minivan and Mountaineer SUV. The brand's sales hit an all-time high during this decade that hasn't been matched since.

The past few years have been challenging for the Mercury brand, as changing consumer tastes and a lack of differentiation between Mercury and Ford vehicles have hurt sales. Pundits have often proclaimed the end of Mercury is near, but Ford, as the new millennium takes hold, seems intent on keeping the brand, and Edsel's original vision, alive. Today, Mercury's vehicle lineup and consumer base are small, but the brand remains a respectable pick for buyers seeking luxury vehicles that are born and bred in the U.S.A.

Few cars are as instantly recognizable as the Mini. Loved for its diminutive dimensions and cheerful good looks, the British-born car has inspired passionate devotion both in the U.S. and abroad. The brand was briefly discontinued, but was revived in 2002 with help from BMW. Successfully paying homage to the original Mini Cooper of the 1960s, the reincarnated Cooper combines an athletic, BMW-engineered chassis with a space-efficient interior and a generous standard features list.

The history of the Mini make began in 1959. The original Mini motorcar was produced by the British Motor Corporation (BMC) in England and its mission was to be a lightweight, agile four-passenger car that took up minimal space. In a sense, the brand was born out of necessity. The United Kingdom was subject to fuel rationing in the wake of the Suez crisis, and British consumers clamored for vehicles that offered optimum fuel efficiency.

The car was originally sold under BMC's Austin and Morris brands; the Mini name didn't make an appearance until 1961. Although it had just 34 horsepower, the Mini was the ideal urban car and proved popular in crowded European cities. In 1961, John Cooper, a man who built Formula One racecars, put his magic hands on the Mini and the result was the ferocious Mini Cooper. His Cooper S model had (at 76 horsepower) more than double the output of the standard Mini. That infusion of power, along with suspension tweaks and some really good driving, had Mini winning the Monte Carlo Rally four years in a row (1964-'67). The marque landed on American shores in 1962.

The '60s truly was the decade of the Mini motorcar. New variations on the car's theme came with the introduction of vehicles like the Mini Pickup and the Mini Moke, a vehicle that resembled a quirky cross between a Mini and a Jeep. The car's abbreviated proportions are even rumored to have played a part in sparking a fashion trend; the miniskirt raised hemlines and became emblematic of an era. Mini motorcars tore up the asphalt on the silver screen, with the brand's appearance in the 1969 film, The Italian Job. By the end of the decade, more than 2 million Mini motorcars had been produced. Sadly, the vehicle was pulled from the United States in 1968, in the wake of strict new emissions regulations.

Though no longer available in the U.S., Mini remained in production in Europe through the '70s and '80s. By the mid-'80s, more than 5 million Minis had been produced worldwide. In 1994, the brand was acquired by the BMW Group. The marque went on hiatus in 2000, but was resurrected (and brought back to American shores) in 2002 with the launch of the entry-level, front-drive Mini Cooper hatchback. Thoroughly modern in every way, right down to its BMW-engineered suspension, steering and brakes, the Mini Cooper is sold alongside its cousins at BMW dealerships. Today, the Mini stands as the most successful British car in history. Though "Mini fever" has cooled somewhat since its reintroduction a few years ago, the brand still inspires adoration from buyers taken with its unique looks, winning performance and the convenience of its extremely compact dimensions.

Mitsubishi has its roots in producing commercial vehicles for its home market of Japan. Its current selection of vehicles, which include cars, trucks and SUVs, tend to offer above-average performance and style.

A Japanese word meaning "three diamonds," Mitsubishi was founded in by Yataro Iwasaki, a descendant of samurais, in the early 1870s. The company's initial focus was on shipping, but it quickly diversified into areas such as mining and ship repair. In 1917, Mitsubishi unveiled the Model A, Japan's first series production passenger car. However, in the years that led up to World War II, the division responsible for transportation, Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, was focused mainly on producing ships and vehicles for the war effort.

It wasn't until 1960, with the launch of the compact Mitsubishi 500, that the company began producing passenger vehicles on a large scale. That decade also saw the launch of other Mitsubishi light passenger vehicles like the 360 Van and 360 Pickup. The company also distinguished itself on the racetrack during this decade, taking top honors in Japan's Grand Prix.

Mitsubishi's automobile production arm was officially spun off into a company of its own with the establishment of Mitsubishi Motors Corporation in 1970. The company's Colt made its way to American shores in 1971, the same year in which Chrysler purchased a 15 percent stake in the new company. However, the line wasn't sold under the Mitsubishi name; reflecting Chrysler's interest in the company, Colts were sold in North America under the Dodge marque. By the end of the decade, Mitsubishi was producing more than 1 million cars per year, and its lineup had grown to include vehicles like the Galant and the Lancer. In 1982, Mitsubishi began selling cars in the U.S. under its own name.

Mitsubishi hit its stride in the '90s, thanks to the popularity of the sport-oriented Eclipse and 3000GT in the U.S. and the turbocharged Lancer Evolution in other parts of the world. In the years since Chrysler's initial investment in the company, Mitsubishi platforms have been widely used by the American automaker. The Eclipse, in particular, was a key vehicle produced by the Diamond Star Motors partnership. Rebadged versions of the Eclipse were sold in Plymouth and Eagle dealerships as well. In 1998, Chrysler merged with Daimler-Benz to become DaimlerChrysler. Mitsubishi's partnership continued with DaimlerChrysler for a few years but was financially terminated by 2003.

The new millennium has not been particularly good for Mitsubishi. Sales have wavered and the company was forced to admit that it had systematically covered up vehicle defects; the resulting furor led to the resignation and arrest of one of the automaker's former presidents. The brand has done much to turn itself around since then, streamlining its vehicle roster and improving quality.

Nissan was born in Japan, and like other marques from its homeland, the brand is known for crafting vehicles that place an emphasis on quality and reliability. The company's lineup of vehicles is broad, and includes sporty coupes, family sedans, minivans, trucks and SUVs.

The automaker got its start in 1933 as the Jidosha Seico Co., Ltd. The following year, this outfit merged with another Japanese manufacturer, and the new company was christened Nissan Motor Company, Ltd. Nissan initially marketed its vehicles under the Datsun brand, with the first Datsuns being built in 1934. Postwar, the brand made its presence felt worldwide, building a partnership with the U.K.-based Austin Motor Co. and establishing a presence in the United States. The first Datsuns hit American shores in 1958. Vehicles like the Datsun 1000 were based on Austin platforms.

The '60s witnessed Nissan's merger with Prince Motor Company, a union that helped the Asian manufacturer create more luxury-focused vehicles. In the U.S. it began offering its first vehicle styled for the U.S. market, the Datsun 510 sedan. By the end of the decade, Datsun had exported more than 1 million vehicles. Datsun rose to prominence in the 1970s on the popularity of its 240Z sports car. Powered by an inline six-cylinder engine, the car was coveted for its blend of style, performance and affordability. By the time the '70s drew to a close, the automaker's cumulative vehicle exports had surpassed the 10 million mark.

In 1981, Nissan shelved the Datsun name and began selling vehicles worldwide under the Nissan moniker. The '80s also saw Nissan's launch of a tuning division called Nismo for the development of performance-oriented vehicles and accessories. Nissan also brought its production to American shores, with the construction of a Georgia-based plant.

The early '90s saw Nissan's fortunes rise in the U.S. thanks to fun-to-drive cars like the 300ZX, Maxima and Sentra. But this trend didn't last long and by the late '90s Nissan's offerings consisted of anonymous vehicles. The company's future was uncertain.

After the turn of the new century, however, Nissan bounced back. Its redesigned Sentra and Altima were well-received, as were new models like the Titan and Armada. Today the manufacturer is known for offering a wide range of vehicles capable of going head to head with the best of the best when it comes to overall quality, dependability and performance.

Panoz is an automobile manufacturer whose sexy sports cars are exotics in the truest sense of the word.

The company's cars are drop-dead gorgeous and come with steep price tags; additionally, given the fact that a relatively small number of Panoz cars are made each year, a Panoz offers more exclusivity than your typical Ferrari or Bentley. Panoz makes only sports cars and its current lineup consists of just one model, the Esperante, available in both roadster and coupe body styles.

Introduced in 2001 and relatively unchanged since then, the Esperante is hand-built and made mostly of aluminum.

The Panoz story begins with Eugene Panunzio, a champion boxer who emigrated to the U.S. from Italy in the early 1900s. He shortened his last name to Panoz and settled in West Virginia. In 1960 his son Donald started the Mylan Laboratories pharmaceutical company; nine years later, Donald and his family moved to Ireland where he started another drug company, called Elan Pharmaceuticals. Donald's 26-year-old car-enthusiast son, Daniel, ended up working for the Thompson Motor Company (TMC) in 1988. TMC went out of business that same year and Donald bought the rights to one of its chassis, which was designed by Frank Costin, an engineer who'd made a name for himself building racecar chassis for Maserati and Lotus.

The next year saw the birth of the Panoz Automotive Development Company. A small, renovated salt storage shed located near Atlanta was the site of company headquarters. In 1990, Panoz brought out its first car, a powerful, cycle-fendered roadster called simply the Panoz Roadster. Initially, the Panoz cars were only produced to order, and hence not many were made. By 1996, the Roadster, now called the AIV Roadster, saw full production.

The following year Panoz introduced the Esperante racecar, which saw success in USRRC and American Le Mans racing series. By the end of the decade, the Panoz family empire had grown to include racing venues, the American Le Mans series and a racing school. In 2001, the Esperante became available as a street car and is now the sole model offered by Panoz. On its hood is the company's crest. Created by Daniel Panoz himself, its red, white and blue coloring references the fact that the company is based in the U.S. Its swirls are a nod to the Japanese yin-yang symbol, and at the center is a shamrock, which points to the roots of the first chassis Panoz developed.

The marque is a worthy choice for well-heeled buyers looking for exotic sports cars that offer supreme exclusivity and world-class handling.

The Pontiac brand is part of the General Motors family, and is home to many of the automaker's more performance-oriented vehicles. Currently, the marque offers a broad range of sporty cars and SUVs.

Pontiac is now known as the "driving excitement" division of GM, but the brand originated as the Oakland Car Company of Pontiac, Michigan, in 1907; it was founded by Edward Murphy. Acquired by General Motors in 1909, Oakland introduced the first Pontiac vehicle in 1926. Dubbed the "Chief of the Sixes," the car was powered by a six-cylinder engine and made its debut at that year's New York auto show. It was so successful that the Oakland name was phased out in favor of Pontiac, the name of an 18th-century chief of the Ottawa Indians. Throughout the 1930s and '40s Pontiac made coupes, sedans and wagons in the low-to-mid price ranges. A unique styling cue of Pontiac cars from the mid-'30s to the mid-'50s was known as "Silver Streak," a set of art-deco-inspired chrome "speed lines" that ran up over the length of the hood to the base of the windshield.

The 1950s saw the introduction of the Pontiac Bonneville. The sprawling, stylish cruiser offered equal measures of performance and luxury, and was a breakout hit. But it wasn't until the 1960s that the Pontiac brand truly came into its own. American manufacturers had begun to offer downsized alternatives to the gigantic cruisers that had ruled the highways in previous decades. Pontiac came to market with the compact Tempest. In 1964, Pontiac made its biggest impact yet with the creation of the GTO option for the Tempest. By equipping the car with the powerful 389 cubic-inch V8 from the full-size car line, Pontiac created the first "muscle car." Phenomenally successful, the GTO helped define the burgeoning muscle car category. Pontiac also saw tremendous success during the latter part of this decade with its Firebird and Firebird Trans Am.

The oil crisis of the '70s made fuel efficiency a priority for many car buyers. Following the lead of its GM siblings, Pontiac made compact vehicles like the Ventura and Phoenix a major part of its lineup. The '80s saw the launch of the two-seat Pontiac Fiero. Despite its modest beginnings (it was initially marketed as a "commuter car"), the Fiero eventually blossomed into a credible sports car.

The '90s saw the launch of Pontiacs like the Sunfire and Montana minivan. Pontiac has slowly lost sales due to changing tastes and a lack of differentiation between its models and those of other GM divisions. In hopes of recapturing past glory, the division embarked on a plan to retire aged models and introduce all-new ones with distinctive styling and personality. So far, the effort seems to be bearing fruit. New models like the G6, Vibe and Solstice have made Pontiac a brand to consider in many segments.

Porsche cars have a virtually untarnished reputation and are considered among the finest performance vehicles in the world. It's a reputation that's well-deserved. With razor-sharp handling and power aplenty, Porsche vehicles offer a driving experience like no other. It's little wonder that, for many, the marque has come to define the sports car category. For years, the only Porsches available were sleek sports cars, but the manufacturer recently expanded its lineup to include other types of vehicles.

The brand has its roots in the Porsche Engineering Office, founded in Stuttgart, Germany, by Ferdinand Porsche in 1931. Porsche brought with him years of experience as an automotive engineer; in the '20s, while employed with Daimler, his skill was tapped to create Mercedes' iconic SS and SSK sports cars. Porsche has long had close ties with Volkswagen, and the first Porsche vehicles were small two-seat sports cars that were largely based on VW chassis. From 1948-'50, most of these early Porsche cars (the brainchild of Porsche and his son Ferry) were actually built in Austria before production was switched to Zuffenhausen, Germany. Ferdinand's first real production car was the VW Beetle, so it was no surprise that his sports cars used those components and had their air-cooled engine mounted in the rear.

The 1950s saw the birth of two icons, the 356 Speedster with its low-cut windshield and the lightweight, midengined 550 Spyder. Both cars helped Porsche rack up a multitude of wins on the racetrack. In the mid-'60s, the 356 made way for the revered 911. Powered by an all-new six-cylinder engine, the coupe scored two consecutive wins at Monte Carlo. Following in the footsteps of its predecessors, the 911's air-cooled flat-six engine was located in the rear of the vehicle.

By the time the '70s rolled around, Porsche had introduced the 914 (the "affordable" Porsche with a midengine design and a targa top), the mighty 911 turbo, the disrespected 924 (powered by a weak front-mounted, water-cooled inline four) and the flagship 928 (front-mounted V8, four-seat coupe). The '80s saw the birth of the 956, a car that went on to become the most successful racecar of all time. The twin-turbo, all-wheel-drive 959 was also launched; it became the first sports car to win the Paris-Dakar Rally and the street version could hit nearly 200 mph. The athletic 944 debuted in 1983, as did a convertible version of the 911, something that had been missing for some years. The '80s also saw the rebirth of the 924, now with some muscle courtesy of the 944's strong-for-the-time (147-horsepower) inline four.

By the early 1990s the 928 had been discontinued and the 944 was replaced by the similar 968. Because of a lack of dynamic product and a tough market climate, Porsche was suffering financially. The company's savior, the Boxster, debuted in 1997 and brought back the spirit of the old 550 Spyder. In 2003, Porsche did what purists considered a sin as the company brought an SUV, named Cayenne, to the market. However, once those enthusiasts discovered the Cayenne's sporting performance (especially in 450-hp turbo form) all was forgiven. Two years later, Porsche brought out the ferocious (605-hp) Carrera GT supercar.

Throughout its history, Porsche has exhibited amazing resilience, weathering changes in the economic climate and remaining fully independent from any larger automaker. Today, the ever-robust company continues to be known for making vehicles that raise the bar when it comes to performance.

It doesn't get much more stately, opulent and luxurious than a Rolls-Royce. For decades, the marque has set a standard that other luxury carmakers have aspired to reach. The current lineup of Rolls-Royce cars consists of a single model, the magnificent Phantom.

A partnership between Charles Stewart Rolls and Frederick Henry Royce, British-based Rolls-Royce Ltd. was officially formed in 1906. The company's six-cylinder Silver Ghost was unveiled that same year. Right from the start, the company's dedication to excellence was clear; the Silver Ghost exhibited amazing attention to detail and remarkable quality, and promptly earned kudos for being "the best car in the world."

During the '20s, the automaker acquired a second factory in Springfield, Massachusetts to help keep up with rising demand; the factory remained open for 10 years. The '20s also saw the launch of the Phantom I, a car that was powered by an all-new, pushrod-operated overhead valve engine with detachable cylinder heads cutting-edge technology for its time. Rolls-Royce added another, very similar brand to its family with the acquisition of Bentley in 1931. For decades following the takeover, Rolls and Bentley vehicles were almost identical mechanically.

The 1940s saw the opening of Rolls-Royce's celebrated Crewe factory. The first Rolls to be produced postwar was the Silver Wraith. This vehicle was significant in that it was the last Rolls-Royce product to have its body crafted by an independent coachbuilder. After this point, the company's vehicles were built completely in-house.

Rolls-Royce unveiled its Phantom IV in 1950. Powered by a muscular eight-cylinder engine, the majestic cruiser held the distinction of being the most exclusive Rolls ever. Only 18 were made, all of which were delivered to royalty and heads of state. The '50s also saw the debut of the king-sized Silver Cloud I and Silver Cloud II. The 1960s saw the introduction of the Silver Cloud III, Silver Shadow and Phantom VI.

The automaker hit a rough patch in the early 1970s. Problems with an engine contract led to severe financial difficulties, which in turn caused the manufacturer to file for bankruptcy. The company was eventually nationalized by the British government.

In 1980, Rolls was purchased by Vickers PLC. The Rolls-Royce Silver Spirit was launched in 1981; the car was the first of a new generation of Rolls vehicles. Mechanically, the Silver Spirit was designed to meet strict new international safety and emissions regulations. Aesthetically, the car was styled to appeal to a younger generation of buyers, with a clean new look that was very much in step with the times.

Rolls changed hands yet again in the '90s. Vickers put the marque up for sale, and BMW seemed like a frontrunner to take the reins; however, in a surprise move, Volkswagen outbid BMW. The two German automakers arranged for VW to relinquish control of the Rolls-Royce name on January 1, 2003, with VW keeping Bentley and the Crewe plant. As a result, BMW has built a $100 million facility in Goodwood, England, to accommodate the distinguished British manufacturer.

These days, the Rolls family of vehicles has just one member: the Phantom. With more than 2,000 sold since its 2004 inception, the car is the most successful ultra luxury vehicle currently on the market proving that, for many, Rolls-Royce is the brand to beat in its rarified, high-dollar segment.

Originally known as Svenska Aeroplan Aktiebolaget (Svenska Aircraft Company), Saab is a Swedish company that began manufacturing automobiles in 1949. The company's early designs placed an emphasis on aerodynamics that is reflective of its history as an aircraft manufacturer. The first production Saab, the 92, boasted a lower coefficient of drag than many modern cars. The 93, unveiled in 1955, was powered by a three-cylinder, 33-horsepower engine, and featured the distinctive fastback profile that made early Saab cars among the most recognizable automobiles on the road. By the time the '50s drew to a close, Saab's lineup had grown to include the 95 wagon (capable of seating up to seven) and the 93 750 Gran Turismo, the automaker's first series-built sports car.

The marque started the '60s with the introduction of its successful Saab 96. With a production run of 20 years, this was the car that made Saab a recognized presence in the international market. The decade also saw the launch of the Saab Sport coupe. Scoring numerous wins on the rally circuit, the coupe marked Saab as a force to be reckoned with. The Sport's success on the track inspired a name change; it later came to be known as the Saab Monte Carlo 850. The Saab Sonett II, with its body of fiberglass-reinforced plastic, also made its debut during the '60s, as did the Saab 99, which was the first to feature the manufacturer's trademark wraparound windshield.

In 1973, Saab gave birth to the 99 Combi Coupe. The car came to be definitive of the Saab brand; with its hatchback and fold-down rear seat it offered remarkable utility. By the end of the decade, Saab had rolled out the 99 Turbo, which was a forerunner in harnessing turbo technology for use in production cars. The company also introduced the Saab 900, which held the distinction of being the first car to offer a cabin air filter.

During the 1980s, Saab cars (especially the Turbo models) gained American popularity as young urban professionals (yuppies) sought them out. The decade saw the launch of the Saab 900 Turbo, the Saab 900 Turbo Aero (the world's first car to offer a 16-valve turbo engine) and a popular convertible version of the 900.

In 1990, General Motors bought half of Saab's automotive division. The decade saw the launch of a revamped 900; the car offered a bevy of cutting-edge safety features, including three rear three-point seatbelts and rear side-impact protection. By the time the '90s drew to a close, Saab had also unveiled the 9-5, its first premium four-door sedan. The car offered a host of new technologies such as ventilated seats. It was also the first to offer Saab's Active Head Restraints, a system designed to prevent whiplash injuries.

By the 2000s, General Motors had bought the other half of Saab Automobile. Despite the brand's position on the leading edge of safety technology, Saab's popularity in the U.S. has waned (however, the marque continues to be a big seller in Europe). Some have blamed the brand's poor performance domestically on GM's badge engineering of Saab cars. New models like the 9-2X and the 9-7X were based on platforms lifted from other GM brands Subaru and Chevrolet, respectively. Still, many touches of individuality remain, and the brand has much to offer those who embrace its singular personality.

Saturn is an automotive brand in the GM family that offers a fairly broad lineup of affordably priced vehicles. Currently, Saturn's roster includes cars, minivans and SUVs.

After losing market share to Japanese imports during the '80s, General Motors launched Saturn, a new division that began selling small, low-priced cars in 1990. The division promoted itself as "different," with Saturn dealers offering no-haggle pricing and friendly customer service.

Saturn made its debut with the S Series line of vehicles. Available in sedan, coupe and wagon configurations, these Saturn cars differentiated themselves from other GM products with all-new platforms and flexible plastic panels meant to resist denting. Additionally, the brand was granted its own plant, with all Saturns being built at a dedicated facility in Spring Hill, Tennessee. These first Saturn models weren't exactly built to burn rubber; they were powered by engines that offered from 85-124 horsepower. The payoff, though, was that these were among the most fuel-efficient vehicles of their day, offering up to 40 miles per gallon (when equipped with a manual transmission).

Just after the brand's conception, GM boasted that Saturn vehicles would benefit from rapid evolution, but in the early years, this wasn't the case. The brand's vehicles saw only one redesign in their first decade of existence. The revamp took place in the mid-'90s, and for the most part, it was only skin deep. Exteriors were spruced up and interior room saw a slight increase.

The Saturn brand enjoyed some success in its earliest years, fueled by buyers who were in love with its unique approach to customer relations that included "no-haggle" pricing. By the turn of the century, though, the novelty had worn off. With dated platforms and a limited range of products, the marque had been somewhat neglected by GM, and disappointing sales figures showed that buyers had taken note and chosen to spend their dollars elsewhere.

GM responded by ramping up its commitment to the Saturn brand. In 2000, it rolled out the L Series; sharing a platform and an engine with the Opel Vectra (one of GM's European products) the sedan was the opening salvo in GM's fight to resuscitate the struggling brand. An SUV, the Vue, was unveiled, as was a minivan, the Relay. The S Series was replaced by the Ion, which was available as a sedan and a coupe. GM also added a hybrid to the lineup, with the introduction of the Saturn Vue Green Line.

Today's Saturn vehicles have changed a great deal relative to their forebears. The latest models share their platforms with other GM vehicles; additionally, the plastic exteriors of yesterday have been replaced with more conventional steel body panels. The upside of this loss of individuality is a marked improvement in overall quality. Some issues regarding a relative lack of refinement remain, but currently, Saturn is known for crafting vehicles that offer good value for the money.

When Toyota realized early in the 21st century that it was losing market share in the younger demographic, the company took a chance and decided to spin off a new brand, called Scion. The first Scions, the xA and xB models, were introduced for the 2004 model year and both were immediate hits, snapped up by 20- (and 30-) somethings looking for high quality, fun and affordable wheels. The boxy yet funky styling of the Scions provided a lot of passenger and cargo room for the cars' small footprints, making them ideal choices for campus and urban residents alike. No-haggle pricing, a simple and well-equipped model lineup and a variety of dealer-added options (including even neon cup holder lighting) combine to make the purchase of a Scion an enjoyable, not dreadful experience.

All-wheel drive is the innovation that first comes to mind at the mention of Subaru, a Japanese company that installs the technology on every car it builds. Founded as Fuji Heavy Industries Ltd. in 1953, the company's first vehicle was a motor scooter rather than a car. The first Subaru automobile was the 360, then came the FE Subaru and the FF Series. Subaru stayed away from the American market until 1971, but when it did arrive, its cars quickly earned a loyal following. More recently, Subaru has enjoyed success with its Outback wagons as well as its sporty Impreza WRX.

Suzuki dates back to 1939 in Japan, but its cars weren't found in the American market until 1986. It was founded by Michio Suzuki in 1920 as the Suzuki Loom Manufacturing Company, and automobiles didn't enter the company's product line until after World War II. Its first U.S. vehicle was a popular four-wheel-drive sport-utility vehicle called the Samurai, followed by a larger SUV called the Sidekick (also marketed as the Geo Tracker). Soon Suzuki expanded into passenger cars, and today offers both trucks and cars to U.S. patrons.

Toyota, a variation of Toyoda (the name of the founding family), evolved from a small textile company into Japan's largest automaker. Becoming interested in the auto industry in 1933, the Toyoda Automatic Loom Works Company launched both trucks and cars a few years later. In 1937, the auto-manufacturing division separated from the rest of the company and was named the Toyota Motor Company. Though Japanese-production vehicles were built during World War II, it wasn't until the late 1950s that Toyota cars came to U.S. shores. Today, Toyota sells an impressively broad range of trucks, cars and SUVs.

In 1934, Ferdinand Porsche was commissioned to build a small, inexpensive car at the request of Adolph Hitler. His masterpiece a beetle-shaped sedan that was called a Volkswagen (German for "people's car") debuted two years later. The war delayed production of the vehicle until 1949, however, and during the '50s the car became known as the VW Beetle, later earning the distinction of the best-selling car of all time. Wolfsburg-based Volkswagen has since gone on to manufacture more contemporary cars though the world's fondness for the Beetle, or "Bug," still runs strong strong enough to justify a 1998 New Beetle debut that was initially a huge hit in North America. Though New Beetle sales have leveled off in the 21st century, consumer interest in the company's more practical (but still fun-to-drive) cars specifically the Jetta and Passat has steadily increased

In Sweden, the word Volvo means, "I roll." Volvo cars have been rolling ever since 1927 when the first vehicle a 28-horsepower car called the P.4 was produced in Gothenburg. In the 1950s, Volvo began exporting its vehicles to the U.S. From these beginnings, Volvos have evolved, earning reputations as safe, conservative and dependable cars. Like BMWs and Saabs, Volvos became an American "yuppie" favorite during the 1980s and are still popular in country-club circles today. Under Ford's Premier Auto Group supervision, Volvos are still trying to lose their "conservative" status with stylish cars such as the C70 and S60.
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