This week we’ve taken a look at buff book coverage on the new cars–and trucks–rolling out for the 1997 model year. This post also marks the last installment in our “7 Series,” where we’ve revisited car enthusiast magazine new model introductory issues for years ending in “7,” going back 60 years. Hopefully you’ve all enjoyed this trip through time–certainly a lot changed decade-by-decade in the American car market during the second half of the 20th Century. Thanks to everyone for reading and commenting! But we still have one more Question of the Day to cover: what new 1997 vehicle would you have bought?
For me, there were a few clear cut winners, one sedan and one SUV. In each case, these vehicles have proven to be some of my all time favorites. First up: the all-new 1997 BMW 5 Series. For one of BMW’s best-ever editions of the sports sedan, look no further than this E39 5 Series. In either 528i or 540i guise, these BMWs combined excellent handling, ample performance, supple ride comfort, luxurious interiors and contemporary styling. My wife and I were already big BMW fans, and when the E39 was introduced, we thought it looked fantastic. In 1998, in our DINKS (dual incomes no kids) phase, we decided to splurge and leased a 540i.
Ours was an Arctic Silver 540i with the Gray Montana leather, like this car in the 1997 brochure. The 5 Series was primarily for my wife to drive, and she wanted an automatic as she had to contend daily with heavy city traffic. No complaints, however, as the 5-speed auto box mated wonderfully with the V8.
One of my favorite aspects of the car was the beautiful interior. The cockpit was still driver-oriented in the BMW tradition, while a polished strip of walnut wood trim wrapped across the instrument panel and curved down the doors. There was a little sliding wood panel above the stereo controls which retracted to reveal the graphic equalizer and cassette player, but could be covered–simplifying the look–when not in use. Like this photo-car, ours also had the BMW Comfort Seats, which offered 16-way adjustments, including articulating upper back support. They still rate as some of the best car seats I’ve ever enjoyed.
Of course, products from Bavarian Motor Works should always showcase great engines, and our 282 horsepower, 4.4 Liter 32-valve V8 did not disappoint. The car was wicked fast and very smooth. Great handling and great brakes were also key to the experience. To this day, we remember that 540i fondly.
If I were to get a “do over” for this car in 1997, however, I might change a few things. First, I’d go for the 6-speed manual instead of the automatic. The 6-speed 540i came standard with the sport suspension and more aggressive wheels and tires. Maybe for a crazy late-1990s flourish I’d have the car in Aspen Silver (gray metallic with a slight purplish tint) over an Aubergine (very dark purplish black) interior. Not a color combo you’d find today! So that would be my sedan pick for 1997, now on to the wildly popular 1990s vehicle choice, the SUV.
The other vehicle on my 1997 wish list would be a Jeep Grand Cherokee. I love the design and capability of the ZJ Grand Cherokee. It was a great size and performed like a mountain goat in terms of bad weather drivability. I had an extended time with one–a 1995 model, that belonged to a good friend. He was sent overseas on a work assignment, and asked if we’d be willing to keep his Grand Cherokee for 6 months while he was away. We loved having that Jeep, and always counted on it for hauling and bad weather duty–exactly the sort of rugged utility it was designed for. When my wife got pregnant with our first child in 1999, we decided that when we got a “family truckster” it would be a Jeep, and that’s how we came to buy our 2000 WJ Grand Cherokee (that one was a mixed bag–many quality/reliability issues, but still excelled at all the traditional Jeep attributes).
For my 1997 Grand Cherokee, I’d specify the Limited in Dark Forest Green Pearl with tan leather interior, 5.2 Liter “Magnum” V8 and Quadra-Trac full-time 4-wheel drive. Timeless styling and Jeep capability, hard to resist.
So those are my picks from 1997–and I know from first-hand experience that they would have been good choices (circa 2016, we continue to have a BMW 5 Series and a Jeep Grand Cherokee in our driveway, so yeah, you could say we’re fans). What vehicle(s) from 1997 would you have brought home?