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AUTO `SIBLINGS' ABOUND IN OFFERINGS FOR 1995 IN SHOWROOMS ACROSS U.S.

Several new cars for 1995 have siblings, or at least closely related cousins.

The Plymouth and Dodge Neons, for example, are identical twins, while the the Mercury Mystique and Ford Contour have a strong family resemblance.Other sets of twins are the Pontiac Sunfire and Chevrolet Cavalier, the Dodge Avenger and Chrysler Sebring, Chrysler Cirrus and Dodge Stratus, Eagle Talon and Mitsubishi Eclipse.

The new-design Nissan Maxima has a double in Japan - the new Infinity, reportedly coming to the United States next spring.

In some cases, this sharing is simple "badge engineering," with little more than the names to differentiate one vehicle from the other.

But such sharing, or building similar vehicles on the same platform, can be a sensible way to save design and engineering costs, and to share parts, which also saves money. And in many cases, designers have made a strong effort to give each vehicle its own look.

The new Toyota Avalon is not really a "twin," but it is based on a stretched Camry platform, with a more powerful version of the Camry's 3.0-liter engine.

These cars represent a sampling of what's new for 1995.

"New" is a relative term, and some of the new cars are newer than others. Because the lines between model years have been obliterated by year-round car introductions, some of the 1995 models have been in dealer showrooms for months, while others will be introduced later in the model year - some not until next spring.

One trend that shows no sign of slowing is the move many buyers are making from cars to trucks. The luxury car segment of the new car market has been hit hardest, with sales up a miserly 4 percent while truck sales are booming - and many buyers are picking upscale versions of sport-utility vehicles.

The luxury market has not been neglected by automakers.

Toyota is calling its new Avalon the "most American" Toyota ever, emphasizing its U.S.-based design, engineering and development. It is intended to be the flagship of the Toyota line, with the next level of quality, comfort and reliability. The area of the passenger cabin qualifies it as a large car, but the Avalon is 11 inches shorter than the Dodge Intrepid and is only about 11 pounds heavier than the Toyota Camry.

The Sebring is a new Chrysler entry in the upscale end of the market, and the Dodge Avenger version continues Dodge's strong showing in the performance/fun area.

Cadillac's Eldorado and Eldorado Touring Coupe get redesigned front and rear treatments for 1995, with new grilles and other design cues. A new Lincoln Continental is expected in December, with a V-8 engine.

The mid-price segment of the car market is seeing plenty of action this year, with Chrysler's Cirrus and Dodge Stratus; the U.S. versions of Ford's new world car, the Contour and Mercury Mystique, replacing the Tempo and Topaz; a new Eagle Talon; and Chevy's new Lumina and Monte Carlo.

Chevrolet says the two cars are crucial to GM in the key midsize market, and it promises new standards for manufacturing quality, interior quiet and everyday durability. They have smoother shapes than the '94 models.

The new Eagle Talon/Mit-su-bi-shi Eclipse, already introduced this spring, has a stiffer body than its predecessor, with a longer wheelbase and wider track, with more horsepower and refined suspension for better handling and performance.

The compact and subcompact segment has significant new offerings from Chrysler, Pontiac and Chevrolet, and a sporty little soft-top from Volkswagen.

Chrysler's new little Neon has been getting good reviews, and an image campaign has successfully keyed on the car's cute look. For buyers with a more practical side, the Neon's 38-mpg rating for highway travel should get very high marks.

Chevrolet has sold a lot of Cavaliers since 1982, and is hoping the new model will continue that trend. The '95 model has a wider track and a wheelbase that is 3 inches longer, yet the car is 2 inches shorter overall.

First models out are the base-model coupe and sedan. A convertible and Z24 coupe are due in the spring, with a slightly larger engine and electronically controlled transmission.

Pontiac says its new Sunfire is priced lower than a comparably equipped Neon or Honda Civic. But styling and fun are important, too, and much of the car's marketing is aimed at young buyers.

The competition is not giving up the compact segment, either.

Volkswagen's new soft-top also should appeal to young folks. VW is replacing the boxy old Cabriolet convertible with a smoother version called the Cabrio, with a body by Karmann Coachworks. The Ca-brio includes an integrated roll bar, making the body stiffer, and the soft-top has a glass rear window complete with defroster.

Hyundai has redesigned the Sonata for 1995, with a stiffer body, more powerful engine and an adaptive electronic transmission with "fuzzy logic," designed to learn a driver's habits and optimize shifts for that driver's style.