MOTOR vehicle distributors have introduced a bevy of new models, at virtually all levels and at some remarkable prices. First to come was the inexpensive Mazda Astina NU which, at $119,000, undercuts almost all its competitors. In styling, it resembles Audi's three-door coupe, the A3, yet is endowed with five doors and costs half the price. It represents a bargain and surely one of Mazda's most tempting offerings since the Ford takeover last year. At the top of the price range, when it was unleashed in September on a world which regarded the two-door Bentley line-up as all but complete, came the exciting Continental SC. Featuring twin removable, glass roof panels, the SC offers the best of open-air motoring with the option of converting within seconds to a fully-enclosed coupe. The toughened glass panels, which slide out sideways, are stored beneath the boot floor on dedicated rubber platforms. Simple but effective. Powered by Bentley's 6.75-litre V8 engine, the Continental SC will reach 100 km/h from rest in a little over six seconds and power on to an amazing, electronically-limited 250 km/h. And this is a car which tips the scales at 2610 kg. Despite the weight (heavier than its stablemates, the Continental R and Continental T, because of increased structural support), stopping the huge machine from speed is equally without drama thanks to twin calipers on hefty ventilated discs at the front and solid discs at the rear. In Germany, Mercedes-Benz has been busy introducing new models. This year, has seen the launch, at September's Paris Auto Salon, of the magnificent S500 Mercedes, the Stuttgart company's answer to its critics of the over-engineered and overweight 1992 S-class. The Germans, to their credit, listened and the new car represents probably the best engineered, not to mention the most luxurious, passenger car in the world. Hard to fault, the S500 is a leader, not only in its class, but in automotive excellence anywhere in the world. At the bottom of Mercedes' surprisingly comprehensive range is the so-called 'baby-Merc', the A160. Recently launched in Hong Kong, the A-class features a transverse, four-cylinder engine and a five-speed automatic transmission. In Britain, Jaguar has resurrected the much-loved S-type of the 1960s. Parent company Ford sanctioned the use of a US Lincoln platform, although the Jaguar features extensively reworked suspension in keeping with the British marque's sporting heritage and there is a choice of Jaguar's highly-acclaimed four-litre V8 or Ford's 3.0 Duratec V6. Other notable models to make an appearance on the Hong Kong stage this year include the BMW 328, a natural evolution of the popular 3-series of the last few years, and the interesting Alfa Romeo 156, Europe's Car of the Year in 1997. Finally, still yet to be seen in Asia, is the latest Rover, the retro-styled 75. As Jaguar has done with the S-type, BMW-owned Rover decided to recreate the era of luxury and tradition with the 75. Entirely up-to- date, the Rover manages to look both elegant and sporting, something the marque has been lacking in recent years. Expected in Hong Kong in the middle of next year, the Rover 75 may be a last-ditch attempt by BMW to re-establish Rover as a luxury brand.