2006 Mazda Miata MX-5
All indications point toward a stellar experience behind the wheel of the latest-generation Miata, one that will be unmistakably familiar to anyone who has ever driven one of the previous cars. That's a lot of people, considering that more than 700,000 have been sold since the original car entered the scene in 1989 as a 1990 model. For 2006, displacement has been bumped to 2.0 liters, and output rises to an estimated 170 hp and 139 lb-ft of torque, compared with the outgoing car's 142 hp and 125 lb-ft. Both five- and six-speed manual transmissions will be offered, boasting short, positive throws and triple-cone synchronizers for the first four gears to help reduce engagement forces. The optional automatic transmission adds two additional forward gears, for a total of six. Wider front and rear tracks, increased use of aluminum in suspension components, and carefully tuned rack-and-pinion steering should improve handling responsiveness. 205/50R-16 tires are standard, while 205/45R-17 rubber is optional.
2006 BMW 3-series
Fortunately for BMW fans, the exterior styling of the new 3-series isn't as controversial as the 5-, 6-, and 7-series that preceded it. Of course, like all new cars, it has grown bigger and heavier, with an interior that rivals the old 5-series' in size. There are plenty of new standard and available features, including a separate key and start button, iDrive and a central navigation screen, voice activation, and Active Steering. The U.S. specification 325i features a detuned 3.0-liter engine (no, that's not a typo) making 215 hp, while the top-line 330i has a 255-hp engine. In both instances, the manual and automatic transmissions have six forward ratios. The available Sport package features eighteen-inch wheels and tires and Active Steering. When it goes on sale in the U.S. in May, expect a small price hike over the outgoing car, albeit with more standard equipment.
2006 Lexus IS
Toyota expects the new IS to help establish its premium brand in Europe, and so it features a state-of-the-art diesel engine--the price of entry for any automaker serious about success in that market. In the U.S., the IS will use a breathed upon version of the new Avalon's 3.5-liter V-6 and thus wear an IS350 badge. Exact horsepower figures have yet to be confirmed, but we expect slightly more than the Avalon's 280. Interior highlights include an input port for your iPod, optional Mark Levinson audio, a navigation system with a rear-view camera, and a total of ten air bags. Other safety equipment includes available swiveling Xenon headlights and Lexus's advanced stability control system. We do know that there will not be another Sportcross wagon version of the IS, but other iterations are definitely on the way. Likely candidates for IS body style #2 include a convertible hard-top coupe.
2006 Aston Martin V8 Vantage
The V8 Vantage brings Aston ownership to a whole new range of people, if hardly to the masses. Expected to cost around $110,000 when it goes on sale later this year, the Vantage is powered by a 380-hp, 4.3-liter V-8 engine mated to a six-speed manual transmission. The engine makes a robust 303 lb-ft of torque at 5000 rpm. Aston claims 0-to-60-mph acceleration in 4.9 seconds and a top speed of 175 mph. The car has all around control arm suspension, giant ventilated disc brakes with four-piston monoblock calipers, and standard eighteen-inch wheels and tires, with optional nineteens. The Vantage looks gorgeous, and the interior is also a treat, with aluminum accents, hand-stitched leather, and optional wood trim. A pure two seater, it has a hatchback to access the luggage compartment, just like the DB2/4 from the 1950s. A roadster will follow in late 2006.