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.
2006 Bentley Continental Flying Spur
After the initial success of the Continental GT coupe, Bentley felt it necessary to add a sedan version to its plutocratic lineup. Using the same Volkswagen Phaeton underpinnings and 552-horsepower, 6.0-liter, twin-turbo W-12 as the Conti GT, the Continental Flying Spur offers sedan spaciousness at a much lower price than Bentley's flagship sedan line, the Arnage. The all-wheel-drive Flying Spur will muscle itself to 60 mph in about five seconds flat on its way to a 190-mph-plus top speed. Styling cues and interior appointments carry over from the Continental GT, as does the use of a PETA-instigating eleven hides in each vehicle. The Flying Spur will begin cruising boulevards and showing up in hip-hop videos this spring at a price around $170,000. At that price, you could buy the Volkswagen Phaeton it's based on, along with every other vehicle in the VW lineup. But what status would that give you?
2006 Alfa Romeo Brera
This stunning coupe is built on Alfa's new premium platform, which was originally going to be shared with Saab, but the Swedish automaker walked away from the joint venture. The 173.8-inch-long car is underpinned by a multilink rear and control arm front suspension, and uses three powertrains jointly developed by Fiat and GM: a 2.2-liter in-line four with direct injection, making 185 hp; a 200-hp, 2.4-liter direct injection turbo-diesel; and a 3.2-liter V-6 that produces 260 hp. All-wheel drive is available, as are six-speed automatic and manual transmissions. As well as the striking styling, the large glass roof panel is said to promote an airy interior. The Brera goes on sale in November and will be followed by a spider in early 2006. Alfa Romeo claims that it is finally serious about a return to the U.S. market, possibly as soon as 2007. The Brera would be a great car to lead the charge back to the new world.
2006 Audi RS4
The previous-generation RS4 was available only as a wagon and wasn't sold in the U.S., but the new RS4 will be coming stateside. And since Audi realizes that most Americans aren't keen on super-fast grocery-getters, it has wisely based the latest RS4 on the newly face-lifted A4 sedan. Continued development of Audi's venerable 4.2-liter V-8 has brought the redline to 8250 rpm and output to 420 horsepower without the use of forced induction, as on the previous RS4, which was powered by a twin-turbo V-6. Weight was kept down by employing aluminum on body panels and suspension parts, but the car still weighs a rather chunky 3600 pounds. Audi claims the RS4 can achieve 62 mph in 4.8 seconds, which is about what we predict the next M3 will do. Even if the RS4 can't shake an M3 on a road course, it may be able to beat its BMW counterpart on looks--a revised front fascia, larger tailpipes, and lightweight wheels effectively portray a much more aggressive stance than the common S4.
2006 Hyundai TG
The replacement for the current XG350 is evidence that Kia and Hyundai are serious players in the global auto industry. The interior quality was stellar, with fits and finishes and materials that put the new BMW 3-series to shame. It's a far more attractive car than either the current Honda Accord or Toyota Camry, and comes with an impressive mechanical specification. American versions will be powered by an all-new, aluminum-alloy, 3.3-liter DOHC V-6 engine that makes 230 hp and 224 lb-ft of torque, mated to a five-speed automatic transmission. These aren't class-leading numbers, but they are in the ballpark. For Europe, a 143-hp, 2.2-liter diesel engine will become available in the future. The front-wheel-drive TG/Grandeur rides on a control-arm front and a multilink rear suspension, with standard stability control and seventeen-inch wheels (shod with 235/55 tires). If and when Hyundai and Kia start producing cars with dynamics to match their quality, durability, and value, the rest of the industry will be in trouble.