In America, everyone gets a second chance. these five cars -- which run the gamut from econobox to luxury -- demonstrate that reputations can be rebuilt.
Lexus's mid-size, rear-wheel-drive sedan has always been somewhat lost in the shuffle -- a little too anonymously styled to be an icon; a little too harsh to be a luxury car; a lot too isolated to be a driver's dream. Lexus addressed the lack of visual drama with the LF-Gh concept car at this year's New York auto show. As of the printing of this issue, we still haven't seen the production version, but we've driven a heavily disguised model and can happily report that Lexus has fixed the other two problems.
No longer suffering from contrived sportiness, the GS impressed us with phenomenal handling. Gone is the last car's harsh ride -- and the GS350 actually communicates with its driver through precise steering. The BMW 5-series was Toyota's clear benchmark, and we'll find out soon enough whether Lexus has managed to outshine the current 5-series, now that the Bimmer's flame is burning somewhat dimmer.
ON SALE: Early 2012 | PRICE: $48,000 (est.) | ENGINE: 3.5L V-6, 305 hp, 275 lb-ft (est.) | REPUTATION RESET: Wannabe to contender
Chevrolet Camaro ZL1
There's no question that the Camaro is an awesome car with a muscular stance and a burly V-8, but it leaves something to be desired as soon as you move the steering wheel off-center. The ZL1 model is the Camaro's chance for redemption, with genes borrowed from the Cadillac CTS-V. The authoritative LSA engine is guaranteed to impress, but we're really hoping for great things from the chassis, where engineers have added adaptive magnetorheological dampers and Brembo brakes.
ON SALE: Early 2012 | PRICE: $50,000 (est.) | ENGINE: 6.2L supercharged V-8, 550 hp, 550 lb-ft (est.) | REPUTATION RESET: Underwhelming sports car to overwhelming performance
Mercedes' small roadster is sharper and sportier than ever. With precise steering, taut handling, and a buttoned-down ride, the SLK will finally give BMW some competition in the fun-to-drive, open-air segment. The 3.5-liter V-6 in the SLK350 delivers smooth power, and the SLK250 brings a new turbocharged four-cylinder good for 201 hp. The optional Magic Sky roof makes the hard top even more versatile with an overhead glass panel that slickly switches from transparent to opaque.
ON SALE: Now | PRICE: $55,675 | ENGINES: 1.8L turbo I-4, 201 hp, 229 lb-ft; 3.5L V-6, 302 hp, 273 lb-ft | REPUTATION RESET: Chick car to capable cabrio
Hyundai's ascension to the major leagues continues with the subcompact Accent, which makes strides in style, interior quality, and driving goodness similar to those recently made in the Elantra and the Sonata. Even more so than those two, the Accent has upped its game in the chassis department -- perhaps the best we've seen from the Korean automaker -- with a ride that's comfortable but never sloppy or spongy. Unlike several of its peers, though, the Accent doesn't offer luxuries like leather, navigation, or heated seats.
ON SALE: Now | PRICE: $14,995/$15,355 (sedan/hatchback) | ENGINE: 1.6L I-4, 138 hp, 123 lb-ft | REPUTATION RESET: Subcompact dumpling to all-around charmer
In a reversal of the normal Kia/Hyundai roles, the Rio is a more premium car than its Hyundai Accent sibling. The Rio uses the same direct-injected 1.6-liter four-cylinder and six-speed transmissions as the Accent, so it will likely earn the same 30/40-mpg EPA rating. However, the Kia is available with an auto start/stop system that should improve real-world fuel economy in the city. It also has some of the upscale options that the Hyundai eschews and no longer looks like a Third World taxicab.
ON SALE: Now | PRICE: $15,000 (est.) | ENGINE: 1.6L I-4, 138 hp, 123 lb-ft | REPUTATION RESET: Warranty on wheels to style leader
Mercifully laid to rest after years of battling a terminal diagnosis. There's no room in the U.S. market for the global Ranger replacement, which is larger and too close in size to the F-150.