The JX35 is an unusually pragmatic take on the luxury crossover, in which the third row has long been an afterthought to styling, dynamics, and brand identity. With its first three-row crossover, Infiniti is less concerned about replicating the experience of a G sedan and more focused on meeting the basic needs of well-heeled parents. Shameless parts sharing with the new Nissan Pathfinder means that the JX has to make do with a continuously variable transmission and standard front-wheel drive, but family buyers will appreciate the sumptuous cabin, the positively huge third row, and the very reasonable price. When equipped with active safety systems like blind-spot monitoring, lane-departure prevention, and forward-collision avoidance, the JX35 is as close as you can get today to the self-driving cars of the future.
On sale Now
Engine 3.5L V-6, 265 hp, 248 lb-ft
Room for Family of seven.
The 2013 ES arrives at a pivotal time for Lexus, amid a philosophical about-face that has produced a 202-mph supercar and a performance sub-brand. The ES's reputation as aloof, impassive, and out-of-place is a liability now more than ever. That's because, no matter how quickly the LFA hits 60 mph or how competent the F Sport models are, the popularity of the ES ensures that it will continue to have a major role in defining the brand.
The ES breaks out of the Toyota Camry mold by riding on a longer wheelbase shared with the new Avalon. The switch nets a whopping 4.1 inches of extra rear-seat legroom as the car grows by an inch overall. The new ES bears little resemblance to its Toyota counterpart -- or to the old model. The fresh design follows that of the new GS sedan, conveying a sense of emotion without excessive ornamentation. The interior has undergone an even more dramatic transformation, with the late 1990s finally giving way to a modern aesthetic that borrows the tiered, horizontal motif of the LFA with the addition of curved lines complemented by tasteful wood trim. And just as it was at the brand's outset, Lexus remains fastidious in certain details. For instance, the standard leather dash is hand-stitched by one of twelve takumi, Toyota's Japanese master craftspeople.
The ES350's V-6 engine, which also does duty in the Camry and the Avalon, is decidedly more proletarian, but its 268 hp and 248 lb-ft of torque are delivered in a silky, assertive manner that suits this luxury car just fine. The sixth-generation ES also adds its first-ever hybrid model, the ES300h, its gasoline/electric powertrain borrowed from the Camry. The hybrid's acceleration and brake feel don't come close to that of the V-6 car, but the payoff is in EPA ratings of 40 mpg in the city and 39 mpg on the highway.
Both models use a new steering ratio of 14.8:1, versus 16.0:1 previously, but the steering still couldn't be described as quick. In eco and normal modes, the electric power steering is overassisted and underdampened. Sport mode is much better and strikes us as the true "normal." Body roll is reasonably controlled, but the ES still places the emphasis on a comfortable ride. To that end, revised suspension components and geometry calm some of the higher frequency disturbances found in the previous model.
While the ES aesthetic has been rebooted, the driving experience hasn't changed substantially. This is still the comfortable, nicely appointed, affordable luxury car it has always been. The ES's humble Toyota roots leave little room for massaging the car into a performer to match the brand's aspirations. We have no doubt that the ES will continue to contribute handsomely to Lexus's bottom line; its contribution to re-creating the brand image, however, will be minimal.
On sale Now
Price $38,000/$40,000 (ES350/ES300h, est.)
Engines 3.5L V-6, 268 hp, 248 lb-ft; 2.5L I-4/electric hybrid, 200 hp
Boomer appeal After a lifetime of Camrys, isn't it time for a nicer Camry?
The MKZ is a make-or-break car for Lincoln, charged with putting the brand on the same pedestal as the premium-priced imports that baby boomers love. It's a long road (just ask Audi), but the MKZ is a promising start. The outgoing model was the virtual twin to the Ford Fusion, but the new version gets a completely different set of duds and, boy, are they sharp. The dramatic design is capped by an opening, panoramic glass roof. Designers also went to great lengths to distinguish the interior, with an LCD gauge cluster, MyLincoln Touch, and a push-button gear selection. Other high-tech features include lane-keep assist, adaptive cruise control with precollision warning, blind-spot alert, cross-traffic warning, and active noise cancellation. Two of the three MKZ powertrains are shared with the new Fusion. The Lincoln's base 240-hp, 2.0-liter EcoBoost four is the Fusion's top engine. A 300-hp, 3.7-liter V-6 is a Lincoln exclusive. Both can be hooked to front-wheel drive or all-wheel drive. The MKZ again borrows the Fusion's hybrid powertrain, which uses a 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine and makes about 188 hp. New for the 2013 MKZ is Lincoln Drive Control. Similar in both name and concept to Audi Drive Control, it alters the throttle and transmission mapping, power-steering assist, traction and stability control, noise cancellation, and adaptive dampening. Both adaptive dampening and Lincoln Drive Control will be standard. We have no illusions that the MKZ has been transformed into a sport sedan, but if it offers any sort of decent driving experience, Lincoln should have the hit it so desperately needs.
On sale Late 2012
Price $36,000 (est.)
Engines 2.0L turbo I-4, 240 hp, 270 lb-ft; 3.7L V-6, 300 hp, 270 lb-ft; 2.0L I-4 hybrid, 188 hp (all est.)
Boomer appeal They may have been passengers in a Town Car, but the MKZ hopes to entice boomers into the driver's seat.
Mercedes-Benz G63 AMG
Now in its fifth decade, the Mercedes-Benz Gelaendewagen continues to attract a small (very small) group of well-heeled buyers. Do they require the G-wagen's remarkable off-road ability? (It has three locking differentials and can climb, or descend, an 80-percent slope.) Probably not. More likely, these buyers want to make a statement. For that, the only vehicle better than a G-class is an AMG G-class.
After taking a hiatus in 2012, the AMG version returns for 2013 as the G63. Its new 5.5-liter twin-turbo V-8 emits the familiar deep rumble from its side-exiting exhausts but also -- amusingly -- comes with auto stop/start. With 544 hp and 560 lb-ft of torque, it can send this tall, heavy beast to 60 mph in 5.3 seconds; new brakes with six-piston front calipers haul it back down again. Mercedes claims that the suspension has been revised for "more dynamic handling," but the G still suffers from steering that is unbelievably slow and full of friction.
Altering the G's design may be verboten, but more bling is always welcome, so we find a strip of LEDs under the headlights, red brake calipers, twenty-inch wheels, and a restyled lower fascia with three huge air intakes. Mercedes also continues to build on the amusing dichotomy between the G's militaristic exterior and its sybaritic interior, as the latter gets a new Comand controller; a large TFT-screen sprouting out of the dash; Internet access; and an available Designo treatment that swathes the upright cabin in quilted leather.
On sale Now
Price $129,000 (est.)
Engine 5.5L twin-turbo V-8, 544 hp, 560 lb-ft
Feeding the rivalry What rivalry? No one else makes a vehicle this absurd.
While the GLK and the Gelaendewagen get minor updates this year, Mercedes' seven-seat GL goes in for a major makeover. Beyond fresh interior and exterior styling and new standard safety features, the big story is more power. The GL350 Bluetec's 3.5-liter turbo-diesel V-6 gets a 30-hp bump to 240 hp; the GL450's 4.7-liter V-8 is now turbocharged, for 362 hp; and the GL550, also a 4.7-liter turbo, puts out 429 hp. Not impressed yet? Then consider the new GL63 AMG, which employs a 5.5-liter biturbo V-8 rated at 550 hp.
On sale September
Price $63,000-$125,000 (est.)
Engines 3.0L turbo-diesel V-6, 240 hp, 455 lb-ft; 4.7L twin-turbo V-8, 362/429 hp, 406/516 lb-ft; 5.5L twin-turbo V-8, 550 hp, 560 lb-ft
Room for Family of seven.
Mercedes-Benz GLK250 Bluetec
Although the GLK350 gets a new direct-injected V-6 (with 34 more hp and another 15 lb-ft of torque), the biggest GLK powertrain news for 2013 is the arrival of the GLK250 Bluetec diesel model. Its 2.1-liter oil-burner is the first four-cylinder diesel in a U.S.-market Mercedes since the 1984 190D. Widely used in Europe, the 2.1-liter turbo-diesel makes 190 hp and 369 lb-ft of torque in the GLK. Whereas the gasoline V-6 is available with rear-wheel drive or four-wheel drive, the GLK250 will be 4Matic only. During a test drive in the French Alps, the diesel's characteristic clatter was quite muted, although it is still there. The hefty torque makes the turbo-diesel generally quite responsive, but in flat-out acceleration it can't match the much larger gasoline engine. Mercedes estimates a 0-to-62-mph time of 8.0 seconds (versus 6.5 seconds for the V-6). EPA fuel economy figures aren't yet available, but, oddly, the diesel doesn't get the auto stop/start system now standard in the GLK350. Otherwise, the GLK250 will be equipped similarly to the GLK350 4Matic. All 2013-model GLKs offer a phalanx of new driver-assistance features, including lane-departure warning, blind-spot assist, adaptive cruise control, adaptive high beams, and active parking assist. The cabin is updated with a new dashboard bisected by a large trim piece featuring prominent, round air vents and a sportier, richer-looking instrument cluster. The exterior is tweaked with more chrome, LED lighting, and a slightly redone front end.
On sale January
Price $36,000 (estimated)
Engine 2.1L turbo-diesel I-4, 190 hp, 369 lb-ft