Mercedes-Benz SL63 AMG
A fast, comfortable, great-sounding two-seat convertible would seem to describe the Mercedes-Benz SL550, but for those who want more -- and are willing to spend more -- there is the SL63 AMG. Although the model retains its "63" designation, a 5.5-liter V-8 replaces the previous 6.2-liter. With two turbos, however, it's significantly more powerful. Standard output is 530 hp and 590 lb-ft of torque, but spending an extra nine grand (and what's nine grand at this level?) for the AMG Performance Package adds 27 hp and 74 lb-ft. The standard AMG brakes are impressive, but determined spendthrifts are invited to part with another $12,625 for carbon-ceramic brakes. The AMG-modified chassis is rather stoic but supremely capable, and it benefits from the weight savings of the new-generation SL, which also brings new styling and a roomier cabin.
On sale Now
Engine 5.5L twin-turbo V-8, 530 hp, 590 lb-ft
Feeding the rivalry It's more like sibling rivalry for the SL550.
Mercedes-Benz SL65 AMG
"Too much is never enough" must be the unofficial philosophy at AMG. How else to explain the existence of the V-12 "65" models? They all sell alongside an already insanely powerful "63" version, but for some tiny subset of the population, 500-plus horsepower just isn't enough. And so the SL65 AMG returns in the latest generation of Mercedes-Benz's signature two-seat roadster, again using a 6.0-liter twin-turbocharged V-12. AMG kicked off the new SL65 with a 45th Anniversary edition that's limited to just forty-five units worldwide. It's decked out in a special matte-finish gray paint over a two-tone diamond-stitched leather interior and is accented with matte-finish carbon-fiber trim. The Anniversary edition notwithstanding, there is another way to look at the SL65 AMG: as a less flashy alternative to the SLS AMG roadster. After all, with 621 hp and 738 lb-ft of torque, the SL65 actually outmuscles Mercedes' supercar and does so in a less extroverted -- but no less expensive -- package.
On sale November
Price $199,000 (est.)
Engine 6.0L twin-turbo V-12, 621 hp, 738 lb-ft
Feeding the rivalry This SL threatens to step on the toes of the SLS AMG roadster.
Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG GT
For 2013, the SLS AMG becomes the SLS AMG GT, again offered both as a roadster and as a gull-wing coupe. The name change comes as the ultimate AMG receives a passel of minor updates designed to enhance its track performance. AMG engineers have coaxed another 20 hp out of the normally aspirated 6.2-liter V-8, for a total of 583 hp. The Speedshift DCT seven-speed rear transaxle is claimed to be more responsive in manual shifts, and the optional adaptive suspension has been tuned more aggressively. But what good is enhanced performance if you can't brag about it? To that end, the double-declutching function creates a more pronounced bark from the V-8 when executing downshifts. When heads turn, onlookers will see the GT's new darker head- and taillamp lenses, red brake calipers, and a new black finish on the grille inserts, hood and fender strakes, and sideview mirrors. The interior sports new black-faced gauges and an Alcantara-wrapped steering wheel with a red marker at twelve o'clock -- the better to help you keep the wheel pointed straight when you exercise all 583 horses.
On sale November
Price $195,000 (est.)
Engine 6.2L V-8, 583 hp, 479 lb-ft
Terminal velocity 197 mph
Mini John Cooper Works GP
It's a sure sign that the current generation of Mini is nearing the end of the road when the company releases the John Cooper Works GP edition. Last seen in 2006, when a limited run of 2000 cars closed out the previous generation of Minis, the GP is the brand's top performance model and has styling that telegraphs that fact. The GP again will be offered only as a hardtop and with the rear seats removed in the interest of saving weight. With its turbocharged engine tuned to deliver even more power than the standard JCW (which is rated at 208 hp for 2013), an adjustable GP-specific suspension, "race-spec" brakes, unique aerodynamic aids, and high-performance tires, the new GP achieves Mini's best-ever Nuerburgring time of 8:23 (besting the previous GP by nearly nineteen seconds). With the GP not set to arrive in showrooms until early next year, Mini is not releasing any more information, except to say that production will again be capped at 2000 units worldwide.
On sale Early 2013
Price $35,000 (est.)
Engine 1.6L I-4 turbo, N/A hp, N/A lb-ft
Marketing magic Two fewer seats, lots of racy visuals, and a limited production run should send the Mini faithful into a frenzy.
Based on the Countryman, the Paceman (which also could be called the Countryman Coupe) retains all of the sacrilege of a Mini crossover but jettisons the practicality of four doors. It's a no-brainer for the industry's most overstretched brand. You can count on the two-door to offer front- and all-wheel drive as well as base, S, and John Cooper Works variants.
On sale Early 2013
Price $24,000 (est.)
Engines 1.6L I-4, 121 hp, 114 lb-ft; 1.6L turbo I-4, 181/208 hp, 177/192 lb-ft
Elusive buyer The Range Rover Evoque coupe customer who comes up $20,000 short.
While most of us weren't looking, the Altima snuck into the number-two spot on America's passenger-car hit parade last year, passing the Honda Accord and settling in behind the Toyota Camry. The trick for the new Altima will be to stay there without the benefit of a wheelbarrow full of incentive money or supply interruptions for Honda and Toyota. To accomplish that, Nissan has upped the Altima's game with considerably better fuel economy (the four-cylinder jumps to 27/38 mpg, a claimed best-in-class); a roomier, more comfortable interior (particularly the front seats); and a chassis that is athletic for this class. Like Honda, Nissan also continues to offer a V-6. The 3.5-liter six-cylinder is good for 270 hp, a considerable increase over the four-cylinder's 182 hp; fuel economy is 22/31 mpg. The Altima's only transmission is a CVT, but the V-6 version gets shift paddles. Nissan also will again field a hybrid model, but this time it will use a system of its own design rather than technology licensed from Toyota.
On sale Now
Engines 2.5L I-4, 182 hp, 180 lb-ft; 3.5L V-6, 270 hp, 251 lb-ft; 2.5L supercharged I-4/electric hybrid, 270 hp, 251 lb-ft (est.)
Brings to battle Excellent mileage, fun-to-drive character.
Talk about bad timing. Just as unibody, crossover-style SUVs started to gain steam, Nissan moved the Pathfinder to the body-on-frame chassis of the Frontier pickup. Since then, the popularity of crossovers has exploded, and the old-school, 14-mpg Pathfinder became marginalized. The new version gets with the modern-crossover program and in so doing makes big gains in fuel economy (an estimated 18 mpg in the city), passenger space (with a much-improved third row), and amenities (many of them shared with its new Infiniti sibling, the JX). Although it now uses a V-6 engine and a CVT, the new Pathfinder still claims a 5000-pound towing capacity, and the optional AWD system can be locked in four-wheel-drive mode. But mostly, the new version strives to be more comfortable and convenient. Second-row seats scoot forward to allow access to the standard third row even with a child seat mounted. The backup camera can be supplemented by Nissan's Around View monitor. And the navigation system incorporates Zagat restaurant reviews. So, maybe in addition to making fewer visits to the gas station, drivers of the new Pathfinder also will buy fewer meals at the drive-thru.
On sale Late 2012
Price $30,000 (est.)
Engine 3.5L V-6, 265 hp, 248 lb-ft (est.)
U-Turn Belated switch from SUV to crossover.
Porsche 911 cabriolet
You can see a perfect reflection of Rodeo Drive in the new 911 cabriolet's polish. Fabric-covered magnesium panels make for a beautifully curved roofline with the unmistakable look of a soft top; the center stack is inspired by that of the Panamera; and there's an optional twelve-speaker Burmester stereo. And yet, an open road is still license to relish the thrum of the flat six and the skillet-flat handling. The wide-body, all-wheel-drive Carrera 4 and Carrera 4S are due up next, in early 2013. Still to come are the hairier versions -- like the Turbo and the GT3 models. The hope is that they will exhibit a little less of the polish that characterizes the seventh-generation 911 and more of the visceral thrills that have made the 911 such an iconic sports car.
On sale Now
Price $94,650/$108,950 (Carrera/Carrera S)
Engines 3.4L flat-6, 350 hp, 287 lb-ft; 3.8L flat-6, 400 hp, 325 lb-ft
Because Porsche is a master of high-profit variants.
The 2013 Boxster -- the most-changed version in the history of Porsche's roadster -- was keenly anticipated but, given the excellence of its predecessor, awaited somewhat anxiously as well. We needn't have worried. Despite a 2.3-inch-longer wheelbase and fractionally greater overall length, the new Boxster is actually lighter than before. Once again, a pair of normally aspirated, mid-mounted flat sixes provides the motivation -- not to mention that distinctive soundtrack. A 2.7-liter engine powers the Boxster, and the Boxster S has a 3.4-liter. The latter is as quick as 4.5 seconds to 60 mph (with the PDK gearbox and the Sport Chrono Package), but even the slowest base car (with the six-speed manual) needs just 5.5 seconds. Fuel economy for both engines has improved. The famously athletic chassis is now aided by optional active torque vectoring, but we're less enthusiastic about the new electric power steering, which isn't quite as communicative as before. For such a winsome playmate, the Boxster is still practical, with a comfortable cabin and two trunks that yield a decent amount of cargo space. This successful redesign has us eager for the Boxster's coupe counterpart, the Cayman.
A new version of that car will debut before the end of the year.
On sale Now
Price $50,450/$61,850 (Boxster/Boxster S)
Engines 2.7L flat-6, 265 hp, 206 lb-ft; 3.4L flat-6, 315 hp, 266 lb-ft
Worth the wait An even better Boxster.