Porsche Cayenne GTS
In its patented style, Porsche continues to slice and dice the latest Cayenne into a plethora of models, adding the GTS for 2013. More than an S but less than a Turbo, the $83,025 GTS uses a 420-hp version of the normally aspirated V-8, a shorter final-drive ratio, and a lowered suspension. Key visual identifiers are the extended side skirts and the twenty-inch RS Spyder wheels combined with Turbo front-end styling. The interior features Alcantara-accented sport seats and a Sport Chrono package (a Cayenne first).
On sale Now
Engine 4.8L V-8, 420 hp, 381 lb-ft
Because [See 911 cabriolet.]
Scion FR-S/Subaru BRZ
This jointly produced -- although mostly Subaru-developed -- two-plus-two is frankly a bit of an outlier for both Subaru and Scion. However, it is a warmly welcomed machine for enthusiasts because it is something so rare: a low-cost, lightweight sports car in an era when performance cars have become ever more overweight, overpowered, and overcomplicated. We refer to the Scion FR-S and the Subaru BRZ as a single entity because mechanically -- aside from subtly different suspension tuning -- and design-wise, they are twins. The only differences are in their marketing, pricing, and content. Basically, Subaru decided to go a bit more upmarket than Scion, so the BRZ's starting price is $1335 more than the Scion's but includes more equipment, such as standard navigation. And whereas the FR-S comes in a single trim level, the BRZ is offered in two versions: Premium and Limited. The latter adds leather and Alcantara upholstery, a trunk spoiler, keyless ignition, automatic climate control, heated seats and side mirrors, and foglights for an extra $2000. No matter. With prices that start at just under $25,000 and top out below $30,000, this is one of the most affordable sports cars out there. It's also one of the most enjoyable. The 200-hp boxer four doesn't make this car a screamer, but it is quick. The six-speed stick is a delight (a paddle-shifted automatic is also available). Most important, the coupe's light weight -- as low as 2762 pounds -- and deft chassis tuning give it a purity of response that few cars can match. The FR-S/BRZ may not have been what we were expecting from either manufacturer, but it's something we've definitely been pining for.
On sale Now
Price $24,930/ $26,265 (Scion/Subaru)
Engine 2.0L flat-4, 200 hp, 151 lb-ft
Worth the wait An affordable, pure sports car.
The return of the Viper is a striking symbol of better times in Auburn Hills. This time, however, the company is employing a two-prong strategy for the Viper, which is no longer a Dodge but an SRT. The base model is for traditional, hard-core Viper loyalists, while a luxurious GTS model that will easily crest the $100,000 mark targets Porsche and Lamborghini intenders.
Even the regular Viper, however, is leap years ahead of the old car, with a cabin that boasts more room, premium finishes, and modern equipment. Lightweight, elegant seats are from Sabelt, the same supplier that Ferrari uses. The centerpiece of the cabin is an 8.4-inch touch screen for stereo, navigation, Bluetooth, and the like. A 7.0-inch cluster screen in front of the driver displays track telemetry. The Viper GTS gets standard leather upholstery and an available interior-upgrade package that adds full leather trim and an Alcantara headliner. The 2013 model is virtually identical dimensionally to its predecessor, but other than the windshield that carries over, all other windows and body panels are brand-new. The body is composed of aluminum, plastic composite, and carbon fiber; additional carbon-fiber trim is also available.
The 8.4-liter V-10 weighs about twenty-five pounds less than before and is tuned for 640 hp and 600 lb-ft of torque. It's spanned by a cool-looking aluminum X-shaped crossbrace that helps increase torsional stiffness by 50 percent. The six-speed manual transmission returns but has tighter gear ratios and shorter throws. Four-piston Brembo brakes are standard, and lightweight, two-piece rotors are part of the track package, which will be available on both models. All Vipers will have standard launch control and will, for the first time, have stability control. The system will have four modes ranging from all-on to the traditional Viper scary-as-hell, all-off setting.
On sale Late 2012
Price $90,000 (est.)
Engine 8.4L V-10, 640 hp, 600 lb-ft
Terminal velocity 206 mph
Subaru XV Crosstrek
Take an all-wheel-drive passenger car, jack it up a few inches, and voila! Instant crossover. It's the formula that years ago turned the ho-hum Subaru Legacy wagon into the smash-hit Outback, so Subaru knows it well. Now the company is reapplying the same genius to the Impreza hatchback to create the XV Crosstrek. The changes are minimal. An additional three inches of ride height raises ground clearance to 8.7 inches, and new wheels and black lower-body trim complete the picture. Inside, it's pure Impreza, and that's the case mechanically as well -- a 2.0-liter boxer four-cylinder hooked to a CVT drives all four wheels. Unique equipment and special styling won't sell the Crosstrek, but price and fuel economy will. The raised ride height puts this car in the crossover segment, where a price below the Forester's and better mileage -- estimated at 25/33 mpg city/highway -- are probably enough to seal the deal.
On sale Late 2012
Price $19,000 (est.)
Engine 2.0L flat-4, 148 hp, 145 lb-ft
Marketing magic Crank up the ride height and turn a hatchback into a crossover.
Tesla Model S
Tesla first showed the world that electric cars can be fast and fun, and now its new Model S hopes to show us all that they can be fast and practical, too. Deliveries have just begun, but we haven't yet had the chance to slip behind the stylish wheel of the Model S. We did sit in the passenger seat for a quick ride-along around Tesla's small test track, which showed that the Model S definitely has the moves to turn its hydrocarbon-spewing competition, uh, green with envy. The deft handling is made possible by locating the heavy battery under the floor, which lowers the car's center of gravity and concentrates the mass inside the wheelbase. Credit also might be given to the large number of BMWs out in Tesla's parking lot with badges from a nearby tuning shop called Dinan. Gee, where do you think Tesla got its ride-and-handling engineers from?
On sale Now
Price $58,000 (estimated)
Motor AC induction, 400 hp, 300-450 lb-ft (est.)
The 2013 Avalon is the first U.S. Toyota developed under the aegis of chairman Akio Toyoda, who is said to be pushing for more emotionally involving products. Looking at this car, we have to say the change is pretty evident. Shorter, lower, narrower, and lighter than before, the Avalon is now wrapped in curvaceous sheetmetal. And what's this? There's a "sport mode" that alters throttle mapping and steering effort, and throttle-blip downshifts can be actuated with the shift paddles. Mechanically, the Avalon is still based on the Camry, with a 3.5-liter V-6 and front-wheel drive. But there's also a new hybrid version, rated at 40/39 mpg.
On sale Late 2012
Price $35,000-$40,000 (est.)
Engines 3.5L V-6, 268 hp, 248 lb-ft; 2.5L I-4 hybrid, 200 hp
Boomer appeal No longer a neo-land yacht, the Avalon hopes for younger skippers.
Volkswagen Beetle Convertible
Convertibles and Southern California go together. That must be the thinking at Volkswagen, which will use the occasion of this November's L.A. auto show to reveal the new Beetle convertible. The convertible's power-operated canvas roof mimics the flatter shape of the new hard top, and the cars will be mechanically identical under the skin. That means a choice of a 2.5-liter five-cylinder, a 2.0-liter turbo four, or, new for 2013, a 2.0-liter turbo-diesel. Playing up the retro theme, the launch edition will be offered in three different styling motifs -- choose your favorite decade: '50s, '60s, or '70s -- with colors, upholstery, and wheels to match.
On sale Early 2013
Price $28,000-$35,000 (est.)
Engines 2.5L I-5, 170 hp, 177 lb-ft; 2.0L turbo-diesel I-4, 140 hp, 236 lb-ft; 2.0L turbo I-4, 200 hp, 207 lb-ft
Because It's even more huggable.
Still More Diesel
Introduced in Europe in 2009, Porsche's first diesel is only now coming to the United States. Under the hood of the Porsche Cayenne Diesel is a 3.0-liter V-6, a slightly more powerful version of the one in the Audi Q7 and the Volkswagen Touareg. Compared with the base V-6 Cayenne, the Diesel has less power (240 hp versus 300) but lots more torque (406 lb-ft versus the gasoline engine's 295 lb-ft). Paired exclusively with an eight-speed Tiptronic transmission, the Cayenne Diesel hurtles from 0 to 60 mph in 7.2 seconds -- 0.1 second slower than the V-6. However, the diesel boasts the best fuel mileage of any Cayenne -- an expected 20/28 mpg city/highway, which beats the base model (16/23 mpg) and the Hybrid (20/24 mpg).
The Volkswagen Beetle TDI is once again available. The same 2.0-liter turbo-diesel four-cylinder found chugging away under the hood of the Golf TDI makes the same 140 hp and 236 lb-ft of torque and can be bolted to a manual or a dual-clutch automatic transmission, both with six speeds. Fuel economy is estimated to be 32/41 mpg (versus 30/42 mpg for the Golf).
With the departure of the V-8 engine in the new GS, the Lexus GS450h hybrid attempts to cover both the performance and the fuel-economy ends of the spectrum. Its hybrid powertrain uses a 3.5-liter V-6 and is good for a total of 338 hp, 32 hp more than the GS350. The GS450h is fractionally quicker than the GS350 to 60 mph yet also musters 29/34 mpg -- beating the GS350 by 10 mpg in the city and 6 mpg on the highway.
An Audi A8 TDI will be the next phase of the brand's TDI push. Late this year, about $80,000 will get you an A8 with the 225-hp, 3.0-liter turbo-diesel V-6 from the Q7.
The Mercedes-Benz E400 Hybrid is the second Mercedes hybrid sedan (the S400 Hybrid was the first, in 2009). The E400's hybrid system uses a 302-hp, direct-injected V-6. Fuel-economy estimates are 24/31 mpg, a rather modest increase over the E350's 20/30 mpg and virtually a wash compared with the E350 Bluetec's 21/32 mpg.
Still More Hybrids
Audi finally climbs aboard the hybrid bandwagon with the Q5 hybrid Quattro. It pairs a 2.0-liter turbo four, an electric motor, and an eight-speed automatic. Total output is 245 hp and 354 lb-ft of torque, enough to whisk the Q5 from 0 to 62 mph in 7.1 seconds.
Hybrid and diesel will also go head-to-head at Volkswagen with the arrival of the Jetta Hybrid. It marks the U.S. debut of VW's 1.4-liter turbo four, which is combined with an electric motor and a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic. The combo yields 170 hp and an expected EPA combined fuel-economy rating of 45 mpg, which handily beats the Jetta TDI's 34 mpg. The Jetta Hybrid also can travel in EV mode up to 44 mph and allows engine-decoupled coasting at speeds up to 84 mph.
The BMW ActiveHybrid3 will use the same powertrain as the recently introduced ActiveHybrid5: a 3.0-liter turbo six together with a lithium-ion battery and an eight-speed automatic. (That powertrain also replaces the V-8 hybrid in the ActiveHybrid7.) Although the six-cylinder hybrid is seamless and powerful, the ActiveHybrid3 will likely be hard-pressed to beat the fuel economy of the 328i.