2011 New Cars: USA

All three major U.S. automakers have significant new products, even Chrysler. But the new Jeep Grand Cherokee, handsome though it is, and the redesigned Ford Explorer — the most thoroughly revamped in its history — will not recapture their glory days. The center of gravity has shifted in the direction of new entries like the Ford Fiesta and the redesigned Focus, the European-built Buick Regal, the Chevy Cruze, and (although you’re sick of hearing about it) the Chevy Volt.

Buick Regal

New: A smaller and sportier Buick derived from Europe’s Opel Insignia.

Noteworthy: Power comes from a lively, if not quite quick, 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine or, starting later this fall, a 2.0-liter turbocharged four. Both engines come with a six-speed automatic, but the turbo can be paired with a very good manual gearbox as a no-cost option. Unlike Regals of recent memory, there’s no bargain-basement version. Leather seats (heated in front) and eighteen-inch wheels are standard. An even sportier Regal GS should arrive next year featuring all-wheel drive and a tweaked version of the 2.0-liter engine good for at least 255 hp.

On sale: Now
BASE PRICE RANGE: $26,995-$29,495
SPECS: 2.4L I-4, 182 hp, 172 lb-ft; 2.0L turbo I-4, 220 hp, 258 lb-ft; front-wheel drive

The Twitter Feed:
With Pontiac, Saturn, and Saab out of the way, GM gives Buick some genuinely interesting vehicles.

Cadillac CTS

Note: A mid-size coupe, plus V-series variants of the CTS in both two-door and wagon body styles.

Noteworthy: Cadillac now has a complete CTS sedan/coupe/wagon lineup to compete with its German competitors. The two-door forgoes the 3.0-liter V-6 and offers the 304-hp 3.6-liter as the base engine paired with either a six-speed automatic or manual transmission. It’s largely created from mechanical mitosis, but the coupe does integrate a handful of chassis changes. A wider rear track, firmer damping, and resized antiroll bars help the coupe handle even better. The sheetmetal-unique from the A-pillar back-also results in a car that’s shorter in both length and height. If you think the coupe’s striking shape deserves more performance (and we do), you can step up to the $64,290 CTS-V. The equipment is again familiar, but that doesn’t make it any less fabulous: a 556-hp supercharged OHV V-8, an automatic or manual gearbox, rear-wheel drive, Brembo brakes, and magnetorheological dampers make the V one of the most compelling luxury/performance values around. The V treatment is also new to the CTS wagon for 2011.

CTS coupe
On sale: Now
BASE PRICE: $38,990
SPECS: 3.6L V-6, 304 hp, 273 lb-ft; rear- or 4-wheel drive

CTS-V coupe/wagon
On sale: Now/December
BASE PRICE: $64,290/$64,300 (est.)
SPECS: 6.2L supercharged V-8, 556 hp, 551 lb-ft; rear-wheel drive

The Twitter Feed:
Cadillac imitates Audi, BMW, and Mercedes-Benz with the three-model nameplate, but only the Americans sell a 556-hp sport wagon.

Chevrolet Volt

News: The car that’s been more heavily hyped than LeBron James’s summer free agency is here at last. Sort of.

Noteworthy: A trickle of Volts will start appearing in California; Washington, D.C.; Austin, Texas; and the New York City metropolitan area late this year, with sales expanding to other regions over the next twelve to eighteen months. The region-by-region rollout gives General Motors time to train dealers and work with the hundreds of local utility companies upon whom Volt customers will be relying for recharging.

Despite packing a 1.4-liter gasoline four-cylinder under the hood, the Volt drives like any other single-gear electric vehicle. The 150-hp motor is the only propulsion source connected to the front wheels, with the gasoline engine kicking on after roughly forty miles to spin a generator. It’s still unclear what fuel-economy numbers will land on the Volt’s window sticker, but we do know that the car won’t earn the 230-mpg rating that GM widely publicized in mid-2009. The final EPA testing procedure will lower that number, but GM still anticipates a triple-digit city rating.

GM expects to build some 10,000 Volts at its Hamtramck, Michigan, facility by the end of 2011 and ramp up to 45,000 by 2012. GM is offering an eight-year/100,000-mile warranty on the lithium-ion battery but has its fingers crossed in hopes that few customers will need to use it. The potential cost of such battery replacements is the biggest threat to the vehicle’s short-term profitability and long-term credibility.

On sale: December
BASE PRICE: $41,000 (excluding tax credit)
SPECS: Liquid-cooled AC motor, 150 hp, 273 lb-ft; lithium-ion battery, 16 kWh; 1.4L I-4 gasoline engine range extender; front-wheel drive

The Twitter Feed:
The Chevy Volt, a car so hyped that it has its own Twitter page, can’t afford any first-year bugs. The gradual ramp-up is a smart move.

Chevrolet Silverado HD/GMC Sierra HD

New: An escalation of the pickup truck wars. Also, new hardware.

Noteworthy: After a year of unflattering comparisons with the Ford “we didn’t take the money” Motor Company, General Motors briefly scored a product victory with its fresh heavy-duty pickups. The aesthetics have changed even less than on Ford’s truck, but GM engineers enhanced the chassis, in addition to the powertrains, and topped Ford’s capability claims for a short time. The gasoline V-8 is largely a carryover from last year, with the exception of a new camshaft, but the 6.6-liter Duramax diesel receives a large output bump of 32 hp and 105 lb-ft of torque. The Silverado and Sierra’s max capacities-21,700 pounds of towing and 6635 pounds of payload-fall slightly short of the F-350’s latest figures, but they’re nothing to scoff at. For those who insist on a premium heavy-duty truck, GMC now offers a Denali trim level for its Sierra HD. Unfortunately, even the Denali’s interior doesn’t match the fit, finish, and style of its competitors.

On sale: Now
BASE PRICE RANGE: $28,960-$46,860
SPECS: 6.0L V-8, 322/360 hp, 380 lb-ft; 6.6L turbo-diesel V-8, 397 hp, 765 lb-ft; rear- or 4-wheel drive

The Twitter Feed:
The one-upmanship of Ford and Chevy in the heavy-duty segment is more competitive than the two companies’ ongoing pony car war.

Chevrolet Cruze
Small-car redemption.

For a long time, domestic automatkers gave scant concern to compact cars, instead lavishing attention on higher-margin pickups, SUVs, crossovers, and big cars. Recently, however, spurred by escalating CAFE standards and shifting buyer preferences, American automakers (well, Ford and General Motors, at least) seem to have gotten small-car religion. Executives are professing their solemn dedication to bringing compelling, desirable small cars to the U.S. market.

One of the first is the Chevrolet Cruze. Yes, we realize this sounds heretical given GM’s decades-long habit of peddling outdated and outclassed compacts, usually with the all-too-necessary assistance of hefty rebates. But redemption is at hand.

It probably helps that the Cruze is not solely an American offering. The car launched more than a year ago in Europe and will be sold in some 130 countries total. In most of those markets, a car of this size is a much more esteemed machine than has been the case here.

Although a global vehicle, the Cruze is customized for each region. One North American exclusive item is our volume engine, a 1.4-liter turbocharged four-cylinder (there’s also a 136-hp, 1.8-liter normally aspirated four in the base LS sedan). Developed in Europe and first seen in the Opel Astra, the 1.4-liter’s output, 138 hp and 148 lb-ft of torque, is actually a bit less than that of the outgoing Cobalt’s 2.2-liter four-banger. But this turbo has the drivability of a much larger engine. Peak torque is available from only 1850 rpm, so you rarely have to wring it out. The Cruze isn’t terribly fast (Chevrolet estimates a 0-to-60-mph time of 9.1 seconds), but the turbo comes onstream relatively quickly and the boost is seamlessly integrated. In all but the Eco model, the 1.4-liter is paired with a six-speed automatic. This gearbox is extremely well mannered; you see shifts in the movement of the tach needle more so than you hear or feel them.

The Eco and the LS additionally offer six-speed manuals (other 1.4-liter models likely will have it next year). The Eco version sheds a few pounds with lighter-weight parts (wheels and rear suspension pieces) and options restrictions. It also benefits from low-rolling-resistance tires and aerodynamic aids. EPA figures aren’t yet in, but Chevy is predicting that the Eco with the manual will get 40 mpg on the highway-a real accomplishment for a car of this size.

This size is somewhat larger than the Cobalt, chiefly in width (almost three inches) and wheelbase, less so in height (one inch) and length (the EPA classifies it as a mid-size vehicle). The cabin feels wide, and outward visibility is good. The dash looks quite nice and has fewer buttons than recent GM products. Leather upholstery is available, which is good because you’ll want to upgrade over the standard cloth. The front seats are firm, with prominent lateral bolsters; six-way power adjustment can be ordered on most models. The rear has nearly two inches more legroom than the Cobalt, but space is still only adequate. The seat cushion, though, is high enough off the floor to offer good under-thigh support, which is not the case in some much more expensive GM cars (the Cadillac CTS sedan comes to mind).

As for the Cruze’s ride quality, comparisons with the Caddy are actually more apt than any with the Cobalt. First of all, the car is quiet, with road noise and wind noise well suppressed. The turbo four’s engine note isn’t melodious, but you hardly hear it below 5000 rpm. We drove a 2LT model with the optional sport suspension and seventeen-inch wheels, as well as an LTZ, which pairs the firmer chassis with eighteen-inch aluminum wheels. We found bump isolation to be very good, and the Cruze was responsive through the two-lane curves of Virginia horse country. The electric power steering, though, is overboosted, particularly at low speeds. Torque steer, happily, is a nonissue.

The wholesale improvement over the Cobalt doesn’t come cheap. The base LS may be only $605 more than the Cobalt LS, but as you climb the price ladder, the Cruze’s premium escalates-a 2LT, for instance, is $21,395, versus $18,560 for a Cobalt. But the Cruze leaves that car in the dust, particularly in its chassis dynamics and powertrain refinement, and the new Chevy signals a sea change in GM small cars. That’s the power of religion for you.

On sale: Now
BASE PRICE RANGE: $16,995-$22,695
SPECS: 1.8L I-4, 136 hp, 123 lb-ft; 1.4L turbo I-4, 138 hp, 148 lb-ft; front-wheel drive

The Twitter Feed:
Of course it’s better than a Cobalt, but the real news with the Cruze is that Chevy finally has a small-car contender.

Your Car, On Your Phone
The Chevy Cruze, like most 2011 Chevrolets, will offer owners the ability to monitor their cars’ status and perform key-fob functions via their iPhone or Android phone, with a smart-phone application called Chevrolet Connect. The app is free but requires an OnStar subscription in order to work. It can give owners information on average fuel economy, remaining oil life, and tire pressures, and it also allows them to lock and unlock doors, sound the horn, or remote-start the engine without the range limits of the key fob. The app will be available late this year but will work with any Cruze.

Ford Fiesta

New: A subcompact car worth driving.

Noteworthy: Cars like the Honda Fit, the Nissan Versa, and the Suzuki SX4 are comfortable, feature-packed, and ideal for budget buyers. But until the Ford Fiesta came along, none of them offered the dynamic prowess that can be had by stepping up to the next segment. Suspension calibration essentially carries over from the European Fiesta, leading to excellent body control and handling. You don’t expect a 120-hp engine to be quick, but at least the Fiesta’s powerplant is happy to rev. A five-speed manual is standard; a six-speed dual-clutch automatic-unfortunately lacking a manual shift mode-is optional. With the fuel economy package, the automatic Fiesta is rated at 29/40 mpg city/highway. However, the Fiesta does have one shortcoming. Compared with the spacious accommodations of a Fit or a Versa, the Fiesta’s rear seats are seriously claustrophobic.

On sale: Now
BASE PRICE: $13,995/$15,795 (sedan/hatchback)
SPECS: 1.6L I-4, 120 hp, 112 lb-ft; front-wheel drive

The Twitter Feed:
A 140-character limit may make for shallow conversation, but the car that was launched with Twitter proves to be deep below the surface.

Ford Focus

New: A Focus in America that’s worthy of Europe.

Noteworthy: We’ve been envious of the Europeans ever since U.S. and international Focuses became two different cars back in 2004. In early 2011, it’s back to one global compact Ford with the new Focus. We hope that the dynamic styling is an indicator that the fun-to-drive factor-lacking in the second-generation Focus-will make a triumphant return. Ford will confirm only a direct-injected 2.0-liter four-cylinder for the U.S. at this time, but a lower-displacement turbocharged engine is also likely. Upscale options include a rearview camera, navigation, keyless ignition, and parallel-parking assist. We’ll get both the sedan and the four-door hatchback here, but the wagon stays in Europe. We’ll also receive a low-volume electric model later in 2011.

On sale: Early 2011
BASE PRICE: $17,000 (est.)
SPECS: 2.0L I-4, 155 hp, 145 lb-ft (est.); front-wheel drive

The Twitter Feed:
Ford narrows its focus with a single Focus for global markets. Just hope this one drives more like the old Euro model than the U.S. car.

Ford Explorer
Exploring a new segment.

Once the poster child for the SUV segment, the Explorer becomes a front-wheel-drive, four-cylinder, unibody crossover for 2011-at least in some trims. It may be a strange and dramatic departure from the Explorer of yesteryear, but Ford execs are confident that the new strategy can halt the icon’s cliff dive from 445,157 sales in 2000 to 31,864 through the first six months of 2010. Fuel economy, they say, is why the segment has stalled. That explains the four-cylinder engine-a 2.0-liter turbo unit generating 237 hp and 250 lb-ft of torque-and why buyers of that engine will pay a premium over a more powerful (but less efficient) V-6. The numbers aren’t official yet, but a 30 percent increase in fuel economy over last year’s V-6 should yield 18 mpg in the city and 26 mpg on the highway for the turbo four.

Opting for all-wheel drive requires sticking with the base 3.5-liter V-6 that makes 290 hp and 255 lb-ft of torque. Both engines use six-speed automatic transmissions. There is no V-8, but we expect a turbocharged V-6 with up to 400 hp to arrive eventually.

During the reveal, Ford executives used the word “capability” just as often as they did “Explorer,” yet the smaller engines and a unibody chassis give better fuel economy-at a price. Maximum towing capacity drops from 7115 pounds to 5000 pounds. The low-range transfer case follows the V-8 out the door and is re placed by a terrain-management system-essentially adaptive throttle, torque bias, and stability and traction control-with settings for snow, mud, sand, and pavement, along with hill-descent control. Compared with the outgoing truck, the Explorer is 5.4 inches wider and 3.7 inches longer, but it is 0.9 inch lower while maintaining about eight inches of ground clearance. Despite the size increase, weight has been reduced (by an unspecified amount) with the switch to unibody construction.

Ford has long been aiming for Audi-like levels of fit and finish in its interiors, but the Explorer is the first product where such a claim has actual credence. Soft-touch materials on the dash provide for tight fits with adjacent panels, and the center stack is light on control knobs thanks to MyFord Touch, an optional eight-inch touch screen that integrates navigation, audio, climate, and phone functions. Other options include adaptive cruise control, blind-spot warning, parallel-parking assist, and power-folding third-row seats. The Explorer’s standard Curve Control slows the truck when understeer is about to send it off a cloverleaf exit ramp.

The demise of big SUVs like the Dodge Durango and the Chevy Trailblazer is proof enough that the Explorer’s reinvention is critical to its survival. However, Ford’s own lineup provides enough competition to call the Blue Oval’s product strategy into question. The automaker now has two crossovers that seat seven and start at about $30,000. And if the Explorer is all about capability, why does the softer, more family-oriented Flex offer the 355-hp turbocharged V-6? The two Fords have unique visual identities, but this sibling rivalry may not end until one of the two vehicles is completely out of the picture.
Belts with Bags

With the Explorer, Ford has the industry’s first inflatable rear seatbelts. The optional inflatable belts are located on the outboard seats in the second row. The air bags are contained inside the shoulder belt; the inflator is located inside the buckle. Ford says the inflatable bags reduce trauma by spreading impact forces over five times more area than a conventional seatbelt.

Belts with Bags
With the Explorer, Ford has the industry’s first inflatable rear seatbelts. The optional inflatable belts are located on the outboard seats in the second row. The air bags are contained inside the shoulder belt; the inflator is located inside the buckle. Ford says the inflatable bags reduce trauma by spreading impact forces over five times more area than a conventional seatbelt.

On sale: Early 2011
BASE PRICE: $28,995 (V-6)
Specs: 2.0L turbo I-4, 237 hp, 250 lb-ft; 3.5L V-6, 290 hp, 255 lb-ft; front- or 4-wheel drive

The Twitter Feed:
Ford’s Explorer takes a new direction, shedding SUV excess for crossover gentility.

Ford Edge

New: A bigger grille and two more engines.

Noteworthy: The Edge’s new powerplants bookend the carryover 3.5-liter V-6. For the fuel-conscious, there’s a 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder that should produce a combined EPA rating of about 25 mpg. With the larger 3.7-liter V-6 that’s good for 305 hp, the Sport trim
now adds substance to what was previously only a cosmetics package.

On sale: Now
BASE PRICE: $27,995/$36,995 (3.5L/3.7L)
SPECS: 2.0L turbo I-4, 237 hp, 250 lb-ft; 3.5L V-6, 285 hp, 253 lb-ft; 3.7L V-6, 305 hp, 280 lb-ft; front- or 4-wheel drive

The Twitter Feed:
Any rappers interested in downsizing from an Escalade? Edge Sport is the only vehicle in its class to offer 22-inch wheels. #blingbling

Ford Mustang

New: Much-needed new engines for Ford’s pony.

Noteworthy: The 305-hp V-6 car can run to 60 mph in 5.3 seconds, and it now has a standard limited-slip differential and dual exhaust. Despite the six-cylinder’s quickness, stepping up to the 412-hp, 5.0-liter V-8 is worth the money for the gains in engine smoothness, exhaust note, and, of course, acceleration times. Both automatic and manual gearboxes now have six speeds. The top-dog Shelby GT500 makes only 10 hp more than last year’s car (now 550 hp), but switching from iron to aluminum for block construction drops 102 pounds from the nose of the car, resulting in more neutral handling.

On sale: Now
BASE PRICE: $22,995/$30,495/$49,495 (V-6/V-8/GT500)
SPECS: 3.7L V-6, 305 hp, 280 lb-ft; 5.0L V-8, 412 hp, 390 lb-ft; 5.4L supercharged V-8, 550 hp, 510 lb-ft; rear-wheel drive

The Twitter Feed:
The Ford Mustang finally has the engines it deserves.

Ford F-series Super Duty

New: A midcycle update that’s more about the mechanicals than the cosmetics.

Noteworthy: Modest appearance tweaks give little hint to the changes in the 2011 Super Duty, which boasts some significant new hardware under the sheetmetal. Both the gasoline and diesel engines are new, as is the six-speed automatic they’re paired with. The updates allowed Ford to claim best-in-class towing and payload in this numbers-driven segment -for a brief time. Shortly after the new Super Duty specs were released, Chevrolet made public the details on the increased hauling capability of its Silverado HD. Ford responded by delivering a software update for the diesel that once again puts the SuperDuty at the top of the segment not only in towing and payload capacities-22,600 and 7070 pounds, respectively-but also in horsepower and torque ratings.

On sale: Now
BASE PRICE RANGE: $28,995-$47,480
SPECS: 6.2L V-8, 385 hp, 405 lb-ft; 6.7L turbo-diesel V-8, 400 hp, 800 lb-ft; rear- or 4-wheel drive

The Twitter Feed:
Did you think Ford would rest while Chevrolet had a best-in-class claim in this segment? Not a chance.

Jeep Grand Cherokee

New: Jeep’s other icon, fresh from the ground up.

Noteworthy: Jeep has learned its lesson about compromising brand integrity (see: Jeep Compass) and sticks close to tradition with the new Grand Cherokee. That means prodigious off-road ability wrapped around a premium cabin, just like the 1993 original. Capability is bolstered by a choice of three different four-wheel-drive systems, selectable terrain settings, and optional air springs. The 3.6-liter provides our first look at the V-6 that will proliferate throughout Chrysler’s lineup; it gains 80 hp and 2 highway mpg over the outgoing 3.7-liter V-6. Developed in tandem with the next Mercedes-Benz ML-class, the Grand Cherokee makes notable strides in comfort, quietness, and interior finish.

On sale: Now
BASE PRICE: $30,995/$36,490 (V-6/V-8)
SPECS: 3.6L V-6, 290 hp, 260 lb-ft; 5.7L V-8, 360 hp, 390 lb-ft; rear- or 4-wheel drive

The Twitter Feed:
Parts from Mercedes, engineering by Chrysler, and financing via Fiat and Uncle Sam, but it’s still a Jeep.

Lincoln MKX

New: A thorough freshening inside, outside, and under the hood.

Noteworthy: The goofy brace face of the old MKX is traded for a much more attractive look. There’s also a revised interior and new features, including adaptive cruise control, blind-spot monitoring, remote start, swiveling HID headlamps, and the MyLincoln Touch infotainment system. The 3.5-liter V-6 from the 2010 model has been tossed aside in favor of a more powerful 3.7-liter V-6.

On sale: Now
BASE PRICE: $39,995
SPECS: 3.7L V-6, 305 hp, 280 lb-ft; front- or 4-wheel drive’

The Twitter Feed:
A Ford Edge by any other name, but it comes with a more powerful standard engine and more toys.

Lincoln MKZ Hybrid

New: A Lincoln badge for the Ford Fusion Hybrid.

Noteworthy: With Mercury out of the picture, Lincoln earns another badge-engineered car with the MKZ Hybrid. Using the same gasoline/electric powertrain as the Ford variant nets identical fuel economy: 41 mpg in the city and 36 mpg on the highway. In the Fusion, the SmartGauge LCD instrument cluster grows more digital leaves the more efficiently you drive. Lincoln gives you the leaves-plus white flowers to reflect your vehicle’s long-term fuel economy. When it goes on sale, the MKZ Hybrid will be priced the same as the V-6 variant.

On sale: October
BASE PRICE: $35,180
Specs: 2.5L I-4/electric hybrid, 191 hp (combined); front-wheel drive

The Twitter Feed:
The loss of Mercury is Lincoln’s gain.

Buying Guide
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17 City / 25 Hwy

Cargo (Std/Max):

NA / 80.7 cu. ft.