In the auto industry, change is the only constant. For evidence, see the barrage of new products for 2013 — more than seventy new offerings, which we’ve gathered here. Rather than simply reporting on the facts and specs, we attempt to give these new cars a bit of context. It’s a dynamic, fast-moving industry, but we wouldn’t have it any other way.
Ever since the demise of the RSX, nee Integra, Acura has been without a true entry-level model. (The TSX has become too close to the TL in size, design, and price to perform that function.) Enter the smaller, cheaper ILX. Is it the second coming of the Integra, the frisky subcompact that once attracted young people to the brand? Not really. The ILX has a bit of an identity crisis, as it comes in three distinct iterations. The car is based on the Honda Civic sedan, and although Acura designers did a good job of disguising that fact, we wouldn’t exactly call it handsome. The interior, at least, is a wholesale improvement over the Civic’s more downmarket cabin. The chassis also has been comprehensively upgraded, with more sophisticated dampers for better ride quality and retuned, quicker steering that’s more lively and precise. There’s also additional sound deadening and NVH control. The volume-model ILX has a 150-hp, 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine (up from 1.8 liters and 140 hp in the Civic) that is hitched to an automatic transmission with only five speeds. Acura reaches out to greenies with a hybrid ILX, which lifts the Civic Hybrid’s powertrain intact for a 39/38 mpg EPA city/highway rating. The most interesting ILX variant uses the Civic Si as its starting point. Priced at $30,095, it features the Si’s 201-hp, 2.4-liter four-cylinder and a six-speed manual. One problem for the ILX may be that it’s not that much cheaper than a TSX: when adjusted for the TSX’s extra equipment, the difference is less than $1000. That factor may hinder this outreach effort.
On sale Now
Engines 2.0L I-4, 150 hp, 140 lb-ft; 2.4L I-4, 201 hp, 170 lb-ft; 1.5L I-4/electric hybrid, 111 hp, 127 lb-ft
Smaller than…a TSX, by 6.5 inches in length, 1.8 inches in width, and 1.1 inches in height.
Acura targeted aggressive-driving single males with its last RDX, but the new version takes a much different tack as it tries to win the affections of couples and small families. Gone is the high-strung turbocharged four-cylinder engine — instead, we find a 3.5-liter V-6 that calmly spins out 273 hp (33 hp more than before) and 251 lb-ft of torque; it’s mated to a six-speed automatic and actually gets better mileage than the old four. The optional all-wheel-drive system is no longer Acura’s SH-AWD (which uses torque vectoring to help carve corners), but it’s lighter and more efficient. The old car’s punishing ride quality is much better. The suspension tuning has mellowed considerably, which together with the more refined powertrain and the addition of active noise cancellation make for a more relaxed driving experience. Finally, a 1.4-inch-longer wheelbase helped Acura engineers create a roomier interior despite exterior dimensions that remain compact.
On sale Now
Engine 3.5L V-6, 273 hp, 251 lb-ft
Room for Family of five.
Sales of the Acura RL have all but dried up in recent years, so the division (and its dealers) must be eagerly awaiting the new flagship sedan, the RLX. Besides adding a letter to better align its name with most of the rest of Acura’s lineup, the new sedan breaks with the past in other ways but not all. It remains smaller than some competitors — Acura describes it as a mid-size sedan with the interior space of a large sedan. The overall length is the same, but the wheelbase has grown two inches. Again Acura uses a V-6, but it’s a new direct-injected engine that displaces 3.5 liters. It makes 310 hp in its base, front-wheel-drive application. The uplevel model is a hybrid, in which the V-6 combines with three electric motors to deliver “more than 370 hp.” The hybrid drives all four wheels, in a preview of the Sport Hybrid SH-AWD system expected in the new NSX. Acura is predicting EPA ratings of 30 mpg city and highway for the RLX hybrid. High-tech niceties include four-wheel steering (for the FWD model), two LCD screens, and connectivity that permits Internet radio, Bing search functionality, and audio feeds from Facebook and Twitter.
On sale Early 2013
Price $50,000-$56,000 (est.)
Engines 3.5L V-6, 310 hp; 3.5L V-6/electric hybrid, 370+ hp
Boomer appeal Will Acura’s do-more-with-less philosophy resonate this time?
Aston Martin AM310 Vanquish
Stepping in for the DBS, Aston’s new range-topping AM310 Vanquish looks to improve both performance and usability. The updated 5.9-liter V-12 adds variable valve timing; output rises to 565 hp and 457 lb-ft of torque, which is sent to a six-speed automatic transaxle (no manual this time). A new launch-control system helps drivers race from 0 to 62 mph in 4.1 seconds. The engine sits lower in a new iteration of Aston’s bonded-aluminum chassis, which again features adaptive dampers and standard carbon-ceramic brakes. The Vanquish’s body takes design cues from the limited-edition One-77 supercar and makes more extensive use of carbon fiber than ever before, including in the hood, front fenders, trunk lid, trunk enclosure, door surrounds, and roof (the last of which may be left exposed if a buyer so chooses). Weight is held to just 3613 pounds and is distributed 50/50 front/rear. Despite casting nearly the same shadow as a DBS, the new Vanquish has a roomier two-place cabin (two-plus-two seating is optional), along with more stowage and a greatly enlarged trunk. Capacitive-touch switches and a new rotary controller lend modern flair to the characteristic Aston Martin jewel-box interior.
On sale Early 2013
Price $280,000 (est.)
Engine 5.9L V-12, 565 hp, 457 lb-ft
Terminal velocity 183 mph
The original 1999-2005 Allroad made good on its name with a turbocharged V-6 for storming the interstate and an adjustable-height air suspension for tackling the trail. Unfortunately, the Allroad’s second act in the United States isn’t nearly as versatile. Based on the no-longer-sold-in-America A4 Avant wagon, the new Allroad is essentially a styling exercise that adds matte-finished lower cladding, a bright chrome grille, and brushed metal trim. Mechanically, the only difference between the Avant and the Allroad is a 1.5-inch suspension lift, but Audi is banking on the image of a tougher wagon appealing to a larger set of Americans.
On sale Now
Engine 2.0L turbo I-4, 211 hp, 258 lb-ft
Marketing magic Some rugged-looking trim multiplies wagon sales.
Audi’s RS badge — denoting the ultimate performance models by Quattro GmbH — has been a rare sight on U.S. roads. An RS6 sedan was a one-year-only offering in 2003, the RS4 sedan and convertible were sold in 2007-2008, and the TT RS arrived last year. For 2013, we’re going to get another RS model, the RS5 coupe, to face off against the BMW M3 and the Mercedes-Benz C63 AMG. The normally aspirated 4.2-liter V-8 from the S5 coupe is now good for 450 hp and 317 lb-ft of torque in the RS5. It is paired with a seven-speed S tronic transmission and, naturally, Quattro all-wheel drive — but this is an enhanced version that can send as much as 85 percent of the torque to the rear wheels (the default torque split is 40/60 front/rear). To telegraph that performance visually, the RS version gets a unique lower fascia, diffusers, grille, and flared fenders; a rear spoiler deploys automatically at 75 mph. To make the same point aurally, there’s an optional sport exhaust. With the RS5, Quattro GmbH is speaking a little louder in the U.S. market.
On sale Now
Price $80,000 (est.)
Engine 4.2L V-8, 450 hp, 317 lb-ft
Feeding the rivalry Audi is finally taking it to the M3.
As good as its supercharged V-6 is, the Audi A6 needed an eight-cylinder engine to truly compete against the BMW 550i and the Mercedes-Benz E550. The S6 answers the call with a twin-turbo V-8 and a bevy of upgrades that shape Audi’s mid-size sedan into something sportier than the competition. The eight-speed automatic transmission has been traded for a seven-speed dual-clutch unit, air springs replace the steel coil springs, and a torque-vectoring rear differential is standard. The S6 isn’t as hard-hitting as a BMW M or a Mercedes-Benz AMG car. Instead, it combines finesse, agility, and power with the civility and price tag of an eight-cylinder 5-series or E-class.
On sale Late 2012
Price $72,000 (est.)
Engine 4.0L twin-turbo V-8, 420 hp, 406 lb-ft
Feeding the rivalry The S6 is only the start. We expect an RS6 with more than 500 hp to follow.
It’s everything that’s good about the S6 packaged as a svelte hatchback. The price for such beauty is an additional $7000 and another 110 pounds. It’s worth every penny and every pound.
On sale Late 2012
Price $79,000 (est.)
Engine 4.0L twin-turbo V-8, 420 hp, 406 lb-ft
Feeding the rivalry Mercedes-Benz may have been first, but Audi does it better.
Just as BMW has never seen fit to build an M7, don’t expect to see an RS8 anytime soon. That leaves the S8 as the quickest, most powerful large Audi sedan. The old V-10 has been kicked to the curb, but the new twin-turbo V-8 trumps it in every objective measure, with more power, more torque, and more miles per gallon. Power delivery is linear and lively although not as intoxicating as with the ten-cylinder screamer. Of course, isolation and refinement are just as fundamental to the S8 as performance. This full-size sedan protects its luxury-car cred with technology in spades, including a Wi-Fi hot spot, Google Earth maps, an air suspension, and the ability to run on just four cylinders at cruising speeds.
On sale Late 2012
Price $115,000 (est.)
Engine 4.0L twin-turbo V-8, 520 hp, 479 lb-ft
Feeding the rivalry With the S8, Audi adds a third engine for its large sedan, mimicking the diverse powertrain strategy of BMW and Mercedes-Benz.
Bentley Continental GT V8
Ever since the Continental GT debuted for 2003, it — and all its variants — have been powered by the Volkswagen Group’s oddball W-12 engine. Although company execs still see the twelve-cylinder engine as an important aspect of the brand, Bentley is now offering a V-8 in the Continental GT and GTC convertible, environmental concerns (chiefly in Europe) being the incentive. The 4.0-liter twin-turbo V-8 isn’t exactly a fuel-economy champ, although the GT V8’s 15/24 mpg EPA numbers certainly are better than the GT W12’s 12/19 figures. For an environmentally clearer conscience, V8 buyers sacrifice 67 hp and 0.2 second in the sprint to 60 mph (now 4.6 seconds). On the upside, however, they save $19,250 (coupe) or $21,400 (convertible) while doing their part to save the earth.
On sale Now
Price $176,725/$194,125 (GT/GTC)
Engine 4.0L twin-turbo V-8, 500 hp, 487 lb-ft
U-Turn First-ever Continental GT with fewer than twelve cylinders under the hood.
BMW 640i Gran Coupe
The BMW 640i Gran Coupe is technically a new car, although it could be more accurately described as a new combination of parts from existing cars. As you can see, it has a voluptuous new exterior but is comprised of components from the BMW 5-Series, 6-series, and 7-series.
The Gran Coupe shares its wheelbase with the 5-series but is as wide as a 6-series coupe. It’s longer than both and just 2.6 inches shy of a 7-series. The Gran Coupe makes the 5 look nerdy, the 6 coupe look busy, and the 7 look bloated. Like the Z4, this is a Bimmer you’ll need to see in traffic to fully appreciate.
The Gran Coupe is what the 5-series would be if BMW were more concerned with sex appeal than practicality. It seats four adults comfortably — a fifth is only theoretically possible, straddling the wide rear center console with legs splayed. Despite the car’s extra length, its trunk is no bigger than a 6-series coupe’s. The long front overhang, unusual for a BMW, is vulnerable to scraping, and the low seating position makes it difficult to see over the unusually high beltline.
Sounds like it makes no sense, right? Indeed, the 640i Gran Coupe makes no rational sense whatsoever. But this isn’t a rational segment. Like the Mercedes-Benz CLS and the Audi A7, BMW’s four-door coupe also has a premium price. It starts at a hefty $76,895 — $2400 more than a 640i coupe and some twelve grand over a comparable 535i. Start adding options and things get outrageously expensive very quickly. Our almost fully loaded test car soared past $100,000. Then again, you can’t get a 535i with twenty-inch wheels, full LED headlights, a Bang & Olufsen stereo, or the Gran Coupe’s stunning, leather-lined and contrast-stitched interior.
The base Gran Coupe comes with the high-output version of BMW’s N55 single-turbo six-cylinder. It produces 315 hp and 330 lb-ft of torque and is paired with the ZF eight-speed sport-automatic, which has a first gear short enough to easily smoke the 275-section rear tires and a cruising gear tall enough to achieve 30 mpg on the highway (or so BMW estimates). In manual mode, the transmission’s shifts are quick and positive, rivaling the best dual-clutch automatics, and its torque converter makes off-the-line getaways smoother than any of them. A standard auto stop/start system helps the 640i return an expected 20 mpg in the city and is relatively unobtrusive.
The steering is more heavily weighted than that of the 5-series, but the electric assist absorbs most of the steering feel. Optional Integral Active Steering kills whatever feel is left in exchange for quicker turn-in, a smaller turning circle, and a superfast ratio at parking-lot speeds. Our test car’s low, wide proportions; adaptive dampers; rear steering; and active antiroll bars — not to mention the enormous rubber — helped it tackle back roads at sports-car speeds with astonishing ease. Otherwise, the driving experience is highly reminiscent of a 535i, a 640i coupe, or a 740i. That means class-leading powertrain refinement and a suspension that does a superb job — on smooth roads.
Like those other BMWs, the Gran Coupe transmits small pavement irregularities with sharp jolts, but then all hell breaks loose when you encounter bigger bumps, which can result in an impact so harsh you’ll think something in the suspension broke. In addition to the hard-as-steel bump stops, the M Sport package’s available twenty-inch wheels deserve some of the blame. They look great, but they’re clearly too heavy for the suspension to manage.
Other demerits for the Gran Coupe are few: it uses the 640i coupe’s hard-to-reach, seat-mounted seatbelts. The large glass sunroof tilts but doesn’t slide. The rear window is a mail slot, but thankfully a reverse camera is standard fare.
BMW has already announced the 650i Gran Coupe, which will be powered by a Valvetronic-equipped 4.4-liter twin-turbo V-8. That 445-hp brute will send 480 lb-ft of torque either to the rear or to all four wheels. The all-wheel-drive version is the quicker of the two, getting to 60 mph in 4.3 seconds. The 650i, though, strikes us as overkill. The 640i feels far faster than its factory-measured 5.4-second 0-to-60-mph time would suggest, and its straight-six engine sounds both aggressive and refined. If you need even more speed, you might want to wait for the as-yet-unconfirmed M version. We suspect that an M6 Gran Coupe would be a better all-around performer than either the M5 or the M6 coupe/convertible. In fact, with hydraulic power steering and better overall suspension tuning, the M6 Gran Coupe could just be the best of the current crop of M cars — and a great example of how to make a new, even better car out of some already great automobiles.
On sale Now
Engine 3.0L turbo I-6, 315 hp, 330 lb-ft
Because Mercedes-Benz has the CLS and Audi has the A7.
The last BMW M6 was a little confused. It was too big and heavy to feel sporty, but its normally aspirated V-10 felt and sounded like it was straight out of a Formula 1 racing car. Its styling was clumsy but conveyed a sense of maturity — and then its harsh ride made it feel like an adolescent in need of Adderall.
All of this has been fixed with the new M6, which again has a clear sense of what it is: a big, expensive, four-seat GT with sports-car performance and luxury-car appointments. Available again as a coupe and a convertible, the new M6 shares its powertrain components with the M5. That means the V-10 has been replaced by a more streetable twin-turbo V-8 that produces 560 hp and, just as important, 500 lb-ft of torque from 1500 rpm all the way to 5700 rpm. Even some electric motors don’t have torque peaks that broad, and with only minor turbo lag (thanks to BMW’s ingenious cross-bank exhaust manifold and Valvetronic), stupendous speeds are available with a tiny twitch of your right toes. The best part? Rapid changes in velocity are no longer accompanied by headache-inducing blows to your equilibrium, thanks to a smooth dual-clutch automatic transmission that replaces the miserable SMG automated manual. The V-8’s somewhat flat soundtrack is peppered with turbo whooshes and a wonderful blat on shifts executed under boost. It’s well muted inside the car (lacking the M5’s active sound management), but with the convertible’s roof lowered, it’s an acoustic delight. Top-down tunnel blasts are a must in the M6 droptop, the only M6 we’ve driven so far.
The newest M rides well, too, and yet its robust body (at 4508 pounds it ought to be robust) is extraordinarily well controlled, exhibiting near-flat cornering and astonishing agility and composure over bumpy mountain roads. We’re grateful that BMW reverted to a hydraulic steering setup in place of the regular 6’s electrically assisted rack, as it wakes up the steering, now highly communicative and precise.
The droptop M6 can reach 60 mph in a mere 4.2 seconds (the coupe does it in 4.1), according to BMW, but its real beauty is something that will take a bit longer to discover — unlike the last car, this more well-rounded M6 won’t begin to wear on you after twenty minutes.
On sale Now/mid-2012 (convertible/coupe)
Price $113,995/$106,995 (convertible/coupe)
Engine 4.4L twin-turbo V-8, 560 hp, 500 lb-ft
Feeding the rivalry Despite more power, this M car’s biggest achievement is that it uses 23 percent less fuel than the old one.
BMW was the first premium brand to introduce a compact SUV — the X3 — and now it’s the first to go even smaller. The subcompact X1 was supposed to come here last year, but strong demand elsewhere delayed the pint-size SUV’s arrival. Now, however, BMW is ready to take the plunge. The X1’s exterior is a dead ringer for the X3, and the resemblance continues un-der the hood, where the X1 uses the same two engines: a 241-hp, 2.0-liter turbocharged four (28i) and a 300-hp, 3.0-liter turbo in-line six (35i). The former is paired with BMW’s eight-speed automatic transmission and can be rear- or four-wheel drive. The six-cylinder gets a six-speed automatic and is four-wheel drive only. With either engine, an M Sport package (sport suspension, sport seats, unique wheels, and special trim) can be added. The rear-wheel-drive 28i is exclusive to the X1; it gets 24/33 mpg city/highway. All-wheel-drive versions of the X1 are within 1 to 2 mpg of the X3. Comparing like powertrains, X1 buyers will save $5000 to $6000 over an X3. The rear-wheel-drive X1, which at $31,545 will be the least expensive BMW, just edges out the 128i. That alone ought to guarantee the X1 an audience.
On sale Late 2012
Price $31,545/$33,245/$39,345 (sDrive28i/xDrive28i/xDrive35i)
Engines 2.0L turbo I-4, 241 hp, 260 lb-ft; 3.0L turbo I-6, 300 hp, 300 lb-ft
Smaller than… an X3, by 7.1 x 3.3 x 4.6 inches (L x W x H).
Based on the Chevrolet Sonic architecture, the Encore is tiny by Buick standards — or by almost any standards. It’s more than a foot shorter than a Verano, and its 100.6-inch wheelbase is only 1.2 inches longer than a Sonic’s. Powering the Encore is GM’s 1.4-liter turbo four-cylinder, which will bring to bear an estimated 140 hp and 148 lb-ft of torque on the crossover’s 3190 pounds (3309 pounds with all-wheel drive). Active noise cancellation — a first for Buick — should help drown out the engine’s droning, allowing occupants to concentrate on their stylish surroundings. The cabin features blue ambient lighting, a seven-inch touch-screen radio, available leather, and a choice of three color schemes. As for the exterior, the Encore’s undulating lines and tall-boy proportions may look odd in America’s wide open spaces, but they should appear just right in the crowded urban environs of Shanghai and Beijing, which is probably far more important.
On sale Early 2013
Price $25,000 (est.)
Engine 1.4L turbo I-4, 140 hp, 148 lb-ft (est.)
Smaller than…a Verano, by 15.4 inches in length and 1.5 inches in width, but it’s 6.4 inches taller.
Buick Verano Turbo
The Buick Verano compact sedan, introduced last year, trades on its superquiet, well-appointed interior. The Verano Turbo, which arrives this fall, adds another selling point: power. Its turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder makes 250 hp — enough to whisk this sedan to 60 mph in 6.2 seconds — and it can be ordered with a six-speed manual or a six-speed automatic.
Still, Buick is being careful not to position the quickest Verano as a performance car. The cabin is even more luxurious than in the base version. The dampers are slightly firmer than the base car’s, and the steering is tuned to be a bit heavier, but both are still biased toward comfort. Tires, brakes, and bushings carry over, as does the bevy of sound-deadening materials.
On sale Late 2012
Price $29,500 (est.)
Engine 2.0L turbo I-4, 250 hp, 260 lb-ft
Elusive buyer Star of The Fast and the Furious: Century Village Bingo Night.
The BMW 3-Series may be the industry’s most targeted — and most difficult to target — vehicle. On paper, at least, the Cadillac ATS hits the bull’s-eye. It casts the same shadow as the BMW, measuring within a half inch of its foe in every dimension and faithfully mimicking its proportions. The Caddy likewise follows a similar price structure, with a turbocharged four-cylinder and a six-cylinder that match up closely (in the former case, exactly) with their BMW counterparts. Cadillac’s direct-injected, 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder produces 270 hp and 260 lb-ft of torque. There will also be a cheaper, 200-hp, 2.5-liter four-cylinder, and Cadillac’s familiar 3.6-liter V-6 serves as the top engine. The ATS makes do with a six-speed automatic transmission for now — an eight-speed is on the way. The turbo can also be paired with a six-speed manual.
The ATS’s most impressive marksmanship may be its weight. With the manual and the 2.0-liter turbo, the ATS weighs less than 3400 pounds, which is, again, a dead-on match for the BMW, not to mention some 400 pounds lighter than the current CTS. The secret sauce is an all-new rear-wheel-drive architecture known as Alpha. Judicious use of lightweight materials such as high-strength steel and aluminum, along with an intense focus on limiting the weight of every component — from control arms to nuts and bolts — yields a light platform that will be flexible enough to underpin other cars, including the next CTS. The suspension features a multilink setup in back and struts with dual lower ball joints in front. Like most other Cadillacs, the ATS will be available with magnetorheological dampers and Brembo brakes.
On sale Now
Engines 2.5L I-4, 200 hp, 188 lb-ft; 2.0L turbo I-4, 270 hp, 260 lb-ft; 3.6L V-6, 320 hp, 267 lb-ft
Worth the wait A Cadillac that looks to be fully competitive with the BMW 3-series.
Cadillac bills the XTS as a replacement for both the rear-wheel-drive STS and the front-wheel-drive DTS sedans. Those with longer memories will find that it’s essentially a rebirth of the late-1990s Seville. Like that car, the XTS attempts to maximize the capability and luxuriousness of a corporate front-wheel-drive platform, in this case the Epsilon architecture that underpins everything from the Chevrolet Malibu to the Buick LaCrosse. In old-school Cadillac tradition, the XTS is big — longer than a BMW 740i — but its $44,995 base price allows it to compete against mid-size luxury sedans like the Audi A6. Under the hood, a 304-hp, 3.6-liter V-6 is paired with a six-speed automatic transmission. All-wheel drive is optional. The top-of-the-line Platinum model, which starts at $59,080, has the dubious distinction of being the most expensive front-wheel-drive new car you can buy.
The XTS’s less sporty, more luxurious pretensions are readily apparent in its styling. Whereas the smaller CTS looks like it was chiseled from a hunk of granite, the XTS is more like a block of marble that’s been lovingly kneaded into an intricate sculpture. And where the CTS is pointedly undecorated, the XTS has all manner of nicely executed details.
No amount of detailing, however, can hide the stubby-hood, long-overhang proportions typical of a front-wheel-drive car with a transversely mounted engine. The XTS’s layout does afford an advantage when it comes to interior packaging — the car has more legroom than the aforementioned 7-series, and its eighteen-cubic-foot trunk looks ready to swallow a small boat. More important, the cabin feels genuinely expensive. One is hard-pressed to find a cutline or a trim piece that hasn’t been the object of close attention and, in some cases, tasteful experimentation. The Platinum model, for instance, features smooth leather on the upper dashboard; perforated, purple-tinged leather facing the driver and front passenger; and semianiline leather on the seats. It looks and smells lovely.
The other big experiment inside is a new infotainment system known as Cue. Much like MyFord Touch, Cue banishes buttons and dials in favor of an eight-inch touch screen and a piano-black center console that incorporates touch-sensitive controls. The graphics are crisp, and the capacitive (rather than the older resistive) touch-screen technology responds to most inputs as quickly as an iPad. The problem is that you use an iPad when you’re sitting on your couch, not (we hope) when you’re swerving through Los Angeles traffic. Cadillac has attempted to make the system easier to use by incorporating haptic feedback — the screen vibrates when you hit an icon. In our short test, at least, it failed to facilitate muscle memory the way physical controls do. Like most systems, Cue also responds to voice commands. Unlike its competitors, the XTS also has General Motors’ excellent OnStar service, so when the automated system, say, fails to recognize your hotel in West Hollywood and tries to route you two hours north, you have the option of getting help from a human being.
Cadillac makes no bold claims regarding the XTS’s performance, instead noting that it already has plenty of cars for buyers who care about Nuerburgring lap times. Still, engineers went to some effort to make sure the XTS doesn’t betray the brand’s performance ethos. All models have four-piston Brembo front brakes, magnetorheological dampers, and GM’s HiPer Strut front suspension that decouples the steering and suspension geometries to minimize torque steer and improve on-center feel. Bombing along the switchbacks of Mulholland Highway outside of L.A., the XTS displays commendable body control and reasonably sharp reflexes. The light power steering firms up at speed, and the Brembos don’t fade on fast downhill stretches. The familiar 3.6-liter V-6 puts in its usual solid effort, although it can be caught a bit out of breath when accelerating out of a corner in second or third gear. Most surprising and impressive is the paddle-shift manual mode for the transmission: it serves up smooth and quick downshifts and will hold a gear right up to the rev limiter. As with the design, however, the nice details can’t entirely make up for the front-wheel-drive underpinnings. The nose-heavy XTS understeers in tight corners where most European sedans — not to mention the CTS — would hold their line.
The XTS is not the large car that Cadillac ultimately needs to regain worldwide recognition and profitability. For that, we’ll have to wait for the next CTS (due next year) and, we hope, for a production flagship based on the Ciel concept. But the XTS is a car Cadillac needs right now. It’s competent, comfortable, and can bank on the interest of traditional buyers.
On sale Now
Price $44,995- $61,305
Engine 3.6L V-6, 304 hp, 264 lb-ft
Boomer appeal The sort of comfortable car boomers’ parents used to drive but with interior technology their kids will love.
Chevrolet Corvette 427 convertible
For the last year of C6 production, which also happens to coincide with the Corvette’s sixtieth anniversary, Chevrolet is offering the Z06’s 505-hp, 7.0-liter LS7 V-8 in a convertible. The engine is 427.5 cubic inches — close enough, Chevy thinks, to revive one of the most famous designations from the Stingray era: 427 convertible. And, since no Corvette anniversary is complete without a garish appearance package, our test car wears stripes that even make it onto the convertible top, complemented by dark blue seats and baby-blue interior accents. Thankfully, you can get your 427 convertible without any of it.
We forget all about the stripes — and the flimsy seats and dated controls — as soon as we floor the 427 on a highway entrance ramp and experience the amazing sensation of a big pushrod V-8 roaring toward 7000 rpm. Although it has yielded king-of-the-hill status to the ZR1’s supercharged LS9, the normally aspirated LS7 is still, in our minds, the best Corvette engine. Make that one of the best engines, period. And now there’s no annoying roof between your ears and the vicious crackle that comes through the bimodal exhaust when you push the beefy six-speed manual through the gears (no automatic transmission will be offered).
The convertible’s magnetorheological dampers are tuned more for grand touring than for track work, so it rides well over awful asphalt patchwork that would jostle a Z06. Yet it also stays flat through S-curves, and its staggered Michelin tires break traction only when we apply generous amounts of throttle coming out of turns. The 427 retains the Z06’s dry-sump oil pump, which is a boon if your idea of grand touring involves high-g cornering.
One element of the Z06 that definitely would not work on a convertible is its aluminum frame, which simply wouldn’t be stiff enough without a roof. The car does get lots of its big brother’s carbon-fiber bits — the floor panels, fenders, and the hood are all made of the stuff — resulting in a respectable 3355-pound curb weight.
On sale Now
Engine 7.0L V-8, 505 hp, 470 lb-ft
Marketing magic A magnificent engine and multihued stripes tempt the collector crowd.
The Impala has been nipped and tucked as often as Joan Rivers but is, at last, truly new. The design reprises some similar Chevrolet themes, including a Camaro-esque front fascia and a dual-cove interior. Materials in the cabin, not surprisingly, have improved dramatically. Even more important, the old car’s W-body bones, which date back to the late 1980s, finally go off to that great junkyard in the sky (or is it in Flint?) in favor of a stretched version of GM’s Epsilon platform. It will share two four-cylinder engines with the Malibu—a 2.5-liter and a 2.4-liter hybrid. The top offering will be a 3.6-liter V-6 with 303 hp. For now, all Impalas are front-wheel drive. We might have expected a more powerful all-wheel-drive variant to battle the Ford Taurus SHO, but it seems the upcoming rear-wheel-drive Chevrolet SS sedan will shoulder performance duties.
On sale Early 2013
Price $27,000–$32,000 (est.)
Engines 2.5L I-4, 195 hp, 187 lb-ft; 2.0L I-4/electric hybrid, 182 hp, 172 lb-ft; 3.6L V-6, 303 hp, 264 lb-ft
Boomer appeal Retro touches with modern competence, like the Camaro (but not RWD).
The new Malibu has already been on sale for about six months in mild-hybrid form. This summer, Chevrolet introduces its bread-and-butter four-cylinder model. The engine in question is an all-new, direct-injected 2.5-liter that will also see duty in the Cadillac ATS. That extra grunt, along with the weight savings of not lugging around a lithium-ion battery pack, is instantly apparent getting up to highway speeds. Steering and handling are even better than on the already well-sorted Eco model, thanks to larger, eighteen-inch wheels and stickier tires (the base model wears sixteens). A 2.0-liter turbo four-cylinder, also shared with the ATS, completes the lineup this fall. No V-6 is planned.
On sale Now
Price $22,500-$29,000 (est.)
Engines 2.5L I-4, 197 hp, 191 lb-ft; 2.4L I-4/electric hybrid, 182 hp, 172 lb-ft; 2.0L turbo I-4, 259 hp, 260 lb-ft
Brings to battle A solid chassis and a well-appointed interior.
Chevrolet Sonic RS
Chevrolet, which hasn’t offered a sport compact since the Cobalt SS and the HHR SS, is dipping its toe back in the water with a handling and appearance package for the turbocharged, hatchback version of the Sonic. The Sonic RS rides 0.4 inch lower than the regular car and features firmer dampers. Rear disc brakes replace drums for better feel and appearance. You’ll also be able to tell the RS by its slightly more aggressive front fascia, its unique seventeen-inch wheels, and its polished exhaust tip.
Our quick spin around GM’s ride-and-handling loop didn’t divulge revelatory differences due to the RS package but did remind us how capable the Sonic subcompact is to begin with. Its 138-hp, 1.4-liter turbo engine, rather dull and muted in the larger Cruze, is rowdy and growly here. Numerically higher gearing for the six-speed manual transmission helps the RS overcome the turbo’s low-rpm lag (a six-speed automatic is also available). The electric power steering is precise, and a decent amount of feedback comes through the RS’s flat-bottomed wheel — the same one used in the Camaro ZL1. There’s still more body roll than we’d like, however. The interior, available only in black on the RS, has the same motorcycle-inspired gauges and tastefully grained plastics as the base car, and its deeply bolstered chairs trimmed in leather and suede hold you firmly in place.
On sale Late 2012
Engine 1.4-liter turbo I-4, 138 hp, 148 lb-ft
Because Chevy wants to show that the Sonic is fun, not just cheap.
The most novel thing about the Spark may be its lack of novelty. It’s not rear-engined like a smart fortwo, doesn’t have an asymmetrical interior like a Scion iQ, and isn’t a fashion statement like the Fiat 500. No, the Spark is just a regular, cheap, (very) small car.
The Spark was never going to match the iconic design of the 500, but at least it isn’t boring. The four-door hatchback has the goofy proportions of a tween halfway through puberty, with a higher roof but a much shorter wheelbase than the pricier Sonic, and huge headlamps span the length of a stubby hood. The interior reprises the motorcycle-inspired gauge cluster from the Sonic. The downgraded materials suit the lower base price, but bright body-color trim — the Spark comes in several eye-searing hues — distracts a bit from the cheapness. Power windows, but not power door locks or mirrors, are standard. Upper trim levels include a seven-inch color touch screen and a USB port. The high roofline provides plenty of headroom even in the back. In other markets the Spark seats five, but for U.S. models, the rear center seat has been eliminated in acknowledgement of Americans’ bulk.
Engineered and built in Korea, the Spark was modified for U.S. duty with stiffer front dampers, larger (fifteen-inch) wheels, and electric power steering. The tiny four-cylinder engine was enlarged to 1.2 liters. Its 83 hp moves the 2237-pound car with some gusto — until you add a couple of passengers. The steering is quick and precise — the way we wish the Fiat’s felt — without being twitchy. Early yet subtle stability control intervention keeps the car pointed in the right direction through midcorner bumps. The throws of the five-speed manual gearbox are smooth if a bit too light (there’s also a four-speed automatic). Chevrolet promises that fuel economy will be “competitive” with the likes of the iQ and the 500, which is to say it’ll be no better than in a subcompact car. The real story, then, will be the battery-electric version Chevy begins offering next year.
On sale Now
Engine 1.2L I-4, 83 hp, 83 lb-ft
Smaller than…A Sonic hatchback, by 14.3 inches in length and 5.4 inches in width, but it’s 1.3 inches taller.
The Dodge Caliber was arguably the nadir of Chrysler’s new-product development in the Daimler era, when cost-cutting was taken to new heights — or depths. Perhaps no car better represents Chrysler’s reversal than the Caliber’s replacement, the new Dodge Dart. Built on an Alfa Romeo platform, the Dart delivers a smooth, well-controlled ride, one that’s tomb-quiet compared with the Caliber. The coarse and noisy old 2.0-liter engine has been heavily revised for greater refinement and more output (160 hp). It’s joined by two optional offerings: a 1.4-liter turbo from the Fiat 500 Abarth, which also has 160 hp but makes 36 lb-ft more torque (184 lb-ft). Still to come is the R/T model’s 184-hp 2.4-liter. A six-speed manual steps in for the previous five-speed and is standard with all engines. The old CVT has also been scrapped, replaced by a six-speed automatic (with the 2.0- and 2.4-liter) and a six-speed dual-clutch automatic (for the 1.4). The Caliber’s neo-crossover, hatchback body style has been abandoned; the Dart is a conventional sedan that has touches of the Charger at the front and rear. And finally, the Dart’s cabin is a far more pleasant place to spend time, because its makers weren’t trying so hard to save a dime.
On sale Now
Engines 2.0L I-4, 160 hp, 148 lb-ft; 1.4L turbo I-4, 160 hp, 184 lb-ft; 2.4L I-4, 184 hp, 171 lb-ft
U-Turn From cheap-and-nasty to cheap-and-cheerful.
Ferrari F12 Berlinetta
When Ferrari unveiled the F12 Berlinetta, its follow-up to the highly successful 599GTB Fiorano, at the Geneva motor show last March, it hailed the new GT as the most powerful road car the company has ever built. The F12’s place at the top of Ferrari’s performance pecking order might soon be cut short, however, by the upcoming successor to the famed Enzo (see F70, at right). For now at least, let’s savor the specifics of the F12 spec sheet: the same 6.3-liter, normally aspirated V-12 that’s in the FF hatchback makes an incredible 730 hp at 8250 rpm and 509 lb-ft at 6000 rpm in the F12. Coupled with a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic, the V-12 will, Ferrari claims, help the car hit 62 mph in only 3.1 seconds and reach 211 mph, even while delivering a 30 percent improvement in fuel economy. Compared with the 599, the F12 will weigh nearly 150 pounds less, thanks to an aluminum-intensive spaceframe. The F12 is some two inches shorter in overall length and two inches lower in height than the 599 and is also slightly narrower. The jury is still out, we’d say, on the Pininfarina design, which seems to be trying too hard to combine history and modernity. There’s no mistaking the F12 as anything but a Ferrari, though, and the big LED headlight strips evoke the 458 Italia, which is no bad thing.
On sale Late 2012
Price $350,000 (est.)
Engine 6.3L V-12, 730 hp, 508 lb-ft
Terminal velocity 211 mph
There’s a new boss at Ferrari. The next new model to roll off a Maranello assembly line will be the successor to the 2003 Enzo, and it is all but guaranteed to join the hallowed ranks of Ferrari’s high-tech, mid-engine flagships. When the still-nameless supercar (F70 is likely) hits the road in early 2013, it will be among the most exclusive, most advanced, and most expensive cars to ever wear the prancing-horse badge. It also will be the first production hybrid for Ferrari, with an electric motor adding 120 hp and 220 lb-ft of torque to the 800-hp, 6.3-liter V-12. Together, the two propulsion sources can deliver about 740 lb-ft of torque to the rear wheels via a dual-clutch automatic transmission.
Low drag and high downforce — the former critical to besting the 217-mph top speed of the Enzo — are achieved with an underbody tray, a rear diffuser, active aerodynamics in the wheelhouses, brake-cooling ducts, and grilles that can be selectively opened and closed. In addition to a carbon-fiber structure, the new car — previewed below by our illustrator — fends off weight with a honeycomb engine cradle, sandwich suspension links, hollow-spoke wheels, and a thin-wall exhaust system. We’re told it should weigh less than 2800 pounds — an impressive feat considering the bulky hybrid hardware.
On sale Early 2013
Price $1,000,000 (est.)
Engine 6.3L V-12/electric hybrid, 850 hp, 740 lb-ft (est.)
Terminal velocity 217-plus mph
We know who probably asked for this vehicle: Fiat’s U.S. dealers. No doubt they want to expand the lineup beyond the current coupe, cabrio, and Abarth — but have they seen this thing? One can argue about how successfully the similarly sized Mini Countryman translates Mini’s unique styling, but the 500L seems to have lost all the charm of the 500. Four doors and a real back seat may allow the 500L to net buyers who bypass the standard car, but unlike Mini, Fiat won’t offer four-wheel drive. Let’s hope that Fiat engineers can wring more power out of the 1.4-liter MultiAir engine, as its 101 hp is already marginal in the much smaller 500. Perhaps Fiat will borrow the more potent 160-hp turbo from the Abarth for its four-door offering, which is nearly two feet longer and six inches wider than the standard 500.
On sale Early 2013
Price $20,000 (est.)
Engine 1.4L I-4, 101 hp, 98 lb-ft (est.)
Elusive buyer Fiat 500 intender who doesn’t care about design.
Stepping in for the departed Escape Hybrid, the C-Max will carry the hybrid banner more visibly for Ford, as it will be a hybrid-specific vehicle and nameplate, a la Toyota Prius. Unlike the Prius, the C-Max will come in just one body style, a five-seat crossover, but it will offer two different hybrid powertrains: a standard hybrid and a plug-in called C-Max Energi (“Energi” denoting plug-in hybrids at Ford). In both cases, the hybrid system uses a 141-hp, 2.0-liter Atkinson-cycle four-cylinder. Total output is estimated at 188 hp and 129 lb-ft, dispensed via a CVT. The C-Max is 4.5 inches shorter, fractionally narrower, and 2.4 inches lower than an Escape, but it weighs more: 3682 pounds. The Energi, with its larger battery, carries another 300 pounds. Compared with its chief rival, the Prius V, the C-Max Energi is some 400 pounds heavier, although Ford’s claimed total system power is 54 hp more than Toyota’s.
On sale Late 2012
Price $26,500 (Hybrid, est.)
Engine 2.0L I-4/electric hybrid, 188 hp, 129 lb-ft (est.)
The new Escape marks the first true rethink of the vehicle that helped define the compact crossover. The previous boxy shape is junked in favor of new styling that strikes a family resemblance to the Fiesta, the Focus, and the new Fusion. It’s an athletic look, but outward visibility suffers compared with its predecessor. There’s no downside, though, to discarding the old model’s plastic-lined cabin, which has given way to a much richer interior. As expected, the MyFord Touch interface is present, part of a suite of electronics that includes active park assist, a hands-free tailgate, blind-spot warning, cross-traffic alert, and Sync. Escape buyers now have a choice of three engines, all four-cylinders with a six-speed automatic. A 168-hp, 2.5-liter base unit is the price leader and comes with front-wheel drive only. A 1.6-liter EcoBoost (178 hp, 184 lb-ft) is the volume offering and is definitely adequate in this application. A muscular 2.0-liter EcoBoost (240 hp, 270 lb-ft) makes more torque than the old V-6. Although the Escape is taller and heavier than the Focus, basing this crossover on that model’s excellent chassis pays noticeable dynamic dividends. Prices, however, have crept up by more than $1000 and crest $30,000 for the new top-of-the-line Titanium model.
On sale Now
Engines 2.5L I-4, 168 hp, 170 lb-ft; 1.6L turbo I-4, 178 hp, 184 lb-ft; 2.0L turbo I-4, 240 hp, 270 lb-ft
Room for Family of five.
Ford Focus ST
Ford’s spiciest Focus was prepared by the chefs of the global performance vehicle group in close cooperation with Ford of Europe’s Team RS and the American Special Vehicle Team, SVT. “It’s a one-fits-all-markets concept,” explains project leader Dieter Schwarz. “Design, engine specification, chassis calibration, and tire choice are identical, regardless of whether the car is sold in Beijing, Los Angeles, or London.”
The ST makes a visual statement with unique eighteen-inch wheels, larger front air intakes, a center-mounted exhaust outlet, a rear diffuser, flared rocker panels, and a roof-mounted spoiler. Inside, we notice dressed-up pedals, a newly designed leather steering wheel and matching shift knob, and auxiliary instruments (oil pressure, oil temperature, and boost pressure), but the center stack is still a messy affair. A pair of cloth- or hide-trimmed Recaro seats are mounted lower than in lesser models, and they’re comfortable, supportive, and generously adjustable.
The ST’s 2.0-liter EcoBoost four-cylinder develops 252 hp and 270 lb-ft of torque and, like most modern turbo engines, sounds more characterful than its normally aspirated sibling. It’s hard not to be smitten by the faint turbocharger whine, the spine-tingling intake rasp, and the exhaust note that varies from blat-blat to thunderous. To transmit acoustic action into the cabin, the engineers installed a “sound symposer” in the firewall. In addition to being a stereophonic treat, the EcoBoost four also zips the Focus ST from 0 to 62 mph in 6.5 seconds and on to a maximum of 155 mph. A low-inertia turbocharger, variable valve timing, and direct injection mean that the 2.0-liter four doesn’t suffer from excessive turbo lag. The sole transmission is a six-speed manual, and it’s a slick one. Our only reservation concerns the excessively tall top gear — it undoubtedly helps to save fuel but forces the driver to downshift frequently to keep up the momentum at freeway speeds.
To improve grip, Ford equipped its most ambitious Focus with special-compound Goodyear Eagle F1 AS2 tires (235/40YR-18), lowered the ride height by 0.4 inch, and fitted tauter springs and dampers together with redesigned suspension knuckles and fatter antiroll bars. The four brake discs (with vented 12.6-inch rotors up front) keep the 3000-pound Focus in check. The ST also gets variable-ratio sport steering, which is quite light at low speeds but firms up nicely as the mph readout rises. The ratio is so quick that one armful of lock is all it takes to master a hairpin corner. At the same time, the steering is relaxed at triple-digit speeds. But there are drawbacks. On rough pavement, the front suspension kicks and tugs, which means that going fast entails a fair amount of adjusting and correcting. It’s fun, but it isn’t smooth. The other complaint concerns an underlying artificiality, due to the Torque Steer Compensation, Torque Vectoring Control, and Cornering Understeer Control, which, together with stability control, aim to synchronize the steering input and the torque flow without affecting your chosen line. The intent is laudable, but less electronic intervention would result in a more natural and intuitive driving experience. Stability control can be disabled in two steps — switch it off completely and you clear the stage for a good bit of lift-off oversteer. In this zero-interference mode, the ST can be a truly wild thing, swinging from wide-eyed understeer to arms-crossed oversteer.
At $24,495, the Focus ST plays in an almost deserted segment. Its main rivals are the Mazdaspeed 3, the Volkswagen GTI, and, to a lesser extent, the winged and turbocharged Mitsubishi Evo and Subaru WRX/STI twins. The Ford ST is not exactly a world-beater in terms of refinement, handling balance, or ergonomics. But it does offer a lot of car and performance for the money — and scores an undisputed ten on the entertainment scale. The only thing that distances the high-performance Focus from real greatness is some fine-tuning — in particular, we’d like to see the computer-controlled cleverness scaled back in favor of a more homogenous steering and suspension setup.
On sale Late 2012
Engine 2.0L turbo I-4, 252 hp, 270 lb-ft
Worth the wait An overdue successor to the SVT Focus.
Dramatic new styling is the most apparent difference in Ford’s new mid-size sedan, but there’s at least as much going on under the skin. A blizzard of four-cylinder powertrain choices starts with a 2.5-liter, graduates to a 1.6-liter EcoBoost (with manual or automatic transmission and optional auto stop/start), and tops out with a 2.0-liter EcoBoost (with optional all-wheel drive). Additionally, there are two hybrid options — a standard hybrid and a plug-in version (the latter called Energi); both use a 2.0-liter Atkinson-cycle four-cylinder engine. In keeping with current Ford practice, the Fusion goes all-in with technology, offering MyFord Touch, lane-departure prevention, active cruise control, forward collision warning, blind-spot warning, and cross-traffic alert; it also will be significantly more expensive than its predecessor. The base model jumps by some $2000, while the top-spec Titanium AWD version tops $33,000.
On sale Late 2012/early 2013 (gasoline/hybrid)
Price $22,600-$33,800 (est.)
Engines 2.5L I-4, 170 hp, 170 lb-ft; 1.6L turbo I-4, 179 hp, 172 lb-ft; 2.0L turbo I-4, 237 hp, 250 lb-ft; 2.0L I-4/electric hybrid, 129 hp, 188 lb-ft; 2.0L I-4/plug-in hybrid, 129 hp, 188 lb-ft
Brings to battle High style, high tech, numerous powertrain choices.
GMC Terrain Denali
Chrome-faced Denali models sit successfully atop the GMC Yukon/Yukon XL and Acadia lineups, so why not one for the Terrain, the brand’s biggest-selling SUV? The formula is easy enough: load up the equipment, add some additional finery inside, restyle the outside with body-colored fascias and plenty of bright accents, and you’ve created a Denali. That’s pretty much what was done here. To the already well-equipped Terrain SLT2, the Denali adds a power front passenger seat, dual-flow dampers (on the front suspension), a blind-spot warning system, and rear cross-traffic alert. Like all Terrains, the Denali can be had with front-wheel drive or all-wheel drive and either a 182-hp four-cylinder or a V-6. That V-6 is now a larger, 3.6-liter unit good for 301 hp. The more muscular V-6 knocks about a second off the 0-to-60-mph time (now estimated at just under eight seconds) but matches the fuel economy of the old engine. It’s definitely our choice over the marginal four-cylinder. The dual-flow dampers are less successful, as the Denali would still benefit from better body control. The interior upgrades are a welcome addition to the well-designed cabin, and you can judge the exterior styling changes for yourself. The cost to ascend to the peak Terrain? About $3000 more than an SLT2.
On sale Now
Engines 2.4L I-4, 182 hp, 172 lb-ft; 3.6L V-6, 301 hp, 272 lb-ft
Marketing magic Would this formula be as successful if it were called SLT3?
Supply interruptions due to the tsunami in Japan, along with an all-out push from Nissan, saw the Honda Accord knocked out of its traditional number-two spot in the best-selling-car hierarchy last year. A 2013 redesign should give the Accord a chance to battle back, although the Nissan Altima is also new and the top-seed Toyota Camry is only one year into its latest iteration. Honda again will field two body styles — sedan and coupe. The Accord gears for battle with three new powertrains: a 2.4-liter four-cylinder (with a six-speed manual or a CVT); a new, more powerful V-6 (also with a manual or a six-speed automatic); and a plug-in hybrid. The latter can be recharged in less than four hours and can travel fifteen miles in EV mode. Impressively, the Accord defies today’s new-car bloat by shrinking in length, height, and weight. A new slate of driver aids includes forward collision warning, lane-departure warning, blind-spot warning, and a backup camera. The styling, however, hews to Honda’s recent history of conservative redesigns.
On sale Late 2012
Price $20,000-$33,000 (est.)
Engines 2.4L I-4, 181 hp, 177 lb-ft; 3.5L V-6, 277 hp, 270 lb-ft (est.); 2.0L I-4/plug-in electric hybrid, 161 hp
Brings to battle Solid-gold reputation, new powertrains.
Hyundai Elantra GT and Elantra coupe
With the addition of the Elantra hatchback and coupe for 2013, the number of compacts and subcompacts in Hyundai dealerships swells to six, with a small car of every shape and for every purpose.
The new Elantra GT hatchback replaces the recently retired Elantra Touring, but whereas that car was more of a wagon, its replacement is a shapelier hatchback. It looks less dweeby but is also smaller. Maximum cargo room shrinks by fourteen cubic feet and rear legroom is down two inches. The GT is based on the European i30, so it brings a handful of features not seen in other Elantras, such as a driver’s knee air bag and three-mode adjustable steering assist.
The new coupe brings little to the table other than its attractive two-door form. Save for an SE model with a sportier suspension setup, it’s essentially a two-door version of the sedan. Both new entries use the same powertrain as the Elantra sedan: a fuel-sipping 148-hp, 1.8-liter four-cylinder and a choice of six-speed manual or automatic transmissions.
On sale Now
Price $18,220/$19,170 (coupe/GT)
Engine 1.8L I-4, 148 hp, 131 lb-ft
Because Hyundai needs even more 40-mpg small cars.
Hyundai Santa Fe & Santa Fe Sport
Hyundai’s mid-size crossover grows to a two-model family with its 2013 redesign as it attempts to cover both the two-row and three-row markets. Somewhat confusingly, the standard five-seat version, renamed the Santa Fe Sport, replaces today’s Santa Fe. The larger, seven-seat model now gets the Santa Fe moniker and takes over for the underachieving Veracruz. The Sport is within an inch in size of the outgoing vehicle and rides on the same 106.3-inch wheelbase. The long-wheelbase version has a nearly four-inch stretch between the axles and is 8.5 inches longer overall. The smaller Santa Fe Sport uses four-cylinder power exclusively: a 190-hp 2.4-liter and a 2.0-liter turbo with 264 hp. The larger Santa Fe gets a 290-hp, 3.3-liter V-6. Commendably, both Santa Fes counter the trend toward ever-heftier SUVs, the Sport shedding 266 pounds compared with its front-wheel-drive four-cylinder predecessor and the FWD seven-seater weighing less than two tons, which is light for a three-row crossover. Mileage estimates for the five-seat model range from 23/33 mpg city/highway for the FWD 2.4-liter to 20/28 mpg for the AWD turbo. The long-wheelbase model should get 19/26 mpg.
On sale Now/January (Santa Fe Sport/Santa Fe)
Price $23,000/$28,000 (Santa Fe Sport/Santa Fe, est.)
Engines 2.4L I-4, 190 hp, 181 lb-ft; 2.0L turbo I-4, 264 hp, 269 lb-ft (Santa Fe Sport); 3.3L V-6, 290 hp, 252 lb-ft (Santa Fe)
Room for Families of five (Santa Fe Sport) or seven (Santa Fe).
Hyundai Veloster Turbo
The standard Hyundai Veloster overpromises and underdelivers. Its wild styling and curious, asymmetrical, three-door packaging are undercut by tame, unexceptional dynamics. Yet even as we abandoned hope for a revelation during our first drive last October, we remained optimistic that Hyundai would take a mulligan with the turbocharged model.
Even before turning a single wheel in the Veloster Turbo, though, our expectations met the harsh reality again as product planners at Hyundai’s U.S. headquarters revealed that the suspension dampening, the spring rates, and the bushings were all left unchanged. We had been hoping for a more mature ride — something with the suppleness and sophistication of a Volkswagen GTI. Instead, the Turbo suffers the same busy, stiff-legged hobble of the base car. The steering is imperceptibly quicker and noticeably heavier, but piloting the Veloster Turbo feels nowhere near as visceral as the best hot hatches.
It’s a similar story with the 1.6-liter four-cylinder. Despite a resume that includes a twin-scroll turbocharger, dual variable valve timing, direct injection, and 201 hp and 195 lb-ft of torque, this overachiever lacks the personality we were looking for. Power delivery is more linear compared with similar-size engines in the Nissan Juke and the MINI Cooper S, but the Veloster is also significantly flatter in response to throttle changes. Rather than a boisterous driver’s car, Hyundai has built yet another 38-mpg small car.
Even with a turbocharger, the Veloster’s best attributes are quantifiables like value, fuel economy, and infotainment features, and as with the base model, looking at the car is a more emotional experience than driving it. Neat details like a headliner with a printed graphic and optional $1000 matte gray paint (don’t drive through an automated car wash) add nothing when driving a winding, mountain road. When it comes to rational, practical automobiles, Hyundai can hang with the best, but when it comes to capturing passion and character, the Koreans are designing when they need to be engineering.
On sale Now
Engine 1.6L turbo I-4, 201 hp, 195 lb-ft
Worth the wait Not yet. We’re still waiting for a Veloster that drives as good as it looks.
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
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.
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.