Buying a new car is, for most of us, a very big deal. It requires wading through marketing spiels, braving the assault of the showroom, and then slaving for years to make the payments. But that feeling when you climb into a new car—your new car—for the first time and peel out of the dealer lot? Priceless. Over the following pages, we present our utterly subjective list of the new cars we are most excited about for 2015. Buying a new car can also be an adventure, as some of our own experiences at the dealership prove. Share yours at Facebook.com/automobilemag or via email to firstname.lastname@example.org. We also have tips and insider knowledge about the car-shopping process to help guide you along your way.
For detailed information on every new car for sale, visit vehicles.automobilemag.com.
Though volume sedans and budget people movers dominate this bracket, there’s still fun to be head with the likes of Mustang and Mini. Click here to read more, or pick a car from the list below.
Jeep Renegade — $19,500 (est.)
Volkswagen Golf and Golf Sportwagen — $18,815
Honda Fit — $16,315
Chevrolet Trax — $19,500 (est.)
Ford Mustang — $24,425
Toyota Camry — $24,000 (est.)
Hyundai Sonata — $21,960
Hyundai Veloster Turbo R-Spec — $22,110
Honda HR-V — $19,900 (est.)
Chrysler 200 — $22,695
Chevrolet Colorado — $21,000 (est.)
Mini Cooper/Cooper S — $20,745/$24,395
Mini Hardtop 4-Door Cooper/Cooper S — $21,745/$25,395
Subaru Legacy — $22,490
Volkswagen GTI S — $25,215
Dodge Challenger — $27,990
Dodge Charger — $28,500 (est.)
Nissan Murano — $29,000 (est.)
Ford Edge — $29,000 (est.)
Subaru WRX — $27,090
Kia Sedona — $27,000 (est.)
Ford F-150 — $26,615
Subaru Outback — $25,745
Welcome to the near luxury realm, loaded with loaded crossovers, several serious sedans, and “coupes” of the 2- and 4-door variety. Click here to read more, or pick a car from the list below.
Lincoln MKC — $33,995
Audi A3 — $30,795
Cadillac ATS Coupe — $38,990
Acura TLX — $31,890
Subaru WRX STI — $35,290
Nissan Maxima — $33,000 (est.)
Lexus RC — $45,000 (est.)
Hyundai Genesis — $38,950
Lexus NX — $36,000 (est.)
Mercedes-Benz C-Class — $39,325
Audi Q3 — $33,425
Volvo XC90 — $49,825
Mercedes-Benz GLA-Class — $32,225
Land Rover Discovery Sport — $38,000 (est.)
Chevrolet Tahoe/Suburban, GMC Yukon/Denali — $45,890
BMW 4 Series Gran Coupe — $41,225
BMW X4 — $45,625
Now for some serious hardware. Everything from Hellcats to a curvaceous Cat coupe, M-badged menaces to a Macan —even a killer Korean?! Click here to read more, or pick a car from the list below.
Dodge Challenger SRT Hellcat — $60,900
BMW M3/M4 — $62,925/$65,125
Alfa Romeo 4C — $55,195
Jaguar F-Type Coupe — $65,925
Chevrolet Corvette Z06 — $78,995
Kia K900 — $60,400
Porsche Boxster GTS/Cayman GTS — $74,495/$76,195
Porsche Macan — $50,895
Volvo S60 Polestar/V60 Polestar — $60,225/$61,825
BMW X6 — $62,850
Lincoln Navigator — $62,475
Cadillac Escalade — $72,690
Big-bucks ballers, whip out your wallets. The Bentley boys, a spaceship Bimmer, and a 911 with an impossibly complicated roof all play here. Click here to read more, or pick a car from the list below.
Mercedes-Benz S-Class coupe — $120,000 (est.)
BMW i8 — $136,625
Bentley Continental V8 S — $199,225
Bentley Flying Spur V8 — $197,825
Porsche 911 Targa — $102,595
BMW B6 Alpina xDrive Gran Coupe — $118,225
Champagne wishes and Cavallino dreams. If you ever hit the lottery, these are the super-duper-hyper cars that will rock you like a Huracán. Click here to read more, or pick a car from the list below.
Buying a new car can be an adventure. Click here to read about our experiences at the dealership.
Mark McDonald has been selling cars for 10 years. Click here to read his top tips for choosing and buying your next new car.
Though volume sedans and budget people movers dominate this bracket, there’s still fun to be head with the likes of Mustang and Mini.
A little Jeep is again invading Europe. Or is it actually invading the United States? The Renegade is a subcompact crossover built off a Fiat platform and will be assembled in Melfi, Italy. While the Renegade aims to substantially increase Jeep’s sales on the Continent, it comes to the U.S. market with two powertrains. A 160-hp, 1.4-liter turbo four-cylinder paired with a six-speed manual is standard; a 184-hp, 2.4-liter four-cylinder is offered solely with a nine-speed automatic. If you want the off-roadable Trailhawk package, your only choice is the latter. Small and cute as the Renegade is, it is 3 feet longer than a 1941 Willys MB.
Volkswagen Golf & Golf SportWagen
Base Price: $18,815
The new, seventh-generation Golf isn’t a huge departure from its predecessor but it is slightly bigger, roomier, and significantly more fuel-efficient. VW’s superb direct-injection four-cylinder, known as TSI, is standard and now returns an estimated 37 mpg highway, an increase of 6 mpg. The smooth and torquey four-cylinder diesel (TDI), which previously required a big jump in sticker price, is newly affordable at a starting price of $22,815. Beginning in early 2015, the Jetta SportWagen will be known as the Golf SportWagen, part of VW’s effort to bolster the Golf lineup in America. An electric-powered model, the e-Golf, goes on sale in November.
Honda has a way with small-car packaging, and the 2015 Fit remains an example of space efficiency at its best. It also gains much-needed refinement, with nicer interior materials, a smoother ride, and more features, including a standard backup camera. Sadly, the Fit is not as tossable as before. But it’s still more fun to drive than most subcompacts, and it’s tough to beat the almost magical amount of room inside.
The Buick Encore has been enough of a hit in the United States that General Motors cannot resist offering a Chevrolet version as well. The Trax enters the burgeoning market of subcompact crossovers with a lower base price and the same 138-hp, 1.4-liter turbocharged four-cylinder offered in the Encore and the closely related Chevrolet Sonic. Front-wheel drive is standard—you’ll have to tick the option box for all-wheel drive. The Chevy looks more comfortable in its own skin than the overwrought, chrome-laden Encore, but it’s not as funky-looking as a Jeep Renegade or a Nissan Juke. Standard features include a backup camera, keyless entry, and a color touchscreen. Siri hands-free functionality is optional and the Trax comes equipped as a 4G wireless hot spot, although you’ll need a subscription to use it.
There’s plenty of good new stuff in the all-new Ford Mustang, yet there’s also plenty of good old stuff, too. The shape now looks taut and sleek, yet the classic proportions remain. You have your choice of a free-revving 300-hp V-6, a 305-hp turbo four-cylinder, or the classic 420-hp V-8 (all power numbers are projections). An independent rear suspension calms the ride motions, yet fat rear tires and an available manual gearbox still put the power to the ground.
The go-to midsize sedan—it’s still America’s top-selling car—looks a little different this year. The good news is the car is prettier inside and out, and it gets lots of new safety tech, including a pre-collision braking system and lane departure warning. Toyota says the suspension has been revised, too, but don’t expect the 2015 Camry to drive like an Audi. For day-to-day commuting use, however, it remains a safe choice in the crowded sedan segment.
Say the Honda Fit hatchback looks too dorky for your tastes, and the CR-V is just a little too big to parallel park outside your urban loft. Enter the Honda HR-V, a small crossover based on the same platform as the subcompact Fit. It goes on sale late this year. As with most cute-utes, front-wheel drive will be standard, with all-wheel drive as an option.
The previous Sonata impressed the hell out of us—we named it an All-Star in 2011. Then a slew of new and improved competitors impressed us even more. The seventh-generation Sonata, which is quieter, stiffer, and more modern-looking, hopes to reclaim a spot at the head of the pack. A new Eco model pairs a 1.6-liter four-cylinder and seven-speed dual-clutch automatic for 32 mpg, combined. A redesigned hybrid comes next year.
Hyundai Veloster Turbo R-Spec
Base Price: $22,110
Lower price and more performance rarely go together, but Hyundai’s trying out the combo on the Veloster Turbo R-Spec. The least expensive Turbo gets a retuned sport suspension with higher spring rates, tighter steering, a more rigid transmission mount, and a B&M short-shifter for its six-speed manual.
The latest Chrysler 200 exhibits European breeding and is offered in several trim levels, including the sporty 200S and a V-6 powered, all-wheel-drive variant. All models come with a nine-speed automatic, and a 2.4-liter four with 184 hp serves duty as the base engine. The new 200 demands some compromises in the name of style, but it should appeal to midsize sedan buyers looking for something a bit sportier.
Base Price: $20,745/$24,395 (Cooper/Cooper S)
Version 3.0 of the Mini Cooper is no longer all that miniature, but the zippy handling remains. Our love of the new interior, with its better materials and improved layout, is tempered by the reduced visibility and the (slightly) larger size. New engines—a 189-hp, 2.0-liter turbo four and a 134-hp, 1.5-liter turbo three—add zest, particularly to the formerly sluggish base car.
Mini Hardtop 4-door
Base Price: $21,745/$25,395 (Cooper/Cooper S)
The new Mini, already larger than its predecessor, grows bigger still with the arrival of a four-door hatchback model. The new variant adds an additional 6.3 inches of overall length, making for a roomier back seat that’s easier to access. Priced at a $1000 premium over the two-door, this Mini is for those who regularly carry more than one passenger but don’t want the much beefier and more expensive Countryman. The four-door model also benefits from all the third-generation Mini upgrades: a better interior, more powerful engines, and improved quality.
General Motors hopes to reinvigorate the midsize truck segment with the all-new Chevrolet Colorado and GMC Canyon. A 200-hp four will be standard on both models, a 305-hp V-6 is optional, and a diesel arrives next year. GM thinks these trucks, with their refined interiors, will win over not only Toyota Tacoma buyers but also current crossover owners. The trucks also serve as something of a fuel economy stopgap as GM develops an aluminum full-size pickup to contend with the new Ford F-150. The wheels of the new Colorado/Canyon are pushed to the edges, and there will be no standard cab configuration—decisions intended, in part, to take advantage of the way the government calculates CAFE. (The larger a vehicle’s footprint, the lower its fuel economy target.)
What Is Midsize?
The 2015 Chevy Colorado/GMC Canyon with the extended cab (the shortest available) is about the size of a 1967 full-size Chevrolet Fleetside/GMC C-1500 longbed with a conventional, two-door cab. See the table below for a more thorough comparison.
- 8 ft, 2 in
- 6 ft, 2 in
- 127.0 in
- 127.9 in
- Overall length:
- 207.8 in
- 208.2 in
- 79.0 in
- 73.2 in
- 69.5 in
- 70.5 in
The new Legacy is more attractive than before—its roofline is lower and the body sides are nicely sculpted. Subaru re-engineered its 2.5-liter boxer four to be competitive from an MPG standpoint (a 256-hp, 3.6-liter six is also offered), and Subie’s fuel-saving CVT is paired with both engines. No stick shift will be offered, nor will a sporty GT version. Boo, hiss. Despite that, the Legacy retains the traits that make a good Subaru, yet isn’t defined by them.
Now we’re talking. GTI, WRX, and the Dodge boys show up here, along with an Edge-y crossover or two and–gasp–a minivan!
Volkswagen Golf GTI S
Feels like an old friend.
Squint, and you’ll barely know that the 2015 Volkswagen Golf GTI, the seventh generation of the famous nameplate, is a new car. Look more carefully, though, and you’ll see the crisper body lines, the geometrically shaped five-spoke wheels, the new fender badges, and the new front-end design with LED foglights set into horizontal strakes surrounding a mesh lower grille. Open the driver’s door for a gander at the freshened interior highlighted by familiar GTI plaid fabric seats. So far, so good.
We get behind the wheel of a Tornado Red GTI S with a manual transmission, hit the start button, and hear the steady thrum of the 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder. It’s bringing an additional 10 hp and 51 lb-ft of torque to the party, compared with the last GTI’s engine. Our tester is equipped with the $1495 Performance Pack, which adds another 10 hp for 220 hp and 258 lb-ft total. We hit the mode button and select Sport settings for the steering and engine. A silky clutch take-up segues perfectly to the linear movement of the gas pedal, and we’re off.
With razor-sharp steering, a torquey engine, an eager chassis, and optional summer rubber, the GTI is at home on a fast stretch of our favorite twisty two-lane. The performance pack also adds bigger brakes and a limited-slip front differential, so as we toss the GTI into corners, we readily feel the additional torque being directed to the outside wheels by the trick diff. Too bad the pack isn’t available until December.
The sensations of smoothness, refinement, precision, and accessible power that characterized the last two GTI generations are even more finely concentrated in the 2015 GTI. Two-door and four-door models return, and you still have your choice of a six-speed manual or a six-speed DSG dual-clutch automatic. With some 10 iterations spread across three base trims—GTI S, GTI SE, and GTI Autobahn—there’s a GTI for every buyer. The net effect is that the GTI is really easy to drive fast and drive well. —Joe DeMatio
2015 Volkswagen Golf GTI S
- Base Price: $25,215
- Engine: 2.0L turbo I-4, 220 hp, 258 lb-ft
- Transmission: 6-speed manual
- Drive: Front-wheel
- Fuel Economy: 25/34 mpg (city/highway)
Dodge is ceding volume-selling, Toyota-fighting duties to Chrysler and focusing on performance. That means the rear-wheel-drive Charger and Challenger are, more than ever, the heart and soul of the brand. Both get an update for 2015 that includes revised styling. The Challenger now looks like a 1971 model (we love it) and the Charger looks softer and more refined (we’re torn). Interior upgrades include a new automatic shifter design. The competent mechanical bits remain the same, down to the Mercedes-derived suspension. An eight-speed automatic is now offered with both the Pentastar V-6 and the optional Hemi V-8s. (No, we didn’t forget the Hellcat: Click here for more on the 707-hp beast.)
It looks as wild as last year’s Resonance concept suggested it would, which makes sense for a crossover that’s put a premium on design since it first arrived 11 years ago. The 3.5-liter V-6 is hardly revolutionary, but the new Murano is 130 pounds lighter than before and more aerodynamic, so fuel economy could improve as much as 20 percent. Stylish leather upholstery, flashy wheels, and an elegant center stack with a big touchscreen make this one of the more upscale entries in its segment.
The new Ford Edge closely resembles the concept seen last fall at the Los Angeles auto show: Sharper angles and creases; a hexagonal grille; a fat, angled C-pillar; and smarter interior accommodations that will straddle the line between mainstream crossover and luxury. A turbo four-cylinder displacing 2.0 liters is standard for the first time in any Ford model, but a 2.7-liter V-6 (from the ’15 F-150) is standard with the Sport package.
Under the WRX’s signature hood scoop is a 2.0-liter turbocharged flat-four engine that’s marginally more powerful and efficient than its 2.5-liter predecessor. A six-speed manual transmission is standard, but heretics can opt for a continuously variable transmission that also adds launch control. We say stick to three pedals and learn how to launch on your own.
The last-generation Kia Sedona was a grim, utilitarian people mover with as much style as a pair of dad jeans. The all-new version should attract Honda Odyssey cross-shoppers with its handsome exterior and a much-improved interior that can be optioned with second-row lounge seats with retractable lower leg rests.
With its new, all-aluminum body, the F-150 has gone to Jenny Craig, shedding some 700 pounds. The truck’s frame is high-strength steel, preserving all the towing and durability ratings that buyers expect. An efficient, 2.7-liter V-6 is now offered, and new options and features abound.
The people’s soft-roader.
The last Outback transformed from a quirky cladded wagon into a somewhat generic midsize crossover. Although that was clearly a smart idea—sales nearly doubled—we missed the old vehicle’s combination of carlike nimbleness and off-road ruggedness. For 2015, Subaru hasn’t messed with the popular size and packaging, but it has tried to inject more carlike refinement.
The new Outback’s exterior has a new front fascia with prettier headlights and Subaru’s new hexagonal grille. The interior has a cleaner design and more soft-touch materials, but the biggest update is a new infotainment system that replaces the previous dreary unit. The 6.2-inch and optional 7-inch touchscreens feature more intuitive controls and are rimmed by attractive piano-black trim.
The 2.5-liter flat-four and 3.6-liter flat-six engines essentially carry over, but both are now paired exclusively with Subaru’s continuously variable transmission. Subaru has done good work insulating passengers from the CVT drone and other exterior racket.
When the last Outback debuted in 2010, we found the suspension way too soft. A mid-cycle refresh went too far in the other direction. The new Outback gets the balance almost right—it feels planted but not stiff-legged, although small impacts still upset the car’s ride and handling more than we’d like.
The Outback shines brightest when the pavement ends. We drove along soft, red-dirt trails in Oregon’s Deschutes National Forest, easily creeping over tree stumps, through deep ruts, and up rock-covered hills. Here, we tried out the standard X-Mode, which integrates inputs from the powertrain, all-wheel-drive system, and traction control to reduce wheelspin. It also comes with an advanced hill descent control that requires no braking input from the driver.
The 2015 Subaru Outback hasn’t quite recaptured the charm of the high-riding wagons we remember, but it does pack a lot of what we like into the bigger crossover the market wants. –Christopher Nelson
2015 Subaru Outback
- Base Price: $25,745
- Engines: 2.5 liter H-4, 175 hp, 174 lb-ft; 3.6-liter H-6, 256 hp, 247 lb-ft
- Transmission: Continuously variable
- Drive: All-wheel
- Fuel Economy: 25/33 mpg (2.5i); 20/27 mpg (3.6R Limited) (city/highway)
Welcome to the near luxury realm, loaded with loaded crossovers, several serious sedans, and “coupes” of the 2- and 4-door variety.
Just in time for the market’s hottest segment.
The timing for the Lincoln MKC, the first addition to the brand’s lineup in years, seems very lucky, as it enters the white-hot premium compact crossover segment. It’s also an indication that the brand’s product development is getting back on track, part of a resurgence that includes an aggressive marketing play in China.
With its familiar flying wing grille, now with horizontal slats, the MKC is as distinct from the Ford Escape as the MKT is from the Flex. (Remember them?) Supple leather and high-quality interior plastics will have you thinking nothing but “Lincoln” from behind the wheel.
Chassis changes from the Escape include a wider front and rear track, unique shock tuning, and optional three-mode adaptive dampers. There are two EcoBoost four-cylinders: a 2.0-liter turbo with front- or all-wheel drive and a 2.3-liter turbo with AWD only. A pushbutton gear selector and shift paddles control the six-speed automatic.
The ride-handling balance is surprisingly good, considering the segment and the brand. Only in the softest setting, Comfort, does it feel cushy bordering on wallowy, something we did not observe in Normal mode. The Sport setting tightens things up without making the ride uncomfortable. The steering is quick and precise without being too twitchy for a tall-ish vehicle. Turn-in is fabulous and pairs nicely with the 285-hp, 2.3-liter engine’s quick tip-in. Lag is only noticeable when you suddenly call for more power while trolling at 2500 rpm or so. (This bodes well for the EcoBoost version of the 2015 Ford Mustang, which uses the same engine.)
Thanks to active noise cancellation, the MKC is exceedingly quiet—except for the sonorous 20-inch Michelins. Consider the standard 19-inchers instead. In fact, you might consider skipping lots of optional equipment. Base price for a front-wheel-drive, 2.0-liter EcoBoost MKC Premiere is $33,995, undercutting heavily equipped examples of the Ford Escape Titanium. The mid-level MKC Select, at around $40,000 depending on engine and equipment, is a credible Acura RDX competitor. Our fully loaded MKC Reserve (yes, there’s an oenophile theme), the only version we were offered to test, comes in at $53,850. At that price, the MKC will find itself competing with the BMW X3 and Mercedes-Benz GLK-Class, which is a stretch. Lincoln isn’t that lucky. — Todd Lassa
2015 Lincoln MKC
- Base Price: $33,995
- Engines: 2.0L turbo I-4, 240 hp, 270 lb-ft; 2.3L turbo I-4, 285 hp, 305 lb-ft
- Transmission: 6-speed automatic
- Drive: Front- or all-wheel
- Fuel Economy: 20/29 mpg, 19/26 mpg, 18/26 mpg (2.0L FWD, 2.0L AWD, 2.3L AWD)
The Audi A3 does what the first A4 did two decades ago: It gives aspirational buyers an easy step up from commodity compact sedans. Plus, it does so with more rear headroom than its close competitor, the Mercedes-Benz CLA-Class. On the minus side, the A3 has less personality than the Merc. A 170-hp, 1.8-liter turbo four with front-wheel drive is standard; the A3 Quattro has a 220-hp, 2.0-liter turbo and all-wheel drive. There’s also a diesel, a convertible, and a 292-hp S3.
Cadillac ATS Coupe
Cadillac hopes to make the ATS coupe a sportier, more premium product than the sedan. It skips the sedan’s base 2.5-liter four, offering the 2.0-liter turbo (272 hp) and 3.6-liter V-6 (321 hp), both available with a manual transmission and all-wheel drive. Lower and (slightly) longer, the coupe boasts unique sheetmetal and a retuned chassis. For all that, expect to pay about $3000 more than an equivalent sedan.
Acura addresses the question we’ve been asking for years—Why offer two sedans for basically the same price?—by combining the TSX and TL into a single model. The TLX will offer a 206-hp four-cylinder good for 35 mpg, as well as a racier 290-hp V-6 that can be paired with all-wheel drive. The manual transmissions offered in the TSX and TL are unfortunate victims of this merger, as the TLX introduces new eight- and nine-speed automatics.
Subaru WRX STI
With the imminent demise of the Mitsubishi Evolution, the Subaru STI is now the only vehicle of its kind. Lucky for us, then, that it’s so good. For $35,000, you get a practical sedan with a 305-hp, turbo boxer engine, unflappable all-wheel-drive handling, and sublime hydraulic power steering. Shut off the traction control system, build the revs, and dump the hair-trigger clutch. The STI will accelerate like a detuned 911 Turbo. Pitch it into a turn at scare-yourself-silly speeds, and the STI somehow holds on. On the rare occasion it does lose traction, it slides controllably.
Most people simply won’t understand why you’d spend $35,000 on a little Subaru. You’ll be made out to be a senseless goon, but what you really are is an automotive enthusiast who knows a good bargain.
Nissan’s forgotten flagship attempts to forge its way back into the public consciousness with a redesign that emphasizes style and more style, as previewed by the Sport Sedan Concept (pictured). Underneath the wild sheetmetal, the Maxima again rides on a version of the Altima platform, with a V-6/CVT combo driving the front wheels.
Price: $45,000 (est.)
Lexus is ready to become more than just a maker of refined yet sleepy sedans and crossovers. The Lexus RC coupe sits on a tuned-up version of the Lexus IS platform, and it’s been given a look that’s in your face. Performance promises to match Audi, BMW, and Cadillac. You have your choice of the RC350, with a 314-hp V-6; the RC300h, which has a 217-hp hybrid powertrain; or the RC F (pictured), a V-8 stormer that promises more than 450 hp.
The second-generation Genesis sedan creeps even closer to German levels of luxury. At the same time, the all-new sedan looks dramatic (trust us: it’s much better in person), offers a slew of new safety features, and is now available with all-wheel drive, which should make snowbelt drivers happy. The 311-hp 3.8-liter V-6 feels more than sufficient, and the bellicose, 420-hp V-8 will kick some ass.
Price: $36,000 (est.)
After pioneering the luxury crossover segment with the RX300, Lexus at long last brings forth its second entry, the compact NX. Only very loosely based on the Toyota RAV4, the NX wears its own, wild sheetmetal, and gets two unique powertrains. The mainstay NX200t uses a new, 2.0-liter turbo four making a par-for-the-course 235 hp and 258 lb-ft of torque. Mated to a six-speed automatic and front- or all-wheel drive, it’s not terribly exciting but gets decent gas mileage. The NX300h hybrid pairs a 2.5-liter four with an electric motor/generator (plus a rear-axle motor in the AWD version) and is less energetic but returns up to 35 mpg in the city (factory estimate). The chassis is a bit sportier than the Lexus norm, but it’s not going to challenge the BMW X3 in that arena. An F-Sport version offers slightly firmer suspension and steering—as well as a host of distinct visuals and trim.
Rather than performance, the NX’s strong suit is its cabin. The NX sits toward the smaller end of the compact SUV spectrum, and as a result, its cargo capacity and back seat do, too. The interior, though, is exceptionally well finished, vying for best in class. A high center console bisects the cockpit-like front compartment, and the dash is dramatically angled. The architecture is interesting, and the surfaces are uncommonly luxurious to the touch.
Speaking of touch, there’s a new iteration of the Lexus Remote Touch interface, which replaces the mouse-like device with a touchpad, making it easier to use. Other high-tech highlights include wireless charging of Qi-equipped electronic devices, a full suite of active safety features (lane departure warning, blind-spot warning, rear cross-traffic alert, adaptive cruise control, pre-collision braking), and an enhanced Lexus Enform app that can even set speed or distance limits for a guest driver. —Joe Lorio
2015 Lexus NX
- Base Price: $36,000 (est.)
- Engines: 2.0-liter turbo I-4, 235 hp, 258 lb-ft; 2.5-liter I-4 electric hybrid, 194 hp
- Transmissions: 6-speed automatic, continuously variable
- Drive: Front- or all-wheel
- Fuel Economy: 22/28 mpg (200t FWD), 21/28 mpg (200t 4WD), 35/31 mpg (300h FWD), 33/30 mpg (300h 4WD) (est.)
Because it competes with the BMW 3 Series, which almost singlehandedly coined the term “sport sedan,” the Mercedes-Benz C-Class often gets compared to one. But it’s not a sport sedan—at least not the six-cylinder C400 4Matic we drove. Instead, it presents itself as a comfortable luxury sedan that looks and feels very much like an S-Class.
The upright roofline and clean body sides of the new 2015 C-Class scream “real Mercedes.” When one passes you in traffic, you’ll need a split second to realize it’s not an E or S, thanks in part to increased dimensions that also pay dividends in the cabin. The back seat is spacious enough to seat real adults. The interior design graduates from entry level to true luxury, and top-tier options are abundant.
Climb inside, roll up the windows, and enjoy near silence. Dip deep into the gas pedal and the 329-hp, twin-turbo 3.0-liter V-6 clears its throat and sings a raspy baritone well into triple-digit speeds. The six-cylinder, seven-speed automatic combo acts like a basketball player in a business suit—it’s not looking to play, although if asked, it’ll lay down a tomahawk slam-dunk.
But the Airmatic air suspension, which comes standard on the C400, makes the car feel more like an athlete who’s arrived at training camp out of shape. It leans heavily into turns and jounces in reaction to fast lane changes, although its strong brakes and grippy Continental tires help keep it in line. All C-Classes also feature variable-ratio steering that tightens the more you turn in, making it easier to park or point into the apex of a turn.
The C400 4Matic arrives in the United States this fall, along with the four-cylinder C300 4Matic, followed by the sportier, rear-wheel-drive C300 next spring. Expect more variants, including what’s sure to be a wicked C63 AMG, sometime after the volume models hit Benz showrooms. —David Zenlea
2015 Mercedes-Benz C-Class
- Base Price: $39,325
- Engines: 2.0L turbo inline-four, 241 hp, 273 lb-ft; 3.0L twin-turbo V-6, 329 hp, 354 lb-ft
- Transmission: 7-speed automatic
- Drive: Rear- or all-wheel
- Fuel Economy: 22/29 mpg (C400 4Matic)
The little crossovers keep coming. The Q3 is about the same length as the A3 and employs a similar powertrain—a 2.0-liter turbo four-cylinder paired to a six-speed dual-clutch automatic. But the Q3 actually rides on an older platform owing to the fact that it has been on sale abroad for some time. It slots below the Q5 (Audi’s bestseller in the United States) and can be optioned with the usual goodies, including Quattro all-wheel drive.
These days, behind every successful car there’s an even more profitable crossover. And so it’s no surprise that the GLA arrives hot on the heels of the popular CLA sedan, offering a welcome extra measure of room inside. It’s available in the same variants: mainstream GLA250 4Matic and potent GLA45 AMG (also 4Matic). A price-leader front-wheel-drive model, the GLA250, arrives in spring 2015.
Land Rover Discovery Sport
Price: $38,000 (est.)
Disco is back, although it’s not quite the same as before. The Land Rover Discovery Sport arrives later this year, riding on the same Ford-sourced platform as the LR2 (which it replaces) and the Evoque. We eventually expect to see a three-row version called the Discovery Grand, too. A Discovery Sport teaser photo from Land Rover is shown.
Volvo’s long-awaited product offensive opens with the all-new XC90. Riding on a new architecture developed with its Chinese owner, Geely, it will be powered exclusively by four-cylinder engines. The most powerful version features both supercharging and turbocharging to deliver more than 300 hp. There will also be a plug-in hybrid. The new design was previewed by Volvo’s recent auto show concepts, and its luxurious interior is among the first to feature Apple’s CarPlay infotainment technology.
Like a lineman in a tuxedo, GM’s new SUVs are better styled but undiminished in size. New-generation V-8s again displace 5.3 liters (Chevrolets and Yukons) or 6.2 liters (Denalis), and improved efficiency helps these big boys eke out another 1 or 2 mpg combined. Fold-flat rear seats come at a cost of a higher load floor. Nicer interiors help assuage the pain of significantly higher prices.
BMW 4 Series Gran Coupe
You’re forgiven for being confused. The 4 Series designation is supposed to mean coupe, and yet the Gran Coupe is a four-door. And it has a hatchback like a Gran Turismo. Never mind. Just know that this fastback four-door is really a 3 Series—albeit about $3000 dearer. It’s available with the same turbocharged 2.0-liter four (rear- or all-wheel drive) and 3.0-liter six, and the same myriad of options that can shade its persona from cruiser to bruiser.
As the X6 is to the X5—more expensive, less spacious, harder to see out of, and uglier—so the new X4 is to the X3. That last quality, of course, is purely subjective, but we’d say the sloped-back proportions actually work better on the smaller X4 than they do on the hulking X6. Mechanically, this is an X3, although that model’s diesel engine isn’t offered—it’s 2.0-liter four (28i) or 3.0-liter six (35i) only.
Now for some serious hardware. Everything from Hellcats to a curvaceous Cat coupe, M-badged menaces to a Macan —even a killer Korean?!
A violent, spiteful, supercharged musclecar.
It’s hard to keep up in the ponycar wars, and the Dodge Challenger faded into the background as Ford introduced its redesigned Mustang and Chevy rolled out the Camaro Z/28. But Dodge now has everyone’s attention with the Challenger SRT Hellcat, which comes with a tire-shredding, 707-hp, 6.2-liter supercharged Hemi V-8. The Hellcat is more than a big motor—adjustable dampers, 20-inch wheels, Brembo brakes, and an upgraded interior are also part of the package. Dodge even spent extra time sculpting this brick in a wind tunnel. Yet there’s a deliciously old-fashioned sensibility at work here. The ridiculously loud exhaust and kitschy details—a red key that unlocks more power, a cold-air intake where one of the headlamps used to be, and that silly name—remind us that musclecars are supposed to be about having fun, not just setting faster lap times.
The new M cars are at once a departure from the norm and a return to form. The straight-six returns, replacing the previous V-8, but with it comes turbocharging. The engine note is now artificially synthesized (it plays through the stereo speakers), but the new cars’ performance is entirely real. Engine output climbs to 425 hp and 406 lb-ft, and the broader torque band makes what’s there more accessible. Throttle response is still commendably linear. At the same time, engineers have shaved weight (both coupe and sedan get a carbon-fiber roof), lowering the 0-60 time to 3.9 seconds with a seven-speed dual-clutch transmission. Those willing to accept a 4.1-second sprint to 60 can still get a six-speed manual. The handling remains unmistakably, deliciously rear-wheel drive—provided you have the electronic helpers in M Dynamic Mode or switched off entirely. The only dynamic bummer is the lack of steering feel. Change has come to the M3 (and, ahem, M4), but this car’s essential nature has been preserved. —Jason H. Harper
2015 BMW M3/M4
- Base Price: $62,925/$65,125/$73,425 (M3/M4 coupe/M4 conv.)
- Engine: 3.0L twin-turbo I-6, 425 hp, 406 lb-ft
- Transmissions: 7-speed dual clutch, 6-speed manual
- Drive: Rear-wheel
- Fuel Economy: 17/24 mpg (manual), 17/26 mpg (7-speed)
Here at last.
Alfa Romeo returns with an almost indescribably lovely sports car that combines old-school personality with new-school technology.
An awkward entry over wide door sills amplifies the 4C’s short, wide footprint—it’s 15 inches shorter than a Porsche Cayman—and remorseless focus. Naked carbon fiber drives home the point, as do supportive yet Spartan buckets. A postcard-sized screen houses a digital tachometer and speedo. There are no armrests, only leather door straps.
Mounted amidships is a turbocharged, 237-hp 1.7-liter four paired with a six-speed dual-clutch transmission. No stick shift is available. America’s 4C weighs just 2465 pounds. That’s 342 pounds more than European versions, but still little more than 10 pounds per horsepower. The 4C leaps into action with short, redline-smacking gearing, nearly 22 psi of boost, and 258 lb-ft of torque. Reaching 60 mph in 4.5 seconds, it hits 110 mph in fourth gear and noses over 160 mph as a soundscape of turbo whoosh and mechanical clatter pounds through the bulkhead. For owners with real stamina, a $500 Racing Exhaust system eliminates a muffler entirely.
The transmission is a version of the dual-clutch that’s such a sloppy pile in the Dodge Dart. Yet despite the occasional hiccup in engagement, Alfa’s tuning magic turns this gearbox into a surprisingly boon companion, whether for ripping gear changes or cruising smoothly through traffic. The unassisted steering requires rasslin’ at parking lot speeds, but becomes gloriously lively and tactile once underway. It could even be a bit quicker for sharper turn-in and less muscling of the flat-bottomed wheel.
On the track, the 4C is surprisingly docile and easy to sling through turns. Understeer comes standard, but the Alfa will accept rotational commands via throttle or brakes. Despite its feathery weight, 50/50 balance, and vivid sensations, Alfa’s tiny dancer isn’t ideally suited to Sonoma Raceway’s sprawling ballroom. Turbo lag, for one, leaves both the 4C and its driver breathlessly hunting the right gear for exiting slower corners. Yet when sprung loose on public roads toward San Francisco, the 4C is like a lit firecracker in the hands of a devilish teenager. It scrubs off speed with exhilarating force and brushes curves aside like so many gnats. Only the Lotus Exige and Elise feel more like street-legal track cars—and they’re no longer street-legal for sale in the United States.
Alfa’s shapely two-seater is priced at $69,695 for the initial batch of 500 feature-stuffed Launch Editions, and $55,195 for successive cars. That’s either a lot of money for a bare-bones sports car that only a half-deaf he-man would drive daily, or a bargain for a carbon-fiber endorphin blaster that, sans Alfa badging, could pass for a Dino-esque Ferrari. —Lawrence Ulrich
Jaguar F-Type Coupe
Jaguar isn’t just kidding around with its bad-boy advertising campaign. The Jaguar F-Type coupe is tougher and more hard-bitten than your typical European sports car. Dramatic styling is only part of it, as the supercharged V-6—offered in 340-hp and 380-hp guise—and the 550-hp, supercharged V-8 are pretty dramatic as well. It’ll bully other cars on the road, and, if you’re not careful, will beat up on you, too. Hang on, because there’s a reason that carbon-ceramic brakes are on the option list.
Chevrolet Corvette Z06
The C7 edition of Chevrolet’s best Corvette, the Z06, raises two philosophical questions. One: Is there a need for a third-generation ZR1? The ’15 Chevrolet Corvette Z06’s supercharged 6.2-liter V-8 makes 12 more horses than the last ZR1’s 638-hp, 6.2-liter supercharged V-8. Chevy claims that the Z06 is faster around a race circuit than the ZR1 when equipped with the optional Z07 package, which further upgrades the suspension and aerodynamics. So, the answer is “no,” unless General Motors’ performance wizards can shoot for McLaren-like performance numbers. The second question is: Why break with tradition and offer a convertible Z06? Because the C7’s aluminum structure is 20 percent stiffer than the C6’s, chief engineer Tadge Juechter says. The marketing department would probably add, “Because Porsche sells a 911 Turbo Cabriolet.” The Z06 will be available in either form with a seven-speed manual or an eight-speed automatic with paddle shifters. (It really needs a dual-clutch transmission.)
Never thought you’d see a $60,000 Kia? Well, here we are. The rear-wheel-drive K900 can currently be had only with a 420-hp V-8. A 311-hp V-6 will be available soon but still should cost around $50,000. Sticker shock subsides when you climb inside the roomy, finely crafted cabin. Driving the K900 makes you think of words such as “stately” and “substantial” rather than “cut-rate.”
Porsche has refused to let the power levels of its mid-engine Cayman and Boxster encroach on the rear-engine 911—until now. The new Porsche Cayman GTS/Boxster GTS come with a 3.4-liter boxer-six tuned to 340 hp and 330 hp, respectively. That’s mighty close to the 350-hp base 911, which still costs some 10 grand more. The GTS cars also include attractive features that are optional on the 911, such as the Sport Chrono package and two-mode exhaust.
More affordable than a Cayenne (already Porsche’s most popular model), the smaller Macan—sibling to the Audi Q5—is a no-brainer to turbocharge the brand’s sales. Some of those, however, may come at the expense of the Cayenne, particularly once shoppers see how quick and agile the lower and lighter Macan is. With 400 hp from its 3.6-liter V-6 and optional launch control, the Turbo gets to 60 mph in 4.4 seconds; the 340-hp Macan S is about a half-second behind.
Volvo S60/V60 Polestar
Price: $60,225/$61,825 (S60/V60)
Those M cars are nice, but have you considered a Polestar? Volvo’s official tuning partner has hot-rodded versions of the S60 sedan and V60 wagon (pictured). The 3.0-liter turbocharged Volvo straight-six is tweaked to 345 hp, while a reprogrammed all-wheel-drive system that can send more power to the rear wheels. Adjustable dampers, sticky Michelins, and Brembo brakes keep things in line. Even better, these Swede speedsters retain the refinement and comfort of a fully factory-backed Volvo.
The second-generation X6—yes, there will be one—doesn’t stray far from the original “Sports Activity Coupe,” which BMW sees as a success with 250,000 worldwide sales. A simpler model lineup (no hybrid and, for now, no M version) consists of the six-cylinder 35i (300 hp) and the V-8 50i (450 hp). The latter comes standard with all-wheel drive while the 35i is newly available with rear-wheel drive.
Lincoln’s luxury SUV ditches its thirsty V-8 for a twin-turbo V-6. A very minor exterior update includes a new grille and LED taillights.
The Escalade comes with crisp new sheetmetal, a much-improved interior, a lower roofline, and fold-flat rear seats. It doesn’t depart much from its V-8, body-on-frame values, however. If not for the huge profit margins the ’Slade fetches, we’d wonder why Cadillac didn’t simply give up the luxury end of this segment to the Yukon Denali.
Big-bucks ballers, whip out your wallets. The Bentley boys, a spaceship Bimmer, and a 911 with an impossibly complicated roof all play here.
Mercedes-Benz S-Class Coupe
Price $120,000/$155,000 (S550/S63 AMG, est.)
Even as automakers invent new body styles by the dozen, nothing expresses personal indulgence better than a big two-door car. The new S-Class coupe is the most expressive of them all. Mercedes-Benz chief designer Gorden Wagener is rightfully proud of its clean, flowing lines and fantastic proportions. A 449-hp, 4.7-liter twin-turbo V-8 is standard, as is all-wheel drive. Not enough power, you say? AMG agrees, so it’s offering the 577-hp S63 AMG coupe, which also features all-wheel drive.
The faster you go, the better the BMW i8 gets, which is not something you can say about many plug-in hybrids. The i8 is a true exotic sports car, and it has the scissor doors, carbon-fiber bodywork, and mid-engine configuration to prove it. Yet the all-wheel-drive i8 also can blend the power of its 129-hp, battery-powered electric motor and 228-hp, turbocharged 1.5-liter three-cylinder engine for either silent, zero-emissions motoring in your neighborhood or screaming high-speed driving somewhere else.
The i8 is the result of a new culture of innovation at BMW, and it leaves us impressed with not only the car but also everyone at BMW brave enough to embrace this expensive project. Every time we arc the 357-hp BMW i8 through a long, sweeping bend on a mountain road, we feel like we’re driving into the future. Also, did we mention that the i8 is a far cheaper hybrid sports car than the LaFerrari or the Porsche 918 Spyder?
Bentley Continental V8 S
The Bentley Continental GT has established itself as one of the more obvious answers to the question that many truly rich people eventually ask themselves: What can I drive, now that I’ve had multiple Mercedes-Benzes, Porsches, and BMWs? The latest model, the V8 S, gets a boost to 521 hp, a stiffer suspension, and massive brakes. The coupe will go 192 mph. We’d settle for 191 mph and get the convertible.
Porsche 911 Targa
After years as a glorified sunroof, the Targa body style returns to its removable-top roots—only now the process is completely automated in a complicated mechanical choreography. More important is the retro look, with a brushed-metal band and wraparound rear glass that make the Targa the prettiest of the new 911s. All-wheel drive is standard. The S-spec, 400-hp flat-six is optional.
Bentley Flying Spur V8
The Flying Spur is the first sedan from Bentley since 1931 that doesn’t look stodgy, and now its sleek looks are enhanced by a 500-hp, twin-turbo 4.0-liter V-8. It complements the 616-hp twin-turbo W-12 with which this iteration of the Bentley sedan was introduced for 2014. You might think the V-8 is a cut-price package—if you could say such a thing of a $197,825 motorcar—except that this engine brings more personality to the Flying Spur, not less.
Think percolating power instead of turbine-like smoothness, and a new kind of liveliness in the all-wheel-drive chassis. The Flying Spur V8 feels like a car, not a locomotive. This is the same engine found in the Audi RS6 and Audi RS7, and it gets this 5341-pound car to 60 mph in 4.9 seconds on the way to a top speed of 183 mph.
BMW B6 Alpina xDrive Gran Coupe
Unlike the BMW M6, the all-wheel-drive B6 Alpina doesn’t try to be a track car. Rather, Alpina enhances what the 6 Series Gran Coupe already does well. The BMW tuner’s signature 21-spoke wheels dress up the beautiful exterior, and sumptuous leather adorns nearly every surface of the well-appointed interior. Most important, the 4.4-liter twin-turbo V-8 makes a mighty 540 hp and 540 lb-ft of torque, turning a good grand tourer into an Autobahn stormer capable of 198 mph.
Champagne wishes and Cavallino dreams. If you ever hit the lottery, these are the super-duper-hyper cars that will rock you like a Huracán.
Ferrari California T
The Time of the Turbo.
The arrival of the new Ferrari California T makes one thing abundantly clear: We have left the Days of Displacement and entered the Time of the Turbo.
The California is Ferrari’s highest-production model, so consider this change a portent of things to come. Ferrari, however, has gone to lengths to make the new 3.8-liter V-8’s response and soundtrack as non-turbo-like as possible. Tip-in is precise and power buildup pleasingly linear, with virtually no turbo lag. Output bests the old 4.3-liter in every way, with 553 hp versus 483 hp and 557 lb-ft of torque versus 372 lb-ft. The result is a 0.2-second improvement in the 0-62 time, to 3.6 seconds.
Whereas the original California was ponderous in curves, the T is far more willing to make swift directional changes. The steering is tighter; the engine has a lower center of gravity; spring rates are up; and the magnetorheological dampers are faster and smarter. Slinging hard on uneven roads, the ride is well controlled and yet compliant. (The bumpy road setting, which decouples the damping while leaving other systems in Sport, is one of Ferrari’s brilliant technologies.) Passengers will enjoy both the thrills and the comfort.
What about the sound? Maranello knows better than to opt for a cop-out like a synthesizer to replicate engine sound and pipe it through the speakers. Instead, the California uses a classic Ferrari flat-plane crankshaft and an exhaust header with pipes of equal lengths to maintain aural integrity. The result is pretty much the best sound we’ve ever heard from a turbo. Unfortunately, the fun ends abruptly at 7500 rpm, just the point when a 458 Italia is really getting its groove on.
Ferrari also took this occasion to address the California’s looks. The original was as close as you could get to a frumpy Ferrari. The fat rump has been totally reworked, so that the rear deck slopes sharply, terminating into a crisp lip. The twin sets of tailpipes are horizontal rather than stacked, and the diffuser looks purposeful. One might still wish for the leaner proportions a softtop would afford, but let’s just be happy for these strides in the right direction.
Let’s also be happy for the fact that, for Ferrari, the Time of the Turbo proves not to be the end of days. Not nearly so. —Jason H. Harper
Ferrari California T
- Base Price: $202,723
- Engine: 3.8L turbo V-8, 553 hp, 557 lb-ft
- Transmission: 7-speed dual-clutch automatic
- Drive: Rear-wheel
- Fuel Economy: 14/20 mpg
Welcoming Porsche’s super hybrid to the United States.
Join us in a Porsche 918 Spyder for a few laps at Circuit of the Americas in Austin, Texas. Crank the key. Lots of lights illuminate on the dash and you hear the whirring and whining of electric motors, but no sounds of internal combustion. That’s because we are in E-Power mode, the default drive mode. As we head out of the pits there’s some electric whooshing, more whirring, and whining, forward movement. This isn’t terribly exciting.
At least the steering, we realize, is very good. Fluid and light, yet oh, so precise. We twist a dial to select Hybrid mode, and it’s like something explodes behind us: The 608-hp, 4.6-liter V-8 engine fires to life.
Lap three, and we’re in Sport Hybrid mode. The V-8 is operating continuously, and the electric motors are lending a hand as needed. The exhaust is crackling through the huge “top pipes” that are mere inches from our head. Yes, the exhaust pipes are on top of the car, not at the back. This sounds as cool as it looks and looks as cool as it sounds.
Lap four, Race Hybrid mode. The upshifts are much faster now, and the batteries are doing everything they can to help you drive like hell, rather than helping you be efficient. By now, we’ve learned to feather the brake pedal just so, and to savor the sounds the 918 makes under hard braking: first, the high-frequency whirring of the regenerative electric motors, followed by the particular grinding of the ceramic brake rotors.
After four laps, we push the red button in the center of the drive-mode switch, which engages all of the remaining battery power to provide a few very fast laps. The 918 is totally alive and we’re really driving hard. The car sounds amazing—a rich mixture of whirring and regenerating motors and raw, metallic internal combustion. Is it worth $845,000, before options? If you’ve got $845,000, it probably is. —Joe DeMatio
Porsche 918 Spyder
- Base Price: $845,975
- Engine: 4.6L V-8/plug-in hybrid; 887 hp, 944 lb-ft (combined)
- Transmission: 7-speed dual-clutch automatic
- Drive: All-wheel
- Fuel Economy: 67 mpge/22 mpg (EV mode/gas only)
The 650S shares its carbon-fiber tub and most of its mechanicals with its predecessor, the 12C, but is a far more emotional car. The twin-turbo, 3.8-liter V-8 has been tuned up to 641 hp at 7250 rpm, requiring new pistons, cylinder heads, cam profiles, and exhaust valves. The exhaust system was redesigned for reduced backpressure and a more aggressive soundtrack. The chassis is now stiffer and is, at times, a handful. Indeed, patience and composure are not this car’s prime strengths. Instead, the McLaren offers a more extroverted design, a more urgent delivery of power and torque, a more intense sequence of input and response, and a more involving interaction between man and machine.
The Huracan is even more dramatic than the car it replaces. Longer and wider than the Gallardo but just as low to the ground, it never fails to draw out the camera phones. Its V-10 has been tweaked for another 41 hp and 15 lb-ft of torque (shaving the 0-62 time to 3.2 seconds) and can bark louder than most of its rivals. The all-wheel-drive system’s torque vectoring system clearly favors the rear wheels. But this Lamborghini has also grown more mature. Its seven-speed (S-Tronic) dual-clutch automatic is a huge improvement over the old sequential transmission, and the car is beautifully balanced through corners. The Gallardo replacement is not only sharper and faster but also a more compliant and accessible sports car.
The LaFerrari is no tree-hugging exercise with a prancing horse badge. This is a real Ferrari, the most powerful road-going Ferrari ever built at 789 horsepower from its internal combustion engine with an additional 161-hp boost from its electric motor. While the word “efficiency” appears in every other sentence that comes out of the mouths of Ferrari engineers, they’re talking about efficiency of performance far more than fuel efficiency or emissions coming from this carbon-fiber-clad hypercar with its hybrid powertrain featuring a mighty 6.3-liter V-12 and seven-speed dual-clutch automatic.
One Out of Four Ain’t Bad
Until last year I had purchased exactly one new car: a leftover 1967 Corvair with 110 weak hp and a two-speed Powerglide. Not a thrilling ride, but I had to have a car with good traction to get up the steep hill leading to my house inside Tuxedo Park, New York. The previous winter I’d had to leave my Alfa Giulia at the bottom of the hill and trudge up and down icy slopes anytime there was snow. So I didn’t haggle with the dealer, paying full list price.
It was growing dark as I started to leave the dealership. When I turned on the headlights, only one of the four lit up. I stopped, backed up, and pointed out the lack of light. “Yeah, what do you want me to do about it?” said my cheerful salesman. “I want you to fix it. I can’t drive home with only one headlight working.” There ensued a long, increasingly sharp conversation, including a discussion with the dealership principal, whose principle seemed to be, “You bought it, you got it.” I did get a new sealed beam, installed but not aimed. I was asked to pay for it. “In your dreams,” I said, and never went back to that store again. I hate dealerships.—Robert Cumberford
I remember, as a tot, going with my parents to pick up their new ’73 Plymouth Satellite station wagon (cream over tan, AM radio, vinyl seats, no A/C). In 1973, cars had a new feature: a seat belt warning buzzer that wouldn’t shut off until you buckled the seat belt. Back then, seat belt usage wasn’t really a safety issue, but more of a lifestyle issue—sort of like cigarette smoking, or going to church. My parents were not seat belt users. My father sat in the driver seat, door open, salesman alongside, and when he started the car, the buzzer droned on. The salesman helpfully said, “Oh, I can fix that,” and he silenced the buzz by pulling the lap belt all the way out, winding it up, and stuffing it back into the retractor—where it stayed for the next eight years.—Joe Lorio
Go CRX Yourself
In the fall of 1985, I landed my most responsible adult job to date, as a law clerk to a New Jersey Supreme Court judge. After commuting in a series of old cars that varied from a 1962 MGA and a 1963 MGB on the reliable end of the spectrum, to a 1969 Rover 2000TC on the very other end, I finally broke down (figuratively—I’d been late too many times breaking down literally) and on my parents’ advice, signed a loan and bought a new car. My options were: Alfa GTV6, Toyota MR2, Volkswagen GTI Mk II, and Honda Civic CRX. The Alfa cost too much at $14,000. Ditto the MR2, which was much in demand. I could never get a straight answer as to the price of the CRX. So hot was the car that all three Honda dealers were comfortable telling me that they were too busy to give me a test drive. Indeed, they were so confident in their position that one, in response to a rather pointed cry in the face of this no-test-drives policy, invited me, in the harshest terms, to sodomize myself, immediately. So much for the customer always being right, so much for the once-current notion that only American car dealers were rude unsophisticates, and so much for Honda. I bought the Volkswagen.—Jamie Kitman
I graduated college in 2008, just in time for the Great Recession. Being an unemployed car guy with nothing better to do, I spent lots of time visiting local dealerships. The showrooms were quiet as morgues. Most salespeople were happy to go with me on test drives even though I clearly was not about to make a purchase. I drove everything from a Mercury Grand Marquis to a Pontiac Solstice. I wrote up some of my test drives and sent them to my favorite car magazine. I was hired in the fall and am still here.—David Zenlea
Before You Buy, Research, Take Your Time — and Drive
I’ve been selling cars for 10 years. And in my opinion, the test drive is the single most important part of choosing your next car. It’s also the most neglected part. Here’s how to change that. — Mark McDonald
1. Don’t be afraid to drive the car.
The biggest mistake most people make is not driving the car. I think the reason people avoid a test drive is they’re afraid they’ll fall in love with the car, lose their minds, and buy it right then and there. Of course, this is what every salesman dreams of, but in reality most people have more control than that. For me, the way something drives is at least 60% of the ownership experience, maybe more. It’s sort of like having a pair of shoes that fits really well. You wouldn’t buy a $100 pair of shoes without trying them on, right? Then why even think of buying a $30,000 automobile without driving it first?
2. Don’t pay too much attention to reviews.
Although I write for a car magazine and may get myself in trouble by saying this, I think there’s a danger in paying too much attention to reviews. For example, one of the SUVs I sell uses a system that shuts off some of the cylinders in the engine when the vehicle is cruising in order to save fuel. Apparently, in some review some guy somewhere wrote that when this system engages you hear a loud “clunk.” I once had some customers who had read this review and were worried about the noise, so for nearly an hour all we did was drive around in circles trying to get the engine to make a clunking noise. Of course, it never did. My point is, these people were so focused on what they had read in the review they never really experienced the vehicle for themselves.
Internet research is fine, but when you go for a test drive, wipe the slate clean. For a moment, forget what the reviewers said and see for yourself. You may find you agree with the reviews, or you may not. Either way, it’s your car and your money, so your opinion is the only one that really matters.
3. Take the time you need.
Don’t get in a hurry. When you first get in a car, don’t just turn on the ignition and drive off. Take a moment. Ask your salesperson (politely) to please be quiet and give you some time to get familiar with your surroundings. Use your five senses. Does the interior appeal to you visually? Take a deep breath. How does it smell? Touch some surfaces. How do they feel? When you pull the door handle, what does it convey? Solidity? Strength? Quality? Or is it light and flimsy? Press a few buttons. Operate the controls. Are they all within easy reach? How intuitive are the control systems? Will you need an engineering degree to turn on the radio? Finally, start the engine and listen to how it sounds. How loud is the air-conditioning system? How quickly does it cool? (Oh, but … don’t use sense No. 5, taste. If you start tasting things in a car your salesperson will probably cut your test drive short.)
When you’re ready to drive, be sure to make it a long one. In my opinion, five or 10 minutes is not enough time to find out if a vehicle is right for you. Some problems — like the comfort of the seats — do not make themselves apparent until you’ve spent several hours in a car. Practically every new car’s seats feel fine when you first sit in them. But how good will they feel after you’ve racked up 400 miles? I would suggest a brief initial test drive of a large number of vehicles, then coming back and taking your top two or three contenders out for an extended test drive — say, a whole afternoon — or, if they’ll let you, overnight. Do multiple test drives if you need to.
4. When you test drive, really drive.
Once around the parking lot at 25 mph is not a test drive. You’re thinking of committing yourself to a vehicle for the next three to 10 years, maybe longer. So take the car out on the road and really drive it. You don’t have to be Steve McQueen in “Bullitt,” but step on the gas and see how quickly it accelerates. See how it brakes, see how it handles in a turn, over a rough road, and out on the highway. See how easy it is to park in a tight space, how easy it is to back up, etc. Throw in a few quick evasive maneuvers, as if Justin Bieber just leapt in front of you. In short, don’t baby it or treat it with kid gloves, but drive the car the way you actually intend to drive it. Which leads me to …
5. Find a good route.
I’m lucky to have a special “test track” near my dealership. There’s an abandoned office park nearby, full of winding esses, quarter-mile straightaways, culs-de-sac, and sharp turns. There’s never any traffic there because the place was never finished. So I encourage people to step on the gas when we come to the straightaway, take the twisties faster than they normally would, stomp on the brakes as hard as they can, and test the turning radius. This is the only way to learn what any car is truly capable of.
Now, I realize most dealerships don’t have abandoned office parks near them. Most have a pre-selected route they want you to use, so you may not have much of a choice. However, I would still suggest doing all the things I mentioned and really test the car. Most cars drive well around a parking lot. It’s only when you push the limits that you discover any car’s limitations. So push the limits — a little. (Just don’t give your sales guy a heart attack!)
By the way, that includes driving on a rainy day. Any car performs well on dry pavement on a sunny day. But remember, the car you buy will probably be driven in heavy rain — or snow — someday, so don’t be afraid to test drive a new car in a downpour. Better to find out now how well it handles in the wet than after you’ve bought it.
6. Have fun.
Some publications advise you to carry a notebook and take notes on a test drive, like you were a NASA engineer preparing for a shuttle launch. I say, leave the notebook at home and have some fun. Driving new cars should be like going to the amusement park and getting to ride all the cool rides — for free. So enjoy yourself. Forget about price, forget about the salesperson, don’t let yourself feel pressured, and just drive. If you’re like most people, you’ll only get this opportunity every five years or so, so be sure to enjoy it!
What Salesmen Think of Customers
Over the years, car salespeople have come up with a lot of colorful terms to describe their customers. Some of these terms are flattering. Some, not so much. Here are a few of the most common.
Bogue – A person with poor credit and no means to buy a car. Bogues aren’t necessarily lazy bums — they may have recently lost a job, or been hit with a lot of medical bills, or just never learned how to manage their finances properly. As a result, their credit has suffered. “Uh oh, here comes those bogues from the other day. Can’t finance cheese on a Whopper. Time to take my popcorn break.”
Bullet – A person with stellar credit. Good income, high Beacon score, never been late on a payment — ever. “What kind of credit did Ms. Jones have?” “She’s a bullet. Can buy anything she wants.”
Ghost – A person with little or no credit history at all. Usually a young person trying to buy a first car, but sometimes a middle-aged person who has never financed anything. Could be a waste of time or a big commission, depending on whether you can “get them bought” (approved by a lender for a car loan). Not a pejorative term.
Nice People – Sometimes called “good folks.” Buyers who don’t employ any of the usual tricks, like dropping their trade on you at the last minute, or threatening to shop your price from Seattle to San Diego. Nice people want a good price but they won’t beat you up over your last penny. Treat them fairly and with respect and they’ll be back to buy their next car from you — and refer all their friends, too. “The Ortegas are waiting in my office. They’re good folks.”
One-Legged Buyer – A husband looking at cars without his wife, or a wife shopping without her husband. One of the prime decision makers isn’t there, so the buyer is said to be “one-legged.” “Well, of course you know I can’t do anything without talking to my wife/husband first.”
Third-Base Coach – Also known as a “car attorney.” A person believed to be knowledgeable about cars or possessing negotiating skills who is brought along by an inexperienced buyer to help buy a car. If truly knowledgeable, a third-base coach can be helpful in closing a deal; if uninformed, the person can kill it with a single word. “We nearly had a deal, but then her car attorney jumped in and told her our rate was too high.”
Greenpea – A young or inexperienced car salesperson. Someone who has never sold cars before. “He promised ’em what?! I told you we never should’ve given that deal to a greenpea!!”
Washed-Up Old Car Man – What you are said to be near the end of your career selling cars. The great advantage is no one much cares when you come or go or what you do as long as you sell a few cars now and then. “Yeah, that’s ol’ Dean’s office over there. He usually slides in around 10. Back in the day he used to be good, but now he’s just a Washed-Up Old Car Man.”
Puppydogging – If a buyer shows interest in a car but won’t commit to buying it, a salesperson will sometimes let him take it home overnight. The hope is that bringing a new car home will have the same effect as bringing a puppy home — all the buyer’s neighbors and family will see the new car in the driveway and get excited and ooh and aah over it as they would a new puppy — making it virtually impossible for him to return it. “Where did Mr. Rogers go?” “We couldn’t get him to sign so we puppydogged him in the car.”
You Might Not Be a Car Enthusiast If…
I don’t have a Porsche 918 in my garage, or a GT-R, or a Maserati, or even an old Mustang (used to, but someone rear-ended it). My daily ride is sporty, but not very pricey. Still, I consider myself a “car enthusiast” because I love cars and I know a little bit about them. And so do hundreds of thousands of other people like me. So what defines a car enthusiast? Well, that’s a tough one. Maybe it’s easier to define what a car enthusiast is not. Here are some actual customer comments I’ve heard over the years.
If you ever refer to your car’s catalytic converter as a “Cadillac converter” … you might not be a car enthusiast.
If you think the Ford you’re driving has an “Ego Boost” engine … you might not be a car enthusiast.
If you define wheelbase as “how wide the wheel is at the bottom” … you might not be a car enthusiast.
If you think CVT stands for “constant velocity transmission” … you might not be a car enthusiast.
If you have ever asked a mechanic, “How often do I have to change the spark plugs in my diesel?” … you might not be a car enthusiast.
If you think the term “front clip” means “the thing that holds the front bumper on” … you might not be a car enthusiast.
If someone asks you what kind of engine you have and you say, “It’s a V4” … you might not be a car enthusiast.
If you believe your 2005 Kia Amanti was “built by Mercedes-Benz for Kia” just because it looks a little like a Mercedes … you might not be a car enthusiast.
If you think Porsches used to come with a “sling axle” rear suspension … you might not be a car enthusiast. (Good thing they were bolted on!)
If you think “General Motors is owned by General Electric. That’s why they both have “general” in the name … you might not be a car enthusiast. (By the way, the General Lee from “The Dukes of Hazard” isn’t a Chevrolet.)
If you pronounce the word “hybrid” as if it rhymes with Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Free Bird” … you might not be a car enthusiast.
If you think the traction control button is there so that “if you’re about to get into an accident, you can reach down and push it” … you might not be a car enthusiast.
And finally, my favorite … if you think “leatherette” is made from the finest hides of carefully selected rats (i.e., “leather rat”) … you are most definitely not a car enthusiast!