Essentially a luxury version of the Honda Civic, the compact ILX features unique styling inside and out, with added amenities. The interior is posh and comfortable, and the car performs admirably, though (unlike small cars from Europe) it emphasizes comfort over sportiness. A 150-horsepower 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine and five-speed automatic transmission come standard, but those seeking a more-engaging driving experience can instead choose a peppier 201-horsepower 2.4-liter four-cylinder and six-speed manual gearbox. Meanwhile, a Hybrid version shares its gas/electric powertrains with the Civic Hybrid, which means a 1.5-liter engine teams up with an electric motor/generator and a gearless CVT automatic transmission to boast an estimated 39-mpg in city driving. It comes well equipped and includes smartphone connectivity for tech-savvy buyers.
This is essentially a midsize Audi A4 Avant that’s gussied up to look more like a crossover SUV than a station wagon. Think of it as a more upscale alternative to the pioneer in this regard, the Subaru Outback. Still, there’s a lot to like, from the burlier exterior styling touches to the added rear headroom and cargo space and its lusty 211-horsepower 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine and eight-speed automatic transmission. Audi’s “quattro” all-wheel-drive system is, of course, included. The Allroad offers a generous assortment of high-tech features, including active cruise control, Audi Connect with Google Maps, Audi’s Side Assist blind spot warning and the Audi Drive Select control array that allows a driver to customize the steering effort, transmission shift points and throttle response to afford a more leisurely or sportier ride.
BMW 6 Series Gran Coupe
“Gran Coupe” variants are newly added to the 6 Series line for 2013 as part of the current “four door coupe” craze. Unlike the two-door versions, the Gran Coupe can seat four passengers in some degree of comfort. As with the rest of the line, the 640i comes powered by a sufficiently lively 3.0-liter 315-horsepower turbocharged six-cylinder engine, while the 650i packs a 4.4-liter V8 that generates a quicker 445 horses. A quick-shifting six-speed manual transmission is standard on the 650i, with an eight-speed automatic optional there and standard with the 640i. Handling is sufficiently sporty, with an array of advanced chassis control systems on hand to help the car maintain its poise in even the most demanding situations. Options include both active steering and rear-wheel steering to further improve the car’s stability and cornering abilities.
Both sleek and muscular looking, BMW’s new subcompact crossover SUV is likewise quick and agile. It’s a slightly smaller and less expensive alternative to the automaker’s popular X3. The X1 shares its powertrains with the current-generation 3 Series sedan, which means a choice of a turbocharged four-cylinder with 240 horsepower or a faster 300-horsepower turbo inline-six; the base engine includes a start-stop function to help boost fuel economy by automatically depowering while at idle. An automatic transmission is standard across the line. Included with the six-cylinder 35i and optional with the four-cylinder 28i is BMW’s advanced xDrive all-wheel-drive system that enhances the vehicle’s handling abilities on either wet or dry roads.
The all-new ATS is a compact rear-drive luxury sedan that borrows styling cues from the larger Cadillac CTS and rides on a sophisticated sport suspension system for BMW-like handling. No less than three engines are offered, including 200- and 270-horsepower four-cylinder powerplants and a 3.6-liter V6 that generates a brawny 320 horses. Myriad high-tech safety and convenience features are offered, including a capacitive LCD touch screen that affords multi-touch fingertip control of select functions much like an iPhone or iPad interface.
Replacing both the since-departed STS and DTS in Caddy’s lineup, this all-new large front-drive luxury sedan is truly handsome inside and out. A reasonably fuel-efficient 3.6-liter V6 is the only available engine, but it produces V8-like thrust with an output that’s estimated at 300 horsepower; it’s mated to a smooth shifting six-speed automatic transmission. The XTS borrows its standard Magnetic Ride Control adaptive suspension system from the Cadillac CTS-V to maintain a smooth ride with capable handling; all-wheel-drive is optional for added traction under inclement conditions. A full range of the latest features is available, including collision avoidance and blind spot/lane departure warning, with a unique Safety Alert Seat that gives feedback to the driver from such systems via a vibrating seat cushion.
The diminutive Spark is an attractive and nicely finished four-door “microcar” hatchback. A 1.2-liter four-cylinder engine is estimated to deliver a just-sufficient 84 horsepower, with fuel economy as its main virtue. Chevy says the rear seat can fit two passengers over 6’4″ tall, with over 31 cubic feet of cargo space with the back seatbacks flipped down. The available MyLink infotainment system provides connectivity with smartphones for hands-free calling and Internet radio streaming via the car’s audio system.
The first serious small car contender from Dodge since the Neon is the all-new Dart. With mechanical and design lineage coming from Italy’s Alfa Romeo, it’s a stylish and economical package with a particularly noteworthy interior design that looks and feels like it should be in a more expensive car. There’s a choice of three four-cylinder engines that range from 160- to a lusty 184-horsepower; buyers can opt for a six-speed manual, six-speed automatic or six-speed automated manual transmission. A European-tuned suspension delivers a smooth ride with tenacious handling abilities. The Dart can be customized by an assortment of dealer-installed accessories that include a built-in Wi-Fi hot spot and a wireless charging station for mobile phones. It’s one of the least-expensive models to offer a blind-spot monitoring system for added safety.
Ford C-MAX Hybrid/Energi
The tall-roofed C-Max is a curvaceous compact wagon that maximizes interior room to afford seating for five passengers. The C-Max Hybrid (pictured) augments a 2.0-liter four-cylinder gasoline engine with an electric motor/generator and self-charging lithium-ion battery; it includes an automatic start/stop function for the gas engine to further save fuel. Ford says it will get 47 mpg in combined city/highway driving. It comes well equipped with features like push-button start, a rear-view camera and the Sync and MyFord Touch multimedia control systems. Options include an automatic parallel-parking function and a novel power tailgate that’s operated by simply waving one’s foot under the rear bumper. Meanwhile, the Energi is the plug-in version of that essentially comes with a larger battery that allows it to travel for an estimated 20 miles solely on electric power. Once the battery charge reaches a certain level it operates like a typical hybrid-powered vehicle, with the 2.0-liter gasoline engine doing most of the work. The car can be charged via a standard 120-volt outlet or an optional 240-volt quick-charging station.
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