MEN’S FASHION: 12 of the most exciting cars of the new model year
By Mark Hacking
Despite the drawbacks to driving a car—not enough parking, too much going nowhere in too much traffic—we continue to be obsessed with the automobile. And for good reasons: First, certain cars are motorized works of art. Second, life is short.
2013 MINI JCW COUNTRYMAN ALL4
Although the Mini Countryman is hardly mini in size, it nevertheless retains the undeniable cool-and-cuteness factor that has been a hallmark of the brand since BMW took over the reins in 2000. The Countryman, a compact crossover that debuted in Europe in 2010, was the first new Mini to feature all-wheel drive, which makes it an excellent choice for those of us in snowy climates.
Now, there’s even more excitement in the form of the John Cooper Works (JCW) version, a forthcoming model of the Countryman that features extra speed, sharper handling and stronger performance overall. A turbocharger affixed to the 1.6-litre, 4-cylinder engine brings added oomph. The lowered ride height and larger anti-roll bars deliver improved handling response, and bigger back brake discs complete the list of sporty credentials.
During a test drive that wound through a network of Tyrolean villages, an early prototype of the JCW Countryman jumped out of the corners and sprinted off effortlessly. The combination of the added power and well-sorted all-wheel-drive system made light work of snow-covered roads that were giving other vehicles all sorts of trouble.
The Mini JCW Countryman All4 has the aesthetic appeal to match all that performance. The retro-slick interior, a Mini hallmark, is augmented by an optional innovative rail that runs down the middle of the cabin and provides a base for containers such as cup holders and cases for sunglasses. Plus, the Countryman has four doors and room for four adults. Pricing TBA
2012 FIAT 500 ABARTH
This tiny style-monger has been ripping up autostrade and tugging at Italian heartstrings since 2007—and now it’s our turn. Powered by a 160-horsepower, 4-cylinder turbo, the Fiat 500 Abarth ratchets up the machismo even further with a sport-tuned suspension, high-performance brakes and a melodic exhaust system that would bring a Verdi fan to tears. From $23,995
2012 SCION IQ
The Scion iQ might be small, but it can seat three adults and one child, has truly deft handling and features no fewer than 11 airbags, the most in its class. The 1.3-litre, 4-cylinder engine is quick enough—and it delivers the best fuel efficiency of any non-alternative-fuel vehicle around. From $16,760
2012 MERCEDES-BENZ C 350 COUPE
First things first: The Mercedes-Benz C 350 Coupe is dead sexy. The sedan version of the excellent C-Class is not exactly chopped liver, but the coupe benefits from a lower profile, an aggressive body kit and a shape imbued with plenty of flow and sheer, muscular beauty. It’s really something.
Powered by an all-new V6 engine that produces 302 horsepower and 273 lb-ft of torque, this coupe is one swift performer—the estimated 0–100 km/h time is six seconds flat.
The C 350 also features a dynamic handling package that transforms the car from a suburban commuter to a road-ripper with the flick of a switch. This switch triggers crisper accelerator response, sharper gear shifts, and a suspension system that adjusts to the road surface continuously and automatically.
The result is a car with well-weighted steering, intuitive handling and superior feedback through the wheel and seat. The transmission is a seven-speed automatic armed with technology that improves the gear-swapping process. So, no, the C 350 Coupe is not an all-out sports car, but it has enough sporty attributes to make the drive deeply satisfying. From $49,200
2013 FORD FOCUS ST
A small car with a powerful engine, the Ford Focus ST may just produce the most entertaining driving experience of any car on this list. Fitted with a six-speed manual transmission and motivated by a 2.0-litre, 4-cylinder EcoBoost engine, the ST continues a fine tradition of affordable, fun and fast hatchbacks coming out of Europe. Pricing TBA
2013 SUBARU BRZ
A strategic alliance between Subaru and Toyota has yielded one of the most exciting sports cars of the season. While the stunning BRZ deviates from one Subaru tradition—rear-wheel drive, not all-wheel drive—it adheres to another: the 2.0-litre, 4-cylinder boxer engine, with tuning by Toyota. The word on the street is that the car’s handling will be borderline telepathic. Pricing TBA
2013 BMW M5
The casual observer might think that the 2013 BMW M5 story begins and ends under the hood, and it’s a fair assumption: The engine powering the new M5, a twin-turbocharged 4.4-litre V8, produces a mammoth 560 horsepower and 500 lb-ft of torque. For the record, this is the most power and torque ever produced by the mad scientists in the M division, the high-performance subset of the Bavarian manufacturer.
The engine is connected to a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission, which replaces the largely unloved SMG single-clutch automated manual gearbox of the previous generation. This combination is sufficient to send the M5 hurtling from a standing start to 100 km/h in just 4.3 seconds.
Suffice it to say, the M5 is fast. During a test held at the Ascari Race Resort in southern Spain, it accelerated like a four-door rocket, stopped on the proverbial dime (or whatever that is in euros) and displayed remarkably sharp handling for a mid-size sedan. But the pleasures to be derived from driving the M5 on the track pale in comparison to experiencing this swift sedan on public roads. In these surroundings, you can adjust the variable settings for the engine, suspension, steering, stability control and transmission—there are 216 combinations and permutations in all. Find what suits you best and just soak in the goodness. Pricing TBA
2013 CADILLAC ATS
The growing strength of the Cadillac brand continues with the introduction of the all-new ATS. This compact sport sedan is aimed squarely at the BMW 3 Series and seeks to dethrone the segment powerhouse with an eye-catching exterior design, lightweight construction and a 2.0-litre, 4-cylinder turbo that develops 270 horsepower. Pricing TBA
2012 VOLVO S60 T6 R-DESIGN
The new Volvo S60 is a stylish sedan with lots of performance; the upgraded R-Design is a kick in the pants. Armed with 325 horsepower and a sportier suspension system, the R-Design is deceptively quick, enormously fun to drive and supremely comfortable. From $50,325
2013 NISSAN GT-R
The original Nissan GT-R was good enough, if there is such a thing when it comes to super-sports cars. Introduced in 2007, the car code-named “Godzilla” featured a twin-turbo V6 engine that delivered a whopping 478 horsepower, a mind-blowing 434 lb-ft of torque and a stratospheric top speed that hovers around 300 km/h.
All of this muscle was managed by the most technologically advanced systems of the day, including a six-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission and a torque-vectoring all-wheel-drive system that made the GT-R one of the best-handling cars on the planet.
For the 2012 model year, the engineers at Nissan upped their game by giving the GT-R more power (530 hp), more torque (448 lb-ft) and a higher terminal velocity (312 km/h).
Apparently, these engineers have never heard of resting on their laurels. The brand-new 2013 Nissan GT-R has even more power (545 hp) and torque (463 lb-ft). The top speed is reportedly the same—no need to get greedy—but the GT-R is now capable of launching from 0–100 km/h in just 2.7 seconds, which would leave exotic cars that cost three times as much gasping for breath.
On track, the new GT-R is an absolute monster, with acceleration and reflexes designed to keep even the most hardcore driving enthusiast entertained for miles to come. From $103,980
2012 PORSCHE CAYMAN R
While there’s nothing inherently wrong with the base Porsche Cayman or the quicker Cayman S, neither holds a candle to the race-ready Cayman R. More horsepower, less weight and a lower ride height transform the R into one of the best sports cars in the world—at any price. From $75,600
2012 FISKER KARMA
The Karma is a luxury plug-in hybrid electric sedan with an all-electric range of 80 km, a range-extending gas engine and a solar-panel glass roof that delivers an additional 300 km of cost-free driving per year. The distinctive cabin uses only reclaimed wood and other sustainable materials. From every angle, this car is an absolute stunner. From $109,000
Technology moves at a furious pace in the automotive world, and exciting new developments have already made their way into the design of many of the cars featured here. But there’s even more excitement in store down the road—technologies that will make our driving lives easier, more eco-friendly and more fun than ever before.
The modern electric vehicle (EV) is here to stay, but the lack of charging infrastructure is holding back widespread acceptance. The answer: inductive plates buried in the surface of carparks that transfer energy wirelessly to the battery while the EV is stationary. This technology is currently being tested by Audi, Rolls-Royce and Volvo.
The other limiting factor when it comes to EVs is the battery itself. Companies around the world are working overtime to deliver battery packs that hold more charge, last longer and cost less. The impending Tesla Model S will offer three different battery options with different ranges—258 km, 370 km and 483 km. This standard easily surpasses that of the typical present-day EV, and it will likely be eclipsed in the not too distant future.
While every manufacturer is involved in advanced connectivity to one degree or another, they’re all going to have to take a back seat to Cadillac this year. The Cadillac User Experience (CUE), available on the forthcoming ATS and XTS, utilizes an eight-inch LCD touch screen that incorporates the latest in smartphone-like functionality, including large icons, proximity sensors, haptic feedback and multi-touch hand gestures to access information.