May 20, 2013
Written by Steven Macoy
Thursday, 10 January 2013 11:47
2012 was a year of considerable churn in the auto industry, culminating in the decision by Suzuki in November to pull out of the U.S. market. This move was particularly disappointing to us, since we’ve reviewed many Suzuki products over the years and even owned a few. But the Suzuki Kizashi, SX4 and Vitara aren’t the only victims of last year‘s purge.
Among the test cars we’ve rated favorably — and won’t be seeing again — are the Hyundai Veracruz, a large crossover; Mitsubishi Spyder (a widely maligned two-seater that was much improved by the time we drove one), and the Mercedes-Benz R-Class. The latter, a curvaceous crossover, struck us as stylish, luxurious and functional, yet it never really caught on.
But there’s still plenty of American, European, Japanese and Korean metal out there. Here’s a sampling of the best cars we test drove in 2012.
Minicar: We drove only one in 2012, the Scion iQ. The diminutive, four-passenger iQ does compare favorably with the Smart car, which seats only two, and it’s perfectly proportioned for urban parking. Going forward to the 2013 model year, the Fiat 500 and the Mini continue to offer the best combination of drivability, economy and convenient sizing.
Subcompact car: Bigger, more versatile and safer than the minicars, yet offering similar pricing and fuel economy, these models are capable of carrying four or five people in a pinch. And there are many good ones. Of the subcompacts we drove in 2012, our choice was the Kia Rio. As is customary with Korean models, it’s the automotive equivalent of comfort food: easy to live with but unexciting, modestly priced, and loaded with value. The Hyundai Accent provides a similar driving experience.
Compact car: The redesigned Focus has been a sales bonanza for Ford Motor Co., having battled with the Toyota Corolla for the global sales crown last year. “The new model’s handling is quite crisp, almost European in flavor,” we said of the 2012 Focus we test-drove, “and it’s more eye-pleasing than its predecessor.” The Focus is rated at 37 mpg on the highway; an all-electric version also is available.
Midsize car: Chrysler LLC continued its fairly recent habit of overachieving when it rolled out the Dodge Avenger, a four-door sedan. The smooth-riding, comfortable Avenger is priced right and is an excellent performer with the optional 283-horsepower V-6 engine. “Our 2012 Avenger SXT Plus proved to be a good mainstream car at a good price — $25,440, thousands below the sticker price of comparable Nissan and Toyota products we’ve driven recently,” we said in our review of the Avenger.
Full-sized car: The Buick LaCrosse, redesigned to replace the discontinued Lucerne in Buick’s lineup, has all the qualities that endeared American drivers to big luxury cars many years ago — smooth ride, roomy, comfortable seating, ample trunk space and safety. Yet it has none of the downsides of the genre. With eAssist, a mild-hybrid system, it’s rated at 36 mpg on the highway. That’s competitive with many compacts and even subcompacts. And it handles crisply, too. Our LaCrosse, equipped with a 182-horsepower, 4-cylinder engine with electric assist, had a sticker price of $36,685.
Compact SUV: Mazda rolled out a winner with the CX-5, a compact crossover SUV that’s new for 2013. “Drivers seeking exceptional fuel economy, versatility and driving enjoyment could do worse than to narrow their field to the CX-5 and the Mitsubishi Outlander,” we wrote after a week with the CX-5. Our test car, equipped with Mazda’s SKYACTIV technology, delivered about 34 mpg, was fun to drive and priced right at $21,490. It’s also rated a Top Safety Pick by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.
Large SUV: The Chevrolet Tahoe is something of a throwback, with body-on-frame construction and all the rugged character one expects from a Chevy truck. “What may bring some drivers up short is its civilized demeanor on pavement. Indeed, with just one important exception — fuel economy — this Tahoe exhibits a crossover personality,” we wrote after test-driving a 2012 Tahoe last winter. Although it’s rated at 21 mpg, we were able to do no better than 16 to 17. But a Tahoe equipped as ours was, with three rows of seating, DVD system and all-wheel drive, can get pricey. Ours listed for nearly $60,000.
Toy: The current body design of the Chevrolet Corvette, which marks its 60th anniversary this year, was pleasing to friends, coworkers and neighbors who saw our 2012 model. No one even seemed to miss the retractable headlights. Priced well below its European competitors, the two-seat Corvette has loads of muscle (a minimum of 430 horsepower) and an aggressive personality. A redesign is coming for 2014.
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