Ever since hot rodding began in the 1940s, enthusiasts have been in love with the idea of a small car with a big engine. Why keep up with the Joneses when you can blow their doors off? Case in point: The Lexus IS F. In a space normally occupied by no more than a 3.5-liter V-6, Lexus engineers crammed a 5.0-liter V-8 pumping out 416 bhp and mated it to an 8-speed automatic with paddle shifters and a manual mode. Essentially carryover for 2013, the IS F comes standard with 19-in. forged alloy BBS wheels, 10-way power front seats, dual-zone automatic climate control and a 13-speaker audio system. In addition to obvious exterior cues, the IS F gets a special interior treatment with two-tone leather/Alcantara seats and aluminized trim.
The Toyota Venza is a five-passenger vehicle that couples the styling and comfort of a passenger car with the flexibility of a sport utility vehicle (SUV), to give customers a stylish alternative to the traditional sedan.
The Venza offers the choice of two powerplants, a 181-hp 2.7-liter four-cylinder or 268-hp 3.5-liter V6. Both engines are mated to a six-speed automatic transmission with sequential shift control and can be had in either front or all-wheel drive. There is also the choice of 19-inch wheels, standard on four-cylinder models and 20-inch on V6 models. The 2014 Venza features three trim levels. The LE includes dual-zone automatic climate control, power windows, locks and mirrors, privacy glass, cruise control, electronic stability control, seven airbags, including a driver's knee airbag, front seatbelt pretensioners and front active head restraints. The XLE adds a power liftgate, voice-activated touch-screen DVD navigation system, satellite radio, leather upholstery and Toyota's Smart Key System and the Limited trim adds High Intensity Discharge (HID) headlamps and a JBL 13 speaker audio system to the list of standard features.
As the first result of the Chrysler and Fiat partnership, the brand new Dodge Dart shares a platform with the Alfa Romeo Giulietta hatchback. However, Dodge’s engineering team put in overtime to give this American-built sedan its own style and character. The result is not only good-looking, both inside and out, but also surprisingly fun to drive – especially equipped with the optional turbocharged 1.4-liter MultiAir engine. A perfectly fine 160-bhp 2.0-liter “Tigershark” 4-cylinder powers the base model. At the top of the range is another Tigershark 4-cylinder, this time a 184-bhp 2.4-liter that is standard on the sporty R/T model. Between the two is the turbo 1.4-liter, which delivers a stout 160-hp and impressive fuel economy figures. For our money, the smallest engine is probably the best of the trio. There are three transmissions offered across the range: a 6-speed manual, 6-speed automatic, and 6-speed dual-clutch automated manual. We found the Dart to be agile and extremely well behaved, and noticeably more enthusiastic than segment leaders like the Honda Civic and Toyota Corolla.
With a bushel full of crossover vehicles on the market, the buyer has a wide range of choices. The Mazda CX-9 should be at the top of the list as it is reasonably priced, good looking, carries seven people and can be had with either front-wheel drive or all-wheel drive. There are three models in the lineup: Sport, Touring and Grand Touring. The only engine is Mazda's 3.7-liter dohc V-6 with variable valve timing. It pumps out a healthy 273 bhp and 270 lb.-ft. of torque, which enables towing loads of 3500 lb. Interior fitments are well done and features include climate control, Bluetooth phone capability and Sirius satellite radio. All in all, the CX-9 offers the utility of a minivan but without the stigma.
The Audi Q5 provides the versatility of an SUV with the driving characteristics of a sport sedan, with the goal of being the sportiest in its class.
The quattro all-wheel drive Q5 is powered by one of three engines: a 220-hp 2.0T four-cylinder engine, or a 272-hp 3.0-liter supercharged six-cylinder engine, or a 240-hp 3.0-liter V6 direct injection diesel (TDI). All bolted to an eight-speed Tiptronic automatic transmission. Standard features includes 12-way power front seats, aluminum trim, 10-speaker DSP sound system, leather seating, LED rear lights, a trip computer, garage door opener, satellite radio, Bluetooth wireless connectivity, Audi Music Interface with iPod integration, and tri-zone climate control. Standard safety features include anti-lock brakes with brake assist, electronic stability control, five seatbelt pretensioners and six airbags.
For 2014 the Q5 now comes standard with Bluetooth and garage door opener on all trims. Also, a new diesel engine is offered.