As much as we enjoy the base Mustang's powerful V-6 engine, we understand how tempting it would be to tick the option box for an old-fashioned wallop of American V-8. The Mustang GT coupe is a retro-themed muscle car that, thankfully, has very little in common with its ancestors — other than massive amounts of tire-smoking power and attitude. Included in the GT is a 412-bhp 5.0-liter V-8 engine, coupled to either a 6-speed manual or 6-speed automatic transmission. Selectable electronic steering offers three driving modes: Normal, Sport, and Comfort. There are tons of wheel, tire and trim choices available, so customization is never a problem when speccing your Mustang. Cynics (i.e. Camaro and Challenger owners) will deride the solid rear axle that soldiers on for another year. And there's no denying some of the cabin plastics feel a bit chintzy. But measured in terms of price-versus-performance, the Mustang GT coupe is an absolute steal.
With the Mini range expanding to a new 2-seater and a 4-door all-wheel-drive family hauler, it's beginning to look more like old times again (remember the Mini Pickup Truck?). But truthfully, it's the core vehicle that carries the brand, the Cooper Hardtop, which is still one of the best front-drive cars money can buy. With its surprisingly affordable entry price, the Mini impresses with its build quality and fuel economy you'll get from the standard Cooper's 1.6-liter 4-cylinder. The fun starts, however, at the 181-bhp turbo Cooper S, and gets addictive should you choose to go the 208-bhp John Cooper Works route. The cargo-friendly Clubman and open-air Convertible can be had in all three trims too, but the posh, $52,000 Goodwood special edition (co-developed with Rolls-Royce) is reserved just for the original.
The Audi R8 is the company's first mid-engine super car. It is designed with extreme performance in mind and with other high end sports cars in its sights.
The R8 is available as a coupe or Spyder and is powered by one of three engines, a 430-hp 4.2-liter V-8, a 5.2-liter V-10 making 525-hp or a 550-hp version of the V-10 is available in the V10 plus coupe trim only. A full-time quattro all-wheel drive system puts that power to the ground and a choice between either a 6-speed manual transmission or a 7-speed S tronic automated sequential manual transmission give the driver full control. Standard features include satellite radio, automatic climate control, 19-inch alloy wheels, and full LED headlights. Some of the available options include a rearview camera, navigation system, carbon ceramic brakes (standard on V10 plus) and a Bang & Olufsen audio system.
For 2014, the R8 returns with refreshed styling inside and out after skipping the 2013 model year.
The all-wheel-drive TTS coupe castes aside any concerns that this car is all style and no substance. You still have the same good looks — the TT has always been uber-chic — but the performance-oriented TTS model leaves behind the base car's 211-bhp, and serves up 265-bhp thanks to its turbocharged 2.0-liter inline-4 engine. Quattro all-wheel-drive and a dual-clutch 6-speed automatic transmission are standard. There is no manual gearbox offered, though the automatic is one of the best in the business. The TTS coupe offers sports car performance, while maintaining a (relatively) modest appetite for fuel — a 29-mpg highway average won't break the bank. The backseat in the TTS coupe is awfully snug, and best used for hauling kids or cargo.
With fuel prices going up, its no wonder more and more manufacturers are offering hybrid powertrains for their thirstier models. But for the high-end luxury segment, it's not so much about economy but about power. Case in point, Lexus' LS600hL. Utilizing Toyota's trademark Hybrid Synergy Drive, which combines two motor/generators with multiple planetary gearboxes and 240 nickel-metal hydride cells with a 4.6-liter V-8 direct-injected engine, total power output is raised from 386 hp to 438 hp.
Otherwise, the rest of the car is essentially a well-equipped LS460L and F Sport. Standard equipment includes air suspension and electrically assisted, variable ratio steering, 19-inch alloy wheels, LED low and high beams, all-wheel-drive, with a Torsen center differential, and a 19-speaker, 450-watt, Mark Levinson sound system. Optionally, the rear executive seating package takes advantage of the increased wheelbase with a power ottoman and massaging rear seat. The executive package also includes a Blu-Ray rear entertainment system, complete with nine-inch display and wireless headphones, cooler for keeping your beverages chilled, and a four-zone climate control system to keep driver and passengers comfortable. Other options include radar cruise control and pre-collision warning, as well as lane departure and a driver attention system to make sure the plush interior isn't lulling you to sleep.