Extensively redesigned, this is the eighth generation of Chevy's midsize sedan. The wheelbase is 4.5 in. shorter and the track over 2 in. wider, lending visual muscle to the otherwise conservative styling. Chevy claims a 20-percent chassis rigidity upgrade, as well as more room in the classy interior, despite reduced dimensions. There are three engine choices, all with direct fuel injection, led by the new 182-hp Ecotec 4-cylinder that's the heart of the eAssist Eco model. A mild gas/electric hybrid, the Eco is rated for 25 mpg city, 37 mpg highway, topping the Malibu charts. The Malibu delivers creamy ride quality with quiet operation, and a 259-bhp 2.0-liter turbo four is available to satisfy those with a need for speed.
R&T Overview:The Malibu is similar in size to the slightly larger Impala, but just because the two cars share the bowtie logo on their grilles doesn't mean they drive alike. The Malibu feels light on its feet, which is great for handling response, and a real trick considering the Malibu could stand to skip a few lunches. With this confident foundation, the standard stability control, traction control and 6-speed transmission programming make both the high-tech 2.4-liter four version and the roaring 3.6-liter V-6 model into “point-and-shoot” sedans. Although there is a manual-shift feature—a switch on the shift knob—the driveline works much smoother without using it. The Malibu's fastback styling intrudes slightly on rear head space, but comfort in front is top-notch.
At press time, BMW hadn't yet shown the 3 Series replacement, but we've seen spy photos of it for over a year. Not surprisingly, the current generation has received little change for 2012, as all development is ongoing for the new car. The coupe, retractable hardtop convertible and sedan versions of the 328, 335 and M3 continue as they are with some package changes and the standard inclusion of Bluetooth. Gone for 2012, however, is the M3 sedan and turbodiesel engine option. A 328i Wagon remains the least expensive variant of the 3 Series. The M3 Convertible will receive a new $5000 Individual Composition Package option with four unique paint colors and interior trim choices to help make it more distinct.
The Hyundai Tucson continues to be a strong seller in the small crossover utility market and for 2012 there are some welcome changes: improved fuel economy via the Active ECO system that syncs engine and automatic transmission control, low rolling-resistance tires, improved heat/ventilation/air conditioning and a larger fuel tank. Also, the suspension has been upgraded in GLS models to provide a smoother ride, and the front disc brakes have been increased in size on all front-drive models. The same 4-cylinder engines power the Tucson in 2012, and only the base Tucson GL gets a 5-speed manual gearbox. And let's not forget about the outstanding powertrain warranty.
R&T Overview:The sport-tuned R, which goes on sale in early 2012, is the most powerful Golf ever sold in the U.S. As Volkswagen’s flagship performance car, it’s fitted with a high-output 256-bhp version of the company’s turbocharged 2.0-liter 4-cylinder, mated exclusively to a 6-speed manual transmission. That drive reaches all four wheels via a Haldex center differential. Available in 3-door and 5-door configurations, the new Golf R weighs 3415 lb. and will hit 60 mph in less than 6 seconds. Top speed is limited to 130. We like the car’s motorsports look, highlighted by a gloss-black radiator, LED running lights and gloss-black calipers for the larger brakes. In back, a center-mount chrome tip exhaust and a diffuser will be shown to lots of slower cars.