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.
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.
Confer with any heiress, and she'll tell you that the best things come in small packages. The 2012 Acura RDX is yet another example of this philosophy. Smaller and lighter than the MDX, the RDX keeps things interesting with a choice of front-wheel drive or Super Handling All-Wheel Drive, and a generous list of standard features, including leather-trimmed seats, premium seven-speaker audio system with USB port, HID headlamps and a rearview camera. The available Technology Package adds navigation with Real-Time Traffic, 10-speaker Acura/ELS Surround audio system and GPS-linked, solar-sensing dual-zone automatic climate control. Comprehensive safety features are complemented by a 60/40 folding rear seat and up to 60.6 cu. ft. of storage.
R&T Overview:The Kia Spectra and Spectra5 models offer the flexibility of 4- and 5-door configurations. And they do so at a remarkably low price, considering their good build quality, level of materials and their stylishly well-executed exteriors. For 2009, all Spectra models (base LX, mid-range EX and top-flight SX) feature active front-seat headrests as standard. Both the Spectra sedan and hatchback interiors are holdovers from last year with the interior’s sole change being headlamp bezels that have switched from chrome to a black finish. Other than being a little down on power at a rated 138 bhp, the Spectra is a satisfyingly pleasant car to drive, especially thanks to its surprisingly nice-shifting 5-speed manual gearbox. And what young family wouldn’t welcome a 30-mpg highway sports wagon?
Handy-sized and an enthusiastic daily driver, Lincoln’s MKX is also affordable and chic, despite being everyday wear. It offers comfortable second-row seating for five, plus an excellent collection of standard features such as remote starting, heated and cooled seats, and extensive electronic aids. Thoroughly freshened last year, the MKX needs little for 2012, but Lincoln managed to squeeze a 14-channel amplifier into the optional THX sound system. Available with either front- or all-wheel drive, the MKX has a naturally aspirated 3.7-liter V-6 that whirs up 305 eager horsepower while also providing best-in-class gasoline fuel economy, so it’s one of the sportiest Lincolns as well. Top safety ratings round out this all-star’s résumé.