So you’ve got a large family. Does that mean that you should have to sacrifice luxury for an 8-passenger van? Infiniti doesn’t think so, and it’s betting you won’t, either—which is why it invested in an all-new QX56 just last year. Understandably, the big Q is mostly carryover for 2012, the only changes being the addition of features to the available Technology, Deluxe Touring and Theater Packages. Available in 2- or 4-wheel drive, the QX only comes in one well-equipped trim level, then lets you customize it from there with a long list of available equipment. Standard features include leather-trimmed, heated front seats; 13-speaker Bose audio system; Tri-Zone automatic temperature control; Bluetooth hands-free phone system and navigation.
Garish, or just livin' large? You make the call with the QX56. But there's no denying the space (seats up to eight) or functionality (tows up to 8500 lb.) of this massive, somewhat porcine vehicle. Power is provided by a direct-injected 5.6-liter 400-bhp V-8 mated to a 7-speed automatic, and a choice of 2wd or 4wd. But that's one of few choices you'll make, as there's just one lavishly appointed trim level, with a navigation system and 13-speaker Bose audio. We'd opt for the dual-monitor Theater Package to keep the kids entertained, which features an upgraded remote control and interface for 2013. Also, Moving Object Detection is added to the standard Around View Monitor and auto-dimming exterior mirrors are standard.
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 BMW ActiveHybrid 3 is the first full-hybrid sport compact sedan on the market and looks to blend the 3-series driving dynamics with efficient operation.
The rear-wheel drive ActiveHybrid 3 sedan drivetrain features a 300-hp 3.0-liter, turbo, inline-six engine and eight-speed automatic with a 55-hp electric motor sandwiched between them. The electric motor is powered by a lithium-ion battery that together with the gas engine generate a combined output of 335-hp and 330 lb-ft of torque. The full-hybrid system allows pure electric driving as well as automatic engine shut-off to conserve fuel in traffic. Standard safety features include eight airbags, adaptive bi-xenon headlights, four-wheel anti-lock disc brakes with adaptive brakelights, traction and stability control, active anti-whiplash head restraints, fog lights and run-flat tires.
The Sonata models made a huge leap forward in 2011 with a completely redesigned car that really performed well. And for 2012, Hyundai is touting the standard Blue Link system that provides traffic and weather information, connects to roadside assistance, and can run diagnostics, alert you to maintenance needs and more. Another standout feature is the Theta II 2.4-liter 4-cylinder engine that provides 24 mpg city and 35 mpg highway. And the 2.0 turbo and the Hybrid (40-mpg rated) add to the choices. Transmission choices are a 6-speed manual (base model) or the 6-speed automatic with Shiftronic so you can choose gears if you like. Inside and out, the Sonata is a design delight and offers fine ride character and handling.