R&T Overview:As Chevy's biggest sedan, the Impala holds six folks if you get the optional bench front seat, although these days it feels a bit tight to have an adult passenger seated at your right elbow instead of a cushy armrest. However, there's a space in American culture for a car that can take mom, pop, two kids, granny and gramps to breakfast Sunday morning. The Impala uses the most advanced overhead-cam 3.6-liter V-6 engine shared by other GM cars, and it can run on E85 ethanol fuel if you live in the Corn Belt. It also comes standard with a 6-speed automatic, as well as standard anti-lock brakes, stability control and a suspension that is not too squishy. Competitors may be larger and quieter, but Impala makes for a clandestine drive.
When the Sprinter was sold as a Dodge, some owners installed a three-pointed star on the grille to add class. Now it comes standard as Mercedes handles distribution of these workhorse vehicles. Cargo vans continue to be assembled in South Carolina from knockdown kits to avoid the 25-percent "chicken tax." Passenger, crew, minibus and cab chassis variants are imported fully built from Germany. All feature a 50-state certified BlueTEC 3.0-liter turbodiesel engine, 5-speed automatic transmission, stability control and front airbags. Vans offer three lengths, two roof heights and three GVWRs. Despite its imposing size, the Sprinter is pleasant to drive thanks to a well-tuned chassis, power rack-and-pinion steering and 4-wheel disc brakes.
The all-new 2013 Dodge Dart takes the performance attributes of its Italian cousin, the Alfa Romeo Giulietta, and infuses it with Dodge design. The front is styled with the unmistakable Dodge split crosshair grille while the rear features an available Charger-inspired"racetrack" full-width taillamp design with 152 indirect glow LEDs. Loaded with innovative technology, class-leading safety features and clever functionality, the Dart sets a new standard in the compact car segment by offering a high level of personalization, roominess, style and fun-to-drive dynamics. The Dart is available in three trims: SE, SXT and Limited. The Rallye Package is built off of the SXT trim. The R/T trim will be available later in the model year.
The standard engine for the SE, SXT and Limited is a 160 horsepower Tigershark 2.0-liter engine combined with a standard 6-speed manual or an optional 6 -speed automatic transmission. A 160 horsepower MultiAir Intercooled Turbo 1.4-liter engine with standard six-speed manual or optional six-speed dual dry clutch (DDCT) transmission (available 3rd quarter 2012) features more torque and is available on SXT and Limited trims. Standard equipment on the SE includes four-wheel anti-lock disc brakes, brake assist, brake-lock differential, traction control, electronic stability control with roll mitigation, hill-start assist, ten airbags, a reactive head-restraint system, power windows and projector headlights. The SXT adds power mirrors, power door locks with remote keyless entry, 60-40 rear seats with pass-through, premium cloth seats, front and rear carpet mats, and air conditioning. The Rallye Package includes 17-inch aluminum wheels, body-color crosshair grille with unique black surround, dual chrome exhaust tips, fog lights and unique premium cloth seat trim with accents. The Limited trim features 17-inch aluminum wheels, heated exterior mirrors, chrome crosshair grill with body-color surround, fog lights, power driver's seat, front passenger in-seat cushion storage, cruise control, Uconnect Touch 8.4 touchscreen CD/MP3 stereo, Bluetooth wireless connectivity, ParkView rear backup camera, a 7-inch TFT customizable instrument cluster display and ambient lighting.
Available equipment includes high-intensity discharge remote headlamps; remote start system; proximity keyless entry; Keyless Enter-N-Go push-button start; rain-sensitive wipers; SmartBeam auto-dimming headlamps; ParkSense rear park assist system; blind-spot monitoring and rear cross-path detection system; active grille shutters; underbody aerodynamic treatment, leather seat trim; heated front seats; front passenger in-seat cushion storage; express open/close sunroof; heated steering wheel; dual-zone automatic temperature control; SiriusXM satellite radio; 506-watt Alpine sound system; and a Uconnect Touch 8.4N CD/MP3/Navigation Multimedia Center.
In a bid to compete with the incoming crop of miniaturized crossover vehicles, such as the BMW X1 and Audi Q3, Buick is set to introduce the Encore in early 2013. With roughly the same interior volume of a Chevrolet Sonic 5-door, the Encore will also share its turbocharged 1.4-liter Ecotec engine, outputting 140 bhp with 148 lb.-ft. of torque. This should return some respectable fuel economy figures, thought we're slightly concerned about its acceleration potential. Manufacturer specs have the Encore carrying an additional 415 lb. over the Sonic LTZ for the front drive model, and around 535 lb. more with all-wheel drive. BMW's slightly heavier X1, by comparison, will come with no less than 240 bhp (and 260 lb.-ft.) and as much as 300 bhp (with 300 lb.-ft.). Regardless, the Encore promises an environment of luxury within a tiny package. It'll come with features such as remote ignition, dual climate control, Bose premium audio, as well as Buick's first application of active noise cancelling technology—dubbed QuietTuning. As safety is always a concern, especially with smaller vehicle segments, the Encore is available with a number of electronic aids (forward collision alert, lane departure warning), as well as 10 standard airbags to shield occupants when things head south. Only time can tell if this new ilk of automobile will find success in the U.S. market, though the Encore should have a leg up on price over the competition.
As a midsize crossover, the Journey is expected to cover a lot of ground for Dodge. And so it does, with five models available, from the $18,995 4-cylinder AVP to the sporty 283-bhp R/T that arrives midyear. The packaging is family friendly, with second-row seats that recline and a fold-flat third-row seat available. A vast array of infotainment options can be ordered to keep the kids occupied. Those in snowy climes will want to explore the awd option, available on SXT, Crew and R/T editions. The Journey was given a substantial makeover for 2011, which forcefully addressed the vehicle's shortcomings. The dash layout and interior materials were particularly improved, and the revised suspension pays off in noticeably improved ride quality.