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.
Mazda has enjoyed a winner with the CX-9 midsize crossover SUV that offers slick styling, a comfortable ride and accommodations, and ample performance. Seven people can travel comfortably on moderately long trips, and there is good luggage space at the rear. Power is provided by a 4-cam 3.7-liter V-6 that pumps out 273 bhp and 270 lb.-ft. of torque. The 6-speed automatic transmission is smooth, and front-wheel drive is standard while all-wheel drive is an option. With three trim levels and a long list of optional equipment, Mazda's CX-9 is a great substitute for a minivan. Although little has changed with this 7-seater for 2013, that's just fine by us.
The Subaru Forester all-wheel drive compact crossover is completely redesigned for 2014. This fourth-generation 2014 Forester is slightly larger in all dimensions than the outgoing model (2009-2013). It wears somewhat bolder skin wrapped around a roomier cabin and boasts both improved performance and higher fuel economy.
A 170-horsepower 2.5-liter horizontally opposed flat four-cylinder (aka boxer or H4) is standard on the 2014 Forester, while a new 250-hp turbocharged version of the BRZ sports car's 2.0-liter H4 powers 2014 Forester 2.0XT models. It uses a combination of direct fuel injection, high compression (10.6:1), Subaru's Dual Active Valve Control System (D-AVCS) and intercooled turbocharging to deliver a much more spirited 250 horsepower and 258 pound-feet of torque between 2000 and 4800 rpm.
All 2014 Forester models come with Subaru Symmetrical All-Wheel Drive. Subaru is a leader in all-wheel-drive technology and this sets Forester apart from front-wheel-drive competitors that offer all-wheel drive as an option. A 6-speed manual gearbox supersedes the previous 5-speed manual as standard, while Subaru's Lineartronic continuously variable transmission (CVT) replaces the old 4-speed automatic.
The CVT mated to the 2.5-liter engine has a selectable low shift mode that adds engine braking on downhill grades. The high-torque version of this transmission comes with the turbo engine and has steering wheel paddles for manual shifting. Both use adaptive control to continually optimize gear ratios based on driving preferences and conditions.
The 2.5-liter four-cylinder together with the CVT, likely the best-selling combination, boasts the segment's best all-wheel drive fuel economy at an EPA-estimated 24/32 mpg City/Highway, or 27 Combined. That highway rating is a five-mpg improvement over the most fuel-efficient 2013 Forester.
The Lancer is Mitsubishi's answer to the compact segment, and with numerous trim levels, there's sure to be one that interests you. Starting from the bottom, the DE model returns unchanged, but the ES features new interior fabrics and 16-in. wheel covers. The SE sedan will come equipped with all-wheel drive and the race-proven All-Wheel-Control system. Top-level GTS models get a name change; they'll now be called GT, and they are fitted with Ralliart front fascia, new 18-in. alloy wheels and interior fabrics, soft-touch door trim and instrument panel trim. The Evo GSR, Mitsubishi's turbocharged all-wheel-drive top-level sports sedan, gets an upshift light in the instrument panel, while the MR will let you know when you're driving economically with an Eco light.
Unlike most car models, the Kia Forte comes in several distinct flavors. The brand’s centerpiece is the Forte sedan, offered in LX, EX and SX trim. It’s a comfortable and agreeable ride with a solid standard features package across the board. The SX trim, with its performance-tuned suspension, 17-in. wheels, bigger front brakes and 173-bhp engine is the sportiest of the lot. But if sport is what you’re after, move directly to the 2-door Forte Koup SX—not an aggressive ride, but one that will certainly put a grin on your face in the turns. Buyers who are more in a family-about-town way should give the Forte 5-Door serious consideration. The hatchback opens to provide 19.4 cu. ft. of cargo space, compounded when the second-row seats are folded. All Forte variants enjoy a robust list of standard features.