How do you update an already retro design? You flatten its roof, make it look more masculine and hope the design attracts more male buyers. Longer, lower and wider than the New Beetle, the new Beetle is based on an all-new chassis (related to the Golf's), fitted with either a 170-bhp 2.5-liter 5-cylinder and a 6-speed automatic or the 200-bhp direct-injected 2.0-liter turbo mated to VW's dual-clutch 6-speed automatic. Manual transmissions, says VW, will come at a later date. Also coming later (in 2012) is the super-efficient 2.0-liter TDI diesel engine, which is expected to give this 4-seat front-driver highway fuel economy of 40 mpg. The Beetle Turbo, of note, has multilink rear suspension, whereas the standard Beetle has a twist beam.
The Lancer DE and ES 2.0-liter engine with variable valve timing is a good one, and so is the 5-speed manual transmission, so it's a very fun car. Although with just 148 horsepower, you have to stay on top of it because ample acceleration isn't always there. The CVT seems to rob some punch, but with the magnesium-alloy paddles working the 6-step CVT in manual mode, it still feels lively enough.
We found the Lancer ES smooth, spirited and sporty. Around-town handling is nimble, and cornering is taut at speeds inside the box. The ride is comfortable. Although the Honda Civic feels smoother and the Mazda3 more challenging.
The Lancer GT and SE use a 2.4-liter engine with 20 more horsepower, and it's a big difference. It revs to a sweet 6500 rpm. You can relax at the throttle, because when you boot it, it will catch right back up and then some. We'd even say the acceleration is great, for a car like this. The torque is strong.
The brakes are nicely sensitive, and the pedal has excellent feel. The 5-speed gearbox is positive, easy to shift with solid clutch action. With the larger 2.4 there's enough power that you can definitely feel front-wheel torque steer under hard acceleration. The Lancer ES is quiet and smooth on the freeway, where 80 mph feels like 70, and that's saying something for a small car with a four-cylinder engine. The eye-catching 10-spoke alloy wheels are shod with P215/45R18 Dunlop all-season tires.
Handling is tight and quick enough, and the ride offers no jolts or surprises. We enjoyed driving both the GT and SE in every situation we encountered, including some light snow with the all-wheel-drive SE. Mitsubishi calls it AWC, or All Wheel Control, because it incorporates their traction control. New for 2012, the Lancer SE is intended for buyers in winter climes. The AWC can be adjusted by the driver, for 2WD, 4WD and lock. So you can stay in 2WD for better mileage, as we did to achieve a 27.1 mpg average.
Nissan has separated its Versa line into two machines, the Sedan being redone for 2012 from the ground up. This Sedan is somewhat curvier than its squared-off predecessor and is based on the company's V platform, which is both lighter and simpler than the B platform still used with the Hatchback. With this new platform and body come added interior room, particularly in the back seat, which has a 60/40 split seatback. All sedans are powered by a revamped 1.6-liter fuel-injected four. Power is now 109 bhp and 107 lb.-ft. of torque and mileage rated at 30 mpg city/38 mpg highway with the CVT transmission. The 5-speed manual's numbers are not quite as good. There are three versions in ascending order of equipment: 1.6 S, 1.6 SV and 1.6 SL.
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.
Audi A4/S4 models just might be the hardest-working luxury cars in the business. They’re roomy, stylish, well appointed and fuel efficient. Plus, they've got rewarding performance chops. Still, you have to fight for recognition in any class led by BMW and Lexus. For 2011, the A4 Quattro sedan and wagon come to the battle with an available 8-speed Tiptronic automatic transmission to enhance both acceleration and gas mileage. The A4’s only engine is a potent 2.0-liter turbocharged four. In front-drive guise, the A4 sedan enjoys a fuel-miser CVT transmission. New last year, the 333-bhp S4 sedan, the performance jewel in the A4 crown, has been winning just about every comparison test it enters in print and online. For Audi, the hard work is paying off.