There's a name for cars like the Mazdaspeed3: pocket-rocket. This refers to a compact-size car that provides more driving excitement than you can imagine. The 4-cylinder MZR 2.3-liter engine pumps out 263 bhp and 280-lb.-ft. of torque thanks to a responsive turbocharger. It's largely a carryover model for 2013 but has some changes, including 18-in. gunmetal alloy wheels, black outside mirrors, rear roof spoiler and rear lower valance. Inside for 2013, there is a Technology Package including a 5.8-in. full-color touchscreen nav system, HD radio, Pandora audio application, SMS text message audio delivery and voice reply. The Mazdaspeed3 is a 5-door with its large opening rear hatch that makes it easy to take your adventure gear with you. But the real adventure is in the driving!
With a bushel full of crossover vehicles on the market, the buyer has a wide range of choices. The Mazda CX-9 should be at the top of the list as it is reasonably priced, good looking, carries seven people and can be had with either front-wheel drive or all-wheel drive. There are three models in the lineup: Sport, Touring and Grand Touring. The only engine is Mazda's 3.7-liter dohc V-6 with variable valve timing. It pumps out a healthy 273 bhp and 270 lb.-ft. of torque, which enables towing loads of 3500 lb. Interior fitments are well done and features include climate control, Bluetooth phone capability and Sirius satellite radio. All in all, the CX-9 offers the utility of a minivan but without the stigma.
If the 2014 Bentley Mulsanne didn't feel special, far fewer people would buy one, so Bentley goes to considerable lengths to make sure that it does. The needles on the speedometer and the tachometer -- both real instruments, not digital facsimiles -- sweep downward from the one-o'clock position, as they do on classic Bentleys. Hand-stitched leather, in your choice of twenty-five hues, covers every surface that isn't real wood or metal. Speaking of wood, the extensive wood trim in a Mulsanne interior -- on the dashboard, the front and rear center consoles, the roof consoles, the rear center armrest, and the door caps -- is available in a choice of six different veneers. For the Mulsanne, one question is how to reconcile all that olde-worlde craftsmanship with today's demand for the latest technology. A few interesting examples: the modern, eight-inch touchscreen is concealed behind a wood-veneered panel when not in use; there's also a leather-lined drawer to hold your iPod or cell phone. There are no charming anachronisms here; everything just works.
It's the same behind the wheel. The 2014 Bentley Mulsanne is powered by the most traditional Bentley engine, a turbocharged V-8 of 6.75 liters. Although it is a traditional layout and displacement, this is a modern unit, with current technology such as cylinder deactivation and variable cam phasing. The engine's output of 505 hp is -- ahem -- less than that of the twelve-cylinder engine in the less expensive Flying Spur, but its massive torque figure of 712 lb-ft is comfortably on top. And torque is what it's all about when you're moving a heavy car like the Mulsanne, particularly when you want to do so with the least engine-revving drama possible. The deep-voiced V-8 can haul this heavy machine from 0 to 60 mph in 5.1 seconds, but you're more likely to appreciate the effortless thrust that results from a more measured dip into the throttle. You have a choice of three settings for suspension and steering: comfort, sport, or the default "Bentley" setting. In none of them does this car heave or wallow -- if anything, it errs a bit on being too firm and allowing some road harshness through. For the best possible ride quality, stick with the 20-inch wheels rather than the optional 21-inchers.
The Buick Enclave combines the smooth ride and responsive handling of a car with the cargo capability and high seating position of a sport utility vehicle.
The Enclave is available in three trims: Convenience, Premium, and Leather. Each trim can be ordered in either front-wheel or all-wheel drive. All trims feature a contemporary design that incorporates trademark styling cues associated with Buicks of the past. The interior features front bucket seats and can accommodate either seven or eight passengers depending on the seating configuration selected. A direct injection 3.6-liter V6 engine is paired with a six-speed automatic transmission. The Enclave offers a luxurious interior with an extensive list of features and amenities, including standard Bluetooth handsfree connectivity, OnStar, satellite radio, automatic climate control and a rear-view camera system. Available equipment includes a sunroof, 10-speaker Bose premium sound system, navigation, and a rear DVD entertainment system.
The Toyota Corolla is a front-wheel drive five-passenger compact sedan, well-known for being reliable and economical, yet refined and comfortable.
The Corolla comes in three trims: Base, S, and LE. The powertrain is a 132 horsepower, 1.8-liter dual VVT-I engine, matched with a five-speed manual or four-speed automatic transmission. All models come standard with front, side-impact and side-curtain airbags, ABS with brake assist, and whiplash protecting front seat active head restraints. Air conditioning and Vehicle Stability Control (VSC) with Traction Control are standard on all models. Available features include cruise control, 16-inch wheels, fog lamps, and a tilt-and-slide power moonroof.