Mazda has championed the rotary engine for many years and continues to produce the Renesis twin-rotor Wankel for the RX-8 4-door sports car. Seem confusing? Not really, as Mazda brought out the RX-8 in 2003 and it has proven to be a fun-to-drive sports car that will carry four adults in a pinch. When pared with a 6-speed manual gearbox, the rotary develops 232 bhp, while output drops to 212 bhp when mated to the 6-speed automatic transmission. Ride and handling are smooth and slick, interior comfort is quite high and if you want to have the ultimate RX-8, order the R3 edition with stiffer suspension, Bilstein shock absorbers, a rear spoiler and more.
Volkswagen’s Tiguan is very popular in Europe and may get more common here in the U.S. thanks to revised front and rear styling that’s more in line with the Touareg’s. For 2012, the Tiguan is available as an S, SE or SEL model, with either fwd or awd. As before, the only engine is VW’s turbocharged 2.0-liter inline-4 with 200 bhp. In 2012, though, thanks to enhancements made to the 6-speed automatic transmission, the Tiguan now gets 27 mpg on the highway, up from 25. The base model is available with a 6-speed manual gearbox. SEL models are well-equipped, even fitted with bi-xenon headlights that point into corners. A U-shaped row of LEDs around the headlights serve as daytime running lights while adding to this compact crossover’s fresh look.
GM’s Acadia hits the family sweet spot with 7- or 8-passenger seating, front-wheel-drive or all-wheel-drive layout, and towing capacity of 5200 lb. The second-row Smart Slide system makes it easy to crawl in or out, and you don’t have to travel far down the option list to find a kid-friendly rear-seat entertainment system. Families who avoided the worst of the Great Recession’s carnage may want to examine the upscale Denali, which includes perforated leather seats with matching door trim, heated and cooled driver and passenger seats, a head-up display and Dual SkyScrape sunroof. GMC keeps things simple with a single powertrain configuration, a 288-bhp VVT V-6 with 6-speed automatic. For 2012, there are new colors and some formerly optional equipment is now standard.
The BMW 5-series puts an emphasis on the driving experience. Now starting its sixth generation, this mid-size luxury car remains a true sports sedan by delivering aggressive styling, precise handling and outstanding safety.
Available in rear- or xDrive all-wheel drive, the 550i features a 445-hp 4.4-liter, twin-turbo, V8 engine, with the choice of an eight-speed automatic or six-speed manual transmission. Standard features include leather upholstery, dual-zone automatic climate control with active micro-filtration, a 16-speaker AM/FM/CD audio system, HD radio, Bluetooth, 18-inch alloy wheels, voice-activated hard-drive based navigation system, and iDrive control system with integrated owner's manual. Safety is provided by six airbags, active anti-whiplash front head restraints, electronic traction and stability control, anti-lock brakes, tire pressure monitoring, front and rear parking sensors, BMW Assist telematics, and bi-xenon adaptive headlights. An optional Park Assistant system will steer the car into a parallel parking space.
For 2014, there are subtle styling changes inside and out, the 4.4-liter gains 45-hp as well as auto stop/start, and LED headlights are now an option.
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.