While Nissan's Versa sedan came in for a ground-up redo for 2012, the 5-door Hatchback version carries over from the 2011 model year with two models, S and SL. Perhaps to soothe hatchback fans, Nissan ups the ante by adding four new option packages for the S model and then making what was the Premium package now standard equipment on the SL edition. With that upgrade come such extras as the Bluetooth Hands-free phone system, the "Intelligent" key and 16-in. alloy wheels. Opt for the S version and you get the 122-bhp 1.8-liter twincam four with a 6-speed manual or 4-speed automatic. SL models also have the 1.8 but are only fitted with the CVT transmission. Now the Vehicle Dynamic Control system is standard on both S and SL models.
The hybrid version of the 3-series sedan gets the same turbocharged, 3.0-liter inline-6 found in the 335i sedan, plus a 55-hp electric motor. When the engine comes to a stop at an intersection, then the hybrid motor starts up and propels you forward until the engine starts again, making sure you get good fuel economy in the city. Even better, you get a combined 335 bhp and 330 ft.-lb of torque, and BMW says the ActiveHybrid 3 will dash from 0-60 mph in just 5.2 seconds, 0.2 seconds quicker than the 335i sedan. You can even drive as fast as 47 mph on electric power alone. This represents a useful increase in efficiency, although it's necessary to trade away some of the customary BMW agility, since the lithium-ion battery pack increases the weight of this car to 3,649 lbs. The packing of the battery pack in the trunk also reduces cargo space by more than 3 cubic feet. Nevertheless, the ability to pass gas stations, not just slower traffic, is this car's key attribute. The ActiveHybrid3 represents a high-mpg package with the driving dynamics of a BMW — not a bad combination. Standard equipment is similar to that of the 335i sedan, plus an 8.8-inch iDrive screen with a display specific to the hybrid model, along with enhanced navigation, traffic and weather functions. Unique 18-inch cast-aluminum wheels are optional at no extra charge.
The Buick LaCrosse is a sophisticated mid-size sedan, seating five passengers in comfort while providing confident handling and a smooth quiet ride.
The LaCrosse is offered in both front- and all-wheel drive configurations. Available engines include a 182-hp 2.4-liter four-cylinder with Buick's eAssist mild hybrid technology on front-wheel drive models and a 303-hp 3.6-liter V6 which is offered on both front- and all-wheel drive models. Engines feature direct fuel injection and are mated to a six-speed automatic transmission with manual shift mode. All LaCrosse models are equipped with aluminum wheels, dual-zone automatic climate control, satellite radio, MP3 capability, a USB port and Bluetooth wireless connectivity. Additional trim-dependent features include front fog lights, heated and ventilated front seats, leather upholstery, E-Z Key passive entry/start, a heated wood grain steering wheel and a power rear window sunshade, as well as a hard-drive based navigation system with DVD audio/video playback. Standard safety features include 4-wheel anti-lock brakes with brake assist, electronic stability, traction control and six airbags; other available technologies include rear side-impact airbags, rear parking assist, Xenon adaptive headlights, Head-Up Display and a Side Blind Zone Alert system.
The Buick LaCrosse carries over with minimal changes for 2013. Standard equipment, package and trim offerings have been adjusted.
Although Chevy's hugely successful redesign of the Malibu debuted roughly four years ago, an all-new Malibu is already going into production in early 2012 as a 2013 model. The new Malibu is being touted as the brand's "first global mid-size vehicle," which Chevy has plans to sell on six continents. The exterior is noticeably sleeker, with a wider stance and a Camaro-inspired rear fascia. Chevy designers would probably like to take all the credit, but the sleeker profile was also influenced by engineers who logged hundreds of hours in the wind tunnel. From underbody panels to active shutters in the grille, the new car has numerous aerodynamic aids that improve its drag coefficient by more than .06 over the previous Malibu, bringing it to within .01 of the Volt. Better aerodynamics often result in better fuel economy, but Chevy didn't stop there. A brand-new, more-fuel-efficient 2.5-liter four-cylinder replaces the Malibu's previous roster of powerplants. Power and torque ratings will likely fall somewhere between the old engines', with early estimates from Chevy of 190 hp and 180 lb-ft of torque. The changes continue in the cabin, which is more spacious and looks more attractive, with better lighting, better materials, and a more cohesive design. Since its rebirth as a 2008 model, we have awarded the Malibu two All-Stars and have consistently praised its chassis, brakes, and steering as among the best in its class. With our only criticism being addressed by the new powertrain, we expect the new Malibu to improve on its predecessor in every way.
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.