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The Class of 2012

Demand for cars and car parts is on the rise. Despite the temporary inventory shortages from Japan’s catastrophic earthquake in March, U.S. automotive demand jumped 11.5% in July, according to the Department of Commerce. Renewed optimism among automakers is reflected in — and partially fueled by — bold new models set to appear over the next year or so. We looked at 10 new vehicles — each of which has the experts excited and the bloggers busy.

Chevy Camaro ZL1

The ZL1 name is a nod to the legendary handful of 1969 Camaros fitted with all-aluminum ZL1 drag-racing engines. These were considered the ultimate in Cammy performance — until now. The fastest Camaro ever, the new ZL1 boasts a supercharged and intercooled 6.2-liter 550-horsepower V-8 powerplant capable of propelling this contemporary classic to an estimated 175 mph. A base price around $47,000 might be steep for a Camaro, but it’s a pittance for a supercar. 

“This car is a fantastic bargain for the power you get,” said Kristina de la Cuesta, research director at Intellichoice.com. 

Ford Focus ST

Drivers who demand both power and practicality should take a long, hard look at Ford’s new Focus ST. Due late this year with an estimated base price around $27,000, this five-door hot hatch offers plenty of space for passengers and cargo while generating a spritely 260 pound-feet of torque from a throaty turbocharged 2.0-liter EcoBoost engine. 

“The base 2012 Ford Focus has superb handling, but in base form, not a lot of power,” said David Thomas, senior editor at Cars.com. “The ST will take care of that issue and could catapult it to the top of the performance compact segment.”

Hyundai Veloster

Following the success of its latest Sonata sedan and the compact Elantra, Hyundai looks set for a three-peat with its entirely new Veloster coupe. The decidedly youthful Veloster has a single rear passenger door and hatchback trunk, it does an estimated 40 mpg highway and boasts Twitter-generation touches like Pandora Internet radio capability and video game console connectivity. All this for a base price expected to hover around $17,000. 

“The oddly placed third-door adds some practicality to the otherwise small coupe. It also has a rather large cargo area for its size,” Thomas said. “The epitome of affordable fun.”

Mercedes-Benz SLK55 AMG

“The new SLK is decidedly more muscular and aggressive, in an attempt to broaden the vehicle’s market appeal to include more male buyers,” de la Cuesta said. Yet this unashamedly macho retractable-roof monster won’t maul the environment. Though it’s the most powerful SLK of all time at 415 horsepower, the 2012 SLK55 AMG forgoes the twin-turbo technology found in most recent AMGs in favor of a naturally aspirated V-8. MB claims this will deliver a 30% bump in fuel economy over the outgoing SLK55 AMG’s 18 mpg combined city/highway. Nevertheless, it boasts a zero-to-60 time that is nearly three-tenths of a second faster than its predecessor.

Mini Cooper Coupe

Since BMW launched the new-generation Mini a decade ago, the brand has flourished, its lineup growing to include a convertible version of the original Cooper, a Clubman wagon and the Countryman crossover. Mini’s march continues with the two-passenger Cooper Coupe. Starting at just $22,000, the coupe is at once familiar and far out. Its entry-level engine will hit a respectable 127 mph but, as with all Minis, this car is as much about personality as performance (check out the speed-activated spoiler). 

“The new Coupe … will add even more fun and variety to the brand,” de la Cuesta said.

Mitsubishi Evo XI 

The next-generation Mitsu Lancer Evolution will be a hybrid — but with a twist. The main power source for the Evolution XI, due in 2013, will be the electric motor driving its front wheels, while its 2.0-liter petrol engine will drive the rear wheels when required. But “Fast & Furious” fans shouldn’t fear: The Evo XI could produce up to 350 horsepower, while handling should be enhanced with high-tech Active Steering and Roll Control Suspension. 

“[Mitsubishi] appears to be multitasking in the right direction: a green car with sport performance,” de la Cuesta said, “and if rumors hold true, a greater level of refinement than budget-friendly tuner cars.”

Porsche 911

While Porsche ostensibly takes an “ain’t broke” approach to the new 911 it just unveiled at the Frankfurt Auto Show, closer inspection reveals significant upgrades. A longer wheelbase (by four inches) and overall length (by two inches) means improved weight distribution and, therefore, better handling. But larger won’t mean heavier, thanks to Porsche’s extensive use of aluminum and magnesium components — shaving off almost 80 pounds. 

“It’s exactly the new 911 anyone would expect, but just because it isn’t surprising doesn’t mean it won’t be a terrific car to drive,” Thomas said.

Toyota/Subaru FT-86 

Though the production version has yet to be revealed, there are plenty of tantalizing tidbits floating around about this joint-project rear-wheel-drive compact sports coupe. 

Due to make its American debut at the New York Auto Show in April, Toyota’s version is expected to be badged as a Scion FR-S stateside, while its European and Japanese counterparts may revive the revered Celica name. Both the Toyota and Subie versions will feature flat-four 2.0-liter Subaru Boxer engines. Whatever the badge, the predicted $25,000 base price looks to be a bargain. 

“The design is spectacular,” de la Cuesta said. “If it’s priced right, I’d expect it to do very well.”

Toyota Prius C

Like Mini, Toyota’s super-successful Prius hybrid has expanded into a multi-model brand that includes, as of next year, the extended Prius V wagon, the Plug-in Prius and the smaller bargain-priced Prius C. The C may well share many components with Toyota’s latest Yaris, including that car’s 1.5-liter gasoline engine for internal-combustion duties (instead of the current Prius’ 1.8-liter). Though the production Prius C will likely tone down the arresting aesthetics of its concept, an expected sub-$20,000 base price should ensure that it’s a hit. 

“Offering the popular car in something more than a well-priced hatchback seems like a no-brainer win-win for consumers and Toyota,” de la Cuesta said.

Volkswagen Golf R

VW’s Rabbit GTI introduced America to the concept of the hot hatchback in 1983, and early next year the German automaker will unveil its hottest hatch to date: the Golf R. Though a slightly detuned version of its European equivalent, this turbocharged 2.0-liter will nonetheless deliver 256 horsepower and hit 60 mph from a standing start in under six seconds. All this and a classy, well-appointed cockpit should more than justify an expected starting price of just under $33,000. 

“It is the fastest, most powerful Golf to date and will now be paired with the 4Motion AWD,” de la Cuesta said. “Overall refinement and excellent handling … make it worthy of a test drive.”

—Paul Rogers, Custom Publishing Writer

 


 

 

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