January 14, 2010 at 3:02 pm EDT | by Joe Phillips
Top cars for 2010

If Santa didn’t plop a new car in your driveway last month, fear not. The economy is inching forward, and dealers are keeping prices at record lows to entice buyers into showrooms. So what to buy? Here’s a look at the top vehicle picks for 2010.

Best compact

Nissan Cube
Mpg: 25 city/30 highway

It’s cute. It scoots. And it hauls like a sport-ute. Nissan’s funky Cube takes refrigerator-like styling to a new level, with pert bumpers, rounded door frames, and a wraparound window that snakes across the back and right side of the vehicle. “Austin Powers” fans will love the optional shag carpet on the dash. And “Dr. Who” fans will love how the roomy cabin is akin to the Tardis — the spaceship that looks like a British phone booth on the outside, but is as big as a soccer field inside. Built on the compact Versa platform, the Cube comes with the same peppy engine, as well as six airbags and traction/stability control. Three trim levels, including a tuner-like Krom edition with rear-roof spoiler, aluminum-trim pedals, and 20-color ambient lighting. Must-have options: push-button ignition, steering-wheel audio controls and Rockford Fosgate subwoofer.

Best sedan

Buick LaCrosse
Mpg: 17 city/26 highway

Taking a cue from Jerome Kern, GM is picking itself up, dusting itself off, and starting all over again. This includes the radically redesigned LaCrosse, with its sexy styling, sporty handling, and cutting-edge interior — much less Fred and Ginger, in other words, and much more Adam Lambert. Taut steering, adjustable shock absorbers and solid braking add to the package. And a top-of-the-line V6 puts out plenty of power, but two other engine choices are simply too wimpy. Still, the LaCrosse is full of the latest luxe options, such as power rear sunshade, heated side mirrors with integrated turn signals, rear-seat entertainment system with dual headrest displays, and 11-speaker Harman Kardon surround-sound stereo.

Best crossover

Honda Accord Crosstour
Mpg: 18 city/27 highway

The Rolling Stones couldn’t get no satisfaction, and apparently neither can Honda. Despite two popular crossovers — the midsized Pilot and smallish CUV — the automaker just added the new Crosstour. The reason: Crossovers are the fastest growing automotive segment. Honda took its popular Accord sedan, raised the rear, then added a door. And it works, sort of. This hauler is really a butch hatchback that rides higher (and is quieter) than the sedan, maneuvers like a sport wagon, and is shorter than most crossovers — albeit with a lot less cargo room. Only two trim levels, both with bolstered seats and lots of standard gear. The smallish rear window hinders visibility, but there’s a backup camera with the optional voice-activated nav system.

Best green machine

Mpg: 30 city/41 highway

Achtung, baby! After years of mediocre reliability and a lackluster lineup, VW is back in the game. This time it’s with the compact Golf, which had been renamed the Rabbit the past three years. With this latest name change, the Golf also gets a new design, including sleeker sheet metal, reworked fascia and upscale techno cabin. But the big news is the new TDI model, with standard sport suspension and clean-diesel engine. Top speed: 130 mph, with 0 to 60 mph in about 8.6 seconds. Cornering is tight and controlled, with sure shifting and superb braking. And there’s a choice of coupe or sedan, with either a six-speed manual or manumatic transmission.

Best luxe mobile

Jaguar XK coupe
Mpg: 16 city/24 highway

If snarky coach Sue Sylvester on “Glee” could afford one, this is the Jag she’d drive. Available in coupe or convertible, this in-your-face status symbol gets more aggressive styling and major mechanical upgrades. There’s a choice of two new V8s, but it’s the high-test 510-hp model that screams from 0 to 60 mph in just 4.6 seconds. The tight chassis used to be a pain in the butt — literally — but a new drive-control feature offers three different suspension settings to ease the ride. And the ritzy interior has heated/cooled seats, heated steering wheel, and Bowers & Wilkins surround-sound stereo. Still, it’s that macho exhaust rumble that gets your blood pumping each time you get behind the wheel.

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