January 19, 2012 | by Joe Phillips
Best of the best

For 2012, it’s out with the old, in with the new. For the past few years, consumers were simply too afraid to let go of their old rides. But now the average car on the road is a geezer, at 10.7 years old.

All that pent-up demand needs a release, which is why car sales have exploded the past few months. The timing couldn’t be better: at auto shows across the country, automakers are showcasing a slew of stylish new vehicles.

Here are some of the best.

BEST HATCHBACK
Hyundai Veloster Turbo
$22,000 (est.)
Mpg: 27 city/38 highway
0-to-60 mph: 7.3 seconds (est.)

Hyundai Veloster Turbo

A few weeks ago, Hyundai rolled out a slick turbo version of its hot Veloster hatchback. The regular model, introduced late last year, has outsold the competition in a few short months. But with only 138-hp, it needed more oomph, which the 201-hp turbo adds nicely.

The turbo has a big-mouth grille, sculpted side skirts, LED taillights and other cosmetic upgrades. As with the standard model, the turbo is affordable, fuel friendly and tech-savvy. There’s the same nifty three-door design, with one door on the driver’s side and two doors on the passenger side (for easier rear-seat access). And along with Bluetooth and USB/iPod connectivity, the trendy infotainment system features BlueLink voice/text messaging and can access Gracenote and Pandora (as well as movies and photos). The system even has some built-in fuel-economy games. To keep tabs on younger drivers, there’s even a “geo-fence” system that alerts you when the car travels outside a set area.

BEST CONVERTIBLE
MINI Cooper Roadster
$25,000 (est.)
Mpg: 33 city/37 highway
0-to-60 mph: 6.7 seconds

The new MINI Cooper Roadster

If small is beautiful, then MINI is trying to corner the market. There are now six models in the MINI lineup: the classic hardtop hatch, the convertible, the Clubman, the SUV-like Countryman, the Coupe (introduced in 2011) and now the Roadster, which hits showrooms this year.

While MINI already has a droptop, the Roadster is the first two-seat convertible in MINI history. Losing two seats is no loss, because the Roadster ends up with more trunk room than in the other MINI convertible. The other difference: the Roadster’s roof is manually operated. This makes the car light and nimble, especially on twisty roads. Inside, there’s the same high-quality dash as in other MINIs, including funky toggle switches and a Frisbee-sized speedmeter. There’s also a quirky “Openometer” gauge, which — for anyone with an OCD proclivity — tallies how long the car has been driven with the top down.

BEST CROSSOVER/SUV
Range Rover Evoque
$41,500
Mpg: 18 city/28 highway
0-to-60 mph: 7.1 seconds

Few vehicles have this much spice. Victoria Beckham, aka Posh Spice, apparently is consulting on a special-edition model of the Evoque. But even the regular version, which just debuted, is surprisingly bold for the boxy, button-downed automaker. Such extroverted styling is full of sharp creases, trapezoidal windows and oversize wheels. It all works, though a bit of headroom and cargo space gets sacrificed along the way.

But the ride is superb, with agile handling and a punchy 240-hp powerplant. Available in two-door and four-door body styles, both come with front and rear foglights, power liftgate and panoramic sunroof. Options add up quickly, though some will be hard to resist, such as a 360-degree parking camera system and the 17-speaker surround-sound stereo.

BEST SEDAN
Mercedes CLS
$71,500
Mpg: 17 city/25 highway
0-to-60 mph: 5.1 seconds

Back in 2006, Mercedes debuted its original CLS — a sedan styled to look like a coupe. Today, almost every automaker has copied the theme, from the high-end Audi A7 and Porsche Panamera to the lower-priced Hyundai Elantra.

But now Mercedes raises the bar with this redo, a more masculine iteration that sports sharply creased side panels and an aggressive front end. The tradeoff is tight headroom in the rear bucket seats. But otherwise — from the 10-way power seats to the 14-speaker Harman Kardon surround-sound stereo — this sport sedan is pure bliss.

Braking and handling are spot-on, as is the lusty engine growl from the twin turbo V8. As if that’s not enough, the massaging front seats have active bolsters to support you when turning. There are up to 12 airbags, as well as infrared night-view sensors, blind-spot warning alerts and a lane-departure warning system. Need something snazzier? The CLS63 AMG high-performance model — with its more robust 550-hp engine and a tauter, sport-tuned suspension — comes in at $95,000.

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