With the lessons of the recession still fresh, automakers are making many of their fast cars affordable and fuel-efficient. As Ben said (Ben Franklin, not Ben Vereen): “Out of adversity comes opportunity” — just like the three rides below.
MPG: 26 city/38 highway
0-to-60 mph: 6.4 seconds
A bargain-basement Benz? Hardly. But the all-new, entry-level CLA is priced within striking distance of a Toyota Avalon or Hyundai Sonata. And the CLA has the same wicked styling as the CLS super-sedan, which is larger, has V8 power and, yikes, costs twice as much. Sure, power and cornering may not be as stellar as the CLS. But the CLA’s firm suspension and interior quality are still first-rate. And while the sloped roof means there’s little backseat headroom, there’s plenty of trunk space. Safety aids include blind-spot monitor, lane-departure warning and even a driver-drowsiness alert. Lots of tech options, too: Harman Kardon stereo, 10-gig music server and a nav system with voice commands. Affordable? Yes. But cheap? No.
BMW 335i GT
MPG: 22 city/33 highway
0-to-60 mph: 5.2 seconds
Think of the 335i GT as something Brad and Angelina might drive — a chic hatchback with oodles of cargo room for kids or pets. Along with a punchy engine and brisk acceleration, there’s standard all-wheel drive (which, trust me, came in handy last winter during all those snowstorms). Fuel mileage is good, thanks to an auto stop/start function. And the high ground clearance means better driver visibility, even with the sloping rear roof and arched side pillars. Ergo-friendly seats and dashboard controls — coupled with the smooth, quiet ride — make this BMW ideal for road trips. So does the huge panoramic sunroof. Various option packages add up quickly, though it’s hard to forgo features like keyless entry/ignition or rearview camera. And the easy-to-use nav system also displays the speed limit for each road on your route, which helps you stay one step ahead of pesky speed cameras.
LEXUS GS 350 F SPORT
MPG: 19 city/29 highway
0-to-60 mph: 5.6 seconds
Most cars in the Lexus lineup target Mercedes. But the GS has always aimed for — and often missed — BMW. But not this time. With some Jackie Chan karate chops to the sheet-metal and a spirited V6 under the hood, the GS is much more athletic in both looks and power. And that’s just the base model. A slick “F Sport” performance package adds 19-inch wheels, sharper steering, bigger front brakes and a sassy rear spoiler. Even the exhaust rumble is impressive — a sharp departure from the Lexus strategy of “seen-but-not-heard” luxury. Must-have options: 18-way power seats, 17-speaker surround-sound stereo and a nav system with a 12-inch monitor and smartphone-connected apps. For safety, there’s a heads-up display, rear parking sensors and various collision-avoidance systems that feel as precise as any German-engineered sport sedan. In other words, except for the Lexus logo, the GS is finally edgy enough to be a true Euro contender.