Hear all that exhaust rumble? It’s music to gay and lesbian gearheads, who know the Washington auto show is rolling into town next week. Look for the latest hot models, with high-revving engines, high-tech safety features and enough gee-whiz gizmos to rival the Starship Enterprise.
Here’s a look at some of the best cars that are (or will be) in showrooms this year.
Mpg: 25 city/35 highway
0-to-60 mph: 8.4 seconds
The Camry has been the best-selling car in America for more than a decade. That’s because Toyota played things safe, churning out a reliable midsize sedan, but, alas, one with no soul. Now competitors are nipping at Toyota’s heels — or tires, actually — with spiffier fare, such as the Ford Fusion, Honda Accord and Nissan Altima. So Toyota responded by upping Camry’s game with a major refresh, just three years after the last redo. The result: more curves and more nerve, especially with the all-new XSE sport model, which comes with 18-inch wheels, firm shock absorbers and tight steering. The cabin is quieter now, full of higher-quality fit and finish. And there are plenty of safety systems, including brake assist, automatic collision notification and stolen-vehicle locator.
BMW X4 xDrive
Mpg: 20 city/28 highway
0-to-60 mph: 6.0 seconds
Yes, the X4 is one step removed from a wagon and looks like the offspring of a sexy Bimmer coupe. But it’s actually a sporty crossover, since it shares the same platform as the X3. The X4 is lower, wider and shorter, which means it has a more muscular profile and handles curves better, but sacrifices a bit of passenger space (in other words, it comfortably seats four, not five). Yet there’s still plenty of cargo room, even with the sloping rear roofline. All-wheel drive is standard on the two trim levels, which come with either a four- or six-cylinder turbo. And there are various driving modes — from eco to vroom — along with lots of luxury, including paddle shifters, power tailgate, head-up windshield display, 360-degree (bird’s eye) camera and self-parking system.
VW GOLF TDI
Mpg: 31 city/43 highway
0-to-60 mph: 8.7 seconds
With the Golf hatchback, the more things change, the more they stay the same, at least on the outside. That’s because this re-skin looks like previous models except for new headlights/taillights and some tweaked body panels. But the chassis, cabin and engine are new, providing a smoother suspension, quieter cabin and better fuel economy. One thing that should have changed, though, is the clunky nav/infotainment system, which is less than intuitive for most users. Still, the interior is Audi-like, with bolstered seats (front and back) and an easy-to-use clutch/shifter that makes almost any commute fun (and yes, there is an optional automatic transmission). Though it feels airier inside, the Golf is only a bit larger than before and fits in almost any parking space.
FORD MUSTANG GT PREMIUM
Mpg: 16 city/25 highway
0-to-60 mph: 4.5 seconds
The new Stang is finally in showrooms with choice of a base V6, peppy four-cylinder turbo or balls-to-the-wall V8 (in the GT models only). For big-time thrills, of course, you’ll want the throaty V8 — preferably with the spirited six-speed manual. For boffo features, you’ll want the GT Premium with blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert, 12-speaker stereo and large-screen nav system. A GT performance package adds even more macho cred, with 19-inch painted aluminum wheels, firmer suspension and better brakes. All this ups the price an extra $14,000, but that’s still less than most Euro competitors. And while there’s plenty of muscle here, all the safety gear helps keep you — and other drivers — in check. This is the quintessential American pony car, with a taut (yet nimble) ride, a sparse (yet comfortable) cabin and all the latest (yet unobtrusive) tech gadgetry.