BMW 640i xDRIVE GRAN TURISMO
Mpg: 19 city, 27 highway
0-60 mph: 4.9 seconds
Calling this BMW a hatchback seems silly, even if it is one. Instead the 640i xDrive Gran Turismo screams out as a cross between slinky sport sedan and souped-up SUV. The refined, 335-hp engine is smooth and strong, with more than enough power to handle this 4,409-pound bad boy.
Along with all the vroom, there’s plenty of room. Both the headroom and legroom are bountiful, despite a dramatically tapered roof. Lowering the back seats doubles the amount of cargo capacity to 65 cubic feet. And the standard panoramic moonroof only adds to the feeling of spaciousness.
As for handling, the steering is light but controlled and the dynamic air suspension, where the car can be raised and lowered manually, is perfectly tuned between cushy comfort and weekend racer.
Other niceties include soft-close automatic doors, frameless side windows, head-up display, gesture control and automatic parking. Inside, the kicky cabin is full of aluminum and wood trim, as well as a gigantic touchscreen, thick-rimmed steering wheel and high-tech LCD instrument cluster that changes readouts based on driving mode.
This Bimmer is eerily quiet, except when pumping up the volume on the exquisite Harmon Kardon stereo. But don’t get too excited grooving to those tunes: If you start drifting out of your lane or get too close to a car in your blindspot, a visual warning goes off and the steering wheel starts to vibrate.
LEXUS RX 350 F SPORT
Mpg: 19 city, 26 highway
0-60 mph: 7.7 seconds
Lexus certainly takes chances. Not satisfied with producing some of the most reliable luxury vehicles on the planet, the automaker started shaking up its lineup and its buyers with radical designs.
It also added the F Sport trim level, though these vehicles are sportier in look than performance. Yet it all works, including on the RX 350 midsize crossover, a fan fave since it was introduced 20 years ago.
It’s easy to bypass the base model, which rides a bit soft, and splurge for those spicy F Sport add-ons: heated/ventilated seats, heated steering wheel, paddle shifters, ambient lighting, firmer suspension for better handling, and special interior and exterior design cues, including a more menacing grille.
Plus, it has 20-inch, dark-graphite alloy wheels and a sexy engine growl. Lexus also tosses in 10 airbags, rain-sensing wipers and touch-free power liftgate, and you can opt for a 15-speaker Mark Levinson stereo. The RX 350 is definitely not as quick as the BMW 640i xDrive Gran Turismo, but the price is much more appealing. Along with a hybrid version (the RX 450h) there’s now a long-wheelbase, three-row RX 350 L model that seats seven.
VW GOLF R
Mpg: 22 city, 29 highway
0-60 mph: 4.8 seconds
With European flair and sure-footed handling, the VW Golf has always been popular. But now there’s the radical Golf R — at twice the price of the base model — screeching around the corner. This is the uber high-performance model, surpassing even the spiffy Golf GTI in chills and thrills.
A launch-control system helps this pocket rocket blast off from standing starts, while precise steering and burly brakes make commuting through traffic bearable — almost fun, even.
But to truly appreciate the Golf R, it’s best to head to a test track or fast freeway and let this puppy off leash. Along with Sport, Normal and Comfort drive modes, a customizable setting lets drivers fine tune the power and handling. Inside, there’s an eight-inch touchscreen and 400-watt, eight-speaker Fender stereo.
There are more safety features here than on most competitors, including collision warning, pedestrian detection, front/rear parking sensors, blind-spot monitor and lane-departure warning. Alas, the sporty styling cues are almost too subtle, with some understated R-style badging, a double set of dual exhaust pipes and blue accent interior lighting. But while all Golf models basically look the same on the outside, the Golf R gives you plenty of attitude under the hood.