What's New: Larger and roomier. Shorter front-end overhang. A bit more power, and improved fuel economy.Why It's Good: The 2.0-liter. four-cylinder engine, combined with stellar styling and interior appointments, makes this entry-level Audi well timed. Now, if the U.S. dollar were a bit stronger, we could get prices down.
Best Cars of 2009: Audi A4
Best Cars of 2009: Audi A4
Best Cars of 2009: BMW 7 SeriesPrice: NA
What's New: Classic BMW styling replaces the controversial lines of the last Seven.Improved iDrive controller. Roomier backseat. Dashboard angled to driver. Back end is totally integrated into the design, unlike the last version.Why It's Good: The Seven is all the way back to flagship status. Top-flight engine and packaging. A great Bimmer is always a good thing.
Best Cars of 2009: Ford F Series
Price: $17,900-$42, 205 (estimated)
What's New: If the economy and housing market weren't in such a deep hole, the market would actually be eager to greet an all new Ford F-Series pickup. The truck gets the new three-bar Ford grille, 10% more torsional rigidity to improve an already class-leading ride. Power, towing capacity, and fuel economy are all boosted. The box gets improvements for easier access.Why It's Good: It's good for the planet that fewer people who don't actually need pickups are buying them. But for those who do need a working truck, this is da bomb.
Best Cars of 2009: Ford FlexPrice: $28,295-$36,555
What's New: The Flex's seven-seater layout effectively replaces the old Ford minivans, and makes the boldest styling statement in the full-size crossover segment. Smooth engine, solid suspension, and friendly interior make the Flex a design and performance winner.Why It's Good: Ford went for a polarizing design instead of the me-too, lowest common denominator shape of GM's big crossovers. Two-tone paint choices make it seem almost like a big Mini.
Best Cars of 2009: Honda Fit
What's New: Larger and roomier with no real loss of fuel economy. Up-market version has a navigation system and screen controls for sound system. More aerodynamic styling than the originalWhy It's Good: A flexible and roomy package with highway fuel economy that gets around 34 mpg (higher in real-life use) is just what the economy ordered. The price is a bit higher than the old Fit, but it's an attractive package for people trading cars and SUVs for greener choices.
Best Cars of 2009: Hyundai Genesis
What's New: The whole car is new for Hyundai, which is trying to move its image upscale. The ride, handling, packaging, and features are all Bavarian by inspiration. This rear-drive Korean sports sedan delivers on everything except maybe a slightly flabby design profile. V-8 engine is optional. Following the Santa Fe, Sonata, and Veracruz, Hyundai is showing that it has a product line to lead its brand to parity with Toyota.Why It's Good: It delivers a substantial discount to BMW 5 Series and Mercedes E-Class, though brand cachet is in the wallet of the beholder.
Best Cars of 2009: Mazda6
What's New: Power and size are upgraded so that the Mazda6 now competes head-to-head with Camry and Accord. The 2.5-liter inline four-cylinder engine is a solid performer, leaving the 3.5-liter V6 to those who just have to have the bigger numbers. It comes with a manual transmission, but no wagon this time.Why It's Good: The previous Mazda6 was under-sized and under-powered for the segment. The exterior styling has some flair, and the interior design is well tailored and user-friendly. A spot-on execution of the new sedan.
Best Cars of 2009: Nissan GT-R
What's New: A true super sports car that can be legitimately compared to a Porsche. Twin-turbo V6 engine, all-wheel drive, and a terrific interior.Why It's Good: The current economy may not seem like the best time to launch a car that rings up at over $80K after a few doodads and tax are added in. But Nissan has taken its performance heritage to a new height in its portfolio that will surprise even some die-hard Porsche enthusiasts. We'd like to see a manual transmission, but you can't have everything, even for this kind of coin.
Best Cars of 2009: Nissan MaximaPrice: $29,290-$31,990
What's New: Nissan has brought back the real Maxima sports sedan. The front-drive sedan tuned for sports-car handling has long been a car for those in the know, and not slaves to luxury nameplates for driveway cachet. The last Maxima didn't quite measure up, but this one does.Why It's Good: Load up the Maxima with the features you like, and it still rings up around $35K. That's less than most BMW 3 Series and Mercedes C-Class, yet the Maxima delivers as much driving fun for people who actually like to drive.
Best Cars of 2009: Pontiac Vibe GT
What's New: The Vibe is the forgotten Pontiac, maybe because it is built on a Toyota Corolla platform and is a twin of the Toyota Matrix. The interior layout of the Vibe is much improved from the last version. And it is a useful, flexible five-door utility. The GT version offers a particularly good ride.Why It's Good: The Vibe, like the Matrix, provides a serious alternative to midsize SUVs for buyers looking to drive greener and more frugally. It won't tow a boat (who can afford to fuel up a boat these days?), but it will ferry two kids and most of their sports gear.