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Go back a few years and every new car shouted about mpg and economizing. This year, fuel efficiency is still important, but style is back for the new cars sporting 2013 and 2014 model years. Sportiness is taking center stage once more, and a fierce competition is about to happen between $20,000 and $30,000—so if you can't afford the next $100,000 Viper, fear not. Here are 12 cars we're waiting for over the next year or so.
2013 Hyundai Veloster Turbo
When: Late summer 2012
How Much: TBD
Our Guess: $23,000
Right now, the Veloster lacks the performance cred to back up its killer looks. But that will change once this 201-hp version hits the streets. The 45 percent boost in horsepower has most folks taking a second look at the Veloster, and hoping this Turbo is a signal that Hyundai is getting as serious about performance as it has been about quality and design over the last few years.
So far, though, signs remain cloudy—the stonking 1.6-liter motor with dual exhaust notwithstanding. Word is the Veloster Turbo gets the same suspension, which is disappointing. The stock Veloster is fun but stiff-kneed and less refined when compared to better-bred sporty cars like VW's GTI—or the Subaru BRZ, which is only somewhat costlier than what we're expecting to see from the Veloster Turbo. Also, ask Mini engineers about controlling torque steer in a 200-hp car with a short wheelbase. That, too, has probably made Hyundai sweat.
Even if the Veloster Turbo isn't perfection out of the gate, we hope it's a sign of better-performing Hyundais (and Kias) to come.
2013 Dodge Dart R/T
When: October 2012
How Much: $23,290
Most of the new front-wheel-drive Dart models go on sale this summer, and we like what we've driven so far. But the fastest of the breed, the R/T, holds off for a fall launch.
Like its less muscular brethren, the R/T rides on a Fiat chassis borrowed from the Alfa Romeo Giulietta, with a fully independent suspension. We expect that suspension to be a little lower and stiffer in the R/T. The car will get the most horsepower of the lot, with a 184-hp 2.4-liter four under the hood.
At this point it's unclear if the R/T will come with only a six-speed manual or with a dual-clutch automatic as well. We do know that the R/T, like the Sonic RS, is going to face stiff competition from slightly pricier models, including the Ford Focus ST, the expected Fiesta ST, and the Scion FR-S and Subaru BRZ. Even if these sporty cars are bunched around $25,000, slightly above the Dart R/T, their performance chops could put a pinch on sales of the Dodge.
2013 SRT Viper
When: December 2012
How Much: TBD
Our Guess: $100,000
With a 640-hp V-10 and a body made of magnesium, aluminum, and carbon fiber, we're expecting greatness from Chrysler's supercar. And at 100 grand, it'd better be great—there's already a Corvette ZR1 in this price range that can eat Ferraris, and the C7 will only up the ante. Plus there's a certain new Mustang that's far cheaper and should be mighty impressive too. And even if the Viper is faster than the Ford or Chevy in a straight line, it must improve its handling over the outgoing model. While SRT folks are claiming a scorching 0-to-60 time of 3.5 seconds and a 206-mph top speed for the new car, the last Viper was time-warp-fast too—and also saddled with unpredictable handling and frequent maintenance headaches.
Haunted by those ghosts of Vipers past, Chrysler engineers started over. They lowered the car's weight by about 140 pounds and made its chassis 50 percent stiffer. (That alone tells you how far Chrysler had to go to make a Viper that's world class.) The Tremec-supplied six-speed manual (no automatic, at least not yet) is said to have far lower clutch effort, while bringing tighter ratios and more precise feel. The suspension is entirely new, again with the aim of more predictable handling. And there's a multi-setting stability-control system with a full-off mode for the track. That could be great, but only if the car doesn't actually need the electronic assist to handle like a supercar.
That will be key. This Viper is designed to challenge cars that can reach nine tenths of their potential without technological guardrails. The SRT needs to get in that ballpark to be a real winner.
2013 Ram 1500
When: Late 2012
How Much: Starting at around $22,000
There is an upside to the game of catch-up Chrysler is playing in so many segments: It gives the company an opportunity to try bold remakes that leap-frog the current benchmarks. We think the automaker chose wisely by doing this to its flagship Dodge pickup.
The Ram was due for a facelift, but rather than giving it a superficial makeover, Chrysler went for so many smart updates that Ford and GM will be chasing for their own answers. Start with aerodynamics, where Chrysler has altered the front wheel openings and given the truck's grille active shutters said to reduce drag by 3 to 5 percent. It added an eight-speed automatic transmission too, tied in electric power steering, and brought in start/stop technology to save gas in traffic.
All of these changes are included with any of the available engines, although the Ram's V-8s—the aging 4.8-liter and the 5.7-liter Hemi—are less noteworthy than the 3.6-liter V-6 that'll punch out 305 hp and 269 lb-ft of torque. Ford's EcoBoost V-6 is still more powerful, pumping out 365 hp and 420 lb-ft in the F-150. But the Pentastar engine, used already in the Jeep Wrangler and Grand Cherokee and now available in the Ram, could be the more fuel-efficient choice, especially when combined with all the other tech Chrysler has brought to bear. And because most of the Ram's torque is available nearly from idle, at just 1800 rpm, load-haulers won't miss the V-8 unless they tow serious weight.
2013 Chevy Sonic RS
When: Late 2012
How Much: TBD
Our Guess: No higher than $22,000 (any higher and the Sonic RS would bump up against more serious sports cars like the Subaru BRZ and probably the Ford Fiesta ST, which is still to come but should cost around $22,000)
The RS is a sportier Sonic with an affordable sticker. Yeah, we wish Chevy would cram its 2.0-liter Ecotec under the hood of the Sonic, but barring that, we'll get the Sonic RS with a 1.4-liter turbocharged four borrowed from the Chevy Cruze and good for 138 hp.
Still, this car gets more than just a mild exterior makeover. The six-speed manual has closer ratios and the suspension has been stiffened. The stock Sonic is already one of the tautest-handling cars in the "B" segment. Adding 17-inch rubber and a slightly lower suspension is going to make the RS a rip to drive.
There are also new rocker moldings and a new rear spoiler, but more important for the driver, the car gets sportier, firmer front buckets. The RS will be the only Sonic to get four-wheel discs as well as four-channel ABS with electronic brake-force distribution.
2013 Subaru WRX
When: Early 2013
How Much: TBD
Our Guess: $27,000 to $28,000
Recently the blogosphere has been alive with chatter that the next-gen Subaru WRX will get the FA motor developed for the Subaru BRZ, and this is one instance when there's logic behind the rumor. The FA engine can sit a lot lower in the car because it's more compact. A lower engine has many advantages, chief among them the ability to shove the mass farther rearward in the car for better balance. Better still, Subaru engineered the FA for higher compression from the start, so it should tolerate the amount of forced induction required to take it from 200 hp in the BRZ to the expected benchmark of 265 hp. And let's just say here that we'd bet Subaru designed its latest Impreza chassis with the WRX (not to mention the STi) in mind, and we'd bet the newest WRX will be lighter and more nimble as a result. A bonus: Fuel economy should jump a good 15 percent.
2014 Jaguar F-Type Roadster
When: Summer 2013
How Much: $50,000 to $60,000
Jaguar's C-X16 concept from 2011 makes its production debut as the new F-Type with a supercharged 3.0-liter V-6 that should make 380 hp. Expect at least one turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder derived from the Range Rover Evoque, but that powerplant probably won't be sold in the U.S. Both engines will be mated to eight-speed automatics with start–stop technology.
An aluminum body will keep weight down but price up. Expect this Jag to compete with the Porsche Boxster as well as with the Audi TT-RS. The platform may also underpin a forthcoming XF sedan replacement.
2014 Audi A3
How Much: $30,000 and up
The forthcoming A3 will be based on the VW Golf. It would be nice if the U.S. got the hatch, but that's unlikely. We probably will get a diesel A3, though, and the four-door sedan will come in a hotter S3 version that's also a possibility for North America, though an über-powerful RS3 is highly unlikely.
Hopefully the chassis that underpins the new Audi will be more modular than previous versions. That would allow integration of hybrid tech and front-drive or AWD setups that could shave weight on various Audis and Volkswagens, helping engineers to increase fuel economy while downsizing displacement.
Chevrolet Corvette C7
When: Fall 2013
How Much: $50,000 and up
We know more about the next Vette than we did just a few months ago. Gone are thoughts of a split rear window, a turbocharged V-6, or a midengine design. It now appears that the C7 will debut at this coming winter's North American auto show in Detroit with a 5.5-liter V-8 that still uses pushrods. However, thanks to direct injection and higher compression, it's reasonable to expect the new Corvette to put out 440 hp, so it could match or best the outgoing 6.0-liter.
The car will be visually arresting for certain. Inspiration will come at least in part from the present Camaro. One sure bet—GM will finally, praise heaven, give its $50,000 Ferrari slayer an interior that's gorgeous, and with seats that hold the driver comfortably on track day.
2014 Jeep Liberty
How Much: TBD
Our Guess: $22,000 to $24,000
Jeep has a real conundrum on its hands. Diehard off-roading loyalists want every Jeep to be capable of conquering mule paths and mud bogs. But the RAV4, CR-V, and Santa Fe buyers that Jeep would like to entice don't care about rock-crawling prowess. They care about modern amenities such as hitting 70 mph highway speeds with low noise and vibration and little harshness; carlike handling; and reliability. All-wheel drive is fine if it gets you out of the driveway on a snowy morning, but that's as much Trail Rating as they need.
We think that means Chrysler is going to push back against those sensitive Jeep fans, hard. That translates to a Liberty that is a Jeep in name but carries the same chassis that undergirds the new Dodge Dart. Expect a fully independent suspension and 4WD but no low range, even if hill-descent control is an option. There's also rumor of an all-new V-6 (the outgoing 3.7-liter V-6 was anemic, unrefined, and thirsty), and a ZF-sourced nine-speed automatic. That would mean a whopping five more forward gears than the outdated four-speed auto in the old Liberty (pictured above). The base Liberty could have the same 1.4-liter turbo deployed in the new Dart, and, though it is sacrilege to some Jeep fans, front-wheel drive.
2014 Porsche Macan
How Much: Low $40,000s
Porsche loyalists, look away. You might cry foul over this latest VW Group tie-up with Porsche, but Porsche can't hear you over the ka-ching of all those dollars, euros, yen, and yuan.
We actually have high hopes for the Audi Q5–based Macan. The reason: The Q5 could be much more capable than it is, but while we don't foresee Audi bringing us an R-edition Q5, we can believe Porsche would go there.
At first, we expect Porsche to go for improved handling, the way it built the Cayenne to be a more capable high-speed machine than the VW Touareg. AWD will be a given, as will two Audi-derived engines, the 237-hp 2.0-liter turbo four and the 288-hp V-6. Rumors suggest that a manual gearbox could be possible, but we're betting on a seven-speed auto, though there's still hope it could come in a dual-clutch arrangement.
2014 Mercedes-Benz CLA
When: Late 2013
How Much: TBD
Our Guess: As high as $45,000 for the AMG, mid-$30,000 range for later CLAs
Mercedes has been toying with bringing Americans a compact Benz since Harry Truman was in the White House. Okay, not quite, but it seems that way. Think of how much money Mercedes hasn't made while BMW brought the 1 Series, and then several hundred thousand Minis, to the U.S.
Now Mercedes is finally pulling the trigger. What the CLA promises, Mercedes says, is something slicker than we've seen on American shores, and the first A-Class to grace the New World will arrive as an AMG with a muscular 300-hp turbocharged four-cylinder fed to all-wheel drive. It's even possible we'll see a double-clutch, seven-speed automatic.
Only the sedan version of the smallest Benz will come to America, probably because the hatch versions of the 1 Series and the Audi A3 haven't sold well here. After the CLA AMG debuts, though, we will see more fuel-efficient CLAs with smaller engines, possibly a diesel, and front-wheel drive.