For the first time in a long while, driver involvement is making a comeback in 2012. Of course, the New Year is bringing its fair share of power hitters – what with a 650hp Mustang debuting and a bevy of 1,000hp cars – but if you look on the more affordable side of the spectrum, driving fun is back in a big way. Car companies are looking past adding “more” of everything into a car to make their offerings lust-worthy. Instead, they’re putting in features that can’t be summed up on a spec sheet, but do show up in the driving experience. Even Toyota is producing a sports car again. With cars like this on the horizon for 2012, it’s shaping up to be the Year of the Driver.
The story of Ford’s small, performance-oriented cars in the United States has been one of a constant disappointment. As Capris, Sierras and Escorts chewed up European roads with turbocharged fury, us Americans only got the lumbering Mustang. This year, however, we get the truly good stuff with the Focus ST. The specs are promising: 250hp from a turbocharged 2.0L engine, independent rear suspension, and all the natural racy bits on the inside and out. Price has yet to be released, but don’t be too surprised to see this car around the 24k mark. Most importantly, for the first time in seven years, Ford has a proper competitor in the hot hatchback class.
The FR-S/BR-Z was a joint project between Toyota and Subaru to deliver a car that puts driving enjoyment ahead of sheer numbers. This means low price, low weight and a truly amazing driving experience. The result of this Toyota and Subaru marriage is a low-slung coupe with a 200hp flat four. For those that think that is too little power, bear in mind the car weighs a featherweight 2600 pounds. Not to mention, the development team pegged the Porsche Cayman as a dynamic benchmark. The FR-S will be sold as a Scion here in the states, but the Subaru version will also be available as well.
The world’s best sports car gets even better this year. Redesigned from the ground up, the 911 gets a new exterior, interior and more power. The boxer six engine has been given a few tweaks to now produce 400hp. The chassis has been lengthened and widened slightly to provide more stable handing as well. Even though the changes are incremental, the 911 goes to show that evolution, not revolution, is the way to continually improve the world’s best all around sports car.
JLo advertisements aside, the Fiat 500 is a great little car, but this year the version car enthusiasts have wanted all along finally debuts. In Abarth trim, the engine is turbocharged to deliver nearly 170hp. New brakes, suspension and wheels are added. Finally, cutesy exterior parts are tossed in favor of new, more aerodynamic and menacing bumpers. This may be the sleeper hit of 2012, and will hopefully help improve Fiat’s public perception problem.
A historic nameplate comes back from the past to help the Camaro usurp the muscle car throne from its crosstown rival, the Ford GT500. Back in the 60s, the ZL1 badge graced the most powerful Camaro ever. Today, that badge is on a Camaro equipped with a 580hp, 6.2 liter, supercharged V8. The ZL1 was primed to punish the GT500 on the street or track, until Ford debuted their new GT500…
Never before has 580hp looked so inadequate; that is, until Ford debuted their new GT500. Playing their “This one goes to eleven” card, Ford debuted the new GT500 with 650hp and a 202mph top speed. Suspension and brakes have also been modified to handle the 100hp increase from last year. The fight for stoplight supremacy has just become a lot more interesting with the arrival of the revised GT500 and the new Camaro ZL1.
Get used to the back end of this car; you will be seeing it frequently as it cuts you off in traffic every single day. Yes, the perennial prep mobile has received an update for 2012. The new 3 series is new from the ground up, but the biggest change comes in the engine department. Naturally aspirated straight six engines were the hallmark of BMW’s sport sedans, but in 2012, none is offered. Instead, the base 328i receives a 240hp turbocharged 4 cylinder. However, a straight six is still offered in 335i guise, but that engine is turbocharged.
It wouldn’t a be a new year without a new automaker springing up to take on the likes of Ferrari and Lamborghini, and this year’s contender hails from Denmark. The Danish Zenvo ST1 is the newest contender for hypercar supremacy. The ST1 boasts a supercharged and turbocharged engine to deliver 1,104hp from a 7.2L V8 engine. The ST1 looks to deliver Veyron challenging speed, but is also challenged by another hypercar competitor this year.
The second hypercar producer challenging Zenvo is not new to the game per se. Shelby SuperCars has been around for a few years and has already beaten the big boys at their own game with the SSC supercar by smashing the record for highest production car top speed. They are the single reason Bugatti created the Supersport version of the Veyron to grab the crown back. However, the Tuatara looks to change the glaring flaw of their previous car: its ghastly appearance. Whereas the SSC was a mishmash of supercar design cues, the Tuatara is exotic and streamlined. The Tuatara will also be faster than the SSC because it has a full carbon fiber chassis powered by a 1,350hp V8 engine. The best part is that the car is made in the U.S.A.
Hyundai’s three-door coupe is interesting to look at but not all that interesting to drive. Backed up by only 138hp in base guise, the Veloster can’t provide the performance to back up its looks, or even its name. Hyundai looks to change that in 2012, however, by turbocharging the little coupe to give it somewhere in the range of 200hp. Not much is known at this point of how the final car will look, or drive, but if Hyundai’s recent success is any indication, the car is not going to be a disappointment.
From the green side of the automotive universe comes two electric sedans, one of which is the Fisker Karma. The Fisker is an executive sedan that can travel 50 miles on a full electric charge. From there, the turbocharged 4-cyliner Ecotec motor from GM kicks in to recharge the batteries to supply a full 300miles of driving range.
The second electric car to debut this year is the Tesla S. Following up on the success of the Tesla Roadster, Tesla is debuting their first mainstream offering with the Model S. Priced from 55 grand, the Model S delivers 300 miles of driving range, all on electricity. There is no conventional engine on this car, just batteries.
We don’t know what it looks like, or how it drives, but we do know that this is one of the most anticipated cars of 2012. The reason is that this is Cadillac’s first true BMW 3-Series competitor since the dreadful Catera. A range of engines will be offered, and the car was tuned at the fabled Nurburghring, but final specifications are unknown at this time. However, if the ATS is as good as the CTS, BMW will have some fresh competition to worry about.
Following the daft Dodge Caliber, Dodge is looking to redeem itself in the small car segment with the Dart. The Dart also marks the first fruit of Chrysler’s merger with Fiat, because underneath the Dodge skin lies Italian bones. And not just any bones either, but the platform of the Alfa Romeo Guilietta. The Dart will be powered by a host of new engines and transmission choices, also supplied by Fiat. No hatchback version will be offered, unfortunately, but the Dart is shaping up to be a serious contender in the small car marketplace.
Much like the ATS, we don’t know much of the new Viper. Presumed dead last year, the Viper has been raised from the ashes to headline the new SRT brand. Branding confusion aside, the automotive marketplace will be a much better place with the rowdy Viper back in it. Here’s hoping the newest version can provide the same visceral thrills as the old one.
On the outside, it may look like another compact SUV for the masses, but the CX-5 is anticipated for what it means for Mazda as a whole. First, this CUV debuts the new design language that we will be seeing on all future Mazdas. Secondly, the CX-5 will offer Mazda’s Skyactiv engines and transmissions to offer admirable fuel economy without sacrificing driving enjoyment. The future of Mazda hinges somewhat on the success of the CX-5 in more ways than one.
Lexus has been a leader in luxury sales in North America for many moons and now that the competition is getting better Lexus has something for their customers that should be well received. The new Lexus G Series has been revised to bring in more aggression and emotion into the car. Engines are carryover items, but everything else is new or revised. The interior has been improved, suspension tuning changed, and most noticeably, the outside has been given a more aggressive fascia. This segment has been getting more competitive so cars like the GS are crucial in maintaining Lexus’ position in the American marketplace.
The Pathfinder finds itself following the same trends as other SUVs this year as Nissan revises the truck to abide by both customer demands and increasing emission regulations. That teaser image below is all we know of how the Pathfinder looks. However, we do know that, like many SUV’s as of late, it will be based on a car platform and not be a true truck. This has probably been done to deliver both fewer emissions, and a better ride quality. Like the Explorer before it, Nissan is adapting to the times with the new Pathfinder.
Competition in the long-neglected subcompact class is heating up, especially with Chevy’s new Spark added to the shuffle. Pegged as the go-to car for urban driving, the Spark will try going head to head with the Fiat 500 and Smart car. A stylish exterior and a host of gadgetry will give the buyer a little bit of a spunkier choice over the Aveo and similar cars in the marketplace.
In its quest to be taken serious by buyers against the likes of BMW, Audi and Mercedes, Infiniti has created its own performance line similar to BMW’s M and Mercedes’ AMG brand. Instead of offering cars that only deliver blistering performance, though, Infiniti has chosen not to focus solely on increasing power. The reason for this is because Infiniti wants their IPL versions to not only be faster than the base cars, but also comfortable enough for everyday use. For instance, the new G37 Convertible IPL adds slightly stiffer suspension, a modest bump in power, and a more aggressive fascia and wheel package for better performance, but is still a comfortable boulevard cruiser for when you don’t feel like carving up the apexes.
Tags: BMW 3 series, Cadillac ATS, Camaro ZL1, Chevy Spark, Dodge Dart, Fiat 500 Abarth, Fisker Karma, Ford Focus ST, Ford Mustang GT500, Hyundai Veloster Turbo, Infiniti G37 IPL Convertible, Lexus GS Series, Mazda CX-5, Nissan Pathfinder, Porsche 911, Shelby Tuatara, SRT Viper, Subaru BR-Z, Tesla, Tesla Model S, Toyota FR-S, Zenvo ST1