Consider this a New Year’s resolution of sorts. These are the new cars I’d most want to acquire in 2012. I’ve been letting my fingers do the walking over at Cars.com. They’re not all rational choices, but we buy cars with our hearts, not our heads. How else did so many people end up driving SUVs, one in a million of which actually goes off road? I imagine any normal guy would put a Ferrari on this list somewhere, but I never said I was a normal guy.
BMW 128i Convertible.
Owning “ultimate driving machine” BMWs ruined me on the garden-variety American cars I had as a kid. Here was a car that actually went where it was pointed! I was a ragtop guy, but in those days BMW didn’t seem to get the convertible thing. The 128i combines a lot of things I like: A small, maneuverable car with some cool tech, including six-cylinder engine making 230 horsepower, a six-speed manual transmission (the auto is six-speed, too), stability and traction control, and four-wheel ABS discs. I love reading phrases like “composite magnesium/ aluminum engine block, Valvetronic, and Double-VANOS steplessly variable valve timing.” What does “steplessly” mean? The 28 mpg on the highway is pretty good. Anyway, I want one.
The Volt fires, weeks after government crash tests, haven’t dimmed my enthusiasm for America’s first plug-in hybrid. And now I have a reason to really want one: When asked to characterize a car built with American leadership and ingenuity, Mitt Romney said it was an “idea whose time has not come.” Really, he said that, as a sort of coup de grace after opining that GM and Chrysler should have been allowed to fail. The Volt is fighting headwinds right now, but I’ve talked to dozens of owners and they absolutely love their cars. Asked about the fires, one just told me that “it’s more dangerous to walk across the street.” I can’t really afford a Volt, with two kids heading out to college, but buying one would sure send the right statement.
Mazda MX-5 Miata.
I know, it’s another little convertible. Did I mention that I really like little convertibles? I’ve coveted a Miata forever, even though a) I barely fit into it and my size 12 feet are too big for the pedals; and b) It’s impractical with a family of four. Can’t I have a fun car? A toy? No? Well, that’s why I haven’t bought one. Instead, I gawk at them in parking lots, check out the classified ads, and visit the web site now and then. I like that they haven’t changed the Miata much since the 1990 U.S. debut. There’s still a 16-valve four under the hood, though I don’t recall the early ones having variable valve timing. Fuel economy is about the same as the BMW, 28 mpg on the highway with the six-speed manual. The price is right, too, $23,190 MSRP. I’d end up with a Miata long before the BMW, because that one costs $36,700.
I saw this little guy on a show stand somewhere and fell in love. I adore its 1.3-liter, 94-horsepower engine, and the fact that Motor Trend could describe it as “…the fourth-slowest vehicle of all the 2011 and 2012 model-year vehicles we have tested, quicker only than the iMiEV and two Fiat 500 convertibles. In testing, the iQ managed its meander to 60 in 10.8 seconds…” My kind of car! I’ve owned dozens of vehicles, and not one with V-8 power. The magazine describes the Scion as “great for anyplace but the U.S.,” meaning we’re somehow incapable of dealing with the fuel-efficient microcars that are a staple on the world’s roads. Sure, this car would get intimidated by a highway full of Hummers, but that reality is fast diminishing in the rearview mirror. The Scion is now for sale on the West Coast, and it goes national in early 2012. It’s supposed to be a “3+1” four-passenger car (unlike the Smart it resembles), but my guess is you’d need a shoe horn for the rear. The pretty good bottom line: 36 mpg city, 37 highway (I’d like to see those numbers in the mid-40s), $16,500. Toyota’s challenge is to goose the fuel economy to make the size and performance sacrifice more worthwhile. The more usable four-door Ford Fiesta, for instance, will hit the magic 40 mpg with the SFE package.
Let’s face it, the Koreans are smokin’ hot these days, and a lot of other companies are watching Hyundai drive by with their hats in their hands. Here we have a $15,195 car with four doors, a rear seat, a six-speed manual tranny, six airbags, standard stability system and…wait for it…40 mpg on the highway (29 in town). Plus, it’s neat looking, and has Mercedes-level quality. Heck, you can even get heated rear seats. My family won’t hate me if I bring one of these home. The Elantra also wins points because I attended the launch at the LA Auto Show, and Jeff Bridges (in Crazy Heart mode) was the entertainment.
Ford C-Max Energi.
Speaking of Fords, this 2013 plug-in hybrid model, coming later in 2012, avoids the tight fit of the Scion but is likely to deliver really impressive miles per gallon equivalent (MPGe) beating both the Volt and Toyota Prius Plug-In Hybrid, plus 500-mile range (and 30 miles in EV mode). I like the C-Max’s layout, which seats five, and its positioning somewhere between a minivan, a crossover SUV and a sedan. There are still a bunch of holes in what we know about this car (MPGe, battery pack size?) but having followed its evolution from a test vehicle on the Escape platform, I’m really eager to see how it all shakes out.
I’ll be heading out soon to the Detroit Auto Show and will see some of these cars in the metal. This video gives a sense of what the car show experience is all about: