Best Sports Compact: <a href="http://www.hyundaiusa.com/vehicles/2012/veloster/" target="_blank">2012 Hyundai Veloster</a>-
Oh, Hyundai: In just a few short years you’ve leaped from punch line to powerhouse. Take the 2012 Veloster: It’s cheap, fun as hell to drive, loaded to the gills with tech (a seven-inch touchscreen console lets you beam your location to your buddies), and it delivers hybrid mileage from an all-gas engine (call an exorcist—this car’s ability to wring 40 miles out of a gallon of gas can only be explained by witchcraft). And how’s this for a fad diet: Its odd-ass design has three doors, giving you a four-door’s ease of entry without the added weight. Here’s to back-door entry!
Price not set
Most Fun Hybrid: <a href="http://www.infinitiusa.com/m/hybrid?dcp=ppi.63023880.&dcc=0.240189298" target="_blank">2012 Infiniti M Hybrid</a>-
Hybrids may save on the CO2, but they aren’t winning any races. This sporty sipper (32 mpg!) gets its electric fix from next-gen lithium-ion batteries, which hold more power than older nickel-metal hydride battery packs and dish it out with greater gusto. The upshot: It packs enough thrust to tie a 420 hp M56 in a drag race (we’ve got the speeding tickets to prove it).
Best Get-R-Jobs-Back Award: <a href="http://web.vw.com/all-new-passat-experience/?sem=google&tc=sem-rttn-pst-adgroup5-google-pstg" target="_blank">2012 VW Passat</a>-
Who says American manufacturing is dead? VW may hail from Deutschland, but the 2012 Passat is rolling off the assembly line at a brand-spankin’-new factory in good ol’ Tennessee, which now employs 12,000 local roughnecks. Fortunately, this car is more than just a feel-good news story—it’s also a great ride. Think: Germany’s famously meticulous engineering, tossed into a horseless carriage designed specifically for the picky American driver. That means space, fun, and a price that won’t leave you with dry heaves.
Most Explosive SUV: <a href="http://www.jeep.com/en/srt8/" target="_blank">2012 Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT8</a>-
Last year this staid SUV got a redesign that gave it a modern feel. This year the transformation is complete: A 465 hp, 6.4-liter V-8 now gives this tank the firepower needed to scare the crap out of everybody else on the road. All hail the most powerful Jeep ever made!
Best Reason to Look Forward to <i>Fast & Furious 6</i>: <a href="http://automobiles.honda.com/civic-si-sedan/?ef_id=BqNOocLdLVQAAIVM:20111028220939:s" target="_blank">2012 Honda Civic SI</a>-
It’s been 39 years and nine production generations since those crazy cats over at Honda gave birth to the first Honda Civic, and everything we love about the classic compact is still here: its whip-fast finish, awesome fuel efficiency (22 mpg in the city, 31 out on the open road), and flat-footed practicality. Only this time it’s all boosted by a larger, torque-ier four-cylinder engine that’s as big a threat tearing down the drag strip as it is drifting through a cone course (or, uh, shuttling you to work). Getting Vin Diesel to drive it? That still costs extra.
Best Car for the Environmentally Conscious NBA Player: <a href="http://www.toyota.com/sem/hybrids.html?srchid=K610_p2603958" target="_balnk">2012 Toyota Prius V</a>-
It’s no mystery why people plop down for Priuses: This one pulls 44 mpg in the city and 40 on the open road. But with 38 inches of rear legroom, even your friends with hyperactive pituitary glands can stretch out in this new V model. And that 34.3 cubic feet of cargo space? It’s the most you’ll find this side of an SUV.
Price not set
Best Muscle Car: <a href="http://www.ford.com/cars/mustang/2012mustangboss/?searchid=61240949|2322893069|18202755389" target="_blank">2012 Ford Mustang Boss 302</a> -
With their tendency to coddle drivers in the lap of luxury and gadgetry, today’s cars can feel more like spas than speed machines. So there’s something refreshingly raw about the new Mustang, which pours its every ounce into kicking asphalt and leaving tread marks. The primary instrument of its rubber-burning destruction: a 444 hp, five-liter V-8 engine that can pull off a whoppin’ 7,500 rpm. As we kicked up the gears and pressed down the pedal during our test drive, we could feel our rage transform into speed. Yeah, this hunk of classic American muscle just got juiced.
Price not set
Best Way to Win a Drag Race: <a href="http://www.nissanusa.com/gt-r/specifications.html" target="_blank">2012 Nissan GT-R Black Edition</a> -
See those tread marks behind you? A second ago they weren’t there. You conceived and gave birth to them. And this drag king’s Launch Control system (which can propel it to 60 mph in just three seconds)? It was your Viagra. Our advice: Just strap in and enjoy the Gs.
Best Dirt Machine: <a href="http://www.jeep.com/en/2011/wrangler_unlimited/??sid=1037056&KWNM=2011+jeep+wrangler+unlimited&KWID=3056717798&channel=paidsearch" target="_blank">2012 Jeep Wrangler</a>-
When it comes to bouncing through dunes and ditches, the Wrangler has no equal. But the iconic crawler’s engines have rarely been known for their thrust. The 2012 edition finally gets a revver worthy of its shell: a 3.6-liter Pentastar V-6 that increases its predecessor’s meager 202 horsepower to a stableful of 285 neighing stallions and 260 lb.-ft. of torque. And it’s about time the Wrangler escaped the four-speed ghetto: This model’s transmission gets upgraded to a five-speed automatic.
Price not set
Most Impatient Electric: <a href="http://www.ford.com/electric/focuselectric/2012/" target="_blank">2012 Ford Focus All-Electric</a>-
Electric cars: the great game-changers that promise to knock down our dependence on foreign oil, nip global warming in the bud, and make ever-rising fuel prices a moot point. But while your gas guzzler can fill up in minutes, electrics take hours to sip their volts. Ford’s first foray into all-electric territory is a leap forward for the time-strapped: Its battery can charge in half the time of other electrics. Your ADD will thank you.
Price not set
Most Impractical Hatchback: <a href="http://www.ferrarifour.com/" target="_blank">2012 Ferrari FF</a>- The only explanation for the existence of this Ferrari hatchback: Some designer in Italy knocked out a couple of kids and had to start getting practical. Of course, that assumes your idea of “practical” is mixing 15.9 cubic feet of cargo room with a 6.3-liter direct-injected V-12 capable of vrooming 651 hp to a quartet of wheels. He who possesses this vehicle shall be crowned king of the Costco parking lot.
Best Car to Help You Pay Off Student Loans: <a href="http://www.chevrolet.com/#sonic" target="_blank">2012 Chevy Sonic</a>- The past few years have seen a surge of ultra-cheap, ultra-efficient ultra-compacts. Still, the new Chevy Sonic is a bit of an oddity. First: It’s actually made in America. Second: Despite its bargain-basement price, it doesn’t suck! To crank the fun factor, GM borrowed engineering expertise from its sportier divisions, so this thing is overflowing with Corvette DNA.
Best Cure For a Midlife Crisis: <a href="http://www.porscheeveryday.com/" target="_blank">2012 Porsche Cayenne S Hybrid</a>- Wait a sec: a Porsche-SUV hybrid? Are we here to blow our nest egg? To carry the kids to soccer? To save the Earth? Who cares? Just know we felt crazy crafty drawing eyes at test-drive stoplights—the gawkers might have thought they were admiring raw power, but those stop-and-rolls are when the gasless all-electric mode kicks in.
Best Sports Cas Masquerading as a Sedan: <a href="http://www.bmwusa.com/Standard/Content/Vehicles/2011/M/MExplore.aspx#intro" target="_blank">2012 BMW M5</a>- Pounding the pedal on the M5 is like seeing your nerdy friend whip off his shirt, only to reveal a secret six-pack. In other words: Don’t let its four-door, sedan-y exterior fool you. This thing is most definitely a muscle car in disguise. The proof: A 560 hp engine controlled via a seven-speed dual-clutch transmission.
Price not set
Best Reason to Plan a Road Trip: <a href="http://models.audiusa.com/a7?csref=62111648239202277" target="_blank">2012 Audi A7</a>- Pile in and hit the highway: You may be looking at the perfect road-trip vehicle. Our test drives saw this thing coasting around curves, jetting down straightaways, and lulling our pals to sleep with its silky-smooth ride. The gist: Audi’s vehicular mixologists have whipped together a potent cocktail of sportscar power, luxe comfort, and by-the-books practicality (we’re talking to you, ample legroom and cargo space!). In this ride, there is no bitch seat.
Best Reason to Befriend a Gang of Clowns: <a href="http://www.scion.com/#/iQ?gclid=CP7PzMCwjKwCFYSo4AodG1k6lg" target="_blank">2012 Scion iQ</a>- Ten feet. That’s the length of 10 Nathan’s Famous foot-long dogs, or the new Scion iQ. So let’s see what this Napoleonic car gets you. Killer gas mileage? How does 37 mpg sound? A contortionist-like ability to slip into city-size parking spots? Done. Drag-race muscle? Uh, maybe not.
Pickup of the Year: <a href="http://www.ford.com/new/f-150-torture-test/?searchid=61287426|2211287826|22940075862~110526-150torture" target="_blank">2012 Ford F-150 w/Ecoboost</a>- Big-ass pickups are good for two things: heavy-haul towing and dirty, dirty off-roading. Thing is, the conventional wisdom has long been that to produce the kind of wheel-spinning muscle needed to pull off these tasks, you need the kind of torque that can only come courtesy of a filthy, gas-guzzling V-8 engine. Well, rule book: Meet window. With the F-150 with Ecoboost, Ford bucked this longtime belief by brashly bolting a turbocharged V-6 into its flagship pickup, thus delivering V-8–like hauling with pumped-up fuel economy.
Price not set
The Dream Car: <a href="http://www.aventador.com/index-eng.html" target="_blank">2012 Lamborghini Aventador LP 700-4</a>- You’ll have to forgive us if just mentioning this super-duper-est of supercars and its 700 hp, 6.5-liter V-12 engine sounds like a cock tease.
Even if you had the Scrooge McDuck–like silo of cash needed to buy this thing, it’s already sold out through next year. But while the haters hate, we’ll be busy selling our house and hopping on the waiting list. This is the first all-new Lambo in eight years, and the first to feature a full-on carbon-fiber shell that drops the car’s weight to crazy light and ups its stiffness to crazy hard. We swear we’re not trying to compensate for anything here.
Price not set