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Top cars for 2013

Just in time to chase away those post-holiday blues, it’s auto-show season. Detroit was first this week, with 59 vehicles making glitzy debuts.

Many start rolling into dealer showrooms the next few months, when pricing and mpg numbers will be announced.

Until then, here’s a preview of some of the best rides of the year.

Sports car: Chevy C7 Corvette Stingray

Autos, Chevy Corvette, gay news, Washington Blade

Chevy Corvette

Yes, the new Corvette is finally here. Despite all the spy photos and drawn-out hype, there’s nothing like seeing the real deal. There have only been seven redesigns for this car in six decades, which is why Vettes tend to fall off wish lists after awhile (most other vehicles get refreshed in four or five years). But the C7 was worth the wait, with yowza styling somewhere between the devilish Dodge Viper and a Bond-like Aston Martin. All the lightweight aluminum and carbon fiber and a whopping 450-hp V8 help blast this Corvette from 0 to 60 mph in less than four seconds. And the interior is a stunner, too: well-bolstered seats, Chevy’s smallest steering wheel ever and a head-up display (in hi-resolution color, no less) that projects data on the windshield.

Sedan: Infiniti Q50

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Infiniti Q50

The Q50 replaces the compact G37, one of Infiniti’s best-selling cars. Bulging bumpers and a large, in-your-face grille make things muscular, while wrap-around headlights and a raised rear add sex appeal. With the Q50, Infiniti is targeting the BMW 3 Series. That’s why there’s a punchy 328-hp V6 in the gas-engine model and a hybrid that also gets impressive power. There’s also choice of rear- or all-wheel drive. High-tech gizmos include a “drive-by-wire” adaptive steering system (for better handling), active lane control (which uses cameras to keep you centered in the driving lane) and two touchscreens for the infotainment center.

Crossover: Audi SQ5

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Audi SQ5

The SQ5 — part of Audi’s high-performance “S” line — retains the glitzy DNA of the popular Q5 but throws a supercharged V6 into the mix. A stiffer suspension, lower chassis and beefier tires add to the sportiness of this five-seat compact. So do the sleeker front-end fascia and grille, along with new colors like Estoril Blue and Panther Black. Inside, there are gussied up trim options, and to enhance the race-car effect, faux-metal finishes on paddle shifters and pedals.

Green machine: Cadillac ELR coupe

Cadillac ELR, autos, Washington Blade, gay news

Cadillac ELR

To help jump-start EV sales, Cadillac is hoping the ELR will succeed where the Chevy Volt has, well, lost its spark. That may be easier said than done. Hybrid, EV and other such green machines are less than five percent of the new-vehicle market. Yet the Volt’s $39,000 sticker may resonate better on a Cadillac, which is based on the Volt’s powertrain and can go 35 miles on the battery before the gas engine kicks in. Plus, the ELR has a snazzy, sharp-edged design, more akin to an exotic Fisker or Tesla than the more mundane Volt or Nissan Leaf.


Bargain-priced sedans get Cinderella makeovers

Ford Focus ST, autos, gay news, Washington Blade

Ford Focus ST

Porsche. Maserati. Lamborghini. It’s easy to feel like royalty in a $250,000 sportster. But in a modest sedan? Not so much.

That’s why many automakers are refitting their bargain-priced cars with high-end upgrades and tuner-like performance. So, like Cinderella, these rides have had dramatic makeovers.

Ford Focus ST


Mpg: 23 city/32 highway

0-to-60 mph: 6.2 seconds

Who would have thought a five-door hatchback — basically a glorified station wagon — could be the belle of the ball? The base-model Focus isn’t shabby to begin with, but the high-performance ST model really wows the crowd. There’s the flashy front end (borrowed from Aston Martin), the tapered side panels (just like on the baby Lexus) and a sassy flip-curl spoiler on the rear. It’s feisty, too, thanks to a fast-shifting six-speed manual transmission and fierce 252-hp turbo. Toss in those 18-inch alloys and sport-tuned brakes, and the ST has you at hello. This may not be a luxury car, but that’s easy to forget with so many standard features: keyless ignition, one-touch power windows, turn-signal side mirrors and audio/cruise controls on the steering wheel. But this hatch never forgets its utilitarian roots: just fold the rear seats, and there’s acres of cargo space.

Mazda3 Skyactiv


Mpg: 28 city/40 highway

0-to-60 mph: 8.5 seconds

Looks, like engines, can be deceiving. While the Mazda3 offers three engine choices, beware the pokey 2.0-liter and the much pricier 2.5-liter powerplants. Instead, opt for the Skyactiv engine, which is almost as zesty as the high-end 2.5-liter but boasts 40 mpg on the highway (about as good as it gets for a non-hybrid). Tooling around town is fun and easy, especially when fitting into tight parking spots. And seating is very comfortable for a compact. But there are some downsides: a rather dated dash (though the ambient lighting is pretty cool) and noisy cabin. Still, few econoboxes offer so many high-tech features, such as Pandora audio streaming, audio text messaging and a blind-spot warning system.

Subaru Legacy Limited


Mpg: 24 city/32 highway

0-to-60 mph: 9 seconds

How to be pampered like a princess? Try driving a Legacy Limited, especially on a grueling day-trip up and down the Jersey Turnpike. All-wheel drive (standard on all Subarus) is perfect for dodging speed demons and semis. Ditto the optional safety package (often found only in luxury cars), which includes collision warning, pre-collision braking, lane-departure warning, sway warning, rearview camera and adaptive cruise control. Subaru really upped its styling a few years ago, so the Legacy remains fresh and appealing. But there’s minimal trunk space and meager fuel economy — so, yes, even automakers kiss a few frogs along the way.

Volvo S60


Mpg: 21 city/30 highway

0-to-60 mph: 6.8 seconds

In the past, Volvos weren’t on everyone’s dance card.  But now there are sexier designs, souped-up engines and a slew of high-tech add-ons. Even the safety features are cool, with basically the same gear as the Subaru Legacy Limited above but also a nifty pedestrian-detection system. Three trim levels: T5, T6 and T6 R-Design, all with zesty turbos. The R-Design is especially sweet, with 325 hp, better brakes and sportier steering. And Volvos cost thousands less than the competition. Volvos still have their quirks — such as the utilitarian vs. luxe-like vibe in the cabin — but now they, too, can help turn automotive fairy tales into reality.


Fast and fuel-friendly

Lexus ES 300h, autos, gay news, Washington Blade

Lexus ES 300h

Finally, fuel-sippers can be fun, fast and fashionable cars. For a price.

Sure, hybrids cost much less now. And diesels offer plenty of bang for the buck, saving lots of pennies at the pump.

But luxury is still luxury. And sometimes being green is worth a bit of extra green — from your wallet, that is.

Lexus ES 300h
Mpg: 40 city/39 highway
0-to-60 mph: 8.1 seconds
Cargo space: 15.2 cubic feet

No longer a gussied-up Camry, the ES is as large as Toyota’s flagship Avalon. That’s a good thing, because cargo room here is only average (thanks to the battery pack in the trunk). Yet this hybrid is only $3,000 more than the traditional gas model, and that won’t be hard to recoup if gas prices keep inching up. A “sport” mode adds zing to the plush ride and handling, eliminating any land-yacht feel (though you definitely won’t confuse this with a taut BMW). There are plenty of spiffy high-tech features, as well: lane-departure warning system, adaptive cruise control with pre-collision alert and blind-spot warning system with rear-traffic alert. Along with the iPod/USB interface, there’s also iTunes tagging. As one of the few hybrid sport sedans on the market, the ES is a good overall package, mixing fuel economy, reliability and luxe features with a very affordable price.

VW Touareg Hybrid, autos, gay news, Washington Blade

VW Touareg Hybrid

VW Touareg Hybrid
Mpg: 20 city/24 highway
0-to-60 mph: 5.8 seconds
Cargo space: 64 cubic feet

The ill-fated Phaeton was VW’s dismal attempt to out-luxe the high-end automakers. Lately, the automaker has been blasted for going too far the other way, with too little content in its base models (to make them more affordable and increase market share). Yet VW’s sweet spot has always been the ability to churn out mid-priced, full-featured vehicles. Most have been fuel-efficient, especially the TDI diesels. And now VW is offering hybrids, such as the Touareg. It’s surprisingly quick, though the diesel model has more torque, gets better mileage and costs about $16,000 less. Still, the hybrid comes fully loaded, with a heated steering wheel, power liftgate, LED taillights, rear-parking sensors/camera, premium stereo and a large, eight-inch touchscreen nav system. There’s plenty of cargo space, too. And the fit and finish inside is top-notch — another reason why VWs are considered (in a very good way) the poor-man’s Audi.

Porsche Cayenne Diesel, autos, gay news, Washington Blade

Porsche Cayenne Diesel

Porsche Cayenne Diesel
Mpg: 20 city/28 highway
0-to-60 mph: 7.4 seconds
Cargo space: 62.9 cubic feet

Why do fools fall in love? Because they test-drive a Porsche without looking at the sticker price. Sure, the base Cayenne Diesel — under $60,000! — seems like a bargain. The dark metallic paint is sparkly and stunning. And the stylish and form-fitting seats are like something out of a Bauhaus catalog — with plenty of legroom and headroom, even in back. Despite all the naysayers, this crossover accelerates, corners and brakes like a true racecar. Plus, the cabin is so soundproof and the audio system so pristine, it’s easy to feel like you’re in box seats at Lincoln Center. Even the ignition switch — located to the left of the steering wheel — is quirky-chic, not quirky-weird. But then comes reality. All those options (like heated/cooled seats, the height-adjustable chassis, even a nifty compass in the center of the dash) add another, gulp, $40,000 to the price. Expensive, yes. But for eco-conscious drivers with almost $100,000 to spare, the Cayenne Diesel is a seductive and enchanting ride.


Holiday haulers

Look out the window. If there’s no brand-new car with a bright big bow in the driveway, it’s time to be your own secret Santa. Question is, should you opt for something naughty or nice? Luckily, the vehicles below are a bit of both, with feisty engines, bad-boy handling and lots of options and storage space.

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The Audi AD TDI

Audi A3 TDI
Mpg: 30 city/42 highway
0-to-60 mph: 8.9 seconds
Cargo space: 39 cu. ft.

The A3 hatchback is fast, fun and frugal, at least when it comes to gas mileage. The regular-gas model posts a decent mpg of 21 city/30 highway. But the TDI diesel is 40 percent better. Evading D.C. potholes is a breeze, thanks to Audi’s sport-tuned suspension. And the refined interior — another Audi plus — has upscale knobs, aluminum trim and firm seats that would make a chiropractor proud. There are a few misses, such as cramped rear seats (which fold down, but not flat) and a clunky nav system. Still, it’s hard not to appreciate all the extras, including automatic wipers, 10-speaker Bose stereo and stellar crash-test scores. But act fast: while the A3 gets a complete makeover in 2014, only the new sedan will be coming to America.

Infiniti JX, autos, Washington Blade, gay news

The Infiniti JX

Infiniti JX
Mpg: 18 city/24highway
0-to-60 mph: 8.3 seconds
Cargo space: 76.5 cu. ft.

This is no QX 56, the oversized beast in Infiniti’s lineup. Instead, the JX — at $20,000 less than the QX — seats seven but is nimbler and more fuel-friendly. It also has less power, though the V6 was just fine passing pokey semis and grandmas on a last-minute dash to IKEA. While styling is akin to a minivan (not a plus), it doesn’t feel that way inside the super-quiet cabin. Along with high-end materials, there is three-zone automatic climate control, rear-seat entertainment, panoramic sunroof, heated/cooled seats and 15-speaker surround-sound audio. Multi-taskers will love the remote start and power lift gate. And the JX has the latest safety gear, including blind-spot and lane-departure warning systems. When in reverse, the JX can even apply the brakes automatically if something is in its path.

Jeep Wrangler, autos, gay news, Washington Blade

The Jeep Wrangler

Jeep Wrangler Sport
Mpg: 17 city/21 highway
0-to-60 mph: 7.1 seconds
Cargo space: 55 cu. ft.

Why would anyone buy a Wrangler? Fuel-efficiency is lame. Styling is dated. And the ride is so noisy and jarring, you won’t need caffeine to stay awake. Yet this retro icon is a blast to drive, especially in button-down Washington. With the two-door model — way more fun than the four-door — you can remove the roof, doors and windshield. There are some funky exterior colors, too, including fire-engine red, stop-light yellow and powder-puff blue. Surprisingly quick, the Wrangler is still a true off-road vehicle. But be careful — it’s easy to over-steer when cornering too fast. Of course, that’s exactly what driving purists love: a back-to-basics vehicle that requires complete attention and can take you anywhere.


Kia Sorento, autos, Washington Blade, gay news

The Kia Sorento

Kia Sorento SX
Mpg: 20 city/26 highway
0-to-60 mph: 7.5 seconds
Cargo space: 72.5 cu. ft.

It was supposed to be a relaxing getaway. But after a choppy flight into Chicago on a dark and stormy night, there was still a dreaded two-hour drive to the B&B. Yet any white-knuckle anxiety soon flitted away in the Sorento, which zipped past other cars pulled off to the side of the road with their emergency flashers on. Inside the Kia’s well-insulated cabin, you could almost forget the torrents of rain and high winds. This was the sporty SX model, with upgraded stereo, potent engine and heated steering wheel. Parking sensors and backup camera were a plus. So was the large touchscreen nav system, real-time traffic info and — once the sun came out a few days later — a super-sized panoramic sunroof. All in all, the SX was as steady and snazzy as a Lexus crossover, but costs about $10,000 less.