With the various automakers still struggling from a dismal economic stretch — that shows signs of enduring
— this year’s New England Motor Press Association Winter Rally featured a smaller than usual crop of new vehicles to road test around suburban Middleboro, Mass. The food, however, was as delicious as usual, while a persistent light snow gave the affair the seasonal feel it needed.
The following five vehicles were of particular note and worthy of mention after quick comparisons with the other assembled cars. Some will hopefully show up here for a more extensive examination.
Chevy Camaro RS
Two screaming yellow Camaros greeted us, but only one was available for driving, as the falling snow suggested that perhaps the 426-hp SS model might be better left safely inside.
That said, Camaro buyers who opt for either the base LS or RS model with the new Cadillac-sourced 3.6-liter V-6 will not be disappointed. With a nicely weighted six-speed manual gearbox and a light clutch, the V-6 makes robust sounds and produces ample power for this retro-styled pony car. Ride motions are composed, responses quick from a rear-drive chassis designed in Australia. Pricing starts at only $22,680 — a key component in the strong sales surge that Chevy dealers have enjoyed with this nice driving sports coupe. The convertible model will probably debut in about a year.
Audi A3 TDI
Volkswagen and Audi are bringing more turbo-diesel-powered cars to the States as this clean diesel philosophy is winning converts every day. The latest compact A3 hatchback — essentially an upscale Golf four-door — now features the Jetta’s 2.0-liter TDI turbo four-option. EPA mileage numbers are 30 mpg city, 42 mpg highway with either the six-speed dual-clutch automatic or a conventional six-speed manual gearbox. As with the Jetta TDI, the A3 produces a continuous flow of power with no clatter, no smell, no hint that a clean-diesel engine hides in the engine bay. Very well equipped, the A3 TDI starts at $29,950 — about $8,000 more than the VW Jetta.
Honda Accord Crosstour
Three years ago, BMW debuted its sporty X6 series hatchback sports sedan/crossover/wagon concept to mixed reviews. Sales, however, have been growing in this segment and now Honda has jumped in to compete with the Toyota Venza, Ford Flex, Nissan Murano crowd with its own interpretation — the new Accord Crosstour.
As you may have surmised, this is really an Accord sedan wearing a larger hatchback-themed body. The same independent suspension and 271-hp V-6 is used, the same five-speed automatic is employed and the same trim levels and interior emphasis is retained as clearly seen on other Accord models. Pricing starts at $29,670 for the EX-trimmed model, while the EX-L with upgraded seating, stereo and AWD is $2,300 more. Peak cargo room is only 51 cubic feet — low for the segment — yet interior comfort, space and practicality are high.
Ford Flex Ecoboost
While high numbers of drivers have yet to embrace the Flex’s numerous virtues — great ride composure, luxuriously spacious interior for six adults, plus upgraded Sync functionality for entertainment and navigation — the new Ecoboost edition promises to move the passion meter more than a few notches.
The Flex’s base 3.5-liter V-6 produces a ho-hum 262 hp, enough power to easily propel this upscale two-ton wagon, but not enough to cause excitement. The new turbocharged version — called Ecoboost — adds 93 horsepower and converts this family travel conveyance into a muscular touring vehicle. Steering wheel paddle shifters, larger 20-inch chrome rims with a stiffer sport suspension and a new telescoping steering column make this a much-more pleasing vehicle to operate. New options include a self-parking program, upgraded Sync programs, plus blind spot detection assist. The tow rating is higher too, up to 4,500 pounds.
The midsize E-series expands this year with several models added to an extensive lineup. Joining last year’s coupe intro is a new convertible E350 while the ever popular E-wagon returns this fall. A new E350 BlueTec clean-diesel sedan also debuts this spring. Pricing ranges from $48,050 for base models to $85,500 for the top-end 518-hp E63-performance sedan.
Our sample E350 4Matic all-wheel-drive sedan came with the maker’s latest 16-way power sport seats, heated and cooled leather perches that provide side bolster panels that automatically move in and out whenever you take quick or sharp corners. Featuring a tiny low-speed turning radius, this four-wheel-drive 268-hp sedan packs an urgent punch when pushed while delivering the splendid ride composure that the brand is renowned for. Loaded with electronic aids and accoutrements, the stylish Mercedes has returned to the pinnacle of the luxury segment.
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