Best Cars of 2012

Last Updated: Nov 23, 2011 groups cars based on their size, purpose and price. Subcompact cars are small, inexpensive fuel-sippers like the Ford Fiesta. Compact cars are larger but still affordable; picture the Honda Civic. Midsize cars, typified by the Toyota Camry, are family-spacious, priced for wide appeal, and range from frugal four-cylinder models to upscale six-cylinders. Full-size cars, such as the Chrysler 300, are large inside and out but priced below premium models. Premium cars usually start above $35,000 and span most every size class to include compacts such as the BMW 3-Series, midsizers like the Lexus ES350, and full-size sedans such as the Mercedes-Benz S-Class.  Sporty cars focus on driving fun and come in great variety, from the front-wheel-drive four-cylinder Mini Cooper to the rear-drive V-8 Chevrolet Corvette.  (Note that the base prices in this article include the manufacturer’s mandated destination fee.)        

The Best Overall Car of 2012
2012 Audi A6
Suave styling, stretch-out comfort, and solid construction are evident. But the real appeal of the all-new 2012 Audi A6 is how it forecasts a future of sensible luxury and efficient performance. This is a premium-class sedan, but the example it sets is relevant to cars of any price. Reasonable exterior dimensions host a spacious and airy cabin. Thoughtfully designed controls govern cutting-edge tech. Both available engines – a four-cylinder and a V-6 -- punch above their weight thanks to turbocharging and supercharging, respectively.  Lightweight engineering contributes to pleasant fuel economy of 28-mpg combined city/highway for the 211-horsepower front-wheel-drive version and 22-mpg combined for the 310-horsepower all-wheel-drive model. A pleasure to drive and refreshingly unpretentious, the 2012 Audi A6 is tomorrow’s car today. Base-price range: $42,575-$50,775.

The Best Cars of 2012

The Best Subcompact Car of 2012: Honda Fit. No four-door hatchback makes better use of interior space than this brilliantly packaged little Honda. It holds four adults and five days’ groceries or, with the ingenious rear seat flip-folded, two grownups and a bike or a bookcase. The Fit has spry handling and qualifies as sporty to drive if a little noisy for long Interstate travel. It rates a laudable 33-mpg combined city/highway with manual transmission, 31 with automatic. Base-price range: $15,945-$20,310.

The Best Compact Car of 2012: Honda Civic. It looks little different from the 2006-2011 version, but the redesigned 2012 Civic launches a new generation of sedans and coupes that define compact-car value. The four-door is the roomiest sedan in the class and among the most refined. The 140-horsepower base engine is effective and rates up to 33 mpg combined city/highway. Spry 201-horse Si models rate 25 mpg combined. And the Civic Hybrid tempts with 44 mpg combined. Base-price range: $16,555-$27,500.  

The Best Midsize Car of 2012: Toyota Camry. A midsize car should furnish family-friendly space, family-vacation comfort, and family-budget value. The redesigned 2012 Camry stakes a leadership claim in each category. Mainstream versions have 178 capable horsepower and rate a pleasant 28 mpg combined city/highway, V-6s have a lively 268 and rate 25 combined. SE models are actually fun to drive. And at 200 horses and 41-mpg combined, the Hybrid is an all-star. Base price range: $22,715-$28,160.        

The Best Full-Size Car of 2012: Dodge Charger. The 2012 edition of this spirited sedan is the first domestic car – along with its fancier 2012 Chrysler 300 cousin -- available with an eight-speed automatic transmission. It helps the base engine – a 292-horsepower V-6 – rate 23 mpg combined city/highway. The 370-horsepower Hemi V-8 R/T and 470-horse SRT8 muscle models complete the lineup. Bonus: a choice of rear- or all-wheel-drive delivers fine handling in wet or dry. Base-price range: $26,320-$46,620.       

The Best Premium Car of 2012: Mercedes-Benz E-Class. Engineering excellence, benchmark refinement, prestige -- these midsize sedans and wagons nail every premium-car requisite. Solid resale value and top-grade materials justify top-drawer prices. A re-invigorated selection of six- and eight-cylinder engines makes the 2012 E-Class more powerful yet more fuel efficient. Of special note: available diesel, super-performance AMG models, and all-wheel drive. Base-price range: $50,675-$94,075.

The Best Sporty car of 2012: Volkswagen GTI. You can get more power for less money but no affordable sporty car matches the GTI’s balance of talents. This is genuine European driving precision in terrifically versatile and sophisticated two- or four-door hatchback body styles. The 200-horsepower turbo four-cylinder engine is a model of flexible power and rates 27-mpg combined city/highway. And the taut suspension feasts on Interstates and backroads alike. Base-price range: $24,465-$32,045.

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