In testing hundreds of cars, we’ve found that many widely hyped and popular models don’t live up to expectations. And some of the better ones never make it to the radar screen of a lot of buyers. That’s a shame. Here are five models that are worth checking out. All did well in our testing, and we expect them to have good reliability, unless noted. Prices are what we paid for the car.
Don’t let the Buick name fool you: The Regal is a well-honed sports sedan. Our car delivered a taut and steady ride, somewhat sporty handling, and quick steering. The 2.0-liter turbo engine is quick, fairly quiet, and relatively sparing with fuel. The nicely furnished interior has supportive seats and excellent fit and finish. All-wheel drive is optional. An honorable mention goes to the Acura TSX, which has the character of a European sports sedan, very good
reliability, agile handling, and a smooth engine. A redesigned model is coming soon, though.
Despite its size, the CX-9 is fairly agile, especially for an SUV with three rows of seats. The quick steering has nice weight and feedback. Power comes from a smooth and refined 3.7-liter V6, although it delivers only 16 mpg overall. The ride is firm and steady, yet comfortable. You’ll find a cabin that’s comfy, quiet, and nicely finished. As in many SUVs, the 60/40-split second-row seats slide fore and aft to provide extra leg room for passengers in either the second or third row. The third-row seat is relatively hospitable and easy to access. The CX-9 can also tow a 3,500-pound trailer. (Since this story originally published, Consumer Reports has withdrawn its recommendation due to poor performance in the IIHS small overlap front crash test.)
Honda isn’t exactly known for building trucks, but its lone pickup has surprisingly agile handling and a supple, steady ride. The 3.5-liter V6 is quiet, smooth, and responsive. Its 15 mpg is OK for a truck. The roomy crew cab is nicely detailed, with good fit and finish, and easy access to the front and rear seats. The rear wheel wells don’t intrude on the 5-foot-long composite cargo bed, and the handy tailgate opens vertically or horizontally. Plus, you get a clever, lockable, all-weather trunk beneath the bed. The Ridgeline is capable in mild off-road conditions and can tow 5,000 pounds.
The Jetta GLI is a sleeper among sports sedans. Compared with standard-fare Jettas, the GLI has a firmer suspension, better brakes, and grippier tires, as well as a nicer interior. The 200-hp turbo four-cylinder engine delivers ample acceleration and a respectable 27 mpg overall with the six-speed manual transmission. The GLI is also easy to live with; a spacious rear seat and large trunk assure a good measure of practicality. We can’t recommend it because of insufficient reliability data, but the GLI is a car we would be happy to have in our driveway.
The Tiguan stands out as a premium SUV that delivers a rewarding driving experience. It feels solid and sporty, with sharp steering and secure, agile handling. The 2.0-liter turbo four-cylinder engine is smooth and punchy, although it returned only 21 mpg overall in our tests. The low-profile tires on the SEL trim line make the ride stiff. A better choice might be the lower-trim SE, which rides more quietly and comfortably, and costs $5,000 less. The cabin looks and feels top-drawer, with good attention to detail. Rear passengers will find the seats roomy and comfortable.