2011's field of new cars are some of the best we've driven in some time, and impressive would be an understatement in most cases. Finally we have an entry level hybrid that looks and performs righteously. Budget cars are still fair play and do a great job of injecting small time performance while the flagship performers continue to deliver as we no doubt expect they should. Whatever it is you're seeking out of your new car, take comfort in knowing that the auto manufacturers are still looking out for you.
Priced From: Price TBA (as of press time)
Hot Features: All-original platform with inspiration from the Lexus HS; 2ZR-FXE 1.8L DOHC VVT-i with 98hp and 105lb-ft; 42mpg (city)/41mpg (highway); various drive modes, including Sport, Eco and Normal; mechanical gauge tach that illuminates between different modes; the DOPE ass standard LED daytime running lamps; easily the best-looking hybrid car on the market; smooth Lexus interior styling; NuLuxe synthetic leather seats
Deep Thoughts: If there were ever a time to get really excited about a hybrid that's perfect for car enthusiasts, this is definitely it. The four-door hatchback dubbed CT200h is a sporty, but luxurious alternative to the existing HS or Toyota Prius, due mostly to the styling. The 98hp 2ZR-FXE isn't going to knock any speed records down, but that doesn't mean it isn't fun to drive; in fact, it's a blast...for a hybrid. With three driving modes to choose from - Eco, Normal and Sport - you can be the gas-conserving supporter the world wants you to be or at the flick of a wrist, go to Sport mode for full-on aggression (this was my favorite mode by far). Even as you switch driving modes, the tach activates and illuminates bright red from the blue Eco and Normal modes. Lexus did a great job at making sure the CT200h also handles like no other hybrid as it's quite low to the ground and the driver seat is positioned low as well to give you a better connection to the car than would expect. What surprised me were the performance dampers that act as stabilizer bars for the shock towers, but instead of simple bars they feature an actual damper to absorb chassis movement. I wouldn't be surprised if this type of strut bar design found its way to the aftermarket. Word has it that the CT200h will also be priced lower than an IS 250, and if that's the case, what's to stop anyone from adding this to their garage? You have your other toys on standby, now all you need is the ultimate daily. The CT200h is the one.
But can you modify it? The future of hybrid tuning is bright but is still relatively new to our world. Being one of the best-looking hybrids on the market, I would love to see these making waves soon. Lexus realizes this may be they hybrid that car enthusiasts will gravitate towards and are ready to offer accessories from their F Sport catalog and in the near future will also offer TRD suspension, a first for any hybrid vehicle in the Toyota family. But how sweet would it be to see this slammed on a set of Advan RZs? It's an image I've had burned in my mind ever since I stepped foot outside of the car. - Jonathan Wong
Priced From: $13,980
Hot Features: 29/35 MPG City/Highway, sporty design, Brake Override system, 4-wheel disc brakes; rigid chassis
Deep Thoughts: The Mazda 2 is a surprisingly fun car to drive despite it's low power rating (100hp). The interior is rather sporty and the seats are highly configurable. It has ample space to fit your friends, groceries or other goods that need to be transported. With it's low entry cost this car could quickly become the new-age Civic of years gone by. Initial throttle response is excellent although it would be nice to have just a bit more top end. I'd love to see a Mazdaspeed version; are you listening Mazda? But Can You Modify It? The previous version not sold in the US (called a Demio in Japan) was a very popular car but had little in the way of aftermarket parts. We'll have to wait and see what develops for this version. - Sean Klingelhoefer
Priced From: $13,320
Hot Features: 29/40 MPG City/Highway, available SYNC communication/entertainment system, integrated blind-spot mirrors, quad headlights
Deep Thoughts: I've driven a lot of cars over the years but none has surprised me in the way the Fiesta did. It's absolutely a joy to drive, something I couldn't have imagined from looking at the car's exterior. The car feels light and nimble which is a sensation that has been mostly removed from today's cars, and it felt great to be in a car I actually enjoyed driving again. The exterior styling grew on me the longer I had the car and I now rather like the front end, which I have determined closely resembles a Lucha Libre mask. If you haven't driven one do yourself a favor and take a test drive. This car will amaze you.
But Can You Modify It? Have you seen Ken Block's newest gymkhana video? - SK
Priced From: $16,000 to $16,950
Hot Features: Pioneer double DIN stereo with iPod connection, USB port, AUX input and 6 speakers; tilting and telescoping steering wheel; projector headlights; under floor cargo storage; split folding rear seats
Deep Thoughts: Most small cargo style cars have the problem of being gutless wonders. This new generation of xBs were blessed with a huge 2.4L engine in its pants, a large increase from the previous 1.5L engine. Shockingly for a compact car, I found the xB to be really spacious inside. It was so easy for me to fit my family of 8 inside. All kidding aside, the xB has a great deal of space and power when compared to other like cars from its segment. With 158hp, 162ft-lbs of torque, four-wheel disc brakes, VVT-i, direct ignition and ABS with EBD, this is no simple box car. We highly recommend this car for any urban assault youth or even overgrown boys like ourselves. And it's a Toyota, nuff said.
But can you modify it? Hellz yea. Just like the previous generation, the new xB brings a whole new group of people into the tuning and customizing world. Guys like Five Axis and Bowls have already broke the ground with their fully customized xB projects and now it's up to you to figure out how you want to customize yours. If you've been sleeping under a rock, check out Five Axis' xB that transforms into a stand-up fully functional DJ booth. On the other hand, Bowls cut up, stretched, and turned their xB into a unibody truck to carry their scooters. If that's not enough, check out the Kei car phenomenon in Japan for more styling - Charles Trieu
Priced From: $18,275 (manual) and $19,275 (automatic)
Hot Features: Completely redesigned chassis/platform, 180HP 2.5L VVT-i engine and six-speed manual or auto transmission; electronic power steering for increased fuel efficiency and driving "feel"; sport tuned MacPherson front strut suspension and double wishbone rear suspension; 300 watt standard audio system with USB iPod connectivity or optional Alpine Premium system with 4.3" color touch screen; 23mpg (MT)/22mpg (AT) city or 31mpg (MT)/31mpg (AT)
Deep Thoughts: Scion, we are certainly impressed with this second generation tC – in all, it's an improved and more refined step up from its predecessor, and I think there are going to be a lot of repeat customers, in addition to new ones. With all-new styling that pushes a meaner look and stance, improvements have been made in all areas to keep this car fun to drive: solid steering, a great bump up in power (an additional 19hp and 11lb-ft from this new 2.5L) and quicker transmission (both manual and auto) that actually dropped 0-60 times up to -8 seconds. Inside, it is all familiar Scion territory as the tC comes equipped with a new moon roof and mesh wind deflector, along with plenty of Pioneer audio goods (or alternate Alpine, should you choose to go ‘big') to keep your iPod busy. But trust us: spring for the upgraded head unit as the base model's controls are not as intuitive as I'd like them to be (there's a lot of pushing and searching through menus to get where you ultimately want to be) and sometimes it's just so much better when you can do it with a single touch. It's a fun little sports coupe that doesn't overpromise or under-deliver, and will be money spent wisely. And might we add: pick one up in Cement; the color's completely new to the US market and could wind up being the "it" color for years to come.
But can you modify it? Think of it this way: for all your basic bolt-ons and accessories, it's no secret that Scion already has you covered at the dealership. It may be too soon to think how far serious customization can go (as of press time), but TRD is currently working on a prototype supercharger kit and to give you an idea of how far it's come within a short time, Scion-sponsored drifter, Tanner Foust already had his 2011 tC stripped down for the upcoming drift season by his crew at Papadakis Racing just hours after delivery. And don't forget the FiveAxis tC from our October 2010 issue: the sky really is the limit for the 2011 tC. – JW
Priced From: $25,495 (4-door) and $25,495 (5-door)
Hot Features: All-new widebody design to match that of the STI with your choice in body styles (4-door sedan or 5-door hatch); 265hp 2.5L H4 Boxer engine with 5-speed transmission; new 17x8" cast Hitachi wheels; stiffer rear subframe bushings; the return of the trunk spoiler (4-door)/STI rear gate spoiler (5-door); exclusive WRX carbon checkered upholstery; standard Incline Start Assist; Impreza WRX Premium and WRX Limited packages for the extra bells and whistles
Deep Thoughts: Fun, fun, fun! This wider stanced WRX may be one step below its STI counterpart but that in no way means it is any less of a car. Think of it as the one with true potential and it's just dying to find its way to the right enthusiast. First, decide if you want the sedan or hatch (I prefer the sedan in all cases); then it's time to get the turbocharged 2.5L working for you. Connected to the 5-speed manual (your only option), the car comes alive as you inch your way up through the gears; the AWD system works splendidly while you do that and corner the asphalt. And to think, this is all from the base model. Opt for the limited model and you are treated to leather and a moonroof. Bask in the glory of the all-new gauge cluster and audio system; Bluetooth also comes standard now.
But Can You Modify It? Without a doubt, the WRX is always set for modifications and it's only a matter of time before we see them in the pages of Super Street. The countdown begins... – JW
Priced From: $33,995 (4-door) and $35,995 (5-door)
Hot Features: New 4-door sedan joins the popular hatch for a one-two knockout punch; retuned suspension with higher rate springs, bigger sway bars and new bushings; aerodynamic spoiler for sedan; lighter 18x8.5" wheels (5-door comes with BBS wheels standard); seriously, the 4-door is the hotness!)
Deep Thoughts: What really has us shaking with excitement for the 2011 STI is the arrival of a 4-door sedan, which equates to being the buffer version of the WRX sedan as they share many styling accents. Having a hatch was great, but the sedan adds that much more to the table. From front end to the rear spoiler, what's not to love about this design? The engine produces the familiar 305hp and 290lb-ft and is beyond "drives great!"; I prefer to say it's magical. But the chassis is also quite special as the lower ride height, stiffer springs and thicker anti-sway bars produce an enjoyable ride, but only after you've mastered the SI-Drive (Subaru Intelligent-Drive) - Intelligent, Sport and Sport Sharp - allowing the driver to change modes depending on driving conditions. Likewise, the Multi-Mode DCCD All-Wheel-Drive is used to adjust front and rear torque distribution for a number of driver preferences, optimizing AWD performance at every chance. I'm sure I don't need to rub it in, but I'll do it anyway: the STI is more than everyday driving requires, but my goodness, having so much performance at your fingertips and feet is something I can't get enough of.
But Can You Modify It? As I write this, I've already seen previews for parts from various companies and we can almost guarantee the parts will be plentiful. Don't forget this year's X Games either; you can see then how intense STI tuning will have progressed by then. I'd love to see a new time attack car in the form of this car, too. - JW