Mazda CX-5 — A showcase for SkyActiv

By Jim Meachen and Ted Biederman

Mazda has wiped its compact SUV crossover slate clean. Gone are the long-running Tribute, a clone of the previous-generation Ford Escape, and the competent, but slow-selling CX-7, which has resided in the Mazda lineup since the 2007 model year.

Like a young still wet-behind-the-ears baseball phenom just stepping off the bus from Smallville into the big time to replace the old, retiring veteran slugger, the CX-5 enters the compact crossover game against an array of heavyweight players. Mazda has bet all its small crossover marbles that its new entry — loaded with the latest SkyActiv technology — can elevate the brand against such stalwarts as the Honda CR-V, Ford Escape and Toyota RAV4.

2013 Hyundai Veloster Turbo

TORREY PINES, Calif. — The main complaint about the iconic three-door, four-passenger Hyundai Veloster hatchback after its introduction last year was its underwhelming performance.  That complaint has been very adequately addressed with the 2013 Veloster Turbo that infuses the little sporting car with 201 horsepower.

Acura ILX — A new take on entry-level luxury

By Jim Meachen and Ted Biederman

Acura developed the new compact ILX sedan to target first-time luxury car buyers, young people with luxury car intentions, but not yet with a luxury car budget. The ILX, starting at a seemingly affordable $26,795, has been given the same job once handled by the long-departed Integra.

The ILX imparts a more luxury persona then the Integra, last sold in 2001, but the Integra in some guises had a sportier, harder edge persona. This time around, Acura has elected to go with a mainstream entry-level luxury sedan aimed at young buyers more interested in luxury amenities, a quiet cabin, refined appointments, and stellar gas mileage than in road-carving capabilities.

2013 Mercedes-Benz GLK350

MEADOWS OF DAN, Va. —  For 2013, Mercedes-Benz has restyled its GLK350, a luxury sport utility vehicle it brought to the United States when it debuted in 2009 as a 2010 model. Labeled a mid-size SUV, the GLK joined other members of the Mercedes SUV family like the full-size M-Class and the larger GL-Class.

Volkswagen CC — Room for five

By Jim Meachen and Ted Biederman

Volkswagen's North American strategy over the past couple of years has been to build larger and less expensive cars with generic styling designed to appeal to the largest audience possible. The strategy has worked. VW sales have steadily risen with the revamped compact Jetta and the totally remade mid-sized Passat doing the heavy lifting.

Fortunately for those of us who admire cutting-edge design and top-shelf build quality, Volkswagen continues to offer the gorgeous CC mid-sized sedan.

Dodge Dart — A different kind of Dodge

By Jim Meachen and Al Vinikour

The all-new Dodge Dart is a different kind of Dart and a different kind of Dodge. The new Dart is a good-looking, well-designed, fuel-efficient compact sedan that the new Chrysler-Fiat group desperately needed to effectively compete in the growing compact segment.

And it's the first vehicle from the new Chrysler Group that combines elements of Fiat — basic structure, suspension and steering from the Alfa Romeo Giulietta — and elements of Dodge styling and flare.

Ford Escape — Taking a new direction

By Jim Meachen and Al Vinikour

The Ford Escape has very neatly "escaped" its 11-year boxy SUV persona with a new-generation vehicle featuring three four-cylinder engines including two performance-oriented fuel-efficient EcoBoost powerplants; a new athletic, aerodynamic look for the 2013 model year; and  a well controlled driving demeanor that belies its SUV stance.

The transformation is astounding, and we would say long overdue — long overdue if it wasn't for the outgoing Escape's phonemail sales success.

2013 Nissan Altima

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Nissan has unveiled its 2013 Altima, the fifth generation of what is now the second best-selling car in the United States. In its 20 years of existence 4.4 million Altimas have been sold, but it has never challenged for sales domination in the U.S. This time out, Nissan is confident its new sedan is ready for prime time and can dethrone the Toyota Camry and achieve the lofty goal of number one.

Acura RDX — Growing up gracefully

By Jim Meachen and Ted Biederman

Over the past few years we have talked to several Acura RDX owners who proclaimed a love for their luxury crossover, but wished for better gas mileage and the option of pumping the less-expensive 87 octane regular into their tanks.

Acura has granted half their wishes with the all-new 2013 RDX. The turbocharged 2.3-liter 4-cylinder, which propelled the first-generation RDX, has been scrapped for a smoother driving 3.5-liter V-6 that gets between three or four more miles to the gallon in highway driving, and with increased horsepower. But premium gas is still recommended, Acura says.

2013 Scion FR-S

LAS VEGAS — Scion is reinventing itself in the wake of declining sales over the past few years. After hitting its peak in 2006 with sales of 173,034, the little Scion boxes lost favor in the U.S. slumping to 49,000 in 2011. One of the cars coming to the rescue is an amazingly well balanced and extremely fun-to-drive rear-wheel 2+2 sports car for 25 grand called the FR-S.