Like the dawn of a new year, the 10 cars in this list are full of promise and potential. From high-powered exotics to nimble family sedans and sporty hatchbacks, the class of 2011 has something for everyone. These cars are cooler than a red-nosed Times Square reveler at 12:01 a.m. on January 1st. They’re also the cars we’re most excited to drive in 2011:
The McLaren F1 is still considered by many to be the ultimate supercar. Built from 1992 to 1998, the 3-passenger F1 (the driver sits in the middle) could hit a top speed of 231 mph. So when a new McLaren sports car comes to market, well, you can bet we’re going to take notice. The new McLaren MP4-12C is targeting rivals like the Ferrari 458 Italia and Lamborghini Gallardo, armed with a lightweight carbon-fiber tub that cradles a twin-turbocharged 592-bhp 3.8-liter V-8 engine behind the cockpit. A 7-speed twin-clutch sequential-shift transmission is the only gearbox on offer—there is no clutch pedal, or traditional manual shifter. Also gone from the original F1 is the unique 3-passenger layout, though the suave cabin of the MP4-12C is a perfect blend of Formula 1 technology and business-class luxury.
Ford Boss Mustang
Ford is bringing back a legend with the revival of the Boss Mustang. Originally conceived in the late-1960s—in the heat of Trans-Am competition and during the height of the muscle-car era—the Boss came to be revered by Mustang fans. Ford looks set to inspire a new generation with the 2012 edition of the Boss Mustang. The car’s rumbling 440-bhp 5.0-liter V-8 engine and wild bodywork seem as though they came straight from a racetrack (circa 1969). Adding to the retro theme are items like adjustable dampers that require a screwdriver to adjust—like on the original Boss—along with an optional red-colored “track key.” This dealer-installed option changes 200 engine parameters, improving torque and throttle response while also enabling a configurable launch control ideal for drag racing. The suspension has also been upgraded to match the performance potential of the rest of this potent ’Stang.
Mercedes SLS AMG Convertible
The Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG convertible presents a serious decision, at least for anyone able to afford the $185,000 base price of the regular SLS AMG coupe. Expected to start at roughly $200,000, the SLS AMG convertible gains a droptop, but loses the dramatic gullwing doors of the coupe. It’s the type of car-buying dilemma most of us only dream about having to make. Like its hardtop cousin, the SLS AMG convertible is powered by a 571-bhp 6.2-liter V-8, coupled with a 7-speed dual-clutch transmission. A set of huge ceramic brakes (15.4-in. front/ 14.2-in. rear) provides serious stopping power for those emergency paparazzi-avoidance maneuvers that many SLS owners will face. The SLS AMG convertible arrives (fashionably) late this year, most likely during the Frankfurt Auto Show.
BMW 650i Convertible
Gone are the awkward lumps and bumps that detracted from the looks of the last generation of 6 Series convertible. The handsomely revised new 650i Convertible arrives this spring (as a 2012 model), and the big BMW finally has the suave exterior to match the swagger of its potent powertrain. A 400-bhp twin-turbocharged 4.4-liter V-8 is under the hood, coupled to either an 8-speed automatic or 6-speed manual transmission. BMW quotes a 0-60 mph time of 4.9 seconds, along with a top speed that is electronically limited to 155 mph. Even more impressive is the rapid reaction time of the folding roof. Opening the top takes only 19 seconds, and closing it requires 24. Both can be done on the move, at speeds up to 25 mph.
Ferrari 458 Italia Convertible
There isn’t much Ferrari can do to improve upon the incredible looks and performance of the 458 Italia. However, the addition of a convertible version seems a good place to start. With the top folded, you’ll be able to hear even more of the mechanical symphony being played by the 570-bhp 4.5-liter V-8 engine, mounted behind the cockpit. Punch the gas pedal and be prepared for an acoustic masterpiece, as this high-strung Italian engine wails its way to a 9000-rpm redline. Ferrari quotes the 458 Italia as being able to sprint from 0-60 mph in less than 3.4 seconds. Convertibles are almost always slightly heavier (slower) than coupes, though we doubt anyone will be complaining about a fraction of a second in the undoubtedly stellar performance of the 458 Italia convertible.
Chevy Camaro Convertible
Chevrolet is finally bringing the convertible version of its iconic muscle car to market, and we couldn’t be happier. The Chevrolet Camaro Convertible arrives this spring, just in time for perfect top-down weather. The Camaro has always been a great-looking car, with the only major fault being its limited rear visibility—a sacrifice you make for the aggressive styling. With a convertible top stowed away, this bowtie-wearing sports machine suddenly offers an unimpeded 360-degree view of the world. Pricing starts at approximately $30,000 for the Camaro Convertible equipped with the potent V-6 engine. Though we’d be tempted to pay extra for the growling 426-bhp 6.2-liter V-8, which comes with a choice of 6-speed manual or automatic transmission.
VW Golf R
Volkswagen is finally bringing its critically acclaimed Golf R to the U.S. With all-wheel drive and a snarling turbocharged 270-bhp 2.0-liter 4-cylinder engine, this is definitely not your everyday Golf hatchback. The exterior is toughened up, thanks to bigger air intakes in the front fascia, a subtle roof spoiler and chunkier alloy wheels. VW says the Golf R is capable of hitting 60 mph in only 5.5 seconds. Better still, you shouldn’t lose time in the corners, or during inclement weather, thanks to the all-wheel-drive hardware putting power to the pavement. To help keep you in control—and in place—when the road gets twisty, the cabin features heavily bolstered sport seats and a thick-rim steering wheel.
Ford Focus ST
For far too long, the U.S. has not been enjoying Ford’s lineup of sporty Focus hatchbacks sold in Europe. With the arrival of the new Focus next year, we finally get to join the fun thanks to the arrival of the front-wheel-drive Focus ST. The ST includes a 247-bhp 2.0-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder engine, which offers more power and up to 20 percent better economy than before. The Focus ST also employs a Torque Vectoring Control system, to make certain the front wheels aren’t overwhelmed by the engine’s power. A lower ride height, sportier suspension settings and variable-ratio steering all add to the ST’s prodigious performance hardware. The Focus ST also comes with the large alloy wheels, spoilers and bigger air intakes you expect (and love) in a spacious 5-door hatchback that can outperform many sports cars.
Buick Regal GS
How did a Buick sedan find its way onto a list that includes wild supercars and gorgeous convertibles? The answer is the Regal GS, a sports sedan that proves Buick is committed to targeting a younger, more driving-focused audience. The 2012 Buick Regal GS has a sport-tuned suspension, along with a turbocharged 255-bhp 4-cylinder engine that offers plenty of performance without the penalty of high fuel consumption. Buick says the Regal GS should reach 60 mph in less than 7 seconds. There is even a 6-speed manual transmission for drivers who prefer to shift for themselves. The cabin of every 2012 Regal GS will be black, with satin-finish trim on the steering wheel, console and instrument panel. The car comes loaded with standard features, such as satellite radio, park assist, pushbutton start and premium sound system. Arriving in the latter half of 2011, the Regal GS should be priced somewhere around $30,000.