This is one of the best things about being a car reviewer. Every year the International Motor Press Assn. holds a Test Days event that gives journalists an opportunity to drive a raft of new and interesting cars. This year’s event was held over a two-day period at the Monticello Motor Club in upstate New York, with test-drives both on the track and on nearby country roads. Among the trends evident this year: Turbo-charged, four-cylinder engines are all the rage, muscle cars continue to get more muscular, and even performance cars are getting better mileage than ever before. Here’s a selection of cars that caught our interest:

Photographer: Uwe Zucchi/AFP/Getty Images

This is one of the best things about being a car reviewer. Every year the International Motor Press Assn. holds a Test Days event that gives journalists an opportunity to drive a raft of new and interesting cars. This year’s event was held over a two-day period at the Monticello Motor Club in upstate New York, with test-drives both on the track and on nearby country roads. Among the trends evident this year: Turbo-charged, four-cylinder engines are all the rage, muscle cars continue to get more muscular, and even performance cars are getting better mileage than ever before. Here’s a selection of cars that caught our interest:

Photographer: Uwe Zucchi/AFP/Getty Images

In 48 Hours, 13 Cars, One Driver

IMPA’s Test Days
IMPA’s Test Days

This is one of the best things about being a car reviewer. Every year the International Motor Press Assn. holds a Test Days event that gives journalists an opportunity to drive a raft of new and interesting cars. This year’s event was held over a two-day period at the Monticello Motor Club in upstate New York, with test-drives both on the track and on nearby country roads. Among the trends evident this year: Turbo-charged, four-cylinder engines are all the rage, muscle cars continue to get more muscular, and even performance cars are getting better mileage than ever before. Here’s a selection of cars that caught our interest:

Photographer: Uwe Zucchi/AFP/Getty Images

2011 BMW 1 Series M Coupe
2011 BMW 1 Series M Coupe
Price: $47,010
On sale: May 2011

Why it’s interesting: This is a rarity. There will be no 2012 model and no more than 900 will be sold in the U.S., BMW says. Powered by a high-revving, 335-horsepower, inline, six cylinder engine coupled with a six-speed stick shift, the 1 Series M Coupe accelerates from 0 to 60 in about 4.8 seconds—amazing speed for such a small car. For the less speed-obsessed, the 2012 BMW 135i is almost as fast, costs less, and is available as a ragtop. Photo Courtesy of BMW of North America
2012 BMW Z4 sDrive28i
2012 BMW Z4 sDrive28i
Price: $49,525
On sale: Fall 2011

Why it’s interesting: Under the hood is BMW’s new twin-turbo-charged, 2.0-liter, four-cylinder engine rated at 240 horsepower and 260 lb. ft. of torque. If our spin around the track is any indication, BMW’s new base engine performs at least as well as the inline six it replaces. The sDrive28i is rated to accelerate from 0 to 60 in about 5.5 seconds, slightly faster than the previous base model X4.
2012 Dodge Charger SRT8
2012 Dodge Charger SRT8
Price: $45,620 (including $1,030 gas guzzler tax)
On sale: Fall 2011

Why it’s interesting: This proves that parent company Fiat is serious about muscle car. The SRT version of the Charger, which was off the market in 2011, is now powered by a massive 6.4-liter, V8, Hemi engine rated at 470 horsepower (up from the previous 425). Other upgrades include an adaptive suspension and upgraded interior. Does 0 to 60 in under 5 seconds.
2012 Fiat 500
2012 Fiat 500
Price: $16,000
On sale: March 2011

Why it’s interesting: Can Italian chic alone sell a car? We find the 500 underpowered, noisy, lacking in interior and luggage space, and overpriced. The base model may cost 16 grand, but the sticker can easily approach $25,000, as it did for the Gucci-styled special edition 500 we test-drove. You can easily get more car for less money.
2011 Ford Explorer
2011 Ford Explorer
Price: $28,995
On sale: January 2011

Why it’s interesting: This is the new, car-like Explorer with unibody construction and less truck-like handling. It’s available with a 2.0-liter, turbo-charged, Ecoboost engine ($995) that generates 237 horsepower and gives it best-in-class mileage of 20 mpg in the city and 28 on the highway. The interior is nice but we found the ride a bit boaty.
2012 Ford Mustang Boss 302
2012 Ford Mustang Boss 302
Price: $41,105
On sale: April 2011

Why it’s interesting: An update of the legendary 1969 Boss Mustang, the 2012 Boss 302 is a completely reengineered Mustang powered by a 444 hp V8. It’s available only as a coupe and comes standard with Brembo brakes, Recaro sports seats, and other upgrades. The quandary: Buy the Boss or wait for the Chevy Camaro Z28 to finally hit the market?
2012 Infiniti M Hybrid
2012 Infiniti M Hybrid
Price: $54,595
On sale: March 2011

Why it’s interesting: Gets 32 miles per gallon on the highway for short intervals, running only on its electric engine, yet offers taut handling and 0–to-60 acceleration approaching 5 seconds. It's quicker, cheaper, and more fuel-efficient than its closest competitor, the 2011 Lexus GS 450h.
2012 Mercedes CLS63 AMG
2012 Mercedes CLS63 AMG
Price: $95,775
On sale: June 2011

Why it’s interesting: The Mercedes CLS is one of the most beautiful cars on the road. This is the performance version, powered by a twin-turbo, 5.5-liter, 518-hp, V8 engine that propels it from 0 to 60 in a mere 4.3 seconds when equipped with the optional performance package. Options really hike the price. The car we test-drove cost $123,525.
2012 Mercedes SLK350 convertible
2012 Mercedes SLK350 convertible
Price: $55,675
On sale: June 2011

Why it’s interesting: The elegant SLK350 two-seater convertible has been completely redesigned for 2012 and it's one sweet ride. Our preliminary assessment is that the SLK350, powered by an all-new, 3.5-liter, 302-hp, V6 engine, is quicker and sportier than before. An SLK250, with a turbo-charged, four-cylinder engine, is on the way.
2012 Porsche Cayman R
2012 Porsche Cayman R
Price: $67,250
On sale: February 2011

Why it’s interesting: One of the most in-demand cars at the IMPA event, this is a stripped-down version of the Cayman S with special engine mapping and exhaust systems that boost the horsepower of its 3.4-liter, six-cylinder engine to 330, 10 more than in the S. With only 8.8 lbs of weight per hp, this car cries out to be driven on a track. Photograph Courtesy of Thane Peterson
2012 Toyota Camry SE
2012 Toyota Camry SE
Price: $26,640
On sale: September 2011

Why it’s interesting: America’s top-selling car has been redesigned for 2012. We drove a prototype Camry SE on the track, hoping to find a spark of fire beneath the bland exterior. We did. The SE, powered by a 268-hp V6 engine, has a sport-tuned suspension and a six-speed automatic with paddle shifters. It’s no Porsche but the SE is sportier than before.
2012 Volkswagen Beetle turbo
2012 Volkswagen Beetle turbo
Price: $24,165
On sale: Fall 2011

Why it’s interesting: The redesigned VW Beetle is bigger, roomier, and less cutesy inside than the previous Beetle. The Turbo is the version to get if you like to drive. It’s powered by 2.0-liter, 200-hp engine similar to the one in the VW GTI, yet still gets 30 mpg on the highway.
2011 Volkswagen Golf TDI (European version)
2011 Volkswagen Golf TDI (European version)
Price: $33,055
On sale: Available only in Europe

Why it’s interesting: Honeywell imported this European Golf TDI to demonstrate how the company's turbo chargers can make a tiny, 1.6-liter diesel engine peppy while maintaining super fuel efficiency. The car feels tightly built. It does 0 to 60 in a tad over 11 seconds—slower than a Toyota Prius, but with an mpg rating well above the Prius’s 50 mpg. Photograph Courtesy of Thane Peterson