Base price: $29,900
Mileage: 26 city, 38 highway
A new Mercedes for less than $30,000? Believe it. Styling is straight out of the Benz playbook: sophisticated and just understated enough, with a luxurious interior (the tablet-style dashboard rocks). Granted, you can find more oomph for the money elsewhere—but the CLA’s 208-horsepower turbo four-cylinder engine delivers as much giddyup as most flatlanders need.
Land Rover Range Rover Sport
Base price: $63,495
Mileage: 17 city, 23 highway
The all-new Sport’s glossy interior, with its fine leather stitching and polished aluminum, brings to mind the kind of plush London club where you might see Kate Moss sipping Chablis. Yet this machine (which boasts a 3.0-liter supercharged V-6 engine and 340 horsepower) can shred calmly through the scariest winters. No wonder it won the 2014 Four Wheeler of the Year award from Four Wheeler magazine. It’s luxury coddling meets badass off-roading.
Chevrolet Cruze Turbo Diesel
Base price: $24,985
Mileage: 27 city, 46 highway
When buying a car for a high-school or college student, you want several things. A low price, of course. Great mileage so that the kid can spend money on books rather than gas. And it doesn’t hurt if the car has green cred, too. The 2.0-liter turbo diesel Cruze offers all three. Its engine produces significantly fewer emissions than a traditional gasoline engine—giving Junior something to brag about to eco-minded friends.
Tesla Model S
Base price: $63,570*
Mileage: 94 city, 97 highway
By now you’ve likely seen one of these plug-in electric sedans, produced by billionaire Elon Musk’s Silicon Valley startup, cruising Michigan Avenue. The car’s most striking quality may not be its ability to go a whopping 265 miles per charge but rather its futuristic body and leather-wrapped, high-tech interior. Media, navigation, climate control—all are integrated in a 17-inch touchscreen tablet set into the dash. Bonus: a panoramic glass roof.
Base price: $69,000
Mileage: 20 city, 28 highway
OK, OK, a convertible may not be the best car for these storm-tossed climes. But if you’re looking for a second set of wheels for the temperate months, few models beat the F-Type. Jaguar’s first new two-seat sports car since the iconic E-Type of the 1960s, it’s positively James Bond–worthy: a gorgeous figure, amazing handling. Upgrade from the base 3.0-liter V-6 to the monster 495-horsepower supercharged V-8 S for $92,000, and you can hold your own on a racetrack.
Honda Accord Hybrid
Base price: $29,155
Mileage: 50 city, 45 highway
Finally! An outstanding hybrid from Honda. Its electric motor, boosted by a 2.0-liter gas engine, is among the most efficient around.Merging onto I-94? Punch the pedal, and 141 horses will rocket you to the left lane in seconds. No frumpy styling here: The main cabin controls can be touchscreen, and the optional moonroof is ideal for romantic cruises along Lake Shore Drive.
Base price: $42,290
Mileage: 20 city, 28 highway
Big families have few choices for fun rides. All new for 2014, the Acura MDX has been upgraded with slick looks and performance that can match any seven-seater in its class. Plus, you’ve got optional all-wheel drive for the snow. True, you’ll pay $11,000 more than you would for a Ford Flex, but you’ll get better mileage from the MDX’s V-6 engine—not to mention a more upscale interior.
Base price: $16,195
Mileage: 31 city, 40 highway
Modeled after the classic Fiat Cinquecento of the 1950s, this 1.4-liter turbo (optional) isn’t new for 2014. But it remains the most enjoyable little-engine-that-could for the price. Slip Pavarotti on the standard six-speaker system, hurl the car through city traffic, and laugh grandly as you squeeze into even the most Lilliputian parking space: This model measures just 11 feet, 6 inches long.
Base price: $104,900
Mileage: 16 city, 27 highway
Audi’s A7 is one of the most striking sedans around, thanks in part to its sportback silhouette. And its new RS version—with a twin-turbo 560-horsepower V-8 engine—is the most powerful consumer car the automaker has ever produced. Go ahead and stretch out: It can hold four Brian Urlacher–size people, as well as two golf bags in the trunk. Like other fabulous sedans, this one doesn’t come cheap. But if you want to roll up to Gibsons in a car that says “I made it,” your ride is here.
Five Mobile Apps to Help You Rule the Road
- Drive Safe Mode Alerts you if your teen driver texts or e-mails when the car is moving. $2.99 on iTunes and Android
- GasBuddy Scopes out the cheapest fill-up near you, in real time. Free on iTunes and Android
- Greatest Drive GPS Road and Trip Finder Tells you the coolest routes from point A to point B as recommended by other drivers. Free on iTunes
- Talkler Reads your e-mails out loud—a boon when you’re stuck on LSD. Free on iTunes
- Torque Pro Delivers engine diagnostics—emissions, torque, and so on—right to your phone. $4.95 on Android