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The 10 most anticipated test-drives of 2011

John LeBlanc looks at the top 10 new cars he's most looking forward to test-driving this year.

Published February 3, 2011
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2010 was a very good year for yours truly.

I got the chance to test-drive for the first time ever four-door versions of an Aston Martin (Rapide) and a Mini (Countryman), evaluate new sports sedans from former staid makers like Buick (Regal) and Volvo (S60), and really see if Honda could blend a sports coupe and a hybrid (CR-Z.)

But the 2012 models are already hitting the streets. And some I’m more anxious to drive than others.

Alphabetically, here are the top 10 new cars I’m most looking forward to test-driving this year:

Aston Martin Cygnet/Scion iQ

For every one of its 5,000-or-so gas guzzling beauties it sells very year, the British brand wants to sell about the same number of Cygnets—a restyled Toyota iQ that’s the Japanese automaker’s take on the Smart ForTwo, but with two extra seats squeezed into the back.

While the Scion version is a much-needed fresh piece of metal for an aging youth brand lineup.

The Big Question: How many Scion and Aston buyers will want a Toyota ForTwo?

Aston Martin One-77

Here’s one reason why Aston needs to sell some Cygnets…

The over $1 million One-77 (only 77 will be made) sports a 7.3-litre V12 with 750 hp, wrapped in a gorgeous carbon-fibre body and chassis. And I can’t wait to verify its maker’s claim that it can go from 0-100 km/h in under 3.5 seconds.

The Big Question: How much money would it take for Aston Martin to make the 78th example?

BMW 1 Series M/BMW M5

Recent BMWs, like the X6 M and X5 M SUVs, possess none of the core attributes that make up a traditional M car—naturally aspirated engines, manual transmissions, or rear-wheel-drive.

However, BMW will be introducing two cars this year that are meant to prevent the M Car faithful from storming the castle: the 1 Series M, a twin-turbo 3.0-litre inline-six making 335 hp; and an all-new M5 with a 547 hp twin-turbo 4.4-litre V8.

The Big Question: Can BMW’s new age M cars attract traditional Ultimate Driving Machine zealots?

Ford Focus ST

Thanks to the One Ford strategy that sees all cars in all markets, for the first time ever, North American will get their hands on a real Focus hot hatch—the 2012 ST.

For anyone thinking the cooking 2011 Focus’ 160 hp engine is a bit of weak tea, the Focus ST will come with 247 hp and 236 lb-ft of torque from a turbo 2.0-litre four, and its expected to be matched to a finely fettled chassis.

The Big Question: Can the Ford really give the legendary VW GTI a run for its money?

Hyundai Velostar

With each new car introduction, Korea’s Hyundai seems to be able to do no wrong. But the unusual Tiburon-replacing Velostar may break the automaker’s string of hits.

While its rear-wheel-drive Genesis Coupe 2+2 is relatively conventional, the front-drive Velostar offers a third, conventionally hinged third rear door on the passenger’s side, and a tiny, 1.6-litre turbocharged engine.

The Big Question: Will coupe buyers go for Hyundai’s version of the old Saturn Ion Quad Coupe?

Lexus CT200h Hybrid

Some blame Toyota for not taking enough risks. But the forthcoming Lexus CT200h Hybrid looks like a bit of risky business to me.

With styling seemingly inspired by a 2004 Mazda3 Sport, an economical but hardly engaging Prius powertrain, the CT200h is supposed to be the Toyota premium brand’s attempt to steal sales from the BMW 1 Series and Audi A3—seriously.

The Big Question: Will anyone want a slow hot hatch?

McLaren MP4-12C

The first McLaren road car since the demise of its legendary F1 in 1998, the MP4-12C will come with 592 hp, claims of naught to 100 km/h time of 3.2 seconds, and high-tech goodies like an all-carbon-fibre chassis and track day telemetry system that records video and data.

While there were only ever 100 F1s made, McLaren Automotive plans on making 10 times that annually, to be sold for an estimated $229,000 USD.

The Big Question: Already a longtime rival on the Formula One circuit, can Britain’s McLaren take on Ferrari on the road?

Mini Coupe

While BMW tries to grow its Mini brand in both the number of models and also in size with its compact Countryman four-door and Paceman two-door, the Mini Coupe is a two-seat only proposition based on a Mini Cooper hatch.

In truth, only masochists use the rear seats in a Cooper. So this makes sense. And the Coupe’s unique roofline is a departure from the Cooper’s square lid. But I’m more interested in how the car will drive.

The Big Question: How far can BMW extend—or in this case clip—its Mini brand?

Range Rover Evoque

Smaller than the current smallest Land Rover, the LR2, the Range Rover Evoque is the British SUV-maker’s take on a small, urban-friendly machine that doesn’t suck gas like, well, a Land Rover.

To come with two- and four-doors, the Evoque will be powered by a four-cylinder, and may even be offered with (take a breath) front-wheel-drive. And Land Rover will problem want more money than the LR2 because of the Evoque’s premium Range Rover lettering on its hood.

The Big Question: Will Range Rover fans pay more for less?

Toyota FT-86

“I want to see Toyota build cars that are fun and exciting to drive,” Akia Toyoda, head of the Japanese automaker said.

With the FT-86, I want to see if Toyoda can fulfill that promise.

Toyota wants you to forget about all the recalls, lack of innovation, and boring cars with the FT-86, a compact, rear-wheel-drive coupe that’s supposed to remind you of the days when Toyota did make fun cars, like the Corolla SR-5 the FT-86 was inspired by, Celica, Supra or MR-2.

The Big Question: Is this the car that shows faceless Toyota has a soul?