2013 Infiniti M35h
0 to 60: 5.2 seconds
EPA estimated fuel economy (city/highway): 27/32
Mate the 302 horses of Infiniti/Nissan's ubiquitous 3.5-liter V-6 to a 67-hp electric motor and you get serious mojo. And, for folks allergic to CVTs, a seven-speed autobox comes with this car. No typo: The champion of CVTs, Nissan/Infiniti, goes conventional for its transmission on the M35h.
Where the Lexus is serene, the M35h will withstand some horseplay. Power comes on quickly (even too quickly), and the car gets a nearly 50/50 weight distribution because of the battery placement. That yields more stable high-speed handling, all in a car that otherwise settles down for normal commuter mode. Neither BMW's $61,845 Active Hybrid 5 Series nor Porsche's Panamera Hybrid (a cool $96,000) is faster to 60 mph.
Honda Accord LX
0 to 60: 7.7 seconds
EPA estimated fuel economy (city/highway): 27/36
Chuck the latest Accord hard around a few double-yellow country roads and you'll learn that the latest family mover from Honda is quick, capable, and consistently stable even when you're not driving it like a member of polite society. When pushed to the limit the Accord seems to shrink around the driver, feeling nimble right to the edge of adhesion. Remember: This Honda is meant to sell by the tens of thousands every month. That the Accord manages to be so much more than dull, reliable transportation is good news for fans of stealth speed.
Yes, a CVT stands between the Accord driver and more spirited shenanigans. But Honda will happily sell you a six-speed manual-transmission Accord, though it will ding your fuel economy down to 24/34. And at least this CVT is quite good; it responds at least as quickly as a six-speed automatic would.
Buick Regal GS
0 to 60: 6.4 seconds
EPA estimated fuel economy (city/highway): 19/27
Buick sold ten times as many units in China last year as it sold in the U.S. That means the turbocharged, 270-hp edition of the Regal was not necessarily made with American buyers in mind, and that's just fine with us. A car like the GS shows that if the marketplace is more international, American carmakers can respond with products that are more engaging and flat-out fast.
Drive a GS and you'll find it corners like no Buick made in the 1970–2000 era. It may be front-wheel-drive, but torque steer is largely absent. Even the six-speed manual slots through its gates cleanly. Mash the throttle in third gear and watch the speedo or you'll get into trouble. The Regal GS is perfectly stable at very high speeds, hugging the Interstate like an alternate-universe Mercedes-Benz C-Class.
On the outside, though, Buicks still look Middle-America conservative, like they're primarily driven by men in plaid sport coats and yellow golf trousers. The blasé looks are a bonus if you're shopping for the un-3-Series.
0 to 60: in 8.6 seconds
EPA estimated fuel economy (city/highway): 22/30
Don't throw stupid money at the answer to a question nobody is asking (Porsche Cayenne Turbo, BMW X6M, etc.). For "normal" dough, the CR-V handles confidently with ride quality that is solid, never darty.
One huge but often overlooked factor in the midsize crossover category is good outward vision. Too many of these boxes have major aft-corner blind spots, but the Honda isn't one of them. It's also faster to 60 mph than a Ford Escape and doesn't require special fuel. The Mazda CX-5 delivers better fuel economy (26/32) and can play in the corners. But when you're trying to get out of a semi's way on the freeway, you'll wish you were in the Honda.