Mercedes-Benz uses the label Black Series to describe its most exclusive breed of automobile, a model loaded with every luxury add-on and motorsport upgrade in the company’s arsenal. It’s audacity on wheels, with the engineering to back it up. Until recently only four models in Benz history got this treatment. Here’s the fifth: the SLS AMG Black Series coupe. The SLS AMG was already an eye-popping piece of machinery. When it launched in 2011—a modern-profile homage to M-B’s 1950s gullwing—it looked like it could be the next vehicle to land on the moon (it was named Playboy’s Car of the Year). The new Black Series iteration is nothing less than the most powerful production M-B in existence. Our test-drive took us to the famous Paul Ricard racetrack in the south of France. When you pop the dramatic gullwing doors, it’s like a curtain rising. Drama is about to begin. Track-tuned suspension grapples with a 622 hp V8 capable of zero to 60 in 3.5 seconds. Top speed: 195 mph. Add to it a titanium exhaust system and the best power-to-weight ratio of any Black Series ever. In a word: outrageous.
Of all the cars Mercedes-Benz has launched in recent years, the new CLA sedan is the leading candidate to capture your heart. Why? It’s sophisticated inside and out, as a Mercedes should be, and handles with the agility and aplomb expected from the German car giant. The real news is the price, which starts at $29,900 for a Benz big enough to seat four. That’s cheaper than anything in BMW’s lineup. Most Americans first saw the CLA in a Super Bowl ad. We arranged a more intimate tryst on winding European roads. The turbo four-cylinder thumps out 208 horsepower, and M-B claims the car’s drag coefficient sets an aerodynamics world record. Impressed? We were. Expect the CLA in September.
No consumer product symbolizes America more than the almighty pickup. We buy more trucks than any other nation by far. As the old country-song trope goes, you can never trust a lover, but your pickup will never let you down. Of recent, nearly all the major players have relaunched their full-size trucks. Let’s start with the new sheriff in town. The Ram 1500 (they don’t call it Dodge anymore) is a serious pickup from a born-again company that knows how to make them. Choose from more than 30 variations, from the two-wheel-drive Tradesman ($22,640) to the four-wheel-drive Laramie Longhorn Crew Cab with a 5.7-liter Hemi V8 ($44,325). Pictured: the base Laramie ($35,665).
Ford must be doing something right; the F-150 is the best-selling truck of any kind in the U.S. The company offers many flavors, from the bottom-end 2WD XL ($23,670) to the off-road SVT Raptor ($43,630) to the top-end Limited, a 3.5-liter 4WD with nearly every add-on you'll find in a luxury car ($52,895). Pictured: the XLT ($29,050).
GM’s all-new Silverado 1500 (and its twin bro, the GMC Sierra) hits showrooms this summer (pricing TBA). While the styling isn’t revolutionary, there are three new eco-friendly engines (topping out with a 6.2-liter V8) and lots of new interior tech (a sweet 4.2-inch dash display, for example). Pictured: the off-road-ready Z71 model.
The Tundra hasn’t sold as well as Toyota hoped. Still, the Japanese juggernaut is coming at the competition in an all-new 2014 Tundra. It arrives in summer with fresh styling and a choice of three engines (pricing TBA). Most noteworthy: the TRD Rock Warrior. With its 5.7-liter V8, it’ll tow 10,000 pounds. Pictured: the 1794 edition.
Sergio Marchionne • Fiat-Chrysler CEO
For Italophiles and gearheads alike, few sound bites brought more joy than the announcement in January that the long-awaited return of Alfa Romeo to the U.S. for the first time since 1995 will finally take place before the year is out. The first car to arrive will be the all-new mid-engine 4C sports car, which debuted at the Geneva auto show in March (Playboy was there). A sedan, a crossover and an SUV will follow. The man behind the move—Fiat-Chrysler group CEO Sergio Marchionne—claims it makes sense. Fiat-Chrysler owns Alfa, which means Alfa can use Chrysler’s infrastructure to hawk cars here. “For sure, it’s coming back this year with the 4C,” Marchionne said. The question is, will Americans buy Alfa Romeos? Are the problems that drove Alfa from our shores in 1995 still with us today? It’s a fantastic gamble. This we know: We can’t wait to get our hands on hot Italian machinery. As they say over there, ci sei mancato molto! (We missed you so much.)