• Renault S.A. is a French vehicle manufacturer producing cars, vans, buses, tractors, and trucks. The company is well known for numerous revolutionary designs, security technologies and motor racing. When its cars were exported to the United States during the 1950s and 1960s, the name was commonly mispronounced as "ren-alt" to and by the American public, and the Americanised pronunciation continues in common usage, though the original French has gained significant ground over recent years. In the United Kingdom it is pronounced "ren-o" though the French pronunciation is closer to "ruh-no".
  • Japan's Nissan is a full-line supplier of vehicles in the U.S. market, and the parent of Infiniti. Nissan attempts to emphasize sportiness, with varying success. The Altima midsize sedan is a stealth high-volume seller, regularly one of the three best-selling midsize sedans in the U.S. market. After selling a hybrid version of the Altima in select markets for a few years -- using hardware licensed from Toyota -- Nissan has gone all-in with the battery-electric approach, developing its own four-door, five-seat hatchback: the Leaf, this country's first mass-marketed all-electric full-purpose car, with a range of roughly 100 miles.The car lineup begins with the Versa sedan and hatchback, a compact model with a subcompact's price. Next is the Sentra compact sedan, followed by the midsize Altima, now available as a sedan and a coupe. Based on the Altima, the Maxima is actually slightly smaller, though it's priced dramatically higher. It offers more power, features and premium materials. Nissan doesn't have a full-size sedan.Sporty cars include the legendary Z car, a two-seat, rear-wheel-drive sport coupe and convertible based on one of few platforms shared with Infiniti. Nissan's no-compromises sports car is the GT-R, which has close to 500 horsepower, all-wheel drive and a price that puts all the Infinitis to shame at more than $80,000. The latest sporty model is the Juke, a small crossover that could easily be considered a hatchback car.Other crossovers include the boxy Cube, a roomier alternative to a conventional subcompact car, and and the compact Rogue. The Murano is recognized for its high quality, refinement and mileage in the midsize crossover segment.Unlike some major manufacturers, Nissan hasn't abandoned conventional truck-based midsize SUVs. It still offers the Xterra and the longer Pathfinder, both of which have off-road capability and high towing capacity. Nissan's largest SUV is the full-size Armada, which seats up to eight. After a few years out of the minivan business, Nissan is bringing back the Quest.Nissan competes with domestic and select foreign brands in the pickup-truck market with the compact Frontier and the full-size Titan. Though the Titan offers a choice of lengths, it doesn't have a regular cab version, only extended and crew.Headquartered in Yokohama, Japan, Nissan Motors is allied with France's Renault and Germany's Daimler, the parent company of Mercedes-Benz. With more than 40 percent of Nissan Motors' shares, Renault holds a controlling interest.
  • More than any full-line manufacturer, BMW's reputation is built on its vehicles' performance. Arguably the originator of the luxury sport sedan class with its model 2002 in the early 1960s, BMW has always emphasized optimal weight distribution and handling, though it now goes toe-to-toe with competitors for power as well. BMW's lineup now contains numerous crossovers and, for 2011, the company's first hybrid models.The descendant of the 2002, the compact 3 Series comes in coupe, sedan, wagon and convertible versions, with a choice of two gas and one diesel engine and rear- or all-wheel drive. Like the convertible version of the 3 Series, the current generation of the two-seat Z4 roadster is a retractable hardtop rather than a convertible soft-top. The subcompact 1 Series, introduced in 2008, is a two-door coupe or soft-top convertible whose high price has held back its sales. The newly redesigned midsize 5 Series sedan continues in the U.S. market, though its wagon variant will no longer be imported, replaced by the peculiar 535 Gran Turismo, a four-door hatchback with a coupe roofline. The related 6 Series coupe and soft-top convertible continue in their first generation. Also redesigned for 2010 is the 7 Series flagship sedan. Crossovers include the five-seat compact X3, the midsize X5 -- which comes in five- or seven-seat versions -- and the X6, a four-door based on the X5 but having a controversial coupelike profile. It seats four.In addition to gas engines, BMW offers hybrid drivetrains for the X6 and the 7 Series, and diesel engines for the 3 Series and X5. BMW's M division currently offers high-performance versions of the 3, 5 and 6 Series as well as the X5 and X6.Headquartered in Munich, BMW is an independent company. It also owns Mini and Rolls-Royce.
  • The luxury division of Volkswagen, Audi sells in the U.S. a lineup of models ranging from small two-seat coupes and roadsters to a large seven-seat crossover. In recent years, Audi has grown its offering and done a better job of distinguishing its models from the Volkswagens on which they are frequently based. Despite the perceived disadvantage of front-wheel drive, the performance of base car models has improved, and they often include Quattro as a performance enhancement to battle sport-oriented rival BMW. (A pioneer in all-wheel-drive technology, Audi has long offered Quattro for its more practical advantages.) Audi's "S" treatment provides a higher-performance option of some models, though the "RS" versions that compete more closely with cars from BMW's M and Mercedes' AMG divisions aren't currently offered in the U.S.Audi's practical cars include the small four-door-hatchback A3; the A4 compact sedan and Avant wagon; the midsize A6 sedan and Avant; the full-size A8 sedan; and two crossovers, the compact/midsize Q5 five-seater and the mid/full-size Q7, which seats five, six or seven. Sporty models include the two-seat TT coupe and roadster (convertible); the four-seat A5 sedan and cabriolet (convertible); and Audi's halo car, the R8 two-seat supercar, which will soon come as a roadster as well as a hardtop. Currently, S versions are available of the TT, A4, A5 and A6. A diesel engine leader in the U.S., Audi offers TDI clean-diesel engines for the A3 and Q7.Though its owner, VW, is in Wolfsburg, Germany, Audi is headquartered in Ingolstadt.
  • Toyota is a full-line vehicle manufacturer and variably the first or second largest global producer. Toyota's hard-earned reputation for reliability and quality was tarnished in 2009 and early 2010 by a series of high-profile recalls. Toyota has visibly allowed some of its strongest products -- often the best-sellers within their segments in the U.S. market -- to slip in terms of quality and competitiveness. Still, Toyota remains a high-volume seller and a leader in hybrid vehicles.Toyota's lineup begins with the subcompact Yaris, which comes in sedan and both two- and four-door hatchback forms. Next is the Corolla compact sedan, a best-seller that has been surpassed by many competitors. Though it's considerably larger, the Matrix hatchback shares the Corolla's platform. The midsize Camry sedan remains a best-seller, and the recently refreshed Avalon full-size sedan is an impressive combination of comfort, space, power and efficiency.Toyota's crossovers start with the RAV4, a compact that seats up to seven with an optional third-row seat. Arguably a large wagon rather than a crossover, the Venza seats five and offers generous cargo room. The Highlander midsize crossover seats five or seven with an optional third-row seat. To accommodate more people you'll need a full-size Toyota. The full-size Sequoia and Land Cruiser truck-based SUVs, and the Sienna minivan, all seat up to eight.Unlike some automakers, Toyota hasn't abandoned the midsize truck-based SUV market. The rugged FJ Cruiser, the company's most capable off-roader, remains, as does the 4Runner, a more comfortable and roomier model that also can go off road and tow heavy trailers.Toyota has the pickup-truck market covered with the Tacoma compact and the Tundra full-size truck. The Tundra has more drivetrain, box and cab options than ever before, but the domestic truck makers still offer more.Along with the hybrid-market-leading Prius, Toyota sells hybrid versions of the Camry and Highlander. Additional hybrids are forthcoming.Toyota is headquartered in Toyota city, Aichi, Japan.
  • Dating back to 1913, British automaker Aston Martin has kept a low profile among ultraluxury cars in the U.S. market except for its spotlight in various James Bond films, including the two recent flicks starring Daniel Craig. Bond's top-of-the-line DBS and the lesser DB9 and V8 Vantage share a platform and follow the same formula: two doors, front engine and rear-wheel drive. This year Aston has added a four-door hatchback model called the Rapide. All of the two-door models are available as convertibles as well as hardtops. While some competitors have become heavy and switched to all-wheel drive, Aston Martins remain comparatively lightweight.Aston is headquartered in Gaydon, Warwickshire, England. After 13 years under Ford Motor Co., Aston Martin was purchased by a group of private investors in 2007.
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