2012 is a leap year, and it's fitting that, for many of the new 2013 models emerging this summer and fall, there's a lot more than facelifts and refreshed feature lists. Most notably, a lot of the trends that we’ve seen over the past several years in luxury models—engine downsizing, fuel-efficienttechnologies, and in-car connectivity—are making the leap into some of the market’s top sellers.
The Nissan Altima, Honda Accord, Ford Fusion, and Ford Escape—all some of the top-selling U.S. models—are each completely redesigned this year.
There's also a rebirth of sorts coming from Detroit. This is the year when we're seeing even more of the fruits of some mammoth investment at Ford Motor Co. [NYSE: F], in the form of radically new Fusion mid-size sedan and Escape compact crossover models that load up on the style, trends, and tech of high-end luxury cars yet stay relatively affordable; and at the same time we're seeing the first Chrysler product conceived under Fiat ownership—the Dodge Dart—hitting dealerships and looking to take back some of the small-car market.
Meanwhile, the rebirth extends to other kinds of models as well. Cadillac looks poised to be taken very seriously next to the likes of the BMW 3-Series and Infiniti G37 with its all-new ATS sport sedan. And while the Ram 1500 full-size pickup doesn't look all that different, the new powertrain technologies on board boost fuel economy by about 20 percent—helping to keep full-size trucks relevant as we head toward higher gas-mileage targets and, perhaps, higher gas prices.
Taking a step back to look at the market as a whole, here are ten vehicles that are especially important—for the market, for innovation, and for looking to the future—here for the 2013 model year:
2013 Ford C-Max Hybrid
Ford C-Max. For years, the shape of the Toyota Prius has become iconic, and almost instantly equated with ‘hybrid’ and ‘environmentally conscious’ even to people who know nothing about cars. Now Ford is catching on; it’s only offering this tall hatchback as a high-mileage hybrid—with a 47-mpg rating that beats the Prius V—and from an early drive we can say that the C-Max is more eager and enjoyable from the driver’s seat. Ford doesn’t have high expectations for C-Max sales, but we think that they're quietly eying a big piece of the Prius' pie—and that's only the start.
2013 Ford Escape
Ford Escape. Jumping all at once from the tall, boxy faux-SUV look of the 2012 Ford Escape to the radically different, rakish 2013 Escape is a shock. And with new turbocharged engines across most of the lineup, matched with advanced tech features, the new Escape is so different we’re a little surprised this new model didn’t warrant a name change. While there’s no doubt the new Escape will draw in aesthetes who need practicality, as well as a new crowd to Ford dealerships, some questions remain. Even in its last throes, the previous Escape was a best-seller. Will the new Escape maintain that?
Ford used to have the best-selling passenger car in the U.S. That was 1996, and since then the Toyota Camry has been at the top most years, with the Honda Accord close behind and the Nissan Altima and Hyundai Sonata surging close the past several years. Mid-size sedans are still the heart of the U.S. auto market, and this time Ford has gone all-out to make gains. The new 2013 Fusion is edgy and transformative by design and wears its tech on its sleeve—painting it as the anti-Camry, almost. In-car infotainment and connectivity are near the head of the class and an all-four-cylinder lineup (including several turbo models and a Hybrid) should help save gas. The Fusion not only represents a huge investment in the U.S., with some production moved from Mexico to Michigan; we think it adds up to one of the most compelling designs for a new generation of car shoppers.