. 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.
. We all remember the cheery Dodge Neon, and yet the unrefined, inefficient Caliber is utterly forgettable. Thankfully, Chrysler has done its best to wipe the small-car slate clean and pretend the Caliber never happened with the all-new 2013 Dodge Dart. This compact sedan has a certain design flair that fits right in with the Dodge lineup yet stands out among small cars; and with high-end features like a reconfigurable TFT instrument cluster, HID headlamps, and Nappa leather upholstery, it’s pushing affordable-car boundaries. From what we’ve seen so far of this first model born under Fiat ownership, it’s quite close to a bullseye.
. After a highly criticized new Civic, Honda was facing more than a little pressure to get its new-generation 2013 Accord right. After driving the new Accord, we can say with certainty that they did. Base four-cylinder models of the Accord have a fuel-saving CVT that’s the most convincing automatic-transmission imitator yet, but even more impressive is that Honda managed to keep the strong, smooth V-6—and eke out a 34-mpg highway rating from it—instead of transitioning to turbocharged engines. Combine this with some smart design, an improved feature set, and a little more of the light-driving verve that probably made millions fall for the Accord over the years, and it’s reassuring to know that Honda may very well be back on track.
Volkswagen Jetta Hybrid
. After years of downplaying hybrids and electrified vehicles, and trying instead to create interest in clean diesels (VW has done best with this), the Germans are getting serious about electrification and giving in to the questions about why there’s no high-mileage hybrid on the lot. VW is the first German company to go for higher production volume with a hybrid, and that's why the Jetta Hybrid is such an important about-face, set to arrive at U.S. dealerships late this year. With a 1.4-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine, 27-hp electric motor system, and seven-speed dual-clutch gearbox, the Jetta Hybrid should be a lot more fun to drive than the Prius, yet almost as fuel-efficient.
. Full-size pickups aren’t going away anytime soon. The next several years we’re going to see a sea change in powertrains, aiming for far better fuel efficiency, and the Ram 1500 is at the leading edge. With new eight-speed automatic transmissions, a new V-6, and available stop/start technology—plus an eco package that includes low-rolling resistance tires, a lighter-weight frame, and aerodynamic shutters—Chrysler has boosted fuel economy by a staggering 20 percent over the 2012 model. The Ram remains the most recognizable truck on the market, and new materials and trims inside make top Laramie Longhorn models among the most luxurious pickups ever.