The 17 most important new cars of 2017

January 5, 2017

Every year, the auto industry churns out a new crop of cars, trucks, crossover SUVs, and minivans. Among them, some are simple facelifts. Others, entirely new vehicles, with fresh underpinnings and powertrains.

For the 2017 model year, we count at least 17 new vehicles that hold extraordinary sway over their brands. Some are exciting new halo cars; others replace mainstream best-sellers. A few are gauntlets thrown, sharp elbows aimed at tough rivals.

By those yardsticks, these are the most important new cars of 2017:

Acura NSX

Acura needs a reboot of its near-luxury image. How about a $160,000-plus hybrid supercar with technology you'd spend a million bucks for in a 918 or a P1? The new NSX is Acura's brand-reset button--we hope.

2017 Alfa Romeo Giulia Quadrifoglio

2017 Alfa Romeo Giulia Quadrifoglio

Alfa Romeo Giulia

Fiat Chrysler Automobiles has placed a huge amount of faith, and cash, in the Alfa Romeo nameplate. With the Giulia, it has a legitimate M or AMG rival--but is a super sedan what lots of American buyers want right now?

2017 Aston Martin DB11

2017 Aston Martin DB11

Aston Martin DB11

Aston Martin says its second century begins with this car, a complete reimagining of its grand GT lineup. An SUV is on the way, of course, but until it arrives the DB11 is the clarion call that Aston hopes will lure the well-heeled out of their Ferraris and Porsches and Bentleys.

2017 Audi A4

2017 Audi A4

Audi A4

The A4 is one of Audi's most critical products; it's too important to fail. The new generation delivers mild progress on all fronts, but nothing radical or dramatic--and given Volkswagen's ongoing turmoil, those could be its best attributes.

2017 BMW 5-Series equipped with M Performance parts

2017 BMW 5-Series equipped with M Performance parts

BMW 5-Series

It's no secret that mid-size luxury sedan sales are collapsing, but BMW is betting the new 5-Series will be among the survivors. To do so, it'll have to displace a new E-Class, an S90, and the excellent rivals from Cadillac and Jaguar.

2017 Cadillac XT5

2017 Cadillac XT5

Cadillac XT5

Cadillac hasn't had much success on that sedan front, but in SUVs it's a formidable force. The Escalade's magic could trickle down a lot more on the XT5. It's a crossover with more striking looks than the SRX it replaces, but it's one without much efficiency or dynamic magic.

2017 Chrysler Pacifica

2017 Chrysler Pacifica

Chrysler Pacifica

The Pacifica has to flip Chrysler's minivan switch, from mass-market purveyor of cheap flexible vans to seller of the best-driving, most appealing family vehicles on the road. We think it does: the Pacifica has unmatched flexibility and features, and a plug-in hybrid model trumps the Japanese minivans on a new front.

2017 GMC Acadia

2017 GMC Acadia

GMC Acadia

GMC is downsizing some of its vehicles, and with its new generation the Acadia shrinks into a smaller, nimbler footprint. That's critical for General Motors' move to boost fuel economy across the board, but risks turning off shoppers who liked the old Acadia's substantially bigger interior space.

New Ford GT

New Ford GT

Ford GT

To quote Tom Cruise in Risky Business, "sometimes, you gotta say, what the..." While it breathlessly promises self-driving taxis in five years and threatens hybrid Mustangs, the new GT is Ford's fingers crossed behind its back.

2017 Honda CR-V

2017 Honda CR-V

Honda CR-V

Over its lifetime, the Honda CR-V has been a default recommendation among compact crossovers. It does its small-SUV chores without complaint, delivering top-drawer safety and space. Simple refinement in every dimension (except front-end styling) suits it well, and that's what the 2017 edition delivers.

2017 Jaguar F-Pace

2017 Jaguar F-Pace

Jaguar F-Pace

One stat says it all: since the F-Pace SUV arrived in showrooms, Jaguar sales have posted their highest numbers since 2003. At some point, the F-Pace will become the best-selling Jaguar of all time--and we're betting that will happen much sooner than expected.

2017 Jeep Compass Trailhawk

2017 Jeep Compass Trailhawk

Jeep Compass

Fiat Chrysler can count one bright spot in its brand lineup, and that bright spot would be Jeep. Splitting off a new vehicle between the Renegade and Cherokee would be slicing things too thinly at any other company; here, it's common sense.

2017 Lincoln Continental

2017 Lincoln Continental

Lincoln Continental

Lincoln's entire history has been marked with the kinds of existential struggles that would torture Albert Camus. The long-rumored rear-drive architecture remains unconfirmed and a hazy 2020 possibility at best. Until then, the new Lincoln Continental is a placeholder, but a reasonable one. It at least acknowledges a few things the brand's always done well: real vehicle names, big horsepower, big chrome, and big back seats.

2017 Mazda CX-5

2017 Mazda CX-5

Mazda CX-5

The CX-5 has been a pivotal part of Mazda's lineup since 2013, but it faces the usual ever-changing, ever-improving raft of compact crossover SUVs. This time it does so with very muted styling changes and without a major new selling point.

2017 Mercedes-Benz E-Class (E300)

2017 Mercedes-Benz E-Class (E300)

Mercedes-Benz E-Class

Mercedes sets expectations unspeakably high when it calls the E-Class the most intelligent car on the road. It backs up that claim with automated assists for everything from steering and braking to lane changes. Rather than the disturb the S-Class on its regal perch at the top of the lineup, Benz has put the E-Class on the front line of the car-tech wars--and it's advancing.

2017 Porsche 718 Boxster, Guards red

2017 Porsche 718 Boxster, Guards red

Porsche 718

The 718 marks the break we've been anticipating since the flat-6 Boxster was new. It always made sense to combine Boxster and Cayman under one nameplate, much as it always made sense to more performance distance between it and the 911.

2017 Volvo S90

2017 Volvo S90

Volvo S90

In SUVs and wagons, Volvo squares up perfectly with its European rivals. In sedans, it's misfired. The S90's aim is true: it's a beautifully sculpted car with ample space and luxe touches. It won't reach the performance heights of an E63 or M5, but at the same time, won't draw too much away from the home-run XC90.

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