Call it the shoot-out at the midsize corral. Seldom have so many new products taken aim at the same critical market segment as we’re seeing for the 2013 model year. And that’s great news for buyers returning to showrooms after the deep recession that saw U.S. car sales plunge to their lowest level in decades.
Whether you’re looking for a new car, truck, or crossover, 2013 will be a big year to make a new car purchase. Manufacturers are flooding the market with new products that in many cases have been on hold since the economic downturn. That means interesting new things are debuting, such as minicars like the Fiat 500L and the lavishly updated BMW 7-Series sedan. And it’s not just new sheet metal. There are significant new safety features, like Subaru’s EyeSight system, and breakthroughs in comfort and technology, such as the innovative and intuitive Cadillac CUE infotainment system.
Of course, with gas prices hovering just a bit below record levels, fuel economy is on everyone’s mind — including industry engineers who’ve unleashed an assortment of high-mileage technologies, such as turbocharging and direct injection, that in many cases deliver improved performance as well as increases in fuel efficiency. The 2013 model year will also bring a flood of new “electrified” vehicles, from so-called “mild” hybrids like the Chevrolet Malibu with eAssist to the pure battery-electric Toyota RAV4 EV.
But nowhere are we seeing as wide a range of all-new or significantly updated offerings as in the midsize market. “It has become an incredibly competitive segment,” marvels Rebecca Lindland, chief automotive analyst with the consulting firm IHS Automotive, who predicts that demand for midsize products will outpace the overall U.S. automotive recovery this coming year.
The above-mentioned Chevy Malibu was one of the first models to hit market bearing a 2013 Monroney window sticker. Parent company General Motors decided to get off to an early start with the nameplate’s high-mileage model, the Malibu Eco, which delivers as much as 37 miles per gallon on the highway. For those who aren’t quite so focused on mileage, a turbo version will still deliver reasonably good fuel economy at 34 mpg highway, while also launching from 0 to 60 in just 6.3 seconds.
Detroit’s second-largest automaker is also garnering plenty of attention with the all-new Ford Fusion sedan. Arguably the most striking of the new midsize entries, it picks up on the design cues of the award-winning Ford Evos concept vehicle with a striking front end that unabashedly borrows its trapezoid grille from Ford’s former luxury brand Aston Martin. The new model is available with a wide range of safety, comfort, and convenience features as well as a broad mix of powertrains — including two versions of Ford’s sporty EcoBoost technology, a hybrid that will hit 47 mpg in both city and highway driving, as well as a new plug-in hybrid electric (PHEV) drivetrain. Dubbed the Fusion Energi, it nabs an incredible 100 MPGe rating from the Environmental Protection Agency.
Japanese manufacturers are also aiming to make big gains. Toyota, which completely remade its sales chart-topping Camry just a year ago, has expanded the model line for 2013. But the big headlines come from Nissan and Honda. The latter brand is rolling out a total remake of its ever-popular Accord that’s sleeker, roomier, and more fuel-efficient — and which introduces some intriguing new features, such as a blind-spot detection system that relies on a small camera hidden in the passenger-side mirror. The image is displayed on the same LCD monitor used for the Accord’s in-dash navigation system.
Nissan has a number of new safety features debuting on the all-new Altima as well, including blind-spot detection and cross-traffic alert, the latter designed to spot oncoming vehicles when you’re backing out of a parking space. Altima also adds a new feature called Easy-Fill Tire Alert that makes it simple to reinflate low tires without a gauge. Nissan is so confident about the appeal of the new Altima — which delivers a non-hybrid-segment-leading 38 mpg in the city — CEO Carlos Ghosn is boasting, “We are going to take a shot at being No. 1 in the segment.”
For those on a tighter budget, Nissan has also completely updated the compact Sentra model. The update gets so much added interior space that it technically falls into the midsize category, as does the all-new Dodge Dart, a sedan that brings back a nameplate that was wildly popular in the 1960s and ’70s.