There are plenty of new cars to choose from every year, but how many are truly significant? In reality, most "new" vehicles are just updated versions of last year's models. It's only once every five years or so that models get completely redesigned, and even then, not all of them involve dramatic changes or groundbreaking technology.
But then there are those cars that really grab our attention, raise the bar, remind us why we love cars and change our perceptions. Automakers spend huge amounts of time and money in the hopes that the new arrival will be a class leader. It's exciting for us, too, because we get a glimpse into the future and see if our issues with the previous model have been addressed.
As it turns out, there's a bumper crop of brand new and redesigned models available for 2013, including some 2014 models that will be on sale early. Here are AutoTrader.com's 15 Most Significant New Cars for 2013.
2014 Chevrolet Impala
For over a decade now, the Impala has essentially lived in exile at airport rental lots across the country. But this new Impala changes that in a big way. The all-new 2014 Impala features stylish lines and a vastly improved interior with available MyLink voice commands and touch-screen functionality. Fortunately, it keeps the one good thing about the outgoing Impala: GM's smooth and powerful 3.6-liter V6. But unlike the old model, the new Impala will also be offered in two different 4-cylinder configurations for fuel-economy conscious shoppers, including one with "eAssist" mild hybrid technology.
2014 Chevrolet Silverado
At first blush, the new Silverado looks, well, a lot like the old Silverado. But once you hop in, you'll see where GM spent its money. Whereas the outgoing truck an interior that was reminiscent of a delivery van, the latest Silverado is thoroughly modern inside, featuring better materials and available MyLink system with touch-screen and mobile-app integration. Under the hood, the displacements stay largely the same, with a 4.3-liter V6, a 5.3-liter V8 or a 6.2-liter V8 (the 4.8-liter V8 has been discontinued). But these are new engines with lighter aluminum blocks, and they should yield notable gains in both power and fuel economy. We've heard rumors of an upcoming 8-speed transmission, but as of this writing, the 6-speed is still slated at the official transmission. The GMC Sierra is also all-new for 2014 and GM promises more standard features and unique interior materials so shoppers will have two distinct choices, not just one truck with a different grille.
2014 Chevrolet Corvette
Tired of all the speculation yet? Just hang in there 'til the Detroit Auto Show, where the hotly anticipated "C7" Corvette will be fully unveiled. But in case you've been out of the loop, here's a short summary. From the bits and pieces we've seen thus far, it appears the new 2014 Corvette may take some styling cues from overseas rivals like the Nissan GT-R. Thankfully, it will still sound and accelerate like an all-American sports car, because the C7 will continue to use a 6.2-liter V8, albeit a new "LT1" version with extensive tweaks that yield an estimated 450 horsepower and 450 pound-feet of torque. No downsizing, no turbos, just good old-fashioned V8 muscle -- and better fuel economy, thanks in part to a cylinder-deactivation system that turns the V8 into a 4-cylinder while cruising. Rumor has it that Corvette fans can also expect a quantum leap forward in cabin quality, including world-class sport seats.
2013 Dodge Dart
The Dart will change the way Americans think about Chrysler's compact cars. Yes, we remember the Neon; heck, we even remember the K-cars from the 1980s. But the Dart is different. Don't believe us? Check out the available 8.4-inch "uConnect" touch-screen, an iPad-like system that can include Garmin navigation, is incredibly user-friendly and surprisingly affordable to boot. Or consider that the suspension hails from Italy, borrowing its layout and Euro-firm responsiveness from the suave Alfa Romeo Giulietta hatchback. When we're behind the wheel of our favorite Dart, the Rallye with the turbocharged 1.4-liter engine, we find ourselves wondering if there's a better economy sedan on the market. It's that good.
2014 Ford Transit
If you feel a little affection for the venerable Ford E-Series (aka Econoline), you're not alone. It's been ferrying teams of kids to various competitions for decades, not to mention serving as the default choice for ambulances, RVs and the like. But it was time to modernize, and that's what the 2014 Transit is all about. From its sleek, European-inspired design to cutting-edge cabin technology like Sync and MyFord Touch, the new Transit is a huge leap forward. More highlights can be found under the hood, where three capable and relatively fuel-efficient engines will be offered: a 3.7-liter V6, a twin-turbocharged "EcoBoost" 3.5-liter V6, and a novel 3.2-liter five-cylinder turbodiesel. With multiple lengths and heights to choose from, the 2014 Transit should hit all the right notes for shoppers who need full-size-van functionality. The Ford Transit will be available in 8, 10, 12 and 15 passenger configurations as well as a variety of cargo vans.
2014 Honda Accord Plug-In Hybrid
Redesigned for 2013, the highly satisfying Accord heralds a return to form for Honda, and there's going to be a plug-in hybrid version, too. First, the good news: the Accord Plug-In Hybrid, technically a 2014 model, boasts the highest electric MPG-equivalent rating ever, at least for now. The EPA awarded the plug-in Accord a rating of 115 "MPGe," which outpaces the runner-up Ford C-MAX Hybrid by a healthy 15 MPGe. And when the 4-cylinder gasoline engine is active, fuel economy is excellent at 47/46 mpg, topping even the Chevrolet Volt. As for bad news, the driving range on pure electric power is a measly 13 miles, the plug-in Accord lists for over $40,000, and it will initially only be sold in New York and California. But hey, you gotta start somewhere.
2014 Jaguar F-Type
The Internet is gaga for the 2014 Jaguar F-Type. Roughly ninety-nine percent of the F-Type commentary we've seen has been something to this effect: "OMG it's beautiful I want one." Do you agree? It's good looking for sure, but we think there's a hint of Nissan Z in the front end look. After all, Jag's new two-seater is supposed to compete against high-end sports cars like the Porsche 911. But we'd probably get used to the styling right quick with the optional 5.0-liter supercharged V8 providing the power. Shoot, even the standard supercharged V6 is no slouch. Offered as either a coupe or a soft-top convertible, the F-Type is Jaguar's first real sports car in decades. Let's hope it's as good to drive as the online peanut gallery thinks it looks.
2014 Kia Forte
We've been singing the praises of the Kia Forte for a few years now, but let's be honest: Kia's would-be Corolla killer has always lacked the pizzazz that an upstart needs to succeed. Enter the redesigned 2014 Forte, which made quite a splash at the 2012 LA Auto Show with its sporty, upscale sheet metal. The interior, guilty of being somewhat boring in the outgoing model, has likewise been revamped, bringing it into line with top-notch Kia cabins like the one in the Optima sedan. Kia says you'll even be able to add high-end features like heated and cooled seats. Details remain sketchy beyond the two available engines -- a 1.8-liter 4-cylinder borrowed from the Hyundai Elantra as well as a more powerful 2.0-liter 4-cylinder -- but you can bank on a comprehensive equipment roster with plenty of standard technology, as well as Kia's traditional value advantage.
2013 Land Rover Range Rover
We'll get this off our chests first: the new Land Rover Range Rover lacks the boxy, muscular, in-your-face presence of the outgoing model, and we're not sure that's a good thing. But it does look a little more modern, plus, this newfound svelteness does convey an important fact about the redesigned 2013 Range Rover: it's a whole lot lighter than before. Thanks to all-aluminum unibody construction, the Range Rover has lost a whopping 700 pounds, which translates to superior fuel economy and acceleration from the familiar 5.0-liter V8 engine lineup. If you opt for the 510-horsepower supercharged version, you'll get a 0-60 mph sprint of around 5 seconds along with a claimed MPG improvement of nearly 10 percent. Other fun facts: rear legroom has increased by about 5 inches, and the shift knob is now a rotary dial borrowed from Jaguar that descends into the console when the vehicle is turned off.
2013 Lincoln MKZ
Until now, the MKZ has essentially been a thinly disguised Ford Fusion, but that disguise has gotten a whole lot thicker for 2013. Starting with the aggressive waterfall grille and extending through the unique ducktail rear end, the all-new MKZ betrays none of its Ford roots to the casual observer. The MKZ looks like someone at Ford snuck into a major auto show, stole a concept car, and then offered it for sale. It's also the only game in town if you want a Fusion-based product with a V6, as the latest Fusion is offered only with 4-cylinder engines. And if you prefer a hybrid, the MKZ has you covered; it's also available with the Fusion Hybrid's power system.
We think the new Mazda6 is one of the most intriguing models on this list. If you find that surprising, you're probably dismissing the Mazda6 as a mere family sedan, which isn't fair. In fact, Mazda's midsizer is one of the few cars in this class that can put a genuine smile on a driver's face. Now, the outgoing 6 was admittedly guilty of some interior cost-cutting, and its stretched wheelbase made it look awkwardly long in profile. But the 2014 6 has been nipped and tucked to near-perfection, and its interior has improved so much that it now reminds us of a classic, no-nonsense BMW cabin. Plus, you can select from two fuel-efficient "SkyActiv" 4-cylinder engines: a 2.5-liter gas or a torque-rich 2.2-liter turbodiesel that should keep the VW Passat TDI awake at night. So don't overlook the new Mazda6; it just might be the most rewarding midsize sedan of them all.
2013 Porsche Boxster/Cayman
Although the outgoing Porsche Boxster (the soft-top roadster) and Cayman (the hardtop sports car) were unequivocally awesome to drive, we always thought their styling was a little off. It was hard to pin down exactly, but these pint-sized Porsches just weren't as classically beautiful as the 911. Well, so much for that criticism. The next-generation 2013 Boxster and Cayman are here, and they're simply stunning. We especially like the tidy rear end with its tastefully integrated spoiler that blends into the tailights, but the newly squarish headlights are also cool. And although the 6-cylinder engines haven't changed dramatically, they're still among the sweetest and best-sounding motors on the planet. With the upmarket migration of the latest 911, which is now more of a grand-touring coupe in size and character, the Boxster/Cayman siblings arguably stand alone as the enthusiast's choice in Porsche's lineup.
2013 SRT Viper
We're not sure why Dodge suddenly doesn't want to put its name on the vehicles it builds -- first the "RAM" pickup, now the "SRT" Viper -- they can rebrand themselves however they like as long as the results are this good. The reinvented Viper sticks with the signature 8.4-liter V10 engine, tuned here to produce a dizzying 640 horsepower and 600 pound-feet of torque, but it's otherwise a revolutionary upgrade from Vipers past. We're especially taken with the attractive, high-quality interior, which includes stellar sport seats and the same 8.4-inch uConnect touch-screen that we like so much in the Dart and other Chrysler products. The Viper is still a brawny American hot rod, but now it might even be civilized enough to steal a Ferrari fan or two. As for the styling, the headlights might be a bit too dainty, but the profile really pops, and we can't find a single thing wrong with that voluptuous back end.
2013 Tesla Model S
Pundits love to talk trash about Tesla, but the upstart American carmaker is about to fire back with its new 2013 Model S electric luxury hatchback. Featuring up to 416 horsepower, a genuinely athletic chassis, and a claimed range of up to 300 miles, the Model S is the first electric car that demands few compromises in either performance or usability. Not surprisingly, it's also massively expensive, checking in at over $100,000 for maximum power and range. But pricing starts at around half that if you're willing to accept less power and range. And anyway, with this much technology on tap, not to mention the Model S's refined sense of style, a six-figure price tag doesn't seem out of line. You even get a rear-facing third-row seat like in a Mercedes station wagon. Meanwhile, folks in the first row are treated to an enormous iPad-like touch-screen that emphasizes the Model S's high-tech identity. We expect Tesla's plug-in people-mover to be a historic landmark in the slow but steady development of the electric car.
2013 Toyota RAV4
The RAV4 is one of the few new cars notable for what it losing in addition to what its gaining. The old RAV4's optional 3.5-liter V6 engine, odd swing out rear door and third row seat are all gone. As far as the engine goes, we'll miss it, but we can't blame Toyota for dropping an engine option that barely one in 10 buyers selected. The redesigned 2013 RAV4 instead employs a capable 2.5-liter 4-cyinder mated to a 6-speed automatic transmission that returns 31 mpg on the highway. All-wheel drive remains an option, and while the third-row seat has been discontinued, the big news inside is the leaps-and-bounds progress in both overall appearance and quality of materials. And the old swing-out door is now replaced by a swing-up style liftgate that can be power operated. Exterior styling has also changed significantly, moving away from quasi-SUV muscularity and toward a smooth crossover aesthetic. The new RAV4 now has a lot more in common with the Honda CR-V, and judging by the way the CR-V sells, that bodes well in this hotly contested segment.
These are our picks for the top new cars for 2013. What do you think? Tell us in the comments below.