When it comes to interesting new cars, some years are better than others. Lately, it seems like hot technology innovations have taken center stage, leaving the cars themselves relatively unchanged. But 2014 is shaping up to be a banner year for fresh metal, with numerous new models set to make their debuts. Here are the six rides that we're anticipating most.
2015 Ford Mustang
First the Corvette last year, and now the Mustang. Within two years, possibly the two most iconic American cars have been reinvented. We still don't have full details on the latest Mustang, but we have images, and it's clear that this globe-trotting pony is designed for an international clientele. The lines are still unmistakably Mustang, but they're more sophisticated now, even evoking the long, lean look of an Aston Martin from certain angles. This is the first 'Stang that might steal some buyers from BMW, yet its muscle-car mojo has somehow been preserved.
Speaking of sophistication, the 2015 lineup will be the first to employ an independent rear suspension across the board, which should make this already capable pony even friskier in tight corners. Perhaps more important, it will silence those who love to hate on the current Mustang's live-axle suspension despite its formidable real-world capabilities. The interior, too, will change drastically, with a sleek look and upgraded materials that we hope will finally do this legendary nameplate justice.
Under the hood, the first 4-cylinder engine in decades will debut: a 2.3-liter turbo with 300-plus horsepower and unprecedented fuel economy. Happily, the current Mustang GT's fantastic 5.0-liter Coyote V8 lives on, probably with a modest bump over the current output of 420 hp and 390 lb-ft of torque. Like the current car, the new Mustang will also offer a base V6 that pumps out around 300 hp.
If you couldn't tell, we're especially excited about this one. Don't change that channel; we'll have driving impressions and more just as soon as Ford grants us access.
2015 Cadillac Escalade
Will this be the Escalade that finally goes toe-to-toe with the best SUVs in the world? We're not saying the outgoing Escalade was a bad vehicle, but its pickup-truck roots have always been a little too apparent. Cadillac hopes to smooth things out with the all-new 2015 model.
The new Escalade is once again based on Chevy's full-size truck architecture, but GM's big trucks were redesigned last year, so that's a much-improved place to start. The engine's revised, too: a 6.2-liter V8 that cranks out 420 hp with a brawny, all-American exhaust note. Inside, the Escalade is all new and mostly better, with supple surfaces and premium leather trim that looks to be world-class. The jury's out on the high-tech CUE infotainment system, however, which we've found frustrating to operate in other models.
As ever, the Escalade's styling may be its strongest selling point. Bolder than before -- if you can believe it -- the in-your-face 2015 Escalade will no doubt be appearing soon in music videos near you. If attitude is a priority, few vehicles of any stripe can touch the big Caddy, especially with the available 22-inch wheels.
2015 Mazda6 Skyactiv-D (diesel)
OK, so the Mazda6 isn't technically new this year, but the diesel engine is, and it's the one we've really been waiting for. Slated for a spring 2014 launch, the Skyactiv-D employs a 2.2-liter 4-cylinder turbodiesel that should make at least 150 hp and 280 lb-ft of torque. That, combined with the Mazda6's stunning good looks and sport sedan handling, means we're anxious to get behind the wheel of a car we think will be one of the best sedans.
The European model, already on sale, goes as high as 173 hp and 310 lb-ft, so here's hoping we get the pumped-up version on our shores. Either way, the Skyactiv-D should provide prodigious passing punch along with highway fuel economy well into the 40s.
We understand that the transmission choices will consist of a 6-speed automatic or Mazda's excellent 6-speed manual. This should make the Skyactiv-D perfectly competitive against the only other diesel-powered family sedan: the Volkswagen Passat TDI, long a staff favorite for its excellent blend of efficiency and drivability. Naturally, the Skyactiv D will also provide the fundamental goodness of every Mazda6, including class-leading handling and an attractive, well-built interior with a generous back seat. The Skyactiv-D could be a home run for Mazda.
2015 Kia K900
Introduced at the 2013 Los Angeles Auto Show, the K900 would have been incomprehensible just a few short years ago. Kia, a historically budget-oriented carmaker, building an executive-class luxury sedan with rear-wheel drive, an uptown interior and an available 420-hp V8? It sounds like an April Fools' joke. But Kia's been making serious moves as of late, adding a number of cutting-edge models to its fleet, including the full-size Cadenza sedan and the ever-improving Optima sedan. If you've been following closely, you know that this move actually makes sense, particularly given that corporate parent Hyundai already had the proven Equus platform ready for adaptation.
But let's put brand-image concerns aside and just focus on the car. In short, it's impressive. We can think of some poor imitations from Kia in the past (XG350), but all it takes is a few seconds in the K900's supremely comfortable driver seat to know that this is the real deal. The materials are uniformly top-notch, with exposed stitching that reminds us of Audi's best. The automatic shift lever looks like BMW's distinctive joystick-style shifter, except it's more intuitive to operate. Overall, the driving position is enveloping and sporty; think Jaguar XJ, as opposed to the Equus model's laid back Lexus LS-style vibe. And the back seat is suitably regal, with power adjustments, acres of legroom and surprisingly generous headroom given the car's low, slinky roofline.
We can't wait to drive the K900 and see if it lives up to the hype.
2015 Volkswagen Golf/GTI
The seventh-generation (Mk VII) Golf bows this year with numerous changes. It's built in Mexico now, on an all-new platform that will underpin numerous VW models. The entry-level 5-cylinder engine has been replaced by a perky 1.8-liter turbo 4-cylinder that makes even the cheapest Golf fun and fuel-efficient. Also, the turbodiesel TDI gets a slight bump in horsepower (to 148), and diesel fuel economy should improve, as well -- although an emissions-cleansing urea system will be included for the first time, with refills required at regular intervals.
The one we're really looking forward to, though, is the high-performance GTI, which gets a new engine that's a quantum leap beyond its predecessor. Whereas the outgoing GTI made an even 200 hp and 207 lb-ft of torque, the 2015 model gets an Audi-inspired motor good for an estimated 210 hp and 258 lb-ft. We've driven a pre-production GTI, and the difference is real: It's a genuinely fast car now, not just a quick one. Other improvements include more capable handling (thanks in part to a 2-in-longer wheelbase) and quicker steering.
We're also looking forward to the 290 hp, all-wheel drive Golf R. VW says it gets from 0-60 mph in about 5 seconds. From fuel-sipping family car to German hot-hatch, there's a VW Golf for everyone. Will the Golf continue to be one of the best all-around cars on the road? We'll keep you posted as its production debut nears.
2015 Ford F-150
The vehicle we know the least about is Ford's all-new F-150, but it may also be the most intriguing. Although the details have not yet been confirmed, Bloomberg and others are reporting that the new truck's body panels will consist largely of aluminum, which is considerably lighter than steel. When Ford unveiled the Atlas concept -- a thinly disguised F-150 design study -- at last year's Detroit Auto Show, there was talk of a 750-pound weight reduction compared to the current F-150. That's a lot of weight, but an aluminum shell just might do the trick. As a fringe benefit, aluminum is naturally rustproof, giving Ford a theoretical edge in durability.
Contractors may be wondering how they're going to affix their magnetic signs to the new F-150's aluminum doors, but otherwise, this redesign should be a revolutionary advance for America's best-selling truck. Expect next-generation EcoBoost turbocharging technology, too, including a smaller-displacement V6 or even a 4-cylinder engine that should take full advantage of the lighter truck's fuel economy potential. Rumor has it that a full-fledged F-150 will be appearing at this year's Detroit Auto Show, so further details will likely be coming soon.
See what we mean? It's going to be an awesome year for folks who like to drive, and we'll have all the info you need in the weeks and months ahead.