CAR CRAZY

New cars 2014

Which will combine higher mpg with cool design?


Published: Thursday, August 1, 2013 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, July 25, 2013 at 12:10 p.m.

The North American International Auto Show in Detroit, where brands debut their very latest models, is just a memory. But the vehicles that were broadcast to the world in January are just becoming available to drivers looking for a new ride.

The new crop is noteworthy for its higher fuel consumption — heading toward the mileage Armageddon of 2025, when a domestic automaker's roster of vehicles must average

54. 5 miles per gallon. The first stop toward that mandate is 34.5 mpg by 2016.

Keep in mind that every year, brands give makeovers to their vehicles from the subtle to the drastic — maybe a headlight job, an alternate drive train, control configuration.

The 2014 class, in keeping with the last few years, is more concerned with fuel consumption than flash. Higher mpg standards are pushing mileage ratings over design, at least for now.

In terms of design, let's talk drastic right off: The Toyota Corolla is in need of a shave. Maybe a haircut as well. The car has been a top seller in Gainesville — number 7 last year — despite its remake drought.

This year, though, some are whispering redo, and even more optimistically, a redo based on the Furia concept that was shown in Detroit. If so, the Corolla would not only get 32 mpg, but it would look cool getting it.

In the same class is the Nissan Versa Note, a hatchback version of the sedan, which, since we're talking what moves in Gainesville, is the Number 11 most popular new car in town. The Note gets 32 mpg — 40 mpg highway — and offers a navigation system with a 5.8 inch screen. Millennials loves them some nav screens, and this is a grabber.

Luxury and compact have long been estranged — luxury is a big, swimming-in-car, like Caddys and Buicks and BMW 5s. Only recently have the higher ends really tried to reach out with smaller cars with lower price points to appeal to drivers.

There has to be some luxury in that smaller-car entry, and this year it's the Mercedes CLA, which sits in what's known as the luxury compact segment alongside entries such as the Audi A3 the BMW 1-Series (remember that?) and the Volvo C30.

These smaller, high-end cars aim to get drivers who are unlikely to splurge on a car into the market, a lower-priced version of their marquee products. The CLA will go on sale in the fall starting at around $30,000.

The reservation among many car types is performance: Can a small car offer the drive and perks of a regular-sized vehicle?

OK, let's say you're not the driver to slide into a micro-sized car, don't care about squeezing into parking spaces and mpg is just one more acronym. Toyota's version of a Buick — the Avalon — dares to break out of its senior appeal this year, as the reinvented model hits dealerships. The hood is sleek, the sides have a Lexus-esque curve and the interior, well, it's like a Buick. Reliability with a dash of panache put the Avalon on the list.

Then there's this year's big vehicle.

It's no surprise that this region digs trucks, given the wider expanses, the agriculture, the DIY ethic that moves the pace here.

For most truck drivers, the F-150 is the go-to, reliable place to be. It's the top-selling used vehicle in this area. The Dodge Ram has always been number two — it's the seventh top seller in used vehicles here.

In the fall, the Dodge Ram hits with a diesel, claiming it as “the industry's only light-duty diesel pickup.” The others have diesels; “light-duty” is the key. It's a massive new entry for Dodge regardless.

What does a buyer consider before making such a large purchase? With a bevy of new vehicles just now hitting dealer lots, there is something for everyone. Which is good, because needs and wants for motorists are just as varied.

Elizabeth Hodges, a 40-something health-care worker, has been driving a Toyota Sequoia for a decade, accustomed to its 12 to 15 mpg. She's in the market for a new car and the models at the auto show in Detroit don't matter a whit to her. She looks at “shapes and colors” when she considers what to get.

She ponders a smaller SUV, a smaller pickup truck and, her emotional preference, a Volkswagen Beetle convertible.

This is how many drivers begin the buying process; a sorting out of practicality and heart tugging. Hodges looks at cars in parking lots, on the road and, occasionally, online. And she doesn't read the trades to see what's hot. It's a right-place, right-time thing with her.

“I like the Honda CRV, the Suburu Forester,” Hodges says. “But when it comes time to buy, it will depend on the car on that day, combined with the right deal.”

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