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Dozens of U.S. car models will be introduced or refreshed in the 2014 model year, from big-selling mainstream cars such as the Toyota Corolla to rarefied supercars such as Ferrari's $1.3 million LaFerrari.
The auto industry is rebounding after several rough years during the recession. Sales of new cars and trucks are expected to reach 15.5 million or more this year, their highest level since the recession. Low-interest auto loans and moderating gas prices are helping to spur consumers to buy.
There are some common threads among the new models in 2014. Automakers are updating their interiors, replacing hard plastic with soft-touch armrests and dashboards, and adding larger touch screens, cooled seats and more ways for drivers to access their smartphones.
Luxury carmakers such as Mercedes and Maserati are adding lower-priced models to their ranges, hoping to boost sales, while lower-priced brands such as Kia are moving upmarket.
Fuel economy is important. Honda and Porsche have new hybrids; BMW is releasing its first electric car; and Mazda will soon become the first Japanese automaker to have a non-commercial diesel in the U.S. market. Electric-car maker Tesla expects to introduce its Model X crossover next year.
Many automakers are also adding stop-start technology, which automatically shuts the car down at stoplights to save fuel. There's also more use of aluminum and high-strength steel to cut the weight out of cars.
But here's what you really want to know: Which vehicle has a new in-car vacuum cleaner? The Honda Odyssey minivan. And which one has optional fiber optics sewn into the headliner to look like stars? That would be the Rolls-Royce Wraith.
Here are the 2014 highlights, by brand.
RLX: Acura got a new flagship sedan in March, when the 2014 RLX went on sale. Featuring a 3.5-liter direct-injected V-6 engine, the 310-horsepower RLX is the most powerful Acura sedan yet. It gets 24 mpg in combined city and highway driving, which is 1 mpg better than its chief competitor, the Lexus GS 350.
Acura stretched the sedan for a roomier interior and also makes standard AcuraLink, which connects to drivers' phones for real-time traffic updates, text messaging and other features. Options include adaptive cruise control and a lane-keeping system. The RLX starts at $49,345, including shipping.
MDX: The 2014 MDX, Acura's seven-passenger SUV, went on sale in June. It has lots of new standard features, including keyless entry, jeweled LED headlights, sliding second-row seats and an 8-inch touch-screen dashboard display. It also has some new optional features, including adaptive cruise control and a lane-keeping system.
The MDX is built on a new underbody and is 2.8 inches longer. It's also 275 pounds lighter than the previous model, thanks to wider use of high-strength steel and aluminum. Acura says that gives it a nimbler feel and better fuel economy of 23 mpg in combined city and highway driving.
Under the hood is a 3.5-liter V-6 engine with 290 hp and a six-speed transmission. For the first time, a two-wheel-drive model is available. The MDX starts at $43,185, including shipping.
RS 7: A track-tested performance variant is added to the A7 lineup. The RS 7 gets a twin-turbo 4-liter V-8 with 560 hp that takes the car from zero to 60 in 3.7 seconds. Audi says it's the most powerful RS model yet. It goes on sale this fall; the price hasn't been announced.
SQ5: This is the first high-performance S model added to the Q5 SUV lineup. Its supercharged 3.0-liter V-6 engine with 354 hp gets it from zero to 60 in 5.1 seconds. It starts at $51,900.
R8: The high-performance line gets an update featuring standard LED headlights and round two-outlet exhaust. There's a new 550-hp V-10 engine available with a seven-speed transmission that can take the car from zero to 60 in 3.3 seconds. The R8 starts at $114,900, excluding shipping.
Flying Spur: It's all new and features traditional Bentley styling, contemporary cues and a sporty stance. Its interior has handcrafted leather and wood veneers. It's powered by Bentley's 616-hp, 6-liter twin-turbo 12-cylinder engine and an eight-speed transmission. It goes from zero to 60 in 4.3 seconds and is priced north of $200,000. We don't know if that includes shipping, but it doesn't matter.
i3: BMW's first electric car, the i3, goes on sale in the U.S. next spring. It's expected to go 80 to 100 miles on a single charge and has an optional, gas-powered generator that can maintain the battery's charge if the car is too far from a charging station. Drivers can opt for a wall-mounted charging station that can get the battery 80 percent charged in less than three hours.
On the outside, the i3 — which is made almost entirely from high-strength carbon fiber instead of steel to save weight — will turn heads thanks to its chunky, wraparound windows and 19-inch wheels. The i3 starts at $41,350, or $45,200 with the range-extending generator. That doesn't include state, local and federal incentives, including a $7,000 federal tax credit for electric cars.
1-Series: The 1-Series coupe and convertible were discontinued. They will be replaced by the 2-Series sometime next year.
3-Series: For the first time in the U.S., the 3-Series lineup will include a diesel. The 328d midsize sedan has a 2-liter, turbocharged diesel engine with 180 hp. When combined with BMW's fuel-saving EfficientDynamics program, which includes automatic shutdown at stops, regenerative braking and optimal aerodynamics, the 328d will get an estimated 45 mpg on the highway. The 328d starts at $41,525, including shipping.
4-Series: The 4-Series will replace the 3-Series coupe in the coming year.
5-Series: The 5-Series also gets a new diesel. The BMW 535d has a six-cylinder, turbocharged diesel with 255 hp. The estimated fuel economy hasn't been released. The 535d starts at $57,525.
X5: Production of the 2014 X5 began in South Carolina in August; the seven-passenger SUV goes on sale later this fall. The third-generation X5 looks longer and more sharply defined than its predecessor, and features a rounded and pronounced nose. On the inside, navigation and a 10.2-inch touch-screen dashboard are now standard, and buyers can opt for heated rear seats.
The base model, the sDrive35i, is the first X5 featuring rear-wheel drive. It has a turbocharged, 3.0-liter V-6 with 300 hp and starts at $52,800. An all-wheel-drive version is $55,100. At the top of the lineup is the xDrive50i, with a 445-hp, turbocharged 4.4-liter V-8. It starts at $68,200.
Early next year, a diesel version, the xDrive35d, will arrive in the U.S. It has a 265-hp, 3.0-liter V-6 and starts at $56,700. BMW estimates it will get 26 mpg on the highway.
LaCrosse: The aging flagship sedan of the brand loses some of its wrinkles. The LaCrosse, in its first update since 2009, gets some minor cosmetic changes on the outside in an effort to make it look more rounded and modern. It also gets LED daytime running lamps and taillights, and a larger front grille.
Inside, the seats are more supportive, and the center stack has fewer buttons than the old models. The base engine is GM's 2.4-liter four-cylinder with the e-Assist electric motor to boost gas mileage. Starting price is $34,060, including shipping.
Regal: Buick's German-engineered sports sedan gets cosmetic changes similar to the LaCrosse on the outside. Inside, more supportive seats and a simpler dashboard and center console give it a sportier look. The 2.4-liter four-cylinder e-Assist engine and electric motor become standard, and the suspension was tuned to be more responsive.
A more powerful version of GM's 2-liter turbocharged engine, with 259 hp, is in the sportier models, the turbo and GS. Updated versions will hit showrooms in the fall. The price hasn't been announced.
CTS: Cadillac's aging midsize sports sedan will be reworked from the ground up to better compete with the BMW 5-Series. That means less fat so it can handle better, GM says. The new CTS, due out late this year, will be 200 pounds lighter than the BMW 528i and 250 pounds less than the current CTS. It is longer and lower than the 2013 model, and its angles are far less severe. The interior gets a more upscale look.
There's a choice of three engines: a holdover 3.6-liter V-6 with 321 hp; a 2-liter turbocharged four-cylinder that puts out 272 hp; and the Vsport, a new 3.6-liter twin-turbo that puts out 420 hp. Two transmissions are available: a six-speed automatic and an eight-speed automatic. The price hasn't been announced.
Escalade: The big, flashy SUV is completely redone based on General Motors' new pickup-truck chassis. Details and prices haven't been announced yet, but the new Escalade is due out early next year.
Camaro: The muscle car gets a small freshening for 2014. A reshaped front and rear make it more modern and athletic looking. But the big news is that the Z/28 is back as a no-frills, lighter, high-performance version. Last sold in 2002, the Z/28 has been re-engineered at 3,800 pounds, about 100 pounds lighter than a standard Camaro.
It features bigger brakes and the Corvette's powerful 7-liter, 500-hp V-8. But to shed weight, it forgoes some creature comforts. It has a one-speaker radio, stiff seats and a manual transmission. Air conditioning is an option, and there's less sound insulation. It goes on sale early next year and is expected to cost more than $55,000.
Colorado: The midsize pickup aimed at the wet-dog-and-kayak outdoorsy market will debut sometime next year. GM says it's reworked from the ground up and shares parts with similar trucks in other parts of the world. No other details have been released, including the price.
Corvette: The first new version of the American sports car icon in nine years has arrived at showrooms. The 2014 Corvette Stingray has a 455-hp, 6.2-liter V-8 engine that can take the car from zero to 60 mph in less than 4 seconds. Yet it can get up to 30 mpg in Eco mode on a seven-speed manual transmission. The aerodynamic car's engine can run on just four cylinders at highway speeds.
A 1,000-person team at GM made the 2014 version lower and sleeker, saving weight by replacing the steel structure with aluminum. The hood is made of lightweight carbon fiber. The interior gets a more modern look with new touch screens. The car starts at just under $52,000.
Malibu: The homely midsize car gets an emergency refresh after just a year on the market in an effort to boost sagging sales in the most competitive part of the U.S. car market. It gets a 2.5-liter, 196-hp four-cylinder engine and stop-start technology to raise combined city-highway mileage to 27 mpg.
Designers changed the front end to give it a more modern grille that has chrome accents and a hood that slopes downward. The chassis and suspension, including new springs inside the front struts, will cut body roll in turns and improve the ride, GM says. Due in showrooms in the fall, the Malibu will start at $22,965.
Silverado: All-new 2014 pickup trucks hit showrooms during the summer. They look a little more aggressive and aerodynamic than their predecessors, and GM says they have quieter cabs and updated steering, suspensions and brakes. They're also 200 pounds lighter than their Ford and Chrysler competitors, according to GM.
The company offers three revamped engines: a 262-hp, 4.3-liter V-6 that it says can tow a substantial trailer; a 325-hp, 5.3-liter V-8; and a 6.2-liter V-8 with 376 hp. They can switch seamlessly to run on four cylinders to get better gas mileage. A heavy-duty version also is due out next year. A Silverado crew cab featuring a standard box, the most popular variation, starts at $33,495.
SS: The first Chevy high-performance rear-drive sedan in 17 years goes on sale late this year. The Australian-built car is a new version of the Pontiac G8, a much-revered sporty car that died when GM scrapped the Pontiac brand in late 2010.
All models come loaded and seat five. The SS has leather seats with added side bolstering; lane-departure warning, blind-spot detector, backup camera and front-collision alert are available. It has a wide, athletic stance and features the same 6.2-liter V-8 engine used in the 2013 Corvette. The SS can go from zero to 60 mph in less than 5 seconds. The price hasn't been announced.
Tahoe: This completely redone full-size SUV, built on the pickup underpinnings with the same engine and transmission choices, comes out in the first quarter. GM has released few details, but engine choices and body styles are likely to be similar to the pickup trucks. The current model starts at $42,595, including shipping.
Suburban: Ditto for the bus-like family hauler. Current model starts at $46,060.
New midsize sedan: It's still top-secret, but Chrysler says it will roll out a more competitive midsize sedan in the first quarter of next year. The car will replace the aging Chrysler 200, which was buffed up three years ago until the company could come up with a new car based on underpinnings developed by Chrysler's Italian parent, Fiat. The 200 came out in 2006 and is far behind its competitors in the dog-eat-dog midsize segment. No other details, including name and price, have been announced.
Durango: The seven-passenger SUV gets freshened with a new interior, additional electronics and voice commands, and an eight-speed automatic transmission that raises gas mileage nearly 13 percent on the V-6 model to 25 mpg on the highway. The outside gets LED lighting for running lamps and new taillamps. The price starts at $30,790.
LaFerrari: Ferrari sold all of its 499 limited-edition LaFerrari hybrid supercars before they even debuted at the Geneva auto show in March. The LaFerrari has a 6.3-liter V-12 engine that gets a staggering 950 hp when the engine adds in the electric motor. It costs $1.3 million.
500L: The cute little Italian car gets four doors and more room inside — so much room that Fiat says it seats five and is considered a large car. The 500L is powered by a 160-hp turbocharged four-cylinder engine, and there's a choice of manual or automatic six-speed transmissions. It's already on sale in the U.S. at a base price of $19,100, excluding shipping.
Next week: Ford to Lincoln