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Coming down the road

Here's the 411 on the new generation of cars, SUVs and pickups

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As new models fill dealerships this fall, a handful of new cars and trucks hitting the market over the next year stand out. They're the most important and intriguing vehicles on the horizon.

Some will test customer demand for new vehicle types and technologies. Others aim to revitalize struggling brands and bring new excitement to mainstream models. All face the challenges of a tepid economy and rising fuel-economy standards.

Here's a primer on them.

Ford Fusion

The midsize sedan's styling and technology will get lots of attention, not all of it positive. Ford's MyFordTouch controls remain controversial, and the new Fusion may engender some sticker shock. It's Ford's best-selling car, and it hits the market amid a flood of other impressive midsize sedans.

"This is a big play for Ford," said Jim Hall, managing director of 2953 Analytics. "They're not shy about the pricing, but it's not clear the economy's recovered enough."

-- On sale: this fall

Buick Encore

The pint-sized crossover will test buyers' appetite for fuel-efficient little SUVs with premium features and prices. Ten inches shorter than a Ford Escape, the Encore hopes to attract new buyers by combining small size with an upscale interior.

"Small crossovers could be a white space in the market with room for growth," said Edmunds.com senior analyst Michelle Krebs. "Buick desperately needs something to give it some oomph, and the Encore might do well, especially with empty-nester women."

-- On sale: early 2013

Fiat 500L

Fiat dealers are clamouring for this bigger four-door model to supplement sales of the eensy 500 coupe. The 500L adds some practicality to the stylish 500, but who knows whether the minicar's charm is transferrable? Fiat's American dealers expected Alfa Romeo's return to boost their business in 2013, but it's been postponed. They need the 500L to contribute to the bottom line immediately.

-- On sale: early 2013

Chevrolet Impala

The first complete reworking of Chevy's big sedan in a generation, the 2014 Impala brings modern style and features to a car that had grown tired. Chevrolet hopes the 2014 Impala will prove there's still a desire for cars a bit bigger and more prestigious than midsize sedans. The old model was around for so long that a major jump in price seems inevitable. That could limit the new model's sales.

-- On sale: early 2013

Lincoln MKZ

The aggressive new MKZ midsize sedan is a first step as Lincoln tries to rejoin the likes of Audi, Cadillac, Lexus, Infiniti and Volvo as a legitimate prestige brand. The MKZ's interior and exterior styling are totally different from the Ford Fusion with which it shares its architecture and drivetrains. But no automaker has been able to build a first-rate luxury car on the same platform as a mainstream midsize sedan.

"It's the bellwether for the whole brand, the first sign to the world that Lincoln is different," Krebs said. "It needs to be successful."

-- On sale: late this year

Honda Accord

Once the industry's benchmark, this midsize sedan could alter the growing perception that Honda has lost its way.

"It looks like they've arrested the product decline," Hall said. "They haven't been doing Honda's usual thing, which is to make each new car much better than the previous one," a problem that became particularly obvious when critics lined up to bash the last Civic like a pinata.

The new Accord's features include a plug-in hybrid model that should be able to go at least 16 kilometres on battery power.

-- On sale: this fall

Nissan Sentra

Surprisingly for a Japanese brand, Nissan's compact car has become nearly irrelevant. Arriving on the heels of the surprising new Altima midsize, the Sentra has a chance to rejoin upper-echelon compacts like the Elantra, Corolla, Civic, Fusion and Cruze.

"The Sentra was a significant player a long time ago, but Nissan let it rot on the vine," Hall said. "They have to earn their way back" into consideration alongside the leaders.

-- On sale: late this year

Jeep Liberty replacement

This crossover SUV is so shrouded in mystery even its name is still secret. It's expected to combine a Fiat-developed architecture with Jeep looks to give the legendary SUV brand a competitor for models like the Ford Escape and Honda CR-V.

"That's one of the hottest segments." Krebs said. "Jeep is a natural to be in the running, but they're not even a player. They need to fix that." Because it's the first Jeep with Fiat engineering, Chrysler must get the vehicle right to protect the brand's reputation.

-- On sale: second or third quarter 2013

Cadillac ATS

Slightly smaller than the CTS, the ATS gives Cadillac a serious player in the world's largest luxury-car segment. It faces landmark sport sedans like the BMW 3-series and Audi A4.

"For the first time in the history of the world, Cadillac can compete in entry-level luxury," said Rich Homan, senior vehicle evaluation editor at KBB.com. "The ATS belongs in comparisons with the best."

It will take the ATS years to make a dent against the established leaders, but a strong start is important.

-- On sale: this fall

2014 Chevrolet Silverado

Chevy's full-size pickups are GM's best-selling vehicles and among the most profitable in the business. They arrive at a key time for the industry and for pickups. A recovering economy could jump-start pickup sales next year, and new fuel-economy rules pose major technical challenges.

The all-new Silverado should be able to cash in on that with class-leading features and fuel economy. It should be on the market about a year before a new Ford F-150 crashes the party.

-- On sale: 2013

Toyota Corolla

The Corolla defies logic. It's older and trails most other compacts technically, but it continues to outsell them.

"It's impossible to overestimate the Corolla's value to Toyota," Homan said. "Toyota's broken its back inventing new cars and brands to get a foothold with entry-level buyers, but the Corolla keeps going."

The new Corolla's fuel economy and features must improve significantly, but it would be shocking if it doesn't remain one of America's best-selling cars.

-- On sale: 2013

Chevrolet Corvette

Every new Corvette is an event, and the all-new C7 is wrapped in even more secrecy than its predecessors.

This fuelled wild speculation. Will GM build two Corvettes, one a Ferrari/Porsche-style supercar, the other an affordable successor to the current model? Will it push the envelope with new technologies and materials? Or will it refine the tried-and-true formula?

One thing we know is that the legendary small-block V-8 gets what GM calls "the most significant redesign of the small block in its history."

-- On sale: 2013

Mazda 6

Mazda executives bet the company's future on fuel-efficiency features in the 6. The previous generation of Mazda's midsize sedan struggled in the U.S., leading the automaker to quit building the previous 6 in Flat Rock, leaving it with no American manufacturing.

"To be accepted as a great car company -- particularly a great Japanese car company -- you need to build a great midsize sedan," Homan said.

-- On sale: early 2013

-- Detroit Free Press

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition October 9, 2012 A1

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