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While business users aren’t usually the prime target of automakers when they launch new vehicles, the sheer volume of new products each year does mean that choices get increasingly wider. Certainly 2013 is no exception, with a variety of new products to generate interest in the subcompact, compact, mid-size, crossover and executive segments. We’ll take a look at some of the new model year highlights, concentrating on vehicles with potential for business users.
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Pretty sure of a front-runner spot in the mini car stakes is the 2013 Chevrolet Spark, which is even smaller than the car we thought this GM division would hold the line at, the Sonic. It’s an attractive little hatchback and like all well-designed microcars, feels a lot bigger inside than it looks from the outside. The headlights seem to stretch the entire length of the hood. It’s very well finished for a car in its class and will have lots of business appeal, if only for its $13,500 base price. There are three basic Spark models: LS, 1LT and 2LT with varying degrees of equipment level.
The engine is a minuscule 1.2-litres, but our early tests have proved it to be peppy enough for most usage and it’s fun to drive. The rear seat folds 60/40 on all versions, so cargo space can be quite generous. The interior is very comfortable and attractive and the seats are supportive enough to work out well on long runs, though this is essentially a city car. The top model—which is still only $18,495—has quite a long list of fairly luxurious options. Chevrolet mentions that the Spark has better passenger and luggage room than the Fiat 500, Scion iQ and SmartForTwo.
It doesn’t seem that long since Honda brought us its last new Accord, but the Japanese carmaker is taking the plunge again for 2013. A popular sedan for business applications and a hit with consumers for decades, the Accord has been at or near the top of the mid-size market for more years than most people can remember. Staying devotedly to four-year model cycles can only be an effort to maintain that success.
This will be the ninth generation Accord, which started life as a much smaller car back in 1976. Honda claims its new car is “smaller on the outside and bigger in the inside” but we’ll have to check that when the car appears. The styling has been worked over considerably, probably in response to critics who though the old model “a little dull”. It certainly has more dramatic lines and incorporates a combination of sporty and sophisticated design cues. As with the previous Accord, the car will be available with a variety of powerplants and trim levels, but the hybrid version seems to be gone for good. Even so, expect the new car to get much better fuel economy than its predecessor and to attract wide interest among business buyers.
Acura has a new name for its entry-level sedan: ILX. This is the small Acura (once called the EL) that’s Civic-based, though the relationship with its more humble cousin lessens each model year. Gasoline versions come with 2.0-litre or 2.4-litre four-cylinder engines and this time around there’s a hybrid variant, which uses a 1.5-litre four-cylinder and an integrated electric motor. At starting prices of under $28,000, this is one of the least expensive executive fleet choices on the market with a prestige nameplate.
Kia has had great success with its Optima sedans and won a hatful of awards, but the smaller Forte model has always been a product deserving more attention from business and private buyers alike. Perhaps Kia’s all-new 2014 Forte will change all this and the Korean automaker will catch up with its partner Hyundai when it comes to this class —four-door/five-door models in the $16,000 to $26,000 range. The Forte shares its platform with the Hyundai Elantra, which has been a huge success. Few details are available yet about this new Kia (except that it’s longer, lower and wider) though it’s promised for the early months of 2013 after a home market debut.
Mazda lost its Tribute compact SUV when it ceased its relationship with Ford (Tribute was an Escape clone) and a hole was left in the Hiroshima automaker’s lineup. This has been cleverly filled with the CX-5 crossover, which is more opulent than the Tribute and closer to the CX-7 in concept. As a result of all this, the CX-7 semi-luxury crossover/SUV may not be long for this world, leaving Mazda with the CX-5 and the large and lavishly equipped CX-9. The CX-5 is a great little crossover that looks good, drives exceptionally well and feels a little plusher than rival compact crossovers. It also features Mazda’s remarkable SkyActiv technology, which involves getting the very best out of every element of the vehicle—body shell, suspension, drivetrain and interior. Despite this little rig’s impressive standard equipment roster, it can cost as little as $23,000 and might attract business users looking for something a little more classy and less quirky than the usual small crossover.
Toyota has a new Venza crossover for 2013 and it features refreshed exterior styling with a new grille, stylish new foglights and taillights and two new exterior colour choices. As with the previous model, buyers will be able to opt for four-cylinder or six-cylinder engines and choose front-wheel drive or all-wheel drive versions. The attractive Venza is a popular business choice because it can fill multiple needs. Design-conscious buyers are drawn to its wide stance and sporty looks, but it’s highly practical too, combining many of the benefits of an SUV and a large, roomy, sedan. With all-wheel drive, a properly specified Venza can tow up to 3,500 pounds.
The 2013 Toyota Avalon is the fourth generation of this model, which has always offered a wide range of benefits to business users needing lots of cabin space, great comfort and excellent performance and handling. The car is powered by a silky smooth Toyota V-6 and these days, buyers can expect remarkably good fuel economy and the kind of power and refinement once associated only with V-8 powerplants. Fuel economy has been enhanced significantly and the car is lighter than before with an improved power-to-weight ratio, a key factor in efficient car design. Toyota’s benchmark from the outset was “best in class” fuel economy, comfort and performance. This is Toyota’s flagship, but it’s an unpretentious can, which might be preferred by many business buyers. No prices yet, but the last model cost from $42,000 up.
Volkswagen has a couple of new vehicle derivatives for 2013 and both are likely to challenge for “best in class” fuel economy honours. The VW Beetle, which was completely revamped recently to create a lower, sportier look will become available with a turbo-diesel engine for the new model year. The Beetle TDI uses the company’s Clean Diesel powertrain technology and the horsepower rating is 140 with 236 pound-feet of torque.
VW’s widely popular Jetta will be marketed with a hybrid engine for 2013 and the company has concentrated on creating exceptionally light battery and engine units, so this should be a very thrifty small car indeed. Exterior changes include subtle aerodynamic upgrades to further enhance fuel economy by cutting wind resistance.
At the Beijing auto show earlier this year, Nissan showed an all-new global sedan that will form the basis of the 2013 Sentra we’ll get in Canada. The compact Sentra has been a popular fleet choice over the years and it’s been marketed in this country since 1982 in one form or another. Originally, it was a replacement for the Datsun 210 but over the years it’s grown in size and a stage was reached where Nissan added the subcompact Versa to fill the gap in subcompact segment. Early images suggest the car has more appealing styling than its predecessor, which couldn’t have been too much of a challenge for the designers at Nissan. The last generation Sentra was often accused of uninspired styling.
Ford and Chrysler
Two 2013 standouts for the business market are the new Ford Fusion and Dodge Dart sedans. Both have been previewed in more detail—the Fusion in our June 2012 issue and the Dart on page 16 this month. Both these newcomers are likely to attract a lot of interest, and the Dart may herald even more cooperation between Chrysler and Fiat than we’ve seen up to now.
The all-new 2013 Mitsubishi Mirage five-door hatchback promises to be a product worth consideration for business applications, but little is known about the vehicle yet and there’s no news on an introduction date. As seen at Asian auto shows, the Mirage appears to be approximately the same size as the automaker’s pure electric i-MiEV, perhaps a little bigger. Overseas markets will get a three-cylinder engine, but more than likely, we’ll get a four-cylinder variant. Technical highlights for the car include a continuously variable transmission (CVT). This sixth-generation Mirage will be assembled in Thailand.
Mercedes-Benz boasts one of the most prestigious nameplates in the auto business and it has an interesting 2013 contender for the very top end of the executive market with its new CLS Shooting Brake, which is more or less a station wagon version of the automaker’s sleek four-door coupe. “Shooting Brake” is a name borrowed from the British and the days when wealthy folk would have their Rolls-Royces specially adapted for the demands of the grouse shoot. This Mercedes-Benz must be the ultimate manifestation of an upscale executive business vehicle, thanks to its wagon configuration and load-carrying capability. It’s stunning to look at and will likely cost a great deal of money. c.a.r.