Make way for the 2012s, with Photo Gallery

Canadian Automotive takes a look at the important launches and modifications for the year.

October 12, 2011
by Tony Whitney

Canadian Automotive Review, Print Edition: JUNE 2011

The new model year is always an exciting time in the automotive world and 2012 is no exception. Canadian Automotive Review’s veteran auto commentator and AJAC member Tony Whitney takes a look at the important launches and modifications for the year, along with models that are standing pat.

According to one business analyst we spoke to recently, the auto industry has been emerging from “one of its darkest-ever periods” but this hasn’t slowed the pace of new model introductions one bit. The fact is, any automaker delaying an expected new vehicle debut would very quickly lose market share thanks to intense competition in all segments. Thankfully, auto sales are brisk across Canada right now, so the automakers’ optimism has been fully justified.

For 2012, action among builders of compact and subcompact vehicles has been especially intense and several products that could be described as “fleet mainstays” have been totally revised. We’ll pick some of the standouts for the new model year.

[galleryview id=40 showPanels=true showCaptions=false showFilmstrip=true panelWidth=600 panelHeight=400 panelScale=crop transitionSpeed=800 transitionInterval=0 fadePanels=true frameWidth=60 frameHeight=40 filmstripPosition=bottom pointerSize=8 frameScale=crop frameGap=5 frameOpacity=0.3 easingValue=swing navTheme=light startFrame=1 pauseOnHover=false]

One of the most eagerly-awaited new domestic sedans for some time, the Chrysler 300, faces the task of replacing a model that granted Chrysler a popularity it hadn’t enjoyed for years. The new 300 should more than live up to the much-respected earlier model and might be among the best styling jobs by Chrysler in its long history. It has the same muscular, hunkered-down look of the old 300 and it can certainly be potent—especially if you opt for the 5.7-litre Hemi V-8 powerplant. The basic engine is an all-new 3.6-litre Pentastar V-6 which delivers a best-in-class 292-horsepower with enhanced fuel economy compared to the old car. This is very much the Chrysler flagship and our early tests have indicated that the 300 is an outstanding product, boasting performance, comfort and build quality to match or better anything near its class.  And for those who don’t need a large car, Chrysler is offering its new 200 model, which fits more into the Honda Accord size class. This replaces the old Sebring, which was always popular with fleet buyers.

Since it has often topped the sales charts in Canada, the Honda Civic is always under intense scrutiny when it’s time for a total re-work. The 2012 version seems to be a little larger and more roomy that its predecessor, but Honda has not opted for dramatic styling changes. With a car as good as the Civic, “leave well alone” is often the yardstick when a new model is being penned. Our early tests have proven this an attractive, peppy and thoroughly refined small car and there’s no reason that it shouldn’t move right back up to the top of its class. As before, there are sedan and coupe models.

The Mazda5 is a vehicle configuration most automakers have been neglecting for years, though not in European and Asian markets. In a sense, it’s a “mini-minivan,” being compact, utilitarian and easy to drive and park, but it falls into a class that almost died out for a while. People who’ve been around car-buying for a few years may remember products like the Colt Vista and the Nissan Multi, but there were others too. Functionality is the keyword with vehicles like this and even now, the Mazda5 has limited rivals in its class. As competition, Mazda names the upcoming Chevrolet Orlando and Ford C-Max, along with the Kia Rondo and the Dodge Journey. The vehicle is powered by Mazda’s 157-horsepower, 2.5-litre four-cylinder engine that also appears in the Mazda3, Mazda6 and CX-7.

Ford is riding high right now and new models will be coming thick and fast. One newcomer that should arouse major fleet interest, the C-Max comes in not one, but three versions—conventional gasoline engine, hybrid and plug-in hybrid (the conventional rig debuts first). The C-Max is a seven-passenger multi-purpose vehicle of a configuration that seems to be gaining in popularity—another of those “mini-minivans.” Europe and other markets have had an earlier version C-Max for some time, but this new derivative won’t be launched outside North America until 2013.

Toyota has a “triple-whammy” of new models for 2012—a new-generation Camry, a more practical Prius Hybrid and some new life for its most inexpensive model, the little Yaris. “Luxury beyond its class” was the aim when Toyota’s engineers and designers developed their seventh-generation Camry sedan. They’ve taken performance and refinement to a new level for the class in which the Camry competes and there are other significant advancements too. Safety has been upgraded and fuel economy is improved. The Prius v is a mid-size hybrid and a variant of the current hatchback sedan (it has the same powertrain) that offers over 50 percent more cargo space and class-leading fuel efficiency. For many buyers, it will meet their demands more effectively than a small SUV or station wagon. The 2012 Yaris hatchback is longer and roomier than its predecessor but has a lower roofline, so there’s a sleeker, sportier look to it. The earlier Yaris was an exceptionally fuel-efficient car, but the 2012 model is even better with its thrifty 1.3-litre, four-cylinder engine.

It was no surprise that Mercedes-Benz has launched several new products for the new model year—the German automaker’s range of vehicles is now so huge, there’s always something ready for replacement or major upgrade. A new generation C-Class —the company’s best-selling vehicle and a popular executive fleet choice—is part of a whole family of smaller sedans and coupes from Stuttgart under the “C” banner.

Rumours abounded for months about an all-new, larger Volkswagen Passat aimed at the North American market. The car is now a reality. It’s a stylish, roomy, performance-oriented near-luxury sedan and might be exactly what buyers on this side of the pond are looking for in their next VW. Business users will like the exceptionally roomy interior, the quietness and ride of
this VW.

General Motors is very busy on the new model front, despite some shedding of nameplates in recent years. Major changes are underway across several model ranges—including at the entry-level—with subcompacts like the Chevrolet Sonic, which replaces the old Aveo models. The Sonic comes in sedan and hatchback versions and offers an optional 1.4-litre turbo engine, which sounds appealing.

Buick’s new Verano sedan is the smallest car it has launched in many years and will sit just below the bigger Regal in the automaker’s lineup. The compact luxury segment seems to be growing as buyers realize they don’t have to opt for a large car if they move upscale. Initially, a basic four-cylinder engine will be offered, and a turbo will follow.

Another compact luxury product comes from Lexus and this time, it’s a hybrid—the CT 200h. The CT will bring Lexus ownership within the reach of large numbers of buyers who avoided the brand before because it was “too costly”. The CT will sell for little more than $30,000 and does not skimp on Lexus ambiance and quality. It would make an interesting choice for a “higher-end” fleet vehicle that melds reasonable price with impressive economy.

On a more conventional level, Hyundai has introduced an all-new Accent for 2012 and like other products from the Korean automaker, it’s right in there with the best in its class. This new Accent is surprisingly well put-together, with excellent detailing and a very classy level of fit and finish. Few question now whether or not a Korean automaker can match the quality of rival Japanese nameplate vehicles.

The Accent seems to have shed its “low end” looks, yet you can still buy one for only slightly more than $13,000. New is a very practical five-door model to go with the always-available sedan. The power unit is a 1.6-litre four-cylinder that’s impressively thrifty. Fans of the hot-hatchback/sports coupe class are likely to be excited about the 2012 Hyundai Veloster. It’s compact, economical and stylish—a pocket rocket that’s a worthy successor to sportsters like the Honda CR-X of a few years back and it might even be a rival for the VW GTI.

Right at the top of Hyundai’s range is the Equus—a large luxury car to rival the best from Germany and Japan.

Subaru is bringing us an all-new fourth-generation Impreza sedan and hatchback and the styling looks very dramatic and appealing—quite a contrast to rather bland Subarus of the past. Like all Subarus, this one uses a horizontally-opposed “boxer” engine that’s light, compact and thrifty. Fuel economy is 30 percent better than the current model.

An all-new, second-generation Nissan Versa sedan is designed, according to Nissan, “to redefine compact car value—giving buyers everything they want and need in one stylish package”. Interestingly, the Versa hatchback continues unchanged. The new Versa has room for five adults–including more rear legroom than many mid-size sedans. A next-generation eco-drivetrain delivers responsive performance, better fuel economy and lower
CO2 emissions.

There may have been more frenzied model years than 2012 as far as new introductions go, but the models we’ve highlighted have one thing in common—all have been thoughtfully developed for the times we live in and probably fulfill buyer needs better than any new crop of vehicles for decades.