A growing economy has helped shift automobile sales into gear. U.S. car sales hit 1.5million vehicles in August, according to the National Automobile Dealers Association — a 14 percent increase from the previous month and a 17 percent increase over August 2012.
The association said recently that the industry was on pace to sell 16 million vehicles this year, which would be the most since November 2007.
Looking to become part of the trend? Here is a peek at some notable 2014 models. Some add significant elements and features as part of their redesign, including firsts in their segments. Some offer outstanding fuel economy or good value. Some represent enduring models and brand best-sellers. All prices include destination charges.
If you have ever said, "I'd like an MDX but really don't need all-wheel drive," Honda's luxury division has a solution: For the first time, in addition to all-wheel drive, the seven-passenger sport-utility comes in two-wheel drive, which is rated at 20 miles per gallon in the city and 28 mpg on the highway. The all-wheel drive's EPA rating of 18 city and 27 highway is a spectacular improvement over the 16 city/21 highway rating of the old model. Acura shaved an impressive 275 pounds off the weight of the previous generation. Two-wheel-drive versions start at $43,185, which is $2,000 less than all-wheel drive.
This 10th-generation full-size sedan is completely redesigned with a quieter interior that offers more front and rear legroom. Engine choices include a 3.6-liter V-6 and a 2.5-liter four-cylinder. A 2.4-liter four-cylinder with eAssist, GM's mild hybrid system, has an EPA highway rating of 36 mpg. Models with the V-6 start at $30,760. Models with the 2.5-liter engine start at $27,535. With eAssist, due out in the fourth quarter, they start at $29,945.
New models offer all-new, more fuel-efficient engines — a V-6 and two V-8s. Four-wheel-drive models with the V-6 are rated at 17 mpg city and 22 highway, an improvement of 3 and 4 mpg, respectively. The model offers three cab configurations: the regular cab, double cab (which replaces the extended cab) and crew cab. Chevrolet says base prices carry over. The base price of the popular crew cab remains at $33,195. For the first time, crew cabs will be available with the V-6 and longer (6-foot-6-inch) cargo bed. Coming by the end of the year is a new ultraluxury trim called the "High Country."
For those who like the Italian styling of the 500 but need more space, the 500L has two more doors, 42 percent more interior space and prices that start at $19,900. It is 27 inches longer and 6 inches wider and higher than the 500, yet still has loads of personality with model names like Pop, Easy, Trekking and Lounge. Instrument panels can be personalized with different color choices. A six-speed manual is standard; a six-speed automatic is available only on the premium trim, Lounge. Highway fuel economy is rated at 33 mpg with either.
The new compact Mazda3, Mazda's best-seller, now has Mazda's full range of fuel-saving Skyactiv technologies and the new, more sophisticated Kodo design language. Prices start at $17,740 for the four-door models and $19,740 for five-door hatchbacks. Two engine (2.0-liter and 2.5-liter) and two transmission (six-speed manual and automatic) choices are available, depending on trim levels. With all this variety, fuel economy varies but ranges from 27 to 30 mpg city and 37 to 41 highway. Mazda offers a $1,600 technology package on the most expensive model that adds i-ELOOP, a regenerative engine braking system, and active grille shutters to improve aerodynamics.
Kia has been known for its low-end products. But the automaker's all-new car, which is based on the Hyundai Azera, is part of a move upscale. The company calls it the "most powerful and technologically advanced Kia offered in the U.S." With a 293-horsepower engine, it comes in one trim level starting at $35,900. Two option packages can run it up to $42,000, which is what it costs to get advanced technology such as Advanced Smart Cruise Control and Kia's first lane-departure warning system.
Nissan Versa Note
The sedan is being joined by the all-new second-generation hatchback Versa Note. With a 1.6-liter, four-cylinder engine and five-speed manual, prices start at $14,800, and it has an EPA estimate of 27 mpg city and 36 highway. To get 31 city and 40 mpg highway, you need a model equipped with continuously variable transmission, which starts at $16,030. A long list of technology such as Hands-Free Text Messaging Assistant and Around View Monitor are available. But they are part of option packages, mostly available only on the top-level trim.
The 11th generation of this model arrives with more dynamic styling and more interior space, especially in the rear. All grades, including the new LE Eco, come with a 1.8-liter, four-cylinder engine. Prices start at $16,800. The volume-seller LE grade starts at $18,300, which comes with a new continuously variable transmission for better gas mileage. The real fuel sipper is the LE Eco, which has an EPA highway rating of 40 or 42 mpg, depending on tire choice.
Value pricing is part of the new Tundra's story. It comes in five trim levels and three cab styles. Toyota says that pricing for the volume-seller, the SR5 with a 5.7-liter V-8, is unchanged from equivalent 2013 models, although it comes with an additional $650 worth of standard equipment. Some grades will come with prices lower than last year's models. Base prices range from $26,915 to $48,315. The three engines (4.0-liter V-6, 5.7-liter V-8 and 4.6-liter V-8) carry over. Each grade has its own distinct exterior and interior design.
The Cherokee name returns in a big way with a nine-speed automatic transmission — a first for its segment. It is the first vehicle in the Chrysler Group to have, as part of an option package, a park-assist feature to guide drivers into parallel parking spaces. It has two engines and three four-wheel-drive systems, all with automatic rear-axle disconnect, which improves fuel economy. The new 184-horsepower 2.4-liter, four-cylinder engine has an EPA rating of 31 mpg highway for two-wheel drive models, which start at $23,990. A new 271-horsepower V-6 engine is available.
Honda Accord Hybrid
This new addition to the Accord lineup, expected by year's end, has an EPA fuel economy rating of 50 mpg in city driving and 45 mpg on the highway. A two-motor hybrid system allows it to use three different modes, each of which helps to achieve optimal fuel efficiency. It shares the styling of the new Accord sedan but with some unique hybrid styling accents. Pricing is expected to be announced soon.