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Put These 2013 Cars on Test-Drive List

By KATE McLEOD, November 24th, 2012

Friends and acquaintances often ask us automotive writers what car they should buy. Then we usually ask, "What do you want?"

Manufacturer photo: Among the noteworthy 2013 new car choices are the Chevrolet Spark, Ford Fusion, Cadillac ATS, Subaru BRZ and Toyota Prius Plug-in.
Manufacturer photo: Among the noteworthy 2013 new car choices are the Chevrolet Spark, Ford Fusion, Cadillac ATS, Subaru BRZ and Toyota Prius Plug-in.

Sure we know a lot about cars and we have good information that can help a confused car buyer make choices, but more often than not, by the time our advice is sought, the questioner has already made up his or her mind -- and they're really just looking for affirmation. That's OK. That's what we are here for. Here are just a few of my top recommendations for 2013.

h2>-- Full-size Sedan: (they're big sellers)

a href="/research/2013/ford/fusion/">2013 Ford Fusion -- This newly designed full-size sedan has leap-frogged functional, middle of the road styling to win the Aston Martin look-alike contest.

Everything about the new model is improved: fuel economy (combined 26 to 28 mpg, depending on the powertrain); structural integrity that improves both safety and driving dynamics, ride and handling; and technology with the MyTouch System with Sync, Ford's in-car communication, entertainment system.

Manufacturer photo: Among the noteworthy 2013 new car choices are the Chevrolet Spark, Ford Fusion, Cadillac ATS, Subaru BRZ and Toyota Prius Plug-in.

The Fusion is priced between $22,000 and $30,000, has three engine choices, a 2.0L or 2.5L four-cylinder engine or a turbocharged 1.6L four-cylinder that's rated at 36 mpg highway and has available AWD (automatic transmission only). I recommend cross-shopping the Fusion against the new Nissan Altima with its engine choices, good price, sharp design, 38 mpg highway and great handling. Check out the 2013 Honda Accord, too.

-- Compact Luxury (an important new car segment)

It would be hard not to highlight Cadillac's all-new 2013 ATS, which offers superb rear-wheel driving performance. It is stocked with class-worthy electronics, including Cadillac's intuitive CUE infotainment system; it features three engine choices and is well-equipped with safety technology. The ATS is priced from $33,990 to $42,090. Cross-shop the Audi A6, Buick Verano, Hyundai Genesis and the less expensive Acura ILX.

-- Small Cars

The all-new 2013 Chevrolet Spark is a cool-looking micro-subcompact with a 1.2-liter four-cylinder engine that produces 84 horsepower and 83 lb.-ft. of torque. It is paired with a 5-speed-manual or an optional 4-speed automatic. You will most likely be left in the dust but if you're driving a Spark you clearly aren't that concerned about zero-to-60 mph times, The EPA estimates fuel economy at 32 mpg city, 38 mpg highway and 34 mpg combined for the manual transmission. Starting price is $12,995.

Manufacturer photo: Among the noteworthy 2013 new car choices are the Chevrolet Spark, Ford Fusion, Cadillac ATS, Subaru BRZ and Toyota Prius Plug-in.

The 2013 Ford Fiesta gets a respectable 29 mpg city, 37 mpg highway. It's a roomy, refined, fun-to-drive real car. The Fiesta is equipped with some upscale features, too, including Ford's Sync system, keyless ignition/entry, heated seats and even two-tone leather upholstery and all for $14,000 to $18,000. Cross-shop the Kia Rio and the Honda Fit.

Car buyers shop with a list of "must haves," and the three main ones I hear people ask for are safety, fuel economy and design.

-- Safety

Who invented the three-point safety belt? Answer: Volvo. Since its very beginning Volvo has been a leader in advanced safety technology. Safety is a natural expression of Swedish society. They believe in building products that people can use safely and with form/function at its roots. Volvo's internal corporate mandate -- Vision 2020 -- calls for no deaths or serious injuries in a Volvo by the year 2020.

The XC60 T6 AWD sport utility vehicle has every passive and active safety feature available in a Volvo including, dual xenon headlights, adaptive cruise control with distance alert, collision warning with full auto brake and pedestrian detection, road sign information, roll stability control, and rear foglight. It's priced at about $40,000. Cross-shop the Acura MDX, Mercedes GLK 350 4matic and the BMW 3 Series xDrive 28i.

Manufacturer photo: Among the noteworthy 2013 new car choices are the Chevrolet Spark, Ford Fusion, Cadillac ATS, Subaru BRZ and Toyota Prius Plug-in.

-- Fuel Economy

Toyota Prius Family Hybrid

Toyota gets credit for being the first real hybrid car on the road and for then selling millions of them. It is the Prius that took hybrids mainstream. In a post on Polk.com, Tom Libby, lead analyst, North American Forecasting wrote, "This has major ramifications: the Prius may be the bell cow in moving the country towards fully accepting alternative-powertrain vehicles."

Toyota is expanding the Prius into a line that includes the original hatch; a wagon (the Prius V), which gets 44 mpg city/40 mpg highway; the Prius c, a smaller and cheaper version of the original hatchback that delivers 53 mpg city/46 mpg highway; and the Prius Plug-in with an awesome mpgE of 95.

strong>Cross shop: Ford C-MAX Hybrid, Honda Civic Hybrid and Insight, Lexus CT 200h.

Manufacturer photo: Among the noteworthy 2013 new car choices are the Chevrolet Spark, Ford Fusion, Cadillac ATS, Subaru BRZ and Toyota Prius Plug-in.

-- Design

Subaru BRZ -- This car is a joint project between Toyota and Subaru, as Toyota's 2013 Scion FR-S is identical under its skin. I respond to the BRZ design more than to the FR-S. Subaru's new BRZ isn't just a good-looking coupe. It is also affordable starting at $21,000, has excellent handling characteristics and is good on fuel economy.

Porsche Boxster -- If you look longingly from afar at the 911, then test-drive the new 2013 Boxster. But don't buy this car if you don't like attention: the Boxster is a real head-turner. The interior is sleek and spare. This roadster -- every square inch of it -- is about creating design that is beautiful and functional, though some critics argue with this. I can't.

Lincoln MKZ -- The 2013 MKZ is important because it takes Lincoln off "on-hold" at Ford. The MKZ, an athletic, fastback, four-door coupe, and hails the new design language for the Lincoln division with a new split grille that dominates the front end. Auto insiders, however, say the 2013 MKZ grille won't necessarily matriculate to future products. Based off the Ford Fusion, the Lincoln MKZ entry luxury sedan is also available as a hybrid that gets up to 45 mpg highway. It's stunning to look at, has a much-touted retractable glass panel roof and plenty of features that make it worth consideration. Starting price is $35,925.

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