Last year was a highly successful year for the auto industry, as records were shattered and dozens of high-quality, all-new models were released. As we look forward to another, more exciting year, we'd like to present you with our top 10 picks for the absolute best cars you can buy right now. Most of these vehicles are all-new for 2013, while a couple are carried over but still represent the strongest choices in their respective segments. The best news? Incentives are still available on these particular models, with the sole exception of the Scion FR-S and Subaru BRZ*.
*Due to low supply and high consumer demand.
Honda's painstaking redesign of its always-reliable Accord rockets the midsize sedan from "good enough" back to our clear top pick in the midsize class. Along with a highly efficient yet almost sports-car-like new direct-injection Earth Dreams four-cylinder engine, a Ward's 10 Best Engines winner, the Accord also offers top-notch interior build quality and technology. Honda's midsize is the first to offer a blind-spot camera for lane changes and the like, a feature we wish every car had. Even the base LX model comes surprisingly well-equipped, a trend toward value that continues all the way up the luxurious EX-L. Next year, both hybrid and plug-in hybrid versions will join the model range, each with sky-high efficiency.
The Focus makes a great choice for everyone from new teen drivers to young families. As Honda's redesigned Civic took a step backward in some respects, the Ford cut ahead by excelling in all the traditional compact car virtues: fuel efficiency, fun factor, interior and cargo space (especially in the available hatchback), and useful technology. SYNC with MyFord Touch has taken some flack, and is indeed a "love it or hate it" feature, but for those who live and breathe touchscreens, 4G, Facebook and iOS, it's far and away the best system from any mainstream carmaker. The Focus also inspires confidence, even joy, behind the wheel.
The previous-generation Altima was a great car, but we always found it a little hard on the eyes. Not so with the new redesigned 2013 entry, its flowing lines and swooping front fender accents making it quite possibly the midsize class's most attractive choice. Also attractive: a best-in-class 38 highway mpg, thanks to an efficient 182-horsepower four-cylinder and a new advanced low-friction continuously variable automatic transmission that's much easier to get used to than most CVTs. Right around $21,000 can get you into an Altima with all the core features, making Nissan's entry a top choice for value.
Here's where the Cruze stands out in a compact car class filled with so many tempting choices. Chevy's design is timeless, an effortlessly attractive car that doesn't rely on novelty value to look great. When fitted with the Eco package, the Cruze's 42 highway mpg rating stands alone as the best among all traditional gasoline cars. With 10 standard airbags, the spacious sedan is one of the safest cars on the road. And while some entries, like the Volkswagen Jetta, entice with low base prices but usually cost thousands more for the car you actually want, Chevy's pricing structure is heavy on standard features and light on surprises.
At the end of the day, only one car can rightly call itself America's most fuel-efficient. Today that car is the 53 city/46 highway/50 combined mpg Toyota Prius c. Factoring in its attractive $19k base price, sky-high efficiency, projected outstanding resale value and typical Toyota reliability, we predict the Prius c as likely offering the lowest long-term cost of ownership of any car on the market, especially if you do a ton of driving. The EPA estimates you'll save $5,500 in gas compared with the average new vehicle over 5 years of ownership. Toyota's Hybrid Synergy Drive system has now been on the market for well over a decade, and early fears about durability were unfounded: Prius models are proven to withstand the test of time.
In the long buildup to the thrilling new Cadillac ATS's release, GM made no secret of using the BMW 3-Series as a benchmark in every aspect of the car's development. Cadillac was so successful that in some respects, the ATS is even better. A brawny mix of sharp angles and soft character lines, the ATS is a drop-dead gorgeous car, with quality that extends to the interior with an organic and inviting design. From its Bose Active Noise Cancellation to massive CUE touchscreen infotainment system and top-notch materials, the Caddy exudes luxury before you even start the engine. And then you start the engine - we recommend the 2.0-turbo/6-speed-manual combo with Magnetic Ride Suspension - and you can't help but grin from ear to ear. This car is a very, very close second to the BMW in its awe-inspiring driving performance, leapfrogging compact luxury entries from Audi, Lexus, Infiniti, Mercedes-Benz and Acura in the process.
...Still the king. Every time the world's other top luxury carmakers draw within a hair of equaling the 3-Series as the best luxury sport sedan on the market, BMW redesigns its most revered model and pulls ahead once again. The 328i makes the switch to turbocharged four-cylinder power for 2013, but that's not a bad thing as BMW's boosted four-pot is efficient, silky smooth and still good for plenty of thrills. We pick the 328i in particular, because it sports all the engine most buyers will want or need, and starts at thousands less than the inline-six 335i. The BMW 3-Series is hands-down the best-handling, most fun-to-drive sedan on the market. Period.
The Toyota Camry has already cemented its status as 2012's best-selling passenger car in America, just like last year, and the year before that, and the... do you see a pattern? Car buyers have a decades-long love affair with Toyota's quintessential midsize sedan. The Camry is refined, smooth, efficient and powerful with either gasoline engine or in hybrid trim. It may not be the most exciting to drive or thrilling to look at in the class, but orders continue to roll in by the hundreds of thousands. Why? The Camry does everything you ask of it with a reliability history that’s impossible to dispute.
In the midsize luxury sedan game, we have no qualms about giving the Audi A6 the blue ribbon, even though our office is full of BMW faithful. The A6 has quite simply dethroned the 5-Series as the best executive sedan money can buy, a long list of virtues expertly packaged within a soul-stirring silhouette that is sporty and stately, but never gaudy. Audi's quattro AWD system gives the A6 a different feel behind the wheel. The car is always assertive, planted and unflappable in the bends, while still somehow maintaining cloud-like ride quality. We are also impressed with the German brand's new Audi Connect system, with Google Earth maps and a dedicated on-board high-speed data connection.
If you're not familiar with the FR-S and BRZ, here's the Cliff's Notes: Toyota and Subaru spent years working as partners in developing a new everyman's sports car, taking inspiration from the classic AE86 sport-line Toyota Corolla cars of the 1980s. Light weight, sharp handling and a simple, purist's design were made the highest priorities. Throw in Subaru's excellent Boxer flat four-cylinder engine and a suspension system sharing lineage with the WRX STI, and you get a true sports car that should be on the very short list of anyone with around $25k to spend. The two cars are essentially the same vehicle, sharing nearly all mechanical components but with subtle differences in styling and suspension tuning. We subjectively prefer the Subaru design both inside and out, but the Scion is selling for a bit cheaper to start. This is without question the best affordably priced new sports car to come along in the last decade.