ARTICLE_DETAIL

New Autos for 2012: Small and Midsize Cars

3/5/2012
American consumers shifted toward small cars in a major way in 2011 for two reasons: the rise in gasoline prices, and the fact that the latest new subcompact and compact cars tend to be much better equipped in terms of features, options and amenities than their predecessors. The day of the fuel-thrifty but unappealing "econobox" is largely over, for now.

Here's a look at some of the most interesting and important new entries expected to debut during the 2012 calendar year, as well as some new, 2012-model cars that debuted in late 2011:

The 2012 Chevrolet Sonic  has replaced the Korean-built Aveo  in Chevy 's lineup. As Chevy did with the compact Chevrolet Cruze  that it introduced in late 2010 to replace the Chevy Cobalt , the Sonic represents an upgrade over its predecessor, including motorcycle-inspired styling and ride and handling that were tuned by Corvette  engineers, according to GM.

In the summer of 2012, Chevy also will introduce the 2013 Chevrolet Spark , an even smaller car that the company calls "the city driving solution." It has been available already in Europe where, GM says, it is suitable for tight European parking spots. The Spark is expected to join the even-smaller-is-beautiful tide in the U.S. market represented by the Mini Cooper , Fiat 500  and Scion iQ . The new Spark will be available in unconventional colors ranging from "Salsa Red" to "Summit White."

Late in 2012, Chrysler plans to debut a new 2013 Dodge Dart , a compact car built on a Fiat  platform that is expected to compete with the Honda Civic , Chevy Cruze, Ford Focus , and Toyota Corolla . Chrysler CEO Sergio Marchionne has said that the company is focused on building "a lot of aspirations" into the new Dart in a segment where the company has traditionally been weak.

Reviving the Dart name from the nameplate's heyday in the Sixties and Seventies, Chrysler is touting the new vehicle for its "highly customizable interior" that will include a 7-inch gauge cluster, 8.4-inch infotainment touch screen, and a heated steering wheel. The Dart also will be the only car in its class, Chrysler says, to offer blind-spot monitoring and rear-cross-path detection.

The 2012 Fiat 500 debuted in 2011 as the first Fiat nameplate in the U.S. market in decades. The car features unique styling, an Italian vibe and clever marketing, featuring Jennifer Lopez. Fiat expects the 500's popularity to grow in 2012 as more Chrysler dealers complete construction of the separate display areas for their Fiat franchises.

Introduced in the spring of 2011, the 2012 Ford Focus is completely redesigned for the 2012 model year. According to the automaker, the 2012 Focus boasts improvements in fuel economy, performance, and amenities, including a new automatic-parallel-parking system. Sometime this year, the company plans to introduce an all-new 2013 Ford Fusion  based on the Mondeo sedan Ford offers in Europe.

The new Fusion, unveiled at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit, is intended by Ford to be a "design statement," similar to the way in which its "oval-inspired" Taurus  was when it was introduced a quarter-century ago. The 2013 Fusion received the 2012 Eyes on Design award at the Detroit show.

Among other things, the new Fusion also features a lane-departure warning system, a safety feature not long ago reserved for luxury vehicles, that helps to prevent drivers from colliding with vehicles in adjacent lanes.

The 2012 Honda Civic arguably is the most important new product for Honda in many years, and perhaps for some time to come. Introduced in the spring of 2011 as a 2012 model, the new version is crucial for a nameplate that has been a pillar of Honda's product lineup for decades.

The new Civic features a roomier interior and improved mileage compared to its predecessor, with the new HF version delivering up to 41 mpg. A new Civic Hybrid achieves 44 mpg combined. There's also a natural-gas variant available.

At the Detroit auto show, Honda also unveiled a concept for the new 2013 Honda Accord  that it expects to begin selling in a very similar production version this fall. This is another very important product for Honda, and the company chose to evolve the existing design of the Accord rather than to make a strong departure.

Shown in coupe form at the show, the new Accord has a bit more aggressive front fascia, stronger "character lines" along the sides of the car and more pronounced rear fenders. Under the hood, the 4-cylinder automatic version of the Accord will only offer a continuously variable transmission (CVT), which promotes fuel economy. Inside, the 2013 Accord will feature forward-crash and lane-departure warning systems, an LCD display, and text-to-voice capability.

The 2012 Hyundai Veloster  represents the company's latest attempt to add to its small-car lineup even as it continues to stretch the Hyundai  brand in bigger and upscale vehicles such as the Equus . Starting at prices slightly above $17,000, the Veloster offers unique hatchback styling and, above all, a 3-door layout.

The Veloster features three real doors in addition to its hatchback. There's a longer, coupe-like door on the driver side and two smaller sedan-style doors on the passenger side, offering a combination of coupe styling and the convenience of a 4-door passenger compartment. Hyundai also plans to introduce a turbocharged version of the Veloster sometime in 2012.

A redesigned 2012 Kia Rio , introduced in 2011, sports a new style, more passenger and cargo room, and a new 1.6-liter 4-cylinder engine with direct-injection technology.
Mini  is introducing new versions of its Cooper with the 2012 Mini Coupe  and the 2012 Mini Roadster . The Coupe sits an inch lower than the Cooper and has a rear spoiler that optimizes air flow by extending automatically at 50 mph, according to the automaker.

Nissan  came up with a completely redesigned sedan version of its 2012 Nissan Versa , while the hatchback version remains basically the same. The all-new Versa subcompact features improved fuel economy with less weight and a smaller engine. Remaining intact is the interior room, including upright back seats with high hip points that ease entry and egress.

Toyota  accelerated introduction of its 2012 Toyota Yaris  to late 2011. The third generation of Toyota's smallest car is being sold only as a hatchback version because few American customers wanted the sedan. Toyota says that it boosted trim and instrumentation levels to give Yaris a sportier feel.

Volkswagen  set itself up for the new year in this segment before the end of 2011, introducing both the new 2012 Volkswagen Passat  midsize sedan and the 2012 Volkswagen Beetle  compact in the fall. The Passat was designed to appeal to American tastes in design and amenities, and the new Beetle has a more masculine design.