Just as 1961 was a good year for Bordeaux wine and 1939 was a great year for movies (Gone with the Wind beat The Wizard of Oz at the Oscars), this looks like a promising year for cars.
Automakers have redesigned nearly two dozen models for 2013's U.S. market, and Kelley Blue Book's Jack Nerad says many of the revamped models stand head and shoulders above their 2012 counterparts.
"It's a very, very strong year for redesigns," says Nerad, who recently led a team of KBB editors that picked the new Ford (F_) Fusion as 2013's Best Redesigned Vehicle.
Nerad says consumers will like not only the new Fusion, but also such midsized models as the updated Honda (HMC_) Accord -- "which in any other year would likely win our Best Redesign award. You also have cars in other segments that are good as well, like the redesigned Nissan (NSANY_) Pathfinder SUV."
The expert says the best automotive redesigns are those that make "the largest step forward from what a model was before. A lot of people think it just has to do with exterior design, but interior design and any redoing of a vehicle's mechanics are equally important."
Here's a look at five models that KBB editors believe manufacturers revamped particularly well for 2013.
Nerad says the vehicles below all offer significantly improved styling, comfort, performance, safety, fuel economy, electronics, convenience features, value and overall refinement. All models are listed in order of their manufacturer's suggested retail price.
Base price: $21,680
This popular midsized car's ninth generation gets a shout-out because "it has all of the Accord virtues that you'd expect -- high fuel economy, a high-tech [base] engine and powerful available V-6," Nerad says. "It's one of those cars that have all-around goodness."
The expert particularly likes the Accord's optional new Honda LaneWatch system, which comes on automatically whenever you make a right turn. Using a rear-facing external camera and a display screen on the dashboard, LaneWatch shows you whatever's in your right-side blind spot so you don't run into it.
The Accord also comes with new direct fuel injection and your choice of two improved engines -- a 185-horsepower four cylinder or 278-horsepower V-6.
Additionally, an optional continuously variable transmission boosts fuel efficiency to an estimated 27 mpg/city and 36 mpg/highway when coupled with the four-cylinder engine. That's better mileage than some versions of the tiny Honda Fit get.
Base price: $21,700
The Fusion won KBB's 2013 Best Redesigned Vehicle award in a large part because the midsized sedan has the hottest looks in what's often a boring class of cars, Nerad says.
"When you look at the Fusion's exterior design you say: 'Wow, that's pretty cool,'" he says. "That also extends to the interior design, while the choice of available power trains is almost mind-blowing."
On the outside, the Fusion takes its styling cues from Aston Martin, the sporty British brand that Ford once owned. (Actors Daniel Craig brought James Bond's Aston Martin back to cheers in the recent Skyfall -- then blew it up.)
Inside, the new Fusion boasts a larger cabin than its 2012 predecessor, plus options such as automatic parallel parking and a system that can keep you from drifting out of a lane if you're dozing off.
But the second-generation Fusion really shines under the hood.
KBB editors love the car's three available four-cylinder engines -- a base 175-horsepower version and optional 178- and 240-horsepower turbocharged versions. The turbocharged engines, new for 2013, come with "EcoBoost" technology to improve fuel efficiency.
There's also a Fusion Hybrid that gets 47 mpg city/highway, while a plug-in hybrid version due in showrooms later this year rates 108 mpge (miles per gallon equivalent) in combined city/highway driving.
Base price: $22,590
Chrysler planned originally to give this full-sized pickup truck "more of a 'freshening,' but that turned into a complete redesign -- and good one at that," Nerad says. "They've done a marvelous job adding features, adding technology and improving the vehicle's look."
The updated Ram features a new base V-6 engine that offers 305 horsepower, a 42% boost from 2012. Still, the model gets as much as 24% better fuel economy than last year -- 21 mpg combined city/highway for the 2013 Ram 1500 HFE vs. 16 mpg for the 2012 Ram 1500 ST.
The base 2013 Ram also comes standard with a new fuel-saving eight-speed automatic transmission.
Additionally, an optional new air-suspension system lets you raise the Ram's height by two inches for increased ground clearance or lower it two inches for easier passenger access and better aerodynamics. There's also an available engine start/stop system that can minimize idling and save even more gas.
Inside, the Ram's redesigned interior offers an optional new 8.4-inch multifunction touchscreen, as well as the next generation of Uconnect Access -- Chrysler's well-regarded "infotainment" system.
"[Chrysler] transformed a truck that we liked a lot into a truck that we like a lot more," Nerad says. "I think they did a very good job all around."
Base price: $28,650
Nissan redesigned the seven-passenger Pathfinder radically for 2013, changing it from a rugged sport utility vehicle with good off-road capabilities into a more refined model that emphasizes comfort over toughness.
To begin with, the Japanese automaker switched the Pathfinder from a truck chassis to a car-based platform -- allowing for smoother driving, 500 pounds less weight and better fuel efficiency.
Nissan also boosted the fourth-generation Pathfinder's mpg by adding front-wheel drive, a continuously variable transmission and an improved 260-horsepower V-6 engine as standard equipment. All told, the 2013 2WD model gets an estimated 22 mpg combined city/highway mileage -- 30% better than the 2012.
The improved efficiency comes despite the fact that the new Pathfinder has 8.4 cubic feet more interior space than its 2012 predecessor.
Nissan also added convenient "EZ Flex" seating -- second-row seats that slide 5.5 inches forward to make accessing the model's third row easier. Additionally, the second- and third-row seats fold flat for added cargo capacity.
"The Pathfinder's exterior redesign is very handsome, and its new interior is much better in terms of usability," Nerad says.
Porsche Boxster Convertible
Base price: $49,500
Nerad calls the redesigned 2013 Boxster Convertible a "heart-stop version" of Porsche's sexy two-seat sports car.
The third-generation Boxster combines an updated exterior with a larger interior, new LED taillights, fuel-efficient electric-assist steering and bigger wheels and tires for better road grip.
The 2013 version also comes standard with a 265-horsepower six-cylinder engine that's 10 horsepower stronger than its predecessor but uses less gas. A 2013 Boxster with manual transmission gets 24 mpg in combined city/highway driving -- 2 mpg higher than a comparable 2012.
Porsche also boosted the Boxster's aluminum content, cutting some 80 pounds off of the car's weight to improve agility and increase gas mileage.
"We really love the new Boxster," Nerad says. "I can't think of a sweeter car."
- fuel economy