Practical sedans: The most anticipated cars of 2012

With an eye on the delicate economy, American car buyers are lining up to test drive fuel-efficient four-doors.

Forbes

Pent-up demand for automobiles, coupled with a comeback in production for Japanese carmakers,  means the auto industry is heating up. Car sales in September sold at a seasonally-adjusted rate of 13 million units, well above last year and higher than most analysts had expected.

For car buyers hopping off the fence and into showrooms, there are plenty of great models to choose from, from domestic as well as import brands. Yet there's always that nagging feeling: is it worth waiting for something even better just around the corner?

The redesigned 2012 Toyota Camry SE was unveiled on the Paramount Studios lot in Hollywood, California.

The redesigned 2012 Toyota Camry SE was unveiled on the Paramount Studios lot in Hollywood, California.

If you're looking for a mid-sized family car, you just might want to wait until 2012, when most of the biggest sellers in this category will be redesigned and updated with more efficient engines and advanced technologies. Toyota Motors is just now rolling out a new version of  its flagship Camry, and next year, virtually all of its major rivals will be updated too. That will be the best opportunity to shop around.

General Motors is aiming to get a jump on the rest of the pack by moving up the debut of the 2013 Chevrolet Malibu ECO by three months, to early 2012. It's a so-called "mild hybrid" that gets 38 miles per gallon through the use of an electric-motor generator and features like regenerative braking and start-stop technology,  providing nice fuel economy without the price premium of some other hybrids on the market. Other versions of the restyled Malibu, featuring an all-new, high-powered four-cylinder gas engine, go on sale next summer.

The Ford Evos concept previews the look of the next Ford Fusion.

The Ford Evos concept previews the look of the next Ford Fusion.

Then there's the new Ford Fusion, featuring a sleek design previewed in the EVOS concept form. The production version will debut in January at the Detroit auto show, and will go on sale later in 2012. Also expected next year are redesigned versions of the Honda Accord and Nissan Altima, two other big players in the mid-sized segment. No doubt it'll be a buyers' market for mid-sized cars.

There will also be a lot of action in the compact crossover-utility segment. Later this year, Honda will be rolling out its 2012 CR-V, with more aggressive styling and better fuel economy, and Ford will be introducing a redesigned 2012 Escape, with three new fuel-efficient engine choices, including a 1.6-liter EcoBoost engine that is expected to get better highway mileage than the current 31-mpg Escape Hybrid. Toyota is also expected to introduce a new version of the Rav4, including a plug-in version developed with electric vehicle maker Tesla Motors.

Tesla's Model S proves practical doesn't have to mean boring.

Tesla's Model S proves practical doesn't have to mean boring.

Speaking of Tesla, the creator of the $100,000 plug-in Tesla roadster will start selling a more affordable electric sedan, the $50,000 Model S, in mid-2012. It'll debut with a 300-mile range battery, followed by smaller batteries later next year. The Model S will go a long way toward establishing whether Tesla has staying power as an independent carmaker.

There are a number of other plug-ins and hybrid-electric vehicles coming to market in 2012, including a plug-in version of Toyota's Prius hybrid. It goes on sale in early 2012, operating on electricity alone for the first 15 miles after which Toyota's hybrid powertrain kicks on. Toyota has two other Prius derivatives also launching in 2012. Meanwhile Ford, which is launching its Focus EV before the end of the year, will add two new plug-in vehicles in 2012, the C-MAX Hybrid and C-MAX Energi. Both are small, five-passenger minivans.

If  it's speed you want, you won't have to wait long for the redesigned 2012 Porsche 911 Carrera. It goes on sale starting in February. Chevrolet is also introducing the fastest Camaro convertible ever, the 2013 ZL1, with 580 horsepower, but it won't be in showrooms until late 2012.

Click here for the full list of the most anticipated cars of 2012.


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