An affordable electric car that offers hundreds of miles of gasless driving per charge. A luxury car that can drive itself on highways. A convertible for people who wish that the Mazda Miata had a little more style and a little more oomph.
These all were on display at this year’s North American International Auto Show in Detroit—and they all will be in showrooms by the end of this year, along with other affordable models that offer exciting new features and/or styling. Here are this year’s seven cars and trucks that I think are worth waiting for (all of which are labeled as 2017 models except for the 2016 BMW M2)…
More powerful, more distinctive alternative to the Mazda Miata. Fiat 124 Spider, a Mazda/Fiat collaboration, is essentially a Mazda Miata with a more powerful engine and a more stylish look—and that’s a good thing. The Miata has long been the most fun-to-drive affordable convertible on the market, but some people find it bland or a bit underpowered. The 124 Spider’s 1.4-liter turbocharged, four-cylinder engine certainly isn’t oversized either, but its 160-horsepower (and 184 pound-feet of torque) should let it easily out-accelerate the Miata. Also in its favor, the Fiat looks more like a classy, sexy European roadster.
The 124 Spider is expected to reach dealerships this summer. Neither pricing nor fuel economy had been announced at press time, but prices are likely to start a grand or two higher than the Miata’s base price of $25,735.*
Minivan that won’t make you look like a soccer mom. Chrysler Pacifica might be the first cool minivan. The sleek exterior styling is miles away from the boxy minivan stereotype. And one model will be the first-ever plug-in hybrid minivan, able to economically whisk big families around town with the near-silent purr of electric motors for up to 30 miles before the gasoline engine automatically kicks in.
The interior is spacious and surprisingly luxurious. The base model’s 3.6-liter, 287-horsepower V-6 is expected to deliver plenty of power and an impressive 28 miles per gallon (mpg) on the highway. The hybrid version should deliver the equivalent of 80 mpg with typical city usage. The Pacifica gas-only model will reach the market this spring with a base price of around $26,000. The hybrid will arrive in the second half of the year.
Plug-in electric car for people who thought they would never want one. Chevy Bolt is arguably the first electric-only car that makes sense for many people as a car, not just an around-town runabout…or a political statement. It’s a nice-looking, solid-feeling, quick-accelerating, good-handling, useful and comfortable hatchback with a luxurious feel and all the modern amenities most people want…and it just happens to travel an impressive 200-plus miles on a single charge of its plug-in battery.
The Bolt is expected to reach dealerships late this year at a price of around $30,000 after a $7,500 federal tax credit. Some states offer rebates or credits of their own for electric vehicles, so your cost could be thousands less.
In comparison, a Nissan Leaf electric car starts at just $22,360 after the federal tax credit but feels much cheaper inside, and the base model gets only 84 miles on a charge (models with a 107-mile range are available, too, but with price tags close to that of the Bolt)…a BMW i3 gets just 81 miles on a charge but costs $35,895 after the rebate (an optional gas engine “range extender” provides additional range and boosts the price by $3,850)…and a Tesla Model S luxury sedan provides 240 miles on a charge but starts at $68,700.
Midsize pickup that combines dependability and personality. Honda Ridgeline is back for the 2017 model year after a two-year absence. The new Ridgeline looks much more like a conventional pickup than the prior version. That’s probably for the better—the unique styling of the earlier Ridgeline, such as the much-derided “flying buttresses” at the back of the cab, was one reason it saw limited success with traditional truck buyers. The new version has all the makings of an excellent midsize pickup. It’s built on the highly regarded platform of Honda’s Pilot SUV…it has a 3.5-liter V-6 engine that is expected to produce a very respectable 280 horsepower…its 60-by-64-inch cargo bed is no longer undersized…and it’s a Honda, so it should run nearly forever. One feature Honda hasn’t changed from the earlier Ridgeline—it still has its in-bed trunk, a good place to store things that can’t be left out in the elements.
The Ridgeline is expected to reach the market in the fall with a base price of around $30,000. Fuel economy has not been announced, but Honda promises that it will be the most fuel-efficient truck in its class.
Marvelous full-sized luxury sedan from an all-but-forgotten luxury brand. Lincoln Continental should help Lincoln reclaim its luxury cachet. For years now, Lincolns have been little more than glorified Fords. But while this elegant full-sized sedan is built on the platform of a Ford (the excellent Fusion platform), its styling is nothing like any Ford—it suggests the refined British good looks of a Jaguar XF, and its cabin is roomy and luxurious, with the leather and high-end components luxury-car buyers expect. This car has reclining, massaging, heated seats in the rear as well as the front, plus ample legroom throughout. Engine choices will include a 3.7-liter V6 with upward of 300 horsepower and a turbocharged 3.0-liter V6 that tops 400 horsepower. The Continental is expected to go on sale this fall with a starting price just under $50,000. Fuel economy has not been announced.
Fun-to-drive luxury performance coupe. BMW M2 features an extremely engaging driving experience and striking, aggressive styling. While many luxury cars look refined, this one looks fast even when it is standing still. Although praising this car’s ride is a bit speculative, the M2 had not yet been made available for reviewers to test as of press time—it would be a shock if it’s not among the best-driving luxury cars in its price range. Why? The BMW M Series has long been known for exceptional driving dynamics and stellar feedback through the steering wheel. The M2’s 3.0-liter inline-six-cylinder engine produces 365 horsepower, launching it from 0 to 60 in just 4.2 seconds. And this car is the successor to BMW’s 1M, which was offered in limited numbers in 2011–2012. I’m still kicking myself for not buying a 1M—it is a phenomenal car that actually has increased in value on the used market. This is one luxury-performance car likely to put performance ahead of luxury, so if your priorities are an ultra-plush interior…abundant interior room…and a soft ride, this might not be the car for you.
The M2, a late addition to the 2016 lineup, is expected to reach showrooms in April with a base price of $52,695. Fuel economy has not been announced.
Closest thing yet to a self-driving production car. Mercedes-Benz E-Class vehicles essentially will be able to drive themselves in the 2017 model year, though only in certain situations. A “drive pilot” feature can keep them in their lanes and maintain a safe distance from the vehicles ahead on highways. Like previous E-Class offerings, 2017 models will provide an extremely comfortable ride and luxurious interior in a stylish midsize package. These aren’t the most fun-to-drive midsize luxury cars, but if your idea of luxury is barely feeling any jolt in your comfortable leather seat when you drive over a pothole, the E-Class delivers with its vaultlike cabin.
The E300 midsize sedan will reach showrooms this summer, followed by an E-Class wagon, two-door coupe and convertible. Fuel economy and pricing have not been announced, but prices are likely to start not far above last year’s E-Class base price of $53,575. Fuel economy should be impressive for the class, thanks to Mercedes’ efficient 2.0-liter turbocharged 241-horsepower base engine, excellent aerodynamics and ongoing efforts by Mercedes to trim the weight of these cars.
* Prices in this article are base MSRP including destination charge except as noted. Not all prices were available at press time.