Girl in car

If you’re in the market for a really new new car, not just a slightly updated version of an old model, you have plenty of options to consider. Automakers are rolling out dozens of extensively new or thoroughly ­redesigned vehicles for the 2012 model year.

These cars are not evenly spread across the automotive landscape, however. Buyers of compact, subcompact and hybrid/electric cars will have plenty of options, but fans of larger sedans, SUVs and pickup trucks will find little that’s new and notable. That’s because automakers are focusing largely on small, efficient and relatively affordable cars in response to high gas prices and the weak economy.

The good news for those who like a little luxury on the road is that “small car” no longer has to mean dull, stripped-down or unsafe. Automakers increasingly are loading their small cars with nifty features, safety technologies and styling touches once reserved for larger, higher-end models.

Example: Scion’s new micro subcompact iQ and Chevrolet’s economical new compact Sonic feature 11 and 10 air bags, respectively.

Automakers are learning to coax excellent performance from small, efficient engines as well. Car buyers should no longer assume that a four-cylinder sedan will be underpowered.

Examples: BMW’s new N20 turbo-charged 2.0-liter 4-cylinder engine — which will be available in the Z4 roadster and 1-series and 3-series sedans — provides more-than-­adequate 240 horsepower. Mercedes’s new turbocharged 1.8-liter 4-cylinder, available in C-class sedan and SLK roadster models, provides a respectable 201 horsepower.

Here’s a look at some of the best new and redesigned 2012 cars now at dealerships or soon to arrive there…


While some of the subcompacts here are simply tiny and fuel-efficient, others also are enjoyable to drive…

Fiat 500C (Cabrio) is an eye-catching alternative to the Mini ­Cooper Convertible for anyone in search of a little two-door ragtop. It offers a lower sticker price and slightly better fuel efficiency than the Mini. Technically, the Cabrio has a canvas sunroof and so is not a true convertible, but because the sunroof is nearly as large as the roof itself, the result is virtually the same. Taller drivers might find the roof distractingly low when closed. Price: From $19,500.* Miles per gallon (MPG): 30 city/38 highway.

Hyundai Veloster is a small coupe that’s brand-new for 2012. It was not available for a test-drive as of late July, but from what is known about it, it could deliver a hard-to-beat combination of sporty ride, good fuel efficiency and low sticker price. Hyundai offers one of the best warranties in the business, too. Unlike most cars in this category, the Veloster even has a back door — but only one, on the passenger side. That makes it a relatively practical option for those who often have backseat passengers. Price: Expected to start at around $18,000. MPG: It is expected to get 30 city/40 highway.

Scion iQ makes other subcompacts look big. At 120.1 inches long, it’s more than two feet shorter than a Mini ­Cooper hatchback and 19.5 inches shorter than a Fiat 500C. It’s more of a three-seater than a four-­seater because the seat behind the driver is too small for an adult or even a large child. Scion squeezed a host of safety features into the tiny iQ, including antilock brakes, traction control, stability control and 11 air bags. It’s not particularly fun to drive, but if you’re looking for a small, affordable, efficient vehicle to drive around town, it could be worth a test-drive, particularly if you live in a city where being able to squeeze into little parking spaces is a big plus. Price: From $15,995. MPG: 36 city/37 highway.

Other interesting new options: The Volkswagen Beetle has been restyled for 2012. It now has a more masculine look and a more powerful engine that could expand the car’s appeal among male buyers. Mini Cooper is offering two new two-seater models — the sporty Coupe, designed for performance driving, and the convertible Roadster.


Most of the following vehicles are available as hatchbacks or small sedans.

Ford Focus has been completely redesigned for 2012. While previous models had little to offer beyond a low sticker price, the 2012 is arguably the best compact car on the market despite the lack of smoothness and slow response of its dual-clutch automatic transmission. It’s comfortable and quiet inside, attractively styled and very well-designed all around — yet still inexpensive. Price: From $17,295. MPG: 26 city/36 highway.

Hyundai Accent has been completely redesigned for 2012 as well. It offers nearly best in-class horse­power… a very smooth, quiet ride for a small car… and an attractive, well-equipped interior that would not seem out of place in a significantly pricier vehicle. The Accent is much easier on the wallet than the Focus, with a lower sticker price, better fuel economy and a longer warranty (five years/60,000 miles bumper-to-bumper… 10 years/100,000 on the drivetrain). Price: From $14,195. MPG: 30 city/40 highway.

Nissan Versa four-door sedan has been redesigned for 2012, and the styling has taken a big step forward, compared with the very bland Versas of years past. It is far from the most exciting small sedan on the road, but it is well-made and comfortable and — its biggest selling point — carries the lowest sticker price of any new car in the US. (The hatchback Versa is expected to be redesigned next year.) Price: $11,750. MPG: 27 city/36 highway.

Other interesting new options: The new Buick Verano, the smallest Buick in two decades, offers the styling and luxury of a larger Buick in a fuel- efficient compact car. The new Chevy Sonic is a very respectable small car — much nicer in almost every way than the Chevy Aveo, which it replaces. It’s fun to drive yet very affordable, with prices starting at $14,495.


Among the most notable offerings in 2012…

Buick LaCrosse, a very nice full-sized luxury sedan, will now feature GM’s new eAssist hybrid technology. Unlike most hybrid systems, ­eAssist cannot actually power the vehicle on its own. This so-called mild hybrid simply captures energy that would otherwise be lost during braking, stores it in a lithium-ion battery, then unobtrusively uses this ­energy to assist in acceleration. That reduces fuel consumption by perhaps 25% without adding much to the up-front cost of the car. Price: From $30,820. MPG: 25 city/37 highway.

Prius V is a new station wagon Prius. It has 67 cubic feet of cargo space with the rear seats folded down or 34 cubic feet behind the rear seats. It’s a good choice for those who want a hybrid capable of carrying lots of stuff, though its size does detract slightly from performance and fuel efficiency, compared with the regular, smaller Prius. Price: Expected to be between $25,000 and $30,000. MPG: 44 city/40 highway.

Other interesting new options: Tesla Model S, an all-electric four-door luxury sedan, should reach the market during 2012. Prices are expected to start at $57,400. A new carmaker called Fisker is launching the Karma, a sports sedan with four doors and a very sleek roofline, which will have a sticker price close to $100,000. It’s an extended-range electric, meaning that the Karma uses its battery pack for the first 50 miles, after which the gas engine kicks in to support the electric motor for the next 250 miles. An electric version of the Ford Focus hatchback will be offered in 2012. Expect a range of perhaps 75 miles per charge, a recharge time of three to four hours and a top speed of 84 miles per hour. GM’s gas-saving eAssist system will be offered as an option on the 2012 Buick Regal, a sporty luxury midsize sedan.

*All prices are actual or estimated manufacturer’s suggested retail prices (MSRP) for base packages.

Related Articles