Photo: Alex Davies
A lot changed in the auto industry this year. Cadillac suddenly became a relevant brand again, and now Ford is trying to do the same with Lincoln.Fuel efficiency continued to be the big theme. Prius sales skyrocketed, and Chevy’s Volt became the most loved and hated car of the year.
Even Ferrari and Land Rover looked to boost their cars’ mile per gallon figures.
From the Porsche that can drive more than 700 miles on a single tank to the electric Tesla that can compete with any vehicle on the market, these 17 innovative cars may not be the best on the road, but they are the ones that are changing the game.
Even compared to other Prii (the official pluralization of Prius), the Prius c is small and fuel-efficient.
In city driving, it gets 53 mpg. It's good on the highway, too, with 46 mpg.
The result is a car that dealers can't keep in the lot: In April, the average 2012 c spent just eight days at the dealership before being bought. The average for all cars is 53 days.
In 1961, Jaguar changed the sports car forever with the iconic E-Type (and we almost died of happiness when we got to drive one).
At this year's Paris Motor Show, Jaguar finally unveiled its successor, the F-Type.
Starting at $69,000, it's not as absurdly sexy as the E-Type, but it is a solid 21st century update.
The most powerful model can hit 186 mph. It's hard not to look good at that speed.
Earlier this month, Ford officially relaunched its luxury brand as Lincoln Motor Company, bringing Emmit Smith and the 2013 MKZ to Lincoln centre.
The plan to get Lincoln out of eighth place in the luxury market includes a Super Bowl spot with Jimmy Fallon, but the MKZ will have to do the heavy lifting.
Despite a small but serious flaw in the design, it is a good-looking car packed with features, most notably a retracting panoramic roof that covers 15 square feet.
Named Motor Trend's Truck of the Year, Ford's F150 is powered by the same EcoBoost engine technology that's under the hood of the Fiesta. That engine, Motor Trend said, 'clearly checks the box for Engineer Excellence.'
Throw in a roomy, well-equipped interior and Ford has made an excellent truck.
The F150 starts at $23,670.
And it will be fast.
The Cayenne SUV is due for a mid-cycle update in 2014, and among the changes will be the newly available plug-in hybrid drivetrain, dubbed the e-Hybrid, according to Motor Trend.
With 420 horsepower produced by the motor and engine, it will go from 0 to 62 mph in under six seconds, proving that hybrids can be awesome as well as efficient.
A year ahead of the hybrid, the Cayenne Diesel hit the American market in September, starting at $55,750.
It's not as powerful as the gas-powered version, but it has a lot more torque, giving it the advantage in acceleration.
On top of that, the diesel engine is an efficient one, especially for a big car.
This Cayenne gets 20 mpg in the city and 28 mpg on the highway, and Porsche says it can go 740 miles on a tank of fuel.
Fuel efficiency is the main motif in the auto world these days, and even the luxury brands are paying attention.
Thanks to its all-aluminium unibody (a first for an SUV), the 2013 Range Rover is 926 pounds lighter than its predecessor. That drops its fuel consumption by a whopping 22 per cent.
It was revealed at the Paris Motor Show in September and hits dealerships this month, starting at $83,500.
It's not as cool as the Model S, but the Chevy Volt is the electric car that you don't need to get on a wait list to take home.
But when we drove it in April, we declared it one of the best cars you can buy today.
And here's the kicker: Volt drivers absolutely love it: 92 per cent of owners told Consumer Reports that if they had the chance to buy the $31,645 car all over again, they would.
Ordinary people with $265,000 on hand, that is.
Obviously, the MP4-12C Spider is a devil on the track, with 616 hp and a 0 to 60 mph time of 3.1 seconds, especially good for a convertible.
Even more impressive is that the 12C does not require professional training to drive. According to Road & Track's review, it's a 'supple' ride.
So if you scrounge up the cash, you can drive down the street without accidentally propelling your beautiful machine into a light pole.
There's nothing mind-blowing about the 2013 Sentra, and driving it isn't especially enjoyable.
But considering the 2012 Sentra landed at number 40 on U.S. News' list of best affordable small cars, the new version is great.
Starting at $15,990, it has best in class fuel economy and is loaded with the bells and whistles that cars this cheap usually skimp on.
It's not rocket science, but it is innovation.
Ford's 2013 1.0-liter Fiesta is the most fuel-efficient non-hybrid car sold in North America, thanks to its EcoBoost engine. Per liter, the EcoBoost engine is more powerful than the one in the Lamborghini Aventador.
But the most daring thing about this Fiesta is that Ford is selling it in the U.S. with no option for an automatic transmission. It's a surprising move that actually makes sense, based on market trends and the economics of bringing a European spec car across the pond.
Pricing has not been announced for the 1.0-liter; it will hit the U.S. market in the second half of 2013.
With the Fiesta, Ford is going after young, first-time car buyers. We went out to Los Angeles with Ford this month to drive the Fiesta, and had a blast.
After years at the bottom of the luxury market (along with Lincoln), Cadillac is resurging. The ATS, which went on sale this year, is out for blood.
Rather than aiming for the middle of the pack, GM built the ATS to compete with BMW's 3 Series, the perennial top dog in the segment.
The BMW is still the better car, but Cadillac's huge improvement is a sign that it could be on the way back to dominance.
The ATS, on sale now, starts at $33,990.
Along with the ATS, GM brought the all-new XTS to the market this year, which we liked even more.
Both sedans are equipped with CUE (Cadillac User Experience), which the company calls a 'breakthrough' for 'control and connectivity.'
The system has its downsides, but is still among the best we've seen, and moves us closer to the day when car displays will just be hooked up to our smartphones.
The XTS starts at $44,075.
Unveiled in February, the oddly-named F12berlinetta has a 6.2-liter V12 engine that produces 740 horsepower.
It goes from 0 to 60 mph in just 3.1 seconds, and the passenger's seat has its own speedometer and tachometer.
Perhaps most impressively, Ferrari somehow made that engine 30 per cent more fuel efficient for the F12, though it still only gets 15 mpg.
Deliveries begin in the second quarter of 2013, but the first one was recently auctioned for $1.125 million, which Ferrari donated to Hurricane Sandy relief efforts.
Fighting in the heavily contested midsize car segment, Ford expects a 'quantum leap in volume' from the Fusion.
While Consumer Reports has found it is falling short of the promised 47 mpg mark, the Fusion was named Green Car Journal's 2013 Green Car of the Year, a sign it's bound for success.
The Fusion Hybrid starts at $27,200.
On November 16, we reported the 2014 Mercedes-Benz S-Class would include an autonomous steering system that would make the car capable of driving itself in certain conditions.
A few days later, Mercedes-Benz announced the car would be programmed not to drive itself, due to worries about liability in case of an accident and the need to include a full data recording system on board, which could put off potential buyers.
But now we know the days of the human driver are numbered, for better or worse.
The new S-Class debuts next year.
By winning the coveted Motor Trend Car of the Year award, Elon Musk's Model S showed the world that electric cars can compete with any other vehicle on the road.
It's high-tech, comfortable, powerful, and silent. And its burnouts are as good as those from any muscle car.
The Model S costs between $58,570 and $107,350 (though prices are going up). It's currently on sale, but Tesla has already taken orders for more cars than it can produce, so there's quite a wait list.
Business Insider Emails & Alerts
Site highlights each day to your inbox.