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Ones To Watch

Forty-two new models make the automotive scene in model year '11, from the king-sized Chevrolet Silverado Heavy-Duty pickup truck to the small Nissan Leaf electric vehicle, and a lot of variation in between.

Forty-two new models make the automotive scene in model year '11, from the king-sized Chevrolet Silverado Heavy-Duty pickup truck to the small Nissan Leaf electric vehicle, and a lot of variation in between.

Ward's editors each pick three vehicles from the pack, products they think are the most significant for the new year, which a Ward's forecast predicts will see light-vehicle sales increase by about 2 million units.

A lot of the new entrants seem destined to high-volume stardom, but that isn't necessarily the criteria for making the editors' lists. Here they are:

Dave Zoia – Editorial Director –

Buick Regal

It once was debatable whether Buick would survive or go the way of Oldsmobile. But in the new slimmer General Motors Co., pared down to just four North American brands, death no longer is an option. And that's what makes the Regal so critical.

Originally intended as the next-gen Saturn Aura, the repurposed sedan is designed to recast Buick as a more youthful brand.

The performance-minded Regal GS with a 255-hp, turbocharged 2.0L 4-cyl. due in calendar 2011 should help with that mission.

If the Regal is a hit, Buick could be on its way. A miss? Let's not even think about that for now.

Dodge Durango

Just about every new product to come from Chrysler Group LLC over the next two years will draw scrutiny, as critics, taxpayers and the Obama White House try to ascertain whether the bankruptcy bailout and tie-up with Fiat is likely to pay dividends. But that's not solely what makes the Durango one to watch.

Chrysler has yet to crack the U.S.'s hottest market — car-like utility vehicles — in a big way, and the Durango represents the first concrete evidence of whether the auto maker has learned the lessons taught by the ill-fated Chrysler Pacifica.

Based on the same platform as the new Jeep Grand Cherokee, the Durango must offer fuel efficiency, passenger room and car-like ride, while avoiding minivan territory.

A Durango that can hold its own in the increasingly competitive midsize utility-vehicle segment may tell us all we need to know about the new Chrysler.

Hyundai Sonata Hybrid/2L Turbo

The market leaders, their eyes glued to their rearview mirrors as Hyundai comes up fast on their bumpers, now have more to worry about. The smartly styled, high-value new Sonata already appears a solid hit, with Hyundai juggling U.S. capacity to pump out more of the sedans from of its Montgomery, AL, plant.

Adding hybrid and turbocharged versions to cover both the fuel-economy and performance ends of the market won't hurt the Sonata's chances of ratcheting up the pressure in the still-important midsize car segment.

It also will signal whether the South Korean auto maker is ready to challenge the big boys on the technology front. And that's definitely worth keeping an eye on.

Drew Winter – Editor-in-Chief – Ward's AutoWorld

Hyundai Equus

U.S. volumes will be small, only 2,000 or 3,000 units, but this majestic luxury sedan promises to forever change how Hyundai Motor Co. Ltd. is viewed in the U.S.

Still considered an economy brand by many, the South Korean auto maker has ratcheted up its quality and design in recent years and now is delivering best-in-class products, such as the Sonata family sedan.

Expected to be priced between $50,000 and $60,000, the engineering, quality and stunning interior of the Equus shows Hyundai is positioning itself to be a highly credible alternative to established luxury marques, much like Toyota Motor Corp.'s Lexus brand did 20 years ago.

Chevrolet Volt

Overexposed, highly politicized and still misunderstood by inside-the-beltway media and much of the car-buying public, the Chevy Volt carries the weight of the new GM on its shoulders.

Volumes will be small, and sales will not generate much real cash for GM's bottom line. But the Volt promises to generate enormous political capital for the auto maker once the American public and political pundits understand it is an engineering masterpiece.

The Volt it is an electric car that has the flexibility to comfortably drive a family of four coast-to-coast without stopping to recharge thanks to its onboard gasoline generator.

When this sinks in on Wall Street, Main Street and in Washington, it should silence many of the auto maker's critics.

Nissan Leaf

In an age when many consumers think electric cars are little more than golf carts with better seats, the Nissan Leaf is a real car that just happens to be powered by a battery.

Attractive, comfortable and sold and serviced at a dealership just like a “real” car, the Leaf will provide the first real test as to whether vehicles powered only by batteries will be accepted by mainstream consumers.

Tom Murphy – Executive Editor, Ward's AutoWorld

Honda CR-Z

The auto maker has taken the lackluster Insight hybrid, gussied up the sheet metal, spiffied up the interior, added a few eye-catching colors and combined a 6-speed manual with a punchy 4-cyl. and a stop/start system.

The result is a car that can be driven like a pokey Insight or, in sport mode, a Civic Si. It's like Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hybrid. Spec: 33 mpg, while doing 0-60 in 7 seconds.

Audi A7

The German auto maker delivers a dramatically styled luxury “5-door coupe,” making it one of the coolest (and most expensive) hatchbacks on the planet. Pricing starts at E51,650 ($66,482) this fall in Europe, but the vehicle doesn't arrive in the U.S. until spring.

Aluminum and high-tech steels keep weight down, optional LED headlamps guarantee great visibility and optional interior wood trim is gorgeous. Spec: Supercharged 3.0L V-6 + torque vectoring AWD = Autobahn worthy.

Cadillac CTS Coupe

The long-awaited 2-door stands as the pinnacle of Cadillac's edgy Art & Science design language.

Sexy and athletic, the coupe gets a more steeply raked windshield and backlight, and it proves GM occasionally can stay true to a concept's intent once the assembly line starts rolling.

The CTS coupe is ready to stare down German rivals. Spec: 304-hp 3.6L DI V-6 or 556-hp 6.2L supercharged V-8.

Christie Schweinsberg – Associate Editor –

Chevy Volt

The Chevy Volt has the distinction (at this point anyway) of being the first electric car out of the gate, due on sale in November in the U.S. What's that you say? It's really a range-extended hybrid-electric car? Semantics shemantics.

Even though it's not a full EV, retailing the Volt is a monumental leap for perennial-punching bag GM and the U.S. auto industry as a whole, which hasn't sold EVs since 1942.

Not only does the Volt promise 40 gas-free miles (64 km)of driving pleasure, it's also really cool looking (très futuristic).

But big questions remain: Will Americans quit their whining about its $41,000 price ($33,500 after a $7,500 federal tax credit) and swap their equally expensive fullsize pickups and luxury sedans for the Volt? And how well will we adapt to “refueling” via an electrical outlet?

Nissan Leaf

The Leaf will be the second electric vehicle out of the gate in the U.S., on sale in December. Unlike the Volt, the Leaf is a full EV, powered solely by its lithium-ion battery. As with GM, Nissan Motor Co. Ltd. deserves kudos for bringing the Leaf to market.

True, no auto maker is moving toward EVs without being prodded by various global governments, but the Leaf's relatively early arrival on the scene shows Nissan isn't totally focused on winning horsepower wars.

The Leaf's advantages over the Volt are its cheaper starting price ($32,780 before the $7,500 federal tax credit), and greater electric-power range (100 miles/160 km).

But the Leaf's lack of a backup power source means drivers will have to be vigilant about monitoring their energy usage so as not to get stranded on a grassy highway embankment, which, last time we checked, lacked a 220V outlet.

Honda Odyssey

While many auto makers have abandoned the minivan as buyers flock to cross/utility vehicles, Honda continues to embrace the Odyssey. And why not? For the past two years, the Odyssey has been the best-selling minivan in the U.S.

With the new '11 model hitting showrooms this fall, a new Nissan Quest due soon, not to mention refreshed Toyota Sienna, Chrysler Town and Country and Dodge Grand Caravan, Honda will be scrambling to hold onto a big slice of a shrinking pie.

The Odyssey looks like a winner, with a claimed 28 mpg (8.4 L/100km) highway from its 3.5L V-6 with cylinder deactivation. But real-world experience with the fuel-sipping technology hasn't lived up to the hype. And the new Odyssey has that ugly and obvious track channel for the sliding-door arms.

But it still possesses a sterling reputation among moms-in-the-know, which, much like Jif peanut butter, should keep it No.1.

James Amend – Associate Editor –

Buick Regal

With four fewer brands in the stable, GM finally can get serious at Buick, and the Regal is as serious as the U.S. Treasury's executive paymaster. No gas-guzzling V-8 available, not even a big V-6 Buick became known for in recent years. Just a pair of sensible but fully capable 4-cyl. motors.

For its base engine, the Regal gets a stout 2.4L named a Ward's 10 Best Engines and up-level models receive a rollicking little 2.0L turbocharged unit.

GM marketers like to say the car was bred on the Autobahn, a nod to its roots as the European-market Opel Insignia, but all Boomer-aged buyers really need to know is the Regal is the most fun they will have had in a Buick since prom night.

Saab 9-5

Saab has never been a volume player in the U.S., and its bread-and-butter car remains the smaller 9-3 sedan and convertible. But the new-for-'11 9-5 must do some heavy lifting here for a couple years until the auto maker gets it legs again and refreshes its portfolio.

Starting at $50,000 for a V-6 model, it's a pricey Swede, but a nifty 2.0L turbocharged 4-cyl. model likely will slip under $40,000 to attract a new, more-progressive buyer to the resuscitated brand.

Styling inspiration comes from the '06 Aero X concept. The result is a design so compellingly Scandinavian it could prompt the pop group ABBA to finally reunite.

Chevrolet Volt

Really, you have to ask? Never has more ink been spilled over a vehicle than the '11 Volt, and retail deliveries do not even start tricking until late November. But this electrified car is a metaphor for the reinvented GM — relevant, responsible and unpretentious.

The car also costs more than $40,000 (tax rebates bring that price down), seats only four and travels just 40 miles (64 km) in electric mode before an internal combustion engine takes over for another 250 miles (400 km) until the driver either plugs in or gases up again.

Environmentalists are asking Americans to just give the car a chance, kind of like the old GM's plea to taxpayers last year. And they've responded — the Volt's first year of production basically is sold out.

Byron Pope – Associate Editor –

Volkswagen Jetta

If Volkswagen AG is to succeed in its quest to become the world's largest auto maker, it needs the all-new '11 Jetta to be a resounding hit with U.S. consumers.

The sixth-generation Jetta was engineered with those buyers in mind, and depending on whom you ask, that's either a good or very bad thing.

Flying in the face of VW's reputation for high-grade interiors, the new Jetta skimps on quality interior materials, insisting consumer test groups told the car's developers they were not a top priority.

Instead, the auto maker chose to invest in rear-seat legroom and trunk space. Will U.S. car buyers accept a Jetta with an inferior interior in exchange for more room? The jury still is out.

Ford Explorer

Ford Motor Co. longs for the good old days when its Explorer SUV defined the segment, regularly racking up hundreds of thousands of deliveries annually. Alas, those days are gone, and the Explorer now is a mere shadow of its former self.

In an effort to reinvigorate the iconic nameplate, Ford has ditched its body-on-frame architecture in favor of a car-based platform, promising the change won't diminish the Explorer's off-road capabilities.

In a nod toward fuel economy, no V-8 will be offered in the '11 Explorer. In its place is a more fuel-efficient V-6 and a direct-injected turbocharged inline 4-cyl., arriving shortly after the vehicle's debut this fall.

Honda Odyssey

In its first redesign in six years, American Honda Motor Co. Inc. hopes to capitalize on an evolving minivan market with its new '11 Odyssey. Baby Boomers are no longer the audience for the venerable minivan. Instead, it's the Boomers' children Honda is after, most of which have grown up with the versatility of a minivan and don't adhere to the “soccer mom” stigma long-attached to the segment. While the minivan market is not what it once was, Honda says it's poised for growth and expects to sell about 110,000 copies annually of the new Odyssey.

Eric Mayne – News-Operations Editor –

Chevrolet Volt

Prepare to relearn all you know about the way man and machine interact. Forget about the extended-range electric vehicle's milestone drivetrain.

This car is the closest thing to a computer on wheels since Ford unveiled the 24-7 concept, an iMac wannabe, in 2000.

Startup is accompanied by display-screen animations that will make Pixar blanch. And you don't turn off the ignition, you shut down. Geeks rejoice! Our time has come.

Fiat 500

Chrysler's aggressive play won't just explore America's appetite for Italian fare, it could well determine if we have the stomach for minicars.

The stylish runabout, inspired by an iconic design once voted the sexiest car ever in Europe, definitely will add some flavor to the nation's fleet.

But Chrysler needs a new, meaty main course. Will the 500, even with Fiat's legendary 1.4L 4-cyl. FIRE engine, be just a side-dish?

Honda Odyssey

Don't laugh. Stoked by the Wall Street bonfires of 2008 (how many phony sets of books were burned to accommodate bailouts?), conspicuous consumption is just a smoldering memory.

We have entered a more sensible time. And there is no single vehicle more compatible with the American lifestyle than the minivan. They haul people in comfort and stuff with ease. That's what we're about. Comfort and ease.

If a new Odyssey heats up the segment horse race with the Chrysler Town & Country and minivan sales grow accordingly, it will be official. We will have returned to our senses.

Steve Finlay – Editor – Ward's Dealer Business

Ford Fiesta

So many small cars this year are worthy of mention. The Fiesta is among three that defy the old econoboxes of yesteryear. Ford has done much to make sure this vehicle goes beyond basic transportation. It's fun. It's functional. It has a structural integrity that the old Fiesta lacked.

“I saw an old Fiesta on the freeway the other day, and the difference between that one and the new one is amazing,” says Ford dealer Robert Thibodeau. If nothing else, the Fiesta wins an award in the Internet era's best pre-launch hype category.

Chevrolet Cruze

GM's Chevy division never seemed able to build a good small car. The Vega of the 1970s was a disaster. The Cavalier was better but still very average. The Cobalt was an improvement but lacked all but the basic amenities.

The new Cruze should change that. It is a well-made, well-appointed small car. It will cost more than its ancestors, but dealers are itching to get it in their showrooms.

Fiat 500

Fiat left the U.S. market with its tail between its legs in the 1980s amid poor sales and poor quality. It is returning in 2011 with the 500 to be sold by Chrysler dealers as part of the Fiat-Chrysler partnership. The old joke was Fiat stood for “Fix It Again Tony.”

The 500 has much more going for it. For the U.S. market, it will get some extras, such as cruise control and automatic transmissions.

Although that's pretty standard stuff here, it's not included on most 500s sold in the home market of Italy or Europe in general.

Borrowing a page from the Mini playbook of introducing different variations on the theme, Fiat plans to introduce a sporty Abarth version of the 500 in 2012.

Here's the full list of new vehicles for new model year:

  • Acura TSX Sport Wagon
  • Audi A7
  • BMW 3Series with new I-6 turbo
  • BMW 5-Series
  • Buick Regal
  • Cadillac CTS Coupe
  • Cadillac CTS Sport Wagon/CTS-V Sport Wagon
  • Chevy Cruze
  • Chevy Silverado HD/GMC Sierra HD
  • Corvette Gran Sport
  • Chevy Volt
  • Dodge Durango
  • Ford Edge
  • Ford Explorer
  • Ford Fiesta
  • Ford Super Duty
  • Fiat 500
  • Ford Mustang
  • Honda CR-Z
  • Honda Odyssey
  • Hyundai Equus
  • Hyundai Sonata Hybrid/Sonata 2L turbo
  • Infiniti QX 56
  • Jaguar XJ
  • Jeep Grand Cherokee
  • Kia Sorento
  • Kia Optima
  • Kia Sportage
  • Kia Forte 5-door
  • Lexus IS C
  • Mazda2
  • Mercedes CLS
  • Nissan Leaf
  • Nissan Juke
  • Porsche Panamera V-6
  • Porsche Cayenne
  • Scion tC
  • Scion iQ
  • Toyota Sienna
  • VW Jetta
  • Saab 9-5
  • Volvo S60 T6 AWD
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