Consumer confidence, job growth and low interest rates are fueling the growing and profitable U.S. auto industry, the economic pundits say. We see another reason -- great cars.
So we've selected our 10 favorite vehicles of 2013. Our list might seem heavy with expensive cars, but it's not because we're snobs. We judged only models that were new or redesigned this calendar year -- a group that tilted toward luxury and performance vehicles. Among the few new economy cars this year was the Toyota Corolla, which made this list.
Whether you are shopping for a family sedan, a full-size truck or compact crossover, fierce competition has produced a menu of great choices. In testing dozens of vehicles a year, rarely do we come across one we truly hate. Some bore us. Others have irritating features. And certainly some vehicles are much better than others, dominating their respective segments. But the minimum level of quality and performance in today's cars is high compared with decades past.
The resurgence of U.S. automakers after the industry's painful restructuring has only added to the level of competition, challenging German and Japanese automakers to raise their game.
We tend to favor vehicles with comfortable seating, confident steering and easy-to-use controls. We dislike transmissions that don't follow orders; suspensions that can't balance ride and handling; and, the most common shortfall, confusing or glitchy electronics. (Note to automakers: Buttons and dials still work in the 21st century, often better than your touchscreens.)
Here is our 2013 list, in alphabetical order, of cars that drove well and accomplished something important for their brand.
Acura MDX: We've been underwhelmed by most Acuras lately. But we dig the $43,185 MDX sport utility, a spacious, refined hauler that shines whether you are shepherding six kids to soccer or stuffing the back with Labrador retrievers. The finely tuned steering and suspension avoids the squishy character of many rivals. Two safety systems -- active-lane-keeping assist and cruise control -- are among the most intuitive in the industry. The 3.5-liter V-6 engine purrs at highway speeds and has plenty of power for on-ramps and passing. Put it all together and you have an uncommon combination of luxury, utility, safety and value.
Chevrolet Corvette Stingray: This seventh-generation Corvette starts at $50,595 and may be the best vehicle made in America right now. The 6.2-liter V-8 has endless power -- and a zero-to-60 mph time of 3.8 seconds. Things get even better with the C7's seven-speed manual gearbox, which lets the driver make the most of 455 horsepower and 460 pound-feet of torque. Even so, the newest Corvette gets a surprising 29 mpg on the highway, thanks in part to a system that deactivates four of its eight cylinders at cruising speeds. Inside, the cabin is a marked improvement over the Kmart special that was in the C6. The steering feels firm and certain, almost as if it is divining the road's innermost secrets.
Honda Accord Hybrid: The Accord sets a new standard for hybrids, with a groundbreaking blend of comfort, performance and efficiency. Starting at $29,945, it costs only slightly more than a Toyota Prius -- and matches its efficiency in a better-looking, better-equipped, more powerful, full-sized sedan. EPA rating: 50 city, 45 highway. We had no trouble matching those figures in a real-world test. Just for fun, we tried to maximize the mileage with careful driving -- and hit 60 mpg over two hours on flat city streets. Seriously. No joke. We are talking about a luxurious 3,600-pound sedan that can turn zero-to-60 mph in seven seconds.
Jaguar F-Type: The F-Type, the spiritual successor to the legendary E-Type, could hardly mean more as a symbol of Jaguar's nascent comeback. And you could hardly imagine a prettier symbol -- do yourself a favor and stare at this thing for a while. A mere photograph of this voluptuous drop-top might have landed it on our favorites list. But the handling on the mid-level version we tested was as good as its looks -- and sounded even better, with a supercharged 3.0 V-6. The top-line V-8 convertible no doubt sounds even more ferocious while ripping through four-second zero-to-60 mph runs. The $69,895 F-Type provides hope that Jaguar might regain some of its E-Type-like swagger, last seen in the 1960s.
Rankings based on performance, reliability and five-year ownership cost.
Award given for delivering an exotic performance, for far less than an exotic price.
Top fuel efficient models include Toyota Camry Hybrid, Prius C and Nissan Leaf.
Consumer Reports releases 2013 car brand report cards.