As 2013 draws to a close, automakers are gearing up for what is destined to become one of the most productive years in recent memory. Manufacturers across the globe have some big plans slated for 2014, as the re-energized auto market continues to grow and Europe’s economic healing makes slow but steady progress.
While 2014 will be a big year for many highly anticipated 2015 model year releases, it will have plenty of big new vehicles from its own model year, as well. From a new entry-level model for Maserati to Jeep’s perhaps misguided efforts to renew the Cherokee name, here are 10 significant cars for the 2014 model year that symbolize some big changes at their respective manufacturers. The following are not ranked by any specific metric.
1. Cadillac ELR
The Cadillac (NYSE:GM) ELR has been met with mixed sentiment since its introduction, as many see the car as a fancied-up Chevrolet Volt that isn’t worth its $75,000 sticker price while others see it as an important step in offering a luxury car that prides efficiency over power and performance. Regardless of where opinions fall, the ELR is an important car for Cadillac, as it represents a large step toward the growing trend of smaller, compact luxury cars aimed at a certain audience that has previously been too small for companies to concern themselves with.
2. Jaguar F-Type
Jaguar has built a legendary history via its E-Type roadsters from decades past, and the company is hoping to continue that trend with the new F-Type, its latest shot at the two-seater market. The F-Type has been met with largely positive reviews and enthusiasm, and appears to offer one of the best driving experiences for the coming year. While the base car is no slouch with a 340-horsepower V6, the monstrous 550-horsepower F-Type R is the model that folks will be talking about.
3. Maserati Ghibli
Maserati has historically been seen as a sort of higher-volume sibling of Ferrari, albeit still far lower in sales than other luxury manufacturers. In a bid to grow its footprint in the luxury auto world, Maserati has introduced the Ghibli — revived it, technically — a smaller version of the brand’s Quattroporte flagship. Starting at a base price of around $66,000, it is far and away the cheapest Maserati on the market at about half the cost of a base Quattroporte, thus making it one of the brand’s most significant cars for 2014.
4. Kia Cadenza
The Kia Cadenza is another attempt by the Korean manufacturer in its quest initiated by the ill-fated Amanti to determine what customers’ price threshold for the brand will be. While Kia built its name on economy cars and affordable compacts, it has been steadily working its way further upstream in efforts to become a serious luxury contender. The $35,000 price tag isn’t unheard of for an entry-level luxury vehicle, but it’s fairly unknown territory for Kia. The Cadenza, along with the Kia K900, will be leading the Korean automaker’s charge to compete with the likes of Lexus and Infiniti.
5. Mazda Mazda6
Mazda’s vehicles have largely sat on the sidelines as bigger companies duke it out for market share, though it’s not for lack of quality, as the 2014 Mazda6 indicates. While the gasoline models available now offer near-class leading fuel efficiency — in the right spec, look for 40 miles per gallon highway — Mazda will be bringing a diesel edition in the spring, which will promise even further increases in efficiency.
6. Acura RLX
Like the Cadillac ELR, the new Acura (NYSE:HMC) is aimed more at buyers looking for a car with greater efficiency but is still wrapped in leather and pampers its occupants. It’s Acura’s latest entry to the large sedan market, and one of the few — if not the only — models not offering a V8. Instead, buyers can choose Acura’s clever torque-vectoring three-motor hybrid system, with gets nearly 400 horsepower and is built around a V6. It offers 30 miles per gallon combined, which isn’t spectacular in a hybrid context but is still impressive for a sedan of its stature.
7. Jeep Cherokee
A quick perusal shows that diehard Jeep fans are not quite smitten with the Cherokee’s new looks, but like it or not, this is the vehicle burdened with bringing back the Cherokee name, which in its earlier forms enjoyed a sort of cult status among off-roaders and utility aficionados alike. While the new model hasn’t been warmly welcomed by Jeep’s fan base, there seems to be little wrong with it from a capability point of view. “The 2014 Cherokee feels planted on the road, more car-like than truck-like, with crisp steering, well-damped body motions, little or no roll in corners, and pinpoint braking control. The structure is solid, with no creaks or groans, even over seriously uneven terrain,” Car & Driver notes in its review.
8. Chevrolet Corvette Stingray
The 2014 Chevrolet Corvette has made numerous appearances on these kinds of lists, but for good reason: From what critics industrywide have been saying about the car, it’s truly an amazing automobile, which addresses the prior weaknesses of the former models while adding so much more. A healthy 460 horsepower and a similar amount of torque will ensure no Corvette driver is ever lacking for power, but some clever computer applications and use of software can afford the ‘Vette about 30 miles per gallon on the highway.
9. Mercedes-Benz CLA Class
The Mercedes-Benz CLA is a big step for Mercedes’ U.S. division, as it will become the smallest Benz that the company has on sale here. It’ll also be the most affordable, with a base price just shy of $30,000. However, this by no means indicates that the CLA is a budget car; the compact sedan looks like a premium vehicle from just about every angle, which carries on inside, as well. Its 208 horsepower won’t be found in the record books, but the resulting 26 miles per gallon in the city and 38 on the highway make it one of the most efficient Benzes around.
10. Volvo V60
After a multiyear hiatus, Volvo will be returning with a wagon that’s slotted below the XC70 and based on its flagship S60 sedan. The recently announced base price of $35,300 implies a $2,900 premium over the S60 and an $800 premium over the larger XC70, though the latter is an older vehicle. The V60 will be taking the place of the V70, which was pulled from the U.S. market about four years ago. The new V60 will likely carry on Volvo’s legacy of impeccable safety and offer all the comforts found in the S60 in a more utility-friendly format.