From hybrids to big pickups, from luxury cars to thrifty compacts, a handful of new vehicles that debut over the next 12 months may shape the future of automakers around the world. • They come in all shapes and sizes. Some break new ground for their manufacturers. Others aim to reassert companies' dominance in market segments they created. • From icons like the Ford F-150 and Toyota Prius to newcomers like the Lincoln MKT and Chevrolet Traverse, they are the most interesting and important new cars to watch as the 2009 model year kicks into high gear and model year 2010 begins.
2009 Audi A4
Bigger, better and radically restyled, Audi's new sports sedan offers more room than the competition and an elegant new design. The A4's beautifully balanced chassis could threaten the BMW 3-series' handling supremacy, while a base price of $32,700 for the sedan and $34,500 for the station wagon should make competitors from Acura to Lexus nervous. The A4 sedan is trickling into dealerships now. Look for a high-mpg diesel and convertible to join the A4 lineup.
2009 Chevrolet Traverse
Chevy's new family hauler just hit the market with seating for up to eight, a $28,225 base price and a graceful design. If the Tennessee-built Traverse gets the same rave reviews as GM's other recent midsize crossovers — the Buick Enclave, GMC Acadia and Saturn Outlook — it could outsell the other three put together. The Traverse gets a direct-injection 3.6-liter V-6 engine that produces 281 horsepower. The EPA rates the Traverse's fuel economy at 17 mpg in the city and 24 mpg on the highway for front-wheel drive models.
2010 Chevrolet Camaro
The 422-horsepower V-8 may dominate headlines, but the V-6 model of Chevrolet's reincarnated sport coupe will probably determine the car's success. The 300-horsepower V-6 has enough grunt to make the modern and beautiful Camaro a true sports car. Chevrolet predicts an EPA rating of 26 mpg on the highway, as good as or better than less-powerful V-6 sport coupes like the Ford Mustang, Dodge Challenger, Honda Accord and Nissan Altima. The 2010 Camaro is to go on sale early next year. 2009 Dodge Ram
Radically reengineered, the new Ram offers improved fuel economy and several unique features when it hits the road this fall. A switch to car-type coil springs promises to make the Ram the smoothest-riding pickup on the market. The addition of a roomy crew cab and secured, lockable storage bins in the rear fenders should win the Ram new customers. The Ram goes on sale late this month with a $21,270 base price.
2009 Toyota Venza
This has been an unusual and unpleasant year for Toyota, which idled assembly lines and saw falling sales in response to high gas prices and the slow economy. The nifty-looking Venza five-passenger crossover is an opportunity to reverse that momentum. Designed and engineered largely in the United States, the Venza is Toyota's attempt to combine the appeal of sporty crossovers like the Nissan Murano with the practicality of a midsize station wagon. The Venza is to offer front- or all-wheel drive and either a 3.5-liter V-6 or 2.7-liter four-cylinder engine when it goes on sale this fall.
2010 Toyota Prius
Arguably the most eagerly anticipated car that will debut at the 2009 North American International Auto Show in Detroit next January, the Prius is an all-new replacement for the car that's become the icon for all gasoline-electric hybrids. Fuel economy should top the current model's EPA rating of 48 mpg in the city and 45 mpg on the highway when it goes on sale sometime next year. Toyota is so enthusiastic about the car's prospects that it plans to build the Prius in the United States for the first time.