At least in automobiles, the trickle-down effect was at work in 2012, where entertainment and safety features once found only in luxury cars became more available in modest models. Here's some of what we liked this year.
The best got even better
. We were astounded by the performance of the 2012 Nissan GT-R, with its 530 horsepower, superb handling and a reasonable price for a supercar. But for 2013, Nissan tweaked it further to produce 545 horsepower, with 0-60 mph estimated to be around 2.8 seconds. That's close to the acceleration of the $2 million-plus Bugatti Veyron. So for around $100K, the GT-R is a steal. We drove the 2013 Black Edition, which sports a handcrafted carbon-fiber spoiler, 20-inch lightweight forged alloy wheels, and red and black leather Recaro seats. But watch that speedometer. It's easy to exceed speed limits without even noticing.
. Several models got makeovers this year. Among the most notable is the Honda Accord. The redesign tweaked the exterior with more contemporary lines. Inside, the already comfortable cabin was refined even further with better materials and features. The handsome coupe version is a surprise in the performance department and instantly became one of our favorites.
. Porsche also freshened its lineup. The 911 Carrera has a flatter, longer and aerodynamic look, while maintaining the iconic designs of a Porsche. The rear-engine coupe is built lighter and is more powerful. Porsche's mid-engine convertible Boxster also got a facelift. The Boxster drives so well that we can't wait to get behind the wheel of a redesigned Cayman.
. The Ford Fusion used to be a rather bland midsize sedan that suffered in comparison to its more stylish import competition. No more. The new Fusion sports an Aston Martin-inspired grille, slender headlights and stately lines from front to back. The 240-horsepower, 4-cylinder EcoBoost engine we tested gives it a peppy ride. Complaints about the MyFord Touch infotainment systems — many of them valid — aren't enough to steer us clear of the Fusion, or any Ford.
. Hyundai's Azera was barely a blip on the full-size sedan radar. But the 2012 Azera changes that with a well-appointed cabin and an appearance that takes the best cues from two of our favorite sedans: Hyundai's Sonata and its cousin, the Kia Optima. It would be a shame to overlook the Azera.
Domestics gaining ground
. While not as bold as Ford's Fusion, Chevrolet's new Malibu shed its frumpy looks for a more athletic appearance with design influences from its sporty sibling, the Camaro. Chevy also took a more serious run at small cars. We liked its Sonic.
. Dodge Dart is back. The compact sedan is a mashup of modern and retro, with a comfortable ride to compete well with others in its class.
Sleek people haulers
. It's kind of odd-looking, but the new Nissan Quest minivan manages to haul your kids and your stuff in style and comfort.
. Mazda's CX-5 combines the convenience of an SUV with good gas mileage thanks to the new SkyActiv technology.
. With the new V-6 engine, the Cadillac SRX crossover not only has the looks, but oomph, too. That powerplant also found a home in GMC's Terrain, which got a luxury makeover with a new and feature-laden Denali edition. Pricey but practical.
. Becoming more common is Bluetooth audio, which streams music from your smartphone or mobile device without a cord. Just pair your phone to the car's audio system. When there's a call, music pauses, then resumes when you hang up.
. LED lights are more popular, especially as accent lighting for headlights. The lights no longer are just for luxury cars.
. The Magic Sky Control by Mercedes-Benz is pure genius. Light-blocking crystals embedded in the glass are altered with electrical charges, which lightens the glass and makes it transparent. Turn the feature off, and it goes back to a dark roof.
Attention to details
. The Porsche Boxster's rear spoiler is integrated into the taillight design.
. The wood- grain trim of the Jaguar XJ sedan is bold and beautiful.
. Storage is always a premium, especially in a compact car. The Dodge Dart gives passengers extra space with its hidden bin, which sits under the passenger seat cushion.