It's a challenge for anyone to keep up with the constantly changing roster of cars on dealership lots. For car lovers it's an even tougher task, because beyond knowing that a certain model exists, you need to know where it fits in the automotive firmament. That's why we've gathered every new model due by the first half of 2012 and categorized them, not alphabetically or by some government-defined size class, but by their relevance to buyers, enthusiasts, and the companies that build them. Some cars thrust automakers into new segments, while others drive just like last year's model. Some cars protect the sanctity of the manual transmission, while others advance performance with the latest technology. Some cars address rising fuel-economy standards, while others disguise obscene speed in stealthy sheetmetal. Here are the 85 new arrivals shaping the automotive world for 2012.
These new models don't merely replace an existing car, they move their automakers into new segments.
Land Rover Range Rover Evoque
Don't be surprised if Land Rover's softest four-wheeler becomes its best-selling vehicle. The Evoque opens the Range Rover marque to new customers with its lower price, eye-catching style, and on-road predilection. Available in two- or four-door trim, the Evoque uses unibody construction and a 240-hp, direct-injected, turbocharged four-cylinder supplied by Ford. The Evoque doesn't offer a low range, locking differentials, or an air-sprung suspension, but Land Rover's signature Terrain Response system adapts the traction control, stability control, hill-start assist, hill-descent assist, and throttle response for specific conditions.
ON SALE: October | PRICE: $43,995 | NEW BUYER: Urban dwellers who rarely see a dirt road
Buick's play for younger buyers is much more than a reskinned Chevrolet Cruze. Larger engines include a standard 2.4-liter four-cylinder making 177 hp and 170 lb-ft of torque and an optional turbocharged 2.0-liter good for about 220 hp. Luxury touches such as a heated steering wheel, a Bose stereo, and the next generation of OnStar technology complement the upscale cabin, which makes generous use of wood and aluminum accents.
ON SALE: Late 2011 | PRICE: $21,000 (est.) | NEW BUYER: Forty-somethings -- if Buick is lucky.
Assuming Saab still exists in 2012, the 9-4X stands to be a major boon to sales as it nudges the Swedish automaker a little closer toward the mainstream -- or at least suburbia's crossover-loving buyers. The newly independent automaker faced a serious cash shortage in the first half of 2011, during which the 9-3 sedan accounted for 81 percent of Saab's U.S. sales. Developed under General Motors ownership, the 9-4X is a close relative of the Cadillac SRX, but the Saab boasts unique sheetmetal and distinct engines. A 265-hp, 3.0-liter V-6 is standard, available with either front- or all-wheel drive. The Aero trim includes all-wheel drive and a 2.8-liter turbo V-6 making 300 hp.
ON SALE: Now | PRICE: $34,205/$48,835 (base/Aero) | NEW BUYER: Mainstream suburbanites
Cargo may be king in the commercial-van segment, but Nissan hasn't forgotten about the driver with its new NV. Optional equipment includes a power driver's seat, navigation, rear parking sensors, a backup camera, and a USB audio input. Based on Titan mechanicals, the NV offers the choice of a 261-hp V-6 or a 317-hp V-8 in either standard or high-roof configuration. The strongest NV can haul up to 3925 pounds and tow nearly 9500 pounds.
ON SALE: Now | PRICE: $25,930/$28,970 (low-/high-roof) | NEW BUYER: Plumbers, electricians, and contractors
Infiniti's need for a three-row family crossover -- something more practical than the FX and less thirsty than the QX -- will drive the luxury maker to the Nissan parts bin.Repurposing the Murano's hardware means a return to front-wheel-drive architecture, although Infiniti could choose to make the JX all-wheel drive only. Infiniti won't talk about the JX's powertrain until the Los Angeles auto show in November, but the VQ-series V-6 engine is pretty much a given.
ON SALE: Early 2012 | PRICE: $45,000 (est.) | NEW BUYER: Young families with kids Ford C-Max Aborted twenty-one months after Ford announced that the small seven-seat minivan was coming to the U.S. Should erase some of the confusion that would've come with selling three different powertrains wrapped in two distinct body styles under one name. Hybrid and plug-in-hybrid five-passenger C-Maxes are still planned.
Toyota Prius V
The Prius V is the first step in franchising the Prius name into a brand of high-mileage hybrids. The V uses the same general shape and an identical 134-hp hybrid powertrain as the Prius, but it's stretched 6.1 inches to accommodate rear seats that slide and recline and to give it more cargo space. The additional weight and less aerodynamic shape take their toll on the EPA fuel-mileage rating, which drops from 51/48 mpg city/highway to 44/40 mpg.
ON SALE: Late 2011 | PRICE: $27,000 (est.) | NEW BUYER: The eco-conscious family