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What's new for 2013: Small and midsize sedans

(MoneyWatch) When I was a teenager, we would hurry down to the local dealerships in early October to see the new Chevys and Fords. Nobody gets that excited any more about the change in model years, but car shoppers still pay attention to what's new from Detroit and its competitors.

For the auto makers in recent years, a combination of high gas prices and tightening federal mileage regulations have generated new models with higher MPG. But, especially in smaller cars, shoppers are also getting more standard and optional comfort features and high-tech equipment.

Increasingly, manufacturers ignore the traditional fall introduction of new models and put the next year's version on earlier in the year. Nonetheless, as dealers try to clear out their 2012s, here is a rundown of the highlights of 2013 models in small cars and midsize sedans

Small cars

Unlike many past years, manufacturers introduced some all-new models in this category, not just redesigns under the same nameplate. General Motors and Chrysler have two of the most interesting:

  • Dodge Dart Chrysler resurrected the name of a 1970s mid-size car for its new rakish compact with Italian heritage. Based in part on the mechanical design of the Alfa Romeo Giulietta, the Dart shows its heritage with nimble handling. The base SE model starts at $15,995 and comes with a 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine. But the $19,995 Limited version with a turbocharged four is a lot more fun to drive and is rated at 27 in city driving, 39 on the highway.
  • Chevrolet Spark General Motors (GM) is aiming this minicar at young urban drivers with its $12,995 starting price. The Spark, already sold in 80 other countries, enters a U.S. segment previously populated mainly by interesting but unsuccessful entries like the Smartfortwo. Last year the Fiat 500 brought a stylish, drivable alternative into this category. With the $12,999 starting price for the Spark base models and an array of splashy colors, GM aims to attract new buyers to this segment.

Midsize cars

Two redesigns of top sellers are the big news in this category. Honda has done over its Accord, and Ford is rolling out a new version of the Fusion. But the competition is stiff here. The Toyota Camry regained its title as the best-selling car in the U.S in 2012. And the Nissan Altima and Hyundai Sonata are also selling well.Here is a closer look:

  • Honda Accord As usual with Honda, the new Accord will have a wide variety of versions and option price levels. The Accord continues a coupe version, even as some competitors have discontinued their coupes. And the 2013 Accord adds a plug-in hybrid version. The 2.4-liter, 185 horsepower four-cylinder engine is rated at 27 MPG in city driving and 36 on the highway, while a 3.5-liter, 278-horsepower V-6 is rated at 21 MPG city, 34 highway. The sedan will start at $21,480 and the coupe at, $23,350.
  • Ford Fusion Ford is trumpeting that its hybrid version of the Fusion has the highest mileage of any mid-size sedan at 47 MPG in both city and highway driving. That beats the Toyota Camry hybrid (but not the Toyota Prius, technically ranked in a different category.) Fusion also will come with a 1.6-liter turbocharged engine that is ranked at 25 MPG city, 37 highway thanks in part to a feature that shuts off the engine at stoplights and restarts it smoothly. Ford hopes the strong mileage, plus new flashier styling will help it gain ground on the Camry. The base $21,700 price is lower than the Camry but close to the Accord and Nissan Altima.

Coming soon: What's new in SUVs and pickups

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