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The seats in a 2013 Fiat 500 are mediocre, writes Jeremy Cato (Chrysler.)
The seats in a 2013 Fiat 500 are mediocre, writes Jeremy Cato (Chrysler.)

a look back

The highs and the lows of the auto world in 2013 Add to ...

This year, 2013, arrived with promises of bold models from a resurgent Detroit Three but, in the end, General Motors had the best year of any global car company.

At the end of this year, GM ceased to be (U.S.) Government Motors with a final stock buyback (though Canadian governments still have a stake in the General). GM CEO Dan Akerson promptly retired and global product czar Mary Barra became the first woman to be CEO of a major car company.

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On the product front, the 2014 Chevrolet Corvette Stingray lived up to the hype. The seventh-generation ’Vette is monstrously impressive, capable of 0-100 km/h in about four seconds and dynamic enough to go head-to-head on the track with the Porsche 911 Carreras and Audi R8s of the world.

Then there’s the 2014 Chevrolet Impala. Consumer Reports says it’s the best sedan tested and I’d agree. The fact that it’s assembled in Oshawa, Ont., is nice, too. And Cadillac’s lineup is rounding into form. The latest CTS is extremely good.

On the other hand, GM has stubbed a toe with the reinvented 2014 Silverado and GMC Sierra pickups. They’re good, but Ford is still outselling GM’s rigs with its aged F-Series and Chrysler’s Ram keeps winning awards and pushing innovations like a diesel engine in a light-duty version. GM’s trucks are solid, they can tow, they have new and fuel-efficient gas engines, but they have uninspired styling, the pricing is off and GM has had trouble getting the launch cadence to match market demand. So the GM pickups are a lowlight of 2013 – primarily because expectations were so high going into the launch.

But it wasn’t all GM in 2013. Here’s a look at the rest of the highs and lows of the year:

HIGHS

2013 Ford Fusion Hybrid: If I were going to buy a “green” car, this is the one. No styling sacrifices, all-new lithium-ion batteries, horsepower at a combined 188 and fuel economy of 4.0 litres/100 km in the city, 4.1 on the highway. Exceptional for a big four-door that weighs 1,640 kilograms and can do 100 km/h under electric-only power.

Tesla and the Model S: I’ve argued long and hard that Tesla isn’t a real car company. Yet. Tesla is only an intriguing start-up with not enough product in the market. We’ll wait to take its full measure. But the battery-powered Model S is a wondrous engineering achievement and has set the bar for all other EVs.

Sebastian Vettel: The four-time Formula One champ is a young buck with a deft racing touch and a drama-free personal life. Infiniti, his big auto sponsor, needs to make cars as good as he can drive them.

2013 Porsche 911: This is a brilliant car. As Automotive News recently said about it, “Porsche has made the driving process easier, without losing that man-machine connection.”

Jaguar Land Rover: Jaguar and Land Rover’s revival plan is sharpening for all to see thanks to the heavy and consistent investment of the deep-pocketed Indian owners from Tata – who can now thank JLR for all of Tata Motors’ profits.

Mazda and the 2014 Mazda3: Mazda has made an affordable compact car that is interesting to drive and easy on fuel. Also, Mazda is the only car company being honest about the long road ahead for electric vehicles and hybrids. Diesel first, says Mazda, and it’s the truth.

2013 Mercedes-Benz GLK diesel: The gas version of this compact SUV is more expensive, uses more fuel and has less range. Why buy gas?

LOWS

Acura: Acura talks the talk, but has yet to walk it. For all the promises of a re-thought Acura lineup, the new MDX is a small disappointment and the ILX is nothing special, either. The final verdict is out on Acura, though, because a new NSX should arrive in the next 12 months.

Electrified cars: The world is a simmering stew of interest in EVs, hybrids and anything else that might nudge us in the direction of “greener driving.” But what we’ve seen so far is too expensive and too limited. Canadians will buy 1.7 million-plus new vehicles in 2013, with perhaps 17,000 of them hybrids and the like.

Small crossovers: Little rigs like the Buick Encore are not overly interesting or terribly useful and I don’t fit in them.

2013 Fiat 500 Sport: Actually, it’s the seats that are so sad. But Fiat is not alone – more cars have mediocre seats than good ones.

2014 Mercedes-Benz CLA: A sub-$34,000 Merc sedan truly is luxury on the cheap. But it’s small inside, the seats aren’t great and the ride quality is rough. Not much of a looker, either.

Ford quality: This company is profitable and is making some terrific cars and light trucks, but it’s time for Ford to climb up from the lower ranks of various quality studies – and get a grip on all the recalls, too.

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