Auto sales may be way down, but manufacturers are still coming up with new and interesting vehicles. Even despite the record high gas prices this past year, 2009 brings several new SUVs to the market -- some sporty and some family-friendly. In addition, we'll see at least one performance-driven supercar and a new super-economical hybrid that's expected to net more mpg and cost even less than the Toyota Prius. See below for the most unique and exciting brand-new cars for 2009.
On Sale Now
A blend of the words "tiger" and "iguana," the Tiguan boasts sporty driving dynamics and an upscale feel that set it apart in its class. Dubbed by Volkswagen as the "GTI of SUVs," it borrows its turbocharged engine from the sporty GTI hatchback. The 200-horsepower engine takes it from 0 to 60 in 7.8 seconds -- not too shabby for an SUV. A drawback is that the Tiguan is more expensive than many in the compact SUV class, but its elegant style and fun driving experience could be worth it. The Tiguan starts at about $24K.
Based on the Camry platform, the Venza features modern station wagon styling in a car-based SUV. Unlike Toyota's other crossovers, it does not feature three-row seating -- giving it an advantage in cargo space and utility. In fact, its 30.7-cubic-foot cargo area behind the rear seats bests that of most competitors, as does its 21 mpg combined fuel economy. The Venza starts at about $26K.
Ford's largest crossover yet, the Flex is making a splash with its retro styling and family-friendly interior. With seating for six or seven, this car-based SUV is a great alternative for families who want minivan features but not minivan styling. With a base price under $30K and 18 mpg combined fuel economy, it's economical too. In its short time on the market, the Flex is already a winner. It's one of Road & Travel's top three nominees for 2009 International Car of the Year and one of Automobile Magazine's 2009 All-Stars. The Flex starts at about $28K.
The Traverse, Chevrolet's largest crossover SUV, is based on the same platform as the GMC Acadia, Buick Enclave and Saturn Outlook -- and several reviewers say it's the best of the four. Its spacious, comfortable third-row seat is a rarity within its class and its 19 mpg combined fuel economy is the best of any eight-passenger SUV on the market. Its interior is surprisingly high quality for the price and boasts optional high-tech gadgets such as a DVD entertainment system. The Traverse is priced around $28K.
Dubbed by BMW as a "Sports Activity Coupe," the X6 is unique in that it combines sleek coupe looks and sporty performance with SUV utility. It may not be the most practical car, but it's the first of its kind. The inline six-cylinder and 407-horsepower V8 engines are sure to please those who want to speed away from the pack. In fact, BMW estimates that both engines reach 60 miles per hour in just 6.5 and 5.3 seconds, respectively. In addition, the X6's high-tech interior gadgetry has earned it at least one honor so far -- as one of Wheels Media's Urban Truck of the Year finalists. The X6 starts at around $55K.
Nissan's latest sports car is a high-performing dream machine. Previously sold as the Skyline GT-R in Japan, the Nissan GT-R (Gran Turismo-Racer) makes its U.S. debut this year. With a 480-horsepower twin-turbocharged V6 engine, it aims to compete with the Porsche 911. Test drivers report that the 2009 GT-R can accelerate from 0 to 60 miles per hour in just 3.3 to 3.5 seconds. The GT-R has already won several awards, including Motor Trend's 2009 Car of the Year and Automobile Magazine's 2009 Automobile of the Year. The GT-R is now available for pre-order and is priced around $70K.
The Cube subcompact has been selling in Japan for several years and arrives on U.S. shores early this year. Its boxy, cute styling -- a cross between the Scion xB and Honda Element -- prompts CNET to call it "the most unconventional design to come out of Nissan in some time." The car's 122-horsepower four-cylinder engine is expected to net excellent fuel economy that is estimated at around 30 mpg on the highway. The Cube seats five and includes a sliding rear seat. The interior features a concentric circle or "water droplet" theme that CNET describes as "surprisingly spacious with a relaxing aesthetic."
Honda Insight Hybrid
Honda is reviving its Insight hybrid, which was discontinued in 2006. The five-door hatchback's main draw is its affordability and value. According to Hybrid Cars, it's expected to sell for around $19K, which is even less than the Toyota Prius. It will be powered by the same 1.3-liter engine in the Honda Civic Hybrid and is expected to achieve out-of-this-world fuel economy. Left Lane News says some Japanese sources are predicting "mileage as high as 71 mpg. Actual mileage will likely be lower when it hits our shores, but should still be impressive." The Insight makes its debut at the Detroit Auto Show this month and will likely go on sale sometime this year.