The calendar says October 2002, but for car makers it's 2003. A new model year has begun, bringing with it a whole parking lot full of new models, from subcompacts to monster SUVs, with prices from $9,000 to $650,000.
As the model year begins, it's still a buyer's market, and some experts think it will become even more tilted toward the consumer as incentive programs lose their novelty and punch, and as debt-laden consumers slow big-ticket purchases.
One of America's perennial favorites, the Honda Accord, has been redesigned, and the long-anticipated Nissan Z is on sale at last.
At Buick, the portholes are back for 2003.
There's a new Ferrari, the Enzo, and it has 650 hp., but you can't have one unless you've already ordered it; they're sold out -- at $650,000 apiece.
There's a "budget" Bentley for '03, at a mere $140,000. The Hummer has a stablemate but don't call it a baby Hummer; it weighs more than 6,000 pounds. There's a successor to the Subaru BRAT car-based pickup called the Baja.
Jaguar's flagship is redesigned, the Dodge Viper gets even more powerful, the BMW Z3 graduates to Z4 and an Audi goes topless.
Mercedes-Benz prepares to climb several rungs on the price ladder with the ultra-luxurious Maybach line, whose cars will begin at $290,000.
More of GM's pickups and SUVs will turn with four wheels for '03, and more cars will be able to understand their drivers when they speak -- through the miracle of voice-recognition technology.
Some Lexus SUV owners will be able to see a lot better at night, and Mazda is bringing back the engine that goes "mmmm." A Mercury Grand Marquis, of all things, has gone "Marauding" and a Jeep Liberty has become a "Renegade."
The cutest of the 2003s almost surely is the BMW Mini Cooper, while the most controversial are sure to include the Honda Element SUV -- for its unusual styling -- and the Porsche Cayenne, as an SUV from a company known for small sportscars.
SUVs continue to proliferate in '03. Lincoln is adding the Aviator (a version of the Ford Explorer) to join the larger Navigator. Ford marks its 100th anniversary in 2003 with, among other things, production of a 500-hp. limited edition sports car, the GT40. The big Expedition and Navigator SUVs are heavily changed; the latter's power retractable running boards and power-folding third seat are among the year's more unusual new conveniences. And from Ford's Land Rover unit, there's a redesigned Range Rover and there's a new Lexus SUV for those who find the RX 300 too small and the LX 470 too large.
GM now offers extended versions of its Chevrolet TrailBlazer and GMC Envoy, both 16 inches longer.
Kia stores will have a new SUV, the Sorento.
New "crossovers" -- an increasingly popular breed combining features of cars and SUVs -- include the Pontiac Vibe, Toyota Matrix and Suzuki Aerio, already on sale. The Honda Pilot, also on sale, is a version of the car-based Acura MD-X.
Mitsubishi adds the Outlander SUV to its lineup; it's based on the Lancer, a sedan. Chrysler's little PT Cruiser gets a much-needed vitamin shot in the form of an optional turbocharged, 215-hp., engine.
The Nissan Murano, an "urban SUV" based on the Altima, is due in December.
The Cayenne was jointly developed with Volkswagen, whose dealers will have a version called the Touareg.
Saab fans will find a new 9-3 in dealerships this fall. Infiniti has a new coupe and a new sedan, with a new SUV due early next year.
The Saturn Ion, in coupe and sedan version, replace the S-series, but the wagon is no more. The larger Saturn L series sedan and wagon get a makeover and so do the Chevrolet Cavalier and Pontiac Sunfire.
Finally, would you believe a 420-hp., $45,000 model from Volkswagen, the people who once gave us the tiny Beetle? You will in a few months when the Phaeton reaches showrooms, with as many as 12 cylinders under its hood.
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