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Sizzling new cars for the 2013 model year

AP

The first serious small car contender from Dodge since the Neon is the all-new Dart. With mechanical and design lineage coming from Italy's Alfa Romeo, it's a stylish and economical package with a particularly noteworthy interior design that looks and feels like it should be in a more expensive car.

If you’re one of the many thousands of motorists who plan on returning to new-car dealerships in the coming months to upgrade your ride, you might be confronted with an assortment of never-before-seen cars with unfamiliar nameplates. The auto business has undergone dramatic changes in the last few years, and if you haven’t gone car shopping since before the economy crashed you’ll find it's a proverbial brave new world out there.

As they say, you can’t tell the players without a score card, so we’ve compiled a slideshow that highlights the 15 hottest models that are brand-new for the 2013 model year, and we identify fresh elements each brings to the market.

Forbes.com slideshow: Hottest new cars for 2013

For starters, you’ll find a greater emphasis on small cars these days, many of which now offer amenities like heated seats and advanced data connectivity, features that likely were limited to luxury cars the last time you set foot in a showroom. Buyers are embracing the latest round of compact and subcompact cars with a passion these days. Today's buyers range from empty-nesters looking to downsize their rides but eager to maintain desired levels of comfort and conveniences, to younger motorists looking to minimize their carbon footprints and to budget-conscious drivers looking for a lower sticker price and higher fuel economy.

The assortment of small cars expands for 2013 to include the economical Chevrolet Spark and Dodge Dart, the luxury-minded Acura ILX and the sporty Cadillac ATS.

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The population of crossover SUVs, which have all but supplanted traditional truck-based SUVs in America’s driveways for their more carlike handling and improved fuel economy, has likewise grown exponentially. In particular, the small crossover segment of the market has been booming, with most automakers now including a compact model in their lineups. Subcompact crossovers are the next frontier, with two — the BMW X1 and Buick Encore — debuting for 2013. Additional new crossovers this year include the Audi Allroad, Infiniti JX, Mazda CX-5 and the Subaru XV Crosstrek.

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What’s more, Cadillac debuts a new large front-drive sedan, the XTS, while Scion and Subaru bring excitement back to their showrooms with a pair of economical low-slung sport coupes, the FR-S and BRZ, respectively. Among several new fuel-frugal electrified models for 2013, Ford pulls the wraps off the tall-roofed C-Max Hybrid and C-Max Energi plug-in hybrid wagons. These join the luxury-oriented limited-production Tesla Model S all-electric and Fisker Karma extended-range electric sedans.

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Of course, you’ll also find an expansive assortment of models that have undergone significant redesigns for the 2013 model year. These include sedan stalwarts like the Chevrolet Malibu, Ford Fusion, Honda Accord, Lexus ES and GS, Nissan Altima and the Toyota Avalon. Redesigned crossover SUVs are likewise plentiful and include the Acura RDX, Buick Enclave, Chevrolet Traverse, Ford Escape, GMC Acadia, Honda CR-V, Hyundai Santa Fe, Mitsubishi Outlander and — crossing over from truck-based SUV to carlike crossover — the Nissan Pathfinder.  An all-new version of the Ram 1500 full-size pickup helps create some excitement in an otherwise quiet truck segment for 2013. For the fast and furious crowd, there’s a revamped version of the Porsche Boxster roadster and the return of the snake: the rip-roaring Dodge SRT Viper sports coupe/roadster.

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And for those keeping track of both sides of the score card, models being discontinued for 2013 include the Hyundai Veracruz, Jeep Liberty, Mazda CX-7 and Mercedes-Benz R-Class crossovers/SUVs, the Kia Sedona minivan, Lexus HS 250h hybrid and the Mitsubishi Eclipse sports coupe/convertible and Galant sedan.