The 10 Cars Americans Actually Want

PORTLAND, Ore. (TheStreet) -- We can tell you the best cars on the market, we can show you the best used cars your money can buy and we can even list the best boring cars automakers have to offer.

In the end, the cars that matter the most to future shopper, carmakers and consumers in general are the cars you end up buying.

The folks at auto pricing site TrueCar estimate that the auto industry will sell 15.7 million cars in the United States this year. That's the highest total since 2007. That doesn't necessarily mean Americans have rekindled their love affair with the automobile after the recession, though.

The Department of Transportation notes that U.S. driver, who had been racking up a steadily increasing number of miles since the 1970s, started cutting back in 2008 and never returned to that peak. Meanwhile, traffic information service Inrix notes that as average gas prices started spiking in 2010, average commute times during peak hours dropped from more than four hours to less than two.

A study done this spring by the Frontier Group and the U.S. Public Interest Research Group Education Fund found that the average U.S. driver actually started cutting back well before the recession, peaking around 2004 but dropping 6% by 2011. While the total miles driven in the U.S. rose 3.8% from 1948 to 2004, they've been flat since.

Americans may be buying cars again, but it's more out of need than out of a sense of excitement or frivolity. The average car on U.S. roads is more than 11 years old, according to Polk. The average price of a used car, already propped up by a brief halt in domestic auto leases, has spiked as lightly used supply has dwindled. Today's car buyer is looking for something affordable. Failing that, they're seeking something reliable that will give them more value for their dollar.

We're now shopping for cars as we would shop for a set of drill bits or a sturdy hammer -- searching for a tool designed for a specific task that will last a decade or more and won't break under duress. The status symbol, the street racer, the sexy and streamlined beasts are on the endangered species list. They've been rendered high-priced playthings of a privileged class or fuel-efficient ponies desperately trying to show their practical side.

It isn't pretty, but it's plain reality when all but four cars among the Top 10 sold in the U.S. will set buyers back $25,000 or more. We took a look at the sales numbers heading into the last months of the year and found the 10 frontrunners most coveted by the U.S. car buyer. They're practical and predictable, but they're exactly what their buyers are looking for:

10. Ford (F) Fusion
MSRP: $21,900

This is what a "sporty" car looks like in 2013 -- an American midsize. The Fusion's sleek new body and tough-looking grill caught a lot of eyes over the past year, but the additions inside are the ones making buyers even happier.

With a sporty new exterior, keyless entry keypad, its own app, Microsoft's ( F) Sync entertainment and communications system (that also doubles as a Wi-Fi hotspot, a blind-spot alert system, adaptive cruise control and Hill Start Assist that holds the brake when starting on an incline) there are a ton of extraordinary features in what's supposed to be Ford's most ordinary car.

Its combined 28 miles per gallon and capless fuel tank are also lovely, but its availability as both a 47 miles per gallon hybrid and as a plug-in electric vehicle is worth noting.

9. Ford Escape
MSRP: $22,700

Just about every school parking lot in the U.S. is teeming with small crossover vehicles. The Escape is just Detroit's version.

Ford brought in a redesigned Escape for 2013 with a 1.6-liter engine with 28-miles-per-gallon mileage similar to the 2012's hybrid version and the MyFord Touch entertainment and communications system. Combined with 34 cubic feet of space in the back, 68 cubic feet with the seats down, available intelligent four-wheel drive and tech thrown-ins such as a foot-activated lift gate, parking assist, blind-spot sensors and other perks, the Escape offers a lot of peace of mind before families hit the open road. That sub-$25,000 price brings some comfort all its own.

8. 2013 Honda (HMC) CR-V
MSRP: $22,945

When small crossovers finally take their place as this generation's station wagon/minivan/big SUV, the Honda CR-V will be its Vista Cruiser/Caravan/Explorer.

The popular crossover's 2012 overhaul has only made that transition easier by adding a leather interior, heated seats and rearview windows and navigation system with controls mounted on the steering wheel. It's also trimmed fuel efficiency to a combined 27 miles per gallon while leaving all 70 cubic feet of cargo space untouched.

It seems like a parental cliche now, but in the not-so-distant future there will be tomes written about childhood memories made in the beloved family CR-V.

7. 2013 Toyota (TM) Corolla
MSRP: $16,800

It doesn't have a whole lot of passenger space and its 12.3 cubic feet of trunk storage may just accommodate a holiday grocery run, but it's just about the most reliable vehicle you're going to find for the price. Those combined 33 miles per gallon should hold similar appeal for frugal customers. Even with a complete overhaul of its exterior features and interior technology for 2014, the Corolla offers a lot of value for folks picking up last year's model.

6. 2013 Nissan (NSANY) Altima
MSRP: $21,860

The Altima is steady, reliable and at its best when it's reminding you it's not there. That last part has proven a bit tougher since its sporty facelift for 2013, but its looks are just about the only thing that's changed dramatically.

The Altima's combined 33 miles per gallon are still enviable for a midsize, even if its 15.4 cubic feet of cargo lags behind the pack. The cabin is quiet, the new tech features include satellite radio, Pandora ( P), Bluetooth and hands-free texting, and safety options include blind-spot monitoring, a lane-departure warning system and a moving-object detector. Even the Altima's add-ons only serve to make it a more practical purchase.

5. 2013 Honda Civic
MSRP: $18,165

It's a bit snug for more than two, but the Civic's combined 33 miles per gallon and nearly 40 miles per gallon on the highway make it a great car to grow into. It seats five with a surprising amount of space left over, is coated in airbags and has a new display that shows fuel efficiency, music info and photos. The utilitarian small sedan also tends to hold up well over the years, making it a gem for used car buyers who aren't just waiting for a larger, far less efficient vehicle to get less expensive.

4. 2013 Honda Accord
MSRP: $21,955

There isn't a whole lot you can do to make the broad, inoffensive midsize sexier. For 2013, Honda's goal was to make the Accord a less utilitarian by adding a standard 8-inch LCD display for its information, communication and app-based entertainment system; a single-angle backup camera; dual-zone climate control; a lane-drift detector; a power moonroof and alloy wheels. Other new options include a three-angle backup cam, enhanced safety sensors, LED running lights and adaptive cruise control.

The one element that remained intact, however, was the Accord's combined 32 miles per gallon. Though the Detroit makeovers haven't helped the Accord, either, it's still one of only two cars among the Top 5 vehicles sold in the U.S.

3. Toyota Camry
MSRP: $22,235

Just when you think the Camry has put some serious mileage between itself and its troubled past, Consumer Reports goes and pulls its recommendation because the car performed poorly in crash tests last December. While the Camry prepares for its retest this December, it still spent 2013 as the most popular car in the U.S. It still gets a combined 30 miles per gallon, it's still pindrop-quiet inside and still offers a Bluetooth connection or the Entune App Suite entertainment and information center.

Oh, and it's the most American-made midsize sold in the U.S. A full 75% of its parts are made in the U.S., with the folks on the line in Georgetown, Ky., handling the assembly. Toyota's been churning out the Camry here since 1998 and doesn't plan to stop any time soon.

2. 2013 Chevrolet Silverado
MSRP: $25,575

Even with no overhauls since 2007 and a year until its 2014 update, the 2013 Silverado is General Motors' ( GM) top-selling automobile. The 2014 base-model Silverado has 262-horsepower, 4.3-liter V-6 with increased towing capacity. There's also a 325-horsepower, 5.3-liter V-8 with the improved fuel efficiency of GM's muscly Camaro and Cadillac models that far outpaces the current generation's gluttonous 22 miles per gallon on the highway. A 6.2-liter V-8 engine with 376 horsepower rounds out the new lineup and gives its the muscle it needs to lift its truck sales numbers, which went nearly flat in 2012 as Ford's and Ram's soared. The 2013 model isn't going without a fight, however, with sales up more than 25% this year.

1. Ford F series
MSRP: $24,070

Forget the more than three decades of dominance in the truck and overall automobile markets. Ford's F series is dusting Chevrolet's Silverado and GMC's Sierra combined largely because it can. The F-150 may get 25% of its parts from elsewhere, but that's still better than the 34% of Silverado parts that come from Mexico. Its reputation for reliability is only bolstered by the fact that it's the most U.S.-produced truck Detroit produces and that its maker is the only Detroit automaker that didn't take a bailout. That means a whole lot the the F series' segment of the market, and it will continue to pay dividends until GM or Ram can overcome that little public-relations obstacle.

-- Written by Jason Notte in Portland, Ore.

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Jason Notte is a reporter for TheStreet. His writing has appeared in The New York Times, The Huffington Post, Esquire.com, Time Out New York, the Boston Herald, the Boston Phoenix, the Metro newspaper and the Colorado Springs Independent. He previously served as the political and global affairs editor for Metro U.S., layout editor for Boston Now, assistant news editor for the Herald News of West Paterson, N.J., editor of Go Out! Magazine in Hoboken, N.J., and copy editor and lifestyle editor at the Jersey Journal in Jersey City, N.J.

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