5 Great 2014 Cars to Check Out

BOSTON (TheStreet) -- Car companies began planning their 2014 lineups during the 2008-09 worldwide market crash, but Kelly Blue Book's Jack Nerad says manufacturers nonetheless managed to create some standout vehicles for this model year.

"I think 2014 is a pretty good model year, although what really held the most sway was the idea of keeping things pretty conventional," says Nerad, executive editorial director at the car-pricing giant. "It wasn't deemed a really great time [in 2009] to do a bunch of new stuff that might be risky."

Nerad says foreign and domestic manufacturers have rolled out some 75 new or heavily redesigned 2014s in the U.S. market, an average number of fresh offerings for a given model year.

But with the Great Recession receding in the rearview mirror, he expects the pace of premieres to increase in the next few years. "We think [the number of available models] is going to tick up faster because the industry is on a more solid footing," Nerad says.

Here's a look at five cars and trucks that the expert considers the most noteworthy new or redesigned models of 2014. Vehicles appear in order of manufacturers' suggested retail price, and all dollar figures refer to MSRPs for each model's base version.

Nissan Versa Note
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The new Versa Note from Nissan is a hatchback edition of the $11,990 Versa subcompact sedan, the least-expensive new car in America.

The Note costs $2,000 more than that, but offers an extra 10.4 cubic feet of interior space and a convenient rear hatch instead of the Versa sedan's trunk. The hatchback also offers particularly good headroom despite its small size, as well as an impressive 38.3 cubic feet of cargo space with all seats folded down.

And while the base Note comes with just a 109-horsepower four-cylinder engine, a manual transmission and a spartan interior, higher trim levels offer such high-tech options as Pandora radio and a 360-degree parking camera.

Upper trim lines also come standard with a continuously variable automatic transmission that helps give the Note a solid 31 miles per gallon in city fuel efficiency and 40 mpg/highway.

"I think the Versa Note is a real step forward in the subcompact class," Nerad says.

Mazda Mazda3
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Japanese auto giant Mazda redesigned its sporty Mazda3 compact inside and out for 2014, making what Nerad already considered a good car even better.

"Everything about the Mazda3 is new -- engine, transmission and body -- and it's all good," he says.

Starting at $16,945 for a sedan or $18,945 for a hatchback, the Mazda3 combines sporty interior and exterior styling with surprisingly strong performance for its price.

Base Mazda3s feature a 155-horsepower four-cylinder engine rated at an impressive 29 mpg/city and 41 mpg/highway with manual transmission. Higher trim lines come standard with automatic transmission and a beefier 184-horsepower four-cylinder power plant.

Jeep Cherokee
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Chrysler has brought back its popular Jeep Cherokee brand for 2014 after more than a decade's absence, and Nerad says the compact crossover "is already taking the market by storm. It has the best off-road capabilities of any vehicle in its segment, and it has great on-road manners, too."

Chrysler replaced the Cherokee with the Jeep Liberty in 2001, although the larger Grand Cherokee never went away.

Now, the "regular" Cherokee has returned, coming standard with front-wheel drive, a 184-horsepower four-cylinder engine, a nine-speed automatic transmission and fuel efficiency of 22 mpg/city and 31 mpg/highway.

Buyers can also add four-wheel drive, a 271-horsepower V-6 engine and other options that will boost the Cherokee's off-road and rough-weather capabilities.

Chevrolet Silverado 1500
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General Motors has redesigned its popular Chevrolet Silverado 1500 full-sized pickup truck with what Nerad calls "a great combination of fuel efficiency, quality, overall capabilities and styling."

Besides updating the model's interior and exterior, GM trimmed some 250 pounds off of the Silverado's weight and added a complete lineup of improved engines.

The base Silverado features a 285-horsepower V-6 engine, six-speed automatic transmission and rear-wheel drive that collectively produce 18 mpg/city and 24 mpg/highway. If that's not enough power for you, four-wheel drive and a 355-horsepower V-8 engine are also available.

Chevrolet Impala
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GM has rolled out the 10th-generation Impala for 2014, updating a large sedan that the automaker has offered almost continuously since the 1950s.

Nerad calls the '14 Impala "really, really good -- good power, good handling, good dynamics, a comfortable ride, plenty to room and a large trunk. It's what an American large car should be."

The base model comes standard with front wheel drive, automatic transmission and a 195-horsepower four-cylinder engine that's rated at 21 mpg/city and 31 mpg/highway.

You can also get an optional V-6 engine that puts out 305 horsepower, or a hybrid Impala that offers 25 mpg/city and 35 mpg/highway.

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