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
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.
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.