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10 of the hottest new car models for 2014

2014 Chevrolet Impala LTZ
Source: General Motors
2014 Chevrolet Impala LTZ

Whether you're looking for something clean and green or ready to tear up the tarmac, the 2014 model year has an amazing list of new models to offer. After delaying a number of new products during the worst automotive downturn in decades, manufacturers are unleashing a flood of offerings unlike any in the industry—or consumers have ever seen before.

As the official new model year gets underway, there are about 50 new models to choose from—more if you count special hybrid, electric, diesel and performance variants. And there'll be even more coming in mid-model-year, with automakers abandoning the old practice of holding new products for the fall.

(Read more: Gasoline? NatGas? Our car lets you choose, GM says)

With so many different vehicles to choose from, how does a buyer choose? It helps to have some clear ideas about your own needs and wants, but to help narrow the search, here are 10 2014 models getting the most buzz.

American motorists have traditionally equated bigger with better, and while the market has seen a lot of downsizing in recent years, there's been a flood of new full-size sedans landing in showrooms lately. None has been more well-received than the 2014 Chevrolet Impala.

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It's stylish, lavishly equipped and surprisingly fuel-efficient for something so plush and roomy—no wonder Consumer Reports named it top sedan overall, no matter what the size, while the 50 members of the North American Car and Truck of the Year (NACTOY) jury put it on their "short list," with a strong shot at a win when the trophy is handed out at January's Detroit Auto Show.

Mazda3
Junko Kimura | Bloomberg | Getty Images
Mazda3

At the other end of the spectrum is the 2014 Mazda3. Available in both sedan and hatch body styles, the third-generation compact shows that even a little player like Mazda can challenge the dominant manufacturers. The 2014 Mazda3 adopts the Hiroshima-based maker's new SkyActiv technology, which among other things puts the little car on a strict diet, shaving off hundreds of pounds of excess mass. Combine that with a new and super-efficient engine and the Mazda3 can deliver up to 41 mpg on the highway.

(More from The Detroit Bureau: Ram diesel named 'Truck of Texas')

2014 Honda Accord EX-L
Source: Honda Motor Company
2014 Honda Accord EX-L

The year's new mileage champ, however, is the 2014 Honda Accord Hybrid, one of many new battery-based models moving from niche status into the mainstream.

Named a finalist for the Green Car of the Year award to be announced at the Los Angeles Auto Show next month, the gas-electric version of the Accord is rated at 50 mpg combined, an astounding number for a midsize sedan that still delivers surprisingly good performance. To put that into perspective, new federal rules call for the industry to reach 54.5 mpg—by 2025.

(Read more: Hottest automaker battle? Luxury)

While battery cars continue to catch much of the spotlight, the five finalists for Green Car of the Year highlight the fact that there is no magic bullet, and that there are many approaches to improving mileage and reducing emissions. Another finalist is the Audi A6 TDI, one of a wave of new diesels coming to market this year—Audi adding three of its own. Forget everything you knew about diesels—except their high mileage, here 38 mpg—the A6 TDI is quiet, smooth, quick and clean.

Even performance cars are delivering surprising mileage: The 2014 Chevrolet Corvette is getting as much as 31 mpg on the highway, a number until recently more likely to be associated with an econocar. But its 450-hp V-8 will launch you from 0 to 60 in under 4 seconds. The first 'Vette to be dubbed a Stingray in decades, it is winning raves for styling and handling and considered Detroit's first-ever serious challenger to dominant Euro sports cars like the Porsche 911.

Though the Mercedes-Benz CLA has its critics, it's also gotten raves—and landed among the NACTOY finalists—for planting the vaunted Mercedes tri-star logo on the grille of a strikingly handsome coupe-like sedan starting at less than $30,000. For those who want more performance, there's the $45,000 CLA45 AMG.

Subaru is another small manufacturer making a big name for itself thanks to innovative and roomy design and its trademark all-wheel-drive technology. The little Subaru Forester crossover-utility vehicle is on any number of short lists for utility of the year, and recently won that top honor from the widely followed Motor Trend magazine.

Dodge Ram 1500
Source: Ram Trucks
Dodge Ram 1500

The folks down in Texas take their trucks seriously, and the Longhorn States' auto writers recently completed a grueling shoot-out that put the Ram 1500 on top. Actually, to be more precise, the Texas Auto Writers Association named the Ram 1500 diesel, the first half-ton full-size pickup to offer high-mileage powertrain technology. But the Ram 1500 has already received a number of kudos, landing honors as North American Truck of the Year last January.

(More from The Detroit Bureau: New technology can help fight distracted driving)

While it was shut out and shot down in Texas, don't drop the new Chevrolet Silverado from your shopping list if you need a full-size pickup. The only real complaint has been the truck's conservative exterior design. But inside, well, it's as lavish as a luxury car with optional leather seats and plenty of high-tech toys. Better yet, the Silverado has tremendous hauling and towing power while delivering far better mileage due to new powertrain technology. The Chevy truck has a near-twin in the GMC Sierra, also new for '14.

Any mention of the new Jeep Cherokee must note that few new models introduced in recent years have been more polarizing. The revival of the old Cherokee nameplate comes with a distinctly new design that features unusual, split lamps and a creased version of the familiar, 7-slot Jeep grille. Initial reviews have generally been quite favorable for ride, performance and handling—and despite a new, more fuel-efficient crossover design, the Cherokee Trailhawk can still handle the punishing Rubicon Trail. On the downside, the new Jeep's launch has been delayed due to final tuning work on its new 9-speed gearbox.

We could readily expand our list considering all the new products coming for 2014. But, in brief, a few other models likely to draw buyers into showrooms this year include the compact Kia Cadenza, Infiniti's distinctive new Q50 luxury sedan and the newly updated Toyota Corolla. On the truck/crossover side, there's the versatile and luxurious Range Rover Sport, the newly redesigned Acura MDX and pint-sized Nissan Rogue.

The good news is that buyers will have more choice than ever for 2014.

By CNBC Contributor Paul A. Eisenstein. Follow him on Twitter @DetroitBureau or at thedetroitbureau.com.

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