2008 will be dramatic for sedans. It will be remembered as a time when the gloves came off in the compact luxury fight as the Germans topped each other with machines capable of performing at speeds no average driver should touch. It's also a year that will see the fruition of Lexus' long-held plans to seriously invade the entry-luxury performance market for the first time. In 2008, Hyundai will ascend to the full-size luxury market and General Motors will return to its strength in rear-wheel drive sedans. It's a model year that's already seen the re-birth of the midsize-sedan superstar Honda Accord. Before the year ends there will be many excellent attempts to dethrone it by incredibly good rivals who've learned from their past mistakes. 2008 is much more than a time or a model year. It's a place where some manufacturers are making their last stand while others are seizing the day, week and shooting for the whole year. Here's a look at what to expect.

Cars you can get now:

2008 Honda Accord

MSRP: $20,360-$30,510

Honda's ace midsize player returns with the same set of adjustments that have made each successive generation a winning proposition. Accordingly, the eighth generation sedan shows off larger proportions (the EPA now calls the Accord a large sedan), more powerful engines (the 166-hp 2.4-liter I4 becomes a 177-hp or 190-hp engine, the 244-hp 3.0-liter V6 grows to become a 3.5-liter engine with 268 hp) and better handling thanks to adjustments like a wider track and redesigned steering system. Toyota's answer arrives by '09.

2008 Chevrolet Malibu

MSRP: $19,345-$26,345

The Malibu climbs back into the hot midsize sedan fray with a much more attractive offering. The chassis doesn't only look more appealing, engineers claim it's much stiffer; a six-inch longer wheelbase translates into legroom that's on par with the spacious Camry. Engine options include a 164-hp 2.4-liter I4 and a 3.6-liter V6 that delivers 252 hp and fuel economy that's on par with the Accord and Camry's V6 offerings. Six airbags, traction control and four-wheel anti-lock disc brakes are included standard.

2008 Cadillac CTS

MSRP: $32,245-$34,595

The CTS continues to mature into an excellent contender that boasts a roomier package in the fierce world of entry-luxury sedans. The second generation touts all-wheel drive as an option while the 255-hp 3.6-liter V6 becomes standard on the new base model and is juiced up to 304 hp for the next trim level up. The 210-hp 2.8-liter engine vanishes with the old exterior, suspension tuning and interior trim. In their place is a package that emphasizes a more responsive ride and a cabin fitted with higher-quality materials.

2008 Mercedes-Benz C-Class

MSRP: $31,200-$36,500

The third generation of Mercedes-Benz's most affordable sedan highlights a larger body with more passenger space and keeps the larger two engine offerings from the previous model, a 228-hp 3.0-liter V6 and a 268-hp 3.5-liter V6. Optional technologies like the Agility Control damping system and an adaptive braking system aim to give the car more performance cachet while techno-luxury features like a 30GB HDD for navigation and music data emphasize creature comforts to gain footing in the hotly contested compact luxury market.

Cars coming soon:

2008 Lexus IS-F || See 2008 Lexus IS

MSRP: $50,000 (est.)

This year saw Toyota finally muscle in on full-size trucks and next year sees a serious pursuit of the M3's lunch in Lexus' IS-F. How serious? Stuffed under the avant-garde sheet metal is a "400-plus"-hp V8 that's mated to an eight-speed sequential automatic transmission. The 0-60 is said to be less than 4.9 seconds. And 19-inch tires are de facto for the chase, as are a three-mode vehicle stability system, performance-tuned suspension and very large (14.2-inch front, 13.6-inch rear) brake calipers. The vagueness means this might be the new king or just another ambitious M3 vassal. We'll know by the early '08 release.

2009 Audi A4 || See 2008 Audi A4

MSRP: N/A

Audi perfects the purebred early next year by giving its rear passengers more space via a longer wheelbase and better handling by repositioning the engine directly above the front axle. Performance is further improved with the addition of new driving technologies like the Audi dynamic steering system that can both adjust ratios and make fast, small steering corrections for vehicle stability. Unique options begin with goodies typically reserved for larger luxury cars like Adaptive Cruise Control and a lane departure warning system, then crescendo with the optional 14-speaker Bang and Olufsen surround sound system. Nice accents from the A5's sheet metal come standard; the 19's to go with it are optional.

2009 Mazda 6 || See 2008 Mazda 6

MSRP: N/A

Mazda's sporty alternative to the Accord/Camry also gets a wider stance with its slick new exterior that will now be based on Ford's Mondeo platform. This second generation of sedan, wagon and hatchback should start with a new 2.5-liter I4 that serves up 170 hp, more space for passengers and active head restraints that round out the existing full complement of safety systems.

2008 Mercedes-Benz C63 AMG || See 2008 C-Class

MSRP: N/A

Ingredients: a monstrous 457-hp 6.2-liter V8 with 443 lb-ft of torque, 0-62 in 4.5 seconds a seven-speed automatic transmission, 19-inch wheels and tires, a quicker steering ratio, an all-new front axle, speed-sensitive AMG sports steering, an optional limited-slip differential and a new stability control system that actually turns off. The M3 better watch its back. The gloves have been swapped for brass knuckles.

2009 BMW M3

MSRP: N/A

Thousands of message-board speculations posed the question. Hundreds of redundant spy-pic posts have answered. Yes, there will be an M3 sedan. The faithful know what that means: a sweet-revving 410-hp 4.0-liter V8 under the hood, 0-62 in 4.8 seconds a six-speed manual with a Direct-Shift Gearbox likely later, 18-inch tires with 19's optional and an electronically controlled M-differential. No king ever cedes the throne, gracefully or otherwise, and the BMW M3 won't be any different.

2009 Hyundai Genesis

MSRP: Starts at just below $30,000 (est.)

This year the peddler of once-humble subcompacts introduced a luxury SUV that holds its own against Lexus' RX. Next year brings a conquest of the elite full-size luxury sedan world in the coming Genesis. The newcomer boasts two firsts for Hyundai in America: rear-wheel drive and an optional V8 engine (with over 300 hp). De rigueur posh goodies include a surround-sound audio system, Bluetooth, a DVD-based navigation system and a rear backup camera. On the driving side there's stability control, adaptive cruise control and a standard 3.8-liter V6 engine. A full complement of airbags is a given.

2008 Pontiac G8

MSRP: N/A

The G8 signals GM's welcome return to rear-wheel drive performance sedans. The full-size sedan promises enthusiasm thanks to options like a 261-hp 3.6-liter V6 or a 6.0-liter 362 hp V8, along with a choice of five-speed automatic, six-speed manual and six-speed manual transmissions. Traction control, stability control, ABS and a perfect 50/50 weight distribution come standard on all models, as does the same amount of passenger volume as the Mitsubishi Endeavor, Chrysler 300 and Ford Taurus. Undoubtedly, the Chevy Impala will be following close behind.

2008 Volkswagen Jetta TDI || See 2008 VW Jetta

MSRP: N/A

The Jetta isn't new, but its available Bluetec diesel engine is. For the first time since emissions regulations changed the automotive landscape, a diesel passenger vehicle will be clean enough for sale in all 50 states, delivering what is rumored to be 45 mpg at a price premium below that of a hybrid vehicle. We know the TDI's 140-hp 2.0-liter I4 churns out 236 lb.-ft. of torque and hits 60 somewhere around 8 seconds, but reports swirling around the Internet of a $21,630 starting price tag are unconfirmed.

2009 Toyota Corolla || See 2008 Toyota Corolla

MSRP: N/A

Automotive News reports that the new Corolla will be showing up in dealerships by early 2008, bringing a more radical design along with it. Available power plants will include a 128-hp 1.8-liter I4 and a 2.4-liter four-cylinder that makes 158 hp. Like everyone else, we're hoping Toyota isn't underestimating entries like the Honda Civic and Mazda 3.

2009 Jaguar XF

MSRP: N/A

The new XF drops the brand's design DNA but keeps the good stuff, including 300-hp and 420-hp variants of 4.2-liter V8 lifted from the XK and XKR models. Suspension components from the same cars are tuned more aggressively in a performance trim and 20-inch wheels are added in for good measure. Both inside and out feature larger proportions than the S-Type it replaces, and the technology list is a lot longer, too, with features like front and rear parking cameras, adaptive cruise control and a blind spot monitor among the highlights.

2008 Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution X || See 2008 Lancer

MSRP: $32,000 (est.)

When one of the most notorious sport-compacts returns this coming year it will showcase refinements for the mainstream and fanatic alike with a massive amount of driving technology and a more demure exterior. Dr. Evo's creation packs no less than six systems that manage everything from suspension to stability in its Super All Wheel Control technology. A six-speed Direct-Shift Gearbox-like transmission will be offered alongside the six-speed manual. Passenger space is probably increased through a longer wheelbase while the machine's overall length is shortened. Autoblog anticipates its 2.0-liter I4 to deliver 325 lb.-ft. of torque and over 300 hp. Buzz from outlets like Road and Track point to a 0-60 time of less than 4.5 seconds. Sube's coming STi emerges from the shadows shortly.

Not really sedans ... but hot four door cars to look out for:

2009 Honda Fit || See 2008 Honda Fit

MSRP: N/A

Honda's wasting no time in tuning the Fit to public feedback. Version 2 hits U.S. shores next year with more of everything, from 9 more horsepower and 21 lb.-ft. of more torque to an extra 1.6 inches of legroom for rear passengers, thanks to an extended wheelbase. Pleasant surprises include 10 cup holders that adorn the redesigned interior and an optional panoramic sunroof.

2008 Dodge Caliber SRT-4 || See 2008 Dodge Caliber

MSRP: $22,435

285 horsepower: The almost-canned pocket rocket finally gets its handling sorted out and shows up to the party over a year late with a consolation prize: the value of $78.72 per pony. The limited slip differential is gone, but in its place is standard traction control and a Brake Lock Differential. Power is transmitted to the 19-inch tires by a Getrag 6-speed manual transmission while things are kept under control inside by sport-bolstered seats.


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