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Infiniti and Mazda crossovers blend style, value

2017 Infiniti QX60 cropped for webThe 2017 Infiniti QX60 large crossover is the luxury version of the Nissan Pathfinder. COURTESY PHOTO  What separates a mainstream car from a luxury one? It's easy to find vehicles that blur the line.
For example, a premium brand might sell its own version of a less-expensive vehicle from a mainstream one. Or a mainstream brand might offer a stylish, classy and feature-laden model that essentially matches the luxury competition on substance, if not on reputation.
A pair of seven-passenger crossovers represents these respective approaches. Respectively, they're the Infiniti QX60, recently updated for 2017, and the Mazda CX-9, which was last redesigned for 2016.

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Ford gets tough while Hyundai gets electric

2017 Ford F 150 Raptor cropped for webThe 2017 Ford F-150 Raptor full-size pickup offers extreme off-road capability at a lofty base price of nearly $50,000. COURTESY PHOTO  In 2009, Ford took its best-selling F-150 pickup truck and turned it into a big brawny off-road toy. The F-150 Raptor was built for high-speed off-roading in the desert, sturdy enough to soar into the air and land safely. But its ultra-tough image and styling made it popular even in the D.C. area.
For 2017, the Raptor has entered its second generation without a radical departure from the first generation's successful theme. Rather, it merely followed the evolution of the standard F-150, which had been redesigned in 2015. Aside from additional safety, luxury and convenience features, the new Raptor's biggest change is under the hood: A turbocharged V6 engine replaces last year's V8, bringing better fuel efficiency (16 mpg instead of 13 mpg) along with more power (450 horsepower instead of 411).

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Honda CR-V and Mazda CX-5 are outstanding crossover entries

2017 Honda CR V Touring cropped for webThe redesigned 2017 Honda CR-V addresses predecessor's biggest shortcomings while maintaining a familiar flavor of pleasant practicality.  COURTESY PHOTO  The Honda CR-V is one of the best-selling vehicles in the country, and the best-selling crossover. The market doesn't always pick the best car – strong name recognition or a positive brand reputation sometimes reward undeserving cars, and some lesser-known or little-trusted models are unfairly ignored.
But it's hard to argue with consumer tastes in the compact crossover segment. Thanks to a new redesign for 2017, the CR-V delivers outstanding interior space and fuel economy along with thorough competence at pretty much everything else.
This redesign comes at an important time for the CR-V. Honda had bungled a few details in a 2015 update, saddling this crucial model with a stiff ride and a cumbersome infotainment system. The 2017 CR-V addresses its predecessor's flaws, builds on its strengths and adds valuable new safety features – turning it into the most well-rounded vehicle in its class. Owners of past CR-Vs will welcome the new car's familiar flavor, and the improvements will help win over fresh customers as well.

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Hyundai Ioniq takes on the venerable Toyota Prius

2017 Hyundai Ioniq hybrid cropped for webThe new 2017 Hyundai Ioniq hybrid offers a lower price and better EPA fuel economy ratings than the best-selling Toyota Prius. COURTESY PHOTO  If fuel efficiency is your top car-buying priority, chances are you've considered the Toyota Prius. This iconic hybrid uses an electric battery – which recharges during normal driving – to help power the vehicle, taking some of the burden off its gasoline engine to reduce fuel usage.
But the Prius doesn't actually wear the crown as the EPA's fuel-efficiency champion. That award was snapped up by the 2017 Hyundai Ioniq, a new competitor to the Prius that offers the driving experience and styling of an ordinary small car; an appealing $23,085 base price; and EPA ratings of 55 to 58 miles per gallon in mixed driving, depending on the version. Those figures compare to a base price of $25,570 for the Prius, whose EPA ratings range from 52 mpg on most models to 56 mpg on the extra-efficient Prius Eco.

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Nissan offers smaller crossover while Bentley bulks up

2017 Nissan Rogue Sport cropped for webThe 2017 Nissan Rogue Sport subcompact crossover emulates its more popular big brother, the Rogue, at a slightly lower price. COURTESY PHOTO  Nissan’s bestselling vehicle in the United States is the Rogue, a compact crossover whose top strengths include an extra-roomy interior at an affordable price. But for buyers who prefer something even smaller or less expensive, Nissan has introduced the new 2017 Rogue Sport — “Sport” meaning “small.”
The Rogue Sport is a renamed version of the Nissan Qashqai, an unpronounceable vehicle that’s nonetheless been wildly popular in Europe. With Europeans preferring smaller vehicles, Nissan never saw fit to sell our Rogue there, but the company is optimistic that there’s room for its American lineup to grow. The Rogue Sport slots in size between the larger Rogue and the even smaller, quirkier Juke.

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Chevrolet adds some style while Lexus tries to save gas

Chevrolet Malibu cropped for webThe latest Chevrolet Malibu midsize sedan is an appealing blend of style, luxury, functionality and value. COURTESY PHOTO  The last generation of the Chevrolet Malibu midsize sedan, sold from the 2013 through 2015 model years, offered an odd mix of strengths and weaknesses.
On the one hand, the old Malibu offered impressive driving dynamics – a particularly solid feel that lent composure to its ride and handling, leaving a Toyota Camry or Hyundai Sonata feeling flimsy in comparison. But this luxurious ambiance was undercut by humdrum styling inside and out, and the old Malibu also suffered from skimpy rear-seat room.
Chevrolet fully redesigned the Malibu last year to address these issues, and transformed the car into a more thoroughly impressive car. Priced from $22,555, it brings a more thoroughly premium feel to the mainstream class, while also improving on important family-car values. The current Malibu regains the mojo of the 2008 to 2012 Malibu, yet it sacrifices less outward visibility and rear headroom to make a styling statement. And although sticker prices can be high, pricing site Truecar.com projects ample room for haggling that can turn this Chevrolet into a relative bargain despite its premium feel.

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Subaru sticks with AWD while Ram stays big

2017 Subaru Impreza Limited cropped for webThe redesigned 2017 Subaru Impreza is roomy and user-friendly – but it can get expensive without really feeling fancy. COURTESY PHOTO  On most cars, buyers who want all-wheel-drive have to pay a couple thousand dollars extra for the system – if it's even offered at all.
The Subaru Impreza compact car, like most Subarus, bucks the norm by including the system standard. It's the only car in its class to even offer all-wheel-drive. If you're looking for an affordable vehicle that can easily power through mud or snow, the Impreza sedan or five-door hatchback belongs high on your shopping list.

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Chevrolet and Jeep redesign and improve their small crossovers

2018 Chevrolet Equinox cropped for webThe 2018 Chevrolet Equinox compact crossover is smaller but more luxurious than its predecessor. COURTESY PHOTO  Two of the oldest small crossovers on the market have just been fully redesigned – and although both make fairly dramatic departures from their predecessors, both are transformed from also-rans into competitive vehicles in this burgeoning segment. These models are the new 2018 Chevrolet Equinox and new 2017 Jeep Compass.

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Nissan toughens crossover while Hyundai adds zip

2017 Nissan Pathfinder cropped for webThe 2017 Nissan Pathfinder large crossover is priced from $31,230. COURTESY PHOTO  While Honda, Toyota and General Motors were scoring big with car-based crossovers a decade ago, Nissan remained one of the last holdouts to stick with truck-based SUVs in the critical three-row midsize/large segment. But when Nissan gave in and exchanged its Pathfinder's pickup truck roots for a passenger car's in 2013, the company may have over-corrected for being late to the bandwagon.
Accordingly, for 2017, the Pathfinder has been tweaked to re-emphasize some of its old toughness. You'll find it in boxier front-end styling, looking tougher than last year's gently curved model. Upgrades to its V6 engine also help it tow an extra 1,000 pounds, for a total rating of 6,000 – impressive for a crossover. (For true heavy-duty performance, Nissan also has a newly redesigned Armada, a V8-powered traditional SUV.)

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Chevrolet adds rare diesel while Lincoln goes big

2017 Chevrolet Cruze diesel cropped for webThe 2017 Chevrolet Cruze is available with a diesel engine rated for 47 MPG on the highway. COURTESY PHOTO  Until a couple of years ago, if you wanted a diesel passenger car, you probably wanted a Volkswagen. The company's TDI line promised outstanding fuel economy without compromising acceleration.
Now, diesel aficionados have even fewer choices. Volkswagen's magical-seeming “clean diesels” were debunked as illegal polluters, and several other automakers are also under scrutiny.
Undaunted, General Motors pushed forward with a new diesel engine for its Chevrolet Cruze compact economy sedan – and it quietly racks up impressive fuel economy numbers. The EPA rates the diesel Cruze for 31 miles per gallon in the city and a whopping 47 mpg on the highway, compared to 30 city / 40 highway for a standard gas model. Thanks to the low-revving nature of diesel engines and a nine-speed automatic transmission, the Cruze also cruises quietly at 80 mph. (A six-speed manual transmission is standard.)

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