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Three midsize sedans offer a variety of quality

The 2018 Honda Accord, priced from $24,460, offers more daring styling, a fancier interior, and a sportier driving experience than the Toyota Camry. COURTESY PHOTOThe 2018 Honda Accord, priced from $24,460, offers more daring styling, a fancier interior, and a sportier driving experience than the Toyota Camry. COURTESY PHOTO  When two competing cars are both excellent, it’s easy to think of them as interchangeable.
However, look carefully enough and you’ll often find that each one is most outstanding in its own particular niche.
Such is the case in the midsize sedan class. We’ve visited this class’ best-selling Honda Accord and Toyota Camry several times over the past year, as both have been fully redesigned for the 2018 model year. And at last, we’ve gotten to spend a full week in top-of-the-line versions of each best-seller.
This extra time revealed that even as both the Camry and the Accord have gotten sportier and more luxurious, it’s the Honda that has gone above and beyond in those areas. The Toyota, meanwhile, also delivers impressive performance and luxury, yet it does so while remaining a little more conservatively styled and function-oriented.

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New Jeep Cherokee is a compact crossover

The 2019 Jeep Cherokee compact crossover, priced from $25,440, is newly updated with a redesigned front end, new features, and an available turbocharged engine. COURTESY PHOTOThe 2019 Jeep Cherokee compact crossover, priced from $25,440, is newly updated with a redesigned front end, new features, and available turbocharged engine. COURTESY PHOTO  Historically, the Jeep Cherokee was a boxy, utilitarian, mud-loving SUV whose extreme off-road capability made up for its crude on-road talents.
But since the 2014 model year, the Cherokee has been an aggressively modern compact crossover. Except for the vertically-slatted grille and a few cabin details, the 2014 Cherokee’s design paid little homage to its Jeep heritage.
Although sales have been strong, critics and customers alike have been divided over the latest Cherokee. Now, for the 2019 model year, Jeep has updated the vehicle to address some of customers' common complaints.
Attentive Jeep fans will notice the first difference instantly. The 2014-2018 Cherokee wore an odd face, with slit-like headlights sitting at the very top of the front end, and a second pair of boxier headlights below them. The 2019 model moderates that effect, drawing from Jeep’s smaller Compass and larger Grand Cherokee.

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Rolls-Royce coupe offers delicious decadence

The tested Rolls-Royce Wraith — featuring a 624-horsepower engine, lambswool floor mats and a sky-simulating ceiling — has a sticker price of $420,930. COURTESY PHOTOThe tested Rolls-Royce Wraith — featuring a 624-horsepower engine, lambswool floor mats and a sky-simulating ceiling — has a sticker price of $420,930. COURTESY PHOTO  It’s nearly as expensive as Montgomery County’s median home value, but it’s an automobile whose value will plummet rather than appreciate.
It’s longer and less-fuel-efficient than a Cadillac Escalade SUV, but it’s a two-door, four-passenger coupe.
It’s a car whose paint job costs as much as a Nissan Versa and whose floor mats cost more than an iPhone X.
It’s the Rolls-Royce Wraith, a vehicle whose absurd impracticality will strike some as a glorious rejection of everyday automotive sensibilities — and others as a garish obscenity.

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Hyundai sedan offers sensible transportation

The 2018 Hyundai Elantra is a sensible, affordable compact sedan that offers modern technology, a pleasant driving experience and a long warranty. COURTESY PHOTOThe 2018 Hyundai Elantra is a sensible, affordable compact sedan that offers modern technology, a pleasant driving experience and a long warranty. COURTESY PHOTO  A good compact car can easily fit many lifestyles.
It’s affordable to buy and operate. Yet, it has enough refinement, technology, and style that you don’t have to feel like you've settled for the most basic way to get around.
To be clear, not every compact car fits this description. Some pursue a niche segment, perhaps adding performance or luxury at a higher price. Others simply trail their competitors.
But the Hyundai Elantra sedan checks every box in the above definition of a good compact car. While it’s unlikely to evoke strong desire, it offers fuss-free, wholly unobjectionable transportation at attainable prices, particularly if you can take advantage of its frequent incentives.

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Dodge adds traction to its storied muscle car

The 2018 Dodge Challenger is a surprisingly roomy retro-styled sports coupe that’s priced from $28,640. COURTESY PHOTOThe 2018 Dodge Challenger is a surprisingly roomy retro-styled sports coupe that’s priced from $28,640. COURTESY PHOTO  When you look at the Dodge Challenger, it’s unlikely that your first reaction will be “practical.”
This isn’t a sensible four-door family sedan. It’s not a minivan or an SUV.
It’s a sinister-looking, retro-styled muscle car, a two-door performance coupe that recalls the gas-guzzling hot rods of the early-1970s.
But since its reintroduction as a 2009 model, the Challenger has always been among the most-functional sports coupes. Compared to its chief rivals — the Chevrolet Camaro and Ford Mustang — the Challenger has a spacious, family-friendly interior. This coupe’s upright silhouette and full-size dimensions provide unusually generous rear-seat accommodations, enough to fit two adults or three children in relative comfort.
Now, the Challenger has yet another advantage over its Detroit rivals: an available all-wheel-drive system.

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Hybrid Volvos blend power, luxury and efficiency

The 2018 Volvo XC60 luxury crossover is available as a plug-in hybrid, which can travel up to 17 miles per electric charge. COURTESY PHOTOThe 2018 Volvo XC60 luxury crossover is available as a plug-in hybrid, which can travel up to 17 miles per electric charge. COURTESY PHOTO  If you think of a hybrid car, you’re probably picturing a pokey little fuel-saver — a Toyota Prius, or something like it. A compact, affordable economy car that’s built to use as little gas as possible while you’re sitting in traffic or running errands.
But in the luxury market, many hybrids are a different beast. In addition to saving gas, many luxury hybrids use their electric motors to provide stronger acceleration. Electric motors make maximum torque right off the line, unlike gas engines that have to rev up to reach peak performance. So these two powertrains can work together to make a car fast under any condition.
Volvo is a market leader in these luxury performance hybrids. It offers plug-in hybrid variants of three popular models: the XC60 and XC90 crossovers and the S90 sedan. The trio shares a powertrain that Volvo calls the “T8,” a 2.0-liter four-cylinder gasoline engine with a supercharger and a turbocharger, plus two electric motors. The total output rivals a sports car’s 400 horsepower and 472 pound-feet of torque. That’s more torque than a Chevrolet Corvette Stingray.

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New Chevrolet hatchback offers refined versatility

The 2018 Chevrolet Cruze is a refined compact sedan or hatchback that’s priced from $16,975. COURTESY PHOTOThe 2018 Chevrolet Cruze is a refined compact sedan or hatchback that’s priced from $16,975. COURTESY PHOTO  Why buy a big car?
There are many reasons, of course. Interior volume is often the leading factor — space and comfort for the driver and passengers, and enough room for their cargo.
But another reason many folks seek larger cars is that bigger, more-expensive models often deliver a higher grade of refinement. They’re quieter, and they ride more smoothly. They look more elegant or mature. They feel more confidently planted even at high speeds. They aren’t cheap, basic transportation — they’re a cut above.
But not every big car offers those qualities. Instead, you’ll regularly find one that’s just as underwhelming as an economy car, albeit with some extra leg room.
If you’re looking for a car that feels satisfyingly non-basic, and don’t need maximum interior volume, you’ll want to consider the Chevrolet Cruze. It’s a compact four-door sedan or five-door hatchback that’s more affordable and fuel-efficient than a larger class of vehicle, competing against such models as the Toyota Corolla, Nissan Sentra, and Hyundai Elantra.

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Sometimes you just want to go fast - or fast with some poise

The 2018 Infiniti Q50 Red Sport 400 is a mild-looking compact luxury sedan with a whopping 400-horsepower V6 engine. COURTESY PHOTOThe 2018 Infiniti Q50 Red Sport 400 is a mild-looking compact luxury sedan with a whopping 400-horsepower V6 engine. COURTESY PHOTOSometimes, maybe you just want to go fast.
And luxury automakers are happy to help you do so — for the right price. As long as you’re willing to spend $60,000 to $70,000 (or more, if you pick any options), you can get more than 400 horsepower from an Audi RS5, BMW M3, Cadillac ATS-V, Lexus RC F, or Mercedes-Benz AMG C 63. These cars also feature stiffer suspension tuning that readies them for racetrack-ready handling poise.
But maybe you just want to go fast.
Enter the Infiniti Q50 Red Sport 400 compact entry-luxury sedan, or its Q60 coupe variant. It’s not necessarily red, but the “400” justifies the name “sport.” That’s the horsepower rating from the Infiniti’s turbocharged 3.0-liter V6 engine. And while its base price isn’t exactly a steal at $51,995, it offers super-quick acceleration for the price of far less zippy European competitors.

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Electrified Hyundai and Kia allow eco-friendly commutes

The Hyundai Ioniq Electric is an electric-only hatchback that’s efficient and fun to drive but sold only in California so far. Marylanders can still buy a hybrid or plug-in hybrid Ioniq, though. COURTESY PHOTOThe Hyundai Ioniq Electric is an electric-only hatchback that’s efficient and fun to drive but sold only in California so far. Marylanders can still buy a hybrid or plug-in hybrid Ioniq, though. COURTESY PHOTO  If you’re looking to add some electricity to your car, Korea’s Hyundai and Kia are offering a large and steadily growing lineup of hybrid, plug-in hybrid and all-electric models.
These corporate cousins collectively offer two pure electric vehicles (EVs, which have no gas engine); four plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEVs, which can run on electricity from the grid but also have engines); and four gas-electric hybrids that save fuel without needing to be plugged in. At least one more EV is due this fall.
The heart of this fuel-saving lineup is the Hyundai Ioniq, a compact hatchback, and its mechanical twin the Kia Niro, which blurs the line between a small station wagon and a crossover. Both are sold both as hybrids and PHEVs, and there’s also an all-electric Ioniq that’s so far sold only in California.
Recent tests of the Ioniq Electric and Niro PHEV, along with drives of both cars’ hybrid variants last year, reveal a pair of comfortable, user-friendly, affordable fuel savers. For better or for worse, they lack the strong personality of a Toyota Prius — instead, they feel like everyday economy cars even as they achieve exceptional fuel efficiency.

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Three smaller cars promise big driving pleasure

The 2018 Volkswagen GTI is a delightful blend of performance, comfort, refinement, utility and value. COURTESY PHOTOThe 2018 Volkswagen GTI is a delightful blend of performance, comfort, refinement, utility and value. COURTESY PHOTO  When driving enthusiasts pick their favorite cars, the results are usually pretty low on practicality. Most of the world’s best-driving sports cars are small and sleek, with cozy cabins, stiff rides, and high prices.
But if you don’t need the style of a sports car, you can find some outstanding driving experiences even from affordable, ordinary-looking versions of mainstream models.
Perhaps the best of this breed is the Volkswagen Golf GTI. The GTI pioneered the “hot hatch” segment of souped-up economy cars back in 1976, and VW has polished it to near-perfection over the years.

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