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Ram pickup goes mellow while Ford overhauls its F-150

The 2019 Ram 1500 full-size pickup truck has been redesigned to smooth out its most aggressive styling details. COURTESY PHOTOThe 2019 Ram 1500 full-size pickup truck has been redesigned to smooth out its most aggressive styling details. COURTESY PHOTO  Twenty-five years ago, Chrysler was selling the country’s stodgiest full-size pickup truck. Boxy and characterless, the 1993 Dodge Ram lacked the gently curved body of the Ford F-150 or the extra-brash angularity of the Chevrolet C/K.
The company flipped the script for the 1994 model year. A prominent crosshairs-style chrome grille stood tall and proud on the front end, with low headlights swelling into bold fenders.
Though it remained the country’s No. 3 best-seller, always behind its Ford and Chevrolet competitors, the Ram continued to be the most aggressive American truck. It solidified its image by introducing the famous “Hemi” V8 engine in 2003 with best-in-class horsepower.
But with its latest redesign, which just hit dealerships as a 2019 model, the Ram has become more mild-mannered. An all-new front end design raised the headlights and revised the grille, abandoning the signature look of the last two and a half decades. Gone are the fender bulges and the crosshairs grille. If it weren’t for the big “RAM” lettering on the new grille, the front end would be almost entirely anonymous. LED light bands ringing the headlights resemble the Dodge Charger sedan’s, but for several years Ram has been its own brand anyway, no longer a Dodge.

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Mazda’s Miata is made for fun but not for snow

The 2018 Mazda MX-5 Miata is a delightful two-seat roadster that’s priced from $26,185. COURTESY PHOTOThe 2018 Mazda MX-5 Miata is a delightful two-seat roadster that’s priced from $26,185. COURTESY PHOTO  A classic Buick slogan boasted, “When better automobiles are built, Buick will build them.”
But perhaps that sentiment is more appropriate to the Mazda MX-5 Miata, a uniquely endearing two-seat roadster that’s been providing affordable grins for nearly three decades. The only way to get a better Miata is for Mazda to develop an improvement.
For 2018, Mazda made some modest updates to the Miata. It’s nothing that will likely make you rush out and buy one, but it continued to hone a package that’s already tremendously appealing to the right customer.

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Midsize Buick subtly adds a hatchback utility

The 2018 Buick Regal Sportback is a pleasant midsize car whose sedan-like silhouette hides a versatile hatchback body style. COURTESY PHOTOThe 2018 Buick Regal Sportback is a pleasant midsize car whose sedan-like silhouette hides a versatile hatchback body style. COURTESY PHOTO  It’s easy to see why many buyers are fleeing midsize cars in favor of crossovers. A crossover provides more cargo room and available all-wheel-drive at an affordable price, along with steadily improving driving dynamics and fuel economy.
But if you prefer the looks or the lower seating position of a sedan, you’ll want to check out the new 2018 Buick Regal Sportback.
The Regal Sportback is a five-door hatchback that’s disguised as a sedan and that offers all-wheel-drive. A little trunk lid sticks out behind the rear windshield, but the metal and glass all lift up as one piece. This design opens up a large, open cargo hold — unlike the closed-off trunk of a sedan  — to provide greater cargo flexibility and total volume.

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Redesigned Camry Hybrid ups its fuel-saving game

The 2018 Toyota Camry Hybrid is priced from $28,695 and can get more than 50 miles per gallon. COURTESY PHOTOThe 2018 Toyota Camry Hybrid is priced from $28,695 and can get more than 50 miles per gallon. COURTESY PHOTO  If you drive a hybrid, odds are that you drive a Toyota. Although competition has become fierce in the gas-electric segment of the market, Toyota has the largest number of hybrid models and most of the bestselling ones.
One of those popular models is the Camry Hybrid midsize sedan, which has been available now for more than a decade. As the gas-electric version of America’s bestselling car, it combines excellent fuel economy with the Camry’s high standards for roominess and comfort.
The Camry Hybrid is now better than ever. All Camry models were fully redesigned for 2018, providing fresh styling, more luxurious interiors and improved driving dynamics. The hybrid also benefits from mechanical upgrades that greatly improve its gas mileage. The base LE model soars from an EPA rating of 40 miles per gallon to a class-leading 52 mpg, while the better-equipped SE and XLE improve from a worst-in-class 38 mpg to an excellent 46 mpg.

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Dodge SUV offers superior performance - again

The 2018 Dodge Durango SRT is a $64,090 high-performance SUV, costing nearly twice as much as the base Durango. COURTESY PHOTOThe 2018 Dodge Durango SRT is a $64,090 high-performance SUV, costing nearly twice as much as the base Durango. COURTESY PHOTO  The Dodge Durango has always stood apart from competing three-row crossovers.
Unlike a Honda Pilot or Toyota Highlander, the Durango is a hardy workhorse of a truck. Ever since the current generation debuted as a 2011 model, it’s offered a class-exclusive V8 engine that allowed it to tow a large trailer. Furthermore, this cousin of the Jeep Grand Cherokee offers the burly, rumbling “tough” feel of a full-size SUV rather than the mild-mannered minivan-esque vibe of most competitors.
For 2018, Dodge has further distanced itself from any competitor by introducing a new Street and Racing Technology version: a high-performance, high-capability SUV with a whopping 475-horsepower V8, an even higher towing capacity and sports-car suspension tuning. The result is brash, ridiculous fun from a vehicle that can seat six passengers, carry tons of cargo and drag an 8,700-pound trailer.

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Redesigned Kia subcompact puts economy first

The redesigned 2018 Kia Rio subcompact car strives to be simple, functional and affordable, and generally succeeds. COURTESY PHOTOThe redesigned 2018 Kia Rio subcompact car strives to be simple, functional and affordable, and generally succeeds. COURTESY PHOTO  If you haven’t bought an economy car in a while, it’s easy to get sticker shock. The cheapest automatic-transmission Honda Civic wears a sticker price north of $20,000, and it’s become common for a fully-loaded compact sedan to approach $30,000.
But if you’d like to follow a stricter budget, several subcompact models serve as functional transportation while providing contemporary features such as Bluetooth and USB smartphone connectivity, rearview cameras and touchscreen infotainment systems. And while they won’t match the artfully-refined driving dynamics and spacious interior of today’s Civic, these options don’t have to disappoint you for ride smoothness, driver comfort and cabin build quality.
One such option is the 2018 Kia Rio, which has been freshly redesigned and is available as a four-door sedan and a five-door hatchback. It’s priced from $14,795 and is a perfectly serviceable commuter companion.
As part of this year's redesign, Kia stripped the Rio of its earlier design flair, leaving a plainer but more functional little box on wheels — trading verve for maximum value and improved visibility. That change speaks to the car’s attitude: It handles most tasks with competence, but offers little excellence. While many recent subcompact cars have tried to come off as sporty and upscale — notably, the Ford Fiesta and the last-generation Rio — Kia stuck with basic, functional and affordable.

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Sport sedans that have room to stretch out

The 2018 Volvo S90 is a stylish and sporty luxury sedan with more rear legroom than ever. COURTESY PHOTOThe 2018 Volvo S90 is a stylish and sporty luxury sedan with more rear legroom than ever. COURTESY PHOTOIn most cases, luxury sedans are limited to two of three qualities: a sporty driving experience, a roomy interior and a (relatively) attainable price.
Powerful engines and fun-to-drive handling are common in the compact and midsize luxury classes, but these models tend to be a little tight in the back seat – or at least not stretch-out spacious. Models such as the Cadillac XTS and Lincoln Continental offer plenty of room but prioritize a smooth ride over handling poise. And while a Mercedes-Benz S-Class offers exquisite driving dynamics along with a spacious cabin, it’s generally priced into the six figures.
Two recently tested sedans, newly updated for 2018, offer a compelling balance of all three qualities. One is the Genesis G80, a big but fairly priced sedan from Hyundai’s luxury brand, which is newly available in a "Sport" trim with powerful turbocharged engine and revised suspension tuning. The other is the Volvo S90, which received a longer wheelbase to improve rear seat space just one year after it debuted for 2017.

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Toyota Prius remains a fuel-saving standout

Toyota Prius front view cropped for webThe Toyota Prius is best known for its aggressively futuristic styling and outstanding fuel economy, but it also boasts a spacious interior and ever-improving driving dynamics. COURTESY PHOTO  A decade ago, the Toyota Prius was practically the only game in town if you wanted the absolute maximum fuel efficiency, as it handily thrashed all the other gas-electric hybrids on the market with its’ unmistakable styling, five-door practicality and -- most importantly -- the absolute best gas mileage.
Today’s buyers, however, have a host of choices when looking to reduce their fuel consumption, whether from the plug-in hybrids that offer miles of electric-only range or a host of all-electric options that eliminate gasoline engines altogether. Conventional hybrids like the Prius are now more numerous than ever, and even today’s ordinary run-of-the-mill compact cars get increasingly impressive fuel economy.
This abundance of riches means Prius sales have slipped, but for the right driver the Prius remains an outstanding choice that’s pleasant to drive yet exceptionally fuel-efficient as well as decently affordable, with prices starting at $24,370.

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Midsize Hyundai offers functional value

The 2018 Hyundai Sonata is an affordable, generally pleasant midsize sedan that’s less polished and fancy than the leading competitors. COURTESY PHOTOThe 2018 Hyundai Sonata is an affordable, generally pleasant midsize sedan that’s less polished and fancy than the leading competitors. COURTESY PHOTO  Today’s car shoppers have many options for functionality and value. These qualities once defined the midsize family sedan class, but many buyers have turned instead to less expensive compact cars or to roomier crossover SUVs.
As many purely practical car shoppers look elsewhere, many midsize sedans have increasingly prioritized style and luxury to succeed in a more premium niche. But if you just want something comfortable and functional and still prefer a spacious four-door sedan, you should check out the newly-updated 2018 Hyundai Sonata.
The Sonata isn’t a dramatically-styled sports sedan like the latest Honda Accord, whose luxury-grade looks and driving experience elevate it above the family car norm. But the Sonata is also less expensive, with the well-equipped base SE model presenting a particularly strong value.
The 2018 Sonata starts at $22,935, and according to pricing site Truecar.com, you should be able to haggle it below $20,000. That’s an advantage of some $2,500 over a base Accord, and Hyundai also throws in an Android Auto/Apple CarPlay-compatible touchscreen, a blind-spot monitoring system and a long warranty.

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Pair of small crossovers has hidden flaws

2018 Toyota C HR cropped for webThe 2018 Toyota C-HR looks sporty and modern, but it’s humdrum to drive and its in-cabin connectivity is below par. COURTESY PHOTO  Sometimes, a car can stand out so positively in certain ways that it is worth forgiving its weak points. Other times, however, a car’s strengths can leave you blind to any flaws. The latter is a far more dangerous proposition, because you might only notice a vehicle’s downsides after you’ve already driven it off the lot.
Such a trap is easy to fall into when considering a pair of subcompact crossovers, the all-new 2018 Toyota C-HR and the freshly updated 2018 Mazda CX-3.
The Toyota mixes concept-car styling with five-door practicality, an elevated seating position, respectable gas mileage and an affordable base price of $23,495. The Mazda, meanwhile, trounces its ordinary-feeling competitors’ driving dynamics with sporty handling that makes it feel comparatively luxurious.
But look carefully at both of these crossovers before buying. While they may indeed fill the right niche for you, their compromises can also leave you wondering: “But... why?”

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