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Dodge, Ford offer varied takes on the American performance car

2016 Dodge ChallengerThe 2016 Dodge Challenger R/T Scat Pack is big, bold and loud, with 485 horsepower for under $40,000. COURTESY PHOTO  

The Ford Mustang and Dodge Challenger are American performance icons, sporty coupes with retro styling hearkening back to the years when imported cars occupied a quaint little niche rather than the heart of the automotive market.

It's not merely cosmetic. With lots of power – including from available V8 engines – today's Mustang and Challenger fulfill the longstanding American tradition of cars that can go crazily fast even at relatively attainable prices.

But Ford and Chrysler have taken different approaches with the Mustang and the Challenger.

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Reviews of the 2017 Mini Clubman and Buick LaCrosse

Mini Clubman is the little brand's roomiest car yet

2017 Mini Clubman SThe 2017 Mini Clubman S offers more space than the original Mini without losing its historic fun factor. COURTESY PHOTO  

Since its introduction 15 years ago, the Mini brand has expanded its model lineup from a single tiny hatchback to a diverse mix of small cars wearing the same rounded retro face. The largest is the new 2017 Clubman, a small wagon that's graduated from the subcompact market class to provide the higher level of utility found in a compact model like the Volkswagen Golf or Mazda3.

But even the biggest Mini is still pretty small, for better or for worse. For better, the Clubman retains the delightfully agile handling that's long made it a favorite among driving enthusiasts – it's as intrinsic to the car's character as its styling. Slight flicks of the steering wheel generate alert, near-instant responses. The tested Clubman S model, with a 189-horsepower four-cylinder engine, is also suitably lively in a straight line.

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Reviews of 2017 Hyundai Elantra and 2016 Lexus NX 300h

Compact Hyundai offers pleasant alternative to default choices

2017 Hyundai ElantraThe tested 2017 Hyundai Elantra Limited costs $27,710, but you can still get a lot of features for a more reasonable $19,785. COURTESY PHOTO 

For many people shopping for a compact car, a Honda Civic or Toyota Corolla is almost a default choice. If you compare the two, it's easy to spot the differences. The latest Civic is aggressively styled, fun to drive and impressively fuel-efficient; the Corolla is less expensive, isn't as flashy and has more user-friendly controls. 

But it's important to look beyond just those two sales leaders, and if the Corolla's traits in particular seemed tempting, you'll also want to check out the redesigned 2017 Hyundai Elantra. You won't find the Civic's sizzle, and the Hyundai's EPA rating of 32 miles per gallon in mixed driving trails the Honda's class-leading scores of 34 and 36 mpg (depending on the engine). 

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Reviews of the 2017 Chrysler Pacifica and 2016 VW Golf R

New Chrysler Pacifica van is the ultimate utility vehicle

2017 Chrysler PacificaThe minivan is generally the most useful vehicle for a large family, and the new 2017 Chrysler Pacifica is the best minivan on the market today. COURTESY PHOTO  

Recent Chrysler minivans – the Town & Country and Dodge Grand Caravan – have occupied the budget end of the marketplace. Honda, Toyota and then Kia introduced more sophisticated vans with higher levels of comfort, safety and refinement; the Chryslers' main advantage was a relatively low price. 

But Chrysler has once again taken firm control of the class it created back in 1984. The all-new 2017 Chrysler Pacifica, which replaces the Town & Country, impresses in every way. Ride and handling have improved; the van is smoother and less cumbersome, plus quicker and more fuel efficient. 

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Reviews of the 2017 Kia Sportage and the 2016 Toyota Avalon

Kia small crossover prioritizes luxury over mainstream virtues

2017 Kia Sportage SXThe 2017 Kia Sportage SX is a relatively fancy small crossover, but it's neither roomy nor fuel-efficient.  COURTESY PHOTO  

For most of its lifetime, the Kia Sportage has been roughly half a size smaller than its leading competitors – best-selling compact crossovers that include the Ford Escape and Honda CR-V. Fresh off a 2017-model redesign, Kia has once again kept the Sportage on the small side of the compact class. 

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Reviews of the 2016 Infiniti Q50 and Subaru Crosstrek

Infiniti increases gas mileage, lowers price on Q50 premium sedan

2016 Infiniti Q50The 2016 Infiniti Q50 is an entry-luxury sedan priced from $34,855 that offers a lower-cost alternative to European premium brands. COURTESY PHOTO

As recently as five years ago, if you were buying a premium car you were almost certainly getting a six-cylinder engine. But pressures to improve gas mileage, along with improvements in turbocharger technology, have made turbo four-cylinders the norm even among luxury marques.

Infiniti, the premium brand of Nissan, was a late adopter. Its Q50 sedan, which replaced the G37 for 2014 as Infiniti's entry-level car – came only with a V6. But for 2016, Nissan leveraged a partnership with Mercedes-Benz that brought a Mercedes turbo into the Q50 line: a 2.0-liter with 208 horsepower and 258 pound-feet of torque.

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Reviews of the Arcimoto SRK and 2016 Nissan Altima

 

Upcoming electric vehicle marries automobile, motorcycle features 

 

Arcimoto SRKThe Arcimoto SRK promises a novel approach to low-cost, eco-friendly transportation. COURTESY PHOTO 

What if you could have the compact size of a motorcycle combined with the extra stability, comfort, safety and all-weather usability of an ordinary car? And what if it was inexpensive to buy and never burned any gasoline?

That's the idea behind the Arcimoto SRK, designed by an Oregon startup and presented to prospective customers at Bethesda's Westwood Shopping Center last week. It's essentially an all-electric three-wheeled motorcycle with a roof and a rear seat, and Arcimoto promises it will begin production in late 2016 with a base price of $11,900. 

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Reviews of the 2016 Toyota Prius and Land Rover Range Rover

Redesigned Toyota Prius improves on a familiar set of virtues

2016 Toyota PriusThe 2016 Toyota Prius is even more fuel-efficient than its predecessor and also nicer to drive. COURTESY PHOTO

Ever since its introduction more than 15 years ago, the Toyota Prius has dominated the market of hybrid cars – vehicles that use an electric motor to assist with a gasoline engine, reducing gasoline usage. Its distinctive shape sets it apart from the rest of traffic, making it instantly recognizable as one of today's most iconic fuel-sippers.

But unlike some of its rivals, the Prius has also excelled at everyday functionality. It's a roomy five-door hatchback with respectable five-passenger seating and ample cargo space. Rivals from Honda and Chevrolet have never been able to match the Prius for utility.

And now for 2016, Toyota has fully redesigned the Prius to build on its longtime strengths while adding new ones.

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Reviews of the 2016 Honda HR-V and Kia Sedona

Smallest Honda crossover is affordable but not quite desirable

2016 Honda HR-V EX-LThe 2016 Honda HR-V EX-L is a subcompact crossover derived from the Honda Fit hatchback.  COURTESY PHOTO  

The nation's best-selling SUV or crossover is the Honda CR-V, which boasts a high seating position and a roomy interior at an affordable price. But Honda has joined the ranks of carmakers that are undercutting their compact crossovers with new subcompact models, which can offer many of the same benefits for even less money.

Honda's subcompact is the HR-V, which is essentially a taller version of the company's Fit hatchback but with a bigger engine and optional all-wheel-drive. Like the Fit, a spacious interior belies the HR-V's petite dimensions, and fuel economy is respectable. Given that both the CR-V and Fit are excellent packages, it would seem hard for Honda to mess up the idea of a vehicle that splits the difference between the two.

Unfortunately, a number of errors do mar the HR-V's appeal. The 1.8-liter four-cylinder engine feels peppy right off the line but drones like a mail truck when you accelerate more. The vehicle's curved shape fails to maximize cargo space or rear visibility. Ride quality is on the stiff side. Crash-test results are mediocre, and a number of increasingly common features such as power-adjustable seats and forward-collision avoidance aren't offered. The touchscreen dashboard controls, found on most models, can be frustrating to use. The seating position and ground clearance aren't especially high.

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Reviews of the 2016 Volkswagen Beetle Dune and Hyundai Tucson

Volkswagen Beetle Dune offers a slight taste of the past

 

2017 Volkswagen Beetle DuneThe 2017 Volkswagen Beetle Dune offers a pleasant modern driving experience and lots of character. COURTESY PHOTO  

Back when Volkswagens were ubiquitous as cheap but cheerful transportation, the original Beetle served as a blank canvas for many owners. One popular customization was the creation of dune buggies – with a raised suspension, big wheels, a bigger engine and other modifications, the “Baja Bug” and similar creations demonstrated surprising abilities in the sand.

These days, Volkswagens are generally priced on the high end of the markets where they compete. Today's Beetle is priced from $20,615, a retro-styled version of the Golf that reflects old appearances but not old character.

So, too, is the Beetle Dune version, which went on sale for 2016 on hatchback models and hits dealers this fall in the tested convertible form. Dune-exclusive golden paint (and matching plastic interior trim) reflect the hues of a sandy desert, and this model does sit a fraction of an inch higher off the ground than a standard Beetle.

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