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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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Reviews of the 2016 Toyota Rav4 Hybrid and Kia K900

 

 

Toyota adds fuel-efficiency to RAV4 crossover with hybrid model

 

2016 Toyota RAV4 Hybrid2016 Toyota RAV4 Hybrid. COURTESY PHOTO  

Although gas-electric hybrid cars have found many happy owners, there are various downsides that have kept them from taking over the entire marketplace. They're typically quite a bit more expensive to buy than their gas-only counterparts, and are often either slow or show minimal mileage benefit.

The new 2016 Toyota RAV4 Hybrid compact crossover throws out all of those drawbacks. It's just $700 more than a comparably equipped non-hybrid RAV4, even as its EPA fuel economy ratings rise from 25 miles per gallon in mixed driving up to 33 mpg. And the hybrid actually has more power, not less, than the standard model.

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Reviews of the 2016 Mazda CX-3 and Audi TT

 

Mazda's CX-3 is a fun crossover without a crossover's benefits

2016 Mazda CX-32016 Mazda CX-3   COURTESY PHOTO  The proliferation of market niches in today's automotive industry has blurred the lines of which cars compete with what. An example is the all-new 2016 Mazda CX-3, which the company presents as its entry in the burgeoning subcompact crossover class.

In theory, such models – which include the popular Buick Encore, Honda HR-V and Jeep Renegade – provide a high seating position and available all-wheel-drive without as much bulk as today's Honda CR-V or Toyota RAV4. And compared against those models, the Mazda has achieved substantial critical acclaim.

It's easy to see why. The CX-3 is a fun-to-drive little thing, especially compared to the aforementioned crossovers. It's peppy and it's agile, and outstanding fuel economy – an EPA rating of 29 miles per gallon and observed mileage of 34.7 mpg as tested – only sweetens the deal. The base price of $20,860 is tempting, and even $26,150 for the tested mid-level Touring model isn't atrocious.

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Reviews of the 2016 Honda Pilot and Kia Sorento

 

Two popular crossovers offer varied take on 'bigger is better'

2016 Honda Pilot Elite2016 Honda Pilot Elite    COURTESY PHOTO  

Bigger is better” is a common mantra that frequently applies to automobiles, as it's hard for many buyers to justify a smaller vehicle that costs just as much as a larger one. Two family-friendly crossovers – the Honda Pilot and Kia Sorento – were redesigned for 2016 with opposite approaches to this piece of conventional wisdom. Each has quite a bit of appeal in its class. 

The 2016 Pilot took the traditional approach in its redesign: It grew. The Honda's girth now comes closer to such popular competitors as the Chevrolet Traverse and Ford Explorer, and it has acceptably roomy seating for eight passengers. The redesign also smoothed out the old Pilot's boxy, utilitarian shape into a sleeker package – relatively speaking, at least.

Meanwhile, the 2016 Sorento also got a bit longer, but it remains quite a bit smaller than those models even though it also fits in a third-row seat. The Pilot is more than 7 inches longer, more than 4 inches wider and 3.5 inches taller, and its turning circle is 3 feet wider. The Honda is hardly the biggest SUV you can buy, but it may be a tighter squeeze into the driveway or garage of an older house. 

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Reviews of the 2016-Chrysler 300 and Hyundai Veloster

Chrysler combines varied qualities into one distinctive sedan

2016 Chrysler 300S2016 Chrysler 300S   COURTESY PHOTO  

For more than a decade, the Chrysler 300 full-size sedan has proven popular for its mix of old-school and modern characteristics.

First the old: Unlike most of today's cars, the 300 has rear-wheel drive and an available V8 engine; even most competing large four-doors (such as the Chevrolet Impala and Toyota Avalon) instead have just six or even four cylinders, and their engines drive the front wheels rather than the rear. The 300's styling is also traditional – today's car is only a modest evolution of the 2005-model original, which itself hearkens back to an era of boxier cars than the 2016 norm. 

But the 300 isn't archaic, either. On the tested 300S model with a V6 engine, Chrysler uses a modern nine-speed automatic transmission to achieve an impressive blend of strong acceleration and relatively thrifty gas mileage. The 300 V6 is rated for 19 miles per gallon in the city, 31 mpg on the highway, and 23 mpg overall; in mixed conditions skewing toward highway, the tested car got 26.7 mpg – quite good given the Chrysler's ample size and 300-horsepower engine. 

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