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.


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.


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?”


Land Rover offers blend of function and character

Land Rover Discovery front cropped for webThe Land Rover Discovery is a midsize luxury SUV with true off-road capability.      COURTESY PHOTO  As today's mainstream brands offer loads of features, sumptuous interiors, advanced technology and refined driving experience, it can be difficult for a luxury vehicle to distinguish itself.
Some models offer an incremental improvement over their mainstream alternatives — you pay a little more, and you get a little more. But others take a more radically different approach, providing an experience that you'd never find in an ordinary vehicle.
An example of the latter is the Land Rover Discovery, a British-built midsize luxury SUV that was fully redesigned last year to replace the LR4. The Land Rover brand focuses solely on delivering superior off-road capability, which already puts its vehicles in a different niche from even Mercedes-Benz or Lexus, much less Honda or Chevrolet. Distinctive styling inside and out further separates the Discovery from other SUVs or crossovers, and the latest model also boasts some clever family-friendly features to keep it practical on an everyday basis. Prices start at $53,085.
In recent years, Land Rover sold this vehicle as the LR3 and LR4. But this latest generation marks a return to the market for the storied Discovery name. But while the name brings to mind the model’s aggressively-boxy predecessors, today’s Discovery is more softly styled. The decision to make such a clear departure from the model's roots likely stemmed from aerodynamic considerations as much as aesthetic ones and the result has gotten mixed reviews: Some applaud the new looks as attractive and modern, while others denounce them as generic and derivative.
Inside, however, the new Discovery is pure Land Rover — and better than ever. The tested car’s rich white leather upholstery sets the scene, and the dashboard’s elegantly simple rectangles stand apart from the elaborate swishes and curves found in many contemporary vehicles. A large new 10-inch touchscreen infotainment system keeps the cabin modern, both functionally and visually.


Cadillac and Lexus luxury sedans offer variety

The Cadillac CT6 full-size luxury sedan has sportier, more agile handling than its competitors. COURTESY PHOTO  The Cadillac CT6 full-size luxury sedan has sportier, more agile handling than its competitors. COURTESY PHOTO  For generations of Americans, their parents and grandparents bought Cadillacs that were built for cushy comfort, with softly-tuned suspensions that approximated the ride quality and handling agility of a water bed and seats that felt like living room couches.
You can still get that old-school Cadillac experience with the brand's XTS sedan and Escalade SUV models, but those who haven't been carefully watching General Motors' luxury brand will likely be astonished by the brilliantly executed sports sedans dominating the rest of the lineup: the ATS, the CTS, and Cadillac's current flagship sedan, the CT6.
The CT6 – which comes priced starting at $55,090 and can run beyond $90,000 – has a spacious interior, rides smoothly and quietly, and despite its' full-sized footprint delivers the sprightly handling of a vehicle a size smaller – a level of handling once the exclusive provenance of European luxury brands.


Honda engages in an Odyssey while Mercedes rolls

2018 Honda Odyssey croppedThe redesigned 2018 Honda Odyssey minivan is now the class leader for performance, comfort and luxury. COURTESY PHOTO  Last year, Chrysler introduced the 2017 Pacifica – an all-new minivan that offered an outstanding blend of everyday utility with high-end refinement and luxury.
Now, the competing Honda Odyssey is redesigned for the 2018 model year. Although it doesn't leapfrog the Pacifica, the 2018 Odyssey addresses many of the old model's shortcomings while expanding on its strengths. That upgrade is enough to win back some buyers who might otherwise be tempted by the Chrysler, though each minivan leads in a particular niche.
Since 2011, the Odyssey has been a style leader in the minivan class, with a more dramatic appearance than the class norm.


Volkswagen goes mainstream while Lexus just ages

2018 Volkswagen Tiguan cropped for webThe 2018 Volkswagen Tiguan is roomier and safer than its predecessor, but it remains on the pricey side for the compact crossover class. COURTESY PHOTO  Look at the characteristics of the most popular vehicles in the U.S., and the two key attributes that will stand out to you are size and price, as Americans understandably look for cars that hit the sweet spot of roominess and affordability.
In recent years, the compact crossover class has exploded for precisely those reasons. At prices well below $30,000, buyers can find well-equipped vehicles with comfortable seating for five passengers and ample cargo.
But one of those compact crossovers – the Volkswagen Tiguan – has in recent years excelled in neither area. Smaller yet more expensive than a Ford Escape, Honda CR-V or Toyota RAV4, the Tiguan tried to provide a luxury experience at a discount – the sporty performance and outstanding build quality of an Audi, for prices closer to a Honda. But that sales pitch never really worked. While some buyers appreciated the Volkswagen's unique niche, the heart of the market remained elsewhere.


Two SUVs avoid typical family-friendly focus

2017 Jeep Grand Cherokee cropped for webThe 2017 Jeep Grand Cherokee is a midsize SUV that blends off-road capability and on-road luxury. COURTESY PHOTO  While sport utility vehicles were once designed to focus on off-road capabilities, Most of today's market-leading SUVs and crossovers are built as family cars that tend to prioritize the more everyday qualities of interior volume, gas mileage and value for the money.
Such vehicles often look and feel as dull as that description sounds. While the Honda Pilot, for instance, is often a terrific family car, such smooth, quiet, spacious minivan-like family-haulers offers little verve or personality to attract someone without plans to shuttle a carload of kids.
But a few larger SUVs – the midsize Jeep Grand Cherokee and the full-size Chevrolet Tahoe – manage an appeal that transcends the norms of their market segments.
Neither stands out as a family car. While both are decently spacious, to be sure, they’re far from the market leaders in that regard.
But the Tahoe and Grand Cherokee make up for those deficiencies by boasting uncommon levels of heavy-duty capability with the looks to match.


Nissan, Hyundai offer appealing compact crossovers

2017 Nissan Rogue cropped for webThe 2017 Nissan Rogue is a spacious and practical compact crossover without tremendous verve. COURTESY PHOTO  If you're looking to buy a compact crossover and hate the burdens of visiting multiple dealerships to conduct test drives and compare prices, there's a simple choice: the Honda CR-V. The popular Honda's 2017 model redesign yielded class-leading fuel economy and class-leading interior space, along with decently sporty driving dynamics and a respectably-polished interior — all at reasonable prices.
But the CR-V isn't perfect. Some drivers will seek a better bargain or a simpler control layout. Others will crave a more luxurious experience or a higher-tech cabin. Others still will just want to try out additional options.
Depending on your own particular preferences, two recently-tested compact crossovers offer appealing alternatives to the CR-V. The Nissan Rogue nearly matches the Honda's outstanding gas mileage and interior room, while offering steeper discounts. And the slightly larger Hyundai Santa Fe Sport feels like a bigger, more substantial and more expensive car, while also being available with a more powerful engine.


Prius adds efficiency while Audi hides its utility

2017 Toyota Prius Prime cropped for webThe 2017 Toyota Prius Prime plug-in offers a mix of zero or minimal gasoline usage, and it's priced from just $23,495 after a federal tax credit. COURTESY PHOTO  Say you're looking to buy a Toyota Prius — one of the most fuel-efficient cars sold in the U.S. — and were told that you could get even better gas mileage and a fancier interior for the same money.
Or say you favor an all-electric car to avoid using any gasoline at all, but worry about what happens when your battery runs out.
In either case, you might find a surprisingly good fit in the new 2017 Toyota Prius Prime.

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