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The new Honda plug-in provides a lot of Clarity

The 2018 Honda Clarity is a midsize plug-in hybrid sedan that can travel 48 miles per electric charge; a gasoline engine kicks in once the range is used up. COURTESY PHOTOThe 2018 Honda Clarity is a midsize plug-in hybrid sedan that can travel 48 miles per electric charge; a gasoline engine kicks in once the range is used up. COURTESY PHOTO  If you’re interested in a compact fuel-saving car, it’s not hard to find one that looks the part. Models like the Toyota Prius hybrid, Chevrolet Volt plug-in hybrid and Nissan Leaf electric car are easily recognizable. They don’t share their styling with ordinary gas-powered vehicles, and are often sculpted to maximize their fuel-saving aerodynamics.
But perhaps you want the extra interior space or smooth, quiet ride of a midsize car. For a number of years, you’ve been able to buy a plug-in hybrid (PHEV) version of the Ford Fusion, Hyundai Sonata or Kia Optima sedan. These PHEV vehicles can be charged up with electricity from the grid to deliver some all-electric driving range, and then a gasoline engine kicks in until you’re able to charge up again.
But you’d have to pay close attention to recognize anything special about the PHEV versions of the Fusion, Sonata, or Optima — some subtle badging, and a car-charger port on the front fender. And the all-electric ranges of these models linger in the 20s, meaning, that longer commutes will regularly rely on gasoline.
The new 2018 Honda Clarity solves both problems. This new midsize sedan features aggressively futuristic looks, an aerodynamic body, a spacious and well-finished interior, and an EPA-estimated 48 miles per all-electric charge. And, as with other plug-in vehicles, drivers are eligible for a federal tax credit and can travel solo in Maryland HOV lanes.

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Redesigned Jetta blends refinement with great value

The redesigned 2019 Volkswagen Jetta compact sedan starts at $19,395 and is rated for 34 mpg in mixed driving. COURTESY PHOTOThe redesigned 2019 Volkswagen Jetta compact sedan starts at $19,395 and is rated for 34 mpg in mixed driving. COURTESY PHOTOThere are generally three types of cars that never challenge the sales volume of their best-selling competitors.
Some are unjustly overlooked by customers who favor familiar names.
Others intentionally target a smaller niche than their best-selling competitors.
And the rest are just plain not as good.
The redesigned 2019 Volkswagen Jetta compact sedan blends elements of all three. It offers a taste of European flavor at increasingly affordable prices, but it lacks the sporty performance, extra-spacious rear seating, or top-notch interior decor that distinguishes some of today’s other favorites.

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Subaru’s smallest crossover shrugs off imperfections

The 2018 Subaru Crosstrek is one of the better subcompact crossovers — but you might find an even more appealing model in another market class. COURTESY PHOTOThe 2018 Subaru Crosstrek is one of the better subcompact crossovers — but you might find an even more appealing model in another market class. COURTESY PHOTO  When you’re shopping for a car, it’s easy to get tunnel vision — to focus on a specific market class, and look only at vehicles within that one single class.
Say, for example, that you decide you want a subcompact crossover. This is a class that blends the utility of an SUV with the affordability, conveniently diminutive dimensions, and economical fuel consumption of a small car.
If you’re focused within that class, the redesigned 2018 Subaru Crosstrek emerges as a leader.
Priced from $22,710 with all-wheel-drive as standard equipment, the Crosstrek beats most competing subcompact crossovers for its interior comfort, acceleration, ride quality, and gas mileage. It also trumps last year’s model for its updated in-dash technology and solid-feeling ride quality.
The Crosstrek also brings appealingly spunky styling — a cheerily unpretentious attitude toward a splash through the mud, all without looking aggressively cutesy or truck-like. Its alloy wheels look like they belong on a Jeep, not a Mercedes-Benz. The look departs little from the first-generation Crosstrek, but it works.

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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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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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