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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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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Infiniti and Mazda crossovers blend style, value

2017 Infiniti QX60 cropped for webThe 2017 Infiniti QX60 large crossover is the luxury version of the Nissan Pathfinder. COURTESY PHOTO  What separates a mainstream car from a luxury one? It's easy to find vehicles that blur the line.
For example, a premium brand might sell its own version of a less-expensive vehicle from a mainstream one. Or a mainstream brand might offer a stylish, classy and feature-laden model that essentially matches the luxury competition on substance, if not on reputation.
A pair of seven-passenger crossovers represents these respective approaches. Respectively, they're the Infiniti QX60, recently updated for 2017, and the Mazda CX-9, which was last redesigned for 2016.

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Hyundai Ioniq takes on the venerable Toyota Prius

2017 Hyundai Ioniq hybrid cropped for webThe new 2017 Hyundai Ioniq hybrid offers a lower price and better EPA fuel economy ratings than the best-selling Toyota Prius. COURTESY PHOTO  If fuel efficiency is your top car-buying priority, chances are you've considered the Toyota Prius. This iconic hybrid uses an electric battery – which recharges during normal driving – to help power the vehicle, taking some of the burden off its gasoline engine to reduce fuel usage.
But the Prius doesn't actually wear the crown as the EPA's fuel-efficiency champion. That award was snapped up by the 2017 Hyundai Ioniq, a new competitor to the Prius that offers the driving experience and styling of an ordinary small car; an appealing $23,085 base price; and EPA ratings of 55 to 58 miles per gallon in mixed driving, depending on the version. Those figures compare to a base price of $25,570 for the Prius, whose EPA ratings range from 52 mpg on most models to 56 mpg on the extra-efficient Prius Eco.

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Nissan offers smaller crossover while Bentley bulks up

2017 Nissan Rogue Sport cropped for webThe 2017 Nissan Rogue Sport subcompact crossover emulates its more popular big brother, the Rogue, at a slightly lower price. COURTESY PHOTO  Nissan’s bestselling vehicle in the United States is the Rogue, a compact crossover whose top strengths include an extra-roomy interior at an affordable price. But for buyers who prefer something even smaller or less expensive, Nissan has introduced the new 2017 Rogue Sport — “Sport” meaning “small.”
The Rogue Sport is a renamed version of the Nissan Qashqai, an unpronounceable vehicle that’s nonetheless been wildly popular in Europe. With Europeans preferring smaller vehicles, Nissan never saw fit to sell our Rogue there, but the company is optimistic that there’s room for its American lineup to grow. The Rogue Sport slots in size between the larger Rogue and the even smaller, quirkier Juke.

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Chevrolet adds some style while Lexus tries to save gas

Chevrolet Malibu cropped for webThe latest Chevrolet Malibu midsize sedan is an appealing blend of style, luxury, functionality and value. COURTESY PHOTO  The last generation of the Chevrolet Malibu midsize sedan, sold from the 2013 through 2015 model years, offered an odd mix of strengths and weaknesses.
On the one hand, the old Malibu offered impressive driving dynamics – a particularly solid feel that lent composure to its ride and handling, leaving a Toyota Camry or Hyundai Sonata feeling flimsy in comparison. But this luxurious ambiance was undercut by humdrum styling inside and out, and the old Malibu also suffered from skimpy rear-seat room.
Chevrolet fully redesigned the Malibu last year to address these issues, and transformed the car into a more thoroughly impressive car. Priced from $22,555, it brings a more thoroughly premium feel to the mainstream class, while also improving on important family-car values. The current Malibu regains the mojo of the 2008 to 2012 Malibu, yet it sacrifices less outward visibility and rear headroom to make a styling statement. And although sticker prices can be high, pricing site Truecar.com projects ample room for haggling that can turn this Chevrolet into a relative bargain despite its premium feel.

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Subaru sticks with AWD while Ram stays big

2017 Subaru Impreza Limited cropped for webThe redesigned 2017 Subaru Impreza is roomy and user-friendly – but it can get expensive without really feeling fancy. COURTESY PHOTO  On most cars, buyers who want all-wheel-drive have to pay a couple thousand dollars extra for the system – if it's even offered at all.
The Subaru Impreza compact car, like most Subarus, bucks the norm by including the system standard. It's the only car in its class to even offer all-wheel-drive. If you're looking for an affordable vehicle that can easily power through mud or snow, the Impreza sedan or five-door hatchback belongs high on your shopping list.

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