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Ram pickup goes mellow while Ford overhauls its F-150

The 2019 Ram 1500 full-size pickup truck has been redesigned to smooth out its most aggressive styling details. COURTESY PHOTOThe 2019 Ram 1500 full-size pickup truck has been redesigned to smooth out its most aggressive styling details. COURTESY PHOTO  Twenty-five years ago, Chrysler was selling the country’s stodgiest full-size pickup truck. Boxy and characterless, the 1993 Dodge Ram lacked the gently curved body of the Ford F-150 or the extra-brash angularity of the Chevrolet C/K.
The company flipped the script for the 1994 model year. A prominent crosshairs-style chrome grille stood tall and proud on the front end, with low headlights swelling into bold fenders.
Though it remained the country’s No. 3 best-seller, always behind its Ford and Chevrolet competitors, the Ram continued to be the most aggressive American truck. It solidified its image by introducing the famous “Hemi” V8 engine in 2003 with best-in-class horsepower.
But with its latest redesign, which just hit dealerships as a 2019 model, the Ram has become more mild-mannered. An all-new front end design raised the headlights and revised the grille, abandoning the signature look of the last two and a half decades. Gone are the fender bulges and the crosshairs grille. If it weren’t for the big “RAM” lettering on the new grille, the front end would be almost entirely anonymous. LED light bands ringing the headlights resemble the Dodge Charger sedan’s, but for several years Ram has been its own brand anyway, no longer a Dodge.

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Ford offers an alternative van while Toyota goes sporty

2017 Ford Transit Connect cropped for webThe 2017 Ford Transit Connect is roomy and fun to drive, but it's missing some valuable features. COURTESY PHOTO  Every day, you're probably seeing countless Ford Transit Connect vans without paying them a second glance. Most are built as rolling boxes with no rear windows, emblazoned with the names of plumbing companies or home-security specialists.
But Ford also sells versions of the 2017 Transit Connect that are designed as family cars. And despite their work-van origins — and their associated drawbacks — these vans are surprisingly appealing to drive.

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Ford gets tough while Hyundai gets electric

2017 Ford F 150 Raptor cropped for webThe 2017 Ford F-150 Raptor full-size pickup offers extreme off-road capability at a lofty base price of nearly $50,000. COURTESY PHOTO  In 2009, Ford took its best-selling F-150 pickup truck and turned it into a big brawny off-road toy. The F-150 Raptor was built for high-speed off-roading in the desert, sturdy enough to soar into the air and land safely. But its ultra-tough image and styling made it popular even in the D.C. area.
For 2017, the Raptor has entered its second generation without a radical departure from the first generation's successful theme. Rather, it merely followed the evolution of the standard F-150, which had been redesigned in 2015. Aside from additional safety, luxury and convenience features, the new Raptor's biggest change is under the hood: A turbocharged V6 engine replaces last year's V8, bringing better fuel efficiency (16 mpg instead of 13 mpg) along with more power (450 horsepower instead of 411).

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Lexus RX isn't sporty, while Focus RS stands out

2017 Lexus RX 350 cropped for webThe 2017 Lexus RX 350 makes the most sense if you skip the tested F-Sport model, which compromises this crossover's core strength of a super-smooth ride. COURTESY PHOTO  Many of today's premium crossovers offer more performance than you'd expect from anything that looks at all like an SUV. But it's simple enough to see why: Most of them are basically tall versions of luxury sports sedans.
Lexus is trying to tap into the sporty crossover market with the latest version of its best-selling RX, last redesigned for 2016. Edgier styling and an available F-Sport version try to win over driving enthusiasts from BMW or Jaguar.
But from behind the wheel, the RX 350 F-Sport doesn't deliver. Even worse, it compromises the RX's true appeal: comfortable, relaxed luxury. The F-Sport's stiffer suspension can slam over bumps, and its heavier steering feels unnatural. And the RX still has clumsy handling and disconnected responses that would turn off buyers accustomed to top-tier luxury models.
That said, there's a reason that the RX is a best-seller. Though it's a midsize model, it's priced more like a compact European competitor, with a base price of $44,095. If passenger and cargo space are more important than poised handling, the RX is a strong value. As long as you skip the F-Sport trim, it competes favorably in this niche with the less fuel-efficient Lincoln MKX and the less refined Cadillac XT5 – courtesy of the smooth, quiet ride and comfortable seats.

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Updates to Ford crossover bring it up to par while Chevy is rudimentary

2017 Ford Escape -- cropped for webThe 2017 Ford Escape was updated with revised styling and other upgrades that help it to be competitive with other compact crossovers. COURTESY PHOTO  

The Ford Escape compact crossover is consistently one of the best-selling vehicles in the country – a pleasant vehicle in a hot market segment. Ever since its 2013-model redesign, the Escape has neatly married respectable, almost sporty driving dynamics with a spacious interior and affordable prices. That proved to be a winning combination on the sales front.
However, the Escape had its weak points: mediocre gas mileage, some missing safety features, poor performance in one crash test and a finicky dashboard touchscreen. Ford has now taken steps toward addressing them as part of a comprehensive 2017 update.

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Ford, Honda midsize sedans offer excellent fuel-saving choice

2017 Ford Fusion Hybrid -- cropped for webThe 2017 Ford Fusion Hybrid is a modern, sophisticated midsize sedan that doesn't have outstanding interior space or outward visibility. COURTESY PHOTO  Buyers seeking maximum fuel efficiency are very familiar with the Toyota Prius, the nation's best-selling hybrid vehicle – a car with both a gasoline engine and a self-charging electric motor that reduces fuel use.

But you can also get that same technology in a variety of spacious, refined, stylish midsize sedans, which boost EPA fuel efficiency ratings to the 40s, representing improvements of about 15 mpg over comparable gas-only versions. With little to no visual changes compared to their gas versions, these hybrids quietly save on fuel without telegraphing the driver's hybrid choice like the instantly recognizable Prius.

Two of the best midsize hybrids are the Ford Fusion and Honda Accord, both of which were updated for 2017. And these two sedans fill complementary sections of their market niche.

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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 2016 Mitsubishi i-MiEV and Ford Focus

Electric car i-MiEV is rudimentary but affordable

2016 Mitsubishi i-MiEV2016 Mitsubishi i-MiEV    COURTESY PHOTO  

The stereotypical electric vehicle is a slow, silly-looking excuse for an automobile that can't go very far before running out of charge. Most of today's EVs avoid this image. The best-selling model is the fast, luxurious Tesla Model S, which goes several hundreds of miles at a time; most other models are simply normal cars that are fitted with a battery instead of an engine.

Then there is the 2016 Mitsubishi i-MiEV, which at first glance looks like a walking advertisement for the internal combustion engine. It's a tiny car that isn't very quick and is only rated to travel 62 miles per charge, by far the worst of any all-electric car on sale today. Its interior appointments are basic and the exterior is almost comical.

But if you're at all interested in the idea of a gas-free runabout, you may want to look further into the egg-shaped i-MiEV (pronounced EYE-meev). As long as you wouldn't need to drive long distances in this car, low operating costs and numerous state and federal incentives give it some appeal.

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