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Toyota and Honda moving on

2017 Toyota RAV4 Hybrid cropped for webThe Toyota RAV4 Hybrid is a spacious compact crossover that offers fuel-sipping rush hour commutes. COURTESY PHOTO  When the Toyota RAV4 Hybrid hit the market as a 2016 model, it was a remarkably multitalented vehicle. The gas-electric version of Toyota's popular compact crossover, the 2016 RAV4 Hybrid combined a spacious, comfortable interior with outstanding fuel efficiency.
One of the few drawbacks was that you couldn't get a gas-saving hybrid version of the base LE model, meaning that buyers had to step up to the XLE or Limited even if they didn't want the extra features. But now, even that complaint has been resolved. For just $1,350 more than the base LE with its optional all-wheel-drive, Toyota will sell you the hybrid that's not only rated for an extra seven mpg over the gas-only version but is also more powerful.
The hybrid's advantage grows stronger still in lower-speed driving. Normal gasoline-powered vehicles are least efficient in the stop-and-go drag that is I-270 during rush hour or stoplight-clogged Rockville Pike during much of the day. But that's when the RAV4 Hybrid can make the best use of its electric motor. The driver can select EV Mode (standing for "electric vehicle") to lock in moderately peppy all-electric acceleration at speeds up to about 27 mph. After that point, gentle use of the throttle can keep the RAV4's gasoline engine off up to about 47 mph.
EPA ratings for the RAV4 are a whopping 34 miles per gallon in the city, along with a more middling 30 mpg on the highway, and 32 mpg overall. A recent weeklong test returned 35.1 mpg, consistent with a 2016 model tested last year.

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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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Japan’s big pickups challenge the domestic brands

2017 Nissan Titan cropped for webThe redesigned 2017 Nissan Titan is spacious and relatively affordable for a full-size truck, but it's heavy and lacks some modern tech features. COURTESY PHOTO  Although Japanese vehicles are among the bestsellers in almost every market segment, there's one that the nation's automakers have utterly failed to crack: the full-size pickup truck. There, Ford's F Series, General Motors' Chevrolet Silverado and GMC Sierra, and Chrysler's Ram remain dominant on the sales charts.
Toyota, Nissan and Honda all have pickup trucks — they just haven't resonated with buyers the same way. Toyota has had the most luck, which is ironic given that its Tundra hasn't received a major redesign in more than a decade. The newly-overhauled Nissan Titan and Honda Ridgeline sell at a fraction of the Tundra's pace, and the Tundra itself significantly trails pickups from the American “Big Three” automakers.
Are the current sales figures of big pickups the result of buyers' reluctance to stray from familiar brands? Or are the Japanese trucks just not as good as their American counterparts?

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Updated midsize sedans take different approaches

2018 Honda Accord cropped for webThe redesigned 2018 Honda Accord delivers exemplary levels of performance, luxury and everyday utility. COURTESY PHOTO  These days, the once-staid midsize family sedan market segment is quickly becoming anything but boring.
Just look at the class's two bestsellers: the Toyota Camry and Honda Accord. Both are benefiting from 2018 redesigns that have transformed their characters.
Previously, these two models were as famous for their high degrees of competence as they were for their plain characters – lacking the luxury, style and sporty performance that distinguish mainstream cars from luxury ones. Now, both blur that line, at least based on short preview drives. These sedans remain spacious and affordable, yet they now boast flashier styling, posher interiors, more solid-feeling ride quality, more responsive steering and handling, and zippier acceleration.
The 2018 Camry stood out from the crowd when it appeared over the summer, and the new Accord promises to join it when it hits the market this week. The Camry tops the Accord for brute-force horsepower, but the Accord's turbocharged four-cylinder engines are punchy and light. Both cars are rated for economy-car fuel consumption, with base models comfortably exceeding 30 mpg in mixed driving.

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Honda CR-V and Mazda CX-5 are outstanding crossover entries

2017 Honda CR V Touring cropped for webThe redesigned 2017 Honda CR-V addresses predecessor's biggest shortcomings while maintaining a familiar flavor of pleasant practicality.  COURTESY PHOTO  The Honda CR-V is one of the best-selling vehicles in the country, and the best-selling crossover. The market doesn't always pick the best car – strong name recognition or a positive brand reputation sometimes reward undeserving cars, and some lesser-known or little-trusted models are unfairly ignored.
But it's hard to argue with consumer tastes in the compact crossover segment. Thanks to a new redesign for 2017, the CR-V delivers outstanding interior space and fuel economy along with thorough competence at pretty much everything else.
This redesign comes at an important time for the CR-V. Honda had bungled a few details in a 2015 update, saddling this crucial model with a stiff ride and a cumbersome infotainment system. The 2017 CR-V addresses its predecessor's flaws, builds on its strengths and adds valuable new safety features – turning it into the most well-rounded vehicle in its class. Owners of past CR-Vs will welcome the new car's familiar flavor, and the improvements will help win over fresh customers as well.

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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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Reviews of the 2017 Buick Envision and Honda Accord

Buick's premium crossover isn't Mercedes-grade

2017 Buick Envision -- cropped for webThe 2017 Buick Envision is a compact crossover that's more luxurious than it looks. COURTESY PHOTO  

At first glance, the new Buick Envision doesn't look particularly notable. This compact crossover blends quietly into traffic, without dramatic styling cues or a badge that screams luxury.

But there's more to it than meets the eye. The Envision, first introduced as a 2016 model, boasts a posh, feature-laden interior and wears a price tag that starts at $34,990 and can surpass $50,000. And it's notable as the first model line to be fully imported to the U.S. from a factory in China.

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Auto Drive: Reviews of the Honda CR-V and the Lexus RC 200t

Redesigned CR-V is the crossover that does it all

2017 Honda CR-V -- cropped for webThe redesigned 2017 Honda CR-V is a marked improvement over an already excellent compact crossover. COURTESY PHOTO  

As crossovers grow in popularity, they've begun to outsell sedans as some automakers' highest-volume vehicles. It's understandable – these vehicles blend the everyday comfort and fuel economy of a car with the versatility and high seating position of an SUV. 

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New pickups from Honda, Nissan chart different paths

2016 Nissan Titan XDThe 2016 Nissan Titan XD COURTESY PHOTO  

The large pickup truck market is dominated by the American “Big Three” automakers: the F-Series from Ford, the Chevrolet Silverado from General Motors and the Ram from Chrysler. 

The high profits found in this market keep attracting Japanese competitors, generally with limited success. While Toyota tries to offer the same half-ton experience as the American makes, Honda and Nissan have rolled out models that seek to carve out more specialized – though very different – niches in the market.

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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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