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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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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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Electrified Hyundai and Kia allow eco-friendly commutes

The Hyundai Ioniq Electric is an electric-only hatchback that’s efficient and fun to drive but sold only in California so far. Marylanders can still buy a hybrid or plug-in hybrid Ioniq, though. COURTESY PHOTOThe Hyundai Ioniq Electric is an electric-only hatchback that’s efficient and fun to drive but sold only in California so far. Marylanders can still buy a hybrid or plug-in hybrid Ioniq, though. COURTESY PHOTO  If you’re looking to add some electricity to your car, Korea’s Hyundai and Kia are offering a large and steadily growing lineup of hybrid, plug-in hybrid and all-electric models.
These corporate cousins collectively offer two pure electric vehicles (EVs, which have no gas engine); four plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEVs, which can run on electricity from the grid but also have engines); and four gas-electric hybrids that save fuel without needing to be plugged in. At least one more EV is due this fall.
The heart of this fuel-saving lineup is the Hyundai Ioniq, a compact hatchback, and its mechanical twin the Kia Niro, which blurs the line between a small station wagon and a crossover. Both are sold both as hybrids and PHEVs, and there’s also an all-electric Ioniq that’s so far sold only in California.
Recent tests of the Ioniq Electric and Niro PHEV, along with drives of both cars’ hybrid variants last year, reveal a pair of comfortable, user-friendly, affordable fuel savers. For better or for worse, they lack the strong personality of a Toyota Prius — instead, they feel like everyday economy cars even as they achieve exceptional fuel efficiency.

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Midsize Hyundai offers functional value

The 2018 Hyundai Sonata is an affordable, generally pleasant midsize sedan that’s less polished and fancy than the leading competitors. COURTESY PHOTOThe 2018 Hyundai Sonata is an affordable, generally pleasant midsize sedan that’s less polished and fancy than the leading competitors. COURTESY PHOTO  Today’s car shoppers have many options for functionality and value. These qualities once defined the midsize family sedan class, but many buyers have turned instead to less expensive compact cars or to roomier crossover SUVs.
As many purely practical car shoppers look elsewhere, many midsize sedans have increasingly prioritized style and luxury to succeed in a more premium niche. But if you just want something comfortable and functional and still prefer a spacious four-door sedan, you should check out the newly-updated 2018 Hyundai Sonata.
The Sonata isn’t a dramatically-styled sports sedan like the latest Honda Accord, whose luxury-grade looks and driving experience elevate it above the family car norm. But the Sonata is also less expensive, with the well-equipped base SE model presenting a particularly strong value.
The 2018 Sonata starts at $22,935, and according to pricing site Truecar.com, you should be able to haggle it below $20,000. That’s an advantage of some $2,500 over a base Accord, and Hyundai also throws in an Android Auto/Apple CarPlay-compatible touchscreen, a blind-spot monitoring system and a long warranty.

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Redesigned Hyundai hatchback comes up short

2018 Hyundai Elantra GT cropped for webThe redesigned 2018 Hyundai Elantra GT compact hatchback is a renamed version of the European Hyundai i30. COURTESY PHOTO  The recipe appears to have the right ingredients.
The redesigned 2018 Hyundai Elantra GT compact hatchback boasts a European-style exterior with classy, restrained design cues; a well-finished, ergonomically sensible interior; and loads of features for the money, starting from a reasonable base price of $20,235.
But some design foibles, engineering shortcomings and hard-to-find tech options hold back the Elantra GT against such outstanding competitors as the Honda Civic and Mazda3.
First of all, don’t confuse the Elantra GT with the Elantra sedan, the Korean brand’s bestselling product. Although the sedan and GT share some mechanical components under the skin, the Elantra GT is essentially a renamed version of the Hyundai i30 that the company developed for the European market – where compact-car buyers expect more sportiness and luxury than Americans are used to.
The Elantra GT starts off its performance specs with more standard horsepower than the sedan: 161 rather than 147, both from a 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine. There’s also different tuning of their six-speed automatic transmissions, and the Elantra GT lacks the fuel-saving but performance-blunting “eco mode” option found in the sedan.

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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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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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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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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 toughens crossover while Hyundai adds zip

2017 Nissan Pathfinder cropped for webThe 2017 Nissan Pathfinder large crossover is priced from $31,230. COURTESY PHOTO  While Honda, Toyota and General Motors were scoring big with car-based crossovers a decade ago, Nissan remained one of the last holdouts to stick with truck-based SUVs in the critical three-row midsize/large segment. But when Nissan gave in and exchanged its Pathfinder's pickup truck roots for a passenger car's in 2013, the company may have over-corrected for being late to the bandwagon.
Accordingly, for 2017, the Pathfinder has been tweaked to re-emphasize some of its old toughness. You'll find it in boxier front-end styling, looking tougher than last year's gently curved model. Upgrades to its V6 engine also help it tow an extra 1,000 pounds, for a total rating of 6,000 – impressive for a crossover. (For true heavy-duty performance, Nissan also has a newly redesigned Armada, a V8-powered traditional SUV.)

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