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.


Three smaller cars promise big driving pleasure

The 2018 Volkswagen GTI is a delightful blend of performance, comfort, refinement, utility and value. COURTESY PHOTOThe 2018 Volkswagen GTI is a delightful blend of performance, comfort, refinement, utility and value. COURTESY PHOTO  When driving enthusiasts pick their favorite cars, the results are usually pretty low on practicality. Most of the world’s best-driving sports cars are small and sleek, with cozy cabins, stiff rides, and high prices.
But if you don’t need the style of a sports car, you can find some outstanding driving experiences even from affordable, ordinary-looking versions of mainstream models.
Perhaps the best of this breed is the Volkswagen Golf GTI. The GTI pioneered the “hot hatch” segment of souped-up economy cars back in 1976, and VW has polished it to near-perfection over the years.


Redesigned Kia subcompact puts economy first

The redesigned 2018 Kia Rio subcompact car strives to be simple, functional and affordable, and generally succeeds. COURTESY PHOTOThe redesigned 2018 Kia Rio subcompact car strives to be simple, functional and affordable, and generally succeeds. COURTESY PHOTO  If you haven’t bought an economy car in a while, it’s easy to get sticker shock. The cheapest automatic-transmission Honda Civic wears a sticker price north of $20,000, and it’s become common for a fully-loaded compact sedan to approach $30,000.
But if you’d like to follow a stricter budget, several subcompact models serve as functional transportation while providing contemporary features such as Bluetooth and USB smartphone connectivity, rearview cameras and touchscreen infotainment systems. And while they won’t match the artfully-refined driving dynamics and spacious interior of today’s Civic, these options don’t have to disappoint you for ride smoothness, driver comfort and cabin build quality.
One such option is the 2018 Kia Rio, which has been freshly redesigned and is available as a four-door sedan and a five-door hatchback. It’s priced from $14,795 and is a perfectly serviceable commuter companion.
As part of this year's redesign, Kia stripped the Rio of its earlier design flair, leaving a plainer but more functional little box on wheels — trading verve for maximum value and improved visibility. That change speaks to the car’s attitude: It handles most tasks with competence, but offers little excellence. While many recent subcompact cars have tried to come off as sporty and upscale — notably, the Ford Fiesta and the last-generation Rio — Kia stuck with basic, functional and affordable.


Kia returns to its roots, while Toyota offers options

2018 Kia Rio EX hatchback cropped for webThe redesigned 2018 Kia Rio doesn't have exciting looks or sporty driving dynamics. COURTESY PHOTO  When gas was expensive, most automakers rushed to make their smallest, cheapest cars more appealing. From extra-roomy interiors to sporty handling to more elegant styling, these subcompacts were a way of saying that small cars don't have to be basic.
One model that followed this path was the 2012 Kia Rio. Its impressive interior build quality, surprisingly hushed cabin, European-inspired design and long list of available features made it clear that this little sedan or hatchback could be selected for its merits — not just its price.


Kia sedan lets you plug in while Corolla offers alternative

2017 Kia Optima PHEV cropped for webThe 2017 Kia Optima PHEV has a charging port on its driver-side front fender.         COURTESY PHOTO  It's a bit of a brave step to purchase a purely electric car. Prospective buyers must carefully evaluate their driving patterns and foresee few or no cases in which they'll need to drive farther than their car's range between any two charges.
Accordingly, many eco-minded buyers prefer plug-in hybrids – vehicles whose batteries can be charged up on electricity, but which also have a built-in gasoline engine that can switch on once the range is used up. The most famous plug-in hybrid is the pioneering Chevrolet Volt, but green credentials also hide in some more innocuous packages.
One such example is the new 2017 Kia Optima PHEV. The standard Optima is a popular midsize sedan, a roomy and quiet family-friendly four-door. It's also available as a standard gas-electric hybrid, a vehicle that uses the engine's power and the brakes' friction to recharge the batteries as you drive normally.


Kia Soul hides sensibility with style as Jaguar gets into crossover game



2017 Kia Soul -- cropped for webThe Kia Soul is a useful, comfortable and affordable tall hatchback that competes well with compact crossovers. COURTESY PHOTO  

With bright orange paint, exuberant styling and a turbocharged 201-horsepower engine, the recently tested 2017 Kia Soul looks like a car that's designed for fun more than functionality. But for better or for worse, the Soul is the most successful as a roomy, refined, affordable box – not as a sporty car.


Two new models offer subtle ways to significantly reduce fuel usage

2017 Kia Niro -- cropped for webThe all-new 2017 Kia Niro is a gas-electric hybrid that saves on gas without demanding many sacrifices or calling much attention to itself. COURTESY PHOTO

Ever since Toyota launched the 2004 Prius with an unmistakably unique shape, fuel savings have been associated with unique looks. Subsequent generations of Toyota's best-selling gas-electric hybrid have followed that mold, as have a number of competitors.
But two tall hatchbacks that are all new for 2017 promise impressive fuel savings without styling that telegraphs anything special under the hood: the Kia Niro hybrid and the Chevrolet Bolt EV all-electric car.


Three new full-size sedans liven up the marketplace

2017 Genesis G80 -- cropped for webThe 2017 Genesis G80 is the new name for the Hyundai Genesis.          COURTESY PHOTO  

It's become vogue in automotive journalism to declare that the sedan – a bedrock of the automotive marketplace – as a dying breed in the face of roomier, more versatile crossovers. First to go, pundits contend, are the full-size four-doors.

But if you are looking for a big comfortable sedan, your options these days are better than ever, as recent tests of three leading contenders in this class suggest. The freshly rebranded Genesis G80 and the newly redesigned Buick LaCrosse and Kia Cadenza effectively use their extra size both to flaunt their styling and to improve their interior space. And all have the sophisticated interior quality, long list of available features, and quiet ride that you'd expect of a luxury car – though it would be hard to expect otherwise at these sedans' price points.


Reviews of the BMW 330e and Kia Forte

Plug-in BMW sedan offers a taste of electricity with few compromises

2016 BMW 330e -- cropped for webOnly the charging port on its front fender reveals that the BMW 330e runs partially on electric power. COURTESY PHOTO  

Think of eco-friendly cars, and the BMW 3 Series sports sedan probably isn't the first thing to come to mind. But for 2016, BMW added a plug-in hybrid version to that lineup – the 330e, which promises 14 miles of all-electric range before operating like an ordinary 320i. You get those miles by plugging the car into a wall outlet; the battery can also recharge at times the gas engine is running.

To be sure, that range pales in comparison to a pure electric vehicle, including BMW's own i3 hatchback (118 miles); the popular Chevrolet Volt plug-in hybrid (53 miles); or even the roomy Ford Fusion Energi plug-in hybrid midsize sedan (21 miles). But the 330e stands out for bringing gas-saving qualities to a vehicle renowned for its outstanding driving enjoyment.


Reviews of the 2017 Kia Sportage and the 2016 Toyota Avalon

Kia small crossover prioritizes luxury over mainstream virtues

2017 Kia Sportage SXThe 2017 Kia Sportage SX is a relatively fancy small crossover, but it's neither roomy nor fuel-efficient.  COURTESY PHOTO  

For most of its lifetime, the Kia Sportage has been roughly half a size smaller than its leading competitors – best-selling compact crossovers that include the Ford Escape and Honda CR-V. Fresh off a 2017-model redesign, Kia has once again kept the Sportage on the small side of the compact class. 

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