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.


Mazda’s Miata is made for fun but not for snow

The 2018 Mazda MX-5 Miata is a delightful two-seat roadster that’s priced from $26,185. COURTESY PHOTOThe 2018 Mazda MX-5 Miata is a delightful two-seat roadster that’s priced from $26,185. COURTESY PHOTO  A classic Buick slogan boasted, “When better automobiles are built, Buick will build them.”
But perhaps that sentiment is more appropriate to the Mazda MX-5 Miata, a uniquely endearing two-seat roadster that’s been providing affordable grins for nearly three decades. The only way to get a better Miata is for Mazda to develop an improvement.
For 2018, Mazda made some modest updates to the Miata. It’s nothing that will likely make you rush out and buy one, but it continued to hone a package that’s already tremendously appealing to the right customer.


Pair of small crossovers has hidden flaws

2018 Toyota C HR cropped for webThe 2018 Toyota C-HR looks sporty and modern, but it’s humdrum to drive and its in-cabin connectivity is below par. COURTESY PHOTO  Sometimes, a car can stand out so positively in certain ways that it is worth forgiving its weak points. Other times, however, a car’s strengths can leave you blind to any flaws. The latter is a far more dangerous proposition, because you might only notice a vehicle’s downsides after you’ve already driven it off the lot.
Such a trap is easy to fall into when considering a pair of subcompact crossovers, the all-new 2018 Toyota C-HR and the freshly updated 2018 Mazda CX-3.
The Toyota mixes concept-car styling with five-door practicality, an elevated seating position, respectable gas mileage and an affordable base price of $23,495. The Mazda, meanwhile, trounces its ordinary-feeling competitors’ driving dynamics with sporty handling that makes it feel comparatively luxurious.
But look carefully at both of these crossovers before buying. While they may indeed fill the right niche for you, their compromises can also leave you wondering: “But... why?”


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.


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.


Midsize sedans from Mazda and Volkswagen offer alternatives

2017 Mazda6 -- cropped for webThe 2017 Mazda6 is a stylish, sporty alternative to midsize sedans. COURTESY PHOTO 

Walk through any supermarket parking lot or look at the cars stopped at a light around you, and you're bound to see multiple samples of various best-selling models. In the midsize sedan class, the Toyota Camry and Honda Accord are the ubiquitous sales leaders; the Nissan Altima, Ford Fusion and Hyundai Sonata also abound.
Perhaps you're looking for an automotive experience that's not identical to your neighbors, but still want many of the same virtues that make those bestsellers appealing. Two models to consider are the Mazda6 and the Volkswagen Passat.


Midsize Toyota crossover offers improvements; updated Mazda combats road-trip fatigue

2017 Toyota Highlander -- cropped for webThe 2017 Toyota Highlander midsize crossover has been recently improved but still isn't perfect. COURTESY PHOTO  

As one of the most popular vehicles in its class, the Toyota Highlander midsize crossover manages to fit acceptable seating for up to eight passengers into a package that avoids looking or feeling overly bulky. Throw in such clever features as a flip-up rear windshield for quick cargo access and a microphone that projects the driver's voice into the rear speakers, and the appeal is easy to see.

For 2017, Toyota has further upgraded the Highlander. In addition to revising the styling, Toyota has improved gas mileage – EPA ratings rose from 20 miles per gallon to 22 on the tested V6 all-wheel-drive version – added more standard safety features, smoothed out a stiff ride quality and sprinkled more USB ports throughout the cabin. The new tested SE model also promises sportier driving dynamics, though it's more of a snazzy appearance package than transformative to handling.


Reviews of the Acura ILX and Mazda MX-5 Miata

Acura's premium compact sedan misses the luxury mark

2017 Acura ILX -- cropped for webThe 2017 Acura ILX offers a premium badge at an affordable price – but the humdrum experience isn't worth the money. COURTESY PHOTO  

Ever since Acura started trying to turn the Honda Civic into a luxury sedan back in 2013, the idea had potential. The Civic had solid bones, as a roomy and pleasant-to-drive little car; all Acura needed to add was more upscale styling, a fancier interior, more features and a more powerful engine.


Reviews of the 2016 Mazda CX-9 and Bentley Mulsanne

Redesigned Mazda crossover avoids bulky feel

2016 Mazda CX-9The 2016 Mazda CX-9 is a large crossover that feels small when you want it, without sacrificing too much interior room. COURTESY PHOTO

There are many ways that people's tastes vary when it comes to cars, and the feel of the interior is one of them. Some drivers like to spread themselves out across a wide seat while remaining a comfortable distance away from their passengers. Others prefer the more intimate, less intimidating feel of a smaller, cozier cabin. 

The redesigned 2016 Mazda CX-9 throws a nice bone to the latter crowd – without actually forcing them into a small vehicle. This full-size crossover can seat seven passengers in reasonable comfort, while feeling one or two sizes smaller from the driver's seat. Mazda pulls off the illusion with a stylish, minimalist dashboard and a high center console between the front seats. The exterior also looks less visually bulky than competitors like the Honda Pilot, though the CX-9 is actually 5 inches longer than the Honda. 


Reviews of the 2016 Mazda CX-3 and Audi TT


Mazda's CX-3 is a fun crossover without a crossover's benefits

2016 Mazda CX-32016 Mazda CX-3   COURTESY PHOTO  The proliferation of market niches in today's automotive industry has blurred the lines of which cars compete with what. An example is the all-new 2016 Mazda CX-3, which the company presents as its entry in the burgeoning subcompact crossover class.

In theory, such models – which include the popular Buick Encore, Honda HR-V and Jeep Renegade – provide a high seating position and available all-wheel-drive without as much bulk as today's Honda CR-V or Toyota RAV4. And compared against those models, the Mazda has achieved substantial critical acclaim.

It's easy to see why. The CX-3 is a fun-to-drive little thing, especially compared to the aforementioned crossovers. It's peppy and it's agile, and outstanding fuel economy – an EPA rating of 29 miles per gallon and observed mileage of 34.7 mpg as tested – only sweetens the deal. The base price of $20,860 is tempting, and even $26,150 for the tested mid-level Touring model isn't atrocious.

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