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Two SUVs avoid typical family-friendly focus

2017 Jeep Grand Cherokee cropped for webThe 2017 Jeep Grand Cherokee is a midsize SUV that blends off-road capability and on-road luxury. COURTESY PHOTO  While sport utility vehicles were once designed to focus on off-road capabilities, Most of today's market-leading SUVs and crossovers are built as family cars that tend to prioritize the more everyday qualities of interior volume, gas mileage and value for the money.
Such vehicles often look and feel as dull as that description sounds. While the Honda Pilot, for instance, is often a terrific family car, such smooth, quiet, spacious minivan-like family-haulers offers little verve or personality to attract someone without plans to shuttle a carload of kids.
But a few larger SUVs – the midsize Jeep Grand Cherokee and the full-size Chevrolet Tahoe – manage an appeal that transcends the norms of their market segments.
Neither stands out as a family car. While both are decently spacious, to be sure, they’re far from the market leaders in that regard.
But the Tahoe and Grand Cherokee make up for those deficiencies by boasting uncommon levels of heavy-duty capability with the looks to match.

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VW goes electric while Toyota goes off road - again

2017 Volkswagen e Golf cropped for webThe 2017 Volkswagen e-Golf is an all-electric version of the company's small hatchback. COURTESY PHOTO  When I showed up to a family function and said I'd arrived in an electric Volkswagen Golf, the reaction was perhaps predictable: “A golf cart?”
Not at all.
Volkswagen has been selling the e-Golf — an all-electric version of its globally popular Golf hatchback — since the 2015 model year. For 2017, VW upped its range from a mediocre 83 miles per charge to a more respectable 125. That's better than the competing Nissan Leaf and the electric version of the Ford Focus, though it trails the upcoming redesigned 2018 Leaf's 150 miles and the pricier Chevrolet Bolt's 238.

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VW crossover and the redesigned Camry stand out

2018 Volkswagen Atlas cropped for webThe 2018 Volkswagen Atlas is a must-see full-size crossover for shoppers who care about interior space and handling agility. COURTESY PHOTO  The best method of breaking into a new market segment: being better than the competition.
In many key ways, Volkswagen pulls off that approach with the 2018 Atlas, the German carmaker's first full-size seven-passenger crossover. Exceptional interior volume benefits both passengers and cargo, and composed ride and handling lend it a sense of mechanical sophistication.
Priced from $31,425, the Atlas faces strong competition from the best-selling Ford Explorer and Honda Pilot; the updated Nissan Pathfinder; the sporty and luxurious Mazda CX-9; the fuel-efficient Toyota Highlander; and the 2018 redesign of the extra-roomy Chevrolet Traverse.

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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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Infiniti, Lexus premium crossovers strive to be sporty

2017 Infiniti QX30 -- cropped for webThe 2017 Infiniti QX30, priced from $30,945, offers an affordable way to get a premium car, but don't expect its crossover marketing to yield a roomy interior or high seating position. COURTESY PHOTO

When some people picture a luxury car, they picture a vehicle focused on super-smooth cushy comfort. And when some people picture an SUV or crossover, they picture a vehicle with lots of space inside for people and cargo.
But many of today's premium vehicles instead prioritize sporty handling over smooth rides, and sleek styling over stretch-out interior space. And many of today's crossovers offer minimal SUV pretense to justify their price premiums over ordinary passenger cars.
The new 2017 Infiniti QX30 is one model that epitomizes this trend. In Europe, most premium brands are comfortable selling ordinary hatchbacks, and the Infiniti Q30 is among them. But for the American market, Infiniti markets essentially the same vehicle as a crossover – hence the X added to the name. It's an effort to capitalize on the hotter market segment while cautiously avoiding the perception of hatchbacks as basic economy cars.

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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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Reviews of the 2016 Infiniti Q50 and Subaru Crosstrek

Infiniti increases gas mileage, lowers price on Q50 premium sedan

2016 Infiniti Q50The 2016 Infiniti Q50 is an entry-luxury sedan priced from $34,855 that offers a lower-cost alternative to European premium brands. COURTESY PHOTO

As recently as five years ago, if you were buying a premium car you were almost certainly getting a six-cylinder engine. But pressures to improve gas mileage, along with improvements in turbocharger technology, have made turbo four-cylinders the norm even among luxury marques.

Infiniti, the premium brand of Nissan, was a late adopter. Its Q50 sedan, which replaced the G37 for 2014 as Infiniti's entry-level car – came only with a V6. But for 2016, Nissan leveraged a partnership with Mercedes-Benz that brought a Mercedes turbo into the Q50 line: a 2.0-liter with 208 horsepower and 258 pound-feet of torque.

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Reviews of the 2016 Toyota Prius and Land Rover Range Rover

Redesigned Toyota Prius improves on a familiar set of virtues

2016 Toyota PriusThe 2016 Toyota Prius is even more fuel-efficient than its predecessor and also nicer to drive. COURTESY PHOTO

Ever since its introduction more than 15 years ago, the Toyota Prius has dominated the market of hybrid cars – vehicles that use an electric motor to assist with a gasoline engine, reducing gasoline usage. Its distinctive shape sets it apart from the rest of traffic, making it instantly recognizable as one of today's most iconic fuel-sippers.

But unlike some of its rivals, the Prius has also excelled at everyday functionality. It's a roomy five-door hatchback with respectable five-passenger seating and ample cargo space. Rivals from Honda and Chevrolet have never been able to match the Prius for utility.

And now for 2016, Toyota has fully redesigned the Prius to build on its longtime strengths while adding new ones.

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