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Volkswagen goes mainstream while Lexus just ages

2018 Volkswagen Tiguan cropped for webThe 2018 Volkswagen Tiguan is roomier and safer than its predecessor, but it remains on the pricey side for the compact crossover class. COURTESY PHOTO  Look at the characteristics of the most popular vehicles in the U.S., and the two key attributes that will stand out to you are size and price, as Americans understandably look for cars that hit the sweet spot of roominess and affordability.
In recent years, the compact crossover class has exploded for precisely those reasons. At prices well below $30,000, buyers can find well-equipped vehicles with comfortable seating for five passengers and ample cargo.
But one of those compact crossovers – the Volkswagen Tiguan – has in recent years excelled in neither area. Smaller yet more expensive than a Ford Escape, Honda CR-V or Toyota RAV4, the Tiguan tried to provide a luxury experience at a discount – the sporty performance and outstanding build quality of an Audi, for prices closer to a Honda. But that sales pitch never really worked. While some buyers appreciated the Volkswagen's unique niche, the heart of the market remained elsewhere.

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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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VW wagon isn't as useful as it looks, while Infiniti coupe offers sleek styling

2017 Volkswagen Golf Alltrack SE cropped for webThe tested 2017 Volkswagen Golf Alltrack SE costs $31,350, despite missing many features that are common at lower prices. COURTESY PHOTO   If you spend a lot of time around self-professed car nuts, you're likely to hear someone praising the station wagon. The humble, humdrum image of an old-timey family car has been replaced in auto enthusiast circles – and now, the wagon is widely seen as the smarter, more fun alternative to the ubiquitous crossovers. Without SUV pretense, a station wagon promises to cut through the crossover hype and bring extra practicality to an affordable, fuel-efficient passenger car.
The new 2017 Volkswagen Golf Alltrack tries to go even further toward this ideal – combining the appeal of both market segments. VW modified the existing Golf Sportwagen, giving it a slightly higher ride height, some styling tweaks, a more advanced all-wheel-drive system and the spiffy new “Alltrack” moniker. With this new wagon, Volkswagen is trying to capture some of the success that Subaru has seen with similar products: the Crosstrek compact hatchback and the Outback midsize wagon.

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VW's big crossover is appealing while Fiat fills a niche

2018 Volkswagen Atlas -- cropped for webThe 2018 Volkswagen Atlas is an all-new large crossover that competes well against the Ford Explorer and Honda Pilot. COURTESY PHOTO  

Volkswagen loyalists may remember the Routan. It was a minivan that featured VW styling and interior trim but was actually built by Chrysler, sharing its mechanical components with the Town & Country. Very few others will remember that car, however. The minivan market was already dwindling by the time the Routan reached the market in 2009, and Chrysler's budget focus clashed with Volkswagen's more premium-focused image. The Routan was discontinued after a few years of slow sales.
Now, VW has made a more wholehearted bid for market share among large family vehicles: the 2018 Atlas full-size crossover, an all-out assault on the best-selling Ford Explorer and Honda Pilot. A brief test drive of the Atlas at Volkswagen's American headquarters in Herndon, Va., suggested that this vehicle won't be as easily forgotten.

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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.

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Volkswagen gets down and gets funky with two new offerings

2017 Volkswagen Golf Alltrack -- webThe Volkswagen Golf Alltrack. COURTESY PHOTO  

Many automotive pundits looking to the future believe that the four-door sedan is a dying breed – and that the new mainstream choice, the default choice for most consumers, will be crossovers. Their higher seating positions, all-weather capability and handy cargo space give them a compelling advantage over passenger cars. 

Volkswagen is looking to take advantage of the trend with a new version of its Golf compact wagon, the Alltrack, which adds all-wheel-drive, a slightly higher ride height and some decorative trim. Think of it as VW's equivalent to the Subaru Outback, albeit in a smaller package. 

However, Volkswagen has been quietly making significant progress at its ordinary small sedan, the Jetta. It received mixed reviews when it debuted back in 2011, and has changed little cosmetically since then. But the 2017 Jetta, despite its age, makes a better impression than the new Alltrack. VW has been steadily boosting the car's value quotient and improving its fuel economy, and its composed ride and handling continue to shine. 

More attention will be given to the new Alltrack. After all, it's new and it's the vehicle in the hotter market segment. Moreover, Volkswagen's only other non-luxury crossover model, the Tiguan, is even older than the Jetta – and far less competitive, due to a high price and poor crash-test performance. Many shoppers in the VW dealership will definitely be directed toward the Alltrack. 

The Alltrack has some strong points, to be clear. Like the Golf on which it's based, it has a peppy engine; pleasant ride and handling; and cleanly styled, high-quality cabin. And its economy-car roots would seem to promise a level of value and fuel economy that conventional crossovers like a Honda CR-V can't match. 

But the Alltrack's drawbacks consign it to a fairly small niche. 

It's much less roomy than a CR-V or similar crossovers, with a comparatively tight rear seat and cargo hold – the Volkswagen is clearly an alternative to a small sedan, whereas the CR-V is more comparable to a midsize one. You don't get the high seating position of a crossover, either. Moreover, the Alltrack is actually even more expensive, with a lofty base price of $27,770. The tested midlevel SE model is $31,350, without even power seat adjustment or automatic climate control. As a final issue, the EPA fuel economy rating for mixed driving is just 25 mpg – worse than the CR-V and a few other bigger, less expensive crossovers. Even the big Outback is less expensive and more fuel-efficient than the Alltrack. 

You can save a bit of money by picking the new Golf Sportwagen 4Motion, which is the same car – including the all-wheel-drive system – without the 1.4-inch higher ride height or cosmetic enhancements. But in general, these VW wagons focus on premium over utility – consider them as an option, especially if extra space and a high seating position feel more bulky than beneficial, but don't buy one without scoping out the CR-V, Nissan Rogue, Mazda CX-5, Subaru Forester and/or Ford Escape. 

2017 Volkswagen Jetta SE -- webThe Volkswagen Jetta.  COURTESY PHOTO  

The Jetta, meanwhile, is a more mainstream product, and it's grown more so in recent years as VW added more standard features. It's competitively priced at a base price of $18,715, and the tested midlevel SE, at $22,815, is loaded with features that include a touchscreen infotainment system; a proximity key with push-button start; blind-spot monitoring; heated faux-leather seats; and a sunroof.

The cabin appointments can feel budget-grade, but the Jetta delivers impressive composure on the road by the standards of an economy car. It lacks the pizzazz of the latest Honda Civic, the zippy fun of a Mazda3 and the user-friendly simplicity of a Hyundai Elantra, but it's a pleasant and practical overall package. 

Volkswagen made the Jetta much more competitive for the 2016 model year with a new standard engine: a 1.4-liter with 150 horsepower. It replaced a weak, outmoded engine on the base car and a powerful but comparatively fuel-thirsty 1.8-liter on the SE – the engine still standard in the Golf and Alltrack. With the 1.4-liter, the Jetta's EPA ratings aren't class leading at 32 mpg in mixed driving with an automatic transmission, but they're no longer a liability. 

Combined that with the additional standard features, and the Jetta's subdued design aesthetic and pleasant driving experience help it fit a bigger niche than the overpriced Golf Alltrack. 

@BradyHoltAutos

 

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Reviews of the 2017 Chrysler Pacifica and 2016 VW Golf R

New Chrysler Pacifica van is the ultimate utility vehicle

2017 Chrysler PacificaThe minivan is generally the most useful vehicle for a large family, and the new 2017 Chrysler Pacifica is the best minivan on the market today. COURTESY PHOTO  

Recent Chrysler minivans – the Town & Country and Dodge Grand Caravan – have occupied the budget end of the marketplace. Honda, Toyota and then Kia introduced more sophisticated vans with higher levels of comfort, safety and refinement; the Chryslers' main advantage was a relatively low price. 

But Chrysler has once again taken firm control of the class it created back in 1984. The all-new 2017 Chrysler Pacifica, which replaces the Town & Country, impresses in every way. Ride and handling have improved; the van is smoother and less cumbersome, plus quicker and more fuel efficient. 

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Reviews of the 2016 Volkswagen Beetle Dune and Hyundai Tucson

Volkswagen Beetle Dune offers a slight taste of the past

 

2017 Volkswagen Beetle DuneThe 2017 Volkswagen Beetle Dune offers a pleasant modern driving experience and lots of character. COURTESY PHOTO  

Back when Volkswagens were ubiquitous as cheap but cheerful transportation, the original Beetle served as a blank canvas for many owners. One popular customization was the creation of dune buggies – with a raised suspension, big wheels, a bigger engine and other modifications, the “Baja Bug” and similar creations demonstrated surprising abilities in the sand.

These days, Volkswagens are generally priced on the high end of the markets where they compete. Today's Beetle is priced from $20,615, a retro-styled version of the Golf that reflects old appearances but not old character.

So, too, is the Beetle Dune version, which went on sale for 2016 on hatchback models and hits dealers this fall in the tested convertible form. Dune-exclusive golden paint (and matching plastic interior trim) reflect the hues of a sandy desert, and this model does sit a fraction of an inch higher off the ground than a standard Beetle.

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