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Hybrid Volvos blend power, luxury and efficiency

The 2018 Volvo XC60 luxury crossover is available as a plug-in hybrid, which can travel up to 17 miles per electric charge. COURTESY PHOTOThe 2018 Volvo XC60 luxury crossover is available as a plug-in hybrid, which can travel up to 17 miles per electric charge. COURTESY PHOTO  If you think of a hybrid car, you’re probably picturing a pokey little fuel-saver — a Toyota Prius, or something like it. A compact, affordable economy car that’s built to use as little gas as possible while you’re sitting in traffic or running errands.
But in the luxury market, many hybrids are a different beast. In addition to saving gas, many luxury hybrids use their electric motors to provide stronger acceleration. Electric motors make maximum torque right off the line, unlike gas engines that have to rev up to reach peak performance. So these two powertrains can work together to make a car fast under any condition.
Volvo is a market leader in these luxury performance hybrids. It offers plug-in hybrid variants of three popular models: the XC60 and XC90 crossovers and the S90 sedan. The trio shares a powertrain that Volvo calls the “T8,” a 2.0-liter four-cylinder gasoline engine with a supercharger and a turbocharger, plus two electric motors. The total output rivals a sports car’s 400 horsepower and 472 pound-feet of torque. That’s more torque than a Chevrolet Corvette Stingray.

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Sport sedans that have room to stretch out

The 2018 Volvo S90 is a stylish and sporty luxury sedan with more rear legroom than ever. COURTESY PHOTOThe 2018 Volvo S90 is a stylish and sporty luxury sedan with more rear legroom than ever. COURTESY PHOTOIn most cases, luxury sedans are limited to two of three qualities: a sporty driving experience, a roomy interior and a (relatively) attainable price.
Powerful engines and fun-to-drive handling are common in the compact and midsize luxury classes, but these models tend to be a little tight in the back seat – or at least not stretch-out spacious. Models such as the Cadillac XTS and Lincoln Continental offer plenty of room but prioritize a smooth ride over handling poise. And while a Mercedes-Benz S-Class offers exquisite driving dynamics along with a spacious cabin, it’s generally priced into the six figures.
Two recently tested sedans, newly updated for 2018, offer a compelling balance of all three qualities. One is the Genesis G80, a big but fairly priced sedan from Hyundai’s luxury brand, which is newly available in a "Sport" trim with powerful turbocharged engine and revised suspension tuning. The other is the Volvo S90, which received a longer wheelbase to improve rear seat space just one year after it debuted for 2017.

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Alfa Romeo, Volvo heat up holiday crossover class

2018 Volvo XC60 cropped for webThe redesigned 2018 Volvo XC60 is a luxurious, well-rounded crossover that's priced from $42,495.  COURTESY PHOTO  As a family car, crossovers have become almost ubiquitous -- having vanquished the station wagon and minivan, and having even overtaken the sedan with their excellent versatility, high seating position, and in-demand image; they're now appealing to buyers across a significant swath of the market.
Volvo was among of the first automakers to recognize the appeal of a compact but luxurious crossover, launching the first-generation XC60 in 2010. It offered the brand's traditional safety, comfort, and Scandinavian aesthetics, but without the bulk of its larger sibling, the XC90.
Since then, a host of comparable luxury marques has made a compact premium crossover offering, including Lexus, Jaguar, Porsche and Alfa Romeo. Most of these models — generally priced starting in the upper $30,000s to lower $40,000s — have emphasized sporty styling and performance, taking advantage of their relatively svelte dimensions to position themselves as the more fun alternative to a larger-sized crossover.
But despite a redesign for 2018, the XC60 is standing by its original formula. More boxy than sleek, it prioritizes a roomy interior and provides respectable outward visibility. The cabin is both posh and quite spacious for a compact crossover, and what comes under the cabin allows the vehicle to boast quite the smooth ride.

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Corolla puts value above other qualities while Volvo flagship marries interior and sporty handling

2017 Toyota Corolla -- cropped for webThe updated 2017 Toyota Corolla trails competing compact cars in many ways, but it's still worth a look for safety on a tight budget. COURTESY PHOTO  

A few decades ago – or even more recently, depending on who you ask – American economy cars were sorry pieces of junk, undesirable models that were built only reluctantly by automakers that just wanted to improve their average fleet fuel economy. Meanwhile, Korean competitors hit the scene without competitive engineering or quality control.

This was the era in which the Toyota Corolla shone, offering solid engineering and thoughtful design that was contrasted against the indifference or inadequacy found in many competitors.

These days, though, the Corolla is in a very different market position. Against its increasingly solid competition, it feels like basic transportation; many other compact cars feel sophisticated by comparison, with well-finished interiors; polished ride and handling; and clever in-dash technology.

The Corolla, to be blunt, has none of those things – at least not by the standards of 2017.

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Reviews of the 2017 Mitsubishi Mirage and Volvo S90

Small Mitsubishi offers modern basics at affordable price

2017 Mitsubishi Mirage G4 SEThe 2017 Mitsubishi Mirage G4 SE is far from invigorating to drive, but it meets modern standards for safety and feature content at a particularly low price point. COURTESY PHOTO  

It's hard to find a truly basic car these days. Every vehicle on the market meets high standards for safety, including crash-test performance that would have been outstanding just a decade ago, and standard electronic stability control. Nearly every vehicle on the market is equipped with electronic features that include USB connectivity and power windows, locks and mirrors.

The Mitsubishi Mirage is the least expensive vehicle sold in the U.S. with those features. Available as a five-door hatchback or a newly introduced four-door sedan, the Mirage hatchback starts at a sticker price of just $13,830 (or $1,000 more for the tested G4 sedan). Even the well-equipped G4 SE – the tested car with an automatic transmission, alloy wheels, automatic climate control, heated front seats, cruise control, a proximity key system with push-button start, Bluetooth connectivity, a backup camera, and a touchscreen infotainment system with Android Auto or Apple CarPlay integration – is just $17,830.

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Reviews of the 2016 Honda Civic and Volvo XC60

 

Redesigned Civic gets a jolt of excitement

Honda Civic2016 Honda Civic Touring sedan. COURTESY PHOTO 

Many Honda Civic owners are determinedly loyal, gravitating toward the latest car to wear that familiar 44-year-old name. Honda hasn't always rewarded their loyalty with a best-in-class product, but the all-new 2016 model is a true standout that merits serious attention among compact economy cars.

You can't miss the changes. Long and low, the redesigned body is curvy and edgy, all the way from its chrome-clad snout to its angular-crescent-moon taillights. And while the last Civic's driving dynamics settled for mild-mannered adequacy, the 2016 model strives to seriously impress, and it succeeds.

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