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Honda engages in an Odyssey while Mercedes rolls

2018 Honda Odyssey croppedThe redesigned 2018 Honda Odyssey minivan is now the class leader for performance, comfort and luxury. COURTESY PHOTO  Last year, Chrysler introduced the 2017 Pacifica – an all-new minivan that offered an outstanding blend of everyday utility with high-end refinement and luxury.
Now, the competing Honda Odyssey is redesigned for the 2018 model year. Although it doesn't leapfrog the Pacifica, the 2018 Odyssey addresses many of the old model's shortcomings while expanding on its strengths. That upgrade is enough to win back some buyers who might otherwise be tempted by the Chrysler, though each minivan leads in a particular niche.
Since 2011, the Odyssey has been a style leader in the minivan class, with a more dramatic appearance than the class norm.

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Mitsubishi crossover, big Toyota sedan retain some appeal

2018 Mitsubishi Outlander Sport cropped for webThe 2018 Mitsubishi Outlander Sport doesn't impress for its refinement or fuel efficiency, but it delivers a true crossover experience in a small and affordable package. COURTESY PHOTO  Mitsubishi was ahead of the curve when it launched the 2011 Outlander Sport. A size smaller than a Honda CR-V or Toyota RAV4, the Outlander Sport offered the high seating position, available all-wheel-drive and useful cargo capacity of competing compact crossovers – just without as much bulk or as high of a price.
Now, an entire market class has joined Mitsubishi: the subcompact crossover. It faces off against such competitors as the Honda HR-V and Toyota C-HR, after those automakers also realized that not everyone wanted a crossover as large as their best-selling models.
The Outlander Sport has changed little since 2011, but it retains its fundamental appeal. From its base price of $21,360, the 2018 Outlander Sport provides a credible crossover experience in a class where some models offer no more cargo space or ground clearance than an economy car. Mitsubishi also boosts its value quotient by including such items as a touchscreen infotainment system, 18-inch alloy wheels and automatic climate control as no-extra-cost standard equipment, along with generous warranty coverage.
That's not to say that it's all good news. Even back in 2011, the Outlander Sport wasn't too impressive for its refinement or driving dynamics – and without major mechanical upgrades since then, it's not surprising that the 2018 also isn't going to blow you away.

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Chevy and Buick crossovers offer full-size space and some other nice options

2018 Chevrolet Traverse cropped for webThe redesigned 2018 Chevrolet Traverse full-size crossover boasts various improvements over last year's model, but its strongest asset is an especially roomy interior. COURTESY PHOTO  When a car is redesigned, it's more likely to become larger than smaller. Understandably so: Extra space is an obvious selling point to justify the new model over its predecessor.
General Motors bucked this trend with the fully-redesigned 2017 GMC Acadia. Once a plus-sized crossover, the all-new 2017 model slimmed down into the midsize class, gaining fuel efficiency and handling agility, even if interior volume declined.
But the Acadia's former mechanical twins – the Chevrolet Traverse and the more luxurious Buick Enclave – didn't follow the same path. Redesigned for 2018, these two crossovers remain unapologetically massive, with among the best space for passengers and cargo in anything short of a minivan.

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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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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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Hybrid van saves gas while Miata adds hardtop

 

2017 Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid cropped for webThe 2017 Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid minivan can travel 33 miles per electric charge and then operates as an efficient gas-electric hybrid. COURTESY PHOTO  Imagine a vehicle that can carry you and six other adults from Rockville to downtown Washington and back without using a drop of gasoline — or do the trip solo in I-270's HOV lanes.
There are two vehicles that can pull off this achievement, both using electric motors and Maryland's perks to drivers of electric cars. One is the Tesla Model X, an all-electric luxury crossover with a base price of around $80,000. The other is the all-new 2017 Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid, a plug-in hybrid version of Chrysler's popular minivan.
The EPA estimates that the Pacifica Hybrid can go 33 miles on an all-electric charge and then switch over to its gas-electric operation, which manages 32 mpg. Both figures are impressive.

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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.

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Japan’s big pickups challenge the domestic brands

2017 Nissan Titan cropped for webThe redesigned 2017 Nissan Titan is spacious and relatively affordable for a full-size truck, but it's heavy and lacks some modern tech features. COURTESY PHOTO  Although Japanese vehicles are among the bestsellers in almost every market segment, there's one that the nation's automakers have utterly failed to crack: the full-size pickup truck. There, Ford's F Series, General Motors' Chevrolet Silverado and GMC Sierra, and Chrysler's Ram remain dominant on the sales charts.
Toyota, Nissan and Honda all have pickup trucks — they just haven't resonated with buyers the same way. Toyota has had the most luck, which is ironic given that its Tundra hasn't received a major redesign in more than a decade. The newly-overhauled Nissan Titan and Honda Ridgeline sell at a fraction of the Tundra's pace, and the Tundra itself significantly trails pickups from the American “Big Three” automakers.
Are the current sales figures of big pickups the result of buyers' reluctance to stray from familiar brands? Or are the Japanese trucks just not as good as their American counterparts?

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Updated midsize sedans take different approaches

2018 Honda Accord cropped for webThe redesigned 2018 Honda Accord delivers exemplary levels of performance, luxury and everyday utility. COURTESY PHOTO  These days, the once-staid midsize family sedan market segment is quickly becoming anything but boring.
Just look at the class's two bestsellers: the Toyota Camry and Honda Accord. Both are benefiting from 2018 redesigns that have transformed their characters.
Previously, these two models were as famous for their high degrees of competence as they were for their plain characters – lacking the luxury, style and sporty performance that distinguish mainstream cars from luxury ones. Now, both blur that line, at least based on short preview drives. These sedans remain spacious and affordable, yet they now boast flashier styling, posher interiors, more solid-feeling ride quality, more responsive steering and handling, and zippier acceleration.
The 2018 Camry stood out from the crowd when it appeared over the summer, and the new Accord promises to join it when it hits the market this week. The Camry tops the Accord for brute-force horsepower, but the Accord's turbocharged four-cylinder engines are punchy and light. Both cars are rated for economy-car fuel consumption, with base models comfortably exceeding 30 mpg in mixed driving.

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Prius adds efficiency while Audi hides its utility

2017 Toyota Prius Prime cropped for webThe 2017 Toyota Prius Prime plug-in offers a mix of zero or minimal gasoline usage, and it's priced from just $23,495 after a federal tax credit. COURTESY PHOTO  Say you're looking to buy a Toyota Prius — one of the most fuel-efficient cars sold in the U.S. — and were told that you could get even better gas mileage and a fancier interior for the same money.
Or say you favor an all-electric car to avoid using any gasoline at all, but worry about what happens when your battery runs out.
In either case, you might find a surprisingly good fit in the new 2017 Toyota Prius Prime.

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