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Dodge adds traction to its storied muscle car

The 2018 Dodge Challenger is a surprisingly roomy retro-styled sports coupe that’s priced from $28,640. COURTESY PHOTOThe 2018 Dodge Challenger is a surprisingly roomy retro-styled sports coupe that’s priced from $28,640. COURTESY PHOTO  When you look at the Dodge Challenger, it’s unlikely that your first reaction will be “practical.”
This isn’t a sensible four-door family sedan. It’s not a minivan or an SUV.
It’s a sinister-looking, retro-styled muscle car, a two-door performance coupe that recalls the gas-guzzling hot rods of the early-1970s.
But since its reintroduction as a 2009 model, the Challenger has always been among the most-functional sports coupes. Compared to its chief rivals — the Chevrolet Camaro and Ford Mustang — the Challenger has a spacious, family-friendly interior. This coupe’s upright silhouette and full-size dimensions provide unusually generous rear-seat accommodations, enough to fit two adults or three children in relative comfort.
Now, the Challenger has yet another advantage over its Detroit rivals: an available all-wheel-drive system.

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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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New Chevrolet hatchback offers refined versatility

The 2018 Chevrolet Cruze is a refined compact sedan or hatchback that’s priced from $16,975. COURTESY PHOTOThe 2018 Chevrolet Cruze is a refined compact sedan or hatchback that’s priced from $16,975. COURTESY PHOTO  Why buy a big car?
There are many reasons, of course. Interior volume is often the leading factor — space and comfort for the driver and passengers, and enough room for their cargo.
But another reason many folks seek larger cars is that bigger, more-expensive models often deliver a higher grade of refinement. They’re quieter, and they ride more smoothly. They look more elegant or mature. They feel more confidently planted even at high speeds. They aren’t cheap, basic transportation — they’re a cut above.
But not every big car offers those qualities. Instead, you’ll regularly find one that’s just as underwhelming as an economy car, albeit with some extra leg room.
If you’re looking for a car that feels satisfyingly non-basic, and don’t need maximum interior volume, you’ll want to consider the Chevrolet Cruze. It’s a compact four-door sedan or five-door hatchback that’s more affordable and fuel-efficient than a larger class of vehicle, competing against such models as the Toyota Corolla, Nissan Sentra, and Hyundai Elantra.

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Sometimes you just want to go fast - or fast with some poise

The 2018 Infiniti Q50 Red Sport 400 is a mild-looking compact luxury sedan with a whopping 400-horsepower V6 engine. COURTESY PHOTOThe 2018 Infiniti Q50 Red Sport 400 is a mild-looking compact luxury sedan with a whopping 400-horsepower V6 engine. COURTESY PHOTOSometimes, maybe you just want to go fast.
And luxury automakers are happy to help you do so — for the right price. As long as you’re willing to spend $60,000 to $70,000 (or more, if you pick any options), you can get more than 400 horsepower from an Audi RS5, BMW M3, Cadillac ATS-V, Lexus RC F, or Mercedes-Benz AMG C 63. These cars also feature stiffer suspension tuning that readies them for racetrack-ready handling poise.
But maybe you just want to go fast.
Enter the Infiniti Q50 Red Sport 400 compact entry-luxury sedan, or its Q60 coupe variant. It’s not necessarily red, but the “400” justifies the name “sport.” That’s the horsepower rating from the Infiniti’s turbocharged 3.0-liter V6 engine. And while its base price isn’t exactly a steal at $51,995, it offers super-quick acceleration for the price of far less zippy European competitors.

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Electrified Hyundai and Kia allow eco-friendly commutes

The Hyundai Ioniq Electric is an electric-only hatchback that’s efficient and fun to drive but sold only in California so far. Marylanders can still buy a hybrid or plug-in hybrid Ioniq, though. COURTESY PHOTOThe Hyundai Ioniq Electric is an electric-only hatchback that’s efficient and fun to drive but sold only in California so far. Marylanders can still buy a hybrid or plug-in hybrid Ioniq, though. COURTESY PHOTO  If you’re looking to add some electricity to your car, Korea’s Hyundai and Kia are offering a large and steadily growing lineup of hybrid, plug-in hybrid and all-electric models.
These corporate cousins collectively offer two pure electric vehicles (EVs, which have no gas engine); four plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEVs, which can run on electricity from the grid but also have engines); and four gas-electric hybrids that save fuel without needing to be plugged in. At least one more EV is due this fall.
The heart of this fuel-saving lineup is the Hyundai Ioniq, a compact hatchback, and its mechanical twin the Kia Niro, which blurs the line between a small station wagon and a crossover. Both are sold both as hybrids and PHEVs, and there’s also an all-electric Ioniq that’s so far sold only in California.
Recent tests of the Ioniq Electric and Niro PHEV, along with drives of both cars’ hybrid variants last year, reveal a pair of comfortable, user-friendly, affordable fuel savers. For better or for worse, they lack the strong personality of a Toyota Prius — instead, they feel like everyday economy cars even as they achieve exceptional fuel efficiency.

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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.

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Ram pickup goes mellow while Ford overhauls its F-150

The 2019 Ram 1500 full-size pickup truck has been redesigned to smooth out its most aggressive styling details. COURTESY PHOTOThe 2019 Ram 1500 full-size pickup truck has been redesigned to smooth out its most aggressive styling details. COURTESY PHOTO  Twenty-five years ago, Chrysler was selling the country’s stodgiest full-size pickup truck. Boxy and characterless, the 1993 Dodge Ram lacked the gently curved body of the Ford F-150 or the extra-brash angularity of the Chevrolet C/K.
The company flipped the script for the 1994 model year. A prominent crosshairs-style chrome grille stood tall and proud on the front end, with low headlights swelling into bold fenders.
Though it remained the country’s No. 3 best-seller, always behind its Ford and Chevrolet competitors, the Ram continued to be the most aggressive American truck. It solidified its image by introducing the famous “Hemi” V8 engine in 2003 with best-in-class horsepower.
But with its latest redesign, which just hit dealerships as a 2019 model, the Ram has become more mild-mannered. An all-new front end design raised the headlights and revised the grille, abandoning the signature look of the last two and a half decades. Gone are the fender bulges and the crosshairs grille. If it weren’t for the big “RAM” lettering on the new grille, the front end would be almost entirely anonymous. LED light bands ringing the headlights resemble the Dodge Charger sedan’s, but for several years Ram has been its own brand anyway, no longer a Dodge.

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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.

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Midsize Buick subtly adds a hatchback utility

The 2018 Buick Regal Sportback is a pleasant midsize car whose sedan-like silhouette hides a versatile hatchback body style. COURTESY PHOTOThe 2018 Buick Regal Sportback is a pleasant midsize car whose sedan-like silhouette hides a versatile hatchback body style. COURTESY PHOTO  It’s easy to see why many buyers are fleeing midsize cars in favor of crossovers. A crossover provides more cargo room and available all-wheel-drive at an affordable price, along with steadily improving driving dynamics and fuel economy.
But if you prefer the looks or the lower seating position of a sedan, you’ll want to check out the new 2018 Buick Regal Sportback.
The Regal Sportback is a five-door hatchback that’s disguised as a sedan and that offers all-wheel-drive. A little trunk lid sticks out behind the rear windshield, but the metal and glass all lift up as one piece. This design opens up a large, open cargo hold — unlike the closed-off trunk of a sedan  — to provide greater cargo flexibility and total volume.

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Redesigned Camry Hybrid ups its fuel-saving game

The 2018 Toyota Camry Hybrid is priced from $28,695 and can get more than 50 miles per gallon. COURTESY PHOTOThe 2018 Toyota Camry Hybrid is priced from $28,695 and can get more than 50 miles per gallon. COURTESY PHOTO  If you drive a hybrid, odds are that you drive a Toyota. Although competition has become fierce in the gas-electric segment of the market, Toyota has the largest number of hybrid models and most of the bestselling ones.
One of those popular models is the Camry Hybrid midsize sedan, which has been available now for more than a decade. As the gas-electric version of America’s bestselling car, it combines excellent fuel economy with the Camry’s high standards for roominess and comfort.
The Camry Hybrid is now better than ever. All Camry models were fully redesigned for 2018, providing fresh styling, more luxurious interiors and improved driving dynamics. The hybrid also benefits from mechanical upgrades that greatly improve its gas mileage. The base LE model soars from an EPA rating of 40 miles per gallon to a class-leading 52 mpg, while the better-equipped SE and XLE improve from a worst-in-class 38 mpg to an excellent 46 mpg.

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