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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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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 Kia subcompact puts economy first

The redesigned 2018 Kia Rio subcompact car strives to be simple, functional and affordable, and generally succeeds. COURTESY PHOTOThe redesigned 2018 Kia Rio subcompact car strives to be simple, functional and affordable, and generally succeeds. COURTESY PHOTO  If you haven’t bought an economy car in a while, it’s easy to get sticker shock. The cheapest automatic-transmission Honda Civic wears a sticker price north of $20,000, and it’s become common for a fully-loaded compact sedan to approach $30,000.
But if you’d like to follow a stricter budget, several subcompact models serve as functional transportation while providing contemporary features such as Bluetooth and USB smartphone connectivity, rearview cameras and touchscreen infotainment systems. And while they won’t match the artfully-refined driving dynamics and spacious interior of today’s Civic, these options don’t have to disappoint you for ride smoothness, driver comfort and cabin build quality.
One such option is the 2018 Kia Rio, which has been freshly redesigned and is available as a four-door sedan and a five-door hatchback. It’s priced from $14,795 and is a perfectly serviceable commuter companion.
As part of this year's redesign, Kia stripped the Rio of its earlier design flair, leaving a plainer but more functional little box on wheels — trading verve for maximum value and improved visibility. That change speaks to the car’s attitude: It handles most tasks with competence, but offers little excellence. While many recent subcompact cars have tried to come off as sporty and upscale — notably, the Ford Fiesta and the last-generation Rio — Kia stuck with basic, functional and affordable.

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Redesigned Hyundai hatchback comes up short

2018 Hyundai Elantra GT cropped for webThe redesigned 2018 Hyundai Elantra GT compact hatchback is a renamed version of the European Hyundai i30. COURTESY PHOTO  The recipe appears to have the right ingredients.
The redesigned 2018 Hyundai Elantra GT compact hatchback boasts a European-style exterior with classy, restrained design cues; a well-finished, ergonomically sensible interior; and loads of features for the money, starting from a reasonable base price of $20,235.
But some design foibles, engineering shortcomings and hard-to-find tech options hold back the Elantra GT against such outstanding competitors as the Honda Civic and Mazda3.
First of all, don’t confuse the Elantra GT with the Elantra sedan, the Korean brand’s bestselling product. Although the sedan and GT share some mechanical components under the skin, the Elantra GT is essentially a renamed version of the Hyundai i30 that the company developed for the European market – where compact-car buyers expect more sportiness and luxury than Americans are used to.
The Elantra GT starts off its performance specs with more standard horsepower than the sedan: 161 rather than 147, both from a 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine. There’s also different tuning of their six-speed automatic transmissions, and the Elantra GT lacks the fuel-saving but performance-blunting “eco mode” option found in the sedan.

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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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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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Kia Soul hides sensibility with style as Jaguar gets into crossover game

 

 

2017 Kia Soul -- cropped for webThe Kia Soul is a useful, comfortable and affordable tall hatchback that competes well with compact crossovers. COURTESY PHOTO  

With bright orange paint, exuberant styling and a turbocharged 201-horsepower engine, the recently tested 2017 Kia Soul looks like a car that's designed for fun more than functionality. But for better or for worse, the Soul is the most successful as a roomy, refined, affordable box – not as a sporty car.

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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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