Test Drive: The best crossovers and sedans

Last year’s parade of test cars included some exciting new models notable mostly for their standout fuel economy. One of our test cars had a range of 758 miles — enough to drive nonstop from Bethel, Conn., to Myrtle Beach, S.C., without stopping for gasoline.

Without further ado, here are the vehicles that made a big impression on us in 2017.

Subcompact sedan

Since the onset of the diesel debacle that began in 2015, many U.S. drivers may view Volkswagen as an underdog, but the German automaker — with a strong manufacturing presence in the United States — isn’t behaving like one. While noting the 2018 VW Golf costs more than many of its subcompact competitors, we wrote: “The Golf’s personality is far more refined; it really doesn’t ride, perform or feel like an economy car. And it’s much more fun to drive than any of its major competitors, save the similarly priced Mazda3.” The well-equipped Golf SE TSI was priced in the high $20,000 range. VW also builds a Golf for every preference — including the sporty, 292-horsepower Golf R, an all-electric Golf with a range of about 125 miles, and two wagons with available all-wheel drive.

Subcompact crossover

We’ve long been fans of the downsizing trend in crossovers and SUVs, but usually haven’t warmed to subcompact crossovers. An exception last year was the Honda HR-V. “The 2017 HR-V EX-L was peppy, refined, quiet, fuel-efficient and supple — and reasonably priced, given its long standard-equipment list.” The diminutive Honda crossover can swallow 55.9 cubic feet of cargo and reach 34 mpg when equipped with a continuously variable transmission and front-wheel drive. Base-priced below $20,000, and $27,140 in Ex-L trim, it almost, but not quite, provides enough leg room for 6-foot drivers. As we noted in our review, the only subcompact crossover that meets that benchmark is the Buick Encore.

Compact crossover

The Hyundai Tucson follows the Korean tradition of embellishing its standard models with features that other automakers charge extra for, but it goes a step further by delivering competent handling, a comfortable ride, and ample room for cargo and passengers. Our black test car was sticker-priced at about $30,000, but a base model can be had for $23,000. In keeping with the Korean automakers’ recent advances in fuel economy, it’s rated at 26 mpg city, 32 highway, with all-wheel drive. “We mainly used our Tucson for commuting and grocery trips,” we noted in our review, “but it was built for more arduous tasks. Unlike many small SUVs, it has a versatile drive system that includes active on-demand AWD with selectable locking AWD. With 6.4 inches of ground clearance, it isn’t set up for extreme 4-wheeling but is not limited to paved roads.” Those qualities set the Tucson apart from many of its rivals.

Midsize sedan

The Honda Accord has been one of America’s most highly rated midsize sedans since the 1980s, but Honda hasn’t rested on its laurels. The 2017 Accord Hybrid Touring truly was a special midsummer treat. “Driving the Accord from western Connecticut to southern Maine, and later, to southern New Jersey, we sometimes wondered whether the fuel gauge was stuck — but it was working just fine. To say the car sipped gasoline exaggerates its thirst. With its 15.8-gallon gasoline tank, it’s capable to leaving 758 miles of pavement under its wheels after every fill-up.” The Accord felt ever so slightly boggy under hard acceleration on the highway, but otherwise, it delivered on every promise that comes with the Accord name. While the conventional Accord LX, base-priced at $22,455, can achieve the hybrid’s 49 mpg, it’s no slouch at 36 mpg on the highway, either.

Green

We didn’t test-drive any all-electric cars last year, but the Korean hybrids — the Hyundai Ioniq and Kia Niro — made a big impression. The Ioniq hatchback, rated at 55 mpg and priced as low as $22,200, can haul 50 cubic feet of cargo. It’s also available as a plug-in hybrid or all-electric car. Our only complaint was an oddly jittery rear suspension. The Niro falls a bit short of the Ioniq in the fuel-economy department, but it has about 10 percent more cargo room and the convenience of a wagon body. That may help to explain its strong sales lead over the Ioniq — 27,237 to 11,197 through December 2017.

Next week: the top sports car, luxury sedan, minivan, sport-utility vehicle and pickup truck for 2017.

Steven Macoy ([email protected]) is a longtime car enthusiast and full-time editor who lives in Bethel, Conn.