Elegant Elantra unfurls 2017 banner

The 2017 Hyundai Elantra has shed its “small car” look, with styling more like the larger Sonata. (Bud Wells photo)

The 2017 Hyundai Elantra has shed its “small car” look, with styling more like the larger Sonata. (Bud Wells photo)

The ’17 models are beginning to show, as April 2016 gives way to May.

I spent last week driving the redesigned 2017 Hyundai Elantra, which is looking more and more like the larger Sonata. A week earlier, it was the ’17 Kia Sportage which came my way.

I attended an unveiling of the ’17 Chrysler Pacifica minivan, successor to the Town & Country, at Newport Beach, Calif., in early March. It is soon to be headed this way to be shown to members of the Rocky Mountain Automotive Press on May 5 at the Sanctuary Golf Course at Sedalia.

Sleek body lines add style to the new Elantra, from its chrome five-bar hexagonal grille to its short rear deck. The Hyundai compact has been one of my favorites in recent years, competing against popular entries Honda Civic, Ford Focus, Toyota Corolla and Mazda3.

It performs smoothly, if not powerfully, with its 147-horsepower, 2.0-liter, 4-cylinder engine and 6-speed automatic transmission. Engaging a sport mode button tightens steering and adds response to its shift control; other modes are “normal” and “eco.”

I averaged an impressive 35 miles per gallon in overall driving with the Elantra; its EPA estimate is 28/37. The newest Chevy Cruze has served notice that 37 may not be good enough, as it is reporting 40 to 42 mpg in highway testing.

The Elantra offers plenty of headroom and legroom in its rear seating area, along with comfortable seating both front and back. Occasionally, the driver’s power seat control would seem to hesitate; the control lever would slide, then seem to catch before effectively moving the seat. I had the same minor irritant when driving a 2016 Kia Optima several months ago.

The Elantra offers a good-sized, 14-cubic-foot trunk; it’s a “smart trunk,” which opens automatically when it senses the proximity key within 3 feet behind the vehicle for 3 seconds or longer.

The Hyundai Elantra Limited review model carried a sticker price of $27,710, which among a long list of amenities included navigation with 8-inch touchscreen, Infinity premium audio, sunroof, heated front and rear seats, and “bending-light” headlamps for added illumination during turns.

The Korean-based Elantra is assembled in Alabama.

One of the better-looking compact crossovers is the recently arrived 2017 Kia Sportage SX. (Bud Wells photo)

One of the better-looking compact crossovers is the recently arrived 2017 Kia Sportage SX. (Bud Wells photo)

Another 2017 model, vastly improved in exterior styling, is the Kia Sportage, competing in the crowded compact crossover market against the likes of Escape, CR-V, Rogue, Tucson and Equinox.

Kia designers, in the fourth generation for the Sportage, have added almost 2 inches to overall length and the restyle lends prominence to its “tiger-nose” grille. The Sportage is built in Korea. Its model name was introduced into the U.S. in 1995.

The 2017 Sportage SX review model is of front-wheel-drive configuration; most Sportages sold in the Denver area are all-wheel drive.

The new interior is attractive and quiet, with power controls for both driver and front passenger, and a roomy rear seating area. The driver’s seat lacks for bolstering and cushioning. Cargo space has grown by more than 4 cubic feet to 30.7, and a power liftgate is engaged when the key pod is carried within 3 feet of it.

Beneath the hood of the SX is a 240-horsepower, 2.0-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder engine tied to a 6-speed automatic transmission. Base power for Sportage LX and EX trims is a 181-hp, 2.4-liter naturally aspirated 4-cylinder.

The SX’s normal drive mode can be adjusted to Sport or Eco; the Sport mode tightens steering and goes into higher RPM for shifts, which overcomes slight lag in low-end torque. Midrange performance is strong. Shifting in the Sport mode can be done with taps of the shifter or with paddles on the steering wheel.

Overall fuel mileage was 24.9 miles per gallon; EPA estimate is 21/26. The Sportage rides on Hankook 245/45R19 tires.

The Sportage SX carried a sticker price of $33,395; an all-wheel-drive option would add $1,500. Among amenities with the review model are leather seats heated and cooled in front, panoramic sunroof, navigation, Harmon Kardon premium audio, side-curtain airbags, dual-zone climate control, push-button start and rearview camera.

The front interior area of the new Chrysler Pacifica minivan. (FCA photo)

The front interior area of the new Chrysler Pacifica minivan. (FCA photo)

Regarding the Pacifica, the upright look of the former Chrysler minivan has given way to a much more softened front end, adding attraction. It is a bit longer, wider and taller and it will ride on an extra-wide track. Jan and I drove the new Pacifica to San Diego for a tour of the city zoo’s Safari Park.

Also planned for the Pacifica is a plug-in hybrid version with an all-electric range of 30 miles; the hybrid will use two electric motors with the 3.6-liter V-6 engine.

While enjoying dinner with Jan and automotive journalists from around the country the second night of the Pacifica unveiling in Newport Beach last month, I met Don Buffamanti, a photographer who produces Autospies.com, based in San Diego. Mention of my Denver Post connection brought this enthusiastic response from him, “I was a placekicker for Coach Chuck Fairbanks on the Colorado Buffalo football team in 1979.” Buffamanti is fairly well regarded in the automotive photo world; those many long runbacks of his kickoffs in Boulder did no lasting harm.