General Motors has been searching for a more appealing formula for its Chevrolet Malibu. While a decent car, the outgoing generation lacked styling verve, fell behind on fuel economy, and didn’t equal its key rivals with rear accommodations. Redesigned for 2016, the new Malibu emerged looking svelte, with a significant weight loss to back it up. But at $26,790 with cloth seats and no automatic climate control, it's not a great deal at full MSRP, even compared to a Honda Accord or Toyota Camry.

On the other hand, Kia has found a successful recipe; eschewing the bargain-basement cars of their past, recent Kias have been stylish and lavishly equipped, while still selling for attractive prices. Our 2016 Kia Optima EX test car sticks to this plan; equipped with leather and heated front seats, it stickers for just $25,860.

Toyota updated their RAV4 small SUV, but you'll be hard to spot the changes. The big news is the addition of a hybrid RAV4, filling a void in the marketplace left by the discontinued Ford Escape Hybrid. Unlike the typical hybrid, Toyota doesn't charge a lot more for the fuel-saving technology, helpful given that low fuel prices are hurting the financial case for hybrids—at least until prices go back up at the pump.

Our previous episode generated a lot of viewer comments about self-driving cars, so we survey the variety of opinions. Some have no interest in surrendering their steering wheel, while others note the confusion surrounding the limitations of today's technology. We also look at the role of driver training versus safety technology for new drivers. Finally, as the podcast equivalent of dessert, we compare and contrast Japanese sports cars from the last 15 years.  

Jake Fisher, Tom Mutchler, and Gabe Shenhar discuss popular cars
Jake Fisher, Tom Mutchler, and Gabe Shenhar

As with the other "Talking Cars," this episode on popular cars is also available free through the iTunes Store. Subscribe to the video or audio. You'll also find the video on YouTube.

Share your comments on this show below, and let us know if you need any advice for choosing a car.

Self-Driving Cars, episode 86
2016 Detroit Auto Show, episode 85
2015 Automotive Year in Review, episode 84
Debating Two Thrilling Mercedes-Benz AMG Cars, episode 83
Honda Civic, Lexus RX, & Owner Satisfaction, episode 82