2019 Buick Encore Essence AWD Road Test

2019 Buick Encore Essence AWD
Buick will redesign its popular Encore for 2020, but this 2019 model still provides a lot of value, practicality and refinement for the price.

When you think of Buick, does the word “global” come to mind? While those outside of North America and China may not have ever heard of the Buick brand name, most of its models are sold under alternative badges in other jurisdictions, such as Opel in continental Europe, Vauxhall in the UK, plus Holden in Australia and New Zealand, while the cars and crossover SUVs sold here are often made somewhere else.

For instance, I recently reviewed a 2019 Regal GS (see the 2020 model here) that was designed by GM’s German and Australian divisions cooperatively, with input from its North American and Chinese arms, and then built in Rüsselsheim, Germany, plus Shanghai for the Chinese market, the latter assembly plant producing the LaCrosse full-size sedan (check out the newest LaCrosse here) as well, a car I last reviewed in 2017, although our variation on Buick’s flagship four-door is assembled at the General’s Detroit/Hamtramck plant.

A nameplate you may not be as aware of yet plays a more important role in Buick’s future is its compact Envision crossover SUV (check out the refreshed Envision here) that I reviewed the same year. While the Envision is related to both Chevy’s Equinox and GMC’s Terrain it was mostly designed and fully produced in China, plus is the first mass-produced vehicle to be fully assembled in China and sold to the U.S. and Canadian markets.

2019 Buick Encore Essence AWD
In top-line Essence trim with all packages included, the Encore just eclipses $40k.

The only U.S.-built vehicle to receive a Buick badge after the LaCrosse departs later this year will be the mid-size three-row Enclave (see the redesigned 2020 Enclave here) crossover SUV, made in Lansing, Michigan. Even the soon-to-arrive mid-size five-occupant Envoy, reportedly based on the new Chevrolet Blazer, will probably be produced in GM’s Coahuila, Mexico plant, where the Blazer currently calls home, but quite likely the upcoming Enspire, an SUV planned to squeeze in between the Encore and Envision, will be produced at the GM Fairfax facility in Kansas, being that initial hopes to import it from China aren’t appearing as promising as they once did.

Finally, the Encore hails from GM’s South Korean division that was formed from the remnants of Daewoo Motors. It’s produced in Bupyeong-Gu, Incheon next to the Chevrolet Trax, which incidentally is mostly the same subcompact SUV below the surface.

We’ll see a totally redesigned Encore for 2020, although we’ll need to wait until spring to purchase it. Today’s version hasn’t changed much since its stylish refresh for the 2017 model year, while it’s still in its first-generation, meaning it hasn’t been changed (much) below the skin since it arrived in 2012. I’ve tested and reviewed this model right from the beginning, and always appreciated it for what it was and still is, a nice, comfortable, quiet, fuel-efficient, surprisingly refined, even more surprisingly enjoyable to drive, reasonably well-featured, spacious city car/crossover with good all-season capabilities when AWD is added.

2019 Buick Encore Essence AWD
The LED headlamps and fog lights are standard in top-tier Essence trim, but the 7-spoke chrome alloys are optional.

For the above reasons I believe the Encore is one of the more intelligent buys in the entry-level subcompact sector, particularly for those of us who like being pampered. The 2019 Encore can be had for only $26,400 (plus freight and fees) before topping out at just north of $41k when all options and the majority of accessories get added, which is about where the majority of premium-badged players start off. To be fair, however, true luxury-branded subcompact SUV “rivals” such as BMW’s X1, Mercedes’ GLA, Audi’ Q3 and the list goes on are in a different league than Buick and this Encore when it comes to performance, interior finishings, available features, and all-important prestige.

Outside of China, where Buick has never really lost its premium sheen since the tailings of its dynastic era and once promising Republic rule, the three-crested badge doesn’t demand as much respect as Cadillac, which (unfortunately for GM) doesn’t impress to the degree of the previously noted German marques or even relative upstart Lexus. The Toyota-owned subsidiary only just ventured into this subcompact luxury SUV marketplace with its UX, a stylish little crossover that probably targets the type of comfort- and efficiency-first buyer the Encore attracts more closely, and therefore has quickly found significant traction on the sales charts to Audi’s dismay (the Q3 now sits in third behind the BMW X1 and Mercedes-Benz GLA-Class, or fourth if including the Encore).

2019 Buick Encore Essence AWD
Two-tone leather is a no-cost option with the 2019 Encore Essence.

Buick found 10,637 Encore customers in Canada through 2018, and continues to do quite well in the more mainstream volume-branded subcompact SUV segment too, achieving fifth place out of 17 challengers last year, with all but the Mini Countryman priced lower, the German-owned Brit asking $31,690 for its base SUV, although that model most often sells for more than $40k and can easily top $50k when adding features. That John Cooper Works Countryman is one of the better performing small SUVs at any price, mind you, while the Encore’s customers are much more interested in the attributes noted earlier, such as comfort, quietness, fuel efficiency, etcetera.

Achieving a high level of refinement is difficult in a small vehicle, and making matters worse the Encore is one of the smallest in its class. It’s actually smaller than the current Countryman as well as the older first-generation model (the current one has grown quite a bit), and it’s also smaller than the Nissan Qashqai, Toyota C-HR and Jeep Compass, not to mention all the premium-badged subcompact SUVs. This said the Encore is bigger than the Honda HR-V, Kia Soul, Ford EcoSport and a number of others, with some closer to its size being the Mitsubishi RVR, Nissan Kicks and Hyundai Kona, and finally a couple of SUVs nearly identically sized being Jeep’s Renegade and Mazda’s CX-3. Still, the Encore is tall enough that headroom will only be an issue for giants, while its cargo carrying capacity is also spacious.

2019 Buick Encore Essence AWD
The nicely organized dash provides a good assortment of premium features and plenty of soft-touch surfaces.

Lower its 60/40-split rear row and the little Encore can carry up to 1,371 litres (48.4 cubic feet) of cargo, and this is made easier thanks to seatbacks that lay flatter than most competitors due to their folding process that requires each lower cushion to first be flipped up and forward ahead of manually lowering each headrest and folding each backrest down. It’s certainly more labour intensive than its competitors’ seat systems, but the end result is more usable space.

While all this is good, what would you do if you needed to stow something longer and more awkward than most subcompact models can accommodate, such as a cupboard, small wardrobe, a stack of 4x4s for building a fence, or simply a big, beautiful carpet that you just had to have? Simple, put your significant other (or child) directly behind you in the back seat and drop the front seatback down for full front to back storage. You can load 2.4 metres (8.0 ft) of what-have-you inside, which is impossible with most competitors. By the way, when all seats are upright there’s 532 litres (18.8 cubic feet) in the very back, which is approximately what you’d find in full-size sedan’s trunk, also impressive. As just made clear, the many passenger and cargo configurations capable in the Encore makes it more practical than most rivals, which is a key reason why it’s long been so popular.

2019 Buick Encore Essence AWD
Classic analogue gauges with a reasonable large multi-info display provide good legibility in all lighting conditions.

Driving dynamics should be high up on its list of positive attributes too, but not for sportiness or anything so trivial. Of course, its MacPherson strut front and compound crank (torsion beam) rear suspension allows it to go quickly enough around corners, while it takes off fast enough from stoplights, plus feels plenty stable at highway speeds and beyond, but more importantly the Encore is really easy to drive. It starts with superb sightlines in every direction due to its tall ride height and ample side and rear glass. The Encore’s ride quality is very compliant too, expected from Buick. It soaks up pavement imperfections without issue, while its oh-so quiet when compared to its mainstream compact SUV rivals. This is where Buick’s QuietTuning makes such a difference, the Encore’s standard active noise cancellation and extra insulation helping to reduce road and wind noise while adding to its sense of quality.

Depending on where you live in Canada or your lifestyle, you’ll want to decide whether you’ll be ok with front-wheel drive or if all-wheel drive is needed. The Encore can provide either, AWD adding $2,000 to the base model’s price tag for a new $28,400 total, while for only $1,030 you can also upgrade the base 1.4-litre turbo-four’s sequential multi-port fuel injection with more technologically advanced Spark Ignition Direct Injection (SIDI), which increases its output from 138 to 153 horsepower and raises torque from 148 lb-ft to 177. The upgrade also adds Start-Stop technology to the Encore’s standard six-speed automatic transmission, this shutting off the engine when it would otherwise be idling, and then automatically restarting it when lifting off the brake pedal.

2019 Buick Encore Essence AWD
A nice tablet-style touchscreen provides a comprehensive menu of infotainment features.

My Encore test model incorporated both upgrades, making a major difference during standing starts, particularly in slippery conditions, while the extra power and added traction improved hill climbing, cornering, and passing manoeuvres, not to mention its drivability around town. Thanks to a 1,386-kilogram (3,056-lb) curb weight, this AWD model doesn’t require much power to get it going, while this general lightness makes it easy to slalom through tight city streets, especially when congested, all the while being particularly good on gas.

The base FWD Encore achieves a claimed 9.4 L/100km city, 7.8 highway and 8.7 combined rating, while the identical engine with AWD is estimated to get 9.9 in the city, 8.1 on the highway and 9.1 combined. Even more impressive, combining the additional power of SIDI with advanced Start-Stop technology actually reduces the Encore’s fuel usage to 8.9 L/100km in the city, 7.5 on the highway and 8.3 combined when hooked up to its FWD drivetrain, or a respective 9.4, 7.9 and 8.8 with its top-line AWD SIDI combination, making this reasonably priced upgrade well worth it.

While inherently less efficient as a continuously variable transmission (CVT), the go-to gearless autobox of most subcompacts and compacts these days, the Encore’s more conventional six-speed automatic is much more enjoyable to drive, especially with thumb planted on the gear knob-mounted rocker switch that prompts manual mode.

2019 Buick Encore Essence AWD
This isn’t a CVT, but a much more entertaining 6-speed automatic with manual mode.

First you’ll need to pull the shift lever all the way back to its “M” or manual position, and then shift away to your heart’s content. While the gearbox lets the engine rev right up to redline without shifting, unusual for a vehicle in this class, making it feel sportier than rivals that don’t, I wouldn’t go so far as to say the Encore is a serious sport model, particularly when revving the engine higher than normal for everyday use, at which point it makes more noise and causes more vibrations than most will appreciate, par for the course in this class. Still, shift it earlier (and you can, as there’s no shortage of torque in the lower rev range) and the Encore will get you where you’re going quickly while providing plenty of fun along the way. All said I found it best in a more relaxed state, which allowed the little Buick to make the most of its smooth ride and general comfort.

Part of getting relaxed is a good driving position, and the rake and reach of the Encore’s tilt and telescopic steering column, combined with fairly good adjustment of its driver’s seat, made optimizing comfort and control easy. I have longer legs than torso, which often forces me to push the entire seat rearward, leaving the distance to the steering wheel farther than arm’s reach. Fortunately this is no problem with the Encore, despite its partial powered seat adjustments that only include the lower cushion, and optional powered two-way lumbar support. The backrest needs to be reclined, or in my case inclined manually, which worked well enough, while the lumbar support luckily found the small of my back well enough (not always the case with two-way/in-and-out designs).

2019 Buick Encore Essence AWD
The seats are comfortable, but lack high-end functions like cooling and full powered adjustability.

The driver’s seat is inherently comfortable, and I appreciated its minivan-like folding centre armrest, while my tester’s Shale beige leather upholstery (Ebony black or Brandy wine are also on the menu) and attractive contrast stitching looked good, but I wouldn’t go so far as to call them fancy. Buick doesn’t offer cooling seats, for example, or even the leather perforations to keep them naturally ventilated amid summer’s heat, although the three-temperature seat heaters got plenty hot when set to high, and the heated steering wheel rim could be set up to automatically turn on with when starting the car. I loved that feature, and only wished Buick would make the seats follow suit.

Speaking of equipment, Buick simplified the Encore lineup this year with only three trims including Preferred, Sport Touring and Essence. Base Preferred trim includes 18-inch alloys, proximity keyless entry with pushbutton start/stop, a big 8.0-inch centre touchscreen featuring a backup camera with dynamic guidelines, Android Auto and Apple CarPlay smartphone integration, plus plenty of additional features, while yet more base features include a cargo cover and 10 airbags to go along with plenty of other passive and active safety gear.

2019 Buick Encore Essence AWD
Headroom is over the top generous, and comfort is pretty good for the subcompact SUV class too.

The move up to the 2019 Encore’s mid-range Sport Touring trim starts at $28,400 and adds fog lamps, a rear rooftop sport spoiler, and remote engine start, while my tester’s top-line Essence trim starts at $31,700 or $34,730 with AWD, and includes the heatable steering wheel noted earlier, leather seats with driver’s memory and heated cushions up front, an auto-dimming centre mirror, a garage door opener, and blind spot warning with rear cross-traffic alert.

You can spend a bit less if you want the last two items in lesser trims, the available Safety Package also including a three-prong household-style 120-volt power outlet in back, while those choosing Essence trim can get the $1,110 New Safety Package II boasting all of the just-noted features above plus forward collision alert, lane departure warning, rain-sensing wipers, an air ionizer, and front/rear parking sensors.

My tester included that group of features as well as the $3,050 Experience Buick Plus Package, which deducts $650 due to the inclusion of all the New Safety Package II items, while adding a unique set of 18-inch seven-spoked chromed alloys, navigation/route guidance, and a power moonroof.

2019 Buick Encore Essence AWD
Folding the rear seatbacks down takes a bit more work than usual, but the result is an almost totally flat load floor so it’s worth it.

All of the above made for well-equipped urban runabout, with better interior quality than most non-premium challengers offer, and only slightly less refinement than the higher echelons of luxury provide. Details include cloth-wrapped A pillars, soft-touch surface treatments for the dash plus front and rear door uppers, and an attractively padded and stitched leatherette instrument panel bolster.

The instrument cluster is laid out in a traditional design, with its analogue tachometer at the left and speedometer on the right, plus its gas gauge and temperature readout sitting above a decent sized colour multi-information display at centre. It’s fairly fully featured, but obviously not offering the wow factor of some competitors’ digital gauge clusters. Only time will tell if Buick goes so far with its updated 2020 Encore, or even its pricier models, but we can likely expect improvements either way.

Framing those gauges is a standard steering wheel that feels sportier and thicker than most will expect from such a practical and price-sensitive SUV, and on that note its leather wrap is nicer than expected as well. Stylish satin-silver accents get added to the lower edge of its 9 and 3 o’clock spokes, plus its large lower centre spoke, this trim feeling cool to touch and therefore coming off as real aluminum. There’s more of this metal trim elsewhere, plus the door handles are chromed to help brighten things up inside, while some tastefully applied piano black lacquer adds to the Encore’s upscale interior ambiance.

2019 Buick Encore Essence AWD
If you need to load in longer items, just fold down the front seatback too.

The aforementioned infotainment system incorporates Buick’s newest touchscreen interface, which apes Chevrolet’s impressive system in all the best ways. This said it’s not as colourful a la Apple’s iPhone or iPad, but rather provides a more sophisticated looking blue on black motif. I found the system’s optional navigation system worked well with accurate route guidance, while its audio functions were easy to operate and satellite radio reception was better than average. The big screen provided a clear rearview camera too, but I was a bit miffed that no 360-degree surround camera system was on the options list, normal for an SUV hoping to attract premium buyers.

I was also disappointed to learn I couldn’t charge my smartphone wirelessly. In fact, I couldn’t even fit my medium-sized Samsung S9 on the rubberized tray included, so I suppose a wireless device charger would’ve been a moot addition, but Buick did include some USB charging ports, plus an aux input and a 12-volt charger. No doubt the next-gen Encore will offer wireless device charging, as it’s now available in entry-level compact hatchbacks and sedans, so we have something to look forward to with the launch of the redesigned 2020 model this spring.

On the positive, the Encore’s dual-zone automatic climate control interface is 100-percent useful, especially for those of us who would rather push and twist conventional buttons and dials when inputting temperatures and other functions, which is certainly less challenging while driving than doing so within the infotainment interface, like some others require.

2019 Buick Encore Essence AWD
The Encore is one practical little luxury utility.

I hope you don’t mind me getting into every little detail with this review, but I think the Encore deserves some extra attention. It would be easy for someone considering a subcompact mainstream or luxury SUV to merely glance past because of its age and Buick’s unusual position as a near-luxury brand, causing some to think it’s probably too expensive and others to look higher in price, for one of the more exclusive European or Japanese brands. I think, at least for those prioritizing comfort, efficiency and practicality, looking past the Encore might be a mistake, as even this aging model remains a very good option, that won’t cost much more than mainstream volume models, and doesn’t leave much of the table when compared to some premium brands’ entry SUVs.

In case you’re not quite sure what you should do, I recommend checking out our 2019 Buick Encore Canada Prices page for more details, while you can also use your CarCostCanada membership to find out about current rebates and dealer invoice pricing that could save you thousands. In fact, at the time of writing (December 8, 2019) Buick was offering up to $5,390 in additional incentives, which could make this 2019 Encore an excellent buy.

If you choose the 2019 Encore you certainly won’t be alone, this model remaining very popular for good reason.

Story and photo credits: Trevor Hofmann

2019 BMW X1 xDrive28i Road Test

2019 BMW X1 xDrive28i
The second-gen X1 has styling on its side, helping it earn most popular status amongst entry-level luxury SUVs. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

If we don’t count Mini’s Countryman, the BMW X1 was the first subcompact luxury crossover SUV to hit the market. It arrived on the European continent in 2009 for the 2010 model year, a couple of years before it graced our shores as a 2012, while even as it showed up on BMW Canada showroom floors in April of 2011 there was nothing else to directly go up against it. It wasn’t until October of the same year that Land Rover introduced its Range Rover Evoque, thus creating a new automotive segment by providing the X1’s competition, fitting being that BMW once owned the British luxury SUV brand.

Interestingly, it would take an additional three years for Audi to arrive in Canada with its Q3 and Mercedes to enter its GLA-Class, unless we’re counting the much less expensive Buick Encore that showed up in 2013 (but we probably shouldn’t), plus another two years for Infiniti to ante up its QX30 (RIP), an additional three for the Jaguar E-Pace and Volvo XC40, and plus BMW’s sportier X2, and finally one more year for the new Lexus UX. Some more are expected, such as Alfa Romeo’s Tonale for 2022, and potentially Acura’s long rumoured CDX, but take note Infiniti’s already killed off its QX30, which may give pause to Acura. This said, Buick’s done well with its Encore, and while positioned at the lowest end of premium when it comes to price and prestige, an upcoming second-generation Encore, expected this coming year, could do even better.

2019 BMW X1 xDrive28i
The latest X1 looks a lot more like its larger X3 and X5 brethren, which is a very good thing. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

If we choose to consider Buick a real premium brand, then the Encore is by far the sales leader in this subcompact luxury SUV segment, but given its base price of $28,400, which isn’t even as lofty as the Mini SUV’s base price of $31,690, it’s not truly in the same league as the Europeans and sole remaining Japanese. Still, 10,637 Encores sold in 2018 and 8,322 as of October 31, 2019 is nothing to sneeze at, especially when considering BMW leads the category with 5,308 customers in 2018 and 3,753 so far in 2019. Factoring in the X1’s base price of $41,500, mind you, shows the comparison is hardly fair.

By the way, you can get all 2019 BMW X1 package and individual option pricing right here at CarCostCanada, as well as valuable rebate info and dealer invoice pricing that could save you thousands. In fact, you can currently save up to $2,000 in additional incentives on this 2019 model, or $1,000 on the new 2020 X1, all before even asking for a discount. You can also check out all of the above for any SUV mentioned in this review, such as the Mercedes GLA-Class, Lexus UX, Audi Q3, Range Rover Evoque, BMW X2, Volvo XC40, Jaguar E-Pace, Infiniti QX30, Mini Countryman, and even the Buick Encore.

Where that Buick is a heavily massaged Chevrolet Trax that’s stingy on fuel and reasonably generous with features, albeit not so much when it comes to performance or refinement, and BMW offers strong performance along with some of the best quality, refinement and functionality in the class.

2019 BMW X1 xDrive28i
LED headlights, fog lamps, chrome and aluminum-like trim, plus sharp looking alloys combine together for one great looking SUV. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

So as not to beat up on the Encore, which I quite like for urban commuting, some of BMW’s challengers wouldn’t have received particularly high marks in all categories just noted, at least initially. The first generation Audi Q3 was weak on straight-line performance and so-so when it came to refinement, while the original X1 wasn’t exactly a marvel of the latter quality either, criticized by many (including yours truly) for less than ideal interior surface treatments. 

BMW’s smallest SUV is now in its second generation, and as part of its “upgrade” has had its superb rear-drive E91 3 Series Touring-platform replaced with the aforementioned Mini Countryman’s second-gen front-drive-biased UKL2 architecture, so therefore today’s X1 is a completely different vehicle than yesterday’s. It began out as a low, lean rear wheel-biased AWD crossover, and has morphed into a more conventionally shaped luxury SUV, looking much more like its bigger X3 and X5 brethren. Impressive sales growth in 2016 and 2017 backed up the German automaker’s decision to take the little X1 in its more comfort-oriented direction, and while those numbers slipped slightly in 2018 and so far this year, I’m guessing it has more to do with the brand’s introduction of the new X2 than any lack of X1 interest, while even more importantly the X1 remains number one amongst true subcompact luxury SUVs, even when not factoring in the new X2.

2019 BMW X1 xDrive28i
The X1’s cabin is a step above most rivals in quality of materials and refinement. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

By the numbers, X1’s previously-noted Q3+1 sales of 3,753 units puts it far in front of the second-place Merc GLA with 3,021 deliveries, and does likewise against Lexus’ new UX at 2,374 units, which already stole third from the Audi Q3 due to only 2,374 units sold over the past 10 months. Volvo’s XC40 did quite well for an all-new model at 1,690 units, and Land Rover’s recently redone Range Rover Evoque should be commended for its 1,333 new customers due to its higher than average price, but we really need to laud BMW for finding another 1,159 clients for its segment-busting X2, which did even better than Jaguar’s new E-Pace at only 372 deliveries. As for Infiniti’s now cancelled QX30, 93 deliveries doesn’t represent how good this little SUV was, but more accurately tells a story of luxury brand weakness when compared to the strength of Lexus, plus of course the Germans.

Speaking of German strength, BMW shows just how dominant it is in this segment when we combine the sales of both X1 and X2 models, which have accumulated to 4,912 deliveries so far this year, and that’s even before including 2,082 Countryman sales (Mini is a BMW subsidiary after all), which increases sales to 6,994 units. That’s almost as much as you get when adding up all Mercedes GLA, Lexus UX and Audi Q3 deliveries over the same period, which resulted in just 7,698 sales.

2019 BMW X1 xDrive28i
The cockpit provides superb features with total comfort. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Unless you’re opposed to success, X1 owners should feel pretty good about their choice. Of course, there are many other reasons to feel positive about their X1, particularly if it’s outfitted as nicely as my tester. While the satin-silver trim on the lower valances and rocker panels came standard, the stylish Mediterranean Blue Metallic paint was a worthwhile $895 option, especially because it allowed for the $950 upgrade from base leatherette to luxurious brown Mocha Dakota Leather upholstery across the dash, doors and seats; Oyster Grey and Black leather also available with this colour.

My tester’s open-pore Oak Grain hardwood inlays with chrome and brush-metal accents were no-cost options that made the interior look even more attractive (yet more woods, brushed aluminum or piano black lacquered inlays can substituted), while most surfaces above the waste were finished in high-quality pliable composites, making the X1 feel a bit more premium than most challengers.

While nicer than leatherette, BMW’s Dakota leather is not its highest grade, but you won’t be able to get Nappa or Merino hides in this entry-level SUV. It’s nevertheless genuine leather, boasting the right fragrance, feel and durability, while my tester’s seat inserts were perforated for aeration. This said, the seats didn’t include forced ventilation, but the three-way seat heaters quickly warmed up near therapeutic levels when their highest temperature settings were chosen, making the already comfortable driver’s seat downright cozy.

2019 BMW X1 xDrive28i
These look like a regular set of analogue BMW gauges, but they float above a cool digital background. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

My test model’s front seat four-way lumbar support wasn’t standard, but instead comes as part of two option packages, the first being the $3,500 Premium Package Essential group that adds power-folding side mirrors, proximity keyless Comfort Access, auto-dimming centre/rearview and outside mirrors, a big panoramic glass sunroof, a HiFi audio system upgrade, plus an alarm, and the second as-tested $5,900 Premium Package Enhanced including all of the above as well as a head-up display unit, a universal garage door opener, satellite radio, navigation/route guidance, semi-autonomous Park Assistant, BMW’s ConnectedDrive Services Package, and a power tailgate.

Both upgrade packages are available with a heated steering wheel, as well as a $1,000 Driving Assistant Plus package that includes approach warning with pedestrian alert and light city braking, lane departure warning, adaptive cruise control with stop-and-go and traffic jam assist, plus high-beam assist and speed limit information.

Upgrades in mind, my tester also included a $950 Sport Performance Package with a special Sport automatic transmission featuring steering wheel-mounted paddle-shifters (this worth the money alone), a more reactive M Sport Steering system, plus larger 19-inch alloys, although I should point out that my test model was intelligently fitted out for winter and therefore had a set of 225/50R18 Continental ContiWinterContact tires added to its unique M Sport split five-spoke alloy rims.

2019 BMW X1 xDrive28i
Steering wheel-mounted paddles are always appreciated. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Anyone that’s driven on winter tires will tell you their performance over anything but snow or ice will be compromised, and thus my test model’s handling potential wouldn’t have been able to fully measure up to the regular base wheel and tire package, let alone the performance-oriented 19s it was supposed to be shod with. Just the same it proved more engaging than (more or less) the same X1 wearing 17-inch winters for my 2016 X1 xDrive28i review, which were smaller in diameter due to that older model only coming with 18-inch rubber in base trim.

Other than wheels and tires, not a lot appears to have changed over the past three years, mind you, which obviously (as previous noted by the X1’s sales volume) doesn’t make any difference to X1 owners, or for that matter to yours truly. The X1’s sole engine, a 2.0-litre turbo-four, continues to make 228 horsepower and 258 lb-ft of torque, which is formidable when compared to a few competitors, such as the Lexus UX or base Mercedes GLA, but it doesn’t come close to matching the 375-horsepower Merc AMG CLA 45, or for that matter top-tier trims of the E-Pace, Evoque or XC40, but once again the X1’s popularity proves that all-out performance hardly matters in this practical class.

2019 BMW X1 xDrive28i
The X1 centre stack is filled with functionality, most of which is housed in its beautiful high-resolution widescreen display. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

The little BMW was more than adequately powered for my needs, particularly when Sport mode was engaged, which caused the standard eight-speed automatic gearbox to shift quicker, whether actuated by paddles or left on its own. All-wheel drive comes standard, and in wet conditions aided traction in a straight line and during fast-paced cornering, while the X1 certainly feels agile when compared to some rivals. Still, others have an edge when driven to their limits, especially the top-line Mercedes-AMG, while the first-gen X1 was considerably more capable through the slalom too.

I personally believe comfort matters a lot more in this class, and to that end today’s X1 is wholly more viable than its predecessor and some more sport-oriented competitors, whether you’ve set its powertrain to its more relaxed Comfort or Eco modes or not. I find the X1’s ride especially good for its compact size, and while we’re being so practical, even mentioning the little SUV’s thrifty Eco mode, BMW claims a fuel economy rating of 10.7 L/100km city, 7.5 highway and 9.3 combined, which isn’t too bad at all.

2019 BMW X1 xDrive28i
These are two of the most comfortable front seats you’ll likely find in this class. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

You’ll probably have comfort more on the mind than efficiency when seated inside, however, the driver’s seat of my tester particularly good thanks to its aforementioned four-way power lumbar support, which can precisely find the small of anyone’s back, plus it incorporates power-adjustable side bolsters to snuggly embrace one’s backside, as well as thigh extensions that nicely cup below the knees for lower leg support. The steering column is also more adjustable than some rivals, providing about four inches of telescopic reach, which, together with that driver’s seat, allowed my long-legged, short-torso five-foot-eight body to fit inside perfectly, enhancing both comfort and control of the steering wheel and pedals. Unfortunately this is not always the case, forcing me to power a competitor’s seat squab and/or backrest too far forward for comfort in order to achieve control. Such optimal adjustability makes the X1 better for more peoples’ body types, which is a dealmaker for me.

Rear passengers should find plenty of positives as well, with window seat backrests that provide plenty of support and a third centre seat that’s not entirely uncomfortable (this is a luxury subcompact, after all). Two abreast in back is ideal, mind you, letting rear passengers enjoy the wide, although slightly low centre armrest when folded down in between, plus the convenience of its pop-out cupholders. When I was seated behind the driver’s position, which was set up for me and therefore extended farther rearward than most five-foot-eight adults would require, I still had about four inches in front of my knees, plus another four to five over my head, and four next to my shoulders and hips. In other words, I never once felt the need for more space.

2019 BMW X1 xDrive28i
The optional panoramic sunroof opens up the interior to plenty of overhead light. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

The big panoramic sunroof above should certainly reduce any feelings of claustrophobia, while anyone scared of the dark can use the LED reading lights to quell their fear, which shouldn’t negatively impact the X1 driver’s view ahead at night. Unfortunately no seat warmers could be found for rear passengers, which is a strange shortcoming in this class, but at least rear surface treatments and other details are just as nice as those found up front.

The cargo area is well finished too, with good quality carpets covering the sidewalls, the cargo floor, which is removable and exposes a big hidden storage compartment below, plus the carpeted rear seatbacks are split in the category’s optimal 40/20/40 configuration. This makes the X1 perfect for skiers that bring along rear passengers, as you can stow skis (or any other long items) down the middle while rear occupants enjoy the more comfortable window seats. The rearmost cargo compartment provides 505 litres (17.8 cubic feet) of space, which is sizeable, while levers on each sidewall automatically lower those just-noted seatbacks down for an even more accommodating 1,550-litre (54.7 cubic-foot) storage area.

2019 BMW X1 xDrive28i
The X1’s rear seating area is large and very comfortable for its subcompact SUV size. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Back up front, the X1 gets a fairly conventional looking primary gauge cluster consisting of two big analogue dials, albeit they seem as if they’re floating amid a digital background that’s particularly attractive when lit up at night. That background is a multi-information display of course, filled with a comprehensive assortment of functions.

Atop the dash in the centermost position is a large, wide, high-definition infotainment display featuring beautiful colours and deep contrasts, plus very attractive and highly functional graphics. The system is a step above some competitors in that it’s not only controlled by BMW’s console-mounted iDrive dial and quick-access switchgear, but can also be activated through its fully capacitive touchscreen that lets you tap, pinch, and swipe to your heart’s content, just like with a tablet or smartphone. It’s a very smart and quick responding system too, while all of its various functions performed just as advertised during my weeklong test, including the navigation system that took me exactly where I wanted to go multiple times (not always the case).

2019 BMW X1 xDrive28i
Skiers rejoice! The X1’s 40/20/40-split rear seatbacks are optimal. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

The audio upgrade provided great sound quality as well, while the X1 includes some regular analogue stereo controls on the centre stack such as a power/volume dial and a row of radio presets just above a comprehensive set of dual-zone auto climate controls. It’s all nicely organized, adding to this little BMW’s overall impressiveness.

In the case of the BMW X1, following the crowd is a very good idea. After all, a vehicle won’t be able to earn top spot in a given class by chance, which is why those considering a small luxury SUV should put BMW’s X1 high on their shopping list. It truly is excellent in most every way.

Story credit: Trevor Hofmann

2019 Hyundai Veloster Turbo Tech Road Test

2019 Hyundai Veloster Turbo Tech
The sharp looking second-generation Veloster, seen here in Turbo Tech trim, looks like a sporty two-door coupe from the driver’s side. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

Hyundai’s Veloster could easily be seen as an automotive anomaly, a sports coupe cum four-door hatchback that doesn’t quite fit in to either category, but I see it as a best-of-both-worlds alternative, a sporty two-door coupe when seen from the driver’s side and a low-slung four-door liftback from the passenger’s side.

There’s good reason that such a small number of volume-branded compact sport coupes remain in today’s car market after all. Owners eventually tired of stuffing family and friends into their abbreviated back seats, so they purchased sporty four- and five-door alternatives instead. These days, even the legendary VW Golf GTI is only available with four doors and a hatch, but instead of ultimately conforming to such wagon-like levels of pragmatism, Hyundai adapted General Motors’ 1999 Saturn SC’s terribly executed yet brilliantly idea, which included a single door on the passenger’s side and a second rear-hinged half-door on the driver’s side for easier rear seat access, by adding a conventionally-hinged rear door to the more appropriate passenger’s side for easier entry from the curb.

2019 Hyundai Veloster Turbo Tech
The Veloster provides a rear door for easy access to the seats in back on the passenger’s side. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

During its first full calendar year of 2012, Canadian Veloster sales were fairly strong at 5,741 units, but they’ve steadily tapered off since resulting in a low of 1,077 units in 2018, but thanks to a total redesign for this 2019 model year the second-generation Veloster has found 36.6 percent more buyers than it did during the first 10 months of 2018, resulting in 1,295 deliveries as of October 2019. Still, that’s nothing to get excited about in a market that saw Hyundai sell 25,894 Tucson compact SUVs during the same time period, let alone 33,670 Elantras, while a recent downturn of just 279 Velosters sold during Q3 of 2019, representing a plunge of 55.1 percent compared to the same three months of 2018, isn’t the kind of response the brand wants to see for a completely redesigned model, so we’ll need to watch closely to find out how it fares during Q4.

Before Hyundai decides to transform the Veloster into a mainstream version of Mercedes’ new GLC Coupe in order to keep its sporty dreams alive while the entire globe realigns its interests away from cars towards crossovers and SUVs (kind of like how Mitsubishi did with its Eclipse Cross), those who still appreciate the lower centres of gravity and inherently better cornering prowess allowed by cars should be made aware of the new Veloster’s transformation from a torsion beam rear suspension to an independent multi-link design, the revision completely improving its at-the-limit handling and ride quality.

2019 Hyundai Veloster Turbo Tech
The redesigned Veloster’s grille and front fascia looks much more menacing than the previous generation. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

The updated Veloster’s undercarriage is much more compliant, resulting in a more comfortable city cruiser with less commotion over rough, uneven tarmac, yet the compact coupe still feels firm enough to come off like a sports car. Nevertheless, despite its more comforting suspension tuning the new Veloster Turbo is a lot more capable through fast-paced corners, particularly noticeable over mid-apex bumps and potholes that would’ve unsettled the previous car. Now you slice through the turn with less worry about the shape of the pavement below, its rear suspension now capable of absorbing such irregularities without losing grip.

Base Velosters come standard with a 2.0-litre four-cylinder engine making 147 horsepower and 132 lb-ft of torque, driving the front wheels through a standard six-speed manual or optional six-speed automatic transmission, while the Veloster Turbo tested here utilizes a 1.6-litre turbo-four capable of 201 horsepower and 195 lb-ft of torque. A six-speed manual gearbox remains standard, as witnessed here in the photos, but buyers wanting less daily hassle can opt for a new seven-speed dual-clutch EcoShift DCT automatic with steering wheel paddles. I’ve driven the previous six-speed DCT (in 2014, 2015 and 2016) and found it shifted quickly enough while offering smooth operation during day-to-day commutes, so it make sense the new seven-speed version provides the same level of drivability with the addition of a taller final gear to improve fuel economy, but I’d personally save $1,500 by opting for the manual and enjoy the benefits of rowing through the gears myself.

2019 Hyundai Veloster Turbo Tech
No shortage of sporty styling cues on the new Veloster Turbo. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

It really is a nicely sorted six-speed manual, with an easy, progressive clutch that’s well matched to the torquey turbo-four. Max twist arrives at just 1,500 rpm and maintains boost all the way to 4,500, while maximum thrust arrives at 6,000 rpm before the engine spins to its 7,000 rpm redline (or just above). Activating the optional “SPORT” button just next to the shift lever immediately transforms the Veloster Turbo from an enjoyably tame economy coupe to a seriously fun performance machine, so a move up to the Tech package is well worth it.

Before itemizing standard and optional features, we should talk fuel economy. I know the Veloster is a performance model, but even those looking to save at the pump might want to consider this sporty little car, especially the Turbo. Yes, despite its stronger performance the Turbo is better on fuel (as long as you don’t lay into the throttle too often), with a manual transmission comparo showing 9.4 L/100km in the city, 7.0 on the highway and 8.3 combined for the Turbo, next to 9.4 city, 7.1 highway and 8.4 combined for the base model. The Turbo looks even better when comparing automatic transmissions, at 8.5 city, 6.9 highway and 7.8 combined for the quicker car against a respective 9.1, 7.1 and 8.2.

2019 Hyundai Veloster Turbo Tech
Hyundai makes big improvements inside, but touchy, feely perceived quality is still this car’s weak point. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

Now that we’re being so practical, the rear tailgate opens up nice and high, plus it’s wide enough to fit in large items. The cargo area isn’t as sizeable as most of its compact hatchback rivals, but compared to challenging sport coupes it’s very accommodating. In fact, it measures 565 litres (20 cubic feet) behind the rear seatbacks, or approximately the size of a large sedan’s trunk, while it’s also 125 litres (4.4 cu ft) larger than its 440-litre (15.5 cu-ft) cargo compartment. If you need more storage you can drop the back seats down, their uniquely configured 66/33-split design making more sense for a car only capable of seating two rear passengers. With both seats lowered the Veloster can manage up to 1,260 litres (44.5 cu ft) of what-have-you, which once again is a major improvement when compared to the 982 litres (34.7 cubic feet) offered by the outgoing generation.

The lengthy driver’s door and proximity keyless access make entering to the driver’s seat easy, while the two passenger-side doors means that no one coming along for the ride needs to compromise. Certainly, the first rear passenger to sit down must slide along the seat to find the other side, making me wish Hyundai hadn’t added a fixed centre console with cupholders in the middle, and while a folding centre armrest would’ve worked better, it wasn’t all that difficult to get over and does provide some helpful convenience when seated.

2019 Hyundai Veloster Turbo Tech
This analogue/digital gauge cluster is easy to read under any lighting conditions, plus it can be upgraded to include a head-up display. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

After positioning the driver’s seat for my five-foot-eight, long-legged, short-torso body, I was left with approximately four to five inches in front of my knees, as well as plenty of space for my feet, but it was a bit tight for my toes below the driver’s seat. Still, I had ample room to move around from side to side, plus about three inches over my head, making me confident that those under six feet should find it spacious enough in back.

The rear seats are carved out like buckets too, providing decent lateral support and good lower back comfort. Other than rear window switches there aren’t any rear amenities, while the side armrests will be the only padded surfaces you’ll be able to find (seats and carpets aside).

Such is true for those up front as well, this shortcoming my only serious complaint with the new Veloster. I understand that we should expect too much in this category, but Hyundai normally punches above its weight in the compact class, so I expected them to do more with this redesigned model. As it is, the new Veloster offers no soft-touch composite surfaces, but the mostly attractive matte textured plastics provided a nice upgrade over the otherwise glossy hard plastic cabin.

2019 Hyundai Veloster Turbo Tech
A well-sorted centre stack gets an available 8-inch touchscreen up top and good quality switchgear throughout. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

Most peoples’ eyes will naturally gravitate to the red on black front sport seats anyway, and I must say the one for the driver was as comfortable and supportive as it looks. While not included full powered actuation, its optional two-way powered lumbar support was a useful addition that nearly met the small of my back perfectly. Ergonomics are also good, with the long reaching tilt and telescopic steering column a good match to the six-way adjustable driver’s seat, plus the seat heaters and warming steering wheel came on fast and stayed hot.

Quickly pressing the start/stop button on the instrument panel ignites the engine while prompting a head-up display to power upwards from within the cowl covering the primary gauges. I initially found it slightly distracting, because it’s right in the line of sight, but when choosing sport mode it placed a cool tachometer graphic on the screen that was useful when pushing the engine to redline, while I eventually learned to look past it the rest of the time. The mostly analogue gauge cluster noted a moment ago is easy to see in any light and features a colour multi-information display at centre, while the switchgear on the steering wheel, plus all the buttons and knobs to the left and right of the steering column were good quality, nicely damped, and within easy reach.

2019 Hyundai Veloster Turbo Tech
The larger screen makes for an excellent backup camera with dynamic guidelines, while rear parking sensors help while reversing. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

Ditto for the infotainment display, but the only button next to the screen turned on the hazard lights. Instead, the touchscreen’s analogue controls are lower down the centre stack, in between the audio system’s power/volume and tuning/scrolling dials, although I found myself using the steering wheel switches and touchscreen for the majority of features.

Due to Hyundai adding the $3,000 Turbo Tech package, which includes the aforementioned head-up display unit, the leather upholstery, the driver’s seat lumbar support, and the Sport mode, plus rain-sensing windshield wipers, rear parking sonar, and the automatic HVAC system, which incidentally comes with automatic defog, my tester had a larger 8.0-inch display featuring embedded navigation plus excellent (for the class) sounding eight-speaker Infinity audio with an external amplifier.

Before getting ahead of myself, you can get into the 2019 Veloster for just $20,999 plus freight and fees before discount, with the Turbo starting at $25,899. The Turbo Tech package ups the price to $28,899, while a $500 Performance package was added to my tester, including sportier 18-inch rims encircled by 225/40 Michelin Pilot summer-performance rubber.

2019 Hyundai Veloster Turbo Tech
My tester’s comfortable leather-upholstered seats also included two-way powered lumbar. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

This said, even base Velosters get 18-inch alloy wheels, as well as auto on/off headlamps, LED daytime running lights, power-adjustable and heated side mirrors, remote access, a heated and leather-wrapped multifunction steering wheel, tilt and telescopic steering, cruise control, powered windows, illuminated vanity mirrors, a sunglasses holder, filtered air conditioning, a one-inch smaller 7.0-inch infotainment touchscreen with standard Android Auto and Apple CarPlay, a backup camera with active guidelines, six-speaker audio, Bluetooth hands-free phone and audio streaming, a leather-clad shift knob, heatable front seats, a manual six-way driver’s seat, a four-way front passenger seat, blind spot detection with rear cross-traffic alert, all the usual active and passive safety features, etcetera.

The Veloster Turbo upgrade adds LED headlamps, LED side mirror turn signals, LED tail lamps, a special grille plus extended side sills, proximity entry with pushbutton star/stop, a 4.2-inch TFT multi-information display instead of a more conventional 3.5-inch trip computer, a big power moonroof, silver vent bezels, checkered dash trim, partial cloth/leather upholstery with red stitching instead of blue, leatherette door trim, red interior accents, plus more.

2019 Hyundai Veloster Turbo Tech
Rear seating is very good for a compact sport coupe, and access is best-in-class. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

I could go into colour options and more, but considering this 2019 model is being replaced by the 2020 version while this review is being published, you’ll have to get what you can if wanting to avail model year-end discounts as well as 0-percent financing (the 2020 model was available with 0.99-percent financing at the time of writing). By the way, you can learn about these deals and more right here at CarCostCanada, where all trim, package and individual option prices are itemized, as well as manufacturer rebate info and otherwise hard to get dealer invoice pricing that could save you thousands.

If you like the idea of the new Veloster but were hoping for more performance, you may also want to consider new N trim. It includes a new 2.0-litre turbo-four with 275 horsepower and 260 lb-ft of torque, and comes exclusively with a six-speed manual featuring downshift rev matching. An electronically controlled limited slip differential helps put the power down to the pavement, while an electronically controlled suspension support a big set of 19-inch alloys on 235/35 Pirelli summer-performance tires. Also included are Normal, Sport, N and Custom drive mode selections, while a driver-adjustable active exhaust system makes this ultimate Veloster even more exciting to drive. Even its fuel economy is decent at 10.6 L/100km city, 8.3 highway and 9.5 combined, while it starts at just $34,999.

2019 Hyundai Veloster Turbo Tech
The Veloster’s cargo compartment is significantly larger for 2019. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

Notable when comparing 2019 to 2020 Velosters, the new base model won’t be available with a manual transmission anymore, which will only cause performance purists and custom tuners to feel a bit miffed. This change causes the 2020 Veloster’s base price to go up by $1,400 to $22,399, with the cheapest manual now the $27,499 Turbo.

Also important to note, Hyundai has modified its trim naming scheme for 2020, eliminating the GL and Tech designations from the 2019 model while adding Preferred and Luxury to the 2020. The 2020 Veloster N remains a single-trim car for the same price, although those searching for it on CarCostCanada will need to choose it as a separate model from the regular Veloster line.

Whether opting for a 2019 or 2020 model, an old GL, Tech or N, or the new Preferred, Luxury or N trim, the new second-generation Veloster is a much more advanced car than its predecessor. It still combines an extremely sporty look with a very practical layout, but now mixes in stronger performance, newer electronics, and new features, resulting in one of the smartest urban runabouts currently available.

Story and photo credits: Trevor Hofmann

2019 Toyota Corolla Hatchback CVT XSE Road Test

2019 Toyota Corolla Hatchback CVT XSE
The new Toyota Corolla Hatchback looks fabulous, especially in top-tier XSE trim. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

If you remember the Scion brand and its superb little iM compact hatch, which was transformed into the Corolla iM when the youth-oriented brand was unceremoniously discontinued a few years back, the new Corolla Hatchback is a direct descendant of both, and therefore should be high on the shopping lists of those who like practical, fun-to-drive, well-made five-door compacts.

For a bit of background, the 2016–2018 iM was much more refined than most of its competitors, mostly because it was in fact a renamed second-generation Toyota Auris from Europe, where the majority of automakers finish their compact cars nicer than the versions we can purchase here. On the other side of the globe in Australasian markets, this five-door Toyota had long been given the Corolla Hatchback name, so it made perfect sense to drop the iM moniker in place of a simpler, more familiar nameplate when this all-new hatch arrived here for the 2019 model year.

Although not as popular as its four-door sibling, the Corolla Hatchback’s well-proportioned face, including eye-catching standard LED headlamps, should be familiar now that the 2020 Corolla sedan is proliferating like its predecessor. I like both cars’ new look, but the sportier Hatchback gets a slightly more assertive nod of approval from yours truly, mostly due to my personal penchant for five-door compacts.

2019 Toyota Corolla Hatchback CVT XSE
XSE trim spiffs up the rear styling of the Corolla Hatchback too. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

Interestingly, I’d take Honda’s Civic sedan over the same trim in the hatchback model any day of the week, because the Corolla’s arch-nemesis arguably looks good as the former and awkward as the latter, but most would probably agree that Toyota currently has the styling lead for all body styles in the compact segment.

While the Corolla has no shortage of razor sharp angles its overall shape is more organic, causing me to claim it’ll probably hold up better over the test of time. I’ll also hazard to guess the Corolla’s styling plays heavily into its impressive resale value, the Hatchback’s second-place ranking in the 2019 Canadian Black Book’s Best Retained Value Awards only improved upon in its compact car category by Toyota’s own Prius hybrid. Then again, this superb result should also be attributed to this car’s excellent value proposition, Vincentric also honouring the model with its 2019 Best Value In Canada Award in the Compact Hatchback class.

Model 2019 Corolla Hatchback pricing starts at only $20,980 plus freight and fees, which makes the new car $1,770 less expensive than its 2018 Corolla iM predecessor, and trust me that this latest version is almost wholly better. Its standard auto on/off headlights are full LEDs compared to halogen projector lamps in the old car, while the old iM’s remote access has been upgraded with standard proximity keyless entry plus pushbutton start/stop in the Corolla Hatchback, this convenient feature not even on the menu before. Additionally, the outgoing car’s old-school handbrake lever was replaced with an electromechanical parking brake.

2019 Toyota Corolla Hatchback CVT XSE
The LED headlights come standard, but the 18-inch alloy wheels are now optional. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

What’s more, the compact five-door’s advanced driver assistance systems have been enhanced from just providing auto-dimming high beam headlamps, automatic emergency braking, and lane departure warning to now boasting front pedestrian and bicycle detection, lane and road departure steering mitigation, as well as adaptive cruise control.

Features such as LED daytime running lights, LED turn signals integrated within the side mirror housings, LED taillights, a rear spoiler, cloth-wrapped A-pillars (another sign the iM/Corolla Hatchback came from Europe), glossy black and metal-like interior accents, a tilt and telescoping multifunction steering wheel, a 4.2-inch colour TFT multi-information display, variable intermittent wipers, an intermittent rear wiper, power windows with auto up/down all-round, and fabric sport seats continue forward.

Having touchscreen infotainment on top of the centre stack is retained as well, with a reverse camera, Bluetooth connectivity with phone and audio streaming, voice activation, plus a six-speaker AM/FM/USB/AUX audio system, but the all-new 8.0-inch display is an inch larger and integrates Apple CarPlay, Android Auto and Toyota’s proprietary Entune smartphone integration, which includes Entune App Suite Connect incorporating traffic, weather, sports, stocks, a fuel station locator, Slacker, Yelp, and NPR One, completely modernizing the new Corolla Hatchback.

2019 Toyota Corolla Hatchback CVT XSE
It would’ve been difficult to improve on the Corolla iM’s quality, but the new Corolla Hatchback’s feature are now more up-to-date. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

On the contrary, the previous iM’s standard 17-inch alloy rims have been replaced with a comparatively lacklustre set of 15-inch steel wheels with full covers in base trim, while its leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob are now urethane, two-zone auto climate control now single-zone (but still automatic), heatable front seats now optional, and the list goes on and on. All of these downgrades remind us that Scion was a single-trim, no options (just accessories) brand, meaning its cars were always well equipped in their “base” trims, but their starting prices weren’t always the most affordable in their segments, and prospective buyers couldn’t add fancier features like factory wheels, fog lights, a nicer gauge cluster, embedded navigation, leather upholstery, and more.

The new Corolla Hatchback has no such problems, which can easily be seen by eyeing up its front fog lights and sharp looking machine finished 18-inch alloys. These are standard in my test car’s top-tier XSE trim, but ahead of delving into all its details I should give you a breakdown of the 2019 Corolla Hatchback’s lesser trim packages.

If a rev-matching six-speed manual isn’t on your priority list, just add a modest $1,000 to the bottom line for Toyota’s impressive Direct-Shift continuously variable transmission (CVT) boasting sequential shift mode, while this upgrade also includes full-speed adaptive cruise control and lane tracing assist at no additional charge. 

2019 Toyota Corolla Hatchback CVT XSE
The new dash design is stunning, and overall ergonomics excellent. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

No matter the transmission, Toyota offers three Corolla Hatchback packages above the base car, including the $1,600 SE, $3,000 SE Upgrade, and $6,000 XSE, all of which can be verified right here at CarCostCanada, where you can also find the latest rebate info and dealer invoice pricing that could save you thousands (CarCostCanada was also showing factory leasing and financing rates from 0.49 percent at the time of writing).

The SE, that increases the Corolla Hatchback’s price to $22,580 for the manual or $23,160 with the CVT, adds 16-inch alloys, some chrome trim on the rear bumper, a leather-clad steering wheel rim, a powered driver’s seat with two-way power lumbar support, heated front seats, a theft deterrent system, and steering wheel-mounted shift paddle with the CVT, while the SE Upgrade package, which pushes the price up to $23,980 for the manual or $24,160 with the CVT, includes heat for the steering wheel rim, plus a wireless device charger, blind spot monitoring, and the aforementioned 18-inch alloy wheels.

Top-line XSE trim starts at $26,980 for the manual and $27,980 with the CVT, includes those LED fog lamps noted earlier, a much larger 7.0-inch TFT digital driver’s display, Sport fabric upholstery with leatherette trim, the dual-zone auto climate control system, Entune 3.0 Premium Audio that includes embedded navigation (with map updates for three years), traffic and weather info, Entune Destination Assist (with a six-month subscription), satellite radio, and Entune Safety Connect with automatic collision notification, a stolen vehicle locator, an emergency assistance (SOS) button, and enhanced roadside assistance.

2019 Toyota Corolla Hatchback CVT XSE
How are these gauges for bright and easily legible? Thought so. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

A shortlist of dealer-added accessories worthy of your attention include a $650 dash camera, a $155 cargo liner, an $80 cargo net, and $250 doorsill plates, while you can dress up the Corolla Hatchback’s exterior a super sporty extended rear rooftop spoiler for $535.

The Corolla Hatchback is as good looking and well constructed inside as outside, with no shortage of soft, pliable composites covering the dash, the inside section of the lower console, the front door uppers, plus the side and centre armrests. The mostly dark grey interior gets stylish light grey contrast stitching highlights in all the right places, while the sport seats noted earlier receive identical coloured contrasting thread as well as special medium grey cloth inserts. The two-tone seats’ two-temperature heaters warm quickly, and can be set to do so automatically every time the car is restarted, as can the heated steering wheel rim that made my Corolla Hatchback tester a lot more enjoyable to live with.

Unfortunately Toyota doesn’t add the light-grey contrast stitching to that steering wheel rim, but its thick leather wrapping is ideally shaped for performance driving, and therefore feels good in the palms and fingers whether hot or cold, while the telescopic steering column offers ample reach, allowing me to position the driver’s seat perfectly for my long-legged, short torso body, which wasn’t possible with the iM. Keeping comfortable and supported, the Hatchback’s two-way powered lumbar found the small of my back reasonably well, although it would’ve been even better if slightly lower. Obviously taller fellas will disagree, but such is the challenge with two-way lumbar support.

2019 Toyota Corolla Hatchback CVT XSE
The centre stack is well laid out and filled with optimal features. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

With the steering wheel and seat set exactly as required, the bright primary gauge cluster is easy to see. It gets the usual assortment of dials, including a tachometer, speedometer, fuel and temperature meters, the first formed from a semicircle at the very left, the second arcing over the largest middle display, and the latter two combining into another semicircle at the right. The digital speedometer wraps around a multi-info display, complete with trip, fuel economy, cruise info and more, all prompted by a well-organized set of high-quality steering wheel switchgear.

The new infotainment touchscreen is fixed upright above the centre stack like so many others these days, and includes a row of analogue buttons down the sides, plus a power/volume and tune/scroll knob at the base of each. The display responds to tap, swipe and pinch gestures quickly, this particularly useful for the navigation map that’s otherwise beautifully clear and easy to read, this because of a high-resolution screen that also aids the rearview camera’s clarity. The system’s colours are nice and contrast good, but the graphics are more functional than artistic.

2019 Toyota Corolla Hatchback CVT XSE
Rear visibility is better than ever thanks to this big 8-inch display. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

If you’ll grant me some creative license, I’d say the Corolla Hatchback’s wonderfully agile suspension borders on artistry, or at least makes a decent driver feel like an artist. Unlike some in the compact class, including the old Corolla sedan, the new Corolla Hatchback (and new 2020 sedan) incorporates a fully independent suspension with a multi-link setup in the rear, this also true of the Corolla iM. The independent rear suspension (IRS) is part of the Toyota New Global Architecture (TNGA) platform architecture that underpins both new Corollas, making them two of the more engaging performers in the category. Also important to handling and safety, the TNGA platform’s torsional rigidity is 60-percent stiffer. This added rigidity is immediately noticeable on a twisting road, the increased structural strength allowing Toyota’s engineers to dial in more suspension compliance resulting in better adherence to the road over imperfect pavement, plus much improved ride quality even with its larger 225/40R18 Bridgestone tires.

While I never complained about the previously Corolla iM’s 16-valve, DOHC, 1.8-litre four-cylinder engine, as its free-revving 137 horsepower and 126 lb-ft of torque was ample for my needs and met my expectations in this class, the new Corolla Hatchback has made big gains in straight-line performance. Output is up by 31 horsepower and 25 lb-ft of torque to 168 horsepower and 151 foot pounds, and the direct-injection 2.0-litre mill is still plenty of fun to wind out. It’s easily enough power to offset the new Hatchback’s 1,388-kilogram (3,060-lb) curb weight, which is 118 kilos (260 lbs) more than the iM.

2019 Toyota Corolla Hatchback CVT XSE
Seating comfort is very good. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

I had good things to say about the iM’s six-speed manual when first driving it, so I imagine Toyota has done a good job with the base transmission in the Corolla Hatchback too, while I was impressed with the old model’s CVT-S automatic, the “S” implying Sport, and for the most part living up to it. This said the new Corolla Hatchback’s Direct-Shift CVT is downright amazing, with truly fast, snappy shifts when set to Sport mode. It features 10 pseudo gear ratios that feel much more realistic than any CVT previously tested, and those aforementioned paddles are truly worth flicking (unlike with most other CVTs), while it’s ultra-smooth when allowed to do its own thing, and improves fuel economy too.

Even though it puts out more power and moves a car that weighs more, the new Corolla Hatchback delivers better fuel economy than the old iM, with a claimed 7.5 L/100km in the city, 5.8 on the highway and 6.7 combined compared to 8.3 city, 6.5 highway and 7.5 combined. The new Toyota’s manual gearbox is easier on the budget too, with a rating of 8.4 L/100km city, 6.3 highway and 7.5 combined compared to 8.8, 6.8 and 7.9 respectively.

2019 Toyota Corolla Hatchback CVT XSE
Rear seating room is down a bit compared to the old iM, but should be good enough for most body types. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

So I mentioned the Corolla Hatchback is heavier than the iM, right? That’s at least partially due to being larger in almost every outward dimension, the Corolla Hatchback stretching 100 millimetres (3.9 inches) farther from nose to tail than the iM, with a 40-mm (1.6-in) longer wheelbase, and 30 mm (1.2 in) wider, while it’s just 25 mm (1.0 in) lower overall, but strangely its increased footprint doesn’t mean its bigger inside. On the contrary, while the Corolla Hatchback’s front legroom, rear headroom and rear shoulder room were fractionally increased by 7 mm (0.3 in), 2 mm (0.1 in) and 10 mm (0.4 in) apiece, the car’s front headroom is lower by 33 mm (1.3 in), its front shoulder room narrower by 10 mm (0.4 in), and its rear legroom shorter by 71 mm (2.8 in), while cargo area behind the rear seats is a shocking 14-percent less generous, shrinking from 588 litres (20.8 cubic feet) to a mere 504 litres (17.8 cubic feet).

Just the same I found it plenty roomy and wholly comfortable in every outboard position, but consider for a moment that I’m only five-foot-eight, so bigger people might want to thoroughly check out each seat before signing on the dotted line. Like the iM the Corolla Hatchback’s carpeted cargo floor is removable, exposing some added stowage and a compact spare tire underneath, while a 60/40-split divides the rear seatbacks when the need to add more cargo arises. Oddly, Toyota continues to make the Corolla Hatchback’s ultimate cargo capacity unknown, just like it did with the iM.

2019 Toyota Corolla Hatchback CVT XSE
If you’re thinking of moving up from the iM, consider the Corolla Hatchback’s cargo compartment is 14-percent smaller. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

On the positive, the Corolla Hatchback gets the IIHS’ a best-possible “Good” rating in every category except “Crash avoidance & mitigation,” which only shows its headlamps managing “Acceptable” or “Marginal” capability, depending on trim or option, but keep in mind the IIHS is a U.S. agency testing the U.S.-spec Corolla Hatchback, which isn’t necessarily the same as ours in every way. Interestingly, the new Corolla Hatchback gets a rare “G+” rating in the NHTSA’s “LATCH ease of use” category, which means it should be easy for parents to strap in child safety seats, while this U.S. agency also gives the car a five-star safety rating.

How do I rate the 2019 Corolla Hatchback? How about four stars? After all, while it’s a great looking, well-built, nicely outfitted, fun to drive compact car, I was disappointed to find out it’s up in weight and simultaneously down on usable space when compared to its predecessor. It would certainly meet my mostly city driving needs, as my kids are grown and gone and I’m not toting around kayaks or towing dirt bikes anymore. I’m still young enough to have fun behind the wheel, however, and the new Corolla Hatchback is certainly up for that.

Story and photo credits: Trevor Hofmann

2019 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Sahara Road and Trail Test

2019 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Sahara
The Wrangler has come a long way since its JL-body redesign. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

Jeep redesigned its popular Wrangler 4×4 for 2018, so as is usually the case for the following model year this 2019 variant remains unchanged, although the upcoming 2020 model will get a significant powertrain upgrade that may cause some who’ve never considered it before to reconsider. Interested? Keep reading.

Jeep produced the Wrangler’s JK body style from 2007 to 2017, and it’s been one of the most successful models in the entire Chrysler/FCA group since then. Now, the new 2018 to present JL version features a bigger, bolder, broader seven-slot grille, plus new optional LED reflector headlights, an ATV-like front bumper (which looks a lot like the one used for the 2016 Wrangler 75th Anniversary Edition I covered way back then) with optional LED fog lights, a shapelier hood (although not pumped up with the Anniversary Edition’s muscular power dome and blackened vents or the Rubicon’s similarly awesome hood design), restyled front fenders with new wraparound turn signals, heavily sculpted front body panels with black engine vents, new integrated side steps, fresh new rear fender flares, new wraparound taillights with optional LEDs, a new side-swinging tailgate, and a redesigned rear bumper (that’s not as cool looking as 75th Anniversary Edition’s, but definitely more attractive than the block of metal and black plastic found on the old Sahara).

2019 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Sahara
Few SUVs provide as much off-road capability as the Wrangler. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

While those not following everything Jeep may want to park a new JL next to the old JK in order to see the subtler differences, such as the just-noted redesigned tailgate, it’s reasonable to surmise that most of the new Wrangler’s exterior panels have been changed in order to accommodate its longer regular and long Unlimited wheelbases. Specifically, the 2019 Unlimited on this page is 89 mm (3.5 inches) longer than the old JK model, with a 61-mm (2.4-inch) longer wheelbase, while the regular wheelbase version grows in length as well. Overall, the new Wrangler appears classic and contemporary simultaneously, and even more important, it looks good.

Also critical, the new Wrangler is considerably more refined inside, with doors that shut with a solid thunk, and pliable soft-touch composite surfaces used most everywhere above the waste. The dash top and instrument panel even use some padded and contrast-stitched leatherette that matches the leather-clad steering wheel rim, plus the leatherette shifter boot and armrests, and the genuine leather seat upholstery. All the buttons, knobs and switches used through the cabin are impressive too, specifically the big audio volume and dual-zone automatic climate control knobs on the centre stack, while Jeep has improved the general quality of most materials as well as the way everything fits together.

2019 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Sahara
New lighting elements make for the most noticeable changes. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

As good as all of these changes are, the Wrangler’s gauge cluster might generate the cabin’s biggest wow factor. First, let’s be clear that it’s not a fully digital instrument panel, which would’ve probably been easier and less expensive to create, considering how two-dimensionally flat the previous four-gauge design was, and how easy it would’ve been to merely install a 12.3-inch display, fill it with graphics (not that this is simple) and call it a day. Instead, Jeep shaped two motorcycle-style individually hooded primary dials, bookended by a large colour multi-information display (MID). It looks great, and provides most of the digital tech today’s buyers are looking for, even including army green background graphics highlighted by a WW2 (Willys) GP. The tach and speedometer dials look superb in their orange on black and white design, and everything functions well.

The outgoing 6.5-inch rectangular centre touchscreen has also been replaced, but this time with a fully digital design incorporating no buttons or knobs at either side of the display. Instead, the new 8.0-inch square touchscreen offers some quick-access analogue switchgear on a cluster of dials and buttons positioned underneath, these used mostly for controlling heating and ventilation. The big dial on the very right is for scrolling or browsing through infotainment functions, and while some might find this useful I mostly tapped, swiped and pinched the touchscreen as required (sounds more exciting than it was), only making use of external controls for heating the seats and steering wheel (although you can do this via the touchscreen too), adjusting cabin temperatures (ditto), and the audio system’s volume.

2019 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Sahara
Great looking wrap-around taillights come with optional (as shown) LEDs. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

The bigger display area results in a much better backup camera, which once again uses active guidelines for slotting into parking spaces, while the ability to hook up Android Auto or Apple CarPlay is a bonus. The system incorporates most other functions available these days, like accurate navigation, easy phone setup and use, audio selection that includes satellite radio and wireless streaming, and a number of apps that come preloaded or can be downloaded. The display’s resolution is quite good, but it’s not as crisp and clear as you’ll find in the majority of premium brands, and a few new mainstream competitors like Chevrolet’s Blazer.

The car-based Blazer in mind, the new Wrangler delivers its best ride quality yet. In fact, it’s now something I’d brag about, rather than complain of while rubbing the small of back and nether regions. To be clear, the JK I tested on its initial 2005 Lake Tahoe/Rubicon Trail press launch showed major ride and handling improvements when compared to its 1997 to 2006 TJ predecessor, while that SUV was wholly more comfortable than the 1987 to 1995 YJ, and so on with respect to the many CJs (Civilian Jeeps) that came before (I used to drive a V8-powered CJ5 Renegade in the early ‘80s), but this new JL-bodied Wrangler is so much nicer to live with than any of its forebears that I’d now consider owning one, something I still wouldn’t have said about the JK. The reality is I’m aging, and therefore wouldn’t be willing to be discomforted by my daily commuter. The new Wrangler, however, completely changes everything with suspension compliancy that’s matched by much-improved cornering capability, better high-speed tracking, easier manoeuvrability around town and in tight parking lots, etc. All around, this Wrangler is a much, much better SUV to live with.

2019 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Sahara
The new Wrangler’s cabin is better in every way. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

This new livability includes improved rear seating, with deeper sculpted outboard positions that offer up more lower back support, while the increased wheelbase provides more second-row legroom. Three passengers continue to fit across the rear seat, although I’m going to guess only smaller folks will truly be comfortable in the middle. Also, with only two in back the centre folding armrest, incorporating two big rubberized cupholders and a personal device holder, can be lowered for even more comfort and convenience.

This said, not hollowing out a section behind that armrest for a rear-seat pass-through was an opportunity missed by Jeep, because now you’ll need to expend money for a lockable rooftop compartment for stowing longer items such as skis and snowboards, if you want two rear passengers to enjoy as much comfort as possible. This is doable, but it’s not the best solution, although this is also true for the majority of Jeep competitors.

2019 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Sahara
It probably would’ve been cheaper for Jeep to provide a fully digital gauge cluster than this complex semi-analogue one. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

Another complaint is the Wrangler’s swinging rear door, which remains hinged on the wrong side for North American, and most global markets. A conventional liftgate is out of the question for two reasons, 1) the removable roof, and 2) the 4×4 requirement of a full-size spare tire on its backside. What’s not required is a set of hinges on the passenger side, which means that loading the rear cargo compartment from curbside becomes awkward at best, potentially causing you to step in traffic to do so. Me complaining about this issue won’t be anything new to regular readers or those in charge of Jeep (that are listening), but it may be important to newbies considering a Wrangler for the first time.

A more positive cargo compartment issue is increased volume, the long-wheelbase Unlimited’s dedicated luggage area now increased by 18 litres (0.6 cubic feet) to 898 litres (31.7 cu ft), while maximum capacity has grown by 70 litres (2.5 cu ft) to a new grand total of 2,050 litres (72.4 cu ft) with both seatbacks laid flat. Laid flat is probably a misrepresentation, however, as there’s now an incline from the base of the seatbacks to the front portion of the extended cargo area, although another positive is the ease in which they’re now lowered, plus new panels that hide the previously exposed seat frames and other mechanical bits when laid down. These panels stop smaller items from rolling below, but these conveniences have been taken for granted by crossover SUV owners for years. Still, it’s a serious upgrade for the Wrangler, and, in my opinion, well worth the slightly uneven load floor.

2019 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Sahara
The larger 8-inch centre touchscreen provides a much clearer backup camera. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

At the other end of my 2019 Wrangler Unlimited Sahara tester was FCA’s 3.6-litre Pentastar V6, conjoined to an eight-speed automatic transmission and part-time four-wheel drive. While not quite as sonorous as my old CJ5’s 304 cubic-inch V8 (that included a rather loud set of aftermarket headers), the V6 produces a nice soundtrack of its own, and provides plenty of forward energy thanks to 285 horsepower and 260 lb-ft of torque, while the automatic transmission’s shift increments are quick and smooth.

A six-speed manual comes standard, incidentally, with the eight-speed auto tacking $1,595 onto the 2019 Wrangler Unlimited Sport S’ $40,745 (plus freight and fees) price tag, while this Unlimited Sahara starts at $44,745, and the top-line Unlimited Rubicon can be had for a retail price of $47,745 (a base two-door Wrangler S starts at $33,695). Alternatively, Wrangler buyers can pay $2,590 for a 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder engine featuring electric assist, which makes 15 horsepower less at 270, although 35 lb-ft of torque more at 295. This upgrade is standard with the eight-speed automatic, and is claimed to achieve much better fuel economy than the V6 (see all 2018, 2019 and 2020 Jeep Wrangler prices, including trims, packages and individual options, plus manufacturer rebates and dealer invoice pricing right here on CarCostCanada, where you can now save up to $3,500 in additional incentives on a 2020, or $4,000 on a 2019).

2019 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Sahara
Get ready for an entirely new level of Wrangler comfort and convenience. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

By the numbers, the base Wrangler Unlimited’s V6 and six-speed manual combo is rated at 13.8 L/100km city, 10.1 highway and 12.2 combined, whereas the same engine with the eight-speed auto uses a claimed 12.9 city, 10.2 highway and 11.7 combined. As for the four-cylinder turbo, its 10.9 city, 10.0 highway and 10.5 combined rating is by far the best right now, but it may only hold this title for a short duration as the upcoming 2020 Wrangler will soon offer FCA’s ultra-efficient 3.0-litre V6 turbo-diesel, while it will hardly be short on output thanks to 260 horsepower and 442 pound-feet of torque. I can imagine the Wrangler’s many dedicated 4×4 fans salivating at the prospect of this engine right now, diesels long being optimal off-road, but take note it will only be available in the long-wheelbase Unlimited body, while the more off-pavement capable regular-wheelbase Wrangler will continue to only be powered by gasoline engines.

Off-roading in mind, today’s more refined Wrangler still has few direct competitors. In fact, pickup trucks aside, the Wrangler is the only serious off-roader available in the mainstream volume-branded compact class, and will likely remain so until the all-new Ford Bronco arrives on the scene. The General’s compact pickup-based Chevy Blazer and GMC Jimmy duo was killed off in 2005, while Toyota’s Land Cruiser Prado-based FJ Cruiser hightailed it out of our market in 2014. Following suit, the very capable Nissan Xterra departed in 2015, leaving the popular Wrangler alone in its unique segment.

2019 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Sahara
Rear seat roominess and comfort has improved dramatically. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

As is only right, I tested the Wrangler Unlimited Sahara at a favourite 4×4 haunt and it performed as ideally as you might expect. In fact, all the thick mud and big pools of standing water were easy for this capable utility to muck and wade through, making me wonder if the ultra-rugged Rubicon is more than most Wrangler buyers require. Once off-pavement I slotted the secondary low gear lever into its 4H Part Time position to tackle the semi-rough stuff, which provided quick travel over less challenging terrain.

Diving deep into the big puddles and digging into some of the more abyss-like ruts caused me to stop and engage 4L (four-low), however, which made traversing all of the truly difficult terrain a breeze as well. While a decent test track considering its close proximity to my home, I’ve driven the old JK on the Rubicon Trail and other difficult courses and enjoyed both the challenge of negotiating trails I’d likely never try on my own, and doing so in such an amazingly agile 4×4, while I can only imagine how much more enjoyable it would be to scale Cadillac Hill atop the new Wrangler’s improved suspension, let alone doing so while being pushed via a turbo-diesel V6.

2019 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Sahara
More cargo space and easier folding rear seatbacks, but the load floor is not as flat. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

If all the improvements already mentioned aren’t enough to get you into the driver’s seat of a new Wrangler, this SUV makes smart business sense too. According to ALG, the Wrangler has the highest residual value of any model in Canada, with the four-door Unlimited version only dropping by an average of 30-percent after three years of use, and the two-door model only losing 31.5 percent. What’s more, the Wrangler also earned the Canadian Black Book’s 2019 Best Retained Value Award in the Compact SUV category for the ninth year in a row, while it achieved a new retained value record of 91 percent for 2019 (Jeep’s smaller car-based Renegade placed first in its Sub-Compact Crossover segment too).

What this means for those still sitting on the fence, is that Jeep’s Wrangler no longer needs any justification. It’s about having your cake and eating it too, or in other words getting what you want and making the smartest choice simultaneously. Don’t you wish all decisions were so easy?

Story and photo credits: Trevor Hofmann

New Aston Martin 2021 DBX crossover SUV debuts in Los Angeles and China

2021 Aston Martin DBX
Aston Martin revealed its first SUV this week, and the new 2021 DBX looks fabulous. (Photo: Aston Martin)

Everyone has been expecting an ultra-luxe SUV from Aston Martin for years, and thankfully the production-trim 2021 DBX that was introduced at the LA and Guangzhou auto shows last week (after a private showing during the 2019 US F1 GP earlier in November) is a lot more attractive than the luxury brand’s Lagonda Concept that caused much controversy at the Geneva auto show way back in 2009.

To be totally fair, Dr. Ulrich Bez and his design team were quite ahead of their time with that early luxury crossover SUV concept, and looking back its squarish front design and sharply angled LED headlights would have stood the test of time fairly well, but the mid-‘30s-era Lagonda de Ville Saloon-like upright opera-style rear window and similarly retrospective curved notchback trunk would never have won over many would-be buyers, whereas today’s Chief Operating Officer, Andy Palmer, and his updated design team (with Herr Bez still acting as non-executive chairman) made certain that this new DBX would be attractive from nose to tail.

2021 Aston Martin DBX
The new DBX pulls frontal styling cues from the DB11 sports car, and its unique rear styling from the new Vantage. (Photo: Aston Martin)

The DBX’ rear three-quarter vantage point might possibly its best angle, in fact, while the frontal design may actually offer up a more classic Aston Martin appearance than any other model currently available, or at least it’s more traditional than the futuristic Vantage and wildly exotic Valkyrie supercar. This said, Aston turned to the new Vantage for the DBX’ body-width LED taillight design, which outlines the new SUV’s shapely tailgate, while its front end looks more like the beautiful new DB11. All in all, most premium crossover SUV buyers should find the new DBX alluring.

DBX’ development took an investment of five years, but despite all the effort there’s no electrified option being offered initially. An “E” version, based on the Rapide E powertrain, is probably on the way, and was the stated power unit used for the original 2015 Aston Martin DBX Concept coupe, as well as the sensational 2019 Lagonda All-Terrain Concept that showed up at the Geneva auto show in March of this year (this SUV heavily inspired by the Lagonda Vision Concept launched the year before), the former a raised, muscled up two-door coupe that shows no resemblance to today’s production DBX, and the latter a super-sleek crossover that may have people asking whether or not Aston is thinking about Lagonda becoming its dedicated electric sub-brand, just like how Volvo is positioning its new Polestar brand, but nevertheless the street-ready DBX gets a more formidable version of the AMG 4.0-litre twin-turbocharged V8 found in the previously noted Vantage and DB11.

2009 Lagonda SUV Concept
Fortunately the new DBX doesn’t look anything like the 2009 Lagonda SUV Concept. (Photo: Aston Martin)

It makes a sizeable 542 horsepower and 516 pound-feet of torque in DBX trim, which is 39 more hp and 11 lb-ft of added torque over both sports cars, but its greater size and mass make it slightly slower off the line at 4.5 seconds from zero to 100km/h, compared to a respective 3.6 and 4.2 seconds for the two-seat Vantage and larger 2+2 DB11, while its terminal velocity is 291 km/h (181 mph) compared 314 km/h (195 mph) and 322 km/h (200 mph) respectively, which is still plenty good for a five-seat sport utility.

Aston Martin incorporates a nine-speed automatic for putting all that power down to the wheels, this gearbox up one cog over both Vantage and DB11 models, while its standard Pirelli P Zeros (and available Pirelli Scorpion Zeros or Scorpion Winters) grip pavement (or gravel, sand, mud and snow) through a standard all-wheel drive system that apportions twist via electronically controlled centre and rear differentials, defaulting from a 47/53 torque-split to nearly 100 percent powering the back wheels. The rear differential combines with brake-based torque vectoring in order to improve high-speed road-holding, while hill descent control helps with steep grades, plus 16-inch rotors binding six-piston front calipers manage stopping power, critically important for this 2,241-kg (4,940-pound) SUV.

2019 Lagonda All-Terrain Concept
This year’s Lagonda All-Terrain Concept shows that an EV powertrain might be forthcoming. (Photo: Aston Martin)

While 2,241 kilos (4,940 pounds) might seem pretty hefty for an Aston, it’s not all that much for a mid-size five-passenger luxury SUV, Aston choosing to use its long history of producing aluminum bodied cars to create the DBX’ completely new bonded aluminum platform architecture. Keeping it horizontal to the road when pushed hard around corners is an adaptive air suspension that’s supported by a 48-volt anti-roll system, all of which is improved upon by six drive settings that include Sport and Sport+ modes, while its standard 198 mm (7.8 inches) of ground clearance can be raised by 46 mm (1.8 inches) when the need to overcome off-road obstacles arises, this scenario aided by Terrain and Terrain+ driving modes. Speaking of going off-road, the new DBX is capable of wading through 500 mm (19.7 inches) of water too.

The suspension can be lowered by about two inches as well, this allowing an easier lift height when loading to its 631-litre (22.3 cubic-foot) cargo compartment, which incidentally can be expanded to 1,529 litres (54 cubic feet) by lowering its 40/20/40-split rear seatbacks, making the new DBX the most practical vehicle ever offered by Aston Martin.

2021 Aston Martin DBX
The new DBX promises good off-road capability. (Photo: Aston Martin)

While comfortably seating five and their gear, Aston hasn’t forgotten about pampering those occupants and even their pets. The automaker’s artisans take 200 hours per vehicle to stitch the gorgeous Bridge of Weir leather together, and just a single glance shows its handmade attention to detail. Aston carved out the backsides of the front seats to increase second-row knee room, just like it did with the DB11, while they smartly provided a third seatbelt in the middle of the bench seat.

Of interest, the launch of the DBX is accompanied by loads of accessories, some less significant in size, such as a leather key pouch, a leather umbrella strap, and a leather centre console organizer, with others quite a bit larger such as the “Halo” upgrades that include an event seating package (that adds a rear-facing third row for tailgate parties), a leather upholstered hamper, and a leather-covered field sports cabinet.

2021 Aston Martin DBX
Aston Martin does interiors very well. (Photo: Aston Martin)

Additional DBX accessories include special form-fitting saddle bags that attach to the folding second-row centre armrest, rear outboard “comfort” leather headrest pads, a branded leather child safety seat, a warming ski boot bag, adjustable roof rail cross-members, lockable roof-mounted storage, top-mounted and rear-mounted bike racks, a leather and cloth flip-out rear bumper protector (designed to stop dogs nails from scratching the rear bumper when jumping aboard), a dog/cargo partition, a dog wash system (complete with a hose), and a roll-up leather and grey cloth doggy bed.

A shortlist of standard features includes 22-inch alloys, frameless windows, individual armrests for front occupants, ambient lighting with 64 different colours, and a big panoramic glass sunroof, while if you’re worried about Aston’s beautiful handiwork getting faded from too much overhead light, a powered sunshade can block out mother nature, this available in Alcantara to match an equally suede-like headliner.

Top-grade leathers and Alcantara microsuede aren’t unusual in an ultra-luxury vehicle, let alone plenty of SUVs from lesser brands, but Aston Martin provides myriad alternative interior options too, like the DBX’ 20-percent synthetic and 80-percent Australian lambs wool upholstery, which the British brand says is a “luxurious felt-like fabric.”

2021 Aston Martin DBX
The DBX seats look comfortable and supportive. (Photo: Aston Martin)

Other alternatives include leather upholstery brogue detailing, quilting, perforations and colour splits, plus many veneer options. If you’d like something even more unique, Aston’s “Q” customizing shop will design an SUV that would make 007 proud (the DBX will soon make an appearance as James’ family car in the 25th Bond film, “No Time To Die”).

On a more pragmatic note, the DBX comes standard with a 12.3-inch high-definition digital gauge cluster, while the centre display is an equally bright and clear 10.25-inch screen. Aston chose to attach the new infotainment system directly to the centre stack instead of standing it upright atop the dash, like so many competitors do these days. As for features, the interface only offers Apple CarPlay, so Android smartphone users will be force to rely on the standard layout, but a surround parking camera system will enhance the DBX’ safety, as will adaptive cruise control, autonomous emergency braking, lane departure warning, lane keep assist, etcetera.

Of course, the DBX won’t be for everyone due to pricing alone, its $218,400 CAD MSRP making sure of that. This said it’s exactly where it needs to be, i.e. unavailable to the masses yet right in the middle of its ultra-premium rivals. The DBX’ entry price is probably closest to the $240,569 Lamborghini Urus, a similarly sized SUV as well, but the Italian stallion’s standard 641-hp V12 means that standstill to 100 km/h takes a mere 3.6 seconds to complete, while its top speed is an astonishing (for an SUV) 305 km/h (190 mph).

2021 Aston Martin DBX
Three passengers can sit abreast in back. (Photo: Aston Martin)

Alternatively, the V8-powered Bentley Bentayga, which is “only” $176,800 in base form, can manage 100 km/h in just 4.5 seconds, which is exactly the same time as the DBX, plus it tops out just one kilometre per hour below the Aston’s 291 km/h (181 mph) top speed, while it seats two additional passengers in its third row and can manage more cargo. The Bentayga can also be had with a 600-horsepower 12-cylinder, this $241,900 utility capable of sprinting from zero to 100 km/h in only 4.1 seconds before reaching a 301-km/h (187-mph) terminal velocity.

Those curious about the new $370,500 Rolls-Royce Cullinan need to realize that its hefty weight gets in the way of its 563 horsepower V12’s performance, thus causing a 100 km/h sprint of (yawn) 5.2 seconds, whereas its top speed is limited to a less breathtaking 250 km/h (155 mph).

At the other end of the pricing spectrum is the somewhat less prestigious Maserati Levante at just $95,500, but its $138,500, 550-hp V8 GTS version is almost perfectly aligned with the DBX in both size and speed, managing standstill to 100 km/h in only 4.2 seconds and an almost identical terminal velocity of 292 km/h (181 mph), plus Maserati also offers its even more potent GTS Trofeo that starts at $187,500 and achieves the same two feats in just 3.9 seconds and 304 km/h (189 mph) respectively.

2021 Aston Martin DBX
The DBX will provide Aston Martin owners with an entirely new level of practicality. (Photo: Aston Martin)

All this said there are a number of less expensive and less prestigious SUVs that can match the DBX in straight-line performance and potentially in the corners, but as painstakingly detailed in this preview already, there’s a great deal more than performance making this new Aston Martin special.

For starters, the first 500 DBX clients will get a special “1913 Package” commemorating 106 years of Aston Martin history. It features special front fender badges, branded sill plates, and an inspection plaque inside that summarizes its limited-build run, while each of these SUVs will be personally inspected and endorsed by the company’s previously noted CEO, Andy Palmer. In addition, Palmer and DBX Chief Creative Officer Marek Reichman will sign an exclusive build book, while all of these special upgrades finalize with an invitation to a cocktail party celebration at the Waldorf Astoria, London, attended by an Aston Martin Lagonda executive team member.

The 2021 DBX will be assembled at Aston Martin’s new Saint Athan, Wales production facility, with deliveries starting in the latter half of 2020. While waiting for yours to arrive, enjoy the many Aston Martin-supplied videos below: 

Aston Martin DBX: Behind The Scenes – Daisy Zhou (0:59):

 

Aston Martin DBX: Launch (9:01):

 

Aston Martin DBX Chapter 6: In Motion (0:45):

 

Aston Martin DBX Chapter 5: Adventure (0:55):

 

Aston Martin DBX Chapter 4: Indulgence (0:51):

 

Aston Martin DBX Chapter 3: The Engine (0:21):

 

Aston Martin DBX Chapter 2: The Grille (0:41):

 

Aston Martin DBX Chapter 1: Testing (0:37):

 

Aston Martin DBX SUV testing in Sweden (0:39):

 

2019 DBX – Aston Martin’s first SUV (0:38):

2019 Subaru Outback 3.6R Limited Road Test

2019 Subaru Outback 3.6R Limited
Subaru’s Outback is not only just as practical as most mid-size crossover SUVs, but it can out-perform the majority off-road too. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Subaru has long provided a nicely balanced lineup of performance-oriented yet practical cars and crossover SUVs, with the Outback not only typifying this ideal, but together with the smaller compact Crosstrek it actually bridges the gap between family wagon and sport utility.

The Outback’s best of both world’s design means that it’s always been a strong seller for Subaru, but I think it would do even better if more mid-size crossover SUV buyers knew just how roomy it is inside. Despite its lower overall height, the Outback’s 1,005 litres (35.5 cubic feet) of dedicated cargo capacity and 2,075 litres (73.3 cubic feet) of space when the rear row is flattened is much more capable of swallowing up gear than Nissan’s Murano and Chevy’s new Blazer, while it’s on par with Ford’s Edge, Hyundai’s Santa Fe, and even Jeep’s off-road dominating Grand Cherokee.

Subaru could make it even more accommodating if they’d offer a second-row centre pass-through, mind you, or better yet 40/20/40 split-folding rear seatbacks like some premium European brands, but the Outback does include a convenient set of cargo wall-mounted levers for laying its 60/40-split seats flat automatically, while a nice retractable cargo cover and rugged available cargo mat make it a perfect companion for the majority of family hauling duties such as carting four individuals plus their ski/snowboard gear up to the slopes.

2019 Subaru Outback 3.6R Limited
In today’s crossover SUV world, the Outback stands out for being different. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

That’s when you’ll be glad for the Outback’s standard all-wheel drive, and that it’s not just any AWD system. Subaru’s Symmetrical AWD is well respected for providing an even distribution of torque to each wheel and more even weight distribution overall, not to mention a lower centre of gravity due to its lineup of horizontally opposed “boxer” engines. I’ve been test driving Outbacks since I started covering the automotive industry two decades ago, and I even spent a week in a near identical (other than colour) 2018 Outback 3.6R Limited last year, so I’ve experienced how well its AWD system works in tandem with its standard electronic traction and stability control systems to deliver go-near-anywhere capability in almost any weather condition.

Of course, the Outback is capable of climbing out of much deeper snow than the mere wisp of white surrounding our test vehicle, with many of my weeklong tests including stints up the mountain trudging through thickly blanketed snow sport parking lots and a number of trips up country to visit family, where its family of flat four- and six-cylinder engines always provided strong highway performance and enough torque to dig the car out of deep snow banks.

Back to the here and now, Subaru gave the Outback a mid-cycle update for the 2018 model year, while the Japanese brand is smack dab in the middle of launching its fully redesigned 2020 model as this review gets published, so if you decide to drive on down to your local Subie retailer you’ll probably see the latest version parked in their showroom and a smattering of new 2019s outside on the lot, the latter cars no doubt reduced in price to find homes quickly.

2019 Subaru Outback 3.6R Limited
No matter whether choosing the 2019 or 2020, the Outback is a good looking tall wagon. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

CarCostCanada was reporting up to $3,000 in additional incentives for 2019 Outbacks at the time of writing, while you’ll also find trim, package and option prices there, as well as rebate information and even dealer invoice pricing that could save you thousands when you sit down to negotiate, therefore you really should consider a 2019 unless you really want the updated version.

Choosing the new replacement Outback or soon to be replaced model shouldn’t solely be up to finances, unless budget limitations demand, but I still don’t see most buyers of the 2020 version sold merely on styling. After all, while they’re obviously different when seen side-by-side, the updated model is no radical departure. In fact, I’d say it’s actually less rugged looking at a time when most car-based crossover SUVs are working overtime to pretend otherwise.

Inside, it gets the mainstream volume sector’s largest centre touchscreen at 11.6 inches, positioned vertically instead of horizontal, as with this 2019 model’s still amply sized 8.0-inch touchscreen. I won’t go into too much detail about the 2020 model, being that I haven’t tested one yet, but suffice to say the new centre display could very well make moving into the latest Outback worthwhile all on its own.

Then again, I could see someone choosing a 2019 Outback just to acquire my test model’s wonderful 3.6-litre six-cylinder engine, which is sadly on its way out of the entire Subaru lineup. It has recently only been available in upper-crust Outbacks and top-tier versions of the brand’s Legacy mid-size sedan, but the advent of Subaru’s new Ascent mid-size three-row crossover SUV last year, and its lack of H6 power, initially signified an uncertain end to six-cylinder performance within blue-oval, silver star products, and now the 2020 Legacy and Outback have confirmed such.

2019 Subaru Outback 3.6R Limited
Many of the Outback Limited’s details are very upscale. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Looking back, Subaru’s flat-six came into being as an option for the 1988–1991 XT (Alcyone VX) sports coupe, and was based on the brand’s four-cylinder of the time. It was upgraded for that model’s successor, the 1991–1996 SVX (Alcyone), a car I tested and was thoroughly impressed by way back in ’94. Next came the EZ30, which was a complete engine redesign notably nearly as compact as the EJ25 four-cylinder of the era, the smaller 3.0-litre version being optional in Legacy/Outback models from 2002/2001-2008/2009, and the almost identically sized yet more formidable 3.6-litre EZ36 available optionally for respective 2009 and 2010 models. Both versions of the EZ were used for the new Ascent’s three-row crossover SUV predecessor, incidentally, the 2006-2007 Tribeca integrating the smaller version and 2008-2014 versions using the bigger engine.

As it is, 2019 Outback engines include a base 2.5-litre four-cylinder good for 175 horsepower and 174 lb-ft of torque, plus the 3.6-litre H6 I’ve already talked about a length, except for output figures that measure up to 256 horsepower and 247 lb-ft of torque. For 2020, the entry-level 2.5i gets a total overhaul including 90 percent of its components replaced for 6 more horsepower and 2 lb-ft of additional torque, which now equal 182 horsepower and 176 lb-ft of torque, while the aforementioned Ascent’s new 2.4-litre turbocharged four-cylinder engine is optional as is its impressive 260 horsepower and 277 lb-ft of torque, which equals a small increase of 4 horsepower yet a robust 30 lb-ft of added torque over the old six-cylinder engine.

As you might expect, the updated 2020 engines are more efficient than their predecessors too, with the current 2019 Outback 2.5i achieving an estimated 9.4 L/100km city, 7.3 highway and 8.5 combined compared to 9.0, 7.1 and 8.0 for the new 2020 base engine, which is an obvious gain, while the 2019 Outback 3.6R manages a claimed 12.0 L/100km city, 8.7 highway and 10.5 combined rating compared to a much thriftier 10.1, 7.9 and 9.0 respectively for the new turbo-four. While Subaru certainly deserves credit for delivering such major gains in both efficiency and performance, I’ll miss the six-cylinder’s smooth, refined operation and throatier growl at higher revs.

2019 Subaru Outback 3.6R Limited
If you need to haul cargo on the roof, the Outback’s roof rails are heavy duty. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

The brand’s High-Torque Lineartronic CVT (continuously variable transmission) is smooth too, and thanks to its ability to shift through its eight forward “gears” just like a conventional automatic, even via steering wheel paddle shifters, it’s relatively sporty as well. Then again, when revs climb higher it’s not quite as convincing as a sport model, which meant I didn’t end up using those paddles as much as I would normally have.

Either way the Outback 3.6R is no slouch off the line and fully capable of passing slower traffic on the freeway or better yet, a winding two-lane highway, and to that end it’s a pretty good handler too, even when pushed through tight curves at high speeds, but this said it’s no WRX STI. Of course, few vehicles can keep up to Subaru’s most famous performance model, let alone tall wagons primarily designed for comforting their occupants. Its comfort-oriented attitude is why I left the Outback’s super-smooth transmission is Drive and just enjoyed the ride more often than not. Its suspension is wonderfully compliant, making it perfect for managing rough backcountry roads and trips to the ski hill, plus of course overcoming some of the worst trails anywhere, those dreaded inner-city lanes.

If I were to claim Subaru’s standard full-time symmetrical all-wheel drive as the best AWD system in the mainstream industry I wouldn’t be alone, especially when factoring in “X-MODE” that controls the engine’s output, the transmission’s shift points, the AWD system’s torque-split, plus the braking and hill descent control systems so as to overachieve when off the beaten path. Obviously the Outback won’t walk away from a Jeep Wrangler on a level 8 or 9 trail (it wouldn’t even make it five feet on a level 8 or 9 trail), but its highly advanced AWD system and better than average 220 mm (8.7 inches) of ground clearance give it an advantage over most car-based crossover competitors when the going get tough.

2019 Subaru Outback 3.6R Limited
Good looking, highly refined Outback Limited cabin provides most everything a luxury buyer wants and more. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

I’m sure you can imagine that I’m intrigued by the new 2020 Outback and want to get behind the wheel, something I’ll be doing next week. Of course, its bigger centre touchscreen will be impressive, and I’m guessing Subaru will make improvements in refinement as well. Nevertheless it’ll need to be particularly good to beat the current model’s near premium details, such as fabric-wrapped A-pillars, soft synthetic dash-top and instrument panel that’s contrast-stitched and continues all the way down each side of the centre stack, padded door uppers, inserts and armrests front to back, and its leather upholstery with contrast stitching in my near top-line Limited tester.

The Outback Limited’s leather-clad steering wheel looks and feels great, the latter thanks to ideally shaped thumb spats. The comprehensive switchgear on the 9 and 3 o’clock spokes are high-quality too, while all of the interior’s buttons, knobs and switches are good, with the audio and two-zone auto HVAC dials on the centre stack especially so.

Some of Subaru’s biggest gains in recent years have been in the electronics department, with this 2019 Outback not as mind-blowing as the 2020 model, but still on par with rivals. Both 2019 and 2020 models utilize relatively conventional primary gauge clusters sporting a circular analogue tachometer and speedometer to the sides of a tall, vertical multi-information display (MID), but the 2020 car waves goodbye to the sportier dual-binnacle motorbike-like gauge design now in use, for a much more conventional look that I find a tad disappointing when focused on base trims, but this said the 2019 model’s 5.0-inch optional MID can now be upgraded to a full 12.3-inch digital instrument cluster in the 2020 car.

2019 Subaru Outback 3.6R Limited
Complex gauge clusters like this will soon become a thing of the past. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

What this means for those interested in the outgoing 2019 Outback, particularly in Limited and Premier trims, is a gauge cluster that’s hardly more exciting than what you’ll find in more basic 2.5i, Convenience and Touring models, but the base 3.5-inch MID gets replaced by a significantly better colour 5.0-inch version when EyeSight gets added to the mix (I’ll talk about EyeSight shortly), but turn your eyes to the centre stack and it’s a completely different story.

The most basic 2020 Outbacks start off with a 7.0-inch touchscreen, which is an upgrade from the 2019 model’s 6.5-inch centre monitor, while the top-line 2019 model gets a reasonably large 8.0-inch touchscreen, as noted earlier. I can understand you may have seen something even more impressive if you’ve just stepped out of the updated Outback or something premium from Germany, but my tester’s infotainment interface was still well laid out and plenty attractive due to lots of gloss black surfacing around the touchscreen so that it all blends nicely together as if it’s one oversized display, while the background graphics offer up Subaru’s trademark starlit blue night sky and bright, colourful smartphone/tablet-style candy drop buttons for choosing functions.

The backup camera is very good, helped along by active guidelines, while features include Android Auto, Apple CarPlay and Subaru’s own StarLink smartphone integration. Of course, the usual AM/FM/CD/MP3/WMA audio sources can be found too, plus satellite and Aha radio, USB and aux ports, SiriusXM advanced audio services, SiriusXM Travel Link, and Bluetooth with audio streaming. It all gets funneled through four speakers in lower trims and six speakers in Touring trims and above, while the latter also includes the aforementioned 1.5-inch larger touchscreen and a second USB port.

2019 Subaru Outback 3.6R Limited
The 2019 Outback’s infotainment display only looks old when compared to the new 2020 version. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Being that you won’t be able to factory order a 2019 Outback, I won’t delve into all the trim line details, but some as yet mentioned features found in my Limited trimmed test model include 18-inch alloy wheels, auto on/off LED headlights with steering-responsive capability, fog lights, welcome and approach lights, proximity keyless access, pushbutton ignition, brushed aluminum front doorsill protectors, authentic looking matte woodgrain and silver metallic interior accents, auto-dimming side and centre mirrors, a heated steering wheel rim, three-way heatable front seats, a navigation/route guidance system, dynamic cruise control, a 10-way powered driver’s seat with power lumbar and two-way memory, a four-way power front passenger’s seat, a universal garage door opener, a great sounding 12-speaker, 576-watt Harman/Kardon audio system, a power glass sunroof, two-way heated rear outboard seats, a power rear tailgate, plus more.

Those EyeSight advanced driver assistance systems mentioned earlier include pre-collision braking, pre-collision brake assistance, pre-collision throttle management, lane departure warning, lane sway warning, lane keep assist, lead vehicle start alert, reverse automatic braking, adaptive cruise control, and auto high beams.

My as-tested Limited 3.6R with the EyeSight tester can be had for $41,395 plus freight and fees, which is $1,500 more than the Limited 3.6R with no EyeSight, while that model is also $3,000 more than Limited trim with the four-cylinder powerplant. A base Outback 2.5i can be purchased for just $29,295, incidentally, while additional 2019 trims include the $32,795 Touring 2.5i and $39,295 Premier 2.5i, the latter trim coming standard with EyeSight. You can upgrade Touring trim with the Eyesight package and engine upgrade, but, no-cost colour choices aside, the flat-six is the only available option with Premier trim.

2019 Subaru Outback 3.6R Limited
There’s no shortage of room in the Outback. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

The 2019 Outback’s retail price ranges from $29,295 to $42,295, but take note that up to $3,000 in additional incentives were available at the time of writing, so be sure to check out our 2019 Subaru Outback page for all the details, plus pricing, rebate, and dealer invoice pricing that could save you thousands.

As I explained when starting this review, the Outback can manage mid-size SUV-levels of cargo, so as you might expect there’s also ample space for adult passengers in both rows of seats. It’s comfortable too, the front seats ideally shaped for optimal support, particularly at the lower lumbar region, while the side bolsters also support well laterally. The rear seating area is amply large as well, particularly with respect to headroom.

Also important, the rear compartment is just as refined as the front. Along with surface treatments and other details finished nicely, a large armrest flips down from the centre position filled with well designed cupholders that actually hold drinks in place when underway thanks to rubber grips (most are nowhere near as useful), while the backside of the front centre console features a covered compartment with two USB chargers plus an auxiliary plug, as well as a set of rocker switches for the previously noted rear seat heaters and the rear HVAC vents. Rear passengers needing overhead light will appreciate the reading lamps above, while each door panel includes a big bottle holder.

2019 Subaru Outback 3.6R Limited
Rear seat comfort and roominess is superb. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

It seems just about perfect to finish this Subaru Outback review on such a practical subject matter, even after factoring in the premium-like cabin, luxuriously smooth powertrain and equally plush ride. It’s a crossover wagon/SUV that’s actually better than advertised, and that makes it a truly rare commodity. Believe me, you’ll be well served whether you opt for this impressive 2019 Outback or the new 2020 version.

Story credit: Trevor Hofmann

Photo credits: Karen Tuggay

2019 Dodge Durango SRT Road Test

2019 Dodge Durango SRT
The Durango SRT is a best of all worlds SUV. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

I once had a girlfriend that hated fur. She wasn’t long out of college where she’d been influenced by well-meaning animal rights advocates, and therefore wouldn’t even consider wearing something made from the skins of little rodents. Having spent way too much time up north where humans have used animal furs to keep warm for eons, I had no such misgivings, so I took her downstairs to one of my spare bedrooms that was filled with long mink, sable, fox and yet other valuable fur coats that I was in the process of selling for a client, and proceeded to wrap her in each of them. Seeing her initial disdain immediately transform into guilty pleasure was something I’ll never forget, making me wish I had a radical environmentalist to take for a spin in the latest Dodge Durango SRT.

I can just imagine the Greta-like sneer turning into a devilish giggle before all-out laughter started mixing in fear as the big, bellowing, brutish, anti-green SUV guzzled back gas as quickly as Elizabeth May downs drinks at press gallery dinners; yes, the Durango SRT is that corruptible. Then again, it’s not as Mephistophelian as Jeep’s ridiculously fast 707 horsepower Grand Cherokee SRT Trackhawk. Instead, the Durango SRT gets motivated by the same comparatively sedate 6.4-litre (392 cubic inch) Hemi V8 that motivates the regular Grand Cherokee SRT, although tame as it may seem this 475 horsepower mill is no lightweight.

2019 Dodge Durango SRT
While the Durango SRT i equipped with AWD, it’s more of a street performance than off-road warrior. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

With a formidable 470 lb-ft of torque going down to all wheels, the 2,499-kilo (5,510-lb) beast launches from zero to 100 km/h in just 4.6 seconds, its SRT Torqueflite eight-speed automatic transmission delighting with quick shifts all the way from standstill to highway speeds and beyond, whether actuated by its steering wheel paddles, console-mounted shift lever, or simply left to do its own thing. What’s more, it will continue forward with a 12.9-second quarter mile time, and keeps going to a top track speed of 290 km/h (180 mph), which is equal to the Jeep Trackhawk, and in an entirely different universe when compared to other so-called “performance” SUVs.

And to think all of this go-fast goodness resides in a practical three-row family hauler that seats seven adults in total comfort while stowing their luggage in a big 487-litre (17.2 cubic-foot) dedicated rear cargo compartment, and can even tow a 3,946-kilo (8,700-lb) trailer (which is 1,500 lbs more weight than the 5.7-litre V8-powered Durango can tow, and 2,500 lbs more than the V6).

The only Durango SRT negative is fuel economy, which is more than a tad thirsty at a claimed 18.3 L/100km city, 12.2 highway, and 15.6 combined, plus slightly less off-road ability due to a bit less ground clearance, and this said who would want to ruin the SRT’s extended bodywork or 20-inch double-five-spoke black-painted alloy wheels on stumps or rocks anyway, the SUV’s three-season Pirelli Scorpion 295/45 ZRs much more suited to gripping asphalt as it is.

2019 Dodge Durango SRT
The Durango SRT has no shortage of functional scoops and vents on its hood. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

The SRT’s black mesh grille is turned down in a menacing frown, while its tri-vented hood, aggressive lower fascia, extended side skirts, and chrome dual tailpipe-infused rear bumper makes a strong visual statement that’s impossible to ignore. Nothing has changed since the Durango SRT arrived in 2017 as a 2018 model, and it’s been carried forward into 2019 unchanged too, plus will so again for the 2020 model year, with only the Durango’s lower trims getting small improvements.

As a backgrounder, the third-generation Durango arrived in 2010 for the 2011 model year, and along with the complete redesign were plenty of curves to help us forget the less loved, ultra-angled second-generation model, and remind us of the muscular Dakota-based SUV that brought Dodge into the mid-size SUV fold way back in 1997 (when are you bringing back the Dakota, Dodge… er Ram?).

Plenty of premium-like cabin materials were brought back as well, with each trim that I have tested being very well finished. Such is particularly true of this SRT, which receives a rich microfibre/suede-style Alcantara covering for its roofliner and A pillars, plus contrast-stitched leatherette over the entire dash top and most of the instrument panel, even down the sides of the centre stack, while both front and back door uppers are made from a padded leather-like synthetic, and armrests detailed out in contrast-stitched leatherette. As anyone familiar with this class likely expects, all surfaces from the waist downward are constructed from hard composites, but it all looks good and feels durable enough.

2019 Dodge Durango SRT2019 Dodge Durango SRT
These sizeable 20-inch rims and Brembo performance brakes are very capable. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

The steering wheel feels even better thanks to a combination of perforated and solid leathers, this ideally contrasted with baseball-style stitching around the inside of the rim for added grip, while each spoke features a nicely organized, well-made set of controls plus the paddle-shifters mentioned before, as well as Chrysler group’s novel audio volume control and mode switches on the backside of those spokes. The rest of this Durango’s buttons, knobs and toggles are well executed for its mainstream mission too, with the big volume, tuning and fan-speed dials on the centre stack trimmed in chrome edged in rubber for extra grip.

Just above, the infotainment touchscreen measures a very sizeable 8.4 inches in diameter, features a fairly high-resolution display and is really easy to use. I appreciate the simplicity of Chrysler group touchscreens, specifically those found in Chrysler, Dodge and Jeep models as they’re quite different than those offered by Fiat, Alfa Romeo and Maserati. The two premium Italian brands definitely provide higher definition, the Alfa Stelvio I most recently tested equipped with a very impressive (albeit smaller) display, but this Durango SRT interface is more straightforward and extremely well equipped.

2019 Dodge Durango SRT
The Durango SRT’s interior is a mix of mainstream and premium quality features and materials. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

Together with individual displays for audio, automatic climate controls (that include digital buttons for the heated/ventilated front seats and heatable steering wheel), navigation system (that features nicely detailed maps and accurate route guidance), phone connectivity and features, plus various apps, the SRT adds its own set of Performance Pages displaying power torque history, real-time power and torque, timers for laps (and more), as well as G-force engine and dyno gauges, separate oil temperature, oil pressure, coolant temperature and battery voltage gauges, many of which are duplicated over on the primary instrument cluster’s multi-info display, providing this SUV with a level of digital capability few rivals come close to matching.

I appreciated having somewhere close by to stow my smartphone when not in use, Dodge providing is a rubberized pad at the base of the centre stack that should be large enough for most any device. Still, I was disappointed to learn there was no wireless charger underneath the rubberized pad, but instead an old-school 12-volt charge point and aux plug resides above, plus two much more useful (for my needs) USB chargers. An additional 12-volt charger and a Blu-Ray DVD changer can be found below the centre armrest/lid, while the standard 506-watt, nine-speaker Alpine stereo is impressive, as is the even nicer 825-watt, 19-speaker, $1,995 Harman/Kardon system.

2019 Dodge Durango SRT
The Durango SRT’s gauge cluster multi-information display is one of the most comprehensive in the industry. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

Then again, the deep, resonating sound of the Durango SRT’s Hemi V8 makes such audio equipment discussion seem a bit irrelevant, whether it’s thumping like a big Harley at idle or disrupting world order at full throttle, while its reactions to prods from the right foot are much more immediate than expected from such a big SUV. It doesn’t exactly jump off the line, but it’s hardly listless either, launching from standstill without any hesitation before distancing itself from legal speeds, all within seconds.

The upgraded eight-speed automatic does a great job of putting all that power down to the wheels, all the while providing smooth, quick shifts. I left it to its own devices more often than not, although when trying to extract as much performance as possible its paddle-actuated manual mode proved ideal, particularly when diving into deep, fast-paced curves, the big Durango SRT’s agility in the corners downright baffling.

2019 Dodge Durango SRT
A large touchscreen is filled with features, and the tri-zone automatic HVAC system is easy to use. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

You might actually be surprised at the Durango’s handling overall, even lesser trims plenty of fun when the road starts to wind, but rest assured the SRT takes things up a notch or three. The SRT utilizes the same fully independent front strut and rear multi-link suspension as all Durangos, but Dodge tweaks it with some “SRT-tuned” components like a Bilstein adaptive damping suspension (ADS) instead of the regular SUV’s gas-charged, twin-tube coil-over shocks, and hollow stabilizer bars in place of solid ones, the result being a flatter stance when pushed hard through tight serpentine stretches, and excellent high-speed tracking. What’s more, the Durango’s electric power steering gets special tuned while stopping performance is enhanced with a set of powerful Brembo brakes, resulting in binding power that’s almost as exciting as accelerative forces. A compliant suspension setup, good visibility all-round, and ample manoeuvrability makes for an easy driving SUV through town as well, and due to less width than most full-size SUVs, such as the Chevrolet Tahoe or Ford Expedition, the Durango is less of a problem to park.

To clarify, the Durango is 120 millimetres (4.7 inches) thinner than the Tahoe and 104 mm (4.1 in) narrower than the Expedition, but rest assured that it delivers size where it matters most. In fact, its 3,045-mm (120.0-in) wheelbase is 99 mm (3.9 in) lengthier than the Tahoe’s, and a mere 67 mm (2.6 in) shorter than the Expedition’s wheelbase, which means that can fit adults comfortably into all three rows.

2019 Dodge Durango SRT
The Durango SRT’s seats are very comfortable and supportive. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

Of course, this means there’s a bit less interior room from side-to-side, but it’s still plenty wide within, and should be spacious enough for full-size folks. The driver’s seat is excellent, and like the others (other than the rearmost row) gets an “SRT” logo imprinted on its backrest. My tester’s seats were coloured in attractive “Demonic Red” with white contrast stitching to match the decorative thread used elsewhere around the cabin, while the seats’ centre inserts are perforated for adequate natural and forced ventilation. The leather itself is ultra-soft and therefore feels very upscale, while the seats’ side panels even felt as if they were trimmed in the same high quality hides, albeit in black. The instrument panel and doors get attractive patterned-aluminum inlays that feel like the real deal, while additional chrome embellishment brightens other key points around the cabin. If you want a bit more bling, you can opt for the SRT Interior Appearance Group that swaps out the aluminum inlays for real carbon-fibre while upgrading the instrument panel with a luxurious leather wrap, which might be a fine way to spend $3,250.

Like the front seats, the SRT’s standard second-row captain’s chairs are really comfortable and quite supportive all-round, while Dodge has added a useful centre console in between housing a set of cupholders and a stowage bin below the armrest. Second-row occupants can also access a panel on the rear portion of the front console incorporating two USB charge points, a three-prong household-style 115-volt charge plug, and toggles for two-way seat heaters, plus overhead there’s a three-dial interface for controlling the tri-zone auto HVAC system’s third zone, plus with a separate set of dome and reading lamps.

2019 Dodge Durango SRT
The standard second-row captain’s chairs are nearly as comfortable as those up front. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

You can acquire the 2019 Dodge Durango SRT for only $73,895 plus freight and fees, while CarCostCanada members are currently saving an average of $6,500 on all 2019 Durango trims, with up to $5,000 in available incentives alone. You’ll want to check out the 2019 Durango page right here at CarCostCanada to find out more, at which point you can see trim, package and individual option pricing, as well as money saving rebate info and dealer invoice pricing that could save you thousands.

My test model was also equipped with a $950 Technology Group that adds adaptive cruise control with stop-and-go, advanced brake assist, forward collision warning with active braking, plus lane departure warning and lane keeping assist, while a $2,150 rear Blu-Ray DVD entertainment system boasts two screens that can be flipped upward from the backside of each front headrest. Dodge includes a set of RCA plugs plus an HDMI input on the inner, upper side of each front seat, providing connection for external devices like game consoles, all capable of turning the Durango SRT into the ideal choice for a family road trip.

2019 Dodge Durango SRT
The Durango’s third row is ultra-spacious and there’s still room for cargo in behind. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

And there lies the beauty of this one-of-a-kind SUV. The Durango SRT is easily one of the fastest seven-passenger SUVs available, yet it’s comfortable for all, is capable of carrying a full load of passenger as well as their stuff, can tow a big trailer with ease, and do plenty more. I’d go so far to say it’s the best possible choice for fast-paced Canadian families, but you’ll need to exchange its three-season performance tires for a set of proper winters at some point in the fall (or sooner if you live on the Prairies), at which point it might be the ultimate ski resort parking lot doughnut machine.

 

Story and photo credits: Trevor Hofmann

Porsche rings in first decade of Panamera availability with new 10 Years Edition

2020 Porsche Panamera 10 Years Edition
Sensational looking gold on black 10 Years Edition can be had in other body colours too. (Photo: Porsche)

Take a look at your phone, or maybe your partner’s. Is it rimmed in gold? The colour of royalty, jewellery and all things decadent was a bit out of fashion for the past few decades, with most watches and trinkets finished in platinum, white gold, silver or (ahem) stainless steel, but more recently gold has made a comeback, now blinging up our electronic devices, accessories and even our cars.

Thoughts of glittering gold adorned Cadillac Eldorado Biarritz coupes and convertibles might be a painful a memory for some, so don’t worry, the new 2020 Porsche Panamera 10 Years Edition, which celebrates a full decade of the four-door coupe’s production, uses a softer hue dubbed White Gold Metallic that’s tastefully applied to the 21-inch Panamera Sport Design alloy wheels as well as a special “Panamera10” insignia painted onto the front doors, while simultaneously getting etched into the door treadplates and inlaid within the instrument panel inside.

2020 Porsche Panamera 10 Years Edition
Exclusive “White Gold Metallic” painted 21-inch alloys and “Panamera10″ logos enhance exterior styling. (Photo: Porsche)

A number of global markets will be offering the new Panamera 10 Years Edition package for the Sport Turismo body style, but Porsche Canada will only make the stylish new upgrade available with its regular four-door design, particularly with its base Panamera, all-wheel drive Panamera 4, and electrified Panamera 4 E-Hybrid. This said Porsche is only providing prices for the latter two trims, with the Panamera 4 10 Years Edition beginning at $122,000 plus freight and fees, which is a $17,400 increase when compared to the regular Panamera 4, and the Panamera 4 E-Hybrid 10 Years Edition that starts at $132,700, a $14,900 increase over the regular base 4 E-Hybrid.

2020 Porsche Panamera 10 Years Edition
The 10 Years Edition interior is all black other than for gold contrast stitching. (Photo: Porsche)

While the cars in Porsche’s launch photos are black, all the usual standard and optional Panamera 4 and 4 E-Hybrid colours are available with the 10 Years Edition, while the same can be said for the interior, although you may want to stay with the unique model’s black cabin with contrasting White Gold stitching, as you’ll be forced to pay more for alternative two-tone colourways.

2020 Porsche Panamera 10 Years Edition
Elegant “Panamera10″ script adorns the instrument panel. (Photo: Porsche)

You can learn more about 2020 Panamera 10 Years Edition packages, options and pricing right here on CarCostCanada, where you can also find out about any available rebates and otherwise difficult to find dealer invoice pricing that could save you thousands.

Standard Panamera 4 10 Years Edition features that haven’t been mentioned yet include LED matrix headlamps, ParkAssist with Surround View, Lane Change Assist with Lane Keep Assist (LKA), 14-way comfort seats featuring Porsche crests on their headrests, soft-close doors, plus Bose surround-sound audio, while standard performance features include Porsche’s adaptive three-chamber air suspension with Porsche Active Suspension Management (PASM) and Power Steering Plus. Those choosing the hybrid will also benefit from a more capable 7.2-kW on-board charger instead of the usual base 3.6-kW charge system.

2020 Porsche Panamera 10 Years Edition
The special edition gets the “Panamera10″ logo on the doorsills too. (Photo: Porsche)

The Panamera 4 10 Years Edition also comes standard with Porsche’s 3.0-litre turbo-V6 engine that makes 330 horsepower, whereas the Panamera 4 E-Hybrid 10 Years Edition joins a twin-turbo 2.9-litre V6 up with an electric motor for a combined total of 457 horsepower.

The first examples of the Panamera 10 Years Edition should start arriving at Canadian Porsche dealerships during the first quarter of 2020, so be sure to call to your local Porsche retailer to learn more.

Story credits: Trevor Hofmann

2019 Kia Sorento SXL Road Test

2019 Kia Sorento SXL
Kia updated the Sorento’s styling for 2019, making big changes to the lower front fascia. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

Have you ever driving a Kia? Even sat inside one? If it was way back at the turn of the millennium it might not have been the best of experiences. Even Kia doesn’t promote its past in detail, the Korean brand celebrating its twentieth anniversary in Canada with limited edition models of its impressive Soul compact crossover and Stinger mid-size four-door coupe, but hardly paying tribute to the forgettable Sephia, Spectra and Magentis.

Those cars offered nothing better than their competitors, and certainly nothing new, instead relying on low pricing to pull in new buyers. Today’s Kia, however, builds vehicles you want to own in spite of their more renowned rivals, but first you’ll need to give them a chance, and that’s exactly what I’m recommending mid-size crossover SUV buyers do with the Sorento.

I’ve driven every Sorento generation, even the first 2002 model as part of its initial Canadian press launch, a vehicle that so impressed me I recommended it to my brother who kept his for nearly a decade. The redesigned 2010 model went from body-on-frame SUV to car-based crossover and therefore improved drivability as well as refinement, not to mention styling, while the 2016 model upped all of the above to entirely new levels. 

2019 Kia Sorento SXL
New LED taillights and a completely reworked rear bumper mark the changes from behind. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

My 2016 Sorento tester wasn’t even in top-line trim, yet I found myself awestruck by its shocking supply of soft-touch interior surfaces, blown away from finding cloth-wrapped roof pillars all-round, impressed with its sizeable full-colour high-resolution touchscreen infotainment system, wowed by its diminutive yet formidable 240-horsepower 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder engine, and simply satisfied by its overall goodness.

With not much changing over the past four years, plus an even more capable V6 on the options menu, one might think it would’ve remained high on my list of highly recommended mid-size crossover SUVs, and so it does except for one considerable detail, since testing this most recent 2019 Sorento I’ve also spent a week with the completely new 2020 Telluride, so I’m no longer recommending the Sorento quite as highly for seven-passenger crossover buyers.

To be clear, the seven-passenger Sorento’s price range slots in considerably further down Kia’s model hierarchy, beginning at $32,795 for the EX 2.4 and topping out with the 3.3-litre V6-powered $49,165 SXL on this page, which is hardly in the same class as the Telluride that starts at $44,995 and tops out at $53,995 for its SX Limited with Nappa. As expected, the recent arrival of the Telluride and next year’s forecast redesign of the 2021 Sorento have already resulted in a reshuffle of the mostly carryover 2020 Sorento’s trims, with today’s base LX FWD model and this top-tier SXL soon to be discontinued.

2019 Kia Sorento SXL
LED headlights, LED fog lamps and chromed 19-inch alloys depict this Sorento’s top-line status. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

So what about that upcoming 2021 Sorento? I expect it to follow in the tracks of the recently redesigned fourth-generation Hyundai Santa Fe that utilizes the same platform that the new Sorento will ride on, the former SUV only available with two rows and a maximum of five passengers for 2019, due to Hyundai now having a version of the Telluride all its own for 2020, named Palisade. The new Palisade is actually priced lower than the Telluride at $38,499, so we can expect the future 2021 Telluride to grow its trim line down-market with an SX model to slot below today’s base Palisade so as to provide a seven-passenger crossover option for more mainstream Kia shoppers after this seven-place Sorento gets cancelled.

Previously in this review I said that little had changed since the Sorento’s 2016 redesign, but it should be noted this 2019 model underwent a fairly extensive refresh, albeit somewhat more subtle with respect to styling. The big news is a new eight-speed automatic gearbox for its available 3.3-litre V6, and sadly the elimination of the aforementioned 2.0-litre turbo-four (an odd removal, being that the majority of challengers are swapping out their optional V6s for turbocharged fours in order to improve fuel-efficiency, but I’m guessing a stopgap ahead of the next-gen Sorento).

2019 Kia Sorento SXL
These LED taillights are standard on SX and SXL models. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

As it is, the 2.4, which produces 185 horsepower and 178 lb-ft of torque, now gets used for LX FWD, LX and EX 2.4 models, whereas the 3.3, making a maximum of 290 horsepower and 252 lb-ft of torque, adds performance to LX V6, EX, EX Premium, SX, and SXL trims. The six-speed autobox is the sole transmission with four-cylinder powered Sorentos, while the two extra gears only benefit the six-cylinder engine. As you may have guessed already, all trims excepting the LX FWD get all-wheel drive.

As with all modern-day multi-speed automatics fuel-efficiency is the main benefactor, but they also help an engine maintain peak output thanks to shorter shift increments, therefore improving performance. Nevertheless, the upgraded Sorento’s claimed fuel economy rating of 12.5 L/100km city, 9.7 highway and 11.2 combined isn’t as efficient at speed as the outgoing six-speed automatic and V6/AWD combination that received a rating of 9.3 highway. In the city, however, where most of us spend the majority of our driving time, the old model’s 13.2 L/100km rating means the new version is much thriftier, while the new eight-speed helps V6-powered Sorentos achieve a less significant 0.2 L/100km advantage.

In case you were wondering how much better the previous 2.0-litre turbocharged four with its six-speed automatic might compare against a new Sorento with the same engine and eight-speed, the old model’s rating of 12.3 L/100km city, 9.4 highway and 11.0 combined is actually better than the new eight-speed automatic in the totally redesigned 2019 Hyundai Santa Fe, which can only manage 12.3 city, 9.8 highway and 11.2 combined. That Santa Fe, incidentally, rides on the same all-new platform architecture as the next Sorento. 

2019 Kia Sorento SXL
The Sorento’s cabin gets closer to premium level execution than most of its rivals. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

With respect to the base 2.4 that’s available in the here and now, Kia claims 10.7 L/100km in the city, 8.2 on the highway and 9.5 combined with FWD, representing a big improvement in city driving over last year’s Sorento with the same powertrain, which could only manage 11.2 L/100km city, 8.3 highway and 9.9 combined despite zero changes (gear ratio mods?), while the 2019 Sorento 2.4 AWD achieves a rating of 11.2 L/100km city, 9.0 highway and 10.2 combined, compared to 11.5, 9.3 and 10.5 last year.

If you found yourself scratching your head over some of those fuel economy figures, a quick glance at the refreshed 2019 Sorento might also leave you wondering exactly what was changed stylistically. For instance, the new grille looks exactly like the old grille, as does the hood that’s supposedly changed too, but the lower front fascia is entirely new, the latter very noticeable on SX and SXL trims that previously had four larger LED fog lamps at each corner instead of the new half-sized combinations, the sections below now filled with what appear to be slatted brake vents, plus they’re now framed within taller, V-shaped chrome bezels.

The chromed door handles, chromed side window surrounds, and silver roof rails were part of my aforementioned 2016 SX tester as well, but the chromed side mouldings, 19-inch chrome alloys, and completely redesigned back bumper, which is now packed full of bright metal detailing, are all new. The updates make the Sorento classier than the pre-updated SUV’s sportier design, chrome embellishment normally having such an effect.

2019 Kia Sorento SXL
A partially digital gauge cluster includes a centre multi-info display that doubles as the speedometer. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

The 2019 refresh also provides renewed headlights and tail lamps infused with LEDs at both ends in SX and SXL trims, plus LED daytime running lights within the headlights, as well as LED fog lamps. Lower trims feature revised projector beam headlamps with LED positioning lamps, plus projector beam fog lights (on LX V6 to EX Premium trims), and conventional taillights with stylish new lenses. New colours join the usual assortment of updated alloy rims in 17-, 18- and 19-inch diameters wearing 235/65R17, 235/60R18 and 235/55R19 all-season rubber, depending on trim.

Moving inside, the 2019 Sorento gets an updated steering wheel, a new instrument cluster with bright electroluminescent analogue gauges to each side of a large digital speedometer that doubles as a comprehensive multi-information display, and a renewed centre with an updated infotainment touchscreen with Android Auto, Apple CarPlay and more. My favourite new convenience is the available wireless charging pad, although the new optional lane keeping assist and driver attention warning systems could prove even more important.

2019 Kia Sorento SXL
A large high-resolution touchscreen and dual-zone auto climate control combine for a comprehensive assortment of premium-level features. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

Those two safety upgrades are part of top-tier SXL trim, this model also providing forward collision-avoidance assist, a feature that’s now beginning to be included as standard equipment in competitive base models, but it’s not unusual to force an upward move to a mid-range trim for blindspot detection with rear cross-traffic alert, these two upgrades standard with the Sorento EX. The rest of the Sorento’s safety equipment is the segment’s normal standard fare, and therefore is included in all trims.

The previously noted base Sorento LX FWD starts at only $28,295 plus freight and fees, and is therefore an impressive value when put up against every other mid-size SUV, particularly when factoring in that it comes standard with 17-inch alloys, auto on/off headlights, chromed door handles, a heated and leather-clad multifunction steering wheel, Drive Mode Select with Comfort, Eco, Sport and Smart settings, three-way heatable front seats, a 7.0-inch centre display with the Apple and Android smartphone integration mentioned earlier, plus a backup camera, six-speaker audio, and plenty more.

2019 Kia Sorento SXL
The top-tier surround camera combines with front and rear sensors to make parking ultra-easy. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

Including all-wheel drive with the base LX model increases its window sticker by $2,300, the $30,595 trim also providing roof rails, proximity entry with pushbutton start/stop and the aforementioned wireless phone charger, while the same trim with the V6 and AWD increases the Sorento’s price by $4,500 to $35,095, while upping content to include fog lights, a sound-reducing windscreen, turn signals within the exterior mirror housings, an auto-dimming centre mirror, two-zone auto HVAC with auto-defog and separate third-row fan speed/air-conditioning adjustment, UVO Intelligence connected car services, satellite radio, an eight-way powered driver’s seat with two-way powered lumbar support, a third row for a total of seven passengers, trailer pre-wiring, and more.

At $2,300 less than the LX V6 AWD, and $2,200 more than the LX AWD, the four-cylinder-powered $32,795 EX 2.4 gets the just mentioned fog lamps, powered driver’s seat, and three-row layout of the V6-powered model, while also adding a gloss-black grille insert and leather seat surfaces, while the $38,665 EX with the V6 and AWD builds on both the LX V6 AWD and EX 2.4 models with 18-inch machined-finish alloys, a nicer Supervision LCD/TFT gauge cluster, express up and down power windows with obstacle detection all around, and a household-style 110-volt device charger, while the EX Premium starts $2,500 higher at $41,165 and adds front and rear parking sonar, power-folding outside mirrors, LED interior lights, an eight-way powered front passenger seat, a panoramic glass sunroof, rear door sunshades, and a power tailgate with smart gesture access.

2019 Kia Sorento SXL
These are some of the best seats in the mainstream mid-size SUV class, made even nicer with Nappa leather upholstery. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

Sorento buyers wanting a near-premium experience can choose SX trim that, for $45,165, $4,000 more than the EX Premium, includes most everything already mentioned as well as 19-inch alloy wheels, a chromed grille, stainless steel skid plates front and rear, a stainless exhaust tip, chrome roof rails, dynamic directionally-adaptive full LED headlamps, upgraded LED fog lights, bar type LED tail lamps, sound-reducing front side glass, illuminated stainless steel door scuff plates up front, perforated premium leather upholstery, plus a bigger 8.0-inch high-resolution infotainment touchscreen boasting rich colours and deep contrasts as well as quick reaction to tap, pinch and swipe finger inputs.

Additionally, the navigation system provides nice detailed mapping and accurate route guidance, while SX trim also includes an excellent 10-speaker Harman/Kardon premium audio system, ventilated front seats that keep backsides cool during summer heat, heated rear outboard seats that do the opposite in winter’s cold, plus more.

2019 Kia Sorento SXL
Everyone loves a panoramic sunroof, and the Sorento’s is particularly large. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

Finally, my as-tested Sorento SXL adds an additional $4,000 to the tally resulting in a maximum retail price of $49,165, which is considerably less than most fully equipped competitors, some that don’t offer the same level of luxury-grade features than LX trim, but this SXL is better yet thanks to even plusher Nappa leather upholstery, an electromechanical parking brake, a surround parking camera with a divided screen that includes a regular rearview camera with dynamic guidelines to the left and a 360-degree bird’s-eye view to the right, as well as high beam assist headlamps, adaptive cruise control, plus more.

All pricing was sourced right here on CarCostCanada, including trims, packages and standalone options for 2019 and 2020 model (not to mention 2018s, just in case you’re curious), while money-saving rebate info and dealer invoice pricing can add thousands to your potential savings. Actually, at the time of writing there were up to $6,000 in additional incentives available, so it’s well worth checking out.

2019 Kia Sorento SXL
The second row is spacious and comfortable. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

Of course, you’ll need to check in at your local Kia dealership to drive a new Sorento, and if you choose to I’m quite certain you’ll be impressed. The V6 is very smooth, as is the new eight-speed automatic that swaps gears almost seamlessly and quickly no matter the drive mode selected. I mostly kept it in its default Comfort mode, but Eco was smooth too, and good for saving fuel, whereas Sport mode let the engine rev higher and gearbox shift quicker than it otherwise would, making the most of the powerful V6. Smart mode pays attention to your driving style, the terrain and other factors before automatically choosing the best mode for a given situation, optimizing performance, comfort or economy.

Also good, the Sorento’s fully independent suspension is blissfully smooth too, although when pushed hard through fast-paced curves it manages well for such a big crossover utility. All in all the Sorento should be considered a sportier option than most of its seven-seat SUV rivals, but it’s superb seats, luxuriously soft surface treatments, and generous supply of premium-level features make it amongst the most comfortable in its segment.

2019 Kia Sorento SXL
The third row is sizeable enough for smaller folk, but those needing to haul a full load of adults should consider the new Telluride. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

Speaking of comfort, EX trims and above include four-way powered lumbar support that ideally applied pressure to the small of my back, while the LX V6 and EX 2.4 models’ two-way lumbar can’t be adjusted as personally. Of note, four-way lumbar isn’t always provided in the lower or upper classes, with Lexus forcing its RX 350 customers to pay $63,950 for a Luxury package or $69,850 for the Executive model before receiving optimal lower back support, with none of the model’s F Sport buyers getting such comfort at all, whereas Infiniti’s QX60 clients are completely out of luck no matter how much they’re willing to pay. An additional Sorento bonus is a driver’s seat squab that extends forward to add support under the knees, while the Nappa leather is amongst the best you’ll likely find in the entire volume-branded mid-size SUV class.

The second-row of seats is plenty spacious and almost as comfortable and supportive as the two seats up front, but the Sorento’s third row is probably best left for smaller- to medium-sized children, the Telluride now a better choice when the need to carry a full load of large teens or adults.

2019 Kia Sorento SXL
Storage under the cargo floor is made more useful thanks to its ability to securely lock the retractable tonneau cover in place when not in use. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

A few particularly upscale trim details include curving black lacquered appliqués on the backside of each front seat, something that I’ve rarely seen in anything less than a Bentley or Rolls-Royce. It’s an olde British take on luxury that isn’t often used these days, although a quick glance back at a previously covered 2019 Genesis G90 (which shares underpinnings with the dearly departed—from Canada—Kia K900) helps us put a finger on where Kia came up with the concept (scroll back through the photos for the same idea in hardwood). Sorento SXL trim also includes black lacquer on the steering wheel spokes, instrument panel and lower centre console surface, plus highlighting each door panel, although as attractive as it looks when brand new, I’m concerned it’ll scratch as it ages.

Those loading longer items such as skis into the cargo hold will appreciate that Kia has split the second row in the unusually ideal 40/20/40 configuration, allowing both rear passengers to enjoy the more comfortable and visually optimal window seats, not to mention the aforementioned heatable rear seats if equipped. This is a dealmaker for me, and usually only found in pricier European SUVs. I also liked the convenience of cargo wall-mounted levers that dropped each side of the second-row down automatically, right to the point of locking safely into place, this resulting in a large, flat loading floor that measures 2,082 litres (73.5 cu ft) in the bottom two trims or 2,066 litres (73.0 cu ft) in LX V6 trim and above behind the first row, 1,099 litres (38.8 cu ft) and 1,077 litres (38.0 cu ft) respectively behind the second row, and 320 litres (11.3 cu ft) behind the third row. There’s some extra storage space below the cargo floor, which even lets you stow the retractable cargo cover securely away when not being used.

2019 Kia Sorento SXL
Passenger/cargo flexibility is a Sorento strong point. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

It’s such details that make the Sorento so good, Kia’s rare attitude of going above and beyond that’s so wonderfully unique in the mainstream marketplace. They don’t have the luxury of resting on their laurels, so they work harder at impressing you than most Japanese peers, and definitely more so than the Americans. I always thought their global motto, “The Power to Surprise” was kind of hokey, but it really does make sense to those experienced with to their products. The Sorento, now Canada’s best-selling (mostly) seven-passenger SUV, is really that good. As for the Telluride, it’ll blow you away.

 

Story and photo credits: Trevor Hofmann