2019 Jaguar XF S Road Test Review

2019 Jaguar XF S
It’s hard to argue against the 2019 Jaguar XF S’ styling. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Let me guess, that even if you live in one of Canada’s more established neighbourhoods you don’t often lay eyes on a Jaguar XF, let alone a lot of XE or XJ sedans. While once prolific in luxury crowds, four-door cars from Coventry are becoming rare sightings indeed. 

Thanks to the stunningly beautiful Mk II and extremely elegant XJ Series I, II and III that followed, not to mention the B-Type, C-Type and E-Type sports cars that were inspirational for today’s sensational F-Type, the Jaguar brand grew legendary, but this day and age it seems that luring luxury customers into anything lower to the ground than a crossover SUV is becoming much more difficult, and it’s not for a lack of styling. 

When the current XJ was completely reimagined for 2009, its wholly original, beautifully proportioned design set the stage for an entirely new lineup of Jaguar sedans and crossovers, but other than the latter lineup of SUVs, which are selling fairly well, it hasn’t exactly followed that bases-loaded homerun with an encore hit. 

The second-generation mid-size E-segment XF being reviewed here arrived in 2015 as a 2016 model, and is beautifully sculpted too. Like the XJ and almost every Jaguar vehicle it’s formed from aluminum panels and composites, but only the XF can claim the brand’s best-ever drag coefficient of 0.26. 

2019 Jaguar XF S
Gorgeous from all angles. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

So it’s beautiful, lightweight and hails from an iconic brand, but that still doesn’t make it popular. It almost seems as if you need to be a curator of curious collectibles before stepping up and taking ownership of a car like the XF, but then again exclusivity has its privileges. It’s not like you’ll see one driving down the neighbourhood lane every day, or every other week for that matter. Crowd pleasers won’t like this one whit, but those who choose to be unique in order to stand out from that crowd will find the XF’s rarity a bonus. After all, while the XF is scarce, it’s hardly unusual in the way it goes about pleasing driver and occupants, combining a high level of old school charm with strong performance and plenty of highly advanced tech gear. 

Jaguar actually improved the XF’s technology for this 2019 model, so that all XF trims now incorporate the brand’s updated 10.0-inch InControl Touch Pro infotainment touchscreen, which provides a larger display area to appreciate its completely new and wholly simpler graphics package (the classic red British telephone box ahead of a pastoral background and other scenes are now gone), easier visibility of the rearview camera, greater detail of the navigation mapping, plus plenty of other enhancements. If the more minimalist, arguably more sophisticated digital interface is not up to your standards, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto smartphone integration provide a new look when attached to your device, plus add proprietary features. Being that I’ve been an Android convert for the past few years (after getting fed up with lame iPhone batteries) I chose to use Jaguar’s stock system that’s much more appealing to look at. Incidentally, features like navigation and voice recognition are available in the XF’s second-rung Prestige trim and above. 

2019 Jaguar XF S
Sharp lines, stunning curves, LED headlights, 20-inch alloys, the XF S has it all. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Moving from tech to luxury, Jaguar’s super-soft Suedecloth is now standard on all XF roof pillars and headliners, as are aluminum treadplates with illuminated Jaguar branding, plus premium carpeted floor mats, metal foot pedals, chromed power seat switchgear, and a classy looking frameless auto-dimming rearview mirror. 

Speaking of standard, the base 2019 XF is the $59,100 Premium, while other trims include the $64,500 Prestige, and $67,800 R-Sport when opting for the 247 horsepower 2.0-litre direct-injection turbo four-cylinder; the $67,000 Prestige, $70,300 R-Sport, $72,300 300 SPORT and $79,100 Portfolio when choosing the 296 horsepower version of the same gasoline-powered mill; the $66,500 Prestige and $69,800 R-Sport when hooked up to the 180 horsepower 2.0-litre four-cylinder diesel; and finally $75,300 for my tester’s 380 horsepower 3.5-litre supercharged V6-powered model’s sole S trim. These prices and trims, incidentally, plus packages and standalone options can be found right here at CarCostCanada, where you can also choose to save thousands by learning about available rebates and otherwise difficult to access dealer invoice pricing. 

The diversity of available XF engines is actually quite amazing and rare, but all of these engines focus their energies on one tried and tested eight-speed automatic gearbox, no matter the trim. The quick yet smooth transmission boasts an innovative rotating gear selector that automatically powers upwards after startup from an otherwise flush placement on the lower console between the front seats, this system requiring standard paddle shifters for utilizing the Jaguar Sequential Shift manual mode, while all-wheel drive is also standard. 

2019 Jaguar XF S
The LED taillight design is tastefully discrete. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Further improving control no matter the driving situation, all XF trims come fitted with Jaguar Drive Control featuring Standard, Eco, Dynamic (sport), and Rain/Ice/Snow driving modes, each making a considerable difference to comfort, performance and all of the above, while Torque Vectoring by Braking (TVBB), and hill launch assist further aid drivers in mastering most road conditions. 

Specific to my XF S tester, Adaptive Surface Response (AdSR) plus Configurable Dynamics and Adaptive Dynamics allow the choice of personal engine, suspension, steering, and transmission settings. All made a big difference to how this Jaguar responded to inputs, from being a comfortable, relaxed luxury car one moment, to a seriously responsive sports sedan the next. 

Together with all items already noted, the top-tier XF S shown on this page receives beefier 350-mm front brake rotors and red calipers all around, as well as 20-inch alloy wheels, the latter upgrade improving performance and styling measurably. 

2019 Jaguar XF S
The XF S interior wins on design and most materials, but comes up a bit short due to hard plastic surfaces. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Staying on the styling theme, the XF S also receives a unique “S” body kit that dresses up the car with a sportier front bumper, glossy black side sills and a gloss-black rear valance, plus a subtle rear deck spoiler. When stepping inside you’ll bypass special metal treadplates finished with unique “S” branding, while great looking Dark Hex aluminum inlays improve the instrument panel, rich Luxtec leatherette covers the dash top, and superbly comfortable, ultra-supportive “S” embossed 18-way powered sports seats ensconce driver and front passenger. 

On top of everything already mentioned, the XF S also includes proximity keyless entry, pushbutton start/stop, an acoustic layer windshield, auto on/off headlamps, rain-sensing wipers, an electronic parking brake, a powered tilt and telescopic steering wheel, auto-dimming, power-folding, heated side mirrors with approach lamps and puddle lights, memory for those mirrors as well as the front seats, front seat warmers, mood lighting, a universal garage door opener, a backup camera, navigation, InControl Apps, Pro Services, Bluetooth phone and audio streaming, a USB port, two-zone auto HVAC, front and rear parking sonar, and more. 

Additionally, along with the segment’s usual active and passive safety systems, the XF S arrives standard with autonomous emergency braking, lane keeping assist, blindspot monitoring, closing vehicle sensing, reverse traffic monitoring, driver condition monitoring, etcetera. 

2019 Jaguar XF S
The cockpit and dash certainly looks good, and the driver setup is excellent. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Over and above the standard XF S items already listed, my test car was upgraded to include a stunning Rossello Red paint job for $670; beautiful glossy black twinned five-spoke alloy wheels for $770; a special Black package featuring a glossy black mesh grille insert and surround, glossy black side vents, and the same inky treatment for the trunk garnish for $460; a Comfort and Convenience package for $2,200 that adds a overly excitable gesture-control system for the trunk’s powered lid (I’ll explain this in a moment); plus soft closing doors, three-way active cooled/ventilated front seats, and heated rear seats; a Technology package for $1,030 featuring a 12.3-inch digital gauge cluster, Pro Services, and a CD/DVD changer; a Driver Assistance package for $3,680 incorporating an overhead surround camera system, a forward-facing camera, 360-degree Park Distance Control, Park Assist semi-autonomous self-parking, dynamic cruise control with Queue Assist, blindspot assist, and traffic sign recognition with an intelligent speed limiter; a $1,330 head-up display system; a $410 heated windshield and heated washer jets package; plus $210 satellite and HD radio. 

Only the $2,230 Premium Interior Upgrade package was missing or my XF S would be deemed fully loaded, the improvement otherwise adding four-zone auto HVAC with an air quality sensor and auto air re-circulation, plus a cooled glove box, side window sunshades, a powered rear sunshade, and configurable mood lighting; plus I might have enjoyed one of the optional interior décor trims more too, particularly the carbon fibre; yet even the way Jaguar provided it, the XF S was sensational and its asking price of $85,850 quite reasonable, this $10,550 more than the base XF S. 

2019 Jaguar XF S
The fully digital gauge package is very well done. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

All of the features just noted are fastened to a lightweight and extremely rigid bonded and riveted aluminum body shell that I happen find extremely attractive, while the interior is very well made from some of the industry’s nicest leathers, woods and metals. My test car featured an Ebony (aka black) leather and Light Oyster (grey) contrast-stitched cabin that also boasted gorgeous Grey Figured Ebony veneers throughout. While impressive, especially when compared to Jaguar’s smaller XE sedan, I won’t go so far as to claim that the XF leads its class when it comes to fit, finish, materials quality, digital interface supremacy, feature superiority, ultimate roominess, or any other superlative. Still, it gets a good grade for all noted categories, while its completely unique look, feel, and overall impressive performance warrants your undivided attention. 

Just like the more compact XE and full-size XJ, the XF actually drives like a smaller, lighter and more engaging car than its long, mid-size dimensions suggest, and most competitors can offer. Its previously noted 380 horsepower V6 responds with immediate energy that’s easily attributed to its sizeable displacement and aforementioned supercharger, which helps all 332 lb-ft of torque hit the ground running from launch, while its standard all-wheel drive makes wheel spin yesterday’s news in snow, rain or dry conditions, and the aforementioned ZF eight-speed clicks through its cogs with speed and precision. 

2019 Jaguar XF S
Jaguar updated its centre stack with this standard 10-inch touchscreen for 2019, complete with a new graphic interface. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

The XF’s performance is its key calling card, from its steady, formidable (albeit exhaust-muted) 5.3-second zero-to-100km/h straight-line acceleration, to its sublime handling and excellent ride that’s brought about by a lightweight double-wishbone front suspension and integral link rear setup, the combination perfect for pushing the envelope through hard-pressed switchbacks at unmentionable speeds, or alternatively hauling down the highway or taxiing through town at more relaxed paces. The XF S is a sport-luxury sedan that can do it all. 

This said I had a few issues with my test car, particularly the fact that my top-tier model didn’t even include remote engine start on the otherwise fancy key fob. It’s available as part of the InControl Remote App you can download onto your smartphone, but there were plenty of disgruntled iTunes and Play Store owners who said it only worked 25-30 percent of the time, and being that I only tested it for a week and was never even informed of the app prior to the test so I could download it, wasn’t able to pre-warm the interior in winter (or hypothetically pre-chill the cabin in summer). 

Temperature settings in mind, I didn’t appreciate not having an auto mode for the heatable seats and steering wheel. Each needed to be switched on upon startup, and Jaguar only includes one ultra-hot setting for the steering wheel rim, forcing me to turn it on and off throughout my drive. 

2019 Jaguar XF S
The XF is roomy and comfortable. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Another quibble focuses on the overhead sunglasses holder that doesn’t even properly fit smallish wire rim glasses like my Ray-Ban aviators. I had to turn them upside down in order to stuff them inside and shut it closed, which meant their lenses were left rubbing against the harder side of the lid. 

On a more positive note, the dash corner vents whisk open in wonderful silence, which is equally cool to how the gear selector rises into place, but all the hard plastic found on the glove box lid, lower dash surfacing, console, and lower door panels didn’t impress anywhere near as well. 

Finally I get to that trunk lid I mentioned earlier in the review. Hyperactive might be a better term than overly excitable, but either way it was a convenience feature gone wrong. Let me explain: Basically it opens up whenever anyone with the key fob in purse or pocket walks past. Other carmakers that use this type of hands-free trunk opener, such as Hyundai and its Genesis luxury division, cause you to stand next to the back bumper for at least three seconds before it activates the automatic trunk lid, but my XF tester’s trunk kept popping open immediately upon sensing the key fob. Once, after pulling up at a shopping centre, the trunk sprang open as I walked past on my way toward the mall. Unfortunately this gave a nice preview of my valuables to any miscreant eyes nearby, which is certainly a security risk. Another time I kept the engine running (for less than a minute) while delivering something to an office I have regular business with (don’t worry, their parking lot/entrance is totally private), and voila, while walking past the XF’s backside the trunk lid popped open once again. It performed the annoying ritual while pumping gas too, and on other occasions. 

2019 Jaguar XF S
You can really stretch out in the comfortable back seats. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Fuel in mind, the XF achieves a Transport Canada rating of 12.0 L/100km city, 8.4 highway and 10.4 combined, which is actually pretty decent for such an enthusiastic drivetrain strapped to such as generously proportioned luxury sedan, although I must point out that buyers willing to forgo some accelerative force for thriftier economy can choose the aforementioned turbo-diesel that gets a superb 7.8 city, 5.8 highway and 6.9 combined rating. Diesel is often significantly cheaper than gasoline too, and allows you to drive greater distances per tankful. 

While that trunk kept popping open I was continually reminded just how large it is. It measures a generous 541 litres (19.1 cubic feet), and better yet provides ultra-convenient 40/20/40 split-folding rear seats that let you lay longer items like skis down the middle while outboard rear passengers enjoy the more comfortable, warmer window seats. 

The XF is spacious for front and rear occupants as well, this due to a wheelbase that was lengthened considerably when the second-gen car arrived. By the numbers you’ll have 1,055 mm of legroom in front while your rear passengers will benefit from 957 mm, so you shouldn’t hear complaints from tagalongs when it comes to roominess. 

2019 Jaguar XF S
That’s one big trunk. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

At the end of my weeklong test I wouldn’t say I was in love with the 2019 XF S, but certainly grew to appreciate its many qualities despite its few quirks. Yes, it’s nowhere near perfect, but its larger touchscreen and other improvements make it better than ever, while its performance was excellent for all but those (like me) that have experienced this car with a supercharged V8. That in mind, I’d consider the XF even more seriously with one of its four-cylinder alternatives, for its economical and environmental benefits. Either way, Jaguar has most bases covered with the XF, making it a credible choice in this highly competitive mid-size luxury category. 

Story credit: Trevor Hofmann 

Photo credit: Karen Tuggay

2019 Subaru WRX Sport-tech RS Road Test

2019 Subaru WRX Sport-tech RS
Last year’s WRX updates made an already great looking sport sedan look even better, and it even look more aggressively stylish in Sport-tech RS trim. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Can a non-price-related case be made for someone actually choosing to purchase the regular WRX over a WRX STI? After a week with the 2019 WRX Sport-tech RS I say yes, and I wasn’t even driving the automatic. 

That last point is a clear differentiator between regular WRX and STI, being that the latter can only be had with a six-speed manual gearbox. Therefore, anyone using their WRX as a daily driver, who wants more convenience and relaxation during their commutes, along with the usual high level of performance the WRX has become legendary for, whether blasting up circuitous backcountry roads during weekend road trips or just pushing Gs around freeway cloverleaves on their way to work, can pay a mere $1,300 more to do so with any one of the regular WRX trims, except this particular WRX Sport-tech RS that can only be had with a manual. 

To be clear, the WRX Sport-tech can be optioned out with the autobox, but you’ll need to replace the RS suffix from its trim designation with EyeSight. This won’t provide an identical model with different transmissions, but the similarities between the two should be close enough for those seeking a compromise between all-out performance and everyday ease. 

Before delving into those similarities and differences, not to mention itemizing features available with the other WRX trims, I wanted to touch on a few details of this very Sport-tech RS tester being reviewed. First off, I was delighted with its coat of World Rally Blue Pearl exterior paint, which while the same as the near identical Sport-tech RS I tested last year, remains a personal favourite colour thanks to its vibrant blue hue and its historical motorsport significance as the base livery of Subaru’s World Rally Championship winning glory years. 

2019 Subaru WRX Sport-tech RS
While the Sport-tech RS model’s rear deck lid spoiler is discreet, its diffuser-style bumper cap and quad of tailpipes looks anything but. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

All good and well, but why would Subaru give me a seemingly identical WRX test car within a given year? As I have learned, the company has updated the 2019 WRX infotainment system; the centre-mounted display now becoming one of the most important features in any new vehicle. The first improvement I noticed was the completely redesigned graphic interface, which is much more attractive and now in line with other updated models across the Subaru lineup (new 2020 Outback and Legacy aside). It’s highlighted by colourful smartphone/tablet-style circular candy drop digital buttons surrounded by squarish floating tiles on a star-speckled night sky-like deep blue 3D background, an attractive image for sure, while Apple CarPlay and Android Auto phone integration are now part of both the base and top-tier systems. 

Our tester comes standard with the latter, the touchscreen still measuring 7.0 inches diagonally for a half-inch gain over the base display, and once again getting touch-sensitive quick access buttons down each side, which include Home, Map and Apps to the left and Info just above two sets of track seeking arrows on the right. The system also includes near-field communication (NFC) for faster phone connectivity (if your smartphone offers it), a Micro SD card slot, HD radio, new glossy black topped audio knobs, navigation mapping and routing, a rearview camera with dynamic guidelines, plus more. I find this new interface much easier to use, while the display’s clarity and depth of colour is excellent, easily matching the best in the mainstream business, and surpassing many. 

As for the rest of this WRX Sport-tech RS and its non-STI compatriots, they remain unchanged for 2019, meaning this model still features last year’s extensive styling updates, chassis improvements, and other refinements, not to mention the a safety feature. Let me go into more detail. 

2019 Subaru WRX Sport-tech RS
The WRX looks especially attractive when digging into the details. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Regarding styling, Subaru reworked the WRX front grille and bumper design for 2018, as well as the door trim inside, while a new electroluminescent primary gauge cluster boasting a really attractive high-resolution colour TFT centre display was added too. Additionally, the 5.9-inch colour multi-information dash-top display received new graphics that look fabulous. This sporty interface, which pays homage to the secondary ancillary turbo, temp and oil pressure analogue gauges of past performance cars in both its placement and functionality within, is also completely unique in this class, adding that special custom allure to the WRX that’s missing from many rivals. 

What’s more, rear passengers continue to benefit from last year’s new fold-down centre armrest with integrated cupholders, while all occupants can now enjoy easier conversations thanks to better insulation and other refinements that result in reduced noise, vibration and harshness levels, plus an improved ride from a retuned suspension setup, and lastly the car is made better overall from a stronger battery. 

While all of the above are obvious improvements, I personally really like the new grille design too, especially its blackened borders and black mesh insert, plus the racing-spec-style multi-component lower front fascia with its matte black centre vent looks menacingly intimidating, just like a formidable sport sedan should, as do the larger, squarer matte black fog lamp bezels. Lastly, this Sport-tech RS model’s twinned five-spoke gunmetal grey-painted cast aluminum alloys on 245/40 Dunlop SP Sport Maxx RT performance tires framing red brake calipers look superb—base and Sport models come fitted with grey 15-spoke 17-inch alloys on the same tires measuring 235/45. 

2019 Subaru WRX Sport-tech RS
Gotta love the dark-grey alloy wheels under swollen fenders with integrated rear venting. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

All of the above, combined with everything else upgraded last year, like the massive hood scoop, redesign headlamps, and race-inspired matte black rear diffuser with quad chromed tailpipes, plus everything that appears to mostly be pulled forward from the 2015 through 2017 version, such as the coke-bottle fenders with integrated engine vents bearing chromed “WRX” appliques, subtle rear deck lid spoiler (that I like much more than the STI’s gigantic wing—the smaller lip spoiler can be had with the STI too), etcetera, look fabulous. 

Also carryover (but who’s complaining), non-STI WRX variants once again include Subaru’s brilliant 2.0-litre direct-injection twin-scroll turbocharged boxer four, making a healthy 268-horsepower and 258 lb-ft of torque. That’s getting pretty close to the STI’s 310 horsepower and 290 lb-ft of torque, and considering you can get into the former for just $29,995 plus freight and fees, or $38,995 as tested, which is much more affordable than the latter model’s $41,995 base price, or the more comparable $47,295 STI with its Sport-tech package, the regular WRX starts to look like a very smart choice. Then factor in that most of its similarly priced challengers don’t measure up with respect to performance, while also not offering Subaru’s standard Symmetrical-AWD (or any AWD at the WRX’ price point), and it makes a sound case to Canadian performance enthusiasts. 

As noted, connecting engine to driveline is a standard as-tested six-speed manual, but many are not aware that the optional automatic is actually a continuously variable transmission (CVT), the bane of gearheads everywhere. This said, CVTs have come a long way in recent years, and Subaru’s Sport Lineartronic design is quite impressive thanks to quick-shifting steering wheel paddles that prod both six- and eight-speed manual modes, plus the benefit of Subaru Intelligent Drive (SI-DRIVE). I know, it’s difficult to hear the words WRX and CVT being used in the same sentence, let alone learn they’re being incorporated into the same car, but after testing one in 2017 I was positively surprised. This doesn’t mean I’d opt for one if my personal money was on the line, but I certainly wouldn’t criticize anyone for choosing to. 

2019 Subaru WRX Sport-tech RS
Here’s a close-up of the diffuser-style bumper cap, and one set of the twinned exhaust system. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

More importantly to WRX purists, the manual gearbox I tested received a new shift lever along with improved shifter and clutch feel as part of last year’s redesign, and the former remains as wonderfully smooth and accurate as last year’s update made it, while clutch weight is ideal and take-up more responsive without being grabby. 

As you may have guessed, there’s no change in straight-line acceleration from the identically powered 2018 model, with the manual still good for a claimed zero to 100km/h run of 5.4 seconds, and the CVT capable of achieving the same feat in a respectable 5.9 seconds. Neither time is the stuff of legend, of course, but I can’t see many driving enthusiasts being underwhelmed with the regular WRX’ off-the-line performance, while those that opt for the CVT will surprisingly own bragging rights to the fastest top speed specs, the autobox adding 8 km/h to the manual’s terminal velocity with a nice round total of 240 km/h compared to 232. 

As I said last year, most modifications were about refinement, and included improved steering feel and a more compliant ride that doesn’t compromise at-the-edge handling. Being that my aging body appreciates having a bit more comfort now than when younger, as is the case for many WRX owners, this friendlier suspension setup is a very good thing. It was during regular errand runs around town that I most appreciated the improvements, yet when opportunity provided an empty lane on a winding rural road the new WRX’ firmly damped fully independent suspension remained as resolute to pavement as it’s always been, especially over broken and uneven tarmac that didn’t unsettle the chassis one iota. 

While WRX performance is commendable, those seeking out a four-cylinder compact model for fuel-efficiency can only take a modicum of solace in a Transport Canada rating that’s only better than the STI’s 14.3 L/100km city, 10.7 highway and 12.7 combined rating, because with a claimed rating of 12.6 L/100km city, 9.6 highway and 11.2 combined when mated to its standard manual gearbox, or 11.3, 8.5 and 10.0 respectively with the CVT, it’s not exactly the thriftiest sport model in its compact class. In fact, plenty of more powerful alternatives deliver much better economy, yet fortunately for Subaru this is hardly the priority of most WRX buyers. 

2019 Subaru WRX Sport-tech RS
The Sport-tech RS gets these superb leather and microsuede covered Recaro seats. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Now that we’re talking practicalities, the WRX remains a pragmatist’s sports car. It’s capable of seating four to five in comfort, plus houses plenty of life’s gear in its 340-litre (12-cubic-foot) trunk, plus more when expanding its 60/40 split-folding rear seatbacks. Also, a trunk provides a great deal more security than available to the WRX’ hot hatch competitors that are more susceptible to break and entry crime. 

I was once again impressed by the WRX’ interior quality too. For instance, its instrument panel is wholly formed from premium soft-touch synthetic, across the very top of the dash and all the way down to the halfway point of the centre stack, while the door uppers are comfortably pliable from front and back as well, plus filled with cushion-backed leather-like inserts and padded armrests, that were all stitched in red no less. 

Red in mind, I like that Subaru took the tasteful route when highlighting the WRX interior, unlike some of its less experienced rivals that look as if their red embellishments were smeared on by a tweenager over-applying rouge and lip gloss (Civic Type R, I’m talking to you). The WRX Sport-tech RS model’s just noted red stitching also covers the door inserts, steering wheel rim, shifter boot, and bolsters of the seats that are also emblazoned with a thick strip of red leather, which is a nice contrast to the black leather and microsuede material found elsewhere. Lastly, a stylish circle of red piping wraps around the centre of the seat like a frame for the white embroidered “RECARO” logo, this nicely matching the red piping around the headrest just above. The interior’s finishing touch is a splash of carbon-fibre style trim across the dash. 

Most of what I’ve just described is specific to the Sport-tech RS as noted, which incidentally was new last year, but keep in mind there are plenty of other WRX trims worth investigating. Along with the sub-$30k base model and $39,095 Sport-tech EyeSight already mentioned, Subaru offers $33,195 Sport trim and a Sport-tech without the $2,300 RS upgrade for $36,495. 

2019 Subaru WRX Sport-tech RS
The WRX gets a sporty cockpit, with a flat-bottom leather-wrapped steering wheel, metal pedals, and plenty of other stylish details. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Additionally, a special $40,995 雷雨 Raiu Edition was added for 2019, featuring one really attractive exclusive Cool Grey Khaki colour. It adds a number of STI-style exterior details such as a sharper front lip spoiler, extended side skirts and a much larger rear wing spoiler, plus big 19-inch alloys encircling the STI’s yellow-painted Brembo six-pot front and two-pot rear brake calipers over ventilated and cross-drilled rotors. Some additional 雷雨 Raiu Edition features include the Subaru Rear/Side Vehicle Detection System (SRVD) that incorporates blindspot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert and lane change assist, plus it also gets a powered moonroof, a 10-way powered driver’s seat including lumbar, the same ultrasuede-enhanced sport seats as in the RS, plus red seatbelts. 

Incidentally, all 2019 WRX trim, package and option prices were sourced right here on CarCostCanada, where you can also find important info on manufacturer rebate programs and otherwise hard to find dealer invoice pricing that could actually save you thousands of dollars. Make sure to check this out thoroughly before you buy. 

Specific to the WRX Sport-tech RS tested here, a set of uprated Jurid brake pads clamp down on a standard set of 316 mm front and 286 mm rear rotors via the red brake calipers noted earlier, while the cabin features the luxurious black and red partial-leather/ultrasuede upholstery also mentioned before (ad nauseum), while the driver’s seat is downgraded from 10-way power to just eight adjustments due to the much more inherently supportive Recaro sport seats that my backside happened to love. 

On top of this, my tester’s Sport-tech RS trim added proximity-sensing keyless access with pushbutton ignition, the larger 7.0-inch centre touchscreen filled with the updated system graphics noted earlier, plus Subaru’s StarLink app, additional apps such as Yelp, Best Parking, Glympse, SiriusXM Traffic and Travel Link with weather, sports and stock market info, and a 320-watt nine-speaker Harman/Kardon audio system that sounded awesome, plus two USB ports. 

2019 Subaru WRX Sport-tech RS
The top multi-information display was updated last year and looks great, while the lower touchscreen is totally revised for 2019, and is a major improvement. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Items pulled up from Sport trim include wiper-integrated automatic LED headlights with new steering-responsive cornering, LED fog lamps, LED turn signals integrated within the side mirror housings, welcome lighting, a tastefully discreet rear deck lid spoiler, plus the aforementioned powered glass sunroof and SRVD blindspot safety upgrade. 

Lastly, base model features pulled up to Sport-tech RS trim include a quad-tipped high-performance exhaust, integrated roof rack brackets, a windshield wiper de-icer, a well-designed leather-wrapped and red-stitched multifunction flat-bottom sport steering wheel, single-zone automatic climate control, heatable front seats, StarLink smartphone integration (including Aha radio), a backup camera, AM/FM/CD/MP3/WMA audio, satellite radio, Bluetooth phone connectivity with audio streaming, aux and USB ports, voice activation, and more. 

While Sport-tech RS trim doesn’t come standard with Subaru’s EyeSight suite of advanced driver assistive systems, I need to mention exactly what this is just in case you want your WRX with as much active safety and convenience as possible. As noted, you can upgrade the WRX Sport-tech with EyeSight, and when you do it becomes one of the most technologically forward-thinking cars in its class, thanks to automatic high beams, adaptive cruise control, lead vehicle start alert, pre-collision braking, pre-collision brake assist, pre-collision throttle management, reverse automatic braking, lane departure warning, lane sway warning, and lane keeping assist. 

So equipped the WRX earns a best-possible IIHS Top Safety Pick + rating, the “+” rather hard to get in the small car class and only shared with three other brands, none of which compete directly with the WRX. Even more impressive, Subaru has four models that can be equipped to meet this high grade of advanced safety, more than any other automaker in the small car segment. 

2019 Subaru WRX Sport-tech RS
Most sports cars don’t offer a comfortable, accommodating rear seat, but the WRX is not like most sports cars. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Even better, Subaru has more IIHS Top Safety Pick + rated vehicles than any other mainstream volume manufacturer, including more mid-size models with the coveted safety rating, and the same status for every vehicle it produces other than the Toyota co-designed/built BRZ, for a total of eight models. No other brand even comes close, with Toyota only elevating two of its models to this rarified height, Honda just one, and Nissan with none. This, when combined with the extra all-weather safety provided by these models’ standard Symmetrical all-wheel drive, is as good as it gets. 

So while the WRX isn’t exactly a leader in fuel-efficiency, it’s ahead of the pack in almost every other way, and makes a strong case for itself when compared to its key performance-focused competitors as well as when put up against the pricier STI. If money were no object my choice would be the latter, but I can totally understand why someone might feel compelled to choose a regular WRX, especially when it’s as nicely equipped as this Sport-tech RS. 

Story credit: Trevor Hofmann 

Photo credit: Karen Tuggay

Porsche smashes Road America and Road Atlanta lap records with 911 GT2 RS

2019 Porsche 911 GT2 RS
The 2019 Porsche 911 GT2 RS blasted past the previous Road America track record by nearly 2 seconds. (Photo: Porsche)

Only last fall the brilliant Porsche 911 GT2 RS MR set a street-legal lap record at the renowned Nürburgring Norschleife race track in Germany, which only remains bested by a modified version of the Stuttgart brand’s own 919 Hybrid EVO World Endurance Championship (WEC) racer, but now the globe’s winningest sports car manufacturer claims a new production car record-setting time on Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin’s ultra-challenging Road America track. 

2019 Porsche 911 GT2 RS
The GT2 RS, shown here on Road America, boosts the 911 into supercar territory. (Photo: Porsche)

The 14-turn, 6.5-km racetrack combines long high-speed straight-ways, tight turns and a bevy of undulations, making it easy taking for most any Porsche 911, although when that 911 is a 2019 GT2 RS it’s game over for any competitors. As it is, Road America has yet to become popular for attempting track records, with the current title-holder being a GT2 RS privateer that managed an ultra-quick 2:17.04 lap time last year, so Porsche was really trying to beat itself, but when competition seems so scarce what’s there left to do? How about carving 1.87 seconds off the just noted lap time for a new record of 2:15.17 minutes? Not too shabby, and it only took 24 Hours of Daytona and Le Mans class winner David Donohue two laps to do it. 

2019 Porsche 911 GT3 RS
The GT3 RS can rev to 9,000 rpm, therefore delivering an entirely different kind of sports car experience than the GT2 RS. (Photo: Porsche)

As if that wasn’t good enough, Porsche doubled down on its RS track time with another outing, but this time with the less formidable 911 GT3 RS. Even though engine output is 200 horsepower less convincing, Donohue managed a surprisingly quick best-of-three 2:18.57-minute charge, the high-revving flat-six engine often passing right by its lofty 8,800-rpm redline during the process. The fact that the 911 GT3 RS’ track time remained so close to the GT2 RS record is a testament to its impressive handling, especially when factoring in Road America’s long high-speed straights and plentiful sharp corners. 

2019 Porsche 911 GT2 RS
The 911 GT2 RS pushing hard on the even more curvaceous Road Atlanta race course. (Photo: Porsche)

Both GT2 and GT3 RS models wore road-legal Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2 R N0 production rubber, these optional for Canadian RS owners, while it should also be noted that the Road Atlanta event’s lap times and vehicle telemetry were recorded and validated by Racelogic. 

Not to be satisfied with just two racetrack lap records, Porsche took this 911 GT2 RS to Road Atlanta in Braselton, Georgia only last month, and with Randy Pobst in the driver’s seat managed another record-setting time of just 1:24.88 minutes, which incidentally trumped the outgoing record-holding Corvette ZR1 by nearly two seconds, not to mention the previously mentioned Porsche 911 GT3 RS by 1.36 seconds. 

So why is Porsche taking its RS models to all of these tracks to break records? Possibly it’s due to a new 2020 911 arriving later this year, and the need to make hay while the sun shines, so to speak. This said it’s not like a redesigned GT2 RS will be available immediately upon the new 911’s arrival, which means we’ll likely see plenty of additional racetrack records smashed soon. 

Until that happens, enjoy some record-breaking videos below:
 

 
Porsche 911 GT2 RS sets production car lap record at Road America – David Donohue onboard camera (2:25):
 

 
911 GT3 RS completes Road America lap in just 2:18,57 minutes (2:28):
 

 
Porsche 911 GT2 RS Record Lap at Road Atlanta – Highlight Film with Randy Pobst Onboard Camera (2:18):
 

 
Porsche 911 GT2 RS sets production car lap record at Michelin Raceway Road Atlanta (1:39):
 

 
Onboard video of the 911 GT3 RS at the Michelin Raceway Road Atlanta (1:36):
 

 
Story credits: Trevor Hofmann

Photo credits: Porsche
 

2019 Acura MDX A-Spec SH-AWD Road Test Review

2019 Acura MDX A-Spec SH-AWD
New A-Spec trim adds sportier styling to the classic MDX look for 2019. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

What? You don’t know what an A-Spec is? It’s ok. Sometimes I forget that normal people don’t follow the auto industry as closely as car enthusiasts and journalists like me. A-Spec is Acura’s sport-oriented styling package that may or may not include real performance upgrades. With respect to the new 2019 MDX A-Spec, it’s all about the look. 

That look starts with glossy black and dark-chrome detailing for the grille, headlights, window trim, and tailgate spoiler, plus a bolder front fascia design, painted front and rear lower skid plate garnishes, body-coloured outer door handles, body-colour lower side sills, larger-diameter exhaust finishers, and a near equally darkened set of 20-inch 10-spoke Shark Grey alloy wheels on lower profile 265/45 rubber. Those tires might seem like the only exterior upgrade that could potentially enhance performance, but then again it’s the same used on the MDX’ most luxuriously appointed Elite trim. 

2019 Acura MDX A-Spec SH-AWD
The A-Spec styling updates wrap all the way around the upgraded MDX. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Stepping inside means you’ll pass overtop one of four A-Spec-branded aluminum doorsill garnishes, while additional interior enhancements include a special primary gauge cluster embellished with more red on the rev and speed markers, a thicker-rimmed A-Spec-badged steering wheel featuring a dimpled leather wrap on its lower three-quarters, metal sport pedals, unique carbon-look console trim, and sport seats upholstered in “Rich Red” or in the case of my tester, black leather with perforated black suede-like Alcantara inserts plus high-contrast stitching. 

I like the visual changes made inside and outside, the latter giving new life to a still handsome yet aging design, and the former also masking an SUV that’s starting to look like yesteryear’s news now that the all-new RDX has arrived. By that I’m not saying for a second that Acura should swap out the MDX’ lower console-mounted pushbutton gear selector for the bizarre contraption clinging to the RDX’ centre stack, nor for that matter the smaller SUV’s big space-robbing drive mode selector dial housed just above the gear selector switchgear, but the sizeable multi-information display (MID) within the otherwise analogue gauge cluster does a reasonably good job of modernizing the look (a fully digital design would be better) and the single fixed tablet-style infotainment display atop the RDX dash is a major improvement over the double-stacked MDX design in every way, except for its lack of touchscreen capability. 

2019 Acura MDX A-Spec SH-AWD
Darkened trim, LED headlamps and fog lights, 20-inch grey alloys, the new MDX A-Spec certainly looks sporty. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

By comparison, the MDX’ MID is a thin sliver of remedial graphics and passable info, lacking the wow-factor of an Audi Virtual Cockpit that transforms into a massive map just by pressing a steering wheel-mounted button, or for that matter the new 2020 Mercedes GLE/GLS that does away with a traditional gauge binnacle altogether, instead melding two big tablet-style screens together and using the left-side for driver info and the right-side for touch-actuated infotainment. Back to Acura reality, the MDX uses the two-tiered combination of displays just noted, the top 8.0-inch monitor more of a true MID that’s controllable via a rotating dial just under the bottom display, although defaulting to the navigation system’s map/route guidance info most of the time, and multi-angle rearview camera with dynamic guidelines when in reverse; the overhead 360-degree surround camera is reserved for aforementioned Elite trim. This said, the lower 7.0-inch display is a touchscreen and quite utile, providing easy control of the audio and HVAC systems, plus more. 

While some of my comments might sound as if I’m getting down on Acura and its MDX, it’s clearly not alone, as in-car digitalization is one of the most comprehensive transformations being undertaken by the auto industry today. After years of getting it wrong, some are now getting it right, while Acura is getting close with its most recent designs, and obviously requires modernization within some of its older models, like this MDX. 

2019 Acura MDX A-Spec SH-AWD
A revised rear bumper sports larger tailpipe finishers for yet more of a performance look. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

This brings up an important point, the MDX will most likely be completely redesigned next year as a 2021 model, at which point we hope it takes a few cues from the aforementioned Mercedes pair, Volvo’s XC90, and some others, by integrating both a touchscreen like the current MDX, as well as a touchpad like that in the RDX, the latter for those who’d rather not reach so far. For the time being the MDX two-screen setup does the trick, but of course buyers of the latest MDX won’t go home feeling like they’ve just traded in their old Samsung Note 4 for a new Note 10 (or for you Apple fans, swapping the old iPhone 6 for the new XS Max). 

Speaking of Google and iOS operating systems, the base MDX infotainment system includes Android Auto and Apple CarPlay, plus Bluetooth phone and audio streaming, Siri Eyes Free, SMS text message and email reading capability, satellite radio, and four USB charging ports, while this A-Spec model sources its navigation with voice recognition from mid-range Tech trim, which also adds an impressive sounding 10-speaker ELS Studio surround audio system, hard disk drive (HDD) media storage, and AcuraLink subscription services to the in-car electronics experience. 

2019 Acura MDX A-Spec SH-AWD
Most should be impressed with the MDX interior, which is upgraded nicely in A-Spec trim. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

It’s so tempting to prattle on about features, because each trim provides such a lengthy list that the MDX’ value proposition becomes immediately clear, so suffice to say that additional items not yet covered on the $60,490 A-Spec include LED fog lights, auto-dimming power-folding side mirrors, perimeter/approach puddle lamps, keyless access buttons on the rear doors, and ventilated/cooled front seats, while other features pulled up from Tech trim include a sun position detection system for the climate control, front and rear parking sensors, plus Blind Spot Information (BSI) with rear cross traffic monitoring. 

Speaking of advanced driver assistive systems, all MDX trims come standard with AcuraWatch, a comprehensive suite of safety goodies including Forward Collision Warning (FCW), Collision Mitigation Braking System (CMBS), Lane Departure Warning (LDW), Lane Keeping Assist (LKAS), Road Departure Mitigation (RDM), and Adaptive Cruise Control (ACC) with low-speed follow. 

2019 Acura MDX A-Spec SH-AWD
The dated MDX dash won’t be confused for anything else, but at least the quality of materials is good. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Lastly, a shortlist of key features from the $54,390 base MDX incorporated into the A-Spec include signature Jewel Eye LED headlights with auto high beams, LED taillights, acoustic glass, a heated windshield, remote start, proximity keyless access, pushbutton ignition, ambient lighting, memory for the steering column, side mirrors and climate control, an electromechanical parking brake, a powered moonroof, a HomeLink universal remote, an auto-dimming rearview mirror, driver recognition, a power tilt and telescopic steering column, a heated steering wheel with paddle shifters, rain-sensing wipers, tri-zone front and rear automatic climate control, Active Noise Control (ANC), Active Sound Control (ASC), heated 12-way powered front seats with four-way lumbar, a powered tailgate, a 1,588-kilo towing capacity (or 2,268 kg with the towing package), and more. 

Important to you, all 2019 Acura MDX trim, package, and options prices was sourced right here on CarCostCanada, where you can also find helpful rebate information as well as dealer invoice pricing that could save you thousands, so make sure to check it out our many useful features matter which vehicle you end up purchasing. 

2019 Acura MDX A-Spec SH-AWD
Classic analogue dials and a relatively small TFT multi-info display makes for a utile if not modern look. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Along with all of the just noted features and previously mentioned A-Spec interior upgrades, the steering wheel of which is especially nice thanks to its thick textured leather rim and nicely carved thumb spats, is a tasteful assortment of satin-silver finish aluminum accents, plus high-quality soft-touch synthetics across the dash top, door uppers (the door inserts upgraded with plush ultrasuede, like the seats, in A-Spec trim), and most everywhere else including the glove box lid, with only the left portion of the panel below the driver’s knees, the sides of the lower console, and the lower half of the door panels finished in more commonplace hard plastics. 

As it should, but is not always the case with some MDX rivals, the driver’s seat features previously noted four-way powered lumbar for optimal lower back support, plus all of the usual adjustments in this class, but I would’ve appreciated an extension for the lower squab to add comfort and support below the knees, even if this were manually adjustable, while some other manufacturers also include adjustable side torso bolsters. As it is, even this sporty A-Spec trim doesn’t provide all that much lateral seat support, but they should work for wider body types that sometimes find more performance-oriented seat designs uncomfortable. 

2019 Acura MDX A-Spec SH-AWD
The double-stacked infotainment system works quite well, but is hardly new. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

With the driver’s seat positioned high to maximize my view, being just five-foot-eight, I found the rear seating position more than adequately spacious for legs and feet, even while wearing big winter boots. The second row slides back and forth easily, and when all the way forward I still had a few inches between my knees and the driver’s seatback, and when positioned all the way rearward I found second-row legroom quite generous with about eight inches ahead of my knees. 

The MDX’ third row only works for smaller folk and children when the second row is pushed all the way back, but when slid forward I was able to sit in the very back without my knees rubbing the backrest ahead, plus those just noted winter boots fit nicely below. I wouldn’t go so far as to call the third row comfortable, but it was workable. Rearmost passengers can also see out a small set of side windows, so it’s not claustrophobic either, plus they get cupholders to each side and nice reading lights overhead. Getting out when in the very back is easy too, only requiring the push of a seatback button that automatically slides the second-row forward, but I wouldn’t say this is the easiest third row to climb in or out of, due to very little space between the folded second-row seatback and door jam. 

2019 Acura MDX A-Spec SH-AWD
The MDX gear selector is unusual, but after a little time becomes easy enough to use. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Back in the MDX’ second row of seats, Acura provides a separate climate control interface for rear passengers, with two USB device chargers underneath. Being that my tester was in A-Spec trim there were no second-row outboard seat warmers included, which is a bit of a shame for those who want all the luxury features together with this model’s sportier demeanor. 

The rear hatch is powered of course, opening up to a nicely finished cargo compartment that’s dotted with chromed tie-down hooks and covered in quality carpeting all the way up the sidewalls and seatbacks, plus adorned with some attractive aluminum trim on the threshold. There’s a reasonable amount of luggage space behind the third row at 447 litres (15.8 cubic feet), plus a handy compartment under the load floor, and while easy to fold down manually there’s no powered operation for getting them back up. Likewise the second row is purely manual, and while fairly easy to drop down, a process that expands the 1,230 litres (43.4 cu ft) behind the second row seatbacks to a maximum of 2,575 litres (90.9 cu ft) when all seats are lowered, but there’s no centre pass-through for longer items like skis. This means the MDX doesn’t offer the same type of seating/cargo flexibility as the majority of European competitors. 

2019 Acura MDX A-Spec SH-AWD
Comfortable 12-way front seats benefit from suede-like Alcantara inserts. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

The well-proven powertrain is a bit lacklustre too, even when compared to competitors’ base engines. Acura has been producing the same SOHC 3.5-litre V6 since 2014, making a modest 290 horsepower and 267 lb-ft of torque, and before that, in the previous 2007-2013 second-generation MDX, they used a 3.7-litre version of this engine that (believe it or not) made 10 horsepower and 3 lb-ft of torque more for a total of 300 hp and 270 lb-ft, so effectively they’ve been going backwards when it comes to performance. 

Of course, introducing the highly efficient nine-speed ZF automatic with this latest third-generation MDX in 2014 made the less potent engine feel livelier, although it still suffers from a Honda family hauler pedigree when compared to the base 333-hp Audi Q7 mill, the base 335-hp BMW X5, and some others. 

2019 Acura MDX A-Spec SH-AWD
Second-row comfort, spaciousness and adjustability is excellent. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Then again, its performance is decent enough and its pricing a lot lower than those highfalutin Europeans, while the just noted standard nine-speed autobox is fairly quick shifting and very smooth, with the aforementioned standard steering wheel paddle shifters enjoyable to use, plus the standard torque-vectoring SH-AWD system is extremely well engineered and therefore performs superbly no matter the road or weather conditions. 

To be clear, the MDX, even in this sportier A-Spec trim, is biased toward comfort over performance. This doesn’t mean it’s a sloth off the line, or cumbersome through corners, but instead is easily fast enough for most peoples’ needs, as proven by its reasonably strong sales numbers year after year, and handles commendably when pushed hard through tight weaving corners, yet never tries to pass itself off as a sport sedan for seven, like some of its Euro rivals do quite effectively. Instead, the MDX’ ride is pleasurable no matter the road surface beneath, its manners particularly nice around town where it sits high above the majority of surrounding traffic and provides excellent visibility through all windows, and its creature comforts plentiful. 

2019 Acura MDX A-Spec SH-AWD
The third row has a surprising amount of room. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

One of those features, specific to performance, is a drive mode selector that includes Comfort, Normal, and Sport settings that remain as selected even after shutting off the engine, locking up and leaving, coming back, and restarting. Therefore, if you personally prefer driving in Sport mode, which I’m going to guess most people who purchase this sportier looking A-Spec model do, then the drivetrain is ready and waiting without any extra effort every time you climb inside. 

Another MDX attribute I can attest to is its prowess over snowy roads. This thing is a beast, and with proper snow tires can overcome nearly any depth of powdery (or chunky, wet) white stuff. The latter was addressed with a set of 265/ 45R20 Michelin Latitude Alpin all-season tires, so I can only guess it would even be more formidable when shod in true winters. 

2019 Acura MDX A-Spec SH-AWD
Even with all three rows in use, the MDX provides about as much cargo space as an average mid-size sedan’s trunk. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Another positive is real-world fuel economy, which actually benefits from a one-size-fits-all V6 under the hood, especially when burdened by a three-row SUV weighing in at 1,945 kilos (4,288 lbs); the A-Spec the second heaviest trim in the MDX lineup. Thanks to direct-injection, i-VTEC, and Variable Cylinder Management (VCM) that shuts one bank of cylinders down under light loads to save fuel, plus standard engine idle stop-start to reduce consumptions yet more, not to mention emissions, and lastly the nine-speed autobox, the A-Spec is rated at 12.2 L/100km in the city, 9.5 on the highway and 11.0 combined, which is only a tad more than all other MDX trims that get a claimed rating of 12.2 L/100km city, 9.0 highway and 10.8 combined. On the subject of efficiency, I should also mention the much more interesting MDX Sport Hybrid that, thanks to a two-motor electrified drivetrain is good for 9.1 L/100km city, 9.0 highway and 9.0 combined. I’ll cover this model soon, so stay tuned. 

2019 Acura MDX A-Spec SH-AWD
Loads of space available with the rear rows folded flat. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

So there you have it, an honest, straightforward review of an aging albeit still credible three-row luxury SUV, that I can still recommend you purchasing if you’re not one of the luxury sector’s usual latest-and-greatest consumer. Let’s face it. The MDX isn’t the newest kid on the block. Its powertrain is archaic compared to the turbocharged and supercharged 316-hp 2.0-litre four-cylinder in the aforementioned Volvo XC90, which can be upgraded to 400-hp plug-in hybrid specs no less, or for that matter the supercharged 3.0-litre V6 in the Audi Q7, and the list goes on, while its infotainment works well enough yet is seriously lacking in modernity, but as long as you’re ok with some aging issues the MDX provides everything families in this class need, and does so in a stylish, refined, quiet, comfortable, spacious, safe, and reasonably reliable package, all for thousands less than any of the noted competitors. That should be reason enough to keep the MDX on your radar when it comes time to trade up, and when you do I recommend checking out this sportier A-Spec trim, because the styling updates and interior details are certainly worth the extra cost. 

Story credit: Trevor Hofmann 

Photo credit: Karen Tuggay

Nissan increases Leaf base price by $3,300 and adds improved Leaf Plus model

2019 Nissan Leaf Plus
The new 2019 Nissan Leaf Plus improves range by up to 50 percent, and straight-line performance by 13 percent. (Photo: Nissan)

What’s the best-selling electric car of all time? That’s actually a pretty cut and dry question, but nevertheless it gets debated more often than it should be. 

Some point to Tesla that’s made massive inroads into the EV market in recent years, but while the brand has racked up plenty of overall sales, no individual model has yet come out on top. Since the first Tesla Roadster went on sale in 2012 and calendar year 2018 came to a close on December 31, the U.S. all-electric brand had sold an approximate total of 532,000 units, which far and away makes it the most successful electric car producer, but despite reportedly receiving 325,000 reservations of the Model 3 after only a week of being unveiled in 2016, and that waiting list having grown to 455,000 units by August of 2017, the car’s actual deliveries hadn’t exceeded 238,000 by April 21, 2019, which while impressive for any startup automaker, is still far behind the real EV sales leader, Nissan and its much more plentiful Leaf. 

Before we receive a slew of “What about the Toyota Prius?” questions in our inbox, take note the Prius isn’t really a full electric vehicle, but rather a hybrid that still relies on a regular gasoline-powered internal combustion engine (ICE) to get where it’s going. 

Unlike a full EV, the Prius’ battery and electric motor supplements the ICE’s motive power, and can only be used for 100-percent electric mobility at low speeds (under 20 km/h) and short distances (such as in public parking garages). Toyota now produces a plug-in hybrid model named Prius Prime, which provides longer distances of all-electric use at higher speeds, but it hasn’t sold very strongly so far. 

2019 Nissan Leaf Plus
Recently redesigned Leaf offers up much more appealing styling than its funky predecessor. (Photo: Nissan)

Alternatively, Nissan’s Leaf is a pure electric vehicle that totally relies on its battery and electric motor for motive power, so therefore needs to be regularly recharged from a home or public charging station, instead of refueled at a gas station like the Prius and other hybrids. Where the two iconic green cars enjoy similarities, however, is in their best-selling status, the Prius as the all-time leader amongst hybrid-electric vehicles (HEVs) and the Leaf as the undisputed electric vehicle (EV) champion. And yes, if you were wondering when we’d get to the Leaf’s total sales number, Nissan has sold and delivered more than 390,000 Leaf hatchbacks since it became available in 2010. 

Making sure it maintains its leadership, Nissan now offers the 2019 Leaf with two power units, both of which are more formidable than the single battery/motor combination provided with last year’s model. As part of the 2019 model upgrade introduced halfway through 2018, Nissan gave its Leaf a new 40kWh Li-ion battery and uprated 110-kW (147-horsepower) electric motor, which was a 16kWh improvement over the old version. This meant that it could (and still can) travel up to 243 kilometres on a single charge compared to only 172 km with the previous model, a 69-km increase that made all the difference in the world. Still, not willing to rest on its laurels, the new Leaf Plus connects a 62-kWh battery to a 160 kW (214 hp) electric motor for an estimated 363-km of range. 

“With the addition of LEAF PLUS, the Nissan LEAF is now available with two battery options and a choice of four trim levels – each featuring the many advanced technologies offered under the banner of Nissan Intelligent Mobility,” commented Steve Rhind, director of marketing, Nissan Canada Inc. in a press release.  

2019 Nissan Leaf Plus
Leaf Plus get a unique front fascia. (Photo: Nissan)

To be clear, starting this April the 2019 Leaf is available in four trims instead of just three, but two of its previous trims are no longer available. The new base trim is the $40,698 Leaf SV, which is now followed by the $43,998 Leaf S Plus, the $46,598 Leaf SV Plus, and finally the $49,498 Leaf SL Plus, with a $1,950 destination charge added to all models. 

The new base price is therefore $3,900 more expensive than the outgoing version, but this is due to the cancellation of regular Leaf S trim, which was priced at $36,798 through the last half of 2018 and calendar year 2019 thus far. What’s more, the regular Leaf SL, which added luxury features such as two-tone black and grey perforated leather and microfibre-like Bio Suede PET cloth upholstery, an Intelligent Around View Monitor, Driver Attention Alert, seven-speaker Bose premium audio, turn signal repeaters integrated within the side mirror caps, and more for $42,698, will no longer be available for order in Canada either (they’re both still offered in the U.S.), but you may be able to locate one or the other at a Nissan retailer. 

Comparing apples to apples, the price difference between the regular Nissan Leaf and new Leaf Plus in SV trim, which are mostly similar, is $5,900, but take note that along with increased performance, 120 km (or about 50-percent) or so of added range, and an enhanced recharging system (keep reading), the Leaf Plus SV also includes a slightly reworked front fascia featuring special blue highlights, an “e+” logo plate on the lower portion of the charge port lid, and new rear badging (depending on trim level), while other standard enhancements include forward collision warning, Rear Door Alert (which warns if someone or something has been left in the rear seating area), and a 1.0-inch larger 8.0-inch centre touchscreen (a 7.0-inch touchscreen is standard and the old base 5.0-inch display has been discontinued). 

2019 Nissan Leaf Plus
The top-line Leaf Plus SL provides premium levels of luxury features. (Photo: Nissan)

Also notable, the infotainment systems found in both regular Leaf SV and Leaf S Plus base models now come standard with a navigation system, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto smartphone connectivity, satellite radio, etcetera, but only SV trims provide voice recognition, NissanConnect EV (that remotely connects the car to your smartphone), six audio speakers (instead of four), and more. 

Additionally, the $3,300 more affordable Leaf SV adds 17-inch alloy wheels instead of the 16-inch alloys that come standard on the Leaf S Plus, as well as fog lights, an electronic parking brake (in place of a foot-operated parking brake), an auto-dimming centre mirror, a Homelink universal garage door opener, an eight-way power driver’s seat with two-way lumbar, a tonneau cover, and a bevy of advanced driver assistance features such as autonomous emergency braking with pedestrian detection (which basically includes the SV Plus model’s forward collision warning), auto high beams, dynamic cruise control with full speed range and hold, ProPilot Assist semi-autonomous self-driving, Steering Assist, blindspot warning, lane keeping assist, rear cross-traffic alert, and more. 

The menu of items just mentioned is also standard with the new Leaf SV Plus, while a shorter list of luxury features spoken of earlier in this story, when covering the now outgoing Leaf SL, is also pulled up to the new Leaf SL Plus model, albeit with a big $6,800 difference in price thanks to its performance and driving distance enhancements. 

Now is probably an apropos opportunity to explain that plenty of electric vehicle owners consider range performance similarly to how conventional car buyers may be willing to ante up more for faster acceleration and better all-round handling. No matter which way you look at it, the two different Leaf models ensure “that there’s a Nissan LEAF to meet the driving needs of a wider range of customers,” as said in a press release. 

2019 Nissan Leaf Plus
The new Leaf Plus includes a standard 8-inch touchscreen. (Photo: Nissan)

Speaking of those who just want to take off a little quicker, despite weighing in at 1,737 kilograms (3,831 lbs) compared to 1,580 kg (3,483 lbs), the new Leaf Plus reduces sprint times by 13 percent over the regular Leaf, which will let its drivers “confidently pass slower-moving vehicles, exit corners faster and more seamlessly, and merge easily with fast-moving traffic,” says Nissan. Additionally, Nissan has given the new Leaf Plus and extra 10 percent more top speed, with more “comfortable cruising” capability being the target. 

This being an electric vehicle, faster charging times will be an even greater reason to opt for the new Leaf Plus. Along with all the other upgrades, its new standard 100kW-capacity quick charging system allow for an 80-percent recharge within just 45 minutes (as per the Nissan Canada retail website). If the only option is a 75-kW DC quick charger it will only take another 5 minutes for a total of 50 minutes in order to reach that 80-percent goal, or alternatively 60 minutes is what’s needed when using a 50-kW DC quick charger. Of note, the regular Leaf requires approximately 40 minutes to achieve the same 80-percent charge with the 50-kW DC quick charger, but be forewarned that you can’t connect it to the 75-kW or 100-kW DC fast charging stations. 

If you’ve already set up a regular 240-volt home charging station, the new Leaf Plus will require about 11.5 hours to fully charge, or approximately 3 and a half hours longer than the regular Leaf. Also, the Leaf Plus can be driven for about 35 km after about an hour on the same 240-volt charger, which is good to know if you just want to top it up while visiting the mall. 

2019 Nissan Leaf Plus
The new Leaf Plus allows multiple ways to recharge. (Photo: Nissan)

While not filling up at a traditional pump it’s always important to remember that EVs use resources, and to that end both Leaf models are ultra-efficient, with energy equivalent ratings of 1.9 Le/100km city and 2.4 highway for the regular Leaf, or 2.1 Le/100km city and 2.5 highway for the new Leaf Plus. Litres of gasoline are never part of the equation, of course, but rather the Le/100km rating system can be a helpful tool in understanding how electric vehicles’ energy consumption compares to the fuel economy of gasoline-powered vehicles, not to mention how each EV’s energy use compares to the other. 

What’s more, it’s important to note that the new Leaf Plus’ battery doesn’t impinge on interior packaging at all, with both front and rear seating compartments identically sized for comfortable accommodations all-round, plus cargo volume still capable of being loading up with 668 litres (23.6 cubic feet) of gear when its rear seats are in use, and 849 litres (30.0 cubic feet) when the standard 60/40 split-folding seatbacks are lowered. 

So now that you know all that’s changing with the Leaf halfway through its 2019 model year, you may want to take advantage of the savings still available if you’d rather opt for the less powerful regular model, whether choosing non-Plus versions of the base Leaf S or top-line Leaf SL, because there are still some available at Canadian Nissan retailers (depending on your area). This said, if you’d rather pay more for quicker charging, added range, and improved straight-line performance, the all-new Leaf Plus is already starting to show up at those same dealers. 

To find out more about all the available 2019 Nissan Leaf and 2019 Leaf Plus trims, packages and options, including pricing for each, and/or to learn out about any of the rebates potentially available, not to mention dealer invoice pricing that might just save you thousands, be sure to visit this page right here on CarCostCanada. 

Story credits: Trevor Hofmann  

Photo credits: Nissan

2019 Infiniti QX50 Sensory Road Test Review

2019 Infiniti QX50 Sensory
The all-new 2019 Infiniti QX50 looks fabulous, especially in near top-line Sensory trim. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Hey good lookin’! Yes, Infiniti’s been slow cookin’ its redesigned QX50 recipe for years, but now that the all-new 2019 model is on the road and looking sensational, I can only see success in its future. 

The proof is in the pudding, so to speak, and now with this new model’s first partial year in its rearview mirror, and YoY Canadian sales growth up 59 percent as of December 31, plus an even more impressive 113.7-percent two-month gain as of February’s final tally, it’s clear that Canada’s compact luxury crossover buyers like what they see. 

These newfound QX50 buyers are no doubt falling for the entire QX50 package as much as for its inspiring styling, plus its considerably more modernized and therefore more appealing interior design, its higher quality materials, as well as its wholly improved electronics interface package, and while the original was particularly good on pavement, this second-generation redesign is no slouch off-the-line or around corners either, which is critically important in the premium sector. But does it fully measure up? 

Now that the much-loved FM platform, having served 11 years in the outgoing model, is done and dusted in this category, much to the chagrin of performance-focused drivers who loved its rear-drive bias and wonderful overall balance, this small but ardent following is reluctantly forced to say hello to a totally new front-wheel drive based layout, which while standard with all-wheel drive here in Canada, provides a different feel that may cause some previous QX50 owners a moment of pause. 

2019 Infiniti QX50 Sensory
Stylish from all angles, the new QX50’s design is one of its best attributes. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Still, with most manufacturers moving away from rear-drive architectures due to interior packaging restrictions, something Audi and Acura have known for more than a decade and likely one reason their compact SUVs continually outsell most competitors, with this layout configuration also being adopted by BMW for its latest X1, it was only a matter of time that Infiniti’s second-most popular model adapted to changing times. 

So what’s the result of Infiniti’s wholesale change in QX50 direction? Think QX60, only smaller. What I mean is, this latest version of Infiniti’s compact crossover provides a more comfortable ride than its predecessor, that floats more smoothly over bridge expansions and other pavement imperfections, and similarly delivers greater quietness inside (due in part to active engine mounts plus acoustic windshield and side window glass) for a more refined overall luxury experience, but it’s certainly nowhere near the performance SUV the outgoing model was. 

Where the rear-drive-biased first-gen 2008–2017 (there was no 2018 model) QX50 (née EX35) felt like a performance-oriented sport sedan in a taller crossover body, which essentially it was, this new version feels more like the Nissan Altima/Murano-based front-wheel drive-derived design it’s based on, despite having all the hardware (and software) boxes checked, such as a fully independent front strut and rear multi-link suspension setup, and standard Active Trace Control that automatically adds brake pressure mid-corner to help maintain a chosen lane. Still, it’s a bit less rooted to the tarmac at high speeds, especially around bumpy corners, and also somewhat less confidence inspiring when pushed hard down the open freeway. There’s a reason the world’s best performance vehicles are based on rear-wheel drive platforms after all, and the QX50’s swap to a front-wheel drive biased architecture makes this truth clearly evident. 

2019 Infiniti QX50 Sensory
Infiniti has found a distinctive look that sets it apart from its rivals, in a very good way. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

The new variable compression turbo engine is superb, however, with a lot more usable power from its diminutive displacement than most competitors’ base engines. Its 2.0-litre size is identical to the majority of rivals, yet its 268 horsepower and 280 lb-ft of torque is considerably more potent than the entry four-cylinder from the compact luxury SUV market segment’s best-selling Mercedes-Benz GLC, for example, which puts out just 241 horsepower and 273 lb-ft of torque, or the next most popular Audi Q5’s 248 hp and 273 lb-ft (or the base Porsche Macan that uses the same engine as the Q5), or for that matter the third-place BMW X3’s 248 hp and 258 lb-ft, while it’s easily more formidable than Lexus’ NX that’s only rated at 238 hp and 258 lb-ft of torque, not to mention Cadillac’s new XT4 that merely musters 237 hp and 258 lb-ft, but this said it’s a fraction off the new Acura RDX that makes 272 hp and 280 lb-ft, as well as the Alfa Romeo Stelvio that leads the segment’s base powerplants with 280 hp and 306 lb-ft of torque. 

The WardsAuto 10 Best Engines-winning VC-Turbo’s technology took Infiniti’s engineering team a full four years to develop, and incorporates special connecting rods between its pistons and crankshaft that vary the compression of the fuel and air mixture, less for increasing power output when needed and more during lower loads like cruising and coasting for improving fuel efficiency. 

Another 2019 QX50 differentiator that might miff previous owners, unless they’re from the left coast where pump prices are soaring sky high, is the new fuel-friendly continuously variable transmission (CVT). Before getting your back up about the QX50 losing its mostly quick-shifting seven-speed automatic, take note this isn’t any ordinary run-of-the-mill CVT, but rather an all-new shift-by-wire design that includes manual shift mode, steering wheel paddles, Downshift Rev Matching (that blips the throttle to match a given gear ratio with engine rpms), plus dual transmission fluid coolers, and I must say it’s one of the more normal feeling CVTs I’ve tested to date. 

2019 Infiniti QX50 Sensory
Sensory trim results in a higher grade of LED headlamps, plus these stunning 20-inch alloys. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

It only exposes the artificial nature of its stepped gears when pressing hard on the throttle, a process that spools up power and torque quickly, albeit allows revs to hold a little too high for a bit too long, which hampers performance, refinement and fuel economy. This said it responds quite well to input from those just noted paddle shifters, and feels especially energetic in Sport mode, but I won’t go so far as to say it’s as engaging as its predecessor’s gearbox, nor as lickety-split quick as competitor’s traditional multi-speed automatics. 

Then again when driven more modestly, like most of us do with our family haulers, it’s a silky smooth transmission that provides the QX50 with more than enough day-to-day performance plus much better claimed fuel economy at 10.0 L/100km in the city, 7.8 on the highway and 9.0 combined, compared to 13.7 city, 9.8 highway and 11.9 combined for the previous V6-powered model, which incidentally is a 30-percent improvement. 

Back on the negative, Infiniti’s Eco mode continues to be my least favourite in the industry, due only to the Eco Pedal that annoyingly pushes back on the right foot to remind you not to press hard on the gas pedal. The problem with this intrusive-nanny solution is that people like me, who hate it, simply won’t use Eco mode at all (you can’t turn the Eco Pedal off separately), which defeats the purpose of having an Eco mode in the first place. So therefore, I only used the QX50’s Eco mode once for testing purposes, and after realizing the Eco Pedal was just as intrusive as it’s always been, immediately turned it off, whereas if I were driving a Mercedes-Benz GLC, Audi A5, BMW X3 or anything else in the class, I would have left Eco mode on more often than not in order to save fuel and reduce emissions. 

2019 Infiniti QX50 Sensory
LED taillights come standard. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Eco mode, and all driving modes are set via a nicely crafted “D-MODE” labeled metal rocker switch on the lower console, just behind the QX50’s completely new electronic shift lever, a small stub of its previous self, yet very well made from satin-silver aluminum and contrast stitched leather. Thank goodness it’s not a row of confusing buttons like some rivals, other than a small “P” for park when arriving at your destination. 

Switchgear in mind, a beautifully detailed knurled metal-edged rotating infotainment controller is placed just above the shifter on a separate section of the lower console, while the door-mounted power window switches receive attractive metal adornment too. All of the cabin’s other buttons, knobs and switches are quality pieces made from densely constructed composites and metals, while they’re also well damped with tight tolerances, the new QX50 easily living up to this premium class status and beyond when it comes to these details and some of the other surface treatments too. 

For instance, an assortment of satin-silver aluminum trim can be found decorating the rest of the interior, the geometrically drilled Bose speaker grilles especially rich, while gorgeous open-pore natural maple hardwood inlays (exclusive to this Sensory model) joined plush black ultrasuede (also a Sensory exclusive) across door uppers, the latter two treatments added to the instrument panel, centre stack and lower console, plus the front seat bolsters, while contrast-stitched leather was also placed next to the ultrasuede in all of the same locations for truly opulent surroundings. Infiniti even wrapped the first and second set of roof pillars, and lined the ceiling in the same soft yet durable suede-like fabric, the latter also benefiting from a large dual-panel powered panoramic glass sunroof. 

2019 Infiniti QX50 Sensory
The QX50 Sensory interior is ultra-luxe. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

All in all the new QX50’s interior is one of the best in its class, with mostly pliable synthetics above the waist, including soft-touch paint used for the glove box lid. Infiniti didn’t gone so far as to finish the bottom portion of the centre console or the lower door panels in such pampering pliable plastics, or for that matter the lower portion of the dash ahead of the driver, with the compact luxury segment’s usual hard composite surfaces starting just underneath the hardwood trim on the left of the steering wheel, and below the leather padding to the right. Still, it’s an interior both Infiniti and you can be proud of, beating many of the industry leaders at their own ultra-luxe game. 

As the kinesthetically-inspired trim designation implies, this $56,490 Sensory model is mostly about creature comforts, and while including all features already noted it also adds premium-grade semi-aniline leather upholstery, two-way front passenger powered lumbar support, three-way ventilated front seats, advanced climate control, extended interior ambient lighting, rear side window sunshades, a motion activated liftgate, and metallic cargo area finishers, while exterior upgrades include 20-inch dark tinted alloys on 255/45 all-season run-flat tires, plus unique cube design LED high/low beam headlamps with adaptive cornering capability. 

There is one trim above Sensory, but the $57,990 Autograph won’t be to everyone’s tastes due a special blue-hued ultrasuede replacing the black found in the Sensory model, plus white surfacing used for much of the instrument panel, centre console sides, door inserts and seats, the centre inserts of the latter boasting diamond-quilted semi-aniline leather, plus blue piping between the white leather and blue ultrasuede. 

2019 Infiniti QX50 Sensory
The QX50’s gauge cluster is nice, but where’s the fully digital system? (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Both Autograph and as-tested Sensory models pull plenty of equipment up from $52,990 ProActive trim, such as automatic high beams, adaptive cruise control with full speed range and hold, distance control assist, lane departure warning and prevention, blindspot intervention, rear cross-traffic alert, backup collision intervention, steering assist, ProPilot Assist semi-autonomous self-driving, Infiniti’s exclusive steer-by-wire Direct Adaptive Steering system (a first for an Infiniti SUV) that works very well (other trims use vehicle-speed-sensitive power steering), a head-up display, and a 16-speaker Bose Premium Series audio system. 

Likewise, a host of features from the $48,990 Essential enhance our Sensory model too, including rain-sensing wipers, front and rear parking sensors, reverse tilting side mirrors, Infiniti’s superb 360-surround Around View parking monitor with moving object detection, navigation with detailed mapping, tri-zone automatic climate control with rear-seat switchgear (upgraded from the base model’s dual-zone auto system), a powered tilt and telescopic steering column, plus memory for that steering wheel as well as for the front seats and side mirrors. 

Finally, the $44,490 base Luxe model adds LED fog lamps, LED integrated turn signals on outside mirror housings, LED taillights (it comes standard with LED low/high beam headlights too), chrome-accented exterior door handles, dual chrome exhaust tips, remote engine start, proximity-sensing keyless access with pushbutton ignition, the aforementioned drive mode selector with standard, eco, sport, and personal settings, the powered panoramic glass sunroof including a powered sunshade, a powered liftgate, predictive forward collision warning, forward emergency braking with pedestrian detection, blindspot warning, and more. 

2019 Infiniti QX50 Sensory
No one should complain about the QX50’s new dual display infotainment system. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Take note that all 2019 QX50 pricing for trims, packages, and standalone options were sourced right here on CarCostCanada, and don’t forget that we can also provide you with money-saving manufacturer rebate information, plus otherwise hard to get dealer invoice pricing that could save you thousands when it comes time to negotiate your deal. 

Also standard with all QX50 trims is Infiniti’s new InTouch dual-display infotainment system featuring a beautifully bright and clear high-definition 8.0-inch monitor on top and an equally impressive 7.0-inch touchscreen below that, plus InTouch safety, security and convenience services, etcetera. This is an easy system to use, with all hands-on functionality found within the bottom screen and the top monitor mostly dedicated to the navigation system and backup/surround camera system, which displays both for optimal safety. 

Digitization in mind, I was a bit surprised that Infiniti stuck with its mostly analogue gauge cluster in this entirely new model, being that most competitors are now anteing up with fully digital designs in top trims. Then again the QX50 partially makes up for this shortcoming with a large colour multi-information display that’s full of useful functions, controlled by an easily sorted array of switchgear on the steering wheel spokes. 

While I’m talking up the positives, I’ve got to give Infiniti kudos for removing the intrusive nosepiece from their sunglasses holder. I never understood why the previous version was too large to hold a regular set of glasses in place, but fortunately this new one is much more accommodating because it doesn’t including a nosepiece holder at all. 

2019 Infiniti QX50 Sensory
It’s hard to fault the new electronic shifter, but the CVT isn’t as engaging as the previous 7-speed auto. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Now that I’m getting down to the nitty-gritty practical stuff, the new QX50 is also much roomier, especially for rear passengers that now benefit from quite a bit more leg and headroom. In fact, Infiniti claims that its rear seat space is greater than the previously noted Audi Q5 and BMW X3, while those back seats now slide fore and aft for more cargo space or better legroom respectively. 

I found the rear seat extremely comfortable, with plenty of room for my knees, at least eight inches when my seat was set up for my five-foot-eight long-legged, short-torso frame, plus adequate floor space to move around my feet when wearing boots, although not much of a gap below the driver’s seat. I could definitely feel the compact QX50’s width compromise, with not a great deal of air space next to my left knee, but at least the door armrest was padded, and there was ample room for my outboard shoulder. Your adult rear passengers may find the centre armrest a little bit low, but it should be ideal for kids, and there’s a slot for a cellphone as well as two rubberized cupholders that should hold drinks in place. The aforementioned rear climate control panel, which only includes a tiny monochromatic LCD display and colour-coded rocker switch for adjusting the temperature, is joined by a USB device charger and 12-volt socket, but strangely omits rear seat heaters that aren’t available with the QX50 at all. 

2019 Infiniti QX50 Sensory
This is one fabulous set of seats. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Yes, this is a strange omission in a market that has been experiencing colder winters over the past two years, and could potentially turn off some buyers that want their kids and/or parents to be as comfortable as possible year-round. 

It’s cargo capacity won’t be a negative, however, being that it’s grown by 368 litres (13.0 cubic feet) to 895 (31.6 cu ft) behind its 60/40 split-folding rear seatbacks, even when they’re pushed all the way rearward, while sliding the back bench as far forward as possible adds another 153 litres (5.5 cu ft) of gear toting capacity for a total volume of 1,048 litres (37.0 cu ft) when both rows are occupied. Fold the second-row seats flat and cargo space expands to 1,822 litres (64.3 cu ft), and by the way, Infiniti provides handy levers on the sidewalls for doing just that. Why all this is difficult to fault, I would have appreciated a centre pass-through for loading longer items such as skis down the middle, leaving the two more comfortable window seats available when heading to the slopes. Better yet, Euro-style 40/20/40-split rear seats would allow even larger boards between rear occupants; food for future Infiniti thought. 

2019 Infiniti QX50 Sensory
Rear seat roominess is improved, but where are the heated rear seats? (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

The powered liftgate is programmable for height, which is a good thing if you live in a parking garage that requires such things, but not so good if you keep smacking your head into it and don’t take the time to reprogram (not Infiniti’s fault), while the cargo compartment is finished quite nicely, with an aluminum sill guard and the usual carpeting up the sidewalls and on the backside of the seats, plus the floor of course, the latter removable to expose the audio system’s amplifier and subwoofer plus a bit of space in between, and another shallow compartment just behind, for stowing smaller items. 

As practical, wonderfully crafted, efficient and quick as the new QX50 is, styling will be the determining factor for most would-be buyers, at least initially. I find its front end especially attractive, with Infiniti’s double-arch grille positioned below a long, elegantly sculpted hood, and flanked by an eye-catching set of signature LED headlamps over a clean, sporty lower fascia. 

2019 Infiniti QX50 Sensory
Plenty of room for gear. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Organically shaped panels flow rearward down each side, passing by a nicely detailed chrome engine vent garnish on the upper front fenders, a metal brightwork adorned greenhouse finalizing with Infiniti’s trademark kinked rear quarter windows, and around the back where a particularly appealing rear end design features nicely shaped LED taillights, while a variety of 19- to 20-inch alloy wheels round out the design depending on trim. For me it’s a winner, but time will tell whether it manages to conquest enough new buyers away from rival brands to truly deem it an unqualified success. 

Story credit: Trevor Hofmann 

Photo credit: Karen Tuggay

2019 Honda Pilot Touring Road Test Review

2019 Honda Pilot Touring
Looking better than ever, we really like what Honda has done with its 2019 Pilot. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Other than a few unusual offerings like the Element, Crosstour, and current Civic Hatchback/R, Honda’s styling normally resides in the conservative camp, and when it comes to mid-cycle makeovers that conservatism is downright mossbacked. Still, despite mere evolutionary changes made from the 2016-2018 third-generation Pilot to the latest iteration, introduced last year for 2019, it looks a lot better than it used to. 

It starts a more aggressive looking traditional SUV-type grille above a bolder front bumper and fascia, all of which are bookended by beautiful new trademark full LED headlamps in my tester’s top-tier Touring trim line. By the way, all Pilots now come with LED headlights, but those lower down the desirability scale only incorporate LEDs within their low beams and therefore appear more conventional when put side-by-side with the vertical elements inside the Touring model’s more sophisticated looking full LEDs. 

When viewed from the rear, new LED taillights are standard across the entire Pilot line, plus a new rear bumper incorporates the same satin-silver-coloured skid plates as those up front, with most trims. Of note, both the base Pilot and Canada-exclusive Black Edition get black skid plates front to rear, albeit the former are matte finished and the latter glossy black. Speaking of trim highlights, the Touring model features chromed door handles and sporty new 20-inch alloy wheels, helping to make it much more upscale than other trims in the lineup, and plenty attractive when placed beside its mid-size crossover SUV peers. 

2019 Honda Pilot Touring
Subtle changes have made a big difference. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Along with the refresh, Honda made some important mechanical changes to help refine Touring and Black Edition models, particularly by revising their standard auto start-stop system, making it turn off and restart the engine faster and smoother. This upgrade will hopefully cause owners to keep the start-stop system engaged, which will certainly help improve fuel economy and reduce emissions. I certainly never experienced any problems with the system throughout my weeklong test drive, in fact hardly noticing its operation at all. 

Additionally, Honda reportedly refined the two top models’ standard nine-speed automatic transmission, which, like the auto start/stop system, worked perfectly throughout my test week. In fact, I’d go so far as to say it’s better than ever, providing truly smooth and effortless shifts when both driving in the city and operating at highway speeds, while also downshifting with nice, quick, snappy precision when performing passing maneuvers. Owners of lesser Pilot trims, which include the base LX plus mid-range EX and EX-L Navi models, get a very well-proven six-speed automatic transmission, which remains unchanged moving into 2019. 

Unlike the Pilot’s gearbox duality, all trim levels incorporate one single 24-valve, SOHC 3.5-litre V6 engine, which despite having already served Honda well for more than a decade, other than small updates, continues to make a potent combination of 280 horsepower and 262 lb-ft of torque, thanks in part to direct-injection and i-VTEC, while its Active Control Engine Mount (ACM) system aids refinement further by reducing noise, vibration and harshness. 

2019 Honda Pilot Touring
The Touring gets full LED headlamps and 20-inch alloys. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Also standard, all Canadian-spec Pilots include Honda’s Intelligent Variable Torque Management (i-VTM4) AWD, which together with the Japanese brand’s Intelligent Traction Management System, helps provide immediate grip at takeoff for smooth yet quick response. What’s more, this energetic straight-line performance was enhanced by a fully independent suspension that felt nimbler through quick corners, while its ride quality was completely comfortable all the time, only becoming slightly unsettled when I pushed it further than most owners would for testing purposes, and then only when the road below exposed crumbling, uneven pavement. 

Truth be told, I don’t try to imitate Red Bull-Honda Racing F1 driver Max Verstappen all that often (but would love to have his skill), especially when piloting a large SUV, but normally apply available eco modes before keeping to a more moderate pace. Such practices are rewarding with the Pilot, thanks to the auto start/stop system mentioned before, plus the engine’s Variable Cylinder Management (VCM) system that shuts off a bank of cylinders under lighter loads to further improve fuel economy, my tester achieving a commendable 11.3 L/100km during my mostly flat city street test week, which is very close to Transport Canada’s estimated rating of 12.4 L/100km city, 9.3 highway and 11.0 combined. I haven’t driven the six-speed version since it was the only transmission offered in this SUV, prior to the third-gen redesign, so I can’t attest to its claimed rating of 13.0 L/100km city, 9.3 highway and 11.3 combined. Still, both sets of numbers are impressive when factoring in just how large this three-row SUV is. 

I also didn’t test the Pilot with a trailer in tow, but Honda claims that both transmissions equal the same 1,588 kilograms (3,500 lbs) tow rating in standard guise, or 2,268 kg (5,000 lbs) with the upgraded towing package. 

2019 Honda Pilot Touring
This nicely designed instrument panel is about average for the class when it comes to materials quality. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Now that I’m talking about moving gear, the Pilot has long been one of the more accommodating SUV’s in its class when it comes to luggage space. Behind the third row is a plentiful 524 litres (18.5 cubic feet), or 510 litres (18.0 cubic feet) with my Touring tester and the near identically equipped Black Edition. Lower that 60/40 split-folding third row down and cargo carrying capacity expands to 1,583 litres (55.9 cubic feet) no matter the trim level, while it available stowage space ranges from 3,072 to 3,092 litres (108.5 to 109.2 cubic feet) when all of its rear seatbacks are laid flat, but it’s important to note that a centre section of load floor is missing when equipped with second-row captain’s chairs. I like how some manufacturers attach a foldout carpeted extension to the back of one seat in order to remedy this problem, but no such luck with the Pilot. If this were mine, I’d keep a piece of plywood handy for hauling big loads. 

On the positive the centre console isn’t so tall that it protrudes into the loading area, a problem with some luxury utes, but then again it’s barely raised above the floor, so will be a bit of a stretch for smaller occupants to reach when trying to use the cupholders. The good news is this console and the sliding/reclining captain’s chairs to each side aren’t standard with Touring trim (they are with the Black Edition), but instead replace a three-seat bench that ups total occupancy from seven to eight. The seating arrangement you choose will come down to the age/size of your kids or if you regularly bring adults along for the ride, because the rear captain’s chairs are definitely more comfortable than the outboard seats on the bench. 

I won’t go into detail about the Black Edition in this review, but suffice to say it’s outfitted almost identically to seven-passenger Touring trim. As for my $52,690 Touring tester, it list of standard items includes the full LED headlamps noted earlier, plus power-folding and auto-dimming sideview mirrors, blue ambient interior lighting, acoustic glass for the front windows, rain-sensing windshield wipers, a pushbutton gear selector, cooled front seats, a large panoramic glass sunroof, a superb 600-watt audio system featuring 11 speakers and a sub plus 5.1 Surround, a wireless device charger, a new Honda CabinTalk in-car PA (that really works), HondaLink Subscription Services, Wi-Fi, the “How much Farther?” application, rear entertainment, an HDMI input jack, a 115-volt household-style power outlet in back, blindspot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert, plus more. 

2019 Honda Pilot Touring
The big TFT display within the gauge cluster makes it seem almost totally digital. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Features added to Touring trim from the lesser EX-L Navi model include an acoustic windshield, memory-linked side mirrors with reverse tilt-down, a heated steering wheel, a four-way power front passenger seat, a navigation system with detailed mapping, HD and satellite radio, front and rear parking sonar, heated outboard second-row seats, one-touch third-row access (that’s really easy to operate whether entering or trying to get out from the rearmost seat), second-row side window shades, a power liftgate, etcetera, while features sourced from the EX model include LED fog lamps, LED repeaters in the side mirror housings, roof rails, illuminated vanity mirrors, a Homelink universal remote, a leather-clad steering wheel, plus 10-way power and memory for the driver’s seat. 

Finally, I need to also make mention of some standard LX features pulled up to Touring trim (the base Pilot LX starting at just $41,290), including remote engine start, proximity keyless entry, pushbutton start, a windshield de-icer, a conversation mirror that doubles for sunglasses storage, three-zone auto HVAC, heated front seats, HondaLink Assist Automatic Emergency Response System, etcetera (all prices are sourced right here on CarCostCanada, where you can also find all the latest rebate info as well as dealer invoice pricing that could save you thousands). 

What’s more, each and ever Pilot gets a nice, big 7.0-inch TFT multi-information display within its primary gauge package, boasting attractive high-resolution colour graphics, simple operation via steering spoke-mounted switchgear, and plenty of useful functions, while over on the centre stack is an 8.0-inch fixed tablet-style touchscreen that’s even more comprehensively equipped with functionality. It gets a user-friendly multi-coloured tile design that looks as if it was inspired by Apple products, and fittingly includes Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, Bluetooth with streaming audio, a fabulous multi-angle rearview camera with dynamic guidelines, plus more. 

2019 Honda Pilot Touring
The Pilot is comfortable no matter where you’re seated. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Honda also gives the Pilot a comprehensive list of standard advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS) including auto high beams, adaptive cruise control, Forward Collision Warning, Collision Mitigation Braking, Lane Departure Warning with Lane Keeping Assist, plus Road Departure Mitigation, which, when upgraded with Touring trim’s cornering low- and high-beam full LED headlamps, allows a best-possible Top Safety Pick + rating from the IIHS. Additionally, all Pilot trims earn a five-star safety rating from the NHTSA. 

Just in case you’re starting to think that a team of publicity reps from Honda wrote this review, my weeklong test wasn’t wholly positive. For starters, even my top-line Pilot Touring tester wasn’t as impressively finished inside as some direct competitors, due to more hard plastic than I would have liked. Honda does cover the dash top in a soft synthetic, and adds a nice bolster across the instrument panel ahead of the front passenger, which extends above the centre touchscreen, while the front door uppers are also soft to the touch, ideal for pampering elbows, plus the door inserts and armrests are plush as well, of course, but oddly the door uppers in back aren’t as nicely finished, and Honda doesn’t wrap any roof pillars in cloth either, like some rivals do. 

The seat upholstery is very upscale though, with driver’s perch particularly comfortable despite only providing two-way powered lumbar that didn’t fit the small of my back very well, and therefore remained unused by yours truly. Seats in mind, both second and third rows were very comfortable, the rearmost seating area even roomy enough for adults. I had ample legroom for my five-foot-eight frame, plus about three to four inches ahead of my knees when the second row was pulled rearward as far as it would go, and plenty of space overhead. 

2019 Honda Pilot Touring
Third-row seating is amongst the most accommodating in this class. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

If you thought I was done griping, take note that I have issue with a foot-operated parking brake in a vehicle that does everything else to make a person think it’s been flown here from the future. Yes, this anachronism (I don’t like foot-operated parking brakes) flies in the face of one of the more advanced looking electronic gear selectors available on planet earth (standard with the nine-speed), so where is the electronic parking brake that should be attached? I’ll be waiting for Honda to solve this problem in an upcoming redesign, and remain unimpressed that it wasn’t dealt with sooner. 

All of this complaining might cause a person to believe I’m not a fan of Honda’s updated Pilot, but this couldn’t be further from the truth. Yes, I’d like to see some changes made as noted, but such hopes for improvement hardly mean that the 2019 Pilot didn’t impress on the whole. In fact, I really enjoyed my time with Honda’s largest vehicle. It was a pleasure to drive, easy to live with, and nice to look at, exactly what is needed from a three-row family hauler. 

Story credit: Trevor Hofmann 

Photo credit: Karen Tuggay

New 415 hp Volvo V60 and XC60 Polestar Engineered models on the way

2020 Volvo S60, V60 and XC60 T8 Polestar Engineered
Volvo will add Polestar Engineered versions of the V60 (centre) and XC60 (right) to the already sold out S60 T8 Polestar Engineered model (left) this summer. (Photo: Volvo)

Volvo has been seriously upping its game over the past few years, with an entirely redesigned lineup of highly competitive premium models, and even an entirely new “Polestar” all-electric performance-luxury brand that’s designed to go head-to-head against Tesla. 

Bridging the gap is “Polestar Engineered”, a performance division responsible for tuning Volvo’s regular crop of luxury cars. Late last year we saw the result of its engineering prowess, the S60 T8 Polestar Engineered that sold out so quickly we hardly realized it came and went, but it set the stage for two additional models we think will fare equally well, the upcoming 2020 V60 T8 Polestar Engineered and XC60 T8 Polestar Engineered. 

2020 Volvo V60 T8 Polestar Engineered
Each new Polestar Engineered model (V60 shown) gets a glossy black grille, unique lower fascia detailing, special 19-inch forged alloys, gold-painted brake calipers, and much more. (Photo: Volvo)

“At Volvo Car Canada, we are very excited about the addition of the new Polestar Engineered products in our portfolio,” said Alexander Lvovich, Managing Director, Volvo Car Canada Ltd. “Polestar always played a special role in the Volvo business in Canada, as in the last 2 years we achieved one of the highest levels of Polestar optimized product sales in the world. We plan to fully capitalize on this upcoming opportunity to strengthen both Volvo and Polestar brands in Canada.” 

Like last year’s S60 variant, the new Polestar Engineered cars once again use Volvo’s turbocharged, supercharged and electrified T8 Twin-Engine Plug-in Hybrid powertrain, which is specially tuned to produce 415 horsepower and 494 lb-ft of torque, 15 horsepower and 22 lb-ft of torque more than the regular T8 AWD power unit. 

2020 Volvo S60 T8 Polestar Engineered
T8 Polestar Engineered models (S60 shown) are both ultra-fast and extremely efficient thanks to PHEV technology. (Photo: Volvo)

Updates to powertrain software allow torque to arrive earlier for quicker throttle response, while more of that power gets sent to the wheels in back for better all-round performance. To clarify, along with the boosted 2.0-litre four-cylinder engine, the T8 drivetrain utilizes two electric motors (one up front and one in the rear), with a battery that’s both plug-in for pure electric driving over short distances, plus gasoline-electric hybrid powered. 

Together with its rear-wheel biased handling, the new Polestar Engineered models received stiffer body structures from an Öhlins-designed front strut bar that allows for “more precise and responsive control,” according to a Volvo Canada press release, while Öhlins also provided a set of adjustable dampers that utilize special dual flow valves, which respond more “quickly to road imperfections.” 

2020 Volvo S60 T8 Polestar Engineered
A strut tower brace stiffens the body structure for better handling. (Photo: Volvo)

What’s more, six-piston Brembo calipers, painted gold in Polestar tradition, improve braking performance, while sets of lightweight 19-inch forged alloy wheels, unique to each of the three Polestar Engineered S60, V60 and XC60 models, add aggressive character while providing more air to cool those beefier brakes. 

If you were hoping for aggressive aero upgrades, ducts and hood scoops plus other boy racer visual performance statements, the Polestar Engineered models take a subtler approach that should appeal to more mature clientele, with the only additional exterior modifications being high-gloss black for the grille, flared wheel arches, black chrome exhaust finishers, and small Polestar emblems front and rear. 

2020 Volvo S60 T8 Polestar Engineered
Gold seatbelts anyone? They’re standard. (Photo: Volvo)

Likewise, the new models’ cabins will receive a unique leather-wrapped sport steering wheel and shifter knob, metal mesh aluminum décor trim, gold seatbelts, special charcoal-coloured Nappa leather and “open-grid” textile seat upholstery, plus more. 

The new 2020 V60 and XC60 T8 Polestar Engineered models will arrive this summer, but if you hope to own one you’ll need to contact your local Volvo dealer now, because if the S60 version is any indication to go by they’ll be snapped up quickly. 

Story credits: Trevor Hofmann  

Photo credits: Volvo 

2018 Porsche Macan Road Test Review

2018 Porsche Macan
Porsche hasn’t changed the 2019 Macan much when compared to this 2018 model, the latter still available new from your local Porsche dealer. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

I was a bit surprised. After all, it was mid-March of 2019 when Porsche handed me a set 2018 Macan keys. Realizing the 2019 model was still en route and that plenty of 2018s were left on Canadian dealer lots due to the refreshed version arriving quite late in the year, I figured I might as well extend my usual past model-year writing deadline to Q2, the furthest I’ve ever pushed it out before. Fortunately for me the 2019 Macan isn’t a wholesale redesign, with the new model only receiving some styling, mechanical and infotainment mods that I’ll share toward the end of this review. 

Most should agree the Macan is one of the premium SUV segment’s sportier performers, whether we’re talking 2018 or 2019 model. Of course, it’s up against some formidable competitors, but thanks to a bevy of turbocharged engines and some sublime suspension tuning, few rivals come close to matching the fun factor of Porsche’s most affordable model. 

Even this base Macan provides a more engaging experience than most challengers, its growly engine and exhaust note making this immediately clear upon leaving my pickup location, and the wonderfully quick and precise response from its paddle-shift actuated seven-speed dual-clutch automated PDK transmission, transforming what appears to be a totally normal compact crossover SUV on paper into a rarified sports model in real life. 

2018 Porsche Macan
Depending on your personal taste, the subtler taillights from the 2018 Macan might even be more to your liking. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

In base trim the Macan includes a turbocharged, direct-injected 2.0-litre four-cylinder engine capable of 252 horsepower and 273 lb-ft of torque, which like I just said is about average for the segment, at least when comparing the first number. Still, along with its sportier than average feel it manages to zip from zero to 100km/h in just 6.7 seconds, or 6.5 seconds when optioned out with the available $1,500 Sport Chrono Package, which includes Sport and Off-Road modes, as well as launch control and a unique performance display inside the infotainment interface. Part of the Macan’s off-the-line prowess can be attributed to standard Active all-wheel drive, which adds considerable control no matter the road or weather conditions. 

My Macan tester not only left the Sport Chrono Package off its build sheet, it didn’t include the available $1,560 Porsche Active Suspension Management (PASM) system either, which features an electronically variable active damping system incorporating Comfort, Sport and Sport Plus modes, nor the yet more upscale $3,140 Air Suspension that features PASM too, or for that matter a few other performance upgrades that could’ve also been included, but just the same it was a blast to drive, with strong acceleration and fabulous road-holding when pushed hard through high-speed curvy stretches of roadway, its standard aluminum double-wishbone suspension up front and multi-link setup in back doing a commendable job of respecting the legendary Porsche name. 

2018 Porsche Macan
The 2019 includes standard LED headlights and a revised front fascia, while these 19-inch alloys are optional with this 2018 model. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

Featured found on my test model included a $790 Lane Change Assist system, which warns when leaving a given lane, veering off the side of road, or when another car pulls alongside when flashing a turn signal. An additional $790 bought Lane Keeping Assist, which automatically takes over at speeds of 65 km/h or greater when such just noted instances occur, while my test model also had $1,650 dynamic cruise control, the feature I prefer most of all due to often driving long distances to see family. 

Additional options included a gorgeous $2,230 Garnet Red leather package that also included $1,960 memory-equipped 14-way power-adjustable front seats. I should also mention these improved-upon seats (in black) are part of the $7,250 Premium Package Plus which was also featured on my test model (which can be further upgraded to include $430 18-way Adaptive Sport Seats) that features proximity entry with push-button start, auto-dimming outside mirrors, a large panoramic moonroof, 3-way cooled front seats, 3-way heated rear seats, great sounding Bose surround audio (or alternatively you can get an awesome 1,000-watt 16-speaker Burmester surround system for $5,370 in the same package), HID headlamps with the Porsche Dynamic Light System (PDLS) (or you can add $1,340 more for LED headlights), while my tester also included $1,890 19-inch Macan Turbo alloys clad in 235/55R19 Pirelli rubber, and finally $440 black roof rails, with all the extras adding up to $14,250 for a final tally of $68,350 plus freight and fees. 

2018 Porsche Macan
Even the base Macan’s interior is thoroughly impressive. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

Of course, this being a Porsche I haven’t come close to sharing everything that’s available if you choose to go for the gusto, or for that matter everything issued as standard fare with the $54,100 base model, the latter including 18-inch alloys, fog lamps, LED taillights, an electric parking brake, one of the best heated leather multifunction steering wheels in the luxury business (its ultra-thin spokes and excellent switchgear way above average), a colour multi-info display within the gauge cluster that provides a navigation map when selected, rain-sensing windshield wipers, a garage door opener, 3-way heated and 8-way powered front seats, three-zone auto HVAC, a 7.2-inch centre touchscreen with navigation and a reverse camera featuring dynamic guidelines, front and rear parking sonar, HD and satellite radio, a powered tailgate, etcetera. 

The Macan’s cargo compartment is sizeable at 500 litres (17.6 cubic feet), but I appreciate its highly functional 40/20/40 split-folding seatbacks even more as it long times like skis at centre when all four seats are taken, while both rear passengers can enjoy the benefit of the aforementioned rear bum warmers. Remove the standard cargo cover, lower the rear seats, and 1,500 litres (53.0 cubic feet) of gear-toting space becomes available, meaning this ultimately sporty compact SUV is plenty practical too. 

2018 Porsche Macan
Most every surface is soft-touch or high-quality composite and genuine metal. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

Yes, I know it’s hard to put one’s pragmatist hat on when talking about a Porsche, especially considering how beautifully finished the Macan’s interior is. The dash top, which was detailed out in a lovely black leather with red stitching, looked fabulous, and the quality of the pliable composite used to wrap the lower portion of the instrument panel and all surfaces under the dash, glove box lid and lower console sides included, was superb. As you might expect the Macan’s doors are surfaced with a combination of leather and premium synthetics, from the very top of their uppers to their lower extremities, while classy satin-silver aluminum accents can be found just about everywhere. 

The Macan thoroughly comfortable as well, this partially due to the aforementioned 14-way powered seats that provided all the adjustments needed, including 4-way lumbar support and lower seat cushions that extend to cup below the knees. Ample steering column reach and rake put me in total control too, not to mention absolute comfort despite my long-legged, short torso frame. I found the rear seats comfortable too, especially with respect to the lower back. They were carved out nicely at each window position, ideal for lateral support when the Macan’s driver decides to push the limits. 

2018 Porsche Macan
The standard three-gauge cluster gets a TFT colour multi-information display in its right-side dial. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

Performance driving in mind, buyers that want stronger acceleration can opt for the Macan S, which includes a twin-turbo 3.0-litre V6 that’s good for 340 horsepower and 339 lb-ft of torque, plus standstill to 100km/h in a mere 5.4 seconds, or 5.2 when upgraded to the Sport Chrono Package. If that’s not enough, the Macan GTS gets an additional 20 hp and 30 lb-ft for a whopping 360 and 369 respectively, which reduces its zero to hero time to 5.2 seconds, or 5.0 seconds with the Sport Chrono Package. 

The Turbo (Turbo only referring to model specification, being that all Macans incorporate turbocharged engines) ups the ante with a 3.6-litre twin-turbocharged V6 capable of 400 horsepower and 406 lb-ft of torque, resulting in 0 to 100km/h in only 4.8 seconds, or 4.6 seconds with the Sport Chrono Package. 

If more is yet needed, consider the Performance Edition that includes the Sport Chrono Package as standard equipment while adding an extra 40 horsepower and 36 lb-ft of torque for a shocking 440 horsepower and 442 lb-ft of torque for an ultra-quick 4.4-second 0 to 100km/h sprint. 

2018 Porsche Macan
The biggest change for 2019 is the centre stack, which exchanges this 7.2-inch touchscreen for a much larger 10.9-inch version. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

I’m going to guess most in the Turbo league won’t care so much about fuel efficiency, but those who purchase a base model probably will now that the fed’s new carbon pricing scheme is in full force. Standard with all Macan trims is fuel-saving and emissions reducing auto start/stop with coasting ability, which turns the engine off when it would otherwise be idling, this doing its part to assist the Macan toward its estimated 11.6 L/100km city, 9.3 highway and 10.5 combined Transport Canada rating. I’d be fine with this result, particularly when factoring in how fun it is to drive. 

If you choose to purchase the 2019 Macan, real-world fuel economy shouldn’t differ at all, but this said the entry-level four-cylinder has been detuned by four horsepower, while second-rung Macan S trim increases its output by eight horsepower. I don’t think such nominal numbers will cause buyers to go one way or the other, but the new Macan is said to deliver a better ride and with even greater agility, which is kind of difficult to believe when factoring in how wonderfully capable this 2018 version is, so rather than speculate I’ll let you know what I experience after I test it. 

2018 Porsche Macan
These upgraded 14-way seats are fabulous. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

I think more will be drawn to the new model for its outward design, which while only nominally changed up front is now sporting standard LED headlamps, while in back it’s a whole new look due to a similar one-piece three-dimensional LED tail lamp system as found on the recently updated Cayenne. Even more important is the completely revised centre stack found inside, now featuring a much larger standard 10.9-inch high-definition infotainment touchscreen. It gets much of the same standard features as with the current version, but boasts new graphics for updated features that are now larger and easier to use (the navigation map and backup camera especially benefiting), plus it includes a quicker operating processor as well as the new Porsche Connect Plus app suite with a Wi-Fi hotspot. 

What’s more, the updated Macan offers a new driver assist system which, through dynamic cruise control, can apply the throttle, brake and make steering adjustments to maintain its lane at speeds under 60 km/h amidst traffic, the semi-autonomous system moving Porsche closer to full self-driving. 

2018 Porsche Macan
The Macan is wonderfully practical. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

So which one do you want? An already discounted 2018 Macan like the one tested in this review, or the refreshed and updated 2019 version starting to arrive at Canadian Porsche retailers now? There’s no bad decision here, with both options resulting in a great looking luxury crossover capable of impressive performance, top-tier refinement, and no shortage of space, while Porsche’s expected reliability plus resale and residual values are hard to beat as well. Just remember, if you’re leaning toward the former, the time to act is now. 

Story credit: Trevor Hofmann  

Photo credit: Karen Tuggay

All-new Mercedes CLA promises big improvements when it arrives this fall

2020 Mercedes-Benz CLA 250 Coupe
Say hello to the fabulous looking new 2020 Mercedes-Benz CLA 250 Coupe. (Photo: Mercedes-Benz)

Since arriving on the subcompact luxury scene six years ago, the Mercedes-Benz CLA has been in a constant sparring session with Audi’s A3, but when the challenger from Ingolstadt said so long to its conventionally-powered five-door hatchback and we all said hello to an entirely new four-door sport sedan, the four-ringed brand has enjoyed a slight sales lead over its sporty four-door coupe competitor. 

Of course, M-B and Audi aren’t the only two battling it out for entry-level premium car customers, with Mercedes’ very own B-Class MPV luring in plenty each year from its faithful following, not to mention Acura with its ILX sedan, BMW with its 2 Series coupe and convertible, etcetera, but the problems facing this class aren’t as simple as a handful of rivals doing their best to one-up each other anymore, but rather getting noticed in a luxury market that’s a lot more about SUVs than anything that hugs the pavement so closely. 

For this reason we’ve all got to give Mercedes a round of applause (or maybe a standing ovation) for courageously hitting back with myriad car models in most every luxury segment while others are fleeing. In fact, Mercedes will soon offer more models within the subcompact luxury sector than some competitors have cars, period. Perhaps we can chalk this up to being in the automotive industry longer than any rival, a reality that provided experience through plenty of changes in market sentiment, or possibly it’s just plain stubbornness, but whatever the reason, this German brand not only offers six sedans, two wagons, seven coupes, and six convertibles for a total of 21 different body styles you can purchase right here in Canada, right now, but on top of these the Stuttgart-based marque will be adding the A-Class sedan later this year, bumping its car count up to 22, a mind-blowing pavement-hugging lineup in an auto market that’s supposedly only purchasing high-riding SUVs these days. 

2020 Mercedes-Benz CLA 250 Coupe
With completely new styling from front to back, the new CLA provides a more aggressive new look that’s bound to excite compact luxury buyers. (Photo: Mercedes-Benz)

Of course Mercedes-Benz, Canada’s number one-selling luxury automotive retailer, is capable of filling nearly every niche anyone can conjure up because of its enviable brand equity. Build it and they will come, or so the paraphrased saying goes, and for the most part it’s true. Just look at this subcompact luxury car sector that most brands aren’t even participating in. Mercedes’ B-Class has been attracting entry-level buyers since 2005 when it arrived as a 2006 model, while the same Canadian M-B retailers have been selling the CLA since 2013 (check out pricing and more for the current CLA-Class right here on CarCostCanada now), and the new A-Class hatchback since January. 

Through the first two months of 2019, Mercedes’ collective subcompact luxury sales (including the B-Class) tallied up to 606 units, which dwarfed the 350 Audi A3s sold into the same market, let alone BMW that only managed to sell 139 2 Series and i3 models during the same two months, and as noted we haven’t even seen sales from the lower priced M-B A-Class sedan kick in, or for that matter this entirely new CLA four-door coupe that will hit the streets this fall, building on a success story that’s been pretty impressive so far. 

“With the first CLA we celebrated a huge success by selling some 750,000 vehicles and created a totally new segment with a four-door coupe in the compact class,” says Britta Seeger, Member of the Board of Management of Daimler AG, responsible for Mercedes-Benz Cars Marketing & Sales. 

2020 Mercedes-Benz CLA 250 Coupe
These are by far the most complex LED headlamps in the subcompact luxury sector. (Photo: Mercedes-Benz)

Interestingly, more than two thirds of Canadian CLA buyers were new to Mercedes during that model’s peak sales stint, while it’s also critical to point out that these new M-B owners were seven years younger than the brand’s usual average age of clientele. Later this year Canadians will be given the choice of four recently updated or completely new subcompact models (five if you divide the A-Class into its current hatchback and upcoming sedan body types), with this CLA being the most expressive, and sportiest in the collection, and plenty of these newfound Mercedes owners will more than likely stay with the brand when it comes time to trade in and escalate up to fancier more profitable models within the lineup, as their income increases with age and experience. 

“The new CLA is even more emotional and sportier than its predecessor,” continued Seeger. “Coupled with new operating systems, it sets a new benchmark for the entire class.” 

There’s a very big reason Mercedes chose the Las Vegas’ Consumer Electronics Show (CES) to debut its new CLA last January, the massive Mercedes-Benz User Experience (MBUX) infotainment interface that, together with its integrated digital instrument cluster, spans much of the car’s instrument panel, but its attractive new styling caused more of an initial crowd. 

Most should agree the new CLA looks more mature due to its seemingly stern forward-slanting sport grille design, which Mercedes claimed is “reminiscent of a shark’s nose” in its press release. Found in front of a lengthier hood highlighted by sculpted “powerdomes”, the new grille is bookended by a more angular set of LED Multibeam headlights incorporating 18 individually-controllable LED elements, all hovering above a more intricately detailed lower front apron. 

2020 Mercedes-Benz CLA 250 Coupe
Like the headlights, the new CLA’s LED taillights are hardly short on signature lighting elements. (Photo: Mercedes-Benz)

Additionally, the new CLA boasts muscled up side panels with flared fenders, while its entire roofline has been positioned farther toward the rear for a more traditional GT design. The more conventional look continues at the back thanks to a rectangular trunk cutout between totally new LED tail lamps that, like the lenses up front, are narrower and laid out higher and more horizontally for a wider overall appearance. Not only fresher and arguably better looking, the extensively wind tunnel-tested 2020 CLA is now much slicker through the air resulting in a 0.23 coefficient of drag. 

“As a four-door coupe, the new CLA intrigues with its puristic, seductive design and sets new standards in the design DNA of ‘sensual purity’. It impresses with its perfect proportions reflecting the first design sketch: a long, stretched hood, a compact greenhouse, a wide track with exposed wheel arches and our typical GT rear with a strong distinctive ‘Coke-bottle shoulder’,” said Gorden Wagener, Chief Design Officer of Daimler AG. “In short, the CLA Coupe has the potential to become a modern design icon.” 

The updated CLA’s interior is obviously focused on a younger customer, the vivid orange highlights of the show car and sizeable conjoined digital displays right out of the iPad, Surface and Galaxy Tab playbooks. The fixed-freestanding widescreen combination includes a gauge cluster to the left, which removes the need for an instrument hood altogether, and an infotainment touchscreen to the right, the latter controlled by Mercedes’ trademark palm-rest and new touchpad (the scrolling wheel is gone) on the lower console. 

2020 Mercedes-Benz CLA 250 Coupe
The new CLA’s dash design makes everything else in the subcompact luxury segment look old. (Photo: Mercedes-Benz)

Do-it-yourself shifting comes via a set of paddles behind the 9 and 3 o’clock positions of the beautifully detailed leather-clad flat-bottom sport steering wheel, while above the previously noted infotainment controller is an elegantly thin climate control interface. Lastly, if that mammoth display didn’t first tug at your eyeballs, the stunning turbine-style circular HVAC ducts across the dash certainly should have. 

Back to the mother of all in-car electronic interfaces, which was actually introduced in the new A-Class a year ago and E-Class before that, the graphically stimulating multi-information display and surrounding digital dials sits next to Mercedes new high-resolution MBUX infotainment system as noted earlier. Along with fully customizable displays, Augmented Reality navigation that reportedly provides a much more realistic mapping system plus more, the new system’s computing power is greatly enhanced over the CLA’s outgoing system, and even features software that can “learn and respond to natural speech,” said Mercedes-Benz. 

If you’ve ever struggled to get a voice activation system to understand your prompts you may be glad to hear this next bit of news, because M-B’s new voice assistant is said to communicate more closely to Amazon Alexa, with the simple prompt of “Hey Mercedes” leading to more capability than any other in-car voice system offered thus far. What’s more, it’s intelligent enough to recognize the speech patterns of the individual asking the question, even when others are engaged in a different conversation. 

2020 Mercedes-Benz CLA 250 Coupe
The MBUX system’s graphics are so mesmerizing you might just find yourself driving off the road. (Photo: Mercedes-Benz)

“The latest version of voice control for MBUX – the Mercedes-Benz User Experience – can be experienced in the new CLA. For example, the voice assistant ‘Hey Mercedes’ is able to recognize and answer considerably more complex queries,” said Sajjad Khan, Member of the Divisional Board of Mercedes-Benz Cars for CASE and Head of Digital Vehicle & Mobility. “What’s more, the voice assistance no longer gets confused by other passenger’s conversations. Instead it only responds to the commands of the person who last said ‘Hey Mercedes’ to activate the system.” 

Additionally, Mercedes says their new MBUX voice assistant can even recognize and respond to more complex indirect questions, such as “Find Italian restaurants with at least four stars that are open for lunch but exclude pizza shops,” for example. It can also manage a greater assortment of subjects, with other press release-cited examples including “Hey Mercedes, How did the Toronto Raptors play?” when referencing sports news, or “How has the Apple share price performed compared to Microsoft?” for its take on business news. If you need a quick calculation, MBUX can do that for you too, with the example given being, “What is the square roof of 9?” while Mercedes provided the questions “How big is Texas?” and “What is the fat content of avocados?” for the general knowledge category. 

While some potential buyers may ante up for the new CLA just to for MBUX alone, plenty of others will appreciate the car’s larger overall size. It now measures 48 millimetres (1.9 inches) longer at 4,688 mm (184.5 in), while its wheelbase has been stretched by 30 mm (1.2 in) at 2,729 mm (107.4 in). Additionally, it spans 53 mm (2.1 in) wider at 1,830 mm (72.0 in) without the side mirrors, and finally its roofline is 2 mm (0.1 in) lower at 1,439 mm (56.6 in). 

2020 Mercedes-Benz CLA 250 Coupe
With infotainment that rivals the best of today’s tablets, the new CLA should appeal to younger buyers and the young at heart. (Photo: Mercedes-Benz)

As you can guess it’s more accommodating inside, but while those up front enjoy 17 mm (0.6 in) of additional headroom, and rear passengers get 3 mm (0.1 in) more space overhead, whereas shoulder room has been improved by 9 mm (0.3 in) up front and 22 mm (0.8 in) in the rear, plus front to rear elbow room grows by 35 and 44 mm (1.4 and 1.7 in) respectively, front legroom has actually shrunken by one millimetre, while legroom in the back seat lengthens by just a single millimetre as well. 

The cargo compartment is smaller too, but just by 10 litres (0.3 cubic feet) to a still-sizeable 460 litres (16.2 cu ft), while on the positive the new CLA’s squarer trunk lid width increases by a whopping 262 mm (10.3 in), plus the load floor was widened by 113 mm (4.4 in) wider and deepened by 24 mm (0.9 in). 

Lift the opening at the other end and you’ll once again find a 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder engine underneath, and while Mercedes hasn’t shared performance figures for its most affordable CLA 250 variant yet, it will likely measure up to the new A 250 Hatchback, which makes 221 horsepower and 258 lb-ft of torque for a 13 horsepower gain and identical twist. Putting power down to the front wheels or 4MATIC all-wheel drive is Mercedes’ in-house 7G-DCT twin-clutch automated gearbox, with a beefed up version of the transmission and standard AWD expected to be included in the (finger’s crossed) AMG variant, the current performance model good for 375 horsepower and 350 lb-ft of torque. 

2020 Mercedes-Benz CLA 250 Coupe
An elegantly thin HVAC panel floats above the CLA’s minimalist lower console, replete with an all-new touchpad infotainment controller. (Photo: Mercedes-Benz)

An increased dimension not yet mentioned is track width, which is up a healthy 63 mm (2.5 in) at the front wheels and 55 mm (2.1 in) in the rear, while the CLA also benefits from a lower centre of gravity, all of which should combine for a big improvement in overall performance. Additional chassis improvements include a Direct-Steer system and hydromounts up front, while the rear suspension includes a decoupled multi-link axle that reduces NVH, plus bigger stabilizer bars for reducing body roll. Lastly, 18-inch wheels shod in 225/45 tires should come standard, while 19-inch alloys wearing 225/40 rubber will be available. 

And what about advanced driver assistance and safety systems? Standard with the CLA will be Active Brake Assist, while Active Lane Keep Assist, which helps to centre drivers within their lane and prevents them from unexpectedly veering off the road, will be optional by choosing the Intelligent Drive Package that also incorporates Pre-Safe Plus with rear traffic warning and an automatic backup braking system. 

Also notable, the Intelligent Drive Package, which debuted in Mercedes’ flagship S-Class, can pilot the CLA autonomously in certain circumstances, but Mercedes is quick to point out that this semi-autonomous system still needs “cooperative driver support,” or at least it will until its many advanced functions are allowed to work on their own. 

2020 Mercedes-Benz CLA 250 Coupe
M-B adds a lot more width to new CLA’s interior. (Photo: Mercedes-Benz)

Produced in Kecskemét, Hungary, the redesigned 2020 Mercedes-Benz CLA should help increase Mercedes’ command of the subcompact luxury car market when it joins the new A-Class sedan for autumn 2019 availability (find new A-Class Sedan and Hatchback pricing and more right here on CarCostCanada now), not to mention the A-Class Hatchback, GLA-Class subcompact crossover SUV and who knows what else (but according to Mercedes more are coming), and by so doing secure an entirely new generation of three-pointed star devotees. 

Story credit: Trevor Hofmann 

Photo credit: Mercedes-Benz