CarCostCanada

2019 Volvo V90 Cross Country T6 AWD Road Test

2019 Volvo V90 Cross Country T6 AWD
The V90 Cross Country offers a nice combination of quick, comfortable wagon and rugged SUV.

Volvo’s V90 Cross Country started life just three years ago for the 2017 model year, and it’s already being discontinued in Canada. The 2019 model year will be this large luxury crossover wagon’s final curtain call, along with the regular V90 sport wagon that’s also seen sales diminish dramatically since the smaller V60 wagon, V60 Cross Country and XC60 luxury crossover SUVs were redesigned. This leaves the impressive S90 luxury sedan as the only model from Volvo’s mid-size threesome to continue into 2020.

It might seem a bit strange to choose a big luxury sedan over a supposedly trendier crossover wagon, but such is the case with Volvo Canada. The Swedish automaker’s US division is currently selling a 2020 version of the V90 Cross Country with a refreshed 2021 waiting in the wings, but we’ll need to go Stateside to see that. As it is, Volvo hasn’t been purveying many mid-size E-segment vehicles north of the 49th, with sales of its S90, V90 and V90 Cross Country trio plunging 65 percent to just 295 units last year.

2019 Volvo V90 Cross Country T6 AWD
Sadly, the good looking and highly functional V90 Cross Country was discontinued after the 2019 model year.

As a backgrounder, the V90 Cross Country replaced the much-loved 2000-2016 XC70, and by doing so combined Volvo’s recently reinvigorated sense of style with its well respected quality, sensible practicality, and turbocharged, supercharged four-cylinder performance to the mid-size crossover wagon category, while increasing the level of opulent luxury on offer.

Those familiar with today’s Volvo understand what I’m talking about, particularly when any of its models are upgraded to their top-tier R-Design or Inscription trim levels. This said the V90 Cross Country doesn’t get so fancy with hierarchal names here in the Canadian market, merely using one no-name trim and various packages to add options. On that note my test model featured a Premium package that includes a generous list of standard features and wealth of impressive furnishings, making for one of the more luxurious crossover wagons available.

2019 Volvo V90 Cross Country T6 AWD
The LED headlights, fog lamps and 19-inch alloys are standard.

I’m sure Audi and its many loyal enthusiasts would argue that the German brand’s entirely new 2020 A6 Allroad is even more resplendent, and despite the Ingolstadt-based contender being wholly impressive, Gothenburg’s outgoing alternative looks and feels even more upscale inside even though it’s priced $12,700 lower.

A 2019 V90 Cross Country can be had for just $62,500, whereas the A6 Allroad is comparably expensive at $75,200, and while Audi gets some prestige points for brand image, plus its potent turbocharged 3.0-litre V6 that puts out an extra 19 horsepower and 74 lb-ft of torque over Volvo’s turbocharged and supercharged 2.0-litre four-cylinder that makes 316 horsepower and 295 lb-ft of torque, this Swedish alternative is a bit easier on fuel thanks to a claimed Transport Canada rating of 11.6 L/100km city, 8.1 highway and 10.0 combined, compared to 11.8, 9.1 and 10.6 respectively.

2019 Volvo V90 Cross Country T6 AWD
The V90 Cross Country’s SUV-like detailing is very upscale.

Previously Volvo sold a $59,500 V90 Cross Country T5 AWD with 250 horsepower, but it was cancelled at the end of the 2018 model year, as was the previous top-line $84,900 Ocean Race T6 AWD.  The just-noted $3,900 Premium package certainly adds to this 2019 model’s luxury accoutrements, however, with features like heatable windshield washer nozzles, auto-dimming and power-folding exterior mirrors, LED interior lights, aluminum treadplates, a heatable steering wheel, front and rear parking sonar with graphical proximity indicators, Park Assist Pilot semi-autonomous self-parking, a 360 Surround View camera, a universal garage door opener, four-zone auto climate control, a cooled glove box, heated rear outboard seats, power-folding rear seatbacks and outer head restraints, a wonderfully useful semi-automatic cargo cover, an integrated mesh safety net to protect passengers from potentially flying cargo, blindspot monitoring with cross-traffic alert, etcetera.

2019 Volvo V90 Cross Country T6 AWD
The V90 Cross Country’s cabin is very inviting and more luxurious than you might be expecting.

The $62,500 base price for the 2019 V90 Cross Country T6 AWD doesn’t include $900 for metallic paint, incidentally, which is a no-cost option with Audi, but the A6 Allroad only gives you the choice of black or beige leather inside, and it’s not the same high-grade Nappa leather as in the V90 CC, which is available in four zero-cost optional colours including Charcoal (black), Amber (dark beige), Maroon Brown (dark reddish brown) and Blond (light grey).

Of course, both cars can be loaded up, my tester not fully equipped. In fact it was missing a $3,600 Luxury package featuring a beautifully tailored instrument panel, an enhanced set of front seats with power-adjustable side bolsters, power-extendable lower cushions, multi-technique massage capability, and ventilation, as well as manually retractable rear window side sunshades.

2019 Volvo V90 Cross Country T6 AWD
Comfortable and well laid out, the V90 Cross Country is easy to live with.

My tester didn’t include the $2,350 optional rear air suspension and Four-C Active Chassis upgrade either, and only came with 19-inch alloy wheels instead of 20-inch alloys that cost $1,000 more, while it was also missing body-colour bumpers, wheel arches and sills, Metal Mesh decor inlays (although the hardwood was very nice), a black headliner, a graphical head-up display, a Bowers & Wilkins premium audio system (with ¬gorgeous aluminum speaker grilles—a $3,750 option), and two dual-stage child booster seats integrated within the rear outboard positions, all of which might add $18,375 to the 2019 V90 Cross Country’s price, potentially hoisting it up to $80,875.

2019 Volvo V90 Cross Country T6 AWD
A fully digital instrument cluster comes standard.

While this might seem like a lot of money for a mid-size luxury crossover wagon, consider for a moment that the 2020 Audi A6 Allroad Technik starts at $83,100 without any massage action, and while Audi’s impressive “Virtual Cockpit” digital gauge package is included (the V90 features a digital instrument cluster too, just not quite as configurable), being massaged from below a higher grade of Valcona leather will cost A6 Allroad buyers an additional $4,050, whereas including all of the V90 CC’s advanced driver assistance systems will add another $2,400.

2019 Volvo V90 Cross Country T6 AWD
The V90 CC’s tablet-style infotainment touchscreen is fully featured and easy to use.

Audi buyers can also add the A6 Allroad’s $2,500 Dynamic package with Dynamic Steering and Dynamic All-Wheel Steering, another $2,500 for Night Vision Assistant, $500 more for quieter dual-pane glass, $350 extra for Audi Phonebox with wireless charging, an additional $350 for rear side airbags, and $1,000 more for full body paint (which was already priced into the top-tier V90 CC), bringing the German car’s max price up to $102,650, less $1,000 in additional incentives when signing up for a CarCostCanada membership, which provides info on all current rebates, financing and leasing deals, plus otherwise difficult to get dealer invoice pricing, so you can be fully prepared before negotiating with your local retailer (see our 2020 Audi A6 allroad Canada Prices page).

2019 Volvo V90 Cross Country T6 AWD
Check out this bird’s eye view! The V90 CC’s overhead camera makes parking easy.

Keep in mind the additional incentives for the A6 Allroad are $1,000 less impressive than the $2,000 any Volvo dealer will chop off of the price of a 2019 V90 Cross Country (see that on our 2019 Volvo V90 Cross Country Canada Prices page), but even before factoring in such savings, this Volvo should truly impress anyone choosing between these two impressive crossover SUVs.

Both are unmistakably attractive inside and out, thanks to dynamic designs and the latest LED lighting tech. Some will like the minimalist Audi cabin more, while Volvo’s ritzier look will appeal to others. Faulting either on their quality of materials and overall construction will fall on deaf ears, as they’re both superbly crafted.

2019 Volvo V90 Cross Country T6 AWD
The V90 CC’s eight-speed automatic is sublimely smooth.

True, but Volvo makes a nicer key fob. Say what? Yes, it’s easily one of the nicest remotes in the industry, even making you feel special when outside of the car thanks to the same Nappa leather surrounding its flat surfaces as found the car’s seat upholstery, plus beautifully detailed metal around the edges. Of course, being that most owners only touch their proximity-sensing remotes when switching jackets or purses it seems a bit extravagant, but going above and beyond has always been part of what luxury owners crave.

Volvo covers the majority of surfaces with premium soft-touch synthetic or optional contrast-stitched leather, not to mention beautiful dark oak inlays on the instrument panel and doors. The more upmarket version swaps the wood out with metal inlays, as mentioned earlier, while there’s no shortage of satin-finish aluminum accents everywhere else.

2019 Volvo V90 Cross Country T6 AWD
Much of the V90 Cross Country’s switchgear is jewel-like.

Volvo makes sure to cover most surfaces below the waste in premium pliable synthetic, which isn’t the case with a fair number of premium brands like Lexus (although they don’t sell anything in this niche segment), while each pillar is covered in the same nicely woven material as the roof liner.

While most features mentioned so far is par for the course in the luxury sector, much of the V90 CC’s buttons, knobs and switches look more like fine jewellery than anything mechanical. Volvo uses a dazzling diamond patterned bright metal to edge much of its switchgear, including the main audio knob, the rotating ignition switch, the scrolling drive mode selector, and the air vent actuators. No rival goes so far to wow its owners this side of Bentley, making the V90 CC and most everything else Volvo has on offer stand out from the rest of the luxury field.

2019 Volvo V90 Cross Country T6 AWD
These seats are fabulous!

Before continuing, I need to point out that most everything I’ve mentioned comes standard in Canada, the aforementioned digital gauge cluster included. An impressive vertical tablet-like infotainment touchscreen takes up the majority of the centre stack, with super clear, high-definition graphics and deep, rich colours, plus an interface that’s as easy to use as a smartphone or tablet thanks to familiar tap, swipe and pinch capabilities (not always the norm in the luxury class). It comes filled with all the expected functions too, including one of the coolest HVAC temperature controllers in the industry, and a superb 360-degree overhead camera system. The touchscreen in my V90 CC tester, which comes near to being a top-line model, is almost exactly the same as the one in the smallest and most affordable Volvo XC40 crossover SUV, or any other new Volvo, which allows easy adaptation to those moving up through the range.

2019 Volvo V90 Cross Country T6 AWD
Big enough sunroof for you? The V90 Cross Country comes standard with this panoramic sunroof.

The digital instrument cluster offers up a bright, clear display too, albeit with a slight matte finish to diminish glare. While it’s configurable, Volvo doesn’t go so far to wow its driver as Audi does with its previously noted Virtual Cockpit, being that you’re not able to make the multi-infotainment display in the centre system larger and the circular gauges smaller. Where Audi amazes is the Virtual Cockpit’s ability to dramatically reduce the size of the primary dials and maximize the multi-info display to the point it takes over most of the screen, which is great for viewing the navigation’s map while driving. The V90’s gauge package provides good functionality in different ways, mind you, with the primary instruments reducing in size slightly while some multi-info display features get used, and the centre area is fairly large and appealing thanks to attractive graphics and most functions from the infotainment system.

2019 Volvo V90 Cross Country T6 AWD
The rear passenger compartment is roomy, comfortable, and beautifully finished.

While the V90 CC provides state-of-the-art electronic interfaces and surrounds its generous supply of features with a sumptuous interior, it wouldn’t matter one bit if Volvo didn’t supply the worthy powertrain noted earlier, and matching handling dynamics. The big wagon’s 315 horsepower and 279 pound-feet of torque are more than enough for energetic V6-like acceleration from standstill and ample get-up-and-go during passing manoeuvres. The engine combines with a quick-shifting eight-speed automatic transmission with manual mode, but alas there aren’t paddles for wandering fingers. Those wanting to do their own shifting can do so via the gear lever, but other than for testing I never bothered, as it’s a superb transmission when left to its own devices.

2019 Volvo V90 Cross Country T6 AWD
The V90 Cross Country’s innovative cargo cover automatically pulls itself up and out of the way when the tailgate opens.

The comfort-focused V90 Cross Country isn’t quite as quick through the corners as the more road-hugging V90 T6 AWD R-Design sport wagon I tested previously, but it’s not far off. The CC gets a 58-millimetre (2.3-inch) suspension lift, meaning that its centre of gravity is affected, so its lateral grip isn’t quite as tenacious as the sportier wagon. This said, unless really trying to make time through a winding mountainside back road you probably won’t notice, and besides, the Cross Country is more about comfort than speed anyway. To that end it’s suspension, together with its aforementioned front seats, is glorious, and ideal for charting the cottage road less travelled or trekking through deep snow.

Making the latter possible, all V90 Cross Country crossover wagons come standard with all-wheel drive, albeit no off-road mode so don’t go wild when venturing into the wilderness. Still, it handles slippery situations well, making me confident that light-duty off-road conditions would be no problem.

2019 Volvo V90 Cross Country T6 AWD
This built-in cargo divider includes grocery bag hooks.

Volvo provides a set of aluminum roof rails as standard equipment, while you can get roof rack cross-members, bike racks, storage toppers and more from your dealer’s parts department, all coming together to make the V90 Cross Country a perfect companion for outdoor activities such as cycling, kayaking, and camping trips. A $1,345 trailer hitch package with electronic monitoring and Trailer Stability Assist (TSA) is also available, perfect for towing a small boat or camp trailer.

Along with the comfortable ride and superb seats mentioned earlier, the V90 CC’s driving position is wonderfully adjustable and therefore ideal for most body types. I’m slightly shorter than average at five-foot-eight, with legs that are longer than my torso, which sometimes causes a challenge if the telescopic steering column doesn’t reach far enough rearward. The V90 CC had no such problems, resulting in a comfortable setup that left me fully in control.

2019 Volvo V90 Cross Country T6 AWD
A mesh cargo net keeps passengers safe from flying cargo in case of an accident.

When sitting behind the driver’s seat set to my height, I still had 10 inches ahead of my knees, plus about five inches from my shoulder to the door panel, another four beside my hips, and three and a half or so over my head. Stretching my legs out, with my shoes below the driver’s seat, was easy, while rear seat comfort was enhanced with my test car’s four-zone automatic climate control that included a handy interface on the backside of the front console. A set of heatable outboard seats would be popular with rear passengers for winter ski trips without doubt, as would the big standard panoramic sunroof anytime of the year. Adding to the sense of openness, the V90 CC also gets rear HVAC vents on the backside of the front centre console, plus another set more on the midpoint of each B-pillar. A really fancy centre armrest folds down between outboard passengers, featuring pop-out dual cupholders, a shallow tray, plus a lidded and lined stowage bin, while LED reading lights hover overhead.

2019 Volvo V90 Cross Country T6 AWD
A small but useful centre pass-through ups the V90 CC’s practicality.

A power tailgate provides access to the V90 CC’s spacious cargo compartment, at which point the previously noted retractable cargo cover automatically moves up and out of the way. The cargo area measures 560 litres (19.8 cubic feet) aft of the rear seatbacks and about 1,530 litres (54 cu ft) with the rear row dropped down, and is beautifully finished with high-quality carpets right up each sidewalls and on the rear seatbacks, plus the floor of course, while underneath a rubber all-weather cargo mat (which comes as part of a $355 Protection package also including floor trays for four of the five seating positions, a centre tunnel cover, and the just-mentioned cargo tray), my test model’s floor included a pop-up cargo divider with integrated grocery bag hooks. The cargo floor can be lifted one more time, providing access to a shallow carpeted compartment for stowing very thin items (it was ideal for storing the carpeted floor mats while the all-season ones were being used).

2019 Volvo V90 Cross Country T6 AWD
No shortage of gear-toting space behind the 60/40-split rear seatbacks.

I really appreciated the V90’s centre pass-through, which made the otherwise 60/40 split-folding rear seatbacks more versatile, but this said it’s a bit small and narrow, and not as useful as a true 40/20/40-split rear seatback. Still, two pairs of skis could fit within, but you’d still need to stow two down the 40-percent portion of the cargo area if four wanted to go skiing, forcing one passenger onto the hump in the middle. When dropping those seats, however, powered release buttons on the cargo sidewall make the job ultra-easy. These flip the headrests forward automatically as well, which can also be lowered from the front to improve rear visibility.

2019 Volvo V90 Cross Country T6 AWD
There’s plenty of cargo space in the V90 Cross Country.

So who’s right for the V90 Cross Country? I think it’s perfect for those considering the move up from a traditional four-door sedan or wagon into something more practical, yet not ready for a big, SUV-style crossover like Volvo’s XC90. This said I’m not going to recommend the V90 CC over Audi’s new A6 Allroad or vice versa, at least not yet, mostly because I haven’t driven the new German. Still, having spent some time inside the Ingolstadt alternative, I can easily say this Volvo measures up, while Audi will have to work very hard to achieve more comfort than this V90 CC, and any advantage in fuel economy is a good thing (although some would rather have more power).

At the end of the day it comes down to one’s personal taste, not to mention the ability of your local Volvo retailer to source a new V90 Cross Country. If you like what you see don’t wait any longer as they’re disappearing quickly.

Story and photo credits: Trevor Hofmann

Photo Editing: Karen Tuggay

CarCostCanada

2019 Mazda CX-3 GT Road Test

2019 Mazda CX-3 GT
Mazda refreshed its CX-3 for 2019, so we tested two versions for this review. This is the late arrival GT with Grand Luxe Suede interior trim and smartphone integration.

Mazda’s CX-3 has been a popular economy car alternative in Canada since arriving on the scene five years ago, even rising to third amongst subcompact SUV entries a couple of years ago.

In order to remain near the top of the charts, Mazda gave it a mild makeover for 2019, and even added some additional updates to the top-tier GT trim partway through the model year. To bring attention to these changes, which have also been included in the 2020 model, I took the opportunity to spend a week with one pre-updated 2019 CX-3 GT as well as another post-updated version, which are both featured here in this review.

2019 Mazda CX-3 GT
This early 2019 GT gets a similar interior to previous GTs, albeit with nicer Cocoa Nappa leather.

Although the CX-3 has looked mostly the same since inception, Mazda steadily improved it over the years. The 2017 version carried over identically to the original 2016, but 2018 added a manual transmission to base FWD models, plus retuned the suspension for greater comfort, and added G-vectoring control as standard equipment to enhance all-weather cornering capability. Mazda also reduced its interior noise, vibration and harshness (NVH) levels, while revising the steering wheel design and the look of its primary instrument cluster. They added standard Smart City Brake Support too, a low-speed automatic emergency braking system, plus pulled additional standard and optional i-ActivSense advanced driver assistance systems down to lower trims, such as full-speed Smart Brake Support with front obstruction warning, lane departure warning, automatic high beams, adaptive cruise control, etcetera. 

2019 Mazda CX-3 GT
The little CX-3 has all of the attractive design elements of its larger siblings.

The mild updates for 2019 added a slightly reworked grille, taillights and wheels, while the cabin received some materials plus a new seat upholstery design partway through the year (as just noted), while the lower console of all 2019 models was reorganized to accommodate an electromechanical parking brake. Blind spot monitoring was also made standard for 2019, while the top-tier GT trim received real leather in place of leatherette and everything standard from the previous year’s Technology package, which included satellite radio, auto high beams, and lane departure warning.

The 2019 CX-3’s Skyactiv-G 2.0-litre four-cylinder engine received a 2-horsepower bump as well, increasing total output to 148 horsepower. While torque has remained at 146 lb-ft for the SUV’s five-year tenure, the power upgrade continues unchanged into the 2020 model year, as does the rest of the CX-3 in its entirety.

2019 Mazda CX-3 GT
Th GT gets LED cornering headlamps with auto high beams, LED fog lights, extra chrome trim and 18-inch alloys.

Just in case you’re wondering, the difference in power from 2018 and 2019 equals 1.35 percent, which is imperceptible without electronic detection. I certainly couldn’t tell the difference from one model year to the other, and have been perfectly happy with the CX-3’s performance since day one, always finding it a fun SUV to drive.

As for fuel economy, the 2019 CX-3 gets a 8.8 L/100km city, 7.0 highway and 8.0 combined rating when its sole engine is mated to its base manual transmission and FWD, while the automatic with FWD yields an estimated 8.3 in the city, 6.9 on the highway and 7.7 combined, and the auto with AWD gets a claimed 8.6, 7.4 and 8.1 respectively. 

2019 Mazda CX-3 GT
New LED taillights respond quickly and look great at night.

This single engine is included with all trims, incidentally, while the base GX once again comes standard with a manual gearbox and FWD, and is optional with a six-speed automatic in either FWD or the automaker’s i-Activ AWD. The mid-range GS comes standard with the automatic and is optional with AWD, whereas the GT features the automatic and AWD as standard equipment. The CX-3 base price comes in at just over $21k (plus freight and fees), while my fully optioned test model starts at a little more than $31k (see all prices, including trims, packages and standalone options on our 2019 Mazda CX-3 Canada Prices page). Those prices stay the same for 2020, by the way, although you can save up to $2,000 in additional incentives for the 2019 CX-3, while average member savings have in fact been $2,166 according to the just-noted page. The 2020 Mazda CX-3 gets up to $600 in additional incentives, says its 2020 Mazda CX-3 Canada Prices page, while average member savings hold steady at $2,166. With savings like this, a CarCostCanada membership will pay for itself quickly.

2019 Mazda CX-3 GT
Early 2019 GTs can be had with the gorgeous two-tone Nappa leather interior.

Steering wheel-mounted paddles get added to the Skyactiv-Drive automatic transmission in both GS and GT trims, which certainly increase driver engagement, while the GT also increases its wheel size from 16s 18-inch alloy rims on 215/50R18 all-season rubber, aiding grip when pushed hard. Although the CX-3 only employs a semi-independent torsion beam rear suspension setup, with the usual MacPherson strut up front, handling is very good for the class, while a power assisted rack-and-pinion steering system delivers immediate response and fairly good feedback. Since Mazda softened its ride, the CX-3 is much more comfortable on uneven pavement too, which really helps enhance overall refinement.

2019 Mazda CX-3 GT
The light grey instrument panel bolster and door inserts are made from faux suede in this late 2019 CX-3 GT.

On that note the CX-3 is really nice inside, which of course is expected from Mazda that’s one of the most premium-like brands in the mainstream volume sector. Of course, the little SUV isn’t as upscale as the new CX-30 or CX-5, particularly in the latter model’s Signature trim that gets cloth-wrapped A pillars, real wood trim and other niceties, this smallest model not even applying pliable synthetic to the dash-top and door uppers, but its instrument hood is quite luxurious thanks to stitched leatherette, while the centre section of the instrument panel gets a contrast-stitched and padded leatherette or microsuede bolster across its middle, and leatherette knee protectors are fixed to the insides of the lower console, plus leatherette or suede adorns the door inserts.

2019 Mazda CX-3 GT
This little transparent panel powers upwards to receive key info projected from below.

Before delving further, I should explain why some CX-3 GTs feature leatherette trim and others get microsuede. Early 2019s received stitched leatherette on the instrument panel bolster and door inserts like previous model years, my Soul Red Crystal painted tester an example of this interior treatment, but Mazda updated these areas to grey Grand Luxe Suede midway through the 2019 model year, which can be seen in my Snowflake White Pearl tester. Now the Alcantara suede-like material is the only treatment on these surfaces for the 2020 CX-3 GT.

So if you’ve been checking out the CX-3 at your local dealer (and there’s no shortage of 2019s thanks to the recent downturn of nearly everything), you’ll now understand why some have the leather look and others are plusher. I like both, but the psuede feels more opulent, and it’s also the newest trim so may help with resale.

2019 Mazda CX-3 GT
These semi-digital gauges are filled with info and easy to read in all lighting conditions.

The mid-year upgrade changed the GT’s upholstery too, my red tester boasting stunning two-tone brown and cream perforated Cocoa Nappa leather that’s no longer available for the 2020 model year, whereas my white tester featured the same perforated black leather with grey piping as found in the new 2020. Mazda will be happy to sell you a CX-3 GT with Pure White leather instead, this no-cost option available for both years. Try to find this level of variety, let alone luxury in competitive subcompact SUVs and you’ll be stymied, Mazda a cut above when it comes to personalization.

2019 Mazda CX-3 GT
Here’s a close-up of the psuede dash bolster.

Other than upholsteries and trims the early and late arrival CX-3 GTs are mostly identical, other than the circular dash vents that feature black inner bezels in the early model and metallic red in the later one, but the horizontal strip of vents that elegantly underscores the aforementioned instrument panel bolster is the same in both, while all vents are highlighted by a very authentic looking satin-finish aluminum.

2019 Mazda CX-3 GT
Two popular apps as seen while the centre touchscreen is using Android Auto.

There’s a lot more of this premium-look metal throughout the interior, surrounding the analogue and digital primary instruments, embellishing the third steering wheel spoke, ringing the centre dash-mounted infotainment display, as well as the lower console-mounted controls used for inputting data. This features a beautiful knurled metal-edged dial and another smaller one for adjusting audio volume, while additional quick-access switchgear includes buttons for the main menu, audio system, navigation, radio favourites, and the back button. The three-dial auto climate control system features some knurled metal detailing too, once again making the CX-3 look and feel more upscale than its price suggests it should.

2019 Mazda CX-3 GT
The Cocoa Nappa leather seats from early 2019 GTs is an unusual level of over-the-top luxury for this class.

The infotainment system in mind, Mazda was slow to integrate Apple CarPlay Android and Auto into the CX-3, which means if you’d like to have either you’ll be required to opt for the late 2019 arrival or a 2020. The 7.0-inch centre touchscreen display in my early 2019 is otherwise good, and included navigation, Bluetooth phone connectivity with streaming audio, a great sounding Bose audio system with seven speakers, satellite and HD radio, text message reading and responding capability, and the list goes on, while the newer version includes all of the above plus the two smartphone applications, and Android Auto worked as well as Android Auto works.

2019 Mazda CX-3 GT
This is the black interior from the late 2019, and as you can see the CX-3 provides a fairly roomy rear seat.

Speaking of features, 2019 and 2020 CX-3 GTs include auto on/off LED headlamps with adaptive cornering as well, plus auto-levelling and the previously noted automatic high beams, while LED fog lights, LED rear combination tail lamps with signature details, and additional chrome trim improve the exterior, while proximity keyless access let’s you inside, and a 10-way powered driver’s seat with memory provides comfort and support. Atop the gauge cluster is an Active Driving Display that powers a transparent panel up to reflect key information instead of having it projected right onto the windshield like a regular head-up display unit, while some of that info includes traffic sign recognition. Up above, an auto-dimming rearview mirror makes driving at night easier while a powered glass sunroof lets more light in during the day.

2019 Mazda CX-3 GT
Cargo space is reasonably generous, but only when compared to the smaller competitors in this class.

Features pulled up from lesser trims worth noting include pushbutton start/stop, rain-sensing windshield wipers, a heatable leather-wrapped steering wheel rim, a leather-wrapped shift knob, a wide-angle backup camera (not including dynamic guidelines), Aha and Stitcher internet radio, dual USB charging ports, three-way heated front seats, an overhead console with a sunglasses holder, a folding rear centre armrest with cupholders, a removable cargo cover, tire pressure monitoring, all the expected active and passive safety features, plus more.

2019 Mazda CX-3 GT
With the rear seats folded the CX-3 provides ample cargo carrying capacity for most peoples’ needs.

The just-mentioned 10-way power seats plus the CX-3’s tilt and telescoping steering column provided adequate adjustability for good comfort and control without forcing me to cramp my longer than average legs (for my height), while the rear seat was spacious enough even when I had the driver’s seat pushed back farther than some would require. It’s just important to remember that the CX-3 is Mazda’s smallest, and their larger CX-30, CX-5 and CX-9 SUVs offer a lot more space for getting comfortable.

Of course, the CX-3 provides less cargo space than these larger Mazdas too, with just 504 litres available behind its 60/40 split-folding rear seatbacks, and even less at 467 litres in GT trim due to the audio system’s subwoofer, while laying the rear seats flat results in a maximum of 1,209 litres in the two lower trims or 1,147 litres in the GT.

After everything is said and done, I think you’d be satisfied with any Mazda CX-3 trim, being that it’s a good looking, fun to drive, efficient and impressively refined subcompact crossover SUV. Of course, it has many opponents, many that add size and roominess like Mazda’s own CX-30, but for those wanting a smaller SUV it’s hard to beat the CX-3.

Story and photo credits: Trevor Hofmann

Photo Editing: Karen Tuggay

CarCostCanada

2020 Mercedes-AMG C 43 4Matic Wagon Road Test

2020 Mercedes-AMG C43 4Matic Wagon
The Mercedes-AMG C 43 4Matic Wagon is a fully capable sport sedan with the functionality of an SUV.

Modern-day crossover sport utilities are great, but let’s face it, most everyone’s got one these days. There’s a reason, of course, as they combine loads of practicality with car-like attributes, with some even coming close to matching the performance of sport sedans.

Mercedes’ AMG sub-brand is good example of the latter thanks to the German brand providing Canadian luxury buyers with hyper-tuned versions of their GLA subcompact SUV, GLC compact SUV (including the GLC Coupe), GLE mid-size SUV (the GLE Coupe only coming in AMG trims), and rugged G full-size off-road capable SUV, but take note that performance buyers wanting the same kind of utility as an SUV with even better cornering capability, due to inherently lower centres of gravity, can opt for Mercedes’ lineup of performance wagons too.

Mercedes has a long history of producing ultra-quick wagons, the 1979 (W123-body) 500 TE AMG quickly coming to mind, so it’s great news to diehard performance enthusiasts that the tradition continues to this day. Check out the brand’s retail website and you’ll easily find AMG-tuned versions of its C- and E-Class Wagons, including the AMG C 43 4Matic Wagon on this page, plus the AMG E 53 4Matic+ Wagon and AMG E 63 S 4Matic+ Wagon.

2020 Mercedes-AMG C43 4Matic Wagon
Great looking AMG C 43 4Matic Wagon can be made even more menacing by adding glossy black exterior accents via the AMG Night package.

While very practical for those with active lifestyles, the last car on this list might be outside of most buyers’ budgets at $124,200, although if you’re late for Johnny or Jenny’s morning skate there’s no better way to make up for lost time than in a five-door that can shoot from standstill to 100km/h in an unfathomable 3.3 seconds. The fire-breathing demon under the hood is Mercedes’ 603 horsepower 4.0-litre biturbo V8, while the $87,800 AMG E 53 4Matic+ Wagon still does pretty well with a 4.5-second run to 100 km/h from its 429 horsepower 3.0-litre inline six.

The smaller AMG C 43 4Matic Wagon is most affordable at $60,900, but don’t let its relatively inexpensive price make you think it’s by any means lethargic off the line. In fact, its 385-horsepower 3.0-litre biturbo V6, which features rapid-multispark ignition and a high-pressure direct injection system, launches it from zero to 100 km/h in just 4.8 seconds, much credit to 384 lb-ft of torque, and the noise emanating from its engine bay and available sport exhaust system means that its auditory delights are almost as delectable as the rush of speed to the head.

Interestingly, the only D-segment wagon on the Canadian market with similar engine specs to this AMG C 43 is Volvo’s 405 horsepower V60 Polestar, but as amazing as its engineering is, the Swedish automaker’s ultra-smooth 2.0-litre turbocharged and supercharged hybrid powertrain is not as stimulating as the AMG C 43 Wagon’s rambunctious V6, or for that matter its new AMG SpeedShift TCT nine-speed transmission, or its AMG tuned 4Matic all-wheel drive system.

2020 Mercedes-AMG C43 4Matic Wagon
LED cornering headlights, 19-inch alloys and glossy black details means that this AMG C 43 Wagon has some extras added.

I’ve seen the C 43 in black and it looks a lot more menacing than my tester’s Polar White, but Mercedes made up for its angelic do-gooder appearance with plenty of standard matte and optional glossy black exterior accents. Highlights include a black mesh front grille and lower vent gratings within a deeper front fascia, plus gloss-black strakes over corner vents, the mirror housings, the partial glass roof and roof rails, the side window trim, the aggressive rear diffuser, the four exhaust pipes, and the 19-inch alloy wheels encircled by Continental ContiSportContact SSR 225/40 high performance summer tires.

My test model’s LED headlights were style statements of their own, with each featuring a trio of separate lighting elements that look as good as the well-lit road ahead, while nice splashes of chrome around the body remind everything that this is AMG C 43 is a Mercedes-Benz after all, and therefore designed to be just as luxurious as it is sporty.

To that end, proximity keyless entry allows access to the cabin, where your eyes will likely first fixate upon two of the most impressive sport seats in industry. They’re covered in black perforated leather with red stitching and brushed aluminum four-point harness holes on their upper backrests, as well as a small AMG badge at centre. Then again, it’s quite possible you’ll first be distracted by the incredible door panel design, which gets even more brushed and satin-finish aluminum trim, as well as optional drilled aluminum Burmester speaker grilles and black leather with red stitching elsewhere.

2020 Mercedes-AMG C43 4Matic Wagon
This C 43 Wagon’s aggressive rear diffuser gets stuffed full of a free-flow AMG Performance Exhaust System.

The red-stitched, padded leather treatment continues over to the dash top and instrument panel, all the way down each side of the centre stack, while the latter features gorgeous optional carbon-fibre surfacing that extends down to the lower centre console that terminates at a big, bisected centre armrest/storage bin lid finished in yet more soft leather with red stitching.

Big in mind, two large glass sunroofs look like a single panoramic roof at first glance, yet provide more torsional rigidity than a full glass roof would. Considering the C 43 Wagon is capable of a 250-km/h (155-mph) terminal velocity, as well as harrowing at-the-limit handling, it’s critical to have a stiff body structure, and fortunately this minimizes the luxurious wagon’s wind and road noise.

Of course Mercedes wraps the roof pillars in the same high-quality fabric as the roofliner, which helps to reduce NVH levels somewhat, but most is due to the rigid body structure noted earlier, plus the various seals, insulation, engine and component mounts, plus more. Therefore it’s a near silent experience, other than the rumbling of the engine and/or the sensational Burmester audio system.

2020 Mercedes-AMG C43 4Matic Wagon
The AMG C 43 Wagon’s interior is exquisite.

It’s possible to control the volume of its 13 speakers from a beautifully detailed knurled metal cylinder switch on the right steering wheel spoke, this being only one of the C 43’s impressive array of steering wheel buttons, toggles and touch-sensitive pads. Yes, each spoke gets its own classic Blackberry-like touchpad that lets you scroll through the available digital gauge cluster or the main display on the centre stack. The steering wheel rim is as attractive as the metallic surfaced spokes, its partial Nappa leather-wrapping around flattened sides and bottom for an F1-inspired look, while a slim red leather top marker aligns the centre, and suede-look Dinamica (much like Alcantara) makes for better grip at each side.

I’d have to say there’s more satin-finish and brushed aluminum trimmings in the AMG C 43 than any rival, but rather than looking garish Mercedes pulls it off with a tasteful level of retro steampunk coolness that elevates it into a class of one. The highlight for me are its five circular air vents on the instrument panel, the three in the middle hovering above an attractive row of knurled metal-topped satin aluminum toggle-like switches, and these are only upstaged by a great looking knurled metal cylinder switch for the drive mode select, which includes Comfort, Sport, Sport+ and Slippery settings. There’s a rotating dial for the infotainment system too, this also finished in knurled aluminum, and positioned just underneath Mercedes’ trademark palm rest, which doubles as a touchpad with an upgrade.

2020 Mercedes-AMG C43 4Matic Wagon
No rival does door panels as nicely as Mercedes-Benz.

Premium brands mostly use better quality digital displays than their mainstream volume competitors, which is how it should be given their loftier prices, and Mercedes is no different. In fact, the most recently updated three-pointed star cars and SUVs include the brand’s ultra-advanced double-display design that seamlessly mates a tablet-style 12.3-inch screen directly in front of the driver for all primary gauges with an identically sized infotainment display. This said the current fourth-generation (W205) C-Class (S205 for the wagon) introduced in September of 2014 for the 2015 model year, and therefore in its seventh production year, hasn’t been updated with latest dash design yet, but its more conventional hooded analogue gauge cluster (with a big multi-information display at centre) can be swapped out for a 12.3-inch set of digital instruments when upgrading to the C 43 Wagon’s Technology package.

Mercedes digital instrument cluster is as colourful as any on the market, and very customizable with a variety of background designs and plenty of multi-info functions. It allows for many feature combinations as well, and can be set up with a traditional dual-gauge look, or the entire display can be a navigation map, for instance.

2020 Mercedes-AMG C43 4Matic Wagon
A feast for the eyes and the senses, the C 43’s cabin is beautifully detailed, very well made and extremely comfortable.

The AMG C 43 Wagon’s infotainment display is smaller at 7.0 inches, although it can be upgraded to 10.25 inches like my tester. As is common these days (although Mercedes was an initiator of the design), the centre display sits upright atop the dash, while its graphic design is as colourful and appealing as the just-noted gauge cluster. Its features are comprehensive, but take note you’ll need to use the aforementioned lower console-mounted controls for any tap, swipe and pinch finger gestures, as it’s not a touchscreen.

The Technology package I spoke of a moment ago will set you back $1,900, while together with the 12.3-inch digital instruments it also includes the active Multibeam LED headlamps mentioned earlier, plus adaptive high beam assist, while the gloss-black exterior accents mentioned before comes as part of a $1,000 AMG Night package.

2020 Mercedes-AMG C43 4Matic Wagon
A fully digital gauge cluster is optional, and it’s a brilliantly colourful, fully featured design with good customization capability.

The AMG Nappa/Dinamica performance steering wheel that I lauded earlier can be had if you choose the $2,400 AMG Driver’s package, which also adds the free-flow AMG performance exhaust system with push-button computer-controlled vanes, the 19-inch AMG five-twin-spoke aero wheels (the base model sports 18s), increased top speed to 250 km/h (155 mph), and an AMG Track Pace app that allows performance data like speed, acceleration, lap and sector times to be stored in the infotainment system when out on the track.

If you’re really up on your AMG C 43 knowledge, and I have readers who are, you’ll immediately notice that my tester’s steering wheel is devoid of the extra switchgear the AMG Driver’s package includes for 2020, so no I must confess that the car you’re looking at is actually a 2019 model I drove last year, but didn’t get around to reviewing (bad journalist). New this year (2020) is an AMG Drive Unit that with F1-inspired switchgear attached below each steering wheel spoke, these designed for quickly making adjustments to performance settings. The pod of switches on the left can be assigned to features such as manual shift mode, the AMG Ride Control system’s damping modes, the three-stage ESP system, and the AMG Performance Exhaust, while the circular switch on the right selects and displays the current AMG Dynamic Select driving mode.

2020 Mercedes-AMG C43 4Matic Wagon
The centre stack is well organized and impeccably finished, especially when upgraded to carbon-fibre surfacing.

By the way, the C 43 Wagon on this page is otherwise identical to the 2020 model, except for twin rear USB ports that are now standard in all 2020 C-Class models. Likewise, the $5,600 Premium package included with my test car is the same as the one found in the 2020 C 43 Wagon, both featuring proximity keyless entry, the touchpad infotainment controller, and the 590-watt Burmester surround sound system, as well as an overhead bird’s-eye parking camera, Android Auto and Apple CarPlay smartphone integration, a very accurate navigation system, voice control, satellite radio, real-time traffic information, a wireless phone charging pad, an universal garage door opener, semi-autonomous self-parking, rear side window sunshades, and a power liftgate with foot-activated opening.

The $2,700 Intelligent Drive package was also added, this collection of goodies including Pre-Safe Plus, Active Emergency Stop Assist, Active Brake Assist with Cross-Traffic Function, Active Steering Assist, Active Blind Spot Assist, Active Lane Change Assist, Active Lane Keeping Assist, Evasive Steering Assist, Active Distronic Distance Assist, Enhanced Stop-and-Go, Traffic Sign Assist, Active Speed Limit Assist, and Route-based Speed Adaptation.

2020 Mercedes-AMG C43 4Matic Wagon
The high-definition centre display provides myriad functions and superbly colourful graphics.

While the hot looking $250 designo red seatbelts certainly deserve attention, I’ll refrain from delving into standard features and options as this review is already epic. My C 43 Wagon was nicely loaded up and even base models are generously equipped, while their finishing is second to none in this class. Most important amongst AMG cars is the driving experience, however, and to that end I couldn’t help but also notice the impressive dual-screen backup and 360-degree surround camera with dynamic guidelines as I backed out of my driveway, but strangely to those not familiar with Mercedes-Benz, this sport wagon’s auto shifter remains on the column like classics from the good old days. While this might seem a bit old school, it’s actually efficiently out of the way. One flick of the stalk-like lever and it’s state-of-the-art electronic innards will make themselves known, while pressing the Park button is a dead giveaway that it’s hardly an automotive anachronism. Look to the steering wheel-mounted paddles for manual shifting, something I found myself doing more often than not thanks to the superbly engineered nine-speed automatic gearbox.

2020 Mercedes-AMG C43 4Matic Wagon
Performance seats don’t get any better than this.

Of course it’s smooth, Mercedes never forgetting the C 43 Wagon’s pragmatic purpose, but the transmission’s AMG programming puts an emphasis on performance. Its nine speeds result in a wider range of more closely spaced ratios that shift lickety-split quick, while previously noted AMG Dynamic Select’s Comfort, Sport and Sport+ modes truly add to the magic. This said, Mercedes included three overdrive ratios for optimizing fuel economy, which together with ECO Start/Stop that automatically turns off the engine when it would otherwise be idling adds to its efficiency while also reducing emissions. The end result is good fuel economy considering the power on tap, the C 43 Wagon capable of an estimated 12.4 L/100km city, 8.9 highway and 10.8 combined in both 2019 and 2020 model years.

Of course, all-wheel drive saps energy while enhancing traction, but the C 43’s AMG 4Matic AWD system provides a good balance of efficiency and at-the-limit grip. To manage the latter it has a fixed 31:69 front/rear torque split, while a nicely weighted electromechanical power-assist rack-and-pinion steering system provides good feel, and a standard AMG Ride Control Sport Suspension includes three-stage damping for exceptionally good road-holding. Even with the traction/stability control turned off it delivered good mechanical grip, only stepping out at the rear when pushed ultra-hard and then doing so with wonderful predictability.

2020 Mercedes-AMG C43 4Matic Wagon
Rear seat roominess and comfort is great.

If you’ve never taken the opportunity to drive something as fast and capable as the C 43 you’ll be amazed at this compact wagon’s command of the road. This includes stopping power due to a racetrack-ready AMG Performance Braking system featuring perforated 360 mm rotors and grey-painted four-piston fixed calipers in front, and a solid set of 320 mm rotors in back. Astute readers may have noticed I said perforated instead of cross-drilled, and my words were chosen carefully because the C 43’s front discs are actually cast with holes from the onset in order to add strength and improve heat resistance. This process results in extremely good braking prowess, even when laying into them too hard and too often during high-speed performance driving. I’d say they’re the next best thing to carbon-ceramic brakes, although they feel nicer for day-in-day-out use.

As fun as the AMG C 43 is to drive, let’s not forget that it’s five-door layout makes it extremely practical. It’s spacious in front with a driver’s seat that was as comfortable as any in the D-segment, while the rear seats provide good support and plenty of space for stretching out the legs. A folding centre armrest includes pop-out cupholders along with a shallow storage bin, or if you need to load long cargo in back take note the centre portion of the C’s 40/20/40-split rear seatback can be lowered. Additionally, the rear seats flip forward automatically by way of two electric buttons, making the C 43 as convenient to live with as it’s brilliantly fun to drive. In the end, cargo capacity can be expanded from 460 to 1,480 litres, which means that it’s luggage volume sits between the GLA- and new GLB-Class subcompacts.

2020 Mercedes-AMG C43 4Matic Wagon
Second-row seatbacks that fold 40/20/40 mean that rear passengers can enjoy the window seats when long cargo is stored down the middle.

It truly is cool to be practical, at least if you’re driving an AMG C 43 Wagon. All of Mercedes-Benz’ AMG wagons deliver big on spacious, comfortable, luxurious performance, not to mention prestige, so the fact that Mercedes is now offering up to $5,000 in additional incentives on 2020 C-Class models is impressive.

To learn more go to our 2020 Mercedes-Benz C-Class Canada Prices page where you can find out about all C-Class body styles, trims, packages and standalone options, and then build the car you’re interested in. What’s more, a CarCostCanada membership will fully prepare you before even speaking with your Mercedes retail representative, by informing you about any available manufacturer rebates, financing and/or leasing deals, and dealer invoice pricing (the price the dealer pays for the car before marking it up), which means you’ll be able to negotiate the best deal possible.

Right now most Mercedes-Benz dealers will bring the car you’re interested in to your home so you can so you can test it without having to go to the dealership, and don’t worry as the entire car will have been sterilized before you poke around inside and take it for a drive. Considering the incentives available for the AMG C 43 Wagon and just how impressive it is overall, you may want to take them up on that.

Story and photo credits: Trevor Hofmann

Photo Editing: Karen Tuggay

CarCostCanada

2019 Volkswagen Golf Alltrack Execline Road Test

2019 Volkswagen Golf Alltrack Execline
Updated just last year, the Golf Alltrack is going away too early.

As part of collecting data for this review I searched through every Ontario, BC and Alberta Volkswagen dealer site I could find, at which point I realized they were stuck with a much higher number of 2019 models than other brands (I’ve been doing this a lot for most brands lately). This, of course, should be beneficial to anyone purchasing a VW right now, as they would’ve already had a lot of stock they’d want to get rid of before the virus arrived, and must be seriously motived now.

One of the cars on VW’s list of leftovers is the 2019 Golf Alltrack, which was also discontinued last year, so they’re even more motivated to sell their remaining inventory. I’m guessing the dealers are more motivated than Volkswagen Canada, however, as the manufacturer has only put $1,500 in additional incentives on the hood, so to speak, this according to the 2019 Volkswagen Golf Alltrack Canada Prices page right here on CarCostCanada.

When you sign up for a CarCostCanada membership you have access to the 2019 Golf Alltrack’s dealer invoice price, which means you’ll know exactly what your local VW retailer paid for it and potentially how far he or she is willing to discount it. You’ll also know about any manufacturer rebates and financing/lease rate deals currently available.

2019 Volkswagen Golf Alltrack Execline
Wholly practical yet still fun to drive, the Alltrack takes Golf traditions to new heights.

Getting the best deal on a car is important, but getting the best car for your lifestyle is even more so. To that end the Golf Alltrack is a car I’d actually consider owning, as it suits me to a tee. To my eyes it’s attractive, even more so than the Golf SportWagen it’s based on. That model gets discontinued after the 2019 model year too, incidentally. The Golf Alltrack’s one-inch taller ride height and beefier body cladding work ideally with its long, angular body, while all of its aluminum-look trim, including stylish silver side mirror housings, give it a near-premium persona.

As with all new Golf-based models, the Alltrack’s interior is arguably its most impressive attribute. Luxury details abound, like cloth-wrapped A pillars, a pliable composite dash top that extends down to the midpoint of the instrument panel, the same soft-touch synthetic used for the front door uppers, an beautifully detailed leather-clad flat-bottom sport steering wheel with wonderfully thin spokes filled with high-quality switchgear, stylish grey carbon-fibre-like dash and door trim, gloss-black highlights in key areas, and a nice assortment of satin-finish metallic accents elsewhere.

The monochromatic multi-information display (MID) positioned between the otherwise legible gauge cluster wasn’t very advanced when testing this car in 2017 and still isn’t, especially from a brand that makes an ultra-impressive fully digital primary display in some of its other models, while the majority of its compact crossover competitors provide full-colour TFT MIDs stock full of features in their most basic trims.

2019 Volkswagen Golf Alltrack Execline
Full LED headlights, LED fog lamps, 18-inch alloys and cool aluminum-look trim, the Alltrack Execline is an impressive near-luxury crossover.

On a much more positive note, the Alltrack’s standard infotainment system is excellent, this Execline model and the base Highline trim replacing the old outdated 6.5-inch centre touchscreen with a much more up-to-date 8.0-inch display for 2019, once again complete with Android Auto, Apple CarPlay and MirrorLink smartphone integration, and a larger more useful reverse camera (but oddly with static guidelines), while the Execline gets exclusive navigation with nice map graphics and accurate route guidance.

Yet more infotainment features include voice recognition, Bluetooth phone and streaming audio, a great sounding nine-speaker Fender audio system replacing the standard six-speaker unit, satellite radio, various apps, car system features, and more, while the display’s cool factor is proximity-sensing tech that causes hidden digital buttons to pop up when your hand gets near.

Being that I mentioned updates from the 2017 model I reviewed back in the day, I should provide some history as well as a few additional changes made over the past two model years. The Alltrack arrived on the scene in 2016 for the 2017 model year, and was actually refreshed for 2018 with LED signature lights in both its base halogen headlights and upgraded full LEDs, while new LED tail lamps also featured their own signature style and VW updated the front and rear fascias so subtly I couldn’t tell the difference (but the press release said it so it must be true).

2019 Volkswagen Golf Alltrack Execline
Interior refinement is excellent for the class, and its feature set in Execline trim is very generous.

There were no changes from the 2018 to 2019 model, including the previous year’s available six-speed manual gearbox that wasn’t part of the 2017 lineup in Canada, while Execline trim now included paddles for shifting the optional six-speed DSG dual-clutch automatic.

The unique Peacock Green Metallic colour seen on my tester was new for 2018 too, pulled up to 2019 as well, as was White Silver Metallic that increased the total colour count to nine. My tester’s interior was done out in no-cost optional Shetland beige, always a good combination with green, although this colour can also be had with standard Titan Black.

VW makes every colour available in either Highline or Execline trim, the base model available from $31,200 plus freight and fees when suited up with the manual transmission or $1,400 more for the autobox, whereas Execline trim starts at $35,270 for the manual and $36,670 with the automated transmission, less the previously noted incentives and any additional discounts you’re able to negotiate after getting up to speed on dealer invoice pricing right here at CarCostCanada.

2019 Volkswagen Golf Alltrack Execline
From a brand that offers some of its models with fully digital gauge clusters, these old-school instruments seem a bit dated.

Execline trim adds an inch to the alloy wheels for an exclusive set of 18-inch rims wrapped in 225/40 all-season tires, while additional standard equipment includes LED headlamps with dynamic cornering, those paddle shifters with automatic I mentioned earlier, a navigation system, an SD card slot, the already praised Fender audio system (with a subwoofer), front sport seats, a 12-way power driver’s seat with two-way power lumbar (that are truly excellent), and leather upholstery.

My test model also included the Golf Alltrack Execline’s only available upgrade package dubbed Driver Assistance Plus for $1,750. It features autonomous emergency braking with pedestrian monitoring, blind spot detection with rear cross-traffic alert, lane keeping assist, automatic high beams, adaptive cruise control with stop and go, and park assist with park distance control.

2019 Volkswagen Golf Alltrack Execline
Both Golf Alltrack trims get a new 8.0-inch touchscreen with loads of features, while top-tier Execline trim also includes navigation.

Items pulled up to the Execline from base Highline trim include 4Motion all-wheel drive, auto on/off headlamps with coming and leaving capability, fog lights, silver finished side mirror housings, silver roof rails, proximity keyless entry with pushbutton ignition, rain-sensing wipers, power windows, the previously noted leather-rimmed multifunction steering wheel, a leather-wrapped shift knob and handbrake lever, simulated carbon fibre decorative trim, brushed stainless steel pedals, two-zone auto HVAC, a USB port, three-way heated front seats, a two-way powered front passenger seat (that’s also eight-way manually adjustable), an auto-dimming centre mirror, ambient lighting, LED reading lights, illuminated vanity mirrors, a large power panoramic sunroof with a power sunshade made from an opaque cloth, a scrolling rear cargo cover, 12- and 115-volt power outlets in the cargo area, 60/40 split-folding rear seatbacks with a centre pass-through, etcetera.

The Golf Alltrack is identical to past models mechanically, with the 2019 once again getting VW’s 1.8-litre turbo-four capable of 170 horsepower and 199 lb-ft of torque. It produces robust yet smooth, linear power that results in a fairly fast sprint from standstill to highway speeds, and once on the freeway potent passing power, while its all-wheel drive system is ideal for rain, snow, and light-duty dirt and gravel roads.

2019 Volkswagen Golf Alltrack Execline
The hip-hugging 12-way powered leather-surfaced driver’s seat is ultra-comfortable and plenty supportive.

The Alltrack is rated at 11.1 L/100km city, 7.8 highway and 9.6 combined when mated to its base manual transmission, or 10.7 city, 8.0 highway and 9.4 combined with its automated gearbox, which are both reasonably good results for a compact crossover.

The Golf Alltrack rides on the compact segment’s usual front MacPherson strut and rear independent multi-link suspension design, and thanks to VW’s expertise this results in a comfortable ride and even better handling. Its one-inch taller ride height that comes from a special set of springs and shocks, helps the former attribute to make sense, because increased suspension travel normally aids ride comfort, and while the regular Golf SportWagen will likely outshine the Alltrack through the slalom the taller wagon is certainly more capable through such cones than an equivalently sized crossover SUV. The Alltrack’s speed-sensitive power steering provides good response and better than average feel, while a set of 286 mm vented front and 272 mm solid rear brake discs brings all the fun to a stop quickly.

2019 Volkswagen Golf Alltrack Execline
Let there be light! The Alltrack’s panoramic sunroof provides a lot of airy openness.

Ride and handling praise will be nothing new to those who read VW Golf reviews, but the big difference between the regular five-door hatchback and this Alltrack, or for that matter its SportWagen donor model, is cargo volume. Specifically, the two longer Golfs receive 368 litres (13.0 cubic feet) of extra capacity behind the 60/40-split rear seatbacks, and 362 (12.8 cu ft) more when lowered, the bigger two cars’ max cargo volume a respective measuring 861 and 1,883 litres (30.4 and 66.5 cu ft).

All Golfs include the convenience of a rear centre pass-through as well, making it easy to load in longer items like skis, poles, snowboards, 2x4s or what-have-you. This leaves the two more comfortable rear window seats available for passengers to enjoy. Also good, VW has added levers to each cargo wall for lowering those seatbacks automatically, but before doing you’ll want to remove the cargo cover within its ultimately over-engineered cross-member. Seriously, this part metal, part composite component weighs a lot more than you’re probably expecting, which is good if you want it to last for time and all eternity, yet maybe not so much if your muscles aren’t as toned as Patrik Baboumian’s (strongest man in Germany, just in case you were wondering).

Hopefully you won’t have any problem lifting the manual rear hatch because VW doesn’t offer a powered liftgate, but there is some extra stowage area below the load floor atop the space saver spare tire. Loads in mind, the Alltrack can manage 14 more kilos (31 lbs) of payload than the regular Golf, resulting in 459 kg (1,012 lbs) max.

2019 Volkswagen Golf Alltrack Execline
The rear seats are comfortable and there’s a lot of space in back to stretch out.

Just in case you’re considering the Alltrack instead of VW’s own Tiguan compact SUV, the Golf Alltrack is about 73 litres (2.6 cu ft) less spacious behind its rear seatbacks, however it can haul an extra 23 litres (0.8 litres) when those seats are folded down, which is pretty impressive when considering the Tiguan is one of the compact segment’s only three-row SUVs.

While the Tiguan is one of the more enjoyable compact SUVs to drive, I must admit to preferring the Golf Alltrack on the road. It’s cabin is finished to a higher standard as well, but all of that hardly matters now that this impressive German wagon is being phased out and the Tiguan will likely replace all collective Golf models as Canada’s top seller soon.

The recently redesigned Tiguan became 42.7 percent more popular year-over-year in calendar year 2018, growing to 21,449 unit sales, coming close to upstaging the Golf that edged it out by just 28 units. It took six different Golf models to achieve that tally, mind you, including the regular Golf hatchback, Golf GTI, Golf R, e-Golf, Golf SportWagen, and this Golf Alltrack. Calendar year 2019 saw Tiguan deliveries drop by 10.2 percent to 19,250 units from a previous high mark, whereas the Golf lost 8.4 percent to 19,668 examples through 2019. With the Golf Alltrack and SportWagen soon gone from the lineup, the Tiguan may potentially outsell the Golf range, although the way sales are looking right now due to the COVID-19 outbreak, 2020 won’t be a stellar year either way.

2019 Volkswagen Golf Alltrack Execline
The long Golf Alltrack provides loads of cargo space, while a centre pass-through means rear passengers get window seats even when loading in long items like skis.

Still, it’s a good year to purchase a Golf Alltrack, and probably the only year you’ll be able to get a new one (unless a straggler or two manages to remain unsold until 2021). While I happen to believe it’s one of the best compact crossovers on the market, before you call your local VW retailer or connect with someone online, please do your homework at CarCostCanada first. Remember, a CarCostCanada membership will provide you a full 2019 Volkswagen Golf Alltrack report with information about manufacturer rebates, financing and leasing deals, plus best of all, dealer invoice pricing that could literally save you thousands when negotiating your best deal.

As for spending time behind the wheel, most dealers will bring the car you’re interested in to your home so you can take it for a drive, after fully disinfecting it of course. If you ask them to bring you the latest Golf Alltrack, I feel fairly confident you’ll like it.

Story and photo credits: Trevor Hofmann

CarCostCanada

2019 Mazda CX-5 GT AWD Road Test

2019 Mazda CX-5 GT AWD
With the 2019 Mazda CX-5 GT, style comes standard.

There have always been automotive brands that bridge the gap between mainstream and luxury, Buick quickly coming to mind. It fills a niche between Chevrolet and Cadillac in General Motors’ car brand hierarchy, but it doesn’t rise up to meet newer luxury marques like Acura and Infiniti in most buyers’ minds. Lately, Mazda has been playing to this audience too, and is arguably doing an even better job of delivering premium cachet in its highest GT and Signature trim lines.

Where brands like Buick, and even the two Japanese upstarts just mentioned, along with Lincoln, Genesis (speaking of upstarts), Lexus, Audi (and all of the VW group luxury brands including Porsche, Lamborghini and Bentley), plus BMW and Alfa Romeo (to a lesser extent) share platform architectures with lesser brands, Mazda is one of the auto industry’s very rare independent automakers, with no ties to any other global group. Amongst volume-production premium brands only Tesla stands independent, while none other than Mazda are independent within the mainstream volume sector.

2019 Mazda CX-5 GT AWD
The CX-5 provides a sporty profile for this utilitarian class.

Yes, even little Subaru is partially owned by Toyota, and Mitsubishi is part of the Renault–Nissan–Mitsubishi Alliance. Whether or not Mazda will be able to stay independent through the uncertain economic climate we find ourselves in now, and is likely before us, is anyone’s guess, but then again it could be the brand’s saving grace if things get ugly out there, and marginally successful brands like Mitsubishi, Infiniti, Chrysler, Buick and who knows what else get axed from our market. Mazda’s unique position in the market gives it a lot of room to grow, while their good design, the quality of their products, and their credible performance DNA give them a certain street cred that other brands can’t match.

Mazda’s move up to premium status starts with really attractive exterior styling that translates well into all segments and body styles, the sporty CX-3 subcompact SUV sharing some of its design cues with the all-new, slightly bigger CX-30 and the even larger compact CX-5 shown in this review, not to mention the biggest crossover SUV of the Mazda bunch, the mid-size three-row CX-9, while all share visual ties with the compact Mazda3 sedan/hatchback and mid-size Mazda6 sedan, plus the brilliant little MX-5 sports car.

2019 Mazda CX-5 GT AWD
LED headlamps are standard, but the signature elements within are part of GT trim and above, as are the tiny LED fog lamps.

Mazda has long dubbed its design language KODO for “art of the car”, but its latest models are inspired by KODO 2.0, which is the second-generation of its clean, elegant design philosophy. W saw a glimpse of KODO 2.0 in the stunning Vision Coupe and Kai concepts from the 2017 Tokyo Motor Show, the latter of the two more or less morphing into the newest Mazda3 Sport. KODO 2.0 has also made its impact on the brand’s SUV lineup, the CX-5 showing obvious signs of influence.

Mazda replaced the Ford Escape-based Tribute with the first-generation CX-5 in January of 2012; the Mazda3-based design a much more modern offering that elevated the Japanese automaker’s prestige and sales. The second-generation CX-5 arrived in 2017, and thanks to greater use of the KODO 2.0 design language it transformed into a much ritzier looking compact crossover.

2019 Mazda CX-5 GT AWD
GT trim provides leather seats and trim, in black or this classy Pure White colour.

The CX-5’s truly upscale atmosphere is best experienced inside, mind you, with premium features like cloth-wrapped A-pillars and a plush, padded dash top, upper and lower instrument panels, and door uppers front to back, plus they’ve trimmed out the interior with a tasteful dose of anodized aluminum accents, this nicely brushed treatment even highlighting some of the buttons, switches and knobs, some of the latter even getting knurled metal edging. Last but hardly least Mazda includes genuine Abachi hardwood inlays in its top-line Signature trim, but being that my tester was just a GT its inlays were fairly real look faux woodgrain, plus it didn’t include the Signature’s dark chocolate brown Cocoa Nappa leather and trim, the latter covering the door inserts and armrests as well as the seat surfaces, but the GT’s no cost Pure White leather was impressive enough.

Yes, the CX-5’s GT trim is actually nicer than most rivals’ top-tier models, but just to clarify the Signature goes way over the top with features like a satin chrome-plated glove box lever, satin chrome power seat switches, nicer cross-stitching on the steering wheel, richer Nappa leather upholstery, a black roof liner, a frameless auto-dimming rearview mirror in place of the GT’s framed version, LED illumination for the overhead console lighting, the vanity mirrors, the front and rear dome lamps and the cargo area light.

2019 Mazda CX-5 GT AWD
The sporty CX-5 cockpit is comfortable and nicely organized for optimal usability.

Additionally, Signature trim provides a nice bright 7.0-inch LCD multi-information display at centre, a 1.0-inch bigger 8.0-inch colour centre touchscreen display, an overhead surround parking camera system, front and back parking sonar, gunmetal grey 19-inch alloy wheels instead of the GT’s silver 19s, off-road traction assist, and the fastest Skyactiv-G 2.5 T four-cylinder as standard, this engine getting a Dynamic Pressure Turbo (DPT) resulting in 250 horsepower (with 93 octane premium fuel or 227 with 87 octane regular) and 310 lb-ft of torque (for 2020 it gains 10 lb-ft to 320 when fuelled with 93 octane), plus paddle-shifters on the steering wheel for the standard six-speed automatic gearbox.

That’s a strong engine for this class and optionally available for $2,000 in my as-tested GT (for 2020 the GT with the turbocharged engine also gets paddles, off-road traction assist, and an 8.0-inch colour touchscreen display), but my test model came with the base sans-turbo Skyactiv-G 2.5 four-cylinder mill featuring fuel-sipping cylinder deactivation and zero paddles behind the steering wheel. The entry-level engine makes a total of 187 horsepower and 186 lb-ft of torque, which might seem a lot less than the turbocharged upgrade, but is still about the same as provided in top trims by some of the segment sales leaders. Also good, the CX-5 uses a regular automatic with six actual gears rather than most competitors’ CVTs, and I must say that a traditional autobox is much more engaging.

2019 Mazda CX-5 GT AWD
The 2019 GT still uses Mazda’s classic three-dial gauge design, but the 7.0-inch semi-digital display from this year’s Signature trim is standard in the 2020 GT.

I should also mention that Mazda offers a 2.2-litre four-cylinder turbo-diesel engine in the CX-5’s Signature trim that makes 168 horsepower and 290 lb-ft of torque. The Signature starts at $40,950 plus freight and fees, incidentally, and tops out at $45,950 with the diesel upgrade, so you might want to figure out how much you’re going to be driving over the lifetime of your car before anteing up $5k extra for the oil burner. This said, make sure to look around for any available CX-5 Signature Diesels, being that this upgrade was part of the 2019 model year (before writing this review there were quite a few available in each province, but nowhere near as many as those powered by good old gasoline).

I’ve driven the diesel, by the way, and liked it a lot, but its 8.9 L/100km city, 7.9 highway and 8.4 combined fuel economy rating doesn’t improve enough over the quicker turbo-four that manages a reasonably thrifty 10.8, 8.7 and 9.8 respectively, so the only thing that could possibly make more sense than discontinuing it would’ve been not bringing it to market at such a high price at all. My less powerful GT test model, which features standard i-Activ all-wheel drive (AWD) and can be had from $37,450, is capable of a claimed 9.8 L/100km in the city, 7.9 on the highway and 9.0 combined, while the same engine with FWD (standard with the $30,750 GS model) is the most efficient trim of all at just 9.3 city, 7.6 highway and 8.5 combined.

2019 Mazda CX-5 GT AWD
The regular 7.0-inch infotainment system is good, but I suspect it will grow in size for the CX-5’s next redesign.

There’s actually a fourth engine available too, another 2.5-litre four-cylinder found in the $27,850 base GX model, albeit this one comes without cylinder deactivation. It offers up the same performance specs, but is good for only 9.7 L/100km city, 7.8 highway and 8.8 combined with FWD, and a respective 10.2, 8.2 and 9.3 with AWD. Power from both axles requires a $2,000 investment in both base GX and mid-range GS trims, incidentally, while AWD comes standard with GT and Signature trims.

The 2019 CX-5’s list of standard and available features is extremely long, but I should itemize the GT model’s standard equipment being that it’s the one I tested. Therefore, items standard to both the GT and Signature (not found in lower trims) include the previously noted 19-inch alloy wheels on 225/55 all-seasons (less models include 17-inch alloys on 225/65s), adaptive cornering headlamps, LED signature elements in the headlamps and tail lamps, LED fog lights, LED combination taillights, power-folding side mirrors, plus piano black B- and C-pillar garnishes, and that’s only on the outside.

2019 Mazda CX-5 GT AWD
The infotainment system’s console-mounted controller is a real piece of art.

Proximity entry gets you inside and pushbutton start/stop brings it to live (the latter item is actually standard across the line), while the gauge cluster is Mazda’s trademark three-dial design with a smallish multi-information display at the right (the 7.0-inch LCD multi-information display comes standard in GT trim for 2020), and just above is a really useful head-up display unit that projects key info right onto the windshield, complete with traffic sign recognition. What’s more, the driver gets a comfortable 10-way powered seat with power lumbar support as well as two-way memory, while the front passenger gets six-way power adjustability. Both front seats are three-way ventilated too, while the two rear outboard window seats get three-way warmers.

A few pampering GT trim details need to be mentioned too, such as its satin-chrome front console knee pad, fabric-lined glove box, and upscale premium stitching on the front centre console, while Mazda also adds a power moonroof, a Homelink garage door opener, a good navigation system that took me where I needed to go (not always the case with some), and a great sounding premium audio system with 10 Bose speakers, an AM/FM/HD radio, a customizable seven-channel equalizer, SurroundStage Signal Processing, Centerpoint 2 surround sound tech, AudioPilot 2 Noise Compensation, and SiriusXM satellite radio with three months of complimentary service. CX-5 GT and Signature buyers also receive SiriusXM Traffic Plus and Travel Link services with a five-year complimentary service contract, plus they get two-zone auto climate control, HVAC vents on the backside of the front console, etcetera.

2019 Mazda CX-5 GT AWD
Fabric-wrapped A-pillars are a nice touch, as are these metal-rimmed Bose tweeters.

Features pulled up to GT trim from lesser models include auto headlight levelling, a windshield wiper de-icer, dynamic cruise control with stop and go, a heated steering wheel rim, two additional USB ports within the folding rear centre armrest, plus a host of advanced driver assistance systems like Smart Brake Support (SBS) with forward sensing Pedestrian Detection, Distance Recognition Support System (DRSS), Forward Obstruction Warning (FOW), Lane Departure Warning System (LDWS), Lane-keep Assist System (LAS) and High Beam Control System (HBC) from second-rung GS trim, as well as auto on/off LED headlights, LED daytime running lights, LED turn signal indicators in the door mirror housings, rain-sensing wipers, an electromechanical parking brake, two USB ports and an aux input, Android Auto and Apple CarPlay, Stitcher and Aha internet radio, SMS text message reading and responding capability, and all the usual active and passive safety features from the base GX. There’s a lot more, but I’ll leave it at that.

The CX-5 is room and plenty comfortable no matter the trim you choose or where you’re seated, while the back row is wide enough for three across in reasonable comfort. Most should find legroom and headroom generous enough, but I need to criticize Mazda for stowing the rear seat heater controls within the folding centre armrest, because they can’t be accessed when someone is seated in the middle. And now that I’m complaining, I’d love it if Mazda offered a panoramic sunroof in its two top-line trims too.

2019 Mazda CX-5 GT AWD
You’ll need to stock up on blue jean stain remover if you opt for the white leather.

Rather than gripe about what’s not offered, I’d rather sing praises to Mazda for the CX-5’s awesome 40/20/40-split rear seatbacks. This allows longer cargo like skis to be placed down the middle, and by so doing frees the rear window seats for your passengers. As good, Mazda provides helpful release levers on the cargo sidewalls, even including a separate one for the 20-percent centre pass-through. This said, setting off to the ski hill, or even more so, returning when already cold and potentially wet, will make those rear seat heaters all the more welcome, but you’ll need to make sure to turn them on before loading in the skis as the centre pass-through will make that impossible. What’s more, if you stop for gas or a meal along the way, they won’t turn on again without removing the ski gear and lifting the armrest. Mazda should solve this problem for the CX-5’s redesign by positioning the buttons on the door panel instead.

Back to positives, behind the rear seatbacks the CX-5 can be loaded up with 875 litres (30.9 cubic feet) of gear, while it can pack in up to 1,687 litres (59.6 cu ft) when all are lowered, making it one of the more accommodating compact SUVs in its mainstream category.

2019 Mazda CX-5 GT AWD
The rear seats are roomy and comfortable.

All this spacious luxury gets topped off with performance that comes very close to premium as well, although as far as my base GT test model goes, it’s more about ride and handling than straight-line power. The CX-5’s feeling of quality begins with well-insulated doors and body panels, making everything feel solid upon closure and nice and quiet when underway, while the ride is firm in a Germanic way, but not harsh. It therefore manoeuvres well around the city and provides good agility when pushed hard on a curving road, but even though it manages corners better than most rivals it uses the same type of independent suspension as the others, consisting of MacPherson struts up front and a multi-link setup in the rear, with stabilizer bars at both ends.

As I mentioned before, the CX-5’s base powerplant is equal to some of the segment leaders’ best engines as far as straight-line performance goes, but more importantly it is very smooth and quite efficient, while the six-speed automatic was so smooth, in fact, that it had me wondering whether or not Mazda had swapped the old gearbox out for a CVT. It shifts like a regular automatic when revs climb, however, which is a good thing for enthusiasts, but it’s still smooth when doing so. To be clear, the regular GT doesn’t include paddle shifters, but you can shift it manually via the console-mounted gear lever, and also note that Mazda provides a Sport mode that gives it the powertrain a great deal more performance at takeoff and when passing, but no comfort or eco settings are included.

2019 Mazda CX-5 GT AWD
What initially seems like a clever idea, doesn’t work well when you want warm window seats but someone’s sitting in the middle position.

After a weeklong test, I found the 2019 Mazda CX-5 one of the best compact SUVs in its class, and wholly worthy of anyone’s consideration. Of note, that category is filled with some big-time players, including the Canadian segment leading Toyota RAV4 (with 65,248 sales in calendar year 2019), the Honda CR-V (with 55,859 deliveries during the same 12 months), the Ford Escape (which is totally redesigned for 2020 and sold 39,504 units last year), the Nissan Rogue (at 37,530 units), the Hyundai Tucson (at 30,075), and this CX-5 (at 27,696).

I know, the CX-5 should probably do better than it does, but we need to keep in mind that 14 compact SUV competitors are vying for attention, and none of the other get anywhere near close to the CX-5’s sales numbers. In fact, the next best-selling VW Tiguan only achieved 19,250 deliveries last year, while Chevrolet’s Equinox only found 18,503 new owners. As for Jeep’s Cherokee, just 13,687 buyers took one home during calendar year 2019, while a mere 13,059 bought the Subaru Forester, 12,637 purchased a Kia Sportage, 12,023 drove home in a GMC Terrain, 10,701 chose the Mitsubishi Outlander, and 5,101 decided to buy the Mitsubishi Eclipse Cross. Additionally, the CX-5 was one of only six compact crossovers to increase its sales numbers from calendar year 2018 to 2019, the remaining eight having lost ground.

2019 Mazda CX-5 GT AWD
Cargo space is generous, and the 40/20/40-split seatback is best-in-class.

It’s actually a good time to purchase a CX-5, as Mazda is offering up to $2,000 in additional incentives on this 2019 model, while those who’d rather have a 2020 CX-5 can get up to $1,000 off from incentives. Make sure to check the 2019 Mazda CX-5 Canada Prices page or the 2020 Mazda CX-5 Canada Prices page right here on CarCostCanada for details. You’ll find itemized pricing of trims, packages and individual options, the latest manufacturer financing and leasing deals, manufacturer rebate information, and dealer invoice pricing that can save you thousands. The majority of new car retailers will be available by phone or online even during the COVID-19 crisis, and as you might have guessed they’re seriously motivated to make you a deal.

Everything said, I recommend the CX-5 highly, especially in GT or Signature trims, as it gives you a premium experience at a much more affordable price.

Story credit: Trevor Hofmann

Photo credits: Karen Tuggay (exterior) and Trevor Hofmann (interior)

CarCostCanada

2019 Nissan Versa Note Road Test

2019 Nissan Versa Note SV
The 2019 Versa Note might now be discontinued, but it’s still a good little economy car worth your attention.

Does the idea of purchasing an inexpensive, economical yet very comfortable, roomy and practical hatchback at zero-percent financing sound like a good idea right now? If so, I recommend taking a closer look at the new 2019 Versa Note.

Of course, a 2019 model is hardly “new” this far into 2020, but it nevertheless is a new car that’s never been licensed and therefore qualifies for new car financing and leasing rates, plus it comes with a full warranty.

As it is there are too many Versa Notes still available on Nissan Canada’s dealer lots, so the automaker has created an incentive program to sell them off as quickly as possible. This benefits you of course, so it might be a really good idea to find out if this little car suits your wants and needs, because the price is right.

2019 Nissan Versa Note SV
The Versa Note’s tall roofline and long wheelbase provide a lot of interior room.

The Versa Note was discontinued last year, but cancelling a car doesn’t mean it’s not worth buying. In actual fact, Nissan’s second-smallest model is an excellent city car that’s also better than most on the highway, plus it offers more passenger and cargo room than the majority of its subcompact rivals. It just happens to be past its stale date, having already been replaced by two trendier subcompact crossover sport utilities dubbed Kicks and Qashqai.

Those wanting Nissan’s latest styling will be happy to find out the Versa Note received an update for its 2017 model year, incorporating most of the brand’s latest frontal styling cues for much more attractive styling than the previous incarnation. The Note doesn’t include a floating roof design, like the Leaf EV and most other new Nissan models, while its taillights are also unique to the model, but its hind end is nevertheless attractive and overall shape easy on the eyes.

2019 Nissan Versa Note SV
The Versa Note SV comes with these attractive 15-inch alloy wheels.

At least as important, the Versa Note provides a taller driver and passengers a lot of headroom due to its overall height, making the car feel more like a small SUV than a subcompact city car. The seats are particularly comfortable as well, due to memory foam that truly cushions and supports one’s backside, plus the upholstery in my top-line SV model was very good looking, with an attractive blue fleck pattern on black fabric. The driver’s seat even includes a comfortable minivan-style fold-down armrest on its right side.

Additional niceties include a leather-clad steering wheel rim, stylish satin-silver spokes, and a tilt steering column. Nissan adorns each dash vent with the same silver surface treatment, not to mention both edges of the centre stack and the entire shift lever surround panel.

Also impressive, my tester’s upgraded instrument cluster features backlit dials and really attractive digital displays. It’s so stylish that it makes the centre touchscreen seem dowdy by comparison. Truth be told, the main infotainment display is graphically challenged, particularly when put beside some of Nissan’s more recently improved models, but it more than does the job and is user-friendly enough, while at 7.0 inches it’s reasonably bit for this class, which provides good rear visibility through the reverse camera.

2019 Nissan Versa Note SV
The Note is a comfortable well designed car that’s perfect for those not needing all the latest technologies.

While there isn’t much to criticize the Versa Note about, no telescoping steering means it might not fit your body ideally. I have longer legs than torso and therefore had to crank the seatback farther forward than I normally would so as not crowd my legs and feet around the pedals, which worked but would’ve caused me to think twice about purchasing one.

On a much better note, those in back will find a lot more legroom than most subcompact contemporaries (the Versa Note is actually classified as a mid-size model), this thanks to a very long wheelbase, which makes the Versa Note perfect for taller than average folks. Rear passengers will find a comfortable folding armrest in the centre position, with the usual twin cupholders integrated within, another duo of cupholders can be found on the backside of the front console. Lastly, a magazine pouch is included on the backside of the front passenger’s seat.

The Note is also great for hauling loads of gear. It gets the usual 60/40 split-folding rear seatbacks, but its innovative Divide-N-Hide adjustable cargo floor doesn’t follow the subcompact herd. It can be moved up or down as required, meaning you can stow taller items in the latter position or otherwise awkward cargo on a flat load floor when slotted into the former. You can fit up to 532 litres (18.8 cubic feet) behind the rear seats, incidentally, or 1,084 litres (38.3 cu ft) of what-have-you by lowering both rear seatbacks. That’s very good, by the way.

2019 Nissan Versa Note SV
The SV gets an upgraded gauge cluster that’s really attractive.

For its price range the spacious Versa Note gets its fair share of equipment, but like all new cars this depends on which trim is chosen. Of note, the sportiest SR mode was discontinued for 2019 and the more luxurious SL was dropped for 2018, but Nissan brought in a $700 SV Special Edition package for this final year, which includes a set of fog lights, a rear rooftop spoiler, and Special Edition badges on the outside, plus proximity keyless entry for access to the cabin along with pushbutton start/stop to get things going once strapped inside, while other goodies include an enhanced NissanConnect infotainment system featuring Apple CarPlay and Android Auto smartphone integration, plus satellite radio.

A quick look at my test model’s photos will show no fog lights or rear spoiler, so I won’t be directly reporting on the 2019 SV Special Edition, but its 15-inch alloys make it clear that this isn’t a base model either (the entry-level Note S gets 15-inch steel wheels with covers). The regular SV starts at $18,398 and includes the aforementioned gauge cluster upgrade as well as the leather-clad steering wheel also noted before, along with powered door locks with remote access, power windows, a continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT), cruise control, a six-way manual driver’s seat (featuring height adjustment), heated front seats, a cargo cover, plus more.

2019 Nissan Versa Note SV
Nissan includes a large 7.0-inch infotainment touchscreen as standard equipment, but even when upgraded in SV trim its graphics look a bit dated.

Base S trim, which starts at $14,698 plus freight and fees, is the only 2019 Versa Note trim that can be had with a five-speed manual gearbox (you could get a manual with the SV for the 2018 model year), but base buyers should know the CVT can be added for a mere $1,300 extra. Transmission aside, base S trim also gets a set of powered and heated exterior mirrors, a four-way manual driver’s seat, air conditioning, a less comprehensively equipped 7.0-inch infotainment system, Bluetooth hands-free with streaming audio, phone and audio switchgear on the steering wheel, a hands-free text message assistant, Siri Eyes Free, auxiliary and USB ports, four-speaker audio, etcetera.

All the usual active and passive safety gear is included as well, of course, but those wanting the newest advanced driver assistance systems like collision warning with automatic emergency braking, blindspot monitoring with lane departure warning, or active cruise control with Nissan’s semi-autonomous ProPILOT assist self-driving tech had better choose one of the automaker’s more recently introduced subcompact crossovers.

2019 Nissan Versa Note SV
The Versa Note’s front seats are extremely comfortable, although not all body types will fit ideally due to no telescopic steering.

Let’s be nice and call the Versa Note traditional instead of antiquated, because at the end of the day it goes about its business very well and therefore delivers what many consumers require from a daily commuter. While hardly as technologically advanced or trendy in design, the Note nevertheless provides comfortable seating and a very good ride for its entry-level price range, plus decent get-up-and-go when pushing off from standstill or while passing, plus its CVT is ultra smooth.

The Versa Note uses the same 1.6-litre four-cylinder as the smaller Micra, making an identical 109 horsepower and 107 lb-ft of torque. That means the bigger, heftier model doesn’t feel quite as quick off the line. The Note’s purpose is more about fuel economy anyway, and with that in mind it manages a claimed five-cycle rating of 8.6 L/100km city, 6.6 highway and 7.7 combined with its manual, or 7.6 city, 6.2 highway and 7.0 combined with the CVT. That doesn’t seem all that great until comparing it to the Micra that has the same 1,092-kilogram curb weight when fully loaded as the Note’s base trim (the Note SV as-tested hits the scales at 1,124 kg), but still only can manage 7.9 L/100km combined with its manual and 8.0 combined with its four-speed auto. I think the similarly roomy Honda Fit is a better comparison, the innovative subcompact capable of 7.0 L/100km combined with its six-speed manual or just 6.5 with its most economical CVT.

2019 Nissan Versa Note SV
The rear seating area is very spacious with excellent headroom and legroom.

As for handling, the Micra has the Versa Note beat any day of the week. In fact, Nissan Canada uses the Micra in a spec racing series, something that would be laughable in the more comfort-oriented Note. The larger hatchback is particularly tall as noted, so therefore its high centre of gravity works counter to performance when attempting to take corners quickly, but then again if you don’t mind a bit of body roll it manages just fine. Better yet is the Versa’s roomy comfort, whether tooling through town or hustling down a four-lane freeway where it’s long wheelbase aids high-speed stability, it’s a good choice.

If you think this little Nissan might suit your lifestyle and budget and therefore would like to take advantage of the zero-percent financing mentioned before, I’d recommend checking out our 2019 Nissan Versa Note Canada Prices page where you can browse through all trims and packages in detail, plus quickly scan colour choices within each trim, while also searching for the latest manufacturer rebates that could save you even more.

2019 Nissan Versa Note SV
The Versa Note is big on cargo room and load versatility.

Better yet, a CarCostCanada membership provides access to dealer invoice pricing that could save you thousands when making a purchase. Everything just mentioned can be accessed at the CarCostCanada website or via a new downloadable CarCostCanada app, so make sure to check your phone’s app store. This said, ahead of calling your local Nissan retailer to purchase a new Versa Note, or connecting with them online (and it’s a good idea to deal with them remotely right now), be sure to do your homework here at CarCostCanada so you can claim the best possible deal.

Story credit: Trevor Hofmann

Photo credits: Karen Tuggay

CarCostCanada

2019 Ford Flex Limited EcoBoost V6 Road Test

2019 Ford Flex Limited EcoBoost V6
The 2019 Ford Flex is the last of a breed, yet all trims are still available.

If you’ve been reading my latest reviews here, you’ll know that I scour Canada’s retail auto network before putting fingers to the keyboard, as it wouldn’t make much sense to write about a new vehicle that’s no longer available. As it is, plenty of 2019 Ford Flex examples are still very much available despite being a discontinued model, so for those enamoured with its unusual good looks I recommend paying attention.

I’m guessing your local Ford dealer will be happy to give you a great deal on a Flex if he happens to have one still available, while CarCostCanada is claiming up to $5,500 in additional incentives for this final 2019 model.

The Flex has been in production for more than 10 years, and while it initially got off to a pretty good start in Canada with 6,047 units sold in calendar year 2009, 2010 quickly saw annual deliveries slide to 4,803 examples, followed by a plunge to 2,862 units in 2011, a climb up to 3,268 in 2012, and then another drop to 2,302 in 2013, 2,365 in 2014, a low of 1,789 in 2015, a boost to 2,587 in 2016, and 2,005 in 2017. Oddly, year-over-year sales grew by 13.4 percent to 2,273 units in 2018 to and by 9.6 percent to 2,492 deliveries in 2019, which means three-row crossover SUV buyers are still interested in this brilliantly unorthodox family mover, but it obviously wasn’t enough to make Dearborn commit to a redesign, and in hindsight this makes perfect sense because three-row blue-oval buyers have made their choice clear by gobbling up the big Explorer in to the point that it’s one of the best selling SUVs in its class.

2019 Ford Flex Limited EcoBoost V6
The boxy three-row mid-size crossover SUV has a lot of room inside.

The Flex and the outgoing 2011–2019 Explorer share a unibody structure that’s based on Ford’s D4 platform, and that architecture is a modified version of the original Volvo S80/XC90-sourced D3 platform. Going back further, the first D3 to wear a blue oval badge was Ford’s rather nondescript Five Hundred sedan, which was quickly redesigned into the sixth-generation 2010–2019 Taurus and only cancelled recently, thus you can save you up to $5,500 in additional incentives on a Taurus as well (see our 2019 Ford Taurus Canada Prices page to find out more). If you want to trace the Flex back to its roots, check out the 2005–2007 Freestyle that was renamed Taurus X for 2008–2009.

Those older Ford crossovers never got the respect they deserved, because they were comfortable, well proportioned, good performers for their time, and impressively innovative during that era too. The Freestyle was the first domestic SUV to use a continuously variable transmission (CVT), at least as far as I can remember, and it was one of the biggest vehicles to do so up that point (Nissan edged Ford out with its Murano by a couple of years). Interestingly, Ford soon stopped using CVTs in its large vehicles, instead choosing a six-speed automatic for the Flex and the fifth-generation Explorer, which is a good thing as it has been a very dependable gearbox.

2019 Ford Flex Limited EcoBoost V6
All the black trim comes as part of a $900 Appearance package.

Mechanicals in mind, the Flex continues to use the same two versions of Ford’s popular 3.5-litre V6 that were offered in the original model. To be clear, the base Duratec engine, which produced 262 horsepower and 248 lb-ft of torque before 2013, after which output increased to 287 horsepower and 254 lb-ft of torque. The base engine pushes the three-row seven-passenger crossover along at a reasonably good pace, but the turbocharged 3.5-litre Ecoboost V6 that became optional in 2010 turned it into a veritable flyer thanks to 355 horsepower and 350 lb-ft of torque, while an additional 10 horsepower to 365 has kept it far ahead of the mainstream volume branded pack right up to this day.

That’s the version to acquire and once again the configuration I recently spent a week with, and it performed as brilliantly as it did when I first tested a similarly equipped Flex in 2016. I noticed a bit of front wheel twist when pushed hard off the line at full throttle, otherwise called torque steer, particularly when taking off from a corner, which is strange for an all-wheel drive vehicle, but it moved along quickly and was wonderfully stable on the highway, not to mention long sweeping corners and even when flung through sharp fast-paced curves thanks to its fully independent suspension setup and big, meaty 255/45R20 all-season rubber. I wouldn’t say it’s as tight as a premium SUV like Acura’s MDX, Audi’s Q7 or BMW’s X7, but we really can’t compare those three from a price perspective. Such was the original goal of the now defunct Lincoln MKT, but its styling never took off and therefore it was really only used for airport shuttle and limousine liveries.

2019 Ford Flex Limited EcoBoost V6
The headlamps are only HIDs, but these taillights use LED technology.

Like the MKT and the many three-row Japanese and European crossover utilities available, the Flex is a very large vehicle, so no one should be expecting sports car-like performance. Combined with its turbo-six powerplant is the dependable SelectShift six-speed automatic mentioned earlier, and while not as advanced as the 7-, 8-, 9- and now even 10-speed automatics coming from the latest blue-oval, Lincoln and competitive products, it shifts quickly enough and is certainly smooth, plus it doesn’t hamper fuel economy as terribly as various brands’ marketing departments would have you believe. I love that Ford included paddle shifters with this big ute, something even some premium-branded three-row crossovers are devoid of yet standard with the more powerful engine (they replace the lesser engine’s “Shifter Button Activation” on the gear knob), yet the Flex is hardly short on features, especially in its top-tier Limited model.

The transmission is probably best left to its own devices if you want to get the most out of a tank of fuel no matter which engine you choose, and to that end the Ecoboost V6 is the least efficient at 15.7 L/100km in the city, 11.2 on the highway and 13.7 combined, but this said it’s not that much thirstier than the base engine and its all-wheel drivetrain that uses a claimed 14.7 city, 10.7 highway or 12.9 combined, which itself is only slightly less efficient than the base FWD model that gets a rating of 14.7, 10.2 and 12.7 respectively.

2019 Ford Flex Limited EcoBoost V6
The Flex cabin is a bit dated, but it’s quality is good and technology mostly up-to-date.

The 2019 Flex comes in base SE, mid-range SEL and top-tier Limited trims, according to the 2019 Ford Flex Canada Prices page found right here on CarCostCanada. This is where you can see all the pricing and feature information available for the Flex and most other vehicles sold in Canada. The 2019 Flex is available from $32,649 plus freight and fees for the SE with FWD, $39,649 for the SEL with FWD, $41,649 for the SEL with AWD, and $46,449 for the Limited that comes standard with AWD. All trims come standard with the base engine, but the Limited can be upgraded with the more powerful turbocharged V6 for an extra $6,800 (it includes other upgrades too).

Before adding additional options the retail price of a 2019 Flex Limited Ecoboost AWD is $53,249, and along with its aforementioned performance enhancements it gets everything standard with the regular Limited model, such as 19-inch silver-painted alloy wheels wrapped with 235/55 all-season tires, HID headlamps, fog lights, LED tail lamps, a satin-aluminum grille, chrome door handles, bright stainless steel beltline mouldings, a satin aluminum liftgate appliqué, a powered liftgate, bright dual exhaust tips, power-folding heated side mirrors with memory and security approach lights, rain-sensing wipers, reverse parking sonar, and I’ve only talked about the exterior.

2019 Ford Flex Limited EcoBoost V6
The driving environment is spacious, comfortable and nicely organized.

Ford provides remote start to warm it up in winter or cool it down in summer, all ahead of even getting inside, while access comes via a keyless proximity system or the automaker’s exclusive SecuriCode keypad. Likewise, pushbutton start/stop keeps the engine purring, Ford MyKey maintains a level of security when a valet or one of your children is behind the wheel, while additional interior features include illuminated entry with theatre dimming lighting, a perforated leather-clad steering wheel rim with real hardwood inlays, Yoho maple wood grain inlays, power-adjustable pedals with memory, perforated leather upholstery for the first- and second-row seat upholstery, a 10-way power driver’s seat with memory, a six-way power front passenger’s seat, heated front seats, an auto-dimming centre mirror, an overhead sunglasses holder, ambient interior lighting with seven colours that include (default) Ice Blue, as well as soft blue, blue, green, purple, orange and red, plus Ford’s Sync 3 infotainment system, excellent sounding 12-speaker Sony audio, satellite radio, two USB charging ports in the front console bin, two-zone auto climate control, rear manual HVAC controls, four 12-volt power points, a 110-volt household-style three-prong power outlet, blind spot information with cross-traffic alert, and more.

2019 Ford Flex Limited EcoBoost V6
The dual-screen colour TFT gauge cluster was way ahead of its time when introduced a decade ago.

For a ten year old design, the Flex looks fairly up to date as far as electronics go, thanks to its Cockpit Integrated Display that incorporates two high-resolution displays within the primary instrument cluster (it was far ahead of its time back in 2009), while the just-mentioned Sync 3 infotainment touchscreen is still impressive too, due to updates through the years. It incorporates a big, graphically attractive and well-equipped display with quick-reacting functionality plus good overall usability, its features including accurate available navigation as well as a very good standard backup camera with active guidelines, albeit no overhead camera even in its topmost trim. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto smartphone connectivity is standard, however, plus the ability to download more apps, etcetera.

On top of the Limited trim’s standard features a $3,200 301A package can be added with features such as a heated steering wheel, truly comfortable 10-way power-adjustable front seats with three-way cooling, dynamic cruise control, Collision Warning with autonomous emergency braking, and Active Park Assist semi-autonomous parking capability, but note that all of the 301A features come standard already when choosing the more powerful engine, as does a special set of 20-inch polished alloy wheels, a powered steering column, a one-touch 50/50-split power-folding third row with tailgate seating, and an engine block heater.

2019 Ford Flex Limited EcoBoost V6
Ford’s Sync3 infotainment interface is very attractive and intelligently designed.

As you may already noticed, my tester’s wheels are gloss-black 20-inch alloys that come as part of a $900 Appearance package which also includes additional inky exterior treatments to the centre grille bar, side mirror housings, and rear liftgate appliqué, plus it adds Agate Black paint to the roof and pillars, while the cabin receives a special leather-clad steering wheel featuring Meteorite Black bezels, plus an unique graphic design on the instrument panel and door-trim appliqués, special leather seat upholstery with Light Earth Gray inserts and Dark Earth Gray bolsters, as well as floor mats with a unique logo.

My test model’s Vista panoramic multi-panel glass roof has always been an individual option, adding $1,750 to this 2019 model, but I found it a bit odd that voice-activated navigation (with SiriusXM Traffic and Travel Link) as a standalone add-on (navigation systems usually bundled as part of a high-level trim line), while the gloss-black roof rails can also be individually added for just $130, but the roof rails, which are also available in silver, come as part of a $600 Cargo Versatility package too, which combines the otherwise $500 Class III Trailer Tow package (capable of up to 4,500 lbs or 2,041 kg of trailer weight) with first- and second-row all-weather floor mats (otherwise a $150 option), resulting in more four-season practicality.

2019 Ford Flex Limited EcoBoost V6
The two-zone auto HVAC interface uses state-of-the-art touch-sensitive controls.

Over and above items included in my test model, it’s also possible to add a refrigerated centre console for $650, second-row captain’s chairs with a centre console for just $150 (but I prefer the regular bench seat as the smaller portion of its 60/40-split configuration can be auto-folded from the rear), inflatable second-row seatbelts for $250 (which enhance rear passenger safety), and two-screen (on the backs of the front headrests) rear entertainment for $2,100.

Of course, many of the Limited trim’s features get pulled up from base SE and mid-range SEL trims, both being well equipped for their price ranges too, I should also mention that the Flex’s interior isn’t quite as refined as what you’d find in a new 2020 Explorer with the same options, per say. Then again I remember how impressed I was with the Flex’s refinement when it arrived 10 or so year ago, which really goes to show how far Ford has come in a decade, not to mention all of the other mainstream brands. The latest Edge, for example, which I tested in its top-tier trim recently, is likely better than the old Lincoln MKX, now replaced by the much-improved Nautilus, whereas the Flex’s cabin is more like the old Edge inside.

2019 Ford Flex Limited EcoBoost V6
This Flex boasts 10-way powered front seats with heated and cooled cushions for supreme comfort.

Therefore you’ll have to be ok with good quality albeit somewhat dated details, such as its large, clunky, hollow plastic power lock switches instead of Ford’s newer models’ more upscale electronic buttons, while there’s a lower grade of hard plastic surfaces throughout the interior too. This said its dash-top receives a fairly plush composite covering, as does each door upper from front to back, whereas the door inserts have always been given a nifty graphic appliqué, just above big padded armrests.

As you might imagine, the Flex is roomy inside. In fact, its predecessor was designed to replace the Freestar minivan back in 2007, so it had to have minivan-like seating and cargo functionality. This said the Flex’s maximum cargo volume of 2,355 litres (83.1 cubic feet) when both all rear seats are tumbled down doesn’t come close to the brand’s once-popular minivan that managed a total of 3,885 litres (137.2 cu ft) of luggage volume in its day, but it’s generously proportioned for a mid-size crossover. In fact, the Flex can manage 42 additional litres (1.5 cu ft) of total storage space than the outgoing 2019 Explorer, which was one of the biggest SUVs in its three-row segment. That said the new 2020 Explorer offers up to 2,486 litres (87.8 cu ft) of maximum cargo capacity, which improves on both of Ford’s past SUVs (Flex included).

2019 Ford Flex Limited EcoBoost V6
The second row is ultra-comfortable and limousine-like for legroom, while the third row is large enough for adults.

The rear liftgate powers upward to reveal 426 litres (15.0 cu ft) of dedicated luggage space aft of the rearmost seats, which is in fact 169 litres (6.0 cu ft) less than in the old Explorer, but if you lower the second row the Flex nearly matches the past Explorer’s cargo capacity with 1,224 litres (43.2 cu ft) compared to 1,240 litres (43.8 cu ft). A nifty feature noted before allows the final row to be powered in the opposite direction for tailgate parties, incidentally, but make sure to extend the headrests for optimal comfort.

Total Flex passenger volume is 4,412 litres (155.8 cu ft), which results in a lot of room in all seating positions, plus plenty of comfort. Truly, even third row legroom is pretty decent, while headroom is lofty everywhere inside thanks to a high roofline. Ford made sure there was enough space from side-to-side too, this due to a vehicle that’ quite wide. The aforementioned panoramic sunroof adds to the feeling of openness as well, and its three-pane construction is pretty intelligent as it allows for better structural rigidity than one large opening, which is particularly important for a vehicle with such a large, flat roof. Additional thoughtful features include large bottle holders within the rear door panels, these wholly helpful at drive-thrus.

2019 Ford Flex Limited EcoBoost V6
The innovative multi-pane panoramic Vista sunroof provides loads of light while maintaining the big Flex’s structural rigidity.

I’m guessing you can tell I like this unusual box on wheels, and must admit to appreciating Ford for its initial courage when bringing the Flex to market and its willingness to keep it around so long. I know it’s outdated, particularly inside, plus it’s missing a few features that I’d like to see, such as outboard rear seat warmers and USB charging ports in the second row, but it’s difficult to criticize its value proposition after factoring in the potential savings Ford has on the table. I’m sure that opting for this somewhat antiquated crossover might be questionable after seeing it parked beside Ford’s latest 2020 Explorer, but keep in mind that a similarly equipped version of the latter utility will cost you another $10,000 or so before any discounts, while the domestic manufacturer is only providing up to $2,000 in additional incentives for this newer SUV. That’s a price difference of more than $13,000, so therefore a fully loaded Flex might make a lot of sense for someone looking for a budget-minded luxury utility.

2019 Ford Flex Limited EcoBoost V6
There’s no shortage of storage space in a Flex.

A month or so ago, before we all became aware of the COVID-19 outbreak, I would’ve probably recommended for those interested in buying a new Flex to rush over to their local dealer and scoop one up before they all disappeared forever, and while they certainly will be gone at some point this year I recommend you find one online like I did, and contact the respective dealership directly via phone or email. Still, doing your homework before making the call or sending the message is a good idea, so make sure to visit our 2019 Ford Flex Canada Prices page first, where you can learn about every trim and price, plus find out if any new manufacturer discounts, rebates and/or financing/leasing packages have been created, while don’t forget that a membership to CarCostCanada provides otherwise difficult to access dealer invoice pricing (which is the price the retailer actually pays the manufacturer for the vehicle). This will provide you the opportunity to score the best-possible deal during negotiation. After that, your Ford dealer will ready your new Flex for delivery.

So therefore if this unorthodox crossover utility is as appealing to you as to me, I recommend you take advantage of the tempting model-ending deal mentioned earlier. The Flex might be an aging SUV amongst the plethora of more advanced offerings, but don’t forget that this aging crossover still comes across as fresh thanks to its moderate popularity (you won’t see a lot of them driving around your city), while its long well-proven tenure means that it should be more dependable than some of its newer competitors.

Story credit: Trevor Hofmann

Photo credits: Karen Tuggay

CarCostCanada

2019 Toyota Prius Prime Road Test

2019 Toyota Prius Prime
Toyota has given all of its Prius models more style, with the Prime getting its most dramatic design.

As usual I’ve scanned the many Toyota Canada retail websites and found plenty new 2019 Prius Prime examples to purchase, no matter which province I searched. What this means is a good discount when talking to your local dealer, combined with Toyota’s zero-percent factory leasing and financing rates for 2019 models, compared to a best-possible 2.99-percent for the 2020 version.

As always I searched this information out right here on CarCostCanada, where you can also learn about most brands and models available, including the car on this page, which is found on our 2019 Toyota Prius Prime Canada Prices page. The newer version is found on our 2020 Toyota Prius Prime Canada Prices page, by the way, or you can search out a key competitor such as the Hyundai Ioniq, found on the 2019 Hyundai IONIQ Electric Plus Canada Prices page or 2020 Hyundai IONIQ Electric Plus Canada Prices page (the former offers a zero-percent factory leasing and financing deal, while the latter isn’t quite as good a deal at 3.49 percent). CarCostCanada also provides info about manufacturer rebates and dealer invoice pricing, which arm you before arriving at the dealership so you can get the best possible deal.

2019 Toyota Prius Prime
Nothing looks like a Prius Prime from behind.

While these pages weren’t created with the latest COVID-19 outbreak in mind, and really nothing was including the dealerships we use to test cars and purchase them, some who are reading this review may have their lease expiring soon, while others merely require a newer, more reliable vehicle (on warranty). At the time of writing, most dealerships were running with full or partial staff, although the focus seems to be more about servicing current clientele than selling cars. After all, it’s highly unlikely we can simply go test drive a new vehicle, let alone sit in one right now, but buyers wanting to take advantage of just-noted deals can purchase online, after which a local dealer would prep the vehicle before handing over the keys (no doubt while wearing gloves).

Back to the car in question, we’re very far into the 2020 calendar year, not to mention the 2020 model year, but this said let’s go over all the upgrades made to the 2020 Prius Prime so that you can decide whether to save a bit on a 2019 model or pay a little extra for the 2020 version. First, a little background info is in order. Toyota redesigned the regular Prius into its current fourth-generation iteration for the 2016 model year, and then added this plug-in hybrid (PHEV) Prime for the 2017 model year. The standard hybrid Prius received many upgrades for 2019, cleaning up styling for more of a mainstream look (that didn’t impact the version being reviewed now, by the way), but the latest 2020 Prius Prime was given a number of major updates that I’ll go over now.

2019 Toyota Prius Prime
LED headlamps, driving lights and fog lamps look distinctive.

Interestingly (in other words, what were they thinking?), pre-refreshed Prius Prime models came with glossy white interior trim on the steering wheel spokes and shift lever panel, which dramatically contrasted the glossy piano black composite found on most other surfaces. Additionally, Toyota’s Prius Prime design team separated the rear outboard seats with a big fixed centre console, reduced a potential five seats to just four for the 2019 model year. Now, for 2020, the trim is all black shiny plastic and the rear seat separator has been removed, making the Prime much more family friendly. What’s more, the 2020 improves also include standard Apple CarPlay, satellite radio, a sunvisor extender, plus new more easily accessible seat heater buttons, while two new standard USB-A charging ports have been added in back.

Moving into the 2020 model year the Prime’s trim lineup doesn’t change one iota, which means Upgrade trim sits above the base model once again, while the former can be enhanced with a Technology package. The base price for both 2019 and 2020 model years is $32,990 (plus freight and fees) as per the aforementioned CarCostCanada pricing pages, but on the positive Toyota now gives you cargo cover at no charge (it was previously part of the Technology package). This reduces the Technology package price from $3,125 to $3,000, a $125 savings, and also note that this isn’t the only price drop for 2020. The Upgrade trim’s price tag is $455 lower in fact, from $35,445 to $34,990, but Toyota doesn’t explain why. Either way, paying less is a good thing.

2019 Toyota Prius Prime
The Prime gets a unique concave roof, rear window and rear spoiler.

As for the Prius Prime’s Upgrade package, it includes a 4.6-inch bigger 11.6-inch infotainment touchscreen that integrates a navigation system (and it also replaces the Scout GPS Link service along with its 3-year subscription), a wireless phone charger, Softex breathable leatherette upholstery, an 8-way powered driver seat (which replaces the 6-way manual seat from the base car), illuminated entry (with step lights), a smart charging lid, and proximity keyless entry for the front passenger’s door and rear liftgate handle (it’s standard on the driver’s door), but interestingly Upgrade trim removes the Safety Connect system along with its Automatic Collision Notification, Stolen Vehicle Locator, Emergency Assistance button (SOS), and Enhanced Roadside Assistance program (three-year subscription).

My tester’s Technology package includes fog lamps, rain-sensing windshield wipers, a helpful head-up display unit, an always appreciated auto-dimming centre mirror, a Homelink remote garage door opener, impressive 10-speaker JBL audio, useful front parking sensors, semi-self-parking, blind spot monitoring, and rear cross-traffic alert.

2019 Toyota Prius Prime
The Prius interior is much improved over previous generations, especially in top-tier Upgrade trim with the Technology package.

You might think an appropriate joke would be to specify the need for blind spot monitoring (not to mention paying close attention to your mirrors) in a car that only makes 121 net horsepower plus an unspecified amount of torque from its hybrid power unit, plus comes with an electronic continuously variable automatic (CVT) that’s not exactly performance-oriented (to be kind), all of which could cause the majority of upcoming cars to blast past as if it was only standing still, but as with most hybrids the Prime is not as lethargic as its engine specs suggest. The truth is that electric torque comes on immediately, and although AWD is not available with the plug-in Prius Prime, its front wheels hooked up nicely at launch resulting in acceleration that was much more than needed, whether sprinting away from a stoplight, merging onto a highway, or passing big, slower moving trucks and buses.

2019 Toyota Prius Prime
All Prius trims include a wide, narrow digital instrument cluster, but the 11.6-inch centre display comes with Upgrade trim.

The Prius Prime is also handy through curves, but then again, just like it’s non-plug-in Prius compatriot, it was designed more for comfort than all-out speed, with excellent ride quality despite its fuel-efficient low rolling resistance all-season tires. Additionally, its ultra-tight turning radius made it easy to manoeuvre in small spaces. Of course, this is how the majority of Prius buyers want their cars to behave, because getting the best possible fuel economy is prime goal. Fortunately the 2019 Prius Prime is ultra-efficient, with a claimed rating of 4.3 L/100km city, 4.4 highway and 4.3 combined, compared to 4.4 in the city, 4.6 on the highway and 4.4 combined for the regular Prius, and 4.5 city, 4.9 highway and 4.7 for the AWD variant. This said the Prime is a plug-in hybrid that’s theoretically capable of driving on electric power alone, so if you have the patience and trim to recharge it every 40 km or so (its claimed EV-only range), you could actually pay nothing at all for fuel.

I might even consider buying a plug-in just to get the best parking spots at the mall and other popular stores, being that most retailers put their charging stations closest to their front doors. Even better, when appropriate stickers are attached to the Prime’s rear bumper it’s possible to use the much more convenient (and faster) high-occupancy vehicle (HOV) lane when driving alone during rush hour traffic.

2019 Toyota Prius Prime
A closer look shows how massive the navigation system’s map looks.

The Prime’s comfort-oriented driving experience combines with an interior that’s actually quite luxurious too. Resting below and in between cloth-wrapped A-pillars, the Prime receives luxuriously padded dash and instrument panel surfacing, including sound-absorbing soft-painted plastic under the windshield and comfortably soft front door uppers, plus padded door inserts front and back, as well as nicely finished door and centre armrests. Toyota also includes stylish metal-look accents and shiny black composite trim on the instrument panel, the latter melding perfectly into the super-sized 11.6-inch vertical touchscreen infotainment display, which as previously mentioned replaces the base Prime’s 7.0-inch touchscreen when moving up to Upgrade trim.

Ahead of delving into the infotainment system’s details, all Prius Primes receive a wide, narrow digital gauge package at dash central, although it is slanted toward the driver with the majority of functions closer to the driver than the front passenger. I found it easy enough to look at without the need to remove my eyes from the road, and appreciated its stylish graphics with bright colours, deep and rich contrasts, plus high resolution. When you upgrade to the previously noted Technology package, you’ll benefit from a head-up display as well, which can positioned for a driver’s height, thus placing important information exactly where it’s needed on the windscreen.

2019 Toyota Prius Prime
The Prius driver’s seat is very comfortable, and is covered with Toyota’s exclusive Softex breathable leatherette.

The aforementioned vertical centre touchscreen truly makes a big impression when climbing inside, coming close to Tesla’s ultra-sized tablets. I found it easy enough to use, and appreciated its near full-screen navigation map. The bottom half of the screen transforms into a pop-up interface for making commands, that automatically hides away when not in use.

Always impressive is Toyota’s proprietary Softex leatherette upholstery, which actually breathes like genuine hides (appreciated during hot summer months). Also nice, the driver’s seat was ultra comfortable with excellent lower back support that gets improved upon by two-way power lumbar support, while its side bolsters held my backside in place during hard cornering as well. The Prime’s tilt and telescopic steering column gave me ample reach too, allowing me to get totally comfortable while feeling in control of the car. To be clear, this isn’t always possible with Toyota models.

2019 Toyota Prius Prime
The rear seats are comfortable and roomy, while a fixed centre console remains part of the 2019 offering.

I should mention that the steering wheel rim is not wrapped in leather, but rather more of Toyota’s breathable Softex. It’s impressively soft, while also featuring a heated rim that was so nice during my winter test week. High quality switchgear could be found on its 9 and 3 o’clock spokes, while all other Prius Prime buttons, knobs and controls were well made too. I particularly liked the touch-sensitive quick access buttons surrounding the infotainment display, while the cool blue digital-patterned shift knob, which has always been part of the Prius experience, still looks awesome. All said the new Prius Prime is very high in quality.

Take note that Toyota doesn’t finish the rear door uppers in a plush padded material, but at least everything else in rear passenger compartment is detailed out as nicely as the driver’s and front passenger’s area. Even that previously note rear centre console is a premium-like addition, including stylish piano black lacquered trim around the cupholders and a nicely padded centre armrest atop a storage bin. While many will celebrate its removal for 2020, those who don’t have children or grandkids might appreciate its luxury car appeal. Likewise, I found its individual rear bucket seats really comfortable, making the most of all the Prime’s rear real estate. Yes, there’s a lot of room to stretch out one’s legs, plus adequate headroom for taller rear passengers, while Toyota also adds vent to the sides of each rear seat, aiding cooling in back.

2019 Toyota Prius Prime
The rear cargo floor sits very high due to the battery below.

Most should find the Prius Prime’s cargo hold adequately sized, as it’s quite wide, but take note that it’s quite shallow because of the large battery below the load floor. It includes a small stowage area under the rearmost portion of that floor, filled with a portable charging cord, but the 60/40-split rear seats are actually lower than the cargo floor when dropped down, making for an unusually configured cargo compartment. Of course, we expect to make some compromises when choosing a plug-in hybrid, but Hyundai’s Ioniq PHEV doesn’t suffer from this issue, with a cargo floor that rests slightly lower than its folded seatbacks.

If you think I was just complaining, let me get a bit ornery about the Prius’ backup beeping signal. To be clear, a beeping signal would be a good idea if audible from outside the car, being that it has the ability to reverse in EV mode and can therefore be very quiet when doing so, but the Prius’ beeping sound is only audible from inside, making it totally useless. In fact, it’s actually a hindrance because the sound interferes with the parking sensor system’s beeping noise, which goes off simultaneously. I hope Toyota eventually rights this wrong, because it’s the silliest automotive feature I’ve ever experienced.

2019 Toyota Prius Prime
The battery causes an uneven load floor when the rear seats are folded.

This said the Prius’ ridiculous reverse beeper doesn’t seem to slow down its sales, this model having long been the globe’s best-selling hybrid-electric car. It truly is an excellent vehicle that totally deserves to don the well-respected blue and silver badge, whether choosing this PHEV Prime model or its standard trim.

Story and photo credits: Trevor Hofmann

CarCostCanada

2019 Mazda3 Sport GT FWD and AWD Road Test

2019 Mazda3 Sport GT
The Mazda3 Sport looks fabulous in GT trim, this one featuring a 6-speed manual and FWD.

Mazda redesigned its compact 3 for the 2019 model year, and of course I spent a week with one, causing me to declare it as the best car in its compact segment by a long shot. Since then the completely redesigned 2020 Toyota Corolla came on the scene, and while the Mazda3 might still outmuscle the Corolla into the top spot as far as I’m concerned, it’s no longer so far ahead.

As it is, the car I like most and the model, or models the majority of consumers choose to purchase don’t always agree. The current compact sales leader is Honda’s Civic, an excellent car that deserves its success. This said the Civic not only outpaces everything else in the compact segment by a wide margin, but as a matter of fact is also the top-selling car in Canada. Still, it lost 12.8 percent year-over-year in 2019, one of its worst showings in a long time, yet it nevertheless managed to exceed 60,000 units for a total of 60,139. The Corolla came in second after a 2.5-percent YoY downturn that ended with 47,596 units sold, whereas the Hyundai Elantra came in third after dropping 5.5 percent that resulted in 39,463 sales. Where does the Mazda3 fit in? It managed fourth after a shocking 20.4-percent plunge to 21,276 deliveries.

2019 Mazda3 Sport GT
The new Mazda3 Sport is one of the most attractive cars in its class, this one boasting GT trim and new AWD.

The list of competitors in this class is long and varied, with most backpedalling throughout the previous year, including VW’s Golf that came close to ousting the Mazda3 from fourth place with 19,668 sales after an 8.4-percent downturn, although to be fair to Volkswagen I should probably be pulling its 17,260 Jetta deliveries into the equation after that model’s 14.1 percent growth, resulting in 36,928 compact peoples’ cars (or, in fact, fourth place), while the Kia Forte also grew by 8.0 percent for a reasonably strong 15,549 units. I won’t itemize out the category’s sub-10,000 unit challengers, but will say that some, including Chevy’s Cruze and Ford’s Focus, have now been discontinued.

As for why I’m reviewing a 2019 model so far into this 2020 calendar year? Last year’s supply is still plentiful throughout the country in most trims. I can’t say exactly why this is so, but it’s highly likely that Mazda Canada didn’t fully plan for last year’s slowdown in take-rate. Either way you now have the opportunity of some savings when purchasing a 2019, this being a worthwhile endeavour being that the new 2020 model hasn’t changed much at all, whether we’re talking about the base four-door sedan or sportier hatchback model. As you can clearly see I’m now writing about the five-door Sport in this review, but take note I’ll cover the four-door sedan soon. I’ve tested two top-tier GT trims in both front- and all-wheel drive (FWD and AWD) for this review, so I’ll make sure to go over most important issues, particularly my driving experience with Mazda’s i-Activ AWD system in this low-slung sporty car.

2019 Mazda3 Sport GT
The new 3 has clean, minimalist lines that should appeal to most compact car shoppers.

With respect to any 2019 Mazda3 Sport discounts, our 2019 Mazda Mazda3 Sport Canada Prices page shows up to $1,000 in additional incentives in comparison to $750 if opting for the newer model shown on our 2020 Mazda Mazda3 Sport Canada Prices page. There isn’t much difference from year to year, but you’ll likely be able to negotiate a bigger discount if you have maximum information, so therefore keep in mind that a CarCostCanada membership provides dealer invoice pricing that gives you the edge when haggling with your local retailer. Of course, this knowledge could leave thousands in your wallet whether trading up or just trying to get a simple deal, plus CarCostCanada also gives access to the latest manufacturer rebates and more. Be sure to check it out before visiting your local dealer.

Before heading to your dealer it’s also good to know that five-door Sport trims are the same mechanically to the four-door Mazda3 sedan, which means that both 2.0-litre and 2.5-litre SkyActiv four-cylinder engines are available. The base mill makes 155 horsepower and 150 lb-ft of torque, whereas the larger displacement engine is good for 186 horsepower and an identical 186 lb-ft of torque, while a six-speed manual is standard across the entire line, even top-tier GT trim, and a six-speed automatic is optional. The manual offers a fairly sporty short throw and easy, evenly weighted clutch take-up, whereas the auto provides manual shifting capability plus a set of steering wheel-mounted paddles when upgrading to GT trim. Both gearboxes come standard with a drive mode selector that includes a particularly responsive Sport setting, while the new i-Activ AWD system can only be had with the automatic transmission.

2019 Mazda3 Sport GT
LED headlights are standard across the line, and 18-inch alloys are standard with GT trim.

The Mazda3 Sport GT comes standard with proximity-sensing keyless entry for 2020, which was part of the optional Premium package that my 2019 tester included. The upgrade adds a nicer looking frameless centre mirror for 2020 too, plus satin chrome interior trim, but then again the 2019 version shown in the gallery was hardly short of nicely finished metals.

Model year 2019 Mazda3 Sport trims include the GX ($21,300), the mid-range GS ($24,000) and the top-tier GT ($25,900). The base 2.0-litre engine is only in the GX model, whereas the 2.5-litre mill is exclusive to both GS and GT trim lines. The automatic gearbox adds $1,300 across the line, while i-Activ AWD increases each automatic-equipped trims’ bottom line by $1,700.

2019 Mazda3 Sport GT
LED taillights are standard with every 2019 or 2020 Mazda3.

Both engines include direct injection, 16 valves and dual-overhead cams, plus various SkyActiv features that minimize fuel usage, the bigger 2.5-litre motor featuring segment-exclusive cylinder-deactivation. Both engines utilize less expensive regular unleaded gasoline too, the 2.0-litre achieving a claimed Transport Canada five-cycle rating of 8.7 L/100km in the city, 6.6 on the highway and 7.8 combined when mated to the base manual gearbox, or 8.6 in the city, 6.7 on the highway and 7.7 combined when conjoined to the auto. The 2.5-litre, on the other hand, is said to be capable of 9.2 L/100km city, 6.6 highway and 8.1 combined with its manual transmission, 9.0, 6.8 and 8.0 respectively with the autobox, or 9.8, 7.4 and 8.7 with AWD.

The top-line engine doesn’t use much more fuel when considering its power advantage. Of course, the minor difference in fuel economy would widen if one were to drive the quicker car more aggressively, which is tempting, but I only pushed my two weeklong test cars for short durations, and merely to test what they could do. I was grateful the red FWD car with the black cabin was fitted with the standard six-speed manual gearbox, and the grey AWD model with the red interior was upgraded to the six-speed automatic with paddles, thus providing very different driving experiences.

2019 Mazda3 Sport GT
This Mazda3 Sport GT AWD came with a gorgeous red and black interior.

Before I get into that, the Mazda3 GT offers a superb driving position, which isn’t always true in this economically targeted compact class. The GT Premium’s 10-way powered driver’s seat, which includes powered lumbar support and is also part of the GS trims’ feature set when upgraded to its Luxury package, is wonderfully comfortable with good lateral support and excellent lower back support. Even better, the car’s tilt and telescoping steering column offers very long reach, which is important as I have a longer set of legs than torso. I was therefore able to pull the Mazda3 Sport’s steering wheel further rearward than I needed, allowing for an ideal driver’s position that maximized comfort and control.

There’s plenty of space and comfortable seating in back as well, with good headroom that measured approximately three and a half inches over my crown, plus I had about four inches in front of my knees, more than enough space for my feet below the driver’s seat when it was set up for my five-foot-eight body. Also, there were four inches from my outer hip and shoulder to the rear door panel, which was ample, and speaking of breadth I imagine there’d be more than enough space to seat three regular-sized adults on the rear bench, although I’d rather not have anyone bigger than a small child in between rear passengers.

2019 Mazda3 Sport GT
The GT’s Premium package adds some very upscale features, like these drilled aluminum speaker grates that come with the Bose audio system.

Mazda provides a wide folding armrest with two integrated cupholders in the middle, but the 3 Sport doesn’t get a lot of fancy features in back, like overhead reading lamps, air vents, heatable outboard seats, and USB charge points (or for that matter any other kind of device charger).

I found the dedicated cargo area large enough for my requirements, plus it was carpeted up the sidewalls and on the backsides of each 60/40 split folding seat. Unfortunately Mazda doesn’t include any type of pass-through down the middle, which is the same for most rivals, but the hard-shell carpeted cargo cover feels like a premium bit of kit and was easily removable, although take note that it must either be reversed and placed on the cargo floor to be stowed away, or slotted behind the front seats. Altogether, the 3 Sport allows for 569 litres behind those rear seats, or 1,334 litres when they’re laid flat, which is pretty good for this class.

2019 Mazda3 Sport GT
It’s hard to go wrong with a classic black interior, especially one as well designed and fully featured as the Mazda3.

The Mazda3 impresses even more when it comes to interior quality and refinement. Its styling is more minimalist than opulent, but this said few volume-branded compacts come anywhere as close to providing such a premium-level car. For instance, its entire dash top and each door upper gets covered in a higher grade of padded composite material than the class average, while the instrument panel facing and door inserts are treated to an even more luxurious faux leather with stitching. One of my testers’ cabins was even partially dyed in a gorgeous dark red, really setting it apart from more mainstream alternatives.

I’ve been fond of the latest Mazda3 since first testing it in the previously noted sedan body style, particularly the horizontal dash design theme that’s visually strengthened by a bright metal strip of trim spanning the entire instrument panel from door to door. It cuts right through the dual-zone automatic climate control interface, and provides a clean and tidy lower framing of the vents both left and right. This top-line model adds more brushed metal, including beautifully drilled aluminum speaker grilles plus plenty of satin-aluminized trim elsewhere. Mazda continues its near-premium look and feel by wrapping the front door uppers in the same high-quality cloth as the roofliner.

2019 Mazda3 Sport GT
Two analogue gauges are surrounded by a 7.0-inch digital display at centre.

Visually encircled by an attractive leather-wrapped sport steering wheel, its rim held in place by stylish thin spokes adorned with premium-quality metal and composite switchgear, the 3’s gauge cluster is a mix of analogue dials to the outside and pure digital functionality within, organized into Mazda’s classic three-gauge design. The speedometer sides in the middle, and thus is part of the 7.0-inch display that also includes a variety of other functions. It’s not as comprehensively featured as some others, but all the important functions are included.

The 8.8-inch main display is sits upright like a wide, narrow tablet, yet due to its low profile the screen is smaller than average. Some will like it and some won’t, particularly when backing up, as the rearview camera needed extra attention. The camera is clear with good resolution, while its dynamic guidelines are a helpful aid, but I’m used to larger displays.

2019 Mazda3 Sport GT
The infotainment system is good, but the display is not the largest in the industry.

All other infotainment features work well, with Mazda providing a minimalist’s dream interface that’s merely white writing on a black background for most interface panels, except navigation mapping, of course, which is as bright and colourful as most automakers in this class, as was for the satellite radio display that provided cool station graphics. Unfortunately there’s no touchscreen for tapping, swiping and pinching features, the system only controlled by a rotating dial and surrounding buttons on the lower console, which while giving the 3 a more premium look and feel than most rivals, isn’t always as easy to use. I was able to do most things easily enough, however, such as pairing my smartphone via Android Auto (Apple CarPlay is standard as well).

Being that so many 2019 Mazda3 trims are still available, I’ll give you a full rundown of the aforementioned upgrade packages, with the GS trim’s Luxury package adding the 10-way powered driver’s seat with memory noted before, as well as leatherette upholstery, an auto-dimming centre mirror, and a power glass sunroof with a manual-sliding sunshade. Incidentally, GT trim comes standard with the auto-dimming rearview mirror and moonroof and offers an optional Premium package that swaps out the faux leather upholstery for the real deal and also adds the power/memory driver’s seat, plus it links the exterior mirrors to the memory seat while adding auto-dimming to the driver’s side.

2019 Mazda3 Sport GT
All trims offer manual or automatic transmissions.

Additionally, the GT Premium package adds 18-inch alloys in a black metallic finish, a windshield wiper de-icer, proximity keyless access, a windshield-projected colour Active Driving Display (ADD) (or in other words a head-up display/HUD), rear parking sonar, a HomeLink garage door opener, satellite radio (with a three-month trial subscription), SiriusXM Traffic Plus and Travel Link services (with a five-year trial subscription), the previously noted navigation system, and Traffic Sign Recognition (TSR), a host of advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS) including Smart Brake Support Rear (SBS-R) that automatically stops the car if it detects something in the way (like a curb, wall or lighting standard), and Smart Brake Support Rear Crossing (SBS-RC) that does the same albeit after detecting a car or (hopefully) a pedestrian, these last two features complementing the Smart Brake Support (SBS) and Smart City Brake Support (SCBS) automatic emergency braking from the GS, plus that mid-range model’s Distance Recognition Support System (DRSS), Forward Obstruction Warning (FOW), forward-sensing Pedestrian Detection, Lane Departure Warning System (LDWS), Lane-keep Assist System (LAS), Driver Attention Alert (DAA), High Beam Control System (HBC), and last but hardly least, Radar Cruise Control with Stop & Go. Incidentally, the base GX model features standard Advanced Blind Spot Monitoring (ABSM) with Rear Cross Traffic Alert (RCTA), which means those inside a Mazda3 GT with its Premium package are well protected against any possible accident.

2019 Mazda3 Sport GT
How do you like his deep red upholstery? Thumbs up or down?

Now that we’re talking features, the base GX includes standard LED headlights, LED tail lamps, front and rear LED interior lighting, pushbutton start/stop, an electromechanical parking brake, three-way heated front seats, Bluetooth phone/audio connectivity, SMS text message reading/responding capability, plus more, while I also appreciated the sunglasses holder in the overhead console that’s standard with the GS, which protects lenses well thanks to a soft felt lining, not to mention the GS model’s auto on/off headlamps (the GX only shuts them off automatically), rain-sensing wipers, heatable side mirrors, dual-zone auto HVAC, and heated leather-clad steering wheel rim.

As for the GT, its standard Adaptive (cornering) Front-lighting System (AFS) with automatic levelling and signature highlights front and back make night vision very clear, while its 12-speaker Bose audio system delivered good audio quality, and the 18-inch rims on 215/45 all-season tires would have without doubt been better through the corners compared to the GX and GS models’ 205/60R16 all-season rubber on 16-inch alloys.

2019 Mazda3 Sport GT
The rear seating area is spacious and comfortable.

Sportiest GT trim makes do with a slightly firmer ride than the lower trims, but it was never harsh. Better yet is its impressive road-holding skill, the 3 GT always providing stable, controlled cornering and strong, linear braking even though it only uses a simple front strut, rear torsion beam suspension configuration. Take note the 2020 Corolla and Civic mentioned earlier come with fully independent suspension designs.

As you might imagine, the 2.5-litre four-cylinder has a lot more fire in the belly than the 2.0-litre mill, while its Sport mode made a big difference off the line and during passing procedures. The automatic transmission’s manual mode only needs you to pull the shift lever to engage, while the aforementioned steering wheel shift paddles work best when choosing manual mode, but don’t need it in order to change gears. This said the DIY manual shifts so well you may want to pocket the $1,300 needed for the automatic and shift on your own.

2019 Mazda3 Sport GT
Cargo space is more than adequate for the compact class.

Thanks to the grippy new optional AWD system, takeoff is immediate with no noticeable front wheel spin, which of course isn’t the case with the FWD car, especially in inclement weather. It also felt easier to control through curves at high speeds in both wet and dry weather, but I must admit that my manual-equipped FWD tester had its own level of control that simply couldn’t be matched with an automatic when pushed hard. As much as I liked the manual, I’d probably choose AWD so I wouldn’t be forced to put on chains when heading up the ski hill or while traveling through the mountains during winter.

Everything said, the Mazda3 is a great choice for those who love to drive, plus it’s as well made as many premium-branded compact models, generously outfitted with popular features, a strong enough seller so that its resale value stays high, impressively dependable, and impressively safe as per the IIHS that honoured the U.S. version with a Top Safety Pick award for 2019. That it’s also one of the better looking cars in the compact class is just a bonus, although one that continues to deliver on that near-premium promise Mazda has been providing to mainstream consumers in recent years.

Story and photo credits: Trevor Hofmann

CarCostCanada

2019 Lincoln MKZ Reserve 3.0L V6 AWD Road Test

2019 Lincoln MKZ Reserve 3.0L AWD
This classy looking four-door luxury sedan is a great performer in as-tested 3.0L V6 form.

It’s not every day that a really great car gets discontinued, but Lincoln is eliminating its entire lineup of cars (two in total), just like its parent company Ford is doing (Mustang aside), which means the impressive MKZ mid-size luxury sedan will soon be merely a memory, and the automotive world will have lost a car well worth owning.

Lincoln updated the MKZ with its latest design language for 2017, including its ritzier more premium chrome grille up front, which was mixed in with rear styling that was already very unique and expressive for a very handsome mid-size luxury sedan. My tester’s optional dark grey matte-metallic 19-inch alloys encircled by 245/40 Michelin all-seasons give it a more aggressive appearance than it would otherwise have, the rest of the car more artfully elegant than many rivals.

2019 Lincoln MKZ Reserve 3.0L AWD
The MKZ has long been one of the most distinctive cars in its class when seen from the rear.

Although luxury cars are temporarily loosing their savour in today’s SUV-enamoured auto market, Lincoln makes a pretty good argument for sticking with the time-tested body style in its MKZ. Ford’s luxury brand has actually done reasonably well with this model over the years, achieving a sales high of 1,732 deliveries in calendar year 2006, but after a slowdown to accommodate the 2007/2008 financial crisis and additional stagnation in 2012, it’s been a slippery albeit steady slope downhill from 1,625 units in 2013 to 1,445 in 2014, 1,130 in 2015, 1,120 in 2016, 994 in 2017, 833 in 2018, and lastly 367 examples delivered last year, the latter sum representing a 55.9-percent year-over-year nosedive. Of course other factors played into the MKZ’s most recent downturn, with parent company Ford’s announcement of the car’s cancellation last year probably most destructive, but none of this takes away from the model’s overall goodness.

The very same 3.0-litre turbo-V6 that impressed me in the larger, heavier Continental was new for 2018 in the MKZ Reserve, which means the velvety smooth 400-horsepower beast of an engine, pushing out an equally robust 400 lb-ft of torque, scoots down the highway even faster. With so much thrust and twist available, an eight-, nine- or 10-speed automatic isn’t necessary, so Lincoln left its smooth and dependable six-speed autobox in place, together with a set of paddle-shifters on the steering wheel to make the most of the available power.

2019 Lincoln MKZ Reserve 3.0L AWD
Lincoln provides plenty of stylish details including LED headlamps and sporty 19-inch alloy wheels.

Getting things started is an ignition button atop the otherwise unique pushbutton gear selector, which lines up to the left of the centre touchscreen on the main stack of controls. This vertical row of switches integrates the usual PRND buttons within the start/stop button just noted and an “S” or sport mode button at the bottom. Once accustomed to the setup it’s as easy as any other gear selector to use.

The smooth transmission is certainly more engaging in its sport mode, especially when those steering wheel-mounted paddles just mentioned are put into use, but just the same I found upshifts took at least two seconds to complete, with downshifts occurring about a half-second quicker, which is hardly fast enough to be deemed a sport sedan. Still, this well-proven gearbox provided reliable, refined service. This in mind, the MKZ was never designed to be a sports sedan. It’s capable of moving down the road quickly when coaxed, with tons of get-up-and-go off the line, plus a true automatic feel when pulling on its paddles, and stable control around fast-paced curves, but let’s be clear, the MKZ was designed for comfort first and foremost.

This means that it’s a wholly quiet and impressively smooth riding car. Nevertheless, when I was pushing some serious speed down a winding rural road near my home, the mid-size four-door clung to pavement well. Granted, I didn’t temporarily lose my sense of reality by forgetting it wasn’t a Mercedes-AMG, BMW M or Audi RS. The MKZ’s advanced electronics and as-tested torque-vectoring AWD make it rock steady on slippery surfaces just the same, while it comes well stocked with yet more safety items.

2019 Lincoln MKZ Reserve 3.0L AWD
Get ready for a richer cabin than you may have experienced in a Lexus ES or some other luxury brand.

As good as it handles, and as stylish as its exterior design is, the MKZ’s best asset is its cabin. Yes, the MKZ interior can hardly be faulted, other than sharing a few design elements, some of its switchgear, and a number of underlying components with the Ford Fusion that rides on the same underpinnings. This is most obvious with the steering wheel, IP/dash and centre stack designs plus overall layout, not to mention the door panels regarding their handles and switches. Then again Lincoln takes the MKZ’s finishings up a major notch when compared to the blue-oval car, with a totally pliable composite instrument hood and dash-top, which even extends down to the lower knee area, plus soft-touch surfaces on each side of the centre stack and the lower console, even including the side portions of the floating bottom section.

I’m hardly finished praising this interior, but this is where I should probably interject that storage space is another MKZ strong point. The floating centre console just mentioned provides a large area for stowing smartphones, tablets, etcetera, while Lincoln also includes a big glove box, a sizeable storage compartment below the centre armrest, another smaller one within the folding rear armrest, most of which are lined with a plush velvety fabric, plus bottle holders in each lower door panel, and finally an amply sized 436-litre trunk that expands via 60/40-split rear seatbacks, or a helpful centre pass-through.

2019 Lincoln MKZ Reserve 3.0L AWD
The MKZ’s dash design might look familiar to those knowledgeable of the Ford Fusion, but the materials are superb.

Incidentally, the MKZ Hybrid’s trunk only measures 314 litres, and this electrified car is all that’s available for the 2020 model year. Sad, but the brilliantly quick V6 is now history, or at least you can’t get a 2020 MKZ with this ultra-strong powerplant, yet you should have no problem locating a 2019, albeit don’t hesitate to contact your local Lincoln dealer if you want bonafide performance along with your mid-size Lincoln luxury sedan experience.

Also on the positive, you can save up to $7,500 in additional incentives with the 2019 MKZ, as per our 2019 Lincoln MKZ Canada Prices page. Lincoln provides up to $1,500 in additional incentives for the 2020 MKZ, by the way, plus you can theoretically save up to $13,000 in additional incentives if you can find a new 2018 model (there’s likely some still available).

Now that we’re talking model year changes, the transition from 2018 to 2019 left mid-range Select trim off the menu in the conventionally powered car, leaving only Reserve trim with the entry-level 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder engine, this mill capable of a motivating 245 horsepower and 270 lb-ft of torque, while the as-tested Reserve 3.0-litre V6 was (is) also available. The hybrid’s combustion engine produces 141 horsepower and 129 lb-ft of torque, by the way, although its net output is stronger at 188 horsepower, whereas the electric motor makes 118 horsepower (88 kW) and 177 lb-ft of torque (I wouldn’t both trying to add them up, as quantifying hybrid output numbers is far from simple math).

2019 Lincoln MKZ Reserve 3.0L AWD
The MKZ’s mostly digital gauge cluster is attractive and feature filled.

Fuel economy is easier to calibrate, and considering the regularly fluctuating Canadian pump prices, which may very well get impacted by our national government’s lack of will to enforce the rule of law against a much more radical set of blockading protestors, the price of a litre of fuel could increase dramatically anytime, thus choosing a fuel-efficient car is probably smart. As it is, the MKZ Hybrid’s 5.7 L/100km city, 6.2 highway and 5.9 combined results are twice as efficient as the 3.0 V6 version I’m reviewing now, the hybrid model’s continuously variable transmission (CVT) no doubt helping out, but nowhere near as much as the electrified portion of its drivetrain. By comparison the MKZ’s V6 AWD setup is rated at 14.0 L/100km in the city, 9.2 on the highway and 11.8 combined, while the same car powered by the non-hybrid 2.0-litre four-cylinder does reasonably well with a 12.1 city, 8.4 highway and 10.4 combined rating.

Earlier I claimed to not being finished praising the MKZ’s interior, and it truly is impressive for a modest entry price of $47,000 to $53,150 for the Hybrid. A Reserve AWD can be had for $52,500, incidentally, while my 3.0-litre V6 tester caused the price of the latter model to jump by $6,500. Just like the dash-top and instrument panel, the MKZ Reserve’s inside door panels feature nicely stitched composite door uppers, inserts and armrests, plus the doors’ lower panels are also made from a pliable composite. While most wouldn’t do so, it’s reasonable to compare the MKZ Reserve to the much pricier compact-to-midsize German luxury cars rivals, as they won’t wholly improve on the domestic luxury model’s fine detailing and refinement. This Lincoln includes genuine hardwood inlays as well, plus exquisite drilled aluminum speaker grilles featuring a elegant spiralling pattern, while the quality of the MKZ’s various buttons, knobs and switches can match many in the premium sector.

2019 Lincoln MKZ Reserve 3.0L AWD
The centre stack is well organized, and includes gear selectors at the top left.

The same holds true for its electronic interfaces, particularly the stunning new mostly-digital instrument cluster. At first glance it seems conventional, with a duo of circular primary dials with a large colour multi-information display in the middle, but instead all of the gauges are digital graphics, with Lincoln housing the TFT screens within round dial-like frames, the left one featuring an analogue-like tachometer around the outer edge and a multi-info display within, or alternatively a much bigger MID. The speedometer on the right boasts a digital needle and dial markers, plus other gauges within. It all gives the MKZ a fully up-to-date look, which is complemented by an infotainment touchscreen on the centre stack that was already impressive.

Lincoln’s infotainment system builds on Ford’s Sync 3 system, albeit with earthy brown and gold tones on black instead of the mainstream namesake brand’s various shades of light blues on white. No matter the overlying design, it’s a very good interface that needs no updating in this MKZ. Features include complete audio controls, two-zone front auto HVAC functions with three-way heatable/coolable front seats, Bluetooth phone and audio streaming connectivity, plus Apple CarPlay and Android Auto smartphone integration, an easy-to-use navigation system with good accuracy, an app menu that comes stock with Sirius Travel Link and lets you download additional mobile apps too, plus a car settings menu with two full panels of features as well as a third panel offering ambient lighting colour choices and multi-contour seat controls.

2019 Lincoln MKZ Reserve 3.0L AWD
These multi-contour front seats are fabulously comfortable, especially when their massage function is selected.

The MKZ Reserve’s seats in mind, those up front are extremely comfortable thanks to good support all over. Yes, even their side bolstering is good, helping this luxury car live up to its high-horsepower performance. They include four-way lumbar support, this being a very good reason to choose this Lincoln over the directly competitive Lexus ES that only offered two-way powered lumbar in the 2019 model I tested recently. A button in the middle of the lumbar controller immediately triggers a panel within the centre display to customize the multi-contour seat controls, including a massage function that does a great job of relaxing sore muscles.

As good as the front seats are, your passengers should be comfortable in the back too. The second row is detailed out just as nicely as the front seating area, with the same high quality, pliable composite and leather door panels, including the gorgeous aluminum speaker grilles. The folding centre armrest is infused with the usual twin cupholders, of course, while Lincoln provides rear vents on the backside of the front centre console too, as well as buttons for a set of two-way seat warmers in the outboard positions, plus two USB-A charging points and a three-prong 110-volt household-style socket for plugging in laptops.

2019 Lincoln MKZ Reserve 3.0L AWD
The rear seating area is comfortable, spacious and nicely finished.

A powered trunk lid provides access the previously noted cargo area, and it’s a nicely finished compartment too, with high-quality carpeting on the floor, the sidewalls, and under the bulkhead, plus the backsides of the rear folding seatbacks of course. It’s too back Lincoln only split them with a less convenient 60/40-split, the Euro-style 40/20/40 configuration much better for slotting longer items like skis down the middle, but at least Lincoln included a small centre pass-through that’s good for a single pair of downhill boards or two narrower sets for cross-county skiing.

As for features, the multi-contour front seats noted earlier were made standard in the MKZ Reserve for 2019, as were a set of rear window sunshades, plus active motion and adaptive cruise with stop-and-go, and 19-inch satin-finish alloys. Additionally, Lincoln included a windshield wiper de-icer on all trims, plus rain-sensing wipers, blindspot monitoring and lane keeping assist, while the options menu included a new package with premium LED headlights, a panoramic sunroof and 20-speaker audio.

2019 Lincoln MKZ Reserve 3.0L AWD
A small pass-through can accommodate long cargo down the middle.

After everything is said and done, the only issue reason a person might choose to purchase a Lexus ES, or another big family sedan from a non-premium maker like the Toyota Avalon, Nissan Maxima, or Chrysler 300 instead of the Lincoln MKZ comes down to its imminent discontinuation. This said the MKZ’s scenario is not an anomaly thanks to plenty of large sedans getting the axe, including Lincoln’s own Continental (I’m saddened a lot more by that news as it’s a superb car for excellent value) and Ford’s Taurus, plus some Buicks and Chevy sedans, so therefore it’s quite possible any new four-door model you happen to choose might get killed off if Canadian consumers don’t step up and start buying them in volume, so it’s probably best to take one home while you can.

Story and photo credits: Trevor Hofmann