2019 Dodge Durango SRT Road Test

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Story and photo credits: Trevor Hofmann

2019 Kia Sorento SXL Road Test

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Story and photo credits: Trevor Hofmann

2019 Toyota Avalon XSE Road Test

2019 Toyota Avalon XSE
The all-new 2019 Toyota Avalon gets a massive new grille and sportier styling all around. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

If you’ve ever wondered how large the front grille of a car could get, you’re looking at it. It certainly doesn’t appear as if the new 2019 Avalon’s grille could get any larger, as it nearly covers the entire front fascia, but no doubt some will like this a lot more than the already gaping maw offered with the outgoing model.

The grille looks bigger in my tester’s entry-level XSE trim due to a glossy black surround in place of top-tier Limited trim’s chrome, while gloss-black mesh grille inserts appear darker and therefore more aggressive than the pricier trim’s matte-black horizontal strips. Following the XSE’s sporty theme rearward, Toyota adds glossy black door mirror caps plus a black lip spoiler on the trailing edge of the trunk, which is discreet in size albeit quite obvious when the car is painted in a lighter coating than my tester’s elegant Brownstone metallic.

Even my XSE tester’s base LED headlights look meaner than the Limited model’s enhanced triple-beam LEDs, while its previously classy tail lamps have been swapped out for a body-wide combination of angular lenses filled with LEDs, which rest overtop a sporty matte-black diffuser-style lower apron highlighted by four circular chromed exhaust pipes with the XSE, or two larger rectangular tailpipes for Limited trim. Additionally, the XSE rolls on machine-finish 10-spoke 19-inch alloy wheels with black-painted pockets for a more assertive look than the more premium looking Limited model’s silver multi-spoke 18-inch alloys.

2019 Toyota Avalon XSE
The new Av replaces the previous car’s elegance for an edgier new look. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

One thing we can surmise from the Avalon’s 2019 redesign is their unwillingness to quietly watch their flagship luxury sedan get eaten alive by SUV sales, even if those utilities were RAV4s and Highlanders. A brand’s flagship needs to garner a certain amount of respect, and after decades of somewhat forgettable designs the Av’s dramatic new styling should allow it to do just that.

In my opinion, the 2005–2012 fourth-generation Avalon was the most attractive ever. It was an elegant sedan that delivered surprisingly good performance than previous iterations as well. It wouldn’t be right to call it a sport sedan, but the big Av has continued to get better as the generations and refreshes passed, and now this fifth-generation, especially in base XSE form, is the most capable off the line and around curves yet.

Before filling you in on its driving dynamics, some background info: My tester’s base XSE trim line is not the least expensive version in North America. OK, let me be more specific. If you take the U.S. base price of $35,800 USD and then convert it into Canadian dollars you’ll in fact need to pay $47,128 CAD, or $4,338 more than our base price that’s actually a much better equipped model. South of the 49th the Avalon is available in XLE, XLE Hybrid, XSE, Touring, Limited and Limited Hybrid trims, which is three times as many trims as offered here in Canada. Of course, the hybrids aren’t available here, Toyota choosing to leave electrification to Lexus and its ES 300h (basically the same car as the Avalon Hybrid under the skin).

2019 Toyota Avalon XSE
Standard LED headlights and 19-inch alloys give the Avalon XSE an aggressive new look. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

Interestingly, the pricier ES 350 and ES 300h combine for about five times as many buyers than the Avalon, but possibly even more interesting is the fact that both Lexus models are 35 times more popular in the US than in Canada, while Americans purchase the Avalon 100 times more often than Canadians, at least based on sales figures since the beginning of this year. So far, year-to-date Avalon deliveries are a paltry 212 in Canada compared to 22,453 in the US, whereas Lexus Canada’s ES sales reached 1,081 units compared to 37,896 across the line. When factoring in that the US is less than 10 times the population of Canada, it’s easy to see how much more popular these two cars are Stateside.

So either you’re American, enjoying a Canadian journalist’s point of view about your favourite car, or you’re a very, very, very rare Canadian considering a very good car that doesn’t get enough attention (you could also be an anything-car-related-junkie getting your fix on the new Av, but that’s just weird). Either way, the Avalon has exclusivity in its corner, which has an appeal of its own. Unless you’re the kind of person who likes to nod at all the folks driving Camrys as if you’ve got something special in common, you might just appreciate having Camry drivers (and everyone else) looking over at this very interesting luxury car they may have never seen. You’re unlikely to see one pulling up to the stop sign across the street, or find one parked beside you after the game, and that’s a shame as Camry XSE and XLE owners (the most obvious candidates) won’t know what they’re missing (not to mention that they can get into an Avalon for little more than they paid for their Camry).

2019 Toyota Avalon XSE
A single body-wide LED tail lamp replaces its predecessor’s more conventional smaller lights. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

This new generation is more likely to get noticed than any previous iteration, but everything said the current trajectory for large sedan sales is down. Even the dominant Dodge Charger and Chrysler 300 twosome that achieved 4,704 combined sales over the same three quarters endured a fairly steep 14.15 and 39.31 percent slide respectively, while General Motors’ Chevy Impala and Buick LaCrosse, which pulled in 2,075 collective sales over the same time period saw their numbers fall 16.96 and 15.13 percent apiece, which without doubt made those within GM’s inner circle feel better about their cancellation. Nissan’s 710 year-over-year Maxima sales were off by 7.07 percent, which isn’t all that bad compared to every other car in this category; Toyota’s previously noted 212 Avalon deliveries resulting in a 17.19-percent downturn. And then there’s Kia that only managed to find 19 new Cadenza owners since January 1st, resulting in the category’s harshest 54.76-percent deep-dive to near oblivion. One has to wonder why Kia hasn’t discontinued the Cadenza for the Canadian market (it recently did so with the K900), and wonder more why they’re audaciously introducing an entirely new 2020 model as I write. Brave or foolish? You be the judge.

All of the cars in this class are worthy of attention, with most having served as their various brands’ flagships. This means they’re usually well stocked with all of the features offered in lesser models, and for the most part this is true for the $42,790 base Avalon XSE. Its standard features menu includes plenty, such as the previous mentioned LED headlamps and LED taillights, as well as 235/40R19 all-season tires, proximity keyless access, pushbutton start/stop, a power tilt and telescopic steering column, a leather-clad multifunction steering wheel, a 7.0-inch multi-information display, a 9.0-inch centre touchscreen with Toyota’s own Entune along with Apple CarPlay smartphone integration (but no Android Auto), SMS/text- and email-to-speech functions, advanced voice recognition, decent sounding eight-speaker audio with satellite radio, Bluetooth audio streaming, a handy wireless smartphone charger, four USB charge ports, a power glass sunroof, an eight-way power-adjustable driver’s seat, a six-way power front passenger seat, breathable Softex leatherette upholstery, heated front seats, an auto-dimming centre mirror, a remote garage door opener, two-zone automatic climate control, plus more.

2019 Toyota Avalon XSE
Like the exterior, the new Av’s cabin is all-new and completely modernized. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

Entune Safety Connect is standard as well, including automatic collision notification, a stolen vehicle locator, an emergency assistance (SOS) button, and enhanced roadside assistance, while standard advanced driver assistance and safety systems include auto high beams, adaptive cruise control, automatic emergency braking with pedestrian detection, lane departure alert with steering assist, blindspot monitoring and rear cross-traffic warning, plus all the expected active and passive safety features including two airbags for the front occupants’ knees, etcetera.

The Avalon’s multi-information display mentioned a moment ago sits within an otherwise analogue gauge cluster, hardly anything unusual about that, but rather than just a glorified trip computer it also provides in-depth infotainment functions such as route guidance instructions exactly where needed. Atop the centre stack, the large touchscreen also shows navigation mapping in a high-resolution display, the only truly colourful application, and while Toyota’s new Entune interface is a bit drab its proprietary smartphone integration is excellent, even better than Android Auto in my opinion. You can connect to numerous functions, plus music and additional info such as traffic conditions, fuel stations, weather forecasts, stocks, etcetera via plenty of apps including Scout GPS, Yelp, Slacker, NPR One and more.

2019 Toyota Avalon XSE
Mostly analogue, the Avalon’s gauge cluster gets a large colour multi-info display at centre. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

Those still needing more will want to go for the $47,790 Limited model, which includes smaller more comfort-oriented 235/45R18 all-season tires, the previously mentioned triple-beam LED headlights, more sophisticated LED tail lamps, ambient interior lighting, a 10-inch colour head-up display unit with customizable settings, a heated steering wheel, four-way power lumbar support for the driver’s seat, driver-side memory, semi-aniline leather upholstery, cooled front seats, heatable rear seats, a surround-view bird’s-eye parking camera system, navigation/route guidance, 1,200-watt 14-speaker JBL Clari-Fi surround-sound audio, Toyota Premium Audio Connected Services, a three-year subscription to Scout GPS Link, front parking sensors, autonomous rear cross-traffic braking, plus more.

The list of premium-level features above is impressive, but truly some should be standard in the base XSE I was driving. After all, the base model is getting close to $43k, so charging Canadians $5k more for a heatable steering wheel doesn’t seem right. Of course, you’ll receive a bevy of additional features with that warming wheel, but it’s hard to designate any car a “luxury” offering without this feature when so many lesser models (including Toyota’s new Corolla) offer one optionally, while some brands are even doing so as standard equipment (Kia’s $16k Forte).

2019 Toyota Avalon XSE
Fabulous centre stack is highly functional. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

As for interior refinement, the Av provides plenty soft, pliable surfaces above the waist, including the entire dash top plus both front and rear door uppers, and the middle portion of instrument panel that features an even softer padded and stitched surface treatment, while just below is a lovely textured metallic inlay and wonderfully stylish three-dimensional metallic and black horizontal section that extends into the corner vents. The lower portion of the dash, glove box lid included, gets the segment’s usual hard plastic treatment, this spreading over to the lower door panels as well, although each door’s middle section, just under the aforementioned soft composite upper, gets a soft-touch synthetic treatment of its own, plus ultrasuede and stitched leatherette.

Outdoing the previous model’s centre stack was a tall order, and I can’t say they made the new version more appealing than the old car’s metal-finished surfacing and hollowed-out hockey stick-shaped switchgear that was totally unique and quite fabulous, but the new model’s gloss-black, glass-like design is certainly more modern and up-to-date, the upper portion standing upright like a fixed tablet while melding seamlessly into the centre infotainment touchscreen, and appearing to be held up by side buttresses that allow access to a big wireless device charging pad resting under a retractable bin lid, whereas the lower section provides digital HVAC controls including a neat row of narrow aluminized buttons, plus more. This satin-silver highlighting actually frames most of the centre stack, as well as the shift lever and cupholder surrounds plus elsewhere in the cabin, while comforting stitched and padded leatherette wraps the edge of the lower console. While shared such niceties, that should also include fabric-wrapped A-pillars, with a few premium-grade shortcomings, most should be impressed with the Avalon’s refinement.

2019 Toyota Avalon XSE
These inherently comfortable seats only provide two-way powered lumbar. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

Just in case you were wondering whether or not to move up to an Avalon from the barely smaller Camry, which incidentally shares Toyota’s TNGA-K (GA-K) platform architecture with the Avalon, as well as Lexus’ previously noted ES, the namesake brand’s flagship sedan is 100 mm (4.0 in) longer from front to back, with a 50-mm (2.0-in) longer wheelbase, plus it’s 10 mm (0.4 in) wider and only slightly lower by 10 mm (0.4 in) as well. The new Av takes up more real estate than its outgoing generation too, with its length increased by 20 mm (0.8 in) to 4,980 mm (196.0 in), its wheelbase longer by 50 mm (2.0 in) to 2,870 mm (113.0 in), its width having grown by 15 mm (0.6 inches) to 1,850 mm (72.8 in), and its overall height down by 20 mm (0.8 in) to 1,440 mm (56.5 in), the end product therefore looking longer, wider and lower for a more athletic stance.

Along with its dramatic new look, the updated Avalon provides more output under its hood, its sole engine being an upgraded 3.5-litre V6 that now puts out 10 additional horsepower and an increase of 17 lb-ft of torque resulting in a new maximum of 278 horsepower and 265 lb-ft of torque, while the XSE model I tested also includes an “Engine Sound Generator” that enhances the engine’s aural sensation by pumping a more entertaining (albeit artificial) exhaust note through the audio system when Sport mode gets selected. Incidentally, BMW does the same with its highly revered M models and Ford does likewise its Mustang and Ecoboost-powered F-150 pickup trucks (as no doubt do a number of others), with the end result being a more entertaining performance experience.

2019 Toyota Avalon XSE
There’s no shortage of rear seat room. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

Better yet, Toyota has conjoined this modified V6 to a completely new eight-speed automatic gearbox (not a continually variable transmission, or CVT, like the Av’s supposed sportier Nissan Maxima), which means that its aging six-speed automatic is now history. Added to this are shift paddles on the steering wheel to make the extra gears and additional power a more hands-on affair.

Quietly hidden below the Av’s new avant-garde sheet metal is an elongated version of the more rigid, nimbler chassis that also enhanced the latest Camry, and as noted makes the new Lexus ES a lot more enjoyable to drive than any previous generation, while on top of this this XSE model’s front MacPherson struts and rear multi-link design gets some extra sport tuning and bigger 19-inch alloys to improve its handling further. All of the above makes it much more fun through fast-paced corners than its already capable predecessor, and while hardly a sport sedan, it would be a worthy opponent against any of its full-size, front-drive semi-luxury competitors.

In spite of all the just-noted go-fast goodies, the Av’s ride quality once again places comfort above performance, its smooth, compliant ride ideally suited to its primary luxury sedan role, and even that new multi-speed automatic engineered to shift slower than a performance fan would want in order to maintain a sense of decorum to the benefit of each and every occupant.

2019 Toyota Avalon XSE
The Avalon’s spacious trunk can be expanded with a 60/40-split rear seatback. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

By all occupants I’m also referring to the driver, who is especially cared for by a particularly good seating position. This hasn’t always been the case for Toyota, which didn’t provide enough reach from their steering wheel columns more often than not, but the automaker is improving across its wide model range in this regard. Therefore, I was able push the Avalon’s primary seat amply rearward for ideal legroom thanks to a steering column that extends far enough in the same direction to bend the elbows while hands rested at the optimal 9 and 3 o’clock positions.

All said I was disappointed with driver seat’s two-way powered lumbar support, especially when factoring in that most competitive brands provide much better four-way power lumbar support in this price range, which does a much better job meeting up to the small of my back. This forced me to not use the powered lumbar at all, but fortunately the seats offered good support without any lower back adjustment, while the back seats are equally comfortable and surrounding area ultra-accommodating. Along the same theme, the Av’s trunk is sizeable at 456 litres (16.1 cu ft) and provides 60/40 split-folding extendibility for stowing long cargo, but a pass-through down the middle would’ve improved the car’s usability even more.

All in all, most premium sedan shoppers choosing to spend a bit of time with the new Avalon should like it. It’s a well built car, as all of us should expect from Toyota, offers expected be dependability, comes stuffed full of most features anyone could expect in a $40k-plus four-door, and delivers good comfort with unexpectedly strong performance.

Additionally, now that this 2019 model year is ending and the unchanged 2020 Avalon is about to arrive, Toyota should be quite motivated to rid themselves of all remaining stock, which is likely why you can to now save up to $2,500 in additional incentives (at the time of writing). You can learn about all the details right here at CarCostCanada, and while you’re at it learn about 2019 and 2020 model year pricing info, including trims, packages and individual options, plus make sure to check out the latest rebates and dealer invoice pricing that puts you in the driver’s seat when negotiating your new car.

Story and photo credits: Trevor Hofmann

2019 Honda Fit LX CVT Road Test

2019 Honda Fit LX CVT
The Fit looks so much better since its 2018 refresh, even in its just-above-base LX trim. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

The subcompact Fit is Honda’s most affordable new car, but despite its inexpensive price tag it may possibly be your best option even if you were willing to spend more.

Ok, I’d understand if someone would rather own an HR-V, being that crossovers are all the rage these days, and the little Honda SUV boasts an identically innovative second row. This rear Magic Seat provides even more cargo space in the HR-V, but the Fit can be had for only $15,590 compared to the base HR-V’s $23,300 window sticker, so it’s a smarter choice for entry-level active-lifestyle buyers trying to pinch their nickels and dimes.

2019 Honda Fit LX CVT
The Fit’s tall shape makes it roomy inside. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

The 2019 Fit used for this review was in LX trim, upgraded yet further with its optional continuously variable transmission (CVT), causing its retail window sticker to move up from $18,990 for the six-speed manual to $20,290. Upgrades to the LX CVT include all the LX manual’s features, such as a body-coloured rear rooftop spoiler, an auto-up/down driver-side window, illuminated steering wheel audio and cruise controls, a larger infotainment touchscreen with Android Auto and Apple CarPlay smartphone integration, a multi-angle rearview camera with dynamic guidelines (the base camera doesn’t include the moving guidelines), Siri Eyes Free, text message reading/responding, Wi-Fi tethering, an extra USB device connector (resulting in two), filtered air conditioning, heated front seats, a centre console with an armrest and storage bin, the HondaLink Assist automatic emergency response system, a cargo cover plus more, while it also includes standard Honda Sensing technologies, such as forward collision warning with automatic emergency braking, lane departure warning, lane keep assist, road departure mitigation, an ECON mode button, etcetera.

2019 Honda Fit LX CVT
Honda provides a pretty sophisticated cabin for such a small entry-level model. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

I should point out the LX includes the majority of base DX features as well, an abbreviated list including auto-off multi-reflector halogen headlights, LED brake lamps, heatable powered door mirrors with body-colour caps, body-coloured door handles, remote access, power locks and windows, intermittent front windshield wipers, a rear window wiper, tilt and telescopic steering, a four-speaker 160-watt AM/FM/MP3/WMA audio system, Bluetooth phone connectivity with audio streaming, and more.

The Fit hasn’t always met everyone’s design criteria, but tell me what subcompact hatchback pushes all the buttons? Possibly the Kia Rio? Nevertheless, this third-generation Fit is certainly more appealing visually than the yawn-inducing original and slightly better looking second version, or at least that’s how I see it, while this most recent version, refreshed just last year, includes more of Honda’s new sharp-edged design language for an even better look.

2019 Honda Fit LX CVT
This mostly digital instrument cluster is a colourful cut above most rivals. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

The 2018 mid-cycle makeover also came with even sharper looking new Sport trim that I reviewed last year, this model’s $19,990 price point placed directly in the middle of four additional trim lines including the base DX, my tester’s LX designation, a $22,290 EX model, and finally the top-tier EX-L NAVI, which starts at $24,390. As much as I prefer the Sport to the others visually, thanks to gloss-black alloys and yet more inky black trim with red highlights around its body, plus its sporty red on black interior motif, the LX might be the smarter choice for those on a budget.

The features list above proves my point, as few necessary items have been left off the menu (although I would’ve like to have also had proximity access and pushbutton start/stop). Even more important in this class are low running costs, general comfort and overall practicality, and time spent with any Fit trim line will quickly have you appreciating that it performs well in each and every category.

2019 Honda Fit LX CVT
The infotainment touchscreen and HVAC interface as both impressive. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Once inside any Fit, old or new, or better yet having lived with one for enough time to experience how brilliantly practical it is, you’ll appreciate that styling matters a lot less than choosing the right car to accomplish the things you want to do. It’s the pragmatic minivan argument shrunken down to genuinely small proportions, yet play around awhile with its Magic Seat configurations and you’ll quickly understand that size really doesn’t matter when innovative engineering is factored in.

Those unfamiliar with the Fit’s second-row Magic Seats should pay close attention, as nothing in this class even comes close. The rear cushions rest atop hooped metal legs that can be folded upward and locked into place against the backrests, similar to those in some pickup trucks. This results in 139 litres (4.9 cubic feet) of cargo space for taller items such as bicycles or potted plants, while the 470-litre (16.6 cubic-foot) rear luggage compartment is still available for additional gear. Lay the rear seats into the floor and you’ll have 1,492 litres (52.7 cubic feet) of luggage space available, which is plenty for this class. In fact, the Fit’s total cargo capacity is 184 litres (6.5 cubic feet) more accommodating than Honda’s larger compact Civic Hatchback. Not bad for a subcompact.

2019 Honda Fit LX CVT
As good as the front seats are, it’s the rear Magic Seats that set the Fit apart. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

It’s all about overall height and a low loading floor, which makes it ideal for driver and passengers too. The Fit’s two front seats are a bit firmer than the class average, but still very comfortable and supportive, while the tilt and telescopic steering column’s rake and reach worked very well for my long-legged and short-torso body type, and should do likewise for all sizes. Similarly the rear outboard seats provide good comfort too, plus roominess in back is excellent. Sitting directly behind the driver’s seat when set up for me, I had about five inches left over in front of my knees, ample room for my legs and feet, almost four inches over my head, and four-plus next to my hips and shoulders.

Back behind the wheel, the primary instrument cluster features a big circular speedometer at centre, its analogue outer ring filled in the middle with a useful multi-information display, while TFT displays bookended each side of the cluster with colourful graphics that made it appear more upscale than the Fit’s price point would suggest. High quality switches on the steering wheel spokes control the multi-info display and more.

2019 Honda Fit LX CVT
The rear seats look like any others when used for passengers. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Look over to the Fit’s centre stack and one of the better infotainment touchscreens will be staring back. It’s complete with intelligently organized digital tile buttons that open up well designed function panels, with the audio system interface complemented by a classic rotating power/volume knob that certainly appreciated when driving. Underneath the touchscreen is a small cluster of manually operated heating and ventilation controls featuring big dials with nice grippy knurled metal-look edges, the asymmetrical design quite attractive.

While nice on the eyes, I’m not going to try and pretend the Fit is attempting to portray anything but an entry-level car. As you might expect, the dash top is comprised of hard composite as are many other cabin surfaces, but Honda surprisingly went further than most subcompact competitors when finishing off the lower instrument panel ahead of the front passenger, which gets a lovely sculpted soft-touch bolster. Also unexpected, the opposite side of the dash includes a pop-out cupholder level to the steering wheel, perfectly placed for easy access while driving. It sits just behind the corner air vent too, which means it warms up whatever is inside when the heat is on, or cools it off when the A/C is blasting, ideal unless you want something kept at room temperature.

2019 Honda Fit LX CVT
Holy cargo hold, Batman! Yes, no other car offers this level of rear seating area storage. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Another oddity in this class, previously noted Sport trim and the two models above actually include a paddle shifters on the steering wheel, which says a fair bit about the Fit’s fun-to-drive character. Behind its edgy new grille is a perky 1.5-litre four-cylinder that delivers a robust 130 horsepower and 114 lb-ft of torque when mated up to the manual transmission, or 128 horsepower and 113 lb-ft of torque when upgraded with the CVT. These numbers make it one of the most potent base subcompact models available, with just one rival making more in its entry-level trim. It results in more zip off the line than you might have guessed, particularly when at the wheel of the manual, although the CVT provides decent get-up-and-go too, along with good passing performance on the highway and even enough to power away from corners when slaloming through tight serpentine stretches.

Yes, I know this is a subcompact commuter car and not remotely close to a hot hatch, but its front MacPherson strut and rear torsion beam suspension holds its lane with ease even when pushing hard, only getting a bit unruly when asking too much from its narrow, tall design and 15-inch steel wheels on 185/60 all-seasons. The ride is good mind you, the Fit having been designed more for bushwhacking through the urban jungle than fast-paced mountainside passes.

2019 Honda Fit LX CVT
The Fit’s maximum cargo capacity is by far the subcompact segment’s most generous. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Now that we’re talking about putting on daily miles, the 2019 Fit is estimated to get 8.1 L/100km in the city, 6.6 on the highway and 7.4 combined with its manual, and an even thriftier 7.0 city, 5.9 highway and 6.5 combined with the CVT. A few competitors provide slightly better efficiency, but nothing that offers the Fit’s superior performance, particularly when comparing automatic transmission equipped cars.

In the end, Honda’s Fit is one of the subcompact segment’s best driving cars, while it’s also extremely efficient and hands-down the most practical people/cargo hauler in its class, let alone all car categories. Factoring in its all-round comfort, impressive list of convenience and safety features, plus Honda’s excellent reputation for dependability and strong residual values, and it’s hard to argue against it. In fact, I’ve probably recommended the Fit to more new car buyers than any other model, and will likely continue to do so when the next model arrives later this year.

That’s right, the 2020 Fit will be dramatically redesigned, which means Honda will be discounting this 2019 model. So make sure to check out all the latest rebate info for this 2019 model right there on CarCostCanada. Fortunately for you, we have all the available rebates, including dealer invoice pricing, so you can prepare yourself before negotiating with your local retailer. You can save up to $1,000 in additional incentives on this 2019 model, so be sure to click here to learn more about these savings, as well as all the other trims Honda has on offer, plus available packages and individual options.

Story credit: Trevor Hofmann

Photo credit: Karen Tuggay

2019 Volkswagen Passat Wolfsburg Edition Road Test

2019 Volkswagen Passat Wolfsburg Edition
This is the final year for this generation of Passat, so it’s only available in one Wolfsburg Edition trim. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

Thank you Volkswagen. You’ve made my job so much easier today. While researching the 2019 Passat for this review, I learned that it’s only available in a single, solitary, one-size-fits-all trim line for this stopgap year, the Wolfsburg Edition getting very close to last year’s top-tier Passat Highline (which replaced the Execline from 2016). This allows me to spend more time on other details such as styling, cabin quality, comfort, driving dynamics, etcetera.

The Giorgetto Giugiaro-designed Passat (originally named Dasher in our market) has been with us since 1973, initially delivering an upscale Audi-inspired look in five-door hatchback and wagon body styles, the former replaced by a regular sport/luxury sedan dubbed for its second B2 generation. The B3 redesign that arrived in 1988 finally applied the Euro nameplate to North American models, and while I really liked this third-gen Passat, particularly in its most potent VR6 trim, as well as the B4 that followed, my heart went out to the 270 hp 4.0-litre W8-powered AWD B5 version most earnestly. Earlier B5s were also the first Passats I tested as an automotive journalist newbie in the early 2000s, back when this German brand impressed me like no other.

That was a time when Volkswagen was comparable to Audi for its performance and overall refinement, the amazing Bentley-based Phaeton luxury sedan arriving the following year with a choice of 335-horsepower V8 or 420-horsepower W12 behind its unassuming grille, not to mention $96,500 and $126,790 respective prices, while not long after that the brand’s 309-hp Touareg V10 TDI was on the scene, putting out a shocking 553 lb-ft of torque. Volkswagen appeared to be vying for luxury brand status during those years, a strategy that kind of made sense in Europe where parent automaker VW AG also owned lesser brands Skoda and Seat to pull in entry-level buyers, but not here where the iconic Beetle manufacturer was known more for economy cars.

2019 Volkswagen Passat Wolfsburg Edition
Still stylish after all these years. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

By comparison, today’s VW-branded cars and crossover SUVs still deliver some premium features not often available with every competitor, like cloth-covered roof pillars (albeit only the A pillars these days), full high-definition TFT primary gauge clusters, and the convenience of a rear seat centre pass-through for stowing long cargo (or better yet, 40/20/40 split-folding rear seats), soft pliable composite surfaces aren’t as plentiful, switches, knobs and buttons can now be less dense and therefore cheaper feeling, and rear suspension systems aren’t necessarily independent anymore (unlike most rivals that are now IRS-equipped, the latest Jetta has reverted to using a rear torsion beam setup).

I think the Passat looks good though, particularly in my tester’s attractive Tourmaline Blue Metallic. It’s one of six exterior paints for 2019, which include white, black, grey and silver, plus a beautiful Fortana Red Metallic, all no-cost options, while sporty R-Line outer trim comes standard this year too. Additional standard features include automatic on/off LED headlights with LED daytime running lamps, LED tail lights, and fabulous looking silver-painted twinned five-spoke 19-inch Salvador alloy wheels encircling 235/40 all-seasons, and that’s just on the outside.

To my eyes the cabin looks even better due to VW’s communications team choosing gorgeous Cornsilk Beige for my test car’s interior (it can be had in black or grey as well, depending on the exterior colour chosen), the creamy colour offset by a contrasting black dash top, door uppers and carpets. VW has been producing this rich light beige and black interior motif for decades, including the horizontal ribbing on the leather seat upholstery. It looks sensational, complemented by sophisticated looking textured metal, brushed aluminum, chrome and piano black lacquer elsewhere.

2019 Volkswagen Passat Wolfsburg Edition
Standard exterior features include LED headlights, 19-inch alloys and a sporty R-Line package. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

Standard features include proximity keyless entry with pushbutton start/stop, a leather-wrapped multifunction steering wheel rim with shift paddles, a colour multi-information display/trip computer, a leather-wrapped shift knob and handbrake lever, brushed stainless steel foot pedals, rain-sensing windshield wipers, heatable washer nozzles, two-zone automatic climate control, an auto-dimming centre mirror, a power sunroof, three-way heated front sport seats, an eight-way powered driver seat with two-way power lumbar, driver’s side memory, heatable rear seats, front and back LED reading lamps, an Easy Open trunk, 60/40-split rear seatbacks with a centre armrest and centre pass-through, plus more for $32,995.

That seems like a reasonably good deal already, but it gets better due to a $2,000 no-haggle discount that comes as a parting gift of sorts. Find out about this discount and any other rebates right here at CarCostCanada, and while you’re learning more you can also access dealer invoice pricing, which will make it as easy as possible to meet your budget requirements.

I should also go into some detail about the Passat’s infotainment system, which measures 6.33 inches and even includes proximity sensing, which means a row of digitized buttons rise up from the bottom of the touchscreen when your fingers get near. While the display is relatively small compared to most competitors’ top-line systems, it process info quickly, includes tablet-style tap, swipe and pinch gesture functions, which are especially useful when using the route guidance-system’s map, and even includes MirrorLink smartphone integration, along with the usual Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. Bluetooth is also standard, of course, with audio streaming for listening to music or podcasts from your personal device, while additional standard infotainment features include voice activation, an SD card slot, and one of the worst backup camera systems I’ve used in a long time. Why? Much of the display’s top section was cut off in a semicircular due to a wide-angle lens that was probably trying to provide more visibility, but it actually made things a lot worse, plus VW didn’t include active guidelines either.

2019 Volkswagen Passat Wolfsburg Edition
The two-tone interior motif is truly elegant. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

The six-speaker Fender premium audio system is good enough for this class, however, with nice deep bass from its subwoofer, while satellite radio stations came in clearly, the inclusion of a CD player will be appreciated by many, and the single USB audio/charging port made me grateful VW wasn’t still trying to promote Apple, although I’m hoping the next-generation has a few more. Speaking of new, the I hopped into the latest 2020 GTI after giving the Passat keys back and am now hopeful that its considerably larger touchscreen, along with its superb resolution and excellent depth of contrast and colour make it into the 2020 Passat, or something similar.

Moving downward on the centre stack, past the HVAC interface that incidentally suffered from loose rotating dials, there’s a lidded compartment for stowing and charging a smartphone. It has a rubberized base, like usual, but oddly it wasn’t big enough for my average-sized phone, which kind of made me glad VW hadn’t installed a wireless charging pad. It did include the just noted USB-A port and as well as an auxiliary connection next to an old-school 12-volt plug, so you should be able to charge multiple devices at any given time (with the help of an aftermarket USB adapter).

Close by, to each side of the shift lever, is a row of “buttons”, or at least they all look like buttons. One deactivated the front and rear parking sonar, while another turned on the semi-autonomous self-parking system, but the other four were merely dummy buttons that made the car look as if it was missing some key features. I noticed it was devoid of a heatable steering wheel, something I appreciate on cold winter mornings, a problem made worse when the flat-bottom leather-wrapped sport steering wheel in question is so incredibly good. The front seats weren’t ventilated either, a function I’m getting more and more used to finding in top-line competitors’ trims.

2019 Volkswagen Passat Wolfsburg Edition
Classic but effective, these analogue gauges aren’t nearly as flashy as the new Jetta’s digital cockpit. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

The Passat’s standard menu of safety enhancements impresses, however, with items like automatic emergency braking, blind spot monitoring with rear cross-traffic warning, lane keeping assist, adaptive cruise control, driver assistance, park distance control and park assist adding enough high technology to the driving experience as to almost forget about those missing buttons. Better yet, the way these systems chose not to intervene until absolutely necessary had me liking the Passat even more. No one likes over-sensitive technology, especially with respect to safety equipment capable of taking over the wheel, and fortunately the Passat’s were hardly noticeable throughout my test week. It was only when I tried to exit the highway without using my turn signal that the side-assist system fixated on the white line, pulling me back into my lane. I quickly turned my blinker on and was able to move over, and no doubt could have forced it over if I’d wanted to, but VW gets high marks for making advanced driver assistance systems that are only there when absolutely necessary.

Previously in this review I mentioned that Volkswagen’s cabin materials aren’t as high in quality now as they used to be, so I should probably go into some more detail about how this affects the Passat. For the most part it’s equal to most competitors, but this makes the car seem less than ok being that it was much better than average years ago. Right up until this US-made seventh-generation model arrived nine years ago, the Passat provided a much greater percentage of premium-level soft padded surfaces than any rival, but now it’s noticeably below average. It’s as if VW AG, the parent company, didn’t want its namesake brand stealing any sales from Audi, so therefore purposely made the Passat’s interior worse than it needed to be, just to be sure. To be clear, some parts are extremely good, like the soft composites used for the dash top and door uppers, but the lower dash panels and glove box lid, plus the centre stack sides and lower door panels are made from lower grade hard plastics, and upstaged by most competitors. This leaves some areas better than average and others not quite measuring up, and depending on whether you see your glass half full or half empty, you’ll either be thrilled with all that’s good or left feeling flat about the car’s weaknesses.

2019 Volkswagen Passat Wolfsburg Edition
A bit small, but the Passat’s infotainment system is quite good. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

I felt much the same about the Passat’s sole 2.0-litre four-cylinder engine. Its 174 horsepower and 184 lb-ft of torque comes close to matching most rivals’ base powerplants, but it’s hardly a base model despite the aforementioned discount. Last year’s 3.6-litre V6 upgrade provided an option for those wanting more, but no such luck for this year’s performance fans. Fortunately its modest torque figure feels stronger than it looks, probably due to arriving at its maximum at only 1,500 rpm, so takeoff is fairly energetic off the line and there’s ample passing power for most manoeuvres, but a model that once offered 4Motion all-wheel drive now solely gets driven by those up front, and the transmission that sends the engines output to the front wheels only has six forward speeds, which might have been a big deal fifteen years ago, but doesn’t sound all that advanced when put up against today’s eight- and nine-speed automatics.

The 2020 Passat will remedy the latter problem with an eight-speed of its own, but no AWD or manual transmission for that matter, two features enthusiasts would love to see, but the current model’s paddle shifters got everything out of the engine it had to give, just like the future one will make the most of even more available torque, resulting in a really enjoyable car to drive.

I appreciated the extra control, because this mid-size family hauler can dance with more grace than most four-door sedans in this class, even at high speeds. Of course its suspension is fully independent, with struts up front and a multi-link setup in back, plus a stabilizer bar at each end, and it’s all very well sorted for a bit more grip at the limit and better balance than the segment average. It will understeer when pushed too far, which is a good thing in this category, and its ride should keep all aboard happy, despite being slightly firmer than average.

2019 Volkswagen Passat Wolfsburg Edition
These horizontally ribbed leather seats make the Passat look downright ritzy. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

Fuel-efficiency is quite good at 9.3 L/100km city, 6.5 highway and 8.1 combined, no doubt why Volkswagen chose the four-cylinder for this model’s sole power unit in place of the V6. Such practicality in mind, you won’t need to worry about anything that might go wrong with the Passat for a year longer than most rivals thanks to an almost comprehensive four-year or 80,000 km warranty, although it’s powertrain warranty is shorter than average by a year or 20,000 km.

Now that we’re being pragmatic, the Passat’s front seats and surrounding area is amply roomy for big folks, while the driver’s seat is comfortable, but like the suspension it’s a bit firmer than most in this class. It features two-way powered lumbar support that just so happened to ideally match up to the small of my back, while its lower cushion stretched forward enough to support nicely below the knees.

The rear seating compartment is roomier still, and plenty comfortable, while a 450-litre (15.9 cubic-foot) trunk should be more than adequate for most owners’ needs, especially when considering its 60/40 split-folding rear seatbacks have the advantage of a centre pass-through for loading in longer items like skis.

2019 Volkswagen Passat Wolfsburg Edition
The rear seating area is amply roomy and quite comfortable, plus there’s a centre pass-through above the armrest. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

These are some of the 2019 Passat’s worthy attributes that I hope are carried forward into the new model, but in the same breath I’m also wishing Volkswagen steps up with more competitive interior quality so that it at least matches the refinement of this segment’s sales leaders. After all, it’s the slowest selling mid-size four-door sedan in Canada by a long shot, so arriving in today’s highly competitive marketplace with a lukewarm update wouldn’t be the best of ideas. Let’s hope they get it right. Until then, the 2019 Passat does some things very well and others not so much, but it’s currently priced right and the deal could be made even sweeter by finding out its dealer invoice price here on CarCostCanada before talking to your local Volkswagen retailer.

Story and photo credits: Trevor Hofmann

2019 Ford Escape Titanium 2.0L Ecoboost Road Test

2019 Ford Escape Titanium 2.0L Ecoboost
The third-generation Escape might be on its way out, but it’s still a very strong competitor. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Now that the entirely redesigned 2020 Escape is arriving at Ford’s Canadian retailers, we’d better say a final goodbye to the third-generation Escape that’s done a very good job of serving the automaker as well as many of its loyal fans for the past six or so years. This outgoing version underwent a dramatic mid-cycle upgrade for the 2017 model year, and now the blue-oval brand has brought something new to contemplate in the compact crossover class.

For some, the best reason to get excited about a redesigned model is the opportunity to save money on the old one, and being that this 2019 Escape is still an excellent SUV, and that Ford retailers continue to have some in stock, such options should be considered. During my research for this review, which included pricing and features info found right here at CarCostCanada, I learned that $1,200 in additional incentives was available at the time of writing, and that’s over and above any personal discount you might be able to negotiate with your local retailer, and while this knowledge will certainly help when you begin to talk business, CarCostCanada also provides dealer invoice pricing that could save you even more. 

2019 Ford Escape Titanium 2.0L Ecoboost
The design has aged well, particularly from behind. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

A quick glance at CarCostCanada’s 2019 Escape page will show that it’s unchanged from the 2018 model. The 2018 is identical to the 2017 model as well, with respect to all trims but the SEL that arrived last year. If you want more clarity, take a look at my 2017 Ford Escape Titanium AWD Road Test that shows an identical SUV to my 2019 tester, even down to their Ingot Silver colour. Of course, Ford provides the choice of seven additional colours for 2019 buyers, with no-cost options including vibrant alternatives like Sedona Orange and Lightning Blue, while $450 Ruby Red and $550 White Platinum give the Escape a premium-like upscale demeanour.

This 2017-2019 Escape’s grille design didn’t work for me as much as its 2013-2016 forebear did, the latter a completely original and even futuristic look when introduced. I remember how it initially turned my head, not really certain what to think at first, yet warming up to its unusual design quickly. It made sense that Ford needed to change the design, both because of a need for something new and the automaker’s requirement to visually align its crossover SUV lineup (the Escape took design elements from the Edge of the era), but nevertheless Escape sales have slowed somewhat in recent years, with the Toyota RAV4 and Honda CR-V now owning first and second respectively, not necessarily due to styling mind you.

2019 Ford Escape Titanium 2.0L Ecoboost2019 Ford Escape Titanium 2.0L Ecoboost
Titanium trim adds HID headlamps with LED signatures, plus unique 18-inch alloys. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Just four years ago the Escape was the compact SUV segment’s bestseller, a spot it had been holding for years. In fact, looking a couple of years further back shows the Escape nearly doubling the RAV4 and CR-V’s yearly sales, but it’s been on a downward trajectory ever since its mid-cycle refresh, from a high of 52,198 sales in 2014 to 47,726 in 2015, which incidentally was the last time it topped the category. It fell further to 46,661 units in 2016, when the RAV4 jumped up to first place, and then in 2017 it managed a bit more to 47,880 examples, but the RAV4 and CR-V grew their sales even more, both passing 50,000 units. The two Japanese SUVs kept pulling in more and more new buyers through 2018 too, when each models’ deliveries neared 55,000 units, yet the Escape could only muster 43,587 sales that year, while at the close of Q3 2019 Ford’s little SUV that could managed just 30,817 new customers to the CR-V’s 43,464 and RAV4’s 49,473, the completely redesigned Toyota targeting yet another banner year.

Truly, the Escape is beginning to show its age, particularly when sidled up next to the new RAV4, not to mention when placed beside the totally redesigned 2020 Escape that Ford hopes will cause its once much stronger customer base to return, but the outgoing model is nevertheless a very competent compact SUV that should be available for big time savings. Of course, you may not have many options when it comes to exterior paint, while a choice of trims will be decided by remaining stock, which means you should probably get a move on if you want something specific.

2019 Ford Escape Titanium 2.0L Ecoboost
Simple, elegant styling lasts the test of time. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

When model year 2019 began, the Escape was available in base $26,399 S trim, as $29,349 SE and $30,849 SEL models (the latter designation added this year as noted earlier), and finally in top-line $37,699 Titanium trim. The Titanium gets all-wheel drive standard, whereas AWD is available with the SE and SEL for an additional $1,500, and the S only comes with front-wheel drive.

If your not confused yet, just wait as the 2019 Escape provides the choice of three gasoline-fed four-cylinder engines, and oddly not a one is electrified despite this model being first to market with a hybrid. Base S trim still uses Ford’s 12-year-old 2.5-litre four that’s good for 168 horsepower and 170 lb-ft of torque, although despite these being respectable output numbers most Escape buyers will ante up for one of the automaker’s turbocharged Ecoboost engines, which include a 1.5-litre mill capable of 179 horsepower and 177 lb-ft of torque, standard in SE and SEL trims, and a 2.0-litre version making a very energetic 245 horsepower and 275 lb-ft of torque, this one standard with my Titanium tester and available with mid-range SE and SEL models. Therefore, as you can probably imagine, your local Ford dealer won’t have all combinations available in the exact colour you want, but hopefully you’ll be able to find something that mixes and matches enough of the features you’re looking for to make you happy, even if that retailer needs to call around to get something from another dealer.

2019 Ford Escape Titanium 2.0L Ecoboost
Despite its age, the Escape Titanium provides impressive refinement. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

As if trying to make a complicated problem easier, the Escape won’t force you to choose between alternative transmissions, as its six-speed SelectShift automatic is the only way it comes. The new 2020 model’s automatic ups the gear count to eight, but the 2019 Escape’s gearbox has proven to be dependable and is very capable when mated up to either Ecoboost engine. That 2020 model receives the 1.5-litre turbocharged four standard, by the way, with auto start-stop that turns the engine off when it would otherwise be idling, while the 2.0-litre turbo-four in my 2019 tester remains the go-to performance option.

Drivetrain alternatives in mind, remember when I questioned why Ford no longer offered an Escape Hybrid? It seems others within the company have asked the same (and no doubt customers too), which resulted in a 2020 Escape Hybrid. Ford isn’t offering fuel economy figures for the new hybrid or any 2020 Escapes just yet, but the 2019 model being reviewed here does fairly well no matter the trim. The tiny 1.5-litre is your best choice from a budgeting perspective, with the FWD version rated at an estimated 10.2 L/100km city, 7.8 highway and 9.1 combined, while that engine with AWD gets a claimed 11.2, 8.4 and 9.9 respectively. As for the FWD-only base S, I think it’s pretty thrifty considering its age, its estimated rating at 11.0 city, 8.0 highway and 9.6 combined, while the top-line AWD-only Titanium does very well despite its zippy acceleration with a rating of 11.5 city, 8.7 highway and 10.2 combined.

2019 Ford Escape Titanium 2.0L Ecoboost
The Escape cockpit is well laid out. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Seeing past this 2019 model’s aging body and equally classic cabin design, the fit, finish, quality of materials and general goodness of its interior is more than decent. Even Ford’s electronic interfaces overshadow some of its more recently redesigned rivals, particularly the bright, colourful, well-defined high-resolution multi-information display at the centre of its primary gauge cluster, the outer dials mostly analogue, while the brand’s much respected Sync 3 infotainment system fills the Escape Titanium’s centre touchscreen. It’s particularly good looking thanks to modern sky blue, white and grey graphics, plus its ultra-user-friendly and wonderfully functional. Ford was one of the first manufacturers to adopt Apple CarPlay and Android Auto smartphone integration, while the system’s route guidance is accurate and navigation mapping excellent, the screens tablet-style tap, pinch, and swipe gesture controls perfectly suited for adjusting the map. Safety is improved via its standard dynamic guideline-enhanced rearview camera, while extra tech includes Bluetooth audio streaming, mobile apps, voice control, a WiFi hotspot, 911 assist, and more.

You can adjust the audio system from the centre display as well, plus it comes packed with AM/FM/satellite radio, plus MP3 and WMA compatibility, although no HD radio, but Titanium trim’s 10-speaker Sony audio system is excellent for this compact segment. A number of quick-access buttons and knobs are angled into a panel just under the centre touchscreen, which also sits above a big, easy-to-use two-zone automatic HVAC interface, all being the types of premium features expected in a luxury brand, as well as the Escape’s top-level Titanium trim line. Nevertheless, compared to some rivals that have digitized these controls under touch-sensitive black glass-like panels, the Escape’s HVAC setup looks outdated, although the little pull tab for engaging the electric parking brake makes everyone clear that Ford did all it could to keep this SUV up-to-date.

2019 Ford Escape Titanium 2.0L Ecoboost
The Escape’s large high-resolution multi-info display was so ahead of its time that it’s now current technology. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Speaking of advanced features, my test model boasted a $2,500 available Safe and Smart + Roof Package with features such as a panoramic glass sunroof, rain-sensing windshield wipers, auto high beams, adaptive cruise control, forward collision warning with automatic braking, blindspot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert, as well as lane departure warning with lane keeping assist. Some of these items are also made available in a separate package when choosing one of the two mid-range models, so therefore you don’t have to go all the way up to top-line Titanium in order to experience high-level safety and convenience.

All of this detail in mind, I’m not about to delve into all standard and optional features with this outgoing SUV, because you’re not going to be able to order one this late in the game anyway. Still, other than the features already noted, Titanium trim adds 18-inch alloys, bi-Xenon HID headlamps with LED signatures, a heated steering wheel rim, an auto-dimming rearview mirror, front parking sonar, leather upholstery, a 110-volt power outlet, a foot-operated hands-free tailgate, plus more, while highlight items pulled from lower trims include additional chrome accents outside, a leather-clad steering wheel inside, a powered liftgate, rear parking sonar and more from SEL trim; fog lights, body-coloured exterior trim, proximity keyless entry with pushbutton start/stop, a combination lock entry keypad, one-touch up/down powered windows all-round, a 10-way powered driver’s seat, two-zone auto HVAC, heatable front seats and more from the SE; plus finally auto on/off headlights, a windshield wiper de-icer, remote start, keyless entry, MyKey, variable intermittent windshield wipers, power windows, air conditioning, an overhead console with a sunglasses holder, SOS Post-Crash Alert, all the expected airbags including one for the driver’s knees, and plenty more from the base S model.

2019 Ford Escape Titanium 2.0L Ecoboost
Ford’s Sync 3 infotainment system remains very impressive. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

A few highlights regarding Escape Titanium materials quality include an almost completely soft synthetic dash top that wraps all the way around the infotainment system’s control. This premium treatment softens the front door uppers too, while front and rear door inserts and armrests are finished even more comfortably, as is the centre armrest.

Ford beautifies the instrument panel with black lacquered surfacing that stretches to the right and left of the centre stack before reaching downward to each side, while this model also gets tasteful application of aluminum-look detailing, all of which added some glitz to my tester’s otherwise black interior. Certainly colour is included, but the two digital displays aside its small dashes of blue and red are relegated to the temperature knobs and the stylish baby blue instrument needles in the gauge package.

The seats look good, highlighted by what appears to be cream or light grey thread for a sporty contrast against black leather. I really appreciated the driver seat’s comfort level, particularly because of its adjustments, and the long reach and rake from the Escape’s manual tilt and telescopic steering column. As many who read my reviews know, my long-legged and short-torso body type doesn’t fit ideally into some manufacturer’s products, but such is not the case with the Escape. In fact, I think you’ll find it difficult to round up a challenger that provides more driver adjustment, while visibility is very good in all directions as well.

2019 Ford Escape Titanium 2.0L Ecoboost
Comfort, roominess, and premium materials set the Escape Titanium apart. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

As usual I took the time to sit in back, where I found sizeable, comfortable accommodations. This said one doesn’t exactly sit within each outboard seat, but instead on top of them, so there’s not a lot of lateral support. Fortunately, relatively tall folk won’t have a problem with legroom or headroom as both are in large supply, while reclining the rear seatbacks can provide more of the latter. A folding centre armrest improves comfort further, while providing two cupholders for drinks. Also good, Ford makes sure passengers in back get ample ventilation via vents on the front console’s rear panel, this also housing the previously noted 110-volt power outlet, which incidentally comes with a third grounding socket for three-pronged plugs (not always the case). I was disappointed that Ford didn’t offer heated rear seats, particularly in this top-tier trim, but anyone wanting these types of premium accoutrements can opt for the Lincoln MKC (renamed Corsair for 2020), which is a 2019 Escape Titanium under all the luxury trappings.

The tailgate powers up by waving your foot under the back bumper, and once opened reveals a large 964-litre (34.0 cubic-foot) cargo hold aft of the 60/40 split-folding rear seats. Dropping these down provides up to 1,925 litres (68.0 cu ft) of gear-toting space, but on this note I’d much rather have more convenient 40/20/40 split-folding rear seats, or even a pass-through down the middle, because I like to ski and don’t want to leave my boards locked up in a less secure rooftop-mounted carrier. With a pass-through, both kids can enjoy the more comfortable and scenic outboard rear seats, while I get peace of mind when chowing down in the cafeteria or restaurant later. Still, this feature is ultra-rare in the mainstream volume-branded SUV sector, so while I complain (regularly), it probably wouldn’t be a dealmaker unless I liked the rest of the SUV as much as something else on the market that offered it. Absent features in mind, there are no levers on the cargo walls for automatically folding down the rear seatbacks, unlike a few competitors, but in order to be positive I’ll mention a handy flap the falls down over the gap between the seats and cargo floor in order to stop small items from slipping between the cracks, so to speak, and also good, the lengthened cargo floor is quite flat compared to most others.

2019 Ford Escape Titanium 2.0L Ecoboost
Rear seat accommodations are more than adequate. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Just in case you’re beginning to think I’m getting too harsh with the old Escape, rest assured that it remains a very impressive compact SUV in most respects, and best in class when talking performance. Its transmission can be criticized for falling short of two or even three gears now that others in the class offer eight- and nine-speed automatics (including the 2020 Escape with the former, as noted), but the 2019 Escape’s six-speed autobox is amply smooth, refined and well-proven, plus my tester’s steering paddles provided a lot more engagement than most CVT-infused challengers do. Yes, all of SUVs mentioned so far use continuously variable transmissions, as do a number of others in the segment, and while highly efficient these also deliver continuous noise at high revs, as well as continual boredom when pushed hard. Instead, the Escape’s manual mode shifts genuine gears in comparatively quick and precise fashion, making Ford’s compact SUV a great deal more fun to drive fast.

Speaking of going fast, all Escape trims include torque-vectoring control as well as Curve Control, the latter capable of sensing if you’re driving to fast while entering a corner, and if so, automatically slowing you down via throttle reduction and the anti-lock brakes. I certainly didn’t notice anything going on in the background, and I pushed it very hard for testing purposes, so this electronic safety net is only intrusive when it needs to be.

2019 Ford Escape Titanium 2.0L Ecoboost
No shortage of cargo space in back. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Then again, my Escape Titanium’s slightly firmer suspension and larger tires meant it wasn’t the smoothest riding SUV in its category. I wouldn’t call it harsh in the slightest, however, or uncomfortable at all, but I noticed more bumps and road imperfections than in the RAV4 or CR-V, which isolate occupants from pavement irregularities better. Still, this Escape Titanium will leave you smiling when pushed hard on a circuitous mountainside or riverside road, which is one of those difficult to quantify benefits that I happen to find priceless.

So there you have it, the outgoing 2019 Escape is well worth your attention. It continues to be a strong challenger despite its age, because it was so well engineered way back when. I think it’s still a smart choice for those wanting to keep their monthly budget in check, but can appreciate why someone might want to step up to the more advanced 2020 Escape or something else entirely. This said I can’t say for sure if its replacement will be worthy of more coin, as I haven’t even sat behind the wheel, but its mechanical improvements, including the new hybrid option, as well as its infotainment gains, appear well worth the upgrade. It’ll come down to personal priorities, like everything in life, so take some confidence in knowing you’ll be well taken care of with either new or old Escape.

Story credit: Trevor Hofmann

Photo credit: Karen Tuggay

2019 Subaru Legacy Sport Road Test

2019 Subaru Legacy Sport Road Test
The Legacy offers up a sporty design that’s even more alluring in as-tested Sport trim. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

The new 2020 Legacy is starting to arrive at Subaru dealers across Canada as I write this review, and fans of the current 2019 model should like what they see. The updated mid-size sedan gets renewed styling, revised engines, and a reworked interior, but exterior styling is so muted that most won’t notice the 2019 model leaving and the 2020 ushered in. So why am I covering yesterday’s Legacy when tomorrow’s is nearly hear? Subaru dealers have new 2019 models on their lots, and this very good car is available for very good prices. 

As per CarCostCanada, a 2019 Legacy buyer can pocket up to $3,000 in incentives, and that’s before factoring in a personal discount derived from haggling or your trade-in. Follow this CarCostCanada link to learn about 2019 Legacy pricing, including trims, packages and individual options, plus you also need to find out about rebates and dealer invoice pricing that could save you thousands. 

2019 Subaru Legacy Sport
Sport trim adds sill extensions, unique alloy wheels and gloss black trim, the latter used for its diffuser-style rear bumper. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

For a bit of background info, the Legacy was refreshed for 2018, which means this 2019 model was unchanged. The version reviewed here is in mid-range $31,695 Sport trim, which hovers above the base $24,995 2.5i CVT, $28,295 Touring, and $29,795 Touring with EyeSight; EyeSight being Subaru-speak for its suite of advanced driver assistance systems including auto high beams, adaptive cruise control, autonomous emergency braking, rear proximity warning with reverse auto braking, blindspot detection, lane departure warning and lane keeping assist. Sport trim comes standard with EyeSight, as does top-line $33,795 Limited 2.5i trim and the $36,795 Limited 3.6R. 

As you may have guessed, 2.5i and 3.6R designate the Legacy’s respective standard and optional engines, the latter having been replaced by the higher output 2.4-litre turbocharged four-cylinder introduced in last year’s Ascent mid-size SUV; the 2020 Outback crossover wagon gets this change too. Comparing the two engines shows 256 horsepower and 247 lb-ft of torque for the old 3.6R and 260 horsepower and 277 lb-ft of torque for the 2.4i, resulting in four more horsepower and 30 additional lb-ft of torque. 

2019 Subaru Legacy Sport
Sport trim includes LED headlamps, fog lights and special machine-finish 18-inch alloy wheels with black painted pockets. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

The base 2.5-litre four-cylinder gets updated too, but the 2020 model only gains six horsepower and two lb-ft of torque resulting in 182 horsepower and 176 lb-ft compared to 175 horsepower and 174 lb-ft of torque, but 90 percent of its parts have been upgraded, with straight-line performance improvements secondary to gains in fuel-efficiency. 

This means the 2020 Legacy 2.5i has been designed to achieve an estimated 8.8 L/100km city, 6.7 highway and 7.7 combined Transport Canada rating compared to 9.3 highway, 7.0 city and 8.2 combined, while 2.4i fuel economy improvements from the old 3.6R equal 9.9 L/100km city, 7.3 highway and 8.5 combined compared to 11.9 city, 8.3 highway and 10.3 combined. With standard all-wheel drive the Legacy can’t quite measure up to most front-drive rivals in base trims, but it should be noted that even the old 3.6R is more efficient than the Camry’s optional V6. 

2019 Subaru Legacy Sport
These satin-silver mirror caps are standard with Sport trim. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Instead of diving too deeply into the differences between old and new Legacy models, I’ll only mention some key points as this review continues. As stated at the onset of this road test, styling enhancements appear so insignificant that I would’ve been careful to call it a refresh if I hadn’t already been made clear it’s a full redesign. Strangely, Subaru Canada didn’t even mention styling in its 2020 Legacy press release, but this subtle redesign may help the outgoing sixth-generation model hold resale/residual values higher. I find both generations attractive enough while sportier than most competitors, while Subaru obviously isn’t trying to lure in potential customers by being extroverted, like Toyota is with its latest Camry. 

Then again, the Legacy’s conservative styling may be a good reason its sales are slow. To but it into perspective to the just-noted Toyota, Subaru sold 1,298 Legacys from January 1 to September 31, 2019, which is just slightly more than 11 percent of the 11,579 Camrys delivered during the same three quarters. A more positive viewpoint is its success over the Kia Stinger, Mazda6, Honda Clarity plug-in, Buick Regal, Volkswagen Passat, and VW Arteon, while it came within striking range of the Kia Optima. This has it placing eighth out of 14 competitors, which isn’t too bad at all. Still, the Legacy’s tally pales when compared to Subaru’s own Outback that found 7,756 buyers over the same nine months, the tall mid-size crossover wagon being basically the same vehicle below the skin. 

2019 Subaru Legacy Sport
The Legacy’s cockpit looks totally modern despite on its way out. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Success on the sales chart doesn’t always validate a given vehicle’s goodness or badness, however, and to that end the Legacy doesn’t labour from any disadvantages other than being a bit smaller than most mid-size sedan challengers. In fact, Subaru has an impressive record, achieving “Best Overall” brand in Consumer Reports’ most recent 2019 Annual Report on Car Performance, Reliability, Satisfaction and Safety, while it tied with Chrysler in the same publication’s “Best Road Test Score Mainstream” category. The Japanese brand also scored above average in J.D. Power’s latest 2019 Vehicle Dependability Study, but found itself below average in the same company’s 2019 Initial Quality Study. Nevertheless, the 2019 Legacy achieved top-spot amongst “Mid-Size” consumer sedans in Vincentric’s latest “Best Value In Canada” award, as did the Outback in its class. 

After time well spent in this 2019 Legacy, I’m willing to bet that interior quality gave the car a boost upward in these various rating and award programs. Highlights include a premium-level soft composite dash top and instrument panel, the latter stitched across its lower edge in traditional Subaru blue, while the blue stitching theme trimmed the inner portion of the leather-clad sport steering wheel rim as well, plus each armrest and the leatherette-covered seat bolsters, the seats otherwise upholstered in an attractive light grey material. 

2019 Subaru Legacy Sport2019 Subaru Legacy Sport
Great looking analogue gauges surround a nice colour multi-info display. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Additional cabin niceties included genuine-looking high-gloss carbon-fibre inlays on the instrument panel and doors, this conjoined to attractive satin-silver metallic adornment, while glossy black surface treatments combined with matte-finish black composites and even more satin-finish and chromed metal accents for an interior Legacy owners can be proud of. Front and rear door uppers receive the same luxuriously padded soft-touch composite as that on the dash, and Subaru also covers the front “A” pillars in cloth for to reduce noise and add yet more premium-class feel. 

Even with the upcoming 2020 Legacy sporting a renewed interior boasting a gigantic 11.6-inch vertical display (aside from the new base model that only gets a 7.0-inch touchscreen), this 2019 outgoing model still looks very current. In fact, its 8.0-inch touchscreen (improved by an inch and a half over the base 2019 model) looks as good as most anything else in the class due to its big gloss-black surrounding surface area that extends outward from the centre stack as if it’s one massive display. 

2019 Subaru Legacy Sport
The Legacy’s 8.0-inch infotainment touchscreen is very advanced. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

The actual touchscreen gets a deep blue background that’s detailed out with unique star graphics, this overlaid by colourful tablet-like tiles for selecting its various functions. The dynamic guideline-enhanced rearview camera is very good, while together with standard infotainment features such as Android Auto, Apple CarPlay and Subaru’s own StarLink smartphone integration system, other features include AM/FM/satellite/Aha radio, a CD player, MP3/WMA compatibility, a USB port and aux plug, SiriusXM advanced audio services, SiriusXM Travel Link, Bluetooth with streaming audio, and four speakers, while Touring and above trims include the bigger display as standard plus another USB port and two more speakers. 

Those wanting a navigation system, much improved 576-watt, 12-speaker Harmon/Kardon audio, plus a heated steering wheel, heated rear outboard seats, leather upholstery, 18-inch alloys and more will need to opt for previously noted Limited trim, while items pulled up to the Sport model from lower trims include a 10-way powered driver’s seat with two-way power lumbar support that lined up with the small of my back fairly well, cruise control, and heatable front seats from the base model, two-zone auto HVAC, a powered moonroof, and fog lamps from Touring trim, and proximity keyless access with pushbutton start/stop along with a 5.0-inch LCD multi-information display within the gauge cluster from the Touring model with EyeSight. 

2019 Subaru Legacy Sport
Dual-zone automatic climate control is always appreciated. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

As for this Legacy Sport trim, it gets unique 18-inch machine finished alloy wheels with black-painted pockets, LED headlamps with cornering capability, a gloss-black grille surround, satin-silver side mirror caps, chrome adorned side sill extensions, and a diffuser-like rear valance framing two large chromed tailpipes, but be informed this value-packed trim line will not be offered with the 2020 car. The new model’s sportiest trim sources its GT designation from Subaru’s storied history, and due to past GT’s getting engine upgrades will come exclusively with the more powerful 2.4i engine in both a new Premier model and a revised Limited trim. 

Subaru’s legendary symmetrical full-time all-wheel drive with active torque vectoring comes standard as (almost) always, and it makes a considerable difference to how it drives in all conditions. We should remember that Subaru developed its AWD system on track and trail thanks to decades of World Rally Championship competition, and it still builds the awesome WRX that won so many WRC titles. Many don’t realize that Subaru rallied the Legacy as well, although not as successfully. It competed in Group A from ‘89 through ‘93, but its lone race win during its last year of competition was hardly as legend building as the Impreza’s trio of championships. Still, can you name another mid-size family sedan that’s even managed one single WRC win? Didn’t think so. 

2019 Subaru Legacy Sport
Attractive black and grey upholstery features stylish blue contrast stitching. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Therefore it makes sense the Legacy is one of the more enjoyable cars in its mid-size class to drive, not particularly for straight-line acceleration (it could really benefit from the WRX STI’s 310-horsepower turbo-four), but more so for its handling. Nevertheless it moves off the line with decent energy, at least when compared to other base powertrains in its segment, while its Lineartronic CVT provides smooth operation at all times. 

Shift paddles provide a more hands-on driving experience, these combining with six stepped gears that make the continuously variable transmission feel closer to a conventional automatic, at least when not trying to extract everything out of the engine, but this said if you’re looking for the type of lightning-quick shifts offered by a dual-clutch gearbox or even a high-end premium-level automatic, this CVT won’t cut it. I sometimes used the paddles for downshifting, this process allowing for a sportier feel plus the benefit of engine braking down steep grades, but that was about it. 

2019 Subaru Legacy Sport
Roomy and comfortable, the Legacy’s back seat lives up to mid-size sedan buyers’ needs. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Subaru reminded that a CVT’s design can also help smooth out a vehicle’s ride quality, and it’s entirely possible this is one reason its ride quality is so good. Still, the Legacy handles well too, its fully independent MacPherson strut front and unequal length short/long arm double wishbone rear setup managing fast-paced curves with grace and composure, its 225/50R18 Goodyear Eagle LS all-seasons no doubt doing their part as well. It’s a confidence-inspiring car when driving quickly, plus it’s just as good at weaving through congested city traffic or stretching its legs on the highway. 

Speaking of stretching one’s legs, Legacy offers plenty of room in all positions, particularly up front in the driver’s position where I had no trouble getting comfortable. I’m guessing most should fit in well thanks to good adjustability all-round. My long-legged, short-torso five-foot-eight body was able to position the seat ideally to reach the top portion of steering wheel rim when the tilt and telescopic steering column was pulled all the way back. This meant the driver’s seat was positioned farther back than most five-foot-eight drivers would need to, but fortunately this didn’t seem to impinge on rear seat legroom at all. 

2019 Subaru Legacy Sport
No shortage of space in the Legacy’s accommodating trunk. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

I had almost 12 inches from my knees to the backside of the front seat when positioned directly behind, plus room to totally stretch my legs out with winter boots stuffed below. Additionally, I had loads of room next to the window, plus a wide, comfortable folding armrest with dual cupholders in between, while there were three inches of space over my head, so a six-foot teen should squeeze into the back quite comfortably. As for back seat goodies, two USB charging points are included in upper trims, although bookworms won’t have the benefit of individual reading lights overhead.

There’s more than enough room for all kinds of cargo in the big 425-litre (15 cu-ft) trunk, plus it can be expanded by the usual 60/40 split-folding rear seatbacks, releasable via a set of handles under the rear shelf. This is where I make my regular request for 40/20/40-split rear seatbacks or at least a centre pass-through, which would allow long items like skis to be placed down the middle while both rear outboard seats can be put to use. Upgraded with rear seat warmers the Legacy would be the best ski shuttle in the class. All said there aren’t many mid-size sedan rivals that offer this level of back row seating/cargo flexibility, but you’d think automakers would be trying to make this more efficient segment as practical as possible instead of forcing those with active lifestyles to opt for an SUV.

2019 Subaru Legacy Sport
A centre pass-through or 40/20/40-split rear seat would make the Legacy the ideal ski shuttle. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Minor gripe aside, you’d be well taken care of in a 2019 Legacy. According to The Old Farmer’s Almanac this winter will get more snow than average, which means an all-wheel drive vehicle will make your driving life easier and safer. On top of this, fuel isn’t about to get any cheaper, at least not permanently, so an AWD car might be ideal if your lifestyle allows. Only the new Altima, Stinger and Arteon provide standard AWD, but the latter two four-door coupes aren’t as practical as the Legacy and cost quite a bit more, while Buick’s Regal is more expensive and only offers AWD on its pricier trims. Therefore, if you want the added safety and performance of AWD in a regular mid-size sedan it’s a showdown between the Altima and this Legacy. You should try them both.

 

Story credit: Trevor Hofmann

Photo credit: Karen Tuggay

2019 Hyundai Sonata Ultimate Road Test

2019 Hyundai Sonata Ultimate
Hyundai gave last year’s Sonata a dramatic refresh with this attractive new grille, and the car carried forward identically into 2019. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Hyundai’s Sonata has been around for decades. Just over three actually. During its 31-year tenure the South Korean brand has given it a fairly even mix of dramatic designs and comparatively less expressive styling, the latter seeming to win more buyers. 

A quick glance back into the rearview mirror shows the 1998 through 2004 fourth-generation and 2009 through 2014 sixth-generation models offering particularly daring designs, with a comparatively conservative 2004 through 2009 fifth-generation filling the gap. I might end up throwing my “dramatic” styling equals success theory out completely as that relatively modestly sedan sold very well, and while I spent at least one week with all of the above generations and every one since, all of which impressed, I actually had a V6-powered top-tier version of the latter car in my position as a long-term test car for more than a year, and experienced no problems while totally enjoying its comfort and performance (as my weekly reports confirmed). 

Today’s 2014 through 2019 gen-seven model is the best Sonata yet, but before its extensive 2018 mid-cycle update it was amongst the least visually inspiring generations. Don’t mistake my lack of excitement for criticism, as the 2014 through 2017 Sonata was still attractive enough for plenty of mid-size four-door family sedan buyers, but we’d best not call this level of reconstructive surgery a facelift. 

2019 Hyundai Sonata Ultimate
The Sonata looks great from all angles, especially in sporty Ultimate trim. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Both 2018 and 2019 Sonata models, which are identical, include a totally reworked grille that completely said goodbye to the front fascia’s sharply angled hexagonal design, a somewhat yawn-inducing generic look if I can be so bold, substituted by a more organically shaped opening that’s helped to visually separate Hyundai and its new Genesis luxury brand. Genesis, which merely rebadged Hyundai’s Genesis Sedan as the G80 as part of its transformation, appears to be keeping more of the outgoing Hyundai grille design while adding a “V” shape to the centre bottom, much like the side view of a brilliant cut diamond as revealed on its new full-size 2020 G90 luxury sedan. 

Back to the current Sonata, its curvaceous new grille is bookended by a nice complex set of headlamp clusters filled with ovoid projector beams (LEDs in my tester) surrounded by attractive LED daytime running lights, these hovering above a neatly stacked set of six LED fog lamps on the lower front corners. 

My tester’s sportier Ultimate trim gets stylish darkened chrome around the otherwise black gloss grille, lower fascia, and headlight surrounds that smartly continue rearward along the front fenders and the entire shoulder line along the side windows before wrapping up and around the greenhouse before meeting back up at the base of each A-pillar. This unique signature design element began with the aforementioned sixth-gen Sonata way back in 2009, and will once again make its dramatic statement for the upcoming 2020 model, a car that take all of the styling cues shown here and expands on them in drama and actual size, while completely redoing rear styling. There’s plenty more dark chrome and loads of glossy black trim on this Ultimate example too, the diffuser style rear apron nicely matching the front fog light bezels, all of which mirror the all black glass and high-gloss roof, this partially because of its panoramic sunroof. I have to admit, the 2018 update made a rather ho-hum Sonata into a great looking mid-size sedan. 

2019 Hyundai Sonata Ultimate
The new Sonata makes a statement with its big grille, available LED headlights, vertically stacked LED fog lamps, and sporty 18-inch alloys. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Of course, it needs to be in order to survive. Not only is it up against some very stiff competition thanks to Toyota’s latest Camry being downright seductive in its sportiest XSE trim line, the latest Honda Accord providing a lot more premium-like presence than ever before, an all-new Nissan Altima improving styling while offering standard all-wheel drive, plus plenty of other brands tempting consumers with high performance or fuel-efficient hybrid and plug-in alternatives, not to mention Kia and Volkswagen complementing their respective Optima and Passat family sedans with sporty four-door coupe variants dubbed Stinger and Arteon, but the entire car sector under serious threat from crossover SUVs. 

Out of the 14 mid-size sedans currently vying for your attention, only four saw an increase in year-over-year Canadian sales through the first three quarters of 2019, and the Sonata isn’t one of them. The segment-leading Camry’s 11,579 deliveries are up 4.18 percent since the close of Q3 2018, growth that pales in comparison to the third-place Ford Fusion’s 33.43-percent gain, although its total sales are only 7,280. The two others in positive territory are marginal players to say it kindly, with Honda’s Clarity plug-in hybrid up 12.37 percent to 890 units, and Buick’s Regal having increased its take-rate by a whopping 48.71 percent, albeit only to 635 deliveries. 

2019 Hyundai Sonata Ultimate
While not as large as some competitors, the Sonata Ultimate’s 18-inch alloys help this big sedan perform very well. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

The biggest loser is Volkswagen’s Passat down 78.24 percent to just 570 units, but Kia’s Optima didn’t fare much better with sales of 1,363 units resulting in a 52.09-percent downturn. A quick glance at some others like the Altima that lost 43.34 percent for 2,568 units despite its recent redesign, and Mazda6’s that took a 42.76-percent nosedive to 1,130 units, doesn’t make the Sonata’s mere 14.18-percent reversal look that bad, while the 3,346 units Hyundai delivered puts it in a strong fifth place, behind the Camry, Accord, Fusion and Malibu, yet ahead of the Altima, Optima, Subaru Legacy, Stinger, Mazda6, Clarity, Regal, Passat, and Arteon. Announcement of the Fusion’s upcoming demise might make it easier for those remaining, although it’s also a sobering sign of this once mighty category not being as essential to carmakers as it once was. 

All this said, the review you’re reading is more of a respectful adieu to the outgoing 2019 Sonata ahead of ushering in the all-new 2020, and therefore some of us can appreciate a car that helped define Hyundai’s new styling direction over its two-year tenure, while others are deciding if it will soon grace their driveway. I have a lot of good to say about this particular Sonata Ultimate tester, continuing on from my styling overview to its very impressive interior filled with upscale finishings and more features than you’re likely to find in any one of the competitors mentioned above. 

2019 Hyundai Sonata Ultimate
These attractive LED taillights come standard. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

A tasteful array of high-quality, soft-touch composites in all the usual places join textured and brushed metal-like trim and inky piano black detailing throughout, while the medium-grey cabin sports a classy set of identically coloured seats in perforated leather upholstery with light-grey piping around their edges, which matches light-grey stitching on the bolsters, with the latter complementing light-grey stitching found elsewhere around the interior, particularly on the door panel inserts, on the shifter boot, and in baseball-stitched style around the inside of the leather-wrapped flat-bottom sport steering wheel rim. 

That steering wheel not only looks the part of a performance car, but its thick padded rim, nicely indented thumb spats, and overall meaty feel comes across a lot more Veloster N than Azera (RIP, in Canada at least), while the placement of the paddle shifters is so ideal they really enhance the overall driving experience. All is combined with ample steering column rake and reach, plus an eight-way powered driver’s seat with two-way lumbar, both allowing my long-legged, short-torso five-foot-eight frame to get completely comfortable while providing ideal control of directional duties, unlike some in the class that don’t fit me as well. 

2019 Hyundai Sonata Ultimate
The top-line Sonata Ultimate interior is nicely finished and quite refined, but next year’s update is needed to keep it current. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

During the same week I also had Toyota’s new Camry XSE, which by all styling inferences appears to be the sportiest new mid-size sedan on the market. It’s a significant improvement over the previous model in every way including steering column reach, but it still doesn’t fit me as well. What’s more, the steering wheel doesn’t come close to feeling as sporty or allowing as much control as this Sonata’s, even from a styling standpoint. Don’t get me wrong as Toyota has done a commendable job with the new Camry interior, making its finishing more refined and its overall look a bit more upscale than this Sonata, but as far as real hands-on performance goes, it doesn’t come anywhere near close. What’s more, the Sonata’s steering wheel is heatable from its mid-range up, while Toyota doesn’t even offer a heated steering wheel in the Camry. 

The most notable Camry XSE and Sonata Ultimate differentiators are the seats, with the latter model featuring two of the best front sport seats in the family sedan class. Not only are the embossed with cool “Turbo” insignias up top, and detailed out with all the niceties mentioned earlier, but their deep side bolsters do an excellent job of holding butt and torso in place during hard cornering. You’ll need to hang onto something other than the steering wheel if you want to stay put in the Camry’s driver’s seat while attempting the same lateral Gs, because Toyota’s seats leave you sitting on top of their cushions rather than ensconced within. I didn’t find the Camry’s seats comfortable either, not even in the more luxurious XLE version, but the seats in the Sonata Ultimate are wonderful, and fully supportive in every way you’d want from a sport sedan. The Sonata’s three-way front seat heaters also get toastier than the Camry’s in their top temperature setting, plus the Hyundai includes three-way front seat ventilation that won’t be available to top-line Camry buyers until the 2020 model arrives. 

2019 Hyundai Sonata Ultimate
Most should find the well laid out Sonata interior easy to operate and comfortable. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Even the Sonata’s rear seats offer two-way derriere warmers next to the windows in mid-range Preferred trim and above, not to mention nicely carved out support that makes them feel great on the backside, albeit not so much to render the centre position useless. Side window sunshades, found in Luxury and Ultimate trims, can’t be had with a Camry either, while rear seat passengers benefit from plenty of other features like LED reading lights overhead, individual air vents, a nice wide folding centre armrest with integrated cupholders, deep door pockets with bottle holders, and more. A panoramic sunroof on Luxury and Ultimate trims makes the rear passenger compartment feel more open and airy than it would otherwise be, although even less opulent models are hardly short on side window visibility. 

It’s roomy in back too, with plenty of knee space, enough legroom to almost completely stretch out my legs while wearing winter boots, four to five inches to the door panels, plus I still had about three and a half inches above my head, so taller folks should fit in without problem. 

The trunk is large at 462 litres (16.3 cubic feet), while the lid can be opened with a button on the dash or automatically by standing behind the car with the ignition off and proximity-sensing key in pocket. It’s nicely finished with carpeting all the way up the sidewalls, including the trunk lid, while each side of the carpeted seatbacks fold forward in the usual 60/40-configuration via pull-tabs just underneath the rear shelf. 

2019 Hyundai Sonata Ultimate
Simple analogue instruments are enhanced by a good straightforward multi-info display. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Everything mentioned so far comes standard in top-line Ultimate trim, including a sharp looking set of 18-inch double-five-spoke alloy wheels wrapped in 235/45R18 Michelin all-season tires (replacing 16- or 17-inch Kumhos) directed via special rack-mounted motor-driven power steering (R-MDPS) with a dual-pinion steering rack, an exclusive twin-scroll turbocharged and direct-injected 2.0-litre four-cylinder engine with dual continuously variable valve timing and two-stage variable induction making 245 horsepower and 260 lb-ft of torque (replacing the base 2.4-litre four with 185 hp and 178 lb-ft of torque), an eight-speed automatic with manual mode and paddle shifters (instead of a six-speed automatic), as well as the special leather sport seats noted earlier, plus the aforementioned 3D Three-dimensional Overlay Method (T.O.M) metallic inlays. 

I’m itemizing the majority of each trim’s standard features because value for money has always been one a great way to judge any Hyundai against its peers, and considering this 2019 Sonata Ultimate goes for just $37,199 plus freight and fees, it’s hard to argue against it. After all, a similarly powered Camry with fewer features tops $41k, about 10 percent more than this full-load Sonata, while it’s also a couple of thousand pricier at its lowest end too. That base Essential trim can be had for just $24,899, while at the time of writing Hyundai was offering up to $2,000 in additional incentives. You can find out more right here at CarCostCanada, right on the same page that gives you detailed 2019 Sonata pricing, including trims, packages and individual options, plus rebate info and dealer invoice pricing that could save you thousands. 

2019 Hyundai Sonata Ultimate
The Sonata’s centre stack provides a lot of hands-on functionality. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Yet more features pulled up to this Ultimate model from the $34,899 Luxury trim include the aforementioned LED headlamps with adaptive cornering and auto high beams, the cooled front seats, the rear window sunshades and powered panoramic sunroof, plus aluminum treadplates, chromed inner door handles, an electric parking brake, an auto-dimming centre mirror, a HomeLink universal garage door remote, a six-way powered front passenger seat, driver’s seat and side mirror memory, an 8.0-inch high-resolution infotainment touchscreen with navigation, an excellent sounding 400-watt nine-speaker Infinity audio system, wireless device charging, rear seat heating/ventilation/AC ducts, rear parking sensors, driver attention warning, adaptive cruise control with stop-and-go, forward collision warning with pedestrian detection, and lane departure warning with lane keep assist. 

Features pulled up to the Unlimited from mid-range $28,799 Preferred trim include the stitched leatherette door inserts, heated steering wheel rim, rear seat heaters, and proximity trunk release mentioned before, as well as two-zone auto climate control, satellite radio with a rooftop shark antenna, remote engine start, and BlueLink connectivity, while the $27,699 Essential Sport model provides its sport grille, dark chrome and sportier exterior detailing, sport-tuned suspension, LED tail lamps, front door handle welcome lighting, proximity-sensing keyless entry, sport-style Supervision instrument cluster with a 4.2-inch TFT LCD multi-function display, shift paddles, eight-way power driver’s seat, and aluminum pedals. 

2019 Hyundai Sonata Ultimate
The 8.0-inch centre display is high in resolution and filled with features. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Lastly, standard features included with this Ultimate model from base Essential trim are as follows: automatic on/off headlamps, LED daytime running lights, powered and heated exterior mirrors with integrated LED turn signals, a leather-wrapped multifunction steering wheel, speed-sensitive variable intermittent windshield wipers, heatable front seats, Android Auto and Apple CarPlay phone integration, Bluetooth with streaming audio, micro-filtered air conditioning, blindspot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert, the usual active and passive safety gear, plus plenty more. 

To be fair to the Camry, which has taken quite a beating while being compared directly to the Sonata Unlimited throughout this review, the mid-size Toyota provides a more sophisticated primary gauge package thanks to a more advanced multi-information display (MID) boasting a bigger, more modern looking TFT screen that neatly curves around the outside of each analogue dial, plus it also comes with more functions. Just the same, the Sonata’s MID is bright, clear and hardly short on features. 

2019 Hyundai Sonata Ultimate
This is one of the most supportive driver’s seats in the mid-size class. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

The car’s centre stack is more vertical than the Camry’s, which is a more modern horizontal layout, not that it matters from a functional standpoint, but it theoretically allows for a larger display (the top-line Camry’s 8.0-inch touchscreen isn’t any larger though) and more room for switchgear around it (the 2020 Sonata makes up for this in a big 12.3-inch way), and therefore the Sonata’s dash design appears more conventional than the Camry’s as well, but once again this has more to do with the 2019 Sonata’s end of lifecycle issues than not technically measuring up (upcoming reviews of the new 2020 Nexo and 2020 Palisade SUVs will expose Hyundai’s infotainment leadership in more detail). I like how the current Sonata’s touchscreen sits high on the centre stack, making it easy to read while driving, and its clear, high-resolution display provides good depth of colour and nice graphics. Its operating system is quick as well, while all functions are generally easy to sort out. 

I found the quality of Sonata switchgear good too, particularly the steering wheel controls and array of buttons, knobs and switches on the centre stack, some of this latter group detailed out with an attractive aluminum-like finish. The upper row of these aluminized toggles is set aside for audio and infotainment system functions, while the bottom row is for the automatic heating and ventilation system, plus the heated and cooled seats as well as the heated steering wheel rim. Under this is a rubberized tray for your smartphone that doubles as a wireless charging pad, while yet more connectivity sits just above on a panel integrating two 12-volt chargers, a USB port, and an aux plug (we can expect more USB ports and fewer old tech as part of the 2020 redesign). 

2019 Hyundai Sonata Ultimate
This big panoramic sunroof adds a lot of light front to back. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

With the thick, flat-bottom, paddle shifter-enhanced steering wheel rim in hands, and the nicely bolstered driver’s seat underseat, the Sonata Ultimate felt considerably more fun to drive than the Camry XSE, even without the latter car’s more powerful V6. The top-tier Camry is quite a bit quicker in a straight line, shaving about a second and a half off the Sonata Ultimate’s mid-seven-second 0-100 km/h sprint, as long as you manage to stop the front wheels from spinning too much, but straight-line acceleration only one performance criterion, and certainly not most important to me. 

Sure, making surrounding traffic almost instantly disappear in the rearview mirror can be fun while behind the wheel of a Porsche 911 Turbo or something equally fast, but trying to do so in a Sonata or Camry simply makes you look juvenile. I found the Sonata Ultimate’s 2.0-litre turbo moved me out of the starting blocks fast enough, while its eight-speed automatic swapped gears quicker than the Camry’s eight-speed gearbox, particularly when its Drive Mode Select system was switched from Comfort, past Eco, into Sport mode, each of these making adjustments to steering, engine, and transmission responses. For my tastes, the high-revving top-level Sonata engine was a great deal more enjoyable than the Camry’s V6 when pushed hard at speed, while having less weight over the front wheels made for nimbler high-speed handling with less understeer. 

2019 Hyundai Sonata Ultimate
A large back seating area provides good comfort and available amenities like seat heaters, side sunshades, and more. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Yes, the Sonata Ultimate manages fast-paced corners better than the Camry XSE, the Hyundai reacting quicker and feeling more stable. The Toyota had a tendency to push its front tires out of its lane when driven similarly over the same circuitous roadway, while becoming its rear tires didn’t feel as hooked up either, and this is in spite of coming equipped with bigger 19-inch alloys on 235/40 all seasons. Throw the Sonata Unlimited’s driver seat superiority into the mix and it’s no contest. 

As for fuel economy, you’d think Hyundai’s 2.0-litre turbo-four would annihilate Toyota’s old 3.5-litre V6, but the Sonata Ultimate’s claimed rating of 10.4 L/100 km city, 7.4 on highway and 9.1 combined is only a fraction better than the Camry XSE’s 10.7 city, 7.4 highway and 9.2 combined rating. Another nod to Toyota is the inclusion of the eight-speed automatic throughout the Camry range, which helps its less formidable four-cylinder trims walk away with an ultra-thrifty 8.1 city, 5.7 highway and 6.9 combined rating, which is far better than the 2.4-litre equipped Sonata’s stingiest rating of 9.2, 6.8 and 8.1. 

2019 Hyundai Sonata Ultimate
The Sonata’s big trunk can be expanded upon by the mid-size segment’s usual 60/40 split-folding rear seatbacks. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Now that I’m griping, the Sonata’s proximity-sensing automatic trunk opener doesn’t seem to work when the car is already unlocked, and with no button in back to open it manually you’ll want to remember to do so from the driver’s position before getting out. The Camry’s approach, which includes a button on the trunk lid that unlocks by proximity sensing, is easier to live with. I also like the Camry’s heated front seats, which turn on (or stay off) automatically upon restarting the car, and stay set at the previous temperature. The Sonata’s heatable front seats require your attention each time you climb inside. 

Of course, a lot of other qualities keep the Camry on top of the mid-size sedan class hierarchy, and I promise to cover these in a future road test review, while there’s no shortage of credible competitors in this segment either, as mentioned at length before, yet if buying into this category you’d be wise to spend some time with the Sonata before choosing something else. 

Story credit: Trevor Hofmann 

Photo credit: Karen Tuggay

2019 Mitsubishi Eclipse Cross GT S-AWC Road Test

2019 Mitsubishi Eclipse Cross GT S-AWC
Mitsubishi has made a bold move by entering an SUV-coupe into the mainstream market, but we like its new Eclipse Cross very much. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

What’s in a name? So much. I’m actually a tiny bit put off by Eclipse Cross, the name Mitsubishi is using for its new compact crossover SUV. There’s nothing particularly wrong with the two words chosen, unlike when Buick named one of their mid-size sedans after Canada’s national game that actually had another somewhat raunchy colloquial meaning in French, but it sends my mind back to a better (automotive) time when personal 2+2 sports coupes like the Japanese brand’s own Eclipse, Honda’s Prelude, Nissan’s 240SX, and Toyota’s Celica, amongst myriad others, were what many of us longed to cruise the strip in on Friday and Saturday nights before autocrossing on Sundays, but now all of these low-riding, two-door hardtops are gone, leaving us with a glut of two-box sport utilities. 

A few of these car-based crossovers are slightly more unusual, however, making this mostly practical market sector more intriguing than it might otherwise be, with the edgy new Eclipse Cross top of this category’s list of orthodox heretics. It’s a particularly good choice for buyers not requiring all of the Outlander’s cargo capacity yet wanting more get-up-and-go than an RVR, plus its sporty SUV-coupe design pulls some of the premium pizazz down from luxury juggernauts like BMW and Mercedes-Benz that offer similarly sized variants in their X4 and GLC Coupe models respectively. I’m not trying to say this commoner’s shuttle somehow measures up to such lofty Europeans, but it’s got a strut all its own and therefore deserves a level of respect for going its own way in a compact SUV class that’s more often than not safer than safe. 

2019 Mitsubishi Eclipse Cross GT S-AWC
It’s sloped rear roofline is joined by a very stylish combination of taillights and two rear windows. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Most brands that choose to get their funk on turn to the smallest subcompact SUV category to do so, where Mitsubishi pits its comparatively conservative RVR against more unusual entries such as the Kia Soul and Toyota C-HR (Nissan’s Juke, and before that the Cube, which was the oddest of them all, laid to rest a number of years ago, the latter replaced by the more mainstream Kicks), while, size aside, the Mazda CX-3 is closer to the Eclipse Cross as far as consumer acceptability and sporty driving dynamics go, but the larger Mitsu is the only SUV-coupe in its bigger compact segment. 

The Eclipse Cross reaches 4,405 mm (173.4 in) from nose to tail, with a 2,670 mm (105.1 in) wheelbase, while it stretches 1,805 mm (71.1 in) wide and stands 1,685 mm (66.3 in) tall. This makes its wheelbase identical to the brand’s Outlander that in fact measures 290 mm (11.4 in) longer overall, while its width is a mere 5 mm (0.2 in) thinner and height 25 mm (1.0 in) lower to the ground. This means it’s about the same size as the Outlander other than length, which combined with its sloped rear roof section, makes for a much more exciting looking SUV. 

2019 Mitsubishi Eclipse Cross GT S-AWC
The 18-inch alloys are standard, but the LED headlamps are exclusive to this GT trim line. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

As for styling, the Eclipse Cross wears Mitsubishi’s bold new “Dynamic Shield” design language rather well, better in my opinion than any other model in the lineup, other than the new 2020 RVR that takes this look to new heights. The drama continues around both sides where sculpted cutlines emerge about a third of the way through the front doors before slicing through the handles and meeting up with the lower edge of an even more enticing combination of LED tail lamps, these visually tied together by a narrow strip of lighting that separates two panes of back glass in similitude to Honda’s 2nd-generation (1988-1991) CRX or more recent (2011–2016) CR-Z, plus the Japanese brand’s defunct mid-size (2010–2015) Crosstour, although these three Hondas never included the Eclipse Cross’s light strip. Additional body sculpting along the rocker panels bends upward before rounding the rear fenders, these matching the Eclipse Cross’s muscular front fender design with a slight nod to the past (2004–2011) Endeavor mid-size crossover SUV, a long-term tester I had the pleasure of living with for more than a few months way back when. 

Framed behind a sharp looking set of standard 18-inch alloy rims on 225/55 all-season rubber is a fully independent MacPherson strut front suspension and multi-link rear setup incorporating stabilizer bars at each end, all of which combines for ample grip to keep its 1.5-litre turbo-four in control. The diminutive engine, good for 152 horsepower and 184 lb-ft of torque, sends its output through an innovative continuously variable transmission (CVT) complete with eight forward gears, or should I say simulated gears, shiftable via two of the best magnesium column-mounted paddles in the business. 

2019 Mitsubishi Eclipse Cross GT S-AWC
This three-part LED lighting element looks even better up close. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Why the best? Unlike most anything else in the entire industry, these longer than average paddle shifters are fixed to the steering column rather than the steering wheel, exactly like with the fabulous Evo X MR (RIP) and plenty of other Mitsubishi models, allowing accurate upshifts and downshifts even when the wheel is being turned. 

This Eclipse Cross GT moved along well when pushed hard, feeling more energetic than its horsepower rating led on, without doubt due to its sizeable torque figure. Steering effort was firmer than most other compact SUVs I’ve driven, although light enough for easy daily use, while its ride quality was a bit more rigid, yet never uncomfortable. Its firm stance helped amid tight twisting curves, the Eclipse Cross feeling rock solid when getting aggressive, but this said I wouldn’t have thought it would be as good as it is when running errands around town or otherwise driving normally, as the powertrain responds like it’s in eco mode even when it’s not. Yes, you can still press the green “Eco Mode” button on the centre console if you want an even more relaxed experience, plus the fuel savings to go with it. 

Unfortunately there’s no Sport mode, my right foot on the go-pedal the only way to extract all of the engine’s energy, and even with those aforementioned shift paddles the CVT isn’t the sportiest of transmissions (I’m being nice). It’s smooth, however, and therefore just what most buyers in this compact SUV class want, plus it’s very effective at moving this little utility down the road quickly while using as little gas as possible. 

2019 Mitsubishi Eclipse Cross GT S-AWC
The Eclipse Cross provides a really well laid out cockpit. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

In the wet, much of the Eclipse Cross’s straight-line speed and cornering capability is directly due to its standard Super All-Wheel Control, those four words collectively designated to Mitsubishi’s all-wheel drive system, which is an advanced torque-vectoring AWD honed from decades of rally car racing. True, it’s difficult to accept that this “performance” SUV is now the sportiest model in Mitsubishi’s once very racy lineup that previously offered the superb Evo X noted earlier, an all-wheel drive super compact that easily out-handled the Subaru WRX STI of the era, but Mitsubishi’s focus has changed now, with practical SUVs front and centre, one of which is a plug-in electric that’s giving it a good green image if not much in the way of profits. 

Rather than cry over the Evo’s demise, it’s probably best to praise Mitsubishi for the Eclipse Cross’s fuel-efficiency. It’s rated at 9.6 L/100km city, 8.9 highway and 8.3 combined, which is good when compared to the segment-sales-leading Toyota RAV4 that can only manage 10.5 city, 8.3 highway and 9.5 combined, although it’s not quite as stingy on gas as the Honda CR-V’s estimated rating of 8.7 city, 7.2 highway and 8.0 combined. 

2019 Mitsubishi Eclipse Cross GT S-AWC
The gauge cluster looks good and is easy to read in any light. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

The previously noted turbocharged four-cylinder and CVT combination is identical no matter which of its three trim lines gets chosen (not including special editions), but like usual in this business Mitsubishi provided my Eclipse Cross tester in top-tier GT trim so I could experience all of its available goodies. This model hits the road for $35,998 plus freight and fees (check right here on CarCostCanada for all the pricing details, including dealer invoice pricing and rebate info that could save you thousands), and came well equipped with LED headlights, a head-up display unit, a multi-view rearview camera with active guidelines, an excellent 710-watt Rockford Fosgate Punch audio system featuring nine speakers including a 10-inch sub, a heated steering wheel, two-way heatable rear outboard seats, leather upholstery, a six-way power driver’s seat, a two-pane panoramic glass sunroof, plus more. 

This top-line GT also boasts everything from the mid-range SE trim’s available Tech Package, including auto high beams, adaptive cruise control, forward collision mitigation with pedestrian warning, lane departure warning, an auto-dimming rearview mirror with an integrated universal garage door remote, roof rails, and a stylish silver-painted lower door garnish. 

2019 Mitsubishi Eclipse Cross GT S-AWC
Mitsubishi’s head-up display powers up out of the dash. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Items grandfathered up to GT trim from the just-noted SE include those paddle shifters mentioned earlier, plus proximity keyless entry and pushbutton start/stop, an electric parking brake (the base model uses a classic handbrake), a leather-clad steering wheel rim and shift knob, automatic headlamps, rain-sensing windshield wipers, two-zone auto HVAC (an upgrade from base trim’s single-zone automatic climate control), blind spot warning, etcetera for just $29,998, while items pulled up from $27,998 base ES trim include LED daytime running lights, fog lights, LED side mirror turn signals, LED tail lamps, a tilt and telescopic steering column, a colour multi-information display in the primary gauge package, the “ECO” mode mentioned a moment ago, micron-filtered auto climate control, two-way heatable front seats, plus more. 

Eclipse Cross interior quality is good, including a dash completely made from a premium-like pliable composite that bends all the way down to the middle portion of the instrument panel, while nice soft synthetic front door uppers add to the luxury feel, along with even plusher door inserts just below, and a comfortable set of armrests with contrast stitching. Their orange contrasting thread matches with the seat bolster stitching nicely, while all added colour is applied tastefully (unlike some in the compact SUV category). 

2019 Mitsubishi Eclipse Cross GT S-AWC
The infotainment system is excellent. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Mitsubishi has organized the primary instruments well, with an amply sized colour trip computer between its two conventional dials, while over on the centre stack its 7.0-inch centre display offers an upscale look. Tap, pinch and swipe finger prompts can be used in the usual smartphone/tablet-style touchscreen way, but that’s not all as Mitsubishi provides an impressive touchpad on the lower console for those who’d rather not reach all the way to the dash when entering commands. I’m impressed at this entry-level brand incorporating such a sophisticated infotainment system as standard equipment, its features and layout comparable to a number of premium SUVs on offer. 

Within the bright, graphical interface is standard Apple CarPlay and Android Auto smartphone integration, a big backup camera with active guidelines (my tester including an upgraded multi-view version), Bluetooth with audio streaming, satellite radio, two USB charging/connectivity ports, and more. 

The Eclipse Cross’s driver’s seat is comfortable, thanks to good powered adjustability. I was able to set up an ideal driving position due to ample rake and reach via the tilt and telescopic steering wheel, but alas the seatback didn’t include any adjustable lumbar support. Still, its ergonomically shaped design provided good lower back comfort anyway, although as I’ve experienced during countless road trips, the ability to make periodic seat adjustments so as to ease acquired pain is important. 

2019 Mitsubishi Eclipse Cross GT S-AWC
Along with its touchscreen functionality, the infotainment system accepts finger prompts from this handy touchpad. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

The steering wheel mentioned a moment ago is nicely designed with a reasonably thick leather rim, while the ability to heat it up was appreciated. The front seat heaters cooked up a storm too, but with just two temperature settings available I found my driver’s seat was either too hot or too cold, never just right. 

The second row of seats offers up a lot of space and comfort, plus it includes a flip-down armrest in the middle that integrates the usual set of cupholders. The rear seat heaters on the backside of the front console are an easy reach, while my test model’s rear glass sunroof joined up with this SUV’s ample visibility out the rear windows for a really open and airy experience in back. 

The Eclipse Cross doesn’t offer a powered tailgate, which wouldn’t matter to me personally, but something that would truly sway my vote would be more accommodating 40/20/40 split-folding rear seatbacks than the 60/40 division provided, or at the very least a centre pass-through so I’d be able to load skis down the middle while my rear passengers enjoyed those previously mentioned seat warmers on our way back from the mountain, but for reasoning that can only come down to cost savings, only a couple of mainstream volume-branded rivals offer this premium-level convenience. Then again, it’s not like this new Mitsubishi breaks rank when it comes to cargo flexibility, yet the automaker may want to reconsider this because it could be a leader and therefore garner sales it hasn’t been able to thus far. 

2019 Mitsubishi Eclipse Cross GT S-AWC
The driver’s seat is good, but it needs adjustable lumbar support. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Continuing on this practical train of thought, even this segment’s sportiest SUV has to measure up when it comes to hauling gear, so it’s good the Eclipse Cross provides plenty of luggage capacity to go along with its sizeable passenger compartment. By the numbers, the Eclipse Cross offers 640 litres (22.6 cu ft) aft of the rear seats, and 1,385 litres (48.9 cu ft) behind the front seats when the rear seatbacks are lowered, making it 26 litres (0.9 cubic feet) more voluminous for cargo than the subcompact RVR when both model’s rear seats are in use, albeit 17 litres (0.6 cubic feet) less so when those seatbacks are dropped down. Hence, the compromise of a sporty SUV-coupe compared to a more conventional crossover SUV. 

When comparing the Eclipse Cross to its bigger Outlander brother, which is closer in most external dimensions, it’s a full 328 litres (11.6 cubic feet) less accommodating behind its back row, and a whopping 407 litres (14.4 cubic feet) less so when both SUVs’ have their rear seatbacks lowered. Mitsubishi helpfully includes a removable cargo floor to expand on cargo space by unveiling a fairly large stowage compartment underneath. 

On the negative, when I pulled those rear seatbacks up so they could be used again, I found their headrests almost impossible to yank up from their deep-set lowered positions. It really took all of my strength, and while I’m no Charles Atlas, the level of effort needed bordered on the outrageous. I’m sure the headrest mounts would free up in time, but this presupposes that an owner is capable of pulling them up in the first place. I recommend you find out if you can do so even before going on a test drive, and also that Mitsubishi dealers make sure their service departments check this as part of their pre-delivery inspection regimen. 

2019 Mitsubishi Eclipse Cross GT S-AWC
Love all the light shining from above. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Now that I’m griping, I experienced way too many annoying creaks and squeaks from the rear when underway. It’s possible this has something to do with the removable cargo floor noted earlier, but I doubt it. It’s more likely due to the fitment of the rear sunroof, or even more likely the rear seats, as some of the squeaking sounds seemed more like leather rubbing together. Therefore I’d really like to test the Eclipse Cross with its fabric seats, and find out just where all the noise is coming from. 

On a more positive note, I liked having separate power sunshade controls for both front and rear sunroofs, as it allowed rear passengers more overhead light while front occupants were shaded, or vice versa. 

Another thumbs up goes to the rear wiper that engages automatically when reversing if the windshield wipers are on, while the previously noted head-up display (HUD) was a helpful tool being that it provides key info directly in front of the driver where it can be seen easily without taking eyes off the road. Rather than projecting images directly on the windshield, which is the usual way an HUD works, Mitsubishi’s design is near identical to the HUD used by Mazda, in that a small transparent plastic reflector screen powers up atop the instrument hood, but the only problem with the Eclipse Cross version is that it’s somewhat distracting. It doesn’t really block the view ahead, but it kind of interrupts the mind’s eye. I did get used to it after a few days, to the point that it didn’t bother me at all, but I could understand if some others didn’t like it. 

2019 Mitsubishi Eclipse Cross GT S-AWC
Rear seat roominess is good and the backrests are comfortable. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

After pointing out the various Eclipse Cross positives and negatives that you may or may not agree with, I think we can all commend Mitsubishi for its industry-leading 5-year or 100,000-km basic (almost bumper-to-bumper) warranty and 10-year or 160,000-km powertrain coverage. No other manufacturer comes close to providing as much peace of mind, with the majority providing 2 years or 40,000 km less basic coverage, and 5 years or 60,000 km less powertrain warranty. This, and the fact that Mitsubishi is one of the more well respected automakers in global markets due to superb engineering and better than average dependability, makes its excellent warranty a top selling point that every consumer should factor in when purchasing a new vehicle. 

Mitsubishi should also be commended for creating the Eclipse Cross’s compact SUV-coupe niche within its mainstream volume-branded class. True, the model’s year-to-date 2019 sales figure of 4,159 units (as of Sept 2019) leave it dead last in its segment, but when combining that number with Mitsubishi’s second-to-last Outlander sales of 8,568 units, its 12,727-unit overall brand impact on the compact SUV segment positions it above Subaru, GMC and Kia; an impressive accomplishment for one of Canada’s newest automotive brands (Mitsubishi Motor Sales was established here in 2002). 

2019 Mitsubishi Eclipse Cross GT S-AWC
Most won’t mind the load hauling compromise, but the rear headrests are really hard to adjust. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

This, combined with the Outlander PHEV, the only plug-in hybrid in the volume-branded compact SUV segment, shows that innovation remains a key component to Mitsubishi’s continued market presence and future growth, and despite some of us lamenting the loss of performance-first models like that Evo mentioned earlier, or the Eclipse sports coupe this crossover SUV pays tribute to, we need to acknowledge Bob Dylan’s famous line, the times they are a changin, and appreciate that only those willing to adapt will survive when times get tough. 

Story credit: Trevor Hofmann 

Photo credit: Karen Tuggay

2019 Infiniti QX60 Sensory Road Test

2019 Infiniti QX60 Sensory
There are no visual changes for the 2019 QX60, but it still looks mighty attractive. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Back in the day, badge engineering was mostly a domestic issue. Certainly there were some instances of entry-level European brands sharing underpinnings with a luxury marque, but few would call an Audi Fox, which rode on the back of Volkswagen’s “mid-size” Dasher, a luxury car. The practice was more common in North America where full-size Chevy and Pontiac sedans were unabashedly transformed into Buicks and Cadillacs by grafting on new front and rear clips, stamping new sheetmetal, and gussying up their cabins with leather, faux woodgrain and chrome, but little else, which was probably why no one thought anything about luxury newcomers Acura, Lexus and Infiniti doing likewise when they arrived on the scene in the ‘80s. While these Japanese premium brands have now mostly done away with this exercise as they’ve gained more prestige, some hangers on still survive, like Infiniti’s QX60. 

We can point fingers at others, like Lexus’ ES series that rests on the comfortable Toyota K platform, the same as Toyota’s Avalon, which also carries the RX and Highlander, not to mention the Camry mid-size sedan, Sienna minivan, and now discontinued Venza mid-size crossover, while Audi still shares plenty of its platform architectures with VW (and Bentley, amongst others), BMW with Mini, Alfa Romeo with Jeep, and so on, but most aren’t as obvious as Infiniti with the QX60 and Nissan’s Pathfinder. 

2019 Infiniti QX60 Sensory
The 20-inch alloys included with the Sensory package adds visual flair and performance benefits. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Truly, few premium models come closer to mimicking their mainstream volume-branded donor platform as the QX60 and Pathfinder, but to be fair to Infiniti the similarities aren’t easily seen outside. The luxury brand’s most accommodating crossover SUV incorporates its trademark grille and animal-like LED headlights up front, plus its curvy rear quarter window, and its more shapely wrap-around LED taillights, while the Nissan appears a lot more like a traditional truck-based SUV since it was refreshed for 2017. 

No, the most noticeable similarities are found inside, where the two SUVs are near duplicates in design, layout, and overall goodness. Did you notice how I did that? No doubt you thought I was going to slam the QX60 for not measuring up to the luxury class, but despite a desire to see more differentiation between QX60 and Pathfinder interiors, they’re both very good at providing what customers in this family segment want and require, the Infiniti simply offering more when it comes to the choice and quality of materials, plus other niceties. 

2019 Infiniti QX60 Sensory
The QX60 interior mimics the Nissan Pathfinder’s a bit too closely, but it’s materials quality and finishing is good. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

For starters, the QX60’s dash top, instrument panel fascia, glove box lid, lower console sides, and front door panels, from top to bottom, are covered in high-quality soft synthetics, while the Pathfinder is the king of hard plastics, covering each of these surfaces with low rent composites except for (oddly) the front door panels that receive the full soft-touch treatment too. The QX60 also moves these improvements into the rear passenger compartment, offering pliable rear door uppers, whereas hard shell plastic covers the Pathfinder’s inner door panels. What’s more, Infiniti covers each roof pillar in padded cloth too, while unlike some competitors Nissan doesn’t even wrap the front pillars. 

Being a luxury brand, Infiniti makes other QX60 upgrades too, like replacing the Pathfinder’s faux woodgrain with genuine maple hardwood, covering the seats with high-grade leather featuring hourglass quilting on their inserts and contrasting piping around their outer edges, or at least this was the case with my tester’s top-tier Sensory trim, but the old-school electronic interfaces are near identical other than their digital branding and graphic design, the driver’s gauge package is the same except for Infiniti’s unique purple coloured theme within the dials and serrated metallic surrounds, this motif also carried over to the centre display, which just happens to not yet include Apple CarPlay or Android Auto smartphone integration, and while all the switchgear that controls these interfaces (plus everything else) are fairly unique and nicer in the more upscale QX60, they’re organized in mostly the same way. 

2019 Infiniti QX60 Sensory
The interior design hasn’t changed in years, but it’s highly functional and nicely laid out. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Together with the beautiful hardwood and soft leather, the $4,200 Sensory package includes three-way ventilation to the standard heated front seats, while second-row outboard positions get heated and the rearmost third row includes a powered folding return to make cargo hauling easier, while getting to that is made more convenient due to a motion activated powered tailgate. All seven QX60 occupants will likely appreciate the wide open feeling of the power panoramic sunroof up above, which comes complete with power sunshades, while they should also like this Sensory model’s 15-speaker surround-sound Bose audio upgrade, which uses digital 5.1-channel decoding, while all should also like the Advanced Climate Control System (ACCS) that includes auto-recirculation, a plasmacluster air purifier and a grape polyphenol filter. Lastly, the Sensory package enhances the QX60’s styling and road-holding with a special set of 15-spoke 20-inch alloy wheels on 235/55 all-season rubber. 

Those wanting the Sensory package need to first add the $5,000 Essential package and $4,800 ProActive package, the first including remote start, entry/exit assist for the driver’s seat and steering wheel, rain-sensing windshield wipers, reverse-tilt side mirrors, two-way powered lumbar support for the driver’s seat, two-way driver’s memory with an Enhanced Intelligent Key, a 13-speaker Bose audio system, leather upholstery, Infiniti InTouch infotainment with navigation, lane guidance, and 3D building graphics, voice recognition, an Around View parking monitor with Moving Object Detection, front and rear parking sonar, SiriusXM Traffic, plus more. 

2019 Infiniti QX60 Sensory
Classic two-dial layout gets a nice colour multi-information display at centre. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

The ProActive package adds auto-dimming side mirrors, headlight high beam assist, full-speed range adaptive cruise control, distance control assist, active trace control, lane departure warning and prevention, blindspot intervention, backup collision intervention, front pre-crash seatbelts, and Infiniti’s exclusive Eco Pedal. 

All of this premium equipment gets added to a QX60 that’s already nicely equipped in base Pure trim, a well-priced competitor at just $48,695, due to features like auto on/off LED headlights, LED daytime running lamps, LED fog lights, LED tail lamps, roof rails, power-folding side mirrors with integrated turn signals, proximity keyless entry, pushbutton start/stop, a heated leather-clad steering wheel rim, a power tilt and telescopic steering column, an eight-way powered driver’s seat, a six-way powered front passenger’s seat, an auto-dimming rearview mirror, a universal remote garage door opener, a (normal sized front) powered moonroof, micro-filtered three-zone auto HVAC, an 8.0-inch centre touchscreen with a reverse camera, SMS/email display, satellite radio, three USB charge ports, a power rear tailgate, predictive forward collision warning, forward emergency braking with pedestrian detection, blindspot warning, etcetera (see all 2019 and 2020 Infiniti QX60 pricing right here at CarCostCanada, with details about trims, packages and individual options, plus don’t forget to look up special manufacturer rebate info and dealer invoice pricing that could save you thousands). 

2019 Infiniti QX60 Sensory
A nicely organized centre stack has stood the test of time, while features are plentiful. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Many of these features are available with the Pathfinder, by the way, so it isn’t like top-level trims of the Nissan-branded utility aren’t up to snuff, especially when compared to their true mainstream competitors, but as it should Infiniti takes its feature allotment up a notch or two. Fortunately, not much differentiation in mechanicals is needed to remain popular, where both SUVs use the same direct-injected 3.5-litre V6 and continuously variable transmission, the latter featuring nearly real feeling stepped gear ratios. It’s one of the better CVTs available today, and ideally suited to the QX60’s comfort-oriented mission. Take note, however, that all-wheel drive comes standard with the QX60 and is optional with more basic Pathfinder trims. 

Performance off the line and during passing manoeuvres is good thanks to 295 horsepower and 270 lb-ft of torque, which is 11 horsepower and 11 lb-ft more than the Pathfinder, while the CVT gets a manual mode for more spirited engagement. Additionally, Infiniti provides driving modes with default (a best of all worlds compromise), Sport (that makes adjustments to the engine and transmission to enhance performance), Eco (that adjusts engine and transmission responses to improve fuel economy), and Snow (that controls engine output to reduce wheel spin) settings, compared to the Pathfinder that only offers the choice of 2WD, AUTO, and LOCK for its “i-4×4” Intelligent 4WD system. The Pathfinder’s 4WD settings are no doubt best off the beaten path, as would be its 7.0 inches of ground clearance compared to 6.5 inches for the QX60, but Infiniti’s design is more useful for combatting slippery conditions on pavement. 

2019 Infiniti QX60 Sensory
Real maple hardwood adds a touch of elegance throughout the QX60 cabin. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

And how is fuel economy impacted? The QX60 does very well with an estimated rating of 12.5 L/100km city, 9.0 highway and 10.9 combined, while a fully loaded Pathfinder with AWD can manage a claimed 12.4 city, 9.2 highway and 11.0 combined.  

Both QX60 and Pathfinder models ride on an identical fully independent suspension setups too, constructed of struts up front and a multi-link system in back, plus fore and aft stabilizer bars and coil springs, but this sameness aside the Infiniti feels more solid and substantive than the more affordable alternative. It likely comes down to some of the previously noted soft surfaces and additional sound deadening materials subduing interior noise, vibration, and harshness, not that the Pathfinder I tested recently was harsh in any way. Either way, the QX60 is more upscale, as it should be. 

This more substantive presence, and suspension tuning, makes for a smoother and more comfortable ride as well, but truly both SUVs coddle their passengers well, no matter the road below, while these two can manage fast-paced curves reasonably well too, as long as no one gets unrealistically overenthusiastic. 

2019 Infiniti QX60 Sensory
The otherwise comfortable driver’s seat would have been better with 4-way lumbar support. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

A QX60 disappointment is lumbar support, because its two-way in-and-out design (which is identical to the Pathfinder’s) simply doesn’t cut it in the premium sector. They at least should’ve made a four-way system available, because the way it is now makes it so you’ll either receive ideal pressure just where you want it, or not, the latter being reality for my five-foot-eight body type. A four-way system provides upward/downward adjustment so as to meet up with the lower backs of all types of bodies.

Two-way lumbar support aside, the driver’s seat is fairly comfortable and should be amply big in order to satisfy for most owner’s needs, while the 60/40-split second-row bench seat is plenty accommodating too, due to loads of space to each side plus fore and aft adjustability. Infiniti installed a comfortable armrest with integrated cupholders in the middle, making it a good place to idle away the hours. The QX60’s rearmost row isn’t the biggest or the smallest in this mid-size luxury segment, but it should be ample for all but large teenagers and adults. Better yet, the QX60 provides the same innovative second-row seat folding mechanism to access that third row as the Pathfinder, which allows a child safety seat to remain installed (without the child strapped in) when sliding it forward and out of the way. 

2019 Infiniti QX60 Sensory
Second- and third-row roominess is good. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Safety seats in mind, the needs more child seat latches, especially in the very back, but on the positive the Nissan/Infiniti Rear Door Alert system is really smart. It uses door sequence logic, together with a message alert within the gauge cluster, plus multiple horn beeps, to cause its driver to check the rear compartment after parking and shutting off the ignition. It’s an important step towards reducing and hopefully eliminating child and pet injuries and deaths after being left behind in the summer heat of parked vehicles. 

The QX60 is also accommodating for cargo, with a total of 447 litres (15.8 cubic feet) available aft of the third row (this area made even more functional due to a stowage compartment under the load floor), 1,155 litres (40.8 cubic feet) behind the 50/50-split third row via powered switches mounted on each cargo wall, and 2,166 litres (76.5 cubic feet) of total cargo space available when the 60/40-split second-row seats are folded forward via manual levers on their sides. Some competitors also make automated second-row seats available, but this setup should work well enough for most. 

2019 Infiniti QX60 Sensory
Plenty of room for cargo here. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

After all is said and done the QX60 is getting on in years, but aging doesn’t necessarily translate into outdated. True, its cabin electronics could use updating and, as noted earlier, I’d appreciate less obvious ties to its Pathfinder cousin, but it’s attractive from the outside in, has been finished with good quality materials, drives quite well, and provides seven-occupant luxury and plenty of practicality for an affordable price when compared to its closest premium rivals. Of note, this 2019 version is no different than the 2020 model that’s starting to arrive now, other than all the packages outlined in this review transforming into four trim levels, plus some new option packages. 

This said a complete redesign isn’t far off, and expected to arrive in 2020 as a 2021 model, but if you need to upgrade now you’ll be well taken care of with this 2019 QX60, or the new 2020 version. 

Story credit: Trevor Hofmann 

Photo credit: Karen Tuggay