2019 Ford EcoSport 2.0 SES Road Test

2019 Ford EcoSport 2.0 SES
The EcoSport wears Ford’s older design language, but it still looks smart in its sporty SES duds.

The EcoSport, that just recently entered the Canadian market for the 2018 model year, will soon be the oldest SUV in Ford’s burgeoning lineup. This is due to the mid-size seven-passenger Flex fading into the sunset when its remaining 2019 model run gets sold off. Where the Flex was one of the blue-oval brand’s largest crossover SUVs, the EcoSport is by far its smallest, and therefore fills Ford’s critical gateway position now that the subcompact Fiesta hatchback has also been discontinued from the North American markets.

Of note, Ford’s other crossovers and SUVs have been more recently refreshed or redesigned, the former car-based models including the completely redesigned 2020 Escape, the recently refreshed Edge that came out for the 2019 model year, and the entirely redone 2020 Explorer that’s just arriving now, whereas the not quite as new truck-based Expedition SUV will soon be second oldest. 

2019 Ford EcoSport 2.0 SES
SES trim blackens out a lot of exterior accents that would otherwise be bright metal.

Soon Ford will add two new models to its utility lineup, the first being the impressive but oddly named Mustang Mach-E (I hope they drop the “Mustang” part and just call it the “Mach-E”), sized between the Escape and Edge and powered by a new plug-in electric drivetrain, and the second an even more interesting (to me at least) compact truck-based body-on-frame 4×4 that brings back the classic Bronco name. A smaller “baby Bronco” is reportedly planned to go up against the subcompact Jeep Renegade, just like the new Bronco will go head-to-head with the iconic Jeep Wrangler 4×4, which means off-road fans will soon have a lot more to get excited about.

Ford will continue to dominate the truck market with its best-selling F-Series, of course, and do its best to make the new (to us) Ranger mid-size pickup as popular as its slightly smaller predecessor used to be, while it will probably maintain its leadership in the commercial van segment as well, its Euro-style Transit full-size van well ahead of all rivals on the sales charts. Ford still makes the classic Econoline, by the way, but it’s only available with a cutaway chassis cab body in our market, plus the Transit Connect does very well in the smaller compact commercial van category.

2019 Ford EcoSport 2.0 SES
These 17-inch dark grey alloys add a lot of style to the EcoSport SES’ design.

Now that I’ve come this far I might as well finish off with every blue-oval model available to Ford’s Canadian customers, the fabulous GT super car still showing on the brand’s retail website despite being sold out some time ago, and the Mustang still North America’s go-to sports/muscle car by a long shot, while the Fusion mid-size sedan will be with us for one last year before being sent out to pasture like the larger Taurus full-size sedan, the little Fiesta subcompact, and the compact Focus (plus sadly the later two models’ superb ST and RS performance versions, and the once great SHO).

Until Ford comes out with an ST version of the EcoSport I can’t see enthusiasts getting excited about it (hey, they brought us an Edge ST, so you never know), but it look good and drives well for such an old SUV, plus it offers up a nice assortment of features and can be had for an even more compelling price. This current second-generation EcoSport arrived in other markets during 2012 as a 2013 model, which adds up to six years before it arrived as an all-new model here in North America. I first saw the original EcoSport (a design I really liked at the time) when I was living in São Paulo, Brazil, and now that I’m more often on the other side of the world in Metro Manila, Philippines, I’ve been seeing this new one becoming popular there for about six years (and likewise for our all-new Ranger pickup that was been a big seller there since it hit the market in 2011).

2019 Ford EcoSport 2.0 SES
Blue and copper orange is an unusual mix, which is probably why Ford now makes this interior with silver and grey instead.

Like the Ranger, the EcoSport has aged quite well. It wears Ford’s most older grille design, last seen on the 2019 Escape and 2018 Edge, so it doesn’t look out of date unless you see it lined up in row of its blue-oval contemporaries. A redesigned third-generation EcoSport should be out by 2021 as a 2022 model, so at least we can be fairly certain this 2019 version, and the mostly unchanged 2020 version, won’t be redesigned for couple of years or more.

As it is, despite its age the EcoSport has plenty of redeeming qualities, the first being decent fuel economy due to standard auto start-stop technology that shuts the engine off when it would otherwise be idling in order to reduce fuel usage and improve emissions, all before restarting automatically when letting off the brake.

2019 Ford EcoSport 2.0 SES
The cockpit has a sporty look, enhanced by a leather-clad steering wheel with paddle shifters in SES trim.

This EcoSport comes standard with the same turbocharged 1.0-litre three-cylinder that I first enjoyed in the Fiesta. While a fun-to-drive entry-level engine, it’s also capable of an 8.6 L/100km city, 8.1 highway and 8.4 combined Transport Canada rating, while the even stronger 2.0-litre four-cylinder I tested here is good enough for an estimated 10.2 city, 8.0 highway and 9.3 combined. To be clear, this is fairly thrifty when compared to some of its key rivals, and falls short of others, finding a happy medium right in the middle.

The middle-of-the-road EcoSport story is similar for pricing too, with the base 2019 S model starting at $22,349 (plus delivering and other fees), and fancier trims including the SE at $25,449, SES at $29,849 and top-line at 31,349. All-wheel drive can be added to S and SE trims for $2,500, while it comes standard in the SES and Titanium. Notably, the pricing just quoted was heavily discounted at the time of writing, with CarCostCanada reporting additional incentives up to $4,500 on this 2019 EcoSport, or for those wanting the newer 2020 model, factory leasing and financing rates from 3.99 percent. Go to the 2019 or 2020 Ford EcoSport Canada Prices page right here at CarCostCanada for all the details, plus the ability to price and configure EcoSport models, while accessing available manufacturer rebates, dealer invoice pricing that could save you thousands, and much more.

2019 Ford EcoSport 2.0 SES
The gauge cluster is simple, but the bright blue needles stand out nicely.

Of course, selling on price is not a good way to make a profit, but that’s Ford’s problem. Still, as noted earlier there’s a lot more to like about this little SUV than its reasonably low fuel economy and attractive pricing. Both direct-injected engines provide pretty strong performance, actually, the base turbocharged 1.0-litre three-banger good for 123 horsepower and 125 lb-ft of torque, and the as-tested naturally aspirated 2.0-litre four making a more spirited 166 horsepower and 149 lb-ft of torque.

Additionally, neither engine is held back by the vague performance of a continuously variable transmission (CVT) or a slow-shifting regular automatic, but instead get Ford’s well-proven six-speed SelectShift dual-clutch automated manual. It may not be the most dependable transmission ever made, but it delivers very quick, snappy shifts, enhanced with steering wheel-mounted paddle shifters in SES trim, along with the same ease-of-use the two less exciting transmissions provide.

2019 Ford EcoSport 2.0 SES
Sync 3 offers up a nice easy-to-use design plus Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.

Underpinning the entire SUV is a fully independent suspension featuring MacPherson struts in front and a multilink setup in the rear, plus a stabilizer bar at each end. Additionally, twin-tube hydraulic gas-pressurized shocks keep the front wheels connected to tarmac while progressive-rate springs with mono-tube hydraulic gas-pressurized shocks lock in the back end, while a fairly direct feeling electric power steering system makes manoeuvring the EcoSport into tiny parking spaces easy and negotiating heavy traffic a breeze. Ford’s smallest SUV feels nice and stable through slaloming roadways too, and tracks well on the open highway. No matter the conditions it’s a fun little utility to drive, even on slippery surfaces where Ford’s AdvanceTrac traction control with RSC (Roll Stability Control) keeps it under control, and the SUV’s standard four-wheel discs with ABS provide good braking performance.

2019 Ford EcoSport 2.0 SES
The nice big backup camera with active guidelines made parking easy.

The way this EcoSport drives makes it easy to understand why 7,438 Canadians bought one last year (which is a bit less than mid-pack, with six subcompact crossover SUVs selling fewer and 10 delivering more), but just the same I could see why some may have chosen it because of styling first and foremost. My SES example was painted in an eye-catching Lightning Blue with sporty black accents all around (although it didn’t wear this trim’s optional black decals on the hood and rooftop), some of its best design details being the Dark Tarnish Metallic-painted 17-inch rims it rolled on.

The interior, however, was colour-matched by the three blind mice. Who decided that its mostly Ebony Black cabin colour (shade) scheme should be accented with copper-orange on every model? I suppose blue and orange don’t completely clash (a similar livery kind of worked for McLaren F1 this year), and of course it’s perfect when choosing the EcoSport’s available Canyon Ridge (copper) exterior paint, but I’m glad Ford recently decided to ditch this unusual colour combo for trusty old grey. As it was, my tester’s partial leather seat upholstery included copper orange stripes on their stain-resistant ActiveX fabric inserts, these matching the same copper highlights that run across the instrument panel, on each side of the console, and along the door panels.

2019 Ford EcoSport 2.0 SES
Remember, Ford replaced this orange with silver and grey, which will be a good or bad thing, depending on your personal taste.

All said, I can’t see anyone complaining about the SES model’s aforementioned 17-inch alloy wheels or its sport-tuned suspension upgrade, or for that matter the paddle shifters I commented on a while ago. Other niceties with this trim include rain-sensing windshield wipers, an auto-dimming centre mirror, blindspot monitoring, an 8.0-inch infotainment touchscreen with Ford’s best Sync 3 interface, a navigation system that worked perfectly during my test week, a pretty good seven-speaker audio system, and a very useful household-style 110-volt power outlet.

Sync 3 infotainment is still very good despite not being as recently updated as some competitive systems. Along with than the items already mentioned, its feature set includes the expected tablet-like tap, swipe and pinch gesture controls, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto smartphone integration, easy Bluetooth connectivity for your phone and audio streaming, voice activation, a 4G LTE Wi-Fi hotspot, plus the ability to play AM, FM and satellite radio stations, of course. Satellite in mind, Sirius Travel Link is also included, plus a number of apps, while the Sync 3’s graphics are organized into convenient tiles in an attractive white on sky blue colour scheme. It’s not new, but it’s still very good.

2019 Ford EcoSport 2.0 SES
Really comfortable seats had plenty of manual adjustment.

Missing from my SES tester was dual-zone automatic climate control, but its single-zone auto HVAC system was plenty good for my needs and as good as this entry-level SUV segment usually gets, while its front seats were only four-way manually adjustable, which was another inconvenience that didn’t matter much to me. The seats were comfortable and supportive just the same, plus my long-legged, shorter torso five-foot-eight frame fit well due to better-than-average reach from the EcoSport’s tilt and telescopic steering column.

It’s spacious as well, and especially good for taller occupants. In fact, both the front and back seating areas are well proportioned, but I recommend leaving the rear centre position unoccupied when four adults are aboard. The cargo compartment is fairly large too, with 592 litres of volume behind the 60/40-split back seats and 1,415 litres when lowered, although the load floor doesn’t lay very flat.

2019 Ford EcoSport 2.0 SES
The rear seats are spacious and comfortable for this class.

Accessing the cargo compartment comes via a side-swinging rear door that might be a deal-killer for some. Not only did it squeak while driving (or at least something near the door was squeaking annoyingly all week long), but who wants to deal with a heavy, inconvenient side-swinging rear door when there’s 16 competitors (and three more on the way) that offer a liftgate that also acts as a shelter in the rain? At least it opens on the proper side for North American markets, unlike some others (Jeep) that make it really difficult to load from the curb, not to mention dangerous if forced to step into the line of traffic with arms loaded. It opens easily enough thanks to gas struts, but you’ll need to make sure and leave plenty of space behind the EcoSport for the wide door to swing it out when parked on the side of the road, while if another driver (parker) parks too close, good luck getting anything into the back (not usually a problem with a liftgate).

As for interior finishings, it’s better than some and not as good as this segment’s best sellers due to an abundance of hard plastic surfaces. I know this is a base subcompact and buyers in this class aren’t expecting Range Rover detailing, but some in this category are delivering a more premium experience than others, and therefore merely adding a pliable composite dash top/instrument panel along with padded armrests isn’t enough these days.

2019 Ford EcoSport 2.0 SES
The cargo area is roomy enough, but some might not like the side-swinging rear door.

As my regular readers know, I don’t hold back when I don’t like a vehicle, but I think I’ve been very fair with Ford’s EcoSport. It’s one of the oldest SUVs in this class, yet it does a pretty decent job of looking good, plus it balances a really fun driving experience with reasonable fuel economy, it’s plenty comfortable, very spacious, is equipped well enough, has a great infotainment system (and has an attractive set of gauges with cool blue needles), and (squeaking and side-swinging rear door aside) is quite practical. The fact you can currently save thousands on a new 2019 is a major bonus that should be considered too, so if you can live with its few shortcomings (and most rivals could be better too) the EcoSport is worth a closer look.

Story and photo credits: Trevor Hofmann

2019 Mazda CX-9 Signature Road Test

2019 Mazda CX-9 Signature
The CX-9 is one stylish looking mid-size contender.

I want you to try something. The next time you’re considering the purchase of a new car or SUV, first go to the closest Mazda retailer, or at least check out the Mazda stand at your local car show, and take a seat inside the equivalent model you’re considering buying from an alternative brand. I’m willing to guess you’ll soon be wondering why your current vehicle isn’t a Mazda, or if you should still be considering any competitive models for your next ride.

This is true even if you currently own something made by a premium brand, Aston Martin, Bentley or Rolls-Royce aside. That same Mazda may cause you to question why you paid so much more for your domestic, Japanese or European luxury vehicle. Step into one of Mazda’s Signature trim lines and you’ll be feeling glummer still.

2019 Mazda CX-9 Signature
It might look like it’s all style and no substance, but the CX-9 provides plenty of interior room.

The top-line Signature trim is available in the Mazda6 mid-size sedan, plus Mazda’s CX-5 compact crossover SUV and the very CX-9 mid-size seven-passenger crossover being reviewed here. Together with the usual assortment of high-end features included in any given brand’s best equipped models, Signature trim includes such niceties as 19- to 20-inch alloy wheels, a powered steering column, a surround parking camera, front parking sensors to go along with the rear parking sensors already added, ventilated front seats, heated rear seats, and more depending on the model. Making it look and feel like it’s from a premium brand, not to mention a higher trim level from that premium brand, Mazda makes it even nicer by adding supple Nappa leather upholstery as well as real hardwood trim, my CX-9 Signature tester featuring Santos Rosewood on the centre console and all the door switchgear panels, front and rear.

Additionally, cloth-covered roof pillars are pulled up from lesser trims, while Mazda also boasts more pliable, padded premium surfaces than the majority of mainstream volume rivals, even in models not providing Signature trim lines like the recently redesigned Mazda3, making the independent automaker’s levels of refinement surprisingly good to those not yet initiated.

2019 Mazda CX-9 Signature
How’s this for a big, imposing luxury brand grille?

The CX-9 Signature shown here is as near premium as mainstream volume carmakers get. The multi-tiered dash is completely covered in padded leatherette that extends around to the door uppers front to rear. What’s more, the soft upper section of the instrument panel and harder lower composite panels are divided by a beautifully detailed metallic inlay that really feels genuine, this extending visually to the corner vents as well, plus the side door panels.

Thanks to my tester’s available Snowflake White Pearl exterior paint, it came standard with gorgeous Chroma Brown Nappa leather upholstery that also visually extends to the instrument panel, lower console and door inserts. It feels ultra rich on those doors thanks to a thick memory foam underlay, while a similar brown colour gets used for the thread stitching the leather-wrapped steering wheel and armrests together.

Piano black lacquer can be found inside too, but only in tastefully small applications around the shift lever and the doors’ power window switch panels, while the power mirror toggle is nicely detailed out in knurled aluminum like the infotainment system dial on the lower console. Plenty of satin-finish aluminum trim can be found through the cabin too, Mazda even coating the power seat controls with a satin metallic surface treatment for a truly upscale look.

2019 Mazda CX-9 Signature
The CX-9 Signature doesn’t miss a beat, with LED headlamps, LED fog lights, and 20-inch alloys.

On the digital front, Mazda upgraded the primary gauge package in GT models and above for 2019. It looks like a regular three-dial cluster at first glance, but the centrally-mounted speedometer and two surrounding efficiency/range gauges are in fact part of a 7.0-inch colour display, this bookended by three analogue gauges to the left and right, including a tachometer, temperature readout and fuel gauge. This represents a big change over the previous 2016-2018 CX-9 gauge cluster, which included analogue gauges on the left and centre, plus a colour multi-info display on the right. Now the multi-info display is housed within the circular digital speedometer, and provides a whole host of helpful features.

Improving on the new gauge cluster is a head-up display unit that projects key info onto the windscreen, even including a speed limit reminder that I really appreciated.

2019 Mazda CX-9 Signature
The LED taillight detailing is gorgeous.

Over at dash centre is an 8.0-inch infotainment touchscreen with nice, attractive, high-resolution graphics. The display itself is a fixed, upright tablet-like design as seen on the CX-9 and other Mazda models for years. Premium brands first made this design popular and Mazda was one of the first mainstream marques to adopt it, while it’s only just starting to catch on amongst volume-branded challengers. My test model’s infotainment system featured an impressive new double-screen parking camera with the usual rearview monitor as well as a superb 360-degree bird’s-eye view, making negotiating a tight parking spot especially easy when combined with its front and rear sonar system.

Also new for 2019 is Apple CarPlay and Android Auto smartphone integration, plus SiriusXM Traffic Plus and Travel Link data services with information on real-time traffic, weather conditions, fuel prices, and sports scores, while the infotainment system also includes navigation with detailed mapping, excellent 12-speaker Bose audio with Centerpoint surround sound and AudioPilot noise compensation technologies, plus SurroundStage signal processing, HD and satellite radio, voice activation, Bluetooth phone connectivity with streaming audio, text message reading and response capability, plus more.

2019 Mazda CX-9 Signature
The brownish-red on black interior is a nice touch.

An infotainment feature that sets Mazda apart from its mainstream competitors yet aligns it with pricier luxury branded alternatives is its lower console-mounted controller. It’s made up of a big metal-edged rotating dial that navigates the display, plus a smaller audio volume knob, and a bunch of fast-access buttons. Using this interface to modulate the infotainment system will be more comfortable than stretching an arm to the dash to actuate the touchscreen, at least for some users, but this said you can still use the touchscreen for smartphone-style tap, swipe and pinch finger gestures, the latter function perfect for changing the scale on the navigation system’s map, for instance.

As you may have noticed earlier, the CX-9 has been around in its current form since 2016 when Mazda introduced this second generation, which makes its premium levels of interior refinement even more amazing. You’ll actually need to sidle up beside the CX-9 Signature in the new 2020 Hyundai Palisade or Kia Telluride if you want to improve upon its rich interior (although I must confess to not yet testing the 2020 Toyota Highlander). Also notable, this current generation CX-9 is no longer based on the Ford Edge, but instead rides on Mazda’s SkyActiv platform.

2019 Mazda CX-9 Signature
The CX-9’s cabin design and execution is a cut above most competitors.

Made up of the mid-size SUV segment’s usual McPherson struts up front and multi-link setup in the rear with coil springs and a stabilizer bar at both ends, Mazda retuned it for 2019 to provide even better ride quality. Now it’s ideal for managing unkempt inner-city streets, overly large bridge expansion joints and otherwise poorly paved stretches of roadway elsewhere, while the latest CX-9 is also impressive on the open highway where its revised steering allows for better high-speed tracking.

Mazda’s dynamic pressure turbocharged SkyActiv-G 2.5-litre four-cylinder engine puts out ample passing power due to 250 horsepower, plus it gets up and goes quickly from standstill thanks to a whopping 320 lb-ft of torque. Understand that the CX-9 might look slim and stylish, but it’s in fact a sizeable seven-occupant crossover utility, but the highly efficient turbo-four nevertheless provides strong performance in town and more than enough when more open roads start winding. Sadly Mazda left steering wheel-mounted paddles off the menu, but the gear lever allowed for manual shifting when I wanted to extract as much performance from the powertrain as possible.

2019 Mazda CX-9 Signature
The new 7.0-inch digital gauge cluster puts the multi-information display within the speedometer at centre.

Interestingly, Mazda clearly specifies that the CX-9’s engine will only make full power when 93 octane gasoline or higher is fed into its tank, and knowing my colleagues all too well I’m going to guess that most use cheaper 87 octane when it comes time to refill. Therefore my tester was probably only making the 227 horsepower Mazda claims its capable of when lower grade gasoline is added, but it was still plenty quick. This may be because its impressive torque rating only loses 10 lb-ft without high-test fuel, and merely requires 2,000 rpm to provide full torque, so I personally wouldn’t waste any money on pricier fuel.

A metal rocker switch next to the shift lever allows for Sport mode, which improves acceleration due to the six-speed transmission’s ability to hold a given gear right up to redline, plus it won’t automatically shift when it spins up to the solid red line at 6,300 rpm, but instead holds its gear for more control through corners. This is a very rare feature in this mostly practical market segment, and therefore provides the CX-9 with more excitement than its rivals, despite only using a six-speed autobox. Together with its agile suspension setup, notably upgraded for 2019, and its fairly direct feeling engine-speed-sensing variable power-assist rack-and-pinion steering system, which collectively iron out tight curving roadways impressively, it’s a very well sorted SUV.

2019 Mazda CX-9 Signature
New for 2019, a surround view parking monitor is available.

G-Vectoring Control technology carries over from the previous CX-9, the technology seamlessly moving more torque to the front wheels during corner entry and then sending it rearward when exiting. To most it will be imperceptible, only adding stability that’s especially welcome amid inclement weather like the rainstorm I experienced during my test week. This is when I was also glad Mazda makes its i-Activ AWD system standard in trims above the base GS model, putting all of my Signature model’s 255/50R20 all-season tires to work.

All-wheel drive will be standard next year, so Mazda won’t be able to claim its current FWD model’s most efficient 10.6 L/100km city, 8.4 highway and 9.6 combined fuel economy rating. The AWD CX-9’s fuel economy is rated at 11.6, 9.1 and 10.5 respectively, incidentally, which despite making significantly more than the Kia Sorento is nearly as efficient by comparison, the Korean SUV achieving 11.2 in the city, 9.0 on the highway and 10.2 combined, whereas the V6-powered Highlander somehow gets a Transport Canada rating of 12.1 L/100km city, 9.0 highway and 10.6 combined.

2019 Mazda CX-9 Signature
That’s real rosewood around the lower console.

Igniting the CX-9’s engine only requires the press of a dash-mounted button, while access to the interior comes via proximity-sensing keyless entry. You’ll need to press on of the less than subtle black buttons on the front door handles to make the system work, and take note that Mazda hasn’t added a set of these buttons to the rear door handles like some others, but I must say that once inside the CX-9’s driver ergonomics are better than many of its competitors. The 10-way powered driver’s seat includes the usual fore, aft, up, down, tilt and recline functions, plus two-way powered lumbar support that actually pressed up against the small of my back perfectly (what luck!), but you might want to personally check this feature out for yourself. All said my tester proved wonderfully comfortable throughout my test week, with some of that credit needing to go to the powered tilt and telescopic steering column’s long reach.

Sitting behind my driver’s seat I found the second row window seat roomy, comfortable and supportive all-round. A wide centre armrest folds down when three abreast is a crowd in back, replete with a set of cupholders as per every other competitor in this segment, while the tri-zone automatic climate control system gets an attractive interface on the backside of the front console, featuring rocker switches for the previously noted three-way heated rear window seats.

2019 Mazda CX-9 Signature
Unlike its mainstream peers, but like many premium brands, the CX-9 provides this infotainment control interface.

The outboard second-row seats easily slide forward for ample access to the rearmost row, and while the third row offers a nice, comfortable set of backrests and lower cushions, there’s not much room for an average sized adult’s knees and feet unless the 60/40-split second row is pushed far enough forward that it’ll start feeling claustrophobic for its passengers. Thus the third row better used by smallish adults or children.

When that third row is in use there’s not much space for cargo, but nevertheless Mazda says that it’s good for 407-litre loads. I certainly never had need for the rearmost seats so I left them tucked away most of the time, which allowed for a very accommodating 1,082 litres (38.2 cu ft) of total cargo volume. The second row lies flat when required too, but being that it’s divided with a less than optimal 60/40 split it’s impossible to use the rear seat heater when stowing skis or other long items longitudinally. Better would be a centre pass-through or even more optimal 40/20/40 split-folding second row, but at least the CX-7 maxes its cargo capacity out at a sizeable 2,017 litres (71.2 cu ft) when all seats are lowered. The cargo area is properly finished as well, with carpeting protecting three-quarters of each sidewall, while a sturdy load floor can be lifted to expose a shallow carpeted storage compartment below.

2019 Mazda CX-9 Signature
These Nappa leather-covered seats are ultra-comfortable.

Other notable storage areas include an overhead console sunglasses holder, a big open area ahead of the shift lever, a large bin below the front centre armrest, and lastly the glove box that’s quite large and lined with a nice velvet-like material. Yes, Mazda certainly goes all the way in dressing up its flagship SUV. 

Refinement in mind, Mazda stuffs all of the unseen areas with sound-deadening insulation, while the windshield and front windows use noise-isolating glass. The CX-9’s body is ultra-rigid too, while aforementioned improvements made to the steering and suspension systems help to eliminate unwanted noise while improving the SUV’s overall feeling of solidity. Everything from the way the CX-9’s doors close to its general driving dynamics make it seem like it should be badged by a luxury carmaker, while its very quiet inside too.

2019 Mazda CX-9 Signature
The second-row seats are comfortable and there’s plenty of room.

Peace of mind is important too, and to this end the CX-9 Signature provides one of the more advanced collections of active and passive safety gear available. Of course all the usual active and passive safety features are included, although these are supported with forward obstruction warning, Smart Brake Support and Smart City Brake Support autonomous emergency braking with pedestrian detection, advanced blind spot monitoring, rear cross traffic alert, lane departure warning, lane keeping assist, traffic sign recognition, new seatbelt reminders on the second- and third-row seats, adaptive cruise control with stop and go, and more.

Other premium-like features include an electric parking brake, a new frameless auto-dimming rearview mirror, new power-folding door mirrors, a Homelink universal garage door opener, a revised overhead console with LED overhead and ambient lighting plus a better designed LED room lamp control switch, while its heatable leather-wrapped steering wheel with cross-stitched detailing is a wonderful way to wake up on a cold winter morning.

2019 Mazda CX-9 Signature
The third row is best left for kids.

Additionally, the previously noted driver’s seat includes memory, while the CX-9 Signature also adds an eight-way powered front passenger’s seat with power lumbar, plus rear side window sunshades and more for only $51,500 (plus freight and fees), which is great value when put up beside luxury branded crossover SUVs with the same level of features, and just right when comparing volume-branded competitors with similar equipment. The only obvious feature void was the lack of a panoramic sunroof, the regular sized power moonroof overhead looking a bit too commonplace this day and age.

Speaking of the CX-9’s price and features, be sure to check out its various trims, packages and individual options at our 2019 Mazda CX-9 Canada Prices page, plus learn about available manufacturer rebates, in-house financing/leasing deals, and dealer invoice pricing to save even more. In fact you can get up to $2,500 in additional incentives on the 2019 CX-9 (at least you could at the time of writing), or up to $1,000 off when choosing the virtually identical 2020 CX-9.

2019 Mazda CX-9 Signature
There’s plenty of cargo space when the third row is folded flat.

Saving what some will claim as the CX-9’s best attribute for last, its dramatic yet tasteful styling could easily come from a high-end premium automaker. The SUV’s satin-silver grille is big and oh-so dramatic, its lower half even including night illumination, while full LED headlamps with automatic high beams, adaptive cornering capability and auto self-levelling seem like extensions of the grille’s chromed end pieces. An aerodynamic lower front fascia features integrated LED fog lamps, while slim LED tail lamps highlight the SUV’s rear quarters, and elegant satin-chrome trim can be found from front to back. Overall, the CX-9 is one sleek and elegant looking mid-size, three-row crossover SUV, which certainly makes it stand out in its crowded segment, just in case its impressive luxury, host of features, excellent driving dynamics and complete suite of advanced driving assistive systems haven’t caused you to sign on the dotted line.

Yes, like I said at the beginning of this review, the CX-9 will make a good first impression if you give it a chance. I highly recommend it.

Story and photo credits: Trevor Hofmann

Subaru plans a 100-percent electric lineup within 15 years

2020 Subaru Crosstrek
The Crosstrek will likely to be first to adopt Subaru’s upcoming hybrid drivetrain, as it already has a built-in ownership base ready to trade up.

With the current U.S. administration loosening new vehicle emissions restrictions, it might not seem prudent to announce an all-electric vehicle strategy, but the European Union, China and many other markets are tightening emissions regulations, with respect to vehicles at least. Europe will soon be warming its homes and powering businesses with new fossil fuel pipelines from Russia, while China seems to be building coal-fired electric power plants (to no doubt fuel such electric cars) faster than anyone can keep count.

This said it only makes sense that Subaru would want to continue selling into these markets once internal combustion engines (ICE) are no longer allowed, thus it’s planning to soon offer battery power to its lineup, with the eventual result being 100-percent electric.

2020 Subaru Crosstrek
A Forester hybrid would be ideal to go up against Toyota’s popular RAV4 Hybrid.

The electrification process will start off with a new hybrid-electric drivetrain with motive electric components sourced from Toyota, which holds 16.5-percent of Fuji Heavy Industries (FHI) stock (Subaru’s parent company). The 2014-2016 Subaru Crosstrek Hybrid was the first hybrid-electric project the two automakers undertook, but with few buyers it was cancelled after just three years.

A move to hybrids and then electric powertrains is a risky move for any automaker, with the risk even greater for small, niche brands like Subaru. The quirky brand has made a name for practical yet fun-to-drive cars and crossover SUVs powered by its unorthodox horizontally opposed “boxer” engine. While other brands like Volkswagen, with its Type 1 Beetle, Type 2 van, Type 3 and 4 sedan/coupe/wagon, and Type 14/Type 34 Karmann Ghia, or Porsche with its 911/912, 914 and 718 models, and even Ferrari with its 1973-1976 Berlinetta Boxer, 1976-1984 BB 512, 1984-1991 Testarossa, 1991-1994 512 TR and 1994-1996 F512 M), have offered this unique engine type as well, the Italian supercar maker and VW no longer do, while Porsche only provides it in its sports car range which makes up much fewer sales than its sedan and SUV lineup.

2020 Subaru Ascent
The Ascent could use a boost of electrified power.

Speaking of model lineups, the best-selling Subaru in Canada last year was the Crosstrek subcompact crossover SUV at 15,184 units, followed by the Forester compact SUV with 13,059 deliveries, the Outback mid-size five-passenger crossover with 10,972 new sales, the Impreza compact sedan and hatchback with 9,065 new buyers, the Ascent mid-size seven-passenger crossover SUV with 4,139 new sales, the WRX/STI performance sedan with 2,707 new customers, the Legacy mid-size sedan at 1,752 clients, and the BRZ compact sports coupe with 647 new sales last year. To find out more about these cars and crossover SUVs, including their trim, package and individual option pricing, plus available rebate information, financing/leasing promotions, and dealer invoice pricing that could save you thousands, click directly on their names.

2020 Subaru Impreza
Would an Impreza Hybrid b a good competitor for Honda’s Insight or Toyota’s new Corolla Hybrid?

All of the unique models just mentioned makes it clear that retaining as much of its distinctive brand character as possible while moving into the brave new world of automotive electrification is important for Subaru, yet the horizontally opposed engine configuration will eventually have to go if it’s plans for full electrification materialize. Fortunately all-wheel drive (AWD being standard with most of its models) can stay for both its future hybrid and electric cars and SUVs.

The short-lived Crosstrek Hybrid came standard with AWD, while incorporating Toyota’s hybrid technologies and Subaru’s 2.0-litre boxer engine. This allowed it to perform and sound like other Subaru models, keeping its brand identity intact. Subaru doesn’t want badge-engineered cars in its lineup, such as the Toyota/Subaru co-developed Subaru BRZ/Scion FR-S/Toyota 86, or for that matter the Yaris Sedan that was merely a Mazda2 with a Toyota front fascia and Toyota badging. Doing something similar with such a niche automaker would run the risk of diluting its hard-won brand image.

2020 Subaru Outback
An electrified Outback sounds perfect for its market base, especially if it can be plugged in.

“Although we’re using Toyota technology, we want to make hybrids that are distinctly Subaru,” commented the brand’s chief technology officer, Tetsuo Onuki, to Reuters news agency. “It’s not only about reducing CO2 emissions. We need to further improve vehicle safety and the performance of our all-wheel drive.”

While Onuki-san was clear to point out that all-wheel drive would continue as a key Subaru character trait while it adapted to hybrid and electric technologies, AWD is becoming more common with its main rivals. Nissan and Mazda recently introduced redesigned passenger cars with optional AWD (the Mazda3 now providing an AWD alternative to Subaru’s Impreza, while Nissan’s Altima now makes AWD standard in Canada and therefore becomes a key rival to Subaru’s mid-size Legacy), and even though Subaru’s trademarked “Symmetrical AWD” is believed to be more capable in inclement conditions than challengers’ AWD systems, it’s not known if its even power delivery can be achieved effectively with an electric powertrain. What’s more, AWD often comes standard with electric vehicles, so it’s quite likely the AWD traction advantage Subaru cars currently enjoy won’t be unique in 15 years, making the Japanese automaker no more unique than any other brand.

2020 Subaru WRX
How would a hybridized WRX perform? Or how about a purely electric WRX STI?

On the subject of electric vehicles, Subaru and Toyota are in the process of co-developing an electric powertrain that will result in an electric vehicle per brand sometime this decade, with additional models to follow. Subaru is saying that hybrid and fully electric models will make up 40 percent or more of its annual worldwide production by 2030, with the hybrids no longer available five or so years after that.

In today’s fast-paced world, particularly in the automotive sector, 2030 is a long way off, and of course a lot can happen with respect to battery development, advancements in other alternative fuels, progress with car/ride sharing, etcetera, as well as geopolitical concerns that are completely out of an automaker’s influence (much of which can be negative), so changes to Subaru’s plans will be more than likely.

2020 Subaru BRZ
Will there still be a BRZ around in 10 to 15 years? We hope so, or something even more exciting.

This said, the positive for Subaru is its ability to garner green accolades right now without having to take much initial action, which can make its customers feel as if their chosen brand is well on its way toward electrification, yet the ultimate target is so far off into the future that its long-term plans can be changed anytime along the way. Of course, some new hybrid models are likely within the next few years, plus at least one EV, so there is forward progress being made. 

It should be noted that Subaru isn’t alone in making such long-term electrification plans, with GM having pitched a U.S. national environmental program in 2018 designed to motivate all carmakers to make at least 25 percent of their lineups into zero-emissions vehicles; Ford introducing $11.5 billion worth of new spending toward a dozen new hybrid and EV models by 2022; Toyota, as part of its Environmental Challenge 2050 program, pledging to lower vehicle life-cycle emissions by 25 percent plus by 2030, while targeting 2050 for eliminating 100-percent of their carbon emissions; Mercedes-Benz vowing to make at least half of its passenger car lineup electric by 2030, plus achieve full carbon neutrality within the next two decades.

2020 Subaru Outback
Subaru may want to change up its Outback media photos if it’s planning an electrified version, as high-voltage and water don’t mix well.

Volvo may be vying to become the world’s greenest automaker, however, due to its commitment for half of its passenger cars to become electric by 2025, plus also make sure each cars’ life-cycle carbon footprint is reduced by 40 percent in five years time as well. It also wants the carbon output of its entire global operations (including suppliers) to be lowered by 25 percent by 2025, and finally has a plan to use a minimum of 25-percent recycled materials in its vehicle production by this very same year.

While Subaru’s plans aren’t quite as ambitious as Volvo’s, the Japanese automaker’s announcement marks a major step for such a niche automaker, and could be seen as a significant risk if electric vehicle take rates don’t improve enough to overcome investment costs.

Story credits: Trevor Hofmann 

Photo credits: Subaru

2019 Genesis G70 3.3T Sport AWD Road Test

2019 Genesis G70 3.3T Sport AWD
The new Genesis G70 performs as well as it looks.

Few categories in the luxury auto sector are more competitive than the battle between compact sport sedans, so bringing an all-new entry into this class takes an entirely new level of courage.

If you haven’t already heard, Genesis is the new luxury brand of Hyundai Motor Group. Basically it’s what Lexus is to Toyota, Infiniti is to Nissan and Acura is to Honda, or for that matter what Audi is to Volkswagen. Each of the just-noted Japanese luxury brands were relative late arrivals compared to their European and domestic American counterparts, some having been around for more than a century.

With the G70, Genesis hasn’t exactly broken the mould like Tesla has with its lineup of electric vehicles, the Model 3 now leading this class in sales. Instead, the new G70 offers an attractive, well made, potent performing, and strong value propositioned alternative to market leaders such as BMW’s 3 Series, Mercedes-Benz’ C-Class and Audi’s A4, not to mention the many others including Lexus’ IS, Infiniti’s Q50, Acura’s TLX, Cadillac’s ATS, Volvo’s S60, Jaguar’s XE, and Alfa Romeo’s Giulia.

2019 Genesis G70 3.3T Sport AWD
Genesis has taken a conservative look with the new G70, but it still has a lot of style in 3.3T Sport AWD trim. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

That’s a full sleight of competitors, and didn’t even include all the coupes, convertibles and wagons, some of the coupes even boasting four doors like the Audi A5 Sportback and BMW 4 Series Gran Coupe. How has the G70 fared? Specifically regarding sales, Genesis Canada sold 1,119 G70s through calendar year 2019, which is quite good, even representing a 15.7-percent gain year-over-year (although the year prior was only 10 months as the G70 went on sale in March, 2018).

That puts its sales higher than some key rivals, namely the Cadillac ATS that required a sedan and coupe to total 1,032 units yet still dropped 36.1 percent from the year before, although that’s not as bad as the Alfa Romeo Giulia that lost 52.5 percent year-over-year with only 242 sales in 2019, not to mention Jaguar’s XE that plunged 72.5 percent after selling a mere 157 units last year, resulting in the last and final place in this segment.

2019 Genesis G70 3.3T Sport AWD
Sport trim includes a unique front fascia, LED headlights, fog lamps, 19-inch alloys and Brembo brakes with red calipers. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

That Genesis achieved 1,119 deliveries in a year that saw many of its competitors lose ground made for impressive beginnings. Let’s remember it’s a three-year old brand, and this is its first totally new model. Yes, the G90 full-size luxury sedan was new when it was introduced together with the entire brand in November 2016, but like the G80 mid-size luxury sedan it started off as an older Hyundai model. The G90 began as the Hyundai Equus, and therefore can be considered to be in its third generation, while the G80 merely had its rear badge changed from Hyundai’s stylized “H” to Genesis’ wings. In fact, it had been wearing the new Genesis brand’s logo on its hood and steering wheel for two generations and eight years already, thanks to previewing the Genesis nameplate.

To say the G70 is an important model for Genesis is an understatement, being that it made up 73.4 percent of Genesis sales in 2019. The G80 found just 324 new owners last year, and the G90 just 82 (that’s nowhere near last place, by the way, but rather 18th from last, with Canada’s worst sales going to the Kia K900 that had zero deliveries and ironically shares its platform architecture with the G90).

2019 Genesis G70 3.3T Sport AWD
The G70 offers up a very impressive interior.

The first Genesis win is styling, with the G70 providing the kind of good looks it needs in order to stand out. It has a strong, aggressive stance, yet it’s not too over-the-top either, other than maybe its nonfunctional front fender vents. It’s also sized perfectly to fit within the compact luxury D-segment, measuring 4,685 millimetres from nose to tail with a 2,835-mm wheelbase, 1,850 mm wide, and 1,400 mm tall, which makes it near identically proportioned to the current C-Class sedan, and only a bit shorter than the 3 Series. This appears to be an ideal size for compact luxury sedans, compared to the Infiniti Q50 that’s quite a bit longer.

This results in a car that’s completely comfortable front to back, yet light and quick enough for good manoeuvrability. Its driving position is very good, with lots of reach and rake from adjustable steering column, while the driver’s seat is excellent, with good upper leg, lumbar, and side support. The steering wheel is smartly shaped for comfort and control, with shift paddles where they need to be for fast gear changes, while the pistol grip-style shift knob on the lower console-mounted lever is simply there for selecting D, R or N, P found on a button just in front. A lovely rotating knurled metal dial allows for drive mode selection, the choices being Comfort, Eco, Smart, Sport and Custom, and while I tried each one out for testing purposes, I’m sure you can hazard to guess which one I used most often.

2019 Genesis G70 3.3T Sport AWD
The G70’s cabin easily measures up to the compact luxury class leaders.

Base G70s use an eight-speed automatic transmission, which gets Idle Stop and Go to automatically shut off the engine in order to save fuel and limit emissions when it would otherwise be idling, and then quickly restart it again when lifting off the brake pedal. The entry-level 2.0-litre turbo-four is good for 252 horsepower and 260 lb-ft of torque, and is also the sole engine available with a six-speed manual in performance-oriented 2.0T Sport RWD trim. The “RWD” portion of the trim designation gives away its rear-drive nature as well, this being the only G70 without AWD, but this model actually puts out an extra 3 horsepower over its auto-equipped 2.0T brethren. The base G70 is the 2.0T Advanced AWD model, which gets followed by 2.0T Elite AWD and 2.0T Prestige AWD trims.

The only two trims using the upgraded twin-turbocharged 3.3-litre V6 power unit, which makes 365 horsepower and 376 lb-ft of torque, is the 3.3T Dynamic AWD model and the top-tier 3.3T Sport AWD being tested here. The powertrain has a nice eager exhaust note at idle, while choosing Sport mode automatically adds air to sport driver seat’s bladder-infused bolsters, this exclusive 16-way power-adjustable seat providing excellent lateral support, not to mention four-way lumbar support and an always appreciated lower cushion extension that made it wonderfully comfortable.

2019 Genesis G70 3.3T Sport AWD
The G70’s gauge cluster gets a nice 7.0-inch multi-info display at centre.

The 3.3-litre V6 makes for a brilliantly quick getaway car, blasting from zero to 100 km/h in just less than five seconds, while its exhaust note becomes addictive as the engine soars toward its 7,000-rpm redline. The eight-speed automatic delivers quick, sharp shifts in Sport mode, the paddle shifters only adding to the intensity, this particularly true through corners where the G70 feels light, lively and oh-so eager to impress, making it a great deal more enjoyable to drive than the equivalent Lexus IS 350 F Sport, not to mention many others in this class.

The brakes are very strong and don’t fade away after repetitive foot stomps. The Sport gets four-piston front and two-piston rear high-performance Brembos with fixed red-painted calipers, which are easily up to task. The G70 has impressive balance thanks to a well-sorted front strut and five-link independent rear suspension setup that never gets out of shape, yet provided a nice, compliant ride even with my test model’s big 19-inch staggered-width alloy wheels encircled by 225/40 front and 255/35 rear Michelin Pilot Sport 4 summer performance tires.

2019 Genesis G70 3.3T Sport AWD
The G70’s infotainment system is no more upscale than what you’d find in a Hyundai.

My G70 Sport’s outstanding stability probably has a lot to do with my its upgraded adaptive control suspension. This is a high-performance suspension control system that distributes front and rear damping forces when a driving situation becomes potentially dangerous and/or unstable, aiding in accidence avoidance. Safety in mind, upper G70 trims also get forward collision assist with pedestrian detection, lane departure warning and lane keeping assist, and driver attention warning, whereas all G70s include blind spot collision warning with lane change assist, plus rear cross-traffic collision warning.

A motor-driven rack-and-pinion steering system gets Variable Gear Ratio assistance for quick, positive response to inputs, yet it never felt nervous. Actually, the G70 tracks really well at high speed, its mechanical limited-slip differential helping out rear traction. Truly, the G70 is a sport-luxury sedan I could live with every day, my only wish being a racetrack that would allow me to test it to its maximum (or my maximum), but even in congested city traffic it was easy to drive.

2019 Genesis G70 3.3T Sport AWD
The G70’s eight-speed automatic is one excellent transmission.

It was during such slower speeds that I had time to enjoy its nicely detailed cabin. Everything is extremely well put together, with the expected pliable composite surfaces above the waste, except for the glove box lid and surrounding surfaces next to the steering wheel. Most buttons, knobs and switches were high quality, but its aluminized silver buttons with blue backlit lettering came across a bit too much like Hyundai products, as did the 8.0-inch infotainment touchscreen atop the centre dash, and its graphic interface. It’s filled with plenty of features, such as Android Auto, Apple CarPlay, a navigation system, a multi-view camera, Genesis Connected Services, etcetera, the 15-speaker Lexicon audio system with Quantum Logic surround sound being very good, although most others in this category offer some sort of infotainment controller on the lower console, and not just a touchscreen.

Ahead of the driver is a large 7.0-inch, highly functional TFT multi-infotainment display as well, and while it was nice and bright plus plenty colourful, I wondered why it wasn’t a fully digital instrument cluster being that it’s a brand new model and Genesis would have been able to include one in upper trims, this being all the rage right now.

2019 Genesis G70 3.3T Sport AWD
Choose your drive mode with this knurled metal selector.

A nicer surprise was the diamond-patterned quilted black and grey highlighted Nappa leather upholstery on the seats and door panels. This is the kind of over-the-top opulence I expect to find with an Aston Martin or Bentley, not an entry-level Genesis sedan. The seats even included stylish grey piping on their side bolsters and at the top of each backrest. This comes as part of my Sport model’s standard Sport Appearance Package that also adds the power-adjustable bolsters and seat cushion extension on the driver’s seat noted before, plus metal foot pedals and a black microsuede headliner and roof pillars.

The G70 is also as nicely finished in its rear quarters as it is up front, the back outboard seats including three-way seat warmers. Those up front included these as well, plus the driver could warm his/her hands on a heatable steering wheel rim, and two front seats were also ventilated for cooling during summer. Dual-zone auto climate control managed cabin comfort, of course, while the usual smartphone connectivity and various charging ports were also included, my go-to choice being a wireless charging pad.

2019 Genesis G70 3.3T Sport AWD
The 16-way driver’s seat that comes standard in Sport trim is truly amazing.

The poorly finished cargo compartment was disappointing, the G70’s trunk no better than what you might find in a Hyundai product. It’s slightly shallower than some peers, plus its hinges take up more room than struts would. Worse, the load floor feels flimsy, and the split-folding rear seatbacks are only divided in a 60/40 configuration, with no centre pass-through, making the G70 less flexible for passengers and cargo than some of its European rivals.

To be fair, the G70 is quite a bargain when compared to most of its German competition, with a base price of only $42,000 (plus freight and fees). Even the most affordable Mercedes-Benz C-Class sedan starts at $46,100, while the least expensive BMW 3 Series sedan takes an investment of $49,000. Even pricier, the slow selling Jaguar XE needs $49,900 before it can be taken home, while Alfa Romeo Giulia can’t be had under $50,445. Of course, some rivals undercut the G70, such as the Audi A4 that only needs $39,800 to procure, while a base Lexus IS (RWD) can be had for $41,250, but these don’t offer the same level of standard features as the G70.

2019 Genesis G70 3.3T Sport AWD2019 Genesis G70 3.3T Sport AWD
The rear seat could use a bit more legroom, but it’s comfortable.

By the way, you can learn about full-range pricing for each of these models just mentioned right here at CarCostCanada (just click on the links for the car names above). CarCostCanada has trim, package and individual options info, plus you can find out about available offers, such as the zero-percent factory leasing and financing rates now provided by Genesis for 2019 and 2020 G70 models. Before you buy or even contact your Genesis dealer, or any of the others, make sure to also get your CarCostCanada membership so you can go to your local dealer with invoice pricing in order to make sure you get the best deal possible. 

The 2020 G70 hasn’t changed from this 2019 model, incidentally, other than the discontinuation of the 3.3T Dynamic AWD model and availability of new higher-end 3.3T Prestige AWD trim. The base price remains the same too, although some of the other trims move up in price, including this Sport trim that gets a new standard power trunk lid so therefore adds $500 for a new total of $58,000.

2019 Genesis G70 3.3T Sport AWD
The trunk lacks refinement and its 60/40-split seatbacks don’t offer the convenience of a centre pass-through.

In the end, the 2019 Genesis G70 is a superb sport-luxury sedan with very few negatives. It’s particularly good for those that drive enthusiastically, as it rewards skillful drivers with brilliant straight-line acceleration and wonderfully predictable, thoroughly capable road holding. This said its good balance and the AWD model’s tendency to understeer make it safe for newer drivers too, while its cabin quality and refinement will impress everyone, with plenty of comfort and some of the most luxurious details in the class.

Of course, it’s not faultless, its claimed 13.3 L/100km city, 9.5 highway and 11.6 combined fuel economy notably thirsty (the four-cylinder, AWD model gets an estimated 11.5, 8.7 and 10.3 respectively), but I think its pros, that include a five-year, 100,000-km comprehensive warranty, outweigh its cons, so I have no problem recommending the G70 to anyone thinking of purchasing a new compact luxury sedan.

Story and photo credits: Trevor Hofmann

2019 Volvo XC90 T6 AWD Inscription Road Test

2019 Volvo XC90 T6 AWD Inscription Road Test
The XC90 is one of the very best luxury SUVs on the road, especially in top-tier Inscription trim.

Even though the Volvo XC90 is deep into its fourth model year, you’ll have trouble finding a more impressively detailed or more opulently appointed mid-size luxury crossover SUV. The big three-row Swede is impeccably finished, especially when upgraded to its most luxurious Inscription trim line, which is just the way it was most recently presented to me.

This was the fourth second-generation XC90 I’ve tested, and the second Inscription model, the other two in sportier R-Design trim. Of these, two were equipped with the 316 horsepower mid-range powertrain and the other two matched up with the considerably more motivating 400 horsepower plug-in hybrid configuration. This said, I hadn’t driven the less potent drivetrain since 2016, when this model was completely overhauled with an all-new LED headlight-infused, ultra-clean design language plus a level of bejeweled luxury Volvo had never ventured into. The result was an automaker pulled back from near death (before its August, 2010 takeover by Hangzhou, Zhejiang, China-based Zhejiang Geely Holding Group), to one of relative financial health.

2019 Volvo XC90 T6 AWD Inscription Road Test
Stylish from all angles, it’s no wonder the XC90 sells so well.

Volvo’s Canadian sales more than doubled in the final quarter of 2015 when the 2016 XC90 arrived, from 10,964 vehicles during October, November and December 2014 to 22,507 cars and SUVs in Q4 of 2015, while the XC90’s deliveries jumped from 427 examples in calendar year 2014 to a total of 957 throughout 2015 and a phenomenal 2,951 in 2016. Amazingly, after a slight pullback in 2017 the growth continued with 3,059 XC90 sales in calendar year 2018, making the brand’s largest vehicle its most popular last year.

Interestingly, the new second-gen XC90 has found more Canadian luxury buyers each year than the XC60, and yes I’m talking about the totally new, wholly redesigned second-generation XC60 that went into production in March of 2017. The smaller five-passenger compact luxury SUV had consistently outsold Volvo’s much bigger three-row mid-size crossover before both models’ remakes, which is in-line with what most brands experience due to the affordability of the smaller SUVs.

The phenomenon is made even more unusual when factoring in that the new XC60 comes closer to matching the XC90’s high-level materials quality, overall refinement, superb digital interfaces, and varied choice of powertrains than any competitive brand, and that opting for the lesser model would actually leave about $13k in the pockets of would-be purchasers at the lowest end of both cars’ trim lines, and nearly $12k for top-tier Inscription T8 eAWD Plug-In Hybrid models.

2019 Volvo XC90 T6 AWD Inscription Road Test
All XC90s feature standard LED headlamps.

Why would this occur? Volvo knows its customers better than I, and their marketing department hasn’t shared anything specific to this issue, but it seems as if its Canadian base prefers larger, more substantive, pricier vehicles, which should certainly have everyone at the company’s Richmond Hill, Ontario headquarters smiling, not to mention its growing retailer base.

While not the largest in its segment, the XC90 is clearly a mid-size three-row luxury crossover SUV. It measures 4,950 mm (194.9 inches) from nose to tail, with a 2,984-mm (117.5-inch) wheelbase, plus it’s 2,140 mm (84.3 inches) from side-to-side, including its exterior mirrors, while it’s 1,775 mm (69.9 inches) from the base of its tires to the top of its roof rails. It also provides a sizeable 237 mm (9.3 inches) of ground clearance, which certainly doesn’t hurt when trudging through deep snow.

2019 Volvo XC90 T6 AWD Inscription Road Test
The XC90 Inscription’s interior is stunning, particularly its high-quality materials and fine attention to fit and finish.

The XC90’s generous dimensions make it more than just roomy inside. I first learned this when climbing inside the 2016 Volvo XC90 T6 AWD R-Design noted earlier, and confirmed it fully during a road trip in the 2017 XC90 T8 Twin Engine eAWD Inscription. My partner and I left Vancouver, drove up, over and down the Coquihalla Highway, and then up, over and down the 97C connector to Kelowna, BC during a wonderfully warm autumn in 2016, and while only two of us enjoyed this weekend getaway we carried a reasonable amount of cargo (including late season Okanagan fruit, preserves and wine) in the XC90’s 1,183-litre (41.8 cubic-foot) cargo hold, the volume available after dropping the third row into the floor.

If I owned an XC90 (or any three-row SUV) this is how I’d leave the seats set up most of the time, as the kids are now grown and have no need the third row. Yes it would be a shame to waste those nicely shaped individual bucket seats, each of which can easily accommodate my five-foot-eight, medium-build frame quite comfortably, making me wish Volvo configured it as a less expensive two-row model with additional under-floor storage, but no such luck.

2019 Volvo XC90 T6 AWD Inscription Road Test
A fully digital instrument cluster comes standard.

As it is, the XC90 gets a decently sized 447-litre (15.8 cubic-foot) dedicated cargo hold aft of the third row, which expands to 2,427 litres (85.6 cubic feet) when both rear rows are laid flat. Even better, its second row can be folded in thirds so rear passengers can enjoy the more comfortable, optionally heated window seats while skis or other types of long items are loaded in between. I wish Volvo had added a pass-through for the third row as well, but that’s probably asking too much. As it is, the XC90 is one of the more flexible luxury SUVs from a passenger/cargo perspective.

As it has throughout its four-year tenure, the 2019 XC90 can be had in Momentum, R-Design and Inscription trims, the base model starting at $59,750 (plus freight and fees), the mid-range model beginning at $69,800, and top-line available from $71,450. Speaking of threes, this model also lets you choose from all of the brand’s 2.0-litre, four-cylinder power units, starting with the T5 AWD that’s only available in Momentum trim and simply uses a turbocharger to produce 250 horsepower and 258 lb-ft of torque. Above this is the T6 AWD in my tester that adds a supercharger to the mix for a total of 316 horsepower and 295 lb-ft of torque, while at the top of the Volvo heap is the T8 eAWD “Twin Engine” hybrid system that combines a 60-kW electric motor and externally charge-able plug-in battery for a maximum of 400 net horsepower and 472 net lb-ft of torque.

2019 Volvo XC90 T6 AWD Inscription Road Test
Volvo’s tablet-style Sensus infotainment touchscreen is award-winning.

As for pricing, moving up to the T6 in Momentum trim will add $4,250 to the bottom line, while the Momentum T8 adds another $10,950. Alternatively you’ll be charged $12,650 in either R-Design or Inscription trims when moving from T6 to T8 power units, although take note you can save up to $5,000 in additional 2019 XC90 incentives right now by visiting the 2019 Volvo XC90 Canada Prices page right here at CarCostCanada, where you’ll also be able to get all the pricing details about trims, packages and individual options, plus manufacturer rebate information and otherwise difficult to find dealer invoice prices.

Along with standard all-wheel drive (as noted by all the “AWD” designations in the trim names), each XC90 powertrain comes mated up to an efficient eight-speed Geartronic automatic transmission with auto start/stop that automatically shuts the engine off when it would otherwise be idling, and restarts it when lifting your foot from the brake pedal. Obviously that autobox is set up differently in conventionally powered models to the hybrid, but the driveline is even more unique in when factoring in eAWD, which leaves the internal combustion engine to power the front wheels and aforementioned electric motor to rotate those in back.

2019 Volvo XC90 T6 AWD Inscription Road Test
This Inscription model’s woodwork is second to none.

Unlike early hybrid systems, the XC90’s T8 powertrain can also be driven solely on electric power at regular speeds, although with about 30 kilometres of EV range available you’ll probably need to rely on its gasoline-fed engine for supplemental energy when the battery drains, unless your commutes and/or errand runs cover short distances with as little highway driving as possible. Nevertheless, if you manage to keep your enthusiasm bridled and not dig into all of its 400 horsepower, the XC90 T8’s claimed 10.1 L/100km city, 8.8 highway and 9.5 fuel economy rating makes it one of the thriftiest SUVs in its class. Alternatively, the conventionally powered T5 and T6 powertrains are good for 11.3 L/100km in the city, 8.5 on the highway and 10.0 combined for the former and 12.1 city, 8.9 highway and 10.7 combined for the latter, which are very impressive as well.

Yes, my T6 tester was the least efficient XC90, but compared to Lexus’ conventionally powered three-row RX 350 L it’s an absolute fuel miser, the Japanese luxury utility good for 11.1 L/100km combined. Then again Lexus makes a hybrid version that’s stingier than the XC90 T8, eking by at just 8.1 combined, while Acura’s regular MDX is rated at 10.8 L/100km combined and its hybrid at 9.0 in a mix of city/highway driving.

2019 Volvo XC90 T6 AWD Inscription Road Test
Automotive jewelry? Volvo supplies some dazzling details.

Amazingly these are the only electrified models in the mid-size, three-row luxury segment, but the XC90 T6’s efficiency still improves on Infiniti’s QX60 (10.9 combined), Audi’s Q7 (11.0 combined), Buick’s Enclave (11.9), Mercedes-Benz’s GLS (13.2), BMW’s X7 (10.8), Land Rover’s gasoline-powered Discovery (13.0), the 2020 Cadillac XT6 (11.5), and the 2020 Lincoln Aviator (11.6), with the only non-hybrid vehicle to beat it in this class being the just-noted Discovery when mated up to its turbo-diesel, a rare beast these days, yet capable of 10.4 L/100km combined city/highway.

I know for a fact the XC90 T6 is much quicker off the line than that Disco oil burner, however, not to mention most other entry-level models on this list (I used base models when comparing fuel economy numbers), while there’s absolutely no contest when comparing acceleration between hybrids. Truly, put your foot into the XC90 T6 AWD’s throttle and it’s hard to believe there’s a 2.0-litre four-cylinder mill pushing and pulling this big SUV forward, the little turbocharged, supercharged and direct-injected mill needing just 6.5 seconds to zip from standstill to 100 km/h. That makes the T6 1.4 seconds quicker to 100 km/h than the base T5 that crosses the same time line in 7.9 seconds, plus it’s less than a second (0.9) slower than the T8 that blasts the hefty Volvo from zero to 100km/h in a mere 5.6 seconds.

2019 Volvo XC90 T6 AWD Inscription Road Test
The XC90’s front seats are superb.

The T6 AWD doesn’t only look fast by the numbers, it feels even quicker when sprinting away from a stoplight or passing on the highway, while it also does a good job of hustling through corners. I’m not going to go so far as to say it can out-manoeuvre one of the aforementioned Germans on a tight, circuitous test track, but it’ll easily run rings around most of the others while delivering one of the smoothest, most compliant rides in its category, combined with one of the best driver’s seats in the business.

Before falling into the trap of listing out every single XC90 feature Volvo offers (click through to my 2018 XC90 R-Design review for this info, as I cover all trims and the 2019 model hasn’t notably changed), let’s just say Volvo’s mid-size SUV provides a good value proposition, especially when factoring in the superbly crafted interior I mentioned at the beginning of this review. Truly, the XC90 Inscription gets one of most luxuriously appointed cabins available south of a Bentley Bentayga, and to be honest, much of the Swedish utility’s switchgear is made from denser (and therefore higher quality) composites than the big British ute, whereas every one of the XC90’s digital displays is beyond compare (I should mention here that Bentley will update the Bentayga with much-needed new infotainment for 2020).

2019 Volvo XC90 T6 AWD Inscription Road Test
Even adults can fit into the very back.

In front of the XC90’s driver is a completely digital gauge package capable of adding navigation mapping/route guidance to its centre multi-information section, where it can also house most of the infotainment system’s other functions, as well as the usual trip, fuel economy, etcetera info. Volvo’s award-winning Sensus infotainment system sits on the centre stack, its vertical, tablet-style touchscreen one of my favourites to use and its feature set replete with everything found in rival systems. Its overhead camera provides incredible detail, climate control interface some of the coolest temperature setting sliders around, and other functions right at the top of this segment, while its audio panel connected through to a sensational sounding $3,250 optional Bowers & Wilkins stereo featuring 1,400 watts of power and 19 speakers.

2019 Volvo XC90 T6 AWD Inscription Road Test
The 30/30/30-split second row makes the XC90 highly flexible for passengers and cargo.

That upgraded stereo boasts a beautiful set of drilled aluminum speaker grilles on each door, plus a small circular tweeter atop the dash, but you’ll need to look back to the photo gallery for my 2018 XC90 tester to see what was missing, a stunning Orrefors crystal and polished metal shift knob. Remember I said that nothing below a Bentley comes close to this XC90? You really need to see and feel the gorgeous diamond-patterned metal edges of the rotating multi-function centre stack controller first-hand to appreciate how exquisitely crafted it is, or for that matter twist the similarly ornate lower console-mounted engine start/stop switch and cylinder-shaped scrolling drive mode selector, while the matte-finish hardwood found on the scrolling bin lids that surround the just-noted switchgear and shifter, plus the instrument panel and doors, is otherworldly. It’s difficult to argue against my Inscription trimmed tester’s contrast-stitched padded leather upholstery either, which can be found on nearly every other surface that’s not already covered in high-quality pliable composite materials. I’m not saying Volvo’s competitors don’t do a good job of detailing out their mid-size SUVs’ interiors, it’s just that the XC90 provides such a rare sense of occasion that few of its rivals can measure up.

Therefore, the next time a Volvo XC90 pulls up beside you, maybe nod with the same level of reverence shown to a Rolls-Royce Cullinan, Bentley Bentayga or Range Rover Autobiography, because it’s providing a similar level of opulent luxury while going much further to mitigate fossil fuel consumption and reduce emissions. That it can be had for a five-figure sum shows that its owners are pretty savvy too, which might be worth even greater respect.

Story credit: Trevor Hofmann

Photo credits: Karen Tuggay

2019 Lincoln MKC 2.3L EcoBoost AWD Reserve Road Test

2019 Lincoln MKC 2.3L EcoBoost AWD Reserve
The 2019 MKC wear’s Lincoln’s new chromed radiator-style grille and therefore looks much like a new 2020 Corsair from the front.

This may be the first time you’ve seen the refreshed 2019 Lincoln MKC, a luxury version of the much better known Ford Escape that’s worn a totally different split-wing grille design up until this year’s mid-cycle upgrade. Normally an update like this has at least two years of life before it gets renewed, but we can soon say goodbye to the MKC now that the entirely new 2020 Corsair has been introduced.

Whether the short-lived 2019 MKC becomes collectable is anyone’s guess (I doubt it), but it’s nevertheless a rarity. The pre-refresh MKC lasted from 2015 through 2018, with this 2019 model getting a totally reworked frontal design, including its grille, headlights, and lower fascia, while Lincoln splashed a little chrome onto its rear hatch as well, but other than that it’s unchanged. Another oddity sees this grille transported over to the 2020 Corsair, virtually unchanged.

2019 Lincoln MKC 2.3L EcoBoost AWD Reserve
From the rear the 2019 MKC looks almost identical to the outgoing 2015-2018 version.

While I’m tempted to delve into all the differences between this 2019 MKC and the new 2020 Corsair, I won’t. Suffice to say this outgoing mode is based on the old 2019 Ford Escape and the Corsair rolls on the new 2020 Escape. The updated model features a renewed duo of turbocharged four-cylinder engines, once again displacing 2.0 and 2.3 litres apiece, the entry-level mill making 250 horsepower and the top-line version producing 280 horsepower, which is a respective five horsepower more and five less than this year’s MKC, with torque measuring exactly the same 275 lb-ft with the former engine and five lb-ft more at 310 lb-ft for the latter.

We should expect better fuel economy thanks to a new eight-speed automatic transmission that’s operated via new horizontally mounted “piano key” shift toggles that replace this MKC’s row of buttons on the centre stack. LEDs for the signature-enhanced headlights, turn signals and tail lamps remain standard, but the interior is now completely updated with a digital instrument cluster and new tablet-style centre touchscreen.

2019 Lincoln MKC 2.3L EcoBoost AWD Reserve
Lincoln’s new grille is just the right size to not look overbearing on this compact utility.

The new Corsair’s $44,700 base price is just $550 more than the 2019 MKC’s $44,150 entry price, while a 2018 MKC was available for only $43,950 when new. Interestingly, the MKC cost just $39,940 when it launched in 2015, which probably has just as much to do with the Canadian dollar’s steadily eroding purchasing value over the past four years as it does with Lincoln’s streamlined trim offerings, this done by dropping its former base Premier trim in 2017, which of course added more standard equipment.

Today’s MKC can be had in two trim levels including Select and Reserve, the top-line model starting at $48,800 (for detailed pricing on trims, packages and options, plus manufacturer rebate info and dealer invoice pricing that can save you up to $5,000 in additional incentives at the time of publishing, make sure to check the 2019 Lincoln MKC Canada Prices page right here on CarCostCanada). Choosing Reserve trim is the only way to get the just-mentioned 2.3-litre engine, which puts out a grand total of 285 horsepower and 305 lb-ft of torque, while adding $2,150 to the MKC’s price tag. Both MKC models are two forward speeds short of the new 2020 Corsair’s eight-speed autobox, leaving this 2019 SUV with Ford/Lincoln’s well-proven six-speed SelectShift automatic featuring manual mode and paddle shifters.

2019 Lincoln MKC 2.3L EcoBoost AWD Reserve
Lincoln changed up every detail of the MKC’s frontal design for 2019, an unusual choice for just one model year of availability.

The upgraded engine also comes standard with idle start-stop that automatically turns off the engine when it would otherwise be idling, and then immediately turns it on when removing foot from the brake pedal, whereas this eco feature is an option with the 2.0-litre engine. The result at the refuelling station is hardly noticeable, however, the non-idle start/stop base engine claiming an estimated fuel economy rating of 12.3 L/100km city, 9.3 highway and 11.0 combined, with idle start-stop merely decreasing combined average fuel economy by 0.1 L/100km to 10.9.

My tester’s 2.3-litre engine gets a claimed 13.1 L/100km in the city, 9.5 on the highway and 11.5 combined, which isn’t superb for a compact luxury SUV, being that BMW’s X3 xDrive30i achieves an estimated 9.6 L/100km combined, Audi’s Q5 gets a claimed 9.9, and Mercedes’ GLC 300 4Matic is good to go at about 10.0 L/100km combined. The 2020 Corsair should improve overall fuel economy, but I can’t imagine it gets dramatically better results.

2019 Lincoln MKC 2.3L EcoBoost AWD Reserve
Of course, LEDs light up the tail lamps.

This said I don’t imagine many Canadians thinking about buying a compact luxury SUV consider the level of focus Lincoln puts on performance, but the MKC has always been a serious competitor in a straight line and fully capable through fast-paced corners, or for that matter on long stretches of open highway. The little Lincoln even boasts a standard adaptive suspension system controlled by Lincoln Drive Control with Normal, Sport and Comfort modes, while its electric power-assist steering is relatively precise and standard all-wheel drive good for all weather conditions.

Still, it’s best respected for its smooth ride and quiet cabin, luxury being highest on Lincoln’s hierarchy of importance. Therefore, laminated acoustic front door glass and active noise control are standard, and that adaptive suspension system mentioned a moment ago also improves comfort.

2019 Lincoln MKC 2.3L EcoBoost AWD Reserve
The MKC Reserve’s two-tone interior looks good and is finished very well.

My tester’s ride was compliant even with its ultra-sporty 20-inch alloy rims, its luxurious nature a good fit with its elegant interior. It went from stylish White Platinum on the outside (a $700 upgrade) to Espresso brown on the inside (dark grey Ebony, creamy Cappuccino, and dark Rialto Green are available colourways as well), at least above the waist and for the perforated Bridge of Weir Deepsoft leather-upholstered seats. Contrasting light beige was used for the lower dash, centre console, and lower door panels, as well as the roofliner, pillars and carpets, making for a ritzy looking cabin. Even better, real hardwood inlays on the instrument panel and doors come standard, while just the right amounts of satin-finish aluminum trim are placed in key locations around the interior, plus some attractive aluminized and/or chrome adorned buttons, knobs and toggles, and the list goes on.

Lincoln did a good job of finishing off the dash and door uppers too, with soft padded leather-like surfaces that felt more genuine than mere leatherette. These weren’t the only surfaces trimmed out with pliable composites, mind you, but the others were more obviously synthetic, while those used for covering the lower dash had more of a rubberized feel. No doubt Lincoln chose the rubbery surface treatment for protecting it from footwear. Either way it’s a positive to find soft touch panels on a compact luxury SUV’s lower extremities at all. The padded composites edge each side of the centre console, protecting the inside knees of both driver and front passenger, plus it extends ahead of the front passenger including the glove box lid. Panels above the driver’s knees and on the lower door panels are made from soft-painted plastic, which is similar to most others in the compact luxury segment.

2019 Lincoln MKC 2.3L EcoBoost AWD Reserve
Materials quality is now a Lincoln trademark.

The lower console’s top section is ultra-simple due to the centre stack-mounted gear selector noted earlier, merely including dual cupholders and a lidded smartphone storage area featuring a rubberized pad as well as a 12-volt charging port and two USB-A chargers. Lincoln finished its insides with a soft felt-like treatment, but the cheaply made lid isn’t up to the luxury levels of quality. It opens and closes softly, which is nice, but that’s all I’ve got to say positively about it. Lincoln finishes the glove box and centre console bin with the same velvety lining, the latter including a removable tray plus an additional 12-volt charging port, but oddly there’s a hole at the very bottom of the bin that could easily swallow up small valuable forever, so my guess is that something is missing in this particular vehicle.

On the positive, Lincoln chose to trim out both front and midship roof pillars in cloth, this normally only done on the A-pillars in this class. I recently made special not of this shortcoming in a 2019 Acura RDX A-Spec review, which is an impressive compact luxury SUV in most respects, except its unusual gear selector, a weakness it shares with this MKC.

2019 Lincoln MKC 2.3L EcoBoost AWD Reserve
The 2020 Corsair will replace this comparatively remedial gauge cluster wth a fully digital design.

The Japanese and domestic luxury SUVs are hardly the same when it comes to swapping cogs, with Acura providing a complex combination of buttons and pull-tabs on the RDX’ lower console that took me plenty of test weeks to acclimatize myself to, and Lincoln incorporating its lineup of cars and SUVs with a similar thin strip of switches, albeit more straightforward and on the left side of the centre stack. Their placement forced me to lean forward more than I wanted in order to engage, however, and therefore wasn’t the MKC’s best ergonomic attribute. Obviously Lincoln heard complaints from customers as well as auto pundits, so I look forward to find out if their placement in the new Corsair is close enough for comfort.

Just the same, I appreciate how Lincoln chose to vertically bookend the MKC’s start/stop and sport mode buttons with its PRND selections, but I’d prefer staying firmly within the little Lincoln’s superb driver’s seat in order to actuate buttons within closer reach. Along with their inherently good design, and all the expected adjustments like powered fore/aft, up/down and recline, both driver and front passenger also receive four-way powered lumbar support as well as four-way manual head restraint adjustment, resulting in 12-way adjustability up front. They are three-way heatable in base trim too, and three-way ventilated when opting for this Reserve model, while all trims include driver-side seat memory.

2019 Lincoln MKC 2.3L EcoBoost AWD Reserve
It’s easy to see Lincoln’s unorthodox pushbutton gear selector down the left side of the centre display.

Comfort in mind, the standard multifunctional steering wheel is ideally shaped for optimal easy of use and control, while its rim gets wrapped in soft Wollsdorf leather for a truly rich feel. I should mention the previously-noted Bridge of Weir Deepsoft leather upholstery comes standard in both MKC trims, which means there’s no cheesy corrected-grain, split-skin, synthetic polymer paint-coated hides when you choose a Lincoln (you’d best opt for the pricier BMW for that level of “luxury”). Like its high-grade leather, the MKC doesn’t skimp on other standard features either, with additional no-cost content that would normally be extra from rivals including a power tilt and telescoping steering column with memory, reverse parking sensors, an auto-dimming rearview mirror, and even an auto-dimming driver’s side mirror, while both exterior mirrors power-fold and include memory.

Now that I’ve started listing standard features I might as well continue, with the base Select model featuring 18-inch alloys and roof rails, plus the Lincoln Embrace system that lights up the headlamps, door handles, interior lights and more when approaching in the dark. Base trim also includes remote start, a SecuriCode keyless access keypad, proximity-sensing keyless entry, pushbutton start/stop, an electronic parking brake, illuminated entry, ambient lighting, LED map lights, a particulate-filtered dual-zone automatic climate control system, an overhead console with a convenient sunglasses holder, and a garage door opener.

2019 Lincoln MKC 2.3L EcoBoost AWD Reserve
The centre touchscreen should certainly be large enough for most peoples’ needs.

A big, user-friendly 8.0-inch touchscreen tops off the centre stack (identically sized to the new Corsair’s 8.0-inch centre display, incidentally), featuring Lincoln’s well thought out SYNC 3 infotainment interface boasting Android Auto and Apple CarPlay smartphone integration, a backup camera with dynamic guidelines, separate digital panels for climate control, the audio system incorporating 10 speakers, a subwoofer, satellite radio, and Bluetooth streaming audio, plus phone functions and more. The touchscreen’s smaller and not as high in definition as some rivals’ widescreen, high-def infotainment systems, but it responds to inputs quickly, is really easy to figure out, and is graphically attractive.

Lincoln also includes standard Lincoln Connect featuring a 4G LTE modem, plus the Lincoln Way App that allows unlocking, locking, starting and finding your modem-equipped MKC via your smartphone. Also standard are dual USB charge ports, a quad of 12-volt chargers, a powered tailgate, a retractable cargo cover, an Easy Fuel capless fuel filler, all the usual active and passive safety features as well as a driver’s knee airbag, plus SOS post crash alert, the SecuriLock passive anti-theft system, a perimeter alarm, etcetera.

2019 Lincoln MKC 2.3L EcoBoost AWD Reserve
The MKC’s HVAC and audio controls are well laid out and easy to use.

Those who choose the base Select model can upgrade it further with blindspot warning and cross-traffic alert, that being part of the $1,250 Select Plus package that also features voice-activated navigation, and as long as you’re going to go this far to upgrade your Lincoln you might as well add the $675 Climate package, being that it includes auto high beams, a heated steering wheel, rain-sensing wipers, a windshield wiper de-icer, and heatable rear seats. You can upgrade the base model further with a $2,200 panoramic Vista Roof, complete with a powered sunshade.

Everything mentioned so far came standard with my Reserve test model, although the 18-inch alloys normally found in its wheel cutouts get updated from painted silver to machine finishing with painted pockets. The Reserve also includes forced ventilation from its front seats, while its normally body-coloured door handles get chrome highlights, and the power tailgate incorporates hands-free capability that only requires someone carrying the key fob to wave their foot below the bumper.

2019 Lincoln MKC 2.3L EcoBoost AWD Reserve
Yes, that’s real hardwood, and it’s very nice.

Opting for the upper-crust Reserve also means additional features become available, such as a different $500 set of 19-inch painted five-spoke alloys or the $750 top-line 20-inch rims found on my tester, while it’s also important to note that only MKC’s with the more powerful 2.3-litre twin-scroll turbo engine can qualify for the biggest rims. Reserve buyers can also choose a $2,420 Technology Package adding forward parking sensors, dynamic cruise control, pre-collision warning with pedestrian detection, auto emergency braking, lane keeping assist, and semi-autonomous active parking assist.

Finally, Select and Reserve trims can both be upgraded with unique Sonata Spin aluminum trim on the doors and instrument panel, plus upgraded yet further with an excellent $1,100 THX II audio system that was added to my test model, while a $500 Class II towing package can haul up to 1,360 kg (3,000 lbs) of trailer via the 2.3-litre engine. With all noted items tallied up, which was very close to fully loaded, my tester reached beyond $55k, and yes this sounds like a big sum of money for a compact SUV until comparing it with a similarly equipped Audi Q5, BMW X3 or Mercedes-Benz GLC, all of which would add about $10k to the price of entry without including all of the features offered by Lincoln.

2019 Lincoln MKC 2.3L EcoBoost AWD Reserve
The MKC’s 12-way front seats are very comfortable.

So how does the MKC measure up from a practical perspective? I believe it will be amply roomy for most Canadian families as long as their teens aren’t too tall, and likely spacious enough for the majority of empty nesters if their grandkids are likewise on the smaller side. The aforementioned powered tilt and telescopic steering column allowed for plenty of reach, so I was able to push the seat squab far enough toward the back in order to make room for my longish legs so my shorter than average torso didn’t make it difficult to stretch to the steering wheel. We’re not all created equal when it comes to height, of course, but this is true for personal proportions too, and this has caused me problems when trying to fit into some other cars and SUVs. Fortunately Lincoln has provided the necessary adjustability to take care of all types of bodies, which is a big positive for the MKC. 

And now to follow up on that teens and grandkids comment I made a moment ago, the MKC’s rear passenger compartment is not the roomiest in the compact class. After positioning the driver’s seat for the long-legged, shorter torso frame just mentioned, which incidentally measures just five-foot-eight from head to heals, I sat directly behind to learn that only three and half to four inches of space could be found between my knees and the backside of the driver’s seat, plus I wasn’t able to stretch my legs out much either. I had the luxury of comparing my MKC tester to a Volvo XC40 during the same week, and found the Lincoln had less knee, foot and headroom, although about the same width from side to side. Volvo also offered a wider centre armrest, while the MKC’s wasn’t large enough to rest an elbow on comfortably because of dual cupholders down its middle.

2019 Lincoln MKC 2.3L EcoBoost AWD Reserve
The rear seating area is a bit cramped, but very well finished.

At least the MKC’s rear doors were detailed out just as ideally as those in front, plus the backside of its front centre console housed buttons for two-way rear outboard seats, a three-prong household-style plug, and a duo of USB-A device chargers.

Also good, the MKC’s dedicated cargo area is large at 712 litres (25.2 cubic feet), plus when its 60/40 split-folding seatbacks are lowered there’s a sizeable 1,505-litre (53.1 cubic-foot) area to stow gear. It’s nicely finished too, with luxurious yet durable looking carpets on the removable floor, the seatbacks, and each sidewall, but there aren’t any levers for automatically dropping those seats down. Living with a bit more manual labour is no real problem, but life without a centre pass-through, or an even better 40/20/40-split rear bench could put would-be buyers off, particularly those that load longer cargo in regularly, such as skis. If you have two kids or plan on bringing friends to the ski hill, just remember that only one will enjoy the more comfortable rear window seat, which incidentally includes the bun warmer. I’m sure you can easily imagine the whining complaints right about now.

2019 Lincoln MKC 2.3L EcoBoost AWD Reserve
Cargo space is plentiful, but a centre pass-through would have been appreciated.

Yes, this 2019 Lincoln MKC doesn’t hit the bull’s-eye with every shot, but it delivers will in most respects. Its front styling is arguably improved, its cabin is finished impressively, it has no shortage of premium features, it provides plenty of options, and delivers strong overall value. If you can live with its thirstier than average fuel economy, rear legroom shortcoming, and cargo inflexibility, I can soundly recommend it.

Story and photo credits: Trevor Hofmann

2019 Buick Encore Essence AWD Road Test

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Story and photo credits: Trevor Hofmann

2019 BMW X1 xDrive28i Road Test

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Story credit: Trevor Hofmann

2019 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 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