CarCostCanada

New 2021 Buick Envision to arrive early next year

2021 Buick Envision
The upcoming 2021 Buick Envision is certainly no wallflower.

Market segments don’t come any more competitive than the compact luxury crossover SUV class, with younger brands like Acura, Lexus and Infiniti mixing it up with the old guard from Europe including Mercedes-Benz, BMW, Audi, Jaguar, Land Rover and Volvo. Nearly 20 models duke it out in this category, and Buick, which carefully balances between both luxury and mainstream volume market sectors, has been struggling to get noticed with a fairly safely styled Envision.

After two years of availability in China, Yantai, Shandong-built Envision wasn’t exactly fresh when it arrived in Canada for the 2016 model year, and while some of the just-named premium brands fare worse on the compact luxury SUV sales chart than Buick’s entry, it’s never found the type of traction an SUV priced as competitively in this segment should. In fact, unlike its closest rivals, Buick’s larger three-row Enclave SUV sold in greater numbers than the Envision last year, and its much smaller subcompact Encore sold almost four times as many units.

2020 Buick Envision
The outgoing 2016-2020 Buick Envision is less noticeable than the new model, yet still attractive.

Soon it will be out with the old and in with the new, however, this attractive new 2021 Envision showing that Buick is getting serious about competing against the best in the business, at least from a styling perspective. Only small design cues, such as the overall grille design and general shape of the headlamps and taillights, carry forward into the updated model, while much of its sheet metal appears more angular than in past Buicks, closer in fact to Cadillac’s XT crossover SUV line.

With just three exterior photos to go on, and very little information accompanying them, there’s not much to talk about. Buick mentioned nothing about the current 197 horsepower naturally aspirated base 2.5-litre four-cylinder engine, but did speak of the 252 horsepower 2.0-litre turbocharged four that’s now offered as an option in the 2020 model. Therefore we can assume the 2.0-litre turbo will come standard, and be joined up with a new nine-speed automatic that’s three gears more advanced than the one it will replace. Also expected, Canadian-bound Envisions will more than likely continue into the new generation with standard AWD.

2021 Buick Envision
The new 2021 Envision pulls a few design cues from its predecessor, particularly the shape of its headlamps and taillights.

Of note, the first-generation Envision rides on the same GM Delta platform as the current second-generation Chevrolet Equinox and GMC Terrain compact SUVs, so it makes sense that this latest iteration will do likewise. The current model offers a commendable ride and handling package thanks to a fully independent suspension with struts up front and four-link setup in the rear, so it’s likely something very similar will underpin the new 2021 model.

Additionally, the new 2021 Envision will arrive with standard forward collision alert, automatic emergency braking (for vehicles and pedestrians), lane keeping assist, lane departure warning, rear parking assist, etcetera. Reports also claim the new Envision’s advanced driver assistance systems were partially developed at General Motors’ Canadian Technical Centre, which is a nice connection to Canada.

Available features should include front parking assist, semi-automatic parking assist, an overhead parking monitor, blindspot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert, a head-up display unit, a rearview mirror with an integrated camera system, and more.

2020 Buick Envision
The old Envision should be considered by luxury buyers wanting a nicely refined compact luxury SUV.

A 10.0-inch centre-mounted touchscreen featuring an HD reverse camera will be available, incidentally, as will Android Auto and Apple CarPlay smartphone integration, not to mention Amazon Alexa, while Buick will offer its top-line Avenir trim in the Envision for the first time.

Just in case you prefer the subtler, softer lines of today’s 2020 Buick Envision or simply want to take advantage of any deals that might be available now, like manufacturer rebates, financing and leasing offers, and dealer invoice pricing that could save you thousands, take note that an inexpensive CarCostCanada membership will provide you with everything just mentioned and more, giving you everything needed before speaking with your local Buick dealer.

By checking our 2020 Buick Envision Canada Prices page, you can currently receive up to $1,000 in additional incentives for this model or the 2020 Encore, while the 2021 Encore is available with zero-percent financing. Also notable, you can get up to $1,500 in incentives when purchasing a 2020 Enclave or a 2020 Regal Sportback. Make sure to see our CarCostCanada “How it Works” page to learn more.

As for the newly redesigned Buick Envision, it’s expected to go on sale sometime in early 2021, but we’ll no doubt be getting more details before then. Stay tuned…

Story credit: Trevor Hofmann

Photo credits: Buick

CarCostCanada

2019 Volvo V90 Cross Country T6 AWD Road Test

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Story and photo credits: Trevor Hofmann

Photo Editing: Karen Tuggay

CarCostCanada

2019 Mazda CX-3 GT Road Test

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Story and photo credits: Trevor Hofmann

Photo Editing: Karen Tuggay

CarCostCanada

2019 Mazda CX-5 GT AWD Road Test

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Story credit: Trevor Hofmann

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

CarCostCanada

2019 Mazda3 Sport GT FWD and AWD Road Test

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Story and photo credits: Trevor Hofmann

CarCostCanada

Porsche unveils most potent, quickest 911 Turbo S ever

2021 Porsche 911 Turbo S
The new 911 Turbo S looks even more muscular than the outgoing model, and backs that muscle up with 61 more hp and 37 more lb-ft of torque.

Despite the Geneva Motor Show getting cancelled due to the outbreak of COVID-19, automakers are making their major reveals online, so therefore Porsche has anted up with the most exciting variation on entirely new 992 theme yet.

The new 911 Turbo S was just introduced via the internet with a surprising 61-horsepower increase over its much-revered 580-hp predecessor, which means that it now produces a shocking 641-horsepower from an identically sized 3.8-litre six-cylinder enhanced by two VTG (variable turbine geometry) turbos. The horizontally opposed engine also develops another 37 lb-ft of torque for a grand total of 590, so be happy that it comes standard with Porsche Traction Management (PTM) all-wheel drive, which incidentally has the ability to transfer up to 369 pound-feet of twist to the front wheels when necessary.

The Turbo S’ 3.8-litre turbocharged six-cylinder mill, which is based on the latest 911 Carrera engine, has been totally redesigned. The update includes a new charge air-cooling system as well as new, bigger VTG turbochargers laid out in a symmetrical design that features electrically adjustable waste-gate flaps, while piezo injectors significantly improve “responsiveness, power, torque, emissions, and revving ability,” said Porsche in a press release.

2021 Porsche 911 Turbo S
The 911 Turbo S Cabriolet is only slightly slower to 100km/h than the Coupe, yet matches the mighty GT2 RS.

An upgraded “Turbo-specific” eight-speed dual-clutch PDK automated transmission comes standard, which allows for a blisteringly fast sprint from zero to 100 km/h of only 2.7 seconds, which shaves 0.2 seconds from its predecessor’s zero-to-100 time, while naught to 200 km/h rips past in just 8.9 seconds, this new model a full second quicker than the old Turbo S.

Possibly even more impressive, the new 911 Turbo S is a tenth of a second quicker from zero to 100 km/h than the outgoing GT2 RS, that model a 700-horsepower racetrack dominator. Take note, 911 Turbo S Cabriolet buyers will lose a tenth of a second in the opposite direction, but this still makes the convertible as fast as a GT2 RS, so it certainly won’t cause its owner embarrassment. Without doubt the drop-top will be ideal for hearing the new sport exhaust system too, which incorporates adjustable flaps that promise the kind of distinctive soundtrack only a Porsche flat-six can provide.

An Imperial performance spec worth noting is the Turbo S’ 10.5-second drag strip dash down the quarter mile, which is impressive to say the least, while owners fortunate enough to drive their cars on Europe’s speed limitless Autobahns will feasibly be able to max out at 330 km/h (205 mph) in either Coupe or Cabriolet body style, albeit with the cloth top upright in the latter model.

2021 Porsche 911 Turbo S
The new Turbo S is wider than its predecessor, which should result in even more high-speed stability through curves.

Keeping such speeds in check are standard carbon-ceramic brakes featuring 10-piston front calipers, while control is further improved upon with a larger rear wing that, together with the pneumatically extendable front spoiler, provides 15 percent greater downforce than the outgoing Turbo S.

The new Turbo S is also wider than the outgoing model by 45 mm above the front axle, measuring 1,840 mm across, and 20 mm over the rear axle, which spans 1,900 mm across. This should improve stability, while Porsche has also modified its active suspension management system’s (PASM) software and hardware setup, dropping it down by 10 mm (0.4 in) plus providing “faster and more precisely controlled dampers” to improve “roll stability, road holding, steering behaviour and cornering speeds.”

The various functional vents added to the Turbo S’ front grille, rear fenders and back bumper are more about engine and brake cooling, mind you, not to mention styling aggression, while the rear design is enhanced further with a pair of uniquely rectangular exhaust tips that stick outward from the black centre diffuser, while the Turbo S is made to look even better thanks to a set of staggered 20-inch front and 21-inch rear lightweight alloy rims encircled by 255/35 and 315/30 Pirelli performance rubber respectively.

2021 Porsche 911 Turbo S
The Turbo S interior uses nicer standard materials than lesser models.

The new Turbo S’ cabin is as comfortable as any other 911 and even more premium due to a full leather interior with carbon trim and Light Silver details, as well as a GT sport steering wheel, a big 10.9-inch centre touchscreen, a new Porsche Track Precision app within that centre display that comes as part of the Sport Chrono package, Bose surround-sound audio, and 18-way power-adjustable sport seats.

You’ll be able to order an all-new 2021 911 Turbo S next month, with deliveries starting later this year. Pricing will start at $231,700 plus freight and fees for the Coupe and $246,300 for the Cabriolet.

And now, for your viewing pleasure, enjoy the following Porsche supplied videos:

 

The new Porsche 911 Turbo S: The peak of driving emotion (2:28):

 

 

The all new Porsche 911 Turbo S. Relentless. (1:02):

 

 

Livestream: new Porsche 911 Turbo S Premiere (14:56):

 

Story credits: Trevor Hofmann 

Photo and video credits: Porsche 

CarCostCanada

2019 Lincoln MKZ Reserve 3.0L V6 AWD Road Test

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Story and photo credits: Trevor Hofmann

CarCostCanada

2019 Subaru WRX STI Sport Road Test

2019 Subaru WRX STI Sport
The WRX STI’s rally car styling never gets old.

Do you prefer wing spoilers or lip spoilers? You’ll need to contemplate this before purchasing a new Subaru WRX STI. It might be an age thing, or the highest speed you plan on attaining. If you’ve got a racetrack nearby, I recommend the wing.

Being that my slow-paced home of Vancouver no longer has a decent racecourse within a day’s drive my thoughts are divided, because the massive aerodynamic appendage attached to this high-performance Subaru’s trunk adds a lot of rear downforce at high speeds, which it can easily achieve. Speed comes naturally to the STI. It’s rally-bred predecessor won the FIA-sanctioned World Rally Championship (WRC) three years in a row, after all, from 1995 to 1997, amassing 16 race wins and 33 podiums in total. That was a long time ago, of course, and Subaru has not contested a factory WRC team for more than ten years, but nevertheless the rally-inspired road car before you is much better than the production version tested in 2008.

2019 Subaru WRX STI Sport
The WRX STI’s rear design is even more aggressive than up front.

Rivals have come and gone over the years, the most disappointing loss being the Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution (EVO) that was discontinued at the close of 2015, while sport compact enthusiasts are no doubt lamenting the more recent cancellation of Ford’s Focus RS too, that car going away at the end of 2018 due to the death of the model’s less formidable trims. This said, the super compact category isn’t dead. Volkswagen revived its Golf R for 2016 and it’s still going strong, while Honda’s superb Civic Type R arrived on the scene for 2018, while Hyundai is getting frisky with its new Veloster N for 2020, although the last two mentioned don’t offer four-wheel drive so therefore don’t face off directly against their all-weather, multiple-terrain competitors.

The WRX STI seen here is a 2019 model, which means it hasn’t been updated with the new styling enhancements included for the 2020, but both get the 5-horsepower bump in performance introduced for 2018. To clarify, the regular WRX looks the same for 2020, at least from the outside, although its cabin gets some extra red stitching on the door trim plus its engine bay comes filled with a retuned 2.0-litre four, while the differential receives some revisions as well. This means only the STI receives styling tweaks, which include a new lower front fascia and new 19-inch aluminum machined alloy wheels for Sport and Sport-tech trims. The 2020 WRX STI Sport also receives proximity keyless access with pushbutton start/stop.

2019 Subaru WRX STI Sport
LED headlamps add sophistication, while all the scoops and vents are there by functional design.

My 2019 WRX STI tester was in Sport trim, which fits between the base and top-line Sport-tech models. The base STI starts at $40,195 plus freight and fees, with the Sport starting at $42,495 and the more luxury-trimmed Sport-tech at $47,295. And by the way, the wing spoiler is standard with the Sport and Sport-tech, but can be swapped out for the previously noted lip spoiler when moving up to the Sport-tech at no extra charge.

Pickings are slim for a 2019 model, but I poured over Canada’s Subaru dealer websites and found a number of them still available. Just the same, don’t expect to find the exact trim, option and/or colour you want. At least you’ll get a deal if choosing a 2019, with our 2019 Subaru WRX Canada Prices page showing up to $2,500 in additional incentives available at the time of writing. Check it out, plus peruse a full list of trim, package and option pricing for both WRX and WRX STI models, as well as information about special financing and leasing offers, notices about manufacturer rebates, and most important of all, dealer invoice pricing could help you save thousands. This said if you can’t locate the 2019 model you want, take a look at our 2020 Subaru WRX Canada Prices page that’s showing up to $750 in additional incentives.

2019 Subaru WRX STI Sport
Sport and Sport-tech trim get these gorgeous 19-inch alloys on Yokohama rubber.

While the 2019 WRX STI looks no different than the 2018, it remains an aggressively attractive sport sedan. The 2018 STI added a fresh set of LED headlamps for a more sophistication appearance along with better nighttime visibility, while a standard set of cross-drilled Brembo brakes feature yellow-green-painted six-piston front calipers and two-piston rear calipers aided via four-channel, four-sensor and g-load sensor-equipped Super Sport ABS.

Subaru also revised the STI’s configurable centre differential (DCCD) so that it’s no longer a hybrid mechanical design with electronic centre limited-slip differential control, but instead an electric design for quicker, smoother operation, while the car’s cabin now included red seatbelts that, like everything else, move directly into the 2019 model year.

The STI’s interior also features a fabulous looking set of red on black partial-leather and ultrasuede Sport seats, with the same plush suede-like material applied to each door insert, along with stylish red stitching that extends to the armrests as well, while that red thread also rings the inside of the leather-wrapped sport steering wheel, the padded leather-like centre console edges, and the sides of the front seat bolsters. Recaro is responsible for the front seats, thus they are as close to racecar-specification as most would want from a car that will likely get regular daily use. The driver’s is 10-way power-adjustable, including two-way lumbar support, and superbly comfortable.

2019 Subaru WRX STI Sport
The WRX STI’s interior is nicely finished with upscale materials, good quality and plenty of upscale features.

The rear passenger area is roomy and supportive as well, and impressively is finished to the same standards as the front, even including soft-touch door uppers. Additionally, Subaru added a folding armrest in the middle for the 2018 model year, with the usual dual cupholders integrated within. 

If you want a reason why both WRX models sell a lot better than the arguably more attractive BRZ (at least the latter is sleeker and more ground-hugging), it’s that just-noted rear passenger compartment. The BRZ seats four, in a literal 2+2 pinch, but the WRX does so in roomy comfort. It has the rare pedigree of being a legendary sports car, yet provides the everyday usability of a practical sedan. Its 340-litre trunk is fairly roomy too, while the car’s rear seat folds down 60/40 via pull-tab latches on the tops of the seatbacks.

2019 Subaru WRX STI Sport
This is one of the better driver’s positions in the class.

Additionally, all passengers continue to benefit from less interior noise, plus a retuned suspension with a more comfortable ride, while the WRX was given a heavier duty battery last year as well, plus revised interior door trim. What’s more, a new electroluminescent primary instrument cluster integrated a high-resolution colour TFT Multi-mode Vehicle Dynamics Control display, providing an eco-gauge, driving time information, a digital speedo, a gear selection readout, cruise control details, an odometer, trip meter, SI-Drive (Subaru Intelligent Drive) indicators, and the Driver Control Centre Differential (DCCD) system’s front and rear power bias graphic, whereas the 5.9-inch colour multi-information display atop the dash was also updated last year, showing average fuel economy, DCCD graphics, a digital PSI boost gauge, etcetera.

Subaru’s electronic interfaces have been getting steady updates in recent years, to the point they’re now some of the more impressive in the industry. The STI’s two touchscreens are as good as they’ve ever been, but compared to the gigantic vertical touchscreen in the new 2020 Outback and Legacy they look small and outdated. The base 6.5-inch screen in this 2019, in fact, which carries over to the 2020, shouldn’t even be available anymore, at least in a car that starts above $40k. In its place, the top-tier Sport-tech’s 7.0-inch touchscreen should be standard at the very least. Navigation doesn’t need to be included at the entry price, but one would think that one good centre display would make better sense economically than building two for such a niche model. Either way, both feature bright, glossy touchscreens with deep contrasts and rich colours.

2019 Subaru WRX STI Sport
The primary gauge cluster features a comprehensive colour display at centre.

The standard infotainment system found in my tester came with Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, and Subaru’s own StarLink smartphone integration, which also includes Aha radio and the capability of downloading yet more apps. I like the look and functionality of the current interface too, which features colourful smartphone/tablet-style graphics on a night sky-like blue 3D tiled background, while additional features for 2019 include near-field communication (NFC) phone connectivity, a Micro SD card slot, HD radio, new gloss-black topped audio knobs, plus more. My Sport tester can only be had with the base six-speaker audio system too, which had me missing the Sport-tech’s nine-speaker 320-watt Harman/Kardon upgrade, but I have say I would’ve been content with the entry sound system if I’d never tried the H/K unit.

Together with everything mentioned already, all three STI trims include a gloss black front grille insert, brushed aluminum door sills with STI branding, carpeted floor mats with red embroidered STI logos, aluminum sport pedals, a leather-clad handbrake lever, black and red leather/ultrasuede upholstery, two-zone auto HVAC, a reverse camera with active guidelines, voice activation, Bluetooth phone connectivity with streaming audio, AM/FM/MP3/WMA audio, vehicle-speed-sensitive volume control, Radio Data System, satellite radio, USB and auxiliary plugs, etcetera.

2019 Subaru WRX STI Sport
The centre stack features a large multi-information display atop the dash, a 6.5-inch touchscreen below that, and dual-zone auto HVAC.

The STI gets a number of standard performance upgrades as well, like quick-ratio rack and pinion steering, inverted KYB front MacPherson struts with forged aluminum lower suspension arms, performance suspension tuning, high-strength solid rubber engine mounts, a red powder-coated intake manifold, a close-ratio six-speed manual transmission, a Helical-type limited-slip front differential, a Torsen limited-slip rear diff, and more.

Additional Sport trim features include 19-inch dark gunmetal alloy wheels wrapped in 245/35R19 89W Yokohama Advan Sport V105 performance tires, the aforementioned high-profile rear spoiler, light- and wiper-activated automatic on/off headlights with welcome lighting, a power moonroof, Subaru’s Rear/Side Vehicle Detection System (SRVD) featuring blindspot detection, lane change assist, rear cross traffic alert, etcetera.

Finally, top-line Sport-tech features that have yet to be mentioned include proximity keyless entry with pushbutton start/stop, navigation, as well as SiriusXM Traffic and Travel Link with weather, sports and stocks information, while the Sport-tech’s Recaro sport seats only get eight power adjustments.

2019 Subaru WRX STI Sport
The WRX STI’s shifter is sublime.

As is the case with all Subaru models, except the rear-drive BRZ sports car, the WRX STI comes standard with Symmetrical-AWD, the torque-vectoring system considered one of the best in the business. You can fling it sideways on dry or wet pavement, or for that matter on gravel, dirt, snow, or most any other road/trail surface, and remain confident it will pull you through, as long as it’s shod with the right tires for the occasion and your driving capability is at the level needed to correctly apply the steering, throttle and braking inputs as necessary.

As far as performance goes, the WRX STI is a car that is much more capable than most drivers will ever know, unless its deft poise saves them from an otherwise unavoidable accident. Its sporting prowess is legendary, and thanks to changes made a couple of years ago to the shifter and suspension, which made it much more enjoyable to drive in town as well as at the limit, it’s now an excellent daily driver. The manual transmission shifts smoother and easier, clicking into place with a more precise feel than in previous iterations.

2019 Subaru WRX STI Sport
These are two of the best sport seats in the compact segment.

The upgraded six-speed manual takes power from a 2.5-litre turbo-four that received beefier pistons, a new air intake, new ECU programming, and a higher-flow exhaust system than the previous generation, resulting in an identical 290 lb-ft of torque and the 5 additional horsepower mentioned earlier, the STI now putting out 310. Additionally, the just-mentioned transmission gets a reworked third gear for a faster takeoff. Translated, the latest STI feels even more enthusiastic during acceleration than pre-2018 models, which were already very quick.

As always, the 2019 STI’s road-holding capability is fabulously good. It feels light and nimble, yet kept the rear wheels locked mostly in place through high-speed curves, whether the tarmac was smooth or strewn with dips and bumps. I only used the word “mostly” because it oversteers nicely when coaxed through particularly tight corners, like those often found on an autocross course. At such events braking is critical, so it’s good that the STI’s big binders noted earlier scrub off speed quickly, no doubt helped in equal measures by the Sport’s standard 245/35R19 Yokohama performance tires.

2019 Subaru WRX STI Sport
This practical sports car seats four to five comfortably.

I can’t see fuel economy mattering much to the majority of STI buyers, but Transport Canada’s 2019 rating is reasonably efficient for a performance sedan just the same, at 14.1 L/100km city, 10.5 highway and 12.5 combined. Notably, these numbers haven’t change one bit from last year, while Subaru doesn’t show any advancements in the STI’s naught to 100km/h time either, once again claiming a sprint time that’s just 0.5 seconds faster than the regular WRX at 4.9 seconds. With only small adjustments made to its 1,550- to 1,600-kilogram curb weight (depending on trims), plus 5 additional horsepower now combined with a stronger third gear, both standstill and mid-range acceleration should be faster, which leaves me wondering whether Subaru is being conservative or if their marketing department merely hasn’t got around to updated the specs in their website.

So is the WRX STI for you? If you’re a driving enthusiast that still needs to stay real and practical, you should consider Subaru’s performance flagship. It’s well priced within the low- to mid-$40k range, and it’s an easy car to live with. Of course I can’t help but recommend it. 

Story credit: Trevor Hofmann

Photo credits: Karen Tuggay

CarCostCanada

2019 Mini Cooper Countryman S E ALL4 Road Test

2019 Mini Cooper Countryman S E ALL4
The Countryman is in its second-generation, but still looks every bit a Mini.

There are certain market segments an automaker wants to do well in. Obviously, higher end models like large sedans, SUVs and sports cars present the opportunity for higher profits, and are therefore important to any brand’s bottom line, while larger compact and mid-size models are critical for volume, but if you’re not able to pull buyers into the fold early on, when they’re moving up from pre-owned to new, or from a mainstream volume brand to luxury, then it’s more difficult to sell those higher end models later on. Or at least that’s the theory.

One might say BMW group owns the subcompact luxury SUV category in Canada. After all, together with the segment’s most popular X1, which found 4,420 entry-level luxury buyers last year, this Mini Countryman that was good for 2,275 slightly less affluent up-and-comers, and the sportiest (and priciest) BMW X2 that earned 1,383 new customers of its own, its total of 8,078 units sales more than doubled what Audi or Mercedes-Benz could deliver in Canada last year.

2019 Mini Cooper Countryman S E ALL4
It looks small from a distance, but the Countryman is actually quite roomy inside.

While BMW would no doubt like to eventually pull Mini customers up into its namesake brand, and some now doubt do make the progression, it really exists on its own. What I mean is that Mini has a completely unique character that car enthusiasts aspire to, and not kept around merely as a gateway brand. If a Mini owner was fortunate enough to trade in their Countryman for a larger, pricier SUV, they might just as well choose a Range Rover Velar instead of an X3 or X5. Then again, it’s probably just as likely they’ll stick with their Mini, choosing instead to move up within the brand to a John Cooper Works trim level or maybe even this top-line Countryman S E ALL4 plug-in hybrid.

The Countryman was one of the first subcompact luxury SUVs on the market, arriving way back in 2010. Mini made major improvements for its 2017 redesign, so now this second-generation model has been with us for four years if we include the 2020 model. If you looked at a 2020 and this outgoing 2019 model you wouldn’t be able to notice many changes. Some wheel designs have been changed, a normal occurrence every now and then, with the big updates found under the skin, and then only impacting buyers wanting a manual transmission. Yes, it’s been axed for 2020, mostly because Mini’s U.S. division swapped it out for a standard seven-speed dual-clutch automated gearbox in front-wheel drive models not available here, so it’s almost entirely the previously optional eight-speed automatic across the Countryman line in Canada, whether DIY enthusiasts like it or not.

2019 Mini Cooper Countryman S E ALL4
This Countryman S E ALL4 came as-tested with LED headlights, LED fog lamps, and 18-inch alloy wheels.

Almost entirely? Yes, the very Countryman S E ALL4 hybrid on this page uses a six-speed Steptronic automatic driving the front wheels via a 136-horsepower 1.5-litre three-cylinder Twin Power Turbo engine. The ALL4 in the name designation denotes all-wheel drive, but unlike the other ALL4s in the Countryman lineup, this model’s rear wheels are solely powered by an 88-horsepower (65kW) synchronous e-motor via electricity stored in a 7.6 kWh Li-Ion battery.

Like with most all-wheel drive systems, power can be apportioned front or back, with the wheels in the rear employed fully in EV mode, or partially when the Countryman detects front slippage and needs more traction. That means it feels as if you’re driving a regular hybrid, with each axle using its motive power sources seamlessly as needed, all working together harmoniously via Mini’s drivetrain management system. The S E ALL4’s electric-only range is a mere 19 km after a complete charge, but who’s counting.

2019 Mini Cooper Countryman S E ALL4
Mini interiors combine fun retro character traits with high-quality premium materials and finishing.

Not even 20 km? Ok, that is pretty minuscule, and many of my colleagues are reporting real world results of 12 and 13 km. Thank goodness Mini made another change to the Countryman line for 2020, a larger batter for a 30-percent gain in EV range for 29 km in total. While this will hardly cause BMW i3 fans to shift allegiances, the added range allows the Countryman S E ALL4 to be used as a regular commuter without the need to recharge until you get to work, as long as your daily commute falls within most peoples’ average. If you really want to go green you can stop along the way for more energy, and it won’t take too much time for the new 10-kWh battery to recharge.

It’s probably not a good idea to use EV mode all the way to work if you need to take the highway, unless it’s bumper to bumper all the way. While the Countryman S E ALL4 can achieve speeds of up to 125 km/h with just its e-motor, you’ll drain the battery in minutes if you try. Instead, you can use its hybrid mode on the highway (up to 220 km/h if you’re feeling frisky) and switch back to EV mode when traveling slower, which maximizes a given charge. The regenerative brakes help to charge up the battery when coming to stops or going downhill, doing their part to maximize zero emissions driving.

2019 Mini Cooper Countryman S E ALL4
The Countryman’s cockpit is ideally set up for both comfort and performance driving.

I made the point of recharging the battery whenever possible during my weeklong test. I’d grab a coffee at McDonalds and give it a quick charge outside, drop by the local mall and do likewise, and one time stayed a little longer at Ikea’s restaurant in order to fully top it up, plus of course I charged it overnight. Being that it takes quite a bit of effort to find somewhere in public to charge it that’s not being used, the novelty quickly wears off when the battery runs out of juice in a matter of 20 or 30 minutes. Still, its fuel economy is good even when not charging it up all the time, with an 8.4 L/100km rating in the city, 8.8 on the highway and 8.6 combined. Plugging it in more often can give you an equivalent rating of 3.6 L/100km combined city/highway, however, so it’s obviously worth going through the hassle.

At least as important for any Mini, the Countryman S E ALL4 is fun to drive. I can’t think of many hybrid SUVs that include a manual mode shifter, let alone a Sport mode (that actually does something), but all you need to do is slide the switch at the base of the gearbox to the left and this PHEV shoots away from a stoplight with plenty of energy, taking about seven seconds to reach 100 km/h thanks to a total of 221 net horsepower and 284 pound-feet of torque (the electric motor puts out an immediate 122 lb-ft of twist by itself), and while it can’t quite achieve the 301-hp John Cooper Work’s Countryman’s ability to get off the line, the JCW managing just over 6 seconds to 100 km/h, this 1,791-kilo cute ute still feels quick enough.

2019 Mini Cooper Countryman S E ALL4
The Countryman’s centre display is high-resolution, graphically stimulating and packed full of features.

The S E ALL4 is even more sporting around fast-paced curves, with the kind of high-speed handling expected from a Mini. It’s not as firmly sprung as a JCW, but then again it provides a more comfortable ride. Likewise, the Countryman S E ALL4 is a complete pleasure on the freeway, tracking well at high-speed and excellent at overcoming unexpected crosswinds, my test model’s meaty 225/50R18 all-season tires providing a sizeable contact patch with the tarmac below.

A fabulously comfortable driver’s seat made longer stints behind the wheel easy on the back, my test model’s boasting superb inherent support for the lower back and thighs, with the former benefiting from four-way lumbar support and the latter from a manually extendable lower cushion to cup under the knees (love that). It’s spacious too, both up front and in the rear, with the back seats roomy enough for big adults as long as the centre position stays unoccupied. A wide armrest folds down from middle, housing the expected twin cupholders, while two vents on the backside of the front console keep fresh air flowing. A 12-volt charger has me wondering when Mini plans to modernize with USB charging ports, while no rear seat heaters were included in this trim. At least there was a wonderfully large power panoramic glass sunroof up above, making the Countryman’s smallish dimensions feel bigger and more open.

2019 Mini Cooper Countryman S E ALL4
The centre stack controls are very well done, particularly the row of toggles at the bottom.

I’ve read/heard a number of critics complain about the Countryman not offering enough cargo space, however, but this little Mini’s cargo compartment design has me sold. Of course it’s relatively small compared to a larger compact or mid-size luxury utility, which is par for the course when choosing a Mini, its dimensions measuring 487 litres behind the rear seatback and 1,342 litres when lowered, but it’s the folding centre section I appreciate most. This allows longer items like skis to be laid down the middle while rear passengers enjoy the more comfortable window seats. The Countryman’s 40/20/40 rear seat split is the most convenient in the industry, while the seats’ folding mechanism feels very well made with everything clicking together solidly. The rear compartment is finished well too, with high quality carpets most everywhere. It all helps Mini make its argument for premium status.

Some buyers don’t consider Mini a premium brand, while those in the know place it alongside (or slightly below) BMW, at least when it comes to the Bavarian automaker’s entry-level models, like the X1. Of course, the X1 xDrive28i starts at a lofty $42,100 when compared to the $31,090 Countryman, but this fully loaded S E ALL4 plug-in hybrid, featuring upgrades like the previously noted sunroof, plus LED cornering headlights and fog lamps, a head-up display, navigation, real-time traffic info, superb Harman/Kardon audio, a wireless device charger, and more, will set you back more than $50k (the S E ALL4’s base price is $44,390), so Mini is in the same league. This pricing spread makes it clear that Mini sits well above most other mainstream volume branded subcompact SUVs, which range in price from $18,000 for the most basic to $35,000 for something fancier in full dress. 

2019 Mini Cooper Countryman S E ALL4
This is one of the best driver’s seats in the subcompact luxury SUV class.

By the way, you can find out all about 2019 and 2020 Mini Countryman pricing right here on CarCostCanada, with details about trims, packages and individual options included, plus you can also access money saving manufacturer rebate info, the latest deals on financing, and best of all dealer invoice pricing that could help you save you thousands when it comes time to negotiate. CarCostCanada provides all this and more for every volume mainstream and luxury model available in Canada, so make sure to go there first before stepping into a dealership.

2019 Mini Cooper Countryman S E ALL4
The Countryman’s rear seating area is spacious and comfortable.

The base S E ALL4 is well equipped too, by the way, including 18-inch alloy wheels on run-flat tires, puddle lamps, a keyless toggle start/stop switch, a sporty leather-wrapped steering wheel rim, well bolstered sport seats with leatherette upholstery, adaptive cruise control, park distance control, two-zone automatic climate control, a large high-definition centre touchscreen with excellent graphics, and more.

Additionally, all of the high-end features just mentioned are housed in an interior that’s finished to premium levels, or at least it’s premium for this compact luxury SUV category. This means it includes fabric-wrapped roof pillars and plenty of pliable composite surfaces, while the switchgear is nicely made too, not to mention brilliantly retrospective with respect to the chromed toggles on the centre stack and overhead console.

2019 Mini Cooper Countryman S E ALL4
A flexible cargo configuration makes the Countryman especially useful.

All in all, the Countryman S E ALL4 might be a fuel-efficient hybrid, but it’s also a Mini, which means it lives up to the performance expectations the British brand’s loyal followers want, while also providing a high level of style, luxury, features, roominess, and more. That it’s possible to drive emissions-free over short distances is a bonus, as is access to your city’s high occupancy vehicle (HOV) lanes, plug-in parking spots closer to the entrance of shopping malls, stores, etcetera, and better than average fuel economy whether using EV mode or just its hybrid setup. It’s a bit pricey, but the Countryman S E ALL4 delivers a lot for the money asked.

Story and photo credits: Trevor Hofmann

CarCostCanada

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