2019 Ford EcoSport 2.0 SES Road Test

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Story and photo credits: Trevor Hofmann

2019 Jaguar F-Pace SVR Road Test

2019 Jaguar F-Pace SVR
The Jaguar F-Pace SVR looks as good as it drives.

My gawd this thing is nuts! The power, the insane sound of the supercharged V8’s sport exhaust system, and the near overwhelming sensation of 550 horsepower and 502 lb-ft of torque pressing head and backside into the opulent red and black diamond-pattern leather-upholstered driver’s seat at launch while fingers grasp at the leather-wrapped sport steering wheel rim, there’s really nothing that completely mirrors it in the compact luxury SUV segment.

With a flagship sport utility like the F-Pace SVR you’d think this SUV would be tops in its hotly contested class, and while it’s certainly the best selling model within Jaguar’s range it appears luxury buyers are more interested in being comforted than having their senses wowed by ultimate performance. Truly, F-Pace and most Jaguar models deserve more attention than they get.

2019 Jaguar F-Pace SVR
Plenty of functional aero add-ons give the SVR a uniquely powerful appearance.

For starters, the F-Pace is inarguably attractive no matter which trim we’re talking about, with this SVR amongst the best looking in its category. There’s no crossover SUV I find more attractive, unless the outrageous Lamborghini Urus enters the discussion, or for that matter Audi’s Q8 that shares much of its running gear, but the ultimate Italian, at least, hovers up in a totally different pricing stratosphere with a base price of $240,569 CAD, compared to a mere $89,900 for this 2019 F-Pace SVR.

The cheapest Q8 will save you $7k and change, but the sporty looking German’s $82,350 entry model merely puts out 335 horsepower, and while a superbly comfortable and wholly attractive, well-made urban and freeway cruiser it’s doesn’t even enter the same performance league as the SVR. The equivalent Q8 is the upcoming near 600-hp RS, but that upcoming model will eventually cost you something around $110,000 (its pricing hadn’t been announced before I wrote these words, and it’s bigger mid-size proportions means it doesn’t directly compete).

2019 Jaguar F-Pace SVR
These black 22-inch alloys are optional, but everything else shown here is standard with the SVR.

Targeted rivals in mind, Audi does offer up the 349-hp SQ5 in the F-Pace’s compact luxury SUV segment, and while a fully capable autobahn stormer, its 5.4-second sprint from zero to 100 km/h can’t line up against the SVR’s 4.3 seconds, and I can attest that its 3.0-litre turbo V6 doesn’t come close to sounding as Mephistophelian as the SVR’s supercharged 5.0-litre V8.

A truer F-Pace SVR competitor is the new Mercedes-AMG GLC 63 4Matic+ that makes 503 horsepower and 516 lb-ft of torque from a 4.0-litre twin-turbocharged V8 resulting in a blast from standstill to 100km/h in only 3.8 seconds. The Merc tops out at 280 km/h (174 mph) compared to the Jag’s slightly quicker 283 km/h (176 mph) terminal velocity, so they nearly share their two key bragging rights evenly. All you need do if you desire the Mercedes is to add about five percent or $4k onto your purchase, the AMG available just over $93k, unless you end up purchasing the 2020 F-Pace SVR that is, which is now $92k even.

2019 Jaguar F-Pace SVR
Plenty of alternative SVR interior colour themes are available if red and black isn’t your thing.

Top-selling German compact luxury SUVs in mind, the BMW X3 M deserves mention too, thanks to 503 horsepower (in the Competition model), 442 lb-ft of torque, and a 4.1-second sprint from standstill to 100 km/h, all from an inline TwinPower turbo six-cylinder. The top-tier Competition model will set you back $93,500 plus fees, while the 473 horsepower base X3 M costs just $83,200.

See all pricing for the 2019 and 2020 F-Pace (or any of the SUVs mentioned) right here at CarCostCanada, including trims, packages and standalone options, while you can also access manufacturer rebate info, plus special deals including factory leasing and financing rates from zero percent (at the time of writing), as well as dealer invoice pricing that could save you thousands (there’s up to $3,075 in additional incentives on 2020 models right now) when becoming a member.

2019 Jaguar F-Pace SVR
The F-Pace SVR provides one rich looking cabin made of very high quality materials.

I haven’t driven the BMW X3 M or the GLC 63 4Matic+, but I’ve driven a lot of six-cylinder BMW Ms and AMG V8s, and while brilliant in their own rights, neither sounds as malevolent as Jaguar’s V8. Sure, the zero to 100km/h numbers are better and their prices aren’t much higher, but performance fans will know how important the auditory experience is to the thrill of high-speed driving. As for measuring the few milliseconds of sprint time differences, that’s downright impossible from the seat of the pants.

Using the Mercedes for comparison, both of these compact luxury SUVs provide nearly identical wheelbases of 2,874 millimetres for the SVR and 2,873 mm for the AMG, while their tracks are nearly the same too, the Jag measuring 1,641 mm up front and 1,654 mm in the rear and the Merc spanning 1,660 mm at both axles, but despite the F-Pace being 52 mm lengthier at 4,731 mm, 79 mm wider (mirrors included) at 2,175 mm, and 42 mm taller at 1,667 mm, plus having 100 litres of extra cargo capacity behind the back seats at 650 litres, it tips the scales 67 kilos lighter at just 1,995 kg. That’s thanks to its mostly aluminum body and chassis over Mercedes’ mix of steels and alloys.

2019 Jaguar F-Pace SVR
The 12.3-inch digital gauge cluster can be configured in many different layouts.

I can’t move past this point without mentioning two more compact SUVs capable of contending in this ultra-fast compact luxury SUV category, these being the Porsche Macan Turbo and the Alfa Romeo Stelvio Quadrifoglio, the German making 400 or 440 horsepower depending on whether you’re looking at the outgoing 2019 model or the new second-generation 2020 variety, or for that matter choosing the older Macan with its Performance Package upgrade (which also puts out 440-hp). The more potent engine options make this German SUV’s acceleration similar to the F-Pace SVR, yet it’s pricing delves into six figures, while the zippy Italian produces 505 horsepower and sprints to 100 km/h in just 4.0 seconds, while its price starts at $95k. These two SUVs are impressive as well, but once again their turbocharged V6 engines, while brilliant, can’t measure up to the sonorous delights of Jaguar’s big, hairy V8.

Truly, you’ve got to hear it at full song to appreciate what I’m talking about. It’s giggle-inducing joy on one hand and devilish horror on the other, particularly after pressing the exhaust button that provides a freer flow resulting in more snap, crackle and pop from its backside when lifting off the gas pedal.

2019 Jaguar F-Pace SVR
The updated F-Pace touchscreen is a big improvement over the previous generation.

You’d think with this level of dark, malevolent behaviour its interior would be a hard stone dungeon of dank sombreness, and while some trim pulls thoughts of red hot hellfire, the SVR’s cabin gets raised the level of super SUVs from more exotic names. It’s also capable of loading in the kiddies and lots of family gear, thanks to that aforementioned cargo hauling capacity.

You can also experience some light off-roading, as long as you’re willing to change out my testers optional 22-inch black-painted rims and 265/40 front and 295/35 rear Pirelli Scorpion Zero all-season tires to something more useful off pavement. I’d recommend something around 18 inches in diameter with a higher sidewall and much more tread grip, but then again you’re probably not buying this SUV for scaling the Rubicon trail. No, it’s much more capable of turning winding side roads into straight stretches roadway, or at least its near flat stance at breathtaking speeds makes them feel as if they were straight.

2019 Jaguar F-Pace SVR
This performance page is a fun way to keep an eye on the SVR’s power and handling chops.

The F-Pace SVR’s wide track and lighter than average weight (for its length, big powerplant and over-the-top luxury upgrades), plus the just-mentioned Pirelli rubber (you can get even better performance from a set of Jaguar-specified P Zeros, available from tire retailers) and its stiffer aluminum-intensive front strut and rear multi-link suspension featuring sportier tuning to its adaptive setup, plus sharper electric power-steering tuning, all come together for about as much sports car feel as most any SUV can provide (Urus aside).

The SVR shines on the types of narrow, undulating, ribbons of asphalt that the mind conjures up when looking at an F-Type SVR, but I have to say I really appreciated the added ride height this SUV provided over any low-slung sports car when coursing through heavily treed backroads. To be clear, the F-Type remains the Jaguar to beat through winding roads, not to mention road courses, but when visibility around curves or over sharp declines becomes difficult, the extra few inches of added sight line makes for a bit more confidence at high speeds, as does the wheel travel and more compliant suspension of the bigger, heavier SUV. Both SVRs work best when their previously noted Dynamic driving modes are selected, over their more comforting and economical options at least, this more assertive adaptive suspension setup stopping its tall body from pitching and rolling.

2019 Jaguar F-Pace SVR
The full-leather cabin gets complemented by loads of genuine aluminum and available carbon fibre.

Of course, I didn’t drive it like I stole it during my entire weeklong test, and not just because of the otherworldly fuel cost. Transport Canada estimates a 14.5 L/100km city, with 11.0 highway and 12.7 combined, which not too bad considering its outrageous power. Alfa Romeo’s most formidable Stelvio is rated at 14.1, 10.4 and 12.4 respectively, while the new 2020 Macan Turbo manages 14.2 in the city, 10.1 on the highway and 12.0 combined. How about the Merc-AMG GLC 63? It’s pretty bad at 15.0 L/100km in the city, 10.9 on the highway and 13.2 combined, but BMW’s X3 M is the least fuel conscious amongst all rivals with an embarrassing rating of 16.6 city, 12.1 highway and 14.2 combined, if buyers in this class actually care.

Together with the SVR’s Dynamic sport mode mentioned before, which I kept engaged most of my test week, there’s also a Comfort mode for rougher road surfaces or more relaxing moods, plus an Eco mode, which I likely should have chosen more often for overcoming the fuel economy noted above. The latter two drive modes let the engine turn off when it would otherwise be idling, saving fuel and reducing emissions. The big Eco screen that estimated how much fuel I saved while using its most economical driving mode was a bit humourous in this beast of an SUV, but fortunately the centre display offers up a Performance panel too, which I found much more useful.

2019 Jaguar F-Pace SVR
The SVR seats are fabulous.

Unlike most in this class, the F-Pace only uses a touchscreen for accessing infotainment, which will put off those who prefer to make commands via a lower console-mounted controller. I like touchscreens so it’s not an issue, and even better Jaguar’s interface has wholly improved in recent years. The display itself is fairly big at just over 10 inches, while the digital interface is divided into three big tiles for navigation/route guidance/maps, media, and phone, or whatever functions you choose as it can be organized for personal preferences. Swipe the display to the left and a second panel with nine smaller tiles shows up, providing access to most any function you could want. It’s a simple, straightforward system and thus user-friendly, with its just-mentioned swipe gesture control accompanied by the usual smartphone/tablet-type tap and pinch capabilities, the latter helpful when using the nav system’s map. Android Auto and Apple CarPlay smartphone integration apps are included too, as are myriad additional features (although you’ll need to pay more for satellite radio), Jaguar’s system being fully up to the class standards.

2019 Jaguar F-Pace SVR
A panoramic sunroof is standard.

Better yet, the SVR’s 12.3-inch Interactive Driver Display (a.k.a. digital instrument cluster) is wonderful. It’s fully configurable, with the ability to appear like a classic two-dial primary gauge package, a single driving dial with a numeric speed readout surrounded by a graphical tach at centre with a panel filled with alternative info to each side, while you can also transform the entire cluster into a giant map. Go ahead an configure almost any way you want, while an available head-up display can provide even more key info right on the windshield.

There’s decent device connectivity within a minuscule centre bin, including dual USB-A ports, a Micro SD card slot, plus a 12-volt charger. Why Jaguar didn’t include a wireless charging as part of the rubberized pad ahead of the shifter that fit my Samsung S9 perfectly is anyone’s guess, but such is life. Oddly it’s not even available as an option for 2019 or 2020, so ask your dealer if there’s an aftermarket solution.

2019 Jaguar F-Pace SVR
The two rear outboard seats are wonderfully comfortable.

From the quality of electronics to the quality of the F-Pace SVR’s interior materials, not to mention interior quality and style of the five compact luxury SUVs discussed in this review, it’ll come down to personally taste, with all presenting fairly dramatic interior designs packed with better than average materials quality and worthwhile digital screen time. Having spent time with each of these vehicles in lesser trims for weeks apiece, I’d probably give the overall quality nod to Porsche quickly followed by BMW and Mercedes, with Jaguar SUVs seeming to have conceded the ultimate interior mantle to its Land Rover sister brand. The F-Pace is related to the Range Rover Velar, which provides a far more appealing cabin), whereas my Stelvio tester was the only vehicle in 20 years of reviewing cars that’s ever left its ultra-cheap hood release lever in my hand after trying to take a look at the engine (which I unfortunately never saw or photographed due to this bizarre malfunction).

2019 Jaguar F-Pace SVR
This two-way automatic climate control panel on the backside of the front console allows rear outboard passengers to set their own temperatures, plus heat or cool their seats.

The SVR does up the quality of its cabin materials plus its overall sense of occasion when compared to lesser F-Pace trims, especially when the optional black Suedecloth roofliner and pillars get added. Contrast stitched premium leather can be found just about everywhere else, the bottom portion my test model’s dash and centre console, plus its armrests and seat bolsters finished in a rich Pimento red colour, while Ebony Lozenge hides covered most other surfaces, including the quilted leather seat inserts. It’s an eye-catching design, but I personally would want something less red. I loved the carbon-fibre detailing elsewhere, mind you (this being an upgrade over the standard textured Weave aluminum inlays), while plenty of piano black lacquer glitz things up further. Ditto for brushed aluminum trim, the SVR replete with genuine aluminum accents, my favourite bits being seat backrest cutouts front and back.

While some in the super-SUV class only provide space for four, the F-Pace SVR includes a middle seat in back, but I personally wouldn’t want to sit on top of it, as it’s little more than a padded bump between two wonderfully sculpted outboard seats. For those who need somewhere to strap in a smaller child, it could be a dealmaker, but bigger kids and adults alike will be snapping up the window seats first, which provide excellent support all-round. Rear passengers can also benefit from as-tested available quad-zone automatic climate control, featuring its own control panel on the backside of the front console. Included are switches for the rear outboard seats’ three-way heated and ventilated cushions.

2019 Jaguar F-Pace SVR
Skiers will appreciate the F-Pace’s 40/20/40 split-folding rear seatbacks.

Another dealmaker is the rear passenger/cargo configuration, featuring a 40/20/40-split down the seatbacks. This means you wont be forced to stick one child (or friend) on the centre hump when heading to the ski hill, which might end up in some heated arguments when factoring in those just-noted seat warmers. Jaguar also offers cargo wall levers for folding down those seats automatically, but you’ll need to pay a bit extra for them.

I know I’m sounding all practical in a review that should really be more about power and performance, but if you only wanted to go as fast as possible you’d probably be reading one of my F-Type SVR reviews. The F-Pace SVR is a best of all worlds alternative, with one of the best sounding engines currently being made. If you’re wishing our compact SUV looked and felt more like a supercar, Jaguar’s F-Pace SVR might be just the ticket.

Story and photo credits: Trevor Hofmann

Corvette, Telluride and Gladiator win 2020 North American Car, Utility and Truck of the Year

2020 Chevrolet Corvette Stingray
The 2020 Corvette has changed the game for Chevrolet as well as its mainstream and exotic competition.

Trying to guess which car, SUV and pickup will win their respective categories in the annual North American Car, Utility and Truck of the Year awards program can be more difficult some years than others, but most folks that keep their ear to the road had the 2020 lineup of winners picked out long before the big announcement this week.

The true name of the award is North American Car and Truck of the Year (NACTOY), in spite of having a third category covering SUVs added in 2017. The NACTOY awards were first presented in 1994.

2020 Chevrolet Corvette Stingray
The new Corvette’s interior looks much more premium-like than its predecessors.

A total of 50 automotive journalists made up the NACTOY jury this year, from print, online, radio and broadcast media in both the U.S. and Canada, with the nine finalists (three per category) presented in the fall and the eventual winners awarded each year at the North American International Auto Show (NAIAS) in Detroit. This year’s announcement changed to a separate event at the TCF Center (previously called Cobo Hall/Cobo Center) in Detroit, however, due to the NAIAS rescheduling to June 7-20, 2020.

Notably, each year nominated vehicles need be completely new, totally redesigned, or significantly refreshed, or in other words the vehicle being nominated must be something most buyers would consider entirely new or wholly different from its predecessor. Additionally, each finalist earned its top-three placement via judgment of its segment leadership, innovation, design, safety, handling, driver satisfaction, and dollar value.

2020 Kia Telluride
The 2020 Telluride takes Kia way upscale, making a good impression of a premium SUV.

This year’s selection process began in June of 2019, with vehicle eligibility chosen after three voting rounds. NACTOY chose the independent accounting firm of Deloitte LLP for tallying up all votes and then kept them secret until the organization’s President, Lauren Fix, Vice President, Chris Paukert, and Secretary-Treasurer, Kirk Bell unsealed the envelopes on stage.

Finalists in this year’s “Car” category included Chevrolet’s Corvette, Hyundai’s Sonata and Toyota’s Supra, with the winner being the new seventh-generation mid-engine Corvette, a completely reimagined car that will totally upend the premium sports car segment. Of note, it has been six years since a sports car won the Car category, so hats off to General Motors’ Chevrolet brand and its Corvette team for designing something so sensational that it couldn’t be overlooked, while both Toyota and Hyundai should also be recognized for their superb finalists.

2020 Kia Telluride
Just check out the Telluride’s interior. It’s over the top luxury.

“A mid-engine Corvette was a huge risk for Chevy’s muscle-car icon. They nailed it. Stunning styling, interior, and performance for one-third of the cost of comparable European exotics,” said The Detroit News auto critic Henry Payne.

“Utility Vehicle” finalists were all entirely new to the SUV market, and included the Hyundai Palisade, Kia Telluride and Lincoln Aviator. Most industry commentators seemed to believe that one of the two Hyundai Motor Group entries would win (the Palisade and Telluride are basically the same SUV below the metal), and as many guessed the Kia Telluride took home the honours.

2020 Jeep Gladiator Rubicon
The new 2020 Jeep Gladiator combines the off-road capability of a Wrangler with the functionality of a pickup truck.

“The Telluride’s interior layout and design would meet luxury SUV standards, while its refined drivetrain, confident driving dynamics and advanced technology maintain the premium experience,” commented Cox Automotive Executive Publisher Karl Brauer. “Traditional SUV brands take note: there’s a new star player on the field.”

Finally, this year’s “Truck” of the year finalists included the Ford Ranger (new to us yet available in Asian markets for years), the completely new Jeep Gladiator, and the redesigned Ram HD (Heavy Duty) 2500 and 3500, with the winner being the impressive new Gladiator. We’d have to look way back to 1999 in order to find a Jeep that won its category, incidentally, with that model being the Grand Cherokee.

2020 Jeep Gladiator Rubicon
Shown here in Rubicon trim, the Gladiator looks to match the current Wrangler’s impressive interior quality.

“What’s not to like about a pickup truck with not only a soft-top removable roof but even removable doors? If you want massive cargo-hauling capability or the ability to tow 10,000 pounds, buy something else,” said John Voelcker, an experienced automotive journalist. “The eagerly awaited Gladiator is a one-of-a-kind truck, every bit the Jeep its Wrangler sibling is … but with a pickup bed. How could you possibly get more American than that?”

NACTOY is an independent, non-profit organization, for your information, run by elected officers and funded by dues-paying journalist members.

Learn about the 2020 Chevrolet Corvette, 2020 Kia Telluride and 2020 Jeep Gladiator right here on CarCostCanada, where you can access trim, package and individual option pricing, plus rebate information and dealer invoice pricing that could save you thousands during negotiations with your local retailer. Although info about the new Corvette is not available yet, at the time of writing you could get up to $1,000 in additional incentives on the new Kia Telluride, or factory leasing and financing rates from 4.09 percent for the new Jeep Gladiator.

Story credits: Trevor Hofmann 

Photo credits: Chevrolet, Kia and Jeep

Genesis shows off photos of upcoming GV80 luxury SUV

2021 Genesis GV80
The new GV80 is Genesis’ first foray into the world of SUVs, and it’s making a pretty good first impression.

If you were wondering how the fledgling Genesis brand would manage to grow while only offering passenger cars, its new GV80 crossover SUV should certainly appeal more to a luxury market mostly focused on sport utilities.

Genesis, Hyundai Motor Group’s luxury brand, just revealed a few photos of the all-new premium crossover this week, and it certainly grabs attention. It sports a larger, stronger updated version of the Korean brand’s new pentagonal grille, shown first in production trim on the brand’s recently redesigned 2020 G90 luxury sedan, plus it incorporates a number of additional styling elements from that full-size four-door, such as horizontal LED Quad Lamp headlights and wraparound tail lamps, not to mention side vents on the front fenders. The initial design was formed from the GV80 Concept launched at the 2017 New York auto show, but we must say it looks nicer in production trim than the prototype.

2021 Genesis GV80
Is it just us, or do you see some Cadillac in the grille design?

“GV80 allows us to expand our definition of Athletic Elegance design language to a new typology, while retaining sublime proportionality and sophistication of form,” said Luc Donckerwolke, Executive Vice President, Chief Design Officer of Hyundai Motor Group.

Genesis gives its design language the name “Athletic Elegance”, and while this descriptor might sound somewhat generic, the luxury crossover’s overall presence certainly isn’t. Its grille pays some tribute to Cadillac, mind you, only missing the American brand’s big crested-wreath shield at centre. Genesis even names the SUV’s most prominent feature the “Crest Grille” and claims it as a “signature Genesis design element,” but to be fair a lot of brands have tried to adapt a five-sided shape for a grille design, including Acura and Honda. No doubt Genesis would rather we focus on its trademark headlamps, and to that end few will likely argue against any of the GV80’s other styling details or its appearance overall.

2021 Genesis GV80
We really like the new Quad Lamp LED headlights.

“The Quad Lamp, our design signature, introduces an unmistakable visual impression completely unique to Genesis,” said Sang Yup Lee, Senior Vice President, Head of Genesis Design. Like other lighting elements throughout the SUV, the headlights feature a “G-Matrix pattern” that was “inspired by beautiful orchids seen when diamonds are illuminated by light,” stated Genesis in a press release, also mentioning that the GV80’s wheel design was similarly inspired.

Anyone who’s sat in one of Genesis’ new models should have been impressed by its materials quality and refinement, so rest assured the GV80 won’t be the exception. The brand states the new SUV “focuses on the beauty of open space, characteristic of the elegant South Korean architectural aesthetic,” and while this claim might be difficult for some to conceptualize, the new SUV does appear to offer up an elegantly minimalist cabin.

2021 Genesis GV80
The GV80’s side styling is quite sporty.

Once again it shares some inspiration from the new 2020 G90’s interior, but its instrument panel is more traditional thanks to an arcing primary gauge cluster hood and a more conventional tablet-style infotainment display fixed to the top of the dash. The horizontal theme continues, however, with slim air vents that span the entire instrument panel, this hovering atop a downward flowing centre stack featuring an attractive climate control touchscreen. The lower console is almost entirely flush with no shift lever at all, Genesis integrating a “jewel-like” rotating gear selector instead, which provides a more upscale, sophisticated appearance, while open-pore hardwoods, rich leathers and what looks to be genuine aluminum trim embellish the surroundings.

The upcoming GV80 rides on fresh new rear-wheel drive underpinnings and will be available in both rear- and all-wheel drivetrains in the U.S. market, but take note the RWD model probably won’t make it to Canada. If the GV80 comes close to performing like other Genesis models, we should be in for a treat as the Korean brand does an excellent job of balancing performance and comfort.

2021 Genesis GV80
The GV80’s interior looks sensational.

The GV80 is a mid-size utility, sized to go up against the Lexus RX, BMW X5, Mercedes-Benz GLE, Audi Q7, and many others including the new Cadillac XT6. It will come standard with five seats from two rows, but unlike some of its competitors it will be available with three rows for a total of seven passengers, while staying true to the “V” in its GV80 designation, which stands for “versatility”, it should be competitive with respect to passenger space and cargo room.

When it goes on sale later this year, it will expand Genesis’ lineup to four, also including the G70 compact sedan, G80 mid-size sedan, and aforementioned G90 full-size sedan. No doubt the new SUV will strengthen the upstart luxury brand’s sales, therefore giving it a more solid financial stance within its global markets.

Story credits: Trevor Hofmann

Photo credits: Genesis

2019 Lexus RX and RX L 350 and 450h Road Test

2019 Lexus RX 450h F Sport
Even the hybrid can be had with aggressive F Sport trim.

Lexus will refresh its top-selling RX mid-size crossover luxury SUV for 2020, so therefore I rounded up three 2019 examples as a sort of sayonara to the outgoing version. The changes aren’t dramatic, but most of those who’ve lived with this popular model should be happy with everything they’ve done.

Now that I’ve teased your curious mind, the 2020 RX updates include new front and rear fascias, slimmer triple-beam LED headlights and reworked tail lamps with fresh “L” shaped LED elements, new 18- and 20-inch alloy wheels, and promised improvements in driving dynamics thanks to thicker yet lighter stabilizer bars as well as a tauter retuned suspension system designed to benefit handling via new dampers that also enhance ride quality.

2019 Lexus RX 350 L
The long-wheelbase RX L looks like the regular RX in its most basic form, other than the fact it’s longer.

Also new, the addition of active corner braking is said to reduce understeer, while paddle shifters, which are standard across the RX lineup for 2020, should allow for more hands-on engagement. Lexus has also increased standard safety features with daytime bicyclist detection and low-light pedestrian detection as well as Lane Tracing Assist (LTA), while finally the infotainment system has been updated with a new lower console-mounted touchpad controller, and, a first for Lexus, Android Auto smartphone integration has been added to its standard features set.

Despite the 2020 RX being a completely new model, CarCostCanada members can still save up to $2,000 in additional incentives, while those ok forgoing some of the upgrades in order to get a discount can access up to $4,500 in incentives on a 2019. CarCostCanada members are actually saving an average of $2,777 on both 2019 and 2020 models, first by learning about available manufacturer rebates that your local retailer might rather keep for themselves, and then by finding out about a given model’s dealer invoice price before starting the negotiation.

2019 Lexus RX 450h F Sport
The RX doesn’t come up short on styling.

The same four RX models will be available for 2020, which include the RX 350 and RX 450h hybrid, plus the new extended-wheelbase, three-row RX L with either powertrain. The RX continues to represent good value in its class with a base price of just $55,350 for the entry-level 2019 RX 350, while the 2019 RX 450h starts at $64,500, the RX 350 L at $66,250, and lastly the RX 450 L at $77,600. The refreshed 2020 base model’s pricing rises by $700, which isn’t too bad when factoring in all the previously mentioned standard improvements, but interestingly pricing for all other trims have been lowered by $5,700, $7,200, and $1,500 respectively thanks to more affordable decontented packaging. This smart move down market makes the base long-wheelbase and base hybrid models accessible to many more potential buyers.

2019 Lexus RX 350 L
The 2020 RX changes everything you’re looking at here, on all trims.

Of the three 2019 RX models gathered together for this review, the two regular length models came in Lexus’ performance-focused F Sport trim, and the longer model in six-passenger Executive trim. As you might expect, the second row bench seat of this particular example was swapped out for two individual buckets, while the $6,050 upgrade also includes LED illuminated aluminum front scuff plates, premium leather upholstery, a hardwood and leather-wrapped steering wheel, a head-up display, a 15-speaker Mark Levinson surround sound audio system, a wireless device charger, 10-way power-adjustable front seats, power-recline rear seats, rear door sunshades, power-folding rear seats, and a gesture-controlled powered tailgate.

As the name implies, F Sport trim takes a more sporting approach to styling and features, with the former including more aggression in the front grille and fascia design, upgraded LED headlights with cornering capability, sportier 20-inch alloy rims, an adaptive variable air suspension, Vehicle Dynamics Integrated Management (VDIM), unique “F SPORT” branded scuff plates, a mostly digital primary instrument cluster, a sport steering wheel with paddles and a special shift knob, aluminum sport pedals with rubber inserts, performance seats, premium leather upholstery, and more.

2019 Lexus RX 350 F Sport
The RX interior comes close to the best in this class, while offering totally unique styling.

As has long been the case, Lexus offers the RX with both conventional and hybrid electric powertrains, housing a 3.5-litre V6 under the hood in both instances. Interestingly, the regular and long-wheelbase models powered solely by the internal combustion engine (ICE) put out different numbers, with the RX 350 good for 295 horsepower and 268 lb-ft of torque, and the RX 350 L only making 290 horsepower and 263 lb-ft of torque. The RX 450h, on the other hand, makes more power at 308, yet comes up a bit weaker for torque at just 247 lb-ft.

You might not mind that weakness when it comes time to fill up, however, as the RX 450h gets a claimed fuel economy rating of just 7.5 L/100km in the city, 8.4 on the highway and 7.9 combined with its regular wheelbase, or 8.1 city, 8.4 highway and 8.1 combined when extended. The RX 350 and RX 350 L, on the other hand, manage 12.2 L/100km city, 9.0 highway and 10.8 combined in two-row trim, or 13.1, 9.4 and 11.1 respectively with its third row installed.

2019 Lexus RX 350 F Sport
This mostly digital gauge cluster is an upgrade over a rather boring base unit.

Like most all-wheel drive hybrids, the RX 450h powers its front wheels with the ICE and rears via an electric motor, but its 160-kg of added curb weight doesn’t allow its extra power to lend an advantage off the line. The hybrid’s CVT (continuously variable transmission) doesn’t seem to help in this respect either, although it probably doesn’t hamper straight-line acceleration, yet the conventionally powered model’s eight-speed automatic delivers a more engaging driving experience that I prefer, especially when mated up with paddle shifters.

As mentioned, those paddles come as part of the F Sport upgrade, as does a special Sport+ driving mode. It gets added to the base RX model’s Normal, Sport, and Eco drive mode settings, while the hybrid models get an EV mode to eke out better mileage. EV mode only stays engaged at slow parking lot speeds however, so don’t expect to be able to drive it around town unless you’re slowed to a crawl. At the other end of the performance spectrum, I couldn’t feel a lot of difference between Sport to Sport+ modes, other than firmness added via the adaptive variable air suspension, that is.

2019 Lexus RX 350 L
The centre display is high-definition and feature filled.

Ride and handling in mind, the RX’ fully independent MacPherson strut front and double-wishbone rear suspension feels a bit firmer in the F Sport than with more comfort-focused trims all around, while the extended-wheelbase RX L was comfortable without giving up too much when it came to carving corners. Either way the RX is a lot more about comfort than performance, which is why Lexus went to such lengths to reduce noise, vibration and harshness levels by creating a very rigid body structure, being generous with sound insulation, and making sure its powertrains are well refined.

Soft-touch surfaces and leather help to reduce NVH too, yet as good as the RX is when it comes to materials quality it doesn’t quite measure up to the three Germans and sole Swede in this class. Above the waste it’s mostly high-quality pliable composites, glove box lid included, while some surfaces on the dash leather-like with stitching and padding, but surprisingly, just to the left of the steering column, harder plastics prevail, these also found on the lower portions of the dash, centre console (that otherwise has its top edges finished in stitched leatherette) and door panels.

2019 Lexus RX 350 L
This old, clunky infotainment “joystick” is this SUV’s only low point, but it gets replaced with a touchpad for 2020.

Both F Sport trims received stylish metallic inlays across the dash, lower console and upper doors, but I was wowed even further when seeing the extended-wheelbase model’s beautiful hardwood trim. Most was a high-gloss dark hardwood, but every half-inch or so there were thin pieces of lighter hardwood laminated within for a gorgeous double pinstripe appearance. Lexus won’t shortchange you on brushed metal trim either, with some of it appearing authentic and other areas not so much, but interior build quality is generally quite good, including the buttons, knobs, toggles and rocker switches.

2019 Lexus RX 350 F Sport
The F Sport upgrade adds these supportive sport seats, but they don’t include four-way powered lumbar support.

All three RX models appeared to have similarly sporty seat designs, or at least they did at first glance. This may have been due to their contrast-stitched black perforated leather coverings, but upon closer inspection both F Sport models’ seats received a bit more side bolstering, aiding lateral support when pushing harder through curves. While all looked great and were comfortable overall, only the longer 350 L with its Executive package upgrade featured four-way lumbar support. These 10-way powered front seats were therefore very good, but if the two-way powered lumbar in the F Sport models hadn’t met up with the small of my back I would’ve certainly been complaining.

Fortunately the RX has always provided plenty of space front to back, with the second row near limousine-like, but the recently added long-wheelbase RX L isn’t in the same league to most three-row competitors. You’d think after all the years Lexus has been planning to introduce a three-row SUV they’d immediately get it right, but even my five-foot-eight body had trouble fitting in comfortably. Getting in and out is plenty easy due to a second row that slides far enough forward for a large opening, but even after moving the second row as far forward as possible before I’d become uncomfortable if seated there, I still didn’t have enough room for my knees when seated in the third row, whereas my head rubbed up against the roofliner.

2019 Lexus RX 350 L
Our three-row RX L had its second-row bench seat swapped out for these individual buckets.

It’s hard to argue against the RX L’s extra 77 litres of cargo space when all seatbacks are folded flat, mind you, shifting the maximum from 1,657 litres up to 1,580, but I’m guessing the last row adds a bit of height to the RX L’s cargo floor, because space behind its second row is down some 43 litres, from 694 litres in the regular wheelbase model to 651. With all seats in use both six- and seven-passenger RX Ls leave 212 litres of free space in the very back, which is good enough for some small suitcases or a golf bag.

2019 Lexus RX 350 L
The RX 350 L’s third row is good for kids, or really small adults.

Reading over my notes from all three weeklong RX tests, my biggest complaint was clearly the infotainment system. Not the screen up top that’s actually very impressive, but rather the joystick-style controller on the lower console. Lexus replaces this with its newer touchpad control for 2020, so kudos to them for finally modernizing an aging system, but those hoping to buy a 2019 will want to test out both systems before taking the plunge. It’s a functional system, made better by side entry buttons, but it simply feels antiquated in this world of touch-sensitivity. Haptic feedback locks in its various prompts, helping with the user experience, but this will be true of the new touchpad design so I can’t see many sorry for the joystick’s departure. As just noted, the high-definition display hovering above is excellent, while it’s also difficult to find fault with the overall functionality of the infotainment system itself, nor its features and functions, but Android phone users should be reminded that Android Auto smartphone integration won’t be available until next year.

2019 Lexus RX 350 F Sport
Lexus was smart to including a 40/20/40 split-folding rear seatback, making it easy to recommend to busy families.

Digital interfaces in mind, I was surprised to find out that the RX’ uninspiring standard instrument cluster carries forward for 2020. It’s about as basic as analogue gauges get for this class, consisting of a large speedometer and tachometer plus two sub-dials for engine temperature and fuel, centered by a tall, narrow full-colour multi-information display that’s really more like a trip computer. The package looks tired and dated in a vehicle as edgy and modern as the RX, particularly when factoring in that a number of RX challengers now come with standard digital instruments, or at the very least offer them as options. Of course, Lexus provides a mostly digital cluster optionally too, but only with the F Sport. My long-wheelbase RX 350 L tester had the most basic gauge cluster, even when optioned out with the Executive package, at it was priced higher than the RX 350 F Sport. This said, even the upgraded LFA-inspired digital gauges don’t provide the ability to transform most of the cluster into a big map, like Audi’s Q7 and some others, which is a bit of a letdown in this class.

It’s probably not fair to harp to harshly on Lexus’ RX, being that it’s been with us for some time and is only about to go through a mid-cycle refresh. After all, the auto industry moves at an amazingly fast pace when it comes to digital interfaces. What should matter more is everything else the RX does so very well, and the fact that so many Canadians believe it’s the best way to spend their mid-size luxury SUV dollar. Good looking, refined, efficient, luxurious, reliable and priced well, it’s hard to argue against any RX model.

Story and photo credits: Trevor Hofmann

2019 Honda CR-V Touring Road Test

2019 Honda CR-V Touring
The CR-V has been with us for a few years, but its current generation still looks good.

Honda’s CR-V is one of the top-selling sport utilities in Canada, and should do even better next year now that a sportier looking 2020 model is starting to arrive. The mid-cycle update revises its grille and front fascia, the latter including larger lower intakes plus new multiple-lens LED fog lamps in upper trims, which might not be a big deal to those not loyal to the popular model, but will no doubt cause fans to ante up if financing rates stay low.   

There’s a good reason for the diehard loyalty. Truly, few compact crossovers are as wholly good as the CR-V, especially the 2019 Touring example provided to me for a recent weeklong test. I couldn’t begin to count the number of people I’ve recommended the CR-V to. Its build quality is better than average, refinement right at the top, comfort-oriented performance excellent, and practicality top-notch.

I’d say comfort and overall roominess are the CR-V’s strongest attributes. To this end the driver’s seat and steering column offers better adjustability than most in this class, fitting my longer-legged, shorter-torso body almost perfectly, which is not always the case in this class. Its tilt and telescoping steering column extends farther rearward than most others, while my tester’s 12-way power-adjustable driver’s seat provided ample movement for optimal comfort and control. Even better, its four-way powered lumbar support fit the small of my back perfectly, and should do the same for most any body type, with some premium models not even offering such an impressive level of driver’s seat control.

2019 Honda CR-V Touring
The CR-V provides a distinctive look no matter the angle.

That 12-way powered driver’s seat is standard with EX, EX-L and Touring trims, incidentally, these being the upper half of a 2019 CR-V lineup that also includes LX-2WD and LX trims at the lower end. The lack of “2WD” in the other trims’ names isn’t a typo, by the way, but rather designates standard AWD in the rest of the lineup. Pricing for the base model starts at $27,690 plus freight and fees, while the same trim with AWD can be had for $30,490, the EX for $33,990, the EX-L for $36,290, and my Touring tester for $39,090.

Notably, the refreshed 2020 CR-V mentioned earlier starts $1,000 higher in base trim thanks to standard Honda Sensing, which means the base FWD model not only includes forward collision warning like it did last year, but also gets autonomous collision mitigation braking, lane departure warning with lane keeping assist and road departure mitigation, auto high beams, plus adaptive cruise control with low-speed follow.

The 2020 CR-V will also replace this year’s EX with new Sport trim that’s also priced $1,000 higher, while Honda increases the EX-L’s retail price by $1,500 plus adds $2,000 to this Touring trim next year. Last but not least, Honda pushes the new CR-V slightly upmarket with a $42,590 Black Edition that darkens much of the exterior trim and adds a set of black-painted alloy wheels. This model only comes painted in Crystal Black Pearl or $300 optional Platinum White Pearl, both of which look quite attractive.

2019 Honda CR-V Touring
Top-line Touring trim includes LED headlights, fog lamps, and these stylish 18-inch alloys.

Being that Honda should have no problem selling all the 2019 CR-Vs currently in stock (and yes, there were still some available at the time of writing), the company isn’t dumping piles of cash on the hood to get rid of them (that would be the Pilot that you can get up to $4,000 in additional incentives right now, whether buying a 2019 or even a 2020). As it is, the additional incentives go up to $1,000 with both the 2019 and 2020 CR-V right now, as per the 2019 Honda CR-V Canada Prices page and 2020 Honda CR-V Canada Prices page right here at CarCostCanada, where you can also learn details about trim, package and individual option pricing, manufacturer rebate info, and dealer invoice pricing that will likely save you even more. CarCostCanada members are currently saving an average of $1,869 on 2019 and 2020 CR-Vs, so keep this in mind before heading off to your local CR-V dealer.

I can’t yet speak for the new 2020 CR-V, but my 2019 Touring model continues to be one of the most refined compact SUVs available from a mainstream volume producer. Its front door uppers and dash top were covered in nice premium-level pliable composites, but the former surfaces go a step further thanks to a particularly upscale feeling stitched leather-like material. The same is found on the instrument panel’s facing, made even nicer with a strip of gloss-black inlay running horizontally down the middle. At least as attractive, my Touring model’s faux hardwood trim features a stylish matte finish that looks quite realistic and feels denser than most others in the class that attempt hardwood, except Mazda’s CX-5 Signature that uses real Abachi wood veneers.

2019 Honda CR-V Touring
These unique taillights stand out from a distance.

If I had to point to a competitive product that did a better job of mimicking premium than the CR-V Touring, it would be that CX-5 Signature. The genuine hardwood suits up with fabric-clad A-pillars as well as pliable composite door uppers in back, whereas its rear seats flip down in the optimal 40/20/40 split-folding setup. Like the CR-V, those rear seatbacks lower automatically via cargo sidewall levers, but I like Mazda’s efficient two-in-one release levers best. The CR-V is also hampered by its less than ideal 60/40-split rear seatbacks that aren’t anywhere near as accommodating for active lifestyle folks needing to carry longer items like skis down the middle. This allows rear passengers to benefit from the comfier outboard seats next to the window, and when seat warmers are added in back it make for less grumbling from the kids when both can enjoy a toasty hot seat after a cold day on the slopes.

The CR-V does include a handy adjustable cargo floor that moves up and down about three inches to either allow for taller stuff when lowered, or a rear floor section that meets up with the rear seatbacks when laid flat. When doing so the CR-V’s cargo volume expands from 1,110 litres behind the rear seatbacks to 2,146 litres, compared to just 875 and 1,687 litres respectively for the CX-5. By the way, this segment’s best-selling Toyota RAV4 is fairly large for the class too, but doesn’t quite measure up to the CR-V. 

As far as space goes elsewhere in the CR-V, front and rear passengers have a lot to go around. I’ve covered the driver’s setup already, so suffice to say the front passenger, which gets four-way power adjustment in upper trims and four-way manual in lower trims (the LX driver’s seat is six-way manual), should be amply comfortable and have more than enough room to move around in.

2019 Honda CR-V Touring
The CR-V Touring’s cabin is one of the most refined and well made in its segment.

As for rear passengers, I sat directly behind the driver’s seat when it was set up for my body type (my hips are about as high as the average six-footer despite being five-foot-eight, so seat placement is approximately the same), which resulted in approximately 10 inches of space ahead of my knees, plus enough room to almost totally stretch out my legs with both feet under the front seat. Additionally, I had ample headroom and good movement from side-to-side, even when flipping the wide centre armrest down, while I also found the outboard positions provided comfortable lower lumbar support. The switches for my tester’s heated rear outboard seats were smartly positioned on the door panels ahead of the armrests, right behind those for the power windows.

What’s more, a couple of charged USB-A ports are fitted to the rear panel of the front console, while dual cupholders are included within the aforementioned centre armrest, and bottle holders can be found in the lower rear door panels. If Honda had added soft, pliable rear door uppers along with 40/20/40-split rear seatbacks, or at least a centre pass-through, it would rival the CX-5 for best-in-class luxury and refinement.

Back in the driver’s seat, the CR-V Touring model’s steering wheel includes a comfortably shaped, leather-clad rim that can be warmed by pressing a button on the left spoke, while the switchgear on both spokes is better than average in quality and functionality.

2019 Honda CR-V Touring
The CR-V’s cockpit is comfortable and very well laid out for very good ergonomics.

The CR-V’s digital gauge package remains very good for this class, although appearing like a large multi-information display surrounded by analogue temperature and fuel readouts means that it’s not as impressive as the Volkswagen Tiguan’s optional fully digital instrument cluster. Still it functions well and is easy to read, but won’t let you double navigation mapping and route guidance info directly in front of the driver, or most other infotainment features.

The 7.0-inch high-resolution touchscreen on top of the centre stack looks a lot larger than it actually is when the CR-V is turned off, this because of how seamlessly Honda integrated it within its gloss-black surrounding surface. Other than a power/volume knob on the bottom left corner, the interface is purely touch-sensitive, and like a personal tablet or smartphone can be controlled via tap, swipe and pinch finger gestures.

As noted in passing earlier, this top-line model included a navigation system, which had very accurate route guidance. The maps are attractive and well laid out, as are the system’s other graphics, which nice, bright colours and deep contrast, while it was easy to use, responded quickly to input, and even included a decent audio system, complete with satellite radio, USB inputs, Bluetooth streaming, and more. Smartphones can be connected via Android Auto or Apple CarPlay integration, and the rearview camera utilized active guidelines, these strangely not included with the CX-5 I lauded earlier in this review.

2019 Honda CR-V Touring
The CR-V’s standard instrument cluster is mostly digital.

Getting an overhead sunglasses holder is nothing new, yet still much appreciated (as long as I remember to remove my sunglasses before returning a press car… I’ve lost at least half a dozen great pairs of sunglasses that way), but Honda goes a step further by including a built-in rear passenger conversation mirror, something not normally seen outside of minivan and mid-size crossover SUV interiors.

By this I’m not trying to align the CR-V with a minivan (although I’m not sure if the little utility could out-handle an Odyssey through the slalom), but it was clearly designed for comfort over out-and-out performance. It gets one, single engine, a turbocharged 1.5-litre four-cylinder with 190 horsepower and 179 lb-ft of torque. It’s plenty powerful for this segment, moving the CR-V off the line quickly enough, quite capable of passing slower moving traffic safely under most conditions, and ideal for high-speed cruising down life’s highways, but it doesn’t offer as much output as the RAV4, which comes standard with 203 horsepower and 184 lb-ft of torque, and is much less formidable than the top-tier Ford Escape’s 245 horsepower and 275 lb-ft of torque (although the entry-level Escape can only put out a maximum of 168 horsepower and 170 lb-ft of torque).

2019 Honda CR-V Touring
The touchscreen infotainment system is excellent.

The CR-V’s CVT (continuously variable transmission) offers similar middle-of-road appeal, as it’s a wonderfully smooth operator that only sips away at fuel, but it’s wholly un-sporty. By comparison the RAV4’s eight-speed automatic delivers a more classic automatic feel while achieving more or less the same fuel economy benefits, but just like the CR-V it doesn’t come with a set of steering wheel-mounted paddles to make the most of its sporting potential, whereas top-line trims of Mazda’s CX-5 do include paddle shifters and provide much sportier experiences overall, but Mazda’s six-speed automatic certainly isn’t earning any points for fuel economy or much pop to help the marketing department (a six-speed automatic sounds so passé these days). By comparison, top-tier versions of Ford’s new 2020 Escape should achieve the best performance of all for combining steering wheel paddles with a new eight-speed automatic, plus even stronger power than just mentioned.

Of the four compact crossover SUVs mentioned in this review so far, the CR-V is most efficient in all-important urban tests, plus it’s best when powered by all wheels. Transport Canada gives it an estimated fuel economy rating of 8.4 L/100km in the city, 7.0 on the highway and 7.8 combined when outfitted with FWD, or 8.7 city, 7.2 highway and 8.0 combined with AWD. The RAV4 with FWD slightly improves on the FWD CR-V’s highway number, but not so in the city where most of us drive more often, with a claimed rating of 8.8 city, 6.7 highway and 7.8 combined, while the same crossover with AWD gets a 9.2, 7.1 and 8.3 rating respectively. It wouldn’t be fair for me to omit the RAV4 Hybrid’s fuel economy numbers at this junction, which are easily best in the segment at 5.8 L/100km in the city, 6.3 on the highway and 6.0 combined, this even improving on the CX-5’s 8.9 city, 7.9 highway and 8.4 combined rating for its most efficient diesel powertrain.

2019 Honda CR-V Touring
These are two of the most comfortable front seats in the compact class.

The CX-5’s other fuel economy numbers range from 8.5 to 8.8 combined with FWD or 9.0 to 9.8 with AWD, whereas the Escape is thirstiest amongst this group of best-sellers with combined city/highway ratings of 9.1 with FWD, 9.9 for the AWD version, and 10.2 L/100km for the more potent model.

While we can blame the CR-V’s CVT autobox for its lacklustre performance characteristics, it clearly helps with fuel-efficiency, but CVTs are also often criticized for allowing the engine to rev higher than it normally would with a conventional automatic when pushing hard. To this end the CR-V can be noisy when engine revs climb due to an annoying droning effect during more aggressive acceleration or when passing on the highway, although you shouldn’t experience any aural discomfort when accelerating smoothly and maintaining moderate highway speeds.

This said, despite the RAV4 using a conventional automatic, its cabin is much louder than the CR-V’s overall. In fact, I can’t remember experiencing a louder vehicle in this class or any other, but before Honda lets its pride swell they should stuff a little more sound-deadening insulation ahead of the CR-V’s front firewall, as there’s still too much engine noise seeping into its cabin.

2019 Honda CR-V Touring
The rear seating area is very roomy, and the back seats are comfortable and supportive too.

Being comfortable is what matters in this segment after all, and fulfilling this requirement is some of the best ride quality in the class. The CR-V handles fairly well too, unless pushed too hard through fast corners, but when kept to reasonable speeds its fully independent front MacPherson strut and rear multi-link suspension manages very well, not even getting unsettled in back when rolling over deep ruts or big bumps. I found it especially good at negotiating city traffic, but was equally happy with its overall comfort while cruising down the freeway, but head into a curve too quickly and its entire body will lean uncomfortably, so be forewarned.

On that note, performance hounds that still need a modicum of practicality will probably want to take a look at Mazda’s CX-5, which puts out considerably better at high speeds yet still delivers a good ride, in spite of my 2019 tester rolling on 19-inch wheels compared to the CR-V Touring trim’s 18-inch rims. Nevertheless, as much as this type of performance banter might matter to automotive pundits and many of those who read them, all that matters to Honda is the number of CR-V loyalists that come back to purchase another one every three to four years, meaning that the CX-5 might win on the track, but the CR-V wins where it counts most, on the sales charts.

When it’s all said and done, this 2019 CR-V Touring was just as a comfortable and wholly practical as the 2018 CR-V Touring I drove last year (the review of which does a much better job of covering all standard and optional features, which haven’t changed). It’s a family conveyance that I’ll continue to recommend to those who prefer comfort above performance, plus I haven’t heard too many complaints about reliability either, so it’s always nice to listen to crickets instead of comments like, “You told me I should buy this car!”

2019 Honda CR-V Touring
The CR-V only has 60/40 split-folding rear seatbacks, but it’s really accommodating for cargo.

I’m willing to guess that if the CR-V weren’t so dependable it wouldn’t hold its resale value better than any competitor, which it does by the way. It earned the top position amongst car-based compact crossovers in the Canadian Black Book’s 2019 Best Retained Value Awards, took the top spot in its “Compact Utility” segment in ALG’s 2019 Residual Value Awards, plus ruled over its “Compact SUV/Crossover” category in Vincentric’s 2019 Best Value in Canada Awards, which is more of an overall value study, but nevertheless worthy of mention.

In the end, you could do a lot worse than choose one of the most awarded, highest recommended vehicles in its class, which is why Honda’s CR-V remains a leader in its highly contested compact SUV segment.

Story and photo credits: Trevor Hofmann

2019 Volvo XC90 T6 AWD Inscription Road Test

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Story credit: Trevor Hofmann

Photo credits: Karen Tuggay

2019 Lincoln MKC 2.3L EcoBoost AWD Reserve Road Test

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Story and photo credits: Trevor Hofmann

2019 Buick Encore Essence AWD Road Test

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Story and photo credits: Trevor Hofmann

2019 BMW X1 xDrive28i Road Test

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Story credit: Trevor Hofmann