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.
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.
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.
“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.
“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.
“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.
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.
“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.
“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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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!”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
Everyone has been expecting an ultra-luxe SUV from Aston Martin for years, and thankfully the production-trim 2021 DBX that was introduced at the LA and Guangzhou auto shows last week (after a private showing during the 2019 US F1 GP earlier in November) is a lot more attractive than the luxury brand’s Lagonda Concept that caused much controversy at the Geneva auto show way back in 2009.
To be totally fair, Dr. Ulrich Bez and his design team were quite ahead of their time with that early luxury crossover SUV concept, and looking back its squarish front design and sharply angled LED headlights would have stood the test of time fairly well, but the mid-‘30s-era Lagonda de Ville Saloon-like upright opera-style rear window and similarly retrospective curved notchback trunk would never have won over many would-be buyers, whereas today’s Chief Operating Officer, Andy Palmer, and his updated design team (with Herr Bez still acting as non-executive chairman) made certain that this new DBX would be attractive from nose to tail.
The DBX’ rear three-quarter vantage point might possibly its best angle, in fact, while the frontal design may actually offer up a more classic Aston Martin appearance than any other model currently available, or at least it’s more traditional than the futuristic Vantage and wildly exotic Valkyrie supercar. This said, Aston turned to the new Vantage for the DBX’ body-width LED taillight design, which outlines the new SUV’s shapely tailgate, while its front end looks more like the beautiful new DB11. All in all, most premium crossover SUV buyers should find the new DBX alluring.
DBX’ development took an investment of five years, but despite all the effort there’s no electrified option being offered initially. An “E” version, based on the Rapide E powertrain, is probably on the way, and was the stated power unit used for the original 2015 Aston Martin DBX Concept coupe, as well as the sensational 2019 Lagonda All-Terrain Concept that showed up at the Geneva auto show in March of this year (this SUV heavily inspired by the Lagonda Vision Concept launched the year before), the former a raised, muscled up two-door coupe that shows no resemblance to today’s production DBX, and the latter a super-sleek crossover that may have people asking whether or not Aston is thinking about Lagonda becoming its dedicated electric sub-brand, just like how Volvo is positioning its new Polestar brand, but nevertheless the street-ready DBX gets a more formidable version of the AMG 4.0-litre twin-turbocharged V8 found in the previously noted Vantage and DB11.
It makes a sizeable 542 horsepower and 516 pound-feet of torque in DBX trim, which is 39 more hp and 11 lb-ft of added torque over both sports cars, but its greater size and mass make it slightly slower off the line at 4.5 seconds from zero to 100km/h, compared to a respective 3.6 and 4.2 seconds for the two-seat Vantage and larger 2+2 DB11, while its terminal velocity is 291 km/h (181 mph) compared 314 km/h (195 mph) and 322 km/h (200 mph) respectively, which is still plenty good for a five-seat sport utility.
Aston Martin incorporates a nine-speed automatic for putting all that power down to the wheels, this gearbox up one cog over both Vantage and DB11 models, while its standard Pirelli P Zeros (and available Pirelli Scorpion Zeros or Scorpion Winters) grip pavement (or gravel, sand, mud and snow) through a standard all-wheel drive system that apportions twist via electronically controlled centre and rear differentials, defaulting from a 47/53 torque-split to nearly 100 percent powering the back wheels. The rear differential combines with brake-based torque vectoring in order to improve high-speed road-holding, while hill descent control helps with steep grades, plus 16-inch rotors binding six-piston front calipers manage stopping power, critically important for this 2,241-kg (4,940-pound) SUV.
While 2,241 kilos (4,940 pounds) might seem pretty hefty for an Aston, it’s not all that much for a mid-size five-passenger luxury SUV, Aston choosing to use its long history of producing aluminum bodied cars to create the DBX’ completely new bonded aluminum platform architecture. Keeping it horizontal to the road when pushed hard around corners is an adaptive air suspension that’s supported by a 48-volt anti-roll system, all of which is improved upon by six drive settings that include Sport and Sport+ modes, while its standard 198 mm (7.8 inches) of ground clearance can be raised by 46 mm (1.8 inches) when the need to overcome off-road obstacles arises, this scenario aided by Terrain and Terrain+ driving modes. Speaking of going off-road, the new DBX is capable of wading through 500 mm (19.7 inches) of water too.
The suspension can be lowered by about two inches as well, this allowing an easier lift height when loading to its 631-litre (22.3 cubic-foot) cargo compartment, which incidentally can be expanded to 1,529 litres (54 cubic feet) by lowering its 40/20/40-split rear seatbacks, making the new DBX the most practical vehicle ever offered by Aston Martin.
While comfortably seating five and their gear, Aston hasn’t forgotten about pampering those occupants and even their pets. The automaker’s artisans take 200 hours per vehicle to stitch the gorgeous Bridge of Weir leather together, and just a single glance shows its handmade attention to detail. Aston carved out the backsides of the front seats to increase second-row knee room, just like it did with the DB11, while they smartly provided a third seatbelt in the middle of the bench seat.
Of interest, the launch of the DBX is accompanied by loads of accessories, some less significant in size, such as a leather key pouch, a leather umbrella strap, and a leather centre console organizer, with others quite a bit larger such as the “Halo” upgrades that include an event seating package (that adds a rear-facing third row for tailgate parties), a leather upholstered hamper, and a leather-covered field sports cabinet.
Additional DBX accessories include special form-fitting saddle bags that attach to the folding second-row centre armrest, rear outboard “comfort” leather headrest pads, a branded leather child safety seat, a warming ski boot bag, adjustable roof rail cross-members, lockable roof-mounted storage, top-mounted and rear-mounted bike racks, a leather and cloth flip-out rear bumper protector (designed to stop dogs nails from scratching the rear bumper when jumping aboard), a dog/cargo partition, a dog wash system (complete with a hose), and a roll-up leather and grey cloth doggy bed.
A shortlist of standard features includes 22-inch alloys, frameless windows, individual armrests for front occupants, ambient lighting with 64 different colours, and a big panoramic glass sunroof, while if you’re worried about Aston’s beautiful handiwork getting faded from too much overhead light, a powered sunshade can block out mother nature, this available in Alcantara to match an equally suede-like headliner.
Top-grade leathers and Alcantara microsuede aren’t unusual in an ultra-luxury vehicle, let alone plenty of SUVs from lesser brands, but Aston Martin provides myriad alternative interior options too, like the DBX’ 20-percent synthetic and 80-percent Australian lambs wool upholstery, which the British brand says is a “luxurious felt-like fabric.”
Other alternatives include leather upholstery brogue detailing, quilting, perforations and colour splits, plus many veneer options. If you’d like something even more unique, Aston’s “Q” customizing shop will design an SUV that would make 007 proud (the DBX will soon make an appearance as James’ family car in the 25th Bond film, “No Time To Die”).
On a more pragmatic note, the DBX comes standard with a 12.3-inch high-definition digital gauge cluster, while the centre display is an equally bright and clear 10.25-inch screen. Aston chose to attach the new infotainment system directly to the centre stack instead of standing it upright atop the dash, like so many competitors do these days. As for features, the interface only offers Apple CarPlay, so Android smartphone users will be force to rely on the standard layout, but a surround parking camera system will enhance the DBX’ safety, as will adaptive cruise control, autonomous emergency braking, lane departure warning, lane keep assist, etcetera.
Of course, the DBX won’t be for everyone due to pricing alone, its $218,400 CAD MSRP making sure of that. This said it’s exactly where it needs to be, i.e. unavailable to the masses yet right in the middle of its ultra-premium rivals. The DBX’ entry price is probably closest to the $240,569 Lamborghini Urus, a similarly sized SUV as well, but the Italian stallion’s standard 641-hp V12 means that standstill to 100 km/h takes a mere 3.6 seconds to complete, while its top speed is an astonishing (for an SUV) 305 km/h (190 mph).
Alternatively, the V8-powered Bentley Bentayga, which is “only” $176,800 in base form, can manage 100 km/h in just 4.5 seconds, which is exactly the same time as the DBX, plus it tops out just one kilometre per hour below the Aston’s 291 km/h (181 mph) top speed, while it seats two additional passengers in its third row and can manage more cargo. The Bentayga can also be had with a 600-horsepower 12-cylinder, this $241,900 utility capable of sprinting from zero to 100 km/h in only 4.1 seconds before reaching a 301-km/h (187-mph) terminal velocity.
Those curious about the new $370,500 Rolls-Royce Cullinan need to realize that its hefty weight gets in the way of its 563 horsepower V12’s performance, thus causing a 100 km/h sprint of (yawn) 5.2 seconds, whereas its top speed is limited to a less breathtaking 250 km/h (155 mph).
At the other end of the pricing spectrum is the somewhat less prestigious Maserati Levante at just $95,500, but its $138,500, 550-hp V8 GTS version is almost perfectly aligned with the DBX in both size and speed, managing standstill to 100 km/h in only 4.2 seconds and an almost identical terminal velocity of 292 km/h (181 mph), plus Maserati also offers its even more potent GTS Trofeo that starts at $187,500 and achieves the same two feats in just 3.9 seconds and 304 km/h (189 mph) respectively.
All this said there are a number of less expensive and less prestigious SUVs that can match the DBX in straight-line performance and potentially in the corners, but as painstakingly detailed in this preview already, there’s a great deal more than performance making this new Aston Martin special.
For starters, the first 500 DBX clients will get a special “1913 Package” commemorating 106 years of Aston Martin history. It features special front fender badges, branded sill plates, and an inspection plaque inside that summarizes its limited-build run, while each of these SUVs will be personally inspected and endorsed by the company’s previously noted CEO, Andy Palmer. In addition, Palmer and DBX Chief Creative Officer Marek Reichman will sign an exclusive build book, while all of these special upgrades finalize with an invitation to a cocktail party celebration at the Waldorf Astoria, London, attended by an Aston Martin Lagonda executive team member.
The 2021 DBX will be assembled at Aston Martin’s new Saint Athan, Wales production facility, with deliveries starting in the latter half of 2020. While waiting for yours to arrive, enjoy the many Aston Martin-supplied videos below:
Aston Martin DBX: Behind The Scenes – Daisy Zhou (0:59):
Subaru has long provided a nicely balanced lineup of performance-oriented yet practical cars and crossover SUVs, with the Outback not only typifying this ideal, but together with the smaller compact Crosstrek it actually bridges the gap between family wagon and sport utility.
The Outback’s best of both world’s design means that it’s always been a strong seller for Subaru, but I think it would do even better if more mid-size crossover SUV buyers knew just how roomy it is inside. Despite its lower overall height, the Outback’s 1,005 litres (35.5 cubic feet) of dedicated cargo capacity and 2,075 litres (73.3 cubic feet) of space when the rear row is flattened is much more capable of swallowing up gear than Nissan’s Murano and Chevy’s new Blazer, while it’s on par with Ford’s Edge, Hyundai’s Santa Fe, and even Jeep’s off-road dominating Grand Cherokee.
Subaru could make it even more accommodating if they’d offer a second-row centre pass-through, mind you, or better yet 40/20/40 split-folding rear seatbacks like some premium European brands, but the Outback does include a convenient set of cargo wall-mounted levers for laying its 60/40-split seats flat automatically, while a nice retractable cargo cover and rugged available cargo mat make it a perfect companion for the majority of family hauling duties such as carting four individuals plus their ski/snowboard gear up to the slopes.
That’s when you’ll be glad for the Outback’s standard all-wheel drive, and that it’s not just any AWD system. Subaru’s Symmetrical AWD is well respected for providing an even distribution of torque to each wheel and more even weight distribution overall, not to mention a lower centre of gravity due to its lineup of horizontally opposed “boxer” engines. I’ve been test driving Outbacks since I started covering the automotive industry two decades ago, and I even spent a week in a near identical (other than colour) 2018 Outback 3.6R Limited last year, so I’ve experienced how well its AWD system works in tandem with its standard electronic traction and stability control systems to deliver go-near-anywhere capability in almost any weather condition.
Of course, the Outback is capable of climbing out of much deeper snow than the mere wisp of white surrounding our test vehicle, with many of my weeklong tests including stints up the mountain trudging through thickly blanketed snow sport parking lots and a number of trips up country to visit family, where its family of flat four- and six-cylinder engines always provided strong highway performance and enough torque to dig the car out of deep snow banks.
Back to the here and now, Subaru gave the Outback a mid-cycle update for the 2018 model year, while the Japanese brand is smack dab in the middle of launching its fully redesigned 2020 model as this review gets published, so if you decide to drive on down to your local Subie retailer you’ll probably see the latest version parked in their showroom and a smattering of new 2019s outside on the lot, the latter cars no doubt reduced in price to find homes quickly.
CarCostCanada was reporting up to $3,000 in additional incentives for 2019 Outbacks at the time of writing, while you’ll also find trim, package and option prices there, as well as rebate information and even dealer invoice pricing that could save you thousands when you sit down to negotiate, therefore you really should consider a 2019 unless you really want the updated version.
Choosing the new replacement Outback or soon to be replaced model shouldn’t solely be up to finances, unless budget limitations demand, but I still don’t see most buyers of the 2020 version sold merely on styling. After all, while they’re obviously different when seen side-by-side, the updated model is no radical departure. In fact, I’d say it’s actually less rugged looking at a time when most car-based crossover SUVs are working overtime to pretend otherwise.
Inside, it gets the mainstream volume sector’s largest centre touchscreen at 11.6 inches, positioned vertically instead of horizontal, as with this 2019 model’s still amply sized 8.0-inch touchscreen. I won’t go into too much detail about the 2020 model, being that I haven’t tested one yet, but suffice to say the new centre display could very well make moving into the latest Outback worthwhile all on its own.
Then again, I could see someone choosing a 2019 Outback just to acquire my test model’s wonderful 3.6-litre six-cylinder engine, which is sadly on its way out of the entire Subaru lineup. It has recently only been available in upper-crust Outbacks and top-tier versions of the brand’s Legacy mid-size sedan, but the advent of Subaru’s new Ascent mid-size three-row crossover SUV last year, and its lack of H6 power, initially signified an uncertain end to six-cylinder performance within blue-oval, silver star products, and now the 2020 Legacy and Outback have confirmed such.
Looking back, Subaru’s flat-six came into being as an option for the 1988–1991 XT (Alcyone VX) sports coupe, and was based on the brand’s four-cylinder of the time. It was upgraded for that model’s successor, the 1991–1996 SVX (Alcyone), a car I tested and was thoroughly impressed by way back in ’94. Next came the EZ30, which was a complete engine redesign notably nearly as compact as the EJ25 four-cylinder of the era, the smaller 3.0-litre version being optional in Legacy/Outback models from 2002/2001-2008/2009, and the almost identically sized yet more formidable 3.6-litre EZ36 available optionally for respective 2009 and 2010 models. Both versions of the EZ were used for the new Ascent’s three-row crossover SUV predecessor, incidentally, the 2006-2007 Tribeca integrating the smaller version and 2008-2014 versions using the bigger engine.
As it is, 2019 Outback engines include a base 2.5-litre four-cylinder good for 175 horsepower and 174 lb-ft of torque, plus the 3.6-litre H6 I’ve already talked about a length, except for output figures that measure up to 256 horsepower and 247 lb-ft of torque. For 2020, the entry-level 2.5i gets a total overhaul including 90 percent of its components replaced for 6 more horsepower and 2 lb-ft of additional torque, which now equal 182 horsepower and 176 lb-ft of torque, while the aforementioned Ascent’s new 2.4-litre turbocharged four-cylinder engine is optional as is its impressive 260 horsepower and 277 lb-ft of torque, which equals a small increase of 4 horsepower yet a robust 30 lb-ft of added torque over the old six-cylinder engine.
As you might expect, the updated 2020 engines are more efficient than their predecessors too, with the current 2019 Outback 2.5i achieving an estimated 9.4 L/100km city, 7.3 highway and 8.5 combined compared to 9.0, 7.1 and 8.0 for the new 2020 base engine, which is an obvious gain, while the 2019 Outback 3.6R manages a claimed 12.0 L/100km city, 8.7 highway and 10.5 combined rating compared to a much thriftier 10.1, 7.9 and 9.0 respectively for the new turbo-four. While Subaru certainly deserves credit for delivering such major gains in both efficiency and performance, I’ll miss the six-cylinder’s smooth, refined operation and throatier growl at higher revs.
The brand’s High-Torque Lineartronic CVT (continuously variable transmission) is smooth too, and thanks to its ability to shift through its eight forward “gears” just like a conventional automatic, even via steering wheel paddle shifters, it’s relatively sporty as well. Then again, when revs climb higher it’s not quite as convincing as a sport model, which meant I didn’t end up using those paddles as much as I would normally have.
Either way the Outback 3.6R is no slouch off the line and fully capable of passing slower traffic on the freeway or better yet, a winding two-lane highway, and to that end it’s a pretty good handler too, even when pushed through tight curves at high speeds, but this said it’s no WRX STI. Of course, few vehicles can keep up to Subaru’s most famous performance model, let alone tall wagons primarily designed for comforting their occupants. Its comfort-oriented attitude is why I left the Outback’s super-smooth transmission is Drive and just enjoyed the ride more often than not. Its suspension is wonderfully compliant, making it perfect for managing rough backcountry roads and trips to the ski hill, plus of course overcoming some of the worst trails anywhere, those dreaded inner-city lanes.
If I were to claim Subaru’s standard full-time symmetrical all-wheel drive as the best AWD system in the mainstream industry I wouldn’t be alone, especially when factoring in “X-MODE” that controls the engine’s output, the transmission’s shift points, the AWD system’s torque-split, plus the braking and hill descent control systems so as to overachieve when off the beaten path. Obviously the Outback won’t walk away from a Jeep Wrangler on a level 8 or 9 trail (it wouldn’t even make it five feet on a level 8 or 9 trail), but its highly advanced AWD system and better than average 220 mm (8.7 inches) of ground clearance give it an advantage over most car-based crossover competitors when the going get tough.
I’m sure you can imagine that I’m intrigued by the new 2020 Outback and want to get behind the wheel, something I’ll be doing next week. Of course, its bigger centre touchscreen will be impressive, and I’m guessing Subaru will make improvements in refinement as well. Nevertheless it’ll need to be particularly good to beat the current model’s near premium details, such as fabric-wrapped A-pillars, soft synthetic dash-top and instrument panel that’s contrast-stitched and continues all the way down each side of the centre stack, padded door uppers, inserts and armrests front to back, and its leather upholstery with contrast stitching in my near top-line Limited tester.
The Outback Limited’s leather-clad steering wheel looks and feels great, the latter thanks to ideally shaped thumb spats. The comprehensive switchgear on the 9 and 3 o’clock spokes are high-quality too, while all of the interior’s buttons, knobs and switches are good, with the audio and two-zone auto HVAC dials on the centre stack especially so.
Some of Subaru’s biggest gains in recent years have been in the electronics department, with this 2019 Outback not as mind-blowing as the 2020 model, but still on par with rivals. Both 2019 and 2020 models utilize relatively conventional primary gauge clusters sporting a circular analogue tachometer and speedometer to the sides of a tall, vertical multi-information display (MID), but the 2020 car waves goodbye to the sportier dual-binnacle motorbike-like gauge design now in use, for a much more conventional look that I find a tad disappointing when focused on base trims, but this said the 2019 model’s 5.0-inch optional MID can now be upgraded to a full 12.3-inch digital instrument cluster in the 2020 car.
What this means for those interested in the outgoing 2019 Outback, particularly in Limited and Premier trims, is a gauge cluster that’s hardly more exciting than what you’ll find in more basic 2.5i, Convenience and Touring models, but the base 3.5-inch MID gets replaced by a significantly better colour 5.0-inch version when EyeSight gets added to the mix (I’ll talk about EyeSight shortly), but turn your eyes to the centre stack and it’s a completely different story.
The most basic 2020 Outbacks start off with a 7.0-inch touchscreen, which is an upgrade from the 2019 model’s 6.5-inch centre monitor, while the top-line 2019 model gets a reasonably large 8.0-inch touchscreen, as noted earlier. I can understand you may have seen something even more impressive if you’ve just stepped out of the updated Outback or something premium from Germany, but my tester’s infotainment interface was still well laid out and plenty attractive due to lots of gloss black surfacing around the touchscreen so that it all blends nicely together as if it’s one oversized display, while the background graphics offer up Subaru’s trademark starlit blue night sky and bright, colourful smartphone/tablet-style candy drop buttons for choosing functions.
The backup camera is very good, helped along by active guidelines, while features include Android Auto, Apple CarPlay and Subaru’s own StarLink smartphone integration. Of course, the usual AM/FM/CD/MP3/WMA audio sources can be found too, plus satellite and Aha radio, USB and aux ports, SiriusXM advanced audio services, SiriusXM Travel Link, and Bluetooth with audio streaming. It all gets funneled through four speakers in lower trims and six speakers in Touring trims and above, while the latter also includes the aforementioned 1.5-inch larger touchscreen and a second USB port.
Being that you won’t be able to factory order a 2019 Outback, I won’t delve into all the trim line details, but some as yet mentioned features found in my Limited trimmed test model include 18-inch alloy wheels, auto on/off LED headlights with steering-responsive capability, fog lights, welcome and approach lights, proximity keyless access, pushbutton ignition, brushed aluminum front doorsill protectors, authentic looking matte woodgrain and silver metallic interior accents, auto-dimming side and centre mirrors, a heated steering wheel rim, three-way heatable front seats, a navigation/route guidance system, dynamic cruise control, a 10-way powered driver’s seat with power lumbar and two-way memory, a four-way power front passenger’s seat, a universal garage door opener, a great sounding 12-speaker, 576-watt Harman/Kardon audio system, a power glass sunroof, two-way heated rear outboard seats, a power rear tailgate, plus more.
Those EyeSight advanced driver assistance systems mentioned earlier include pre-collision braking, pre-collision brake assistance, pre-collision throttle management, lane departure warning, lane sway warning, lane keep assist, lead vehicle start alert, reverse automatic braking, adaptive cruise control, and auto high beams.
My as-tested Limited 3.6R with the EyeSight tester can be had for $41,395 plus freight and fees, which is $1,500 more than the Limited 3.6R with no EyeSight, while that model is also $3,000 more than Limited trim with the four-cylinder powerplant. A base Outback 2.5i can be purchased for just $29,295, incidentally, while additional 2019 trims include the $32,795 Touring 2.5i and $39,295 Premier 2.5i, the latter trim coming standard with EyeSight. You can upgrade Touring trim with the Eyesight package and engine upgrade, but, no-cost colour choices aside, the flat-six is the only available option with Premier trim.
The 2019 Outback’s retail price ranges from $29,295 to $42,295, but take note that up to $3,000 in additional incentives were available at the time of writing, so be sure to check out our 2019 Subaru Outback page for all the details, plus pricing, rebate, and dealer invoice pricing that could save you thousands.
As I explained when starting this review, the Outback can manage mid-size SUV-levels of cargo, so as you might expect there’s also ample space for adult passengers in both rows of seats. It’s comfortable too, the front seats ideally shaped for optimal support, particularly at the lower lumbar region, while the side bolsters also support well laterally. The rear seating area is amply large as well, particularly with respect to headroom.
Also important, the rear compartment is just as refined as the front. Along with surface treatments and other details finished nicely, a large armrest flips down from the centre position filled with well designed cupholders that actually hold drinks in place when underway thanks to rubber grips (most are nowhere near as useful), while the backside of the front centre console features a covered compartment with two USB chargers plus an auxiliary plug, as well as a set of rocker switches for the previously noted rear seat heaters and the rear HVAC vents. Rear passengers needing overhead light will appreciate the reading lamps above, while each door panel includes a big bottle holder.
It seems just about perfect to finish this Subaru Outback review on such a practical subject matter, even after factoring in the premium-like cabin, luxuriously smooth powertrain and equally plush ride. It’s a crossover wagon/SUV that’s actually better than advertised, and that makes it a truly rare commodity. Believe me, you’ll be well served whether you opt for this impressive 2019 Outback or the new 2020 version.