CarCostCanada

2019 Mazda CX-5 Signature Diesel Road Test

2019 Mazda CX-5 Signature Diesel
The good looking CX-5 was available with diesel-power in new Signature trim for 2019, but it has since been cancelled for 2020.

No sooner did Mazda bring its long awaited CX-5 Diesel to market and it’s now gone, or at least it doesn’t appear to be coming back for the 2020 model year or anytime in the near or distant future. As it is, their SkyActiv-D (Diesel) powerplant didn’t catch on with enough CX-5 customers, and despite only being available for 2019 (and still possible to find as a new vehicle from Mazda retailers at the time of writing) can no longer be found on the brand’s retail website.

As for its diesel engine program, it’s remotely possible Mazda may once again offer a compact or mid-size B-Series pickup truck here like it does with its Isuzu-based BT-50 in Asian, Middle Eastern, African, plus Central and South American markets (although that truck uses a 3.0-litre four-cylinder Isuzu diesel), the potential volume of such vehicles sold by Toyota, GM, Ford, and to some extent Nissan (we’ll see if the new Frontier is able to claw back neglected and therefore lost market share when it finally goes on sale) no doubt tempting, although I highly doubt it fits within their near-premium, sport-luxury North American strategy (the interior looks impressive though). Thus, we’ll probably see a greater focus on SkyActiv-G (Gasoline) technology and, who knows, maybe even a hybrid or two now that they’ve unveiled a new EV at the most recent Tokyo motor show.

2019 Mazda CX-5 Signature Diesel
The 2.2L SkyActiv-D engine provides plenty of torque, yet not as much as the $5k less expensive 2.5L turbo SkyActiv-G engine, whereas the latter is much more powerful.

Right now you have the opportunity to purchase one of the last handful of new 2019 Mazda CX-5 Signature Diesel (or SkyActiv-D) SUVs available until they’ll only come up once in a while on the pre-owned market (and diesel owners tend to keep their cars for longer than average, so don’t hesitate if you want one sooner than later). Most buyers in this class never knew a turbo-diesel option was even available last year, despite Mazda’s SkyActiv-D being a much-anticipated new option for years amongst the engine-type’s faithful. It took a lot longer to become reality than Mazda originally planned, probably because of the fallout ensuing from Volkswagen’s 2015 Dieselgate scandal, and possibly due to little marketing fanfare only lasted a single model year. Its departure has stunned a number of diesel fans that have made their outrage known on social media, but it hasn’t even caused a buzz from the majority of Mazda owners that, as noted, didn’t even know what they were missing.

If Mazda had asked me, I would have told them not to bother with the diesel, because oil burners are now only appreciated in trucks and sometimes SUVs here in the North American markets, particularly if they’re off-road oriented. For instance, a torque-rich diesel makes sense in Jeep’s 4×4-ready Wrangler and therefore should gain some reasonable traction despite its outrageous $7,395 price tag (and that’s not even including the $1,795 required for the eight-speed automatic), but GM recently tried pulling the Chevy Colorado and GMC Canyon’s turbo-diesel over to its compact Equinox to little effect (and even tried a diesel within its car lineup). The fact Toyota, possibly the one manufacturer capable of pulling off a successful diesel option in their Tacoma, Tundra, 4Runner or Sequoia (not to mention the Land Cruiser in the U.S.), isn’t even trying says a lot, but we should nevertheless give Mazda high marks for bravery.

2019 Mazda CX-5 Signature Diesel
Signature trim provides LED fog lights and unique 19-inch alloy wheels, while all CX-5s get LED headlights.

Unlike VW, which has now abandoned diesel-power altogether, Mazda’s SkyActiv-D engine actually met Canada’s strict emissions regulations for the 2019 model year, which shows that it’s cleaner and greener than any oil burner offered by the Germans, all of which killed off their diesels in our market soon after the aforementioned Dieselgate kafuffle. Mazda’s diesel would have no doubt passed 2020 regulations as well, being as they haven’t changed, but now this achievement hardly matters.

Rather than blather on about a diesel-powered 2019 CX-5 you might be able to get your hands on if you’re lucky, I’ll instead give you a quick rundown of both 2019 and 2020 models with the various model year changes. If you can get into a 2019 model, whether diesel or gasoline powered, you’ll benefit from up to $2,500 in additional incentives, incidentally, whereas the 2020 model only has about $1,000 on the hood. You can find out more about such money-saving details on our 2019 Mazda CX-5 Canada Prices page or 2020 Mazda CX-5 Canada Prices page, by the way, and after that become a CarCostCanada member to take advantage of all the savings. We inform you about manufacturer rebates, manufacturer financing and leasing deals, dealer invoice pricing info that could very well save you thousands, plus more, so make sure to find out how it works and then download our free app from the Google Play Store or Apple Store.

2019 Mazda CX-5 Signature Diesel
Great looking LED taillights are even more enticing at night.

Looking back at our just-mentioned 2019 Mazda CX-5 Canada Prices page immediately shows that the 2.2-litre twin-turbo-diesel SkyActiv-D engine is only available with the top-tier Signature trim line for $45,950 (plus freight and fees). Signature trim was entirely new to the CX-5 for the 2019 model year, and uniquely pulled Mazda’s compact crossover SUV closer to the premium brand status than any other mainstream model in this class, other than maybe Buick that’s long spanned the divide between volume and luxury.

Additional 2019 CX-5 trims include the entry-level GX that starts at $27,850 with front-wheel drive (FWD) or $29,850 with all-wheel drive (AWD), the second-rung GS at $30,750 with FWD or $32,750 with AWD, and the former top-tier GT (Grand Touring in the U.S.) that starts at $37,450 before topping out at $39,450 when upgrading to its 2.5-litre turbocharged SkyActiv-G (gasoline) engine. Of note, GT and Signature trims comes standard with Mazda’s i-Activ AWD.

The CX-5 Signature, standard with the just-mentioned 2.5-litre turbo gasoline powerplant for $40,950, plus available with the aforementioned diesel, builds on the already nicely equipped CX-5 GT by adding features such as LED cabin lighting, a 7.0-inch digital primary gauge cluster, a cleaner looking frameless centre mirror, real Abachi hardwood trim on the dash and door panels, as well as dark brown Cocoa Nappa leather upholstery and trim.

2019 Mazda CX-5 Signature Diesel
Signature trim adds Nappa leather upholstery and real hardwood trim on the dash and door panels.

The Signature pulls plenty of features up from the GT too, including front and rear signature lighting, adaptive headlights, LED fog lamps, power-folding exterior mirrors, proximity keyless access, traffic sign recognition, two-zone auto climate control, a navigation system, 10-speaker audio with integrated satellite radio, a universal garage door opener, a 10-way powered driver’s seat, a six-way power-adjustable front passenger’s seat, and more, while leather upholstery in black or no-cost white makes the GT plenty luxurious all on its own.

Speaking of luxury, the CX-5 comes with a few finishings more likely to only be found in premium offerings, such as cloth-wrapped A pillars, premium-like padded cabin surfaces on the dash top, upper and lower instrument panel, lower console edges, door uppers front and back, and armrests all-round, while the CX-5 also boasts a plenty of brushed aluminum trim bits all over the interior, some even upgraded with knurled edging for a particularly impressive look. It’s fairly upscale switchgear from a mainstream brand, making me wonder whether Mazda will eventually try to lift itself up into premium territory in price as well as quality.

To this end, the SkyActiv-D turbo-diesel suits an upwardly mobile brand like Mazda better than some others, being that diesels have long been the stuff of Mercedes-Benz, Audi, and BMW, plus more recently Jaguar and Land Rover. I’d be remiss not to mention Volkswagen again, because not too long ago oil burners made up more than half of their Canadian sales, but now all of the just-noted German brands are on a different trajectory, embracing plug-in electric mobility at a much greater development cost and no sure promise of profits (even mighty Tesla had never managed more than two sequential quarters of profits as of this review’s publication date).

As for Mazda’s SkyActiv-D engine, it only produces 168 horsepower, but then again it puts out a very strong 290 lb-ft of torque. Such low horsepower, high torque ratios are par for the course when it comes to diesels, by the way, but it’s not like the CX-5 Signature’s standard 2.5-litre SkyActiv-G engine is without merits. Count them, 227 gasoline-fed horses and a grand total of 310 lb-ft of torque when said gasoline is 93 octane or higher. When cheaping out at the pump you can expect the same torque yet only 250 horsepower, but that’s still an impressive number for this class. What’s more, the 2020 version of this engine is capable of an even more satisfying 320 horsepower, which will make the upcoming 2021 Mazda3 AWD, just announced to receive this powertrain as an option, a serious sport sedan rivalling true luxury brands.

2019 Mazda CX-5 Signature Diesel
The nicely laid out centre stack includes high-quality controls within easy reach.

I’ve now spent at least a week with all second-generation CX-5 engines mated to the model’s all-wheel drivetrain, and can happily say the latter is well worth the extra expense when compared to the compact SUV’s base 2.0-litre four, unless fuel economy is the driving force behind your decision. This is where the twin-turbo SkyActiv-D trumps its stable mates, garnering a Natural Resources Canada rating of 8.9 L/100km in the city, 7.9 on the highway and 8.4 combined compared to the larger and more potent 2.5-litre SkyActiv-G’s 10.8 city, 8.7 highway and 9.8 combined rating. Yes, the diesel is better, but is it really $5,000 better? That’s a question you’ll need to ask yourself before plunking down the significant chunk of change needed to buy one.

Another consideration is the well-equipped CX-5 GT noted before, that for $37,450 provides most of the Signature’s premium-like features as well as a more fuel-friendly 2.0-litre SkyActiv-G four-cylinder in base trim. That smaller engine makes a reasonably strong 187 horsepower and 186 lb-ft of torque, but its expected fuel economy is nearly as good as the diesel at 9.8 L/100km city, 7.9 highway and 9.0 combined, whereas the same engine found in lesser trims with front wheel drive can achieve almost identical claimed fuel economy at a respective 9.3, 7.6 and 8.5.

2019 Mazda CX-5 Signature Diesel
The infotainment system is controlled by this stylish knurled metal knob and surround buttons.

I spent a week in a 2019 CX-5 GT outfitted with the entry-level powerplant and its standard all-wheel drivetrain last year, and walked away very satisfied with its fuel-efficiency/performance compromise, not to mention its luxurious surroundings. Then again, more recently I spent a whopping three months with a newer 2.5-litre SkyActiv-G turbo-equipped 2020 CX-5 Signature and was much happier, at least with its performance and even more upscale interior, while I was also fine with its fuel economy considering the performance at hand (and particularly at foot). You’ll see a detailed review of this model shortly, but being that the review I’m current writing is about a 2.2-litre SkyActiv-D-equipped CX-5 Signature, I’ll only say, if it was a case of needing to purge an engine in order to make this compact SUV more profitable, Mazda got rid of the right one.

I should make clear that you could very well save a great deal more than the claimed rating when living with a SkyActiv-D-equipped CX-5 than at the wheel of the more potent SkyActiv-G model, because most drivers will be tempted to drive the sportier feeling gasoline variant faster. I found myself more relaxed and easy-going when behind the wheel of the non-paddle-shifter-equipped diesel than the top-line gasoline model, a factor that could also prevent potential speeding tickets with some owners. What’s more, diesel pump prices are less volatile than those for gasoline, and more often than not cheaper too.

2019 Mazda CX-5 Signature Diesel
The driver’s seat is extremely comfortable and driving position very good.

Don’t get me wrong, as the diesel delivers some significant torque off the line, and it made haste during highway passing too, but it can’t provide the level of sportiness offered by the more formidable gasoline-fed turbo-four, and thanks to the relatively quiet yet still noticeable rattle-and-hum heard ahead of the engine firewall, the diesel sounds more like a truck than the gasoline variant too. Depending on your leanings, this will be a positive or negative, while all should appreciate the added grip through the corners brought about by the Signature’s 19-inch alloy wheels.

The CX-5’s six-speed automatic transmission isn’t quite as engaging without the aforementioned paddles, and yes six forward speeds doesn’t sound as advanced as the various eight-speed, nine-speed and continuously variable transmissions being offered by others, but along with providing snappy shifts when pushing hard and smooth intervals when driving in a more relaxed state, Mazda’s SkyActiv-Drive gearbox has been very dependable when compared to some of the just-noted challengers.

2019 Mazda CX-5 Signature Diesel
Rear seat roominess and comfort is excellent.

Together with the second-gen CX-5’s impressive cornering prowess, all examples I’ve driven have delivered a comfortable ride. They’ve been a tad firmer than some of their Asian and domestic competitors, due to Mazda’s performance-focused corporate credo, but this has never interfered with suspension comfort. Then again, the CX-5’s fully independent suspension is more responsive than most rivals, especially when coursing down a winding mountain road, while it also provides a level of high-speed confidence on the freeway that’s not available to the same degree from some compact SUV challengers.

Speaking of best-in-class, the CX-5’s 40/20/40 split-folding rear seatbacks make its cargo compartment more convenient than the majority of competitors too, while release levers mounted near the rear hatch opening allow the seats to lower themselves automatically, thus adding even greater ease to the loading process.

2019 Mazda CX-5 Signature Diesel
A 20/40/20-split rear seatback and auto-folding levers make the CX-5’s cargo compartment ultra-convenient.

After numerous stints behind the wheel of various CX-5 trims, I can easily recommend Mazda’s compact SUV, but I won’t try to tell you which engine you should purchase. I can say, however, you’d better act fast if you like the sound of the brand’s SkyActiv-D turbo-diesel, because they’re now few and far between, and soon won’t be available at all.

Story and photo credits: Trevor Hofmann

Photo editing: Karen Tuggay

CarCostCanada

2019 Hyundai Accent 5-Door Ultimate Road Test

2019 Hyundai Accent 5-Door Ultimate
For 2019, Hyundai changed the trim names for the Accent, this version now dubbed Ultimate for top-of-the-line.

If you look at the 20182020 Hyundai Accent, you’ll be hard pressed to see any changes at all. The fifth-generation entry-level subcompact model arrived in sedan and hatchback form during calendar year 2017, and since then only had its trim levels changed from L, LE, GL and GLS to Essential, Preferred and Ultimate for the 2019 model year, and lost its four-door body style for 2020 (in Canada, the U.S. kept the sedan and dropped the hatchback).

Actually, there’s a lot more to the 2020 Accent than meets the eye, particularly a redesigned engine and all-new optional continuously variable transmission (CVT) for those wanting an automatic, replacing the 2019’s conventional six-speed auto. Another change is the elimination of the six-speed manual gearbox from top-line Ultimate trim, this version of the car only available with the CVT for 2020.

2019 Hyundai Accent 5-Door Ultimate
Hyundai gave the Accent some seriously sporty styling for an entry-level model.

By the way, Hyundai isn’t the only automaker to kill off its subcompact sedan in Canada. Toyota dropped its Mazda-built Yaris Sedan for the 2020 model year too, while Nissan said so long to its Versa Note and won’t be offering the redesigned Versa sedan (that’s available south of the border) in our jurisdiction. Ford also discontinued its Fiesta four- and five-door variants after the 2019 model year, while Chevy dropped its Sonic the year before that, all of which leaves Kia and its Rio as the only choice for sedan buyers in the subcompact class.

2019 Hyundai Accent 5-Door Ultimate
LED headlights, chrome-trimmed fog lamps, and 17-inch alloy wheels are standard in Ultimate trim.

The 2020 Accent’s new 1.6-litre Smartstream engine replaces a very dependable four-cylinder of the same displacement, with the new one optimized for fuel economy over performance. The 2020 mill has actually lost 12 horsepower and 6 lb-ft of torque for a rating of 120 horsepower and 113 lb-ft compared to 132 horsepower and 119 lb-ft of torque in the 2019 car I last tested. In a car so small and light, this should make a significant difference, but it’s possible Hyundai has worked magic in the car’s manual and new CVT transmissions, so I’ll have to test the new one to know for sure.

2019 Hyundai Accent 5-Door Ultimate
The Accent Ultimate’s red-on-black interior really pulls eyeballs.

On the positive the new 2020 Accent is rated at 7.8 L/100km city, 6.1 highway and 7.0 combined with its standard six-speed manual, or 7.3, 6.0 and 6.7 respectively with the more efficient CVT. The outgoing 2019 Accent’s claimed rating of 8.2 L/100km in the city, 6.3 on the highway and 7.3 combined for both the manual and auto makes it easy to see Hyundai’s reason for change. In this class their choice of fuel economy over performance makes a lot of sense, being that most buyers are choosing Hyundai’s least expensive model in order to save money. After all, those who want a performance car can opt for the new Elantra N or one of the even sportier Veloster trims.

2019 Hyundai Accent 5-Door Ultimate
The nicely organized cockpit provides good comfort and great control.

Then again, the 2019 Accent 5-Door Ultimate I tested is really fun when powering away from stoplights, and it has no difficulty passing long semi-trailers on a two-lane highway. The six-speed manual is a joy to flick through its notchy double-H pattern, the clutch take-up is near effortless to engage and well sorted, making it as good for those wanting to learn how to drive manual as it is for seasoned pros, while the Ultimate model’s four-wheel disc brakes are strong (the two lesser trims get rear drums), and the 17-inch alloys make a difference when pushing it hard through tight corners. I’m not going to pretend this is some sort of hot hatch, but the Accent can hold its own through a set of fast-paced S-turns, while it’s very good on the open highway thanks to a fairly long wheelbase. I had no problem cruising in this car for the better part of a day, whether running errands around town or out on the freeway. After a weeklong test I found it comfortable and more than just capable, it was downright fun to drive.

2019 Hyundai Accent 5-Door Ultimate
The gauge cluster is simple yet effective.

I know it’s more popular to opt for crossover SUVs than regular cars these days, but those looking to save a couple thousand might want to fall in love with something like this low-slung hatchback instead of its more rugged looking alternative. Yes, Hyundai’s new Venue is tempting at just over $17k, but you can get into an Accent for under $15k and you’ll be getting a larger, more accommodating car with better performance or fuel economy (depending on the year).

2019 Hyundai Accent 5-Door Ultimate
The two top trims include a 7.0-inch infotainment touchscreen, while the Ultimate gets automatic climate control.

Put the two side-by-side and some will be forced to admit the sportier looking Accent has the edge on the Venue when it comes to styling too, but that will come down to personal taste, of course. The 2018 redesign did a lot to improve the Accent’s cool factor, thanks to big, bold grille and plenty of classy chrome elements to on this Ultimate model. The metal brightwork is most noticeable on the front fascia around the fog lights, also exclusive to this trim, while the side window mouldings and exterior door handles are chromed too. A set of LED headlights with LED signature accents also improve the look and functionality of this top-tier model, as does the set of LED turn signals infused into the side mirror caps, while its 17-inch multi-spoke alloys add class as well as some sporty character to the overall design.

2019 Hyundai Accent 5-Door Ultimate
The Accent’s large centre display features a big rearview camera with active guidelines.

As mentioned a moment ago, the 2020 Accent Essential can be had for a mere $14,949 (plus freight and fees), which a lot less expensive than last year’s base price of $17,349. As it was (and still is, being that 2019 models were available at the time of writing), the 2019 Accent came standard with a Comfort Package that’s now extra. The 2020 Essential with Comfort Package starts at $17,699, while the price for the Accent’s second-tier Preferred trim line has jumped up from $17,549 in 2019 to $17,899 in 2020, and the as-tested Ultimate has increased its entry price by $1,250, from $20,049 to $21,649, but remember that it now comes standard with the CVT. Willing to take a guess what the upgrade from six-speed manual to six-speed automatic is in a 2019 Accent? Yup, $1,250.

2019 Hyundai Accent 5-Door Ultimate
The Accent’s six-speed manual is a treat, but if you want it in top-line Ultimate trim you’d better opt for the more powerful 2019 model.

Important to note, Hyundai Canada is offering factory leasing and financing rates from zero percent on all 2019 Accent models, or up to $750 in additional incentives for 2020 Accents. To learn more, check out our 2020 Hyundai Accent Canada Prices and 2019 Hyundai Accent Canada Prices pages, where you can find out about available manufacturer rebates, manufacturer financing/leasing rates, and best of all, dealer invoice pricing that could save you thousands. We’ve even got a free CarCostCanada mobile app to make your shopping experience easier and less costly, so be sure to find out how our intelligent car shopping system can work for you when purchasing your next vehicle.

2019 Hyundai Accent 5-Door Ultimate
Sporty looking front seats are impressive for the Accent’s entry-level class.

This is the largest Accent ever, by the way, which translates into a roomier, more accommodating car than most will expect in this class, particularly when it comes to interior width. The Accent’s seats provide a lot of adjustability, as long as you’re not hoping to adjust the driver’s lumbar support as there’s no way to do so, and while I would have like more pressure at my lower back, as well as deeper side bolsters, the Accent is a one-seat-fits-all compromise and therefore not capable of matching everyone’s body type perfectly. The rest of the seat’s adjustments were good, mind you, while the tilt and telescopic steering wheel’s reach was very good, enough so that my long-legged, short-torso body had no problem getting both comfortable and in control, which isn’t always the case in this class and some others.

2019 Hyundai Accent 5-Door Ultimate
A powered moonroof comes standard in Ultimate trim.

The rear seating area is spacious and comfortable as well, although those that want a centre rear armrest will need to look elsewhere. The seatbacks fold 60/40, however, expanding the already sizeable cargo area when needing to haul longer items. When lowered, the seatbacks sit about four inches above the load floor, so it’s not flat, but I was glad Hyundai chose to maximize available space instead of making it all level. A small spare tire and some tools are stowed underneath, and a hard-shell cargo cover rests above, all expected in this class.

2019 Hyundai Accent 5-Door Ultimate
Rear seat roominess is good for the subcompact segment.

Less normal in this entry-level segment is the Accent Ultimate’s impressive cabin decor, not to mention its bevy of features. Access by proximity keyless entry ahead of starting the engine via button was a nice touch, while the interior is further spiced up with a two-tone red and black colour scheme. Hyundai doesn’t finish any cabin surfaces with soft-touch plastics, but all armrests are padded leatherette, and sharp looking seats are plenty soft of course, these finished with red leatherette bolsters, red stitching and some cool hexagonal embroidery on their cloth seatbacks. The red theme continues over to the door panel inserts, more red thread on the leatherette shifter boot, plus more on the inside rim of the leather-wrapped steering wheel.

2019 Hyundai Accent 5-Door Ultimate
The Accent Hatchback’s dedicated cargo area is very generous.

The steering wheel is really nice, incidentally, while its spokes come filled with extremely high-quality switchgear, the toggles on the left adjusting the audio system and surrounding buttons for audio mode control, voice activation, and phone use, while the ones on the right are for scrolling through the monochromatic multi-information display and the Accent’s cruise control system.

2019 Hyundai Accent 5-Door Ultimate
The rear seats fold in the usual 60/40 configuration.

The instruments in front of the driver are simple and straight-forward, with bright backlit dials on either side of the just-mentioned multi-information display. More impressive is the bright, colourful and well-endowed 7.0-inch infotainment touchscreen on the centre stack, which includes Apple CarPlay and Android Auto smartphone integration, Bluetooth audio and phone streaming, regular audio functions, the latter including satellite radio, a large backup camera with moving guidelines, and more.

A single-zone automatic climate control system can be adjusted just below, which includes large dials for easy use while wearing winter gloves, while under that is a row of buttons for the three-way heatable front seats and even one for the heated steering wheel rim. Where the centre stack meets the lower console is a big tray for holding your smartphone, plus USB-A and auxiliary connections.

2019 Hyundai Accent 5-Door Ultimate
Say goodbye to the 2019 Accent’s more powerful engine, and hello to the 2020’s model’s more efficient replacement.

The top-line Accent Ultimate also includes a powered moonroof and forward collision warning with automatic emergency braking, by the way, while equipment pulled up from lesser trims include the tilt-and-telescopic steering column (the base model only gets a tilting wheel), cruise control, front seat heaters and the larger 7.0-inch centre touchscreen (instead of the 5.0-inch one on the base model) mentioned already, as well as automatic on/off headlights, six-speaker audio (an improvement over four speakers found in the base model), keyless access, and a USB-A charging port in the rear seating area from Preferred trim; the automatic transmission and Bluetooth noted before, plus power-adjustable and heatable side mirrors, air conditioning and powered windows from the Essential Comfort package; and finally variable intermittent front windshield wipers, a manually adjustable six-way driver’s seat, a manually adjustable four-way front passenger’s seat, and power door locks from the base Essential model.

There’s a lot to like about today’s Accent, especially when factoring in value. Add in a five-year, 100,000 km comprehensive warranty and it all starts making sense. If you’re not wholly sold on a new subcompact SUV like Hyundai’s Venue or Kona, I recommend you take a closer look at the Accent, and when you do, don’t forget to choose a 2019 model for performance or 2020 to save more on fuel.

Story and photo credits: Trevor Hofmann

Photo editing: Karen Tuggay

CarCostCanada

2019 Volvo V90 Cross Country T6 AWD Road Test

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Story and photo credits: Trevor Hofmann

Photo Editing: Karen Tuggay

CarCostCanada

2019 Hyundai Accent Ultimate Road Test

2019 Hyundai Accent Ultimate
The Hyundai Accent Sedan is dead in Canada, with only a handful available across the country.

The car you’re looking at has given up on Canada and moved to the States. Yup, it’s true. Call it a traitor if you want, but Hyundai’s subcompact Accent Sedan won’t be available north of the 49th after this 2019 model year, so if you’ve always wanted to own a new one you’d better act quickly.

Fortunately for us, the more practical hatchback version is staying, complete with a new engine and new optional continuously variable transmission, the latter replacing the conventional six-speed automatic found in the 2019 Accent Sedan being reviewed here. The U.S., incidentally, loses the hatchback variant that we prefer. How different our markets are, despite (mostly) speaking the same language and being so close.

So why is this subcompact carnage occurring? It comes down to sales, or a lack thereof. Hyundai Canada only sold 202 Accents last month, but it’s brand new Venue crossover SUV, which is more or less the same size as the Accent hatch, yet an SUV so it’s going to be much more popular, sold 456 units in its first-ever month of January 2020. I think the Venue is going to sell big time, as I’ve been driving one in between writing this review of the Accent, and am thoroughly impressed. It’s also the least expensive SUV in Canada, which won’t hurt its popularity either.

2019 Hyundai Accent Ultimate
The Accent will continue in its hatchback body style for 2020, its trunk now only available in the U.S. market.

I’m not sure if the Venue will surpass Kona sales, the larger utility finding 1,651 buyers last month and an amazing 25,817 during its first full year of 2019, which incidentally saw it first in its subcompact class (the same segment the Venue is entering now), resulting in a shocking 7,000-plus units ahead of the Nissan Qashqai. So car fans should be happy Hyundai kept its Accent here at all, especially considering how many of its peers have departed over the past couple of years for the same reasons (like the Nissan Versa Note, Toyota Prius C and Yaris Sedan, Chevy Sonic, Ford Fiesta, etc).

At least the Accent remains near the top of its class, only outsold by its Kia Rio cousin last month, 243 deliveries to the Accent’s aforementioned 202, but beating the Yaris’ 190 sales, a car that took the top spot away from the Accent last year, a position Hyundai has held for as long as I can remember. Who knows which subcompact car will be in the lead when the final tally gets sorted out once December 31, 2020 has passed?

2019 Hyundai Accent Ultimate
LEDs enhance the headlamps while chrome-trimmed fogs and sharp looking alloy wheels dress up this Ultimate trim.

Most of us should be able to agree that this 2019 Accent Sedan won’t do much to increase the Accent’s overall numbers this year. Certainly Hyundai will appreciate your buying one of the handful remaining, and yes I checked and there are plenty of retailers with new ones in stock across the country, but more dealers have sold out and are therefore saying hello to the updated 2020 Accent Hatchback, which looks identical yet gets the revised engine I mentioned earlier in this review, plus a totally new optional continuously variable transmission (CVT), the latter in place of the now departed six-speed automatic gearbox integrated into my 2019 tester.

I must admit to having divided feelings about these mechanical upgrades, because the changes seem to be only benefiting fuel economy at the expense of performance. This 2019 Accent boasts a reasonably strong 132 horsepower from its 1.6-litre four-cylinder engine, plus 119 lb-ft of torque, whereas the fresh new 2020 model’s 1.6-litre four features some cool new “Smartstream” tech, but nevertheless loses 12 horsepower and six lb-ft of torque, the new ratings only 120 and 113 respectively.

2019 Hyundai Accent Ultimate
Attract LED taillights grace the Accent Sedan’s hind quarters.

To clarify, the Accent’s Smartstream G1.6 DPI engine has little in common with the Smartstream G1.6 T-GDi engine found in the new Sonata. The Accent’s engine is naturally aspirated with four inline cylinders, dual-port injection (DPI), continuously variable valve timing, and a new thermal management module that warms the engine up faster to optimize performance and efficiency, whereas the Sonata’s four-cylinder is downright radical in comparison.

That turbo-four is configured into a V, which will be fabulous for packaging into smaller engine bays of the future and ideal for mating to hybrid drivetrains that could potentially fit into the engine bays of current models. It puts out 180 horsepower and 195 lb-ft of torque due, in part, to an industry-first Continuously Variable Valve Duration (CVVD) system that improves straight-line performance by four percent while improving fuel economy by five percent and reducing emissions by 12 percent. A Low Pressure Exhaust Gas Recirculation (LP EGR) system helps Hyundai to achieve the last number, but I’ll get into more detail about its advanced tech when I review the new 2020 Sonata Turbo.

2019 Hyundai Accent Ultimate
The Accent’s interior is put together well and big on features, but it’s missing soft-touch composite surfaces.

Respect should be paid to the technology behind the Accent’s new Smartstream G1.6 DPI engine, but clearly it’s more of an upgrade to an existing powerplant than anything revolutionary. Still, the new model’s improvement in fuel economy needs to be commended, with the 2019 Accent being reviewed here good for just 8.2 L/100km city, 6.2 highway and 7.3 combined whether employing its standard six-speed manual or available as-tested six-speed automatic, and the new 2020 Accent managing an impressive 7.8 L/100km in the city, 6.1 on the highway and 6.9 combined with its six-speed manual gearbox or 7.3 city, 6.0 highway and 6.6 combined with its new CVT—the latter number representing 12-percent better economy. 

As for the six-speed automatic in the outgoing Accent I’m reviewing here, it shifts smoothly, delivers a nice mechanical feel and even gets sporty when the shift lever is slotted into its manual position and operated by hand, so traditionalists should like it. Still, the 2020 Accent’s available CVT, called ITV by Hyundai for “Intelligent Variable Transmission,” should be thought of as an upgrade. Hyundai claims it simulates shifts so well you won’t be able to tell the difference (we’ll see about that), and don’t worry I’ll say how I really feel in a future road test review. Fortunately, CVTs are usually smoother than regular automatic transmissions, unless the simulated shifts are a bit off. Again, I won’t explain all the details that make Hyundai’s new CVT better than the rest, saving this for that model’s review, but for now will say that it features a wide-ratio pulley system Hyundai claims to provide a broader operation ratio than older CVTs, which improves fuel economy when higher gear ratios are being used and enhances performance when lower ratios are employed.

2019 Hyundai Accent Ultimate
Everything is well organized from a driver’s perspective.

The 2019 Accent Sedan delivers sportier performance than most in this class, thanks to the powerful little engine noted earlier, plus the engaging manual mode-enhanced gearbox, while its ride quality is comforting due to a well-sorted front strut and rear torsion beam suspension system, and should continue being good in the new 2020 as Hyundai doesn’t make any noted changes. Handling is also good, or at least good enough, the Accent’s electric power steering system delivering good directional response and overall chassis quite capable through the corners if kept at reasonable speeds. Hyundai incorporates standard four-wheel disc brakes, which do a good job of bringing the Accent down to a stop quickly, making the car feel safe and stable at all times.

Changing course, the Accent’s cabin is quite roomy for such a small car, particular when it comes to headroom. Legroom up front is pretty good too, and it should amply sized from side-to-side for most body types, plus I found the driver’s seat and steering wheel easy to position for comfort and control due to good tilt and telescopic steering column rake and reach. While all of the usual seat adjustments are included, there was no way to adjust the lumbar, but the seat is inherently good so I felt supported in all the right places.

2019 Hyundai Accent Ultimate
The Accent’s mostly analogue gauge cluster is clear and readable in almost any light.

Most cars in this class are tight in the back seat, and the Accent Sedan is no exception. Still, but two average-sized adults or three slender passengers, kids included, should fit in with no issue. I positioned the front seat for my longer legged, shorter torso five-foot-eight frame and had approximately two inches remaining between the front seatback and my knees, plus ample room for my feet while wearing winter boots. The seatbacks are finished in a nice cloth, which would be more comfortable if they touched my knees, but I doubt anyone wants to experience such a confining space either way. My small-to-medium torso felt comfortable enough as far as interior width goes, with about three to four inches at the hips and slightly more next to my left shoulder to the door panel, while about two and a half inches of nothingness could be found over above my head (not in my head… I can hear the jokes coming).

Hyundai doesn’t provide a folding armrest in the middle, however, so it lacks the comfort of a larger car like the Elantra or aforementioned Sonata, plus no vents provide air to rear passengers, but Hyundai does include a USB charger for powering passengers’ devices on the backside of the front console.

2019 Hyundai Accent Ultimate
A large infotainment touchscreen is filled with features in top-line Ultimate trim, while single-zone auto climate control sits below.

What about refinement? Strangely, Hyundai isn’t following the latest subcompact trend to pliable composite surfaces in key areas, which means others in this class are doing a better job of pampering occupants, at least in the touchy-feeling department. The dash top, for instance, and the instrument panel, door panels and most everywhere else is hard plastic, other than the leather-wrapped steering wheel of this top-line Ultimate model, plus the fabric door inserts, centre armrest, and cloth upholstered seats, of course. Unforgivable in the Canadian market, however, are hard shell plastic door armrests, which are downright uncomfortable.

Cutting such corners is a shame in a vehicle that does most everything else so well, although I should also criticize Hyundai for including an antiquated monochromatic trip computer in this top-line trim. It should be a full-colour TFT multi-information display this day and age, and on that note I don’t have a problem with its analogue gauges, even though some competitors are now beginning to digitize more of their clusters.

2019 Hyundai Accent Ultimate
The Accent’s rearview camera has active guidelines, not always included in its subcompact segment.

I’m guessing that Hyundai is hoping such shortcomings get forgotten quickly when the Accent’s potential buyers start adding up all the other standard and optional features before comparing its low pricing to competitors. On top of everything already mentioned my top line Accent Sedan came with proximity access with pushbutton start/stop, a fairly large centre touchscreen with Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, a host of downloadable apps, a rearview camera with active guidelines, plus much more. A single-zone automatic climate control makes sure the cabin is always at the right temperature, while my tester included three-way heatable front seats plus a heated steering wheel rim, the former capable getting downright therapeutic for the lower back.

The leather-wrapped steering wheel rim just mentioned is beautifully finished and nicely padded for comfort, while its spokes’ switchgear is very well done and complete with voice activation, audio controls, plus phone prompts to the left, and multi-information display plus cruise controls to the right. The turn signal/headlamp and wiper stalks are pretty premium-level as well. In fact, most of the interior buttons, knobs and switches make the Accent feel more expensive than its modest price range suggests. The same goes for the overhead console, which integrates yesteryear’s incandescent lamps yet boasts one of the most luxe lined sunglass holders I’ve ever felt, as well as a controller for the power moonroof.

2019 Hyundai Accent Ultimate
The front seats are comfortable, but no adjustable lumbar support.

The Accent Sedan’s rear seats fold individually in the usual 60/40-split configuration, adding more usability to the reasonably sized 388-litre (13.7 cu-ft) trunk, but this said the trunk lid is quite short which limited how much I could angle inside. Of course, a hatchback would solve this problem, so we should be glad Hyundai Canada chose to keep the more versatile of the two body styles for 2020. Hyundai provides a fairly large compartment underneath the load floor no matter which model is chosen, my tester’s mostly filled with a compact spare and the tools to change it, but there’s some space around its perimeter for smaller cargo.

So that’s the 2019 (and some of the 2020) Accent in a nutshell. If you really want a new Accent Sedan, you’d best begin to call all the Hyundai retailers in your city. I’ve checked, and some were available at the time of writing, but I’d recommend acting quickly. According to our 2019 Hyundai Accent Canada Prices page found right here on CarCostCanada, the most basic Accent Sedan in Essential trim with the Comfort Package starts at $17,349 (plus freight and fees), whereas this top-tier Ultimate Sedan can be had for $21,299, less discount of course. Retailers are motivated to sell, after all, so make sure to get a CarCostCanada membership to access info about manufacturer rebates, plus factory leasing and financing rate deals, which were available from zero percent at the time of writing (plus 0.99 percent for the new 2020 Accent), and as always your membership will give you access to dealer invoice pricing that could potentially save you thousands on a new car.

2019 Hyundai Accent Ultimate
The rear seats are comfortable, but legroom is limited and there’s not centre armrest.

As far as Accent Sedan alternatives go, Kia is keeping its Rio Sedan for 2020 (its basically the same as the U.S.-market Accent Sedan below the surface), and it also includes all the 2020 drivetrain improvements mentioned earlier in this review. As of the 2020 model year the Rio has become the only new subcompact sedan available in Canada, so South Korea’s alternative automotive brand has a good opportunity to lure in some new buyers it might not have been able to previously, while they’re still selling a 2020 Rio Hatchback.

Therefore you’ve got the option of snapping up this 2019 Hyundai Accent Sedan while some are still available, choosing the new 2020 Accent Hatchback with all of its mechanical updates, or opting for the same improvements in the Kia Rio Sedan or Hatchback. This said, maybe a new Hyundai Venue or Kona suits your style, as these two are superb subcompact crossovers only slightly more money. All in all it seems like Hyundai Motor Group has you covered no matter what you want in an entry-level vehicle, so the automaker’s future certainly looks promising.

Story and photo credits: Trevor Hofmann

CarCostCanada

2019 Ford EcoSport 2.0 SES Road Test

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Story and photo credits: Trevor Hofmann

CarCostCanada

2019 BMW X1 xDrive28i Road Test

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Story credit: Trevor Hofmann

CarCostCanada

2019 Volkswagen Passat Wolfsburg Edition Road Test

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Story and photo credits: Trevor Hofmann

CarCostCanada

2019 Toyota Highlander Hybrid Limited Road Test

2020 Toyota Highlander
So what do you think of the new 2020 Toyota Highlander? We certainly like it. (Photo: Toyota)

What do you think of the new 2020 Highlander? It was introduced a few months ago at the New York auto show and will go on sale in December this year, just in time for Christmas (or Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, Saturnalia, and Omisoka, take your pick). It pulls plenty of styling cues from what I think is the better looking 2014 through 2016 version of the third-generation Highlander currently available, the newer 2017 through (as-tested) 2019 variation a bit too over-the-top when it comes to its chrome-laden mega-grille for my tastes, but to each his, her or hir own. I find the 2020 much more attractive, and believe it will serve both Toyota and the Highlander’s faithful well for years to come. 

That 2014 Highlander I just referenced was a major milestone in Toyota design and refinement, its interior wholly impressive. The Matt Sperling-designed model, which saw its maximum seat count grow from seven to eight in base trim, found greater success due to its more rugged Toyota truck-inspired grille and lower fascia combo, while this fancier Lexus look hasn’t fared quite as well, hence (I’m guessing) the move back to simpler, cleaner, more classic lines. 

2019 Toyota Highlander Hybrid Limited
There’s no shortage of chrome on the front of this year’s Highlander Hybrid Limited. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Probably due more because of the auto market’s general move from cars to crossover SUVs, Highlander sales grew by 17.70 percent from 2016 to 2017 in Canada, but then deliveries eased 4.06 percent through 2018 before plunging by a whopping 17.70 percent (strangely the exact number the model gained two years ago) over the first six months of 2019. In a market that’s constantly being touted as SUV crazy, why has Toyota seen such a downturn in Highlander popularity? Could it be styling? 

Before jumping to conclusions, a deeper look at the entire mid-size crossover SUV segment’s sales chart shows the Highlander as far from alone in this downward slide. In fact, this entire class experienced a 7.66 percent decline from 2017 to 2018. Specifically, of the 24 crossovers/SUVs now selling into the mid-size volume segment (including tall wagons such as the Subaru Outback, two-row crossovers like the Hyundai Santa Fe, three-row models like this Highlander, and traditional body-on-frame SUVs like the Toyota 4Runner), just 8 saw upward growth while 10 swung to the negative, while another five only grew because they were totally new and had no 2018 sales to be compared to. 

2019 Toyota Highlander Hybrid Limited
There’s certainly nothing controversial about the Highlander’s rear styling. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

As to how the Highlander fits within the general mid-size positive and negative crossover SUV pecking order, check out this breakdown ranking all 24 rivals as to popularity from January through June 2019, with each model’s sales followed by its growth or shrinkage rate in parentheses: Ford Edge at 8,709 units (+9.05); Hyundai Santa Fe at 8,225 (-11.51); Jeep Grand Cherokee 8,033 (+26.94); Kia Sorento at 6,965 (+0.32); Chevrolet Blazer 6,812 (sales began January 2019); Nissan Murano 5,062 (-8.00); Toyota Highlander 4,985 (-17.70); Dodge Durango 4,900 (+54.14); Subaru Outback 4,212 (-4.77); Ford Explorer at 4,100 (-45.14 because of its 2020 model changeover); Volkswagen Atlas 3,679 (+14.01%); Honda Pilot 3,477 (+22.43); Toyota 4Runner 3,398 (+10.18%); Nissan Pathfinder 2,597 (-10.63); Chevrolet Traverse 2,443 (-16.36); GMC Acadia 1,956 (-3.88%); Ford Flex 1,812 (+115.71, bizarre, right?); Subaru Ascent 1,721 (sales started in January 2019); Mazda CX-9 1,573 (-7.58); Dodge Journey 1,488 (-39.19); Kia Telluride 1,072 (sales began in March 2019); Honda Passport 921 (sales initiated in February 2019); Hyundai Palisade 180 (sales started in June 2019); Volkswagen Touareg 17 (-96.91 du to being discontinued). 

I wouldn’t expect to see all of these models slotting into the same order by year’s end, due to redesigns (the new Explorer should regain much of its lost ground, as it was third last year, while the 2020 Highlander should receive a nice bump too, albeit during the following calendar year) and totally new models should help swell the ranks (Chevy’s new Blazer sales are very strong), but the leading brands will probably maintain their leadership for reasons we all know too well, one of these top sellers being this very Toyota Highlander. 

2019 Toyota Highlander Hybrid Limited
Difficult to see from a distance, but those fog lamps are now LEDs. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

For the remainder of the year Toyota’s mid-size crossover success hinges on the current Highlander, which should be able to hold its own well enough. The well-proven model didn’t get a lot of help from its product planning team, however, with just one itty-bitty upgrade to wow prospective buyers. That’s right, a lone set of LED fog lights replacing previous halogens is the sole excitement for 2019, and Toyota didn’t even change their shape from circular to anything else (stars would’ve been fun). 

I had a 2019 Highlander Hybrid Limited on loan for my weeklong test, incidentally, oddly coated in identical Celestial Silver Metallic paint and outfitted in the same perforated Black leather as a 2018 model tested late last year and reviewed at length along with an even richer looking Ooh La La Rouge Mica coloured Limited model with the regular old non-hybrid V6 behind its grandiose grille (minus this year’s fancy LED fog lamps). 

Improvements aside, I continue to be amazed that Toyota remains the sole mainstream volume automotive brand to provide a hybridized mid-size crossover SUV, being that the majority of key challengers have offered hybrid powertrains in other models for years (I should really lend a nod to Chrysler for its impressively advanced Pacifica Hybrid plug-in right about now, as it’s roomy enough to be added to the list despite not being an SUV). Kudos to Toyota, this Highlander Hybrid being by far the most fuel-efficient vehicle in its class in an unprecedented era of government taxation resulting in the highest fuel prices Canada has ever experienced.  

2019 Toyota Highlander Hybrid Limited
The Highlander gets closer to premium interior quality than most of its peers. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Transport Canada rates the 2019 Highlander Hybrid at 8.1 L/100km city, 8.5 highway and 8.3 combined, which compares well to 12.0 city, 8.9 highway and 10.6 combined for mid-range XLE and top-line Limited variations on the conventionally-powered Highlander theme, which also include AWD plus an upgrade to fuel-saving auto start/stop technology. 

Both regular Highlander and Highlander Hybrid models provide considerably more standard power in their base trims than the majority of peers that get four-cylinder engines at their points of entry. For starters, regular Highlanders feature a 3.5-litre V6 capable of 295 horsepower and 263 lb-ft of torque, which drives the front wheels in base LX trim or all four wheels in LX AWD, XLE or Limited trims. An efficient eight-speed automatic transmission has the option of idle start/stop, this fuel-saving technology having originally been standard equipment with Toyota’s first hybrid models. 

Of course, auto start/stop comes standard in the new Highlander Hybrid as well, this model utilizing the same 3.5-litre V6, albeit running on a more efficient Atkinson-cycle, while its electric motor/battery combination makes for more get-up-and go, 306 net horsepower to be exact, plus an undisclosed (but certainly more potent) increase in torque. 

2019 Toyota Highlander Hybrid Limited
The Highlander’s cabin is filled with premium-level soft-touch synthetics. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

From the list of mid-size Highlander challengers noted earlier, the most fuel-efficient three-row, AWD competitor is the Kia Sorento with a rating of 11.2 L/100km in the city, 9.0 on the highway and 10.2 combined, but the Sorento is substantially smaller than the Highlander and, like the Hyundai Santa Fe that’s no longer available with three rows in order to make way for the new Palisade, Kia buyers wanting more passenger and cargo space will probably move up to the new 2020 Telluride. 

This said, following the Sorento (in order of thriftiest to most guzzling) this three-row mid-size SUV segment’s offerings include the GMC Acadia at 11.3 L/100km city, 9.4 highway and 10.5 combined; the Mazda CX-9 at 11.6, 9.1 and 10.5 respectively; the Highlander V6 at 12.0, 8.9 and 10.6 (you’ll see here that it does pretty well even in none-hybrid form); the Nissan Pathfinder at 12.1, 8.9 and 10.7; Honda’s Pilot at 12.4, 9.3 and 11.0; Hyundai’s Palisade at 12.3, 9.6 and 11.1; Kia’s Telluride at 12.5, 9.6 and 11.2; the Dodge Durango at 12.7, 9.6 and 11.3; the Ford Explorer at 13.1, 9.2 and 11.4; Chevy’s Traverse at 13.7, 9.5 and 11.8; VW’s Atlas at 13.8, 10.2 and 12.2; the (how is it possible it’s still alive?) Dodge Journey at 14.5, 10.0 and 12.4; the (ditto) Ford Flex at 14.7, 10.7 and 12.9; and finally the fabulous (I’m so glad it’s still alive) Toyota 4Runner at 14.3, 11.9 and 13.2 respectively. 

2019 Toyota Highlander Hybrid Limited
Colourful enough for you? The Hybrid’s primary instruments include special HEV gauges to help you save fuel. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

For those that don’t need a third row yet are thinking of buying the Highlander anyway (I almost always leave the third row down in SUVs like this as it’s easier for moving quick loads of whatever), a quick comparo against two-row competitors (again from the list above) shows the four-cylinder Subaru Outback as the best of the rest from a fuel economy perspective (it’s nowhere near as roomy for cargo of course) at 9.4 L/100km in the city, 7.3 on the highway and 8.5 combined (yet that’s still not as thrifty as the Highlander Hybrid), while more similar in size albeit still not as capable for toting gear and only four-cylinder-powered are the base Ford Edge at 11.4 city, 8.3 highway and 10.0 combined; the Hyundai Santa Fe at 11.2, 8.7 and 10.1 respectively; and the Nissan Murano at 11.7, 8.5 and 10.3. 

Only because my OCD tendencies would cause me distress if not included I’ll finish off the list of potential rivals with the new two-row Honda Passport (that doesn’t measure up to the conventionally-powered Highlander’s fuel economy) with a rating of 12.5 city, 9.8 highway and 11.3 combined; the new Chevrolet Blazer at 12.7, 9.5 and 11.3 respectively, and lastly the Jeep Grand Cherokee at 12.7, 9.6 and 11.3. 

2019 Toyota Highlander Hybrid Limited
This dual-screen parking camera featured a helpful overhead bird’s eye view. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

The electrified portion of the Highlander Hybrid’s powertrain is made up of two permanent magnet synchronous motors, the first powering the front wheels and the second for those in back (making AWD), while a sealed nickel-metal hydride (Ni-MH) traction battery takes care of power storage. Toyota has eschewed newer, more common lithium-ion battery technology for this version of its Hybrid Synergy Drive system (it uses lighter Li-Ion tech for other battery applications), and it’s hard to argue against their long-term dependability as Toyota has used Ni-MH batteries in its Prius since that car hit the streets in 1997. Prius taxicabs have become legendary for reliability and durability, many eclipsing a million-plus kilometres without exchanging or rebuilding their batteries, while the latter is possible due to current NiMH modules being identical in size to those introduced with the 2001 Prius. 

If I can point to something negative, and then only negligibly, the regular model’s eight-speed automatic is more enjoyable to drive than the Hybrid’s electronically controlled continuously variable transmission (ECVT). Still, I’m kind of splitting hairs because I only noticed this when pushing harder than I would normally do in a family SUV like this. Under normal conditions, such as driving around the city or cruising down an open freeway the ECVT is brilliantly smooth and even quite nice to flick through the “gears” thanks to sequential shifting capability via stepped ratios that copy the feel of a conventional automatic transmission. 

2019 Toyota Highlander Hybrid Limited
The leather is high grade and comfort is a Highlander strong point. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

The Highlander Hybrid’s electric all-wheel drive system works well too, both on rainy streets and also in a snow packed parking lot I managed to find up on a local ski hill. Its prowess through slippery situations makes sense, as Toyota’s been perfecting this drivetrain since the first 2006 Highlander Hybrid arrived on the scene, and after spending week’s at a time with all of its variations through its entire tenure I’ve certainly never experienced any problem that it couldn’t pull me and my family out of. 

With a price of $50,950 (plus destination and fees) in base XLE trim the 2019 Highlander Hybrid isn’t inexpensive, while this top-line Limited is even pricier at $57,260, but it’s certainly not the loftiest price in this class. For instance, a similarly equipped 2019 Chevrolet Traverse High Country starts at a whopping $60,100, while the only slightly more premium-like 2019 Buick Enclave Avenir hits the road at $62,100, neither of which provides any type of hybrid electrification at all. I don’t know about you, but the Highlander Hybrid Limited’s price is starting to look quite reasonable. 

2019 Toyota Highlander Hybrid Limited
The second-row is roomy and very flexible. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Incidentally, pricing for all crossover SUVs mentioned in this review can be found right here at CarCostCanada, including their various trims, packages and standalone options, while you can also find money saving rebate information and really useful dealer invoice pricing that could save you thousands (for your convenience I’ve turned the name of each model mentioned in this review into a link to its pricing page). 

Right about now I’d normally go on and on about all the features in those trims, packages and options when it comes to this Highlander Hybrid Limited, but I recently covered it all in a two-model road test review of a 2018 Highlander V6 AWD Limited and a 2018 Highlander Hybrid Limited, and being that nothing has changed since then, other than the upgrade to LED fog lights, go ahead and check out all the details here. 

In essence, despite the current Highlander’s age you could do a lot worse in this segment. It provides plenty of power, a comfortable ride, good road manners, near premium interior quality that even includes fabric-wrapped roof pillars from front to back, as well as soft-touch surface treatments galore, an attractive colour-filled primary instrument cluster (that includes loads of unique hybrid controls), a decent centre-stack infotainment interface that only looks dated because of Toyota’s superb new Entune touchscreen, a spacious, comfortable three-row passenger compartment, tons of cargo capacity, excellent expected reliability, and awesome fuel economy. 

2019 Toyota Highlander Hybrid Limited
Hauling cargo is not a problem. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

I suppose the only reason I can give you not to choose a 2019 Highlander Hybrid over one of its competitors is the upcoming 2020 Highlander Hybrid, although now that the new one is on the way you’ll probably be able to get a much better deal on this outgoing 2019. You’ll need to look at your own budget and then decide how you want to proceed, but either way don’t forget to use CarCostCanada for rebate info and dealer invoice pricing, so you can get the best possible deal. 

Story credit: Trevor Hofmann 

Photo credit: Karen Tuggay

CarCostCanada

2019 Toyota C-HR Limited Road Test Review

2019 Toyota C-HR Limited
The Toyota C-HR is no wallflower, really living up to Akio Toyoda’s desire for more exciting designs. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

During the introduction of the FT-1 concept at the 2014 Detroit auto show, Toyota president Akio Toyoda issued a companywide decree for “no more boring cars,” and this C-HR is a direct result of this type of thinking, at least with respect to styling. Do you think it embodies Toyoda’s hopes for a level of “style that stirs peoples’ emotions and makes them say ‘I want to drive this’?” 

Toyoda obviously does, as he would’ve approved the initial design and given the go-ahead for this production model. Being just 63, he’s still very much in charge of his grandfather’s car company, and I must say the namesake Japanese brand’s newest SUV is just one of many dynamic designs to arrive on the scene in recent years. 

I won’t comment on CH-R styling in detail, first because my taste isn’t your taste, and secondly because I’m a fan of unorthodox designs like Nissan’s Juke and Cube, as long as the proportions are right and there’s some sort of balance to the overall look. The CH-R fits nicely into that category, pushing the limits in some respects, but probably acceptable enough to the masses to maintain reasonable resale values. 

2019 Toyota C-HR Limited
The C-HR might look even more daring from behind. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

It’s more important that Toyota finally has something to compete in this subcompact SUV class, and I give them high marks for courage, being that the majority of rivals already enjoying success here did so by focusing more on things practical than eye-catching design. It was as surprise that Toyota showed up with this sportier looking, slightly smaller than average alternative that seems to put style ahead of pragmatism. 

A rundown of class sales leaders shows that passenger and cargo spaciousness and flexibility rules the roost, with long-term top-sellers include the innovative Honda HR-V, funky yet practical Kia Soul, and larger than average Subaru Crosstrek, while a couple of newcomers doing well include the cheap and sizeable Nissan Qashqai, as well as the all-round impressive Hyundai Kona. It’s like this new C-HR said hello to the same type of buyers that were lamenting the loss of the recently cancelled Juke (replaced by the new Kicks), although missing the AWD Juke’s stellar performance. Go-fast goodness may also help propel Canadian sales of the Mazda CX-3, not to mention its arguably stylish design. 

2019 Toyota C-HR Limited
The C-HR provides plenty of interesting details when seen up close. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

This is model-year two for the new C-HR, and all things considered it’s a commendable subcompact crossover SUV. My test model was tarted up in new Limited trim, which reaches higher up the desirability scale than last year’s XLE, which I tested and reviewed last year. Altogether I’ve tested three C-HR’s, and each provided impressive comfort with the same level of features as comparatively priced competitors, plus amply capable performance, and superb fuel efficiency. 

One of the C-HR’s strengths is interior refinement, although I wouldn’t say it’s the segment’s best when compared to the previously noted CX-3 in its top-tier GT trim, which gets very close to the luxury subcompact SUV class, and that’s even when comparing Mazda’s best to this top-level Limited model. I did like the C-HR Limited’s nicely detailed padded, stitched leatherette dash-top, plus the large padded bolster just underneath that stretches from the right side of the instrument panel to the front passenger’s door, while a smaller padded section adorns the left side of the primary gauge package. Each door upper receives the same premium-level soft touch synthetic surface treatment, while all armrests get an even softer, more comfortable covering. 

2019 Toyota C-HR Limited
This interesting door handle provides access to the rear quarters. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Those who thrill at the sight of plentiful piano black lacquered plastic will be overjoyed with all of the dark shiny trim strewn around Toyota’s smallest crossover. I’d personally like it if there were less, and not due to its addition to interior design, but instead because it attracts dust something awful and scratches way too easily. I like the diamond-textured hard plastic on door inserts and lower panels, however, which are truly unique, look great and feel durable enough to last the test of time. It certainly doesn’t feel as cheap as the usual hard plastic found in these areas in this segment, plus the diamond pattern complements the unusual assortment of diamond-shaped reliefs stamped into the overhead roofliner. 

Before I take a deep dive into the C-HR’s interior design and quality, I should mention this 2019 model received a few upgrades that should allow it to find more buyers while improving it overall compared to last year’s version, starting with a new base LE trim that eliminates more than $1,000 from the 2018 C-HR’s base window sticker. This said $23,675 isn’t as approachable as some competitors noted earlier in this review, the Qashqai now available from $20,198 (just $200 more than last year’s version despite plenty of new equipment), and the new Nissan Kicks starting at a mere $17,998, thus making it the most affordable SUV in Canada. Nevertheless, the C-HR’s list of standard goodies is hard to beat, so stay tuned in if you’d like to learn more. 

2019 Toyota C-HR Limited
Distinctive design elements can be seen all around. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Something else going against this new C-HR’s success is the significantly larger and much more accommodating Nissan Rogue that only costs $3k or so more, while the completely redesigned 2019 RAV4 begins at just $27,790 (check out all the latest pricing details for all makes and models including this C-HR, the Rogue and RAV4 right here at CarCostCanada, with additional info on trims, packages and available options, plus otherwise difficult to get rebate info and dealer invoice pricing that could save you thousands). 

A positive for this 2019 C-HR LE is Toyota’s new Entune 3.0 infotainment system that now comes standard across the line. It features a much larger 8.0-inch touchscreen and supports Apple CarPlay smartphone integration, plus Toyota’s superb in-house smartphone integration app. I like this infotainment system a lot, and I like Toyota’s Entune smartphone app even more than Android Auto, no matter whether I’m setting my drive route up in my house via my Samsung S9, or controlling it via the C-HR’s touchscreen. The new display also features a standard backup camera, which might not sound like much of big deal unless you had previously been forced to live with last year’s ultra-small rearview mirror-mounted monitor. Now it’s much easier to use and of course safer thanks to the larger display. 

2019 Toyota C-HR Limited
Toyota carries the C-HR’s unorthodox styling characteristics inside too. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

The route guidance mentioned a moment ago comes via a Scout GPS app downloadable from your smartphone’s online store. Like I said, you can set it up before going out via your phone, and then when hooked up to your C-HR it displays your route on the touchscreen just like a regular navigation system. I found it easy to use and extremely accurate, while Toyota also supplies the Entune App Suite Connect with a bundle of applications for traffic, weather, Slacker, Yelp, sports, stocks, fuel and NPR One (a U.S.-sourced public radio station). 

The base C-HR LE also receives standard automatic high beam headlamps, adaptive cruise control, remote entry, an acoustic glass windshield, auto up/down power windows all-round, a leather-clad shift knob, a 4.2-inch TFT multi-information display within the primary gauge package, an auto-dimming interior mirror, illuminated vanity mirrors, two-zone automatic climate control, a six-speaker audio system, the aforementioned piano black lacquered trim, fabric seat upholstery, front sport seats, 60/40-split rear seatbacks, a cargo cover, autonomous emergency braking with pedestrian detection, lane departure alert with steering assist, all the expected active and passive safety features plus a few unexpected ones like a driver’s knee airbag and rear side thorax airbags, etcetera, which is downright generous for the base trim level of a subcompact crossover SUV, and therefore should relieve those concerned about its base price being too high. 

2019 Toyota C-HR Limited
The C-HR’s sporty gauge cluster is easy to read in any light. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Last year the C-HR was only available in XLE trim, so it’s good that Toyota kept this model as a mid-range entry while it expanded the lineup with two more trims. The XLE now starts at $25,725 thanks to the new Entune 3.0 Audio Plus system, plus it also includes automatic collision notification, a stolen vehicle locator, an emergency assistance SOS button, and enhanced roadside assistance to enhance its safety equipment, plus 17-inch alloys, a leather-wrapped steering wheel, nicer cloth upholstery, heated front seats (which should really be standard in Canada), and two-way power lumbar support for the driver’s seat. 

On top of this you can add on an XLE Premium package that increases the price to $27,325 yet includes larger 18-inch rims, proximity keyless entry with pushbutton start/stop, heated power-retractable outside mirrors with puddle lamps, blindspot monitoring, rear cross traffic alert, and lane change assist. 

Lastly, new top-tier Limited trim starts at $28,775 and adds rain-sensing wipers, a very helpful windshield wiper de-icer (especially considering the frigid winter and spring most of us endured this year and last), ambient interior lighting, and attractive textured leather upholstery in either black or brown. 

2019 Toyota C-HR Limited
The larger centre screen now incorporates the rearview parking camera. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Look under the hood and you’ll something that hasn’t changed for 2019, a 2.0-litre four-cylinder engine that might cause some potential buyers to feel as if the C-HR’s performance doesn’t quite reach up to meet its sporty styling. The engine puts out a reasonable 144 horsepower and 139 lb-ft of torque, which isn’t bad on its own, but the only gearbox it comes mated to is the belt-and-pulley-inspired continuously variable type, a.k.a. CVT, which makes a difference at the pump, but isn’t exactly designed to thrill off the line. What’s more, the C-HR is a front-wheel-drive-only offering, making it the type of SUV you’ll be forced to chain up when hitting the slopes if your local mountain(s) have a policy that requires chains on all vehicles without AWD. 

Still, as noted it’s a thrifty little ute, capable of just 8.7 L/100km in the city, 7.5 on the highway and 8.2 combined according to the powers that be at Transport Canada, which thanks to new carbon taxes and other interprovincial and geopolitical issues is critical these days. 

2019 Toyota C-HR Limited
These are comfortable leather-covered seats. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Also important, the C-HR’s wide footprint and low roofline make it reasonably well balanced, which results in handling that nearly adheres to Mr. Toyoda’s “no more boring cars” credo. Nearly is the deciding word, however, as the C-HR is no CX-3 or Kona, but its fully independent MacPherson strut front and double-wishbone/trailing arm rear suspension is plenty of fun when quickly slaloming through a twisting backcountry two-laner or hightailing through town, plus I found its ride quality amongst the segment’s best. 

While we’re on the subject of comfort, the C-HR’s front seats are excellent, and its driving position is a considerable improvement over some other Toyota models. To be clear, I have longer legs than torso, which means that I’m required to shove my driver’s seat more towards the rear than most others measuring five-foot-eight, and then adjust the steering column as far rearward as possible. A number of Toyota models simply don’t provide enough steering wheel reach to comfortably allow me a good, safe grip of the wheel with my arms appropriately bent, so I was thrilled the C-HR does. 

2019 Toyota C-HR Limited
The rear seats should be roomy enough for most owners’ needs. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

How about rear roominess and comfort. Even after pushing my driver’s seat as far rearward as necessary for my gangly legs, there was approximately four inches left over ahead of my knees when seated directly behind, plus about three inches over my head, which should be good enough for the majority of tallish passengers. I also had ample side-to-side space, although three abreast might feel a bit crowded. 

Oddly there isn’t flip-down armrest between the two outboard rear positions, and while not quite as comfortable I’m glad Toyota remembered to include a cupholder just ahead of the armrest on each rear door panel. Also good, the rear outboard seats are comfortable and supportive, especially against the lower back. On the negative, rear seat visibility out the side windows is horrible due to the C-HR’s strangely shaped doors that cause rear occupants to look directly into a big black panel when trying to see out. I’m guessing that kids big and small won’t appreciate this, so make sure you bring the young’uns along for the test drive before you buy. 

2019 Toyota C-HR Limited
Not the roomiest cargo area in its class, the C-HR should nevertheless satisfy most subcompact SUV buyers’ requirements. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Cargo capacity might also be a deal-breaker for those who regularly haul a lot of life’s gear, because the C-HR’s sporty rear roofline slices into its vertical volume. The result is a mere 538 litres (19.0 cubic feet) of maximum luggage space aft of the rear seatbacks, which is a bit tight when put up against the class leaders. Folding the C-HR’s 60/40-split rear seats flat improves on available cargo space with 1,031 litres (36.4 cu ft), although once again this doesn’t come close to the largest in this segment. 

Rather than leave this review on a negative note, I’ll make a point of highlighting the C-HR’s impressive five-star NHTSA safety rating, and should also bring attention to Toyota’s excellent reliability record on the whole. I’m sure such talk isn’t what Toyoda-san would want me relating when wrapping up a review of such a non-boring design exercise, but in truth the C-HR is more about comfort, convenience, economy and dependability than go-fast performance, and while this might seem a bit dull and wholly Toyota-like, it’s also why so many Canadian consumers go back to the world’s most successful Japanese automaker time and time again. For this reason I’d difficult for me to argue against the new C-HR, so if this new subcompact SUV’s styling, size and drivability work for you, by all means take one home. 

Story credit: Trevor Hofmann 

Photo credit: Karen Tuggay

CarCostCanada

2019 Nissan Micra S Road Test

2019 Nissan Micra S
The ultra-inexpensive base Micra actually looks quite sporty. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

It’s not too often that the cheapest and stingiest choice ends up being the most enjoyable, but such is the case with Nissan’s Micra. 

Cheap? How does $10,488 sound? If you were in the market for this little city car last year it probably sounds $500 too high, because the Micra was one of Canada’s only new sub-$10k cars for its entire four-year existence (except for the $9,995 Chevy Spark and Mitsubishi Mirage when it went on sale to clear out end-of-year stock), but thanks to a new standard 7.0-inch centre touchscreen featuring an integrated backup camera and some other updates, it’s a bit pricier this year. You can see all of the trims and check out previous years’ pricing right here at CarCostCanada, where you’ll also find manufacturer rebate info and dealer invoice pricing. 

Its new list price still beats inflation (according to the Bank of Canada inflation calculator), as well as the Mirage by $510, and now that I think of it the Micra also beats the Mirage by 31 horsepower, 33 lb-ft of torque, 400 cubic centimetres of engine displacement, one cylinder, one rear suspension stabilizer bar, one-inch of standard wheel diameter, 20 millimetres of standard tire width, 32 litres of additional passenger volume, 41 mm of front headroom, 29 mm of rear headroom, 0.5 inches of standard centre touchscreen, six litres of fuel tank volume, and the list goes on. 

2019 Nissan Micra S
The Micra’s design comes across quite retro, despite not referencing any specific car from Nissan’s past. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

All said it would be unfair not to mention that, while the Mirage is about as sporty as a Kenmore dryer on spin cycle, its claimed fuel usage nears hybrid levels of efficiency at 6.5 L/100km combined city/highway in manual form and just 6.2 with its optional continuously variable transmission (CVT), compared to 7.9 L/100km for the Micra’s five-speed manual and 8.0 for its available four-speed automatic. 

The Mirage beats the Micra in a number of other notable ways too, such as standard auto off headlamps, LED taillights, body-colour mirror caps, exterior door handles and liftgate handle, a chrome rear garnish, standard power door locks with remote access, power-adjustable side mirrors, powered front windows, air conditioning, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto smartphone integration, two more standard stereo speakers, a driver’s knee airbag, 79 additional litres of cargo capacity behind the rear seats, 511 more litres of cargo space with the seats folded, two more years or 40,000 more kilometres of basic warranty, five more years or 60,000 more km of powertrain warranty, etcetera, while year-over-year sales of the Mirage were off by just six percent compared to 39 percent for the Micra. 

That last point might make it look as if more people like the Mitsubishi, but just 2,351 Canadians took a Mirage home last year compared to 5,372 that opted for the Micra. It’s easy to see they didn’t make their choice by comparing standard features and fuel economy, because the Mirage clearly comes out on top in these categories, so why all the Micra love? 

2019 Nissan Micra S
Steel wheels and hubcaps? Why not? The Micra S costs barely more than $10k. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

Take both cars for a drive and you’ll immediately understand. The Micra is so much fun you’ll be wondering why everyone’s making such a fuss about SUVs, whereas the Mirage feels best when idling in bumper-to-bumper traffic. If the latter describes your commute and you never plan on driving up to Whistler or Kelowna via the Coquihalla for a weekend getaway, by all means go all in on the Mitsu, but if you want a car that has the power to keep up with traffic while climbing steep grades, let alone is sporty enough in stock trim to compete in its own spec racing series, choose the Micra, and while you’re at it watch a few segments of the highly entertaining Micra Cup (see below for Race 1 of the 2018 season). 

Rather than applying lipstick to a pig and trying to pass it off as the prom queen, Nissan invested its Micra money into a formidable direct-injection 1.6-litre four-cylinder engine good for 109 horsepower and 107 lb-ft of torque, compared to 78 and 74 respectively for the Mirage, plus a sporty feeling five-speed manual transmission with nice, progressive clutch take-up, wonderful steering feel, a front strut, rear torsion beam suspension with stabilizer bars at both ends, 15-inch wheels on 185/60 all-season tires, and overall driving feel that punches way above its 1,044-kilo welter curb weight. 

2019 Nissan Micra S
Not sure what the swirly indentations on the roof do, but they look kind of cool from above. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

Of course, how a city car takes to the corners may not matter as much to some folks as others, but let me know how you feel about that after you’ve just managed to avoid an accident thanks to the fleet footedness of your much more agile Micra. Due to such well-engineered suspension systems, I’m thankfully able to share a number of near misses that could have been bent metal at best, so handling is as much of a safety issue as braking performance, which I must say is pretty good on both cars despite their front disc, rear drum setups. 

I know, many buying into this class will likely care more about colour choices and styling than performance and safety, and when it comes to visual appeal I think the Micra has an edge in this respect too. While both are quite seasoned, this generation of Mirage Hatchback having arrived on the scene in 2012 and the current Micra in 2011, albeit in Canada during the spring of 2014 as a 2015 model, the little Nissan looks well proportioned and actually quite sporty from all angles. 

2019 Nissan Micra S
We love the classic taillight design. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

Inside my base S trimmed tester, the word spartan comes to mind. Maybe minimalism might be kinder, because it does brighten things up with silver metal-like accents in key areas, and a nice, sizeable 7.0-inch centre touchscreen filled with a colourful interface, this especially true when placing the shifter in reverse and enjoying the big new backup camera on the display, while Bluetooth audio, Siri Eyes Free, and plenty of other functions provide a fully up-to-date user experience, but the black cloth seats come up a bit short on creativity, and the three-dial HVAC system is, while perfectly functional, easy to use, and adorned with blue and red highlights on the temperature knob and some backlit orange elements elsewhere, hardly exciting. 

The steering wheel is new, and in its most basic form gets a fresh set of metallic silver audio system and Bluetooth phone switchgear on its leftmost spoke, but the two-dial gauge cluster hasn’t changed for as long as I’ve been testing this car, my first review being a 2015 version of this very Micra S, with its only option being a sparkling coat of Metallic Blue paint. This 2019 tester’s $135 worth of Magnetic Gray paint aside (the price of optional paint hasn’t gone up one cent), the gauge package is large and easy to read in any light, while the little LCD gear selector, odometer, fuel gauge, and trip computer display, capable of showing current and average fuel economy plus distance to empty) is kind of cool in a retro Seiko digital watch sort of way. 

2019 Nissan Micra S
Open up and climb in… there’s plenty of room. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

I reviewed 2016 and 2017 examples of the top-line Micra SR too, the former in a beautiful blue-green Caspian Sea hue (that’s still available), and the second in a less playful Gun Metallic grey (that’s been replaced by this car’s aforementioned Magnetic Gray—Metallic Blue is now only available in upper trims, incidentally), but Charcoal Cloth (black) is the only interior colour choice, albeit upper trims get some patterned colour woven into the seat inserts that’s a big move up in visual stimulation. 

What else do you get with the base Micra? The new infotainment system and steering wheel switches aside, the Micra S comes with thoughtful little luxuries like rubberized knobs for the manual winding windows, cool little toggles for manually adjusting the side mirrors (although you’ll need to stretch across the car or ask for help to set up the one on the passenger’s side), carpeted floor mats front to back, and did I mention the genuine cloth seats? Of course, I’m poking a little fun at the expectations of our first world life, because very few cars available on the Canadian market have wind-up windows these days, let alone require a key to get into each front door as well as the rear hatch. Seriously there’s not even an interior latch to remotely release it, but once it’s unlocked you have the luxury of opening and closing it at will. 

2019 Nissan Micra S
The cabin is a bit spartan, but comfortable and highly functional. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

Standard features of note that have not yet been mentioned include tilt steering, micro-filtered ventilation, variable intermittent wipers, an intermittent rear wiper, two-speaker AM/FM/CD/MP3/WMA audio with Radio Data System (RDS) and speed-sensitive volume control, a USB port and aux-in jack, a four-way manual driver’s seat, 60/40 split-folding rear seatbacks, and more. 

If you want air conditioning and/or cruise control, not to mention an upgraded steering wheel featuring switchgear on its right spoke, simply opt for the Micra S with its available automatic and these features come standard. That upmarket move requires a surprisingly hefty $3,810 resulting in a new total of $14,298 before freight and fees, which, once again to be fair to the Mitsubishi, is $2,100 more than the Mirage CVT that already includes the autobox-infused Micra upgrades as standard. The thing is, you’ll be hard pressed to get up a steep hill in the Mitsubishi, while you’ll be hard charging in the Micra. 

2019 Nissan Micra S
Gotta love the wind-up windows. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

The fancier cloth isn’t all you get when moving up from the Micra’s base S trim to its $15,598 mid-range SV or $17,598 top-tier SR grade, with the former trim’s standard features list swelling to include the automatic transmission, body-coloured mirror caps and door handles, power locks with auto-locking, powered windows, heated power-adjustable side mirrors, chrome interior door handles, cruise control, air conditioning, four-speaker audio, a six-way manual driver’s seat with a folding armrest, etcetera, while factory options for this trim include a $400 SV Style Package with 15-inch alloy wheels and a rear spoiler. 

The top-line Micra SR gets the same rooftop spoiler and its own set of aluminum wheels, although its standard machine-finished rims grow to 16 inches and ride on 185/55 all-season rubber, while the rest of its standard features list includes upgraded sport headlights and taillights, front fog lamps, side sill spoilers, chrome exterior accents, a chrome exhaust tip, a leather-wrapped steering wheel, a leather-wrapped shift lever with the manual transmission (which once again comes standard), even nicer Sport cloth upholstery, and more. 

2019 Nissan Micra S
The gauge cluster is serviceable and therefore does the job. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

Paint colours aside there aren’t any factory options for the Micra’s two upper grades, but Nissan provides plenty of dealer-installed accessories no matter the trim, and some really celebrate the car’s sporty nature. For instance, there are Colour Studio packages that include contrasting coloured mirror covers and sport stripes available across the line for $219, or alternatively you can swap out the body-colour door handles on SV and SR models with the same contrasting colour from the aforementioned City Package by choosing the $461 Trend Package, while the $599 Intensity Package ups the ante with a contrasting coloured rear hatch finisher and a custom “Premium Package” emblem. 

Alternatively you can get all of the above individually, as well as colour centre wheel caps, a rear rooftop spoiler (for S and SV trims), a chrome exhaust tip (ditto), etcetera, plus a whole host of more conventional accessories like all-season floor mats, a cargo mat, bicycle and ski/snowboard/wakeboard carriers, and more. 

2019 Nissan Micra S
The biggest improvement for 2019 is this 7.0-inch touchscreen, that provides a much larger backup camera. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

I should mention that the Micra and Mirage aren’t the only hatchbacks vying for your attention in this class. As noted earlier, Chevy’s little Spark is also a credible competitor for about $500 less than the Micra, while it bridges the gap (more like a chasm) when it comes to performance thanks to 98 horsepower and 94 lb-ft of torque (still 11 hp and 13 lb-ft less than the Micra), and fuel economy that’s rated at 7.2 L/100km combined, plus it offers an identically sized 7.0-inch touchscreen with standard CarPlay and Android smartphone integration, etcetera. It was redesigned for 2019, which spurred the strongest year-over-year growth within Canada’s entire small car sector (including larger subcompact and compact models) at 24.2 percent, resulting in 4,945 units and second place in the city car segment. 

At the other end of the positivity spectrum Fiat’s much pricier $22,495 500 lost even more ground than the Micra at -68 percent and just 269 units down the road during the same 12 months—year-over-year Micra sales were down 39 percent, incidentally. The Smart Fortwo, which doesn’t really face off directly against any of these five-place competitors due to having just two seats, now being solely electric and thus starting at $29,050 and wearing a new EQ badge, saw its sales shrink by 13.9 percent to 317 units last year, while the entire city car segment has been contracting in recent years due to the cancellation of the all-electric Mitsubishi i-MiEV last year and the Scion iQ the year before. 

2019 Nissan Micra S
There’s no shortage of headroom in the Micra’s tall cabin. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

Glancing back at that list of rivals and it’s not too unreasonable to surmise some future cancellations. Truly, if it weren’t for Daimler’s brilliantly innovative Car2Go sharing program (it was first) it’s highly unlikely the Smart brand would exist anymore, at least in our part of the world, while both Fiat, which is repositioning itself as a boutique premium brand like Mini, and Mitsubishi, that’s only having any notable success with Outlander compact SUV that saw growth of nearly 50-percent last year due to a plug-in hybrid version, may not make it through the next inevitable recession. 

I mean, if Fiat only managed to sell 596 vehicles brand-wide up until October of 2018, which is a 73 percent drop from the year prior, and then conveniently forgot to mention the brand in its monthly and yearly totals in November and December, there’s a pretty good chance they’re about to say arrivederci to the North American markets sooner than later. We sourced the information from Automotive News Canada that reported 645 calendar 2018 sales for a 72.4 percent downturn compared to the 2,339 units sold in 2017, but that’s still got to be beyond challenging for the Italian brand’s 55 independent retailers. 

2019 Nissan Micra S
Rear seating space is decent too. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

I’ve driven all of the above so therefore it’s easy for me to understand why the Micra is Canada’s best-selling city car, not to mention more popular than plenty of other small cars including the Mini Cooper at 4,466 units, the Honda Fit at 3,520 (although a flood at its Mexican assembly plant was the cause of its 29.9 percent downfall), Chevrolet Sonic at 2,836 (which will soon be discontinued), Volkswagen Beetle at 2,077, Ford Fiesta 1,323 (also cancelled), and Hyundai Veloster at 1,077 units (but it’s more of a niche sport model). I’m not saying this final list of cars aren’t more appealing than the Micra overall, but when value is factored into the mix, only the Honda Fit measures up. 

2019 Nissan Micra S
Plenty of room for cargo. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

While we most likely won’t see a redesign of our Canadian-exclusive Micra anytime soon (most other markets received an all-new Micra in 2017), because it’s not available in the U.S. and therefore may not warrant the investment, it’s possible that a change in market conditions could see it quickly become even more popular than it already is with price- and interest rate-sensitive first-time and fixed-income buyers. Still, as much as I’d like to get my hands on the more up-to-date version, the current Micra offers so much value for its asking price and provides so much fun at the wheel that it’s impossible to beat, and now that Nissan has given this base model new life with a fresh infotainment touchscreen it’s even better than ever, putting the new 2019 Micra S high on my budget conscious shoppers recommendations list.

Story credits: Trevor Hofmann, Canadian Auto Press 

Photo credits: Karen Tuggay,  Canadian Auto Press 

Copyright: Canadian Auto Press Inc.