Plenty of carmakers build hybrid vehicles, but none has been as successful at partial electrification as Toyota. Of course, it had a head start, creating the entire sector in 1997 with the launch of its original Prius. Now, 23 years later, Toyota has filled the world with more than 15 million hybrid vehicles, while accounting for 80 percent of all hybrid sales globally.
An updated version of that first-generation Prius arrived in Canada for 2000, and now that model is well into its fourth generation and an automotive icon. No other hybrid electric car has sold anywhere near as well as the Prius, plus Toyota has a number of other hybrids to its credit as well.
While the full-size Prius v (for volume) was discontinued in 2017 and subcompact Prius c was cancelled last year, the plug-in Prius Prime is pointing Toyota in a more fully electrified direction. That model, which gets unique styling and the ability to drive at regular city and even highway speeds under full electric power, will be joined by a plug-in RAV4 Prime for 2021, which should be even more popular.
Speaking of popular, Toyota added a Corolla Hybrid to the gasoline-electric fleet for 2020, this model now going head-to-head against Honda’s Insight, which is little more than a restyled Civic hybrid, whereas the Camry Hybrid remains popular with those who require a bigger sedan.
Toyota doesn’t offer its full-size Avalon Hybrid in Canada, but the aforementioned RAV4 Prime currently comes as a RAV4 Hybrid too, and its popularity will make sure no one in Canada is lamenting the loss of Toyota’s big flagship four-door sedan. Another SUV worth considering is the near-full-size Highlander Hybrid that’s oddly the only mid-size SUV available in the mainstream sector with a hybrid powertrain. Last but hardly least, Toyota offers fleet buyers one of the only hydrogen fuel cell-powered vehicles available, the one-of-a-kind Mirai taking the hybrid concept into a totally new direction.
Notably, a considerable number of the 15 million hybrids sold under Toyota’s umbrella wore the Lexus badge, the Japanese automaker’s luxury division adding seven additional gasoline-electric models to the namesake brand’s eight. Starting from the least expensive is the entry-level UX 250h subcompact crossover, which is followed by the NX 300h compact crossover, the ES 300h mid-size luxury sedan, the RX 450h mid-size crossover SUV, the longer three-row RX 450h L, the LC 500h personal sport-luxury coupe, and lastly the Lexus LS 500h full-size sedan flagship (gone are the HS 250h, CT 200h and GS 450h).
If you think that 15 hybrid models from two brands is an impressive accomplishment, considering for a moment that Toyota and Lexus sell 44 unique hybrid vehicles outside of Canada, while hybrids combined for 52 percent of Toyota’s overall sales volume in Europe last year.
So what does the future hold? Toyota plans to increase hybrid integration into more models moving forward, while continuing to develop its hydrogen fuel cell and full electric programs too. Toyota Executive Vice President Shigeki Terashi announced in June 2019 that half of the carmaker’s global sales would be electrified by 2025. Expect a combination of hybrid (HEV), plug-in hybrid (PHEV) and fully electric (BEV) vehicles, and with that latter category in mind, Terashi pointed out that an entirely new line of full electrics would be designed for international consumption.
As usual I’ve scanned the many Toyota Canada retail websites and found plenty new 2019 Prius Prime examples to purchase, no matter which province I searched. What this means is a good discount when talking to your local dealer, combined with Toyota’s zero-percent factory leasing and financing rates for 2019 models, compared to a best-possible 2.99-percent for the 2020 version.
While these pages weren’t created with the latest COVID-19 outbreak in mind, and really nothing was including the dealerships we use to test cars and purchase them, some who are reading this review may have their lease expiring soon, while others merely require a newer, more reliable vehicle (on warranty). At the time of writing, most dealerships were running with full or partial staff, although the focus seems to be more about servicing current clientele than selling cars. After all, it’s highly unlikely we can simply go test drive a new vehicle, let alone sit in one right now, but buyers wanting to take advantage of just-noted deals can purchase online, after which a local dealer would prep the vehicle before handing over the keys (no doubt while wearing gloves).
Back to the car in question, we’re very far into the 2020 calendar year, not to mention the 2020 model year, but this said let’s go over all the upgrades made to the 2020 Prius Prime so that you can decide whether to save a bit on a 2019 model or pay a little extra for the 2020 version. First, a little background info is in order. Toyota redesigned the regular Prius into its current fourth-generation iteration for the 2016 model year, and then added this plug-in hybrid (PHEV) Prime for the 2017 model year. The standard hybrid Prius received many upgrades for 2019, cleaning up styling for more of a mainstream look (that didn’t impact the version being reviewed now, by the way), but the latest 2020 Prius Prime was given a number of major updates that I’ll go over now.
Interestingly (in other words, what were they thinking?), pre-refreshed Prius Prime models came with glossy white interior trim on the steering wheel spokes and shift lever panel, which dramatically contrasted the glossy piano black composite found on most other surfaces. Additionally, Toyota’s Prius Prime design team separated the rear outboard seats with a big fixed centre console, reduced a potential five seats to just four for the 2019 model year. Now, for 2020, the trim is all black shiny plastic and the rear seat separator has been removed, making the Prime much more family friendly. What’s more, the 2020 improves also include standard Apple CarPlay, satellite radio, a sunvisor extender, plus new more easily accessible seat heater buttons, while two new standard USB-A charging ports have been added in back.
Moving into the 2020 model year the Prime’s trim lineup doesn’t change one iota, which means Upgrade trim sits above the base model once again, while the former can be enhanced with a Technology package. The base price for both 2019 and 2020 model years is $32,990 (plus freight and fees) as per the aforementioned CarCostCanada pricing pages, but on the positive Toyota now gives you cargo cover at no charge (it was previously part of the Technology package). This reduces the Technology package price from $3,125 to $3,000, a $125 savings, and also note that this isn’t the only price drop for 2020. The Upgrade trim’s price tag is $455 lower in fact, from $35,445 to $34,990, but Toyota doesn’t explain why. Either way, paying less is a good thing.
As for the Prius Prime’s Upgrade package, it includes a 4.6-inch bigger 11.6-inch infotainment touchscreen that integrates a navigation system (and it also replaces the Scout GPS Link service along with its 3-year subscription), a wireless phone charger, Softex breathable leatherette upholstery, an 8-way powered driver seat (which replaces the 6-way manual seat from the base car), illuminated entry (with step lights), a smart charging lid, and proximity keyless entry for the front passenger’s door and rear liftgate handle (it’s standard on the driver’s door), but interestingly Upgrade trim removes the Safety Connect system along with its Automatic Collision Notification, Stolen Vehicle Locator, Emergency Assistance button (SOS), and Enhanced Roadside Assistance program (three-year subscription).
My tester’s Technology package includes fog lamps, rain-sensing windshield wipers, a helpful head-up display unit, an always appreciated auto-dimming centre mirror, a Homelink remote garage door opener, impressive 10-speaker JBL audio, useful front parking sensors, semi-self-parking, blind spot monitoring, and rear cross-traffic alert.
You might think an appropriate joke would be to specify the need for blind spot monitoring (not to mention paying close attention to your mirrors) in a car that only makes 121 net horsepower plus an unspecified amount of torque from its hybrid power unit, plus comes with an electronic continuously variable automatic (CVT) that’s not exactly performance-oriented (to be kind), all of which could cause the majority of upcoming cars to blast past as if it was only standing still, but as with most hybrids the Prime is not as lethargic as its engine specs suggest. The truth is that electric torque comes on immediately, and although AWD is not available with the plug-in Prius Prime, its front wheels hooked up nicely at launch resulting in acceleration that was much more than needed, whether sprinting away from a stoplight, merging onto a highway, or passing big, slower moving trucks and buses.
The Prius Prime is also handy through curves, but then again, just like it’s non-plug-in Prius compatriot, it was designed more for comfort than all-out speed, with excellent ride quality despite its fuel-efficient low rolling resistance all-season tires. Additionally, its ultra-tight turning radius made it easy to manoeuvre in small spaces. Of course, this is how the majority of Prius buyers want their cars to behave, because getting the best possible fuel economy is prime goal. Fortunately the 2019 Prius Prime is ultra-efficient, with a claimed rating of 4.3 L/100km city, 4.4 highway and 4.3 combined, compared to 4.4 in the city, 4.6 on the highway and 4.4 combined for the regular Prius, and 4.5 city, 4.9 highway and 4.7 for the AWD variant. This said the Prime is a plug-in hybrid that’s theoretically capable of driving on electric power alone, so if you have the patience and trim to recharge it every 40 km or so (its claimed EV-only range), you could actually pay nothing at all for fuel.
I might even consider buying a plug-in just to get the best parking spots at the mall and other popular stores, being that most retailers put their charging stations closest to their front doors. Even better, when appropriate stickers are attached to the Prime’s rear bumper it’s possible to use the much more convenient (and faster) high-occupancy vehicle (HOV) lane when driving alone during rush hour traffic.
The Prime’s comfort-oriented driving experience combines with an interior that’s actually quite luxurious too. Resting below and in between cloth-wrapped A-pillars, the Prime receives luxuriously padded dash and instrument panel surfacing, including sound-absorbing soft-painted plastic under the windshield and comfortably soft front door uppers, plus padded door inserts front and back, as well as nicely finished door and centre armrests. Toyota also includes stylish metal-look accents and shiny black composite trim on the instrument panel, the latter melding perfectly into the super-sized 11.6-inch vertical touchscreen infotainment display, which as previously mentioned replaces the base Prime’s 7.0-inch touchscreen when moving up to Upgrade trim.
Ahead of delving into the infotainment system’s details, all Prius Primes receive a wide, narrow digital gauge package at dash central, although it is slanted toward the driver with the majority of functions closer to the driver than the front passenger. I found it easy enough to look at without the need to remove my eyes from the road, and appreciated its stylish graphics with bright colours, deep and rich contrasts, plus high resolution. When you upgrade to the previously noted Technology package, you’ll benefit from a head-up display as well, which can positioned for a driver’s height, thus placing important information exactly where it’s needed on the windscreen.
The aforementioned vertical centre touchscreen truly makes a big impression when climbing inside, coming close to Tesla’s ultra-sized tablets. I found it easy enough to use, and appreciated its near full-screen navigation map. The bottom half of the screen transforms into a pop-up interface for making commands, that automatically hides away when not in use.
Always impressive is Toyota’s proprietary Softex leatherette upholstery, which actually breathes like genuine hides (appreciated during hot summer months). Also nice, the driver’s seat was ultra comfortable with excellent lower back support that gets improved upon by two-way power lumbar support, while its side bolsters held my backside in place during hard cornering as well. The Prime’s tilt and telescopic steering column gave me ample reach too, allowing me to get totally comfortable while feeling in control of the car. To be clear, this isn’t always possible with Toyota models.
I should mention that the steering wheel rim is not wrapped in leather, but rather more of Toyota’s breathable Softex. It’s impressively soft, while also featuring a heated rim that was so nice during my winter test week. High quality switchgear could be found on its 9 and 3 o’clock spokes, while all other Prius Prime buttons, knobs and controls were well made too. I particularly liked the touch-sensitive quick access buttons surrounding the infotainment display, while the cool blue digital-patterned shift knob, which has always been part of the Prius experience, still looks awesome. All said the new Prius Prime is very high in quality.
Take note that Toyota doesn’t finish the rear door uppers in a plush padded material, but at least everything else in rear passenger compartment is detailed out as nicely as the driver’s and front passenger’s area. Even that previously note rear centre console is a premium-like addition, including stylish piano black lacquered trim around the cupholders and a nicely padded centre armrest atop a storage bin. While many will celebrate its removal for 2020, those who don’t have children or grandkids might appreciate its luxury car appeal. Likewise, I found its individual rear bucket seats really comfortable, making the most of all the Prime’s rear real estate. Yes, there’s a lot of room to stretch out one’s legs, plus adequate headroom for taller rear passengers, while Toyota also adds vent to the sides of each rear seat, aiding cooling in back.
Most should find the Prius Prime’s cargo hold adequately sized, as it’s quite wide, but take note that it’s quite shallow because of the large battery below the load floor. It includes a small stowage area under the rearmost portion of that floor, filled with a portable charging cord, but the 60/40-split rear seats are actually lower than the cargo floor when dropped down, making for an unusually configured cargo compartment. Of course, we expect to make some compromises when choosing a plug-in hybrid, but Hyundai’s Ioniq PHEV doesn’t suffer from this issue, with a cargo floor that rests slightly lower than its folded seatbacks.
If you think I was just complaining, let me get a bit ornery about the Prius’ backup beeping signal. To be clear, a beeping signal would be a good idea if audible from outside the car, being that it has the ability to reverse in EV mode and can therefore be very quiet when doing so, but the Prius’ beeping sound is only audible from inside, making it totally useless. In fact, it’s actually a hindrance because the sound interferes with the parking sensor system’s beeping noise, which goes off simultaneously. I hope Toyota eventually rights this wrong, because it’s the silliest automotive feature I’ve ever experienced.
This said the Prius’ ridiculous reverse beeper doesn’t seem to slow down its sales, this model having long been the globe’s best-selling hybrid-electric car. It truly is an excellent vehicle that totally deserves to don the well-respected blue and silver badge, whether choosing this PHEV Prime model or its standard trim.
Luxury automakers have some models that sell in high volumes, thus providing much needed income and profits, others they’d like to do better, and one or two image vehicles that increase brand visibility and hopefully cause prospective buyers to choose something more affordable and/or practical in the lineup. Once in a while a vehicle achieves both objectives, but such isn’t the case with the stunning new Lexus LC 500 and LC 500h.
Lexus leans on its NX and RX compact and mid-size crossover SUVs for mass volume, and hopes its new UX will soon add to its popularity. To lesser extent its sedans add volume too, especially the compact IS and mid-size ES, but its GS mid-size performance sedan and beautiful LS full-size luxury sedan don’t do well at all, while its RC sports coupe struggles too. Lexus also offers a GX mid-size sport utility that hardly gets noticed, but its LX full-size SUV pulls respectable numbers from a market segment that’s smaller by nature, albeit profitable, actually managing to pull itself up to sixth place within the Lexus lineup, right behind the just-noted EX.
By comparison, the LC could be seen as a runaway success next to the LFA, Lexus’ previous image car. That near-exotic sport model was purposely limited to a mere 500 examples globally over two model years between 2010 and 2012, of which 10 came to Canada. The LC, on the other hand, after launching in 2017 for the 2018 model year, is closer to a sales homerun thanks to seven units driven out of Lexus Canada dealerships last month alone, not to mention nine the month before that. Altogether, Lexus sold 55 LC 500 and 500h models through the first seven months of this year, making it second-to-last for popularity in Japanese premium brand’s arsenal, right next to the last-place LS and its lacklustre 51-unit total. On the positive, the LC was hardly the slowest selling sport/luxury car in the country.
Poorest of the poor goes to the rather rich Maserati GranTurismo, which found just 14 takes this year so far, while this LC also improved on the Acura NSX’ 17-unit tally, plus the Nissan GT-R’s total of 36, and the 54 Audi R8 examples sold. Nevertheless, Mercedes-Benz found 99 SL-Class customers so far this year, while BMW pulled in 160 buyers for its all-new 8 Series, Jaguar attracted 181 newcomers to its latest F-Type, Mercedes wowed everyone with 258 AMG GT deliveries (superb sales for a $170k car), and Porsche won over 587 new clients for its outgoing 2019 911. Interestingly, that last number (587, not 2019 or 911) represented a 31.74-percent downgrade in popularity for the quintessential Porsche sports car when compared to the first seven months of 2018, due to most customers waiting for the completely redesigned 2020 911 that’s now in the midst of arriving.
Incidentally, the iconic Porsche wasn’t the only sports car to lose sales, with the R8 plummeting some 70.97 percent, the GranTurismo plunging 48.15 percent, this LC deep diving 48.11 percent, the F-Type caving 29.30 percent, the GT-R pulling back 21.74 percent, and the SL dipping 16.10 percent. The AMG GT was the only car in its glass to gained year-over-year sales, up 55.42 percent over the same seven months, while the new 8 Series will need to wait a year for comparison. I also got a kick out of learning that Lexus’ parent brand, Toyota, found 66 new $65k-plus Supra buyers during the same period.
Of course, other cars compete in this class, but some, such as the BMW i8 and Mercedes-Benz S-Class Coupe, have their sales numbers combined with other models in their respective lines (the i8 paired up with the i3, and the S-Class Coupe with the S-Class Sedan), while the Aston Martin DB11, Bentley Continental GT, and Rolls-Royce Wraith are much pricier models. Blue-oval fans will appreciate hearing that Ford found three customers for its Markham, Ontario-assembled mid-engine GT supercar, while Dodge even pulled in one lucky buyer for its now two-year deceased Viper, and speaking of American supercars, the Corvette pulled in 840 new clients so far this year, and I’m willing to bet the slightly more expensive mid-engine C8 will shortly be flying out of Chevy showrooms, making it even harder for great cars like the LC to gain any sales traction.
When a car doesn’t gain much popularity, like this LC, I find it a good idea to point out that not doing well on the sales chart doesn’t necessarily reflect its good qualities or bad issues. The way I see it, the very fact it’s a Lexus should bring it respect, and other than the aforementioned fourth-generation LS luxury sedan, which incidentally is only the second model to ride on Toyota’s New Global Architecture or TNGA (specifically TNGA-L or GA-L), the LC is by far the most impressive Lexus ever created.
Its greatest asset has to be its styling. The LC takes the Lexus’ trademark spindle grille to new depths and widths, but the look becomes even more abstract to each corner, with headlights that seem as if they’re alien-implanted mechanical growths, albeit the actual lighted areas are small and filled with threesomes of neatly stacked LED bulbs. All the unusual appendages are just glossy black trim, other than the “arrowhead” daytime running lights just underneath.
More Lexus trademark styling cues can be found toward the rear, with the LC’s C-pillars getting a similar blacked-out “floating roof” design to that found on other models such as the previously noted RX SUV. It’s further adorned with premium polished nickel brightwork, while sharply edged tail lamp prongs closely resemble the so-called “L-shaped” headlights, albeit infused with 80 separate LEDs per corner instead of just three. Lexus shares some of the LC’s taillight design with the previously noted LS sedan, not to mention the iconic Toyota Prius and category topping Camry in its XSE trim line. While each element appears a bit strange on its own, the package on the whole melds together in one wonderfully elegant and intensely attractive whole.
You know something? I almost never comment on styling, unless the design team managed to get something especially right or horribly wrong. Fortunately the Newport Beach, California-based Calty Design Research centre’s team got the LC very right. We can thank studio boss Ian Cartabiano, as well as Edward Lee who was responsible for the sensational exterior design, plus William Chergosky and Ben Chang where were in charge of the interior, albeit not specifically of the LC, but rather the LF-LC Concept that inspired it. The LC was near perfectly transformed from jaw-dropping prototype to equally gorgeous LC 500 and LC 500h production models with hardly a change made to the exterior design, the final result quite possibly the nearest any road-going model has ever resembled its conceptual beginnings.
The production LC’s cabin underwent a total redesign, mind you, although it maintained some of the concept’s general styling cues including its LFA-like pod-shaped digital gauge cluster, its horizontally penned instrument panel incorporating a recessed widescreen centre infotainment display, its driver-centric cockpit that’s partially enclosed by a buttress-type centre console extension that doubles as a front-passenger grab-handle in the production car, the downward-flowing alcantara suede door panels, the deeply bolstered set of front sport seats, the similarly styled sport buckets in back, plus more.
Lexus’ effort was quickly rewarded by the LC’s placement on the WardsAuto 10 Best Interiors list after it arrived in 2017, and I certainly can’t argue against that. It’s a fresh, contemporary design that deliveries big on refinement, luxury and high-tech wizardry, all of which should be expected at its $102,750 starting point in 2019 LC 500 trim, or $103,050 in upcoming 2020 form, or alternatively $118,850 as the 2019 LC 500h hybrid shown on this page, or $118,950 in 2020 LC 500h trim (learn about Lexus LC 500 and 500h pricing right here on CarCostCanada for both the 2019 and 2020 model years, plus find out about available rebates as well as dealer invoice pricing that could save you thousands).
There are no major changes from the 2019 model year to 2020, except for cancelation of the $14,800 Inspiration Series package with Flare Yellow semi-aniline leather upholstery and more for the LC 500, plus a new Bespoke White interior theme that’s also added to the conventionally powered model. All six exterior colours remain the same no matter the powertrain, with Infrared being the sole paint option at $650, whereas all three remaining interior colour themes continue forward as well.
In case you were wondering, Lexus priced my 3.5-litre V6-powered hybrid LC 500h test model higher than the 5.0-litre V8-powered LC 500 version, despite adding 113 horsepower to the eight-cylinder engine, and no doubt providing a more dramatic exhaust note, plus fitting it with a faster shifting, more engaging gearbox than the hybrid’s electronic continuously variable transmission (E-CVT), because of all the extra features that come standard, starting with the regular LC 500’s $13,500 Performance package.
This means that four-wheel active variable gear ratio steering is standard, as is a Torsen limited slip differential, a set o f 21-inch forged alloy wheels on Michelin performance tires (that replace standard 20s), a carbon-fibre roof panel instead of a standard glass roof, an active rear spoiler, carbon-fibre reinforced polymer kick plates, an alcantara suede headliner, more heavily bolstered sport seats, and an eight-way powered driver’s seat in place of the LC 500’s base 10-way design, and lane change assist, which gets added to a comprehensive menu of standard driver assistive technology on both trims including a pre-collision system with autonomous emergency braking, lane departure alert with steering assist, blind spot monitoring with rear cross traffic alert, auto high beams, and adaptive cruise control.
This is a good time to run over a shortlist of standard convenience and luxury highlights, including LED cornering lamps within the triple-LED headlight clusters mentioned before, a tidy little credit card-sized intelligent key for cabin access via proximity sensing, a head-up display unit to go along with the full digital gauge package noted earlier, power-folding outside mirrors, a heated steering wheel that even allows for temperature adjustment, a power-adjustable steering column that connects through to the front seat memory, ventilated front seats (plus, of course, heatable front seats), partially-automated self-parking, etcetera, etcetera.
Additionally, a 10.3-inch high-resolution centre display comes standard too, complete with a dynamic guideline-infused backup camera, a navigation system with very accurate route guidance, Apple CarPlay smartphone integration (yes, Android Auto users are out of luck), a brilliant 13-speaker Mark Levinson high resolution surround-sound audio system, satellite radio, two USB ports, traffic and weather information, the Lexus Enform App Suite 2.0 featuring Slacker, Yelp, Sports, Stocks, plus Fuel apps, the Enform Destination Assist app with a single-year subscription, and Enform Safety Connect with Automatic Collision Notification, a Stolen Vehicle Locator, an Emergency Assistance / SOS button, and Enhanced Roadside Assistance with a four-year subscription.
You’d need to stretch a long way in order to touch the centre display, so Lexus doesn’t bother with a touchscreen at all. Instead, the brand’s Remote Touch Interface touchpad gets added to the lower console, and while it works well enough once acclimatized, thanks to some quick-access buttons and audio controls around the touchpad, I can’t say it’s my favourite infotainment system. On the positive, there were many other reasons to appreciate this LC.
For one, it’s pretty large and fairly roomy, at least up front. As noted earlier, it’s based Toyota’s TNGA-L platform architecture, which is the same as the full-size LS luxury sedan, but take note the LC is quite a bit smaller unless measuring width. It spans across an additional 20 mm (0.8 in) at 1,920 mm (75.6 in), and you’ll immediately notice how spacious it is from side-to-side, especially if someone’s sitting next to you. The LC’s wheelbase is abbreviated by 255 mm (10.0 in) to 2,870 mm (113.0 in), however, whereas its nose-to-tail length is a significant 475 mm (18.7 in) shorter, plus it’s nowhere near as tall, the LC lower by 116 mm (4.5 in).
As for how it measures up to its competition, it’s not only a lot smaller than Mercedes’ S-Class Coupe, the LC is actually smaller than the German brand’s mid-size E-Class Coupe too, except for its width. The Lexus comes closer to the BMW i8 and Aston Martin DB11 in overall dimensions, with slightly greater wheelbase, length and height than the shapely German and more exotically branded Brit, but a bit less width this time around.
The LC’s longer length and wheelbase results in a car that can house four adults, but I’d make sure you don’t try to stuff someone too tall into the rear seats. I’m only five-foot-eight with longer legs than torso, but I was forced to kink my neck over to the side in order to fit in, with my head still pushing up against the back glass. The seats are comfortable enough, and I had enough space for my legs and feet, plus my shoulders and hips, which made it a shame that medium-sized adults won’t be able to ride in the rear.
How about trunk space? The LC 500h is smaller than the non-hybrid LC 500, providing just 132 litres (4.7 cu ft) instead of 153 (5.4 cu ft), so therefore you’ll need to stow a second set of clubs in the rear seating area when taking a friend along to the golf course.
Just in case you don’t fully understand the personal luxury coupe market segment, being able to take more than one set of golf bags to the course that is a critically important make-or-break factor, so it’s quite possible that, together with its lack of rear seat room, LC sales are being hurt by its lacklustre practicality. This Lexus isn’t a pureblooded performance car anyway, particularly in as-tested hybrid form, but instead is a luxurious personal coupe that just happens to ramp up speed quickly and manage corners with deft prowess. This makes the LC more like BMW’s i8 than anything else in the class. It takes off well enough and handles like a well-mannered sports car, but it’s built more for luxury than slaying the cones on weekend autocross course. When it comes to comfort, its suede-like alcantara-clad driver’s seat provides wrap-around comfort and good support all over, while was fully adjustable and complete with ample side bolstering for keeping me in place during aggressive manoeuvres.
Initially I was scheduled for a week in both the LC 500 and 500h, but someone did something naughty to the V8-powered version just ahead of receiving it, so instead of enjoying its 467 horsepower and 398 lb-ft of torque firsthand, not to mention its reportedly quick-shifting 10-speed automatic, I was moved into something else for that week, never to experience the LC 500 at all. Sad as that may be, soon I got into this LC 500h, which is a bit more docile with just 354 horsepower at the rear wheels, but it still felt plenty potent under full throttle.
The V6 portion of its hybrid power unit makes just 295 horsepower and 257 lb-ft of torque, which is in fact less than the same engine produces in the Toyota Camry XSE, but before I criticize Lexus for utilizing such a seemingly plebian engine in its most alluring model, consider that a more tautly strung version of this mill makes 430 reliable horsepower in the mid-engine Lotus Evora, so at least it’s in well respected company.
Of course, the lithium-ion battery and electric motor fulfill their torque-rich purpose too, the latter capable of a near immediate 177 horsepower and 221 lb-ft of torque, for a net 472 horsepower and, er, well let’s not even try to calculate its combined internal combustion and electric output, because net horsepower and net torque don’t exactly compute that way. Lexus officially estimates 354 horsepower while other testers are claiming approximately 370 lb-ft of torque. I believe they’re being ultra-conservative, being that the regular V8 shoots from zero to 100km/h in 5.1 seconds and this hybrid takes just 0.5 seconds longer resulting in a sprint time of 5.6, and this is despite the 500h adding 77 kilos (170 lbs) to its 2,012-kg (4,436-lb) curb weight over the 1,935-kg (4,266-lb) 500.
No matter which model you’re driving, make sure to choose the standard Drive Mode Select system’s most entertaining Sport S+ setting, which may not be as edgy as the sportiest mode in one of BMW’s M cars, or Lexus’ own RC F for that matter, but it nevertheless provides higher engine revs between shifts ahead of swapping cogs faster than it otherwise would. Lexus includes a set of large metal steering wheel-mounted paddle-shifters for the latter, which worked ideally in Sport mode as well, but unlike most cars I test I actually kept it in Sport S+ mode more often than not. Along with its increased performance and better feel, the rorty noises emanating from the engine bay and exhaust pipes were downright addictive, particularly when revs rise, and the transmission’s “gear changes” felt considerably more direct.
This was one of the most engaging continuously variable transmissions I’ve ever tested, although even factoring in its sophisticated 10-speed Simulated Shift Control technology, which includes a conventional-type multi-gear box within, it can’t completely eradicate all CVT tendencies. Yes, even in its sportiest drive mode its shifts come on so fast between intervals, albeit without the expected positive engagement otherwise experienced in most sport-tuned automatics and dual-clutch automated gearboxes, that it’s almost like nothing has happened at all, plus the V6 makes a habit of whining up and down with the same rubber band effect in between. In a nutshell, if you’re a serious performance fan you’ll want to opt for the V8-powered LC 500, which leaves folks who want to make their environmental mark choosing this hybrid, because let’s face it, anyone paying $100,000-plus for a personal luxury coupe isn’t going to care about saving fuel for the sake of saving dollars.
On that note, the LC 500h’s claimed fuel economy rating is very good for the class, coming in at 9.0 L/100km city, 7.1 highway and 8.1 combined, compared to 15.1 in the city, on the 9.5 highway and 12.6 combined for the regular LC 500.
No doubt the lighter LC 500 aids agility through fast curves when compared to the LC 500h, but either way the long, wide, low and fairly large coupe is a great handler, taking up plenty of real estate yet able to manage corners with precise skill. This is its strength, the LC delivering the same type of relaxed high-speed confidence-inspiring stability found in a big Mercedes-Benz coupe, yet with its own Japanese luxury flair. Its wonderfully balanced chassis is nice and easy on one’s backside too, with ride quality that’s much more comfortable than its large wheels, performance tires, and sporty low-slung design suggests, while its also serenely quiet when the aforementioned driving mode selector is switched from Sport+ or Sport to Comfort or Eco.
There’s no question whether the Lexus LC is worthy of a premium luxury coupe buyer’s attention or not, but no matter what I think its sales numbers don’t lie. As impressive as this car is, the people have spoken and the result is less than ideal. Even in the U.S., where Lexus is amongst the strongest selling luxury brands, the LC only attracted 764 sales since the January 1, 2019, which slightly better per capita than here in Canada, but nothing to get excited about either. Talk about a new stronger performing LC F model arriving later this year or early next could help pull more eyeballs toward this somewhat forgotten nameplate, as will an stylish new convertible version that’s beginning to be teased online, but who knows? The beautiful LC might just end up as another image-building car that never enjoys much sales traction, good for making Lexus’ well-respected brand name even more desirable, but incapable of making profits on its own.
All said, the LC makes for an especially exclusive example of rolling artwork, which i must say caused more attention from passersby than plenty of pricier cars with more prestigious branding that I’ve driven this year, pulling more long stares, causing more pointing fingers, and resulting in more gaping mouths from astonished onlookers than I was able to count, not to mention an unabashedly overcome German tourist that just had to have me take a photo of him next to it.
Unlike the types of exotic machinery that normally cause such an emotional outpouring, mind you, the LC provides impressively dependable performance as well, which just might be the type of priceless feature that makes owning one worthwhile. If you’d like something undeniably beautiful, that’s also totally unique in the premium marketplace, look no farther than this Lexus LC. Whether suited up in V8-powered 500 or 500h hybrid trim, it’s one thoroughly impressive personal luxury coupe.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
I said this before and I’ll say it again, the new Accord is the most attractive car in its midsize sedan class, and one of the best looking to ever be sold in this segment. Not only that, I find it better looking than a lot of premium-branded sedans, and wouldn’t doubt that some who might have never purchased in this class before will now consider doing so solely because it exists.
This scenario may have played out on Canada’s sales charts last year, with the Accord being the only mid-size sedan to see growth from January 2018 through December’s end. OK, its archrival Toyota Camry barely escaped the red by growing a scant 0.1 percent over the same 12-month period, but Accord deliveries were up 2.4 percent during an era that’s seen the mid-size sedan decimated by crossover SUV popularity. This last point was evidenced by other Accord competitors seeing their market shares eroded significantly, the next best-selling Chevy Malibu’s sales down 16.3 percent, followed by the Fusion dropping 34.8 percent, the Nissan Altima lower by 21.4 percent, the Hyundai Sonata by 33.6 percent, Kia Optima by 27.5 percent, Volkswagen Passat by 29.5 percent, Mazda6 by 9.8 percent, and Subaru Legacy down by 28.1 percent. That’s an unbelievable level of mid-size sedan carnage, but the new Accord solely rose above it all.
Of course, there’s a lot more to the 10th-generation Accord than just good looks. There’s an equally attractive interior filled with premium levels of luxury and leading edge electronics, plus dependable engineering borne from decades of production and non-stop refinements. The first hybrid drivetrain was introduced as an option to the seventh-generation Accord way back in 2005, skipped a generation and then came back as an option with the ninth-gen Accord in 2013, and now it’s here again.
As with previous iterations, the latest Accord Hybrid looks much the same as the conventionally powered model, which I appreciate because it’s not trying too hard to stand out and keeps the Accord’s attractive styling intact. Truly, the only noticeable difference is a removal of tailpipe finishers, the Hybrid featuring some discrete chrome trim in their place. Chrome in mind, both no-name Hybrid and Hybrid Touring trims feature the same chrome exterior details as the regular Accord’s EX-L and above trims, Sport model excluded.
Touring upgrades that aren’t as noticeable include full LED headlamps that feature light emitting diodes for the high as well as the low beams, plus unique signature LED elements around the outside of the headlamp clusters, chrome-trimmed door handles, and the availability of no-cost as-tested Obsidian Blue Pearl exterior paint instead of standard Crystal Black Pearl or $300 White Orchid Pearl, the only two shades offered with the base model.
Now that we’ve got the obvious visual changes from base Hybrid to Hybrid Touring trims out of the way, the top-line model also replaces Honda’s exclusive LaneWatch blind spot display system with a Blind Spot Information (BSI) and Rear Cross Traffic Monitor system, while adding adaptive dampers to improve handling, rain-sensing wipers, a head-up display (HUD), an auto-dimming rearview mirror, passenger side mirror reverse gear tilt-down, a HomeLink garage door remote, a powered moonroof, front and rear parking sensors, navigation, voice recognition, satellite and HD radio capability, HondaLink subscription services, wireless device charging, an AT&T Wi-Fi hotspot, driver’s seat memory, a four-way powered front passenger’s seat, a heatable steering wheel rim, perforated leather upholstery, ventilated front seats, heated rear outboard seats, and more for $40,090 plus freight and fees.
Incidentally, I sourced 2019 Honda Accord Hybrid pricing right here at CarCostCanada, which not only breaks everything down into trims, packages and standalone options, but also provides information about available rebates as well as dealer invoice pricing that could save you thousands.
Additionally, items pulled up to the Hybrid Touring from base $33,090 Hybrid trim include unique aerodynamically designed machine-finished 17-inch alloy wheels, auto-on/off headlight control with automatic high beams, LED fog lamps, LED taillights, a remote engine starter, proximity-sensing keyless access with pushbutton ignition, a leather-wrapped multifunction steering wheel, a 7.0-inch colour TFT multi-information display within the primary gauge cluster, dual-zone automatic climate control, an 8.0-inch infotainment touchscreen with tablet-style tap, swipe and pinch gesture controls, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto smartphone integration, a multi-angle rearview camera with dynamic guidelines, Bluetooth phone connectivity with streaming audio, near field communication (NFC), 452-watt audio with 10 speakers including a subwoofer, two front and two rear USB charging ports, SMS text message and email reading functionality, Wi-Fi tethering, overhead sunglasses storage, a 12-way powered driver’s seat with four-way powered lumbar support, heatable front seats, the HondaLink Assist automatic emergency response system, plus all the expected active and passive safety features including front knee airbags.
Some safety features that might not be expected include the standard Honda Sensing suite of advanced driver assistance systems, incorporating Adaptive Cruise Control (ACC) with Low-Speed Follow, Collision Mitigation Braking System (CMBS), Forward Collision Warning (FCW), Lane Departure Warning (LDW), Road Departure Mitigation (RDM), Lane Keeping Assist System (LKAS), and traffic sign recognition, this being enough to earn the regular Accord a Top Safety Pick from the IIHS when equipped with its upgraded headlights, while all Accord trims get a best-possible five stars from the NHTSA.
The long list of Accord Hybrid Touring features comes in a cabin that exudes quality and refinement, thanks to premium-level soft synthetic surfacing on most surfaces above the waste, authentic looking matte woodgrain inlays spanning the instrument panel and door panels, tastefully applied satin-silver accents throughout, supple leather upholstery on the seats, door inserts and armrests, padded and stitched leatherette trim along the sides of the lower console, the front portion protecting the inside knees of driver and front passenger from chafing, and some of the highest quality digital displays in the class.
Immediately impressive is the brightly lit primary instrument package that looks like a giant LCD panel at first glance, but in fact houses a digital display within its left two-thirds while integrating an analogue speedometer to the right. The screen on the left is filled with hybrid-specific info by default, but you can scroll through numerous other functions via steering wheel controls, resulting in a very useful multi-info display.
Likewise you can project key info onto the windshield via the HUD by using another steering wheel button, the system showing graphical information for route guidance, the adaptive cruise control system and more up high where you can see it without taking your eyes off the road.
Over on the top portion of the centre stack, Honda’s new infotainment interface has become a personal favourite amongst mainstream volume brands, thanks to high definition displays, wonderful depth of colour and contrast, plus fabulous graphics, the elegantly arranged tile system easy to figure out and plenty attractive to look at. Being a hybrid, a number of cool animated graphic sections are included, while the navigation system’s mapping was excellent and route guidance easy to input and precisely accurate, plus the backup camera was equally clear and dynamic guidelines helpful. Yes, I would’ve appreciated an overhead 360-degree bird’s-eye view, but the ability to see a variety of views thanks to its multi-angle design, no matter the trim, is a bonus that others in the class don’t offer.
The final digital display is Honda’s dual-zone automatic climate control interface, which is attractively designed in a narrow, neatly organized, horizontal row that includes an LCD centre display, three knurled metal-edged rotating knobs, and a variety of high-quality buttons for the HVAC system and heated/ventilated front seats.
I should mention that all of the Accord Hybrid Touring’s switchgear was excellent, and much of it beautifully finished with aforementioned satin-silver detailing, while the audio system knobs got the same grippy and stylish knurled metal treatment as those used for the HVAC interface. Much of the design shows an artistically flair too, particularly the recessed speaker grille behind the fixed tablet style display atop the dash, and the 3D effect used to raise the top buttons on the HVAC interface above those below.
At the very base of the centre stack is a little cubby filled with a 12-volt power outlet, a charged/connected USB port and a wireless charging pad that’s large enough for big smartphones like the Samsung Note series. Interestingly Honda has done away with the classic old auxiliary plug, replacing it with near field communication (NFC) as noted earlier, and three more USBs, the second one found within the centre storage bin under the armrest, which includes another 12-volt charger as well. The bin has a nice removable tray as well, which feels very high in quality and is rubberized so that it doesn’t rattle around like so many others in this class. This is just one of many details that let you know the Accord’s quality is above average.
The leather seats are nicely styled with perforations the three-way forced ventilation noted earlier. The driver’s was extremely comfortable, with good side support for this segment and excellent lower back support. On that note I was surprised that Honda not only includes a power-adjustable lumbar support with fore and aft control, but it’s a four-way system that also moves up and down to ideally position itself within the small of your back. That’s unusual in this class, even when compared to some premium models like the Lexus ES 350 and more directly comparative ES 300h hybrid that only include two-way powered lumbar. Likewise for the Toyota Camry and Camry Hybrid, plus a few others in this segment that don’t measure up either.
The seating position is good, probably on par with the aforementioned Camry, but I must say neither is excellent when it comes to adjustability. Their steering columns don’t offer enough reach, forcing me to power my seat too close to the pedals in order to achieve optimal comfort and control of the steering wheel. We’re all made differently, and I happen to have longer legs than torso. The compromise was a more upright seatback than I would have otherwise liked, but doing so allowed ample control and decent comfort, so this is how I drove all week.
Controlling the gear selector is a lot easier, although if you’re not familiar with Honda’s new assemblage of buttons and pull levers it’ll take some getting used to. The Accord Hybrid comes standard with the complex selector, and while it might be a bit confusing at first try I recommend giving it a little time before getting flustered. I’ve had a lot of opportunity to use this system in a variety of Honda models, the new Odyssey and Pilot immediately coming to mind, while it’s similar to the system used in new Acura models, so now I don’t swear at it when trying to find reverse in the middle of a U-turn. Other than the pull lever-type electromechanical parking brake found at its rearmost section, it consists of three pushbuttons, for park, neutral and drive, and another pull lever for reverse. I almost never use neutral, simplifying the process further, so it’s a tug on the lever for reverse and a simple press of the large centre button for drive or park, that’s it.
Next to the parking brake there’s another set of buttons for Sport, Econ and EV modes, plus a brake hold button. I left it in Econ mode most of the time and EV mode whenever it would allow, because this is what hybrids are all about, saving fuel and minimizing emissions and cost. This said the Accord Hybrid is one of the thriftiest vehicles I’ve driven all year, only costing me $24 after a week’s worth of very thorough use, and that’s when gas was priced at an outrageous $1.55 per litre. At today’s slightly more agreeable prices it would allow even more savings, its claimed 5.0 L/100km city, 5.0 highway and 5.0 combined fuel economy rating one of the best in the non-plug-in industry.
So what’s all the mechanical and electrically charged wizardry behind its superb fuel economy? A unique two-motor hybrid powertrain joins an efficient 2.0-litre Atkinson-cycle four-cylinder engine to provide the Accord Hybrid with a class leading total system output of 212 horsepower, while its electric drive motor puts 232 lb-ft of near instantaneous torque down to the front wheels.
To clarify, one of the electric motors drives the front wheels, while a smaller secondary motor serves mainly as a generator, providing electric current to the drive motor in order to supplement or replace power from the battery during lighter loads, such as cruising. The second motor also starts the engine that in-turn adds torque to the wheels, but it’s never used as the motive driving force for those wheels.
Additionally, the car’s Electric-Continuously Variable Transmission, or E-CVT, removes any need for a conventional automatic transmission, or even a traditional belt/chain-operated continuously variable transmission (CVT), both of which inherently rob performance and efficiencies from the powertrain. Instead, Honda’s E-CVT drives the front wheels directly through four fixed drive ratio gearsets, without the need to shift gears or vary a planetary ratio. This means there is no “rubber-band” effect when accelerating as experienced in regular CVTs, or in other words the engine is never forced to maintain steady high rpms until road speed gradually catches up, this process causing a much-criticized audible “droning” effect with other CVT-equipped cars. Honda claims its direct-drive technology benefits from 46 to 80 percent less friction than a conventional automatic transmission, depending on the drive mode.
What’s more, you can choose between three standard propulsion modes as well, including electric-only (providing the 6.7-kWh lithium-ion battery is charged sufficiently), gasoline-only, or blended gas and electric (hybrid).
Despite my favouritism for Econ and EV modes, Sport mode worked very well, making itself immediately known after engaging at a stoplight by bringing the engine back to life from its auto start/stop mode, and then boosting acceleration significantly at takeoff. A set of standard steering wheel paddles improves the driving experience further, although flicking the right-side shifter to upshift while accelerating does nothing perceptible, this because the paddles are primarily for downshifting during deceleration. Therefore, tugging on the left paddle when braking, or pretty much any other time, causes a gear ratio drop that really comes in handy when wanting to engine brake or recharge down a steep hill, or when setting up for a corner.
And I must say the Accord Hybrid handles brilliantly for a car in this class. Really, the only vehicle in this segment with more agility around curves is the latest Mazda6 and possibly the Ford Fusion Sport, and these by the narrowest of margins, with Accord Hybrid seeming to dance away from its closest competitors, including the Toyota Camry Hybrid XSE that I tested earlier this year, which is the sportiest version of that car.
The Accord Hybrid handles long, sweeping high-speed corners well too, while its ability to cruise smoothly on the highway is as good as this class gets. It’s underpinned by the same fully independent front strut and rear multi-link suspension as the conventionally powered Accord, while my tester was once again outfitted with the upgraded adaptive dampers for a little more at-the-limit control and enhanced ride quality. This gives it a wonderfully compliant setup where ever you’re likely to drive, whether soldiering over bumpy back alleys, fast tracking across patchwork pavement, or negotiating wide bridge expansion joints, all of which were experienced during my test week.
My only complaint were front parking sensors that continually went off in regular traffic, highlighting an image of the car’s frontal area on the touchscreen when vehicles were merely pulling up beside me in the adjacent lane. I’ve encountered this problem with a few other cars over the past couple of years, and it’s always annoying. I pressed the parking sensor button off and on again, which remedied the problem until it happened again after a couple of days, at which point I rebooted the system the same way and never had to deal with it again.
This foible and the aforementioned lack of telescopic steering reach aside, the Accord Hybrid was a dream to live with. The rear seating area, a key reason many buy into this class, is as spacious as the regular Accord and more so than many in this segment. With the driver’s seat set up for my five-foot-eight medium-build frame, which as noted was set further back than average due to my longer legs, I was left with nearly a foot from my knees to the backrest ahead, plus so much room for my feet that I was able to completely stretch out my legs and move my shoes around underneath the front seat. Really, its rear legroom comes close to many full-size sedans. Likewise, there’s plenty of headroom at about three and a half inches, plus more than enough shoulder and hip space at about four to five inches for the former and five-plus for the latter.
This said I was disappointed that Honda finished off the rear door uppers in hard plastic. They’re not alone in this respect, but others do a better job pampering rear occupants. The previously noted Mazda6, for instance, at least in its top-line Signature trim level that I tested last year, which incidentally uses genuine hardwood inlays throughout, finishes the rear door panels as nicely as those up front, making it closer to premium status than anything else in its class. In most other respects the Accord nudges up against premium levels of luxury too, including excellent rear ventilation from a centre panel on the backside of the front console that also houses two USB charge points, while the outboard seats are three-way heatable as noted earlier, and there’s a nice big armrest that flips down from the centre position at exactly the right height for adult elbow comfort, or at least it was perfect for me. Honda fits two big deep cupholders within that armrest, which should do a pretty good job of holding drinks in place.
The trunk is sizeable too at 473 litres (16.7 cubic feet), which is exactly the same dimensions as the regular Accord, plus it’s also extendable via the usual 60/40 split-folding rear seatbacks. This said there are still some hybrids that don’t allow much expandable storage due to batteries fitted within the rear bulkhead, so I can’t really complain that Honda doesn’t include a centre pass-through like Volkswagen’s Passat, which would allow rear passengers to enjoy the heated window seats after a day on the slopes. On the positive, a handy styrofoam compartment resides below the trunk’s load floor, ideal for stowing a first aid kit or anything else you’d like to have close at hand. It comes loaded up with an air compressor that could potentially get you to a repair shop if needed, but I’d personally prefer a spare tire so I could make it farther if damage to the tire doesn’t allow it to hold air.
So is this the best hybrid in the mid-size class? The new Accord Hybrid would certainly get my money. It looks fabulous, delivers big inside, and provides all the luxury-level features most will want, plus it drives brilliantly and delivers superb fuel economy, while Honda’s experience building electrified powertrains should make it plenty reliable.
Story credits: Trevor Hofmann, Canadian Auto Press