While Nissan’s Leaf was once the global dominant force in the electric vehicle industry, and instrumental in relieving “range anxiety” for thousands of EV buyers, it’s no longer king of the plug-in hill, despite offering up to 364 in range when upgrading to its “Plus” trim line. Plenty of competitors now provide greater travel distances on a single charge, making them more practical for everyday use, especially now that advanced electrical and battery storage systems allow for quicker charging.
Tesla now leads EV sales by wide margins in the U.S. and Canada, while strong competitors from Chevrolet, Volkswagen, Hyundai and Kia promise to make Nissan’s life difficult, with the Leaf only placing fifth most popular amongst EVs in Canada last year, and sixth in the U.S.
To remedy the problem, Nissan just announced a $500-million USD investment in its Canton, Mississippi plant, which will transform it from merely producing trucks, to soon producing electric vehicles by 2025. Nissan will retain and upskill 2,000 workers from the facility’s current roster of 5,000 employees, which will make Mississippi Nissan’s centre for electric vehicle manufacturing and technology.
“Today’s announcement is the first of several new investments that will drive the EV revolution in the United States,” stated Ashwani Gupta, chief operating officer for Nissan Motor Corporation, Ltd. “Nissan is making a strong investment in Canton’s future, bringing the latest technology, training and process to create a truly best-in-class EV manufacturing team.”
While this is only a small portion of the $13.5 billion of overall investment Nissan has sunk into its U.S. manufacturing operations thus far (of which $4 billion has previously been invested in Canton alone), the automaker is projecting that 40 percent of new vehicle purchases will be for fully electric vehicles by the year 2030, making this investment critical for its future prospects.
Even more electrified models will be sold as hybrids and plug-in hybrid (PHEV) vehicles before that time, which is why the “Nissan Ambition 2030” project targets 23 electrified models within its namesake and Infiniti brands globally by 2030, of which 15 are slated to be fully electric.
The Canton assembly plant, created in 2003, currently builds four Nissan models including the Altima, Frontier, Titan and Titan XD. It has produced almost 5 million vehicles over 19 years, and according to a recent announcement, will have two all-new fully electric models in production in three years time.
The Leaf, which is produced in Smyrna, Tennessee (for U.S. consumption), won’t have its production transferred to the updated Mississippi facility, so therefore it’s likely the two new models will be a production version of the Nissan Ariya Concept, which debuted in 2019, and possibly something along the lines of the 2019 Infiniti QX Inspiration Concept. Both are mid-size crossover SUV prototypes, which would make for a good target market to attract the most possible buyers.
Also interesting is Nissan’s choice of combining electric vehicle and truck production under one roof. This could potentially lead to electrified 4×4-capable models, similar to what Toyota is doing with its new Tundra hybrid pickup, not to mention Ford with its new F-150 Lightning and Chevrolet with its fully electric Silverado. Likewise, GMC introduced a renewed Hummer sub-brand with a fully electric pickup and SUV, plus upstart Rivian has made waves with its new truck and utility models.
What’s more, electric commercial vans would be a possibility as well, despite Nissan having discontinued its full-size NV Cargo and NV Passenger vans, plus its NV200 compact van up last September. A fleet of commercial EVs could revitalize this segment for Nissan, while simultaneously expanding the automaker’s important fleet customer base for its “Seamless Autonomous Mobility (SAM)” driving technologies.
After first spending a week with Honda’s then-new Insight in its top-line Touring trim a couple of years ago, I really felt the Japanese automaker had a winner on its hands.
The compact sedan’s conservative good looks should have appealed to an even greater number of consumers than the edgier Civic it shares underpinnings and hard points with. Even better (to my eyes at least), its classy front fascia pulled some grille details over from the larger Accord mid-size sedan, while its tidier taillights stopped short of wrapping overtop most of the trunk lid.
Don’t get me wrong, as the outgoing Civic was a styling tour de force when it arrived in 2015 as a 2016 model, but the more subdued Insight gave… ahem… insight to the Civic’s future design direction, particularly at the hind end where those just-noted taillights look like positive precursors to those on the much more conventional 2022 Civic sedan.
Still, as it was and still is, Honda failed to properly launch this 2019–present Insight within Canada, where it suffers incredibly slow sales, not even surpassing 500 units last year. In fact, the dismal number was 496, while the first quarter of 2021 has seen just 91 examples roll out of Honda showrooms. When compared to the Civic’s class-leading 50,805 sales-total in 2020, and 7,158 units delivered during Q1 of this year, which puts the Insight just under 1 percent of Civic deliveries during 2020, and nearly 1.3 percent for Q1 of 2021, Honda’s dedicated compact hybrid can only be seen as a complete dud. But why?
After all, the two models’ sales ratio in the U.S. is much better, although still not anywhere near as evenly weighted as I initially expected, with the Insight finding 15,932 buyers south of the 49th in 2020, and 3,859 as of the end of March this year, compared to 261,225 Civics sold last year and 55,903 for Q1 of 2021. That represents 6.1 percent of Civic sales in 2020 and 6.9 percent for the first three months of 2021, which probably isn’t even good enough to justify any sort of business case for keeping the model alive.
It comes down to pricing. With a base price of $28,490 (plus freight and fees), the Insight finds itself $3,400 more expensive than the Toyota Corolla Hybrid, which starts at only $25,090. If the Insight were 10-percent more car it might make sense, but, as I already pointed out, consumers have spoken load and clear with their wallets, plus I’ve personally driven both, and that’s not the case.
My Insight tester’s top-line Touring trim was even pricier at $32,190, and once again it wasn’t any more appealing than the top-tier Corolla Hybrid with its Premium package, which costs just $27,090. This means Canadian Insight Touring buyers will need to take a $5,100 hit just to see a stylized “H” badging in all the usual places, a questionable bonus they obviously don’t desire all that much.
So why would Honda sabotage its chances of winning over important Canadian hybrid buyers just ahead of the entire market turning to electric vehicles (whether we want to or not)? Obviously, Honda’s Canadian division would love to import the Insight (or for that matter the CR-V Hybrid, which is currently not available here) for less money, but their American affiliate that produces it, can’t seem to make it cheap enough.
Honda does bring us the Accord Hybrid, however, but the Marysville, Ohio-built mid-size sedan doesn’t do as well as Toyota’s Camry Hybrid for similar reasons. Its base price is $35,805, whereas the Camry Hybrid is advertised at $30,790, and similarly to the Insight’s fancier Touring trim line, the top-level Accord Hybrid Touring starts at a lofty $42,505, which compares poorly to a fully loaded Camry Hybrid XLE that’s priced at only $39,690.
It doesn’t take a economics major to figure out that Honda Canada needs to deal with this problem if it wants to grow hybrid sales, but so far no Alliston assembly plant upgrades have been announced. If Honda Canada were able to produce the CR-V Hybrid north of the 49th, it might be able to compete with Toyota’s RAV4 Hybrid (although not the plug-in RAV4 Prime) or Hyundai’s new Tucson Hybrid, but coming up with a business case to put such a plan into action might not make any sense in our market, which is just 10 percent of America’s population.
Even if such a plan made sense, the very fact Honda’s Insight is a dedicated hybrid with a number of totally unique body panels and trim, puts the smaller of these two Japanese automakers at another disadvantage. Where Toyota can theoretically produce its Corolla Hybrid at multiple plants without modifying major body stamping equipment, Honda would need to upgrade more than just the drivetrain portions of any alternative assembly plants to allow for more Insight production.
Currently, the Insight is built at Honda Manufacturing of Indiana in Greensburg, which also produces the Civic and previously pushed out the popular Civic Hybrid. If, alternatively, Honda chose to create a hybridized version of the new Civic, its many global assembly plants that are already pushing out versions of its venerable compact sedan could adapt more easily to hybrid production. Applying this (admittedly theoretical) logic to Canada’s Alliston assembly plant, might mean a Civic Hybrid could be built for Canadian consumption, thus resolving Honda’s inability to move many Insights in the great white north. As it is, Honda is fast losing its electrification edge in our market.
All said, is the Insight any good? Absolutely. If you’ve made it this far into this review, you’ll already know this Insight is nothing less than a gussied up Civic sedan, which everyone should appreciate is a very good compact car. It’s so good in fact, it consistently outsells every other car made, and we should all remember that the audience is always right (at least by “Who Wants To Be A Millionaire” standards).
Behind its large, blackened grille opening is Honda’s well-proven 1.5-litre Atkinson-cycle internal combustion engine (ICE) and electric motor assistant, the latter powered by a 60-cell lithium-ion battery. All totalled up, the combination makes 151 net horsepower and an even stronger 197 lb-ft of torque. While off-the-line performance and passing power is certainly important, in the Insight’s compact class, hybrids are more about fuel economy, and the Insight delivers with a claimed rating of 4.6 L/100km city, 5.3 highway, and 4.9 combined, which will be good enough to wow most Civic owners that can only manage to eke out 7.9 L/100km in the city, 6.1 on the highway and 7.1 combined when driving the model’s most efficient variant. Still, Toyota’s previously noted Corolla Hybrid is not only less expensive at the time of purchase, but keeps giving at the pump with an estimated rating of 4.4 L/100km in the city, 4.5 on the highway and 4.5 combined. Ouch!
Still, a small number of Canadian consumers, who are faithful to Honda and therefore willing to pay more initially and continually, choose the Insight over the Corolla Hybrid, or for that matter the all-new Hyundai Elantra Hybrid, which incidentally improves on both Japanese models’ fuel economy thanks to a claimed rating of 4.5 L/100km in the city, 4.2 on the highway and 4.4 combined, plus adds insult to injury with a starting price of just $24,699 and arguably more attractive (or at least fresher) styling. So, for those willing to pay more for less of what hybrids are supposed to be about, the Insight delivers extremely smooth operation from its continuously variable transmission (CVT), an equally calming ride and a well-organized, reasonably high-quality interior.
Before delving into the latter, the just-noted CVT isn’t designed for performance enthusiasts, so Civic Si buyers need not apply, but rather becomes annoyingly buzzy when pushing hard on the throttle for extended periods. Of course, such driving negates the car’s purpose, so I can’t see many Insight buyers doing so very often. I merely did for testing purposes, and have long experienced similar results from other CVT-equipped models in the class, such as the Corolla Hybrid. Nevertheless, despite its economy-first mission, Honda decided to include a Sport setting along with its expected Comfort, Econ and EV powertrain modes, which really says a lot about the much-loved brand itself.
Another positive advantage benefiting Insight buyers over those living with a Corolla Hybrid, is an EV mode that allows traveling at posted city speeds, something not possible in any non-plug-in Toyota hybrid that engages its ICE over 20 km/h. While enjoyable to run around town in near silent bliss, this feature doesn’t necessarily aid fuel-efficiency, as pointed out earlier, so it won’t like matter to most buyers.
As for that smooth suspension, it really is good. My city’s streets are mostly agreeable, although like in any urban area there are roadways that desperately need upkeep and only limited funds and workers to maintain them. Despite its compact size, the Insight’s relatively long wheelbase and nicely tuned fully independent suspension made bumpy patches of tarmac easier to endure, while simultaneously providing capable road-holding when choosing to rev out its noisy powertrain. Fortunately, the much of the Insight’s motive mass hides below the rear seat, which aids its centre of gravity, providing decent handling characteristics. Again, Civic Si enthusiasts need not apply, but hybrid buyers would be pleasantly surprised if they chose to test one out.
For such situations, the aforementioned Sport mode is ideal, enhanced by the ability to use steering wheel-mounted paddles to shift its CVT through a number of artificially stepped “gears”. Those who prefer shifting with a traditional gear lever are out of luck, because Honda infused the Insight’s lower console with its pushbutton gear selector. I’m just fine with that thanks to those paddle-shifters, and honestly, I only used the latter for one short stint throughout my weeklong test, due to the harshness of the drivetrain when doing so. Again, while its cool that Honda added DIY paddles, they’re not all that useful in a car like this, making me wonder if the investment might have been better spent on something else, or possibly eliminated altogether in order to lower the price?
As for the pushbutton (and pull-tab for reverse) gear selector, it looks appropriately modern and frees up arm space above the console, which otherwise is fitted with a big rubberized tray for holding your oversized smartphone. Honda includes two USB charge points plus a 12-volt power supply just above, all of which come together at the base of a centre stack that’s also laid out well, with a stylish dual-zone auto HVAC interface, a slim strip of switchgear for turning on the three-way heated front seats, recirculating air, and defog/defrost functions.
The centre stack is topped off with a large enough 8.0-inch touchscreen, which will be all-too familiar to current Civic owners. It features colourful, user friendly digital controls that are organized in an attractive tile design, with some of its functions being Apple CarPlay and Android Auto smartphone connectivity, a navigation system (in my Touring tester) that proved very accurate, a fun-to-watch engine/battery power flow indicator, audio functions for a great sounding stereo, and the list goes on.
Of course, the display uses smartphone- or tablet-like finger gestures, so you can tap, swipe or pinch to your heart’s content, while Honda also framed this touchscreen with some useful switches for accessing key info quickly. The left-side row features a button for the home screen, plus one for returning back to the previous function, and another for transitioning between day and night modes. There are also two for browsing radio stations or MP3 tracks, while a rotating volume knob joins a volume controller on the left-hand steering wheel spoke. All of the infotainment system’s quick-access buttons receive backlit names just underneath, but makes sense until using them at night, when pressing the lighted name does nothing at all. Instead, you need to press the little, narrow button on top of the name, which is invisible in the dark. Yah, not the smartest application of an otherwise intelligent concept.
The Insight’s primary instrument experience is all positive, on the other hand. Honda was early to adopt a fully digital driver’s display, the arching cluster incorporating a multi-information display (MID) featuring useful hybrid info, such as a battery charge indicator, on the left, and a speedometer and gas gauge combo to the right. Well-made, smartly organized steering wheel switchgear controls the MID, which is par for the course with Honda products. Above everything is an overhead console integrating two incandescent reading lights, plus an emergency assist button, a HomeLink remote garage door opener, and the usual powered moonroof rocker switch. And yes, I would have rather seen an oversized glass sunroof in place of the Insight’s smallish opening, but some electrified cars don’t offer sunroofs at all, so I’d best not complain.
Back to positives, the Insight’s cabin approaches Acura ILX levels of fit, finish, and materials quality, with a dash top surfaced in nice pliable composites, plus a padded and French-stitched leather-like bolster ahead of the front passenger that flows across the instrument panel and down the sides of the centre stack. Certainly, I would’ve appreciated if Honda had finished the driver’s compartment as nicely as the front passenger’s, but at least both sides of the lower console gets the same soft-touch pampering treatment, which perfectly matches the sliding armrest in the middle.
The front door uppers get the same premium covering as the dash top, by the way, while the door inserts just below receive a similar stitched leatherette to that on the instrument panel bolster. Most everything looks and feels like it was produced by an entry-level luxury brand, like Acura, but I should say that Honda isn’t alone in raising the level of refinement in its compact models.
Honda has produced some of the better seats in the industry for a long time, however, and this Insight Touring’s driver’s perch is no exception. It provided excellent inherent support and no shortage of adjustability, resulting in a very comfortable office chair, while the tilt and telescopic steering column just ahead proved extendable enough to reach my shorter arms and torso when the lower cushion was pushed back far enough to make room for my longish legs. This ideal driver setup is not always possible from other compact models, and would be something I’d be willing to spend hundreds if not thousands for, so kudos to Honda for getting this right.
Along with excellent positioning, my tester’s steering wheel rim felt nice and meaty, with comfortable indents for thumbs and an overall performance-oriented feel. It’s as if Honda pulled it out the aforementioned Civic Si, rather than something designed to blissfully cruise past gas stations. All-round, the cockpit area is comfortable, spacious and lends a sense of control, which is exactly what most in this class are looking for.
Rear passengers should be nearly as comfortable, and despite not covering the tops of each window sill with soft-touch synthetic like those up front, the rest of the door panels were near duplicates, and a reasonably large armrest topped off by unreasonably small cupholders made things comfier for those stuck in back. Likewise, two-way rear seat warmers added wintertime heat to the outboard cushions, but there were no air vents next to the rocker switches on the backside of the front console or anywhere else in back, nor for that matter reading lights overhead.
The trunk’s 416-litre (14.7 cu-ft) volume should be large enough for most peoples’ needs, while extra gear can be placed below the cargo floor if small enough. This is where Honda stows the Insight’s tire repair pump, which is necessary for fixing a flat, being that no spare is offered. Expanding on the trunk’s usefulness are 60/40-split rear seatbacks, and no centre pass-through for loading longer items such as skis down the middle.
If an Insight seems like the car for you, keep in mind that Honda is currently offering up to $1,000 in additional incentives. You can learn more about this discount on our 2021 Honda Insight Canada Prices page, which also provides comparative trim pricing, plus the ability to build the car with all available options. While you’re there, be sure to check out how the CarCostCanada system works, so you can utilize dealer invoice pricing to save even more when negotiating your best deal, plus download the free CarCostCanada app so you can have all of this valuable information on-hand when you need it most, whether at a Honda dealership pushing for a more agreeable Insight price, or walking across the street to a Toyota or Hyundai dealer in order to check out their electrified Corolla and Elantra offerings.
Sometimes automakers make choices that don’t seem to make much sense at the time, but for reasons we outsiders will never know, vehicles get cancelled that really should have lived on.
The 2009–2015 Venza was one such vehicle, a five-occupant mid-size crossover SUV that, while a bit more wagon-like than utility, due to Toyota already offering its rugged, truck-based, off-road capable five-passenger 4Runner, nevertheless filled an important void in the brand’s North American lineups.
Thanks to fairly good initial sales, Toyota would’ve arguably found more traction if it had chosen to bring back a redesign after four to five or years or so, rather than cancel it after six. At least the Japanese brand has a recognizable nameplate to fall back on now that it’s ready to reenter one of the more profitable auto segments. The new Toyota Venza will therefore launch in Canada as a 2021 model, starting this summer.
While standard with all-wheel drive, more unexpectedly is the announcement of a standard hybrid drivetrain. This follows Toyota’s commitment to electrify its entire lineup by 2025, and therefore the new Venza will be joined by a wholly redesigned 2021 Sienna that will only be available with a hybrid electric drivetrain as well.
Additional Toyota vehicles sold with the automaker’s full hybrid drive system include the now legendary Prius, also with available with new AWD-e four-season capability, plus the new Corolla Hybrid, the Camry Hybrid, the RAV4 Hybrid, and the Highlander Hybrid, while the Prius Prime offers plug-in, 100 percent electric (EV) motive power for short distances at city as well as highway speeds, plus last but not least is the Mirai hydrogen fuel-cell-powered EV.
Since the first-generation Venza was discontinued, Toyota hasn’t offered a two-row, five-passenger crossover SUV in the mid-size class. As noted the iconic 4Runner remains a 4×4-capable off-roader competing more directly with Jeep’s Wrangler and soon Ford’s new Bronco, so it won’t attract the same kind of soft-roader clientele. Ford in mind, its Edge will be one of the Venza’s direct competitors, while the even more popular three-row Explorer will continue to duke it out against Toyota’s recently redesigned Highlander. Of note, the Edge was the best-selling mid-size SUV in calendar year 2019 thanks to 19,965 sales, compared to the Highlander that only found 13,811 new Canadian owners. What’s more, Ford sold 29,632 Edge and Explorer models collectively last year, and that impressive sales lead doesn’t even factor in that 2019 was a terrible year for the Explorer due to Ford’s slow rollout of the all-new 2020 version. Ford claimed that production issues were at fault, but either way year-over-year Explorer sales were down 47 percent plunge in Canada during 2019, so we can expect the disparity in Ford’s mid-size SUV sales lead to grow even more in 2020 (overall sale will be down, however, due to COVID-19).
As of December 31, 2019, five two-row mid-size SUVs sold better than the Highlander in the Canadian mid-size SUV segment. The Edge was followed by Hyundai’s Santa Fe (which is now available solely as a five-passenger model due to the new three-row Palisade) that found 18,929 new customers last year, whereas Jeep’s Grand Cherokee attracted 18,659 new owners in 2019. Kia’s Sorento (now also sold with just two rows thanks to Kia’s new Telluride) also beat Highlander sales with 16,054 deliveries down the road during the same 12 months, while Chevy’s all-new Blazer sold 15,210 units last year. Nissan only sold 12,000 Muranos in 2019, but when this model finally gets a redesign it will probably find more takers than the three-row Highlander too, so it’s clear that the new 2021 Venza critically important for Toyota.
Toyota is taking a significant risk by only offering a single hybrid drivetrain, particularly because this choice will undoubtedly make the Venza more expensive to build and sell than rivals’ gasoline-powered counterparts, but it nevertheless should be well received by those wanting to save fuel and reduce pollutants. A recent spike in fuel prices may make some Canadians more open to spending more on a hybrid powertrain, but even with pump prices higher now than in recent months they remain relatively low when compared to the last couple of years.
There should be no fears about Toyota hybrid reliability, mind you, as the brand initiated the entire market segment with its first-generation Prius in 1997 (in 2000 as a 2001 model here in Canada) and garnered an enviable reputation for near bulletproof dependability for all of its various hybrid-electric drivetrains.
No Transport Canada five-cycle fuel economy figures have been announced yet, but Toyota estimates the new 2021 Venza to manage a combined city and highway rating of 5.9 L/100km, which will make it the most fuel-efficient vehicle in its class. Of note, the brand employs active grille shutters in order to minimize drag, aiding fuel economy at highway speeds.
The original Venza shared its platform architecture with the Japanese domestic market (JDM) Toyota Harrier, amongst other Toyota/Lexus products such as the Camry and Highlander. The Harrier was even more closely aligned with our Lexus RX (particularly the first-generation Harrier that was barely disguised when it debuted as the 1999 Lexus RX 300). Over the five-plus-year period that Toyota didn’t offer the Venza in Canada, covering 2016 until today, a third-gen Harrier came and went in the JDM, but now that we have photos of both the fourth-gen Harrier and the new 2021 Venza it’s easy to see the similarities between these two vehicles.
Toyota will use its well-proven 2.5-litre Atkinson-cycle four-cylinder hybrid powertrain for the new 2021 Venza and upcoming 2021 Sienna, this drivetrain also powering the Camry Hybrid, RAV4 Hybrid and Highlander Hybrid (as well as the Avalon Hybrid in the U.S. market). The powertrain’s combined system output is 219 horsepower, making it identical to the 2020 RAV4 Hybrid, although more powerful than the Camry Hybrid that only puts out 208 hp, and not as potent as the new 2020 Highlander Hybrid that makes a total of 240 hp.
The new Toyota Hybrid System II drivetrain incorporates a lighter lithium-ion battery that improves efficiency as well as performance. Like the RAV4 Hybrid and Highlander Hybrid, the Venza receives two electric motors that provide maximum torque almost immediately at takeoff. The rear motor provides motive power to the rear wheels, which Toyota calls Electronic On-Demand All-Wheel Drive. The rear-mounted motor only engages when the back wheels experience slippage, at which point the drive system can appropriate up to 80 percent of system torque to the wheels behind. This said the system defaults to front-wheel drive so as to minimize fuel usage, and only uses its rear wheels when necessary.
Speaking of fuel savings, the Venza includes an Eco mode that “changes the throttle and environmental logic” to enhance overall efficiencies, states Toyota in a press release, while Normal and Sport modes (the former “ideal for everyday driving” and the latter sharpening “throttle response”) also come standard, whereas an EV mode allows limited use of full electric motive power at “low speeds for short distances,” just like Toyota provides with its other non-plug-in hybrid models.
Toyota claims the new 2021 Venza’s regenerative braking system, which captures otherwise lost electricity caused by kinetic brake friction and then reroutes it to the model’s electrical system, provides better control than in previous hybrid generations, and in fact can be used for “downshifting” via the sequential gear lever’s manual shift mode. Each downshift increases the regenerative system’s braking force in steps, which “fosters greater control when driving in hilly areas,” says Toyota, while the hybrid system also benefits ride comfort by “finely controlling the drive torque to suppress pitch under acceleration and deceleration.” Toyota calls this differential torque pre-load, and it’s particularly useful when taking off from a corner or managing curves on both normal and slippery road surfaces. This feature also aids steering performance at higher speeds, plus it improves straight-line stability and controllability on rougher road surfaces. Additionally, Toyota incorporates new Active Cornering Assist (ACA) electronic brake vectoring into the Venza so as to minimize understeer and thus improve handling yet further.
The new 2021 Venza is built on the Toyota New Global Architecture K (TNGA-K) platform that also underpins the 2018–present Camry, 2019–present Avalon, 2019–present RAV4, 2020 Highlander, and the redesigned 2021 Sienna, not to mention the 2019–present Lexus ES and upcoming Lexus NX and RX replacements. In a press release Toyota states that the TNGA-K architecture helps the Venza deliver an “intuitive driving experience” with “greater driving refinement,” including “comfortable urban and highway performance” and “predictable handling, plus low noise, vibration, and harshness (NVH).” The new Venza features extensive high-strength steel for a more rigid body structure that helps improve its front strut and rear multi-link suspension’s ride quality and handling, plus its overall safety.
The new base Venza LE rides on an 18-inch set of multi-spoke two-tone alloy wheels, whereas XLE and Limited trims arrive standard with a set of 19-inch multi-spoke super chrome finished alloys.
Inside the cabin, the near top-line Venza XLE and the fully-loaded Limited model get advanced touch-sensitive capacitive controls on their centre stack instead of the LE’s physical buttons, although you’ll probably notice the big 12.3-inch centre infotainment touchscreen first. This said even the base model’s 8.0-inch centre display is big for an entry-level model.
The Venza’s larger upgraded infotainment system receives a 1,200-watt, 12-channel, nine-speaker (with sub) JBL audio system that Toyota claims to be “sonically gorgeous,” plus embedded navigation with Destination Assist comes standard too. The new nav system features switchable driver or front passenger operation, while both systems include smartphone integration from Apple CarPlay, which comes complete with its Siri voice control system, as well as Android Auto with its Google Assistant, while Bluetooth wireless connectivity is also included.
Advanced technologies in mind, the Venza will make a fully digital instrument cluster available in upper trims, not to mention a 10-inch colour head-up display that will project key information, like vehicle speed, the hybrid system’s details, and TSS 2.0 safety and driver assist functions, onto the windscreen ahead of the driver, while an electronic rearview mirror with an auto-dimming function plus a HomeLink garage door opener will provide a clearer rear view, which will be especially helpful when rear passengers and/or luggage is interrupting rearward vision. The electronic rearview mirror only needs the flick of a switch to go from conventional to digital operation.
When moving up to Limited trim, parking lot safety is further improved via a 360-degree bird’s-eye view from a surround camera system that Toyota calls its Panoramic View Monitor. The standard camera gets “projected path” active guidelines as well as an available “rear camera cleaning system [that] sprays washer fluid to clear away water droplets, mud, snow, and snow-melting road treatments from the lens,” says Toyota.
Wireless phone charging is another area Toyota leads most rivals, so it’s no surprise the Venza makes this handy feature available, while additional options include ventilated front seats, proximity Smart Key for all four doors plus the tailgate (the latter also providing hands-free powered operation), plus more.
More in mind, new “Star Gaze” is a fixed electrochromic panoramic glass roof that can instantly switch between transparent and frosted modes by flicking a switch on the overhead console. Toyota claims the frosted mode “brightens the interior while reducing direct sunlight, giving the cabin an even more open, airy, and inviting feeling.”
What’s more, each Venza trim comes standard with Toyota’s TSS 2.0 suite of advanced safety and driver assistance features such as pre-collision system and automatic emergency braking with pedestrian and cyclist detection, blind spot monitoring, lane departure assist, rear cross-traffic alert, lane tracing assist, automatic high beams, and full-speed adaptive cruise control.
As for interior roominess, we can expect the Venza’s passenger compartment to be similar in size to the first and second row of the new Highlander that as noted earlier shares underpinnings, which should make it more accommodating than the current RAV4. It’s possible to carry up to 1,027 litres (36.2 cubic feet) of cargo behind the rear seats, which is oddly 32 litres (1.1 cu ft) less than what you’ll find in a compact RAV4, that model good for 1,059 litres (37.4 cu ft) of dedicated cargo space, while the Highlander provides 1,010 litres (35.6 cu ft) more space when its third row laid flat.
Pricing for the 2021 Venza will be announced closer its summer arrival date.
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