Trying to guess which car, SUV and pickup will win their respective categories in the annual North American Car, Utility and Truck of the Year awards program can be more difficult some years than others, but most folks that keep their ear to the road had the 2020 lineup of winners picked out long before the big announcement this week.
The true name of the award is North American Car and Truck of the Year (NACTOY), in spite of having a third category covering SUVs added in 2017. The NACTOY awards were first presented in 1994.
A total of 50 automotive journalists made up the NACTOY jury this year, from print, online, radio and broadcast media in both the U.S. and Canada, with the nine finalists (three per category) presented in the fall and the eventual winners awarded each year at the North American International Auto Show (NAIAS) in Detroit. This year’s announcement changed to a separate event at the TCF Center (previously called Cobo Hall/Cobo Center) in Detroit, however, due to the NAIAS rescheduling to June 7-20, 2020.
Notably, each year nominated vehicles need be completely new, totally redesigned, or significantly refreshed, or in other words the vehicle being nominated must be something most buyers would consider entirely new or wholly different from its predecessor. Additionally, each finalist earned its top-three placement via judgment of its segment leadership, innovation, design, safety, handling, driver satisfaction, and dollar value.
This year’s selection process began in June of 2019, with vehicle eligibility chosen after three voting rounds. NACTOY chose the independent accounting firm of Deloitte LLP for tallying up all votes and then kept them secret until the organization’s President, Lauren Fix, Vice President, Chris Paukert, and Secretary-Treasurer, Kirk Bell unsealed the envelopes on stage.
Finalists in this year’s “Car” category included Chevrolet’s Corvette, Hyundai’s Sonata and Toyota’s Supra, with the winner being the new seventh-generation mid-engine Corvette, a completely reimagined car that will totally upend the premium sports car segment. Of note, it has been six years since a sports car won the Car category, so hats off to General Motors’ Chevrolet brand and its Corvette team for designing something so sensational that it couldn’t be overlooked, while both Toyota and Hyundai should also be recognized for their superb finalists.
“A mid-engine Corvette was a huge risk for Chevy’s muscle-car icon. They nailed it. Stunning styling, interior, and performance for one-third of the cost of comparable European exotics,” said The Detroit News auto critic Henry Payne.
“Utility Vehicle” finalists were all entirely new to the SUV market, and included the Hyundai Palisade, Kia Telluride and Lincoln Aviator. Most industry commentators seemed to believe that one of the two Hyundai Motor Group entries would win (the Palisade and Telluride are basically the same SUV below the metal), and as many guessed the Kia Telluride took home the honours.
“The Telluride’s interior layout and design would meet luxury SUV standards, while its refined drivetrain, confident driving dynamics and advanced technology maintain the premium experience,” commented Cox Automotive Executive Publisher Karl Brauer. “Traditional SUV brands take note: there’s a new star player on the field.”
Finally, this year’s “Truck” of the year finalists included the Ford Ranger (new to us yet available in Asian markets for years), the completely new Jeep Gladiator, and the redesigned Ram HD (Heavy Duty)2500 and 3500, with the winner being the impressive new Gladiator. We’d have to look way back to 1999 in order to find a Jeep that won its category, incidentally, with that model being the Grand Cherokee.
“What’s not to like about a pickup truck with not only a soft-top removable roof but even removable doors? If you want massive cargo-hauling capability or the ability to tow 10,000 pounds, buy something else,” said John Voelcker, an experienced automotive journalist. “The eagerly awaited Gladiator is a one-of-a-kind truck, every bit the Jeep its Wrangler sibling is … but with a pickup bed. How could you possibly get more American than that?”
NACTOY is an independent, non-profit organization, for your information, run by elected officers and funded by dues-paying journalist members.
Learn about the 2020 Chevrolet Corvette, 2020 Kia Telluride and 2020 Jeep Gladiator right here on CarCostCanada, where you can access trim, package and individual option pricing, plus rebate information and dealer invoice pricing that could save you thousands during negotiations with your local retailer. Although info about the new Corvette is not available yet, at the time of writing you could get up to $1,000 in additional incentives on the new Kia Telluride, or factory leasing and financing rates from 4.09 percent for the new Jeep Gladiator.
Have you ever driving a Kia? Even sat inside one? If it was way back at the turn of the millennium it might not have been the best of experiences. Even Kia doesn’t promote its past in detail, the Korean brand celebrating its twentieth anniversary in Canada with limited edition models of its impressive Soul compact crossover and Stinger mid-size four-door coupe, but hardly paying tribute to the forgettable Sephia, Spectra and Magentis.
Those cars offered nothing better than their competitors, and certainly nothing new, instead relying on low pricing to pull in new buyers. Today’s Kia, however, builds vehicles you want to own in spite of their more renowned rivals, but first you’ll need to give them a chance, and that’s exactly what I’m recommending mid-size crossover SUV buyers do with the Sorento.
I’ve driven every Sorento generation, even the first 2002 model as part of its initial Canadian press launch, a vehicle that so impressed me I recommended it to my brother who kept his for nearly a decade. The redesigned 2010 model went from body-on-frame SUV to car-based crossover and therefore improved drivability as well as refinement, not to mention styling, while the 2016 model upped all of the above to entirely new levels.
My 2016 Sorento tester wasn’t even in top-line trim, yet I found myself awestruck by its shocking supply of soft-touch interior surfaces, blown away from finding cloth-wrapped roof pillars all-round, impressed with its sizeable full-colour high-resolution touchscreen infotainment system, wowed by its diminutive yet formidable 240-horsepower 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder engine, and simply satisfied by its overall goodness.
With not much changing over the past four years, plus an even more capable V6 on the options menu, one might think it would’ve remained high on my list of highly recommended mid-size crossover SUVs, and so it does except for one considerable detail, since testing this most recent 2019 Sorento I’ve also spent a week with the completely new 2020 Telluride, so I’m no longer recommending the Sorento quite as highly for seven-passenger crossover buyers.
To be clear, the seven-passenger Sorento’s price range slots in considerably further down Kia’s model hierarchy, beginning at $32,795 for the EX 2.4 and topping out with the 3.3-litre V6-powered $49,165 SXL on this page, which is hardly in the same class as the Telluride that starts at $44,995 and tops out at $53,995 for its SX Limited with Nappa. As expected, the recent arrival of the Telluride and next year’s forecast redesign of the 2021 Sorento have already resulted in a reshuffle of the mostly carryover 2020 Sorento’s trims, with today’s base LX FWD model and this top-tier SXL soon to be discontinued.
So what about that upcoming 2021 Sorento? I expect it to follow in the tracks of the recently redesigned fourth-generation Hyundai Santa Fe that utilizes the same platform that the new Sorento will ride on, the former SUV only available with two rows and a maximum of five passengers for 2019, due to Hyundai now having a version of the Telluride all its own for 2020, named Palisade. The new Palisade is actually priced lower than the Telluride at $38,499, so we can expect the future 2021 Telluride to grow its trim line down-market with an SX model to slot below today’s base Palisade so as to provide a seven-passenger crossover option for more mainstream Kia shoppers after this seven-place Sorento gets cancelled.
Previously in this review I said that little had changed since the Sorento’s 2016 redesign, but it should be noted this 2019 model underwent a fairly extensive refresh, albeit somewhat more subtle with respect to styling. The big news is a new eight-speed automatic gearbox for its available 3.3-litre V6, and sadly the elimination of the aforementioned 2.0-litre turbo-four (an odd removal, being that the majority of challengers are swapping out their optional V6s for turbocharged fours in order to improve fuel-efficiency, but I’m guessing a stopgap ahead of the next-gen Sorento).
As it is, the 2.4, which produces 185 horsepower and 178 lb-ft of torque, now gets used for LX FWD, LX and EX 2.4 models, whereas the 3.3, making a maximum of 290 horsepower and 252 lb-ft of torque, adds performance to LX V6, EX, EX Premium, SX, and SXL trims. The six-speed autobox is the sole transmission with four-cylinder powered Sorentos, while the two extra gears only benefit the six-cylinder engine. As you may have guessed already, all trims excepting the LX FWD get all-wheel drive.
As with all modern-day multi-speed automatics fuel-efficiency is the main benefactor, but they also help an engine maintain peak output thanks to shorter shift increments, therefore improving performance. Nevertheless, the upgraded Sorento’s claimed fuel economy rating of 12.5 L/100km city, 9.7 highway and 11.2 combined isn’t as efficient at speed as the outgoing six-speed automatic and V6/AWD combination that received a rating of 9.3 highway. In the city, however, where most of us spend the majority of our driving time, the old model’s 13.2 L/100km rating means the new version is much thriftier, while the new eight-speed helps V6-powered Sorentos achieve a less significant 0.2 L/100km advantage.
In case you were wondering how much better the previous 2.0-litre turbocharged four with its six-speed automatic might compare against a new Sorento with the same engine and eight-speed, the old model’s rating of 12.3 L/100km city, 9.4 highway and 11.0 combined is actually better than the new eight-speed automatic in the totally redesigned 2019 Hyundai Santa Fe, which can only manage 12.3 city, 9.8 highway and 11.2 combined. That Santa Fe, incidentally, rides on the same all-new platform architecture as the next Sorento.
With respect to the base 2.4 that’s available in the here and now, Kia claims 10.7 L/100km in the city, 8.2 on the highway and 9.5 combined with FWD, representing a big improvement in city driving over last year’s Sorento with the same powertrain, which could only manage 11.2 L/100km city, 8.3 highway and 9.9 combined despite zero changes (gear ratio mods?), while the 2019 Sorento 2.4 AWD achieves a rating of 11.2 L/100km city, 9.0 highway and 10.2 combined, compared to 11.5, 9.3 and 10.5 last year.
If you found yourself scratching your head over some of those fuel economy figures, a quick glance at the refreshed 2019 Sorento might also leave you wondering exactly what was changed stylistically. For instance, the new grille looks exactly like the old grille, as does the hood that’s supposedly changed too, but the lower front fascia is entirely new, the latter very noticeable on SX and SXL trims that previously had four larger LED fog lamps at each corner instead of the new half-sized combinations, the sections below now filled with what appear to be slatted brake vents, plus they’re now framed within taller, V-shaped chrome bezels.
The chromed door handles, chromed side window surrounds, and silver roof rails were part of my aforementioned 2016 SX tester as well, but the chromed side mouldings, 19-inch chrome alloys, and completely redesigned back bumper, which is now packed full of bright metal detailing, are all new. The updates make the Sorento classier than the pre-updated SUV’s sportier design, chrome embellishment normally having such an effect.
The 2019 refresh also provides renewed headlights and tail lamps infused with LEDs at both ends in SX and SXL trims, plus LED daytime running lights within the headlights, as well as LED fog lamps. Lower trims feature revised projector beam headlamps with LED positioning lamps, plus projector beam fog lights (on LX V6 to EX Premium trims), and conventional taillights with stylish new lenses. New colours join the usual assortment of updated alloy rims in 17-, 18- and 19-inch diameters wearing 235/65R17, 235/60R18 and 235/55R19 all-season rubber, depending on trim.
Moving inside, the 2019 Sorento gets an updated steering wheel, a new instrument cluster with bright electroluminescent analogue gauges to each side of a large digital speedometer that doubles as a comprehensive multi-information display, and a renewed centre with an updated infotainment touchscreen with Android Auto, Apple CarPlay and more. My favourite new convenience is the available wireless charging pad, although the new optional lane keeping assist and driver attention warning systems could prove even more important.
Those two safety upgrades are part of top-tier SXL trim, this model also providing forward collision-avoidance assist, a feature that’s now beginning to be included as standard equipment in competitive base models, but it’s not unusual to force an upward move to a mid-range trim for blindspot detection with rear cross-traffic alert, these two upgrades standard with the Sorento EX. The rest of the Sorento’s safety equipment is the segment’s normal standard fare, and therefore is included in all trims.
The previously noted base Sorento LX FWD starts at only $28,295 plus freight and fees, and is therefore an impressive value when put up against every other mid-size SUV, particularly when factoring in that it comes standard with 17-inch alloys, auto on/off headlights, chromed door handles, a heated and leather-clad multifunction steering wheel, Drive Mode Select with Comfort, Eco, Sport and Smart settings, three-way heatable front seats, a 7.0-inch centre display with the Apple and Android smartphone integration mentioned earlier, plus a backup camera, six-speaker audio, and plenty more.
Including all-wheel drive with the base LX model increases its window sticker by $2,300, the $30,595 trim also providing roof rails, proximity entry with pushbutton start/stop and the aforementioned wireless phone charger, while the same trim with the V6 and AWD increases the Sorento’s price by $4,500 to $35,095, while upping content to include fog lights, a sound-reducing windscreen, turn signals within the exterior mirror housings, an auto-dimming centre mirror, two-zone auto HVAC with auto-defog and separate third-row fan speed/air-conditioning adjustment, UVO Intelligence connected car services, satellite radio, an eight-way powered driver’s seat with two-way powered lumbar support, a third row for a total of seven passengers, trailer pre-wiring, and more.
At $2,300 less than the LX V6 AWD, and $2,200 more than the LX AWD, the four-cylinder-powered $32,795 EX 2.4 gets the just mentioned fog lamps, powered driver’s seat, and three-row layout of the V6-powered model, while also adding a gloss-black grille insert and leather seat surfaces, while the $38,665 EX with the V6 and AWD builds on both the LX V6 AWD and EX 2.4 models with 18-inch machined-finish alloys, a nicer Supervision LCD/TFT gauge cluster, express up and down power windows with obstacle detection all around, and a household-style 110-volt device charger, while the EX Premium starts $2,500 higher at $41,165 and adds front and rear parking sonar, power-folding outside mirrors, LED interior lights, an eight-way powered front passenger seat, a panoramic glass sunroof, rear door sunshades, and a power tailgate with smart gesture access.
Sorento buyers wanting a near-premium experience can choose SX trim that, for $45,165, $4,000 more than the EX Premium, includes most everything already mentioned as well as 19-inch alloy wheels, a chromed grille, stainless steel skid plates front and rear, a stainless exhaust tip, chrome roof rails, dynamic directionally-adaptive full LED headlamps, upgraded LED fog lights, bar type LED tail lamps, sound-reducing front side glass, illuminated stainless steel door scuff plates up front, perforated premium leather upholstery, plus a bigger 8.0-inch high-resolution infotainment touchscreen boasting rich colours and deep contrasts as well as quick reaction to tap, pinch and swipe finger inputs.
Additionally, the navigation system provides nice detailed mapping and accurate route guidance, while SX trim also includes an excellent 10-speaker Harman/Kardon premium audio system, ventilated front seats that keep backsides cool during summer heat, heated rear outboard seats that do the opposite in winter’s cold, plus more.
Finally, my as-tested Sorento SXL adds an additional $4,000 to the tally resulting in a maximum retail price of $49,165, which is considerably less than most fully equipped competitors, some that don’t offer the same level of luxury-grade features than LX trim, but this SXL is better yet thanks to even plusher Nappa leather upholstery, an electromechanical parking brake, a surround parking camera with a divided screen that includes a regular rearview camera with dynamic guidelines to the left and a 360-degree bird’s-eye view to the right, as well as high beam assist headlamps, adaptive cruise control, plus more.
All pricing was sourced right here on CarCostCanada, including trims, packages and standalone options for 2019 and 2020 model (not to mention 2018s, just in case you’re curious), while money-saving rebate info and dealer invoice pricing can add thousands to your potential savings. Actually, at the time of writing there were up to $6,000 in additional incentives available, so it’s well worth checking out.
Of course, you’ll need to check in at your local Kia dealership to drive a new Sorento, and if you choose to I’m quite certain you’ll be impressed. The V6 is very smooth, as is the new eight-speed automatic that swaps gears almost seamlessly and quickly no matter the drive mode selected. I mostly kept it in its default Comfort mode, but Eco was smooth too, and good for saving fuel, whereas Sport mode let the engine rev higher and gearbox shift quicker than it otherwise would, making the most of the powerful V6. Smart mode pays attention to your driving style, the terrain and other factors before automatically choosing the best mode for a given situation, optimizing performance, comfort or economy.
Also good, the Sorento’s fully independent suspension is blissfully smooth too, although when pushed hard through fast-paced curves it manages well for such a big crossover utility. All in all the Sorento should be considered a sportier option than most of its seven-seat SUV rivals, but it’s superb seats, luxuriously soft surface treatments, and generous supply of premium-level features make it amongst the most comfortable in its segment.
Speaking of comfort, EX trims and above include four-way powered lumbar support that ideally applied pressure to the small of my back, while the LX V6 and EX 2.4 models’ two-way lumbar can’t be adjusted as personally. Of note, four-way lumbar isn’t always provided in the lower or upper classes, with Lexus forcing its RX 350 customers to pay $63,950 for a Luxury package or $69,850 for the Executive model before receiving optimal lower back support, with none of the model’s F Sport buyers getting such comfort at all, whereas Infiniti’s QX60 clients are completely out of luck no matter how much they’re willing to pay. An additional Sorento bonus is a driver’s seat squab that extends forward to add support under the knees, while the Nappa leather is amongst the best you’ll likely find in the entire volume-branded mid-size SUV class.
The second-row of seats is plenty spacious and almost as comfortable and supportive as the two seats up front, but the Sorento’s third row is probably best left for smaller- to medium-sized children, the Telluride now a better choice when the need to carry a full load of large teens or adults.
A few particularly upscale trim details include curving black lacquered appliqués on the backside of each front seat, something that I’ve rarely seen in anything less than a Bentley or Rolls-Royce. It’s an olde British take on luxury that isn’t often used these days, although a quick glance back at a previously covered 2019 Genesis G90 (which shares underpinnings with the dearly departed—from Canada—Kia K900) helps us put a finger on where Kia came up with the concept (scroll back through the photos for the same idea in hardwood). Sorento SXL trim also includes black lacquer on the steering wheel spokes, instrument panel and lower centre console surface, plus highlighting each door panel, although as attractive as it looks when brand new, I’m concerned it’ll scratch as it ages.
Those loading longer items such as skis into the cargo hold will appreciate that Kia has split the second row in the unusually ideal 40/20/40 configuration, allowing both rear passengers to enjoy the more comfortable and visually optimal window seats, not to mention the aforementioned heatable rear seats if equipped. This is a dealmaker for me, and usually only found in pricier European SUVs. I also liked the convenience of cargo wall-mounted levers that dropped each side of the second-row down automatically, right to the point of locking safely into place, this resulting in a large, flat loading floor that measures 2,082 litres (73.5 cu ft) in the bottom two trims or 2,066 litres (73.0 cu ft) in LX V6 trim and above behind the first row, 1,099 litres (38.8 cu ft) and 1,077 litres (38.0 cu ft) respectively behind the second row, and 320 litres (11.3 cu ft) behind the third row. There’s some extra storage space below the cargo floor, which even lets you stow the retractable cargo cover securely away when not being used.
It’s such details that make the Sorento so good, Kia’s rare attitude of going above and beyond that’s so wonderfully unique in the mainstream marketplace. They don’t have the luxury of resting on their laurels, so they work harder at impressing you than most Japanese peers, and definitely more so than the Americans. I always thought their global motto, “The Power to Surprise” was kind of hokey, but it really does make sense to those experienced with to their products. The Sorento, now Canada’s best-selling (mostly) seven-passenger SUV, is really that good. As for the Telluride, it’ll blow you away.
Finally! Every time I’ve been given the opportunity to test the new Kia Stinger something got in the way. The test model was either damaged by another journalist, or got put out to pasture before I could get into it, the latter due to me being out of country, but just a matter of days back from my regular winter warming in my favourite tropical isle had me ogling a beautiful California Red painted Stinger GT-Line parked in front of my temporary left coast home.
I have to say the Stinger looks impressively upscale. Even in my tester’s base GT-Line trim, it comes standard with automatic dual-function LED headlamps, LED daytime running lights, LED positioning lamps, body-wide bar-type LED tail lamps, classy dark chrome exterior trim details with the same darkened chrome used for the side mirror housings, these also enhanced with slim LED turn signals, while sharp looking 18-inch machine-finished alloy wheels on 225/45 rubber round out the look, as does a set of chromed exhaust pipes at back.
While base, it should be noted that the entry-level Stinger starts at a considerable $39,995 plus freight and fees, but despite its less than prestigious Kia branding it really comes across as something much closer to premium than most anything in its mid-size segment.
The Stinger is a mid-size sedan, by the way. I’ve noticed some consider it compact because it utilizes the same underpinnings as the Genesis G70, which is a compact luxury model going up against BMW’s 3 Series, Mercedes’ C-Class, Audi’s A4, et al, but in spite of having similar wheelbase lengths of 2,910 mm (114.4 in) compared to 2,835 mm (111.6 in), both being longer than the Optima’s 2,805-mm (110.4-in) wheelbase, the Stinger’s 4,830 mm (190.2 in) nose-to-tail length spans 145 mm (5.7 in) farther than the G70’s, while it only measures 20 mm (0.8 in) shorter than Kia’s Optima family sedan.
Also notable, at 1,870 mm (73.6 in) the Stinger is 20 mm (0.8 in) wider than the G70 and 10 mm (0.4 in) narrower than the Optima, while it stands 1,400 mm (55.1 in) tall, which is identical to the G70 and 70 mm (2.7 in) lower than the Optima. Those still choosing to call the Stinger compact will also want to take note that it’s 190 mm (7.5 in) longer than the Forte sedan (a reasonable large compact itself), with a 210-mm (8.2-in) longer wheelbase, while it’s 70 mm (2.7 in) wider too. So it’s obviously a mid-size model, even offering up a longer wheelbase and more width than the Toyota Camry and Honda Accord, although slightly less length and height.
The Stinger’s long, low and wide dimensions make it more of a four-door coupe-like sedan, its sporty profile backed up by dynamic styling and a premium cabin, at least for its volume branded pedigree (or lack thereof). I should mention this isn’t Kia’s first premium-like entry, or for that matter its most luxurious. We only need to look to the Mercedes S-Class/BMW 7 Series-sized K900 for Kia’s highest-end car, a model that might only be outmaneuvered amongst pedestrian brands for all out premium cachet by the Volkswagen Phaeton, but like that outrageous VW the K900 didn’t garner enough popularity to enjoy prolonged availability in Canada, so therefore is now history north of the 49th.
Where the K900 was a seriously impressive luxury sedan, it couldn’t even come close to the Stinger’s viability here in Canada. It comes down to affordability, its more popular mid-size market segment, and a greater focus on performance than luxury. Size aside, I would’ve previously said it comes closest to mirroring the Dodge Charger in spirit than anything else in its class, at least until Volkswagen showed up with its new Arteon a few months ago. The Arteon, that’s based on the European Passat, just replaced the outgoing CC four-door coupe. The two are near identical in size and similarly powered, so are therefore going after the same sport-oriented customers, in the Stinger’s base trim at least, but with its base price more than $8,000 loftier than the Stinger’s aforementioned window sticker, the new Arteon is reaching up much further into premium territory.
By the way, the Stinger weighs in between 1,729 and 1,782 kilograms (3,812 and 3,929 lbs) with its as-tested 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder, or 1,873 and 1,889 kg (4,129 and 4,165 lbs) with its optional V6, whereas the Arteon hits the scale at 1,748 kilos (3,854 lbs) and the larger and heftier Charger offers more mass for your dollars at 1,823 to 1,980 kg (4,021 to 4,530 lbs). While lighter than the Charger, the all-wheel drive Stinger and Arteon are significantly heavier than the previously noted mid-size front-drive family sedans, giving the car being reviewed here, at least (I’ve yet to drive the Arteon that’s scheduled for August 26), more of a substantive, premium-like feel.
Kia really does manage to pull off a near luxury brand level of refinement inside thanks to details like cloth-wrapped A, B and C pillars, a soft, pliable dash top with a really well-finished padded instrument bolster crossing the entire dash front, as well as premium-level soft composite door uppers front to back. All of the Stinger’s button, knobs and switches are nicely fitted with good damping as well, with some aluminized for an especially upscale look and feel, while this base model’s standard perforated leather upholstery is definitely up to par for a volume-branded sedan.
Being that we’re already talking about features, standard content includes a heated leather-clad flat-bottom sport steering wheel that’s sized perfectly for performance and feels great in the hands, plus a leather-wrapped and chrome-adorned shift knob, piano black interior accents, comfortable and supportive heatable eight-way powered front seats with four-way power-adjustable lumbar, an auto-dimming rearview mirror, power-folding outside mirrors, two-zone auto HVAC, LED cabin lighting, ambient mood lights, and a 7.0-inch infotainment touchscreen that’s my only cause for complaint, being that it’s too small and isn’t flush within its fixed mounting and therefore looks dated.
This display houses the usual backup camera, plus Apple CarPlay and Android Auto smartphone integration, and Kia’s exclusive UVO Intelligence connected car services, while nine-speaker audio provides good sound quality for a base stereo, even incorporating standard satellite radio, whereas the wireless device charger is a very impressive standard feature as well.
Proximity-sensing technology lets you in the car while a satin-silver button fires up the engine, again on the standard menu, while the electric parking brake releases automatically. The just noted rearview camera combines with standard rear parking sonar and rear cross-traffic alert to help keep the Stinger’s dazzling paintwork free from scratches and dents, the latter feature bundled together with blind spot detection. Once pointing forward choose from a list of Drive Mode Select settings including Smart, Eco, Comfort, Sport and Custom, slot the eight-speed Sportmatic automatic gearbox in Drive or move the lever over to manual mode in order to get the most out of the standard steering wheel paddle shifters, which is how I enjoyed all 255 horsepower and 260 lb-ft of torque generated by the Stinger’s standard direct-injection, turbocharged, 2.0-litre four-cylinder engine.
This might only be the base powertrain, but due to 100 percent of its torque arriving at only 1,400 rpm, plus each of its four wheels simultaneously gripping the pavement below, this most basic of Stingers moves away from a standing start quickly, and stays on the power to highway speeds and beyond. Its twin exhaust pipes make a nice sporty note, complementing the engine’s mechanical tone, the Stinger delivering an enjoyable soundtrack alongside its strong acceleration.
Of course, this base engine won’t be as brilliantly satisfying as the available twin-turbocharged 3.3-litre V6, that powerhouse providing 365 soul-stirring horsepower and 376 lb-ft of twist (the Arteon doesn’t offer an optional powertrain), but the turbocharged four is a compromise I’d be more than happy to live with, particularly when factoring in its much greater efficiency. Comparatively, the four-cylinder is rated at 11.1 L/100km city, 8.1 highway and 9.7 combined, whereas the V6 gets a claimed 13.6, 9.6 and 11.8 respectively, while both are assisted by an auto start/stop system that shuts the engine off when it would otherwise be idling.
I’m guessing the last thing you’ll want to be thinking about when flinging the Stinger through a set of fast-paced curves is fuel economy, the car’s fully independent MacPherson strut front and multi-link rear suspension featuring gas shocks and dynamic dampers that help to deliver an ideally firm yet compliant ride and handling combination that proves superb over all types of tarmac, from broken backroads to smooth-as-glass freeways.
Braking is also strong, with four-cylinder models benefiting from 320 mm (12.6 in) front vented discs and 314 mm (12.4 in) rear solid rotors, plus the V6 model improving binding power with a set of Brembo discs measuring 350 mm (13.8 in) and 340 mm (13.4 in) respectively, plus the addition of vented rotors in the rear.
While the Stinger looks fast standing still, its long and lean body capable of minimizing drag and amply maximizing downforce, it also provides more than enough rear headroom for most adults’ needs. I had about three inches above my five-foot-eight frame when seated behind the driver’s seat, so six-footers should have no problem. What’s more, cargo access is excellent due to its less conventional four-door coupe-style rear liftback, which opens up to 660 litres (23.3 cu ft) of volume behind the 60/40-split rear seatbacks or 1,158 litres (40.9 cu ft) of gear-toting space when they’re flipped forward. So the Stinger is not only good looking, fun to drive and beautifully finished inside, it’s also plenty practical.
I’ll be spending a week with the new Arteon soon, and will let you know if it measures up to the Stinger for passenger and luggage space, plus if its loftier price range provides any benefits, but I’ll say right now the VeeDub will need to be very good in order to upstage this Stinger when it comes to performance, interior quality, features and value. As it stands, with all options included the Arteon costs just over $53k, which makes it pricier than the most expensive $51,495 Stinger GT Limited 20th Anniversary Edition that gets unique 19-inch alloys, carbon fibre décor trim, red Nappa leather, and custom red-stitched “Stinger” floor mats, while the mid-range Stinger GT starts at $44,995 and the regular GT Limited can be had for $49,995 (learn more about 2019 Kia Stinger trims, packages and standalone options right here at CarCostCanada, and don’t forget that we can help you save hundreds or even thousands via manufacturer rebates and dealer invoice pricing).
The last two trim lines get there own set of 19-inch alloys, an upgraded suspension with Dynamic Stability Damping Control (DSDC), noise-reducing front side glass, auto-dimming outer mirrors, stainless steel tread plates, stainless sport pedals, carbon fibre-style inlays (that replace the piano black ones), shift-by-wire transmission control (replacing the base model’s shift-by-cable gearbox) a power-adjustable tilt and telescopic steering wheel, driver’s memory, an under-floor storage tray, a large moonroof, a gesture-controlled power liftgate, plus a luggage net.
Finally, the GT Limited provides a special set of cornering headlights, rain-sensing windshield wipers, aluminum-finish trim (replacing the faux carbon fibre), a black roofliner, a 7.0-inch Supervision LCD/TFT digital instrument cluster, a heads-up display (HUD), a HomeLink universal transceiver, Nappa leather upholstery, cooled front seats, heated rear outboard seats, a driver’s seat upgrade with four-way “air cell” lumbar support, powered side bolsters, and a power-operated lower squab extension, an 8.0-inch infotainment touchscreen (that really should be standard) with a surround parking monitor system and navigation, 15-speaker Harman Kardon audio, dynamic cruise control, autonomous emergency braking (that’s usually standard in this class), lane keep assist, and driver attention alert.
You might be interested in knowing that year-over-year (YoY) Stinger sales slipped a bit during the first six months of this year in Canada, having dropped 14.38 percent due to just 750 units leaving Kia dealer lots, but this said it’s doing its job to boost the brand’s mid-size car sales now that the Optima has become 44.67 percent less popular over the same half year, with just 872 deliveries on the books. As for how the Stinger sells against regular front-drive mid-size sedans, the Camry took no prisoners over the same two quarters with 8,586 sales (an increase of 12.87 percent), whereas the Accord held second with 5,837 deliveries (dropping 9.71 percent). The Arteon, incidentally, found just 184 buyers so far in 2019, but to be fair it only came on the market this spring so we’ll need to wait and see how it fares over the long haul. This said if the Passat is any indicator, its poor Q1 and Q2 total of 474 deliveries should hardly give VW confidence, this number representing a 75.55 percent fall from grace compared to January through June of 2018.
Continuing on this theme, there are 14 different mid-size sedans fighting it out in this class, including the Stinger and Arteon, but not the aforementioned Charger that competes against cars like the Toyota Avalon, Nissan Maxima etcetera in the full-size or large sedan category. Of these 14, nine are in the red as far as growth goes, one (the Arteon) is to new to measure, and just four are in the black (positive), while the Stinger’s small decline is not as significant as many rivals, and more the result of the entire mid-size sedan category’s loss of favour than any lack of interest in this specific car.
In fact, I witness the polar opposite during my entire test week, with loads of smiling stares, positive nods of appreciation and general goodwill while driving by onlookers. Stinger owners can hold their heads high as this car garners a lot of respect, while it will no doubt benefit Kia’s overall brand image long-term as well. If you’re thinking about purchasing a new mid-size sedan, you may want to take a closer look at this innovative, well-sorted four-door coupe, because it delivers a higher level of style, refinement and features than most rivals, while it still should be practical enough for most peoples’ requirements.
I must admit to really liking the new 2019 Forte sedan’s styling, as its lines are clean and modern instead of abstract like the more visually complicated Honda Civic or new 2020 Toyota Corolla. It’s not that I don’t like the latter two cars, but generally find the Forte easier on the eyes, and believe if placed in a row next to the two other cars with badges were removed, would be chosen more often than not.
Of course, the Civic and Corolla were highly successful long before their current designs were known, because they’ve always been very good cars, while their current shapes are obviously acceptable enough to the Canadian masses or they wouldn’t sit one and two in popularity, both selling within Canada’s top-ten, including trucks, crossover SUVs and vans. I just happen to like the Forte’s visual design more than these two segment leaders.
The Forte’s styling strengths include a longer looking, leaner, lower, more sweptback profile, which doesn’t require as much plastic body cladding to make more appealing. It does get a number of stylistic enhancements from front to rear, but I found the sporty bits on my top-tier Forte EX Limited improved its overall look instead of detracting from it.
It starts off with Kia’s chrome-edged, glossed-black notched oval grille at centre, which hovers above more glossy black-detailed air induction venting within the lower front fascia, which gets highlighted by nicely angled corner vents housing rectangular LED fog lights. A truly interesting set of “X” accented LED headlights are positioned above, offsetting conventionally shaped taillights at the other end, these infused with interestingly patterned LEDs. There’s a thin strip of reflective material spanning the two rear lamps, while just above on the rear deck lid is an integrated spoiler that no doubt aids aerodynamics. The rear bumper is formed into a diffuser-like shape, but I can pretty well guarantee it does nothing to improve airflow, although its inky black paint looks sporty enough, and matches the gloss-black triangular bezels at each corner, housing rear fog and backup lights. Lastly, my Forte tester rolled on sweet looking 17-inch double-five-spoke machined alloy wheels with black pockets.
The new Forte is even more impressive inside, besting the outgoing model as well as a number of compact rivals. Like its exterior design, its cabin comes across more tastefully conservative than some in this class that offer up less serious, funkier atmospheres. It’s also quite refined, with much of the upper dash and instrument panel finished in premium-like soft-touch composites. This pliable application covers the front door uppers, door inserts and armrests too, the latter items also transferring to the rear passenger compartment. It’s a really upscale environment, but I won’t go so far as to say the Forte is nicer than its competitors with respect to materials quality, fit and finish, etcetera, but they were one of the first brands to include such premium-like niceties to the compact segment. As it is, most of the Forte’s challengers’ interiors are now up to snuff.
Adding to my EX Limited model’s refinement quotient are perforated leatherette seats that feel a lot more like genuine hides than most rivals pull off, the aeration, incidentally, necessary for my tester’s three-way ventilation up front. This top-line trim also includes rear outboard seat heating, while three-temperature front seat heating is standard across the line, as is a leather-wrapped heatable steering wheel rim.
Yes, that wasn’t a typo. The Forte comes standard with a leather-clad, heated steering wheel. I want you to consider for a moment, that Toyota’s much pricier Camry doesn’t even offer Canadians such a highfalutin option, even when fully loaded. Optioning out a Camry would add almost $24k to the Forte’s $17,195 base MT MSRP, or alternatively $13k to this $28,065 Forte EX Limited, yet no heated steering wheel, plus it would also not provide cooled front seats or heated rear seats (be sure to learn about all 2019 Kia Forte pricing, including trim levels, packages and options, right here at CarCostCanada, plus don’t forget that you can save a lot by finding out about available rebates and dealer invoice pricing, also available right here at CarCostCanada).
After the last few Canadian winters, I would certainly rather live with a heated steering wheel than a cold leather rim first thing in the morning (if only they could find a way to heat the shifter knob too), and it would be nicer for my rear passengers to warm their behinds, just like my front passenger and I were able to. I enjoy cooling my butt mid-summer too, so if you’re like me, consider a Forte for such comforting features (and also take note that the 2020 Corolla sedan provides a heated steering wheel as part of an upgrade package, but then again no cooled front seats or heatable rear cushions).
Back to the 2019 Forte’s upgrades, Kia improved its automatic shifter with a great looking leather-wrapped and satin-silver knob design, while a stitched-leatherette skirt tapers outward as it meets up against yet more satin-silver surfacing. My Forte used this stylish silver treatment for its steering wheel spokes as well, plus some decorative trim across the instrument panel and the corner vent bezels, not to mention the inside door handles and power window/side mirror switchgear decoration, and lastly the thumb release button on the manual handbrake.
Say what? Agreed, a complete ground-up redesign that doesn’t come standard with an electric parking brake seems a tad old school this day and age, but truthfully it didn’t bother me one iota during my extended two-week test. Actually, I only noticed it on my last day when taking notes. Kia left this technological anachronism in the new design because of the car’s standard six-speed manual transmission, a gearbox that I only wished was available in my top-line trim, or at least in a dedicated sport model like Kia’s sister company Hyundai offers with its 200-horsepower Elantra Sport, a serious Civic Si rival that also improves its suspension and styling.
News flash (well, not exactly news as it was introduced last November): Kia will introduce a new Forte GT for the 2020 model year that’s pretty well an Elantra Sport in black-oval drag, and it looks fabulous with its 18-inch rims and even sportier design details, while it should drive brilliantly if it’s anything like the Elantra Sport, that I raved about in my road test review last year. Along with the 201-hp 1.6-litre turbo-four and short-throw six-speed manual gearbox (or optional paddle shift-actuated seven-speed dual-clutch automatic), it’ll get a sport-tuned fully independent suspension with a multi-link setup in the rear. Soon Kia will have the same kind of Civic Si Sedan fighter it’s always needed, along with a new five-door Forte5 GT.
As it is, this 2019 Forte only comes with one engine, a 2.0-litre four-cylinder making 147 horsepower and 132 lb-ft of torque. It’s a fairly competitive mill in this category, but other manufacturers provide a lot more variety and (until the 2020 model debuts) will therefore attract a greater number of performance, and/or green buyers. Toyota, for instance, offers up the choice of three engines in its latest 2020 Corolla sedan, including a hybrid, while Honda’s Civic Sedan offers three powerplants as well, the aforementioned Si boasting 205 horsepower, while the Insight, which is a Civic Hybrid other than mild styling revisions and a new name, features gasoline-electric hybridization as well.
Interestingly, the outgoing second-gen Forte four-door provided Canadians with two engines, the more advanced direct-injected version of the current model’s 2.0-litre four-cylinder, previously named “2.0 GDI”, no longer available despite its more engaging 164 horsepower and 151 lb-ft of torque. I initially thought we’d see this more formidable engine as a late arrival, possibly when the redesigned Forte5 showed up, but a quick visit to the “Upcoming Vehicles” section of the automaker’s Canadian retail site makes evident this all-new five-door hatch will go on sale this fall as a 2020 model, and shows no sign of the sportier GDI engine. Instead it will get the sedan’s “2.0L MPI” engine in base trim and the same optional 1.6-litre turbo-four used in the gen-two 2018 model (which is still available, by the way), good for 201 horsepower, 195 lb-ft of torque, and mated to the same paddle-shifted seven-speed twin-clutch automatic as noted above.
All this said, Kia’s reasoning behind simplifying the Forte’s engine lineup has to come down to 2018 calendar year sales that only reached 14,399 units (including the Forte5), this dropping some 12.1 percent from the previous year. If it pulled in more buyers, like the Corolla’s 48,796 customers throughout 2018, and the 69,005 Canadians who opted for the Civic over the same 12 months, Kia might even go back to offering a two-door sports coupe like they used to.
Right about now I should make note of Hyundai Elantra sales as well (which will soon be all-new for 2020), as it far outpaces the Forte’s numbers at 41,784 through 2018, and that was a 9.4-percent decline from 2017.
I expect another reason Kia chose its solo engine for 2019 is price related, both at the onset of the initial sale and afterwards at the pump. Canadians are ultra price-sensitive in this small car category, which would negatively impact sales if the more powerful engine caused the Forte’s price range to jump higher. What’s more, if the 2.0 GDI was the car’s sole offering its fuel economy wouldn’t measure up to the best in this class, and therefore would hamper acceptance of the entire Forte line.
Instead, the 2.0 MPI engine being used is considerably more efficient, with a glance back at 2018 Transport Canada fuel economy numbers showing a rating of 8.0 L/100km city, 6.1 highway and 7.1 combined, alongside the more potent GDI’s respective rating of 9.4, 6.8 and 8.3. That would’ve been a big gap to overcome.
Also notable, Kia’s made a lot of headway with the 2.0 MPI engine’s fuel economy in the new 2019 model too, with a new Transport Canada rating of 8.6 L/100km in the city, 6.4 on the highway and 7.6 combined when suited up in six-speed manual base trim, compared to 9.4, 6.8 and 8.3 respectively in the previous year. Additionally, the Forte’s completely new Hyundai/Kia-designed continuously variable transmission (CVT) is easier on fuel when put up against last year’s six-speed automatic, with the new model getting a 7.7 L/100km city, 5.9 highway and 6.9 combined rating, and the outgoing car only good for 8.0 in the city, 6.1 on the highway and 7.1 combined.
This CVT, dubbed Intelligent Variable Transmission (IVT), adds $2,500 to the Forte’s base LX trim and comes standard with all other models. It does a pretty good a job of putting power down to the front wheels, which is high praise for any CVT incidentally, this one of the best of its kind in my opinion, and easily good enough for a compact car that makes comfort its first priority.
The Forte is quick enough off the line and plenty smooth as well, its engine and transmission offering up nice linear performance, with untoward noise, vibration and harshness kept to a minimum. Kia includes a slew of Drive Mode Select settings including Normal, Eco, Sport and Smart, the latter being where I left it most of the time thanks to its ability to automatically adjust between each mode in order to optimize fuel economy and performance.
Along with the Forte’s smooth powertrain is a comfortable ride, while its cornering prowess is quite responsive considering its rather low-rent torsion beam rear suspension setup. By comparison the Civic and new 2020 Corolla incorporate independent multi-link rear suspension systems, which give them an edge when pushed even harder over broken pavement, especially mid-turn, but just the same I found the Forte nimble enough for most high-speed handling situations, while its undercarriage was wonderfully compliant over rougher pavement in a straight line. The upcoming GT should be even better.
Maintaining control in all weather conditions is this segment’s usual assortment of active safety equipment, including electronic stability and traction control, while some other near-standard features (when upgrading to the CVT) include Forward Collision-Avoidance Assist (FCA), Lane Keeping Assist (LKA), and Driver Attention Alert (DAA).
Both manual and CVT endowed LX models also get auto on/off projector headlights, splash guards, body-colour mirror housings and door handles, heated outside mirrors, the heated leather-clad steering wheel rim noted earlier, heatable front seats, air conditioning, a truly impressive new tablet-style 8.0-inch touchscreen display with tap, pinch, and swipe gesture controls (plus really quick response to inputs), Apple CarPlay and Android Auto smartphone connectivity, a backup camera with helpful active guidelines, an AM/FM/MP3 radio, Bluetooth hands-free with steaming audio, USB inputs, cruise control, Hill-Assist Control (HAC), 60/40-split rear seatbacks that fold down to make the 434-litre (15.3 cu-ft) trunk more accepting of longer cargo like skis, plus more.
Those who want alloy wheels can upgrade to $20,995 EX trim, which replace the base model’s 15-inch steel wheels and covers with sharp looking 16-inch machine-finished rims, while this trim grade also receives LED headlights, LED DRLs, LED positioning lamps, side mirror turn signals, a glossy black grille treatment with chromed accents, chromed window surrounds, aeroblade windshield wipers, a chromed exhaust finisher, the satin-chrome interior door handles noted earlier, a supervision LCD/TFT primary gauge cluster, a wireless smartphone charger, rear climate vents, a folding rear centre armrest, tire pressure monitoring, Blind Spot Detection (BSD) with Rear Cross Traffic Alert (RCTA), etcetera.
Moving up to $22,495 EX+ trim adds everything above plus 17-inch machined alloys, LED tail lamps, LED interior lights, plus a powered glass sunroof, while $25,065 EX Premium trim further adds High Beam Assist (HBA) to the previously mentioned LED headlamps, as well as proximity-sensing keyless entry, pushbutton start/stop, dynamic cruise control, an eight-way powered driver’s seat, “SOFINO” leatherette upholstery, two-zone auto HVAC, XM/SIRIUS satellite radio, UVO Intelligence connected car services, Advanced Forward Collision-Avoidance Assist (FCA), a proximity-sensing trunk lid that automatically opens when someone with a key fob stands behind the car for three seconds, plus more.
Finally, my $28,065 EX Limited test model came standard with all of the above plus those ventilated front and heated rear seats noted before, as well as an enhanced multimedia infotainment interface with very accurate and user-friendly navigation, and lastly an impressive Harman/Kardon premium audio upgrade.
The driver’s seat was very comfortable for this class, while its two-way powered lumbar support thankfully fit the small of my back perfectly. Even better, when I adjusted the Forte’s standard tilt and telescoping steering column to fit my long-legged five-foot-eight frame, I was left comfortably in control. This isn’t always the case no matter the class of car, particularly with Toyota models, including the now outgoing 2019 Corolla. That car didn’t allow for enough telescopic steering column reach, either leaving the pedals too close or steering wheel uncomfortably far away, but fortunately I had no such issues with this Forte sedan.
After setting up the driver’s seat for my body type, I sat directly behind in order to test rear seat roominess. The result was loads of space for my feet, plus about five inches in front of my knees, another three and a half or so over my head, about five beside my outer shoulder, and four next to my hip. In other words, the Forte provides a lot of room for rear passengers, and plenty of comfort too.
The rear centre armrest was nicely positioned for my arm and included the usual dual cupholders, while a webbed magazine pocket behind the front passenger seat looked nicer than the bare seatback ahead of my legs. Still, I could hardly complain about not having a webbed magazine pocket behind the driver’s seat thanks to my butt and backside being warm and comfortable from those seat warmers noted earlier, plus I also appreciated the small rear quarter windows that allowed for a bit more light and outward visibility than some cars in this class provide.
That’s a nice positive thought to leave the 2019 Kia Forte review on, isn’t it? While not best in class due to a lack of optional power and less capable rear suspension, it’s easily the best Forte four-door ever created. These shortcomings help keep pricing nice and low, however, plus allow Kia to offer plenty of comfort-oriented features that I’d rather have in a city car anyway. The Forte also doesn’t come up short on styling, space, comfort or safety, and let’s remember that Forte buyers who want stronger performance can choose the old Forte5 and soon will have the GT and redesigned 5 for options.
Kia will soon have its bases covered two renewed body styles and truly sporty variants of both, while today’s 2019 Forte sedan makes an excellent case for affordable commuting comfort.