2019 Toyota Highlander Hybrid Limited Road Test

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Story credit: Trevor Hofmann 

Photo credit: Karen Tuggay

2019 Chevrolet Colorado ZR2 Road Test

2019 Chevrolet Colorado ZR2
The 2019 Chevrolet Colorado ZR2 looks great and can go just about anywhere. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

The Colorado ZR2 is one wicked looking pickup truck. Chevrolet got the design just right, and together with its beefy styling and rugged suspension, GM’s most popular brand has brought one impressive off-road race replica to market. 

To be clear, Chevy wasn’t first to this market sector and certainly won’t be the final entry. While there are probably others I should mentioned, Dodge’s Power Wagon was one of the street-capable off-road race truck initiators, although today’s 4×4 fans will likely point to the 2010 Ford F-150 SVT Raptor as first on the scene, as far as OEM custom off-roaders go. 

Fiat Chrysler Automobiles’ (FCA) Ram brand has tried to answer back with its 2016 to present 1500 Rebel, which is much like previous Power Wagons with bolder frontal styling, while Toyota arrived a few years ago with its Tundra and Tacoma TRD Pro packages, the latter recently adding a snorkel-style air intake that makes it appear like it can swim across rivers, through mud holes, or any other deep, liquid barrier. 

Right about now I should also draw your attention to the fresh new 2020 Jeep Gladiator, which when suited up in Rubicon trim might be the most credible 4×4 in the mid-size pickup category (it’s definitely has good roots), while delivering payload and trailering capacities that compete well too. 

2019 Chevrolet Colorado ZR2
Classic pickup truck styling is joined by rugged off-road capability. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

While I’m covering all of these trail-rated cargo (and family) haulers I need to mention Chevrolet’s recently re-skinned Silverado that can be specified in new Trail Boss trim with a two-inch lift kit, improving off-road capability over its GMC Sierra Elevation cousin, but other than this the Trail Boss is mostly about cosmetics, whereas Nissan offers tough Pro-4X trims on its aging Frontier and more up-to-date Titan half-ton and heavy-half Titan XD models. Lastly, Honda offers its Ridgeline with a Black Edition and… well… it’s no CRF250X, let alone ZR2 rival. 

The Gladiator Rubicon and Tacoma TRD Pro are the only mid-size ZR2 competitors capable of whacking through the wilderness (GMC’s Canyon doesn’t provide anything quite as 4×4-worthy), and the Chevy can be made even more capable with its Bison upgrade package, yet all of the above deserve comment (including the 2018 to present Ford Ranger Raptor that’s now getting snapped up by wealthier off-road enthusiasts in Asia). 

Obviously size matters, with the North American Raptor, the Rebel (Power Wagon), the Tundra, and the Silverado/Sierra fraternal twins being full-size models, and the Tacoma, Ranger, Frontier, and this Colorado (plus the Canyon) more compact in their mid-size proportions. 

Another big differentiator is the powertrains on offer, and being that this review is about a mid-size model I’ll focus on its key rivals, with most incorporating four-cylinder and (when equipped to compete off the beaten path) V6 gasoline-powered engines. The two GM mid-size trucks do likewise, but they also buck tradition by adding a high-torque, fuel-efficient turbo-diesel mill. 

2019 Chevrolet Colorado ZR2
The Duramax diesel powered ZR2 looks identical, other than some subtle badging. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

So, let’s focus in on the standard and optional ZR2 powertrains and how each measures up when compared to its Jeep and Toyota challengers, and then factor in some of their 4×4-related features. For starters, I spent a week with each engine, starting with a greyish Deepwood Green Metallic painted one that’s in fact a 2018 model (I’ll talk about the differences later in this review). This optional colour was cancelled for 2019, but the superb 2.8-litre Duramax turbo-diesel four-cylinder under its bulging hood remains. It makes 181 horsepower and a best-in-segment 369 lb-ft of torque from a mere 2,000 rpm, and comes paired to a strong six-speed automatic transmission. 

It’s fuel-efficient compared to rivals thanks to a 12.5 L/100km city, 10.7 highway and 11.7 combined Transport Canada rating, but whether or not its stingy enough to justify its lofty $4,090 price tag will depend on the number of years and kilometres you plan to employ its service, or if you really want to take advantage of its efficiency for travelling farther into the wild yonder than gasoline-powered 4×4 owners dare go, or if you appreciate the tractability of its massive torque when trekking into said wilderness more than the immediate power its V6 offers. 

Behind the blackened grille of the Kinetic Blue Metallic painted (a $495 option) 2019 ZR2 is the standard 3.6-litre V6 that produces 308 horsepower and 275 lb-ft of torque from 4,000 rpm. Just like the diesel, the V6 powers the rear axle or both diffs via part-time four-wheel drive, but unlike the diesel the standard engine’s gearbox is an even more economical eight-speed unit. The combo results in an estimated 15.0 L/100km in the city, 13.0 on the highway and 14.1 combined, partly due to cylinder deactivation when less performance is needed, and while decent it’s hardly the GM engine of choice for driving past pumps. 

2019 Chevrolet Colorado ZR2
The Colorado ZR2 is one of few off-road kings available today. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

The Gladiator, on the other hand, only comes with FCA’s 3.6-litre V6, which makes 285 horsepower and 260 lb-ft of torque. That’s off by 23 horsepower and 15 lb-ft when compared to the base ZR2 V6, although it offers up a standard six-speed manual (no such luck with the ZR2) or alternatively an eight-speed auto, plus part-time 4WD, and comes with a Transport Canada rating that ranges between 10.4 and 14.1 L/100km city/highway combined depending on trims and transmissions. 

As for the Tacoma TRD Pro, it’s standard with Toyota’s well-proven 3.5-litre V6 that puts out 276 horsepower and 265 lb-ft of torque, which is down some 32 horsepower and 10 lb-ft of torque on the V6-powered ZR2, and mates up to a six-speed manual or a six-speed auto plus part-time 4WD, while achieving city/highway combined fuel economy ranging from 11.9 to 12.9 L/100km, depending on transmissions and cabs. 

All of the above V6s will outrun the Duramax turbo-diesel by significant margins, something I immediately noticed when setting out in the 2019 Colorado, but the advantage of the diesel’s 109, 104 and 94 lb-ft of torque advantage when compared to the Gladiator, Tacoma and ZR2 V6 respectively, gives the diesel big advantages on the trail, plus of course its 11.7 city/highway combined fuel economy that can only be beaten by one single Gladiator trim (and I’d be shocked to witness the FCA V6 winning out in real-world back-to-back tests). 

Engine torque is important when off-road, but there are other factors that are even more important when leaving pavement, such as ground clearance, front and rear overhangs, and wheelbase length to name a few. The Tacoma provides the shortest wheelbase at 3,236 mm (127.4 in), but its 5,392-mm (212.3-in) nose-to-tail length means its overhangs are more pronounced, resulting in a truck that won’t hang up as easily when scaling sharp crests or other obstacles, but will probably scrape its front and rear bumpers when approaching a steep incline or levelling off after a radical decline. By comparison, the Colorado’s wheelbase is nearly as short at 3,258 mm (128.3 in), but improves on approach and departure angles with the shortest overall length of 5,347 mm (210.5 in), whereas the Gladiator has the longest wheelbase by far at 3,487 mm (137.3 in), plus it measures a limousine-like 5,537 mm (218.0 in) from front to back (ok, not quite as long as a limo, but you get my drift). 

2019 Chevrolet Colorado ZR2
Plenty of modifications separate the ZR2 from regular Colorados. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

To clarify, I’ve only tested the 2018 and 2019 ZR2 models plus a 2017 Tacoma TRD Pro (it now includes the aforementioned snorkel and a number of other improvements), so I can’t offer a full critique of the latest TRD Pro or the Gladiator. As noted earlier, I had a version of the 2018 ZR2 with the Duramax Turbo-Diesel for a week, plus spent a week with a 2019 V6-powered variant, and mostly drove them around town and within suburban, rural areas on tarmac, but also took both out on the trail, the latter deep diving in hood-high standing water. I tested the previous Tacoma off-road too, and I had no trouble negotiating the chosen trail, but being a different location and a long time ago (two years is eons in vehicle development time), a direct comparo wouldn’t be fair. 

On that note I hope to test a Gladiator Rubicon this summer, and you can bet I’ll be getting it as dirty as possible when I do. It features a disconnecting front sway bar to help with articulation (something I first experienced in a Ram Power Wagon, and is now also part of the Ram 1500 Rebel upgrade), plus it uses the Wrangler’s solid front axle that’s considered an improvement over the independent front suspensions used by the ZR2 and most other modern pickup trucks. Of course, I’ll make sure to use experiences from my ZR2 tests as part of my future Gladiator review. 

Like the first 2017 Colorado ZR2 and the greenish-grey 2018 turbo-diesel model partially reviewed here, the newest 2019 ZR2 receives the same substantial increase in ride height, and therefore gets the same 50-mm (2.0-inch) increase in ground clearance, while any high-speed handling negatives are offset by 90 mm (3.5 inches) of increased front and rear track, plus stiffer new cast-iron lower front control arms, and a unique set of 8- by 17-inch alloy wheels wrapped in 31-inch Goodyear Duratrac off-road rubber. 

2019 Chevrolet Colorado ZR2
The ZR2’s Multimatic shocks are key components to its off-road and on-pavement prowess. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

What’s more, a 1.0-inch-diameter solid anti-roll bar replaces the usual 1.5-inch hollow one, improving suspension articulation, while last but hardly least are special Multimatic DSSV Position Sensitive Spool Valve Damping Performance shocks that help cushion the otherwise jarring impacts of rocks, roots and other obstacles you might find along an ungraded back road or trail (the TRD Pro utilizes Fox-sourced shocks, by the way, which are rated highly as well). 

The skid plates below and tubular rocker extensions at each side are easier to see, both having been designed to protect vulnerable components beneath as well as low hanging bodywork, but the ZR2’s matte black grille and even more aggressive black domed hood make it even more noticeable to onlookers, not to mention its rugged black bumpers that get abbreviated at each corner to improve approach and departure angles, and extended black fender flares that make room for its all-terrain rubber. 

The local 4×4 park chosen is one I test trucks and SUVs on regularly, so I’m familiar with its plentiful obstacles. While difficult for many presumed off-roaders, most of its challenges are a cakewalk for the ZR2, but were still intimidating without a spotting crew to guide me through. During the diesel’s mostly dry afternoon I was able to drag the rear-mounted spare tire over some deep rutted knolls plus up and down some steep terrain, once again finding ground at the rear (but not the front), while I was able to lift the left rear into midair and leave it there spinning (a silly thing some 4×4 fans do for kicks), and while there was a lot more skill remaining in this truck than my dirt playground could not fully extract, I was able to prove that the ZR2 is capable enough for serious off-road duty, yet still plenty comfortable. 

2019 Chevrolet Colorado ZR2
The Colorado’s cab is well organized in any trim, but the ZR2 offers a suitably upscale experience. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

The second off-road adventure with the 2019 ZR2 came mid-winter, on a particularly cold and rainy day. Rain means mud at best and massive pools of standing water at worst (or maybe best, depending on how you look at it). The steep grades that were child’s play before required locking both front and rear differentials now (just like with the Gladiator, albeit not so with the Taco TRD Pro that only includes lockers at the rear), but doing so allowed easy control all the way up and all the way down. Even better, partway into a 50-foot puddle my heart started to race when the truck’s front end slipped deeper into a set of ruts, forcing dirty water across the top of the hood and even onto the windshield, but a steady foot on the throttle allowed the meaty tires to keep momentum up, and the ZR2 pulled me to the other side without fanfare (other than my pounding heart). At that point I was wishing I’d had the TRD Pro’s snorkel, but obviously the ZR2 didn’t need it, this time around at least. 

The thought of swamping an engine (which would void the warranty) makes the $6,980 need for the ZR2’s Bison package seem cheap. Of course, the Bison package wouldn’t have necessarily helped in this situation (it really should include a snorkel, if not just for style points), and I can’t say I’d want the ZR2 in Red Hot paint (I’d rather have the option of colours), but it gets design points for its bold “CHEVROLET” emblazoned grille (similar to the Raptor’s “FORD” grille replacement), unique AEV (American Expedition Vehicles) front and rear bumpers (the one up front capable of accepting a winch), the beefier black extended fender flares, special 17-inch AEV alloy wheels, fog lights, contoured front and rear floor liners, and about 90 kilograms (200 lbs) of super-strong boron steel AEV skid plates (front, transfer case, fuel tank, and rear differential) to better protect its vital components. 

2019 Chevrolet Colorado ZR2
This simple, straightforward gauge cluster includes a 4.2-inch colour multi-info display at centre. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

Of course, the ZR2 is still extremely capable without Bison upgrades, and quite a standout in the styling department too. The regular Colorado a bit tame to my eyes, at least when compared to most competitors, specifically the latest Tacoma and new Gladiator, but the ZR2’s bulging domed matte black louvered hood, redesigned matte black front bumpers and rear bumpers, exposed skid plates, robust tubular rocker protectors, and other trim upgrades give it a tougher look. Look beyond the machine-finished 17-inch alloy wheels with black-painted pockets and you’ll be able to see the bright yellow Multimatic dampers, unless they’re covered in dirt. 

The ZR2’s lack of side steps might look good and not hang up on protruding trail debris, but it hampers access for shorter folk like me. There aren’t any Corner Steps on the back bumper to provide a leg up to the bed either, these issues being the only complaints I have against this special model. 

Once inside I enjoyed the view provided by the aforementioned ride height and the Colorado’s inherently great sightlines in all directions. This helps in traffic, of course, possibly even giving you the edge needed to find your way up to the front of the pack. There’s where you’ll enjoy V6 performance, the larger of the two being a good choice for those wanting power over fuel efficiency. The V6 delivers a decided jump off the line and then keeps up the pace right up to legal highway speeds and beyond, while the diesel only jumps off the line initially, and simply can’t maintain the same level of forward thrust as its revs rise. This will be just find for diesel enthusiasts like me, because the engine helps it feel more like a work truck capably going about its business, and of course it pays big dividends when it comes time to fill up. 

2019 Chevrolet Colorado ZR2
The standard high-definition backup camera is ultra-clear. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

Colorado ZR2 buyers won’t have to make a choice about handling, fortunately, because both engines manage corners equally well. Even with its increased suspension, or possibly because of it, the ride is fairly smooth and quite comfortable, unless jumping curbs. Those slightly firmer Multimatic dampers, which work so very well off-road, also help to reduce body roll at higher speeds on pavement, resulting in a truck that’s surprisingly athletic through high-speed serpentine curves, unless you’re attempting to go quicker than anything so top-heavy and obviously 4×4-focused is supposed to go. Braking is pretty good too, but once again we shouldn’t get in over our heads. The ZR2 weighs in at 1,987 kg (4,381 lbs), and more when upgraded with the aforementioned Bison package, so judge stopping distances accordingly. 

As per usual I only pushed the ZR2 hard during testing, and no matter the surfaces driven over or the speeds attained, the driver’s seat was comfortable and supportive. I especially appreciated the lateral support provided by its big side bolsters, which stopped me sliding sideways on what could have otherwise been slippery leather. 

The upholstery was dyed black as usual, albeit highlighted with a red embroidered “2” as part of the otherwise black “ZR2” insignia on the headrests. The ZR2’s steering wheel receives no such name recognition, but it has a meaty rim that’s wrapped in soft and comfortable leather, with grippy baseball-style stitching in the middle. Other than its four-spoke design it appears more like the type of sport steering wheel you’d find in a performance car, and thanks to the generous reach of its standard tilt and telescoping steering column I fit in perfectly. I was able to sit upright with the steering wheel perfectly positioned for my long-legged, short torso, five-foot-eight, slight-build body, safely and comfortably with my hands at the optimal nine and three o’clock positions, further allowing an easy reach to the pedals below and once again, great visibility all-round. 

2019 Chevrolet Colorado ZR2
This wireless charging pad comes standard. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

The rear seating area of this Crew Cab, short box configured ZR2 (the ZR2 can also be had with an Extended Cab and a long box) is roomy for adults (and kids) of all shapes and sizes. When the driver’s seat was positioned for my height, there was still about five inches in front of my knees and more than enough room for my feet, plus I had another three to four inches over my head, and five inches from my shoulders and hips to the door, plus I’d guess you could seat a smaller person comfortably between the two outboard positions. With only two in back, more comfort can be accessed via a wide centre armrest filled with large cupholders that include rubber grips to hold cups or bottles in place. Other handy features include twin rear USB ports and a 12-volt charger. 

If you want to keep your gear dry and safe from theft, the rear seat headrests fold forward and the backrests tumble flat so you can lay your belongings on top, or instead you can lift the lower seat cushion up to expose a storage compartment underneath, this complete with every tool you’ll need to lower the spare tire from below the bed and then change the wheel. 

Seats and armrests aside, the ZR2 doesn’t offer any soft, pliable composite surface treatments in the rear, but back up front the dash top receives a nice soft paint to absorb sound and make it more appealing to touch, as does much of the instrument panel. It should also be noted this isn’t the priciest trim in Chevy’s Colorado fleet, due to being optimized primarily for off-road purposes, but it was certainly nice enough for this class of truck. On the positive are some attractive metal-like accents around the centre stack and lower console, plus the door handles and armrests. The door handles inside are chromed too, as are the centres of some knobs on the centre stack. 

2019 Chevrolet Colorado ZR2
The Colorado provides a large, spacious interior, and the ZR2’s leather-covered seats are very comfortable. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

The primary gauge cluster is legible in all lighting conditioned thanks to bright background lighting and good shielding from sunlight. It’s filled with the usual tachometer to the left and speedometer on the right, with a fuel gauge and engine temperature meter topping off a fairly large 4.2-inch high-resolution colour multi-information display just below at centre. 

The latter is controlled with a pad of four arrows on the right-side steering wheel spoke, which when pushed provides a bright menu of multicoloured functions including info, audio, phone, navigation, options, and more, while the navigation system provides directions within the gauge cluster’s multi-info display where they can be seen more easily without removing eyes too far from the road ahead, with more detailed mapping shown on the large 8.0-inch infotainment touchscreen over on the centre stack (this 8.0-inch display is now standard with all Colorado trims except the base Work Truck or WT that still does ok with its new 7.0-inch touchscreen). 

That larger touchscreen includes Chevy’s well laid-out, bright, and colourful HD menu display that seems as if it was inspired by Apple’s iPhone/iPad, which I think is a good thing, but if you want something even more inline with Cupertino you can plug your phone into a specified USB to access the standard Apple CarPlay app, or alternatively Android Auto (although I don’t like it anywhere near was much). I’m glad that Chevy gives us these smartphone connectivity alternatives, while also featuring an audio system that can be easily connected to a phone with Bluetooth wireless streaming, or alternatively you can listen to satellite radio, plus all the classic AM/FM/HD radio stations. 

2019 Chevrolet Colorado ZR2
The rear seating area is large and accommodating too. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

The navigation system worked well, with accurate routing and nicely detailed mapping that was easy enough to sort out. I only wished that it warned me of a turn sooner, but instead it gave instant notice and even then the directions were in black and white and fairly small, making them hard to make out. Larger, brighter and in colour would’ve been ideal, and saying something like “Turn right in 50 meters”. I liked that the infotainment system received text messages and provided a number of stock responses for communicating safely while driving, while other useful apps include OnStar, traffic info, and shopping (not sure about that last one while driving though). 

Along with navigation, the ZR2 includes a fabulous high-definition backup camera with active guidelines (but in need to inform you the Gladiator’s reportedly has front and rear trail cams that can even be cleaned via the infotainment system), with some other standard ZR2 features including a phone charging pad placed just in front of the centre armrest (standard with Z71 trim and above), plus a USB port inside the armrest if your phone needs wired power. Chevrolet also provides two more USB ports (one supporting new USB C-type devices) and an aux port, plus an available SD card reader, within another storage bin at the base of the centre stack, allowing you and your devices to be well cared for. Finally, the latest Colorado includes a second microphone mounted closer to the front passenger to improve the voice quality of Bluetooth hands-free connected phones, while a personal favourite had nothing to do with connectivity, but rather the ZR2’s heated steering wheel that warmed my hands on some cold winter mornings, this now standard with all trims above the LT. 

Speaking of warmth, standard ZR2 features include GM’s superb heated front seats that not only warm up the lower cushion and backrest together, but can be adjusted to only heat the latter, which is great for people like me who occasionally suffer from lower back pain and just want some temporary relief. This in mind, the ZR2 only includes single-zone automatic climate control, not the expected dual-zone design provided to top-line versions of the Tacoma and Gladiator. 

2019 Chevrolet Colorado ZR2
The rear seats flip down for storing cargo. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

I think most of us could live without such a luxury, but I really appreciate having proximity-sensing entry and a pushbutton ignition system. The ZR2 doesn’t get a sunroof either, which might bother those wowed by Jeep’s removable roof. I appreciated the padded sunglasses holder on the overhead console, and the reading lights were decent enough, but they’re only incandescent lamps, not LEDs. The centre mirror is auto-dimming, however, plus along with OnStar it includes a button for voice activation as well as an “SOS” one to reach out for help when required. 

A row of useful switches can be found on the centre stack too, including one for turning off the stability control, plus a bed light, hill descent control, an exhaust brake that’s useful when towing, a hazard light, and finally two individual toggles for the front and rear differential locks noted before. 

Trailering in mind, the ZR2’s towing capacity is rated at 2,268 kilos (5,000 lbs) no matter which engine is being used, while its payload is a sizeable 500 kilograms (1,100 lbs) with the four-door short-bed or 528 kg (1,164 lbs) with the extended-cab long-bed. The Tacoma TRD Pro, on the other hand, is capable of a 2,900-kg (6,400-lb) tow rating and a payload of 454 kg (1,000 lbs), whereas the Gladiator Rubicon (the closest to the ZR2) can trailer up to 2,040 kg (4,500 lbs) and haul a payload of up to 544 kg (1,200 lbs) with the manual, or drag 3,175 kg (7,000 lbs) of trailer weight or carry 526 kg (1,160 lbs) on its backside when equipped with its automatic. 

2019 Chevrolet Colorado ZR2
The ZX2 can do most anything a regular pickup truck can, plus conquer almost any trail. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

You may have noticed that I haven’t covered all of the ZR2’s comfort and convenience features in this review, but take note they’re easily available on the Chevrolet retail website or right here at CarCostCanada, where I sourced all 2019 Colorado pricing info including trims, packages and standalone options, not to mention money-saving rebate info and dealer invoice pricing. Suffice to say it’s well equipped for its $46,100 Extra Cab base price, or $47,600 when opting for the Crew Cab, plus freight and fees of course. 

No matter the Colorado ZR2 powertrain you choose, you’ll be getting a well-designed mid-size pickup truck that can overcome nearly any obstacle on or off the road. I’d opt for the diesel with the Bison upgrade and find an aftermarket snorkel, but hey, it’s easy to say that without following through on a payment plan. It’s great that Chevy provides so many options, allowing plenty of opportunity to personalize. 

Story credit: Trevor Hofmann 

Photo credit: Karen Tuggay

2019 Infiniti Q50 Signature Edition Road Test

2019 Infiniti Q50 Signature Edition
Infiniti refreshed the Q50 last year, and it still looks fabulous in its sporty Signature Edition styling. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

In a luxury car market that’s given up a lot to crossover SUVs, Infiniti’s Q50 has been more or less holding its own until recently. Canadian premium buyers were hard on BMW’s 3 Series and Audi’s A4 last year, with sales down 19.5 and 20.3 percent respectively, while others like Acura’s TLX, Cadillac’s ATS, and Jaguar’s XE lost even more ground, but the Q50 gained 6.8 percent throughout 2018, a fine showing by comparison. 

This said, the first three months of 2019 have been brutal on all of the above including the Q50, with the Japanese sport-luxury sedan’s sales having fallen by 36.3 percent, a figure that looks about as bad as bad can get until compared to BMW’s 37.7 percent 3 Series losses and Audi’s 39.9 percent A4 carnage. Even the mighty Mercedes-Benz C-Class is down by 34.5 percent, while sales of the Lexus IS (which lost 10.9 percent last year) are now off by 45.5 percent, and Jaguar XE by 78.1 percent (its sales were only down 27.8 last year). 

I should end this review right here, tell you to go check out my story on the impressive new Infiniti QX50 compact luxury SUV, and call it a day, but seriously, there were still 2,576 Q50 sedan buyers in Canada last year, and another 517 at the close of Q1 2019, so there are plenty of good reasons to review what I truly believe is a very good choice in the compact luxury D-segment, even if sport-luxury sedans aren’t exactly the hottest commodity these days. 

2019 Infiniti Q50 Signature Edition
A great looking design from front to back. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

To bring you up to speed, Infiniti gave its only relevant sedan (they still make the Q70, but sales are truly dismal) a mid-cycle refresh last year, updating the Q50’s grille, front fascia, headlights, taillights, rear bumper and more, so this 2019 model doesn’t see any visual changes at all, other than a new Canadian-exclusive standard “I-LINE” cosmetic treatment specifically for the now renamed I-Line Red Sport 400 model. 

Just like eyeliner, the I-Line upgrade, which was actually derived from “Inspired Line,” blackens the grille surround in the same fashion as last year’s glossy black fog lamp bezels and diffuser-style rear bumper, while the rear deck lid spoiler gets upgraded to high-gloss carbon fibre, and wheel wells are filled with a special “custom imported” glossy black set of 19-inch alloys. I-Line trim further helps to visually differentiate Infiniti’s sportiest 400-horsepower Q50 from lesser trims in the lineup, a smart move considering the $7,700 leap from the already quick 300 horsepower Q50 3.0T Sport AWD. 

To clarify further, both 300 and 400 horsepower versions of the Q50 source their power from the same turbocharged 3.0-litre V6 engine in different states of tune, while the other big change for 2019 is the elimination of the Mercedes-Benz-sourced 2.0-litre four-cylinder engine in Canada, which continues to make 208 horsepower in other markets where it’s still offered, like the U.S. 

2019 Infiniti Q50 Signature Edition
Some of the Q50 Signature Edition details are exquisitely executed. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

All remaining trims utilize Infiniti’s seven-speed automatic transmission with manual shift mode and downshift rev-matching, the latter a rarity in this class and really enjoyable to use, while Infiniti’s “Intelligent” rear-biased all-wheel drive system comes standard as well. 

Fuel economy has improved since Infiniti moved to the new turbocharged 3.0-litre engine, although with the loss of the four-cylinder the base Q50 no longer wows with 10.7 L/100km in the city, 8.6 on the highway and 9.7 combined, although 12.4 city, 8.7 highway and 10.8 combined is very good considering all the power on tap. 

All the above changes noted, the 2019 Q50’s most significant upgrade is the inclusion of Predictive Forward Collision Warning (PFCW) and Forward Emergency Braking (FEB) across the entire Q50 line, which means these critical accident avoidance systems are now part of the Luxe model, Luxe being the base trim level in the Q50’s recently revised grade structure. 

Without going into too much detail about each trim, the Q50 3.0T Luxe AWD starts at $44,995 plus freight and fees, while the Q50 3.0T Signature Edition being reviewed here starts just a hair higher at $46,495. The upper mid-range of the lineup is filled by the aforementioned Q50 3.0T Sport AWD, which enters the picture at $48,495, and the newly revised I-Line Red Sport 400 that begins life at $56,195, which is still very affordable considering all that’s being offered. 

2019 Infiniti Q50 Signature Edition
The Q50’s interior is beautifully finished. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

All prices quoted in this review can be found in detail, along with trims, packages and options, right here at CarCostCanada, where you can also find important manufacturer rebate info and dealer invoice pricing that could save you thousands. 

I said base a moment ago, but there’s nothing remotely base about the twin-turbo V6 behind the Q50’s trademark grille. For starters, none of its competitors offer 300 horsepower, or the direct-injected engine’s equally impressive 295 lb-ft of torque (well, almost equally impressive). I’ve waxed poetic about this engine before, not to mention gone on at length about the seven-speed autobox and AWD system it’s connected to, so rather than delve into the technologies that make them great I’ll give you more of an experiential explanation. 

First off, it feels quicker than the numbers suggest, not that 300 ponies and 295 lb-ft of twist is anything to sneeze at. It simply has more jump off the line than most cars offering similar output, this likely due to its twin-turbos providing all of that torque from just 1,600 rpm all the way up to 5,200 rpm, which is much sooner than a normally aspirated engine would, and a very wide maximum torque band overall. 

Amazingly, those turbos whirl at speeds of up to 240,000 rpm, something I have a hard time getting my mind around, especially considering their near silent operation and total reliability. Also notable, the lightweight mostly aluminum powerplant has been a Wards “10 Best Engines” winner since inception, just like its predecessors were, so it’s not just me singing its praises. 

2019 Infiniti Q50 Signature Edition
The Q50 cockpit is 50 percent sport and 50 percent luxury. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Press the ignition button on the instrument panel, toggle the “DRIVE MODE” switch on the lower console to select “SPORT” instead of “STANDARD” (SNOW, ECO and PERSONAL modes are also included), slot the leather-clad contrast-stitched gear lever into “D”, then tug it slightly to the left for manual mode, at which point you’d better prepare to shift the old fashioned way because steering wheel paddles can only be found on the 3.0T Sport and I-Line Sport 400. Not a problem. Certainly I’d love to find paddles all the way down the line, but the Signature Edition is a more luxury-oriented Q50 trim after all, despite its rapid acceleration and athletic agility through fast-paced turns. 

The Signature Edition comes standard with the same 245/40R19 all-season run-flat performance tires as the Sport, but alas my tester was purposely shod in winters that no doubt affected lateral grip on dry patches. Then again, Infiniti didn’t skimp on the rubber, shoeing its standard triple-five-spoke alloys in a set of Pirelli Sottozeros that proved you don’t need an SUV to trudge through winter conditions effectively. In fact, it was so capable in wet West Coast snow that the Q50 became my go-to car for those soggy, cold winter weeks Vancouver is famous for, and a particularly enjoyable companion thanks to its quick reacting steering, agile suspension, and smooth, comfortable ride. 

Some Signature Edition upgrades you might find interesting include the exact same performance-oriented exterior styling details as the Sport, including the sharper gloss black lip spoiler and deeper black fog lamp bezels up front, plus a less aggressive version of the black and body-colour diffuser-infused rear bumper cap mentioned earlier, while both models make use of the same more conventional silver-painted 19-inch alloy wheels noted a moment ago, which is an upgrade over the base Luxe model’s 18-inch rims on 225/50 all-season run-flat performance rubber. 

2019 Infiniti Q50 Signature Edition
This gauge cluster is for those who prefer classic analogue over new-edge digital. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Lastly, both trims receive silver “S” badges on the front fenders, but strangely the Signature Edition features a unique rear deck spoiler just above its own scripted “Signature” badge, whereas the Sport makes do with no rear spoiler at all, although it gets a silver “S” badge next to its Q50 nomenclature. 

Inside, Signature Edition and Sport trims also feature the same Sport Type seats with driver-side powered lumbar support and powered torso bolsters, plus manual thigh extensions for both front occupants. The driver’s seat was incredibly comfortable while providing excellent lateral support, and honestly was another reason I chose the Q50 over some other options in my garage during my test week. Lastly, the surrounding decorative inlays in both Signature Edition and Sport models are finished in genuine Kacchu aluminum, which feels substantive and looks very nice. 

So what separates Signature Edition and Sport trim? Most every other feature is shared with the base Q50 Luxe model, which is why there’s only $1,500 between the two trims. Therefore, along with all of the items already noted, the Q50 Signature Edition includes standard auto on/off LED headlights with LED daytime running lights, LED fog lamps and front turn signals, LED brake lights, aluminum “INFINITI” branded kick plates, proximity-sensing keyless entry, pushbutton ignition, Infiniti’s “InTuition” for storing climate, audio and driving preferences within each “Intelligent Key”, welcome lights on the front exterior door handles, rain-sensing wipers, an auto-dimming rearview mirror, a garage door opener, micro-filtered dual-zone auto climate control, Infiniti InTouch infotainment with a bright, clear 8.0-inch upper display and an equally impressive 7.0-inch lower touchscreen, a backup camera, Bluetooth phone and streaming audio, a nice sounding six-speaker AM/FM/CD/MP3/satellite audio system with HD playback, RDS and speed-sensitive volume, two USB charging ports, a heatable steering wheel (that really responded quickly), heated front seats (ditto), powered front seats, a powered moonroof, and more. 

2019 Infiniti Q50 Signature Edition
The top display houses navigation, backup camera, and other functions. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Of note, with the move up to the base V6 powerplant a number of features that were previously optional are now standard, including remote engine start, Infiniti’s accurate InTouch navigation with lane guidance and 3D building graphics, the Infiniti InTouch Services suite of digital alerts and remote services, voice recognition for audio, SMS text and vehicle info, power-adjustable lumbar support for the driver, and 60/40 split-folding rear seatbacks with a centre pass-through. 

At the other end of the trim spectrum, the only real changes to previously noted Sport trim are actually performance oriented, such as those steering wheel-mounted paddle shifters I lamented about not having on the Signature Edition earlier, a unique sport-tuned dynamic digital suspension, and identical sport brakes to the Red Sport 400, which boast four-piston front calipers and two-piston rear calipers, while the two sportiest trims also get exclusive front seat-mounted side-impact supplemental airbags. 

Speaking of features not available with this Signature Edition, only Sport trim gets the option of electronic power steering, while Infiniti’s exclusive drive-by-wire Direct Adaptive Steering (DAS) system is available on all trims except for the Signature Edition, as is the auto-leveling adaptive front lighting system (AFS) with high beam assist, a power-adjustable steering column with memory, an Around View Monitor (AVM) with Moving Object Detection (MOD), premium 16-speaker Bose Performance audio with Centerpoint technology, front and rear parking sensors, Intelligent Cruise Control with full speed range (ICC), Distance Control Assist (DCA), Blind Spot Warning (BSW), Blind Spot Intervention (BSI), Lane Departure Warning (LDW), Lane Departure Prevention (LDP) with Active Lane Control, and Backup Collision Intervention (BCI) with Cross Traffic Alert (CTA). 

2019 Infiniti Q50 Signature Edition
The lower touchscreen features HVAC controls, audio, etcetera. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Features not available with the Signature Edition, optional with the Sport and standard with the Red Sport 400 include auto-dimming side mirrors with reverse link and memory, plus Infiniti’s Advanced Climate Control System with auto-recirculation, Plasmacluster air purifier and Grape Polyphenol Filter. 

All of this places the Q50 Signature Edition in a unique value position, offering plenty of Sport trim features yet limiting its choice of options to colours, which are the same five offered in Sport trim including Liquid Platinum silver, Graphite Shadow grey, Black Obsidian, Majestic White, and my tester’s elegant Iridium Blue; plus interior themes, which just like the Sport can be had in Graphite (black) and Stone (grey). Incidentally, the base model also offers a Wheat (tan) interior, while dark-stained gloss maple hardwood provides a more traditional luxury ambiance, plus you also lose the option of Pure White or Mocha Almond (brown metallic) paint when moving up into the sportier Q50 trims, but you can’t get Iridium Blue, whereas Red Sport 400 buyers get the option of exclusive Dynamic Sunstone Red. 

Along with the generous supply of features, the Q50’s interior is beautifully finished no matter the trim. My tester benefited from stitched leather right across the dash top, the instrument panel, each side of the lower console, and the upper two-thirds of all door panels, while the glove box lid was also soft to the touch. The finishing is excellent too, from that leather trim to the beautifully upholstered leather seats, to the lovely Kacchu aluminum inlays, the tasteful assortment of satin-silver accents, and other surfaces, while all of the switchgear feels substantive, is nicely damped, and fits together snuggly. 

2019 Infiniti Q50 Signature Edition
The front seats are multi-adjustable and very comfortable. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Likewise, the Q50 is wonderfully hushed inside, whether touring around city streets or cruising the highway, and it’s certainly roomy enough. Bringing more size to the value equation has being part of Infiniti’s modus operandi since day one, and it results in a near mid-size competitor that offers a more spacious interior then some D-segment rivals. I’m only five-foot-eight with a smaller build, and despite having longer legs than torso, which can sometimes make it difficult to reach the steering wheel comfortably, even when its telescopic reach is extended as far rearward as possible, I found its adjustability excellent and the resultant driving position ideal. There’s so much seat travel and headroom that it should be good for taller folk too, while the adjustable torso, lumbar and thigh support really added support to my backside and comfort below the knees. 

For testing purposes I slipped into the back seat directly behind the driver’s seat, and found more than enough room to be comfortable too. Specifically, I had about five inches ahead of my knees, plenty of room to put my big winter boots under the driver’s seat, and more than enough space from side to side, while there was also about three inches over my head. The rear quarters are just as nicely finished as those up front, with amenities including a folding centre armrest with integrated cupholders, reading lights overhead, and air vents on the backside of the front console. 

The trunk should sizable enough for most owners’ needs, but at 382 litres (13.5 cubic feet) it’s certainly not anywhere near the largest in the class. Also, its standard 60/40 split-folding rear seatbacks aren’t as flexible as the usual European 40/20/40 division, but Infiniti compensates with a centre pass-through that provides almost as much room for loading longer items such as skis down the middle while rear passengers enjoy the more comfortable outboard window seats, a real bonus with active lifestyle families. 

2019 Infiniti Q50 Signature Edition
Roomy rear quarters are good for tall passengers. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Yes, the Q50 could be a bit better here and there, but this is also the case for every car it competes against. Fortunately its value proposition, excellent reliability record, impressive interior, handsome styling, and superb performance solidly make up for this one downside. After all, if you need more trunk space and greater passenger/cargo flexibility Infiniti has a QX50 you’d probably enjoy just as much, not to mention a QX60, QX80 and others. If you’re dead set on buying a sport-luxury sedan, you could do a lot worse than this new Q50 Signature Edition or one of its other impressive trims. 

 

Story credit: Trevor Hofmann 

Photo credits: Karen Tuggay

2019 Acura MDX A-Spec SH-AWD Road Test Review

2019 Acura MDX A-Spec SH-AWD
New A-Spec trim adds sportier styling to the classic MDX look for 2019. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

What? You don’t know what an A-Spec is? It’s ok. Sometimes I forget that normal people don’t follow the auto industry as closely as car enthusiasts and journalists like me. A-Spec is Acura’s sport-oriented styling package that may or may not include real performance upgrades. With respect to the new 2019 MDX A-Spec, it’s all about the look. 

That look starts with glossy black and dark-chrome detailing for the grille, headlights, window trim, and tailgate spoiler, plus a bolder front fascia design, painted front and rear lower skid plate garnishes, body-coloured outer door handles, body-colour lower side sills, larger-diameter exhaust finishers, and a near equally darkened set of 20-inch 10-spoke Shark Grey alloy wheels on lower profile 265/45 rubber. Those tires might seem like the only exterior upgrade that could potentially enhance performance, but then again it’s the same used on the MDX’ most luxuriously appointed Elite trim. 

2019 Acura MDX A-Spec SH-AWD
The A-Spec styling updates wrap all the way around the upgraded MDX. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Stepping inside means you’ll pass overtop one of four A-Spec-branded aluminum doorsill garnishes, while additional interior enhancements include a special primary gauge cluster embellished with more red on the rev and speed markers, a thicker-rimmed A-Spec-badged steering wheel featuring a dimpled leather wrap on its lower three-quarters, metal sport pedals, unique carbon-look console trim, and sport seats upholstered in “Rich Red” or in the case of my tester, black leather with perforated black suede-like Alcantara inserts plus high-contrast stitching. 

I like the visual changes made inside and outside, the latter giving new life to a still handsome yet aging design, and the former also masking an SUV that’s starting to look like yesteryear’s news now that the all-new RDX has arrived. By that I’m not saying for a second that Acura should swap out the MDX’ lower console-mounted pushbutton gear selector for the bizarre contraption clinging to the RDX’ centre stack, nor for that matter the smaller SUV’s big space-robbing drive mode selector dial housed just above the gear selector switchgear, but the sizeable multi-information display (MID) within the otherwise analogue gauge cluster does a reasonably good job of modernizing the look (a fully digital design would be better) and the single fixed tablet-style infotainment display atop the RDX dash is a major improvement over the double-stacked MDX design in every way, except for its lack of touchscreen capability. 

2019 Acura MDX A-Spec SH-AWD
Darkened trim, LED headlamps and fog lights, 20-inch grey alloys, the new MDX A-Spec certainly looks sporty. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

By comparison, the MDX’ MID is a thin sliver of remedial graphics and passable info, lacking the wow-factor of an Audi Virtual Cockpit that transforms into a massive map just by pressing a steering wheel-mounted button, or for that matter the new 2020 Mercedes GLE/GLS that does away with a traditional gauge binnacle altogether, instead melding two big tablet-style screens together and using the left-side for driver info and the right-side for touch-actuated infotainment. Back to Acura reality, the MDX uses the two-tiered combination of displays just noted, the top 8.0-inch monitor more of a true MID that’s controllable via a rotating dial just under the bottom display, although defaulting to the navigation system’s map/route guidance info most of the time, and multi-angle rearview camera with dynamic guidelines when in reverse; the overhead 360-degree surround camera is reserved for aforementioned Elite trim. This said, the lower 7.0-inch display is a touchscreen and quite utile, providing easy control of the audio and HVAC systems, plus more. 

While some of my comments might sound as if I’m getting down on Acura and its MDX, it’s clearly not alone, as in-car digitalization is one of the most comprehensive transformations being undertaken by the auto industry today. After years of getting it wrong, some are now getting it right, while Acura is getting close with its most recent designs, and obviously requires modernization within some of its older models, like this MDX. 

2019 Acura MDX A-Spec SH-AWD
A revised rear bumper sports larger tailpipe finishers for yet more of a performance look. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

This brings up an important point, the MDX will most likely be completely redesigned next year as a 2021 model, at which point we hope it takes a few cues from the aforementioned Mercedes pair, Volvo’s XC90, and some others, by integrating both a touchscreen like the current MDX, as well as a touchpad like that in the RDX, the latter for those who’d rather not reach so far. For the time being the MDX two-screen setup does the trick, but of course buyers of the latest MDX won’t go home feeling like they’ve just traded in their old Samsung Note 4 for a new Note 10 (or for you Apple fans, swapping the old iPhone 6 for the new XS Max). 

Speaking of Google and iOS operating systems, the base MDX infotainment system includes Android Auto and Apple CarPlay, plus Bluetooth phone and audio streaming, Siri Eyes Free, SMS text message and email reading capability, satellite radio, and four USB charging ports, while this A-Spec model sources its navigation with voice recognition from mid-range Tech trim, which also adds an impressive sounding 10-speaker ELS Studio surround audio system, hard disk drive (HDD) media storage, and AcuraLink subscription services to the in-car electronics experience. 

2019 Acura MDX A-Spec SH-AWD
Most should be impressed with the MDX interior, which is upgraded nicely in A-Spec trim. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

It’s so tempting to prattle on about features, because each trim provides such a lengthy list that the MDX’ value proposition becomes immediately clear, so suffice to say that additional items not yet covered on the $60,490 A-Spec include LED fog lights, auto-dimming power-folding side mirrors, perimeter/approach puddle lamps, keyless access buttons on the rear doors, and ventilated/cooled front seats, while other features pulled up from Tech trim include a sun position detection system for the climate control, front and rear parking sensors, plus Blind Spot Information (BSI) with rear cross traffic monitoring. 

Speaking of advanced driver assistive systems, all MDX trims come standard with AcuraWatch, a comprehensive suite of safety goodies including Forward Collision Warning (FCW), Collision Mitigation Braking System (CMBS), Lane Departure Warning (LDW), Lane Keeping Assist (LKAS), Road Departure Mitigation (RDM), and Adaptive Cruise Control (ACC) with low-speed follow. 

2019 Acura MDX A-Spec SH-AWD
The dated MDX dash won’t be confused for anything else, but at least the quality of materials is good. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Lastly, a shortlist of key features from the $54,390 base MDX incorporated into the A-Spec include signature Jewel Eye LED headlights with auto high beams, LED taillights, acoustic glass, a heated windshield, remote start, proximity keyless access, pushbutton ignition, ambient lighting, memory for the steering column, side mirrors and climate control, an electromechanical parking brake, a powered moonroof, a HomeLink universal remote, an auto-dimming rearview mirror, driver recognition, a power tilt and telescopic steering column, a heated steering wheel with paddle shifters, rain-sensing wipers, tri-zone front and rear automatic climate control, Active Noise Control (ANC), Active Sound Control (ASC), heated 12-way powered front seats with four-way lumbar, a powered tailgate, a 1,588-kilo towing capacity (or 2,268 kg with the towing package), and more. 

Important to you, all 2019 Acura MDX trim, package, and options prices was sourced right here on CarCostCanada, where you can also find helpful rebate information as well as dealer invoice pricing that could save you thousands, so make sure to check it out our many useful features matter which vehicle you end up purchasing. 

2019 Acura MDX A-Spec SH-AWD
Classic analogue dials and a relatively small TFT multi-info display makes for a utile if not modern look. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Along with all of the just noted features and previously mentioned A-Spec interior upgrades, the steering wheel of which is especially nice thanks to its thick textured leather rim and nicely carved thumb spats, is a tasteful assortment of satin-silver finish aluminum accents, plus high-quality soft-touch synthetics across the dash top, door uppers (the door inserts upgraded with plush ultrasuede, like the seats, in A-Spec trim), and most everywhere else including the glove box lid, with only the left portion of the panel below the driver’s knees, the sides of the lower console, and the lower half of the door panels finished in more commonplace hard plastics. 

As it should, but is not always the case with some MDX rivals, the driver’s seat features previously noted four-way powered lumbar for optimal lower back support, plus all of the usual adjustments in this class, but I would’ve appreciated an extension for the lower squab to add comfort and support below the knees, even if this were manually adjustable, while some other manufacturers also include adjustable side torso bolsters. As it is, even this sporty A-Spec trim doesn’t provide all that much lateral seat support, but they should work for wider body types that sometimes find more performance-oriented seat designs uncomfortable. 

2019 Acura MDX A-Spec SH-AWD
The double-stacked infotainment system works quite well, but is hardly new. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

With the driver’s seat positioned high to maximize my view, being just five-foot-eight, I found the rear seating position more than adequately spacious for legs and feet, even while wearing big winter boots. The second row slides back and forth easily, and when all the way forward I still had a few inches between my knees and the driver’s seatback, and when positioned all the way rearward I found second-row legroom quite generous with about eight inches ahead of my knees. 

The MDX’ third row only works for smaller folk and children when the second row is pushed all the way back, but when slid forward I was able to sit in the very back without my knees rubbing the backrest ahead, plus those just noted winter boots fit nicely below. I wouldn’t go so far as to call the third row comfortable, but it was workable. Rearmost passengers can also see out a small set of side windows, so it’s not claustrophobic either, plus they get cupholders to each side and nice reading lights overhead. Getting out when in the very back is easy too, only requiring the push of a seatback button that automatically slides the second-row forward, but I wouldn’t say this is the easiest third row to climb in or out of, due to very little space between the folded second-row seatback and door jam. 

2019 Acura MDX A-Spec SH-AWD
The MDX gear selector is unusual, but after a little time becomes easy enough to use. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Back in the MDX’ second row of seats, Acura provides a separate climate control interface for rear passengers, with two USB device chargers underneath. Being that my tester was in A-Spec trim there were no second-row outboard seat warmers included, which is a bit of a shame for those who want all the luxury features together with this model’s sportier demeanor. 

The rear hatch is powered of course, opening up to a nicely finished cargo compartment that’s dotted with chromed tie-down hooks and covered in quality carpeting all the way up the sidewalls and seatbacks, plus adorned with some attractive aluminum trim on the threshold. There’s a reasonable amount of luggage space behind the third row at 447 litres (15.8 cubic feet), plus a handy compartment under the load floor, and while easy to fold down manually there’s no powered operation for getting them back up. Likewise the second row is purely manual, and while fairly easy to drop down, a process that expands the 1,230 litres (43.4 cu ft) behind the second row seatbacks to a maximum of 2,575 litres (90.9 cu ft) when all seats are lowered, but there’s no centre pass-through for longer items like skis. This means the MDX doesn’t offer the same type of seating/cargo flexibility as the majority of European competitors. 

2019 Acura MDX A-Spec SH-AWD
Comfortable 12-way front seats benefit from suede-like Alcantara inserts. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

The well-proven powertrain is a bit lacklustre too, even when compared to competitors’ base engines. Acura has been producing the same SOHC 3.5-litre V6 since 2014, making a modest 290 horsepower and 267 lb-ft of torque, and before that, in the previous 2007-2013 second-generation MDX, they used a 3.7-litre version of this engine that (believe it or not) made 10 horsepower and 3 lb-ft of torque more for a total of 300 hp and 270 lb-ft, so effectively they’ve been going backwards when it comes to performance. 

Of course, introducing the highly efficient nine-speed ZF automatic with this latest third-generation MDX in 2014 made the less potent engine feel livelier, although it still suffers from a Honda family hauler pedigree when compared to the base 333-hp Audi Q7 mill, the base 335-hp BMW X5, and some others. 

2019 Acura MDX A-Spec SH-AWD
Second-row comfort, spaciousness and adjustability is excellent. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Then again, its performance is decent enough and its pricing a lot lower than those highfalutin Europeans, while the just noted standard nine-speed autobox is fairly quick shifting and very smooth, with the aforementioned standard steering wheel paddle shifters enjoyable to use, plus the standard torque-vectoring SH-AWD system is extremely well engineered and therefore performs superbly no matter the road or weather conditions. 

To be clear, the MDX, even in this sportier A-Spec trim, is biased toward comfort over performance. This doesn’t mean it’s a sloth off the line, or cumbersome through corners, but instead is easily fast enough for most peoples’ needs, as proven by its reasonably strong sales numbers year after year, and handles commendably when pushed hard through tight weaving corners, yet never tries to pass itself off as a sport sedan for seven, like some of its Euro rivals do quite effectively. Instead, the MDX’ ride is pleasurable no matter the road surface beneath, its manners particularly nice around town where it sits high above the majority of surrounding traffic and provides excellent visibility through all windows, and its creature comforts plentiful. 

2019 Acura MDX A-Spec SH-AWD
The third row has a surprising amount of room. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

One of those features, specific to performance, is a drive mode selector that includes Comfort, Normal, and Sport settings that remain as selected even after shutting off the engine, locking up and leaving, coming back, and restarting. Therefore, if you personally prefer driving in Sport mode, which I’m going to guess most people who purchase this sportier looking A-Spec model do, then the drivetrain is ready and waiting without any extra effort every time you climb inside. 

Another MDX attribute I can attest to is its prowess over snowy roads. This thing is a beast, and with proper snow tires can overcome nearly any depth of powdery (or chunky, wet) white stuff. The latter was addressed with a set of 265/ 45R20 Michelin Latitude Alpin all-season tires, so I can only guess it would even be more formidable when shod in true winters. 

2019 Acura MDX A-Spec SH-AWD
Even with all three rows in use, the MDX provides about as much cargo space as an average mid-size sedan’s trunk. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Another positive is real-world fuel economy, which actually benefits from a one-size-fits-all V6 under the hood, especially when burdened by a three-row SUV weighing in at 1,945 kilos (4,288 lbs); the A-Spec the second heaviest trim in the MDX lineup. Thanks to direct-injection, i-VTEC, and Variable Cylinder Management (VCM) that shuts one bank of cylinders down under light loads to save fuel, plus standard engine idle stop-start to reduce consumptions yet more, not to mention emissions, and lastly the nine-speed autobox, the A-Spec is rated at 12.2 L/100km in the city, 9.5 on the highway and 11.0 combined, which is only a tad more than all other MDX trims that get a claimed rating of 12.2 L/100km city, 9.0 highway and 10.8 combined. On the subject of efficiency, I should also mention the much more interesting MDX Sport Hybrid that, thanks to a two-motor electrified drivetrain is good for 9.1 L/100km city, 9.0 highway and 9.0 combined. I’ll cover this model soon, so stay tuned. 

2019 Acura MDX A-Spec SH-AWD
Loads of space available with the rear rows folded flat. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

So there you have it, an honest, straightforward review of an aging albeit still credible three-row luxury SUV, that I can still recommend you purchasing if you’re not one of the luxury sector’s usual latest-and-greatest consumer. Let’s face it. The MDX isn’t the newest kid on the block. Its powertrain is archaic compared to the turbocharged and supercharged 316-hp 2.0-litre four-cylinder in the aforementioned Volvo XC90, which can be upgraded to 400-hp plug-in hybrid specs no less, or for that matter the supercharged 3.0-litre V6 in the Audi Q7, and the list goes on, while its infotainment works well enough yet is seriously lacking in modernity, but as long as you’re ok with some aging issues the MDX provides everything families in this class need, and does so in a stylish, refined, quiet, comfortable, spacious, safe, and reasonably reliable package, all for thousands less than any of the noted competitors. That should be reason enough to keep the MDX on your radar when it comes time to trade up, and when you do I recommend checking out this sportier A-Spec trim, because the styling updates and interior details are certainly worth the extra cost. 

Story credit: Trevor Hofmann 

Photo credit: Karen Tuggay

2019 Honda Pilot Touring Road Test Review

2019 Honda Pilot Touring
Looking better than ever, we really like what Honda has done with its 2019 Pilot. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Other than a few unusual offerings like the Element, Crosstour, and current Civic Hatchback/R, Honda’s styling normally resides in the conservative camp, and when it comes to mid-cycle makeovers that conservatism is downright mossbacked. Still, despite mere evolutionary changes made from the 2016-2018 third-generation Pilot to the latest iteration, introduced last year for 2019, it looks a lot better than it used to. 

It starts a more aggressive looking traditional SUV-type grille above a bolder front bumper and fascia, all of which are bookended by beautiful new trademark full LED headlamps in my tester’s top-tier Touring trim line. By the way, all Pilots now come with LED headlights, but those lower down the desirability scale only incorporate LEDs within their low beams and therefore appear more conventional when put side-by-side with the vertical elements inside the Touring model’s more sophisticated looking full LEDs. 

When viewed from the rear, new LED taillights are standard across the entire Pilot line, plus a new rear bumper incorporates the same satin-silver-coloured skid plates as those up front, with most trims. Of note, both the base Pilot and Canada-exclusive Black Edition get black skid plates front to rear, albeit the former are matte finished and the latter glossy black. Speaking of trim highlights, the Touring model features chromed door handles and sporty new 20-inch alloy wheels, helping to make it much more upscale than other trims in the lineup, and plenty attractive when placed beside its mid-size crossover SUV peers. 

2019 Honda Pilot Touring
Subtle changes have made a big difference. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Along with the refresh, Honda made some important mechanical changes to help refine Touring and Black Edition models, particularly by revising their standard auto start-stop system, making it turn off and restart the engine faster and smoother. This upgrade will hopefully cause owners to keep the start-stop system engaged, which will certainly help improve fuel economy and reduce emissions. I certainly never experienced any problems with the system throughout my weeklong test drive, in fact hardly noticing its operation at all. 

Additionally, Honda reportedly refined the two top models’ standard nine-speed automatic transmission, which, like the auto start/stop system, worked perfectly throughout my test week. In fact, I’d go so far as to say it’s better than ever, providing truly smooth and effortless shifts when both driving in the city and operating at highway speeds, while also downshifting with nice, quick, snappy precision when performing passing maneuvers. Owners of lesser Pilot trims, which include the base LX plus mid-range EX and EX-L Navi models, get a very well-proven six-speed automatic transmission, which remains unchanged moving into 2019. 

Unlike the Pilot’s gearbox duality, all trim levels incorporate one single 24-valve, SOHC 3.5-litre V6 engine, which despite having already served Honda well for more than a decade, other than small updates, continues to make a potent combination of 280 horsepower and 262 lb-ft of torque, thanks in part to direct-injection and i-VTEC, while its Active Control Engine Mount (ACM) system aids refinement further by reducing noise, vibration and harshness. 

2019 Honda Pilot Touring
The Touring gets full LED headlamps and 20-inch alloys. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Also standard, all Canadian-spec Pilots include Honda’s Intelligent Variable Torque Management (i-VTM4) AWD, which together with the Japanese brand’s Intelligent Traction Management System, helps provide immediate grip at takeoff for smooth yet quick response. What’s more, this energetic straight-line performance was enhanced by a fully independent suspension that felt nimbler through quick corners, while its ride quality was completely comfortable all the time, only becoming slightly unsettled when I pushed it further than most owners would for testing purposes, and then only when the road below exposed crumbling, uneven pavement. 

Truth be told, I don’t try to imitate Red Bull-Honda Racing F1 driver Max Verstappen all that often (but would love to have his skill), especially when piloting a large SUV, but normally apply available eco modes before keeping to a more moderate pace. Such practices are rewarding with the Pilot, thanks to the auto start/stop system mentioned before, plus the engine’s Variable Cylinder Management (VCM) system that shuts off a bank of cylinders under lighter loads to further improve fuel economy, my tester achieving a commendable 11.3 L/100km during my mostly flat city street test week, which is very close to Transport Canada’s estimated rating of 12.4 L/100km city, 9.3 highway and 11.0 combined. I haven’t driven the six-speed version since it was the only transmission offered in this SUV, prior to the third-gen redesign, so I can’t attest to its claimed rating of 13.0 L/100km city, 9.3 highway and 11.3 combined. Still, both sets of numbers are impressive when factoring in just how large this three-row SUV is. 

I also didn’t test the Pilot with a trailer in tow, but Honda claims that both transmissions equal the same 1,588 kilograms (3,500 lbs) tow rating in standard guise, or 2,268 kg (5,000 lbs) with the upgraded towing package. 

2019 Honda Pilot Touring
This nicely designed instrument panel is about average for the class when it comes to materials quality. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Now that I’m talking about moving gear, the Pilot has long been one of the more accommodating SUV’s in its class when it comes to luggage space. Behind the third row is a plentiful 524 litres (18.5 cubic feet), or 510 litres (18.0 cubic feet) with my Touring tester and the near identically equipped Black Edition. Lower that 60/40 split-folding third row down and cargo carrying capacity expands to 1,583 litres (55.9 cubic feet) no matter the trim level, while it available stowage space ranges from 3,072 to 3,092 litres (108.5 to 109.2 cubic feet) when all of its rear seatbacks are laid flat, but it’s important to note that a centre section of load floor is missing when equipped with second-row captain’s chairs. I like how some manufacturers attach a foldout carpeted extension to the back of one seat in order to remedy this problem, but no such luck with the Pilot. If this were mine, I’d keep a piece of plywood handy for hauling big loads. 

On the positive the centre console isn’t so tall that it protrudes into the loading area, a problem with some luxury utes, but then again it’s barely raised above the floor, so will be a bit of a stretch for smaller occupants to reach when trying to use the cupholders. The good news is this console and the sliding/reclining captain’s chairs to each side aren’t standard with Touring trim (they are with the Black Edition), but instead replace a three-seat bench that ups total occupancy from seven to eight. The seating arrangement you choose will come down to the age/size of your kids or if you regularly bring adults along for the ride, because the rear captain’s chairs are definitely more comfortable than the outboard seats on the bench. 

I won’t go into detail about the Black Edition in this review, but suffice to say it’s outfitted almost identically to seven-passenger Touring trim. As for my $52,690 Touring tester, it list of standard items includes the full LED headlamps noted earlier, plus power-folding and auto-dimming sideview mirrors, blue ambient interior lighting, acoustic glass for the front windows, rain-sensing windshield wipers, a pushbutton gear selector, cooled front seats, a large panoramic glass sunroof, a superb 600-watt audio system featuring 11 speakers and a sub plus 5.1 Surround, a wireless device charger, a new Honda CabinTalk in-car PA (that really works), HondaLink Subscription Services, Wi-Fi, the “How much Farther?” application, rear entertainment, an HDMI input jack, a 115-volt household-style power outlet in back, blindspot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert, plus more. 

2019 Honda Pilot Touring
The big TFT display within the gauge cluster makes it seem almost totally digital. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Features added to Touring trim from the lesser EX-L Navi model include an acoustic windshield, memory-linked side mirrors with reverse tilt-down, a heated steering wheel, a four-way power front passenger seat, a navigation system with detailed mapping, HD and satellite radio, front and rear parking sonar, heated outboard second-row seats, one-touch third-row access (that’s really easy to operate whether entering or trying to get out from the rearmost seat), second-row side window shades, a power liftgate, etcetera, while features sourced from the EX model include LED fog lamps, LED repeaters in the side mirror housings, roof rails, illuminated vanity mirrors, a Homelink universal remote, a leather-clad steering wheel, plus 10-way power and memory for the driver’s seat. 

Finally, I need to also make mention of some standard LX features pulled up to Touring trim (the base Pilot LX starting at just $41,290), including remote engine start, proximity keyless entry, pushbutton start, a windshield de-icer, a conversation mirror that doubles for sunglasses storage, three-zone auto HVAC, heated front seats, HondaLink Assist Automatic Emergency Response System, etcetera (all prices are sourced right here on CarCostCanada, where you can also find all the latest rebate info as well as dealer invoice pricing that could save you thousands). 

What’s more, each and ever Pilot gets a nice, big 7.0-inch TFT multi-information display within its primary gauge package, boasting attractive high-resolution colour graphics, simple operation via steering spoke-mounted switchgear, and plenty of useful functions, while over on the centre stack is an 8.0-inch fixed tablet-style touchscreen that’s even more comprehensively equipped with functionality. It gets a user-friendly multi-coloured tile design that looks as if it was inspired by Apple products, and fittingly includes Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, Bluetooth with streaming audio, a fabulous multi-angle rearview camera with dynamic guidelines, plus more. 

2019 Honda Pilot Touring
The Pilot is comfortable no matter where you’re seated. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Honda also gives the Pilot a comprehensive list of standard advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS) including auto high beams, adaptive cruise control, Forward Collision Warning, Collision Mitigation Braking, Lane Departure Warning with Lane Keeping Assist, plus Road Departure Mitigation, which, when upgraded with Touring trim’s cornering low- and high-beam full LED headlamps, allows a best-possible Top Safety Pick + rating from the IIHS. Additionally, all Pilot trims earn a five-star safety rating from the NHTSA. 

Just in case you’re starting to think that a team of publicity reps from Honda wrote this review, my weeklong test wasn’t wholly positive. For starters, even my top-line Pilot Touring tester wasn’t as impressively finished inside as some direct competitors, due to more hard plastic than I would have liked. Honda does cover the dash top in a soft synthetic, and adds a nice bolster across the instrument panel ahead of the front passenger, which extends above the centre touchscreen, while the front door uppers are also soft to the touch, ideal for pampering elbows, plus the door inserts and armrests are plush as well, of course, but oddly the door uppers in back aren’t as nicely finished, and Honda doesn’t wrap any roof pillars in cloth either, like some rivals do. 

The seat upholstery is very upscale though, with driver’s perch particularly comfortable despite only providing two-way powered lumbar that didn’t fit the small of my back very well, and therefore remained unused by yours truly. Seats in mind, both second and third rows were very comfortable, the rearmost seating area even roomy enough for adults. I had ample legroom for my five-foot-eight frame, plus about three to four inches ahead of my knees when the second row was pulled rearward as far as it would go, and plenty of space overhead. 

2019 Honda Pilot Touring
Third-row seating is amongst the most accommodating in this class. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

If you thought I was done griping, take note that I have issue with a foot-operated parking brake in a vehicle that does everything else to make a person think it’s been flown here from the future. Yes, this anachronism (I don’t like foot-operated parking brakes) flies in the face of one of the more advanced looking electronic gear selectors available on planet earth (standard with the nine-speed), so where is the electronic parking brake that should be attached? I’ll be waiting for Honda to solve this problem in an upcoming redesign, and remain unimpressed that it wasn’t dealt with sooner. 

All of this complaining might cause a person to believe I’m not a fan of Honda’s updated Pilot, but this couldn’t be further from the truth. Yes, I’d like to see some changes made as noted, but such hopes for improvement hardly mean that the 2019 Pilot didn’t impress on the whole. In fact, I really enjoyed my time with Honda’s largest vehicle. It was a pleasure to drive, easy to live with, and nice to look at, exactly what is needed from a three-row family hauler. 

Story credit: Trevor Hofmann 

Photo credit: Karen Tuggay

2019 Honda Accord Hybrid Touring Road Test

2019 Honda Accord Hybrid Touring
The electrified Accord adds a classy dose of style to the mid-size hybrid sedan segment. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

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. 

2019 Honda Accord Hybrid Touring
The Accord Hybrid looks just like the regular Accord, except for its wheels and chrome trim pieces where the tailpipes normally go. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

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. 

2019 Honda Accord Hybrid Touring
Key Accord Hybrid features include LED headlamps, LED fog lights and unique 17-inch alloy wheels. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

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. 

2019 Honda Accord Hybrid Touring
The Accord Touring’s cabin comes close to premium levels of refinement. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

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. 

2019 Honda Accord Hybrid Touring
Style, technology and luxury all rolled up into one attractively priced mid-size sedan. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

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. 

2019 Honda Accord Hybrid Touring
A mostly digital instrument cluster sets the Accord Hybrid apart. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

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. 

2019 Honda Accord Hybrid Touring
The Accord Hybrid’s centre stack design is nicely laid out and easy to use. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

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. 

2019 Honda Accord Hybrid Touring
The pushbutton gear selector might look complicated, but it doesn’t take too long to figure out. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

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). 

2019 Honda Accord Hybrid Touring
Ultra-comfortable, the Accord Hybrid Touring’s driver’s seat is excellent, but ergonomics could be better. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

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. 

2019 Honda Accord Hybrid Touring
Rear seating is roomy and comfortable, but the door panels aren’t finished up to level of some competitors. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

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. 

2019 Honda Accord Hybrid Touring
The Accord Hybrid’s trunk is identically sized to the regular Accord. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

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 

Photo credits: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press 

Copyright: Canadian Auto Press Inc.