2019 Hyundai Sonata Ultimate Road Test

2019 Hyundai Sonata Ultimate
Hyundai gave last year’s Sonata a dramatic refresh with this attractive new grille, and the car carried forward identically into 2019. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Hyundai’s Sonata has been around for decades. Just over three actually. During its 31-year tenure the South Korean brand has given it a fairly even mix of dramatic designs and comparatively less expressive styling, the latter seeming to win more buyers. 

A quick glance back into the rearview mirror shows the 1998 through 2004 fourth-generation and 2009 through 2014 sixth-generation models offering particularly daring designs, with a comparatively conservative 2004 through 2009 fifth-generation filling the gap. I might end up throwing my “dramatic” styling equals success theory out completely as that relatively modestly sedan sold very well, and while I spent at least one week with all of the above generations and every one since, all of which impressed, I actually had a V6-powered top-tier version of the latter car in my position as a long-term test car for more than a year, and experienced no problems while totally enjoying its comfort and performance (as my weekly reports confirmed). 

Today’s 2014 through 2019 gen-seven model is the best Sonata yet, but before its extensive 2018 mid-cycle update it was amongst the least visually inspiring generations. Don’t mistake my lack of excitement for criticism, as the 2014 through 2017 Sonata was still attractive enough for plenty of mid-size four-door family sedan buyers, but we’d best not call this level of reconstructive surgery a facelift. 

2019 Hyundai Sonata Ultimate
The Sonata looks great from all angles, especially in sporty Ultimate trim. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Both 2018 and 2019 Sonata models, which are identical, include a totally reworked grille that completely said goodbye to the front fascia’s sharply angled hexagonal design, a somewhat yawn-inducing generic look if I can be so bold, substituted by a more organically shaped opening that’s helped to visually separate Hyundai and its new Genesis luxury brand. Genesis, which merely rebadged Hyundai’s Genesis Sedan as the G80 as part of its transformation, appears to be keeping more of the outgoing Hyundai grille design while adding a “V” shape to the centre bottom, much like the side view of a brilliant cut diamond as revealed on its new full-size 2020 G90 luxury sedan. 

Back to the current Sonata, its curvaceous new grille is bookended by a nice complex set of headlamp clusters filled with ovoid projector beams (LEDs in my tester) surrounded by attractive LED daytime running lights, these hovering above a neatly stacked set of six LED fog lamps on the lower front corners. 

My tester’s sportier Ultimate trim gets stylish darkened chrome around the otherwise black gloss grille, lower fascia, and headlight surrounds that smartly continue rearward along the front fenders and the entire shoulder line along the side windows before wrapping up and around the greenhouse before meeting back up at the base of each A-pillar. This unique signature design element began with the aforementioned sixth-gen Sonata way back in 2009, and will once again make its dramatic statement for the upcoming 2020 model, a car that take all of the styling cues shown here and expands on them in drama and actual size, while completely redoing rear styling. There’s plenty more dark chrome and loads of glossy black trim on this Ultimate example too, the diffuser style rear apron nicely matching the front fog light bezels, all of which mirror the all black glass and high-gloss roof, this partially because of its panoramic sunroof. I have to admit, the 2018 update made a rather ho-hum Sonata into a great looking mid-size sedan. 

2019 Hyundai Sonata Ultimate
The new Sonata makes a statement with its big grille, available LED headlights, vertically stacked LED fog lamps, and sporty 18-inch alloys. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Of course, it needs to be in order to survive. Not only is it up against some very stiff competition thanks to Toyota’s latest Camry being downright seductive in its sportiest XSE trim line, the latest Honda Accord providing a lot more premium-like presence than ever before, an all-new Nissan Altima improving styling while offering standard all-wheel drive, plus plenty of other brands tempting consumers with high performance or fuel-efficient hybrid and plug-in alternatives, not to mention Kia and Volkswagen complementing their respective Optima and Passat family sedans with sporty four-door coupe variants dubbed Stinger and Arteon, but the entire car sector under serious threat from crossover SUVs. 

Out of the 14 mid-size sedans currently vying for your attention, only four saw an increase in year-over-year Canadian sales through the first three quarters of 2019, and the Sonata isn’t one of them. The segment-leading Camry’s 11,579 deliveries are up 4.18 percent since the close of Q3 2018, growth that pales in comparison to the third-place Ford Fusion’s 33.43-percent gain, although its total sales are only 7,280. The two others in positive territory are marginal players to say it kindly, with Honda’s Clarity plug-in hybrid up 12.37 percent to 890 units, and Buick’s Regal having increased its take-rate by a whopping 48.71 percent, albeit only to 635 deliveries. 

2019 Hyundai Sonata Ultimate
While not as large as some competitors, the Sonata Ultimate’s 18-inch alloys help this big sedan perform very well. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

The biggest loser is Volkswagen’s Passat down 78.24 percent to just 570 units, but Kia’s Optima didn’t fare much better with sales of 1,363 units resulting in a 52.09-percent downturn. A quick glance at some others like the Altima that lost 43.34 percent for 2,568 units despite its recent redesign, and Mazda6’s that took a 42.76-percent nosedive to 1,130 units, doesn’t make the Sonata’s mere 14.18-percent reversal look that bad, while the 3,346 units Hyundai delivered puts it in a strong fifth place, behind the Camry, Accord, Fusion and Malibu, yet ahead of the Altima, Optima, Subaru Legacy, Stinger, Mazda6, Clarity, Regal, Passat, and Arteon. Announcement of the Fusion’s upcoming demise might make it easier for those remaining, although it’s also a sobering sign of this once mighty category not being as essential to carmakers as it once was. 

All this said, the review you’re reading is more of a respectful adieu to the outgoing 2019 Sonata ahead of ushering in the all-new 2020, and therefore some of us can appreciate a car that helped define Hyundai’s new styling direction over its two-year tenure, while others are deciding if it will soon grace their driveway. I have a lot of good to say about this particular Sonata Ultimate tester, continuing on from my styling overview to its very impressive interior filled with upscale finishings and more features than you’re likely to find in any one of the competitors mentioned above. 

2019 Hyundai Sonata Ultimate
These attractive LED taillights come standard. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

A tasteful array of high-quality, soft-touch composites in all the usual places join textured and brushed metal-like trim and inky piano black detailing throughout, while the medium-grey cabin sports a classy set of identically coloured seats in perforated leather upholstery with light-grey piping around their edges, which matches light-grey stitching on the bolsters, with the latter complementing light-grey stitching found elsewhere around the interior, particularly on the door panel inserts, on the shifter boot, and in baseball-stitched style around the inside of the leather-wrapped flat-bottom sport steering wheel rim. 

That steering wheel not only looks the part of a performance car, but its thick padded rim, nicely indented thumb spats, and overall meaty feel comes across a lot more Veloster N than Azera (RIP, in Canada at least), while the placement of the paddle shifters is so ideal they really enhance the overall driving experience. All is combined with ample steering column rake and reach, plus an eight-way powered driver’s seat with two-way lumbar, both allowing my long-legged, short-torso five-foot-eight frame to get completely comfortable while providing ideal control of directional duties, unlike some in the class that don’t fit me as well. 

2019 Hyundai Sonata Ultimate
The top-line Sonata Ultimate interior is nicely finished and quite refined, but next year’s update is needed to keep it current. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

During the same week I also had Toyota’s new Camry XSE, which by all styling inferences appears to be the sportiest new mid-size sedan on the market. It’s a significant improvement over the previous model in every way including steering column reach, but it still doesn’t fit me as well. What’s more, the steering wheel doesn’t come close to feeling as sporty or allowing as much control as this Sonata’s, even from a styling standpoint. Don’t get me wrong as Toyota has done a commendable job with the new Camry interior, making its finishing more refined and its overall look a bit more upscale than this Sonata, but as far as real hands-on performance goes, it doesn’t come anywhere near close. What’s more, the Sonata’s steering wheel is heatable from its mid-range up, while Toyota doesn’t even offer a heated steering wheel in the Camry. 

The most notable Camry XSE and Sonata Ultimate differentiators are the seats, with the latter model featuring two of the best front sport seats in the family sedan class. Not only are the embossed with cool “Turbo” insignias up top, and detailed out with all the niceties mentioned earlier, but their deep side bolsters do an excellent job of holding butt and torso in place during hard cornering. You’ll need to hang onto something other than the steering wheel if you want to stay put in the Camry’s driver’s seat while attempting the same lateral Gs, because Toyota’s seats leave you sitting on top of their cushions rather than ensconced within. I didn’t find the Camry’s seats comfortable either, not even in the more luxurious XLE version, but the seats in the Sonata Ultimate are wonderful, and fully supportive in every way you’d want from a sport sedan. The Sonata’s three-way front seat heaters also get toastier than the Camry’s in their top temperature setting, plus the Hyundai includes three-way front seat ventilation that won’t be available to top-line Camry buyers until the 2020 model arrives. 

2019 Hyundai Sonata Ultimate
Most should find the well laid out Sonata interior easy to operate and comfortable. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Even the Sonata’s rear seats offer two-way derriere warmers next to the windows in mid-range Preferred trim and above, not to mention nicely carved out support that makes them feel great on the backside, albeit not so much to render the centre position useless. Side window sunshades, found in Luxury and Ultimate trims, can’t be had with a Camry either, while rear seat passengers benefit from plenty of other features like LED reading lights overhead, individual air vents, a nice wide folding centre armrest with integrated cupholders, deep door pockets with bottle holders, and more. A panoramic sunroof on Luxury and Ultimate trims makes the rear passenger compartment feel more open and airy than it would otherwise be, although even less opulent models are hardly short on side window visibility. 

It’s roomy in back too, with plenty of knee space, enough legroom to almost completely stretch out my legs while wearing winter boots, four to five inches to the door panels, plus I still had about three and a half inches above my head, so taller folks should fit in without problem. 

The trunk is large at 462 litres (16.3 cubic feet), while the lid can be opened with a button on the dash or automatically by standing behind the car with the ignition off and proximity-sensing key in pocket. It’s nicely finished with carpeting all the way up the sidewalls, including the trunk lid, while each side of the carpeted seatbacks fold forward in the usual 60/40-configuration via pull-tabs just underneath the rear shelf. 

2019 Hyundai Sonata Ultimate
Simple analogue instruments are enhanced by a good straightforward multi-info display. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Everything mentioned so far comes standard in top-line Ultimate trim, including a sharp looking set of 18-inch double-five-spoke alloy wheels wrapped in 235/45R18 Michelin all-season tires (replacing 16- or 17-inch Kumhos) directed via special rack-mounted motor-driven power steering (R-MDPS) with a dual-pinion steering rack, an exclusive twin-scroll turbocharged and direct-injected 2.0-litre four-cylinder engine with dual continuously variable valve timing and two-stage variable induction making 245 horsepower and 260 lb-ft of torque (replacing the base 2.4-litre four with 185 hp and 178 lb-ft of torque), an eight-speed automatic with manual mode and paddle shifters (instead of a six-speed automatic), as well as the special leather sport seats noted earlier, plus the aforementioned 3D Three-dimensional Overlay Method (T.O.M) metallic inlays. 

I’m itemizing the majority of each trim’s standard features because value for money has always been one a great way to judge any Hyundai against its peers, and considering this 2019 Sonata Ultimate goes for just $37,199 plus freight and fees, it’s hard to argue against it. After all, a similarly powered Camry with fewer features tops $41k, about 10 percent more than this full-load Sonata, while it’s also a couple of thousand pricier at its lowest end too. That base Essential trim can be had for just $24,899, while at the time of writing Hyundai was offering up to $2,000 in additional incentives. You can find out more right here at CarCostCanada, right on the same page that gives you detailed 2019 Sonata pricing, including trims, packages and individual options, plus rebate info and dealer invoice pricing that could save you thousands. 

2019 Hyundai Sonata Ultimate
The Sonata’s centre stack provides a lot of hands-on functionality. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Yet more features pulled up to this Ultimate model from the $34,899 Luxury trim include the aforementioned LED headlamps with adaptive cornering and auto high beams, the cooled front seats, the rear window sunshades and powered panoramic sunroof, plus aluminum treadplates, chromed inner door handles, an electric parking brake, an auto-dimming centre mirror, a HomeLink universal garage door remote, a six-way powered front passenger seat, driver’s seat and side mirror memory, an 8.0-inch high-resolution infotainment touchscreen with navigation, an excellent sounding 400-watt nine-speaker Infinity audio system, wireless device charging, rear seat heating/ventilation/AC ducts, rear parking sensors, driver attention warning, adaptive cruise control with stop-and-go, forward collision warning with pedestrian detection, and lane departure warning with lane keep assist. 

Features pulled up to the Unlimited from mid-range $28,799 Preferred trim include the stitched leatherette door inserts, heated steering wheel rim, rear seat heaters, and proximity trunk release mentioned before, as well as two-zone auto climate control, satellite radio with a rooftop shark antenna, remote engine start, and BlueLink connectivity, while the $27,699 Essential Sport model provides its sport grille, dark chrome and sportier exterior detailing, sport-tuned suspension, LED tail lamps, front door handle welcome lighting, proximity-sensing keyless entry, sport-style Supervision instrument cluster with a 4.2-inch TFT LCD multi-function display, shift paddles, eight-way power driver’s seat, and aluminum pedals. 

2019 Hyundai Sonata Ultimate
The 8.0-inch centre display is high in resolution and filled with features. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Lastly, standard features included with this Ultimate model from base Essential trim are as follows: automatic on/off headlamps, LED daytime running lights, powered and heated exterior mirrors with integrated LED turn signals, a leather-wrapped multifunction steering wheel, speed-sensitive variable intermittent windshield wipers, heatable front seats, Android Auto and Apple CarPlay phone integration, Bluetooth with streaming audio, micro-filtered air conditioning, blindspot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert, the usual active and passive safety gear, plus plenty more. 

To be fair to the Camry, which has taken quite a beating while being compared directly to the Sonata Unlimited throughout this review, the mid-size Toyota provides a more sophisticated primary gauge package thanks to a more advanced multi-information display (MID) boasting a bigger, more modern looking TFT screen that neatly curves around the outside of each analogue dial, plus it also comes with more functions. Just the same, the Sonata’s MID is bright, clear and hardly short on features. 

2019 Hyundai Sonata Ultimate
This is one of the most supportive driver’s seats in the mid-size class. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

The car’s centre stack is more vertical than the Camry’s, which is a more modern horizontal layout, not that it matters from a functional standpoint, but it theoretically allows for a larger display (the top-line Camry’s 8.0-inch touchscreen isn’t any larger though) and more room for switchgear around it (the 2020 Sonata makes up for this in a big 12.3-inch way), and therefore the Sonata’s dash design appears more conventional than the Camry’s as well, but once again this has more to do with the 2019 Sonata’s end of lifecycle issues than not technically measuring up (upcoming reviews of the new 2020 Nexo and 2020 Palisade SUVs will expose Hyundai’s infotainment leadership in more detail). I like how the current Sonata’s touchscreen sits high on the centre stack, making it easy to read while driving, and its clear, high-resolution display provides good depth of colour and nice graphics. Its operating system is quick as well, while all functions are generally easy to sort out. 

I found the quality of Sonata switchgear good too, particularly the steering wheel controls and array of buttons, knobs and switches on the centre stack, some of this latter group detailed out with an attractive aluminum-like finish. The upper row of these aluminized toggles is set aside for audio and infotainment system functions, while the bottom row is for the automatic heating and ventilation system, plus the heated and cooled seats as well as the heated steering wheel rim. Under this is a rubberized tray for your smartphone that doubles as a wireless charging pad, while yet more connectivity sits just above on a panel integrating two 12-volt chargers, a USB port, and an aux plug (we can expect more USB ports and fewer old tech as part of the 2020 redesign). 

2019 Hyundai Sonata Ultimate
This big panoramic sunroof adds a lot of light front to back. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

With the thick, flat-bottom, paddle shifter-enhanced steering wheel rim in hands, and the nicely bolstered driver’s seat underseat, the Sonata Ultimate felt considerably more fun to drive than the Camry XSE, even without the latter car’s more powerful V6. The top-tier Camry is quite a bit quicker in a straight line, shaving about a second and a half off the Sonata Ultimate’s mid-seven-second 0-100 km/h sprint, as long as you manage to stop the front wheels from spinning too much, but straight-line acceleration only one performance criterion, and certainly not most important to me. 

Sure, making surrounding traffic almost instantly disappear in the rearview mirror can be fun while behind the wheel of a Porsche 911 Turbo or something equally fast, but trying to do so in a Sonata or Camry simply makes you look juvenile. I found the Sonata Ultimate’s 2.0-litre turbo moved me out of the starting blocks fast enough, while its eight-speed automatic swapped gears quicker than the Camry’s eight-speed gearbox, particularly when its Drive Mode Select system was switched from Comfort, past Eco, into Sport mode, each of these making adjustments to steering, engine, and transmission responses. For my tastes, the high-revving top-level Sonata engine was a great deal more enjoyable than the Camry’s V6 when pushed hard at speed, while having less weight over the front wheels made for nimbler high-speed handling with less understeer. 

2019 Hyundai Sonata Ultimate
A large back seating area provides good comfort and available amenities like seat heaters, side sunshades, and more. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Yes, the Sonata Ultimate manages fast-paced corners better than the Camry XSE, the Hyundai reacting quicker and feeling more stable. The Toyota had a tendency to push its front tires out of its lane when driven similarly over the same circuitous roadway, while becoming its rear tires didn’t feel as hooked up either, and this is in spite of coming equipped with bigger 19-inch alloys on 235/40 all seasons. Throw the Sonata Unlimited’s driver seat superiority into the mix and it’s no contest. 

As for fuel economy, you’d think Hyundai’s 2.0-litre turbo-four would annihilate Toyota’s old 3.5-litre V6, but the Sonata Ultimate’s claimed rating of 10.4 L/100 km city, 7.4 on highway and 9.1 combined is only a fraction better than the Camry XSE’s 10.7 city, 7.4 highway and 9.2 combined rating. Another nod to Toyota is the inclusion of the eight-speed automatic throughout the Camry range, which helps its less formidable four-cylinder trims walk away with an ultra-thrifty 8.1 city, 5.7 highway and 6.9 combined rating, which is far better than the 2.4-litre equipped Sonata’s stingiest rating of 9.2, 6.8 and 8.1. 

2019 Hyundai Sonata Ultimate
The Sonata’s big trunk can be expanded upon by the mid-size segment’s usual 60/40 split-folding rear seatbacks. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Now that I’m griping, the Sonata’s proximity-sensing automatic trunk opener doesn’t seem to work when the car is already unlocked, and with no button in back to open it manually you’ll want to remember to do so from the driver’s position before getting out. The Camry’s approach, which includes a button on the trunk lid that unlocks by proximity sensing, is easier to live with. I also like the Camry’s heated front seats, which turn on (or stay off) automatically upon restarting the car, and stay set at the previous temperature. The Sonata’s heatable front seats require your attention each time you climb inside. 

Of course, a lot of other qualities keep the Camry on top of the mid-size sedan class hierarchy, and I promise to cover these in a future road test review, while there’s no shortage of credible competitors in this segment either, as mentioned at length before, yet if buying into this category you’d be wise to spend some time with the Sonata before choosing something else. 

Story credit: Trevor Hofmann 

Photo credit: Karen Tuggay

2019 Infiniti QX60 Sensory Road Test

2019 Infiniti QX60 Sensory
There are no visual changes for the 2019 QX60, but it still looks mighty attractive. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Back in the day, badge engineering was mostly a domestic issue. Certainly there were some instances of entry-level European brands sharing underpinnings with a luxury marque, but few would call an Audi Fox, which rode on the back of Volkswagen’s “mid-size” Dasher, a luxury car. The practice was more common in North America where full-size Chevy and Pontiac sedans were unabashedly transformed into Buicks and Cadillacs by grafting on new front and rear clips, stamping new sheetmetal, and gussying up their cabins with leather, faux woodgrain and chrome, but little else, which was probably why no one thought anything about luxury newcomers Acura, Lexus and Infiniti doing likewise when they arrived on the scene in the ‘80s. While these Japanese premium brands have now mostly done away with this exercise as they’ve gained more prestige, some hangers on still survive, like Infiniti’s QX60. 

We can point fingers at others, like Lexus’ ES series that rests on the comfortable Toyota K platform, the same as Toyota’s Avalon, which also carries the RX and Highlander, not to mention the Camry mid-size sedan, Sienna minivan, and now discontinued Venza mid-size crossover, while Audi still shares plenty of its platform architectures with VW (and Bentley, amongst others), BMW with Mini, Alfa Romeo with Jeep, and so on, but most aren’t as obvious as Infiniti with the QX60 and Nissan’s Pathfinder. 

2019 Infiniti QX60 Sensory
The 20-inch alloys included with the Sensory package adds visual flair and performance benefits. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Truly, few premium models come closer to mimicking their mainstream volume-branded donor platform as the QX60 and Pathfinder, but to be fair to Infiniti the similarities aren’t easily seen outside. The luxury brand’s most accommodating crossover SUV incorporates its trademark grille and animal-like LED headlights up front, plus its curvy rear quarter window, and its more shapely wrap-around LED taillights, while the Nissan appears a lot more like a traditional truck-based SUV since it was refreshed for 2017. 

No, the most noticeable similarities are found inside, where the two SUVs are near duplicates in design, layout, and overall goodness. Did you notice how I did that? No doubt you thought I was going to slam the QX60 for not measuring up to the luxury class, but despite a desire to see more differentiation between QX60 and Pathfinder interiors, they’re both very good at providing what customers in this family segment want and require, the Infiniti simply offering more when it comes to the choice and quality of materials, plus other niceties. 

2019 Infiniti QX60 Sensory
The QX60 interior mimics the Nissan Pathfinder’s a bit too closely, but it’s materials quality and finishing is good. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

For starters, the QX60’s dash top, instrument panel fascia, glove box lid, lower console sides, and front door panels, from top to bottom, are covered in high-quality soft synthetics, while the Pathfinder is the king of hard plastics, covering each of these surfaces with low rent composites except for (oddly) the front door panels that receive the full soft-touch treatment too. The QX60 also moves these improvements into the rear passenger compartment, offering pliable rear door uppers, whereas hard shell plastic covers the Pathfinder’s inner door panels. What’s more, Infiniti covers each roof pillar in padded cloth too, while unlike some competitors Nissan doesn’t even wrap the front pillars. 

Being a luxury brand, Infiniti makes other QX60 upgrades too, like replacing the Pathfinder’s faux woodgrain with genuine maple hardwood, covering the seats with high-grade leather featuring hourglass quilting on their inserts and contrasting piping around their outer edges, or at least this was the case with my tester’s top-tier Sensory trim, but the old-school electronic interfaces are near identical other than their digital branding and graphic design, the driver’s gauge package is the same except for Infiniti’s unique purple coloured theme within the dials and serrated metallic surrounds, this motif also carried over to the centre display, which just happens to not yet include Apple CarPlay or Android Auto smartphone integration, and while all the switchgear that controls these interfaces (plus everything else) are fairly unique and nicer in the more upscale QX60, they’re organized in mostly the same way. 

2019 Infiniti QX60 Sensory
The interior design hasn’t changed in years, but it’s highly functional and nicely laid out. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Together with the beautiful hardwood and soft leather, the $4,200 Sensory package includes three-way ventilation to the standard heated front seats, while second-row outboard positions get heated and the rearmost third row includes a powered folding return to make cargo hauling easier, while getting to that is made more convenient due to a motion activated powered tailgate. All seven QX60 occupants will likely appreciate the wide open feeling of the power panoramic sunroof up above, which comes complete with power sunshades, while they should also like this Sensory model’s 15-speaker surround-sound Bose audio upgrade, which uses digital 5.1-channel decoding, while all should also like the Advanced Climate Control System (ACCS) that includes auto-recirculation, a plasmacluster air purifier and a grape polyphenol filter. Lastly, the Sensory package enhances the QX60’s styling and road-holding with a special set of 15-spoke 20-inch alloy wheels on 235/55 all-season rubber. 

Those wanting the Sensory package need to first add the $5,000 Essential package and $4,800 ProActive package, the first including remote start, entry/exit assist for the driver’s seat and steering wheel, rain-sensing windshield wipers, reverse-tilt side mirrors, two-way powered lumbar support for the driver’s seat, two-way driver’s memory with an Enhanced Intelligent Key, a 13-speaker Bose audio system, leather upholstery, Infiniti InTouch infotainment with navigation, lane guidance, and 3D building graphics, voice recognition, an Around View parking monitor with Moving Object Detection, front and rear parking sonar, SiriusXM Traffic, plus more. 

2019 Infiniti QX60 Sensory
Classic two-dial layout gets a nice colour multi-information display at centre. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

The ProActive package adds auto-dimming side mirrors, headlight high beam assist, full-speed range adaptive cruise control, distance control assist, active trace control, lane departure warning and prevention, blindspot intervention, backup collision intervention, front pre-crash seatbelts, and Infiniti’s exclusive Eco Pedal. 

All of this premium equipment gets added to a QX60 that’s already nicely equipped in base Pure trim, a well-priced competitor at just $48,695, due to features like auto on/off LED headlights, LED daytime running lamps, LED fog lights, LED tail lamps, roof rails, power-folding side mirrors with integrated turn signals, proximity keyless entry, pushbutton start/stop, a heated leather-clad steering wheel rim, a power tilt and telescopic steering column, an eight-way powered driver’s seat, a six-way powered front passenger’s seat, an auto-dimming rearview mirror, a universal remote garage door opener, a (normal sized front) powered moonroof, micro-filtered three-zone auto HVAC, an 8.0-inch centre touchscreen with a reverse camera, SMS/email display, satellite radio, three USB charge ports, a power rear tailgate, predictive forward collision warning, forward emergency braking with pedestrian detection, blindspot warning, etcetera (see all 2019 and 2020 Infiniti QX60 pricing right here at CarCostCanada, with details about trims, packages and individual options, plus don’t forget to look up special manufacturer rebate info and dealer invoice pricing that could save you thousands). 

2019 Infiniti QX60 Sensory
A nicely organized centre stack has stood the test of time, while features are plentiful. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Many of these features are available with the Pathfinder, by the way, so it isn’t like top-level trims of the Nissan-branded utility aren’t up to snuff, especially when compared to their true mainstream competitors, but as it should Infiniti takes its feature allotment up a notch or two. Fortunately, not much differentiation in mechanicals is needed to remain popular, where both SUVs use the same direct-injected 3.5-litre V6 and continuously variable transmission, the latter featuring nearly real feeling stepped gear ratios. It’s one of the better CVTs available today, and ideally suited to the QX60’s comfort-oriented mission. Take note, however, that all-wheel drive comes standard with the QX60 and is optional with more basic Pathfinder trims. 

Performance off the line and during passing manoeuvres is good thanks to 295 horsepower and 270 lb-ft of torque, which is 11 horsepower and 11 lb-ft more than the Pathfinder, while the CVT gets a manual mode for more spirited engagement. Additionally, Infiniti provides driving modes with default (a best of all worlds compromise), Sport (that makes adjustments to the engine and transmission to enhance performance), Eco (that adjusts engine and transmission responses to improve fuel economy), and Snow (that controls engine output to reduce wheel spin) settings, compared to the Pathfinder that only offers the choice of 2WD, AUTO, and LOCK for its “i-4×4” Intelligent 4WD system. The Pathfinder’s 4WD settings are no doubt best off the beaten path, as would be its 7.0 inches of ground clearance compared to 6.5 inches for the QX60, but Infiniti’s design is more useful for combatting slippery conditions on pavement. 

2019 Infiniti QX60 Sensory
Real maple hardwood adds a touch of elegance throughout the QX60 cabin. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

And how is fuel economy impacted? The QX60 does very well with an estimated rating of 12.5 L/100km city, 9.0 highway and 10.9 combined, while a fully loaded Pathfinder with AWD can manage a claimed 12.4 city, 9.2 highway and 11.0 combined.  

Both QX60 and Pathfinder models ride on an identical fully independent suspension setups too, constructed of struts up front and a multi-link system in back, plus fore and aft stabilizer bars and coil springs, but this sameness aside the Infiniti feels more solid and substantive than the more affordable alternative. It likely comes down to some of the previously noted soft surfaces and additional sound deadening materials subduing interior noise, vibration, and harshness, not that the Pathfinder I tested recently was harsh in any way. Either way, the QX60 is more upscale, as it should be. 

This more substantive presence, and suspension tuning, makes for a smoother and more comfortable ride as well, but truly both SUVs coddle their passengers well, no matter the road below, while these two can manage fast-paced curves reasonably well too, as long as no one gets unrealistically overenthusiastic. 

2019 Infiniti QX60 Sensory
The otherwise comfortable driver’s seat would have been better with 4-way lumbar support. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

A QX60 disappointment is lumbar support, because its two-way in-and-out design (which is identical to the Pathfinder’s) simply doesn’t cut it in the premium sector. They at least should’ve made a four-way system available, because the way it is now makes it so you’ll either receive ideal pressure just where you want it, or not, the latter being reality for my five-foot-eight body type. A four-way system provides upward/downward adjustment so as to meet up with the lower backs of all types of bodies.

Two-way lumbar support aside, the driver’s seat is fairly comfortable and should be amply big in order to satisfy for most owner’s needs, while the 60/40-split second-row bench seat is plenty accommodating too, due to loads of space to each side plus fore and aft adjustability. Infiniti installed a comfortable armrest with integrated cupholders in the middle, making it a good place to idle away the hours. The QX60’s rearmost row isn’t the biggest or the smallest in this mid-size luxury segment, but it should be ample for all but large teenagers and adults. Better yet, the QX60 provides the same innovative second-row seat folding mechanism to access that third row as the Pathfinder, which allows a child safety seat to remain installed (without the child strapped in) when sliding it forward and out of the way. 

2019 Infiniti QX60 Sensory
Second- and third-row roominess is good. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Safety seats in mind, the needs more child seat latches, especially in the very back, but on the positive the Nissan/Infiniti Rear Door Alert system is really smart. It uses door sequence logic, together with a message alert within the gauge cluster, plus multiple horn beeps, to cause its driver to check the rear compartment after parking and shutting off the ignition. It’s an important step towards reducing and hopefully eliminating child and pet injuries and deaths after being left behind in the summer heat of parked vehicles. 

The QX60 is also accommodating for cargo, with a total of 447 litres (15.8 cubic feet) available aft of the third row (this area made even more functional due to a stowage compartment under the load floor), 1,155 litres (40.8 cubic feet) behind the 50/50-split third row via powered switches mounted on each cargo wall, and 2,166 litres (76.5 cubic feet) of total cargo space available when the 60/40-split second-row seats are folded forward via manual levers on their sides. Some competitors also make automated second-row seats available, but this setup should work well enough for most. 

2019 Infiniti QX60 Sensory
Plenty of room for cargo here. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

After all is said and done the QX60 is getting on in years, but aging doesn’t necessarily translate into outdated. True, its cabin electronics could use updating and, as noted earlier, I’d appreciate less obvious ties to its Pathfinder cousin, but it’s attractive from the outside in, has been finished with good quality materials, drives quite well, and provides seven-occupant luxury and plenty of practicality for an affordable price when compared to its closest premium rivals. Of note, this 2019 version is no different than the 2020 model that’s starting to arrive now, other than all the packages outlined in this review transforming into four trim levels, plus some new option packages. 

This said a complete redesign isn’t far off, and expected to arrive in 2020 as a 2021 model, but if you need to upgrade now you’ll be well taken care of with this 2019 QX60, or the new 2020 version. 

Story credit: Trevor Hofmann 

Photo credit: Karen Tuggay

2019 Buick Regal GS Road Test

2019 Buick Regal GS
Good looking Buick Regal GS doesn’t have to be shy about styling. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

There have been a lot of cancelled domestic sedans as of late, but rest assured this Buick Regal isn’t going anywhere soon. 

FCA initiated the process by chopping its Dodge Dart and Chrysler 200 a couple of years ago, which was quickly followed by near simultaneous announcements from both Ford Motor and General Motors that their car lineups would soon be cut back, with the blue-oval and its Lincoln luxury division eliminating every car but Mustang, and GM more modestly cancelling its Chevrolet Cruze, Volt, Impala, Buick LaCrosse, Cadillac CT6 and XTS. With the Chevy Malibu Hybrid slated for cancellation after this 2019 model year, there’s some talk about whether the conventionally powered version will last much longer, but so far this is just gossip. 

The Malibu is a very good mid-size sedan that I’d be sorry to see leave, truly competing well against its mainstream volume peers, and that car’s relevance is probably why we still have the Regal. The two share core underpinnings, and while there’s no performance-tuned Malibu SS to match the Regal GS’ vigor off the line or through the curves, it’s a car I could happily live with. 

2019 Buick Regal GS
It looks like a sedan, but the Regal is actually a hatchback, dubbed Sportback by Buick. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

GS trim is top of the line for Regal, so along with plenty of luxury features, its 310-horsepower V6 and other go-fast goodies easily make it one of the sportiest mid-size family sedans available. It’s also not technically a sedan, but rather a five-door hatchback or liftback, Buick choosing to name it Sportback. It’s hard to tell it’s a hatch instead of the usual trunk, but given a little time with one you’ll quickly appreciate how versatile its load-hauling capabilities are. 

Speaking of practicality, Buick makes a raised five-door sport wagon/crossover variant (similar in purpose to the Subaru Outback and Volvo V90 Cross Country) for the U.S. market (plus Europe, under the Opel and Vauxhall brands, as well as Australia and New Zealand where the two body styles are sold as the Holden Commodore). In the U.S. it’s called the Regal TourX, and I have to say it’s a smart looking car that I wish we had here, but no doubt it’s not available due to low potential sales. GM’s Chinese division has no problems selling cars, Regals in particular, but nevertheless they chose not to offer the TourX either, choosing to only go with this four-door coupe-like sedan instead. 

2019 Buick Regal GS
This top-line GS model has lots of sporty styling cues, plus real performance upgrades like powerful Brembo brakes. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

Its styling should be attractive to most, as should its impressive performance, but nevertheless this Regal remains one of the least popular cars in its mainstream volume segment. Alternatively we could classify it amongst premium brands and then it might be considered more of a success. After all, with a base price of $32,045 plus freight and fees it starts $3,000 to $7,000 pricier than most rivals, pushing it closer to entry-level luxury alternatives. It should also be noted that similarly priced volume-branded mid-size sedans do about the same or worse when it comes to sales. This said, the Regal doesn’t measure up to premium status or refinement levels (the General’s Cadillac division fulfills that need), so the unique model’s low sales are understandable (see all 2019 Buick Regal pricing right here on CarCostCanada, where you can also find out about available rebates and dealer invoice pricing that could save you thousands). 

The as-tested Regal GS being reviewed here starts at a very premium-level $44,045, and jumps up to $51,700 with all available features (plus a couple of useful accessories), which while very reasonable when compared to similarly sized and equipped premium-branded cars, it’s a big jump upmarket from a loaded up Toyota Camry, Honda Accord or Ford Fusion, these being the top-three sellers in the mid-size sedan segment. Its fully loaded price is only $205 more than a totally optioned out Kia Stinger, mind you, and in fact $1,880 less than VW’s loaded up Arteon. 

2019 Buick Regal GS
The spacious interior is mostly good, although Buick cut some corners when it comes to fit and finish. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

To Kia’s credit the top-line Stinger is a 365-horsepower twin-turbo V6-powered AWD “hot-hatch” capable of sprinting from zero to 100 km/h in a mere 4.9 seconds, but the GS provides respectable acceleration of 5.6 seconds from standstill to 100km/h, which is actually better than the now-legendary Regal Grand National GNX, and about the same as the lighter weight 265-horsepower Arteon (the VeeDub weighs about 300 kilos or 660 lbs less than this Buick). These sprint times are of course estimates, with some manufacturers more conservative in their claims than others, but the GS’ 3.6-litre V6 engine’s torque rating of 282 lb-ft is likely spot on. 

There are plenty of other reasons to place each of these impressive cars high on your shopping list, and many attributes that set them apart from their more conventional family sedan challengers. I won’t be tempted to make this review a full-blown comparison test, despite recently driving all of the above for a week apiece, but instead will solely concentrate on the Regal GS, while occasionally pointing out strengths and weaknesses against key competitors. 

I find each of these three cars attractive from a design perspective, so styling will come down to personal preferences. The Regal looks fabulous in my books, its classic lines and overall elegance working well for me, albeit my 50-something age might have something to do with this. I particularly like this GS model’s design details. 

2019 Buick Regal GS
Most upper surfaces are premium-like, while the sporty GS steering wheel really adds to its performance feel. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

The visual enhancements start with bold red italicized “GS” lettering on the gloss-black mesh grille insert that’s framed by a glossy black surround, which is all underscored by even more piano black trim on lower fascia. The same shiny, inky treatment highlights the lower side window trim and rear valance, this sporty appearance package complemented by aluminum-look accents on the grille, corner grillettes, upper window surrounds, and exhaust finishers. A subtle body-colour rear deck lid spoiler, and a reworked rear bumper design finish off the sporty upgrade. 

Open the door and you’d be forgiven for thinking that Buick is channeling the ghost of Pontiac, as you’ll be looking at two of the most aggressive sport seats in the mid-size sedan class, not to mention a contrast-stitched, leather-clad sport steering wheel to match, complete with a flattened bottom for extra spunk. I won’t go so far say the GS’ wheel is as perfectly shaped as the Arteon’s impeccably crafted spokes and rim, or for that matter the Stinger’s shift paddle-enhanced design, but they’re all considerably better than average in this family-focused class. Like the others, Buick provides yet more piano black lacquer trim inside, plus some carbon weave-like inlays here and there, as well as aluminum-look and chrome accents elsewhere, giving the Regal true sport sedan interior design. 

2019 Buick Regal GS
The centre panel of the Regal GS gauge package is all digital. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

A partially digital primary gauge cluster features a red GS insignia on the 4.2-inch speedometer/multi-information display at centre, reminding all this is Buick’s fastest model. The graphic can be swapped for a number of useful functions via steering wheel controls. 

On top of the centre stack is Buick’s latest IntelliLink infotainment system, housed in a very impressive high-resolution 8.0-inch touchscreen. Its multiple aqua-green circles on a high-contrast black background look good, and a bit more premium-like than the bright, colourful Apple-style interface in the aforementioned Malibu, which is probably fitting for Buick’s older and slightly wealthier average buyer. The system is easy to use and once again filled up with useful functions, from a big, clear reverse camera including dynamic guidelines, to a user-friendly navigation system with accurate route guidance with detailed mapping, plus all the expected audio features such as satellite/HD radio and Bluetooth streaming, phone and text message info/readouts, another panel for OnStar, a large interface for the two-zone auto HVAC system, etcetera. 

2019 Buick Regal GS
The centre touchscreen is large and very easy to use. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

A separate analogue HVAC panel provides quicker-access just below, plus switches for the three-way heated and ventilated front seats, while other items not yet mentioned that came with my Regal GS tester included a heated steering wheel, a head-up display, adaptive cruise control, auto-dimming rearview and driver’s side mirrors, two-way driver’s memory, leather upholstery, an eight-speaker Bose audio system, wireless device charging, a 4G LTE Wi-Fi hotspot, a power moonroof, passive keyless entry, pushbutton start/stop, remote start, auto-leveling LED headlamps with cornering capability, 19-inch alloys with grey-painted pockets, front and rear parking sonar, and the list goes on. 

Buick also added a bevy of advanced driver assistance and safety features including autonomous forward braking with collision alert and pedestrian detection, blind spot monitoring and rear cross-traffic alert, lane departure warning with lane keeping assist, and the brand’s first-ever active hood pedestrian safety system that raises the rear section of the hood by 100 mm (3.9 inches) in order to lessen impact and help reduce injury. 

2019 Buick Regal GS
These are two of the best front sport seats in the class. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

That sporty Regal GS driver’s seat is also wonderfully comfortable, much thanks to four-way lumbar support, an upscale feature that doesn’t even come with some premium-branded luxury sedans. The lower cushions are extendable too, and therefore ideally cup under the knees for added comfort and support, while the sizeable side bolsters provide good lateral support and powered adjustability, making them perfect for just about any body type. Due to plenty of reach from the tilt and telescopic steering column, the Regal also provided an excellent driving position, which isn’t always the case for my long-legged, short-torso frame. 

The GS’ V6 idles smoothly when it’s not turning off automatically to save fuel and reduce emissions, a very good thing, while this model’s upgraded nine-speed automatic provided quick, smooth shifts. The entire drivetrain was smooth and effortless to operate around town, on the highway, or when pushed through tighter, windy sections, but I was disappointed to learn that this sporty sedan didn’t include paddle shifters, which would have made this well sorted transmission and fully capable powerplant all the more entertaining. Instead, I pressed the Sport mode button, slotted the gear lever over to the left for manual mode, and shifted away to my heart’s content. 

2019 Buick Regal GS
The rear seats are roomy and comfortable, but there aren’t many features back here. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

It’s not a Wildcat 445, but the Regal GS isn’t short of enthusiasm off the line, while the gearbox is an ideal match, shifting quick but never harshly, although I found the need of more sport from the model’s Sport mode, so I quickly changed to the GS setting, which adds a bit more weight to the steering and helps the car to feel more engaging overall. I honestly missed having steering wheel paddles, but I nevertheless adapted as required and got the most out of this well balanced four-door when some of my favourite two-lane serpentine stretches goaded me on. The GS suspension is as smooth and comfortable as anyone should want, yet it manages curves well due to active dampers that make adjustments every two milliseconds. The car’s active twin-clutch all-wheel drive system aids fast cornering further, particularly in inclement weather, while its high-performance Brembo brakes perform as boldly as they look. The GS’ fuel economy is ok considering its performance and all-wheel drivetrain, with a claimed Transport Canada rating of 12.4 L/100km in the city, 8.7 on the highway and 10.7 combined. 

2019 Buick Regal GS
Just in case you forgot the Regal was a hatchback, check out how easy it is to access the cargo compartment. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

Of course, the GS isn’t perfect. Its turn signal stalks are some of the cheapest feeling I’ve ever experienced, due to substandard hollow plastics and loose, sloppy fitment, while Buick spent less on premium composite surfaces. There’s simply too much low rent hard plastic on the lower dash, glove box lid, and mid to lower door panels, especially for a car that passes $50k in top trim. The previously noted VW Arteon isn’t all that much better when it comes to the latter, mind you, but the Stinger does a better job posing as a luxury model. Most GS upper surface treatments are finished in appropriately soft-touch synthetics, however, while front and rear seat roominess is more than adequate, with the rear outboard seats almost as comfortable as those up front, but the moulded black plastic panel covering the rear portion of the front console was bulbous and therefore ugly looking, like it was pulled from a much lower rent vehicle, while this issue was made worse due to the car’s rather spartan rear seat features, back passengers only provided two air vents and twinned USB ports. 

2019 Buick Regal GS
The Regal’s 40/20/40-split rear seatbacks make it wonderfully practical. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

True, this top-tier Regal GS is a bit lacklustre when it comes to features in back. For instance, it’s devoid of heatable rear seats that are included by most others in the $40k-plus category, and these would’ve been great additions for warming up after winter ski trips, the GS being an otherwise ideal snow shuttle thanks to grippy AWD and all-round good performance on twisty mountainside roads, its roomy liftback design, and its versatile 40/20/40 split-folding rear seatbacks that would allow rear passengers to enjoy the more comfortable window seats with skis tucked down the middle. The Regal’s cargo cover is nice and weighty, feeling very well made, while rear seat releases conveniently expand the 892-litre (31.5 cubic-foot) cargo compartment into a sizeable 1,719 litres (60.7 cu ft). 

Although the Regal GS could use a few more features and doesn’t quite measure up to its peers when it comes to fit and finish inside, it’s an especially good looking and highly unique offering that’s worthy of your full attention. I’m guessing you’ll enjoy its performance, and appreciate its roomy, comfortable cabin, plus its general practicality, so if you can look past its few shortcomings, it just might provide an ideal compromise between your desire of style and performance and your more pragmatic requirements. 

Story credit: Trevor Hofmann 

Photo credit: Trevor Hofmann

2019 Lexus ES 300h Road Test

2019 Lexus ES 300h
Lexus totally redesigned its popular ES luxury sedan for 2019, and it looks fabulous. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Model year 2019 marks three decades of Lexus ES availability, and while the car’s primary purpose hasn’t changed one iota, today’s seventh generation wouldn’t be recognizable by those who created the original.  

The comparatively humble ES 250 was brought to market in 1989, and made no bones about its even more proletariat Toyota Camry roots. It was actually rushed to market so Lexus wouldn’t be a one-model brand, the full-size LS 400 making up the other half of the lineup. The ES, which was actually based on the Japanese market Camry Prominent/ Vista, was a good looking, well built, and fairly potent V6-powered mid-size luxury sedan, and thanks to that did reasonably well considering the all-new brand behind it. 

Lexus has produced six ES generations since that first example, releasing this latest version last year for 2019, and while each new update improved upon its predecessor, this new model is by far the most dramatic to look at, most refined inside, and best to drive. 

Lexus has done such a great job of pulling the ES upmarket, that it’s going to be a lot harder to justify having two mid-size sedans in its lineup. The two cars look pretty similar and are quite close in size, with the new ES’ wheelbase a mere 20 millimetres (0.8 inches) longer at 2,870 mm (113.0 in), and 4,960 mm (195.3 in) of nose-to-tail length more of a stretch due to another 110 mm (4.3 in). The ES is also 25 mm (1.0 in) wider than the GS, spanning 1,865 mm (73.4 in) from mirror to mirror, but at 1,445 mm (56.9 in) tall it’s 10 mm (0.4 in) lower in height, the ES’ long, wide and low design giving it stylish proportions that are arguably more attractive than the sportier, pricier GS. 

2019 Lexus ES 300h
Lexus has made major strides when it comes to styling, and the new ES 300h is no exception. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

To be fair, the GS not only provides stronger performance, especially through curves but also off the line, and particularly in fully tuned GS F trim that’s good for 467 horsepower, but it feels more substantive overall due to 66 kg (145 lbs) of extra curb weight in base trim and 185 kg (408 lbs) of added heft as a hybrid, plus a rear wheel-drive architecture shared with the smaller IS series sedan and coupe, a more rigid, sport-tuned suspension design, and other enhancements justifying its significantly pricier window sticker. 

On that note the 2019 Lexus GS ranges between $63,800 and just over $100,000, compared to only $45,000 to $61,500 for the ES (check out pricing for all new and past models right here at CarCostCanada, including trims, packages and separate options, plus find out about rebate information as well as dealer invoice pricing that could save you thousands). 

Behind the big new ES grille is a 302 horsepower version of Lexus/Toyota’s well-proven 3.5-litre V6, those numbers down a mere 9 horsepower and 13 lb-ft of torque from the base GS engine, yet 34 hp and 19 lb-ft of torque more capable than the outgoing ES 350, while Lexus now joins it up to an eight-speed automatic transmission instead of the six-speed gearbox found in the 2018 ES 350 and this year’s pricier GS. 

The ES 300h hybrid, which starts at $47,000, now gets an improved 176 horsepower 2.5-litre four-cylinder engine with 163 lb-ft of torque, plus a 67 horsepower (50 kW) electric motor and 29.1-kWh nickel-metal hydride (NiMH) battery, resulting in 215 net horsepower and an undisclosed amount of torque (the outgoing ES 300h’ net torque rating was 206 lb-ft). This fourth-generation Hybrid Synergy Drive system once again features a wonderfully smooth electronically controlled continuously variable transmission that works well in its luxury role, while minimizing fuel consumption. 

2019 Lexus ES 300h
The new ES design is all about visual drama. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Fuel efficiency is the ES 300h’ strongpoint thanks to an amazing 5.5 L/100km city, 5.2 highway and 5.3 combined rating, which despite the aforementioned performance improvement makes last year’s 5.8, 6.1 and 5.9 respective ES 300h rating look merely so-so by comparison. 

The 2019 ES 300h also does better than Lincoln’s MKZ Hybrid, the domestic luxury sedan only capable of 5.7 L/100km in the city, 6.2 on the highway and 5.9 combined, while some additional comparisons worth noting include the regular ES 350 that manages a respectable 10.6 in the city, 7.2 on the highway and 9.1 combined, the same car with its F Sport styling enhancements that’s capable of 10.9, 7.5 and 9.4, and the regular GS 350 AWD with its 12.3, 9.1 and 10.9 rating. Last year’s GS 450h hybrid managed a fairly decent 8.0 in the city, 6.9 on the highway and 7.5 combined, incidentally, but it’s no longer offered so this point is moot unless you can still source a new one or don’t mind living with a pre-owned version. 

Finding a used GS might be a tad difficult being that they’re rare beasts. In fact, Lexus has only managed to deliver 82 examples in Canada up to August 31st of this year, compared to 1,445 ES units. This latter tally is actually the mid-size luxury sedan category’s second-best result, behind Mercedes’ E/CLS-Class, plus it’s also the segment’s best growth at 55.54 percent over the same initial eight months of 2018. Only two challengers saw any positive growth at all, including the same E/CLS-Class (that also includes a coupe and convertible) that saw its sales increase by 1.24 percent, plus the Audi A6 and A7 with 18.87 and 24.28 percent growth respectively, but these two models were only able to find 441 and 430 new buyers each so far this year. 

2019 Lexus ES 300h
A tall wing-like rear deck lid and beautifully detailed taillights make the rear end design stand out. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Just in case you were questioning, the GS (with sales down 43.84 percent) didn’t find itself in last place thanks to Jaguar’s XF having nosedived some 52.89 percent with just 57 deliveries, while Acura’s RLX did even worse with just 40 sales after a drop of 24.53 percent, and finally Infiniti’s Q70 only sliding down by 2.56 percent but nevertheless managing just 38 units down the road. Purely from a percentage perspective, the mid-size sedan segment’s biggest loser is Lincoln’s Continental that lost 56.88 percent over the same eight months, whereas the car that came closest to entering positive territory but narrowly missing out was the G80 from Hyundai’s new Genesis brand with a slip of just 0.44 percent (sales information sourced from GoodCarBadCar.net). 

Such sales carnage in mind, it would be easy to forgive Lexus for eventually dropping the GS in favour of the ES, and while I’d personally be a bit glum after learning the brilliantly fun GS F was gone, I’d certainly support a CEO that chose to make good, sound business decisions over one simply wanting another super-fast sport sedan in the lineup. I know there’s a reasonably good case for having image cars in a brand’s fleet, but Lexus is already losing money with its sensational LC coupe, and that bit of low-slung eye-candy does a lot more to bolster Lexus’ brand image than a four-door sedan very few will ever see. So let’s pay attention to what Lexus does with these two models as we approach the upcoming decade. 

One thing’s for certain, the ES will continue to fulfill its unique calling in the luxury marketplace for years to come, and on top of that will soon have fewer challengers. The previously noted Continental is slated for cancellation, as is Lincoln’s more directly competitive MKZ that’s also offered as a hybrid electric. Cadillac will soon drop its front-wheel drive XTS and CTS luxury four-door models, whereas deliveries of its newer CT6 sedan are so slow they hardly rate. The only rivals not yet mentioned include BMW’s 5 Series, Volvo’s newish S90, and Tesla’s aging Model S, while some in the ES’ market might also consider Buick’s LaCrosse (also to be discontinued soon), Chrysler’s 300 (likely to be phased out), and possibly the impressive Kia Stinger, plus big mainstream luxury sedans like Toyota’s own Avalon that shares underpinnings with the ES, and finally Nissan’s Maxima, which also gets close to premium levels of performance and quality without a pricier premium nameplate. 

2019 Lexus ES 300h
An entirely new level of pampering awaits 2019 ES owners, especially in top-line Ultra Luxury trim. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Just the same, the ES has sold in bigger numbers than most of these potential rivals despite its Lexus badge and often-pricier window sticker, and this brand new redesigned model should keep momentum up for many years to come. As mentioned before, the ES 350 and ES 300h hybrid are totally redesigned for 2019, and no matter whether it’s trimmed in base ES 350 form, enhanced with cooler ES 350 F Sport styling, or clothed in classy as-tested ES 300h togs, Lexus’ front-wheel drive four-door now provides a completely new level of visual drama to its exterior design. 

Lexus’ trademark spindle grille is bigger and much more expressive, while its origami-inspired LED headlamp clusters are more complex with sharper edges. Its side profile is longer and sleeker too, with a more pronounced front overhang and a swoopier sweep to its C pillars that now taper downward over a shorter, taller rear deck lid. Its hind end styling is more aggressive too, thanks to a much larger crescent-shaped spoiler that hovers above big triangular wrap-around LED tail lamps. 

The overall design plays with one’s mind, initially flowing smoothly from the front grille rearward, overtop the hood and down each sculpted side, before culminating into a clamour of dissonant creases, folds and cutlines at back. It all comes together well nevertheless, and certainly won’t cause anyone to utter the types of criticisms about yawn inducing styling that previous ES models endured. 

2019 Lexus ES 300h
Lexus is now a design leader, while the ES feature set is also impressive. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

I could say the same about the new ES cabin, which instead of showing sharp edges now combines plenty of horizontal planes and softer angles with higher-grade materials than the outgoing model, not to mention a few design details pulled from the LFA supercar, such as the black knurled metal pods protruding from each side of the instrument hood, the left one for shutting off traction control, and the knob on the right for choosing Normal, Eco or Sport modes. 

In between these unusual pods is a standard digital instrument cluster that once again finds inspiration in the LFA supercar, plus plenty of lesser Lexus models since. This one provides real-time energy monitoring via a nice flowing graphic just to the left of the speedometer, while the big infotainment display over to the right, on top of the centre stack, measures 8.0 inches at the least, up to 12.3 inches as-tested, yet both look larger thanks to all the black glass bordering each side. The left portion hides a classic LED-backlit analogue clock, carrying on a Lexus tradition I happen to love. The high-definition display includes stylish graphics and deep, rich contrasting colours, plus it responds to inputs quickly. 

When choosing the as-tested ES 300h hybrid, the infotainment system now features standard Apple CarPlay, but I recommend integrating your smartphone to Lexus’ own Enform connectivity system. Enform is arguably more comprehensive and easier to use than the Android Auto interface my Samsung S9 is forced to use, although Android isn’t included anyway, while the list of standard Enform 2.0 apps includes fuel price updates, traffic incident details, and info on weather, sports, stocks, etcetera, while it’s also bundled with the Scout GPS Link navigation system, Slacker, Yelp, and more. 

2019 Lexus ES 300h
This fully digital gauge package comes standard. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

The new ES 300h also includes a new Remote Touch Interface trackpad controller on the lower console, which allows you to use smartphone/tablet-like gesture controls such as tap, pinch and swipe, and it works much better than previous versions, with more accurate responses, particularly when inputting via taps. Additional standard features include 17-inch alloy wheels, Bi-LED headlights, LED tail lamps, proximity keyless entry with pushbutton start/stop, a leather-wrapped steering wheel rim, rain-sensing windshield wipers, an auto-dimming centre mirror, a rearview camera with dynamic guidelines, a 10-speaker audio system with satellite radio, a deodorizing, dust and pollen filtered two-zone auto HVAC system, comfortable 10-way power-adjustable front seats with three-way heat and three-way forced cooling, NuLuxe breathable leatherette upholstery, all the usual active and passive safety equipment including 10 airbags, plus plenty more. 

Speaking of standard safety, the new ES 300h includes Lexus Safety System+ 2.0 that boasts autonomous emergency braking with pedestrian and bicycle detection, lane departure alert with steering assist and road edge detection, new Lane Tracing Assist (LTA) automated lane guidance, auto high beams, and full-speed range adaptive cruise control. 

The just-mentioned 12.3-inch infotainment display is part of an available $3,800 Premium package that also includes blind spot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert, reverse tilting mirrors, front and rear parking sonar, a heated steering wheel rim (which along with the heatable front seats turns on automatically upon startup), front seat and side mirror memory, a navigation system with ultra-detailed mapping and accurate route guidance, plus Enform Destination Assist that includes 24/7 live assistance for finding destinations or points of interest. 

2019 Lexus ES 300h
The optional 12.3-inch infotainment display is superb. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Alternatively, you may want to opt for the even more comprehensive $10,600 Luxury package that includes everything from the Premium package while adding 18-inch alloy wheels, extremely bright Tri-LED headlamps, an always appreciated wireless smartphone charger, leather upholstery, and a powered rear window sunshade. 

Finally, the $14,500 Ultra Luxury package found on my tester combines everything in the Luxury package with a special set of 18-inch noise-reduction alloys, soft glowing ambient interior lighting, a really helpful 10-inch head-up display unit, an overhead surround-view parking camera system that makes parking a breeze, a fabulous sounding 17-speaker Mark Levinson premium audio system, softer semi-aniline leather upholstery, rear door sunshades, and a touch-free gesture control powered trunk lid. 

This $61,500 ES 300h was the most luxuriously equipped version of this car I’ve ever tested, while along with its resplendent interior it totally stepped up its all-round performance as well. Like with previous generations its ride quality cannot be faulted, with this newest version actually improving thanks to revisions to its fully independent front strut and rear multi-link suspension system. Newly developed Dynamic Control Shocks now feature an auxiliary valve next to the main damper valve so as to respond more quickly to smaller movements. The front suspension was reworked too, aiding both comfort and stability, while rear trailing arm and stabilizer bar mounting point adjustments helped minimize body lean during hard cornering, all of which resulted in an ES that feels a lot more agile through tight, twisting corners. 

2019 Lexus ES 300h
The driver’s seat is excellent. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Yes, this latest ES 300h is actually a lot of fun to drive. Lexus even included a set of steering wheel paddles for swapping the continuously variable transmission’s simulated gears. It mimics the feel of real gears fairly well when set to Sport mode, while this edgier setting also increases torque at low speeds for better acceleration, and places a tachometer right in the middle of the digital gauge cluster. Owners concerned more about economical or environmental issues may prefer Eco mode, which helps to reduce fuel consumption and lower emissions, whereas EV mode allows the ES 300h to crawl silently through parking lots, slow moving traffic, and other low speed situations for short periods of time. 

Another efficiency enhancer is new Auto Glide Control, which lets the ES to coast more freely upon throttle lift-off, instead of being slowed automatically via the automatic regenerative braking system. 

No matter how fast or slow you’re traveling, the slippery ES is extremely quiet due to a doubling of structural adhesive, which improves NVH levels, while it also features sound-deadening front fender liners and underbody covers, plus insulation covering 93 percent of the new ES 300h’s floor pan, which is a significant increase when compared to the outgoing model’s 68 percent of floor pan coverage. 

2019 Lexus ES 300h
Rear seat roominess and comfort is top notch. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

The previously noted battery, which is now positioned below the rear seat instead of the trunk, is smaller than the one used in last year’s hybrid, but impressively it’s more powerful. Its new location not only improves front/rear balance, but also allows for more cargo space. In fact, the ES 300h’ trunk is now identically sized to the conventionally powered ES 350 at 473 litres (16.7 cu ft). The redesign provides access for a centre pass-through too, which is large enough for skis or other long items, so therefore rear passengers can now enjoy the more comfortable outboard seats, which are incidentally even nicer than the previous model’s rear seats. 

All interior finishings are better than the outgoing model’s appointments, by the way, with the improvements including higher quality soft synthetic surfacing, plus more of it. The lower door panels remain hard shell plastic, as do the sides of the centre console, but most everything else is soft to the touch. I like that Lexus positioned its wireless device charger below the armrest within the centre console bin, as my phone was less of a distraction. 

Additionally, all switchgear has been improved over previous generations, with some notable details including those cool metal pods I mentioned earlier, which stick out each side of the instrument cluster, plus the tiny round metal buttons on the centre stack are nicely finished, these used for controlling the radio, media, and seek/track functions. The temperature control switches are particularly stylish and well made too, and, while not switchgear, the Mark Levinson-branded speaker grilles and surrounds on the upper door panels are really attractive as well. The hardwood trim feels real because it is, and comes in Striated Black, Linear Dark Mocha or Linear Espresso, while the metallic accents are nicely finished and not overdone. 

2019 Lexus ES 300h
The new ES 300h hybrid’s trunk is now just as large as the conventionally powered ES 350’s. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

I’ve spent plenty of weeks behind the wheel of various Lexus ES generations over the past 20 years or so, in both conventionally powered and electrified forms, and now that I’ve spent yet another seven days with this entirely new 2019 ES 300h I can confidently predict that ES lovers will without doubt like this version best. It incorporates all the ES qualities you’ve grown to appreciate, yet steps up every aspect of quality, refinement and performance. Truly, this is one of the best entry-level luxury sedans I’ve ever tested. 

Story credit: Trevor Hofmann 

Photo credit: Karen Tuggay

2019 Subaru Ascent Premier Road Test

2019 Subaru Ascent Premier
The new 2019 Subaru Ascent is one great looking mid-size family hauler. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

To say the mid-size crossover SUV category is growing would be quite the understatement. In fact, when brands might have once been satisfied with one single entry in either the two- or three-row sectors, now we’re seeing separate models addressing various families’ requirements, and then unique trim levels targeting luxury, sport, and off-road oriented buyers. If you’re a volume manufacturer, or even a niche player, trying to find success without a mid-size SUV in the lineup is like a company selling it wares without using social media. It’s not going to happen. 

Prior to the new 2019 Ascent arrived on the market last autumn, Subaru had been AWOL from this critically important segment since its previous mid-size crossover, the 2005 to 2014 Tribeca, went out of production. That SUV was impressive for a number of reasons, particularly its premium-like refinement, but its styling and third-row spaciousness left would-be buyers searching elsewhere. After five years of contemplation, and no doubt designing and product planning, Subaru is back with a three-row mid-size crossover SUV that won’t disappoint anyone when it comes to size, plus it looks pretty good too. 

Even though two-row crossover SUVs lead the mid-size sector in individual sales, Subaru already does well with its compact five-seat Forester and mid-size Outback crossover wagon, so it made sense for them to target larger families and those requiring more cargo space. They’re not alone, Honda having sold its three-row Pilot for 17 years ahead its new two-row Passport arriving this summer, so possibly we’ll see a bigger five-seat Subaru SUV at some point too. 

2019 Subaru Ascent Premier
What do you think? Does its styling appeal to your senses? (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Until that happens, the North American-exclusive Ascent seats eight in standard form or seven with its optional second-row captain’s chairs, the latter configuration being how Subaru equipped my top-tier Premier tester. It’s a sizeable SUV, stretching 4,998 millimetres (196.8 inches) nose to tail with a 2,890-mm (113.8-inch) wheelbase, while its overall height stands 1,819 mm (71.6 inches) tall including its standard roof rails. What’s more, it measures 2,176 mm (85.6 inches) wide with its side mirrors extracted, plus its track spans 1,635 mm (64.4 inches) up front and 1,630 mm (64.2 inches) at the rear. 

Putting this into perspective, the new Ascent is 48 mm (1.9 inches) shorter than the mid-size three-row SUV category’s top-selling Explorer, albeit with a 24-mm (0.9-inch) longer wheelbase, and some might be surprised to learn that the new Subaru SUV also stands 42 mm (1.6 inches) taller than the big Ford. The only Explorer dimension to exceed the Ascent is width that sees Ford’s SUV 119 mm (4.7 inches) wider, with 66 and 71 mm (2.6 and 2.8 inches) more respective front and rear track too. Considering the Explorer is one of the mid-size segment’s biggest crossover SUVs, Subaru now has something equally large so that no one gets left behind. 

When comparing the new Ascent to other sales leaders, it’s longer, wider and taller than the Toyota Highlander and Kia Sorento (albeit shorter than the new Kia Telluride, with a shorter wheelbase and less width), longer and taller than the Honda Pilot and Hyundai Santa Fe XL (which is currently in its final days, but take note it’s slightly longer than the new Hyundai Palisade too, but its wheelbase isn’t, nor its width), wider and taller than the Nissan Pathfinder, merely wider than the Dodge Durango, and only taller than the Volkswagen Atlas. 

2019 Subaru Ascent Premier
The finer details in Premier trim are very impressive. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

That was only a partial list of the Ascent’s three-row mid-size crossover SUV challengers, incidentally, the full list (from top-selling to poorest faring during the first three quarters of 2018) being the Explorer, Sorento, Highlander, Atlas, Pilot, Durango, Pathfinder, Chevrolet Traverse, Santa Fe XL, Dodge Journey, GMC Acadia, Mazda CX-9, and Ford Flex, while the just-mentioned Palisade and Telluride are too new to categorize by sales numbers. 

While exterior size is one thing, passenger volume and cargo space is another, and much more important for making decisions. The Ascent provides 4,347 litres (153.5 cubic feet) of passenger volume and 2,449 litres (86.5 cu ft) for cargo when both rear rows are folded down. Those numbers are just for the most basic of Ascent trims, incidentally, which also measures 1,345 litres (47.5 cu ft) behind the 60/40-split second row and 504 litres (17.8 cu ft) behind the 60/40-split third row, while all other trims are half a litre less commodious at 2,435 litres (86.0 cu ft) behind the first row, 1,331 litres (47.0 cu ft) aft of the second row, and 498 litres (17.6 cu ft) in the very back. 

These numbers compare well against key rivals, with the Ascent’s passenger volume even greater than the Explorer’s, and its standard eight-occupant seating layout a rarity in the class, while the big Subaru’s max cargo volume makes it one of the segment’s largest too. Also helpful, rear passengers gain easier access due to back doors that open up to 75 degrees. 

2019 Subaru Ascent Premier
The Ascent even looks good covered in mud, and performs well off-road too. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

As with most Subaru models, the Ascent comes standard with full-time Symmetrical AWD, which has long proven to be amongst the more capable of all-wheel drive systems available. Its first advantage is more evenly balanced weight distribution thanks to a longitudinally mounted engine and transmission, compared to the AWD designs of competitors that mostly derive them from FWD chassis architectures incorporating transverse-mounted engines. Subaru’s horizontally opposed flat “boxer” engine also let the designers place it lower in the chassis resulting in a lower centre of gravity, which aids packaging and handling. 

The Symmetrical AWD design automatically applies additional torque to the wheels with the most grip, and it’s done in such a way that traction not only improves when taking off from standstill in slippery conditions, but it also benefits overall control at higher speeds. This means the Ascent is very capable on all types of roads and trail surfaces, while its standard X-mode off-road system, together with hill descent control, as well as a sizeable 220 millimetres (8.66 inches) of ground clearance for overcoming rocks and stumps, snow banks, etcetera, makes it better for tackling tough terrain than most other crossover SUVs. 

Of course I had to off-road it, and when facing the mud and muck I pressed the X-Mode button on the lower console and let it do the rest while I pointed it where I wanted to go. Amazingly it responded almost as well as the bull low gearing range of a truck-based 4×4, although the sound of all the electronic systems, such as traction and stability control, working away in the background as it climbed some very steep, ultra slippery, deeply rutted and just plain yucky sections of trail I would have normally only tried when at the wheel of a Jeep Wrangler, Toyota 4Runner, or something more dedicated to mucking it up, was out of the ordinary. 

2019 Subaru Ascent Premier
Premier trim’s three-tone black, ivory and brown interior colour theme looks amazing. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Fortunately the Ascent took care of my backside thanks to one of the nicer rides in the mid-size class, but I wouldn’t say it’s the sportiest feeling or best handling in this three-row category. It’s fully capable of being pushed hard through a twisting back road at a fast clip, but keep in mind this Subie was clearly designed for comfort before speed. 

It rides on the new Subaru Global Platform (SGP) architecture, which combines a strong yet lightweight unibody construction with a fully independent MacPherson strut front and double-wishbone rear suspension, improved further with a stabilizer bar mounted directly to the body at the rear and an electric rack and pinion steering setup in front. It all rolls on 18-inch silver five-spoke alloys shod with 245/60 all-seasons in the Ascent’s two lower trims, and 20-inch machine-finished high-gloss split-spoke rims on 245/50 rubber for the two upper trims, my test model benefiting from the latter. 

High-speed stability is important with an SUV that moves off the line as quickly as the Ascent. Its horizontally opposed 2.4-litre turbocharged four-cylinder makes 260 horsepower and 277 lb-ft of torque, the latter from 2,000 to 4,800 rpm, but I enjoyed it best when not pushing too hard, which bought out the powertrain’s wonderfully smooth character and minimized fuel usage. 

2019 Subaru Ascent Premier
Most Subaru buyers probably won’t care that a fully digital gauge cluster isn’t on the menu. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Subaru estimates a Transport Canada five-cycle fuel economy rating of 11.6 L/100km city, 9.0 highway and 10.4 combined for the Ascent, compared to 12.0 city, 8.7 highway and 10.5 combined for the larger 3.6-litre H-6 in the much smaller Outback. The new four actually makes 4 more horsepower and 30 additional lb-ft of torque than the flat-six, by the way, so we’ll probably be seeing this smaller, more efficient turbocharged motor in a future Outback too. 

Now that we’re making fuel economy comparisons, the Ascent looks good when put up against the base Explorer’s 2.3-litre turbocharged four that can only manage a claimed 13.1 L/100km in the city, 9.2 on the highway and 11.4 combined, but it should be said the blue-oval SUV makes a lot more power, whereas the thriftiest Toyota Highlander V6 AWD actually does quite well against both the Ford and Subaru SUVs at 11.7 city, 8.8 highway and 10.4 combined. All in all, the Ascent can hold its own at the pump. 

Helping the Ascent achieve its impressive efficiency is Subaru’s High-torque Lineartronic CVT, continuously variable transmissions not only economical but also ideal for this type of large family-oriented vehicle thanks to its smooth, linear power delivery. Subaru includes standard steering wheel paddles to enhance driver engagement, along with a faux eight-speed manual shift mode that does a decent job of faking a regular automatic transmission’s gear changes while providing reasonably sporty driving characteristics, while standard Active Torque Vectoring increases high-speed traction. This advanced CVT was first introduced with Subaru’s WRX sport sedan, and while not optimized to swap cogs as quickly as in the World Rally Championship-bred performance car, it nevertheless combines positive, smooth operation while minimizing running costs. 

2019 Subaru Ascent Premier
This multi-information display sits atop the dash. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Compared to most of the Ascent’s mid-size competitors that come standard with FWD, AWD is standard and there’s only one powertrain on offer, from the base model to top-of-the-line. Trims in mind, the 2019 Ascent is available in Convenience, Touring, Limited and Premier grades, with its standard Convenience features including auto on/off halogen headlamps, LED daytime running lights (DRL), roof rails, a 4.2-inch colour TFT multi-information display, tri-zone auto HVAC, a 6.5-inch touchscreen infotainment system with Android Auto and Apple CarPlay smartphone connectivity, a backup camera, a six-speaker audio system with satellite radio, three-way heatable front seats, an eight-way powered driver’s seat, USB ports for the second row, 19 cup and bottle holders, plus more for only $35,995 plus destination. 

Also impressive, all 2019 Ascent trims includes standard Subaru EyeSight driver assist technologies like adaptive cruise control with lead vehicle start assist, pre-collision braking, pre-collision brake assist, pre-collision throttle management, lane departure warning, lane sway warning, and lane keeping assist, while all the expected active and passive safety features come standard as well. 

Moving up through the line, second-rung Touring trim starts at $40,995 in its eight-passenger configuration or $41,495 when the second-row captain’s chairs are added, the latter reducing the total number of seats to seven. The Touring model also includes the Subaru Rear/Side Vehicle Detection (SRVD) system that features blind spot detection, lane change assist, rear cross-traffic alert and reverse automatic braking, plus this trim also includes a special set of machine-finished five-spoke 18-inch alloy wheels, body-coloured side mirrors with integrated LED turn signals and approach lights, LED fog lights, a sportier looking rear bumper design featuring integrated tailpipe cutouts, proximity-sensing keyless entry, pushbutton start/stop, front door courtesy lamps, chromed inner door handles, a universal garage door opener, a windshield wiper de-icer, auto-dimming centre and sideview mirrors, a leather-clad steering wheel and shift knob, a bigger 8.0-inch centre touchscreen, more upscale fabric upholstery, a power panoramic sunroof, magazine pockets on the front seatbacks, climate controls for the second row passengers, reading lights for third row passengers, a retractable cargo cover, a power-operated tailgate, a transmission oil cooler, trailer stability control, and pre-wiring for a trailer hitch that increases towing capability to 2,270 kilos (5,000 lbs). 

2019 Subaru Ascent Premier
You’ll likely be impressed with the infotainment touchscreen. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Next on the Ascent’s trim menu is the Limited, which starts at $46,495 in its standard eight-passenger configuration or $46,995 when set up for seven passengers, and adds the larger 20-inch alloy wheels noted before, plus steering-responsive full low/high beam LED headlamps with auto high beams, black and ivory soft-touch interior surfaces, a heated steering wheel rim, a nicer looking primary gauge package with chrome bezels and blue needles (instead of red), plus a 6.3-inch colour multifunction display on top of the centre dash that shows the time, temperature and dynamic functions including an inclinometer, while a navigation system gets added to the infotainment display, as does SiriusXM Traffic. Additional Limited trim features include 14-speaker 792-watt Harman/Kardon audio, a 10-way powered driver’s seat enhanced with powered lumbar support and lower cushion length adjustability, driver’s seat and side-mirror memory, a four-way powered front passenger seat, leather upholstery, two-way heated second-row seats, integrated rear door sunshades, third-row USB ports, plus more. 

My tester’s Premier trim is top of the line yet at $49,995 it’s still very affordable, especially within a class that often exceeds the $50k threshold before adding options. The Ascent Premier comes fully equipped as is, including a special high-gloss black grille insert, satin-finish side mirror housings, chromed exterior door handles, rain-sensing windshield wipers, ambient interior lighting, a front-view camera, a Smart Rearview Mirror with an integrated rearview camera, woodgrain inlays, brown perforated leather upholstery, ventilated front seats, standard captain’s chairs for the second row, a 120-volt power outlet on the rear centre console, plus more. 

2019 Subaru Ascent Premier
Comfort is king in the Ascent’s accommodating driver’s seat. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

By the way, all 2019 Subaru Ascent prices were sourced right here on CarCostCanada, where you can also find detailed pricing on trims, packages and standalone options for every other new car, truck, van and crossover SUV sold in Canada, plus rebate information and dealer invoice pricing that could save you thousands. 

Along with all the right features is a really nicely finished cabin that’s large and comfortable from front to back. Some noteworthy details include a leather-like soft-touch dash top enhanced with attractive stitching ahead of the front passenger, while just below is a useful shelf unpinned by a really nice bolster covered in more stitched leatherette, albeit ivory coloured for a truly distinct look. This wraps around lower portion of the instrument panel before matching up to more ivory bolstering on the door panels, although Subaru goes a step further by introducing a dark brown for the armrests that matches the previously noted brown leather seat upholstery. Premier trim also features matte-finish faux wood trim, but honestly it doesn’t come close to looking or feeling real. Last but not least, Subaru takes care of everyone’s elbows with soft padded synthetic door uppers front to back, but doesn’t go so far as to wrap any of the roof pillars in cloth like some others in the class. 

2019 Subaru Ascent Premier
Second-row roominess is excellent. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Speaking of not measuring up to the best this class has to offer, I was surprised to learn this top-line model doesn’t come with a fully digital gauge cluster, this advanced feature showing up on many of the Ascent’s recently redesigned or new competitors, like Volkswagen’s Atlas and Hyundai Palisade. Still, the dials’ blue needles were a nice addition instead of the usual red found in lower trims, while the vertical TFT multi-information display features a cool graphic of the SUV’s backside with taillights that light up when pressing the brake. It’s fun to watch, but even better this display notifies drivers via visual alert and audio chime that they may have left something, a young child, or possibly a pet in the back seat. 

The bigger multi-information display on top of the dash is used more for Subaru’s EyeSight advanced driver assistance systems, with attractive, detailed graphics, while this display also provides speed limit information, navigation system info, an inclinometer and other off-road features, plus more. 

Just underneath, Subaru’s impressive new high-resolution 3D-like infotainment touchscreen really wows the eyes as it provides a bevy of useful functions. It includes all the features and apps noted earlier, plus it responds to inputs quickly and reliably. 

2019 Subaru Ascent Premier
Even the third row is roomy enough for adults. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Fast responses in mind, the heatable steering wheel warms up quickly and remains hot as well, as do the heated front and rear seats, which I appreciate more than those that slowly cool off after a few minutes of maximum strength. I often use heated seats for therapeutic reasons, soothing an aching lower back, and the last thing I want is to keep fiddling with a temperature control switch. Speaking of switches, the button for heated steering wheel is smartly positioned just below the right-side spoke where it’s easy to locate, while the adaptive cruise control system, actuated via a set of buttons just above, worked ideally during high-speed and stop-and-go driving. Likewise, the lane departure system held the Ascent in place when cruising down the freeway, but rather than maintain the centre of a given lane it bounced off the lines when I purposely didn’t pay attention in order to test its capability. 

A really impressive technology is the Ascent Premier’s auto-dimming centre mirror that does double-duty as a backup camera when activated. Also helpful is the Ascent’s sunglasses holder that doubles as a rear conversation mirror. 

2019 Subaru Ascent Premier
There’s plenty of space for cargo with all the seats folded down. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

The Ascent’s driver’s seat was ultra-comfortable and quite wide, so it should be ideally shaped for big people, but it fit my five-foot-eight medium-build body type well too. When that front seat was positioned for my long-legged, short-torso frame, which means I had it pushed farther rearward than someone my height normally would, a far reaching telescopic steering wheel allowed for a comfortable driving position that left me in complete control. What’s more, when the seat was set up this way I still had plenty of room just behind in the second row seat, with approximately 10 inches of available space ahead of my knees and ample for me feet, plus loads for my hips and shoulders as well as more than enough over my head. 

I was even more impressive with the third row. Just for fun I slid the second row as far back as possible and then climbed rearward, via a walkway that provided more than enough room. When seated in the very back my knees were rubbing up against the second-row seatbacks, but moving those seats forward a touch remedied the situation to the point that I had plenty of space in both rear rows. Really, there were three-plus inches above my head in the very back, which means average-size adults should fit in no problem, even while larger adults are seated just ahead. 

2019 Subaru Ascent Premier
The retractable cargo cover neatly stows away under the cargo floor. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

As I mentioned before, the Ascent provides a full load of cargo space behind the third row. In fact, it’s similar that found in a full-size sedan’s trunk, while below that load floor is a hidden compartment for storing smaller items plus the retractable cargo cover when not being used. Lowering the 60/40-split third row is slightly awkward, first needing the headrests to be manually pushed down into the seatbacks, and then requiring a tug on a strap hanging off the top of the seats, before pushing those seats down. Pulling them back up merely needs a tug on a longer strap attached to the cargo floor/seatback. As for the second row, it lays down by first unlatching it, so you can slide it forward, and then unlatching a second release at which point you can slide them back if you want to line up each side. There’s plenty of space for luggage and/or building sheets, but I must say the captain’s chairs don’t result in a particularly flat loading area. I imagine the standard bench seat would work better, so you may want to purchase one of the Ascent’s lower trims if you’re planning to do a lot of load hauling. 

Purchasing in mind, you should feel safe buying an Ascent, even though it hasn’t been around very long. Subaru has a good track record for reliability and longevity, and after a week with this example I believe the automaker has done a very good job engineering and assembling its first-ever near full-size SUV. 

Story credit: Trevor Hofmann 

Photo credit: Karen Tuggay

Porsche adds 670 hp plug-in hybrid drivetrain to 2020 Cayenne and Cayenne Coupe

2020 Porsche Cayenne Turbo S E-Hybrid
The new 670-hp Cayenne Turbo S E-Hybrid can sprint from 0-100km/h in just 3.6 seconds. (Photo: Porsche)

Porsche introduced its completely redesigned third-generation Cayenne for model year 2018, and as is normally the case for the Stuttgart, Germany-headquartered luxury brand, has been continually expanding the mid-size crossover SUV line with new trim levels ever since. 

From the modest yet still energetic 335 horsepower base V6 up to the rip-roaring 541 horsepower Turbo, with the 434 horsepower Cayenne S and 455 net horsepower Cayenne E-Hybrid plug-in in between, the Cayenne portfolio is wide and diverse, but now, taking its cue from last year’s Panamera, Porsche is about to add a much more formidable 670 net horsepower (541 hp from the Internal Combustion Engine/ICE and 134 hp from the electric motor) Turbo S E-Hybrid model to its mid-size SUV lineup. 

The premium brand’s performance-tuned eight-speed Tiptronic S automatic gearbox comes as standard equipment, as does the Porsche Traction Management (PTM) active all-wheel drive system with an electronically variable, map-controlled multi-plate clutch, plus an automatic brake differential (ABD) and anti-slip regulation (ASR). 

2020 Porsche Cayenne Turbo S E-Hybrid
Both the conventional Cayenne and the new Cayenne Coupe can be had in Turbo S E-Hybrid trim. (Photo: Porsche)

The new plug-in hybrid powertrain will be the top-level trim on the regular Cayenne as well as the new Cayenne Coupe, the latter (in lesser trims) expected to arrive at Porsche Canada dealerships soon, and along with heaps of electrified and twin-turbo 4.0-litre V8 horsepower it makes a shocking 663 lb-ft of combined torque (567 lb-ft from the ICE and 295 lb-ft from the electric motor), making the new model capable of blasting from zero to 100 km/h in just 3.8 seconds with its standard Sport Chrono Package, or 3.6 seconds with its available Lightweight Sport Package, all ahead of achieving a terminal velocity of 295 km/h (183.3 mph). 

Being that it’s a plug-in hybrid (PHEV), the Cayenne Turbo S E-Hybrid’s completely charged 14.1 kWh battery is reportedly good for zero-local-emissions commutes and errand runs over short durations thanks to a maximum EV range of about 40 kilometres. The lithium-ion battery, which hides below the cargo compartment floor, takes a mere 6 hours to fully recharge when connected to a 230-volt Level 2 household charging station, but Porsche claims that a 400-volt supercharger is capable of reducing charge times to only 2.4 hours. 

Additionally, owners can download a smartphone app that can remotely monitor the Cayenne Turbo S E-Hybrid’s charging process, plus the same app can pre-condition the auto climate control system and other features before the owner returns, similarly to how a remote engine start system can do likewise, but the Cayenne PHEV app only utilizes the battery for ancillary power, rather than the gasoline-portion of the SUV’s powertrain. 

2020 Porsche Cayenne Turbo S E-Hybrid
The Cayenne Turbo S E-Hybrid needs just 2.4 hours to completely recharge on a 400-volt supercharger. (Photo: Porsche)

Those not yet familiar with Porsche’s all-new Cayenne Coupe should know that it gets a 20-millimetre roofline drop featuring a reworked front windshield framed within a shallower set of A pillars, plus much more tapered rear side windows, completely remoulded rear side doors, redesigned rear quarter panels, and a new rear bumper, with the latter composite panel also getting a new integrated license plate holder. This results in a small 19-mm (0.7-inch) increase to overall width, which when combined together with its just-noted lower ride height makes for an even more aggressive stance than the regular Cayenne. 

A few more Cayenne Coupe improvements include a special adaptive rear spoiler, individual rear bucket-style sport seats divided by a shallow centre console storage bin, and a standard 2.16-cubic-metre fixed glass panoramic moonroof that can be cloaked from sunlight by an integrated roller-type shade, or optionally the roof panel can be made from lightweight carbon-fibre. 

The all-new 2020 Cayenne Turbo S E-Hybrid, which is available to order now with deliveries expected early next year, will set you back another $40,400 over the already pricey 2019 Cayenne Turbo, at $182,200 plus freight and fees, this more than twice the price of a base 2019 Cayenne that’s available from only $76,700. As for the new Cayenne Turbo S E-Hybrid Coupe, its $187,100 retail price is $39,100 loftier than the 2019 Cayenne Turbo Coupe, and likewise is more than double that of the $86,400 base Cayenne Coupe. Interestingly, both Cayenne Turbo S E-Hybrid and Cayenne Turbo S E-Hybrid Coupe perform identically.  

2020 Porsche Cayenne Turbo S E-Hybrid
The new Cayenne’s interior is beautifully crafted from some of the industry’s best materials. (Photo: Porsche)

Incidentally, you can find detailed 2020 Porsche Cayenne pricing right here on CarCostCanada, including its various trims, packages and individual options, plus you can also save big by learning about available rebates and even source dealer invoice pricing that could keep thousands more in your wallet. 

If you want to get your hands on either new Porsche model, make sure to contact your local dealer as quickly as possible, and while you’re waiting make sure to enjoy the sole video the German automaker provided below. 

 

The new Cayenne Turbo S E-Hybrid Coupé: A master of balance (1:00):

Story credits: Trevor Hofmann  

Photo credits: Porsche

2019 Ford Explorer Limited 4×4 Road Test Review

2019 Ford Explorer Limited 4x4
The outgoing 2019 Ford Explorer remains a great looking crossover SUV despite its age. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

If you’re a fan of Ford’s Explorer, particularly the outgoing version that’s currently being replaced by an entirely new 2020 model, it’s time to do something about it. The unashamedly Range Rover-esque fifth-generation model that launched in 2010 for the 2011 model year, is still a viable alternative to more modern machines, if not the hippest seven-seater on the block. 

Yes, this 2019 Explorer is well beyond its due date. In fact, its Ford D4 platform actually harks back to the 2004 Five Hundred/Taurus family sedan and 2007 Freestyle/Taurus X crossover SUV, and that D4 architecture was pulled from underneath a 1999 Volvo S80, which arrived the year before. Other D4-based models included some US-exclusive Mercurys, Lincoln’s MKS and MKT, plus Ford’s own Flex. 

Even though this 2019 Explorer is hardly a spring chicken, it remains particularly good looking and reasonably up-to-date inside. Ford has modified its styling over the past decade, the more recent examples utilizing a greater amount of Ford DNA than earlier versions, therefore eschewing its much maligned Range Rover copycat persona. I really like the look of my tester’s Limited trim, as it’s chrome-adorned outer design boasts big 20-inch alloy wheels and a number of other styling upgrades, leaving a clean and uncluttered appearance that isn’t at all overdone. 

2019 Ford Explorer Limited 4x4
The Explorer is considered a large SUV, as it can fit seven adults and still has room for cargo. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Thanks to the numerous styling updates, improved powertrains, and updated infotainment systems that have kept the Explorer fairly fresh and mostly modern, each week that I’ve spent with one reminds me why it’s so amazingly popular. Canadians consistently push this three-row Ford up to third or fourth place in its mid-size SUV category, and number one if we’re talking three-row rivals, yet in spite of looking fine, anteing up plenty of performance, and delivering the types of features those buying into this segment expect, it’s more than starting to show its age when it comes to rubberized soft-touch composites and harder plastics inside. 

The 2019 Explorer I recently drove looks identical to the mildly refreshed 2018 model, which was actually a subtle styling upgrade of the more wholesale 2016 mid-cycle makeover. Ford redid the alloy wheels as well as upgraded some of its features since then, but it’s more or less the same SUV under the sheet metal. 

A trio of powerplants is up for grabs, beginning with the Dearborn, Michigan-based brand’s standard, and this model’s as-tested 2.3-litre Ecoboost four-cylinder that puts out a generous 280 horsepower and 310 lb-ft of torque. This engine can be substituted with a 3.5-litre Ti-VCT V6 that makes 10 horsepower more at 290, yet only 255 lb-ft of torque for an extra $1,000, with the advantage of more towing capability, which improves from 2,000 pounds in standard trim or 3,000 lbs maximum (907 or 1,360 kg), depending on whether or not its Class II tow package has been added, to 2,000 or 5,000 lbs (907 or 2,268 kg), the latter number reflecting the Explorer V6 model’s Class III trailering upgrade. These are identical trailering ratings given to the top-tier turbocharged 3.5-litre Ecoboost V6 that transforms this friendly workhorse into a rip-snorting thoroughbred thanks to 365 horsepower and 350 lb-ft of torque. 

2019 Ford Explorer Limited 4x4
The LED headlamps, signature lights and fog lamps are standard, but the 20-inch alloys are exclusive to this Limited trim. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

My test model was outfitted in its second-rung Limited grade, which starts at $46,034 instead of the base XLT’s $39,448 window sticker. Yes, that means Ford has dropped its front-wheel drive base model for 2019, along with its more reachable $34,899 price point. The XLT and Limited use the first two engines noted a moment ago, whereas the $49,683 Sport and $55,379 Platinum models only offer the more potent turbo-V6 (make sure to check out all the 2019 Ford Explorer pricing details right here at CarCostCanada, including trims, packages and individual options, plus available rebates and dealer invoice pricing that could save you thousands). 

I was glad that Ford provided its base powertrain in my tester, because this four-cylinder engine combines good performance with great economy, the latter rating being 13.1 L/100km city, 9.2 highway and 11.4 combined compared to 14.5 city, 10.6 highway and 12.7 combined for the mid-grade V6. At least the top-line V6 Ecoboost engine provides plenty of get-up-and-go in lieu of its near V8-like fuel-efficiency of 15.2 L/100km in the city, 10.9 on the highway and 13.2 combined, but I’m still glad I was refueling the Ecoboost turbo-four. Also, you’re required to top up both Ecoboost engines with 93-octane premium-grade gas in order to achieve those just-noted numbers, but not with the mid-range V6, therefore actual running costs between the base turbo-four and second-rung V6 engines are likely very similar. 

Before you start comparing the Explorer’s base fuel economy with its challengers you’ll need to factor in that this SUV now comes standard with Ford’s Intelligent 4WD, not front-wheel drive like it used to in Canada and still does in the U.S., like most competitors continue to do. 

2019 Ford Explorer Limited 4x4
The Explorer’s LED taillights are standard. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Together with standard 4WD, all Explorers include Ford’s Range Rover-style Terrain System too, which is capable of managing all kinds of on- and off-road conditions. All that’s required is a twist of its console-mounted dial, and while it’s not a go-anywhere 4×4 like Ford’s own full-size Expedition or the upcoming Bronco, the Explorer is still very capable over light and even medium duty trails when using its Snow, Gravel, Grass Mode, Sand Mode, or Mud, Rut Mode selections, made even better via standard Hill Descent Control and the usual traction and stability control systems, while it’s best left in default Normal Mode the rest of the time. 

Like a true off-road capable SUV, the Explorer sits taller than most crossover SUVs in its mid-size class, providing a more truck-like experience, but as noted before it is based on a conventional unibody platform. This means that its body structure stays tight and rigid, an easily noticeable trait that’s much appreciated when dealing with bumps, potholes and other annoyances. This has much to do with the amount of fine-tuning done by Ford’s engineering team over the past decade, because the Freestyle I first tested a dozen years ago never felt as composed. Both sit atop a well-sorted independent MacPherson strut front suspension and multi-link rear design, plus a 32-mm front stabilizer bar and 22-mm one in back, all of which provides an impressive ride quality and handling balance. 

2019 Ford Explorer Limited 4x4
The Explorer isn’t quite as refined as some newcomers, but it’s impressive for its age and comes well equipped. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

My as-tested Explorer Limited also had significant mass to contend with, its curb weight being a significant 2,066 kilograms (4,556 pounds) even with its lightest 2.3-litre turbo-four under-hood, but the aforementioned horsepower and torque numbers made sure it still delivered strong acceleration off the line, up to highway speeds and beyond, while its six-speed automatic gearbox (the only transmission offered) matches the engine well. The more remedial transmission should provide better reliability than all the competitive eight-, nine- and 10-speed autoboxes too, the latter count corresponding with the number of forward gears offered in the new 2020 Explorer, incidentally. I found the 2019 Explorer’s six-speed automatic swapped cogs with a steady smoothness and plenty of positive action when pushing hard, the latter enhanced with a thumb rocker switch on the shift knob when wanting to engage manual mode, so I would have zero issues with four less gears if it proved to be a more dependable transmission long-term. 

Speed is one thing, but in the family-hauling SUV world comfort is king. Fortunately the Explorer provides comfort in spades, not to mention room to spare. It can manage up to seven occupants in standard trim or six when outfitted with second-row captain’s chairs. My tester’s standard configuration allowed for three-abreast seating across the second row without discomfort, the outboard positions benefiting from two-way heat for warming rear derrieres during the cold winter months. Two buttons on the backside of the front centre console turn them on or off, these placed beside a manual rear temperature control panel that also houses dual USB charging ports, plus a three-prong 110-volt household-style AC charger.

2019 Ford Explorer Limited 4x4
The Explorer’s gauge cluster gets two large multi-info displays. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

For accessing the third row, each 60/40-split side of the second row can be flipped forward and out of the way, allowing for a lot of access space, while those relegated to the very back should definitely be comfortable unless they’re taller than average. My five-foot-eight medium-build body fit in nicely, with more than enough room in each direction. 

The 50/50 split-folding rearmost seats can be dropped down into a deep luggage well when not in use, by available power controls on the cargo wall no less. They stow away similarly to how they would in a high-end minivan, but you’ll need to walk around to the side doors in order to lay the second-row seats flat. When done you’ll end up with a lot of room to carry life’s belongings, the Explorer’s available cargo volume expanding from 595 litres (21.0 cubic feet) behind the third row, or 1,240 litres (43.9 cubic feet) aft of the second row, to a total of 2,313 litres (81.7 cubic feet) behind the first row. That’s an impressive load when compared to its three-row challengers. 

Back in the driver’s seat, the Explorer Limited’s main chair is 10-way powered and should therefore be comfortable for most shapes and sizes, even including four-way powered lumbar support for locating the ideal position to add pressure on the small of the back. The power-adjustable steering column provides loads of reach too, which made it easy to set up a driving position that optimized both comfort and control, while all buttons, knobs and dials on the instrument panel were easy enough to reach. 

2019 Ford Explorer Limited 4x4
The large Sync 3 infotainment touchscreen comes filled with features. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

That included the centre touchscreen, which includes Ford’s superb Sync 3 infotainment interface. Granted, it’s not as modern as more recently updated models in this class, the new Explorer included, but its white and black (and sometimes wine) on light blue graphics remain fresh and good looking, while the system continues to be relatively quick to respond to inputs, if not providing the best resolution currently available. Its matte display minimizes fingerprints, plus it is bright and easy to read, and therefore better than some competitive displays that wash out in sunlight. For example, a 2019 Toyota Highlander’s centre display nearly impossible to see in due to glare (a model not yet upgraded with Toyota’s newest and much improved Entune infotainment system), and it was worse when donning my polarized sunglasses. In the Explorer this is not an issue. 

All of the Explorer’s switchgear is on par with others in its segment, some even better. The rotating audio knob, for instance, is edged in knurled metal that adds a premium feel and look. The cabin’s woodgrain inlays are really dense and authentic feeling too, these running across the instrument panel as well as each door, while I really like the way Ford surrounded the wood in satin-finish aluminum, the two metal trim sections meeting where the dash ends and door panel begins. It would’ve looked much better if they aligned more evenly, the doors obviously not hung properly during assembly (see photos 28 and 29 in the gallery for a clear view), but Ford should get bonus points for the quality of these trim pieces and the Explorer’s overall good interior design (I’m guessing you can ask your local dealer to rehang the doors if the Explorer you’re buying suffers from the same problem). 

2019 Ford Explorer Limited 4x4
Limited trim’s Sony audio sounds really good. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

The just-noted wood and metal inlays come standard, while base XLT features not yet mentioned include LED signature lighting enhancing the otherwise auto LED low-beam headlights, plus LED fog lights, LED tail lamps, 18-inch alloys on 245/60 all-seasons, silver roof rails, Ford’s Easy Fuel capless fuel filler, remote start, proximity access with pushbutton start/stop, Ford’s SecuriCode keypad on the B-pillar, MyKey, forward and reverse parking sonar, a leather-wrapped multi-function steering wheel, a leather-wrapped shift knob, an eight-way power-adjustable driver’s seat, heatable front seats, an auto-dimming centre mirror, Ford’s Sync 3 infotainment touchscreen with a backup camera, a seven-speaker AM/FM/MP3 audio system with satellite radio, FordPass Connect with a Wi-Fi Hotspot, a media hub that includes a smart-charging USB and four 12-volt power points (two in the first row, one in the second row, and one in the cargo area), filtered two-zone auto HVAC, blindspot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert, and plenty more. 

The Explorer’s rigid body shell is standard too, plus enough safety gear to achieve an NHTSA 5-star crash rating, while Ford also makes a new (last year) $1,000 Safe and Smart Package available that adds rain-sensing windshield wipers, auto high beams, dynamic cruise control, forward collision warning with brake support, and lane-keeping assist. 

2019 Ford Explorer Limited 4x4
Ford’s Terrain management system provides the right drive mode for almost any situation. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

That Safe and Smart Package was added to my Limited tester, which otherwise gets more standard chrome exterior trim, unique 20-inch alloys riding on 255/50 tires, power-folding outside mirrors with integrated LED turn indicators, ambient interior lights, a heated steering wheel, a power-adjustable tilt and telescopic steering column, a universal garage door opener, perforated leather upholstery with three-way cooling and memory (that also memorizes mirror and steering column settings), a 10-way power-adjustable front passenger seat, a 180-degree split-view front parking camera, a voice-activated navigation system that includes SiriusXM Traffic and Travel Link, a hands-free foot-activated power liftgate, an excellent sounding 12-speaker Sony audio system, the 110-volt AC power outlet, heatable second-row seats, and power-folding third row I noted earlier, plus Ford included a $1,750 two-pane powered panoramic sunroof above, all of which kept my Explorer tester under $50k, including destination fees. 

Ford offers a number of additional options and packages too, such as a $1,500 XLT Desert Copper Package that includes unique 20-inch alloy wheels, chrome side mirrors, and black/copper leather upholstery to base XLT trim; and the $1,600 XLT Sport Appearance Package that features “EXPLORER” block letters on the hood, special Magnetic Metallic-painted (black) 20-inch alloys, exterior accents painted in Magnetic Metallic, black roof rails, “EXPLORER” enhanced front floor mats, upgraded door panels highlighted with Fire Orange contrast stitching, black leather upholstery with perforated Miko inserts, Foxfire scrim and the same Fire Orange contrast stitching, plus more. 

2019 Ford Explorer Limited 4x4
The front seating area is spacious and comfortable. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Ford could have upgraded my Limited tester with a $2,900 301A package as well, which features the Safe and Smart Package as well as a set of Multicontour front seats with Active Motion massage, active park assist, and inflatable rear outboard safety belts. 

As for the previously noted Sport trim line, other than the much more potent turbo-V6 it receives cool looking glossy black exterior trim most everywhere chrome was before, including the mirror housings and outer door handles, while also adding a special blackout treatment to the headlights and tail lamps, while also including its own set of blackened 20-inch rims, upgrades the cabin including perforated leather upholstery with red stitching, plus an improved Sony audio system with Clear Phase and Live Acoustics, while all of the Limited trim’s features are included too, plus the Safe and Smart Package. 

Finally, top-line Platinum trim gets everything already noted except for the Sport model’s black exterior trim and special interior details. Instead it features satin-chrome on the outside, plus a sporty quad of chromed tailpipes, resulting in the most Range Rover-like Explorer from an exterior design perspective. Nevertheless it’s a very attractive family hauler, complete with power-adjustable pedals, a standard twin-panel moonroof, active park assist, and exclusive Ash Swirl wood inlays edged in real aluminum, plus Nirvana leather upholstery featuring micro-perforations and rich quilted side bolsters. 

2019 Ford Explorer Limited 4x4
Both second- and third-row seats are comfortable and roomy. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Platinum trim also includes the massaging Multicontour seats from the aforementioned 301A package, an upgraded gauge cluster, a leather-clad instrument panel and door uppers, additional leather covering the door and centre console armrests, a unique headliner, and active noise reduction. 

The Platinum would have made for a more enjoyable week than my Limited test model for sure, but if I were purchasing the $6k difference would cause me some pause. Either way the Explorer still looks great, is really nice to drive, is good on fuel when outfitted with its turbo-four, comes loaded with luxury goodies, is ultra accommodating for passengers and cargo, and is nicely finished too (not including those misaligned trim pieces). 

All said, the soon to be discontinued fifth-generation Explorer remains an excellent three-row crossover SUV that any price-sensitive buyer should consider now that dealers are ready to sharpen their pencils. Sure it’s going to look a bit old next to the all-new 2020 model, but it’s a tried and tested utility that should provide years of hassle-free service, and that’s a luxury that might make it an ideal choice. 

Story credit: Trevor Hofmann 

Photo credit: Karen Tuggay

2019 Hyundai Santa Fe 2.0T Ultimate Turbo AWD Road Test

2019 Hyundai Santa Fe 2.0T Ultimate Turbo AWD Road Test
The new 2019 Santa Fe’s look is sharp and unique, really standing out from the rest of the mid-size SUV crowd. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

With Genesis now taking its place amongst more established premium brands, having initially pulled two of the South Korean namesake automaker’s most premium models (the Genesis sedan/G80 and Equus/G90) with it before adding one of its own (the new G70), Hyundai now appears to be working hard at differentiating its styling from the very luxury brand it created, while also keeping its look unique from in-house rival Kia, which shares underpinnings with most models across its lineup. 

I believe they’ve done a good job thus far. Comparing the two brands’ mid-size sport utility offerings, the third-generation Hyundai Santa Fe and the current Kia Sorento looks as different as Toyota’s Highlander and Honda’s Pilot, yet they share plenty of components and therefore have saved costs in production and development. 

That third-generation Santa Fe is mostly gone, however, replaced by the all-new 2019 Santa Fe shown on this page. I say mostly only because the long-wheelbase three-row Santa Fe XL still exists, currently selling alongside the new 2020 Hyundai Palisade, at least until stock dries up. The Palisade is a radical departure from the Santa Fe XL in styling and execution, and so is the completely redesigned Santa Fe. 

2019 Hyundai Santa Fe 2.0T Ultimate Turbo AWD Road Test
Not quite as dramatic from the rear, the redesigned model is still very handsome. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

The new grille design is big, deep and totally distinctive, while the new Santa Fe’s innovative frontal lighting, comprised of narrow LED strips up top and tightly grouped clusters of secondary driving lights below, is now showing up on the brand’s latest designs, including the entry-level Kona and that top-tier Palisade just noted. 

Sizes in mind, not everyone agrees on the Santa Fe’s segment categorization. Its first generation was more compact than mid-size, but over the years it grew to the point that its third-generation model was sized closer to the majority of mid-size five-passenger crossover SUVs, coming very close to matching the length, width and height of the Ford Edge, for instance. 

The new one has grown yet again, measuring 4,770 millimetres (187.8 inches) from nose-to-tail and 1,890 mm (74.4 in) from side-to-side, which means that it’s 246 mm (9.7 in) longer than the Ford Escape compact SUV, yet only 9 mm (0.3 in) shorter than the Edge, while it is 52 mm (2.0 in) wider than the former Ford and just 38 mm (1.5 in) narrower than the latter. As for an in-house comparison, the new 2019 Santa Fe is a full 70 mm (2.7 in) longer and 10 mm (0.4 in) wider than the outgoing 2018 model, this upping interior volume. So therefore, while I have long deemed the Santa Fe a mid-size crossover SUV, now no one should categorize it differently. 

2019 Hyundai Santa Fe 2.0T Ultimate Turbo AWD Road Test
Hyundai certainly has its own trademark grille design now, that’s very different from the Genesis design and nothing like Kia’s. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

The Santa Fe has been with us for almost 20 years, and has always enjoyed extremely strong sales in Canada. In fact, it once again placed top of the mid-size SUV heap last year thanks to 24,040 deliveries, which put it well ahead of the second-place Edge just mentioned, the five-seat Ford only managing to coax 19,156 Canadian buyers over to its side last year. Santa Fe sales success isn’t a new phenomenon either, with the model holding first place in this category for as long as I’ve collected records (yes, I’ve actually kept running tabs on Canadian and US vehicle sales for more than 10 years). 

I won’t go into too much detail about the new Santa Fe’s exterior design, only to say that it had a tough act to follow, and that I think they’ve done a good job with the new fourth-gen styling. As for the 2019 Santa Fe’s interior design, quality, fit, finish, and more, I’m quite certain you’ll be impressed. It’s one of the most luxurious crossover SUVs in its segment, with more pliable soft-touch surfaces than the majority of challengers, the entire mid-portion of its dash-top made up of stitched and padded composite that looks like real leather, this high level of finishing continuing downward with a similar surface treatment on the lower console sides, each door panel armrest, as well as the door inserts. 

2019 Hyundai Santa Fe 2.0T Ultimate Turbo AWD Road Test
The Santa Fe’s design details are nicely done, especially in top-tier Ultimate trim that provide these sporty 19-inch alloys. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

Moving upward, each front and rear door upper receives high-quality premium soft-touch composite surfacing too, with the Santa Fe’s only hard plastic including the most forward section of the dash top, the oval instrument binnacle surround, a small section on the door panels, all of the lower door panels, plus the lower instrument panel. Being that these surfaces are not often touched, most mainstream volume carmakers do the same, and considering how nicely Hyundai has detailed out the mesh metal-look décor inlays that wrap around the upper edge of the instrument panel into the doors front to rear, plus the attractive variation on that metal-look theme seen lower down on those door panels, which are actually speaker grills for the top-line Infinity sound system, I believe it’s okay they didn’t go over the top with soft, pliable composites. 

Along with all the lovely metal trim just mentioned, Hyundai also includes plenty of satin-finish aluminum-look highlights throughout the Santa Fe’s cabin. Specifically, the gauge cluster gets circled in metal brightwork, while a similar treatment gets applied it to some of the steering wheel’s switchgear, and to the tablet-style infotainment touchscreen, plus the dash vents, the two-zone auto HVAC interface, the gear selector, the door pulls, the attractively finished power window switches and side mirror controller, etcetera. 

2019 Hyundai Santa Fe 2.0T Ultimate Turbo AWD Road Test
Like the LED headlights up front, these LED taillights are reserved for top-line Ultimate trim. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

As impressive as all of the above is, the first thing that caught my eye when sliding behind the wheel of my top-line Santa Fe Ultimate was its luxuriously finished, thoroughly unique headliner. Looks like denim, but not blue jeans. Instead, the soft material is dyed light beige with browner flecks within. It looks really nice, plus Hyundai uses it to all of the Santa Fe’s roof pillars from front to rear, which is unheard of in this mainstream segment. 

The distinctive roofliner is used for the large panoramic sunroof’s powered sunshade too, which can be opened by pressing a double-duty button that also tilts or slides back the glass to let air circulate from above. The overhead console includes buttons for LED reading lamps too, while it also contains a sunglasses holder that’s as nicely finished inside as the headliner is on the outside. 

2019 Hyundai Santa Fe 2.0T Ultimate Turbo AWD Road Test
Check out one of the most luxuriously finished, best equipped SUVs in the mainstream mid-size class. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

Notably, the new 2019 Santa Fe includes some updated trim line names, beginning with the base Essential model, which can be upgraded to Preferred, Preferred Turbo, Luxury, and finally as-tested Ultimate trim. The base Essential model, which starts at $28,999, includes a host of standard features such as heated front seats, a heatable steering wheel rim, 7.0-inch touchscreen infotainment with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto smartphone integration, a reverse camera with dynamic guidelines, two USB charging ports, Bluetooth, auto on/off projector headlamps with LED accents, fog lights, 17-inch alloy wheels, chrome and body-colour exterior detailing, a leather-wrapped steering rim wheel and shift knob, two-way powered driver’s lumbar support, 60/40 split folding rear seatbacks with recline, an electric parking brake with auto hold, Drive Mode Select with Comfort, Smart, and Sport modes, plus a lot more (make sure to check out all the pricing details right here on CarCostCanada, plus learn more about available rebates and make sure you find out about dealer invoice pricing before you buy, because it could save you thousands). 

2019 Hyundai Santa Fe 2.0T Ultimate Turbo AWD Road Test
Most everything you see in the creamy white beige colour is padded soft-touch. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

Hyundai’s suite of SmartSense advanced driver assistive systems pump the Santa Fe price up to $30,199, and include automatic high beam assist, dynamic cruise control with stop-and-go, forward collision alert and mitigation with pedestrian detection, lane keeping assist, plus Driver Attention Warning. 

Adding all-wheel drive will increase the price by $2,000 in Essential trim, or AWD comes standard with the $35,099 Preferred model, at which point all of the SmartSense features get included too, plus blindspot detection, rear cross-traffic alert with collision avoidance, a rear occupant alert system that remembers if you opened a back door before driving and then reminds you that someone or something may still be in back when exiting, and finally safe exit assist that warns of traffic at your side when opening your door. 

2019 Hyundai Santa Fe 2.0T Ultimate Turbo AWD Road Test
The upgraded gauge cluster is really well organized and brilliantly colourful. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

Additional Preferred trim features include 18-inch alloy wheels, turn signals added to reshaped side mirror housings, proximity-sensing keyless entry, pushbutton start/stop, an auto-dimming centre mirror, rear parking sonar, a universal garage door opener, two-zone auto climate control with a CleanAir Ionizer, Predictive Logic and auto defog, BlueLink smartphone telematics, satellite radio, an eight-way power driver’s seat, fore and aft sliding seats in the rear, etcetera. Notably the Santa Fe’s 2.4-litre base engine is still standard in Preferred trim, but you now have the $2,000 option of a 2.0-litre turbo-four. 

Things get a lot nicer when upping the ante to the $41,899 Luxury model, which gets the turbocharged engine upgrade as well as standard AWD, plus darkened chrome exterior door handles, special door scuff plates, LED interior lighting, a 7.0-inch TFT LCD multi-information display within the gauge cluster, the previously noted power panoramic sunroof, a Surround View parking monitor, the deluxe cloth roofliner I went on and on about before, leather console moulding, memory, four-way powered lumbar support and an extendable lower cushion for the driver’s seat, an eight-way powered front passenger’s seat, perforated leather upholstery, cooled front seats, heated rear seats, second-row side window sunshades, a smart liftgate, etcetera. 

2019 Hyundai Santa Fe 2.0T Ultimate Turbo AWD Road Test
The centre touchscreen is 8 inches in top trims, and amongst the highest in resolution available in this category. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

Finally, my tester’s $44,999 Ultimate trim featured pretty well everything from the Luxury model as well as 19-inch alloy wheels, satin-silver exterior trim and door handles, LED headlamps, LED fog lights, LED taillights, rain-sensing windshield wipers, a head-up display that projects key information onto the windscreen in front of the driver, a bigger 8.0-inch infotainment touchscreen featuring navigation and traffic flow info including incident data via HD radio, plus 12-speaker 630-watt Infinity audio with QuantumLogic Surround sound and Clari-Fi music restoration technology, a wireless charging pad, plus more. 

The Santa Fe’s two engines are carried forward from last year, but both receive new variable valve timing for quicker response and fuel economy improvements. The base 2.4-litre four-cylinder engine still makes 185 horsepower and 178 lb-ft of torque, whereas the top-tier 2.0-litre turbo-four increases output to 235 horsepower and 260 lb-ft of torque. Those in the know will no doubt have noticed that this new upgraded powerplant is actually down by 5 horsepower, but as you might expect it’s not noticeable. In fact, the new Santa Fe feels quite a bit faster than the old model due to a more advanced eight-speed automatic transmission replacing the outdated six-speed cog-swapper, the new version also getting standard auto start/stop that turns off the engine when it would otherwise be idling, so as to reduce emissions and save on fuel. 

2019 Hyundai Santa Fe 2.0T Ultimate Turbo AWD Road Test
The 8-speed automatic is very smooth and quick shifting too, while it includes standard auto start/stop to save fuel. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

Fuel economy is thus improved, with the 2.4 FWD base model now given a rating of 10.8 L/100km city, 8.0 highway and 9.6 combined, compared to the outgoing model’s respective 11.1 city, 8.6 highway and 10.0 combined. The same 2.4-litre engine with AWD is now capable of a claimed 11.2 L/100km city, 8.7 highway and 10.1 combined compared to 12.0, 9.1 and 10.7 respectively with last year’s version, while this year’s 2.0-litre turbocharged engine is rated at 12.3 L/100km in the city, 9.8 on the highway and 11.2 combined instead of 12.5, 9.6 and 11.2 respectively for last year’s version. I found it surprising that all the gains, particularly the new eight-speed auto and auto start/stop system, didn’t make a difference in combined city/highway economy, but it’s probably still a positive when factoring in that most driving is done in the city. 

Front-wheel drive is better for economy, but due to weather conditions most Canadians upgrade to all-wheel drive in this class. To that end, the Santa Fe’s HTRAC AWD system is quite sophisticated, as it sends most of engine torque to the front wheels in order to save fuel unless a slippery road surface needs additional traction in the rear, but this said you can apportion power to the front or back by choosing one of the available driving modes. Comfort mode, for instance, splits front/rear torque by a ratio of about 70/30 for all-weather stability, whereas Eco mode points more to the front wheels, Sport mode directs up to 50 percent to the rear wheels, and Smart mode varies all of the above as required. 

2019 Hyundai Santa Fe 2.0T Ultimate Turbo AWD Road Test
The Santa Fe Ultimate’s seats look comfortable and they are, made even better thanks to 4-way powered lumbar support. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

Like the third-generation Santa Fe, the new version integrates a fully independent suspension with MacPherson struts up front and a multi-link design in back, plus stabilizer bars at each end to improved road holding. Steering comes by a motor-driven powered rack and pinion system, feeling even more responsive than the old Sport’s system, while the suspension provided better at-the-limit handling as well as a nicer ride. I’m quite not sure how Hyundai provided such a compliant chassis while allowing for such impressive agility, but so it is. My tester even had the top-line 19-inch rims and lower-profile 235/55 all-season rubber, so it wasn’t as if its wheel/tire package was providing any extra cushioning, but I never once felt uncomfortable through my weeklong drive. 

As I noted before, the updated turbocharged engine makes slightly less power than the previous one, but it never felt any less sporting when taking off from a standstill. The eight-speed automatic was nice and smooth, as expected from a modern multi-speed autobox, and shifted through the gears quickly enough too, while I should also note the Santa Fe’s Drive Mode Integrated Control System made the most of all of these components, especially in Sport mode that allows revs to increase between shifts, provides faster engagement, enhances throttle response, sharpens the steering feel, and as mentioned earlier, apportions up to 50 percent of the AWD system’s torque to the rear wheels, but honestly I left it in Smart mode most of the time because it creates a best-of-all-worlds scenario with the Eco mode’s fuel savings, Comfort mode’s smoother drivability, and Sport mode’s driver engagement, all depending on driving style. 

2019 Hyundai Santa Fe 2.0T Ultimate Turbo AWD Road Test
The rear seating area is comfortable and accommodating. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

Family vehicles always compromise performance and comfort, mind you, which is the way it should be due to preferences of the majority of buyers in this class. The 10-way powered driver’s seat was wholly comfortable, its four-way power lumbar adjustment easily locating the small of my back. Cooling air can be blown through the perforations in the leather upholstery to keep derrieres cool in the summer’s heat, a comforting feature for sure, and there’s loads of room up front too. It’s spacious behind as well, made even more accommodating thanks to seat recliners that bend a long way backward, while the second row’s fore and aft sliding base allows for more cargo space when needed. 

The interior of this five-seat Santa Fe measures 4,151 litres (146.6 cubic feet), whereas its total cargo volume is a generous 1,016 litres (35.9 cubic feet) aft of the second row and 2,019 litres (71.3 cubic feet) when those 60/40-split seatbacks are laid flat, a process that’s easier thanks to power release buttons attached to the cargo wall. This said, being that I’m a skier, I would have rather had 40/20/40-split rear seatbacks, or at least a centre pass-through, particularly in a vehicle with heated rear seats that can’t fully be used when 40-percent the rear seats are lowered to accommodate ski gear. Hyundai may want to reconsider this problem (as should many other carmakers) for the Santa Fe’s next mid-cycle upgrade. 

2019 Hyundai Santa Fe 2.0T Ultimate Turbo AWD Road Test
Cargo capacity is not a problem. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

Still, the new 2019 Santa Fe is once again amongst the best five-passenger crossover SUVs on the market, so anyone considering a vehicle in this class should take one for a test drive. 

Story credit: Trevor Hofmann 

Photo credit: Trevor Hofmann

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