2019 Toyota 4Runner TRD Pro Road Test

2019 Toyota 4Runner TRD Pro
The Toyota 4Runner TRD Pro looks stunning in its outdoors element.

Not to long ago people were calling for the traditional SUV to die. GM cancelled Hummer, Ford said goodbye to the Excursion, and a number of 4×4-capable sport utilities were converted to car-based crossovers in order to appeal to a larger audience. While the general public has certainly eschewed rugged off-roaders as well as passenger cars for crossover SUVs, there’s certainly a healthy niche for true 4x4s.

The 4Runner has been at the centre of this mix, and has been doing so as long as I’ve been out of school. Yes, the 4Runner came into existence the year I graduated in 1981, and is now well into its fifth generation, which was introduced more than a decade ago. The original 4Runner was little more than the pickup truck with a removable composite roof, much like the original Chevy Blazer and second-gen Ford Bronco that came before, but the next version that came in 1989 included a full roof, and the rest of the story is now history.

2019 Toyota 4Runner TRD Pro
Voodoo Blue certainly stands out, as does the TRD Pro model’s unique styling.

Over the years Toyota has stayed true to the 4Runner’s off-road-capable character and garnered respect and steady sales for doing so. Now it’s one of a mere handful of truck-based SUVs available, making it high on the shopping list for consumers needing family transportation yet wanting something that can provide more adventure when called upon.

The 2019 model being reviewed here is currently being replaced by a new 2020 model, which changes up the infotainment system with a new larger 8.0-inch touchscreen, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, satellite radio and USB audio, plus the brand’s Connected Services suite. Push-button ignition gets added too, as does Toyota’s Safety Sense P bundle of advanced driver assistance features including pre-collision system with vehicle and pedestrian detection, lane departure warning and assist, automatic high beams, and dynamic radar cruise control.

2019 Toyota 4Runner TRD Pro
TRD Pro trim includes a special front fascia and these meaty 17-inch wheels and tires.

A new Venture trim level gets added as well, which builds on just-above-base TRD Off-Road trim. This means it begins with 4×4 features like 4-Wheel Crawl Control with Multi-Terrain Select, a locking rear differential, and the Kinematic Dynamic Suspension (KDSS) upgrade, while it also gets a hood scoop plus a navigation system with traffic and weather, all before adding black mirror caps, trim, and badging, Predator side steps, 17-inch TRD Pro alloy wheels, and a basket style roof rack.

All of that sounds pretty impressive, but serious off-roaders will still want the TRD Pro that I tested for a week. Not only does it look a lot tougher, particularly in its exclusive Voodoo Blue paint scheme with matte black trim, but it also gets a unique heritage “TOYOTA” grille, a TRD-stamped aluminum front skid plate, a whole lot of black accents and badges nose to tail, and superb looking matte black 17-inch alloys with TRD centre caps on massive 31.5-inch Nitto Terra Grappler all-terrain tires (my tester’s rubber was a set of Bridgestone Blizzak 265/70 studless snow tires).

2019 Toyota 4Runner TRD Pro
This handy roof rack comes standard with TRD Pro trim.

Overcoming obstacles is aided via TRD-tuned front springs and TRD Bilstein high-performance shocks with rear remote reservoirs, while the 4Runner TRD Pro also gets an automatic disconnecting differential to overcome the really rough stuff, as does its rear differential lock if the ground is slippery, and multi-terrain ABS when it’s a downward grade.

Previously noted Crawl Control is ideal for going up, down or just motoring along a low-speed stretch of horizontal terrain, and is selectable via a dial on the overhead console next to a similar dial for the Multi-Terrain Select system that makes choosing the four-wheel drive system’s best possible response over “LIGHT” to “HEAVY” terrain an easy process. Of course, overcoming a really challenging trail will require shifting from “H2” or “H4” to “L4” to engage the 4Runner’s lower set of gears via the console-mounted 4WD Selector lever.

2019 Toyota 4Runner TRD Pro
The 4Runner hasn’t changed much over the past 10 years, but it’s still well made and functional.

This SUV is an amazingly good 4×4, something I was reminded of when trudging through a local off-road course I use whenever I have something worthy of its rutted trails and long, deep swampy pools. I recently tested Jeep’s Wrangler Unlimited Sahara through this course, and did likewise with a Chevrolet Colorado ZR2 turbo-diesel that had mucky water splashing over its hood. Heck, I even proved that Toyota wasn’t trying pull one over on compact crossover buyers with its new RAV4 Trail, that can actually hold its own through this mud-fest, although I didn’t push it anywhere near as hard as the others just mentioned, or this 4Runner TRD Pro.

My 4Runner test model’s hood scoop never tasted water, incidentally, nor did it ever require the Tacoma TRD Pro’s cool looking snorkel, and trust me, I was careful not to muck up the white and red embroidered floor mats, or even soil the breathable leather-like Black SofTex seat upholstery, highlighted by red contrast stitching and red embroidered “TRD” logos on the front headrests I should add. It would have been easy enough to wash off, but I keep my test vehicles clean out of respect to the machinery.

2019 Toyota 4Runner TRD Pro
The 4Runner’s Optitron gauges are really attractive.

This 4Runner TRD Pro makes it easy to drive through most any 4×4 course or wayward trail, even if there’s not much drive down. Simply choose the best Multi-Terrain setting and engage Crawl Control if you think you’ll want to push yourself up higher in the driver’s seat in order to see over a ridge, which would make it so you couldn’t modulate the gas pedal. Alternatively you can use it in order to relax your right foot, like a cruise control for ultra-slow driving. We had a mechanical version of this on my dad’s old Land Cruiser FJ40, which was basically a choke that held the throttle out, and it worked wonders just like the 4Runner’s modernized version. The now discontinued FJ Cruiser had one too, a model that shared its platform with this much bigger and more spacious SUV, as does the global market Land Cruiser Prado and Lexus GX 460.

2019 Toyota 4Runner TRD Pro
There’s nothing wrong with the 2019 4Runner’s infotainment system, but there will be a lot more right about the new 2020 version.

V8-powered 4x4s in mind, I remember when Toyota offered the fourth-generation 4Runner with a 4.7-litre V8. I really liked that truck and its smooth, potent powertrain, but I’d rather have the 2.8-litre turbo-diesel found in the current Prado, as it’s fuel economy would be advantageous in the city and on the highway, let alone in the wilderness where it could 4×4 a lot farther from civilization than the current 4.0-litre V6. Yes, the 4Runner’s big six-cylinder drinks healthily to put it kindly, with a rating of 14.3 L/100km city, 11.9 highway and 13.2 combined, while it goes through even more regular unleaded in low gear while off-roading. That’s this SUV’s only major weakness, and now that Jeep is bringing its Wrangler to our market with a turbo-diesel, and the aforementioned Chevy Colorado gets one too, it’s might be time for Toyota to provide Canadian off-road enthusiasts an oil burner from its global parts bin.

Another weakness at the pump is the 4Runner’s five-speed automatic transmission, but on the positive it’s rugged and reliable so it’s hard to complain, while shifts smoothly. The TRD Pro adds red stitching to the leather shift knob, almost making this gearbox feel sporty when engaging its manual mode, and I should also commend this heavyweight contender for managing the curves fairly well, no matter if it’s on tarmac or gravel, while its ride quality is also quite good, something I appreciated as much in town as I did on the trail.

2019 Toyota 4Runner TRD Pro
The powered seats are comfortable, but that’s SofTex leatherette, not leather covering them.

I would have appreciated the 4Runner even more if it included shock-absorbing seats like my old ‘86 Land Cruiser BJ70, but the TRD Pro’s power-actuated seats with two-way powered lumbar managed comfort decently enough, while the SUV’s tilt and telescoping steering column provided enough reach to set up my driving position for comfort and control.

The steering wheel’s rim is wrapped in leather, but doesn’t get the nice red stitching from the shift knob, yet its spokes are filled with all the most important buttons. Framed through its upper section, the Optitron primary gauge cluster is a comprised of truly attractive blues, reds and whites on black with a small trip computer at centre.

At dash central, the infotainment touchscreen may be getting replaced for the 2020 model year, but the one in this 2019 4Runner was certainly sized large enough for my needs, plus was reasonably high-resolution and packed full of stylish graphics and loads of functions. Its reverse camera lacked active guidelines, but was quite clear, while the navigation system’s route guidance was accurate and its mapping system easy to read, plus the audio system was pretty good as well.

2019 Toyota 4Runner TRD Pro
The second row is extremely roomy.

The 4Runner’s window seats are comfortable and the entire second row amply sized for most any body type, but the TRD Pro model’s third row gets axed, leaving plenty of room for gear. There’s in fact 1,337 litres of space behind the 60/40-split second row, or up to 2,540 litres it’s lowered, making the 4Runner ideal for those that regularly haul tools or other types of equipment, campers, skiers, etcetera.

You can buy a new 2019 4Runner for $46,155 or less (depending on your negotiating chops), while leasing and financing rates can be had from 1.99 percent (or at least they could at the time of writing, according to the 2019 Toyota 4Runner Canada Prices page here at CarCostCanada). CarCostCanada also provides its members with money saving rebate info and dealer invoice pricing that could save you thousands, so be sure to purchase a membership before you head to the dealer. As for the 2020 4Runner, which starts at $48,120 thanks to the new equipment I detailed out before, only has leasing and financing rates from 4.49 percent as seen on the CarCostCanada 2020 Toyota 4Runner Canada Prices page, so the 2019 may be the smart choice for those on a budget. If you’re after this TRD Pro, you’ll be forced to find $56,580 plus freight and fees (less discount), and take note this is the most expensive 4Runner trim available.

2019 Toyota 4Runner TRD Pro
No shortage of cargo space in here.

Yes this is luxury brand territory, and the 4Runner won’t try to dazzle you with soft-touch interior plastics or any other pampering premium treatments, but this should be okay because it’s a rugged, off-road capable 4×4 that shouldn’t need to pamper its passengers to impress them. Instead, together with its superb off-road-worthiness, overall ease of use and general livability, the 4Runner achieves top placement in the 2019 Canadian Black Book Best Retained Value Awards for its “Mid-size Crossover-SUV” category. I don’t know about you, but this matters more to me than pliable interior composite surfaces.

In the end, the 4Runner remains one of my favourite SUVs. It does most everything it needs to well, and is one of the better off-roaders available for any money. That suits my outdoor lifestyle to a tee.

Story and photo credits: Trevor Hofmann

Genesis shows off photos of upcoming GV80 luxury SUV

2021 Genesis GV80
The new GV80 is Genesis’ first foray into the world of SUVs, and it’s making a pretty good first impression.

If you were wondering how the fledgling Genesis brand would manage to grow while only offering passenger cars, its new GV80 crossover SUV should certainly appeal more to a luxury market mostly focused on sport utilities.

Genesis, Hyundai Motor Group’s luxury brand, just revealed a few photos of the all-new premium crossover this week, and it certainly grabs attention. It sports a larger, stronger updated version of the Korean brand’s new pentagonal grille, shown first in production trim on the brand’s recently redesigned 2020 G90 luxury sedan, plus it incorporates a number of additional styling elements from that full-size four-door, such as horizontal LED Quad Lamp headlights and wraparound tail lamps, not to mention side vents on the front fenders. The initial design was formed from the GV80 Concept launched at the 2017 New York auto show, but we must say it looks nicer in production trim than the prototype.

2021 Genesis GV80
Is it just us, or do you see some Cadillac in the grille design?

“GV80 allows us to expand our definition of Athletic Elegance design language to a new typology, while retaining sublime proportionality and sophistication of form,” said Luc Donckerwolke, Executive Vice President, Chief Design Officer of Hyundai Motor Group.

Genesis gives its design language the name “Athletic Elegance”, and while this descriptor might sound somewhat generic, the luxury crossover’s overall presence certainly isn’t. Its grille pays some tribute to Cadillac, mind you, only missing the American brand’s big crested-wreath shield at centre. Genesis even names the SUV’s most prominent feature the “Crest Grille” and claims it as a “signature Genesis design element,” but to be fair a lot of brands have tried to adapt a five-sided shape for a grille design, including Acura and Honda. No doubt Genesis would rather we focus on its trademark headlamps, and to that end few will likely argue against any of the GV80’s other styling details or its appearance overall.

2021 Genesis GV80
We really like the new Quad Lamp LED headlights.

“The Quad Lamp, our design signature, introduces an unmistakable visual impression completely unique to Genesis,” said Sang Yup Lee, Senior Vice President, Head of Genesis Design. Like other lighting elements throughout the SUV, the headlights feature a “G-Matrix pattern” that was “inspired by beautiful orchids seen when diamonds are illuminated by light,” stated Genesis in a press release, also mentioning that the GV80’s wheel design was similarly inspired.

Anyone who’s sat in one of Genesis’ new models should have been impressed by its materials quality and refinement, so rest assured the GV80 won’t be the exception. The brand states the new SUV “focuses on the beauty of open space, characteristic of the elegant South Korean architectural aesthetic,” and while this claim might be difficult for some to conceptualize, the new SUV does appear to offer up an elegantly minimalist cabin.

2021 Genesis GV80
The GV80’s side styling is quite sporty.

Once again it shares some inspiration from the new 2020 G90’s interior, but its instrument panel is more traditional thanks to an arcing primary gauge cluster hood and a more conventional tablet-style infotainment display fixed to the top of the dash. The horizontal theme continues, however, with slim air vents that span the entire instrument panel, this hovering atop a downward flowing centre stack featuring an attractive climate control touchscreen. The lower console is almost entirely flush with no shift lever at all, Genesis integrating a “jewel-like” rotating gear selector instead, which provides a more upscale, sophisticated appearance, while open-pore hardwoods, rich leathers and what looks to be genuine aluminum trim embellish the surroundings.

The upcoming GV80 rides on fresh new rear-wheel drive underpinnings and will be available in both rear- and all-wheel drivetrains in the U.S. market, but take note the RWD model probably won’t make it to Canada. If the GV80 comes close to performing like other Genesis models, we should be in for a treat as the Korean brand does an excellent job of balancing performance and comfort.

2021 Genesis GV80
The GV80’s interior looks sensational.

The GV80 is a mid-size utility, sized to go up against the Lexus RX, BMW X5, Mercedes-Benz GLE, Audi Q7, and many others including the new Cadillac XT6. It will come standard with five seats from two rows, but unlike some of its competitors it will be available with three rows for a total of seven passengers, while staying true to the “V” in its GV80 designation, which stands for “versatility”, it should be competitive with respect to passenger space and cargo room.

When it goes on sale later this year, it will expand Genesis’ lineup to four, also including the G70 compact sedan, G80 mid-size sedan, and aforementioned G90 full-size sedan. No doubt the new SUV will strengthen the upstart luxury brand’s sales, therefore giving it a more solid financial stance within its global markets.

Story credits: Trevor Hofmann

Photo credits: Genesis

2019 Lexus RX and RX L 350 and 450h Road Test

2019 Lexus RX 450h F Sport
Even the hybrid can be had with aggressive F Sport trim.

Lexus will refresh its top-selling RX mid-size crossover luxury SUV for 2020, so therefore I rounded up three 2019 examples as a sort of sayonara to the outgoing version. The changes aren’t dramatic, but most of those who’ve lived with this popular model should be happy with everything they’ve done.

Now that I’ve teased your curious mind, the 2020 RX updates include new front and rear fascias, slimmer triple-beam LED headlights and reworked tail lamps with fresh “L” shaped LED elements, new 18- and 20-inch alloy wheels, and promised improvements in driving dynamics thanks to thicker yet lighter stabilizer bars as well as a tauter retuned suspension system designed to benefit handling via new dampers that also enhance ride quality.

2019 Lexus RX 350 L
The long-wheelbase RX L looks like the regular RX in its most basic form, other than the fact it’s longer.

Also new, the addition of active corner braking is said to reduce understeer, while paddle shifters, which are standard across the RX lineup for 2020, should allow for more hands-on engagement. Lexus has also increased standard safety features with daytime bicyclist detection and low-light pedestrian detection as well as Lane Tracing Assist (LTA), while finally the infotainment system has been updated with a new lower console-mounted touchpad controller, and, a first for Lexus, Android Auto smartphone integration has been added to its standard features set.

Despite the 2020 RX being a completely new model, CarCostCanada members can still save up to $2,000 in additional incentives, while those ok forgoing some of the upgrades in order to get a discount can access up to $4,500 in incentives on a 2019. CarCostCanada members are actually saving an average of $2,777 on both 2019 and 2020 models, first by learning about available manufacturer rebates that your local retailer might rather keep for themselves, and then by finding out about a given model’s dealer invoice price before starting the negotiation.

2019 Lexus RX 450h F Sport
The RX doesn’t come up short on styling.

The same four RX models will be available for 2020, which include the RX 350 and RX 450h hybrid, plus the new extended-wheelbase, three-row RX L with either powertrain. The RX continues to represent good value in its class with a base price of just $55,350 for the entry-level 2019 RX 350, while the 2019 RX 450h starts at $64,500, the RX 350 L at $66,250, and lastly the RX 450 L at $77,600. The refreshed 2020 base model’s pricing rises by $700, which isn’t too bad when factoring in all the previously mentioned standard improvements, but interestingly pricing for all other trims have been lowered by $5,700, $7,200, and $1,500 respectively thanks to more affordable decontented packaging. This smart move down market makes the base long-wheelbase and base hybrid models accessible to many more potential buyers.

2019 Lexus RX 350 L
The 2020 RX changes everything you’re looking at here, on all trims.

Of the three 2019 RX models gathered together for this review, the two regular length models came in Lexus’ performance-focused F Sport trim, and the longer model in six-passenger Executive trim. As you might expect, the second row bench seat of this particular example was swapped out for two individual buckets, while the $6,050 upgrade also includes LED illuminated aluminum front scuff plates, premium leather upholstery, a hardwood and leather-wrapped steering wheel, a head-up display, a 15-speaker Mark Levinson surround sound audio system, a wireless device charger, 10-way power-adjustable front seats, power-recline rear seats, rear door sunshades, power-folding rear seats, and a gesture-controlled powered tailgate.

As the name implies, F Sport trim takes a more sporting approach to styling and features, with the former including more aggression in the front grille and fascia design, upgraded LED headlights with cornering capability, sportier 20-inch alloy rims, an adaptive variable air suspension, Vehicle Dynamics Integrated Management (VDIM), unique “F SPORT” branded scuff plates, a mostly digital primary instrument cluster, a sport steering wheel with paddles and a special shift knob, aluminum sport pedals with rubber inserts, performance seats, premium leather upholstery, and more.

2019 Lexus RX 350 F Sport
The RX interior comes close to the best in this class, while offering totally unique styling.

As has long been the case, Lexus offers the RX with both conventional and hybrid electric powertrains, housing a 3.5-litre V6 under the hood in both instances. Interestingly, the regular and long-wheelbase models powered solely by the internal combustion engine (ICE) put out different numbers, with the RX 350 good for 295 horsepower and 268 lb-ft of torque, and the RX 350 L only making 290 horsepower and 263 lb-ft of torque. The RX 450h, on the other hand, makes more power at 308, yet comes up a bit weaker for torque at just 247 lb-ft.

You might not mind that weakness when it comes time to fill up, however, as the RX 450h gets a claimed fuel economy rating of just 7.5 L/100km in the city, 8.4 on the highway and 7.9 combined with its regular wheelbase, or 8.1 city, 8.4 highway and 8.1 combined when extended. The RX 350 and RX 350 L, on the other hand, manage 12.2 L/100km city, 9.0 highway and 10.8 combined in two-row trim, or 13.1, 9.4 and 11.1 respectively with its third row installed.

2019 Lexus RX 350 F Sport
This mostly digital gauge cluster is an upgrade over a rather boring base unit.

Like most all-wheel drive hybrids, the RX 450h powers its front wheels with the ICE and rears via an electric motor, but its 160-kg of added curb weight doesn’t allow its extra power to lend an advantage off the line. The hybrid’s CVT (continuously variable transmission) doesn’t seem to help in this respect either, although it probably doesn’t hamper straight-line acceleration, yet the conventionally powered model’s eight-speed automatic delivers a more engaging driving experience that I prefer, especially when mated up with paddle shifters.

As mentioned, those paddles come as part of the F Sport upgrade, as does a special Sport+ driving mode. It gets added to the base RX model’s Normal, Sport, and Eco drive mode settings, while the hybrid models get an EV mode to eke out better mileage. EV mode only stays engaged at slow parking lot speeds however, so don’t expect to be able to drive it around town unless you’re slowed to a crawl. At the other end of the performance spectrum, I couldn’t feel a lot of difference between Sport to Sport+ modes, other than firmness added via the adaptive variable air suspension, that is.

2019 Lexus RX 350 L
The centre display is high-definition and feature filled.

Ride and handling in mind, the RX’ fully independent MacPherson strut front and double-wishbone rear suspension feels a bit firmer in the F Sport than with more comfort-focused trims all around, while the extended-wheelbase RX L was comfortable without giving up too much when it came to carving corners. Either way the RX is a lot more about comfort than performance, which is why Lexus went to such lengths to reduce noise, vibration and harshness levels by creating a very rigid body structure, being generous with sound insulation, and making sure its powertrains are well refined.

Soft-touch surfaces and leather help to reduce NVH too, yet as good as the RX is when it comes to materials quality it doesn’t quite measure up to the three Germans and sole Swede in this class. Above the waste it’s mostly high-quality pliable composites, glove box lid included, while some surfaces on the dash leather-like with stitching and padding, but surprisingly, just to the left of the steering column, harder plastics prevail, these also found on the lower portions of the dash, centre console (that otherwise has its top edges finished in stitched leatherette) and door panels.

2019 Lexus RX 350 L
This old, clunky infotainment “joystick” is this SUV’s only low point, but it gets replaced with a touchpad for 2020.

Both F Sport trims received stylish metallic inlays across the dash, lower console and upper doors, but I was wowed even further when seeing the extended-wheelbase model’s beautiful hardwood trim. Most was a high-gloss dark hardwood, but every half-inch or so there were thin pieces of lighter hardwood laminated within for a gorgeous double pinstripe appearance. Lexus won’t shortchange you on brushed metal trim either, with some of it appearing authentic and other areas not so much, but interior build quality is generally quite good, including the buttons, knobs, toggles and rocker switches.

2019 Lexus RX 350 F Sport
The F Sport upgrade adds these supportive sport seats, but they don’t include four-way powered lumbar support.

All three RX models appeared to have similarly sporty seat designs, or at least they did at first glance. This may have been due to their contrast-stitched black perforated leather coverings, but upon closer inspection both F Sport models’ seats received a bit more side bolstering, aiding lateral support when pushing harder through curves. While all looked great and were comfortable overall, only the longer 350 L with its Executive package upgrade featured four-way lumbar support. These 10-way powered front seats were therefore very good, but if the two-way powered lumbar in the F Sport models hadn’t met up with the small of my back I would’ve certainly been complaining.

Fortunately the RX has always provided plenty of space front to back, with the second row near limousine-like, but the recently added long-wheelbase RX L isn’t in the same league to most three-row competitors. You’d think after all the years Lexus has been planning to introduce a three-row SUV they’d immediately get it right, but even my five-foot-eight body had trouble fitting in comfortably. Getting in and out is plenty easy due to a second row that slides far enough forward for a large opening, but even after moving the second row as far forward as possible before I’d become uncomfortable if seated there, I still didn’t have enough room for my knees when seated in the third row, whereas my head rubbed up against the roofliner.

2019 Lexus RX 350 L
Our three-row RX L had its second-row bench seat swapped out for these individual buckets.

It’s hard to argue against the RX L’s extra 77 litres of cargo space when all seatbacks are folded flat, mind you, shifting the maximum from 1,657 litres up to 1,580, but I’m guessing the last row adds a bit of height to the RX L’s cargo floor, because space behind its second row is down some 43 litres, from 694 litres in the regular wheelbase model to 651. With all seats in use both six- and seven-passenger RX Ls leave 212 litres of free space in the very back, which is good enough for some small suitcases or a golf bag.

2019 Lexus RX 350 L
The RX 350 L’s third row is good for kids, or really small adults.

Reading over my notes from all three weeklong RX tests, my biggest complaint was clearly the infotainment system. Not the screen up top that’s actually very impressive, but rather the joystick-style controller on the lower console. Lexus replaces this with its newer touchpad control for 2020, so kudos to them for finally modernizing an aging system, but those hoping to buy a 2019 will want to test out both systems before taking the plunge. It’s a functional system, made better by side entry buttons, but it simply feels antiquated in this world of touch-sensitivity. Haptic feedback locks in its various prompts, helping with the user experience, but this will be true of the new touchpad design so I can’t see many sorry for the joystick’s departure. As just noted, the high-definition display hovering above is excellent, while it’s also difficult to find fault with the overall functionality of the infotainment system itself, nor its features and functions, but Android phone users should be reminded that Android Auto smartphone integration won’t be available until next year.

2019 Lexus RX 350 F Sport
Lexus was smart to including a 40/20/40 split-folding rear seatback, making it easy to recommend to busy families.

Digital interfaces in mind, I was surprised to find out that the RX’ uninspiring standard instrument cluster carries forward for 2020. It’s about as basic as analogue gauges get for this class, consisting of a large speedometer and tachometer plus two sub-dials for engine temperature and fuel, centered by a tall, narrow full-colour multi-information display that’s really more like a trip computer. The package looks tired and dated in a vehicle as edgy and modern as the RX, particularly when factoring in that a number of RX challengers now come with standard digital instruments, or at the very least offer them as options. Of course, Lexus provides a mostly digital cluster optionally too, but only with the F Sport. My long-wheelbase RX 350 L tester had the most basic gauge cluster, even when optioned out with the Executive package, at it was priced higher than the RX 350 F Sport. This said, even the upgraded LFA-inspired digital gauges don’t provide the ability to transform most of the cluster into a big map, like Audi’s Q7 and some others, which is a bit of a letdown in this class.

It’s probably not fair to harp to harshly on Lexus’ RX, being that it’s been with us for some time and is only about to go through a mid-cycle refresh. After all, the auto industry moves at an amazingly fast pace when it comes to digital interfaces. What should matter more is everything else the RX does so very well, and the fact that so many Canadians believe it’s the best way to spend their mid-size luxury SUV dollar. Good looking, refined, efficient, luxurious, reliable and priced well, it’s hard to argue against any RX model.

Story and photo credits: Trevor Hofmann

2019 Volvo XC90 T6 AWD Inscription Road Test

2019 Volvo XC90 T6 AWD Inscription Road Test
The XC90 is one of the very best luxury SUVs on the road, especially in top-tier Inscription trim.

Even though the Volvo XC90 is deep into its fourth model year, you’ll have trouble finding a more impressively detailed or more opulently appointed mid-size luxury crossover SUV. The big three-row Swede is impeccably finished, especially when upgraded to its most luxurious Inscription trim line, which is just the way it was most recently presented to me.

This was the fourth second-generation XC90 I’ve tested, and the second Inscription model, the other two in sportier R-Design trim. Of these, two were equipped with the 316 horsepower mid-range powertrain and the other two matched up with the considerably more motivating 400 horsepower plug-in hybrid configuration. This said, I hadn’t driven the less potent drivetrain since 2016, when this model was completely overhauled with an all-new LED headlight-infused, ultra-clean design language plus a level of bejeweled luxury Volvo had never ventured into. The result was an automaker pulled back from near death (before its August, 2010 takeover by Hangzhou, Zhejiang, China-based Zhejiang Geely Holding Group), to one of relative financial health.

2019 Volvo XC90 T6 AWD Inscription Road Test
Stylish from all angles, it’s no wonder the XC90 sells so well.

Volvo’s Canadian sales more than doubled in the final quarter of 2015 when the 2016 XC90 arrived, from 10,964 vehicles during October, November and December 2014 to 22,507 cars and SUVs in Q4 of 2015, while the XC90’s deliveries jumped from 427 examples in calendar year 2014 to a total of 957 throughout 2015 and a phenomenal 2,951 in 2016. Amazingly, after a slight pullback in 2017 the growth continued with 3,059 XC90 sales in calendar year 2018, making the brand’s largest vehicle its most popular last year.

Interestingly, the new second-gen XC90 has found more Canadian luxury buyers each year than the XC60, and yes I’m talking about the totally new, wholly redesigned second-generation XC60 that went into production in March of 2017. The smaller five-passenger compact luxury SUV had consistently outsold Volvo’s much bigger three-row mid-size crossover before both models’ remakes, which is in-line with what most brands experience due to the affordability of the smaller SUVs.

The phenomenon is made even more unusual when factoring in that the new XC60 comes closer to matching the XC90’s high-level materials quality, overall refinement, superb digital interfaces, and varied choice of powertrains than any competitive brand, and that opting for the lesser model would actually leave about $13k in the pockets of would-be purchasers at the lowest end of both cars’ trim lines, and nearly $12k for top-tier Inscription T8 eAWD Plug-In Hybrid models.

2019 Volvo XC90 T6 AWD Inscription Road Test
All XC90s feature standard LED headlamps.

Why would this occur? Volvo knows its customers better than I, and their marketing department hasn’t shared anything specific to this issue, but it seems as if its Canadian base prefers larger, more substantive, pricier vehicles, which should certainly have everyone at the company’s Richmond Hill, Ontario headquarters smiling, not to mention its growing retailer base.

While not the largest in its segment, the XC90 is clearly a mid-size three-row luxury crossover SUV. It measures 4,950 mm (194.9 inches) from nose to tail, with a 2,984-mm (117.5-inch) wheelbase, plus it’s 2,140 mm (84.3 inches) from side-to-side, including its exterior mirrors, while it’s 1,775 mm (69.9 inches) from the base of its tires to the top of its roof rails. It also provides a sizeable 237 mm (9.3 inches) of ground clearance, which certainly doesn’t hurt when trudging through deep snow.

2019 Volvo XC90 T6 AWD Inscription Road Test
The XC90 Inscription’s interior is stunning, particularly its high-quality materials and fine attention to fit and finish.

The XC90’s generous dimensions make it more than just roomy inside. I first learned this when climbing inside the 2016 Volvo XC90 T6 AWD R-Design noted earlier, and confirmed it fully during a road trip in the 2017 XC90 T8 Twin Engine eAWD Inscription. My partner and I left Vancouver, drove up, over and down the Coquihalla Highway, and then up, over and down the 97C connector to Kelowna, BC during a wonderfully warm autumn in 2016, and while only two of us enjoyed this weekend getaway we carried a reasonable amount of cargo (including late season Okanagan fruit, preserves and wine) in the XC90’s 1,183-litre (41.8 cubic-foot) cargo hold, the volume available after dropping the third row into the floor.

If I owned an XC90 (or any three-row SUV) this is how I’d leave the seats set up most of the time, as the kids are now grown and have no need the third row. Yes it would be a shame to waste those nicely shaped individual bucket seats, each of which can easily accommodate my five-foot-eight, medium-build frame quite comfortably, making me wish Volvo configured it as a less expensive two-row model with additional under-floor storage, but no such luck.

2019 Volvo XC90 T6 AWD Inscription Road Test
A fully digital instrument cluster comes standard.

As it is, the XC90 gets a decently sized 447-litre (15.8 cubic-foot) dedicated cargo hold aft of the third row, which expands to 2,427 litres (85.6 cubic feet) when both rear rows are laid flat. Even better, its second row can be folded in thirds so rear passengers can enjoy the more comfortable, optionally heated window seats while skis or other types of long items are loaded in between. I wish Volvo had added a pass-through for the third row as well, but that’s probably asking too much. As it is, the XC90 is one of the more flexible luxury SUVs from a passenger/cargo perspective.

As it has throughout its four-year tenure, the 2019 XC90 can be had in Momentum, R-Design and Inscription trims, the base model starting at $59,750 (plus freight and fees), the mid-range model beginning at $69,800, and top-line available from $71,450. Speaking of threes, this model also lets you choose from all of the brand’s 2.0-litre, four-cylinder power units, starting with the T5 AWD that’s only available in Momentum trim and simply uses a turbocharger to produce 250 horsepower and 258 lb-ft of torque. Above this is the T6 AWD in my tester that adds a supercharger to the mix for a total of 316 horsepower and 295 lb-ft of torque, while at the top of the Volvo heap is the T8 eAWD “Twin Engine” hybrid system that combines a 60-kW electric motor and externally charge-able plug-in battery for a maximum of 400 net horsepower and 472 net lb-ft of torque.

2019 Volvo XC90 T6 AWD Inscription Road Test
Volvo’s tablet-style Sensus infotainment touchscreen is award-winning.

As for pricing, moving up to the T6 in Momentum trim will add $4,250 to the bottom line, while the Momentum T8 adds another $10,950. Alternatively you’ll be charged $12,650 in either R-Design or Inscription trims when moving from T6 to T8 power units, although take note you can save up to $5,000 in additional 2019 XC90 incentives right now by visiting the 2019 Volvo XC90 Canada Prices page right here at CarCostCanada, where you’ll also be able to get all the pricing details about trims, packages and individual options, plus manufacturer rebate information and otherwise difficult to find dealer invoice prices.

Along with standard all-wheel drive (as noted by all the “AWD” designations in the trim names), each XC90 powertrain comes mated up to an efficient eight-speed Geartronic automatic transmission with auto start/stop that automatically shuts the engine off when it would otherwise be idling, and restarts it when lifting your foot from the brake pedal. Obviously that autobox is set up differently in conventionally powered models to the hybrid, but the driveline is even more unique in when factoring in eAWD, which leaves the internal combustion engine to power the front wheels and aforementioned electric motor to rotate those in back.

2019 Volvo XC90 T6 AWD Inscription Road Test
This Inscription model’s woodwork is second to none.

Unlike early hybrid systems, the XC90’s T8 powertrain can also be driven solely on electric power at regular speeds, although with about 30 kilometres of EV range available you’ll probably need to rely on its gasoline-fed engine for supplemental energy when the battery drains, unless your commutes and/or errand runs cover short distances with as little highway driving as possible. Nevertheless, if you manage to keep your enthusiasm bridled and not dig into all of its 400 horsepower, the XC90 T8’s claimed 10.1 L/100km city, 8.8 highway and 9.5 fuel economy rating makes it one of the thriftiest SUVs in its class. Alternatively, the conventionally powered T5 and T6 powertrains are good for 11.3 L/100km in the city, 8.5 on the highway and 10.0 combined for the former and 12.1 city, 8.9 highway and 10.7 combined for the latter, which are very impressive as well.

Yes, my T6 tester was the least efficient XC90, but compared to Lexus’ conventionally powered three-row RX 350 L it’s an absolute fuel miser, the Japanese luxury utility good for 11.1 L/100km combined. Then again Lexus makes a hybrid version that’s stingier than the XC90 T8, eking by at just 8.1 combined, while Acura’s regular MDX is rated at 10.8 L/100km combined and its hybrid at 9.0 in a mix of city/highway driving.

2019 Volvo XC90 T6 AWD Inscription Road Test
Automotive jewelry? Volvo supplies some dazzling details.

Amazingly these are the only electrified models in the mid-size, three-row luxury segment, but the XC90 T6’s efficiency still improves on Infiniti’s QX60 (10.9 combined), Audi’s Q7 (11.0 combined), Buick’s Enclave (11.9), Mercedes-Benz’s GLS (13.2), BMW’s X7 (10.8), Land Rover’s gasoline-powered Discovery (13.0), the 2020 Cadillac XT6 (11.5), and the 2020 Lincoln Aviator (11.6), with the only non-hybrid vehicle to beat it in this class being the just-noted Discovery when mated up to its turbo-diesel, a rare beast these days, yet capable of 10.4 L/100km combined city/highway.

I know for a fact the XC90 T6 is much quicker off the line than that Disco oil burner, however, not to mention most other entry-level models on this list (I used base models when comparing fuel economy numbers), while there’s absolutely no contest when comparing acceleration between hybrids. Truly, put your foot into the XC90 T6 AWD’s throttle and it’s hard to believe there’s a 2.0-litre four-cylinder mill pushing and pulling this big SUV forward, the little turbocharged, supercharged and direct-injected mill needing just 6.5 seconds to zip from standstill to 100 km/h. That makes the T6 1.4 seconds quicker to 100 km/h than the base T5 that crosses the same time line in 7.9 seconds, plus it’s less than a second (0.9) slower than the T8 that blasts the hefty Volvo from zero to 100km/h in a mere 5.6 seconds.

2019 Volvo XC90 T6 AWD Inscription Road Test
The XC90’s front seats are superb.

The T6 AWD doesn’t only look fast by the numbers, it feels even quicker when sprinting away from a stoplight or passing on the highway, while it also does a good job of hustling through corners. I’m not going to go so far as to say it can out-manoeuvre one of the aforementioned Germans on a tight, circuitous test track, but it’ll easily run rings around most of the others while delivering one of the smoothest, most compliant rides in its category, combined with one of the best driver’s seats in the business.

Before falling into the trap of listing out every single XC90 feature Volvo offers (click through to my 2018 XC90 R-Design review for this info, as I cover all trims and the 2019 model hasn’t notably changed), let’s just say Volvo’s mid-size SUV provides a good value proposition, especially when factoring in the superbly crafted interior I mentioned at the beginning of this review. Truly, the XC90 Inscription gets one of most luxuriously appointed cabins available south of a Bentley Bentayga, and to be honest, much of the Swedish utility’s switchgear is made from denser (and therefore higher quality) composites than the big British ute, whereas every one of the XC90’s digital displays is beyond compare (I should mention here that Bentley will update the Bentayga with much-needed new infotainment for 2020).

2019 Volvo XC90 T6 AWD Inscription Road Test
Even adults can fit into the very back.

In front of the XC90’s driver is a completely digital gauge package capable of adding navigation mapping/route guidance to its centre multi-information section, where it can also house most of the infotainment system’s other functions, as well as the usual trip, fuel economy, etcetera info. Volvo’s award-winning Sensus infotainment system sits on the centre stack, its vertical, tablet-style touchscreen one of my favourites to use and its feature set replete with everything found in rival systems. Its overhead camera provides incredible detail, climate control interface some of the coolest temperature setting sliders around, and other functions right at the top of this segment, while its audio panel connected through to a sensational sounding $3,250 optional Bowers & Wilkins stereo featuring 1,400 watts of power and 19 speakers.

2019 Volvo XC90 T6 AWD Inscription Road Test
The 30/30/30-split second row makes the XC90 highly flexible for passengers and cargo.

That upgraded stereo boasts a beautiful set of drilled aluminum speaker grilles on each door, plus a small circular tweeter atop the dash, but you’ll need to look back to the photo gallery for my 2018 XC90 tester to see what was missing, a stunning Orrefors crystal and polished metal shift knob. Remember I said that nothing below a Bentley comes close to this XC90? You really need to see and feel the gorgeous diamond-patterned metal edges of the rotating multi-function centre stack controller first-hand to appreciate how exquisitely crafted it is, or for that matter twist the similarly ornate lower console-mounted engine start/stop switch and cylinder-shaped scrolling drive mode selector, while the matte-finish hardwood found on the scrolling bin lids that surround the just-noted switchgear and shifter, plus the instrument panel and doors, is otherworldly. It’s difficult to argue against my Inscription trimmed tester’s contrast-stitched padded leather upholstery either, which can be found on nearly every other surface that’s not already covered in high-quality pliable composite materials. I’m not saying Volvo’s competitors don’t do a good job of detailing out their mid-size SUVs’ interiors, it’s just that the XC90 provides such a rare sense of occasion that few of its rivals can measure up.

Therefore, the next time a Volvo XC90 pulls up beside you, maybe nod with the same level of reverence shown to a Rolls-Royce Cullinan, Bentley Bentayga or Range Rover Autobiography, because it’s providing a similar level of opulent luxury while going much further to mitigate fossil fuel consumption and reduce emissions. That it can be had for a five-figure sum shows that its owners are pretty savvy too, which might be worth even greater respect.

Story credit: Trevor Hofmann

Photo credits: Karen Tuggay

2019 Subaru Outback 3.6R Limited Road Test

2019 Subaru Outback 3.6R Limited
Subaru’s Outback is not only just as practical as most mid-size crossover SUVs, but it can out-perform the majority off-road too. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Subaru has long provided a nicely balanced lineup of performance-oriented yet practical cars and crossover SUVs, with the Outback not only typifying this ideal, but together with the smaller compact Crosstrek it actually bridges the gap between family wagon and sport utility.

The Outback’s best of both world’s design means that it’s always been a strong seller for Subaru, but I think it would do even better if more mid-size crossover SUV buyers knew just how roomy it is inside. Despite its lower overall height, the Outback’s 1,005 litres (35.5 cubic feet) of dedicated cargo capacity and 2,075 litres (73.3 cubic feet) of space when the rear row is flattened is much more capable of swallowing up gear than Nissan’s Murano and Chevy’s new Blazer, while it’s on par with Ford’s Edge, Hyundai’s Santa Fe, and even Jeep’s off-road dominating Grand Cherokee.

Subaru could make it even more accommodating if they’d offer a second-row centre pass-through, mind you, or better yet 40/20/40 split-folding rear seatbacks like some premium European brands, but the Outback does include a convenient set of cargo wall-mounted levers for laying its 60/40-split seats flat automatically, while a nice retractable cargo cover and rugged available cargo mat make it a perfect companion for the majority of family hauling duties such as carting four individuals plus their ski/snowboard gear up to the slopes.

2019 Subaru Outback 3.6R Limited
In today’s crossover SUV world, the Outback stands out for being different. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

That’s when you’ll be glad for the Outback’s standard all-wheel drive, and that it’s not just any AWD system. Subaru’s Symmetrical AWD is well respected for providing an even distribution of torque to each wheel and more even weight distribution overall, not to mention a lower centre of gravity due to its lineup of horizontally opposed “boxer” engines. I’ve been test driving Outbacks since I started covering the automotive industry two decades ago, and I even spent a week in a near identical (other than colour) 2018 Outback 3.6R Limited last year, so I’ve experienced how well its AWD system works in tandem with its standard electronic traction and stability control systems to deliver go-near-anywhere capability in almost any weather condition.

Of course, the Outback is capable of climbing out of much deeper snow than the mere wisp of white surrounding our test vehicle, with many of my weeklong tests including stints up the mountain trudging through thickly blanketed snow sport parking lots and a number of trips up country to visit family, where its family of flat four- and six-cylinder engines always provided strong highway performance and enough torque to dig the car out of deep snow banks.

Back to the here and now, Subaru gave the Outback a mid-cycle update for the 2018 model year, while the Japanese brand is smack dab in the middle of launching its fully redesigned 2020 model as this review gets published, so if you decide to drive on down to your local Subie retailer you’ll probably see the latest version parked in their showroom and a smattering of new 2019s outside on the lot, the latter cars no doubt reduced in price to find homes quickly.

2019 Subaru Outback 3.6R Limited
No matter whether choosing the 2019 or 2020, the Outback is a good looking tall wagon. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

CarCostCanada was reporting up to $3,000 in additional incentives for 2019 Outbacks at the time of writing, while you’ll also find trim, package and option prices there, as well as rebate information and even dealer invoice pricing that could save you thousands when you sit down to negotiate, therefore you really should consider a 2019 unless you really want the updated version.

Choosing the new replacement Outback or soon to be replaced model shouldn’t solely be up to finances, unless budget limitations demand, but I still don’t see most buyers of the 2020 version sold merely on styling. After all, while they’re obviously different when seen side-by-side, the updated model is no radical departure. In fact, I’d say it’s actually less rugged looking at a time when most car-based crossover SUVs are working overtime to pretend otherwise.

Inside, it gets the mainstream volume sector’s largest centre touchscreen at 11.6 inches, positioned vertically instead of horizontal, as with this 2019 model’s still amply sized 8.0-inch touchscreen. I won’t go into too much detail about the 2020 model, being that I haven’t tested one yet, but suffice to say the new centre display could very well make moving into the latest Outback worthwhile all on its own.

Then again, I could see someone choosing a 2019 Outback just to acquire my test model’s wonderful 3.6-litre six-cylinder engine, which is sadly on its way out of the entire Subaru lineup. It has recently only been available in upper-crust Outbacks and top-tier versions of the brand’s Legacy mid-size sedan, but the advent of Subaru’s new Ascent mid-size three-row crossover SUV last year, and its lack of H6 power, initially signified an uncertain end to six-cylinder performance within blue-oval, silver star products, and now the 2020 Legacy and Outback have confirmed such.

2019 Subaru Outback 3.6R Limited
Many of the Outback Limited’s details are very upscale. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Looking back, Subaru’s flat-six came into being as an option for the 1988–1991 XT (Alcyone VX) sports coupe, and was based on the brand’s four-cylinder of the time. It was upgraded for that model’s successor, the 1991–1996 SVX (Alcyone), a car I tested and was thoroughly impressed by way back in ’94. Next came the EZ30, which was a complete engine redesign notably nearly as compact as the EJ25 four-cylinder of the era, the smaller 3.0-litre version being optional in Legacy/Outback models from 2002/2001-2008/2009, and the almost identically sized yet more formidable 3.6-litre EZ36 available optionally for respective 2009 and 2010 models. Both versions of the EZ were used for the new Ascent’s three-row crossover SUV predecessor, incidentally, the 2006-2007 Tribeca integrating the smaller version and 2008-2014 versions using the bigger engine.

As it is, 2019 Outback engines include a base 2.5-litre four-cylinder good for 175 horsepower and 174 lb-ft of torque, plus the 3.6-litre H6 I’ve already talked about a length, except for output figures that measure up to 256 horsepower and 247 lb-ft of torque. For 2020, the entry-level 2.5i gets a total overhaul including 90 percent of its components replaced for 6 more horsepower and 2 lb-ft of additional torque, which now equal 182 horsepower and 176 lb-ft of torque, while the aforementioned Ascent’s new 2.4-litre turbocharged four-cylinder engine is optional as is its impressive 260 horsepower and 277 lb-ft of torque, which equals a small increase of 4 horsepower yet a robust 30 lb-ft of added torque over the old six-cylinder engine.

As you might expect, the updated 2020 engines are more efficient than their predecessors too, with the current 2019 Outback 2.5i achieving an estimated 9.4 L/100km city, 7.3 highway and 8.5 combined compared to 9.0, 7.1 and 8.0 for the new 2020 base engine, which is an obvious gain, while the 2019 Outback 3.6R manages a claimed 12.0 L/100km city, 8.7 highway and 10.5 combined rating compared to a much thriftier 10.1, 7.9 and 9.0 respectively for the new turbo-four. While Subaru certainly deserves credit for delivering such major gains in both efficiency and performance, I’ll miss the six-cylinder’s smooth, refined operation and throatier growl at higher revs.

2019 Subaru Outback 3.6R Limited
If you need to haul cargo on the roof, the Outback’s roof rails are heavy duty. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

The brand’s High-Torque Lineartronic CVT (continuously variable transmission) is smooth too, and thanks to its ability to shift through its eight forward “gears” just like a conventional automatic, even via steering wheel paddle shifters, it’s relatively sporty as well. Then again, when revs climb higher it’s not quite as convincing as a sport model, which meant I didn’t end up using those paddles as much as I would normally have.

Either way the Outback 3.6R is no slouch off the line and fully capable of passing slower traffic on the freeway or better yet, a winding two-lane highway, and to that end it’s a pretty good handler too, even when pushed through tight curves at high speeds, but this said it’s no WRX STI. Of course, few vehicles can keep up to Subaru’s most famous performance model, let alone tall wagons primarily designed for comforting their occupants. Its comfort-oriented attitude is why I left the Outback’s super-smooth transmission is Drive and just enjoyed the ride more often than not. Its suspension is wonderfully compliant, making it perfect for managing rough backcountry roads and trips to the ski hill, plus of course overcoming some of the worst trails anywhere, those dreaded inner-city lanes.

If I were to claim Subaru’s standard full-time symmetrical all-wheel drive as the best AWD system in the mainstream industry I wouldn’t be alone, especially when factoring in “X-MODE” that controls the engine’s output, the transmission’s shift points, the AWD system’s torque-split, plus the braking and hill descent control systems so as to overachieve when off the beaten path. Obviously the Outback won’t walk away from a Jeep Wrangler on a level 8 or 9 trail (it wouldn’t even make it five feet on a level 8 or 9 trail), but its highly advanced AWD system and better than average 220 mm (8.7 inches) of ground clearance give it an advantage over most car-based crossover competitors when the going get tough.

2019 Subaru Outback 3.6R Limited
Good looking, highly refined Outback Limited cabin provides most everything a luxury buyer wants and more. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

I’m sure you can imagine that I’m intrigued by the new 2020 Outback and want to get behind the wheel, something I’ll be doing next week. Of course, its bigger centre touchscreen will be impressive, and I’m guessing Subaru will make improvements in refinement as well. Nevertheless it’ll need to be particularly good to beat the current model’s near premium details, such as fabric-wrapped A-pillars, soft synthetic dash-top and instrument panel that’s contrast-stitched and continues all the way down each side of the centre stack, padded door uppers, inserts and armrests front to back, and its leather upholstery with contrast stitching in my near top-line Limited tester.

The Outback Limited’s leather-clad steering wheel looks and feels great, the latter thanks to ideally shaped thumb spats. The comprehensive switchgear on the 9 and 3 o’clock spokes are high-quality too, while all of the interior’s buttons, knobs and switches are good, with the audio and two-zone auto HVAC dials on the centre stack especially so.

Some of Subaru’s biggest gains in recent years have been in the electronics department, with this 2019 Outback not as mind-blowing as the 2020 model, but still on par with rivals. Both 2019 and 2020 models utilize relatively conventional primary gauge clusters sporting a circular analogue tachometer and speedometer to the sides of a tall, vertical multi-information display (MID), but the 2020 car waves goodbye to the sportier dual-binnacle motorbike-like gauge design now in use, for a much more conventional look that I find a tad disappointing when focused on base trims, but this said the 2019 model’s 5.0-inch optional MID can now be upgraded to a full 12.3-inch digital instrument cluster in the 2020 car.

2019 Subaru Outback 3.6R Limited
Complex gauge clusters like this will soon become a thing of the past. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

What this means for those interested in the outgoing 2019 Outback, particularly in Limited and Premier trims, is a gauge cluster that’s hardly more exciting than what you’ll find in more basic 2.5i, Convenience and Touring models, but the base 3.5-inch MID gets replaced by a significantly better colour 5.0-inch version when EyeSight gets added to the mix (I’ll talk about EyeSight shortly), but turn your eyes to the centre stack and it’s a completely different story.

The most basic 2020 Outbacks start off with a 7.0-inch touchscreen, which is an upgrade from the 2019 model’s 6.5-inch centre monitor, while the top-line 2019 model gets a reasonably large 8.0-inch touchscreen, as noted earlier. I can understand you may have seen something even more impressive if you’ve just stepped out of the updated Outback or something premium from Germany, but my tester’s infotainment interface was still well laid out and plenty attractive due to lots of gloss black surfacing around the touchscreen so that it all blends nicely together as if it’s one oversized display, while the background graphics offer up Subaru’s trademark starlit blue night sky and bright, colourful smartphone/tablet-style candy drop buttons for choosing functions.

The backup camera is very good, helped along by active guidelines, while features include Android Auto, Apple CarPlay and Subaru’s own StarLink smartphone integration. Of course, the usual AM/FM/CD/MP3/WMA audio sources can be found too, plus satellite and Aha radio, USB and aux ports, SiriusXM advanced audio services, SiriusXM Travel Link, and Bluetooth with audio streaming. It all gets funneled through four speakers in lower trims and six speakers in Touring trims and above, while the latter also includes the aforementioned 1.5-inch larger touchscreen and a second USB port.

2019 Subaru Outback 3.6R Limited
The 2019 Outback’s infotainment display only looks old when compared to the new 2020 version. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Being that you won’t be able to factory order a 2019 Outback, I won’t delve into all the trim line details, but some as yet mentioned features found in my Limited trimmed test model include 18-inch alloy wheels, auto on/off LED headlights with steering-responsive capability, fog lights, welcome and approach lights, proximity keyless access, pushbutton ignition, brushed aluminum front doorsill protectors, authentic looking matte woodgrain and silver metallic interior accents, auto-dimming side and centre mirrors, a heated steering wheel rim, three-way heatable front seats, a navigation/route guidance system, dynamic cruise control, a 10-way powered driver’s seat with power lumbar and two-way memory, a four-way power front passenger’s seat, a universal garage door opener, a great sounding 12-speaker, 576-watt Harman/Kardon audio system, a power glass sunroof, two-way heated rear outboard seats, a power rear tailgate, plus more.

Those EyeSight advanced driver assistance systems mentioned earlier include pre-collision braking, pre-collision brake assistance, pre-collision throttle management, lane departure warning, lane sway warning, lane keep assist, lead vehicle start alert, reverse automatic braking, adaptive cruise control, and auto high beams.

My as-tested Limited 3.6R with the EyeSight tester can be had for $41,395 plus freight and fees, which is $1,500 more than the Limited 3.6R with no EyeSight, while that model is also $3,000 more than Limited trim with the four-cylinder powerplant. A base Outback 2.5i can be purchased for just $29,295, incidentally, while additional 2019 trims include the $32,795 Touring 2.5i and $39,295 Premier 2.5i, the latter trim coming standard with EyeSight. You can upgrade Touring trim with the Eyesight package and engine upgrade, but, no-cost colour choices aside, the flat-six is the only available option with Premier trim.

2019 Subaru Outback 3.6R Limited
There’s no shortage of room in the Outback. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

The 2019 Outback’s retail price ranges from $29,295 to $42,295, but take note that up to $3,000 in additional incentives were available at the time of writing, so be sure to check out our 2019 Subaru Outback page for all the details, plus pricing, rebate, and dealer invoice pricing that could save you thousands.

As I explained when starting this review, the Outback can manage mid-size SUV-levels of cargo, so as you might expect there’s also ample space for adult passengers in both rows of seats. It’s comfortable too, the front seats ideally shaped for optimal support, particularly at the lower lumbar region, while the side bolsters also support well laterally. The rear seating area is amply large as well, particularly with respect to headroom.

Also important, the rear compartment is just as refined as the front. Along with surface treatments and other details finished nicely, a large armrest flips down from the centre position filled with well designed cupholders that actually hold drinks in place when underway thanks to rubber grips (most are nowhere near as useful), while the backside of the front centre console features a covered compartment with two USB chargers plus an auxiliary plug, as well as a set of rocker switches for the previously noted rear seat heaters and the rear HVAC vents. Rear passengers needing overhead light will appreciate the reading lamps above, while each door panel includes a big bottle holder.

2019 Subaru Outback 3.6R Limited
Rear seat comfort and roominess is superb. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

It seems just about perfect to finish this Subaru Outback review on such a practical subject matter, even after factoring in the premium-like cabin, luxuriously smooth powertrain and equally plush ride. It’s a crossover wagon/SUV that’s actually better than advertised, and that makes it a truly rare commodity. Believe me, you’ll be well served whether you opt for this impressive 2019 Outback or the new 2020 version.

Story credit: Trevor Hofmann

Photo credits: Karen Tuggay

2019 Dodge Durango SRT Road Test

2019 Dodge Durango SRT
The Durango SRT is a best of all worlds SUV. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

I once had a girlfriend that hated fur. She wasn’t long out of college where she’d been influenced by well-meaning animal rights advocates, and therefore wouldn’t even consider wearing something made from the skins of little rodents. Having spent way too much time up north where humans have used animal furs to keep warm for eons, I had no such misgivings, so I took her downstairs to one of my spare bedrooms that was filled with long mink, sable, fox and yet other valuable fur coats that I was in the process of selling for a client, and proceeded to wrap her in each of them. Seeing her initial disdain immediately transform into guilty pleasure was something I’ll never forget, making me wish I had a radical environmentalist to take for a spin in the latest Dodge Durango SRT.

I can just imagine the Greta-like sneer turning into a devilish giggle before all-out laughter started mixing in fear as the big, bellowing, brutish, anti-green SUV guzzled back gas as quickly as Elizabeth May downs drinks at press gallery dinners; yes, the Durango SRT is that corruptible. Then again, it’s not as Mephistophelian as Jeep’s ridiculously fast 707 horsepower Grand Cherokee SRT Trackhawk. Instead, the Durango SRT gets motivated by the same comparatively sedate 6.4-litre (392 cubic inch) Hemi V8 that motivates the regular Grand Cherokee SRT, although tame as it may seem this 475 horsepower mill is no lightweight.

2019 Dodge Durango SRT
While the Durango SRT i equipped with AWD, it’s more of a street performance than off-road warrior. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

With a formidable 470 lb-ft of torque going down to all wheels, the 2,499-kilo (5,510-lb) beast launches from zero to 100 km/h in just 4.6 seconds, its SRT Torqueflite eight-speed automatic transmission delighting with quick shifts all the way from standstill to highway speeds and beyond, whether actuated by its steering wheel paddles, console-mounted shift lever, or simply left to do its own thing. What’s more, it will continue forward with a 12.9-second quarter mile time, and keeps going to a top track speed of 290 km/h (180 mph), which is equal to the Jeep Trackhawk, and in an entirely different universe when compared to other so-called “performance” SUVs.

And to think all of this go-fast goodness resides in a practical three-row family hauler that seats seven adults in total comfort while stowing their luggage in a big 487-litre (17.2 cubic-foot) dedicated rear cargo compartment, and can even tow a 3,946-kilo (8,700-lb) trailer (which is 1,500 lbs more weight than the 5.7-litre V8-powered Durango can tow, and 2,500 lbs more than the V6).

The only Durango SRT negative is fuel economy, which is more than a tad thirsty at a claimed 18.3 L/100km city, 12.2 highway, and 15.6 combined, plus slightly less off-road ability due to a bit less ground clearance, and this said who would want to ruin the SRT’s extended bodywork or 20-inch double-five-spoke black-painted alloy wheels on stumps or rocks anyway, the SUV’s three-season Pirelli Scorpion 295/45 ZRs much more suited to gripping asphalt as it is.

2019 Dodge Durango SRT
The Durango SRT has no shortage of functional scoops and vents on its hood. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

The SRT’s black mesh grille is turned down in a menacing frown, while its tri-vented hood, aggressive lower fascia, extended side skirts, and chrome dual tailpipe-infused rear bumper makes a strong visual statement that’s impossible to ignore. Nothing has changed since the Durango SRT arrived in 2017 as a 2018 model, and it’s been carried forward into 2019 unchanged too, plus will so again for the 2020 model year, with only the Durango’s lower trims getting small improvements.

As a backgrounder, the third-generation Durango arrived in 2010 for the 2011 model year, and along with the complete redesign were plenty of curves to help us forget the less loved, ultra-angled second-generation model, and remind us of the muscular Dakota-based SUV that brought Dodge into the mid-size SUV fold way back in 1997 (when are you bringing back the Dakota, Dodge… er Ram?).

Plenty of premium-like cabin materials were brought back as well, with each trim that I have tested being very well finished. Such is particularly true of this SRT, which receives a rich microfibre/suede-style Alcantara covering for its roofliner and A pillars, plus contrast-stitched leatherette over the entire dash top and most of the instrument panel, even down the sides of the centre stack, while both front and back door uppers are made from a padded leather-like synthetic, and armrests detailed out in contrast-stitched leatherette. As anyone familiar with this class likely expects, all surfaces from the waist downward are constructed from hard composites, but it all looks good and feels durable enough.

2019 Dodge Durango SRT2019 Dodge Durango SRT
These sizeable 20-inch rims and Brembo performance brakes are very capable. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

The steering wheel feels even better thanks to a combination of perforated and solid leathers, this ideally contrasted with baseball-style stitching around the inside of the rim for added grip, while each spoke features a nicely organized, well-made set of controls plus the paddle-shifters mentioned before, as well as Chrysler group’s novel audio volume control and mode switches on the backside of those spokes. The rest of this Durango’s buttons, knobs and toggles are well executed for its mainstream mission too, with the big volume, tuning and fan-speed dials on the centre stack trimmed in chrome edged in rubber for extra grip.

Just above, the infotainment touchscreen measures a very sizeable 8.4 inches in diameter, features a fairly high-resolution display and is really easy to use. I appreciate the simplicity of Chrysler group touchscreens, specifically those found in Chrysler, Dodge and Jeep models as they’re quite different than those offered by Fiat, Alfa Romeo and Maserati. The two premium Italian brands definitely provide higher definition, the Alfa Stelvio I most recently tested equipped with a very impressive (albeit smaller) display, but this Durango SRT interface is more straightforward and extremely well equipped.

2019 Dodge Durango SRT
The Durango SRT’s interior is a mix of mainstream and premium quality features and materials. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

Together with individual displays for audio, automatic climate controls (that include digital buttons for the heated/ventilated front seats and heatable steering wheel), navigation system (that features nicely detailed maps and accurate route guidance), phone connectivity and features, plus various apps, the SRT adds its own set of Performance Pages displaying power torque history, real-time power and torque, timers for laps (and more), as well as G-force engine and dyno gauges, separate oil temperature, oil pressure, coolant temperature and battery voltage gauges, many of which are duplicated over on the primary instrument cluster’s multi-info display, providing this SUV with a level of digital capability few rivals come close to matching.

I appreciated having somewhere close by to stow my smartphone when not in use, Dodge providing is a rubberized pad at the base of the centre stack that should be large enough for most any device. Still, I was disappointed to learn there was no wireless charger underneath the rubberized pad, but instead an old-school 12-volt charge point and aux plug resides above, plus two much more useful (for my needs) USB chargers. An additional 12-volt charger and a Blu-Ray DVD changer can be found below the centre armrest/lid, while the standard 506-watt, nine-speaker Alpine stereo is impressive, as is the even nicer 825-watt, 19-speaker, $1,995 Harman/Kardon system.

2019 Dodge Durango SRT
The Durango SRT’s gauge cluster multi-information display is one of the most comprehensive in the industry. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

Then again, the deep, resonating sound of the Durango SRT’s Hemi V8 makes such audio equipment discussion seem a bit irrelevant, whether it’s thumping like a big Harley at idle or disrupting world order at full throttle, while its reactions to prods from the right foot are much more immediate than expected from such a big SUV. It doesn’t exactly jump off the line, but it’s hardly listless either, launching from standstill without any hesitation before distancing itself from legal speeds, all within seconds.

The upgraded eight-speed automatic does a great job of putting all that power down to the wheels, all the while providing smooth, quick shifts. I left it to its own devices more often than not, although when trying to extract as much performance as possible its paddle-actuated manual mode proved ideal, particularly when diving into deep, fast-paced curves, the big Durango SRT’s agility in the corners downright baffling.

2019 Dodge Durango SRT
A large touchscreen is filled with features, and the tri-zone automatic HVAC system is easy to use. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

You might actually be surprised at the Durango’s handling overall, even lesser trims plenty of fun when the road starts to wind, but rest assured the SRT takes things up a notch or three. The SRT utilizes the same fully independent front strut and rear multi-link suspension as all Durangos, but Dodge tweaks it with some “SRT-tuned” components like a Bilstein adaptive damping suspension (ADS) instead of the regular SUV’s gas-charged, twin-tube coil-over shocks, and hollow stabilizer bars in place of solid ones, the result being a flatter stance when pushed hard through tight serpentine stretches, and excellent high-speed tracking. What’s more, the Durango’s electric power steering gets special tuned while stopping performance is enhanced with a set of powerful Brembo brakes, resulting in binding power that’s almost as exciting as accelerative forces. A compliant suspension setup, good visibility all-round, and ample manoeuvrability makes for an easy driving SUV through town as well, and due to less width than most full-size SUVs, such as the Chevrolet Tahoe or Ford Expedition, the Durango is less of a problem to park.

To clarify, the Durango is 120 millimetres (4.7 inches) thinner than the Tahoe and 104 mm (4.1 in) narrower than the Expedition, but rest assured that it delivers size where it matters most. In fact, its 3,045-mm (120.0-in) wheelbase is 99 mm (3.9 in) lengthier than the Tahoe’s, and a mere 67 mm (2.6 in) shorter than the Expedition’s wheelbase, which means that can fit adults comfortably into all three rows.

2019 Dodge Durango SRT
The Durango SRT’s seats are very comfortable and supportive. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

Of course, this means there’s a bit less interior room from side-to-side, but it’s still plenty wide within, and should be spacious enough for full-size folks. The driver’s seat is excellent, and like the others (other than the rearmost row) gets an “SRT” logo imprinted on its backrest. My tester’s seats were coloured in attractive “Demonic Red” with white contrast stitching to match the decorative thread used elsewhere around the cabin, while the seats’ centre inserts are perforated for adequate natural and forced ventilation. The leather itself is ultra-soft and therefore feels very upscale, while the seats’ side panels even felt as if they were trimmed in the same high quality hides, albeit in black. The instrument panel and doors get attractive patterned-aluminum inlays that feel like the real deal, while additional chrome embellishment brightens other key points around the cabin. If you want a bit more bling, you can opt for the SRT Interior Appearance Group that swaps out the aluminum inlays for real carbon-fibre while upgrading the instrument panel with a luxurious leather wrap, which might be a fine way to spend $3,250.

Like the front seats, the SRT’s standard second-row captain’s chairs are really comfortable and quite supportive all-round, while Dodge has added a useful centre console in between housing a set of cupholders and a stowage bin below the armrest. Second-row occupants can also access a panel on the rear portion of the front console incorporating two USB charge points, a three-prong household-style 115-volt charge plug, and toggles for two-way seat heaters, plus overhead there’s a three-dial interface for controlling the tri-zone auto HVAC system’s third zone, plus with a separate set of dome and reading lamps.

2019 Dodge Durango SRT
The standard second-row captain’s chairs are nearly as comfortable as those up front. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

You can acquire the 2019 Dodge Durango SRT for only $73,895 plus freight and fees, while CarCostCanada members are currently saving an average of $6,500 on all 2019 Durango trims, with up to $5,000 in available incentives alone. You’ll want to check out the 2019 Durango page right here at CarCostCanada to find out more, at which point you can see trim, package and individual option pricing, as well as money saving rebate info and dealer invoice pricing that could save you thousands.

My test model was also equipped with a $950 Technology Group that adds adaptive cruise control with stop-and-go, advanced brake assist, forward collision warning with active braking, plus lane departure warning and lane keeping assist, while a $2,150 rear Blu-Ray DVD entertainment system boasts two screens that can be flipped upward from the backside of each front headrest. Dodge includes a set of RCA plugs plus an HDMI input on the inner, upper side of each front seat, providing connection for external devices like game consoles, all capable of turning the Durango SRT into the ideal choice for a family road trip.

2019 Dodge Durango SRT
The Durango’s third row is ultra-spacious and there’s still room for cargo in behind. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

And there lies the beauty of this one-of-a-kind SUV. The Durango SRT is easily one of the fastest seven-passenger SUVs available, yet it’s comfortable for all, is capable of carrying a full load of passenger as well as their stuff, can tow a big trailer with ease, and do plenty more. I’d go so far to say it’s the best possible choice for fast-paced Canadian families, but you’ll need to exchange its three-season performance tires for a set of proper winters at some point in the fall (or sooner if you live on the Prairies), at which point it might be the ultimate ski resort parking lot doughnut machine.

 

Story and photo credits: Trevor Hofmann

2019 Kia Sorento SXL Road Test

2019 Kia Sorento SXL
Kia updated the Sorento’s styling for 2019, making big changes to the lower front fascia. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

Have you ever driving a Kia? Even sat inside one? If it was way back at the turn of the millennium it might not have been the best of experiences. Even Kia doesn’t promote its past in detail, the Korean brand celebrating its twentieth anniversary in Canada with limited edition models of its impressive Soul compact crossover and Stinger mid-size four-door coupe, but hardly paying tribute to the forgettable Sephia, Spectra and Magentis.

Those cars offered nothing better than their competitors, and certainly nothing new, instead relying on low pricing to pull in new buyers. Today’s Kia, however, builds vehicles you want to own in spite of their more renowned rivals, but first you’ll need to give them a chance, and that’s exactly what I’m recommending mid-size crossover SUV buyers do with the Sorento.

I’ve driven every Sorento generation, even the first 2002 model as part of its initial Canadian press launch, a vehicle that so impressed me I recommended it to my brother who kept his for nearly a decade. The redesigned 2010 model went from body-on-frame SUV to car-based crossover and therefore improved drivability as well as refinement, not to mention styling, while the 2016 model upped all of the above to entirely new levels. 

2019 Kia Sorento SXL
New LED taillights and a completely reworked rear bumper mark the changes from behind. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

My 2016 Sorento tester wasn’t even in top-line trim, yet I found myself awestruck by its shocking supply of soft-touch interior surfaces, blown away from finding cloth-wrapped roof pillars all-round, impressed with its sizeable full-colour high-resolution touchscreen infotainment system, wowed by its diminutive yet formidable 240-horsepower 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder engine, and simply satisfied by its overall goodness.

With not much changing over the past four years, plus an even more capable V6 on the options menu, one might think it would’ve remained high on my list of highly recommended mid-size crossover SUVs, and so it does except for one considerable detail, since testing this most recent 2019 Sorento I’ve also spent a week with the completely new 2020 Telluride, so I’m no longer recommending the Sorento quite as highly for seven-passenger crossover buyers.

To be clear, the seven-passenger Sorento’s price range slots in considerably further down Kia’s model hierarchy, beginning at $32,795 for the EX 2.4 and topping out with the 3.3-litre V6-powered $49,165 SXL on this page, which is hardly in the same class as the Telluride that starts at $44,995 and tops out at $53,995 for its SX Limited with Nappa. As expected, the recent arrival of the Telluride and next year’s forecast redesign of the 2021 Sorento have already resulted in a reshuffle of the mostly carryover 2020 Sorento’s trims, with today’s base LX FWD model and this top-tier SXL soon to be discontinued.

2019 Kia Sorento SXL
LED headlights, LED fog lamps and chromed 19-inch alloys depict this Sorento’s top-line status. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

So what about that upcoming 2021 Sorento? I expect it to follow in the tracks of the recently redesigned fourth-generation Hyundai Santa Fe that utilizes the same platform that the new Sorento will ride on, the former SUV only available with two rows and a maximum of five passengers for 2019, due to Hyundai now having a version of the Telluride all its own for 2020, named Palisade. The new Palisade is actually priced lower than the Telluride at $38,499, so we can expect the future 2021 Telluride to grow its trim line down-market with an SX model to slot below today’s base Palisade so as to provide a seven-passenger crossover option for more mainstream Kia shoppers after this seven-place Sorento gets cancelled.

Previously in this review I said that little had changed since the Sorento’s 2016 redesign, but it should be noted this 2019 model underwent a fairly extensive refresh, albeit somewhat more subtle with respect to styling. The big news is a new eight-speed automatic gearbox for its available 3.3-litre V6, and sadly the elimination of the aforementioned 2.0-litre turbo-four (an odd removal, being that the majority of challengers are swapping out their optional V6s for turbocharged fours in order to improve fuel-efficiency, but I’m guessing a stopgap ahead of the next-gen Sorento).

2019 Kia Sorento SXL
These LED taillights are standard on SX and SXL models. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

As it is, the 2.4, which produces 185 horsepower and 178 lb-ft of torque, now gets used for LX FWD, LX and EX 2.4 models, whereas the 3.3, making a maximum of 290 horsepower and 252 lb-ft of torque, adds performance to LX V6, EX, EX Premium, SX, and SXL trims. The six-speed autobox is the sole transmission with four-cylinder powered Sorentos, while the two extra gears only benefit the six-cylinder engine. As you may have guessed already, all trims excepting the LX FWD get all-wheel drive.

As with all modern-day multi-speed automatics fuel-efficiency is the main benefactor, but they also help an engine maintain peak output thanks to shorter shift increments, therefore improving performance. Nevertheless, the upgraded Sorento’s claimed fuel economy rating of 12.5 L/100km city, 9.7 highway and 11.2 combined isn’t as efficient at speed as the outgoing six-speed automatic and V6/AWD combination that received a rating of 9.3 highway. In the city, however, where most of us spend the majority of our driving time, the old model’s 13.2 L/100km rating means the new version is much thriftier, while the new eight-speed helps V6-powered Sorentos achieve a less significant 0.2 L/100km advantage.

In case you were wondering how much better the previous 2.0-litre turbocharged four with its six-speed automatic might compare against a new Sorento with the same engine and eight-speed, the old model’s rating of 12.3 L/100km city, 9.4 highway and 11.0 combined is actually better than the new eight-speed automatic in the totally redesigned 2019 Hyundai Santa Fe, which can only manage 12.3 city, 9.8 highway and 11.2 combined. That Santa Fe, incidentally, rides on the same all-new platform architecture as the next Sorento. 

2019 Kia Sorento SXL
The Sorento’s cabin gets closer to premium level execution than most of its rivals. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

With respect to the base 2.4 that’s available in the here and now, Kia claims 10.7 L/100km in the city, 8.2 on the highway and 9.5 combined with FWD, representing a big improvement in city driving over last year’s Sorento with the same powertrain, which could only manage 11.2 L/100km city, 8.3 highway and 9.9 combined despite zero changes (gear ratio mods?), while the 2019 Sorento 2.4 AWD achieves a rating of 11.2 L/100km city, 9.0 highway and 10.2 combined, compared to 11.5, 9.3 and 10.5 last year.

If you found yourself scratching your head over some of those fuel economy figures, a quick glance at the refreshed 2019 Sorento might also leave you wondering exactly what was changed stylistically. For instance, the new grille looks exactly like the old grille, as does the hood that’s supposedly changed too, but the lower front fascia is entirely new, the latter very noticeable on SX and SXL trims that previously had four larger LED fog lamps at each corner instead of the new half-sized combinations, the sections below now filled with what appear to be slatted brake vents, plus they’re now framed within taller, V-shaped chrome bezels.

The chromed door handles, chromed side window surrounds, and silver roof rails were part of my aforementioned 2016 SX tester as well, but the chromed side mouldings, 19-inch chrome alloys, and completely redesigned back bumper, which is now packed full of bright metal detailing, are all new. The updates make the Sorento classier than the pre-updated SUV’s sportier design, chrome embellishment normally having such an effect.

2019 Kia Sorento SXL
A partially digital gauge cluster includes a centre multi-info display that doubles as the speedometer. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

The 2019 refresh also provides renewed headlights and tail lamps infused with LEDs at both ends in SX and SXL trims, plus LED daytime running lights within the headlights, as well as LED fog lamps. Lower trims feature revised projector beam headlamps with LED positioning lamps, plus projector beam fog lights (on LX V6 to EX Premium trims), and conventional taillights with stylish new lenses. New colours join the usual assortment of updated alloy rims in 17-, 18- and 19-inch diameters wearing 235/65R17, 235/60R18 and 235/55R19 all-season rubber, depending on trim.

Moving inside, the 2019 Sorento gets an updated steering wheel, a new instrument cluster with bright electroluminescent analogue gauges to each side of a large digital speedometer that doubles as a comprehensive multi-information display, and a renewed centre with an updated infotainment touchscreen with Android Auto, Apple CarPlay and more. My favourite new convenience is the available wireless charging pad, although the new optional lane keeping assist and driver attention warning systems could prove even more important.

2019 Kia Sorento SXL
A large high-resolution touchscreen and dual-zone auto climate control combine for a comprehensive assortment of premium-level features. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

Those two safety upgrades are part of top-tier SXL trim, this model also providing forward collision-avoidance assist, a feature that’s now beginning to be included as standard equipment in competitive base models, but it’s not unusual to force an upward move to a mid-range trim for blindspot detection with rear cross-traffic alert, these two upgrades standard with the Sorento EX. The rest of the Sorento’s safety equipment is the segment’s normal standard fare, and therefore is included in all trims.

The previously noted base Sorento LX FWD starts at only $28,295 plus freight and fees, and is therefore an impressive value when put up against every other mid-size SUV, particularly when factoring in that it comes standard with 17-inch alloys, auto on/off headlights, chromed door handles, a heated and leather-clad multifunction steering wheel, Drive Mode Select with Comfort, Eco, Sport and Smart settings, three-way heatable front seats, a 7.0-inch centre display with the Apple and Android smartphone integration mentioned earlier, plus a backup camera, six-speaker audio, and plenty more.

2019 Kia Sorento SXL
The top-tier surround camera combines with front and rear sensors to make parking ultra-easy. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

Including all-wheel drive with the base LX model increases its window sticker by $2,300, the $30,595 trim also providing roof rails, proximity entry with pushbutton start/stop and the aforementioned wireless phone charger, while the same trim with the V6 and AWD increases the Sorento’s price by $4,500 to $35,095, while upping content to include fog lights, a sound-reducing windscreen, turn signals within the exterior mirror housings, an auto-dimming centre mirror, two-zone auto HVAC with auto-defog and separate third-row fan speed/air-conditioning adjustment, UVO Intelligence connected car services, satellite radio, an eight-way powered driver’s seat with two-way powered lumbar support, a third row for a total of seven passengers, trailer pre-wiring, and more.

At $2,300 less than the LX V6 AWD, and $2,200 more than the LX AWD, the four-cylinder-powered $32,795 EX 2.4 gets the just mentioned fog lamps, powered driver’s seat, and three-row layout of the V6-powered model, while also adding a gloss-black grille insert and leather seat surfaces, while the $38,665 EX with the V6 and AWD builds on both the LX V6 AWD and EX 2.4 models with 18-inch machined-finish alloys, a nicer Supervision LCD/TFT gauge cluster, express up and down power windows with obstacle detection all around, and a household-style 110-volt device charger, while the EX Premium starts $2,500 higher at $41,165 and adds front and rear parking sonar, power-folding outside mirrors, LED interior lights, an eight-way powered front passenger seat, a panoramic glass sunroof, rear door sunshades, and a power tailgate with smart gesture access.

2019 Kia Sorento SXL
These are some of the best seats in the mainstream mid-size SUV class, made even nicer with Nappa leather upholstery. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

Sorento buyers wanting a near-premium experience can choose SX trim that, for $45,165, $4,000 more than the EX Premium, includes most everything already mentioned as well as 19-inch alloy wheels, a chromed grille, stainless steel skid plates front and rear, a stainless exhaust tip, chrome roof rails, dynamic directionally-adaptive full LED headlamps, upgraded LED fog lights, bar type LED tail lamps, sound-reducing front side glass, illuminated stainless steel door scuff plates up front, perforated premium leather upholstery, plus a bigger 8.0-inch high-resolution infotainment touchscreen boasting rich colours and deep contrasts as well as quick reaction to tap, pinch and swipe finger inputs.

Additionally, the navigation system provides nice detailed mapping and accurate route guidance, while SX trim also includes an excellent 10-speaker Harman/Kardon premium audio system, ventilated front seats that keep backsides cool during summer heat, heated rear outboard seats that do the opposite in winter’s cold, plus more.

2019 Kia Sorento SXL
Everyone loves a panoramic sunroof, and the Sorento’s is particularly large. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

Finally, my as-tested Sorento SXL adds an additional $4,000 to the tally resulting in a maximum retail price of $49,165, which is considerably less than most fully equipped competitors, some that don’t offer the same level of luxury-grade features than LX trim, but this SXL is better yet thanks to even plusher Nappa leather upholstery, an electromechanical parking brake, a surround parking camera with a divided screen that includes a regular rearview camera with dynamic guidelines to the left and a 360-degree bird’s-eye view to the right, as well as high beam assist headlamps, adaptive cruise control, plus more.

All pricing was sourced right here on CarCostCanada, including trims, packages and standalone options for 2019 and 2020 model (not to mention 2018s, just in case you’re curious), while money-saving rebate info and dealer invoice pricing can add thousands to your potential savings. Actually, at the time of writing there were up to $6,000 in additional incentives available, so it’s well worth checking out.

2019 Kia Sorento SXL
The second row is spacious and comfortable. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

Of course, you’ll need to check in at your local Kia dealership to drive a new Sorento, and if you choose to I’m quite certain you’ll be impressed. The V6 is very smooth, as is the new eight-speed automatic that swaps gears almost seamlessly and quickly no matter the drive mode selected. I mostly kept it in its default Comfort mode, but Eco was smooth too, and good for saving fuel, whereas Sport mode let the engine rev higher and gearbox shift quicker than it otherwise would, making the most of the powerful V6. Smart mode pays attention to your driving style, the terrain and other factors before automatically choosing the best mode for a given situation, optimizing performance, comfort or economy.

Also good, the Sorento’s fully independent suspension is blissfully smooth too, although when pushed hard through fast-paced curves it manages well for such a big crossover utility. All in all the Sorento should be considered a sportier option than most of its seven-seat SUV rivals, but it’s superb seats, luxuriously soft surface treatments, and generous supply of premium-level features make it amongst the most comfortable in its segment.

2019 Kia Sorento SXL
The third row is sizeable enough for smaller folk, but those needing to haul a full load of adults should consider the new Telluride. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

Speaking of comfort, EX trims and above include four-way powered lumbar support that ideally applied pressure to the small of my back, while the LX V6 and EX 2.4 models’ two-way lumbar can’t be adjusted as personally. Of note, four-way lumbar isn’t always provided in the lower or upper classes, with Lexus forcing its RX 350 customers to pay $63,950 for a Luxury package or $69,850 for the Executive model before receiving optimal lower back support, with none of the model’s F Sport buyers getting such comfort at all, whereas Infiniti’s QX60 clients are completely out of luck no matter how much they’re willing to pay. An additional Sorento bonus is a driver’s seat squab that extends forward to add support under the knees, while the Nappa leather is amongst the best you’ll likely find in the entire volume-branded mid-size SUV class.

The second-row of seats is plenty spacious and almost as comfortable and supportive as the two seats up front, but the Sorento’s third row is probably best left for smaller- to medium-sized children, the Telluride now a better choice when the need to carry a full load of large teens or adults.

2019 Kia Sorento SXL
Storage under the cargo floor is made more useful thanks to its ability to securely lock the retractable tonneau cover in place when not in use. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

A few particularly upscale trim details include curving black lacquered appliqués on the backside of each front seat, something that I’ve rarely seen in anything less than a Bentley or Rolls-Royce. It’s an olde British take on luxury that isn’t often used these days, although a quick glance back at a previously covered 2019 Genesis G90 (which shares underpinnings with the dearly departed—from Canada—Kia K900) helps us put a finger on where Kia came up with the concept (scroll back through the photos for the same idea in hardwood). Sorento SXL trim also includes black lacquer on the steering wheel spokes, instrument panel and lower centre console surface, plus highlighting each door panel, although as attractive as it looks when brand new, I’m concerned it’ll scratch as it ages.

Those loading longer items such as skis into the cargo hold will appreciate that Kia has split the second row in the unusually ideal 40/20/40 configuration, allowing both rear passengers to enjoy the more comfortable and visually optimal window seats, not to mention the aforementioned heatable rear seats if equipped. This is a dealmaker for me, and usually only found in pricier European SUVs. I also liked the convenience of cargo wall-mounted levers that dropped each side of the second-row down automatically, right to the point of locking safely into place, this resulting in a large, flat loading floor that measures 2,082 litres (73.5 cu ft) in the bottom two trims or 2,066 litres (73.0 cu ft) in LX V6 trim and above behind the first row, 1,099 litres (38.8 cu ft) and 1,077 litres (38.0 cu ft) respectively behind the second row, and 320 litres (11.3 cu ft) behind the third row. There’s some extra storage space below the cargo floor, which even lets you stow the retractable cargo cover securely away when not being used.

2019 Kia Sorento SXL
Passenger/cargo flexibility is a Sorento strong point. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

It’s such details that make the Sorento so good, Kia’s rare attitude of going above and beyond that’s so wonderfully unique in the mainstream marketplace. They don’t have the luxury of resting on their laurels, so they work harder at impressing you than most Japanese peers, and definitely more so than the Americans. I always thought their global motto, “The Power to Surprise” was kind of hokey, but it really does make sense to those experienced with to their products. The Sorento, now Canada’s best-selling (mostly) seven-passenger SUV, is really that good. As for the Telluride, it’ll blow you away.

 

Story and photo credits: Trevor Hofmann

2019 Toyota Avalon XSE Road Test

2019 Toyota Avalon XSE
The all-new 2019 Toyota Avalon gets a massive new grille and sportier styling all around. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

If you’ve ever wondered how large the front grille of a car could get, you’re looking at it. It certainly doesn’t appear as if the new 2019 Avalon’s grille could get any larger, as it nearly covers the entire front fascia, but no doubt some will like this a lot more than the already gaping maw offered with the outgoing model.

The grille looks bigger in my tester’s entry-level XSE trim due to a glossy black surround in place of top-tier Limited trim’s chrome, while gloss-black mesh grille inserts appear darker and therefore more aggressive than the pricier trim’s matte-black horizontal strips. Following the XSE’s sporty theme rearward, Toyota adds glossy black door mirror caps plus a black lip spoiler on the trailing edge of the trunk, which is discreet in size albeit quite obvious when the car is painted in a lighter coating than my tester’s elegant Brownstone metallic.

Even my XSE tester’s base LED headlights look meaner than the Limited model’s enhanced triple-beam LEDs, while its previously classy tail lamps have been swapped out for a body-wide combination of angular lenses filled with LEDs, which rest overtop a sporty matte-black diffuser-style lower apron highlighted by four circular chromed exhaust pipes with the XSE, or two larger rectangular tailpipes for Limited trim. Additionally, the XSE rolls on machine-finish 10-spoke 19-inch alloy wheels with black-painted pockets for a more assertive look than the more premium looking Limited model’s silver multi-spoke 18-inch alloys.

2019 Toyota Avalon XSE
The new Av replaces the previous car’s elegance for an edgier new look. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

One thing we can surmise from the Avalon’s 2019 redesign is their unwillingness to quietly watch their flagship luxury sedan get eaten alive by SUV sales, even if those utilities were RAV4s and Highlanders. A brand’s flagship needs to garner a certain amount of respect, and after decades of somewhat forgettable designs the Av’s dramatic new styling should allow it to do just that.

In my opinion, the 2005–2012 fourth-generation Avalon was the most attractive ever. It was an elegant sedan that delivered surprisingly good performance than previous iterations as well. It wouldn’t be right to call it a sport sedan, but the big Av has continued to get better as the generations and refreshes passed, and now this fifth-generation, especially in base XSE form, is the most capable off the line and around curves yet.

Before filling you in on its driving dynamics, some background info: My tester’s base XSE trim line is not the least expensive version in North America. OK, let me be more specific. If you take the U.S. base price of $35,800 USD and then convert it into Canadian dollars you’ll in fact need to pay $47,128 CAD, or $4,338 more than our base price that’s actually a much better equipped model. South of the 49th the Avalon is available in XLE, XLE Hybrid, XSE, Touring, Limited and Limited Hybrid trims, which is three times as many trims as offered here in Canada. Of course, the hybrids aren’t available here, Toyota choosing to leave electrification to Lexus and its ES 300h (basically the same car as the Avalon Hybrid under the skin).

2019 Toyota Avalon XSE
Standard LED headlights and 19-inch alloys give the Avalon XSE an aggressive new look. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

Interestingly, the pricier ES 350 and ES 300h combine for about five times as many buyers than the Avalon, but possibly even more interesting is the fact that both Lexus models are 35 times more popular in the US than in Canada, while Americans purchase the Avalon 100 times more often than Canadians, at least based on sales figures since the beginning of this year. So far, year-to-date Avalon deliveries are a paltry 212 in Canada compared to 22,453 in the US, whereas Lexus Canada’s ES sales reached 1,081 units compared to 37,896 across the line. When factoring in that the US is less than 10 times the population of Canada, it’s easy to see how much more popular these two cars are Stateside.

So either you’re American, enjoying a Canadian journalist’s point of view about your favourite car, or you’re a very, very, very rare Canadian considering a very good car that doesn’t get enough attention (you could also be an anything-car-related-junkie getting your fix on the new Av, but that’s just weird). Either way, the Avalon has exclusivity in its corner, which has an appeal of its own. Unless you’re the kind of person who likes to nod at all the folks driving Camrys as if you’ve got something special in common, you might just appreciate having Camry drivers (and everyone else) looking over at this very interesting luxury car they may have never seen. You’re unlikely to see one pulling up to the stop sign across the street, or find one parked beside you after the game, and that’s a shame as Camry XSE and XLE owners (the most obvious candidates) won’t know what they’re missing (not to mention that they can get into an Avalon for little more than they paid for their Camry).

2019 Toyota Avalon XSE
A single body-wide LED tail lamp replaces its predecessor’s more conventional smaller lights. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

This new generation is more likely to get noticed than any previous iteration, but everything said the current trajectory for large sedan sales is down. Even the dominant Dodge Charger and Chrysler 300 twosome that achieved 4,704 combined sales over the same three quarters endured a fairly steep 14.15 and 39.31 percent slide respectively, while General Motors’ Chevy Impala and Buick LaCrosse, which pulled in 2,075 collective sales over the same time period saw their numbers fall 16.96 and 15.13 percent apiece, which without doubt made those within GM’s inner circle feel better about their cancellation. Nissan’s 710 year-over-year Maxima sales were off by 7.07 percent, which isn’t all that bad compared to every other car in this category; Toyota’s previously noted 212 Avalon deliveries resulting in a 17.19-percent downturn. And then there’s Kia that only managed to find 19 new Cadenza owners since January 1st, resulting in the category’s harshest 54.76-percent deep-dive to near oblivion. One has to wonder why Kia hasn’t discontinued the Cadenza for the Canadian market (it recently did so with the K900), and wonder more why they’re audaciously introducing an entirely new 2020 model as I write. Brave or foolish? You be the judge.

All of the cars in this class are worthy of attention, with most having served as their various brands’ flagships. This means they’re usually well stocked with all of the features offered in lesser models, and for the most part this is true for the $42,790 base Avalon XSE. Its standard features menu includes plenty, such as the previous mentioned LED headlamps and LED taillights, as well as 235/40R19 all-season tires, proximity keyless access, pushbutton start/stop, a power tilt and telescopic steering column, a leather-clad multifunction steering wheel, a 7.0-inch multi-information display, a 9.0-inch centre touchscreen with Toyota’s own Entune along with Apple CarPlay smartphone integration (but no Android Auto), SMS/text- and email-to-speech functions, advanced voice recognition, decent sounding eight-speaker audio with satellite radio, Bluetooth audio streaming, a handy wireless smartphone charger, four USB charge ports, a power glass sunroof, an eight-way power-adjustable driver’s seat, a six-way power front passenger seat, breathable Softex leatherette upholstery, heated front seats, an auto-dimming centre mirror, a remote garage door opener, two-zone automatic climate control, plus more.

2019 Toyota Avalon XSE
Like the exterior, the new Av’s cabin is all-new and completely modernized. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

Entune Safety Connect is standard as well, including automatic collision notification, a stolen vehicle locator, an emergency assistance (SOS) button, and enhanced roadside assistance, while standard advanced driver assistance and safety systems include auto high beams, adaptive cruise control, automatic emergency braking with pedestrian detection, lane departure alert with steering assist, blindspot monitoring and rear cross-traffic warning, plus all the expected active and passive safety features including two airbags for the front occupants’ knees, etcetera.

The Avalon’s multi-information display mentioned a moment ago sits within an otherwise analogue gauge cluster, hardly anything unusual about that, but rather than just a glorified trip computer it also provides in-depth infotainment functions such as route guidance instructions exactly where needed. Atop the centre stack, the large touchscreen also shows navigation mapping in a high-resolution display, the only truly colourful application, and while Toyota’s new Entune interface is a bit drab its proprietary smartphone integration is excellent, even better than Android Auto in my opinion. You can connect to numerous functions, plus music and additional info such as traffic conditions, fuel stations, weather forecasts, stocks, etcetera via plenty of apps including Scout GPS, Yelp, Slacker, NPR One and more.

2019 Toyota Avalon XSE
Mostly analogue, the Avalon’s gauge cluster gets a large colour multi-info display at centre. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

Those still needing more will want to go for the $47,790 Limited model, which includes smaller more comfort-oriented 235/45R18 all-season tires, the previously mentioned triple-beam LED headlights, more sophisticated LED tail lamps, ambient interior lighting, a 10-inch colour head-up display unit with customizable settings, a heated steering wheel, four-way power lumbar support for the driver’s seat, driver-side memory, semi-aniline leather upholstery, cooled front seats, heatable rear seats, a surround-view bird’s-eye parking camera system, navigation/route guidance, 1,200-watt 14-speaker JBL Clari-Fi surround-sound audio, Toyota Premium Audio Connected Services, a three-year subscription to Scout GPS Link, front parking sensors, autonomous rear cross-traffic braking, plus more.

The list of premium-level features above is impressive, but truly some should be standard in the base XSE I was driving. After all, the base model is getting close to $43k, so charging Canadians $5k more for a heatable steering wheel doesn’t seem right. Of course, you’ll receive a bevy of additional features with that warming wheel, but it’s hard to designate any car a “luxury” offering without this feature when so many lesser models (including Toyota’s new Corolla) offer one optionally, while some brands are even doing so as standard equipment (Kia’s $16k Forte).

2019 Toyota Avalon XSE
Fabulous centre stack is highly functional. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

As for interior refinement, the Av provides plenty soft, pliable surfaces above the waist, including the entire dash top plus both front and rear door uppers, and the middle portion of instrument panel that features an even softer padded and stitched surface treatment, while just below is a lovely textured metallic inlay and wonderfully stylish three-dimensional metallic and black horizontal section that extends into the corner vents. The lower portion of the dash, glove box lid included, gets the segment’s usual hard plastic treatment, this spreading over to the lower door panels as well, although each door’s middle section, just under the aforementioned soft composite upper, gets a soft-touch synthetic treatment of its own, plus ultrasuede and stitched leatherette.

Outdoing the previous model’s centre stack was a tall order, and I can’t say they made the new version more appealing than the old car’s metal-finished surfacing and hollowed-out hockey stick-shaped switchgear that was totally unique and quite fabulous, but the new model’s gloss-black, glass-like design is certainly more modern and up-to-date, the upper portion standing upright like a fixed tablet while melding seamlessly into the centre infotainment touchscreen, and appearing to be held up by side buttresses that allow access to a big wireless device charging pad resting under a retractable bin lid, whereas the lower section provides digital HVAC controls including a neat row of narrow aluminized buttons, plus more. This satin-silver highlighting actually frames most of the centre stack, as well as the shift lever and cupholder surrounds plus elsewhere in the cabin, while comforting stitched and padded leatherette wraps the edge of the lower console. While shared such niceties, that should also include fabric-wrapped A-pillars, with a few premium-grade shortcomings, most should be impressed with the Avalon’s refinement.

2019 Toyota Avalon XSE
These inherently comfortable seats only provide two-way powered lumbar. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

Just in case you were wondering whether or not to move up to an Avalon from the barely smaller Camry, which incidentally shares Toyota’s TNGA-K (GA-K) platform architecture with the Avalon, as well as Lexus’ previously noted ES, the namesake brand’s flagship sedan is 100 mm (4.0 in) longer from front to back, with a 50-mm (2.0-in) longer wheelbase, plus it’s 10 mm (0.4 in) wider and only slightly lower by 10 mm (0.4 in) as well. The new Av takes up more real estate than its outgoing generation too, with its length increased by 20 mm (0.8 in) to 4,980 mm (196.0 in), its wheelbase longer by 50 mm (2.0 in) to 2,870 mm (113.0 in), its width having grown by 15 mm (0.6 inches) to 1,850 mm (72.8 in), and its overall height down by 20 mm (0.8 in) to 1,440 mm (56.5 in), the end product therefore looking longer, wider and lower for a more athletic stance.

Along with its dramatic new look, the updated Avalon provides more output under its hood, its sole engine being an upgraded 3.5-litre V6 that now puts out 10 additional horsepower and an increase of 17 lb-ft of torque resulting in a new maximum of 278 horsepower and 265 lb-ft of torque, while the XSE model I tested also includes an “Engine Sound Generator” that enhances the engine’s aural sensation by pumping a more entertaining (albeit artificial) exhaust note through the audio system when Sport mode gets selected. Incidentally, BMW does the same with its highly revered M models and Ford does likewise its Mustang and Ecoboost-powered F-150 pickup trucks (as no doubt do a number of others), with the end result being a more entertaining performance experience.

2019 Toyota Avalon XSE
There’s no shortage of rear seat room. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

Better yet, Toyota has conjoined this modified V6 to a completely new eight-speed automatic gearbox (not a continually variable transmission, or CVT, like the Av’s supposed sportier Nissan Maxima), which means that its aging six-speed automatic is now history. Added to this are shift paddles on the steering wheel to make the extra gears and additional power a more hands-on affair.

Quietly hidden below the Av’s new avant-garde sheet metal is an elongated version of the more rigid, nimbler chassis that also enhanced the latest Camry, and as noted makes the new Lexus ES a lot more enjoyable to drive than any previous generation, while on top of this this XSE model’s front MacPherson struts and rear multi-link design gets some extra sport tuning and bigger 19-inch alloys to improve its handling further. All of the above makes it much more fun through fast-paced corners than its already capable predecessor, and while hardly a sport sedan, it would be a worthy opponent against any of its full-size, front-drive semi-luxury competitors.

In spite of all the just-noted go-fast goodies, the Av’s ride quality once again places comfort above performance, its smooth, compliant ride ideally suited to its primary luxury sedan role, and even that new multi-speed automatic engineered to shift slower than a performance fan would want in order to maintain a sense of decorum to the benefit of each and every occupant.

2019 Toyota Avalon XSE
The Avalon’s spacious trunk can be expanded with a 60/40-split rear seatback. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

By all occupants I’m also referring to the driver, who is especially cared for by a particularly good seating position. This hasn’t always been the case for Toyota, which didn’t provide enough reach from their steering wheel columns more often than not, but the automaker is improving across its wide model range in this regard. Therefore, I was able push the Avalon’s primary seat amply rearward for ideal legroom thanks to a steering column that extends far enough in the same direction to bend the elbows while hands rested at the optimal 9 and 3 o’clock positions.

All said I was disappointed with driver seat’s two-way powered lumbar support, especially when factoring in that most competitive brands provide much better four-way power lumbar support in this price range, which does a much better job meeting up to the small of my back. This forced me to not use the powered lumbar at all, but fortunately the seats offered good support without any lower back adjustment, while the back seats are equally comfortable and surrounding area ultra-accommodating. Along the same theme, the Av’s trunk is sizeable at 456 litres (16.1 cu ft) and provides 60/40 split-folding extendibility for stowing long cargo, but a pass-through down the middle would’ve improved the car’s usability even more.

All in all, most premium sedan shoppers choosing to spend a bit of time with the new Avalon should like it. It’s a well built car, as all of us should expect from Toyota, offers expected be dependability, comes stuffed full of most features anyone could expect in a $40k-plus four-door, and delivers good comfort with unexpectedly strong performance.

Additionally, now that this 2019 model year is ending and the unchanged 2020 Avalon is about to arrive, Toyota should be quite motivated to rid themselves of all remaining stock, which is likely why you can to now save up to $2,500 in additional incentives (at the time of writing). You can learn about all the details right here at CarCostCanada, and while you’re at it learn about 2019 and 2020 model year pricing info, including trims, packages and individual options, plus make sure to check out the latest rebates and dealer invoice pricing that puts you in the driver’s seat when negotiating your new car.

Story and photo credits: Trevor Hofmann

2019 Volkswagen Passat Wolfsburg Edition Road Test

2019 Volkswagen Passat Wolfsburg Edition
This is the final year for this generation of Passat, so it’s only available in one Wolfsburg Edition trim. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

Thank you Volkswagen. You’ve made my job so much easier today. While researching the 2019 Passat for this review, I learned that it’s only available in a single, solitary, one-size-fits-all trim line for this stopgap year, the Wolfsburg Edition getting very close to last year’s top-tier Passat Highline (which replaced the Execline from 2016). This allows me to spend more time on other details such as styling, cabin quality, comfort, driving dynamics, etcetera.

The Giorgetto Giugiaro-designed Passat (originally named Dasher in our market) has been with us since 1973, initially delivering an upscale Audi-inspired look in five-door hatchback and wagon body styles, the former replaced by a regular sport/luxury sedan dubbed for its second B2 generation. The B3 redesign that arrived in 1988 finally applied the Euro nameplate to North American models, and while I really liked this third-gen Passat, particularly in its most potent VR6 trim, as well as the B4 that followed, my heart went out to the 270 hp 4.0-litre W8-powered AWD B5 version most earnestly. Earlier B5s were also the first Passats I tested as an automotive journalist newbie in the early 2000s, back when this German brand impressed me like no other.

That was a time when Volkswagen was comparable to Audi for its performance and overall refinement, the amazing Bentley-based Phaeton luxury sedan arriving the following year with a choice of 335-horsepower V8 or 420-horsepower W12 behind its unassuming grille, not to mention $96,500 and $126,790 respective prices, while not long after that the brand’s 309-hp Touareg V10 TDI was on the scene, putting out a shocking 553 lb-ft of torque. Volkswagen appeared to be vying for luxury brand status during those years, a strategy that kind of made sense in Europe where parent automaker VW AG also owned lesser brands Skoda and Seat to pull in entry-level buyers, but not here where the iconic Beetle manufacturer was known more for economy cars.

2019 Volkswagen Passat Wolfsburg Edition
Still stylish after all these years. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

By comparison, today’s VW-branded cars and crossover SUVs still deliver some premium features not often available with every competitor, like cloth-covered roof pillars (albeit only the A pillars these days), full high-definition TFT primary gauge clusters, and the convenience of a rear seat centre pass-through for stowing long cargo (or better yet, 40/20/40 split-folding rear seats), soft pliable composite surfaces aren’t as plentiful, switches, knobs and buttons can now be less dense and therefore cheaper feeling, and rear suspension systems aren’t necessarily independent anymore (unlike most rivals that are now IRS-equipped, the latest Jetta has reverted to using a rear torsion beam setup).

I think the Passat looks good though, particularly in my tester’s attractive Tourmaline Blue Metallic. It’s one of six exterior paints for 2019, which include white, black, grey and silver, plus a beautiful Fortana Red Metallic, all no-cost options, while sporty R-Line outer trim comes standard this year too. Additional standard features include automatic on/off LED headlights with LED daytime running lamps, LED tail lights, and fabulous looking silver-painted twinned five-spoke 19-inch Salvador alloy wheels encircling 235/40 all-seasons, and that’s just on the outside.

To my eyes the cabin looks even better due to VW’s communications team choosing gorgeous Cornsilk Beige for my test car’s interior (it can be had in black or grey as well, depending on the exterior colour chosen), the creamy colour offset by a contrasting black dash top, door uppers and carpets. VW has been producing this rich light beige and black interior motif for decades, including the horizontal ribbing on the leather seat upholstery. It looks sensational, complemented by sophisticated looking textured metal, brushed aluminum, chrome and piano black lacquer elsewhere.

2019 Volkswagen Passat Wolfsburg Edition
Standard exterior features include LED headlights, 19-inch alloys and a sporty R-Line package. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

Standard features include proximity keyless entry with pushbutton start/stop, a leather-wrapped multifunction steering wheel rim with shift paddles, a colour multi-information display/trip computer, a leather-wrapped shift knob and handbrake lever, brushed stainless steel foot pedals, rain-sensing windshield wipers, heatable washer nozzles, two-zone automatic climate control, an auto-dimming centre mirror, a power sunroof, three-way heated front sport seats, an eight-way powered driver seat with two-way power lumbar, driver’s side memory, heatable rear seats, front and back LED reading lamps, an Easy Open trunk, 60/40-split rear seatbacks with a centre armrest and centre pass-through, plus more for $32,995.

That seems like a reasonably good deal already, but it gets better due to a $2,000 no-haggle discount that comes as a parting gift of sorts. Find out about this discount and any other rebates right here at CarCostCanada, and while you’re learning more you can also access dealer invoice pricing, which will make it as easy as possible to meet your budget requirements.

I should also go into some detail about the Passat’s infotainment system, which measures 6.33 inches and even includes proximity sensing, which means a row of digitized buttons rise up from the bottom of the touchscreen when your fingers get near. While the display is relatively small compared to most competitors’ top-line systems, it process info quickly, includes tablet-style tap, swipe and pinch gesture functions, which are especially useful when using the route guidance-system’s map, and even includes MirrorLink smartphone integration, along with the usual Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. Bluetooth is also standard, of course, with audio streaming for listening to music or podcasts from your personal device, while additional standard infotainment features include voice activation, an SD card slot, and one of the worst backup camera systems I’ve used in a long time. Why? Much of the display’s top section was cut off in a semicircular due to a wide-angle lens that was probably trying to provide more visibility, but it actually made things a lot worse, plus VW didn’t include active guidelines either.

2019 Volkswagen Passat Wolfsburg Edition
The two-tone interior motif is truly elegant. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

The six-speaker Fender premium audio system is good enough for this class, however, with nice deep bass from its subwoofer, while satellite radio stations came in clearly, the inclusion of a CD player will be appreciated by many, and the single USB audio/charging port made me grateful VW wasn’t still trying to promote Apple, although I’m hoping the next-generation has a few more. Speaking of new, the I hopped into the latest 2020 GTI after giving the Passat keys back and am now hopeful that its considerably larger touchscreen, along with its superb resolution and excellent depth of contrast and colour make it into the 2020 Passat, or something similar.

Moving downward on the centre stack, past the HVAC interface that incidentally suffered from loose rotating dials, there’s a lidded compartment for stowing and charging a smartphone. It has a rubberized base, like usual, but oddly it wasn’t big enough for my average-sized phone, which kind of made me glad VW hadn’t installed a wireless charging pad. It did include the just noted USB-A port and as well as an auxiliary connection next to an old-school 12-volt plug, so you should be able to charge multiple devices at any given time (with the help of an aftermarket USB adapter).

Close by, to each side of the shift lever, is a row of “buttons”, or at least they all look like buttons. One deactivated the front and rear parking sonar, while another turned on the semi-autonomous self-parking system, but the other four were merely dummy buttons that made the car look as if it was missing some key features. I noticed it was devoid of a heatable steering wheel, something I appreciate on cold winter mornings, a problem made worse when the flat-bottom leather-wrapped sport steering wheel in question is so incredibly good. The front seats weren’t ventilated either, a function I’m getting more and more used to finding in top-line competitors’ trims.

2019 Volkswagen Passat Wolfsburg Edition
Classic but effective, these analogue gauges aren’t nearly as flashy as the new Jetta’s digital cockpit. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

The Passat’s standard menu of safety enhancements impresses, however, with items like automatic emergency braking, blind spot monitoring with rear cross-traffic warning, lane keeping assist, adaptive cruise control, driver assistance, park distance control and park assist adding enough high technology to the driving experience as to almost forget about those missing buttons. Better yet, the way these systems chose not to intervene until absolutely necessary had me liking the Passat even more. No one likes over-sensitive technology, especially with respect to safety equipment capable of taking over the wheel, and fortunately the Passat’s were hardly noticeable throughout my test week. It was only when I tried to exit the highway without using my turn signal that the side-assist system fixated on the white line, pulling me back into my lane. I quickly turned my blinker on and was able to move over, and no doubt could have forced it over if I’d wanted to, but VW gets high marks for making advanced driver assistance systems that are only there when absolutely necessary.

Previously in this review I mentioned that Volkswagen’s cabin materials aren’t as high in quality now as they used to be, so I should probably go into some more detail about how this affects the Passat. For the most part it’s equal to most competitors, but this makes the car seem less than ok being that it was much better than average years ago. Right up until this US-made seventh-generation model arrived nine years ago, the Passat provided a much greater percentage of premium-level soft padded surfaces than any rival, but now it’s noticeably below average. It’s as if VW AG, the parent company, didn’t want its namesake brand stealing any sales from Audi, so therefore purposely made the Passat’s interior worse than it needed to be, just to be sure. To be clear, some parts are extremely good, like the soft composites used for the dash top and door uppers, but the lower dash panels and glove box lid, plus the centre stack sides and lower door panels are made from lower grade hard plastics, and upstaged by most competitors. This leaves some areas better than average and others not quite measuring up, and depending on whether you see your glass half full or half empty, you’ll either be thrilled with all that’s good or left feeling flat about the car’s weaknesses.

2019 Volkswagen Passat Wolfsburg Edition
A bit small, but the Passat’s infotainment system is quite good. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

I felt much the same about the Passat’s sole 2.0-litre four-cylinder engine. Its 174 horsepower and 184 lb-ft of torque comes close to matching most rivals’ base powerplants, but it’s hardly a base model despite the aforementioned discount. Last year’s 3.6-litre V6 upgrade provided an option for those wanting more, but no such luck for this year’s performance fans. Fortunately its modest torque figure feels stronger than it looks, probably due to arriving at its maximum at only 1,500 rpm, so takeoff is fairly energetic off the line and there’s ample passing power for most manoeuvres, but a model that once offered 4Motion all-wheel drive now solely gets driven by those up front, and the transmission that sends the engines output to the front wheels only has six forward speeds, which might have been a big deal fifteen years ago, but doesn’t sound all that advanced when put up against today’s eight- and nine-speed automatics.

The 2020 Passat will remedy the latter problem with an eight-speed of its own, but no AWD or manual transmission for that matter, two features enthusiasts would love to see, but the current model’s paddle shifters got everything out of the engine it had to give, just like the future one will make the most of even more available torque, resulting in a really enjoyable car to drive.

I appreciated the extra control, because this mid-size family hauler can dance with more grace than most four-door sedans in this class, even at high speeds. Of course its suspension is fully independent, with struts up front and a multi-link setup in back, plus a stabilizer bar at each end, and it’s all very well sorted for a bit more grip at the limit and better balance than the segment average. It will understeer when pushed too far, which is a good thing in this category, and its ride should keep all aboard happy, despite being slightly firmer than average.

2019 Volkswagen Passat Wolfsburg Edition
These horizontally ribbed leather seats make the Passat look downright ritzy. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

Fuel-efficiency is quite good at 9.3 L/100km city, 6.5 highway and 8.1 combined, no doubt why Volkswagen chose the four-cylinder for this model’s sole power unit in place of the V6. Such practicality in mind, you won’t need to worry about anything that might go wrong with the Passat for a year longer than most rivals thanks to an almost comprehensive four-year or 80,000 km warranty, although it’s powertrain warranty is shorter than average by a year or 20,000 km.

Now that we’re being pragmatic, the Passat’s front seats and surrounding area is amply roomy for big folks, while the driver’s seat is comfortable, but like the suspension it’s a bit firmer than most in this class. It features two-way powered lumbar support that just so happened to ideally match up to the small of my back, while its lower cushion stretched forward enough to support nicely below the knees.

The rear seating compartment is roomier still, and plenty comfortable, while a 450-litre (15.9 cubic-foot) trunk should be more than adequate for most owners’ needs, especially when considering its 60/40 split-folding rear seatbacks have the advantage of a centre pass-through for loading in longer items like skis.

2019 Volkswagen Passat Wolfsburg Edition
The rear seating area is amply roomy and quite comfortable, plus there’s a centre pass-through above the armrest. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

These are some of the 2019 Passat’s worthy attributes that I hope are carried forward into the new model, but in the same breath I’m also wishing Volkswagen steps up with more competitive interior quality so that it at least matches the refinement of this segment’s sales leaders. After all, it’s the slowest selling mid-size four-door sedan in Canada by a long shot, so arriving in today’s highly competitive marketplace with a lukewarm update wouldn’t be the best of ideas. Let’s hope they get it right. Until then, the 2019 Passat does some things very well and others not so much, but it’s currently priced right and the deal could be made even sweeter by finding out its dealer invoice price here on CarCostCanada before talking to your local Volkswagen retailer.

Story and photo credits: Trevor Hofmann

2019 Subaru Legacy Sport Road Test

2019 Subaru Legacy Sport Road Test
The Legacy offers up a sporty design that’s even more alluring in as-tested Sport trim. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

The new 2020 Legacy is starting to arrive at Subaru dealers across Canada as I write this review, and fans of the current 2019 model should like what they see. The updated mid-size sedan gets renewed styling, revised engines, and a reworked interior, but exterior styling is so muted that most won’t notice the 2019 model leaving and the 2020 ushered in. So why am I covering yesterday’s Legacy when tomorrow’s is nearly hear? Subaru dealers have new 2019 models on their lots, and this very good car is available for very good prices. 

As per CarCostCanada, a 2019 Legacy buyer can pocket up to $3,000 in incentives, and that’s before factoring in a personal discount derived from haggling or your trade-in. Follow this CarCostCanada link to learn about 2019 Legacy pricing, including trims, packages and individual options, plus you also need to find out about rebates and dealer invoice pricing that could save you thousands. 

2019 Subaru Legacy Sport
Sport trim adds sill extensions, unique alloy wheels and gloss black trim, the latter used for its diffuser-style rear bumper. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

For a bit of background info, the Legacy was refreshed for 2018, which means this 2019 model was unchanged. The version reviewed here is in mid-range $31,695 Sport trim, which hovers above the base $24,995 2.5i CVT, $28,295 Touring, and $29,795 Touring with EyeSight; EyeSight being Subaru-speak for its suite of advanced driver assistance systems including auto high beams, adaptive cruise control, autonomous emergency braking, rear proximity warning with reverse auto braking, blindspot detection, lane departure warning and lane keeping assist. Sport trim comes standard with EyeSight, as does top-line $33,795 Limited 2.5i trim and the $36,795 Limited 3.6R. 

As you may have guessed, 2.5i and 3.6R designate the Legacy’s respective standard and optional engines, the latter having been replaced by the higher output 2.4-litre turbocharged four-cylinder introduced in last year’s Ascent mid-size SUV; the 2020 Outback crossover wagon gets this change too. Comparing the two engines shows 256 horsepower and 247 lb-ft of torque for the old 3.6R and 260 horsepower and 277 lb-ft of torque for the 2.4i, resulting in four more horsepower and 30 additional lb-ft of torque. 

2019 Subaru Legacy Sport
Sport trim includes LED headlamps, fog lights and special machine-finish 18-inch alloy wheels with black painted pockets. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

The base 2.5-litre four-cylinder gets updated too, but the 2020 model only gains six horsepower and two lb-ft of torque resulting in 182 horsepower and 176 lb-ft compared to 175 horsepower and 174 lb-ft of torque, but 90 percent of its parts have been upgraded, with straight-line performance improvements secondary to gains in fuel-efficiency. 

This means the 2020 Legacy 2.5i has been designed to achieve an estimated 8.8 L/100km city, 6.7 highway and 7.7 combined Transport Canada rating compared to 9.3 highway, 7.0 city and 8.2 combined, while 2.4i fuel economy improvements from the old 3.6R equal 9.9 L/100km city, 7.3 highway and 8.5 combined compared to 11.9 city, 8.3 highway and 10.3 combined. With standard all-wheel drive the Legacy can’t quite measure up to most front-drive rivals in base trims, but it should be noted that even the old 3.6R is more efficient than the Camry’s optional V6. 

2019 Subaru Legacy Sport
These satin-silver mirror caps are standard with Sport trim. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Instead of diving too deeply into the differences between old and new Legacy models, I’ll only mention some key points as this review continues. As stated at the onset of this road test, styling enhancements appear so insignificant that I would’ve been careful to call it a refresh if I hadn’t already been made clear it’s a full redesign. Strangely, Subaru Canada didn’t even mention styling in its 2020 Legacy press release, but this subtle redesign may help the outgoing sixth-generation model hold resale/residual values higher. I find both generations attractive enough while sportier than most competitors, while Subaru obviously isn’t trying to lure in potential customers by being extroverted, like Toyota is with its latest Camry. 

Then again, the Legacy’s conservative styling may be a good reason its sales are slow. To but it into perspective to the just-noted Toyota, Subaru sold 1,298 Legacys from January 1 to September 31, 2019, which is just slightly more than 11 percent of the 11,579 Camrys delivered during the same three quarters. A more positive viewpoint is its success over the Kia Stinger, Mazda6, Honda Clarity plug-in, Buick Regal, Volkswagen Passat, and VW Arteon, while it came within striking range of the Kia Optima. This has it placing eighth out of 14 competitors, which isn’t too bad at all. Still, the Legacy’s tally pales when compared to Subaru’s own Outback that found 7,756 buyers over the same nine months, the tall mid-size crossover wagon being basically the same vehicle below the skin. 

2019 Subaru Legacy Sport
The Legacy’s cockpit looks totally modern despite on its way out. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Success on the sales chart doesn’t always validate a given vehicle’s goodness or badness, however, and to that end the Legacy doesn’t labour from any disadvantages other than being a bit smaller than most mid-size sedan challengers. In fact, Subaru has an impressive record, achieving “Best Overall” brand in Consumer Reports’ most recent 2019 Annual Report on Car Performance, Reliability, Satisfaction and Safety, while it tied with Chrysler in the same publication’s “Best Road Test Score Mainstream” category. The Japanese brand also scored above average in J.D. Power’s latest 2019 Vehicle Dependability Study, but found itself below average in the same company’s 2019 Initial Quality Study. Nevertheless, the 2019 Legacy achieved top-spot amongst “Mid-Size” consumer sedans in Vincentric’s latest “Best Value In Canada” award, as did the Outback in its class. 

After time well spent in this 2019 Legacy, I’m willing to bet that interior quality gave the car a boost upward in these various rating and award programs. Highlights include a premium-level soft composite dash top and instrument panel, the latter stitched across its lower edge in traditional Subaru blue, while the blue stitching theme trimmed the inner portion of the leather-clad sport steering wheel rim as well, plus each armrest and the leatherette-covered seat bolsters, the seats otherwise upholstered in an attractive light grey material. 

2019 Subaru Legacy Sport2019 Subaru Legacy Sport
Great looking analogue gauges surround a nice colour multi-info display. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Additional cabin niceties included genuine-looking high-gloss carbon-fibre inlays on the instrument panel and doors, this conjoined to attractive satin-silver metallic adornment, while glossy black surface treatments combined with matte-finish black composites and even more satin-finish and chromed metal accents for an interior Legacy owners can be proud of. Front and rear door uppers receive the same luxuriously padded soft-touch composite as that on the dash, and Subaru also covers the front “A” pillars in cloth for to reduce noise and add yet more premium-class feel. 

Even with the upcoming 2020 Legacy sporting a renewed interior boasting a gigantic 11.6-inch vertical display (aside from the new base model that only gets a 7.0-inch touchscreen), this 2019 outgoing model still looks very current. In fact, its 8.0-inch touchscreen (improved by an inch and a half over the base 2019 model) looks as good as most anything else in the class due to its big gloss-black surrounding surface area that extends outward from the centre stack as if it’s one massive display. 

2019 Subaru Legacy Sport
The Legacy’s 8.0-inch infotainment touchscreen is very advanced. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

The actual touchscreen gets a deep blue background that’s detailed out with unique star graphics, this overlaid by colourful tablet-like tiles for selecting its various functions. The dynamic guideline-enhanced rearview camera is very good, while together with standard infotainment features such as Android Auto, Apple CarPlay and Subaru’s own StarLink smartphone integration system, other features include AM/FM/satellite/Aha radio, a CD player, MP3/WMA compatibility, a USB port and aux plug, SiriusXM advanced audio services, SiriusXM Travel Link, Bluetooth with streaming audio, and four speakers, while Touring and above trims include the bigger display as standard plus another USB port and two more speakers. 

Those wanting a navigation system, much improved 576-watt, 12-speaker Harmon/Kardon audio, plus a heated steering wheel, heated rear outboard seats, leather upholstery, 18-inch alloys and more will need to opt for previously noted Limited trim, while items pulled up to the Sport model from lower trims include a 10-way powered driver’s seat with two-way power lumbar support that lined up with the small of my back fairly well, cruise control, and heatable front seats from the base model, two-zone auto HVAC, a powered moonroof, and fog lamps from Touring trim, and proximity keyless access with pushbutton start/stop along with a 5.0-inch LCD multi-information display within the gauge cluster from the Touring model with EyeSight. 

2019 Subaru Legacy Sport
Dual-zone automatic climate control is always appreciated. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

As for this Legacy Sport trim, it gets unique 18-inch machine finished alloy wheels with black-painted pockets, LED headlamps with cornering capability, a gloss-black grille surround, satin-silver side mirror caps, chrome adorned side sill extensions, and a diffuser-like rear valance framing two large chromed tailpipes, but be informed this value-packed trim line will not be offered with the 2020 car. The new model’s sportiest trim sources its GT designation from Subaru’s storied history, and due to past GT’s getting engine upgrades will come exclusively with the more powerful 2.4i engine in both a new Premier model and a revised Limited trim. 

Subaru’s legendary symmetrical full-time all-wheel drive with active torque vectoring comes standard as (almost) always, and it makes a considerable difference to how it drives in all conditions. We should remember that Subaru developed its AWD system on track and trail thanks to decades of World Rally Championship competition, and it still builds the awesome WRX that won so many WRC titles. Many don’t realize that Subaru rallied the Legacy as well, although not as successfully. It competed in Group A from ‘89 through ‘93, but its lone race win during its last year of competition was hardly as legend building as the Impreza’s trio of championships. Still, can you name another mid-size family sedan that’s even managed one single WRC win? Didn’t think so. 

2019 Subaru Legacy Sport
Attractive black and grey upholstery features stylish blue contrast stitching. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Therefore it makes sense the Legacy is one of the more enjoyable cars in its mid-size class to drive, not particularly for straight-line acceleration (it could really benefit from the WRX STI’s 310-horsepower turbo-four), but more so for its handling. Nevertheless it moves off the line with decent energy, at least when compared to other base powertrains in its segment, while its Lineartronic CVT provides smooth operation at all times. 

Shift paddles provide a more hands-on driving experience, these combining with six stepped gears that make the continuously variable transmission feel closer to a conventional automatic, at least when not trying to extract everything out of the engine, but this said if you’re looking for the type of lightning-quick shifts offered by a dual-clutch gearbox or even a high-end premium-level automatic, this CVT won’t cut it. I sometimes used the paddles for downshifting, this process allowing for a sportier feel plus the benefit of engine braking down steep grades, but that was about it. 

2019 Subaru Legacy Sport
Roomy and comfortable, the Legacy’s back seat lives up to mid-size sedan buyers’ needs. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Subaru reminded that a CVT’s design can also help smooth out a vehicle’s ride quality, and it’s entirely possible this is one reason its ride quality is so good. Still, the Legacy handles well too, its fully independent MacPherson strut front and unequal length short/long arm double wishbone rear setup managing fast-paced curves with grace and composure, its 225/50R18 Goodyear Eagle LS all-seasons no doubt doing their part as well. It’s a confidence-inspiring car when driving quickly, plus it’s just as good at weaving through congested city traffic or stretching its legs on the highway. 

Speaking of stretching one’s legs, Legacy offers plenty of room in all positions, particularly up front in the driver’s position where I had no trouble getting comfortable. I’m guessing most should fit in well thanks to good adjustability all-round. My long-legged, short-torso five-foot-eight body was able to position the seat ideally to reach the top portion of steering wheel rim when the tilt and telescopic steering column was pulled all the way back. This meant the driver’s seat was positioned farther back than most five-foot-eight drivers would need to, but fortunately this didn’t seem to impinge on rear seat legroom at all. 

2019 Subaru Legacy Sport
No shortage of space in the Legacy’s accommodating trunk. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

I had almost 12 inches from my knees to the backside of the front seat when positioned directly behind, plus room to totally stretch my legs out with winter boots stuffed below. Additionally, I had loads of room next to the window, plus a wide, comfortable folding armrest with dual cupholders in between, while there were three inches of space over my head, so a six-foot teen should squeeze into the back quite comfortably. As for back seat goodies, two USB charging points are included in upper trims, although bookworms won’t have the benefit of individual reading lights overhead.

There’s more than enough room for all kinds of cargo in the big 425-litre (15 cu-ft) trunk, plus it can be expanded by the usual 60/40 split-folding rear seatbacks, releasable via a set of handles under the rear shelf. This is where I make my regular request for 40/20/40-split rear seatbacks or at least a centre pass-through, which would allow long items like skis to be placed down the middle while both rear outboard seats can be put to use. Upgraded with rear seat warmers the Legacy would be the best ski shuttle in the class. All said there aren’t many mid-size sedan rivals that offer this level of back row seating/cargo flexibility, but you’d think automakers would be trying to make this more efficient segment as practical as possible instead of forcing those with active lifestyles to opt for an SUV.

2019 Subaru Legacy Sport
A centre pass-through or 40/20/40-split rear seat would make the Legacy the ideal ski shuttle. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Minor gripe aside, you’d be well taken care of in a 2019 Legacy. According to The Old Farmer’s Almanac this winter will get more snow than average, which means an all-wheel drive vehicle will make your driving life easier and safer. On top of this, fuel isn’t about to get any cheaper, at least not permanently, so an AWD car might be ideal if your lifestyle allows. Only the new Altima, Stinger and Arteon provide standard AWD, but the latter two four-door coupes aren’t as practical as the Legacy and cost quite a bit more, while Buick’s Regal is more expensive and only offers AWD on its pricier trims. Therefore, if you want the added safety and performance of AWD in a regular mid-size sedan it’s a showdown between the Altima and this Legacy. You should try them both.

 

Story credit: Trevor Hofmann

Photo credit: Karen Tuggay