2019 Hyundai Sonata Ultimate Road Test

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Story credit: Trevor Hofmann 

Photo credit: Karen Tuggay

2019 Buick Regal GS Road Test

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Story credit: Trevor Hofmann 

Photo credit: Trevor Hofmann

2019 Subaru Ascent Premier Road Test

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Story credit: Trevor Hofmann 

Photo credit: Karen Tuggay

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

Story credits: Trevor Hofmann  

Photo credits: Porsche

2019 Ford Explorer Limited 4×4 Road Test Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Story credit: Trevor Hofmann 

Photo credit: Karen Tuggay

2019 Hyundai Santa Fe 2.0T Ultimate Turbo AWD Road Test

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Story credit: Trevor Hofmann 

Photo credit: Trevor Hofmann

2019 Toyota Highlander Hybrid Limited Road Test

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Story credit: Trevor Hofmann 

Photo credit: Karen Tuggay

2019 Infiniti Q50 Signature Edition Road Test

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Story credit: Trevor Hofmann 

Photo credits: Karen Tuggay

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Story credit: Trevor Hofmann 

Photo credit: Karen Tuggay

2019 Honda Pilot Touring Road Test Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Story credit: Trevor Hofmann 

Photo credit: Karen Tuggay