CarCostCanada

Toyota Venza comes back from six-year hiatus with hybrid electric power

2021 Toyota Venza
Toyota will bring back its Venza nameplate for 2021, but it will be a taller more SUV-like crossover than the previous version.

Sometimes automakers make choices that don’t seem to make much sense at the time, but for reasons we outsiders will never know, vehicles get cancelled that really should have lived on.

The 2009–2015 Venza was one such vehicle, a five-occupant mid-size crossover SUV that, while a bit more wagon-like than utility, due to Toyota already offering its rugged, truck-based, off-road capable five-passenger 4Runner, nevertheless filled an important void in the brand’s North American lineups.

Thanks to fairly good initial sales, Toyota would’ve arguably found more traction if it had chosen to bring back a redesign after four to five or years or so, rather than cancel it after six. At least the Japanese brand has a recognizable nameplate to fall back on now that it’s ready to reenter one of the more profitable auto segments. The new Toyota Venza will therefore launch in Canada as a 2021 model, starting this summer. 

While standard with all-wheel drive, more unexpectedly is the announcement of a standard hybrid drivetrain. This follows Toyota’s commitment to electrify its entire lineup by 2025, and therefore the new Venza will be joined by a wholly redesigned 2021 Sienna that will only be available with a hybrid electric drivetrain as well.

2009 Toyota Venza
The original 2009-2016 Venza was ahead of its time.

Additional Toyota vehicles sold with the automaker’s full hybrid drive system include the now legendary Prius, also with available with new AWD-e four-season capability, plus the new Corolla Hybrid, the Camry Hybrid, the RAV4 Hybrid, and the Highlander Hybrid, while the Prius Prime offers plug-in, 100 percent electric (EV) motive power for short distances at city as well as highway speeds, plus last but not least is the Mirai hydrogen fuel-cell-powered EV.

Since the first-generation Venza was discontinued, Toyota hasn’t offered a two-row, five-passenger crossover SUV in the mid-size class. As noted the iconic 4Runner remains a 4×4-capable off-roader competing more directly with Jeep’s Wrangler and soon Ford’s new Bronco, so it won’t attract the same kind of soft-roader clientele. Ford in mind, its Edge will be one of the Venza’s direct competitors, while the even more popular three-row Explorer will continue to duke it out against Toyota’s recently redesigned Highlander. Of note, the Edge was the best-selling mid-size SUV in calendar year 2019 thanks to 19,965 sales, compared to the Highlander that only found 13,811 new Canadian owners. What’s more, Ford sold 29,632 Edge and Explorer models collectively last year, and that impressive sales lead doesn’t even factor in that 2019 was a terrible year for the Explorer due to Ford’s slow rollout of the all-new 2020 version. Ford claimed that production issues were at fault, but either way year-over-year Explorer sales were down 47 percent plunge in Canada during 2019, so we can expect the disparity in Ford’s mid-size SUV sales lead to grow even more in 2020 (overall sale will be down, however, due to COVID-19).

2021 Toyota Harrier
The 2021 Toyota Harrier looks very similar to the new Venza.

As of December 31, 2019, five two-row mid-size SUVs sold better than the Highlander in the Canadian mid-size SUV segment. The Edge was followed by Hyundai’s Santa Fe (which is now available solely as a five-passenger model due to the new three-row Palisade) that found 18,929 new customers last year, whereas Jeep’s Grand Cherokee attracted 18,659 new owners in 2019. Kia’s Sorento (now also sold with just two rows thanks to Kia’s new Telluride) also beat Highlander sales with 16,054 deliveries down the road during the same 12 months, while Chevy’s all-new Blazer sold 15,210 units last year. Nissan only sold 12,000 Muranos in 2019, but when this model finally gets a redesign it will probably find more takers than the three-row Highlander too, so it’s clear that the new 2021 Venza critically important for Toyota.

Toyota is taking a significant risk by only offering a single hybrid drivetrain, particularly because this choice will undoubtedly make the Venza more expensive to build and sell than rivals’ gasoline-powered counterparts, but it nevertheless should be well received by those wanting to save fuel and reduce pollutants. A recent spike in fuel prices may make some Canadians more open to spending more on a hybrid powertrain, but even with pump prices higher now than in recent months they remain relatively low when compared to the last couple of years.

There should be no fears about Toyota hybrid reliability, mind you, as the brand initiated the entire market segment with its first-generation Prius in 1997 (in 2000 as a 2001 model here in Canada) and garnered an enviable reputation for near bulletproof dependability for all of its various hybrid-electric drivetrains.

1999 Toyota Harrier
The original 1999 Toyota Harrier looks almost identical to the Lexus RX 300 of the same era.

No Transport Canada five-cycle fuel economy figures have been announced yet, but Toyota estimates the new 2021 Venza to manage a combined city and highway rating of 5.9 L/100km, which will make it the most fuel-efficient vehicle in its class. Of note, the brand employs active grille shutters in order to minimize drag, aiding fuel economy at highway speeds.

The original Venza shared its platform architecture with the Japanese domestic market (JDM) Toyota Harrier, amongst other Toyota/Lexus products such as the Camry and Highlander. The Harrier was even more closely aligned with our Lexus RX (particularly the first-generation Harrier that was barely disguised when it debuted as the 1999 Lexus RX 300). Over the five-plus-year period that Toyota didn’t offer the Venza in Canada, covering 2016 until today, a third-gen Harrier came and went in the JDM, but now that we have photos of both the fourth-gen Harrier and the new 2021 Venza it’s easy to see the similarities between these two vehicles.

Toyota will use its well-proven 2.5-litre Atkinson-cycle four-cylinder hybrid powertrain for the new 2021 Venza and upcoming 2021 Sienna, this drivetrain also powering the Camry Hybrid, RAV4 Hybrid and Highlander Hybrid (as well as the Avalon Hybrid in the U.S. market). The powertrain’s combined system output is 219 horsepower, making it identical to the 2020 RAV4 Hybrid, although more powerful than the Camry Hybrid that only puts out 208 hp, and not as potent as the new 2020 Highlander Hybrid that makes a total of 240 hp.

2015 Toyota Harrier
A version of this 2015 Toyota Harrier could’ve been our Venza if Toyota had decided to keep the model in the North American markets.

The new Toyota Hybrid System II drivetrain incorporates a lighter lithium-ion battery that improves efficiency as well as performance. Like the RAV4 Hybrid and Highlander Hybrid, the Venza receives two electric motors that provide maximum torque almost immediately at takeoff. The rear motor provides motive power to the rear wheels, which Toyota calls Electronic On-Demand All-Wheel Drive. The rear-mounted motor only engages when the back wheels experience slippage, at which point the drive system can appropriate up to 80 percent of system torque to the wheels behind. This said the system defaults to front-wheel drive so as to minimize fuel usage, and only uses its rear wheels when necessary.

Speaking of fuel savings, the Venza includes an Eco mode that “changes the throttle and environmental logic” to enhance overall efficiencies, states Toyota in a press release, while Normal and Sport modes (the former “ideal for everyday driving” and the latter sharpening “throttle response”) also come standard, whereas an EV mode allows limited use of full electric motive power at “low speeds for short distances,” just like Toyota provides with its other non-plug-in hybrid models.

2021 Toyota Venza
The new 2021 Venza offers slick, premium styling.

Toyota claims the new 2021 Venza’s regenerative braking system, which captures otherwise lost electricity caused by kinetic brake friction and then reroutes it to the model’s electrical system, provides better control than in previous hybrid generations, and in fact can be used for “downshifting” via the sequential gear lever’s manual shift mode. Each downshift increases the regenerative system’s braking force in steps, which “fosters greater control when driving in hilly areas,” says Toyota, while the hybrid system also benefits ride comfort by “finely controlling the drive torque to suppress pitch under acceleration and deceleration.” Toyota calls this differential torque pre-load, and it’s particularly useful when taking off from a corner or managing curves on both normal and slippery road surfaces. This feature also aids steering performance at higher speeds, plus it improves straight-line stability and controllability on rougher road surfaces. Additionally, Toyota incorporates new Active Cornering Assist (ACA) electronic brake vectoring into the Venza so as to minimize understeer and thus improve handling yet further.

The new 2021 Venza is built on the Toyota New Global Architecture K (TNGA-K) platform that also underpins the 2018–present Camry, 2019–present Avalon, 2019–present RAV4, 2020 Highlander, and the redesigned 2021 Sienna, not to mention the 2019–present Lexus ES and upcoming Lexus NX and RX replacements. In a press release Toyota states that the TNGA-K architecture helps the Venza deliver an “intuitive driving experience” with “greater driving refinement,” including “comfortable urban and highway performance” and “predictable handling, plus low noise, vibration, and harshness (NVH).” The new Venza features extensive high-strength steel for a more rigid body structure that helps improve its front strut and rear multi-link suspension’s ride quality and handling, plus its overall safety.

2021 Toyota Venza
Toyota will offer a fully digital gauge cluster in top trims.

The new base Venza LE rides on an 18-inch set of multi-spoke two-tone alloy wheels, whereas XLE and Limited trims arrive standard with a set of 19-inch multi-spoke super chrome finished alloys.

Inside the cabin, the near top-line Venza XLE and the fully-loaded Limited model get advanced touch-sensitive capacitive controls on their centre stack instead of the LE’s physical buttons, although you’ll probably notice the big 12.3-inch centre infotainment touchscreen first. This said even the base model’s 8.0-inch centre display is big for an entry-level model.

The Venza’s larger upgraded infotainment system receives a 1,200-watt, 12-channel, nine-speaker (with sub) JBL audio system that Toyota claims to be “sonically gorgeous,” plus embedded navigation with Destination Assist comes standard too. The new nav system features switchable driver or front passenger operation, while both systems include smartphone integration from Apple CarPlay, which comes complete with its Siri voice control system, as well as Android Auto with its Google Assistant, while Bluetooth wireless connectivity is also included.

2021 Toyota Venza
A large 12.9-inch infotainment touchscreen will make the Venza ultra advanced.

Advanced technologies in mind, the Venza will make a fully digital instrument cluster available in upper trims, not to mention a 10-inch colour head-up display that will project key information, like vehicle speed, the hybrid system’s details, and TSS 2.0 safety and driver assist functions, onto the windscreen ahead of the driver, while an electronic rearview mirror with an auto-dimming function plus a HomeLink garage door opener will provide a clearer rear view, which will be especially helpful when rear passengers and/or luggage is interrupting rearward vision. The electronic rearview mirror only needs the flick of a switch to go from conventional to digital operation.

When moving up to Limited trim, parking lot safety is further improved via a 360-degree bird’s-eye view from a surround camera system that Toyota calls its Panoramic View Monitor. The standard camera gets “projected path” active guidelines as well as an available “rear camera cleaning system [that] sprays washer fluid to clear away water droplets, mud, snow, and snow-melting road treatments from the lens,” says Toyota.

Wireless phone charging is another area Toyota leads most rivals, so it’s no surprise the Venza makes this handy feature available, while additional options include ventilated front seats, proximity Smart Key for all four doors plus the tailgate (the latter also providing hands-free powered operation), plus more.

2021 Toyota Venza
Upper trims receive touch-capacitive controls on the centre stack.

More in mind, new “Star Gaze” is a fixed electrochromic panoramic glass roof that can instantly switch between transparent and frosted modes by flicking a switch on the overhead console. Toyota claims the frosted mode “brightens the interior while reducing direct sunlight, giving the cabin an even more open, airy, and inviting feeling.”

What’s more, each Venza trim comes standard with Toyota’s TSS 2.0 suite of advanced safety and driver assistance features such as pre-collision system and automatic emergency braking with pedestrian and cyclist detection, blind spot monitoring, lane departure assist, rear cross-traffic alert, lane tracing assist, automatic high beams, and full-speed adaptive cruise control.

As for interior roominess, we can expect the Venza’s passenger compartment to be similar in size to the first and second row of the new Highlander that as noted earlier shares underpinnings, which should make it more accommodating than the current RAV4. It’s possible to carry up to 1,027 litres (36.2 cubic feet) of cargo behind the rear seats, which is oddly 32 litres (1.1 cu ft) less than what you’ll find in a compact RAV4, that model good for 1,059 litres (37.4 cu ft) of dedicated cargo space, while the Highlander provides 1,010 litres (35.6 cu ft) more space when its third row laid flat.

Pricing for the 2021 Venza will be announced closer its summer arrival date.

Story credits: Trevor Hofmann

Photo credits: Toyota

CarCostCanada

2019 Kia Sorento SXL Road Test

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Story and photo credits: Trevor Hofmann

CarCostCanada

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