2019 Buick Encore Essence AWD Road Test

2019 Buick Encore Essence AWD
Buick will redesign its popular Encore for 2020, but this 2019 model still provides a lot of value, practicality and refinement for the price.

When you think of Buick, does the word “global” come to mind? While those outside of North America and China may not have ever heard of the Buick brand name, most of its models are sold under alternative badges in other jurisdictions, such as Opel in continental Europe, Vauxhall in the UK, plus Holden in Australia and New Zealand, while the cars and crossover SUVs sold here are often made somewhere else.

For instance, I recently reviewed a 2019 Regal GS (see the 2020 model here) that was designed by GM’s German and Australian divisions cooperatively, with input from its North American and Chinese arms, and then built in Rüsselsheim, Germany, plus Shanghai for the Chinese market, the latter assembly plant producing the LaCrosse full-size sedan (check out the newest LaCrosse here) as well, a car I last reviewed in 2017, although our variation on Buick’s flagship four-door is assembled at the General’s Detroit/Hamtramck plant.

A nameplate you may not be as aware of yet plays a more important role in Buick’s future is its compact Envision crossover SUV (check out the refreshed Envision here) that I reviewed the same year. While the Envision is related to both Chevy’s Equinox and GMC’s Terrain it was mostly designed and fully produced in China, plus is the first mass-produced vehicle to be fully assembled in China and sold to the U.S. and Canadian markets.

2019 Buick Encore Essence AWD
In top-line Essence trim with all packages included, the Encore just eclipses $40k.

The only U.S.-built vehicle to receive a Buick badge after the LaCrosse departs later this year will be the mid-size three-row Enclave (see the redesigned 2020 Enclave here) crossover SUV, made in Lansing, Michigan. Even the soon-to-arrive mid-size five-occupant Envoy, reportedly based on the new Chevrolet Blazer, will probably be produced in GM’s Coahuila, Mexico plant, where the Blazer currently calls home, but quite likely the upcoming Enspire, an SUV planned to squeeze in between the Encore and Envision, will be produced at the GM Fairfax facility in Kansas, being that initial hopes to import it from China aren’t appearing as promising as they once did.

Finally, the Encore hails from GM’s South Korean division that was formed from the remnants of Daewoo Motors. It’s produced in Bupyeong-Gu, Incheon next to the Chevrolet Trax, which incidentally is mostly the same subcompact SUV below the surface.

We’ll see a totally redesigned Encore for 2020, although we’ll need to wait until spring to purchase it. Today’s version hasn’t changed much since its stylish refresh for the 2017 model year, while it’s still in its first-generation, meaning it hasn’t been changed (much) below the skin since it arrived in 2012. I’ve tested and reviewed this model right from the beginning, and always appreciated it for what it was and still is, a nice, comfortable, quiet, fuel-efficient, surprisingly refined, even more surprisingly enjoyable to drive, reasonably well-featured, spacious city car/crossover with good all-season capabilities when AWD is added.

2019 Buick Encore Essence AWD
The LED headlamps and fog lights are standard in top-tier Essence trim, but the 7-spoke chrome alloys are optional.

For the above reasons I believe the Encore is one of the more intelligent buys in the entry-level subcompact sector, particularly for those of us who like being pampered. The 2019 Encore can be had for only $26,400 (plus freight and fees) before topping out at just north of $41k when all options and the majority of accessories get added, which is about where the majority of premium-badged players start off. To be fair, however, true luxury-branded subcompact SUV “rivals” such as BMW’s X1, Mercedes’ GLA, Audi’ Q3 and the list goes on are in a different league than Buick and this Encore when it comes to performance, interior finishings, available features, and all-important prestige.

Outside of China, where Buick has never really lost its premium sheen since the tailings of its dynastic era and once promising Republic rule, the three-crested badge doesn’t demand as much respect as Cadillac, which (unfortunately for GM) doesn’t impress to the degree of the previously noted German marques or even relative upstart Lexus. The Toyota-owned subsidiary only just ventured into this subcompact luxury SUV marketplace with its UX, a stylish little crossover that probably targets the type of comfort- and efficiency-first buyer the Encore attracts more closely, and therefore has quickly found significant traction on the sales charts to Audi’s dismay (the Q3 now sits in third behind the BMW X1 and Mercedes-Benz GLA-Class, or fourth if including the Encore).

2019 Buick Encore Essence AWD
Two-tone leather is a no-cost option with the 2019 Encore Essence.

Buick found 10,637 Encore customers in Canada through 2018, and continues to do quite well in the more mainstream volume-branded subcompact SUV segment too, achieving fifth place out of 17 challengers last year, with all but the Mini Countryman priced lower, the German-owned Brit asking $31,690 for its base SUV, although that model most often sells for more than $40k and can easily top $50k when adding features. That John Cooper Works Countryman is one of the better performing small SUVs at any price, mind you, while the Encore’s customers are much more interested in the attributes noted earlier, such as comfort, quietness, fuel efficiency, etcetera.

Achieving a high level of refinement is difficult in a small vehicle, and making matters worse the Encore is one of the smallest in its class. It’s actually smaller than the current Countryman as well as the older first-generation model (the current one has grown quite a bit), and it’s also smaller than the Nissan Qashqai, Toyota C-HR and Jeep Compass, not to mention all the premium-badged subcompact SUVs. This said the Encore is bigger than the Honda HR-V, Kia Soul, Ford EcoSport and a number of others, with some closer to its size being the Mitsubishi RVR, Nissan Kicks and Hyundai Kona, and finally a couple of SUVs nearly identically sized being Jeep’s Renegade and Mazda’s CX-3. Still, the Encore is tall enough that headroom will only be an issue for giants, while its cargo carrying capacity is also spacious.

2019 Buick Encore Essence AWD
The nicely organized dash provides a good assortment of premium features and plenty of soft-touch surfaces.

Lower its 60/40-split rear row and the little Encore can carry up to 1,371 litres (48.4 cubic feet) of cargo, and this is made easier thanks to seatbacks that lay flatter than most competitors due to their folding process that requires each lower cushion to first be flipped up and forward ahead of manually lowering each headrest and folding each backrest down. It’s certainly more labour intensive than its competitors’ seat systems, but the end result is more usable space.

While all this is good, what would you do if you needed to stow something longer and more awkward than most subcompact models can accommodate, such as a cupboard, small wardrobe, a stack of 4x4s for building a fence, or simply a big, beautiful carpet that you just had to have? Simple, put your significant other (or child) directly behind you in the back seat and drop the front seatback down for full front to back storage. You can load 2.4 metres (8.0 ft) of what-have-you inside, which is impossible with most competitors. By the way, when all seats are upright there’s 532 litres (18.8 cubic feet) in the very back, which is approximately what you’d find in full-size sedan’s trunk, also impressive. As just made clear, the many passenger and cargo configurations capable in the Encore makes it more practical than most rivals, which is a key reason why it’s long been so popular.

2019 Buick Encore Essence AWD
Classic analogue gauges with a reasonable large multi-info display provide good legibility in all lighting conditions.

Driving dynamics should be high up on its list of positive attributes too, but not for sportiness or anything so trivial. Of course, its MacPherson strut front and compound crank (torsion beam) rear suspension allows it to go quickly enough around corners, while it takes off fast enough from stoplights, plus feels plenty stable at highway speeds and beyond, but more importantly the Encore is really easy to drive. It starts with superb sightlines in every direction due to its tall ride height and ample side and rear glass. The Encore’s ride quality is very compliant too, expected from Buick. It soaks up pavement imperfections without issue, while its oh-so quiet when compared to its mainstream compact SUV rivals. This is where Buick’s QuietTuning makes such a difference, the Encore’s standard active noise cancellation and extra insulation helping to reduce road and wind noise while adding to its sense of quality.

Depending on where you live in Canada or your lifestyle, you’ll want to decide whether you’ll be ok with front-wheel drive or if all-wheel drive is needed. The Encore can provide either, AWD adding $2,000 to the base model’s price tag for a new $28,400 total, while for only $1,030 you can also upgrade the base 1.4-litre turbo-four’s sequential multi-port fuel injection with more technologically advanced Spark Ignition Direct Injection (SIDI), which increases its output from 138 to 153 horsepower and raises torque from 148 lb-ft to 177. The upgrade also adds Start-Stop technology to the Encore’s standard six-speed automatic transmission, this shutting off the engine when it would otherwise be idling, and then automatically restarting it when lifting off the brake pedal.

2019 Buick Encore Essence AWD
A nice tablet-style touchscreen provides a comprehensive menu of infotainment features.

My Encore test model incorporated both upgrades, making a major difference during standing starts, particularly in slippery conditions, while the extra power and added traction improved hill climbing, cornering, and passing manoeuvres, not to mention its drivability around town. Thanks to a 1,386-kilogram (3,056-lb) curb weight, this AWD model doesn’t require much power to get it going, while this general lightness makes it easy to slalom through tight city streets, especially when congested, all the while being particularly good on gas.

The base FWD Encore achieves a claimed 9.4 L/100km city, 7.8 highway and 8.7 combined rating, while the identical engine with AWD is estimated to get 9.9 in the city, 8.1 on the highway and 9.1 combined. Even more impressive, combining the additional power of SIDI with advanced Start-Stop technology actually reduces the Encore’s fuel usage to 8.9 L/100km in the city, 7.5 on the highway and 8.3 combined when hooked up to its FWD drivetrain, or a respective 9.4, 7.9 and 8.8 with its top-line AWD SIDI combination, making this reasonably priced upgrade well worth it.

While inherently less efficient as a continuously variable transmission (CVT), the go-to gearless autobox of most subcompacts and compacts these days, the Encore’s more conventional six-speed automatic is much more enjoyable to drive, especially with thumb planted on the gear knob-mounted rocker switch that prompts manual mode.

2019 Buick Encore Essence AWD
This isn’t a CVT, but a much more entertaining 6-speed automatic with manual mode.

First you’ll need to pull the shift lever all the way back to its “M” or manual position, and then shift away to your heart’s content. While the gearbox lets the engine rev right up to redline without shifting, unusual for a vehicle in this class, making it feel sportier than rivals that don’t, I wouldn’t go so far as to say the Encore is a serious sport model, particularly when revving the engine higher than normal for everyday use, at which point it makes more noise and causes more vibrations than most will appreciate, par for the course in this class. Still, shift it earlier (and you can, as there’s no shortage of torque in the lower rev range) and the Encore will get you where you’re going quickly while providing plenty of fun along the way. All said I found it best in a more relaxed state, which allowed the little Buick to make the most of its smooth ride and general comfort.

Part of getting relaxed is a good driving position, and the rake and reach of the Encore’s tilt and telescopic steering column, combined with fairly good adjustment of its driver’s seat, made optimizing comfort and control easy. I have longer legs than torso, which often forces me to push the entire seat rearward, leaving the distance to the steering wheel farther than arm’s reach. Fortunately this is no problem with the Encore, despite its partial powered seat adjustments that only include the lower cushion, and optional powered two-way lumbar support. The backrest needs to be reclined, or in my case inclined manually, which worked well enough, while the lumbar support luckily found the small of my back well enough (not always the case with two-way/in-and-out designs).

2019 Buick Encore Essence AWD
The seats are comfortable, but lack high-end functions like cooling and full powered adjustability.

The driver’s seat is inherently comfortable, and I appreciated its minivan-like folding centre armrest, while my tester’s Shale beige leather upholstery (Ebony black or Brandy wine are also on the menu) and attractive contrast stitching looked good, but I wouldn’t go so far as to call them fancy. Buick doesn’t offer cooling seats, for example, or even the leather perforations to keep them naturally ventilated amid summer’s heat, although the three-temperature seat heaters got plenty hot when set to high, and the heated steering wheel rim could be set up to automatically turn on with when starting the car. I loved that feature, and only wished Buick would make the seats follow suit.

Speaking of equipment, Buick simplified the Encore lineup this year with only three trims including Preferred, Sport Touring and Essence. Base Preferred trim includes 18-inch alloys, proximity keyless entry with pushbutton start/stop, a big 8.0-inch centre touchscreen featuring a backup camera with dynamic guidelines, Android Auto and Apple CarPlay smartphone integration, plus plenty of additional features, while yet more base features include a cargo cover and 10 airbags to go along with plenty of other passive and active safety gear.

2019 Buick Encore Essence AWD
Headroom is over the top generous, and comfort is pretty good for the subcompact SUV class too.

The move up to the 2019 Encore’s mid-range Sport Touring trim starts at $28,400 and adds fog lamps, a rear rooftop sport spoiler, and remote engine start, while my tester’s top-line Essence trim starts at $31,700 or $34,730 with AWD, and includes the heatable steering wheel noted earlier, leather seats with driver’s memory and heated cushions up front, an auto-dimming centre mirror, a garage door opener, and blind spot warning with rear cross-traffic alert.

You can spend a bit less if you want the last two items in lesser trims, the available Safety Package also including a three-prong household-style 120-volt power outlet in back, while those choosing Essence trim can get the $1,110 New Safety Package II boasting all of the just-noted features above plus forward collision alert, lane departure warning, rain-sensing wipers, an air ionizer, and front/rear parking sensors.

My tester included that group of features as well as the $3,050 Experience Buick Plus Package, which deducts $650 due to the inclusion of all the New Safety Package II items, while adding a unique set of 18-inch seven-spoked chromed alloys, navigation/route guidance, and a power moonroof.

2019 Buick Encore Essence AWD
Folding the rear seatbacks down takes a bit more work than usual, but the result is an almost totally flat load floor so it’s worth it.

All of the above made for well-equipped urban runabout, with better interior quality than most non-premium challengers offer, and only slightly less refinement than the higher echelons of luxury provide. Details include cloth-wrapped A pillars, soft-touch surface treatments for the dash plus front and rear door uppers, and an attractively padded and stitched leatherette instrument panel bolster.

The instrument cluster is laid out in a traditional design, with its analogue tachometer at the left and speedometer on the right, plus its gas gauge and temperature readout sitting above a decent sized colour multi-information display at centre. It’s fairly fully featured, but obviously not offering the wow factor of some competitors’ digital gauge clusters. Only time will tell if Buick goes so far with its updated 2020 Encore, or even its pricier models, but we can likely expect improvements either way.

Framing those gauges is a standard steering wheel that feels sportier and thicker than most will expect from such a practical and price-sensitive SUV, and on that note its leather wrap is nicer than expected as well. Stylish satin-silver accents get added to the lower edge of its 9 and 3 o’clock spokes, plus its large lower centre spoke, this trim feeling cool to touch and therefore coming off as real aluminum. There’s more of this metal trim elsewhere, plus the door handles are chromed to help brighten things up inside, while some tastefully applied piano black lacquer adds to the Encore’s upscale interior ambiance.

2019 Buick Encore Essence AWD
If you need to load in longer items, just fold down the front seatback too.

The aforementioned infotainment system incorporates Buick’s newest touchscreen interface, which apes Chevrolet’s impressive system in all the best ways. This said it’s not as colourful a la Apple’s iPhone or iPad, but rather provides a more sophisticated looking blue on black motif. I found the system’s optional navigation system worked well with accurate route guidance, while its audio functions were easy to operate and satellite radio reception was better than average. The big screen provided a clear rearview camera too, but I was a bit miffed that no 360-degree surround camera system was on the options list, normal for an SUV hoping to attract premium buyers.

I was also disappointed to learn I couldn’t charge my smartphone wirelessly. In fact, I couldn’t even fit my medium-sized Samsung S9 on the rubberized tray included, so I suppose a wireless device charger would’ve been a moot addition, but Buick did include some USB charging ports, plus an aux input and a 12-volt charger. No doubt the next-gen Encore will offer wireless device charging, as it’s now available in entry-level compact hatchbacks and sedans, so we have something to look forward to with the launch of the redesigned 2020 model this spring.

On the positive, the Encore’s dual-zone automatic climate control interface is 100-percent useful, especially for those of us who would rather push and twist conventional buttons and dials when inputting temperatures and other functions, which is certainly less challenging while driving than doing so within the infotainment interface, like some others require.

2019 Buick Encore Essence AWD
The Encore is one practical little luxury utility.

I hope you don’t mind me getting into every little detail with this review, but I think the Encore deserves some extra attention. It would be easy for someone considering a subcompact mainstream or luxury SUV to merely glance past because of its age and Buick’s unusual position as a near-luxury brand, causing some to think it’s probably too expensive and others to look higher in price, for one of the more exclusive European or Japanese brands. I think, at least for those prioritizing comfort, efficiency and practicality, looking past the Encore might be a mistake, as even this aging model remains a very good option, that won’t cost much more than mainstream volume models, and doesn’t leave much of the table when compared to some premium brands’ entry SUVs.

In case you’re not quite sure what you should do, I recommend checking out our 2019 Buick Encore Canada Prices page for more details, while you can also use your CarCostCanada membership to find out about current rebates and dealer invoice pricing that could save you thousands. In fact, at the time of writing (December 8, 2019) Buick was offering up to $5,390 in additional incentives, which could make this 2019 Encore an excellent buy.

If you choose the 2019 Encore you certainly won’t be alone, this model remaining very popular for good reason.

Story and photo credits: Trevor Hofmann

2019 Hyundai Veloster Turbo Tech Road Test

2019 Hyundai Veloster Turbo Tech
The sharp looking second-generation Veloster, seen here in Turbo Tech trim, looks like a sporty two-door coupe from the driver’s side. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

Hyundai’s Veloster could easily be seen as an automotive anomaly, a sports coupe cum four-door hatchback that doesn’t quite fit in to either category, but I see it as a best-of-both-worlds alternative, a sporty two-door coupe when seen from the driver’s side and a low-slung four-door liftback from the passenger’s side.

There’s good reason that such a small number of volume-branded compact sport coupes remain in today’s car market after all. Owners eventually tired of stuffing family and friends into their abbreviated back seats, so they purchased sporty four- and five-door alternatives instead. These days, even the legendary VW Golf GTI is only available with four doors and a hatch, but instead of ultimately conforming to such wagon-like levels of pragmatism, Hyundai adapted General Motors’ 1999 Saturn SC’s terribly executed yet brilliantly idea, which included a single door on the passenger’s side and a second rear-hinged half-door on the driver’s side for easier rear seat access, by adding a conventionally-hinged rear door to the more appropriate passenger’s side for easier entry from the curb.

2019 Hyundai Veloster Turbo Tech
The Veloster provides a rear door for easy access to the seats in back on the passenger’s side. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

During its first full calendar year of 2012, Canadian Veloster sales were fairly strong at 5,741 units, but they’ve steadily tapered off since resulting in a low of 1,077 units in 2018, but thanks to a total redesign for this 2019 model year the second-generation Veloster has found 36.6 percent more buyers than it did during the first 10 months of 2018, resulting in 1,295 deliveries as of October 2019. Still, that’s nothing to get excited about in a market that saw Hyundai sell 25,894 Tucson compact SUVs during the same time period, let alone 33,670 Elantras, while a recent downturn of just 279 Velosters sold during Q3 of 2019, representing a plunge of 55.1 percent compared to the same three months of 2018, isn’t the kind of response the brand wants to see for a completely redesigned model, so we’ll need to watch closely to find out how it fares during Q4.

Before Hyundai decides to transform the Veloster into a mainstream version of Mercedes’ new GLC Coupe in order to keep its sporty dreams alive while the entire globe realigns its interests away from cars towards crossovers and SUVs (kind of like how Mitsubishi did with its Eclipse Cross), those who still appreciate the lower centres of gravity and inherently better cornering prowess allowed by cars should be made aware of the new Veloster’s transformation from a torsion beam rear suspension to an independent multi-link design, the revision completely improving its at-the-limit handling and ride quality.

2019 Hyundai Veloster Turbo Tech
The redesigned Veloster’s grille and front fascia looks much more menacing than the previous generation. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

The updated Veloster’s undercarriage is much more compliant, resulting in a more comfortable city cruiser with less commotion over rough, uneven tarmac, yet the compact coupe still feels firm enough to come off like a sports car. Nevertheless, despite its more comforting suspension tuning the new Veloster Turbo is a lot more capable through fast-paced corners, particularly noticeable over mid-apex bumps and potholes that would’ve unsettled the previous car. Now you slice through the turn with less worry about the shape of the pavement below, its rear suspension now capable of absorbing such irregularities without losing grip.

Base Velosters come standard with a 2.0-litre four-cylinder engine making 147 horsepower and 132 lb-ft of torque, driving the front wheels through a standard six-speed manual or optional six-speed automatic transmission, while the Veloster Turbo tested here utilizes a 1.6-litre turbo-four capable of 201 horsepower and 195 lb-ft of torque. A six-speed manual gearbox remains standard, as witnessed here in the photos, but buyers wanting less daily hassle can opt for a new seven-speed dual-clutch EcoShift DCT automatic with steering wheel paddles. I’ve driven the previous six-speed DCT (in 2014, 2015 and 2016) and found it shifted quickly enough while offering smooth operation during day-to-day commutes, so it make sense the new seven-speed version provides the same level of drivability with the addition of a taller final gear to improve fuel economy, but I’d personally save $1,500 by opting for the manual and enjoy the benefits of rowing through the gears myself.

2019 Hyundai Veloster Turbo Tech
No shortage of sporty styling cues on the new Veloster Turbo. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

It really is a nicely sorted six-speed manual, with an easy, progressive clutch that’s well matched to the torquey turbo-four. Max twist arrives at just 1,500 rpm and maintains boost all the way to 4,500, while maximum thrust arrives at 6,000 rpm before the engine spins to its 7,000 rpm redline (or just above). Activating the optional “SPORT” button just next to the shift lever immediately transforms the Veloster Turbo from an enjoyably tame economy coupe to a seriously fun performance machine, so a move up to the Tech package is well worth it.

Before itemizing standard and optional features, we should talk fuel economy. I know the Veloster is a performance model, but even those looking to save at the pump might want to consider this sporty little car, especially the Turbo. Yes, despite its stronger performance the Turbo is better on fuel (as long as you don’t lay into the throttle too often), with a manual transmission comparo showing 9.4 L/100km in the city, 7.0 on the highway and 8.3 combined for the Turbo, next to 9.4 city, 7.1 highway and 8.4 combined for the base model. The Turbo looks even better when comparing automatic transmissions, at 8.5 city, 6.9 highway and 7.8 combined for the quicker car against a respective 9.1, 7.1 and 8.2.

2019 Hyundai Veloster Turbo Tech
Hyundai makes big improvements inside, but touchy, feely perceived quality is still this car’s weak point. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

Now that we’re being so practical, the rear tailgate opens up nice and high, plus it’s wide enough to fit in large items. The cargo area isn’t as sizeable as most of its compact hatchback rivals, but compared to challenging sport coupes it’s very accommodating. In fact, it measures 565 litres (20 cubic feet) behind the rear seatbacks, or approximately the size of a large sedan’s trunk, while it’s also 125 litres (4.4 cu ft) larger than its 440-litre (15.5 cu-ft) cargo compartment. If you need more storage you can drop the back seats down, their uniquely configured 66/33-split design making more sense for a car only capable of seating two rear passengers. With both seats lowered the Veloster can manage up to 1,260 litres (44.5 cu ft) of what-have-you, which once again is a major improvement when compared to the 982 litres (34.7 cubic feet) offered by the outgoing generation.

The lengthy driver’s door and proximity keyless access make entering to the driver’s seat easy, while the two passenger-side doors means that no one coming along for the ride needs to compromise. Certainly, the first rear passenger to sit down must slide along the seat to find the other side, making me wish Hyundai hadn’t added a fixed centre console with cupholders in the middle, and while a folding centre armrest would’ve worked better, it wasn’t all that difficult to get over and does provide some helpful convenience when seated.

2019 Hyundai Veloster Turbo Tech
This analogue/digital gauge cluster is easy to read under any lighting conditions, plus it can be upgraded to include a head-up display. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

After positioning the driver’s seat for my five-foot-eight, long-legged, short-torso body, I was left with approximately four to five inches in front of my knees, as well as plenty of space for my feet, but it was a bit tight for my toes below the driver’s seat. Still, I had ample room to move around from side to side, plus about three inches over my head, making me confident that those under six feet should find it spacious enough in back.

The rear seats are carved out like buckets too, providing decent lateral support and good lower back comfort. Other than rear window switches there aren’t any rear amenities, while the side armrests will be the only padded surfaces you’ll be able to find (seats and carpets aside).

Such is true for those up front as well, this shortcoming my only serious complaint with the new Veloster. I understand that we should expect too much in this category, but Hyundai normally punches above its weight in the compact class, so I expected them to do more with this redesigned model. As it is, the new Veloster offers no soft-touch composite surfaces, but the mostly attractive matte textured plastics provided a nice upgrade over the otherwise glossy hard plastic cabin.

2019 Hyundai Veloster Turbo Tech
A well-sorted centre stack gets an available 8-inch touchscreen up top and good quality switchgear throughout. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

Most peoples’ eyes will naturally gravitate to the red on black front sport seats anyway, and I must say the one for the driver was as comfortable and supportive as it looks. While not included full powered actuation, its optional two-way powered lumbar support was a useful addition that nearly met the small of my back perfectly. Ergonomics are also good, with the long reaching tilt and telescopic steering column a good match to the six-way adjustable driver’s seat, plus the seat heaters and warming steering wheel came on fast and stayed hot.

Quickly pressing the start/stop button on the instrument panel ignites the engine while prompting a head-up display to power upwards from within the cowl covering the primary gauges. I initially found it slightly distracting, because it’s right in the line of sight, but when choosing sport mode it placed a cool tachometer graphic on the screen that was useful when pushing the engine to redline, while I eventually learned to look past it the rest of the time. The mostly analogue gauge cluster noted a moment ago is easy to see in any light and features a colour multi-information display at centre, while the switchgear on the steering wheel, plus all the buttons and knobs to the left and right of the steering column were good quality, nicely damped, and within easy reach.

2019 Hyundai Veloster Turbo Tech
The larger screen makes for an excellent backup camera with dynamic guidelines, while rear parking sensors help while reversing. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

Ditto for the infotainment display, but the only button next to the screen turned on the hazard lights. Instead, the touchscreen’s analogue controls are lower down the centre stack, in between the audio system’s power/volume and tuning/scrolling dials, although I found myself using the steering wheel switches and touchscreen for the majority of features.

Due to Hyundai adding the $3,000 Turbo Tech package, which includes the aforementioned head-up display unit, the leather upholstery, the driver’s seat lumbar support, and the Sport mode, plus rain-sensing windshield wipers, rear parking sonar, and the automatic HVAC system, which incidentally comes with automatic defog, my tester had a larger 8.0-inch display featuring embedded navigation plus excellent (for the class) sounding eight-speaker Infinity audio with an external amplifier.

Before getting ahead of myself, you can get into the 2019 Veloster for just $20,999 plus freight and fees before discount, with the Turbo starting at $25,899. The Turbo Tech package ups the price to $28,899, while a $500 Performance package was added to my tester, including sportier 18-inch rims encircled by 225/40 Michelin Pilot summer-performance rubber.

2019 Hyundai Veloster Turbo Tech
My tester’s comfortable leather-upholstered seats also included two-way powered lumbar. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

This said, even base Velosters get 18-inch alloy wheels, as well as auto on/off headlamps, LED daytime running lights, power-adjustable and heated side mirrors, remote access, a heated and leather-wrapped multifunction steering wheel, tilt and telescopic steering, cruise control, powered windows, illuminated vanity mirrors, a sunglasses holder, filtered air conditioning, a one-inch smaller 7.0-inch infotainment touchscreen with standard Android Auto and Apple CarPlay, a backup camera with active guidelines, six-speaker audio, Bluetooth hands-free phone and audio streaming, a leather-clad shift knob, heatable front seats, a manual six-way driver’s seat, a four-way front passenger seat, blind spot detection with rear cross-traffic alert, all the usual active and passive safety features, etcetera.

The Veloster Turbo upgrade adds LED headlamps, LED side mirror turn signals, LED tail lamps, a special grille plus extended side sills, proximity entry with pushbutton star/stop, a 4.2-inch TFT multi-information display instead of a more conventional 3.5-inch trip computer, a big power moonroof, silver vent bezels, checkered dash trim, partial cloth/leather upholstery with red stitching instead of blue, leatherette door trim, red interior accents, plus more.

2019 Hyundai Veloster Turbo Tech
Rear seating is very good for a compact sport coupe, and access is best-in-class. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

I could go into colour options and more, but considering this 2019 model is being replaced by the 2020 version while this review is being published, you’ll have to get what you can if wanting to avail model year-end discounts as well as 0-percent financing (the 2020 model was available with 0.99-percent financing at the time of writing). By the way, you can learn about these deals and more right here at CarCostCanada, where all trim, package and individual option prices are itemized, as well as manufacturer rebate info and otherwise hard to get dealer invoice pricing that could save you thousands.

If you like the idea of the new Veloster but were hoping for more performance, you may also want to consider new N trim. It includes a new 2.0-litre turbo-four with 275 horsepower and 260 lb-ft of torque, and comes exclusively with a six-speed manual featuring downshift rev matching. An electronically controlled limited slip differential helps put the power down to the pavement, while an electronically controlled suspension support a big set of 19-inch alloys on 235/35 Pirelli summer-performance tires. Also included are Normal, Sport, N and Custom drive mode selections, while a driver-adjustable active exhaust system makes this ultimate Veloster even more exciting to drive. Even its fuel economy is decent at 10.6 L/100km city, 8.3 highway and 9.5 combined, while it starts at just $34,999.

2019 Hyundai Veloster Turbo Tech
The Veloster’s cargo compartment is significantly larger for 2019. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

Notable when comparing 2019 to 2020 Velosters, the new base model won’t be available with a manual transmission anymore, which will only cause performance purists and custom tuners to feel a bit miffed. This change causes the 2020 Veloster’s base price to go up by $1,400 to $22,399, with the cheapest manual now the $27,499 Turbo.

Also important to note, Hyundai has modified its trim naming scheme for 2020, eliminating the GL and Tech designations from the 2019 model while adding Preferred and Luxury to the 2020. The 2020 Veloster N remains a single-trim car for the same price, although those searching for it on CarCostCanada will need to choose it as a separate model from the regular Veloster line.

Whether opting for a 2019 or 2020 model, an old GL, Tech or N, or the new Preferred, Luxury or N trim, the new second-generation Veloster is a much more advanced car than its predecessor. It still combines an extremely sporty look with a very practical layout, but now mixes in stronger performance, newer electronics, and new features, resulting in one of the smartest urban runabouts currently available.

Story and photo credits: Trevor Hofmann

2019 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Sahara Road and Trail Test

2019 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Sahara
The Wrangler has come a long way since its JL-body redesign. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

Jeep redesigned its popular Wrangler 4×4 for 2018, so as is usually the case for the following model year this 2019 variant remains unchanged, although the upcoming 2020 model will get a significant powertrain upgrade that may cause some who’ve never considered it before to reconsider. Interested? Keep reading.

Jeep produced the Wrangler’s JK body style from 2007 to 2017, and it’s been one of the most successful models in the entire Chrysler/FCA group since then. Now, the new 2018 to present JL version features a bigger, bolder, broader seven-slot grille, plus new optional LED reflector headlights, an ATV-like front bumper (which looks a lot like the one used for the 2016 Wrangler 75th Anniversary Edition I covered way back then) with optional LED fog lights, a shapelier hood (although not pumped up with the Anniversary Edition’s muscular power dome and blackened vents or the Rubicon’s similarly awesome hood design), restyled front fenders with new wraparound turn signals, heavily sculpted front body panels with black engine vents, new integrated side steps, fresh new rear fender flares, new wraparound taillights with optional LEDs, a new side-swinging tailgate, and a redesigned rear bumper (that’s not as cool looking as 75th Anniversary Edition’s, but definitely more attractive than the block of metal and black plastic found on the old Sahara).

2019 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Sahara
Few SUVs provide as much off-road capability as the Wrangler. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

While those not following everything Jeep may want to park a new JL next to the old JK in order to see the subtler differences, such as the just-noted redesigned tailgate, it’s reasonable to surmise that most of the new Wrangler’s exterior panels have been changed in order to accommodate its longer regular and long Unlimited wheelbases. Specifically, the 2019 Unlimited on this page is 89 mm (3.5 inches) longer than the old JK model, with a 61-mm (2.4-inch) longer wheelbase, while the regular wheelbase version grows in length as well. Overall, the new Wrangler appears classic and contemporary simultaneously, and even more important, it looks good.

Also critical, the new Wrangler is considerably more refined inside, with doors that shut with a solid thunk, and pliable soft-touch composite surfaces used most everywhere above the waste. The dash top and instrument panel even use some padded and contrast-stitched leatherette that matches the leather-clad steering wheel rim, plus the leatherette shifter boot and armrests, and the genuine leather seat upholstery. All the buttons, knobs and switches used through the cabin are impressive too, specifically the big audio volume and dual-zone automatic climate control knobs on the centre stack, while Jeep has improved the general quality of most materials as well as the way everything fits together.

2019 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Sahara
New lighting elements make for the most noticeable changes. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

As good as all of these changes are, the Wrangler’s gauge cluster might generate the cabin’s biggest wow factor. First, let’s be clear that it’s not a fully digital instrument panel, which would’ve probably been easier and less expensive to create, considering how two-dimensionally flat the previous four-gauge design was, and how easy it would’ve been to merely install a 12.3-inch display, fill it with graphics (not that this is simple) and call it a day. Instead, Jeep shaped two motorcycle-style individually hooded primary dials, bookended by a large colour multi-information display (MID). It looks great, and provides most of the digital tech today’s buyers are looking for, even including army green background graphics highlighted by a WW2 (Willys) GP. The tach and speedometer dials look superb in their orange on black and white design, and everything functions well.

The outgoing 6.5-inch rectangular centre touchscreen has also been replaced, but this time with a fully digital design incorporating no buttons or knobs at either side of the display. Instead, the new 8.0-inch square touchscreen offers some quick-access analogue switchgear on a cluster of dials and buttons positioned underneath, these used mostly for controlling heating and ventilation. The big dial on the very right is for scrolling or browsing through infotainment functions, and while some might find this useful I mostly tapped, swiped and pinched the touchscreen as required (sounds more exciting than it was), only making use of external controls for heating the seats and steering wheel (although you can do this via the touchscreen too), adjusting cabin temperatures (ditto), and the audio system’s volume.

2019 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Sahara
Great looking wrap-around taillights come with optional (as shown) LEDs. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

The bigger display area results in a much better backup camera, which once again uses active guidelines for slotting into parking spaces, while the ability to hook up Android Auto or Apple CarPlay is a bonus. The system incorporates most other functions available these days, like accurate navigation, easy phone setup and use, audio selection that includes satellite radio and wireless streaming, and a number of apps that come preloaded or can be downloaded. The display’s resolution is quite good, but it’s not as crisp and clear as you’ll find in the majority of premium brands, and a few new mainstream competitors like Chevrolet’s Blazer.

The car-based Blazer in mind, the new Wrangler delivers its best ride quality yet. In fact, it’s now something I’d brag about, rather than complain of while rubbing the small of back and nether regions. To be clear, the JK I tested on its initial 2005 Lake Tahoe/Rubicon Trail press launch showed major ride and handling improvements when compared to its 1997 to 2006 TJ predecessor, while that SUV was wholly more comfortable than the 1987 to 1995 YJ, and so on with respect to the many CJs (Civilian Jeeps) that came before (I used to drive a V8-powered CJ5 Renegade in the early ‘80s), but this new JL-bodied Wrangler is so much nicer to live with than any of its forebears that I’d now consider owning one, something I still wouldn’t have said about the JK. The reality is I’m aging, and therefore wouldn’t be willing to be discomforted by my daily commuter. The new Wrangler, however, completely changes everything with suspension compliancy that’s matched by much-improved cornering capability, better high-speed tracking, easier manoeuvrability around town and in tight parking lots, etc. All around, this Wrangler is a much, much better SUV to live with.

2019 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Sahara
The new Wrangler’s cabin is better in every way. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

This new livability includes improved rear seating, with deeper sculpted outboard positions that offer up more lower back support, while the increased wheelbase provides more second-row legroom. Three passengers continue to fit across the rear seat, although I’m going to guess only smaller folks will truly be comfortable in the middle. Also, with only two in back the centre folding armrest, incorporating two big rubberized cupholders and a personal device holder, can be lowered for even more comfort and convenience.

This said, not hollowing out a section behind that armrest for a rear-seat pass-through was an opportunity missed by Jeep, because now you’ll need to expend money for a lockable rooftop compartment for stowing longer items such as skis and snowboards, if you want two rear passengers to enjoy as much comfort as possible. This is doable, but it’s not the best solution, although this is also true for the majority of Jeep competitors.

2019 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Sahara
It probably would’ve been cheaper for Jeep to provide a fully digital gauge cluster than this complex semi-analogue one. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

Another complaint is the Wrangler’s swinging rear door, which remains hinged on the wrong side for North American, and most global markets. A conventional liftgate is out of the question for two reasons, 1) the removable roof, and 2) the 4×4 requirement of a full-size spare tire on its backside. What’s not required is a set of hinges on the passenger side, which means that loading the rear cargo compartment from curbside becomes awkward at best, potentially causing you to step in traffic to do so. Me complaining about this issue won’t be anything new to regular readers or those in charge of Jeep (that are listening), but it may be important to newbies considering a Wrangler for the first time.

A more positive cargo compartment issue is increased volume, the long-wheelbase Unlimited’s dedicated luggage area now increased by 18 litres (0.6 cubic feet) to 898 litres (31.7 cu ft), while maximum capacity has grown by 70 litres (2.5 cu ft) to a new grand total of 2,050 litres (72.4 cu ft) with both seatbacks laid flat. Laid flat is probably a misrepresentation, however, as there’s now an incline from the base of the seatbacks to the front portion of the extended cargo area, although another positive is the ease in which they’re now lowered, plus new panels that hide the previously exposed seat frames and other mechanical bits when laid down. These panels stop smaller items from rolling below, but these conveniences have been taken for granted by crossover SUV owners for years. Still, it’s a serious upgrade for the Wrangler, and, in my opinion, well worth the slightly uneven load floor.

2019 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Sahara
The larger 8-inch centre touchscreen provides a much clearer backup camera. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

At the other end of my 2019 Wrangler Unlimited Sahara tester was FCA’s 3.6-litre Pentastar V6, conjoined to an eight-speed automatic transmission and part-time four-wheel drive. While not quite as sonorous as my old CJ5’s 304 cubic-inch V8 (that included a rather loud set of aftermarket headers), the V6 produces a nice soundtrack of its own, and provides plenty of forward energy thanks to 285 horsepower and 260 lb-ft of torque, while the automatic transmission’s shift increments are quick and smooth.

A six-speed manual comes standard, incidentally, with the eight-speed auto tacking $1,595 onto the 2019 Wrangler Unlimited Sport S’ $40,745 (plus freight and fees) price tag, while this Unlimited Sahara starts at $44,745, and the top-line Unlimited Rubicon can be had for a retail price of $47,745 (a base two-door Wrangler S starts at $33,695). Alternatively, Wrangler buyers can pay $2,590 for a 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder engine featuring electric assist, which makes 15 horsepower less at 270, although 35 lb-ft of torque more at 295. This upgrade is standard with the eight-speed automatic, and is claimed to achieve much better fuel economy than the V6 (see all 2018, 2019 and 2020 Jeep Wrangler prices, including trims, packages and individual options, plus manufacturer rebates and dealer invoice pricing right here on CarCostCanada, where you can now save up to $3,500 in additional incentives on a 2020, or $4,000 on a 2019).

2019 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Sahara
Get ready for an entirely new level of Wrangler comfort and convenience. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

By the numbers, the base Wrangler Unlimited’s V6 and six-speed manual combo is rated at 13.8 L/100km city, 10.1 highway and 12.2 combined, whereas the same engine with the eight-speed auto uses a claimed 12.9 city, 10.2 highway and 11.7 combined. As for the four-cylinder turbo, its 10.9 city, 10.0 highway and 10.5 combined rating is by far the best right now, but it may only hold this title for a short duration as the upcoming 2020 Wrangler will soon offer FCA’s ultra-efficient 3.0-litre V6 turbo-diesel, while it will hardly be short on output thanks to 260 horsepower and 442 pound-feet of torque. I can imagine the Wrangler’s many dedicated 4×4 fans salivating at the prospect of this engine right now, diesels long being optimal off-road, but take note it will only be available in the long-wheelbase Unlimited body, while the more off-pavement capable regular-wheelbase Wrangler will continue to only be powered by gasoline engines.

Off-roading in mind, today’s more refined Wrangler still has few direct competitors. In fact, pickup trucks aside, the Wrangler is the only serious off-roader available in the mainstream volume-branded compact class, and will likely remain so until the all-new Ford Bronco arrives on the scene. The General’s compact pickup-based Chevy Blazer and GMC Jimmy duo was killed off in 2005, while Toyota’s Land Cruiser Prado-based FJ Cruiser hightailed it out of our market in 2014. Following suit, the very capable Nissan Xterra departed in 2015, leaving the popular Wrangler alone in its unique segment.

2019 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Sahara
Rear seat roominess and comfort has improved dramatically. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

As is only right, I tested the Wrangler Unlimited Sahara at a favourite 4×4 haunt and it performed as ideally as you might expect. In fact, all the thick mud and big pools of standing water were easy for this capable utility to muck and wade through, making me wonder if the ultra-rugged Rubicon is more than most Wrangler buyers require. Once off-pavement I slotted the secondary low gear lever into its 4H Part Time position to tackle the semi-rough stuff, which provided quick travel over less challenging terrain.

Diving deep into the big puddles and digging into some of the more abyss-like ruts caused me to stop and engage 4L (four-low), however, which made traversing all of the truly difficult terrain a breeze as well. While a decent test track considering its close proximity to my home, I’ve driven the old JK on the Rubicon Trail and other difficult courses and enjoyed both the challenge of negotiating trails I’d likely never try on my own, and doing so in such an amazingly agile 4×4, while I can only imagine how much more enjoyable it would be to scale Cadillac Hill atop the new Wrangler’s improved suspension, let alone doing so while being pushed via a turbo-diesel V6.

2019 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Sahara
More cargo space and easier folding rear seatbacks, but the load floor is not as flat. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

If all the improvements already mentioned aren’t enough to get you into the driver’s seat of a new Wrangler, this SUV makes smart business sense too. According to ALG, the Wrangler has the highest residual value of any model in Canada, with the four-door Unlimited version only dropping by an average of 30-percent after three years of use, and the two-door model only losing 31.5 percent. What’s more, the Wrangler also earned the Canadian Black Book’s 2019 Best Retained Value Award in the Compact SUV category for the ninth year in a row, while it achieved a new retained value record of 91 percent for 2019 (Jeep’s smaller car-based Renegade placed first in its Sub-Compact Crossover segment too).

What this means for those still sitting on the fence, is that Jeep’s Wrangler no longer needs any justification. It’s about having your cake and eating it too, or in other words getting what you want and making the smartest choice simultaneously. Don’t you wish all decisions were so easy?

Story and photo credits: Trevor Hofmann

2019 Subaru Outback 3.6R Limited Road Test

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Story credit: Trevor Hofmann

Photo credits: Karen Tuggay

2019 Dodge Durango SRT Road Test

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Story and photo credits: Trevor Hofmann

2019 Kia Sorento SXL Road Test

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Story and photo credits: Trevor Hofmann

2019 Toyota Avalon XSE Road Test

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Story and photo credits: Trevor Hofmann

2019 Honda Fit LX CVT Road Test

2019 Honda Fit LX CVT
The Fit looks so much better since its 2018 refresh, even in its just-above-base LX trim. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

The subcompact Fit is Honda’s most affordable new car, but despite its inexpensive price tag it may possibly be your best option even if you were willing to spend more.

Ok, I’d understand if someone would rather own an HR-V, being that crossovers are all the rage these days, and the little Honda SUV boasts an identically innovative second row. This rear Magic Seat provides even more cargo space in the HR-V, but the Fit can be had for only $15,590 compared to the base HR-V’s $23,300 window sticker, so it’s a smarter choice for entry-level active-lifestyle buyers trying to pinch their nickels and dimes.

2019 Honda Fit LX CVT
The Fit’s tall shape makes it roomy inside. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

The 2019 Fit used for this review was in LX trim, upgraded yet further with its optional continuously variable transmission (CVT), causing its retail window sticker to move up from $18,990 for the six-speed manual to $20,290. Upgrades to the LX CVT include all the LX manual’s features, such as a body-coloured rear rooftop spoiler, an auto-up/down driver-side window, illuminated steering wheel audio and cruise controls, a larger infotainment touchscreen with Android Auto and Apple CarPlay smartphone integration, a multi-angle rearview camera with dynamic guidelines (the base camera doesn’t include the moving guidelines), Siri Eyes Free, text message reading/responding, Wi-Fi tethering, an extra USB device connector (resulting in two), filtered air conditioning, heated front seats, a centre console with an armrest and storage bin, the HondaLink Assist automatic emergency response system, a cargo cover plus more, while it also includes standard Honda Sensing technologies, such as forward collision warning with automatic emergency braking, lane departure warning, lane keep assist, road departure mitigation, an ECON mode button, etcetera.

2019 Honda Fit LX CVT
Honda provides a pretty sophisticated cabin for such a small entry-level model. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

I should point out the LX includes the majority of base DX features as well, an abbreviated list including auto-off multi-reflector halogen headlights, LED brake lamps, heatable powered door mirrors with body-colour caps, body-coloured door handles, remote access, power locks and windows, intermittent front windshield wipers, a rear window wiper, tilt and telescopic steering, a four-speaker 160-watt AM/FM/MP3/WMA audio system, Bluetooth phone connectivity with audio streaming, and more.

The Fit hasn’t always met everyone’s design criteria, but tell me what subcompact hatchback pushes all the buttons? Possibly the Kia Rio? Nevertheless, this third-generation Fit is certainly more appealing visually than the yawn-inducing original and slightly better looking second version, or at least that’s how I see it, while this most recent version, refreshed just last year, includes more of Honda’s new sharp-edged design language for an even better look.

2019 Honda Fit LX CVT
This mostly digital instrument cluster is a colourful cut above most rivals. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

The 2018 mid-cycle makeover also came with even sharper looking new Sport trim that I reviewed last year, this model’s $19,990 price point placed directly in the middle of four additional trim lines including the base DX, my tester’s LX designation, a $22,290 EX model, and finally the top-tier EX-L NAVI, which starts at $24,390. As much as I prefer the Sport to the others visually, thanks to gloss-black alloys and yet more inky black trim with red highlights around its body, plus its sporty red on black interior motif, the LX might be the smarter choice for those on a budget.

The features list above proves my point, as few necessary items have been left off the menu (although I would’ve like to have also had proximity access and pushbutton start/stop). Even more important in this class are low running costs, general comfort and overall practicality, and time spent with any Fit trim line will quickly have you appreciating that it performs well in each and every category.

2019 Honda Fit LX CVT
The infotainment touchscreen and HVAC interface as both impressive. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Once inside any Fit, old or new, or better yet having lived with one for enough time to experience how brilliantly practical it is, you’ll appreciate that styling matters a lot less than choosing the right car to accomplish the things you want to do. It’s the pragmatic minivan argument shrunken down to genuinely small proportions, yet play around awhile with its Magic Seat configurations and you’ll quickly understand that size really doesn’t matter when innovative engineering is factored in.

Those unfamiliar with the Fit’s second-row Magic Seats should pay close attention, as nothing in this class even comes close. The rear cushions rest atop hooped metal legs that can be folded upward and locked into place against the backrests, similar to those in some pickup trucks. This results in 139 litres (4.9 cubic feet) of cargo space for taller items such as bicycles or potted plants, while the 470-litre (16.6 cubic-foot) rear luggage compartment is still available for additional gear. Lay the rear seats into the floor and you’ll have 1,492 litres (52.7 cubic feet) of luggage space available, which is plenty for this class. In fact, the Fit’s total cargo capacity is 184 litres (6.5 cubic feet) more accommodating than Honda’s larger compact Civic Hatchback. Not bad for a subcompact.

2019 Honda Fit LX CVT
As good as the front seats are, it’s the rear Magic Seats that set the Fit apart. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

It’s all about overall height and a low loading floor, which makes it ideal for driver and passengers too. The Fit’s two front seats are a bit firmer than the class average, but still very comfortable and supportive, while the tilt and telescopic steering column’s rake and reach worked very well for my long-legged and short-torso body type, and should do likewise for all sizes. Similarly the rear outboard seats provide good comfort too, plus roominess in back is excellent. Sitting directly behind the driver’s seat when set up for me, I had about five inches left over in front of my knees, ample room for my legs and feet, almost four inches over my head, and four-plus next to my hips and shoulders.

Back behind the wheel, the primary instrument cluster features a big circular speedometer at centre, its analogue outer ring filled in the middle with a useful multi-information display, while TFT displays bookended each side of the cluster with colourful graphics that made it appear more upscale than the Fit’s price point would suggest. High quality switches on the steering wheel spokes control the multi-info display and more.

2019 Honda Fit LX CVT
The rear seats look like any others when used for passengers. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Look over to the Fit’s centre stack and one of the better infotainment touchscreens will be staring back. It’s complete with intelligently organized digital tile buttons that open up well designed function panels, with the audio system interface complemented by a classic rotating power/volume knob that certainly appreciated when driving. Underneath the touchscreen is a small cluster of manually operated heating and ventilation controls featuring big dials with nice grippy knurled metal-look edges, the asymmetrical design quite attractive.

While nice on the eyes, I’m not going to try and pretend the Fit is attempting to portray anything but an entry-level car. As you might expect, the dash top is comprised of hard composite as are many other cabin surfaces, but Honda surprisingly went further than most subcompact competitors when finishing off the lower instrument panel ahead of the front passenger, which gets a lovely sculpted soft-touch bolster. Also unexpected, the opposite side of the dash includes a pop-out cupholder level to the steering wheel, perfectly placed for easy access while driving. It sits just behind the corner air vent too, which means it warms up whatever is inside when the heat is on, or cools it off when the A/C is blasting, ideal unless you want something kept at room temperature.

2019 Honda Fit LX CVT
Holy cargo hold, Batman! Yes, no other car offers this level of rear seating area storage. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Another oddity in this class, previously noted Sport trim and the two models above actually include a paddle shifters on the steering wheel, which says a fair bit about the Fit’s fun-to-drive character. Behind its edgy new grille is a perky 1.5-litre four-cylinder that delivers a robust 130 horsepower and 114 lb-ft of torque when mated up to the manual transmission, or 128 horsepower and 113 lb-ft of torque when upgraded with the CVT. These numbers make it one of the most potent base subcompact models available, with just one rival making more in its entry-level trim. It results in more zip off the line than you might have guessed, particularly when at the wheel of the manual, although the CVT provides decent get-up-and-go too, along with good passing performance on the highway and even enough to power away from corners when slaloming through tight serpentine stretches.

Yes, I know this is a subcompact commuter car and not remotely close to a hot hatch, but its front MacPherson strut and rear torsion beam suspension holds its lane with ease even when pushing hard, only getting a bit unruly when asking too much from its narrow, tall design and 15-inch steel wheels on 185/60 all-seasons. The ride is good mind you, the Fit having been designed more for bushwhacking through the urban jungle than fast-paced mountainside passes.

2019 Honda Fit LX CVT
The Fit’s maximum cargo capacity is by far the subcompact segment’s most generous. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Now that we’re talking about putting on daily miles, the 2019 Fit is estimated to get 8.1 L/100km in the city, 6.6 on the highway and 7.4 combined with its manual, and an even thriftier 7.0 city, 5.9 highway and 6.5 combined with the CVT. A few competitors provide slightly better efficiency, but nothing that offers the Fit’s superior performance, particularly when comparing automatic transmission equipped cars.

In the end, Honda’s Fit is one of the subcompact segment’s best driving cars, while it’s also extremely efficient and hands-down the most practical people/cargo hauler in its class, let alone all car categories. Factoring in its all-round comfort, impressive list of convenience and safety features, plus Honda’s excellent reputation for dependability and strong residual values, and it’s hard to argue against it. In fact, I’ve probably recommended the Fit to more new car buyers than any other model, and will likely continue to do so when the next model arrives later this year.

That’s right, the 2020 Fit will be dramatically redesigned, which means Honda will be discounting this 2019 model. So make sure to check out all the latest rebate info for this 2019 model right there on CarCostCanada. Fortunately for you, we have all the available rebates, including dealer invoice pricing, so you can prepare yourself before negotiating with your local retailer. You can save up to $1,000 in additional incentives on this 2019 model, so be sure to click here to learn more about these savings, as well as all the other trims Honda has on offer, plus available packages and individual options.

Story credit: Trevor Hofmann

Photo credit: Karen Tuggay

2019 Volkswagen Passat Wolfsburg Edition Road Test

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Story and photo credits: Trevor Hofmann

2019 Ford Escape Titanium 2.0L Ecoboost Road Test

2019 Ford Escape Titanium 2.0L Ecoboost
The third-generation Escape might be on its way out, but it’s still a very strong competitor. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Now that the entirely redesigned 2020 Escape is arriving at Ford’s Canadian retailers, we’d better say a final goodbye to the third-generation Escape that’s done a very good job of serving the automaker as well as many of its loyal fans for the past six or so years. This outgoing version underwent a dramatic mid-cycle upgrade for the 2017 model year, and now the blue-oval brand has brought something new to contemplate in the compact crossover class.

For some, the best reason to get excited about a redesigned model is the opportunity to save money on the old one, and being that this 2019 Escape is still an excellent SUV, and that Ford retailers continue to have some in stock, such options should be considered. During my research for this review, which included pricing and features info found right here at CarCostCanada, I learned that $1,200 in additional incentives was available at the time of writing, and that’s over and above any personal discount you might be able to negotiate with your local retailer, and while this knowledge will certainly help when you begin to talk business, CarCostCanada also provides dealer invoice pricing that could save you even more. 

2019 Ford Escape Titanium 2.0L Ecoboost
The design has aged well, particularly from behind. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

A quick glance at CarCostCanada’s 2019 Escape page will show that it’s unchanged from the 2018 model. The 2018 is identical to the 2017 model as well, with respect to all trims but the SEL that arrived last year. If you want more clarity, take a look at my 2017 Ford Escape Titanium AWD Road Test that shows an identical SUV to my 2019 tester, even down to their Ingot Silver colour. Of course, Ford provides the choice of seven additional colours for 2019 buyers, with no-cost options including vibrant alternatives like Sedona Orange and Lightning Blue, while $450 Ruby Red and $550 White Platinum give the Escape a premium-like upscale demeanour.

This 2017-2019 Escape’s grille design didn’t work for me as much as its 2013-2016 forebear did, the latter a completely original and even futuristic look when introduced. I remember how it initially turned my head, not really certain what to think at first, yet warming up to its unusual design quickly. It made sense that Ford needed to change the design, both because of a need for something new and the automaker’s requirement to visually align its crossover SUV lineup (the Escape took design elements from the Edge of the era), but nevertheless Escape sales have slowed somewhat in recent years, with the Toyota RAV4 and Honda CR-V now owning first and second respectively, not necessarily due to styling mind you.

2019 Ford Escape Titanium 2.0L Ecoboost2019 Ford Escape Titanium 2.0L Ecoboost
Titanium trim adds HID headlamps with LED signatures, plus unique 18-inch alloys. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Just four years ago the Escape was the compact SUV segment’s bestseller, a spot it had been holding for years. In fact, looking a couple of years further back shows the Escape nearly doubling the RAV4 and CR-V’s yearly sales, but it’s been on a downward trajectory ever since its mid-cycle refresh, from a high of 52,198 sales in 2014 to 47,726 in 2015, which incidentally was the last time it topped the category. It fell further to 46,661 units in 2016, when the RAV4 jumped up to first place, and then in 2017 it managed a bit more to 47,880 examples, but the RAV4 and CR-V grew their sales even more, both passing 50,000 units. The two Japanese SUVs kept pulling in more and more new buyers through 2018 too, when each models’ deliveries neared 55,000 units, yet the Escape could only muster 43,587 sales that year, while at the close of Q3 2019 Ford’s little SUV that could managed just 30,817 new customers to the CR-V’s 43,464 and RAV4’s 49,473, the completely redesigned Toyota targeting yet another banner year.

Truly, the Escape is beginning to show its age, particularly when sidled up next to the new RAV4, not to mention when placed beside the totally redesigned 2020 Escape that Ford hopes will cause its once much stronger customer base to return, but the outgoing model is nevertheless a very competent compact SUV that should be available for big time savings. Of course, you may not have many options when it comes to exterior paint, while a choice of trims will be decided by remaining stock, which means you should probably get a move on if you want something specific.

2019 Ford Escape Titanium 2.0L Ecoboost
Simple, elegant styling lasts the test of time. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

When model year 2019 began, the Escape was available in base $26,399 S trim, as $29,349 SE and $30,849 SEL models (the latter designation added this year as noted earlier), and finally in top-line $37,699 Titanium trim. The Titanium gets all-wheel drive standard, whereas AWD is available with the SE and SEL for an additional $1,500, and the S only comes with front-wheel drive.

If your not confused yet, just wait as the 2019 Escape provides the choice of three gasoline-fed four-cylinder engines, and oddly not a one is electrified despite this model being first to market with a hybrid. Base S trim still uses Ford’s 12-year-old 2.5-litre four that’s good for 168 horsepower and 170 lb-ft of torque, although despite these being respectable output numbers most Escape buyers will ante up for one of the automaker’s turbocharged Ecoboost engines, which include a 1.5-litre mill capable of 179 horsepower and 177 lb-ft of torque, standard in SE and SEL trims, and a 2.0-litre version making a very energetic 245 horsepower and 275 lb-ft of torque, this one standard with my Titanium tester and available with mid-range SE and SEL models. Therefore, as you can probably imagine, your local Ford dealer won’t have all combinations available in the exact colour you want, but hopefully you’ll be able to find something that mixes and matches enough of the features you’re looking for to make you happy, even if that retailer needs to call around to get something from another dealer.

2019 Ford Escape Titanium 2.0L Ecoboost
Despite its age, the Escape Titanium provides impressive refinement. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

As if trying to make a complicated problem easier, the Escape won’t force you to choose between alternative transmissions, as its six-speed SelectShift automatic is the only way it comes. The new 2020 model’s automatic ups the gear count to eight, but the 2019 Escape’s gearbox has proven to be dependable and is very capable when mated up to either Ecoboost engine. That 2020 model receives the 1.5-litre turbocharged four standard, by the way, with auto start-stop that turns the engine off when it would otherwise be idling, while the 2.0-litre turbo-four in my 2019 tester remains the go-to performance option.

Drivetrain alternatives in mind, remember when I questioned why Ford no longer offered an Escape Hybrid? It seems others within the company have asked the same (and no doubt customers too), which resulted in a 2020 Escape Hybrid. Ford isn’t offering fuel economy figures for the new hybrid or any 2020 Escapes just yet, but the 2019 model being reviewed here does fairly well no matter the trim. The tiny 1.5-litre is your best choice from a budgeting perspective, with the FWD version rated at an estimated 10.2 L/100km city, 7.8 highway and 9.1 combined, while that engine with AWD gets a claimed 11.2, 8.4 and 9.9 respectively. As for the FWD-only base S, I think it’s pretty thrifty considering its age, its estimated rating at 11.0 city, 8.0 highway and 9.6 combined, while the top-line AWD-only Titanium does very well despite its zippy acceleration with a rating of 11.5 city, 8.7 highway and 10.2 combined.

2019 Ford Escape Titanium 2.0L Ecoboost
The Escape cockpit is well laid out. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Seeing past this 2019 model’s aging body and equally classic cabin design, the fit, finish, quality of materials and general goodness of its interior is more than decent. Even Ford’s electronic interfaces overshadow some of its more recently redesigned rivals, particularly the bright, colourful, well-defined high-resolution multi-information display at the centre of its primary gauge cluster, the outer dials mostly analogue, while the brand’s much respected Sync 3 infotainment system fills the Escape Titanium’s centre touchscreen. It’s particularly good looking thanks to modern sky blue, white and grey graphics, plus its ultra-user-friendly and wonderfully functional. Ford was one of the first manufacturers to adopt Apple CarPlay and Android Auto smartphone integration, while the system’s route guidance is accurate and navigation mapping excellent, the screens tablet-style tap, pinch, and swipe gesture controls perfectly suited for adjusting the map. Safety is improved via its standard dynamic guideline-enhanced rearview camera, while extra tech includes Bluetooth audio streaming, mobile apps, voice control, a WiFi hotspot, 911 assist, and more.

You can adjust the audio system from the centre display as well, plus it comes packed with AM/FM/satellite radio, plus MP3 and WMA compatibility, although no HD radio, but Titanium trim’s 10-speaker Sony audio system is excellent for this compact segment. A number of quick-access buttons and knobs are angled into a panel just under the centre touchscreen, which also sits above a big, easy-to-use two-zone automatic HVAC interface, all being the types of premium features expected in a luxury brand, as well as the Escape’s top-level Titanium trim line. Nevertheless, compared to some rivals that have digitized these controls under touch-sensitive black glass-like panels, the Escape’s HVAC setup looks outdated, although the little pull tab for engaging the electric parking brake makes everyone clear that Ford did all it could to keep this SUV up-to-date.

2019 Ford Escape Titanium 2.0L Ecoboost
The Escape’s large high-resolution multi-info display was so ahead of its time that it’s now current technology. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Speaking of advanced features, my test model boasted a $2,500 available Safe and Smart + Roof Package with features such as a panoramic glass sunroof, rain-sensing windshield wipers, auto high beams, adaptive cruise control, forward collision warning with automatic braking, blindspot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert, as well as lane departure warning with lane keeping assist. Some of these items are also made available in a separate package when choosing one of the two mid-range models, so therefore you don’t have to go all the way up to top-line Titanium in order to experience high-level safety and convenience.

All of this detail in mind, I’m not about to delve into all standard and optional features with this outgoing SUV, because you’re not going to be able to order one this late in the game anyway. Still, other than the features already noted, Titanium trim adds 18-inch alloys, bi-Xenon HID headlamps with LED signatures, a heated steering wheel rim, an auto-dimming rearview mirror, front parking sonar, leather upholstery, a 110-volt power outlet, a foot-operated hands-free tailgate, plus more, while highlight items pulled from lower trims include additional chrome accents outside, a leather-clad steering wheel inside, a powered liftgate, rear parking sonar and more from SEL trim; fog lights, body-coloured exterior trim, proximity keyless entry with pushbutton start/stop, a combination lock entry keypad, one-touch up/down powered windows all-round, a 10-way powered driver’s seat, two-zone auto HVAC, heatable front seats and more from the SE; plus finally auto on/off headlights, a windshield wiper de-icer, remote start, keyless entry, MyKey, variable intermittent windshield wipers, power windows, air conditioning, an overhead console with a sunglasses holder, SOS Post-Crash Alert, all the expected airbags including one for the driver’s knees, and plenty more from the base S model.

2019 Ford Escape Titanium 2.0L Ecoboost
Ford’s Sync 3 infotainment system remains very impressive. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

A few highlights regarding Escape Titanium materials quality include an almost completely soft synthetic dash top that wraps all the way around the infotainment system’s control. This premium treatment softens the front door uppers too, while front and rear door inserts and armrests are finished even more comfortably, as is the centre armrest.

Ford beautifies the instrument panel with black lacquered surfacing that stretches to the right and left of the centre stack before reaching downward to each side, while this model also gets tasteful application of aluminum-look detailing, all of which added some glitz to my tester’s otherwise black interior. Certainly colour is included, but the two digital displays aside its small dashes of blue and red are relegated to the temperature knobs and the stylish baby blue instrument needles in the gauge package.

The seats look good, highlighted by what appears to be cream or light grey thread for a sporty contrast against black leather. I really appreciated the driver seat’s comfort level, particularly because of its adjustments, and the long reach and rake from the Escape’s manual tilt and telescopic steering column. As many who read my reviews know, my long-legged and short-torso body type doesn’t fit ideally into some manufacturer’s products, but such is not the case with the Escape. In fact, I think you’ll find it difficult to round up a challenger that provides more driver adjustment, while visibility is very good in all directions as well.

2019 Ford Escape Titanium 2.0L Ecoboost
Comfort, roominess, and premium materials set the Escape Titanium apart. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

As usual I took the time to sit in back, where I found sizeable, comfortable accommodations. This said one doesn’t exactly sit within each outboard seat, but instead on top of them, so there’s not a lot of lateral support. Fortunately, relatively tall folk won’t have a problem with legroom or headroom as both are in large supply, while reclining the rear seatbacks can provide more of the latter. A folding centre armrest improves comfort further, while providing two cupholders for drinks. Also good, Ford makes sure passengers in back get ample ventilation via vents on the front console’s rear panel, this also housing the previously noted 110-volt power outlet, which incidentally comes with a third grounding socket for three-pronged plugs (not always the case). I was disappointed that Ford didn’t offer heated rear seats, particularly in this top-tier trim, but anyone wanting these types of premium accoutrements can opt for the Lincoln MKC (renamed Corsair for 2020), which is a 2019 Escape Titanium under all the luxury trappings.

The tailgate powers up by waving your foot under the back bumper, and once opened reveals a large 964-litre (34.0 cubic-foot) cargo hold aft of the 60/40 split-folding rear seats. Dropping these down provides up to 1,925 litres (68.0 cu ft) of gear-toting space, but on this note I’d much rather have more convenient 40/20/40 split-folding rear seats, or even a pass-through down the middle, because I like to ski and don’t want to leave my boards locked up in a less secure rooftop-mounted carrier. With a pass-through, both kids can enjoy the more comfortable and scenic outboard rear seats, while I get peace of mind when chowing down in the cafeteria or restaurant later. Still, this feature is ultra-rare in the mainstream volume-branded SUV sector, so while I complain (regularly), it probably wouldn’t be a dealmaker unless I liked the rest of the SUV as much as something else on the market that offered it. Absent features in mind, there are no levers on the cargo walls for automatically folding down the rear seatbacks, unlike a few competitors, but in order to be positive I’ll mention a handy flap the falls down over the gap between the seats and cargo floor in order to stop small items from slipping between the cracks, so to speak, and also good, the lengthened cargo floor is quite flat compared to most others.

2019 Ford Escape Titanium 2.0L Ecoboost
Rear seat accommodations are more than adequate. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Just in case you’re beginning to think I’m getting too harsh with the old Escape, rest assured that it remains a very impressive compact SUV in most respects, and best in class when talking performance. Its transmission can be criticized for falling short of two or even three gears now that others in the class offer eight- and nine-speed automatics (including the 2020 Escape with the former, as noted), but the 2019 Escape’s six-speed autobox is amply smooth, refined and well-proven, plus my tester’s steering paddles provided a lot more engagement than most CVT-infused challengers do. Yes, all of SUVs mentioned so far use continuously variable transmissions, as do a number of others in the segment, and while highly efficient these also deliver continuous noise at high revs, as well as continual boredom when pushed hard. Instead, the Escape’s manual mode shifts genuine gears in comparatively quick and precise fashion, making Ford’s compact SUV a great deal more fun to drive fast.

Speaking of going fast, all Escape trims include torque-vectoring control as well as Curve Control, the latter capable of sensing if you’re driving to fast while entering a corner, and if so, automatically slowing you down via throttle reduction and the anti-lock brakes. I certainly didn’t notice anything going on in the background, and I pushed it very hard for testing purposes, so this electronic safety net is only intrusive when it needs to be.

2019 Ford Escape Titanium 2.0L Ecoboost
No shortage of cargo space in back. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Then again, my Escape Titanium’s slightly firmer suspension and larger tires meant it wasn’t the smoothest riding SUV in its category. I wouldn’t call it harsh in the slightest, however, or uncomfortable at all, but I noticed more bumps and road imperfections than in the RAV4 or CR-V, which isolate occupants from pavement irregularities better. Still, this Escape Titanium will leave you smiling when pushed hard on a circuitous mountainside or riverside road, which is one of those difficult to quantify benefits that I happen to find priceless.

So there you have it, the outgoing 2019 Escape is well worth your attention. It continues to be a strong challenger despite its age, because it was so well engineered way back when. I think it’s still a smart choice for those wanting to keep their monthly budget in check, but can appreciate why someone might want to step up to the more advanced 2020 Escape or something else entirely. This said I can’t say for sure if its replacement will be worthy of more coin, as I haven’t even sat behind the wheel, but its mechanical improvements, including the new hybrid option, as well as its infotainment gains, appear well worth the upgrade. It’ll come down to personal priorities, like everything in life, so take some confidence in knowing you’ll be well taken care of with either new or old Escape.

Story credit: Trevor Hofmann

Photo credit: Karen Tuggay