2019 Ford EcoSport 2.0 SES Road Test

2019 Ford EcoSport 2.0 SES
The EcoSport wears Ford’s older design language, but it still looks smart in its sporty SES duds.

The EcoSport, that just recently entered the Canadian market for the 2018 model year, will soon be the oldest SUV in Ford’s burgeoning lineup. This is due to the mid-size seven-passenger Flex fading into the sunset when its remaining 2019 model run gets sold off. Where the Flex was one of the blue-oval brand’s largest crossover SUVs, the EcoSport is by far its smallest, and therefore fills Ford’s critical gateway position now that the subcompact Fiesta hatchback has also been discontinued from the North American markets.

Of note, Ford’s other crossovers and SUVs have been more recently refreshed or redesigned, the former car-based models including the completely redesigned 2020 Escape, the recently refreshed Edge that came out for the 2019 model year, and the entirely redone 2020 Explorer that’s just arriving now, whereas the not quite as new truck-based Expedition SUV will soon be second oldest. 

2019 Ford EcoSport 2.0 SES
SES trim blackens out a lot of exterior accents that would otherwise be bright metal.

Soon Ford will add two new models to its utility lineup, the first being the impressive but oddly named Mustang Mach-E (I hope they drop the “Mustang” part and just call it the “Mach-E”), sized between the Escape and Edge and powered by a new plug-in electric drivetrain, and the second an even more interesting (to me at least) compact truck-based body-on-frame 4×4 that brings back the classic Bronco name. A smaller “baby Bronco” is reportedly planned to go up against the subcompact Jeep Renegade, just like the new Bronco will go head-to-head with the iconic Jeep Wrangler 4×4, which means off-road fans will soon have a lot more to get excited about.

Ford will continue to dominate the truck market with its best-selling F-Series, of course, and do its best to make the new (to us) Ranger mid-size pickup as popular as its slightly smaller predecessor used to be, while it will probably maintain its leadership in the commercial van segment as well, its Euro-style Transit full-size van well ahead of all rivals on the sales charts. Ford still makes the classic Econoline, by the way, but it’s only available with a cutaway chassis cab body in our market, plus the Transit Connect does very well in the smaller compact commercial van category.

2019 Ford EcoSport 2.0 SES
These 17-inch dark grey alloys add a lot of style to the EcoSport SES’ design.

Now that I’ve come this far I might as well finish off with every blue-oval model available to Ford’s Canadian customers, the fabulous GT super car still showing on the brand’s retail website despite being sold out some time ago, and the Mustang still North America’s go-to sports/muscle car by a long shot, while the Fusion mid-size sedan will be with us for one last year before being sent out to pasture like the larger Taurus full-size sedan, the little Fiesta subcompact, and the compact Focus (plus sadly the later two models’ superb ST and RS performance versions, and the once great SHO).

Until Ford comes out with an ST version of the EcoSport I can’t see enthusiasts getting excited about it (hey, they brought us an Edge ST, so you never know), but it look good and drives well for such an old SUV, plus it offers up a nice assortment of features and can be had for an even more compelling price. This current second-generation EcoSport arrived in other markets during 2012 as a 2013 model, which adds up to six years before it arrived as an all-new model here in North America. I first saw the original EcoSport (a design I really liked at the time) when I was living in São Paulo, Brazil, and now that I’m more often on the other side of the world in Metro Manila, Philippines, I’ve been seeing this new one becoming popular there for about six years (and likewise for our all-new Ranger pickup that was been a big seller there since it hit the market in 2011).

2019 Ford EcoSport 2.0 SES
Blue and copper orange is an unusual mix, which is probably why Ford now makes this interior with silver and grey instead.

Like the Ranger, the EcoSport has aged quite well. It wears Ford’s most older grille design, last seen on the 2019 Escape and 2018 Edge, so it doesn’t look out of date unless you see it lined up in row of its blue-oval contemporaries. A redesigned third-generation EcoSport should be out by 2021 as a 2022 model, so at least we can be fairly certain this 2019 version, and the mostly unchanged 2020 version, won’t be redesigned for couple of years or more.

As it is, despite its age the EcoSport has plenty of redeeming qualities, the first being decent fuel economy due to standard auto start-stop technology that shuts the engine off when it would otherwise be idling in order to reduce fuel usage and improve emissions, all before restarting automatically when letting off the brake.

2019 Ford EcoSport 2.0 SES
The cockpit has a sporty look, enhanced by a leather-clad steering wheel with paddle shifters in SES trim.

This EcoSport comes standard with the same turbocharged 1.0-litre three-cylinder that I first enjoyed in the Fiesta. While a fun-to-drive entry-level engine, it’s also capable of an 8.6 L/100km city, 8.1 highway and 8.4 combined Transport Canada rating, while the even stronger 2.0-litre four-cylinder I tested here is good enough for an estimated 10.2 city, 8.0 highway and 9.3 combined. To be clear, this is fairly thrifty when compared to some of its key rivals, and falls short of others, finding a happy medium right in the middle.

The middle-of-the-road EcoSport story is similar for pricing too, with the base 2019 S model starting at $22,349 (plus delivering and other fees), and fancier trims including the SE at $25,449, SES at $29,849 and top-line at 31,349. All-wheel drive can be added to S and SE trims for $2,500, while it comes standard in the SES and Titanium. Notably, the pricing just quoted was heavily discounted at the time of writing, with CarCostCanada reporting additional incentives up to $4,500 on this 2019 EcoSport, or for those wanting the newer 2020 model, factory leasing and financing rates from 3.99 percent. Go to the 2019 or 2020 Ford EcoSport Canada Prices page right here at CarCostCanada for all the details, plus the ability to price and configure EcoSport models, while accessing available manufacturer rebates, dealer invoice pricing that could save you thousands, and much more.

2019 Ford EcoSport 2.0 SES
The gauge cluster is simple, but the bright blue needles stand out nicely.

Of course, selling on price is not a good way to make a profit, but that’s Ford’s problem. Still, as noted earlier there’s a lot more to like about this little SUV than its reasonably low fuel economy and attractive pricing. Both direct-injected engines provide pretty strong performance, actually, the base turbocharged 1.0-litre three-banger good for 123 horsepower and 125 lb-ft of torque, and the as-tested naturally aspirated 2.0-litre four making a more spirited 166 horsepower and 149 lb-ft of torque.

Additionally, neither engine is held back by the vague performance of a continuously variable transmission (CVT) or a slow-shifting regular automatic, but instead get Ford’s well-proven six-speed SelectShift dual-clutch automated manual. It may not be the most dependable transmission ever made, but it delivers very quick, snappy shifts, enhanced with steering wheel-mounted paddle shifters in SES trim, along with the same ease-of-use the two less exciting transmissions provide.

2019 Ford EcoSport 2.0 SES
Sync 3 offers up a nice easy-to-use design plus Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.

Underpinning the entire SUV is a fully independent suspension featuring MacPherson struts in front and a multilink setup in the rear, plus a stabilizer bar at each end. Additionally, twin-tube hydraulic gas-pressurized shocks keep the front wheels connected to tarmac while progressive-rate springs with mono-tube hydraulic gas-pressurized shocks lock in the back end, while a fairly direct feeling electric power steering system makes manoeuvring the EcoSport into tiny parking spaces easy and negotiating heavy traffic a breeze. Ford’s smallest SUV feels nice and stable through slaloming roadways too, and tracks well on the open highway. No matter the conditions it’s a fun little utility to drive, even on slippery surfaces where Ford’s AdvanceTrac traction control with RSC (Roll Stability Control) keeps it under control, and the SUV’s standard four-wheel discs with ABS provide good braking performance.

2019 Ford EcoSport 2.0 SES
The nice big backup camera with active guidelines made parking easy.

The way this EcoSport drives makes it easy to understand why 7,438 Canadians bought one last year (which is a bit less than mid-pack, with six subcompact crossover SUVs selling fewer and 10 delivering more), but just the same I could see why some may have chosen it because of styling first and foremost. My SES example was painted in an eye-catching Lightning Blue with sporty black accents all around (although it didn’t wear this trim’s optional black decals on the hood and rooftop), some of its best design details being the Dark Tarnish Metallic-painted 17-inch rims it rolled on.

The interior, however, was colour-matched by the three blind mice. Who decided that its mostly Ebony Black cabin colour (shade) scheme should be accented with copper-orange on every model? I suppose blue and orange don’t completely clash (a similar livery kind of worked for McLaren F1 this year), and of course it’s perfect when choosing the EcoSport’s available Canyon Ridge (copper) exterior paint, but I’m glad Ford recently decided to ditch this unusual colour combo for trusty old grey. As it was, my tester’s partial leather seat upholstery included copper orange stripes on their stain-resistant ActiveX fabric inserts, these matching the same copper highlights that run across the instrument panel, on each side of the console, and along the door panels.

2019 Ford EcoSport 2.0 SES
Remember, Ford replaced this orange with silver and grey, which will be a good or bad thing, depending on your personal taste.

All said, I can’t see anyone complaining about the SES model’s aforementioned 17-inch alloy wheels or its sport-tuned suspension upgrade, or for that matter the paddle shifters I commented on a while ago. Other niceties with this trim include rain-sensing windshield wipers, an auto-dimming centre mirror, blindspot monitoring, an 8.0-inch infotainment touchscreen with Ford’s best Sync 3 interface, a navigation system that worked perfectly during my test week, a pretty good seven-speaker audio system, and a very useful household-style 110-volt power outlet.

Sync 3 infotainment is still very good despite not being as recently updated as some competitive systems. Along with than the items already mentioned, its feature set includes the expected tablet-like tap, swipe and pinch gesture controls, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto smartphone integration, easy Bluetooth connectivity for your phone and audio streaming, voice activation, a 4G LTE Wi-Fi hotspot, plus the ability to play AM, FM and satellite radio stations, of course. Satellite in mind, Sirius Travel Link is also included, plus a number of apps, while the Sync 3’s graphics are organized into convenient tiles in an attractive white on sky blue colour scheme. It’s not new, but it’s still very good.

2019 Ford EcoSport 2.0 SES
Really comfortable seats had plenty of manual adjustment.

Missing from my SES tester was dual-zone automatic climate control, but its single-zone auto HVAC system was plenty good for my needs and as good as this entry-level SUV segment usually gets, while its front seats were only four-way manually adjustable, which was another inconvenience that didn’t matter much to me. The seats were comfortable and supportive just the same, plus my long-legged, shorter torso five-foot-eight frame fit well due to better-than-average reach from the EcoSport’s tilt and telescopic steering column.

It’s spacious as well, and especially good for taller occupants. In fact, both the front and back seating areas are well proportioned, but I recommend leaving the rear centre position unoccupied when four adults are aboard. The cargo compartment is fairly large too, with 592 litres of volume behind the 60/40-split back seats and 1,415 litres when lowered, although the load floor doesn’t lay very flat.

2019 Ford EcoSport 2.0 SES
The rear seats are spacious and comfortable for this class.

Accessing the cargo compartment comes via a side-swinging rear door that might be a deal-killer for some. Not only did it squeak while driving (or at least something near the door was squeaking annoyingly all week long), but who wants to deal with a heavy, inconvenient side-swinging rear door when there’s 16 competitors (and three more on the way) that offer a liftgate that also acts as a shelter in the rain? At least it opens on the proper side for North American markets, unlike some others (Jeep) that make it really difficult to load from the curb, not to mention dangerous if forced to step into the line of traffic with arms loaded. It opens easily enough thanks to gas struts, but you’ll need to make sure and leave plenty of space behind the EcoSport for the wide door to swing it out when parked on the side of the road, while if another driver (parker) parks too close, good luck getting anything into the back (not usually a problem with a liftgate).

As for interior finishings, it’s better than some and not as good as this segment’s best sellers due to an abundance of hard plastic surfaces. I know this is a base subcompact and buyers in this class aren’t expecting Range Rover detailing, but some in this category are delivering a more premium experience than others, and therefore merely adding a pliable composite dash top/instrument panel along with padded armrests isn’t enough these days.

2019 Ford EcoSport 2.0 SES
The cargo area is roomy enough, but some might not like the side-swinging rear door.

As my regular readers know, I don’t hold back when I don’t like a vehicle, but I think I’ve been very fair with Ford’s EcoSport. It’s one of the oldest SUVs in this class, yet it does a pretty decent job of looking good, plus it balances a really fun driving experience with reasonable fuel economy, it’s plenty comfortable, very spacious, is equipped well enough, has a great infotainment system (and has an attractive set of gauges with cool blue needles), and (squeaking and side-swinging rear door aside) is quite practical. The fact you can currently save thousands on a new 2019 is a major bonus that should be considered too, so if you can live with its few shortcomings (and most rivals could be better too) the EcoSport is worth a closer look.

Story and photo credits: Trevor Hofmann

2019 Mazda CX-9 Signature Road Test

2019 Mazda CX-9 Signature
The CX-9 is one stylish looking mid-size contender.

I want you to try something. The next time you’re considering the purchase of a new car or SUV, first go to the closest Mazda retailer, or at least check out the Mazda stand at your local car show, and take a seat inside the equivalent model you’re considering buying from an alternative brand. I’m willing to guess you’ll soon be wondering why your current vehicle isn’t a Mazda, or if you should still be considering any competitive models for your next ride.

This is true even if you currently own something made by a premium brand, Aston Martin, Bentley or Rolls-Royce aside. That same Mazda may cause you to question why you paid so much more for your domestic, Japanese or European luxury vehicle. Step into one of Mazda’s Signature trim lines and you’ll be feeling glummer still.

2019 Mazda CX-9 Signature
It might look like it’s all style and no substance, but the CX-9 provides plenty of interior room.

The top-line Signature trim is available in the Mazda6 mid-size sedan, plus Mazda’s CX-5 compact crossover SUV and the very CX-9 mid-size seven-passenger crossover being reviewed here. Together with the usual assortment of high-end features included in any given brand’s best equipped models, Signature trim includes such niceties as 19- to 20-inch alloy wheels, a powered steering column, a surround parking camera, front parking sensors to go along with the rear parking sensors already added, ventilated front seats, heated rear seats, and more depending on the model. Making it look and feel like it’s from a premium brand, not to mention a higher trim level from that premium brand, Mazda makes it even nicer by adding supple Nappa leather upholstery as well as real hardwood trim, my CX-9 Signature tester featuring Santos Rosewood on the centre console and all the door switchgear panels, front and rear.

Additionally, cloth-covered roof pillars are pulled up from lesser trims, while Mazda also boasts more pliable, padded premium surfaces than the majority of mainstream volume rivals, even in models not providing Signature trim lines like the recently redesigned Mazda3, making the independent automaker’s levels of refinement surprisingly good to those not yet initiated.

2019 Mazda CX-9 Signature
How’s this for a big, imposing luxury brand grille?

The CX-9 Signature shown here is as near premium as mainstream volume carmakers get. The multi-tiered dash is completely covered in padded leatherette that extends around to the door uppers front to rear. What’s more, the soft upper section of the instrument panel and harder lower composite panels are divided by a beautifully detailed metallic inlay that really feels genuine, this extending visually to the corner vents as well, plus the side door panels.

Thanks to my tester’s available Snowflake White Pearl exterior paint, it came standard with gorgeous Chroma Brown Nappa leather upholstery that also visually extends to the instrument panel, lower console and door inserts. It feels ultra rich on those doors thanks to a thick memory foam underlay, while a similar brown colour gets used for the thread stitching the leather-wrapped steering wheel and armrests together.

Piano black lacquer can be found inside too, but only in tastefully small applications around the shift lever and the doors’ power window switch panels, while the power mirror toggle is nicely detailed out in knurled aluminum like the infotainment system dial on the lower console. Plenty of satin-finish aluminum trim can be found through the cabin too, Mazda even coating the power seat controls with a satin metallic surface treatment for a truly upscale look.

2019 Mazda CX-9 Signature
The CX-9 Signature doesn’t miss a beat, with LED headlamps, LED fog lights, and 20-inch alloys.

On the digital front, Mazda upgraded the primary gauge package in GT models and above for 2019. It looks like a regular three-dial cluster at first glance, but the centrally-mounted speedometer and two surrounding efficiency/range gauges are in fact part of a 7.0-inch colour display, this bookended by three analogue gauges to the left and right, including a tachometer, temperature readout and fuel gauge. This represents a big change over the previous 2016-2018 CX-9 gauge cluster, which included analogue gauges on the left and centre, plus a colour multi-info display on the right. Now the multi-info display is housed within the circular digital speedometer, and provides a whole host of helpful features.

Improving on the new gauge cluster is a head-up display unit that projects key info onto the windscreen, even including a speed limit reminder that I really appreciated.

2019 Mazda CX-9 Signature
The LED taillight detailing is gorgeous.

Over at dash centre is an 8.0-inch infotainment touchscreen with nice, attractive, high-resolution graphics. The display itself is a fixed, upright tablet-like design as seen on the CX-9 and other Mazda models for years. Premium brands first made this design popular and Mazda was one of the first mainstream marques to adopt it, while it’s only just starting to catch on amongst volume-branded challengers. My test model’s infotainment system featured an impressive new double-screen parking camera with the usual rearview monitor as well as a superb 360-degree bird’s-eye view, making negotiating a tight parking spot especially easy when combined with its front and rear sonar system.

Also new for 2019 is Apple CarPlay and Android Auto smartphone integration, plus SiriusXM Traffic Plus and Travel Link data services with information on real-time traffic, weather conditions, fuel prices, and sports scores, while the infotainment system also includes navigation with detailed mapping, excellent 12-speaker Bose audio with Centerpoint surround sound and AudioPilot noise compensation technologies, plus SurroundStage signal processing, HD and satellite radio, voice activation, Bluetooth phone connectivity with streaming audio, text message reading and response capability, plus more.

2019 Mazda CX-9 Signature
The brownish-red on black interior is a nice touch.

An infotainment feature that sets Mazda apart from its mainstream competitors yet aligns it with pricier luxury branded alternatives is its lower console-mounted controller. It’s made up of a big metal-edged rotating dial that navigates the display, plus a smaller audio volume knob, and a bunch of fast-access buttons. Using this interface to modulate the infotainment system will be more comfortable than stretching an arm to the dash to actuate the touchscreen, at least for some users, but this said you can still use the touchscreen for smartphone-style tap, swipe and pinch finger gestures, the latter function perfect for changing the scale on the navigation system’s map, for instance.

As you may have noticed earlier, the CX-9 has been around in its current form since 2016 when Mazda introduced this second generation, which makes its premium levels of interior refinement even more amazing. You’ll actually need to sidle up beside the CX-9 Signature in the new 2020 Hyundai Palisade or Kia Telluride if you want to improve upon its rich interior (although I must confess to not yet testing the 2020 Toyota Highlander). Also notable, this current generation CX-9 is no longer based on the Ford Edge, but instead rides on Mazda’s SkyActiv platform.

2019 Mazda CX-9 Signature
The CX-9’s cabin design and execution is a cut above most competitors.

Made up of the mid-size SUV segment’s usual McPherson struts up front and multi-link setup in the rear with coil springs and a stabilizer bar at both ends, Mazda retuned it for 2019 to provide even better ride quality. Now it’s ideal for managing unkempt inner-city streets, overly large bridge expansion joints and otherwise poorly paved stretches of roadway elsewhere, while the latest CX-9 is also impressive on the open highway where its revised steering allows for better high-speed tracking.

Mazda’s dynamic pressure turbocharged SkyActiv-G 2.5-litre four-cylinder engine puts out ample passing power due to 250 horsepower, plus it gets up and goes quickly from standstill thanks to a whopping 320 lb-ft of torque. Understand that the CX-9 might look slim and stylish, but it’s in fact a sizeable seven-occupant crossover utility, but the highly efficient turbo-four nevertheless provides strong performance in town and more than enough when more open roads start winding. Sadly Mazda left steering wheel-mounted paddles off the menu, but the gear lever allowed for manual shifting when I wanted to extract as much performance from the powertrain as possible.

2019 Mazda CX-9 Signature
The new 7.0-inch digital gauge cluster puts the multi-information display within the speedometer at centre.

Interestingly, Mazda clearly specifies that the CX-9’s engine will only make full power when 93 octane gasoline or higher is fed into its tank, and knowing my colleagues all too well I’m going to guess that most use cheaper 87 octane when it comes time to refill. Therefore my tester was probably only making the 227 horsepower Mazda claims its capable of when lower grade gasoline is added, but it was still plenty quick. This may be because its impressive torque rating only loses 10 lb-ft without high-test fuel, and merely requires 2,000 rpm to provide full torque, so I personally wouldn’t waste any money on pricier fuel.

A metal rocker switch next to the shift lever allows for Sport mode, which improves acceleration due to the six-speed transmission’s ability to hold a given gear right up to redline, plus it won’t automatically shift when it spins up to the solid red line at 6,300 rpm, but instead holds its gear for more control through corners. This is a very rare feature in this mostly practical market segment, and therefore provides the CX-9 with more excitement than its rivals, despite only using a six-speed autobox. Together with its agile suspension setup, notably upgraded for 2019, and its fairly direct feeling engine-speed-sensing variable power-assist rack-and-pinion steering system, which collectively iron out tight curving roadways impressively, it’s a very well sorted SUV.

2019 Mazda CX-9 Signature
New for 2019, a surround view parking monitor is available.

G-Vectoring Control technology carries over from the previous CX-9, the technology seamlessly moving more torque to the front wheels during corner entry and then sending it rearward when exiting. To most it will be imperceptible, only adding stability that’s especially welcome amid inclement weather like the rainstorm I experienced during my test week. This is when I was also glad Mazda makes its i-Activ AWD system standard in trims above the base GS model, putting all of my Signature model’s 255/50R20 all-season tires to work.

All-wheel drive will be standard next year, so Mazda won’t be able to claim its current FWD model’s most efficient 10.6 L/100km city, 8.4 highway and 9.6 combined fuel economy rating. The AWD CX-9’s fuel economy is rated at 11.6, 9.1 and 10.5 respectively, incidentally, which despite making significantly more than the Kia Sorento is nearly as efficient by comparison, the Korean SUV achieving 11.2 in the city, 9.0 on the highway and 10.2 combined, whereas the V6-powered Highlander somehow gets a Transport Canada rating of 12.1 L/100km city, 9.0 highway and 10.6 combined.

2019 Mazda CX-9 Signature
That’s real rosewood around the lower console.

Igniting the CX-9’s engine only requires the press of a dash-mounted button, while access to the interior comes via proximity-sensing keyless entry. You’ll need to press on of the less than subtle black buttons on the front door handles to make the system work, and take note that Mazda hasn’t added a set of these buttons to the rear door handles like some others, but I must say that once inside the CX-9’s driver ergonomics are better than many of its competitors. The 10-way powered driver’s seat includes the usual fore, aft, up, down, tilt and recline functions, plus two-way powered lumbar support that actually pressed up against the small of my back perfectly (what luck!), but you might want to personally check this feature out for yourself. All said my tester proved wonderfully comfortable throughout my test week, with some of that credit needing to go to the powered tilt and telescopic steering column’s long reach.

Sitting behind my driver’s seat I found the second row window seat roomy, comfortable and supportive all-round. A wide centre armrest folds down when three abreast is a crowd in back, replete with a set of cupholders as per every other competitor in this segment, while the tri-zone automatic climate control system gets an attractive interface on the backside of the front console, featuring rocker switches for the previously noted three-way heated rear window seats.

2019 Mazda CX-9 Signature
Unlike its mainstream peers, but like many premium brands, the CX-9 provides this infotainment control interface.

The outboard second-row seats easily slide forward for ample access to the rearmost row, and while the third row offers a nice, comfortable set of backrests and lower cushions, there’s not much room for an average sized adult’s knees and feet unless the 60/40-split second row is pushed far enough forward that it’ll start feeling claustrophobic for its passengers. Thus the third row better used by smallish adults or children.

When that third row is in use there’s not much space for cargo, but nevertheless Mazda says that it’s good for 407-litre loads. I certainly never had need for the rearmost seats so I left them tucked away most of the time, which allowed for a very accommodating 1,082 litres (38.2 cu ft) of total cargo volume. The second row lies flat when required too, but being that it’s divided with a less than optimal 60/40 split it’s impossible to use the rear seat heater when stowing skis or other long items longitudinally. Better would be a centre pass-through or even more optimal 40/20/40 split-folding second row, but at least the CX-7 maxes its cargo capacity out at a sizeable 2,017 litres (71.2 cu ft) when all seats are lowered. The cargo area is properly finished as well, with carpeting protecting three-quarters of each sidewall, while a sturdy load floor can be lifted to expose a shallow carpeted storage compartment below.

2019 Mazda CX-9 Signature
These Nappa leather-covered seats are ultra-comfortable.

Other notable storage areas include an overhead console sunglasses holder, a big open area ahead of the shift lever, a large bin below the front centre armrest, and lastly the glove box that’s quite large and lined with a nice velvet-like material. Yes, Mazda certainly goes all the way in dressing up its flagship SUV. 

Refinement in mind, Mazda stuffs all of the unseen areas with sound-deadening insulation, while the windshield and front windows use noise-isolating glass. The CX-9’s body is ultra-rigid too, while aforementioned improvements made to the steering and suspension systems help to eliminate unwanted noise while improving the SUV’s overall feeling of solidity. Everything from the way the CX-9’s doors close to its general driving dynamics make it seem like it should be badged by a luxury carmaker, while its very quiet inside too.

2019 Mazda CX-9 Signature
The second-row seats are comfortable and there’s plenty of room.

Peace of mind is important too, and to this end the CX-9 Signature provides one of the more advanced collections of active and passive safety gear available. Of course all the usual active and passive safety features are included, although these are supported with forward obstruction warning, Smart Brake Support and Smart City Brake Support autonomous emergency braking with pedestrian detection, advanced blind spot monitoring, rear cross traffic alert, lane departure warning, lane keeping assist, traffic sign recognition, new seatbelt reminders on the second- and third-row seats, adaptive cruise control with stop and go, and more.

Other premium-like features include an electric parking brake, a new frameless auto-dimming rearview mirror, new power-folding door mirrors, a Homelink universal garage door opener, a revised overhead console with LED overhead and ambient lighting plus a better designed LED room lamp control switch, while its heatable leather-wrapped steering wheel with cross-stitched detailing is a wonderful way to wake up on a cold winter morning.

2019 Mazda CX-9 Signature
The third row is best left for kids.

Additionally, the previously noted driver’s seat includes memory, while the CX-9 Signature also adds an eight-way powered front passenger’s seat with power lumbar, plus rear side window sunshades and more for only $51,500 (plus freight and fees), which is great value when put up beside luxury branded crossover SUVs with the same level of features, and just right when comparing volume-branded competitors with similar equipment. The only obvious feature void was the lack of a panoramic sunroof, the regular sized power moonroof overhead looking a bit too commonplace this day and age.

Speaking of the CX-9’s price and features, be sure to check out its various trims, packages and individual options at our 2019 Mazda CX-9 Canada Prices page, plus learn about available manufacturer rebates, in-house financing/leasing deals, and dealer invoice pricing to save even more. In fact you can get up to $2,500 in additional incentives on the 2019 CX-9 (at least you could at the time of writing), or up to $1,000 off when choosing the virtually identical 2020 CX-9.

2019 Mazda CX-9 Signature
There’s plenty of cargo space when the third row is folded flat.

Saving what some will claim as the CX-9’s best attribute for last, its dramatic yet tasteful styling could easily come from a high-end premium automaker. The SUV’s satin-silver grille is big and oh-so dramatic, its lower half even including night illumination, while full LED headlamps with automatic high beams, adaptive cornering capability and auto self-levelling seem like extensions of the grille’s chromed end pieces. An aerodynamic lower front fascia features integrated LED fog lamps, while slim LED tail lamps highlight the SUV’s rear quarters, and elegant satin-chrome trim can be found from front to back. Overall, the CX-9 is one sleek and elegant looking mid-size, three-row crossover SUV, which certainly makes it stand out in its crowded segment, just in case its impressive luxury, host of features, excellent driving dynamics and complete suite of advanced driving assistive systems haven’t caused you to sign on the dotted line.

Yes, like I said at the beginning of this review, the CX-9 will make a good first impression if you give it a chance. I highly recommend it.

Story and photo credits: Trevor Hofmann

2019 Subaru Impreza 2.0i Sport 5-Door Road Test

2019 Subaru Impreza 2.0i Sport 5-Door
Despite being three years into this current fifth-generation, the Impreza still looks very good.

Canada’s compact car class is amazingly competitive, but due to regularly enhancing its exterior design, massive improvements in cabin refinement, major gains made to its infotainment systems, and never-ending faith in its unique horizontally-opposed powertrain that connects through to standard all-wheel drive, Subaru has kept its Impreza wholly relevant at a time when competitors are cancelling their small cars.

News of discontinued models never goes over well with auto enthusiasts, even if the car in question is a rather mundane econobox. After all, the same marketplace sentiment that caused General Motors to axe the Chevrolet Cruze and its Volt EV counterpart is also responsible for the elimination of the Ford Focus along with its two sportiest trim lines, not to mention the once fun-to-drive Alfa Romeo-based Dodge Dart a few of years back. And these four are merely in the compact class; with many others falling by the wayside in the subcompact and full-size passenger car segments as well, all making way for new crossover SUVs and electric vehicles.

Subaru produces a full sleight of crossovers, its best-selling model being the Crosstrek that’s based on the Impreza 5-Door in this review. I happen to like that innovative little CUV very much, but I’m also a fan of compact wagons, which is pretty well what the Impreza 5-Door is.

2019 Subaru Impreza 2.0i Sport 5-Door
The 5-Door is the sportiest of the two body styles.

We can call it a hatchback or maybe a liftback to make it seem sportier, but in reality the Impreza 5-Door is a compact wagon. Without doubt someone in Subaru Canada’s marketing division would rather I didn’t call it that, but they should also be aware enough to know this Japanese brand has a faithful following of wagon lovers. The Outback is little more than a lifted Legacy Wagon after all, the five-door Legacy unfortunately no longer available in our market.

The Impreza’s styling was improved with its most recent redesign in 2016, and it truly looks more upscale, even in its less expensive trim lines. This Sport model get fog lights and LED-enhanced headlamps even though it’s merely a mid-range trim, not to mention extended side sills, a discreet rear rooftop spoiler, and stylish LED tail lamps, while machine-finish double-Y-spoke 17-inch alloy wheels with black-painted pockets underpin the sophisticated look.

Subaru produces the Impreza in two body styles, the second being a 4-Door sedan, but this 5-Door is the more popular option in the Canadian market. Both look good and serve their purpose well, and by that I don’t just mean the satisfaction of personal tastes, as the four-door provides the security of being able to lock valuables away in a trunk, and the five-door has more room for loading cargo. The sedan’s trunk can only carry 348 litres of gear, which while not all that bad for a compact sedan is nowhere near as accommodating as a hatchback. Case in point, the Impreza 5-Door’s 588 litres of cargo carrying capacity behind the second row of seats makes it much more useful, and that usefulness only gets better when dropping its 60/40-split rear seatbacks down to open up 1,565 litres of available space.

2019 Subaru Impreza 2.0i Sport 5-Door
The sport gets fog lamps and 17-inch alloy wheels.

The model tested for this review was a 2019, and yes I’m quite aware that the 2020 Impreza is already available, and therefore this review won’t be helpful for very long. Still, consumers willing to opt for a 2019 Impreza can save up to $2,500 in additional incentives (at the time of writing), as seen right here on our 2019 Subaru Impreza Canada Prices page, while folks wanting the updated 2020 Impreza can only access up to $750 in additional incentives, unless of course they become CarCostCanada members and take advantage of dealer invoice pricing that can save them thousands.

For 2020, Subaru is making its EyeSight suite of advanced driver assistance systems standard with Imprezas featuring automatic transmissions, but take note that EyeSight is only available with this Sport trim and the top-line Sport-tech model for 2019. The car tested didn’t include the advanced features, which means that it was missing pre-collision braking, pre-collision brake assist, pre-collision throttle management, lane departure warning, lane sway warning, lane keep assist, lead vehicle start alert, and adaptive cruise control. Subaru is making its Starlink connected services package available for 2020 too, and it’s included with most Impreza trims, while the new model’s styling has been updated on 4- and 5-Door body styles.

2019 Subaru Impreza 2.0i Sport 5-Door
Cabin quality and design is really impressive.

Nothing changes with respect to trim lines from 2019 to 2020, with the Impreza’s four trims remaining Convenience, Touring, Sport and Sport-tech. Model year 2019 4-Door pricing ranges from $19,995 to $30,195, whereas the 5-Door can be had from $20,895 to $31,095. The Impreza’s base price stays the same for 2020, but some pricing in between increases, with the new 5-Door adding $100 to its new $20,995 base price, and the top-line Sport-tech trim costing $30,795 for the 4-Door and $31,695 for the 5-Door.

The 2019 Impreza Sport 5-Door being reviewed here has a retail price of $25,395, but take note the new 2020 version will increase its price to $26,195. Like its two lesser siblings the Sport can be had with a five-speed manual transmission or an available Lineartronic CVT (continuously variable transmission) with standard steering wheel shift paddles, the latter how Subaru upgraded my test car. As usual, the brand’s Symmetrical AWD is standard equipment, which not only makes the Impreza the only car to feature standard AWD in the compact segment, but also one of the only vehicles in this class with available AWD period.

To clarify, Mazda recently showed up with AWD for its compact 3, while the latest Toyota Prius now can be had with an electrified e-AWD setup. VW will offer its Golf Alltrack crossover wagon until it sells out (sadly it’s been discontinued), but to be fair it’s more of a Crosstrek challenger as it is, while the brand’s Golf R competes directly with the Subaru WRX STI.

2019 Subaru Impreza 2.0i Sport 5-Door
The dash gets a very impressive contrast stitched leatherette facing.

Volkswagen in mind, am I the only one to find it odd that this relatively small Japanese automaker has managed to keep the German brand’s horizontally opposed engine design relevant for all of these decades? Subaru has long made the boxer configuration its own, now sharing it only with Porsche and, occasionally, Ferrari, with its newest 2.0-litre, DOHC, 16-valve four producing a dependable 152 horsepower and 145 lb-ft of torque by means of direct injection, dual active valve control, and electronic throttle control. This is considerably more engine output than most rivals’ base engines, with in fact just three competitors make more power, and then not much more, plus just four putting out greater torque.

On the road, the Impreza performs strongly in a straight line, from a standing start all the way up to highway speeds. Its torquey engine works really well with the CVT that provides particularly smooth, linear power, while the paddle shifters are helpful when downshifting mid-corner. Still, the engine and transmission combination worked best when left on its own. Also smooth, Impreza’s ride is excellent, while its capability through the curves is typical of its fully independent front strut and rear double wishbone suspension layout, improved with stabilizer bars at each end.

2019 Subaru Impreza 2.0i Sport 5-Door
This simple gauge cluster is easy to read under any light.

The Impreza therefore offers up a more sophisticated suspension setup than a number of its peers that incorporate less expensive torsion bar designs in back, and this is truly noticeable when driving it hard through fast-paced corners on less than ideal stretches of pavement. Instead of experiencing the rear end hopping over the uneven tarmac, my tester’s 205/50R17 all-seasons remained planted on course, the little wagon making its rally race-bred heritage apparent through each and every turn.

This was when I looked down at my tester’s centre console and longed for the standard five-speed manual gearbox, as it would have been more fun to drive and likely quicker as well, but as it was the paddle shifters worked well when more revs were required, even though they come hooked up to a CVT. It worked well enough, actually, that I’d even consider choosing the CVT if this one was staying in my personal collection, not only because it’d make city driving easier, but also because the automatic is better on fuel, with an estimated rating of just 8.3 L/100km in the city, 6.4 on the highway and 7.5 combined, compared to 10.1 city, 7.5 highway and 8.9 combined for the manual.

2019 Subaru Impreza 2.0i Sport 5-Door
The multi-information display atop the dash comes loaded with features.

While a great car to drive, the Impreza is wonderfully comfortable too, and not only because of its smooth ride. The front seats provide very good adjustability, but oddly the driver’s seat doesn’t have any lumbar adjustment in Sport trim. The seat is inherently supportive, thankfully, and due to plenty of reach from the tilt and telescoping steering column it was easy for me to get myself into an ideal driving position for good control of the leather-clad steering wheel and metal sport pedals. The steering wheel’s rim is shaped perfectly for a comfortable feel, while all the switchgear needed to control its audio, phone, cruise, and trip/multi-information display systems are on its spokes.

Unlike the majority of challengers, the Impreza’s mostly analogue instrument cluster simply divides its primary dials with a coloured TFT display for speed, gear selection, real-time fuel economy, the fuel level, plus the odometer and trip mileage readouts. Alternatively, Subaru houses the full multi-information display in a hooded 4.2-inch colour monitor on top of the centre dash. It incorporates a lot of information, with its top half-inch portion showing a digital clock, interior temperature reading, climate control settings, and the outside temperature, while the larger lower section can be organized as per a driver’s preference, with the options being audio system info, real-time fuel economy and projected range, all-wheel drive power distribution, a row of three digital gauges including water temperature, oil temperature and average speed, plus more.

2019 Subaru Impreza 2.0i Sport 5-Door
The larger 8.0-inch touchscreen is superb.

The multi-information display’s quality of graphics and display resolution has made big gains this generation, but Subaru’s most impressive upgrades in recent years have been made to over in-car infotainment, specifically the main touchscreen on the centre stack, plus and host of functions. Choosing Sport trim means the centre display increases in size from 6.3 to 8.0 inches, while it’s also an ultra high-quality touchscreen with clear definition, beautifully vibrant colours, and wonderfully rich contrasts. Subaru’s tile design is attractive, with big colourful “buttons” overtop a starry blue background that-style graphic layout looks good and is really easy to operate, with its main features being radio, media, phone, apps, settings, and the automaker’s Starlink suite of apps. Navigation isn’t part of Sport trim, but Android Auto and Apple CarPlay is, and by integrating your smartphone can provide route guidance. The apps panel features Aha and iHeartRadio, plus two USB ports and an auxiliary plug provide smartphone connectivity. The reverse camera is good too, benefiting from active guidelines.

All heating, ventilation and air conditioning controls are located on a dedicated interface just under the centre display, while single-zone automatic climate control comes standard with Sport. It operates via three dials and two buttons, but don’t look there for the two-way seat heaters that get controlled via a pair of rocker switches on the lower console. This said, even in their hottest settings they don’t feel anywhere near therapeutic.

2019 Subaru Impreza 2.0i Sport 5-Door
These sport seats are truly supportive.

Subaru doesn’t provide a heatable steering wheel rim in Sport trim, which was a disappointment, but not as disappointing as not being able to get rear seat heaters in any trim at all. This is unusual for a car that would make an excellent family ski conveyance during the coldest season, but just the same the Impreza Sport 5-Door’s rear quarters were nicely furnished, although strangely without secondary air vents.

It’s plenty spacious in the rear passenger compartment, however, with about eight inches of room ahead of my knees when I sat behind the driver’s position that was set up for my five-foot-eight, short-torso, long-legged body type. I also had plenty of space to stretch my legs out with my feet below the front seat, while there was ample side-to-side either room along with a nice wide folding centre armrest with the usual two cupholders integrated within. Finally, I had approximately three inches of air space over my head, making the back seat a viable option for six-footers. The rear window seats also provide good lower back support, which I suppose makes it easier to look past the rear quarter’s lack of amenities.

2019 Subaru Impreza 2.0i Sport 5-Door
The rear seating area is very spacious and the outboard seats are comfortable.

Speaking of the seats, my Sport trim tester’s cloth upholstery is mighty attractive, made up of a sharp looking patterned insert flanked by grey bolsters featuring contrast stitching. I have to say, every Impreza generation makes major strides in cabin refinement, with this most recent fifth-gen model a much more inviting place for driver and passengers with respect to materials quality and overall styling. One look at the contrast-stitched, leather-like pliable composite dash top and you’ll be impressed, this easily as good as this compact segment gets. The high-end surface treatment even flows down the right side of the centre stack and gets duplicated on the left section as well. It’s stunning.

The door uppers get a similarly soft synthetic covering whereas the armrests felt like real stitched leather. Subaru spruces things up further by adding carbon-fibre-like inlays, satin-silver/grey accents, chrome embellishment and more, while the interior buttons, knobs and switches are fitted tightly throughout the interior.

2019 Subaru Impreza 2.0i Sport 5-Door
There’s no shortage of space in the 5-Door’s cargo compartment.

I’ve already spoken about the cargo compartment’s impressive capacity, with its average amount of space behind the rear seats and better-the-average volume when they’re flattened, but I wish Subaru had included a 40/20/40-split instead of the 60/40 divide, or at least a centre pass-through. I know owners in this class are used to squishing their rear passengers into the 60-percent portion when loading longer items like skis in back, but there’s a much more elegant way that Subaru should adopt in order to further differentiate itself from most compact rivals. The Impreza does include a retractable cargo cover for hiding valuables, and it’s housed within a well-made, good looking aluminum cross-member that’s easy to remove.

All in all, I could see myself owning an Impreza 5-Door at some point, if I ever choose to give up this career and am forced to purchase a new car. It’s an ideal size for me, provides enjoyable performance and agreeable comfort combined with good fuel economy, is rated highly from a reliability standpoint, and is much more refined than many in this class. I like that its infotainment system is now in the top 10-percent of this segment, and even though I would have appreciated some additional features in my Sport test model, I drove a top-tier Sport-tech version couple of years ago and found it even more appealing than this model. All things said, the Impreza is a car you should consider seriously.

Story credit: Trevor Hofmann

Photo credits: Karen Tuggay

2019 Genesis G70 3.3T Sport AWD Road Test

2019 Genesis G70 3.3T Sport AWD
The new Genesis G70 performs as well as it looks.

Few categories in the luxury auto sector are more competitive than the battle between compact sport sedans, so bringing an all-new entry into this class takes an entirely new level of courage.

If you haven’t already heard, Genesis is the new luxury brand of Hyundai Motor Group. Basically it’s what Lexus is to Toyota, Infiniti is to Nissan and Acura is to Honda, or for that matter what Audi is to Volkswagen. Each of the just-noted Japanese luxury brands were relative late arrivals compared to their European and domestic American counterparts, some having been around for more than a century.

With the G70, Genesis hasn’t exactly broken the mould like Tesla has with its lineup of electric vehicles, the Model 3 now leading this class in sales. Instead, the new G70 offers an attractive, well made, potent performing, and strong value propositioned alternative to market leaders such as BMW’s 3 Series, Mercedes-Benz’ C-Class and Audi’s A4, not to mention the many others including Lexus’ IS, Infiniti’s Q50, Acura’s TLX, Cadillac’s ATS, Volvo’s S60, Jaguar’s XE, and Alfa Romeo’s Giulia.

2019 Genesis G70 3.3T Sport AWD
Genesis has taken a conservative look with the new G70, but it still has a lot of style in 3.3T Sport AWD trim. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

That’s a full sleight of competitors, and didn’t even include all the coupes, convertibles and wagons, some of the coupes even boasting four doors like the Audi A5 Sportback and BMW 4 Series Gran Coupe. How has the G70 fared? Specifically regarding sales, Genesis Canada sold 1,119 G70s through calendar year 2019, which is quite good, even representing a 15.7-percent gain year-over-year (although the year prior was only 10 months as the G70 went on sale in March, 2018).

That puts its sales higher than some key rivals, namely the Cadillac ATS that required a sedan and coupe to total 1,032 units yet still dropped 36.1 percent from the year before, although that’s not as bad as the Alfa Romeo Giulia that lost 52.5 percent year-over-year with only 242 sales in 2019, not to mention Jaguar’s XE that plunged 72.5 percent after selling a mere 157 units last year, resulting in the last and final place in this segment.

2019 Genesis G70 3.3T Sport AWD
Sport trim includes a unique front fascia, LED headlights, fog lamps, 19-inch alloys and Brembo brakes with red calipers. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

That Genesis achieved 1,119 deliveries in a year that saw many of its competitors lose ground made for impressive beginnings. Let’s remember it’s a three-year old brand, and this is its first totally new model. Yes, the G90 full-size luxury sedan was new when it was introduced together with the entire brand in November 2016, but like the G80 mid-size luxury sedan it started off as an older Hyundai model. The G90 began as the Hyundai Equus, and therefore can be considered to be in its third generation, while the G80 merely had its rear badge changed from Hyundai’s stylized “H” to Genesis’ wings. In fact, it had been wearing the new Genesis brand’s logo on its hood and steering wheel for two generations and eight years already, thanks to previewing the Genesis nameplate.

To say the G70 is an important model for Genesis is an understatement, being that it made up 73.4 percent of Genesis sales in 2019. The G80 found just 324 new owners last year, and the G90 just 82 (that’s nowhere near last place, by the way, but rather 18th from last, with Canada’s worst sales going to the Kia K900 that had zero deliveries and ironically shares its platform architecture with the G90).

2019 Genesis G70 3.3T Sport AWD
The G70 offers up a very impressive interior.

The first Genesis win is styling, with the G70 providing the kind of good looks it needs in order to stand out. It has a strong, aggressive stance, yet it’s not too over-the-top either, other than maybe its nonfunctional front fender vents. It’s also sized perfectly to fit within the compact luxury D-segment, measuring 4,685 millimetres from nose to tail with a 2,835-mm wheelbase, 1,850 mm wide, and 1,400 mm tall, which makes it near identically proportioned to the current C-Class sedan, and only a bit shorter than the 3 Series. This appears to be an ideal size for compact luxury sedans, compared to the Infiniti Q50 that’s quite a bit longer.

This results in a car that’s completely comfortable front to back, yet light and quick enough for good manoeuvrability. Its driving position is very good, with lots of reach and rake from adjustable steering column, while the driver’s seat is excellent, with good upper leg, lumbar, and side support. The steering wheel is smartly shaped for comfort and control, with shift paddles where they need to be for fast gear changes, while the pistol grip-style shift knob on the lower console-mounted lever is simply there for selecting D, R or N, P found on a button just in front. A lovely rotating knurled metal dial allows for drive mode selection, the choices being Comfort, Eco, Smart, Sport and Custom, and while I tried each one out for testing purposes, I’m sure you can hazard to guess which one I used most often.

2019 Genesis G70 3.3T Sport AWD
The G70’s cabin easily measures up to the compact luxury class leaders.

Base G70s use an eight-speed automatic transmission, which gets Idle Stop and Go to automatically shut off the engine in order to save fuel and limit emissions when it would otherwise be idling, and then quickly restart it again when lifting off the brake pedal. The entry-level 2.0-litre turbo-four is good for 252 horsepower and 260 lb-ft of torque, and is also the sole engine available with a six-speed manual in performance-oriented 2.0T Sport RWD trim. The “RWD” portion of the trim designation gives away its rear-drive nature as well, this being the only G70 without AWD, but this model actually puts out an extra 3 horsepower over its auto-equipped 2.0T brethren. The base G70 is the 2.0T Advanced AWD model, which gets followed by 2.0T Elite AWD and 2.0T Prestige AWD trims.

The only two trims using the upgraded twin-turbocharged 3.3-litre V6 power unit, which makes 365 horsepower and 376 lb-ft of torque, is the 3.3T Dynamic AWD model and the top-tier 3.3T Sport AWD being tested here. The powertrain has a nice eager exhaust note at idle, while choosing Sport mode automatically adds air to sport driver seat’s bladder-infused bolsters, this exclusive 16-way power-adjustable seat providing excellent lateral support, not to mention four-way lumbar support and an always appreciated lower cushion extension that made it wonderfully comfortable.

2019 Genesis G70 3.3T Sport AWD
The G70’s gauge cluster gets a nice 7.0-inch multi-info display at centre.

The 3.3-litre V6 makes for a brilliantly quick getaway car, blasting from zero to 100 km/h in just less than five seconds, while its exhaust note becomes addictive as the engine soars toward its 7,000-rpm redline. The eight-speed automatic delivers quick, sharp shifts in Sport mode, the paddle shifters only adding to the intensity, this particularly true through corners where the G70 feels light, lively and oh-so eager to impress, making it a great deal more enjoyable to drive than the equivalent Lexus IS 350 F Sport, not to mention many others in this class.

The brakes are very strong and don’t fade away after repetitive foot stomps. The Sport gets four-piston front and two-piston rear high-performance Brembos with fixed red-painted calipers, which are easily up to task. The G70 has impressive balance thanks to a well-sorted front strut and five-link independent rear suspension setup that never gets out of shape, yet provided a nice, compliant ride even with my test model’s big 19-inch staggered-width alloy wheels encircled by 225/40 front and 255/35 rear Michelin Pilot Sport 4 summer performance tires.

2019 Genesis G70 3.3T Sport AWD
The G70’s infotainment system is no more upscale than what you’d find in a Hyundai.

My G70 Sport’s outstanding stability probably has a lot to do with my its upgraded adaptive control suspension. This is a high-performance suspension control system that distributes front and rear damping forces when a driving situation becomes potentially dangerous and/or unstable, aiding in accidence avoidance. Safety in mind, upper G70 trims also get forward collision assist with pedestrian detection, lane departure warning and lane keeping assist, and driver attention warning, whereas all G70s include blind spot collision warning with lane change assist, plus rear cross-traffic collision warning.

A motor-driven rack-and-pinion steering system gets Variable Gear Ratio assistance for quick, positive response to inputs, yet it never felt nervous. Actually, the G70 tracks really well at high speed, its mechanical limited-slip differential helping out rear traction. Truly, the G70 is a sport-luxury sedan I could live with every day, my only wish being a racetrack that would allow me to test it to its maximum (or my maximum), but even in congested city traffic it was easy to drive.

2019 Genesis G70 3.3T Sport AWD
The G70’s eight-speed automatic is one excellent transmission.

It was during such slower speeds that I had time to enjoy its nicely detailed cabin. Everything is extremely well put together, with the expected pliable composite surfaces above the waste, except for the glove box lid and surrounding surfaces next to the steering wheel. Most buttons, knobs and switches were high quality, but its aluminized silver buttons with blue backlit lettering came across a bit too much like Hyundai products, as did the 8.0-inch infotainment touchscreen atop the centre dash, and its graphic interface. It’s filled with plenty of features, such as Android Auto, Apple CarPlay, a navigation system, a multi-view camera, Genesis Connected Services, etcetera, the 15-speaker Lexicon audio system with Quantum Logic surround sound being very good, although most others in this category offer some sort of infotainment controller on the lower console, and not just a touchscreen.

Ahead of the driver is a large 7.0-inch, highly functional TFT multi-infotainment display as well, and while it was nice and bright plus plenty colourful, I wondered why it wasn’t a fully digital instrument cluster being that it’s a brand new model and Genesis would have been able to include one in upper trims, this being all the rage right now.

2019 Genesis G70 3.3T Sport AWD
Choose your drive mode with this knurled metal selector.

A nicer surprise was the diamond-patterned quilted black and grey highlighted Nappa leather upholstery on the seats and door panels. This is the kind of over-the-top opulence I expect to find with an Aston Martin or Bentley, not an entry-level Genesis sedan. The seats even included stylish grey piping on their side bolsters and at the top of each backrest. This comes as part of my Sport model’s standard Sport Appearance Package that also adds the power-adjustable bolsters and seat cushion extension on the driver’s seat noted before, plus metal foot pedals and a black microsuede headliner and roof pillars.

The G70 is also as nicely finished in its rear quarters as it is up front, the back outboard seats including three-way seat warmers. Those up front included these as well, plus the driver could warm his/her hands on a heatable steering wheel rim, and two front seats were also ventilated for cooling during summer. Dual-zone auto climate control managed cabin comfort, of course, while the usual smartphone connectivity and various charging ports were also included, my go-to choice being a wireless charging pad.

2019 Genesis G70 3.3T Sport AWD
The 16-way driver’s seat that comes standard in Sport trim is truly amazing.

The poorly finished cargo compartment was disappointing, the G70’s trunk no better than what you might find in a Hyundai product. It’s slightly shallower than some peers, plus its hinges take up more room than struts would. Worse, the load floor feels flimsy, and the split-folding rear seatbacks are only divided in a 60/40 configuration, with no centre pass-through, making the G70 less flexible for passengers and cargo than some of its European rivals.

To be fair, the G70 is quite a bargain when compared to most of its German competition, with a base price of only $42,000 (plus freight and fees). Even the most affordable Mercedes-Benz C-Class sedan starts at $46,100, while the least expensive BMW 3 Series sedan takes an investment of $49,000. Even pricier, the slow selling Jaguar XE needs $49,900 before it can be taken home, while Alfa Romeo Giulia can’t be had under $50,445. Of course, some rivals undercut the G70, such as the Audi A4 that only needs $39,800 to procure, while a base Lexus IS (RWD) can be had for $41,250, but these don’t offer the same level of standard features as the G70.

2019 Genesis G70 3.3T Sport AWD2019 Genesis G70 3.3T Sport AWD
The rear seat could use a bit more legroom, but it’s comfortable.

By the way, you can learn about full-range pricing for each of these models just mentioned right here at CarCostCanada (just click on the links for the car names above). CarCostCanada has trim, package and individual options info, plus you can find out about available offers, such as the zero-percent factory leasing and financing rates now provided by Genesis for 2019 and 2020 G70 models. Before you buy or even contact your Genesis dealer, or any of the others, make sure to also get your CarCostCanada membership so you can go to your local dealer with invoice pricing in order to make sure you get the best deal possible. 

The 2020 G70 hasn’t changed from this 2019 model, incidentally, other than the discontinuation of the 3.3T Dynamic AWD model and availability of new higher-end 3.3T Prestige AWD trim. The base price remains the same too, although some of the other trims move up in price, including this Sport trim that gets a new standard power trunk lid so therefore adds $500 for a new total of $58,000.

2019 Genesis G70 3.3T Sport AWD
The trunk lacks refinement and its 60/40-split seatbacks don’t offer the convenience of a centre pass-through.

In the end, the 2019 Genesis G70 is a superb sport-luxury sedan with very few negatives. It’s particularly good for those that drive enthusiastically, as it rewards skillful drivers with brilliant straight-line acceleration and wonderfully predictable, thoroughly capable road holding. This said its good balance and the AWD model’s tendency to understeer make it safe for newer drivers too, while its cabin quality and refinement will impress everyone, with plenty of comfort and some of the most luxurious details in the class.

Of course, it’s not faultless, its claimed 13.3 L/100km city, 9.5 highway and 11.6 combined fuel economy notably thirsty (the four-cylinder, AWD model gets an estimated 11.5, 8.7 and 10.3 respectively), but I think its pros, that include a five-year, 100,000-km comprehensive warranty, outweigh its cons, so I have no problem recommending the G70 to anyone thinking of purchasing a new compact luxury sedan.

Story and photo credits: Trevor Hofmann

2019 Toyota 4Runner TRD Pro Road Test

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Story and photo credits: Trevor Hofmann

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Story and photo credits: Trevor Hofmann

2019 Toyota 86 GT Road Test

2019 Toyota 86 GT
Still beautiful after all these years, Toyota’s 86 refresh three years ago helped keep its graceful lines fresh.

Have you ever had one of those moments when everything you thought was true turned on its head? Researching this review wasn’t one of those moments, but I was nevertheless shocked to find out that Subaru’s BRZ had outsold Toyota’s 86 by almost 10 percent in 2018, and as of last November’s close was ahead by a staggering 150 percent.

If you weren’t already aware, Toyota’s 86 and the previous Scion FR-S always found many more buyers than Subaru’s version of this compact sport coupe. No matter whether being sold under the less known Scion brand or while wearing Toyota’s famed double-oval logo, it’s success just came down to the sheer number of bodies flowing in and out of Canada’s second-best-selling automaker’s dealerships, whereas Subaru is 13th on Canadian sales charts and therefore could never have as many potential buyers enter its establishments. Still, the comparatively tiny all-wheel drive specialty brand is literally beating Toyota at its own two-wheel drive game.

2019 Toyota 86 GT
GT and TRD Special Edition trims include a sporty spoiler on the rear deck lid.

This could be due to the BRZ being a medium-sized fish in a little pond, compared to the 86 that’s more of a minnow trying to get noticed in an ocean of much more popular Toyota product. Certainly the BRZ is no big seller for Subaru either, but consider for a moment that the 86 represents just 0.1 percent of the 200,041 Toyotas sold in Canada over the past 11 months, compared to the BRZ that was a much more significant 1.2 percent of the 52,853 Subarus sold during the same period, and it’s easy to see why it might garner a bit more importance in a Subaru retailer’s lineup. 

As it is, the 86 has seen its sales decline at a rapid rate over the past couple of years. Since it first arrived on the Canadian scene in 2012, resulting in 1,470 deliveries within its initial seven months, its popularity has plunged from 1,825 units in 2013, to 1,559 in 2014, 1,329 in 2015, 988 in 2016, 919 in 2017, and finally 550 in 2018, while year-to-date it’s only sold a scant 250 units. This represents a 53.3-percent drop over the same 11 months last year, while the BRZ’s 625 deliveries over the same duration shows an 8.1-percent increase.

Of course, the BRZ isn’t the 86’ only competitor, just its most obvious being they’re identical cars below very similar skins. Mazda’s MX-5, which sold 767 units so far this year, resulting in 26.99 percent year-over-year growth, joins the BRZ by showing there’s some renewed interest in the entry-level sports car segment as long as the updates focus on the needs and desires of its uniquely passionate customer base.

2019 Toyota 86 GT
The LED headlights and 17-inch rims are standard across the 86 line, but the fog lamps are part of the GT upgrade.

The fact is, the 86 hasn’t been updated since its 2017 model year refresh and concurrent Scion FR-S transformation, other than some special editions, and as to the importance of updating aging models, its sales numbers speak for themselves. So what’s going to happen to this beloved sports car in the near future? That’s anyone’s guess, and we shouldn’t rely wholly on the words of a U.S.-market Toyota spokesperson who told us last year that the 86 was here to stay for the foreseeable future.

If you think the sad state of 86 sales is merely a problem for Toyota Canada, consider that the 3,122 units delivered in the U.S. market over the past 11 months also represents about 0.1 percent of Toyota’s total 1,913,159 unit output up until November’s end, so the car merely exists to improve Toyota’s performance branding, and I think the new 2020 Supra will do a much better job of that this year.

Nevertheless, Toyota hasn’t completely forgotten its most affordable sports car, the 2020 86 soon to arrive with a 0.9-inch larger 7.0-inch infotainment touchscreen featuring a revised interface capable of Apple CarPlay and Android Auto smartphone integration plus more, but before I get into that, let’s talk about this 2019 model and the changes made three years ago.

2019 Toyota 86 GT
GT trim adds plush Alcantara faux-suede across the dash, door panels and seats.

Toyota updated the 86’ frontal design for the 2017 model year, with new standard LED headlights, revised front fender vents positioned lower on the side panel with a new “86” insignia, and a fresh set of taillights featuring brighter LED technology. The interior, which has always been quite nice for this class, was made more easily accessible via available proximity keyless entry, while the ignition could be started and stopped with a button. Additional upgrades included optional two-zone automatic climate control, leather and Alcantara upholstery, with the suede-like material also topping the primary instrument hood and passenger-side dash insert.

The 2019 86 continues forward with a Toyota-branded 6.1-inch centre touchscreen featuring attractive blue on black patterned graphics, all the normal radio functions, USB integration, plus Bluetooth phone and audio connectivity, although fans that hoped to find the backup camera’s image on the main display were disappointed (including yours truly) to find it still projected from within the rearview mirror. This makes the mirror less useful, and being that the camera’s display is so small, it becomes a double negative when trying to reverse on a rainy night. Of course, Toyota will remedy this problem when the new larger 2020 infotainment system arrives, correct? No, unfortunately that touchscreen is bigger and functionality more complete, but it won’t be used for reversing purposes.

2019 Toyota 86 GT
The upgrade to GT trim includes a 4.2-inch multi-information display with performance data.

I’m forced to point back to the North American sales figures noted earlier, but I can’t say for sure whether or not they’d increase significantly if Toyota made the 86 more practical. I’d guess that it would be nigh impossible to cover the increased costs of integrating a rearview camera within the centre display for the 6,200 year-to-date 86 and BRZ models sold into our two countries (the only two global markets that mandate backup cameras), so we’re left with this half-measure to satisfy the requirements of legislators. All I can say is, 15 minutes of fast-paced shenanigans down a circuitous mountainside pass and you won’t care one whit about backing up.

Did you notice I said “down” a mountainside pass? That’s due to the 86’ Subaru-sourced 2.0-litre “boxer” four-cylinder engine, which once again makes just 205 horsepower and 156 lb-ft of torque for 2019. Don’t get me wrong as I personally find this wholly adequate, particularly when tooling around town or flinging this little sensation down a winding road, as it weighs in at just 1,252 kg (2,760 lbs) and therefore doesn’t need a whole lot of power. Still, its ardent fan-base has been calling out for more engine output for years, and those steadily falling sales numbers might mean that those prospective buyers are right. Toyota pumped up horsepower and torque by 2.5 and 3.3 percent respectively for 2017, but that obviously didn’t get anyone excited, so the automaker may want to lean on Subaru to give up its new 268 horsepower 2.0-litre turbocharged WRX engine, or better yet the 310-hp 2.5-litre WRX STI mill.

2019 Toyota 86 GT
The centre stack includes a 6.1-inch touchscreen and auto HVAC.

Actual 86 output was increased by five horsepower and five lb-ft of torque for 2017, which while slightly improved only represented a respective 2.5 and 3.3 percent more beef added to a very lean, near vegan diet, so therefore it didn’t answer the continual online petition from the model’s faithful for much more performance.

Notably, only six-speed manual equipped 86s get the power upgrade, which also joined a revised rear differential tuned for quicker standing starts. Also available is a six-speed automatic with paddles shifters, complete with rev-matched downshifting that works very well as experienced in my 2017 86 tester, but as just mentioned it only gets the old 200 horsepower engine with 151 lb-ft of torque. On the positive both cars were upgraded with hill start assist in 2017, which certainly helps when taking off in hilly areas.

I enjoyed the automatic a lot more than I first expected to, particularly when driving around the city, but being that the 86 is a serious rear-wheel drive sports car designed for enthusiasts, unlike the ever-shrinking class of compact car-based front-wheel drive sporty coupes available, I’d only personally consider the manual.

2019 Toyota 86 GT
A tiny reverse camera is integrated within the rearview mirror.

After all, modulating the clutch while letting the engine revs climb up to 7,000 rpm for max power is the optimal way to eke the most performance from the engine’s available power, no matter if you’re pulling away from a stoplight or quickly exiting a curve, while that last point in mind the 86 remains one of the best ways to quickly snake through a serpentine canyon road or equally curvaceous ribbon of tarmac anywhere else.

MacPherson gas struts are positioned under the hood up front while double wishbones take care of the fully independent rear suspension, while it’s possible to move up from my tester’s most luxurious GT trim to a manual-only TRD Special Edition (or SE) model hiding SACHS performance dampers behind its upgraded Brembo brakes and one-inch larger 18-inch alloys wrapped in 215/40R18 Michelin Pilot Sport 4 performance rubber. My tester would’ve normally worn 215/45R17 summers, but Toyota smartly swapped those tire out for a set of Bridgestone Blizzak winters that actually made it more fun to slide sideways mid-turn.

2019 Toyota 86 GT
Comfortable and supportive, Alcantara helps these superb front seats grip even better.

Speaking of trims, the 2019 86 can be had as a base, GT or just-mentioned SE, with some thus-far not mentioned entry-level base highlights including a limited slip differential, auto on/off LED headlights, heatable power-remote outside mirrors, remote entry, a tilt and telescoping leather-clad multifunction three-spoke sport steering wheel, a leather-wrapped shift knob and handbrake lever, aluminum sport pedals, a trip computer/multi-info display, cruise control, variable intermittent windshield wipers, one-zone automatic HVAC, an eight-speaker AM/FM audio system with auxiliary and USB ports plus an Automatic Sound Levelizer (ASL), Bluetooth phone and streaming audio, a six-way manual driver’s seat, power windows with auto up/down, dual vanity mirrors, all the expected active and passive safety features and more for only $29,990 (plus freight and fees).

The auto transmission costs $1,200 extra, which is the same whether opting for a base 86 or my $33,260 as-tested GT tester. GT trim wasn’t on the menu when I reviewed the 2017 86, by the way, but most of its features were part of a Special Edition that now shares its more performance-oriented upgrades with the top-line SE trim noted a moment ago. Before I delve into that TRD special, I should point out that GT trim adds the proximity keyless entry and pushbutton ignition system I noted earlier, plus the dual-zone auto climate control and more luxurious leather and microsuede upholstery I spoke about, while its front seats add heaters as part of this package, with additional GT upgrades including LED fog lights, a rear spoiler, a 4.2-inch TFT multi-information display showing performance data, and theft deterrence.

2019 Toyota 86 GT
Tight for adults, these rear seats nevertheless make the 86 more practical than most rivals.

Finally, the $38,220 SE trim, or more specifically the TRD (Toyota Racing Development) Special Edition adds black side mirror housings, a cool TRD aero kit, a TRD performance dual exhaust upgrade, unique cloth sport seats with sporty red accents, red seatbelts, and red stitching throughout the cabin, plus the wheel/tire and suspension mods noted before.

Trims, packages and pricing in mind, 2019 86 buyer are able to access up to $2,000 in additional incentives right now. Just go to our 2019 Toyota 86 Canada Prices page right here at CarCostCanada to learn more, but then again if you really want the upgraded infotainment system (CarPlay and Android integration can be helpful) then check out the 2020 Toyota 86 Canada Prices page, which will show you how to benefit from factory leasing and financing rates from 3.49 percent. Both pages provide complete pricing information as well as info about manufacturer rebates and dealer invoice pricing that could save you thousands.

Toyota replaces the TRD Special Edition with a new Hakone Edition for 2020, which features special Hakone Green paint and rolls on unique 17-inch bronze-coloured alloy wheels; the name reportedly paying tribute to “one of the greatest driving roads in the world,” or so says Toyota.

2019 Toyota 86 GT
A sports car you can live with thanks to an expandable trunk.

One thing that shouldn’t change from 2019 to 2020 is fuel economy, the 86 rated at 9.9 L/100km city, 7.3 highway and 8.7 combined when fitted with its manual, or 11.3, 8.3 9.9 respectively with its autobox. While not best in the sports car class, it’s still pretty decent for anything that drives as well as it does.

This said most buying into this class won’t give a rat’s derriere about fuel-efficiency, but when compared to some rivals that only offer two front seats the 86’ rear bench might come in handy, and importantly its single-piece rear seatback folds flat in order to extend the reasonably sized 196-litre (6.9 cubic-foot) trunk, which I’ve actually seen filled up with four racing slicks on wheels (a beautiful sight).

A new 86 would certainly make one wonderfully reliable weekend racer, not to mention a great way to get to work and back. All for less than $30k? Yes, it should sell a lot better than it does.

Story and photo credits: Trevor Hofmann

2019 Volvo XC90 T6 AWD Inscription Road Test

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Story credit: Trevor Hofmann

Photo credits: Karen Tuggay

2019 Lincoln MKC 2.3L EcoBoost AWD Reserve Road Test

2019 Lincoln MKC 2.3L EcoBoost AWD Reserve
The 2019 MKC wear’s Lincoln’s new chromed radiator-style grille and therefore looks much like a new 2020 Corsair from the front.

This may be the first time you’ve seen the refreshed 2019 Lincoln MKC, a luxury version of the much better known Ford Escape that’s worn a totally different split-wing grille design up until this year’s mid-cycle upgrade. Normally an update like this has at least two years of life before it gets renewed, but we can soon say goodbye to the MKC now that the entirely new 2020 Corsair has been introduced.

Whether the short-lived 2019 MKC becomes collectable is anyone’s guess (I doubt it), but it’s nevertheless a rarity. The pre-refresh MKC lasted from 2015 through 2018, with this 2019 model getting a totally reworked frontal design, including its grille, headlights, and lower fascia, while Lincoln splashed a little chrome onto its rear hatch as well, but other than that it’s unchanged. Another oddity sees this grille transported over to the 2020 Corsair, virtually unchanged.

2019 Lincoln MKC 2.3L EcoBoost AWD Reserve
From the rear the 2019 MKC looks almost identical to the outgoing 2015-2018 version.

While I’m tempted to delve into all the differences between this 2019 MKC and the new 2020 Corsair, I won’t. Suffice to say this outgoing mode is based on the old 2019 Ford Escape and the Corsair rolls on the new 2020 Escape. The updated model features a renewed duo of turbocharged four-cylinder engines, once again displacing 2.0 and 2.3 litres apiece, the entry-level mill making 250 horsepower and the top-line version producing 280 horsepower, which is a respective five horsepower more and five less than this year’s MKC, with torque measuring exactly the same 275 lb-ft with the former engine and five lb-ft more at 310 lb-ft for the latter.

We should expect better fuel economy thanks to a new eight-speed automatic transmission that’s operated via new horizontally mounted “piano key” shift toggles that replace this MKC’s row of buttons on the centre stack. LEDs for the signature-enhanced headlights, turn signals and tail lamps remain standard, but the interior is now completely updated with a digital instrument cluster and new tablet-style centre touchscreen.

2019 Lincoln MKC 2.3L EcoBoost AWD Reserve
Lincoln’s new grille is just the right size to not look overbearing on this compact utility.

The new Corsair’s $44,700 base price is just $550 more than the 2019 MKC’s $44,150 entry price, while a 2018 MKC was available for only $43,950 when new. Interestingly, the MKC cost just $39,940 when it launched in 2015, which probably has just as much to do with the Canadian dollar’s steadily eroding purchasing value over the past four years as it does with Lincoln’s streamlined trim offerings, this done by dropping its former base Premier trim in 2017, which of course added more standard equipment.

Today’s MKC can be had in two trim levels including Select and Reserve, the top-line model starting at $48,800 (for detailed pricing on trims, packages and options, plus manufacturer rebate info and dealer invoice pricing that can save you up to $5,000 in additional incentives at the time of publishing, make sure to check the 2019 Lincoln MKC Canada Prices page right here on CarCostCanada). Choosing Reserve trim is the only way to get the just-mentioned 2.3-litre engine, which puts out a grand total of 285 horsepower and 305 lb-ft of torque, while adding $2,150 to the MKC’s price tag. Both MKC models are two forward speeds short of the new 2020 Corsair’s eight-speed autobox, leaving this 2019 SUV with Ford/Lincoln’s well-proven six-speed SelectShift automatic featuring manual mode and paddle shifters.

2019 Lincoln MKC 2.3L EcoBoost AWD Reserve
Lincoln changed up every detail of the MKC’s frontal design for 2019, an unusual choice for just one model year of availability.

The upgraded engine also comes standard with idle start-stop that automatically turns off the engine when it would otherwise be idling, and then immediately turns it on when removing foot from the brake pedal, whereas this eco feature is an option with the 2.0-litre engine. The result at the refuelling station is hardly noticeable, however, the non-idle start/stop base engine claiming an estimated fuel economy rating of 12.3 L/100km city, 9.3 highway and 11.0 combined, with idle start-stop merely decreasing combined average fuel economy by 0.1 L/100km to 10.9.

My tester’s 2.3-litre engine gets a claimed 13.1 L/100km in the city, 9.5 on the highway and 11.5 combined, which isn’t superb for a compact luxury SUV, being that BMW’s X3 xDrive30i achieves an estimated 9.6 L/100km combined, Audi’s Q5 gets a claimed 9.9, and Mercedes’ GLC 300 4Matic is good to go at about 10.0 L/100km combined. The 2020 Corsair should improve overall fuel economy, but I can’t imagine it gets dramatically better results.

2019 Lincoln MKC 2.3L EcoBoost AWD Reserve
Of course, LEDs light up the tail lamps.

This said I don’t imagine many Canadians thinking about buying a compact luxury SUV consider the level of focus Lincoln puts on performance, but the MKC has always been a serious competitor in a straight line and fully capable through fast-paced corners, or for that matter on long stretches of open highway. The little Lincoln even boasts a standard adaptive suspension system controlled by Lincoln Drive Control with Normal, Sport and Comfort modes, while its electric power-assist steering is relatively precise and standard all-wheel drive good for all weather conditions.

Still, it’s best respected for its smooth ride and quiet cabin, luxury being highest on Lincoln’s hierarchy of importance. Therefore, laminated acoustic front door glass and active noise control are standard, and that adaptive suspension system mentioned a moment ago also improves comfort.

2019 Lincoln MKC 2.3L EcoBoost AWD Reserve
The MKC Reserve’s two-tone interior looks good and is finished very well.

My tester’s ride was compliant even with its ultra-sporty 20-inch alloy rims, its luxurious nature a good fit with its elegant interior. It went from stylish White Platinum on the outside (a $700 upgrade) to Espresso brown on the inside (dark grey Ebony, creamy Cappuccino, and dark Rialto Green are available colourways as well), at least above the waist and for the perforated Bridge of Weir Deepsoft leather-upholstered seats. Contrasting light beige was used for the lower dash, centre console, and lower door panels, as well as the roofliner, pillars and carpets, making for a ritzy looking cabin. Even better, real hardwood inlays on the instrument panel and doors come standard, while just the right amounts of satin-finish aluminum trim are placed in key locations around the interior, plus some attractive aluminized and/or chrome adorned buttons, knobs and toggles, and the list goes on.

Lincoln did a good job of finishing off the dash and door uppers too, with soft padded leather-like surfaces that felt more genuine than mere leatherette. These weren’t the only surfaces trimmed out with pliable composites, mind you, but the others were more obviously synthetic, while those used for covering the lower dash had more of a rubberized feel. No doubt Lincoln chose the rubbery surface treatment for protecting it from footwear. Either way it’s a positive to find soft touch panels on a compact luxury SUV’s lower extremities at all. The padded composites edge each side of the centre console, protecting the inside knees of both driver and front passenger, plus it extends ahead of the front passenger including the glove box lid. Panels above the driver’s knees and on the lower door panels are made from soft-painted plastic, which is similar to most others in the compact luxury segment.

2019 Lincoln MKC 2.3L EcoBoost AWD Reserve
Materials quality is now a Lincoln trademark.

The lower console’s top section is ultra-simple due to the centre stack-mounted gear selector noted earlier, merely including dual cupholders and a lidded smartphone storage area featuring a rubberized pad as well as a 12-volt charging port and two USB-A chargers. Lincoln finished its insides with a soft felt-like treatment, but the cheaply made lid isn’t up to the luxury levels of quality. It opens and closes softly, which is nice, but that’s all I’ve got to say positively about it. Lincoln finishes the glove box and centre console bin with the same velvety lining, the latter including a removable tray plus an additional 12-volt charging port, but oddly there’s a hole at the very bottom of the bin that could easily swallow up small valuable forever, so my guess is that something is missing in this particular vehicle.

On the positive, Lincoln chose to trim out both front and midship roof pillars in cloth, this normally only done on the A-pillars in this class. I recently made special not of this shortcoming in a 2019 Acura RDX A-Spec review, which is an impressive compact luxury SUV in most respects, except its unusual gear selector, a weakness it shares with this MKC.

2019 Lincoln MKC 2.3L EcoBoost AWD Reserve
The 2020 Corsair will replace this comparatively remedial gauge cluster wth a fully digital design.

The Japanese and domestic luxury SUVs are hardly the same when it comes to swapping cogs, with Acura providing a complex combination of buttons and pull-tabs on the RDX’ lower console that took me plenty of test weeks to acclimatize myself to, and Lincoln incorporating its lineup of cars and SUVs with a similar thin strip of switches, albeit more straightforward and on the left side of the centre stack. Their placement forced me to lean forward more than I wanted in order to engage, however, and therefore wasn’t the MKC’s best ergonomic attribute. Obviously Lincoln heard complaints from customers as well as auto pundits, so I look forward to find out if their placement in the new Corsair is close enough for comfort.

Just the same, I appreciate how Lincoln chose to vertically bookend the MKC’s start/stop and sport mode buttons with its PRND selections, but I’d prefer staying firmly within the little Lincoln’s superb driver’s seat in order to actuate buttons within closer reach. Along with their inherently good design, and all the expected adjustments like powered fore/aft, up/down and recline, both driver and front passenger also receive four-way powered lumbar support as well as four-way manual head restraint adjustment, resulting in 12-way adjustability up front. They are three-way heatable in base trim too, and three-way ventilated when opting for this Reserve model, while all trims include driver-side seat memory.

2019 Lincoln MKC 2.3L EcoBoost AWD Reserve
It’s easy to see Lincoln’s unorthodox pushbutton gear selector down the left side of the centre display.

Comfort in mind, the standard multifunctional steering wheel is ideally shaped for optimal easy of use and control, while its rim gets wrapped in soft Wollsdorf leather for a truly rich feel. I should mention the previously-noted Bridge of Weir Deepsoft leather upholstery comes standard in both MKC trims, which means there’s no cheesy corrected-grain, split-skin, synthetic polymer paint-coated hides when you choose a Lincoln (you’d best opt for the pricier BMW for that level of “luxury”). Like its high-grade leather, the MKC doesn’t skimp on other standard features either, with additional no-cost content that would normally be extra from rivals including a power tilt and telescoping steering column with memory, reverse parking sensors, an auto-dimming rearview mirror, and even an auto-dimming driver’s side mirror, while both exterior mirrors power-fold and include memory.

Now that I’ve started listing standard features I might as well continue, with the base Select model featuring 18-inch alloys and roof rails, plus the Lincoln Embrace system that lights up the headlamps, door handles, interior lights and more when approaching in the dark. Base trim also includes remote start, a SecuriCode keyless access keypad, proximity-sensing keyless entry, pushbutton start/stop, an electronic parking brake, illuminated entry, ambient lighting, LED map lights, a particulate-filtered dual-zone automatic climate control system, an overhead console with a convenient sunglasses holder, and a garage door opener.

2019 Lincoln MKC 2.3L EcoBoost AWD Reserve
The centre touchscreen should certainly be large enough for most peoples’ needs.

A big, user-friendly 8.0-inch touchscreen tops off the centre stack (identically sized to the new Corsair’s 8.0-inch centre display, incidentally), featuring Lincoln’s well thought out SYNC 3 infotainment interface boasting Android Auto and Apple CarPlay smartphone integration, a backup camera with dynamic guidelines, separate digital panels for climate control, the audio system incorporating 10 speakers, a subwoofer, satellite radio, and Bluetooth streaming audio, plus phone functions and more. The touchscreen’s smaller and not as high in definition as some rivals’ widescreen, high-def infotainment systems, but it responds to inputs quickly, is really easy to figure out, and is graphically attractive.

Lincoln also includes standard Lincoln Connect featuring a 4G LTE modem, plus the Lincoln Way App that allows unlocking, locking, starting and finding your modem-equipped MKC via your smartphone. Also standard are dual USB charge ports, a quad of 12-volt chargers, a powered tailgate, a retractable cargo cover, an Easy Fuel capless fuel filler, all the usual active and passive safety features as well as a driver’s knee airbag, plus SOS post crash alert, the SecuriLock passive anti-theft system, a perimeter alarm, etcetera.

2019 Lincoln MKC 2.3L EcoBoost AWD Reserve
The MKC’s HVAC and audio controls are well laid out and easy to use.

Those who choose the base Select model can upgrade it further with blindspot warning and cross-traffic alert, that being part of the $1,250 Select Plus package that also features voice-activated navigation, and as long as you’re going to go this far to upgrade your Lincoln you might as well add the $675 Climate package, being that it includes auto high beams, a heated steering wheel, rain-sensing wipers, a windshield wiper de-icer, and heatable rear seats. You can upgrade the base model further with a $2,200 panoramic Vista Roof, complete with a powered sunshade.

Everything mentioned so far came standard with my Reserve test model, although the 18-inch alloys normally found in its wheel cutouts get updated from painted silver to machine finishing with painted pockets. The Reserve also includes forced ventilation from its front seats, while its normally body-coloured door handles get chrome highlights, and the power tailgate incorporates hands-free capability that only requires someone carrying the key fob to wave their foot below the bumper.

2019 Lincoln MKC 2.3L EcoBoost AWD Reserve
Yes, that’s real hardwood, and it’s very nice.

Opting for the upper-crust Reserve also means additional features become available, such as a different $500 set of 19-inch painted five-spoke alloys or the $750 top-line 20-inch rims found on my tester, while it’s also important to note that only MKC’s with the more powerful 2.3-litre twin-scroll turbo engine can qualify for the biggest rims. Reserve buyers can also choose a $2,420 Technology Package adding forward parking sensors, dynamic cruise control, pre-collision warning with pedestrian detection, auto emergency braking, lane keeping assist, and semi-autonomous active parking assist.

Finally, Select and Reserve trims can both be upgraded with unique Sonata Spin aluminum trim on the doors and instrument panel, plus upgraded yet further with an excellent $1,100 THX II audio system that was added to my test model, while a $500 Class II towing package can haul up to 1,360 kg (3,000 lbs) of trailer via the 2.3-litre engine. With all noted items tallied up, which was very close to fully loaded, my tester reached beyond $55k, and yes this sounds like a big sum of money for a compact SUV until comparing it with a similarly equipped Audi Q5, BMW X3 or Mercedes-Benz GLC, all of which would add about $10k to the price of entry without including all of the features offered by Lincoln.

2019 Lincoln MKC 2.3L EcoBoost AWD Reserve
The MKC’s 12-way front seats are very comfortable.

So how does the MKC measure up from a practical perspective? I believe it will be amply roomy for most Canadian families as long as their teens aren’t too tall, and likely spacious enough for the majority of empty nesters if their grandkids are likewise on the smaller side. The aforementioned powered tilt and telescopic steering column allowed for plenty of reach, so I was able to push the seat squab far enough toward the back in order to make room for my longish legs so my shorter than average torso didn’t make it difficult to stretch to the steering wheel. We’re not all created equal when it comes to height, of course, but this is true for personal proportions too, and this has caused me problems when trying to fit into some other cars and SUVs. Fortunately Lincoln has provided the necessary adjustability to take care of all types of bodies, which is a big positive for the MKC. 

And now to follow up on that teens and grandkids comment I made a moment ago, the MKC’s rear passenger compartment is not the roomiest in the compact class. After positioning the driver’s seat for the long-legged, shorter torso frame just mentioned, which incidentally measures just five-foot-eight from head to heals, I sat directly behind to learn that only three and half to four inches of space could be found between my knees and the backside of the driver’s seat, plus I wasn’t able to stretch my legs out much either. I had the luxury of comparing my MKC tester to a Volvo XC40 during the same week, and found the Lincoln had less knee, foot and headroom, although about the same width from side to side. Volvo also offered a wider centre armrest, while the MKC’s wasn’t large enough to rest an elbow on comfortably because of dual cupholders down its middle.

2019 Lincoln MKC 2.3L EcoBoost AWD Reserve
The rear seating area is a bit cramped, but very well finished.

At least the MKC’s rear doors were detailed out just as ideally as those in front, plus the backside of its front centre console housed buttons for two-way rear outboard seats, a three-prong household-style plug, and a duo of USB-A device chargers.

Also good, the MKC’s dedicated cargo area is large at 712 litres (25.2 cubic feet), plus when its 60/40 split-folding seatbacks are lowered there’s a sizeable 1,505-litre (53.1 cubic-foot) area to stow gear. It’s nicely finished too, with luxurious yet durable looking carpets on the removable floor, the seatbacks, and each sidewall, but there aren’t any levers for automatically dropping those seats down. Living with a bit more manual labour is no real problem, but life without a centre pass-through, or an even better 40/20/40-split rear bench could put would-be buyers off, particularly those that load longer cargo in regularly, such as skis. If you have two kids or plan on bringing friends to the ski hill, just remember that only one will enjoy the more comfortable rear window seat, which incidentally includes the bun warmer. I’m sure you can easily imagine the whining complaints right about now.

2019 Lincoln MKC 2.3L EcoBoost AWD Reserve
Cargo space is plentiful, but a centre pass-through would have been appreciated.

Yes, this 2019 Lincoln MKC doesn’t hit the bull’s-eye with every shot, but it delivers will in most respects. Its front styling is arguably improved, its cabin is finished impressively, it has no shortage of premium features, it provides plenty of options, and delivers strong overall value. If you can live with its thirstier than average fuel economy, rear legroom shortcoming, and cargo inflexibility, I can soundly recommend it.

Story and photo credits: Trevor Hofmann

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