2019 Kia Forte EX Limited Road Test Review

2019 Kia Forte EX Limited
Kia knows a thing or two about style, this made very apparent with the new Forte. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

I must admit to really liking the new 2019 Forte sedan’s styling, as its lines are clean and modern instead of abstract like the more visually complicated Honda Civic or new 2020 Toyota Corolla. It’s not that I don’t like the latter two cars, but generally find the Forte easier on the eyes, and believe if placed in a row next to the two other cars with badges were removed, would be chosen more often than not. 

Of course, the Civic and Corolla were highly successful long before their current designs were known, because they’ve always been very good cars, while their current shapes are obviously acceptable enough to the Canadian masses or they wouldn’t sit one and two in popularity, both selling within Canada’s top-ten, including trucks, crossover SUVs and vans. I just happen to like the Forte’s visual design more than these two segment leaders. 

The Forte’s styling strengths include a longer looking, leaner, lower, more sweptback profile, which doesn’t require as much plastic body cladding to make more appealing. It does get a number of stylistic enhancements from front to rear, but I found the sporty bits on my top-tier Forte EX Limited improved its overall look instead of detracting from it. 

2019 Kia Forte EX Limited
Clean, attractive lines come standard, although the Forte is shown here in EX Limited trim. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

It starts off with Kia’s chrome-edged, glossed-black notched oval grille at centre, which hovers above more glossy black-detailed air induction venting within the lower front fascia, which gets highlighted by nicely angled corner vents housing rectangular LED fog lights. A truly interesting set of “X” accented LED headlights are positioned above, offsetting conventionally shaped taillights at the other end, these infused with interestingly patterned LEDs. There’s a thin strip of reflective material spanning the two rear lamps, while just above on the rear deck lid is an integrated spoiler that no doubt aids aerodynamics. The rear bumper is formed into a diffuser-like shape, but I can pretty well guarantee it does nothing to improve airflow, although its inky black paint looks sporty enough, and matches the gloss-black triangular bezels at each corner, housing rear fog and backup lights. Lastly, my Forte tester rolled on sweet looking 17-inch double-five-spoke machined alloy wheels with black pockets. 

The new Forte is even more impressive inside, besting the outgoing model as well as a number of compact rivals. Like its exterior design, its cabin comes across more tastefully conservative than some in this class that offer up less serious, funkier atmospheres. It’s also quite refined, with much of the upper dash and instrument panel finished in premium-like soft-touch composites. This pliable application covers the front door uppers, door inserts and armrests too, the latter items also transferring to the rear passenger compartment. It’s a really upscale environment, but I won’t go so far as to say the Forte is nicer than its competitors with respect to materials quality, fit and finish, etcetera, but they were one of the first brands to include such premium-like niceties to the compact segment. As it is, most of the Forte’s challengers’ interiors are now up to snuff. 

2019 Kia Forte EX Limited
Kia does details very well, not overwhelming the design, but instead enhancing it. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Adding to my EX Limited model’s refinement quotient are perforated leatherette seats that feel a lot more like genuine hides than most rivals pull off, the aeration, incidentally, necessary for my tester’s three-way ventilation up front. This top-line trim also includes rear outboard seat heating, while three-temperature front seat heating is standard across the line, as is a leather-wrapped heatable steering wheel rim. 

Yes, that wasn’t a typo. The Forte comes standard with a leather-clad, heated steering wheel. I want you to consider for a moment, that Toyota’s much pricier Camry doesn’t even offer Canadians such a highfalutin option, even when fully loaded. Optioning out a Camry would add almost $24k to the Forte’s $17,195 base MT MSRP, or alternatively $13k to this $28,065 Forte EX Limited, yet no heated steering wheel, plus it would also not provide cooled front seats or heated rear seats (be sure to learn about all 2019 Kia Forte pricing, including trim levels, packages and options, right here at CarCostCanada, plus don’t forget that you can save a lot by finding out about available rebates and dealer invoice pricing, also available right here at CarCostCanada). 

After the last few Canadian winters, I would certainly rather live with a heated steering wheel than a cold leather rim first thing in the morning (if only they could find a way to heat the shifter knob too), and it would be nicer for my rear passengers to warm their behinds, just like my front passenger and I were able to. I enjoy cooling my butt mid-summer too, so if you’re like me, consider a Forte for such comforting features (and also take note that the 2020 Corolla sedan provides a heated steering wheel as part of an upgrade package, but then again no cooled front seats or heatable rear cushions). 

2019 Kia Forte EX Limited
The graphic work on the LED taillights is very nice. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Back to the 2019 Forte’s upgrades, Kia improved its automatic shifter with a great looking leather-wrapped and satin-silver knob design, while a stitched-leatherette skirt tapers outward as it meets up against yet more satin-silver surfacing. My Forte used this stylish silver treatment for its steering wheel spokes as well, plus some decorative trim across the instrument panel and the corner vent bezels, not to mention the inside door handles and power window/side mirror switchgear decoration, and lastly the thumb release button on the manual handbrake. 

Say what? Agreed, a complete ground-up redesign that doesn’t come standard with an electric parking brake seems a tad old school this day and age, but truthfully it didn’t bother me one iota during my extended two-week test. Actually, I only noticed it on my last day when taking notes. Kia left this technological anachronism in the new design because of the car’s standard six-speed manual transmission, a gearbox that I only wished was available in my top-line trim, or at least in a dedicated sport model like Kia’s sister company Hyundai offers with its 200-horsepower Elantra Sport, a serious Civic Si rival that also improves its suspension and styling. 

News flash (well, not exactly news as it was introduced last November): Kia will introduce a new Forte GT for the 2020 model year that’s pretty well an Elantra Sport in black-oval drag, and it looks fabulous with its 18-inch rims and even sportier design details, while it should drive brilliantly if it’s anything like the Elantra Sport, that I raved about in my road test review last year. Along with the 201-hp 1.6-litre turbo-four and short-throw six-speed manual gearbox (or optional paddle shift-actuated seven-speed dual-clutch automatic), it’ll get a sport-tuned fully independent suspension with a multi-link setup in the rear. Soon Kia will have the same kind of Civic Si Sedan fighter it’s always needed, along with a new five-door Forte5 GT. 

2019 Kia Forte EX Limited
Kia delivers a high-quality Forte interior that’s packed full of standard and optional features. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

As it is, this 2019 Forte only comes with one engine, a 2.0-litre four-cylinder making 147 horsepower and 132 lb-ft of torque. It’s a fairly competitive mill in this category, but other manufacturers provide a lot more variety and (until the 2020 model debuts) will therefore attract a greater number of performance, and/or green buyers. Toyota, for instance, offers up the choice of three engines in its latest 2020 Corolla sedan, including a hybrid, while Honda’s Civic Sedan offers three powerplants as well, the aforementioned Si boasting 205 horsepower, while the Insight, which is a Civic Hybrid other than mild styling revisions and a new name, features gasoline-electric hybridization as well. 

Interestingly, the outgoing second-gen Forte four-door provided Canadians with two engines, the more advanced direct-injected version of the current model’s 2.0-litre four-cylinder, previously named “2.0 GDI”, no longer available despite its more engaging 164 horsepower and 151 lb-ft of torque. I initially thought we’d see this more formidable engine as a late arrival, possibly when the redesigned Forte5 showed up, but a quick visit to the “Upcoming Vehicles” section of the automaker’s Canadian retail site makes evident this all-new five-door hatch will go on sale this fall as a 2020 model, and shows no sign of the sportier GDI engine. Instead it will get the sedan’s “2.0L MPI” engine in base trim and the same optional 1.6-litre turbo-four used in the gen-two 2018 model (which is still available, by the way), good for 201 horsepower, 195 lb-ft of torque, and mated to the same paddle-shifted seven-speed twin-clutch automatic as noted above. 

2019 Kia Forte EX Limited
This supervision LCD/TFT primary instrument cluster comes standard with second-rung EX trim. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

All this said, Kia’s reasoning behind simplifying the Forte’s engine lineup has to come down to 2018 calendar year sales that only reached 14,399 units (including the Forte5), this dropping some 12.1 percent from the previous year. If it pulled in more buyers, like the Corolla’s 48,796 customers throughout 2018, and the 69,005 Canadians who opted for the Civic over the same 12 months, Kia might even go back to offering a two-door sports coupe like they used to. 

Right about now I should make note of Hyundai Elantra sales as well (which will soon be all-new for 2020), as it far outpaces the Forte’s numbers at 41,784 through 2018, and that was a 9.4-percent decline from 2017. 

I expect another reason Kia chose its solo engine for 2019 is price related, both at the onset of the initial sale and afterwards at the pump. Canadians are ultra price-sensitive in this small car category, which would negatively impact sales if the more powerful engine caused the Forte’s price range to jump higher. What’s more, if the 2.0 GDI was the car’s sole offering its fuel economy wouldn’t measure up to the best in this class, and therefore would hamper acceptance of the entire Forte line. 

2019 Kia Forte EX Limited
The new eight-inch infotainment touchscreen is excellent. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Instead, the 2.0 MPI engine being used is considerably more efficient, with a glance back at 2018 Transport Canada fuel economy numbers showing a rating of 8.0 L/100km city, 6.1 highway and 7.1 combined, alongside the more potent GDI’s respective rating of 9.4, 6.8 and 8.3. That would’ve been a big gap to overcome. 

Also notable, Kia’s made a lot of headway with the 2.0 MPI engine’s fuel economy in the new 2019 model too, with a new Transport Canada rating of 8.6 L/100km in the city, 6.4 on the highway and 7.6 combined when suited up in six-speed manual base trim, compared to 9.4, 6.8 and 8.3 respectively in the previous year. Additionally, the Forte’s completely new Hyundai/Kia-designed continuously variable transmission (CVT) is easier on fuel when put up against last year’s six-speed automatic, with the new model getting a 7.7 L/100km city, 5.9 highway and 6.9 combined rating, and the outgoing car only good for 8.0 in the city, 6.1 on the highway and 7.1 combined. 

This CVT, dubbed Intelligent Variable Transmission (IVT), adds $2,500 to the Forte’s base LX trim and comes standard with all other models. It does a pretty good a job of putting power down to the front wheels, which is high praise for any CVT incidentally, this one of the best of its kind in my opinion, and easily good enough for a compact car that makes comfort its first priority. 

2019 Kia Forte EX Limited
Two-zone auto HVAC is standard on EX Premium trim. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

The Forte is quick enough off the line and plenty smooth as well, its engine and transmission offering up nice linear performance, with untoward noise, vibration and harshness kept to a minimum. Kia includes a slew of Drive Mode Select settings including Normal, Eco, Sport and Smart, the latter being where I left it most of the time thanks to its ability to automatically adjust between each mode in order to optimize fuel economy and performance. 

Along with the Forte’s smooth powertrain is a comfortable ride, while its cornering prowess is quite responsive considering its rather low-rent torsion beam rear suspension setup. By comparison the Civic and new 2020 Corolla incorporate independent multi-link rear suspension systems, which give them an edge when pushed even harder over broken pavement, especially mid-turn, but just the same I found the Forte nimble enough for most high-speed handling situations, while its undercarriage was wonderfully compliant over rougher pavement in a straight line. The upcoming GT should be even better. 

Maintaining control in all weather conditions is this segment’s usual assortment of active safety equipment, including electronic stability and traction control, while some other near-standard features (when upgrading to the CVT) include Forward Collision-Avoidance Assist (FCA), Lane Keeping Assist (LKA), and Driver Attention Alert (DAA). 

2019 Kia Forte EX Limited
Cooled seats? Yah baby, you can’t get that on a Corolla. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Both manual and CVT endowed LX models also get auto on/off projector headlights, splash guards, body-colour mirror housings and door handles, heated outside mirrors, the heated leather-clad steering wheel rim noted earlier, heatable front seats, air conditioning, a truly impressive new tablet-style 8.0-inch touchscreen display with tap, pinch, and swipe gesture controls (plus really quick response to inputs), Apple CarPlay and Android Auto smartphone connectivity, a backup camera with helpful active guidelines, an AM/FM/MP3 radio, Bluetooth hands-free with steaming audio, USB inputs, cruise control, Hill-Assist Control (HAC), 60/40-split rear seatbacks that fold down to make the 434-litre (15.3 cu-ft) trunk more accepting of longer cargo like skis, plus more. 

Those who want alloy wheels can upgrade to $20,995 EX trim, which replace the base model’s 15-inch steel wheels and covers with sharp looking 16-inch machine-finished rims, while this trim grade also receives LED headlights, LED DRLs, LED positioning lamps, side mirror turn signals, a glossy black grille treatment with chromed accents, chromed window surrounds, aeroblade windshield wipers, a chromed exhaust finisher, the satin-chrome interior door handles noted earlier, a supervision LCD/TFT primary gauge cluster, a wireless smartphone charger, rear climate vents, a folding rear centre armrest, tire pressure monitoring, Blind Spot Detection (BSD) with Rear Cross Traffic Alert (RCTA), etcetera. 

2019 Kia Forte EX Limited
Kia’s “SOFINO” leatherette upholstery feels real, and the seats are comfortable. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Moving up to $22,495 EX+ trim adds everything above plus 17-inch machined alloys, LED tail lamps, LED interior lights, plus a powered glass sunroof, while $25,065 EX Premium trim further adds High Beam Assist (HBA) to the previously mentioned LED headlamps, as well as proximity-sensing keyless entry, pushbutton start/stop, dynamic cruise control, an eight-way powered driver’s seat, “SOFINO” leatherette upholstery, two-zone auto HVAC, XM/SIRIUS satellite radio, UVO Intelligence connected car services, Advanced Forward Collision-Avoidance Assist (FCA), a proximity-sensing trunk lid that automatically opens when someone with a key fob stands behind the car for three seconds, plus more. 

Finally, my $28,065 EX Limited test model came standard with all of the above plus those ventilated front and heated rear seats noted before, as well as an enhanced multimedia infotainment interface with very accurate and user-friendly navigation, and lastly an impressive Harman/Kardon premium audio upgrade. 

The driver’s seat was very comfortable for this class, while its two-way powered lumbar support thankfully fit the small of my back perfectly. Even better, when I adjusted the Forte’s standard tilt and telescoping steering column to fit my long-legged five-foot-eight frame, I was left comfortably in control. This isn’t always the case no matter the class of car, particularly with Toyota models, including the now outgoing 2019 Corolla. That car didn’t allow for enough telescopic steering column reach, either leaving the pedals too close or steering wheel uncomfortably far away, but fortunately I had no such issues with this Forte sedan. 

2019 Kia Forte EX LimitedAfter setting up the driver’s seat for my body type, I sat directly behind in order to test rear seat roominess. The result was loads of space for my feet, plus about five inches in front of my knees, another three and a half or so over my head, about five beside my outer shoulder, and four next to my hip. In other words, the Forte provides a lot of room for rear passengers, and plenty of comfort too. 

The rear centre armrest was nicely positioned for my arm and included the usual dual cupholders, while a webbed magazine pocket behind the front passenger seat looked nicer than the bare seatback ahead of my legs. Still, I could hardly complain about not having a webbed magazine pocket behind the driver’s seat thanks to my butt and backside being warm and comfortable from those seat warmers noted earlier, plus I also appreciated the small rear quarter windows that allowed for a bit more light and outward visibility than some cars in this class provide. 

2019 Kia Forte EX Limited
The Forte provides plenty of trunk space, plus the ability to extend it via 60/40-split rear seatbacks. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

That’s a nice positive thought to leave the 2019 Kia Forte review on, isn’t it? While not best in class due to a lack of optional power and less capable rear suspension, it’s easily the best Forte four-door ever created. These shortcomings help keep pricing nice and low, however, plus allow Kia to offer plenty of comfort-oriented features that I’d rather have in a city car anyway. The Forte also doesn’t come up short on styling, space, comfort or safety, and let’s remember that Forte buyers who want stronger performance can choose the old Forte5 and soon will have the GT and redesigned 5 for options. 

Kia will soon have its bases covered two renewed body styles and truly sporty variants of both, while today’s 2019 Forte sedan makes an excellent case for affordable commuting comfort. 

Story credit: Trevor Hofmann 

Photo credit: Karen Tuggay

2019 Mini Cooper S Convertible Road Test

2019 Mini Cooper S Convertible
Good looking Mini Cooper S Convertible looks sharp with the top up or down. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Some brands are so small they don’t really get the press they deserve, and Mini fits into that mould both figuratively and literally. 

Ok, I just had a little fun with a small play on words. The just-used term “literally” was straight-forward, in that Mini’s lineup of cars and its single crossover are made up of subcompacts and compacts (they’re small), while the word figuratively should actually be used as a substitute for metaphorically, but instead I improperly chose it for its root word “figure” in order suggest that Mini’s sales figures reside on the smaller side of the scale as well (they only delivered 4,466 3-Door Hatch, 5-Door Hatch, Convertible and Clubman models last year). Clever? Not really. Grasping at straws for a witty opener? Guilty as charged. 

In reality, however, I almost completely forget Mini exists as a brand until checking my schedule on a given Sunday evening, at which point I’m reminded that one of their cars will be in my weeklong possession starting the following day. That’s when I get giddy with excitement and start planning my week to make sure I have time to drive somewhere unpopulated on the side of a body of water (ocean, lake or river), a mountain, or anywhere else with ribbons of winding black asphalt. 

2019 Mini Cooper S Convertible
Classic Mini lines never go out of style. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Truly, their cars are so much fun they’re addictive, especially when the model loaned out is tuned to “S” specification or better, and has its hardtop replaced by a slick power-operated retractable cloth top. Such is the car before you, the 2019 Mini Cooper S Convertible, which is upgraded further with this year’s special $2,900 Starlight Blue Edition Package, meaning that it receives a special coat of stunning Starlight Blue Metallic paint, as well as unique 17-inch machine-finished Rail Spoke alloys featuring black painted pockets on 205/45 all-season runflat rubber, piano Black Line exterior trim replacing most of the chrome, including the front grille surround plus headlamp, taillight and outside mirror surrounds, etcetera. 

The “more” that I just noted includes rain-sensing automatic on/off LED headlights with active cornering, LED fog lamps, piano black lacquered interior detailing, a two-zone auto HVAC system, an accurate Connected Navigation Plus GPS routing system housed within Mini’s already superb infotainment system, a wonderful sounding Harman Kardon audio system, Sirius/XM satellite radio, stylish Carbon Black leatherette upholstery, and heated front seat cushions, while my test model’s only standalone option was a $1,400 six-speed automatic transmission, with all of the above upping the Mini Cooper S Convertible base price of $33,990 to $38,290, plus a destination charge and additional fees. 

2019 Mini Cooper S Convertible
The Starlight Blue Edition Package gets special paint, unique 17-inch Rail Spoke alloy wheels, and lots of piano Black Line exterior trim. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

To be clear, you can purchase the new 2019 Mini Cooper Convertible (sans S) for as little as $29,640 before any discount, or you can spend the slightly pricier amount noted above for my tester’s sportier and more feature-filled “S” trim. Alternatively, you could choose a base 3-Door Hatch (hardtop) for as little as $23,090, while other models in the Mini lineup include the Cooper 5-Door available from $24,390, a six-door Clubman that starts at $28,690, and the Countryman crossover that can be had for as little as $31,090, plus destination charges of course. 

Incidentally, all 2019 Mini prices, including trims, options and standalone features, were sourced right here on CarCostCanada, where you can also get otherwise difficult to find manufacturer rebate info, plus dealer invoice pricing that could save you thousands. 

Before I share what makes this Cooper S Convertible and all Minis so enjoyable to live with, I need to focus on the quality of the Mini product overall. Mini’s acceptance as a premium brand is questionable, which makes sense when you can buy one for a mere $23k, but nevertheless quality of materials, fit and finish and features found in each Mini model is much better than average when comparing most subcompact and compact rivals, especially when discussing mainstream brands. 

2019 Mini Cooper S Convertible
These Union Jack LED taillights are fabulous. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Just the same, the majority of high-volume compact models have been on a refinement trend as of late, with the most-recent Mazda3 getting closest to premium status without raising its pricing into the stratosphere, but like its compact sedan and hatchback competitors (such as the Honda Civic, Toyota Corolla, Hyundai Elantra, et al) the 3 is quite a bit larger than all Mini models this side of the Clubman and Countryman, and therefore when comparing a regular Cooper to any top-selling mainstream subcompact rival (like a Hyundai Accent, Honda Fit or Toyota Yaris), the Mini’s finishing and performance is on a much higher scale. 

The Cooper S Convertible before you, for example, is very well made, from its outer fit to its inner detailing. The paint finish is excellent and other exterior embellishments impressive, from my tester’s eye-catching LED headlamps and Union Jack-emblazoned taillights, to its nicely crafted leather-clad steering wheel and stitched leather-wrapped shift knob, as well as its primary instrument pods hovering overtop the steering column, the ever-changing circle of colour lights rounding the high-definition 8.8-inch infotainment display, the row of brightly chromed toggles and red ignition switch in the middle of the centre stack, and the similarly retrospective line of toggles overhead, it’s a car that completely separates itself from everything else on the market. Those who love retro-cool designs and brilliantly artistic attention to detail will adore today’s Minis. 

2019 Mini Cooper S Convertible
Mini’s interiors are top notch. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

As grand as everything about this car sounds so far, the Mini Cooper S Convertible is at its best when in its element, on the road—prefe¬rably a winding road. S trimmed Coopers begin with a sonorously high-revving 16-valve twin-scroll turbocharged 2.0-litre four-cylinder engine capable of 189 horsepower and 207 lb-ft of torque, which is a sizeable 55 hp and 45 lb-ft more than the base Cooper’s 1.5-litre three-cylinder turbocharged powerplant. This allows the S to slice 1.6 seconds off of the base model’s 0 to 100km/h acceleration time, dropping it from 8.8 to 7.2 seconds with the manual, or from 8.7 to 7.1 with my tester’s six-speed automatic transmission. 

If more speed is still required you can ante up for the John Cooper Works Convertible, which reduces its zero to 100km/h time down to 6.5 seconds by way of a more formidable 228 horsepower version of the 2.0-litre TwinPower Turbo four-cylinder engine, featuring a much more robust 236 lb-ft of torque. It starts much higher up the affordability ladder at $41,490, yet thanks to sport suspension improvements that include larger wheels and tires, plus more standard styling, luxury and convenience upgrades, most Mini fans will find it well worth the price of entry. 

Then again, even the mighty John Cooper Works won’t cause Honda Civic Type R drivers to quiver from fear in their form-fitting Recaro racing seats, but lower the roof and drop the clutch of a JCW or this Cooper S Convertible and you’ll quickly be enjoying your drive much more than you might expect, while never worrying about draining the bank account at the pump. 

2019 Mini Cooper S Convertible
Love these instrument pods. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Mini claims a very reasonable fuel economy rating of 10.2 L/100km city, 7.4 highway and 9.0 combined with the manual, or 9.4, 7.2 and 8.4 respectively with the automatic when upgraded to S trim, while the base Cooper Convertible manages a mere 8.4 L/100km in the city, 6.3 on the highway and 7.5 combined with its manual, or 8.8, 6.8 and 7.9 respectively with its autobox. 

Together with the performance upgrade, going from base to Cooper S adds some performance-focused items like default “MID”, “GREEN” and “SPORT” driver-selectable modes, the latter perfect for boosting takeoff and enhancing responsiveness all-round, while Mini also provides this trim with sportier front seats featuring heated cushions. And just in case going topless isn’t your thing, hardtop Cooper S trims receive a big panoramic sunroof as standard equipment. 

That just-noted Sport mode does a great job of increasing the Cooper S Convertible’s get-up-and-go while enhancing the quick-shifting nature of its transmission, while take note that its front-wheel drive system is never overpowered from torque steer, even when pounding on the throttle from an angled standing start. Those who read me often will know that I’d rather have any Mini with the brand’s wonderfully notchy manual gearbox, but nevertheless this automatic delivered strong performance while its manual mode, despite only being swappable via the gear lever, is plenty responsive. 

2019 Mini Cooper S Convertible
Mini’s infotainment system features a crystal clear high-definition display. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Yes, that means it has no steering wheel mounted paddles, which is strange for this sportier S model. The current JCW autobox doesn’t come with paddle-shifters either, but reportedly Mini will rectify this shortcoming in 2020 with respect to the Clubman and Countryman JCW models, which are said to be fitted with a new eight-speed auto and much quicker 301-hp 2.0-litre engine making 331 lb-ft of torque, so it’s possible that in time we’ll see paddles on lesser trims as well. As it is, I left the autobox to its own devices more often than not, being that it shifts smoothly and was therefore ideal for congested city streets. Still, when the road opened up and consecutive curves arrived I found that manual mode significantly increased the fun factor, while helping to increase control. 

Just like with all Minis, the Cooper S Convertible comes standard with a brilliantly sorted fully independent front strut and multi-link rear suspension setup that can humble most front-drive rivals, other than those enjoying the aforementioned Civic Type R. Still, it slices and dices up serpentine tarmac like it’s some sort of front-drive BMW, jest intended. 

2019 Mini Cooper S Convertible
We love all the retro-cool toggle switches. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Those in the know (yes, we car nerds) will already be aware that second-generation Minis share UKL platform underpinnings with some modern-day BMWs. To be clear, however, the UKL platform is divided into UKL1 and UKL2 architectures, the former only used for Minis thus far (including the 3- and 5-door F56 Hatch plus this F57 Convertible), and the latter for larger Minis (the F54 Clubman and F60 Countryman) as well as the global-market BMW 1 Series Sedan (F52), 1 Series 5-door hatch (F40), 2 Series Active Tourer (F45), 2 Series Gran Tourer (F46), X1 crossover SUV (F48), X2 crossover coupe (F39) and Brilliance-BMW Zinoro 60H (a Chinese-market X1/F48 crossover with unique sheetmetal). 

We don’t have the 1 Series or 2 Series Active Tourer here in Canada, and so far I haven’t been able to get behind the wheel of these two while parked in my second Manila, Philippines home, so I can’t say anything useful about their driving dynamics compared to counterparts from Mini, but I truly don’t believe they could be much better than a Cooper 3- or 5-Door Hatch or Clubman. I can attest to the Countryman S and the new Countryman S E ALL4 plug-in hybrid being more planted at high speeds than the latest BMW X1 xDrive28i, however, the latter seeming to have been designed as more of a comfort-oriented, practical alternative. 

2019 Mini Cooper S Convertible
These sport seats are really supportive. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

The Cooper S Convertible, on the other hand, is hardly as big and accommodating inside or out, its rear passenger area and luggage compartment actually the tightest in the entire Mini line. The back seats are probably best used for smaller adults and/or children, whereas the trunk measures 160 litres when the divider is moved lower and top is down, or 215 litres with the top up and moveable divider raised. It’s only accessible through a smallish opening too, but on the positive loading is assisted thanks to a really useful wagon-style folding tailgate that provides a temporary shelf for placing cargo before shifting it inside, while you can expand on cargo capability via 50/50 split-folding rear seatbacks when hauling longer cargo such as skis or snowboards is required. All in all, the Cooper Convertible’s passenger/cargo capability is fairly flexible when put up against most rival ragtops, especially similarly priced roadsters like the Mazda MX-5 or Fiat 124 Spider. 

Of note, Mini’s cloth top is a very well insulated “3-in-1” design that’s truly quiet, not to mention capable of retracting or closing in just 18 seconds via an almost completely automated process (you just need to keep holding the overhead toggle switch). When opening, it first stops halfway to form a big sunroof, which is perfect for those times when totally dropping the top isn’t ideal. Pressing and holding it again causes the roof to completely retract, while repeating the same two-step process in reverse powers the top upwards. The convertible can be opened or closed while driving up to 30 km/h, so don’t worry about how much time you have while waiting at a stoplight. Additionally you can open or close the roof from your key fob while outside, handy if you left the interior exposed in your driveway when it unexpectedly starts to rain. 

2019 Mini Cooper S Convertible
Rear seating is fairly tight, but doable. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

The Cooper S Convertible isn’t without competition, the soon to be discontinued Volkswagen Beetle Convertible and cute little Fiat 500 Cabrio (which is available in sporty Abarth trim) being the closest four-seat rivals, but most would agree that the car on this page offers more luxury and performance than either European challenger. 

In short, Mini’s drop-top is a comparatively roomy four-place convertible with decent stowage, premium-like interior refinements, excellent onboard electronics, agreeable fuel-efficiency, and a fun-to-drive personality that’s hard to beat, all for a competitive price when adding up all its positive attributes. Those who simply want to own a really well made car that’s an absolute blast to drive each and every day will likely love the Mini Cooper S Convertible. 

Story credit: Trevor Hofmann 

Photo credit: Karen Tuggay

2019 Chevrolet Colorado ZR2 Road Test

2019 Chevrolet Colorado ZR2
The 2019 Chevrolet Colorado ZR2 looks great and can go just about anywhere. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

The Colorado ZR2 is one wicked looking pickup truck. Chevrolet got the design just right, and together with its beefy styling and rugged suspension, GM’s most popular brand has brought one impressive off-road race replica to market. 

To be clear, Chevy wasn’t first to this market sector and certainly won’t be the final entry. While there are probably others I should mentioned, Dodge’s Power Wagon was one of the street-capable off-road race truck initiators, although today’s 4×4 fans will likely point to the 2010 Ford F-150 SVT Raptor as first on the scene, as far as OEM custom off-roaders go. 

Fiat Chrysler Automobiles’ (FCA) Ram brand has tried to answer back with its 2016 to present 1500 Rebel, which is much like previous Power Wagons with bolder frontal styling, while Toyota arrived a few years ago with its Tundra and Tacoma TRD Pro packages, the latter recently adding a snorkel-style air intake that makes it appear like it can swim across rivers, through mud holes, or any other deep, liquid barrier. 

Right about now I should also draw your attention to the fresh new 2020 Jeep Gladiator, which when suited up in Rubicon trim might be the most credible 4×4 in the mid-size pickup category (it’s definitely has good roots), while delivering payload and trailering capacities that compete well too. 

2019 Chevrolet Colorado ZR2
Classic pickup truck styling is joined by rugged off-road capability. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

While I’m covering all of these trail-rated cargo (and family) haulers I need to mention Chevrolet’s recently re-skinned Silverado that can be specified in new Trail Boss trim with a two-inch lift kit, improving off-road capability over its GMC Sierra Elevation cousin, but other than this the Trail Boss is mostly about cosmetics, whereas Nissan offers tough Pro-4X trims on its aging Frontier and more up-to-date Titan half-ton and heavy-half Titan XD models. Lastly, Honda offers its Ridgeline with a Black Edition and… well… it’s no CRF250X, let alone ZR2 rival. 

The Gladiator Rubicon and Tacoma TRD Pro are the only mid-size ZR2 competitors capable of whacking through the wilderness (GMC’s Canyon doesn’t provide anything quite as 4×4-worthy), and the Chevy can be made even more capable with its Bison upgrade package, yet all of the above deserve comment (including the 2018 to present Ford Ranger Raptor that’s now getting snapped up by wealthier off-road enthusiasts in Asia). 

Obviously size matters, with the North American Raptor, the Rebel (Power Wagon), the Tundra, and the Silverado/Sierra fraternal twins being full-size models, and the Tacoma, Ranger, Frontier, and this Colorado (plus the Canyon) more compact in their mid-size proportions. 

Another big differentiator is the powertrains on offer, and being that this review is about a mid-size model I’ll focus on its key rivals, with most incorporating four-cylinder and (when equipped to compete off the beaten path) V6 gasoline-powered engines. The two GM mid-size trucks do likewise, but they also buck tradition by adding a high-torque, fuel-efficient turbo-diesel mill. 

2019 Chevrolet Colorado ZR2
The Duramax diesel powered ZR2 looks identical, other than some subtle badging. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

So, let’s focus in on the standard and optional ZR2 powertrains and how each measures up when compared to its Jeep and Toyota challengers, and then factor in some of their 4×4-related features. For starters, I spent a week with each engine, starting with a greyish Deepwood Green Metallic painted one that’s in fact a 2018 model (I’ll talk about the differences later in this review). This optional colour was cancelled for 2019, but the superb 2.8-litre Duramax turbo-diesel four-cylinder under its bulging hood remains. It makes 181 horsepower and a best-in-segment 369 lb-ft of torque from a mere 2,000 rpm, and comes paired to a strong six-speed automatic transmission. 

It’s fuel-efficient compared to rivals thanks to a 12.5 L/100km city, 10.7 highway and 11.7 combined Transport Canada rating, but whether or not its stingy enough to justify its lofty $4,090 price tag will depend on the number of years and kilometres you plan to employ its service, or if you really want to take advantage of its efficiency for travelling farther into the wild yonder than gasoline-powered 4×4 owners dare go, or if you appreciate the tractability of its massive torque when trekking into said wilderness more than the immediate power its V6 offers. 

Behind the blackened grille of the Kinetic Blue Metallic painted (a $495 option) 2019 ZR2 is the standard 3.6-litre V6 that produces 308 horsepower and 275 lb-ft of torque from 4,000 rpm. Just like the diesel, the V6 powers the rear axle or both diffs via part-time four-wheel drive, but unlike the diesel the standard engine’s gearbox is an even more economical eight-speed unit. The combo results in an estimated 15.0 L/100km in the city, 13.0 on the highway and 14.1 combined, partly due to cylinder deactivation when less performance is needed, and while decent it’s hardly the GM engine of choice for driving past pumps. 

2019 Chevrolet Colorado ZR2
The Colorado ZR2 is one of few off-road kings available today. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

The Gladiator, on the other hand, only comes with FCA’s 3.6-litre V6, which makes 285 horsepower and 260 lb-ft of torque. That’s off by 23 horsepower and 15 lb-ft when compared to the base ZR2 V6, although it offers up a standard six-speed manual (no such luck with the ZR2) or alternatively an eight-speed auto, plus part-time 4WD, and comes with a Transport Canada rating that ranges between 10.4 and 14.1 L/100km city/highway combined depending on trims and transmissions. 

As for the Tacoma TRD Pro, it’s standard with Toyota’s well-proven 3.5-litre V6 that puts out 276 horsepower and 265 lb-ft of torque, which is down some 32 horsepower and 10 lb-ft of torque on the V6-powered ZR2, and mates up to a six-speed manual or a six-speed auto plus part-time 4WD, while achieving city/highway combined fuel economy ranging from 11.9 to 12.9 L/100km, depending on transmissions and cabs. 

All of the above V6s will outrun the Duramax turbo-diesel by significant margins, something I immediately noticed when setting out in the 2019 Colorado, but the advantage of the diesel’s 109, 104 and 94 lb-ft of torque advantage when compared to the Gladiator, Tacoma and ZR2 V6 respectively, gives the diesel big advantages on the trail, plus of course its 11.7 city/highway combined fuel economy that can only be beaten by one single Gladiator trim (and I’d be shocked to witness the FCA V6 winning out in real-world back-to-back tests). 

Engine torque is important when off-road, but there are other factors that are even more important when leaving pavement, such as ground clearance, front and rear overhangs, and wheelbase length to name a few. The Tacoma provides the shortest wheelbase at 3,236 mm (127.4 in), but its 5,392-mm (212.3-in) nose-to-tail length means its overhangs are more pronounced, resulting in a truck that won’t hang up as easily when scaling sharp crests or other obstacles, but will probably scrape its front and rear bumpers when approaching a steep incline or levelling off after a radical decline. By comparison, the Colorado’s wheelbase is nearly as short at 3,258 mm (128.3 in), but improves on approach and departure angles with the shortest overall length of 5,347 mm (210.5 in), whereas the Gladiator has the longest wheelbase by far at 3,487 mm (137.3 in), plus it measures a limousine-like 5,537 mm (218.0 in) from front to back (ok, not quite as long as a limo, but you get my drift). 

2019 Chevrolet Colorado ZR2
Plenty of modifications separate the ZR2 from regular Colorados. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

To clarify, I’ve only tested the 2018 and 2019 ZR2 models plus a 2017 Tacoma TRD Pro (it now includes the aforementioned snorkel and a number of other improvements), so I can’t offer a full critique of the latest TRD Pro or the Gladiator. As noted earlier, I had a version of the 2018 ZR2 with the Duramax Turbo-Diesel for a week, plus spent a week with a 2019 V6-powered variant, and mostly drove them around town and within suburban, rural areas on tarmac, but also took both out on the trail, the latter deep diving in hood-high standing water. I tested the previous Tacoma off-road too, and I had no trouble negotiating the chosen trail, but being a different location and a long time ago (two years is eons in vehicle development time), a direct comparo wouldn’t be fair. 

On that note I hope to test a Gladiator Rubicon this summer, and you can bet I’ll be getting it as dirty as possible when I do. It features a disconnecting front sway bar to help with articulation (something I first experienced in a Ram Power Wagon, and is now also part of the Ram 1500 Rebel upgrade), plus it uses the Wrangler’s solid front axle that’s considered an improvement over the independent front suspensions used by the ZR2 and most other modern pickup trucks. Of course, I’ll make sure to use experiences from my ZR2 tests as part of my future Gladiator review. 

Like the first 2017 Colorado ZR2 and the greenish-grey 2018 turbo-diesel model partially reviewed here, the newest 2019 ZR2 receives the same substantial increase in ride height, and therefore gets the same 50-mm (2.0-inch) increase in ground clearance, while any high-speed handling negatives are offset by 90 mm (3.5 inches) of increased front and rear track, plus stiffer new cast-iron lower front control arms, and a unique set of 8- by 17-inch alloy wheels wrapped in 31-inch Goodyear Duratrac off-road rubber. 

2019 Chevrolet Colorado ZR2
The ZR2’s Multimatic shocks are key components to its off-road and on-pavement prowess. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

What’s more, a 1.0-inch-diameter solid anti-roll bar replaces the usual 1.5-inch hollow one, improving suspension articulation, while last but hardly least are special Multimatic DSSV Position Sensitive Spool Valve Damping Performance shocks that help cushion the otherwise jarring impacts of rocks, roots and other obstacles you might find along an ungraded back road or trail (the TRD Pro utilizes Fox-sourced shocks, by the way, which are rated highly as well). 

The skid plates below and tubular rocker extensions at each side are easier to see, both having been designed to protect vulnerable components beneath as well as low hanging bodywork, but the ZR2’s matte black grille and even more aggressive black domed hood make it even more noticeable to onlookers, not to mention its rugged black bumpers that get abbreviated at each corner to improve approach and departure angles, and extended black fender flares that make room for its all-terrain rubber. 

The local 4×4 park chosen is one I test trucks and SUVs on regularly, so I’m familiar with its plentiful obstacles. While difficult for many presumed off-roaders, most of its challenges are a cakewalk for the ZR2, but were still intimidating without a spotting crew to guide me through. During the diesel’s mostly dry afternoon I was able to drag the rear-mounted spare tire over some deep rutted knolls plus up and down some steep terrain, once again finding ground at the rear (but not the front), while I was able to lift the left rear into midair and leave it there spinning (a silly thing some 4×4 fans do for kicks), and while there was a lot more skill remaining in this truck than my dirt playground could not fully extract, I was able to prove that the ZR2 is capable enough for serious off-road duty, yet still plenty comfortable. 

2019 Chevrolet Colorado ZR2
The Colorado’s cab is well organized in any trim, but the ZR2 offers a suitably upscale experience. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

The second off-road adventure with the 2019 ZR2 came mid-winter, on a particularly cold and rainy day. Rain means mud at best and massive pools of standing water at worst (or maybe best, depending on how you look at it). The steep grades that were child’s play before required locking both front and rear differentials now (just like with the Gladiator, albeit not so with the Taco TRD Pro that only includes lockers at the rear), but doing so allowed easy control all the way up and all the way down. Even better, partway into a 50-foot puddle my heart started to race when the truck’s front end slipped deeper into a set of ruts, forcing dirty water across the top of the hood and even onto the windshield, but a steady foot on the throttle allowed the meaty tires to keep momentum up, and the ZR2 pulled me to the other side without fanfare (other than my pounding heart). At that point I was wishing I’d had the TRD Pro’s snorkel, but obviously the ZR2 didn’t need it, this time around at least. 

The thought of swamping an engine (which would void the warranty) makes the $6,980 need for the ZR2’s Bison package seem cheap. Of course, the Bison package wouldn’t have necessarily helped in this situation (it really should include a snorkel, if not just for style points), and I can’t say I’d want the ZR2 in Red Hot paint (I’d rather have the option of colours), but it gets design points for its bold “CHEVROLET” emblazoned grille (similar to the Raptor’s “FORD” grille replacement), unique AEV (American Expedition Vehicles) front and rear bumpers (the one up front capable of accepting a winch), the beefier black extended fender flares, special 17-inch AEV alloy wheels, fog lights, contoured front and rear floor liners, and about 90 kilograms (200 lbs) of super-strong boron steel AEV skid plates (front, transfer case, fuel tank, and rear differential) to better protect its vital components. 

2019 Chevrolet Colorado ZR2
This simple, straightforward gauge cluster includes a 4.2-inch colour multi-info display at centre. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

Of course, the ZR2 is still extremely capable without Bison upgrades, and quite a standout in the styling department too. The regular Colorado a bit tame to my eyes, at least when compared to most competitors, specifically the latest Tacoma and new Gladiator, but the ZR2’s bulging domed matte black louvered hood, redesigned matte black front bumpers and rear bumpers, exposed skid plates, robust tubular rocker protectors, and other trim upgrades give it a tougher look. Look beyond the machine-finished 17-inch alloy wheels with black-painted pockets and you’ll be able to see the bright yellow Multimatic dampers, unless they’re covered in dirt. 

The ZR2’s lack of side steps might look good and not hang up on protruding trail debris, but it hampers access for shorter folk like me. There aren’t any Corner Steps on the back bumper to provide a leg up to the bed either, these issues being the only complaints I have against this special model. 

Once inside I enjoyed the view provided by the aforementioned ride height and the Colorado’s inherently great sightlines in all directions. This helps in traffic, of course, possibly even giving you the edge needed to find your way up to the front of the pack. There’s where you’ll enjoy V6 performance, the larger of the two being a good choice for those wanting power over fuel efficiency. The V6 delivers a decided jump off the line and then keeps up the pace right up to legal highway speeds and beyond, while the diesel only jumps off the line initially, and simply can’t maintain the same level of forward thrust as its revs rise. This will be just find for diesel enthusiasts like me, because the engine helps it feel more like a work truck capably going about its business, and of course it pays big dividends when it comes time to fill up. 

2019 Chevrolet Colorado ZR2
The standard high-definition backup camera is ultra-clear. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

Colorado ZR2 buyers won’t have to make a choice about handling, fortunately, because both engines manage corners equally well. Even with its increased suspension, or possibly because of it, the ride is fairly smooth and quite comfortable, unless jumping curbs. Those slightly firmer Multimatic dampers, which work so very well off-road, also help to reduce body roll at higher speeds on pavement, resulting in a truck that’s surprisingly athletic through high-speed serpentine curves, unless you’re attempting to go quicker than anything so top-heavy and obviously 4×4-focused is supposed to go. Braking is pretty good too, but once again we shouldn’t get in over our heads. The ZR2 weighs in at 1,987 kg (4,381 lbs), and more when upgraded with the aforementioned Bison package, so judge stopping distances accordingly. 

As per usual I only pushed the ZR2 hard during testing, and no matter the surfaces driven over or the speeds attained, the driver’s seat was comfortable and supportive. I especially appreciated the lateral support provided by its big side bolsters, which stopped me sliding sideways on what could have otherwise been slippery leather. 

The upholstery was dyed black as usual, albeit highlighted with a red embroidered “2” as part of the otherwise black “ZR2” insignia on the headrests. The ZR2’s steering wheel receives no such name recognition, but it has a meaty rim that’s wrapped in soft and comfortable leather, with grippy baseball-style stitching in the middle. Other than its four-spoke design it appears more like the type of sport steering wheel you’d find in a performance car, and thanks to the generous reach of its standard tilt and telescoping steering column I fit in perfectly. I was able to sit upright with the steering wheel perfectly positioned for my long-legged, short torso, five-foot-eight, slight-build body, safely and comfortably with my hands at the optimal nine and three o’clock positions, further allowing an easy reach to the pedals below and once again, great visibility all-round. 

2019 Chevrolet Colorado ZR2
This wireless charging pad comes standard. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

The rear seating area of this Crew Cab, short box configured ZR2 (the ZR2 can also be had with an Extended Cab and a long box) is roomy for adults (and kids) of all shapes and sizes. When the driver’s seat was positioned for my height, there was still about five inches in front of my knees and more than enough room for my feet, plus I had another three to four inches over my head, and five inches from my shoulders and hips to the door, plus I’d guess you could seat a smaller person comfortably between the two outboard positions. With only two in back, more comfort can be accessed via a wide centre armrest filled with large cupholders that include rubber grips to hold cups or bottles in place. Other handy features include twin rear USB ports and a 12-volt charger. 

If you want to keep your gear dry and safe from theft, the rear seat headrests fold forward and the backrests tumble flat so you can lay your belongings on top, or instead you can lift the lower seat cushion up to expose a storage compartment underneath, this complete with every tool you’ll need to lower the spare tire from below the bed and then change the wheel. 

Seats and armrests aside, the ZR2 doesn’t offer any soft, pliable composite surface treatments in the rear, but back up front the dash top receives a nice soft paint to absorb sound and make it more appealing to touch, as does much of the instrument panel. It should also be noted this isn’t the priciest trim in Chevy’s Colorado fleet, due to being optimized primarily for off-road purposes, but it was certainly nice enough for this class of truck. On the positive are some attractive metal-like accents around the centre stack and lower console, plus the door handles and armrests. The door handles inside are chromed too, as are the centres of some knobs on the centre stack. 

2019 Chevrolet Colorado ZR2
The Colorado provides a large, spacious interior, and the ZR2’s leather-covered seats are very comfortable. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

The primary gauge cluster is legible in all lighting conditioned thanks to bright background lighting and good shielding from sunlight. It’s filled with the usual tachometer to the left and speedometer on the right, with a fuel gauge and engine temperature meter topping off a fairly large 4.2-inch high-resolution colour multi-information display just below at centre. 

The latter is controlled with a pad of four arrows on the right-side steering wheel spoke, which when pushed provides a bright menu of multicoloured functions including info, audio, phone, navigation, options, and more, while the navigation system provides directions within the gauge cluster’s multi-info display where they can be seen more easily without removing eyes too far from the road ahead, with more detailed mapping shown on the large 8.0-inch infotainment touchscreen over on the centre stack (this 8.0-inch display is now standard with all Colorado trims except the base Work Truck or WT that still does ok with its new 7.0-inch touchscreen). 

That larger touchscreen includes Chevy’s well laid-out, bright, and colourful HD menu display that seems as if it was inspired by Apple’s iPhone/iPad, which I think is a good thing, but if you want something even more inline with Cupertino you can plug your phone into a specified USB to access the standard Apple CarPlay app, or alternatively Android Auto (although I don’t like it anywhere near was much). I’m glad that Chevy gives us these smartphone connectivity alternatives, while also featuring an audio system that can be easily connected to a phone with Bluetooth wireless streaming, or alternatively you can listen to satellite radio, plus all the classic AM/FM/HD radio stations. 

2019 Chevrolet Colorado ZR2
The rear seating area is large and accommodating too. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

The navigation system worked well, with accurate routing and nicely detailed mapping that was easy enough to sort out. I only wished that it warned me of a turn sooner, but instead it gave instant notice and even then the directions were in black and white and fairly small, making them hard to make out. Larger, brighter and in colour would’ve been ideal, and saying something like “Turn right in 50 meters”. I liked that the infotainment system received text messages and provided a number of stock responses for communicating safely while driving, while other useful apps include OnStar, traffic info, and shopping (not sure about that last one while driving though). 

Along with navigation, the ZR2 includes a fabulous high-definition backup camera with active guidelines (but in need to inform you the Gladiator’s reportedly has front and rear trail cams that can even be cleaned via the infotainment system), with some other standard ZR2 features including a phone charging pad placed just in front of the centre armrest (standard with Z71 trim and above), plus a USB port inside the armrest if your phone needs wired power. Chevrolet also provides two more USB ports (one supporting new USB C-type devices) and an aux port, plus an available SD card reader, within another storage bin at the base of the centre stack, allowing you and your devices to be well cared for. Finally, the latest Colorado includes a second microphone mounted closer to the front passenger to improve the voice quality of Bluetooth hands-free connected phones, while a personal favourite had nothing to do with connectivity, but rather the ZR2’s heated steering wheel that warmed my hands on some cold winter mornings, this now standard with all trims above the LT. 

Speaking of warmth, standard ZR2 features include GM’s superb heated front seats that not only warm up the lower cushion and backrest together, but can be adjusted to only heat the latter, which is great for people like me who occasionally suffer from lower back pain and just want some temporary relief. This in mind, the ZR2 only includes single-zone automatic climate control, not the expected dual-zone design provided to top-line versions of the Tacoma and Gladiator. 

2019 Chevrolet Colorado ZR2
The rear seats flip down for storing cargo. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

I think most of us could live without such a luxury, but I really appreciate having proximity-sensing entry and a pushbutton ignition system. The ZR2 doesn’t get a sunroof either, which might bother those wowed by Jeep’s removable roof. I appreciated the padded sunglasses holder on the overhead console, and the reading lights were decent enough, but they’re only incandescent lamps, not LEDs. The centre mirror is auto-dimming, however, plus along with OnStar it includes a button for voice activation as well as an “SOS” one to reach out for help when required. 

A row of useful switches can be found on the centre stack too, including one for turning off the stability control, plus a bed light, hill descent control, an exhaust brake that’s useful when towing, a hazard light, and finally two individual toggles for the front and rear differential locks noted before. 

Trailering in mind, the ZR2’s towing capacity is rated at 2,268 kilos (5,000 lbs) no matter which engine is being used, while its payload is a sizeable 500 kilograms (1,100 lbs) with the four-door short-bed or 528 kg (1,164 lbs) with the extended-cab long-bed. The Tacoma TRD Pro, on the other hand, is capable of a 2,900-kg (6,400-lb) tow rating and a payload of 454 kg (1,000 lbs), whereas the Gladiator Rubicon (the closest to the ZR2) can trailer up to 2,040 kg (4,500 lbs) and haul a payload of up to 544 kg (1,200 lbs) with the manual, or drag 3,175 kg (7,000 lbs) of trailer weight or carry 526 kg (1,160 lbs) on its backside when equipped with its automatic. 

2019 Chevrolet Colorado ZR2
The ZX2 can do most anything a regular pickup truck can, plus conquer almost any trail. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

You may have noticed that I haven’t covered all of the ZR2’s comfort and convenience features in this review, but take note they’re easily available on the Chevrolet retail website or right here at CarCostCanada, where I sourced all 2019 Colorado pricing info including trims, packages and standalone options, not to mention money-saving rebate info and dealer invoice pricing. Suffice to say it’s well equipped for its $46,100 Extra Cab base price, or $47,600 when opting for the Crew Cab, plus freight and fees of course. 

No matter the Colorado ZR2 powertrain you choose, you’ll be getting a well-designed mid-size pickup truck that can overcome nearly any obstacle on or off the road. I’d opt for the diesel with the Bison upgrade and find an aftermarket snorkel, but hey, it’s easy to say that without following through on a payment plan. It’s great that Chevy provides so many options, allowing plenty of opportunity to personalize. 

Story credit: Trevor Hofmann 

Photo credit: Karen Tuggay

2019 Toyota C-HR Limited Road Test Review

2019 Toyota C-HR Limited
The Toyota C-HR is no wallflower, really living up to Akio Toyoda’s desire for more exciting designs. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

During the introduction of the FT-1 concept at the 2014 Detroit auto show, Toyota president Akio Toyoda issued a companywide decree for “no more boring cars,” and this C-HR is a direct result of this type of thinking, at least with respect to styling. Do you think it embodies Toyoda’s hopes for a level of “style that stirs peoples’ emotions and makes them say ‘I want to drive this’?” 

Toyoda obviously does, as he would’ve approved the initial design and given the go-ahead for this production model. Being just 63, he’s still very much in charge of his grandfather’s car company, and I must say the namesake Japanese brand’s newest SUV is just one of many dynamic designs to arrive on the scene in recent years. 

I won’t comment on CH-R styling in detail, first because my taste isn’t your taste, and secondly because I’m a fan of unorthodox designs like Nissan’s Juke and Cube, as long as the proportions are right and there’s some sort of balance to the overall look. The CH-R fits nicely into that category, pushing the limits in some respects, but probably acceptable enough to the masses to maintain reasonable resale values. 

2019 Toyota C-HR Limited
The C-HR might look even more daring from behind. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

It’s more important that Toyota finally has something to compete in this subcompact SUV class, and I give them high marks for courage, being that the majority of rivals already enjoying success here did so by focusing more on things practical than eye-catching design. It was as surprise that Toyota showed up with this sportier looking, slightly smaller than average alternative that seems to put style ahead of pragmatism. 

A rundown of class sales leaders shows that passenger and cargo spaciousness and flexibility rules the roost, with long-term top-sellers include the innovative Honda HR-V, funky yet practical Kia Soul, and larger than average Subaru Crosstrek, while a couple of newcomers doing well include the cheap and sizeable Nissan Qashqai, as well as the all-round impressive Hyundai Kona. It’s like this new C-HR said hello to the same type of buyers that were lamenting the loss of the recently cancelled Juke (replaced by the new Kicks), although missing the AWD Juke’s stellar performance. Go-fast goodness may also help propel Canadian sales of the Mazda CX-3, not to mention its arguably stylish design. 

2019 Toyota C-HR Limited
The C-HR provides plenty of interesting details when seen up close. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

This is model-year two for the new C-HR, and all things considered it’s a commendable subcompact crossover SUV. My test model was tarted up in new Limited trim, which reaches higher up the desirability scale than last year’s XLE, which I tested and reviewed last year. Altogether I’ve tested three C-HR’s, and each provided impressive comfort with the same level of features as comparatively priced competitors, plus amply capable performance, and superb fuel efficiency. 

One of the C-HR’s strengths is interior refinement, although I wouldn’t say it’s the segment’s best when compared to the previously noted CX-3 in its top-tier GT trim, which gets very close to the luxury subcompact SUV class, and that’s even when comparing Mazda’s best to this top-level Limited model. I did like the C-HR Limited’s nicely detailed padded, stitched leatherette dash-top, plus the large padded bolster just underneath that stretches from the right side of the instrument panel to the front passenger’s door, while a smaller padded section adorns the left side of the primary gauge package. Each door upper receives the same premium-level soft touch synthetic surface treatment, while all armrests get an even softer, more comfortable covering. 

2019 Toyota C-HR Limited
This interesting door handle provides access to the rear quarters. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Those who thrill at the sight of plentiful piano black lacquered plastic will be overjoyed with all of the dark shiny trim strewn around Toyota’s smallest crossover. I’d personally like it if there were less, and not due to its addition to interior design, but instead because it attracts dust something awful and scratches way too easily. I like the diamond-textured hard plastic on door inserts and lower panels, however, which are truly unique, look great and feel durable enough to last the test of time. It certainly doesn’t feel as cheap as the usual hard plastic found in these areas in this segment, plus the diamond pattern complements the unusual assortment of diamond-shaped reliefs stamped into the overhead roofliner. 

Before I take a deep dive into the C-HR’s interior design and quality, I should mention this 2019 model received a few upgrades that should allow it to find more buyers while improving it overall compared to last year’s version, starting with a new base LE trim that eliminates more than $1,000 from the 2018 C-HR’s base window sticker. This said $23,675 isn’t as approachable as some competitors noted earlier in this review, the Qashqai now available from $20,198 (just $200 more than last year’s version despite plenty of new equipment), and the new Nissan Kicks starting at a mere $17,998, thus making it the most affordable SUV in Canada. Nevertheless, the C-HR’s list of standard goodies is hard to beat, so stay tuned in if you’d like to learn more. 

2019 Toyota C-HR Limited
Distinctive design elements can be seen all around. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Something else going against this new C-HR’s success is the significantly larger and much more accommodating Nissan Rogue that only costs $3k or so more, while the completely redesigned 2019 RAV4 begins at just $27,790 (check out all the latest pricing details for all makes and models including this C-HR, the Rogue and RAV4 right here at CarCostCanada, with additional info on trims, packages and available options, plus otherwise difficult to get rebate info and dealer invoice pricing that could save you thousands). 

A positive for this 2019 C-HR LE is Toyota’s new Entune 3.0 infotainment system that now comes standard across the line. It features a much larger 8.0-inch touchscreen and supports Apple CarPlay smartphone integration, plus Toyota’s superb in-house smartphone integration app. I like this infotainment system a lot, and I like Toyota’s Entune smartphone app even more than Android Auto, no matter whether I’m setting my drive route up in my house via my Samsung S9, or controlling it via the C-HR’s touchscreen. The new display also features a standard backup camera, which might not sound like much of big deal unless you had previously been forced to live with last year’s ultra-small rearview mirror-mounted monitor. Now it’s much easier to use and of course safer thanks to the larger display. 

2019 Toyota C-HR Limited
Toyota carries the C-HR’s unorthodox styling characteristics inside too. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

The route guidance mentioned a moment ago comes via a Scout GPS app downloadable from your smartphone’s online store. Like I said, you can set it up before going out via your phone, and then when hooked up to your C-HR it displays your route on the touchscreen just like a regular navigation system. I found it easy to use and extremely accurate, while Toyota also supplies the Entune App Suite Connect with a bundle of applications for traffic, weather, Slacker, Yelp, sports, stocks, fuel and NPR One (a U.S.-sourced public radio station). 

The base C-HR LE also receives standard automatic high beam headlamps, adaptive cruise control, remote entry, an acoustic glass windshield, auto up/down power windows all-round, a leather-clad shift knob, a 4.2-inch TFT multi-information display within the primary gauge package, an auto-dimming interior mirror, illuminated vanity mirrors, two-zone automatic climate control, a six-speaker audio system, the aforementioned piano black lacquered trim, fabric seat upholstery, front sport seats, 60/40-split rear seatbacks, a cargo cover, autonomous emergency braking with pedestrian detection, lane departure alert with steering assist, all the expected active and passive safety features plus a few unexpected ones like a driver’s knee airbag and rear side thorax airbags, etcetera, which is downright generous for the base trim level of a subcompact crossover SUV, and therefore should relieve those concerned about its base price being too high. 

2019 Toyota C-HR Limited
The C-HR’s sporty gauge cluster is easy to read in any light. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Last year the C-HR was only available in XLE trim, so it’s good that Toyota kept this model as a mid-range entry while it expanded the lineup with two more trims. The XLE now starts at $25,725 thanks to the new Entune 3.0 Audio Plus system, plus it also includes automatic collision notification, a stolen vehicle locator, an emergency assistance SOS button, and enhanced roadside assistance to enhance its safety equipment, plus 17-inch alloys, a leather-wrapped steering wheel, nicer cloth upholstery, heated front seats (which should really be standard in Canada), and two-way power lumbar support for the driver’s seat. 

On top of this you can add on an XLE Premium package that increases the price to $27,325 yet includes larger 18-inch rims, proximity keyless entry with pushbutton start/stop, heated power-retractable outside mirrors with puddle lamps, blindspot monitoring, rear cross traffic alert, and lane change assist. 

Lastly, new top-tier Limited trim starts at $28,775 and adds rain-sensing wipers, a very helpful windshield wiper de-icer (especially considering the frigid winter and spring most of us endured this year and last), ambient interior lighting, and attractive textured leather upholstery in either black or brown. 

2019 Toyota C-HR Limited
The larger centre screen now incorporates the rearview parking camera. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Look under the hood and you’ll something that hasn’t changed for 2019, a 2.0-litre four-cylinder engine that might cause some potential buyers to feel as if the C-HR’s performance doesn’t quite reach up to meet its sporty styling. The engine puts out a reasonable 144 horsepower and 139 lb-ft of torque, which isn’t bad on its own, but the only gearbox it comes mated to is the belt-and-pulley-inspired continuously variable type, a.k.a. CVT, which makes a difference at the pump, but isn’t exactly designed to thrill off the line. What’s more, the C-HR is a front-wheel-drive-only offering, making it the type of SUV you’ll be forced to chain up when hitting the slopes if your local mountain(s) have a policy that requires chains on all vehicles without AWD. 

Still, as noted it’s a thrifty little ute, capable of just 8.7 L/100km in the city, 7.5 on the highway and 8.2 combined according to the powers that be at Transport Canada, which thanks to new carbon taxes and other interprovincial and geopolitical issues is critical these days. 

2019 Toyota C-HR Limited
These are comfortable leather-covered seats. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Also important, the C-HR’s wide footprint and low roofline make it reasonably well balanced, which results in handling that nearly adheres to Mr. Toyoda’s “no more boring cars” credo. Nearly is the deciding word, however, as the C-HR is no CX-3 or Kona, but its fully independent MacPherson strut front and double-wishbone/trailing arm rear suspension is plenty of fun when quickly slaloming through a twisting backcountry two-laner or hightailing through town, plus I found its ride quality amongst the segment’s best. 

While we’re on the subject of comfort, the C-HR’s front seats are excellent, and its driving position is a considerable improvement over some other Toyota models. To be clear, I have longer legs than torso, which means that I’m required to shove my driver’s seat more towards the rear than most others measuring five-foot-eight, and then adjust the steering column as far rearward as possible. A number of Toyota models simply don’t provide enough steering wheel reach to comfortably allow me a good, safe grip of the wheel with my arms appropriately bent, so I was thrilled the C-HR does. 

2019 Toyota C-HR Limited
The rear seats should be roomy enough for most owners’ needs. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

How about rear roominess and comfort. Even after pushing my driver’s seat as far rearward as necessary for my gangly legs, there was approximately four inches left over ahead of my knees when seated directly behind, plus about three inches over my head, which should be good enough for the majority of tallish passengers. I also had ample side-to-side space, although three abreast might feel a bit crowded. 

Oddly there isn’t flip-down armrest between the two outboard rear positions, and while not quite as comfortable I’m glad Toyota remembered to include a cupholder just ahead of the armrest on each rear door panel. Also good, the rear outboard seats are comfortable and supportive, especially against the lower back. On the negative, rear seat visibility out the side windows is horrible due to the C-HR’s strangely shaped doors that cause rear occupants to look directly into a big black panel when trying to see out. I’m guessing that kids big and small won’t appreciate this, so make sure you bring the young’uns along for the test drive before you buy. 

2019 Toyota C-HR Limited
Not the roomiest cargo area in its class, the C-HR should nevertheless satisfy most subcompact SUV buyers’ requirements. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Cargo capacity might also be a deal-breaker for those who regularly haul a lot of life’s gear, because the C-HR’s sporty rear roofline slices into its vertical volume. The result is a mere 538 litres (19.0 cubic feet) of maximum luggage space aft of the rear seatbacks, which is a bit tight when put up against the class leaders. Folding the C-HR’s 60/40-split rear seats flat improves on available cargo space with 1,031 litres (36.4 cu ft), although once again this doesn’t come close to the largest in this segment. 

Rather than leave this review on a negative note, I’ll make a point of highlighting the C-HR’s impressive five-star NHTSA safety rating, and should also bring attention to Toyota’s excellent reliability record on the whole. I’m sure such talk isn’t what Toyoda-san would want me relating when wrapping up a review of such a non-boring design exercise, but in truth the C-HR is more about comfort, convenience, economy and dependability than go-fast performance, and while this might seem a bit dull and wholly Toyota-like, it’s also why so many Canadian consumers go back to the world’s most successful Japanese automaker time and time again. For this reason I’d difficult for me to argue against the new C-HR, so if this new subcompact SUV’s styling, size and drivability work for you, by all means take one home. 

Story credit: Trevor Hofmann 

Photo credit: Karen Tuggay

2019 Volvo XC40 T5 AWD R-Design Road Test

2019 Volvo XC40 T5 AWD R-Design Road Test
The new XC40 provides a new fun and funky take on Volvo’s usual elegantly edgy styling. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Admittedly, I like Volvo a lot. Specifically the new, reimagined Volvo that arrived on the scene in 2015 with the introduction of the 2016 XC90. Its styling first attracted me, followed by a new level of interior design and quality, which I became aware of once familiarized with the model firsthand. This including improvements made to its Sensus electronics interfaces, and carried forward the Swedish company’s advanced drivetrain philosophy that was initiated in previous models, albeit with greater focus on performance and efficiency via optional plug-in hybrid technology. Of course, safety has always been a Volvo priority, evidenced by its most recent model, this XC40 being reviewed here, which already received a best-possible Top Safety Pick + rating from the IIHS. 

The need for full disclosure and honest journalism makes it important for me to mention that the XC90 didn’t earn an IIHS Top Safety Pick + rating for 2019, or for 2018 either. You’ll need to search all the way back to 2016 to see that, while in 2017 it only achieved a Top Safety Pick rating without the “+”, this having everything to do with the IIHS’ continually more challenging standards than anything Volvo has done to detract from XC90 safety. In fact, in 2016 Volvo had five + rated models, with that number having dropped to three in 2017, the missing two having lost their + ratings despite the S80 having transformed into the S90. Model year 2018 saw all five of the same vehicles only given Top Safety Pick ratings, even though the all-new XC60 joined the lineup, and while it seems like a bonus to finally receive another Top Safety Pick + rating for the new XC40 shown on this page, the only other model to even get a Top Safety Pick so far this year is the just noted XC60. 

Possibly more important to Volvo and you, this XC40 is the only vehicle in its class to earn a Top Safety Pick + rating, while only two others, BMW’s X2 and Lexus’ new UX, managed to be named Top Safety Picks, excluding the +, so therefore if safety is number one on your list and you want a compact luxury SUV, look no further than this impressive little unit. 

2019 Volvo XC40 T5 AWD R-Design Road Test
The XC40 looks great from all angles. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Then again, there are many other reasons to consider an XC40, which incidentally earned 2018 European Car of the Year status, and has become Volvo’s second best-selling model globally (after the larger XC60). The XC40 hits the market with a wonderfully unique and handsome design, particularly in its two-tone exterior colour combos. I spent a week with one in entry-level Momentum trim that I’ll review in in the near future, coated in pretty Amazon Blue with a white roof (arguably more appealing to feminine tastes, but what does that say about me because I really liked it), and I must say it caused a lot of looky-loos to take notice. This Crystal White Pearl Metallic dipped R-Design model, featuring a black-painted rooftop that comes standard with this trim, caused nearly as much ado, plus I must admit that it would be my choice thanks to its sportier, more masculine appearance. 

Climb inside any XC40 trim and you’ll quickly find out the XC40 includes all of the premium-level luxury most expect in this fast-growing category. Each front roof pillar is wrapped in high-quality woven cloth, the dash-top and the upper half of each door panel are finished in soft composites, while each armrest gets padded and covered with stitched leatherette, whereas the insides of each door pocket is carpeted (that’s an unusual yet welcome addition), plus they’re big enough to fit a 15-inch laptop plus a large drink bottle. Returning to the pliable plastic surface treatments, there aren’t any below the interior’s midsection, including the front centre console that does include soft painted surfaces above carpeting which covers its lower extremities. Additionally, look upward and you’ll find the same woven fabric used for the front pillars on the ceiling, this wrapped around a big panoramic sunroof featuring a power-actuated translucent sunshade. 

The instrument panel typifies modern-day Volvo, which means that it’s a tasteful design with only the most necessary controls included, but this said its designers gave it a bit of unorthodox funk by incorporating four retrospective-style vertically-positioned satin-silver finished aluminum vents, enhanced with stylish textured aluminum trim placed between as well as on the door panels. All of the metal is beautifully finished, particularly the knurled aluminum edging around the circular vent controls, as well as a similar treatment given to the audio volume control knob. All of the XC40’s other knobs, buttons and switches are up to snuff too, even surpassing some of its closest competitors. 

2019 Volvo XC40 T5 AWD R-Design Road Test
The LED headlights are standard, but the fog lamps, R-Design styling upgrades and 20-inch alloys are not. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

In the same way, this XC40 R-Design’s special contrast-stitched and perforated leather-wrapped sport steering wheel is impeccably finished, even getting some of the aforementioned satin-silver detailing too, while a similarly upscale level of near handmade detail was provided to the electronic transmission’s shifter, as well as seats’ fabulous looking leather and suede-style Nubuck upholstery. Volvo also added a sharp looking set of metal and rubber pedals in the driver’s footwell, making this R-Design the perfect choice for buyers who want a little more sport during their daily commutes. 

I found the driver’s seat particularly comfortable, thanks to larger than average side bolsters and an extendable lower cushion that cupped ideally below my knees. The rear seating compartment was comfortable and generously proportioned too, even capable of large six-foot-plus occupants with space to spare. Rear passengers are further comforted with a fold-down centre armrest that doubles as a pass-through for loading in long cargo. 

I found the luggage compartment sizeable enough for my requirements throughout my busy week, its 586-litre (20.7 cubic-foot) proportions easily fitting my daily gear, and its 917-litre (32.4 cubic-foot) capacity more than enough when the need came to expand on its abilities. I even tested it out by placing a set of ultra-long 190-cm boards down the middle (used when the need for speed beckons), and had no problem stuffing them inside. 

Even better, the 60/40-split rear seatbacks can be lowered by pressing power-release buttons on the cargo wall, while yet more utility can be added by pulling the cargo floor upwards at centre, which forms a handy divider that’s even topped off with a trio of helpful grocery bag hooks. Alternatively the cargo floor can be contorted into a small shelf when the need to increase loadable surface space arises. 

2019 Volvo XC40 T5 AWD R-Design Road Test
Like its exterior styling, the XC40’s interior is more playful than other Volvo models, but still filled with top-tier features. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

The XC40’s convenience-feature theme continues with a hidden hook that flips out from within the glove box, plus a waste bin within the centre console that can be removed for cleaning, an optional storage box below the driver’s seat, a parking pass holder that butts up against the driver’s side windshield pillar, and gas/credit card slots integrated within the instrument panel just to the left of the driver’s knee. 

What’s more, the bottom portion of the centre stack gets a large rubberized platform for holding big smartphones, capable of being upgraded with wireless charging, while there’s room enough to stow sunglasses on either side. Volvo has also included the requisite 12-volt charger (although I can’t remember the last time I used one of these) and a duo of USB ports, one dedicated for Apple CarPlay and Android Auto smartphone integration, and the other just for charging (three USB ports come standard). The XC40 is easily the most conveniently thought out SUV in its subcompact luxury class. 

While most of the items just mentioned don’t require much in the way of technical advancements, the XC40’s standard digital gauge cluster is the epitome of modernity. Its 12.3-inch diameter provides a lot of information, while its high-definition display is bright, colourful and crystal clear, plus it comes filled with functions such as optional navigation mapping that fills out most of the centre-mounted multi-information display. Its rivals don’t offer anything as advanced in their standard trims (except the new Lexus UX, but it’s only 7.0 inches in diameter), with most not even providing a digital gauge upgrade at all. This gives the XC40 a serious lead when it comes to electronics. 

Even better, Volvo’s award-winning nine-inch Sensus infotainment touchscreen sits vertically atop the centre stack, making it look and work more like tablet than anything else in the class. It responds to touch gestures just like an iPad or Android-based device, including tap, pinch and swipe, plus it does so for more functions than usual. Along with the navigation map, you can also adjust temperature settings with a vertical readout per frontal zone that pops up on the appropriate side of the screen, letting you or your partner slide a finger up or down in order to set ideal heating or cooling. 

2019 Volvo XC40 T5 AWD R-Design Road Test
A fully-digital 12.3-inch gauge cluster comes standard. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

The touchscreen also allows control of all audio functions including streaming Bluetooth, satellite radio, 4G LTE Wi-Fi, plus more, while my Samsung S9 connected easily, both via Bluetooth and when plugging it in for previously noted Android Auto. It’s an nicely designed interface that’s minimalist on graphics, yet nevertheless one of my favourites, and thanks to being no more difficult to use than a regular smartphone should be easy enough for anyone to operate. 

Also on the centre stack, a thin row of premium quality switchgear allows fast prompts to key climate controls, plus a couple of audio functions including the previously noted knurled aluminum-trimmed volume knob, as well as the hazard lights, and lastly a drive mode selector featuring Eco, Comfort, Dynamic, Individual, and optional (not available with the Momentum) Off-road settings. 

As noted, navigation isn’t standard either, but rather is optional for $1,000, but the XC40’s standard features menu is long just the same, including most everything mentioned up to this point, as well as LED headlights, roof rails, remote ignition, pushbutton start/stop, a leather-clad multi-function steering wheel rim, an electric parking brake, rain-sensing wipers, an auto-dimming centre mirror, single-zone automatic climate control, voice activation, heatable front seats, a power-adjustable driver’s seat with four-way powered lumbar support and memory settings, genuine aluminum trim, as well as a bevy of active safety features like forward collision warning, autonomous emergency braking, lane departure warning and mitigation, plus more, all of which is once-again enough to earn the IIHS Top Safety Pick + rating mentioned earlier. At just $39,500 plus destination, the XC40 is one of the best values in its luxury crossover category. 

The sporty looking XC40 in the photos is an R-Design, which begins a bit higher on the food chain at $44,100. It incorporates all the previously-noted gear as well as a larger set of 19-inch alloys (although my test model was shod in available 20-inch rubber) rolling on a sport-tuned suspension, while additional upgrades including a special front grille with glossy black trim, blackened skid plates, gloss-black mirror caps, and additional black-chrome outer trimmings, plus the black-painted roof top mentioned earlier. 

2019 Volvo XC40 T5 AWD R-Design Road Test
Volvo’s Sensus touchscreen is a cut above most rivals. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Also, the R-Design gets active cornering headlamps, fog lights, exposed twin exhaust pipes instead of the hidden tailpipes used for the Momentum, unique aluminum front treadplates, nicer carpets, more cabin illumination, dual-zone automatic climate control, a power-adjustable front passenger’s seat, the aforementioned cushion front extensions, the previously-noted panoramic sunroof, a black roofliner and pillars (instead of tan), aluminized cargo sill trim, and more. 

Volvo upgraded my test model with a Premium Package as well, including the wireless charging noted before, plus the underseat storage box and grocery bag holders I also mentioned, as well as headlamp washers, power-retractable and auto-dimming outside mirrors, heatable wiper blades, a heated steering wheel rim, heatable rear seats, a power-actuated tailgate, plus Blind Spot Information System with Cross Traffic Alert, all for just $1,750. 

Lucky for me, Volvo also added a $2,000 Premium Plus Package that featured an overhead 360-degree “Surround View” parking camera system, a HomeLink universal remote, dynamic cruise control, Volvo’s proprietary Pilot Assist semi-autonomous Driver Assistance System (which is a hands-on semi-self-driving system that aids highway driving nicely), the semi-autonomous Park Assist Pilot parking system featuring Park Assist front and rear sensors, and a 12-volt power outlet in the cargo area; plus the previously noted $1,000 navigation system was included too, along with a superb sounding 600-watt, 14-speaker Harmon-Kardon audio system for $950. 

Before Volvo initiated its brand-wide overhaul in 2015, its new powertrain strategy started showing up in then-current models. Dissimilar to any other premium brand, or any major carmaker for that matter, the Chinese-controlled Swedish firm based its entire model lineup on one turbocharged 2.0-litre four-cylinder engine, and then retuned it with both turbocharging and supercharging for mid-range models, and, as introduced with the current XC90, a turbocharged, supercharged and plug-in hybrid variation on the theme, good for 400 horsepower and 400 lb-ft of torque. 

2019 Volvo XC40 T5 AWD R-Design Road Test
Nice seats! They’re comfortable too. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

While a 400-horsepower XC40 sounds like a blast, an announcement made back in February promised a plug-in version with making 184-net-kW (247-net-hp) and 328 net-lb-ft of torque due to an electric motor combined with a 1.5-litre three-cylinder gasoline engine driving the front wheels, dubbed the T5 Twin Engine. Reportedly, this should be followed by an XC40 housing an even thriftier T4 Twin Engine, but I’m guessing we’ll only see the more formidable one on this side of the Atlantic… er… the Pacific. Of note, in March Volvo announced that it will reveal a full battery-electric version of the XC40 before the end of this year, which will be part of an initiative for having 50 percent of its worldwide sales comprised of EVs by 2025. 

Back in the here and now, Volvo’s second best-selling model globally (after the XC60) is motivated by a 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder good for 248 horsepower and 258 lb-ft of torque, driving all four wheels through an eight-speed automatic gearbox. Next model year (2020) we’ll have the choice of a new base four-cylinder engine, however, still displacing 2.0 litres, once again turbocharged, and continuing to use the eight-speed auto and AWD, but named T4 and making just 187 horsepower and 221 lb-ft of torque. R-Design and Inscription trims will keep the current T5 engine as standard, once again boasting a healthy 248 horsepower and 258 lb-ft of torque. 

I have no idea how the new T4 will perform, but my test model’s T5 powertrain is a perfect match to the lightweight XC40, resulting in a quick, well-sorted subcompact crossover SUV. Of course, it’s not the fastest in this category, the Jaguar E-Pace and Range Rover Evoque R-Dynamic siblings housing 296 horsepower under their uniquely shaped bonnets, the new BMW X2 M35i upping the ante with 302 horsepower, and the Mercedes-Benz AMG GLA 45 leading the performance war by a country mile thanks to 375 horsepower behind its three-pointed star. 

2019 Volvo XC40 T5 AWD R-Design Road Test
This panoramic sunroof comes standard in R-Design trim. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Just the same, the new XC40 has a lot of jump off the line, and despite its eight-speed automatic being a tad frustrating to use, due to the need of having to shift twice before it will engage Drive or Reverse, once underway it responded well, with quick, immediate gear changes, especially when set to “Dynamic” sport mode and when using my R-Design model’s steering wheel-mounted paddles to shift, while it certainly feels confidence-inspiring at speed. 

Without doubt my tester’s more performance-oriented 20-inch rubber played its part in gluing chassis to pavement, not to mention this R-Design’s sport suspension upgrade, which is otherwise a fully independent design featuring aluminium double wishbones in front plus a special integral-link setup, with a lightweight composite transverse leaf spring, in back. This meant it hunkered down nicely when pushed quickly through fast-paced curves, and together with its excellent visibility, made point-and-shoot driving a breeze around town. 

Being a little SUV, the driver’s seat is positioned taller than what you’d find in a regular car, so along with all the sizeable panes of glass around the greenhouse it made for superb visibility in all directions. That height made it lean a bit more than a car would through corners, but for testing purposes I was traveling much faster than most owners would, and therefore you shouldn’t find this unsettling at all. Also on the positive, the XC40’s brakes are quite strong, responded with stability in regular and panic situations. 

2019 Volvo XC40 T5 AWD R-Design Road Test
No one should complain when seated in back. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

The little Volvo’s ride quality is good for such a compact crossover too, and I really didn’t feel any difference in suspension comfort from the base Momentum model I tried with 18-inch alloys, plus the standard “Dynamic” suspension setup, than this sport-tuned model shod in 20-inch rims. I should also note that Volvo offers up an adaptive Four-C Chassis for another $1,000, but truly I don’t think it’s required unless you spend a lot of time on gravel roads. 

In a nutshell, the XC40 comes across as if it’s a larger, more substantive vehicle than it truly is, its doors and liftgate shutting with the sound and solidity of much bigger luxury utilities, plus it’s very quiet inside and exudes impressive build-quality when riding over broken pavement, potholes, bumps, and other obstacles. 

Another bonus is fuel efficiency, and not just because it’s a subcompact SUV. It gets a 10.3 L/100km city, 7.5 highway and 9.0 combined Transport Canada rating, which only looks a bit thirsty when compared to a much less powerful, front-wheel drive-infused crossover like the new Lexus UX (which makes a mere 169 horsepower and 151 lb-ft of torque), which achieves 7.2 L/100km combined city/highway with its non-hybrid powerplant. A better comparison to the XC40 is the Mercedes GLA 250 4Matic, which gets an identical combined city/highway rating, while the XC40 is thriftier than BMW’s X1 (9.3 combined), quite a bit better than Jaguar’s base E-Pace P250 (9.8 combined), and a major upgrade over the new Audi Q3 (10.6 combined). Most of the above, including the XC40, utilize auto start/stop technology that automatically turns the engine off when it would otherwise be idling, saving fuel and reducing emissions. 

2019 Volvo XC40 T5 AWD R-Design Road Test
A spacious, accommodating cargo area. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

As you can probably tell, this little Volvo SUV impressed me. Despite having other vehicles at my disposal during my test week, I spent more time in its driver’s seat than all the others combined, and couldn’t find much to fault it on. Instead, I believe it’s one of the best compact luxury SUVs in its class, and thoroughly worthy of your close attention. 

Story credit: Trevor Hofmann 

Photo credit: Karen Tuggay

2019 Nissan Qashqai SL Platinum Road Test

2019 Nissan Qashqai SL Platinum
The 2019 Qashqai looks much the same as previous years, even in top-line SL Platinum trim, but Nissan has made significant changes under the skin. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

Despite looking identical to both 2017 and 2018 Qashqai models, especially in its official launch colour of Monarch Orange, this 2019 version gets a lot of impressive new goodies under the sheetmetal. 

For starters, all Qashqai trims now include Intelligent Emergency Braking (IEB), Blind Spot Warning (BSW), Rear Cross Traffic Alert (RCTA), and Nissan’s smart Rear Door Alert (RDA) system, which reminds if you’ve left something or someone in the back seat, while the subcompact SUV’s instrument panel now boasts a fresh, new standard NissanConnect centre touchscreen that’s 2.0 inches larger at 7.0 inches in diameter, and features standard Apple CarPlay and Android Auto smartphone integration, satellite radio, live navigation, plus mobile apps and services, while the same base Qashqai also includes a second USB port within the centre console, as well as Nissan’s ultra-useful Divide-N-Hide cargo system in the storage area. 

That’s a lot of new gear for a little crossover that’s otherwise unchanged. Nissan even managed to keep the base price as close as possible to last year’s unbelievably low $19,998 window sticker, the new model available for just $200 more at $20,198, which still makes it the second-most affordable SUV in Canada behind Nissan’s own $18,298 Kicks. 

2019 Nissan Qashqai SL Platinum
Now three year into its tenure, the Qashqai offers sporty styling in a tidy subcompact package. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

And it’s not like the base Qashqai is devoid of standard features either, with a list that includes items like projector headlamps with integrated LED daytime running lights, heated power-adjustable side mirrors with integrated LED turn signals, power windows and door locks with a switchblade-style remote, an electromechanical parking brake (which oddly reverts to a foot-operated one on S CVT and SV CVT trims), a tilt and telescopic steering wheel, a colour TFT multi-information display, variable intermittent wipers, sun visors with extensions and vanity mirrors, overhead sunglasses storage, micro-filtered air conditioning, a rearview camera that’s now easier to use thanks to the larger centre display, Bluetooth phone connectivity with audio streaming, text message read and response capability, Siri Eyes Free, four-speaker AM/FM/CD/MP3/WMA audio with illuminated steering wheel controls, speed-sensitive volume, Radio Data System (RDS), Quick Comfort heatable front seats (that really do heat up fast), a rear-seat centre armrest, a cargo cover, six cargo area tie-down hooks, tire pressure monitoring with Easy Fill Tire Alert, all the expected passive and active safety and security features, plus much more. 

The 2019 Qashqai once again comes in three trims, including the aforementioned base S model, plus the SV and SL, the former two offering optional all-wheel drive and the latter making it standard. That top-line trim is how my tester came, complete with an even fancier Platinum package as well, but before I delve deeper into all of that, take heed the $26,198 SV is a great choice for those not wanting the pay the price for premium-level pampering brought on by the SL. 

2019 Nissan Qashqai SL Platinum
SL trim with the Platinum package includes LED headlamps, fog lights, 19-inch alloys, and much more. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

The SV features an attractive set of 17-inch alloys, which replace the base model’s 16-inch steel wheels with covers, plus auto on/off headlights, fog lamps, remote engine start, proximity-sensing keyless access, pushbutton ignition, high beam assist, rear parking sensors, illumination added to the vanity mirrors, a powered moonroof, a heatable leather-wrapped steering wheel rim, a leather-wrapped shift knob, cruise control, two more stereo speakers, dual-zone automatic climate control, rear passenger air vents, etcetera, while a bevy of new advanced driver assistance systems get added as well, such as enhanced autonomous Intelligent Emergency Braking with Pedestrian Detection, Lane Departure Warning (LDW) with Intelligent Lane Intervention, and Rear Intelligent Braking (R-IEB). 

My tester’s top-line SL trim starts at $31,398, but it really comes across like a mini luxury ute thanks to standard 19-inch alloy wheels, roof rails, the electromechanical parking brake again (the only trim that mates it to the CVT), a 360-degree Intelligent Around View Monitor, navigation with detailed mapping, voice recognition, SiriusXM Traffic and Travel Link, leather upholstery, an eight-way power driver’s seat with two-way powered lumbar, and a front driver’s seatback pocket, while Intelligent Cruise Control (ICC), Moving Object Detection (MOD) to enhance the R-IEB, and ProPilot Assist semi-automated self-driving capability, which can help maintain your lane and ease driving stress while on the highway, are new to the SL’s standard features list. 

Lastly, as noted earlier my tester included the $2,000 SL Platinum Package that adds LED headlights for much brighter night vision, an auto-dimming interior mirror with an integrated Homelink garage door opener, a great sounding nine-speaker Bose audio system, and NissanConnect Services, which is filled with advanced mobile apps to make life with your Qashqai easier and more productive. 

2019 Nissan Qashqai SL Platinum
The Qashqai SL interior is much more refined and feature-filled than most will expect in this class. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

Incidentally, all pricing for the 2019 Qashqai, including trims, packages and individual options, was sourced right here at CarCostCanada, where you can also find money saving rebate info and dealer invoice pricing that could save you thousands. 

Along with an impressive load of features no matter the trim, the Qashqai provides a surprisingly refined cabin. I drove a base model last year, and it was very good for its $20k price point, but my current tester’s SL Platinum trim feels even more upscale. Features like a soft-touch dash and padded composite front door uppers are common across the Qashqai line, but as noted the lovely contrast-stitched perforated leather upholstery is unique to the SL, as is the lower console that also gets leatherette-wrapped padding with contrast stitching to each side. This protects your inside knee from chafing against what would otherwise be hard plastic, and it looks really attractive as well. 

Some other notable SL details include piano black lacquer surfacing across the instrument panel, the centre stack, around the shift lever, and highlighting the door panels, this topped off with a tastefully thin strip of satin silver accenting. Nissan adds more satin silver on the steering wheel and around the shifter, and then throws splashes of chrome brightwork around the rest of the cabin to highlight key areas. Needless to say, it’s an attractive environment. 

2019 Nissan Qashqai SL Platinum
New for 2019, all Qashqai trims get this 7-inch touchscreen, seen here with optional navigation. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

Back to that front centre console, the transmission connected to the leather-clad lever is Nissan’s Xtronic CVT (continuously variable transmission), which joins up to a strong 2.0-litre four-cylinder engine capable of 141 horsepower and 147 lb-ft of torque. The CVT will likely be preferable to the majority of Qashqai buyers, but you may very well enjoy the six-speed manual that comes standard in base S trim. I tested it last year and came away smiling, as it’s a nicely sorted manual gearbox that adds a lot of performance back into this utility’s character, which as tested here is more about smooth, quiet, comfort. 

Continuously variable transmissions get a fair bit of flack from auto scribes and enthusiasts alike, but after testing three Qashqais with this autobox and plenty of other Nissan models with a variation of the same type of CVT, I find it perfectly suitable to SUV life. Of course, it doesn’t provide the same level of performance as the manual, actually getting a bit buzzy when digging deep into the throttle due to a CVT’s inherent nature to hold onto revs longer than a conventional automatic, but Nissan includes a manual mode via the shift lever that lets you force the transmission from its high-rev zone to more audibly agreeable lower revs, a process that will eventually happen on its own, but why wait. At normal everyday speeds I found the transmission was best left to its own devices, where it’s actually quite smooth and fully capable. 

2019 Nissan Qashqai SL Platinum
Leather upholstery comes standard with the SL, but seat comfort is standard across the line. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

On that note, the Qashqai gets up and goes quickly enough without needing to push the engine too hard, plus it rides well for this class thanks to a version of the same fully independent suspension as the Rogue, incorporating front struts and a rear multi-link setup with stabilizer bars at both ends. It nicely balances the firmness needed for its commendable handling with ample comfort, but don’t expect it to deliver ride quality to the levels of a Rogue or Murano, as the little SUV is just not substantive enough. Its standard four-wheel disc brake setup stops quickly, however, helped along by Intelligent Engine Braking that comes standard SV and SL models. 

It delivers better fuel economy than a larger SUV could too, with a claimed Transport Canada rating of 10.0 L/100km city, 8.1 highway and 9.2 combined with the FWD manual, 8.6 city, 7.2 highway and 8.0 combined with FWD and the CVT, or 9.1, 7.6 and 8.4 with the CVT and AWD. 

Its fuel efficiency may differ slightly when loaded up, and believe me you can get a lot of gear in a Qashqai. Behind its standard 60/40-split rear seatbacks are 648 litres (22.9 cubic feet) of available cargo space, which puts it right near the top of its class, while the 1,730 litres (61.1 cubic feet) available when folding those seats flat is even harder to beat. 

2019 Nissan Qashqai SL Platinum
The rear seating area is very spacious and the seats quite comfortable. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

As for passenger room and comfort, the leather seats offer nice sculpting up front that cups the backside ideally, and the driver’s seating position was perfect for my five-foot-eight smallish frame, allowing ample adjustability matched by a tilt and telescopic steering column that was able to be pulled far enough rearward to accommodate my longer legs and shorter torso. If I can find a negative it’s the two-way “HI” and “LO” seat heater settings, because more temperature variables would inevitably be able to provide greater comfort, but it’s tough to be overly critical in this class, especially when everything else about the Qashqai is spot on. 

You won’t be finding derriere warmers in back, but the rear outboard positions are comfortable enough and usable for larger sized teens and adults. As usual I set the driver’s seat for my height and still had about five inches ahead of my knees when sitting behind, plus another four over my head, which should make it ok for someone over six feet. Side-to-side room is plentiful too, optimal for two but capable of three, while my outside shoulder and hips benefited from about three to four inches of free space. As for fancy stuff, nice padded and stitched leatherette armrests on each door join a folding centre armrest with dual cupholders, while dual vents on the backside of the front centre console keep rear passengers aerated. 

2019 Nissan Qashqai SL Platinum
Qashqai cargo space is very generous. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

Roomy for small families, empty nesters or just active lifestyle folks and all their stuff, plus well made, filled with features and fun to drive, the Qashqai delivers much more than its paltry price suggests, while it keeps giving long after its initial purchase thanks to superb fuel economy and good expected reliability. It’s no wonder Qashqai sales have been so strong in Canada and around the world. The Qashqai truly is a smart choice in the subcompact SUV class. 

 

 

Story credit: Trevor Hofmann 

Photo credit: Trevor Hofmann

2019 Jaguar XF S Road Test Review

2019 Jaguar XF S
It’s hard to argue against the 2019 Jaguar XF S’ styling. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Let me guess, that even if you live in one of Canada’s more established neighbourhoods you don’t often lay eyes on a Jaguar XF, let alone a lot of XE or XJ sedans. While once prolific in luxury crowds, four-door cars from Coventry are becoming rare sightings indeed. 

Thanks to the stunningly beautiful Mk II and extremely elegant XJ Series I, II and III that followed, not to mention the B-Type, C-Type and E-Type sports cars that were inspirational for today’s sensational F-Type, the Jaguar brand grew legendary, but this day and age it seems that luring luxury customers into anything lower to the ground than a crossover SUV is becoming much more difficult, and it’s not for a lack of styling. 

When the current XJ was completely reimagined for 2009, its wholly original, beautifully proportioned design set the stage for an entirely new lineup of Jaguar sedans and crossovers, but other than the latter lineup of SUVs, which are selling fairly well, it hasn’t exactly followed that bases-loaded homerun with an encore hit. 

The second-generation mid-size E-segment XF being reviewed here arrived in 2015 as a 2016 model, and is beautifully sculpted too. Like the XJ and almost every Jaguar vehicle it’s formed from aluminum panels and composites, but only the XF can claim the brand’s best-ever drag coefficient of 0.26. 

2019 Jaguar XF S
Gorgeous from all angles. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

So it’s beautiful, lightweight and hails from an iconic brand, but that still doesn’t make it popular. It almost seems as if you need to be a curator of curious collectibles before stepping up and taking ownership of a car like the XF, but then again exclusivity has its privileges. It’s not like you’ll see one driving down the neighbourhood lane every day, or every other week for that matter. Crowd pleasers won’t like this one whit, but those who choose to be unique in order to stand out from that crowd will find the XF’s rarity a bonus. After all, while the XF is scarce, it’s hardly unusual in the way it goes about pleasing driver and occupants, combining a high level of old school charm with strong performance and plenty of highly advanced tech gear. 

Jaguar actually improved the XF’s technology for this 2019 model, so that all XF trims now incorporate the brand’s updated 10.0-inch InControl Touch Pro infotainment touchscreen, which provides a larger display area to appreciate its completely new and wholly simpler graphics package (the classic red British telephone box ahead of a pastoral background and other scenes are now gone), easier visibility of the rearview camera, greater detail of the navigation mapping, plus plenty of other enhancements. If the more minimalist, arguably more sophisticated digital interface is not up to your standards, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto smartphone integration provide a new look when attached to your device, plus add proprietary features. Being that I’ve been an Android convert for the past few years (after getting fed up with lame iPhone batteries) I chose to use Jaguar’s stock system that’s much more appealing to look at. Incidentally, features like navigation and voice recognition are available in the XF’s second-rung Prestige trim and above. 

2019 Jaguar XF S
Sharp lines, stunning curves, LED headlights, 20-inch alloys, the XF S has it all. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Moving from tech to luxury, Jaguar’s super-soft Suedecloth is now standard on all XF roof pillars and headliners, as are aluminum treadplates with illuminated Jaguar branding, plus premium carpeted floor mats, metal foot pedals, chromed power seat switchgear, and a classy looking frameless auto-dimming rearview mirror. 

Speaking of standard, the base 2019 XF is the $59,100 Premium, while other trims include the $64,500 Prestige, and $67,800 R-Sport when opting for the 247 horsepower 2.0-litre direct-injection turbo four-cylinder; the $67,000 Prestige, $70,300 R-Sport, $72,300 300 SPORT and $79,100 Portfolio when choosing the 296 horsepower version of the same gasoline-powered mill; the $66,500 Prestige and $69,800 R-Sport when hooked up to the 180 horsepower 2.0-litre four-cylinder diesel; and finally $75,300 for my tester’s 380 horsepower 3.5-litre supercharged V6-powered model’s sole S trim. These prices and trims, incidentally, plus packages and standalone options can be found right here at CarCostCanada, where you can also choose to save thousands by learning about available rebates and otherwise difficult to access dealer invoice pricing. 

The diversity of available XF engines is actually quite amazing and rare, but all of these engines focus their energies on one tried and tested eight-speed automatic gearbox, no matter the trim. The quick yet smooth transmission boasts an innovative rotating gear selector that automatically powers upwards after startup from an otherwise flush placement on the lower console between the front seats, this system requiring standard paddle shifters for utilizing the Jaguar Sequential Shift manual mode, while all-wheel drive is also standard. 

2019 Jaguar XF S
The LED taillight design is tastefully discrete. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Further improving control no matter the driving situation, all XF trims come fitted with Jaguar Drive Control featuring Standard, Eco, Dynamic (sport), and Rain/Ice/Snow driving modes, each making a considerable difference to comfort, performance and all of the above, while Torque Vectoring by Braking (TVBB), and hill launch assist further aid drivers in mastering most road conditions. 

Specific to my XF S tester, Adaptive Surface Response (AdSR) plus Configurable Dynamics and Adaptive Dynamics allow the choice of personal engine, suspension, steering, and transmission settings. All made a big difference to how this Jaguar responded to inputs, from being a comfortable, relaxed luxury car one moment, to a seriously responsive sports sedan the next. 

Together with all items already noted, the top-tier XF S shown on this page receives beefier 350-mm front brake rotors and red calipers all around, as well as 20-inch alloy wheels, the latter upgrade improving performance and styling measurably. 

2019 Jaguar XF S
The XF S interior wins on design and most materials, but comes up a bit short due to hard plastic surfaces. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Staying on the styling theme, the XF S also receives a unique “S” body kit that dresses up the car with a sportier front bumper, glossy black side sills and a gloss-black rear valance, plus a subtle rear deck spoiler. When stepping inside you’ll bypass special metal treadplates finished with unique “S” branding, while great looking Dark Hex aluminum inlays improve the instrument panel, rich Luxtec leatherette covers the dash top, and superbly comfortable, ultra-supportive “S” embossed 18-way powered sports seats ensconce driver and front passenger. 

On top of everything already mentioned, the XF S also includes proximity keyless entry, pushbutton start/stop, an acoustic layer windshield, auto on/off headlamps, rain-sensing wipers, an electronic parking brake, a powered tilt and telescopic steering wheel, auto-dimming, power-folding, heated side mirrors with approach lamps and puddle lights, memory for those mirrors as well as the front seats, front seat warmers, mood lighting, a universal garage door opener, a backup camera, navigation, InControl Apps, Pro Services, Bluetooth phone and audio streaming, a USB port, two-zone auto HVAC, front and rear parking sonar, and more. 

Additionally, along with the segment’s usual active and passive safety systems, the XF S arrives standard with autonomous emergency braking, lane keeping assist, blindspot monitoring, closing vehicle sensing, reverse traffic monitoring, driver condition monitoring, etcetera. 

2019 Jaguar XF S
The cockpit and dash certainly looks good, and the driver setup is excellent. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Over and above the standard XF S items already listed, my test car was upgraded to include a stunning Rossello Red paint job for $670; beautiful glossy black twinned five-spoke alloy wheels for $770; a special Black package featuring a glossy black mesh grille insert and surround, glossy black side vents, and the same inky treatment for the trunk garnish for $460; a Comfort and Convenience package for $2,200 that adds a overly excitable gesture-control system for the trunk’s powered lid (I’ll explain this in a moment); plus soft closing doors, three-way active cooled/ventilated front seats, and heated rear seats; a Technology package for $1,030 featuring a 12.3-inch digital gauge cluster, Pro Services, and a CD/DVD changer; a Driver Assistance package for $3,680 incorporating an overhead surround camera system, a forward-facing camera, 360-degree Park Distance Control, Park Assist semi-autonomous self-parking, dynamic cruise control with Queue Assist, blindspot assist, and traffic sign recognition with an intelligent speed limiter; a $1,330 head-up display system; a $410 heated windshield and heated washer jets package; plus $210 satellite and HD radio. 

Only the $2,230 Premium Interior Upgrade package was missing or my XF S would be deemed fully loaded, the improvement otherwise adding four-zone auto HVAC with an air quality sensor and auto air re-circulation, plus a cooled glove box, side window sunshades, a powered rear sunshade, and configurable mood lighting; plus I might have enjoyed one of the optional interior décor trims more too, particularly the carbon fibre; yet even the way Jaguar provided it, the XF S was sensational and its asking price of $85,850 quite reasonable, this $10,550 more than the base XF S. 

2019 Jaguar XF S
The fully digital gauge package is very well done. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

All of the features just noted are fastened to a lightweight and extremely rigid bonded and riveted aluminum body shell that I happen find extremely attractive, while the interior is very well made from some of the industry’s nicest leathers, woods and metals. My test car featured an Ebony (aka black) leather and Light Oyster (grey) contrast-stitched cabin that also boasted gorgeous Grey Figured Ebony veneers throughout. While impressive, especially when compared to Jaguar’s smaller XE sedan, I won’t go so far as to claim that the XF leads its class when it comes to fit, finish, materials quality, digital interface supremacy, feature superiority, ultimate roominess, or any other superlative. Still, it gets a good grade for all noted categories, while its completely unique look, feel, and overall impressive performance warrants your undivided attention. 

Just like the more compact XE and full-size XJ, the XF actually drives like a smaller, lighter and more engaging car than its long, mid-size dimensions suggest, and most competitors can offer. Its previously noted 380 horsepower V6 responds with immediate energy that’s easily attributed to its sizeable displacement and aforementioned supercharger, which helps all 332 lb-ft of torque hit the ground running from launch, while its standard all-wheel drive makes wheel spin yesterday’s news in snow, rain or dry conditions, and the aforementioned ZF eight-speed clicks through its cogs with speed and precision. 

2019 Jaguar XF S
Jaguar updated its centre stack with this standard 10-inch touchscreen for 2019, complete with a new graphic interface. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

The XF’s performance is its key calling card, from its steady, formidable (albeit exhaust-muted) 5.3-second zero-to-100km/h straight-line acceleration, to its sublime handling and excellent ride that’s brought about by a lightweight double-wishbone front suspension and integral link rear setup, the combination perfect for pushing the envelope through hard-pressed switchbacks at unmentionable speeds, or alternatively hauling down the highway or taxiing through town at more relaxed paces. The XF S is a sport-luxury sedan that can do it all. 

This said I had a few issues with my test car, particularly the fact that my top-tier model didn’t even include remote engine start on the otherwise fancy key fob. It’s available as part of the InControl Remote App you can download onto your smartphone, but there were plenty of disgruntled iTunes and Play Store owners who said it only worked 25-30 percent of the time, and being that I only tested it for a week and was never even informed of the app prior to the test so I could download it, wasn’t able to pre-warm the interior in winter (or hypothetically pre-chill the cabin in summer). 

Temperature settings in mind, I didn’t appreciate not having an auto mode for the heatable seats and steering wheel. Each needed to be switched on upon startup, and Jaguar only includes one ultra-hot setting for the steering wheel rim, forcing me to turn it on and off throughout my drive. 

2019 Jaguar XF S
The XF is roomy and comfortable. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Another quibble focuses on the overhead sunglasses holder that doesn’t even properly fit smallish wire rim glasses like my Ray-Ban aviators. I had to turn them upside down in order to stuff them inside and shut it closed, which meant their lenses were left rubbing against the harder side of the lid. 

On a more positive note, the dash corner vents whisk open in wonderful silence, which is equally cool to how the gear selector rises into place, but all the hard plastic found on the glove box lid, lower dash surfacing, console, and lower door panels didn’t impress anywhere near as well. 

Finally I get to that trunk lid I mentioned earlier in the review. Hyperactive might be a better term than overly excitable, but either way it was a convenience feature gone wrong. Let me explain: Basically it opens up whenever anyone with the key fob in purse or pocket walks past. Other carmakers that use this type of hands-free trunk opener, such as Hyundai and its Genesis luxury division, cause you to stand next to the back bumper for at least three seconds before it activates the automatic trunk lid, but my XF tester’s trunk kept popping open immediately upon sensing the key fob. Once, after pulling up at a shopping centre, the trunk sprang open as I walked past on my way toward the mall. Unfortunately this gave a nice preview of my valuables to any miscreant eyes nearby, which is certainly a security risk. Another time I kept the engine running (for less than a minute) while delivering something to an office I have regular business with (don’t worry, their parking lot/entrance is totally private), and voila, while walking past the XF’s backside the trunk lid popped open once again. It performed the annoying ritual while pumping gas too, and on other occasions. 

2019 Jaguar XF S
You can really stretch out in the comfortable back seats. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Fuel in mind, the XF achieves a Transport Canada rating of 12.0 L/100km city, 8.4 highway and 10.4 combined, which is actually pretty decent for such an enthusiastic drivetrain strapped to such as generously proportioned luxury sedan, although I must point out that buyers willing to forgo some accelerative force for thriftier economy can choose the aforementioned turbo-diesel that gets a superb 7.8 city, 5.8 highway and 6.9 combined rating. Diesel is often significantly cheaper than gasoline too, and allows you to drive greater distances per tankful. 

While that trunk kept popping open I was continually reminded just how large it is. It measures a generous 541 litres (19.1 cubic feet), and better yet provides ultra-convenient 40/20/40 split-folding rear seats that let you lay longer items like skis down the middle while outboard rear passengers enjoy the more comfortable, warmer window seats. 

The XF is spacious for front and rear occupants as well, this due to a wheelbase that was lengthened considerably when the second-gen car arrived. By the numbers you’ll have 1,055 mm of legroom in front while your rear passengers will benefit from 957 mm, so you shouldn’t hear complaints from tagalongs when it comes to roominess. 

2019 Jaguar XF S
That’s one big trunk. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

At the end of my weeklong test I wouldn’t say I was in love with the 2019 XF S, but certainly grew to appreciate its many qualities despite its few quirks. Yes, it’s nowhere near perfect, but its larger touchscreen and other improvements make it better than ever, while its performance was excellent for all but those (like me) that have experienced this car with a supercharged V8. That in mind, I’d consider the XF even more seriously with one of its four-cylinder alternatives, for its economical and environmental benefits. Either way, Jaguar has most bases covered with the XF, making it a credible choice in this highly competitive mid-size luxury category. 

Story credit: Trevor Hofmann 

Photo credit: Karen Tuggay

2019 Subaru WRX Sport-tech RS Road Test

2019 Subaru WRX Sport-tech RS
Last year’s WRX updates made an already great looking sport sedan look even better, and it even look more aggressively stylish in Sport-tech RS trim. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Can a non-price-related case be made for someone actually choosing to purchase the regular WRX over a WRX STI? After a week with the 2019 WRX Sport-tech RS I say yes, and I wasn’t even driving the automatic. 

That last point is a clear differentiator between regular WRX and STI, being that the latter can only be had with a six-speed manual gearbox. Therefore, anyone using their WRX as a daily driver, who wants more convenience and relaxation during their commutes, along with the usual high level of performance the WRX has become legendary for, whether blasting up circuitous backcountry roads during weekend road trips or just pushing Gs around freeway cloverleaves on their way to work, can pay a mere $1,300 more to do so with any one of the regular WRX trims, except this particular WRX Sport-tech RS that can only be had with a manual. 

To be clear, the WRX Sport-tech can be optioned out with the autobox, but you’ll need to replace the RS suffix from its trim designation with EyeSight. This won’t provide an identical model with different transmissions, but the similarities between the two should be close enough for those seeking a compromise between all-out performance and everyday ease. 

Before delving into those similarities and differences, not to mention itemizing features available with the other WRX trims, I wanted to touch on a few details of this very Sport-tech RS tester being reviewed. First off, I was delighted with its coat of World Rally Blue Pearl exterior paint, which while the same as the near identical Sport-tech RS I tested last year, remains a personal favourite colour thanks to its vibrant blue hue and its historical motorsport significance as the base livery of Subaru’s World Rally Championship winning glory years. 

2019 Subaru WRX Sport-tech RS
While the Sport-tech RS model’s rear deck lid spoiler is discreet, its diffuser-style bumper cap and quad of tailpipes looks anything but. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

All good and well, but why would Subaru give me a seemingly identical WRX test car within a given year? As I have learned, the company has updated the 2019 WRX infotainment system; the centre-mounted display now becoming one of the most important features in any new vehicle. The first improvement I noticed was the completely redesigned graphic interface, which is much more attractive and now in line with other updated models across the Subaru lineup (new 2020 Outback and Legacy aside). It’s highlighted by colourful smartphone/tablet-style circular candy drop digital buttons surrounded by squarish floating tiles on a star-speckled night sky-like deep blue 3D background, an attractive image for sure, while Apple CarPlay and Android Auto phone integration are now part of both the base and top-tier systems. 

Our tester comes standard with the latter, the touchscreen still measuring 7.0 inches diagonally for a half-inch gain over the base display, and once again getting touch-sensitive quick access buttons down each side, which include Home, Map and Apps to the left and Info just above two sets of track seeking arrows on the right. The system also includes near-field communication (NFC) for faster phone connectivity (if your smartphone offers it), a Micro SD card slot, HD radio, new glossy black topped audio knobs, navigation mapping and routing, a rearview camera with dynamic guidelines, plus more. I find this new interface much easier to use, while the display’s clarity and depth of colour is excellent, easily matching the best in the mainstream business, and surpassing many. 

As for the rest of this WRX Sport-tech RS and its non-STI compatriots, they remain unchanged for 2019, meaning this model still features last year’s extensive styling updates, chassis improvements, and other refinements, not to mention the a safety feature. Let me go into more detail. 

2019 Subaru WRX Sport-tech RS
The WRX looks especially attractive when digging into the details. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Regarding styling, Subaru reworked the WRX front grille and bumper design for 2018, as well as the door trim inside, while a new electroluminescent primary gauge cluster boasting a really attractive high-resolution colour TFT centre display was added too. Additionally, the 5.9-inch colour multi-information dash-top display received new graphics that look fabulous. This sporty interface, which pays homage to the secondary ancillary turbo, temp and oil pressure analogue gauges of past performance cars in both its placement and functionality within, is also completely unique in this class, adding that special custom allure to the WRX that’s missing from many rivals. 

What’s more, rear passengers continue to benefit from last year’s new fold-down centre armrest with integrated cupholders, while all occupants can now enjoy easier conversations thanks to better insulation and other refinements that result in reduced noise, vibration and harshness levels, plus an improved ride from a retuned suspension setup, and lastly the car is made better overall from a stronger battery. 

While all of the above are obvious improvements, I personally really like the new grille design too, especially its blackened borders and black mesh insert, plus the racing-spec-style multi-component lower front fascia with its matte black centre vent looks menacingly intimidating, just like a formidable sport sedan should, as do the larger, squarer matte black fog lamp bezels. Lastly, this Sport-tech RS model’s twinned five-spoke gunmetal grey-painted cast aluminum alloys on 245/40 Dunlop SP Sport Maxx RT performance tires framing red brake calipers look superb—base and Sport models come fitted with grey 15-spoke 17-inch alloys on the same tires measuring 235/45. 

2019 Subaru WRX Sport-tech RS
Gotta love the dark-grey alloy wheels under swollen fenders with integrated rear venting. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

All of the above, combined with everything else upgraded last year, like the massive hood scoop, redesign headlamps, and race-inspired matte black rear diffuser with quad chromed tailpipes, plus everything that appears to mostly be pulled forward from the 2015 through 2017 version, such as the coke-bottle fenders with integrated engine vents bearing chromed “WRX” appliques, subtle rear deck lid spoiler (that I like much more than the STI’s gigantic wing—the smaller lip spoiler can be had with the STI too), etcetera, look fabulous. 

Also carryover (but who’s complaining), non-STI WRX variants once again include Subaru’s brilliant 2.0-litre direct-injection twin-scroll turbocharged boxer four, making a healthy 268-horsepower and 258 lb-ft of torque. That’s getting pretty close to the STI’s 310 horsepower and 290 lb-ft of torque, and considering you can get into the former for just $29,995 plus freight and fees, or $38,995 as tested, which is much more affordable than the latter model’s $41,995 base price, or the more comparable $47,295 STI with its Sport-tech package, the regular WRX starts to look like a very smart choice. Then factor in that most of its similarly priced challengers don’t measure up with respect to performance, while also not offering Subaru’s standard Symmetrical-AWD (or any AWD at the WRX’ price point), and it makes a sound case to Canadian performance enthusiasts. 

As noted, connecting engine to driveline is a standard as-tested six-speed manual, but many are not aware that the optional automatic is actually a continuously variable transmission (CVT), the bane of gearheads everywhere. This said, CVTs have come a long way in recent years, and Subaru’s Sport Lineartronic design is quite impressive thanks to quick-shifting steering wheel paddles that prod both six- and eight-speed manual modes, plus the benefit of Subaru Intelligent Drive (SI-DRIVE). I know, it’s difficult to hear the words WRX and CVT being used in the same sentence, let alone learn they’re being incorporated into the same car, but after testing one in 2017 I was positively surprised. This doesn’t mean I’d opt for one if my personal money was on the line, but I certainly wouldn’t criticize anyone for choosing to. 

2019 Subaru WRX Sport-tech RS
Here’s a close-up of the diffuser-style bumper cap, and one set of the twinned exhaust system. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

More importantly to WRX purists, the manual gearbox I tested received a new shift lever along with improved shifter and clutch feel as part of last year’s redesign, and the former remains as wonderfully smooth and accurate as last year’s update made it, while clutch weight is ideal and take-up more responsive without being grabby. 

As you may have guessed, there’s no change in straight-line acceleration from the identically powered 2018 model, with the manual still good for a claimed zero to 100km/h run of 5.4 seconds, and the CVT capable of achieving the same feat in a respectable 5.9 seconds. Neither time is the stuff of legend, of course, but I can’t see many driving enthusiasts being underwhelmed with the regular WRX’ off-the-line performance, while those that opt for the CVT will surprisingly own bragging rights to the fastest top speed specs, the autobox adding 8 km/h to the manual’s terminal velocity with a nice round total of 240 km/h compared to 232. 

As I said last year, most modifications were about refinement, and included improved steering feel and a more compliant ride that doesn’t compromise at-the-edge handling. Being that my aging body appreciates having a bit more comfort now than when younger, as is the case for many WRX owners, this friendlier suspension setup is a very good thing. It was during regular errand runs around town that I most appreciated the improvements, yet when opportunity provided an empty lane on a winding rural road the new WRX’ firmly damped fully independent suspension remained as resolute to pavement as it’s always been, especially over broken and uneven tarmac that didn’t unsettle the chassis one iota. 

While WRX performance is commendable, those seeking out a four-cylinder compact model for fuel-efficiency can only take a modicum of solace in a Transport Canada rating that’s only better than the STI’s 14.3 L/100km city, 10.7 highway and 12.7 combined rating, because with a claimed rating of 12.6 L/100km city, 9.6 highway and 11.2 combined when mated to its standard manual gearbox, or 11.3, 8.5 and 10.0 respectively with the CVT, it’s not exactly the thriftiest sport model in its compact class. In fact, plenty of more powerful alternatives deliver much better economy, yet fortunately for Subaru this is hardly the priority of most WRX buyers. 

2019 Subaru WRX Sport-tech RS
The Sport-tech RS gets these superb leather and microsuede covered Recaro seats. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Now that we’re talking practicalities, the WRX remains a pragmatist’s sports car. It’s capable of seating four to five in comfort, plus houses plenty of life’s gear in its 340-litre (12-cubic-foot) trunk, plus more when expanding its 60/40 split-folding rear seatbacks. Also, a trunk provides a great deal more security than available to the WRX’ hot hatch competitors that are more susceptible to break and entry crime. 

I was once again impressed by the WRX’ interior quality too. For instance, its instrument panel is wholly formed from premium soft-touch synthetic, across the very top of the dash and all the way down to the halfway point of the centre stack, while the door uppers are comfortably pliable from front and back as well, plus filled with cushion-backed leather-like inserts and padded armrests, that were all stitched in red no less. 

Red in mind, I like that Subaru took the tasteful route when highlighting the WRX interior, unlike some of its less experienced rivals that look as if their red embellishments were smeared on by a tweenager over-applying rouge and lip gloss (Civic Type R, I’m talking to you). The WRX Sport-tech RS model’s just noted red stitching also covers the door inserts, steering wheel rim, shifter boot, and bolsters of the seats that are also emblazoned with a thick strip of red leather, which is a nice contrast to the black leather and microsuede material found elsewhere. Lastly, a stylish circle of red piping wraps around the centre of the seat like a frame for the white embroidered “RECARO” logo, this nicely matching the red piping around the headrest just above. The interior’s finishing touch is a splash of carbon-fibre style trim across the dash. 

Most of what I’ve just described is specific to the Sport-tech RS as noted, which incidentally was new last year, but keep in mind there are plenty of other WRX trims worth investigating. Along with the sub-$30k base model and $39,095 Sport-tech EyeSight already mentioned, Subaru offers $33,195 Sport trim and a Sport-tech without the $2,300 RS upgrade for $36,495. 

2019 Subaru WRX Sport-tech RS
The WRX gets a sporty cockpit, with a flat-bottom leather-wrapped steering wheel, metal pedals, and plenty of other stylish details. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Additionally, a special $40,995 雷雨 Raiu Edition was added for 2019, featuring one really attractive exclusive Cool Grey Khaki colour. It adds a number of STI-style exterior details such as a sharper front lip spoiler, extended side skirts and a much larger rear wing spoiler, plus big 19-inch alloys encircling the STI’s yellow-painted Brembo six-pot front and two-pot rear brake calipers over ventilated and cross-drilled rotors. Some additional 雷雨 Raiu Edition features include the Subaru Rear/Side Vehicle Detection System (SRVD) that incorporates blindspot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert and lane change assist, plus it also gets a powered moonroof, a 10-way powered driver’s seat including lumbar, the same ultrasuede-enhanced sport seats as in the RS, plus red seatbelts. 

Incidentally, all 2019 WRX trim, package and option prices were sourced right here on CarCostCanada, where you can also find important info on manufacturer rebate programs and otherwise hard to find dealer invoice pricing that could actually save you thousands of dollars. Make sure to check this out thoroughly before you buy. 

Specific to the WRX Sport-tech RS tested here, a set of uprated Jurid brake pads clamp down on a standard set of 316 mm front and 286 mm rear rotors via the red brake calipers noted earlier, while the cabin features the luxurious black and red partial-leather/ultrasuede upholstery also mentioned before (ad nauseum), while the driver’s seat is downgraded from 10-way power to just eight adjustments due to the much more inherently supportive Recaro sport seats that my backside happened to love. 

On top of this, my tester’s Sport-tech RS trim added proximity-sensing keyless access with pushbutton ignition, the larger 7.0-inch centre touchscreen filled with the updated system graphics noted earlier, plus Subaru’s StarLink app, additional apps such as Yelp, Best Parking, Glympse, SiriusXM Traffic and Travel Link with weather, sports and stock market info, and a 320-watt nine-speaker Harman/Kardon audio system that sounded awesome, plus two USB ports. 

2019 Subaru WRX Sport-tech RS
The top multi-information display was updated last year and looks great, while the lower touchscreen is totally revised for 2019, and is a major improvement. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Items pulled up from Sport trim include wiper-integrated automatic LED headlights with new steering-responsive cornering, LED fog lamps, LED turn signals integrated within the side mirror housings, welcome lighting, a tastefully discreet rear deck lid spoiler, plus the aforementioned powered glass sunroof and SRVD blindspot safety upgrade. 

Lastly, base model features pulled up to Sport-tech RS trim include a quad-tipped high-performance exhaust, integrated roof rack brackets, a windshield wiper de-icer, a well-designed leather-wrapped and red-stitched multifunction flat-bottom sport steering wheel, single-zone automatic climate control, heatable front seats, StarLink smartphone integration (including Aha radio), a backup camera, AM/FM/CD/MP3/WMA audio, satellite radio, Bluetooth phone connectivity with audio streaming, aux and USB ports, voice activation, and more. 

While Sport-tech RS trim doesn’t come standard with Subaru’s EyeSight suite of advanced driver assistive systems, I need to mention exactly what this is just in case you want your WRX with as much active safety and convenience as possible. As noted, you can upgrade the WRX Sport-tech with EyeSight, and when you do it becomes one of the most technologically forward-thinking cars in its class, thanks to automatic high beams, adaptive cruise control, lead vehicle start alert, pre-collision braking, pre-collision brake assist, pre-collision throttle management, reverse automatic braking, lane departure warning, lane sway warning, and lane keeping assist. 

So equipped the WRX earns a best-possible IIHS Top Safety Pick + rating, the “+” rather hard to get in the small car class and only shared with three other brands, none of which compete directly with the WRX. Even more impressive, Subaru has four models that can be equipped to meet this high grade of advanced safety, more than any other automaker in the small car segment. 

2019 Subaru WRX Sport-tech RS
Most sports cars don’t offer a comfortable, accommodating rear seat, but the WRX is not like most sports cars. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Even better, Subaru has more IIHS Top Safety Pick + rated vehicles than any other mainstream volume manufacturer, including more mid-size models with the coveted safety rating, and the same status for every vehicle it produces other than the Toyota co-designed/built BRZ, for a total of eight models. No other brand even comes close, with Toyota only elevating two of its models to this rarified height, Honda just one, and Nissan with none. This, when combined with the extra all-weather safety provided by these models’ standard Symmetrical all-wheel drive, is as good as it gets. 

So while the WRX isn’t exactly a leader in fuel-efficiency, it’s ahead of the pack in almost every other way, and makes a strong case for itself when compared to its key performance-focused competitors as well as when put up against the pricier STI. If money were no object my choice would be the latter, but I can totally understand why someone might feel compelled to choose a regular WRX, especially when it’s as nicely equipped as this Sport-tech RS. 

Story credit: Trevor Hofmann 

Photo credit: Karen Tuggay

2019 Infiniti QX50 Sensory Road Test Review

2019 Infiniti QX50 Sensory
The all-new 2019 Infiniti QX50 looks fabulous, especially in near top-line Sensory trim. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Hey good lookin’! Yes, Infiniti’s been slow cookin’ its redesigned QX50 recipe for years, but now that the all-new 2019 model is on the road and looking sensational, I can only see success in its future. 

The proof is in the pudding, so to speak, and now with this new model’s first partial year in its rearview mirror, and YoY Canadian sales growth up 59 percent as of December 31, plus an even more impressive 113.7-percent two-month gain as of February’s final tally, it’s clear that Canada’s compact luxury crossover buyers like what they see. 

These newfound QX50 buyers are no doubt falling for the entire QX50 package as much as for its inspiring styling, plus its considerably more modernized and therefore more appealing interior design, its higher quality materials, as well as its wholly improved electronics interface package, and while the original was particularly good on pavement, this second-generation redesign is no slouch off-the-line or around corners either, which is critically important in the premium sector. But does it fully measure up? 

Now that the much-loved FM platform, having served 11 years in the outgoing model, is done and dusted in this category, much to the chagrin of performance-focused drivers who loved its rear-drive bias and wonderful overall balance, this small but ardent following is reluctantly forced to say hello to a totally new front-wheel drive based layout, which while standard with all-wheel drive here in Canada, provides a different feel that may cause some previous QX50 owners a moment of pause. 

2019 Infiniti QX50 Sensory
Stylish from all angles, the new QX50’s design is one of its best attributes. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Still, with most manufacturers moving away from rear-drive architectures due to interior packaging restrictions, something Audi and Acura have known for more than a decade and likely one reason their compact SUVs continually outsell most competitors, with this layout configuration also being adopted by BMW for its latest X1, it was only a matter of time that Infiniti’s second-most popular model adapted to changing times. 

So what’s the result of Infiniti’s wholesale change in QX50 direction? Think QX60, only smaller. What I mean is, this latest version of Infiniti’s compact crossover provides a more comfortable ride than its predecessor, that floats more smoothly over bridge expansions and other pavement imperfections, and similarly delivers greater quietness inside (due in part to active engine mounts plus acoustic windshield and side window glass) for a more refined overall luxury experience, but it’s certainly nowhere near the performance SUV the outgoing model was. 

Where the rear-drive-biased first-gen 2008–2017 (there was no 2018 model) QX50 (née EX35) felt like a performance-oriented sport sedan in a taller crossover body, which essentially it was, this new version feels more like the Nissan Altima/Murano-based front-wheel drive-derived design it’s based on, despite having all the hardware (and software) boxes checked, such as a fully independent front strut and rear multi-link suspension setup, and standard Active Trace Control that automatically adds brake pressure mid-corner to help maintain a chosen lane. Still, it’s a bit less rooted to the tarmac at high speeds, especially around bumpy corners, and also somewhat less confidence inspiring when pushed hard down the open freeway. There’s a reason the world’s best performance vehicles are based on rear-wheel drive platforms after all, and the QX50’s swap to a front-wheel drive biased architecture makes this truth clearly evident. 

2019 Infiniti QX50 Sensory
Infiniti has found a distinctive look that sets it apart from its rivals, in a very good way. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

The new variable compression turbo engine is superb, however, with a lot more usable power from its diminutive displacement than most competitors’ base engines. Its 2.0-litre size is identical to the majority of rivals, yet its 268 horsepower and 280 lb-ft of torque is considerably more potent than the entry four-cylinder from the compact luxury SUV market segment’s best-selling Mercedes-Benz GLC, for example, which puts out just 241 horsepower and 273 lb-ft of torque, or the next most popular Audi Q5’s 248 hp and 273 lb-ft (or the base Porsche Macan that uses the same engine as the Q5), or for that matter the third-place BMW X3’s 248 hp and 258 lb-ft, while it’s easily more formidable than Lexus’ NX that’s only rated at 238 hp and 258 lb-ft of torque, not to mention Cadillac’s new XT4 that merely musters 237 hp and 258 lb-ft, but this said it’s a fraction off the new Acura RDX that makes 272 hp and 280 lb-ft, as well as the Alfa Romeo Stelvio that leads the segment’s base powerplants with 280 hp and 306 lb-ft of torque. 

The WardsAuto 10 Best Engines-winning VC-Turbo’s technology took Infiniti’s engineering team a full four years to develop, and incorporates special connecting rods between its pistons and crankshaft that vary the compression of the fuel and air mixture, less for increasing power output when needed and more during lower loads like cruising and coasting for improving fuel efficiency. 

Another 2019 QX50 differentiator that might miff previous owners, unless they’re from the left coast where pump prices are soaring sky high, is the new fuel-friendly continuously variable transmission (CVT). Before getting your back up about the QX50 losing its mostly quick-shifting seven-speed automatic, take note this isn’t any ordinary run-of-the-mill CVT, but rather an all-new shift-by-wire design that includes manual shift mode, steering wheel paddles, Downshift Rev Matching (that blips the throttle to match a given gear ratio with engine rpms), plus dual transmission fluid coolers, and I must say it’s one of the more normal feeling CVTs I’ve tested to date. 

2019 Infiniti QX50 Sensory
Sensory trim results in a higher grade of LED headlamps, plus these stunning 20-inch alloys. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

It only exposes the artificial nature of its stepped gears when pressing hard on the throttle, a process that spools up power and torque quickly, albeit allows revs to hold a little too high for a bit too long, which hampers performance, refinement and fuel economy. This said it responds quite well to input from those just noted paddle shifters, and feels especially energetic in Sport mode, but I won’t go so far as to say it’s as engaging as its predecessor’s gearbox, nor as lickety-split quick as competitor’s traditional multi-speed automatics. 

Then again when driven more modestly, like most of us do with our family haulers, it’s a silky smooth transmission that provides the QX50 with more than enough day-to-day performance plus much better claimed fuel economy at 10.0 L/100km in the city, 7.8 on the highway and 9.0 combined, compared to 13.7 city, 9.8 highway and 11.9 combined for the previous V6-powered model, which incidentally is a 30-percent improvement. 

Back on the negative, Infiniti’s Eco mode continues to be my least favourite in the industry, due only to the Eco Pedal that annoyingly pushes back on the right foot to remind you not to press hard on the gas pedal. The problem with this intrusive-nanny solution is that people like me, who hate it, simply won’t use Eco mode at all (you can’t turn the Eco Pedal off separately), which defeats the purpose of having an Eco mode in the first place. So therefore, I only used the QX50’s Eco mode once for testing purposes, and after realizing the Eco Pedal was just as intrusive as it’s always been, immediately turned it off, whereas if I were driving a Mercedes-Benz GLC, Audi A5, BMW X3 or anything else in the class, I would have left Eco mode on more often than not in order to save fuel and reduce emissions. 

2019 Infiniti QX50 Sensory
LED taillights come standard. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Eco mode, and all driving modes are set via a nicely crafted “D-MODE” labeled metal rocker switch on the lower console, just behind the QX50’s completely new electronic shift lever, a small stub of its previous self, yet very well made from satin-silver aluminum and contrast stitched leather. Thank goodness it’s not a row of confusing buttons like some rivals, other than a small “P” for park when arriving at your destination. 

Switchgear in mind, a beautifully detailed knurled metal-edged rotating infotainment controller is placed just above the shifter on a separate section of the lower console, while the door-mounted power window switches receive attractive metal adornment too. All of the cabin’s other buttons, knobs and switches are quality pieces made from densely constructed composites and metals, while they’re also well damped with tight tolerances, the new QX50 easily living up to this premium class status and beyond when it comes to these details and some of the other surface treatments too. 

For instance, an assortment of satin-silver aluminum trim can be found decorating the rest of the interior, the geometrically drilled Bose speaker grilles especially rich, while gorgeous open-pore natural maple hardwood inlays (exclusive to this Sensory model) joined plush black ultrasuede (also a Sensory exclusive) across door uppers, the latter two treatments added to the instrument panel, centre stack and lower console, plus the front seat bolsters, while contrast-stitched leather was also placed next to the ultrasuede in all of the same locations for truly opulent surroundings. Infiniti even wrapped the first and second set of roof pillars, and lined the ceiling in the same soft yet durable suede-like fabric, the latter also benefiting from a large dual-panel powered panoramic glass sunroof. 

2019 Infiniti QX50 Sensory
The QX50 Sensory interior is ultra-luxe. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

All in all the new QX50’s interior is one of the best in its class, with mostly pliable synthetics above the waist, including soft-touch paint used for the glove box lid. Infiniti didn’t gone so far as to finish the bottom portion of the centre console or the lower door panels in such pampering pliable plastics, or for that matter the lower portion of the dash ahead of the driver, with the compact luxury segment’s usual hard composite surfaces starting just underneath the hardwood trim on the left of the steering wheel, and below the leather padding to the right. Still, it’s an interior both Infiniti and you can be proud of, beating many of the industry leaders at their own ultra-luxe game. 

As the kinesthetically-inspired trim designation implies, this $56,490 Sensory model is mostly about creature comforts, and while including all features already noted it also adds premium-grade semi-aniline leather upholstery, two-way front passenger powered lumbar support, three-way ventilated front seats, advanced climate control, extended interior ambient lighting, rear side window sunshades, a motion activated liftgate, and metallic cargo area finishers, while exterior upgrades include 20-inch dark tinted alloys on 255/45 all-season run-flat tires, plus unique cube design LED high/low beam headlamps with adaptive cornering capability. 

There is one trim above Sensory, but the $57,990 Autograph won’t be to everyone’s tastes due a special blue-hued ultrasuede replacing the black found in the Sensory model, plus white surfacing used for much of the instrument panel, centre console sides, door inserts and seats, the centre inserts of the latter boasting diamond-quilted semi-aniline leather, plus blue piping between the white leather and blue ultrasuede. 

2019 Infiniti QX50 Sensory
The QX50’s gauge cluster is nice, but where’s the fully digital system? (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Both Autograph and as-tested Sensory models pull plenty of equipment up from $52,990 ProActive trim, such as automatic high beams, adaptive cruise control with full speed range and hold, distance control assist, lane departure warning and prevention, blindspot intervention, rear cross-traffic alert, backup collision intervention, steering assist, ProPilot Assist semi-autonomous self-driving, Infiniti’s exclusive steer-by-wire Direct Adaptive Steering system (a first for an Infiniti SUV) that works very well (other trims use vehicle-speed-sensitive power steering), a head-up display, and a 16-speaker Bose Premium Series audio system. 

Likewise, a host of features from the $48,990 Essential enhance our Sensory model too, including rain-sensing wipers, front and rear parking sensors, reverse tilting side mirrors, Infiniti’s superb 360-surround Around View parking monitor with moving object detection, navigation with detailed mapping, tri-zone automatic climate control with rear-seat switchgear (upgraded from the base model’s dual-zone auto system), a powered tilt and telescopic steering column, plus memory for that steering wheel as well as for the front seats and side mirrors. 

Finally, the $44,490 base Luxe model adds LED fog lamps, LED integrated turn signals on outside mirror housings, LED taillights (it comes standard with LED low/high beam headlights too), chrome-accented exterior door handles, dual chrome exhaust tips, remote engine start, proximity-sensing keyless access with pushbutton ignition, the aforementioned drive mode selector with standard, eco, sport, and personal settings, the powered panoramic glass sunroof including a powered sunshade, a powered liftgate, predictive forward collision warning, forward emergency braking with pedestrian detection, blindspot warning, and more. 

2019 Infiniti QX50 Sensory
No one should complain about the QX50’s new dual display infotainment system. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Take note that all 2019 QX50 pricing for trims, packages, and standalone options were sourced right here on CarCostCanada, and don’t forget that we can also provide you with money-saving manufacturer rebate information, plus otherwise hard to get dealer invoice pricing that could save you thousands when it comes time to negotiate your deal. 

Also standard with all QX50 trims is Infiniti’s new InTouch dual-display infotainment system featuring a beautifully bright and clear high-definition 8.0-inch monitor on top and an equally impressive 7.0-inch touchscreen below that, plus InTouch safety, security and convenience services, etcetera. This is an easy system to use, with all hands-on functionality found within the bottom screen and the top monitor mostly dedicated to the navigation system and backup/surround camera system, which displays both for optimal safety. 

Digitization in mind, I was a bit surprised that Infiniti stuck with its mostly analogue gauge cluster in this entirely new model, being that most competitors are now anteing up with fully digital designs in top trims. Then again the QX50 partially makes up for this shortcoming with a large colour multi-information display that’s full of useful functions, controlled by an easily sorted array of switchgear on the steering wheel spokes. 

While I’m talking up the positives, I’ve got to give Infiniti kudos for removing the intrusive nosepiece from their sunglasses holder. I never understood why the previous version was too large to hold a regular set of glasses in place, but fortunately this new one is much more accommodating because it doesn’t including a nosepiece holder at all. 

2019 Infiniti QX50 Sensory
It’s hard to fault the new electronic shifter, but the CVT isn’t as engaging as the previous 7-speed auto. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Now that I’m getting down to the nitty-gritty practical stuff, the new QX50 is also much roomier, especially for rear passengers that now benefit from quite a bit more leg and headroom. In fact, Infiniti claims that its rear seat space is greater than the previously noted Audi Q5 and BMW X3, while those back seats now slide fore and aft for more cargo space or better legroom respectively. 

I found the rear seat extremely comfortable, with plenty of room for my knees, at least eight inches when my seat was set up for my five-foot-eight long-legged, short-torso frame, plus adequate floor space to move around my feet when wearing boots, although not much of a gap below the driver’s seat. I could definitely feel the compact QX50’s width compromise, with not a great deal of air space next to my left knee, but at least the door armrest was padded, and there was ample room for my outboard shoulder. Your adult rear passengers may find the centre armrest a little bit low, but it should be ideal for kids, and there’s a slot for a cellphone as well as two rubberized cupholders that should hold drinks in place. The aforementioned rear climate control panel, which only includes a tiny monochromatic LCD display and colour-coded rocker switch for adjusting the temperature, is joined by a USB device charger and 12-volt socket, but strangely omits rear seat heaters that aren’t available with the QX50 at all. 

2019 Infiniti QX50 Sensory
This is one fabulous set of seats. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Yes, this is a strange omission in a market that has been experiencing colder winters over the past two years, and could potentially turn off some buyers that want their kids and/or parents to be as comfortable as possible year-round. 

It’s cargo capacity won’t be a negative, however, being that it’s grown by 368 litres (13.0 cubic feet) to 895 (31.6 cu ft) behind its 60/40 split-folding rear seatbacks, even when they’re pushed all the way rearward, while sliding the back bench as far forward as possible adds another 153 litres (5.5 cu ft) of gear toting capacity for a total volume of 1,048 litres (37.0 cu ft) when both rows are occupied. Fold the second-row seats flat and cargo space expands to 1,822 litres (64.3 cu ft), and by the way, Infiniti provides handy levers on the sidewalls for doing just that. Why all this is difficult to fault, I would have appreciated a centre pass-through for loading longer items such as skis down the middle, leaving the two more comfortable window seats available when heading to the slopes. Better yet, Euro-style 40/20/40-split rear seats would allow even larger boards between rear occupants; food for future Infiniti thought. 

2019 Infiniti QX50 Sensory
Rear seat roominess is improved, but where are the heated rear seats? (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

The powered liftgate is programmable for height, which is a good thing if you live in a parking garage that requires such things, but not so good if you keep smacking your head into it and don’t take the time to reprogram (not Infiniti’s fault), while the cargo compartment is finished quite nicely, with an aluminum sill guard and the usual carpeting up the sidewalls and on the backside of the seats, plus the floor of course, the latter removable to expose the audio system’s amplifier and subwoofer plus a bit of space in between, and another shallow compartment just behind, for stowing smaller items. 

As practical, wonderfully crafted, efficient and quick as the new QX50 is, styling will be the determining factor for most would-be buyers, at least initially. I find its front end especially attractive, with Infiniti’s double-arch grille positioned below a long, elegantly sculpted hood, and flanked by an eye-catching set of signature LED headlamps over a clean, sporty lower fascia. 

2019 Infiniti QX50 Sensory
Plenty of room for gear. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Organically shaped panels flow rearward down each side, passing by a nicely detailed chrome engine vent garnish on the upper front fenders, a metal brightwork adorned greenhouse finalizing with Infiniti’s trademark kinked rear quarter windows, and around the back where a particularly appealing rear end design features nicely shaped LED taillights, while a variety of 19- to 20-inch alloy wheels round out the design depending on trim. For me it’s a winner, but time will tell whether it manages to conquest enough new buyers away from rival brands to truly deem it an unqualified success. 

Story credit: Trevor Hofmann 

Photo credit: Karen Tuggay

2019 Honda Pilot Touring Road Test Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Story credit: Trevor Hofmann 

Photo credit: Karen Tuggay