2019 Chevrolet Equinox AWD Premier Road Test

2019 Chevrolet Equinox AWD Premier Road Test
We tested the 2019 Equinox in two flavours, including its base 1.5-litre turbo-four (shown here) and its 1.6-litre turbo-diesel. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

It’s easy to point the finger at Volkswagen for ridding us of the diesel, but they weren’t the only German automaker to cheat environmental regulations in order to legitimize their oil burners. Now we can thank General Motors for staying the diesel engine’s execution, at least temporarily. 

Yes, no sooner am I reporting on the General’s wonderful 1.6-litre turbo-diesel powerplant and it’s already being discontinued from the 2020 Equinox lineup, relegated back to mid-size pickup truck duty. This means you’d better act fast if you want to own a new 2019 Equinox Diesel. 

You may not know that Hyundai and Mazda promised diesel powertrains of their own for this very 2019 model year, but they’ve probably seen the fading light of diesel’s demise in this new “woke” era, with Hyundai recently introducing a number of all-electric SUVs, one even fueled with hydrogen. Trying to refuel that fuel cell model at Vancouver’s only hydrogen station might pose a problem unless you happen to live five minutes away like I do, but I’d still rather have the go-anywhere efficiency of a diesel. 

Recently I spent a week with 1.5-litre turbo-four gasoline-powered Equinox Premium (the white one in the photos), and after that another week with the same trim with the turbo-diesel I’ve been blabbing on about (the blue version), while I’ve yet to spend a minute with the most compact crossover SUV’s most potent 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder. 

2019 Chevrolet Equinox AWD Premier Road Test
Is blue more your style? The Equinox provides plenty of colour options, not to mention loads of trims and even three engines. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

The entry-level engine might initially appear a bit on the weak side thanks to only 170 horsepower and 203 lb-ft of torque available, at least on paper, but it was more than sufficient for this fairly lightweight compact crossover, plus it’s ultra friendly to those keeping tabs on their budgets due to a claimed Transport Canada fuel economy rating of 9.2 L/100km city, 7.3 highway and 8.3 combined in FWD trim, or 9.3 city, 7.8 highway and 8.6 combined with its optional AWD. 

The available 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder, which features AWD as standard equipment, should provide those looking for excitement with thrills aplenty thanks to 252 horsepower and 260 lb-ft of torque, but despite the impressive nine-speed automatic it comes mated to, which adds up to three extra gears over the two less potent engines’ six-speed automatic transmissions, the more advanced drivetrain manages only 10.9 L/100km in the city, 8.3 on the highway and 9.7 combined. 

Incidentally, all models come standard with auto stop/start, which instantly turns off the engine when the Equinox comes to a full stop, and then automatically restarts it when lifting off the brake pedal, the process helping reduce emissions and fuel usage. 

2019 Chevrolet Equinox AWD Premier Road Test
It’s a smart looking SUV, no matter the trim. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

All in all, the above numbers are really quite decent when comparing them to competitors with similar performance, but both gasoline-fueled models don’t come close to matching the fuel economy of the Equinox Diesel, that gets an 8.5 L/100km city, 6.0 highway (6.1 with AWD) and 7.4 combined claimed rating. Then again, line those numbers up next to the new Toyota RAV4 Hybrid’s figures and the Chevy almost looks gluttonous, what with a mere 5.8 L/100km of city consumption, plus 6.3 on the highway and 6.0 combined, plus the Japanese model’s $32,090 entry price is about a thousand cheaper than the least expensive Equinox LT FWD model, which starts at $33,100. It’s $6,400 more than the $26,700 base Equinox LS as well, and $5,300 less than the $38,400 Equinox AWD Premier Diesel shown on this page. All-wheel drive adds $2,400 to the base LS price, incidentally, while the sportier Equinox AWD 2.0 Premier is available from $37,900. 

I should mention that all the quoted prices above don’t include the destination charge or any other fees, but you can check such details plus all the prices of trims, packages and individual options right here on CarCostCanada, where we also provide you the latest manufacturer rebates (especially helpful during year-end clear-outs) as well as dealer invoice pricing that could easily save you thousands. 

2019 Chevrolet Equinox AWD Premier Road Test
LED headlights and taillights are available, plus these optional 19-inch alloys. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Now that we’re talking savings, Mitsubishi’s Outlander PHEV is the compact SUV class’s most efficient model by a long shot, but with a base price of $43,498 (before government rebates) it’s a lot more expensive, which makes GM’s duo of diesels the most efficient non-electrified crossover pairing in the compact crowd. Combine that with diesel pump pricing that’s usually a lot lower than regular unleaded, and it should save you money if you drive enough. It should be noted the 2.0-litre turbo is thriftier than a number of similarly powerful compact crossovers too, so big marks to GM for offering so many engine and transmission options, plus making them all better than average when it comes to fuel economy. 

I have to admit to preferring the diesel-turbo to the base gasoline-powered turbo-four, both from a performance and efficiency perspective. The diesel might only put out 137 horsepower, but it delivers a much stronger 240 lb-ft of torque down, and like the base engine it’s all available from just 2,000 rpm. 

Also impressive, the Equinox’ AWD system aids fuel economy even more. Unlike the majority of SUVs in this class that use full-time AWD systems, or employ a viscous-type coupling that causes the rear wheels to engage automatically, GM’s SUVs use the front wheels to drive until traction becomes a problem, at which point a warning appears within the instrument cluster and you’re recommended to switch over to AWD by pressing a button on the lower centre console. I first questioned whether or not my Equinox was fitted with AWD when my front tires kept breaking traction during takeoff, this due to all of the diesel’s rubber-smoking torque, but after noticing the AWD button and then putting it into action, no more squealing tires. 

2019 Chevrolet Equinox AWD Premier Road Test
The interior is really refined, and there’s no shortage of standard and available features. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Another bonus was the base six-speed automatic, which while down a couple of gears from some others in this class, including the aforementioned 2.0-litre turbo-four, was nevertheless very responsive. You can even row through the gears by flicking a rocker switch on top of the shift knob with your thumb, which is an unusual but welcome alternative to shifting the whole gear lever or pulling on a set of steering wheel-mounted paddle shifters (now that I mentioned that, don’t try to shift by pulling the buttons on the backside of the Equinox’ steering wheel, as you’ll probably just swap radio stations). Back to that six-speed, I never found it lacking gears, as each engine provided plenty of torque over very wide rev ranges, and the transmission shifted nice and smooth no matter whether I was doing so manually or leaving it to its own devices. 

The Equinox also has a nice smooth suspension, which is par for the course when talking about GM products, other than performance-first models like the Corvette Z06. Back to the compact crossover SUV segment, the Equinox takes to corners well too, easily providing a level of smile-inducing sporty performance. It feels light in weight, nimble, and plenty of fun through the curves, plus it’s great at zipping in and out of heavy inner-city traffic, or just cruising down the freeway. 

2019 Chevrolet Equinox AWD Premier Road Test
The centre stack is well laid out, and infotainment touchscreen amongst the segment’s best. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

I was able to take in the Equinox Premier’s impressive interior better during more relaxed stints behind the wheel, however. It’s finished to a higher degree than some of its key rivals, a quality factor that immediately becomes noticeable when closing the driver’s door. It just feels more solid and better built than a number of its tinnier challengers, with this refinement continuing throughout the cabin. For instance, both smooth and perforated patterned and contrast-stitched leatherette covers the entire instrument panel, while tastefully applied aluminum-like accents dress up the steering wheel, the primary gauge cluster, each dash vent, the centre stack switchgear, and the lower console controls. 

A weakness is the amount of pliable interior plastics, but Chevy does cover each armrest plus much of the door inserts and uppers in a padded, contrast-stitched leatherette, while it finishes off the rest of those door uppers in a synthetic soft paint that also is used for dressing up the dash top and much of the instrument panel, plus the top edges of the centre stack and lower console. To clarify, this isn’t the type of paint that eventually peels off, but instead it is permanently bonded to the plastic and therefore provides a nicer texture than the usual hard shell plastic found in this class. 

Pushing such premium touches yet further upstream is a truly nice set of steering wheel switchgear, my test model even featuring a heated steering wheel rim as well as adaptive cruise control, while some of the buttons at hand actuated the colour multi-information display in the otherwise analogue gauge package, this incorporating a digital readout for traffic sign info, plus a back seat reminder that detects whether or not you opened the rear doors before departing on your journey, and when arriving warns that something or someone might have been left in the rear passenger compartment. 

2019 Chevrolet Equinox AWD Premier Road Test
This best-in-industry parking camera lets you watch the curb and road simultaneously, plus much more. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Lastly, the Equinox tops off its centre stack with a truly impressive infotainment touchscreen. I really like the clear and elegantly simple circular graphics and bright colours used for the main menu interface, which look modern, fresh and are easy to sort out. Chevy has created one of the best infotainment systems in the mainstream industry, and while some competitors might offer larger touchscreens, this eight-inch system is brilliantly sharp thanks to excellent resolution, and provides deep, rich colours with superb contrast. The navigation system’s map is clear and easy to read, while inputting addresses is easy, plus the route guidance was totally accurate each time I used it. I only wish the satellite radio interface showed album cover graphics, but that was hardly a deal-breaker. 

The Equinox infotainment system also includes Android Auto and Apple CarPlay smartphone integration, plus one of the best 360-degree parking monitors I’ve ever experienced. From its default mode, which makes the “bird’s-eye” view surround camera smaller and puts it to the left of the display with a bigger rearview camera along with its dynamic guidelines to the right, it can be switched up to a full reverse camera with dynamic guidelines, or instead provide a different view of that same backup camera, an overhead view of that rear camera, or alternatively a weird frontal view that actually seems as if the SUV is being filmed from a drone hovering slightly ahead and above. There are simultaneous views of the curb and road, ultra-close-ups of the front, plus more. This camera kept me spellbound for at least an hour. By the way, both this top-tier camera system and the entry-level version were upgraded for image quality this year. 

2019 Chevrolet Equinox AWD Premier Road Test
Great seats and a superb driving position made for a comfortable daily driver. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Just below the infotainment display is a two-zone auto HVAC interface that’s nicely organized and attractive, but my favourite set of buttons activated the three-way heatable and/or cooled front seats, the second of these items rarely available in this category, but really appreciated for keeping backside dry and cool during summer’s heat. 

Follow the centre stack down to its base and you’ll find a sizeable compartment with a rubberized floor that’s ideal for a big smartphone. Chevy included a wireless charging pad, always convenient, plus the Equinox went from one regular USB-A port to a set of USBs, one for the usual A plug and another for new USB-C connectors, which is what my Samsung S9 uses. An aux plug and 12-volt charger come standard as well, while two additional USB charging ports can be found in a bin under the front centre armrest. 

Glance upward and you’ll find an overhead console housing a sunglasses holder, LED reading lights, plus controls for OnStar, SOS, etcetera, plus of course switchgear for the panoramic sunroof and its powered sunshade. I love big glass roofs like this, because they shed plenty of light inside, brightening the entire vehicle’s ambience. 

2019 Chevrolet Equinox AWD Premier Road Test
Now that’s a nice sunroof! (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Of course, none of this would matter if the Equinox wasn’t comfortable, and to that end it provided plenty of room for my medium-build five-foot-eight body, as well as an excellent driving position that gave me total support and kept me in full control. Such isn’t always the case. In fact, some rivals’ tilt and telescopic steering won’t reach far enough rearward to compensate for my need to pull the driver’s seat far enough rearward for my longer than average legs (for a five-foot-eight person at least). 

What’s more, when my driver’s seat was set up for my long-legged short torso body type, I still had about eight inches of room for my knees when sitting behind in the second row, and plenty of space from side to side plus about two inches over my head. The panoramic sunroof noted a moment ago pushed the surrounding roof area down a couple of inches than it would have if not included, but not a problem for me. 

As far as rear seat features go, the Equinox Premier gets a set of LED reading lights on both sides, two additional USB-A charging ports (new for 2019), a regular household-style three-prong 120-volt socket, and the best rear seat heaters I’ve ever tried out, in that their three-way controls adjust the lower cushion and the backrest temperatures, or just the back alone. I don’t think you’ll hear a lot of complaints from the kiddos, but being that the rear seatbacks are divided 60/40 with no centre pass-through, active families that ski will be forced to play rock, paper, scissors for the heated side. 

2019 Chevrolet Equinox AWD Premier Road Test
Plenty of room back here. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

I like that Chevy incorporates levers on the cargo wall for folding those rear seatbacks down automatically. Just pull on them once and the seats drop down quickly, expanding the already sizeable 847-litre (29.9 cu-ft) dedicated cargo area to a really big 1,809 litres (63.9 cu ft). 

Being just a year into its lifecycle, the 2019 Equinox looks identical to the 2018 model, but nevertheless GM has put a great deal of effort into rejigging trims and packages. To begin, a new Lights and Bright package is available with the second-rung LT, adding a chromed grille surround, LED headlights and tail lamps, as well as a special set of 19-inch alloys. Front-drive LT models no longer include a standard leather-clad shift knob, however, but it’s now part of an upgrade package. 

My test model did feature a $2,995 Driver Confidence and Convenience II package, mind you, which is exclusive to Premier trim and includes the 360-degree parking monitor mentioned before, plus auto high beams, dynamic cruise control with stop-and-go, autonomous emergency braking with pedestrian detection, lane keeping assist, a safety alert seat that vibrates when veering out of your lane or causing any other number of issues, a heated steering wheel, an eight-way powered front passenger seat with power lumbar, and the cooled driver and front passenger seats, plus the heatable rear seats mentioned earlier. 

You can also get the Driver Confidence II or Driver Convenience II packages separately, while my tester wore a no-cost set of 19-inch five-spoke alloy wheels. I won’t go into detail about all the options available, but suffice to say that anyone wanting to personalize their Equinox won’t have a problem.  

2019 Chevrolet Equinox AWD Premier Road Test
Cargo? Not a problem. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

On that note my test model included a $1,305 Infotainment II package as well, featuring the aforementioned panoramic sunroof, a navigation system, a seven-speaker Bose audio system, HD radio, and a different set of 19-inch alloys, while some Premier trim highlights include LED headlamps and taillights, chromed door handles and mirror housings, an auto-dimming rearview mirror and auto-dimming outside mirrors, a leather-clad steering wheel rim, a colour multi-information display, a universal garage door opener, two-zone auto climate control, an 8.0-inch infotainment touchscreen (the base model gets a 7.0-inch display), wireless smartphone charging, rear parking assist, blind spot warning with rear cross-traffic alert, a hands-free power tailgate, and more. 

If you’re not convinced the Equinox is worthy of your attention by now, you’ve already made up your mind on something else. If you’re still on the fence, however, or just starting to search, make sure to include this impressive compact crossover SUV on your list. Just remember, however, that the diesel option will be cancelled soon, so claim yours if you like the idea of driving seriously far on a single tank of fuel. No matter the engine the Equinox is a good choice. 

Story credit: Trevor Hofmann 

Photo credit: Karen Tuggay

2019 Hyundai Santa Fe 2.0T Ultimate Turbo AWD Road Test

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Story credit: Trevor Hofmann 

Photo credit: Trevor Hofmann

2019 Lexus LC 500h Road Test

2019 Lexus LC 500h
Stunning from every angle, the gorgeous Lexus LC 500h stands out from the crowd. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Luxury automakers have some models that sell in high volumes, thus providing much needed income and profits, others they’d like to do better, and one or two image vehicles that increase brand visibility and hopefully cause prospective buyers to choose something more affordable and/or practical in the lineup. Once in a while a vehicle achieves both objectives, but such isn’t the case with the stunning new Lexus LC 500 and LC 500h. 

Lexus leans on its NX and RX compact and mid-size crossover SUVs for mass volume, and hopes its new UX will soon add to its popularity. To lesser extent its sedans add volume too, especially the compact IS and mid-size ES, but its GS mid-size performance sedan and beautiful LS full-size luxury sedan don’t do well at all, while its RC sports coupe struggles too. Lexus also offers a GX mid-size sport utility that hardly gets noticed, but its LX full-size SUV pulls respectable numbers from a market segment that’s smaller by nature, albeit profitable, actually managing to pull itself up to sixth place within the Lexus lineup, right behind the just-noted EX. 

2019 Lexus LC 500h
Dramatic rear styling appears like some sort of automotive cyborg, but a very beautiful one. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

By comparison, the LC could be seen as a runaway success next to the LFA, Lexus’ previous image car. That near-exotic sport model was purposely limited to a mere 500 examples globally over two model years between 2010 and 2012, of which 10 came to Canada. The LC, on the other hand, after launching in 2017 for the 2018 model year, is closer to a sales homerun thanks to seven units driven out of Lexus Canada dealerships last month alone, not to mention nine the month before that. Altogether, Lexus sold 55 LC 500 and 500h models through the first seven months of this year, making it second-to-last for popularity in Japanese premium brand’s arsenal, right next to the last-place LS and its lacklustre 51-unit total. On the positive, the LC was hardly the slowest selling sport/luxury car in the country. 

Poorest of the poor goes to the rather rich Maserati GranTurismo, which found just 14 takes this year so far, while this LC also improved on the Acura NSX’ 17-unit tally, plus the Nissan GT-R’s total of 36, and the 54 Audi R8 examples sold. Nevertheless, Mercedes-Benz found 99 SL-Class customers so far this year, while BMW pulled in 160 buyers for its all-new 8 Series, Jaguar attracted 181 newcomers to its latest F-Type, Mercedes wowed everyone with 258 AMG GT deliveries (superb sales for a $170k car), and Porsche won over 587 new clients for its outgoing 2019 911. Interestingly, that last number (587, not 2019 or 911) represented a 31.74-percent downgrade in popularity for the quintessential Porsche sports car when compared to the first seven months of 2018, due to most customers waiting for the completely redesigned 2020 911 that’s now in the midst of arriving. 

2019 Lexus LC 500h
There’s nothing at all like the Lexus LC on the road. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Incidentally, the iconic Porsche wasn’t the only sports car to lose sales, with the R8 plummeting some 70.97 percent, the GranTurismo plunging 48.15 percent, this LC deep diving 48.11 percent, the F-Type caving 29.30 percent, the GT-R pulling back 21.74 percent, and the SL dipping 16.10 percent. The AMG GT was the only car in its glass to gained year-over-year sales, up 55.42 percent over the same seven months, while the new 8 Series will need to wait a year for comparison. I also got a kick out of learning that Lexus’ parent brand, Toyota, found 66 new $65k-plus Supra buyers during the same period. 

Of course, other cars compete in this class, but some, such as the BMW i8 and Mercedes-Benz S-Class Coupe, have their sales numbers combined with other models in their respective lines (the i8 paired up with the i3, and the S-Class Coupe with the S-Class Sedan), while the Aston Martin DB11, Bentley Continental GT, and Rolls-Royce Wraith are much pricier models. Blue-oval fans will appreciate hearing that Ford found three customers for its Markham, Ontario-assembled mid-engine GT supercar, while Dodge even pulled in one lucky buyer for its now two-year deceased Viper, and speaking of American supercars, the Corvette pulled in 840 new clients so far this year, and I’m willing to bet the slightly more expensive mid-engine C8 will shortly be flying out of Chevy showrooms, making it even harder for great cars like the LC to gain any sales traction. 

2019 Lexus LC 500h
The fabulous carbon-fibre roof is optional with the LC 500 and standard with the 500h. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

When a car doesn’t gain much popularity, like this LC, I find it a good idea to point out that not doing well on the sales chart doesn’t necessarily reflect its good qualities or bad issues. The way I see it, the very fact it’s a Lexus should bring it respect, and other than the aforementioned fourth-generation LS luxury sedan, which incidentally is only the second model to ride on Toyota’s New Global Architecture or TNGA (specifically TNGA-L or GA-L), the LC is by far the most impressive Lexus ever created. 

Its greatest asset has to be its styling. The LC takes the Lexus’ trademark spindle grille to new depths and widths, but the look becomes even more abstract to each corner, with headlights that seem as if they’re alien-implanted mechanical growths, albeit the actual lighted areas are small and filled with threesomes of neatly stacked LED bulbs. All the unusual appendages are just glossy black trim, other than the “arrowhead” daytime running lights just underneath. 

More Lexus trademark styling cues can be found toward the rear, with the LC’s C-pillars getting a similar blacked-out “floating roof” design to that found on other models such as the previously noted RX SUV. It’s further adorned with premium polished nickel brightwork, while sharply edged tail lamp prongs closely resemble the so-called “L-shaped” headlights, albeit infused with 80 separate LEDs per corner instead of just three. Lexus shares some of the LC’s taillight design with the previously noted LS sedan, not to mention the iconic Toyota Prius and category topping Camry in its XSE trim line. While each element appears a bit strange on its own, the package on the whole melds together in one wonderfully elegant and intensely attractive whole. 

2019 Lexus LC 500h
Each taillight comes filled with 80 individual LED lighting elements. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

You know something? I almost never comment on styling, unless the design team managed to get something especially right or horribly wrong. Fortunately the Newport Beach, California-based Calty Design Research centre’s team got the LC very right. We can thank studio boss Ian Cartabiano, as well as Edward Lee who was responsible for the sensational exterior design, plus William Chergosky and Ben Chang where were in charge of the interior, albeit not specifically of the LC, but rather the LF-LC Concept that inspired it. The LC was near perfectly transformed from jaw-dropping prototype to equally gorgeous LC 500 and LC 500h production models with hardly a change made to the exterior design, the final result quite possibly the nearest any road-going model has ever resembled its conceptual beginnings. 

The production LC’s cabin underwent a total redesign, mind you, although it maintained some of the concept’s general styling cues including its LFA-like pod-shaped digital gauge cluster, its horizontally penned instrument panel incorporating a recessed widescreen centre infotainment display, its driver-centric cockpit that’s partially enclosed by a buttress-type centre console extension that doubles as a front-passenger grab-handle in the production car, the downward-flowing alcantara suede door panels, the deeply bolstered set of front sport seats, the similarly styled sport buckets in back, plus more. 

2019 Lexus LC 500h
The LC interior is richly appointed and beautifully crafted. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Lexus’ effort was quickly rewarded by the LC’s placement on the WardsAuto 10 Best Interiors list after it arrived in 2017, and I certainly can’t argue against that. It’s a fresh, contemporary design that deliveries big on refinement, luxury and high-tech wizardry, all of which should be expected at its $102,750 starting point in 2019 LC 500 trim, or $103,050 in upcoming 2020 form, or alternatively $118,850 as the 2019 LC 500h hybrid shown on this page, or $118,950 in 2020 LC 500h trim (learn about Lexus LC 500 and 500h pricing right here on CarCostCanada for both the 2019 and 2020 model years, plus find out about available rebates as well as dealer invoice pricing that could save you thousands). 

There are no major changes from the 2019 model year to 2020, except for cancelation of the $14,800 Inspiration Series package with Flare Yellow semi-aniline leather upholstery and more for the LC 500, plus a new Bespoke White interior theme that’s also added to the conventionally powered model. All six exterior colours remain the same no matter the powertrain, with Infrared being the sole paint option at $650, whereas all three remaining interior colour themes continue forward as well. 

In case you were wondering, Lexus priced my 3.5-litre V6-powered hybrid LC 500h test model higher than the 5.0-litre V8-powered LC 500 version, despite adding 113 horsepower to the eight-cylinder engine, and no doubt providing a more dramatic exhaust note, plus fitting it with a faster shifting, more engaging gearbox than the hybrid’s electronic continuously variable transmission (E-CVT), because of all the extra features that come standard, starting with the regular LC 500’s $13,500 Performance package. 

2019 Lexus LC 500h
The primary gauge cluster is purely electronic. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

This means that four-wheel active variable gear ratio steering is standard, as is a Torsen limited slip differential, a set o f 21-inch forged alloy wheels on Michelin performance tires (that replace standard 20s), a carbon-fibre roof panel instead of a standard glass roof, an active rear spoiler, carbon-fibre reinforced polymer kick plates, an alcantara suede headliner, more heavily bolstered sport seats, and an eight-way powered driver’s seat in place of the LC 500’s base 10-way design, and lane change assist, which gets added to a comprehensive menu of standard driver assistive technology on both trims including a pre-collision system with autonomous emergency braking, lane departure alert with steering assist, blind spot monitoring with rear cross traffic alert, auto high beams, and adaptive cruise control. 

This is a good time to run over a shortlist of standard convenience and luxury highlights, including LED cornering lamps within the triple-LED headlight clusters mentioned before, a tidy little credit card-sized intelligent key for cabin access via proximity sensing, a head-up display unit to go along with the full digital gauge package noted earlier, power-folding outside mirrors, a heated steering wheel that even allows for temperature adjustment, a power-adjustable steering column that connects through to the front seat memory, ventilated front seats (plus, of course, heatable front seats), partially-automated self-parking, etcetera, etcetera. 

2019 Lexus LC 500h
The centre stack is filled with most everything someone buying into this class expects. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Additionally, a 10.3-inch high-resolution centre display comes standard too, complete with a dynamic guideline-infused backup camera, a navigation system with very accurate route guidance, Apple CarPlay smartphone integration (yes, Android Auto users are out of luck), a brilliant 13-speaker Mark Levinson high resolution surround-sound audio system, satellite radio, two USB ports, traffic and weather information, the Lexus Enform App Suite 2.0 featuring Slacker, Yelp, Sports, Stocks, plus Fuel apps, the Enform Destination Assist app with a single-year subscription, and Enform Safety Connect with Automatic Collision Notification, a Stolen Vehicle Locator, an Emergency Assistance / SOS button, and Enhanced Roadside Assistance with a four-year subscription. 

You’d need to stretch a long way in order to touch the centre display, so Lexus doesn’t bother with a touchscreen at all. Instead, the brand’s Remote Touch Interface touchpad gets added to the lower console, and while it works well enough once acclimatized, thanks to some quick-access buttons and audio controls around the touchpad, I can’t say it’s my favourite infotainment system. On the positive, there were many other reasons to appreciate this LC. 

For one, it’s pretty large and fairly roomy, at least up front. As noted earlier, it’s based Toyota’s TNGA-L platform architecture, which is the same as the full-size LS luxury sedan, but take note the LC is quite a bit smaller unless measuring width. It spans across an additional 20 mm (0.8 in) at 1,920 mm (75.6 in), and you’ll immediately notice how spacious it is from side-to-side, especially if someone’s sitting next to you. The LC’s wheelbase is abbreviated by 255 mm (10.0 in) to 2,870 mm (113.0 in), however, whereas its nose-to-tail length is a significant 475 mm (18.7 in) shorter, plus it’s nowhere near as tall, the LC lower by 116 mm (4.5 in). 

2019 Lexus LC 500h
The infotainment graphics are quite nice, and the system mostly up to snuff. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

As for how it measures up to its competition, it’s not only a lot smaller than Mercedes’ S-Class Coupe, the LC is actually smaller than the German brand’s mid-size E-Class Coupe too, except for its width. The Lexus comes closer to the BMW i8 and Aston Martin DB11 in overall dimensions, with slightly greater wheelbase, length and height than the shapely German and more exotically branded Brit, but a bit less width this time around. 

The LC’s longer length and wheelbase results in a car that can house four adults, but I’d make sure you don’t try to stuff someone too tall into the rear seats. I’m only five-foot-eight with longer legs than torso, but I was forced to kink my neck over to the side in order to fit in, with my head still pushing up against the back glass. The seats are comfortable enough, and I had enough space for my legs and feet, plus my shoulders and hips, which made it a shame that medium-sized adults won’t be able to ride in the rear. 

How about trunk space? The LC 500h is smaller than the non-hybrid LC 500, providing just 132 litres (4.7 cu ft) instead of 153 (5.4 cu ft), so therefore you’ll need to stow a second set of clubs in the rear seating area when taking a friend along to the golf course. 

2019 Lexus LC 500h
The big square on the right is the touchpad needed for controlling the infotainment system. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Just in case you don’t fully understand the personal luxury coupe market segment, being able to take more than one set of golf bags to the course that is a critically important make-or-break factor, so it’s quite possible that, together with its lack of rear seat room, LC sales are being hurt by its lacklustre practicality. This Lexus isn’t a pureblooded performance car anyway, particularly in as-tested hybrid form, but instead is a luxurious personal coupe that just happens to ramp up speed quickly and manage corners with deft prowess. This makes the LC more like BMW’s i8 than anything else in the class. It takes off well enough and handles like a well-mannered sports car, but it’s built more for luxury than slaying the cones on weekend autocross course. When it comes to comfort, its suede-like alcantara-clad driver’s seat provides wrap-around comfort and good support all over, while was fully adjustable and complete with ample side bolstering for keeping me in place during aggressive manoeuvres. 

Initially I was scheduled for a week in both the LC 500 and 500h, but someone did something naughty to the V8-powered version just ahead of receiving it, so instead of enjoying its 467 horsepower and 398 lb-ft of torque firsthand, not to mention its reportedly quick-shifting 10-speed automatic, I was moved into something else for that week, never to experience the LC 500 at all. Sad as that may be, soon I got into this LC 500h, which is a bit more docile with just 354 horsepower at the rear wheels, but it still felt plenty potent under full throttle. 

2019 Lexus LC 500h
The 500h hybrid gets upgraded sport seats. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

The V6 portion of its hybrid power unit makes just 295 horsepower and 257 lb-ft of torque, which is in fact less than the same engine produces in the Toyota Camry XSE, but before I criticize Lexus for utilizing such a seemingly plebian engine in its most alluring model, consider that a more tautly strung version of this mill makes 430 reliable horsepower in the mid-engine Lotus Evora, so at least it’s in well respected company. 

Of course, the lithium-ion battery and electric motor fulfill their torque-rich purpose too, the latter capable of a near immediate 177 horsepower and 221 lb-ft of torque, for a net 472 horsepower and, er, well let’s not even try to calculate its combined internal combustion and electric output, because net horsepower and net torque don’t exactly compute that way. Lexus officially estimates 354 horsepower while other testers are claiming approximately 370 lb-ft of torque. I believe they’re being ultra-conservative, being that the regular V8 shoots from zero to 100km/h in 5.1 seconds and this hybrid takes just 0.5 seconds longer resulting in a sprint time of 5.6, and this is despite the 500h adding 77 kilos (170 lbs) to its 2,012-kg (4,436-lb) curb weight over the 1,935-kg (4,266-lb) 500. 

No matter which model you’re driving, make sure to choose the standard Drive Mode Select system’s most entertaining Sport S+ setting, which may not be as edgy as the sportiest mode in one of BMW’s M cars, or Lexus’ own RC F for that matter, but it nevertheless provides higher engine revs between shifts ahead of swapping cogs faster than it otherwise would. Lexus includes a set of large metal steering wheel-mounted paddle-shifters for the latter, which worked ideally in Sport mode as well, but unlike most cars I test I actually kept it in Sport S+ mode more often than not. Along with its increased performance and better feel, the rorty noises emanating from the engine bay and exhaust pipes were downright addictive, particularly when revs rise, and the transmission’s “gear changes” felt considerably more direct. 

2019 Lexus LC 500h
The rear seating area is only meant for very short adults or kids. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

This was one of the most engaging continuously variable transmissions I’ve ever tested, although even factoring in its sophisticated 10-speed Simulated Shift Control technology, which includes a conventional-type multi-gear box within, it can’t completely eradicate all CVT tendencies. Yes, even in its sportiest drive mode its shifts come on so fast between intervals, albeit without the expected positive engagement otherwise experienced in most sport-tuned automatics and dual-clutch automated gearboxes, that it’s almost like nothing has happened at all, plus the V6 makes a habit of whining up and down with the same rubber band effect in between. In a nutshell, if you’re a serious performance fan you’ll want to opt for the V8-powered LC 500, which leaves folks who want to make their environmental mark choosing this hybrid, because let’s face it, anyone paying $100,000-plus for a personal luxury coupe isn’t going to care about saving fuel for the sake of saving dollars. 

On that note, the LC 500h’s claimed fuel economy rating is very good for the class, coming in at 9.0 L/100km city, 7.1 highway and 8.1 combined, compared to 15.1 in the city, on the 9.5 highway and 12.6 combined for the regular LC 500. 

No doubt the lighter LC 500 aids agility through fast curves when compared to the LC 500h, but either way the long, wide, low and fairly large coupe is a great handler, taking up plenty of real estate yet able to manage corners with precise skill. This is its strength, the LC delivering the same type of relaxed high-speed confidence-inspiring stability found in a big Mercedes-Benz coupe, yet with its own Japanese luxury flair. Its wonderfully balanced chassis is nice and easy on one’s backside too, with ride quality that’s much more comfortable than its large wheels, performance tires, and sporty low-slung design suggests, while its also serenely quiet when the aforementioned driving mode selector is switched from Sport+ or Sport to Comfort or Eco. 

2019 Lexus LC 500h
The LC’s trunk is pretty small, and the hybrid’s smaller. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

There’s no question whether the Lexus LC is worthy of a premium luxury coupe buyer’s attention or not, but no matter what I think its sales numbers don’t lie. As impressive as this car is, the people have spoken and the result is less than ideal. Even in the U.S., where Lexus is amongst the strongest selling luxury brands, the LC only attracted 764 sales since the January 1, 2019, which slightly better per capita than here in Canada, but nothing to get excited about either. Talk about a new stronger performing LC F model arriving later this year or early next could help pull more eyeballs toward this somewhat forgotten nameplate, as will an stylish new convertible version that’s beginning to be teased online, but who knows? The beautiful LC might just end up as another image-building car that never enjoys much sales traction, good for making Lexus’ well-respected brand name even more desirable, but incapable of making profits on its own. 

All said, the LC makes for an especially exclusive example of rolling artwork, which i must say caused more attention from passersby than plenty of pricier cars with more prestigious branding that I’ve driven this year, pulling more long stares, causing more pointing fingers, and resulting in more gaping mouths from astonished onlookers than I was able to count, not to mention an unabashedly overcome German tourist that just had to have me take a photo of him next to it. 

Unlike the types of exotic machinery that normally cause such an emotional outpouring, mind you, the LC provides impressively dependable performance as well, which just might be the type of priceless feature that makes owning one worthwhile. If you’d like something undeniably beautiful, that’s also totally unique in the premium marketplace, look no farther than this Lexus LC. Whether suited up in V8-powered 500 or 500h hybrid trim, it’s one thoroughly impressive personal luxury coupe. 

Story credit: Trevor Hofmann 

Photo credit: Karen Tuggay

2019 Kia Stinger GT-Line Road Test

2019 Kia Stinger GT-Line
Great looking Kia Stinger makes a strong visual statement. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

Finally! Every time I’ve been given the opportunity to test the new Kia Stinger something got in the way. The test model was either damaged by another journalist, or got put out to pasture before I could get into it, the latter due to me being out of country, but just a matter of days back from my regular winter warming in my favourite tropical isle had me ogling a beautiful California Red painted Stinger GT-Line parked in front of my temporary left coast home. 

I have to say the Stinger looks impressively upscale. Even in my tester’s base GT-Line trim, it comes standard with automatic dual-function LED headlamps, LED daytime running lights, LED positioning lamps, body-wide bar-type LED tail lamps, classy dark chrome exterior trim details with the same darkened chrome used for the side mirror housings, these also enhanced with slim LED turn signals, while sharp looking 18-inch machine-finished alloy wheels on 225/45 rubber round out the look, as does a set of chromed exhaust pipes at back. 

While base, it should be noted that the entry-level Stinger starts at a considerable $39,995 plus freight and fees, but despite its less than prestigious Kia branding it really comes across as something much closer to premium than most anything in its mid-size segment. 

2019 Kia Stinger GT-Line
The Stinger’s sloping rear profile makes it look fast standing still. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

The Stinger is a mid-size sedan, by the way. I’ve noticed some consider it compact because it utilizes the same underpinnings as the Genesis G70, which is a compact luxury model going up against BMW’s 3 Series, Mercedes’ C-Class, Audi’s A4, et al, but in spite of having similar wheelbase lengths of 2,910 mm (114.4 in) compared to 2,835 mm (111.6 in), both being longer than the Optima’s 2,805-mm (110.4-in) wheelbase, the Stinger’s 4,830 mm (190.2 in) nose-to-tail length spans 145 mm (5.7 in) farther than the G70’s, while it only measures 20 mm (0.8 in) shorter than Kia’s Optima family sedan. 

Also notable, at 1,870 mm (73.6 in) the Stinger is 20 mm (0.8 in) wider than the G70 and 10 mm (0.4 in) narrower than the Optima, while it stands 1,400 mm (55.1 in) tall, which is identical to the G70 and 70 mm (2.7 in) lower than the Optima. Those still choosing to call the Stinger compact will also want to take note that it’s 190 mm (7.5 in) longer than the Forte sedan (a reasonable large compact itself), with a 210-mm (8.2-in) longer wheelbase, while it’s 70 mm (2.7 in) wider too. So it’s obviously a mid-size model, even offering up a longer wheelbase and more width than the Toyota Camry and Honda Accord, although slightly less length and height. 

2019 Kia Stinger GT-Line
The LED headlights, 18-inch alloys, and dramatic styling come standard. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

The Stinger’s long, low and wide dimensions make it more of a four-door coupe-like sedan, its sporty profile backed up by dynamic styling and a premium cabin, at least for its volume branded pedigree (or lack thereof). I should mention this isn’t Kia’s first premium-like entry, or for that matter its most luxurious. We only need to look to the Mercedes S-Class/BMW 7 Series-sized K900 for Kia’s highest-end car, a model that might only be outmaneuvered amongst pedestrian brands for all out premium cachet by the Volkswagen Phaeton, but like that outrageous VW the K900 didn’t garner enough popularity to enjoy prolonged availability in Canada, so therefore is now history north of the 49th. 

Where the K900 was a seriously impressive luxury sedan, it couldn’t even come close to the Stinger’s viability here in Canada. It comes down to affordability, its more popular mid-size market segment, and a greater focus on performance than luxury. Size aside, I would’ve previously said it comes closest to mirroring the Dodge Charger in spirit than anything else in its class, at least until Volkswagen showed up with its new Arteon a few months ago. The Arteon, that’s based on the European Passat, just replaced the outgoing CC four-door coupe. The two are near identical in size and similarly powered, so are therefore going after the same sport-oriented customers, in the Stinger’s base trim at least, but with its base price more than $8,000 loftier than the Stinger’s aforementioned window sticker, the new Arteon is reaching up much further into premium territory. 

2019 Kia Stinger GT-Line
All the black chromed detailing adds a rich, upscale look. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

By the way, the Stinger weighs in between 1,729 and 1,782 kilograms (3,812 and 3,929 lbs) with its as-tested 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder, or 1,873 and 1,889 kg (4,129 and 4,165 lbs) with its optional V6, whereas the Arteon hits the scale at 1,748 kilos (3,854 lbs) and the larger and heftier Charger offers more mass for your dollars at 1,823 to 1,980 kg (4,021 to 4,530 lbs). While lighter than the Charger, the all-wheel drive Stinger and Arteon are significantly heavier than the previously noted mid-size front-drive family sedans, giving the car being reviewed here, at least (I’ve yet to drive the Arteon that’s scheduled for August 26), more of a substantive, premium-like feel. 

Kia really does manage to pull off a near luxury brand level of refinement inside thanks to details like cloth-wrapped A, B and C pillars, a soft, pliable dash top with a really well-finished padded instrument bolster crossing the entire dash front, as well as premium-level soft composite door uppers front to back. All of the Stinger’s button, knobs and switches are nicely fitted with good damping as well, with some aluminized for an especially upscale look and feel, while this base model’s standard perforated leather upholstery is definitely up to par for a volume-branded sedan. 

2019 Kia Stinger GT-Line
Those unfamiliar with Kia will be surprised at the Stinger’s refined cabin. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

Being that we’re already talking about features, standard content includes a heated leather-clad flat-bottom sport steering wheel that’s sized perfectly for performance and feels great in the hands, plus a leather-wrapped and chrome-adorned shift knob, piano black interior accents, comfortable and supportive heatable eight-way powered front seats with four-way power-adjustable lumbar, an auto-dimming rearview mirror, power-folding outside mirrors, two-zone auto HVAC, LED cabin lighting, ambient mood lights, and a 7.0-inch infotainment touchscreen that’s my only cause for complaint, being that it’s too small and isn’t flush within its fixed mounting and therefore looks dated. 

This display houses the usual backup camera, plus Apple CarPlay and Android Auto smartphone integration, and Kia’s exclusive UVO Intelligence connected car services, while nine-speaker audio provides good sound quality for a base stereo, even incorporating standard satellite radio, whereas the wireless device charger is a very impressive standard feature as well. 

2019 Kia Stinger GT-Line
The Stinger mixes sport elements with plenty of luxurious touch points. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

Proximity-sensing technology lets you in the car while a satin-silver button fires up the engine, again on the standard menu, while the electric parking brake releases automatically. The just noted rearview camera combines with standard rear parking sonar and rear cross-traffic alert to help keep the Stinger’s dazzling paintwork free from scratches and dents, the latter feature bundled together with blind spot detection. Once pointing forward choose from a list of Drive Mode Select settings including Smart, Eco, Comfort, Sport and Custom, slot the eight-speed Sportmatic automatic gearbox in Drive or move the lever over to manual mode in order to get the most out of the standard steering wheel paddle shifters, which is how I enjoyed all 255 horsepower and 260 lb-ft of torque generated by the Stinger’s standard direct-injection, turbocharged, 2.0-litre four-cylinder engine. 

This might only be the base powertrain, but due to 100 percent of its torque arriving at only 1,400 rpm, plus each of its four wheels simultaneously gripping the pavement below, this most basic of Stingers moves away from a standing start quickly, and stays on the power to highway speeds and beyond. Its twin exhaust pipes make a nice sporty note, complementing the engine’s mechanical tone, the Stinger delivering an enjoyable soundtrack alongside its strong acceleration. 

2019 Kia Stinger GT-Line
If you want more digital in the instrument cluster, move into a higher trim level. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

Of course, this base engine won’t be as brilliantly satisfying as the available twin-turbocharged 3.3-litre V6, that powerhouse providing 365 soul-stirring horsepower and 376 lb-ft of twist (the Arteon doesn’t offer an optional powertrain), but the turbocharged four is a compromise I’d be more than happy to live with, particularly when factoring in its much greater efficiency. Comparatively, the four-cylinder is rated at 11.1 L/100km city, 8.1 highway and 9.7 combined, whereas the V6 gets a claimed 13.6, 9.6 and 11.8 respectively, while both are assisted by an auto start/stop system that shuts the engine off when it would otherwise be idling. 

I’m guessing the last thing you’ll want to be thinking about when flinging the Stinger through a set of fast-paced curves is fuel economy, the car’s fully independent MacPherson strut front and multi-link rear suspension featuring gas shocks and dynamic dampers that help to deliver an ideally firm yet compliant ride and handling combination that proves superb over all types of tarmac, from broken backroads to smooth-as-glass freeways. 

Braking is also strong, with four-cylinder models benefiting from 320 mm (12.6 in) front vented discs and 314 mm (12.4 in) rear solid rotors, plus the V6 model improving binding power with a set of Brembo discs measuring 350 mm (13.8 in) and 340 mm (13.4 in) respectively, plus the addition of vented rotors in the rear. 

2019 Kia Stinger GT-Line
The centre stack provides all that’s needed, but the base infotainment display was a bit underwhelming. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

While the Stinger looks fast standing still, its long and lean body capable of minimizing drag and amply maximizing downforce, it also provides more than enough rear headroom for most adults’ needs. I had about three inches above my five-foot-eight frame when seated behind the driver’s seat, so six-footers should have no problem. What’s more, cargo access is excellent due to its less conventional four-door coupe-style rear liftback, which opens up to 660 litres (23.3 cu ft) of volume behind the 60/40-split rear seatbacks or 1,158 litres (40.9 cu ft) of gear-toting space when they’re flipped forward. So the Stinger is not only good looking, fun to drive and beautifully finished inside, it’s also plenty practical. 

I’ll be spending a week with the new Arteon soon, and will let you know if it measures up to the Stinger for passenger and luggage space, plus if its loftier price range provides any benefits, but I’ll say right now the VeeDub will need to be very good in order to upstage this Stinger when it comes to performance, interior quality, features and value. As it stands, with all options included the Arteon costs just over $53k, which makes it pricier than the most expensive $51,495 Stinger GT Limited 20th Anniversary Edition that gets unique 19-inch alloys, carbon fibre décor trim, red Nappa leather, and custom red-stitched “Stinger” floor mats, while the mid-range Stinger GT starts at $44,995 and the regular GT Limited can be had for $49,995 (learn more about 2019 Kia Stinger trims, packages and standalone options right here at CarCostCanada, and don’t forget that we can help you save hundreds or even thousands via manufacturer rebates and dealer invoice pricing). 

2019 Kia Stinger GT-Line
The standard leather-covered sport seats are quite supportive. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

The last two trim lines get there own set of 19-inch alloys, an upgraded suspension with Dynamic Stability Damping Control (DSDC), noise-reducing front side glass, auto-dimming outer mirrors, stainless steel tread plates, stainless sport pedals, carbon fibre-style inlays (that replace the piano black ones), shift-by-wire transmission control (replacing the base model’s shift-by-cable gearbox) a power-adjustable tilt and telescopic steering wheel, driver’s memory, an under-floor storage tray, a large moonroof, a gesture-controlled power liftgate, plus a luggage net. 

Finally, the GT Limited provides a special set of cornering headlights, rain-sensing windshield wipers, aluminum-finish trim (replacing the faux carbon fibre), a black roofliner, a 7.0-inch Supervision LCD/TFT digital instrument cluster, a heads-up display (HUD), a HomeLink universal transceiver, Nappa leather upholstery, cooled front seats, heated rear outboard seats, a driver’s seat upgrade with four-way “air cell” lumbar support, powered side bolsters, and a power-operated lower squab extension, an 8.0-inch infotainment touchscreen (that really should be standard) with a surround parking monitor system and navigation, 15-speaker Harman Kardon audio, dynamic cruise control, autonomous emergency braking (that’s usually standard in this class), lane keep assist, and driver attention alert. 

2019 Kia Stinger GT-Line
Rear roominess and comfort is very good. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

You might be interested in knowing that year-over-year (YoY) Stinger sales slipped a bit during the first six months of this year in Canada, having dropped 14.38 percent due to just 750 units leaving Kia dealer lots, but this said it’s doing its job to boost the brand’s mid-size car sales now that the Optima has become 44.67 percent less popular over the same half year, with just 872 deliveries on the books. As for how the Stinger sells against regular front-drive mid-size sedans, the Camry took no prisoners over the same two quarters with 8,586 sales (an increase of 12.87 percent), whereas the Accord held second with 5,837 deliveries (dropping 9.71 percent). The Arteon, incidentally, found just 184 buyers so far in 2019, but to be fair it only came on the market this spring so we’ll need to wait and see how it fares over the long haul. This said if the Passat is any indicator, its poor Q1 and Q2 total of 474 deliveries should hardly give VW confidence, this number representing a 75.55 percent fall from grace compared to January through June of 2018. 

Continuing on this theme, there are 14 different mid-size sedans fighting it out in this class, including the Stinger and Arteon, but not the aforementioned Charger that competes against cars like the Toyota Avalon, Nissan Maxima etcetera in the full-size or large sedan category. Of these 14, nine are in the red as far as growth goes, one (the Arteon) is to new to measure, and just four are in the black (positive), while the Stinger’s small decline is not as significant as many rivals, and more the result of the entire mid-size sedan category’s loss of favour than any lack of interest in this specific car. 

2019 Kia Stinger GT-Line
There’s loads of cargo space under the liftgate. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

In fact, I witness the polar opposite during my entire test week, with loads of smiling stares, positive nods of appreciation and general goodwill while driving by onlookers. Stinger owners can hold their heads high as this car garners a lot of respect, while it will no doubt benefit Kia’s overall brand image long-term as well. If you’re thinking about purchasing a new mid-size sedan, you may want to take a closer look at this innovative, well-sorted four-door coupe, because it delivers a higher level of style, refinement and features than most rivals, while it still should be practical enough for most peoples’ requirements. 

Story and photo credits: Trevor Hofmann

2019 Toyota Highlander Hybrid Limited Road Test

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Story credit: Trevor Hofmann 

Photo credit: Karen Tuggay

2019 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