2019 Toyota Avalon XSE Road Test

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Story and photo credits: Trevor Hofmann

2019 Volkswagen Passat Wolfsburg Edition Road Test

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Story and photo credits: Trevor Hofmann

Porsche introduces affordable new Taycan 4S

2020 Porsche Taycan 4S
New 4S trim brings the new 2020 Taycan down to a more palatable level of affordability. (Photo: Porsche)

Porsche revealed two final production Taycan EVs last month, but without doubt some potential buyers found the Turbo and Turbo S models’ respective $173,900 and $213,900 price tags a bit too rich for their budgets. Of course, the Stuttgart, Germany-based performance brand promised more affordable versions to follow, and therefore the $119,400 Taycan 4S is upon us. Priced much closer to the $108,990 base Tesla Model S, this is the EV “volume” model Porsche needs.

So what does the $55k (or $95k) buy you? Performance. Wheels aside there’s no obvious difference to exterior or interior design, or materials quality for that matter, but in place of the Taycan Turbo’s 671 horsepower, 627 lb-ft of torque, and launch control-assisted 3.2-second run to 100 km/h sprint from standstill to 100 km/h, or the Turbo S model’s even more outrageous 750 horsepower, 774 lb-ft of torque, and 2.8-second second run to 100 km/h, the new 4S uses makes due with “just” 522 horsepower, 472 lb-ft of torque and a 4.0-second dash to the 100-km/h mark.

2020 Porsche Taycan 4S
Great looking and brilliantly quick, the new Taycan 4S should be a popular EV. (Photo: Porsche)

A Performance Battery Plus package is available, boosting output to 562 horsepower and torque to 479 lb-ft for a nominal difference in naught to 100 km/h sprints (although Porsche rates it at 4.0 seconds as well), yet this upgraded Taycan 4S’ shoots from standstill to 160 km/h in a scant 8.5 seconds instead of dawdling along at just 8.7 seconds. Both 4S power units limit the Taycan’s terminal velocity to 250 km/h, which incidentally is 30 km/h less speedy than the Turbo or Turbo S.

Under the Taycan 4S floorboards are 79.2 kilowatt-hours of high-voltage lithium-ion battery capable of 407 km (253 miles) of estimated range, as per the European WLTP rating system, while the enhanced 93.4-kWh Performance Plus battery provides about 463 km (288 miles) of range. This compares well with next to the Taycan Turbo’s 388 to 412 km (241 to 256 mile) claimed range and the Turbo S’ 388 to 412 km (241 to 256 mile) estimates.

2020 Porsche Taycan 4S
These unique LED headlights set the Taycan apart. (Photo: Porsche)

No matter the trim, the Taycan uses an industry-first 800-volt electrical architecture that makes for faster recharging due to a charge-rate of 225 kW with the Performance Battery or 270 kW for the upgraded Performance Battery Plus, making 22.5-minute 5-to-80-percent refills possible with all power unit specs. Regular 400-volt high-speed DC recharging happens at 50 kW, but an available booster can increase the charge-rate to 150 kW. You can also use the standard AC charge system at any J1772-compatible charging station, or plug it in at in at home, but charging times will be considerably longer.

Topping the Taycan up is made easier via Porsche’s new Charging Planner, which allows you to plot your route by mapping out ideal charging stations along the way. For instance, it will choose a quicker 270-kW station that can save you time when compared to a regular 50-kW DC charger, even if the quicker charger necessitates a detour from the shortest route. The Charging Planner also preconditions the battery to 20 degrees Celsius, which is best for the fastest possible charge-rate.

2020 Porsche Taycan 4S
The singular body-wide tail lamp is standard fare on Porsches these days. (Photo: Porsche)

Like the Taycan Turbo and Turbo S, the new 4S incorporates an all-wheel drivetrain featuring front and back axle-mounted permanently excited synchronous motors plus a two-speed transmission in the rear. Additionally, Porsche’s centrally networked 4D Chassis Control system provides real-time analysis and synchronization for the Taycan’s standard electronic damper control Porsche Active Suspension Management (PASM) enhanced three-chamber adaptive air suspension, which should result in impressive road-holding capability.

What’s more, Taycan customers should enjoy improvements in reliability over Tesla Model S owners, thanks to Porsche designing a completely new hairpin winding technique for the electric motor stators’ copper solenoid coils, this allowing for a copper fill factor of 70 percent compared to 45 percent when wound using the conventional method, all of which results in stronger performance and less heat.

2020 Porsche Taycan 4S
The Taycan is family friendly thanks to four doors. (Photo: Porsche)

Monitoring the Taycan’s mobility status is a wholly digital primary gauge cluster filled with colourful high-resolution graphics and integrated within a free-standing, curved binnacle that pulls styling cues from the brand’s legendary 911. Just to the right, the Taycan 4S’ standard 10.9-inch high-definition capacitive infotainment touchscreen sits atop the centre stack. Most will also want the optional front passenger display that was introduced last month with the Taycan Turbo and Turbo S, this innovative addition extending the graphical experience across the rest of the instrument panel.

Features in mind, the Taycan 4S receives standard Black or White exterior paint, a unique front fascia design, a glossy black painted rear diffuser and side skirts, LED headlamps with Porsche Dynamic Light System Plus (PDLS Plus), 19-inch five-spoke Taycan S Aero alloys, red-painted six-piston front and four-piston rear brake calipers (instead of the yellow-painted calipers found on the two Turbo models) biting down on 360-mm front and 358-mm rear discs, regenerative brakes (with a maximum regenerative force of 0.39 Gs and recuperation of up to 265 kWh), proximity keyless entry, ambient interior lighting, partial leather upholstery, eight-way power-adjustable front seats with driver’s side memory and more, but take note this base model won’t go into production until June, 2020. Before then, the $1,690 panoramic glass sunroof replaces the standard aluminum roof, while the optional Porsche Mobile Charger Plus isn’t available yet either, which leaves the standard Porsche Mobile Charger Connect system for early adapters.

2020 Porsche Taycan 4S
The Taycan 4S comes well equipped. (Photo: Porsche)

Available Taycan 4S options include a bevy of $910 metallic exterior colours, including the Taycan’s Frozen Blue launch colour shown in the photos, plus bright Mamba Green and deep Gentian Blue, as well as one $3,590 special colour, Carmine Red. Additionally, Porsche is offering two sets of optional 20-inch alloys and three 21-inch wheels, all ranging from $2,710 to $10,010, while the car’s black partial leather cabin can be upgraded to $4,710 black or multiple $5,360 two-tone leather, $7,490 solid or $8,150 two-tone Club leather, or alternatively $4,710 solid or $5,360 two-tone leather-free Race-Tex, the latter Porsche-first incorporating recycled materials that reduce the Taycan’s impact on the environmental.

The new Porsche should be near silent at speed too, due to an amazing Cd of 0.22, plus this ultra-aerodynamic design also minimizes energy use.

Porschephiles wanting a taller SUV model instead of this road-hugging four-door coupe will be glad to know that a crossover coupe dubbed Cross Turismo is on the way next year. It’s designed to go up against the Jaguar I-Pace, Tesla Model X and whatever else comes down the pike by then, so we can all look forward to that.

You can order the new 2020 Taycan 4S right now, however, just like its Turbo siblings, while its arrival date is set for summer 2020.

Story credits: Trevor Hofmann 

Photo credits: Porsche

2019 Subaru Legacy Sport Road Test

2019 Subaru Legacy Sport Road Test
The Legacy offers up a sporty design that’s even more alluring in as-tested Sport trim. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

The new 2020 Legacy is starting to arrive at Subaru dealers across Canada as I write this review, and fans of the current 2019 model should like what they see. The updated mid-size sedan gets renewed styling, revised engines, and a reworked interior, but exterior styling is so muted that most won’t notice the 2019 model leaving and the 2020 ushered in. So why am I covering yesterday’s Legacy when tomorrow’s is nearly hear? Subaru dealers have new 2019 models on their lots, and this very good car is available for very good prices. 

As per CarCostCanada, a 2019 Legacy buyer can pocket up to $3,000 in incentives, and that’s before factoring in a personal discount derived from haggling or your trade-in. Follow this CarCostCanada link to learn about 2019 Legacy pricing, including trims, packages and individual options, plus you also need to find out about rebates and dealer invoice pricing that could save you thousands. 

2019 Subaru Legacy Sport
Sport trim adds sill extensions, unique alloy wheels and gloss black trim, the latter used for its diffuser-style rear bumper. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

For a bit of background info, the Legacy was refreshed for 2018, which means this 2019 model was unchanged. The version reviewed here is in mid-range $31,695 Sport trim, which hovers above the base $24,995 2.5i CVT, $28,295 Touring, and $29,795 Touring with EyeSight; EyeSight being Subaru-speak for its suite of advanced driver assistance systems including auto high beams, adaptive cruise control, autonomous emergency braking, rear proximity warning with reverse auto braking, blindspot detection, lane departure warning and lane keeping assist. Sport trim comes standard with EyeSight, as does top-line $33,795 Limited 2.5i trim and the $36,795 Limited 3.6R. 

As you may have guessed, 2.5i and 3.6R designate the Legacy’s respective standard and optional engines, the latter having been replaced by the higher output 2.4-litre turbocharged four-cylinder introduced in last year’s Ascent mid-size SUV; the 2020 Outback crossover wagon gets this change too. Comparing the two engines shows 256 horsepower and 247 lb-ft of torque for the old 3.6R and 260 horsepower and 277 lb-ft of torque for the 2.4i, resulting in four more horsepower and 30 additional lb-ft of torque. 

2019 Subaru Legacy Sport
Sport trim includes LED headlamps, fog lights and special machine-finish 18-inch alloy wheels with black painted pockets. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

The base 2.5-litre four-cylinder gets updated too, but the 2020 model only gains six horsepower and two lb-ft of torque resulting in 182 horsepower and 176 lb-ft compared to 175 horsepower and 174 lb-ft of torque, but 90 percent of its parts have been upgraded, with straight-line performance improvements secondary to gains in fuel-efficiency. 

This means the 2020 Legacy 2.5i has been designed to achieve an estimated 8.8 L/100km city, 6.7 highway and 7.7 combined Transport Canada rating compared to 9.3 highway, 7.0 city and 8.2 combined, while 2.4i fuel economy improvements from the old 3.6R equal 9.9 L/100km city, 7.3 highway and 8.5 combined compared to 11.9 city, 8.3 highway and 10.3 combined. With standard all-wheel drive the Legacy can’t quite measure up to most front-drive rivals in base trims, but it should be noted that even the old 3.6R is more efficient than the Camry’s optional V6. 

2019 Subaru Legacy Sport
These satin-silver mirror caps are standard with Sport trim. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Instead of diving too deeply into the differences between old and new Legacy models, I’ll only mention some key points as this review continues. As stated at the onset of this road test, styling enhancements appear so insignificant that I would’ve been careful to call it a refresh if I hadn’t already been made clear it’s a full redesign. Strangely, Subaru Canada didn’t even mention styling in its 2020 Legacy press release, but this subtle redesign may help the outgoing sixth-generation model hold resale/residual values higher. I find both generations attractive enough while sportier than most competitors, while Subaru obviously isn’t trying to lure in potential customers by being extroverted, like Toyota is with its latest Camry. 

Then again, the Legacy’s conservative styling may be a good reason its sales are slow. To but it into perspective to the just-noted Toyota, Subaru sold 1,298 Legacys from January 1 to September 31, 2019, which is just slightly more than 11 percent of the 11,579 Camrys delivered during the same three quarters. A more positive viewpoint is its success over the Kia Stinger, Mazda6, Honda Clarity plug-in, Buick Regal, Volkswagen Passat, and VW Arteon, while it came within striking range of the Kia Optima. This has it placing eighth out of 14 competitors, which isn’t too bad at all. Still, the Legacy’s tally pales when compared to Subaru’s own Outback that found 7,756 buyers over the same nine months, the tall mid-size crossover wagon being basically the same vehicle below the skin. 

2019 Subaru Legacy Sport
The Legacy’s cockpit looks totally modern despite on its way out. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Success on the sales chart doesn’t always validate a given vehicle’s goodness or badness, however, and to that end the Legacy doesn’t labour from any disadvantages other than being a bit smaller than most mid-size sedan challengers. In fact, Subaru has an impressive record, achieving “Best Overall” brand in Consumer Reports’ most recent 2019 Annual Report on Car Performance, Reliability, Satisfaction and Safety, while it tied with Chrysler in the same publication’s “Best Road Test Score Mainstream” category. The Japanese brand also scored above average in J.D. Power’s latest 2019 Vehicle Dependability Study, but found itself below average in the same company’s 2019 Initial Quality Study. Nevertheless, the 2019 Legacy achieved top-spot amongst “Mid-Size” consumer sedans in Vincentric’s latest “Best Value In Canada” award, as did the Outback in its class. 

After time well spent in this 2019 Legacy, I’m willing to bet that interior quality gave the car a boost upward in these various rating and award programs. Highlights include a premium-level soft composite dash top and instrument panel, the latter stitched across its lower edge in traditional Subaru blue, while the blue stitching theme trimmed the inner portion of the leather-clad sport steering wheel rim as well, plus each armrest and the leatherette-covered seat bolsters, the seats otherwise upholstered in an attractive light grey material. 

2019 Subaru Legacy Sport2019 Subaru Legacy Sport
Great looking analogue gauges surround a nice colour multi-info display. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Additional cabin niceties included genuine-looking high-gloss carbon-fibre inlays on the instrument panel and doors, this conjoined to attractive satin-silver metallic adornment, while glossy black surface treatments combined with matte-finish black composites and even more satin-finish and chromed metal accents for an interior Legacy owners can be proud of. Front and rear door uppers receive the same luxuriously padded soft-touch composite as that on the dash, and Subaru also covers the front “A” pillars in cloth for to reduce noise and add yet more premium-class feel. 

Even with the upcoming 2020 Legacy sporting a renewed interior boasting a gigantic 11.6-inch vertical display (aside from the new base model that only gets a 7.0-inch touchscreen), this 2019 outgoing model still looks very current. In fact, its 8.0-inch touchscreen (improved by an inch and a half over the base 2019 model) looks as good as most anything else in the class due to its big gloss-black surrounding surface area that extends outward from the centre stack as if it’s one massive display. 

2019 Subaru Legacy Sport
The Legacy’s 8.0-inch infotainment touchscreen is very advanced. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

The actual touchscreen gets a deep blue background that’s detailed out with unique star graphics, this overlaid by colourful tablet-like tiles for selecting its various functions. The dynamic guideline-enhanced rearview camera is very good, while together with standard infotainment features such as Android Auto, Apple CarPlay and Subaru’s own StarLink smartphone integration system, other features include AM/FM/satellite/Aha radio, a CD player, MP3/WMA compatibility, a USB port and aux plug, SiriusXM advanced audio services, SiriusXM Travel Link, Bluetooth with streaming audio, and four speakers, while Touring and above trims include the bigger display as standard plus another USB port and two more speakers. 

Those wanting a navigation system, much improved 576-watt, 12-speaker Harmon/Kardon audio, plus a heated steering wheel, heated rear outboard seats, leather upholstery, 18-inch alloys and more will need to opt for previously noted Limited trim, while items pulled up to the Sport model from lower trims include a 10-way powered driver’s seat with two-way power lumbar support that lined up with the small of my back fairly well, cruise control, and heatable front seats from the base model, two-zone auto HVAC, a powered moonroof, and fog lamps from Touring trim, and proximity keyless access with pushbutton start/stop along with a 5.0-inch LCD multi-information display within the gauge cluster from the Touring model with EyeSight. 

2019 Subaru Legacy Sport
Dual-zone automatic climate control is always appreciated. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

As for this Legacy Sport trim, it gets unique 18-inch machine finished alloy wheels with black-painted pockets, LED headlamps with cornering capability, a gloss-black grille surround, satin-silver side mirror caps, chrome adorned side sill extensions, and a diffuser-like rear valance framing two large chromed tailpipes, but be informed this value-packed trim line will not be offered with the 2020 car. The new model’s sportiest trim sources its GT designation from Subaru’s storied history, and due to past GT’s getting engine upgrades will come exclusively with the more powerful 2.4i engine in both a new Premier model and a revised Limited trim. 

Subaru’s legendary symmetrical full-time all-wheel drive with active torque vectoring comes standard as (almost) always, and it makes a considerable difference to how it drives in all conditions. We should remember that Subaru developed its AWD system on track and trail thanks to decades of World Rally Championship competition, and it still builds the awesome WRX that won so many WRC titles. Many don’t realize that Subaru rallied the Legacy as well, although not as successfully. It competed in Group A from ‘89 through ‘93, but its lone race win during its last year of competition was hardly as legend building as the Impreza’s trio of championships. Still, can you name another mid-size family sedan that’s even managed one single WRC win? Didn’t think so. 

2019 Subaru Legacy Sport
Attractive black and grey upholstery features stylish blue contrast stitching. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Therefore it makes sense the Legacy is one of the more enjoyable cars in its mid-size class to drive, not particularly for straight-line acceleration (it could really benefit from the WRX STI’s 310-horsepower turbo-four), but more so for its handling. Nevertheless it moves off the line with decent energy, at least when compared to other base powertrains in its segment, while its Lineartronic CVT provides smooth operation at all times. 

Shift paddles provide a more hands-on driving experience, these combining with six stepped gears that make the continuously variable transmission feel closer to a conventional automatic, at least when not trying to extract everything out of the engine, but this said if you’re looking for the type of lightning-quick shifts offered by a dual-clutch gearbox or even a high-end premium-level automatic, this CVT won’t cut it. I sometimes used the paddles for downshifting, this process allowing for a sportier feel plus the benefit of engine braking down steep grades, but that was about it. 

2019 Subaru Legacy Sport
Roomy and comfortable, the Legacy’s back seat lives up to mid-size sedan buyers’ needs. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Subaru reminded that a CVT’s design can also help smooth out a vehicle’s ride quality, and it’s entirely possible this is one reason its ride quality is so good. Still, the Legacy handles well too, its fully independent MacPherson strut front and unequal length short/long arm double wishbone rear setup managing fast-paced curves with grace and composure, its 225/50R18 Goodyear Eagle LS all-seasons no doubt doing their part as well. It’s a confidence-inspiring car when driving quickly, plus it’s just as good at weaving through congested city traffic or stretching its legs on the highway. 

Speaking of stretching one’s legs, Legacy offers plenty of room in all positions, particularly up front in the driver’s position where I had no trouble getting comfortable. I’m guessing most should fit in well thanks to good adjustability all-round. My long-legged, short-torso five-foot-eight body was able to position the seat ideally to reach the top portion of steering wheel rim when the tilt and telescopic steering column was pulled all the way back. This meant the driver’s seat was positioned farther back than most five-foot-eight drivers would need to, but fortunately this didn’t seem to impinge on rear seat legroom at all. 

2019 Subaru Legacy Sport
No shortage of space in the Legacy’s accommodating trunk. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

I had almost 12 inches from my knees to the backside of the front seat when positioned directly behind, plus room to totally stretch my legs out with winter boots stuffed below. Additionally, I had loads of room next to the window, plus a wide, comfortable folding armrest with dual cupholders in between, while there were three inches of space over my head, so a six-foot teen should squeeze into the back quite comfortably. As for back seat goodies, two USB charging points are included in upper trims, although bookworms won’t have the benefit of individual reading lights overhead.

There’s more than enough room for all kinds of cargo in the big 425-litre (15 cu-ft) trunk, plus it can be expanded by the usual 60/40 split-folding rear seatbacks, releasable via a set of handles under the rear shelf. This is where I make my regular request for 40/20/40-split rear seatbacks or at least a centre pass-through, which would allow long items like skis to be placed down the middle while both rear outboard seats can be put to use. Upgraded with rear seat warmers the Legacy would be the best ski shuttle in the class. All said there aren’t many mid-size sedan rivals that offer this level of back row seating/cargo flexibility, but you’d think automakers would be trying to make this more efficient segment as practical as possible instead of forcing those with active lifestyles to opt for an SUV.

2019 Subaru Legacy Sport
A centre pass-through or 40/20/40-split rear seat would make the Legacy the ideal ski shuttle. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Minor gripe aside, you’d be well taken care of in a 2019 Legacy. According to The Old Farmer’s Almanac this winter will get more snow than average, which means an all-wheel drive vehicle will make your driving life easier and safer. On top of this, fuel isn’t about to get any cheaper, at least not permanently, so an AWD car might be ideal if your lifestyle allows. Only the new Altima, Stinger and Arteon provide standard AWD, but the latter two four-door coupes aren’t as practical as the Legacy and cost quite a bit more, while Buick’s Regal is more expensive and only offers AWD on its pricier trims. Therefore, if you want the added safety and performance of AWD in a regular mid-size sedan it’s a showdown between the Altima and this Legacy. You should try them both.

 

Story credit: Trevor Hofmann

Photo credit: Karen Tuggay

2019 Hyundai Sonata Ultimate Road Test

2019 Hyundai Sonata Ultimate
Hyundai gave last year’s Sonata a dramatic refresh with this attractive new grille, and the car carried forward identically into 2019. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Hyundai’s Sonata has been around for decades. Just over three actually. During its 31-year tenure the South Korean brand has given it a fairly even mix of dramatic designs and comparatively less expressive styling, the latter seeming to win more buyers. 

A quick glance back into the rearview mirror shows the 1998 through 2004 fourth-generation and 2009 through 2014 sixth-generation models offering particularly daring designs, with a comparatively conservative 2004 through 2009 fifth-generation filling the gap. I might end up throwing my “dramatic” styling equals success theory out completely as that relatively modestly sedan sold very well, and while I spent at least one week with all of the above generations and every one since, all of which impressed, I actually had a V6-powered top-tier version of the latter car in my position as a long-term test car for more than a year, and experienced no problems while totally enjoying its comfort and performance (as my weekly reports confirmed). 

Today’s 2014 through 2019 gen-seven model is the best Sonata yet, but before its extensive 2018 mid-cycle update it was amongst the least visually inspiring generations. Don’t mistake my lack of excitement for criticism, as the 2014 through 2017 Sonata was still attractive enough for plenty of mid-size four-door family sedan buyers, but we’d best not call this level of reconstructive surgery a facelift. 

2019 Hyundai Sonata Ultimate
The Sonata looks great from all angles, especially in sporty Ultimate trim. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Both 2018 and 2019 Sonata models, which are identical, include a totally reworked grille that completely said goodbye to the front fascia’s sharply angled hexagonal design, a somewhat yawn-inducing generic look if I can be so bold, substituted by a more organically shaped opening that’s helped to visually separate Hyundai and its new Genesis luxury brand. Genesis, which merely rebadged Hyundai’s Genesis Sedan as the G80 as part of its transformation, appears to be keeping more of the outgoing Hyundai grille design while adding a “V” shape to the centre bottom, much like the side view of a brilliant cut diamond as revealed on its new full-size 2020 G90 luxury sedan. 

Back to the current Sonata, its curvaceous new grille is bookended by a nice complex set of headlamp clusters filled with ovoid projector beams (LEDs in my tester) surrounded by attractive LED daytime running lights, these hovering above a neatly stacked set of six LED fog lamps on the lower front corners. 

My tester’s sportier Ultimate trim gets stylish darkened chrome around the otherwise black gloss grille, lower fascia, and headlight surrounds that smartly continue rearward along the front fenders and the entire shoulder line along the side windows before wrapping up and around the greenhouse before meeting back up at the base of each A-pillar. This unique signature design element began with the aforementioned sixth-gen Sonata way back in 2009, and will once again make its dramatic statement for the upcoming 2020 model, a car that take all of the styling cues shown here and expands on them in drama and actual size, while completely redoing rear styling. There’s plenty more dark chrome and loads of glossy black trim on this Ultimate example too, the diffuser style rear apron nicely matching the front fog light bezels, all of which mirror the all black glass and high-gloss roof, this partially because of its panoramic sunroof. I have to admit, the 2018 update made a rather ho-hum Sonata into a great looking mid-size sedan. 

2019 Hyundai Sonata Ultimate
The new Sonata makes a statement with its big grille, available LED headlights, vertically stacked LED fog lamps, and sporty 18-inch alloys. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Of course, it needs to be in order to survive. Not only is it up against some very stiff competition thanks to Toyota’s latest Camry being downright seductive in its sportiest XSE trim line, the latest Honda Accord providing a lot more premium-like presence than ever before, an all-new Nissan Altima improving styling while offering standard all-wheel drive, plus plenty of other brands tempting consumers with high performance or fuel-efficient hybrid and plug-in alternatives, not to mention Kia and Volkswagen complementing their respective Optima and Passat family sedans with sporty four-door coupe variants dubbed Stinger and Arteon, but the entire car sector under serious threat from crossover SUVs. 

Out of the 14 mid-size sedans currently vying for your attention, only four saw an increase in year-over-year Canadian sales through the first three quarters of 2019, and the Sonata isn’t one of them. The segment-leading Camry’s 11,579 deliveries are up 4.18 percent since the close of Q3 2018, growth that pales in comparison to the third-place Ford Fusion’s 33.43-percent gain, although its total sales are only 7,280. The two others in positive territory are marginal players to say it kindly, with Honda’s Clarity plug-in hybrid up 12.37 percent to 890 units, and Buick’s Regal having increased its take-rate by a whopping 48.71 percent, albeit only to 635 deliveries. 

2019 Hyundai Sonata Ultimate
While not as large as some competitors, the Sonata Ultimate’s 18-inch alloys help this big sedan perform very well. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

The biggest loser is Volkswagen’s Passat down 78.24 percent to just 570 units, but Kia’s Optima didn’t fare much better with sales of 1,363 units resulting in a 52.09-percent downturn. A quick glance at some others like the Altima that lost 43.34 percent for 2,568 units despite its recent redesign, and Mazda6’s that took a 42.76-percent nosedive to 1,130 units, doesn’t make the Sonata’s mere 14.18-percent reversal look that bad, while the 3,346 units Hyundai delivered puts it in a strong fifth place, behind the Camry, Accord, Fusion and Malibu, yet ahead of the Altima, Optima, Subaru Legacy, Stinger, Mazda6, Clarity, Regal, Passat, and Arteon. Announcement of the Fusion’s upcoming demise might make it easier for those remaining, although it’s also a sobering sign of this once mighty category not being as essential to carmakers as it once was. 

All this said, the review you’re reading is more of a respectful adieu to the outgoing 2019 Sonata ahead of ushering in the all-new 2020, and therefore some of us can appreciate a car that helped define Hyundai’s new styling direction over its two-year tenure, while others are deciding if it will soon grace their driveway. I have a lot of good to say about this particular Sonata Ultimate tester, continuing on from my styling overview to its very impressive interior filled with upscale finishings and more features than you’re likely to find in any one of the competitors mentioned above. 

2019 Hyundai Sonata Ultimate
These attractive LED taillights come standard. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

A tasteful array of high-quality, soft-touch composites in all the usual places join textured and brushed metal-like trim and inky piano black detailing throughout, while the medium-grey cabin sports a classy set of identically coloured seats in perforated leather upholstery with light-grey piping around their edges, which matches light-grey stitching on the bolsters, with the latter complementing light-grey stitching found elsewhere around the interior, particularly on the door panel inserts, on the shifter boot, and in baseball-stitched style around the inside of the leather-wrapped flat-bottom sport steering wheel rim. 

That steering wheel not only looks the part of a performance car, but its thick padded rim, nicely indented thumb spats, and overall meaty feel comes across a lot more Veloster N than Azera (RIP, in Canada at least), while the placement of the paddle shifters is so ideal they really enhance the overall driving experience. All is combined with ample steering column rake and reach, plus an eight-way powered driver’s seat with two-way lumbar, both allowing my long-legged, short-torso five-foot-eight frame to get completely comfortable while providing ideal control of directional duties, unlike some in the class that don’t fit me as well. 

2019 Hyundai Sonata Ultimate
The top-line Sonata Ultimate interior is nicely finished and quite refined, but next year’s update is needed to keep it current. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

During the same week I also had Toyota’s new Camry XSE, which by all styling inferences appears to be the sportiest new mid-size sedan on the market. It’s a significant improvement over the previous model in every way including steering column reach, but it still doesn’t fit me as well. What’s more, the steering wheel doesn’t come close to feeling as sporty or allowing as much control as this Sonata’s, even from a styling standpoint. Don’t get me wrong as Toyota has done a commendable job with the new Camry interior, making its finishing more refined and its overall look a bit more upscale than this Sonata, but as far as real hands-on performance goes, it doesn’t come anywhere near close. What’s more, the Sonata’s steering wheel is heatable from its mid-range up, while Toyota doesn’t even offer a heated steering wheel in the Camry. 

The most notable Camry XSE and Sonata Ultimate differentiators are the seats, with the latter model featuring two of the best front sport seats in the family sedan class. Not only are the embossed with cool “Turbo” insignias up top, and detailed out with all the niceties mentioned earlier, but their deep side bolsters do an excellent job of holding butt and torso in place during hard cornering. You’ll need to hang onto something other than the steering wheel if you want to stay put in the Camry’s driver’s seat while attempting the same lateral Gs, because Toyota’s seats leave you sitting on top of their cushions rather than ensconced within. I didn’t find the Camry’s seats comfortable either, not even in the more luxurious XLE version, but the seats in the Sonata Ultimate are wonderful, and fully supportive in every way you’d want from a sport sedan. The Sonata’s three-way front seat heaters also get toastier than the Camry’s in their top temperature setting, plus the Hyundai includes three-way front seat ventilation that won’t be available to top-line Camry buyers until the 2020 model arrives. 

2019 Hyundai Sonata Ultimate
Most should find the well laid out Sonata interior easy to operate and comfortable. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Even the Sonata’s rear seats offer two-way derriere warmers next to the windows in mid-range Preferred trim and above, not to mention nicely carved out support that makes them feel great on the backside, albeit not so much to render the centre position useless. Side window sunshades, found in Luxury and Ultimate trims, can’t be had with a Camry either, while rear seat passengers benefit from plenty of other features like LED reading lights overhead, individual air vents, a nice wide folding centre armrest with integrated cupholders, deep door pockets with bottle holders, and more. A panoramic sunroof on Luxury and Ultimate trims makes the rear passenger compartment feel more open and airy than it would otherwise be, although even less opulent models are hardly short on side window visibility. 

It’s roomy in back too, with plenty of knee space, enough legroom to almost completely stretch out my legs while wearing winter boots, four to five inches to the door panels, plus I still had about three and a half inches above my head, so taller folks should fit in without problem. 

The trunk is large at 462 litres (16.3 cubic feet), while the lid can be opened with a button on the dash or automatically by standing behind the car with the ignition off and proximity-sensing key in pocket. It’s nicely finished with carpeting all the way up the sidewalls, including the trunk lid, while each side of the carpeted seatbacks fold forward in the usual 60/40-configuration via pull-tabs just underneath the rear shelf. 

2019 Hyundai Sonata Ultimate
Simple analogue instruments are enhanced by a good straightforward multi-info display. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Everything mentioned so far comes standard in top-line Ultimate trim, including a sharp looking set of 18-inch double-five-spoke alloy wheels wrapped in 235/45R18 Michelin all-season tires (replacing 16- or 17-inch Kumhos) directed via special rack-mounted motor-driven power steering (R-MDPS) with a dual-pinion steering rack, an exclusive twin-scroll turbocharged and direct-injected 2.0-litre four-cylinder engine with dual continuously variable valve timing and two-stage variable induction making 245 horsepower and 260 lb-ft of torque (replacing the base 2.4-litre four with 185 hp and 178 lb-ft of torque), an eight-speed automatic with manual mode and paddle shifters (instead of a six-speed automatic), as well as the special leather sport seats noted earlier, plus the aforementioned 3D Three-dimensional Overlay Method (T.O.M) metallic inlays. 

I’m itemizing the majority of each trim’s standard features because value for money has always been one a great way to judge any Hyundai against its peers, and considering this 2019 Sonata Ultimate goes for just $37,199 plus freight and fees, it’s hard to argue against it. After all, a similarly powered Camry with fewer features tops $41k, about 10 percent more than this full-load Sonata, while it’s also a couple of thousand pricier at its lowest end too. That base Essential trim can be had for just $24,899, while at the time of writing Hyundai was offering up to $2,000 in additional incentives. You can find out more right here at CarCostCanada, right on the same page that gives you detailed 2019 Sonata pricing, including trims, packages and individual options, plus rebate info and dealer invoice pricing that could save you thousands. 

2019 Hyundai Sonata Ultimate
The Sonata’s centre stack provides a lot of hands-on functionality. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Yet more features pulled up to this Ultimate model from the $34,899 Luxury trim include the aforementioned LED headlamps with adaptive cornering and auto high beams, the cooled front seats, the rear window sunshades and powered panoramic sunroof, plus aluminum treadplates, chromed inner door handles, an electric parking brake, an auto-dimming centre mirror, a HomeLink universal garage door remote, a six-way powered front passenger seat, driver’s seat and side mirror memory, an 8.0-inch high-resolution infotainment touchscreen with navigation, an excellent sounding 400-watt nine-speaker Infinity audio system, wireless device charging, rear seat heating/ventilation/AC ducts, rear parking sensors, driver attention warning, adaptive cruise control with stop-and-go, forward collision warning with pedestrian detection, and lane departure warning with lane keep assist. 

Features pulled up to the Unlimited from mid-range $28,799 Preferred trim include the stitched leatherette door inserts, heated steering wheel rim, rear seat heaters, and proximity trunk release mentioned before, as well as two-zone auto climate control, satellite radio with a rooftop shark antenna, remote engine start, and BlueLink connectivity, while the $27,699 Essential Sport model provides its sport grille, dark chrome and sportier exterior detailing, sport-tuned suspension, LED tail lamps, front door handle welcome lighting, proximity-sensing keyless entry, sport-style Supervision instrument cluster with a 4.2-inch TFT LCD multi-function display, shift paddles, eight-way power driver’s seat, and aluminum pedals. 

2019 Hyundai Sonata Ultimate
The 8.0-inch centre display is high in resolution and filled with features. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Lastly, standard features included with this Ultimate model from base Essential trim are as follows: automatic on/off headlamps, LED daytime running lights, powered and heated exterior mirrors with integrated LED turn signals, a leather-wrapped multifunction steering wheel, speed-sensitive variable intermittent windshield wipers, heatable front seats, Android Auto and Apple CarPlay phone integration, Bluetooth with streaming audio, micro-filtered air conditioning, blindspot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert, the usual active and passive safety gear, plus plenty more. 

To be fair to the Camry, which has taken quite a beating while being compared directly to the Sonata Unlimited throughout this review, the mid-size Toyota provides a more sophisticated primary gauge package thanks to a more advanced multi-information display (MID) boasting a bigger, more modern looking TFT screen that neatly curves around the outside of each analogue dial, plus it also comes with more functions. Just the same, the Sonata’s MID is bright, clear and hardly short on features. 

2019 Hyundai Sonata Ultimate
This is one of the most supportive driver’s seats in the mid-size class. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

The car’s centre stack is more vertical than the Camry’s, which is a more modern horizontal layout, not that it matters from a functional standpoint, but it theoretically allows for a larger display (the top-line Camry’s 8.0-inch touchscreen isn’t any larger though) and more room for switchgear around it (the 2020 Sonata makes up for this in a big 12.3-inch way), and therefore the Sonata’s dash design appears more conventional than the Camry’s as well, but once again this has more to do with the 2019 Sonata’s end of lifecycle issues than not technically measuring up (upcoming reviews of the new 2020 Nexo and 2020 Palisade SUVs will expose Hyundai’s infotainment leadership in more detail). I like how the current Sonata’s touchscreen sits high on the centre stack, making it easy to read while driving, and its clear, high-resolution display provides good depth of colour and nice graphics. Its operating system is quick as well, while all functions are generally easy to sort out. 

I found the quality of Sonata switchgear good too, particularly the steering wheel controls and array of buttons, knobs and switches on the centre stack, some of this latter group detailed out with an attractive aluminum-like finish. The upper row of these aluminized toggles is set aside for audio and infotainment system functions, while the bottom row is for the automatic heating and ventilation system, plus the heated and cooled seats as well as the heated steering wheel rim. Under this is a rubberized tray for your smartphone that doubles as a wireless charging pad, while yet more connectivity sits just above on a panel integrating two 12-volt chargers, a USB port, and an aux plug (we can expect more USB ports and fewer old tech as part of the 2020 redesign). 

2019 Hyundai Sonata Ultimate
This big panoramic sunroof adds a lot of light front to back. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

With the thick, flat-bottom, paddle shifter-enhanced steering wheel rim in hands, and the nicely bolstered driver’s seat underseat, the Sonata Ultimate felt considerably more fun to drive than the Camry XSE, even without the latter car’s more powerful V6. The top-tier Camry is quite a bit quicker in a straight line, shaving about a second and a half off the Sonata Ultimate’s mid-seven-second 0-100 km/h sprint, as long as you manage to stop the front wheels from spinning too much, but straight-line acceleration only one performance criterion, and certainly not most important to me. 

Sure, making surrounding traffic almost instantly disappear in the rearview mirror can be fun while behind the wheel of a Porsche 911 Turbo or something equally fast, but trying to do so in a Sonata or Camry simply makes you look juvenile. I found the Sonata Ultimate’s 2.0-litre turbo moved me out of the starting blocks fast enough, while its eight-speed automatic swapped gears quicker than the Camry’s eight-speed gearbox, particularly when its Drive Mode Select system was switched from Comfort, past Eco, into Sport mode, each of these making adjustments to steering, engine, and transmission responses. For my tastes, the high-revving top-level Sonata engine was a great deal more enjoyable than the Camry’s V6 when pushed hard at speed, while having less weight over the front wheels made for nimbler high-speed handling with less understeer. 

2019 Hyundai Sonata Ultimate
A large back seating area provides good comfort and available amenities like seat heaters, side sunshades, and more. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Yes, the Sonata Ultimate manages fast-paced corners better than the Camry XSE, the Hyundai reacting quicker and feeling more stable. The Toyota had a tendency to push its front tires out of its lane when driven similarly over the same circuitous roadway, while becoming its rear tires didn’t feel as hooked up either, and this is in spite of coming equipped with bigger 19-inch alloys on 235/40 all seasons. Throw the Sonata Unlimited’s driver seat superiority into the mix and it’s no contest. 

As for fuel economy, you’d think Hyundai’s 2.0-litre turbo-four would annihilate Toyota’s old 3.5-litre V6, but the Sonata Ultimate’s claimed rating of 10.4 L/100 km city, 7.4 on highway and 9.1 combined is only a fraction better than the Camry XSE’s 10.7 city, 7.4 highway and 9.2 combined rating. Another nod to Toyota is the inclusion of the eight-speed automatic throughout the Camry range, which helps its less formidable four-cylinder trims walk away with an ultra-thrifty 8.1 city, 5.7 highway and 6.9 combined rating, which is far better than the 2.4-litre equipped Sonata’s stingiest rating of 9.2, 6.8 and 8.1. 

2019 Hyundai Sonata Ultimate
The Sonata’s big trunk can be expanded upon by the mid-size segment’s usual 60/40 split-folding rear seatbacks. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Now that I’m griping, the Sonata’s proximity-sensing automatic trunk opener doesn’t seem to work when the car is already unlocked, and with no button in back to open it manually you’ll want to remember to do so from the driver’s position before getting out. The Camry’s approach, which includes a button on the trunk lid that unlocks by proximity sensing, is easier to live with. I also like the Camry’s heated front seats, which turn on (or stay off) automatically upon restarting the car, and stay set at the previous temperature. The Sonata’s heatable front seats require your attention each time you climb inside. 

Of course, a lot of other qualities keep the Camry on top of the mid-size sedan class hierarchy, and I promise to cover these in a future road test review, while there’s no shortage of credible competitors in this segment either, as mentioned at length before, yet if buying into this category you’d be wise to spend some time with the Sonata before choosing something else. 

Story credit: Trevor Hofmann 

Photo credit: Karen Tuggay

2019 Buick Regal GS Road Test

2019 Buick Regal GS
Good looking Buick Regal GS doesn’t have to be shy about styling. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

There have been a lot of cancelled domestic sedans as of late, but rest assured this Buick Regal isn’t going anywhere soon. 

FCA initiated the process by chopping its Dodge Dart and Chrysler 200 a couple of years ago, which was quickly followed by near simultaneous announcements from both Ford Motor and General Motors that their car lineups would soon be cut back, with the blue-oval and its Lincoln luxury division eliminating every car but Mustang, and GM more modestly cancelling its Chevrolet Cruze, Volt, Impala, Buick LaCrosse, Cadillac CT6 and XTS. With the Chevy Malibu Hybrid slated for cancellation after this 2019 model year, there’s some talk about whether the conventionally powered version will last much longer, but so far this is just gossip. 

The Malibu is a very good mid-size sedan that I’d be sorry to see leave, truly competing well against its mainstream volume peers, and that car’s relevance is probably why we still have the Regal. The two share core underpinnings, and while there’s no performance-tuned Malibu SS to match the Regal GS’ vigor off the line or through the curves, it’s a car I could happily live with. 

2019 Buick Regal GS
It looks like a sedan, but the Regal is actually a hatchback, dubbed Sportback by Buick. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

GS trim is top of the line for Regal, so along with plenty of luxury features, its 310-horsepower V6 and other go-fast goodies easily make it one of the sportiest mid-size family sedans available. It’s also not technically a sedan, but rather a five-door hatchback or liftback, Buick choosing to name it Sportback. It’s hard to tell it’s a hatch instead of the usual trunk, but given a little time with one you’ll quickly appreciate how versatile its load-hauling capabilities are. 

Speaking of practicality, Buick makes a raised five-door sport wagon/crossover variant (similar in purpose to the Subaru Outback and Volvo V90 Cross Country) for the U.S. market (plus Europe, under the Opel and Vauxhall brands, as well as Australia and New Zealand where the two body styles are sold as the Holden Commodore). In the U.S. it’s called the Regal TourX, and I have to say it’s a smart looking car that I wish we had here, but no doubt it’s not available due to low potential sales. GM’s Chinese division has no problems selling cars, Regals in particular, but nevertheless they chose not to offer the TourX either, choosing to only go with this four-door coupe-like sedan instead. 

2019 Buick Regal GS
This top-line GS model has lots of sporty styling cues, plus real performance upgrades like powerful Brembo brakes. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

Its styling should be attractive to most, as should its impressive performance, but nevertheless this Regal remains one of the least popular cars in its mainstream volume segment. Alternatively we could classify it amongst premium brands and then it might be considered more of a success. After all, with a base price of $32,045 plus freight and fees it starts $3,000 to $7,000 pricier than most rivals, pushing it closer to entry-level luxury alternatives. It should also be noted that similarly priced volume-branded mid-size sedans do about the same or worse when it comes to sales. This said, the Regal doesn’t measure up to premium status or refinement levels (the General’s Cadillac division fulfills that need), so the unique model’s low sales are understandable (see all 2019 Buick Regal pricing right here on CarCostCanada, where you can also find out about available rebates and dealer invoice pricing that could save you thousands). 

The as-tested Regal GS being reviewed here starts at a very premium-level $44,045, and jumps up to $51,700 with all available features (plus a couple of useful accessories), which while very reasonable when compared to similarly sized and equipped premium-branded cars, it’s a big jump upmarket from a loaded up Toyota Camry, Honda Accord or Ford Fusion, these being the top-three sellers in the mid-size sedan segment. Its fully loaded price is only $205 more than a totally optioned out Kia Stinger, mind you, and in fact $1,880 less than VW’s loaded up Arteon. 

2019 Buick Regal GS
The spacious interior is mostly good, although Buick cut some corners when it comes to fit and finish. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

To Kia’s credit the top-line Stinger is a 365-horsepower twin-turbo V6-powered AWD “hot-hatch” capable of sprinting from zero to 100 km/h in a mere 4.9 seconds, but the GS provides respectable acceleration of 5.6 seconds from standstill to 100km/h, which is actually better than the now-legendary Regal Grand National GNX, and about the same as the lighter weight 265-horsepower Arteon (the VeeDub weighs about 300 kilos or 660 lbs less than this Buick). These sprint times are of course estimates, with some manufacturers more conservative in their claims than others, but the GS’ 3.6-litre V6 engine’s torque rating of 282 lb-ft is likely spot on. 

There are plenty of other reasons to place each of these impressive cars high on your shopping list, and many attributes that set them apart from their more conventional family sedan challengers. I won’t be tempted to make this review a full-blown comparison test, despite recently driving all of the above for a week apiece, but instead will solely concentrate on the Regal GS, while occasionally pointing out strengths and weaknesses against key competitors. 

I find each of these three cars attractive from a design perspective, so styling will come down to personal preferences. The Regal looks fabulous in my books, its classic lines and overall elegance working well for me, albeit my 50-something age might have something to do with this. I particularly like this GS model’s design details. 

2019 Buick Regal GS
Most upper surfaces are premium-like, while the sporty GS steering wheel really adds to its performance feel. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

The visual enhancements start with bold red italicized “GS” lettering on the gloss-black mesh grille insert that’s framed by a glossy black surround, which is all underscored by even more piano black trim on lower fascia. The same shiny, inky treatment highlights the lower side window trim and rear valance, this sporty appearance package complemented by aluminum-look accents on the grille, corner grillettes, upper window surrounds, and exhaust finishers. A subtle body-colour rear deck lid spoiler, and a reworked rear bumper design finish off the sporty upgrade. 

Open the door and you’d be forgiven for thinking that Buick is channeling the ghost of Pontiac, as you’ll be looking at two of the most aggressive sport seats in the mid-size sedan class, not to mention a contrast-stitched, leather-clad sport steering wheel to match, complete with a flattened bottom for extra spunk. I won’t go so far say the GS’ wheel is as perfectly shaped as the Arteon’s impeccably crafted spokes and rim, or for that matter the Stinger’s shift paddle-enhanced design, but they’re all considerably better than average in this family-focused class. Like the others, Buick provides yet more piano black lacquer trim inside, plus some carbon weave-like inlays here and there, as well as aluminum-look and chrome accents elsewhere, giving the Regal true sport sedan interior design. 

2019 Buick Regal GS
The centre panel of the Regal GS gauge package is all digital. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

A partially digital primary gauge cluster features a red GS insignia on the 4.2-inch speedometer/multi-information display at centre, reminding all this is Buick’s fastest model. The graphic can be swapped for a number of useful functions via steering wheel controls. 

On top of the centre stack is Buick’s latest IntelliLink infotainment system, housed in a very impressive high-resolution 8.0-inch touchscreen. Its multiple aqua-green circles on a high-contrast black background look good, and a bit more premium-like than the bright, colourful Apple-style interface in the aforementioned Malibu, which is probably fitting for Buick’s older and slightly wealthier average buyer. The system is easy to use and once again filled up with useful functions, from a big, clear reverse camera including dynamic guidelines, to a user-friendly navigation system with accurate route guidance with detailed mapping, plus all the expected audio features such as satellite/HD radio and Bluetooth streaming, phone and text message info/readouts, another panel for OnStar, a large interface for the two-zone auto HVAC system, etcetera. 

2019 Buick Regal GS
The centre touchscreen is large and very easy to use. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

A separate analogue HVAC panel provides quicker-access just below, plus switches for the three-way heated and ventilated front seats, while other items not yet mentioned that came with my Regal GS tester included a heated steering wheel, a head-up display, adaptive cruise control, auto-dimming rearview and driver’s side mirrors, two-way driver’s memory, leather upholstery, an eight-speaker Bose audio system, wireless device charging, a 4G LTE Wi-Fi hotspot, a power moonroof, passive keyless entry, pushbutton start/stop, remote start, auto-leveling LED headlamps with cornering capability, 19-inch alloys with grey-painted pockets, front and rear parking sonar, and the list goes on. 

Buick also added a bevy of advanced driver assistance and safety features including autonomous forward braking with collision alert and pedestrian detection, blind spot monitoring and rear cross-traffic alert, lane departure warning with lane keeping assist, and the brand’s first-ever active hood pedestrian safety system that raises the rear section of the hood by 100 mm (3.9 inches) in order to lessen impact and help reduce injury. 

2019 Buick Regal GS
These are two of the best front sport seats in the class. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

That sporty Regal GS driver’s seat is also wonderfully comfortable, much thanks to four-way lumbar support, an upscale feature that doesn’t even come with some premium-branded luxury sedans. The lower cushions are extendable too, and therefore ideally cup under the knees for added comfort and support, while the sizeable side bolsters provide good lateral support and powered adjustability, making them perfect for just about any body type. Due to plenty of reach from the tilt and telescopic steering column, the Regal also provided an excellent driving position, which isn’t always the case for my long-legged, short-torso frame. 

The GS’ V6 idles smoothly when it’s not turning off automatically to save fuel and reduce emissions, a very good thing, while this model’s upgraded nine-speed automatic provided quick, smooth shifts. The entire drivetrain was smooth and effortless to operate around town, on the highway, or when pushed through tighter, windy sections, but I was disappointed to learn that this sporty sedan didn’t include paddle shifters, which would have made this well sorted transmission and fully capable powerplant all the more entertaining. Instead, I pressed the Sport mode button, slotted the gear lever over to the left for manual mode, and shifted away to my heart’s content. 

2019 Buick Regal GS
The rear seats are roomy and comfortable, but there aren’t many features back here. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

It’s not a Wildcat 445, but the Regal GS isn’t short of enthusiasm off the line, while the gearbox is an ideal match, shifting quick but never harshly, although I found the need of more sport from the model’s Sport mode, so I quickly changed to the GS setting, which adds a bit more weight to the steering and helps the car to feel more engaging overall. I honestly missed having steering wheel paddles, but I nevertheless adapted as required and got the most out of this well balanced four-door when some of my favourite two-lane serpentine stretches goaded me on. The GS suspension is as smooth and comfortable as anyone should want, yet it manages curves well due to active dampers that make adjustments every two milliseconds. The car’s active twin-clutch all-wheel drive system aids fast cornering further, particularly in inclement weather, while its high-performance Brembo brakes perform as boldly as they look. The GS’ fuel economy is ok considering its performance and all-wheel drivetrain, with a claimed Transport Canada rating of 12.4 L/100km in the city, 8.7 on the highway and 10.7 combined. 

2019 Buick Regal GS
Just in case you forgot the Regal was a hatchback, check out how easy it is to access the cargo compartment. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

Of course, the GS isn’t perfect. Its turn signal stalks are some of the cheapest feeling I’ve ever experienced, due to substandard hollow plastics and loose, sloppy fitment, while Buick spent less on premium composite surfaces. There’s simply too much low rent hard plastic on the lower dash, glove box lid, and mid to lower door panels, especially for a car that passes $50k in top trim. The previously noted VW Arteon isn’t all that much better when it comes to the latter, mind you, but the Stinger does a better job posing as a luxury model. Most GS upper surface treatments are finished in appropriately soft-touch synthetics, however, while front and rear seat roominess is more than adequate, with the rear outboard seats almost as comfortable as those up front, but the moulded black plastic panel covering the rear portion of the front console was bulbous and therefore ugly looking, like it was pulled from a much lower rent vehicle, while this issue was made worse due to the car’s rather spartan rear seat features, back passengers only provided two air vents and twinned USB ports. 

2019 Buick Regal GS
The Regal’s 40/20/40-split rear seatbacks make it wonderfully practical. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

True, this top-tier Regal GS is a bit lacklustre when it comes to features in back. For instance, it’s devoid of heatable rear seats that are included by most others in the $40k-plus category, and these would’ve been great additions for warming up after winter ski trips, the GS being an otherwise ideal snow shuttle thanks to grippy AWD and all-round good performance on twisty mountainside roads, its roomy liftback design, and its versatile 40/20/40 split-folding rear seatbacks that would allow rear passengers to enjoy the more comfortable window seats with skis tucked down the middle. The Regal’s cargo cover is nice and weighty, feeling very well made, while rear seat releases conveniently expand the 892-litre (31.5 cubic-foot) cargo compartment into a sizeable 1,719 litres (60.7 cu ft). 

Although the Regal GS could use a few more features and doesn’t quite measure up to its peers when it comes to fit and finish inside, it’s an especially good looking and highly unique offering that’s worthy of your full attention. I’m guessing you’ll enjoy its performance, and appreciate its roomy, comfortable cabin, plus its general practicality, so if you can look past its few shortcomings, it just might provide an ideal compromise between your desire of style and performance and your more pragmatic requirements. 

Story credit: Trevor Hofmann 

Photo credit: Trevor Hofmann

2019 Lexus ES 300h Road Test

2019 Lexus ES 300h
Lexus totally redesigned its popular ES luxury sedan for 2019, and it looks fabulous. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Model year 2019 marks three decades of Lexus ES availability, and while the car’s primary purpose hasn’t changed one iota, today’s seventh generation wouldn’t be recognizable by those who created the original.  

The comparatively humble ES 250 was brought to market in 1989, and made no bones about its even more proletariat Toyota Camry roots. It was actually rushed to market so Lexus wouldn’t be a one-model brand, the full-size LS 400 making up the other half of the lineup. The ES, which was actually based on the Japanese market Camry Prominent/ Vista, was a good looking, well built, and fairly potent V6-powered mid-size luxury sedan, and thanks to that did reasonably well considering the all-new brand behind it. 

Lexus has produced six ES generations since that first example, releasing this latest version last year for 2019, and while each new update improved upon its predecessor, this new model is by far the most dramatic to look at, most refined inside, and best to drive. 

Lexus has done such a great job of pulling the ES upmarket, that it’s going to be a lot harder to justify having two mid-size sedans in its lineup. The two cars look pretty similar and are quite close in size, with the new ES’ wheelbase a mere 20 millimetres (0.8 inches) longer at 2,870 mm (113.0 in), and 4,960 mm (195.3 in) of nose-to-tail length more of a stretch due to another 110 mm (4.3 in). The ES is also 25 mm (1.0 in) wider than the GS, spanning 1,865 mm (73.4 in) from mirror to mirror, but at 1,445 mm (56.9 in) tall it’s 10 mm (0.4 in) lower in height, the ES’ long, wide and low design giving it stylish proportions that are arguably more attractive than the sportier, pricier GS. 

2019 Lexus ES 300h
Lexus has made major strides when it comes to styling, and the new ES 300h is no exception. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

To be fair, the GS not only provides stronger performance, especially through curves but also off the line, and particularly in fully tuned GS F trim that’s good for 467 horsepower, but it feels more substantive overall due to 66 kg (145 lbs) of extra curb weight in base trim and 185 kg (408 lbs) of added heft as a hybrid, plus a rear wheel-drive architecture shared with the smaller IS series sedan and coupe, a more rigid, sport-tuned suspension design, and other enhancements justifying its significantly pricier window sticker. 

On that note the 2019 Lexus GS ranges between $63,800 and just over $100,000, compared to only $45,000 to $61,500 for the ES (check out pricing for all new and past models right here at CarCostCanada, including trims, packages and separate options, plus find out about rebate information as well as dealer invoice pricing that could save you thousands). 

Behind the big new ES grille is a 302 horsepower version of Lexus/Toyota’s well-proven 3.5-litre V6, those numbers down a mere 9 horsepower and 13 lb-ft of torque from the base GS engine, yet 34 hp and 19 lb-ft of torque more capable than the outgoing ES 350, while Lexus now joins it up to an eight-speed automatic transmission instead of the six-speed gearbox found in the 2018 ES 350 and this year’s pricier GS. 

The ES 300h hybrid, which starts at $47,000, now gets an improved 176 horsepower 2.5-litre four-cylinder engine with 163 lb-ft of torque, plus a 67 horsepower (50 kW) electric motor and 29.1-kWh nickel-metal hydride (NiMH) battery, resulting in 215 net horsepower and an undisclosed amount of torque (the outgoing ES 300h’ net torque rating was 206 lb-ft). This fourth-generation Hybrid Synergy Drive system once again features a wonderfully smooth electronically controlled continuously variable transmission that works well in its luxury role, while minimizing fuel consumption. 

2019 Lexus ES 300h
The new ES design is all about visual drama. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Fuel efficiency is the ES 300h’ strongpoint thanks to an amazing 5.5 L/100km city, 5.2 highway and 5.3 combined rating, which despite the aforementioned performance improvement makes last year’s 5.8, 6.1 and 5.9 respective ES 300h rating look merely so-so by comparison. 

The 2019 ES 300h also does better than Lincoln’s MKZ Hybrid, the domestic luxury sedan only capable of 5.7 L/100km in the city, 6.2 on the highway and 5.9 combined, while some additional comparisons worth noting include the regular ES 350 that manages a respectable 10.6 in the city, 7.2 on the highway and 9.1 combined, the same car with its F Sport styling enhancements that’s capable of 10.9, 7.5 and 9.4, and the regular GS 350 AWD with its 12.3, 9.1 and 10.9 rating. Last year’s GS 450h hybrid managed a fairly decent 8.0 in the city, 6.9 on the highway and 7.5 combined, incidentally, but it’s no longer offered so this point is moot unless you can still source a new one or don’t mind living with a pre-owned version. 

Finding a used GS might be a tad difficult being that they’re rare beasts. In fact, Lexus has only managed to deliver 82 examples in Canada up to August 31st of this year, compared to 1,445 ES units. This latter tally is actually the mid-size luxury sedan category’s second-best result, behind Mercedes’ E/CLS-Class, plus it’s also the segment’s best growth at 55.54 percent over the same initial eight months of 2018. Only two challengers saw any positive growth at all, including the same E/CLS-Class (that also includes a coupe and convertible) that saw its sales increase by 1.24 percent, plus the Audi A6 and A7 with 18.87 and 24.28 percent growth respectively, but these two models were only able to find 441 and 430 new buyers each so far this year. 

2019 Lexus ES 300h
A tall wing-like rear deck lid and beautifully detailed taillights make the rear end design stand out. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Just in case you were questioning, the GS (with sales down 43.84 percent) didn’t find itself in last place thanks to Jaguar’s XF having nosedived some 52.89 percent with just 57 deliveries, while Acura’s RLX did even worse with just 40 sales after a drop of 24.53 percent, and finally Infiniti’s Q70 only sliding down by 2.56 percent but nevertheless managing just 38 units down the road. Purely from a percentage perspective, the mid-size sedan segment’s biggest loser is Lincoln’s Continental that lost 56.88 percent over the same eight months, whereas the car that came closest to entering positive territory but narrowly missing out was the G80 from Hyundai’s new Genesis brand with a slip of just 0.44 percent (sales information sourced from GoodCarBadCar.net). 

Such sales carnage in mind, it would be easy to forgive Lexus for eventually dropping the GS in favour of the ES, and while I’d personally be a bit glum after learning the brilliantly fun GS F was gone, I’d certainly support a CEO that chose to make good, sound business decisions over one simply wanting another super-fast sport sedan in the lineup. I know there’s a reasonably good case for having image cars in a brand’s fleet, but Lexus is already losing money with its sensational LC coupe, and that bit of low-slung eye-candy does a lot more to bolster Lexus’ brand image than a four-door sedan very few will ever see. So let’s pay attention to what Lexus does with these two models as we approach the upcoming decade. 

One thing’s for certain, the ES will continue to fulfill its unique calling in the luxury marketplace for years to come, and on top of that will soon have fewer challengers. The previously noted Continental is slated for cancellation, as is Lincoln’s more directly competitive MKZ that’s also offered as a hybrid electric. Cadillac will soon drop its front-wheel drive XTS and CTS luxury four-door models, whereas deliveries of its newer CT6 sedan are so slow they hardly rate. The only rivals not yet mentioned include BMW’s 5 Series, Volvo’s newish S90, and Tesla’s aging Model S, while some in the ES’ market might also consider Buick’s LaCrosse (also to be discontinued soon), Chrysler’s 300 (likely to be phased out), and possibly the impressive Kia Stinger, plus big mainstream luxury sedans like Toyota’s own Avalon that shares underpinnings with the ES, and finally Nissan’s Maxima, which also gets close to premium levels of performance and quality without a pricier premium nameplate. 

2019 Lexus ES 300h
An entirely new level of pampering awaits 2019 ES owners, especially in top-line Ultra Luxury trim. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Just the same, the ES has sold in bigger numbers than most of these potential rivals despite its Lexus badge and often-pricier window sticker, and this brand new redesigned model should keep momentum up for many years to come. As mentioned before, the ES 350 and ES 300h hybrid are totally redesigned for 2019, and no matter whether it’s trimmed in base ES 350 form, enhanced with cooler ES 350 F Sport styling, or clothed in classy as-tested ES 300h togs, Lexus’ front-wheel drive four-door now provides a completely new level of visual drama to its exterior design. 

Lexus’ trademark spindle grille is bigger and much more expressive, while its origami-inspired LED headlamp clusters are more complex with sharper edges. Its side profile is longer and sleeker too, with a more pronounced front overhang and a swoopier sweep to its C pillars that now taper downward over a shorter, taller rear deck lid. Its hind end styling is more aggressive too, thanks to a much larger crescent-shaped spoiler that hovers above big triangular wrap-around LED tail lamps. 

The overall design plays with one’s mind, initially flowing smoothly from the front grille rearward, overtop the hood and down each sculpted side, before culminating into a clamour of dissonant creases, folds and cutlines at back. It all comes together well nevertheless, and certainly won’t cause anyone to utter the types of criticisms about yawn inducing styling that previous ES models endured. 

2019 Lexus ES 300h
Lexus is now a design leader, while the ES feature set is also impressive. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

I could say the same about the new ES cabin, which instead of showing sharp edges now combines plenty of horizontal planes and softer angles with higher-grade materials than the outgoing model, not to mention a few design details pulled from the LFA supercar, such as the black knurled metal pods protruding from each side of the instrument hood, the left one for shutting off traction control, and the knob on the right for choosing Normal, Eco or Sport modes. 

In between these unusual pods is a standard digital instrument cluster that once again finds inspiration in the LFA supercar, plus plenty of lesser Lexus models since. This one provides real-time energy monitoring via a nice flowing graphic just to the left of the speedometer, while the big infotainment display over to the right, on top of the centre stack, measures 8.0 inches at the least, up to 12.3 inches as-tested, yet both look larger thanks to all the black glass bordering each side. The left portion hides a classic LED-backlit analogue clock, carrying on a Lexus tradition I happen to love. The high-definition display includes stylish graphics and deep, rich contrasting colours, plus it responds to inputs quickly. 

When choosing the as-tested ES 300h hybrid, the infotainment system now features standard Apple CarPlay, but I recommend integrating your smartphone to Lexus’ own Enform connectivity system. Enform is arguably more comprehensive and easier to use than the Android Auto interface my Samsung S9 is forced to use, although Android isn’t included anyway, while the list of standard Enform 2.0 apps includes fuel price updates, traffic incident details, and info on weather, sports, stocks, etcetera, while it’s also bundled with the Scout GPS Link navigation system, Slacker, Yelp, and more. 

2019 Lexus ES 300h
This fully digital gauge package comes standard. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

The new ES 300h also includes a new Remote Touch Interface trackpad controller on the lower console, which allows you to use smartphone/tablet-like gesture controls such as tap, pinch and swipe, and it works much better than previous versions, with more accurate responses, particularly when inputting via taps. Additional standard features include 17-inch alloy wheels, Bi-LED headlights, LED tail lamps, proximity keyless entry with pushbutton start/stop, a leather-wrapped steering wheel rim, rain-sensing windshield wipers, an auto-dimming centre mirror, a rearview camera with dynamic guidelines, a 10-speaker audio system with satellite radio, a deodorizing, dust and pollen filtered two-zone auto HVAC system, comfortable 10-way power-adjustable front seats with three-way heat and three-way forced cooling, NuLuxe breathable leatherette upholstery, all the usual active and passive safety equipment including 10 airbags, plus plenty more. 

Speaking of standard safety, the new ES 300h includes Lexus Safety System+ 2.0 that boasts autonomous emergency braking with pedestrian and bicycle detection, lane departure alert with steering assist and road edge detection, new Lane Tracing Assist (LTA) automated lane guidance, auto high beams, and full-speed range adaptive cruise control. 

The just-mentioned 12.3-inch infotainment display is part of an available $3,800 Premium package that also includes blind spot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert, reverse tilting mirrors, front and rear parking sonar, a heated steering wheel rim (which along with the heatable front seats turns on automatically upon startup), front seat and side mirror memory, a navigation system with ultra-detailed mapping and accurate route guidance, plus Enform Destination Assist that includes 24/7 live assistance for finding destinations or points of interest. 

2019 Lexus ES 300h
The optional 12.3-inch infotainment display is superb. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Alternatively, you may want to opt for the even more comprehensive $10,600 Luxury package that includes everything from the Premium package while adding 18-inch alloy wheels, extremely bright Tri-LED headlamps, an always appreciated wireless smartphone charger, leather upholstery, and a powered rear window sunshade. 

Finally, the $14,500 Ultra Luxury package found on my tester combines everything in the Luxury package with a special set of 18-inch noise-reduction alloys, soft glowing ambient interior lighting, a really helpful 10-inch head-up display unit, an overhead surround-view parking camera system that makes parking a breeze, a fabulous sounding 17-speaker Mark Levinson premium audio system, softer semi-aniline leather upholstery, rear door sunshades, and a touch-free gesture control powered trunk lid. 

This $61,500 ES 300h was the most luxuriously equipped version of this car I’ve ever tested, while along with its resplendent interior it totally stepped up its all-round performance as well. Like with previous generations its ride quality cannot be faulted, with this newest version actually improving thanks to revisions to its fully independent front strut and rear multi-link suspension system. Newly developed Dynamic Control Shocks now feature an auxiliary valve next to the main damper valve so as to respond more quickly to smaller movements. The front suspension was reworked too, aiding both comfort and stability, while rear trailing arm and stabilizer bar mounting point adjustments helped minimize body lean during hard cornering, all of which resulted in an ES that feels a lot more agile through tight, twisting corners. 

2019 Lexus ES 300h
The driver’s seat is excellent. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Yes, this latest ES 300h is actually a lot of fun to drive. Lexus even included a set of steering wheel paddles for swapping the continuously variable transmission’s simulated gears. It mimics the feel of real gears fairly well when set to Sport mode, while this edgier setting also increases torque at low speeds for better acceleration, and places a tachometer right in the middle of the digital gauge cluster. Owners concerned more about economical or environmental issues may prefer Eco mode, which helps to reduce fuel consumption and lower emissions, whereas EV mode allows the ES 300h to crawl silently through parking lots, slow moving traffic, and other low speed situations for short periods of time. 

Another efficiency enhancer is new Auto Glide Control, which lets the ES to coast more freely upon throttle lift-off, instead of being slowed automatically via the automatic regenerative braking system. 

No matter how fast or slow you’re traveling, the slippery ES is extremely quiet due to a doubling of structural adhesive, which improves NVH levels, while it also features sound-deadening front fender liners and underbody covers, plus insulation covering 93 percent of the new ES 300h’s floor pan, which is a significant increase when compared to the outgoing model’s 68 percent of floor pan coverage. 

2019 Lexus ES 300h
Rear seat roominess and comfort is top notch. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

The previously noted battery, which is now positioned below the rear seat instead of the trunk, is smaller than the one used in last year’s hybrid, but impressively it’s more powerful. Its new location not only improves front/rear balance, but also allows for more cargo space. In fact, the ES 300h’ trunk is now identically sized to the conventionally powered ES 350 at 473 litres (16.7 cu ft). The redesign provides access for a centre pass-through too, which is large enough for skis or other long items, so therefore rear passengers can now enjoy the more comfortable outboard seats, which are incidentally even nicer than the previous model’s rear seats. 

All interior finishings are better than the outgoing model’s appointments, by the way, with the improvements including higher quality soft synthetic surfacing, plus more of it. The lower door panels remain hard shell plastic, as do the sides of the centre console, but most everything else is soft to the touch. I like that Lexus positioned its wireless device charger below the armrest within the centre console bin, as my phone was less of a distraction. 

Additionally, all switchgear has been improved over previous generations, with some notable details including those cool metal pods I mentioned earlier, which stick out each side of the instrument cluster, plus the tiny round metal buttons on the centre stack are nicely finished, these used for controlling the radio, media, and seek/track functions. The temperature control switches are particularly stylish and well made too, and, while not switchgear, the Mark Levinson-branded speaker grilles and surrounds on the upper door panels are really attractive as well. The hardwood trim feels real because it is, and comes in Striated Black, Linear Dark Mocha or Linear Espresso, while the metallic accents are nicely finished and not overdone. 

2019 Lexus ES 300h
The new ES 300h hybrid’s trunk is now just as large as the conventionally powered ES 350’s. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

I’ve spent plenty of weeks behind the wheel of various Lexus ES generations over the past 20 years or so, in both conventionally powered and electrified forms, and now that I’ve spent yet another seven days with this entirely new 2019 ES 300h I can confidently predict that ES lovers will without doubt like this version best. It incorporates all the ES qualities you’ve grown to appreciate, yet steps up every aspect of quality, refinement and performance. Truly, this is one of the best entry-level luxury sedans I’ve ever tested. 

Story credit: Trevor Hofmann 

Photo credit: Karen Tuggay

2019 Genesis G90 3.3T Road Test

2019 Genesis G90 3.3T AWD
The 2019 Genesis G90 is now being replaced by an all-new model, but this base 3.3T AWD model is still an impressive luxury sedan that can be had for a great price. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

If you can remember back as far as 2010, or even 2016 when it was cancelled, you might recall a full-size Hyundai luxury sedan that went by the name of Equus. Despite selling poorly here it has long been a favourite amongst high-ranking executives and dignitaries in South Korea, much like the Toyota Celsior was one of the most respected executive sedans in Japan until the fourth-generation Lexus’ LS replaced it (although Toyota still sells the upmarket Crown and Rolls-Royce-like Century in its home market). Like the LS, the Equus is no more thanks to the new Genesis brand, which is to Hyundai like Lexus is to Toyota. 

I tested and reviewed a 2014 Hyundai Equus and was mostly impressed, other than its nondescript styling. It came with V6- and V8-powered rear drivetrains, and was sized similarly to the Mercedes S-Class and BMW 7 Series, yet even though it delivered a premium-like interior, plenty of high-end features, strong performance, and excellent value, it didn’t sell well, as noted. The fact is, those spending into the high five figures want a premium badge to go along with their luxury ride, something aforementioned Toyota learned a long time ago with its Lexus line, as did Nissan with Infiniti and Honda with Acura before both. 

2019 Genesis G90 3.3T AWD
Stylish lines from front to back. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Along with a new name, pulled from the mid-size Hyundai Genesis that was especially attractive in its second-generation form, the third-generation Equus debuted in 2016 as the first-generation Genesis G90, soon followed by a rebadged Genesis G80 that saw little more than a name change. Along with its home market in South Korea, the Genesis brand was immediately made available in the United States, China, the Middle East, Russia, Australia, and of course here in Canada. This said, Hyundai has plans to launch the upmarket brand in other Asian markets too, plus Europe within the next couple of years, but they might want to wait for a couple of SUVs to arrive before they do. 

In hindsight it’s easy to see that Hyundai jumped the gun by introducing this sedan-only luxury brand without having at least one SUV in the lineup, but sales of the G80’s predecessor were quite strong when it made the decision in 2015 and the rest is now history. This said if the Genesis brand’s future line of sport utilities impress as well as its trio of sport-luxury sedans (the smaller C-Class/3 Series-rivaling G70 was introduced last year), and better than the superb new Hyundai Palisade that just went on sale for 2020, things are about to seriously heat up in the luxury SUV segment. 

2019 Genesis G90 3.3T AWD
LED headlights, fog lamps and 19-inch alloys come standard. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

While writing this review I was already seeing the completely redesigned 2020 Genesis G90 advertised on its retail website. It boasts a totally new version of its stylish “diamond” grille featuring a more distinctive downward pointing lower section and “G-MATRIX” crosshatch patterned insert replacing the current car’s seven horizontal ribs. It also sports a set of LED “Quad Lamp” headlamps, plus Bentley-like front fender vents, large attractive mesh-patterned wheels, and three unique horizontal LED taillights, the lower element crossing the width of the entire car, while inside it’s wholly modernized from a design and digitization standpoint, plus even more luxurious than this outgoing model. 

As stylish as I find the new model, I still like this 2019 G90. No doubt unplanned, but the G90’s slow sales and resultant nullibiety have had the side benefit of keeping it somewhat fresh looking, the opposite case of ubiquity causing some designs that were once wonderfully unique to become mundanely commonplace and therefore hardly exclusive anymore. The G90’s design language is more conservative than the new model and much more discreet than, say, the spindle grilled Lexus LS, making this G90 a good choice for folks who’d rather fly under the radar than always attracting attention. The Audi A8 once had such understated appeal as well, but its horseshoe-shaped grille has now grown to encompass most of its front fascia, and while still a smart looking car it’s now considerably bolder and more intimidating than before. 

2019 Genesis G90 3.3T AWD
Its LED taillights get nice details inside. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Like any new brand Genesis is still searching for an easily identifiable trademark look, evidenced by the just-mentioned lower point on the new 2020 model’s diamond-shaped grille, and this quest is made even more important when factoring in that the new brand’s general design language started off wearing Hyundai’s italicized “H” on its backside (interestingly there was no Hyundai badging other than that). Lexus took decades before opting for and sticking with its spindle grille and sharply carved origami-angled design language, as did Infiniti and Acura with their more recently updated grille treatments, the latter being the oldest Japanese luxury marque yet its dramatic new grille was just adopted a few of years ago. Still, it’s important to find a memorable design and then stick to it. 

Genesis grille has been sometimes criticized for its Audi-like appearance, but with Hyundai-Kia’s head of design being ex-Audi stylist Peter Schreyer, some similarity makes sense. There’s a bit of 7 Series in the front fender’s sweeping lines and along the sculpted rocker panel, plus its thick chrome strip down each side and around the back, but the taillights are pure Genesis, and its rather unoriginal feathered badge gets too close to Bentley’s winged-B for comfort. Its build quality is excellent, however, with tight exterior panel gaps and superb paintwork. 

2019 Genesis G90 3.3T AWD
Get ready for an impressive premium interior. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Inside, the G90’s design is good looking and attention to detail excellent. From its microfibre roofliner and pillars to the padded and French-stitched leather that runs across the dash top and door uppers front to back, plus the planks of glossy hardwood all-round, it totally measures up to its German competitors. I won’t stop there, of course, as the G90’s plentiful aluminum interior accents is nicely executed, particularly the Lexicon-branded speaker grilles and aluminized switchgear on the centre stack, while all of the other buttons, knobs, toggles and rockers are impressively crafted with ideal fitment and good damping. It’s totally in the league of Mercedes-Benz, BMW and Audi, prestige aside. 

I’d say the classic dress watch style analogue clock in the centre of the instrument panel is one of autodom’s best, featuring a gorgeous white guilloche dial, Arabic numerals at 12, 3, 6 and 9, plus chromed indices marking the hours between. The perforated seat leather is incredibly soft and supple, plus the seats themselves are excellent, with plenty of adjustments to fit most any body. Additionally, you’ll have a difficult time finding any hard shell plastic in this car, the only corners cut being the steering column surround and the very bottom of each lower center console side, but even these panels are made from a dense composite material before soft painted for a high-quality texture. I’m not going to come out and say this G90 is a step up from its rivals, because everything in this category will impress, but it’s very well done. 

2019 Genesis G90 3.3T AWD
With acres of wood, leather and metal, yet hardly any hard plastic, Genesis provides an high-quality interior. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

On that note the backs of each front seat are so impressively finished they must be getting close to best-of-the-best, particularly the curving wood inlays that wrap around their upper edges. Mind you, the backside of the front centre console is hardly notable, with typical HVAC vents finished nicely, but it looks spartan due to a folding centre armrest that’s filled with features, as well as beautiful leathers, woods and metals. Included are controls for the automatic climate control system’s rear zone, plus three-way heatable outboard seats, controls for the powered side and rear sunshades, and you can also extend the car’s right-side legroom by powering the front passenger seat forward and tipping its seatback as well. Full infotainment controls are included too, letting rear occupants take control of that wonderful sounding Lexicon audio system noted earlier. 

Back behind the steering wheel, the gauge cluster isn’t a fully configurable digital design, but its centre is filled with a large colour multi-information display integrating the usual assortment functions. The infotainment touchscreen to the right is much more advanced, with attractive albeit simple graphics enhanced by deep colours and contrast, and a very clear reverse camera with dynamic guidelines, but no overhead bird’s eye view. The navigation was easy to sort out, provided good mapping detail and found where we were going, which is always a bonus. Buyers wanting a more advanced level of infotainment technology, including a completely digital gauge package and higher definition infotainment display, should pay more for the 2020 G90, but I could appreciate that others might choose to avail themselves of year-end and model-ending 2019 G90 discounting that could be quite aggressive. 

2019 Genesis G90 3.3T AWD
The new 2020 G90 includes a fully digital gauge cluster, but this one works well and the multi-info display is large and functional. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Before negotiating, my V6 turbo-powered 2019 G90 3.3T AWD tester can be had for just $84,000 plus destination, whereas the V8-powered G90 5.0 AWD starts at $87,000; its only upgrade being the $2,500 rear entertainment package. The much-improved 2020 model will come completely equipped for just $89,750, a mere $250 more than the outgoing V8 model, and that more formidable eight-cylinder is now standard. You will still be able to acquire the turbocharged V6, but take note it’s a special order model that will save you $3k. On this note, all 2019 G90 pricing, including trims and packages, can be found right here at CarCostCanada, plus we can also provide you with rebate information as well as dealer invoice pricing that could save you thousands. 

The G90 I tested was in its base 3.3T AWD trim, which means that standard features included a 3.3-litre twin-turbo direct-injection V6 good for 365 horsepower and 376 lb-ft of torque, plus an eight-speed shift-by-wire automatic transmission with manual mode and steering wheel paddles, HTRAC torque-vectoring all-wheel drive, 19-inch alloys on 245/45 front and 275/40 rear all-seasons rubber, an adaptive suspension, full LED headlights with adaptive cornering and automatic high beams, adaptive cruise control with stop-and-go capability, autonomous emergency braking with pedestrian detection, active blindspot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert, lane change assist and lane keeping assist, the multi-view parking camera with dynamic guidelines mentioned earlier, a 12.3-inch centre display with 720p resolution (which isn’t all that clear compared to most competitors’ high-definition systems) and the navigation system noted a moment ago, the wonderful Nappa leather upholstery and microfibre suede headliner also mentioned before, the 17-speaker Lexicon AM/FM/XM/MP3 audio system with Quantum Logic surround sound and Clari-Fi, etcetera, etcetera. 

2019 Genesis G90 3.3T AWD
A large 12.3-inch infotainment display, impressive switchgear and a gorgeous clock finish off the centre stack. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

If you’re willing to spend just $3,000 more for 5.0 AWD trim, you’ll not only receive an impressive 420 horsepower direct-injection V8 with 383 lb-ft of torque, but you’ll also be able to pamper each rear passenger (or yourself if you hire a driver) with a 14-way powered right rear seat and 12-way powered left rear seat, including powered head restraints with manual tilt, plus memory and cooling ventilation for outboard occupants, and illuminated vanity mirrors overhead. 

I’ve driven a number Genesis, Hyundai and Kia models with the 5.0-litre Tau V8 and have nothing but good things to say about it. It’s a blast at full throttle yet is wonderfully smooth and quiet, ideal for long high-speed freeway journeys and even impressive when pushed hard through curves. The engine ideally matches up with the smooth yet quick-shifting eight-speed automatic, and Hyundai’s HTRAC AWD is grippy on wet road surfaces and even improving performance in dry conditions. I can only imagine the V8 would perform as well with the G90 as it did in the most recent 2017 Genesis G80 5.0 AWD Ultimate I reviewed a couple of years ago, but I have to say there’s much to like about Genesis’ smaller, more fuel-friendly 3.3-litre twin-turbo V6 too. 

2019 Genesis G90 3.3T AWD
The multi-adjustable driver’s seat is ultra comfortable. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Claimed fuel economy ratings are reason enough to choose the V6, it good for an estimated 13.7 L/100km city, 9.7 highway and 11.9 combined, compared to the V8 that only gets a claimed 15.2, 10.2 and 13.0 respectively. That difference would certainly be noticeable in the wallet, while the smaller engine’s performance is certainly capable of whisking the big sedan and all passengers away quickly, albeit not providing as audibly stimulating an exhaust note. 

The V6 weighs less too, and being that this weight sits over the front wheels it feels a little more agile through the corners, and was especially fun when Sport mode was engaged. It just hunkers down and flings itself through fast-paced curves with hardly a squeak from the tires, portraying the kind of poise expected of the big German luxury sedans. The G90 is truly a great driving car, with handling that comes close to the almighty 7 Series. Without doubt the adaptive suspension plays its part, while also keeping its ride quality compliant and cabin quiet. 

With performance this impressive, you’d think I’d always keep it in Sport mode, but Eco mode reduced fuel consumption, while Smart mode is capable of choosing the best of both worlds as per a given driver’s inputs. Fortunately the G90 has all bases covered, the result being a very well rounded, highly refined luxury sedan that truly deserves much more attention than it gets. 

2019 Genesis G90 3.3T AWD
No one will complain about rear seat comfort. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Dip your feet into the deep pile carpet floor mats, however, and you’ll quickly be reminded of the G90’s true purpose. It’s a luxury sedan first and foremost, which is why Genesis needed to make it practical as well. Along with the spacious rear passenger compartment, its trunk is generously sized for multiple golf bags and easy access. Its powered lid is gesture controlled and lift-over height nice and low for loading in gear, while a convenient centre pass-through allows for longer cargo like skis. 

If you’re looking for a resplendent luxury sedan with sporting pretensions, yet don’t want the taxman to question how you came into wealth, consider this G90. 

Story credit: Trevor Hofmann 

Photo credit: Karen Tuggay

2019 Porsche Panamera 4S Road Test

2019 Porsche Panamera 4S Road Test
The new 2nd-generation Panamera is arguably a more attractive design than the original. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Porsche’s Panamera is a sport sedan like no other. Certainly there are a number of low-slung four-door coupes within the premium sector, but the Panamera is longer, wider and lower than most, and looks as close to the iconic 911 Carrera than any other car on the road. 

The four-door coupe category is still relatively new, but it’s expanding while other segments are contracting. Mercedes-Benz created this segment along with the CLS-Class 15 years ago, five years before the Panamera became its first competitor in 2009. Audi’s A7 and Aston Martin’s Rapide quickly followed in 2010, a fair bit before BMW showed up in 2012 with its 6 Series Gran Coupe. Perfectly timed with the latter Bavarian model’s cancellation and the new 2020 8 Series Gran Coupe’s arrival, Mercedes will soon deliver a four-door coupe triple threat thanks to the all-new higher-priced (and clearly named) GT 4-Door Coupe, which will soon join the recently updated second-generation CLA-Class and third-gen CLS, so it’s not as if growth in this category is slowing, or at least sales aren’t falling off as quickly as they are amongst more traditional luxury sedans. 

2019 Porsche Panamera 4S Road Test
The Panamera is the sportiest of four-door coupes currently available, and beautifully proportioned front to back. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Some notable four-door coupe mentions at higher and lower levels of the auto market include the limited production (120 units) Aston Martin Rapide-based 2015 to 2016 Lagonda Taraf, which was gorgeous to my eyes at least, but priced at a stratospherically $1 million-plus, while possibly more interesting has been the success of smaller entries, including the just-noted Mercedes-Benz CLA-Class, the BMW 4 Series Gran Coupe, and the Audi A5 Sportback, which have pulled this rakish body type down-market nearly as far as the Volkswagen Arteon (previously the CC) and Kia Stinger. 

Returning to the loftier price bracket, Lamborghini has been teasing us with a potential production model along the lines of the beautiful 2008 Estoque concept for more than a decade (I think it would’ve been a strong seller), while Bentley hasn’t stopped talking up the possibility of an even sleeker sport sedan. Otherworldly to some, these two models could actually be sensible business cases due to their Volkswagen group ownership and familial connection to this very Panamera. Bentley, for one, already uses the same VW AG-created MSB architecture found under this Panamera for its new Continental GT coupe and convertible plus its Flying Spur sedan, a version of which could also be modified to work with a future Estoque. 

2019 Porsche Panamera 4S Road Test
Everything but the glossy black trim and the 21-inch alloys are standard Panamera 4S fare. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

It’s not like this would be an unusual move, with the Bentley Bentayga and Lamborghini Urus sharing underpinnings with the Porsche Cayenne and new Cayenne Coupe respectively, not to mention the Audi Q7, Q8 and new global market Volkswagen Touareg (that we no longer get here), but as exciting as it might be for these exotic players to dip their toes in the four-door coupe waters, buyers who want to spend $300,000-plus in this class, yet still requiring a reliable option, have no other choice but a loaded up Panamera. 

And yes, if you check off every 2019 Panamera Turbo S E-Hybrid Executive box on Porsche’s online configurator you’ll be paying north of $320k, which will provide you with an optional exclusive colour, the car’s largest set of 21-inch alloys coated in the same exclusive paint choice, an upgraded interior with the highest quality of leathers covering almost every possible surface that’s not already trimmed in hardwood or carbon-fibre, plus all available technologies. 

2019 Porsche Panamera 4S Road Test
Get ready to be impressed with the Panamera’s beautifully finished interior. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

The Panamera Turbo S E-Hybrid was new for 2018, and thanks to Porsche I was able to drive it along with a number of other new and updated models last year. The version I tested featured the regular sloped trunk lid and normal non-extended wheelbase, and it was mind-blowingly fast thanks to 680 net horsepower. I also tested last year’s entirely new Sport Turismo wagon, that I happen to like best, although that car’s drivetrain was identical to the Panamera 4S shown right here in this review, and therefore made 440-horsepower from a 2.9-litre twin-turbo V6. 

Bringing all things Panamera up to 2019 speed, no changes have been made to any of the models mentioned in this review so far, other than minor increases to pricing across the line, the car on this page precisely as it was for the 2017 model year when the second-generation Panamera was introduced. This said 2019 hasn’t been without improvements to the Panamera line, thanks to the addition of a 453-horsepower twin-turbo 4.0-litre V8-powered GTS model that now slots between this 4S and the Panamera Turbo in both performance and price. The car I’m reviewing here starts at $119,600, by the way, while the new GTS can be had for $147,400, and the Turbo for $174,200. 

2019 Porsche Panamera 4S Road Test
Sitting in the driver’s seat feels like a roomy sports car. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

No GTS was available at the time of testing, unfortunately, but I was truly okay having another stint in a 4S. It makes 110 more horsepower than the 330-horsepower base Panamera after all, and uses all four wheels for added grip. The snarling exhaust note is fabulous in Sport mode, crackling and popping when lifting off the throttle, but rest assured that the fiercer Hyde side of its personality becomes a docile Jekyll when the drive mode selector is moved over to its default setting. 

The Panamera’s ideal balance between opulent luxury and outrageous performance is its best asset. No other four-door combines its level of sports car-like agility with such impressively detailed interior finishings. Its low-slung bodywork bucks against today’s taller SUV trend; Porsche providing its Macan and Cayenne for folks who want go-fast performance with a better view of the road. 

2019 Porsche Panamera 4S Road Test
It looks like a traditional Porsche gauge cluster, but it’s mostly digital. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

The Panamera manoeuvres through serpentine corners like nothing so sizeable has ever been able to before, yet its ride is impressively smooth. Whether enduring inner-city laneways, overcoming inadequately paved railroad crossings and aging bridge expansion joints, or coursing down a circuitous backcountry road inundated with broken asphalt, the Panamera offers ample suspension travel for dealing with the worst bumps and potholes without becoming unsettled. Its compliance and/or firmness depends on the trim and wheel options chosen, of course, but I’ve driven every grade on offer other than the new GTS, and all provide track-worthy performance with comfort levels that I’d be more than satisfied to live with for all regular commutes and errand runs, let alone weekend getaways. 

My test car’s optional Satin Platinum finished 21-inch alloy wheels on 275/35 front and 315/30 rear Pirelli Cinturato P7 performance tires are the biggest available, so it wasn’t like I was cossetted with the base 4S model’s 19s, which are identical to the most entry-level of Panamera’s 265/45 front and 295/40 rear ZRs, by the way, a car that can be had for only $99,300 plus freight and fees. 

2019 Porsche Panamera 4S Road Test
The right side of the gauge cluster can be used for route guidance. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

That base Panamera in mind, it’s hardly a slouch thanks to a 5.7-second launch from zero to 100km/h, or 5.5 seconds with its available Sport Chrono Package, whereas my 4S tester can do the deed in a mere 4.4 seconds in standard trim or 4.2 seconds with its Sport Chrono Package. The 4S also blasts past 160km/h in only 10.3 seconds, slicing 3.3 seconds off of the base trim’s zero to 160km/h time, all ahead of a terminal velocity of 289km/h, a stunning 25km/h faster on the track than the most basic Panamera. 

As phenomenally fun as all this high-speed action sounds, there are plenty of quicker Panameras available. The new GTS, for instance, can hit 100km/h from standstill in only 4.1 seconds, while the Turbo blasts past the mark in a scant 3.8 seconds, and finally the sensational Turbo S E-Hybrid needs just 3.4 seconds to charge past 100km/h. Top speeds increase similarly, with the Turbo S E-Hybrid capable of a lofty 310 km/h, but when compared to the majority of sport sedans even this Panamera 4S performs better. 

2019 Porsche Panamera 4S Road Test
Check out the stunning graphics. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Its new eight-speed twin-clutch PDK transmission delivers fast, smooth, paddle-activated shifts, and torque-vectoring all-wheel drive maintains the chassis’ awesome adhesion to tarmac no matter the weather or road conditions, while I must also say it looks just as eye-arresting when blurring past at high speed as it does when cruising around town. 

As mentioned earlier, glossy black exterior trim isn’t standard, but nevertheless my test car’s darkened accents were an attractive contrast against its white paint. Normally the Panamera gets satin silver and/or bright metal detailing, but on the other hand you can also have the mirror caps, door handles, badges, etcetera painted in gloss black. 

This said the possibilities are almost limitless inside, but each Panamera’s incredibly fine attention to detail is what makes its interior stand out above many peers, such as all of the industry’s best composites and leathers, available hardwoods, aluminum or carbon-fibre inlays, plus digital interfaces that are so brilliantly high in definition that it seems like you can dip your fingers right into the depths of their fabulously rich contrasted displays and graphically illustrated imagery. 

2019 Porsche Panamera 4S Road Test
The front seats are ideally comfortable and supportive. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Yes, the Panamera provides some of the best digital displays available, whether ogling the classic Porsche-style five-dial instrument cluster, its centre ring being the only analogue component in an otherwise wonderfully colourful arrangement of screens, the one on the left for driving-related info and the right-side monitor incorporating a comprehensive multi-information display including mapping for the route guidance system. 

Alternatively you can choose to view that map over on the long, horizontal infotainment display atop the centre stack, which looks nearly three-dimensional when doing so. All the usual touchscreen gesture controls make this as simple to use as a smartphone or tablet, and speaking of your phone it also syncs with Apple CarPlay or Android Auto, while providing all of the types of functions expected in this class including an as-tested surround camera system that, together with audible and visual front and rear sonar, makes parking a lot easier. 

2019 Porsche Panamera 4S Road Test
A dual-pane panoramic sunroof sheds light on the beautifully finished cabin. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

The majority of controls on the raked centre console are touch-sensitive, needing only a slight push and click to engage. All the buttons, knobs and switches feel very high in quality too, the Panamera’s interior second to none for quality construction. The console’s surrounding surface treatment is glossy black, but nevertheless it’s quite easy to keep clean due to a glass-like smartphone material, although the piano black lacquered detailing found elsewhere in my tester’s cabin, particularly a section on the ashtray at the very base of that centre console, was always covered in grime, dust, etcetera. On the positive you don’t have to opt for piano black, but can choose one of many options that will keep the cabin looking tidier even when dirty, although it should be said there’s absolutely nothing wrong with being able to see what needs cleaning for the sake of sanitation. 

Fortunately the leather-clad sport steering wheel, where my hands were most of the time, had no such yucky buildup of filth. Instead, I was greeted to one of the best of its type in the industry. Its narrow spokes are elegant, hollowed out at centre for an even lighter, more performance-oriented appearance, while its integrated buttons and scrolling knurled-metal dials are well crafted with especially tight fitment and good damping. As per usual, the button for the heatable rim is hidden within the base of the lowest spoke, an intelligent design for sure, but some may find it too easy to turn on or off when spinning the wheel. I like that it automatically turns on when starting the car, or likewise stays off, depending on the way you’ve set it up. 

2019 Porsche Panamera 4S Road Test
The rear seating area is spacious enough for most body types. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Features in mind, my test car came stocked up with three-way heated and ventilated front seats, plus a superb optional 710-watt 15-speaker Bose Centerpoint 14-channel surround sound stereo upgrade, which should only be shown the door if going for the 1,455-watt 22-speaker Burmester 3D High-End Surround system (I’ve tested this top-line system before and it’s amazing). As good as the audio performance was, my tester didn’t include the previously noted Sport Chrono Package, so it was 0.2 seconds slower off the line (not that I could notice), and the clock on top of the dash only featured an attractive looking black dial with white numerals and indices, instead of the upgraded chronometer version with both analogue and digital readouts. 

Still, due to including an available full rear console incorporating a large high-definition touchscreen, three-way heatable seat switches, twin rear auto climate controls resulting in a four-way auto HVAC system front to rear, powered side and rear window sunshades, plus a large two-pane panoramic moonroof above, not to mention the Panamera’s usual set of ideally shaped sport bucket rear seats that are as comfortable and supportive as those up front, I might have been just as happy being chauffeured as I was driving, but as life has it I didn’t have the means (or an available friend) to do the driving, so I simply enjoyed my nice quiet rest in the back seat while taking notes. 

2019 Porsche Panamera 4S Road Test
Got stuff? The Panamera can haul a reasonable amount of life’s gear. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

To be clear, the second-gen Panamera is now so excellent in every way that it’s near impossible to find much to complain about. Of course there’s not as much room in the rear as a 7 Series or S-Class, but providing limousine levels of roominess is hardly the Panamera’s purpose. Truth be told, no matter the model tested I have never been uncomfortable in back, and let’s not forget that Porsche would be more than happy to provide you with a longer-wheelbase Executive body style if driving around larger passengers is part of your routine, which means that you won’t have to say goodbye to beautiful design and sensational performance just to maintain a practical lifestyle. 

And that’s the gist of the Panamera. Thanks to its wide variety of trims, packages and options, all of which are viewable right here on CarCostCanada, where you can also learn about manufacturer rebates and dealer invoice pricing that could save you thousands, this four-door Porsche provides something for almost every sport/luxury car shopper. 

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