2019 Toyota Prius Prime Road Test

2019 Toyota Prius Prime
Toyota has given all of its Prius models more style, with the Prime getting its most dramatic design.

As usual I’ve scanned the many Toyota Canada retail websites and found plenty new 2019 Prius Prime examples to purchase, no matter which province I searched. What this means is a good discount when talking to your local dealer, combined with Toyota’s zero-percent factory leasing and financing rates for 2019 models, compared to a best-possible 2.99-percent for the 2020 version.

As always I searched this information out right here on CarCostCanada, where you can also learn about most brands and models available, including the car on this page, which is found on our 2019 Toyota Prius Prime Canada Prices page. The newer version is found on our 2020 Toyota Prius Prime Canada Prices page, by the way, or you can search out a key competitor such as the Hyundai Ioniq, found on the 2019 Hyundai IONIQ Electric Plus Canada Prices page or 2020 Hyundai IONIQ Electric Plus Canada Prices page (the former offers a zero-percent factory leasing and financing deal, while the latter isn’t quite as good a deal at 3.49 percent). CarCostCanada also provides info about manufacturer rebates and dealer invoice pricing, which arm you before arriving at the dealership so you can get the best possible deal.

2019 Toyota Prius Prime
Nothing looks like a Prius Prime from behind.

While these pages weren’t created with the latest COVID-19 outbreak in mind, and really nothing was including the dealerships we use to test cars and purchase them, some who are reading this review may have their lease expiring soon, while others merely require a newer, more reliable vehicle (on warranty). At the time of writing, most dealerships were running with full or partial staff, although the focus seems to be more about servicing current clientele than selling cars. After all, it’s highly unlikely we can simply go test drive a new vehicle, let alone sit in one right now, but buyers wanting to take advantage of just-noted deals can purchase online, after which a local dealer would prep the vehicle before handing over the keys (no doubt while wearing gloves).

Back to the car in question, we’re very far into the 2020 calendar year, not to mention the 2020 model year, but this said let’s go over all the upgrades made to the 2020 Prius Prime so that you can decide whether to save a bit on a 2019 model or pay a little extra for the 2020 version. First, a little background info is in order. Toyota redesigned the regular Prius into its current fourth-generation iteration for the 2016 model year, and then added this plug-in hybrid (PHEV) Prime for the 2017 model year. The standard hybrid Prius received many upgrades for 2019, cleaning up styling for more of a mainstream look (that didn’t impact the version being reviewed now, by the way), but the latest 2020 Prius Prime was given a number of major updates that I’ll go over now.

2019 Toyota Prius Prime
LED headlamps, driving lights and fog lamps look distinctive.

Interestingly (in other words, what were they thinking?), pre-refreshed Prius Prime models came with glossy white interior trim on the steering wheel spokes and shift lever panel, which dramatically contrasted the glossy piano black composite found on most other surfaces. Additionally, Toyota’s Prius Prime design team separated the rear outboard seats with a big fixed centre console, reduced a potential five seats to just four for the 2019 model year. Now, for 2020, the trim is all black shiny plastic and the rear seat separator has been removed, making the Prime much more family friendly. What’s more, the 2020 improves also include standard Apple CarPlay, satellite radio, a sunvisor extender, plus new more easily accessible seat heater buttons, while two new standard USB-A charging ports have been added in back.

Moving into the 2020 model year the Prime’s trim lineup doesn’t change one iota, which means Upgrade trim sits above the base model once again, while the former can be enhanced with a Technology package. The base price for both 2019 and 2020 model years is $32,990 (plus freight and fees) as per the aforementioned CarCostCanada pricing pages, but on the positive Toyota now gives you cargo cover at no charge (it was previously part of the Technology package). This reduces the Technology package price from $3,125 to $3,000, a $125 savings, and also note that this isn’t the only price drop for 2020. The Upgrade trim’s price tag is $455 lower in fact, from $35,445 to $34,990, but Toyota doesn’t explain why. Either way, paying less is a good thing.

2019 Toyota Prius Prime
The Prime gets a unique concave roof, rear window and rear spoiler.

As for the Prius Prime’s Upgrade package, it includes a 4.6-inch bigger 11.6-inch infotainment touchscreen that integrates a navigation system (and it also replaces the Scout GPS Link service along with its 3-year subscription), a wireless phone charger, Softex breathable leatherette upholstery, an 8-way powered driver seat (which replaces the 6-way manual seat from the base car), illuminated entry (with step lights), a smart charging lid, and proximity keyless entry for the front passenger’s door and rear liftgate handle (it’s standard on the driver’s door), but interestingly Upgrade trim removes the Safety Connect system along with its Automatic Collision Notification, Stolen Vehicle Locator, Emergency Assistance button (SOS), and Enhanced Roadside Assistance program (three-year subscription).

My tester’s Technology package includes fog lamps, rain-sensing windshield wipers, a helpful head-up display unit, an always appreciated auto-dimming centre mirror, a Homelink remote garage door opener, impressive 10-speaker JBL audio, useful front parking sensors, semi-self-parking, blind spot monitoring, and rear cross-traffic alert.

2019 Toyota Prius Prime
The Prius interior is much improved over previous generations, especially in top-tier Upgrade trim with the Technology package.

You might think an appropriate joke would be to specify the need for blind spot monitoring (not to mention paying close attention to your mirrors) in a car that only makes 121 net horsepower plus an unspecified amount of torque from its hybrid power unit, plus comes with an electronic continuously variable automatic (CVT) that’s not exactly performance-oriented (to be kind), all of which could cause the majority of upcoming cars to blast past as if it was only standing still, but as with most hybrids the Prime is not as lethargic as its engine specs suggest. The truth is that electric torque comes on immediately, and although AWD is not available with the plug-in Prius Prime, its front wheels hooked up nicely at launch resulting in acceleration that was much more than needed, whether sprinting away from a stoplight, merging onto a highway, or passing big, slower moving trucks and buses.

2019 Toyota Prius Prime
All Prius trims include a wide, narrow digital instrument cluster, but the 11.6-inch centre display comes with Upgrade trim.

The Prius Prime is also handy through curves, but then again, just like it’s non-plug-in Prius compatriot, it was designed more for comfort than all-out speed, with excellent ride quality despite its fuel-efficient low rolling resistance all-season tires. Additionally, its ultra-tight turning radius made it easy to manoeuvre in small spaces. Of course, this is how the majority of Prius buyers want their cars to behave, because getting the best possible fuel economy is prime goal. Fortunately the 2019 Prius Prime is ultra-efficient, with a claimed rating of 4.3 L/100km city, 4.4 highway and 4.3 combined, compared to 4.4 in the city, 4.6 on the highway and 4.4 combined for the regular Prius, and 4.5 city, 4.9 highway and 4.7 for the AWD variant. This said the Prime is a plug-in hybrid that’s theoretically capable of driving on electric power alone, so if you have the patience and trim to recharge it every 40 km or so (its claimed EV-only range), you could actually pay nothing at all for fuel.

I might even consider buying a plug-in just to get the best parking spots at the mall and other popular stores, being that most retailers put their charging stations closest to their front doors. Even better, when appropriate stickers are attached to the Prime’s rear bumper it’s possible to use the much more convenient (and faster) high-occupancy vehicle (HOV) lane when driving alone during rush hour traffic.

2019 Toyota Prius Prime
A closer look shows how massive the navigation system’s map looks.

The Prime’s comfort-oriented driving experience combines with an interior that’s actually quite luxurious too. Resting below and in between cloth-wrapped A-pillars, the Prime receives luxuriously padded dash and instrument panel surfacing, including sound-absorbing soft-painted plastic under the windshield and comfortably soft front door uppers, plus padded door inserts front and back, as well as nicely finished door and centre armrests. Toyota also includes stylish metal-look accents and shiny black composite trim on the instrument panel, the latter melding perfectly into the super-sized 11.6-inch vertical touchscreen infotainment display, which as previously mentioned replaces the base Prime’s 7.0-inch touchscreen when moving up to Upgrade trim.

Ahead of delving into the infotainment system’s details, all Prius Primes receive a wide, narrow digital gauge package at dash central, although it is slanted toward the driver with the majority of functions closer to the driver than the front passenger. I found it easy enough to look at without the need to remove my eyes from the road, and appreciated its stylish graphics with bright colours, deep and rich contrasts, plus high resolution. When you upgrade to the previously noted Technology package, you’ll benefit from a head-up display as well, which can positioned for a driver’s height, thus placing important information exactly where it’s needed on the windscreen.

2019 Toyota Prius Prime
The Prius driver’s seat is very comfortable, and is covered with Toyota’s exclusive Softex breathable leatherette.

The aforementioned vertical centre touchscreen truly makes a big impression when climbing inside, coming close to Tesla’s ultra-sized tablets. I found it easy enough to use, and appreciated its near full-screen navigation map. The bottom half of the screen transforms into a pop-up interface for making commands, that automatically hides away when not in use.

Always impressive is Toyota’s proprietary Softex leatherette upholstery, which actually breathes like genuine hides (appreciated during hot summer months). Also nice, the driver’s seat was ultra comfortable with excellent lower back support that gets improved upon by two-way power lumbar support, while its side bolsters held my backside in place during hard cornering as well. The Prime’s tilt and telescopic steering column gave me ample reach too, allowing me to get totally comfortable while feeling in control of the car. To be clear, this isn’t always possible with Toyota models.

2019 Toyota Prius Prime
The rear seats are comfortable and roomy, while a fixed centre console remains part of the 2019 offering.

I should mention that the steering wheel rim is not wrapped in leather, but rather more of Toyota’s breathable Softex. It’s impressively soft, while also featuring a heated rim that was so nice during my winter test week. High quality switchgear could be found on its 9 and 3 o’clock spokes, while all other Prius Prime buttons, knobs and controls were well made too. I particularly liked the touch-sensitive quick access buttons surrounding the infotainment display, while the cool blue digital-patterned shift knob, which has always been part of the Prius experience, still looks awesome. All said the new Prius Prime is very high in quality.

Take note that Toyota doesn’t finish the rear door uppers in a plush padded material, but at least everything else in rear passenger compartment is detailed out as nicely as the driver’s and front passenger’s area. Even that previously note rear centre console is a premium-like addition, including stylish piano black lacquered trim around the cupholders and a nicely padded centre armrest atop a storage bin. While many will celebrate its removal for 2020, those who don’t have children or grandkids might appreciate its luxury car appeal. Likewise, I found its individual rear bucket seats really comfortable, making the most of all the Prime’s rear real estate. Yes, there’s a lot of room to stretch out one’s legs, plus adequate headroom for taller rear passengers, while Toyota also adds vent to the sides of each rear seat, aiding cooling in back.

2019 Toyota Prius Prime
The rear cargo floor sits very high due to the battery below.

Most should find the Prius Prime’s cargo hold adequately sized, as it’s quite wide, but take note that it’s quite shallow because of the large battery below the load floor. It includes a small stowage area under the rearmost portion of that floor, filled with a portable charging cord, but the 60/40-split rear seats are actually lower than the cargo floor when dropped down, making for an unusually configured cargo compartment. Of course, we expect to make some compromises when choosing a plug-in hybrid, but Hyundai’s Ioniq PHEV doesn’t suffer from this issue, with a cargo floor that rests slightly lower than its folded seatbacks.

If you think I was just complaining, let me get a bit ornery about the Prius’ backup beeping signal. To be clear, a beeping signal would be a good idea if audible from outside the car, being that it has the ability to reverse in EV mode and can therefore be very quiet when doing so, but the Prius’ beeping sound is only audible from inside, making it totally useless. In fact, it’s actually a hindrance because the sound interferes with the parking sensor system’s beeping noise, which goes off simultaneously. I hope Toyota eventually rights this wrong, because it’s the silliest automotive feature I’ve ever experienced.

2019 Toyota Prius Prime
The battery causes an uneven load floor when the rear seats are folded.

This said the Prius’ ridiculous reverse beeper doesn’t seem to slow down its sales, this model having long been the globe’s best-selling hybrid-electric car. It truly is an excellent vehicle that totally deserves to don the well-respected blue and silver badge, whether choosing this PHEV Prime model or its standard trim.

Story and photo credits: Trevor Hofmann

2019 Lincoln MKZ Reserve 3.0L V6 AWD Road Test

2019 Lincoln MKZ Reserve 3.0L AWD
This classy looking four-door luxury sedan is a great performer in as-tested 3.0L V6 form.

It’s not every day that a really great car gets discontinued, but Lincoln is eliminating its entire lineup of cars (two in total), just like its parent company Ford is doing (Mustang aside), which means the impressive MKZ mid-size luxury sedan will soon be merely a memory, and the automotive world will have lost a car well worth owning.

Lincoln updated the MKZ with its latest design language for 2017, including its ritzier more premium chrome grille up front, which was mixed in with rear styling that was already very unique and expressive for a very handsome mid-size luxury sedan. My tester’s optional dark grey matte-metallic 19-inch alloys encircled by 245/40 Michelin all-seasons give it a more aggressive appearance than it would otherwise have, the rest of the car more artfully elegant than many rivals.

2019 Lincoln MKZ Reserve 3.0L AWD
The MKZ has long been one of the most distinctive cars in its class when seen from the rear.

Although luxury cars are temporarily loosing their savour in today’s SUV-enamoured auto market, Lincoln makes a pretty good argument for sticking with the time-tested body style in its MKZ. Ford’s luxury brand has actually done reasonably well with this model over the years, achieving a sales high of 1,732 deliveries in calendar year 2006, but after a slowdown to accommodate the 2007/2008 financial crisis and additional stagnation in 2012, it’s been a slippery albeit steady slope downhill from 1,625 units in 2013 to 1,445 in 2014, 1,130 in 2015, 1,120 in 2016, 994 in 2017, 833 in 2018, and lastly 367 examples delivered last year, the latter sum representing a 55.9-percent year-over-year nosedive. Of course other factors played into the MKZ’s most recent downturn, with parent company Ford’s announcement of the car’s cancellation last year probably most destructive, but none of this takes away from the model’s overall goodness.

The very same 3.0-litre turbo-V6 that impressed me in the larger, heavier Continental was new for 2018 in the MKZ Reserve, which means the velvety smooth 400-horsepower beast of an engine, pushing out an equally robust 400 lb-ft of torque, scoots down the highway even faster. With so much thrust and twist available, an eight-, nine- or 10-speed automatic isn’t necessary, so Lincoln left its smooth and dependable six-speed autobox in place, together with a set of paddle-shifters on the steering wheel to make the most of the available power.

2019 Lincoln MKZ Reserve 3.0L AWD
Lincoln provides plenty of stylish details including LED headlamps and sporty 19-inch alloy wheels.

Getting things started is an ignition button atop the otherwise unique pushbutton gear selector, which lines up to the left of the centre touchscreen on the main stack of controls. This vertical row of switches integrates the usual PRND buttons within the start/stop button just noted and an “S” or sport mode button at the bottom. Once accustomed to the setup it’s as easy as any other gear selector to use.

The smooth transmission is certainly more engaging in its sport mode, especially when those steering wheel-mounted paddles just mentioned are put into use, but just the same I found upshifts took at least two seconds to complete, with downshifts occurring about a half-second quicker, which is hardly fast enough to be deemed a sport sedan. Still, this well-proven gearbox provided reliable, refined service. This in mind, the MKZ was never designed to be a sports sedan. It’s capable of moving down the road quickly when coaxed, with tons of get-up-and-go off the line, plus a true automatic feel when pulling on its paddles, and stable control around fast-paced curves, but let’s be clear, the MKZ was designed for comfort first and foremost.

This means that it’s a wholly quiet and impressively smooth riding car. Nevertheless, when I was pushing some serious speed down a winding rural road near my home, the mid-size four-door clung to pavement well. Granted, I didn’t temporarily lose my sense of reality by forgetting it wasn’t a Mercedes-AMG, BMW M or Audi RS. The MKZ’s advanced electronics and as-tested torque-vectoring AWD make it rock steady on slippery surfaces just the same, while it comes well stocked with yet more safety items.

2019 Lincoln MKZ Reserve 3.0L AWD
Get ready for a richer cabin than you may have experienced in a Lexus ES or some other luxury brand.

As good as it handles, and as stylish as its exterior design is, the MKZ’s best asset is its cabin. Yes, the MKZ interior can hardly be faulted, other than sharing a few design elements, some of its switchgear, and a number of underlying components with the Ford Fusion that rides on the same underpinnings. This is most obvious with the steering wheel, IP/dash and centre stack designs plus overall layout, not to mention the door panels regarding their handles and switches. Then again Lincoln takes the MKZ’s finishings up a major notch when compared to the blue-oval car, with a totally pliable composite instrument hood and dash-top, which even extends down to the lower knee area, plus soft-touch surfaces on each side of the centre stack and the lower console, even including the side portions of the floating bottom section.

I’m hardly finished praising this interior, but this is where I should probably interject that storage space is another MKZ strong point. The floating centre console just mentioned provides a large area for stowing smartphones, tablets, etcetera, while Lincoln also includes a big glove box, a sizeable storage compartment below the centre armrest, another smaller one within the folding rear armrest, most of which are lined with a plush velvety fabric, plus bottle holders in each lower door panel, and finally an amply sized 436-litre trunk that expands via 60/40-split rear seatbacks, or a helpful centre pass-through.

2019 Lincoln MKZ Reserve 3.0L AWD
The MKZ’s dash design might look familiar to those knowledgeable of the Ford Fusion, but the materials are superb.

Incidentally, the MKZ Hybrid’s trunk only measures 314 litres, and this electrified car is all that’s available for the 2020 model year. Sad, but the brilliantly quick V6 is now history, or at least you can’t get a 2020 MKZ with this ultra-strong powerplant, yet you should have no problem locating a 2019, albeit don’t hesitate to contact your local Lincoln dealer if you want bonafide performance along with your mid-size Lincoln luxury sedan experience.

Also on the positive, you can save up to $7,500 in additional incentives with the 2019 MKZ, as per our 2019 Lincoln MKZ Canada Prices page. Lincoln provides up to $1,500 in additional incentives for the 2020 MKZ, by the way, plus you can theoretically save up to $13,000 in additional incentives if you can find a new 2018 model (there’s likely some still available).

Now that we’re talking model year changes, the transition from 2018 to 2019 left mid-range Select trim off the menu in the conventionally powered car, leaving only Reserve trim with the entry-level 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder engine, this mill capable of a motivating 245 horsepower and 270 lb-ft of torque, while the as-tested Reserve 3.0-litre V6 was (is) also available. The hybrid’s combustion engine produces 141 horsepower and 129 lb-ft of torque, by the way, although its net output is stronger at 188 horsepower, whereas the electric motor makes 118 horsepower (88 kW) and 177 lb-ft of torque (I wouldn’t both trying to add them up, as quantifying hybrid output numbers is far from simple math).

2019 Lincoln MKZ Reserve 3.0L AWD
The MKZ’s mostly digital gauge cluster is attractive and feature filled.

Fuel economy is easier to calibrate, and considering the regularly fluctuating Canadian pump prices, which may very well get impacted by our national government’s lack of will to enforce the rule of law against a much more radical set of blockading protestors, the price of a litre of fuel could increase dramatically anytime, thus choosing a fuel-efficient car is probably smart. As it is, the MKZ Hybrid’s 5.7 L/100km city, 6.2 highway and 5.9 combined results are twice as efficient as the 3.0 V6 version I’m reviewing now, the hybrid model’s continuously variable transmission (CVT) no doubt helping out, but nowhere near as much as the electrified portion of its drivetrain. By comparison the MKZ’s V6 AWD setup is rated at 14.0 L/100km in the city, 9.2 on the highway and 11.8 combined, while the same car powered by the non-hybrid 2.0-litre four-cylinder does reasonably well with a 12.1 city, 8.4 highway and 10.4 combined rating.

Earlier I claimed to not being finished praising the MKZ’s interior, and it truly is impressive for a modest entry price of $47,000 to $53,150 for the Hybrid. A Reserve AWD can be had for $52,500, incidentally, while my 3.0-litre V6 tester caused the price of the latter model to jump by $6,500. Just like the dash-top and instrument panel, the MKZ Reserve’s inside door panels feature nicely stitched composite door uppers, inserts and armrests, plus the doors’ lower panels are also made from a pliable composite. While most wouldn’t do so, it’s reasonable to compare the MKZ Reserve to the much pricier compact-to-midsize German luxury cars rivals, as they won’t wholly improve on the domestic luxury model’s fine detailing and refinement. This Lincoln includes genuine hardwood inlays as well, plus exquisite drilled aluminum speaker grilles featuring a elegant spiralling pattern, while the quality of the MKZ’s various buttons, knobs and switches can match many in the premium sector.

2019 Lincoln MKZ Reserve 3.0L AWD
The centre stack is well organized, and includes gear selectors at the top left.

The same holds true for its electronic interfaces, particularly the stunning new mostly-digital instrument cluster. At first glance it seems conventional, with a duo of circular primary dials with a large colour multi-information display in the middle, but instead all of the gauges are digital graphics, with Lincoln housing the TFT screens within round dial-like frames, the left one featuring an analogue-like tachometer around the outer edge and a multi-info display within, or alternatively a much bigger MID. The speedometer on the right boasts a digital needle and dial markers, plus other gauges within. It all gives the MKZ a fully up-to-date look, which is complemented by an infotainment touchscreen on the centre stack that was already impressive.

Lincoln’s infotainment system builds on Ford’s Sync 3 system, albeit with earthy brown and gold tones on black instead of the mainstream namesake brand’s various shades of light blues on white. No matter the overlying design, it’s a very good interface that needs no updating in this MKZ. Features include complete audio controls, two-zone front auto HVAC functions with three-way heatable/coolable front seats, Bluetooth phone and audio streaming connectivity, plus Apple CarPlay and Android Auto smartphone integration, an easy-to-use navigation system with good accuracy, an app menu that comes stock with Sirius Travel Link and lets you download additional mobile apps too, plus a car settings menu with two full panels of features as well as a third panel offering ambient lighting colour choices and multi-contour seat controls.

2019 Lincoln MKZ Reserve 3.0L AWD
These multi-contour front seats are fabulously comfortable, especially when their massage function is selected.

The MKZ Reserve’s seats in mind, those up front are extremely comfortable thanks to good support all over. Yes, even their side bolstering is good, helping this luxury car live up to its high-horsepower performance. They include four-way lumbar support, this being a very good reason to choose this Lincoln over the directly competitive Lexus ES that only offered two-way powered lumbar in the 2019 model I tested recently. A button in the middle of the lumbar controller immediately triggers a panel within the centre display to customize the multi-contour seat controls, including a massage function that does a great job of relaxing sore muscles.

As good as the front seats are, your passengers should be comfortable in the back too. The second row is detailed out just as nicely as the front seating area, with the same high quality, pliable composite and leather door panels, including the gorgeous aluminum speaker grilles. The folding centre armrest is infused with the usual twin cupholders, of course, while Lincoln provides rear vents on the backside of the front centre console too, as well as buttons for a set of two-way seat warmers in the outboard positions, plus two USB-A charging points and a three-prong 110-volt household-style socket for plugging in laptops.

2019 Lincoln MKZ Reserve 3.0L AWD
The rear seating area is comfortable, spacious and nicely finished.

A powered trunk lid provides access the previously noted cargo area, and it’s a nicely finished compartment too, with high-quality carpeting on the floor, the sidewalls, and under the bulkhead, plus the backsides of the rear folding seatbacks of course. It’s too back Lincoln only split them with a less convenient 60/40-split, the Euro-style 40/20/40 configuration much better for slotting longer items like skis down the middle, but at least Lincoln included a small centre pass-through that’s good for a single pair of downhill boards or two narrower sets for cross-county skiing.

As for features, the multi-contour front seats noted earlier were made standard in the MKZ Reserve for 2019, as were a set of rear window sunshades, plus active motion and adaptive cruise with stop-and-go, and 19-inch satin-finish alloys. Additionally, Lincoln included a windshield wiper de-icer on all trims, plus rain-sensing wipers, blindspot monitoring and lane keeping assist, while the options menu included a new package with premium LED headlights, a panoramic sunroof and 20-speaker audio.

2019 Lincoln MKZ Reserve 3.0L AWD
A small pass-through can accommodate long cargo down the middle.

After everything is said and done, the only issue reason a person might choose to purchase a Lexus ES, or another big family sedan from a non-premium maker like the Toyota Avalon, Nissan Maxima, or Chrysler 300 instead of the Lincoln MKZ comes down to its imminent discontinuation. This said the MKZ’s scenario is not an anomaly thanks to plenty of large sedans getting the axe, including Lincoln’s own Continental (I’m saddened a lot more by that news as it’s a superb car for excellent value) and Ford’s Taurus, plus some Buicks and Chevy sedans, so therefore it’s quite possible any new four-door model you happen to choose might get killed off if Canadian consumers don’t step up and start buying them in volume, so it’s probably best to take one home while you can.

Story and photo credits: Trevor Hofmann

2019 Subaru WRX STI Sport Road Test

2019 Subaru WRX STI Sport
The WRX STI’s rally car styling never gets old.

Do you prefer wing spoilers or lip spoilers? You’ll need to contemplate this before purchasing a new Subaru WRX STI. It might be an age thing, or the highest speed you plan on attaining. If you’ve got a racetrack nearby, I recommend the wing.

Being that my slow-paced home of Vancouver no longer has a decent racecourse within a day’s drive my thoughts are divided, because the massive aerodynamic appendage attached to this high-performance Subaru’s trunk adds a lot of rear downforce at high speeds, which it can easily achieve. Speed comes naturally to the STI. It’s rally-bred predecessor won the FIA-sanctioned World Rally Championship (WRC) three years in a row, after all, from 1995 to 1997, amassing 16 race wins and 33 podiums in total. That was a long time ago, of course, and Subaru has not contested a factory WRC team for more than ten years, but nevertheless the rally-inspired road car before you is much better than the production version tested in 2008.

2019 Subaru WRX STI Sport
The WRX STI’s rear design is even more aggressive than up front.

Rivals have come and gone over the years, the most disappointing loss being the Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution (EVO) that was discontinued at the close of 2015, while sport compact enthusiasts are no doubt lamenting the more recent cancellation of Ford’s Focus RS too, that car going away at the end of 2018 due to the death of the model’s less formidable trims. This said, the super compact category isn’t dead. Volkswagen revived its Golf R for 2016 and it’s still going strong, while Honda’s superb Civic Type R arrived on the scene for 2018, while Hyundai is getting frisky with its new Veloster N for 2020, although the last two mentioned don’t offer four-wheel drive so therefore don’t face off directly against their all-weather, multiple-terrain competitors.

The WRX STI seen here is a 2019 model, which means it hasn’t been updated with the new styling enhancements included for the 2020, but both get the 5-horsepower bump in performance introduced for 2018. To clarify, the regular WRX looks the same for 2020, at least from the outside, although its cabin gets some extra red stitching on the door trim plus its engine bay comes filled with a retuned 2.0-litre four, while the differential receives some revisions as well. This means only the STI receives styling tweaks, which include a new lower front fascia and new 19-inch aluminum machined alloy wheels for Sport and Sport-tech trims. The 2020 WRX STI Sport also receives proximity keyless access with pushbutton start/stop.

2019 Subaru WRX STI Sport
LED headlamps add sophistication, while all the scoops and vents are there by functional design.

My 2019 WRX STI tester was in Sport trim, which fits between the base and top-line Sport-tech models. The base STI starts at $40,195 plus freight and fees, with the Sport starting at $42,495 and the more luxury-trimmed Sport-tech at $47,295. And by the way, the wing spoiler is standard with the Sport and Sport-tech, but can be swapped out for the previously noted lip spoiler when moving up to the Sport-tech at no extra charge.

Pickings are slim for a 2019 model, but I poured over Canada’s Subaru dealer websites and found a number of them still available. Just the same, don’t expect to find the exact trim, option and/or colour you want. At least you’ll get a deal if choosing a 2019, with our 2019 Subaru WRX Canada Prices page showing up to $2,500 in additional incentives available at the time of writing. Check it out, plus peruse a full list of trim, package and option pricing for both WRX and WRX STI models, as well as information about special financing and leasing offers, notices about manufacturer rebates, and most important of all, dealer invoice pricing could help you save thousands. This said if you can’t locate the 2019 model you want, take a look at our 2020 Subaru WRX Canada Prices page that’s showing up to $750 in additional incentives.

2019 Subaru WRX STI Sport
Sport and Sport-tech trim get these gorgeous 19-inch alloys on Yokohama rubber.

While the 2019 WRX STI looks no different than the 2018, it remains an aggressively attractive sport sedan. The 2018 STI added a fresh set of LED headlamps for a more sophistication appearance along with better nighttime visibility, while a standard set of cross-drilled Brembo brakes feature yellow-green-painted six-piston front calipers and two-piston rear calipers aided via four-channel, four-sensor and g-load sensor-equipped Super Sport ABS.

Subaru also revised the STI’s configurable centre differential (DCCD) so that it’s no longer a hybrid mechanical design with electronic centre limited-slip differential control, but instead an electric design for quicker, smoother operation, while the car’s cabin now included red seatbelts that, like everything else, move directly into the 2019 model year.

The STI’s interior also features a fabulous looking set of red on black partial-leather and ultrasuede Sport seats, with the same plush suede-like material applied to each door insert, along with stylish red stitching that extends to the armrests as well, while that red thread also rings the inside of the leather-wrapped sport steering wheel, the padded leather-like centre console edges, and the sides of the front seat bolsters. Recaro is responsible for the front seats, thus they are as close to racecar-specification as most would want from a car that will likely get regular daily use. The driver’s is 10-way power-adjustable, including two-way lumbar support, and superbly comfortable.

2019 Subaru WRX STI Sport
The WRX STI’s interior is nicely finished with upscale materials, good quality and plenty of upscale features.

The rear passenger area is roomy and supportive as well, and impressively is finished to the same standards as the front, even including soft-touch door uppers. Additionally, Subaru added a folding armrest in the middle for the 2018 model year, with the usual dual cupholders integrated within. 

If you want a reason why both WRX models sell a lot better than the arguably more attractive BRZ (at least the latter is sleeker and more ground-hugging), it’s that just-noted rear passenger compartment. The BRZ seats four, in a literal 2+2 pinch, but the WRX does so in roomy comfort. It has the rare pedigree of being a legendary sports car, yet provides the everyday usability of a practical sedan. Its 340-litre trunk is fairly roomy too, while the car’s rear seat folds down 60/40 via pull-tab latches on the tops of the seatbacks.

2019 Subaru WRX STI Sport
This is one of the better driver’s positions in the class.

Additionally, all passengers continue to benefit from less interior noise, plus a retuned suspension with a more comfortable ride, while the WRX was given a heavier duty battery last year as well, plus revised interior door trim. What’s more, a new electroluminescent primary instrument cluster integrated a high-resolution colour TFT Multi-mode Vehicle Dynamics Control display, providing an eco-gauge, driving time information, a digital speedo, a gear selection readout, cruise control details, an odometer, trip meter, SI-Drive (Subaru Intelligent Drive) indicators, and the Driver Control Centre Differential (DCCD) system’s front and rear power bias graphic, whereas the 5.9-inch colour multi-information display atop the dash was also updated last year, showing average fuel economy, DCCD graphics, a digital PSI boost gauge, etcetera.

Subaru’s electronic interfaces have been getting steady updates in recent years, to the point they’re now some of the more impressive in the industry. The STI’s two touchscreens are as good as they’ve ever been, but compared to the gigantic vertical touchscreen in the new 2020 Outback and Legacy they look small and outdated. The base 6.5-inch screen in this 2019, in fact, which carries over to the 2020, shouldn’t even be available anymore, at least in a car that starts above $40k. In its place, the top-tier Sport-tech’s 7.0-inch touchscreen should be standard at the very least. Navigation doesn’t need to be included at the entry price, but one would think that one good centre display would make better sense economically than building two for such a niche model. Either way, both feature bright, glossy touchscreens with deep contrasts and rich colours.

2019 Subaru WRX STI Sport
The primary gauge cluster features a comprehensive colour display at centre.

The standard infotainment system found in my tester came with Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, and Subaru’s own StarLink smartphone integration, which also includes Aha radio and the capability of downloading yet more apps. I like the look and functionality of the current interface too, which features colourful smartphone/tablet-style graphics on a night sky-like blue 3D tiled background, while additional features for 2019 include near-field communication (NFC) phone connectivity, a Micro SD card slot, HD radio, new gloss-black topped audio knobs, plus more. My Sport tester can only be had with the base six-speaker audio system too, which had me missing the Sport-tech’s nine-speaker 320-watt Harman/Kardon upgrade, but I have say I would’ve been content with the entry sound system if I’d never tried the H/K unit.

Together with everything mentioned already, all three STI trims include a gloss black front grille insert, brushed aluminum door sills with STI branding, carpeted floor mats with red embroidered STI logos, aluminum sport pedals, a leather-clad handbrake lever, black and red leather/ultrasuede upholstery, two-zone auto HVAC, a reverse camera with active guidelines, voice activation, Bluetooth phone connectivity with streaming audio, AM/FM/MP3/WMA audio, vehicle-speed-sensitive volume control, Radio Data System, satellite radio, USB and auxiliary plugs, etcetera.

2019 Subaru WRX STI Sport
The centre stack features a large multi-information display atop the dash, a 6.5-inch touchscreen below that, and dual-zone auto HVAC.

The STI gets a number of standard performance upgrades as well, like quick-ratio rack and pinion steering, inverted KYB front MacPherson struts with forged aluminum lower suspension arms, performance suspension tuning, high-strength solid rubber engine mounts, a red powder-coated intake manifold, a close-ratio six-speed manual transmission, a Helical-type limited-slip front differential, a Torsen limited-slip rear diff, and more.

Additional Sport trim features include 19-inch dark gunmetal alloy wheels wrapped in 245/35R19 89W Yokohama Advan Sport V105 performance tires, the aforementioned high-profile rear spoiler, light- and wiper-activated automatic on/off headlights with welcome lighting, a power moonroof, Subaru’s Rear/Side Vehicle Detection System (SRVD) featuring blindspot detection, lane change assist, rear cross traffic alert, etcetera.

Finally, top-line Sport-tech features that have yet to be mentioned include proximity keyless entry with pushbutton start/stop, navigation, as well as SiriusXM Traffic and Travel Link with weather, sports and stocks information, while the Sport-tech’s Recaro sport seats only get eight power adjustments.

2019 Subaru WRX STI Sport
The WRX STI’s shifter is sublime.

As is the case with all Subaru models, except the rear-drive BRZ sports car, the WRX STI comes standard with Symmetrical-AWD, the torque-vectoring system considered one of the best in the business. You can fling it sideways on dry or wet pavement, or for that matter on gravel, dirt, snow, or most any other road/trail surface, and remain confident it will pull you through, as long as it’s shod with the right tires for the occasion and your driving capability is at the level needed to correctly apply the steering, throttle and braking inputs as necessary.

As far as performance goes, the WRX STI is a car that is much more capable than most drivers will ever know, unless its deft poise saves them from an otherwise unavoidable accident. Its sporting prowess is legendary, and thanks to changes made a couple of years ago to the shifter and suspension, which made it much more enjoyable to drive in town as well as at the limit, it’s now an excellent daily driver. The manual transmission shifts smoother and easier, clicking into place with a more precise feel than in previous iterations.

2019 Subaru WRX STI Sport
These are two of the best sport seats in the compact segment.

The upgraded six-speed manual takes power from a 2.5-litre turbo-four that received beefier pistons, a new air intake, new ECU programming, and a higher-flow exhaust system than the previous generation, resulting in an identical 290 lb-ft of torque and the 5 additional horsepower mentioned earlier, the STI now putting out 310. Additionally, the just-mentioned transmission gets a reworked third gear for a faster takeoff. Translated, the latest STI feels even more enthusiastic during acceleration than pre-2018 models, which were already very quick.

As always, the 2019 STI’s road-holding capability is fabulously good. It feels light and nimble, yet kept the rear wheels locked mostly in place through high-speed curves, whether the tarmac was smooth or strewn with dips and bumps. I only used the word “mostly” because it oversteers nicely when coaxed through particularly tight corners, like those often found on an autocross course. At such events braking is critical, so it’s good that the STI’s big binders noted earlier scrub off speed quickly, no doubt helped in equal measures by the Sport’s standard 245/35R19 Yokohama performance tires.

2019 Subaru WRX STI Sport
This practical sports car seats four to five comfortably.

I can’t see fuel economy mattering much to the majority of STI buyers, but Transport Canada’s 2019 rating is reasonably efficient for a performance sedan just the same, at 14.1 L/100km city, 10.5 highway and 12.5 combined. Notably, these numbers haven’t change one bit from last year, while Subaru doesn’t show any advancements in the STI’s naught to 100km/h time either, once again claiming a sprint time that’s just 0.5 seconds faster than the regular WRX at 4.9 seconds. With only small adjustments made to its 1,550- to 1,600-kilogram curb weight (depending on trims), plus 5 additional horsepower now combined with a stronger third gear, both standstill and mid-range acceleration should be faster, which leaves me wondering whether Subaru is being conservative or if their marketing department merely hasn’t got around to updated the specs in their website.

So is the WRX STI for you? If you’re a driving enthusiast that still needs to stay real and practical, you should consider Subaru’s performance flagship. It’s well priced within the low- to mid-$40k range, and it’s an easy car to live with. Of course I can’t help but recommend it. 

Story credit: Trevor Hofmann

Photo credits: Karen Tuggay

2019 Hyundai Accent Ultimate Road Test

2019 Hyundai Accent Ultimate
The Hyundai Accent Sedan is dead in Canada, with only a handful available across the country.

The car you’re looking at has given up on Canada and moved to the States. Yup, it’s true. Call it a traitor if you want, but Hyundai’s subcompact Accent Sedan won’t be available north of the 49th after this 2019 model year, so if you’ve always wanted to own a new one you’d better act quickly.

Fortunately for us, the more practical hatchback version is staying, complete with a new engine and new optional continuously variable transmission, the latter replacing the conventional six-speed automatic found in the 2019 Accent Sedan being reviewed here. The U.S., incidentally, loses the hatchback variant that we prefer. How different our markets are, despite (mostly) speaking the same language and being so close.

So why is this subcompact carnage occurring? It comes down to sales, or a lack thereof. Hyundai Canada only sold 202 Accents last month, but it’s brand new Venue crossover SUV, which is more or less the same size as the Accent hatch, yet an SUV so it’s going to be much more popular, sold 456 units in its first-ever month of January 2020. I think the Venue is going to sell big time, as I’ve been driving one in between writing this review of the Accent, and am thoroughly impressed. It’s also the least expensive SUV in Canada, which won’t hurt its popularity either.

2019 Hyundai Accent Ultimate
The Accent will continue in its hatchback body style for 2020, its trunk now only available in the U.S. market.

I’m not sure if the Venue will surpass Kona sales, the larger utility finding 1,651 buyers last month and an amazing 25,817 during its first full year of 2019, which incidentally saw it first in its subcompact class (the same segment the Venue is entering now), resulting in a shocking 7,000-plus units ahead of the Nissan Qashqai. So car fans should be happy Hyundai kept its Accent here at all, especially considering how many of its peers have departed over the past couple of years for the same reasons (like the Nissan Versa Note, Toyota Prius C and Yaris Sedan, Chevy Sonic, Ford Fiesta, etc).

At least the Accent remains near the top of its class, only outsold by its Kia Rio cousin last month, 243 deliveries to the Accent’s aforementioned 202, but beating the Yaris’ 190 sales, a car that took the top spot away from the Accent last year, a position Hyundai has held for as long as I can remember. Who knows which subcompact car will be in the lead when the final tally gets sorted out once December 31, 2020 has passed?

2019 Hyundai Accent Ultimate
LEDs enhance the headlamps while chrome-trimmed fogs and sharp looking alloy wheels dress up this Ultimate trim.

Most of us should be able to agree that this 2019 Accent Sedan won’t do much to increase the Accent’s overall numbers this year. Certainly Hyundai will appreciate your buying one of the handful remaining, and yes I checked and there are plenty of retailers with new ones in stock across the country, but more dealers have sold out and are therefore saying hello to the updated 2020 Accent Hatchback, which looks identical yet gets the revised engine I mentioned earlier in this review, plus a totally new optional continuously variable transmission (CVT), the latter in place of the now departed six-speed automatic gearbox integrated into my 2019 tester.

I must admit to having divided feelings about these mechanical upgrades, because the changes seem to be only benefiting fuel economy at the expense of performance. This 2019 Accent boasts a reasonably strong 132 horsepower from its 1.6-litre four-cylinder engine, plus 119 lb-ft of torque, whereas the fresh new 2020 model’s 1.6-litre four features some cool new “Smartstream” tech, but nevertheless loses 12 horsepower and six lb-ft of torque, the new ratings only 120 and 113 respectively.

2019 Hyundai Accent Ultimate
Attract LED taillights grace the Accent Sedan’s hind quarters.

To clarify, the Accent’s Smartstream G1.6 DPI engine has little in common with the Smartstream G1.6 T-GDi engine found in the new Sonata. The Accent’s engine is naturally aspirated with four inline cylinders, dual-port injection (DPI), continuously variable valve timing, and a new thermal management module that warms the engine up faster to optimize performance and efficiency, whereas the Sonata’s four-cylinder is downright radical in comparison.

That turbo-four is configured into a V, which will be fabulous for packaging into smaller engine bays of the future and ideal for mating to hybrid drivetrains that could potentially fit into the engine bays of current models. It puts out 180 horsepower and 195 lb-ft of torque due, in part, to an industry-first Continuously Variable Valve Duration (CVVD) system that improves straight-line performance by four percent while improving fuel economy by five percent and reducing emissions by 12 percent. A Low Pressure Exhaust Gas Recirculation (LP EGR) system helps Hyundai to achieve the last number, but I’ll get into more detail about its advanced tech when I review the new 2020 Sonata Turbo.

2019 Hyundai Accent Ultimate
The Accent’s interior is put together well and big on features, but it’s missing soft-touch composite surfaces.

Respect should be paid to the technology behind the Accent’s new Smartstream G1.6 DPI engine, but clearly it’s more of an upgrade to an existing powerplant than anything revolutionary. Still, the new model’s improvement in fuel economy needs to be commended, with the 2019 Accent being reviewed here good for just 8.2 L/100km city, 6.2 highway and 7.3 combined whether employing its standard six-speed manual or available as-tested six-speed automatic, and the new 2020 Accent managing an impressive 7.8 L/100km in the city, 6.1 on the highway and 6.9 combined with its six-speed manual gearbox or 7.3 city, 6.0 highway and 6.6 combined with its new CVT—the latter number representing 12-percent better economy. 

As for the six-speed automatic in the outgoing Accent I’m reviewing here, it shifts smoothly, delivers a nice mechanical feel and even gets sporty when the shift lever is slotted into its manual position and operated by hand, so traditionalists should like it. Still, the 2020 Accent’s available CVT, called ITV by Hyundai for “Intelligent Variable Transmission,” should be thought of as an upgrade. Hyundai claims it simulates shifts so well you won’t be able to tell the difference (we’ll see about that), and don’t worry I’ll say how I really feel in a future road test review. Fortunately, CVTs are usually smoother than regular automatic transmissions, unless the simulated shifts are a bit off. Again, I won’t explain all the details that make Hyundai’s new CVT better than the rest, saving this for that model’s review, but for now will say that it features a wide-ratio pulley system Hyundai claims to provide a broader operation ratio than older CVTs, which improves fuel economy when higher gear ratios are being used and enhances performance when lower ratios are employed.

2019 Hyundai Accent Ultimate
Everything is well organized from a driver’s perspective.

The 2019 Accent Sedan delivers sportier performance than most in this class, thanks to the powerful little engine noted earlier, plus the engaging manual mode-enhanced gearbox, while its ride quality is comforting due to a well-sorted front strut and rear torsion beam suspension system, and should continue being good in the new 2020 as Hyundai doesn’t make any noted changes. Handling is also good, or at least good enough, the Accent’s electric power steering system delivering good directional response and overall chassis quite capable through the corners if kept at reasonable speeds. Hyundai incorporates standard four-wheel disc brakes, which do a good job of bringing the Accent down to a stop quickly, making the car feel safe and stable at all times.

Changing course, the Accent’s cabin is quite roomy for such a small car, particular when it comes to headroom. Legroom up front is pretty good too, and it should amply sized from side-to-side for most body types, plus I found the driver’s seat and steering wheel easy to position for comfort and control due to good tilt and telescopic steering column rake and reach. While all of the usual seat adjustments are included, there was no way to adjust the lumbar, but the seat is inherently good so I felt supported in all the right places.

2019 Hyundai Accent Ultimate
The Accent’s mostly analogue gauge cluster is clear and readable in almost any light.

Most cars in this class are tight in the back seat, and the Accent Sedan is no exception. Still, but two average-sized adults or three slender passengers, kids included, should fit in with no issue. I positioned the front seat for my longer legged, shorter torso five-foot-eight frame and had approximately two inches remaining between the front seatback and my knees, plus ample room for my feet while wearing winter boots. The seatbacks are finished in a nice cloth, which would be more comfortable if they touched my knees, but I doubt anyone wants to experience such a confining space either way. My small-to-medium torso felt comfortable enough as far as interior width goes, with about three to four inches at the hips and slightly more next to my left shoulder to the door panel, while about two and a half inches of nothingness could be found over above my head (not in my head… I can hear the jokes coming).

Hyundai doesn’t provide a folding armrest in the middle, however, so it lacks the comfort of a larger car like the Elantra or aforementioned Sonata, plus no vents provide air to rear passengers, but Hyundai does include a USB charger for powering passengers’ devices on the backside of the front console.

2019 Hyundai Accent Ultimate
A large infotainment touchscreen is filled with features in top-line Ultimate trim, while single-zone auto climate control sits below.

What about refinement? Strangely, Hyundai isn’t following the latest subcompact trend to pliable composite surfaces in key areas, which means others in this class are doing a better job of pampering occupants, at least in the touchy-feeling department. The dash top, for instance, and the instrument panel, door panels and most everywhere else is hard plastic, other than the leather-wrapped steering wheel of this top-line Ultimate model, plus the fabric door inserts, centre armrest, and cloth upholstered seats, of course. Unforgivable in the Canadian market, however, are hard shell plastic door armrests, which are downright uncomfortable.

Cutting such corners is a shame in a vehicle that does most everything else so well, although I should also criticize Hyundai for including an antiquated monochromatic trip computer in this top-line trim. It should be a full-colour TFT multi-information display this day and age, and on that note I don’t have a problem with its analogue gauges, even though some competitors are now beginning to digitize more of their clusters.

2019 Hyundai Accent Ultimate
The Accent’s rearview camera has active guidelines, not always included in its subcompact segment.

I’m guessing that Hyundai is hoping such shortcomings get forgotten quickly when the Accent’s potential buyers start adding up all the other standard and optional features before comparing its low pricing to competitors. On top of everything already mentioned my top line Accent Sedan came with proximity access with pushbutton start/stop, a fairly large centre touchscreen with Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, a host of downloadable apps, a rearview camera with active guidelines, plus much more. A single-zone automatic climate control makes sure the cabin is always at the right temperature, while my tester included three-way heatable front seats plus a heated steering wheel rim, the former capable getting downright therapeutic for the lower back.

The leather-wrapped steering wheel rim just mentioned is beautifully finished and nicely padded for comfort, while its spokes’ switchgear is very well done and complete with voice activation, audio controls, plus phone prompts to the left, and multi-information display plus cruise controls to the right. The turn signal/headlamp and wiper stalks are pretty premium-level as well. In fact, most of the interior buttons, knobs and switches make the Accent feel more expensive than its modest price range suggests. The same goes for the overhead console, which integrates yesteryear’s incandescent lamps yet boasts one of the most luxe lined sunglass holders I’ve ever felt, as well as a controller for the power moonroof.

2019 Hyundai Accent Ultimate
The front seats are comfortable, but no adjustable lumbar support.

The Accent Sedan’s rear seats fold individually in the usual 60/40-split configuration, adding more usability to the reasonably sized 388-litre (13.7 cu-ft) trunk, but this said the trunk lid is quite short which limited how much I could angle inside. Of course, a hatchback would solve this problem, so we should be glad Hyundai Canada chose to keep the more versatile of the two body styles for 2020. Hyundai provides a fairly large compartment underneath the load floor no matter which model is chosen, my tester’s mostly filled with a compact spare and the tools to change it, but there’s some space around its perimeter for smaller cargo.

So that’s the 2019 (and some of the 2020) Accent in a nutshell. If you really want a new Accent Sedan, you’d best begin to call all the Hyundai retailers in your city. I’ve checked, and some were available at the time of writing, but I’d recommend acting quickly. According to our 2019 Hyundai Accent Canada Prices page found right here on CarCostCanada, the most basic Accent Sedan in Essential trim with the Comfort Package starts at $17,349 (plus freight and fees), whereas this top-tier Ultimate Sedan can be had for $21,299, less discount of course. Retailers are motivated to sell, after all, so make sure to get a CarCostCanada membership to access info about manufacturer rebates, plus factory leasing and financing rate deals, which were available from zero percent at the time of writing (plus 0.99 percent for the new 2020 Accent), and as always your membership will give you access to dealer invoice pricing that could potentially save you thousands on a new car.

2019 Hyundai Accent Ultimate
The rear seats are comfortable, but legroom is limited and there’s not centre armrest.

As far as Accent Sedan alternatives go, Kia is keeping its Rio Sedan for 2020 (its basically the same as the U.S.-market Accent Sedan below the surface), and it also includes all the 2020 drivetrain improvements mentioned earlier in this review. As of the 2020 model year the Rio has become the only new subcompact sedan available in Canada, so South Korea’s alternative automotive brand has a good opportunity to lure in some new buyers it might not have been able to previously, while they’re still selling a 2020 Rio Hatchback.

Therefore you’ve got the option of snapping up this 2019 Hyundai Accent Sedan while some are still available, choosing the new 2020 Accent Hatchback with all of its mechanical updates, or opting for the same improvements in the Kia Rio Sedan or Hatchback. This said, maybe a new Hyundai Venue or Kona suits your style, as these two are superb subcompact crossovers only slightly more money. All in all it seems like Hyundai Motor Group has you covered no matter what you want in an entry-level vehicle, so the automaker’s future certainly looks promising.

Story and photo credits: Trevor Hofmann

2019 Genesis G70 3.3T Sport AWD Road Test

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Story and photo credits: Trevor Hofmann

2019 Toyota 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