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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Story and photo credits: Trevor Hofmann

2019 Honda CR-V Touring Road Test

2019 Honda CR-V Touring
The CR-V has been with us for a few years, but its current generation still looks good.

Honda’s CR-V is one of the top-selling sport utilities in Canada, and should do even better next year now that a sportier looking 2020 model is starting to arrive. The mid-cycle update revises its grille and front fascia, the latter including larger lower intakes plus new multiple-lens LED fog lamps in upper trims, which might not be a big deal to those not loyal to the popular model, but will no doubt cause fans to ante up if financing rates stay low.   

There’s a good reason for the diehard loyalty. Truly, few compact crossovers are as wholly good as the CR-V, especially the 2019 Touring example provided to me for a recent weeklong test. I couldn’t begin to count the number of people I’ve recommended the CR-V to. Its build quality is better than average, refinement right at the top, comfort-oriented performance excellent, and practicality top-notch.

I’d say comfort and overall roominess are the CR-V’s strongest attributes. To this end the driver’s seat and steering column offers better adjustability than most in this class, fitting my longer-legged, shorter-torso body almost perfectly, which is not always the case in this class. Its tilt and telescoping steering column extends farther rearward than most others, while my tester’s 12-way power-adjustable driver’s seat provided ample movement for optimal comfort and control. Even better, its four-way powered lumbar support fit the small of my back perfectly, and should do the same for most any body type, with some premium models not even offering such an impressive level of driver’s seat control.

2019 Honda CR-V Touring
The CR-V provides a distinctive look no matter the angle.

That 12-way powered driver’s seat is standard with EX, EX-L and Touring trims, incidentally, these being the upper half of a 2019 CR-V lineup that also includes LX-2WD and LX trims at the lower end. The lack of “2WD” in the other trims’ names isn’t a typo, by the way, but rather designates standard AWD in the rest of the lineup. Pricing for the base model starts at $27,690 plus freight and fees, while the same trim with AWD can be had for $30,490, the EX for $33,990, the EX-L for $36,290, and my Touring tester for $39,090.

Notably, the refreshed 2020 CR-V mentioned earlier starts $1,000 higher in base trim thanks to standard Honda Sensing, which means the base FWD model not only includes forward collision warning like it did last year, but also gets autonomous collision mitigation braking, lane departure warning with lane keeping assist and road departure mitigation, auto high beams, plus adaptive cruise control with low-speed follow.

The 2020 CR-V will also replace this year’s EX with new Sport trim that’s also priced $1,000 higher, while Honda increases the EX-L’s retail price by $1,500 plus adds $2,000 to this Touring trim next year. Last but not least, Honda pushes the new CR-V slightly upmarket with a $42,590 Black Edition that darkens much of the exterior trim and adds a set of black-painted alloy wheels. This model only comes painted in Crystal Black Pearl or $300 optional Platinum White Pearl, both of which look quite attractive.

2019 Honda CR-V Touring
Top-line Touring trim includes LED headlights, fog lamps, and these stylish 18-inch alloys.

Being that Honda should have no problem selling all the 2019 CR-Vs currently in stock (and yes, there were still some available at the time of writing), the company isn’t dumping piles of cash on the hood to get rid of them (that would be the Pilot that you can get up to $4,000 in additional incentives right now, whether buying a 2019 or even a 2020). As it is, the additional incentives go up to $1,000 with both the 2019 and 2020 CR-V right now, as per the 2019 Honda CR-V Canada Prices page and 2020 Honda CR-V Canada Prices page right here at CarCostCanada, where you can also learn details about trim, package and individual option pricing, manufacturer rebate info, and dealer invoice pricing that will likely save you even more. CarCostCanada members are currently saving an average of $1,869 on 2019 and 2020 CR-Vs, so keep this in mind before heading off to your local CR-V dealer.

I can’t yet speak for the new 2020 CR-V, but my 2019 Touring model continues to be one of the most refined compact SUVs available from a mainstream volume producer. Its front door uppers and dash top were covered in nice premium-level pliable composites, but the former surfaces go a step further thanks to a particularly upscale feeling stitched leather-like material. The same is found on the instrument panel’s facing, made even nicer with a strip of gloss-black inlay running horizontally down the middle. At least as attractive, my Touring model’s faux hardwood trim features a stylish matte finish that looks quite realistic and feels denser than most others in the class that attempt hardwood, except Mazda’s CX-5 Signature that uses real Abachi wood veneers.

2019 Honda CR-V Touring
These unique taillights stand out from a distance.

If I had to point to a competitive product that did a better job of mimicking premium than the CR-V Touring, it would be that CX-5 Signature. The genuine hardwood suits up with fabric-clad A-pillars as well as pliable composite door uppers in back, whereas its rear seats flip down in the optimal 40/20/40 split-folding setup. Like the CR-V, those rear seatbacks lower automatically via cargo sidewall levers, but I like Mazda’s efficient two-in-one release levers best. The CR-V is also hampered by its less than ideal 60/40-split rear seatbacks that aren’t anywhere near as accommodating for active lifestyle folks needing to carry longer items like skis down the middle. This allows rear passengers to benefit from the comfier outboard seats next to the window, and when seat warmers are added in back it make for less grumbling from the kids when both can enjoy a toasty hot seat after a cold day on the slopes.

The CR-V does include a handy adjustable cargo floor that moves up and down about three inches to either allow for taller stuff when lowered, or a rear floor section that meets up with the rear seatbacks when laid flat. When doing so the CR-V’s cargo volume expands from 1,110 litres behind the rear seatbacks to 2,146 litres, compared to just 875 and 1,687 litres respectively for the CX-5. By the way, this segment’s best-selling Toyota RAV4 is fairly large for the class too, but doesn’t quite measure up to the CR-V. 

As far as space goes elsewhere in the CR-V, front and rear passengers have a lot to go around. I’ve covered the driver’s setup already, so suffice to say the front passenger, which gets four-way power adjustment in upper trims and four-way manual in lower trims (the LX driver’s seat is six-way manual), should be amply comfortable and have more than enough room to move around in.

2019 Honda CR-V Touring
The CR-V Touring’s cabin is one of the most refined and well made in its segment.

As for rear passengers, I sat directly behind the driver’s seat when it was set up for my body type (my hips are about as high as the average six-footer despite being five-foot-eight, so seat placement is approximately the same), which resulted in approximately 10 inches of space ahead of my knees, plus enough room to almost totally stretch out my legs with both feet under the front seat. Additionally, I had ample headroom and good movement from side-to-side, even when flipping the wide centre armrest down, while I also found the outboard positions provided comfortable lower lumbar support. The switches for my tester’s heated rear outboard seats were smartly positioned on the door panels ahead of the armrests, right behind those for the power windows.

What’s more, a couple of charged USB-A ports are fitted to the rear panel of the front console, while dual cupholders are included within the aforementioned centre armrest, and bottle holders can be found in the lower rear door panels. If Honda had added soft, pliable rear door uppers along with 40/20/40-split rear seatbacks, or at least a centre pass-through, it would rival the CX-5 for best-in-class luxury and refinement.

Back in the driver’s seat, the CR-V Touring model’s steering wheel includes a comfortably shaped, leather-clad rim that can be warmed by pressing a button on the left spoke, while the switchgear on both spokes is better than average in quality and functionality.

2019 Honda CR-V Touring
The CR-V’s cockpit is comfortable and very well laid out for very good ergonomics.

The CR-V’s digital gauge package remains very good for this class, although appearing like a large multi-information display surrounded by analogue temperature and fuel readouts means that it’s not as impressive as the Volkswagen Tiguan’s optional fully digital instrument cluster. Still it functions well and is easy to read, but won’t let you double navigation mapping and route guidance info directly in front of the driver, or most other infotainment features.

The 7.0-inch high-resolution touchscreen on top of the centre stack looks a lot larger than it actually is when the CR-V is turned off, this because of how seamlessly Honda integrated it within its gloss-black surrounding surface. Other than a power/volume knob on the bottom left corner, the interface is purely touch-sensitive, and like a personal tablet or smartphone can be controlled via tap, swipe and pinch finger gestures.

As noted in passing earlier, this top-line model included a navigation system, which had very accurate route guidance. The maps are attractive and well laid out, as are the system’s other graphics, which nice, bright colours and deep contrast, while it was easy to use, responded quickly to input, and even included a decent audio system, complete with satellite radio, USB inputs, Bluetooth streaming, and more. Smartphones can be connected via Android Auto or Apple CarPlay integration, and the rearview camera utilized active guidelines, these strangely not included with the CX-5 I lauded earlier in this review.

2019 Honda CR-V Touring
The CR-V’s standard instrument cluster is mostly digital.

Getting an overhead sunglasses holder is nothing new, yet still much appreciated (as long as I remember to remove my sunglasses before returning a press car… I’ve lost at least half a dozen great pairs of sunglasses that way), but Honda goes a step further by including a built-in rear passenger conversation mirror, something not normally seen outside of minivan and mid-size crossover SUV interiors.

By this I’m not trying to align the CR-V with a minivan (although I’m not sure if the little utility could out-handle an Odyssey through the slalom), but it was clearly designed for comfort over out-and-out performance. It gets one, single engine, a turbocharged 1.5-litre four-cylinder with 190 horsepower and 179 lb-ft of torque. It’s plenty powerful for this segment, moving the CR-V off the line quickly enough, quite capable of passing slower moving traffic safely under most conditions, and ideal for high-speed cruising down life’s highways, but it doesn’t offer as much output as the RAV4, which comes standard with 203 horsepower and 184 lb-ft of torque, and is much less formidable than the top-tier Ford Escape’s 245 horsepower and 275 lb-ft of torque (although the entry-level Escape can only put out a maximum of 168 horsepower and 170 lb-ft of torque).

2019 Honda CR-V Touring
The touchscreen infotainment system is excellent.

The CR-V’s CVT (continuously variable transmission) offers similar middle-of-road appeal, as it’s a wonderfully smooth operator that only sips away at fuel, but it’s wholly un-sporty. By comparison the RAV4’s eight-speed automatic delivers a more classic automatic feel while achieving more or less the same fuel economy benefits, but just like the CR-V it doesn’t come with a set of steering wheel-mounted paddles to make the most of its sporting potential, whereas top-line trims of Mazda’s CX-5 do include paddle shifters and provide much sportier experiences overall, but Mazda’s six-speed automatic certainly isn’t earning any points for fuel economy or much pop to help the marketing department (a six-speed automatic sounds so passé these days). By comparison, top-tier versions of Ford’s new 2020 Escape should achieve the best performance of all for combining steering wheel paddles with a new eight-speed automatic, plus even stronger power than just mentioned.

Of the four compact crossover SUVs mentioned in this review so far, the CR-V is most efficient in all-important urban tests, plus it’s best when powered by all wheels. Transport Canada gives it an estimated fuel economy rating of 8.4 L/100km in the city, 7.0 on the highway and 7.8 combined when outfitted with FWD, or 8.7 city, 7.2 highway and 8.0 combined with AWD. The RAV4 with FWD slightly improves on the FWD CR-V’s highway number, but not so in the city where most of us drive more often, with a claimed rating of 8.8 city, 6.7 highway and 7.8 combined, while the same crossover with AWD gets a 9.2, 7.1 and 8.3 rating respectively. It wouldn’t be fair for me to omit the RAV4 Hybrid’s fuel economy numbers at this junction, which are easily best in the segment at 5.8 L/100km in the city, 6.3 on the highway and 6.0 combined, this even improving on the CX-5’s 8.9 city, 7.9 highway and 8.4 combined rating for its most efficient diesel powertrain.

2019 Honda CR-V Touring
These are two of the most comfortable front seats in the compact class.

The CX-5’s other fuel economy numbers range from 8.5 to 8.8 combined with FWD or 9.0 to 9.8 with AWD, whereas the Escape is thirstiest amongst this group of best-sellers with combined city/highway ratings of 9.1 with FWD, 9.9 for the AWD version, and 10.2 L/100km for the more potent model.

While we can blame the CR-V’s CVT autobox for its lacklustre performance characteristics, it clearly helps with fuel-efficiency, but CVTs are also often criticized for allowing the engine to rev higher than it normally would with a conventional automatic when pushing hard. To this end the CR-V can be noisy when engine revs climb due to an annoying droning effect during more aggressive acceleration or when passing on the highway, although you shouldn’t experience any aural discomfort when accelerating smoothly and maintaining moderate highway speeds.

This said, despite the RAV4 using a conventional automatic, its cabin is much louder than the CR-V’s overall. In fact, I can’t remember experiencing a louder vehicle in this class or any other, but before Honda lets its pride swell they should stuff a little more sound-deadening insulation ahead of the CR-V’s front firewall, as there’s still too much engine noise seeping into its cabin.

2019 Honda CR-V Touring
The rear seating area is very roomy, and the back seats are comfortable and supportive too.

Being comfortable is what matters in this segment after all, and fulfilling this requirement is some of the best ride quality in the class. The CR-V handles fairly well too, unless pushed too hard through fast corners, but when kept to reasonable speeds its fully independent front MacPherson strut and rear multi-link suspension manages very well, not even getting unsettled in back when rolling over deep ruts or big bumps. I found it especially good at negotiating city traffic, but was equally happy with its overall comfort while cruising down the freeway, but head into a curve too quickly and its entire body will lean uncomfortably, so be forewarned.

On that note, performance hounds that still need a modicum of practicality will probably want to take a look at Mazda’s CX-5, which puts out considerably better at high speeds yet still delivers a good ride, in spite of my 2019 tester rolling on 19-inch wheels compared to the CR-V Touring trim’s 18-inch rims. Nevertheless, as much as this type of performance banter might matter to automotive pundits and many of those who read them, all that matters to Honda is the number of CR-V loyalists that come back to purchase another one every three to four years, meaning that the CX-5 might win on the track, but the CR-V wins where it counts most, on the sales charts.

When it’s all said and done, this 2019 CR-V Touring was just as a comfortable and wholly practical as the 2018 CR-V Touring I drove last year (the review of which does a much better job of covering all standard and optional features, which haven’t changed). It’s a family conveyance that I’ll continue to recommend to those who prefer comfort above performance, plus I haven’t heard too many complaints about reliability either, so it’s always nice to listen to crickets instead of comments like, “You told me I should buy this car!”

2019 Honda CR-V Touring
The CR-V only has 60/40 split-folding rear seatbacks, but it’s really accommodating for cargo.

I’m willing to guess that if the CR-V weren’t so dependable it wouldn’t hold its resale value better than any competitor, which it does by the way. It earned the top position amongst car-based compact crossovers in the Canadian Black Book’s 2019 Best Retained Value Awards, took the top spot in its “Compact Utility” segment in ALG’s 2019 Residual Value Awards, plus ruled over its “Compact SUV/Crossover” category in Vincentric’s 2019 Best Value in Canada Awards, which is more of an overall value study, but nevertheless worthy of mention.

In the end, you could do a lot worse than choose one of the most awarded, highest recommended vehicles in its class, which is why Honda’s CR-V remains a leader in its highly contested compact SUV segment.

Story and photo credits: Trevor Hofmann

2019 Volvo XC90 T6 AWD Inscription Road Test

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Story credit: Trevor Hofmann

Photo credits: Karen Tuggay

2019 Lincoln MKC 2.3L EcoBoost AWD Reserve Road Test

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Story and photo credits: Trevor Hofmann

2019 Buick Encore Essence AWD Road Test

2019 Buick Encore Essence AWD
Buick will redesign its popular Encore for 2020, but this 2019 model still provides a lot of value, practicality and refinement for the price.

When you think of Buick, does the word “global” come to mind? While those outside of North America and China may not have ever heard of the Buick brand name, most of its models are sold under alternative badges in other jurisdictions, such as Opel in continental Europe, Vauxhall in the UK, plus Holden in Australia and New Zealand, while the cars and crossover SUVs sold here are often made somewhere else.

For instance, I recently reviewed a 2019 Regal GS (see the 2020 model here) that was designed by GM’s German and Australian divisions cooperatively, with input from its North American and Chinese arms, and then built in Rüsselsheim, Germany, plus Shanghai for the Chinese market, the latter assembly plant producing the LaCrosse full-size sedan (check out the newest LaCrosse here) as well, a car I last reviewed in 2017, although our variation on Buick’s flagship four-door is assembled at the General’s Detroit/Hamtramck plant.

A nameplate you may not be as aware of yet plays a more important role in Buick’s future is its compact Envision crossover SUV (check out the refreshed Envision here) that I reviewed the same year. While the Envision is related to both Chevy’s Equinox and GMC’s Terrain it was mostly designed and fully produced in China, plus is the first mass-produced vehicle to be fully assembled in China and sold to the U.S. and Canadian markets.

2019 Buick Encore Essence AWD
In top-line Essence trim with all packages included, the Encore just eclipses $40k.

The only U.S.-built vehicle to receive a Buick badge after the LaCrosse departs later this year will be the mid-size three-row Enclave (see the redesigned 2020 Enclave here) crossover SUV, made in Lansing, Michigan. Even the soon-to-arrive mid-size five-occupant Envoy, reportedly based on the new Chevrolet Blazer, will probably be produced in GM’s Coahuila, Mexico plant, where the Blazer currently calls home, but quite likely the upcoming Enspire, an SUV planned to squeeze in between the Encore and Envision, will be produced at the GM Fairfax facility in Kansas, being that initial hopes to import it from China aren’t appearing as promising as they once did.

Finally, the Encore hails from GM’s South Korean division that was formed from the remnants of Daewoo Motors. It’s produced in Bupyeong-Gu, Incheon next to the Chevrolet Trax, which incidentally is mostly the same subcompact SUV below the surface.

We’ll see a totally redesigned Encore for 2020, although we’ll need to wait until spring to purchase it. Today’s version hasn’t changed much since its stylish refresh for the 2017 model year, while it’s still in its first-generation, meaning it hasn’t been changed (much) below the skin since it arrived in 2012. I’ve tested and reviewed this model right from the beginning, and always appreciated it for what it was and still is, a nice, comfortable, quiet, fuel-efficient, surprisingly refined, even more surprisingly enjoyable to drive, reasonably well-featured, spacious city car/crossover with good all-season capabilities when AWD is added.

2019 Buick Encore Essence AWD
The LED headlamps and fog lights are standard in top-tier Essence trim, but the 7-spoke chrome alloys are optional.

For the above reasons I believe the Encore is one of the more intelligent buys in the entry-level subcompact sector, particularly for those of us who like being pampered. The 2019 Encore can be had for only $26,400 (plus freight and fees) before topping out at just north of $41k when all options and the majority of accessories get added, which is about where the majority of premium-badged players start off. To be fair, however, true luxury-branded subcompact SUV “rivals” such as BMW’s X1, Mercedes’ GLA, Audi’ Q3 and the list goes on are in a different league than Buick and this Encore when it comes to performance, interior finishings, available features, and all-important prestige.

Outside of China, where Buick has never really lost its premium sheen since the tailings of its dynastic era and once promising Republic rule, the three-crested badge doesn’t demand as much respect as Cadillac, which (unfortunately for GM) doesn’t impress to the degree of the previously noted German marques or even relative upstart Lexus. The Toyota-owned subsidiary only just ventured into this subcompact luxury SUV marketplace with its UX, a stylish little crossover that probably targets the type of comfort- and efficiency-first buyer the Encore attracts more closely, and therefore has quickly found significant traction on the sales charts to Audi’s dismay (the Q3 now sits in third behind the BMW X1 and Mercedes-Benz GLA-Class, or fourth if including the Encore).

2019 Buick Encore Essence AWD
Two-tone leather is a no-cost option with the 2019 Encore Essence.

Buick found 10,637 Encore customers in Canada through 2018, and continues to do quite well in the more mainstream volume-branded subcompact SUV segment too, achieving fifth place out of 17 challengers last year, with all but the Mini Countryman priced lower, the German-owned Brit asking $31,690 for its base SUV, although that model most often sells for more than $40k and can easily top $50k when adding features. That John Cooper Works Countryman is one of the better performing small SUVs at any price, mind you, while the Encore’s customers are much more interested in the attributes noted earlier, such as comfort, quietness, fuel efficiency, etcetera.

Achieving a high level of refinement is difficult in a small vehicle, and making matters worse the Encore is one of the smallest in its class. It’s actually smaller than the current Countryman as well as the older first-generation model (the current one has grown quite a bit), and it’s also smaller than the Nissan Qashqai, Toyota C-HR and Jeep Compass, not to mention all the premium-badged subcompact SUVs. This said the Encore is bigger than the Honda HR-V, Kia Soul, Ford EcoSport and a number of others, with some closer to its size being the Mitsubishi RVR, Nissan Kicks and Hyundai Kona, and finally a couple of SUVs nearly identically sized being Jeep’s Renegade and Mazda’s CX-3. Still, the Encore is tall enough that headroom will only be an issue for giants, while its cargo carrying capacity is also spacious.

2019 Buick Encore Essence AWD
The nicely organized dash provides a good assortment of premium features and plenty of soft-touch surfaces.

Lower its 60/40-split rear row and the little Encore can carry up to 1,371 litres (48.4 cubic feet) of cargo, and this is made easier thanks to seatbacks that lay flatter than most competitors due to their folding process that requires each lower cushion to first be flipped up and forward ahead of manually lowering each headrest and folding each backrest down. It’s certainly more labour intensive than its competitors’ seat systems, but the end result is more usable space.

While all this is good, what would you do if you needed to stow something longer and more awkward than most subcompact models can accommodate, such as a cupboard, small wardrobe, a stack of 4x4s for building a fence, or simply a big, beautiful carpet that you just had to have? Simple, put your significant other (or child) directly behind you in the back seat and drop the front seatback down for full front to back storage. You can load 2.4 metres (8.0 ft) of what-have-you inside, which is impossible with most competitors. By the way, when all seats are upright there’s 532 litres (18.8 cubic feet) in the very back, which is approximately what you’d find in full-size sedan’s trunk, also impressive. As just made clear, the many passenger and cargo configurations capable in the Encore makes it more practical than most rivals, which is a key reason why it’s long been so popular.

2019 Buick Encore Essence AWD
Classic analogue gauges with a reasonable large multi-info display provide good legibility in all lighting conditions.

Driving dynamics should be high up on its list of positive attributes too, but not for sportiness or anything so trivial. Of course, its MacPherson strut front and compound crank (torsion beam) rear suspension allows it to go quickly enough around corners, while it takes off fast enough from stoplights, plus feels plenty stable at highway speeds and beyond, but more importantly the Encore is really easy to drive. It starts with superb sightlines in every direction due to its tall ride height and ample side and rear glass. The Encore’s ride quality is very compliant too, expected from Buick. It soaks up pavement imperfections without issue, while its oh-so quiet when compared to its mainstream compact SUV rivals. This is where Buick’s QuietTuning makes such a difference, the Encore’s standard active noise cancellation and extra insulation helping to reduce road and wind noise while adding to its sense of quality.

Depending on where you live in Canada or your lifestyle, you’ll want to decide whether you’ll be ok with front-wheel drive or if all-wheel drive is needed. The Encore can provide either, AWD adding $2,000 to the base model’s price tag for a new $28,400 total, while for only $1,030 you can also upgrade the base 1.4-litre turbo-four’s sequential multi-port fuel injection with more technologically advanced Spark Ignition Direct Injection (SIDI), which increases its output from 138 to 153 horsepower and raises torque from 148 lb-ft to 177. The upgrade also adds Start-Stop technology to the Encore’s standard six-speed automatic transmission, this shutting off the engine when it would otherwise be idling, and then automatically restarting it when lifting off the brake pedal.

2019 Buick Encore Essence AWD
A nice tablet-style touchscreen provides a comprehensive menu of infotainment features.

My Encore test model incorporated both upgrades, making a major difference during standing starts, particularly in slippery conditions, while the extra power and added traction improved hill climbing, cornering, and passing manoeuvres, not to mention its drivability around town. Thanks to a 1,386-kilogram (3,056-lb) curb weight, this AWD model doesn’t require much power to get it going, while this general lightness makes it easy to slalom through tight city streets, especially when congested, all the while being particularly good on gas.

The base FWD Encore achieves a claimed 9.4 L/100km city, 7.8 highway and 8.7 combined rating, while the identical engine with AWD is estimated to get 9.9 in the city, 8.1 on the highway and 9.1 combined. Even more impressive, combining the additional power of SIDI with advanced Start-Stop technology actually reduces the Encore’s fuel usage to 8.9 L/100km in the city, 7.5 on the highway and 8.3 combined when hooked up to its FWD drivetrain, or a respective 9.4, 7.9 and 8.8 with its top-line AWD SIDI combination, making this reasonably priced upgrade well worth it.

While inherently less efficient as a continuously variable transmission (CVT), the go-to gearless autobox of most subcompacts and compacts these days, the Encore’s more conventional six-speed automatic is much more enjoyable to drive, especially with thumb planted on the gear knob-mounted rocker switch that prompts manual mode.

2019 Buick Encore Essence AWD
This isn’t a CVT, but a much more entertaining 6-speed automatic with manual mode.

First you’ll need to pull the shift lever all the way back to its “M” or manual position, and then shift away to your heart’s content. While the gearbox lets the engine rev right up to redline without shifting, unusual for a vehicle in this class, making it feel sportier than rivals that don’t, I wouldn’t go so far as to say the Encore is a serious sport model, particularly when revving the engine higher than normal for everyday use, at which point it makes more noise and causes more vibrations than most will appreciate, par for the course in this class. Still, shift it earlier (and you can, as there’s no shortage of torque in the lower rev range) and the Encore will get you where you’re going quickly while providing plenty of fun along the way. All said I found it best in a more relaxed state, which allowed the little Buick to make the most of its smooth ride and general comfort.

Part of getting relaxed is a good driving position, and the rake and reach of the Encore’s tilt and telescopic steering column, combined with fairly good adjustment of its driver’s seat, made optimizing comfort and control easy. I have longer legs than torso, which often forces me to push the entire seat rearward, leaving the distance to the steering wheel farther than arm’s reach. Fortunately this is no problem with the Encore, despite its partial powered seat adjustments that only include the lower cushion, and optional powered two-way lumbar support. The backrest needs to be reclined, or in my case inclined manually, which worked well enough, while the lumbar support luckily found the small of my back well enough (not always the case with two-way/in-and-out designs).

2019 Buick Encore Essence AWD
The seats are comfortable, but lack high-end functions like cooling and full powered adjustability.

The driver’s seat is inherently comfortable, and I appreciated its minivan-like folding centre armrest, while my tester’s Shale beige leather upholstery (Ebony black or Brandy wine are also on the menu) and attractive contrast stitching looked good, but I wouldn’t go so far as to call them fancy. Buick doesn’t offer cooling seats, for example, or even the leather perforations to keep them naturally ventilated amid summer’s heat, although the three-temperature seat heaters got plenty hot when set to high, and the heated steering wheel rim could be set up to automatically turn on with when starting the car. I loved that feature, and only wished Buick would make the seats follow suit.

Speaking of equipment, Buick simplified the Encore lineup this year with only three trims including Preferred, Sport Touring and Essence. Base Preferred trim includes 18-inch alloys, proximity keyless entry with pushbutton start/stop, a big 8.0-inch centre touchscreen featuring a backup camera with dynamic guidelines, Android Auto and Apple CarPlay smartphone integration, plus plenty of additional features, while yet more base features include a cargo cover and 10 airbags to go along with plenty of other passive and active safety gear.

2019 Buick Encore Essence AWD
Headroom is over the top generous, and comfort is pretty good for the subcompact SUV class too.

The move up to the 2019 Encore’s mid-range Sport Touring trim starts at $28,400 and adds fog lamps, a rear rooftop sport spoiler, and remote engine start, while my tester’s top-line Essence trim starts at $31,700 or $34,730 with AWD, and includes the heatable steering wheel noted earlier, leather seats with driver’s memory and heated cushions up front, an auto-dimming centre mirror, a garage door opener, and blind spot warning with rear cross-traffic alert.

You can spend a bit less if you want the last two items in lesser trims, the available Safety Package also including a three-prong household-style 120-volt power outlet in back, while those choosing Essence trim can get the $1,110 New Safety Package II boasting all of the just-noted features above plus forward collision alert, lane departure warning, rain-sensing wipers, an air ionizer, and front/rear parking sensors.

My tester included that group of features as well as the $3,050 Experience Buick Plus Package, which deducts $650 due to the inclusion of all the New Safety Package II items, while adding a unique set of 18-inch seven-spoked chromed alloys, navigation/route guidance, and a power moonroof.

2019 Buick Encore Essence AWD
Folding the rear seatbacks down takes a bit more work than usual, but the result is an almost totally flat load floor so it’s worth it.

All of the above made for well-equipped urban runabout, with better interior quality than most non-premium challengers offer, and only slightly less refinement than the higher echelons of luxury provide. Details include cloth-wrapped A pillars, soft-touch surface treatments for the dash plus front and rear door uppers, and an attractively padded and stitched leatherette instrument panel bolster.

The instrument cluster is laid out in a traditional design, with its analogue tachometer at the left and speedometer on the right, plus its gas gauge and temperature readout sitting above a decent sized colour multi-information display at centre. It’s fairly fully featured, but obviously not offering the wow factor of some competitors’ digital gauge clusters. Only time will tell if Buick goes so far with its updated 2020 Encore, or even its pricier models, but we can likely expect improvements either way.

Framing those gauges is a standard steering wheel that feels sportier and thicker than most will expect from such a practical and price-sensitive SUV, and on that note its leather wrap is nicer than expected as well. Stylish satin-silver accents get added to the lower edge of its 9 and 3 o’clock spokes, plus its large lower centre spoke, this trim feeling cool to touch and therefore coming off as real aluminum. There’s more of this metal trim elsewhere, plus the door handles are chromed to help brighten things up inside, while some tastefully applied piano black lacquer adds to the Encore’s upscale interior ambiance.

2019 Buick Encore Essence AWD
If you need to load in longer items, just fold down the front seatback too.

The aforementioned infotainment system incorporates Buick’s newest touchscreen interface, which apes Chevrolet’s impressive system in all the best ways. This said it’s not as colourful a la Apple’s iPhone or iPad, but rather provides a more sophisticated looking blue on black motif. I found the system’s optional navigation system worked well with accurate route guidance, while its audio functions were easy to operate and satellite radio reception was better than average. The big screen provided a clear rearview camera too, but I was a bit miffed that no 360-degree surround camera system was on the options list, normal for an SUV hoping to attract premium buyers.

I was also disappointed to learn I couldn’t charge my smartphone wirelessly. In fact, I couldn’t even fit my medium-sized Samsung S9 on the rubberized tray included, so I suppose a wireless device charger would’ve been a moot addition, but Buick did include some USB charging ports, plus an aux input and a 12-volt charger. No doubt the next-gen Encore will offer wireless device charging, as it’s now available in entry-level compact hatchbacks and sedans, so we have something to look forward to with the launch of the redesigned 2020 model this spring.

On the positive, the Encore’s dual-zone automatic climate control interface is 100-percent useful, especially for those of us who would rather push and twist conventional buttons and dials when inputting temperatures and other functions, which is certainly less challenging while driving than doing so within the infotainment interface, like some others require.

2019 Buick Encore Essence AWD
The Encore is one practical little luxury utility.

I hope you don’t mind me getting into every little detail with this review, but I think the Encore deserves some extra attention. It would be easy for someone considering a subcompact mainstream or luxury SUV to merely glance past because of its age and Buick’s unusual position as a near-luxury brand, causing some to think it’s probably too expensive and others to look higher in price, for one of the more exclusive European or Japanese brands. I think, at least for those prioritizing comfort, efficiency and practicality, looking past the Encore might be a mistake, as even this aging model remains a very good option, that won’t cost much more than mainstream volume models, and doesn’t leave much of the table when compared to some premium brands’ entry SUVs.

In case you’re not quite sure what you should do, I recommend checking out our 2019 Buick Encore Canada Prices page for more details, while you can also use your CarCostCanada membership to find out about current rebates and dealer invoice pricing that could save you thousands. In fact, at the time of writing (December 8, 2019) Buick was offering up to $5,390 in additional incentives, which could make this 2019 Encore an excellent buy.

If you choose the 2019 Encore you certainly won’t be alone, this model remaining very popular for good reason.

Story and photo credits: Trevor Hofmann

2019 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Sahara Road and Trail Test

2019 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Sahara
The Wrangler has come a long way since its JL-body redesign. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

Jeep redesigned its popular Wrangler 4×4 for 2018, so as is usually the case for the following model year this 2019 variant remains unchanged, although the upcoming 2020 model will get a significant powertrain upgrade that may cause some who’ve never considered it before to reconsider. Interested? Keep reading.

Jeep produced the Wrangler’s JK body style from 2007 to 2017, and it’s been one of the most successful models in the entire Chrysler/FCA group since then. Now, the new 2018 to present JL version features a bigger, bolder, broader seven-slot grille, plus new optional LED reflector headlights, an ATV-like front bumper (which looks a lot like the one used for the 2016 Wrangler 75th Anniversary Edition I covered way back then) with optional LED fog lights, a shapelier hood (although not pumped up with the Anniversary Edition’s muscular power dome and blackened vents or the Rubicon’s similarly awesome hood design), restyled front fenders with new wraparound turn signals, heavily sculpted front body panels with black engine vents, new integrated side steps, fresh new rear fender flares, new wraparound taillights with optional LEDs, a new side-swinging tailgate, and a redesigned rear bumper (that’s not as cool looking as 75th Anniversary Edition’s, but definitely more attractive than the block of metal and black plastic found on the old Sahara).

2019 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Sahara
Few SUVs provide as much off-road capability as the Wrangler. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

While those not following everything Jeep may want to park a new JL next to the old JK in order to see the subtler differences, such as the just-noted redesigned tailgate, it’s reasonable to surmise that most of the new Wrangler’s exterior panels have been changed in order to accommodate its longer regular and long Unlimited wheelbases. Specifically, the 2019 Unlimited on this page is 89 mm (3.5 inches) longer than the old JK model, with a 61-mm (2.4-inch) longer wheelbase, while the regular wheelbase version grows in length as well. Overall, the new Wrangler appears classic and contemporary simultaneously, and even more important, it looks good.

Also critical, the new Wrangler is considerably more refined inside, with doors that shut with a solid thunk, and pliable soft-touch composite surfaces used most everywhere above the waste. The dash top and instrument panel even use some padded and contrast-stitched leatherette that matches the leather-clad steering wheel rim, plus the leatherette shifter boot and armrests, and the genuine leather seat upholstery. All the buttons, knobs and switches used through the cabin are impressive too, specifically the big audio volume and dual-zone automatic climate control knobs on the centre stack, while Jeep has improved the general quality of most materials as well as the way everything fits together.

2019 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Sahara
New lighting elements make for the most noticeable changes. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

As good as all of these changes are, the Wrangler’s gauge cluster might generate the cabin’s biggest wow factor. First, let’s be clear that it’s not a fully digital instrument panel, which would’ve probably been easier and less expensive to create, considering how two-dimensionally flat the previous four-gauge design was, and how easy it would’ve been to merely install a 12.3-inch display, fill it with graphics (not that this is simple) and call it a day. Instead, Jeep shaped two motorcycle-style individually hooded primary dials, bookended by a large colour multi-information display (MID). It looks great, and provides most of the digital tech today’s buyers are looking for, even including army green background graphics highlighted by a WW2 (Willys) GP. The tach and speedometer dials look superb in their orange on black and white design, and everything functions well.

The outgoing 6.5-inch rectangular centre touchscreen has also been replaced, but this time with a fully digital design incorporating no buttons or knobs at either side of the display. Instead, the new 8.0-inch square touchscreen offers some quick-access analogue switchgear on a cluster of dials and buttons positioned underneath, these used mostly for controlling heating and ventilation. The big dial on the very right is for scrolling or browsing through infotainment functions, and while some might find this useful I mostly tapped, swiped and pinched the touchscreen as required (sounds more exciting than it was), only making use of external controls for heating the seats and steering wheel (although you can do this via the touchscreen too), adjusting cabin temperatures (ditto), and the audio system’s volume.

2019 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Sahara
Great looking wrap-around taillights come with optional (as shown) LEDs. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

The bigger display area results in a much better backup camera, which once again uses active guidelines for slotting into parking spaces, while the ability to hook up Android Auto or Apple CarPlay is a bonus. The system incorporates most other functions available these days, like accurate navigation, easy phone setup and use, audio selection that includes satellite radio and wireless streaming, and a number of apps that come preloaded or can be downloaded. The display’s resolution is quite good, but it’s not as crisp and clear as you’ll find in the majority of premium brands, and a few new mainstream competitors like Chevrolet’s Blazer.

The car-based Blazer in mind, the new Wrangler delivers its best ride quality yet. In fact, it’s now something I’d brag about, rather than complain of while rubbing the small of back and nether regions. To be clear, the JK I tested on its initial 2005 Lake Tahoe/Rubicon Trail press launch showed major ride and handling improvements when compared to its 1997 to 2006 TJ predecessor, while that SUV was wholly more comfortable than the 1987 to 1995 YJ, and so on with respect to the many CJs (Civilian Jeeps) that came before (I used to drive a V8-powered CJ5 Renegade in the early ‘80s), but this new JL-bodied Wrangler is so much nicer to live with than any of its forebears that I’d now consider owning one, something I still wouldn’t have said about the JK. The reality is I’m aging, and therefore wouldn’t be willing to be discomforted by my daily commuter. The new Wrangler, however, completely changes everything with suspension compliancy that’s matched by much-improved cornering capability, better high-speed tracking, easier manoeuvrability around town and in tight parking lots, etc. All around, this Wrangler is a much, much better SUV to live with.

2019 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Sahara
The new Wrangler’s cabin is better in every way. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

This new livability includes improved rear seating, with deeper sculpted outboard positions that offer up more lower back support, while the increased wheelbase provides more second-row legroom. Three passengers continue to fit across the rear seat, although I’m going to guess only smaller folks will truly be comfortable in the middle. Also, with only two in back the centre folding armrest, incorporating two big rubberized cupholders and a personal device holder, can be lowered for even more comfort and convenience.

This said, not hollowing out a section behind that armrest for a rear-seat pass-through was an opportunity missed by Jeep, because now you’ll need to expend money for a lockable rooftop compartment for stowing longer items such as skis and snowboards, if you want two rear passengers to enjoy as much comfort as possible. This is doable, but it’s not the best solution, although this is also true for the majority of Jeep competitors.

2019 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Sahara
It probably would’ve been cheaper for Jeep to provide a fully digital gauge cluster than this complex semi-analogue one. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

Another complaint is the Wrangler’s swinging rear door, which remains hinged on the wrong side for North American, and most global markets. A conventional liftgate is out of the question for two reasons, 1) the removable roof, and 2) the 4×4 requirement of a full-size spare tire on its backside. What’s not required is a set of hinges on the passenger side, which means that loading the rear cargo compartment from curbside becomes awkward at best, potentially causing you to step in traffic to do so. Me complaining about this issue won’t be anything new to regular readers or those in charge of Jeep (that are listening), but it may be important to newbies considering a Wrangler for the first time.

A more positive cargo compartment issue is increased volume, the long-wheelbase Unlimited’s dedicated luggage area now increased by 18 litres (0.6 cubic feet) to 898 litres (31.7 cu ft), while maximum capacity has grown by 70 litres (2.5 cu ft) to a new grand total of 2,050 litres (72.4 cu ft) with both seatbacks laid flat. Laid flat is probably a misrepresentation, however, as there’s now an incline from the base of the seatbacks to the front portion of the extended cargo area, although another positive is the ease in which they’re now lowered, plus new panels that hide the previously exposed seat frames and other mechanical bits when laid down. These panels stop smaller items from rolling below, but these conveniences have been taken for granted by crossover SUV owners for years. Still, it’s a serious upgrade for the Wrangler, and, in my opinion, well worth the slightly uneven load floor.

2019 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Sahara
The larger 8-inch centre touchscreen provides a much clearer backup camera. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

At the other end of my 2019 Wrangler Unlimited Sahara tester was FCA’s 3.6-litre Pentastar V6, conjoined to an eight-speed automatic transmission and part-time four-wheel drive. While not quite as sonorous as my old CJ5’s 304 cubic-inch V8 (that included a rather loud set of aftermarket headers), the V6 produces a nice soundtrack of its own, and provides plenty of forward energy thanks to 285 horsepower and 260 lb-ft of torque, while the automatic transmission’s shift increments are quick and smooth.

A six-speed manual comes standard, incidentally, with the eight-speed auto tacking $1,595 onto the 2019 Wrangler Unlimited Sport S’ $40,745 (plus freight and fees) price tag, while this Unlimited Sahara starts at $44,745, and the top-line Unlimited Rubicon can be had for a retail price of $47,745 (a base two-door Wrangler S starts at $33,695). Alternatively, Wrangler buyers can pay $2,590 for a 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder engine featuring electric assist, which makes 15 horsepower less at 270, although 35 lb-ft of torque more at 295. This upgrade is standard with the eight-speed automatic, and is claimed to achieve much better fuel economy than the V6 (see all 2018, 2019 and 2020 Jeep Wrangler prices, including trims, packages and individual options, plus manufacturer rebates and dealer invoice pricing right here on CarCostCanada, where you can now save up to $3,500 in additional incentives on a 2020, or $4,000 on a 2019).

2019 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Sahara
Get ready for an entirely new level of Wrangler comfort and convenience. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

By the numbers, the base Wrangler Unlimited’s V6 and six-speed manual combo is rated at 13.8 L/100km city, 10.1 highway and 12.2 combined, whereas the same engine with the eight-speed auto uses a claimed 12.9 city, 10.2 highway and 11.7 combined. As for the four-cylinder turbo, its 10.9 city, 10.0 highway and 10.5 combined rating is by far the best right now, but it may only hold this title for a short duration as the upcoming 2020 Wrangler will soon offer FCA’s ultra-efficient 3.0-litre V6 turbo-diesel, while it will hardly be short on output thanks to 260 horsepower and 442 pound-feet of torque. I can imagine the Wrangler’s many dedicated 4×4 fans salivating at the prospect of this engine right now, diesels long being optimal off-road, but take note it will only be available in the long-wheelbase Unlimited body, while the more off-pavement capable regular-wheelbase Wrangler will continue to only be powered by gasoline engines.

Off-roading in mind, today’s more refined Wrangler still has few direct competitors. In fact, pickup trucks aside, the Wrangler is the only serious off-roader available in the mainstream volume-branded compact class, and will likely remain so until the all-new Ford Bronco arrives on the scene. The General’s compact pickup-based Chevy Blazer and GMC Jimmy duo was killed off in 2005, while Toyota’s Land Cruiser Prado-based FJ Cruiser hightailed it out of our market in 2014. Following suit, the very capable Nissan Xterra departed in 2015, leaving the popular Wrangler alone in its unique segment.

2019 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Sahara
Rear seat roominess and comfort has improved dramatically. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

As is only right, I tested the Wrangler Unlimited Sahara at a favourite 4×4 haunt and it performed as ideally as you might expect. In fact, all the thick mud and big pools of standing water were easy for this capable utility to muck and wade through, making me wonder if the ultra-rugged Rubicon is more than most Wrangler buyers require. Once off-pavement I slotted the secondary low gear lever into its 4H Part Time position to tackle the semi-rough stuff, which provided quick travel over less challenging terrain.

Diving deep into the big puddles and digging into some of the more abyss-like ruts caused me to stop and engage 4L (four-low), however, which made traversing all of the truly difficult terrain a breeze as well. While a decent test track considering its close proximity to my home, I’ve driven the old JK on the Rubicon Trail and other difficult courses and enjoyed both the challenge of negotiating trails I’d likely never try on my own, and doing so in such an amazingly agile 4×4, while I can only imagine how much more enjoyable it would be to scale Cadillac Hill atop the new Wrangler’s improved suspension, let alone doing so while being pushed via a turbo-diesel V6.

2019 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Sahara
More cargo space and easier folding rear seatbacks, but the load floor is not as flat. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

If all the improvements already mentioned aren’t enough to get you into the driver’s seat of a new Wrangler, this SUV makes smart business sense too. According to ALG, the Wrangler has the highest residual value of any model in Canada, with the four-door Unlimited version only dropping by an average of 30-percent after three years of use, and the two-door model only losing 31.5 percent. What’s more, the Wrangler also earned the Canadian Black Book’s 2019 Best Retained Value Award in the Compact SUV category for the ninth year in a row, while it achieved a new retained value record of 91 percent for 2019 (Jeep’s smaller car-based Renegade placed first in its Sub-Compact Crossover segment too).

What this means for those still sitting on the fence, is that Jeep’s Wrangler no longer needs any justification. It’s about having your cake and eating it too, or in other words getting what you want and making the smartest choice simultaneously. Don’t you wish all decisions were so easy?

Story and photo credits: Trevor Hofmann

New Aston Martin 2021 DBX crossover SUV debuts in Los Angeles and China

2021 Aston Martin DBX
Aston Martin revealed its first SUV this week, and the new 2021 DBX looks fabulous. (Photo: Aston Martin)

Everyone has been expecting an ultra-luxe SUV from Aston Martin for years, and thankfully the production-trim 2021 DBX that was introduced at the LA and Guangzhou auto shows last week (after a private showing during the 2019 US F1 GP earlier in November) is a lot more attractive than the luxury brand’s Lagonda Concept that caused much controversy at the Geneva auto show way back in 2009.

To be totally fair, Dr. Ulrich Bez and his design team were quite ahead of their time with that early luxury crossover SUV concept, and looking back its squarish front design and sharply angled LED headlights would have stood the test of time fairly well, but the mid-‘30s-era Lagonda de Ville Saloon-like upright opera-style rear window and similarly retrospective curved notchback trunk would never have won over many would-be buyers, whereas today’s Chief Operating Officer, Andy Palmer, and his updated design team (with Herr Bez still acting as non-executive chairman) made certain that this new DBX would be attractive from nose to tail.

2021 Aston Martin DBX
The new DBX pulls frontal styling cues from the DB11 sports car, and its unique rear styling from the new Vantage. (Photo: Aston Martin)

The DBX’ rear three-quarter vantage point might possibly its best angle, in fact, while the frontal design may actually offer up a more classic Aston Martin appearance than any other model currently available, or at least it’s more traditional than the futuristic Vantage and wildly exotic Valkyrie supercar. This said, Aston turned to the new Vantage for the DBX’ body-width LED taillight design, which outlines the new SUV’s shapely tailgate, while its front end looks more like the beautiful new DB11. All in all, most premium crossover SUV buyers should find the new DBX alluring.

DBX’ development took an investment of five years, but despite all the effort there’s no electrified option being offered initially. An “E” version, based on the Rapide E powertrain, is probably on the way, and was the stated power unit used for the original 2015 Aston Martin DBX Concept coupe, as well as the sensational 2019 Lagonda All-Terrain Concept that showed up at the Geneva auto show in March of this year (this SUV heavily inspired by the Lagonda Vision Concept launched the year before), the former a raised, muscled up two-door coupe that shows no resemblance to today’s production DBX, and the latter a super-sleek crossover that may have people asking whether or not Aston is thinking about Lagonda becoming its dedicated electric sub-brand, just like how Volvo is positioning its new Polestar brand, but nevertheless the street-ready DBX gets a more formidable version of the AMG 4.0-litre twin-turbocharged V8 found in the previously noted Vantage and DB11.

2009 Lagonda SUV Concept
Fortunately the new DBX doesn’t look anything like the 2009 Lagonda SUV Concept. (Photo: Aston Martin)

It makes a sizeable 542 horsepower and 516 pound-feet of torque in DBX trim, which is 39 more hp and 11 lb-ft of added torque over both sports cars, but its greater size and mass make it slightly slower off the line at 4.5 seconds from zero to 100km/h, compared to a respective 3.6 and 4.2 seconds for the two-seat Vantage and larger 2+2 DB11, while its terminal velocity is 291 km/h (181 mph) compared 314 km/h (195 mph) and 322 km/h (200 mph) respectively, which is still plenty good for a five-seat sport utility.

Aston Martin incorporates a nine-speed automatic for putting all that power down to the wheels, this gearbox up one cog over both Vantage and DB11 models, while its standard Pirelli P Zeros (and available Pirelli Scorpion Zeros or Scorpion Winters) grip pavement (or gravel, sand, mud and snow) through a standard all-wheel drive system that apportions twist via electronically controlled centre and rear differentials, defaulting from a 47/53 torque-split to nearly 100 percent powering the back wheels. The rear differential combines with brake-based torque vectoring in order to improve high-speed road-holding, while hill descent control helps with steep grades, plus 16-inch rotors binding six-piston front calipers manage stopping power, critically important for this 2,241-kg (4,940-pound) SUV.

2019 Lagonda All-Terrain Concept
This year’s Lagonda All-Terrain Concept shows that an EV powertrain might be forthcoming. (Photo: Aston Martin)

While 2,241 kilos (4,940 pounds) might seem pretty hefty for an Aston, it’s not all that much for a mid-size five-passenger luxury SUV, Aston choosing to use its long history of producing aluminum bodied cars to create the DBX’ completely new bonded aluminum platform architecture. Keeping it horizontal to the road when pushed hard around corners is an adaptive air suspension that’s supported by a 48-volt anti-roll system, all of which is improved upon by six drive settings that include Sport and Sport+ modes, while its standard 198 mm (7.8 inches) of ground clearance can be raised by 46 mm (1.8 inches) when the need to overcome off-road obstacles arises, this scenario aided by Terrain and Terrain+ driving modes. Speaking of going off-road, the new DBX is capable of wading through 500 mm (19.7 inches) of water too.

The suspension can be lowered by about two inches as well, this allowing an easier lift height when loading to its 631-litre (22.3 cubic-foot) cargo compartment, which incidentally can be expanded to 1,529 litres (54 cubic feet) by lowering its 40/20/40-split rear seatbacks, making the new DBX the most practical vehicle ever offered by Aston Martin.

2021 Aston Martin DBX
The new DBX promises good off-road capability. (Photo: Aston Martin)

While comfortably seating five and their gear, Aston hasn’t forgotten about pampering those occupants and even their pets. The automaker’s artisans take 200 hours per vehicle to stitch the gorgeous Bridge of Weir leather together, and just a single glance shows its handmade attention to detail. Aston carved out the backsides of the front seats to increase second-row knee room, just like it did with the DB11, while they smartly provided a third seatbelt in the middle of the bench seat.

Of interest, the launch of the DBX is accompanied by loads of accessories, some less significant in size, such as a leather key pouch, a leather umbrella strap, and a leather centre console organizer, with others quite a bit larger such as the “Halo” upgrades that include an event seating package (that adds a rear-facing third row for tailgate parties), a leather upholstered hamper, and a leather-covered field sports cabinet.

2021 Aston Martin DBX
Aston Martin does interiors very well. (Photo: Aston Martin)

Additional DBX accessories include special form-fitting saddle bags that attach to the folding second-row centre armrest, rear outboard “comfort” leather headrest pads, a branded leather child safety seat, a warming ski boot bag, adjustable roof rail cross-members, lockable roof-mounted storage, top-mounted and rear-mounted bike racks, a leather and cloth flip-out rear bumper protector (designed to stop dogs nails from scratching the rear bumper when jumping aboard), a dog/cargo partition, a dog wash system (complete with a hose), and a roll-up leather and grey cloth doggy bed.

A shortlist of standard features includes 22-inch alloys, frameless windows, individual armrests for front occupants, ambient lighting with 64 different colours, and a big panoramic glass sunroof, while if you’re worried about Aston’s beautiful handiwork getting faded from too much overhead light, a powered sunshade can block out mother nature, this available in Alcantara to match an equally suede-like headliner.

Top-grade leathers and Alcantara microsuede aren’t unusual in an ultra-luxury vehicle, let alone plenty of SUVs from lesser brands, but Aston Martin provides myriad alternative interior options too, like the DBX’ 20-percent synthetic and 80-percent Australian lambs wool upholstery, which the British brand says is a “luxurious felt-like fabric.”

2021 Aston Martin DBX
The DBX seats look comfortable and supportive. (Photo: Aston Martin)

Other alternatives include leather upholstery brogue detailing, quilting, perforations and colour splits, plus many veneer options. If you’d like something even more unique, Aston’s “Q” customizing shop will design an SUV that would make 007 proud (the DBX will soon make an appearance as James’ family car in the 25th Bond film, “No Time To Die”).

On a more pragmatic note, the DBX comes standard with a 12.3-inch high-definition digital gauge cluster, while the centre display is an equally bright and clear 10.25-inch screen. Aston chose to attach the new infotainment system directly to the centre stack instead of standing it upright atop the dash, like so many competitors do these days. As for features, the interface only offers Apple CarPlay, so Android smartphone users will be force to rely on the standard layout, but a surround parking camera system will enhance the DBX’ safety, as will adaptive cruise control, autonomous emergency braking, lane departure warning, lane keep assist, etcetera.

Of course, the DBX won’t be for everyone due to pricing alone, its $218,400 CAD MSRP making sure of that. This said it’s exactly where it needs to be, i.e. unavailable to the masses yet right in the middle of its ultra-premium rivals. The DBX’ entry price is probably closest to the $240,569 Lamborghini Urus, a similarly sized SUV as well, but the Italian stallion’s standard 641-hp V12 means that standstill to 100 km/h takes a mere 3.6 seconds to complete, while its top speed is an astonishing (for an SUV) 305 km/h (190 mph).

2021 Aston Martin DBX
Three passengers can sit abreast in back. (Photo: Aston Martin)

Alternatively, the V8-powered Bentley Bentayga, which is “only” $176,800 in base form, can manage 100 km/h in just 4.5 seconds, which is exactly the same time as the DBX, plus it tops out just one kilometre per hour below the Aston’s 291 km/h (181 mph) top speed, while it seats two additional passengers in its third row and can manage more cargo. The Bentayga can also be had with a 600-horsepower 12-cylinder, this $241,900 utility capable of sprinting from zero to 100 km/h in only 4.1 seconds before reaching a 301-km/h (187-mph) terminal velocity.

Those curious about the new $370,500 Rolls-Royce Cullinan need to realize that its hefty weight gets in the way of its 563 horsepower V12’s performance, thus causing a 100 km/h sprint of (yawn) 5.2 seconds, whereas its top speed is limited to a less breathtaking 250 km/h (155 mph).

At the other end of the pricing spectrum is the somewhat less prestigious Maserati Levante at just $95,500, but its $138,500, 550-hp V8 GTS version is almost perfectly aligned with the DBX in both size and speed, managing standstill to 100 km/h in only 4.2 seconds and an almost identical terminal velocity of 292 km/h (181 mph), plus Maserati also offers its even more potent GTS Trofeo that starts at $187,500 and achieves the same two feats in just 3.9 seconds and 304 km/h (189 mph) respectively.

2021 Aston Martin DBX
The DBX will provide Aston Martin owners with an entirely new level of practicality. (Photo: Aston Martin)

All this said there are a number of less expensive and less prestigious SUVs that can match the DBX in straight-line performance and potentially in the corners, but as painstakingly detailed in this preview already, there’s a great deal more than performance making this new Aston Martin special.

For starters, the first 500 DBX clients will get a special “1913 Package” commemorating 106 years of Aston Martin history. It features special front fender badges, branded sill plates, and an inspection plaque inside that summarizes its limited-build run, while each of these SUVs will be personally inspected and endorsed by the company’s previously noted CEO, Andy Palmer. In addition, Palmer and DBX Chief Creative Officer Marek Reichman will sign an exclusive build book, while all of these special upgrades finalize with an invitation to a cocktail party celebration at the Waldorf Astoria, London, attended by an Aston Martin Lagonda executive team member.

The 2021 DBX will be assembled at Aston Martin’s new Saint Athan, Wales production facility, with deliveries starting in the latter half of 2020. While waiting for yours to arrive, enjoy the many Aston Martin-supplied videos below: 

Aston Martin DBX: Behind The Scenes – Daisy Zhou (0:59):

 

Aston Martin DBX: Launch (9:01):

 

Aston Martin DBX Chapter 6: In Motion (0:45):

 

Aston Martin DBX Chapter 5: Adventure (0:55):

 

Aston Martin DBX Chapter 4: Indulgence (0:51):

 

Aston Martin DBX Chapter 3: The Engine (0:21):

 

Aston Martin DBX Chapter 2: The Grille (0:41):

 

Aston Martin DBX Chapter 1: Testing (0:37):

 

Aston Martin DBX SUV testing in Sweden (0:39):

 

2019 DBX – Aston Martin’s first SUV (0:38):

2019 Dodge Durango SRT Road Test

2019 Dodge Durango SRT
The Durango SRT is a best of all worlds SUV. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

I once had a girlfriend that hated fur. She wasn’t long out of college where she’d been influenced by well-meaning animal rights advocates, and therefore wouldn’t even consider wearing something made from the skins of little rodents. Having spent way too much time up north where humans have used animal furs to keep warm for eons, I had no such misgivings, so I took her downstairs to one of my spare bedrooms that was filled with long mink, sable, fox and yet other valuable fur coats that I was in the process of selling for a client, and proceeded to wrap her in each of them. Seeing her initial disdain immediately transform into guilty pleasure was something I’ll never forget, making me wish I had a radical environmentalist to take for a spin in the latest Dodge Durango SRT.

I can just imagine the Greta-like sneer turning into a devilish giggle before all-out laughter started mixing in fear as the big, bellowing, brutish, anti-green SUV guzzled back gas as quickly as Elizabeth May downs drinks at press gallery dinners; yes, the Durango SRT is that corruptible. Then again, it’s not as Mephistophelian as Jeep’s ridiculously fast 707 horsepower Grand Cherokee SRT Trackhawk. Instead, the Durango SRT gets motivated by the same comparatively sedate 6.4-litre (392 cubic inch) Hemi V8 that motivates the regular Grand Cherokee SRT, although tame as it may seem this 475 horsepower mill is no lightweight.

2019 Dodge Durango SRT
While the Durango SRT i equipped with AWD, it’s more of a street performance than off-road warrior. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

With a formidable 470 lb-ft of torque going down to all wheels, the 2,499-kilo (5,510-lb) beast launches from zero to 100 km/h in just 4.6 seconds, its SRT Torqueflite eight-speed automatic transmission delighting with quick shifts all the way from standstill to highway speeds and beyond, whether actuated by its steering wheel paddles, console-mounted shift lever, or simply left to do its own thing. What’s more, it will continue forward with a 12.9-second quarter mile time, and keeps going to a top track speed of 290 km/h (180 mph), which is equal to the Jeep Trackhawk, and in an entirely different universe when compared to other so-called “performance” SUVs.

And to think all of this go-fast goodness resides in a practical three-row family hauler that seats seven adults in total comfort while stowing their luggage in a big 487-litre (17.2 cubic-foot) dedicated rear cargo compartment, and can even tow a 3,946-kilo (8,700-lb) trailer (which is 1,500 lbs more weight than the 5.7-litre V8-powered Durango can tow, and 2,500 lbs more than the V6).

The only Durango SRT negative is fuel economy, which is more than a tad thirsty at a claimed 18.3 L/100km city, 12.2 highway, and 15.6 combined, plus slightly less off-road ability due to a bit less ground clearance, and this said who would want to ruin the SRT’s extended bodywork or 20-inch double-five-spoke black-painted alloy wheels on stumps or rocks anyway, the SUV’s three-season Pirelli Scorpion 295/45 ZRs much more suited to gripping asphalt as it is.

2019 Dodge Durango SRT
The Durango SRT has no shortage of functional scoops and vents on its hood. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

The SRT’s black mesh grille is turned down in a menacing frown, while its tri-vented hood, aggressive lower fascia, extended side skirts, and chrome dual tailpipe-infused rear bumper makes a strong visual statement that’s impossible to ignore. Nothing has changed since the Durango SRT arrived in 2017 as a 2018 model, and it’s been carried forward into 2019 unchanged too, plus will so again for the 2020 model year, with only the Durango’s lower trims getting small improvements.

As a backgrounder, the third-generation Durango arrived in 2010 for the 2011 model year, and along with the complete redesign were plenty of curves to help us forget the less loved, ultra-angled second-generation model, and remind us of the muscular Dakota-based SUV that brought Dodge into the mid-size SUV fold way back in 1997 (when are you bringing back the Dakota, Dodge… er Ram?).

Plenty of premium-like cabin materials were brought back as well, with each trim that I have tested being very well finished. Such is particularly true of this SRT, which receives a rich microfibre/suede-style Alcantara covering for its roofliner and A pillars, plus contrast-stitched leatherette over the entire dash top and most of the instrument panel, even down the sides of the centre stack, while both front and back door uppers are made from a padded leather-like synthetic, and armrests detailed out in contrast-stitched leatherette. As anyone familiar with this class likely expects, all surfaces from the waist downward are constructed from hard composites, but it all looks good and feels durable enough.

2019 Dodge Durango SRT2019 Dodge Durango SRT
These sizeable 20-inch rims and Brembo performance brakes are very capable. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

The steering wheel feels even better thanks to a combination of perforated and solid leathers, this ideally contrasted with baseball-style stitching around the inside of the rim for added grip, while each spoke features a nicely organized, well-made set of controls plus the paddle-shifters mentioned before, as well as Chrysler group’s novel audio volume control and mode switches on the backside of those spokes. The rest of this Durango’s buttons, knobs and toggles are well executed for its mainstream mission too, with the big volume, tuning and fan-speed dials on the centre stack trimmed in chrome edged in rubber for extra grip.

Just above, the infotainment touchscreen measures a very sizeable 8.4 inches in diameter, features a fairly high-resolution display and is really easy to use. I appreciate the simplicity of Chrysler group touchscreens, specifically those found in Chrysler, Dodge and Jeep models as they’re quite different than those offered by Fiat, Alfa Romeo and Maserati. The two premium Italian brands definitely provide higher definition, the Alfa Stelvio I most recently tested equipped with a very impressive (albeit smaller) display, but this Durango SRT interface is more straightforward and extremely well equipped.

2019 Dodge Durango SRT
The Durango SRT’s interior is a mix of mainstream and premium quality features and materials. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

Together with individual displays for audio, automatic climate controls (that include digital buttons for the heated/ventilated front seats and heatable steering wheel), navigation system (that features nicely detailed maps and accurate route guidance), phone connectivity and features, plus various apps, the SRT adds its own set of Performance Pages displaying power torque history, real-time power and torque, timers for laps (and more), as well as G-force engine and dyno gauges, separate oil temperature, oil pressure, coolant temperature and battery voltage gauges, many of which are duplicated over on the primary instrument cluster’s multi-info display, providing this SUV with a level of digital capability few rivals come close to matching.

I appreciated having somewhere close by to stow my smartphone when not in use, Dodge providing is a rubberized pad at the base of the centre stack that should be large enough for most any device. Still, I was disappointed to learn there was no wireless charger underneath the rubberized pad, but instead an old-school 12-volt charge point and aux plug resides above, plus two much more useful (for my needs) USB chargers. An additional 12-volt charger and a Blu-Ray DVD changer can be found below the centre armrest/lid, while the standard 506-watt, nine-speaker Alpine stereo is impressive, as is the even nicer 825-watt, 19-speaker, $1,995 Harman/Kardon system.

2019 Dodge Durango SRT
The Durango SRT’s gauge cluster multi-information display is one of the most comprehensive in the industry. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

Then again, the deep, resonating sound of the Durango SRT’s Hemi V8 makes such audio equipment discussion seem a bit irrelevant, whether it’s thumping like a big Harley at idle or disrupting world order at full throttle, while its reactions to prods from the right foot are much more immediate than expected from such a big SUV. It doesn’t exactly jump off the line, but it’s hardly listless either, launching from standstill without any hesitation before distancing itself from legal speeds, all within seconds.

The upgraded eight-speed automatic does a great job of putting all that power down to the wheels, all the while providing smooth, quick shifts. I left it to its own devices more often than not, although when trying to extract as much performance as possible its paddle-actuated manual mode proved ideal, particularly when diving into deep, fast-paced curves, the big Durango SRT’s agility in the corners downright baffling.

2019 Dodge Durango SRT
A large touchscreen is filled with features, and the tri-zone automatic HVAC system is easy to use. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

You might actually be surprised at the Durango’s handling overall, even lesser trims plenty of fun when the road starts to wind, but rest assured the SRT takes things up a notch or three. The SRT utilizes the same fully independent front strut and rear multi-link suspension as all Durangos, but Dodge tweaks it with some “SRT-tuned” components like a Bilstein adaptive damping suspension (ADS) instead of the regular SUV’s gas-charged, twin-tube coil-over shocks, and hollow stabilizer bars in place of solid ones, the result being a flatter stance when pushed hard through tight serpentine stretches, and excellent high-speed tracking. What’s more, the Durango’s electric power steering gets special tuned while stopping performance is enhanced with a set of powerful Brembo brakes, resulting in binding power that’s almost as exciting as accelerative forces. A compliant suspension setup, good visibility all-round, and ample manoeuvrability makes for an easy driving SUV through town as well, and due to less width than most full-size SUVs, such as the Chevrolet Tahoe or Ford Expedition, the Durango is less of a problem to park.

To clarify, the Durango is 120 millimetres (4.7 inches) thinner than the Tahoe and 104 mm (4.1 in) narrower than the Expedition, but rest assured that it delivers size where it matters most. In fact, its 3,045-mm (120.0-in) wheelbase is 99 mm (3.9 in) lengthier than the Tahoe’s, and a mere 67 mm (2.6 in) shorter than the Expedition’s wheelbase, which means that can fit adults comfortably into all three rows.

2019 Dodge Durango SRT
The Durango SRT’s seats are very comfortable and supportive. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

Of course, this means there’s a bit less interior room from side-to-side, but it’s still plenty wide within, and should be spacious enough for full-size folks. The driver’s seat is excellent, and like the others (other than the rearmost row) gets an “SRT” logo imprinted on its backrest. My tester’s seats were coloured in attractive “Demonic Red” with white contrast stitching to match the decorative thread used elsewhere around the cabin, while the seats’ centre inserts are perforated for adequate natural and forced ventilation. The leather itself is ultra-soft and therefore feels very upscale, while the seats’ side panels even felt as if they were trimmed in the same high quality hides, albeit in black. The instrument panel and doors get attractive patterned-aluminum inlays that feel like the real deal, while additional chrome embellishment brightens other key points around the cabin. If you want a bit more bling, you can opt for the SRT Interior Appearance Group that swaps out the aluminum inlays for real carbon-fibre while upgrading the instrument panel with a luxurious leather wrap, which might be a fine way to spend $3,250.

Like the front seats, the SRT’s standard second-row captain’s chairs are really comfortable and quite supportive all-round, while Dodge has added a useful centre console in between housing a set of cupholders and a stowage bin below the armrest. Second-row occupants can also access a panel on the rear portion of the front console incorporating two USB charge points, a three-prong household-style 115-volt charge plug, and toggles for two-way seat heaters, plus overhead there’s a three-dial interface for controlling the tri-zone auto HVAC system’s third zone, plus with a separate set of dome and reading lamps.

2019 Dodge Durango SRT
The standard second-row captain’s chairs are nearly as comfortable as those up front. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

You can acquire the 2019 Dodge Durango SRT for only $73,895 plus freight and fees, while CarCostCanada members are currently saving an average of $6,500 on all 2019 Durango trims, with up to $5,000 in available incentives alone. You’ll want to check out the 2019 Durango page right here at CarCostCanada to find out more, at which point you can see trim, package and individual option pricing, as well as money saving rebate info and dealer invoice pricing that could save you thousands.

My test model was also equipped with a $950 Technology Group that adds adaptive cruise control with stop-and-go, advanced brake assist, forward collision warning with active braking, plus lane departure warning and lane keeping assist, while a $2,150 rear Blu-Ray DVD entertainment system boasts two screens that can be flipped upward from the backside of each front headrest. Dodge includes a set of RCA plugs plus an HDMI input on the inner, upper side of each front seat, providing connection for external devices like game consoles, all capable of turning the Durango SRT into the ideal choice for a family road trip.

2019 Dodge Durango SRT
The Durango’s third row is ultra-spacious and there’s still room for cargo in behind. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

And there lies the beauty of this one-of-a-kind SUV. The Durango SRT is easily one of the fastest seven-passenger SUVs available, yet it’s comfortable for all, is capable of carrying a full load of passenger as well as their stuff, can tow a big trailer with ease, and do plenty more. I’d go so far to say it’s the best possible choice for fast-paced Canadian families, but you’ll need to exchange its three-season performance tires for a set of proper winters at some point in the fall (or sooner if you live on the Prairies), at which point it might be the ultimate ski resort parking lot doughnut machine.

 

Story and photo credits: Trevor Hofmann

2019 Kia Sorento SXL Road Test

2019 Kia Sorento SXL
Kia updated the Sorento’s styling for 2019, making big changes to the lower front fascia. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

Have you ever driving a Kia? Even sat inside one? If it was way back at the turn of the millennium it might not have been the best of experiences. Even Kia doesn’t promote its past in detail, the Korean brand celebrating its twentieth anniversary in Canada with limited edition models of its impressive Soul compact crossover and Stinger mid-size four-door coupe, but hardly paying tribute to the forgettable Sephia, Spectra and Magentis.

Those cars offered nothing better than their competitors, and certainly nothing new, instead relying on low pricing to pull in new buyers. Today’s Kia, however, builds vehicles you want to own in spite of their more renowned rivals, but first you’ll need to give them a chance, and that’s exactly what I’m recommending mid-size crossover SUV buyers do with the Sorento.

I’ve driven every Sorento generation, even the first 2002 model as part of its initial Canadian press launch, a vehicle that so impressed me I recommended it to my brother who kept his for nearly a decade. The redesigned 2010 model went from body-on-frame SUV to car-based crossover and therefore improved drivability as well as refinement, not to mention styling, while the 2016 model upped all of the above to entirely new levels. 

2019 Kia Sorento SXL
New LED taillights and a completely reworked rear bumper mark the changes from behind. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

My 2016 Sorento tester wasn’t even in top-line trim, yet I found myself awestruck by its shocking supply of soft-touch interior surfaces, blown away from finding cloth-wrapped roof pillars all-round, impressed with its sizeable full-colour high-resolution touchscreen infotainment system, wowed by its diminutive yet formidable 240-horsepower 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder engine, and simply satisfied by its overall goodness.

With not much changing over the past four years, plus an even more capable V6 on the options menu, one might think it would’ve remained high on my list of highly recommended mid-size crossover SUVs, and so it does except for one considerable detail, since testing this most recent 2019 Sorento I’ve also spent a week with the completely new 2020 Telluride, so I’m no longer recommending the Sorento quite as highly for seven-passenger crossover buyers.

To be clear, the seven-passenger Sorento’s price range slots in considerably further down Kia’s model hierarchy, beginning at $32,795 for the EX 2.4 and topping out with the 3.3-litre V6-powered $49,165 SXL on this page, which is hardly in the same class as the Telluride that starts at $44,995 and tops out at $53,995 for its SX Limited with Nappa. As expected, the recent arrival of the Telluride and next year’s forecast redesign of the 2021 Sorento have already resulted in a reshuffle of the mostly carryover 2020 Sorento’s trims, with today’s base LX FWD model and this top-tier SXL soon to be discontinued.

2019 Kia Sorento SXL
LED headlights, LED fog lamps and chromed 19-inch alloys depict this Sorento’s top-line status. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

So what about that upcoming 2021 Sorento? I expect it to follow in the tracks of the recently redesigned fourth-generation Hyundai Santa Fe that utilizes the same platform that the new Sorento will ride on, the former SUV only available with two rows and a maximum of five passengers for 2019, due to Hyundai now having a version of the Telluride all its own for 2020, named Palisade. The new Palisade is actually priced lower than the Telluride at $38,499, so we can expect the future 2021 Telluride to grow its trim line down-market with an SX model to slot below today’s base Palisade so as to provide a seven-passenger crossover option for more mainstream Kia shoppers after this seven-place Sorento gets cancelled.

Previously in this review I said that little had changed since the Sorento’s 2016 redesign, but it should be noted this 2019 model underwent a fairly extensive refresh, albeit somewhat more subtle with respect to styling. The big news is a new eight-speed automatic gearbox for its available 3.3-litre V6, and sadly the elimination of the aforementioned 2.0-litre turbo-four (an odd removal, being that the majority of challengers are swapping out their optional V6s for turbocharged fours in order to improve fuel-efficiency, but I’m guessing a stopgap ahead of the next-gen Sorento).

2019 Kia Sorento SXL
These LED taillights are standard on SX and SXL models. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

As it is, the 2.4, which produces 185 horsepower and 178 lb-ft of torque, now gets used for LX FWD, LX and EX 2.4 models, whereas the 3.3, making a maximum of 290 horsepower and 252 lb-ft of torque, adds performance to LX V6, EX, EX Premium, SX, and SXL trims. The six-speed autobox is the sole transmission with four-cylinder powered Sorentos, while the two extra gears only benefit the six-cylinder engine. As you may have guessed already, all trims excepting the LX FWD get all-wheel drive.

As with all modern-day multi-speed automatics fuel-efficiency is the main benefactor, but they also help an engine maintain peak output thanks to shorter shift increments, therefore improving performance. Nevertheless, the upgraded Sorento’s claimed fuel economy rating of 12.5 L/100km city, 9.7 highway and 11.2 combined isn’t as efficient at speed as the outgoing six-speed automatic and V6/AWD combination that received a rating of 9.3 highway. In the city, however, where most of us spend the majority of our driving time, the old model’s 13.2 L/100km rating means the new version is much thriftier, while the new eight-speed helps V6-powered Sorentos achieve a less significant 0.2 L/100km advantage.

In case you were wondering how much better the previous 2.0-litre turbocharged four with its six-speed automatic might compare against a new Sorento with the same engine and eight-speed, the old model’s rating of 12.3 L/100km city, 9.4 highway and 11.0 combined is actually better than the new eight-speed automatic in the totally redesigned 2019 Hyundai Santa Fe, which can only manage 12.3 city, 9.8 highway and 11.2 combined. That Santa Fe, incidentally, rides on the same all-new platform architecture as the next Sorento. 

2019 Kia Sorento SXL
The Sorento’s cabin gets closer to premium level execution than most of its rivals. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

With respect to the base 2.4 that’s available in the here and now, Kia claims 10.7 L/100km in the city, 8.2 on the highway and 9.5 combined with FWD, representing a big improvement in city driving over last year’s Sorento with the same powertrain, which could only manage 11.2 L/100km city, 8.3 highway and 9.9 combined despite zero changes (gear ratio mods?), while the 2019 Sorento 2.4 AWD achieves a rating of 11.2 L/100km city, 9.0 highway and 10.2 combined, compared to 11.5, 9.3 and 10.5 last year.

If you found yourself scratching your head over some of those fuel economy figures, a quick glance at the refreshed 2019 Sorento might also leave you wondering exactly what was changed stylistically. For instance, the new grille looks exactly like the old grille, as does the hood that’s supposedly changed too, but the lower front fascia is entirely new, the latter very noticeable on SX and SXL trims that previously had four larger LED fog lamps at each corner instead of the new half-sized combinations, the sections below now filled with what appear to be slatted brake vents, plus they’re now framed within taller, V-shaped chrome bezels.

The chromed door handles, chromed side window surrounds, and silver roof rails were part of my aforementioned 2016 SX tester as well, but the chromed side mouldings, 19-inch chrome alloys, and completely redesigned back bumper, which is now packed full of bright metal detailing, are all new. The updates make the Sorento classier than the pre-updated SUV’s sportier design, chrome embellishment normally having such an effect.

2019 Kia Sorento SXL
A partially digital gauge cluster includes a centre multi-info display that doubles as the speedometer. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

The 2019 refresh also provides renewed headlights and tail lamps infused with LEDs at both ends in SX and SXL trims, plus LED daytime running lights within the headlights, as well as LED fog lamps. Lower trims feature revised projector beam headlamps with LED positioning lamps, plus projector beam fog lights (on LX V6 to EX Premium trims), and conventional taillights with stylish new lenses. New colours join the usual assortment of updated alloy rims in 17-, 18- and 19-inch diameters wearing 235/65R17, 235/60R18 and 235/55R19 all-season rubber, depending on trim.

Moving inside, the 2019 Sorento gets an updated steering wheel, a new instrument cluster with bright electroluminescent analogue gauges to each side of a large digital speedometer that doubles as a comprehensive multi-information display, and a renewed centre with an updated infotainment touchscreen with Android Auto, Apple CarPlay and more. My favourite new convenience is the available wireless charging pad, although the new optional lane keeping assist and driver attention warning systems could prove even more important.

2019 Kia Sorento SXL
A large high-resolution touchscreen and dual-zone auto climate control combine for a comprehensive assortment of premium-level features. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

Those two safety upgrades are part of top-tier SXL trim, this model also providing forward collision-avoidance assist, a feature that’s now beginning to be included as standard equipment in competitive base models, but it’s not unusual to force an upward move to a mid-range trim for blindspot detection with rear cross-traffic alert, these two upgrades standard with the Sorento EX. The rest of the Sorento’s safety equipment is the segment’s normal standard fare, and therefore is included in all trims.

The previously noted base Sorento LX FWD starts at only $28,295 plus freight and fees, and is therefore an impressive value when put up against every other mid-size SUV, particularly when factoring in that it comes standard with 17-inch alloys, auto on/off headlights, chromed door handles, a heated and leather-clad multifunction steering wheel, Drive Mode Select with Comfort, Eco, Sport and Smart settings, three-way heatable front seats, a 7.0-inch centre display with the Apple and Android smartphone integration mentioned earlier, plus a backup camera, six-speaker audio, and plenty more.

2019 Kia Sorento SXL
The top-tier surround camera combines with front and rear sensors to make parking ultra-easy. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

Including all-wheel drive with the base LX model increases its window sticker by $2,300, the $30,595 trim also providing roof rails, proximity entry with pushbutton start/stop and the aforementioned wireless phone charger, while the same trim with the V6 and AWD increases the Sorento’s price by $4,500 to $35,095, while upping content to include fog lights, a sound-reducing windscreen, turn signals within the exterior mirror housings, an auto-dimming centre mirror, two-zone auto HVAC with auto-defog and separate third-row fan speed/air-conditioning adjustment, UVO Intelligence connected car services, satellite radio, an eight-way powered driver’s seat with two-way powered lumbar support, a third row for a total of seven passengers, trailer pre-wiring, and more.

At $2,300 less than the LX V6 AWD, and $2,200 more than the LX AWD, the four-cylinder-powered $32,795 EX 2.4 gets the just mentioned fog lamps, powered driver’s seat, and three-row layout of the V6-powered model, while also adding a gloss-black grille insert and leather seat surfaces, while the $38,665 EX with the V6 and AWD builds on both the LX V6 AWD and EX 2.4 models with 18-inch machined-finish alloys, a nicer Supervision LCD/TFT gauge cluster, express up and down power windows with obstacle detection all around, and a household-style 110-volt device charger, while the EX Premium starts $2,500 higher at $41,165 and adds front and rear parking sonar, power-folding outside mirrors, LED interior lights, an eight-way powered front passenger seat, a panoramic glass sunroof, rear door sunshades, and a power tailgate with smart gesture access.

2019 Kia Sorento SXL
These are some of the best seats in the mainstream mid-size SUV class, made even nicer with Nappa leather upholstery. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

Sorento buyers wanting a near-premium experience can choose SX trim that, for $45,165, $4,000 more than the EX Premium, includes most everything already mentioned as well as 19-inch alloy wheels, a chromed grille, stainless steel skid plates front and rear, a stainless exhaust tip, chrome roof rails, dynamic directionally-adaptive full LED headlamps, upgraded LED fog lights, bar type LED tail lamps, sound-reducing front side glass, illuminated stainless steel door scuff plates up front, perforated premium leather upholstery, plus a bigger 8.0-inch high-resolution infotainment touchscreen boasting rich colours and deep contrasts as well as quick reaction to tap, pinch and swipe finger inputs.

Additionally, the navigation system provides nice detailed mapping and accurate route guidance, while SX trim also includes an excellent 10-speaker Harman/Kardon premium audio system, ventilated front seats that keep backsides cool during summer heat, heated rear outboard seats that do the opposite in winter’s cold, plus more.

2019 Kia Sorento SXL
Everyone loves a panoramic sunroof, and the Sorento’s is particularly large. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

Finally, my as-tested Sorento SXL adds an additional $4,000 to the tally resulting in a maximum retail price of $49,165, which is considerably less than most fully equipped competitors, some that don’t offer the same level of luxury-grade features than LX trim, but this SXL is better yet thanks to even plusher Nappa leather upholstery, an electromechanical parking brake, a surround parking camera with a divided screen that includes a regular rearview camera with dynamic guidelines to the left and a 360-degree bird’s-eye view to the right, as well as high beam assist headlamps, adaptive cruise control, plus more.

All pricing was sourced right here on CarCostCanada, including trims, packages and standalone options for 2019 and 2020 model (not to mention 2018s, just in case you’re curious), while money-saving rebate info and dealer invoice pricing can add thousands to your potential savings. Actually, at the time of writing there were up to $6,000 in additional incentives available, so it’s well worth checking out.

2019 Kia Sorento SXL
The second row is spacious and comfortable. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

Of course, you’ll need to check in at your local Kia dealership to drive a new Sorento, and if you choose to I’m quite certain you’ll be impressed. The V6 is very smooth, as is the new eight-speed automatic that swaps gears almost seamlessly and quickly no matter the drive mode selected. I mostly kept it in its default Comfort mode, but Eco was smooth too, and good for saving fuel, whereas Sport mode let the engine rev higher and gearbox shift quicker than it otherwise would, making the most of the powerful V6. Smart mode pays attention to your driving style, the terrain and other factors before automatically choosing the best mode for a given situation, optimizing performance, comfort or economy.

Also good, the Sorento’s fully independent suspension is blissfully smooth too, although when pushed hard through fast-paced curves it manages well for such a big crossover utility. All in all the Sorento should be considered a sportier option than most of its seven-seat SUV rivals, but it’s superb seats, luxuriously soft surface treatments, and generous supply of premium-level features make it amongst the most comfortable in its segment.

2019 Kia Sorento SXL
The third row is sizeable enough for smaller folk, but those needing to haul a full load of adults should consider the new Telluride. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

Speaking of comfort, EX trims and above include four-way powered lumbar support that ideally applied pressure to the small of my back, while the LX V6 and EX 2.4 models’ two-way lumbar can’t be adjusted as personally. Of note, four-way lumbar isn’t always provided in the lower or upper classes, with Lexus forcing its RX 350 customers to pay $63,950 for a Luxury package or $69,850 for the Executive model before receiving optimal lower back support, with none of the model’s F Sport buyers getting such comfort at all, whereas Infiniti’s QX60 clients are completely out of luck no matter how much they’re willing to pay. An additional Sorento bonus is a driver’s seat squab that extends forward to add support under the knees, while the Nappa leather is amongst the best you’ll likely find in the entire volume-branded mid-size SUV class.

The second-row of seats is plenty spacious and almost as comfortable and supportive as the two seats up front, but the Sorento’s third row is probably best left for smaller- to medium-sized children, the Telluride now a better choice when the need to carry a full load of large teens or adults.

2019 Kia Sorento SXL
Storage under the cargo floor is made more useful thanks to its ability to securely lock the retractable tonneau cover in place when not in use. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

A few particularly upscale trim details include curving black lacquered appliqués on the backside of each front seat, something that I’ve rarely seen in anything less than a Bentley or Rolls-Royce. It’s an olde British take on luxury that isn’t often used these days, although a quick glance back at a previously covered 2019 Genesis G90 (which shares underpinnings with the dearly departed—from Canada—Kia K900) helps us put a finger on where Kia came up with the concept (scroll back through the photos for the same idea in hardwood). Sorento SXL trim also includes black lacquer on the steering wheel spokes, instrument panel and lower centre console surface, plus highlighting each door panel, although as attractive as it looks when brand new, I’m concerned it’ll scratch as it ages.

Those loading longer items such as skis into the cargo hold will appreciate that Kia has split the second row in the unusually ideal 40/20/40 configuration, allowing both rear passengers to enjoy the more comfortable and visually optimal window seats, not to mention the aforementioned heatable rear seats if equipped. This is a dealmaker for me, and usually only found in pricier European SUVs. I also liked the convenience of cargo wall-mounted levers that dropped each side of the second-row down automatically, right to the point of locking safely into place, this resulting in a large, flat loading floor that measures 2,082 litres (73.5 cu ft) in the bottom two trims or 2,066 litres (73.0 cu ft) in LX V6 trim and above behind the first row, 1,099 litres (38.8 cu ft) and 1,077 litres (38.0 cu ft) respectively behind the second row, and 320 litres (11.3 cu ft) behind the third row. There’s some extra storage space below the cargo floor, which even lets you stow the retractable cargo cover securely away when not being used.

2019 Kia Sorento SXL
Passenger/cargo flexibility is a Sorento strong point. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

It’s such details that make the Sorento so good, Kia’s rare attitude of going above and beyond that’s so wonderfully unique in the mainstream marketplace. They don’t have the luxury of resting on their laurels, so they work harder at impressing you than most Japanese peers, and definitely more so than the Americans. I always thought their global motto, “The Power to Surprise” was kind of hokey, but it really does make sense to those experienced with to their products. The Sorento, now Canada’s best-selling (mostly) seven-passenger SUV, is really that good. As for the Telluride, it’ll blow you away.

 

Story and photo credits: Trevor Hofmann

2019 Ford Escape Titanium 2.0L Ecoboost Road Test

2019 Ford Escape Titanium 2.0L Ecoboost
The third-generation Escape might be on its way out, but it’s still a very strong competitor. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Now that the entirely redesigned 2020 Escape is arriving at Ford’s Canadian retailers, we’d better say a final goodbye to the third-generation Escape that’s done a very good job of serving the automaker as well as many of its loyal fans for the past six or so years. This outgoing version underwent a dramatic mid-cycle upgrade for the 2017 model year, and now the blue-oval brand has brought something new to contemplate in the compact crossover class.

For some, the best reason to get excited about a redesigned model is the opportunity to save money on the old one, and being that this 2019 Escape is still an excellent SUV, and that Ford retailers continue to have some in stock, such options should be considered. During my research for this review, which included pricing and features info found right here at CarCostCanada, I learned that $1,200 in additional incentives was available at the time of writing, and that’s over and above any personal discount you might be able to negotiate with your local retailer, and while this knowledge will certainly help when you begin to talk business, CarCostCanada also provides dealer invoice pricing that could save you even more. 

2019 Ford Escape Titanium 2.0L Ecoboost
The design has aged well, particularly from behind. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

A quick glance at CarCostCanada’s 2019 Escape page will show that it’s unchanged from the 2018 model. The 2018 is identical to the 2017 model as well, with respect to all trims but the SEL that arrived last year. If you want more clarity, take a look at my 2017 Ford Escape Titanium AWD Road Test that shows an identical SUV to my 2019 tester, even down to their Ingot Silver colour. Of course, Ford provides the choice of seven additional colours for 2019 buyers, with no-cost options including vibrant alternatives like Sedona Orange and Lightning Blue, while $450 Ruby Red and $550 White Platinum give the Escape a premium-like upscale demeanour.

This 2017-2019 Escape’s grille design didn’t work for me as much as its 2013-2016 forebear did, the latter a completely original and even futuristic look when introduced. I remember how it initially turned my head, not really certain what to think at first, yet warming up to its unusual design quickly. It made sense that Ford needed to change the design, both because of a need for something new and the automaker’s requirement to visually align its crossover SUV lineup (the Escape took design elements from the Edge of the era), but nevertheless Escape sales have slowed somewhat in recent years, with the Toyota RAV4 and Honda CR-V now owning first and second respectively, not necessarily due to styling mind you.

2019 Ford Escape Titanium 2.0L Ecoboost2019 Ford Escape Titanium 2.0L Ecoboost
Titanium trim adds HID headlamps with LED signatures, plus unique 18-inch alloys. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Just four years ago the Escape was the compact SUV segment’s bestseller, a spot it had been holding for years. In fact, looking a couple of years further back shows the Escape nearly doubling the RAV4 and CR-V’s yearly sales, but it’s been on a downward trajectory ever since its mid-cycle refresh, from a high of 52,198 sales in 2014 to 47,726 in 2015, which incidentally was the last time it topped the category. It fell further to 46,661 units in 2016, when the RAV4 jumped up to first place, and then in 2017 it managed a bit more to 47,880 examples, but the RAV4 and CR-V grew their sales even more, both passing 50,000 units. The two Japanese SUVs kept pulling in more and more new buyers through 2018 too, when each models’ deliveries neared 55,000 units, yet the Escape could only muster 43,587 sales that year, while at the close of Q3 2019 Ford’s little SUV that could managed just 30,817 new customers to the CR-V’s 43,464 and RAV4’s 49,473, the completely redesigned Toyota targeting yet another banner year.

Truly, the Escape is beginning to show its age, particularly when sidled up next to the new RAV4, not to mention when placed beside the totally redesigned 2020 Escape that Ford hopes will cause its once much stronger customer base to return, but the outgoing model is nevertheless a very competent compact SUV that should be available for big time savings. Of course, you may not have many options when it comes to exterior paint, while a choice of trims will be decided by remaining stock, which means you should probably get a move on if you want something specific.

2019 Ford Escape Titanium 2.0L Ecoboost
Simple, elegant styling lasts the test of time. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

When model year 2019 began, the Escape was available in base $26,399 S trim, as $29,349 SE and $30,849 SEL models (the latter designation added this year as noted earlier), and finally in top-line $37,699 Titanium trim. The Titanium gets all-wheel drive standard, whereas AWD is available with the SE and SEL for an additional $1,500, and the S only comes with front-wheel drive.

If your not confused yet, just wait as the 2019 Escape provides the choice of three gasoline-fed four-cylinder engines, and oddly not a one is electrified despite this model being first to market with a hybrid. Base S trim still uses Ford’s 12-year-old 2.5-litre four that’s good for 168 horsepower and 170 lb-ft of torque, although despite these being respectable output numbers most Escape buyers will ante up for one of the automaker’s turbocharged Ecoboost engines, which include a 1.5-litre mill capable of 179 horsepower and 177 lb-ft of torque, standard in SE and SEL trims, and a 2.0-litre version making a very energetic 245 horsepower and 275 lb-ft of torque, this one standard with my Titanium tester and available with mid-range SE and SEL models. Therefore, as you can probably imagine, your local Ford dealer won’t have all combinations available in the exact colour you want, but hopefully you’ll be able to find something that mixes and matches enough of the features you’re looking for to make you happy, even if that retailer needs to call around to get something from another dealer.

2019 Ford Escape Titanium 2.0L Ecoboost
Despite its age, the Escape Titanium provides impressive refinement. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

As if trying to make a complicated problem easier, the Escape won’t force you to choose between alternative transmissions, as its six-speed SelectShift automatic is the only way it comes. The new 2020 model’s automatic ups the gear count to eight, but the 2019 Escape’s gearbox has proven to be dependable and is very capable when mated up to either Ecoboost engine. That 2020 model receives the 1.5-litre turbocharged four standard, by the way, with auto start-stop that turns the engine off when it would otherwise be idling, while the 2.0-litre turbo-four in my 2019 tester remains the go-to performance option.

Drivetrain alternatives in mind, remember when I questioned why Ford no longer offered an Escape Hybrid? It seems others within the company have asked the same (and no doubt customers too), which resulted in a 2020 Escape Hybrid. Ford isn’t offering fuel economy figures for the new hybrid or any 2020 Escapes just yet, but the 2019 model being reviewed here does fairly well no matter the trim. The tiny 1.5-litre is your best choice from a budgeting perspective, with the FWD version rated at an estimated 10.2 L/100km city, 7.8 highway and 9.1 combined, while that engine with AWD gets a claimed 11.2, 8.4 and 9.9 respectively. As for the FWD-only base S, I think it’s pretty thrifty considering its age, its estimated rating at 11.0 city, 8.0 highway and 9.6 combined, while the top-line AWD-only Titanium does very well despite its zippy acceleration with a rating of 11.5 city, 8.7 highway and 10.2 combined.

2019 Ford Escape Titanium 2.0L Ecoboost
The Escape cockpit is well laid out. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Seeing past this 2019 model’s aging body and equally classic cabin design, the fit, finish, quality of materials and general goodness of its interior is more than decent. Even Ford’s electronic interfaces overshadow some of its more recently redesigned rivals, particularly the bright, colourful, well-defined high-resolution multi-information display at the centre of its primary gauge cluster, the outer dials mostly analogue, while the brand’s much respected Sync 3 infotainment system fills the Escape Titanium’s centre touchscreen. It’s particularly good looking thanks to modern sky blue, white and grey graphics, plus its ultra-user-friendly and wonderfully functional. Ford was one of the first manufacturers to adopt Apple CarPlay and Android Auto smartphone integration, while the system’s route guidance is accurate and navigation mapping excellent, the screens tablet-style tap, pinch, and swipe gesture controls perfectly suited for adjusting the map. Safety is improved via its standard dynamic guideline-enhanced rearview camera, while extra tech includes Bluetooth audio streaming, mobile apps, voice control, a WiFi hotspot, 911 assist, and more.

You can adjust the audio system from the centre display as well, plus it comes packed with AM/FM/satellite radio, plus MP3 and WMA compatibility, although no HD radio, but Titanium trim’s 10-speaker Sony audio system is excellent for this compact segment. A number of quick-access buttons and knobs are angled into a panel just under the centre touchscreen, which also sits above a big, easy-to-use two-zone automatic HVAC interface, all being the types of premium features expected in a luxury brand, as well as the Escape’s top-level Titanium trim line. Nevertheless, compared to some rivals that have digitized these controls under touch-sensitive black glass-like panels, the Escape’s HVAC setup looks outdated, although the little pull tab for engaging the electric parking brake makes everyone clear that Ford did all it could to keep this SUV up-to-date.

2019 Ford Escape Titanium 2.0L Ecoboost
The Escape’s large high-resolution multi-info display was so ahead of its time that it’s now current technology. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Speaking of advanced features, my test model boasted a $2,500 available Safe and Smart + Roof Package with features such as a panoramic glass sunroof, rain-sensing windshield wipers, auto high beams, adaptive cruise control, forward collision warning with automatic braking, blindspot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert, as well as lane departure warning with lane keeping assist. Some of these items are also made available in a separate package when choosing one of the two mid-range models, so therefore you don’t have to go all the way up to top-line Titanium in order to experience high-level safety and convenience.

All of this detail in mind, I’m not about to delve into all standard and optional features with this outgoing SUV, because you’re not going to be able to order one this late in the game anyway. Still, other than the features already noted, Titanium trim adds 18-inch alloys, bi-Xenon HID headlamps with LED signatures, a heated steering wheel rim, an auto-dimming rearview mirror, front parking sonar, leather upholstery, a 110-volt power outlet, a foot-operated hands-free tailgate, plus more, while highlight items pulled from lower trims include additional chrome accents outside, a leather-clad steering wheel inside, a powered liftgate, rear parking sonar and more from SEL trim; fog lights, body-coloured exterior trim, proximity keyless entry with pushbutton start/stop, a combination lock entry keypad, one-touch up/down powered windows all-round, a 10-way powered driver’s seat, two-zone auto HVAC, heatable front seats and more from the SE; plus finally auto on/off headlights, a windshield wiper de-icer, remote start, keyless entry, MyKey, variable intermittent windshield wipers, power windows, air conditioning, an overhead console with a sunglasses holder, SOS Post-Crash Alert, all the expected airbags including one for the driver’s knees, and plenty more from the base S model.

2019 Ford Escape Titanium 2.0L Ecoboost
Ford’s Sync 3 infotainment system remains very impressive. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

A few highlights regarding Escape Titanium materials quality include an almost completely soft synthetic dash top that wraps all the way around the infotainment system’s control. This premium treatment softens the front door uppers too, while front and rear door inserts and armrests are finished even more comfortably, as is the centre armrest.

Ford beautifies the instrument panel with black lacquered surfacing that stretches to the right and left of the centre stack before reaching downward to each side, while this model also gets tasteful application of aluminum-look detailing, all of which added some glitz to my tester’s otherwise black interior. Certainly colour is included, but the two digital displays aside its small dashes of blue and red are relegated to the temperature knobs and the stylish baby blue instrument needles in the gauge package.

The seats look good, highlighted by what appears to be cream or light grey thread for a sporty contrast against black leather. I really appreciated the driver seat’s comfort level, particularly because of its adjustments, and the long reach and rake from the Escape’s manual tilt and telescopic steering column. As many who read my reviews know, my long-legged and short-torso body type doesn’t fit ideally into some manufacturer’s products, but such is not the case with the Escape. In fact, I think you’ll find it difficult to round up a challenger that provides more driver adjustment, while visibility is very good in all directions as well.

2019 Ford Escape Titanium 2.0L Ecoboost
Comfort, roominess, and premium materials set the Escape Titanium apart. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

As usual I took the time to sit in back, where I found sizeable, comfortable accommodations. This said one doesn’t exactly sit within each outboard seat, but instead on top of them, so there’s not a lot of lateral support. Fortunately, relatively tall folk won’t have a problem with legroom or headroom as both are in large supply, while reclining the rear seatbacks can provide more of the latter. A folding centre armrest improves comfort further, while providing two cupholders for drinks. Also good, Ford makes sure passengers in back get ample ventilation via vents on the front console’s rear panel, this also housing the previously noted 110-volt power outlet, which incidentally comes with a third grounding socket for three-pronged plugs (not always the case). I was disappointed that Ford didn’t offer heated rear seats, particularly in this top-tier trim, but anyone wanting these types of premium accoutrements can opt for the Lincoln MKC (renamed Corsair for 2020), which is a 2019 Escape Titanium under all the luxury trappings.

The tailgate powers up by waving your foot under the back bumper, and once opened reveals a large 964-litre (34.0 cubic-foot) cargo hold aft of the 60/40 split-folding rear seats. Dropping these down provides up to 1,925 litres (68.0 cu ft) of gear-toting space, but on this note I’d much rather have more convenient 40/20/40 split-folding rear seats, or even a pass-through down the middle, because I like to ski and don’t want to leave my boards locked up in a less secure rooftop-mounted carrier. With a pass-through, both kids can enjoy the more comfortable and scenic outboard rear seats, while I get peace of mind when chowing down in the cafeteria or restaurant later. Still, this feature is ultra-rare in the mainstream volume-branded SUV sector, so while I complain (regularly), it probably wouldn’t be a dealmaker unless I liked the rest of the SUV as much as something else on the market that offered it. Absent features in mind, there are no levers on the cargo walls for automatically folding down the rear seatbacks, unlike a few competitors, but in order to be positive I’ll mention a handy flap the falls down over the gap between the seats and cargo floor in order to stop small items from slipping between the cracks, so to speak, and also good, the lengthened cargo floor is quite flat compared to most others.

2019 Ford Escape Titanium 2.0L Ecoboost
Rear seat accommodations are more than adequate. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Just in case you’re beginning to think I’m getting too harsh with the old Escape, rest assured that it remains a very impressive compact SUV in most respects, and best in class when talking performance. Its transmission can be criticized for falling short of two or even three gears now that others in the class offer eight- and nine-speed automatics (including the 2020 Escape with the former, as noted), but the 2019 Escape’s six-speed autobox is amply smooth, refined and well-proven, plus my tester’s steering paddles provided a lot more engagement than most CVT-infused challengers do. Yes, all of SUVs mentioned so far use continuously variable transmissions, as do a number of others in the segment, and while highly efficient these also deliver continuous noise at high revs, as well as continual boredom when pushed hard. Instead, the Escape’s manual mode shifts genuine gears in comparatively quick and precise fashion, making Ford’s compact SUV a great deal more fun to drive fast.

Speaking of going fast, all Escape trims include torque-vectoring control as well as Curve Control, the latter capable of sensing if you’re driving to fast while entering a corner, and if so, automatically slowing you down via throttle reduction and the anti-lock brakes. I certainly didn’t notice anything going on in the background, and I pushed it very hard for testing purposes, so this electronic safety net is only intrusive when it needs to be.

2019 Ford Escape Titanium 2.0L Ecoboost
No shortage of cargo space in back. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Then again, my Escape Titanium’s slightly firmer suspension and larger tires meant it wasn’t the smoothest riding SUV in its category. I wouldn’t call it harsh in the slightest, however, or uncomfortable at all, but I noticed more bumps and road imperfections than in the RAV4 or CR-V, which isolate occupants from pavement irregularities better. Still, this Escape Titanium will leave you smiling when pushed hard on a circuitous mountainside or riverside road, which is one of those difficult to quantify benefits that I happen to find priceless.

So there you have it, the outgoing 2019 Escape is well worth your attention. It continues to be a strong challenger despite its age, because it was so well engineered way back when. I think it’s still a smart choice for those wanting to keep their monthly budget in check, but can appreciate why someone might want to step up to the more advanced 2020 Escape or something else entirely. This said I can’t say for sure if its replacement will be worthy of more coin, as I haven’t even sat behind the wheel, but its mechanical improvements, including the new hybrid option, as well as its infotainment gains, appear well worth the upgrade. It’ll come down to personal priorities, like everything in life, so take some confidence in knowing you’ll be well taken care of with either new or old Escape.

Story credit: Trevor Hofmann

Photo credit: Karen Tuggay