2019 Hyundai Sonata Ultimate Road Test

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Story credit: Trevor Hofmann 

Photo credit: Karen Tuggay

2019 Porsche Panamera 4S Road Test

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Story credit: Trevor Hofmann 

Photo credit: Karen Tuggay

2019 Kia Stinger GT-Line Road Test

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Story and photo credits: Trevor Hofmann

New Porsche Taycan EV on three-continent Shanghai, Goodwood and NYC tour

2020 Porsche Taycan
Porsche has taken its new Taycan EV on a three-continent tour, starting at its Experience Centre in Shanghai. (Photo: Porsche)

Fans of electric vehicles have been over the moon about the soon to arrive 2020 Taycan, and now that Porsche has a pre-production model strutting its stuff on a global tour, we’re all getting a taste of what’s to come. 

The sleek four-door coupe-style Taycan is currently on a “Triple Demo Run” that started off on the first week of July on the Porsche Experience Centre (PEC) handling track in Shanghai, China, where Porsche Carrera Cup Asia driver Li Chao coaxed it around 1.4 kilometres of high-speed curves. This particular Taycan was closest to a street-ready production model anyone outside of Porsche’s inner circle has seen yet, the black-painted model adorned with a stunning red dragon graphic upon its roof. 

“The exceptional performance typical for Porsche was a clear development objective for the Taycan. You can sense that right from the start,” an enthusiastic Chao, who was especially impressed by the Taycan’s handling, stated after his initial run. “From uncompromisingly sporty to surprisingly comfortable, the chassis of the new Taycan covers a wide range and successfully combines the precise handling of a sports car and the long-distance comfort of a saloon. In addition to its low centre of gravity, the rear-axle steering also plays a crucial role. The Taycan steers into corners very directly and has plenty of grip.” 

2020 Porsche Taycan
Porsche Carrera Cup Asia driver Li Chao was at the Taycan’s wheel for the event in China. (Photo: Porsche)

The new Taycan houses a quick-charging 800-volt architecture plus a 90-kWh lithium-ion battery, resulting in 592 horsepower (600 PS). The new Porsche catapults from 0 to 100km/h in less than 3.5 seconds, continues on to 200 km/h in under 12 seconds, and tops out above 250 km/h, making it one of the fastest four-door production sedans ever made. 

Continuing on its worldwide journey, the new Taycan silently sped up the popular “Hill Run” at the famed West Sussex, England-based Goodwood Estate that hosts the Goodwood Festival of Speed each year. Tasked with driving duties, multiple racing-winning Formula 1 veteran and LMP1/Porsche 919 Hybrid World Endurance Championship (WEC) contender Mark Webber, showed just how awesomely quick the new Porsche can be (make sure to watch the videos below for more).  

“The Taycan’s power delivery is awesome,” said Webber. “I took part in this event in a Porsche 911 GT2 RS two years ago, so I already knew that it all comes down to power and traction. But, even for a thoroughbred racing driver like me, it is amazing how the Taycan – even though it’s still a prototype – accelerates off the start and out of the corners.” 

2020 Porsche Taycan
The start of the Goodwood Festival of Speed “Hill Run” with F1 race-winning driver Mark Webber at the wheel. (Photo: Porsche)

Next on the agenda is a New York City stint as part of the ABB FIA Formula E Championship season finale, a fitting event for an electric super sedan. This final demo run will see Formula E driver and 2016 24 Hours of Le Mans winner (while driving a WEC Porsche LMP1 car no less) Neel Jani at the wheel, so be sure to watch all the action on your favourite video streaming site. 

While all this ultra-fast electrification is fun for auto enthusiasts everywhere, and mostly seen as a positive for the green movement, no one can say for sure how the Taycan will measure up to its most obvious EV rival when it comes to sales success. The now somewhat long-in-tooth Tesla Model S had led all battery-powered competitors on the sales charts up to the point its own Tesla Model 3 sibling arrived on the scene, so the question now remains whether the Taycan can truly pose a threat to the Model S, or will remain as a niche player like all non-Tesla EV entries so far. 

Let’s face it. Tesla virtually owns the electrified sport-luxury market. The Model S, which arrived in 2012, not only outsells all other electric competitors in its mid-size E-segment, but actually outperforms every conventionally powered mid-size luxury model other than the BMW 5 Series and top-selling Mercedes-Benz E-Class. This said, Model S deliveries fell 6.3 percent in 2018, and a much more sizeable 56 percent during the first three months of this year, but this may have more to do with its four-door sedan body style than any lack of interest in the Tesla brand, because both the E-Class and 5 Series found themselves in the same downward spiral, with Audi’s recently redesigned A6 and A7, plus Porsche’s Panamera bucking the trend. Still, despite its downturn, the Model S managed to hang onto third place in the mid-size E-segment. 

2020 Porsche Taycan
At less than 3.5 seconds from standstill to 100km/h, the Taycan is blisteringly quick. (Photo: Porsche)

The Panamera grew by 40.1 percent in calendar year 2018, and didn’t lose much of that market share during Q1 of 2019 either after experiencing a small loss of 0.8 percent. Tesla’s Model S, however, outpaced the Panamera by a near three-to-one ratio last year, and 2.5-to-one over the initial three months of 2019, but it’s nevertheless safe say the recent sales strength of both premium cars is a good sign for potential future success of the new Taycan. 

The Panamera, which available with various conventional engines plus two electrified hybrid powertrains, is very close in size to the Model S, at least before taking overall length into account. So far Porsche hasn’t released official Taycan dimensions, but if the production model ends up being close to in size to the Mission E concept it will be slightly shorter, albeit quite a bit wider and significantly lower than either the Panamera or Model S, but it will still fit ideally within the mid-size E-segment. 

This brings us to a question: As impressive as the new Taycan appears to be, can the upstart Porsche EV punt the longstanding Tesla titleholder off the top sales-leadership podium? That Jaguar has had difficulty attracting EV customers to its new I-Pace, despite that model being a crossover utility and therefore more in line with current automotive trends, actually makes sense because the British luxury brand already has major problems finding buyers for its conventionally powered models, but Audi, amongst the auto industry’s hotter luxury brands, recently introduced the all-electric E-Tron, a crossover that’s even more traditionally SUV-like, and it hasn’t made much of a dent into Tesla Model X territory either. 

2020 Porsche Taycan
“It is amazing how the Taycan – even though it’s still a prototype – accelerates off the start and out of the corners,” said ex-F1 star Mark Webber. (Photo: Porsche)

To bring you up to date on U.S. EV market growth, June saw increased sector sales of 120 percent, but take note that most of the 29,632 deliveries were attributed to Tesla, its 23,914-unit total accounting for 83 percent of market share growth due to 20,550 Model 3 (a compact luxury D-segment four-door sedan) buyers, 2,725 Model X (a mid-size luxury crossover SUV) customers, and new 1,750 Model S owners. Tesla aside, EV sales from other brands increased by 30 percent in June, which is excellent, but of course this number was comparatively small at 4,718 units total. 

As anyone can surmise, earning a profit while selling in small numbers is not going to happen, with the next best-selling Nissan Leaf only able to deliver 1,156 units, Chevy’ impressive Bolt only finding 1,190 buyers (its worst YTD result), Honda positively surprising all with 1,092 Clarity FCV (Fuel Cell Vehicle) deliveries, Audi’s aforementioned E-Tron sales actually dropping from 856 units in May to 726 (after 253 down the road during its first month of April), BMW’s i3 having its best month so far this year with 473 sales, Jaguar’s new I-Pace managing its second-best month with 236 deliveries, Toyota pushing 166 Mirai FCVs out the door, Hyundai’s Kona EV finding 127 new owners, and other EV models like Kia’s Soul EV, Volkswagen’s E-Golf, etcetera not being accounted for due to having their sales numbers combined with conventionally models bearing the same nameplate. 

Just which list the new Porsche Taycan gets added to, either alongside Tesla’s strong sales or somewhere mixed in with all other EV makers, is unknown for now, but we only have to wait until later this year to find out. Until the new production Taycan gets officially revealed in September and then arrives in Porsche dealerships later this year, makes sure to enjoy our photo gallery above and collection of videos below. 

 

Kicking off in China: the Porsche Taycan prototype visits Shanghai (1:00):

Porsche Taycan prototype visits Goodwood Festival of Speed 2019 (1:41):

Hey Porsche, watch this video. Love, Electricity (1:03):

Story credits: Trevor Hofmann  

Photo credits: Porsche

2020 Porsche 718 Spyder and 718 Cayman GT4 now available to order

2020 Porsche 718 Cayman GT4
Thanks to 414-hp and plenty of performance upgrades the new 2020 718 Cayman GT4 is the most capable of its kind yet. (Photo: Porsche)

Decades ago Porsche was criticized for not making entry-level models that measured up to the much mightier 911, examples being the now 50-year-old ‘69-‘76 mid-engine 914 and ‘76–‘88 front-engine 924, but since the mid-engine Boxster convertible and Cayman coupe arrived on the scene, complainants haven’t been anywhere near as vocal. 

Just the same, the brand’s new line of turbocharged flat-four powerplants that arrived in the current fourth-gen 718 series models have had their share of naysayers, yet while these engines’ barks aren’t quite as vicious sounding as the flat-six 911’s meatier growl, the 2.5-litre mill’s bite has kept most critics silent, particularly when tuned to GTS heights. 

With respect to the 986, 987, 981 and today’s 982 platform architectures, the Cayman and Boxster were near perfect performers from the very beginning thanks to their relatively light curb weights and inherently well-balanced mid-engine layouts, and every generation became even better at managing high-speed road and racetrack performance. 

2020 Porsche 718 Spyder
Choose the 718 Spyder if going topless in the quickest and most stylish Boxster ever is more to your liking. (Photo: Porsche)

As with the previous-gen Boxster and Cayman, the 718 series’ many more fans should also be happy to know that 2020 models are about to be built in their most formidable production trims yet, the upcoming 718 Spyder and 718 Cayman GT4 even capable of sprinting away from and outmaneuvering some 911 models. 

To fill you in on some background information, the 718 Cayman (currently on sale from $63,700), can be had in base 300-horsepower Cayman trim that’s capable of zero to 100km/h in just 5.1 seconds, or 4.9 seconds when hooked up to its optional paddle shift-operated dual-clutch PDK automatic transmission, or a speedy 4.7 seconds with the PDK and the car’s available Sport Chrono Package, while if you keep its right pedal planted it can hit a top track speed of 275 km/h. 

The entry-level coupe can also be upgraded to 350-horsepower Cayman S trim ($78,600), which can spirit away from standstill to 100km/h in only 4.6, 4.4 and 4.2 seconds respectively, plus it tops out at an even higher 285 km/h, while lastly the 365-horsepower Cayman GTS ($92,600) is capable of running from 0 to 100km/h in 4.6, 4.3 and 4.1 seconds respectively, while it claims a top speed of 290 km/h. 

2020 Porsche 718 Cayman GT4
The 718 Cayman GT4 has a massive rear wing. (Photo: Porsche)

The just-noted 718 Cayman GT4 arrives at the top of this pecking order, just like the previous version did when introduced in 2015. Where the old Cayenne (and Boxster) had flat-six engines throughout its range, the new GT4 replaces the 718’s 2.0- and 2.5-litre turbocharged flat-four engines with a downgraded (but still amazing) version of the wonderfully high-revving naturally-aspirated 4.0-litre H-6 from the 911 GT3, producing a generous 414-horsepower and 309 lb-ft of torque, which is a 29-hp bump over the previous GT4 due in part to a sonorous 8,000-rpm redline, while it’s solely conjoined to a six-speed manual transmission just like the 911 GT3, all combining for a zero to 100km/h sprint time of 4.4 seconds, plus a terminal velocity of 304 km/h. 

As for the 718 Spyder, which also updates a previous 2016 model, it shares all of the same mechanical bits as the Cayman GT4. This means it’s 39 hp more potent than the outgoing Spyder, resulting in the same 4.4-second 100-km/h sprint time as the Cayman GT4, although its top speed is fractionally lower at 301 km/h. Unlike the GT4, mind you, the open-top Spyder is quite different than the model using the Boxster nameplate, despite housed in its basic tub. 

2020 Porsche 718 Spyder
The 718 Spyder gets two “streamliners” on its backside as well as an auto-deploying spoiler. (Photo: Porsche)

As noted earlier, the two new cars’ utilize a six-speed manual gearbox, which isn’t all that unusual in the class, but interestingly this transmission includes downshift rev-matching, or rather what Porsche refers to as an “Auto Blip” function, which automatically matches a given cog to engine speed when dropping a gear. Fortunately, Porsche makes this feature optional, in that a driver can individually activate or defeat it via a button. Also standard, both new models feature a totally new and exclusively designed sport exhaust system that works its way around the cars’ complex rear diffusers while making the most of the “exciting flat-six sound of the engine,” noted Porsche in its press release. 

With respect to the two models’ outward designs, some key elements of the 718 Spyder appear like they were pulled from the 918 Spyder, not to mention the more recently introduced 911 Speedster. The 918 may have helped to inspire the 718 Spyder’s lower front fascia and similar, albeit much more pronounced, double-hump rear deck lid buttresses, while the new 911 Speedster may have influenced the 718 Spyder’s aggressive frontal treatment and double-bubble rear deck “streamliners”, as well as the new convertible’s vented hood, the “Spyder” lettering on its shortened B-pillars (which read “Speedster” on the 911), the similarly sculpted automatically-deploying rear spoiler, and the working rear diffuser. 

2020 Porsche 718 Cayman GT4
Aerodynamics play a key role with both new 718 cars. (Photo: Porsche)

The new 718 Cayman GT4, on the other hand, pulls forward a number of similar styling cues and aero details from its 2016 predecessor, including the aggressively shaped front fascia, the horizontal black strip of hood venting, the large fixed rear wing, the wind-cheating rear diffuser, and the uniquely designed alloys, all developed with a focus on minimizing weight and maximizing downforce. The fact Porsche even painted both GT4 launch cars in a seemingly identical yellow hue is no coincidence either, just like they once again coated the latest 718 Spyder launch model in white. 

With an eye looking back to aerodynamics, each and every 718 Cayman GT4 exterior upgrade combines for 50 percent greater downforce with no negative affects on drag. Most of the aero advantages can be attributed to the new diffuser and rear wing elements, the latter feature good for 20-percent greater aero-efficiency than the outgoing GT4 wing. At the other end of the car, a deep lip spoiler joins up with air curtains to each side, this helping to channel air around the front wheels. 

2020 Porsche 718 Spyder
Both models get unique interior trims, including plenty of soft Alcantara psuede. (Photo: Porsche)

Now with our focus on the 718 Spyder’s aero upgrades, its adaptive rear wing automatically powers upwards at 120 km/h, but unlike the conventional 718 Boxster’s retractable fabric roof, the Spyder’s top doesn’t benefit from electrical assistance, but instead requires manual removal and stowage below the rear deck cover. When replaced on top of the passenger compartment, Porsche promises a roof that can manage the Spyder’s high top speed without issue, providing full protection from wind, rain and more. 

Behind the scenes, both new models integrate a lightweight, high-performance chassis design that’s capable of keeping the engine and aero capabilities in check. Porsche leaned on its extensive motorsport heritage in order to achieve an ideal balance for the new Spyder and GT4, choosing to equip both with a model-exclusive rear axle, and a front axle adopted from the 2018 911 GT3. 

2020 Porsche 718 Cayman GT4
Form-fitting sport seats come standard. (Photo: Porsche)

Additional standard features include Porsche Active Suspension Management (PASM), providing a 30-millimetre ride-height reduction when compared to regular 718 models, this lowering the new models’ centre of gravity, thus improving overall handling. Still, owners have the ability to manually adjust the suspensions’ camber, toe, ride-height and anti-roll bar settings, important for those who regularly hone their skills on the track. 

The now legendary 911 GT3 also provided the two new models’ braking setup, including their larger 380-mm cast iron rotors and fixed aluminum calipers, while buyers of either car can choose to upgrade to a set of ceramic composite brakes if desired, these 50-percent lighter and featuring discs that measure 410 mm up front and 390 mm in the rear. Additionally, the 718 Spyder and Cayman GT4 feature specially tuned ABS, electronic stability control (ESC) and traction control (TC) systems that enhance the cars’ performance, with these ESC and TC systems capable of being switched off via a two-stage process. 

Yet more upgrades include a standard mechanical limited-slip differential with Porsche Torque Vectoring (PTV), plus unique 20-inch alloy rims shod with 245/35ZR20 front and 295/30ZR20 rear UHP rubber. 

2020 Porsche 718 Spyder
The 414-hp flat-six gets an exclusive sport exhaust system. (Photo: Porsche)

As you may have noticed, the many performance upgrades mentioned up to this point don’t necessarily make the new 718 Spyder or 718 Cayman GT4 quicker off the line than GTS versions of either model, but both are faster on the track, and therefore should be better for everyday driving, at least when pushing the limits. With respect to racetrack limits, Porsche claims its new 718 Cayman GT4 is capable of lapping the Nürburgring Nordschleife “more than ten seconds faster than its predecessor.” 

Making the two new models more enjoyable to live with are upgraded interiors that include a special 360-mm GT Sport steering wheel with a cool yellow top-centre “marker” in Cayman GT4 trim. Additionally, both 718 Spyder and Cayman GT4 receive a 20-mm shorter shift lever that provides a “more direct and crisp feel” when changing gears. What’s more, a new Sport Seats Plus package comes standard, boasting seats with larger side bolsters to enhance lateral support, plus suede-like Alcantara inserts to improve backside grip. Alcantara also gets applied to a lower portion of the instrument panel, as well as the shift knob and boot, and the previously mentioned steering wheel rim. 

2020 Porsche 718 Cayman GT4
Porsche offers plenty of upgrades, including multi-colour interior accents. (Photo: Porsche)

On top of this, some cabin accents include body-colour trim for the 718 Spyder, and brushed aluminum details for the 718 Cayman GT4, while Porsche offers plenty of available décor upgrades as well. What’s more, you can opt for a set of full bucket seats or an 18-way power-adjustable Adaptive Sport Seats Plus package, but take note you won’t be required to pay more for air conditioning or the brand’s newest Porsche Communication Management (PCM) system that also features Sound Package Plus. This said, a navigation system and Porsche Connect, featuring Apple CarPlay, are optional. 

Also noteworthy, the 718 Spyder can be ordered with a Spyder Classic Interior Package that includes two-tone Bordeaux Red and Black leather upholstery, extended Alcantara, GT silver metallic interior trim, and a two-tone black and red fabric top, the latter “reminiscent of historic Porsche racing cars” says Porsche. Alternatively, red, silver, or yellow contrast stitching is available. 

However you’d like to order yours, I wouldn’t recommend waiting too long as Canada’s allotment will soon be spoken for. They’re currently available to order, with pricing beginning at $110,500 for the 718 Spyder, and $113,800 for the 718 Cayman GT4, plus a freight charge and other fees of course. 

While you’re waiting for your new 2020 718 Spyder or 718 Cayman GT4 to arrive, make sure to check out all the videos Porsche provided below: 

The new Porsche 718 Spyder. Perfectly irrational. (1:03):

The new Porsche 718 Spyder. Product highlights. (2:25):

The new Porsche 718 Cayman GT4. Product highlights. (2:13):

The new Porsche 718 GT4. Perfectly irrational. (1:01):

Story credits: Trevor Hofmann  

Photo credits: Porsche

2019 Mini Cooper S Convertible Road Test

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Story credit: Trevor Hofmann 

Photo credit: Karen Tuggay

2019 Infiniti Q50 Signature Edition Road Test

2019 Infiniti Q50 Signature Edition
Infiniti refreshed the Q50 last year, and it still looks fabulous in its sporty Signature Edition styling. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

In a luxury car market that’s given up a lot to crossover SUVs, Infiniti’s Q50 has been more or less holding its own until recently. Canadian premium buyers were hard on BMW’s 3 Series and Audi’s A4 last year, with sales down 19.5 and 20.3 percent respectively, while others like Acura’s TLX, Cadillac’s ATS, and Jaguar’s XE lost even more ground, but the Q50 gained 6.8 percent throughout 2018, a fine showing by comparison. 

This said, the first three months of 2019 have been brutal on all of the above including the Q50, with the Japanese sport-luxury sedan’s sales having fallen by 36.3 percent, a figure that looks about as bad as bad can get until compared to BMW’s 37.7 percent 3 Series losses and Audi’s 39.9 percent A4 carnage. Even the mighty Mercedes-Benz C-Class is down by 34.5 percent, while sales of the Lexus IS (which lost 10.9 percent last year) are now off by 45.5 percent, and Jaguar XE by 78.1 percent (its sales were only down 27.8 last year). 

I should end this review right here, tell you to go check out my story on the impressive new Infiniti QX50 compact luxury SUV, and call it a day, but seriously, there were still 2,576 Q50 sedan buyers in Canada last year, and another 517 at the close of Q1 2019, so there are plenty of good reasons to review what I truly believe is a very good choice in the compact luxury D-segment, even if sport-luxury sedans aren’t exactly the hottest commodity these days. 

2019 Infiniti Q50 Signature Edition
A great looking design from front to back. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

To bring you up to speed, Infiniti gave its only relevant sedan (they still make the Q70, but sales are truly dismal) a mid-cycle refresh last year, updating the Q50’s grille, front fascia, headlights, taillights, rear bumper and more, so this 2019 model doesn’t see any visual changes at all, other than a new Canadian-exclusive standard “I-LINE” cosmetic treatment specifically for the now renamed I-Line Red Sport 400 model. 

Just like eyeliner, the I-Line upgrade, which was actually derived from “Inspired Line,” blackens the grille surround in the same fashion as last year’s glossy black fog lamp bezels and diffuser-style rear bumper, while the rear deck lid spoiler gets upgraded to high-gloss carbon fibre, and wheel wells are filled with a special “custom imported” glossy black set of 19-inch alloys. I-Line trim further helps to visually differentiate Infiniti’s sportiest 400-horsepower Q50 from lesser trims in the lineup, a smart move considering the $7,700 leap from the already quick 300 horsepower Q50 3.0T Sport AWD. 

To clarify further, both 300 and 400 horsepower versions of the Q50 source their power from the same turbocharged 3.0-litre V6 engine in different states of tune, while the other big change for 2019 is the elimination of the Mercedes-Benz-sourced 2.0-litre four-cylinder engine in Canada, which continues to make 208 horsepower in other markets where it’s still offered, like the U.S. 

2019 Infiniti Q50 Signature Edition
Some of the Q50 Signature Edition details are exquisitely executed. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

All remaining trims utilize Infiniti’s seven-speed automatic transmission with manual shift mode and downshift rev-matching, the latter a rarity in this class and really enjoyable to use, while Infiniti’s “Intelligent” rear-biased all-wheel drive system comes standard as well. 

Fuel economy has improved since Infiniti moved to the new turbocharged 3.0-litre engine, although with the loss of the four-cylinder the base Q50 no longer wows with 10.7 L/100km in the city, 8.6 on the highway and 9.7 combined, although 12.4 city, 8.7 highway and 10.8 combined is very good considering all the power on tap. 

All the above changes noted, the 2019 Q50’s most significant upgrade is the inclusion of Predictive Forward Collision Warning (PFCW) and Forward Emergency Braking (FEB) across the entire Q50 line, which means these critical accident avoidance systems are now part of the Luxe model, Luxe being the base trim level in the Q50’s recently revised grade structure. 

Without going into too much detail about each trim, the Q50 3.0T Luxe AWD starts at $44,995 plus freight and fees, while the Q50 3.0T Signature Edition being reviewed here starts just a hair higher at $46,495. The upper mid-range of the lineup is filled by the aforementioned Q50 3.0T Sport AWD, which enters the picture at $48,495, and the newly revised I-Line Red Sport 400 that begins life at $56,195, which is still very affordable considering all that’s being offered. 

2019 Infiniti Q50 Signature Edition
The Q50’s interior is beautifully finished. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

All prices quoted in this review can be found in detail, along with trims, packages and options, right here at CarCostCanada, where you can also find important manufacturer rebate info and dealer invoice pricing that could save you thousands. 

I said base a moment ago, but there’s nothing remotely base about the twin-turbo V6 behind the Q50’s trademark grille. For starters, none of its competitors offer 300 horsepower, or the direct-injected engine’s equally impressive 295 lb-ft of torque (well, almost equally impressive). I’ve waxed poetic about this engine before, not to mention gone on at length about the seven-speed autobox and AWD system it’s connected to, so rather than delve into the technologies that make them great I’ll give you more of an experiential explanation. 

First off, it feels quicker than the numbers suggest, not that 300 ponies and 295 lb-ft of twist is anything to sneeze at. It simply has more jump off the line than most cars offering similar output, this likely due to its twin-turbos providing all of that torque from just 1,600 rpm all the way up to 5,200 rpm, which is much sooner than a normally aspirated engine would, and a very wide maximum torque band overall. 

Amazingly, those turbos whirl at speeds of up to 240,000 rpm, something I have a hard time getting my mind around, especially considering their near silent operation and total reliability. Also notable, the lightweight mostly aluminum powerplant has been a Wards “10 Best Engines” winner since inception, just like its predecessors were, so it’s not just me singing its praises. 

2019 Infiniti Q50 Signature Edition
The Q50 cockpit is 50 percent sport and 50 percent luxury. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Press the ignition button on the instrument panel, toggle the “DRIVE MODE” switch on the lower console to select “SPORT” instead of “STANDARD” (SNOW, ECO and PERSONAL modes are also included), slot the leather-clad contrast-stitched gear lever into “D”, then tug it slightly to the left for manual mode, at which point you’d better prepare to shift the old fashioned way because steering wheel paddles can only be found on the 3.0T Sport and I-Line Sport 400. Not a problem. Certainly I’d love to find paddles all the way down the line, but the Signature Edition is a more luxury-oriented Q50 trim after all, despite its rapid acceleration and athletic agility through fast-paced turns. 

The Signature Edition comes standard with the same 245/40R19 all-season run-flat performance tires as the Sport, but alas my tester was purposely shod in winters that no doubt affected lateral grip on dry patches. Then again, Infiniti didn’t skimp on the rubber, shoeing its standard triple-five-spoke alloys in a set of Pirelli Sottozeros that proved you don’t need an SUV to trudge through winter conditions effectively. In fact, it was so capable in wet West Coast snow that the Q50 became my go-to car for those soggy, cold winter weeks Vancouver is famous for, and a particularly enjoyable companion thanks to its quick reacting steering, agile suspension, and smooth, comfortable ride. 

Some Signature Edition upgrades you might find interesting include the exact same performance-oriented exterior styling details as the Sport, including the sharper gloss black lip spoiler and deeper black fog lamp bezels up front, plus a less aggressive version of the black and body-colour diffuser-infused rear bumper cap mentioned earlier, while both models make use of the same more conventional silver-painted 19-inch alloy wheels noted a moment ago, which is an upgrade over the base Luxe model’s 18-inch rims on 225/50 all-season run-flat performance rubber. 

2019 Infiniti Q50 Signature Edition
This gauge cluster is for those who prefer classic analogue over new-edge digital. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Lastly, both trims receive silver “S” badges on the front fenders, but strangely the Signature Edition features a unique rear deck spoiler just above its own scripted “Signature” badge, whereas the Sport makes do with no rear spoiler at all, although it gets a silver “S” badge next to its Q50 nomenclature. 

Inside, Signature Edition and Sport trims also feature the same Sport Type seats with driver-side powered lumbar support and powered torso bolsters, plus manual thigh extensions for both front occupants. The driver’s seat was incredibly comfortable while providing excellent lateral support, and honestly was another reason I chose the Q50 over some other options in my garage during my test week. Lastly, the surrounding decorative inlays in both Signature Edition and Sport models are finished in genuine Kacchu aluminum, which feels substantive and looks very nice. 

So what separates Signature Edition and Sport trim? Most every other feature is shared with the base Q50 Luxe model, which is why there’s only $1,500 between the two trims. Therefore, along with all of the items already noted, the Q50 Signature Edition includes standard auto on/off LED headlights with LED daytime running lights, LED fog lamps and front turn signals, LED brake lights, aluminum “INFINITI” branded kick plates, proximity-sensing keyless entry, pushbutton ignition, Infiniti’s “InTuition” for storing climate, audio and driving preferences within each “Intelligent Key”, welcome lights on the front exterior door handles, rain-sensing wipers, an auto-dimming rearview mirror, a garage door opener, micro-filtered dual-zone auto climate control, Infiniti InTouch infotainment with a bright, clear 8.0-inch upper display and an equally impressive 7.0-inch lower touchscreen, a backup camera, Bluetooth phone and streaming audio, a nice sounding six-speaker AM/FM/CD/MP3/satellite audio system with HD playback, RDS and speed-sensitive volume, two USB charging ports, a heatable steering wheel (that really responded quickly), heated front seats (ditto), powered front seats, a powered moonroof, and more. 

2019 Infiniti Q50 Signature Edition
The top display houses navigation, backup camera, and other functions. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Of note, with the move up to the base V6 powerplant a number of features that were previously optional are now standard, including remote engine start, Infiniti’s accurate InTouch navigation with lane guidance and 3D building graphics, the Infiniti InTouch Services suite of digital alerts and remote services, voice recognition for audio, SMS text and vehicle info, power-adjustable lumbar support for the driver, and 60/40 split-folding rear seatbacks with a centre pass-through. 

At the other end of the trim spectrum, the only real changes to previously noted Sport trim are actually performance oriented, such as those steering wheel-mounted paddle shifters I lamented about not having on the Signature Edition earlier, a unique sport-tuned dynamic digital suspension, and identical sport brakes to the Red Sport 400, which boast four-piston front calipers and two-piston rear calipers, while the two sportiest trims also get exclusive front seat-mounted side-impact supplemental airbags. 

Speaking of features not available with this Signature Edition, only Sport trim gets the option of electronic power steering, while Infiniti’s exclusive drive-by-wire Direct Adaptive Steering (DAS) system is available on all trims except for the Signature Edition, as is the auto-leveling adaptive front lighting system (AFS) with high beam assist, a power-adjustable steering column with memory, an Around View Monitor (AVM) with Moving Object Detection (MOD), premium 16-speaker Bose Performance audio with Centerpoint technology, front and rear parking sensors, Intelligent Cruise Control with full speed range (ICC), Distance Control Assist (DCA), Blind Spot Warning (BSW), Blind Spot Intervention (BSI), Lane Departure Warning (LDW), Lane Departure Prevention (LDP) with Active Lane Control, and Backup Collision Intervention (BCI) with Cross Traffic Alert (CTA). 

2019 Infiniti Q50 Signature Edition
The lower touchscreen features HVAC controls, audio, etcetera. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Features not available with the Signature Edition, optional with the Sport and standard with the Red Sport 400 include auto-dimming side mirrors with reverse link and memory, plus Infiniti’s Advanced Climate Control System with auto-recirculation, Plasmacluster air purifier and Grape Polyphenol Filter. 

All of this places the Q50 Signature Edition in a unique value position, offering plenty of Sport trim features yet limiting its choice of options to colours, which are the same five offered in Sport trim including Liquid Platinum silver, Graphite Shadow grey, Black Obsidian, Majestic White, and my tester’s elegant Iridium Blue; plus interior themes, which just like the Sport can be had in Graphite (black) and Stone (grey). Incidentally, the base model also offers a Wheat (tan) interior, while dark-stained gloss maple hardwood provides a more traditional luxury ambiance, plus you also lose the option of Pure White or Mocha Almond (brown metallic) paint when moving up into the sportier Q50 trims, but you can’t get Iridium Blue, whereas Red Sport 400 buyers get the option of exclusive Dynamic Sunstone Red. 

Along with the generous supply of features, the Q50’s interior is beautifully finished no matter the trim. My tester benefited from stitched leather right across the dash top, the instrument panel, each side of the lower console, and the upper two-thirds of all door panels, while the glove box lid was also soft to the touch. The finishing is excellent too, from that leather trim to the beautifully upholstered leather seats, to the lovely Kacchu aluminum inlays, the tasteful assortment of satin-silver accents, and other surfaces, while all of the switchgear feels substantive, is nicely damped, and fits together snuggly. 

2019 Infiniti Q50 Signature Edition
The front seats are multi-adjustable and very comfortable. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Likewise, the Q50 is wonderfully hushed inside, whether touring around city streets or cruising the highway, and it’s certainly roomy enough. Bringing more size to the value equation has being part of Infiniti’s modus operandi since day one, and it results in a near mid-size competitor that offers a more spacious interior then some D-segment rivals. I’m only five-foot-eight with a smaller build, and despite having longer legs than torso, which can sometimes make it difficult to reach the steering wheel comfortably, even when its telescopic reach is extended as far rearward as possible, I found its adjustability excellent and the resultant driving position ideal. There’s so much seat travel and headroom that it should be good for taller folk too, while the adjustable torso, lumbar and thigh support really added support to my backside and comfort below the knees. 

For testing purposes I slipped into the back seat directly behind the driver’s seat, and found more than enough room to be comfortable too. Specifically, I had about five inches ahead of my knees, plenty of room to put my big winter boots under the driver’s seat, and more than enough space from side to side, while there was also about three inches over my head. The rear quarters are just as nicely finished as those up front, with amenities including a folding centre armrest with integrated cupholders, reading lights overhead, and air vents on the backside of the front console. 

The trunk should sizable enough for most owners’ needs, but at 382 litres (13.5 cubic feet) it’s certainly not anywhere near the largest in the class. Also, its standard 60/40 split-folding rear seatbacks aren’t as flexible as the usual European 40/20/40 division, but Infiniti compensates with a centre pass-through that provides almost as much room for loading longer items such as skis down the middle while rear passengers enjoy the more comfortable outboard window seats, a real bonus with active lifestyle families. 

2019 Infiniti Q50 Signature Edition
Roomy rear quarters are good for tall passengers. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Yes, the Q50 could be a bit better here and there, but this is also the case for every car it competes against. Fortunately its value proposition, excellent reliability record, impressive interior, handsome styling, and superb performance solidly make up for this one downside. After all, if you need more trunk space and greater passenger/cargo flexibility Infiniti has a QX50 you’d probably enjoy just as much, not to mention a QX60, QX80 and others. If you’re dead set on buying a sport-luxury sedan, you could do a lot worse than this new Q50 Signature Edition or one of its other impressive trims. 

 

Story credit: Trevor Hofmann 

Photo credits: Karen Tuggay

2019 Nissan Qashqai SL Platinum Road Test

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

Story credit: Trevor Hofmann 

Photo credit: Trevor Hofmann

2019 Jaguar XF S Road Test Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Story credit: Trevor Hofmann 

Photo credit: Karen Tuggay

2019 Acura MDX A-Spec SH-AWD Road Test Review

2019 Acura MDX A-Spec SH-AWD
New A-Spec trim adds sportier styling to the classic MDX look for 2019. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

What? You don’t know what an A-Spec is? It’s ok. Sometimes I forget that normal people don’t follow the auto industry as closely as car enthusiasts and journalists like me. A-Spec is Acura’s sport-oriented styling package that may or may not include real performance upgrades. With respect to the new 2019 MDX A-Spec, it’s all about the look. 

That look starts with glossy black and dark-chrome detailing for the grille, headlights, window trim, and tailgate spoiler, plus a bolder front fascia design, painted front and rear lower skid plate garnishes, body-coloured outer door handles, body-colour lower side sills, larger-diameter exhaust finishers, and a near equally darkened set of 20-inch 10-spoke Shark Grey alloy wheels on lower profile 265/45 rubber. Those tires might seem like the only exterior upgrade that could potentially enhance performance, but then again it’s the same used on the MDX’ most luxuriously appointed Elite trim. 

2019 Acura MDX A-Spec SH-AWD
The A-Spec styling updates wrap all the way around the upgraded MDX. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Stepping inside means you’ll pass overtop one of four A-Spec-branded aluminum doorsill garnishes, while additional interior enhancements include a special primary gauge cluster embellished with more red on the rev and speed markers, a thicker-rimmed A-Spec-badged steering wheel featuring a dimpled leather wrap on its lower three-quarters, metal sport pedals, unique carbon-look console trim, and sport seats upholstered in “Rich Red” or in the case of my tester, black leather with perforated black suede-like Alcantara inserts plus high-contrast stitching. 

I like the visual changes made inside and outside, the latter giving new life to a still handsome yet aging design, and the former also masking an SUV that’s starting to look like yesteryear’s news now that the all-new RDX has arrived. By that I’m not saying for a second that Acura should swap out the MDX’ lower console-mounted pushbutton gear selector for the bizarre contraption clinging to the RDX’ centre stack, nor for that matter the smaller SUV’s big space-robbing drive mode selector dial housed just above the gear selector switchgear, but the sizeable multi-information display (MID) within the otherwise analogue gauge cluster does a reasonably good job of modernizing the look (a fully digital design would be better) and the single fixed tablet-style infotainment display atop the RDX dash is a major improvement over the double-stacked MDX design in every way, except for its lack of touchscreen capability. 

2019 Acura MDX A-Spec SH-AWD
Darkened trim, LED headlamps and fog lights, 20-inch grey alloys, the new MDX A-Spec certainly looks sporty. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

By comparison, the MDX’ MID is a thin sliver of remedial graphics and passable info, lacking the wow-factor of an Audi Virtual Cockpit that transforms into a massive map just by pressing a steering wheel-mounted button, or for that matter the new 2020 Mercedes GLE/GLS that does away with a traditional gauge binnacle altogether, instead melding two big tablet-style screens together and using the left-side for driver info and the right-side for touch-actuated infotainment. Back to Acura reality, the MDX uses the two-tiered combination of displays just noted, the top 8.0-inch monitor more of a true MID that’s controllable via a rotating dial just under the bottom display, although defaulting to the navigation system’s map/route guidance info most of the time, and multi-angle rearview camera with dynamic guidelines when in reverse; the overhead 360-degree surround camera is reserved for aforementioned Elite trim. This said, the lower 7.0-inch display is a touchscreen and quite utile, providing easy control of the audio and HVAC systems, plus more. 

While some of my comments might sound as if I’m getting down on Acura and its MDX, it’s clearly not alone, as in-car digitalization is one of the most comprehensive transformations being undertaken by the auto industry today. After years of getting it wrong, some are now getting it right, while Acura is getting close with its most recent designs, and obviously requires modernization within some of its older models, like this MDX. 

2019 Acura MDX A-Spec SH-AWD
A revised rear bumper sports larger tailpipe finishers for yet more of a performance look. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

This brings up an important point, the MDX will most likely be completely redesigned next year as a 2021 model, at which point we hope it takes a few cues from the aforementioned Mercedes pair, Volvo’s XC90, and some others, by integrating both a touchscreen like the current MDX, as well as a touchpad like that in the RDX, the latter for those who’d rather not reach so far. For the time being the MDX two-screen setup does the trick, but of course buyers of the latest MDX won’t go home feeling like they’ve just traded in their old Samsung Note 4 for a new Note 10 (or for you Apple fans, swapping the old iPhone 6 for the new XS Max). 

Speaking of Google and iOS operating systems, the base MDX infotainment system includes Android Auto and Apple CarPlay, plus Bluetooth phone and audio streaming, Siri Eyes Free, SMS text message and email reading capability, satellite radio, and four USB charging ports, while this A-Spec model sources its navigation with voice recognition from mid-range Tech trim, which also adds an impressive sounding 10-speaker ELS Studio surround audio system, hard disk drive (HDD) media storage, and AcuraLink subscription services to the in-car electronics experience. 

2019 Acura MDX A-Spec SH-AWD
Most should be impressed with the MDX interior, which is upgraded nicely in A-Spec trim. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

It’s so tempting to prattle on about features, because each trim provides such a lengthy list that the MDX’ value proposition becomes immediately clear, so suffice to say that additional items not yet covered on the $60,490 A-Spec include LED fog lights, auto-dimming power-folding side mirrors, perimeter/approach puddle lamps, keyless access buttons on the rear doors, and ventilated/cooled front seats, while other features pulled up from Tech trim include a sun position detection system for the climate control, front and rear parking sensors, plus Blind Spot Information (BSI) with rear cross traffic monitoring. 

Speaking of advanced driver assistive systems, all MDX trims come standard with AcuraWatch, a comprehensive suite of safety goodies including Forward Collision Warning (FCW), Collision Mitigation Braking System (CMBS), Lane Departure Warning (LDW), Lane Keeping Assist (LKAS), Road Departure Mitigation (RDM), and Adaptive Cruise Control (ACC) with low-speed follow. 

2019 Acura MDX A-Spec SH-AWD
The dated MDX dash won’t be confused for anything else, but at least the quality of materials is good. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Lastly, a shortlist of key features from the $54,390 base MDX incorporated into the A-Spec include signature Jewel Eye LED headlights with auto high beams, LED taillights, acoustic glass, a heated windshield, remote start, proximity keyless access, pushbutton ignition, ambient lighting, memory for the steering column, side mirrors and climate control, an electromechanical parking brake, a powered moonroof, a HomeLink universal remote, an auto-dimming rearview mirror, driver recognition, a power tilt and telescopic steering column, a heated steering wheel with paddle shifters, rain-sensing wipers, tri-zone front and rear automatic climate control, Active Noise Control (ANC), Active Sound Control (ASC), heated 12-way powered front seats with four-way lumbar, a powered tailgate, a 1,588-kilo towing capacity (or 2,268 kg with the towing package), and more. 

Important to you, all 2019 Acura MDX trim, package, and options prices was sourced right here on CarCostCanada, where you can also find helpful rebate information as well as dealer invoice pricing that could save you thousands, so make sure to check it out our many useful features matter which vehicle you end up purchasing. 

2019 Acura MDX A-Spec SH-AWD
Classic analogue dials and a relatively small TFT multi-info display makes for a utile if not modern look. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Along with all of the just noted features and previously mentioned A-Spec interior upgrades, the steering wheel of which is especially nice thanks to its thick textured leather rim and nicely carved thumb spats, is a tasteful assortment of satin-silver finish aluminum accents, plus high-quality soft-touch synthetics across the dash top, door uppers (the door inserts upgraded with plush ultrasuede, like the seats, in A-Spec trim), and most everywhere else including the glove box lid, with only the left portion of the panel below the driver’s knees, the sides of the lower console, and the lower half of the door panels finished in more commonplace hard plastics. 

As it should, but is not always the case with some MDX rivals, the driver’s seat features previously noted four-way powered lumbar for optimal lower back support, plus all of the usual adjustments in this class, but I would’ve appreciated an extension for the lower squab to add comfort and support below the knees, even if this were manually adjustable, while some other manufacturers also include adjustable side torso bolsters. As it is, even this sporty A-Spec trim doesn’t provide all that much lateral seat support, but they should work for wider body types that sometimes find more performance-oriented seat designs uncomfortable. 

2019 Acura MDX A-Spec SH-AWD
The double-stacked infotainment system works quite well, but is hardly new. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

With the driver’s seat positioned high to maximize my view, being just five-foot-eight, I found the rear seating position more than adequately spacious for legs and feet, even while wearing big winter boots. The second row slides back and forth easily, and when all the way forward I still had a few inches between my knees and the driver’s seatback, and when positioned all the way rearward I found second-row legroom quite generous with about eight inches ahead of my knees. 

The MDX’ third row only works for smaller folk and children when the second row is pushed all the way back, but when slid forward I was able to sit in the very back without my knees rubbing the backrest ahead, plus those just noted winter boots fit nicely below. I wouldn’t go so far as to call the third row comfortable, but it was workable. Rearmost passengers can also see out a small set of side windows, so it’s not claustrophobic either, plus they get cupholders to each side and nice reading lights overhead. Getting out when in the very back is easy too, only requiring the push of a seatback button that automatically slides the second-row forward, but I wouldn’t say this is the easiest third row to climb in or out of, due to very little space between the folded second-row seatback and door jam. 

2019 Acura MDX A-Spec SH-AWD
The MDX gear selector is unusual, but after a little time becomes easy enough to use. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Back in the MDX’ second row of seats, Acura provides a separate climate control interface for rear passengers, with two USB device chargers underneath. Being that my tester was in A-Spec trim there were no second-row outboard seat warmers included, which is a bit of a shame for those who want all the luxury features together with this model’s sportier demeanor. 

The rear hatch is powered of course, opening up to a nicely finished cargo compartment that’s dotted with chromed tie-down hooks and covered in quality carpeting all the way up the sidewalls and seatbacks, plus adorned with some attractive aluminum trim on the threshold. There’s a reasonable amount of luggage space behind the third row at 447 litres (15.8 cubic feet), plus a handy compartment under the load floor, and while easy to fold down manually there’s no powered operation for getting them back up. Likewise the second row is purely manual, and while fairly easy to drop down, a process that expands the 1,230 litres (43.4 cu ft) behind the second row seatbacks to a maximum of 2,575 litres (90.9 cu ft) when all seats are lowered, but there’s no centre pass-through for longer items like skis. This means the MDX doesn’t offer the same type of seating/cargo flexibility as the majority of European competitors. 

2019 Acura MDX A-Spec SH-AWD
Comfortable 12-way front seats benefit from suede-like Alcantara inserts. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

The well-proven powertrain is a bit lacklustre too, even when compared to competitors’ base engines. Acura has been producing the same SOHC 3.5-litre V6 since 2014, making a modest 290 horsepower and 267 lb-ft of torque, and before that, in the previous 2007-2013 second-generation MDX, they used a 3.7-litre version of this engine that (believe it or not) made 10 horsepower and 3 lb-ft of torque more for a total of 300 hp and 270 lb-ft, so effectively they’ve been going backwards when it comes to performance. 

Of course, introducing the highly efficient nine-speed ZF automatic with this latest third-generation MDX in 2014 made the less potent engine feel livelier, although it still suffers from a Honda family hauler pedigree when compared to the base 333-hp Audi Q7 mill, the base 335-hp BMW X5, and some others. 

2019 Acura MDX A-Spec SH-AWD
Second-row comfort, spaciousness and adjustability is excellent. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Then again, its performance is decent enough and its pricing a lot lower than those highfalutin Europeans, while the just noted standard nine-speed autobox is fairly quick shifting and very smooth, with the aforementioned standard steering wheel paddle shifters enjoyable to use, plus the standard torque-vectoring SH-AWD system is extremely well engineered and therefore performs superbly no matter the road or weather conditions. 

To be clear, the MDX, even in this sportier A-Spec trim, is biased toward comfort over performance. This doesn’t mean it’s a sloth off the line, or cumbersome through corners, but instead is easily fast enough for most peoples’ needs, as proven by its reasonably strong sales numbers year after year, and handles commendably when pushed hard through tight weaving corners, yet never tries to pass itself off as a sport sedan for seven, like some of its Euro rivals do quite effectively. Instead, the MDX’ ride is pleasurable no matter the road surface beneath, its manners particularly nice around town where it sits high above the majority of surrounding traffic and provides excellent visibility through all windows, and its creature comforts plentiful. 

2019 Acura MDX A-Spec SH-AWD
The third row has a surprising amount of room. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

One of those features, specific to performance, is a drive mode selector that includes Comfort, Normal, and Sport settings that remain as selected even after shutting off the engine, locking up and leaving, coming back, and restarting. Therefore, if you personally prefer driving in Sport mode, which I’m going to guess most people who purchase this sportier looking A-Spec model do, then the drivetrain is ready and waiting without any extra effort every time you climb inside. 

Another MDX attribute I can attest to is its prowess over snowy roads. This thing is a beast, and with proper snow tires can overcome nearly any depth of powdery (or chunky, wet) white stuff. The latter was addressed with a set of 265/ 45R20 Michelin Latitude Alpin all-season tires, so I can only guess it would even be more formidable when shod in true winters. 

2019 Acura MDX A-Spec SH-AWD
Even with all three rows in use, the MDX provides about as much cargo space as an average mid-size sedan’s trunk. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Another positive is real-world fuel economy, which actually benefits from a one-size-fits-all V6 under the hood, especially when burdened by a three-row SUV weighing in at 1,945 kilos (4,288 lbs); the A-Spec the second heaviest trim in the MDX lineup. Thanks to direct-injection, i-VTEC, and Variable Cylinder Management (VCM) that shuts one bank of cylinders down under light loads to save fuel, plus standard engine idle stop-start to reduce consumptions yet more, not to mention emissions, and lastly the nine-speed autobox, the A-Spec is rated at 12.2 L/100km in the city, 9.5 on the highway and 11.0 combined, which is only a tad more than all other MDX trims that get a claimed rating of 12.2 L/100km city, 9.0 highway and 10.8 combined. On the subject of efficiency, I should also mention the much more interesting MDX Sport Hybrid that, thanks to a two-motor electrified drivetrain is good for 9.1 L/100km city, 9.0 highway and 9.0 combined. I’ll cover this model soon, so stay tuned. 

2019 Acura MDX A-Spec SH-AWD
Loads of space available with the rear rows folded flat. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

So there you have it, an honest, straightforward review of an aging albeit still credible three-row luxury SUV, that I can still recommend you purchasing if you’re not one of the luxury sector’s usual latest-and-greatest consumer. Let’s face it. The MDX isn’t the newest kid on the block. Its powertrain is archaic compared to the turbocharged and supercharged 316-hp 2.0-litre four-cylinder in the aforementioned Volvo XC90, which can be upgraded to 400-hp plug-in hybrid specs no less, or for that matter the supercharged 3.0-litre V6 in the Audi Q7, and the list goes on, while its infotainment works well enough yet is seriously lacking in modernity, but as long as you’re ok with some aging issues the MDX provides everything families in this class need, and does so in a stylish, refined, quiet, comfortable, spacious, safe, and reasonably reliable package, all for thousands less than any of the noted competitors. That should be reason enough to keep the MDX on your radar when it comes time to trade up, and when you do I recommend checking out this sportier A-Spec trim, because the styling updates and interior details are certainly worth the extra cost. 

Story credit: Trevor Hofmann 

Photo credit: Karen Tuggay