CarCostCanada

2019 Hyundai Accent 5-Door Ultimate Road Test

2019 Hyundai Accent 5-Door Ultimate
For 2019, Hyundai changed the trim names for the Accent, this version now dubbed Ultimate for top-of-the-line.

If you look at the 20182020 Hyundai Accent, you’ll be hard pressed to see any changes at all. The fifth-generation entry-level subcompact model arrived in sedan and hatchback form during calendar year 2017, and since then only had its trim levels changed from L, LE, GL and GLS to Essential, Preferred and Ultimate for the 2019 model year, and lost its four-door body style for 2020 (in Canada, the U.S. kept the sedan and dropped the hatchback).

Actually, there’s a lot more to the 2020 Accent than meets the eye, particularly a redesigned engine and all-new optional continuously variable transmission (CVT) for those wanting an automatic, replacing the 2019’s conventional six-speed auto. Another change is the elimination of the six-speed manual gearbox from top-line Ultimate trim, this version of the car only available with the CVT for 2020.

2019 Hyundai Accent 5-Door Ultimate
Hyundai gave the Accent some seriously sporty styling for an entry-level model.

By the way, Hyundai isn’t the only automaker to kill off its subcompact sedan in Canada. Toyota dropped its Mazda-built Yaris Sedan for the 2020 model year too, while Nissan said so long to its Versa Note and won’t be offering the redesigned Versa sedan (that’s available south of the border) in our jurisdiction. Ford also discontinued its Fiesta four- and five-door variants after the 2019 model year, while Chevy dropped its Sonic the year before that, all of which leaves Kia and its Rio as the only choice for sedan buyers in the subcompact class.

2019 Hyundai Accent 5-Door Ultimate
LED headlights, chrome-trimmed fog lamps, and 17-inch alloy wheels are standard in Ultimate trim.

The 2020 Accent’s new 1.6-litre Smartstream engine replaces a very dependable four-cylinder of the same displacement, with the new one optimized for fuel economy over performance. The 2020 mill has actually lost 12 horsepower and 6 lb-ft of torque for a rating of 120 horsepower and 113 lb-ft compared to 132 horsepower and 119 lb-ft of torque in the 2019 car I last tested. In a car so small and light, this should make a significant difference, but it’s possible Hyundai has worked magic in the car’s manual and new CVT transmissions, so I’ll have to test the new one to know for sure.

2019 Hyundai Accent 5-Door Ultimate
The Accent Ultimate’s red-on-black interior really pulls eyeballs.

On the positive the new 2020 Accent is rated at 7.8 L/100km city, 6.1 highway and 7.0 combined with its standard six-speed manual, or 7.3, 6.0 and 6.7 respectively with the more efficient CVT. The outgoing 2019 Accent’s claimed rating of 8.2 L/100km in the city, 6.3 on the highway and 7.3 combined for both the manual and auto makes it easy to see Hyundai’s reason for change. In this class their choice of fuel economy over performance makes a lot of sense, being that most buyers are choosing Hyundai’s least expensive model in order to save money. After all, those who want a performance car can opt for the new Elantra N or one of the even sportier Veloster trims.

2019 Hyundai Accent 5-Door Ultimate
The nicely organized cockpit provides good comfort and great control.

Then again, the 2019 Accent 5-Door Ultimate I tested is really fun when powering away from stoplights, and it has no difficulty passing long semi-trailers on a two-lane highway. The six-speed manual is a joy to flick through its notchy double-H pattern, the clutch take-up is near effortless to engage and well sorted, making it as good for those wanting to learn how to drive manual as it is for seasoned pros, while the Ultimate model’s four-wheel disc brakes are strong (the two lesser trims get rear drums), and the 17-inch alloys make a difference when pushing it hard through tight corners. I’m not going to pretend this is some sort of hot hatch, but the Accent can hold its own through a set of fast-paced S-turns, while it’s very good on the open highway thanks to a fairly long wheelbase. I had no problem cruising in this car for the better part of a day, whether running errands around town or out on the freeway. After a weeklong test I found it comfortable and more than just capable, it was downright fun to drive.

2019 Hyundai Accent 5-Door Ultimate
The gauge cluster is simple yet effective.

I know it’s more popular to opt for crossover SUVs than regular cars these days, but those looking to save a couple thousand might want to fall in love with something like this low-slung hatchback instead of its more rugged looking alternative. Yes, Hyundai’s new Venue is tempting at just over $17k, but you can get into an Accent for under $15k and you’ll be getting a larger, more accommodating car with better performance or fuel economy (depending on the year).

2019 Hyundai Accent 5-Door Ultimate
The two top trims include a 7.0-inch infotainment touchscreen, while the Ultimate gets automatic climate control.

Put the two side-by-side and some will be forced to admit the sportier looking Accent has the edge on the Venue when it comes to styling too, but that will come down to personal taste, of course. The 2018 redesign did a lot to improve the Accent’s cool factor, thanks to big, bold grille and plenty of classy chrome elements to on this Ultimate model. The metal brightwork is most noticeable on the front fascia around the fog lights, also exclusive to this trim, while the side window mouldings and exterior door handles are chromed too. A set of LED headlights with LED signature accents also improve the look and functionality of this top-tier model, as does the set of LED turn signals infused into the side mirror caps, while its 17-inch multi-spoke alloys add class as well as some sporty character to the overall design.

2019 Hyundai Accent 5-Door Ultimate
The Accent’s large centre display features a big rearview camera with active guidelines.

As mentioned a moment ago, the 2020 Accent Essential can be had for a mere $14,949 (plus freight and fees), which a lot less expensive than last year’s base price of $17,349. As it was (and still is, being that 2019 models were available at the time of writing), the 2019 Accent came standard with a Comfort Package that’s now extra. The 2020 Essential with Comfort Package starts at $17,699, while the price for the Accent’s second-tier Preferred trim line has jumped up from $17,549 in 2019 to $17,899 in 2020, and the as-tested Ultimate has increased its entry price by $1,250, from $20,049 to $21,649, but remember that it now comes standard with the CVT. Willing to take a guess what the upgrade from six-speed manual to six-speed automatic is in a 2019 Accent? Yup, $1,250.

2019 Hyundai Accent 5-Door Ultimate
The Accent’s six-speed manual is a treat, but if you want it in top-line Ultimate trim you’d better opt for the more powerful 2019 model.

Important to note, Hyundai Canada is offering factory leasing and financing rates from zero percent on all 2019 Accent models, or up to $750 in additional incentives for 2020 Accents. To learn more, check out our 2020 Hyundai Accent Canada Prices and 2019 Hyundai Accent Canada Prices pages, where you can find out about available manufacturer rebates, manufacturer financing/leasing rates, and best of all, dealer invoice pricing that could save you thousands. We’ve even got a free CarCostCanada mobile app to make your shopping experience easier and less costly, so be sure to find out how our intelligent car shopping system can work for you when purchasing your next vehicle.

2019 Hyundai Accent 5-Door Ultimate
Sporty looking front seats are impressive for the Accent’s entry-level class.

This is the largest Accent ever, by the way, which translates into a roomier, more accommodating car than most will expect in this class, particularly when it comes to interior width. The Accent’s seats provide a lot of adjustability, as long as you’re not hoping to adjust the driver’s lumbar support as there’s no way to do so, and while I would have like more pressure at my lower back, as well as deeper side bolsters, the Accent is a one-seat-fits-all compromise and therefore not capable of matching everyone’s body type perfectly. The rest of the seat’s adjustments were good, mind you, while the tilt and telescopic steering wheel’s reach was very good, enough so that my long-legged, short-torso body had no problem getting both comfortable and in control, which isn’t always the case in this class and some others.

2019 Hyundai Accent 5-Door Ultimate
A powered moonroof comes standard in Ultimate trim.

The rear seating area is spacious and comfortable as well, although those that want a centre rear armrest will need to look elsewhere. The seatbacks fold 60/40, however, expanding the already sizeable cargo area when needing to haul longer items. When lowered, the seatbacks sit about four inches above the load floor, so it’s not flat, but I was glad Hyundai chose to maximize available space instead of making it all level. A small spare tire and some tools are stowed underneath, and a hard-shell cargo cover rests above, all expected in this class.

2019 Hyundai Accent 5-Door Ultimate
Rear seat roominess is good for the subcompact segment.

Less normal in this entry-level segment is the Accent Ultimate’s impressive cabin decor, not to mention its bevy of features. Access by proximity keyless entry ahead of starting the engine via button was a nice touch, while the interior is further spiced up with a two-tone red and black colour scheme. Hyundai doesn’t finish any cabin surfaces with soft-touch plastics, but all armrests are padded leatherette, and sharp looking seats are plenty soft of course, these finished with red leatherette bolsters, red stitching and some cool hexagonal embroidery on their cloth seatbacks. The red theme continues over to the door panel inserts, more red thread on the leatherette shifter boot, plus more on the inside rim of the leather-wrapped steering wheel.

2019 Hyundai Accent 5-Door Ultimate
The Accent Hatchback’s dedicated cargo area is very generous.

The steering wheel is really nice, incidentally, while its spokes come filled with extremely high-quality switchgear, the toggles on the left adjusting the audio system and surrounding buttons for audio mode control, voice activation, and phone use, while the ones on the right are for scrolling through the monochromatic multi-information display and the Accent’s cruise control system.

2019 Hyundai Accent 5-Door Ultimate
The rear seats fold in the usual 60/40 configuration.

The instruments in front of the driver are simple and straight-forward, with bright backlit dials on either side of the just-mentioned multi-information display. More impressive is the bright, colourful and well-endowed 7.0-inch infotainment touchscreen on the centre stack, which includes Apple CarPlay and Android Auto smartphone integration, Bluetooth audio and phone streaming, regular audio functions, the latter including satellite radio, a large backup camera with moving guidelines, and more.

A single-zone automatic climate control system can be adjusted just below, which includes large dials for easy use while wearing winter gloves, while under that is a row of buttons for the three-way heatable front seats and even one for the heated steering wheel rim. Where the centre stack meets the lower console is a big tray for holding your smartphone, plus USB-A and auxiliary connections.

2019 Hyundai Accent 5-Door Ultimate
Say goodbye to the 2019 Accent’s more powerful engine, and hello to the 2020’s model’s more efficient replacement.

The top-line Accent Ultimate also includes a powered moonroof and forward collision warning with automatic emergency braking, by the way, while equipment pulled up from lesser trims include the tilt-and-telescopic steering column (the base model only gets a tilting wheel), cruise control, front seat heaters and the larger 7.0-inch centre touchscreen (instead of the 5.0-inch one on the base model) mentioned already, as well as automatic on/off headlights, six-speaker audio (an improvement over four speakers found in the base model), keyless access, and a USB-A charging port in the rear seating area from Preferred trim; the automatic transmission and Bluetooth noted before, plus power-adjustable and heatable side mirrors, air conditioning and powered windows from the Essential Comfort package; and finally variable intermittent front windshield wipers, a manually adjustable six-way driver’s seat, a manually adjustable four-way front passenger’s seat, and power door locks from the base Essential model.

There’s a lot to like about today’s Accent, especially when factoring in value. Add in a five-year, 100,000 km comprehensive warranty and it all starts making sense. If you’re not wholly sold on a new subcompact SUV like Hyundai’s Venue or Kona, I recommend you take a closer look at the Accent, and when you do, don’t forget to choose a 2019 model for performance or 2020 to save more on fuel.

Story and photo credits: Trevor Hofmann

Photo editing: Karen Tuggay

CarCostCanada

2020 Mercedes-Benz A 220 4Matic Road Test

2020 Mercedes-Benz A 220 4Matic
The new Mercedes-Benz A 220 looks too sleek to be a regular four-door sedan.

I’ve heard the line before. People only buy Mercedes-Benz products to flash its prestigious three-pointed star. That may be true in some cases, but with respect to the new A 220, and many other cars in its extensive lineup, it wins new luxury buyers by being best in class.

It doesn’t hurt that the A 220 looks as good as it does, but take note that at just $37,300 (plus freight and fees) the newest model in Mercedes’ wide and varied 2020 collection isn’t just for the affluent. Yes, that number is a significant $2,310 more than last year’s A 220, but it now comes with standard 4Matic all-wheel drive, Canadians probably not buying enough of the 2019 front-wheel drive variants to make a business case viable moving forward. Still, Mercedes’ most affordable new model is well within reach of those not normally capable of buying into the luxury class, with this base model priced very close to fully loaded versions of mainstream volume-branded compacts.

At first sight the A 220 appears too long, low and lean to be a compact four-door sedan, but with a little research I soon found out its 4,549 mm length, 1,796 mm width, 1,446 mm height and 2,729 mm wheelbase puts it slightly smaller than some mainstream compacts you likely know better, including the Honda Civic, Toyota Corolla, Hyundai Elantra and Mazda3, while it competes directly in size and particularly in price with premium-badged sedans such as the Audi A3, Acura ILX, and new BMW 2 Series Gran Coupe, although the Bimmer more accurately targets Mercedes’ sporty CLA-Class four-door coupe.

2020 Mercedes-Benz A 220 4Matic
The subcompact luxury sedan provides a roomy interior with practical cargo carrying capacity.

The new BMW hasn’t been around long enough to collect usable sales data, and it’s hardly been the best of years for the car industry on the whole anyway, so therefore a look back to calendar year 2019 more accurately shows the A-Class and the rest of Mercedes’ small car lineup cleaning up in Canada’s compact luxury competition. Mercedes sold more than 5,000 subcompact luxury models in 2019, which included the new A 250 hatch as well as this A 220 sedan, plus the CLA-Class and outgoing B-Class (more than 300 of the now cancelled Bs were delivered last year, and another 200-plus over Q1 of 2020).

By comparison, the second-best-selling Mini Cooper, which is also a collection of body styles and mostly lower in price, found more than 3,700 Canadian buyers, whereas the Audi A3/A3 Cabriolet/S3 garnered 3,100-plus new customers, the ILX almost 1,900, the 2 Series (ahead of the new four-door coupe arriving) at just over 1,200, and BMW’s unorthodox i3 EV finding 300 new owners. Incidentally, the A-Class, which was the only model in this segment to achieve positive year-over-year sales in 2019 (slightly below 14.5 percent), won over 3,632 new buyers last year alone, placing it just behind the previously noted Mini that saw its Y-o-Y sales fall by 17 percent.

2020 Mercedes-Benz A 220 4Matic
Its sporty styling, LED headlamps and attractive detailing sets the new A 220 apart.

Certainly, the A 220’s attractive styling and approachable pricing contributed to its strong sales last year, but there’s a great deal more to the swoopy four-door sedan than good looks and price competitiveness. For starters is a knockout cabin that wows with style and hardly comes up short on leading-edge features. Most noticeable is Mercedes’ all-in-one digital instrument panel/infotainment display, that combines some of the most vibrantly coloured, creatively penned graphics in the industry with wonderfully functional systems, while housing it all within an ultra-wide fixed tablet-style frame.

These electronic interfaces are important differentiators when comparing an entry-level Mercedes to fully loaded compact sedans from mainstream volume brands like Honda, Toyota, Hyundai and Mazda. Truly, the A 220’s lower dash and door panels aren’t necessarily made from better materials than its more common compact counterparts, respectively the Civic, Corolla, Elantra and Mazda3, but most everything above the waste comes close to matching the tactile and materials quality found in more expensive Mercedes models, like the C-Class and even the E-Class. Together with the eye-popping digital interfaces already mentioned are gorgeous stitched leather door inserts, rich open-pore textured hardwood along those door panels and across the dash, while satin-finish aluminum trim can be found all over the interior, my personal favourite application being the gorgeous turbine-like instrument panel HVAC vents.

2020 Mercedes-Benz A 220 4Matic
The A 220’s luxurious cabin is sensational.

Going back to the all-in-one primary instrument cluster and infotainment widescreen display, dubbed MBUX for Mercedes-Benz User Experience, the left-side gauge package provides a number of different display themes including Modern Classic, Sport and Understated, plus the ability to create your own personalized themes, while the layout can be modified to a numeric format speedometer in place of the traditional-looking circular one, with the rest of the display area used for other features like navigation mapping, fuel economy info, regenerative braking charge info, Eco drive setting information, etcetera.

Over on the right-side of my test model’s MBUX display were the usual assortment of centre-screen infotainment functions, like navigation (albeit with the ability to opt for an augmented reality feature that shows a front camera view displaying upcoming street names and directional indicators); audio system info including graphical satellite radio station readouts; drive settings that include Eco, Comfort, Sport and Individual modes (that can also be chosen via a rocker switch on the lower console); advanced driver assistive systems settings; a calls, contacts and messages interface; a big, clear parking camera with active guidelines; plus more, and on top of all this Mercedes provides more hands-on control of infotainment functions than any competitor.

2020 Mercedes-Benz A 220 4Matic
The entry-level A 220 provides all of the style and most of the features found in pricier Mercedes-Benz sedans.

Adjustments can be made via the touchscreen itself, which is rather uncommon in the luxury class, plus you can use Mercedes’ very smart Linguatronic Voice Control system that’s easily one of the most advanced in the industry (but take note that “Mercedes” is a tad too eager to help out, always responding with a pesky “How can I help you?” when mentioning her name), or alternatively let your thumbs do the talking via a miniscule set of BlackBerry-like optical trackpads on the steering wheel spokes, or finally use the touchpad on the lower console, which is surrounded by big quick entry buttons as well. That touchpad is the best I’ve used this side of my MacBook Pro, providing intuitive responses to tap, swipe and pinch inputs, is as easy to use as dropping your right arm from the steering wheel, and didn’t cause me to divert my eyes from the road more often than necessary.

An attractive row of climate controls stretches across a smartly organized interface just below the centre display, featuring highly legible readouts and lovely knurled aluminum toggle switches, all hovering above a big rubber smartphone tray that boasts wireless charging capability. All around, the A 220 provides most everything you’ll need and a number of things you won’t, but I like the soft purple ambient lighting nonetheless.

2020 Mercedes-Benz A 220 4Matic
A fully digital gauge cluster comes as part of the new MBUX infotainment system.

The only negative I could find were the small, delicately sized and hollow feeling steering wheel stalks for the turn signals/wipers and selecting gears, but due to how well they’re made I still can’t lambaste them completely. I’m thinking they’re more about reducing mass to save on fuel and improve performance, not that they’d individually make a big difference to either. To be clear, I’ve never tested lighter or less substantive column stalks ever. In fact, the shift paddles feel heftier, but they certainly did what they needed to and won’t likely fall apart, it was just a strange decision for Mercedes to make such important hand/machine interfaces so flimsy feeling.

Even before I shifted the A 220 into gear, I was shocked at how thin the lower door panel composite was. Was this due to weight savings as well? The plastic extrusions were perfect with thin ribs strengthening their upper edges, so it wasn’t a case of cutting corners, but they didn’t feel up to Mercedes’ usual high-quality standards. Fortunately, as noted earlier, the A 220’s more visible surfaces are superb, other than the hard-composite lower centre console that might be somewhat disappointing to those that have recently spent time in one of the upper trims of the volume-branded compacts noted before, which mostly finish such areas in soft padded pleather.

2020 Mercedes-Benz A 220 4Matic
Mercedes does away with a traditional centre stack, but what’s left is a much more convenient dash design.

Up above is a particularly nice overhead console featuring controls for a big panoramic glass sunroof, plus LED dome and reading lights, and more. It was strange that the B and C pillars weren’t wrapped in fabric, with only the A pillars done out to premium standards, just like the mainstream cars just mentioned, but of course this isn’t totally uncommon in the luxury segment’s most basic entry-level category. At least all of components fit nicely together, with each lid and every door shutting with firm Teutonic solidity, except for the glove box lid that was particularly light in weight.

My tester’s interior was doused in a light grey and black two-tone motif, much of the grey being leather that covers both rows of seats that are wonderfully comfortable and wholly supportive, particularly via their side bolstering. They even included manually-adjustable lower thigh extensions that I loved. I’m not only talking about the front seats, by the way, because those in the rear outboard positions provided good comfort as well, thanks to sculpted backrests and more foot and legroom than expected, plus a decent amount of headroom.

2020 Mercedes-Benz A 220 4Matic
The new MBUX infotainment system is truly best in the industry.

After adjusting the driver’s seat for my long-legged, short-torso five-foot-eight, small-build body type, there was still about five inches in front of my knees and more than enough space for my feet while wearing a pair of boots, while side-to-side roominess was good too. With three inches of airspace over my head, tall teens and larger adults than me should have no problem fitting in back, while the rear headrests also provided comfortably soft support.

Mercedes provides a fold-down centre armrest in back, but I found it too low for comfort, although it would likely be ideal for smaller sized adults or children. It comes with a duo of pop-out cupholders that clamp onto drinks well, while a set of netted magazine holders are attached to the backside of each front seat too. Each rear outboard passenger gets their own HVAC vent as well, plus just under these is a pull-out compartment complete with a small storage bin and a pair of USB-C chargers. No rear seat warmers were included in my tester, but LED reading lights could be found overhead.

Cargo shouldn’t be a problem being that the A 220’s nicely finished trunk is quite big for this class, and I really appreciated the ability to stow longer items like skis down the middle thanks to ultra-versatile 40/20/40 split-folding rear seatbacks. Folding the seats down is easy too, because Mercedes offers up a set of trunk-mounted levers.

2020 Mercedes-Benz A 220 4Matic
Mercedes provides four different ways to access the MBUX infotainment system, including this well designed trackpad.

Together with everything already mentioned, this year’s A 220 comes well equipped with standard features such as LED headlamps, 17-inch alloys, brushed or pinstriped aluminum interior inlays, pushbutton start/stop, MBUX infotainment (although the base model’s display size is smaller than my tester’s at 7.0-inches for each of its two screens), a six-speaker audio system (that provided deep resonant bass tones along with nice mids and highs), a power-adjustable driver’s seat with memory, heated front seats, the panoramic sunroof mentioned earlier, forward collision warning with automatic emergency braking, plus a lot more.

You may have noticed more gear in the photos, this because my test model also came with $890 worth of Mountain Grey Metallic exterior paint; $500 of 18-inch five-spoke alloy wheels; a $3000 Premium package featuring proximity keyless access, power-folding mirrors, a bigger 10.25-inch digital instrument cluster and the same sized centre display featuring Apple CarPlay and Android Auto smartphone integration, voice control, induction charging, auto-dimming rear view and driver’s side mirrors, ambient lighting, a foot-activated powered trunk release, vehicle exit warning, and Blind Spot assist; a $1,600 Technology package that added multibeam LED headlights with Adaptive Highbeam Assist and Active Distance Assist; plus a $1,000 Navigation package including a GPS/nav system, live traffic, Mercedes’ Navigation Services, the augmented reality function noted before, a Connectivity package, and finally Traffic Sign Assist.

2020 Mercedes-Benz A 220 4Matic
Comfortable, supportive and fabulous looking, the A 220’s seats are superb.

The long list of additions continue with a new (for 2020) $1,900 Intelligent Drive package boasting Active Brake Assist with Cross-Traffic Function, Active Emergency Stop Assist, Evasive Steering Assist, Enhanced Stop-and-Go, Active Lane Change Assist, Pre-Safe Plus, Map-Based Speed Adaptation (which uses the nav system info to adjust the A 220’s speed based on road conditions ahead before the driver can even see what’s coming), Active Lane Keeping Assist, an Advanced Driving Assistance package, Active Blind Spot Assist, Active Distance Assist Distronic, Active Steering Assist, Pre-Safe, and Active Speed Limit Assist; $900 Active Parking Assist; $475 satellite radio; plus black open-pore wood inlays for $250 (walnut inlays are available for the same price); all of which added $10,515 to the 2020 A 220’s previously noted $37,300 base price, making for an impressively equipped compact Mercedes at just $47,815 (plus freight and fees).

It was missing a lot of additional gear too, by the way, including a $1,500 Sport package or $2,000 Night package, $500 optional 19-inch alloys, a $250 heated Nappa leather steering wheel, a $1,500 head-up display unit, a $650 surround parking monitor, a $700 450-watt, 12-speaker Burmester surround audio system (which is quite the deal for this brand), a $300 garage door opener, a $450 powered front passenger’s seat with memory (the base model’s is manually operated), and $1,200 worth of cooled front seats (these new for this model year).

2020 Mercedes-Benz A 220 4Matic
This big panoramic powered glass sunroof comes standard.

As impressive as the new A 220’s styling, cabin design, detailed execution and loads of features are, the brand’s century of heritage really comes through when out on the road. Despite only endowed with 188 horsepower and 221 lb-ft of torque, straight-line acceleration is quite strong and even more so when set to Sport mode, at which point shifts from the seven-speed dual-clutch automatic come quickly and precisely. The car’s now standard 4Matic all-wheel drive allowed all four of the 225/45R18 Michelins below to latch onto pavement simultaneously, resulting in sharp, immediate results when my right foot was pegged to the throttle, while the little sport sedan tracked brilliantly during fast-paced highway and curving byway excursions, even in rain-soaked conditions.

Standard shift paddles add some hands-on engagement that was really appreciated when pushing hard in Sport mode, but I also found them useful for short-shifting to save on fuel. I opted for Eco mode for such situations, which provided even smoother more relaxed shifts as well as fuel economy improvements. The A 220 is rated at 9.6 L/100km city, 7.1 highway and 8.5 combined, and while we’re talking efficiencies, last year’s front-wheel drive version didn’t make that much of a difference due to a claimed fuel economy rating of 9.7, 6.8 and 8.4 respectively, so therefore Mercedes’ choice to offer AWD as standard equipment won’t hamper your fuel budget.

2020 Mercedes-Benz A 220 4Matic
The rear seating area is roomy, comfortable and refined.

It was during my usual relaxed pace of driving, with a focus on saving fuel, that I really appreciated the A 220’s excellent ride quality, impressively smooth for this class of car, but then again it’s important for me to point out that it’s never soft and wallowy. In Germanic tradition its ride is firmer than rivals from Japan, although I couldn’t imagine anyone complaining about harshness. The A 220’s hushed ambiance makes it feel even more refined and luxurious, making it ideal for isolating noisy, bustling city streets as well as toning down the sound of wind on the open road.

I must say, if my own money was on the line in this entry-level luxury segment, I’d opt for the A 220 over its four-door subcompact premium rivals, as it scores high marks in all key categories. It looks stunning and offers up what I think is the nicest interior in the class, can be had with all the features I want and need, is great fun to drive when called upon yet provides all the pampering luxury I’d ever want, and is a fairly pragmatic choice too, at least with respect to four-door sedans.

2020 Mercedes-Benz A 220 4Matic
The spacious trunk benefits from a large centre pass-through for loading in longer cargo like skis.

This said I have yet to drive the new BMW 2 Series Gran Coupe, although its self-proclaimed four-door coupe body style won’t be able to offer up the same amount of rear seat headroom as the A 220, and the only other subcompact luxury competitors are the Audi A3, which has been on the market for seven-plus years with only a subtle mid-cycle makeover, plus the Acura ILX that’s just as long-in-the-tooth, although only last year it had a much more dramatic update. Still, the ILX is merely an old Honda Civic under the skin, albeit with a better powertrain and gearbox.

Whether opting for the new A 220 or one of the other cars mentioned in this review, I’d be sure to check them all out right here at CarCostCanada before heading to the dealership, mind you. Our 2020 Mercedes-Benz A-Class Canada Prices page was showing up to $750 in additional incentives at the time of writing, while the 2019 model (if still available) was available for up to $2,000 in additional incentives. Members can access information about manufacturer rebates, financing and leasing deals, or other incentives, and best of all is dealer invoice pricing that can save you thousands at the time of purchase. Find out how CarCostCanada works here, and make sure to download our free app at the Google Android Play Store or Apple App Store so you can access all this valuable info when you’re at the dealership.

Story and photo credits: Trevor Hofmann

Photo Editing: Karen Tuggay

CarCostCanada

2019 Mazda CX-3 GT Road Test

2019 Mazda CX-3 GT
Mazda refreshed its CX-3 for 2019, so we tested two versions for this review. This is the late arrival GT with Grand Luxe Suede interior trim and smartphone integration.

Mazda’s CX-3 has been a popular economy car alternative in Canada since arriving on the scene five years ago, even rising to third amongst subcompact SUV entries a couple of years ago.

In order to remain near the top of the charts, Mazda gave it a mild makeover for 2019, and even added some additional updates to the top-tier GT trim partway through the model year. To bring attention to these changes, which have also been included in the 2020 model, I took the opportunity to spend a week with one pre-updated 2019 CX-3 GT as well as another post-updated version, which are both featured here in this review.

2019 Mazda CX-3 GT
This early 2019 GT gets a similar interior to previous GTs, albeit with nicer Cocoa Nappa leather.

Although the CX-3 has looked mostly the same since inception, Mazda steadily improved it over the years. The 2017 version carried over identically to the original 2016, but 2018 added a manual transmission to base FWD models, plus retuned the suspension for greater comfort, and added G-vectoring control as standard equipment to enhance all-weather cornering capability. Mazda also reduced its interior noise, vibration and harshness (NVH) levels, while revising the steering wheel design and the look of its primary instrument cluster. They added standard Smart City Brake Support too, a low-speed automatic emergency braking system, plus pulled additional standard and optional i-ActivSense advanced driver assistance systems down to lower trims, such as full-speed Smart Brake Support with front obstruction warning, lane departure warning, automatic high beams, adaptive cruise control, etcetera. 

2019 Mazda CX-3 GT
The little CX-3 has all of the attractive design elements of its larger siblings.

The mild updates for 2019 added a slightly reworked grille, taillights and wheels, while the cabin received some materials plus a new seat upholstery design partway through the year (as just noted), while the lower console of all 2019 models was reorganized to accommodate an electromechanical parking brake. Blind spot monitoring was also made standard for 2019, while the top-tier GT trim received real leather in place of leatherette and everything standard from the previous year’s Technology package, which included satellite radio, auto high beams, and lane departure warning.

The 2019 CX-3’s Skyactiv-G 2.0-litre four-cylinder engine received a 2-horsepower bump as well, increasing total output to 148 horsepower. While torque has remained at 146 lb-ft for the SUV’s five-year tenure, the power upgrade continues unchanged into the 2020 model year, as does the rest of the CX-3 in its entirety.

2019 Mazda CX-3 GT
Th GT gets LED cornering headlamps with auto high beams, LED fog lights, extra chrome trim and 18-inch alloys.

Just in case you’re wondering, the difference in power from 2018 and 2019 equals 1.35 percent, which is imperceptible without electronic detection. I certainly couldn’t tell the difference from one model year to the other, and have been perfectly happy with the CX-3’s performance since day one, always finding it a fun SUV to drive.

As for fuel economy, the 2019 CX-3 gets a 8.8 L/100km city, 7.0 highway and 8.0 combined rating when its sole engine is mated to its base manual transmission and FWD, while the automatic with FWD yields an estimated 8.3 in the city, 6.9 on the highway and 7.7 combined, and the auto with AWD gets a claimed 8.6, 7.4 and 8.1 respectively. 

2019 Mazda CX-3 GT
New LED taillights respond quickly and look great at night.

This single engine is included with all trims, incidentally, while the base GX once again comes standard with a manual gearbox and FWD, and is optional with a six-speed automatic in either FWD or the automaker’s i-Activ AWD. The mid-range GS comes standard with the automatic and is optional with AWD, whereas the GT features the automatic and AWD as standard equipment. The CX-3 base price comes in at just over $21k (plus freight and fees), while my fully optioned test model starts at a little more than $31k (see all prices, including trims, packages and standalone options on our 2019 Mazda CX-3 Canada Prices page). Those prices stay the same for 2020, by the way, although you can save up to $2,000 in additional incentives for the 2019 CX-3, while average member savings have in fact been $2,166 according to the just-noted page. The 2020 Mazda CX-3 gets up to $600 in additional incentives, says its 2020 Mazda CX-3 Canada Prices page, while average member savings hold steady at $2,166. With savings like this, a CarCostCanada membership will pay for itself quickly.

2019 Mazda CX-3 GT
Early 2019 GTs can be had with the gorgeous two-tone Nappa leather interior.

Steering wheel-mounted paddles get added to the Skyactiv-Drive automatic transmission in both GS and GT trims, which certainly increase driver engagement, while the GT also increases its wheel size from 16s 18-inch alloy rims on 215/50R18 all-season rubber, aiding grip when pushed hard. Although the CX-3 only employs a semi-independent torsion beam rear suspension setup, with the usual MacPherson strut up front, handling is very good for the class, while a power assisted rack-and-pinion steering system delivers immediate response and fairly good feedback. Since Mazda softened its ride, the CX-3 is much more comfortable on uneven pavement too, which really helps enhance overall refinement.

2019 Mazda CX-3 GT
The light grey instrument panel bolster and door inserts are made from faux suede in this late 2019 CX-3 GT.

On that note the CX-3 is really nice inside, which of course is expected from Mazda that’s one of the most premium-like brands in the mainstream volume sector. Of course, the little SUV isn’t as upscale as the new CX-30 or CX-5, particularly in the latter model’s Signature trim that gets cloth-wrapped A pillars, real wood trim and other niceties, this smallest model not even applying pliable synthetic to the dash-top and door uppers, but its instrument hood is quite luxurious thanks to stitched leatherette, while the centre section of the instrument panel gets a contrast-stitched and padded leatherette or microsuede bolster across its middle, and leatherette knee protectors are fixed to the insides of the lower console, plus leatherette or suede adorns the door inserts.

2019 Mazda CX-3 GT
This little transparent panel powers upwards to receive key info projected from below.

Before delving further, I should explain why some CX-3 GTs feature leatherette trim and others get microsuede. Early 2019s received stitched leatherette on the instrument panel bolster and door inserts like previous model years, my Soul Red Crystal painted tester an example of this interior treatment, but Mazda updated these areas to grey Grand Luxe Suede midway through the 2019 model year, which can be seen in my Snowflake White Pearl tester. Now the Alcantara suede-like material is the only treatment on these surfaces for the 2020 CX-3 GT.

So if you’ve been checking out the CX-3 at your local dealer (and there’s no shortage of 2019s thanks to the recent downturn of nearly everything), you’ll now understand why some have the leather look and others are plusher. I like both, but the psuede feels more opulent, and it’s also the newest trim so may help with resale.

2019 Mazda CX-3 GT
These semi-digital gauges are filled with info and easy to read in all lighting conditions.

The mid-year upgrade changed the GT’s upholstery too, my red tester boasting stunning two-tone brown and cream perforated Cocoa Nappa leather that’s no longer available for the 2020 model year, whereas my white tester featured the same perforated black leather with grey piping as found in the new 2020. Mazda will be happy to sell you a CX-3 GT with Pure White leather instead, this no-cost option available for both years. Try to find this level of variety, let alone luxury in competitive subcompact SUVs and you’ll be stymied, Mazda a cut above when it comes to personalization.

2019 Mazda CX-3 GT
Here’s a close-up of the psuede dash bolster.

Other than upholsteries and trims the early and late arrival CX-3 GTs are mostly identical, other than the circular dash vents that feature black inner bezels in the early model and metallic red in the later one, but the horizontal strip of vents that elegantly underscores the aforementioned instrument panel bolster is the same in both, while all vents are highlighted by a very authentic looking satin-finish aluminum.

2019 Mazda CX-3 GT
Two popular apps as seen while the centre touchscreen is using Android Auto.

There’s a lot more of this premium-look metal throughout the interior, surrounding the analogue and digital primary instruments, embellishing the third steering wheel spoke, ringing the centre dash-mounted infotainment display, as well as the lower console-mounted controls used for inputting data. This features a beautiful knurled metal-edged dial and another smaller one for adjusting audio volume, while additional quick-access switchgear includes buttons for the main menu, audio system, navigation, radio favourites, and the back button. The three-dial auto climate control system features some knurled metal detailing too, once again making the CX-3 look and feel more upscale than its price suggests it should.

2019 Mazda CX-3 GT
The Cocoa Nappa leather seats from early 2019 GTs is an unusual level of over-the-top luxury for this class.

The infotainment system in mind, Mazda was slow to integrate Apple CarPlay Android and Auto into the CX-3, which means if you’d like to have either you’ll be required to opt for the late 2019 arrival or a 2020. The 7.0-inch centre touchscreen display in my early 2019 is otherwise good, and included navigation, Bluetooth phone connectivity with streaming audio, a great sounding Bose audio system with seven speakers, satellite and HD radio, text message reading and responding capability, and the list goes on, while the newer version includes all of the above plus the two smartphone applications, and Android Auto worked as well as Android Auto works.

2019 Mazda CX-3 GT
This is the black interior from the late 2019, and as you can see the CX-3 provides a fairly roomy rear seat.

Speaking of features, 2019 and 2020 CX-3 GTs include auto on/off LED headlamps with adaptive cornering as well, plus auto-levelling and the previously noted automatic high beams, while LED fog lights, LED rear combination tail lamps with signature details, and additional chrome trim improve the exterior, while proximity keyless access let’s you inside, and a 10-way powered driver’s seat with memory provides comfort and support. Atop the gauge cluster is an Active Driving Display that powers a transparent panel up to reflect key information instead of having it projected right onto the windshield like a regular head-up display unit, while some of that info includes traffic sign recognition. Up above, an auto-dimming rearview mirror makes driving at night easier while a powered glass sunroof lets more light in during the day.

2019 Mazda CX-3 GT
Cargo space is reasonably generous, but only when compared to the smaller competitors in this class.

Features pulled up from lesser trims worth noting include pushbutton start/stop, rain-sensing windshield wipers, a heatable leather-wrapped steering wheel rim, a leather-wrapped shift knob, a wide-angle backup camera (not including dynamic guidelines), Aha and Stitcher internet radio, dual USB charging ports, three-way heated front seats, an overhead console with a sunglasses holder, a folding rear centre armrest with cupholders, a removable cargo cover, tire pressure monitoring, all the expected active and passive safety features, plus more.

2019 Mazda CX-3 GT
With the rear seats folded the CX-3 provides ample cargo carrying capacity for most peoples’ needs.

The just-mentioned 10-way power seats plus the CX-3’s tilt and telescoping steering column provided adequate adjustability for good comfort and control without forcing me to cramp my longer than average legs (for my height), while the rear seat was spacious enough even when I had the driver’s seat pushed back farther than some would require. It’s just important to remember that the CX-3 is Mazda’s smallest, and their larger CX-30, CX-5 and CX-9 SUVs offer a lot more space for getting comfortable.

Of course, the CX-3 provides less cargo space than these larger Mazdas too, with just 504 litres available behind its 60/40 split-folding rear seatbacks, and even less at 467 litres in GT trim due to the audio system’s subwoofer, while laying the rear seats flat results in a maximum of 1,209 litres in the two lower trims or 1,147 litres in the GT.

After everything is said and done, I think you’d be satisfied with any Mazda CX-3 trim, being that it’s a good looking, fun to drive, efficient and impressively refined subcompact crossover SUV. Of course, it has many opponents, many that add size and roominess like Mazda’s own CX-30, but for those wanting a smaller SUV it’s hard to beat the CX-3.

Story and photo credits: Trevor Hofmann

Photo Editing: Karen Tuggay

CarCostCanada

2019 Nissan Versa Note Road Test

2019 Nissan Versa Note SV
The 2019 Versa Note might now be discontinued, but it’s still a good little economy car worth your attention.

Does the idea of purchasing an inexpensive, economical yet very comfortable, roomy and practical hatchback at zero-percent financing sound like a good idea right now? If so, I recommend taking a closer look at the new 2019 Versa Note.

Of course, a 2019 model is hardly “new” this far into 2020, but it nevertheless is a new car that’s never been licensed and therefore qualifies for new car financing and leasing rates, plus it comes with a full warranty.

As it is there are too many Versa Notes still available on Nissan Canada’s dealer lots, so the automaker has created an incentive program to sell them off as quickly as possible. This benefits you of course, so it might be a really good idea to find out if this little car suits your wants and needs, because the price is right.

2019 Nissan Versa Note SV
The Versa Note’s tall roofline and long wheelbase provide a lot of interior room.

The Versa Note was discontinued last year, but cancelling a car doesn’t mean it’s not worth buying. In actual fact, Nissan’s second-smallest model is an excellent city car that’s also better than most on the highway, plus it offers more passenger and cargo room than the majority of its subcompact rivals. It just happens to be past its stale date, having already been replaced by two trendier subcompact crossover sport utilities dubbed Kicks and Qashqai.

Those wanting Nissan’s latest styling will be happy to find out the Versa Note received an update for its 2017 model year, incorporating most of the brand’s latest frontal styling cues for much more attractive styling than the previous incarnation. The Note doesn’t include a floating roof design, like the Leaf EV and most other new Nissan models, while its taillights are also unique to the model, but its hind end is nevertheless attractive and overall shape easy on the eyes.

2019 Nissan Versa Note SV
The Versa Note SV comes with these attractive 15-inch alloy wheels.

At least as important, the Versa Note provides a taller driver and passengers a lot of headroom due to its overall height, making the car feel more like a small SUV than a subcompact city car. The seats are particularly comfortable as well, due to memory foam that truly cushions and supports one’s backside, plus the upholstery in my top-line SV model was very good looking, with an attractive blue fleck pattern on black fabric. The driver’s seat even includes a comfortable minivan-style fold-down armrest on its right side.

Additional niceties include a leather-clad steering wheel rim, stylish satin-silver spokes, and a tilt steering column. Nissan adorns each dash vent with the same silver surface treatment, not to mention both edges of the centre stack and the entire shift lever surround panel.

Also impressive, my tester’s upgraded instrument cluster features backlit dials and really attractive digital displays. It’s so stylish that it makes the centre touchscreen seem dowdy by comparison. Truth be told, the main infotainment display is graphically challenged, particularly when put beside some of Nissan’s more recently improved models, but it more than does the job and is user-friendly enough, while at 7.0 inches it’s reasonably bit for this class, which provides good rear visibility through the reverse camera.

2019 Nissan Versa Note SV
The Note is a comfortable well designed car that’s perfect for those not needing all the latest technologies.

While there isn’t much to criticize the Versa Note about, no telescoping steering means it might not fit your body ideally. I have longer legs than torso and therefore had to crank the seatback farther forward than I normally would so as not crowd my legs and feet around the pedals, which worked but would’ve caused me to think twice about purchasing one.

On a much better note, those in back will find a lot more legroom than most subcompact contemporaries (the Versa Note is actually classified as a mid-size model), this thanks to a very long wheelbase, which makes the Versa Note perfect for taller than average folks. Rear passengers will find a comfortable folding armrest in the centre position, with the usual twin cupholders integrated within, another duo of cupholders can be found on the backside of the front console. Lastly, a magazine pouch is included on the backside of the front passenger’s seat.

The Note is also great for hauling loads of gear. It gets the usual 60/40 split-folding rear seatbacks, but its innovative Divide-N-Hide adjustable cargo floor doesn’t follow the subcompact herd. It can be moved up or down as required, meaning you can stow taller items in the latter position or otherwise awkward cargo on a flat load floor when slotted into the former. You can fit up to 532 litres (18.8 cubic feet) behind the rear seats, incidentally, or 1,084 litres (38.3 cu ft) of what-have-you by lowering both rear seatbacks. That’s very good, by the way.

2019 Nissan Versa Note SV
The SV gets an upgraded gauge cluster that’s really attractive.

For its price range the spacious Versa Note gets its fair share of equipment, but like all new cars this depends on which trim is chosen. Of note, the sportiest SR mode was discontinued for 2019 and the more luxurious SL was dropped for 2018, but Nissan brought in a $700 SV Special Edition package for this final year, which includes a set of fog lights, a rear rooftop spoiler, and Special Edition badges on the outside, plus proximity keyless entry for access to the cabin along with pushbutton start/stop to get things going once strapped inside, while other goodies include an enhanced NissanConnect infotainment system featuring Apple CarPlay and Android Auto smartphone integration, plus satellite radio.

A quick look at my test model’s photos will show no fog lights or rear spoiler, so I won’t be directly reporting on the 2019 SV Special Edition, but its 15-inch alloys make it clear that this isn’t a base model either (the entry-level Note S gets 15-inch steel wheels with covers). The regular SV starts at $18,398 and includes the aforementioned gauge cluster upgrade as well as the leather-clad steering wheel also noted before, along with powered door locks with remote access, power windows, a continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT), cruise control, a six-way manual driver’s seat (featuring height adjustment), heated front seats, a cargo cover, plus more.

2019 Nissan Versa Note SV
Nissan includes a large 7.0-inch infotainment touchscreen as standard equipment, but even when upgraded in SV trim its graphics look a bit dated.

Base S trim, which starts at $14,698 plus freight and fees, is the only 2019 Versa Note trim that can be had with a five-speed manual gearbox (you could get a manual with the SV for the 2018 model year), but base buyers should know the CVT can be added for a mere $1,300 extra. Transmission aside, base S trim also gets a set of powered and heated exterior mirrors, a four-way manual driver’s seat, air conditioning, a less comprehensively equipped 7.0-inch infotainment system, Bluetooth hands-free with streaming audio, phone and audio switchgear on the steering wheel, a hands-free text message assistant, Siri Eyes Free, auxiliary and USB ports, four-speaker audio, etcetera.

All the usual active and passive safety gear is included as well, of course, but those wanting the newest advanced driver assistance systems like collision warning with automatic emergency braking, blindspot monitoring with lane departure warning, or active cruise control with Nissan’s semi-autonomous ProPILOT assist self-driving tech had better choose one of the automaker’s more recently introduced subcompact crossovers.

2019 Nissan Versa Note SV
The Versa Note’s front seats are extremely comfortable, although not all body types will fit ideally due to no telescopic steering.

Let’s be nice and call the Versa Note traditional instead of antiquated, because at the end of the day it goes about its business very well and therefore delivers what many consumers require from a daily commuter. While hardly as technologically advanced or trendy in design, the Note nevertheless provides comfortable seating and a very good ride for its entry-level price range, plus decent get-up-and-go when pushing off from standstill or while passing, plus its CVT is ultra smooth.

The Versa Note uses the same 1.6-litre four-cylinder as the smaller Micra, making an identical 109 horsepower and 107 lb-ft of torque. That means the bigger, heftier model doesn’t feel quite as quick off the line. The Note’s purpose is more about fuel economy anyway, and with that in mind it manages a claimed five-cycle rating of 8.6 L/100km city, 6.6 highway and 7.7 combined with its manual, or 7.6 city, 6.2 highway and 7.0 combined with the CVT. That doesn’t seem all that great until comparing it to the Micra that has the same 1,092-kilogram curb weight when fully loaded as the Note’s base trim (the Note SV as-tested hits the scales at 1,124 kg), but still only can manage 7.9 L/100km combined with its manual and 8.0 combined with its four-speed auto. I think the similarly roomy Honda Fit is a better comparison, the innovative subcompact capable of 7.0 L/100km combined with its six-speed manual or just 6.5 with its most economical CVT.

2019 Nissan Versa Note SV
The rear seating area is very spacious with excellent headroom and legroom.

As for handling, the Micra has the Versa Note beat any day of the week. In fact, Nissan Canada uses the Micra in a spec racing series, something that would be laughable in the more comfort-oriented Note. The larger hatchback is particularly tall as noted, so therefore its high centre of gravity works counter to performance when attempting to take corners quickly, but then again if you don’t mind a bit of body roll it manages just fine. Better yet is the Versa’s roomy comfort, whether tooling through town or hustling down a four-lane freeway where it’s long wheelbase aids high-speed stability, it’s a good choice.

If you think this little Nissan might suit your lifestyle and budget and therefore would like to take advantage of the zero-percent financing mentioned before, I’d recommend checking out our 2019 Nissan Versa Note Canada Prices page where you can browse through all trims and packages in detail, plus quickly scan colour choices within each trim, while also searching for the latest manufacturer rebates that could save you even more.

2019 Nissan Versa Note SV
The Versa Note is big on cargo room and load versatility.

Better yet, a CarCostCanada membership provides access to dealer invoice pricing that could save you thousands when making a purchase. Everything just mentioned can be accessed at the CarCostCanada website or via a new downloadable CarCostCanada app, so make sure to check your phone’s app store. This said, ahead of calling your local Nissan retailer to purchase a new Versa Note, or connecting with them online (and it’s a good idea to deal with them remotely right now), be sure to do your homework here at CarCostCanada so you can claim the best possible deal.

Story credit: Trevor Hofmann

Photo credits: Karen Tuggay

CarCostCanada

2019 Hyundai Accent Ultimate Road Test

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Story and photo credits: Trevor Hofmann

CarCostCanada

2019 Mini Cooper Countryman S E ALL4 Road Test

2019 Mini Cooper Countryman S E ALL4
The Countryman is in its second-generation, but still looks every bit a Mini.

There are certain market segments an automaker wants to do well in. Obviously, higher end models like large sedans, SUVs and sports cars present the opportunity for higher profits, and are therefore important to any brand’s bottom line, while larger compact and mid-size models are critical for volume, but if you’re not able to pull buyers into the fold early on, when they’re moving up from pre-owned to new, or from a mainstream volume brand to luxury, then it’s more difficult to sell those higher end models later on. Or at least that’s the theory.

One might say BMW group owns the subcompact luxury SUV category in Canada. After all, together with the segment’s most popular X1, which found 4,420 entry-level luxury buyers last year, this Mini Countryman that was good for 2,275 slightly less affluent up-and-comers, and the sportiest (and priciest) BMW X2 that earned 1,383 new customers of its own, its total of 8,078 units sales more than doubled what Audi or Mercedes-Benz could deliver in Canada last year.

2019 Mini Cooper Countryman S E ALL4
It looks small from a distance, but the Countryman is actually quite roomy inside.

While BMW would no doubt like to eventually pull Mini customers up into its namesake brand, and some now doubt do make the progression, it really exists on its own. What I mean is that Mini has a completely unique character that car enthusiasts aspire to, and not kept around merely as a gateway brand. If a Mini owner was fortunate enough to trade in their Countryman for a larger, pricier SUV, they might just as well choose a Range Rover Velar instead of an X3 or X5. Then again, it’s probably just as likely they’ll stick with their Mini, choosing instead to move up within the brand to a John Cooper Works trim level or maybe even this top-line Countryman S E ALL4 plug-in hybrid.

The Countryman was one of the first subcompact luxury SUVs on the market, arriving way back in 2010. Mini made major improvements for its 2017 redesign, so now this second-generation model has been with us for four years if we include the 2020 model. If you looked at a 2020 and this outgoing 2019 model you wouldn’t be able to notice many changes. Some wheel designs have been changed, a normal occurrence every now and then, with the big updates found under the skin, and then only impacting buyers wanting a manual transmission. Yes, it’s been axed for 2020, mostly because Mini’s U.S. division swapped it out for a standard seven-speed dual-clutch automated gearbox in front-wheel drive models not available here, so it’s almost entirely the previously optional eight-speed automatic across the Countryman line in Canada, whether DIY enthusiasts like it or not.

2019 Mini Cooper Countryman S E ALL4
This Countryman S E ALL4 came as-tested with LED headlights, LED fog lamps, and 18-inch alloy wheels.

Almost entirely? Yes, the very Countryman S E ALL4 hybrid on this page uses a six-speed Steptronic automatic driving the front wheels via a 136-horsepower 1.5-litre three-cylinder Twin Power Turbo engine. The ALL4 in the name designation denotes all-wheel drive, but unlike the other ALL4s in the Countryman lineup, this model’s rear wheels are solely powered by an 88-horsepower (65kW) synchronous e-motor via electricity stored in a 7.6 kWh Li-Ion battery.

Like with most all-wheel drive systems, power can be apportioned front or back, with the wheels in the rear employed fully in EV mode, or partially when the Countryman detects front slippage and needs more traction. That means it feels as if you’re driving a regular hybrid, with each axle using its motive power sources seamlessly as needed, all working together harmoniously via Mini’s drivetrain management system. The S E ALL4’s electric-only range is a mere 19 km after a complete charge, but who’s counting.

2019 Mini Cooper Countryman S E ALL4
Mini interiors combine fun retro character traits with high-quality premium materials and finishing.

Not even 20 km? Ok, that is pretty minuscule, and many of my colleagues are reporting real world results of 12 and 13 km. Thank goodness Mini made another change to the Countryman line for 2020, a larger batter for a 30-percent gain in EV range for 29 km in total. While this will hardly cause BMW i3 fans to shift allegiances, the added range allows the Countryman S E ALL4 to be used as a regular commuter without the need to recharge until you get to work, as long as your daily commute falls within most peoples’ average. If you really want to go green you can stop along the way for more energy, and it won’t take too much time for the new 10-kWh battery to recharge.

It’s probably not a good idea to use EV mode all the way to work if you need to take the highway, unless it’s bumper to bumper all the way. While the Countryman S E ALL4 can achieve speeds of up to 125 km/h with just its e-motor, you’ll drain the battery in minutes if you try. Instead, you can use its hybrid mode on the highway (up to 220 km/h if you’re feeling frisky) and switch back to EV mode when traveling slower, which maximizes a given charge. The regenerative brakes help to charge up the battery when coming to stops or going downhill, doing their part to maximize zero emissions driving.

2019 Mini Cooper Countryman S E ALL4
The Countryman’s cockpit is ideally set up for both comfort and performance driving.

I made the point of recharging the battery whenever possible during my weeklong test. I’d grab a coffee at McDonalds and give it a quick charge outside, drop by the local mall and do likewise, and one time stayed a little longer at Ikea’s restaurant in order to fully top it up, plus of course I charged it overnight. Being that it takes quite a bit of effort to find somewhere in public to charge it that’s not being used, the novelty quickly wears off when the battery runs out of juice in a matter of 20 or 30 minutes. Still, its fuel economy is good even when not charging it up all the time, with an 8.4 L/100km rating in the city, 8.8 on the highway and 8.6 combined. Plugging it in more often can give you an equivalent rating of 3.6 L/100km combined city/highway, however, so it’s obviously worth going through the hassle.

At least as important for any Mini, the Countryman S E ALL4 is fun to drive. I can’t think of many hybrid SUVs that include a manual mode shifter, let alone a Sport mode (that actually does something), but all you need to do is slide the switch at the base of the gearbox to the left and this PHEV shoots away from a stoplight with plenty of energy, taking about seven seconds to reach 100 km/h thanks to a total of 221 net horsepower and 284 pound-feet of torque (the electric motor puts out an immediate 122 lb-ft of twist by itself), and while it can’t quite achieve the 301-hp John Cooper Work’s Countryman’s ability to get off the line, the JCW managing just over 6 seconds to 100 km/h, this 1,791-kilo cute ute still feels quick enough.

2019 Mini Cooper Countryman S E ALL4
The Countryman’s centre display is high-resolution, graphically stimulating and packed full of features.

The S E ALL4 is even more sporting around fast-paced curves, with the kind of high-speed handling expected from a Mini. It’s not as firmly sprung as a JCW, but then again it provides a more comfortable ride. Likewise, the Countryman S E ALL4 is a complete pleasure on the freeway, tracking well at high-speed and excellent at overcoming unexpected crosswinds, my test model’s meaty 225/50R18 all-season tires providing a sizeable contact patch with the tarmac below.

A fabulously comfortable driver’s seat made longer stints behind the wheel easy on the back, my test model’s boasting superb inherent support for the lower back and thighs, with the former benefiting from four-way lumbar support and the latter from a manually extendable lower cushion to cup under the knees (love that). It’s spacious too, both up front and in the rear, with the back seats roomy enough for big adults as long as the centre position stays unoccupied. A wide armrest folds down from middle, housing the expected twin cupholders, while two vents on the backside of the front console keep fresh air flowing. A 12-volt charger has me wondering when Mini plans to modernize with USB charging ports, while no rear seat heaters were included in this trim. At least there was a wonderfully large power panoramic glass sunroof up above, making the Countryman’s smallish dimensions feel bigger and more open.

2019 Mini Cooper Countryman S E ALL4
The centre stack controls are very well done, particularly the row of toggles at the bottom.

I’ve read/heard a number of critics complain about the Countryman not offering enough cargo space, however, but this little Mini’s cargo compartment design has me sold. Of course it’s relatively small compared to a larger compact or mid-size luxury utility, which is par for the course when choosing a Mini, its dimensions measuring 487 litres behind the rear seatback and 1,342 litres when lowered, but it’s the folding centre section I appreciate most. This allows longer items like skis to be laid down the middle while rear passengers enjoy the more comfortable window seats. The Countryman’s 40/20/40 rear seat split is the most convenient in the industry, while the seats’ folding mechanism feels very well made with everything clicking together solidly. The rear compartment is finished well too, with high quality carpets most everywhere. It all helps Mini make its argument for premium status.

Some buyers don’t consider Mini a premium brand, while those in the know place it alongside (or slightly below) BMW, at least when it comes to the Bavarian automaker’s entry-level models, like the X1. Of course, the X1 xDrive28i starts at a lofty $42,100 when compared to the $31,090 Countryman, but this fully loaded S E ALL4 plug-in hybrid, featuring upgrades like the previously noted sunroof, plus LED cornering headlights and fog lamps, a head-up display, navigation, real-time traffic info, superb Harman/Kardon audio, a wireless device charger, and more, will set you back more than $50k (the S E ALL4’s base price is $44,390), so Mini is in the same league. This pricing spread makes it clear that Mini sits well above most other mainstream volume branded subcompact SUVs, which range in price from $18,000 for the most basic to $35,000 for something fancier in full dress. 

2019 Mini Cooper Countryman S E ALL4
This is one of the best driver’s seats in the subcompact luxury SUV class.

By the way, you can find out all about 2019 and 2020 Mini Countryman pricing right here on CarCostCanada, with details about trims, packages and individual options included, plus you can also access money saving manufacturer rebate info, the latest deals on financing, and best of all dealer invoice pricing that could help you save you thousands when it comes time to negotiate. CarCostCanada provides all this and more for every volume mainstream and luxury model available in Canada, so make sure to go there first before stepping into a dealership.

2019 Mini Cooper Countryman S E ALL4
The Countryman’s rear seating area is spacious and comfortable.

The base S E ALL4 is well equipped too, by the way, including 18-inch alloy wheels on run-flat tires, puddle lamps, a keyless toggle start/stop switch, a sporty leather-wrapped steering wheel rim, well bolstered sport seats with leatherette upholstery, adaptive cruise control, park distance control, two-zone automatic climate control, a large high-definition centre touchscreen with excellent graphics, and more.

Additionally, all of the high-end features just mentioned are housed in an interior that’s finished to premium levels, or at least it’s premium for this compact luxury SUV category. This means it includes fabric-wrapped roof pillars and plenty of pliable composite surfaces, while the switchgear is nicely made too, not to mention brilliantly retrospective with respect to the chromed toggles on the centre stack and overhead console.

2019 Mini Cooper Countryman S E ALL4
A flexible cargo configuration makes the Countryman especially useful.

All in all, the Countryman S E ALL4 might be a fuel-efficient hybrid, but it’s also a Mini, which means it lives up to the performance expectations the British brand’s loyal followers want, while also providing a high level of style, luxury, features, roominess, and more. That it’s possible to drive emissions-free over short distances is a bonus, as is access to your city’s high occupancy vehicle (HOV) lanes, plug-in parking spots closer to the entrance of shopping malls, stores, etcetera, and better than average fuel economy whether using EV mode or just its hybrid setup. It’s a bit pricey, but the Countryman S E ALL4 delivers a lot for the money asked.

Story and photo credits: Trevor Hofmann

CarCostCanada

2019 Toyota Prius C Technology Road Test

2019 Toyota Prius C Technology
The Prius C remains a good looking subcompact hatch thanks to its 2018 refresh.

Toyota Canada stopped providing individual sales figures for its smallest hybrid back in 2017, even though the numbers weren’t much lower than in previous years. The car had been available for over five years without many updates after all, so deliveries probably should’ve slowed even more, but those of us outside of Toyota’s inner circle will never know how far they fell.

I have to admit to being curious about how the 2018 model year refresh impacted those sales results when it arrived during the same year, but unfortunately a “Prius Family” category was created for monthly Prius, Prius plug-in, Prius V and Prius C sales statistics in Canada, which meant learning how far sales had fallen through 2017, 2018 and the C’s final year of 2019, in order to question why Toyota discontinued it, became difficult.

Its cancellation may have nothing to do with sales, mind you. The Prius C shared underpinnings with the 2019 (and previous) Toyota Yaris subcompact hatchback, both having ridden on the Toyota B platform, and with the Toyota-built Vitz-based Yaris no longer available in North American markets at the close of 2019, this model now replaced by a Mazda2-based Yaris hatchback in Canada and the U.S. for 2020 (and as a Yaris sedan exclusively south of the 49th), it was probably a good idea to say sayonara to the Prius C as well.

2019 Toyota Prius C Technology
Large LED taillights, a narrow rear window, a sporty bumper and sharp alloy wheels make the 2019 Prius C Technology stand out.

Yes, I know about the new 2020 Yaris Hybrid offered in Japan and other world markets, and I’m well aware of the even more compelling 250-plus horsepower 2020 Yaris GR (Gazoo Racing), which could’ve completely taken over from Ford’s fabulous little Fiesta ST (RIP) if Toyota had chosen to go bold, so let’s hope the new 2020 Yaris Hatchback is more enticing than the Mazda2 was when it couldn’t gain much sales traction during its mostly forgettable summer of 2010 through winter of 2016 run.

As for the outgoing 2019 Prius C, it’s a very good car now in short supply. New 2019 models are still around, plus plenty of low mileage demos and pre-owned examples. I know this because I searched across most of Canada to find the majority of new C’s in the Greater Toronto Area and in Greater Montreal (there were no new ones left in Vancouver, as they were probably scooped up by the British Columbia Automobile Association’s Evo Car Share program that primarily uses the Prius C), while the model’s highly efficient hybrid electric drivetrain will continue being produced in the aforementioned (JDM) 2020 Yaris Hybrid and upcoming (for Asia and Europe) C-HR Hybrid.

2019 Toyota Prius C Technology
LED headlamps, fog lights, and 15-inch alloys come standard with Technology trim.

Back to the here and now, Toyota Canada is currently trying to lure in prospective 2019 Prius C buyers with zero-percent factory lease and financing rates, while all of the examples I found online were seriously discounted. These are two good reasons to consider a Prius C, but I should also point out (this being a road test review) that the little hybrid is a great little subcompact car too, all of which makes a fresh new review of this 2019 model relevant, even though we’re already so far into the 2020 calendar year (what happened to the new year?). On this note I’d like to say so long to a car that I actually enjoy spending time in, and consider its demise saddening for those of us who enjoy the fun-to-drive nature, easy manoeuvrability, and excellent efficiency of small cars.

The Yaris is a fun car to drive too, which makes sense being that both models ride on Toyota’s B platform architecture. It also makes sense for their exterior measurements not to be all that different, with the Prius C’s wheelbase stretching 40 mm (1.6 in) more than the Yaris’ to 2,550 millimetres (100.4 inches), and its overall length a significant 114 mm (4.5 in) longer from nose to tail at 4,059 mm (159.8 in). Additionally, the Prius C’s 1,715-mm (67.5-in) width makes it 20 mm (0.8 in) wider, while its 1,491-mm (58.7-in) height is actually 9 mm (0.3 in) shorter from the road surface to the topmost point of its roof.

2019 Toyota Prius C Technology
The Prius C’s cockpit places the primary instruments atop the centre dash.

Thanks the Prius C’s renowned Hybrid Synergy Drive powertrain, which consists of a 1.5-litre Atkinson-cycle four-cylinder internal combustion engine, or ICE, incorporating variable valve timing plus an exhaust heat recovery system, a 19-kWh nickel metal-hydride battery, a 45kW (60 hp) electric motor, and auto start/stop that automatically turns the engine off when it would otherwise be idling, before restarting it upon brake pedal left-off. While the C’s ICE likely weighs similarly to the 1.5-litre four in the Yaris, all of the other gear adds a quite a bit of mass to this subcompact car. In fact, a similarly equipped 2019 Yaris SE 5-Door Hatchback with its antiquated four-speed automatic hitting the scales at just 1,050 kilos (2,335 lbs) compared to 1,147 kg (2,529 lbs) resulting in 97 kg (214 lbs), while its 99 net horsepower rating (the combination of a 73 horsepower ICE and the aforementioned electric motor) is slightly down on the regular Yaris’ 106 horses, but the electric motor’s 125 lb-ft of instant torque, combined with the ICE’s 82 lb-ft, plus the lack of mechanical drag from the Prius C’s continuously variable transmission, more than makes up for its increased mass.

Remember way back at the beginning of this review when I mentioned the Prius C is fun to drive? It’s plenty quick off the line and quite agile through fast-paced curves, feeling much the same as the sporty Yaris hatchback, but this hybrid’s ride quality might even be better. It’s actually quite refined, with a reasonably quiet cabin, even at high speeds, and good comfort over rougher pavement like inner-city laneways and bridge expansion joints.

2019 Toyota Prius C Technology
The update centre touchscreen is a big improvement, and includes navigation in Technology trim.

As you might expect the Prius C is ultra-respectful at the pump too. Transport Canada rates it at 5.1 L/100km for both city and highway driving (and therefore combined too), which compares well to all rivals including Toyota’s own Yaris Hatchback that manages 7.9 L/100km city, 6.8 highway and 7.4 combined. 

The car in front of you is in its second model year since a major refresh, and I particularly like the changes made to a car that was already pretty decent looking. When compared to the outrageous styling of its bigger, elder brother, the regular Prius, this refreshed C is more conservative. It features new front and rear fascias including revised LED headlights and reworked LED tail lamps, plus renewed wheel covers and available alloys, while the cabin was updated with a new steering wheel, revised primary instrument cluster, and a renewed centre stack. The new infotainment touchscreen includes a standard rearview camera, this necessary to comply with then-new regulations that mandate backup cameras for safety’s sake.

2019 Toyota Prius C Technology
The Prius C incorporates the Prius’ trademark blue shift knob.

Speaking of staying safe, 2018 and 2019 Prius Cs incorporate Toyota’s Safety Sense C suite of advanced driver assistive systems as standard equipment, including automatic high beams, pre-collision warning, and lane departure alert. Additionally, the Prius C has nine airbags instead of the usual six, while direct tire pressure monitoring is now part of the base package.

As far as features go, Toyota eliminated the Prius C’s base model for 2019, which pushed the price up from $21,990 to $22,260 (plus freight and fees), but for only $270 they added everything from the previous year’s $900 Upgrade package including soft synthetic leather to the instrument panel, premium fabric upholstery, additional driver seat adjustments, cruise control, two more stereo speakers (totalling six), a rear centre console box, and a cargo cover to an ample assortment of standard equipment such as power-adjustable heated side mirrors, tilt and telescopic steering, steering wheel audio and HVAC controls, a 4.2-inch multi-information display, single-zone auto climate control, 6.1-inch touchscreen infotainment, Bluetooth, an exterior temperature gauge, etcetera.

2019 Toyota Prius C Technology
The Prius C’s driver’s seat is comfortable and supportive, plus covered in Toyota’s leather-like SoftTex upholstery in Technology trim.

During my search for new Prius Cs still available for sale I noticed a good mix of both trim levels, the Technology model shown on this page replacing the base car’s 15-inch steel wheels with covers for an attractive set of 15-inch alloy wheels, and the fabric upholstery swapped out for Toyota’s Softex breathable leatherette. Additionally, Technology trim enhancements include LED fog lights, proximity keyless entry with pushbutton start/stop, more sophisticated Touch Tracer controls on the much nicer synthetic leather-wrapped steering wheel, navigation, voice recognition, Gracenote connectivity, satellite radio, heated front seats, a power glass sunroof, plus more.

The 2019 Prius C Technology can be had for $27,090, which is an increase of just $140 from last year, representing great value when compared to any new hybrid. This becomes even more of deal when factoring in all the discounts I saw while searching online, not to mention the zero-percent financing Toyota is currently offering, and any other manufacturer rebates that may be available, so seriously consider snapping up a new Prius C before they’re all gone.

2019 Toyota Prius C Technology
The Prius C’s roomy rear quarters provide comfortable accommodations for most body types.

Incidentally, I sourced the financing rate and pricing right here on CarCostCanada’s 2019 Toyota Prius c Canada Prices page. CarCostCanada provides trim, package and individual option pricing on every mainstream car, SUV and truck sold in Canada, plus manufacturer rebate info, details about financing, and best of all, dealer invoice pricing that will give you an advantage when it comes time to negotiate your deal.

Interestingly, the Toyota model that probably put the final nail in the Prius C’s coffin is the entirely new 2020 Corolla Hybrid, which can be had for a reasonable $24,790 (plus destination and fees). It’s arguably a better car, but this said if you truly want or need a hatchback I can only imagine Toyota would be happy to put you into its bigger 2020 Prius, its entry price arriving at $28,550, and now optional with eAWD. The 2020 Prius Prime plug-in hybrid (PHEV) is available from $32,990 (take note that the Prime qualifies for some government rebates), while additional electrified Toyotas include the 2020 Camry Hybrid at $31,550, 2020 RAV4 Hybrid from $32,350, and the completely redesigned 2020 Highlander Hybrid from $45,490.

2019 Toyota Prius C Technology
The Prius C doesn’t give up much to Toyota’s own Yaris when it comes to cargo space.

Even without the Prius C, Toyota has a lot of hybrids on offer, but take note that a new RAV4 Prime plug-in will hit the Canadian market later this year, while the awkwardly styled Mirai fuel cell electric vehicle that ended production last year is set to arrive later this year in renewed form as well, and the photos I’ve seen were much easier on the eyes.

With respect to Toyota’s plans for plug-in battery electric vehicles (BEV), such as the Nissan Leaf, in June of 2019 Toyota announced a plan to add 10 new BEV models to its worldwide fleet during the first half of this current decade, all based on a single e-TNGA platform. By 2025 the Japanese company says that each of its models will include an electrified variant, so even something like the new Supra sports car will offer a hybrid drivetrain. This is bound to become very interesting. 

Until all of these innovative new models hit the market, you might want to take advantage of the great deals to be had on this 2019 Prius C, however, as it’s a very good little car that provides superb fuel economy, decent levels of refinement, a fairly spacious cabin, plus Toyota’s impressive reputation for producing durable electrified vehicles.

Story and photo credits: Trevor Hofmann

CarCostCanada

2019 Ford EcoSport 2.0 SES Road Test

2019 Ford EcoSport 2.0 SES
The EcoSport wears Ford’s older design language, but it still looks smart in its sporty SES duds.

The EcoSport, that just recently entered the Canadian market for the 2018 model year, will soon be the oldest SUV in Ford’s burgeoning lineup. This is due to the mid-size seven-passenger Flex fading into the sunset when its remaining 2019 model run gets sold off. Where the Flex was one of the blue-oval brand’s largest crossover SUVs, the EcoSport is by far its smallest, and therefore fills Ford’s critical gateway position now that the subcompact Fiesta hatchback has also been discontinued from the North American markets.

Of note, Ford’s other crossovers and SUVs have been more recently refreshed or redesigned, the former car-based models including the completely redesigned 2020 Escape, the recently refreshed Edge that came out for the 2019 model year, and the entirely redone 2020 Explorer that’s just arriving now, whereas the not quite as new truck-based Expedition SUV will soon be second oldest. 

2019 Ford EcoSport 2.0 SES
SES trim blackens out a lot of exterior accents that would otherwise be bright metal.

Soon Ford will add two new models to its utility lineup, the first being the impressive but oddly named Mustang Mach-E (I hope they drop the “Mustang” part and just call it the “Mach-E”), sized between the Escape and Edge and powered by a new plug-in electric drivetrain, and the second an even more interesting (to me at least) compact truck-based body-on-frame 4×4 that brings back the classic Bronco name. A smaller “baby Bronco” is reportedly planned to go up against the subcompact Jeep Renegade, just like the new Bronco will go head-to-head with the iconic Jeep Wrangler 4×4, which means off-road fans will soon have a lot more to get excited about.

Ford will continue to dominate the truck market with its best-selling F-Series, of course, and do its best to make the new (to us) Ranger mid-size pickup as popular as its slightly smaller predecessor used to be, while it will probably maintain its leadership in the commercial van segment as well, its Euro-style Transit full-size van well ahead of all rivals on the sales charts. Ford still makes the classic Econoline, by the way, but it’s only available with a cutaway chassis cab body in our market, plus the Transit Connect does very well in the smaller compact commercial van category.

2019 Ford EcoSport 2.0 SES
These 17-inch dark grey alloys add a lot of style to the EcoSport SES’ design.

Now that I’ve come this far I might as well finish off with every blue-oval model available to Ford’s Canadian customers, the fabulous GT super car still showing on the brand’s retail website despite being sold out some time ago, and the Mustang still North America’s go-to sports/muscle car by a long shot, while the Fusion mid-size sedan will be with us for one last year before being sent out to pasture like the larger Taurus full-size sedan, the little Fiesta subcompact, and the compact Focus (plus sadly the later two models’ superb ST and RS performance versions, and the once great SHO).

Until Ford comes out with an ST version of the EcoSport I can’t see enthusiasts getting excited about it (hey, they brought us an Edge ST, so you never know), but it look good and drives well for such an old SUV, plus it offers up a nice assortment of features and can be had for an even more compelling price. This current second-generation EcoSport arrived in other markets during 2012 as a 2013 model, which adds up to six years before it arrived as an all-new model here in North America. I first saw the original EcoSport (a design I really liked at the time) when I was living in São Paulo, Brazil, and now that I’m more often on the other side of the world in Metro Manila, Philippines, I’ve been seeing this new one becoming popular there for about six years (and likewise for our all-new Ranger pickup that was been a big seller there since it hit the market in 2011).

2019 Ford EcoSport 2.0 SES
Blue and copper orange is an unusual mix, which is probably why Ford now makes this interior with silver and grey instead.

Like the Ranger, the EcoSport has aged quite well. It wears Ford’s most older grille design, last seen on the 2019 Escape and 2018 Edge, so it doesn’t look out of date unless you see it lined up in row of its blue-oval contemporaries. A redesigned third-generation EcoSport should be out by 2021 as a 2022 model, so at least we can be fairly certain this 2019 version, and the mostly unchanged 2020 version, won’t be redesigned for couple of years or more.

As it is, despite its age the EcoSport has plenty of redeeming qualities, the first being decent fuel economy due to standard auto start-stop technology that shuts the engine off when it would otherwise be idling in order to reduce fuel usage and improve emissions, all before restarting automatically when letting off the brake.

2019 Ford EcoSport 2.0 SES
The cockpit has a sporty look, enhanced by a leather-clad steering wheel with paddle shifters in SES trim.

This EcoSport comes standard with the same turbocharged 1.0-litre three-cylinder that I first enjoyed in the Fiesta. While a fun-to-drive entry-level engine, it’s also capable of an 8.6 L/100km city, 8.1 highway and 8.4 combined Transport Canada rating, while the even stronger 2.0-litre four-cylinder I tested here is good enough for an estimated 10.2 city, 8.0 highway and 9.3 combined. To be clear, this is fairly thrifty when compared to some of its key rivals, and falls short of others, finding a happy medium right in the middle.

The middle-of-the-road EcoSport story is similar for pricing too, with the base 2019 S model starting at $22,349 (plus delivering and other fees), and fancier trims including the SE at $25,449, SES at $29,849 and top-line at 31,349. All-wheel drive can be added to S and SE trims for $2,500, while it comes standard in the SES and Titanium. Notably, the pricing just quoted was heavily discounted at the time of writing, with CarCostCanada reporting additional incentives up to $4,500 on this 2019 EcoSport, or for those wanting the newer 2020 model, factory leasing and financing rates from 3.99 percent. Go to the 2019 or 2020 Ford EcoSport Canada Prices page right here at CarCostCanada for all the details, plus the ability to price and configure EcoSport models, while accessing available manufacturer rebates, dealer invoice pricing that could save you thousands, and much more.

2019 Ford EcoSport 2.0 SES
The gauge cluster is simple, but the bright blue needles stand out nicely.

Of course, selling on price is not a good way to make a profit, but that’s Ford’s problem. Still, as noted earlier there’s a lot more to like about this little SUV than its reasonably low fuel economy and attractive pricing. Both direct-injected engines provide pretty strong performance, actually, the base turbocharged 1.0-litre three-banger good for 123 horsepower and 125 lb-ft of torque, and the as-tested naturally aspirated 2.0-litre four making a more spirited 166 horsepower and 149 lb-ft of torque.

Additionally, neither engine is held back by the vague performance of a continuously variable transmission (CVT) or a slow-shifting regular automatic, but instead get Ford’s well-proven six-speed SelectShift dual-clutch automated manual. It may not be the most dependable transmission ever made, but it delivers very quick, snappy shifts, enhanced with steering wheel-mounted paddle shifters in SES trim, along with the same ease-of-use the two less exciting transmissions provide.

2019 Ford EcoSport 2.0 SES
Sync 3 offers up a nice easy-to-use design plus Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.

Underpinning the entire SUV is a fully independent suspension featuring MacPherson struts in front and a multilink setup in the rear, plus a stabilizer bar at each end. Additionally, twin-tube hydraulic gas-pressurized shocks keep the front wheels connected to tarmac while progressive-rate springs with mono-tube hydraulic gas-pressurized shocks lock in the back end, while a fairly direct feeling electric power steering system makes manoeuvring the EcoSport into tiny parking spaces easy and negotiating heavy traffic a breeze. Ford’s smallest SUV feels nice and stable through slaloming roadways too, and tracks well on the open highway. No matter the conditions it’s a fun little utility to drive, even on slippery surfaces where Ford’s AdvanceTrac traction control with RSC (Roll Stability Control) keeps it under control, and the SUV’s standard four-wheel discs with ABS provide good braking performance.

2019 Ford EcoSport 2.0 SES
The nice big backup camera with active guidelines made parking easy.

The way this EcoSport drives makes it easy to understand why 7,438 Canadians bought one last year (which is a bit less than mid-pack, with six subcompact crossover SUVs selling fewer and 10 delivering more), but just the same I could see why some may have chosen it because of styling first and foremost. My SES example was painted in an eye-catching Lightning Blue with sporty black accents all around (although it didn’t wear this trim’s optional black decals on the hood and rooftop), some of its best design details being the Dark Tarnish Metallic-painted 17-inch rims it rolled on.

The interior, however, was colour-matched by the three blind mice. Who decided that its mostly Ebony Black cabin colour (shade) scheme should be accented with copper-orange on every model? I suppose blue and orange don’t completely clash (a similar livery kind of worked for McLaren F1 this year), and of course it’s perfect when choosing the EcoSport’s available Canyon Ridge (copper) exterior paint, but I’m glad Ford recently decided to ditch this unusual colour combo for trusty old grey. As it was, my tester’s partial leather seat upholstery included copper orange stripes on their stain-resistant ActiveX fabric inserts, these matching the same copper highlights that run across the instrument panel, on each side of the console, and along the door panels.

2019 Ford EcoSport 2.0 SES
Remember, Ford replaced this orange with silver and grey, which will be a good or bad thing, depending on your personal taste.

All said, I can’t see anyone complaining about the SES model’s aforementioned 17-inch alloy wheels or its sport-tuned suspension upgrade, or for that matter the paddle shifters I commented on a while ago. Other niceties with this trim include rain-sensing windshield wipers, an auto-dimming centre mirror, blindspot monitoring, an 8.0-inch infotainment touchscreen with Ford’s best Sync 3 interface, a navigation system that worked perfectly during my test week, a pretty good seven-speaker audio system, and a very useful household-style 110-volt power outlet.

Sync 3 infotainment is still very good despite not being as recently updated as some competitive systems. Along with than the items already mentioned, its feature set includes the expected tablet-like tap, swipe and pinch gesture controls, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto smartphone integration, easy Bluetooth connectivity for your phone and audio streaming, voice activation, a 4G LTE Wi-Fi hotspot, plus the ability to play AM, FM and satellite radio stations, of course. Satellite in mind, Sirius Travel Link is also included, plus a number of apps, while the Sync 3’s graphics are organized into convenient tiles in an attractive white on sky blue colour scheme. It’s not new, but it’s still very good.

2019 Ford EcoSport 2.0 SES
Really comfortable seats had plenty of manual adjustment.

Missing from my SES tester was dual-zone automatic climate control, but its single-zone auto HVAC system was plenty good for my needs and as good as this entry-level SUV segment usually gets, while its front seats were only four-way manually adjustable, which was another inconvenience that didn’t matter much to me. The seats were comfortable and supportive just the same, plus my long-legged, shorter torso five-foot-eight frame fit well due to better-than-average reach from the EcoSport’s tilt and telescopic steering column.

It’s spacious as well, and especially good for taller occupants. In fact, both the front and back seating areas are well proportioned, but I recommend leaving the rear centre position unoccupied when four adults are aboard. The cargo compartment is fairly large too, with 592 litres of volume behind the 60/40-split back seats and 1,415 litres when lowered, although the load floor doesn’t lay very flat.

2019 Ford EcoSport 2.0 SES
The rear seats are spacious and comfortable for this class.

Accessing the cargo compartment comes via a side-swinging rear door that might be a deal-killer for some. Not only did it squeak while driving (or at least something near the door was squeaking annoyingly all week long), but who wants to deal with a heavy, inconvenient side-swinging rear door when there’s 16 competitors (and three more on the way) that offer a liftgate that also acts as a shelter in the rain? At least it opens on the proper side for North American markets, unlike some others (Jeep) that make it really difficult to load from the curb, not to mention dangerous if forced to step into the line of traffic with arms loaded. It opens easily enough thanks to gas struts, but you’ll need to make sure and leave plenty of space behind the EcoSport for the wide door to swing it out when parked on the side of the road, while if another driver (parker) parks too close, good luck getting anything into the back (not usually a problem with a liftgate).

As for interior finishings, it’s better than some and not as good as this segment’s best sellers due to an abundance of hard plastic surfaces. I know this is a base subcompact and buyers in this class aren’t expecting Range Rover detailing, but some in this category are delivering a more premium experience than others, and therefore merely adding a pliable composite dash top/instrument panel along with padded armrests isn’t enough these days.

2019 Ford EcoSport 2.0 SES
The cargo area is roomy enough, but some might not like the side-swinging rear door.

As my regular readers know, I don’t hold back when I don’t like a vehicle, but I think I’ve been very fair with Ford’s EcoSport. It’s one of the oldest SUVs in this class, yet it does a pretty decent job of looking good, plus it balances a really fun driving experience with reasonable fuel economy, it’s plenty comfortable, very spacious, is equipped well enough, has a great infotainment system (and has an attractive set of gauges with cool blue needles), and (squeaking and side-swinging rear door aside) is quite practical. The fact you can currently save thousands on a new 2019 is a major bonus that should be considered too, so if you can live with its few shortcomings (and most rivals could be better too) the EcoSport is worth a closer look.

Story and photo credits: Trevor Hofmann

CarCostCanada

2019 Buick Encore Essence AWD Road Test

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Story and photo credits: Trevor Hofmann

CarCostCanada

2019 BMW X1 xDrive28i Road Test

2019 BMW X1 xDrive28i
The second-gen X1 has styling on its side, helping it earn most popular status amongst entry-level luxury SUVs. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

If we don’t count Mini’s Countryman, the BMW X1 was the first subcompact luxury crossover SUV to hit the market. It arrived on the European continent in 2009 for the 2010 model year, a couple of years before it graced our shores as a 2012, while even as it showed up on BMW Canada showroom floors in April of 2011 there was nothing else to directly go up against it. It wasn’t until October of the same year that Land Rover introduced its Range Rover Evoque, thus creating a new automotive segment by providing the X1’s competition, fitting being that BMW once owned the British luxury SUV brand.

Interestingly, it would take an additional three years for Audi to arrive in Canada with its Q3 and Mercedes to enter its GLA-Class, unless we’re counting the much less expensive Buick Encore that showed up in 2013 (but we probably shouldn’t), plus another two years for Infiniti to ante up its QX30 (RIP), an additional three for the Jaguar E-Pace and Volvo XC40, and plus BMW’s sportier X2, and finally one more year for the new Lexus UX. Some more are expected, such as Alfa Romeo’s Tonale for 2022, and potentially Acura’s long rumoured CDX, but take note Infiniti’s already killed off its QX30, which may give pause to Acura. This said, Buick’s done well with its Encore, and while positioned at the lowest end of premium when it comes to price and prestige, an upcoming second-generation Encore, expected this coming year, could do even better.

2019 BMW X1 xDrive28i
The latest X1 looks a lot more like its larger X3 and X5 brethren, which is a very good thing. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

If we choose to consider Buick a real premium brand, then the Encore is by far the sales leader in this subcompact luxury SUV segment, but given its base price of $28,400, which isn’t even as lofty as the Mini SUV’s base price of $31,690, it’s not truly in the same league as the Europeans and sole remaining Japanese. Still, 10,637 Encores sold in 2018 and 8,322 as of October 31, 2019 is nothing to sneeze at, especially when considering BMW leads the category with 5,308 customers in 2018 and 3,753 so far in 2019. Factoring in the X1’s base price of $41,500, mind you, shows the comparison is hardly fair.

By the way, you can get all 2019 BMW X1 package and individual option pricing right here at CarCostCanada, as well as valuable rebate info and dealer invoice pricing that could save you thousands. In fact, you can currently save up to $2,000 in additional incentives on this 2019 model, or $1,000 on the new 2020 X1, all before even asking for a discount. You can also check out all of the above for any SUV mentioned in this review, such as the Mercedes GLA-Class, Lexus UX, Audi Q3, Range Rover Evoque, BMW X2, Volvo XC40, Jaguar E-Pace, Infiniti QX30, Mini Countryman, and even the Buick Encore.

Where that Buick is a heavily massaged Chevrolet Trax that’s stingy on fuel and reasonably generous with features, albeit not so much when it comes to performance or refinement, and BMW offers strong performance along with some of the best quality, refinement and functionality in the class.

2019 BMW X1 xDrive28i
LED headlights, fog lamps, chrome and aluminum-like trim, plus sharp looking alloys combine together for one great looking SUV. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

So as not to beat up on the Encore, which I quite like for urban commuting, some of BMW’s challengers wouldn’t have received particularly high marks in all categories just noted, at least initially. The first generation Audi Q3 was weak on straight-line performance and so-so when it came to refinement, while the original X1 wasn’t exactly a marvel of the latter quality either, criticized by many (including yours truly) for less than ideal interior surface treatments. 

BMW’s smallest SUV is now in its second generation, and as part of its “upgrade” has had its superb rear-drive E91 3 Series Touring-platform replaced with the aforementioned Mini Countryman’s second-gen front-drive-biased UKL2 architecture, so therefore today’s X1 is a completely different vehicle than yesterday’s. It began out as a low, lean rear wheel-biased AWD crossover, and has morphed into a more conventionally shaped luxury SUV, looking much more like its bigger X3 and X5 brethren. Impressive sales growth in 2016 and 2017 backed up the German automaker’s decision to take the little X1 in its more comfort-oriented direction, and while those numbers slipped slightly in 2018 and so far this year, I’m guessing it has more to do with the brand’s introduction of the new X2 than any lack of X1 interest, while even more importantly the X1 remains number one amongst true subcompact luxury SUVs, even when not factoring in the new X2.

2019 BMW X1 xDrive28i
The X1’s cabin is a step above most rivals in quality of materials and refinement. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

By the numbers, X1’s previously-noted Q3+1 sales of 3,753 units puts it far in front of the second-place Merc GLA with 3,021 deliveries, and does likewise against Lexus’ new UX at 2,374 units, which already stole third from the Audi Q3 due to only 2,374 units sold over the past 10 months. Volvo’s XC40 did quite well for an all-new model at 1,690 units, and Land Rover’s recently redone Range Rover Evoque should be commended for its 1,333 new customers due to its higher than average price, but we really need to laud BMW for finding another 1,159 clients for its segment-busting X2, which did even better than Jaguar’s new E-Pace at only 372 deliveries. As for Infiniti’s now cancelled QX30, 93 deliveries doesn’t represent how good this little SUV was, but more accurately tells a story of luxury brand weakness when compared to the strength of Lexus, plus of course the Germans.

Speaking of German strength, BMW shows just how dominant it is in this segment when we combine the sales of both X1 and X2 models, which have accumulated to 4,912 deliveries so far this year, and that’s even before including 2,082 Countryman sales (Mini is a BMW subsidiary after all), which increases sales to 6,994 units. That’s almost as much as you get when adding up all Mercedes GLA, Lexus UX and Audi Q3 deliveries over the same period, which resulted in just 7,698 sales.

2019 BMW X1 xDrive28i
The cockpit provides superb features with total comfort. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Unless you’re opposed to success, X1 owners should feel pretty good about their choice. Of course, there are many other reasons to feel positive about their X1, particularly if it’s outfitted as nicely as my tester. While the satin-silver trim on the lower valances and rocker panels came standard, the stylish Mediterranean Blue Metallic paint was a worthwhile $895 option, especially because it allowed for the $950 upgrade from base leatherette to luxurious brown Mocha Dakota Leather upholstery across the dash, doors and seats; Oyster Grey and Black leather also available with this colour.

My tester’s open-pore Oak Grain hardwood inlays with chrome and brush-metal accents were no-cost options that made the interior look even more attractive (yet more woods, brushed aluminum or piano black lacquered inlays can substituted), while most surfaces above the waste were finished in high-quality pliable composites, making the X1 feel a bit more premium than most challengers.

While nicer than leatherette, BMW’s Dakota leather is not its highest grade, but you won’t be able to get Nappa or Merino hides in this entry-level SUV. It’s nevertheless genuine leather, boasting the right fragrance, feel and durability, while my tester’s seat inserts were perforated for aeration. This said, the seats didn’t include forced ventilation, but the three-way seat heaters quickly warmed up near therapeutic levels when their highest temperature settings were chosen, making the already comfortable driver’s seat downright cozy.

2019 BMW X1 xDrive28i
These look like a regular set of analogue BMW gauges, but they float above a cool digital background. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

My test model’s front seat four-way lumbar support wasn’t standard, but instead comes as part of two option packages, the first being the $3,500 Premium Package Essential group that adds power-folding side mirrors, proximity keyless Comfort Access, auto-dimming centre/rearview and outside mirrors, a big panoramic glass sunroof, a HiFi audio system upgrade, plus an alarm, and the second as-tested $5,900 Premium Package Enhanced including all of the above as well as a head-up display unit, a universal garage door opener, satellite radio, navigation/route guidance, semi-autonomous Park Assistant, BMW’s ConnectedDrive Services Package, and a power tailgate.

Both upgrade packages are available with a heated steering wheel, as well as a $1,000 Driving Assistant Plus package that includes approach warning with pedestrian alert and light city braking, lane departure warning, adaptive cruise control with stop-and-go and traffic jam assist, plus high-beam assist and speed limit information.

Upgrades in mind, my tester also included a $950 Sport Performance Package with a special Sport automatic transmission featuring steering wheel-mounted paddle-shifters (this worth the money alone), a more reactive M Sport Steering system, plus larger 19-inch alloys, although I should point out that my test model was intelligently fitted out for winter and therefore had a set of 225/50R18 Continental ContiWinterContact tires added to its unique M Sport split five-spoke alloy rims.

2019 BMW X1 xDrive28i
Steering wheel-mounted paddles are always appreciated. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Anyone that’s driven on winter tires will tell you their performance over anything but snow or ice will be compromised, and thus my test model’s handling potential wouldn’t have been able to fully measure up to the regular base wheel and tire package, let alone the performance-oriented 19s it was supposed to be shod with. Just the same it proved more engaging than (more or less) the same X1 wearing 17-inch winters for my 2016 X1 xDrive28i review, which were smaller in diameter due to that older model only coming with 18-inch rubber in base trim.

Other than wheels and tires, not a lot appears to have changed over the past three years, mind you, which obviously (as previous noted by the X1’s sales volume) doesn’t make any difference to X1 owners, or for that matter to yours truly. The X1’s sole engine, a 2.0-litre turbo-four, continues to make 228 horsepower and 258 lb-ft of torque, which is formidable when compared to a few competitors, such as the Lexus UX or base Mercedes GLA, but it doesn’t come close to matching the 375-horsepower Merc AMG CLA 45, or for that matter top-tier trims of the E-Pace, Evoque or XC40, but once again the X1’s popularity proves that all-out performance hardly matters in this practical class.

2019 BMW X1 xDrive28i
The X1 centre stack is filled with functionality, most of which is housed in its beautiful high-resolution widescreen display. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

The little BMW was more than adequately powered for my needs, particularly when Sport mode was engaged, which caused the standard eight-speed automatic gearbox to shift quicker, whether actuated by paddles or left on its own. All-wheel drive comes standard, and in wet conditions aided traction in a straight line and during fast-paced cornering, while the X1 certainly feels agile when compared to some rivals. Still, others have an edge when driven to their limits, especially the top-line Mercedes-AMG, while the first-gen X1 was considerably more capable through the slalom too.

I personally believe comfort matters a lot more in this class, and to that end today’s X1 is wholly more viable than its predecessor and some more sport-oriented competitors, whether you’ve set its powertrain to its more relaxed Comfort or Eco modes or not. I find the X1’s ride especially good for its compact size, and while we’re being so practical, even mentioning the little SUV’s thrifty Eco mode, BMW claims a fuel economy rating of 10.7 L/100km city, 7.5 highway and 9.3 combined, which isn’t too bad at all.

2019 BMW X1 xDrive28i
These are two of the most comfortable front seats you’ll likely find in this class. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

You’ll probably have comfort more on the mind than efficiency when seated inside, however, the driver’s seat of my tester particularly good thanks to its aforementioned four-way power lumbar support, which can precisely find the small of anyone’s back, plus it incorporates power-adjustable side bolsters to snuggly embrace one’s backside, as well as thigh extensions that nicely cup below the knees for lower leg support. The steering column is also more adjustable than some rivals, providing about four inches of telescopic reach, which, together with that driver’s seat, allowed my long-legged, short-torso five-foot-eight body to fit inside perfectly, enhancing both comfort and control of the steering wheel and pedals. Unfortunately this is not always the case, forcing me to power a competitor’s seat squab and/or backrest too far forward for comfort in order to achieve control. Such optimal adjustability makes the X1 better for more peoples’ body types, which is a dealmaker for me.

Rear passengers should find plenty of positives as well, with window seat backrests that provide plenty of support and a third centre seat that’s not entirely uncomfortable (this is a luxury subcompact, after all). Two abreast in back is ideal, mind you, letting rear passengers enjoy the wide, although slightly low centre armrest when folded down in between, plus the convenience of its pop-out cupholders. When I was seated behind the driver’s position, which was set up for me and therefore extended farther rearward than most five-foot-eight adults would require, I still had about four inches in front of my knees, plus another four to five over my head, and four next to my shoulders and hips. In other words, I never once felt the need for more space.

2019 BMW X1 xDrive28i
The optional panoramic sunroof opens up the interior to plenty of overhead light. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

The big panoramic sunroof above should certainly reduce any feelings of claustrophobia, while anyone scared of the dark can use the LED reading lights to quell their fear, which shouldn’t negatively impact the X1 driver’s view ahead at night. Unfortunately no seat warmers could be found for rear passengers, which is a strange shortcoming in this class, but at least rear surface treatments and other details are just as nice as those found up front.

The cargo area is well finished too, with good quality carpets covering the sidewalls, the cargo floor, which is removable and exposes a big hidden storage compartment below, plus the carpeted rear seatbacks are split in the category’s optimal 40/20/40 configuration. This makes the X1 perfect for skiers that bring along rear passengers, as you can stow skis (or any other long items) down the middle while rear occupants enjoy the more comfortable window seats. The rearmost cargo compartment provides 505 litres (17.8 cubic feet) of space, which is sizeable, while levers on each sidewall automatically lower those just-noted seatbacks down for an even more accommodating 1,550-litre (54.7 cubic-foot) storage area.

2019 BMW X1 xDrive28i
The X1’s rear seating area is large and very comfortable for its subcompact SUV size. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Back up front, the X1 gets a fairly conventional looking primary gauge cluster consisting of two big analogue dials, albeit they seem as if they’re floating amid a digital background that’s particularly attractive when lit up at night. That background is a multi-information display of course, filled with a comprehensive assortment of functions.

Atop the dash in the centermost position is a large, wide, high-definition infotainment display featuring beautiful colours and deep contrasts, plus very attractive and highly functional graphics. The system is a step above some competitors in that it’s not only controlled by BMW’s console-mounted iDrive dial and quick-access switchgear, but can also be activated through its fully capacitive touchscreen that lets you tap, pinch, and swipe to your heart’s content, just like with a tablet or smartphone. It’s a very smart and quick responding system too, while all of its various functions performed just as advertised during my weeklong test, including the navigation system that took me exactly where I wanted to go multiple times (not always the case).

2019 BMW X1 xDrive28i
Skiers rejoice! The X1’s 40/20/40-split rear seatbacks are optimal. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

The audio upgrade provided great sound quality as well, while the X1 includes some regular analogue stereo controls on the centre stack such as a power/volume dial and a row of radio presets just above a comprehensive set of dual-zone auto climate controls. It’s all nicely organized, adding to this little BMW’s overall impressiveness.

In the case of the BMW X1, following the crowd is a very good idea. After all, a vehicle won’t be able to earn top spot in a given class by chance, which is why those considering a small luxury SUV should put BMW’s X1 high on their shopping list. It truly is excellent in most every way.

Story credit: Trevor Hofmann