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

2019 Mazda CX-9 Signature Road Test

2019 Mazda CX-9 Signature
The CX-9 is one stylish looking mid-size contender.

I want you to try something. The next time you’re considering the purchase of a new car or SUV, first go to the closest Mazda retailer, or at least check out the Mazda stand at your local car show, and take a seat inside the equivalent model you’re considering buying from an alternative brand. I’m willing to guess you’ll soon be wondering why your current vehicle isn’t a Mazda, or if you should still be considering any competitive models for your next ride.

This is true even if you currently own something made by a premium brand, Aston Martin, Bentley or Rolls-Royce aside. That same Mazda may cause you to question why you paid so much more for your domestic, Japanese or European luxury vehicle. Step into one of Mazda’s Signature trim lines and you’ll be feeling glummer still.

2019 Mazda CX-9 Signature
It might look like it’s all style and no substance, but the CX-9 provides plenty of interior room.

The top-line Signature trim is available in the Mazda6 mid-size sedan, plus Mazda’s CX-5 compact crossover SUV and the very CX-9 mid-size seven-passenger crossover being reviewed here. Together with the usual assortment of high-end features included in any given brand’s best equipped models, Signature trim includes such niceties as 19- to 20-inch alloy wheels, a powered steering column, a surround parking camera, front parking sensors to go along with the rear parking sensors already added, ventilated front seats, heated rear seats, and more depending on the model. Making it look and feel like it’s from a premium brand, not to mention a higher trim level from that premium brand, Mazda makes it even nicer by adding supple Nappa leather upholstery as well as real hardwood trim, my CX-9 Signature tester featuring Santos Rosewood on the centre console and all the door switchgear panels, front and rear.

Additionally, cloth-covered roof pillars are pulled up from lesser trims, while Mazda also boasts more pliable, padded premium surfaces than the majority of mainstream volume rivals, even in models not providing Signature trim lines like the recently redesigned Mazda3, making the independent automaker’s levels of refinement surprisingly good to those not yet initiated.

2019 Mazda CX-9 Signature
How’s this for a big, imposing luxury brand grille?

The CX-9 Signature shown here is as near premium as mainstream volume carmakers get. The multi-tiered dash is completely covered in padded leatherette that extends around to the door uppers front to rear. What’s more, the soft upper section of the instrument panel and harder lower composite panels are divided by a beautifully detailed metallic inlay that really feels genuine, this extending visually to the corner vents as well, plus the side door panels.

Thanks to my tester’s available Snowflake White Pearl exterior paint, it came standard with gorgeous Chroma Brown Nappa leather upholstery that also visually extends to the instrument panel, lower console and door inserts. It feels ultra rich on those doors thanks to a thick memory foam underlay, while a similar brown colour gets used for the thread stitching the leather-wrapped steering wheel and armrests together.

Piano black lacquer can be found inside too, but only in tastefully small applications around the shift lever and the doors’ power window switch panels, while the power mirror toggle is nicely detailed out in knurled aluminum like the infotainment system dial on the lower console. Plenty of satin-finish aluminum trim can be found through the cabin too, Mazda even coating the power seat controls with a satin metallic surface treatment for a truly upscale look.

2019 Mazda CX-9 Signature
The CX-9 Signature doesn’t miss a beat, with LED headlamps, LED fog lights, and 20-inch alloys.

On the digital front, Mazda upgraded the primary gauge package in GT models and above for 2019. It looks like a regular three-dial cluster at first glance, but the centrally-mounted speedometer and two surrounding efficiency/range gauges are in fact part of a 7.0-inch colour display, this bookended by three analogue gauges to the left and right, including a tachometer, temperature readout and fuel gauge. This represents a big change over the previous 2016-2018 CX-9 gauge cluster, which included analogue gauges on the left and centre, plus a colour multi-info display on the right. Now the multi-info display is housed within the circular digital speedometer, and provides a whole host of helpful features.

Improving on the new gauge cluster is a head-up display unit that projects key info onto the windscreen, even including a speed limit reminder that I really appreciated.

2019 Mazda CX-9 Signature
The LED taillight detailing is gorgeous.

Over at dash centre is an 8.0-inch infotainment touchscreen with nice, attractive, high-resolution graphics. The display itself is a fixed, upright tablet-like design as seen on the CX-9 and other Mazda models for years. Premium brands first made this design popular and Mazda was one of the first mainstream marques to adopt it, while it’s only just starting to catch on amongst volume-branded challengers. My test model’s infotainment system featured an impressive new double-screen parking camera with the usual rearview monitor as well as a superb 360-degree bird’s-eye view, making negotiating a tight parking spot especially easy when combined with its front and rear sonar system.

Also new for 2019 is Apple CarPlay and Android Auto smartphone integration, plus SiriusXM Traffic Plus and Travel Link data services with information on real-time traffic, weather conditions, fuel prices, and sports scores, while the infotainment system also includes navigation with detailed mapping, excellent 12-speaker Bose audio with Centerpoint surround sound and AudioPilot noise compensation technologies, plus SurroundStage signal processing, HD and satellite radio, voice activation, Bluetooth phone connectivity with streaming audio, text message reading and response capability, plus more.

2019 Mazda CX-9 Signature
The brownish-red on black interior is a nice touch.

An infotainment feature that sets Mazda apart from its mainstream competitors yet aligns it with pricier luxury branded alternatives is its lower console-mounted controller. It’s made up of a big metal-edged rotating dial that navigates the display, plus a smaller audio volume knob, and a bunch of fast-access buttons. Using this interface to modulate the infotainment system will be more comfortable than stretching an arm to the dash to actuate the touchscreen, at least for some users, but this said you can still use the touchscreen for smartphone-style tap, swipe and pinch finger gestures, the latter function perfect for changing the scale on the navigation system’s map, for instance.

As you may have noticed earlier, the CX-9 has been around in its current form since 2016 when Mazda introduced this second generation, which makes its premium levels of interior refinement even more amazing. You’ll actually need to sidle up beside the CX-9 Signature in the new 2020 Hyundai Palisade or Kia Telluride if you want to improve upon its rich interior (although I must confess to not yet testing the 2020 Toyota Highlander). Also notable, this current generation CX-9 is no longer based on the Ford Edge, but instead rides on Mazda’s SkyActiv platform.

2019 Mazda CX-9 Signature
The CX-9’s cabin design and execution is a cut above most competitors.

Made up of the mid-size SUV segment’s usual McPherson struts up front and multi-link setup in the rear with coil springs and a stabilizer bar at both ends, Mazda retuned it for 2019 to provide even better ride quality. Now it’s ideal for managing unkempt inner-city streets, overly large bridge expansion joints and otherwise poorly paved stretches of roadway elsewhere, while the latest CX-9 is also impressive on the open highway where its revised steering allows for better high-speed tracking.

Mazda’s dynamic pressure turbocharged SkyActiv-G 2.5-litre four-cylinder engine puts out ample passing power due to 250 horsepower, plus it gets up and goes quickly from standstill thanks to a whopping 320 lb-ft of torque. Understand that the CX-9 might look slim and stylish, but it’s in fact a sizeable seven-occupant crossover utility, but the highly efficient turbo-four nevertheless provides strong performance in town and more than enough when more open roads start winding. Sadly Mazda left steering wheel-mounted paddles off the menu, but the gear lever allowed for manual shifting when I wanted to extract as much performance from the powertrain as possible.

2019 Mazda CX-9 Signature
The new 7.0-inch digital gauge cluster puts the multi-information display within the speedometer at centre.

Interestingly, Mazda clearly specifies that the CX-9’s engine will only make full power when 93 octane gasoline or higher is fed into its tank, and knowing my colleagues all too well I’m going to guess that most use cheaper 87 octane when it comes time to refill. Therefore my tester was probably only making the 227 horsepower Mazda claims its capable of when lower grade gasoline is added, but it was still plenty quick. This may be because its impressive torque rating only loses 10 lb-ft without high-test fuel, and merely requires 2,000 rpm to provide full torque, so I personally wouldn’t waste any money on pricier fuel.

A metal rocker switch next to the shift lever allows for Sport mode, which improves acceleration due to the six-speed transmission’s ability to hold a given gear right up to redline, plus it won’t automatically shift when it spins up to the solid red line at 6,300 rpm, but instead holds its gear for more control through corners. This is a very rare feature in this mostly practical market segment, and therefore provides the CX-9 with more excitement than its rivals, despite only using a six-speed autobox. Together with its agile suspension setup, notably upgraded for 2019, and its fairly direct feeling engine-speed-sensing variable power-assist rack-and-pinion steering system, which collectively iron out tight curving roadways impressively, it’s a very well sorted SUV.

2019 Mazda CX-9 Signature
New for 2019, a surround view parking monitor is available.

G-Vectoring Control technology carries over from the previous CX-9, the technology seamlessly moving more torque to the front wheels during corner entry and then sending it rearward when exiting. To most it will be imperceptible, only adding stability that’s especially welcome amid inclement weather like the rainstorm I experienced during my test week. This is when I was also glad Mazda makes its i-Activ AWD system standard in trims above the base GS model, putting all of my Signature model’s 255/50R20 all-season tires to work.

All-wheel drive will be standard next year, so Mazda won’t be able to claim its current FWD model’s most efficient 10.6 L/100km city, 8.4 highway and 9.6 combined fuel economy rating. The AWD CX-9’s fuel economy is rated at 11.6, 9.1 and 10.5 respectively, incidentally, which despite making significantly more than the Kia Sorento is nearly as efficient by comparison, the Korean SUV achieving 11.2 in the city, 9.0 on the highway and 10.2 combined, whereas the V6-powered Highlander somehow gets a Transport Canada rating of 12.1 L/100km city, 9.0 highway and 10.6 combined.

2019 Mazda CX-9 Signature
That’s real rosewood around the lower console.

Igniting the CX-9’s engine only requires the press of a dash-mounted button, while access to the interior comes via proximity-sensing keyless entry. You’ll need to press on of the less than subtle black buttons on the front door handles to make the system work, and take note that Mazda hasn’t added a set of these buttons to the rear door handles like some others, but I must say that once inside the CX-9’s driver ergonomics are better than many of its competitors. The 10-way powered driver’s seat includes the usual fore, aft, up, down, tilt and recline functions, plus two-way powered lumbar support that actually pressed up against the small of my back perfectly (what luck!), but you might want to personally check this feature out for yourself. All said my tester proved wonderfully comfortable throughout my test week, with some of that credit needing to go to the powered tilt and telescopic steering column’s long reach.

Sitting behind my driver’s seat I found the second row window seat roomy, comfortable and supportive all-round. A wide centre armrest folds down when three abreast is a crowd in back, replete with a set of cupholders as per every other competitor in this segment, while the tri-zone automatic climate control system gets an attractive interface on the backside of the front console, featuring rocker switches for the previously noted three-way heated rear window seats.

2019 Mazda CX-9 Signature
Unlike its mainstream peers, but like many premium brands, the CX-9 provides this infotainment control interface.

The outboard second-row seats easily slide forward for ample access to the rearmost row, and while the third row offers a nice, comfortable set of backrests and lower cushions, there’s not much room for an average sized adult’s knees and feet unless the 60/40-split second row is pushed far enough forward that it’ll start feeling claustrophobic for its passengers. Thus the third row better used by smallish adults or children.

When that third row is in use there’s not much space for cargo, but nevertheless Mazda says that it’s good for 407-litre loads. I certainly never had need for the rearmost seats so I left them tucked away most of the time, which allowed for a very accommodating 1,082 litres (38.2 cu ft) of total cargo volume. The second row lies flat when required too, but being that it’s divided with a less than optimal 60/40 split it’s impossible to use the rear seat heater when stowing skis or other long items longitudinally. Better would be a centre pass-through or even more optimal 40/20/40 split-folding second row, but at least the CX-7 maxes its cargo capacity out at a sizeable 2,017 litres (71.2 cu ft) when all seats are lowered. The cargo area is properly finished as well, with carpeting protecting three-quarters of each sidewall, while a sturdy load floor can be lifted to expose a shallow carpeted storage compartment below.

2019 Mazda CX-9 Signature
These Nappa leather-covered seats are ultra-comfortable.

Other notable storage areas include an overhead console sunglasses holder, a big open area ahead of the shift lever, a large bin below the front centre armrest, and lastly the glove box that’s quite large and lined with a nice velvet-like material. Yes, Mazda certainly goes all the way in dressing up its flagship SUV. 

Refinement in mind, Mazda stuffs all of the unseen areas with sound-deadening insulation, while the windshield and front windows use noise-isolating glass. The CX-9’s body is ultra-rigid too, while aforementioned improvements made to the steering and suspension systems help to eliminate unwanted noise while improving the SUV’s overall feeling of solidity. Everything from the way the CX-9’s doors close to its general driving dynamics make it seem like it should be badged by a luxury carmaker, while its very quiet inside too.

2019 Mazda CX-9 Signature
The second-row seats are comfortable and there’s plenty of room.

Peace of mind is important too, and to this end the CX-9 Signature provides one of the more advanced collections of active and passive safety gear available. Of course all the usual active and passive safety features are included, although these are supported with forward obstruction warning, Smart Brake Support and Smart City Brake Support autonomous emergency braking with pedestrian detection, advanced blind spot monitoring, rear cross traffic alert, lane departure warning, lane keeping assist, traffic sign recognition, new seatbelt reminders on the second- and third-row seats, adaptive cruise control with stop and go, and more.

Other premium-like features include an electric parking brake, a new frameless auto-dimming rearview mirror, new power-folding door mirrors, a Homelink universal garage door opener, a revised overhead console with LED overhead and ambient lighting plus a better designed LED room lamp control switch, while its heatable leather-wrapped steering wheel with cross-stitched detailing is a wonderful way to wake up on a cold winter morning.

2019 Mazda CX-9 Signature
The third row is best left for kids.

Additionally, the previously noted driver’s seat includes memory, while the CX-9 Signature also adds an eight-way powered front passenger’s seat with power lumbar, plus rear side window sunshades and more for only $51,500 (plus freight and fees), which is great value when put up beside luxury branded crossover SUVs with the same level of features, and just right when comparing volume-branded competitors with similar equipment. The only obvious feature void was the lack of a panoramic sunroof, the regular sized power moonroof overhead looking a bit too commonplace this day and age.

Speaking of the CX-9’s price and features, be sure to check out its various trims, packages and individual options at our 2019 Mazda CX-9 Canada Prices page, plus learn about available manufacturer rebates, in-house financing/leasing deals, and dealer invoice pricing to save even more. In fact you can get up to $2,500 in additional incentives on the 2019 CX-9 (at least you could at the time of writing), or up to $1,000 off when choosing the virtually identical 2020 CX-9.

2019 Mazda CX-9 Signature
There’s plenty of cargo space when the third row is folded flat.

Saving what some will claim as the CX-9’s best attribute for last, its dramatic yet tasteful styling could easily come from a high-end premium automaker. The SUV’s satin-silver grille is big and oh-so dramatic, its lower half even including night illumination, while full LED headlamps with automatic high beams, adaptive cornering capability and auto self-levelling seem like extensions of the grille’s chromed end pieces. An aerodynamic lower front fascia features integrated LED fog lamps, while slim LED tail lamps highlight the SUV’s rear quarters, and elegant satin-chrome trim can be found from front to back. Overall, the CX-9 is one sleek and elegant looking mid-size, three-row crossover SUV, which certainly makes it stand out in its crowded segment, just in case its impressive luxury, host of features, excellent driving dynamics and complete suite of advanced driving assistive systems haven’t caused you to sign on the dotted line.

Yes, like I said at the beginning of this review, the CX-9 will make a good first impression if you give it a chance. I highly recommend it.

Story and photo credits: Trevor Hofmann

2019 Jaguar F-Pace SVR Road Test

2019 Jaguar F-Pace SVR
The Jaguar F-Pace SVR looks as good as it drives.

My gawd this thing is nuts! The power, the insane sound of the supercharged V8’s sport exhaust system, and the near overwhelming sensation of 550 horsepower and 502 lb-ft of torque pressing head and backside into the opulent red and black diamond-pattern leather-upholstered driver’s seat at launch while fingers grasp at the leather-wrapped sport steering wheel rim, there’s really nothing that completely mirrors it in the compact luxury SUV segment.

With a flagship sport utility like the F-Pace SVR you’d think this SUV would be tops in its hotly contested class, and while it’s certainly the best selling model within Jaguar’s range it appears luxury buyers are more interested in being comforted than having their senses wowed by ultimate performance. Truly, F-Pace and most Jaguar models deserve more attention than they get.

2019 Jaguar F-Pace SVR
Plenty of functional aero add-ons give the SVR a uniquely powerful appearance.

For starters, the F-Pace is inarguably attractive no matter which trim we’re talking about, with this SVR amongst the best looking in its category. There’s no crossover SUV I find more attractive, unless the outrageous Lamborghini Urus enters the discussion, or for that matter Audi’s Q8 that shares much of its running gear, but the ultimate Italian, at least, hovers up in a totally different pricing stratosphere with a base price of $240,569 CAD, compared to a mere $89,900 for this 2019 F-Pace SVR.

The cheapest Q8 will save you $7k and change, but the sporty looking German’s $82,350 entry model merely puts out 335 horsepower, and while a superbly comfortable and wholly attractive, well-made urban and freeway cruiser it’s doesn’t even enter the same performance league as the SVR. The equivalent Q8 is the upcoming near 600-hp RS, but that upcoming model will eventually cost you something around $110,000 (its pricing hadn’t been announced before I wrote these words, and it’s bigger mid-size proportions means it doesn’t directly compete).

2019 Jaguar F-Pace SVR
These black 22-inch alloys are optional, but everything else shown here is standard with the SVR.

Targeted rivals in mind, Audi does offer up the 349-hp SQ5 in the F-Pace’s compact luxury SUV segment, and while a fully capable autobahn stormer, its 5.4-second sprint from zero to 100 km/h can’t line up against the SVR’s 4.3 seconds, and I can attest that its 3.0-litre turbo V6 doesn’t come close to sounding as Mephistophelian as the SVR’s supercharged 5.0-litre V8.

A truer F-Pace SVR competitor is the new Mercedes-AMG GLC 63 4Matic+ that makes 503 horsepower and 516 lb-ft of torque from a 4.0-litre twin-turbocharged V8 resulting in a blast from standstill to 100km/h in only 3.8 seconds. The Merc tops out at 280 km/h (174 mph) compared to the Jag’s slightly quicker 283 km/h (176 mph) terminal velocity, so they nearly share their two key bragging rights evenly. All you need do if you desire the Mercedes is to add about five percent or $4k onto your purchase, the AMG available just over $93k, unless you end up purchasing the 2020 F-Pace SVR that is, which is now $92k even.

2019 Jaguar F-Pace SVR
Plenty of alternative SVR interior colour themes are available if red and black isn’t your thing.

Top-selling German compact luxury SUVs in mind, the BMW X3 M deserves mention too, thanks to 503 horsepower (in the Competition model), 442 lb-ft of torque, and a 4.1-second sprint from standstill to 100 km/h, all from an inline TwinPower turbo six-cylinder. The top-tier Competition model will set you back $93,500 plus fees, while the 473 horsepower base X3 M costs just $83,200.

See all pricing for the 2019 and 2020 F-Pace (or any of the SUVs mentioned) right here at CarCostCanada, including trims, packages and standalone options, while you can also access manufacturer rebate info, plus special deals including factory leasing and financing rates from zero percent (at the time of writing), as well as dealer invoice pricing that could save you thousands (there’s up to $3,075 in additional incentives on 2020 models right now) when becoming a member.

2019 Jaguar F-Pace SVR
The F-Pace SVR provides one rich looking cabin made of very high quality materials.

I haven’t driven the BMW X3 M or the GLC 63 4Matic+, but I’ve driven a lot of six-cylinder BMW Ms and AMG V8s, and while brilliant in their own rights, neither sounds as malevolent as Jaguar’s V8. Sure, the zero to 100km/h numbers are better and their prices aren’t much higher, but performance fans will know how important the auditory experience is to the thrill of high-speed driving. As for measuring the few milliseconds of sprint time differences, that’s downright impossible from the seat of the pants.

Using the Mercedes for comparison, both of these compact luxury SUVs provide nearly identical wheelbases of 2,874 millimetres for the SVR and 2,873 mm for the AMG, while their tracks are nearly the same too, the Jag measuring 1,641 mm up front and 1,654 mm in the rear and the Merc spanning 1,660 mm at both axles, but despite the F-Pace being 52 mm lengthier at 4,731 mm, 79 mm wider (mirrors included) at 2,175 mm, and 42 mm taller at 1,667 mm, plus having 100 litres of extra cargo capacity behind the back seats at 650 litres, it tips the scales 67 kilos lighter at just 1,995 kg. That’s thanks to its mostly aluminum body and chassis over Mercedes’ mix of steels and alloys.

2019 Jaguar F-Pace SVR
The 12.3-inch digital gauge cluster can be configured in many different layouts.

I can’t move past this point without mentioning two more compact SUVs capable of contending in this ultra-fast compact luxury SUV category, these being the Porsche Macan Turbo and the Alfa Romeo Stelvio Quadrifoglio, the German making 400 or 440 horsepower depending on whether you’re looking at the outgoing 2019 model or the new second-generation 2020 variety, or for that matter choosing the older Macan with its Performance Package upgrade (which also puts out 440-hp). The more potent engine options make this German SUV’s acceleration similar to the F-Pace SVR, yet it’s pricing delves into six figures, while the zippy Italian produces 505 horsepower and sprints to 100 km/h in just 4.0 seconds, while its price starts at $95k. These two SUVs are impressive as well, but once again their turbocharged V6 engines, while brilliant, can’t measure up to the sonorous delights of Jaguar’s big, hairy V8.

Truly, you’ve got to hear it at full song to appreciate what I’m talking about. It’s giggle-inducing joy on one hand and devilish horror on the other, particularly after pressing the exhaust button that provides a freer flow resulting in more snap, crackle and pop from its backside when lifting off the gas pedal.

2019 Jaguar F-Pace SVR
The updated F-Pace touchscreen is a big improvement over the previous generation.

You’d think with this level of dark, malevolent behaviour its interior would be a hard stone dungeon of dank sombreness, and while some trim pulls thoughts of red hot hellfire, the SVR’s cabin gets raised the level of super SUVs from more exotic names. It’s also capable of loading in the kiddies and lots of family gear, thanks to that aforementioned cargo hauling capacity.

You can also experience some light off-roading, as long as you’re willing to change out my testers optional 22-inch black-painted rims and 265/40 front and 295/35 rear Pirelli Scorpion Zero all-season tires to something more useful off pavement. I’d recommend something around 18 inches in diameter with a higher sidewall and much more tread grip, but then again you’re probably not buying this SUV for scaling the Rubicon trail. No, it’s much more capable of turning winding side roads into straight stretches roadway, or at least its near flat stance at breathtaking speeds makes them feel as if they were straight.

2019 Jaguar F-Pace SVR
This performance page is a fun way to keep an eye on the SVR’s power and handling chops.

The F-Pace SVR’s wide track and lighter than average weight (for its length, big powerplant and over-the-top luxury upgrades), plus the just-mentioned Pirelli rubber (you can get even better performance from a set of Jaguar-specified P Zeros, available from tire retailers) and its stiffer aluminum-intensive front strut and rear multi-link suspension featuring sportier tuning to its adaptive setup, plus sharper electric power-steering tuning, all come together for about as much sports car feel as most any SUV can provide (Urus aside).

The SVR shines on the types of narrow, undulating, ribbons of asphalt that the mind conjures up when looking at an F-Type SVR, but I have to say I really appreciated the added ride height this SUV provided over any low-slung sports car when coursing through heavily treed backroads. To be clear, the F-Type remains the Jaguar to beat through winding roads, not to mention road courses, but when visibility around curves or over sharp declines becomes difficult, the extra few inches of added sight line makes for a bit more confidence at high speeds, as does the wheel travel and more compliant suspension of the bigger, heavier SUV. Both SVRs work best when their previously noted Dynamic driving modes are selected, over their more comforting and economical options at least, this more assertive adaptive suspension setup stopping its tall body from pitching and rolling.

2019 Jaguar F-Pace SVR
The full-leather cabin gets complemented by loads of genuine aluminum and available carbon fibre.

Of course, I didn’t drive it like I stole it during my entire weeklong test, and not just because of the otherworldly fuel cost. Transport Canada estimates a 14.5 L/100km city, with 11.0 highway and 12.7 combined, which not too bad considering its outrageous power. Alfa Romeo’s most formidable Stelvio is rated at 14.1, 10.4 and 12.4 respectively, while the new 2020 Macan Turbo manages 14.2 in the city, 10.1 on the highway and 12.0 combined. How about the Merc-AMG GLC 63? It’s pretty bad at 15.0 L/100km in the city, 10.9 on the highway and 13.2 combined, but BMW’s X3 M is the least fuel conscious amongst all rivals with an embarrassing rating of 16.6 city, 12.1 highway and 14.2 combined, if buyers in this class actually care.

Together with the SVR’s Dynamic sport mode mentioned before, which I kept engaged most of my test week, there’s also a Comfort mode for rougher road surfaces or more relaxing moods, plus an Eco mode, which I likely should have chosen more often for overcoming the fuel economy noted above. The latter two drive modes let the engine turn off when it would otherwise be idling, saving fuel and reducing emissions. The big Eco screen that estimated how much fuel I saved while using its most economical driving mode was a bit humourous in this beast of an SUV, but fortunately the centre display offers up a Performance panel too, which I found much more useful.

2019 Jaguar F-Pace SVR
The SVR seats are fabulous.

Unlike most in this class, the F-Pace only uses a touchscreen for accessing infotainment, which will put off those who prefer to make commands via a lower console-mounted controller. I like touchscreens so it’s not an issue, and even better Jaguar’s interface has wholly improved in recent years. The display itself is fairly big at just over 10 inches, while the digital interface is divided into three big tiles for navigation/route guidance/maps, media, and phone, or whatever functions you choose as it can be organized for personal preferences. Swipe the display to the left and a second panel with nine smaller tiles shows up, providing access to most any function you could want. It’s a simple, straightforward system and thus user-friendly, with its just-mentioned swipe gesture control accompanied by the usual smartphone/tablet-type tap and pinch capabilities, the latter helpful when using the nav system’s map. Android Auto and Apple CarPlay smartphone integration apps are included too, as are myriad additional features (although you’ll need to pay more for satellite radio), Jaguar’s system being fully up to the class standards.

2019 Jaguar F-Pace SVR
A panoramic sunroof is standard.

Better yet, the SVR’s 12.3-inch Interactive Driver Display (a.k.a. digital instrument cluster) is wonderful. It’s fully configurable, with the ability to appear like a classic two-dial primary gauge package, a single driving dial with a numeric speed readout surrounded by a graphical tach at centre with a panel filled with alternative info to each side, while you can also transform the entire cluster into a giant map. Go ahead an configure almost any way you want, while an available head-up display can provide even more key info right on the windshield.

There’s decent device connectivity within a minuscule centre bin, including dual USB-A ports, a Micro SD card slot, plus a 12-volt charger. Why Jaguar didn’t include a wireless charging as part of the rubberized pad ahead of the shifter that fit my Samsung S9 perfectly is anyone’s guess, but such is life. Oddly it’s not even available as an option for 2019 or 2020, so ask your dealer if there’s an aftermarket solution.

2019 Jaguar F-Pace SVR
The two rear outboard seats are wonderfully comfortable.

From the quality of electronics to the quality of the F-Pace SVR’s interior materials, not to mention interior quality and style of the five compact luxury SUVs discussed in this review, it’ll come down to personally taste, with all presenting fairly dramatic interior designs packed with better than average materials quality and worthwhile digital screen time. Having spent time with each of these vehicles in lesser trims for weeks apiece, I’d probably give the overall quality nod to Porsche quickly followed by BMW and Mercedes, with Jaguar SUVs seeming to have conceded the ultimate interior mantle to its Land Rover sister brand. The F-Pace is related to the Range Rover Velar, which provides a far more appealing cabin), whereas my Stelvio tester was the only vehicle in 20 years of reviewing cars that’s ever left its ultra-cheap hood release lever in my hand after trying to take a look at the engine (which I unfortunately never saw or photographed due to this bizarre malfunction).

2019 Jaguar F-Pace SVR
This two-way automatic climate control panel on the backside of the front console allows rear outboard passengers to set their own temperatures, plus heat or cool their seats.

The SVR does up the quality of its cabin materials plus its overall sense of occasion when compared to lesser F-Pace trims, especially when the optional black Suedecloth roofliner and pillars get added. Contrast stitched premium leather can be found just about everywhere else, the bottom portion my test model’s dash and centre console, plus its armrests and seat bolsters finished in a rich Pimento red colour, while Ebony Lozenge hides covered most other surfaces, including the quilted leather seat inserts. It’s an eye-catching design, but I personally would want something less red. I loved the carbon-fibre detailing elsewhere, mind you (this being an upgrade over the standard textured Weave aluminum inlays), while plenty of piano black lacquer glitz things up further. Ditto for brushed aluminum trim, the SVR replete with genuine aluminum accents, my favourite bits being seat backrest cutouts front and back.

While some in the super-SUV class only provide space for four, the F-Pace SVR includes a middle seat in back, but I personally wouldn’t want to sit on top of it, as it’s little more than a padded bump between two wonderfully sculpted outboard seats. For those who need somewhere to strap in a smaller child, it could be a dealmaker, but bigger kids and adults alike will be snapping up the window seats first, which provide excellent support all-round. Rear passengers can also benefit from as-tested available quad-zone automatic climate control, featuring its own control panel on the backside of the front console. Included are switches for the rear outboard seats’ three-way heated and ventilated cushions.

2019 Jaguar F-Pace SVR
Skiers will appreciate the F-Pace’s 40/20/40 split-folding rear seatbacks.

Another dealmaker is the rear passenger/cargo configuration, featuring a 40/20/40-split down the seatbacks. This means you wont be forced to stick one child (or friend) on the centre hump when heading to the ski hill, which might end up in some heated arguments when factoring in those just-noted seat warmers. Jaguar also offers cargo wall levers for folding down those seats automatically, but you’ll need to pay a bit extra for them.

I know I’m sounding all practical in a review that should really be more about power and performance, but if you only wanted to go as fast as possible you’d probably be reading one of my F-Type SVR reviews. The F-Pace SVR is a best of all worlds alternative, with one of the best sounding engines currently being made. If you’re wishing our compact SUV looked and felt more like a supercar, Jaguar’s F-Pace SVR might be just the ticket.

Story and photo credits: Trevor Hofmann

Corvette, Telluride and Gladiator win 2020 North American Car, Utility and Truck of the Year

2020 Chevrolet Corvette Stingray
The 2020 Corvette has changed the game for Chevrolet as well as its mainstream and exotic competition.

Trying to guess which car, SUV and pickup will win their respective categories in the annual North American Car, Utility and Truck of the Year awards program can be more difficult some years than others, but most folks that keep their ear to the road had the 2020 lineup of winners picked out long before the big announcement this week.

The true name of the award is North American Car and Truck of the Year (NACTOY), in spite of having a third category covering SUVs added in 2017. The NACTOY awards were first presented in 1994.

2020 Chevrolet Corvette Stingray
The new Corvette’s interior looks much more premium-like than its predecessors.

A total of 50 automotive journalists made up the NACTOY jury this year, from print, online, radio and broadcast media in both the U.S. and Canada, with the nine finalists (three per category) presented in the fall and the eventual winners awarded each year at the North American International Auto Show (NAIAS) in Detroit. This year’s announcement changed to a separate event at the TCF Center (previously called Cobo Hall/Cobo Center) in Detroit, however, due to the NAIAS rescheduling to June 7-20, 2020.

Notably, each year nominated vehicles need be completely new, totally redesigned, or significantly refreshed, or in other words the vehicle being nominated must be something most buyers would consider entirely new or wholly different from its predecessor. Additionally, each finalist earned its top-three placement via judgment of its segment leadership, innovation, design, safety, handling, driver satisfaction, and dollar value.

2020 Kia Telluride
The 2020 Telluride takes Kia way upscale, making a good impression of a premium SUV.

This year’s selection process began in June of 2019, with vehicle eligibility chosen after three voting rounds. NACTOY chose the independent accounting firm of Deloitte LLP for tallying up all votes and then kept them secret until the organization’s President, Lauren Fix, Vice President, Chris Paukert, and Secretary-Treasurer, Kirk Bell unsealed the envelopes on stage.

Finalists in this year’s “Car” category included Chevrolet’s Corvette, Hyundai’s Sonata and Toyota’s Supra, with the winner being the new seventh-generation mid-engine Corvette, a completely reimagined car that will totally upend the premium sports car segment. Of note, it has been six years since a sports car won the Car category, so hats off to General Motors’ Chevrolet brand and its Corvette team for designing something so sensational that it couldn’t be overlooked, while both Toyota and Hyundai should also be recognized for their superb finalists.

2020 Kia Telluride
Just check out the Telluride’s interior. It’s over the top luxury.

“A mid-engine Corvette was a huge risk for Chevy’s muscle-car icon. They nailed it. Stunning styling, interior, and performance for one-third of the cost of comparable European exotics,” said The Detroit News auto critic Henry Payne.

“Utility Vehicle” finalists were all entirely new to the SUV market, and included the Hyundai Palisade, Kia Telluride and Lincoln Aviator. Most industry commentators seemed to believe that one of the two Hyundai Motor Group entries would win (the Palisade and Telluride are basically the same SUV below the metal), and as many guessed the Kia Telluride took home the honours.

2020 Jeep Gladiator Rubicon
The new 2020 Jeep Gladiator combines the off-road capability of a Wrangler with the functionality of a pickup truck.

“The Telluride’s interior layout and design would meet luxury SUV standards, while its refined drivetrain, confident driving dynamics and advanced technology maintain the premium experience,” commented Cox Automotive Executive Publisher Karl Brauer. “Traditional SUV brands take note: there’s a new star player on the field.”

Finally, this year’s “Truck” of the year finalists included the Ford Ranger (new to us yet available in Asian markets for years), the completely new Jeep Gladiator, and the redesigned Ram HD (Heavy Duty) 2500 and 3500, with the winner being the impressive new Gladiator. We’d have to look way back to 1999 in order to find a Jeep that won its category, incidentally, with that model being the Grand Cherokee.

2020 Jeep Gladiator Rubicon
Shown here in Rubicon trim, the Gladiator looks to match the current Wrangler’s impressive interior quality.

“What’s not to like about a pickup truck with not only a soft-top removable roof but even removable doors? If you want massive cargo-hauling capability or the ability to tow 10,000 pounds, buy something else,” said John Voelcker, an experienced automotive journalist. “The eagerly awaited Gladiator is a one-of-a-kind truck, every bit the Jeep its Wrangler sibling is … but with a pickup bed. How could you possibly get more American than that?”

NACTOY is an independent, non-profit organization, for your information, run by elected officers and funded by dues-paying journalist members.

Learn about the 2020 Chevrolet Corvette, 2020 Kia Telluride and 2020 Jeep Gladiator right here on CarCostCanada, where you can access trim, package and individual option pricing, plus rebate information and dealer invoice pricing that could save you thousands during negotiations with your local retailer. Although info about the new Corvette is not available yet, at the time of writing you could get up to $1,000 in additional incentives on the new Kia Telluride, or factory leasing and financing rates from 4.09 percent for the new Jeep Gladiator.

Story credits: Trevor Hofmann 

Photo credits: Chevrolet, Kia and Jeep

2019 Toyota 4Runner TRD Pro Road Test

2019 Toyota 4Runner TRD Pro
The Toyota 4Runner TRD Pro looks stunning in its outdoors element.

Not to long ago people were calling for the traditional SUV to die. GM cancelled Hummer, Ford said goodbye to the Excursion, and a number of 4×4-capable sport utilities were converted to car-based crossovers in order to appeal to a larger audience. While the general public has certainly eschewed rugged off-roaders as well as passenger cars for crossover SUVs, there’s certainly a healthy niche for true 4x4s.

The 4Runner has been at the centre of this mix, and has been doing so as long as I’ve been out of school. Yes, the 4Runner came into existence the year I graduated in 1981, and is now well into its fifth generation, which was introduced more than a decade ago. The original 4Runner was little more than the pickup truck with a removable composite roof, much like the original Chevy Blazer and second-gen Ford Bronco that came before, but the next version that came in 1989 included a full roof, and the rest of the story is now history.

2019 Toyota 4Runner TRD Pro
Voodoo Blue certainly stands out, as does the TRD Pro model’s unique styling.

Over the years Toyota has stayed true to the 4Runner’s off-road-capable character and garnered respect and steady sales for doing so. Now it’s one of a mere handful of truck-based SUVs available, making it high on the shopping list for consumers needing family transportation yet wanting something that can provide more adventure when called upon.

The 2019 model being reviewed here is currently being replaced by a new 2020 model, which changes up the infotainment system with a new larger 8.0-inch touchscreen, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, satellite radio and USB audio, plus the brand’s Connected Services suite. Push-button ignition gets added too, as does Toyota’s Safety Sense P bundle of advanced driver assistance features including pre-collision system with vehicle and pedestrian detection, lane departure warning and assist, automatic high beams, and dynamic radar cruise control.

2019 Toyota 4Runner TRD Pro
TRD Pro trim includes a special front fascia and these meaty 17-inch wheels and tires.

A new Venture trim level gets added as well, which builds on just-above-base TRD Off-Road trim. This means it begins with 4×4 features like 4-Wheel Crawl Control with Multi-Terrain Select, a locking rear differential, and the Kinematic Dynamic Suspension (KDSS) upgrade, while it also gets a hood scoop plus a navigation system with traffic and weather, all before adding black mirror caps, trim, and badging, Predator side steps, 17-inch TRD Pro alloy wheels, and a basket style roof rack.

All of that sounds pretty impressive, but serious off-roaders will still want the TRD Pro that I tested for a week. Not only does it look a lot tougher, particularly in its exclusive Voodoo Blue paint scheme with matte black trim, but it also gets a unique heritage “TOYOTA” grille, a TRD-stamped aluminum front skid plate, a whole lot of black accents and badges nose to tail, and superb looking matte black 17-inch alloys with TRD centre caps on massive 31.5-inch Nitto Terra Grappler all-terrain tires (my tester’s rubber was a set of Bridgestone Blizzak 265/70 studless snow tires).

2019 Toyota 4Runner TRD Pro
This handy roof rack comes standard with TRD Pro trim.

Overcoming obstacles is aided via TRD-tuned front springs and TRD Bilstein high-performance shocks with rear remote reservoirs, while the 4Runner TRD Pro also gets an automatic disconnecting differential to overcome the really rough stuff, as does its rear differential lock if the ground is slippery, and multi-terrain ABS when it’s a downward grade.

Previously noted Crawl Control is ideal for going up, down or just motoring along a low-speed stretch of horizontal terrain, and is selectable via a dial on the overhead console next to a similar dial for the Multi-Terrain Select system that makes choosing the four-wheel drive system’s best possible response over “LIGHT” to “HEAVY” terrain an easy process. Of course, overcoming a really challenging trail will require shifting from “H2” or “H4” to “L4” to engage the 4Runner’s lower set of gears via the console-mounted 4WD Selector lever.

2019 Toyota 4Runner TRD Pro
The 4Runner hasn’t changed much over the past 10 years, but it’s still well made and functional.

This SUV is an amazingly good 4×4, something I was reminded of when trudging through a local off-road course I use whenever I have something worthy of its rutted trails and long, deep swampy pools. I recently tested Jeep’s Wrangler Unlimited Sahara through this course, and did likewise with a Chevrolet Colorado ZR2 turbo-diesel that had mucky water splashing over its hood. Heck, I even proved that Toyota wasn’t trying pull one over on compact crossover buyers with its new RAV4 Trail, that can actually hold its own through this mud-fest, although I didn’t push it anywhere near as hard as the others just mentioned, or this 4Runner TRD Pro.

My 4Runner test model’s hood scoop never tasted water, incidentally, nor did it ever require the Tacoma TRD Pro’s cool looking snorkel, and trust me, I was careful not to muck up the white and red embroidered floor mats, or even soil the breathable leather-like Black SofTex seat upholstery, highlighted by red contrast stitching and red embroidered “TRD” logos on the front headrests I should add. It would have been easy enough to wash off, but I keep my test vehicles clean out of respect to the machinery.

2019 Toyota 4Runner TRD Pro
The 4Runner’s Optitron gauges are really attractive.

This 4Runner TRD Pro makes it easy to drive through most any 4×4 course or wayward trail, even if there’s not much drive down. Simply choose the best Multi-Terrain setting and engage Crawl Control if you think you’ll want to push yourself up higher in the driver’s seat in order to see over a ridge, which would make it so you couldn’t modulate the gas pedal. Alternatively you can use it in order to relax your right foot, like a cruise control for ultra-slow driving. We had a mechanical version of this on my dad’s old Land Cruiser FJ40, which was basically a choke that held the throttle out, and it worked wonders just like the 4Runner’s modernized version. The now discontinued FJ Cruiser had one too, a model that shared its platform with this much bigger and more spacious SUV, as does the global market Land Cruiser Prado and Lexus GX 460.

2019 Toyota 4Runner TRD Pro
There’s nothing wrong with the 2019 4Runner’s infotainment system, but there will be a lot more right about the new 2020 version.

V8-powered 4x4s in mind, I remember when Toyota offered the fourth-generation 4Runner with a 4.7-litre V8. I really liked that truck and its smooth, potent powertrain, but I’d rather have the 2.8-litre turbo-diesel found in the current Prado, as it’s fuel economy would be advantageous in the city and on the highway, let alone in the wilderness where it could 4×4 a lot farther from civilization than the current 4.0-litre V6. Yes, the 4Runner’s big six-cylinder drinks healthily to put it kindly, with a rating of 14.3 L/100km city, 11.9 highway and 13.2 combined, while it goes through even more regular unleaded in low gear while off-roading. That’s this SUV’s only major weakness, and now that Jeep is bringing its Wrangler to our market with a turbo-diesel, and the aforementioned Chevy Colorado gets one too, it’s might be time for Toyota to provide Canadian off-road enthusiasts an oil burner from its global parts bin.

Another weakness at the pump is the 4Runner’s five-speed automatic transmission, but on the positive it’s rugged and reliable so it’s hard to complain, while shifts smoothly. The TRD Pro adds red stitching to the leather shift knob, almost making this gearbox feel sporty when engaging its manual mode, and I should also commend this heavyweight contender for managing the curves fairly well, no matter if it’s on tarmac or gravel, while its ride quality is also quite good, something I appreciated as much in town as I did on the trail.

2019 Toyota 4Runner TRD Pro
The powered seats are comfortable, but that’s SofTex leatherette, not leather covering them.

I would have appreciated the 4Runner even more if it included shock-absorbing seats like my old ‘86 Land Cruiser BJ70, but the TRD Pro’s power-actuated seats with two-way powered lumbar managed comfort decently enough, while the SUV’s tilt and telescoping steering column provided enough reach to set up my driving position for comfort and control.

The steering wheel’s rim is wrapped in leather, but doesn’t get the nice red stitching from the shift knob, yet its spokes are filled with all the most important buttons. Framed through its upper section, the Optitron primary gauge cluster is a comprised of truly attractive blues, reds and whites on black with a small trip computer at centre.

At dash central, the infotainment touchscreen may be getting replaced for the 2020 model year, but the one in this 2019 4Runner was certainly sized large enough for my needs, plus was reasonably high-resolution and packed full of stylish graphics and loads of functions. Its reverse camera lacked active guidelines, but was quite clear, while the navigation system’s route guidance was accurate and its mapping system easy to read, plus the audio system was pretty good as well.

2019 Toyota 4Runner TRD Pro
The second row is extremely roomy.

The 4Runner’s window seats are comfortable and the entire second row amply sized for most any body type, but the TRD Pro model’s third row gets axed, leaving plenty of room for gear. There’s in fact 1,337 litres of space behind the 60/40-split second row, or up to 2,540 litres it’s lowered, making the 4Runner ideal for those that regularly haul tools or other types of equipment, campers, skiers, etcetera.

You can buy a new 2019 4Runner for $46,155 or less (depending on your negotiating chops), while leasing and financing rates can be had from 1.99 percent (or at least they could at the time of writing, according to the 2019 Toyota 4Runner Canada Prices page here at CarCostCanada). CarCostCanada also provides its members with money saving rebate info and dealer invoice pricing that could save you thousands, so be sure to purchase a membership before you head to the dealer. As for the 2020 4Runner, which starts at $48,120 thanks to the new equipment I detailed out before, only has leasing and financing rates from 4.49 percent as seen on the CarCostCanada 2020 Toyota 4Runner Canada Prices page, so the 2019 may be the smart choice for those on a budget. If you’re after this TRD Pro, you’ll be forced to find $56,580 plus freight and fees (less discount), and take note this is the most expensive 4Runner trim available.

2019 Toyota 4Runner TRD Pro
No shortage of cargo space in here.

Yes this is luxury brand territory, and the 4Runner won’t try to dazzle you with soft-touch interior plastics or any other pampering premium treatments, but this should be okay because it’s a rugged, off-road capable 4×4 that shouldn’t need to pamper its passengers to impress them. Instead, together with its superb off-road-worthiness, overall ease of use and general livability, the 4Runner achieves top placement in the 2019 Canadian Black Book Best Retained Value Awards for its “Mid-size Crossover-SUV” category. I don’t know about you, but this matters more to me than pliable interior composite surfaces.

In the end, the 4Runner remains one of my favourite SUVs. It does most everything it needs to well, and is one of the better off-roaders available for any money. That suits my outdoor lifestyle to a tee.

Story and photo credits: Trevor Hofmann

Genesis shows off photos of upcoming GV80 luxury SUV

2021 Genesis GV80
The new GV80 is Genesis’ first foray into the world of SUVs, and it’s making a pretty good first impression.

If you were wondering how the fledgling Genesis brand would manage to grow while only offering passenger cars, its new GV80 crossover SUV should certainly appeal more to a luxury market mostly focused on sport utilities.

Genesis, Hyundai Motor Group’s luxury brand, just revealed a few photos of the all-new premium crossover this week, and it certainly grabs attention. It sports a larger, stronger updated version of the Korean brand’s new pentagonal grille, shown first in production trim on the brand’s recently redesigned 2020 G90 luxury sedan, plus it incorporates a number of additional styling elements from that full-size four-door, such as horizontal LED Quad Lamp headlights and wraparound tail lamps, not to mention side vents on the front fenders. The initial design was formed from the GV80 Concept launched at the 2017 New York auto show, but we must say it looks nicer in production trim than the prototype.

2021 Genesis GV80
Is it just us, or do you see some Cadillac in the grille design?

“GV80 allows us to expand our definition of Athletic Elegance design language to a new typology, while retaining sublime proportionality and sophistication of form,” said Luc Donckerwolke, Executive Vice President, Chief Design Officer of Hyundai Motor Group.

Genesis gives its design language the name “Athletic Elegance”, and while this descriptor might sound somewhat generic, the luxury crossover’s overall presence certainly isn’t. Its grille pays some tribute to Cadillac, mind you, only missing the American brand’s big crested-wreath shield at centre. Genesis even names the SUV’s most prominent feature the “Crest Grille” and claims it as a “signature Genesis design element,” but to be fair a lot of brands have tried to adapt a five-sided shape for a grille design, including Acura and Honda. No doubt Genesis would rather we focus on its trademark headlamps, and to that end few will likely argue against any of the GV80’s other styling details or its appearance overall.

2021 Genesis GV80
We really like the new Quad Lamp LED headlights.

“The Quad Lamp, our design signature, introduces an unmistakable visual impression completely unique to Genesis,” said Sang Yup Lee, Senior Vice President, Head of Genesis Design. Like other lighting elements throughout the SUV, the headlights feature a “G-Matrix pattern” that was “inspired by beautiful orchids seen when diamonds are illuminated by light,” stated Genesis in a press release, also mentioning that the GV80’s wheel design was similarly inspired.

Anyone who’s sat in one of Genesis’ new models should have been impressed by its materials quality and refinement, so rest assured the GV80 won’t be the exception. The brand states the new SUV “focuses on the beauty of open space, characteristic of the elegant South Korean architectural aesthetic,” and while this claim might be difficult for some to conceptualize, the new SUV does appear to offer up an elegantly minimalist cabin.

2021 Genesis GV80
The GV80’s side styling is quite sporty.

Once again it shares some inspiration from the new 2020 G90’s interior, but its instrument panel is more traditional thanks to an arcing primary gauge cluster hood and a more conventional tablet-style infotainment display fixed to the top of the dash. The horizontal theme continues, however, with slim air vents that span the entire instrument panel, this hovering atop a downward flowing centre stack featuring an attractive climate control touchscreen. The lower console is almost entirely flush with no shift lever at all, Genesis integrating a “jewel-like” rotating gear selector instead, which provides a more upscale, sophisticated appearance, while open-pore hardwoods, rich leathers and what looks to be genuine aluminum trim embellish the surroundings.

The upcoming GV80 rides on fresh new rear-wheel drive underpinnings and will be available in both rear- and all-wheel drivetrains in the U.S. market, but take note the RWD model probably won’t make it to Canada. If the GV80 comes close to performing like other Genesis models, we should be in for a treat as the Korean brand does an excellent job of balancing performance and comfort.

2021 Genesis GV80
The GV80’s interior looks sensational.

The GV80 is a mid-size utility, sized to go up against the Lexus RX, BMW X5, Mercedes-Benz GLE, Audi Q7, and many others including the new Cadillac XT6. It will come standard with five seats from two rows, but unlike some of its competitors it will be available with three rows for a total of seven passengers, while staying true to the “V” in its GV80 designation, which stands for “versatility”, it should be competitive with respect to passenger space and cargo room.

When it goes on sale later this year, it will expand Genesis’ lineup to four, also including the G70 compact sedan, G80 mid-size sedan, and aforementioned G90 full-size sedan. No doubt the new SUV will strengthen the upstart luxury brand’s sales, therefore giving it a more solid financial stance within its global markets.

Story credits: Trevor Hofmann

Photo credits: Genesis

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Story and photo credits: Trevor Hofmann

Porsche introduces new 375 horsepower 2021 Macan GTS

2021 Porsche Macan GTS
New 2021 GTS trim pulls all of the previous model’s sporty styling cues up to the all-new second-gen Macan redesign.

While the Cayenne quickly became Porsche’s global sales leader when introduced in 2003, the mid-size crossover luxury SUV’s smaller, more affordable Macan sibling soon took over the top sales spot after its 2014 launch.

More recently, throughout calendar year 2018, the Macan sold 86,031 units compared to 71,458 Cayenne deliveries, the two models’ 157,489 combined SUV sales total resulting in most of the German premium brand’s 256,255 worldwide sales, its best 12 months ever.

2021 Porsche Macan GTS
Dark-tinted headlights and tail lamps add a higher level of sportiness to the GTS line.

The new second-generation Macan went into production as a 2019 model in August 2018 before going on sale in base and S trims as that year closed. The base Macan makes 248 horsepower and the S puts out 100 more for a total of 348 horsepower, while Porsche just introduced the new 440-horsepower 2020 Macan Turbo (see: New 2020 Porsche Macan Turbo almost 10 percent more powerful) as the model’s 2020 base and S trims were carried over, the Turbo expected early in the new year. Those who follow all things Porsche would have also been expecting the Macan model featured here, so without further adieu say hello to the new 2021 Macan GTS.

2021 Porsche Macan GTS
These gorgeous black-painted 20-inch alloys come standard, as do the red-painted brake calipers.

Starting at $77,100 (plus freight and fees) and set to arrive this coming summer (2020), the new GTS starts $4,000 higher than the one we tested in 2017, and continues to slot between mid-range S trim and the top-line Turbo (check out our 2019 and 2020 Porsche Macan Canada Prices pages right here on CarCostCanada, for up-to-date trim, package and option prices, plus manufacturing rebate info, factory financing deals, and especially important dealer invoice pricing that could save you thousands). Despite being down 65 horsepower from the turbo and dragging 0.4 seconds behind in the sprint to 100 km/h, the GTS is designed to feel sportier than the pricier alternative by lowering its suspension by 15 millimetres to improve handling and tuning its standard Porsche Active Suspension Management (PASM) damping control system especially for optimal performance. Buyers willing to opt for the available adaptive air suspension can lower the GTS 10 millimetres more, enhancing high-speed control even more. 

2021 Porsche Macan GTS
The GTS gets a red-faced tachometer and a special sport steering wheel.

Spicing up the look are standard red brake calipers biting into 360 x 36 mm front and 330 x 22 mm rear cast iron discs, while an optional tungsten carbide coated Porsche Surface Coated Brake (PSCB) upgrade can boost braking performance even more, as can its best-possible Porsche Ceramic Composite Brake (PCCB) option.

Under the Macan GTS hood is a 2.9-litre twin-turbo V6 that makes a formidable 375 horsepower (15 horsepower more than the outgoing model) and 383 lb-ft of torque. A seven-speed automated dual-clutch PDK transmission with paddle shifters sends that torque down to all for wheels resulting in a zero to 100 km/h sprint time of just 4.9 seconds, or 4.7 seconds with the optional Sport Chrono package, making the new GTS 0.3 seconds quicker off the line than the old model, plus its terminal velocity is 5 km/h faster at 261-km/h. No doubt the standard sport exhaust system make the GTS sound as sensational as the driving experience.

2021 Porsche Macan GTS
Special sport seats with leather and Alcantara come standard.

If you’re interested in all the styling changes made to the second-generation 2019 Macan, these were detailed out in this “Porsche refreshes its best-selling Macan for 2019” story last year, but suffice to say all the body panels were reformed and exterior lighting elements made from LEDs, its light bar-infused three-dimensional taillights making the most dramatic visual impact to the overall design.

New GTS trim darkens the headlight and tail lamp lenses for a more menacing look, while adding the exterior Sport Design package that includes a reworked front fascia with new grille inserts, and a completely redesigned lower front section, while other changes include extended body-colour side sills under deep matte-grey door trim mouldings boasting the “GTS” trim designation. Around back, Porsche douses the lower bumper in more body-coloured paint, while high-gloss black trim accents get added there as well as elsewhere around the SUV. Finally, the new Macan GTS rolls on a satin-gloss black set of 20-inch RS Spyder Design alloy wheels.

2021 Porsche Macan GTS
The GTS trim designations on the headrests look great, and like the seat and cabin stitching, can be sewn with standard black thread or optionally in red or grey/beige.

Unique to the GTS is a red-painted tachometer within the gauge cluster, while other interior updates include special eight-way adjustable sport seats upholstered with leather bolsters and suede-like Alcantara inserts, the headrests embroidered with GTS emblems. Porsche wraps the roof pillars, roofliner, door panel inserts, armrests and instrument panel in Alcantara too, while brushed aluminum brightens up the cabin elsewhere. Additionally, Carmine Red or Chalk grey/beige contrast stitching can be added to the dash, door panels and seats, making for more visual appeal.

The new 2021 Macan GTS can be configured on Porsche Canada’s retail website, while it can also be order from your neighbourhood Porsche store, while deliveries are expected to arrive this coming summer (2020).

Until we can get our hands on one for a test drive, or even watch one drive by, check out the video below to see the 2021 Macan GTS in action:

The new Macan GTS. More of what you love. (1:34):

 

Story credits: Trevor Hofmann

Photo credits: Porsche

2019 Honda CR-V Touring Road Test

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Story and photo credits: Trevor Hofmann

2019 Volvo XC90 T6 AWD Inscription Road Test

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Story credit: Trevor Hofmann

Photo credits: Karen Tuggay