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 Genesis G70 3.3T Sport AWD Road Test

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Story and photo credits: Trevor Hofmann

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

2019 BMW X1 xDrive28i Road Test

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Story credit: Trevor Hofmann

2019 Hyundai Veloster Turbo Tech Road Test

2019 Hyundai Veloster Turbo Tech
The sharp looking second-generation Veloster, seen here in Turbo Tech trim, looks like a sporty two-door coupe from the driver’s side. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

Hyundai’s Veloster could easily be seen as an automotive anomaly, a sports coupe cum four-door hatchback that doesn’t quite fit in to either category, but I see it as a best-of-both-worlds alternative, a sporty two-door coupe when seen from the driver’s side and a low-slung four-door liftback from the passenger’s side.

There’s good reason that such a small number of volume-branded compact sport coupes remain in today’s car market after all. Owners eventually tired of stuffing family and friends into their abbreviated back seats, so they purchased sporty four- and five-door alternatives instead. These days, even the legendary VW Golf GTI is only available with four doors and a hatch, but instead of ultimately conforming to such wagon-like levels of pragmatism, Hyundai adapted General Motors’ 1999 Saturn SC’s terribly executed yet brilliantly idea, which included a single door on the passenger’s side and a second rear-hinged half-door on the driver’s side for easier rear seat access, by adding a conventionally-hinged rear door to the more appropriate passenger’s side for easier entry from the curb.

2019 Hyundai Veloster Turbo Tech
The Veloster provides a rear door for easy access to the seats in back on the passenger’s side. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

During its first full calendar year of 2012, Canadian Veloster sales were fairly strong at 5,741 units, but they’ve steadily tapered off since resulting in a low of 1,077 units in 2018, but thanks to a total redesign for this 2019 model year the second-generation Veloster has found 36.6 percent more buyers than it did during the first 10 months of 2018, resulting in 1,295 deliveries as of October 2019. Still, that’s nothing to get excited about in a market that saw Hyundai sell 25,894 Tucson compact SUVs during the same time period, let alone 33,670 Elantras, while a recent downturn of just 279 Velosters sold during Q3 of 2019, representing a plunge of 55.1 percent compared to the same three months of 2018, isn’t the kind of response the brand wants to see for a completely redesigned model, so we’ll need to watch closely to find out how it fares during Q4.

Before Hyundai decides to transform the Veloster into a mainstream version of Mercedes’ new GLC Coupe in order to keep its sporty dreams alive while the entire globe realigns its interests away from cars towards crossovers and SUVs (kind of like how Mitsubishi did with its Eclipse Cross), those who still appreciate the lower centres of gravity and inherently better cornering prowess allowed by cars should be made aware of the new Veloster’s transformation from a torsion beam rear suspension to an independent multi-link design, the revision completely improving its at-the-limit handling and ride quality.

2019 Hyundai Veloster Turbo Tech
The redesigned Veloster’s grille and front fascia looks much more menacing than the previous generation. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

The updated Veloster’s undercarriage is much more compliant, resulting in a more comfortable city cruiser with less commotion over rough, uneven tarmac, yet the compact coupe still feels firm enough to come off like a sports car. Nevertheless, despite its more comforting suspension tuning the new Veloster Turbo is a lot more capable through fast-paced corners, particularly noticeable over mid-apex bumps and potholes that would’ve unsettled the previous car. Now you slice through the turn with less worry about the shape of the pavement below, its rear suspension now capable of absorbing such irregularities without losing grip.

Base Velosters come standard with a 2.0-litre four-cylinder engine making 147 horsepower and 132 lb-ft of torque, driving the front wheels through a standard six-speed manual or optional six-speed automatic transmission, while the Veloster Turbo tested here utilizes a 1.6-litre turbo-four capable of 201 horsepower and 195 lb-ft of torque. A six-speed manual gearbox remains standard, as witnessed here in the photos, but buyers wanting less daily hassle can opt for a new seven-speed dual-clutch EcoShift DCT automatic with steering wheel paddles. I’ve driven the previous six-speed DCT (in 2014, 2015 and 2016) and found it shifted quickly enough while offering smooth operation during day-to-day commutes, so it make sense the new seven-speed version provides the same level of drivability with the addition of a taller final gear to improve fuel economy, but I’d personally save $1,500 by opting for the manual and enjoy the benefits of rowing through the gears myself.

2019 Hyundai Veloster Turbo Tech
No shortage of sporty styling cues on the new Veloster Turbo. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

It really is a nicely sorted six-speed manual, with an easy, progressive clutch that’s well matched to the torquey turbo-four. Max twist arrives at just 1,500 rpm and maintains boost all the way to 4,500, while maximum thrust arrives at 6,000 rpm before the engine spins to its 7,000 rpm redline (or just above). Activating the optional “SPORT” button just next to the shift lever immediately transforms the Veloster Turbo from an enjoyably tame economy coupe to a seriously fun performance machine, so a move up to the Tech package is well worth it.

Before itemizing standard and optional features, we should talk fuel economy. I know the Veloster is a performance model, but even those looking to save at the pump might want to consider this sporty little car, especially the Turbo. Yes, despite its stronger performance the Turbo is better on fuel (as long as you don’t lay into the throttle too often), with a manual transmission comparo showing 9.4 L/100km in the city, 7.0 on the highway and 8.3 combined for the Turbo, next to 9.4 city, 7.1 highway and 8.4 combined for the base model. The Turbo looks even better when comparing automatic transmissions, at 8.5 city, 6.9 highway and 7.8 combined for the quicker car against a respective 9.1, 7.1 and 8.2.

2019 Hyundai Veloster Turbo Tech
Hyundai makes big improvements inside, but touchy, feely perceived quality is still this car’s weak point. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

Now that we’re being so practical, the rear tailgate opens up nice and high, plus it’s wide enough to fit in large items. The cargo area isn’t as sizeable as most of its compact hatchback rivals, but compared to challenging sport coupes it’s very accommodating. In fact, it measures 565 litres (20 cubic feet) behind the rear seatbacks, or approximately the size of a large sedan’s trunk, while it’s also 125 litres (4.4 cu ft) larger than its 440-litre (15.5 cu-ft) cargo compartment. If you need more storage you can drop the back seats down, their uniquely configured 66/33-split design making more sense for a car only capable of seating two rear passengers. With both seats lowered the Veloster can manage up to 1,260 litres (44.5 cu ft) of what-have-you, which once again is a major improvement when compared to the 982 litres (34.7 cubic feet) offered by the outgoing generation.

The lengthy driver’s door and proximity keyless access make entering to the driver’s seat easy, while the two passenger-side doors means that no one coming along for the ride needs to compromise. Certainly, the first rear passenger to sit down must slide along the seat to find the other side, making me wish Hyundai hadn’t added a fixed centre console with cupholders in the middle, and while a folding centre armrest would’ve worked better, it wasn’t all that difficult to get over and does provide some helpful convenience when seated.

2019 Hyundai Veloster Turbo Tech
This analogue/digital gauge cluster is easy to read under any lighting conditions, plus it can be upgraded to include a head-up display. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

After positioning the driver’s seat for my five-foot-eight, long-legged, short-torso body, I was left with approximately four to five inches in front of my knees, as well as plenty of space for my feet, but it was a bit tight for my toes below the driver’s seat. Still, I had ample room to move around from side to side, plus about three inches over my head, making me confident that those under six feet should find it spacious enough in back.

The rear seats are carved out like buckets too, providing decent lateral support and good lower back comfort. Other than rear window switches there aren’t any rear amenities, while the side armrests will be the only padded surfaces you’ll be able to find (seats and carpets aside).

Such is true for those up front as well, this shortcoming my only serious complaint with the new Veloster. I understand that we should expect too much in this category, but Hyundai normally punches above its weight in the compact class, so I expected them to do more with this redesigned model. As it is, the new Veloster offers no soft-touch composite surfaces, but the mostly attractive matte textured plastics provided a nice upgrade over the otherwise glossy hard plastic cabin.

2019 Hyundai Veloster Turbo Tech
A well-sorted centre stack gets an available 8-inch touchscreen up top and good quality switchgear throughout. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

Most peoples’ eyes will naturally gravitate to the red on black front sport seats anyway, and I must say the one for the driver was as comfortable and supportive as it looks. While not included full powered actuation, its optional two-way powered lumbar support was a useful addition that nearly met the small of my back perfectly. Ergonomics are also good, with the long reaching tilt and telescopic steering column a good match to the six-way adjustable driver’s seat, plus the seat heaters and warming steering wheel came on fast and stayed hot.

Quickly pressing the start/stop button on the instrument panel ignites the engine while prompting a head-up display to power upwards from within the cowl covering the primary gauges. I initially found it slightly distracting, because it’s right in the line of sight, but when choosing sport mode it placed a cool tachometer graphic on the screen that was useful when pushing the engine to redline, while I eventually learned to look past it the rest of the time. The mostly analogue gauge cluster noted a moment ago is easy to see in any light and features a colour multi-information display at centre, while the switchgear on the steering wheel, plus all the buttons and knobs to the left and right of the steering column were good quality, nicely damped, and within easy reach.

2019 Hyundai Veloster Turbo Tech
The larger screen makes for an excellent backup camera with dynamic guidelines, while rear parking sensors help while reversing. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

Ditto for the infotainment display, but the only button next to the screen turned on the hazard lights. Instead, the touchscreen’s analogue controls are lower down the centre stack, in between the audio system’s power/volume and tuning/scrolling dials, although I found myself using the steering wheel switches and touchscreen for the majority of features.

Due to Hyundai adding the $3,000 Turbo Tech package, which includes the aforementioned head-up display unit, the leather upholstery, the driver’s seat lumbar support, and the Sport mode, plus rain-sensing windshield wipers, rear parking sonar, and the automatic HVAC system, which incidentally comes with automatic defog, my tester had a larger 8.0-inch display featuring embedded navigation plus excellent (for the class) sounding eight-speaker Infinity audio with an external amplifier.

Before getting ahead of myself, you can get into the 2019 Veloster for just $20,999 plus freight and fees before discount, with the Turbo starting at $25,899. The Turbo Tech package ups the price to $28,899, while a $500 Performance package was added to my tester, including sportier 18-inch rims encircled by 225/40 Michelin Pilot summer-performance rubber.

2019 Hyundai Veloster Turbo Tech
My tester’s comfortable leather-upholstered seats also included two-way powered lumbar. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

This said, even base Velosters get 18-inch alloy wheels, as well as auto on/off headlamps, LED daytime running lights, power-adjustable and heated side mirrors, remote access, a heated and leather-wrapped multifunction steering wheel, tilt and telescopic steering, cruise control, powered windows, illuminated vanity mirrors, a sunglasses holder, filtered air conditioning, a one-inch smaller 7.0-inch infotainment touchscreen with standard Android Auto and Apple CarPlay, a backup camera with active guidelines, six-speaker audio, Bluetooth hands-free phone and audio streaming, a leather-clad shift knob, heatable front seats, a manual six-way driver’s seat, a four-way front passenger seat, blind spot detection with rear cross-traffic alert, all the usual active and passive safety features, etcetera.

The Veloster Turbo upgrade adds LED headlamps, LED side mirror turn signals, LED tail lamps, a special grille plus extended side sills, proximity entry with pushbutton star/stop, a 4.2-inch TFT multi-information display instead of a more conventional 3.5-inch trip computer, a big power moonroof, silver vent bezels, checkered dash trim, partial cloth/leather upholstery with red stitching instead of blue, leatherette door trim, red interior accents, plus more.

2019 Hyundai Veloster Turbo Tech
Rear seating is very good for a compact sport coupe, and access is best-in-class. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

I could go into colour options and more, but considering this 2019 model is being replaced by the 2020 version while this review is being published, you’ll have to get what you can if wanting to avail model year-end discounts as well as 0-percent financing (the 2020 model was available with 0.99-percent financing at the time of writing). By the way, you can learn about these deals and more right here at CarCostCanada, where all trim, package and individual option prices are itemized, as well as manufacturer rebate info and otherwise hard to get dealer invoice pricing that could save you thousands.

If you like the idea of the new Veloster but were hoping for more performance, you may also want to consider new N trim. It includes a new 2.0-litre turbo-four with 275 horsepower and 260 lb-ft of torque, and comes exclusively with a six-speed manual featuring downshift rev matching. An electronically controlled limited slip differential helps put the power down to the pavement, while an electronically controlled suspension support a big set of 19-inch alloys on 235/35 Pirelli summer-performance tires. Also included are Normal, Sport, N and Custom drive mode selections, while a driver-adjustable active exhaust system makes this ultimate Veloster even more exciting to drive. Even its fuel economy is decent at 10.6 L/100km city, 8.3 highway and 9.5 combined, while it starts at just $34,999.

2019 Hyundai Veloster Turbo Tech
The Veloster’s cargo compartment is significantly larger for 2019. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

Notable when comparing 2019 to 2020 Velosters, the new base model won’t be available with a manual transmission anymore, which will only cause performance purists and custom tuners to feel a bit miffed. This change causes the 2020 Veloster’s base price to go up by $1,400 to $22,399, with the cheapest manual now the $27,499 Turbo.

Also important to note, Hyundai has modified its trim naming scheme for 2020, eliminating the GL and Tech designations from the 2019 model while adding Preferred and Luxury to the 2020. The 2020 Veloster N remains a single-trim car for the same price, although those searching for it on CarCostCanada will need to choose it as a separate model from the regular Veloster line.

Whether opting for a 2019 or 2020 model, an old GL, Tech or N, or the new Preferred, Luxury or N trim, the new second-generation Veloster is a much more advanced car than its predecessor. It still combines an extremely sporty look with a very practical layout, but now mixes in stronger performance, newer electronics, and new features, resulting in one of the smartest urban runabouts currently available.

Story and photo credits: Trevor Hofmann

Porsche introduces affordable new Taycan 4S

2020 Porsche Taycan 4S
New 4S trim brings the new 2020 Taycan down to a more palatable level of affordability. (Photo: Porsche)

Porsche revealed two final production Taycan EVs last month, but without doubt some potential buyers found the Turbo and Turbo S models’ respective $173,900 and $213,900 price tags a bit too rich for their budgets. Of course, the Stuttgart, Germany-based performance brand promised more affordable versions to follow, and therefore the $119,400 Taycan 4S is upon us. Priced much closer to the $108,990 base Tesla Model S, this is the EV “volume” model Porsche needs.

So what does the $55k (or $95k) buy you? Performance. Wheels aside there’s no obvious difference to exterior or interior design, or materials quality for that matter, but in place of the Taycan Turbo’s 671 horsepower, 627 lb-ft of torque, and launch control-assisted 3.2-second run to 100 km/h sprint from standstill to 100 km/h, or the Turbo S model’s even more outrageous 750 horsepower, 774 lb-ft of torque, and 2.8-second second run to 100 km/h, the new 4S uses makes due with “just” 522 horsepower, 472 lb-ft of torque and a 4.0-second dash to the 100-km/h mark.

2020 Porsche Taycan 4S
Great looking and brilliantly quick, the new Taycan 4S should be a popular EV. (Photo: Porsche)

A Performance Battery Plus package is available, boosting output to 562 horsepower and torque to 479 lb-ft for a nominal difference in naught to 100 km/h sprints (although Porsche rates it at 4.0 seconds as well), yet this upgraded Taycan 4S’ shoots from standstill to 160 km/h in a scant 8.5 seconds instead of dawdling along at just 8.7 seconds. Both 4S power units limit the Taycan’s terminal velocity to 250 km/h, which incidentally is 30 km/h less speedy than the Turbo or Turbo S.

Under the Taycan 4S floorboards are 79.2 kilowatt-hours of high-voltage lithium-ion battery capable of 407 km (253 miles) of estimated range, as per the European WLTP rating system, while the enhanced 93.4-kWh Performance Plus battery provides about 463 km (288 miles) of range. This compares well with next to the Taycan Turbo’s 388 to 412 km (241 to 256 mile) claimed range and the Turbo S’ 388 to 412 km (241 to 256 mile) estimates.

2020 Porsche Taycan 4S
These unique LED headlights set the Taycan apart. (Photo: Porsche)

No matter the trim, the Taycan uses an industry-first 800-volt electrical architecture that makes for faster recharging due to a charge-rate of 225 kW with the Performance Battery or 270 kW for the upgraded Performance Battery Plus, making 22.5-minute 5-to-80-percent refills possible with all power unit specs. Regular 400-volt high-speed DC recharging happens at 50 kW, but an available booster can increase the charge-rate to 150 kW. You can also use the standard AC charge system at any J1772-compatible charging station, or plug it in at in at home, but charging times will be considerably longer.

Topping the Taycan up is made easier via Porsche’s new Charging Planner, which allows you to plot your route by mapping out ideal charging stations along the way. For instance, it will choose a quicker 270-kW station that can save you time when compared to a regular 50-kW DC charger, even if the quicker charger necessitates a detour from the shortest route. The Charging Planner also preconditions the battery to 20 degrees Celsius, which is best for the fastest possible charge-rate.

2020 Porsche Taycan 4S
The singular body-wide tail lamp is standard fare on Porsches these days. (Photo: Porsche)

Like the Taycan Turbo and Turbo S, the new 4S incorporates an all-wheel drivetrain featuring front and back axle-mounted permanently excited synchronous motors plus a two-speed transmission in the rear. Additionally, Porsche’s centrally networked 4D Chassis Control system provides real-time analysis and synchronization for the Taycan’s standard electronic damper control Porsche Active Suspension Management (PASM) enhanced three-chamber adaptive air suspension, which should result in impressive road-holding capability.

What’s more, Taycan customers should enjoy improvements in reliability over Tesla Model S owners, thanks to Porsche designing a completely new hairpin winding technique for the electric motor stators’ copper solenoid coils, this allowing for a copper fill factor of 70 percent compared to 45 percent when wound using the conventional method, all of which results in stronger performance and less heat.

2020 Porsche Taycan 4S
The Taycan is family friendly thanks to four doors. (Photo: Porsche)

Monitoring the Taycan’s mobility status is a wholly digital primary gauge cluster filled with colourful high-resolution graphics and integrated within a free-standing, curved binnacle that pulls styling cues from the brand’s legendary 911. Just to the right, the Taycan 4S’ standard 10.9-inch high-definition capacitive infotainment touchscreen sits atop the centre stack. Most will also want the optional front passenger display that was introduced last month with the Taycan Turbo and Turbo S, this innovative addition extending the graphical experience across the rest of the instrument panel.

Features in mind, the Taycan 4S receives standard Black or White exterior paint, a unique front fascia design, a glossy black painted rear diffuser and side skirts, LED headlamps with Porsche Dynamic Light System Plus (PDLS Plus), 19-inch five-spoke Taycan S Aero alloys, red-painted six-piston front and four-piston rear brake calipers (instead of the yellow-painted calipers found on the two Turbo models) biting down on 360-mm front and 358-mm rear discs, regenerative brakes (with a maximum regenerative force of 0.39 Gs and recuperation of up to 265 kWh), proximity keyless entry, ambient interior lighting, partial leather upholstery, eight-way power-adjustable front seats with driver’s side memory and more, but take note this base model won’t go into production until June, 2020. Before then, the $1,690 panoramic glass sunroof replaces the standard aluminum roof, while the optional Porsche Mobile Charger Plus isn’t available yet either, which leaves the standard Porsche Mobile Charger Connect system for early adapters.

2020 Porsche Taycan 4S
The Taycan 4S comes well equipped. (Photo: Porsche)

Available Taycan 4S options include a bevy of $910 metallic exterior colours, including the Taycan’s Frozen Blue launch colour shown in the photos, plus bright Mamba Green and deep Gentian Blue, as well as one $3,590 special colour, Carmine Red. Additionally, Porsche is offering two sets of optional 20-inch alloys and three 21-inch wheels, all ranging from $2,710 to $10,010, while the car’s black partial leather cabin can be upgraded to $4,710 black or multiple $5,360 two-tone leather, $7,490 solid or $8,150 two-tone Club leather, or alternatively $4,710 solid or $5,360 two-tone leather-free Race-Tex, the latter Porsche-first incorporating recycled materials that reduce the Taycan’s impact on the environmental.

The new Porsche should be near silent at speed too, due to an amazing Cd of 0.22, plus this ultra-aerodynamic design also minimizes energy use.

Porschephiles wanting a taller SUV model instead of this road-hugging four-door coupe will be glad to know that a crossover coupe dubbed Cross Turismo is on the way next year. It’s designed to go up against the Jaguar I-Pace, Tesla Model X and whatever else comes down the pike by then, so we can all look forward to that.

You can order the new 2020 Taycan 4S right now, however, just like its Turbo siblings, while its arrival date is set for summer 2020.

Story credits: Trevor Hofmann 

Photo credits: Porsche

2019 Hyundai Sonata Ultimate Road Test

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Story credit: Trevor Hofmann 

Photo credit: Karen Tuggay