CarCostCanada

2019 Volkswagen Jetta GLI 35th Edition Road Test

2019 Volkswagen Jetta GLI 35th Edition
The Jetta GLI offers up a discreet, stylish look that’s as appealing to younger performance fans as it is to those that have been around awhile.

After eight long years of the sixth-generation Jetta, Volkswagen introduced a ground-up redesign for the 2019 model year and Canadian compact sedan buyers responded by boosting the model’s sales by 14 percent. That’s a good news story for VW Canada, but 17,260 units in 2019 is a far cry from the car’s high of 31,042 deliveries in 2014.

All we need do to understand this scenario more clearly is compare the VW Tiguan’s sales of 10,096 units in 2014 to the 19,250 sold in 2019 (which was actually down 10 percent from the 21,449 examples sold in 2018), and thus we see another example of crossover SUVs encroaching on the conventional car’s traditional territory.

As VW fans will already be well aware, the German brand controls more of the compact segment than the Jetta’s sales indicate on their own. Most rivals, including Honda’s best-selling Civic, Toyota’s second-rung Corolla, Hyundai’s third-place Elantra, and the list goes on, combine multiple body styles under one nameplate. This was true for VW’s fifth-place Golf for the 2019 model year too, and previously when available as a Cabriolet, but with the SportWagen being cancelled for 2020 the little hatchback moves forward with just one profile shape. Speaking of that Golf, if its 2019 calendar year sales of 19,668 units were combined with the Jetta’s aforementioned total, created one collective whole, VW would no longer sit in fifth and sixth places respectively, but instead jump past Mazda’s 21,276 unit-sales with a new compact total of 36,928 deliveries. That puts the Golf/Jetta combo mighty close to the Elantra’s 39,463 deliveries.

2019 Volkswagen Jetta GLI 35th Edition
LED headlamps come standard, as do “GLI” badges and unique red trim accents.

OK, I got a little carried away with numbers, as I sometimes do (just be glad I didn’t add the 3,667 Ioniq and 1,420 Veloster sales to Hyundai’s 2019 calendar year mix, or the 2,910 now discontinued VW Beetles), but you should now have a better understanding of the situation. Volkswagen continues to be a serious player in compact arena, and the Jetta is a key component of its mostly two-pronged (so far) approach in this market segment. This said, VW has done compact performance better than most of its rivals for a lot longer, with entries like the iconic Golf GTI and hyper-fast Golf R playing it out in the hot hatch sector, and the Jetta GLI being reviewed here pushing VW’s agenda amongst affordable sport sedans.

Yes, Honda deserves kudos for its long-running Civic Si (now with 205 hp) that arrived in 1985 as the CRX Si and in regular Civic form for 1988, and currently puts out a beastly compact sport hatch dubbed Type R (306 hp), which is a similar combo to Subaru’s legendary WRX (268 hp) and WRX STI (310 hp) twins, while Mazda’s less formidable yet still respectable 3 GT is in the mix (186 hp—how we miss the Mazdaspeed3, but there is recent talk of Mazda’s 250-hp turbo 2.5 with 310 lb-ft of torque improving 3 performance), but the South Koreans have recently been stepping up competition with sporty alternatives of their own, respectively including the Elantra Sport (201 hp) and Kia Forte GT (201 hp) that actually use identical powertrains and ride on the same platform architecture. While this is good news for performance fans, Ford recently nixed its fabulous Focus ST (252 hp) and sensational Focus RS (350 hp) along with their entire car lineup (sacrificed to the crossover SUV), Mustang coupe and convertible aside, showing some come and some go. Yes, there’s something to be said for honest to goodness longstanding performance heritage, and the Jetta’s three-letter GLI acronym beats all rivals excepting the GTI in the test of time, with its 1984 inception resulting in 36 years under its belt.

2019 Volkswagen Jetta GLI 35th Edition
Special aerodynamic aids visually separate the GLI’s styling from regular Jetta models.

To its advantage, the new Jetta GLI is one good looking sport sedan. Those who might be turned off by Honda’s boy-racer Civic Si design and Subaru’s rally-ready WRX look should gravitate to the sporty VeeDub thanks to its more discreet appearance. The usual blackened exterior trim is once again joined by tasteful splashes of red accenting key areas, this latest version getting a red horizontal divider across its grille as well as big red brake calipers framed by special red trim circling each of its dark grey 18-inch wheels. Of course, the front and rear “GLI” badges are doused in bright red as well, as is a really attractive set of front fender trim pieces that boast this GLI 35th Edition’s unique designation.

As far as the GLI’s glossy black trim goes, there’s a thick strip along the top portion of the grille, plus more of the inky black treatment surrounding the lower front fascia’s corner vent bezels, painting the side mirror housings, finishing the front portion and rear portions of the roof, and coating the tastefully small rear deck lid spoiler. It’s a real looker from front to rear, and more importantly for people my age (let’s just say above 50), the type of compact sport sedan that won’t make you look like you’re trying to relive your glory days when seen behind the wheel.

2019 Volkswagen Jetta GLI 35th Edition
Exclusive grey-painted 18-inch alloys are encircled by red pin stripes, while red callipers promise stronger standard braking power.

As expected in any performance-tuned VW, the GLI includes a well-bolstered, comfortable set of perforated leather front seats. They’re highlighted with sporty red contrast stitching and attractively patterned inserts, for a look that’s simultaneously sporty and luxurious. What’s more, the steering wheel is downright performance perfection, featuring a slightly flat bottom section and ideally formed thumb indentations, plus red baseball-like stitching around the inside of the meaty leather-wrapped rim. VW continues the cabin’s bright red highlights with more crimson coloured thread on the leather gear lever boot, plus the centre armrest, the “GLI” portion of the model’s “GLI 35” seat tags, as well as the identical logo on the embroidered floor mats and stainless-steel sill plates.

There’s also a fair share of satin-silver aluminum trim around the cabin, including the previously noted steering wheel’s spokes, the foot pedals, various switches and accents on the centre stack and lower console, plus more. Additional trim worth noting include a small dose of fake carbon-fibre and larger sampling of piano black lacquer on the dash and upper door panels, whereas the former area is wholly soft-touch due to a premium-like composite that wraps down to the instrument panel ahead of the front passenger, before this premium treatment continues to the front door uppers, inserts and armrests.

2019 Volkswagen Jetta GLI 35th Edition
Special front fender garnishes include “GLI 35” badging.

While all of this luxury-level pampering sounds good, I’m quite certain most would-be buyer’s eyes will be find the standard digital instrument cluster even more appealing, at least at first sight. If you’ve seen Audi’s Virtual Cockpit you’ll know what I’m talking about, although VW calls theirs a Digital Cockpit. Similarly to the fancier German brand, the GLI’s Digital Cockpit includes a “VIEW” button on the left-side steering wheel spoke that transforms the cluster’s look from a traditional two-dial layout with a multi-function display in the middle to a massive MID with tiny conventional gauges below. This is looks especially good when filling the MID with the navigation system’s map, and makes it easier to glance down for directions than when on the centre display. The Digital Cockpit can do likewise with other functions, resulting in one of the more useful electronic components currently available from a mainstream brand.

The Jetta GLI’s centre touchscreen is a big 8.0-inch display boasting high-definition resolution and bright, colourful graphics with rich visual depth and contrast, while just like the primary instrument package it comes well stocked with features such as tablet-style tap, pinch and swipe gesture controls, Android Auto, Apple CarPlay, and Mirror Link smartphone integration, audio, navigation, application, driving mode and fuel-saving eco “pages”, plus finally a performance driving interface with a lap timer and more.

2019 Volkswagen Jetta GLI 35th Edition
LED taillights provide a bright warning to following vehicles, plus tasteful good looks.

Strangely, active guidelines are not included with the backup camera, which is a bit odd for the GLI’s top-level trim, which included an available $995 ($1,005 for 2020) Advanced Driver Assistive Systems (ADAS) upgrade bundle featuring a multi-function camera with a distance sensor. This package also adds Light Assist auto high beam control, dynamic cruise control with stop and go, Front Assist autonomous emergency braking, Side Assist blind-spot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert, and Lane Assist lane keeping capability.

An attractive, well-organized and easy to use three-dial dual-zone auto climate control interface sits just below the infotainment display on the centre stack. It includes switches for the GLI’s standard three-way heated and ventilated front seats, the former warm enough for therapeutic lower back pain relief and the latter helpful for reducing sweat during hot summer months, while under this is an extremely large and accommodating rubber-based wireless device charger as well as a USB-A charging port.

2019 Volkswagen Jetta GLI 35th Edition
The Jetta GLI’s interior combines premium-like features with some sub-mainstream materials quality.

A gearshift lever with a sporty looking metallic and composite knob and aforementioned red-stitched leather boot takes up its tradition spot on the lower console between front occupants, surrounding by an electric parking brake, traction control and idle-stop system defeat buttons, plus a driving mode selector that lets you choose between Eco, Comfort, Normal, Sport and Custom settings.

Speaking of centre consoles, the overhead one above houses a handy sunglasses holder as well as switchgear for opening the big power glass sunroof that also includes an opaque fabric sunscreen with an upscale aluminum handle.

And so it should, as the GLI, starting at $32,445 plus freight and fees for the manual, or $33,845 for my as-tested DSG dual-clutch automated model, is starting to encroach into low-end premium territory. Fit, finish, materials tactile quality and overall refinement is only so-so, however, not even measuring up to VW’s own Golf GTI. It used to be that a Jetta was merely a Golf (or Rabbit) with a trunk, the latter useful for mitigating inner-city security risks, but now the two cars look totally different other than the badge on their grilles and backsides and a handful of cross-model components.

2019 Volkswagen Jetta GLI 35th Edition
The GLI’s instruments and infotainment are a step above most rivals.

The base 2019 Golf GTI is available from $30,845 (and when I recently checked plenty were still available in Canada, probably due to the health situation that I don’t want to name due to being negatively flagged by search engines, etcetera) and $850 less than the $31,695 entry-level Jetta GLI, but the sporty VW hatchback boasts fabric-wrapped A pillars, just like its more affordable Golf counterparts, while no Jetta, including this GLI, gets this semi-premium treatment. All of the Jetta’s hard composites below the waist, and some of them above, don’t feel all that substantive either.

Certainly, we need to factor in the Jetta’s compact status, an entry-level model for Volkswagen that doesn’t sell a subcompact car in North America, but such is not the case for its main rivals that are seeing this compact segment as a growing alternative for those who might have otherwise purchase a mid-size sedan or wagon. The fact is, rivals from Japan and Korea are packing more soft-touch luxury and premium features into their smaller cars, and winning over buyers who want to be pampered instead of punished for choosing a more environmentally conscious small car. Just get into a fully loaded Mazda3, Toyota Corolla or Kia Forte and you’ll quickly figure out what I’m talking about. They’re delivering at a high level, and deserve to attract new buyers that aren’t being gobbled up by the Civic, the Corolla and Elantra.

2019 Volkswagen Jetta GLI 35th Edition
This is as good as digital instrument clusters get in the mainstream volume-branded sector.

The shame is VW used to lead in small car refinement, to the point that previous Jettas were probably too good for this segment, even starting to be uncomfortably compared against the automaker’s own Audi A4. Therefore, anyone trading in their 2005–2011 fifth-generation Jetta for the current version, whether trimmed out to top-line GLI spec or not, will probably find the cabin’s finish and materials quality less than ideal.

By the way, I tested a new Forte GT recently, and have to say it does a good job of competing against old guard sport compacts like this GLI and Honda’s Civic Si, but unlike this car the Forte’s rear door panels were finished to the same high-quality, soft-touch level as those up front, whereas none of the above can be found on the GLI’s rear door panels. I can’t think of another car in this class that misses the mark so blatantly in this respect, and call for VW to step things up before it completely loses its reputation for tactile quality.

2019 Volkswagen Jetta GLI 35th Edition
The Jetta GLI’s 8.0-inch infotainment touchscreen is packed full of convenience and performance features.

This said, a set of heated outboard rear seats would’ve been much appreciated by rear passengers mid-winter, not that these aren’t offered by competitors, but once again the panel surrounding the three-way buttons was about as primitive as this class provides. The seats were comfortable and supportive, mind you, as well as attractive due to the same red stitching and perforated leather as those in the front, not to mention sculpted backrests in the outer window positions. A decent sized folding rear centre armrest includes cupholders, but unlike Jettas that came before there’s no cargo pass-through door behind for stuffing long items such as skis. This means you’ll have to lower the 40-percent side of the 60/40-split rear seatbacks when four people are on board, forcing one rear occupant into the less comfortable middle seat, and making the rear seat warmer on that side redundant when that rear passenger will want it most. On the positive, the trunk is large at 510 litres, and could potentially house shorter skis diagonally as well as snowboards. Of course, the Jetta is not alone in choosing less costly 60/40 split-folding rear seatbacks, but the Golf offers the centre pass-through and therefore is the better choice for active owners.

2019 Volkswagen Jetta GLI 35th Edition
Every new car should come with a wireless charger, and VW makes this large one standard in the GLI.

A few minutes behind the wheel and you’ll quickly forget about such shortcomings, however, as the GLI is a blast to drive. Truly, this sport sedan is one of the most enjoyable to drive within its mainstream volume-branded compact sedan class, thanks to a new 228 horsepower 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder engine with 258 lb-ft of torque. That’s an increase of 18 horsepower and 51 lb-ft over the GLI’s predecessor, incidentally, and due to only being available with front-wheel drive the motive wheels/tires have a habit of squealing during quick takeoffs. Certainly, there’s traction control, as noted earlier, but it comes on a bit too late to stop any noisy commotion from down below, so you’ll need to restrain your right foot in order to maintain civility and not engage any police intervention.

The GLI’s new seven-speed dual-clutch automated DSG transmission is as important an upgrade as the engine’s newfound power, and feels even faster between paddle shift-actuated gear intervals than the previous model’s six-speed unit, while gaining a taller final gear to improve fuel economy (it’s rated at 9.6 L/100km in the city, 7.3 on the highway and 8.5 combined with the six-speed manual and a respective 9.3, 7.2 and 8.4 with my tester’s A7 DSG auto).

2019 Volkswagen Jetta GLI 35th Edition
The GLI’s standard power-adjustable sport seats are comfortable and supportive.

While the new GLI is nowhere near as fast as the aforementioned Golf R, or some of that model’s equivalently quick super-compact competitors such as Subaru’s WRX STI and Mitsubishi’s awesome EVO X (RIP), it’s more than respectable amongst mid-range sport models like the Civic Si, while making wannabe performance cars like the Mazda3 GT feel as if they’re standing still. Momentary burnouts during takeoff aside, the new Jetta GLI was unflappable when pushed hard through high-speed curving sections of backcountry two-lane roadway, even when pavement was so uneven that the car’s rear end should’ve been hopping and bopping around the road. Fortunately, unlike that top-tier Mazda3 and VW’s more pedestrian Jetta trims below that use a torsion-beam rear suspension, the GLI includes a multi-link setup in back, which absorbed jarring potholes and other road imperfections with ease, allowing most of the stock 225/45 Hankook Kinergy GT all-season tires’ contact patches to remain fully engaged with the road below. To be fair to the Mazda3, it’s surprisingly stable during such otherwise unsettling circumstances due to available AWD with G-Vectoring Plus.

2019 Volkswagen Jetta GLI 35th Edition
Volkswagen provides a comfortable, roomy rear passenger compartment, but the tactile quality of the rear door panels is not up to par.

Back in the city, the GLI’s idle-stop system shut off the engine when the car came to a stop amid parallel parking manoeuvres. This wouldn’t normally be a problem, as it should quickly reignite the engine when lifting off the brake, but while I was purposely parked too close to the vehicle ahead in order to straighten the car out, it wouldn’t restart while in reverse. This necessitated shifting back into park and then pressing on the throttle to wake up the engine, and then shifting back to reverse before aligning the car. This is probably a software glitch, but I’d be complaining to my dealer if it persisted. Fortunately, I experienced no other instances of this happening, but remember I only live with test cars for a week at a time.

The previously noted $32,445 (for the base manual) and $33,845 (for the DSG auto) base prices meant the 2019 GLI 35 is nicely equipped, with items not yet covered including fog lamps, LED headlights, proximity entry with pushbutton start/stop, rain-sensing wipers, an auto-dimming rearview mirror, a potent 8-speaker BeatsAudio system with a subwoofer, a power-adjustable driver’s seat with two-way powered lumbar and three-position memory, and the list goes on. The same goes for the 2020 model, by the way, as there haven’t been any changes except for the discontinuation of this model year-specific 35th Edition.

2019 Volkswagen Jetta GLI 35th Edition
At 510 litres, the Jetta’s trunk is large, but no centre pass-through means it’s not as useful as the Golf’s cargo compartment.

Speaking of model years, VW Canada will give you up to $3,000 in additional incentives on a 2019 Jetta (which remained available when this review was written), while the new 2020 GLI can be purchased with $1,000 in additional incentives, although keep in mind that CarCostCanada member savings averaged $2,500 for the newer 2020 model. To learn more, see our 2020 Volkswagen Jetta Canada Prices page and/or 2019 Volkswagen Jetta Canada Prices page, where members can find out about manufacturer rebates, leasing and financing deals, plus dealer invoice pricing that could add up to even more savings. What’s more, you can now download our free CarCostCanada app from Google Play Store or Apple iTunes/App store so you can have all of our important info in the palms of your hands when negotiating at the dealership, whether purchasing this Jetta GLI or any other new vehicle sold in Canada.

In the end, I can’t help but like the new Jetta GLI, even despite its less than ideal shortcomings. It looks great, takes off like a scared rabbit (GTI) when called upon, and is filled with most of the features premium car buyers are learning to expect. Yes, I’d prefer if Volkswagen improved some of the Jetta’s touchy-feely interior surfaces, but being that most owners will spend all of their time up front in the driver’s seat, it’s shouldn’t be a deal-killing issue.

Story and photo credits: Trevor Hofmann

Photo Editing: Karen Tuggay

CarCostCanada

New 2021 Buick Envision to arrive early next year

2021 Buick Envision
The upcoming 2021 Buick Envision is certainly no wallflower.

Market segments don’t come any more competitive than the compact luxury crossover SUV class, with younger brands like Acura, Lexus and Infiniti mixing it up with the old guard from Europe including Mercedes-Benz, BMW, Audi, Jaguar, Land Rover and Volvo. Nearly 20 models duke it out in this category, and Buick, which carefully balances between both luxury and mainstream volume market sectors, has been struggling to get noticed with a fairly safely styled Envision.

After two years of availability in China, Yantai, Shandong-built Envision wasn’t exactly fresh when it arrived in Canada for the 2016 model year, and while some of the just-named premium brands fare worse on the compact luxury SUV sales chart than Buick’s entry, it’s never found the type of traction an SUV priced as competitively in this segment should. In fact, unlike its closest rivals, Buick’s larger three-row Enclave SUV sold in greater numbers than the Envision last year, and its much smaller subcompact Encore sold almost four times as many units.

2020 Buick Envision
The outgoing 2016-2020 Buick Envision is less noticeable than the new model, yet still attractive.

Soon it will be out with the old and in with the new, however, this attractive new 2021 Envision showing that Buick is getting serious about competing against the best in the business, at least from a styling perspective. Only small design cues, such as the overall grille design and general shape of the headlamps and taillights, carry forward into the updated model, while much of its sheet metal appears more angular than in past Buicks, closer in fact to Cadillac’s XT crossover SUV line.

With just three exterior photos to go on, and very little information accompanying them, there’s not much to talk about. Buick mentioned nothing about the current 197 horsepower naturally aspirated base 2.5-litre four-cylinder engine, but did speak of the 252 horsepower 2.0-litre turbocharged four that’s now offered as an option in the 2020 model. Therefore we can assume the 2.0-litre turbo will come standard, and be joined up with a new nine-speed automatic that’s three gears more advanced than the one it will replace. Also expected, Canadian-bound Envisions will more than likely continue into the new generation with standard AWD.

2021 Buick Envision
The new 2021 Envision pulls a few design cues from its predecessor, particularly the shape of its headlamps and taillights.

Of note, the first-generation Envision rides on the same GM Delta platform as the current second-generation Chevrolet Equinox and GMC Terrain compact SUVs, so it makes sense that this latest iteration will do likewise. The current model offers a commendable ride and handling package thanks to a fully independent suspension with struts up front and four-link setup in the rear, so it’s likely something very similar will underpin the new 2021 model.

Additionally, the new 2021 Envision will arrive with standard forward collision alert, automatic emergency braking (for vehicles and pedestrians), lane keeping assist, lane departure warning, rear parking assist, etcetera. Reports also claim the new Envision’s advanced driver assistance systems were partially developed at General Motors’ Canadian Technical Centre, which is a nice connection to Canada.

Available features should include front parking assist, semi-automatic parking assist, an overhead parking monitor, blindspot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert, a head-up display unit, a rearview mirror with an integrated camera system, and more.

2020 Buick Envision
The old Envision should be considered by luxury buyers wanting a nicely refined compact luxury SUV.

A 10.0-inch centre-mounted touchscreen featuring an HD reverse camera will be available, incidentally, as will Android Auto and Apple CarPlay smartphone integration, not to mention Amazon Alexa, while Buick will offer its top-line Avenir trim in the Envision for the first time.

Just in case you prefer the subtler, softer lines of today’s 2020 Buick Envision or simply want to take advantage of any deals that might be available now, like manufacturer rebates, financing and leasing offers, and dealer invoice pricing that could save you thousands, take note that an inexpensive CarCostCanada membership will provide you with everything just mentioned and more, giving you everything needed before speaking with your local Buick dealer.

By checking our 2020 Buick Envision Canada Prices page, you can currently receive up to $1,000 in additional incentives for this model or the 2020 Encore, while the 2021 Encore is available with zero-percent financing. Also notable, you can get up to $1,500 in incentives when purchasing a 2020 Enclave or a 2020 Regal Sportback. Make sure to see our CarCostCanada “How it Works” page to learn more.

As for the newly redesigned Buick Envision, it’s expected to go on sale sometime in early 2021, but we’ll no doubt be getting more details before then. Stay tuned…

Story credit: Trevor Hofmann

Photo credits: Buick

CarCostCanada

2019 Volvo V90 Cross Country T6 AWD Road Test

2019 Volvo V90 Cross Country T6 AWD
The V90 Cross Country offers a nice combination of quick, comfortable wagon and rugged SUV.

Volvo’s V90 Cross Country started life just three years ago for the 2017 model year, and it’s already being discontinued in Canada. The 2019 model year will be this large luxury crossover wagon’s final curtain call, along with the regular V90 sport wagon that’s also seen sales diminish dramatically since the smaller V60 wagon, V60 Cross Country and XC60 luxury crossover SUVs were redesigned. This leaves the impressive S90 luxury sedan as the only model from Volvo’s mid-size threesome to continue into 2020.

It might seem a bit strange to choose a big luxury sedan over a supposedly trendier crossover wagon, but such is the case with Volvo Canada. The Swedish automaker’s US division is currently selling a 2020 version of the V90 Cross Country with a refreshed 2021 waiting in the wings, but we’ll need to go Stateside to see that. As it is, Volvo hasn’t been purveying many mid-size E-segment vehicles north of the 49th, with sales of its S90, V90 and V90 Cross Country trio plunging 65 percent to just 295 units last year.

2019 Volvo V90 Cross Country T6 AWD
Sadly, the good looking and highly functional V90 Cross Country was discontinued after the 2019 model year.

As a backgrounder, the V90 Cross Country replaced the much-loved 2000-2016 XC70, and by doing so combined Volvo’s recently reinvigorated sense of style with its well respected quality, sensible practicality, and turbocharged, supercharged four-cylinder performance to the mid-size crossover wagon category, while increasing the level of opulent luxury on offer.

Those familiar with today’s Volvo understand what I’m talking about, particularly when any of its models are upgraded to their top-tier R-Design or Inscription trim levels. This said the V90 Cross Country doesn’t get so fancy with hierarchal names here in the Canadian market, merely using one no-name trim and various packages to add options. On that note my test model featured a Premium package that includes a generous list of standard features and wealth of impressive furnishings, making for one of the more luxurious crossover wagons available.

2019 Volvo V90 Cross Country T6 AWD
The LED headlights, fog lamps and 19-inch alloys are standard.

I’m sure Audi and its many loyal enthusiasts would argue that the German brand’s entirely new 2020 A6 Allroad is even more resplendent, and despite the Ingolstadt-based contender being wholly impressive, Gothenburg’s outgoing alternative looks and feels even more upscale inside even though it’s priced $12,700 lower.

A 2019 V90 Cross Country can be had for just $62,500, whereas the A6 Allroad is comparably expensive at $75,200, and while Audi gets some prestige points for brand image, plus its potent turbocharged 3.0-litre V6 that puts out an extra 19 horsepower and 74 lb-ft of torque over Volvo’s turbocharged and supercharged 2.0-litre four-cylinder that makes 316 horsepower and 295 lb-ft of torque, this Swedish alternative is a bit easier on fuel thanks to a claimed Transport Canada rating of 11.6 L/100km city, 8.1 highway and 10.0 combined, compared to 11.8, 9.1 and 10.6 respectively.

2019 Volvo V90 Cross Country T6 AWD
The V90 Cross Country’s SUV-like detailing is very upscale.

Previously Volvo sold a $59,500 V90 Cross Country T5 AWD with 250 horsepower, but it was cancelled at the end of the 2018 model year, as was the previous top-line $84,900 Ocean Race T6 AWD.  The just-noted $3,900 Premium package certainly adds to this 2019 model’s luxury accoutrements, however, with features like heatable windshield washer nozzles, auto-dimming and power-folding exterior mirrors, LED interior lights, aluminum treadplates, a heatable steering wheel, front and rear parking sonar with graphical proximity indicators, Park Assist Pilot semi-autonomous self-parking, a 360 Surround View camera, a universal garage door opener, four-zone auto climate control, a cooled glove box, heated rear outboard seats, power-folding rear seatbacks and outer head restraints, a wonderfully useful semi-automatic cargo cover, an integrated mesh safety net to protect passengers from potentially flying cargo, blindspot monitoring with cross-traffic alert, etcetera.

2019 Volvo V90 Cross Country T6 AWD
The V90 Cross Country’s cabin is very inviting and more luxurious than you might be expecting.

The $62,500 base price for the 2019 V90 Cross Country T6 AWD doesn’t include $900 for metallic paint, incidentally, which is a no-cost option with Audi, but the A6 Allroad only gives you the choice of black or beige leather inside, and it’s not the same high-grade Nappa leather as in the V90 CC, which is available in four zero-cost optional colours including Charcoal (black), Amber (dark beige), Maroon Brown (dark reddish brown) and Blond (light grey).

Of course, both cars can be loaded up, my tester not fully equipped. In fact it was missing a $3,600 Luxury package featuring a beautifully tailored instrument panel, an enhanced set of front seats with power-adjustable side bolsters, power-extendable lower cushions, multi-technique massage capability, and ventilation, as well as manually retractable rear window side sunshades.

2019 Volvo V90 Cross Country T6 AWD
Comfortable and well laid out, the V90 Cross Country is easy to live with.

My tester didn’t include the $2,350 optional rear air suspension and Four-C Active Chassis upgrade either, and only came with 19-inch alloy wheels instead of 20-inch alloys that cost $1,000 more, while it was also missing body-colour bumpers, wheel arches and sills, Metal Mesh decor inlays (although the hardwood was very nice), a black headliner, a graphical head-up display, a Bowers & Wilkins premium audio system (with ¬gorgeous aluminum speaker grilles—a $3,750 option), and two dual-stage child booster seats integrated within the rear outboard positions, all of which might add $18,375 to the 2019 V90 Cross Country’s price, potentially hoisting it up to $80,875.

2019 Volvo V90 Cross Country T6 AWD
A fully digital instrument cluster comes standard.

While this might seem like a lot of money for a mid-size luxury crossover wagon, consider for a moment that the 2020 Audi A6 Allroad Technik starts at $83,100 without any massage action, and while Audi’s impressive “Virtual Cockpit” digital gauge package is included (the V90 features a digital instrument cluster too, just not quite as configurable), being massaged from below a higher grade of Valcona leather will cost A6 Allroad buyers an additional $4,050, whereas including all of the V90 CC’s advanced driver assistance systems will add another $2,400.

2019 Volvo V90 Cross Country T6 AWD
The V90 CC’s tablet-style infotainment touchscreen is fully featured and easy to use.

Audi buyers can also add the A6 Allroad’s $2,500 Dynamic package with Dynamic Steering and Dynamic All-Wheel Steering, another $2,500 for Night Vision Assistant, $500 more for quieter dual-pane glass, $350 extra for Audi Phonebox with wireless charging, an additional $350 for rear side airbags, and $1,000 more for full body paint (which was already priced into the top-tier V90 CC), bringing the German car’s max price up to $102,650, less $1,000 in additional incentives when signing up for a CarCostCanada membership, which provides info on all current rebates, financing and leasing deals, plus otherwise difficult to get dealer invoice pricing, so you can be fully prepared before negotiating with your local retailer (see our 2020 Audi A6 allroad Canada Prices page).

2019 Volvo V90 Cross Country T6 AWD
Check out this bird’s eye view! The V90 CC’s overhead camera makes parking easy.

Keep in mind the additional incentives for the A6 Allroad are $1,000 less impressive than the $2,000 any Volvo dealer will chop off of the price of a 2019 V90 Cross Country (see that on our 2019 Volvo V90 Cross Country Canada Prices page), but even before factoring in such savings, this Volvo should truly impress anyone choosing between these two impressive crossover SUVs.

Both are unmistakably attractive inside and out, thanks to dynamic designs and the latest LED lighting tech. Some will like the minimalist Audi cabin more, while Volvo’s ritzier look will appeal to others. Faulting either on their quality of materials and overall construction will fall on deaf ears, as they’re both superbly crafted.

2019 Volvo V90 Cross Country T6 AWD
The V90 CC’s eight-speed automatic is sublimely smooth.

True, but Volvo makes a nicer key fob. Say what? Yes, it’s easily one of the nicest remotes in the industry, even making you feel special when outside of the car thanks to the same Nappa leather surrounding its flat surfaces as found the car’s seat upholstery, plus beautifully detailed metal around the edges. Of course, being that most owners only touch their proximity-sensing remotes when switching jackets or purses it seems a bit extravagant, but going above and beyond has always been part of what luxury owners crave.

Volvo covers the majority of surfaces with premium soft-touch synthetic or optional contrast-stitched leather, not to mention beautiful dark oak inlays on the instrument panel and doors. The more upmarket version swaps the wood out with metal inlays, as mentioned earlier, while there’s no shortage of satin-finish aluminum accents everywhere else.

2019 Volvo V90 Cross Country T6 AWD
Much of the V90 Cross Country’s switchgear is jewel-like.

Volvo makes sure to cover most surfaces below the waste in premium pliable synthetic, which isn’t the case with a fair number of premium brands like Lexus (although they don’t sell anything in this niche segment), while each pillar is covered in the same nicely woven material as the roof liner.

While most features mentioned so far is par for the course in the luxury sector, much of the V90 CC’s buttons, knobs and switches look more like fine jewellery than anything mechanical. Volvo uses a dazzling diamond patterned bright metal to edge much of its switchgear, including the main audio knob, the rotating ignition switch, the scrolling drive mode selector, and the air vent actuators. No rival goes so far to wow its owners this side of Bentley, making the V90 CC and most everything else Volvo has on offer stand out from the rest of the luxury field.

2019 Volvo V90 Cross Country T6 AWD
These seats are fabulous!

Before continuing, I need to point out that most everything I’ve mentioned comes standard in Canada, the aforementioned digital gauge cluster included. An impressive vertical tablet-like infotainment touchscreen takes up the majority of the centre stack, with super clear, high-definition graphics and deep, rich colours, plus an interface that’s as easy to use as a smartphone or tablet thanks to familiar tap, swipe and pinch capabilities (not always the norm in the luxury class). It comes filled with all the expected functions too, including one of the coolest HVAC temperature controllers in the industry, and a superb 360-degree overhead camera system. The touchscreen in my V90 CC tester, which comes near to being a top-line model, is almost exactly the same as the one in the smallest and most affordable Volvo XC40 crossover SUV, or any other new Volvo, which allows easy adaptation to those moving up through the range.

2019 Volvo V90 Cross Country T6 AWD
Big enough sunroof for you? The V90 Cross Country comes standard with this panoramic sunroof.

The digital instrument cluster offers up a bright, clear display too, albeit with a slight matte finish to diminish glare. While it’s configurable, Volvo doesn’t go so far to wow its driver as Audi does with its previously noted Virtual Cockpit, being that you’re not able to make the multi-infotainment display in the centre system larger and the circular gauges smaller. Where Audi amazes is the Virtual Cockpit’s ability to dramatically reduce the size of the primary dials and maximize the multi-info display to the point it takes over most of the screen, which is great for viewing the navigation’s map while driving. The V90’s gauge package provides good functionality in different ways, mind you, with the primary instruments reducing in size slightly while some multi-info display features get used, and the centre area is fairly large and appealing thanks to attractive graphics and most functions from the infotainment system.

2019 Volvo V90 Cross Country T6 AWD
The rear passenger compartment is roomy, comfortable, and beautifully finished.

While the V90 CC provides state-of-the-art electronic interfaces and surrounds its generous supply of features with a sumptuous interior, it wouldn’t matter one bit if Volvo didn’t supply the worthy powertrain noted earlier, and matching handling dynamics. The big wagon’s 315 horsepower and 279 pound-feet of torque are more than enough for energetic V6-like acceleration from standstill and ample get-up-and-go during passing manoeuvres. The engine combines with a quick-shifting eight-speed automatic transmission with manual mode, but alas there aren’t paddles for wandering fingers. Those wanting to do their own shifting can do so via the gear lever, but other than for testing I never bothered, as it’s a superb transmission when left to its own devices.

2019 Volvo V90 Cross Country T6 AWD
The V90 Cross Country’s innovative cargo cover automatically pulls itself up and out of the way when the tailgate opens.

The comfort-focused V90 Cross Country isn’t quite as quick through the corners as the more road-hugging V90 T6 AWD R-Design sport wagon I tested previously, but it’s not far off. The CC gets a 58-millimetre (2.3-inch) suspension lift, meaning that its centre of gravity is affected, so its lateral grip isn’t quite as tenacious as the sportier wagon. This said, unless really trying to make time through a winding mountainside back road you probably won’t notice, and besides, the Cross Country is more about comfort than speed anyway. To that end it’s suspension, together with its aforementioned front seats, is glorious, and ideal for charting the cottage road less travelled or trekking through deep snow.

Making the latter possible, all V90 Cross Country crossover wagons come standard with all-wheel drive, albeit no off-road mode so don’t go wild when venturing into the wilderness. Still, it handles slippery situations well, making me confident that light-duty off-road conditions would be no problem.

2019 Volvo V90 Cross Country T6 AWD
This built-in cargo divider includes grocery bag hooks.

Volvo provides a set of aluminum roof rails as standard equipment, while you can get roof rack cross-members, bike racks, storage toppers and more from your dealer’s parts department, all coming together to make the V90 Cross Country a perfect companion for outdoor activities such as cycling, kayaking, and camping trips. A $1,345 trailer hitch package with electronic monitoring and Trailer Stability Assist (TSA) is also available, perfect for towing a small boat or camp trailer.

Along with the comfortable ride and superb seats mentioned earlier, the V90 CC’s driving position is wonderfully adjustable and therefore ideal for most body types. I’m slightly shorter than average at five-foot-eight, with legs that are longer than my torso, which sometimes causes a challenge if the telescopic steering column doesn’t reach far enough rearward. The V90 CC had no such problems, resulting in a comfortable setup that left me fully in control.

2019 Volvo V90 Cross Country T6 AWD
A mesh cargo net keeps passengers safe from flying cargo in case of an accident.

When sitting behind the driver’s seat set to my height, I still had 10 inches ahead of my knees, plus about five inches from my shoulder to the door panel, another four beside my hips, and three and a half or so over my head. Stretching my legs out, with my shoes below the driver’s seat, was easy, while rear seat comfort was enhanced with my test car’s four-zone automatic climate control that included a handy interface on the backside of the front console. A set of heatable outboard seats would be popular with rear passengers for winter ski trips without doubt, as would the big standard panoramic sunroof anytime of the year. Adding to the sense of openness, the V90 CC also gets rear HVAC vents on the backside of the front centre console, plus another set more on the midpoint of each B-pillar. A really fancy centre armrest folds down between outboard passengers, featuring pop-out dual cupholders, a shallow tray, plus a lidded and lined stowage bin, while LED reading lights hover overhead.

2019 Volvo V90 Cross Country T6 AWD
A small but useful centre pass-through ups the V90 CC’s practicality.

A power tailgate provides access to the V90 CC’s spacious cargo compartment, at which point the previously noted retractable cargo cover automatically moves up and out of the way. The cargo area measures 560 litres (19.8 cubic feet) aft of the rear seatbacks and about 1,530 litres (54 cu ft) with the rear row dropped down, and is beautifully finished with high-quality carpets right up each sidewalls and on the rear seatbacks, plus the floor of course, while underneath a rubber all-weather cargo mat (which comes as part of a $355 Protection package also including floor trays for four of the five seating positions, a centre tunnel cover, and the just-mentioned cargo tray), my test model’s floor included a pop-up cargo divider with integrated grocery bag hooks. The cargo floor can be lifted one more time, providing access to a shallow carpeted compartment for stowing very thin items (it was ideal for storing the carpeted floor mats while the all-season ones were being used).

2019 Volvo V90 Cross Country T6 AWD
No shortage of gear-toting space behind the 60/40-split rear seatbacks.

I really appreciated the V90’s centre pass-through, which made the otherwise 60/40 split-folding rear seatbacks more versatile, but this said it’s a bit small and narrow, and not as useful as a true 40/20/40-split rear seatback. Still, two pairs of skis could fit within, but you’d still need to stow two down the 40-percent portion of the cargo area if four wanted to go skiing, forcing one passenger onto the hump in the middle. When dropping those seats, however, powered release buttons on the cargo sidewall make the job ultra-easy. These flip the headrests forward automatically as well, which can also be lowered from the front to improve rear visibility.

2019 Volvo V90 Cross Country T6 AWD
There’s plenty of cargo space in the V90 Cross Country.

So who’s right for the V90 Cross Country? I think it’s perfect for those considering the move up from a traditional four-door sedan or wagon into something more practical, yet not ready for a big, SUV-style crossover like Volvo’s XC90. This said I’m not going to recommend the V90 CC over Audi’s new A6 Allroad or vice versa, at least not yet, mostly because I haven’t driven the new German. Still, having spent some time inside the Ingolstadt alternative, I can easily say this Volvo measures up, while Audi will have to work very hard to achieve more comfort than this V90 CC, and any advantage in fuel economy is a good thing (although some would rather have more power).

At the end of the day it comes down to one’s personal taste, not to mention the ability of your local Volvo retailer to source a new V90 Cross Country. If you like what you see don’t wait any longer as they’re disappearing quickly.

Story and photo credits: Trevor Hofmann

Photo Editing: Karen Tuggay

CarCostCanada

2021 Porsche 911 Carrera receives important updates

2021 Porsche 911 Carrera S Cabriolet
The new 911 Carrera will be available with the innovative InnoDrive adaptive cruise control system starting in 2021.

Porsche only showed its new 2021 911 Turbo S Coupe and Cabriolet models in March, and we’re already find out what they’ve got in store for next year’s 911 Carrera, Carrera S, and Carrera 4S.

The two sportier trims will soon get a new seven-speed manual transmission, but we’re not yet sure if the DIY gearbox will be standard in Canada and therefore priced lower than the current standard eight-speed automated PDK dual-clutch transmission, as it was in 2019, or if it will be no-cost option like the latest 2021 models are being offered in Europe. Fortunately, Porsche Canada will announce pricing in a few months, which will clarify this question.

2021 Porsche 911 Carrera
Want a faster and more agile 911? Good news! 2021 Carrera Coupes will be available with a new lightweight glass package.

PDK-equipped 911s in mind, Porsche will make its InnoDrive adaptive cruise control system available for 2021 as well. InnoDrive has the ability to automatically maintain set speed limits and slow down for corners, in addition to the usual adaptive cruise control capabilities.

Also new, optional Smartlift raises the 911’s front axle to clear steep driveways and larger than average speed bumps, while it can also be programmed to automatically remember specific locations where it needs to lift. A tire temperature readout gauge is new for 2021 911s equipped with the Sport Chrono Package as well.

2021 Porsche 911 Carrera 4S Cabriolet
Smartlift will raise your 911s front end upwards to overcome big speed bumps and steep driveways.

In an effort to make the 911 even sportier, a lightweight glass package reduces mass up high in the body and therefore lowers the car’s centre of gravity. Only available with the Coupe, this feature will be popular with performance purists, while those wanting more refinement can opt for thicker, better-insulated glass.

Porsche looks to its past for a new leather upholstery upgrade package, introduced earlier for the base 2021 Turbo S. The retro upgrade pulls styling cues from the 930-generation 911 Turbo, and is available in both the Coupe and Cabriolet.

More trivial yet still cool, Porsche’s seven-colour Ambient Lighting Package has been renamed from the outgoing model year’s somewhat less obvious Light Design Package name, while the 911’s exterior paint palette has grown to include Python Green for 2021, a colour also offered with the 911 Turbo S and 718 Cayman GTS 4.0.

We can expect more 2021 911 details closer to launch.

Story credit: Trevor Hofmann

Photo credits: Porsche

CarCostCanada

2020 Mercedes-AMG C 43 4Matic Wagon Road Test

2020 Mercedes-AMG C43 4Matic Wagon
The Mercedes-AMG C 43 4Matic Wagon is a fully capable sport sedan with the functionality of an SUV.

Modern-day crossover sport utilities are great, but let’s face it, most everyone’s got one these days. There’s a reason, of course, as they combine loads of practicality with car-like attributes, with some even coming close to matching the performance of sport sedans.

Mercedes’ AMG sub-brand is good example of the latter thanks to the German brand providing Canadian luxury buyers with hyper-tuned versions of their GLA subcompact SUV, GLC compact SUV (including the GLC Coupe), GLE mid-size SUV (the GLE Coupe only coming in AMG trims), and rugged G full-size off-road capable SUV, but take note that performance buyers wanting the same kind of utility as an SUV with even better cornering capability, due to inherently lower centres of gravity, can opt for Mercedes’ lineup of performance wagons too.

Mercedes has a long history of producing ultra-quick wagons, the 1979 (W123-body) 500 TE AMG quickly coming to mind, so it’s great news to diehard performance enthusiasts that the tradition continues to this day. Check out the brand’s retail website and you’ll easily find AMG-tuned versions of its C- and E-Class Wagons, including the AMG C 43 4Matic Wagon on this page, plus the AMG E 53 4Matic+ Wagon and AMG E 63 S 4Matic+ Wagon.

2020 Mercedes-AMG C43 4Matic Wagon
Great looking AMG C 43 4Matic Wagon can be made even more menacing by adding glossy black exterior accents via the AMG Night package.

While very practical for those with active lifestyles, the last car on this list might be outside of most buyers’ budgets at $124,200, although if you’re late for Johnny or Jenny’s morning skate there’s no better way to make up for lost time than in a five-door that can shoot from standstill to 100km/h in an unfathomable 3.3 seconds. The fire-breathing demon under the hood is Mercedes’ 603 horsepower 4.0-litre biturbo V8, while the $87,800 AMG E 53 4Matic+ Wagon still does pretty well with a 4.5-second run to 100 km/h from its 429 horsepower 3.0-litre inline six.

The smaller AMG C 43 4Matic Wagon is most affordable at $60,900, but don’t let its relatively inexpensive price make you think it’s by any means lethargic off the line. In fact, its 385-horsepower 3.0-litre biturbo V6, which features rapid-multispark ignition and a high-pressure direct injection system, launches it from zero to 100 km/h in just 4.8 seconds, much credit to 384 lb-ft of torque, and the noise emanating from its engine bay and available sport exhaust system means that its auditory delights are almost as delectable as the rush of speed to the head.

Interestingly, the only D-segment wagon on the Canadian market with similar engine specs to this AMG C 43 is Volvo’s 405 horsepower V60 Polestar, but as amazing as its engineering is, the Swedish automaker’s ultra-smooth 2.0-litre turbocharged and supercharged hybrid powertrain is not as stimulating as the AMG C 43 Wagon’s rambunctious V6, or for that matter its new AMG SpeedShift TCT nine-speed transmission, or its AMG tuned 4Matic all-wheel drive system.

2020 Mercedes-AMG C43 4Matic Wagon
LED cornering headlights, 19-inch alloys and glossy black details means that this AMG C 43 Wagon has some extras added.

I’ve seen the C 43 in black and it looks a lot more menacing than my tester’s Polar White, but Mercedes made up for its angelic do-gooder appearance with plenty of standard matte and optional glossy black exterior accents. Highlights include a black mesh front grille and lower vent gratings within a deeper front fascia, plus gloss-black strakes over corner vents, the mirror housings, the partial glass roof and roof rails, the side window trim, the aggressive rear diffuser, the four exhaust pipes, and the 19-inch alloy wheels encircled by Continental ContiSportContact SSR 225/40 high performance summer tires.

My test model’s LED headlights were style statements of their own, with each featuring a trio of separate lighting elements that look as good as the well-lit road ahead, while nice splashes of chrome around the body remind everything that this is AMG C 43 is a Mercedes-Benz after all, and therefore designed to be just as luxurious as it is sporty.

To that end, proximity keyless entry allows access to the cabin, where your eyes will likely first fixate upon two of the most impressive sport seats in industry. They’re covered in black perforated leather with red stitching and brushed aluminum four-point harness holes on their upper backrests, as well as a small AMG badge at centre. Then again, it’s quite possible you’ll first be distracted by the incredible door panel design, which gets even more brushed and satin-finish aluminum trim, as well as optional drilled aluminum Burmester speaker grilles and black leather with red stitching elsewhere.

2020 Mercedes-AMG C43 4Matic Wagon
This C 43 Wagon’s aggressive rear diffuser gets stuffed full of a free-flow AMG Performance Exhaust System.

The red-stitched, padded leather treatment continues over to the dash top and instrument panel, all the way down each side of the centre stack, while the latter features gorgeous optional carbon-fibre surfacing that extends down to the lower centre console that terminates at a big, bisected centre armrest/storage bin lid finished in yet more soft leather with red stitching.

Big in mind, two large glass sunroofs look like a single panoramic roof at first glance, yet provide more torsional rigidity than a full glass roof would. Considering the C 43 Wagon is capable of a 250-km/h (155-mph) terminal velocity, as well as harrowing at-the-limit handling, it’s critical to have a stiff body structure, and fortunately this minimizes the luxurious wagon’s wind and road noise.

Of course Mercedes wraps the roof pillars in the same high-quality fabric as the roofliner, which helps to reduce NVH levels somewhat, but most is due to the rigid body structure noted earlier, plus the various seals, insulation, engine and component mounts, plus more. Therefore it’s a near silent experience, other than the rumbling of the engine and/or the sensational Burmester audio system.

2020 Mercedes-AMG C43 4Matic Wagon
The AMG C 43 Wagon’s interior is exquisite.

It’s possible to control the volume of its 13 speakers from a beautifully detailed knurled metal cylinder switch on the right steering wheel spoke, this being only one of the C 43’s impressive array of steering wheel buttons, toggles and touch-sensitive pads. Yes, each spoke gets its own classic Blackberry-like touchpad that lets you scroll through the available digital gauge cluster or the main display on the centre stack. The steering wheel rim is as attractive as the metallic surfaced spokes, its partial Nappa leather-wrapping around flattened sides and bottom for an F1-inspired look, while a slim red leather top marker aligns the centre, and suede-look Dinamica (much like Alcantara) makes for better grip at each side.

I’d have to say there’s more satin-finish and brushed aluminum trimmings in the AMG C 43 than any rival, but rather than looking garish Mercedes pulls it off with a tasteful level of retro steampunk coolness that elevates it into a class of one. The highlight for me are its five circular air vents on the instrument panel, the three in the middle hovering above an attractive row of knurled metal-topped satin aluminum toggle-like switches, and these are only upstaged by a great looking knurled metal cylinder switch for the drive mode select, which includes Comfort, Sport, Sport+ and Slippery settings. There’s a rotating dial for the infotainment system too, this also finished in knurled aluminum, and positioned just underneath Mercedes’ trademark palm rest, which doubles as a touchpad with an upgrade.

2020 Mercedes-AMG C43 4Matic Wagon
No rival does door panels as nicely as Mercedes-Benz.

Premium brands mostly use better quality digital displays than their mainstream volume competitors, which is how it should be given their loftier prices, and Mercedes is no different. In fact, the most recently updated three-pointed star cars and SUVs include the brand’s ultra-advanced double-display design that seamlessly mates a tablet-style 12.3-inch screen directly in front of the driver for all primary gauges with an identically sized infotainment display. This said the current fourth-generation (W205) C-Class (S205 for the wagon) introduced in September of 2014 for the 2015 model year, and therefore in its seventh production year, hasn’t been updated with latest dash design yet, but its more conventional hooded analogue gauge cluster (with a big multi-information display at centre) can be swapped out for a 12.3-inch set of digital instruments when upgrading to the C 43 Wagon’s Technology package.

Mercedes digital instrument cluster is as colourful as any on the market, and very customizable with a variety of background designs and plenty of multi-info functions. It allows for many feature combinations as well, and can be set up with a traditional dual-gauge look, or the entire display can be a navigation map, for instance.

2020 Mercedes-AMG C43 4Matic Wagon
A feast for the eyes and the senses, the C 43’s cabin is beautifully detailed, very well made and extremely comfortable.

The AMG C 43 Wagon’s infotainment display is smaller at 7.0 inches, although it can be upgraded to 10.25 inches like my tester. As is common these days (although Mercedes was an initiator of the design), the centre display sits upright atop the dash, while its graphic design is as colourful and appealing as the just-noted gauge cluster. Its features are comprehensive, but take note you’ll need to use the aforementioned lower console-mounted controls for any tap, swipe and pinch finger gestures, as it’s not a touchscreen.

The Technology package I spoke of a moment ago will set you back $1,900, while together with the 12.3-inch digital instruments it also includes the active Multibeam LED headlamps mentioned earlier, plus adaptive high beam assist, while the gloss-black exterior accents mentioned before comes as part of a $1,000 AMG Night package.

2020 Mercedes-AMG C43 4Matic Wagon
A fully digital gauge cluster is optional, and it’s a brilliantly colourful, fully featured design with good customization capability.

The AMG Nappa/Dinamica performance steering wheel that I lauded earlier can be had if you choose the $2,400 AMG Driver’s package, which also adds the free-flow AMG performance exhaust system with push-button computer-controlled vanes, the 19-inch AMG five-twin-spoke aero wheels (the base model sports 18s), increased top speed to 250 km/h (155 mph), and an AMG Track Pace app that allows performance data like speed, acceleration, lap and sector times to be stored in the infotainment system when out on the track.

If you’re really up on your AMG C 43 knowledge, and I have readers who are, you’ll immediately notice that my tester’s steering wheel is devoid of the extra switchgear the AMG Driver’s package includes for 2020, so no I must confess that the car you’re looking at is actually a 2019 model I drove last year, but didn’t get around to reviewing (bad journalist). New this year (2020) is an AMG Drive Unit that with F1-inspired switchgear attached below each steering wheel spoke, these designed for quickly making adjustments to performance settings. The pod of switches on the left can be assigned to features such as manual shift mode, the AMG Ride Control system’s damping modes, the three-stage ESP system, and the AMG Performance Exhaust, while the circular switch on the right selects and displays the current AMG Dynamic Select driving mode.

2020 Mercedes-AMG C43 4Matic Wagon
The centre stack is well organized and impeccably finished, especially when upgraded to carbon-fibre surfacing.

By the way, the C 43 Wagon on this page is otherwise identical to the 2020 model, except for twin rear USB ports that are now standard in all 2020 C-Class models. Likewise, the $5,600 Premium package included with my test car is the same as the one found in the 2020 C 43 Wagon, both featuring proximity keyless entry, the touchpad infotainment controller, and the 590-watt Burmester surround sound system, as well as an overhead bird’s-eye parking camera, Android Auto and Apple CarPlay smartphone integration, a very accurate navigation system, voice control, satellite radio, real-time traffic information, a wireless phone charging pad, an universal garage door opener, semi-autonomous self-parking, rear side window sunshades, and a power liftgate with foot-activated opening.

The $2,700 Intelligent Drive package was also added, this collection of goodies including Pre-Safe Plus, Active Emergency Stop Assist, Active Brake Assist with Cross-Traffic Function, Active Steering Assist, Active Blind Spot Assist, Active Lane Change Assist, Active Lane Keeping Assist, Evasive Steering Assist, Active Distronic Distance Assist, Enhanced Stop-and-Go, Traffic Sign Assist, Active Speed Limit Assist, and Route-based Speed Adaptation.

2020 Mercedes-AMG C43 4Matic Wagon
The high-definition centre display provides myriad functions and superbly colourful graphics.

While the hot looking $250 designo red seatbelts certainly deserve attention, I’ll refrain from delving into standard features and options as this review is already epic. My C 43 Wagon was nicely loaded up and even base models are generously equipped, while their finishing is second to none in this class. Most important amongst AMG cars is the driving experience, however, and to that end I couldn’t help but also notice the impressive dual-screen backup and 360-degree surround camera with dynamic guidelines as I backed out of my driveway, but strangely to those not familiar with Mercedes-Benz, this sport wagon’s auto shifter remains on the column like classics from the good old days. While this might seem a bit old school, it’s actually efficiently out of the way. One flick of the stalk-like lever and it’s state-of-the-art electronic innards will make themselves known, while pressing the Park button is a dead giveaway that it’s hardly an automotive anachronism. Look to the steering wheel-mounted paddles for manual shifting, something I found myself doing more often than not thanks to the superbly engineered nine-speed automatic gearbox.

2020 Mercedes-AMG C43 4Matic Wagon
Performance seats don’t get any better than this.

Of course it’s smooth, Mercedes never forgetting the C 43 Wagon’s pragmatic purpose, but the transmission’s AMG programming puts an emphasis on performance. Its nine speeds result in a wider range of more closely spaced ratios that shift lickety-split quick, while previously noted AMG Dynamic Select’s Comfort, Sport and Sport+ modes truly add to the magic. This said, Mercedes included three overdrive ratios for optimizing fuel economy, which together with ECO Start/Stop that automatically turns off the engine when it would otherwise be idling adds to its efficiency while also reducing emissions. The end result is good fuel economy considering the power on tap, the C 43 Wagon capable of an estimated 12.4 L/100km city, 8.9 highway and 10.8 combined in both 2019 and 2020 model years.

Of course, all-wheel drive saps energy while enhancing traction, but the C 43’s AMG 4Matic AWD system provides a good balance of efficiency and at-the-limit grip. To manage the latter it has a fixed 31:69 front/rear torque split, while a nicely weighted electromechanical power-assist rack-and-pinion steering system provides good feel, and a standard AMG Ride Control Sport Suspension includes three-stage damping for exceptionally good road-holding. Even with the traction/stability control turned off it delivered good mechanical grip, only stepping out at the rear when pushed ultra-hard and then doing so with wonderful predictability.

2020 Mercedes-AMG C43 4Matic Wagon
Rear seat roominess and comfort is great.

If you’ve never taken the opportunity to drive something as fast and capable as the C 43 you’ll be amazed at this compact wagon’s command of the road. This includes stopping power due to a racetrack-ready AMG Performance Braking system featuring perforated 360 mm rotors and grey-painted four-piston fixed calipers in front, and a solid set of 320 mm rotors in back. Astute readers may have noticed I said perforated instead of cross-drilled, and my words were chosen carefully because the C 43’s front discs are actually cast with holes from the onset in order to add strength and improve heat resistance. This process results in extremely good braking prowess, even when laying into them too hard and too often during high-speed performance driving. I’d say they’re the next best thing to carbon-ceramic brakes, although they feel nicer for day-in-day-out use.

As fun as the AMG C 43 is to drive, let’s not forget that it’s five-door layout makes it extremely practical. It’s spacious in front with a driver’s seat that was as comfortable as any in the D-segment, while the rear seats provide good support and plenty of space for stretching out the legs. A folding centre armrest includes pop-out cupholders along with a shallow storage bin, or if you need to load long cargo in back take note the centre portion of the C’s 40/20/40-split rear seatback can be lowered. Additionally, the rear seats flip forward automatically by way of two electric buttons, making the C 43 as convenient to live with as it’s brilliantly fun to drive. In the end, cargo capacity can be expanded from 460 to 1,480 litres, which means that it’s luggage volume sits between the GLA- and new GLB-Class subcompacts.

2020 Mercedes-AMG C43 4Matic Wagon
Second-row seatbacks that fold 40/20/40 mean that rear passengers can enjoy the window seats when long cargo is stored down the middle.

It truly is cool to be practical, at least if you’re driving an AMG C 43 Wagon. All of Mercedes-Benz’ AMG wagons deliver big on spacious, comfortable, luxurious performance, not to mention prestige, so the fact that Mercedes is now offering up to $5,000 in additional incentives on 2020 C-Class models is impressive.

To learn more go to our 2020 Mercedes-Benz C-Class Canada Prices page where you can find out about all C-Class body styles, trims, packages and standalone options, and then build the car you’re interested in. What’s more, a CarCostCanada membership will fully prepare you before even speaking with your Mercedes retail representative, by informing you about any available manufacturer rebates, financing and/or leasing deals, and dealer invoice pricing (the price the dealer pays for the car before marking it up), which means you’ll be able to negotiate the best deal possible.

Right now most Mercedes-Benz dealers will bring the car you’re interested in to your home so you can so you can test it without having to go to the dealership, and don’t worry as the entire car will have been sterilized before you poke around inside and take it for a drive. Considering the incentives available for the AMG C 43 Wagon and just how impressive it is overall, you may want to take them up on that.

Story and photo credits: Trevor Hofmann

Photo Editing: Karen Tuggay

CarCostCanada

2019 Mazda CX-5 GT AWD Road Test

2019 Mazda CX-5 GT AWD
With the 2019 Mazda CX-5 GT, style comes standard.

There have always been automotive brands that bridge the gap between mainstream and luxury, Buick quickly coming to mind. It fills a niche between Chevrolet and Cadillac in General Motors’ car brand hierarchy, but it doesn’t rise up to meet newer luxury marques like Acura and Infiniti in most buyers’ minds. Lately, Mazda has been playing to this audience too, and is arguably doing an even better job of delivering premium cachet in its highest GT and Signature trim lines.

Where brands like Buick, and even the two Japanese upstarts just mentioned, along with Lincoln, Genesis (speaking of upstarts), Lexus, Audi (and all of the VW group luxury brands including Porsche, Lamborghini and Bentley), plus BMW and Alfa Romeo (to a lesser extent) share platform architectures with lesser brands, Mazda is one of the auto industry’s very rare independent automakers, with no ties to any other global group. Amongst volume-production premium brands only Tesla stands independent, while none other than Mazda are independent within the mainstream volume sector.

2019 Mazda CX-5 GT AWD
The CX-5 provides a sporty profile for this utilitarian class.

Yes, even little Subaru is partially owned by Toyota, and Mitsubishi is part of the Renault–Nissan–Mitsubishi Alliance. Whether or not Mazda will be able to stay independent through the uncertain economic climate we find ourselves in now, and is likely before us, is anyone’s guess, but then again it could be the brand’s saving grace if things get ugly out there, and marginally successful brands like Mitsubishi, Infiniti, Chrysler, Buick and who knows what else get axed from our market. Mazda’s unique position in the market gives it a lot of room to grow, while their good design, the quality of their products, and their credible performance DNA give them a certain street cred that other brands can’t match.

Mazda’s move up to premium status starts with really attractive exterior styling that translates well into all segments and body styles, the sporty CX-3 subcompact SUV sharing some of its design cues with the all-new, slightly bigger CX-30 and the even larger compact CX-5 shown in this review, not to mention the biggest crossover SUV of the Mazda bunch, the mid-size three-row CX-9, while all share visual ties with the compact Mazda3 sedan/hatchback and mid-size Mazda6 sedan, plus the brilliant little MX-5 sports car.

2019 Mazda CX-5 GT AWD
LED headlamps are standard, but the signature elements within are part of GT trim and above, as are the tiny LED fog lamps.

Mazda has long dubbed its design language KODO for “art of the car”, but its latest models are inspired by KODO 2.0, which is the second-generation of its clean, elegant design philosophy. W saw a glimpse of KODO 2.0 in the stunning Vision Coupe and Kai concepts from the 2017 Tokyo Motor Show, the latter of the two more or less morphing into the newest Mazda3 Sport. KODO 2.0 has also made its impact on the brand’s SUV lineup, the CX-5 showing obvious signs of influence.

Mazda replaced the Ford Escape-based Tribute with the first-generation CX-5 in January of 2012; the Mazda3-based design a much more modern offering that elevated the Japanese automaker’s prestige and sales. The second-generation CX-5 arrived in 2017, and thanks to greater use of the KODO 2.0 design language it transformed into a much ritzier looking compact crossover.

2019 Mazda CX-5 GT AWD
GT trim provides leather seats and trim, in black or this classy Pure White colour.

The CX-5’s truly upscale atmosphere is best experienced inside, mind you, with premium features like cloth-wrapped A-pillars and a plush, padded dash top, upper and lower instrument panels, and door uppers front to back, plus they’ve trimmed out the interior with a tasteful dose of anodized aluminum accents, this nicely brushed treatment even highlighting some of the buttons, switches and knobs, some of the latter even getting knurled metal edging. Last but hardly least Mazda includes genuine Abachi hardwood inlays in its top-line Signature trim, but being that my tester was just a GT its inlays were fairly real look faux woodgrain, plus it didn’t include the Signature’s dark chocolate brown Cocoa Nappa leather and trim, the latter covering the door inserts and armrests as well as the seat surfaces, but the GT’s no cost Pure White leather was impressive enough.

Yes, the CX-5’s GT trim is actually nicer than most rivals’ top-tier models, but just to clarify the Signature goes way over the top with features like a satin chrome-plated glove box lever, satin chrome power seat switches, nicer cross-stitching on the steering wheel, richer Nappa leather upholstery, a black roof liner, a frameless auto-dimming rearview mirror in place of the GT’s framed version, LED illumination for the overhead console lighting, the vanity mirrors, the front and rear dome lamps and the cargo area light.

2019 Mazda CX-5 GT AWD
The sporty CX-5 cockpit is comfortable and nicely organized for optimal usability.

Additionally, Signature trim provides a nice bright 7.0-inch LCD multi-information display at centre, a 1.0-inch bigger 8.0-inch colour centre touchscreen display, an overhead surround parking camera system, front and back parking sonar, gunmetal grey 19-inch alloy wheels instead of the GT’s silver 19s, off-road traction assist, and the fastest Skyactiv-G 2.5 T four-cylinder as standard, this engine getting a Dynamic Pressure Turbo (DPT) resulting in 250 horsepower (with 93 octane premium fuel or 227 with 87 octane regular) and 310 lb-ft of torque (for 2020 it gains 10 lb-ft to 320 when fuelled with 93 octane), plus paddle-shifters on the steering wheel for the standard six-speed automatic gearbox.

That’s a strong engine for this class and optionally available for $2,000 in my as-tested GT (for 2020 the GT with the turbocharged engine also gets paddles, off-road traction assist, and an 8.0-inch colour touchscreen display), but my test model came with the base sans-turbo Skyactiv-G 2.5 four-cylinder mill featuring fuel-sipping cylinder deactivation and zero paddles behind the steering wheel. The entry-level engine makes a total of 187 horsepower and 186 lb-ft of torque, which might seem a lot less than the turbocharged upgrade, but is still about the same as provided in top trims by some of the segment sales leaders. Also good, the CX-5 uses a regular automatic with six actual gears rather than most competitors’ CVTs, and I must say that a traditional autobox is much more engaging.

2019 Mazda CX-5 GT AWD
The 2019 GT still uses Mazda’s classic three-dial gauge design, but the 7.0-inch semi-digital display from this year’s Signature trim is standard in the 2020 GT.

I should also mention that Mazda offers a 2.2-litre four-cylinder turbo-diesel engine in the CX-5’s Signature trim that makes 168 horsepower and 290 lb-ft of torque. The Signature starts at $40,950 plus freight and fees, incidentally, and tops out at $45,950 with the diesel upgrade, so you might want to figure out how much you’re going to be driving over the lifetime of your car before anteing up $5k extra for the oil burner. This said, make sure to look around for any available CX-5 Signature Diesels, being that this upgrade was part of the 2019 model year (before writing this review there were quite a few available in each province, but nowhere near as many as those powered by good old gasoline).

I’ve driven the diesel, by the way, and liked it a lot, but its 8.9 L/100km city, 7.9 highway and 8.4 combined fuel economy rating doesn’t improve enough over the quicker turbo-four that manages a reasonably thrifty 10.8, 8.7 and 9.8 respectively, so the only thing that could possibly make more sense than discontinuing it would’ve been not bringing it to market at such a high price at all. My less powerful GT test model, which features standard i-Activ all-wheel drive (AWD) and can be had from $37,450, is capable of a claimed 9.8 L/100km in the city, 7.9 on the highway and 9.0 combined, while the same engine with FWD (standard with the $30,750 GS model) is the most efficient trim of all at just 9.3 city, 7.6 highway and 8.5 combined.

2019 Mazda CX-5 GT AWD
The regular 7.0-inch infotainment system is good, but I suspect it will grow in size for the CX-5’s next redesign.

There’s actually a fourth engine available too, another 2.5-litre four-cylinder found in the $27,850 base GX model, albeit this one comes without cylinder deactivation. It offers up the same performance specs, but is good for only 9.7 L/100km city, 7.8 highway and 8.8 combined with FWD, and a respective 10.2, 8.2 and 9.3 with AWD. Power from both axles requires a $2,000 investment in both base GX and mid-range GS trims, incidentally, while AWD comes standard with GT and Signature trims.

The 2019 CX-5’s list of standard and available features is extremely long, but I should itemize the GT model’s standard equipment being that it’s the one I tested. Therefore, items standard to both the GT and Signature (not found in lower trims) include the previously noted 19-inch alloy wheels on 225/55 all-seasons (less models include 17-inch alloys on 225/65s), adaptive cornering headlamps, LED signature elements in the headlamps and tail lamps, LED fog lights, LED combination taillights, power-folding side mirrors, plus piano black B- and C-pillar garnishes, and that’s only on the outside.

2019 Mazda CX-5 GT AWD
The infotainment system’s console-mounted controller is a real piece of art.

Proximity entry gets you inside and pushbutton start/stop brings it to live (the latter item is actually standard across the line), while the gauge cluster is Mazda’s trademark three-dial design with a smallish multi-information display at the right (the 7.0-inch LCD multi-information display comes standard in GT trim for 2020), and just above is a really useful head-up display unit that projects key info right onto the windshield, complete with traffic sign recognition. What’s more, the driver gets a comfortable 10-way powered seat with power lumbar support as well as two-way memory, while the front passenger gets six-way power adjustability. Both front seats are three-way ventilated too, while the two rear outboard window seats get three-way warmers.

A few pampering GT trim details need to be mentioned too, such as its satin-chrome front console knee pad, fabric-lined glove box, and upscale premium stitching on the front centre console, while Mazda also adds a power moonroof, a Homelink garage door opener, a good navigation system that took me where I needed to go (not always the case with some), and a great sounding premium audio system with 10 Bose speakers, an AM/FM/HD radio, a customizable seven-channel equalizer, SurroundStage Signal Processing, Centerpoint 2 surround sound tech, AudioPilot 2 Noise Compensation, and SiriusXM satellite radio with three months of complimentary service. CX-5 GT and Signature buyers also receive SiriusXM Traffic Plus and Travel Link services with a five-year complimentary service contract, plus they get two-zone auto climate control, HVAC vents on the backside of the front console, etcetera.

2019 Mazda CX-5 GT AWD
Fabric-wrapped A-pillars are a nice touch, as are these metal-rimmed Bose tweeters.

Features pulled up to GT trim from lesser models include auto headlight levelling, a windshield wiper de-icer, dynamic cruise control with stop and go, a heated steering wheel rim, two additional USB ports within the folding rear centre armrest, plus a host of advanced driver assistance systems like Smart Brake Support (SBS) with forward sensing Pedestrian Detection, Distance Recognition Support System (DRSS), Forward Obstruction Warning (FOW), Lane Departure Warning System (LDWS), Lane-keep Assist System (LAS) and High Beam Control System (HBC) from second-rung GS trim, as well as auto on/off LED headlights, LED daytime running lights, LED turn signal indicators in the door mirror housings, rain-sensing wipers, an electromechanical parking brake, two USB ports and an aux input, Android Auto and Apple CarPlay, Stitcher and Aha internet radio, SMS text message reading and responding capability, and all the usual active and passive safety features from the base GX. There’s a lot more, but I’ll leave it at that.

The CX-5 is room and plenty comfortable no matter the trim you choose or where you’re seated, while the back row is wide enough for three across in reasonable comfort. Most should find legroom and headroom generous enough, but I need to criticize Mazda for stowing the rear seat heater controls within the folding centre armrest, because they can’t be accessed when someone is seated in the middle. And now that I’m complaining, I’d love it if Mazda offered a panoramic sunroof in its two top-line trims too.

2019 Mazda CX-5 GT AWD
You’ll need to stock up on blue jean stain remover if you opt for the white leather.

Rather than gripe about what’s not offered, I’d rather sing praises to Mazda for the CX-5’s awesome 40/20/40-split rear seatbacks. This allows longer cargo like skis to be placed down the middle, and by so doing frees the rear window seats for your passengers. As good, Mazda provides helpful release levers on the cargo sidewalls, even including a separate one for the 20-percent centre pass-through. This said, setting off to the ski hill, or even more so, returning when already cold and potentially wet, will make those rear seat heaters all the more welcome, but you’ll need to make sure to turn them on before loading in the skis as the centre pass-through will make that impossible. What’s more, if you stop for gas or a meal along the way, they won’t turn on again without removing the ski gear and lifting the armrest. Mazda should solve this problem for the CX-5’s redesign by positioning the buttons on the door panel instead.

Back to positives, behind the rear seatbacks the CX-5 can be loaded up with 875 litres (30.9 cubic feet) of gear, while it can pack in up to 1,687 litres (59.6 cu ft) when all are lowered, making it one of the more accommodating compact SUVs in its mainstream category.

2019 Mazda CX-5 GT AWD
The rear seats are roomy and comfortable.

All this spacious luxury gets topped off with performance that comes very close to premium as well, although as far as my base GT test model goes, it’s more about ride and handling than straight-line power. The CX-5’s feeling of quality begins with well-insulated doors and body panels, making everything feel solid upon closure and nice and quiet when underway, while the ride is firm in a Germanic way, but not harsh. It therefore manoeuvres well around the city and provides good agility when pushed hard on a curving road, but even though it manages corners better than most rivals it uses the same type of independent suspension as the others, consisting of MacPherson struts up front and a multi-link setup in the rear, with stabilizer bars at both ends.

As I mentioned before, the CX-5’s base powerplant is equal to some of the segment leaders’ best engines as far as straight-line performance goes, but more importantly it is very smooth and quite efficient, while the six-speed automatic was so smooth, in fact, that it had me wondering whether or not Mazda had swapped the old gearbox out for a CVT. It shifts like a regular automatic when revs climb, however, which is a good thing for enthusiasts, but it’s still smooth when doing so. To be clear, the regular GT doesn’t include paddle shifters, but you can shift it manually via the console-mounted gear lever, and also note that Mazda provides a Sport mode that gives it the powertrain a great deal more performance at takeoff and when passing, but no comfort or eco settings are included.

2019 Mazda CX-5 GT AWD
What initially seems like a clever idea, doesn’t work well when you want warm window seats but someone’s sitting in the middle position.

After a weeklong test, I found the 2019 Mazda CX-5 one of the best compact SUVs in its class, and wholly worthy of anyone’s consideration. Of note, that category is filled with some big-time players, including the Canadian segment leading Toyota RAV4 (with 65,248 sales in calendar year 2019), the Honda CR-V (with 55,859 deliveries during the same 12 months), the Ford Escape (which is totally redesigned for 2020 and sold 39,504 units last year), the Nissan Rogue (at 37,530 units), the Hyundai Tucson (at 30,075), and this CX-5 (at 27,696).

I know, the CX-5 should probably do better than it does, but we need to keep in mind that 14 compact SUV competitors are vying for attention, and none of the other get anywhere near close to the CX-5’s sales numbers. In fact, the next best-selling VW Tiguan only achieved 19,250 deliveries last year, while Chevrolet’s Equinox only found 18,503 new owners. As for Jeep’s Cherokee, just 13,687 buyers took one home during calendar year 2019, while a mere 13,059 bought the Subaru Forester, 12,637 purchased a Kia Sportage, 12,023 drove home in a GMC Terrain, 10,701 chose the Mitsubishi Outlander, and 5,101 decided to buy the Mitsubishi Eclipse Cross. Additionally, the CX-5 was one of only six compact crossovers to increase its sales numbers from calendar year 2018 to 2019, the remaining eight having lost ground.

2019 Mazda CX-5 GT AWD
Cargo space is generous, and the 40/20/40-split seatback is best-in-class.

It’s actually a good time to purchase a CX-5, as Mazda is offering up to $2,000 in additional incentives on this 2019 model, while those who’d rather have a 2020 CX-5 can get up to $1,000 off from incentives. Make sure to check the 2019 Mazda CX-5 Canada Prices page or the 2020 Mazda CX-5 Canada Prices page right here on CarCostCanada for details. You’ll find itemized pricing of trims, packages and individual options, the latest manufacturer financing and leasing deals, manufacturer rebate information, and dealer invoice pricing that can save you thousands. The majority of new car retailers will be available by phone or online even during the COVID-19 crisis, and as you might have guessed they’re seriously motivated to make you a deal.

Everything said, I recommend the CX-5 highly, especially in GT or Signature trims, as it gives you a premium experience at a much more affordable price.

Story credit: Trevor Hofmann

Photo credits: Karen Tuggay (exterior) and Trevor Hofmann (interior)

CarCostCanada

Porsche unveils most potent, quickest 911 Turbo S ever

2021 Porsche 911 Turbo S
The new 911 Turbo S looks even more muscular than the outgoing model, and backs that muscle up with 61 more hp and 37 more lb-ft of torque.

Despite the Geneva Motor Show getting cancelled due to the outbreak of COVID-19, automakers are making their major reveals online, so therefore Porsche has anted up with the most exciting variation on entirely new 992 theme yet.

The new 911 Turbo S was just introduced via the internet with a surprising 61-horsepower increase over its much-revered 580-hp predecessor, which means that it now produces a shocking 641-horsepower from an identically sized 3.8-litre six-cylinder enhanced by two VTG (variable turbine geometry) turbos. The horizontally opposed engine also develops another 37 lb-ft of torque for a grand total of 590, so be happy that it comes standard with Porsche Traction Management (PTM) all-wheel drive, which incidentally has the ability to transfer up to 369 pound-feet of twist to the front wheels when necessary.

The Turbo S’ 3.8-litre turbocharged six-cylinder mill, which is based on the latest 911 Carrera engine, has been totally redesigned. The update includes a new charge air-cooling system as well as new, bigger VTG turbochargers laid out in a symmetrical design that features electrically adjustable waste-gate flaps, while piezo injectors significantly improve “responsiveness, power, torque, emissions, and revving ability,” said Porsche in a press release.

2021 Porsche 911 Turbo S
The 911 Turbo S Cabriolet is only slightly slower to 100km/h than the Coupe, yet matches the mighty GT2 RS.

An upgraded “Turbo-specific” eight-speed dual-clutch PDK automated transmission comes standard, which allows for a blisteringly fast sprint from zero to 100 km/h of only 2.7 seconds, which shaves 0.2 seconds from its predecessor’s zero-to-100 time, while naught to 200 km/h rips past in just 8.9 seconds, this new model a full second quicker than the old Turbo S.

Possibly even more impressive, the new 911 Turbo S is a tenth of a second quicker from zero to 100 km/h than the outgoing GT2 RS, that model a 700-horsepower racetrack dominator. Take note, 911 Turbo S Cabriolet buyers will lose a tenth of a second in the opposite direction, but this still makes the convertible as fast as a GT2 RS, so it certainly won’t cause its owner embarrassment. Without doubt the drop-top will be ideal for hearing the new sport exhaust system too, which incorporates adjustable flaps that promise the kind of distinctive soundtrack only a Porsche flat-six can provide.

An Imperial performance spec worth noting is the Turbo S’ 10.5-second drag strip dash down the quarter mile, which is impressive to say the least, while owners fortunate enough to drive their cars on Europe’s speed limitless Autobahns will feasibly be able to max out at 330 km/h (205 mph) in either Coupe or Cabriolet body style, albeit with the cloth top upright in the latter model.

2021 Porsche 911 Turbo S
The new Turbo S is wider than its predecessor, which should result in even more high-speed stability through curves.

Keeping such speeds in check are standard carbon-ceramic brakes featuring 10-piston front calipers, while control is further improved upon with a larger rear wing that, together with the pneumatically extendable front spoiler, provides 15 percent greater downforce than the outgoing Turbo S.

The new Turbo S is also wider than the outgoing model by 45 mm above the front axle, measuring 1,840 mm across, and 20 mm over the rear axle, which spans 1,900 mm across. This should improve stability, while Porsche has also modified its active suspension management system’s (PASM) software and hardware setup, dropping it down by 10 mm (0.4 in) plus providing “faster and more precisely controlled dampers” to improve “roll stability, road holding, steering behaviour and cornering speeds.”

The various functional vents added to the Turbo S’ front grille, rear fenders and back bumper are more about engine and brake cooling, mind you, not to mention styling aggression, while the rear design is enhanced further with a pair of uniquely rectangular exhaust tips that stick outward from the black centre diffuser, while the Turbo S is made to look even better thanks to a set of staggered 20-inch front and 21-inch rear lightweight alloy rims encircled by 255/35 and 315/30 Pirelli performance rubber respectively.

2021 Porsche 911 Turbo S
The Turbo S interior uses nicer standard materials than lesser models.

The new Turbo S’ cabin is as comfortable as any other 911 and even more premium due to a full leather interior with carbon trim and Light Silver details, as well as a GT sport steering wheel, a big 10.9-inch centre touchscreen, a new Porsche Track Precision app within that centre display that comes as part of the Sport Chrono package, Bose surround-sound audio, and 18-way power-adjustable sport seats.

You’ll be able to order an all-new 2021 911 Turbo S next month, with deliveries starting later this year. Pricing will start at $231,700 plus freight and fees for the Coupe and $246,300 for the Cabriolet.

And now, for your viewing pleasure, enjoy the following Porsche supplied videos:

 

The new Porsche 911 Turbo S: The peak of driving emotion (2:28):

 

 

The all new Porsche 911 Turbo S. Relentless. (1:02):

 

 

Livestream: new Porsche 911 Turbo S Premiere (14:56):

 

Story credits: Trevor Hofmann 

Photo and video credits: Porsche 

CarCostCanada

2019 Mini Cooper Countryman S E ALL4 Road Test

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Story and photo credits: Trevor Hofmann

CarCostCanada

2019 Ford EcoSport 2.0 SES Road Test

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Story and photo credits: Trevor Hofmann

CarCostCanada

2019 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