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Nissan gives its best-selling Rogue a ground-up redesign for 2021

2021 Nissan Rogue
Nissan has given its redesigned Rogue a more rugged new look for 2021, and we like what we see.

The Rogue is without doubt Nissan’s most important vehicle, selling in greater numbers than any other in its lineup.

Last year the Japanese brand’s compact SUV found 37,530 Canadian buyers, compared to 18,526 for the subcompact Qashqai crossover, 16,086 for the even smaller city car-sized subcompact Kicks crossover, 12,000 for the mid-size Murano crossover, 7,719 for the compact Sentra sedan, 6,361 for the now discontinued Micra city car, 5,704 for the mid-size three-row Pathfinder SUV, 3,723 for the mid-size Frontier pickup truck, 3,342 for the mid-size Altima sedan, 2,881 for the compact Leaf EV, 2,807 for the full-size Titan pickup truck (both half-ton and 3/4-ton versions), 2,369 for the now defunct subcompact Versa Note hatchback, 1,783 for the NV200 compact commercial van, 971 for the full-size Maxima flagship sedan, 807 for the NV full-size commercial van (both cargo and passenger versions), 593 for the full-size (and real flagship) Armada SUV, 500 for the iconic 370Z sports car, and finally 53 for the nearly unbeatable GT-R super-coupe.

2021 Nissan Rogue
The new Rogue isn’t as boxy as Toyota’s RAV4, but it’s certainly more masculine looking than its predecessor.

Interestingly, the only Nissan model to lead its segment in deliveries was the Micra (RIP), with some displaying woefully poor performance on the sales charts compared to their competitors, the Sentra, Altima, Pathfinder, Frontier, Titan and full-size NV van particularly, while doing well yet not at the very top of their respective categories are the Leaf, Kicks, Qashqai and, yes, you guessed it, the Rogue.

Nissan desperately needs a hit, and while the Rogue won’t likely race past the RAV4’s comparatively (to everything else) interstellar numbers last year, selling 65,248 units to Honda’s 55,859 CR-Vs, it could rise to third by overtaking the Ford Escape’s 39,504 deliveries once calendar year 2021 is in the rearview mirror. Of course, 2020 will either be a negative blip on the sales chart radar or the beginning of a downturn, but either way there will be winners and losers throughout this year and in the years that follow, and all the changes made to the new 2021 Rogue appear to be putting it on the right side of the balance sheet.

2021 Nissan Rogue
A bolder, squarer V-motion grille is the Rogue’s standout feature.

Like it or not, rugged, blocky styling is in for modern SUVs, and soft, smooth curves are out. All we need to do is look at the aforementioned RAV4 to appreciate how true this appears to be. Fortunately for Nissan, the 2021 Rogue is gone all brazen, with a tougher look that should be very appealing in its small SUV segment.

We shouldn’t go so far as to call it aggressive, but the new Rogue definitely comes across as more assertive than the outgoing model. It gets a bolder version of Nissan’s squared off V-motion grille at the front and new black D pillars at the rear, the latter coming close to the “floating roof” concept initiated by the previously noted Maxima and Murano. This looks even better when opting for new two-tone exterior colour combinations that allow for a fully black roof. Tough looking lower body cladding muscles up its look further, enhanced by new “U-shape” bodyside panels, while the sharp looking LED tail lamps don’t deviate quite as much from those on the old model as the entirely new multi-level LED head lamps.

2021 Nissan Rogue
Partially blackened rear pillars form a floating roof effect when the optional black roof is added.

In an automotive world that almost always grows outwardly it’s refreshing to learn that this new Rogue actually arrives shorter by 1.5 inches than its predecessor, while it also slices 0.2 inches from road to rooftop. This won’t likely be noticeable inside, but the subtle dimensional shrinkage contributes to the updated SUV’s more upright look without causing it appear too chunky.

While Nissan hasn’t announced a specific off-road trim for its new 2021 Rogue, the RAV4 being the only small SUV to do so with its near-4×4-capable 2019-2020 Trail version and the even more robust TRD Off Road Package now available for the 2020 model year, it’s unfair to claim the new Rogue’s rugged image is only surface deep.

2021 Nissan Rogue
Nice detailing within the LED taillights looks sharp.

With trims featuring the brand’s Intelligent All-Wheel Drive, a centre console-mounted Drive Mode Selector boasts an “Off-road” setting for overcoming more challenging terrain. Don’t expect it to keep up with the old Xterra or current Armada, but be confident it will be able to make its way over protruding rocks and other moderately sized obstacles emanating from the gravel on the way to the family cabin. Nissan also provides a “Snow” mode that does similarly for slippery road/trail surfaces, while the Drive Mode Selector also features Standard, Eco and Sport settings for normal conditions, these last three being the only settings offered with front-wheel drive models.

Benefiting traction yet more, new Rogue AWD models feature a Vehicle Motion Control System that Senior Vice President of Research and Development at the Nissan Technical Centre North America Chris Reed claims will do “what a human can’t.”

“The all-new Vehicle Motion Control predicts what the driver is trying to do by monitoring steering, acceleration and braking,” says Reed. “It can then step in and help to smooth things out.”

2021 Nissan Rogue
The new Rogue provides a more upscale experience than its predecessor.

In a nutshell, Vehicle Motion Control (VMC) combines with the new Rogue’s all-wheel drive system and its Drive Mode Selector to provide four-wheel control individually, enhancing line traceability so as to smooth out curves via the braking system’s ABS. It can even apply a single brake pad in order to do so. VMC, that incorporates a chassis control module that continuously “monitors and adjusts engine, transmission, Vehicle Dynamic Control, all-wheel drive and steering functions,” is particularly useful when “driving on snowy slopes, deep snow, snow flat turning and off-road driving (such as beach or dirt trails),” confirmed a press release.

The Rogue’s Intelligent All-Wheel Drive system now features an electro-hydraulic controlled clutch that disseminates torque more quickly and more precisely due to its ability to predict front-wheel slippage. This improves rear torque distribution as well as greater traction and responsiveness.

2021 Nissan Rogue
A fully digital 12.3-inch gauge cluster is available.

Responsiveness in mind, a new faster-ratio rack electric power steering design is said to speed up turn-in, while a rigid six-position front suspension mounting and reworked multi-link rear suspension should go further to benefit handling.

Better road-holding matters because the new 2021 Rogue receives 11 additional horsepower and 6 more lb-ft of torque via a revised direct-injection 2.5-litre four-cylinder engine. This results in 181 horsepower and 181 lb-ft of torque, with much of the gains coming from a mirror bore coating technique that reduces friction for better efficiency, as well as a new variable displacement oil pump, plus an integrated exhaust manifold, and finally an e-VTC intake valve.

2021 Nissan Rogue
This is the top-line 9.0-inch infotainment display atop the new tri-zone auto HVAC interface.

Nissan has long been a technology leader under the hood and within the chassis, not to mention in advanced driver assistive systems (ADAS), the new model carrying forward with its innovative Rear Door Alert system that warns the driver when something or someone may have been left in the rear seating area, while also adding new Intelligent Driver Alertness to monitor steering patterns and recommend a break when detecting drowsiness, plus Easy Fill Tire Alert to maintain ideal tire pressure.

Continuing on the ADAS theme, Nissan’s Safety Shield 360 is a suite of essential systems featuring Intelligent Emergency Braking with Pedestrian Detection, Blind Spot Warning, Lane Departure Warning, Rear Cross Traffic Alert, and High Beam Assist, while Rear Intelligent Emergency Braking is now standard too, this technology automatically stopping the Rogue before backing into an obstacle or worse, into a child or traffic.

2021 Nissan Rogue
Of course, wireless device charging is available.

Traffic Sign Recognition, Blind Spot Intervention and Intelligent Cruise Control with improved stop-and-go are available with the new Rogue as well, the latter feature coming as part as an upgraded ProPilot Assist hands-on-wheel partial self-driving system. The new Rogue’s safety kit is improved further with 10 standard airbags instead of just six, plus extended crumple zones to protect occupants during impact. Yet more extras include new four-door Intelligent Key that lets driver and passengers open all four doors, this being part of the updated SUV’s “Family Hub” group of features that also adds tri-zone auto climate control.

Now that we’re inside focused on the centre stack, the standard 8.0-inch infotainment touchscreen display (already sizeable for the segment) is optionally 1.0-inch larger, while Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are standard no matter which trim is chosen, with Google Maps and Waze featuring voice recognition also available.

2021 Nissan Rogue
The stubby little electronic shifter allows for storage space below.

Even more advanced, the new Rogue sports a customizable 12.3-inch “Digital Dashboard” instrument cluster ahead of the driver, which totally replaces the more conventional instruments with a crisp, colourful high-definition TFT display, although take note that the base model still incorporates a 7.0-inch multi-information display between its dials, which not only is 2.0 inch bigger than the outgoing model’s base cluster, but is fully customizable too. What’s more, a massive 10.8-inch head-up display can be projected onto the windshield so all critical info is as easy as possible to see without taking one’s eyes from the road.

All of this impressive gear is housed in an interior that looks much nicer than its predecessor and most rivals, with plenty of premium-level pliable surfaces as well as nicer available Prima-Tex leatherette and quilted semi-aniline leather upholsteries, in no-cost optional Graphite, Grey or Tan. Better wood grains and metallic trims add to the upscale ambiance, while supporting driver and front passenger is a set of NASA-inspired Zero Gravity seats that feature standard front heaters.

2021 Nissan Rogue
NASA-inspired Zero Gravity seats are designed to be amongst the most comfortable in the compact SUV class.

The steering wheel is also heated in base trim, while rear outboard seat warmers are available, as is two-position driver-side memory. A surround parking camera system dubbed Intelligent Around View Monitor is also available, this useful feature combined with the previously noted rear driver assistance systems.

Also notable, Nissan’s adoption of a fully electronic transmission allows for a smaller, shorter and generally smarter electronic shift lever, while thanks to this there is plenty of space for stowing personal items below the “floating” centre console.

2021 Nissan Rogue
No shortage of premium-level options in the new Rogue.

Storage in mind, Nissan still hasn’t given the Rogue a rear centre pass-through or 40/20/40 split-folding rear seats despite some competitors anteing up with this much more convenient option. This allows users to stow longer items, such as skis, down the centre while rear passengers benefit from the more comfortable, optionally heatable rear window positions, but this said Nissan has provided one-touch automated folding with “an available remote fold feature” for added convenience. The Rogue’s innovative Divide-n-Hide cargo system is also available once again, as is a powered opening/closing and Motion Activated Liftgate that allows access merely by kicking one’s foot under the rear bumper.

The 2021 Rogue is once again available in three trims, starting with the base S that’s followed by SV and Platinum models. Deliveries will begin this fall, with pricing expected closer to the model’s launch.

2021 Nissan Rogue
Cargo capacity has always been a Rogue strongpoint.

As intriguing as the new 2021 Rogue might appear, some would rather benefit from the steep discounts currently being offered by Nissan Canada and its dealer organization. In fact, a quick check of our 2020 Nissan Rogue Canada Prices page showed up to $5,000 in additional incentives at the time of writing, which is a staggering savings for an SUV in this price class. To learn about all the available manufacturer rebates, financing and leasing opportunities, and dealer invoice pricing that could save you thousands on any new model, find out how a CarCostCanada membership will put money back in your wallet, and while you’re at it make sure to download our free mobile app from the Google Play Store or Apple Store.

Story credits: Trevor Hofmann

Photo credits: Nissan

CarCostCanada

2019 Mazda CX-5 Signature Diesel Road Test

2019 Mazda CX-5 Signature Diesel
The good looking CX-5 was available with diesel-power in new Signature trim for 2019, but it has since been cancelled for 2020.

No sooner did Mazda bring its long awaited CX-5 Diesel to market and it’s now gone, or at least it doesn’t appear to be coming back for the 2020 model year or anytime in the near or distant future. As it is, their SkyActiv-D (Diesel) powerplant didn’t catch on with enough CX-5 customers, and despite only being available for 2019 (and still possible to find as a new vehicle from Mazda retailers at the time of writing) can no longer be found on the brand’s retail website.

As for its diesel engine program, it’s remotely possible Mazda may once again offer a compact or mid-size B-Series pickup truck here like it does with its Isuzu-based BT-50 in Asian, Middle Eastern, African, plus Central and South American markets (although that truck uses a 3.0-litre four-cylinder Isuzu diesel), the potential volume of such vehicles sold by Toyota, GM, Ford, and to some extent Nissan (we’ll see if the new Frontier is able to claw back neglected and therefore lost market share when it finally goes on sale) no doubt tempting, although I highly doubt it fits within their near-premium, sport-luxury North American strategy (the interior looks impressive though). Thus, we’ll probably see a greater focus on SkyActiv-G (Gasoline) technology and, who knows, maybe even a hybrid or two now that they’ve unveiled a new EV at the most recent Tokyo motor show.

2019 Mazda CX-5 Signature Diesel
The 2.2L SkyActiv-D engine provides plenty of torque, yet not as much as the $5k less expensive 2.5L turbo SkyActiv-G engine, whereas the latter is much more powerful.

Right now you have the opportunity to purchase one of the last handful of new 2019 Mazda CX-5 Signature Diesel (or SkyActiv-D) SUVs available until they’ll only come up once in a while on the pre-owned market (and diesel owners tend to keep their cars for longer than average, so don’t hesitate if you want one sooner than later). Most buyers in this class never knew a turbo-diesel option was even available last year, despite Mazda’s SkyActiv-D being a much-anticipated new option for years amongst the engine-type’s faithful. It took a lot longer to become reality than Mazda originally planned, probably because of the fallout ensuing from Volkswagen’s 2015 Dieselgate scandal, and possibly due to little marketing fanfare only lasted a single model year. Its departure has stunned a number of diesel fans that have made their outrage known on social media, but it hasn’t even caused a buzz from the majority of Mazda owners that, as noted, didn’t even know what they were missing.

If Mazda had asked me, I would have told them not to bother with the diesel, because oil burners are now only appreciated in trucks and sometimes SUVs here in the North American markets, particularly if they’re off-road oriented. For instance, a torque-rich diesel makes sense in Jeep’s 4×4-ready Wrangler and therefore should gain some reasonable traction despite its outrageous $7,395 price tag (and that’s not even including the $1,795 required for the eight-speed automatic), but GM recently tried pulling the Chevy Colorado and GMC Canyon’s turbo-diesel over to its compact Equinox to little effect (and even tried a diesel within its car lineup). The fact Toyota, possibly the one manufacturer capable of pulling off a successful diesel option in their Tacoma, Tundra, 4Runner or Sequoia (not to mention the Land Cruiser in the U.S.), isn’t even trying says a lot, but we should nevertheless give Mazda high marks for bravery.

2019 Mazda CX-5 Signature Diesel
Signature trim provides LED fog lights and unique 19-inch alloy wheels, while all CX-5s get LED headlights.

Unlike VW, which has now abandoned diesel-power altogether, Mazda’s SkyActiv-D engine actually met Canada’s strict emissions regulations for the 2019 model year, which shows that it’s cleaner and greener than any oil burner offered by the Germans, all of which killed off their diesels in our market soon after the aforementioned Dieselgate kafuffle. Mazda’s diesel would have no doubt passed 2020 regulations as well, being as they haven’t changed, but now this achievement hardly matters.

Rather than blather on about a diesel-powered 2019 CX-5 you might be able to get your hands on if you’re lucky, I’ll instead give you a quick rundown of both 2019 and 2020 models with the various model year changes. If you can get into a 2019 model, whether diesel or gasoline powered, you’ll benefit from up to $2,500 in additional incentives, incidentally, whereas the 2020 model only has about $1,000 on the hood. You can find out more about such money-saving details on our 2019 Mazda CX-5 Canada Prices page or 2020 Mazda CX-5 Canada Prices page, by the way, and after that become a CarCostCanada member to take advantage of all the savings. We inform you about manufacturer rebates, manufacturer financing and leasing deals, dealer invoice pricing info that could very well save you thousands, plus more, so make sure to find out how it works and then download our free app from the Google Play Store or Apple Store.

2019 Mazda CX-5 Signature Diesel
Great looking LED taillights are even more enticing at night.

Looking back at our just-mentioned 2019 Mazda CX-5 Canada Prices page immediately shows that the 2.2-litre twin-turbo-diesel SkyActiv-D engine is only available with the top-tier Signature trim line for $45,950 (plus freight and fees). Signature trim was entirely new to the CX-5 for the 2019 model year, and uniquely pulled Mazda’s compact crossover SUV closer to the premium brand status than any other mainstream model in this class, other than maybe Buick that’s long spanned the divide between volume and luxury.

Additional 2019 CX-5 trims include the entry-level GX that starts at $27,850 with front-wheel drive (FWD) or $29,850 with all-wheel drive (AWD), the second-rung GS at $30,750 with FWD or $32,750 with AWD, and the former top-tier GT (Grand Touring in the U.S.) that starts at $37,450 before topping out at $39,450 when upgrading to its 2.5-litre turbocharged SkyActiv-G (gasoline) engine. Of note, GT and Signature trims comes standard with Mazda’s i-Activ AWD.

The CX-5 Signature, standard with the just-mentioned 2.5-litre turbo gasoline powerplant for $40,950, plus available with the aforementioned diesel, builds on the already nicely equipped CX-5 GT by adding features such as LED cabin lighting, a 7.0-inch digital primary gauge cluster, a cleaner looking frameless centre mirror, real Abachi hardwood trim on the dash and door panels, as well as dark brown Cocoa Nappa leather upholstery and trim.

2019 Mazda CX-5 Signature Diesel
Signature trim adds Nappa leather upholstery and real hardwood trim on the dash and door panels.

The Signature pulls plenty of features up from the GT too, including front and rear signature lighting, adaptive headlights, LED fog lamps, power-folding exterior mirrors, proximity keyless access, traffic sign recognition, two-zone auto climate control, a navigation system, 10-speaker audio with integrated satellite radio, a universal garage door opener, a 10-way powered driver’s seat, a six-way power-adjustable front passenger’s seat, and more, while leather upholstery in black or no-cost white makes the GT plenty luxurious all on its own.

Speaking of luxury, the CX-5 comes with a few finishings more likely to only be found in premium offerings, such as cloth-wrapped A pillars, premium-like padded cabin surfaces on the dash top, upper and lower instrument panel, lower console edges, door uppers front and back, and armrests all-round, while the CX-5 also boasts a plenty of brushed aluminum trim bits all over the interior, some even upgraded with knurled edging for a particularly impressive look. It’s fairly upscale switchgear from a mainstream brand, making me wonder whether Mazda will eventually try to lift itself up into premium territory in price as well as quality.

To this end, the SkyActiv-D turbo-diesel suits an upwardly mobile brand like Mazda better than some others, being that diesels have long been the stuff of Mercedes-Benz, Audi, and BMW, plus more recently Jaguar and Land Rover. I’d be remiss not to mention Volkswagen again, because not too long ago oil burners made up more than half of their Canadian sales, but now all of the just-noted German brands are on a different trajectory, embracing plug-in electric mobility at a much greater development cost and no sure promise of profits (even mighty Tesla had never managed more than two sequential quarters of profits as of this review’s publication date).

As for Mazda’s SkyActiv-D engine, it only produces 168 horsepower, but then again it puts out a very strong 290 lb-ft of torque. Such low horsepower, high torque ratios are par for the course when it comes to diesels, by the way, but it’s not like the CX-5 Signature’s standard 2.5-litre SkyActiv-G engine is without merits. Count them, 227 gasoline-fed horses and a grand total of 310 lb-ft of torque when said gasoline is 93 octane or higher. When cheaping out at the pump you can expect the same torque yet only 250 horsepower, but that’s still an impressive number for this class. What’s more, the 2020 version of this engine is capable of an even more satisfying 320 horsepower, which will make the upcoming 2021 Mazda3 AWD, just announced to receive this powertrain as an option, a serious sport sedan rivalling true luxury brands.

2019 Mazda CX-5 Signature Diesel
The nicely laid out centre stack includes high-quality controls within easy reach.

I’ve now spent at least a week with all second-generation CX-5 engines mated to the model’s all-wheel drivetrain, and can happily say the latter is well worth the extra expense when compared to the compact SUV’s base 2.0-litre four, unless fuel economy is the driving force behind your decision. This is where the twin-turbo SkyActiv-D trumps its stable mates, garnering a Natural Resources Canada rating of 8.9 L/100km in the city, 7.9 on the highway and 8.4 combined compared to the larger and more potent 2.5-litre SkyActiv-G’s 10.8 city, 8.7 highway and 9.8 combined rating. Yes, the diesel is better, but is it really $5,000 better? That’s a question you’ll need to ask yourself before plunking down the significant chunk of change needed to buy one.

Another consideration is the well-equipped CX-5 GT noted before, that for $37,450 provides most of the Signature’s premium-like features as well as a more fuel-friendly 2.0-litre SkyActiv-G four-cylinder in base trim. That smaller engine makes a reasonably strong 187 horsepower and 186 lb-ft of torque, but its expected fuel economy is nearly as good as the diesel at 9.8 L/100km city, 7.9 highway and 9.0 combined, whereas the same engine found in lesser trims with front wheel drive can achieve almost identical claimed fuel economy at a respective 9.3, 7.6 and 8.5.

2019 Mazda CX-5 Signature Diesel
The infotainment system is controlled by this stylish knurled metal knob and surround buttons.

I spent a week in a 2019 CX-5 GT outfitted with the entry-level powerplant and its standard all-wheel drivetrain last year, and walked away very satisfied with its fuel-efficiency/performance compromise, not to mention its luxurious surroundings. Then again, more recently I spent a whopping three months with a newer 2.5-litre SkyActiv-G turbo-equipped 2020 CX-5 Signature and was much happier, at least with its performance and even more upscale interior, while I was also fine with its fuel economy considering the performance at hand (and particularly at foot). You’ll see a detailed review of this model shortly, but being that the review I’m current writing is about a 2.2-litre SkyActiv-D-equipped CX-5 Signature, I’ll only say, if it was a case of needing to purge an engine in order to make this compact SUV more profitable, Mazda got rid of the right one.

I should make clear that you could very well save a great deal more than the claimed rating when living with a SkyActiv-D-equipped CX-5 than at the wheel of the more potent SkyActiv-G model, because most drivers will be tempted to drive the sportier feeling gasoline variant faster. I found myself more relaxed and easy-going when behind the wheel of the non-paddle-shifter-equipped diesel than the top-line gasoline model, a factor that could also prevent potential speeding tickets with some owners. What’s more, diesel pump prices are less volatile than those for gasoline, and more often than not cheaper too.

2019 Mazda CX-5 Signature Diesel
The driver’s seat is extremely comfortable and driving position very good.

Don’t get me wrong, as the diesel delivers some significant torque off the line, and it made haste during highway passing too, but it can’t provide the level of sportiness offered by the more formidable gasoline-fed turbo-four, and thanks to the relatively quiet yet still noticeable rattle-and-hum heard ahead of the engine firewall, the diesel sounds more like a truck than the gasoline variant too. Depending on your leanings, this will be a positive or negative, while all should appreciate the added grip through the corners brought about by the Signature’s 19-inch alloy wheels.

The CX-5’s six-speed automatic transmission isn’t quite as engaging without the aforementioned paddles, and yes six forward speeds doesn’t sound as advanced as the various eight-speed, nine-speed and continuously variable transmissions being offered by others, but along with providing snappy shifts when pushing hard and smooth intervals when driving in a more relaxed state, Mazda’s SkyActiv-Drive gearbox has been very dependable when compared to some of the just-noted challengers.

2019 Mazda CX-5 Signature Diesel
Rear seat roominess and comfort is excellent.

Together with the second-gen CX-5’s impressive cornering prowess, all examples I’ve driven have delivered a comfortable ride. They’ve been a tad firmer than some of their Asian and domestic competitors, due to Mazda’s performance-focused corporate credo, but this has never interfered with suspension comfort. Then again, the CX-5’s fully independent suspension is more responsive than most rivals, especially when coursing down a winding mountain road, while it also provides a level of high-speed confidence on the freeway that’s not available to the same degree from some compact SUV challengers.

Speaking of best-in-class, the CX-5’s 40/20/40 split-folding rear seatbacks make its cargo compartment more convenient than the majority of competitors too, while release levers mounted near the rear hatch opening allow the seats to lower themselves automatically, thus adding even greater ease to the loading process.

2019 Mazda CX-5 Signature Diesel
A 20/40/20-split rear seatback and auto-folding levers make the CX-5’s cargo compartment ultra-convenient.

After numerous stints behind the wheel of various CX-5 trims, I can easily recommend Mazda’s compact SUV, but I won’t try to tell you which engine you should purchase. I can say, however, you’d better act fast if you like the sound of the brand’s SkyActiv-D turbo-diesel, because they’re now few and far between, and soon won’t be available at all.

Story and photo credits: Trevor Hofmann

Photo editing: Karen Tuggay

CarCostCanada

Hyundai gives 2021 Santa Fe dramatic new updates

2021 Hyundai Santa Fe
The refreshed 2021 Santa Fe delivers big on bold, with a wide new grille design that’s bound to stir up conversation.

Hyundai Canada has been a bit confusing with respect to its seven-passenger SUVs over the years, first offering the 2007–2013 Veracruz, then dubbing their 2014–2019 three-row entry as the Santa Fe XL, and finally giving the best of the lot the Palisade nameplate for 2020.

Hyundai’s largest SUV now offers up a distinctive premium-level look for the brand and near luxury levels of refinement, and has therefore received plenty of positive reviews and achieved good traction on Canada’s mid-size SUV sales chart. It ticks all the right boxes when it comes to design, execution and pricing, something the smaller two-row mid-size Santa Fe has been doing for a very long time. Still, after two model years of availability, the fourth-generation Santa Fe will receive dramatic a mid-cycle makeover.

It’s difficult to say what might have prompted Hyundai to update its top-selling Santa Fe so thoroughly after just two model years, but a sizeable 21-percent pre-pandemic drop in Canadian sales from 24,040 units during calendar year 2018 to 18,929 deliveries through 2019 wouldn’t have helped the situation, despite an almost 9-percent gain in the U.S. during the same 12 months (the Santa Fe was trending downward toward the end of the year). Some of that negativity could’ve been the Palisade’s introduction, which would have naturally eliminated most three-row Santa Fe XL sales, not to mention a gradual phase-out of the XL as the 2019 calendar year ended, but either way the popular model’s sales have slipped in recent years (it suffered a 15-percent drop the year before). 

2021 Hyundai Santa Fe
A sportier looking version with grey lower body cladding and a unique grille insert shows that Hyundai plans to modify the exterior design between trims.

Of course, Canada’s sales wouldn’t have caused a giant multination like Hyundai to completely rethink the design of a model that’s not only manufactured in the U.S., but also Korea and China, and serves myriad markets around the world. Nevertheless, the changes are significant, with a unique new extended grille that reaches right out to each corner of the frontal fascia, the change meant to accentuate the SUV’s width and provide a “well-balanced stance,” said Hyundai in its press release.

“We modernized the New Santa Fe with premium features and appealing aesthetics that are sure to add value,” commented SangYup Lee, Senior Vice President and head of Global Design Centre. “The bold lines that extend from one side to the other and from front to back give Santa Fe a rugged yet refined look that SUV customers want. Besides, we’ve added numerous features and functions to create a truly family-focused SUV that is a pleasure to drive.”

Interestingly, the new grille’s “signature geometric patterned inlay” is different depending on the photo shown, but Hyundai’s release didn’t explain why. The version with body-colour painted lower trim included a grille insert with seven rows of isosceles trapezoid shapes, whereas the SUV with darker grey-coloured lower bumpers and rocker panels appeared to provide better aeration to its engine through bigger octagonal vent openings similar to those used on today’s Santa Fe. Is one a sport grille and the other for a top-line luxury model like today’s Ultimate? Or possibly active grille shutters have something to do with the design. We should learn more as updated info becomes available closer to model’s launch.

2021 Hyundai Santa Fe
Hyundai has updated much of the new 2021 Santa Fe’s rear design as well.

Unfortunately Hyundai has only provided nine exterior photos to tease our collective imagination, 2021 Santa Fe release, although it’s clear that both receive the brand’s new T-shaped signature LED Daytime Running Lights, found in both the lower grille extensions and headlamp clusters above. Each T’s outer tip visually continues rearward along the new Santa Fe’s beltline before transitioning into a set of redesigned wraparound LED tail lamps, while thicker flat-planed wheel arches add a stronger look. These frame sizeable 20-inch alloy wheels boasting a seven-spoke geometric design on the two Santa Fe trims revealed.

From its backside, the new Santa Fe gets yet more horizontal styling details to highlight its wide stance, such as a narrow light bar that connects the just-noted tail lamps, while down below on the bumper a thin reflector strip does likewise. A larger, wider rear vent cutout can be found under that, plus a new metallic skid plate, all of which is dubbed “a unique three-layer look” by the South Korean brand.

While Hyundai hasn’t provided any photos of the renewed 2021 Santa Fe cabin, it’s shared some details in its press release that helps us understand what we might expect. Let’s keep in mind that today’s 2019-2020 fourth-gen Santa Fe is already one of the most luxurious two-row crossover SUVs on the Canadian market, at least in its mainstream volume-branded sector, but Hyundai says the new version gets even “more space, comfort, and convenience,” while adding “a new level of luxury with every component finished in premium soft-touch materials.”

2021 Hyundai Santa Fe
The centre stack and lower console has been totally redesigned for 2021.

In its press release, Hyundai goes into more detail by saying that the Santa Fe’s updated centre console “sits high, giving the driver and front passenger the feeling of sitting in an armchair,” while all its buttons, knobs and switches are “centered for intuitive and ergonomic use.” Additionally, like with the aforementioned Palisade, the new Santa Fe’s redesigned lower centre console receives a quad of buttons for shift-by-wire gear selection, replacing the traditional shifter. Although Hyundai didn’t provide a photo, we saw one on the new model’s press page, and figure that it’s probably what we’ll soon see. It looks the same as the Palisade’s instrument panel and console, so we’ve included that image here for you to see.

The new gear interface includes an extension on the right featuring a new Terrain Mode dial selector with premium-like knurled metal sides. This enhances the performance of the Santa Fe’s HTRAC All-Wheel-Drive system with modes for overcoming slippery conditions such as Sand, Snow and Mud, plus it also includes Eco, Sport, Comfort and Smart modes, the latter for intuitively recognizing and automatically responding to one’s personal driving style. Five additional buttons allow for quick adjustment to various driving and parking camera controls.

These new drive controls are positioned just underneath two rows of nicely organized switches, the silver one on top for modulating the bigger, wider 10.25-inch AVN (audio, video, navigation) high-def centre touchscreen, and the lower one for the dual-zone HVAC system. Both rows feature more knurled metallic knobs for an upscale look that most likely continues throughout the cabin almost everywhere else, or at least this is true for the current Santa Fe.

2019 Hyundai Santa Fe
2019 and 2020 Santa Fe models are still available, with tempting discounts or zero-percent finance and leasing plans.

Of note, the Santa Fe holds Hyundai Canada’s most enduring SUV nameplate, having originally gone on sale for the 2001 model year. Now, 20 years later it’s one of the most popular models in its class, and regularly searched here at CarCostCanada. While we have no information on the 2021 Santa Fe yet, we do have a 2020 Hyundai Santa Fe Canada Prices page that is currently showing up to $3,000 in additional incentives for those wanting to purchase now, while those that find a 2019 model can access zero-percent leasing and financing rates.

Additionally, take note that Hyundai Canada is offering zero-percent leasing and financing rates on their 2020 Venue, the 2020 and 2019 Kona Electric, and the conventionally powered 2019 Kona, 2019 Tucson, 2019 Nexo (a non-plug-in hydrogen-powered electric), while up to $1,000 in additional incentives is available with the 2020 Kona and Palisade SUVs, and just like with the 2020 Santa Fe there’s up to $3,000 in incentives when opting for the 2020 Tucson.

Learn more about getting a CarCostCanada membership by checking out our “How Does It Work” article. Here you’ll find how you can access all of the above and more, including manufacturer rebates when available, plus dealer invoice pricing that could put thousands back into your wallet, plus make sure to download the new CarCostCanada mobile app in iTunes or Google Play stores.

Story credit: Trevor Hofmann

Photo credits: Hyundai

CarCostCanada

Toyota Venza comes back from six-year hiatus with hybrid electric power

2021 Toyota Venza
Toyota will bring back its Venza nameplate for 2021, but it will be a taller more SUV-like crossover than the previous version.

Sometimes automakers make choices that don’t seem to make much sense at the time, but for reasons we outsiders will never know, vehicles get cancelled that really should have lived on.

The 2009–2015 Venza was one such vehicle, a five-occupant mid-size crossover SUV that, while a bit more wagon-like than utility, due to Toyota already offering its rugged, truck-based, off-road capable five-passenger 4Runner, nevertheless filled an important void in the brand’s North American lineups.

Thanks to fairly good initial sales, Toyota would’ve arguably found more traction if it had chosen to bring back a redesign after four to five or years or so, rather than cancel it after six. At least the Japanese brand has a recognizable nameplate to fall back on now that it’s ready to reenter one of the more profitable auto segments. The new Toyota Venza will therefore launch in Canada as a 2021 model, starting this summer. 

While standard with all-wheel drive, more unexpectedly is the announcement of a standard hybrid drivetrain. This follows Toyota’s commitment to electrify its entire lineup by 2025, and therefore the new Venza will be joined by a wholly redesigned 2021 Sienna that will only be available with a hybrid electric drivetrain as well.

2009 Toyota Venza
The original 2009-2016 Venza was ahead of its time.

Additional Toyota vehicles sold with the automaker’s full hybrid drive system include the now legendary Prius, also with available with new AWD-e four-season capability, plus the new Corolla Hybrid, the Camry Hybrid, the RAV4 Hybrid, and the Highlander Hybrid, while the Prius Prime offers plug-in, 100 percent electric (EV) motive power for short distances at city as well as highway speeds, plus last but not least is the Mirai hydrogen fuel-cell-powered EV.

Since the first-generation Venza was discontinued, Toyota hasn’t offered a two-row, five-passenger crossover SUV in the mid-size class. As noted the iconic 4Runner remains a 4×4-capable off-roader competing more directly with Jeep’s Wrangler and soon Ford’s new Bronco, so it won’t attract the same kind of soft-roader clientele. Ford in mind, its Edge will be one of the Venza’s direct competitors, while the even more popular three-row Explorer will continue to duke it out against Toyota’s recently redesigned Highlander. Of note, the Edge was the best-selling mid-size SUV in calendar year 2019 thanks to 19,965 sales, compared to the Highlander that only found 13,811 new Canadian owners. What’s more, Ford sold 29,632 Edge and Explorer models collectively last year, and that impressive sales lead doesn’t even factor in that 2019 was a terrible year for the Explorer due to Ford’s slow rollout of the all-new 2020 version. Ford claimed that production issues were at fault, but either way year-over-year Explorer sales were down 47 percent plunge in Canada during 2019, so we can expect the disparity in Ford’s mid-size SUV sales lead to grow even more in 2020 (overall sale will be down, however, due to COVID-19).

2021 Toyota Harrier
The 2021 Toyota Harrier looks very similar to the new Venza.

As of December 31, 2019, five two-row mid-size SUVs sold better than the Highlander in the Canadian mid-size SUV segment. The Edge was followed by Hyundai’s Santa Fe (which is now available solely as a five-passenger model due to the new three-row Palisade) that found 18,929 new customers last year, whereas Jeep’s Grand Cherokee attracted 18,659 new owners in 2019. Kia’s Sorento (now also sold with just two rows thanks to Kia’s new Telluride) also beat Highlander sales with 16,054 deliveries down the road during the same 12 months, while Chevy’s all-new Blazer sold 15,210 units last year. Nissan only sold 12,000 Muranos in 2019, but when this model finally gets a redesign it will probably find more takers than the three-row Highlander too, so it’s clear that the new 2021 Venza critically important for Toyota.

Toyota is taking a significant risk by only offering a single hybrid drivetrain, particularly because this choice will undoubtedly make the Venza more expensive to build and sell than rivals’ gasoline-powered counterparts, but it nevertheless should be well received by those wanting to save fuel and reduce pollutants. A recent spike in fuel prices may make some Canadians more open to spending more on a hybrid powertrain, but even with pump prices higher now than in recent months they remain relatively low when compared to the last couple of years.

There should be no fears about Toyota hybrid reliability, mind you, as the brand initiated the entire market segment with its first-generation Prius in 1997 (in 2000 as a 2001 model here in Canada) and garnered an enviable reputation for near bulletproof dependability for all of its various hybrid-electric drivetrains.

1999 Toyota Harrier
The original 1999 Toyota Harrier looks almost identical to the Lexus RX 300 of the same era.

No Transport Canada five-cycle fuel economy figures have been announced yet, but Toyota estimates the new 2021 Venza to manage a combined city and highway rating of 5.9 L/100km, which will make it the most fuel-efficient vehicle in its class. Of note, the brand employs active grille shutters in order to minimize drag, aiding fuel economy at highway speeds.

The original Venza shared its platform architecture with the Japanese domestic market (JDM) Toyota Harrier, amongst other Toyota/Lexus products such as the Camry and Highlander. The Harrier was even more closely aligned with our Lexus RX (particularly the first-generation Harrier that was barely disguised when it debuted as the 1999 Lexus RX 300). Over the five-plus-year period that Toyota didn’t offer the Venza in Canada, covering 2016 until today, a third-gen Harrier came and went in the JDM, but now that we have photos of both the fourth-gen Harrier and the new 2021 Venza it’s easy to see the similarities between these two vehicles.

Toyota will use its well-proven 2.5-litre Atkinson-cycle four-cylinder hybrid powertrain for the new 2021 Venza and upcoming 2021 Sienna, this drivetrain also powering the Camry Hybrid, RAV4 Hybrid and Highlander Hybrid (as well as the Avalon Hybrid in the U.S. market). The powertrain’s combined system output is 219 horsepower, making it identical to the 2020 RAV4 Hybrid, although more powerful than the Camry Hybrid that only puts out 208 hp, and not as potent as the new 2020 Highlander Hybrid that makes a total of 240 hp.

2015 Toyota Harrier
A version of this 2015 Toyota Harrier could’ve been our Venza if Toyota had decided to keep the model in the North American markets.

The new Toyota Hybrid System II drivetrain incorporates a lighter lithium-ion battery that improves efficiency as well as performance. Like the RAV4 Hybrid and Highlander Hybrid, the Venza receives two electric motors that provide maximum torque almost immediately at takeoff. The rear motor provides motive power to the rear wheels, which Toyota calls Electronic On-Demand All-Wheel Drive. The rear-mounted motor only engages when the back wheels experience slippage, at which point the drive system can appropriate up to 80 percent of system torque to the wheels behind. This said the system defaults to front-wheel drive so as to minimize fuel usage, and only uses its rear wheels when necessary.

Speaking of fuel savings, the Venza includes an Eco mode that “changes the throttle and environmental logic” to enhance overall efficiencies, states Toyota in a press release, while Normal and Sport modes (the former “ideal for everyday driving” and the latter sharpening “throttle response”) also come standard, whereas an EV mode allows limited use of full electric motive power at “low speeds for short distances,” just like Toyota provides with its other non-plug-in hybrid models.

2021 Toyota Venza
The new 2021 Venza offers slick, premium styling.

Toyota claims the new 2021 Venza’s regenerative braking system, which captures otherwise lost electricity caused by kinetic brake friction and then reroutes it to the model’s electrical system, provides better control than in previous hybrid generations, and in fact can be used for “downshifting” via the sequential gear lever’s manual shift mode. Each downshift increases the regenerative system’s braking force in steps, which “fosters greater control when driving in hilly areas,” says Toyota, while the hybrid system also benefits ride comfort by “finely controlling the drive torque to suppress pitch under acceleration and deceleration.” Toyota calls this differential torque pre-load, and it’s particularly useful when taking off from a corner or managing curves on both normal and slippery road surfaces. This feature also aids steering performance at higher speeds, plus it improves straight-line stability and controllability on rougher road surfaces. Additionally, Toyota incorporates new Active Cornering Assist (ACA) electronic brake vectoring into the Venza so as to minimize understeer and thus improve handling yet further.

The new 2021 Venza is built on the Toyota New Global Architecture K (TNGA-K) platform that also underpins the 2018–present Camry, 2019–present Avalon, 2019–present RAV4, 2020 Highlander, and the redesigned 2021 Sienna, not to mention the 2019–present Lexus ES and upcoming Lexus NX and RX replacements. In a press release Toyota states that the TNGA-K architecture helps the Venza deliver an “intuitive driving experience” with “greater driving refinement,” including “comfortable urban and highway performance” and “predictable handling, plus low noise, vibration, and harshness (NVH).” The new Venza features extensive high-strength steel for a more rigid body structure that helps improve its front strut and rear multi-link suspension’s ride quality and handling, plus its overall safety.

2021 Toyota Venza
Toyota will offer a fully digital gauge cluster in top trims.

The new base Venza LE rides on an 18-inch set of multi-spoke two-tone alloy wheels, whereas XLE and Limited trims arrive standard with a set of 19-inch multi-spoke super chrome finished alloys.

Inside the cabin, the near top-line Venza XLE and the fully-loaded Limited model get advanced touch-sensitive capacitive controls on their centre stack instead of the LE’s physical buttons, although you’ll probably notice the big 12.3-inch centre infotainment touchscreen first. This said even the base model’s 8.0-inch centre display is big for an entry-level model.

The Venza’s larger upgraded infotainment system receives a 1,200-watt, 12-channel, nine-speaker (with sub) JBL audio system that Toyota claims to be “sonically gorgeous,” plus embedded navigation with Destination Assist comes standard too. The new nav system features switchable driver or front passenger operation, while both systems include smartphone integration from Apple CarPlay, which comes complete with its Siri voice control system, as well as Android Auto with its Google Assistant, while Bluetooth wireless connectivity is also included.

2021 Toyota Venza
A large 12.9-inch infotainment touchscreen will make the Venza ultra advanced.

Advanced technologies in mind, the Venza will make a fully digital instrument cluster available in upper trims, not to mention a 10-inch colour head-up display that will project key information, like vehicle speed, the hybrid system’s details, and TSS 2.0 safety and driver assist functions, onto the windscreen ahead of the driver, while an electronic rearview mirror with an auto-dimming function plus a HomeLink garage door opener will provide a clearer rear view, which will be especially helpful when rear passengers and/or luggage is interrupting rearward vision. The electronic rearview mirror only needs the flick of a switch to go from conventional to digital operation.

When moving up to Limited trim, parking lot safety is further improved via a 360-degree bird’s-eye view from a surround camera system that Toyota calls its Panoramic View Monitor. The standard camera gets “projected path” active guidelines as well as an available “rear camera cleaning system [that] sprays washer fluid to clear away water droplets, mud, snow, and snow-melting road treatments from the lens,” says Toyota.

Wireless phone charging is another area Toyota leads most rivals, so it’s no surprise the Venza makes this handy feature available, while additional options include ventilated front seats, proximity Smart Key for all four doors plus the tailgate (the latter also providing hands-free powered operation), plus more.

2021 Toyota Venza
Upper trims receive touch-capacitive controls on the centre stack.

More in mind, new “Star Gaze” is a fixed electrochromic panoramic glass roof that can instantly switch between transparent and frosted modes by flicking a switch on the overhead console. Toyota claims the frosted mode “brightens the interior while reducing direct sunlight, giving the cabin an even more open, airy, and inviting feeling.”

What’s more, each Venza trim comes standard with Toyota’s TSS 2.0 suite of advanced safety and driver assistance features such as pre-collision system and automatic emergency braking with pedestrian and cyclist detection, blind spot monitoring, lane departure assist, rear cross-traffic alert, lane tracing assist, automatic high beams, and full-speed adaptive cruise control.

As for interior roominess, we can expect the Venza’s passenger compartment to be similar in size to the first and second row of the new Highlander that as noted earlier shares underpinnings, which should make it more accommodating than the current RAV4. It’s possible to carry up to 1,027 litres (36.2 cubic feet) of cargo behind the rear seats, which is oddly 32 litres (1.1 cu ft) less than what you’ll find in a compact RAV4, that model good for 1,059 litres (37.4 cu ft) of dedicated cargo space, while the Highlander provides 1,010 litres (35.6 cu ft) more space when its third row laid flat.

Pricing for the 2021 Venza will be announced closer its summer arrival date.

Story credits: Trevor Hofmann

Photo credits: Toyota

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

2019 Volkswagen Golf Alltrack Execline Road Test

2019 Volkswagen Golf Alltrack Execline
Updated just last year, the Golf Alltrack is going away too early.

As part of collecting data for this review I searched through every Ontario, BC and Alberta Volkswagen dealer site I could find, at which point I realized they were stuck with a much higher number of 2019 models than other brands (I’ve been doing this a lot for most brands lately). This, of course, should be beneficial to anyone purchasing a VW right now, as they would’ve already had a lot of stock they’d want to get rid of before the virus arrived, and must be seriously motived now.

One of the cars on VW’s list of leftovers is the 2019 Golf Alltrack, which was also discontinued last year, so they’re even more motivated to sell their remaining inventory. I’m guessing the dealers are more motivated than Volkswagen Canada, however, as the manufacturer has only put $1,500 in additional incentives on the hood, so to speak, this according to the 2019 Volkswagen Golf Alltrack Canada Prices page right here on CarCostCanada.

When you sign up for a CarCostCanada membership you have access to the 2019 Golf Alltrack’s dealer invoice price, which means you’ll know exactly what your local VW retailer paid for it and potentially how far he or she is willing to discount it. You’ll also know about any manufacturer rebates and financing/lease rate deals currently available.

2019 Volkswagen Golf Alltrack Execline
Wholly practical yet still fun to drive, the Alltrack takes Golf traditions to new heights.

Getting the best deal on a car is important, but getting the best car for your lifestyle is even more so. To that end the Golf Alltrack is a car I’d actually consider owning, as it suits me to a tee. To my eyes it’s attractive, even more so than the Golf SportWagen it’s based on. That model gets discontinued after the 2019 model year too, incidentally. The Golf Alltrack’s one-inch taller ride height and beefier body cladding work ideally with its long, angular body, while all of its aluminum-look trim, including stylish silver side mirror housings, give it a near-premium persona.

As with all new Golf-based models, the Alltrack’s interior is arguably its most impressive attribute. Luxury details abound, like cloth-wrapped A pillars, a pliable composite dash top that extends down to the midpoint of the instrument panel, the same soft-touch synthetic used for the front door uppers, an beautifully detailed leather-clad flat-bottom sport steering wheel with wonderfully thin spokes filled with high-quality switchgear, stylish grey carbon-fibre-like dash and door trim, gloss-black highlights in key areas, and a nice assortment of satin-finish metallic accents elsewhere.

The monochromatic multi-information display (MID) positioned between the otherwise legible gauge cluster wasn’t very advanced when testing this car in 2017 and still isn’t, especially from a brand that makes an ultra-impressive fully digital primary display in some of its other models, while the majority of its compact crossover competitors provide full-colour TFT MIDs stock full of features in their most basic trims.

2019 Volkswagen Golf Alltrack Execline
Full LED headlights, LED fog lamps, 18-inch alloys and cool aluminum-look trim, the Alltrack Execline is an impressive near-luxury crossover.

On a much more positive note, the Alltrack’s standard infotainment system is excellent, this Execline model and the base Highline trim replacing the old outdated 6.5-inch centre touchscreen with a much more up-to-date 8.0-inch display for 2019, once again complete with Android Auto, Apple CarPlay and MirrorLink smartphone integration, and a larger more useful reverse camera (but oddly with static guidelines), while the Execline gets exclusive navigation with nice map graphics and accurate route guidance.

Yet more infotainment features include voice recognition, Bluetooth phone and streaming audio, a great sounding nine-speaker Fender audio system replacing the standard six-speaker unit, satellite radio, various apps, car system features, and more, while the display’s cool factor is proximity-sensing tech that causes hidden digital buttons to pop up when your hand gets near.

Being that I mentioned updates from the 2017 model I reviewed back in the day, I should provide some history as well as a few additional changes made over the past two model years. The Alltrack arrived on the scene in 2016 for the 2017 model year, and was actually refreshed for 2018 with LED signature lights in both its base halogen headlights and upgraded full LEDs, while new LED tail lamps also featured their own signature style and VW updated the front and rear fascias so subtly I couldn’t tell the difference (but the press release said it so it must be true).

2019 Volkswagen Golf Alltrack Execline
Interior refinement is excellent for the class, and its feature set in Execline trim is very generous.

There were no changes from the 2018 to 2019 model, including the previous year’s available six-speed manual gearbox that wasn’t part of the 2017 lineup in Canada, while Execline trim now included paddles for shifting the optional six-speed DSG dual-clutch automatic.

The unique Peacock Green Metallic colour seen on my tester was new for 2018 too, pulled up to 2019 as well, as was White Silver Metallic that increased the total colour count to nine. My tester’s interior was done out in no-cost optional Shetland beige, always a good combination with green, although this colour can also be had with standard Titan Black.

VW makes every colour available in either Highline or Execline trim, the base model available from $31,200 plus freight and fees when suited up with the manual transmission or $1,400 more for the autobox, whereas Execline trim starts at $35,270 for the manual and $36,670 with the automated transmission, less the previously noted incentives and any additional discounts you’re able to negotiate after getting up to speed on dealer invoice pricing right here at CarCostCanada.

2019 Volkswagen Golf Alltrack Execline
From a brand that offers some of its models with fully digital gauge clusters, these old-school instruments seem a bit dated.

Execline trim adds an inch to the alloy wheels for an exclusive set of 18-inch rims wrapped in 225/40 all-season tires, while additional standard equipment includes LED headlamps with dynamic cornering, those paddle shifters with automatic I mentioned earlier, a navigation system, an SD card slot, the already praised Fender audio system (with a subwoofer), front sport seats, a 12-way power driver’s seat with two-way power lumbar (that are truly excellent), and leather upholstery.

My test model also included the Golf Alltrack Execline’s only available upgrade package dubbed Driver Assistance Plus for $1,750. It features autonomous emergency braking with pedestrian monitoring, blind spot detection with rear cross-traffic alert, lane keeping assist, automatic high beams, adaptive cruise control with stop and go, and park assist with park distance control.

2019 Volkswagen Golf Alltrack Execline
Both Golf Alltrack trims get a new 8.0-inch touchscreen with loads of features, while top-tier Execline trim also includes navigation.

Items pulled up to the Execline from base Highline trim include 4Motion all-wheel drive, auto on/off headlamps with coming and leaving capability, fog lights, silver finished side mirror housings, silver roof rails, proximity keyless entry with pushbutton ignition, rain-sensing wipers, power windows, the previously noted leather-rimmed multifunction steering wheel, a leather-wrapped shift knob and handbrake lever, simulated carbon fibre decorative trim, brushed stainless steel pedals, two-zone auto HVAC, a USB port, three-way heated front seats, a two-way powered front passenger seat (that’s also eight-way manually adjustable), an auto-dimming centre mirror, ambient lighting, LED reading lights, illuminated vanity mirrors, a large power panoramic sunroof with a power sunshade made from an opaque cloth, a scrolling rear cargo cover, 12- and 115-volt power outlets in the cargo area, 60/40 split-folding rear seatbacks with a centre pass-through, etcetera.

The Golf Alltrack is identical to past models mechanically, with the 2019 once again getting VW’s 1.8-litre turbo-four capable of 170 horsepower and 199 lb-ft of torque. It produces robust yet smooth, linear power that results in a fairly fast sprint from standstill to highway speeds, and once on the freeway potent passing power, while its all-wheel drive system is ideal for rain, snow, and light-duty dirt and gravel roads.

2019 Volkswagen Golf Alltrack Execline
The hip-hugging 12-way powered leather-surfaced driver’s seat is ultra-comfortable and plenty supportive.

The Alltrack is rated at 11.1 L/100km city, 7.8 highway and 9.6 combined when mated to its base manual transmission, or 10.7 city, 8.0 highway and 9.4 combined with its automated gearbox, which are both reasonably good results for a compact crossover.

The Golf Alltrack rides on the compact segment’s usual front MacPherson strut and rear independent multi-link suspension design, and thanks to VW’s expertise this results in a comfortable ride and even better handling. Its one-inch taller ride height that comes from a special set of springs and shocks, helps the former attribute to make sense, because increased suspension travel normally aids ride comfort, and while the regular Golf SportWagen will likely outshine the Alltrack through the slalom the taller wagon is certainly more capable through such cones than an equivalently sized crossover SUV. The Alltrack’s speed-sensitive power steering provides good response and better than average feel, while a set of 286 mm vented front and 272 mm solid rear brake discs brings all the fun to a stop quickly.

2019 Volkswagen Golf Alltrack Execline
Let there be light! The Alltrack’s panoramic sunroof provides a lot of airy openness.

Ride and handling praise will be nothing new to those who read VW Golf reviews, but the big difference between the regular five-door hatchback and this Alltrack, or for that matter its SportWagen donor model, is cargo volume. Specifically, the two longer Golfs receive 368 litres (13.0 cubic feet) of extra capacity behind the 60/40-split rear seatbacks, and 362 (12.8 cu ft) more when lowered, the bigger two cars’ max cargo volume a respective measuring 861 and 1,883 litres (30.4 and 66.5 cu ft).

All Golfs include the convenience of a rear centre pass-through as well, making it easy to load in longer items like skis, poles, snowboards, 2x4s or what-have-you. This leaves the two more comfortable rear window seats available for passengers to enjoy. Also good, VW has added levers to each cargo wall for lowering those seatbacks automatically, but before doing you’ll want to remove the cargo cover within its ultimately over-engineered cross-member. Seriously, this part metal, part composite component weighs a lot more than you’re probably expecting, which is good if you want it to last for time and all eternity, yet maybe not so much if your muscles aren’t as toned as Patrik Baboumian’s (strongest man in Germany, just in case you were wondering).

Hopefully you won’t have any problem lifting the manual rear hatch because VW doesn’t offer a powered liftgate, but there is some extra stowage area below the load floor atop the space saver spare tire. Loads in mind, the Alltrack can manage 14 more kilos (31 lbs) of payload than the regular Golf, resulting in 459 kg (1,012 lbs) max.

2019 Volkswagen Golf Alltrack Execline
The rear seats are comfortable and there’s a lot of space in back to stretch out.

Just in case you’re considering the Alltrack instead of VW’s own Tiguan compact SUV, the Golf Alltrack is about 73 litres (2.6 cu ft) less spacious behind its rear seatbacks, however it can haul an extra 23 litres (0.8 litres) when those seats are folded down, which is pretty impressive when considering the Tiguan is one of the compact segment’s only three-row SUVs.

While the Tiguan is one of the more enjoyable compact SUVs to drive, I must admit to preferring the Golf Alltrack on the road. It’s cabin is finished to a higher standard as well, but all of that hardly matters now that this impressive German wagon is being phased out and the Tiguan will likely replace all collective Golf models as Canada’s top seller soon.

The recently redesigned Tiguan became 42.7 percent more popular year-over-year in calendar year 2018, growing to 21,449 unit sales, coming close to upstaging the Golf that edged it out by just 28 units. It took six different Golf models to achieve that tally, mind you, including the regular Golf hatchback, Golf GTI, Golf R, e-Golf, Golf SportWagen, and this Golf Alltrack. Calendar year 2019 saw Tiguan deliveries drop by 10.2 percent to 19,250 units from a previous high mark, whereas the Golf lost 8.4 percent to 19,668 examples through 2019. With the Golf Alltrack and SportWagen soon gone from the lineup, the Tiguan may potentially outsell the Golf range, although the way sales are looking right now due to the COVID-19 outbreak, 2020 won’t be a stellar year either way.

2019 Volkswagen Golf Alltrack Execline
The long Golf Alltrack provides loads of cargo space, while a centre pass-through means rear passengers get window seats even when loading in long items like skis.

Still, it’s a good year to purchase a Golf Alltrack, and probably the only year you’ll be able to get a new one (unless a straggler or two manages to remain unsold until 2021). While I happen to believe it’s one of the best compact crossovers on the market, before you call your local VW retailer or connect with someone online, please do your homework at CarCostCanada first. Remember, a CarCostCanada membership will provide you a full 2019 Volkswagen Golf Alltrack report with information about manufacturer rebates, financing and leasing deals, plus best of all, dealer invoice pricing that could literally save you thousands when negotiating your best deal.

As for spending time behind the wheel, most dealers will bring the car you’re interested in to your home so you can take it for a drive, after fully disinfecting it of course. If you ask them to bring you the latest Golf Alltrack, I feel fairly confident you’ll like it.

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

CarCostCanada

2019 Jaguar F-Pace SVR Road Test

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Story and photo credits: Trevor Hofmann

CarCostCanada

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Story credits: Trevor Hofmann 

Photo credits: Chevrolet, Kia and Jeep