Acura is in an enviable position with respect to SUVs. Its compact RDX has managed to maintain first or second place in popularity since it arrived on the scene in 2009, and its MDX has been the top-selling…
Acura is in an enviable position with respect to SUVs. Its compact RDX has managed to maintain first or second place in popularity since it arrived on the scene in 2009, and its MDX has been the top-selling dedicated three-row model in its mid-size luxury class since 2005. How have they done it? Value.
When I say value, I’m not just talking price. In fact, according to CarCostCanada.com, Canada’s best resource for new vehicle pricing, invoice pricing, rebate information and more, the MDX is not the least expensive three-row SUV in its segment, that attribute (if being cheapest is even considered appealing amongst premium buyers) achieved by the $48,000 Buick Enclave, which is followed closely by the $48,195 Infiniti QX60. The MDX sits third in three-row, mid-size, premium-branded affordability, its 2018 pricing starting at $54,090 plus freight and fees. So why did 20 percent fewer Canadians choose a QX60 and 40 percent less opt for the even cheaper Enclave?
Value is never solely about price, especially in the luxury sector. Overall build quality and refinement are often more important, as well as mechanical sophistication and performance, digital interfaces and other convenience features, advanced driver assistance and safety features, practicality and functionality (these last points particularly true amongst sport utilities), plus reliability, styling and brand cachet that impact residual/resale values. The MDX gets high marks for most of the above, and therefore gets rewarded with consistently strong sales.
Acura addressed styling last year, when a mid-cycle update transformed the frontal design with its new trademark “Diamond Pentagon” grille. The MDX was already ahead of its peers with respect to lighting, its advanced “Jewel-Eye” LED headlamps and LED taillights standard across the line, but many of the SUV’s other design details were enhanced as part of the redo as well.
The refreshed MDX’ interior remained mostly carryover, but for 2018 Acura has added some user-friendlier tech. Specifically, the standard 7.0-inch capacitive touchscreen now includes Apple CarPlay and Android Auto smartphone integration, a bonus for iPhone users due to Apple’s much better interface, plus useful to Android phone owners that can make it work.
To be clear, while I like Android-based phones and have owned many from Samsung, Sony, Asus and Huawei, I’m not a fan of Android Auto. It normally hooks up quickly enough, but its capability is limited and graphic interface dismal. My problem in this case came down to the MDX infotainment system’s inability to recognize that my phone was connected to the correct USB (the one with the smartphone graphic), so there was no Android Auto for me. This could have something to do with the 2016 Huawei GR5 I was using, but it’s a relatively common phone in my parts (up until recently providers were giving it away for free with a two-year contract) and therefore shouldn’t be a problem, plus it hasn’t posed a problem when connecting to other brands’ infotainment systems.
As for Acura’s other 2018 MDX promise, which includes more logically organized functions and an operating system that’s 30-percent faster when responding to inputs, I can attest to both. It’s certainly a better laid out interface than the previous one, but that’s not saying a lot. Unfortunately it remains one of my least favourite infotainment systems to use, and that’s despite being noticeably quicker as well. Somehow Acura has created a system that uses twice as many displays to perform half as many functions, or at least that’s how it seems when trying to perform various tasks. My advice? Acura should study the latest iPad and Samsung tablets, and then do their best to mimic their various functions, such as pinch or swipe capability, without infringing on copyright laws. That’s what Tesla, Volvo, and others have done, and consumers have responded well, while pundits, like me, have given them multiple awards. Acura won’t win any awards for this infotainment system, even with the upgrades.
It’s a shame because the rest of the interior is superb. My tester was finished in top of the line Elite trim, which meant its Black Limba or Olive Ash Burl wood inlays, found across the instrument panel, door panels and lower console bin lid, were real, its perforated Milano leather seat upholstery featured contrast stitching and accent piping, and its feature set was upgraded to include a really useful surround view parking camera, a great sounding 546-watt ELS Studio audio upgrade with Dolby Pro Logic II, 12 speakers and a sub plus more, rear DVD entertainment with an “Ultrawide” 16.2-inch display, a remote, two wireless headphones, and an HDMI input jack, four USB charge points, a 10-way powered front passenger seat, ventilated front cushions, and that’s just on the inside.
Outside, the Elite gets attractively painted front and rear lower skid garnishes, nice looking vertically stacked LED fog lamps, a sharp looking set of 20-inch alloys, always helpful front and rear parking sensors, plus roof rails up top, while a fuel-saving, emissions reducing engine idle start/stop system gets added under the hood.
I should also point out the Milano leather upholstery was pulled up from mid-range Tech trim, as were the auto-leveling headlamps, auto-dimming power-folding side mirrors, rear door proximity keyless access, a 115-volt household-style AC power outlet, and a set of heatable rear outboard seats.
Notable MDX Elite features not yet mentioned that get pulled up from Navi trim include perimeter/approach puddle lights, rain-sensing wipers, an upgraded HVAC system with sun position detection, navigation, voice activation, hard drive media storage, AcuraLink connectivity, blindspot monitoring, rear cross traffic assist, and more.
On the subject of safety, all MDX trims get standard AcuraWatch auto-sensing and driver-assist technologies such as road departure mitigation, lane departure warning, forward collision warning, lane keeping assist, and collision mitigation braking with pedestrian detection resulting in an IIHS best Top Safety Pick rating and five-star NHTSA status, once again driving home the MDX’ value proposition.
Lastly, items pulled up to Elite trim from the base MDX include automatic high beams, remote engine start, proximity keyless access, pushbutton ignition, an electromechanical parking brake, a powered steering column, ambient lighting, adaptive cruise control with low-speed follow, a colour TFT multi-info display, an auto-dimming rearview mirror, tri-zone auto climate control, a multi-angle backup camera with dynamic guidelines, text message and email reading capability, Siri Eyes Free, satellite radio, a 10-way powered driver’s seat with two-way powered lumbar and two-position memory, heated front seats, a heatable leather-wrapped steering wheel, a garage door opener, a powered moonroof, a powered liftgate, and much more.
When you combine other standard items that aren’t included in upper trims, like 18-inch alloy wheels, the base 432-watt eight-speaker audio system, a slightly lower grade of leather upholstery (but genuine leather nonetheless), a less adjustable eight-way powered front passenger’s seat, etcetera, with the comprehensive list above, it’s easy to appreciate how much bang you get for just $53k, while the near top-line Elite shown here starts at $65,360.
To put this price in perspective, that’s less than where the BMW X5 and Mercedes-Benz GLE start out, once again driving home the MDX value proposition. What’s more, the MDX comes standard with a direct-injected 3.5-litre V6 that’s good for 290 horsepower and 267 lb-ft of torque, a sophisticated nine-speed automatic transmission with standard steering wheel paddles, and Acura’s much-respected torque-vectoring Super-Handling All-Wheel Drive (SH-AWD), which was recently upgraded to include a twin-clutch rear differential that directs torque between front and rear wheels, as well as side to side, for faster, smoother cornering and ultimately better traction. When combined with its amplitude reactive dampers and Agile Handling Assist brake torque-vectoring technology, SH-AWD helps the MDX’ rigid body structure and nicely sorted front strut and multi-link rear suspension to manage fast-paced curves well, while providing a comfortable, compliant ride.
Making matters better still, Acura includes something it calls an Integrated Dynamic System (IDS), which includes a Sport mode that quickens throttle response, allows for higher engine revs between shifts, adds steering weight, and sends more torque to the outside rear wheels amid corners to improve turn-in, while it also enhances engine sound. Of course I employed Sport mode often, although I also made sure to leave it in Comfort mode when traveling at regular speeds, especially when managing rough patches of tarmac.
Along with its impressive ride and handling, the MDX remains wonderfully quiet, even when the outside world seems loud and chaotic, and when driven modestly the big SUV proves quite efficient with a claimed combined city/highway fuel economy rating of 10.7 L/100km when fitted with the Elite’s auto start/stop system, or 11.0 L/100km without. It should also be noted the top-line MDX Sport Hybrid receives an even more agreeable 9.0 L/100km combined city/highway rating, while boosting output to 321 net horsepower and 289 lb-ft of torque—something to consider if you want a best-of-both-worlds alternative.
In other good news, after multiple weeklong MDX test drives I’m finally fully acclimatized to its unorthodox gear selector, which is basically a row of buttons plus a single pull-tab-like reverse switch, culminating at the just-noted IDS button. It remains unnecessarily complicated, and could potentially turn off as many uninitiated prospects as it turns on tech geeks, but suffice to say it works well enough once you get used to it, and it looks pretty cool.
That it doesn’t do anything to minimize space usage which would otherwise be taken up by a shift lever, and arguably adds to the level of visual clutter a driver needs to deal with are separate issues altogether. At least it provides some sense of occasion to a cabin that could also benefit from a modernized primary gauge cluster, the latter having yet to be upgraded to a fully configurable digital TFT display, plus, of course, the as yet imperfect dual-display infotainment system chastised earlier.
Other than these few quibbles, the 2018 Acura MDX is a fine SUV deserving of its ardent following. Its inherently well engineered mechanicals provide stronger than average performance, a high level of refinement, reasonably good fuel economy and dependable reliability, while its solid construction makes it feel bulletproof, its superb standard safety set adds to its confidence-inspiring demeanor, and its comfortable and accommodating interior makes it easy to live with no matter the size of occupants or load. Now all you need to decide on is which MDX trim level and colour you want.
Some want the best price they can get, some want luxury above all, and others want something sporty to spice up their daily commutes. It just so happens that Volvo answers all of the above with its base…
Some want the best price they can get, some want luxury above all, and others want something sporty to spice up their daily commutes. It just so happens that Volvo answers all of the above with its base Momentum, sporty R-Design, and ritziest Inscription trims, while still providing plenty of value, performance and luxury in each.
When Volvo first introduced its completely overhauled XC90 mid-size luxury SUV for the 2016 model year I tested and reviewed a T6 AWD R-Design, which was such an improvement over its predecessor and so much more competitive against key rivals that it was easy to recommend. I followed this experience up with a 2017 XC90 T8 eAWD Inscription, which increased straight-line performance while replacing some of the R-Design’s sporty detailing for a classier, richer look and feel. For 2018, I was once again given the chance to test the faster T8 eAWD powertrain, albeit in R-Design trim with a sportier wheel and tire upgrade, and I must say it was a match made in heaven.
R-Design trim gives a sporting twist to the inherently elegant XC90, complete with a black mesh grille insert, less chrome and metallic trim, an edgier body-colour and glossy black lower front fascia, satin-silver mirror caps, machine-finish twinned five-spoke 20-inch alloy wheels with black painted pockets (that were upgraded to 22s on my tester), and a body-colour bumper filled with a unique gloss black diffuser-style grille. Together with the XC90’s dramatically penned standard features that include Volvo trademark Thor’s hammer LED headlights and an eye-grabbing set of vertical LED taillights, all set within a gracefully shaped body shell that’s easy on the eyes no matter the angle, the XC90 R-Design is one compelling package.
Along with its outwardly pleasing character the XC90 provides one of the more visually appealing and best executed interiors in the mid-size luxury SUV class, this particular model finished in classic black with satin-silver and optional carbon-fibre detailing, the leather-covered dash, door uppers, armrests and seat upholstery featuring sporty white contrast stitching, the light coloured thread coming standard, but all the fanciful leather made available due to a $3,000 Leather package that also includes rear side sunshades.
Those seats look absolutely stunning, and their standard 10-way adjustability, upgraded to special sport seats with power-extendable lower cushions and expanded side bolstering in the R-Design, made them even nicer on the back than they are to the eyes, with all around good inherent design and no shortage of calibration. Additional interior highlights include gorgeous perforated aluminum speaker grilles for the sensational sounding $3,250 1,400-watt 19-speaker Bowers & Wilkins audio upgrade, plus a jewel-like Orrefors crystal and polished metal shifter, because hey, we all need one of those.
Of course, the XC90’s finer detailing is more of a wants over needs issue, the beautifully detailed diamond-pattern bright metal rotating start-stop knob making a luxury statement all on its own, although it’s backed up by a cylindrical drive mode selector shod in the same dazzling full metal jacket. These last three items are totally unique details that separate Volvo from any other brand, giving its cabin an upscale ambience that wouldn’t feel out of place to a Bentley or Rolls-Royce owner.
Luxury snobs might find that last statement laughable, but truth be told that’s only because we’re all conditioned to believe such highfalutin ultra-premium brands are better in every way then lesser nameplates, yet such is not always the case. The quality of leather, metal and composite workmanship around the XC90’s cabin proves this point, with hard plastic difficult to find and the design, density, fitment, and damping of Volvo’s switchgear second to none.
Likewise, the 8.0-inch digital instrument display is mighty impressive for a standard primary gauge package, not to mention filled with useful functions like navigation directions, phone details, road sign info and more, but the standard 12.3-inch TFT gauge cluster in my R-Design is even more cutting-edge and gets all the same features plus four configurable graphic modes.
Over on the centre stack the XC90’s vertically positioned 9.0-inch tablet-style Sensus touchscreen is better yet thanks to its multi-award-winning infotainment interface with ultra-familiar tap, pinch and swipe gesture controls. Truly, it’s best of the best when it comes to user-friendliness and overall functionality, while its standard feature set, including a backup camera, four-zone climate control, navigation, real-time traffic info, voice activation, Volvo On Call app (with remote start, vehicle tracking, and more), Apple CarPlay and Android Auto smartphone connectivity, audio/radio functions, car settings, etcetera, leaves nothing to the imagination.
Another area of Volvo technology leadership is powertrains. Its singular engine approach is unique in the industry, and I must say quite brilliant. Rather than wasting resources on myriad engine configurations and displacements, the Swedish brand makes one direct-injection turbocharged 2.0-litre four-cylinder Drive-E engine and sources one eight-speed Geartronic automatic transmission before implementing this combination in a variety of ways throughout its entire lineup. A model’s trim level doesn’t denote the powertrain provided, although only the base Momentum is available with the least potent T5 AWD combination, good for 250 horsepower and 258 lb-ft of torque.
Momentum, R-Design and Inscription trims can all be had with either T6 AWD or T8 eAWD drivetrains, both of which feature a turbocharger and a supercharger. This twin charging process allows for a maximum of 316 horsepower and 295 lb-ft of torque in the T6 AWD, and thanks to a complementary Twin Engine plug-in hybrid electric motor/battery combo, a monstrous 400 net horsepower and 472 net lb-ft of torque in the T8 eAWD.
Monstrous probably isn’t the right word to describe T8 eAWD performance, as it’s the most progressively linear 400 horsepower and 472 lb-ft of torque you’ll likely ever experience. I’ve enjoyed the T8 around town, on long high-speed freeway trips and most every other type of roadway in between, and have grown to appreciate its relentless forward thrust as much as its smooth, refined demeanor.
To be clear, it’s fast, but it’s no Mercedes-AMG GLE 63 S or BMW X5 M beater, and it’s not even trying to be. Instead, Volvo has its sights on the Mercedes-Benz GLE 550e 4Matic and BMW X5 xDrive40e, its mid-five second sprint to 100km/h coming milliseconds from matching the former and annihilating the latter by more than a second, while its claimed fuel economy rating is 10.1 L/100km in the city, 8.8 on the highway and 9.5 combined compared to 11.1 L/100km combined for the Merc and 9.9 combined for the Bimmer. Volvo’s small-displacement four-cylinder, twin power and plug-in hybrid combination certainly pays off in performance and at the pump.
Of course, all of the aforementioned SUVs were designed to drive on electric power only for about 30 kilometres before automatically starting up their respective internal combustion engines and continuing on as hybrids—the T8’s battery was upsized this year for an estimated 30.5-km of range from its two electric motors. While 30 km doesn’t sound like a lot, if your commute is short it’s possible to get to and from work without using any gasoline at all, but Volvo more realistically estimates the result of regular charging (which takes about three hours from a 240-volt charger) will reward you with an Le/100km (gasoline litres equivalent per 100 kilometres) rating of 4.7 combined city/highway. That would make a welcome improvement to my fuel budget, considering pump prices for regular in my area are now averaging above $1.50/litre after hitting record highs of $1.65 in May, let alone premium unleaded that shot up to $1.87 last month.
Similar to the formidable yet linear power delivery, the XC90’s ride and handling compromise is wonderfully agile without any harshness. Even with my tester’s optional Pirelli Scorpion 275/35R22s it remained comfortably compliant no matter the road surface, yet pushed hard through a serpentine set of switchbacks it lived up to its European performance pedigree.
Adapting to your mood and/or surrounding conditions, Volvo allows for adjustable steering and Drive-Mode settings, the former modulating between low, medium and high steering assistance, and the latter featuring Comfort, Eco, Dynamic (sport) or Off-Road modes. It’s a quick and easy system to set up, and makes a big difference to how the XC90 drives.
Volvo backs up the XC90’s confidence inspiring performance with a plentiful supply of advanced driver assistance systems, safety having always been core to the Swedish brand’s ethos. It starts with auto on/off LED headlights with active cornering, forward collision warning with autonomous emergency braking (that even includes its own head-up display), lane departure warning with lane keeping assist, and rear parking sensors.
My tester was upgraded with a $2,000 Vision package that adds blindspot monitoring with cross-traffic alert, one of the clearest, most helpful 360-degree surround-view parking monitors in the business, and power-folding auto-dimming side mirrors to go along with the standard auto-dimming rearview mirror inside, while a $2,200 Convenience package included front parking sensors, semi-autonomous Park Assist self-parking, semi-autonomous Pilot Assist self-driving with adaptive cruise control, a Homelink garage door opener and a few other handy items. Lastly, my loaner came with a $1,250 Climate package adding a heatable steering wheel, heated rear outboard seats, and heated wiper blades, making it perfectly suited up for winter ski trips with the entire family.
Additionally, Volvo offers plenty of standalone options, such as a graphical head-up display, a dual-monitor 7.0-inch rear entertainment system, an integrated second-row booster seat, an active air suspension, and more.
I’d be remiss not to jot down some key standard features too. Momentum trim starts at $59,150 for the T5, $63,350 for the T6, and $74,950 for the T8, these prices easily sourced on CarCostCanada.com, along with invoice pricing, rebate information and much more, with standard items not yet mentioned including fog lamps, proximity keyless access with pushbutton ignition and a hands-free powered tailgate, metal treadplates, aluminum interior inlays, rain-sensing wipers, satellite radio, a powered panoramic moonroof, a cooled glove box, rear climate controls, heatable powered front seats with four-way powered lumbar, driver’s memory, mechanical releasing second-row seats, power-folding rear headrests, a semi-automatic load cover, a cargo opening metal scuff plate, active noise control (with engine enhancement), roof rails, and more.
Features not yet mentioned on the R-Design, which starts at $67,900 for the T6 and $80,050 for the as-tested T8, include more sporty styling and trim modifications, a perforated leather steering wheel, exclusive steering wheel paddle shifters that really make a difference to driver engagement, metal pedals, a black roofliner, etcetera, while the Inscription, priced at $69,550 for the T6 and $81,650 for the T8, features a more luxurious exterior and interior design motif including genuine walnut inlays and standard perforated Nappa leather upholstery, plus ventilated front seats with power-adjustable side bolsters, front passenger seat memory, rear sunshades, and more.
No matter the trim, it all comes in an interior that’s extremely comfortable and very roomy. Even the third row was spacious enough for my medium-build five-foot-eight frame to fit in without feeling cramped, leaving about an inch ahead of my knees when the second-row was pushed as far rearwards as possible. I had a couple of inches remaining over my head too, plus ample elbowroom thanks to armrest cutouts. Volvo also provides pillar-mounted air vents for superb third-row ventilation, these identical to those found on the backside of the B-pillars for second-row passengers, while roof-mounted LED reading lights benefit both rear rows.
I wouldn’t expect anyone to gripe about cargo capacity either, with 447 litres (15.8 cubic feet) available aft of the rearmost seatbacks, 1,183 litres (41.8 cubic feet) behind the second-row, and 2,427 litres (85.6 cubic feet) when both rear rows are flattened. What’s more, Volvo adds to XC90 versatility by dividing the second row into thirds in order to fit loads of long cargo like skis down the middle while the two outboard rear passengers enjoy the comfort of window seats (and those aforementioned rear heaters). Additionally, the load floor is almost totally flat when lowered, plus Volvo includes a convenient flip-up divider in the very back for stopping smaller items from shifting forward.
It’s tempting to go on and on describing the exceptionally good build quality of those seats, their folding mechanisms, the solid sound made when each door shuts, the beautiful finishing and fine materials used throughout, etcetera, etcetera, but I’d better leave it there in order to let you enjoy a few surprises for yourself. The XC90 is a superb luxury SUV that you should experience firsthand, after which I’m willing to bet you’ll be hard pressed to leave behind when it comes time to go home.
Nissan knows a thing or two about SUVs. In fact, the Japanese brand offers more sport utilities than any other mainstream volume brand. Nissan currently offers six unique SUV models to Canadian new…
Nissan knows a thing or two about SUVs. In fact, the Japanese brand offers more sport utilities than any other mainstream volume brand.
Nissan currently offers six unique SUV models to Canadian new car buyers, which amazingly is one model more than Toyota, Ford, Chevy or even Jeep currently had available at the time of writing, plus many more than other rivals. What’s more, its experience building SUVs goes back nearly seven decades. Therefore it only makes sense they’d come up with a solid entry-level model to back up that good name.
If you previously perused my 2017 Qashqai SL AWD road test you’d already know I’ve become a fan, and I must say this 2018 Qashqai S FWD had me even more enamoured. It’s the Nissan Micra of SUVs, and I mean that in plenty of good ways. The Qashqai is inexpensive, comfortable, solidly built, reasonably well equipped, economical, and plenty of fun to drive, which is exactly the type of small SUV that first-time or fixed-income buyers need.
Proof of this is in the pudding, or more specifically in sales numbers that do a fairly good job of showing a vehicle’s popularity, providing dealers in respective markets can allocate enough to sell. I’m guessing that Nissan Canada’s retailers haven’t experienced much in the way of Qashqai shortages as the new model has quickly jumped into first place with 3,748 units sold over the initial three months of 2018. That number makes it 414 examples more successful than the Subaru Crosstrek, plus a shocking 993 deliveries more impressive than the longtime bestselling Honda HR-V that was down 16.7 percent over the same quarter, which as you can see was also eclipsed by the little Subie SUV that saw its Q1 2018 year-over-year sales rise by a shocking 121.4 percent. Not a bad start to the year for either SUV.
The numerous keys to the new Qashqai’s success include attractive styling, strong performance, an efficient powertrain, interior comfort and quality, practicality, and generous features for the money, that last point especially true being that the Qashqai S FWD being reviewed here starts at just $19,998 plus freight and fees, as found on CarCostCanada.com (where you can access the most accurate retail pricing including invoice pricing and rebate info), making it the most affordable SUV in Canada—at least until the $17,998 Nissan Kicks arrives this summer. See what I mean about it being the Micra of SUVs?
Of course, the Kicks will soon take over that mantle in both price and size. The Qashqai is actually a bit larger than the class average despite its value proposition. It measures 4,379 millimetres (172.4 inches) from nose to tail, with a 2,647-mm (104.2-inch) wheelbase in between, while it spans 1,836 mm (72.3 inches) in width and reaches 1,587 mm (62.5 inches) from the base of its tires to the uppermost point of the roof.
As you might imagine that extra size creates more space for driver and passengers, plus it provides the most cargo space of all when the seats are laid flat at 1,730 litres (61.1 cubic feet). Its 648-litres (22.9 cubic-foot) capacity with the seats upright is impressive as well, albeit only second in the segment behind the aforementioned HR-V.
Changing gears, both figuratively and literally, a key reason my Qashqai S FWD started below $20k was its standard six-speed manual transmission. You can get the same SUV with a fully automatic continuously variable transmission (CVT), but it pushes the price up $2,700 to $22,698. The CVT comes standard in the Qashqai’s two upper trims, SV and SL, so if you want the manual you’ll need to stick with the bargain basement S FWD model. Alternatively if you want AWD you’ll need to accept the CVT, that model starting at $24,898.
The SUV I just spent a week with is the base Qashqai S FWD, optioned out with $135 Gun Metallic grey paint. Dealer added accessories aside, that’s it for extras. Still, the Qashqai S was quite livable thanks to a healthy list of standard features that includes heated power-adjustable side mirrors, a tilt and telescopic steering wheel, variable intermittent wipers, air conditioning, a 5.0-inch colour infotainment display, a rearview camera, Bluetooth phone connectivity and audio streaming, text message read and response capability, Siri Eyes Free, four-speaker AM/FM/CD/MP3/WMA audio, heatable front seats, 60/40 split-folding rear seatbacks, a cargo cover, six cargo area tie-down hooks, tire pressure monitoring with Easy Fill Tire Alert, all the expected passive and active safety features, plus more.
Walking around this stylish little SUV shows that Nissan only skimped on the wheels, 16-inch steel rims on 215/65 all-season rubber being normal for base models in this class. Nevertheless the silver metallic covers look surprisingly convincing from a distance, while I was even more impressed by the bright chromed grille and side window surrounds, the equally dazzling LED daytime running lights within the projector headlamps, the ultra-slim LED turn signals integrated into the body-colour side mirror housings, the body-colour door handles, body-colour rooftop spoiler, and the SUV’s overall classy appearance in its aforementioned coat of metallic grey.
Click the substantive switchblade-style key fob, open the door and you’re immediately greeted by a higher level of refinement than anyone could possibly expect for this pauper’s price. The front door uppers are padded and covered with high-quality premium leather-like synthetic, this premium-like surface treatment finishing off the entire dash-top as well. Additionally, the door and centre armrest get comfortable, padded, woven cloth armrests featuring contrast grey stitching, while the seat upholstery receives a similar treatment for the bolsters and an attractive wavy pattern in black and grey for the inserts.
The front and rear doors open nice and wide, making access easy. The little SUV’s height advantage over a car helps in this respect too, and I have to say Nissan does driver’s seats better than a number of others in this class as well. Despite being a base model without the SL’s powered actuation or adjustable lumbar support it was inherently comfortable, with good lower back support and excellent side bolstering.
Setting up a good driver’s position was easy, and while this might be expected this day and age, peoples’ varying body types are often overlooked. For instance, my longer legs and shorter torso means that I need more telescopic reach than some others, and a few brands aren’t too generous in this respect. Such is not a problem with the Qashqai, allowing me to fit in ideally.
The steering wheel isn’t wrapped in leather, but it’s comfortably thick and padded just the same, plus it’s shaped as if it’s pulled out of a sports car with nicely carved thumb spats and a flat bottom no less, while a cool looking metallic silver trimmed dual lower spoke flows up to visually support the two spokes just above, the one on the left side filled with high-quality audio and multifunction display buttons, and the spoke on the right receiving a simpler assortment of phone controls.
Framed behind the steering wheel is highly legible chrome-trimmed electroluminescent primary gauge cluster centered by a large colour TFT multi-information display, which once again is something only expected on a higher trim level, while a quick glance over to the piano black lacquer surfaced and chrome-adorned centre stack shows a small yet useful display audio system. It’s not a touchscreen, which made it a bit difficult for navigating between smartphone playlists and podcasts, but it was serviceable enough.
The same can be said for the nicely laid out manual HVAC interface that sits just below, while the knobs and buttons here and everywhere else were tight fitting and well damped. Still, if this example’s heater wasn’t broken the Qashqai has the worst heating system I’ve experienced in a very long time. You’ve got to crank the temperature dial all the way to the three o’clock position to even make the cabin lukewarm, and if you twist it one notch more it’ll get uncomfortably hot. There was no happy medium.
Nissan provides a USB charge port, aux plug and a 12-volt charger at the base of the centre stack, just above a tray for your cell phone, which sits right next to a chrome-trimmed electromechanical parking brake. Two-way seat heater rocker switches are positioned toward the rear of the lower console, flanking a deep bin that’s ideal for a larger smartphone. Of course, dual cupholders are integrated within the lower console too, as is a storage compartment under the centre armrest, and once again it’s all put together well and looks more upscale than the Qashqai’s entry-level price should allow for.
Nissan also houses a handy console overhead, featuring a felt-lined sunglasses holder and LED reading lights for both front occupants. Even the sunvisors are finished nicely, including the lidded vanity mirrors.
It’s normal for taller, larger drivers to shy away from the subcompact SUV class, but I think they should give the Qashqai a try, as there’s a lot of room available in every direction. The same goes for front and rear passengers, with the back compartment providing more than enough space for my medium-build five-foot-eight frame when sitting behind a driver’s seat that was set up for my height. In fact, I had about five inches remaining ahead of my knees plus loads of space to move my feet around while wearing boots. Additionally, there was about four inches left above my head and another five or so next to my shoulder and hips. I’m not going to say the rear seats were as comfortable as those up front, because that would be difficult to match, but they certainly were supportive, and even provided some side bolstering.
Back in the driver’s seat, the six-speed manual transmission lever is as nicely finished as the previously noted steering wheel, with a black lacquer trimmed shift knob, a leather-like boot, and a satin silver and black lacquered surround. Again, this could be in a premium sports car, let alone a bargain-basement subcompact SUV.
Even more importantly it’s a well-sorted gearbox too, complemented by a free revving 16-valve, DOHC, 2.0-litre four-cylinder engine making 141 horsepower and 147 lb-ft of torque. Off-the-line performance is pretty good if you get deep enough into the throttle and let the revs climb before shifting, but of course that’s not the best way to save fuel. Go easy and it’ll pay you back with a claimed 10.0 L/100km in the city, 8.1 on the highway and 9.2 combined, which seems pretty decent until seeing that the same FWD setup with the CVT gets an estimated 8.8 city, 7.3 highway and 8.1 combined. Even the AWD CVT combination does better at 9.0 city, 7.5 highway and 8.4 combined, but I certainly couldn’t complain despite Vancouver’s high pump prices.
Once the Qashqai gets up to speed it’s thoroughly engaging and fun to fling through the corners, feeling a lot more like a compact hatchback then anything traditionally SUV-like. Of course, it’s aforementioned ride height advantage and subsequent good view of the road ahead and surrounding area reminds that it’s indeed an SUV, while its expansive greenhouse leaves almost no blind spots at all, but it still drives like a little sports car in comparison to most utilities.
With such a willing engine that’s certainly fun to take to its limit, and a shifter that slips so easily into each gear, plus clutch take-up that’s just as easy and light yet positive and engaging, speed can ramp up quickly. Fortunately the Qashqai’s steering is direct and responsive too, while the little SUV’s high-speed stability is actually very good for such a small vehicle thanks to that relatively long wheelbase mentioned earlier. Likewise, braking is excellent, the Qashqai coming standard with ABS-enhanced four-wheel discs that only had to stop 1,425 kilos (3,142 lbs) of as-tested curb weight, resulting in good all-round performance that delivers way more enjoyment then its paltry price should.
That last point pretty well sums up the entire vehicle too, being that the 2018 Nissan Qashqai delivers way more of everything expected of an SUV priced so reasonably. No wonder it’s leading its class in sales.
Honda’s new design language has fully taken shape in the latest Accord, this popular midsize model fully redesigned from the ground up for 2018. It’s the longest, leanest, sportiest Accord yet,…
Honda’s new design language has fully taken shape in the latest Accord, this popular midsize model fully redesigned from the ground up for 2018. It’s the longest, leanest, sportiest Accord yet, and follows many of the current Civic four-door’s coupe-like styling cues, but to my eyes it’s much more pleasingly orchestrated.
This near top-tier version of the Accord’s ritziest Touring trim line has a bit more chrome than all lower grades, excepting the EX-L, which not only brightens the leading edge of the grille and hood before striking through the swept-back wrap-around headlights as done with all models, not to mention the upper portion of the side window surrounds and the slightly angular albeit mostly ovoid tailpipes in back, but also garnishes the otherwise body-colour door handles as well as the extended rocker mouldings below the doors, the latter metal brightwork sweeping upward to each corner of the rear bumper.
The headlights dazzle as well. Their trademark jewel-like vertical pattern signifies standard LEDs, albeit just for low beam use in all trims but Touring that gets full low and high beam LED clusters. Their outer edges are surrounded in LED signature driving lights, with all but base models visually supported by a narrow set of LED fog lamps integrated within the lower fascia below. Additionally, wafer thin LED turn signals get fitted to the side mirror housings of all trims above the same base LX. The LED taillights are standard, plus their dramatic yet elegant C-like shape is completely unique in an industry that oftentimes isn’t too creative. The lower portions aren’t just reflectors either, but join the upper sections by lighting up with LEDs to provide a stylish nighttime statement.
Honda has taken the Accord’s new-edge design inside as well, toning the drama down slightly albeit still delivering a stylish, high-tech experience. For instance, the standard primary gauge package includes a partially configurable 7.0-inch colour TFT display in place of the usual mechanical tachometer, and it’s so realistic I actually thought the entire cluster was analogue when first sliding behind the wheel. In fact, about 60 percent of the left-side cluster is a high-resolution multi-information display that defaults to a tachometer, but otherwise can be used for myriad functions. The right-side speedometer spins via conventional means, while the temperature and fuel indicators to each side are separate backlit gauges.
Looking back, the outgoing Accord included twin digital displays to each side of an analogue speedometer, with a small multi-info display at centre, and while this was bright and colourful, especially in the Accord Hybrid Touring model last tested, this new design provides a larger more useful digital display.
Likewise, Honda has simplified its main centre stack-mounted infotainment system too, with its previous two-screen approach now reduced to one single 8.0-inch touch capacitive display. This makes sense on so many levels, especially cost, but also from a user experience perspective as the new system is much easier to live with. It starts with a newer more advanced touchscreen featuring most peoples’ preferred tablet-style gloss finish, which improves contrast levels and depth of colour, while graphics now mimic Apple’s colourful iPhone/iPad interface, resulting in a simple layout that’s easy on the eyes.
On that note it incorporates standard Apple CarPlay and Android Auto smartphone connectivity, Siri Eyes Free compatibility, plus you can modulate many of the system’s applications via smartphone/tablet-style tap, pinch and/or swipe gesture controls.
Smartphones in mind, I think most will agree that CarPlay works better than Android Auto, but Android fans with the latest gear can feel good about the availability of NFC (Near Field Communication), which comes standard on all trims above base (look for the stylized “N” on the dash trim ahead of the front passenger), making connectivity easier than ever. The rest of us will need to make do with standard HandsFreeLink, which gave me and my cheap but serviceable Huawei GR5 no issue.
The standard parking monitor was clear and bright, plus offered multiple angles to choose from, while dynamic guidelines made slotting into a parking spot easier. Interestingly, Honda doesn’t include an overhead parking monitor as part of its top-line offering, but instead provides a digital version that lights up coloured warnings when getting too close to an object, this working in conjunction with audible beeps from my Touring trimmed model’s front and rear parking sensors.
Touring trim also adds satellite-linked navigation with detailed mapping, a system that’s worked brilliantly in previous Honda models and still does in the new infotainment system, while Honda’s bilingual voice recognition is more capable of understanding my miscellaneous utterings than average, or at least it was in English (my French is so bad it would’ve no doubt send us in the wrong direction).
Touring models also include a wireless charging pad within a lidded bin at the base of the centre stack, this also filled with a 2.5-amp USB charging port and a 12-volt plug, while there’s a second USB charging port in the storage bin under the centre armrest, plus in EX-L trims and above you’ll get two more USB ports on the backside of the front console for rear passengers.
Now that we’re talking Touring features, a shortlist of exclusive items not yet mentioned include ambient door handle lighting, rain-sensing wipers, a head-up display that projects key info onto the windshield ahead of the driver, Blind Spot Information (BSI) with a Rear Cross Traffic Monitor, ventilated front seats, HD radio, an AT&T Wi-Fi hotspot, HondaLink Subscription Services (such as Enhanced Roadside Assistance, Auto Collision Notification, Emergency Call, a Personal Data Wipe, Remote Start, Security Alarm Alert, Stolen Vehicle Locator Service, Find My Car, Remote Lock and Unlock, Geofence Alert, Speed Alert, Destination by Voice, Personal Concierge, etc), plus more.
In addition, unique features the Touring model shares with the Accord Sport include 19-inch alloy wheels on 235/40 all-seasons (base Accords get 17-inch rims and rubber), a Sport mode (when the Sport comes with an automatic transmission that’s standard with EX-L and Touring trims), and steering wheel-mounted paddle shifters (ditto).
Additional items pulled up to the Touring from lesser trims include an electromechanical parking brake, remote engine start, an ECON mode, a front wiper de-icer, an acoustic windshield, Active Noise Control (ANC), a heatable leather-wrapped multi-function steering wheel (the heated part not available with the new 2018 Toyota Camry), a leather shift knob, an auto-dimming rearview mirror, an overhead sunglasses holder, a HomeLink garage door opener, a powered moonroof, heated front and rear outboard seats, a driver attention monitor, a 12-way powered driver’s seat with memory, a four-way powered front passenger’s seat, perforated leather upholstery, 452-watt AM/FM/MP3/WMA/satellite audio with 10 speakers including a subwoofer, Bluetooth streaming audio, SMS text message and email reading capability, Wi-Fi tethering, the HondaLink Assist Automatic Emergency Response System, tire pressure monitoring, hill start assist, all the usual active and passive safety features including front knee airbags, convenient capless refueling, and the list goes on.
I purposely left a number of items from the last list of features because I wanted to highlight some of the most impressive kit pulled up from the base model, particularly proximity access with pushbutton ignition and filtered dual-zone automatic climate control, items not normally seen so low in the trim level hierarchy.
Even better, the Accord’s standard Honda Sensing suite of advanced driver assistance systems includes Forward Collision Warning (FCW), Collision Mitigation Braking System (CMBS), Lane Departure Warning (LDW), Road Departure Mitigation (RDM), auto high beams, and traffic sign recognition, plus when upgrading to the automatic transmission Adaptive Cruise Control comes along for the ride.
This is an impressive safety-first attitude from Honda Canada, and is no doubt partially responsible for its IIHS Top Safety Pick status (when upgrading to those full LED headlamps mentioned earlier) and best-possible five-star NHTSA rating, but it’s probably also why the base Accord’s price has mushroomed by $1,900 from $24,690 to $26,590 plus freight and fees, plus might also account for the redesign model’s slight drop in sales volume since taking over from the outgoing car.
Normally a fresh new model, especially one so attractive and obviously improved overall, provides an initial bump in retail activity, but not so for the 2018 Accord. To be clear, Canadian market year-over-year Accord sales grew by 4.2 percent during calendar year 2017, but it all happened in just five of the first eight months. The last four months of mostly new 2018 Accord availability saw deliveries slide by 26.1 percent, while the first four months of calendar year 2018 saw Accord sales down once again, albeit only by 8.3 percent. Of course, many factors can cause such a slowdown, from a retail price increase as mentioned, to fewer fleet sales, not to mention overall market conditions (the Canadian new car market only grew by 1.2 percent during Q1 of 2018, compared to 9.4 percent over the first three months of 2017), but either way this new Accord hasn’t provided the upward swing in sales momentum that a new model usually does.
To the Accord’s credit, neither has the new Camry that saw its 2017 sales drop by 7 percent last year, although it’s seen a slight gain of 2.5 percent so far this year, while the third-place Ford Fusion drove off the proverbial cliff with Canadian sales down by 32.5 percent through 2017, plus a further 5.8 percent over the first four months of 2018. The fourth place Chevrolet Malibu experienced similar results with a 2017 year-over-year sales downturn of 29 percent, while the fifth-place Hyundai Sonata “only” fell by 23 percent. The Nissan Altima and Kia Optima didn’t lose as much, but merely because they didn’t have as far to fall, leaving the Volkswagen Passat as the only mid-size sedan to join the Accord with positive year-over-year gains in 2017.
The new Accord certainly doesn’t suffer from a quality perspective, with the entire dash top made from high-grade soft-touch synthetic, as are the front door uppers, while rich padded leatherette gets used for the door inserts and armrests, plus premium levels of stitched leatherette padding are added to each side of the lower console, which covers enough area to protect the driver and front passenger’s knees. Additionally, the faux woodgrain and metal inlays are denser and more realistic than in previous Accords, giving the new car higher end appeal.
All of the switchgear is superb too, with the door window controls finished in a lovely metallic edging, as is the toggle for the powered mirrors and the surrounds for the memory seats. The same metal can be found throughout the rest of the cabin, whether we’re talking buttons, knobs and rockers like the those found on the auto HVAC interface and electromechanical parking brake lever, or just the trim around the rest of the centre stack and lower console, or for that matter the steering wheel which is beautifully shaped and covered in wonderfully soft stitched leather, not to mention backed by a set of satin silver finished paddle shifters. All of the steering wheel switchgear is extremely upscale too, matching many premium sector players.
Most should find the interior design appealing, if not quite as creatively designed as the aforementioned Camry. I certainly found it more comfortable than its archrival, with a driver’s seat you sit within instead of on top of, and as part of that a lower front squab that nicely cups under the hamstrings for better support, plus greater reach from the telescopic steering wheel for improved ergonomics. Still, while the old Accord fit me like a glove, my long-legged, short torso body type forced my arms to reach too far to the steering wheel. It wasn’t as dramatic a stretch as the Camry, but more steering column adjustment would be better.
On the positive, the driver’s seatback provides true four-way powered lumbar support for up and down control instead of just two-way in and out adjustment like the Toyota, not to mention the much pricier Lexus ES that isn’t as comfortable as the Accord for my body type either, while I found the side bolsters did a good job of holding me in place during hard cornering.
While an ideal opportunity to segue into driving dynamics, I can’t forget about those in back that are similarly supported by ideally shaped outboard seats featuring excellent lower back bolstering and well designed cushions under the legs. Legroom is incredibly generous too, with enough space left over to fully stretch out when the front seat was positioned for my five-foot-eight medium-build frame. I had ample side-to-side space too, plus headroom was more than ample for my height and would be for folks that are many inches taller, while a comfortable centre armrest and three-way outboard seat warmers added to my Touring model’s luxury. This said the heatable seats took a long time to warm up, both in back and up front.
As you might expect the trunk is nicely carpeted, is large at 473 litres (16.7 cubic feet), and features the usual 60/40 split for longer cargo, but I still wish Honda would incorporate a more useful 40/20/40 three-way division, or at least a centre pass-through for families who ski.
Now that I’m grumbling, I was a bit disappointed there was no panoramic sunroof either, not that they’re normally included in this class, but the Accord just looks so upscale I expected it. Other shortcomings include incandescent reading lights instead of LEDs, and a lack of padded soft-touch door uppers in the rear. Again, not many competitors provide the same level of luxury in back as up front, but it would’ve been a nice nod to near premium buyers who prefer flying under the radar when driving their luxury ride.
On more of an annoyance note, I’ve become so familiar with touch-sensitive controls from Honda that I kept pressing the “HOME” graphic on the left top portion of the infotainment display instead of the narrow button just below. The same setup is used for all of the other functions, and being that these buttons are not lit up it’s an easier mistake to make at night. I’m not sure why Honda didn’t just go with touch-capacitive switchgear to each side of the screen, being that we’re all so used to it from our smartphones and tablets. As it is, most of us only struggle with touch-sensitive slider-style volume and tuning controls, which Honda has thankfully done away with by adding nice big rotating dials, but I personally would’ve appreciated touch controls for everything else.
Those familiar with Honda’s top-line Odyssey or Pilot and therefore looking for an unorthodox set of gear selector buttons on the lower console will need to move up to top-tier Accord Sport 2.0 or Touring 2.0 trims, which not only feature a state-of-the-art 10-speed automatic transmission connecting to those buttons but also a turbocharged and direct-injected 2.0-litre four-cylinder good for 252 horsepower and 273 lb-ft of torque. Instead, my tester featured a more conventional gear lever actuating a continuously variable transmission (CVT), which in turn found motivation from a 1.5-litre turbo-four with 192 horsepower and 192 lb-ft of torque. A six-speed manual gearbox comes standard and can also be had on both Sport trims, but I’ve got to imagine the take-rate on this won’t be high.
My CVT-equipped tester also had a Sport mode as noted earlier, and it really helped the smaller engine accelerate quickly. What’s more, despite the transmission being a CVT shifts were quite crisp, while it held its chosen gear between intervals and responded well to DIY paddle-shift actuation. At the same time it’s a wonderfully smooth transmission that’s ideal for this type of large mid-size sedan.
While pleasantly surprised by how well the base engine and CVT performed, the Accord’s agility around corners was expected, as the popular sedan has long been one of the segment’s best handlers. This said I like the way the new model drives on the open highway better than the outgoing car, particularly its seemingly effortless cruising capability once lifting off the throttle, its lack of kinetic drag shocking.
This is especially good for fuel economy, the model I tested having a highly efficient 8.2 L/100km city, 6.8 highway and 7.6 combined rating with ECON button engaged, making it the second-most miserly 2018 Accord available, the stingiest being the base LX model with the CVT that gets a claimed 7.9, 6.3 and 7.2 respectively. Of note, the LX and Sport 1.5 with the six-speed manual are rated at 8.9 city, 6.7 highway and 7.9 combined, the Sport 2.0 with the same transmission is claimed to get 10.7, 7.3 and 9.2, whereas the Sport and Touring with the 2.0 and 10-speed auto are good for 10.4, 7.4 and 9.1.
So how does it compare to the outgoing Accord? Last year’s naturally aspirated 2.4-litre four, CVT combo was good for 9.2 L/100km city, 6.9 highway and 8.2 combined when configured similarly to my 2018 tester, so they’ve made big progress, while the previous manual was only capable of 10.4, 7.4 and 9.0 respectively.
How about that Camry I’ve mentioned a number of times? The Accord’s chief rival gets 8.5, 6.1 and 7.4 when mated up to its base four-cylinder, eight-speed auto model, which kind of splits the difference between Honda’s manual and CVT model.
Despite losing market share in recent years (sales have slipped by 6.6 percent since 2015 and fallen by more than 47 percent since its Canadian high of 25,814 units in 2004), it’s been a good year for the new Accord thanks to earning the 2018 North American Car of the Year award in January, the Automobile Journalist Association of Canada’s 2018 Canadian Car of the Year award, one of three 2018 ALG Residual Value awards won by Honda (the other two were for the Fit and Odyssey) and more, but unfortunately trophies don’t satisfy shareholders.
To put smiles back on their faces the Accord will need to keep holding its own while the potentially even more profitable Honda Pilot crawls up and out of the less popular portion of the mid-size SUV segment, where much of the market gains are being made. I’m not going to tell Honda how to run its business, but I’m willing to guess if they were to design a Pilot to look as good as this Accord they’d go a long way toward rectifying the situation.
Yes, the 2018 Honda Accord is one fine looking mid-size sedan that deserves its recent uptick in popularity. If you appreciate the sleeker, sportier styling of a four-door coupe-like sedan and enjoy the more engaging driving dynamics brought about by being closer to the ground, not to mention the benefits of fuel economy this type of lighter weight vehicle allows, I recommend the new Accord over its peers. In my opinion the Accord is the mid-size sedan to own.
In a market that’s constantly talking big about SUVs and simultaneously downplaying the popularity of traditional sedans, the Audi A3 has steadily made year over year gains. In fact, the recently revised…
In a market that’s constantly talking big about SUVs and simultaneously downplaying the popularity of traditional sedans, the Audi A3 has steadily made year over year gains. In fact, the recently revised model’s Canadian sales grew 5.3 percent from the close of 2016 to December 31, 2017, while deliveries are up an impressive 63 percent since 2014, the first full year that four-door sedan and convertible body styles were added to the mix and the conventionally powered first-generation five-door wagon/hatchback Sportback was dropped.
To be clear, along with the A3 Sedan and A3 Cabriolet, Audi once again sells an A3 Sportback, albeit now dubbed A3 Sportback e-tron due to only being available in plug-in hybrid guise, while the A3 Sedan is also available with sportier S3 and RS 3 upgrades. Being that I haven’t driven any of these alternative versions in 2018 guise I’ll keep this review focused solely on the A3 Sedan, which once again found its way into my hands in mid-grade 2.0 TFSI Quattro Progressiv trim.
Back to sales and the SUV phenomenon, the A3 was the only car in its subcompact luxury class to achieve positive growth last year, actually managing to pass right by the Mercedes-Benz CLA on its way to segment bestseller status. While this is great news for Audi, the surprising flip side to this scenario is a Q3 subcompact luxury SUV that’s losing ground to its competitors, with calendar year 2017 sales that were off by 3.5 percent in a Canadian new vehicle market that was up overall. Audi will want to remedy its entry-level SUV situation quickly.
The A3 Sedan needs no such drastic attention, especially after receiving a significant mid-cycle upgrade for the 2017 model year. It therefore continues into 2018 unchanged, with its “horseshoe” grille still slightly larger and more angled than the one it replaced, the now standard HID headlamps slimmer with more sharply scalloped lower edges than the more conservative outgoing lenses, and its standard LED taillights still dazzling when lit up at night, while the refreshed A3 Sedan’s sharply detailed lower front and rear fascias continue forward unchanged as well.
Last year’s redesigned standard and optional alloy wheels needed no fix either, my tester’s being a stunning set of machine-finished twinned five-spoke 18-inch alloys that looked as if they’d been upgraded to S Line sport trim, but such wasn’t the case at all.
Really, despite standing out like a fully dressed premium four-door, my 2018 A3 Sedan 2.0 TFSI Quattro Progressiv tester was simply Audi’s least expensive model in its standard mid-range trim, nothing special. Or at least it was nothing special for an Audi. The German brand’s bold, sporty styling has helped sales steadily grow year over year since 2005, even making gains through the great recession. Specifically, Canadian Audi sales grew 17.9 percent last year, making 2017 the luxury brand’s strongest growth since 2014 that saw its sales expand by 19.5 percent over the previous year’s sales record. Other standout years include 2010 with a 26.7 percent increase over 2009, while even 2008, right smack dab in the middle of the financial crisis, saw Audi sell 22 percent more vehicles than 2007. That 10-year period witnessed Audi Canada sales grow by more than 288 percent, all because of making smart decisions like the A3 Sedan.
The four-ringed brand’s winning formula has long included some of the most appealing cabins in the industry, and the new A3 Sedan only improves on the outgoing model. It’s all about tastefully applied high quality materials—an ample supply of real aluminum trim always part of the package.
The fully configurable Audi Virtual Cockpit 12.3-inch TFT primary instrument package was added to top-line Technik trim as part of last year’s update, while the car maintained its already well-received MMI infotainment system that continues to power up out of the dash-top to the oohs and ahs of passengers, so Audi is ahead of its rivals in one instance and about mid-pack with the other.
Why just a middling classification for A3 infotainment? The 7.0-inch display’s diameter probably makes it a bit small in today’s bigger is better tablet-infused world, although it was certainly large enough for my requirements, and despite providing bright, beautiful colours, deep and rich contrast, crystal clarity and stimulating graphics, its lack of touch-capacitive control keeps it from earning top marks. Then again, the screen earns big points for its disappearing act, or rather the ability to eliminate its own distracting presence during night drives by hiding away in the same nook that brings it to life on startup.
Audi recently upgraded the MMI Radio’s operating system to accept Apple CarPlay and Android Auto smartphone connectivity, but being that I use an Android-based phone and don’t like the latter system I found the standard interface more pleasing to look at and plenty easy to navigate through, and I’m not just talking about route guidance. Yes, Audi included its $1,950 Navigation package in my $36,100 Progressive trimmed test car, which added MMI Navigation plus to the centre display, as well as MMI Touch to the lower console, and a colour multi-information display (replacing a rather rudimentary looking monochromatic unit) to the otherwise analogue primary gauge cluster.
I should be clear that my Progressive trimmed A3 Sedan tester was actually upgraded with Quattro all-wheel drive, so the starting price was pushed up to $40,900 before freight and fees, and I should also let you know that all manufacturer recommended prices are easy to find and perfectly accurate at CarCostCanada.com, the one-stop-shop that allows me to quickly source pricing, features, cost/markup info, available rebate details and more. Here you can see the base 2018 A3 Sedan Komfort starts at just $32,800, while the top-tier Technik hits the road at $45,300.
The $4,800 difference from front-drive to the all-wheel Quattro drivetrain includes more than just rear-wheel motivation, by the way, the upgrade also featuring 34 more horsepower from 186 to 220 ponies, 37 additional lb-ft of torque from 221 to 258 foot pounds, and one less forward gear, from the FWD car’s brilliant seven-speed dual-clutch S tronic automated gearbox to the slightly less flashy yet still very good six-speed S tronic automatic transmission.
Efficiency fans may also chagrin at the Quattro-equipped car’s lack of idle start/stop that helps to reduce the base model’s claimed fuel economy to just 9.1 L/100km in the city, 6.8 on the highway and 8.0 combined to a less miserly yet still thrifty 9.7, 7.5 and 8.7 respectively, but frowns turn to a smiles when factoring in the more formidable model’s 0.8-second gain from standstill to 100km/h, the FWD model performing the feat in a respectable 7.0 seconds compared to the Quattro’s much more entertaining 6.2 seconds.
Both A3 trims benefit from highly responsive speed-sensitive rack and pinion steering and a wonderfully nimble fully independent chassis, the latter consisting of MacPherson struts with lower wishbones up front and a four-link suspension with separate springs and dampers in back, the setup combining for easy manageability and a nice comfortable ride through town, superb manoeuvrability on fast-paced windy back roads, and total stability at highway speeds up to 209 km/h (130 mph), but take note the Quattro system’s rear-drive mechanicals eat up trunk space, reducing available cargo capacity by 62 litres (2.2 cubic feet) to just 284 litres (10.0 cubic feet).
At least Audi finishes the A3 Sedan’s trunk off nicely with a carpeted floor, sidewalls and under-lid, plus chromed tie-down rings at each corner, while it provides 60/40-split rear seatbacks to expand on its usefulness, with a handy centre pass-through for placing longer cargo like skis down the middle so that a duo of rear passengers can enjoy the more comfortable window seats. Also notable, the rear seat folding mechanisms feel much better made than average, while along with a spare tire Audi has organized some small cubbies below the cargo floor for stowing items like work gloves and rags, or possibly a little tool kit.
I should point out the A3 Sedan’s rear seating area is fairly roomy for this subcompact luxury class, with my five-foot-eight medium-build frame still a healthy six inches from rubbing knees against the backside of the driver’s seat after setting up the latter for my near-average height, plus there was still plenty of room for my feet while wearing clunky leather boots. The A3 also provided more than a few inches of air space next to my hips and shoulders, but rear headroom was somewhat compromised with only an inch or so above my crown, and it should be noted that my torso is shorter than average for my height, so therefore someone five-foot-ten with a normally proportioned body would probably find the A3 Sedan a bit cramped in back.
Of course, other than the need to move around the cabin to take notes I spent the majority of my time in the A3 Sedan’s driver seat, which proved easy to set up thanks to exceptionally good ergonomics, and was therefore wonderfully comfortable and ideally positioned for optimal control. Backing out of my parking spot I immediately appreciated the dynamic guideline-assisted rearview camera system that relegates a third of the MMI display to active overhead graphics, which highlighted my car’s proximity to surrounding objects via colours that corresponded with the front and rear parking sensor’s audible beeps, hazard orange changing to bright red when coming dangerously close to scratching the A3’s lovely paintwork.
My tester was finished in Ibis White, one of two standard colours that also include Brilliant Black, while Audi offers an octet of $800 metallic enhancements, with Cosmos Blue Metallic being the most interesting—the rest are white, silver and grey shades, plus vibrant Tango Red Metallic.
Now that I’m talking features, on top of everything already mentioned, base Komfort trim includes 17-inch alloys, auto on/off headlights, aluminum doorsills, an electromechanical parking brake, leather upholstery, a powered driver’s seat with four-way power lumbar, heatable front seats, rain-sensing wipers, dual-zone auto climate control, a leather-wrapped multi-function steering wheel, 7.0-inch MMI infotainment, 180-watt 10-speaker AM/FM/CD audio with an aux plug, satellite radio, Bluetooth phone connectivity (without audio streaming!), a large glass sunroof, an alarm, and more.
On the safety front the A3 gets the expected ABS-enhanced four-wheel disc brakes with EBD and BA, plus traction and stability control, Pre-sense Basic crash response, and six airbags, which is good enough for five stars from the NHTSA in standard trim and Top Safety Pick status from the IIHS when its $1,050 LED Lighting package is added. Within the A3’s subcompact luxury class only BMW’s 2 Series achieves the latter IIHS rating, and being a two-door coupe or convertible it doesn’t directly compete.
Upgrading to Progressiv trim provides Audi Drive Select with Comfort, Auto, Dynamic (sport) and Individual modes, the aforementioned 18-inch alloys, brighter high-gloss window surrounds, unique Mistral aluminum interior inlays, more aluminum trim, LED ambient cabin lighting, a powered front passenger seat, an auto-dimming rearview mirror with an integrated compass (that should really be standard in this class), Audi’s MMI music interface featuring Bluetooth audio streaming (ditto standard equipment), one more SD card reader slot, an extra USB charging port, the rearview camera with active guidelines mentioned earlier (I still can’t believe it’s not standard), and more.
I should point out the A3 Sedan’s aluminum cabin trim is exquisitely finished, especially around the shifter and MMI controls, the latter including a large rotating dial surrounded by aluminized buttons. The circular controller provides a matte black surface on top capable of finger gestures in lieu of the tablet-style touchscreen missing from the dash, which means that any tap, pinch and swipe functions need to be performed on this small surface.
Options include a Premium package at $1,700 with the base car or $1,100 when added to Progressiv trim, the price difference due to only adding proximity keyless access with pushbutton ignition plus fore and aft parking sensors with the upgraded trim, being that the bright window surrounds and powered front seats are already standard.
I’ve already noted the LED headlight upgrade and Navigation package, which means that only the $1,800 S line sport package remains, a worthwhile addition that features unique exterior styling, a separate set of 18-inch alloys, a sport suspension, S line doorsills, brushed aluminum interior trim, a flat-bottom steering wheel with paddles, sport seats, and a black headliner.
I’d be tempted to go for the S Line sport package if this were my personal ride, and it would be difficult not to spend a little more to move up to Technik trim as well, which makes everything mentioned (other than the S Line package) standard, including the LED headlights and navigation, plus adds auto cornering headlight capability, special dynamic taillights, a heatable steering wheel, the aforementioned Virtual Cockpit, a brilliant sounding Bang & Olufsen audio system, Audi side assist to warn from approaching rear traffic, and more.
Additionally, only Technik trim lets you add a $1,400 Technology package with Audi pre-sense front, Active Lane Assist, Adaptive Cruise Control with Stop and Go, plus High Beam Assist, the latter two well worth the price of admission for convenience sake, and the first two capable of saving life and limb.
With pricing between $33k and $50k, plus features to justify any extra expense, it’s no wonder the A3 Sedan remains so popular. It delivers exactly what budget-oriented premium sport sedan buyers want, and looks fabulous no matter the trim. I expect Audi will remedy some of the base car’s shortcomings by making some optional items standard, but keep in mind that it’s priced well and includes leather, auto HVAC, a sunroof, etcetera in its most basic package, so splurge for Progressiv trim if an auto-dimming mirror, backup camera, and Bluetooth streaming are must-haves. Either way you’ll be well served in a 2018 Audi A3 Sedan.
Infiniti gave its popular Q50 sport-luxury sedan a mid-cycle makeover for 2018, and while the refresh wasn’t overdue it was certainly welcome. Without the need to totally recreate Q50 styling that…
Infiniti gave its popular Q50 sport-luxury sedan a mid-cycle makeover for 2018, and while the refresh wasn’t overdue it was certainly welcome.
Without the need to totally recreate Q50 styling that most would agree was already attractive, the design team was freed to mildly tweak details. The changes include a slightly reworked version of the brand’s trademark double-arch grille that now offers more texture to its wavy mesh-patterned insert, plus muscled up character lines that now follow the upper outside corners of that grille across each side of the hood. Additionally, Infiniti revised the LED headlamps with a more animalistic eye-like design, and reworked the LED taillights at the polar end.
While all these updates help modernize the Q50’s look, the new model’s most noticeable changes were saved for its lower front and rear fascias, which now more clearly depict the trim line, or rather “grade structure” being offered.
On that note the 2018 Q50 is now available in Luxe, Signature Edition, Sport and Red Sport 400 grades. The latter two trims will be familiar to Infiniti faithful, although Luxe and Signature Edition are entirely new. Let’s be first to thank Infiniti for not using Limited or Platinum in the Q50 naming scheme, two of the most overused trim levels in the industry, after which we should give them a collective nod of approval for more visually separating each trim line to benefit those paying more to move up into a higher-end model.
To this end, Signature Edition and Sport grades offer performance-oriented exterior styling, while yet sportier visual upgrades join the model’s most potent 400-horsepower engine in Red Sport 400 trim. Items specific to the three upper grades include a more sharply creased front bumper and wider, lower air intakes, the corner vents edged in glossy black, while the rear bumper gets a bolder black diffuser embedded at centre, with a circular stainless steel exhaust tip at each corner. The Red Sport 400 gets a bit sportier still, with some glossy dark paint and body-colour two-tone detailing on the rear fascia, while the side mirror caps also feature a gloss black treatment, plus it includes a unique set of 19-inch alloys.
While all this is interesting and covered in depth as part of my previous 2018 Q50 Red Sport 400 road test, the model I most recently spent a week with is the more elegantly penned 2018 Q50 3.0t Luxe, which is essentially the Canadian-spec base trim upgraded with the more formidable 3.0-litre twin-turbo V6. This means, instead of the 2.0t turbocharged four-cylinder engine’s 2.0-litre displacement, 208 horsepower, and 258 lb-ft of torque, my tester’s mill produced 300 horsepower and 295 lb-ft of torque for much more pleasing response from takeoff, during highway passing manoeuvres, and everywhere else, plus improved quietness with less vibration for a greater sense of refinement, and lastly a wonderful engine and exhaust note.
It appears I’m not the only one voicing praises to this new mill, as the Nissan/Infiniti VR family of 3.0-litre twin-turbo V6 engines is following in the automaker’s former VQ V6 engine’s footsteps by once again becoming a 2017 Ward’s 10 Best Engines winner.
Like the 2.0t, the 3.0t engine comes mated to Infiniti’s in-house seven-speed automatic transmission and all-wheel drive, the latter system often praised by yours truly and other journos for its rear-biased nature and tenacious grip in both dry and inclement weather, while the Infiniti autobox (also used in Nissan’s 370Z) is a highly advanced bit of cog swapping kit that comes complete with dual transmission fluid coolers, Adaptive Shift Control (ASC) boasting an adaptive learning algorithm that senses a driver’s style and automatically adjusts shifting accordingly (upgraded with navigation-synchronized capability in upper trims), as well as a manual shift mode that helps you drive and sound like a pro thanks to Downshift Rev Matching (DRM).
It all sounds like race-spec equipment, but in the 3.0t Luxe these components are used to deliver creamy smooth, linear power from all over the boosted engine’s rev range, making it easy to manage in any situation. No doubt this is why Infiniti chooses not to offer steering wheel paddle shifters with this particular car, instead only including them with Sport and Red Sport 400 grades. This is a shame as the 3.0t’s formidable power and the car’s overall sporty nature deserve such hands-on engagement, but I made do with the lower console-mounted DIY shift lever when wanting to extract the most from the powertrain.
That’s when the Q50’s updated Rack Electronic Power Steering shows its advantages. This more sophisticated steering system, standard with the V6, is an upgrade over the 2.0t’s vehicle speed-sensitive hydraulic electronic rack-and-pinion power steering setup, in that it adds steering effort when the Q50’s yaw rate changes, and then adjusts to increase assistance when the wheels straighten. This isn’t the top-line Q50 drive-by-wire Direct Adaptive Steering system and doesn’t include the two Sport models’ fast-ratio setup either, but it nevertheless combined sporty responsiveness with wonderfully smooth control at high speeds, while it was ultra-easy to drive around town or within confined parking garages.
You can make adjustments through the lower console-mounted Drive Mode Selector, which modulates steering, suspension and drivetrain settings via Standard (default), Snow, Eco, Sport and Personal modes. All of this works wonderfully with the fully independent standard suspension, an aluminum-intensive design that combines front double-wishbones with a rear multi-link setup, along with Dual Flow Path shocks and stabilizer bars at both ends.
While performance is important in this class, fuel economy is becoming more of an issue due to rising pump prices. To this end Infiniti should be lauded for developing such a powerful engine that makes such a small environmental footprint, the as-tested Q50 3.0t AWD good for a claimed 12.4 L/100km city, 8.7 highway and 10.8 combined. Of course, the 2.0t AWD is thriftier still at just 10.7 city, 8.6 highway and 9.7 combined, and the as yet unmentioned Q50 Hybrid AWD better yet at 9.1, 7.7 and 8.5 respectively, but that’s a different story for another time.
Any talk about the Q50 interior I tested will shed light on changes made to the Hybrid, mind you, not to mention other grades within the range, starting with the redesigned steering wheel that looks and feels sportier than the outgoing version. It’s ideally shaped with well-placed, more defined thumb spats, plus its inner baseball-style stitching provides better grip. It also seems as if it’s finished in a higher grade of leather, while its spokes are thinner for a more sophisticated look, and the switchgear attached impresses as well. The shift knob is new too, with a more ergonomic design, nicer leatherwork, double stitching, and higher end detailing that even includes an Infiniti logo on top, although none of this will be new if you’d spent time in last year’s all-new Q60 sport coupe.
It only makes sense that changes made to the Q60 would find their way to a car that has always shared much of the Q50’s underpinnings and cabin detailing, and being that the two-door coupe thoroughly impressed us during our multiple tests you should be able to guess that the rest of our 2018 Q50 3.0t AWD Luxe tester’s cabin didn’t disappoint either. For instance, the four-door model gets double-stitched padded leatherette on the instrument panel, while this luxury-oriented grade features gorgeous maple hardwood inlays that look and feel more naturally genuine than previous attempts.
Additionally, my tester’s beautifully finished leather upholstered seats were some of the best ever installed in a Q50, likely due to Infiniti’s new “spinal support” design that ideally cupped the backside while comfortably supporting the upper legs. Their standard eight-way power-adjustability made it easy to get comfortable too, while the optional powered steering column and proximity-sensing key-controlled memory settings automatically reselected my ideal driving position on startup.
The leather upholstery is actually an exclusive 3.0t Luxe option, as higher grades come standard with leather and both Luxe 2.0t and 3.0t trims get standard leatherette seating surfaces like most of the Q50’s rivals, with additional standard kit including auto on/off LED headlights, LED fog lamps, LED brake lights, 18-inch alloys on 225/50R18 all-season run-flat performance tires, Scratch Shield self-healing paint, aluminum “INFINITI” branded kick plates, proximity keyless access, pushbutton ignition, rain-sensing wipers, an auto-dimming rearview mirror, a HomeLink garage door opener, Fine Vision electroluminescent primary gauges, micro-filtered dual-zone auto climate control, Infiniti InTouch infotainment with 8.0-inch upper and 7.0-inch lower displays, a rearview camera, Bluetooth phone and streaming audio, six-speaker AM/FM/CD/MP3/satellite audio with HD playback, RDS and speed-sensitive volume, two USB ports, a heatable steering wheel, heated front seats, eight-way powered front seats, a powered moonroof, and more.
Moving up from the 2.0t to the 3.0t Luxe not only provides more power under the hood but also a handful of additional features such as remote engine start, Infiniti InTouch navigation that proved easy to operate and totally accurate, the Infiniti InTouch Services suite of digital alerts and remote services, voice recognition for audio, SMS text and vehicle info, power-adjustable lumbar support for the driver, and 60/40 split-folding rear seatbacks with a centre pass-through (which are optional on the base car).
The optional leather I spoke of a moment ago comes as part of the $3,500 Sensory ProASSIST package that also adds two-way memory for the driver’s seat, the upgraded power-adjustable tilt and telescopic steering column and the side mirrors, the latter items also enhanced with reverse dipping and auto-dimming capability, while the package also includes an Advanced Climate Control System (ACCS) with a Plasmacluster and Grape Polyphenol filter, a superb sounding 16-speaker Bose “Performance Series” audio system with advanced staging signal processing and CenterPoint 2.0 surround-sound, a very helpful Around View parking monitor with Moving Object Detection (MOD), always appreciated front and rear parking sensors, and a suite of advanced driver assistance technologies including Predictive Forward Collision Warning (PFCW), Forward Emergency Braking (FEB), Blind-Spot Warning (BSW), and Back Collision Intervention (BCI) with Cross Traffic Alert (CTA).
My tester also came with the $3,800 ProACTIVE package that adds an auto-leveling Adaptive Front Lighting System (AFS) that “bends” the headlights to improve night visibility around corners, High Beam Assist (HBA), Intelligent Cruise Control (ICC) with Full Speed Range, Distance Control Assist (DCA), Lane Departure Warning (LDW), Lane Departure Prevention (LDP) with Active Lane Control, Blind Spot Intervention (BSI), and Infiniti’s Eco Pedal. The only other option was $650 Asgard Grey paint, which when combined with everything else pushed the base Q50 2.0t AWD price of $39,995 before freight and fees up to $52,920, which is still an excellent value when compared to competitors with similar features. And by the way, I found all of my pricing info for the 2018 Q50 and its competitors on CarCostCanada.com, a great resource for car pricing and so much more.
I noted a number of improvements to the Q50 interior earlier, but neglected to mention that along with the stitched leather-like dash-top and instrument panel, Infiniti also finished the lower console sides in the same luxurious treatment, protecting inside knees as part of the process. They didn’t go so far as to add soft-touch synthetic to the mostly unseen lower instrument panel under the knees, which almost never comes in contact with anything and therefore is rarely upgraded, or for that matter the lower door panels that are done better by some D-segment competitors, but the glove box lid was given a dose of the good stuff for a nice upscale feel.
Possibly more important in this category are digital interfaces, and to this end I think Infiniti has an advantage over some of its closest rivals due to dual tablet-style centre stack infotainment touchscreens. A number of Q50 competitors are still held back by only offering old-school lower console-mounted rotating knobs, buttons, or touchpads. Infiniti still includes a beautiful knurled metal dial with a few surrounding buttons for those who’d rather get their info this way, but let’s face it, our world has become a lot more comfortable applying finger gestures directly to touchscreens, so kudos to Infiniti for being ahead of the curve in this all-important area and delivering an impressive interface as well.
Both vertically stacked Q50 displays are touch-capacitive, which allows easy use of multiple functions simultaneously, such as the top screen for navigation mapping and the bottom for audio control. Infiniti’s appropriately named InTouch system also lets driver and front passenger customize the car’s inner environment by storing detailed personal information for multiple drivers, such as memory seating and mirror positions, identifiable via individual proximity-sensing I-keys.
If I could fault the Q50 interior I’d have to point to the mostly analogue primary instrument package that, despite having a large, highly functional colour multi-information display at centre, doesn’t provide the wow factor of Audi’s optional Digital Cockpit or a number of other fully configurable TFT gauge clusters. It’s certainly bright, colourful and attractively laid out, while providing superb legibility day or night, but buyers in this class want the best and brightest, literally, so Infiniti will want to address this issue with something more cutting edge soon.
One small negative after a lengthy list of positives is a fair way to end this 2018 Infiniti Q50 review, but we should also take into consideration that anyone buying a near-base competitor won’t be enjoying a fully configurable TFT gauge cluster either. Such fanciful features are relegated to top-tier trims across the industry, and despite my tester’s bevy of standard features, impressive finishing and strong performance, this 3.0t Luxe trim is more or less base. For these reasons and more, I recommend you experience this car firsthand.
Sales of the Subaru Outback have been on an upward trajectory over the past five years, with calendar year 2017’s results of 11,490 units showing 87.7 percent growth since 2013. The “if it ain’t…
Sales of the Subaru Outback have been on an upward trajectory over the past five years, with calendar year 2017’s results of 11,490 units showing 87.7 percent growth since 2013. The “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it” mantra no doubt came into play for this 2018 model year refresh, but despite only receiving a subtle redo I have to say the iconic mid-size crossover looks better than ever.
Over the years the design has slowly evolved from beefed up wagon to low-profile SUV, with this latest iteration the most rugged looking yet. The 2018 model gets a reworked grille, revised lower front fascia, new door mirrors, and a much more aggressive rear bumper design, making it just as appealing to adventure seeking, wilderness conquering daddies as it has always been to reality-minded mommies.
While the grille gets a stronger strikethrough in its upper section, the 2018 Outback’s redesigned headlights might be the most dramatic visual enhancement up front. Now each cluster is more sharply angled with a unique scalloped treatment at the topmost inner point, as well as a more defined signature LED element inside, whereas the matte black lower fascia’s fog lamp bezels protrude upward in a more pronounced fashion, or at least they appear to do so now that more body-colour surfacing separates them from the centre vent.
New mirror housings with slimmer more sophisticated looking LED turn signals aside, there’s not much to distinguish the outgoing Outback from the new one when viewed from the side, although if you look very carefully from this vantage point it’s possible to pick out some augmentation to the new taillight lenses and rear bumper, the latter feature getting additional black cladding extending upward at each corner. That bumper cap makes the most obvious difference from the rear view too, giving the Outback most of the rugged visual upgrade mentioned earlier. Outback faithful should be well pleased with the exterior changes made to this 2018 model, although improvements made inside might elicit even broader smiles.
The renewed interior features higher-grade materials, greater comfort, reduced engine, wind and road noise due to acoustic front door glass, and more advanced electronics, with some key upgrades including a redesigned steering wheel with reorganized switchgear, standard dual USB charging ports for rear passengers, a new 6.5-inch STARLINK infotainment touchscreen for base 2.5i trim that supports Apple CarPlay and Android Auto smartphone integration plus Aha radio, a centre display that grows from 7.0 to 8.0 inches in just-above-base 2.5i Touring trim and higher, plus a new voice-activated dual-zone automatic climate control interface featuring digital readouts for easier legibility and greater overall functionality also comes standard with the same 2.5i Touring and upper trims, as does a redesigned centre vent grille, centre panel, air conditioning panel, and instrument panel. Lastly, Limited and Premier trims get steering-responsive LED headlights, while more functionality gets added to these models’ navigation system.
All 2018 Outbacks get a retuned suspension that makes a noticeable improvement in smoothing out pavement imperfections and quieting the ride, while it certainly doesn’t seem to have upset the mid-size crossover’s always stable and confidence-inspiring handling. The Outback isn’t just a strong performer, but possibly even more importantly it feels a lot more premium than its mainstream-branded peers. There’s a genuine solidity to its overall build quality, while the inherently smooth 3.6-litre H-6 adds to this upscale ambience in ways only a six-cylinder can.
I don’t know how long Subaru will support this engine now that the even more potent 2.4-litre turbocharged four-cylinder has been introduced for the larger 2019 Ascent, up 4 horsepower and 30 additional lb-ft of torque over the 3.6R, but for now the refined powerplant does a good job of helping the Outback imitate a luxury CUV in quietness and performance, its output measuring a meaningful 256 horsepower and 247 lb-ft of torque.
Performance off the line is very strong, although it’s more of a smooth linear power than anything WRX-like. Still, the high-torque Lineartronic continuously variable transmission (CVT) offers nice positive shifts, plus you can slot the lever over to a new seven-speed sequential manual mode before swapping gears via steering wheel paddle shifters in order to maximize performance or short-shift to minimize fuel usage, the latter good for a reasonably efficient claimed 12.0 L/100km city, 8.7 highway and 10.5 combined as-tested or 9.4, 7.3 and 8.5 respectively with the base 175-horsepower 2.5-litre four-cylinder.
The steering is substantive feeling, meaning that it’s not too loose and light, but it certainly isn’t overly heavy or ponderous either. In fact I found its weight just right no matter the speed, and extremely easy to turn into tight parking spaces.
Speaking of easy, visibility is superb in all directions thanks to a tall SUV-like ride-height and expansive glass all the way around, while rearward visibility and safety is improved by a very clear backup camera with an especially good wide-angle view, not to mention dynamic guidelines.
Improving driver ease yet further, Subaru includes an electromechanical parking brake with auto-release, plus the brand’s well-proven Symmetrical all-wheel drive system incorporating hill descent control and X-mode to overcome rougher off-road sections as well as deeper snow, either of which is made easier due to an impressive 220 mm (8.7 inches) of ground clearance.
We didn’t have any snow to slog through during my time with the car and had no opportunity to take it up the mountain for winter testing, only encountering some West Coast spring showers, but previous experiences with the Outback in inclement weather have always been positive so there’s no reason this one would be any different. In fact, the new model’s improved suspension compliance should be a benefit for dealing with such situations, on top of providing the superb ride mentioned earlier.
Not affecting my tester yet still important to note for the majority of Outbacks being sold, all four-cylinder trims are now Partial Zero Emissions Vehicle (PZEV) rated, which translates into one of the lowest emissions ratings in the mid-size SUV class. Important for safety, all Outbacks get a revised brake booster to improve stopping performance, while Subaru’s acclaimed EyeSight suite of advanced driver assistance systems remains available with all trims above base and standard on the top-line the Premier model.
EyeSight, at just $1,500, includes pre-collision braking, pre-collision brake assist, pre-collision throttle management, lane departure warning, lane sway warning, lane keep assist, lead vehicle start alert, reverse automatic braking, adaptive cruise control, and new high beam assist, which incidentally let Subaru remove the third camera from the other side of the Outback’s rearview mirror.
Of course, a full array of active and passive safety features come standard across the line, while the Subaru Rear/Side Vehicle Detection System (SRVD), which includes blindspot detection, lane change assist, and rear cross-traffic alert, is standard with all models above the base 2.5i. Additional safety upgrades include a collision detection feature that can automatically unlock the doors if required, plus automatic door locks that do the opposite when getting under way, a window off-delay timer, and improved child safety seat anchors. Fully equipped with EyeSight and the Limited/Premier models’ full LED headlights, which are now steering-responsive as well, the 2018 Outback’s collective safety kit once again receives a best-possible Top Safety Pick Plus rating from the IIHS.
Along with the Outback’s lengthy list of safety equipment and aforementioned mechanical prowess, my Limited model was beautifully finished inside, plus roomy and comfortable for the five-seat mid-size crossover class. Cream-coloured contrast stitching enhanced the soft-touch instrument panel, even extending to the halfway point of the centre stack, and crossed the nicely revised door panels as well, albeit without the contrast stitching which is instead used for the door inserts and armrests, while new shift panel detailing and attractively redesigned leather upholstery join features like fabric-wrapped A-pillars that were already doing a good job of pulling this mainstream volume-branded crossover SUV closer to premium status.
The new steering wheel is a really attractive leather-wrapped design with sporty thumb spats to enhance comfort and grip. Switchgear is very good as well, and includes audio controls, voice activation, and phone controls on the left spoke, plus multi-information display controls below that, while the right spoke is taken up by dynamic cruise control functions, with a switch under that for the heatable steering wheel.
Possibly the biggest overall improvement to Subaru interiors is on the digital front, with the Outback’s displays very high in resolution, its colours bright, and graphics benefiting from wonderful depth of contrast. This is most noticeable with the new larger infotainment touchscreen, but it’s also true within the driver’s primary gauge cluster that features beautifully bright backlit analogue dials surrounded by an even brighter full-colour 5.0-inch multi-information display in EyeSight-equipped models (a 3.5-inch display is standard), this filled with plenty of premium-level functions, such as EyeSight those features including adaptive cruise control, the ECO gauge, additional fuel efficiency info, etc.
Back to the centre stack, infotainment functions include AM, FM and satellite radio, CD, USB, Bluetooth and aux media capability, Bluetooth phone, very accurate navigation with nicely detailed mapping, Starlink, Aha, Pandora, Travel Link, plus the aforementioned Apple CarPlay and Android Auto apps, car info, car settings, plus more, while it’s all organized from a stylishly colourful Apple-like home menu.
Features in mind, a quick glance at any Outback’s wheel and tire package can help distinguish its trim level, as base 2.5i and Touring models get 17-inch rolling stock and Limited/Premium trims receive larger 18-inch alloys. On that note, pricing for the base 2.5i starts at $29,295 plus freight and dealer fees, as found on CarCostCanada.com, while moving up through the line shows Outback 2.5i Touring trim priced $3,500 higher at $32,795, 2.5i Touring trim with EyeSight at $34,295, 2.5i Limited trim at $36,795, 2.5i Limited trim with EyeSight at $38,295, and 2.5i Premier with EyeSight at $39,195.
If you want the 3.6R six-cylinder engine in base Touring guise you’ll be asked to pay $35,795, whereas the 3.6R Limited starts at $39,795, the same package with EyeSight that I drove will set you back $41,295, and finally the 3.6R Premier with EyeSight is priced at $42,195.
Features exclusive to Limited trims and above that were not yet mentioned include brushed aluminum front doorsill protectors, silver and authentic looking matte woodgrain interior accents, an auto-dimming rearview mirror, a Homelink garage door opener, rear climate controls, a great sounding 576-watt, 12-speaker Harman/Kardon audio system, two-way driver’s seat memory, a four-way powered front passenger seat, a heated steering wheel, two-way heatable rear outboard seats, and more.
As yet unmentioned items pulled up from lesser trims that enhance the Limited model’s experience include auto on/off headlamps, LED daytime running lights, fog lamps, welcome and approach lighting, LED turn signals on the side mirror housings, a windshield wiper de-icer, proximity-sensing keyless access, pushbutton ignition, auto-dimming side mirrors, illuminated vanity mirrors, a sunglasses holder in the overhead console, a powered moonroof, a rearview camera with dynamic guidelines, a 10-way power-adjustable driver’s seat with powered lumbar support, a rear centre armrest, a powered rear liftgate, three-way heated front seats, a retractable cargo cover, four chrome cargo tie down hooks, two utility bag hooks, a cargo tray, a sub-floor compartment, 60/40-split rear seatbacks with one-touch flat-folding capability, plus more.
As noted earlier the Outback is spacious, with plenty of room for large adults front to back. It’s comfortable too, the front seats superbly supportive, especially in the lower back and from side-to-side. What’s more, the Outback is as nicely finished in back is it is up front, and includes a large and wide centre armrest that flips down at the ideal height for optimal adult comfort (or at least it was perfect for me), while it comes filled with sizeable cupholders featuring grippy rubber clasps to help keep drinks securely in place. A covered compartment on the backside of the front centre console includes two USB charging ports plus an auxiliary plug, but other than aforementioned rear ventilation, good reading lights overhead, and big bottle holders moulded into the lower door panels that’s about it for rear passengers.
As for rear seat roominess, I had about six inches ahead of my knees when the driver’s seat was set up for my five-foot-eight height, plus loads of space for my feet. There was also a good five inches above my head and about the same next to my shoulders and hips. In other words, there’s loads of room in back for two average sized adults and one child, or three smaller adults. Likewise, the cargo compartment is accommodating thanks to 1,005 litres (35.5 cubic feet) behind those rear seatbacks, or 2,075 litres (73.3 cubic feet) when they’re laid flat.
Thanks to Subaru making this already excellent crossover SUV better with each makeover, it’s hardly a mystery why Outback popularity continues to grow.
Honda’s Fit has always been a personal favourite in the subcompact class. Its hatchback design is practical, made more so by a tall roofline combined with the segment’s most flexible rear seating…
Honda’s Fit has always been a personal favourite in the subcompact class. Its hatchback design is practical, made more so by a tall roofline combined with the segment’s most flexible rear seating system, resulting in more cargo space than any rival, plus now that it’s received a refresh it’s more appealing than ever.
The 2018 Honda Fit facelift provides edgier styling, a new Sport trim line, and the availability of Honda Sensing advanced driver-assistance systems, the first factor improving the little wedge-shaped monobox design with a fresh take on the Japanese brand’s upswept horizontal grille that features more pronounced chrome and piano black slats plus a larger, more prominent “H” mark at centre. Additionally, new premium-like jeweled headlamp clusters meld more fluidly into that grille, while Honda has added a full-width splitter just below, as well as more angular corner “ducts” that get filled with sporty circular fog lamps in all trims above LX.
New combination taillights with LED brake lamps update the rear design, as does a reworked bumper, the latter feature now incorporating a full-width piano black character line as well as a splitter-inspired lower apron. Lastly, new Orange Fury paint is kept exclusively for an entirely new Sport trim level.
On that note, the 2018 Honda Fit is available in the same DX, LX, EX and EX-L Navi trims as last year’s version, now priced at $15,190, $18,590, 21,890 and $23,990 respectively, but new Sport trim starts at $19,590 and therefore slots between the LX and EX.
I don’t know about you, but the Fit Sport takes top spot as far as styling goes, as its standard aero kit adds muscle to the refreshed front, side and rear body panels resulting in a more aggressive look, plus bright orange pin-striping highlights the deeper front splitter and tri-strake rear diffuser, no matter the exterior colour chosen.
As much as I like the Fit Sport’s exclusive and standard Orange Fury paintwork, I love the contrast between the orange pin-striping and glossy black lower bodywork found with my tester’s $300 optional White Orchid Pearl, but if neither is to your liking Honda also provides $300 Crystal Black Pearl as a third available colour with this Sport trim. Of note, the colour palette isn’t as limited with the other trims, including Modern Steel Metallic (medium grey), Milano Red, and Aegean Blue Metallic.
Finishing off the Fit Sport’s exterior is a set of gloss-black painted 16-inch alloys, plus a chromed exhaust finisher and “SPORT” liftgate badge.
The Fit Sport also boasts an all-black cabin with unique orange contrast stitching, a theme that really caught my eye. Honda stitches the leather-wrapped steering wheel, leather-clad manual shift knob and boot, front centre armrest, front seat bolsters, and all five headrests with the trendy orange thread, while the fabric inserts get an attractive geometric pattern highlighted with a little more orange for good measure. It’s a tasteful combination that should please sport compact performance fans stepping up to the Fit Sport model.
Sport trim comes with or without Honda’s available Honda Sensing system, a technologically advanced package that includes autonomous emergency braking, lane/road departure warning with mitigating assist, and adaptive cruise control, upping the Fit Sport’s price by $1,300, which is the same amount if added to the LX (it comes standard on EX and EX-L Navi trims). This is a really good deal when factoring in this new price also includes the optional continuously variable transmission (CVT), but at the same time take note that manually equipped cars, like my tester, don’t receive the same safety advantages.
Also notable, Fits upgraded with Honda Sensing don’t include auto high beams, which is only an issue because Toyota has been equipping its competitive Yaris with similar advanced driver-assistance systems since the 2017 model year. The Honda rival also features a pre-collision system with autonomous emergency braking capability and lane departure alert, albeit no lane/road departure mitigation or adaptive cruise control. Still, that all of this active safety is available from its $15,475 base trim level is impressive.
As is usual for mid-cycle makeovers the new 2018 Fit didn’t receive any updates under the hood, but with 130 horsepower and 114 lb-ft of torque on tap I can hardly complain. Also worth mentioning, Honda lightened up the base DX model by a significant 44 kilos (97 lbs), the changes likely trickling through Fit trim lines and therefore aiding performance of this new Sport as well. Either way, the direct-injection 16-valve, DOHC, i-VTEC-enhanced 1.5-litre four-cylinder felt plenty feisty when foot hit the throttle pedal, its quick response accompanied by a nice high-revving engine note and wonderfully smooth operation, while the standard six-speed manual was up to Honda’s usual DIY gearbox brilliance.
Option out the Sport with the CVT and along with the aforementioned Honda Sensing features it’ll also come with a nice set of steering wheel-mounted paddle shifters, a bonus that benefits EX and EX-L Navi trims too. I’ve experienced these before and they certainly increase driver engagement during downshifts, while offering the ability to upshift earlier to save fuel.
Yes, fuel economy once again matters in Canada. Of course, how much it will matter will depend on where you’re reading from, but in my hometown of Vancouver it’s a very serious issue (at the time of writing the cheapest pump price was 154.9 for regular). I won’t venture into politics on this platform, but we’re probably best not to believe highly charged issues like pipelines and carbon taxes, not to mention the rising price per barrel of crude, will be diffused anytime soon, plus on top of this are national and global economies that are shaky at best, so it’s probably a good time to keep ongoing costs down by choosing a thrifty car.
To that end, Honda claims an impressive five-cycle fuel economy rating of 8.1 L/100km city, 6.6 highway and 7.4 combined with the manual, 7.0 L/100km city, 5.9 highway and 6.5 combined with the CVT in LX trim, or alternatively 7.6, 6.5 and 7.0 combined in EX trim and above. This represents a marginal improvement when compared to last year’s claimed fuel economy.
Long-time readers will know I’ve always appreciated the Fit’s driving dynamics, but the new 2018 version is even better. First off, Honda retuned the suspension dampers, while also making its electric power-assisted rack-and-pinion steering system a bit stiffer, and provided more rigidity to the body shell due to extra reinforcements. Along with handling this improves crash resistance, quietness and ride quality, the latter two excellent over my weeklong test.
My Sport model also had the advantage of the previously noted wheels and tires, adding an inch to DX and LX trims that come stock with 15-inch steel wheels and covers, but other than the performance gains allowed by its manual transmission, EX and EX-L Navi trims should handle just as well as they ride on 16-inch rims and rubber too, although take note the two upper trims don’t benefit from the performance gains allowed by a manual transmission.
As for refinement, the stiffer body structure was joined by revised transmission and steering system mounting hardware, plus acoustic-laminated glass and increased insulation. Without a back-to-back comparison from old to new it’s difficult to notice such improvements, but on the positive I never had issue with the old model and certainly found the new one nice and quiet.
The Fit’s improved refinement is certainly not due to any upgrades in soft premium surfacing treatments, but the pliable synthetic bolstering on the instrument panel ahead of the front passenger continues to be a more upscale touch than some competitors while the quality of hard matte plastics is good for the class, plus the fit and finish is excellent and the upgraded trim details make this Sport model feel quite special. Along with everything already mentioned there’s plenty of satin aluminum-look accenting, a tasteful supply of piano black lacquer, and most importantly those segment-leading electronic interfaces noted earlier.
The carryover gauge cluster is a well lit, colourful mostly analogue affair that’s easy to read no matter the light, its rightmost dial filled with a handy multi-information display for quick access to key details, while the centre touchscreen grows from 5.0 to 7.0 inches in LX trim and above, and comes fitted with a bright and clear backup camera featuring dynamic guidelines, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, Siri Eyes Free, text message functionality, Wi-Fi tethering, the HondaLink Assist automatic emergency response system, and a second USB port. Additionally, those who prefer adjusting audio settings from the radio display will appreciate a new rotating volume knob on the left side of the screen.
Other notable features pulled up to my Sport model from lesser trims include multi-reflector halogen headlights, heatable powered side mirrors, a rear rooftop spoiler, power locks with remote access, power windows, illuminated steering wheel-mounted switchgear, cruise control, tilt and telescopic steering, filtered air conditioning, Bluetooth mobile phone connectivity with streaming audio, four-speaker 160-watt AM/FM/MP3/WMA audio, two 12-volt power outlets, heatable front seats, the Fit’s unique 60/40-split second-row Magic Seat, 60/40 split-folding rear seatbacks, a cargo cover, cargo area tie-down hooks, front disc and rear drum brakes with ABS, and the usual assortment of active and passive safety features, while on top of everything already mentioned Sport trim adds auto-on/off headlights, two more stereo speakers and 20 additional watts of power to the audio system, plus more.
I always appreciate the little things that make the Fit’s interior so livable, like the pop-out cupholder on the left side of the steering wheel that lets you keep your drink a bit cooler or warmer depending on the temperature of air blowing through the vent just behind. This said I would’ve appreciated being able to get the Sport trim level with some of the features found on upper trims, such as the EX model’s proximity-sensing keyless access and pushbutton ignition, Honda’s awesome LaneWatch blindspot display that projects a rearward view of the passenger’s side lane onto the centre touchscreen, and powered moonroof, or the EX-L Navi’s automatic climate control, navigation, satellite and HD radio, etc.
Still, it’s difficult to get too upset with any Fit trim level, as all come standard with the most configurable passenger/cargo setup in the subcompact class. For starters, with its rear seats laid flat a total of 1,492 litres (52.7 cubic feet) is available. Better yet, when the backrests of the Fit’s rear Magic Seats are upright it’s possible to flip their lower cushions upwards for yet more cargo capacity, especially helpful for loading in taller items like bicycles or plants, this combining for a collective 609 litres (21.5 cubic feet) of available cargo space when including the Fit’s dedicated luggage area in back, which measures 470 litres (16.6 cubic feet). What’s more, the front passenger’s seat can be folded forward to allow ultra-long cargo inside, while both front seats can be laid completely flat when their headrests are removed, providing a large safe place for impromptu camping.
No competitor comes close to the Fit for passenger and cargo flexibility, yet even if it was only as useful as its peers behind the first row it would still be one of the best in its class, so make sure you check this little Honda out before choosing one of its challengers. Also important for you to know, Honda offers the identical seating setup and many of the same features in the Fit’s platform-sharing HR-V subcompact SUV, so even if your heart is set on a sport ute you can still enjoy this smart, efficient design. It appears Honda has all subcompact bases covered.