Last year Lincoln Motor Company did something it’s never been able to do before, impress me. But alas, earlier this year they followed that momentous occasion up by once again letting me down with the…

2018 Lincoln Continental Reserve 3.0L AWD RSP Road Test

2018 Lincoln Continental Reserve 3.0L AWD RSP
Lincoln Continental is rolling artwork, surprisingly fun to drive and opulently attired inside in top-line Reserve trim. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

Last year Lincoln Motor Company did something it’s never been able to do before, impress me. But alas, earlier this year they followed that momentous occasion up by once again letting me down with the announcement that the brilliant new Continental won’t be with us much longer. 

It came as part of parent Ford Motor Company’s decision to axe every single car in its North American lineup other than the Mustang, which will leave the two-door sports coupe and convertible running wild within an expanding lineup of SUVs and trucks, like the feral horse it was named after. When this happens sometime in 2020 the Lincoln brand will have four sport utilities to its name if everything (except the MKT) stays the same, including the compact Escape-based MKC (which will likely be renamed), the mid-size Edge-based Nautilus, the larger three-row Explorer-based Aviator (which replaces the MKT), and the full-size Expedition-based Navigator. 

2018 Lincoln Continental Reserve 3.0L AWD RSP
The Continental combines plenty of design cues from the best years of Lincoln’s storied past, with all of today’s modernities. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

At first glance this move away from cars makes sense. Like most competitors, Ford is experiencing a steady decline in car deliveries from both its blue-oval namesake brand and Lincoln, with the lovely Continental never finding much sales traction at all. Lincoln sold just 576 units in Canada throughout calendar year 2017, and just 369 over the first nine months of 2018. This said the Continental is nevertheless a stronger seller than the directly competitive Genesis G80 that found just 433 Canadian buyers last year and 289 over the same three quarters of 2018, or the Cadillac CT6 with only 352 deliveries in 2017 and 175 up until September 30, 2018 (while the Cadillac CTS’ 370 units just edged the Conti out), the Lexus GS with 328 and 163 sales respectively, the Jaguar XF with 494 and 133 (how great they fall), the Acura RLX with a mere 59 and 55, and finally the Infiniti Q70 with 66 and 44. 

2018 Lincoln Continental Reserve 3.0L AWD RSP
A high level of performance-oriented elegance that measures up to the industry’s best. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

Surprisingly, of the cars listed above only the two Cadillacs are scheduled for discontinuation (next year, along with the XTS and Buick LaCrosse), with all of the other models built by luxury brands dedicated to full model lineups and therefore willing to suffer through temporary pain in order to (theoretically) achieve long-term gain (when the market shifts back to cars). And herein lies the rub. Lincoln risks being relegated even further down the luxury brand desirability scale (I could add something snarky like “if that were even possible”, but against all odds Buick still exists), which is a shame after doing such an excellent job with this Continental, and then sharing much of its ritzy new styling with the smaller, slightly stronger selling MKZ (of which Lincoln sold 994 last year and 684 as of Q3 2018), which will also soon be eliminated. 

2018 Lincoln Continental Reserve 3.0L AWD RSP
The door handles are beautifully artistic chromed metal sculpture. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

Also surprising, the Continental sold nearly as well as the Audi A6 and A7 over the past nine months, the German four- and five-door models finding 376 and 367 luxury buyers respectively, but Ingolstadt just redesigned these two and therefore isn’t calling for their resignation. 

Truth be told, Ford can’t be considered a particularly good steward of luxury brands since Lincoln’s heydays in the 1960s and early ‘70s. While it should receive kudos for making Jaguar reliable in the ‘80s, and arguably saving it and some other British brands from near certain extinction, Coventry and Solihull’s Land Rover, Newport Pagnell’s Aston Martin, and Gothenburg’s Volvo have enjoyed a lot more success since escaping the clutches of Dearborn. And as for Lincoln, it’s been looking for a wholly likeable and uniquely face since absconding with the Rolls-Royce waterfall grille in the ‘60s and ‘70s. 

2018 Lincoln Continental Reserve 3.0L AWD RSP
Of course these lovely taillights are filled with LEDs. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

I’m talking about the bland, generic nothingness designs from the ‘90s, the BMW-like façade used for the early aughts’ LS, the early ’60s-era Continental-inspired grille used through the mid ‘00s and early teens (this probably my favourite), the split-wing grille design most recently abandoned, and what can arguably be deemed a take on the current Jaguar XJ’s front fascia now. Ford only need look at its own brand management to see why Lincoln has failed, but at least they’ve finally built a car that, while once again bearing a completely new visual identity, is worthy of careful consideration by serious luxury car buyers. 

2018 Lincoln Continental Reserve 3.0L AWD RSP
Big dual tailpipes hint at the 400-hp emanating from up front. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

Last year I spent a week with a Continental 3.0 GTDI AWD Reserve, and as noted earlier was thoroughly impressed. It was painted a beautiful Burgundy Velvet hue and was stunning to look at, while inside it received Cappuccino leather-lined detailing that was downright opulent. This time around the exterior colour is Midnight Sapphire Blue and the cabin is once again finished in the rich Cappuccino theme, which is only a shame because I would have liked to try its saddle brown Terracotta leather, or maybe Jade Grey. 

2018 Lincoln Continental Reserve 3.0L AWD RSP
Our Reserve-trimmed example’s interior combined a frothy Cappuccino cream hue with milk chocolate mocha for an invitingly warm ambience. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

More traditional luxury buyers can opt for Ebony black, but this ain’t no Town Car so why be normal? In fact, the new Continental is unlike anything Lincoln has ever produced before. Truly, I haven’t liked a Lincoln four-door as much since the opening scene of Thunderball, the Lehmann-Peterson crafted ‘64 Continental Executive Limousine being Albert R. Broccoli’s chosen ride of Colonel Jacques Bouvar’s bereaved widow (and Jacques/Spectre Number 6 himself, we’ll later learn), a car I could get used to having in my personal collection. The four-door ‘65 Continental Convertible that James pulled up to Emilio Largo’s Nassau waterfront estate halfway through the film was even prettier, although I like the original front end design of the version used to drop 007 off to Fort Knox in Goldfinger better. 

2018 Lincoln Continental Reserve 3.0L AWD RSP
Soft and pampering, all Continental surfaces are capable of satisfying the snobbiest of premium buyers. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

That’s how cool Lincoln used to be, and while we now know that a four-door phaeton (convertible) version of this new Continental won’t be forthcoming, I could certainly see the likes of modern-day Don Drapers pulling up to their wannabe Manhattan offices in one of the two new Continentals I recently drove. In fact, while feeling somewhat dapper behind the wheel of my latest Conti I found myself contemplating the purchase of a classic Brooks Brothers ‘60s-era styled suit of my own, and of course something along the lines of an Omega Seamaster Deville or Tudor Oyster Prince for the wrist. 

2018 Lincoln Continental Reserve 3.0L AWD RSP
The primary gauge cluster is fully digital, as expected in this class. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

While sporting a vintage watch and classic styled suit won’t likely leave you stranded on the road or cause any bodily harm if you get in an accident (unless the watch makes you late), living with a classic car might. They’re just not good daily drivers, lacking the reliability, safety, comfort, performance, and technology of today’s machinery, but the new Continental combines all of the above in a respectful homage of the early-to-late ‘60s model that previously bore its name. 

Maybe homage isn’t the right word, as the new Continental’s chromed mesh grille, available bejeweled LED headlamps, single-piece LED taillight cluster, and many other finely crafted details are nothing like that early car, but its big blocky upright three-box luxury sedan lines and its commanding overall presence conjures the spirit of classic Lincolns better than anything in the brand’s recent past. In other words, I like it. I like it a lot. 

2018 Lincoln Continental Reserve 3.0L AWD RSP
The centre stack design is simple and clean, and fortunately within easy reach. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

Details worthy of closer attention include the artfully shaped metal side mirror posts that provide a perfectly flat base for the housings’ power-folding pirouette when approaching the car, the uniquely exposed hinge-like chrome fender/door trim just beneath, and the gorgeous chromed door handles that perfectly align with the side window beltline trim until protruding outward to meet your hand. It’s features like these that make this new Continental the Jaeger LeCoultre Grande Reverso Ultra Thin Duoface of cars. 

2018 Lincoln Continental Reserve 3.0L AWD RSP
Lincoln’s version of Ford’s Sync 3 infotainment system was one of the best when it debuted, but is now being surpassed by the luxury sector’s loftier brands. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

OK, I’m having a little fun with this one, but that’s only because the new Continental makes me feel different than most others in this class. Maybe I’m a bit bored of the usual Mercedes, BMW, Audi, Lexus, etcetera, and want to spend time at the wheel of something with a little more majesty. If you feel the same, you should consider the Continental, as it pours on old world charm in similar fashion to a Bentley or Rolls-Royce, albeit with better electronics and a much more approachable price tag. 

The top-line Continental Reserve interior is fabulous, with equal parts elegance and technology. Most surfaces that aren’t genuine open-pore hardwood, chromed metal, or digital interfaces are soft to the touch, whether made from composites or supple leathers. Front and rear seat adjustability borders on the ridiculous, and they’re four of the most comfortable chairs in the industry. 

2018 Lincoln Continental Reserve 3.0L AWD RSP
Lincoln fits a lot of features into this compact interface. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

Those in the first row of my tester were Lincoln’s $750 optional 30-way powered multi-contour type. Yes, you read that right—30-way. Lincoln registered no less than 50 patents for these, whereas the two outboard passengers in back are treated to the $5,000 Rear-Seat Package (RSP) that includes 40/20/40-split folding/reclining via powered actuation, four-way powered lumbar support, airliner-style head restraints, heated and cooled cushions, side window sunshades, a twin-panel panoramic moonroof, rear-duct B-pillar registers, inflatable safety belts, and a flip-down centre armrest with an impressive set of integrated audio, climate, and sunshade controls, plus cupholders. 

2018 Lincoln Continental Reserve 3.0L AWD RSP
That’s genuine matte-finished hardwood, incidentally, something the brand didn’t do in earlier years. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

My tester also included the $5,500 Luxury Package boasting premium LED headlights and 19-speaker Revel Ultima audio, as well as a $4,000 Technology Package that added a 360-degree surround parking camera, active park assist semi-autonomous parking, a head-up display, adaptive cruise control, pre-collision alert and assist with pedestrian protection, active emergency braking, lane departure warning, lane keeping assist, a driver alert system, and more. 

By the way, I sourced all of the 2018 Lincoln Continental’s pricing from CarCostCanada, where you’ll find detailed information about all the trims, packages and standalone options, plus otherwise hard to find rebate info as well as dealer invoice pricing that could save you thousands.

2018 Lincoln Continental Reserve 3.0L AWD RSP
Don’t insult the Continental’s optional 30-way seats by saying they’re as good as first class airline chairs, because they’re a lot better than that. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

Standard features on my $63,900 Continental Reserve 3.0L tester (the base model starts at $56,650) include most anything you can think of not yet mentioned, with some highlights being a beautiful set of machine-finished 19-inch alloys with black painted pockets, automatic high beams, remote engine start, proximity-sensing keyless access, ambient lighting, pushbutton ignition, power-cinching doors, a powered tilt/telescoping steering column with memory, a leather-wrapped heatable multifunction steering wheel, a fully configurable TFT colour gauge cluster, Lincoln’s trademark pushbutton gear selector, 24-way heated and cooled front seats with independent powered thigh extenders and driver’s side memory, Bridge of Weir Deepsoft leather upholstery, tri-zone auto climate control with rear seat controls, heatable rear outboard seats, Sync 3 infotainment with an 8.0-inch LCD capacitive touchscreen featuring tap, swipe and pinch capability, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, voice-activated navigation, and a rearview camera with dynamic guidelines. 

2018 Lincoln Continental Reserve 3.0L AWD RSP
This panoramic sunroof really opens up the interior. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

Additional Continental Reserve features include an embedded modem, Wi-Fi, 13-speaker Revel audio with HD and satellite radio, a universal garage door opener, rain-sensing wipers, auto-dimming rearview and driver’s side mirrors, a 110-volt household-style power outlet, front and rear parking sensors, blindspot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert, active noise cancellation, a powered rear window sunshade, power-folding rear headrests, a hands-free powered trunk lid, plus plenty of active and passive safety features. 

The standard V6 powertrain displaces 2.7 litres and gets twin-turbocharging for a formidable 335 horsepower and 380 lb-ft of torque, so in other words there’s absolutely no reason to upgrade unless you simply must have the best. This said my tester’s twin-turbo V6 was bored out to 3.0 litres for 400 horsepower and 400 lb-ft of torque, plus the same six-speed automatic gearbox with paddle-shifters and standard AWD were added, except for the inclusion of active torque vectoring. 

2018 Lincoln Continental Reserve 3.0L AWD RSP
Rear seat roominess is expansive, while the optional Rear-Seat Package makes the outboard positions amazingly comfortable. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

If I hadn’t already spent a week in a near identically equipped Conti I might have made the mistake of driving it like a Town Car, but fortunately I was well versed in its wonderfully quick acceleration and surprisingly nimble chassis dynamics, resulting in my treating it with the same level of fast-paced nonchalance as I would an Audi A6 or one of its Teutonic competitors. Lincoln’s Canadian team conservatively claims 6.2 seconds from standstill to 100km/h, but south of the 49th their bragging about 5.5 seconds to 60 mph, which when converted into metric is closer to 5.7 seconds. That’s a more realistic seat-of-the-pants zero to 100km/h number, and making matters better the Conti’s straight-line performance is backed up by a fully independent suspension that’s as capable of zigging and zagging as it is zooming. 

2018 Lincoln Continental Reserve 3.0L AWD RSP
Why should those up front have all the fun. Check out the RSP’s upgraded folding centre armrest. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

As usual I was tempted by a riverside drive on a quiet weekday afternoon, the winding two-lane roadway that courses along a local waterway being one of the only circuitous ribbons of pavement within close proximity to the otherwise squared grid of latticework streets near my home. Once again this hot rod Lincoln’s sharp reflexes surprised, a simple push of the big “S” on the brand’s dash-mounted pushbutton gear selector engaging Sport mode for quicker throttle response and a stiffer, more engaging chassis. 

2018 Lincoln Continental Reserve 3.0L AWD RSP
A closer look shows rear climate controls and more. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

The aforementioned paddles behind the otherwise luxe stitched leather and chrome-laden steering wheel prompted its automatic gearbox to shift through all six cogs with quicker precision than any previous Continental, but six forward gears is hardly state-of-the-art anymore. Still, each shift increment was faster than expected and I never really felt it needed more, the engine’s ultra-wide torque curve and gobs of power more than making up for any lack of forward gears. 

The Conti leans ever so slightly when pushed beyond reason, but once again it never had me feeling the least bit uncomfortable, but rather provided a smooth and compliant ride while maintaining complete control. 

2018 Lincoln Continental Reserve 3.0L AWD RSP
Of course, pullout cupholders are included too. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

Considering its V8-like performance, sizeable heft and impressive load of features I can forgive its estimated 14.5 L/100km city, 9.8 highway and 12.3 combined fuel economy rating, and these numbers certainly don’t tax the environment much more than the less powerful engine’s claimed 14.0 city, 9.4 highway and 12.0 combined. Then again BMW’s 456 horsepower M550i gets a 14.3 city, 9.4 highway and 12.1 combined rating and sprints from zero to 100km/h a second and half faster, while Mercedes’ E43 AMG chops more than a second from the big Lincoln’s sprint time despite achieving 12.4 city, 9.4 highway and 11.1 combined, albeit at a price. 

2018 Lincoln Continental Reserve 3.0L AWD RSP
The trunk is large at 473 litres (16.7 cu ft), and even includes a centre pass-through. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

And therein lies the second rub, or alternatively an opportunity depending on how you look at it. Certainly most buyers capable of paying upwards of $80,400 for the E43 AMG or $83,000 for the M550i won’t even turn and glance at this top-line Continental that, with all options noted earlier retails for just under $80k before freight and fees. That’s lower than its German rivals’ entry points, with options driving their respective MSRPs into six-figure territory, making the Continental big-time value option. 

Making matters more interesting, 2018 models are still available as I pen this review in December. After all, Lincoln wouldn’t be cancelling it if Continentals weren’t just trickling off the showroom floor, a scenario that allows for a better than average opportunity to score a major discount, especially this time of year. So give yourself a big, beautiful Lincoln Continental for Christmas this year, or at least tease yourself by taking one for a ride. I guarantee you’ll be impressed.

Kia is no stranger to electrified vehicles. It currently offers the Optima Hybrid in both regular and plug-in varieties, the fully electric Soul EV that’s just been redesigned for 2019, so therefore…

2018 Kia Niro SX Touring Road Test

2018 Kia Niro SX Touring
Looking like a tall wagon with some SUV-like black cladding across its baseline, the Kia Niro hybrid is an impressive subcompact crossover SUV. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

Kia is no stranger to electrified vehicles. It currently offers the Optima Hybrid in both regular and plug-in varieties, the fully electric Soul EV that’s just been redesigned for 2019, so therefore nobody should be surprised to see the new Niro subcompact crossover show up in HEV guise. 

The surprise is its dedicated hybrid powertrain. Yes, that means it isn’t offered with conventional gasoline-only propulsion at all. This is reason enough for it being compared to the Toyota Prius, with some even considering it a Prius competitor. While such may be true in the context of its hybrid drivetrain, directly challenging the Prius is really the job of Hyundai’s equally dedicated Ioniq, which while sharing the same fully independent underpinnings, the identical 1.6-litre Kappa III four-cylinder Atkinson-cycle powerplant, a duplicate of its six-speed dual-clutch automated transmission, and direct copies of its electrified components, the Ioniq is shaped more like a traditional hatchback, is quite a bit longer, and sits a lot lower to the ground overall. 

2018 Kia Niro SX Touring
The Niro’s clean lines might only offend someone by being completely inoffensive. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

Instead, the shorter, taller Niro is sized almost identically to the new Toyota C-HR and slightly longer Nissan Qashqai, which are two of the larger subcompact SUVs available. This said the Niro is quite wide, coming closer to matching Subaru’s Crosstrek. Either way the Niro fits nicely within this smallest of SUV categories, which is an ideal place for a new hybrid to reside as it provides an excellent opportunity for sales growth. 

2018 Kia Niro SX Touring
SX Touring trim means LED-enhanced HID headlamps, larger 18-inch alloy wheels and more. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

You’ll have to decide for yourself if the thick matte black trim around the wheel cutouts and additional slabs of black protective trim skirting the rest of the Niro’s lower extremities provide enough SUV-like machismo for its Kia-applied crossover categorization, or whether its satin-silver roof rails and other exterior detailing enhance or detract from that effect. Likewise, you’ll need to take it for a drive to find out if its slightly raised ride height allows enough visibility of the road ahead and surrounding area to make you feel like you’re at the wheel of a sport utility, but then again the popularity of the aforementioned Qashqai, which is now the subcompact crossover SUV segment’s best-selling model and hardly anymore truck-like, proves that tough, rugged styling and a tall profile aren’t the only elements of success in this class. 

2018 Kia Niro SX Touring
These sharp looking LED taillights come standard in EX trim and above. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

SUV-ness aside, the idea of combining a small crossover with a hybrid drivetrain is pretty smart. It’s hardly an original ideal, Toyota having found plenty of success implementing this formula with in its larger RAV4 Hybrid in the compact SUV category, and Mitsubishi slightly less so with its similarly sized Outlander PHEV, but the Niro is a first for the smaller entry-level subcompact SUV segment, and the fact that it’s the first dedicated hybrid within the crossover SUV sector is actually groundbreaking. 

2018 Kia Niro SX Touring
The Niro SX Touring provides a much more upscale interior than most will expect from a mainstream volume brand. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

Another thing the Niro has going for it is price. A base 2018 Niro L can be had for as little as $24,995 plus freight and fees (see full 2018 Niro pricing at CarCostCanada, plus money saving rebate info and dealer invoice pricing that could save you thousands), which is quite reasonable even without factoring in its hybrid drivetrain that normally costs thousands over a given model’s conventionally powered alternative. Still, you get this super-efficient HEV in base trim with standard 16-inch alloy wheels, perimeter/approach lights, auto on/off projector headlamps, LED DRLs, LED positioning lights, fog lamps, splash guards, variable intermittent wipers, a tilt and telescopic steering column, a heatable leather-wrapped multifunction steering wheel, a large colour TFT multi-info display, distance pacing adaptive cruise control, a leather-clad shift knob, illuminated vanity mirrors, filtered dual-zone automatic climate control with auto defog, three-way heated front seats, an overhead sunglasses holder, cloth upholstery, chrome/metal-look interior accents, a cargo net, a hill holder, individual tire pressure monitoring, a perimeter alarm, all the usual active and passive safety features including a driver’s knee airbag, and more. 

2018 Kia Niro SX Touring
The SX Touring gets a lot of luxury, electronic and convenience upgrades over less trims. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

Continuing with the Niro’s impressive value theme, base L trim also comes standard with a 7.0-inch infotainment touchscreen featuring a rearview camera, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto smartphone integration, six-speaker audio, AM/FM/MP3/satellite radio, Bluetooth phone connectivity with audio streaming, USB and aux ports, etcetera. 

If you want more than mere base trim, and most Canadians do, the $27,595 Niro EX adds LED turn signals onto an upgraded set of power-folding side mirrors, sharp looking and quicker responding LED taillights, those roof rails mentioned earlier, plus proximity-sensing access with a pushbutton ignition, an auto-dimming rearview mirror, rear parking sensors, a wireless phone charger, upgraded cloth and leather upholstery, piano black lacquered interior trim, coloured console and door panel inlays, satin chrome inner door handles, a folding rear centre armrest, rear climate ventilation, a cargo cover, an under floor storage tray, and more. 

2018 Kia Niro SX Touring
This partially digital gauge cluster comes standard across the entire Niro line. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

If you think that’s good, a tiny hop up to the $29,195 EX Premium adds a powered glass sunroof, an eight-way power-adjustable driver’s seat with two-way powered lumbar, and blind spot detection with rear cross-traffic alert. 

Leaving the best to the last, my top-line $32,995 Niro SX Touring included most everything already mentioned as well as better looking 18-inch alloys, brighter HID headlamps, aeroblade wipers, “niro” inscribed metal door sill treadplates, alloy sport pedals, a larger 8.0-inch touchscreen with a navigation system featuring detailed mapping, front parking sensors, a great sounding eight-speaker Harman/Kardon audio system, stylish perforated leather upholstery, a household-style 110-volt power inverter, driver’s seat memory, ventilated front seats, heatable rear seats, emergency autonomous braking, lane departure warning, lane keeping assist, stop and go added to the distance pacing adaptive cruise control, driver attention alert, and more. It all comes in a really nicely finished cabin that’s suited up more impressively than some premium branded subcompact crossover SUVs, highlighted by a high-quality soft-touch synthetic dash top and door uppers. 

2018 Kia Niro SX Touring
The centre stack is well laid out for easy of use and features high quality switchgear. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

My Graphite painted Niro SX Touring looked stealth compared to those coated in Ocean Blue or Temptation Red, while other exterior colours include a darker, greyer Gravity Blue, Espresso brown, Snow White Pearl, and Aurora Black, with all SX Touring models receiving black leather upholstery within an all-black interior. Of course it’s not completely black inside, thanks to sporty white contrast stitching throughout, and two above average quality high-resolution electronic displays ahead of the driver and another on the centre stack, these filled with deep, rich colours and attractive graphics. 

2018 Kia Niro SX Touring
Accurate navigation with detailed mapping comes standard in a larger 8.0-inch touchscreen when moving up to the top-tier Touring SX. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

Before I delve into these interfaces, the Niro SX Touring driver’s seat is comfortable and the all-round view is quite good thanks to a reasonably tall ride height, the Niro bridging the aforementioned gap between crossover SUV and tall wagon quite well. The previously noted power seat controls provided plenty of adjustment and the fore-and-aft-only powered lumbar support fit my lower back ideally, as did the entire backrest. Comfort in mind, the steering column offers a lot of telescopic reach, which I happen to appreciate because this benefits my long-legged, shorter torso five-foot-eight body type, while there’s also plenty of rake. 

2018 Kia Niro SX Touring
Unlike most hybrids, the Niro features a sporty, quick-shifting 6-speed dual-clutch transmission. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

The nicely shaped leather-wrapped and black-lacquer adorned steering wheel looks and feels sportier than I expected for a hybridized SUV too, and it comes filled with high quality switchgear including easy-to-use rockers for various functions, particularly for scrolling through and selecting features within the full-colour dual-screen multi-information display mentioned earlier, these defaulting to hybrid-specific info. The analogue gauges are brightly backlit too, with the entire cluster very good looking. 

The centre stack mounted infotainment interface noted earlier features familiar tablet-style tap, pinch and swipe touchscreen gesture controls, a very clear and easy to see backup camera with active guidelines, navigation with a nicely detailed map and accurate route guidance, plenty of useful apps, and once again unique hybrid info that even goes so far as to show how well you’ve been driving via a dot matrix-style tree which grows more foliage when driven more efficiently. 

2018 Kia Niro SX Touring
The Niro SX Touring’s beautifully sculpted leather-clad sport seats are very comfortable and fully supportive. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

It showed my real-time fuel economy averaging 5.9 L/100km, but to clarify I really wasn’t trying to drive efficiently during my final stint, as I need to get the Niro home quickly. It’s useful info just the same, while eco-geeks will likely enjoy the graphic energy flow display even more. This said I’ll deep dive into fuel economy as I get further into this review, because I don’t want to get pulled out of the Niro’s impressive interior just yet, and I need to preamble the powertrain before that. 

Having set the driver’s seat up for my aforementioned small-to-medium-build frame, I slid into the back seat more easily than I would in a lower car thanks to its taller ride height, and found a lot of space to move around and get comfortable in. In fact, there were four to five inches between my knees and the front seatback, plus even more above my head, while you shouldn’t have any problem seating three adults side-by-side, although two would be more comfortable. 

2018 Kia Niro SX Touring
A powered glass sunroof comes standard with EX Premium trim and above. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

As expected in a crossover SUV albeit not always true of electrified cars, the Niro provides a sizeable cargo hold measuring 635 litres (22.4 cubic feet) behind the 60/40-split rear seatbacks and 1,789 litres (63 cubic feet) when they’re folded flat, which is actually much better than average for the subcompact SUV class. The loading area is nice and wide too, while a folding cargo floor reveals a hidden cargo organizer below, useful for storing valuables, tools or other items you may want to keep separated from everything else. 

Back in the driver’s seat, a quick press of the dash-mounted button ignites the engine and you’re off to the races. The direct injection-enhanced four-cylinder internal combustion engine (ICE) displaces 1.6 litres resulting in 104 horsepower, but when factoring in the 32-kW (43-horsepower) permanent magnet synchronous electric motor it’s good for 139 net horsepower. Even better, the electric motor adds 86.5 lb-ft of more immediate twist to the ICE’s 108.5 lb-ft of torque, with the combined effect totaling 195 lb-ft of net torque from 4,000 rpm. 

2018 Kia Niro SX Touring
The rear seating area is roomy and the outboard positions very comfortable. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

That’s a lot of get up and go for a subcompact SUV, but the inclusion of the quick-shifting six-speed dual-clutch automated transmission I mentioned earlier (not the humdrum CVT found in most hybrids) makes the Niro feel even sportier. It’s such a great gearbox that I was longing for a set of steering-wheel mounted paddle shifters, but at least Sportmatic manual mode can be actuated via the gear lever, and it works well enough. 

Another driveline feature I would’ve liked to see is AWD, but despite the Niro targeting the subcompact SUV market the placement of its 1.56-kWh rear-mounted lithium-polymer battery means it won’t be getting all-wheel drive anytime soon if at all. Still, news that Hyundai-Kia is developing in-wheel e-AWD technology gives me hope that it’s not totally out of the question at some point in the future. 

2018 Kia Niro SX Touring
The Niro’s cargo compartment is not only accommodating for a hybrid, it’s one of the largest in the subcompact SUV class. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

Some time ago I would’ve said that AWD is a subcompact SUV prerequisite, but it’s long been excluded from the very popular Kia Soul and now can’t be had with the aforementioned Toyota C-HR either, so I suppose AWD isn’t as critical in this category as I initially figured it would be, and the Niro’s fuel economy is so good many won’t care one whit about extra rear-wheel traction. 

Driving this point home is a great story worth repeating. The Niro was barely born when it earned a Guinness World Book of Record’s entry thanks to Wayne Gerdes and co-driver Robert Winger using just 4.1 tanks of gas while driving their Niro EX 5,979 km (3,715 miles) from Los Angeles to New York City, the key number being an average of 3.1 L/100km (76.6 U.S. mpg). No doubt they were using hypermiling techniques to achieve such incredible efficiency, as the Niro EX trim’s five-cycle Transport Canada rating is a more conservative 4.6 L/100km in the city, 5.1 on the highway and 4.8 combined. The base LX is claimed to do even better with a 4.5 L/100km city, 4.8 highway and 4.7 combined rating, whereas the as-tested SX Touring is good for an estimated 5.1 city, 5.8 highway and 5.4 combined. 

2018 Kia Niro SX Touring
Below the cargo floor is this handy hidden storage tray. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

Like other hybrids Kia uses regenerative braking to recoup kinetic energy, as well as auto start/stop to save fuel that would otherwise be wasted while idling, while standard Drive Mode Select provides an Eco mode to increase efficiencies and therefore reduce emissions further. I actually left it in this greenest of settings for most of my test week due to a generally stingy personal nature, but I must say its alternative Sport mode makes for a more enjoyable driver’s car, providing that extra punch off the line required for quicker takeoff and more confident highway passing. 

I was actually surprised at how well the Niro drove. Let’s face it. While attractive, its somewhat conservative tall wagon styling prepared me for more of a sheepish experience than running with the wolves, but its formidable power, superb transmission, and nicely dialed in front strut, rear multi-link suspension rolling on meaty as-tested 225/45R18 rubber combined for good balance through the corners, while the ride is smooth and once again comfortable. Its lightweight yet rigid construction, made with plenty of high-strength steel and aluminum, adds to its Euro-inspired feel, while its nice taut ride was never rough, the Niro striking a good compromise between sport and comfort that most should appreciate. 

That last sentence really sums up my entire weeklong experience. I can’t see many disagreeing with Kia’s new Niro, nor its very attractive value proposition. It’s a great little crossover that’s wonderfully comfortable, fully accommodating, filled with premium features, and best of all it delivers record-breaking fuel economy yet doesn’t feel at all like a hybrid. In other words, the Niro is a lot of fun to drive. Whether you’re looking for a good small SUV or a fuel-efficient dedicated hybrid, consider the Niro. It’s a best of both worlds offering that shouldn’t be looked over.

Thanks to General Motors, the mid-size pickup truck market is once again starting to heat up. Toyota was hardly contested in this market for far too long, but GM reintroduced its Chevrolet Colorado and…

2018 GMC Canyon 4WD Crew Cab SLE All Terrain Road Test

2018 GMC Canyon 4WD Crew Cab SLE All Terrain
GMC’s Canyon offers up a striking design, especially when upgraded to sporty 4WD Crew Cab SLE All Terrain trim. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

Thanks to General Motors, the mid-size pickup truck market is once again starting to heat up. Toyota was hardly contested in this market for far too long, but GM reintroduced its Chevrolet Colorado and GMC Canyon twins in 2015 and has steadily been gaining back market share ever since. 

In fact, after just a year of availability the two trucks combined for 12,652 sales, and by so doing snuck right past the Tacoma’s 12,618. That gap widened in 2017 with 14,320 GM mid-size truck deliveries and just 12,454 for Toyota, while as of September 30 this year the General managed to sell 12,702 Colorados and Canyons compared to Toyota’s tally of 10,703 Tacomas, so as long as the final quarter of 2018 follows suit it should be another banner year for these two domestic pickups. 

2018 GMC Canyon 4WD Crew Cab SLE All Terrain
The Canyon’s good looks wrap right around the entire truck. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

Just in case you forgot (as most people did), Honda and Nissan sell trucks in this segment too. Still, despite an impressive second-generation Ridgeline the motorcycle company that initially started out selling a pickup truck was only able to lure in 3,169 new buyers over the same nine months of 2018, while Nissan, one of the originators of the compact pickup category, could only rally 3,071 of its faithful troops around its Frontier. 

Nissan hasn’t redesigned its Frontier pickup in so long it should be facing child abandonment charges, but the segment’s previous shabby chic offering, Ford’s Ranger, will soon be with us again, albeit much larger, thoroughly modernized and no doubt capable of taking on the top three. What’s more, FCA, the parent company of the Dodge brand that gave up on the Dakota, finally showed the new Wrangler-based Gladiator in production trim at the LA auto show, so this warming small truck market might soon be boiling over. 

2018 GMC Canyon 4WD Crew Cab SLE All Terrain
These complex headlight clusters add a touch of sophistication to the Canyon’s form and function. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

Again, we can thank GM for sticking its neck out with the Colorado and Canyon, because if it weren’t for these two the others wouldn’t have had verified proof that mid-size trucks were still worth investing in, only that buyers were waiting for some decent product to arrive. 

Decent is an understatement with respect to the Colorado and Canyon, mind you. Just look at this GMC Canyon in its 4WD Crew Cab SLE All Terrain setup. I think its design is fabulous, and I always enjoy spending time behind the wheel, especially when its class-exclusive turbo-diesel four-cylinder powerplant is powering all four wheels. Honestly, this is the type of engine Toyota should be putting into its Tacoma, not to mention Ford and Nissan whenever replacements to their pickups arrive. 

2018 GMC Canyon 4WD Crew Cab SLE All Terrain
Satin-silver trim, fog lamps and sharp looking alloy wheels make this mid-range pickup look like top-of-the-line. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

I spend a lot of time in and around Metro Manila, Philippines, my second home (Antipolo City to be exact), and have witnessed all the diesel trucks on offer. The Ford Ranger mentioned earlier is easily one of the best looking pickups there or anywhere, also diesel powered, whereas the Asian-spec Navara is the truck Nissan should’ve imported to North America along with its fuel-efficient turbo-diesel powerplant. The Philippine-market Toyota pickup is dubbed Hilux and diesel-powered as well, while Chevy also sells a diesel-powered Colorado in the Philippines, although the rebadged Isuzu D-Max isn’t even close to North America’s Colorado. 

Duramax Diesel power is the first reason I’d recommend our Canadian-spec Canyon or Colorado to truck buyers here, even over the Tacoma. Some Canadians might pretend that fuel economy isn’t as big an issue now as it was before the oil crash, but a quick study of our current economic situation will show that it’s even more important to find economical transportation now than it was then, especially in a smaller, less-expensive pickup class that’s likely being purchased for financial reasons first and foremost. 

2018 GMC Canyon 4WD Crew Cab SLE All Terrain
These rugged side steps provide a helpful leg up as well as protection to the lower body panels. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

Only this past summer regular 97 octane rose to more than $1.60 per litre in my part of the country, and even our current $1.30 to $1.40 per litre range isn’t exactly cheap. In fact, our new low is considerably higher than just before the bottom fell out of big oil. What’s more, the majority of Canadians should be well aware how these low oil prices hit our collective Canadian gross domestic product (GDP) bottom line, not to mention the wallets of many Canadians’ personally, plenty which come from parts of the country where pickup trucks are a larger percentage of the market, such as Alberta, so it’s probably not a good time to be loose and easy with our fuel budgets. 

2018 GMC Canyon 4WD Crew Cab SLE All Terrain
The GMC Canyon separates itself from the Chevy Colorado by these unique taillights, amongst other exclusive styling details. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

As for where the Canyon and Colorado fit within the overall scheme of things, let’s face the fact that most truck buyers would rather own a full-size Sierra or Silverado than anything mid-size. Bigger trucks deliver more space, comfort, performance and functionality, albeit at a higher price. This need to target entry-level pickup buyers is exactly why the smaller Colorado and Canyon exist, but before I go on let’s make sure we’re both perfectly clear about why these two trucks are succeeding in a market segment where others have failed miserably: they’re sensational. 

I can’t speak for anyone else, but as noted a moment ago I happen to think both trucks look great. I’m a bit more partial to the Canyon than the Colorado, unless the latter is upgraded to new ZR2 off-road race truck spec. Interestingly, styling matters at least as much amongst pickup truck owners as sports car zealots, buyers in this most utile of auto sectors wooed by rugged designs that appear like they could trek across seemingly impassable terrain as if they were domesticated equivalents of an M1A2 Abrams tank, or in the case of this smaller pickup something along the lines of the now-discontinued M551 Sheridan. 

2018 GMC Canyon 4WD Crew Cab SLE All Terrain
The Canyon provides an attractive, high-quality interior with room for up to five. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

Adding an oil-burning variant only ups their go-anywhere character, the 2.8-litre Duramax turbo-diesel under my 2018 Canyon 4WD Crew Cab SLE All Terrain tester’s sculpted hood capable of a stump-pulling 369 lb-ft of torque from just 2,000 rpm, not to mention a very efficient 12.1 L/100km in the city, 8.3 on the highway and 10.4 combined when configured for 4WD, or an even more impressive 10.8 city, 8.0 highway and 9.6 combined with RWD. By the way, it makes 181 horsepower at 3,400 rpm too, but that number isn’t quite as important in pickup truck circles, where useable towing twist is king for some and the ability to delve deeper into the wilderness on a single tank of fuel reigns supreme for others. 

2018 GMC Canyon 4WD Crew Cab SLE All Terrain
This nicely laid out cabin provides excellent driver ergonomics. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

The Canyon’s tow rating ranges from 2,449 to 2,812 kg kilos (5,400 to 6,200 lbs), while diesel models are equipped with an exhaust brake and an integrated trailer brake controller. Additionally, SLE trim gets trailering assist guidelines added to the otherwise standard backup camera, plus a Tow/Haul mode that raises transmission upshift points for more power when needed, and also raises downshift points so you can use the engine for compression braking. What’s more, an optional Trailering Package adds an automatic locking rear differential, a 50.8-mm receiver hitch, four- and seven-pin connectors, a seven-wire harness with independent fused trailering circuits, a seven-way sealed connector to hook up parking lamps, backup lamps, right and left turn signals, an electric brake lead, a battery and a ground.

2018 GMC Canyon 4WD Crew Cab SLE All Terrain
The 4.2-inch colour TFT multi-info display at centre has crystal clear resolution. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

All of that aforementioned torque sounds like it should make for blistering performance off the line, and while the diesel-powered Canyon 4×4 initially jumps forward with enthusiasm it’s not capable of spine tingling acceleration after that. Still, it’s hardly embarrassing on a highway onramp, moves fast enough to get you into trouble in the city or on the highway if you’re not paying attention, and is more than capable of passing motorhomes and big highway trucks when required. The diesel’s standard six-speed automatic downshifts quickly and is plenty smooth as well, but it could use with another gear or two on its way up to higher speeds. 

When off-road, shifting into 4WD high or low is as easy as possible, only taking the twist of a rotating knob next to the driver’s left knee. It’s a fully automated system, not forcing you to get out and lock the hubs, of course, but also not requiring a secondary lever to engage its low gear set, while crawling over rough terrain is this little truck’s forte. 

2018 GMC Canyon 4WD Crew Cab SLE All Terrain
The infotainment interface’s iPhone-influenced candy drop buttons are wonderfully colourful and easy to see in any light. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

As you might expect by looking at its beefy suspension, my tester’s ride was firm when rock crawling as well as when bouncing down inner-city lanes, but it was hardly punishing. A larger truck like the Sierra offers more compliance due to its heavier weight, but certainly this smaller 4×4 was pleasant enough. Likewise, handling and high-speed stability is good for the class, with the Canyon fully capable when the road starts to wind and an enjoyable highway cruiser, but once again the larger Sierra delivers more in this respect. 

The Canyon’s leisurely pace makes it all the easier to enjoy its impressive cabin, and it really is quantum leap above anything GM offered in this class before, and even a step above most competitors. SLE trim offers a mix of premium-level soft-touch surfaces and harder plastics, the latter common in pickup trucks, while the softer detailing includes an upscale padded leatherette with red stitching covering the left and right sides of the dash top as well as much of the instrument panel, whereas the lower dash and door panels are made from the more durable hard stuff. 

2018 GMC Canyon 4WD Crew Cab SLE All Terrain
The 6-speed standard automatic with the base 2.5L four and the 2.8L turbo-diesel isn’t as advanced as the 8-speed that comes with the 3.6L V6. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

Ahead of the driver, a digital and analogue gauge cluster features a fairly large 4.2-inch full-colour TFT multi-information display at centre that’s filled with useful features and superb graphics, while over on the centre stack is GMC’s new IntelliLink infotainment interface, which has become one of the best in the mainstream volume sector. It’s upgraded to the Canyon’s larger 8.0-inch touchscreen in SLE trim, and is easy to operate thanks to nice big ovoid Apple iPhone-style candy drop buttons in various bright colours and the ability to use tablet-style tap, pinch and swipe finger gestures. 

This test truck didn’t include optional navigation with detailed mapping, but GMC includes the very useful OnStar turn-by-turn route guidance system, while the SLE’s infotainment interface was also loaded up with standard Apple CarPlay and Android Auto smartphone connectivity (although these are even included on the base model’s now larger 7.0-inch infotainment display this year), a decent audio system featuring satellite radio and Bluetooth streaming (a Bose system is optional), text messaging, and of course plenty of car settings. Some buttons below the touchscreen allow quick access to radio, media and audio functions, plus the home screen, while a nicely sorted single-zone automatic climate control interface is set up in the old school button and knob style just below. 

2018 GMC Canyon 4WD Crew Cab SLE All Terrain
The front seats look great and provide excellent comfort with good lower back support. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

On that note, switchgear for GM’s excellent heatable seats can be found just under the HVAC system on a separate interface, these being especially good because they allow the ability to heat both lower and backrest cushions separately, or just the backrest alone, while just above these is a row of toggle switches for trailering, turning off the stability control, the bed light, hill descent control, and the hazard lights. 

A traditional lever gets used for shifting gears, with a plus/minus rocker switch on the knob for rowing through the cogs manually with your thumb. This means no paddle shifters are included, which is the case for most pickup trucks, but the steering wheel is nevertheless a nice sporty design with leather around the rim and more red stitching, while the switchgear on each spoke is very nice with rubberized buttons. The column is tilt and telescopic as well, whereas the seats are powered with fore/aft, up/down, and two-way powered lumbar support adjustments. Only the backrest needs manual actuation, which didn’t make one difference to me over my weeklong test. 

2018 GMC Canyon 4WD Crew Cab SLE All Terrain
Other than seatbacks that are a bit too upright, only really tall folks will complain about being seated in back. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

The upgraded upholstery features both smooth and textured leatherette around the edges with a comfortable cloth in the centre, plus “ALL TERRAIN” combined with a mountain graphic stamped on the backrests. Considering SLE is hardly top of the line, it’s all pretty impressive. 

The rear bench seat gets the same styling high-level treatment, and the outboard positions are quite comfortable other than having somewhat upright backrests due to space limitations. When the driver’s seat was set for my five-foot-eight frame I had about five inches available ahead of my knees when seated behind, so limousine-like wouldn’t be the term I’d use to describe the Canyon Crew Cab’s roominess, but most should still find it spacious enough, especially for this class. 

2018 GMC Canyon 4WD Crew Cab SLE All Terrain
The rear bench seat’s backrest folds flat to provide a good cargo hold. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

The rear seatback can also be flattened for a handy load surface, or alternatively you can pull up the lower bench for stowing taller cargo you might want to keep out of the bed behind to protect from weather or theft, while lifting the seat also allows access to things stored underneath. I only wish GM had split the seat 60/40 for more passenger/cargo flexibility, but it’s hardly a deal-killer. 

A deal-maker, and perhaps a pickup truck game-changer that I absolutely must highlight, is the CornerStep-infused rear bumper, an intelligent design that adds handy toe cutouts to the corners of the back bumper to ease smaller statured and/or maturing folk up onto the cargo bed with more grace and less potential bodily harm, the latter especially relevant when wet weather transforms the otherwise tiny rounded nubs at each corner of every competitive truck’s rear bumper into a slippery accident waiting to happen. I love these, and really appreciated how easy this makes it for climbing onto the bed when the tailgate is lowered. 

2018 GMC Canyon 4WD Crew Cab SLE All Terrain
These rear bumper-integrated CornerSteps come standard, and truly make access to the bed easy. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

Now that I’m talking features I’m realizing that I’ve neglected to go into detail regarding my tester’s standard kit, so over and above the equipment I’ve already mentioned my diesel-powered Canyon 4WD Crew Cab SLE All Terrain was nicely outfitted with 17-inch alloys, a Z71 off-road suspension, skid plates, body-colour bumpers, side steps, remote start, four USB ports, OnStar 4G LTE and Wi-Fi, a sliding rear window, a tow package, and more for an as-tested price of $47,988 plus freight and fees. Of note, the base Canyon starts at just $23,310, but you can spend considerably more than my tester’s nicely equipped tally for a fully loaded version, especially if venturing into top-line Denali trim (to see all 2018 GMC Canyon trims, packages and options, plus rebate info and dealer invoice pricing that could save you thousands, visit CarCostCanada now). 

2018 GMC Canyon 4WD Crew Cab SLE All Terrain
The Canyon can manage heavy payloads and even heftier trailers. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

There’s a lot more I could say, but maybe it’s best to leave something special for you to personally discover. The Canyon is an impressive truck, and totally worthy of all the attention it’s getting from its ever increasing fan base. I recommend the turbo-diesel, but the base Canyon comes with what on paper seems like a reasonably strong 200 horsepower 2.5-litre four-cylinder and six-speed automatic combo, while upper trims can be had with a formidable 308 horsepower 3.6-litre V6 mated to an advanced eight-speed automatic. I’ve tested the latter and really enjoyed the extra power and smooth shifting gearbox, but in the end you’ll need to figure out which powertrain, transmission, driveline setup, body style and trim level you need for yourself, because GMC offers myriad options. This ability to fully personalize your ride really sets the Canyon, and its Colorado sibling apart from any rival, its three distinct engine options at the heart and core of this philosophy. More really is better, and GMC offers the most. Enough said.

Do you remember that zany TV ad that saw a family pulling up to a national park gatekeeper’s booth in their 2014 Toyota Highlander, only to have him say to the father and driver, “Is this the new…

2018 Toyota Highlander V6 AWD and Hybrid Road Test

2018 Toyota Highlander V6 AWD Limited
The Highlander received a much bolder chrome-laden grille for 2017 that carries forward on this 2018 model. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

Do you remember that zany TV ad that saw a family pulling up to a national park gatekeeper’s booth in their 2014 Toyota Highlander, only to have him say to the father and driver, “Is this the new Toyota Highlander?” followed by, “Ever look at the stars through your moonroof? Ever wish upon them?” And then, “It has a V6 engine right? Is it powerful? Do you think I’m powerful?” (If you don’t remember it, or how the 2014-2016 Highlander looks, I’ve included it at the bottom of this page). There were other humourously uncomfortable questions asked too, but when all was said and done the ad did a great job of creating interest in the new Highlander and this family’s “own little world” within, while giving most of us a good chuckle too. 

2018 Toyota Highlander Hybrid Limited
Both the conventionally powered Highlander V6 AWD and Highlander Hybrid look the same, and especially nice in top-line Limited trim. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

Fortunately for Toyota the money wasn’t wasted, as those who owned Highlanders, and newcomers alike, went back to their local retailer to satisfy their curiosity and the SUV they found more than measured up. In fact, the Toyota’s mid-size crossover SUV has been on a steady growth trajectory since 2013 when that third-generation Highlander was introduced in Canada, growing 11.6 percent that calendar year, 27.5 percent in 2014, 6.8 percent the year after, 24.5 percent last year, and with sales that were nudging up against last year’s record total by the close of September this year, it’s already on target for another new high. 

Almost as important to Toyota, during this growth cycle the Highlander has gone from eighth most popular in its mid-size SUV segment in 2012 to fifth so far this year, while it’s now actually third when compared to dedicated three-row competitors, only outsold by the Kia Sorento and Ford Explorer. 

2018 Toyota Highlander V6 AWD Limited
The Highlander’s rear design has mostly been carried over since 2014. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

I certainly can understand why it’s grown in numbers and popularity. Since day one I’ve been impressed, and while it’s seen steady improvements when it comes to features and technology advancements over the past five model years, plus a significant refresh that replaced its sportier Toyota truck-inspired grille with a classier chrome clad design that now extends deeper and wider into the front fascia in near Lexus-like grandeur, its core goodness remains. 

What do I like? I must admit the more truckish grille worked better for me, but the mid-cycle makeover is hardly a turnoff and its side profile and rear quarters remain mostly unchanged and therefore amongst the best looking in this category to my eyes, but it’s the Highlander’s interior that woos me most ardently, especially in as-tested Limited trim. 

2018 Toyota Highlander Hybrid Limited
Only the colour makes these two look different. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

To be clear, I spent my first week with the conventionally powered 2018 Highlander V6 AWD Limited and another seven days in the Highlander Hybrid Limited, both top-line versions of basically the same SUV with different drivetrains. 

These high-style models continue to offer a more premium experience than most mid-size crossover SUVs in the mainstream volume sector, with upscale touches like a full soft-touch dash top that not only wraps down to the halfway point of the instrument panel, but gets followed up with a nicely finished padded leatherette what-have-you tray that spans from the left side of the centre stack all the way across to the passenger’s door panel. Toyota even finishes off the eight roof pillars with fabric, uncommon but certainly welcome in this class. 

2018 Toyota Highlander V6 AWD Limited
That’s one deep, bold and bright Lexus-inspired grille. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

Additional appreciated details include satin-silver trim in key areas, nice grey woodgrain inlays across the dash and door panels, some attractive chocolate brown detailing on the dash and door plastics, as well as the same tasty hue used for the seat upholstery’s contrast stitching. 

Those seats are perforated leather and very comfortable, the Highlander being one of my favourite Toyotas as far as ergonomics go. The power-adjustable lower seat squab extends further than some others, tucking nicely below the knees, and while its two-way powered lumbar support doesn’t quite find the ideal position in the small of my back, it was closer than the Lexus NX I drove the week before. I also appreciated that the telescopic steering wheel has more forward travel than some other Toyota models, which allowed me to set up the steering for better comfort, control and safety, the rim nicely finished in stitched leather and ideally shaped for performance driving, which was oddly appreciated and totally unexpected. 

2018 Toyota Highlander V6 AWD Limited
Limited models get smoked headlamp surrounds that play nicely against the LED DRLs pulled up from XLE trim. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

What a perfect segue into driving dynamics, but before I start talking about power delivery, handling and ride quality I wanted to mention a few other interior points. For starters, the Highlander’s switchgear is on par with others in the class, meaning it fits together tightly and is well damped for a premium feel, with only the hollowness of the composites used a bit on the low rent side. 

Then again much of the infotainment system’s buttons are touch-sensitive, while the display itself is large and high in resolution. This said it pales in comparison to the new Camry’s Entune interface, visually because of the latter car’s glossy display finish and upgraded graphics, and functionally due to its impressive new proprietary smartphone connectivity that blows away Android Auto, in my opinion. Back to the Highlander Limited, the touchscreen is matte in finish and its depth of contrast not all that good. In fact, it was completely illegible due to glare at certain angles on bright sunny days, but to be honest it even looked quite faded in the shade. Also, the display almost completely disappeared when wearing polarized sunglasses, something touchscreens with richer colour quality and greater depth of contrast don’t do. 

2018 Toyota Highlander V6 AWD Limited
A nice set of 19-inch dark chrome-clad alloy wheels spiff up the Limited model’s lower extremities. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

The Highlander Limited gets a narrow strip of tri-zone automatic climate controls just below the centre touchscreen, and while they were easy enough to use I found it difficult to find the right temperature for comfort in cold weather. As it was, 23 degrees Celsius was much too hot and 21 just right. The problem? Most competitors’ vehicles need to be set to 23 or 24 degrees in order to maintain a normal 20 to 21, so kudos to Toyota for being so annoyingly accurate. 

Improving on the Highlander Limited’s HVAC system is a heated steering wheel rim, multi-temperature heatable and ventilated front seats with separate scrolling controllers on the lower console, and two-way heated outboard second-row seats, while yet more exclusive Limited trim features not yet mentioned include 19-inch dark chrome-clad alloy wheels, smoked headlamp surrounds, puddle lamps under the side mirrors, chrome trimmed roof rails, scripted aluminum front treadplates, LED ambient interior lighting, auto up/down for all the powered windows, rain-sensing wipers, front and rear parking sensors, a dynamic surround parking camera with a bird’s eye overhead view, a great sounding 12-speaker JBL Synthesis audio system, memory for the driver’s seat and side mirrors, second-row captain’s chairs with a folding centre console, a household-style 120-volt power outlet, a powered panoramic glass sunroof with a powered sunshade, and blindspot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert. 

2018 Toyota Highlander V6 AWD Limited
These taillights have always looked good. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

While that’s a lot of gear, Limited trim also features items pulled up from lesser mid-range XLE trim, including LED daytime running lights, fog lamps, proximity-sensing keyless access with pushbutton ignition, an auto-dimming rearview mirror, a universal garage door opener, a leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob, a higher grade of simulated leatherette door trim, a 4.2-inch colour TFT colour multi-information display, a larger 8.0-inch touchscreen with navigation (the base model gets a 6.0-inch display audio system), Driver EasySpeak, advanced voice recognition, SMS text-to-speech and email-to-speech, satellite radio, an eight-way power-adjustable driver’s seat with the aforementioned power-extendable lower cushion and powered lumbar, a four-way powered front passenger’s seat, second-row side window sunshades, a flip-up rear hatch window, a powered rear liftgate, a retractable cargo cover that smartly locks into place under the cargo floor when not in use, and auto start/stop that shuts off the engine to save fuel when it would otherwise be idling (standard with the Hybrid). 

2018 Toyota Highlander V6 AWD Limited
The Limited gets a black leather-upholstered cabin with splashes of tasteful chocolate brown, grey woodgrain and satin-silver. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

Additionally, key standard features pulled up from base LE trim to the Limited include multifunctional steering wheel controls, illuminated vanity mirrors, Siri Eyes Free, a massive centre console bin with a nice simulated leather sliding lid, cargo area tie-down rings, underfloor storage in the cargo area, and all the expected active and passive safety features including a driver’s knee airbag. 

Adding to your family’s security and your convenience, even the most basic Highlander LE with front-wheel drive comes with a wide assortment of advanced driver assistive systems as part of Toyota’s standard Safety Sense P package, featuring a front pre-collision system with autonomous emergency braking including pedestrian detection, lane departure alert with steering assist, full speed dynamic cruise control, and automatic high beams, the latter items capable enough for a Top Safety Pick rating from the U.S. Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), while it also gets a five-star overall safety rating from the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). Still, a sobering thought shows its five stars are only achieved in one category when it comes to crash tests, notably the front passenger side test, with the front driver side and overall front crash tests managing just four stars apiece. 

2018 Toyota Highlander V6 AWD Limited
The logically laid out high-quality Limited cabin gets luxury touches, loads of features and decent ergonomics. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

The regular Highlander and Hybrid models differ when it comes to some of the just noted trims as well as the features within each, specifically by the omission of an LE trim with the Hybrid and this electrified model’s elimination of Safety Sense P in its most basic XLE trim. The Hybrid XLE is also missing rain-sensing wipers and a USB audio port, although both include four USB charge points. 

Of note, the driver’s seat isn’t the only comfortable chair in the Highlander’s cabin thanks to my Limited trim tester’s standard second-row captain’s chairs that provide good lower back and thigh support, individual fore and aft manual adjustment, reclining capability, and separate inside folding armrests. With the driver’s seat set to my five-foot-eight height I had at least 10 inches ahead of my knees when seated in the second-row bucket after it was moved all the way rearward, plus more than enough for my feet and another four to five inches above my head, as well as loads of side to side space. Alternatively, when pushing my second-row seat all the way forward so that it clicked into its last notch I had about three inches in front of my knees and still reasonable space for my feet, this position best for maximizing third-row roominess. 

2018 Toyota Highlander Hybrid Limited
The Hybrid gets some unique HEV info within its bright and colourful gauge cluster. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

When equipped with its optional second second-row captain’s chairs there are two ways to get into the Highlander’s third row. First, between those two seats is a foldable console filled with two cupholders and a small tray, useful for life on the road and conveniently foldable. Dropping this to one side, an easy process, allows for a narrow walkway between the seats that makes it easier for smaller kids to climb in and out of very back. Otherwise you’ll need to push those second-row seats forward via levers on each side of the lower cushions, which allows them to tilt and slide forward before providing ample access for larger kids and adults. 

2018 Toyota Highlander V6 AWD Limited
The navigation mapping is good and directions accurate, but the matte display reflects too much glare to be seen in bright light. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

The third row was sizeable enough for my five-foot-eight medium-build frame, leaving about three inches over my head, plenty of elbowroom, and enough space below the second-row seats that my winter boots fit underneath without a problem. This said my knees were forced quite high as the rear floor is raised somewhat, but the seating position was livable and the cushioning quite comfortable. Toyota provides a couple of cupholders to each side, plus vents and reading lights overhead, making it a better than average third row for two larger kids or three on the smaller side. 

2018 Toyota Highlander V6 AWD Limited
Comfortable front seats only get two-way powered lumbar, but the lower seat squabs extend forward. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

As you might expect in a mid-size SUV with three rows, cargo space is generous when the final row is laid flat. With the 50/50-split rearmost seatbacks upright there’s only 391 litres (13.8 cubic feet) available, plus the underfloor stowage mentioned a moment ago, but drop these down and the Highlander’s usability grows to a very usable 1,198 litres (42.3 cubic feet), while walking around to the side doors to lower the second row allows a total of 2,356 litres (83.2 cubic feet). Capacities are identical in both regular and electrified models, with only the base Highlander LE gaining 14 litres (0.5 cubic feet) more when all the seats are lowered, while that trim and the XLE without its SE upgrade package get a more accommodative second-row bench seat resulting in an eight-occupant layout compared to seven passengers max in the other trims. 

If you have plans to tow a camp trailer or small boat during your summer vacation or use a utility trailer for maintenance and gardening at home or for work, the regular Highlander can pull up to 2,268 kilograms (5,000 lbs) when equipped with a hitch, and the Hybrid is good for 1,588 kilos (3,500 lbs). 

2018 Toyota Highlander V6 AWD Limited
Heated and ventilated seats are always appreciated. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

I must admit to never having the opportunity to tow a modern-day Highlander, but I can attest to its impressive driving dynamics. First and foremost, both Limited models delivered the smoothest of rides, completely absorbing otherwise intrusive bumps and seeming to float over deep holes and ruts in the city and on the highway. While traveling at higher freeway speeds both were once again wonderfully smooth and totally stable, while braking is strong and progressive, even with the Hybrid’s regenerative system in play. 

2018 Toyota Highlander V6 AWD Limited
Second-row captain’s chairs with a foldable centre console come standard with Limited trim. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

This came in especially useful when four lanes become two, the highway started wind and I didn’t feel like slowing down. Such moments show the strong and week points of any vehicle, and while I wouldn’t go so far as to call either Highlander a canyon carver, both were quite capable of keeping quick pace through curving mountain roads, and never had me feeling concerned for loss of control. 

The two powertrains also provide strong straight-line performance thanks to a direct-injected 3.5-litre V6 engine with variable valve timing, with the conventional design making 295-horsepower and 263 lb-ft of torque and the Hybrid’s slightly less responsive Atkinson-cycle version sporting 306 net horsepower and undisclosed twist that’s likely greater than the latter the conventional setup, as it feels noticeably quicker off the line. 

2018 Toyota Highlander V6 AWD Limited
An airy panoramic glass sunroof is even enjoyable in winter. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

On that note I like the feel of the regular Highlander’s more traditional eight-speed automatic more than the Hybrid’s continuously variable transmission, although the CVT features stepped ratios for a normal feel when not pushing too hard. This meant that 99 percent of the time I couldn’t tell much of a difference, as they’re both as smooth in operation as this model’s suspension, but on the occasion I chose to pick up the throttle and get moving the eight-speed auto provided a more sporting experience, aided by an SUV that’s 130 kilos (286 lbs) lighter at 2,100 kilograms (4,630 lbs) compared to 2,230 kg (4,916 lbs) for the Hybrid. Still, that’s not much extra baggage for a hybrid powertrain, batteries and electric motors often weighing considerably more than that. 

2018 Toyota Highlander V6 AWD Limited
The second-row seats tilt forward and slide out of the way for easy third-row access. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

The Highlander Hybrid’s V6 is actually tuned to maximize efficiency, with its extra motive thrust coming from a pair of permanent magnet synchronous electric motors, one for pulling with the front wheels and another for pushing with those in the rear, their energy derived from a sealed Nickel-Metal Hydride (Ni-MH) traction battery. It doesn’t need to be plugged in, but then again it won’t drive very far on electric power alone, and certainly not quickly when it does. 

Both Highlander all-wheel drive systems do a good job of managing slippery road surfaces, even when faced with snow and icy conditions. Of course, all the usual active safety systems like ABS with brake force distribution and brake assist, traction and stability control and more come in to help both base front-wheel and optional all-wheel drive systems, making either Highlander an excellent choice for trekking up the mountain to find snow mid-winter or heading to the cottage for summer vacation. 

2018 Toyota Highlander V6 AWD Limited
The third row is roomy and comfortable. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

The biggest differentiator between the two SUVs will be during just such occasions, or particularly when filling up their tanks along the way. The regular Highlander is rated at a very reasonable 11.8 L/100km in the city, 8.7 on the highway and 10.3 combined with its standard front-wheel drivetrain, or 12.1 city, 9.0 highway and 10.6 combined with AWD, whereas the ultra-thrifty Highlander Hybrid gets a claimed 8.1 L/100km city, 8.5 highway and 8.3 combined for the best fuel efficiency in the mainstream mid-size SUV segment. 

The only question left to ask is whether the significant fuel savings are worth the extra $6,000 for the less-equipped $50,950 Highlander Hybrid XLE. If you want electrification and your budget isn’t compromised I’d recommend moving one step upward to the as-tested $56,955 Hybrid Limited, being that you’ll be spending the same $6k extra and you’ll be getting all of the same features found on the regular Highlander Limited, which incidentally starts at $50,945. Either way you’ll be enjoying a lot of SUV for the money, with refinement venturing closer to the premium sector than any previous Highlander. 

2018 Toyota Highlander V6 AWD Limited
There’s no shortage of cargo space with all rear seats folded flat. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

I should also point out the conventionally powered Highlander XLE AWD starts at $44,945, while the base LE FWD and LE AWD models spoken of previously are available from just $36,450 and $38,945 respectively (you can find all 2018 Highlander pricing at CarCostCanada here and pricing for the 2019 Highlander here, plus check out their money saving rebate info and dealer info pricing). You can likely get a pretty sweet deal on a 2018 this time of year, and changes to the 2019 model are minimal, with the LE getting a revised black rocker panel down each side, the XLE’s SE upgrade package becoming its own standalone trim line with new LED fog lamps and a black SE grille, darkened headlight surrounds, plus black SE badges, and lastly the Highlander Hybrid Limited also upgraded with LED fog lamps. 

If you can live without some of these improvements and still find the 2018 Highlander you want, go for it. You’ll get an excellent SUV for a decent discount and in three, four or five years time enjoy a better than average resale value. It’s hard to argue against that. 

And it’s hard to argue against a good laugh too, so click on the video below to enjoy that crazy TV ad for the 2014 Toyota Highlander I told you about before:

 

 

Nissan has taken a very different tack by normalizing its second-generation Leaf, which is both good and a bit of a shame. Don’t mistake me for being negative about its more familial design direction,…

2019 Nissan Leaf SL Road Test

2019 Nissan Leaf SL
The sharp looking second-generation Nissan Leaf takes on an entirely new more sophisticated personality. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

Nissan has taken a very different tack by normalizing its second-generation Leaf, which is both good and a bit of a shame. Don’t mistake me for being negative about its more familial design direction, because the first version’s whacky styling almost made a balloon look square, but much if not all of the initial model’s whimsy is now gone, replaced by a slick, efficient, business-first compact. 

I like the look. With the Leaf’s original Dr. Seuss-inspired styling now relegated to EV history, a design that must have fully appealed to the plug-in masses that snapped it up faster than any EV before, a matured interpretation of the monobox design is all crisp, clean creases of trademark V-motion, floating C-pillar, Z-like taillight Nissan goodness, a sharp contrast to the ovoid Leaf of yore. 

2019 Nissan Leaf SL
The new Leaf’s wedge-like profile makes it much sportier than the outgoing model. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

Alas, open the tiny hood just above that new V-shaped grille and the old car’s beautifully detailed metal “engine” cover with blue and chrome “NISSAN zero Emission” branding is gone, replaced by a much more advanced 110kW electric motor topped off with a much less inspiring black plastic cover, the branding now simply stating its “NISSAN” maker. 

Yes, the electric vehicle industry is growing up, and with its maturation our once fun and funky Leaf teenager is becoming an older, more responsible adult. This said there’s much good that can be said for a more conservative approach when it comes to car design, especially when factoring in the need for aesthetic longevity, which translates into higher resale values due to greater appeal within the used market. 

2019 Nissan Leaf SL
A rooftop spoiler, diffuser-style rear bumper cap and Z-like taillights make the Leaf stand out. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

That new 110kW motor may do even more to bolster pre-owned Leaf values than styling, thanks to a lot more get-up-and-go and much greater range. Imperially that number reads 147 horsepower, a 40 hp gain over its predecessor, while torque is up 30 lb-ft to a much more motivating 236. 

A more potent 40kWh Li-ion battery now powers the uprated motor, a 16kWh improvement over the previous generation without any increase in physical size. This means it can now travel up to 241 kilometres on a single charge compared to just 172 km for the old model, and this 69-km extension makes all the difference in the world. 

2019 Nissan Leaf SL
Nissan refers to its now trademark grille design as “V motion”. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

Depending on the length of your commute or the complexity of your errand list, the new Leaf lets you drive around for days without recharging. What’s more, the range anxiety some might have experienced with the outgoing model should be all but gone, as long as you top it up well before the little blue battery graphic shows a need. 

Replenishing from near empty takes about seven hours from a 240-volt charger or more than an entire day when hooked up to a regular 120-volt household socket. I recommend you purchase a proper Level 2 charger so you can fill up overnight, or you’ll be making a lot more impromptu stops at retail outlet charging stations than your schedule may allow for. Then again, if you can find a Level 3 DC fast-charging station you’ll be able to fill it from near zero to 80 percent in about 40 minutes, while recharging to 80 percent is always significantly quicker than trying to top it off the final 20 percent, no matter which charging process you’re using. 

2019 Nissan Leaf SL
LED headlamps with LED signature DRLs come standard. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

Fortunately, owning a plug-in allows for some front-of-the-line exclusivity when it comes to parking spots. In my city the majority of shopping malls, big box stores, hotels, and government buildings offer free charging for their greenest customers, and more often than not these specialized parking spots are located right next to the front doors of their establishments, providing a level of VIP convenience to EV ownership. 

Livability in mind, the Leaf has always been roomy and comfortable. The new one is not noticeably improved for occupants or cargo, with the latter measuring a fairly generous 668 litres (23.6 cubic feet) with the 60/40-split rear seatbacks upright and 849 litres (30.0 cubic feet) when they’re folded. What’s more, there’s no battery awkwardly protruding into the cargo area like some other EVs, with the Leaf SL’s load floor nice and flat other than a smallish Bose Acoustic Wave System boombox butting up against the rear seatbacks, the seven-speaker audio upgrade making the most of the otherwise near silent Leaf interior. 

2019 Nissan Leaf SL
A closer look shows some very nice Leaf detailing. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

The Leaf cabin is certainly quiet thanks to a lack of engine and exhaust notes, the wind rushing past and the road below the only noticeable aural intrusions, and the latter two variables are kept to a hush thanks to ample sound-deadening insulation, plenty of plush surfaces, and soft-touch composites on the dash-top and door uppers, resulting in a fairly refined environment for this class. Of course, such should be expected of a compact hatchback costing upwards of $36,798 (check out CarCostCanada for all 2019 Nissan Leaf pricing including trims, options, rebate info and even dealer invoice pricing), a seemingly steep price until considering the smaller Chevrolet Bolt starts at a cool $44,400. 

2019 Nissan Leaf SL
These sporty 17-inch alloys wrapped in 215/50 low resistance all-season tires are standard with SV and SL trims. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

Even with provincial rebates of up to $5,000 in BC and $8,000 in Quebec (Ontario no longer offers a plug-in incentive program), that’s a lot of coin for a vehicle class that normally starts well under $20,000, whereas the Leaf’s second-rung SV trim will set you back $40,698, and the top-line as-tested SL rings in a total of $42,698. Again, that’s chump change compared to the top-tier Bolt’s $49,300, while a similarly sized BMW i3 I recently tested topped $70k. 

You can bet that both the BMW and Bolt come fitted with leather seats and plenty more, but so does the Leaf SL. In fact, the SL’s partially perforated leather upholstery was ultra-luxe thanks to a two-tone black and grey design, the latter comprised of the same microfibre-like Bio Suede PET cloth used for the two lower trims’ upholstery, while plenty of blue contrasting thread was joined by the same stitching on the armrests, all complemented with blue accented graphics in the gauge cluster and infotainment touchscreen, not to mention a cool blue glowing gear selector. 

2019 Nissan Leaf SL
These sharp looking Z-inspired taillights are really nice. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

The seats are plenty comfortable too, with decent two-way powered lumbar support that seemed to fit the small of my back quite well, but much to my surprise and disappointment the otherwise beautifully finished leather-wrapped, flat-bottom steering wheel has a standard heatable rim but no telescopic capability, only moving up and down marginally via its tilt feature. This posed a problem when trying to get comfortable and maintain best possible control, as I had to stretch my arms too far to reach the steering wheel rim when the pedals were set up for my admittedly long-legged, short-torso five-foot-eight body. 

The rear seating area is fairly roomy, albeit it’s still easy to tell you’re in a compact car. I had about five inches ahead of my knees and plenty of room for my feet when the driver’s seat was set up for my aforementioned height, although the latter isn’t raised up very high so it was difficult to get my shoes underneath when wanting to stretch out my legs. Likewise, the Leaf only provided about two and a half inches above my head, and it’s pretty narrow side-to-side with about three inches to the door panel from my outside shoulder and hip. There’s also no folding centre armrest in back, while my next gripe isn’t really a complaint, but more of a “What were they smoking?” oddity, in that the outboard rear passengers will need to reach forward to the sides of each front seat bolster in order to turn on their two-way cushion warmers. 

2019 Nissan Leaf SL
Just in case you forgot… (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

Some might also find hauling larger cargo items challenging too, because the load floor doesn’t even come close to lining up with the 60/40-split rear seatbacks when lowered. This latter point is a tradeoff that I’d be willing to live with due to all of the extra stowage space within that deep loading area, and I must say it really works well when hauling taller, fragile items like plants, but a moveable shelf system would provide a best of both world’s scenario when requiring a larger, flatter load floor. 

Now that I’m complaining, the cargo compartment isn’t finished any nicer than you’d find in a $15,000 hatchback, while when back up in front I’m forced to point out fewer pliable plastic surfaces than I’d like in any car, let alone one that hardly comes cheap, but I don’t want to totally thrash on a car that does so many other things well, particularly its digital interfaces. 

2019 Nissan Leaf SL
The new Leaf’s interior is a mix of pleasant surprises and surprising shortcomings. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

Before getting into the good, I might as well tell you about the big yellow “Warning: Malfunction See Owners Manual” alert that kept taking over the multi-information display throughout my weeklong drive, especially because the graphic included showed two cars crashing. Restarting the car seemed to reboot the system so that the warning disappeared for a time, but it kept coming back annoyingly, showing something needed attention. 

That warning graphic showed up on a 7.0-inch high-resolution colour TFT display that makes up the left two-thirds of the aforementioned gauge cluster, an attractive package filled with blue, green and white eco info plus more, whereas the right-side speedometer is analogue yet circled with the same stylish aqua blue hue. 

2019 Nissan Leaf SL
The Leaf’s cockpit looks great, but its steering wheel unacceptably offers no telescopic reach adjustment. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

Over on the centre stack is a large 7.0-inch tablet-style touchscreen on SV and SL trims (the base audio display is 5.0 inches) complete with quick-access switchgear to each side and a couple of traditional rotating knobs that came in very handy for adjusting the audio volume and scrolling through the infotainment system’s various functions, not to mention pushing to make audio sound adjustments. The graphics are attractive, and depth of contrast quite good for having a more fingerprint-friendly matte finish, plus the system is easy to operate and responds quickly to tap, pinch and swipe gestures, the navigation mapping especially reactive and the GPS guidance very accurate. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto smartphone integration is standard, as is a smartphone app that lets owners monitor their Leaf’s charging status, schedule a future charging time, find recharging stations, pre-heat/cool the interior, and more. 

2019 Nissan Leaf SL
This mostly digital gauge cluster is a real treat for the eyes. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

A unique bowtie-shaped single-zone automatic climate control interface sits just below in all trims, while standard two-way front seat heater switches are included within a collection of buttons that also house a 12-volt charger, USB and aux ports, and the car’s illuminated start-stop ignition button. Giving it a press brings the Leaf to life, with the only choices left being the option of default or Eco mode, and selection of the E-Pedal before releasing the electromechanical parking brake (that’s strangely not standard) and taking to the streets. 

The E-Pedal is essentially the Leaf’s fourth driving mode, after default “D” for drive and “B” for increased regenerative braking, the latter two found by pulling the gear selector to the left and rearward once and then twice respectively, while Eco mode dulls response to throttle input and helps to eke out a little more range when driven economically. The new E-Pedal is more of an automated B-mode, in that it immediately applies regenerative braking when lifting off the throttle. It can be a little disconcerting at first, because it feels as if some mischievous gremlin is getting hard on the brakes without your consent, nearly bringing the Leaf to a full stop if you don’t get back on the throttle, but once familiarized it performs well and quite smoothly, while helping to recharge the battery effectively. 

2019 Nissan Leaf SL
A closer look at the standard 7.0-inch TFT display that makes up the left two-thirds of the primary instruments, and the analogue speedometer to the right. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

B-mode still exists because some owners prefer recharging their battery manually, and to that end truly skilled drivers can probably get more kinetic charging from B-mode than the E-Pedal, or at least they claim to in forums, but those new to the Leaf lifestyle might be better off leaving the E-Pedal on and Eco mode engaged when trying to extract the most from a depleting battery. Nissan claims the E-Pedal is good for 90 percent of driving requirements, with the regular brake pedal only needed for the other 10 percent, and if used this way the Leaf won’t need its brake pads replaced very often. 

As long as Eco mode is turned off, throttle response is quite strong, especially when compared to conventional internal combustion engine-powered compacts. It won’t accelerate faster than a Bolt, which is a comparative pocket rocket, but it certainly won’t cause any disgruntled honking from behind. 

2019 Nissan Leaf SL
The Leaf’s nicely laid out centre stack is filled with an impressive infotainment touchscreen and automatic climate control. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

The ride is firm, this probably due to its standard Michelin Energy Saver low roll resistance tires, but it’s hardly punishing. Roughly finished inner-city streets, irregular pavement on the highway and bridge expansion joints will be immediately noticeable, but the suspension has a reasonable amount of compliance for such a small hatchback, and as noted the seats are comfortable. 

The previous Leaf wasn’t exactly sporty, so I was pleasantly surprised that the new version handles quite well, at least as far as small hatchbacks go this side of a Golf GTI, while it’s nice and stable at high speeds. To get more from the battery you’ll probably want to leave it in Eco mode at speeds under 120 km/h, while I found the default Drive position better for higher speeds, as it coasts more effortlessly. 

2019 Nissan Leaf SL
The SL includes split-screen parking camera with a 360-degree overhead view. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

Speaking of effortless highway driving, the Leaf offers the option of Nissan’s new ProPILOT Assist semi-autonomous self-driving in SV trims and above. It combines the Leaf’s all-speed adaptive cruise control with steering assist so you can let your hands off the wheel for short durations while traveling down the highway. While I found it more of a novelty, it helps keep the Leaf centered within its lane and is kind of fun to use. 

Automatic high beams are also standard on the Leaf’s two upper trims, as is Intelligent Lane Intervention, Blind Spot Warning with Rear Cross Traffic Alert, and Pedestrian Detection for the otherwise standard Automatic Emergency Braking system, while Driver Attention Alert that warns of drowsiness is standard with the SL. 

2019 Nissan Leaf SL
Love this blue glowing shifter! (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

I found the automatic emergency braking system’s warning system worked very well, mostly because it didn’t flash its big orange warning very often. It only lit up when I was getting too close too fast, exactly like it should. Likewise, lane keep assist gently tugged the Leaf back into place when it started to leave its lane or I tried to nudge it into an adjacent lane that already had a car occupying it. 

Now that I’ve started talking trims and features, the base Leaf S includes a generous supply of standard equipment such as the aforementioned heated steering wheel, heated front and rear seats, while the standard Leaf package also incorporates a battery heater, auto on/off LED headlamps with LED signature DRLs, proximity-sensing keyless access with pushbutton ignition, cruise control, a rearview monitor, Bluetooth phone connectivity with audio streaming, text message reading and response, four-speaker audio, satellite radio, and all the usual active and passive safety features. 

2019 Nissan Leaf SL
The black leather is perforated and the grey strip and bolster trim is microfibre-like Bio Suede PET cloth. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

Moving up to SV trim adds the previously noted advanced driver assist systems, the electromechanical parking brake, the larger infotainment touchscreen with navigation and voice recognition, ProPILOT Assist, NissanConnect EV telematics, a hybrid heater system, 17-inch alloy wheels on 215/50 all-seasons (the base steel wheels are 16s wrapped in 205/55s), fog lamps, an auto-dimming rearview mirror, a Homelink universal garage door opener, six-speaker audio, an eight-way powered driver’s seat with powered lumbar support, and a cargo cover, while the top-tier SL gains all the extras already mentioned plus LED turn signals integrated into the side mirror housings, Nissan’s very helpful 360-degree Intelligent Around View Monitor, and the impressive seven-speaker Bose audio upgrade noted earlier. 

2019 Nissan Leaf SL
The rear seat is reasonably size for the Leaf’s compact class. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

On a side note, I was glad to see a sunglasses holder in the overhead console, and yes it’s still marred by an oversized nosepiece holder that oddly doesn’t fit normal eyeglasses causing them to flop around within, but it’s better than nothing. I also appreciated LEDs used for the overhead reading lights up front. There are no rear reading lights in the rear, however, and the centre dome lamp is an old-school incandescent bulb, plus there’s no sunroof available at all, an issue that might bother some folks in need of light therapy during dark, cloudy days. Its unavailability may possibly be a weight saving issue, but when automakers are forced to compromise to such levels when going electric, it’s reasonable that some consumers just won’t go. 

Yet to Nissan’s credit plenty of Canadian consumers are buying into the Leaf lifestyle, the thought of never again being gouged by greedy oil companies and greedier provincial governments too fantastical to pass up. I must admit that I’d rather plug in than pump, and as of Q3 2018 there have been exactly 10,000 Canadians that have chosen likewise. 

2019 Nissan Leaf SL
The rear cargo hold is very deep, but a movable shelf would help flatten the floor for large items. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

The Leaf’s popularity has grown exponentially since it launched in 2011, with its first year of sales only resulting in 170 deliveries, its second calendar year just a bit more at 240, and the following years following suit with 470 units sold in 2013, 1,085 in 2014, 1,233 in 2015, 1,375 in 2016, a dip to 946 in 2017 due to the new model changeover, and now, wait for it, 4,481 new second-generation Leafs sold in the only first nine months of 2018 (believe it or not this hodgepodge of numbers actually added up to an even 10,000). 

That’s significant growth, and a great deal more per capita than Nissan’s U.S. division has achieved this year. They were only able to sell 10,686 units over the same three quarters, resulting in 2018 sales numbers that may not even reach half of the Leaf’s 2014 high of 30,200 units, showing Canadians are serious about their EVs (spurred on by much higher fuel costs. How such poor U.S. results will impact investment in the Leaf and other Nissan EVs in the future is anyone’s guess, but at the very least the Japanese brand can also take a deep bow for creating the best-selling electric car of all time, with more than 300,000 Leafs delivered globally since inception. 

2019 Nissan Leaf SL
If you’re considering a plug-in for your next car, put the value-focused Leaf high on your list. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

In the end, the new Leaf is hardly perfect, but it’s a considerable improvement over the quirky original and is apparently much more acceptable to Canadian EV buyers. Even considering the new Leaf’s 1.9 Le/100km city and 2.4 highway fuel economy equivalent rating, the $20k or so surcharge over a similarly sized and equipped conventionally powered compact hatchback will keep it and all other EVs in the fringe, however, especially in markets where provincial rebates aren’t offered, selling in similar numbers to performance-oriented sport compacts like the VW GTI/Type R, Subaru WRX/STI, and others. 

After all, going electric requires the same level of enthusiasm and even greater financial and personal dedication than most performance car fans put into their rides, so it only makes sense for the target market to remain niche at best.

While the majority of car enthusiasts will immediately conjure thoughts of the legendary 911 sportscar when Porsche enters the conversation, crossover SUVs are the German premium brand’s biggest sellers.…

2019 Porsche Cayenne Buyer’s Guide Overview

2019 Porsche Cayenne
Porsche has introduced a redesigned Cayenne SUV for 2019, and while it doesn’t break any styling molds it represents major changes beneath the skin. (Photo: Porsche)

While the majority of car enthusiasts will immediately conjure thoughts of the legendary 911 sportscar when Porsche enters the conversation, crossover SUVs are the German premium brand’s biggest sellers. Such is the case with most automakers in today’s sport utility crazed market, and the Porsche Cayenne gets credit for being in on the early stages of this relatively new automotive phenomenon. 

The Cayenne was first introduced in 2002, and quickly became Porsche’s most popular model. Now that mantle falls on the smaller, more affordable Macan, with the two having made up more than 70 percent of the brand’s best-ever Canadian sales last year. Still, the Cayenne is key to continued profits due to its higher cost of entry and much pricier high-end model lineup. 

2019 Porsche Cayenne
The new Cayenne, shown here in base trim, features a single body-wide LED taillight like the recently redesigned Macan, Panamera and upcoming 2020 911. (Photo: Porsche)

What’s more, Porsche sales are on an even stronger course in 2018 than the previous record year, up more than 40 percent over the first nine months, and now with a completely redesigned third-generation Cayenne, 2019 should be a banner year if our shaky economy holds up. 

With the launch of the new model Porsche addresses some key issues that previous generations chose not to, particularly size. Measuring 4,918 millimetres (193.6 inches) from nose to tail, the 2019 Cayenne is now 63 mm (2.5 in) longer than the model it replaces, plus (not including mirrors) it’s also 44 mm (1.7 in) wider at 1,983 mm (78.1 in) with a 9-mm (0.3-in) lower roof height at 1,696 mm (66.8 in), except for the top-line Cayenne Turbo that keeps the same wheelbase and width yet adds 8 mm (0.3 in) of extra length while losing another 23 mm (0.9 in) in overall height. 

2019 Porsche Cayenne Turbo
The new Cayenne is longer and wider than its predecessor, with top-line Turbo trim (shown) slightly larger than all. (Photo: Porsche)

That wheelbase length remains identical from old to new at 2,895 mm (114.0 in), yet the ability to slide the rear seats fore and aft by about six inches allows for more rear legroom, while the really big interior gains show up behind the back seats where 100 litres (3.5 cubic feet) of cargo space has been added for a new total of 770 litres (27.2 cu ft), which is almost a 15-percent improvement over the outgoing model. Additionally, when the standard 40/20/40-split reclining rear seatbacks are lowered they form a nearly flat loading floor, improving the Cayenne’s practicality even more, while expanding its load carrying capacity to 1,710 litres (60.4 cu ft). 

2019 Porsche Cayenne S
A new aluminum-intensive body structure saves weight and increases torsional rigidity, helping to make the new Cayenne (shown here in S trim) the best handling version yet. (Photo: Porsche)

Surprisingly, despite the new model’s increased size it’s now 55 to 65 kilograms (121.2 to 143.3 lbs) lighter, depending on trim and configuration, thanks to a body structure made from roughly 50 percent aluminum (including the front wings, doors, side panels, roof and rear liftgate) and 50 percent high-strength steel, plus other mass-reducing components such as a lithium-ion polymer (LiPo) starter battery that saves 10 kilos (22 lbs) on its own. 

This also results in better weight distribution, now about 55/45 percent front/rear in base configuration, so together with an increase of about 20-percent in overall torsional rigidity due to the tauter mixed-metal construction method, which according to Porsche includes more than 6,800 MIG (metal inert gas) and laser weld points, 630 “float drill screws”, and 170 metres (557 feet) of bonding agent for each Cayenne produced at the brand’s Bratislava, Slovakia assembly plant, improvements have been made to straight-line performance, handling and fuel-efficiency. 

2019 Porsche Cayenne
The new Cayenne should be better off-road too, while towing is once again rated at 3,500 kilos (7,700 lbs). (Photo: Porsche)

To that end the mid-size crossover SUV is pulling yet more cues from Porsche’s legendary 911 sports car, particularly by providing staggered narrower-to-wider front-to-rear tire sizes on all trims, as well as new optional Rear Axle Steering, the latter feature helping to reduce the Cayenne’s turning radius at low speeds for easier manoeuvrability in tight spaces like parking garages. 

Also improving handling, albeit at higher speeds, the new Cayenne’s front suspension gets upgraded from the old double wishbone design to a multi-link setup like the rear, which promises to enhance steering response while maintaining better tire contact with the road surface below. 

2019 Porsche Cayenne
The Cayenne boasts plenty of technical improvements to help it make the most of slippery situations. (Photo: Porsche)

Continuing on the theme of relentless grip, the Stuttgart brand also includes its Porsche Traction Management (PTM) active all-wheel drive system as standard equipment, which comes together with an electronically variable, map-controlled multi-plate clutch, an automatic brake differential (ABD) and anti-slip regulation (ASR), while options include a new three-chamber Adaptive Air Suspension with alternative ride heights that are preset to 28 mm lower than normal or 56 mm taller than normal, plus improved Porsche Dynamic Chassis Control (PDCC) electronic roll stabilization, which now benefits from the Cayenne’s new 48-volt electrical system that allows for faster-reacting electrical components compared to the old model’s hydraulic system. All are now made to work more effectively via standard Porsche 4D Chassis Control, resulting in the most capable Cayenne yet. Also important, the new Cayenne can still tow up to 3,500 kilograms (7,700 lbs) of trailer weight. 

2019 Porsche Cayenne
The base Cayenne gets a more potent 335-hp 3.0L V6 for much quicker acceleration, while all Cayennes receive a new ZF-sourced 8-speed automatic. (Photo: Porsche)

The new third-generation Cayenne is now available in base Cayenne trim for $75,500 plus freight and fees, while other trims include the $92,600 Cayenne S, $91,700 Cayenne E-Hybrid, and $139,700 Cayenne Turbo, with a Cayenne GTS and other variations no doubt on the way. 

All Cayennes come mated to Porsche’s new ZF-sourced eight-speed Tiptronic S automatic transmission featuring manual mode, paddle shifters, quicker response to input, and faster shift increments in lower gears to enhance on-pavement prowess and off-road performance. As a side benefit the new German-designed gearbox delivers up a smoother auto stop-start system with coasting capability, the outgoing Aisin-sourced eight-speed autobox in need of some refinement in this respect. 

2019 Porsche Cayenne S
The Cayenne S sports a 2.9L twin-turbo V6 that makes 434 hp and 406 lb-ft of torque for a much quicker 5.2-seccond sprint to 100km/h. (Photo: Porsche)

For 2019, the base model’s V6 engine loses 600 cubic centimetres on its way from 3.6 to 3.0 litres of displacement, yet is now turbocharged for 35 more horsepower and 37 additional lb-ft of torque resulting in a new maximum of 335 horsepower and 332 lb-ft, the latter arriving 1,000-plus rpm sooner at 1,840 rpm. It’s good for a zero to 100km/h sprint time of just 6.2 seconds, or 5.9 seconds with the Sport Chrono Package, and is now capable of a 245 km/h top track speed, which incidentally is a massive performance gain over the previous base Cayenne model that could only manage the same feat in 7.6 seconds, whereas its top speed was just 230 km/h. 

2019 Porsche Cayenne E-Hybrid
The new Cayenne E-Hybrid produces 455 net hp and 516 lb-ft of torque for a 5-second dash to 100km/h. (Photo: Porsche)

The upgraded Cayenne S includes a 2.9-litre twin-turbocharged V6 that makes 434 horsepower and 406 lb-ft of torque for a significantly quicker 5.2-second sprint from standstill to 100km/h, or 4.9 with the Sport Chrono package, plus a new top speed of 265 km/h. 

The new E-Hybrid raises the game for electrified Cayennes by combining the base 3.0-litre V6 with a plug-in hybrid drivetrain featuring a 14 kWh lithium-ion battery with on-board charger, resulting in a shocking new total of 455 net horsepower and 516 lb-ft of torque, and a zero to 100km/h time of 5.0 seconds with its standard Sport Chrono Package, plus a top speed of 253 km/h. 

2019 Porsche Cayenne Turbo
The new Cayenne Turbo utilizes Porsche’s 4.8L twin-turbo V8 to make 541 hp and 568 lb-ft of torque for a super-quick 4.1-second launch to 100km/h, or 3.9 seconds with the Sport Chrono Package. (Photo: Porsche)

Finally, the new 2019 Cayenne Turbo utilizes Porsche’s 4.8-litre twin-turbo V8 to produce 541 horsepower and 568 lb-ft of torque for an ultra-quick 4.1-second launch to 100km/h, or 3.9 seconds with the Sport Chrono Package, and a terminal velocity of 253 km/h. 

Improving performance further, the Cayenne will offer the choice of three driving modes including Comfort, Sport and Sport Plus, as well as an Individual mode that lets each driver configure their own personal setup. 

2019 Porsche Cayenne S
The 2019 Cayenne gets a much improved interior with larger, higher quality digital interfaces. (Photo: Porsche)

The 2019 Cayenne also features Mud, Gravel, Sand, and Rock modes for overcoming more treacherous terrain off-road, tackling the wild unknown always high on Porsche’s SUV priority list. To that end its maximum water wading depth is now 526 mm (20.7 in), while the new model’s approach angle is 27.1 degrees, breakover angle 21.1 degrees, and departure angle 24.1 degrees. 

Improving performance further is a new world-first optional high-performance braking technology dubbed Porsche Surface Coated Brakes (PSCB). The cast-iron discs are coated with 70 micrometers of tungsten carbide, which, when bedded in cause a mirror-like finish to the surface of each rotor. Porsche promises stronger performance over steel brakes, with reduced wear and therefore a longer life. In fact, Porsche claims a 35-percent reduction in brake wear when upgrading to PSCB, while brake dust is reduced by up to 50 percent. Also, they’re available for less than half the price of the optional Porsche Ceramic Composite Brake (PCCB) package. 

2019 Porsche Cayenne E-Hybrid
The look of the gauge cluster is familiar, but to each side of the tachometer are large 7-inch TFT displays. (Photo: Porsche)

As noted earlier, all-important fuel economy is improved as well, with the base Cayenne good for a claimed 12.4 L/100km in the city, 10.1 on the highway and 11.4 combined, compared to 12.9, 9.7 and 11.5 respectively with the outgoing model, while the Cayenne S is estimated to achieve 12.9 L/100km city, 10.4 highway and 11.8 combined, compared to 13.9, 9.6 and 12.0 in the old version. Lastly, the new Cayenne Turbo receives a claimed rating of 15.6 L/100km city, 11.8 highway and 13.8 combined, compared to 16.7, 11.2 and 14.3 with the previous model, the end result being notable improvements from all 2019 Cayenne trims despite their significant performance upgrades. 

2019 Porsche Cayenne
The centre touchscreen is considerably larger at 12.3 inches and much more advanced in every way. (Photo: Porsche)

Styling plays an important role in any new model’s redesign, but the Cayenne’s reshaped body panels also aid performance due to an improved coefficient of drag of 0.35. Most will more likely be drawn to its Macan-inspired front fascia that, as always, looks meanest in Turbo guise. This is where its familial resemblance to the all-new 2020 911 is most obvious too, its wide, squared-off, blackened grille opening much larger and more dramatic than the air intakes found on previous generations, while the new Cayenne’s narrow, body-width single-unit LED taillight cluster shares much with the new 911 and Macan as well. 

2019 Porsche Cayenne
The lower console features touch-sensitive switchgear under smartphone-style black glass. (Photo: Porsche)

Other muscular details include aggressive hood creases and deeper Coke bottle-like sculpting at each side, while the roofline tapers downward in 911 coupe-like fashion as it nears the rear hatch, this now possible due to a much more design-flexible Volkswagen group MLB platform architecture that no longer forces the Cayenne to share its side doors with the Touareg. 

2019 Porsche Cayenne E-Hybrid
The seats look fabulous and occupants should benefit from more interior room. (Photo: Porsche)

Inside, the new Cayenne receives improvements in design, materials quality, and refinement, but most will likely notice its new electronic interfaces first and foremost. The primary gauge cluster features dual 7.0-inch TFT colour displays flanking a classic analogue tachometer at centre, while just to the right is the same 12.3-inch Porsche Communication Management (PCM) touchscreen infotainment system first used in the second-generation Panamera. Resolution quality, depth of colour and contrast, plus operating system speed is all improved, as is overall ease of use and the amount of features as well as their functionality, with some highlights including a rearview camera with ParkAssist front and rear parking sensors, Apple CarPlay smartphone connectivity, an Online Navigation Module, wireless internet, Bluetooth with streaming audio, 10-speaker 150-watt audio, satellite radio, and Porsche Car Connect that adds Carfinder, Remote Vehicle Status, Remote Services, and the Porsche Vehicle Tracking System (PVTS). 

2019 Porsche Cayenne
The Cayenne’s second row is expansive and available panoramic sunroof makes it seem even more spacious. (Photo: Porsche)

Additional in-vehicle enhancements include touch-sensitive quick-access controls under smartphone-like black glass on the lower console surrounding the new electronic shifter and electromechanical parking brake, while classy knurled metal detailing help to dress up key dials and rocker switches. 

2019 Porsche Cayenne S
Four-zone climate control is just one of many options available for the 2019 Cayenne. (Photo: Porsche)

The 2019 Cayenne comes stock full of standard features such as LED headlamps, four-point LED daytime running lights within each headlight, three-dimensional LED taillights with integral four-point brake lights and a centre light strip, 19-inch alloy wheels (up an inch from last year), brushed aluminum door sill guards, LED interior lights, a heated smooth-finish leather-wrapped multifunction steering wheel, rain-sensing wipers, active carbon filtered dual-zone automatic climate control, two USB charging ports in the front centre console and two in the rear centre console, heatable eight-way powered front seats, partial leather upholstery, a retractable cargo cover, a powered rear liftgate, Porsche Hill Control (PHC) and automatic hold function, tire pressure monitoring, all the usual active and passive safety features including front knee airbags and rear side-thorax airbags, Porsche’s Warn and Brake Assist pedestrian detection system, and more. 

2019 Porsche Cayenne
More cargo space makes the 2019 Cayenne easier to live with. (Photo: Porsche)

As always with Porsche, the 2019 Cayenne continues to offer the longest list of packages and options in the luxury SUV sector, with some available features including myriad 19- to 22-inch alloy wheels, various leather colours and qualities, proximity-sensing keyless access, active LED Matrix headlights, thermal/noise insulated glass, soft-close doors, ambient lighting, auto-dimming centre and side mirrors, a head-up display, 14- and 18-way powered front seats with available massage, ventilated front and heated rear outboard seats, a panoramic glass sunroof, Bose or Burmester surround audio systems, a 360-degree surround parking monitor, adaptive cruise control, Lane Change Assist, Lane Keep Assist, traffic sign recognition, four-zone automatic climate control with rear controls, heat-sensing Night Vision Assist that sees pedestrians and animals even when the driver can’t, a trailering package, roof rails in various colours, a multitude of exterior and interior trim upgrades, an off-road package, and the list goes on and on.

The 2019 Cayenne is currently available at Porsche retailers across Canada, but before you head down to your local Porsche dealership make sure to check out our massive photo gallery above and watch all the videos below:

 

The new Porsche Cayenne. TVC: “Neighbor” – Ad filmed in Vancouver (0:59):

 

The new Cayenne: a sportscar for five (2:11):

 

The new Porsche Cayenne in motion (1:19):

 

The new Porsche Cayenne Turbo in motion (1:17):

 

The new Cayenne E-Hybrid in motion (1:18):

 

Global endurance test for the new Cayenne (3:39):

 

Designing the new Porsche Cayenne (5:24):

 

The design of the new Porsche Cayenne Turbo (1:16):

 

The new Porsche Cayenne – Comfort (1:41):

 

The new Porsche Cayenne – Sportiness (2:14):

 

The new Porsche Cayenne – Everyday Practicality (2:23):

 

The new Porsche Cayenne – Driver Assistance (1:02):

 

The new Cayenne E-Hybrid: facts & figures (1:24):

 

The new Porsche Cayenne: facts & figures documentary (18:38):

 

How to Video Cayenne “PCM based Services – E-Charging” (1:23):

Ever feel like you’re in a fishbowl? Drive a new Toyota C-HR in Radiant Green Mica with a white roof and get ready for gaping eyeballs focused in your direction. Young and old, people point and smile,…

2018 Toyota C-HR XLE Premium Road Test

2018 Toyota C-HR XLE Premium
Unusual yes, but the sporty Toyota C-HR offers a lot of style in a subcompact SUV segment that normally favours pragmatism over flamboyance. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

Ever feel like you’re in a fishbowl? Drive a new Toyota C-HR in Radiant Green Mica with a white roof and get ready for gaping eyeballs focused in your direction. Young and old, people point and smile, frown, or just generally look bewildered. It’s a polarizing vehicle. Not everybody likes it, but the ones that do, love it. 

Toyota did the unexpected with this subcompact crossover SUV, but I suppose those in the know should’ve expected as much being that the C-HR was initially meant to wear Scion badging. The cancellation of the youth-targeted Scion brand resulted in the C-HR becoming a Toyota, and the unorthodox subcompact SUV’s sales will no doubt benefit from association with a household name brand. 

2018 Toyota C-HR XLE Premium
Are you more of a Blue Eclipse Metallic monotone kind of person, or does two-tone Radiant Green Mica with a white roof work better for you? (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

My 2018 C-HR tale actually involves two weeklong drives, one wearing the aforementioned light green and white two-tone colour combo and the other a more conservative yet still eye-arresting Blue Eclipse Metallic monotone paint job. Both were in the same trim level, which I can say with 100-percent accuracy being that Toyota only offers the C-HR as an XLE in Canada. 

This one-trim-fits-all approach is another sign of the new C-HR’s Scion history, a marketing strategy that arguably wasn’t successful for Toyota’s sub-brand and hasn’t worked effectively over the C-HR’s first year of availability either. After a fairly decent final seven months of 2017, thanks to 4,321 deliveries after its launch in May last year, Toyota only managed to find 5,188 C-HR buyers over the first nine months of 2018. That might sound reasonable until factoring for Hyundai that managed to find twice as many buyers for its fresh new Kona in just seven months. The newcomer went on sale in March this year and sales had already reached 10,852 units by the close of Q3, whereas Nissan sold nearly three times as many Qashqai crossovers during the same three quarters, and those 14,755 sales don’t even include the new smaller Kicks subcompact that replaces the outgoing Juke. 

2018 Toyota C-HR XLE Premium
No matter the colour, the new Toyota C-HR really stands out in its subcompact crossover SUV segment. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

Now that I’ve mentioned the oddball Juke, this new C-HR is almost as divisive from a styling perspective, which is likely a key reason it’s not selling as well as its more mainstream alternatives. There’s nothing wrong with controversy when trying to make news, but Toyota likely knew from onset its C-HR would become a niche player at best. After all, C-HR stands for “Coupe-High Rider”, the original name of the Scion concept that wowed Los Angeles Auto Show goers three years ago, its fastback 4×4 design mirroring similar four-door coupe-style SUVs within the premium sector, such as the BMW X4/X6, the Mercedes-Benz GLC- and GLE-Class Coupe, the new Audi Q8, and lest we forget the now discontinued Acura ZDX. We’ve seen similar attempts within the mainstream volume sector including Honda’s now defunct Crosstour and the recently introduced Mitsubishi Eclipse Cross, but, Juke aside, the little C-HR is trying to find a niche within a segment that’s usually a lot more practical. 

2018 Toyota C-HR XLE Premium
The C-HR certainly delivers performance-oriented styling to the small SUV category. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

On the positive, the C-HR is a clear sign that Toyota is no longer afraid of being bold and daring. The brand was such a dreadful bore for so long that powers that be in Aichi, Japan, specifically group President Akio Toyoda, truly needed to shake things up by pushing the company’s designers to create new models with more emotional appeal. “No more boring cars,” he challenged, and that’s exactly why we’re looking at this C-HR today. 

Just the same, the grille and surrounding fascia aren’t that much of a collective departure from the outgoing RAV4, other than headlights that wrap almost completely around the front of the vehicle before stretching halfway through the front wheel arches, making up a large portion of the hood just above. Again these aren’t completely different from those on the bug-eyed Juke, while the C-HR’s geometrically sculpted side panels are too complex to even put into words, the entire vehicular concoction complemented by massive chunks of matte black body cladding up front, around the wheel cutouts and down each side before culminating across an aggressive diffuser-infused back bumper. 

2018 Toyota C-HR XLE Premium
The C-HR’s wraparound headlamps provide some really nice inner detailing. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

There’s really nothing subtle about the C-HR, it’s rear rooftop spoiler the most racing-inspired design element, visually formed from the top of the rear door handles before flowing rearward, with three big vents cut through the middle for directing wind down the sloping rear glass that gets more theoretical downforce from a secondary lip spoiler on the trailing edge of the hatchback. That spoiler is partly made up of taillight clusters, these almost conventional in their design when compared to the rest of the SUV, that’s about as muscularly overdeveloped as anything the subcompact class has ever seen. It could easily be likened to bodybuilding steroid use gone horribly wrong, but truth be told its many convoluted extremes seem to come together in a totally acceptable cohesive whole. In fact, I kind of like it. Although, truth be told, I liked the Juke, Cube and ZDX too, so I may not be the best judge of successful design. 

2018 Toyota C-HR XLE Premium
There’s nothing subtle about the new C-HR. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

I am a good judge of interior quality, mind you, and to that end the new C-HR picks up where Scion left off. Another orphan of that disbanded brand was the iM, now replaced by the Corolla Hatchback, but while it was with us that European-designed model totally rewrote interior fit, finish and materials quality in the compact class. I’m not going to say the C-HR is better than the recently updated 2019 Honda HR-V or 2019 Mazda CX-3, both of which were already good before they were improved, or some other impressive offerings within this burgeoning class, but you’re going to like the padded and stitched leatherette dash-top, which includes a large bolster stretching from the right side of the instrument panel to the passenger’s door, while a similar albeit smaller padded piece gets fitted to the left side of the instrument cluster. 

2018 Toyota C-HR XLE Premium
These sharp looking 18-inch alloys come as part of the Premium package upgrade. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

The door uppers get the same high-quality soft touch synthetic detailing, while the armrests are even softer and more comfortable. Toyota uses plenty of piano black lacquered plastic inside too, more than I would personally like in fact, although, other than where it’s used to decorate the steering wheel spokes it’s found on surfaces that won’t likely get scratched easily, such as the instrument panel inlays and centre stack surrounds, whereas the door inserts and lower panels are surfaced in a unique diamond-textured hard plastic that’s like nothing else I’ve ever seen in the industry. It looks good and appears durable, while most importantly it doesn’t feel cheap like the segment’s usual glossy hard plastic, plus it kind of complements the even more unusual diamond-shaped dimples carved out of the roofliner above. Again, I’ve never seen anything quite like these, and they’re put here only for the sake of style, having no obvious purpose. 

2018 Toyota C-HR XLE Premium
We love the way Toyota integrated the rear door handles into the floating rear roof pillars. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

Only the shift knob, vent bezels, door release handles and other small trim bits get any sort of metallic brightwork, and it’s a satin-silver finish that’s quite attractive and tastefully applied, whereas the centre console’s matte black treatment might be the smoothest and softest hard plastic I’ve ever felt in my life. Large cupholders are included, the rearward one having a removable floor for stowing taller, narrow bottles, while the bottle holders in the door panels can accept very large containers. 

2018 Toyota C-HR XLE Premium
This is one massive rear wing, and it’s fully functional too. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

Also on the positive, the C-HR includes some impressive electronic interfaces. A tall, narrow 4.2-inch colour TFT multi-information display (MID) sits within the primary gauge cluster, and it’s especially nice at night when you can see the dark blue detailing more clearly. The graphics quality is excellent, and the resolution is very good. You can scroll through MID info by clicking the arrows on the right steering wheel spoke, resulting in a comprehensive list of functions from the usual estimated range, average fuel economy, and vehicle settings, to lane departure info, messages, and more. The speedometer and tachometer gauge needles are attractive at night too, their white translucence vibrant against a deep black background, the outer rings effervescent in a dark glowing blue and the indices easily legible in white. 

2018 Toyota C-HR XLE Premium
These taillights might look radical on another Toyota model, but they seem almost subdued on the C-HR. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

The C-HR’s standard 7.0-inch infotainment touchscreen sits up high on the centre stack in the usual fixed tablet-style position, but the interface itself is more Scion than Toyota. I say this because it doesn’t include an integrated backup camera, this feature found on the left portion of the rearview mirror instead. It’s a tiny little parking monitor that’s difficult to use and therefore a big negative for me, while the aforementioned infotainment system isn’t as comprehensively functional as some others in the class, missing Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, navigation, and more. Of note, its “Vehicle Settings” menu is the biggest giveaway that the C-HR was meant for Scion and not Toyota, as along with a tick within the C-HR box, it also shows 86 and iM model names. 

2018 Toyota C-HR XLE Premium
The C-HR provides a lot more interior room than its small, sporty profile might suggest. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

There’s an analogue “Media” button for the audio panel that provides radio presets to the left and additional info on the right, the latter featuring a source button that lets you choose between AM, FM, AHA, USB selections, if you’ve got one plugged in, Bluetooth streaming audio, again if your smartphone is connected, and an auxiliary port—ditto. It all worked well enough, and the audio system sounds pretty good too, but take note the 2019 C-HR replaces this so-so system with an infinitely better 8.0-inch display that features a real reverse camera, Toyota’s superb Entune 3.0 smartphone integration with GPS Scout phone app-sourced navigation, Apple CarPlay if you’re phone is so inclined, and more. Believe me, if in-car entertainment is important to you, the near identically equipped 2019 C-HR XLE is well worth paying more for (albeit the Entune 3.0 infotainment system comes standard in a new base model that takes $1,000-plus off the 2018 base price). 

2018 Toyota C-HR XLE Premium
A nicely laid out instrument panel made from high-quality materials comes standard. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

Back to this 2018 C-HR XLE, just under the infotainment display is a nicely organized dual-zone automatic HVAC interface featuring tightly fitted, well-damped buttons and rocker switches, plus three-way front seat heater controls. All of the switchgear feels high in quality, is simple to sort out and, like the rest of the centre stack controls, is within easy reach. 

2018 Toyota C-HR XLE Premium
The mostly analogue instrument cluster gets a fully functional 4.2-inch TFT multi-info display at centre. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

Easy might just be the right word to describe living with the C-HR overall, because, rear camera aside, there’s really nothing particularly difficult about it. It’s a vehicle that fits ideally into life, not only because of its tall hatchback layout that provides a reasonable amount of room for driver, passengers and gear, but it’s also very comfortable. The front seats are excellent, which is rarely an issue for Toyota, while its driving position is better for my body type than some other Toyota models. I have longer legs than torso, and therefore am often in need of a fair bit of steering wheel reach, so I was pleasantly surprised to find the C-HR’s tilt and telescopic steering column provided good driver positioning for controllable comfort without forcing a near vertical seatback. 

2018 Toyota C-HR XLE Premium
The 7.0-inch touchscreen looks state-of-the-art, but it’s missing a backup camera, Apple CarPlay, navigation, and many other popular features. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

Even though I’m only five-foot-eight, the five or so inches remaining above my head when the driver’s seat was ideally set for optimal visibility is a good tell that even tall folks should have no trouble fitting inside. There’s also plenty of room from side to side up front, while the back seat left about four inches ahead of my knees when the one in front was set up for my height, plus another four or so next to my shoulders and about three beside my hips, whereas all-important rear headroom allowed for about three above my head. 

2018 Toyota C-HR XLE Premium
The C-HR’s standard CVT is highly efficient yet not very sporty. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

There’s no folding centre armrest, which might be a drawback for some, but the C-HR makes up for this with extremely comfortable rear cushions, especially with respect to lower back support. One thing I didn’t like about sitting in the rear was side window visibility due to the unusually shaped doors, which cause you to look directly into a black panel when turning your head. For this reason I don’t think kids will like it in back, even taller teens, and that should be a concern for any parent. I have to say, however, the jumbo cupholders set into the door panels will probably get a lot of use. 

2018 Toyota C-HR XLE Premium
The attractively upholstered sport seats are ultra-comfortable, but leather won’t be available until 2019. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

As you might expect by looking at the C-HR’s sloping rear window, cargo space is one of this SUV’s shortcomings. It’s so small in fact, that Toyota Canada doesn’t even mention a number in the model’s online specifications, only stating that 1,031 litres (36.4 cubic feet) are available when laying both 60/40-split rear seatbacks down. Fortunately the brand’s U.S. division is more forthcoming, claiming 19 cubic feet behind those rear seats, which translates into 538 litres. Compared to the segment-best-selling Nissan Qashqai’s 648 litres (22.9 cubic feet) in the very back and 1,730 litres (61.1 cubic feet) with all seats folded its easy to see the need for improvement, while even the tiny Nissan Kicks offers up 716 litres (25.3 cubic feet) behind the rear seatbacks and more than 1,500 litres (53.1 cubic feet) when its rear seats are lowered. 

2018 Toyota C-HR XLE Premium
The strangely shaped rear door panel impedes outward visibility. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

The C-HR’s forte is its high quality, comfortable ride, the car looking as sporty as this segment gets yet not particularly zippy off the line or sensational through the corners, despite MacPherson struts up front and a double-wishbone/trailing arm suspension setup in back. Don’t get me wrong as it does what it needs to do, but the C-HR is nowhere near as confidence inspiring when pushed hard as some others in the class, while the 144-horsepower and 139 lb-ft of torque produced by its 2.0-litre four-cylinder engine, not to mention the fuel-friendly continuously variable transmission (CVT) and front-wheel drivetrain its connected to, really don’t combine for enough forward thrust to get you into much trouble anyway. To be fair most of rivals aren’t exactly burning up the asphalt either, but there are some, like the Kona mentioned earlier, that deliver considerably more premium-level performance. As noted, the C-HR shines when comfort is priority one, its ride and those aforementioned seats amongst the best in class. 

2018 Toyota C-HR XLE Premium
Rear seat comfort is good, and spaciousness impressive, but there’s no centre armrest. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

Fuel economy is a C-HR trump card too, with a Transport Canada estimated rating of 8.7 L/100km in the city, 7.5 on the highway and 8.2 combined. I certainly appreciated this during the ultra-high pump prices experienced over the summer, and would still find this a positive point despite those fuel costs dropping somewhat since the price per barrel of crude plummeted to previously unforeseen depths. 

2018 Toyota C-HR XLE Premium
The rear hatch opens nice and wide for easy access. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

Before signing off with thumbs up or down, the 2018 C-HR’s biggest problem isn’t its so-so performance or smallish cargo hold, but rather the single trim noted earlier. Its sole XLE trim level starts at a rather lofty $24,690 plus freight and fees (find 2018 Toyota C-HR prices, including options, rebate info and dealer invoice pricing at CarCostCanada), and while standard with the colour multi-information display, 7.0-inch touchscreen, Bluetooth, dual-zone automatic climate control, and heatable front seats mentioned earlier, plus voice recognition, a leather-wrapped steering wheel and shifter knob, an electromechanical parking brake, a cargo cover, heated side mirrors with integrated turn signals, LED daytime running lights, 17-inch alloy wheels, and more, there’s no entry-level base model to pull in less affluent buyers. This is probably more of a problem for dealer level marketing, as they won’t be able to advertise the lower monthly payment of a base model, but instead are forced to promote what they’ll actually be selling—how novel. Of course, Toyota didn’t take long to react, with the 2019 model offering the new $23,675 base model mentioned earlier, plus a luxury-oriented leather-lined $28,775 Limited model at the high end, while this XLE trim will start at $25,725 for 2019 (find all 2019 Toyota C-HR prices, including trims, options, rebate info and dealer invoice pricing at CarCostCanada). 

2018 Toyota C-HR XLE Premium
Space behind the rear seats is limited, and doesn’t quite match up to the class average when the seatbacks are folded forward either. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

All 2019 C-HR trims will come standard with the same Safety Sense P suite of advanced driver assistance features included with this 2018 version, which boasts forward collision warning and autonomous emergency braking with pedestrian detection, lane departure alert with steering assist, plus automatic high beams and adaptive cruise control. 

2018 Toyota C-HR XLE Premium
With 144-hp and 139 lb-ft of torque on tap, plus a CVT and FWD, C-HR performance is only adequate, but fuel economy is great. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

I won’t go into everything that comes standard and optional with the new 2019 C-HR, but those still trying to get a deal on a 2018 model should take note that an XLE Premium package ups the price to $26,290 (the 2019 C-HR XLE Premium gets bumped to $27,325) and includes 18-inch alloys, power-folding side mirrors with puddle lamps that project the C-HR logo onto the pavement below, proximity-sensing keyless access with pushbutton ignition, and blindspot monitoring with rear cross traffic alert. I’d want mine so equipped for the passive entry alone, but I’m guessing this time of year you won’t exactly have a smorgasbord of 2018 models to choose from. 

All in all, the new C-HR is a funky little subcompact SUV offering from a brand that normally can be relied upon for high quality, reliability and top resale values, although I’m not going on record with any big expectations for the latter. This is a niche model within a very hot category of much more popular models, and C-HR sales have been lukewarm at best. Therefore, hoping for a big residual payoff after a few years of use is misplaced trust. In other words, the C-HR isn’t the most pragmatic choice in this class, with plenty of others that might better serve your active lifestyle as well as your wallet. I give Toyota credit for going out on a limb with this unorthodox subcompact SUV, but I don’t necessarily recommend you go out on the same limb with your hard-earned money. It’s worthy of your interest for sure, but buy it because you love it, not because it wears the coveted Toyota badge.

The CR-V is the best SUV in its compact class. Yes, I know I’m going out on a limb making this claim, but as of September 30, 2018 a total of 42,748 Canadians agreed with me, and this number only represented…

2018 Honda CR-V Touring Road Test

2018 Honda CR-V Touring
Having been fully redesigned just last year, Honda’s CR-V remains unchanged for 2018, still looking fabulous in top-line Touring trim. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

The CR-V is the best SUV in its compact class. Yes, I know I’m going out on a limb making this claim, but as of September 30, 2018 a total of 42,748 Canadians agreed with me, and this number only represented those who purchased it this year. 

That figure also represents the most compact SUVs sold over the first nine months of 2018, meaning that Honda is currently first in this extremely important category. Toyota, which was first last year is now runner up with 41,023 units down the road, whereas Ford’s Escape is a distant third with 34,928 deliveries, Nissan’s Rogue has only managed 32,373 sales, and the remaining 10 rivals merely in the twenty-somethings, teens and four figures. 

2018 Honda CR-V Touring
The fifth-generation CR-V has more defined character lines, helping it stand out from its peers in a good way. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

The CR-V’s success makes a lot of sense, especially the latest fifth-generation model. Its styling is certainly more upscale than previous versions, particularly when dolled up in top-line Touring trim that gets full high/low beam LED headlamps, a chrome garnish on each LED fog lamp bezel, more chrome trim decorating the side sill extensions, bright metal dual tailpipes, satin-silver roof rails, and sporty machine-finished 18-inch alloys with black painted pockets. My tester was finished in Gunmetal Metallic for a sophisticated look at no extra cost, but you can dress yours up in five alternative shades, Platinum White Pearl costing $300 extra, plus two rich looking colours. 

2018 Honda CR-V Touring
Touring trim adds full LED headlamps, chrome exterior detailing, sporty 18-inch alloy wheels, and more. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

Each time I climbed inside of my 2018 tester and took it for a drive I was thoroughly impressed, just as I was with my previous 2017 CR-V Touring test model. It’s not the fastest or the best handling SUV in its class, but its cabin is finished to a higher level of refinement than the majority of its peers and it’s oh so comfortable. What’s more, it’s fitted with an almost fully digital dash, a large high-resolution infotainment system, and even gets some pretty authentic looking woodgrain trim. It’s really more about how much attention to detail has been painstakingly added, mind you, and the overall design of the interior. 

2018 Honda CR-V Touring
A large panoramic sunroof and silver roof rails come standard with the CR-V Touring. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

Finishing the top of the dash in soft-touch synthetic is nothing new in this category, but Honda goes one step further by trimming the entire instrument panel in nicely stitched leatherette with a stylish piano black inlay down the middle. To be clear, and I don’t know why they didn’t just finish it all the way across, the bolster ahead of the front passenger is soft synthetic, as is the section that stretches above the infotainment system, but the tiny piece surrounding the ignition button and another one on the left lower side of the gauge cluster is made to look identical as the others yet finished in hard plastic. On the positive, the door panels get soft touch uppers, nice padded and stitched leatherette inserts, comfortable padded armrests, and the usual hard plastic lower door panels, while the centre armrest is finished identically to those on the doors, yet quite wide and very comfortable. 

2018 Honda CR-V Touring
The CR-V’s LED taillights are totally unique and great looking. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

Speaking of comfort, the CR-V Touring’s driver’s seat is extremely good. It’s wide enough for most body types, with decent side bolstering, and even includes four-way powered lumbar support. In case you weren’t aware, you won’t even be able to get four-way adjustable lumbar with the Lexus NX, a similarly sized vehicle priced much higher than the CR-V, and this Honda’s ergonomics are much better than the pricey premium model too, thanks to more reach from the tilt and telescopic steering wheel. The comfortable seating position and fully adjustable lumbar support resulted in a vehicle I could drive all day long without pain, which is a rarer find than it should be this day and age. 

2018 Honda CR-V Touring
Climb into a cabin that’s much more luxurious than most of its competitors. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

As part of its comfort quotient the new CR-V remains roomy and accommodating from front to back, with the rear seating area so spacious that there seems to be little need for a larger mid-size five-occupant Honda crossover SUV. It’s so roomy, in fact, that Honda offers a seven-passenger version in other markets, although all of this being said Honda has announced that a new crossover SUV, once again bearing the Passport name (remember the Isuzu Rodeo that was rebadged as a Honda Passport from 1993 to 2002? Yeah didn’t think you would), will soon be unveiled at the Los Angeles auto show. 

2018 Honda CR-V Touring
The CR-V’s cockpit is ideally laid out for near perfect ergonomics. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

As for cargo space, the CR-V is one of the more sizeable in the compact SUV class boasting 1,110 (39.2 cubic feet) behind the 60/40-split rear seatbacks and 2,146 litres (75.8 cubic feet) when they’re laid flat. The process to lower them is as good as this segment gets too, thanks to handy levers on each side of the cargo wall that drop them down automatically. What’s more, unlike the previous fourth-generation CR-V the load floor is almost perfectly flat, and therefore much more utile. The rear portion of that floor is also removable and stuffed with a full-size spare tire and jack, although even better is the ability to lower that load floor a few inches for fitting in taller cargo. 

2018 Honda CR-V Touring
This mostly digital gauge cluster comes standard in all trims. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

Honda provides a large panoramic glass sunroof to shed light on the CR-V Touring’s beautiful interior, not to mention ambient lighting to draw attention to key areas, while additional Touring trim exclusives that I haven’t mentioned yet include rain-sensing wipers, a really accurate and easy-to-use navigation system with nicely detailed mapping and turn-by-turn directions, bilingual voice recognition, an excellent sounding 331-watt audio upgrade with nine speakers including a subwoofer and HD radio, helpful hands-free access to the programmable height-enhanced powered tailgate, and Blind Spot Information (BSI) with Rear Cross Traffic Monitoring, which unfortunately replaces Honda’s superb and exclusive LaneWatch passenger-side blindspot camera that comes standard on EX and EX-L trims. 

2018 Honda CR-V Touring
All CR-Vs get this tablet-style 7.0-inch infotainment touchscreen as standard equipment. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

I should mention that an entire suite of Honda Sensing advanced driver assist systems comes standard with all-wheel drive models in all four CR-V trims, and includes automatic high beams, adaptive cruise control with low-speed follow, forward collision warning with autonomous collision mitigation braking, lane departure warning with lane keeping assist and road departure mitigation. Along with the usual active and passive safety features, including Honda’s impact-absorbing Next-Generation Advanced Compatibility Engineering (ACE) body structure, so-equipped CR-V’s achieve an almost best possible IIHS Top Safety Pick rating. 

2018 Honda CR-V Touring
Navigation comes standard when upgrading to the Touring model. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

While Touring trim starts at $38,690 plus freight and fees, you can get into a well-equipped base 2018 CR-V LX model from $27,290, and take note there are two additional trims in between including $33,590 EX and $35,890 EX-L. Honda’s Real Time AWD with Intelligent Control System, the latter referring to an electric motor within the transmission that engages the rear wheels when front tire slip occurs, adds $2,800 in LX trim yet comes standard with the EX, EX-L and Touring. For complete pricing of trims and options, plus otherwise difficult to get dealer invoice pricing that can save you thousands, as well as useful rebate information, be sure you visit CarCostCanada. 

2018 Honda CR-V Touring
The CR-V’s standard CVT provides smooth, linear operation that’s ideal for a family-oriented SUV. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

As you might have guessed, Touring trim incorporates most items from the mid-range EX, including the aforementioned fog lamps, plus turn signals infused into the side mirror housings, a HomeLink garage door opener, a 12-way powered driver’s seat, rear USB charge points, a retractable cargo cover, and more, while an auto-dimming rearview mirror, heatable steering wheel, leather shift knob, perforated leather upholstery, driver’s seat memory, four-way powered front passenger seat, heatable rear outboard seats, and some additional audio gear including satellite radio, plus the powered liftgate (sans gesture control) get pulled up from EX-L trim. 

2018 Honda CR-V Touring
Comfortable leather-line seats make the CR-V a joy to live with even after hours of driving. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

I was previously surprised to find out the CR-V’s proximity-sensing keyless access and pushbutton ignition were standard across the line and the same remains true for 2018, whereas additional base LX features pulled up to Touring trim include LED taillights, an electromechanical parking brake, a configurable colour TFT primary gauge cluster, dual-zone auto climate control, heatable front seats, a high resolution 7.0-inch colour infotainment touchscreen with gesture controls like tap, pinch and swipe, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto smartphone connectivity, a multi-angle backup camera with dynamic guidelines, Bluetooth phone connectivity with streaming audio, Wi-Fi tethering, an always appreciated rotating volume knob, HondaLink Assist automatic emergency response system, plus more. 

2018 Honda CR-V Touring
The powered panoramic sunroof really lets the light in. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

I mentioned earlier that the CR-V isn’t the fastest or best handling SUV in its class, but it still should be sporty enough for most buying into this family-oriented category. Honda provides one smooth, responsive 1.5-litre turbocharged four-cylinder engine capable of 190 horsepower and 179 lb-ft of torque, which is better than average in this class, while its continuously variable automatic transmission is all about refined, linear acceleration. The CVT kicks down to provide more power and a sportier feel when needed, and doesn’t cause as much of a droning engine/exhaust note as some other CVT-equipped powertrains. What’s more, the CR-V’s claimed 8.4 L/100km city, 7.0 highway and 7.8 combined FWD fuel economy rating, and 8.7 city, 7.2 highway, 8.0 combined AWD consumption estimates make it extremely efficient. 

2018 Honda CR-V Touring
Rear seat roominess and comfort is exemplary. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

As for the ride, it’s once again smooth and comfortable, although plenty sporty through the corners. Then again I didn’t drive it quickly very often, because the CR-V simply doesn’t tease or tempt its driver to do so. I think that’s a good thing, because it could save you money when it comes to potential speeding tickets, and provides a more relaxing atmosphere that suits this type of luxury-lined family hauler. True, at 55 I’m getting older and don’t care as much about performance during my daily drives, so for me this CR-V is just about perfect. 

2018 Honda CR-V Touring
The CR-V provides a lot of cargo space, improved upon via 60/40-split flat-folding rear seatbacks. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

Another thing we older folks appreciate more than most in younger generations is reliability, and Honda regularly outperforms most competitors in third-party studies. For instance, the most recent J.D. Power and Associates 2018 Vehicle Dependability Study placed Honda within the top 10 of all automotive brands, and therefore above the industry average, while Consumer Reports’ latest 2018 automotive brand report card has Honda in ninth place overall and third amongst mainstream volume nameplates, beating Toyota, Nissan, Hyundai, Mazda, Volkswagen and the list goes on. Additionally, CR pointed to the new CR-V as one reason why Honda’s score improved this year. 

2018 Honda CR-V Touring
Just pull on this lever and the right-side seatback automatically tumbles forward. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

So all added up it’s no wonder Honda does so well with its CR-V. As noted earlier, it’s easily my pick for best in class, thanks to doing most everything better than its peers, from styling to interior design, finishing, quality, comfort, load flexibility and ease of use. Its electronic interfaces are excellent, while its drivetrain and suspension combo is amongst the best in the business, all resulting in one superb compact crossover SUV made all the better in top-line Touring trim. I highly recommend it.