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.

It only seems like we reviewed the 2018 WRX yesterday and all of a sudden the 2019 version is back in our garage, while once again our tester is equipped with its standard six-speed manual gearbox and…

2019 Subaru WRX Sport-tech RS

2019 Subaru WRX STI Sport-tech
Subaru’s updated 2019 WRX doesn’t change anything in the way of styling from last year, unless by styling we’re talking about the graphics within its new infotainment touchscreen. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

It only seems like we reviewed the 2018 WRX yesterday and all of a sudden the 2019 version is back in our garage, while once again our tester is equipped with its standard six-speed manual gearbox and gussied up in near top-line Sport-tech RS trim. Subaru even doused its sheetmetal in the same World Rally Blue Pearl paint, a personal favourite for its vibrant hue as well as its historic motorsport pedigree.

Why a near identical WRX within a year? Because Subaru has changed up what is becoming one of the most important features in any new vehicle, its infotainment system. Most notable are completely new graphics that we think are much more attractive. They’re highlighted by colourful smartphone/tablet-style candy drop digital buttons on a night sky-like blue 3D background, while Apple CarPlay and Android Auto phone integration are now part of both base and top-tier systems. Our tester features the latter, the touchscreen still measuring 7.0 inches diagonally for a half-inch gain over the base display, and once again getting touch-sensitive quick access buttons down each side, which include Home, Map and Apps to the left and Info just above two sets of track seeking arrows on the right. Of course, we’ll go into more detail as part of the forthcoming road test review, but suffice to say it also includes near-field communication (NFC) for faster phone connectivity, a Micro SD card slot, HD radio, new glossy black topped audio knobs, navigation, a rearview camera with dynamic guidelines, and more.

2019 Subaru WRX STI Sport-tech
Last year’s styling updates made a great looking sport compact even more enticing. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

The rest of this WRX Sport-tech RS and its non-STI compatriots remain unchanged, which means it still features last year’s styling updates, chassis tweaks, and various refinements, not to mention its new safety features and single modified drivetrain component. What are we talking about?

Last year Subaru reworked the front grille and bumper design, as well as the interior door trim, while the driver received a revised electroluminescent primary gauge cluster with a high-resolution colour TFT centre display. The 5.9-inch colour multi-information dash-top display got a graphics redo too, and it’s stunning. Additionally, rear passengers received a fold-down centre armrest with integrated cupholders, while all occupants benefited from reduced interior noise, a retuned suspension, and a stronger battery.

2019 Subaru WRX STI Sport-tech
This is one mean looking air induction system. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

Styling specifics included a totally refreshed grille featuring new blackened borders and a black mesh insert, as well as a racing-spec-style multi-component lower front fascia with a matte black centre vent, not to mention larger reshaped matte black fog lamp bezels, while the entire package now rolls on an assortment of new dark alloy wheels depending on trim.

Base and Sport models were fitted with gunmetal grey-painted 15-spoke 17-inch alloys on 235/45 Dunlop SP Sport Maxx RT rubber, while as-tested Sport-tech trim received a larger set of twinned five-spoke 18-inch cast aluminum wheels on the same Dunlops measuring 245/40 front and rear, all of which carries over to 2019.

2019 Subaru WRX STI Sport-tech
Sport-tech trim gets these 18-inch dark gunmetal rims on 45/40 R18 97W Dunlop SP Sport Maxx RT rubber. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

Likewise the massive hood scoop, coke-bottle fenders with integrated engine vents bearing chromed “WRX” appliques, subtle rear deck lip spoiler, and race-inspired matte black rear diffuser with quad chromed tailpipes were pulled forward into 2018 intact, and remain the same this year.

2019 Subaru WRX STI Sport-tech
The low-profile spoiler is standard with Sport and Sport-tech trims. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

Also carryover, the non-STI WRX variants once again get Subaru’s 2.0-litre direct-injection twin-scroll turbocharged boxer four, making a considerable 268-horsepower and 258 lb-ft of torque. Of course the brand’s legendary Symmetrical-AWD comes standard, while connecting engine to driveline is a standard six-speed manual or optional Sport Lineartronic continuously variable transmission with steering wheel paddles, plus quick-shifting six- and eight-speed manual modes and Subaru Intelligent Drive (SI-DRIVE). Some will find it hard to accept the words WRX and CVT being used in the same sentence let alone within the same car, but after testing it in 2017 we were impressed. More important to WRX purists, the manual gearbox received a new shift lever along with improved shifter and clutch feel last year, so we’ll once again report on this in the upcoming review.

2019 Subaru WRX Sport-tech RS
Previous WRX STI interiors were all business, but Sport-tech trim adds a level of luxury never available before the 2018 refresh. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

The WRX is quite efficient despite its potent performance with a claimed rating of 12.6 L/100km in the city, 9.6 on the highway and 11.2 combined when mated to its standard manual gearbox, or 11.3 city, 8.5 highway and 10.0 combined with the CVT, these numbers unchanged from last year.

Straight-line performance is identical to the 2018 model too, with the manual still capable of 5.4 seconds from standstill to 100km/h, and the automatic good for 5.9 seconds, whereas the CVT actually beats the manual’s 232-km/h top speed by 8 km/h for a nice round total of 240.

2019 Subaru WRX STI Sport-tech
Subaru updated the WRX’ 5.9-inch dash-top multi-info display last year. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

Something WRX fans of all stripes will appreciate is no changes in pricing from 2018 to 2019, meaning the base WRX continues forward with an MSRP of just $29,995, while Sport trim is priced at $33,195 and the Sport-tech at $36,495, the latter available with the as-tested manual-only RS package that was new last year and once again pulled into 2019 for an extra $2,300. Alternatively, last year’s new $1,300 EyeSight upgrade remains solely available with the CVT, while that autobox adds $1,300 no matter which trim you choose it in. More powerful STI models excluded, the WRX Sport-tech with EyeSight is the most expensive WRX combination at $39,095 plus freight and fees, whereas my Sport-tech RS tester started at $38,795.

2019 Subaru WRX Sport-tech RS
Subaru has invested a lot into the WRX’ new infotainment touchscreen. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

Something WRX fans of all stripes will appreciate is no changes in pricing from 2018 to 2019, meaning the base WRX continues forward with an MSRP of just $29,995, while Sport trim is priced at $33,195 and the Sport-tech at $36,495, the latter available with the as-tested manual-only RS package that was new last year and once again pulled into 2019 for an extra $2,300. Alternatively, last year’s new $1,300 EyeSight upgrade remains solely available with the CVT, while that autobox adds $1,300 no matter which trim you choose it in. More powerful STI models excluded, the WRX Sport-tech with EyeSight was the most expensive WRX combination last year at $39,095 plus freight and fees, whereas my Sport-tech RS tester started at $38,795. 

2019 Subaru WRX Sport-tech RS
Automatic climate control is alway appreciated. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

Second-most expensive? Yes, for 2019 Subaru has combined some of the STI’s styling features with regular WRX running gear in a new $40,995 雷雨 Raiu Edition that only comes in an exclusive Cool Grey Khaki colour. Its just noted STI-style exterior detailing includes a sharper front lip spoiler, extended side skirts and a large wing spoiler, plus 19-inch alloys framing the STI’s yellow-painted Brembo six-pot front and two-pot rear brake calipers over ventilated and cross-drilled rotors. Additional 雷雨 Raiu Edition features include the Subaru Rear/Side Vehicle Detection System (SRVD) featuring blindspot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert and lane change assist, a powered moonroof, a 10-way powered driver’s seat including powered lumbar support, and red seatbelts throughout.

2019 Subaru WRX Sport-tech RS
Subaru refined the WRX’ six-speed manual last year. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

Incidentally, we sourced all trim, package and option pricing at CarCostCanada, where you’ll also find information about available rebates and otherwise hard to find dealer invoice pricing that could save you thousands.

Last year I posed the WRX Sport-tech with EyeSight as the safest compact in its class, and I still feel the same thanks to its superb handling that allows for near unparalleled accident avoidance no matter the road or trail surface condition, this of course aided by its aforementioned all-wheel drivetrain with active torque vectoring, while it also gets multi-mode vehicle dynamics control, plus a full slate of standard active and passive safety features. For Subie fans that are more safety- and convenience-oriented than purely out for performance, the just noted EyeSight package adds automatic high beams, adaptive cruise control, lead vehicle start alert, pre-collision braking, pre-collision brake assist, pre-collision throttle management, reverse automatic braking, lane departure warning, lane sway warning, and lane keeping assist. So equipped the WRX earns a best-possible IIHS Top Safety Pick Plus rating.

2019 S2019 Subaru WRX Sport-tech RS ubaru WRX STI Sport-tech
These luxuriously upholstered Recaro sport seats feature leather and microsuede. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

As for the WRX Sport-tech RS on this page, uprated Jurid brake pads clamp down on a standard set of 316 mm front and 286 mm rear rotors via red brake calipers, while the interior gets luxurious black and red partial-leather/ultrasuede upholstery, the driver’s perch downgraded from 10-way power to just eight adjustments due to much more inherently supportive Recaro sport seats.

Additionally, my tester’s Sport-tech trim added proximity-sensing keyless access with pushbutton ignition, the larger 7.0-inch touchscreen filled with updated system graphics noted earlier, Subaru’s StarLink app, additional apps such as Yelp, Best Parking, Glympse, plus SiriusXM Traffic and Travel Link with weather, sports and stock market info, as well as a 320-watt nine-speaker Harman/Kardon audio system with two USB ports.

2019 Subaru WRX Sport-tech RS
Seating for three in the back seats has always made the WRX a particularly practical sports car. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

Features pulled up from Sport trim include wiper-integrated automatic LED headlights with new steering-responsive cornering, LED fog lamps, LED turn signals integrated into the side mirror caps, welcome lighting, a rear deck lid spoiler, a 10-way powered driver’s seat, a powered glass sunroof, and the aforementioned SRVD blindspot safety upgrade.

Lastly, features pulled up to Sport-tech trim from the base model include a quad-tipped high-performance exhaust system, integrated roof rack brackets, a windshield wiper de-icer, a leather-wrapped and red-stitched multifunction flat-bottom sport steering wheel, single-zone automatic climate control, heatable front seats, StarLink smartphone integration (including Aha radio), a backup camera, AM/FM/CD/MP3/WMA radio, satellite radio, Bluetooth phone connectivity with audio streaming, aux and USB ports, voice activation, and more.

We’ll be deep diving into the upgraded 7.0-inch infotainment system in our upcoming review, as this is the big change for 2019, while of course you’ll get all of the seat-of-the-pants action too. Until then, enjoy our full photo set above…

With the Genesis Coupe now long gone, and Genesis itself becoming a standalone luxury brand, this completely redesigned 2019 Veloster becomes the only dedicated sports model in Hyundai’s lineup.  That’s…

2019 Hyundai Veloster Turbo Tech

2019 Hyundai Veloster Turbo Tech
Hyundai fully redesigned its Veloster for 2019, and we’ve got a top-line Turbo Tech in our garage. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann, Canadian Auto Press)

With the Genesis Coupe now long gone, and Genesis itself becoming a standalone luxury brand, this completely redesigned 2019 Veloster becomes the only dedicated sports model in Hyundai’s lineup. 

That’s a pretty heavy weight for this little front-drive compact to carry, but it continues to walk with a swagger of confidence thanks to truly unique styling that preserves the original model’s unorthodox hatchback shape and its most identifiable feature, the long driver’s door that makes it look like a regular sports coupe from one side, and the extra rear passenger’s side door that allows easier access to the back seats. 

2019 Hyundai Veloster Turbo Tech
With one door on the driver’s side and two for passengers, the Veloster continues to strike a unique profile. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann, Canadian Auto Press)

Yet there’s no way you’ll mistake the Veloster for a compact sedan or even a regular hatchback when one whizzes by, its third door sneakily hiding its handle in the rearmost section of the side glass surround as if doubling as a tiny quarter window, while the car’s general shape is much longer, lower and leaner, and its rear liftback design much more vertical and dramatically styled than the average compact commuter car. 

2019 Hyundai Veloster Turbo Tech
The Turbo gets some special grille and lower fascia detailing to set it apart from its normally aspirated sibling. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann, Canadian Auto Press)

Of course, other than providing plenty of room up front and a fairly accommodating rear passenger compartment the Veloster is anything but the compact class average, yet its much more practical design makes it one of the more pragmatic choices amongst compact sports coupes, albeit this list has been dwindling in recent years and now disparate at best with only the Honda Civic Coupe available in three regular trims plus the sportier Si, plus the rear-wheel drive Subaru BRZ and Toyota 86 twins, and finally the soon to be discontinued VW Beetle. Certainly there are other sporty four- and five-door compacts from the legendary VW GTI/Golf R and Subaru WRX/STI to Ford’s Fiesta and Focus ST and RS models, the latter blue ovals already slated for cancellation, while a handful of mainstream volume brands still off larger performance cars, but the days of compact sport coupes seem numbered. 

2019 Hyundai Veloster Turbo Tech
This hidden rear door handle gets passengers into the back seats. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann, Canadian Auto Press)

Reason enough for the Veloster to break the rules with its three-door body style (or four-door if you include the hatch), but rest assured its underpinnings are comparatively straightforward. It comes standard with a 2.0-litre base four-cylinder engine good for 147 horsepower and 132 lb-ft of torque, which drives the front wheels through a standard six-speed manual or optional six-speed automatic, whereas the Veloster Turbo model in our garage this week is 400 cubic centimetres smaller a just 1.6 litres yet puts out a much more energetic 201 horsepower and 195 lb-ft of torque. It still drives the front wheels through a standard six-speed manual gearbox, but those wanting automation can option up to a quick-shifting seven-speed dual-clutch gearbox with paddle shifters on the steering wheel. 

2019 Hyundai Veloster Turbo Tech
The Turbo comes very well equipped in standard guise, but our tester also includes a nicely outfitted Tech package. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann, Canadian Auto Press)

Our tester includes the manual as we’d prefer if it were staying with us longer than a week, plus it also gets a $3,000 available Turbo Tech package featuring a powered head-up display system with a Sport mode function, rain-sensing wipers, rear parking sensors, automatic climate control with an auto defogger, a larger 8.0-inch infotainment touchscreen with integrated navigation, eight-speaker Infinity audio with an external amplifier, leather upholstery, and two-way powered driver seat lumbar support. 

2019 Hyundai Veloster Turbo Tech
The Tech package includes a larger 8-inch touchscreen with navigation. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann, Canadian Auto Press)

Another $500 provides an upgrade to the Performance package that adds unique 18-inch alloy wheels on 225/40 Michelin Pilot summer-performance tires, while all of the above was added to a Veloster Turbo that already comes standard with LED headlights, LED side mirror turn signal repeaters, LED taillights, a unique grille and extended side sills, proximity-sensing keyless access with pushbutton ignition, a 4.2-inch TFT multi-information display replacing a more conventional 3.5-inch trip computer within the gauge cluster, a powered glass sunroof, silver vent rings, checkered dash trim, partial cloth/leather upholstery with red stitching instead of blue, leatherette door trim, red interior accents, and more. 

2019 Hyundai Veloster Turbo Tech
These sporty leather seats come as part of the Tech package. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann, Canadian Auto Press)

Of course, Turbo trim pulls up plenty of features from the base model mentioned earlier, including auto on/off headlights, LED daytime running lights, power-adjustable heated side mirrors, remote entry, a leather-wrapped heatable multifunction steering wheel, a tilt and telescopic steering column, cruise control, power windows, illuminated vanity mirrors, a sunglasses holder, filtered air conditioning, a one-inch smaller 7.0-inch infotainment touchscreen with standard Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, a rearview camera with dynamic guidelines, six-speaker audio, Bluetooth hands-free phone connectivity with audio streaming, a leather-wrapped shift knob, heated front seats, manual six-way driver and four-way front passenger seat adjustments, blindspot detection with rear cross-traffic alert, all the expected active and passive safety features, plus more. 

2019 Hyundai Veloster Turbo Tech
The Veloster looks like a sports coupe, but it’s practical like a 4-door hatchback. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann, Canadian Auto Press)

Before moving on from trims and features, Hyundai now offers the even more capable Veloster N for 2019, boasting a 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder good for a meaty 275 horsepower and 260 lb-ft of torque. It comes standard with a six-speed manual transmission featuring downshift rev-matching, an electronically controlled limited slip differential for getting power down to the road, an electronically controlled suspension attached to unique 19-inch alloy wheels on 235/35 Pirelli summer-performance tires for maximizing lateral grip, Normal, Sport, N and Custom drive mode selections, a driver-adjustable active exhaust system, and more. 

2019 Hyundai Veloster Turbo Tech
The Veloster provides a decently sized cargo hold plus the versatility of 60/40 split-folding rear seatbacks. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann, Canadian Auto Press)

This $34,999 model gets unique styling details including some red paintwork along its lower extremities and the option of Chalk White, Phantom Black and exclusive Performance Blue (more of a baby blue) exterior colours, plus inside it features blue-stitched N exclusive cloth sport seats and other upgrades. 

2019 Hyundai Veloster Turbo Tech
Come back soon for the full review to find out how well this little Veloster Turbo hauls… (Photo: Trevor Hofmann, Canadian Auto Press)

Base Veloster and Veloster Turbo trims are much more affordable, the former starting at just $20,999 plus freight and fees, and the latter for only $25,899. You can add the conventional automatic to the base model for another $1,300, whereas the more performance-oriented dual-clutch automated gearbox ups the Turbo’s price by $1,500. This meant my almost fully featured test model came to $29,399, just shy of a fully loaded Veloster Turbo Tech DCT’s $30,399 list price. To get full 2019 Veloster pricing details include models, trims and options, not to mention detailed rebate info and dealer invoice pricing that could save you thousands, make sure to check out CarCostCanada. 

A standard 2019 Veloster upgrade that deserves the most attention of all is a change from a torsion beam rear suspension design to a new independent multi-link setup, which should theoretically improve comfort as well as high-speed stability over uneven road surfaces. We’ll be sure to cover this and plenty more in our upcoming road test review, but until it gets published make sure to check out our comprehensive photo gallery above…

Lexus is in the unique position of offering the North American luxury market two premium sedans nearly identical in size and more or less the same shape, within an auto sector that’s shunning four-door…

2019 Lexus ES 300h

2019 Lexus ES 300h
Lexus redesigned its popular ES series luxury sedan for 2019, and we’ve got the ES 300h hybrid in our garage. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann, Canadian Auto Press)

Lexus is in the unique position of offering the North American luxury market two premium sedans nearly identical in size and more or less the same shape, within an auto sector that’s shunning four-door three-box designs faster than you can say SUV. 

Rather than nix at least one of them like so many of its rivals are doing, the preeminent Japanese luxury brand soldiers into 2019 with the sportier and more upscale GS 350 AWD, unchanged since 2015, and the ES 350 and ES 300h hybrid completely redesigned for its seventh generation, this latter set of models hot on the heels of the all-new fifth-generation Toyota Avalon that shares underpinnings. 

2019 Lexus ES 300h
The new ES 300h gets much more dramatic styling front to back. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann, Canadian Auto Press)

No matter whether trimmed out as a base ES 350, upgraded with more athletic ES 350 F Sport duds, or delivered in classy as-tested ES 300h guise, Lexus’ front-drive four-door now adds an entirely new level of visual drama to its outward design. Its trademark spindle grille is larger and considerably more expressive, its origami-inspired LED headlight clusters more complex with sharper edges, its side profile longer and sleeker with a more pronounced front overhang and a swoopier sweep to its C pillars that now taper downward over a shorter, taller trunk lid, while its rear end styling is more aggressively penned due to a much bigger crescent-shaped spoiler that hovers above expansive triangular wrap-around LED taillights. 

2019 Lexus ES 300h
This is one of the most expansive spindle grilles in Lexus’ lineup, while its standard LED headlamps are razor sharp. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann, Canadian Auto Press)

The overall design toys with the mind, initially flowing smoothly from the grille rearward, overtop the hood and down each sculpted side, but then it culminates into a clamor of dissonant creases, folds and cutlines at back. Still, it comes together quite well overall, and certainly won’t conjure any of the model’s previous criticisms about yawn-inducing styling. 

Similar can be said of the interior, but instead of sharp edges the cabin combines myriad horizontal planes and softer angles with higher-grade materials than the outgoing ES, not to mention a few design details pulled from the LFA supercar, particularly the black knurled metal pods hanging off each side of the primary instrument hood, the left one for turning off the traction control, and the knob to the right for scrolling between Normal, Eco and Sport modes. 

2019 Lexus ES 300h
The big rear spoiler looks like it could’ve been inspired by the 2nd-gen E63 2003–2010 BMW 6 Series coupe. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann, Canadian Auto Press)

Between those unorthodox pods is a standard digital gauge cluster that once again was inspired by the LFA supercar and plenty of lesser Lexus road cars since, while the infotainment display at dash central measures a minimum of 8.0 inches up to a sizeable 12.3 inches, yet both look even larger due to all the extra black glass bordering each side, the left portion hiding a classic LED-backlit analogue clock underneath. 

Better yet, when opting for the as-tested ES 300h hybrid the infotainment interface now comes standard with Apple CarPlay for those who’d rather not integrate their smartphone via Lexus’ proprietary Enform system. This said Enform is arguably more comprehensive and easier to use than Android Auto, which is not included anyway, while standard Enform 2.0 apps include info on fuel prices, traffic incidents, weather, sports, and stocks, plus it’s also bundled with Scout GPS Link, Slacker, Yelp, and more. 

2019 Lexus ES 300h
Lexus really upped the ES interior, especially when equipped with the Premium package that adds a 12.3-inch infotainment display. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann, Canadian Auto Press)

The 2019 ES 300h also gets an updated Remote Touch Interface trackpad controller on the lower console, which allows gesture controls like tap, pinch and swipe, while other standard features include 17-inch alloy wheels, Bi-LED headlamps, LED taillights, proximity-sensing keyless access with pushbutton ignition, a leather-wrapped steering wheel, rain-sensing wipers, an auto-dimming rearview mirror, a rearview camera with dynamic guidelines, 10-speaker audio with satellite radio, a deodorizing, dust and pollen filtered dual-zone automatic climate control system, 10-way powered front seats with both three-way heat and ventilation, NuLuxe breathable leatherette upholstery, all the usual active and passive safety equipment including 10 airbags, plus much more. 

2019 Lexus ES 300h
This digital gauge cluster comes standard. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann, Canadian Auto Press)

Safety in mind, the new ES 300h comes standard with the Lexus Safety System+ 2.0 that features an autonomous emergency braking pre-collision system with pedestrian and bicycle detection, plus lane departure alert with steering assist and road edge detection, new Lane Tracing Assist (LTA) automated lane guidance, automatic high beams, and full-speed range adaptive cruise control, all for just $47,000 plus freight and fees, which is only $2,000 more than the conventionally powered base ES 350. 

The aforementioned 12.3-inch infotainment display comes as part of an optional $3,800 Premium package that also adds blindspot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert, reverse tilting side mirrors, front and rear parking sensors, a heatable steering wheel, front seat and side mirror memory, navigation with extremely detailed mapping, and Enform Destination Assist that provides 24/7 live assistance for finding destinations or points of interest. 

2019 Lexus ES 300h
This left-side LFA-inspired pod controller is for turning off the traction control. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann, Canadian Auto Press)

Alternatively you can opt for the even more comprehensive $10,600 Luxury package that combines everything from the Premium package with 18-inch alloy wheels, Tri-LED headlamps, Qi-compatible wireless smartphone charging, full leather upholstery, and a powered rear window sunshade. 

Instead, the as-tested $14,500 Ultra Luxury package builds on the Luxury package with unique 18-inch noise reduction alloy wheels, ambient interior lighting, a 10-inch head-up display, a 360-degree surround parking monitor, 17-speaker Mark Levinson premium audio, softer semi-aniline leather upholstery, rear door sunshades, and a touch-free gesture control powered trunk lid. 

2019 Lexus ES 300h
The new ES 300h’ driver’s seat looks comfortable, but are the ergonomics good for all body types? Come back for a full review to find out… (Photo: Trevor Hofmann, Canadian Auto Press)

By the way, to get all 2019 Lexus ES 350 and ES 300h pricing details including trims, package and options, plus important rebate information and dealer invoice pricing that could save you thousands, be sure to visit CarCostCanada.

Needless to say this $61,500 model is the most luxuriously equipped Lexus ES 300h to date, but you’ll need to wait for our full road test review to find out just how nice it is inside, plus how its upgraded Hybrid Synergy Drive power unit performs compared to the outgoing version, whether its fancy Sport mode does anything worth talking about, if its fully independent suspension is sportier than the old ES 300h’s setup, let alone as comfortable, and if its fuel economy is any thriftier. Of course, we won’t hold back our criticisms, so make sure to come back soon for our full review…

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.

Toyota redesigned the Highlander for the 2014 model year, giving it much more character and impressive refinement inside, while upping the maximum seat count from seven to eight, and then after just three…

2019 Toyota Highlander Hybrid Limited

2019 Toyota Highlander Hybrid Limited
Except for new LED fog lamps, Toyota’s Highlander Hybrid Limited remains unchanged for 2019. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann, Canadian Auto Press)

Toyota redesigned the Highlander for the 2014 model year, giving it much more character and impressive refinement inside, while upping the maximum seat count from seven to eight, and then after just three years they replaced the simpler truck-inspired front grille and fascia for a ritzier chromed up look that certainly hasn’t hurt sales. 

Its popularity within its mid-size crossover SUV segment grew from eighth in the 2016 calendar year, when the updated model was introduced, to seventh the following year, while after three quarters of 2018 it’s risen to fifth overall and just third amongst its dedicated three-row peers. 

2019 Toyota Highlander Hybrid Limited
The Highlander is still one of the better looking mid-size crossover SUVs from the rear.

Obviously Toyota sees no reason to change much for 2019, so the full-load Limited model in our garage this week only gets a nice new set of LED fog lamps. This is true for both the conventionally powered model and our Highlander Hybrid tester, the latter being the only mid-size SUV within the mainstream volume sector to be offered with a hybrid-electric powertrain. 

Think about that for a moment. SUVs are taking over the entire automotive market, and electrification is supposedly our future, but only Toyota offers a hybridized mid-size SUV. Like so many things in life, this doesn’t make a lot of sense. Kudos to Toyota, mind you, that’s been leading the way for more than a dozen years. 

2019 Toyota Highlander Hybrid Limited
Here’s a slightly closer look at the new LED fog lights, plus the Limited model’s dark chrome five-spoke alloy wheels.

Hybridization means Toyota swaps out its standard 295-horsepower 3.5-litre V6 for the same engine running on a more efficient Atkinson cycle, which when mated to two permanent magnet synchronous electric motors, one for driving the front wheels and the other for those in the rear, plus a sealed nickel-metal hydride (Ni-MH) traction battery, results in 306 horsepower and an undisclosed amount of torque that’s no doubt more than the 263 lb-ft provided by the gasoline-only variant. 

2019 Toyota Highlander Hybrid Limited
The Highlander Hybrid offers up a nicely finished interior in top-line Limited trim. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

Additionally, the regular Highlander’s advanced eight-speed automatic is replaced by an electronically controlled continuously variable transmission (ECVT) with stepped ratios to mimic the feel of a traditional gearbox, plus a sequential shift mode for getting sporty or merely downshifting while engine-braking, and as sure as rain (or should I say snow this time of year) its aforementioned all-wheel drivetrain takes care of slippery situations. 

At $50,950 plus freight and fees the 2019 Highlander Hybrid doesn’t come cheap in base XLE trim, while this upgraded full-load Limited model hits the road for a whopping $57,260, but then again a similarly optioned 2019 Chevrolet Traverse High Country comes in at an even loftier $60,100, and the only slightly nicer 2019 Buick Enclave Avenir will set you back a stratospheric $62,100, and they don’t even offer hybrid drivetrains, so maybe the Highlander Hybrid Limited isn’t so pricy after all. 

2019 Toyota Highlander Hybrid Limited
Put yourself in the driver’s seat in our upcoming road test review…

By the way, check out CarCostCanada for detailed pricing of trims, packages and options, plus money saving rebate info and dealer invoice pricing that could save you thousands, whether purchasing the new 2019 Highlander, 2019 Chevy Traverse, 2019 Buick Enclave, or any other mid-size crossover SUV. 

I’ll go into much more detail in my upcoming 2019 Highlander Hybrid Limited review, so for now enjoy our comprehensive photo gallery above and be sure to come back soon for my full road test…

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.

Most everyone expected Toyota to enter the subcompact SUV segment at some point, but showing up with a sportier, smaller than average entry, and therefore putting styling ahead of practicality was surprising…

2019 Toyota C-HR Limited

2019 Toyota C-HR Limited
Toyota has added a new top-line Limited trim to its sporty looking C-HR subcompact crossover SUV for 2019. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

Most everyone expected Toyota to enter the subcompact SUV segment at some point, but showing up with a sportier, smaller than average entry, and therefore putting styling ahead of practicality was surprising to all. 

After all, the segment sales leaders make it clear that passenger/cargo roominess and flexibility is king, with models like the Honda HR-V, Kia Soul, Mazda CX-3 and Subaru Crosstrek dominating up until this year, and newcomers like the Nissan Qashqai and Hyundai Kona finding strong sales due to their pragmatic approach and more. It’s as if the new C-HR picked up where the now discontinued Nissan Juke left off (that latter SUV replaced by the new Kicks), albeit without the Juke’s stellar performance. 

2019 Toyota C-HR Limited
Rich looking $225 Ruby Flare Pearl paint can only be had with XLE or Limited trims, while the $795 Ruby Flare Pearl / Black Roof option is exclusive to the upgraded XLE Premium and Limited. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

C-HR sales haven’t exactly been abysmal, that dejected title belonging to the Fiat 500X that only managed 69 sales over the first nine months of 2018 (with 548 Canadian sales for the entire brand so far this year, Fiat’s days are likely numbered in the North American markets), while Jeep’s Renegade hasn’t been tearing up the sales charts either with just 1,000 units down the road, but the C-HR’s 5,188 deliveries (placing it eighth out of 13 models that have been available all year) are nowhere near as strong as the new Hyundai Kona’s 10,852 units (and it’s only been available since March), while the aforementioned Qashqai has been killing it with 14,755 sold as of the close of Q3 2018. Crosstrek deliveries remain strong at 11,147 units over the same nine months, while the CX-3 was at 10,207 sales, the Soul at 9,226, and the long-in-tooth HR-V at 8,155 deliveries (a refreshed 2019 HR-V should help matters moving forward). Should we call the C-HR a rare sales dud from Toyota? The Japanese brand certainly appears to have missed the mark, but that doesn’t mean it’s a poor choice for those who don’t need as much interior space. 

2019 Toyota C-HR Limited
These stylish 18-inch alloys come standard with XLE Premium and Limited trims. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

In fact the new C-HR, now in its second model year after arriving on the scene in May of 2017, is quite a nice subcompact SUV. I won’t go into just how nice in this garage segment of this 2019 C-HR Limited version, but suffice to say it combines mostly comfortable cruising with the majority of its peers’ high-level features, reasonably good performance and excellent fuel economy. 

The 2019 C-HR gets some significant changes that should help it find more buyers, starting with a new base LE trim level that chops over a $1,000 from the 2018 model’s base price. Still, $23,675 is hardly as affordable as some of the sales leaders mentioned earlier, the Qashqai still only available in 2018 trim yet its 2019 counterpart shouldn’t sell for much more than its current $19,998 base price despite the new Nissan Kicks arriving as the segment’s best bargain at just $17,998. Another factor against the C-HR’s success is the fact you can get into the much larger and more accommodating Nissan Rogue for about $3k more than the base C-HR, while the all-new 2019 RAV4 starts at just $27,790 (find new vehicle pricing for all makes and models including the C-HR and RAV4 at CarCostCanada, with detailed info on trims, packages and options, plus otherwise hard to get rebate info and dealer invoice pricing that could save you thousands). 

2019 Toyota C-HR Limited
Limited trim adds rain-sensing wipers, a windshield de-icer, ambient lighting, and leather upholstery in black or brown. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

That base C-HR LE gets Toyota’s new Entune 3.0 infotainment system, which now utilizes a larger 8.0-inch touchscreen and supports Apple CarPlay smartphone integration (if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em). Even better, the new display now incorporates the C-HR’s backup camera, which instead was fitted within the rearview mirror in last year’s model and therefore ruddy useless. 

Entune also includes the ability to link a Scout GPS smartphone app to the centre display for navigation purposes, plus Entune App Suite Connect that features separate apps for traffic, weather, Slacker, Yelp, sports, stocks, fuel and NPR One, although I don’t know how the latter U.S.-specific National Public Radio station will do anyone in Canada much good.  

2019 Toyota C-HR Limited
This impressive 8-inch touchscreen is standard, as is Toyota’s superb new Entune 3.0 smartphone integration and Apple CarPlay. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

Additional base features worth noting include automatic high beam headlights, adaptive cruise control, remote access, an acoustic glass windshield, auto up/down powered windows all around, a leather-wrapped shift knob, a 4.2-inch TFT multi-information display within the gauge cluster, an auto-dimming rearview mirror, illuminated vanity mirrors, dual-zone auto climate control, six-speaker audio, piano black lacquered instrument panel trim, fabric upholstery, front sport seats, 60/40-split rear seatbacks, a cargo cover, autonomous emergency braking with pedestrian detection, lane departure alert with steering assist, all the usual active and passive safety features including a driver’s knee airbag and rear side thorax airbags, plus more. 

Last year’s sole XLE trim level is mostly carryover for 2019 other than its higher $25,725 price and new Entune 3.0 Audio Plus that features the larger touchscreen while including automatic collision notification, a stolen vehicle locator, an emergency assistance SOS button, and enhanced roadside assistance, with additional features including 17-inch alloy wheels, a leather-wrapped steering wheel rim, upgraded cloth upholstery, heatable front seats, and two-way powered lumbar support for the driver’s seat. 

2019 Toyota C-HR Limited
These leather-covered front bucket seats look like they’re from a sports car, not an entry-level SUV. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

The $27,325 XLE Premium package adds 18-inch alloys, proximity-sensing access with pushbutton ignition, heated power-folding side mirrors with puddle lamps, blindspot monitoring with rear cross traffic alert, and lane change assist. 

Also new for 2019 is as-tested $28,775 top-line Limited trim that adds rain-sensing wipers, a handy windshield wiper de-icer, ambient interior lighting, and leather upholstery in black or brown. 

2019 Toyota C-HR Limited
Enough cargo room for you? Come back for our full review to find out what we think… (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

While two new trim levels and upgraded infotainment are improvements over last year’s C-HR, the sole 2.0-litre four-cylinder engine might leave some potential buyers (especially those coming out of the aforementioned Juke) feeling like its performance doesn’t measure up to its sporty exterior design due to just 144 horsepower and 139 lb-ft of torque, a continuously variable transmission (CVT) with a focus on fuel economy, and no all-wheel drive option, front-drive being the only driveline configuration available. 

Then again, if you’re looking for a sporty looking SUV with good fuel economy the C-HR’s claimed 8.7 L/100km city, 7.5 highway and 8.2 combined rating might be just what your inflation deflated personal budget requires. 

I’ll talk more about real-world fuel economy and seat-of-the-pants driving dynamics in my upcoming road test review, and of course ramble on ad nauseum about driver’s seat ergonomics, rear seat spaciousness and comfort, storage space, and new Entune 3.0 infotainment, plus I’ll go on at length regarding the touchy-feely points of this Limited model’s interior quality, so make sure to come back for the full 2019 Toyota C-HR Limited review…