The premium subcompact SUV segment only came into existence in 2011 with just three models competing, yet after seven years its ranks had swollen to an identical seven challengers with sales growth having…

2018 Infiniti QX30 AWD Technology Road Test

2018 Infiniti QX30 AWD Technology
The QX30 is easily as attractive as the Mercedes-Benz GLA it shares underpinnings with, yet remains distinctively Infiniti in design. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

The premium subcompact SUV segment only came into existence in 2011 with just three models competing, yet after seven years its ranks had swollen to an identical seven challengers with sales growth having increased by more than 450 percent. That upward trajectory is hardly slowing either, with 2016 to 2017 year-over-year sales up by more than 25 percent alone. Per capita volume in this segment is higher in Canada than in the U.S. as well, so it only makes sense that all luxury brands want a piece of the action. 

In August of 2016 the QX30 became that seventh subcompact luxury SUV competitor, and thanks to a very affordable starting price that remains unchanged from last year at just $35,990 plus freight and fees, the new SUV simultaneously gave Infiniti a much-needed entry-level gateway model for thousands less than most rivals. 

2018 Infiniti QX30 AWD Technology
The QX30’s styling delivers equal doses of sport and elegance. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

At that price one might think the QX30 is somewhat short on features, but a quick glance at its spec sheet will show the complete opposite is true. In fact, walk up to the little sport utility with key fob in pocket and welcoming approach lamps illuminate the ground to each side, while a proximity-sensing key lets you inside. Yes, I’m talking about the base QX30, not a fully optioned version. 

2018 Infiniti QX30 AWD Technology
The QX30’s cat’s eyes headlamps are some of the most animalistic in the industry. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

Continuing on that value-added theme, the standard features list is further bolstered with pushbutton ignition, an electromechanical parking brake, plus auto-dimming centre and driver’s side mirrors, while those turn signal-enhanced outer mirrors are also power-folding, making it easier to squeeze by in tight parking spots. A standard backup camera with dynamic guidelines makes reversing out of such spots less stressful too, while other thoughtful standard conveniences include dual-zone auto climate control, heated eight-way power-adjustable front seats with four-way powered lumbar support and three-way seat and mirror memory for both the driver and front passenger, while the standard upholstery is genuine Nappa leather front to back. 

2018 Infiniti QX30 AWD Technology
The QX30’s fine details are beautifully penned. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

Seriously, if you want to see a German blush from shame, match that list up to one of the QX30’s Teutonic competitors. This reality becomes even more awkward when you learn this elegantly styled Infiniti is actually a Mercedes-Benz GLA 250 under the skin. While its classy chromed double-arch trademark grille, cat’s eyes LED-enhanced headlamps, secondary trademark C-pillar kink, beautifully detailed LED taillights, and gracefully arcing rear window/liftgate design look every bit Infiniti, the interior is filled with clear giveaways to its Stuttgart-sourced underpinnings. 

2018 Infiniti QX30 AWD Technology
The QX30 incorporates one of Infiniti’s most distinctive trademarks, this lovely kinked C-pillar. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

I actually noticed the Mercedes-style key fob even before climbing inside, while repositioning the driver’s seat required adjustment via the German brand’s unique seat-profile shaped switchgear up on the door panels, where they’re easy to see and access. The power window and lock buttons, plus the mirror toggle and switches are Mercedes fare too, as is the shape of the steering wheel, yet while obviously pulled from M-B’s vast parts bing the buttons on the steering wheel spokes are totally different from those used for the GLA, as is the Mercedes-sourced gauge cluster and colour multi-information display, which comes complete with M-B fonts and graphics. 

2018 Infiniti QX30 AWD Technology
These standard LED taillights are particularly attractive. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

The entire centre stack could be from a Mercedes too, especially the HVAC interface, but which one I’m not sure. The 7.0-inch touchscreen is filled with Infiniti’s familiar graphics and functions, but the infotainment dial and various buttons on the lower console are pure Benz, as is the satin aluminum-trimmed gearshift lever. 

Of course, Infiniti brands everything with its “two central lines leading off into an infinite point on the horizon” logo, and as importantly there isn’t much inside the cabin that looks remotely similar to the GLA from a design standpoint, which leaves Infiniti and its Japanese-luxury oriented fan-base happy with a subcompact SUV of their own, and Mercedes’ parent Daimler content that it has a B2B partner to share both development and production costs with. 

2018 Infiniti QX30 AWD Technology
Infiniti crafted a unique high-quality interior filled with obvious hints to its Mercedes co-developer. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

It’s important to note, for respectability’s sake, the relationship between Infiniti and Daimler isn’t merely a one-way street. In fact it’s a comprehensive long-term strategic partnership founded in 2010 that sees Nissan, Infiniti’s parent, building 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder engines for rear/all-wheel drive Renault/Infiniti and Mercedes vehicles in Decherd, Tennessee (the Q50, Q60, and C-Class included, whereas engines for the transverse-mounted front/all-wheel drive QX30 and GLA come from Mercedes’ plant in Germany); an assembly plant collaboration in Aguascalientes, Mexico for the new Infiniti QX50 (plus the upcoming short-wheelbase Mercedes A-Class sedan, and future Mercedes GLB SUV); Nissan Twingo architecture and powertrain contributions for Daimler’s Smart ForTwo (including the electric powertrain for Smart’s EV); the future Mercedes X-Class pickup truck riding on Nissan NP300 Navara hardware and built by Nissan at a Renault plant in Cordoba, Argentina; etcetera. 

2018 Infiniti QX30 AWD Technology
The dash design is purely Infiniti, yet many of the components are pulled from Mercedes’ parts bin. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

Additionally, Infiniti was involved in the QX30/GLA design from the ground up, and tunes the powertrain to its own unique specifications, resulting in a small SUV that feels a bit more luxury-oriented than the slightly sportier Mercedes, although the QX30 is no laggard either. The direct-injected and turbocharged 2.0-litre four-cylinder engine makes 208 horsepower and 258 pound-feet of torque, the latter from only 1,200 rpm, resulting in off-the-line performance that’s more than adequate and overall drivability that’s plenty of fun, especially when a curving roadway opens up ahead. Infiniti’s suspension tuning provides an excellent compromise between ride quality and road holding, delivering an engaging driving experience that’s nevertheless very comfortable, even over rougher patchwork pavement. 

2018 Infiniti QX30 AWD Technology
While nothing like the GLA’s instrument cluster, it’s nevertheless sourced from M-B. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

Both Infiniti and Mercedes have long employed seven-speed automatic transmissions, making them easy to interchange without anyone noticing. I certainly found the QX30’s dual-clutch gearbox quick-shifting enough and appreciated the standard steering wheel-mounted paddles as well, while the Japanese brand makes sure an effective Sport mode is also part of the standard package, not to mention an Eco mode that makes the most of auto start/stop, which shuts the engine down when it would otherwise be idling to reduce fuel consumption and emissions. 

2018 Infiniti QX30 AWD Technology
If you compare the GLA’s centre stack to the QX30’s, you’ll see they have little in common. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

The result is a five-cycle Transport Canada rating of 10.6 L/100km in the city, 8.0 on the highway and 9.4 combined with its as-tested all-wheel drive powertrain, making the QX30 one of the more fuel-efficient AWD models in its category. Of note, both base and top-line Sport trims are front-wheel drive and therefore even thriftier, with a claimed rating of 9.7 city, 7.1 highway and 8.5 combined, which is by far the best in class. 

2018 Infiniti QX30 AWD Technology
This dual-screen parking monitor is a big help in tight spots. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

Swift, comfortable and quiet, the QX30 could be the ideal subcompact luxury SUV. It measures up in most other respects too, with a superbly crafted interior above the beltline, featuring a padded and contrast stitched leather/leatherette (depending on the surface covered) dash top and instrument panel, steering wheel rim, door panels, and seat upholstery, high-quality soft-touch synthetic door uppers that extend into the back, shiny chrome and stylish satin-silver metal trim, plenty of piano black lacquered coatings, and features galore, the infotainment system in my Premium-trimmed and Technology-packed example even upgraded with split-screen rear-view and top-view surround parking cameras that were oh-so helpful, but others in the class provide clearer, higher resolution digital displays with more functions. 

2018 Infiniti QX30 AWD Technology
Recognize the dual-zone auto HVAC interface? It’s a stylized Mercedes unit. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

Now that I’m grumbling, I’d also like to see more premium competitors in the entry-level luxury classes improve materials quality to the levels of compact and mid-size models. For instance, below the QX30’s aforementioned beltline are hard plastics most everywhere, including the glove box lid, while Infiniti, like Mercedes, only wraps the A pillars in fabric, leaving the B and C pillars with low-rent looking hard plastic covers. Most premium brands are guilty of such cost cutting, so I’m not singling Infiniti out, and their seemingly reasonable collective responses will no doubt be savings oriented, but with mainstream volume brands doing such a fine job of equipping their similarly sized yet much more affordable models to very similar levels of fit, finish and refinement as premium players, not to mention features, luxury brands might want to consider improving their lot to the point that their individual brand DNA remains consistent from their smallest to largest models. 

2018 Infiniti QX30 AWD Technology
The dual-clutch 7-speed automatic delivers smooth, sporty performance. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

As it is, the current mindset rewards buyers of larger, less efficient vehicles with greater levels of luxury, and punishes those who might alternatively want the same level of pampering without a more powerful engine and larger, heavier footprint, nor the environmental impact this decision delivers. Again, this isn’t an issue with Infiniti or the QX30 per se, but rather with all premium manufacturers and, likely, the entire luxury ethos. 

As noted at length earlier, the base QX30 is very well equipped, with some features not yet mentioned including 18-inch alloys, auto on/off halogen headlamps, signature LED daytime running lamps, cruise control, Bluetooth phone and audio streaming, six-speaker AM/FM/CD/USB/satellite audio, all the usual active and passive safety equipment, and more. 

2018 Infiniti QX30 AWD Technology
These lower console-mounted infotainment controls are well executed. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

Choosing all-wheel drive doesn’t add to any equipment levels, however it ups the starting price to $38,490 (also unchanged) while providing unique front and rear fascia designs, extended overfenders with reformed sill panels, a different set of 18-inch alloy wheels, a three centimetres-plus raised ride height, flashier glossy black mirror caps, and roof rails up top. 

2018 Infiniti QX30 AWD Technology
For such a small SUV, the QX30 is certainly comfortable. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

And what about all the features not yet mentioned? These are the result of a $5,000 Premium package that boasts LED fog lamps, a chrome trunk finisher, aluminum treadplates, rain-sensing wipers, heated windshield washer nozzles, a universal garage door opener, a colour multi-information display, more advanced Infiniti InTouch infotainment with Navigation and lane guidance, great sounding 10-speaker Bose audio, a fixed panoramic sunroof with a powered sunshade, and front and rear parking sensors. 

Last but hardly least, a $2,500 Technology package improves those cat’s eye-shaped headlamps to full LEDs with dynamic cornering capability and auto high beams, adds enhanced LED ambient lighting inside, plus adaptive cruise control, the superb aforementioned 360-degree surround parking monitor with moving object detection, semi-automated self-parking, forward emergency braking, blindspot monitoring, and lane departure warning. 

2018 Infiniti QX30 AWD Technology
The panoramic sunroof adds an open airiness to the cabin. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

I won’t go into the Sport model’s features right now, but hopefully will cover this model separately later in the year. Suffice to say it improves on styling, performance and standard features for $46,490. 

Along with its loads of features, the QX30 is quite accommodating inside as well, with plenty of room for most body types up front plus surprisingly spacious rear quarters. When I positioned the driver’s seat for my five-foot-eight height I still had five inches left over ahead of my knees and more than enough space for my feet when wearing winter boots, plus there were approximately four inches over my head and about the same beside my outer shoulder and hips. You could probably stuff three side-by-side in back, but it’s a great deal more comfortable with two, especially when folding the centre armrest down and taking advantage of its pop-out twin cupholders. 

2018 Infiniti QX30 AWD Technology
Rear seat roominess is quite good, while the seats are supportive. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

Further back, Infiniti provides a very roomy cargo hold measuring 544 litres (19.2 cubic feet) with the 60/40-split rear seatbacks upright or 963 litres (34.0 cubic feet) when they’re laid flat. Alternatively you have a best of both worlds scenario of stowing longer items through a pass-through down the middle, leaving the more comfortable outboard window seats to rear passengers. 

2018 Infiniti QX30 AWD Technology
Cargo space is generous and flexible. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

Yes, the QX30 is one very livable little luxury utility, with an emphasis on upscale refinement and comfort. Its enjoyable performance and generally easy driving nature weigh in its favour too, which would all come together to make this little Infiniti a worthy contender in the subcompact luxury SUV class even if its value proposition wasn’t so good. Yet there lies the differentiator. The 2018 QX30 drives excellent value along with its many other attributes, making it one of the better choices for premium buyers that want to get the most from their automotive investment. I certainly believe it deserves a lot more attention than it currently gets, so if you’re in the market for a small SUV I recommend a closer look at an Infiniti QX30.

After winning the 2017 North American Truck of the Year with the second-generation Ridgeline, which was really a Honda pickup sandwich thanks to the Civic earning Car of the Year in 2016 and new Accord…

2019 Honda Ridgeline Touring Road Test

2019 Honda Ridgeline Touring
The highly refined Honda Ridgeline continues its struggle to find buyers, but that hardly means it doesn’t deserve success. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

After winning the 2017 North American Truck of the Year with the second-generation Ridgeline, which was really a Honda pickup sandwich thanks to the Civic earning Car of the Year in 2016 and new Accord making it a hat trick for 2018, it appears as if the Japanese brand can’t lose. 

Impressive as such awards are, much more important wins on the sales charts are harder to come by for such a relative newcomer to the pickup truck sector. Truck buyers are more loyal than in any other category, so pushing the Ridgeline up and over the 5,000-unit threshold in Canada won’t come easy, its 4,632 deliveries in 2017 coming close to matching the model’s best-ever 2006 tally of 4,988 units, but as we all know there are no cigars handed out for almost making it. 

2019 Honda Ridgeline Touring
The new Ridgeline’s conventional pickup box allows for a greater selection of aftermarket canopies, campers and accessories. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

I predicted as much when reviewing the 2017 Ridgeline Black Edition. It was selling reasonably well during this honeymoon period, but I didn’t expect it to exceed that previous calendar year high then, and I don’t expect it to do so this year either. Actually, sales numbers have been on a downward trajectory since August of last year, with the 1,734 units sold during the final five months of 2017 representing a 31.4 percent downturn from the same period in 2016, which just happened to be the first five months of availability for the new truck. 

Do prospects look better for 2018? Three months into the current year, 882 total Canadian-market Ridgeline deliveries mean that year-over-year Q1 sales are down by 22.3 percent. So, if you’re ok claiming less of a negative as a positive, then the new Ridgeline is a net win. 

2019 Honda Ridgeline Touring
The Ridgeline’s rear design went from radical to ultimately conservative. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

To be fair, even the mighty Toyota Tacoma saw fewer sales in 2017 than in 2016, albeit its 12,454 deliveries were only down by 1.3 percent, whereas General Motors’ Chevrolet Colorado/GMC Canyon twins saw a year-over-year collective gain of 13.2 percent thanks to 14,320 sales, and Nissan’s 13-year-old Frontier grew sales by 3.2 percent—really, the Frontier hasn’t been updated since 2005, the same year the original Ridgeline arrived on the market. 

That’s loyalty for you. Nissan has been building trucks since 1938, while the original Datsun Truck arrived on North American soil in 1958. Honda’s first pickup, on the other hand, debuted in its domestic Japanese market in 1963, but it was never sold here and therefore the brand wasn’t able to establish a faithful truck following until the Ridgeline. 

2019 Honda Ridgeline Touring
Key Ridgeline Touring trim elements include LED headlamps, fog lights and unique 18-inch alloy wheels. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

While we can’t see into the future to find out whether the new Ridgeline will eventually build Honda Canada’s truck market share beyond 5,000 units, no one should question whether or not the current model improves on the vehicle it replaces. Truly, this second-gen Ridgeline is better than the outgoing version in most respects, especially refinement. 

This said refinement probably doesn’t matter as much to mid-size truck buyers as ruggedness, sales growth by the clearly forgotten and seemingly abandoned Frontier making this issue crystal clear, which really makes a person wonder why Honda is trying to purvey intelligently thought-out sophistication over rough and tough manliness, with the latter most often touting over-the-top, in-your-face macho styling, extreme performance, off-road capability, load hauling, towing specs, etcetera. 

2019 Honda Ridgeline Touring
These rather generic taillights could be from any pickup truck challenger, but standard LEDs denote high-end Honda features. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

The Ridgeline is the alternative pickup truck, totally unlike anything else on the market. It starts with unibody construction formed off the back of the Japanese brand’s Pilot SUV, and even pulls many of that model’s styling elements into the mix, for a design that takes a softer and smoother approach to Honda’s current creased and angled origami-inspired styling. This was purposeful, as Honda isn’t trying to market to those wowed by the long-time bestselling Toyota Tacoma’s new military-spec style TRD Pro 4×4, or the rejuvenated Chevy Colorado’s latest ZR2 off-road replica racing truck. 

2019 Honda Ridgeline Touring
Prepare yourself for one of the most impressive interiors in the pickup truck sector. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

I must admit the two performance trucks appeal to the weekend warrior side of my personality, having been raised by an outdoorsy dad who oftentimes had something rugged in the garage, a favourite being our ‘70s era Toyota Land Cruiser FJ40. Yet at the same time we took 2WD pickup trucks (a ’78 620 series Datsun Truck preceding our F-150), camperized vans, and even the family’s ’61 Pontiac Strato Chief wagon and go-anywhere ’66 VW Beetle into areas that no sane motorist would dare to go (no offence dad), and came away mostly unscathed and a true believer in the power of “Come-A-Long” hand winches. In other words, just because a truck might ride lower to the ground and only offer all-wheel drive instead of part-time four-wheel drive with a bull low range doesn’t mean you’re forced to remain solely on paved roads and light-duty gravel surfaces.

2019 Honda Ridgeline Touring
Soft-touch surfaces, high-end electronic interfaces, a quiet, refined cabin, and SUV-like performance set the Ridgeline apart. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

Honda proved this at the press introduction of the original Ridgeline, during which we scaled some fairly steep and untoward off-road terrain (but nothing that caused a pit in the stomach like a few hair-raising Jeep, Land Rover and Hummer launch programs). Opportunity to show how easy it was to load a Honda ATV via attachable ramps was part of that past event too, plus back-to-back 5,000-pound trailering sessions against the competition. The Ridgeline was better than its rivals at such tasks, and its other innovations left a gaggle of auto scribes mostly impressed. 

2019 Honda Ridgeline Touring
The unique Ridgeline gauge cluster uses analogue semicircles to each side and a large TFT display at centre. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

I didn’t take part in this current Ridgeline’s press event, but I’m guessing it’s at least as capable of roughing it now as it was then, yet as noted earlier this new iteration is substantially more refined, with a more SUV-like cabin that’s filled with soft-touch surfaces, fancier trims, top-tier electronics, and more, while it plays well to families due to the highest safety rating ever given to a pickup truck. It also has a much more utile box on its backside than its predecessor, which is even capable of accepting a regular off-the-rack canopy, while the Ridgeline maintains its innovative cargo bed trunk as well as its ultra-useful dual-purpose swing-out and drop-down tailgate. 

It was a bit surprising that Honda introduced the 2019 Ridgeline so early in the year, but being that they’ve now eliminated the outgoing model’s slow selling base LX trim it makes sense. Sport trim becomes the new base for 2019, which concurrently increases the entry-level price by $3,500 to $40,790, the latter number also representing a $500 bump across all trim lines. 

2019 Honda Ridgeline Touring
A sporty ignition switch adds to the Ridgeline’s upscale experience. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

Of course, with Sport trim now standard the 2019 Ridgeline’s standard features list increases, with previous base items like its standard 280 horsepower V6, AWD, fully independent suspension, 18-inch alloy wheels, LED taillights, remote start, proximity keyless access, pushbutton ignition, tilt and telescopic multifunction steering wheel, 7.0-inch colour TFT multi-information display, heatable front seats, backup camera with dynamic guidelines, 8.0-inch infotainment touchscreen, Android Auto and Apple CarPlay, SMS- and email-reading capability, Siri Eyes Free, Bluetooth phone and audio streaming, 225-watt seven-speaker stereo, adaptive cruise control, front collision warning with autonomous braking, lane departure alert with lane keeping assist, emergency responding telematics, and more now joined by a bevy of new base items. 

2019 Honda Ridgeline Touring
The Ridgeline’s centre stack is nicely designed and filled with top-tier features. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

The new base features now include fog lamps, LED daytime running lights, LED turn signals integrated within the mirror housings, a powered moonroof, a power-sliding rear window, driver and front passenger seatback pockets, an exterior temperature gauge, a Homelink garage door opener, filtered tri-zone automatic climate control, Wi-Fi, a 10-way powered driver’s seat with power lumbar support, and Honda’s innovative LaneWatch blindspot system that projects a passenger’s side rear view of the blindspot onto the infotainment display when applying the right-side turn signal. 

2019 Honda Ridgeline Touring
Touring trim means navigation comes standard. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

I wish Honda included LaneWatch in upper trims too, but other than base Sport trim it’s only included in the second-run EX-L model before getting replaced by blindspot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert in my Tester’s Touring trim and the top-line Black Edition. These top trims remain unchanged for the 2019 model year, with some of the upgrades included with my Touring tester including additional chrome exterior trim, LED headlights with auto high beams, power-folding side mirrors with memory and reverse tilt down, an auto-dimming rearview mirror, rain-sensing wipers, a heatable steering wheel, driver’s seat memory, leather upholstery, cooled front and heated rear seats, navigation, voice recognition, 540-watt eight-speaker Bose audio with superb sound quality, satellite and HD radio, an exclusive truck-bed audio system featuring six hidden “exciter” speakers totaling 60 watts of power (which you can play from outside your truck via Bluetooth from your smartphone or wearable), front and rear parking sensors, and more, with all of the active safety features adding up to a class-exclusive IIHS Top Safety Pick Plus rating. 

2019 Honda Ridgeline Touring
The Ridgeline’s automatic climate control isn’t just dual-zone, it’s a three zone system with separate controls in back. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

The Black Edition is all about styling, this model following a trend that’s seen other manufacturers blacking out all the metal brightwork on their respective trucks and SUVs in order to provide a tougher, more rugged look, but I must say I like this Touring model with its tastefully applied chrome trim and subtle Lunar Silver metallic paintwork better, as it really helps the grille and body-cladding stand out more. This in mind, the Ridgeline’s styling has grown on me since introduction. I still don’t think it provides enough grit to lure in traditional truck buyers, but I could see some family folk who may not have previously considered purchasing a truck picking one up instead of an SUV, especially if they do a lot of home renovations, gardening work, need something to haul their ATV around or have a small business. 

2019 Honda Ridgeline Touring
The Ridgeline is very roomy and wonderfully comfortable. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

Standard safety features aside, the major Ridgeline drawing card is the interior, which is by far the nicest in the mid-size truck segment. Refinements include more soft-touch padded surfacing than any rival, including the entire dash top, extending all the way around the top portion of the centre stack and instrument cluster, plus each front door upper and all four door inserts/armrests. 

Tasteful splashes of satin-silver and chrome metal trim highlight key elements, as does a bit more piano black lacquer than I’d prefer, but only because it scratches easily and collects dust even easier. Instead, I’d like to see more of the faux matte wood on the lower centre console storage bin lid, as it’s really quite attractive. 

2019 Honda Ridgeline Touring
The rear passenger compartment isn’t as lengthy as some competitors, but it should provide ample room for most adults. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

The steering wheel is leather-wrapped and quite sporty, featuring enough tilt and telescopic adjustment to ideally set up my long-legged, short-torso medium-build frame, while the leather-covered powered driver’s seat positioned me perfectly, maintained my chosen settings via two-way memory, and then kept me suitably warm thanks to three-way heaters. Honda even provides three-way coolers to help with summertime heat, although no need for these during my wintery weeklong test. 

2019 Honda Ridgeline Touring
Flipping the 60/40-split rear seats up exposes a large, flat load floor. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

The bright, colourful, highly legible instrument cluster features two semi-circles, the left side for a tachometer and one on the right for temperature and fuel meters, with a large digital speedometer at the top-centre and a much larger colour multi-information display just below. The centre stack-mounted infotainment touchscreen is almost as artistically crafted as the updated version in the Civic, Accord, CR-V, and HRV, and includes a large display that’s also bright and colourful, with extremely deep and rich contrast making its default blue hue particularly nice. It’s an easy system to sort out, other than not having quick access knobs for audio volume and tuning. Instead, Honda uses digital sliding controls that can be a bit challenging to fiddle with while keeping eyes safely on the road ahead. I quickly overcame this shortcoming by using the steering wheel audio volume and tuning controller more than I usually do, which is probably the safest method anyway. 

2019 Honda Ridgeline Touring
When you lay the tailgate down in the traditional manner the Ridgeline looks for all purposes like a conventional pickup truck. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

The Ridgeline’s now standard tri-zone auto climate control interface is also easy to use, while all of the switchgear feels substantive and fits together nicely, similar to the rest of the buttons, knobs and toggles throughout the cabin. The HVAC panel sits right next to the ignition button, which is initially black yet glows red while the engine is running, this a bit of Honda tradition pulled up from the brand’s legendary performance models. 

Special touches in mind, Honda also adds LED-reading lights to the overhead console, plus a handy felt-lined sunglasses holder that does double-duty as a conversation mirror. 

2019 Honda Ridgeline Touring
The innovative side-swinging tailgate allows for easier access to items at the back of the bed. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

I don’t think anyone will have trouble fitting inside the Ridgeline’s cab, as the front seats are generously sized and their controls allow for a lot of adjustability. The rear seat provides slightly less room than I expected for knees and legs, but when the front seat was set for my five-foot-eight medium-build frame I nevertheless had about four inches remaining ahead of my knees and more than enough room for moving my feet around, plus I had around four inches remaining above my head and plenty of space from side-to-side. A very wide armrest folds down from the middle, fitted with dual cupholders and a tiny little tray, plus a larger cupholder and another bin are housed within each door panel. Even better, the aforementioned rear seat heaters offer three temperature settings, while a separate HVAC interface allows rear adjustment of the third climate zone. This is fairly high-end equipment for a mid-size pickup truck, but like I said earlier, the Ridgeline is finished to a much nicer level than most rivals. 

2019 Honda Ridgeline Touring
The unique tailgate also provides closer proximity to the Ridgeline’s most unusual feature, a rear trunk. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

The 60/40-split rear seat squabs flip upward and out of the way when wanting to store cargo in a dry, secure space, although while this “Magic Seat” style feature is unique in the Fit’s subcompact hatchback class and the HR-V’s subcompact SUV segment, it’s nothing new amongst pickup trucks. An almost completely flat floor below is beneficial, however, providing plenty of level space to stack boxes, suitcases, or anything else you’d like to keep out of the elements. 

The tailgate design is even more innovative, as it not only folds down in the conventional manner, but it swings out sideways too. Honda has set it up to do so from the passenger side, which is the safest way to load when parallel parked as it’s closest to the curb, while this process also provides easier access to the Ridgeline’s lockable trunk. By now I’m sure you’ve heard all about this unique feature, but I still find it special, even after all these years. It’s very wide, deep, and sealed well to repel water and dirt, plus it tucks the spare tire and jack just below the front half of the cargo floor. I recommend pulling this gear out if you plan on hauling a full load of bark mulch, gravel, or anything else you might not want to be forced to shovel out before changing a flat on the side of the highway, but other than the rare mishap of a blown tire it should serve you well. 

2019 Honda Ridgeline Touring
The Ridgeline’s trunk is very large and sealed against moisture, dust and dirt, while a spare tire and tools are tucked under the front half of the bed. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

Other thoughtful details include a two-prong 120-volt household-style power outlet on the cargo wall, while I also appreciated the two lights Honda housed within both sidewalls. The bed comes standard with grippy surfacing to aid stability when wet, while stepping up to it was less of a stretch with the door open thanks to a centre step on the rear bumper. Still, I would have appreciated some retractable corners steps for when the tailgate is lowered, or something along the lines of GM’s bumper-integrated CornerSteps. 

2019 Honda Ridgeline Touring
That’s a household-style socket behind a lidded compartment, one of two cargo lights to the left, while six “exciter” speakers are fastened to the backside of all three cargo walls, allowing for all-weather audio outside. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

Unusual for a pickup truck, the Ridgeline was so much fun to drive I actually noticed its lack of a sport mode and paddle shifters. It’s quick off the line, the 280 horsepower V6 producing 242 lb-ft of torque that feels like even more due to Honda’s Intelligent Variable Torque Management (i-VTM4) AWD system, the latter aiding handling too, especially in inclement weather. And yes, the Ridgeline feels a lot more like an SUV in the corners than a truck, plus it’s a lot easier to drive around town. Its ride is better too, especially over bumps or potholes at high speeds, this situation sometimes unsettling trucks with solid rear axles, potentially causing them to lose control. The Ridgeline, on the other hand, always felt in total control. 

2019 Honda Ridgeline Touring
The Ridgeline’s 280-hp 3.5-litre V6 is smooth, refined and well-proven. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

Its six-speed automatic transmission might seem a bit low on gears compared to the GM trucks’ eight-speed unit, but it matches the Toyota’s gearbox and one-ups Nissan’s antiquated five-speed, while delivering reasonably quick and always smooth shifts, adding to Honda’s ultimately refined pickup truck experience. 

In the end, the Ridgeline is the ideal choice for those needing the functionality of a pickup truck yet still wanting the drivability, comfort and refinement of an SUV, not to mention best-in-class safety and best claimed V6 fuel economy of 12.8 L/100km city, 9.5 highway and 11.3 combined. 

Truly, the Ridgeline is a best-of-both-worlds conveyance, and thanks to plenty of smart innovations it will continue to appeal to a smaller albeit more sophisticated light truck market.

Land Rover sold 686 examples of its Discovery in Canada from its first month of May 2017 to December of that year, increasing deliveries by 47.2 percent over the same seven months of 2016 when its mid-size…

2018 Land Rover Discovery Td6 HSE Luxury Road Test

2018 Land Rover Discovery Td6 HSE Luxury
For 2018 we tested a Land Rover Discovery in top-line HSE Luxury trim and even more upscale options. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

Land Rover sold 686 examples of its Discovery in Canada from its first month of May 2017 to December of that year, increasing deliveries by 47.2 percent over the same seven months of 2016 when its mid-size seven-passenger challenger was the extremely well-proven yet still cult favoured LR4. 

Guilty as charged, I’m part of that LR4 cult. Yet, its once traditional SUV shape has now become a radically unconventional box, and therefore it’s made way for an entirely new, thoroughly modernized, sleeker, sportier, and yes, now more conventional luxury SUV that has truly won me over, the new fifth-generation Discovery so much more livable than its predecessor it became plain silly to stay loyal to the old beast. 

2018 Land Rover Discovery Td6 HSE Luxury
Hardly short on size, the Discovery can seat up to seven adults in comfort. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

Driving a regular route from my home in Richmond, BC to Vancouver, and less often across the Lions Gate Bridge to the North Shore mountains, it looks as if 600 of those 686 Discoverys found their way here, but no doubt a good assortment have been snapped up in other premium SUV hotspots around Canada as well. Either way the Discovery is gaining sales traction where the LR4 was losing ground, and that momentum should continue to pick up as more families realize this new kid on the luxury block is now available and that it’s well worth their attention. 

2018 Land Rover Discovery Td6 HSE Luxury
The new Discovery pulls styling cues from the outgoing LR4, particularly its asymmetric liftgate design. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

Despite only being in its second model year, the 2018 Discovery comes to market with some important updates to make sure such interested parties are as impressed as possible, starting with changes to its base SE trim that now gets a two-inch larger 10-inch infotainment touchscreen as standard equipment (don’t believe LR Canada’s website as it hasn’t been updated), a move that makes this display standard across the entire Discovery range. What’s more, autonomous emergency braking is standard too, while that base SE model now gets the optional advantage of Land Rover’s highly efficient Td6 six-cylinder turbocharged diesel. 

2018 Land Rover Discovery Td6 HSE Luxury
Available LED headlamps improve nighttime visibility and style. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

The standard SE model’s improvements have pushed its base price up from $61,500 last year to $63,900 today, a difference of $2,400, but I’m sure most will agree that improved infotainment and potentially lifesaving advanced safety are well worth the extra cost. 

Moving up through the range, both HSE and HSE Luxury trims can now be upgraded with Land Rover’s new second-generation head-up display system, which was much appreciated in my tester, as well as a 12.3-inch configurable TFT primary gauge cluster. Additionally, the British brand’s innovative Activity Key is available for adventurous owners who’d rather leave their key fob safely and securely in their SUV while wearing a waterproof digital bracelet with proximity-sensing keyless access capability around their wrist. 

2018 Land Rover Discovery Td6 HSE Luxury
These 21-inch alloys are just one of many wheel options. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

My 2018 Discovery Td6 HSE Luxury tester came equipped with the more economical turbo-diesel, this engine’s very reasonable $2,000 increase making it financially justifiable due to fuel savings that should be recoupable over a few years of ownership. The numbers speak for themselves, with the alternative powerplant good for a claimed 11.2 L/100km in the city, 9.0 on the highway and 10.2 combined, compared to 14.7 city, 11.2 highway and 13.0 combined with the base gasoline-powered V6. Depending on how much you drive, the annual savings could be in the high hundreds. On that note both look downright stingy compared to the old LR4, which was soldiering along with a five-cycle Transport Canada rating of 16.2 city, 12.1 highway and 14.3 combined before its era came to a complete stop last year. 

2018 Land Rover Discovery Td6 HSE Luxury
Sharp looking LED taillights improve response time to reduce the chance of being hit from behind. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

Like with all diesel powerplants, high-speed thrust gets traded for low-speed twist, the base 3.0-litre supercharged V6 good for 340 horsepower and 332 lb-ft of torque compared to 254 horsepower and 443 lb-ft of torque for the 3.0-litre turbo-diesel, while both come mated to a ZF-sourced eight-speed automatic transmission that sends power down to all four wheels via Land Rover’s renowned Terrain Response off-road system. 

2018 Land Rover Discovery Td6 HSE Luxury
When upgraded with its optional trailering package the Discovery can tow up to 3,720 kg. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

A noticeable difference between the two engines is off the line jump, with the gasoline-powered base engine putting more power down faster for a quicker 7.1-second sprint to 100km/h, and the turbo-diesel taking a full second longer to achieve the same result, at 8.1 seconds. Unless you’re always in a hurry or simply enjoy the occasional (or regular) adrenaline rush that comes when dashing away from stoplights this one-second discrepancy won’t be an issue, as both provide plenty of highway passing power and can cruise at speeds up to 209 km/h (130 mph). 

2018 Land Rover Discovery Td6 HSE Luxury
The Discovery makes considerable improvements over its LR4 predecessor in both luxuries and conveniences. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

I happen to like the leisurely lope of a diesel and fully appreciate their savings at the pump, and I must say the Td6 performed flawlessly throughout my test, just like the 2017 Discovery Td6 I spent a week with last year. The two SUVs were optioned out similarly too, both in top-tier HSE Luxury trim, albeit this latest one finished in $870 Santorini Black instead of $870 Indus Silver, while improved with a few more upscale goodies as well. 

2018 Land Rover Discovery Td6 HSE Luxury
The Discovery HSE Luxury is filled with padded leather-lined goodness, rich hardwoods, and top-tier electronic interfaces. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

My previous tester was missing this 2018 model’s $1,740 optional 21-inch alloys that look superb and enhance lateral grip, while additional enhancements included some chrome edging on the otherwise body-colour door handles, a $2,350 Drive Pro package that builds upon the aforementioned standard Autonomous Emergency Braking system by adding Adaptive Cruise Control with Queue Assist, Blind Spot Monitor with Reverse Traffic Detection, Blind Spot Assist, Lane Keep Assist, a Driver Condition Monitor and Traffic Sign Recognition with an Adaptive Speed Limiter, the Drive Pro upgrade automatically necessitating the addition of $190 worth of auto-dimming side mirrors, which are always welcome during night driving. 

2018 Land Rover Discovery Td6 HSE Luxury
The standard gauge cluster gets a large colour multi-info display at centre, while a full TFT package is available. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

Additionally, my 2018 Discovery tester included a $2,040 optional rear seat entertainment system that features dual 8.0-inch monitors on the backsides of the front headrests, instead of last year’s left-side tablet holder and right-side coat hanger, plus a DVD changer, a really fancy looking remote, two WhiteFire digital headphones, and a secondary device interface on the backside of the front console (joining another one housed within that console) that gets fitted with two HDMI slots and two USB ports. 

2018 Land Rover Discovery Td6 HSE Luxury
The stunning centre stack features a standard 10-inch touchscreen with navigation, plus two-, three-, or four-zone auto HVAC. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

This latest Disco also came with a power-folding seat system that’s capable of automatically lowering and/or raising individual sides of the 50/50-split third row as well as either the 60 or 40 percent portion of the second row, or both simultaneously, this standard on HSE Luxury trim. What’s more, you can also power all seats up and down via the infotainment system or a smartphone app. This is the best of such systems I’ve ever experienced, and as helpful as the obvious convenience this provides, it goes about its business quickly compared to other powered seat systems I’ve used. 

2018 Land Rover Discovery Td6 HSE Luxury
This sensational navigation system is standard. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

Right next to these buttons is switchgear for the powered liftgate and unique powered tailgate, the latter a beautifully finished carpeted shelf that folds down to provide a convenient place to load up to 300 kilograms (661 lbs) of heavier items on before sliding them inside the sizeable cargo hold, while it also stops items from falling out when opening the liftgate, important being that cargo has a habit of shifting during travel. And by the way, if upgraded to the available air suspension, which comes standard with HSE Luxury trim, you can lower the rear of the SUV via that panel of buttons to make the tailgate’s lift-over height a bit easier to deal with. Either way the Discovery provides 980 litres (34.6 cubic feet) of cargo space behind the third row, 1,231 litres (43.5 cubic feet) aft of the second row, and 2,500 litres (88.3 cubic feet) with both rear rows lowered. 

2018 Land Rover Discovery Td6 HSE Luxury
A highly visible backup camera with dynamic guidelines is standard, with the option of an overhead parking system. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

Both 2017 and 2018 models came with sumptuous Ebony (black) Windsor leather upholstery thanks to HSE Luxury trim, the more conventional choice from four total colourway options that include a Glacier (light grey) and Ebony split, a caramel coloured Vintage Tan and Ebony split, and a Nimbus (light beige) and Ebony combination, but take note this year’s Ebony interior adds a touch of class by including Nimbus piping, which matches the same coloured standard headliner (an Ebony headliner is $410 extra), while standard open-pore Natural Shadow Oak veneer warmed up both cabins. Inlay options include no-cost Dark Satin Brushed Aluminum and Natural Charcoal Oak, while High Gloss Charcoal Oak adds $620 to the bill. 

2018 Land Rover Discovery Td6 HSE Luxury
The eight-speed automatic transmission is put into play via this rotating dial, while manual shifts come via steering wheel paddles. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

The 2018 model was devoid of side steps, making the reach up a bit more of a stretch, and didn’t come with the $310 optional 360-surround overhead parking aid, but its $1,940 7 Seat Luxury Climate Comfort package was a major bonus as it boasts 16-way power-adjustable front seats with massage, heated and cooled front and second-row outboard seats, heatable third row seats, and four-zone climate control with a comprehensive interface added to the backside of the front console. 

2018 Land Rover Discovery Td6 HSE Luxury
These 16-way powered seats are incredibly adjustable, while even including relaxing massage action. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

Some other features found on both SUVs included a $410 set of black roof rails, $140 for lane departure warning, and $110 for cabin air ionization, while this 2018 model included a $1,020 head-up display that projected speed, gear selection, and navigation directions onto the windshield, $410 for Advanced Tow Assist that literally backs the Discovery up to a trailer for you, which made the $670 Tow Equipment package prerequisite, upping trailering capacity to 3,720 kg (8,201 lbs), plus a $1,275 Capability Plus Package featuring All Terrain Progress Control (ATPC), Terrain Response 2, and an Active Rear Locking Differential. All of these extras increased the price of my tester to $93,360 before freight and fees, which is $29,460 more than the base Discovery yet starting to approach full-size Range Rover levels of features and functions for a fraction of that model’s $113,000 starting price. 

2018 Land Rover Discovery Td6 HSE Luxury
A panoramic sunroof comes standard, albeit the front pane is powered on upper trims. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

I bring up the big Range Rover because this new Discovery and that legendary luxury utility share the same underpinnings, as does the mid-size Range Rover Sport. This means the brand’s Integrated Body Frame (IBF) platform architecture has made way for an all-aluminum monocoque body shell and aluminum suspension design, allowing 480 kilos (1,058 lbs) less curb weight than the LR4. As you can likely imagine the new Discovery is not only more efficient than its predecessor, as noted earlier, but a great deal more enjoyable to drive. 

2018 Land Rover Discovery Td6 HSE Luxury
Second-row roominess and comfort is impressive, while the outboard seats can be heated and cooled. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

While the base SE comes standard with a fully independent coil-spring suspension setup and 19-inch alloys, my tester’s aforementioned 21s benefited from an air suspension upgrade that as mentioned comes standard with HSE Luxury trim. This made the most of the new Discovery’s lighter curb weight for an altogether more agile SUV, with sportier response during fast-paced curves that was especially noticeable when the weight shifted amid transitional corners. Of course, the Discovery remains a large SUV that’s never going to feel as athletic as something smaller like the Discovery Sport or Range Rover Evoque, but basing the new model on the same architecture as the amazingly capable Range Rover Sport has done wonders for the Disco, while it bodes well for a future SVR version of the latter. 

2018 Land Rover Discovery Td6 HSE Luxury
Rear seat entertainment: for the kids or the parents? (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

On that note I didn’t have opportunity to test the 2018 Discovery’s ability off pavement, but having driven other SUVs based on this architecture through mud, muck and over sand and rock I can only imagine it holds its own and then some. The Discovery includes the Land Rover brand’s legendary full-time four-wheel drive system featuring a locking centre differential and optional rear locking diff, which as mentioned was included with my loaner, while its driver selectable Terrain Response system makes choosing the ideal setup for a given road/trail condition ultimately easy. Basically, Terrain Response provides a rotating dial for selecting Normal, Grass/Gravel/Snow, Mud and Ruts, Sand, and Rock Crawl, while the upgraded Terrain Response 2 allows the vehicle to sense and adjust the driveline setup to best respond to changing conditions automatically. That’s my kind of off-roading. 

2018 Land Rover Discovery Td6 HSE Luxury
The backside of the front console can be had with dual-zone HVAC controls for second-row passengers, and much more. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

A compliant suspension is especially important when crawling over rocks and stumps, but it can be just as useful when trying to negotiate some of the back alleyways in my city. Whether blaming constant construction or sheer neglect, the Discovery’s air suspension made potholes and bumps less intrusive than they’d otherwise be, while good sound deadening and plenty of soft synthetic surfaces kept noise, vibration and harshness levels to a minimum. Still, a full-size Range Rover it’s not, which can be said of any SUV, as the priciest Landy would be my choice when it comes to full-on luxury. Considering the savings, however, the Discovery is finished very well, and once again better than its forebear. 

2018 Land Rover Discovery Td6 HSE Luxury
The second-row seats slide forward for easy access to the rearmost row. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

What’s more, the seats were sensational, and not just the aforementioned massage function. Easy to set up for my body size and shape as well as various preferences like squab height and angle, seatback angle and more, they were inherently comfortable, plus on top of this I was able to power-adjust the side bolsters to snuggly pinch my backside, and manually adjust the headrest via airline-style butterfly wings. The Discovery provides ample steering wheel reach as well, powered in HSE trims and above, so my long-legged, short-torso frame was able to fit in ideally for optimal comfort and control. 

2018 Land Rover Discovery Td6 HSE Luxury
The third row is quite roomy, even large enough for medium-sized adults. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

All switchgear, which is very high in quality, was easy to reach, including the infotainment touchscreen, which I must say is an impressive high-resolution system with beautiful depth and contrast of colours, superb graphics and functions galore, one of my favourite features being the sonorous 14-speaker 825-watt Meridian audio system. Without getting granular, some HSE Luxury features not yet mentioned include that stereo, a heatable steering wheel, heated second-row seats, a standard third row for seven-passenger occupancy, extended stitched leather on the dash top and door uppers, interior mood lighting, chromed outer door handles, fog lamps, a high and low range two-speed transfer case, and more. 

2018 Land Rover Discovery Td6 HSE Luxury
The second and third rows power down and back up again. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

Features pulled up from lesser trims include LED headlights with signature DLRs, 20-inch alloys, tri-zone auto climate control, in-dash storage behind the climate-controls (it actually powers open), satellite radio, front seat memory, the powered panoramic sliding moonroof (the base SE gets a fixed panoramic sunroof), hardwood inlays, front parking sensors, the powered inner tailgate and more from the HSE, plus proximity keyless access, pushbutton ignition, an electromechanical parking brake, power-folding heatable side mirrors with approach lights, rain-sensing wipers, a colour TFT multi-information display, an auto-dimming rearview mirror, rear parking sensors, a reverse camera, navigation, the InControl Remote phone app, Wi-Fi (for up to eight devices), a garage door opener, overhead sunglasses storage, a foot-activated powered gesture tailgate, hill descent control with off-road ABS, Hill Launch Assist, Gradient Acceleration Control (GAC), all the usual active and passive safety features, and more from the base SE. 

2018 Land Rover Discovery Td6 HSE Luxury
Cargo space is not an issue. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

I haven’t mentioned half of what’s standard or available, but suffice to say the 2018 Land Rover Discovery provides even more value within its mid-size luxury segment than the 2017 version, combined with excellent build quality, two highly efficient yet formidable powertrains, much improved high-speed handling, unsurpassed off-road performance, confidence-inspiring standard and optional safety, and the list goes on. Being an adventurer at heart I find it very easy to recommend.

Have you noticed? Jeep has been harmonizing the look of its new lineup. It started with the elimination of the more traditionally styled Patriot and adoption of Grand Cherokee styling for the thoroughly…

2018 Jeep Cherokee High Altitude 4×4 Road Test

2018 Jeep Cherokee High Altitude 4x4
Jeep’s 2018 Cherokee still looks great, especially in rugged High Altitude 4×4 trim and all-black paint. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

Have you noticed? Jeep has been harmonizing the look of its new lineup. It started with the elimination of the more traditionally styled Patriot and adoption of Grand Cherokee styling for the thoroughly redesigned Compass, and continues with the more recently refreshed 2019 Cherokee.

The fifth-generation Cherokee has always divided opinions, mostly due to its high-mounted headlamps and aerodynamically rounded seven-slot grille, so the new 2019 model, which is already starting to arrive in Canadian dealerships as we say goodbye to this outgoing model, repositions those headlamps downward for a more conventional look that should appease naysayers. I won’t spend any time discussing the new model, as there are still plenty of 2018 Cherokees left for savvy SUV buyers to negotiate great deals on, hence my review of this stunning all-black example before us.

2018 Jeep Cherokee High Altitude 4x4
The Cherokee has a brawny yet sporty look, that’s sleek and wind-cheating from its side profile view. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

The Cherokee trim level you’re looking at is dubbed High Altitude 4×4, but Jeep could’ve just as easily swapped the word altitude for attitude. I can only speak for myself, but I think it looks fabulous, all of its bold blackness contrasting beautifully against white/orange and white/red lighting elements plus silver brake calipers. Truth be told, I’m not usually a black-on-black kind of person, preferring some shade of white or a tastefully bright colour, but I can’t deny the attraction, this Cherokee works.

2018 Jeep Cherokee High Altitude 4x4
The Cherokee backs up its go-anywhere appearance with the ability to go almost anywhere, its 4×4 prowess a rarity in the compact SUV class. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

One of the great things about buying a Jeep is the brand’s incredible array of available colours, trim levels and special editions, making it so even the most eccentric of customers can find something that suits their unique personality. Conservative types will probably want to stick with the $27,945 base Cherokee Sport, $31,645 mid-range North, $35,145 premium-level Limited, or downright luxurious $40,645 Overland, while those hoping to pull eyeballs their way can purchase a less lofty $29,840 Altitude model, this $35,940 High Altitude, the $36,145 off-road focused Trailhawk, and finally the fancier $39,140 Trailhawk Leather Plus.

2018 Jeep Cherokee High Altitude 4x4
These unique slim-line headlamps won’t carry forward into the 2019 model, a shame as they really make the current Cherokee stand out from the crowd. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

Being a Jeep, Trail Rated 4×4 skills are mandatory, at least in upper trims. As it is, the Trailhawk models come standard with the brand’s Active Drive II all-terrain system, upgraded with Active Drive Lock, or rather a locking rear differential, whereas all other trims get standard front-wheel drive and the option of a lighter duty Active Drive I 4×4 system that only engages the rear wheels when necessary, or the more capable Active Drive II system without the locking rear diff.

2018 Jeep Cherokee High Altitude 4x4
These glossy black alloys come standard with the High Altitude model. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

Jeep also provides choices in powertrains, including a 16-valve, DOHC 2.4-litre four-cylinder good for 184 horsepower and 171 lb-ft of torque, and a 24-valve, DOHC 3.2-litre V6 making 271 horsepower and 239 lb-ft of torque, with both joined up to a highly advanced nine-speed automatic transmission.

As you can imagine the Cherokee’s fuel economy varies considerably depending on engine and drivetrain, with the most efficient four-cylinder, FWD models achieving a claimed 11.0 L/100km in the city, 7.8 on the highway and 9.6 combined, and the most potent V6-powered, 4WD-endowed versions good for an estimated 12.9 city, 9.9 highway and 11.6 combined.

2018 Jeep Cherokee High Altitude 4x4
The Cherokee’s clean, attractive taillights still look modern and fresh. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

My Cherokee High Altitude 4×4 tester falls into the latter camp, as it shipped with the $2,845 V6 and Active Drive II all-terrain traction upgrade, boosting its price of entry to $40,985 before freight, fees and options. The move upmarket meant that an off-road suspension now supported road-ready 225/60 Continental ProContact all-seasons on 18-inch alloys, these not as go-anywhere-capable as the Firestone Destination A/Ts found on a previous Trailhawk tested a couple of years ago, but despite its very real 4×4 prowess the High Altitude model is probably more of a city slicker anyway.

2018 Jeep Cherokee High Altitude 4x4
To the uninitiated, the Cherokee’s interior will be surprisingly upscale. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

For instance, the Trailhawk’s alloys measure 17 inches due to their all-terrain tires needing taller sidewalls for better off-road capability, while along with its aforementioned Active Drive Lock system it gets a unique Selec-Terrain traction management system featuring a rock crawling mode. The High Altitude gets Selec-Terrain without Rock mode, its dial-selectable settings including Auto, Sport, Snow, and Sand/Mud, which no doubt would be good enough to get it back from the cottage after a torrential spring downfall or up to the ski hill mid-winter, let alone out from behind a piled up snowplow-supplied embankment.

2018 Jeep Cherokee High Altitude 4x4
Soft-touch surfaces and impressive digital interfaces set the Cherokee’s cabin apart. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

While all of this brawny ruggedness sounds exciting, what makes both of these 4WD-equipped Cherokees especially appealing is their overall refinement. This likely can be said of FWD versions as well, although Jeep has never supplied me with one of those for testing so I’ll have to take their word for it. As it is, all Cherokees I’ve tested, starting with a 2014 Limited V6 4×4, which was followed up by a 2015 Trailhawk V6 4×4, a 2016 North V6 4×4, and finally this 2018 High Altitude V6 4×4, have come as close to premium-level pampering as mainstream volume makers get. I’m not talking Range Rover territory, but certainly nearing Land Rover in soft touch synthetic surfacing and features. The higher end Jeeps were especially well finished for this compact SUV class, with padded stitched leatherette dash tops and stitched leather armrests, premium perforated leather seats, tasteful satin-silver (or in this High Altitude model’s case, satin-copper/pewter) inlays, chromed details, etcetera.

2018 Jeep Cherokee High Altitude 4x4
Highly legible analogue gauges flank a large colour multi-info display. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

The Cherokee has been a leader in electronic interfaces since inception too, with my tester featuring a large 7.0-inch feature-filled colour multi-information display between its highly legible white/red on black primary gauges, and a much more sizeable 8.4-inch infotainment touchscreen on the centre stack, this boasting very accurate navigation guidance and wonderfully detailed mapping, plus easy to use phone connectivity with Bluetooth audio streaming, a panel for controlling the dual-zone auto HVAC system despite having all the climate control hardware housed on a separate interface below the screen, an individual display for the heated (and cooled, if upgraded) seats and heatable steering wheel, plus more. You can leave your connected phone in a rubberized bin at the base of the centre stack and charge it via a USB port, while that same group of inputs includes the usual aux plug and 12-volt charger, plus an SD card slot.

2018 Jeep Cherokee High Altitude 4x4
At 8.4 inches in diameter, the Cherokee’s touchscreen is one of the largest in the class. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

The High Altitude actually comes with a total of three 12-volt power outlets and three USB ports, plus a three-prong 115-volt household-style power outlet in back, while standard features not yet mentioned that are specific to this trim include bi-xenon HID headlamps, LED daytime running lamps, fog lamps, LED taillights, power-folding heated side mirrors with courtesy lamps and integrated turn signals, a leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob, ambient LED interior lighting, illuminated front cupholders, a storage bin on top of the dash, a universal garage door opener, voice activation, satellite radio, soft Nappa leather upholstery, a 12-way power driver’s seat with four-way powered lumbar adjustment (the Lexus NX only gives you two-way lumbar), heated front seats, a rear seat centre armrest with integrated cupholders, a cargo management system, a cargo cover and net, plus much more.

2018 Jeep Cherokee High Altitude 4x4
The highly accurate navigation system includes nicely detailed mapping. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

My tester also featured a wonderful dual-pane panoramic sunroof overhead, capable of being opened for fresh air or completely covered by a power-retractable shade, this a $1,595 standalone extra, while other standalone options included $700 for navigation, and $450 for nine amplified speakers including a sub, which provided decent sound quality.

My loaner’s packages included $1,295 for a Luxury group featuring two-way memory for the driver’s seat, side mirrors and radio, plus ventilated front seats, a powered liftgate, and more; a $995 Technology group featuring automatic high beams, adaptive cruise control with stop and go capability, advanced brake assist, forward collision warning with active auto braking, lane departure warning with lane keeping assist, semi-autonomous parallel and perpendicular parking assist, rain-sensing wipers, and more; while choosing the Technology group necessitates the $895 SafetyTec group that includes blindspot monitoring with rear cross-traffic detection and rear parking sensors with auto reverse braking; and lastly a $495 Trailer Tow group that added a 3.517 final drive ratio, heavy-duty engine cooling, a Class III hitch receiver, 4- and 7-pin wiring harness, an auxiliary transmission oil cooler, and a full-size spare tire. That’s $9,270 in options, upping the suggested retail price of my tester to $47,410 before freight and fees.

2018 Jeep Cherokee High Altitude 4x4
This nine-speed automatic is one of the most advanced in the compact SUV class. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

Certainly that’s luxury brand territory for a compact SUV, but add similar features to a premium-badged sport ute and you’ll be thousands higher and probably won’t enjoy the same straight-line performance or off-road ability. There’s something decidedly upscale about a smooth, powerful V6. The throaty growl and purposeful gurgle emanating from up front ahead of the firewall and out back via the exhaust is worth the price of entry, not to mention the slightly higher ongoing running costs.

The V6-powered Cherokee moves off the line with gusto, and the nine-speed automatic shifts smoothly and reasonably quick. It mixes the comfort of those aforementioned leather seats, which are nicely sculpted for excellent lower back support, with more sports car-like flair than the usual SUV fare. Truly, the Cherokee is a more performance-oriented SUV than the majority of its peers.

2018 Jeep Cherokee High Altitude 4x4
These leather-clad seats look great and feel even better. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

Case in point, I had Toyota’s full-load RAV4 Platinum at my beck and call during the same week, and while it’s a very nice SUV with plenty of features it was nowhere near as fun to drive as this Cherokee. I’m sure to some reading right now that sounds odd, because the Cherokee is the only SUV in its class with 4×4 credentials, so one would justifiably think that its taller ride height and greater capability over rocks, gravel, sand, and what-have-you would make it less capable on a curving stretch of pavement, but strangely this couldn’t be further from the truth. In reality, the Cherokee feels like the performance SUV, and the RAV4 a comparative laggard.

2018 Jeep Cherokee High Altitude 4x4
The optional dual-pane powered panoramic sunroof adds to the Cherokee’s open, airy, upscale ambience. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

Certainly the RAV is comfortable, although a lack of telescopic reach from the steering wheel made the Toyota’s driving position less agreeable to my long-legged, short-torso frame than the Cherokee’s setup. Likewise the RAV4 offered up a good ride, albeit no better than the Cherokee. Toyota defenders might fight back with a nod to the RAV4 for styling, but honestly these two are probably equal in this respect. I’ll give expected reliability to Toyota.

This said the Cherokee’s auto reverse braking system can cut in a bit too aggressively at times, but if you go slowly enough when backing up past an obstacle it won’t automatically lock up. If you can call that a complaint, that’s it for negatives.

2018 Jeep Cherokee High Altitude 4x4
Rear seat roominess, comfort and refinement is good for the class. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

Even the Cherokee’s rear seat roominess is good, with about four to five inches remaining ahead of my knees when the driver’s seat was positioned for my five-foot-eight medium-build body, plus another three to four inches above my head and five or six next to my shoulders and hips. More impressive, the rear passenger compartment is almost as nicely finished as the front, with soft-touch door uppers that actually extend halfway down the door. The RAV4, and most of its peers, doesn’t even have soft touch door uppers in back.

2018 Jeep Cherokee High Altitude 4x4
It’s not the most accommodating cargo area, but it should be ample for most peoples’ needs. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

Likewise, the Cherokee’s rear liftgate powers open to a nicely finished cargo area. There’s no carpeting up the sidewalls like SUVs in the pricier premium class offer, but Jeep mounts chromed tie-down hooks at each corner and finishes the cargo floor with high-grade carpets that extend onto the backsides of the rear seats. The floor lifts up to expose the previously noted optional full-size spare tire, and that removable panel is very sturdy.

2018 Jeep Cherokee High Altitude 4x4
The front passenger’s seat folds flat to stow longer items. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

When the 60/40-split seatbacks were folded flat via easily reachable clasps on the tops those seatbacks, expanding cargo space from 696 or 824 litres (24.6 or 29.1 cubic feet) depending on where the rear seats are positioned, to 1,554 litres (54.9 cubic feet), floor extensions fell into place to cover the gap where small items like wayward groceries (i.e. rolling apples and oranges) might otherwise fall. You can hang your grocery bags on cute little Jeep-branded hooks too, these clamped onto a useful organizer hoop attached to the left cargo wall. Also impressive, the aforementioned cargo cover retracts from within a very sturdy metal cross-member, and can be easily removed, while adding yet more functionality to this already impressively capable SUV, Jeep lets you drop the front seatback forward to stow really long cargo from front to back.

2018 Jeep Cherokee High Altitude 4x4
Jeep provides accessories that clamp to this useful cargo organizer. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

If you haven’t yet figured out my overall opinion of the Jeep Cherokee, imagine a big grin between two thumbs up. I’ve always liked it, I still like it, and I’m looking forward to experiencing all the improvements made to the upcoming 2019 version. That said there’s no reason to wait or pay more for the newer model, as this 2018 Cherokee is as modern and up-to-date as most compact SUV buyers will want and need, while delivering great performance both on and off the road, decent fuel economy, a smooth comfortable ride, surprising refinement, excellent electronics, and arguably attractive styling, especially in my tester’s all-black attire.

If black isn’t your thing there are loads of other colours available, plus all those trim and powertrain options noted earlier, not to mention features left out of this review, so find the Cherokee that suits you best. Choices amongst 2018 models will be more limited, but getting a better deal might make compromising worth it. Either way I think you’ll be well served with a Jeep Cherokee.

At first glance the move up from Audi’s A3 to A4 might not appear like a very big step, but don’t let the larger cars’ stylistic similarity trick you into thinking there’s little difference between…

2018 Audi A4 Sedan 2.0 TFSI Quattro Technik Road Test

2018 Audi A4 Sedan 2.0 TFSI Quattro Technik
Audi’s A4 was updated last year and looks just as dazzling for 2018, seen here in top-tier Technik trim. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

At first glance the move up from Audi’s A3 to A4 might not appear like a very big step, but don’t let the larger cars’ stylistic similarity trick you into thinking there’s little difference between the two.

While the A3 is exceptionally well finished for its more compact luxury class, plus plenty sporty and nicely featured, the move up to the D-segment-sized A4 brings with it an entirely new level of spaciousness, luxury and performance.

2018 Audi A4 Sedan 2.0 TFSI Quattro Technik
Clean, understated and classy, the A4 has won over a large, dedicated following of luxury buyers. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

For starters the 2018 A4 provides more interior space for driver and passengers, thanks to more front to rear legroom, greater width for shoulders, elbows and hips, and considerably more headroom, especially in back. With the driver’s seat positioned for my five-foot-eight frame I found more than six inches in front of my knees when seated behind, plus plenty of space for my feet, and about four inches remaining above my head. That means taller folk measuring six-foot-two and above should have no problem fitting comfortably in back.

2018 Audi A4 Sedan 2.0 TFSI Quattro Technik
The A4’s singleframe grille was made more angular for 2017. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

Likewise, the A4 Quattro’s trunk is 90 litres larger than the A3’s at 480 litres, which is sizeable for its class and made even more accommodating via ultra-convenient 40/20/40 split-folding rear seatbacks. If you need yet more cargo capacity, the base front-wheel drive A4 allows for 490 litres of gear-toting space. The trunk is finished nicely too, with high quality carpeting up the sidewalls and on the seatbacks, plus chromed tie-down hooks at each corner.

2018 Audi A4 Sedan 2.0 TFSI Quattro Technik
LED headlights enhance safety and style. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

Of course, you’ll find much more luxury and refinement inside the cabin, with expected D-segment upgrades including fabric wrappings for all roof pillars and soft-touch synthetics across the entire dash top and instrument panel, while unlike the smaller A3 both front and rear door panels receive high-grade pliable padded finishings from their topmost uppers to their lowest extremities.

2018 Audi A4 Sedan 2.0 TFSI Quattro Technik
These optional 19-inch alloys are stunning. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

That’s about it for plush plastics however, with the lower dash, glove box lid, and sides of the lower console disappointingly made from high quality textured harder composites. I can’t say this is par for the course as some others do this better, but Audi more than makes up for this slight shortcoming when it comes to digital interfaces and switchgear.

2018 Audi A4 Sedan 2.0 TFSI Quattro Technik
The A4’s dynamic LED taillights illuminate sequentially to indicate the direction of your turn. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

My top-line Technik tester meant that the Audi Virtual Cockpit came standard, an otherwise optional feature that’ll be sure to put a smile on any car enthusiast or tech zealot’s face. It’s a driver configurable TFT instrument cluster that provides clear resolution, superb graphics, wonderful depth of colour, and plenty of features, one of which simultaneously makes the centre-mounted multi-information display larger and surrounding digital dials smaller by pushing a steering wheel “VIEW” button, thus providing better visibility of key functions like the navigation system’s detailed mapping system. The Virtual Cockpit proves not all TFT gauge packages are created equal, with the A4’s my choice for best in class.

2018 Audi A4 Sedan 2.0 TFSI Quattro Technik
The A4’s interior isn’t perfect, but it comes close. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

The 8.3-inch infotainment display atop the dash is excellent too, although there are many more segment challengers for top spot in this category. Audi’s display is the current en vogue fixed tablet style, standing on its own above the centre stack. Unlike most in the class, the MMI system only allows actuation via a console-mounted rotating dial with a gesture sensor on top, plus a set of surrounding buttons, whereas competitors are either adapting to direct touchscreen functions in conjunction with such secondary controls, or dropping the costly dials and buttons altogether.

2018 Audi A4 Sedan 2.0 TFSI Quattro Technik
The flat-bottom S Line steering wheel joins other S Line Sport package upgrades in amping up the A4 cabin. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

I can understand why some owners wouldn’t want front passenger’s drive-thru-greased fingerprints mucking up the lovely display, but in reality the vast majority of us are so intrinsically connected to our smartphones and tablets that it’s only a matter of time before the A4’s secondary hardware is relegated to the past.

2018 Audi A4 Sedan 2.0 TFSI Quattro Technik
The Audi Virtual Cockpit makes you think it has maximized the multi-information system’s display area until… (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

Of note, even Audi has already done so with its new 2018 A8, and after watching some video of that car’s incredible new infotainment system, and living with Volkswagen’s more intuitive new 6.5- and 8.0-inch touchscreens that allow tap, pinch and swipe gesture controls directly on the screen, not to mention finger proximity sensing capability, it’s a change that will certainly be welcomed across the entire Audi lineup. On the positive the current system incorporates Apple CarPlay and Android Auto smartphone connectivity, the former absolutely worth syncing up to and, no fault to Audi, the latter still needing more work.

2018 Audi A4 Sedan 2.0 TFSI Quattro Technik
…. you see it fully maximized. Just press a “VIEW” button on the steering wheel and the dials get smaller and info larger. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

While I’ve criticized the MMI system’s switchgear for existing at all, I can’t very well dis it from an execution perspective. It’s all top-tier componentry, finished in lovely anodized aluminum and substantive matte composites, much like the A4’s remaining buttons, knobs and toggles that are amongst the industries best. I especially like the artfully designed auto climate control interface, while the metal and leather T-shaped shifter is as much a monument to good industrial design as the beautifully thin spokes of my tester’s S Line Sport package enhanced flat-bottomed steering wheel.

2018 Audi A4 Sedan 2.0 TFSI Quattro Technik
The centre stack is clean, well organized, and filled with features. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

These two driver-machine interfaces connect through to a wonderfully reactive drivetrain and chassis, the A4 amongst the D-segment’s most enjoyable four-door sport sedans thanks to strong yet smooth straight-line performance and superb handling dynamics combined with ample comfort. The numbers for the all-wheel drive Quattro model read 252 horsepower and 273 lb-ft of torque from a 2.0-litre direct-injection turbocharged four-cylinder, which doesn’t make the A4 quickest in its class yet still provides plenty of jump off the line.

2018 Audi A4 Sedan 2.0 TFSI Quattro Technik
The MMI display is filled with functions, but I appreciated the dual-screen parking camera most. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

The German carmaker mixes this top-line engine with a six-speed manual or its recently redesigned seven-speed S Tronic dual-clutch automatic, which delivers ultra-quick shifts and smooth, linear operation, this latter transmission standard with the base front-wheel drive A4. That entry model makes do with 62 fewer horsepower and 37 less lb-ft of torque resulting in a 7.4-second jog to 100km/h instead of the Quattro model’s 6.0-second sprint, but it’s a smart choice for those wanting a more leisurely, luxury-oriented ride with a focus on fuel economy.

2018 Audi A4 Sedan 2.0 TFSI Quattro Technik
Infotainment functions are controlled by the MMI dial and surrounding buttons. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

The base engine is good for a claimed 8.6 L/100km city, 6.4 highway and 7.6 combined, which is excellent for its class, while the more potent powerplant and six-speed manual combination gets a rating of 9.9 city, 7.1 highway and 8.7 combined, and as-tested auto/AWD combo 10.0, 7.0 and 8.7 respectively.

2018 Audi A4 Sedan 2.0 TFSI Quattro Technik
The T-shaped shift lever is a true piece of industrial art. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

Quattro AWD hooks the A4 up nicely at takeoff, even when soggy or snowy weather hampers road conditions, while standard steering wheel paddles add that critical level of engagement that buyers in this class crave. Despite not being the most powerful in its category, the A4 is one of my favourites to drive. It’s deceptively quick, while its compliant suspension defies its accomplished road holding. The A4 might just deliver the best balance of performance and comfort in the entire D-segment, while its well-insulated cabin ensconces driver and passengers in a hushed, calming environment benefiting further from a near industry best 0.23 coefficient of drag, its peaceful quietness only interrupted by the occasional high-revving mechanical note, sporty exhaust blip, or if suited up in Technik trim, superb 755-watt 19-speaker Bang & Olufsen 3D sound quality.

2018 Audi A4 Sedan 2.0 TFSI Quattro Technik
The S Line sport seats are equal parts style and comfortable support. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

Technik features not yet mentioned include power-folding side mirrors, a 360-degree Top-View surround camera, ambient lighting with custom colour selection, rear cross-traffic alert, Audi Side Assist that detects approaching vehicles from both sides and behind, Pre Sense Rear pre-collision that warns of potential problems coming from behind, an exit warning system that alerts of traffic or bicycles coming from behind when opening your door, and Audi connect assistance and security services, which is an impressive load of features for just $50,200 with the manual or $51,800 with the auto.

2018 Audi A4 Sedan 2.0 TFSI Quattro Technik
The front lower cushions include thigh extensions for greater comfort and support under the knees. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

My test car’s gorgeous set of 19-inch five-spoke V-design titanium-finish alloy rims on grippy 245/35 performance rubber was a clear sign of its $1,700 S Line Sport package, which along with items already mentioned includes a sport suspension with a 23-mm drop in ride height, S Line stainless steel doorsills, stainless steel pedals, unique S line interior trim with brushed aluminum inlays, front sport seats with powered lumbar for the front passenger, and a black headliner, while Audi also added $800 ventilated front seats.

2018 Audi A4 Sedan 2.0 TFSI Quattro Technik
The rear seating area is accommodating, comfortable and impressively finished. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

The A4 Technik pulls plenty of other features up from lesser trims, including full LED headlights with auto high beams and automatic leveling, proximity access, a heated steering wheel, auto-dimming side mirrors, driver’s seat and side mirror memory, a universal garage door opener, the larger infotainment display and MMI touch controller, a rearview camera, front and rear parking sensors, a foot-activated trunk release and more from $43,500 mid-range Progressiv trim, and S Line exterior styling, fog lights, pushbutton ignition, an electromechanical parking brake, rain-sensing wipers, an auto-dimming rearview mirror, tri-zone auto climate control, satellite radio, leather upholstery, eight-way power-adjustable heated front seats, four-way powered driver’s seat lumbar, a power moonroof, an aerated glove box, tire pressure monitoring, Audi pre sense basic, Audi drive select, all the usual active and passive safety equipment, and much more from $39,600 base Komfort trim.

2018 Audi A4 Sedan 2.0 TFSI Quattro Technik
The big trunk has 40/20/40-split seatbacks for stowing longer cargo like skis between two more comfortable rear passengers. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

Safety in mind, Audi offers a $2,100 Advanced Driver Assistance package featuring adaptive cruise control with stop-and-go, active lane assist, Audi’s pre sense front and pre sense city automated braking systems, traffic congestion assist and traffic sign recognition, all of which qualify it for an IIHS Top Safety Pick rating, while the NHTSA gave all A4 trims a best-possible 5-star safety rating, and further noted it has zero recalls, zero investigations, and zero complaints.

Zero complaints: Yes, that’s how I’d sum up my test of this 2018 A4 Quattro too. Perfect? Not quite, but it’s easily one of the nicest sport-luxury sedans on the compact luxury market.

In case you were hoping the new seventh-generation 2019 Jetta would be doing direct battle with the $16,790 base Honda Civic, the identically priced Toyota Corolla, the $15,999 Hyundai Elantra, or any…

Volkswagen to price 2019 Jetta at $20,995

2019 Volkswagen Jetta
VW has completely redesigned its compact Jetta for 2019, and it certainly is more eye-catching. (Photo: Volkswagen)

In case you were hoping the new seventh-generation 2019 Jetta would be doing direct battle with the $16,790 base Honda Civic, the identically priced Toyota Corolla, the $15,999 Hyundai Elantra, or any other sub-$17k compact sedan, think again. In fact, it won’t even undercut the $19,995 Subaru Impreza that comes standard with all-wheel drive. Instead, Volkswagen’s second-most affordable car will enter the Canadian market at $20,995, which represents a significant $4,600 bump up from the outgoing 2017 Jetta.

2019 Volkswagen Jetta
The rear design is more conservative, although its clean, uncluttered lines should age well. (Photo: Volkswagen)

Of course, for that money you can expect more standard features than the older car as well as its peers. For starters the new 2019 Jetta won’t be available in base Trendline trim, so say goodbye to 15-inch steel wheels with plastic covers. Instead, all 2019 Jettas will receive alloy wheels starting at 16 inches, as well as auto on/off LED headlights with a coming and leaving home function, plus LED daytime running lights, LED taillights, an electromechanical parking brake, a multifunction trip computer, cruise control, a proximity-sensing infotainment display measuring 6.5 inches in base trim, Apple CarPlay, Android Auto and MirrorLink smartphone connectivity, Bluetooth wireless phone connectivity with audio streaming, an SD card slot, a USB input, four-speaker audio, a static backup camera, a front centre armrest with a storage tray, heated front seats, 60/40 split-folding rear seatbacks, tire pressure monitoring, all the usual active and passive safety features, and more.

2019 Volkswagen Jetta
VW provides a larger panoramic sunroof starting in mid-grade Highline trim. (Photo: Volkswagen)

As impressive as some of its base features are, some of the 2019 Jetta’s less expensive competitors are now coming standard with auto on/off LED headlights too, plus similarly large infotainment displays with backup cameras, etcetera, while even more impressive, some competitors are now being shipped with standard advanced driver assistance systems that cost extra with the Jetta. For instance, all Corolla trims include autonomous emergency braking with pedestrian detection, lane departure warning with automatic steering assist, adaptive cruise control and LED headlights with automatic high beams.

2019 Volkswagen Jetta
Power remains reasonably strong at 147-hp and an optional 8-speed auto is impressive, but its torsion-beam rear suspension means the Jetta will likely lag behind key rivals with respect to handling, especially Honda’s Civic. (Photo: Volkswagen)

While these features will be optional on the mid-range Jetta Highline, as will blindspot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert that’s also available with most rivals, VW will step up its safety offering with a new class-exclusive automatic post-collision braking system designed to automatically apply the brakes after an impact, which would stop the vehicle even if the driver were incapacitated.

While much is new some things stay the same, starting with the Jetta’s sole 1.4-litre turbocharged and direct-injection four-cylinder engine. It puts out three fewer horsepower resulting in 147 instead of 150, plus an identical 184 lb-ft of torque, while it once again drives the front wheels via a standard six-speed manual gearbox, which no doubt to the delight of performance fans everywhere continues to be offered in all trim levels.

2019 Volkswagen Jetta
Standard LED headlamps mean that VW joins others in the class that now offer such premium-like details as standard equipment. (Photo: Volkswagen)

The available Tiptronic automatic transmission remains a very reasonable $1,400 option yet sports two more forward speeds for a total of eight, while it also boasts a new auto start/stop system that temporarily shuts the engine off when it would otherwise be idling to save fuel and reduce emissions. The new Jetta will also come standard with an Eco mode to reduce fuel consumption even further, but unlike the outgoing Jetta no engine upgrade option is yet available.

2019 Volkswagen Jetta
Standard LED taillights is nothing new in the compact segment, yet VW delivers sharp looking Audi-like lenses. (Photo: Volkswagen)

Better news has the 2019 Jetta riding on Volkswagen’s more advanced Modular Transverse Matrix (MQB) platform architecture, which currently underpins the award-winning Golf. This said the latest Jetta won’t be on the receiving end of the MQB platform’s most-lauded component, its fully independent rear suspension that unfortunately makes way for a cheaper torsion-beam setup. This may change for a future Jetta GLI, however, so VeeDub’s legions of performance fans will want to keep their collective fingers crossed, but then again Volkswagen has already lost many of these one-time loyalists to Civic Nation which has long offered an independent rear suspension in its least expensive base trim, let alone the mighty Civic Si and Type R variants. Hyundai offers an independent rear suspension in the Elantra Sport as well, as do some others in this class.

2019 Volkswagen Jetta
The Jetta offers some impressive digital displays in its upper trim range, including a configurable gauge cluster in the Execline and 8.0-inch touchscreen with Highline trim and above. (Photo: Volkswagen)

Just the same, the majority of Canada’s compact sedan buyers will find the new Jetta’s 32-millimetre (1.3-inch) longer wheelbase, now spanning 2,685 mm (105.7 inches), greater width, taller roofline and resultant increased interior room more appealing, while its shorter front and rear overhangs, combined with a more gradually sloping four-door coupe-like rear pillar, provide a sportier visual profile.

Still, while the new Jetta’s design is slightly sleeker and somewhat more shapely than the car it replaces, featuring a larger, bolder grille that integrates nicely into LED headlamps, its stately lines lean more toward the current model’s conservatism than the initial design sketches’ (see the gallery) low-slung drama, which puts it on a safe route that should help it appeal to the auto market’s large base of low-key consumers, while enjoying a longer shelf life than something more radical otherwise would, which may earn it a stronger resale value too.

2019 Volkswagen Jetta
This Jetta Execline appears to produce a virtual light show at night. (Photo: Volkswagen)

Along with more space inside, Volkswagen promises a more upscale, premium-like passenger compartment, at least up front. More soft-touch synthetic surfaces will provide improved refinement, while the overall interior design has been modernized with the infotainment display more prominently mounted higher up on the instrument panel’s centre stack for easier access with less distraction away from the road ahead. What’s more, the top-tier Execline model includes a fully configurable colour TFT gauge cluster dubbed Volkswagen Digital Cockpit, similar to the Audi Virtual Cockpit.

Upper trims in mind, the mid-range Highline model starts at $24,095 and features standard proximity access, pushbutton ignition, a larger 8.0-inch infotainment touchscreen, voice recognition, two additional audio speakers for a total of six, satellite radio, a larger powered panoramic sunroof, and blindspot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert.

2019 Volkswagen Jetta
The Volkswagen Digital Cockpit, standard with Execline trim, sets new standards in the mainstream compact segment. (Photo: Volkswagen)

As noted earlier, Highline trim allows the addition of an optional $995 Driver Assistance Package with auto high beams, adaptive cruise control, autonomous emergency braking, and lane keeping assist. Also available with Highline trim, the $1,700 R-Line Package adds 17-inch alloys, fog lamps with integrated cornering lights, special R-Line exterior design details including glossy black painted exterior mirrors, plus R-Line badging, remote start (with the automatic transmission only), 10-colour ambient cabin lighting, a black headliner, an R-Line steering wheel, a sport suspension, and Volkswagen’s Cross Differential System (XDS) that applies braking to the inside front wheel in mid-turn to enhance cornering capability.

2019 Volkswagen Jetta
As usual, the new Jetta’s seats look above par, and the general layout of the cabin is attractive while appearing well made. (Photo: Volkswagen)

The top-tier Jetta Execline, which starts at $27,695, makes the XDS system, 17-inch alloys, and ambient interior lighting standard, while upgrading the headlights to lens-type full LEDs featuring unique LED signature daytime running lights, chromed window surrounds, side mirrors with integrated turn signals and memory, the Volkswagen Digital Cockpit, a leather-wrapped steering wheel rim and shift knob, rain-sensing wipers, an auto-dimming rearview mirror, illuminated vanity mirrors, dual-zone automatic climate control, a six-way powered driver’s seat with two-way powered lumbar and memory, front seat ventilation, perforated leather upholstery, a 400-watt eight-speaker BeatsAudio sound system, and more. The Jetta Execline is also available with the Driver Assistance Package.

2019 Volkswagen Jetta
The new 2019 Jetta looks like a solid step forward, but its low-rent suspension could turn off diehard VW fans, and its lack of standard advanced safety gear belies its lofty base price. (Photo: Volkswagen)

Today’s outgoing Jetta has been steadily losing sales since its highpoint of 31,042 units in 2014, its 2017 sales of 17,483 units showing a decline of 43.7 percent over four years and a year-over-year downturn of 16.5 percent since 2016 alone. This is partially due to greater consumer interest in compact SUVs like Volkswagen’s Tiguan, but it can’t be overlooked that the aforementioned Civic and Corolla have gained market share over the same duration, as has the Kia Forte and Volkswagen’s own Golf.

Volkswagen is banking on this redesigned 2019 Jetta finding similar upward momentum to that stylish Golf, and likewise it’s hoping to pull from the Jetta’s 600,000-plus previous Canadian owners to achieve that. Still, with much higher than average base pricing, a deficit in standard advanced safety technology, and a low-rent rear suspension design it’s going to be an uphill battle.

If you call yourself a car enthusiast yet don’t have a place in your heart for the Honda Civic Si, you simply haven’t spent enough time with one. I don’t care if your personal means allow for an…

2018 Honda Civic Sedan Si Road Test

2018 Honda Civic Sedan Si
Honda builds upon the unparalleled success of the 10th-generation Civic by introducing a more powerful new Civic Si. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

If you call yourself a car enthusiast yet don’t have a place in your heart for the Honda Civic Si, you simply haven’t spent enough time with one.

I don’t care if your personal means allow for an Audi RS, BMW M, Jaguar SVR, Mercedes-Benz AMG, or for that matter multiples from Aston Martin, Bentley, Ferrari, Lamborghini and McLaren, there’s something totally unique and extraordinarily special about the Civic Si, not to mention an enviable street and track heritage that spans decades.

2018 Honda Civic Sedan Si
The already attractive Civic Sedan gets plenty of styling mods to make the Si look even better. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

In North America the Si name dates all the way back to 1985 when it was first introduced as a range-topping CRX, that short-lived model now a very collectable two-seat Civic-based coupe. This said the Si that initially won many of us over came along in 1986 as a special sport-tuned variant of the third-generation Civic Hatchback. Both models incorporated a 91 horsepower, 12-valve, SOHC, 1.5-litre four-cylinder engine driving the front wheels through a five-speed manual gearbox, which was a potent package for the era.

2018 Honda Civic Sedan Si
Sporty gloss black grille and trim, full LED headlamps, and a more aggressive lower front fascia make the Si’s performance purpose clear. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

The Civic Si has been available for most model years ever since, growing in power and handling prowess while developing a devoted cult-like following amongst sport-compact fans. The most recent ninth-generation 2012–2015 Civic Si was available in Coupe and Sedan forms and as of 2014 boasted 205 horsepower and 174 lb-ft of torque from a 2.4-litre four-cylinder engine, also driving the front wheels albeit through a six-speed manual that many, including yours truly, consider one of the best of its type available.

2018 Honda Civic Sedan Si
There’s nothing low-rent about these premium-level LED headlights. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

Six forward speeds and an identical 205 horsepower rating remained when the completely redesigned 2017 Civic Si went on sale on May 19th of the same year, but its peak power arrives 1,300 rpm lower in the rev range at 5,700 rpm instead of 7,000, whereas maximum torque was increased by 18 lb-ft to 192, and starts 2,300 rpm earlier at 2,100 rpm compared to 4,400 in the old model, plus it’s sustained over 70 percent of the engine’s rev range. This makes it a much more tractable car at low revs, which is how most of us drive when going about our daily duties, while the new engine is also a much more capable performer when powering out of slow corners or tackling tight, circuitous auto cross or race courses, where most Si owners dream to be on weekends.

2018 Honda Civic Sedan Si
The Civic Si’s frontal design is bold yet still very tasteful. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

One single word is fully responsible for the boost in performance: Turbo. At just 1.5 litres, the engine is 900 cubic centimetres smaller than the outgoing 2.4-litre four-cylinder, but a turbocharger and direct injection, along with dual variable cam timing, allow for the performance improvements despite much better claimed fuel economy of 8.4 L/100km in the city, 6.2 on the highway and 7.4 combined, compared to 10.8 city, 7.6 highway and 9.4 combined with the old 2015 model.

2018 Honda Civic Sedan Si
18-inch machine-finished alloys with black-painted pockets shod by 235/40R18 performance tires suit the job at hand. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

In order to achieve such efficiency figures you’ll need to set the new Civic Si’s dynamic driving mode to Normal, while this will also allow for a more relaxed, comfortable driving style. Sport mode, on the other hand, extracts all the performance from the powertrain and suspension by enhancing throttle response, sharpening the steering, and stiffening the shocks.

It really makes a big difference, the 2018 four-door sedan tested being the most capable Si I’ve ever driven through the corners. Full disclosure, it wasn’t the most capable Civic I’ve had the pleasure of piloting, that model being a Type R that I’ll be reviewing soon, but as far as Si models go, the latest iteration is a revelation. It comes down to a lighter yet stiffer body shell and a wider track, the Sedan Si having shed eight kilos (17.6 lbs) resulting in 1,341 kilograms (2,956 lbs) of total curb weight.

2018 Honda Civic Sedan Si
Sizeable rear wing makes a powerful statement, yet isn’t over the top and is therefore still “suitable” for all ages. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

Honda also upgraded the electric power steering to a dual-pinion adaptive system with variable ratios, while two-mode adaptive dampers make the most of the fully independent sport-tuned suspension. A helical limited-slip differential improves power delivery too, while larger 12.3-inch front brake rotors (up 0.5 inches) made sure that stopping performance matched go-fast momentum, all aided by wider 235/40R18 rubber.

2018 Honda Civic Sedan Si
The deck lid wing, aggressively styled apron, and centre-mounted exhaust pipe separate the hind end of the new Si from regular Civic Sedan trims. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

Along with the adaptive dampers, the new Civic Si’s suspension received stiffer spring rates, stabilizer bars that are 30- and 60-percent more rigid front to rear, solid front and rear compliance bushings, plus much stiffer front upper control arms pulled from the Type R, while the wheel track mentioned earlier was increased by 34 millimetres up front and 33 mm in the rear to 1,538 and 1,554 mm respectively, which makes for better transitional stability and enhanced cornering capability.

Jump from the previous Sedan Si into the new one and it’s be a night and day experience. Don’t get me wrong, as I would enjoy any time offered with any generation of Si, as all have proved brilliant fun on road and track. I’ve enjoyed many such opportunities in earlier examples on some of North America’s best racecourses, and all were winners in their own rights, while the final 2.4-litre four, an engine I recently enjoyed once again while testing an Acura ILX, will go down as one of the best I-4s of all time. Still, the new turbocharged mill delivers even greater performance while being easier to live with day in and day out, and such daily livability is really what the Si, especially in sedan form, is all about.

2018 Honda Civic Sedan Si
All that’s already great about the regular Civic is made even better in the upgraded Civic Si. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

Let’s not forget the Civic Sedan Si is based on the best-selling car in Canada, a model that found a phenomenal 69,030 buyers last year for a gain of 6.9 percent over the year prior. To put this into competitive perspective, Honda delivered 37.1 percent more Civics than Toyota sold Corollas, while the percentage gap grew to 49.7 percent when factoring in falling Hyundai Elantra sales. What about the fourth-place Mazda3? It’s not even in the same league, with the Civic outselling it by 147.7 percent in calendar year 2017. Basically, Canadians prefer the new 10th-generation Civic over all competitors by a long shot, which makes it the ideal “donor platform” for a performance model.

2018 Honda Civic Sedan Si
The Si builds on the already stunning Civic interior with a number of unique styling details including red stitching throughout. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

The Civic Sedan and its identically sized Civic Sedan Si counterpart being reviewed here provide a roomy cabin that’s capable of fitting up to five adults in comfort. What’s more, the interior delivers a surprising level of premium-like quality and refinement when it comes to design, materials used, fit and finish execution, electronic interfaces, and features. You’ve heard me and many others rave on and on about the new Civic already, so I won’t bore you with every detail, but suffice to say the Si gets the same level of high quality finishings as the Civic Touring, plus most of its features along with a few of its own.

2018 Honda Civic Sedan Si
As is common with performance models, red is the dominant colour theme inside. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

Let’s begin with a rundown of the exterior, which adds a more aggressive look up front, starting with the trademark Honda “wing” grille finished in glossy black instead of chrome. This envelops a set of full high and low beam LED headlamps at each corner, the latter hovering above massive black bezeled lower air intakes with mesh inserts, which flank a gloss black mesh lower air intake at centre and a black lip spoiler below that, the frontal view plenty menacing yet not overly dramatic (I’m talking to you, Type R).

2018 Honda Civic Sedan Si
The centre stack design looks really upscale, and its execution is excellent. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

To each side, muscular front fenders bend overtop new 18-inch machine-finished Y-split five-spoke alloys with black painted pockets, these wrapped with low-profile Goodyear Eagle Sport all-season tires, while moving rearward shows a big wing attached to the trailing edge of the Si Sedan’s rear deck lid, featuring an LED centre-mounted brake light tucked underneath, and just below that an exclusive lower rear bumper cap boasting sporty faux ducting like the one up front, albeit this time a polygonal chrome exhaust pipe gets positioned in the middle. Of the three Civic body types the sedan is my favourite, and I must admit this sentiment carries over to the Si as well.

2018 Honda Civic Sedan Si
The resolution quality, depth of contrast and colour, graphics, and features within the infotainment system are impressive. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

The Civic Si has long included some of the best seats in the sport compact class, and the new 10th-generation’s chairs are at least as impressive as in year’s prior. As usual, deep sculpting and aggressive side bolstering are part of the package, as is sporty red stitching and embroidered “Si” logos on the upper seatbacks, while the leather-wrapped sport steering wheel, shift knob and boot get the same red thread highlights as well, as do the cloth door inserts. Finally, carbon-look instrument panel inlays and aluminum sport pedals complete the interior upgrades.

2018 Honda Civic Sedan Si
That’s a device charging pad, standard with the Civic Si. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

Along with all the performance-oriented styling, the new Si includes all of the same superb electronic interfaces that make less sporting Civics stand out in their compact segments, the new model’s TFT gauge cluster and its audio system illumination enhanced with a unique red colour scheme to set it apart from mere mortal Civics.

Better yet, the Si’s standard 7.0-inch colour infotainment system includes a throttle and brake app that displays a graphic percentage format, turbocharger boost in pounds per square inches (psi), a race track lap timer, race inspired shift lights, and a graphical G-meter that shows acceleration, braking and cornering forces, all designed to make weekends at the track more fun.

2018 Honda Civic Sedan Si
The 6-speed manual is sublime, but no available automaker limits the Civic Si’s target audience. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

The 2018 Civic Si Sedan starts at just $28,690 plus freight and dealer fees, while on top of everything already mentioned it features standard proximity keyless entry, pushbutton ignition, white ambient LED lighting, an electromechanical parking brake with auto brake hold, illuminated steering wheel-mounted cruise, audio, phone and Driver Information Interface (DII) controls, dual-zone auto climate control, the previously noted 7.0-inch touchscreen infotainment system with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto smartphone integration, a backup camera with dynamic guidelines, navigation, voice activation, Bluetooth phone with streaming audio, wireless device charging, 452-watt 10-speaker premium audio with satellite and HD radio, heatable front and rear seats, 60/40 split-folding rear seatbacks, hill start assist, a convenient capless fuel filler, and much more, not to mention a strong enough body structure and amply stocked suite of standard safety features to score 5 stars overall from the NHTSA.

2018 Honda Civic Sedan Si
The Civic Si’s sport seats are some of the best in the industry. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

Speaking of safety, keep in mind the Civic Si doesn’t include any of the advanced driver assistance systems available as part of the Honda Sensing upgrade on other Civic models, such as adaptive cruise control, forward collision warning, collision mitigation braking, lane departure warning, lane keeping assist, and road departure mitigation, which are available on the regular Civic, as these require an automatic transmission and the Si is only available with the previously noted six-speed manual. Still, along with the segment’s usual active and passive safety features the Si includes Honda’s amazing LaneWatch blindspot display system, which projects a rearward view of the otherwise out of sight passenger’s side on the centre display when engaging the right turn signal.

2018 Honda Civic Sedan Si
Excellent rear seat roominess and comfort make the Civic Si as practical to live with as it’s fun to drive. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

Still, climb into a Civic Si and the last thing you’ll be thinking about is playing it safe. Certainly you’ll want to keep it within the lines, but the Si was designed for pushing the envelope, and thanks to ideal driver ergonomics, a wonderfully formed leather-wrapped steering wheel, the idyllic shifter now noted ad nauseum, its torque-rich yet still high-revving new powerplant, and brilliantly balanced suspension, this little sport sedan just begs to get into mischief. Yet push it for all you’re worth and the Si delivers with exhilarating acceleration, sensational handling, and shockingly capable braking performance, a continual reminder that it’s plenty more skilled than most ever give it credit for.

You can spend a lot more to do a lot less from a premium brand, or you can step up to the humble yet legendary Civic Si.

Nissan makes one of the more stylish, technologically advanced, and all around modern mid-size pickup trucks in the world, they just don’t bring it here. The Navara, sold in Asia, Europe, and other…

2018 Nissan Frontier Crew Cab Midnight Edition Road Test

2018 Nissan Frontier Crew Cab Midnight Edition
Midnight Edition styling adds a fresh new take on a well-known Frontier design. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

Nissan makes one of the more stylish, technologically advanced, and all around modern mid-size pickup trucks in the world, they just don’t bring it here.

The Navara, sold in Asia, Europe, and other global markets, is now in the third year of its third generation, and it still looks fresh and new. It’s so good, in fact, that it’s the basis for the new Mercedes-Benz X-Class, a luxury truck with no direct rival.

In sharp contrast the North American market soldiers on with Nissan’s particularly well-seasoned Frontier, introduced a baker’s dozen or so years ago in 2005. While still competent, a claim I’ll attempt to prove as this review unfolds, sales haven’t grown as quickly as its competitors.

2018 Nissan Frontier Crew Cab Midnight Edition
This black on white Midnight Edition makes a sporty statement. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

Yes, despite very little in the way of upgrades since inception, the Frontier continues to find favour with plenty of Canadians, its 2017 grand total of 4,260 deliveries actually resulting in its strongest-ever calendar year. That represents a 3.2-percent gain from last year, but more significantly 43.7 percent growth over the past five years and a 97-percent increase since the year before the great recession, 2007 (using depressed 2008 sales numbers would unrealistically skew results).

2018 Nissan Frontier Crew Cab Midnight Edition
Without HIDs, let alone LEDs, the Frontier is a back-to-basics pickup truck that nevertheless drives good value. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

How have others fared? GM, which reentered the market after a short hiatus, is now the clear leader amongst mid-size pickup truck purveyors with 14,320 Chevrolet/GMC Colorado/Canyon sales in 2017 (8,060/6,260), this representing 426.8 percent growth since 2012, the final full year of the previous generation’s availability, while sales growth since 2007 has been a more modest 29.5 percent. Toyota, which sold 12,454 Tacomas last year for a slight dip of 1.3 percent from the year prior, was the segment’s dominant sales leader up until 2015. Still, the Texan-made trucklet experienced growth of 19.7 percent within the past five years, and 31.4 percent over the decade.

2018 Nissan Frontier Crew Cab Midnight Edition
Tiny fog lamps and big black alloys add to the go-anywhere look. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

The Honda Ridgeline, which was the only mid-size truck to suffer slower sales than the Frontier last year, despite its completely overhauled second-generation being the newest vehicle in the segment, grew by 76.6 percent to 4,632 units year-over-year, while its five-year gain was 118.3 percent. Even with the update, the Ridgeline’s 2017 sales weren’t able to surpass the previous generation’s first full-year high of 4,988 deliveries, while its sales growth since 2007 is just 2.5 percent.

2018 Nissan Frontier Crew Cab Midnight Edition
Rugged design details help the Frontier stand out. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

Despite their similar 2017 sales numbers the differences between the Frontier and Ridgeline are night and day, especially when factoring in heritage. Nissan has sold compact trucks since the market segment was conceived, my family having owned multiple Datsun branded 620 series models through my formative years (I’ll always cherish the many wonderful memories spent with my dad in our light blue ’78), while the original Datsun Truck arrived on North American soil in 1958, that 220 series truck solely responsible for establishing the Japanese brand on this side of the Pacific, but take note that its own domestic market benefited from a Datsun pickup in its ranks since 1938. To be fair I should mention that Honda brought a pickup to market in 1963, but it was never sold here and therefore the brand wasn’t able to establish a faithful truck following until the Ridgeline arrived in 2005.

2018 Nissan Frontier Crew Cab Midnight Edition
These 18-inch rims are exclusive to the Midnight Edition. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

Loyalty is a critical ingredient to success in the truck sector, making it difficult to fathom why both Ford and Dodge (now Ram) abandoned their long-established small truck following six and seven years ago respectively. The former will soon reenter our market with the Ford Australia designed and engineered Ranger, which is currently a best-seller in many Asian markets as well as Europe, so competition within the mid-size truck segment will certainly heat up in coming years.

2018 Nissan Frontier Crew Cab Midnight Edition
The Midnight Edition is based on SV V6 4×4 trim. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

While it would be easy to needle Nissan about its obvious lack of investment in this class, we can simultaneously commend them for sticking it out while others have left. What’s more, a sizeable number of Canadians regularly choose to spend their hard earned money on new Frontiers, so the current model clearly has proven appeal. To back this point up yet further, combined January and February year-over-year sales were up an additional 33.1 percent from 2017 to 2018.

The fact is, the Frontier was far ahead of its time when introduced in 2005, allowing it to age well. Certainly, when put next to any of its more modern rivals the Nissan looks a bit dated from the outside and probably more so inside, but unless we start directly comparing their top-line trims it’s not as if the newer models are pampering palaces of luxury in entry-level guise.

2018 Nissan Frontier Crew Cab Midnight Edition
Those black dots on the rear bumper are very helpful parking sensors. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

Let’s face it. We’re talking trucks here, not luxury cars. In fact, you can get into a base 2018 Frontier for just $23,998, plus freight and fees. Before any hate mail from GM zealots starts flooding in, I realize a base Colorado starts at only $22,610 and the Canyon for $23,410, which no doubt has helped propel them up the sales charts. By comparison, the Tacoma begins life at $30,900, whereas the Ridgeline is a rarified luxury truck due to a base price of $37,290, which gives me new respect for the other two Japanese models’ sales numbers.

2018 Nissan Frontier Crew Cab Midnight Edition
The light grey interior is a welcome change to the mid-size truck segment’s usual black. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

The unibody Ridgeline warrants its loftier base price in refinement alone, its cabin mostly pulled directly over from the near-luxury Pilot SUV. The rest of the segment is comprised of traditional body-on-frame pickup trucks, so even though the Frontier is still filled with durable hard plastic surfaces instead of soft, pliable leather-like synthetics, none of the others are either, at least at the lower end.

On that note, I’m going to guess that none of these trucks sell best in their most humble trims, the 2018 Frontier available in King Cab S, $25,548 King Cab SV, and $31,748 King Cab PRO-4X, while the Crew Cab SV starts at $32,498, my tester’s new for 2018 Crew Cab Midnight Edition trim at $35,398, the Crew Cab PRO-4X at $36,798, and top-tier Crew Cab SL at $38,898.

2018 Nissan Frontier Crew Cab Midnight Edition
The Frontier’s interior certainly shows its age, but its classic interior styling was advanced when it debuted in 2005. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

The base Frontier S comes similarly equipped to the rest of its truck-based alternatives, with key features including a direct-injected 2.5-litre DOHC, 16-valve, four-cylinder engine making 152 horsepower and 171 lb-ft of torque, a five-speed automatic transmission, rear-wheel drive, four-wheel disc brakes with ABS, an independent double-wishbone front suspension and leaf-spring, solid axle rear setup, 15-inch steel wheels, an extended King Cab and 1,861 mm (73.3 inch/6.1-foot) bed, a chrome grille, a partial body-colour front bumper and a full body-colour rear bumper, a locking tailgate, a cargo bed light, variable intermittent wipers, illuminated steering wheel-mounted audio controls, cruise control, air conditioning, a hands-free text messaging assistant, a RearView parking monitor (new in standard trim), Bluetooth phone connectivity with audio streaming, 5.0-inch colour display audio with AM, FM, CD, and satellite radio, speed-sensitive volume control, aux and USB ports, fabric seat upholstery, forward-facing rear flip-up seats, second-row under-seat storage, carpeted flooring, tire pressure monitoring, all the usual active and passive safety features, and more.

2018 Nissan Frontier Crew Cab Midnight Edition
The gauge cluster is simple and straightforward, which is just fine for a mid-size pickup truck. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

By comparison the GM twins offer more base power yet they charge extra for an automatic, albeit with one more forward gear, while their more modern entry-level interiors feature powered locks and windows, coloured multi-information displays (MID) within the gauge cluster, larger infotainment touchscreens, slightly better audio quality, powered driver’s seats, and unique rear bumper corner steps for ease of access to the bed. Likewise, the pricier Toyota features more power yet an optional auto with an additional forward gear, a colour MID, larger infotainment, heated front seats, and a host of advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS) such as auto high beams, adaptive cruise control, autonomous emergency braking with pedestrian detection, and lane departure alert.

2018 Nissan Frontier Crew Cab Midnight Edition
The infotainment display is small at 5 inches, and the backup camera doesn’t have dynamic guidelines. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

While the Frontier doesn’t include any of those ADAS features, loading one up with everything available, such as auto on/off headlights, a leather-wrapped steering wheel, navigation, voice recognition, 10-speaker Rockford Fosgate audio, powered seats, leather upholstery, illuminated vanity mirrors, a garage door opener, a powered moonroof, and more, plus some popular dealer-added accessories, can nudge it over the $40k threshold, but that’s still extremely affordable when comparing it to the fully featured Tacoma that hits the road at $47,625, or the optioned out Ridgeline at $57,605, maxed Canyon at $58,365, and ultimate Colorado at $59,740. Of course, it’s impossible to compare all of these trucks directly as they offer features not available with the Frontier SL.

2018 Nissan Frontier Crew Cab Midnight Edition
Shifting from 2WD to 4H or 4LO is as easy as twisting that big, black dial on the left. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

This mid-range Frontier Midnight Edition is more utilitarian than the SL, but I have to say it still looks good thanks to a design that’s stood the test of time, further dressed up with plenty of sporty gloss black trim in place of cheaper matte black or ritzier metal brightwork, plus fog lamps up front, black step rails and splash guards down each side, not to mention exclusive Midnight Edition blackened 18-inch alloys circled by 265/60 mud and snow all-seasons. All of this gear gets attached to the larger, more accommodating Crew Cab body, making for a handsomely rugged mid-size truck.

2018 Nissan Frontier Crew Cab Midnight Edition
The five-speed automatic might be down a gear or so, but it delivers smooth, quick shifts and decent economy. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

The Midnight Edition model’s key features include Nissan’s direct-injection 4.0-litre DOHC, 24-valve V6 making 261 horsepower and 281 lb-ft of torque, plus standard four-wheel drive with a switch-operated two-speed transfer case, hill descent control, hill start assist, a front tow hook, power door locks with auto-locking and remote access, powered windows, heated power-adjustable side mirrors, a sliding rear window, rear parking sensors, a factory-applied spray-on bedliner, Nissan’s Utili-track Channel System with four tie-down cleats, tilt steering (but no telescopic), micro-filtered dual-zone auto climate control, an auto-dimming rearview mirror, a digital compass, outside temperature display, vanity mirrors, heated front seats, two additional stereo speakers totaling six, and more.

2018 Nissan Frontier Crew Cab Midnight Edition
The front seats look good and provide plenty of comfort. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

The Midnight Edition doesn’t allow for any options packages, but you can get a sliding bed divider for $281 from the accessories catalogue, or a $350 sliding bed extender, $786 sliding toolbox, loads of trailering gear for 2,000-lb, 3,500-lb, 5,000-lb, or 6,500-lb towing capacity depending on trim, plus more.

The interior of my tester was finished in a light, soft grey, which was a pleasant change from the usual dark grey or all black attire of most trucks in this class, and while it’s a back-to-basics utility-first workhorse done in the spirit of days gone by, it’s nevertheless filled with nice design details like the artistically dimpled shroud over the primary instruments, uniquely rounded instrument panel to each side of the centre stack, and corrugated-style lower dash and glove box lid, not to mention some attractive brushed aluminum detailing on the steering wheel, down each side of the centre stack, and garnishing the gear selector. No one will mistake it for a luxury truck, but some bright chromed detailing of key components adds a smattering of bling, while the seat upholstery looked good.

2018 Nissan Frontier Crew Cab Midnight Edition
Rear seat roominess and comfort should be good enough for most peoples’ requirements. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

More importantly those seats were extremely comfortable, and despite not having the telescopic steering wheel noted earlier, driver ergonomics are pretty good. In fact, I enjoyed my test week more than expected, partially due to memories of my early years in the auto writing business when I first came across this model and the Xterra that followed (they shared interiors), but also because everything worked well enough, while providing all necessities with few frivolities.

2018 Nissan Frontier Crew Cab Midnight Edition
The rear cushions flip up and attach to the back wall, providing more room for cargo. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

The primary instruments are simple white-on-black dials with a rudimentary trip computer and graphic display for rear- or four-wheel drive engagement, while the small yet efficient colour infotainment touchscreen on the centre stack featured a simple backup camera sans dynamic guidelines, the usual audio functions, phone setup, vehicle settings, and little else.

The switchgear that surrounds it was all tightly fitted and well damped, while the dials and buttons that make up the dual-zone auto HVAC system were well executed. Nissan finishes off the centre stack with a big, meaty rotating dial for selecting 2WD, 4H and 4LO, plus a row of rocker switches for the two-way heated seats, stability control, and parking sonar.

2018 Nissan Frontier Crew Cab Midnight Edition
Nissan includes small bins for storage under the seats, but a flat folding load floor like the Titan offers would be more useful. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

Funny thing about transmissions, it’s difficult to notice the difference between a well-sorted five-speed autobox and a six-speed unit. The five-speed automatic in the Frontier shifted smoothly, kicking down to select a lower gear quickly when called upon and moving up through its gears without commotion as speeds increased. It basically goes about its duty without issue with the big V6 following suit, punching out solid power when needed, making a wonderful snarly exhaust note when revs climb, but otherwise comfortably loping along in its highest gear to save fuel, which is rated at 15.8 L/100km in the city, 11.5 on the highway and 13.9 combined as tested, with its best-possible efficiency of 13.6 city, 10.7 highway and 12.3 combined coming from the four-cylinder with its most basic five-speed manual gearbox.

2018 Nissan Frontier Crew Cab Midnight Edition
While a bit of a stretch to climb up on when the tailgate is lowered, the spray-on bed liner is plenty grippy. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

How does that compare to its peers? Both engines are thirstier than all of the mid-size trucks mentioned above, but just nominally. In other words, the amount of fuel the Toyota and Honda save will never make up for the initial savings provided by this Nissan, while the thriftiness allowed by the similarly priced base GM trucks inch them ahead in this respect.

Along with the V6 model’s strong straight-line performance, the Frontier also delivers a decent ride. Of course, generous suspension travel helps ease its way over bumps and through ruts or whatever else gets in its way, but lets not forget it’s a pretty beefy little truck with rugged off-road capability so we can’t expect it to be high on the pampering scale. This said it tooled around town well, was quite smooth on the highway thanks in part to a long wheelbase, and took to reasonably paced corners with fairly confident poise.

2018 Nissan Frontier Crew Cab Midnight Edition
The V6 provides good, smooth, energetic power, but some competitors offer a turbo-diesel that improves fuel economy, for a hefty price mind you. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

I mentioned a moment ago that the driver’s seat was comfortable, but neglected to comment on the rear row. When the seat in front was set up for my unusually long-legged five-foot-eight height, I had about three inches left over ahead of my knees in behind, plus about four inches over my head, while it was a bit tight from side-to-side. There’s no flip-down centre armrest in this trim, this reserved for top-line SL buyers, but a set of cupholders can be folded out from the backside of the front console, while the 60/40-split seat cushions can be flipped up and out of the way in order to reveal some useful cargo storage bins underneath, although something more akin to the full-size Titan’s optional rear flat load floor would be better, as its bins feature retractable lids that transform into large, flat, carpeted loading areas when the need to keep smaller cargo safe and dry comes into play.

2018 Nissan Frontier Crew Cab Midnight Edition
Dated yes, but the 2018 Frontier delivers solid value in a well-proven, reliable package. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

As noted earlier, the newer GM trucks provide better bed access when the tailgate is lowered thanks to more innovative rear bumpers with integrated corner steps, but others make retractable steps available that work just as well, or these can be ordered from an aftermarket parts supplier. When up on the bed, the spray-on bed liner was amongst the grippiest I’ve ever experienced, which aids safety yet makes it challenging to clean. My broom wasn’t able to get all of the fallen twigs and dried leaves from under the tracks of the cargo system either, so I’d recommend you purchase a power washer for such situations. Take note the base Frontier can manage payloads of 404 kilograms (890 lbs) while upper trims are capable of 652 kg (1,440 lbs), making it a capable hauler for work and play, even if it does come up a bit short on creature comforts and convenience items.

Of course, any lack of features in the current Frontier will be remedied when its modernized replacement arrives, but for Nissan’s retailers that couldn’t come soon enough. After all, Nissan should sell more mid-size pickups than full-size, this being the usual state of affairs for an import brand, but with a recently renewed Titan in its lineup, filled with plenty of body styles, engine choices, trim levels and design options, not to mention thoroughly up-to-date electronics, it currently has the lead.