You’d need to go back a very long way to find a year that Porsche’s 911 wasn’t the best-selling premium branded sports car in Canada or the U.S., and 2018 won’t be any different once the final…

Porsche opens the order book for all-new 2020 911 Carrera S and 4S

2020 Porsche 911 Carrera 4S
Porsche introduced the all-new 2020 Carrera S and Carrera 4S at an impressive gala in Los Angeles last month. (Photo: Porsche)

You’d need to go back a very long way to find a year that Porsche’s 911 wasn’t the best-selling premium branded sports car in Canada or the U.S., and 2018 won’t be any different once the final numbers are tallied and compared to its closest rivals. 

Year-to-date third-quarter Canadian-market results showed the 911 at 1,083 units and the next best-selling Audi TT at 366, while the more directly competitive Jaguar F-Type came in at just 347 deliveries. It’s really no contest, with some others that might be deemed rivals including the Audi R8 with 208 unit sales, the Mercedes-Benz AMG GT at 195 deliveries and SL at 140, and the Acura NSX with just 33. 

2020 Porsche 911 Carrera 4S
New 911 C2S and C4S (shown) models promise serious performance gains over their already impressive predecessors. (Photo: Porsche)

With numbers like these it’s no wonder the majority of competitors don’t redesign their sports car models very often and aren’t offering many special editions either, but Porsche has enough market strength to do both. In fact, the 2019 911 currently available offers three totally unique roof systems, various front and rear fascia designs, differing fender widths, visual body style/performance upgrades such as rear-fender engine ducts, rear- and all-wheel drivetrains, manual and dual-clutch automated transmissions, a host of engine options from 370 to 700 horsepower, a wide assortment of trims for almost every premium-level budget, and options enough to boggle the mind. 

2020 Porsche 911 Carrera 4S
Along with dramatically new styling, the new C2S and C4S feature wider fender flares and meatier rear tires. (Photo: Porsche)

If that weren’t enough, Porsche just introduced the all-new eighth-generation 2020 911, which will become available here this coming summer. They’ve only announced pricing for two models so far, the $129,100 911 Carrera S (C2S) and the $137,400 911 Carrera 4S (C4S), the first rear-wheel drive and the latter all-wheel drive, but more models are set to arrive later this year. 

From side profile the 2020 911 looks a lot like the car it’s replacing, but this has more or less been reality since the car went from an air-cooled rear-mounted flat-six to a water-cooled variant back in 1999. Porsche has always been more about year-over-year refinement than change for change’s sake, and therefore we have a 2020 model that mirrors the 2019 from some angles. 

2020 Porsche 911 Carrera S
The rear-wheel drive 911 Carrera S (shown), or C2S, looks almost identical, and performs similarly to the all-wheel drive C4S. (Photo: Porsche)

This said the visual modifications are plentiful enough to cause consternation amongst traditionalists, or at least tempered pause. For starters, the hood and lower front fascia have departed from the car’s usual combination of mostly body-colour oval shapes to an almost straight, horizontal slit separating the former from the bodywork below, and a broad black rectangle for the latter, giving the entire car a wider, more aggressive albeit not necessarily as elegant stance, similar in concept to the frontal change made to the once technologically-tied, and in recent decades more purposely retrospective VW Beetle (A5), when it lost its “New” moniker in 2011, not that I’m trying to compare either car directly. 

2020 Porsche 911 Carrera S
Unlike previous 911s, new RWD models receive a body-width light bar in back, this feature only available with AWD models before. (Photo: Porsche)

As for design cues pulled up from the internally-codenamed 991 series (2012–2019) seventh-generation model to this 992 series car, the just noted squared-off hood now includes classically tapered creases at each side of its indented centre, just like the original 911 albeit without a vented end, while Porsche intelligently left the outer design of its ovoid multi-element four-point LED headlamp clusters unmolested, a lesson learned when the aforementioned 1999 996’s Boxster-inspired L-shaped lamps ventured too far from 911 orthodoxy. 

As noted, the two cars look nearly identical from side profile excepting the previously noted front and rear fascia vents and surrounding bodywork, plus slightly more upright headlamps, reverse front side marker lights, more chiseled wheel cutouts, new mirror caps, new sharply angled flush-mounted door handles that extend outward when touched replacing the old model’s more classic rounded pulls, a much smoother rear deck lid, and taillights that now wrap around the bodyside more fully. 

2020 Porsche 911 Carrera S
The new 911’s extra width allows for better mechanical grip around corners, while the larger dynamic rear spoiler (shown extended) can improve downforce to zero lift. (Photo: Porsche)

When seen from behind those taillights come into clearer view, with the new model building on the 991’s narrow dagger-like LED-infused lenses and even slimmer body-wide light strip (previously only found on all-wheel drive models) by extending the latter further outward to each side, and then at centre grafting in some 718-sourced 3D-like graphics above seemingly open vent slats underneath, while chiseling out even more linear lines for the outer lamps. 

2020 Porsche 911 Carrera
The redesigned 911 features new aluminum front fenders and greater use of the lightweight alloy in the chassis. (Photo: Porsche)

The diffuser-infused lower bumper is bigger, bolder and blacker than before too, plus it feeds faux exhaust tips from within rather than appearing like they’re forced to exit below (which actually remains the case), while hidden within the new 911’s gently flowing rear deck lid, just above the aforementioned light strip and below a row of glossy black engine vent strakes, is a much wider and larger active spoiler featuring multiple positions for varying levels of rear downforce. 

Of course, there will be many variations on the new 911 theme, some including a fixed rear spoiler for an even more expressive and capable trailing edge, plus various fascia designs nose to tail, but all body panels are now made from lightweight aluminum, bumpers excluded. In reality only the front fenders were lightened, being that most of the 991’s skin was already alloy, the change saving between 10 and 15 kilos (22 and 33 lbs) depending on the model, but take note the underlying body structure halves steel content from 63 to 30 percent, with the remaining 70 percent now fully constructed from aluminum, all of which will help to improve structural rigidity, handling, fuel efficiency, and more. 

2020 Porsche 911 Carrera
The new 911 gets a fully redesigned interior featuring a mostly digital instrument cluster, a larger 10.9-inch centre display, and more. (Photo: Porsche)

As noted earlier, the first models to be introduced are the Carrera S and 4S shown on this page. Compared to the previous generation this all-new model is not only visually wider due to styling, but actually grows by 45 mm (1.8 inches) at the front wheels. What’s more, its rear flanks have widened by 44 mm (1.7 in) to 1,852 mm (72.9 in), this being identical in width to the outgoing GTS model. New 20-inch front and 21-inch rear wheels come standard with S-enhanced Carreras, the former on 245/35 ZR-rated rubber and the latter on a mighty set of 305/30 ZRs—base 911s will get a staggered set of 19s and 20s. 

2020 Porsche 911 Carrera
Only the centre dial is analogue, the tachometer surrounded by dual LCD displays that provide multiple usage. (Photo: Porsche)

Despite all the extra aluminum used in the new body and chassis, both new C2S and C4S models add 55 kilos (121 lbs) of unladen weight, according to the Porsche Canada retail site, with the outgoing 2019 Carrera S hitting the scales at 1,460 kilograms (3,219 lbs) compared to the 2020 model’s 1,515 kg (3,340 lbs), and the old Carrera 4S weighing in at 1,510 kg (3,329 lbs) compared to 1,565 kg (3,450 lbs) for the redesigned car. 

At first glance that extra weight shouldn’t have much if anything to do with the powertrain, because the new car’s horizontally opposed six-cylinder engine once again displaces 3.0 litres. It’s heavily reworked, mind you, with somewhat weightier cast-iron headers replacing the old mill’s stamped steel manifolds resulting in freer flowing exhaust, plus an entirely new and pricier piezo injection system for more precise fuel delivery, a fresh set of turbochargers pulled from the outgoing GTS powerplant, and a single new intercooler that’s now housed centrally on the 992’s backside instead of the two previously hidden within the 991’s rear fenders. 

2020 Porsche 911 Carrera
The new cabin is larger and therefore roomier than the previous model. (Photo: Porsche)

The improvements allow for a higher 10.5:1 compression ratio, up from 10.0:1, which combine for a 23-horsepower and 22-lb-ft advantage over the outgoing C2S and C4S, with thrust now rated at 443 horsepower and twist at 390 lb-ft of torque, resulting in 3.7 seconds from standstill to 100km/h for the former and 3.6 seconds for the latter, or 3.5 and 3.4 seconds respectively with the Sport Chrono Package added, while top speeds are set to 308 and 306 km/h (190 and 191 mph) apiece. Incidentally, the base engine, which keeps the same turbos as last year’s car, increases output by 15 horsepower to 385. 

2020 Porsche 911 Carrera
The large widescreen display will be a key reason for many to upgrade from old 911 to new. (Photo: Porsche)

You may have noticed there were no differing times between manual and automatic transmissions, this because 2020 C2S and C4S trims will initially come standard with Porsche’s new eight-speed PDK dual-clutch automated transmission, up one gear from the outgoing automatic, with a mostly unchanged seven-speed manual gearbox expected later in the year. 

The new eight-speed PDK was first introduced in the recently updated Panamera, and despite initially being housed in such a large model, was chosen for the 911 due to space improvements. The gearbox doubles its shafts for a shorter, more compact design, even leaving room for a future electric motor when fitted to a similarly sized housing. This means we should expect a plug-in hybrid version of the 911 sometime in the not-too-distant future, and if the just noted Panamera is anything to go by, it’ll one day be the most potent form of 911 available. 

2020 Porsche 911 Carrera
The tiny shift lever is a clear sign that manually shifting the new eight-speed dual-clutch PDK must be done via paddles. (Photo: Porsche)

As always, the updated PDK comes with standard steering wheel-mounted paddle shifters, but this time they’re an absolute must because Porsche has replaced the old model’s conventional shift lever with a tiny little electronically actuated nub, saving enough centre console space for a cupholder while modernizing the interior design. Most won’t complain, even old-schoolers wanting to adjust the audio system’s volume and swap stations/tracks via rotating knobs, which can both still be found on the same lower console. 

2020 Porsche 911 Carrera
A limousine it’s not, but this cutaway shows that rear seat roominess has improved. (Photo: Porsche)

All adjustments are now displayed on a 3.9-inch larger 10.9-inch infotainment touchscreen that also gets better resolution quality and greater depth of colour than its predecessor, plus updated graphics, improved performance, more functions from fewer physical buttons, and most everything else already included with more recently redesigned Porsche models. This said the instrument panel housing all of the above pays much respect to 911s of the ‘60s, ‘70s, ‘80s, and yes even the ‘90s, all of which were only slight adaptations of the same horizontal theme until the aforementioned 996 arrived in 1999. The new IP even incorporates a narrow shelf that mimics the lower edge of the classic dashboard, this one potentially more functional, if attaching car-sized Pokemon or Hello Kitty action figures—sigh, I’ve seen these in Ferraris, Lamborghinis and McLarens too. 

2020 Porsche 911 Carrera
The 911 will never deviate from its horizontally opposed “boxer” layout, but it will continue to tweak it with every generation. (Photo: Porsche)

Even the comparatively radical 996 didn’t stray too far from the sacrosanct original when it came to organizing its primary gauge cluster, but this time around Porsche went so far as to visually separate each dial like the earlier cars, instead of letting their circular edges bleed into each other. Nevertheless, there’s only one mechanical gauge at centre, the tachometer as always, with the four surrounding dials held in place via virtual reality thanks to large TFT/LCD displays that are also capable of showing route guidance, audio, trip, and cruise information, plus more. Specifically, the right side incorporates the multi-information display as with the 991, whereas the left portion shows a conventional looking speedometer in default mode or the various new advanced driver assistance systems including adaptive cruise control, blindspot warning, lane keeping assist, etcetera. 

2020 Porsche 911 Carrera
Those fortunate enough to drive the new 911 will experienced a thoroughly redeveloped suspension. (Photo: Porsche)

Being that the 2020 CS and C4S are not yet available we aren’t able to build them in Porsche’s online configurator, but we already know that 18-way adaptive sports seats will be optional, as will a 360-degree surround parking camera that should look fabulous on the new widescreen display, plus new Night Vision Assist that will provide visual assistance for steering clear of pedestrians or animals in the dark via a heat-sensing thermal imaging camera. 

We’ve also been told that C2S and C4S brake-rotor sizes and calipers continue forward unchanged from the outgoing models, but new Porsche Surface Coated Brakes (PSCB), which were introduced last year on the new Cayenne, will now be available with the 2020 911. PSCB adds a hardened tungsten-carbide layer to friction surfaces to enhance stopping performance, while they’re said to last longer than conventional cast iron brakes and reduce dust. The calipers will boast bright white paint to separate them from those used for the standard braking system. 

2020 Porsche 911 Carrera
Porsche has made some of the 911’s strongest performance gains in braking, with Porsche Surface Coated Brakes (PSCB) now available. (Photo: Porsche)

Speaking of standard, a new Wet mode detects as little as one millimetre (0.04 inches) of standing water on the road before alerting the driver, who then has the option of adjusting to a more sensitive stability control setting that’s been added to a new version of the same rotating steering wheel-mounted driving mode selector found in the 991. The new 911 will also get standard autonomous emergency braking with moving object detection. 

So when can you get the new 2020 Porsche 911 of your choice? As noted the Carrera S and Carrera 4S coupes with the automated PDK gearbox will be first to arrive this summer, after initially launching in Europe. Shortly thereafter we’ll receive Cabriolet versions of the same C2S and C4S models, while later this year we’ll get the base Carrera and Carrera 4 with both manual and PDK transmissions, the former of which should also become available with S models. We can expect the new 992 Turbo to show up at the end of the year, with other models arriving in 2020. Porsche retailers are now placing orders for the Carrera S and 4S.

While you’re waiting to take one for a drive in person, make sure to check out our comprehensive photo gallery above and all of the videos we’ve provided below, the first of which is the 42-minute premiere program that covers every historical 911 era:


The new Porsche 911 world premiere. LIVE from L.A. (42:00):


The new Porsche 911. Timeless machine. (1:24):


The new Porsche 911: Highlight Video. (2:35):


The new Porsche 911: Exterior & Interior Design. (1:09):


The new Porsche 911: First Driving Footage. (0:59):

I’ve been an Alfa Romeo fan for as long as I can remember, which made me especially excited to get behind the wheel of a modern-day example. Bright “Alfa Rosso” red livery aside, the Stelvio supplied…

2019 Alfa Romeo Stelvio Ti Sport AWD Road Test

2019 Alfa Romeo Stelvio Ti Sport AWD
The Alfa Romeo Stelvio, shown here in Ti Sport AWD trim, is one distinctive looking compact luxury SUV. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann, Canadian Auto Press)

I’ve been an Alfa Romeo fan for as long as I can remember, which made me especially excited to get behind the wheel of a modern-day example. Bright “Alfa Rosso” red livery aside, the Stelvio supplied wasn’t anything I would have expected to ever wear the blue-encircled red cross on a white field and green serpent badge before, but luxury marque boardroom bottom lines have been causing crossover SUVs to show up in what we middle-aged car enthusiasts might consider to be the most unlikely places these days. 

This in mind, the last Alfa Romeo I’d driven before this new Stelvio was an almost equally bright red 1991 164 S sport sedan, a car that I borrowed from a pre-owned retailer friend back in the day just so I could appreciate how a front-wheel drive Alfa might feel. It was actually one of the better stock front-drivers I’d experienced up to that point, but it was a completely different experience than the ’86 GTV6 I’d tested prior to that, or any number of mid-to-late ‘60s and early-to-mid ‘70s four-cylinder powered rear-drive 105/115 series GTV coupes, “Duetto” and Spider Veloce roadsters, and last but hardly least, another friend’s ruddy quick 1750-infused ‘67 Giulia Super sedan we lovingly dubbed “The Fridge” due to its boxy shape and stealth white paint. 

2019 Alfa Romeo Stelvio Ti Sport AWD
The Stelvio isn’t quite as unique looking from the rear, but such is the case for most SUVs. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann, Canadian Auto Press)

Fondly remembering some of these now classic Alfa models, I perused the online classifieds to see if any of my favourite Italian flames might now be available and how unaffordable they’d become, only to have my initial expectations of potential fulfillment quashed with 1750 and 2000 GT Veloce coupes going for considerably more than new 4Cs, between $60k and $80k, not to mention a dreamy 1961 Giulietta Sprint Speciale with an even loftier $155,000 asking price. Of course, classic Alfas have been sold for millions, especially those with racing pedigree, which is far from the case for most competitive premium brands these days. 


2019 Alfa Romeo Stelvio Ti Sport AWD
LEDs adorn the Stelvio’s headlamp clusters. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann, Canadian Auto Press)

The only Lexus model to regularly fetch six-figure sums is the LFA supercar, a worthy contender that may indeed be worth significantly more one day, but such speculation is hardly bankable. Acura’s NSX enjoys more history and a current six-digit price, yet the Japanese brand has never achieved anything in the sevens, which brings us to Infiniti that is in fact using its design team to conceptualize what its brand may have appeared like if it actually existed back in the glory days ¬of motor racing—and don’t get me wrong, I can’t help but love the Prototype 9 and more recent Prototype 10. 

Infiniti shouldn’t feel bad for its lack of history, especially considering that mighty BMW wasn’t even part of that era. While Anonima Lombarda Fabbrica Automobili (A.L.F.A.) was tearing up the Targa Florio in 1911, ahead of Nicola Romeo & Co taking the reins to win the inaugural world championship for Grand Prix cars in 1925, the German upstart was fixing its blue and white roundel radiator cap ornament to rebranded Austin 7s and dubbing them Dixi. 

2019 Alfa Romeo Stelvio Ti Sport AWD
The iconic Alfa Romeo badge definitely enhances the Ti Sport’s standard 20-inch alloys. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann, Canadian Auto Press)

Of course, Mercedes-Benz has a glorious motorsport past and present, as do many of today’s luxury brands from Audi and Porsche to Bentley and Ferrari, but Alfa Romeo is nevertheless rare in today’s somewhat homogenized automotive world. It’s managed to retain a semi-exotic aura despite now competing directly with the more common premium carmakers just noted, which makes the need for superior style, luxury and performance of greater import than average. 

2019 Alfa Romeo Stelvio Ti Sport AWD
The Stelvio’s blackened roof shows off its large panoramic glass sunroof. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann, Canadian Auto Press)

To this end it also makes sense for the new Stelvio to be one of the compact luxury SUV segment’s priciest entries, its $53,345 base MSRP greater than all conventionally-powered competitors except for the Porsche Macan and Range Rover Velar. The Velar is quite a bit larger, mind you, bordering on mid-size like its Jaguar F-Pace cousin, so its $10k higher base price could be seen as reasonable against bigger two-row rivals like the Lexus RX, Mercedes-Benz GLE-Class (previously called M/ML-Class), Lincoln Nautilus (née MKX) and Cadillac XT5 (see all 2019 Stelvio pricing at CarCostCanada, as well as important rebate info and dealer invoice pricing that could save you thousands). 

Instead, the Stelvio has been designed to fit snuggly into the compact luxury SUV sweet spot held by such perennial best-sellers as Audi’s Q5 and Acura’s RDX. Actually, at 4,687 millimetres (184.5 inches) long with a 2,818 mm (110.9 in) wheelbase, 1,903 mm (74.9 in) wide (excluding its mirrors), 1,648 mm (64.9 in) tall, and weighing in at 1,660 kilograms (3,660 lbs) in base form, the Stelvio is slightly longer and wider than the Q5 with an almost identical wheelbase, height and curb weight. Interestingly, the new RDX has grown considerably to end up quite a bit longer than either competitor with a notably shorter wheelbase, but to be fair it targets a less affluent buyer despite impressive luxury and performance. 

2019 Alfa Romeo Stelvio Ti Sport AWD
LED taillights come standard. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann, Canadian Auto Press)

Prestige has much to do with this, and helps the Stelvio command its higher price. The Stelvio AWD base MSRP noted a moment ago is merely the starting point in a range that ventures well into Range Rover and Porsche SUV territory, with the Italian model’s lineup also including the $55,345 Stelvio Ti AWD, $55,845 Sport AWD, as-tested $58,245 Ti Sport AWD, $58,595 Ti Lusso AWD, $95,000 Quadrifoglio AWD. 

2019 Alfa Romeo Stelvio Ti Sport AWD
The Stelvio features an impressively finished interior. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann, Canadian Auto Press)

Quadrifoglio is Alfa-speak for an M- or AMG-like performance upgrade. The four-leaf clover has long been the sign of special performance models destined for a lucky few, and the Stelvio Quadrifoglio takes SUV performance to unprecedented levels. As you may have surmised by the other trim-line names, AWD is standard and Sport makes reference to performance improvements, albeit not with respect to the standard powertrain. 

Quadrifoglio aside, the Stelvio’s sole engine is a 280 horsepower 2.0-litre direct-injected and twin-scroll turbocharged four-cylinder with 306 lb-ft of torque, while the world’s second-quickest SUV stuffs a 2.9-litre V6 between its front fender wells that’s good for 505 horsepower and 443 lb-ft of torque. 

2019 Alfa Romeo Stelvio Ti Sport AWD
The Stelvio dash even includes Alfa’s classic double-bubble instrument hoods. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann, Canadian Auto Press)

To put this into perspective, the fastest Macan Turbo is only capable of achieving 100km/h in 4.4 seconds yet it’ll cost you more at $99,000 plus options, whereas the Cayenne Turbo can match the Quadrifoglio’s blistering pace when upgraded with its Sport Chrono Package, yet it does so from the seat of a larger, more substantive machine that starts at a near-exotic $140,980 so equipped. VW products in mind, the ultra-fast Alfa even beats Bentley’s quickest 600 horsepower Bentayga to 100km/h, maintaining the brand’s semi-exotic status due to the necessity of performance comparisons against ultra-rich hardware like the $232,000 Lamborghini Urus that’s now the only SUV capable of quicker acceleration off the line thanks to the same naught to 100km/h feat managed in just 3.6 seconds. 

2019 Alfa Romeo Stelvio Ti Sport AWD
Fans of the Italian brand will be glad they maintained these sporty analogue gauges. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann, Canadian Auto Press)

While being propelled from standstill to 100km/h in just 3.9 seconds sounds both exciting and daunting from the heights of a compact SUV, I found the base engine wonderfully engaging when the desire for straight-line performance got the better of me, while it proved a pleasant everyday driver as well. 

To be clear, the performance edge added by the upgrade to Sport AWD includes a set of steering column-mounted paddles plus tweaks the suspension with a firmer setting via lowered springs and uprated dampers. Furthermore, Ti trim allows the ability to add a $1,500 Performance Package including a limited slip rear differential and an active and continuous suspension and shock absorber control system that reduces body lean, pitch and dive oscillations no matter the conditions. The system constantly interacts with the standard Chassis Domain Controller (CDC) as well as standard DNA Pro drive modes before calibrating its findings dependent on the selected setting. 

2019 Alfa Romeo Stelvio Ti Sport AWD
These are some awesome paddle shifters, fixed to the steering column and made from aluminum, just like Ferrari. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann, Canadian Auto Press)

DNA Pro can be controlled via a rotating dial next to the electronic shifter atop the lower centre console. The dial points to separate settings that read “d”, “n” and “a”, a witty collective play on acronyms that combines the abbreviation for all living organisms’ source code with the usual driving modes. While I would’ve loved if these letters represented Italian language references, DNT (dysembryoplastic neuroepithelial tumour) doesn’t have the same ring to it as DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid), so therefore the letter “d” stands for dynamic instead of dinamico, “n” for natural rather than naturale, and “a” for all weather in lieu of tutto il tempo. 

2019 Alfa Romeo Stelvio Ti Sport AWD
The centre stack includes a nice simple layout, minimalist in design and execution. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann, Canadian Auto Press)

Before I get ahead of myself (or lose myself in silliness), you start the Stelvio by pressing a button on the steering wheel, a process that I never really got used to throughout my test week due to such buttons normally being somewhere on the dash or centre console. My inability to quickly find it had more to do with habit than location, being that I don’t get enough seat time in Ferraris anymore, which use the same layout. Once up and running I found the Stelvio’s four-cylinder much quieter than any of the aforementioned Alfas driven previously, whether idling or tooling around town at low revs in default Natural mode, and while such aural pleasantries are now muted so are expletives uttered from would-be backyard mechanics attempting to optimize the twin cam timing via strobe on sidedraft Weber and points equipped engines. In other words, modern-day electronics have made our vehicles a lot more reliable.  

2019 Alfa Romeo Stelvio Ti Sport AWD
The navigation system’s mapping uses most of the display’s 8.8 inches of area. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann, Canadian Auto Press)

In truth, there was no way to look under the hood of my particular tester at all. When I attempted to do so for photo purposes the hood release lever wasn’t working. I pulled it and nothing happened, all before it fell off in my hands. How quickly I was transported back to the roadside mechanical nightmares of my youth and requirement for such expletives just noted, and how perturbed that this Alfa Romeo became the first vehicle in nearly 20 years of reviewing new cars to experience such a problem. 

2019 Alfa Romeo Stelvio Ti Sport AWD
The backup camera image is clear, but it doesn’t use much screen space and is therefore extremely small. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann, Canadian Auto Press)

Fortunately the Stelvio redeemed itself when it came time to drive, as its initially docile sounding four-cylinder came alive like an Alfa Romeo should when Dynamic sport mode was activated. It launches from standstill to 100km/h in just 5.7 seconds and really feels like the sub-six-second car it is, while its standard eight-speed automatic shifts with immediacy and precision via the console shifter or those steering column-mounted paddle shifters noted earlier. The former is finished in what looks and feels like a satin-silver alloy, while the latter are made from hefty chunks of smooth billet aluminum. They’re nice and long and, being fixed to the column, don’t rotate with the steering wheel, so you’ll always know which one to use for upshifts and which for downshifts. 

2019 Alfa Romeo Stelvio Ti Sport AWD
A nice and tidy assortment of controls makes the Stelvio look and work ideally. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann, Canadian Auto Press)

Aiding its quick response to throttle input and helping reduce overall mass to benefit in all other ways is a lightweight carbon fibre driveshaft, while the Stelvio’s rigid high-strength steel constructed body shell is unburdened further via aluminum front and rear vehicle frames, aluminum front shock towers, brakes, suspension components, doors, fenders, roof and hood, plus a composite rear cross member continues to lighten the load. All of this, along with my tester’s 20-inch alloys on 255/45 Continental CrossContact LX Sport all-season tires that come standard with its near top-line Ti Sport trim, plus Alfa’s fully independent aluminum-intensive double wishbone front suspension with semi-virtual steering axis, and unique patented “Alfa Link” design rear setup with vertical rods, made for one of the best handlers in the class and a mighty comfortable one too. 

2019 Alfa Romeo Stelvio Ti Sport AWD
The DNA of performance driving? Alfa would like you to think so. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann, Canadian Auto Press)

Much of my Stelvio tester’s comfort quotient was derived from the fabulous “Performance Sport” leather-upholstered seats that come standard with its upgrade to Ti Sport AWD trim, the driver’s form-fitting and superbly supportive, especially when it came to holding backside in place during fast-paced lateral manoeuvres. These seats include side bolster bladders to hug one’s torso more snuggly, plus extendable lower front cushions to cup under the knees, the former powered and the latter manually operated. While ideal for my smallish five-foot-eight frame, I picked up a close friend who is thicker around the middle and he complained they were too tight, even when we widened the bladders as far as they would go. This is definitely something to consider when purchasing, with the base seats potentially better for larger folk. 

2019 Alfa Romeo Stelvio Ti Sport AWD
These leather-upholstered sport seats are wonderfully comfortable and ultra-adjustable. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann, Canadian Auto Press)

Seating in mind, with the driver’s seat positioned for my height I sat behind and found it very comfortable and quite roomy with approximately eight to 10 inches ahead of my knees, plus more than enough room for my feet even when stretching out my legs, while there was also about three and a half inches above my head, and four to five inches beside my hips and shoulders. Alfa provides a flip-down armrest at centre, complete with dual cupholders. They even provided a slot between the two cupholders for holding a smartphone, very intelligent. There are two large vents on the backside of the front console for feeding air to each rear passenger, plus a duo of USB charging ports under these, while rear outboard seat heaters are available as well. The rear passenger compartment is very well finished too, and the panoramic glass sunroof overhead provides an open, airy ambiance. 

2019 Alfa Romeo Stelvio Ti Sport AWD
Here’s a look at the dual-pane panoramic sunroof from below. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann, Canadian Auto Press)

The rear liftgate is powered if you opt for the $500 Convenience package, and stops at pre-programmed heights, this one preset quite low so I kept bumping my head on it. Yes, I could’ve set it to lift higher, but to its credit I was easily able to push it higher manually. The retractable cargo cover is well made and fits nice and tight within its extended position, while the carpeting and finishing of the cargo area is quite good too. Alfa included a rail system in back, also part of the Convenience package, complete with movable hooks for clamping down gear, while the load floor in between can be lifted and removed, exposing a styrofoam compartment underneath. Levers for automatically lowering the 40/20/40 split rear seatbacks are provided to each side, the centre position needing to be folded manually from a pull-tab on top. I like the flexibility of the cargo area, the centre pass-through ideal for longer items like skis, and while a smidge smaller than the aforementioned Audi Q5 at 525 litres (18.5 cu ft) behind its rear seats and 1,600 litres (56.5 cu ft) when they’re fully flat, it should suffice for most peoples’ needs. 

2019 Alfa Romeo Stelvio Ti Sport AWD
The rear seating area is roomy and very comfortable. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann, Canadian Auto Press)

I’m not going to try to directly compare the Stelvio to the Q5 when it comes to the quality of materials, fit, finish and design, but only because they’re so different stylistically. Both are excellent, broken hood latch aside. The Stelvio gets the usual cloth roof pillars, an upscale premium soft-touch dash top and door uppers front to rear, as well as some other nice padded and stitched leather and leatherette on most other waist-height-and-above surfaces, but unlike some in the class its quest to pamper gets marred by hard plastic on the insides of the centre console, plus some sections of the upper door panels and the entirety of the lower door panels. Then again the Stelvio improves on some of its rivals with a glove box lid covered in a premium pliable synthetic, plus it adds more soft stuff to the top sides of the centre console and all of the instrument panel down to its midpoint, while the Ti Sport’s standard aluminum inlays look and feel like the genuine metal they’re touted to be—you can get yours with hardwood if more your style. 

2019 Alfa Romeo Stelvio Ti Sport AWD
The Stelvio offers up a sizeable cargo area, but watch your head on the programmable optionally powered liftgate. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann, Canadian Auto Press)

Additionally, most of the switchgear was up to snuff thanks to reasonably high-quality, dense composites and nice, tight fitment, although some of the rotating knobs felt a tad sloppy, but only because they can be pushed forward, backward, side to side and turned. 

In a market that’s starting to lean toward standard digital gauge clusters, the Stelvio’s primary instruments are mostly analogue, which I must admit is fine with me, especially when they’re done so nicely and conjure up such wonderful thoughts of past Alfa classics. A large colour multi-information display sits between traditional tachometer and speedometer dials, filled with useful functionality yet most of its panels are black and white monochromatic. 

2019 Alfa Romeo Stelvio Ti Sport AWD
A cargo rail system is available for tying down gear, while handy 40/20/40-split rear seatbacks allow stowage of long items like skis. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann, Canadian Auto Press)

Over on the centre stack is an 8.8-inch widescreen infotainment display that looks plenty large and modern enough, but it wasn’t particularly inspiring when it comes to graphics. Certainly the navigation mapping was colourful and crystal clear, not to mention very accurate, and its interface clean, uncluttered and nicely laid out with black backgrounds and fittingly red highlights, but the reverse camera is tiny compared to most on today’s market, coming nowhere near to filling the screen space provided, and therefore making it less than ideal for negotiating complicated parking stalls, especially at night. On the positive, the optional Harman/Kardon audio system was superb. 

2019 Alfa Romeo Stelvio Ti Sport AWD
This is what you’ll find below the cargo floor. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann, Canadian Auto Press)

Features in mind, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are now standard for 2019, while those heated rear seats are standalone options, as is an upgraded alarm. My Ti Sport tester and the top-line Quadrifoglio can be had with a carbon fibre package this year too, while an available Nero Edizione (Black Edition) adds darker wheels and blackened exterior accents, including the badges, to all trim lines. 

Incidentally, that aforementioned Convenience package also includes a cargo net and a 115-volt household style power outlet, while a $1,000 Driver Assistance Static package adds auto-dimming side mirrors and blindspot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert. Those wanting yet more advanced driver assistance can opt for a $1,500 Driver Assistance Dynamic Plus package boasting automatic high beams, adaptive cruise control with stop and go, forward collision warning with autonomous emergency braking, lane departure warning, and solar control windshield glass. 

2019 Alfa Romeo Stelvio Ti Sport AWD
These helpful levers let you drop the rear seatbacks automatically while loading from behind. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann, Canadian Auto Press)

As for standard equipment, the base model includes 18-inch alloys, HID headlights with LED DRLs, proximity-sensing access with pushbutton ignition, leather seat upholstery, eight-speaker audio, and the previously noted TFT driver information display, selectable drive modes, and reverse camera. 

Above that, Ti trim ups wheel size to 19 inches while adding aforementioned navigation to the larger 8.8-inch infotainment display, and also includes the genuine hardwood inlays noted earlier, while Lusso trim is all about heaping on the luxury. 

2019 Alfa Romeo Stelvio Ti Sport AWD
The Stelvio is an absolute blast to drive, but it’s wonderfully practical too. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann, Canadian Auto Press)

Regular readers will know I don’t often comment on styling unless a vehicle’s beauty takes me off guard or the opposite occurs, but this is an Alfa Romeo and, partially because of my long love affair with the brand and partly due to being the first I’ve ever reviewed, I feel compelled to say a few words. First, few brands stand out with such distinctive front end styling, its classic V-shaped centre grille plunging deeply past the front bumper like nothing else on the road. A sharp looking set of available LED headlamps bookend each side and big sporty black mesh vents fill in the lower front fascia, while those aforementioned alloy wheels looked particularly attractive in their split five-spoke design, and sportier than the base rims. I love that Alfa adorns each hub with its iconic badge, these placed at each end of the SUV as well, while the LED taillights are nearly as interesting as the headlamps up front, and dual chrome exhaust-tipped lower rear valance nearly as alluring as the front apron. I must say the Stelvio lives up to styling expectations no matter the trim. 

I only wish I saw more of them on the road. Even my exotic sports car and premium SUV filled neighbourhood left me wanting, the Stelvio seemingly as rare as rare can be, while hardly exclusive and therefore comparatively boring Q5s, RDXs, X3s, GLCs and NXs roam rampant. Don’t get me wrong, all of the above are very good luxury SUVs worthy of your attention, but the Stelvio delivers a higher level of styling and driving passion that truly deserves more love. That it also provides all the practicality this segment demands is reason enough to seriously consider it. I can’t promise you Lexus levels of reliability, but one quick stint behind the wheel and you won’t care.

I don’t have the statistics outside of the auto industry to back it up, but I’m pretty sure Canadians are less brand sensitive than Americans.  Take Kia, a brand that celebrated its 74th birthday…

2019 Kia Sorento SXL

2019 Kia Sorento SXL
The Kia Sorento gets a subtle yet handsome refresh for 2019, which should help it find even more value-driven Canadian buyers. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

I don’t have the statistics outside of the auto industry to back it up, but I’m pretty sure Canadians are less brand sensitive than Americans. 

Take Kia, a brand that celebrated its 74th birthday in December of 2018 yet has only been part of the Canadian automotive landscape since 1999, and the U.S. market since 1994. Yet despite a five-year advantage south of the 49th, and having invested in research and design centres in Ann Arbor, Michigan, California City and Irvine, California, plus a assembly plant in West Point, Georgia where the very Sorento that’s now in our garage has been produced alongside the Optima mid-size sedan, and the Hyundai Santa Fe, since 2010, the just noted made-in-America SUV ranked a mere 10th in popularity amongst U.S.-market mid-size SUVs at the close of 2018, compared to fourth place here in Canada as of Q3 2018. 

2019 Kia Sorento SXL
Styling updates include new front grille and fascia designs, some trim changes down each side, plus new LED taillights and a reworked rear bumper. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

What’s more, the Sorento is second most popular amongst SUVs that can seat seven, second amongst import brands (the other being the aforementioned Santa Fe that rides on the same platform architecture, which means it sells better than every Japanese nameplate), and first amongst three-row imports. Canadians roughly bought 60 percent more Sorentos in Canada per capita, and where the Santa Fe is number one here it sits ninth there. Similar stories can be found with other models in this category, which all go to corroborate my theory that Canadians are less brand-motivated than Americans, and appear to be driven more by quality and value. 

2019 Kia Sorento SXL
Here’s a closer look at the rounded grille, top-line LED headlights, redesigned fog lamps and nice new front valance. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

Feel free to assume this has something to do with a collective integrity-based ethos or some other positive attribute naturally bestowed upon Canadians, but it likely has more to do with being overtaxed at all levels of government, the latter which are even run more poorly than those in the U.S., especially with respect to fiscal management, leaving us with much less spending power than our friends to the south. More expendable income means they have the luxury of wasting some on higher priced brands, where in contrast we Canadians need to make sure our more highly depreciated dollars are spent as wisely as possible. Enter the Kia Sorento. 

2019 Kia Sorento SXL
These dynamic directionally-adaptive LED headlamps look great at night. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

If you think by this intro the Sorento somehow offers less luxury than its contemporaries, let me set the record straight. Since 2002, when the first Sorento hit the market, it’s been a driving force behind mainstream volume-branded crossover SUV improvement. This could be said for most every Kia, but it’s especially true in this priciest category, which allows all participants to dress up their entries near premium levels in top-line trims. 

It just so happens the 2019 Sorento sitting in our driveway this week is outfitted in top-tier SXL trim, meaning that it not only comes with soft-touch surfacing in all the expected places, but boasts fabric-wrapped roof pillars from front to back. Such refinements are normally kept privy to the luxury class, but Kia breaks the rules in this respect and others in order to pamper Sorento occupants to a greater degree. 

2019 Kia Sorento SXL
Believe it or not, Kia toned the LED fog lamps down a notch, although they added more chrome. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

This being an “In Our Garage” story, any detail about comfort, quality and usability will be left for a full road test review, but suffice to say the Sorento still measures up to some of its newest mid-size SUV challengers despite hardly being the freshest entry in its class, this third-generation Sorento introduced to North Americans at the beginning of 2015 as a 2016 model, making it five calendar years and four model years into its run. That it receives a subtle facelift this year makes us believe this current generation will be around for another year or two before a complete redesign arrives.  

2019 Kia Sorento SXL
These 19-inch chrome alloy wheels are exclusive to the top line Sorento SXL. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

The changes include some styling tweaks to the grille, hood, headlights and rest of the front fascia, plus the taillights, rear bumper and of course its various wheels, while inside it gets a new steering wheel, reworked gauge cluster, updates to the centre stack and infotainment system, the latter now including standard Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, new optional wireless smartphone charging, plus more, while newly available advanced driver assistance system features now include lane keeping assist and driver attention warning. 

The lower console appears carryover as does its shift lever, but just below is an all-new eight-speed automatic in upgraded 3.3-litre V6 equipped Sorentos, this engine/transmission combination available in base LX and mid-grade EX trims, or standard with the EX Premium, SX and as-tested SXL. The base 2.4-litre four-cylinder engine and its six-speed automatic remain unchanged, but take note that last year’s 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder has been dropped, as has Kia’s promise to provide a diesel, the latter following a trend away from oil burners and toward plug-in hybrid electric or full EVs for alternative powertrains, and the former going against current trends that sees smaller displacement turbocharged engines replacing V6 power. 

2019 Kia Sorento SXL
These LED taillights get pulled up to SXL trim from the EX Premium model. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

In fact, the all-new 2019 Hyundai Santa Fe, which rides on a new architecture the next-gen Sorento will eventually adopt, uses the same 2.4-litre four-cylinder base engine, making an identical 185 horsepower and 178 lb-ft of torque, and sporting the same 3.3-litre V6 with 290 horsepower and 252 lb-ft of torque in its larger three-row Santa Fe XL model, but the latter SUV hasn’t changed one iota from the previous generation, even keeping its comparatively archaic six-speed autobox, so it’s old tech in an old model. The 2.0-litre turbo is the top-line engine in the five-passenger Santa Fe, and interestingly makes 5 fewer horsepower than in last year’s Sorento at 235, yet identical torque at 260 lb-ft. The elimination of Kia’s 2.0-litre turbo is therefore a strange move, but a move up to a more efficient eight-speed automatic for the optional V6 is certainly welcome. 

2019 Kia Sorento SXL
Is the Sorento’s cabin as impressive as some pundits say? Come back for our road test review to find out what we think. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

No doubt Sorento buyers helped make the choice for Kia, being that the V6 provides plentiful power and doesn’t overly tax fuel economy with a new claimed rating of 12.5 L/100km in the city, 9.7 on the highway and 11.2 combined, which compares reasonably well to last year’s V6/AWD Sorento in city yet oddly loses ground on the highway, which makes a personal ask exactly what Kia used the new eight-speed’s two final gears for? The outgoing Sorento V6/AWD managed 13.2 L/100km in the city, 9.3 on the highway and 11.4 combined, incidentally. 

2019 Kia Sorento SXL
The Sorento SXL certainly looks the part of a luxury SUV. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

In case you were wondering how well the old 2.0-litre turbo did in comparison, it managed an estimated 12.3 city, 9.4 highway and 11.0 combined, whereas that engine mated up to an eight-speed auto in the new 2019 Santa Fe is good for 12.3, 9.8 and 11.2 respectively—yes, go figure. 

How about the base 2.4? With its base FWD driveline (that few will buy) it manages 10.7 city, 8.2 highway and 9.5 combined, which despite no changes represents a massive improvement to city mileage over last year’s Sorento with the same powertrain that could only muster 11.2 L/100km city, 8.3 highway and 9.9 combined—it must come down to modifications to gear ratios—while the 2019 Sorento with its 2.4 AWD combination is claimed to be good for 11.2 city, 9.0 highway and 10.2 combined now, compared to 11.5, 9.3 and 10.5 last year. 

2019 Kia Sorento SXL
The Sorento gets new primary gauge packages for 2019, our tester’s sporting the upgraded Supervision LCD/TFT cluster found in EX trims and above. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

As noted, most won’t choose front-wheel drive in Canada despite few needing it on the urban West Coast and most FWD sales occurring in snowbound Quebec, this latter choice reportedly due to Quebecois family budgetary challenges, that really shouldn’t be as tight due to free daycare services, but nothing much makes sense in Canada these days. For the rest of Canadians, as mentioned before, AWD comes standard on trims above the base LX and mid-range EX. 

2019 Kia Sorento SXL
The Sorento’s centre stack has been refitted with a new and improved infotainment touchscreen. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

As tempting as it would be to rattle off every standard and optional feature available to 2019 Sorento buyers, because it would clearly show the model’s value proposition over comparatively sized competitors that are all priced higher, a shorter list of unusually impressive features would tax minds and memories less, so for starters the base LX comes standard at just $27,995 (an identical MSRP to last year) with 17-inch alloy wheels, auto on/off projector headlamps, chromed door handles, a leather-wrapped multifunction heatable steering wheel, Drive Mode Select with default Comfort, Eco, Sport and Smart settings, three-way heated front seats, a 7.0-inch infotainment display with aforementioned Apple CarPlay, Android Auto and a backup camera, six-speaker audio, and more. 

2019 Kia Sorento SXL
This split-screen rearview and overhead parking monitor comes in SXL trim. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

Adding AWD to the base LX increases the price by $2,300 to $30,295 yet also provides roof rails, proximity-sensing access with pushbutton ignition and a wireless phone charger, while the same trim with the V6 and AWD increases the base price by $4,500 to $34,795 and increases content to include fog lamps, a sound-reducing windshield, turn signals integrated within the side mirror caps, an auto-dimming rearview mirror, dual-zone automatic climate control with auto-defog, UVO Intelligence connected car services, satellite radio, an eight-way power-adjustable driver’s seat with two-way powered lumbar support, a third row for seven-occupant seating, trailer pre-wiring, and more. 

2019 Kia Sorento SXL
A new in-house built 8-speed automatic transmission is connected to this leather-wrapped shift lever. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

For $2,300 less than the LX V6 AWD and $2,200 more than the LX AWD, four-cylinder-powered $32,495 EX 2.4L trim includes the just noted fog lamps, powered driver’s seat, and seven-passenger capacity of the six-cylinder model while adding a glossy grille insert and leather upholstery, whereas the $38,365 EX with the V6 and AWD builds on the both the LX V6 AWD and EX 2.4 with 18-inch machined-finish alloy wheels, an upgraded Supervision LCD/TFT instrument cluster, express up/down powered windows with obstacle detection all-round, a household-style 110-volt power inverter, and blindspot detection with rear cross-traffic alert, while EX Premium trim starts $2,500 higher at $40,865, yet adds such luxuries as front and rear parking sensors, power-folding side mirrors, LED interior lighting, an eight-way powered front passenger’s seat, a panoramic glass sunroof, rear door sunshades, a powered liftgate with smart access. 

2019 Kia Sorento SXL
These seats look comfortable enough, but you’ll need to come back for our road test review to find out how they measure up. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

Those wanting to step up to a true luxury experience that rivals some premium brands can opt for the Sorento SX that, for $4,000 more than the EX Premium at $44,865, provides most everything already mentioned plus 19-inch alloys, a chrome grille, stainless steel skid plates front and back, a stainless steel exhaust tip, chromed roof rails, dynamic directionally-adaptive full LED headlights, upgraded LED fog lamps, bar type LED taillights, sound-reducing front side glass, illuminated stainless steel front door scuff plates, perforated premium leather upholstery, a larger 8.0-inch infotainment touchscreen with navigation, 10-speaker Harman/Kardon premium audio, ventilated front seats, heated rear outboard seats, and more. 

2019 Kia Sorento SXL
This massive dual-pane powered panoramic glass sunroof comes standard with EX trim and above. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

Lastly, the Sorento SXL in our garage adds another $4,000 for an asking price of $48,865 before freight and fees, which incidentally is still quite a bit less than most fully loaded rivals, some of which don’t even offer the level of high-grade equipment included in the previous trim, but this SXL grade adds unique 19-inch chrome alloy wheels, softer Nappa leather upholstery, chrome side sill accents, an electromechanical parking brake, a 360-degree surround parking camera, and a host of advanced driver assist systems such as high beam assist headlights, adaptive cruise control, forward collision-avoidance assist, plus aforementioned lane keeping assist and driver attention alert. 

2019 Kia Sorento SXL
You can be sure we’ll climb back here and take measurements so you’ll know how much space the Sorento has in its third row. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

For all trims, options packages, standalone upgrades, available colours and more, plus otherwise difficult to find rebate information and dealer invoice pricing that could save you thousands, visit CarCostCanada now. 

And remember to come back soon for our upcoming road test review where you’ll find out how all of these advanced electronics, luxury features and three rows of SUV spaciousness come together in one cohesive whole, or don’t, not to mention how the new eight-speed automatic transmission affects the performance of the V6, if there are any improvements in ride quality and/or handling, plus more, while we’ll also provide a larger more comprehensive photo gallery so you can see additional 2019 Sorento SXL details. Until then, enjoy all the photos provided above…

So much has changed within North America’s small car categories over the past couple of years, with all three domestic automakers giving up on conventionally powered subcompact and compact sedans and…

2019 Kia Forte EX Limited

2019 Kia Forte EX Limited
Kia consistently punches way above its weight class, with this redesigned 2019 Forte appearing to follow suit. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

So much has changed within North America’s small car categories over the past couple of years, with all three domestic automakers giving up on conventionally powered subcompact and compact sedans and hatchbacks altogether, leaving Japanese, Korean and German carmakers to fight over the still sizeable scraps. 

Kia and its parent Hyundai collectively own the subcompact segment with their Rio and Accent selling 19,371 units in 2017, and Seoul only narrowly missed out beating Honda in the larger compact segment. Last year the two Korean brands managed 67,145 compact units to Honda’s 69,030, and while the spread widened during the first nine months of 2018 with Kia and Hyundai managing just 47,978 Forte, Rondo, Elantra, Veloster and Ionic deliveries to Honda’s 56,206 Civics and Insights, the latter number lower than expected because of flooding at the Japanese brand’s Celaya, Mexico Insight plant, they’re still much further ahead than the rest of the pack. 

2019 Kia Forte EX Limited
Clean, understated styling and nice attention to detail make the Forte look like it’s made by a pricier premium brand. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

The third-place Corolla (Family) sedan and Hatchback found 50,332 buyers last year and 37,900 so far this year, but Toyota’s compact numbers don’t add up fairly due to the way the automaker combines all Prius sub-brand sales numbers (made up of the subcompact Prius C, compact Prius and Prius Prime plug-in, plus the mid-size Prius V) into one Prius Family, and while it’s safe to say the regular Prius makes up the majority of the three models’ 7,977 collective sales last year and 7,241 so far this year, we can’t be sure. Then again, even if we lumped all Prius sales with all Corolla sales it would still only total 58,309 in calendar year 2017 and 45,141 as of Q3 2018, which remains behind Hyundai/Kia. 

2019 Kia Forte EX Limited
The updated Forte gets a new take on Kia’s trademark grille design. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

Incidentally, it took VW four models and multiple body styles to achieve 43,469 sales in 2017 and 30,053 as of Q3 2018; it took Chevrolet two models to manage 31,833 deliveries last year and 25,468 over the first nine months of 2018 (the Cruze and Volt to be discontinued as noted); Mazda beat Cruze sales with 27,862 Mazda3s in 2017 yet fell slightly behind with 21,164 through to the third quarter of 2018 (when including the Mazda5 mini-minivan the Japanese brand’s compact sales rose to 30,086 units in 2017 and 21,794 over nine months of 2018); Subaru’s compact sales dipped slightly to 15,233 Impreza/WRX/STI models last year, but were on a tear as of Q3 2018 with 14,359 already sold (Impreza sales having already surpassed 2017 totals); likewise, Nissan’s Sentra and Leaf were lower at 14,829 units in 2017 yet already at 14,540 after nine months of 2018; Ford’s 11,937 Focus sales last year and 8,230 as of Q3 2018 show why it’s a good idea to update your models more often (with the similarly cancelled C-Max those numbers grew to 13,351 and 8,436 units respectively); Mitsubishi’s 5,754 Lancer deliveries through 2017 and 2,012 over three quarters of 2018 make their survival through the next recession seem challenging at best; and just in case you were wondering what happened to the Dodge Dart, FCA delivered a measly 533 through 2017 and a grand total of 4 so far this year (no doubt the final four). 

2019 Kia Forte EX Limited
Unique LED headlamps, LED DRLs, and LED positioning lights come standard with EX trim and above. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

As for the split of Forte and Elantra sales, as you may have guessed the parent brand sold many more of the latter with 46,112 rolling off the showroom floor in 2017 and 33,456 over the first nine months of 2018, while the Forte’s numbers were 16,388 and 10,823 respectively, and while this looks as if Kia is lagging behind its rivals take note that it was only narrowly beaten by the aforementioned Subaru Impreza while managing to edge out the Nissan Sentra and Volkswagen Jetta, two big players in other markets. The Forte also handily outsold the Focus, the Prius Family, and plenty of other models that were mostly mentioned already. 

2019 Kia Forte EX Limited
Some of the Forte’s styling details seem inspired by Audi, which makes sense considering their chief designer, Peter Schreyer, once hailed from the German brand. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

Even more importantly, where most others in this class are losing ground the Forte saw its strongest sales ever last year, with a 33.3 percent gain over 2016, and is on target for a better than average 12 months this year. The only other compact to show sizeable growth from calendar year 2016 through 2017 was the VW Golf, with sales up 15.9 percent, while the Honda Civic saw a 6.9 percent gain, Toyota Corolla Family sales increased by 4.4 percent, the Chevy Cruze grew its numbers by 2.6 percent (only because it lost 16 percent from 2015 to 2016), and the Mazda3 nudged itself upwards by 0.6 percent. 

2019 Kia Forte EX Limited
These sporty 17-inch machined-finish alloys are featured on EX+ and as-tested EX Limited trims. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

Why all the Kia Forte sales growth? With every new generation the Forte becomes notably better, even so much that it passes right by most of its peers in styling, interior fit, finish and materials quality, standard and optional features, and drivability. This entirely new from the ground up third-generation 2019 Forte is the best it’s ever been, with styling that manages to conjure thoughts of sophisticated European machinery (much thanks to its mostly European-staffed design department), a much-improved cabin with new digital interfaces, plenty of normally pricey standard features and Kia’s usual unbeatable assortment of options, plus a fresh new transmission. 

The sole 2.0-litre four-cylinder engine remains a carryover of last year’s base mill, which is still good for 147 horsepower and 132 lb-ft of torque, and while a six-speed manual gearbox can still be found in the entry-level LX, that trim now gets the option of a Hyundai/Kia-developed continuously variable transmission (CVT) instead of last year’s six-speed automatic—the CVT standard with all other trims. I’ll report on its performance and refinement in my upcoming road test review, plus I’ll talk about ride quality, handling, and everything else normally covered. 

2019 Kia Forte EX Limited
LED taillights with an eye-catching inner design get added for EX+ and EX Limited trims. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

The CVT is a $2,500 upgrade over the base six-speed manual, moving the price up from $16,495 to $18,995 plus freight and fees (make sure to check out complete 2019 Kia Forte pricing of all trim levels, packages and options at CarCostCanada, plus rebate info and dealer invoice pricing that could save you thousands), but along with automatic operation you also get standard Drive Mode Select with default, Eco, Sport and Smart driving modes, plus some advanced driver assistance systems including Forward Collision-Avoidance Assist (FCA), Lane Keeping Assist (LKA), and Driver Attention Alert (DAA), while both LX models also include auto on/off projector headlamps, splash guards, body-colour mirror caps and door handles, heated side mirrors, a heatable leather-wrapped steering wheel, heated front seats, a leather-wrapped shift knob, air conditioning, a new fixed tablet-style 8.0-inch touchscreen infotainment display with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto smartphone integration and a rearview camera with dynamic guidelines, 60/40 split-folding rear seatbacks, USB audio input and charging ports, AM/FM/MP3 radio, Bluetooth hands-free connectivity with audio steaming, cruise control, Hill-Assist Control (HAC) plus all the expected active and passive safety features. 

2019 Kia Forte EX Limited
EX Limited trim adds a new level of luxury to the Forte, and the entire mainstream volume-branded compact segment. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

If you want 16-inch machined-finish alloys instead of 15-inch steel wheels with covers you’ll need to upgrade to $20,995 EX trim, which also includes LED headlamps, LED daytime running lights, LED positioning lights, turn signals integrated within the side mirror housings, a gloss black grille with chrome accents, chrome window trim, aeroblade wipers, a chrome exhaust tip, satin chrome interior door handles, a supervision LCD/TFT primary instrument cluster, a wireless device charger, rear climate ventilation, a rear centre armrest, tire pressure monitoring, and Blind Spot Detection (BSD) with Rear Cross Traffic Alert (RCTA). 

2019 Kia Forte EX Limited
EX Limited trim includes cooled front seats, heated rear seats, a larger infotainment touchscreen with navigation, and Harman/Kardon audio. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

The move up to $22,495 EX+ trim adds a 17-inch machined-finish alloy wheels, LED taillights, LED interior lighting, and a powered moonroof, whereas $25,065 EX Premium trim also includes High Beam Assist (HBA) for the aforementioned LED headlights, proximity-sensing access with pushbutton ignition, adaptive cruise control, an eight-way power adjustable driver’s seat, SOFINO synthetic leather upholstery, satellite radio, UVO Intelligence connected car services, a Smart release trunk that automatically opens when you’ve been standing behind it for three seconds with the key fob in your pocket or purse, Advanced Forward Collision-Avoidance Assist (FCA), and more. 

Lastly, my $28,065 EX Limited tester came with everything already mentioned as well as ventilated front seats, heatable outboard rear seats, an upgraded multimedia infotainment interface with integrated navigation, and Harman/Kardon premium audio.

2019 Kia Forte EX Limited
EX trim includes this supervision LCD/TFT primary instrument cluster. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

Of course, I’ll go on at length about the capability of this sound system, the upgraded infotainment system and all other features in my future review, plus along with my road test notes I’ll be filling you in on achieved fuel economy, the new CVT helping the upgraded Forte achieve a better rating of 7.7 L/100km city and 5.9 highway compared to 8.0 and 6.1 respectively. Kia must have rejigged the manual too, because its claimed rating is now 8.6 city and 6.4 highway compared to 9.4 and 6.8, but that’s not the real oddity at play here. 

2019 Kia Forte EX Limited
Come back soon for the road test review and we’ll tell you how the new 2019 Forte drives and much more… (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

Strangely, the 2.0-litre four that’s pulled forward from last year’s car is actually the lesser of two powertrains available in 2018, the more advanced direct-injected optional engine capable of 164 horsepower and 151 lb-ft of torque. This may be due to a late arrival option set to arrive along with a redesigned Forte5, the model’s five-door hatchback variant still suited up in its previous design and being sold as a 2018. The Forte5 currently uses the upgraded engine for its base powerplant, while offering a turbocharged 1.6-litre four making 201 horsepower and 195 lb-ft of torque in a performance SX trim. 

While we’re looking forward to driving either of these hatchback variants when redesigned, we’ve already got a lot to say about the 2019 Forte sedan. Join us here soon for the full review and we won’t hold back…

Hey wagon lovers! Take a look in our garage this week. This is the entirely new-from-the-ground-up 2019 Volvo V60 in top-line Inscription T6 AWD trim, which means that it looks fabulous, comes filled…

2019 Volvo V60 Inscription T6 AWD

2019 Volvo V60 Inscription T6 AWD
Volvo has completely redesigned its V60 sport wagon for 2019, making it one of the brand’s best looking wagons ever. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

Hey wagon lovers! Take a look in our garage this week. This is the entirely new-from-the-ground-up 2019 Volvo V60 in top-line Inscription T6 AWD trim, which means that it looks fabulous, comes filled with all of Volvo’s latest non-plug-in tech, and is one luxurious family hauler. 

It’s also really roomy. In fact, we think the new V60 is targeting previous V70 customers just as much as those who loved the outgoing V60, thanks to a substantive 124-mm (4.9-inch) greater length overall, plus a 9.6-mm (3.8-inch) longer wheelbase that results in the most spacious rear seating area in the luxury D-segment. The new model is 51 mm (2.0 inches) lower than its predecessor too, which adds to its long, sleek visual stance, but nevertheless it provides ample headroom and legroom for a six-foot passenger behind a six-foot driver, or so reports claim, while the new V60 also boasts 20 percent more cargo room than the outgoing car. 

2019 Volvo V60 Inscription T6 AWD
The V60’s sharp new styling might have some S60 sedan fans contemplating life with a wagon. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

The new V60 sits atop the same Scalable Product Architecture (SPA) chassis architecture that underpins the larger V90 sport wagon, not to mention everything else in today’s Volvo lineup other than the compact XC40 crossover that utilizes the brand’s new Compact Modular Architecture (CMA) platform, which incidentally will support a new 40 series line of cars in the near future. SPA and the models built upon it have been widely praised by auto critics like us and Volvo customers alike, while sales of new Volvo products have been skyrocketing since the brand’s transformation that started with the second-generation XC90 SUV back in 2015. 

2019 Volvo V60 Inscription T6 AWD
The V60 boasts a new take on Volvo’s crested grilled design. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

We’re not expecting this V60 sport wagon to sell anywhere near as well as that XC90 mid-size SUV or the more recently introduced XC60 compact crossover SUV, or for that matter the new V60 Cross Country that adds a little more off-road flair via the way of a raised suspension and rugged looking matte black body cladding, but the regular V60 should provide more road-hugging handling prowess, which we’ll report on later in our upcoming road test review. Big sales or not, the V60 supplies a major dose of Volvo DNA to the entire brand. 

After all, Volvo has had a wagon in its lineup longer than most people can remember, and now that the larger V90 has been slated for cancellation in Canada (it was only ever available via special order in the U.S.), availability of this V60 is critical for keeping up the Swedish brand’s pragmatic image. 

2019 Volvo V60 Inscription T6 AWD
Of course, Volvo’s trademark “Thor’s Hammer” LED headlights come standard. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

Pragmatic yes, but sitting down inside replaces any such practical thoughts with feelings of pampering hedonism, being that the 2019 V60 continues Volvo’s new brand ethos of providing more luxury than any rival. We won’t tell you all of our experiences yet because we’ve only taken delivery of the car and haven’t even written our notes down, but being that it looks much like everything else from the Swedish carmaker we’re expecting to find more soft-touch surfaces, satin-silver trim, jewellery-like detailing, and genuine hardwood inlays than rivals from Germany, Japan or the U.S., while Volvo’s electronic interfaces are some of the best in the business, from its standard 8.0-inch digital driver display within the gauge cluster to the optional 12.3-inch version of those same primary instruments, not to mention its standard 9.0-inch tablet-style Sensus centre-stack touchscreen. 

2019 Volvo V60 Inscription T6 AWD
Top-line Inscription trim gets its own set of 19-inch alloy wheels. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

Volvo’s Sensus touchscreen has become our go-to example of how to do infotainment systems correctly, thanks to incorporating one of the most user-friendly and feature-filled interfaces in the auto industry. The new V60’s boasts 50 percent faster processing speeds than previous iterations used in other models resulting in quicker startup, faster response from the backup camera, much improved voice activation, and speedier navigation route calculation. The standard backup camera includes dynamic guidelines and graphics for the standard rear parking sensors, while other standard functions include Apple CarPlay and Android Auto smartphone integration, 4G LTE in-car Wi-Fi, a 10-speaker 330-watt audio system, satellite radio, a four-year subscription to Volvo On-Call that features remote start and vehicle tracking, and lastly two standard USB charging ports. 

2019 Volvo V60 Inscription T6 AWD
This powered panoramic sunroof even comes in base Momentum trim. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

The base 2019 V60 Momentum T5 FWD starts at just $43,900 plus freight and fees, which is only $50 above than last year’s base V60 despite its all-new design and upgraded everything, including those aforementioned “Thor’s Hammer” LED headlamps. Additional standard features include 18-inch alloy wheels, metal door sill treadplates, rain-sensing wipers, a powered panoramic glass sunroof, an auto-dimming rearview mirror, a three-spoke leather-wrapped multifunction steering wheel, dual-zone automatic climate control with a Clean Zone Air Quality system and a humidity sensor, unique Iron Ore decor inlays, Moritz leather upholstery, power-adjustable heated front seats with two-way powered lumbar support and driver’s memory, a 120-volt household-style power outlet in the rear console, a powered liftgate, power-folding rear seat headrests, power-folding rear seatbacks with controls in the cargo compartment, a semi-automatic cargo cover that conveniently slides up and out of the way when opening the tailgate, a metal cargo scuff plate, black integrated roof rails, dual chromed tailpipes, and more. 

2019 Volvo V60 Inscription T6 AWD
These L-shaped LED taillights really help the V60 stand apart from anything else on the road. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

This being a Volvo means plenty of safety gear comes standard too, so therefore all 2019 V60 trims get City Safety automatic front collision warning with full low- and high-speed autonomous emergency braking, plus Driver Alert Control, steering support, Run-Off Road Mitigation, Lane Keeping Aid and Oncoming Lane Mitigation, as well as all the usual active and passive safety features including an airbag for the driver’s knees, front seat whiplash protection, and pyrotechnical seatbelt pretensioners in all positions front to rear. 

2019 Volvo V60 Inscription T6 AWD
Step inside an Inscription trimmed V60 and you’ll be entering one of the most luxuriously appointed cars in the luxury D-segment. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

Of special note, the 2019 V60 introduces a new Oncoming Braking system to the entire Volvo lineup, which if sensing an imminent head-on collision will automatically actuate maximum braking force two-tenths of a second before impact. This is said to reduce vehicle speed by 10 km/h ahead of an impact, which could potentially be a lifesaver and certainly help to minimize life-altering injury. 

Momentum trim is available with the choice of two powertrains, the first being the T5 FWD that consists of Volvo’s well-proven 2.0-litre direct-injected and turbocharged engine, good for 250 horsepower and 258 lb-ft of torque, and the second the T6 AWD that costs an additional $4,000 for a total of $48,900 yet adds a supercharger to the turbocharged four-cylinder resulting in 316 horsepower and 295 lb-ft of torque. The former allows for a zero to 100km/h sprint of 6.6 seconds and a top speed of 225 km/h (140 mph), whereas the latter cuts standstill acceleration runs down to 5.7 seconds and ups maximum velocity to 249 km/h (155 mph). 

2019 Volvo V60 Inscription T6 AWD
Performance is important, but comfort is king in the new V60. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

Both use a quick-shifting and highly efficient eight-speed “Geartronic” automatic transmission with manual mode to transfer power to the drive wheels. The new V60 can also be had with available Drive Mode Select that includes Comfort, Eco, Dynamic sport, and Individual driving modes, while fuel-saving and emissions-reducing automatic start/stop, that shuts the engine off when it would otherwise be idling, comes standard. The V60’s official Transport Canada fuel economy rating are 10.2 L/100km in the city, 6.8 on the highway and 8.7 combined for the T5 FWD, or 10.9 city, 7.7 highway and 9.5 with the T6 AWD, which puts it right in the hunt for top efficiency within the ultra-narrow niche known as the compact luxury D-segment wagon category. 

2019 Volvo V60 Inscription T6 AWD
Check out the navigation system’s 3D-building graphics found within the gauge cluster’s multi-info display. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

To be clear, the V60 is only up against the BMW 3 Series Touring, the least efficient 2018 model of which bested the most economical V60 by a very slight margin, while turbo-diesel and plug-in hybrid variants were even thriftier, for a price (most expect the 2019 3 Series to be even more of a fuel miser, although they haven’t shown a Touring version yet), whereas the all-new 2019 Mercedes-Benz C-Class Wagon only comes with one engine and driveline so far with no fuel economy specifics yet announced. 

The V60’s Dynamic Chassis is comprised of aluminum double wishbones up front and an exclusive integral link rear suspension design featuring a transverse lightweight composite leaf spring, Volvo promising both a comfortable ride and sporty handling from this fully independent setup that we’ll report on in our upcoming review. 

2019 Volvo V60 Inscription T6 AWD
Volvo’s tablet-style infotainment touchscreen is one of the best in the business. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

Being a niche model within a shrinking non-crossover/SUV category there aren’t any adaptive suspension options, but those choosing base Momentum trim can swap out the standard Charcoal (black) or Blond (beige) leather upholstery with sharp looking $400 City Weave plaid textile inserts in either colour, while standard Black Stone or Ice White exterior paints can be upgraded to one of nine $900 metallic finishes. Additionally, a set of $1,000 18-inch five Y-spoke diamond cut alloy wheels can be added too, while individual options include a $250 Charcoal headliner, $1,150 graphical head-up display unit, and $1,200 14-speaker, 600-watt Harmon/Kardon audio system. 

2019 Volvo V60 Inscription T6 AWD
Those are matte finished hardwood scrolling lids next to the 8-speed automatic’s shift lever. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

Momentum buyers can also add a $1,250 Climate Package that includes heated Aquablades windshield wipers, a heatable steering wheel, and heated rear seats; a $1,500 Convenience Package with Volvo’s advanced Pilot Assist semi-autonomous drive system featuring Adaptive Cruise Control, plus a Homelink garage door opener and a compass integrated into the rearview mirror; an $1,800 Vision Package with a 360-degree surround parking camera, Park Assist Pilot semi-autonomous self parking, front parking sensors, auto-dimming power-retractable side mirrors, and blindspot monitoring with rear cross traffic alert; and lastly a $3,400 Momentum Plus Package incorporating dynamic cornering headlamps, headlight washers, fog lamps, proximity-sensing keyless access with a hands-free tailgate function that lets you open the liftgate by waving a foot below the rear bumper, the aforementioned 12.3-inch digital instrument cluster, Drive Mode Select, four-zone automatic climate control, navigation (that lets the cruise control access map data for adjusting vehicle speed through corners when appropriate), Road Sign Information, and more. 

2019 Volvo V60 Inscription T6 AWD
Twist this bit of eye-catching jewelry and V60’s advanced engine comes to life. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

If you opt for the T6 AWD, all of the same standalone options and packages remain, except for wheels that start with a unique set of open-spoke 18-inch alloys as standard equipment and can be upgradable to a set of $1,000 19-inch alloys, while special Amber caramel brown leather becomes an interior option. 

2019 Volvo V60 Inscription T6 AWD
Just how comfortable are the V60’s front seats? Come back for the full review to find out… (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

Moving up to $55,400 Inscription trim adds the T6 AWD powertrain as standard equipment, plus a unique chromed waterfall grille, bright metal integrated roof rails, unique 10-spoke 18-inch diamond cut alloy wheels, fog lamps, cornering headlights, a special leather-wrapped and metal edged Inscription key fob, low, medium or high steering assistance via Power Steering Personal Settings, Driftwood decor inlays, the 12.3-inch digital gauge cluster, perforated Nappa leather upholstery, four-way powered lumbar support, ventilated front seats, and more. 

Option out a V60 Inscription T6 AWD and you can have special $1,000 19-inch multi-spoke alloys, the aforementioned Charcoal headliner and graphical head-up display, as well as a $3,750 19-speaker 1,400-watt Bowers & Wilkins audio upgrade, and $1,300 massaging front seats. The Momentum Plus Package is no longer offered due to most of it being standard in Inscription trim, but the three remaining Climate, Convenience and Vision packages are still available. 

2019 Volvo V60 Inscription T6 AWD
Here’s another view of that expansive glass sunroof. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

And by the way, all 2019 Volvo V60 pricing was sourced from CarCostCanada, where you can find detailed pricing on trims, packages and standalone options for every other new vehicle sold in Canada, plus otherwise hard to get rebate information and dealer invoice pricing that could save you thousands. 

2019 Volvo V60 Inscription T6 AWD
How’s the room back here? Check out our upcoming review to learn more… (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

While Momentum and Inscription are the only two trims currently available, we’d like to think that a sportier V60 R-Design will arrive at some point in the near future, which we’d hope would add special 18-inch alloy wheels with the option of unique 19s, plus steering wheel-mounted paddle shifters, and slightly edgier interior and exterior design, while it would incorporate most of the same features offered in the Inscription. Likewise, we hope the V60 will also be available with Volvo’s T8 Twin-Engine powertrain that uses a plug-in hybrid drivetrain to increase engine output to 400 horsepower while reducing fuel consumption considerably. Additionally, the outgoing V60 was also available in factory-built Polestar trim, a car we covered in 2017 guise right here. This was a fabulous performance, so needless to say we’d love to see something similar recreated for this all-new V60. 

2019 Volvo V60 Inscription T6 AWD
Need cargo space? (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

For now we’ll enjoy a double dose of our more luxury-oriented 2019 V60 Inscription for two weeks no less, much thanks to Volvo that provided an extra week of pampering comfort over the holidays. This will give us plenty of time to experience all of its goodness while doing our best to suss out any weaknesses (sorry Volvo). So until our full road test review arrives make sure to peruse our photo gallery above…

The minivan is a strange beast. After the segment’s first foray into the market during the early ‘80s to mid-‘90s, when the various Chrysler group vans took their rightful place atop the heap thanks…

2019 Honda Odyssey Touring Road Test

2019 Honda Odyssey Touring
Honda’s Odyssey received a redesign last year, with new styling and some even bigger improvements below the skin. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

The minivan is a strange beast. After the segment’s first foray into the market during the early ‘80s to mid-‘90s, when the various Chrysler group vans took their rightful place atop the heap thanks to creation of the category itself, and follow up models that continued to deliver what consumers wanted better than competitors that merely modified existing Japanese vans for differing North American tastes, each automaker continued to augment their offerings to better appeal to what were essentially their most practical buyers. 

Honda was actually a full decade late to the party, having arrived in 1994. The first-generation Odyssey certainly looked the part and even boasted second-row access from both sides, something Chrysler wouldn’t adopt until the following year, but the Japanese van’s rear side doors were hinged like those from the Accord it was based on, and therefore it lacked the ease-of-use provided by all competitors’ passenger-side sliding door, limiting its popularity. 

2019 Honda Odyssey Touring
Hardly a mini van, the mid-size Odyssey has no problem loading in eight adults plus cargo. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

Fortunately for Honda, its imported competitors weren’t all that much more appealing, Toyota’s original Van a truck-based body-on-frame rear- and four-wheel drive alternative that nevertheless found a reasonable following, this replaced by the ovoid spaceship-styled Previa that stowed its engine on its side under the driver’s seat, and finally the more conventional front-drive Sienna for the 1998 model year; and Nissan’s first Van similar to Toyota’s yet nowhere near as successful, things getting better when the FWD Quest was launched in 1992; whereas Mazda’s 1989-2006 MPV was probably the most capable Japanese-sourced Chrysler competitor. 

2019 Honda Odyssey Touring
Part of the Odyssey redesign was the inclusion of new LED taillights that pull styling cues from other models in the Honda lineup, like the Accord. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

Chrysler group vans aside, the domestics did better than they probably should have thanks to the brand strength of Ford and GM at that time, the blue-oval Aerostar and Chevy/GMC Astro/Safari RWD and AWD truck-based models finding reasonably strong sales ahead of the General’s plastic-bodied 1990-1996 APV/“Dustbuster” atrocities that didn’t catch on very well despite Chili Palmer’s (John Travolta) Cadillac of minivans plug in Get Shorty (1995), whereas Ford’s 1995-2003 Windstar actually had fairly strong success. 

Ford only suffered through one more minivan name-change when it redubbed its stellar offering Freestar before saying goodbye to the non-commercial minivan segment altogether in 2007, but I could fill volumes with GM minivan names before it decided to say goodbye to its final Buick Terraza, Chevrolet Uplander, Pontiac Montana SV6, and Saturn Relay foursome in 2009. And don’t worry I won’t comment on all the others, or for that matter the various brands not yet mentioned that tried their hardest to build the ultimate family hauler, because now there are only a handful of competitors in this once hotly contested sector. 

2019 Honda Odyssey Touring
These full LED high/low beam headlamps come standard in top-line Touring trim. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

The only brand not yet noted that’s still making a minivan is Kia, which launched the Sedona in 2002. Hyundai briefly tried to cash in with its oddly named 2006-2009 Entourage, but that one-stint-wonder leaves the Sedona amongst just two Kias not duplicated by a namesake version from its parent brand (the other being the Soul subcompact crossover, whereas Hyundai is alone in offering a three-door sports coupe in the Veloster). 

2019 Honda Odyssey Touring
Touring trim also upgrades the fog lamps with LEDs. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

The Sedona is the minivan segment’s least popular offering, mostly due to the strength of Kia’s brand rather than any specific product shortcoming, having found just 5,286 Canadian buyers in 2017 and 4,478 over the first three quarters of 2018. Comparatively, Chrysler’s much pricier Pacifica raised its game to 6,185 unit sales last year and 5,327 over the first nine months of this year, while the Odyssey is the first of this quintet to break five figures thanks to 11,232 deliveries in 2017 and 9,036 as of September 30, 2018. Having built up a minivan following for ten more years than Honda, it’s only fair the Sienna sells in greater numbers, the Toyota van finding 15,470 buyers last year and 11,231 registered by the end of this year’s third quarter, while the minivan that started everything off way back in 1984 remains number one by a long shot, Dodge having sold 46,933 Grand Caravans in 2017 and 27,466 year-to-date as of Q3 2018. 

2019 Honda Odyssey Touring
These machine-finished 19-inch alloys with black painted pockets wrapped in 235/55 all-season tires are exclusive to Touring trim. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

I’ve driven most every van mentioned plus a dozen or so more, and some that looked sportiest were the least capable off the line and around curves, whereas others were sleepers. My short-wheelbase 1996 Caravan was actually pretty decent when the road started to wind, but its 3.0-litre Mitsubishi-sourced V6 and four-speed automatic combination wasn’t anywhere near as capable as today’s V6 powerplants. The latest Grand Caravan gets a 283 horsepower 3.6-litre V6 with 260 lb-ft of torque, but that engine is the only sophisticated bit of kit in the aging workhorse. It stacks up pretty well when compared to the Odyssey’s 3.5-litre V6 that makes 280 horsepower and 262 lb-ft of torque, but that’s where the driveline similarities end. Specifically, Honda’s “Earth Dreams” branded V6 incorporates Variable Cylinder Management cylinder-deactivation that cuts half the pistons under light loads where Chrysler never adapted its comparative MDS system to the Pentastar V6, while Honda’s new nine- and 10-speed automatics are the cream of the minivan crop, the latter gearbox included in my Touring trim tester. 

2019 Honda Odyssey Touring
Chrome door handles with buttons for the proximity-sensing keyless entry system come standard across the Odyssey line. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

Competitive transmissions include a six-speed automatic from Dodge, eight-speed units from Kia and Toyota, and a nine-speed from the conventionally powered Chrysler with a CVT used for its plug-in hybrid variant, that latter model providing the segment’s best fuel economy at 7.3 L/100km city, 7.2 highway and 7.3 combined (or 2.6, 3.0 and 2.8 Le/100km if you plug-in all the time and don’t drive very far between charges), albeit for a substantive initial hit to its bottom line (it starts at $51,745 and rubs up against $65k when fully loaded), while the Odyssey and its considerably more affordable rivals offer up city/highway/combined estimates of 13.7/9.4/11.8 for the Grand Caravan (the segment’s worst city and combined ratings), 12.9/8.4/10.9 for the base Pacifica and 12.4/8.4/10.6 for the same drivetrain with engine start/stop, 12.7/10.0/11.5 for the Sedona (the worst highway rating), 12.5/8.9/10.8 for the Sienna (or 13.4/9.6/11.7 for the Sienna AWD), and finally 12.6/8.4/10.7 (tied-for-best highway rating) for the base Odyssey with its nine-speed, or alternatively the best-in-class city, second-best highway and tied-for-best combined ratings of 12.2/8.5/10.6 for the as-tested top-line Odyssey with its 10-speed automatic. 

2019 Honda Odyssey Touring
LED taillights are standard, as is the metal brightwork that embellishes them. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

On top of this technical advantage, the Odyssey continues forward as the best minivan choice for those wanting a large dose of performance added to their ample helping of practicality. Clarifying this sporting image are paddle shifters behind each steering wheel spoke in every trim level, this from a utilitarian class that usually makes you feel lucky to receive any shifter control at all. Why this minivan-first inclusion of paddles? Take a look at the centre stack and everything becomes clear, with Honda’s pushbutton gear selector replacing the old lever that previously offered a regular push-and-pull manual mode. Now driver engagement takes place without the need to remove hands from the thick and sporty leather-wrapped steering wheel rim, the nicely contoured driver’s seat providing the other key ingredient for comfort and control. 

2019 Honda Odyssey Touring
Slide right into one of the more comfortable cabins in the minivan segment. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

The driving position is excellent, and thanks to 12-way power-adjustment including four-way powered lumbar support on EX trims and above the driver’s seat should be just as comfortable for those measuring four-foot-eight to six-foot-eight as it was for my five-foot-eight frame. Its many adjustments combined nicely with the tilt and telescopic steering column’s ample reach, allowing me to ideally saddle up my sometimes-awkward long-legged, short-torso build. 

The gear selector is basically the same as used in the Pilot mid-size crossover SUV, a design that works flawlessly once you get used to it. It does take some practice, however, so if you’re going on a test drive at your local dealer give yourself enough time to get familiarized or you may be frustrated, especially if you have to back up quickly in the middle of the road during a U-turn, where all of a sudden you’ll need to think about pulling a rocker switch rearward for Reverse before pushing another button to select Drive. 

2019 Honda Odyssey Touring
Driver’s seat memory and memory-linked side mirrors with reverse gear tilt-down come with EX-L trim. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

When you push the Drive button twice it goes into Sport mode, and this is the best way to make use of those aforementioned paddles. The 10-speed autobox really does snap through the gears quickly, which is kind of rare for transmissions with so many speeds. Normally they’re laggards, set up to maximize fuel economy at all costs, but as long as you haven’t pressed the ECON mode button, which does a good job of minimizing fuel usage, or the Snow mode designed to maximize traction in slippery situations, this one is really fun to drive, making the most of all the power on tap. Combined with the Odyssey’s nicely balanced fully independent front strut and rear multi-link suspension, it’s easily the class leader for performance. 

2019 Honda Odyssey Touring
The Odyssey gets leather-like soft-touch synthetic across most of dash and door panels. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

Refinement is a bit more difficult to quantify, whether talking about ride quality or interior fit, finish and materials quality. I have no complaints about either with the Odyssey, finding its ride pleasant enough whether running errands around town or cruising on the open freeway, despite its taut handling characteristics. As for cabin refinement, Honda finishes both the upper and mid-level instrument panel in a leather-like soft-touch synthetic that’s plenty upscale for the mainstream volume sector, this continuing rearward across the tops of each door panel, plus the inserts and armrests of course. Additionally, a pewter-look medium-grey metal-like inlay spans the dash, while piano black lacquer accents can be found most everywhere else, Touring trim notably lacking much interior chrome resulting in a sportier theme, but Honda using dark brown for much of the softer surfacing of the dash and door panels too, matching the perforated leather seat upholstery for a rich, classy look. 

2019 Honda Odyssey Touring
No matter the trim, the Odyssey’s gauge cluster is mostly digital. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

Just the same this is the most modern van on the market. In fact, most of the primary gauge cluster is digital, a first for the class. It’s controllable via a well-designed array of steering wheel switchgear, which also includes a button for the heatable steering wheel rim, pulled up from EX-L Res trim. You’ll need to look over on the centre stack to turn on the heat or blow cool air through the front seats’ ventilated perforations, the former standard and latter exclusive to Touring trim. 

2019 Honda Odyssey Touring
Down by the left knee are controls for the power sliding doors and liftgate, parking sensors, traction control, driver assist features and more. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

Before delving into everything that comes standard with Touring trim, I’ve just got to say how impressed I was with the Odyssey’s infotainment system. It starts with a fixed tablet-style design that sits above the centre stack like some premium brands do in their much higher priced models, and almost seamlessly melds the aforementioned piano black plastic surrounding trim with a black glass-like finish from edge to glossy edgy, its digital innards bright, colourful, with deep, rich contrasts, and it’s wonderfully easy to use thanks to a tile-style setup, not to mention tap, pinch and swipe gesture controls depending on the feature being used, navigation mapping being one that uses all. I was a bit surprised not to find a 360-surround parking monitor in top-line trim, but Honda’s excellent multi-angle rearview camera with dynamic guidelines comes standard, as does Apple CarPlay and Android Auto smartphone integration. I tried the latter and it was simple to set up and use, while route guidance was a no-brainer and totally accurate whether using Google’s phone-sourced directions or Honda’s proprietary system, my personal preference being the latter. 

2019 Honda Odyssey Touring
The centre stack is filled with superb infotainment and one of the auto sector’s more interesting gear selectors. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

All controls are touch-sensitive except for a handy rotating knob for power/volume, while Honda includes its usual array of well thought out steering wheel switchgear. USB and aux ports can be found under a sliding door in the lower console, while device connectivity is via Bluetooth or near field communication (NFC), the latter reportedly a quicker, easier process for those with compatible smartphones. 

Along with the upgraded 10-speed automatic transmission already noted, additional Touring trim exclusives include idle start/stop for reducing fuel consumption and emissions, unique 19-inch alloy wheels on 235/55 all-seasons, full LED high/low beam headlamps, upgraded LED fog lamps, power-folding side mirrors, rain-sensing wipers, ambient lighting on the instrument panel, within the front door handle cutouts and in the footwells, acoustic front and rear door glass, Honda’s new CabinWatch rear seat monitor, wireless device charging, HondaLink Subscription Services, an AT&T Wi-Fi Hotspot, a “How much Farther?” app, great sounding 550-watt audio with 11 speakers including a subwoofer, third-row sunshades, blindspot monitoring with rear cross-traffic assist, a hands-free gesture-controlled power tailgate, and more. 

2019 Honda Odyssey Touring
This multi-angle backup camera comes standard. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

The previously noted navigation system gets pulled up from EX-L Navi trim, while the EX-L Res trim doesn’t include navigation yet offers families a rear entertainment system with a 10.2-inch high-resolution WSVGA flip-down centre monitor, a Blu-ray DVD player and embedded streaming media apps, while both EX-L trims provide the aforementioned heatable steering wheel, driver’s seat memory plus memory-linked side mirrors with reverse gear tilt-down, front and rear parking sensors, satellite and HD radio, an acoustic windshield, a 12-volt power outlet for the third row, and more. 

2019 Honda Odyssey Touring
Navigation is optional with the EX-L and standard with top-line Touring trim. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

There are EX and EX Res trims too, the only difference with the latter being rear entertainment plus another USB port, a household-style 115-volt power outlet, and Honda’s industry-first CabinTalk in-car PA system (the latter two features not included with the EX-L Navi), while both include unique two-tone 18-inch alloys, upgraded LED daytime running lights, fog lamps, integrated turn signal indicators within the side mirror housings, auto-up/down powered windows all-round, an auto-dimming rearview mirror, a HomeLink garage door opener, a powered moonroof, tri-zone automatic climate control, previously noted NFC, Honda’s superb LaneWatch blind spot display that unfortunately gets nixed from Touring trim due to its exclusive blind spot monitoring system, the 12-way powered driver’s seat mentioned earlier, power-sliding second-row doors, second-row armrests and sunshades, the brilliant HondaVAC in-car vacuum (the only way I’ve ever been able to get my son to use a vacuum without force), and more. 

2019 Honda Odyssey Touring
This unique gear selector comes standard with both 9- and 10-speed automatic transmissions. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

In case you were wondering what you get with the Odyssey’s previously noted base price, standard equipment includes 18-inch alloys on 235/60 all-season tires, auto on/off projector-beam halogen headlamps with auto high beams, active grille shutters, a windshield wiper de-icer, variable intermittent wipers, body-coloured heated power door mirrors, chrome door handles, front splash guards, LED taillights, a rear window wiper/washer, a capless fueling system, remote engine start, proximity-sensing keyless entry and pushbutton ignition, an electromechanical parking brake with automatic brake hold, filtered dual-zone automatic climate control, the previously noted multi-angle rearview camera, a 150-watt AM/FM/CD/MP3/WMA audio system with seven speakers including a subwoofer, Bluetooth streaming audio, Wi-Fi tethering, Siri Eyes Free, HondaLink, the CabinControl app, two USB charge ports, 15 cupholders, centre console storage with a utility tray, a conversation mirror integrated within the overhead sunglasses holder, illuminated vanity mirrors, an eight-way power driver’s seat, a four-way powered front passenger’s seat, heated front seats, Adaptive Cruise Control (ACC), Forward Collision Warning (FCW), Collision Mitigation Braking System (CMBS), Lane Departure Warning (LDW), Lane Keeping Assist (LKAS), Road Departure Mitigation (RDM), tire pressure monitoring with tire fill assist, and more. 

2019 Honda Odyssey Touring
A 12-way powered driver’s seat with 4-way powered lumbar is standard on EX trims and above, while unique brown perforated leather upholstery is exclusive to Touring trim. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

All of the Odyssey’s advanced driver assistance systems technology, as well as its many additional active and passive safety features, plus its Next-Generation Advanced Compatibility Engineering (ACE) body structure, allow for a Top Safety Pick rating from the IIHS when including its optional headlights, the only other minivan to achieve this coveted rating being Chrysler’s Pacifica, so kudos to Honda for putting safety first in this family-oriented class. 

Your clan in mind, the Odyssey gets eight-occupant seating standard as well, and I must say its second and third row seats are some of the most comfortable in the segment. The former row can’t be had with captain’s chairs as offered with some others, yet each side slides back and forth individually and the centre position can be folded forward, exposing a console-style combination of cupholders and tray. The outside positions slide forward and out of the way for easy third-row access too. 

2019 Honda Odyssey Touring
No the rear seats didn’t change colour, just the lighting messing with our camera. Either way, these 2nd-row seats are comfortable. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

This said they’re not as flexible for cargo as the second-row in the Pacifica or Grand Caravan that tumble completely under the floor, the Odyssey’s difficult to unlatch for removal and burdensome to carry, much like others in the category. The third row is split 60/40 and drops into the floor with one smooth motion per side, however, its stowing system one of the best in the business. By the numbers the base Odyssey provides 929 litres (32.8 cubic feet) of cargo space behind the third row, 2,526 litres (89.2 cu ft) behind the second row and 4,103 litres (144.9 cu ft) behind the first row, if you remove the middle row of seats. 

2019 Honda Odyssey Touring
Rear seat access is easy thanks to this easy-folding 2nd row. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

By comparison the Sedona delivers 960 litres (33.9 cu ft) of gear-toting space behind its third row, 2,220 litres (78.4 cu ft) behind its second row and 4,022 litres (142.0 cu ft) with the second row removed, whereas the Sienna offers 1,107 litres (39.1 cu ft) of luggage space in its rearmost compartment and 2,466 litres (87.1 cu ft) aft of its second row, the brand being honest about the challenge of second-row seat removal by not including a total volume figure behind the first row. 

How about those FCA vans? The Pacifica includes 915 litres (32.3 cu ft) behind its third row, 2,478 litres (87.5 cu ft) behind its second row and 3,979 litres (140.5 cu ft) of easily accessible cargo space behind its first row, while the Grand Caravan provides 934 litres (33.0 cu ft) behind its third row, 2,359 litres (88.3 cu ft) behind its second row and 4,072 litres (143.8 cu ft) when its Stow ‘n Go seats are easily folded below its floorboard panels. To save you a little time with a calculator, suffice to say the Odyssey sits middle of the pack for stowage behind its rearmost seats, but it leads all behind its second row, and, well, let’s leave ultimate cargo hauling to the FCA vans for now. 

2019 Honda Odyssey Touring
The 3rd row provides enough room for adults. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

How about towing? The Odyssey is good for 1,360 kilos (3,000 lbs) of trailer weight in all trims but the top-line Touring, my tester being capable of 1,587 kilograms (3,500 lbs) with its available towing package. That’s slightly lower than the best Grand Caravan and Pacifica trailering results of 1,633 kg (3,600 lbs), and identical to the Sienna and Sedona’s rating. 

2019 Honda Odyssey Touring
Honda thinks of almost everything. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

I don’t usually comment much about minivan styling, but my tester’s Crystal Black Pearl paint gave it a hearse-like presence that would’ve been brilliant during Halloween yet wasn’t much to my personal taste. I’d prefer it in something less ominous like White Diamond Pearl, a $300 option yet well worth it. Honda offers a bevy of alternative metallic and pearl colours, all surprisingly standard, while only dealer-added accessories can be added to this Touring model, albeit plenty of them. 

This brings about the question of price, my 2019 Odyssey Touring starting and finishing at $50,690, plus freight and fees of course. Top-line versions of its non-hybrid competitors start at $46,245 for the Grand Caravan GT, $47,865 for the Sedona SXL+, $51,220 for the Sienna SE, and $53,745 for the Pacifica Limited, leaving the top-tier Odyssey looking like a pretty smart choice right in the middle. 

2019 Honda Odyssey Touring
Available cargo space is limited compared to the FCA vans, unless you’re prepared to haul out the cumbersome 2nd row seats. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

Of course, value isn’t just about a vehicle’s price even when comparing it purely on financials, because we need to include resale values when it comes time to trade-in or sell. Japanese brands in this class tend to do best on the used market, with domestics performing worst, while base prices start at $24,597 for the Grand Caravan’s rather stark Canada Value Package, $28,495 for the entry Sedona, $34,690 for the Sienna, $34,745 for the Pacifica, and $35,290 for the Odyssey. I used the various manufacturer retail websites as well as CarCostCanada to verify each model’s pricing, the latter an even more useful resource thanks to available rebate info and dealer invoice pricing that could save you thousands. 

After living with the new Odyssey for a week it was easier than ever to appreciate why it’s become such a popular minivan, and if I were using it more for hauling people than cargo it would be my number one choice. Even with its less flexible second row the Odyssey’s many other advantages, from performance to electronic interfaces, might push it into the lead. I certainly can recommend it.

We’ve got something mega in our garage this week, or at least the all-new 2019 Ascent is big for Subaru.  Having arrived here over the summer, the North American-exclusive, three-row, mid-size crossover…

2019 Subaru Ascent Premier

2019 Subaru Ascent Premier
The all-new Ascent is one very big Subaru, and this three-row crossover SUV is in our garage this week. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

We’ve got something mega in our garage this week, or at least the all-new 2019 Ascent is big for Subaru. 

Having arrived here over the summer, the North American-exclusive, three-row, mid-size crossover SUV is configured for eight occupants in standard trim and seven with optional second-row captain’s chairs, the latter setup being how Subaru’s communications team outfitted our tester. 

In case you weren’t aware, Subaru has been down the mid-size crossover SUV road before, and I’m not talking about the Outback that not only continues to outsell all tall wagon competitors, but is the best-selling of its kind in history. The model I’m referring to was the 2005 to 2014 Tribeca, which was nicely finished and very competent from a performance standpoint, yet suffered from frontal styling that wasn’t accepted by the masses and a third row that was cramped at best, whereas the new Ascent pulls design cues from Subaru’s highly successful current Forester and Outback, albeit with a larger grille and a longer, taller profile, while it’s anything but short on size. 

2019 Subaru Ascent Premier
Long enough for three rows of seats plus cargo, but can it fit adults in all positions? Check back soon to find out… (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

The Ascent measures 4,998 millimetres (196.8 inches) front to back with a 2,890-mm (113.8-inch) wheelbase, while it stands 1,819 mm (71.6 inches) tall including its standard roof rails. Additionally, it spans 2,176 mm (85.6 inches) wide with its side mirrors extracted, while its track measures 1,635 mm (64.4 inches) up front and 1,630 mm (64.2 inches) at the rear. 

2019 Subaru Ascent Premier
Good looking Ascent should appeal to long-time Subaru fans and newcomers alike. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

To put this into perspective, the new Ascent is 48 mm (1.9 inches) shorter than the mid-size three-row SUV category’s best-selling Ford Explorer, albeit with a 24-mm (0.9-inch) longer wheelbase, while some might also be surprised to find out the new Subaru is 42 mm (1.6 inches) taller than the big blue-oval utility. The only Explorer measurements to exceed the Ascent relate to width, which show Ford’s SUV a considerable 119 mm (4.7 inches) wider with 66 / 71 mm (2.6 / 2.8 inches) more front / rear track respectively. This said the Explorer is one of the mid-size segment’s largest SUVs. 

Comparing the new Ascent to other top-sellers shows that it’s longer, wider and taller than the Toyota Highlander and Kia Sorento, longer and taller than the Honda Pilot and Hyundai Santa Fe XL, wider and taller than the Nissan Pathfinder, merely wider than the Dodge Durango, and only taller than the Volkswagen Atlas. 

2019 Subaru Ascent Premier
Subaru has left its whacky grille designs in the past, allowing for a much more acceptable new 2019 Ascent. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

By the way, that was only a partial list of the Ascent’s three-row mid-size crossover SUV challengers, the full list (from best-selling to least during the first three quarters of 2018) including the Explorer, Sorento, Highlander, Atlas, Pilot, Durango, Pathfinder, Chevrolet Traverse, Santa Fe XL, Dodge Journey, GMC Acadia, Mazda CX-9, and Ford Flex. 

Of more importance than mere outward size is passenger volume and cargo space, which for the Ascent measure 4,347 litres (153.5 cubic feet) for the former and 2,449 litres (86.5 cu ft) for the latter when both rear rows are laid flat. That cargo number is just for the most basic of Ascent trims, by the way, which also measures 1,345 litres (47.5 cu ft) behind the 60/40-split second row and 504 litres (17.8 cu ft) behind the 60/40-split third row, while all other trims are half a litre less commodious at just 2,435 litres (86.0 cu ft) of gear behind the first row, 1,331 litres (47.0 cu ft) behind the second row, and 498 litres (17.6 cu ft) behind the third row. 

2019 Subaru Ascent Premier
Steering-responsive full low/high beam LED headlights with automatic high beam assist come standard in Limited and Premier trims. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

These figures compare well against key rivals, with Ascent passenger volume even exceeding the Explorer’s and its standard eight-occupant seating configuration a rarity in the class, while the big Subaru’s maximum cargo capacity is amongst the segment’s most accommodating too. Also important, rear passenger access is made easier due to rear doors that open to 75 degrees. 

Being a Subaru SUV the Ascent includes standard full-time Symmetrical AWD, which has proven to be one of the more capable available. Its initial advantage starts with more evenly balanced weight distribution thanks to a longitudinally-mounted engine and transmission, its competitors chassis architectures derived from FWD models housing transversely-mounted motors, while Subaru’s horizontally-opposed flat “boxer” engine allows for a lower centre of gravity. 

2019 Subaru Ascent Premier
The Ascent’s standard X-mode, hill descent control, and 220 mm of ground clearance aid in off-road use. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

Furthermore, Symmetrical AWD applies more torque to the wheels with the most grip, which is not only designed to enhance traction when taking off but to improve overall control at speed, so in theory the Ascent should be plenty capable no matter the road or trail surface it’s traveling over, while its standard X-mode off-road system, complete with hill descent control, and its generous 220 millimetres (8.66 inches) of ground clearance for overcoming obstacles, snow banks, etcetera, should make easy work of the rough stuff. We’ll let you know just how capable the Ascent is in our upcoming road test review, and of course give you a full report on its on-pavement driving dynamics too. 

2019 Subaru Ascent Premier
Premier trim means woodgrain trim, brown soft-touch surfaces and perforated leather, plus more. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

Power comes from a new turbocharged 2.4-litre four-cylinder engine, which as noted is once again a horizontally opposed design. It makes a healthy 260 horsepower and 277 lb-ft of torque, the latter maximized between 2,000 and 4,800 rpm. Subaru will likely use this engine as a replacement for its aging 3.6-litre H-6 in top-line Outback trims too, being that the new four-cylinder produces 4 more horsepower and 30 additional lb-ft of torque than the six. 

Of course, at 11.6 L/100km city and 9.0 highway for the new 2.4-litre four when used for in the Ascent, compared to 12.0 and 8.7 respectively for the larger displacement H-6 in the Outback, the smaller engine would be much more efficient in the Outback as well. Of note, both four and six cylinder engines use variations of Subaru’s High-torque Lineartronic CVT (Continuously Variable Transmission), considered to be one of the more efficient types of transmissions available and ideal for mid-size crossover SUV applications thanks to smooth, linear power delivery. 

2019 Subaru Ascent Premier
The Ascent Premier is hardly short on digital interfaces or features. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

With the Ascent, Subaru adds a standard set of steering wheel paddle shifters to improve driver engagement, along with an eight-speed manual mode featuring sportier driving characteristics and standard Active Torque Vectoring, first introduced on the WRX and WRX STI performance models, so expect us to report something positive about its driving dynamics when we deliver our full review. 

2019 Subaru Ascent Premier
These seats look comfortable, but you’d better come back for the full review to find out how well Subaru sorts out ergonomics. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

Likewise, expect some insight on the Japanese brand’s car-like ride and handling claim that comes from the Ascent’s use of the new Subaru Global Platform (SGP), which combines rigid yet lightweight unibody construction with a fully independent MacPherson strut front and double-wishbone rear suspension system, enhanced further by a stabilizer bar mounted directly to the body at the rear and electric rack and pinion steering up front. This all rolls on 18-inch silver five-spoke alloys on 245/60 all-seasons with the Ascent’s two lower trims and 20-inch machine-finished high-gloss split-spoke rims on 245/50 rubber for the two upper trims, my tester benefiting from the latter. 

2019 Subaru Ascent Premier
Touring trim adds a powered panoramic sunroof for an open, airy, light-filled cabin. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

On that note, the 2019 Ascent can be had in Convenience, Touring, Limited and Premier trims, with standard Convenience features not already mentioned including auto on/off halogen headlights, LED daytime running lights, roof rails, a 4.2-inch colour TFT multi-information display, three-zone automatic climate control, 6.5-inch touchscreen infotainment with Android Auto and Apple CarPlay smartphone connectivity, a rearview camera, six-speaker audio, satellite radio, three-way heated front seats, an eight-way power-adjustable driver’s seat, second-row USB ports, a total of 19 cup and bottle holders, and more for just $35,995 plus freight and fees. 

All 2019 Ascent trims also include standard Subaru EyeSight driver assist technologies that include adaptive cruise control with lead vehicle start assist, pre-collision braking, pre-collision brake assist, pre-collision throttle management, lane departure warning, lane sway warning, and lane keeping assist, while all the expected active and passive safety features come standard as well. 

2019 Subaru Ascent Premier
Enough second-row seating for you? Don’t worry, a standard 2nd-row bench seat provides seating for eight. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

For $40,995 in eight-passenger trim or $41,495 with second-row captain’s chairs, which reduces the total seat count to seven, Ascent Touring trim adds the Subaru Rear/Side Vehicle Detection (SRVD) system that includes blind spot detection, lane change assist, rear cross-traffic alert and reverse automatic braking, as well as unique machine-finished five-spoke 18-inch alloys, body-colour side mirrors with integrated LED turn signals and approach lighting, LED fog lamps, a sportier rear bumper cap with integrated tailpipe cutouts, proximity keyless access, pushbutton ignition, front door courtesy lights, chrome inner door handles, a Homelink garage door opener, a windshield wiper de-icer, auto-dimming rearview and side mirrors, a leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob, larger 8.0-inch touchscreen infotainment, premium cloth upholstery, a powered panoramic sunroof, magazine pockets on the front seatbacks, second-row climate controls, third-row reading lights, a rear cargo cover, a powered liftgate, a transmission oil cooler, trailer stability control, and pre-wiring for a trailer hitch that increases towing capacity to 2,270 kg (5,000 lbs). 

2019 Subaru Ascent Premier
The third row looks larger than the Tribeca’s, but can it fit adults comfortably and how does access measure up? (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

Limited trim, available for $46,495 in the eight-passenger layout and $46,995 in the seven-passenger configuration, adds the larger 20-inch alloys mentioned earlier, plus steering-responsive full low/high beam LED headlights with automatic high beam assist, black and ivory soft-touch interior surfaces, a heatable steering wheel, an upgraded gauge cluster with chrome bezels and light blue needles (in place of red), and a 6.3-inch colour multifunction display atop the dash that shows the time, temperature and dynamic features such as an inclinometer, while a navigation system with detailed mapping is included within the infotainment display, as is SiriusXM Traffic, whereas additional Limited features include a 14-speaker 792-watt Harman/Kardon audio system, a 10-way power-adjustable driver seat upgraded to include powered lumbar support and cushion length adjustment, driver’s seat and side-mirror memory, a four-way power-adjustable front passenger seat, leather upholstery, two-way heatable second-row outboard seats, integrated rear door sunshades, third-row USB ports, and more. 

2019 Subaru Ascent Premier
Rear cargo space looks good, but do the seats fold flat when lowered? Check out our upcoming review to find out… (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

Top-line Premier trim, which comes fully equipped at $49,995, even including standard captain’s chairs, adds an upgraded high-gloss black grille insert, satin-finish side mirror caps, chrome exterior door handles, rain-sensing wipers, ambient interior lighting, a front-view camera, a Smart Rearview Mirror with an integrated rear-view camera, woodgrain inlays, brown perforated leather upholstery, ventilated front seats, a 120-volt power outlet on the rear centre console, and more. 

All 2019 Subaru Ascent pricing was sourced from CarCostCanada, where you can also find detailed pricing on trims, packages and standalone options for every other new model sold in Canada, plus otherwise hard to get rebate information and dealer invoice pricing that could save you thousands. 

Our review will specifically focus on the Ascent Premier model we’re testing this week, and of course be more biased and experiential, covering our personal views on styling, interior fit, finish and materials quality, its features and how well they work, the SUV’s overall livability compared to others it competes against, how it drives on and off the road, plus more. So make sure to come back for our no holds barred 2019 Subaru Ascent Premier road test review…