Now that the upstart Genesis brand is finding its footing in the luxury sector, having initially taken two of Hyundai’s most premium models (the G80 and G90) with it before adding one of its own (the…

2019 Hyundai Santa Fe Ultimate Road Test

2019 Hyundai Santa Fe 2.0T Ultimate Turbo AWD
The totally redesigned 2019 Hyundai Santa Fe has a sharp looking new face. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

Now that the upstart Genesis brand is finding its footing in the luxury sector, having initially taken two of Hyundai’s most premium models (the G80 and G90) with it before adding one of its own (the new G70), the namesake South Korean giant is in the midst of a rebranding exercise that not only needs to differentiate itself from Genesis, but also keep it separate from Kia, which is arguably fighting over the same mainstream volume customer base. 

I think they’ve done an excellent job so far. Just compare the two brands’ mid-size SUV entries, the third-generation Hyundai Santa Fe and Kia’s current Sorento. They don’t look at all alike from the exterior styling to the interior design and execution, but the two companies benefit from a lot of development and component cost sharing that no doubt boosts the bottom line. 

2019 Hyundai Santa Fe 2.0T Ultimate Turbo AWD
The Santa Fe, now undeniably mid-size, has long been the best-selling SUV in its class. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

Of note, that third-generation Santa Fe is now history, replaced by this much more dramatically penned fourth-generation model for 2019, complete with the new design language I mentioned at the beginning of this review. Its grille is large, deep and certainly distinctive, and its innovative use of frontal lighting, featuring narrow strips of LEDs up top and tightly grouped clusters of secondary driving lights down below, is starting to permeate the brand, showing up on the new Kona at the lower end, as well as the even newer Palisade at the upper end. 

2019 Hyundai Santa Fe 2.0T Ultimate Turbo AWD
The Santa Fe isn’t quite as distinctive from the rear, but nevertheless attractive. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

Speaking of sizes, not everyone seems to agree on where the Santa Fe fits into the SUV scheme of things. It started life as more of a compact utility than anything truly mid-size, but like so many other vehicles it’s grown over the generations to the point that now it leans more toward mid-size than compact. Despite coming close to matching the length, width and height of five-passenger mainstays like the Ford Edge, some industry insiders still clump it into the compact SUV segment and therefore muddle the marketplace, so I’m here setting the record straight. 

2019 Hyundai Santa Fe 2.0T Ultimate Turbo AWD
Ideal for city, suburbia, or the open road, the Santa Fe is perfect for average sized Canadian families. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

To be specific, at 4,770 millimetres (187.8 inches) long and 1,890 mm (74.4 in) wide the 2019 Santa Fe we’re testing here is a considerable 246 mm (9.7 in) longer than the current Ford Escape compact SUV yet only a fractional 9 mm (0.3 in) shorter than the Edge, while it’s 52 mm (2.0 in) wider than the former and only 38 mm (1.5 in) narrower than the latter. To be fair, the new Santa Fe is actually a full 70 mm (2.7 in) longer and 10 mm (0.4 in) wider than the outgoing model, this improving interior roominess. So while I’ve long considered the Santa Fe a mid-size crossover SUV, now we can all safely categorize it as such. 

2019 Hyundai Santa Fe 2.0T Ultimate Turbo AWD
Now there’s very few styling similarities between Hyundai and Genesis, and none to Kia. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

As for the three-row Santa Fe XL, it currently remains available with last year’s design and a 2019 model year designation, but as you’ve probably already guessed it’s currently being replaced by the much more appealing (to me at least) 2020 Palisade noted a moment ago, which just happens to be in my garage this week. Between the smallest (so far) Kona/Kona EV and this Santa Fe is Hyundai’s Tucson, a model that’s still nice but starting to look a bit dated (expect an update next year for the 2021 model year), while an entirely new city car-sized crossover SUV dubbed Venue will slot in under the Kona for the 2020 model year, arriving this fall. 

2019 Hyundai Santa Fe 2.0T Ultimate Turbo AWD
Narrow upper headlamps, LEDs in as-tested Ultimate trim, and secondary lighting clusters below have become trademark Hyundai design details. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

Lastly, I recently spent a week with the new 2019 Nexo (review forthcoming), a crossover SUV that’s only slightly smaller than the Santa Fe (albeit with a longer wheelbase), and unlike its spiritual predecessor the Tucson FCEV (fuel cell electric vehicle) that shared underpinnings with the second-generation Tucson, the Nexo only exists because of Hyundai’s desire to create a dedicated platform to further its hydrogen fuel cell and electric powertrain program. At $73k it won’t find many buyers, a problem made worse by a lack of hydrogen refueling stations (only three in Canada, one of which is in Ontario and the other two in BC — one being a Shell station luckily located a few kilometres from my home. 

2019 Hyundai Santa Fe 2.0T Ultimate Turbo AWD
These 19-inch alloys are exclusive to the top-line Santa Fe Ultimate. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

Unlike the future-think Nexo, the near two-decade strong Santa Fe has always been a really strong seller for Hyundai, especially here in Canada. In fact, last year it was once again number one in the mid-size SUV segment with 24,040 units sold, well ahead of the second-place Ford Edge that only managed to pull in 19,156 new buyers in 2018. The Santa Fe has actually held first place in this category for more than a decade, an impressive feat considering how fierce the competition is. 

One thing you may notice missing from this redesigned 2019 Santa Fe is a “Sport” model designation. The outgoing two-row SUV was named Santa Fe Sport in order to differentiate it from the larger three-row Santa Fe XL, but the brand’s product planners (et al) skipped the Sport nameplate when introducing the ironically sportier 2019 Santa Fe, because at the time they knew what we didn’t, the much grander three-row Palisade was on the way. 

2019 Hyundai Santa Fe 2.0T Ultimate Turbo AWD
Hyundai reserves these LED taillights for the Ultimate model too. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

I’m not going to go into much detail about the new Santa Fe’s exterior styling, only to say this fourth-gen model had a tough act to follow, and to add that I like the new design. As for the Santa Fe’s interior styling, quality, fit, finish, etcetera, I’m pretty sure it will impress you. It’s one of the most luxurious crossover SUVs in its class, with more soft-touch surfaces than the majority of rivals, the entire middle portion of the dash-top comprised of a stitched and padded composite material that looks like rich leather, this followed up with a similar surfacing on the sides of the lower console, the door panel armrests, and the door inserts. 

2019 Hyundai Santa Fe 2.0T Ultimate Turbo AWD
The Santa Fe will upgrade your expectations for mid-size SUV refinement. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

The door uppers get a nice high-quality pliable treatment front and back too, with the Santa Fe’s only hard plastic being the most forward portion of the dash top, including the instrument shroud below the otherwise soft-touch hood, plus a small portion of each upper door panel, the entire lower section, and the lower half of the instrument panel. These areas don’t get touched a lot anyway, which is why most mainstream automakers follow suit, and being how nice Hyundai finished off the meshed metal-look inlays that wrap around the upper edge of the instrument panel into the doors front to back, plus the lovely variation on that metallic theme lower down on each door panel, which are actually speaker grills for the upgraded Infinity audio system, it’s okay that they didn’t go all the way with the soft-touch composites. 

2019 Hyundai Santa Fe 2.0T Ultimate Turbo AWD
There’s no shortage of soft-touch above the waste, and the quality of materials is truly impressive. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

Along with that high-grade metal there’s a lot of nice satin-finish metallic detailing throughout the rest of the cabin too. Hyundai encircled the gauge cluster in metal brightwork, plus tastefully applied it to the steering wheel’s lower spoke switchgear, the tablet-style infotainment touchscreen, the dash vents, the dual-zone automatic climate control interface, the gear selector, the door pulls, the beautifully finished power window switches and side mirror controller, plus more. 

2019 Hyundai Santa Fe 2.0T Ultimate Turbo AWD
A 7-inch TFT LCD multi-information display sits within this colourful primary gauge cluster. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

While all this impresses, the first thing I noticed when entering my top-line Santa Fe was its luxurious and totally unique headliner. It’s similar to denim, although not blue jeans, but rather a light beige khaki-coloured material with slightly browner flecks within. It looks rich, plus it wraps all the way down each roof pillar front to back, which is unheard of in this class, while it also opens up overhead thanks to a wonderfully large panoramic sunroof. It’s power-actuated by a double-purpose slider button that opens the sunscreen (made from the same beige denim material) with a light tap, and the glass itself after a slightly harder pull rearward. The overhead console surrounding the powered sunroof button also integrates switchgear for four LED reading lamps, plus it houses one of the softest padded sunglass holders I’ve ever felt. 

2019 Hyundai Santa Fe 2.0T Ultimate Turbo AWD
The Santa Fe Ultimate is one of the most feature-rich SUVs in the mainstream market. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

Of note, the redesigned 2019 Santa Fe includes some new trim lines, starting with the base Essential, which can be upgraded to Preferred, Preferred Turbo, Luxury, and finally this as-tested Ultimate trim. Before I get into the details of each, let me once again praise Hyundai for saying goodbye to the “Limited” trim designation, not only because it’s way overused, but also because no one ever limits the sale of anything that wears a Limited trim badge. I’m also personally grateful they didn’t swap it out for “Platinum” instead, as that precious metal is becoming ubiquitous too. 

2019 Hyundai Santa Fe 2.0T Ultimate Turbo AWD
The Santa Fe’s touchscreen is one of the fastest reacting systems we’ve ever tested. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

I like the name Essential for a base model, especially one that includes standard heatable front seats plus a standard heated steering wheel, not to mention a 7.0-inch touchscreen infotainment system with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto smartphone integration, a backup camera with active guidelines, dual USB charge ports, Bluetooth, auto on/off projector headlights with LED accents, fog lamps, 17-inch alloys, chrome and body-colour exterior detailing, a leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob, two-way powered driver’s lumbar support, 60/40 split folding rear seatbacks with recline, an electromechanical parking brake with auto hold, Drive Mode Select with Comfort, Smart, and Sport modes, and much more for just $28,999 plus freight and fees (make sure to go to CarCostCanada for all the pricing details, plus rebate info and dealer invoice pricing that could save you thousands). 

2019 Hyundai Santa Fe 2.0T Ultimate Turbo AWD
The optional overhead camera, standard in Luxury trim and above, makes parking easy. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

Pay just $30,199 and you’ll get Hyundai’s suite of SmartSense advanced driver assistive systems including auto high beam assist, adaptive cruise control with stop-and-go, forward collision alert and mitigation with pedestrian detection, lane keeping assist, and Driver Attention Warning. 

Adding all-wheel drive will set you back another $2,000 in Essential trim, or it comes standard with the $35,099 Preferred model that also makes the just-noted SmartSense package standard, while including even more safety features such as blindspot detection, rear cross-traffic alert with collision avoidance, a rear occupant alert system that remembers if you opened a rear door prior to driving and then reminds you that someone or something may still be in back when exiting, and finally safe exit assist that warns of traffic at your side when opening your door. 

2019 Hyundai Santa Fe 2.0T Ultimate Turbo AWD
Dual-zone auto HVAC, 3-way seat heaters and coolers, a heated steering wheel and more help make the Santa Fe fabulously comfortable. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

Plenty of additional features are included in Preferred trim too, such as 18-inch alloys, turn signals integrated within the side mirror housings, proximity keyless access with pushbutton ignition, an auto-dimming rearview mirror, rear parking sensors, a Homelink garage door opener, dual-zone automatic climate control (with a CleanAir Ionizer, Predictive Logic and auto defog), BlueLink smartphone telematics, satellite radio, an eight-way powered driver’s seat, fore and aft sliding rear seats, plus more. Of note, the Santa Fe’s 2.4-litre base engine is still standard in Preferred trim, but you can now opt for a turbocharged 2.0-litre engine for $2,000 extra. 

2019 Hyundai Santa Fe 2.0T Ultimate Turbo AWD
All Santa Fe trims get a quick-shifting 8-speed automatic with auto start/stop to save fuel. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

Heading up to $41,899 Luxury trim adds the turbo engine and AWD as standard equipment, plus dark chrome exterior door handles, door scuff plates, LED interior lighting, a 7.0-inch TFT LCD multi-information display within the primary instrument cluster, the aforementioned powered panoramic sunroof, a 360-degree Surround View parking camera, a deluxe cloth roofliner, leather console moulding, memory, four-way powered lumbar support and an extendable lower cushion for the driver’s seat, an eight-way powered front passenger’s seat, perforated leather upholstery, ventilated front seats, heatable rear outboard seats, rear side window sunshades, a proximity actuated smart liftgate, and more. 

2019 Hyundai Santa Fe 2.0T Ultimate Turbo AWD
These are comfortable front seats, the driver’s aided by 4-way powered lumbar support. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

Lastly, my $44,999 Ultimate trimmed tester included most everything from Luxury trim plus 19-inch alloys, satin exterior trim and door handles, LED headlights, LED fog lamps, LED taillights, rain-sensing wipers, a head-up display that projects key info onto the windscreen ahead of the driver, a larger 8.0-inch touchscreen infotainment system with navigation and traffic flow info including incident data via HD radio, plus a 12-speaker 630-watt Infinity audio system with QuantumLogic Surround sound and Clari-Fi music restoration technology, a wireless charging pad, and more. 

2019 Hyundai Santa Fe 2.0T Ultimate Turbo AWD
The panoramic sunroof is massive, features a powered sunscreen and powers open. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

The two engines just mentioned are carryover, although both receive new variable valve timing for quicker response and better fuel economy. The base 2.4-litre four-cylinder continues to make 185 horsepower and 178 lb-ft of torque, while the top-line turbo 2.0-litre four increases power to 235 and torque to 260 lb-ft. Santa Fe fans will immediately notice that the upgraded engine is down 5 horsepower, but I can promise you it’s not at all noticeable. In fact, the new Santa Fe feels quicker than the outgoing one thanks to a much more advanced eight-speed automatic replacing the old six-speed unit, the new one also receiving standard auto start/stop that shuts the engine off when it would otherwise be idling in order to reduce emissions and save fuel. 

2019 Hyundai Santa Fe 2.0T Ultimate Turbo AWD
Rear seating space is very generous, plus the seats slide forward, rearward, and recline nicely. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

Fuel economy is therefore improved over the outgoing model, with the 2.4 FWD base model now rated at 10.8 L/100km in the city, 8.0 on the highway and 9.6 combined compared to the old model’s respective 11.1 city, 8.6 highway and 10.0 combined; the same engine with AWD now capable of a claimed 11.2 city, 8.7 highway and 10.1 combined compared to 12.0, 9.1 and 10.7 respectively with last year’s Santa Fe 2.4 AWD; and finally 12.3 city, 9.8 highway and 11.2 combined for the 2.0-litre turbo instead of 12.5, 9.6 and 11.2 when compared to the same engine in the previous generation. Yes, a bit surprising the new eight-speed auto and auto start/stop system resulted in zero combined fuel economy improvement with the turbo, but when factoring in that most mileage is done in the city then it’s a positive. 

2019 Hyundai Santa Fe 2.0T Ultimate Turbo AWD
There’s plenty of room for cargo, but I would have preferred some type of centre pass-through. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

The Santa Fe’s HTRAC All-Wheel Drive (AWD) system sends most of the powertrain’s torque to the front wheels in order to save fuel unless slippery conditions require additional traction at back, but choosing one of the available driving modes intelligently apportions motive power where it can most effectively improve efficiency or performance, based on need. For instance, Comfort mode splits front/rear torque approximately 70/30 for all-weather stability, while Eco mode pulls more to the front wheels, Sport mode pushes up to 50 percent to the rear wheels, and Smart mode varies all of the above as needed. 

2019 Hyundai Santa Fe 2.0T Ultimate Turbo AWD
The load floor is nice and flat with all seats folded. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

Just like the outgoing third-generation Santa Fe, the new model incorporates a fully independent suspension with MacPherson struts in front and a multi-link setup at the rear, plus a stabilizer bar at each end for improved handling. The steering is motor-driven powered rack and pinion, and felt even more responsive than the setup in its regular-wheelbase Sport predecessor, while the suspension setup impressed even more. In fact, I’m not sure how Hyundai made its ride so compliant and easy on the backside, yet didn’t these seemingly soft underpinnings didn’t impact the Santa Fe’s handling one iota. The new Santa Fe manages corners better than the previous one, my tester’s upgraded 19-inch alloys and lower-profile 235/55 all-season tires no doubt assisting in this respect, but then again this should negatively affect ride quality and it certainly didn’t. 

2019 Hyundai Santa Fe 2.0T Ultimate Turbo AWD
Storage space below the load floor comes in handy. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

As mentioned earlier, the revised turbocharged engine makes a bit less power than the outgoing one, but it certainly doesn’t feel any less energetic off the line. The eight-speed automatic is ultra-smooth and quite quick through the cogs as well, while the Santa Fe’s Drive Mode Integrated Control System can be set up for Sport mode that lets revs go higher between shifts, provides snappier engagement, improves throttle response, stiffens the steering, and as noted earlier apportions up to 50 percent of the AWD system’s torque to the rear, although I mostly left it in Smart mode as it combines the fuel savings of Eco mode, the smoother drivability of Comfort mode, and the driver engagement of Sport mode, depending on the way the it’s being driven. 

2019 Hyundai Santa Fe 2.0T Ultimate Turbo AWD
The new 2019 Santa Fe is once again one of the best offerings in the mid-size SUV class. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

Of course, family vehicles always compromise performance for comfort, which is as it should be because that’s what most buyers in this category want. The 10-way powered driver’s seat was wonderfully comfortable all week, its powered lumbar adjustment finding the small of my back easily thanks to its optimal four-way design. Forced air can blow through the perforations in the upholstery to keep things cool in summer, a relieving feature, and there’s plenty of space up front to move around in. It’s roomy behind too, made even better by seat recliners that go way back, and the second row’s fore and aft sliding feature that provides more space for luggage when necessary. 

2019 Hyundai Santa Fe 2.0T Ultimate Turbo AWD
It’s difficult not to recommend this SUV. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

The five-seat Santa Fe’s interior volume measures 4,151 litres (146.6 cubic feet), while its maximum cargo capacity is 1,016 litres (35.9 cubic feet) behind the second row and 2,019 litres (71.3 cubic feet) with its 60/40-split rear seatbacks lowered, a process that is made easier via powered release buttons on the cargo wall. Being a skier I would have appreciated 40/20/40 spit-folding rear seatbacks or a centre pass-through, especially considering how much nicer trips to the mountain would be for those in back if they could take advantage of the outboard seat heaters, so maybe Hyundai could consider this for a mid-cycle update in a couple of years. 

Just the same, the new 2019 Santa Fe is easily one of the better five-occupant crossover SUVs available, and should be considered if you’re in the market.

Every luxury brand has models that sell in volume and therefore provide necessary income and hopefully profits, while most also have one or more image vehicle that increases visibility of the entire model…

2019 Lexus LC 500h Road Test

2019 Lexus LC 500h
The Lexus LC 500h makes a dramatic visual statement that looks like nothing else on the road. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Every luxury brand has models that sell in volume and therefore provide necessary income and hopefully profits, while most also have one or more image vehicle that increases visibility of the entire model lineup and, in theory, causes people to buy into the make. On rare occasion a model achieves both, but such is not the case with the beautiful new Lexus LC. 

Putting things into perspective, the LC could actually be considered a runaway success when compared to Lexus’ previous image car. The LFA was purposely limited to just 500 units worldwide over two model years built between 2010 and 2012, 10 of which came to Canada. By comparison the LC, which was introduced in 2017 as a 2018 model, is selling like gangbusters with seven examples finding well-heeled Canadian customers last month alone, and nine the month before. In total, Lexus delivered 55 LCs over the first seven months of 2019, which makes it the second slowest selling model in the Japanese luxury brand’s lineup, just ahead of the LS (with 51 units) but not the slowest selling sport-luxury car in Canada. 

2019 Lexus LC 500h
The rear end design is almost as visually arresting as the front. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

That honour goes to the Maserati GranTurismo that only found 14 new buyers so far this year, while the LC is also doing better than Acura’s NSX that only has 17 units sold, not to mention the Nissan GT-R’s tally of 36, and the Audi R8’s 54. Still, Mercedes-Benz sold 99 SL-Class models year-to-date, BMW’s 8 Series earned 160 new owners thus far, Jaguar’s F-Type found 181 buyers, Merc’s AMG GT pulled in a surprising 258 (considering it starts at $170k), and Porsche’s 911 won over 587. Making matters more interesting, that Porsche sales total represents a 31.74-percent drop in popularity compared to the same seven months last year, due to a lull in availability ahead of the all-new 2020 model arriving now. 

2019 Lexus LC 500h
The headlamp clusters are downright bizarre, but they fit ideally with the rest of the design. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

The 911 wasn’t the only sports car to lose ground on this list either, the R8 falling a catastrophic 70.97 percentage points from grace, the GranTurismo losing 48.15 percent, this LC have been knocked down by 48.11 percent, F-Type sales dropping by 29.30 percent, the GT-R down some 21.74 percent, and the SL having dipped by 16.10 percent. Only the AMG GT grew its year-to-date sales, by 55.42 percent, with the 8 Series too new to compare. You might also get a kick out of learning that Lexus’ parent brand Toyota sold 66 new $65k-plus Supra models during its first month of availability in July, which you’ll now know is more than every LC sold so far this year. 

2019 Lexus LC 500h
These beautiful 21-inch alloys come standard with the 500h. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

There are other cars competing in this class, but some, like the BMW i8 and Mercedes S-Class Coupe, combine their numbers with other models in their respective lineups (the i3 and S-Class Sedan in these cases), whereas the Aston Martin DB11, Bentley Continental GT and Rolls-Royce Wraith are in a slightly different league when it comes to pricing. Ford sold three Markham, Ontario-built GTs and Dodge even notched one up for the Viper, incidentally, but the former is a purposely low-volume supercar and the latter went out of production two years ago, so the unsteady trickle of deliveries shouldn’t count. A bit further down the pricing hierarchy is Chevy’s Corvette that totaled 840 units year-to-date, and it’s a foregone conclusion the slightly pricier mid-engine C8 will soon fly out of GM showrooms, which will make it even more difficult for very good cars like this LC to find sales traction. 

2019 Lexus LC 500h
An upgrade on the regular LC 500, this carbon fibre roof is standard equipment with the LC 500h hybrid. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

When sales don’t stack up, it’s always important to point out that a given car’s popularity isn’t necessarily a reflection of its overall goodness. As one might expect, the very fact the LC is a Lexus is reason enough to give it respect, and other than the most recently introduced fourth-generation LS luxury sedan, the second model to use the Toyota New Global Architecture (TNGA), specifically TNGA-L (GA-L) underpinnings, the LC is easily the best Lexus ever made. 

The initial draw has to be styling. The LC takes the brand’s spindle grille to new widths and depths, but the design gets even more radical to each side, with headlamps that look like some sort of mechanical set of alien-implanted growths, yet the lit areas are actually quite small and filled with tightly grouped trios of LEDs (which Lexus had to reinvent in order to fit within such a small cluster). All of the abstract irregularities are just glossed over black trim, other than the Nike swoosh-style “arrowhead” daytime running lights just below. 

2019 Lexus LC 500h
The otherwise flush door handles pop out like those on a Jaguar F-Type or most any modern Aston Martin. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

The LC design continues rearward with additional modern-day Lexus trademark elements, such as the blackened C-pillar “floating roof” effect with nice polished nickel detailing, far-reaching pronged taillights that more or less mirror the supposed “L-shaped” headlamps while infused with 80 individual LEDs per side and sharing design elements with the aforementioned LS (not to mention the Toyota Prius and Camry XSE). Each element might appear a bit bizarre on its own, but the entire package comes together in one surprisingly elegant and undeniably beautiful cohesive whole. 

Come to think of it I almost never comment on styling, unless the designer got something especially right or incredibly wrong. In the LC’s case, the Newport Beach, California-based Calty Design Research centre’s team, led by studio chief Ian Cartabiano, with Edward Lee responsible for the jaw-dropping exterior and William Chergosky plus Ben Chang in charge of the interior, the LF-LC Concept that inspired it couldn’t have been more right. It was miraculously transformed from awe-inspiring prototype to equally stunning LC 500 and LC 500h reality with only minor outer modifications made, the end result quite possibly the closest a production model has ever been to resembling its concept car roots. 

2019 Lexus LC 500h
The LC’s stylized taillights incorporate 80 individual LEDs. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

The road-going LC’s interior was completely redesigned, albeit kept the general theme including an LFA-inspired pod-like digital gauge cluster, a horizontally shaped instrument panel with a recessed widescreen centre display, a cockpit-style driver’s compartment that’s semi-enclosed by a buttress-type centre stack extension doubling as a front passenger grab-handle in the production model, a flowing set of downward-swept suede-like alcantara door panel inserts, deeply sculpted, heavily bolstered front sport seats, similarly styled rear sport bucket seats, and more. All the effort spent was immediately rewarded by placement on Wards Auto 10 Best Interiors list when the car came on the scene in the spring of 2017, and I have to agree that it’s a wonderfully artful design that provides all the luxuries and digital modernity expected in a personal sports-luxury coupe starting at $102,750 in 2019 LC 500 form and $103,050 in just-arriving 2020 trim, or alternatively at $118,850 with the as-tested 2019 LC 500h electrified powertrain, or $118,950 as a 2020 500h model (see all Lexus LC 500 and 500h pricing at CarCostCanada for both the 2019 and 2020 model years, plus find out about available rebates as well as dealer invoice pricing that could save you thousands).

2019 Lexus LC 500h
The LC’s interior is so good it immediately earned placement on Wards Auto’s top 10. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Nothing significant changes from 2019 to 2020, only the elimination of a special $14,800 Inspiration Series package with Flare Yellow semi-aniline leather upholstery (etcetera) for the LC 500 model, and the addition of a new Bespoke White interior theme for the conventionally powered car as well. No matter which powertrain you choose all six exterior colours remain identical, with Infrared the only optional paint at just $650, while the three remaining interiors are also carried over. 

A key reason my 3.5-litre V6-powered hybrid LC 500h tester is pricier than its 5.0-litre V8-powered LC 500 sibling, despite the latter upping horsepower by 113 ponies and without doubt providing a more tantalizing exhaust note, plus fitted with a quicker-shifting, more engaging gearbox than the hybrid’s E-CVT (electronic continuously variable transmission), is equipment, the 500h coming standard with everything from the Performance package that would otherwise cost an LC 500 buyer $13,500 more. 

2019 Lexus LC 500h
The cabin pulls plenty of design cues from the concept. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

The list of upgrades includes four-wheel active variable gear ratio steering, a Torsen limited slip differential, 21-inch forged alloy wheels on Michelin performance tires instead of the standard 20-inch set, a carbon fibre roof in place of the standard glass panel, an active rear spoiler, carbon fibre reinforced polymer scuff plates, an alcantara headliner, upgraded sport seats, and an eight-way power-adjustable driver’s seat instead of the usual 10-way unit, plus lane change assist added to a long list of standard advanced driver assistive systems on both models that include a pre-collision system with autonomous emergency braking, lane departure alert with steering assist, blindspot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert, automatic high beams, and dynamic cruise control. 

2019 Lexus LC 500h
The quality of materials is excellent, and layout optimizing comfort and the driving position. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

I should point out a shortlist of standard luxury and convenience highlights while I’m at it, these including LED cornering lights to go along with the triple-LED headlamps noted earlier, a cool credit card-sized smart key to let you inside via proximity sensing, a head-up display to go along with the fully digital gauge cluster mentioned before, power-folding side mirrors, a heatable steering wheel rim that actually lets you adjust the temperature, a powered steering column that works with the front seat memory, cooled front seats (plus heat of course), semi-automated self-parking, and much, much more. 

Also standard is a 10.3-inch high-resolution centre display featuring a regular backup camera with dynamic guidelines, accurate navigation, Apple CarPlay smartphone connectivity (but no Android Auto), superb 13-speaker Mark Levinson high resolution surround audio, satellite radio, dual USB ports, traffic and weather info, Lexus’ Enform App Suite 2.0 with Slacker, Yelp, Sports, Stocks, and Fuel apps, Enform Destination Assist with a one-year subscription, and the Enform Safety Connect suite containing Automatic Collision Notification, a Stolen Vehicle Locator, an Emergency Assistance button (SOS), and Enhanced Roadside Assistance with a four-year subscription. 

2019 Lexus LC 500h
The digital instrument cluster mirrors that on the LFA supercar, as well as others used on Lexus models since. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

The display is too far away to reach easily, so Lexus provides its Remote Touch Interface 2.0 touchpad on the lower console, and it works easily enough after some getting used to. A few quick-access buttons and audio controls surround the pad, making it perfectly acceptable yet hardly my favourite infotainment system. Fortunately there are plenty of other reasons to like the LC. 

Despite being based on the same platform architecture as Lexus’ big LS sedan, the LC is a fraction of the size in every dimension except width. It reaches across an extra 20 mm (0.8 in) at 1,920 mm (75.6 in), and you can sense its spaciousness in shoulder room once seated next to a passenger, but its wheelbase is 255 mm (10.0 in) shorter at 2,870 mm (113.0 in), and overall length a whopping 475 mm (18.7 in) less grand, while its obvious height difference is reduced by 116 mm (4.5 in). 

2019 Lexus LC 500h
These cool control nubs poke out each side of the pod-like instrument cluster. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

So what’s the closest rival in size and interior roominess? Before comparing measurements I initially thought of the S-Class Coupe being that it’s top of the personal luxury range at Mercedes, but the mid-size E-Class Coupe is actually a lot larger than the LC in every dimension except (once again) width. The LC is actually closer to cars like BMW’s i8 and Aston Martin’s DB11, with a bit more wheelbase, length and height than the exotic looking German and truly rarified Brit, but less width this time. 

The longer wheelbase and length means that four adults can fit inside, although I’d recommend smaller folks in back. I’m just five-foot-eight with taller legs than torso, and I had to bend my neck all the way over to the side in order to fit within, with my head still rubbing up against the rear glass. The seats were comfortable, and there was plenty of room for my legs and feet, not to mention my shoulders and hips, so it was a shame that even medium sized adults can’t fit in back. As for the trunk, it’s a bit smaller in this hybrid model, measuring 132 litres (4.7 cu ft) instead of 153 litres (5.4 cu ft), so you might be forced to stuff one set of golf clubs into that otherwise kids-only back seat. 

2019 Lexus LC 500h
The LC gets a horizontal dash theme that comes close to resembling its concept car roots. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

And yes, to those reading who don’t understand this market, the number of golf bags that can be stowed in the trunk of a personal luxury coupe is much more important than mere performance, which, together with rear seat room, may be reason enough that sales haven’t caught on as much as they could have. Let’s be clear, the LC is not a pure performance car, especially in hybrid trim, but rather a luxurious personal coupe that also goes quickly. In this respect it’s a lot like the just-noted i8, in that it drives beautifully and handles corners brilliantly, but it’s really a luxury car. As for comfort, the suede-like alcantara covered driver’s seat was as feel-good supportive as any in this class, plus wonderfully adjustable and replete with enough side bolstering for all but my most enthusiastic rally-type antics. 

2019 Lexus LC 500h
The infotainment display is good, but not the segment’s best. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

I was initially scheduled to spend a week in both models, but someone did something naughty to the regular LC 500 just before I was to receive it, so instead of experiencing its 467 horsepower and 398 lb-ft of torque firsthand, not to mention its reportedly quick-shifting 10-speed automatic, I was shuffled into something else that week, never to see the LC 500 again. This said, not too many weeks later I was able to get into this LC 500h, which comparatively makes a more modest 354 horsepower and an unknown amount of torque from its V6/electric combination, but I have to say it feels a lot more energetic than the numbers claim. 

2019 Lexus LC 500h
Strange that there’s no overhead camera. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

The internal combustion portion of this hybrid power unit only makes 295 horsepower and 257 lb-ft of torque, which is actually less than the same engine puts out in Toyota’s Camry, but before we slag this top-tier Lexus for using such a pedestrian mill, take note that a more highly strung version puts out 430 reliable horsepower in the mid-engine Lotus Evora, so it’s in good company at least. Of course, the lithium-ion battery and electric motor fulfill their fast-forward purpose as well, the latter good for 177 horsepower and 221 lb-ft of torque, for a combined 472 horsepower and, well, let’s not bother because net horsepower and net torque don’t exactly work that way, which is why Lexus officially claims 354 horsepower and other sources are estimating about 370 lb-ft of twist at the rear wheels. I think they’re being extremely conservative in this estimate, being that the conventionally powered V8 sprints from standstill to 100km/h in 5.1 seconds and the hybrid a mere 0.5 seconds slower at 5.6, and that’s despite weighing 77 kilos (170 lbs) more at 2,012 kg (4,436 lbs) for the 500h to 1,935 kg (4,266 lbs) for the 500. 

2019 Lexus LC 500h
A conventional shift lever doesn’t even hint at the sophisticated E-CVT below. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

In order to maximize either model’s fun factor, choose the Drive Mode Select system’s most engaging Sport S+ setting, which may not be as extreme as the sportiest mode in a BMW M car, or a Lexus RC F for that matter, but it certainly allows the engine to rev higher and prompts quicker shifts from the large metal steering wheel-mounted paddles. I have to admit Sport S+ became my go-to position for getting through town quickly, particularly because the engine makes such vicious snarling noises, especially when revs ramp up, and “gear changes” are a lot more direct. 

2019 Lexus LC 500h
The upgraded sport seats feature alcantara inserts and good side bolstering. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

And yes, in case you were wondering, this may just be the best continuously variable transmission I’ve ever tested, but despite its impressive 10-speed Simulated Shift Control technology, which actually incorporates a conventional multi-gear transmission within, it still has some latent CVT tendencies, which means that even in its sportiest mode the shifts can come so quickly between intervals, albeit without all the snappy positive engagement from a sport-tuned automatic or dual-clutch automated gearbox, that it seems like nothing’s really happened at all, plus the engine tends to whine up and down with a bit of the old rubber band effect in between. This means serious performance fans will want to get the LC with its V8, leaving those wanting to make some sort of environmental statement opting for the hybrid, because I really can’t see anyone spending $100,000-plus for a personal sports coupe caring one whit about how much they pay at the pump. 

2019 Lexus LC 500h
Access to the rear is pretty good. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

The LC 500h’s estimated fuel economy is impressive, however, at 9.0 L/100km in the city, 7.1 on the highway and 8.1 combined compared to 15.1 city, 9.5 highway and 12.6 combined for the LC 500; bragging rights to all but Tesla warriors. 

I imagine the lighter weight LC 500 adds more agility through fast-paced corners than the LC 500h, but this long, wide, low and relatively large coupe is nevertheless a great handling car, taking up a couple of tons of real estate yet able to manage curves with deft precision. This is its forte, the LC providing the same kind of relaxed high-speed confidence found in a big Mercedes coupe, yet with its own Japanese premium flair. Its ideally balanced chassis is expectedly easy on the backside too, with a ride that’s a lot more comfortable than its big wheels and low-slung bodywork suggest, while its also wonderfully quiet when its driving mode is switched to one of its less formidable settings, Comfort, Eco and Sport also on the menu. 

2019 Lexus LC 500h
The back seats are comfortable, but there’s not enough headroom for regular sized adults. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

At the end of the week the LC 500h is a sensational car, but numbers don’t lie. As good as it is, the people have spoken. Even in the US, where Lexus is one of the strongest luxury brands available, the LC has only found 764 buyers since the first of January, which is a bit better than in Canada per capita, but hardly anything to get excited about. Word of a new more performance-oriented LC F arriving later this year could cause some much-needed interest to return to the nameplate, as will an attractive convertible version that’s starting to show up on the interweb, but then again the lovely LC may just end up as another image-building car, helpful for raising Lexus’ well respected name up to higher, pricier levels of the premium market, yet not capable of making a profit on its own. 

2019 Lexus LC 500h
The LC’s trunk is pretty small, and shrinks further in hybrid form. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

This said the LC makes for a wonderfully exclusive piece of automotive art that managed to attract more attention from passersby than many pricier cars with more prestigious branding, having garnered more longing stares, pointing fingers and open mouths of astonishment than I could count, not to mention a completely overcome German tourist who just had to get his photo taken beside it. Still, unlike the usual exotic hardware that causes such adoration, the LC still provides a high level of reliable performance, a standout feature for sure. If you’re looking for something breathtakingly beautiful that’s completely different from anything else on the road, I highly recommend the Lexus LC.

To anyone interested in purchasing a sport sedan from a premium brand or something from the even sportier four-door coupe category, Porsche’s Panamera needs no introduction. It’s one of, if not the…

2019 Porsche Panamera 4S Road Test

2019 Porsche Panamera 4S
The second-generation Panamera has definitely improved styling with arguably better proportions all-round. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

To anyone interested in purchasing a sport sedan from a premium brand or something from the even sportier four-door coupe category, Porsche’s Panamera needs no introduction. It’s one of, if not the sportiest ways to get around with four doors, while its elegantly raked rear liftback makes it one of the more practical entries in its category too. 

This relatively new market sector has expanded considerably since Mercedes-Benz launched the CLS-Class 15 years ago, with the original Panamera first to compete in 2009, the Audi A7 and Aston Martin Rapide following in 2010, and BMW finally showing up with its 6 Series Gran Coupe in 2012. Ideally timed with the latter Bavarian model’s imminent demise and the upcoming 2020 8 Series Gran Coupe’s arrival, Mercedes is now tripling down in this low-slung viertürig segment with a new higher-priced GT 4-Door Coupe model that will soon join up with the recently redesigned second-generation CLA and third-gen CLS, so it’s not as if this category’s expansion is slowing, at least when it comes to entries. As for sales, it remains stronger than the more traditional luxury sedan segment. 

2019 Porsche Panamera 4S
The Panamera looks more like the iconic 911 Carrera Coupe from the rear than any other Porsche model. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

While some low-volume offerings have spiced things up along the way, such as the limited production (120 units) Rapide-based 2015 to 2016 Lagonda Taraf that was priced at a cool $1 million-plus, possibly even more interesting is the success of smaller entries from Mercedes, BMW and Audi that have pulled the sleek body style down market almost as far as VW’s CC (now the much more appealing Arteon) and Kia’s stronger selling Stinger. 

Bridging the massive gap between the $40k range and one million-plus, Lamborghini has long toyed with the idea of launching something in this sector, the stunning Estoque concept ruthlessly teasing the supercar world with production rumours for years, while talk of a more rakishly penned Bentley four-door has been circulating the interweb for almost as long. Both make loads of sense being they could utilize the Panamera’s underpinnings and hard points, Bentley already sharing Volkswagen Group’s MSB architecture for the new Continental and Flying Spur, but for the time being those in the $300,000-plus crowd will need to remain satisfied with a fully loaded Panamera. 

2019 Porsche Panamera 4S
These optional 21-inch alloys make the near full-size Panamera look smaller than it actually is. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

And yes, if you completely load up a top-line Panamera Turbo S E-Hybrid Executive you’ll be paying in excess of $320k, and its glossy black SportDesign Package enhanced exterior will wear an exclusive colour with matching wheels, its upgraded interior will boast softer, plusher leather nearly everywhere that’s not already covered with hardwood or carbon fibre, and every technology will be included. 

I drove a regular wheelbase version of that new for 2018 model last year (check out the four-model review here), the Turbo S E-Hybrid outrageously quick thanks to a once unfathomable (for a hybrid) 680 (net) horsepower, while I put last year’s new wagon-like Sport Turismo body style through its paces as well (again, see it here), albeit that car was motivated by the very same 440-horsepower twin-turbo V6 powerplant found in the Panamera 4S seen on this page. 

2019 Porsche Panamera 4S
The current model’s LED taillights are elegantly sharp, not unlike the 911s. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Moving into 2019, other than small pricing bumps across the line nothing has changed with any of the cars mentioned thus far, the version shown here exactly as it was for the 2017 model year when the second-generation Panamera arrived on the scene. This said, 2019 hasn’t been without additions to the Panamera lineup, thanks to a special 453-horsepower twin-turbocharged 4.0-litre V8-powered GTS model now slotting between this 4S and the Panamera Turbo in both price and performance (see my overview of the 2019 Panamera GTS here), the car I’m reviewing now starting at $119,600, the new GTS at $147,400, and the Turbo at $174,200. 

Unfortunately no GTS was available at the time of testing, leaving me with the first-world problem of this less potent 4S. Still, it produces 110 more ponies than the 330-horsepower base Panamera (read my review of this model here), and sends them to all four wheels, hence the “4” in its designation. The gurgling exhaust note is sensational in Sport mode, crackling and popping at liftoff, although rest assured its Jekyll and Hyde personality provides luxurious quietude when the drive mode selector is set to default.

2019 Porsche Panamera 4S
Porsche made dramatic upgrades to the Panamera’s interior, and now it’s one of the industry’s best. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Its seemingly perfect balance between serene opulence and raucous tomfoolery is the Panamera’s best asset, no other four-door providing its ground-hugging sports car like performance along with such a rarified level of highbrow pampering. It bucks against today’s ride ‘em high SUV trend, Porsche offering its Cayenne (see a 2019 Cayenne Buyer’s Guide overview here), new Cayenne Coupe, and Macan for those wanting performance with a view, the Panamera instead coming across like the ultimate gentrified SoCal low-rider without the hopping and bopping suspension. 

That’s the thing. It slices through fast-paced corners like nothing so large has ever been able to before, yet its ride quality is surprisingly smooth. Whether suffering through inner-city laneways, inundated with poorly paved railroad crossings and ill-engineered bridge expansion joints, or tackling a circuitous back road filled with broken tarmac, the Panamera provides plenty of suspension travel for soaking up the worst bumps and ruts without getting unsettled. Of course its compliance or firmness depends on the trim and wheel options chosen, but I’ve driven every grade besides the new GTS, and all combine racetrack-worthy performance with a level of comfort I’d be happy to live with daily. 

2019 Porsche Panamera 4S
The Panamera’s cockpit is wonderfully designed and filled with state-of-the-art tech. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

My test model’s optional Satin Platinum finished 21-inch alloys on 275/35 front and 315/30 rear Pirelli Cinturato P7 performance rubber are the largest on offer, so it wasn’t as if I was temporarily whisked away on the velvet carpet ride of the base 4S model’s standard 19s, the exact same 265/45 front and 295/40 rear ZRs used for the most entry-level of Panameras, incidentally, which can be had for just $99,300. 

That more luxury-oriented model might not be the quickest in the line, but it still provides a spirited 5.7-second sprint from standstill to 100 km/h or 5.5 seconds with the available Sport Chrono Package, while my tester reduces such stoplight shenanigans, er… such professionally sanctioned launch tests on privately owned drag strips to just 4.4 or 4.2 seconds respectively. Likewise the 4S continues charging onward and upward to 160 km/h in just 10.3 seconds, shaving 3.3 seconds from the base model’s zero to 160 km/h time, all before topping out at 289 km/h, an amazing 25 km/h faster terminal track velocity than the entry Panamera. 

2019 Porsche Panamera 4S
It might look like a classic five-dial Porsche gauge cluster, but only the centre ring is analogue. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

As exciting as all this sounds there are still much quicker Panameras on offer, the new GTS doing the initial deed in 4.1 seconds, the Turbo blasting past in just 3.8 seconds, and the Turbo S E-Hybrid needing a mere 3.4, while top speeds rise commensurately, the latter model capable of 310 km/h if you can find a track with a long enough straight to test it on, but suffice to say this Panamera 4S performs better than most sport sedans, its new eight-speed dual-clutch PDK gearbox delivering quick, smooth, paddle-actuated shifts, and torque-vectoring all-wheel drive maintaining awe-inspiring grip in all weather conditions, while it looks just as sensational when blurring past at high speeds as when cruising through town. 

As I glossed over earlier, the inky black exterior accents don’t come standard, but my tester’s darkened trim contrasted the white paint beautifully. Satin silver and/or bright metal embellishment is the norm, or alternatively you can paint out the mirror caps, door handles, badges, etcetera, in glossy black. Inside, the possibilities are nearly limitless, but the Panamera’s incredibly fine attention to high-quality details, including the best of composites and leathers, optional woods, aluminum or carbon fibre, and digital interfaces that are so high in resolution it’s as if you can stick your hand right into the depths of their beautifully deep, rich contrasted screens and graphically illustrated artistry. 

2019 Porsche Panamera 4S
The infotainment touchscreen’s resolution is incredibly clear. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Yes, this is as good as digitization gets in the automotive realm, whether staring at the classic five-dial Porsche instrument cluster, its centre circle being the only analogue component in an otherwise colourful array of displays, the left-side screen for more driving related information and the one on the right being a comprehensive multi-information unit, or alternatively letting your fingers do the walking over the wide centre infotainment touchscreen, which comes close to 3D when viewing the navigation map. All the expected gesture controls make this as easy to use as a smartphone or tablet, and speaking of your personal device of choice it now syncs up to either Apple CarPlay or Android Auto, while providing all of the functions expected in this class including an as-tested overhead camera that, together with audible and visual fore and aft sensors, makes parking much easier. 

2019 Porsche Panamera 4S
The Panamera’s seats are superb. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Most controls on the sloping centre console are touch sensitive, requiring a subtle push and click to engage. All the switchgear feels extremely high in quality, a real solid piece of work. The surrounding surface is relatively easy to keep clean thanks to a black glass-like smartphone treatment, although the piano black lacquered trim found throughout my tester, especially the section on the ashtray at the very base of that lower console, was always covered in muck, dust and what have you. Fortunately you can opt for any number of surface treatment substitutes that look cleaner even when dirty, although there’s something to be said for being able to easily see what needs cleaning for the sake of keeping things sanitary. 

Ahead of the driver is one of the best leather-wrapped sport steering wheels in the industry. I love the narrow spokes, hollowed out for an even lighter, more sporting look, while the integrated buttons and scrolling knurled metal dials are superbly crafted with wonderful tight fitment and ideal damping. As usual the heated steering wheel button hides within the base of the third spoke, a smart design for sure, albeit some might find it easy to switch on or off when spinning the wheel. This said it comes on automatically when starting up, or likewise stays off, depending on its settings. 

2019 Porsche Panamera 4S
Rear seating space is good as far as four-door coupes go, and if you need more Porsche offers a long-wheelbase Executive version. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

My tester included three-way heated and cooled front seats, plus a fabulous optional 710-watt 15-speaker (including sub) Bose Centerpoint 14-channel surround audio system that only gets upstaged by the 1,455-watt 22-speaker (including a 400-watt active sub) Burmester 3D High-End Surround system (I’ve tested this before and it’s out of this world). This said my test model did not include the aforementioned Sport Chrono Package, so therefore was shy 0.2 seconds of sprint time (not that I noticed), plus its centre dash top-mounted clock merely provided a lovely looking black face with white numerals and indices, rather than the chronometer version with digital displays used for lap timing, et al. 

2019 Porsche Panamera 4S
The optional full rear console really improves back seat convenience and comfort. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Then again, thanks to a full rear console with a massive high-definition touchscreen of its own, plus three-way heated rear seat switchgear, dual rear automatic climate controls for a four-way system front to back, powered-side and rear window sunshades, plus a massive dual-pane panoramic sunroof overhead, not to mention the model’s usual snug fitting bucket seats that are as comfortable and supportive behind as they are up front, I’m not sure whether I would’ve rather driven or been chauffeured in my particular test model, but not requiring the funds or available friend for the latter I enjoyed a quiet sojourn in back while taking notes, and otherwise took care of all driving duties without complaint. 

2019 Porsche Panamera 4S
The rear liftgate adds to the Panamera’s everyday liveability. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Let’s be reasonable here. The Panamera is now so good in every way it’s impossible to find much fault. Certainly the rear seating area is not as accommodating as an S-Class, but no matter which Panamera model I’ve tested, I’ve never had a problem fitting comfortably within, and remember that Porsche offers the longer-wheelbase Executive version for those who occasionally transport larger family members or friends, which means you don’t have to give up gorgeous design and ultimate performance in order to maintain a practical lifestyle. 

That last point pretty well sums up the Porsche Panamera, and with such a wide variety of trims, packages and options, all available to review in detail at CarCostCanada, where you can also find out about available manufacturer rebates as well as dealer invoice pricing that could save you thousands, the 2019 Panamera offers something for nearly every sport-luxury car buyer.

It seems every time I’ve had opportunity to get behind the wheel of Kia’s new Stinger something has come up. Either the car was damaged by a wayward journo or got decommissioned before I could get…

2019 Kia Stinger GT-Line Road Test

2019 Kia Stinger GT-Line
The Kia Stinger GT-Line makes a dramatic pose, and this is on the base model. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

It seems every time I’ve had opportunity to get behind the wheel of Kia’s new Stinger something has come up. Either the car was damaged by a wayward journo or got decommissioned before I could get my hands on it, the latter usually due to me being out of town, but just a few days back from my regular winter sojourn in the tropics has me eyeing up a lovely California Red painted Stinger GT-Line in my driveway. 

As premium as this car looks, complete with standard automatic dual-function LED headlights, LED daytime running lights, LED positioning lights, body-wide bar-type LED taillights, cool dark chrome exterior trim with the same dark chrome used for the side mirror caps, these additionally adorned with LED signal repeaters, not to mention sharp looking 18-inch machine-finished alloy rims on 225/45 rubber, plus chromed dual exhaust and more, it’s hard to believe this GT-Line is actually the model’s most basic of trims. 

2019 Kia Stinger GT-Line
The Stinger’s four-door coupe design is totally different than anything else in the mid-size sedan class. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

Of course the Stinger starts at a fairly substantive $39,995 plus freight and fees, but despite its somewhat bargain basement Kia nameplate it borders closer to premium territory than most anything else in the mid-size class. And yes, the Stinger is a mid-size sedan. I’ve seen some refer to it as a compact because it rides on the same underpinnings as the Genesis G70, which is a compact luxury competitor that goes up against the BMW 3 Series, Mercedes-Benz C-Class, Audi A4, etcetera, but despite having similar wheelbase lengths at 2,910 mm (114.4 in) to 2,835 mm (111.6 in), both longer than the Kia Optima’s 2,805-mm (110.4-in) wheelbase, the Stinger’s 4,830 mm (190.2 in) overall length stretches 145 mm (5.7 in) farther than the G70, and only comes in 20 mm (0.8 in) shorter than the Optima. 

2019 Kia Stinger GT-Line
LED headlamps, 18-inch alloys and plenty of sporty design detailing come standard. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

Likewise, at 1,870 mm (73.6 in) the Stinger is 20 mm (0.8 in) wider than the G70 and 10 mm (0.4 in) narrower than the Optima, while its height measures 1,400 mm (55.1 in), which is identical to the G70 and 70 mm (2.7 in) lower than the Optima. Those still wanting to call the Stinger a compact will need to take note that it measures a full 190 mm (7.5 in) longer than the Forte sedan (a fairly large compact) with a 210-mm (8.2-in) longer wheelbase, while it’s also 70 mm (2.7 in) wider. In other words, it’s clearly a mid-size model, with a longer wheelbase and more width than the Toyota Camry and Honda Accord too, albeit slightly less overall length and height. 

2019 Kia Stinger GT-Line
The LED headlights offer up plenty of eye-candy inside. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

Its long, low and wide dimensions lend to its four-door coupe-like stance, a sporty profile that’s backed up by dramatic styling and a pampering cabin, at least for its mainstream volume brand status. This isn’t Kia’s first foray into premium territory either, nor is it the South Korean brand’s most lavish. Look no further than the Mercedes S-Class/BMW 7 Series-sized K900 for such pretensions, a car that might only be upstaged for all out luxury by the Volkswagen Phaeton amongst non-premium brands, but like that outlandish VeeDub the K900 didn’t gain enough sales traction to merit continued availability in Canada, and therefore is now finished in our market (it’s still available south of the 49th mind you). 

2019 Kia Stinger GT-Line
These hood “vents” aren’t functional, but they look great. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

While the K900 was truly impressive, it was nowhere near as viable in Canada as this Stinger, which is considerably more affordable, targets a more popular market segment, and focuses more on performance than luxury. In fact, amongst its mid-size competitors I would’ve previously said it comes closest to targeting the Dodge Charger than anything else available, until the Volkswagen Arteon arrived earlier this year. The Arteon, which is based on the European Passat, has effectively replaced the old CC four-door coupe. Other than being smaller and mostly lighter in weight than the near full-size domestic challenger, the two near identically sized and similarly powered imports are basically going after the same performance-oriented buyer (in the Stinger’s base trim at least), although with a single-trim base price $8k higher than the Stinger the new Arteon is pushing quite a bit further into the premium market. 

2019 Kia Stinger GT-Line
Black chrome mirror caps add a custom look. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

Incidentally, the Stinger’s curb weight ranges from 1,729 – 1,782 kilos (3,812 – 3,929 lbs) with its as-tested 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder, or 1,873 – 1,889 kg (4,129 – 4,165 lbs) with its optional V6, while the Arteon weighs in at 1,748 kg (3,854 lbs) and the Charger hits the scales at 1,823–1,980 kg (4,021–4,530 lbs). While lighter than the Dodge, the all-wheel drive Kia and VW models are nevertheless quite a bit heavier than the aforementioned mid-size front-drivers, giving the Stinger, at least (I’ve yet to test the Arteon, which is booked for late August), a more substantive and therefore premium feel. 

2019 Kia Stinger GT-Line
There’s more black chrome throughout the rest of the Stinger design, while these base wheels are stunning. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

It really does reach to a higher level inside, with luxury brand details such as fabric-wrapped A, B and C roof pillars, a soft-touch dash with a really nicely finished padded instrument panel, plus soft door uppers front and back. All of the switchgear is nicely fitted with good damping, some even aluminized for an upscale look and impressive feel, while the perforated leather is certainly good for a base model from a volume brand. 

Now that I’m talking features, standard kit includes a heatable leather-wrapped flat-bottom sport steering wheel that’s sized ideally for performance and feels good in the hands, plus a leather and chrome adorned shift knob (ditto), piano black interior trim, comfortable and supportive heated eight-way power-adjustable front seats with four-way powered lumbar, an auto-dimming rearview mirror, power-folding side mirrors, dual-zone automatic climate control, LED interior lighting, ambient mood lighting, and a 7.0-inch touchscreen that’s really my only point of contention, being that it’s a bit small and doesn’t fit flush within its fixed upright mounting and therefore looks outdated. 

2019 Kia Stinger GT-Line
The LED taillights extend across the Stinger’s entire backside. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

It incorporates the usual rearview camera, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto smartphone integration, and Kia’s exclusive UVO Intelligence connected car services bundle, while the nine-speaker audio is pretty decent for a base system, even including standard satellite radio, and the wireless phone charger is a mighty impressive standard item too. 

A proximity-sensing key fob gets you inside and a silver metallic button ignites the engine, again all standard kit, while the electromechanical parking brake releases automatically. The aforementioned backup camera joins standard rear parking sensors and rear cross-traffic alert to make sure the Stinger’s glittering paint remains scratch free, the latter item packaged together with standard blindspot detection. Once facing forward, simply choose the most fitting Drive Mode Select setting from Smart, Eco, Comfort, Sport or Custom, leave the eight-speed Sportmatic automatic transmission in Drive or slot the lever into manual mode to make the most of the standard steering wheel paddles, which is the best way to get all 255 horsepower and 260 lb-ft of torque out of the direct-injected turbocharged 2.0-litre four-cylinder. 

2019 Kia Stinger GT-Line
Kia carries the Stinger’s sharp looking exterior design into the interior where build quality and refinement are also very good. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

It’s just the base powertrain, but thanks to 100-percent of its torque coming on at just 1,400 rpm, and all four wheels engaging the tarmac simultaneously the base Stinger pulls strongly from standstill right up to highway speeds and beyond. Its dual exhaust makes a nice rorty note, complementing the engine’s sonorous tone, the Stinger providing an enjoyable audio track to go along with its rapid acceleration. Certainly the base engine isn’t as intensely satisfying as the optional twin-turbo 3.3-litre V6, that beast making 365 horsepower and 376 lb-ft of torque (no optional powertrain is offered in the Arteon), but the turbo-four is a compromise I’d be happy to live with, especially when factoring in its much friendlier fuel economy of 11.1 L/100km in the city, 8.1 on the highway and 9.7 combined, compared to 13.6, 9.6 and 11.8 for the V6 respectively, both incidentally aided by auto start/stop technology. 

2019 Kia Stinger GT-Line
Most of the interior’s upper half is soft touch, while all the roof pillars are fabric-wrapped. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

The last thing you’ll be thinking about when coursing down a circuitous mountainside road is fuel efficiency, the Stinger’s fully independent MacPherson strut front and multi-link rear suspension setup, with gas shocks and dynamic dampers, tautly sprung for a firm ride that grips like a sports car, yet despite this athleticism it’s hardly punishing, the suspension plenty compliant. 

Braking is strong too, four-cylinder models utilizing 320 mm (12.6 in) vented discs up front and 314 mm (12.4 in) solid rotors in the rear, with the upgraded powerplant receiving a more robust Brembo braking system featuring 350 mm (13.8 in) vented discs in front and 340 mm (13.4 in) vented discs in back. 

2019 Kia Stinger GT-Line
The base model gets a simpler instrument cluster, but it works well. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

The Stinger’s long, lean shape not only splits the air easily for maximizing high-speed aerodynamics, it also provides a decent amount of rear headroom (about three inches above my five-foot-eight frame) while lending itself nicely to non-traditional cargo access, at least for the mid-size sedan segment. Where the Optima and most everything else in the class use a conventional lidded trunk, the Stinger follows the raked liftback lead provided by four-door coupe forerunners such as Audi’s A5/A7 Sportback, BMW’s 4 Series, Porsche’s Panamera, Aston Martin’s Rapide, and back down to reality, the Arteon, this Kia’s sizeable opening making the most from 660 litres (23.3 cu ft) of capacity behind the rear seats, or for that matter expanding on the rearmost volume to a total of 1,158 litres (40.9 cu ft) when those 60/40 split seatbacks are folded down. 

2019 Kia Stinger GT-Line
The base 7.0-inch touchscreen was a bit disappointing. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

Yes, the Stinger is as practical to live with as it’s great to look at, wonderful to drive, and impressively finished. I’ll need to spend a week with the new Arteon to see if its higher price brings anything more than a German label, but its interior detailing will need to be mighty impressive to upstage this base Stinger GT-Line, and if recent experience with the Passat is anything to go by it may fall a bit short. With all options added the Arteon hits the road at just over $53k, which is more than even the highest priced GT Limited 20th Anniversary Edition of the Stinger that slots in at $51,495 and comes with special 19-inch alloy wheels, carbon-fibre inlays, red Nappa leather upholstery, plus red-stitched “Stinger” floor mats, whereas the mid-range GT starts at $44,995 and the regular GT Limited at $49,995 (check out the prices of all 2019 Stinger trims, packages and options at CarCostCanada, plus find out how you can save hundreds and even thousands through manufacturer rebates as well as dealer invoice pricing). 

2019 Kia Stinger GT-Line
These leather-clad sport seats are comfortable and supportive. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

These latter two trims get unique 19-inch wheels, an upgraded suspension with Dynamic Stability Damping Control (DSDC), sound-reducing front side door glass, auto-dimming side mirrors, stainless steel door scuff plates, stainless steel sport pedals, carbon-fibre-like inlays (replacing the piano black interior trim), shift-by-wire transmission control (which replaces the base model’s shift-by-cable system) a powered tilt and telescopic steering column, driver’s side memory, an under-floor storage tray, a large “full-width” sunroof, a gesture-control powered liftgate, and a luggage net. 

2019 Kia Stinger GT-Line
The rear seating area provides plenty of space in all directions. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

Lastly, the top-line GT Limited adds exclusive cornering headlamps, rain-sensing wipers, aluminum finish décor trim (in place of the carbon-fibre), a black headliner, a 7.0-inch Supervision LCD/TFT instrument cluster, a head-up display (HUD) unit, a HomeLink universal garage door opener, premium Nappa leather upholstery, ventilated front seats, heatable rear outboard seats, an upgraded driver’s seat with a four-way “air cell” lumbar support system, power-adjustable bolsters, and a powered lower cushion extension, a one-inch larger 8.0-inch centre touchscreen (that should be standard) with a 360-degree surround camera monitoring system and navigation, a 15-speaker Harman Kardon audio upgrade, adaptive cruise control, autonomous emergency braking (that’s normally standard), lane keeping assist, and driver attention alert. 

2019 Kia Stinger GT-Line
The Stinger’s convenient liftback adds to its overall livability. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

So there you have it, another great car from a brand that deserves much more respect and success than it gets. Year-over-year sales of the Stinger have dropped off a bit over the first half of 2019, down 14.38 percent with 750 units down Canadian roads, but it’s getting pretty close to the Optima that’s (yikes) down 44.67 percent over the same two quarters at 872 deliveries. In case you’re wondering how it measures up to regular front-drive mid-size models, the Camry kills in this class with 8,586 unit sales over the same period (up 12.87 percent), while the Accord came in second with 5,837 deliveries (down 9.71 percent). As for the Arteon, it only found 184 customers so far this year, but it only went on sale this spring so we’ll have to wait in order to find out how well it does. The Passat, incidentally, only sold 474 units through Q2, which put it down 75.55 percent year-over-year. 

2019 Kia Stinger GT-Line
The Stinger’s load carrying capacity is impressive. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

Of the 14 models competing in the mid-size class (Stinger and Arteon included, and Charger considered a full-size/large car), nine have lost ground, one hasn’t been around long enough to quantify, and four have increased sales, while the Stinger’s small drop in popularity is much less worrisome than most peers, and more resultant of the entire segment’s downturn than disinterest in the car itself. I experienced just the opposite during my test week, with plenty of long smiling stares and positive nods as I drove by. The Stinger gets plenty of respect, and over the long haul should do a lot to raise Kia’s overall brand image. If you’re in the market for a great looking, sporty four-door with the practicality of a hatch, you should take a long look and a quick ride in the Kia Stinger.

Have you seen the 2020 Toyota Highlander? It’s not available to purchase yet, having only debuted at the New York International Auto Show in April, but a quick glance shows that Toyota’s crossover…

2019 Toyota Highlander Hybrid Limited Road Test

2020 Toyota Highlander
Now that you’ve seen the upcoming 2020 Toyota Highlander, how do you like it? (Photo: Toyota)

Have you seen the 2020 Toyota Highlander? It’s not available to purchase yet, having only debuted at the New York International Auto Show in April, but a quick glance shows that Toyota’s crossover SUV division is abandoning its recent Lexus-inspired grandiosity in favour of a subtler approach, much like the 2014 through 2016 Highlander did. 

You might remember that Toyota redesigned the Highlander for the 2014 model year, giving it a lot more character and much more refinement inside, while increasing the maximum seat count from seven to eight, and then after enjoying much success with this newfound mid-size crossover formula the automaker replaced the simpler Toyota truck-inspired front grille and fascia for a ritzier chromed up look just three years later for the 2017 model year, which honestly hadn’t hurt sales until recently. 

2019 Toyota Highlander Hybrid Limited
The 2019 Toyota Highlander, shown here in as-tested Hybrid Limited trim, offers up a ritzy, chrome-laden look. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

I’m not a fan of all the glitz and glam adorning the face of this otherwise clean, uncluttered and straightforward family hauler (it still looks quite nice from the rear), but possibly due to its new façade and likely more so because of the automotive market’s general adoption of crossover SUVs in place of cars, Canadian sales were up by 17.70 percent from calendar years 2016 to 2017, although they dropped by 4.06 percent last year and over the first half of 2019 have slipped another 17.70 percent (bizarre that the model’s fall from grace so far this year is in perfect sync with its growth two years ago). 

So why, in a market that’s supposedly turning away from traditional cars to crossovers and SUVs, has the Highlander been losing so much ground? Another glance at the stats shows it’s not alone, at least amongst mid-size SUV sales that have fallen by 7.66 percent from calendar years 2017 to 2018. In fact, of the 24 crossovers and SUVs currently selling into the mid-size volume segment (including raised wagons like Subaru’s Outback, two-row crossover SUVs like Hyundai’s Santa Fe, three-row crossover SUVs like this Highlander, and traditional body-on-frame SUVs like Toyota’s 4Runner), eight saw positive growth and 10 experienced a swing in the negative direction, with another five seeing only growing due to being completely new models. 

2019 Toyota Highlander Hybrid Limited
The Highlander is certainly looks fit and handsome from the rear. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

If you’re wondering how the Highlander fits into the scheme of things, here’s a breakdown ranked in order of popularity with calendar year 2019 Q2 sales and growth/shrinkage rates shown in parentheses: Ford Edge at 8,709 units (+9.05); Hyundai Santa Fe at 8,225 (-11.51); Jeep Grand Cherokee 8,033 (+26.94); Kia Sorento at 6,965 (+0.32); Chevrolet Blazer 6,812 (sales started in January 2019); Nissan Murano 5,062 (-8.00); Toyota Highlander 4,985 (-17.70); Dodge Durango 4,900 (+54.14); Subaru Outback 4,212 (-4.77); Ford Explorer at 4,100 (-45.14 due to a model changeover); Volkswagen Atlas 3,679 (+14.01%); Honda Pilot 3,477 (+22.43); Toyota 4Runner 3,398 (+10.18%); Nissan Pathfinder 2,597 (-10.63); Chevrolet Traverse 2,443 (-16.36); GMC Acadia 1,956 (-3.88%); Ford Flex 1,812 (+115.71, shocking, I know); Subaru Ascent 1,721 (sales started in January 2019); Mazda CX-9 1,573 (-7.58); Dodge Journey 1,488 (-39.19); Kia Telluride 1,072 (sales began in March 2019); Honda Passport 921 (sales started in February 2019); Hyundai Palisade 180 (sales began in June 2019); Volkswagen Touareg 17 (-96.91 because it’s a discontinued model). 

2019 Toyota Highlander Hybrid Limited
The top half of the grille is attractive. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Don’t expect to see all of these models in the same order at year’s end, thanks to redesigns (the new Explorer should be closer to it’s previous third place, and the aforementioned 2020 Highlander will no doubt get a boost too) and all-new models swelling the ranks (the new Blazer’s sales are impressive), but the leading brands will likely maintain their leadership for good reason, and one of those leaders has long been Toyota. 

Being the last year of this well-seasoned third-generation K-platform-based (XU50) Highlander (the new model will ride on the GA-K version of the Toyota New Global Architecture/TNGA), Toyota hasn’t done much to lure in additional buyers. In fact, it’s only added an optional set of LED fog lamps in place of last year’s halogens, which look almost identical from a distance. 

2019 Toyota Highlander Hybrid Limited
Here’s shot of those circular fog lights that now use LEDs. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Toyota loaned me a 2019 Highlander Hybrid Limited for my weeklong test, by the way, in the exact same Celestial Silver Metallic and Black perforated leather combination as last year’s version, a model I reviewed in detail along with a lovely “Ooh La La Rouge Mica” (that’s really the name) painted conventionally powered 2018 Highlander Limited (both models get the LED fog light upgrade this year). 

Updates aside, I still find it shocking that Toyota is the only mainstream volume brand to offer optional electrification in this mid-size class, being that most key competitors have had hybrid drivetrains within their given lineups for decades (although I’ll give Chrysler a shout-out for its Pacifica Hybrid plug-in because it’s at least spacious enough to compete). More power to Toyota, as this Highlander Hybrid remains the most fuel efficient mid-size crossover SUV available, at a time when our country is experiencing our highest pump prices ever, and no end to the budget gouging in sight if our various governments continue to have any say. 

2019 Toyota Highlander Hybrid Limited
Get ready to be impressed by the Highlander’s interior, which is one of the nicest in this mid-size SUV class. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Claimed 2019 Highlander Hybrid ratings are 8.1 L/100km in the city, 8.5 on the highway and 8.3 combined, compared to 12.0 city, 8.9 highway and 10.6 combined for the most similarly equipped mid-range XLE and top-line Limited trims with the conventionally-powered V6, AWD, and upgraded auto start/stop system. 

Before showing you all competitive model Transport Canada fuel economy numbers, it’s important to note that both Highlander models offer a lot more standard power. Where the majority of rivals come standard with four-cylinder engines, the regular Highlander now uses a 3.5-litre V6 good for 295 horsepower and 263 lb-ft of torque, driving either the front wheels in LX trim, or all four in LX AWD, XLE and Limited trims, via an eight-speed automatic with available auto idle start/stop, whereas the Highlander Hybrid uses the same engine running the more efficient Atkinson-cycle yet, thanks to its potent electric motor/battery combination, makes 306 net horsepower and an undisclosed (but more than sufficient) amount of torque, which ramps up near immediately due to 100 percent of electrified twist arriving instantaneously. 

2019 Toyota Highlander Hybrid Limited
All instruments are nicely laid out and the fit, finish and tactile quality of all switchgear is very good. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

From the list of three-row competitors above, the most efficient (when compared with AWD and auto start/stop if available) rival is Kia’s Sorento at 11.2 L/100km city, 9.0 highway and 10.2 combined, but the Sorento is quite a bit smaller than the Highlander and, like its platform-sharing Hyundai Santa Fe that is no longer available with three rows so as to make way for the brand new Palisade, Kia buyers looking for more passenger and cargo room will likely move up to the Telluride. 

Just the same, after the Sorento the thriftiest three-row mid-size SUVs are as follows: GMC Acadia: 11.3 L/100km city, 9.4 highway and 10.5 combined; Mazda CX-9 at 11.6, 9.1 and 10.5 respectively; Highlander V6 at 12.0, 8.9 and 10.6; Nissan Pathfinder at 12.1, 8.9 and 10.7; Honda Pilot at 12.4, 9.3 and 11.0; Hyundai Palisade at 12.3, 9.6 and 11.1; Kia Telluride at 12.5, 9.6 and 11.2; Dodge Durango at 12.7, 9.6 and 11.3; Ford Explorer at 13.1, 9.2 and 11.4; Chevrolet Traverse at 13.7, 9.5 and 11.8; Volkswagen Atlas at 13.8, 10.2 and 12.2; Dodge Journey at 14.5, 10.0 and 12.4; Ford Flex at 14.7, 10.7 and 12.9; and Toyota 4Runner at 14.3, 11.9 and 13.2 respectively. 

2019 Toyota Highlander Hybrid Limited
The gauge cluster is bright, colourful and filled with useful hybrid-related info. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

The only mid-size (kind of) crossover SUV that comes close to the Highlander Hybrid as far as fuel economy goes, albeit with only two rows, five passengers, and much less cargo capacity or power is the four-cylinder equipped Subaru Outback, which still comes up short at 9.4 L/100km city, 7.3 highway and 8.5 combined, while more closely sized, but still two-row, five-passenger and four-cylinder equipped options that improve on the V6-powered Highlander’s fuel-efficiency include the base Ford Edge at 11.4 city, 8.3 highway and 10.0 combined; the Hyundai Santa Fe at 11.2, 8.7 and 10.1 respectively; and the Nissan Murano at 11.7, 8.5 and 10.3; while just for the sake of finishing the list, the new similarly smaller Honda Passport is rated at 12.5, 9.8 and 11.3 respectively; the new Chevrolet Blazer at 12.7, 9.5 and 11.3, while finally the Jeep Grand Cherokee gets a 12.7, 9.6 and 11.3 respective rating. 

2019 Toyota Highlander Hybrid Limited
The overhead parking camera was as step up from last year’s regular rearview camera. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

The electromechanical portion of the Highlander Hybrid’s drivetrain is made up of two permanent magnet synchronous motors, one for driving the front wheels and the other for those in the rear, plus a sealed nickel-metal hydride (Ni-MH) traction battery. Yes, no lithium-ion battery for this now classic Hybrid Synergy Drive hybrid system, but that’s not a bad thing. Consider for a moment that NiMH batteries have been in automotive use since the original Prius went on sale in 1997, and plenty of Prius taxis can be found running around Canadian cities with more than a million kilometres on their original battery packs. NiMH batteries have a proven track record, plus older batteries can be rebuilt using newer modules, as they’ve basically been the same since 2001. 

2019 Toyota Highlander Hybrid Limited
The leather upholstered driver’s seat was wonderfully comfortable. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

The only negative with the Highlander Hybrid, at least from a driving perspective, is the replacement of the regular model’s eight-speed automatic with an electronically controlled continuously variable transmission (ECVT), but it’s only an issue when pushing the SUV harder through fast-paced backroads than you will likely ever do. Around town and on the highway both transmissions are wonderfully smooth and easy to get along with, while Toyota gives the ECVT a fairly conventional feel thanks to stepped ratios that mimic a traditional automatic, as well as a sequential shift mode when wanting to get sporty, or merely downshift for engine-braking. 

2019 Toyota Highlander Hybrid Limited
Second-row roominess is more than adequate. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

As for the Hybrid’s all-wheel drive system, it worked well enough in the rain and even in the mountaintop snow I was able to locate during my test week. Toyota has had a baker’s dozen of years to perfect this basic system, moving up from the original 2006 Highlander Hybrid’s 3.3-litre V6 to the current 3.5-litre version, but other than that sticking with this tried and true drivetrain formula, and I’ve never had an issue pulling myself out of sticky or slippery situations, snow banks included. 

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

2019 Toyota Highlander Hybrid Limited
Third row comfort is more than adequate for smaller folk. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

By the way, make sure to check out CarCostCanada for detailed pricing of all cars just mentioned, including trims, packages and options, plus money saving rebate info and dealer invoice pricing that could save you thousands, whether purchasing the new 2019 Highlander, 2019 Chevy Traverse, 2019 Buick Enclave, or any other mid-size crossover SUV (I’ve got them all linked above if you’d like to know more). 

This is where I’d normally go into detail about those trims, packages and options just noted, but it makes more sense to link to my 2018 Toyota Highlander V6 AWD and Hybrid Road Test review and you can read all about it, because, as mentioned earlier, nothing at all has changed from 2018 to 2019 other than those LED fog lamps. 

2019 Toyota Highlander Hybrid Limited
Cargo space is identical in conventional and Hybrid powered Highlanders. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Suffice to say this is a really impressive SUV, with plenty of power, a wonderful ride, decent enough handling, near premium levels of interior quality that even include woven cloth wrapped around all eight roof pillars and plenty of soft-touch surfacing, a nice colourful gauge cluster filled with the types of hybrid controls expected from a partially electric vehicle, a reasonably good centre touchscreen that’s now only overshadowed because of Toyota’s excellent new Entune infotainment interface, comfortable seating from front to back, loads of cargo space, a great reliability record, and superb fuel economy. 

The only reason not to consider the 2019 Highlander Hybrid is the same factor for getting one sooner than later, the new 2020 Highlander Hybrid that will show up later this year. It promises to be a step up in styling, refinement and performance, which might give pause to anyone buying this tried and tested model, but that said the current version is not only well proven, it should also be easier for your to get a significant discount. Once again, check out CarCostCanada for any rebate info, while it’s always a good idea to find out what the dealer pays for the vehicle you want in order to negotiate the best deal possible.

The redesigned 2019 Forte is one handsome looking compact sedan, with clean, simple, modern lines that, while new and fresh, might appeal more to a conservative buyer than something like the avant-garde…

2019 Kia Forte EX Limited Road Test

2019 Kia Forte EX Limited
The 2019 Kia Forte is one great looking car, especially in top-line EX Limited trim. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

The redesigned 2019 Forte is one handsome looking compact sedan, with clean, simple, modern lines that, while new and fresh, might appeal more to a conservative buyer than something like the avant-garde Honda Civic or Toyota’s visually complex 2020 Corolla. 

Where both the Civic and Corolla succeed for being very good cars wearing extremely well respected nameplates, their styling is a bit more hit and miss. Obviously they appeal to enough peoples’ tastes to have become Canada’s best-selling and second-most popular cars (not including trucks and crossover SUVs), at least with respect to their four-door variants, but I personally believe the new Forte is easier on the eyes. 

2019 Kia Forte EX Limited
Sharp, clean, simple lines from front to back, the Forte should appeal to the majority of peoples’ tastes. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

This is true for the entire Kia lineup. Unlike both Honda and Toyota that have regularly been called out for design misses (Honda more for the bizarre and Toyota for the bland), Kia has long been making news for styling hits, with this latest Forte definitely holding its own in a crowded compact segment. Rather than making up for an awkwardly proportioned three-box layout with acres of plastic body cladding, the Forte starts off with a leaner, more sweptback profile that doesn’t need as much embellishment to look good. Certainly there’s some nice attention to detail from front to back, but the sporty upgrades on my top-line Forte EX Limited enhance this sedan’s overall design instead of overwhelming it. 

2019 Kia Forte EX Limited
The updated Forte shows a new take on Kia’s trademark notched oval grille. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Some noteworthy styling features start with a fresh version of the brand’s bisected oval trademark grille, filled with a sporty gloss-black insert above yet more glossy black detailing within an even sportier lower front fascia, this bookended by deeply sculpted corner vents incorporating horizontal LED fog lamps. A truly interesting set of available “X” accented LED headlights are positioned above, offsetting comparatively conventional taillights at the other end, albeit infused with complex LEDs within and connected in the middle by a rather nice narrow reflective centre lens. 

The rear deck lid, with its subtly integrated spoiler, is nicely done, while at the base the Forte’s hind end is yet more gloss black trim on the rear bumper cap, formed into triangular bezels housing the rear fog and backup lights, which hover over a diffuser-style lower garnish incorporating a chromed exhaust finisher, while the entire package rides on a smart looking set of twinned five-spoke machine-finished 17-inch alloy wheels with black-painted pockets. 

2019 Kia Forte EX Limited
These cool looking “X” infused signature LED headlights are available from just-above-base EX trim. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Inside, the new Forte is more upscale and European-like than its predecessor and a number of compact competitors, its design coming across as conservatively tasteful, similar to what you might find in a premium brand. Most of the dash top an instrument panel is finished in high-quality soft-touch synthetics, as are the front door uppers, the door inserts, and armrests front to rear. I’m not going to say that Kia covers more surfaces in premium-level composites than average for this class, but the brand is well respected for being one of the first to push compact models into near-premium territory with respect to refinement and features, with most others now catching up. 

2019 Kia Forte EX Limited
The Forte provides some very sporty glossy black details. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Features in mind, EX Limited trim includes perforated leatherette upholstery that feels a lot more realistic than most fake animal hides, the perforations necessary up front to allow forced three-way ventilation to seep out. This trim also gets rear seat heaters for the outboard positions, while three-way front seat heaters are standard, as is a leather-wrapped heated steering wheel. 

Yes you heard me right. The Forte’s standard steering wheel rim is leather-wrapped and heatable. Consider for a moment that Toyota doesn’t even provide Canadians with an option for heating a Camry’s steering wheel, even in top-line trim that costs nearly $24k more than the Forte’s $17,195 base MT trim, and $13k more than this top-tier $28,065 Forte EX Limited, while not offering ventilated front seats or heatable rear cushions either (make sure to find out about all 2019 Kia Forte pricing, including trim levels, packages and options at CarCostCanada, as well as rebate info and dealer invoice pricing that could save you thousands). 

2019 Kia Forte EX Limited
These 17-inch twinned-spoke alloys suite the Forte well. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

I don’t know about you, but after the last few winters we’ve experienced I don’t want to use my fingers for warming a steering wheel when embedded elements are readily available, and my rear passengers certainly shouldn’t be forced to freeze their butts off either. What’s more, why shouldn’t I be able to cool my derriere during July, August and the first half of September? Fortunately, Kia doesn’t cause us to ask such questions, but instead makes the first of these comforting features standard in one of their most affordable cars, and the latter two available (to be fair, the 2020 Corolla sedan offers a heatable steering wheel rim with an upgrade package, but no ventilated front seats or heated rear seats). 

2019 Kia Forte EX Limited
The upgraded LED taillights receive nicely detailed internals. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Back to some other 2019 Forte improvements, Kia upgraded its stylish automatic shifter with a leather-clad palm rest overtop a satin-silver metallic grip, while surrounding it all in a stitched-leatherette boot that’s encircled by the same satin-silver surfacing. The Forte uses this classy matte silver treatment for the steering wheel spokes too, as well as for a decorative strip across the instrument panel and the trim around each corner vent bezel, not to mention the inner door handles and as an embellishment for the power window and side mirror switchgear, plus even for the handbrake’s thumb release button. 

2019 Kia Forte EX Limited
All compact cars are more upscale than their forebears, and Kia helped to lead the charge in years past. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Yes, a handbrake seems somewhat archaic in today’s world of electromechanical sophistication, but really it’s nothing I thought twice about during two weeks of testing. In fact, I only noticed this throwback to simpler times when taking notes on the last day. It exists for the base Forte’s six-speed manual, a transmission I wish was available in trim lines further up the car’s price range, like sister company Hyundai does with its impressive 200-horsepower Elantra Sport, a worthy Civic Si competitor that also gets suspension and styling upgrades. This said, if you don’t mind waiting another model year, last November Kia announced a new GT trim for the upcoming 2020 Forte that will provide all of the same performance updates as the Elantra Sport, but of course in Kia’s unique way. I’ll do my best to get into this car as soon as one is made available. 

2019 Kia Forte EX Limited
The Forte provides a more sophisticated Euro-inspired instrument panel design, when compared to some funkier competitors. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Unlike that Elantra, the new Forte uses one single 2.0-litre four-cylinder engine, a carryover from last year that continues to dole out 147 horsepower and 132 lb-ft of torque. While a relatively competitive engine in this class, this lone mechanical offering is not only a far cry less varied than the three engines Toyota is providing for its latest Corolla sedan (one now a hybrid), or the trio of powerplants available in Honda’s Civic Sedan (one being a 205-horsepower dynamo in the just-noted Si, and a realistic fourth powertrain being the hybrid used in the new Insight that’s little more than a face-lifted Civic Hybrid), it’s also not going to attract performance-oriented buyers. 

2019 Kia Forte EX Limited
This supervision LCD/TFT primary gauge cluster gets added in EX trim. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

In the previous second-generation Forte sedan, Kia offered Canadians two engine choices, the outgoing option being a more advanced direct-injected version of the 2.0-litre four-cylinder just mentioned, albeit dubbed 2.0 GDI and producing a considerably more robust 164 horsepower and 151 lb-ft of torque. Earlier, when writing my “Garage” preview of this new 2019 sedan, I mused about this more potent engine possibly becoming a late arrival along with the redesigned Forte5, but Kia now shows this renewed five-door hatchback in 2020 form (set to arrive later this year, although for the time being it remains suited up in its previous 2018 gen-2 design) in the “Upcoming Vehicles” category of their retail website, with no sign of the upgraded GDI engine’s availability, but with the same base “2.0L MPI” powerplant as used for this sedan, plus last year’s (and the still current) top-line turbocharged 1.6-litre four-cylinder as an option, still making 201 horsepower and 195 lb-ft of torque, while mated to a paddle shift-actuated seven-speed dual-clutch automated gearbox. 

2019 Kia Forte EX Limited
The standard 8.0-inch touchscreen is superb, plus quick to respond to inputs, and all features worked well. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

It’s understandable why Kia chose to simplify the Forte’s engine lineup when last year’s sales only came to 14,399 units (including the just-noted Forte5 hatchback), down 12.1 percent from 2017, which compares poorly to the Corolla’s 48,796 deliveries throughout 2018 (including its Corolla Hatchback—an excellent car, by the way), and the Civic’s leading 69,005-unit sum over the same 12 months (which included the Civic Sedan, Hatchback, and Coupe). 

I should probably also make mention of the previously noted Hyundai Elantra’s sales too, this highly popular model (that’s new in sedan form for 2020) finding a respectable 41,784 new Canadian customers last year (currently in sedan, Sport sedan, and five-door GT trims), albeit this was a 9.4-percent drop from the year prior. 

2019 Kia Forte EX Limited
The backup camera works very well thanks to a big screen, clear visuals and dynamic guidelines. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Another reason Kia may have solely gone for the less formidable powerplant comes down to the Forte’s base price and ongoing running costs, the Korean company probably assuming correctly that buyers in this price-sensitive segment wouldn’t want to pay a larger sum initially if the only engine offered was the more advanced GDI powerplant, nor more at the pump, being that the chosen MPI engine is more efficient. Looking back at 2018 Transport Canada fuel economy figures, the base MPI engine had a rating of 8.0 L/100km in the city, 6.1 on the highway and 7.1 combined, whereas the more powerful GDI was rated at 9.4 city, 6.8 highway and 8.3 combined. That’s a significant difference in a compact market segment that’s ultra-sensitive to seemingly ever-increasing pump prices. 

2019 Kia Forte EX Limited
Dual-zone automatic climate control gets added in EX Premium trim.

While we’re talking fuel economy, I should also point out that Kia has made considerable headway with its MPI engine in the new 2019 model, with the new six-speed manual-equipped base trim achieving a claimed Transport Canada rating of 8.6 L/100km city, 6.4 highway and 7.6 combined, compared to last year’s numbers of 9.4, 6.8 and 8.3 respectively. Not quite as impressive yet still allowing for a noticeable improvement is this year’s all-new Hyundai/Kia-developed continuously variable transmission (CVT) when compared to last year’s six-speed automatic, with the 2019 model receiving a 7.7 L/100km city, 5.9 highway and 6.9 combined rating, and the 2018 car only capable of 8.0, 6.1 and 7.1 respectively. 

2019 Kia Forte EX Limited
The latest smartphones can take advantage of Kia’s wireless device charger, standard on just-above-base EX trim. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

That CVT, which Kia smartly calls an Intelligent Variable Transmission (IVT) in order to separate it from the deluge of CVTs taking over this market segment, is a $2,500 option with the base LX model and comes standard with all other trims, while it does almost as good a job of putting power down to the front wheels as it does at saving fuel. That’s high praise for a CVT, by the way, this being one of the better variations on the theme I’ve had the pleasure of driving in this class, and easily up to the task required by a comfort-oriented compact sedan. 

The Forte takes off quickly and smoothly enough, with both engine and transmission providing smooth, linear performance, plus not too much noise from ahead of the firewall. The powertrain works well in its Normal default mode, or for that matter its Eco, Sport and Smart “Drive Mode Select” settings, my preference being Smart mode as it automatically adjusts all of the above to maximize fuel economy, performance or any capability in between. 

2019 Kia Forte EX Limited
The Forte’s CVT is highly efficient and works very well for this class of car. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

The Forte’s ride is smooth and comfortable too, while its handling is sharp and responsive unless pushed extremely hard through bumpy backroads. Unfortunately it utilizes a less sophisticated torsion beam rear axle than either the Civic or new Corolla, the latter finally receiving an upgrade to its underpinnings for 2020, but Kia’s suspension tuning team deserves credit for making the most of this less appealing package, as its wonderfully smooth most of the time, and its rear tires don’t get unglued until those just-noted extreme limits are met. 

Keeping the Forte within its lane are the usual active safety features such as stability and traction control, while some nearly standard advanced driver assistance systems (they’re standard when upgrading to the CVT) include Forward Collision-Avoidance Assist (FCA), Lane Keeping Assist (LKA), and Driver Attention Alert (DAA). 

2019 Kia Forte EX Limited
Three-way heated and three-way cooled seats set the Forte EX Limited apart. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Additionally, on top of everything already mentioned both manual- and CVT-equipped LX models include auto on/off projector headlamps, splash guards, body-colour mirror caps and door handles, heated side mirrors, air conditioning, a really nice new fixed tablet-style 8.0-inch touchscreen infotainment display with tap, pinch, and swipe capability in some applications (plus immediate response to finger gestures), Apple CarPlay and Android Auto smartphone integration, a rearview camera with helpful dynamic guidelines, an AM/FM/MP3 radio, Bluetooth hands-free connectivity with audio steaming, USB audio input and charging ports, cruise control, Hill-Assist Control (HAC), 60/40 split-folding rear seatbacks that expand on a sizeable 434-litre (15.3 cu-ft) trunk, and more. 

2019 Kia Forte EX Limited
The seats are comfortable, the perforated leatherette feels real, and it all looks great. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

If you’d rather have 16-inch machine-finished alloys instead of 15-inch steel wheels with covers you’ll need to upgrade to $20,995 EX trim, which also includes the noted 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
This powered glass sunroof gets added in EX+ trim. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

The move up to $22,495 EX+ trim includes all of the above while adding 17-inch machine-finished alloys, LED taillights, LED interior lighting, and a powered moonroof, whereas $25,065 EX Premium trim also features High Beam Assist (HBA) for the LED headlights, proximity-sensing access with pushbutton ignition, adaptive cruise control, an eight-way power-adjustable driver’s seat, SOFINO synthetic leather upholstery, dual-zone automatic climate control, satellite radio, UVO Intelligence connected car services, a Smart release trunk lid 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. 

2019 Kia Forte EX Limited
Rear seating is spacious, comfortable, and benefits from outboard seat warmers in EX Limited trim. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Lastly, my $28,065 EX Limited tester came with everything already noted as well as the ventilated front seats and heatable outboard rear seats I’ve gone on and on about, plus an upgraded multimedia infotainment interface with an accurate and easy-to-use navigation system, and finally a great sounding Harman/Kardon premium audio system. 

I should also mention that the driver’s seat was especially comfortable and, while only offering two-way powered lumbar instead of four, it neatly fit the small of my back ideally and was therefore quite helpful in minimizing lower back pain. What’s more, when set up with the Forte’s standard tilt and telescopic steering column, the car provided excellent ergonomics, even for my unique longer leg and shorter torso body type. On that note I’ve often had problems properly fitting into Toyota products, including the outgoing 2019 Corolla, because it didn’t provide enough telescopic reach for me to set its driver’s seat far enough rearward for optimal comfort and control, but no such problems with the Forte. 

2019 Kia Forte EX Limited
The Forte’s trunk is quite large and includes standard 60/40 split-folding rear seatbacks for stowing longer cargo. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Sitting behind the driver’s seat when it was set for my long-legged five-foot-eight height left me plenty of space to get comfortable, including more than enough room for my feet, approximately five inches ahead of my knees, another three and a half or so above my head, plus about five between the window ledge and my shoulder, and four beside my outer hip. The dual cupholder-infused folding centre armrest was ideally positioned for resting adult arms, but this is hardly unusual in this class, nor were dual rear vents fed through the backside of the front centre console, or the webbed magazine pocket behind the front passenger seat, but of course the previously noted rear outboard seat heaters, which kept my derriere comfortably warm, were much appreciated while taking notes. I also liked the tiny rear quarter windows that provided a little more light and visibility for rear passengers than some cars in this class that leave the C-pillars blocked off despite showing black glass on the outside. 

2019 Kia Forte EX Limited
The efficient 2.0 MPI engine is good for commuting, but performance fans will be able to opt for a 201-hp turbo in 2020 GT trim. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

So, there you have it. The latest 2019 Kia Forte isn’t perfect, but it’s the best this model has ever been, and if it weren’t for lacking some optional power and a multi-link rear suspension it might just have earned best-in-class status. This said, the Forte addresses the majority of compact sedan buyers’ requirements, such as attractiveness, spaciousness, comfort, and safety, while going way above par when it comes to standard and optional features. Those who want more performance can currently opt for the sportier 2018 Forte5 hatchback and will be able to get into a redesigned version and the new Forte GT sedan in 2020 guise. Regular Forte sedans will still lack the power of some mainstream rivals and the high-speed handling benefits of an independent rear suspension, but the value-oriented way Kia is approaching this compact class seems like a good compromise from a smaller market player, and reason enough for anyone to consider this impressive compact sedan.

To say that Ford leads SUV sales in this country is almost as big an understatement as merely stating that the F-Series is Canada’s best-selling pickup truck.  F-Series sales were 145,694 units last…

2019 Ford Expedition Limited 4×4 Road Test

2019 Ford Expedition Limited 4x4
Ford redesigned the full-size Expedition for 2018, and the handsome SUV remains unchanged for 2019. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

To say that Ford leads SUV sales in this country is almost as big an understatement as merely stating that the F-Series is Canada’s best-selling pickup truck. 

F-Series sales were 145,694 units last year compared to 108,569 total full-size GM trucks (55,097 Chevy Silverados and 53,472 GMC Sierras), and 77,951 Ram pickups, with sales actually picking up from January through May 2019 at 59,511 F-Series units to GM’s 41,207 large pickups and Ram’s 37,152 deliveries over the same five months. As for Toyota and Nissan, the full-size Tundra sold 11,738 units in 2018 and 4,238 as of May 31, 2019, while Titan found just 5,445 buyers last year and a scant 1,399 by the end of May this year. 

In the commercial van sector Ford’s lead is even stronger, obliterating its competitors with 22,214 Transit, E-Series and Transit Connect models through 2018 plus 10,658 units up until May 31, 2019, compared to 10,796 total GM vans delivered last year and 4,215 over the first five months of this year, 6,538 Mercedes-Benz vans sold through 2018 plus 2,166 from January through May, 4,362 Ram vans delivered last year and 2,627 more up to the close of May 2019, plus 2,527 Nissan vans down the road in 2018 and 1,122 from January through May this year. 

2019 Ford Expedition Limited 4x4
Hard to believe but this is the regular-wheelbase Expedition, this version adding 100 mm on to the previous generation. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

How about mainstream SUVs? While Ford benefited from a less comfortable lead in total crossover and SUV sales across Canada last year, it nevertheless remained out front with 92,418 EcoSport, Escape, Edge, Explorer, Flex, and Expedition models delivered, but with just 36,861 units from January through May of 2019 compared to 86,964 last year and a new lead of 37,125 units from Nissan up until May 31, 2019, not to mention 85,830 from Toyota throughout 2018 and another higher number of 37,348 sales through May, Ford has its work cut out for it if it plans to stay ahead of its closest rivals this year. 

While we’re talking SUV competitors, I should also point out that FCA (Jeep, Dodge and Fiat) sold 84,387 SUVs last year and 35,776 up until May 31 this year, whereas GM’s three brands (Chevrolet, GMC and Buick) managed 78,002 and 39,407 units respectively, Honda delivered 72,022 and 32,802 new SUVs respectively, and Hyundai found 67,171 and 29,613 new SUV customers during the same two periods of time. 

2019 Ford Expedition Limited 4x4
Limited trim adds some extra chrome detailing, but Ford upgraded this model with a package providing LED headlamps, LED fog lights, and 22-inch alloys. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Take note that one of Ford’s better-selling SUVs, the Explorer, saw its sales slip by a significant 45.14-percent over the first five months of 2019 in preparation for a totally redesigned model being launched now (they wouldn’t want to stick their dealers with too many older examples when the new one arrives), while Nissan and Toyota had new high-volume subcompact and compact models come online, so we should expect Ford to regain its SUV sales leadership over the final seven months of this year. 

Of course, every other volume brand sells into the crossover SUV sector too, and new models designed to disrupt the status quo are arriving regularly, so we’ll just have to wait to see if the blue-oval brand manages to stay on top over the long run, but keep in mind that Ford’s all-new retro-inspired Bronco 4×4 will soon go up against Jeep’s Wrangler, while its rumoured Baby Bronco will provide an off-road alternative in an even smaller package, and likely be more appealing to Canadians than Jeep’s Renegade that’s been an unparalleled flop (only rivaled by its Fiat 500X platform-mate). 

2019 Ford Expedition Limited 4x4
The LED headlights have a nice sophisticated design. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Two of Ford’s lowest performing models on the sales charts include the incredibly resilient three-row Flex crossover that surprisingly found 115.71 percent more customers during the first five months of 2019 than it did over the same period last year, its total year-to-date deliveries at 1,812 units as of May 31, 2019, which probably won’t be enough to cause Dearborn to keep the unique model in the lineup after being slated for cancellation next year, while the full-size three-row Expedition being reviewed here (you were probably wondering when I’d get around to talking about it) saw its sales increase by 29.4 percent from January through May, up to 2,007 deliveries, albeit that’s after year-over-year Expedition sales fell by 12.67 percent throughout 2018. 

2019 Ford Expedition Limited 4x4
Here’s a nice close-up of those upgraded 22-inch alloys. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

You might remember me using the word “obliterate” to describe Ford’s dominance in the commercial van segment earlier in this review, but that doesn’t even begin to sum up how dramatically GM outperforms Ford and all others in the Expedition’s full-size SUV segment. Where Ford only offers its Expedition and longer Expedition Max to large utility buyers, the General has Chevrolet and GMC anteing up with their Tahoe/Suburban and Yukon/Yukon XL regular and long-wheelbase models respectively, Ford’s aforementioned 2,007 Expedition deliveries over the first five months of 2019, and 2,798 sales throughout 2018 looking pale by comparison to 4,617 deliveries of the four GM models in 2019 (comprised of 1,357 Tahoes, 1,255 Yukons, 1,058 Suburbans and 947 Yukon XLs), and 11,629 total units sold through 2018 (including 3,576 Tahoes, 3,061 Yukons, 2,789 Suburbans and 2,266 Yukon XLs). 

The best of the rest is Nissan’s Armada that saw its sales rise to an all-time high of 1,435 units last year, followed by a rather scant 321 units sold up until May 31 of 2019, while the trailing Toyota Sequoia’s sales fell to 684 units in 2018, and have only managed 248 deliveries over the same five months of 2019. 

2019 Ford Expedition Limited 4x4
The Expedition looks long and is. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Interestingly, the same scenario plays out within this full-size SUV category’s competing luxury brands, with the Lincoln Navigator doing well thanks to an 80.52-percent year-over-year bump from 2017 through 2018 totaling 1,177 units, plus another 21.83-percent increase from January through May 2019 resulting in 720 deliveries, but despite Cadillac’s Escalade sales having fallen by 5.43 percent last year it still managed a much healthier 2,767 total units, while Escalade deliveries bounced back by 4.90 percent over the first five months of 2019 to 1,050 unit sales. 

2019 Ford Expedition Limited 4x4
Blue-oval fans should like the Expedition’s brand-identifiable design cues. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Now where were we? Oh yes, the difference between the now decade-old Flex dying and the latest Expedition, which was totally redesigned last year, continuing to live, come down to plant availability and profit margins, with the Flex produced at Ford’s Oakville Assembly plant in Oakville, Ontario, along with the highly popular Edge, impressive new Lincoln Nautilus, and the equally long-in-tooth and ancient D4 platform-sharing Lincoln MKT that only remains alive to serve in airport limousine and funeral service fleets (oh gods of the universe please don’t let me go to my place of rest in that horrid looking contraption), plus truly unlucky marrying couples and graduates (hopefully the powers that be within Lincoln will find a replacement for the MKT soon—the fabulous looking, wonderfully outfitted, and strong performing Continental anyone?), whereas the new fourth-generation Expedition rides on the same much more recently introduced body-on-frame and aluminum-skinned T-Platform as the F-Series pickup truck mentioned earlier, albeit the larger Super-Duty versions, and therefore gets produced at Ford’s Louisville, Kentucky Truck Assembly plant, alongside the just-noted heavy-duty pickup and Lincoln’s just-noted Navigator. 

2019 Ford Expedition Limited 4x4
Limited trim adds LED taillights. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

That Navigator adopted the same aluminum body construction as the Expedition last year, both full-size SUVs having received ground-up redesigns for 2018, hence their recent growth in sales. The mostly alloy (and I must say very good looking) skin joins up with a high-strength lightweight boron steel and aluminium frame to further reduce the Expedition’s curb weight by 44 kilograms to 90 kg (97 to 199 lbs) depending on trim, or 135 kg (just under 300 lbs) for the longer Expedition Max (EL in the U.S.), yet despite such a significant reduction in overall mass the upgraded SUV is more than 100 mm (4.0 inches) longer than the outgoing model in regular wheelbase form, and 28 mm (1.1 inches) lengthier than the old SUV in its larger Max body-style, while its wheelbase gets stretched by nearly 90 mm (3.5 inches) for the regular-length model and by 15 mm (0.6 inches) in the Max, plus it gains more than 25 mm (1.0 inch) from side to side. 

2019 Ford Expedition Limited 4x4
The Expedition isn’t as upscale as the Lincoln Navigator that shares its underpinnings, but it’s nevertheless impressively finished inside. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

The regular-wheelbase Expedition’s size and its lightweight aluminum design are reasons you may want to consider this newest version over the best-selling Tahoe/Yukon pairing, all of these more rugged truck-based SUVs often chosen over unibody car-based crossovers for their passenger carrying and load hauling capabilities, so therefore the more the merrier in this respect. 

The new Expedition’s larger dimensions make for an even roomier cabin than the previous generation’s already generous proportions, while the cargo compartment grows to a maximum of 2,962 litres (104.6 cubic feet) in the regular length model, or 3,439 litres (121.4 cubic feet) in Expedition Max form, the latter providing 477 litres (16.9 cu ft) more gear-toting space than the regular Expedition. This means 4×8 sheets of building material can be laid flat on top of the load floor with the tailgate closed. 

2019 Ford Expedition Limited 4x4
The cockpit is well laid out and many of the upper surface treatments are soft-touch. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Addition cargo dimensions include 1,627 litres (57.4 cu ft) behind the regular Expedition’s second row and 2,077 litres (73.3 cu ft) behind that in the Max, or alternatively 1,800 and 2,254 litres (63.5 and 79.6 cu ft) respectively for the same area when the second row is pulled all the way forward, and lastly 546 litres and 972 litres (19.3 and 34.3 cu ft) behind the regular Expedition’s and Expedition Max’s third row respectively, or 593 and 1,019 litres (20.9 and 36.0 cu ft) in the regular and Max models’ rearmost compartment when the third row is fully upright. Got that? 

Incidentally, both second- and third-row seats can be powered up and down individually via rocker switches on the cargo wall, a really helpful feature in such a large vehicle, and standard with Limited and Platinum trims (third-row PowerFold seats are standard across the line). What’s more, those rows fold completely flat so that all types of cargo have a better chance of remaining upright throughout the journey. 

2019 Ford Expedition Limited 4x4
It doesn’t get a fully digital gauge cluster, but the Expedition’s 8-inch multi-info display is still plenty impressive. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

When compared to the Tahoe and Suburban it’s easy to see the Expedition and Expedition Max are considerably more accommodating, with the Chevy’s shorter wheelbase model’s 2,682 litres (94.7 cu ft) of maximum cargo space shy by a whopping 280 litres (9.9 cu ft), its 1,464-litre (51.7 cu-ft) capacity aft of its second row down by 163 litres (5.7 cu ft), and its 433 litres (15.3 cu ft) of gear-toting space behind the third row short by 160 litres (5.6 cu ft). 

As for the Suburban, its 3,446 litres (121.7 cu ft) of maximum cargo capacity is actually 7 litres (0.02 cu ft) larger than the Expedition Max’s grand total, or more or less a wash, while the 2,172 litres (76.7 cu ft) behind its second row make it less accommodating by 82 litres (2.9 cu ft), although the big GM climbs back on top with 94 litres (3.3 cu ft) of extra storage room behind the third row thanks to 1,113 litres (39.3 cu ft) of cargo volume. 

2019 Ford Expedition Limited 4x4
The centre stack is well organized and switchgear of high quality. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

If towing is more on your agenda, take note the regular wheelbase Expedition can now trailer up to 4,218 kilos (9,300 lbs) when upfitted with its $1,400 Heavy-Duty Trailer Tow Package (the base model is good for 4,173 kg/9,200 lbs with the same package), which is an increase of 45 kg (100 lbs) over its predecessor, plus this is the full-size SUV segment’s best result by a long shot. Standard is trailer sway control, which works together with AdvanceTrac traction control and Roll Stability Control (RSC) in order to maintain total command of both SUV and trailer. 

Once again comparing the Expedition to the current Tahoe shows 3,901 kg (8,600 lbs) of capacity, but that’s with its most capable version in rear-wheel drive trim, whereas the Expedition comes standard as a 4×4 in Canada. The best the Tahoe 4×4 can do is 3,810 kg (8,400 lbs), a considerable 408 kg (900 lbs) less than the Expedition. Likewise the Expedition Max is good for a maximum of 4,082 kg (9,000 lbs) of total trailer weight, whereas its Suburban rival can only tow up to 3,765 litres (8,300 lbs) in its two-wheel drive layout and just 3,629 kg (8,000 lbs) with its more directly competitive four-wheel drive configuration. 

2019 Ford Expedition Limited 4x4
The Sync 3 infotainment system remains one of the better of its type in the mainstream volume sector. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

A key reason the Expedition is such an effective beast of burden is its updated twin-turbocharged 3.5-litre Ecoboost V6 that’s now good for 375 horsepower and 470 lb-ft of torque in base XLT and mid-range Limited trims, the latter shown here, while an even more potent version puts out 400 horsepower and 480 lb-ft of torque in top-tier Platinum trim. These two powerplants are mated to a brand new 10-speed automatic transmission that, together with standard idle start/stop technology that automatically shuts off the engine when it would otherwise be idling and then quickly restarts it when lifting your foot from the brake, helps deliver much better fuel-efficiency than the outgoing model. 

By comparison, the Tahoe offers full-size SUV buyers 20 horsepower and a shocking 87 lb-ft of torque less performance with its base 5.3-litre V8, which comes mated to a reliable albeit less sophisticated six-speed automatic, while its top-line engine is a massive 6.2-litre V8 mated up to a version of the same 10-speed automatic used in the Expedition (Ford and GM smartly developed this advanced gearbox together in order to save money), this combination providing 20 more horsepower than the most potent Ecoboost V6, albeit 20 lb-ft of torque less twist. 

2019 Ford Expedition Limited 4x4
This split-screen overhead camera system is really helpful when parking such a large SUV. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

As noted, the Expedition’s 10-speed really helps reduce fuel economy, something I noticed during my weeklong drive. I actually had no trouble getting close to Transport Canada’s rating of 14.1 L/100km city, 10.6 highway and 12.5 combined when going easy on the throttle, which compares well against the heavier steel-bodied 2017 Expedition with its six-speed automatic that only managed a 15.9 L/100km city, 12.0 highway and 14.2 combined rating in its regular length form. The new Expedition is much thriftier than the 2019 Tahoe 4×4’s best Transport Canada rating of 15.8 city, 11.1 highway and 13.7 combined too, despite the Expedition’s significant power advantage. 

Likewise, the long-wheelbase 2019 Expedition Max’s claimed rating of just 14.7 city, 11.2 highway and 13.1 combined beats its steel-bodied predecessor that could only manage 16.1, 12.2 and 14.3 respectively, a significant improvement, while the best Transport Canada rating for the base Suburban 4×4 is 16.8 city, 11.3 highway and 14.3 combined, worse than the old Expedition Max if driven around town most often. Also notable, there’s no stated difference in fuel economy from the base Ecoboost engine to the more powerful version, but the larger optional 6.2-litre V8 in the Tahoe and Suburban slightly increases fuel consumption to 16.4 city, 10.7 highway and 13.8 combined or 17.1, 11.3 and 14.5 respectively. 

2019 Ford Expedition Limited 4x4
The top dial is for selecting gears, and the bottom one is for choosing a drive mode. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Along with standard four-wheel drive, the new Expedition also gets a version of the Explorer’s terrain management system, allowing the choice of driving styles, the capability of maximizing traction on various road and trail surfaces, plus the ability to set the SUV up to either tow a trailer or have it hauled behind a larger vehicle (although the latter is a bit hard to imagine given the size this SUV), all from a dial on the lower console. 

On pavement, where I spent most of my time with the Expedition, I found its Ecoboost V6 nice and smooth, albeit complemented by the sound of a pleasant V8-like rumble emanating throughout the cabin. Step on the throttle and it feels even stronger than the majority of V8s thanks to all the aforementioned horsepower and torque, and therefore would be my choice in this class unless Ford opts to offer the Expedition with a Powerstroke diesel at some point, but that won’t likely ever happen due to emissions regulations. 

2019 Ford Expedition Limited 4x4
Here’s a closer look at the knurled metal-edged rotating gear selector. Nice isn’t it? (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

The new 10-speed automatic might be an even smoother operator than the engine. It’s truly almost as seamless as a CVT, shifting often albeit without commotion, and responding well to more aggressive digs at the pedal, with fairly quick downshifts and continued silky operation. Likewise, I never tried to defeat the auto idle start/stop system as it shut itself off at stoplights without much notice and restarted immediately, again without even a hiccup. 

Speaking of smooth, the Expedition’s ride is a comforting mix of pillows, clouds and whip cream. Ok, that was a stretch, but it nevertheless soaked up bumps, dips and other road imperfections wonderfully around town, out on the highway and pretty much everywhere else, even during some quick tests on gravel roads and wily trails. The Expedition is probably best on the open freeway where it’s ability to cruise for hundreds of miles upon miles in any given stint is superb, this ability made even more relaxing via dynamic cruise control that makes life behind the wheel as easy as can be, while its handling around sharper curves is nevertheless very good for this class, its rear suspension being an independent multi-link design unlike the Tahoe’s non-independent solid rear axle, plus the Expedition’s road and wind noise pretty nominal considering it’s shaped like a big brick. 

2019 Ford Expedition Limited 4x4
These perforated leather-clad seats aren’t even top of the line, but they were certainly comfortable. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

I even found my Expedition tester quite nimble through traffic, aided by the excellent visibility its extremely tall ride-height provides. This said parallel parking in the inner city or trying to find a large enough spot in a parking garage can be challenging, but then again most of the folks I know who own a full-size SUV have a smaller vehicle for getting around town. 

Along with all the performance and luxurious ride is a cabin that’s improved so much over its predecessor that I’m really wondering why there’s a need for a Lincoln Navigator in the lineup. Okay, I probably shouldn’t go that far because the 2019 Navigator I recently tested really impressed me with authentic hardwood and a lot of premium materials all-round, more than making up for the $12k or so price upgrade needed to get into a similarly equipped model, but I certainly wouldn’t need all the fancy stuff in a family hauler like this, and found my Expedition Limited test model incredibly comfortable, especially the driver’s seat that was about as supportive as can be found in this full-size segment. It only includes two-way lumbar support, mind you, although to Ford’s credit that lumbar pad powered in and out exactly where the small of my back required it, so it’s hard for me to complain (but you should to try the lumbar support on for size). I found the driver seat’s squab fit nicely under my knees too, although can’t say how it would feel for someone with shorter legs. 

2019 Ford Expedition Limited 4x4
This massive powered panoramic sunroof stretched from front to back. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Back to the subject of materials quality, Ford finishes most of the dash top ahead of the driver and front passenger in attractive, soft-touch stitched and padded leatherette, this premium material actually flowing all the way around the sides of the primary gauge cluster, and also forming a separate horizontal strip ahead of the front passenger between chromed metallic inlays. Likewise the top of each door upper was furnished in the same high quality padded and stitched leatherette, front and back no less, while the tops and sides of the armrests are nicely padded as well. 

The Limited trim’s woodgrain is finished with a matte treatment, but Ford didn’t even try to make it feel real. I have to say it looks pretty good though, so I can’t see many complaining as this is the way they’ve offered up the Expedition since day one, and if you want more you can move up to the new Navigator as mentioned a moment ago. One thing I like more than the Navigator is the knurled metal rotating dial for swapping gears, this a lot more intuitive than the latest Lincoln’s horizontal row of buttons. 

2019 Ford Expedition Limited 4x4
The rear captain’s chairs are a worthwhile option, as they allow third-row passengers to access from centre. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Ford complements its gear selector with a smaller rotating knurled metal dial for choosing drive modes, which include Normal, Eco, Sport, Tow/Haul, Mud and Ruts, Sand, and Grass/Gravel/Snow. I set it to Normal for most of my time behind the wheel, but found that Eco was a good choice when driving around town in busy traffic as well, plus I’m sure there were fuel savings from doing so. 

Eco mode retards the 10-speed transmission’s shift points so it doesn’t hold gears as long, amongst other things, although if you need to move off the line quickly to get ahead of slower moving traffic the engine certainly responds well enough. Sport mode doesn’t allow the auto start-stop function to work, so the engine is always primed and ready to go, while shift points are higher in the rev range resulting in more responsive performance. Also important, when still in Sport mode yet driving in a more relaxed manner, the transmission won’t simply hold engine revs high for no apparent reason, making this gearbox design a lot more intelligent than many others I’ve driven. 

2019 Ford Expedition Limited 4x4
This panel provides controls for the rear auto HVAC system, USB and 110-volt charging ports, heated second-row seats, and more. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

I scrolled through the other drive mode functions for testing purposes and all seemed up to their various tasks, although only a true test over specified terrain would verify. This said I’ve experienced Ford’s Terrain Management System in other models before, such as the Explorer, and can only imagine it would work even better in this true body-on-frame 4×4. 

Back to interior niceties, the instrument panel includes an impressive analogue/digital gauge cluster. It smartly shows a row of 10 gears right next to the tachometer, which move up and down as they slot into place. The standard multi-information display between the two analogue gauges is very large at 8.0 inches in diameter, and extremely high in resolution, plus it’s filled with an eye-arresting array of attractive graphics boasting excellent contrast and depth of colour. Functions include an off-road status panel with an inclinometer and more, a real-time fuel economy average that showed 18.3 L/100km when taking notes (fortunately not my weeklong average), a comprehensive trip mileage panel, some engine information such as driving hours and idle hours (my tester showing 209 total hours of which 63 were idling, so the need for an idle start-stop system in a vehicle like this is understandable), a turbo boost gauge, and more. 

2019 Ford Expedition Limited 4x4
These tilt-and-slide second-row seats are a first for the full-size SUV segment. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

If you’re not familiar with the Ford Sync 3 infotainment system then you probably haven’t read many of my other reviews about Ford products, because I’ve been raving about this infotainment system since it was introduced a few years back. I won’t say that it’s still best of the best, but it was at one point and now remains one of the better electronic interfaces in the mainstream industry, continuing forward with stylish light blue graphics and simple, straightforward commands, plus loads of useful features including a very accurate navigation system and, in the case of my tester, an excellent parking camera system with backup and overhead views. 

Surprisingly, all Expeditions come suited up with a fabulous 12-speaker Bang & Olufsen audio system, while its controls were once again comprised of knurled metal-like dials and tight fitting buttons, as were all the HVAC system controllers that neatly featured temperature readouts within the middle of each dial. Most of the Expedition’s switchgear is nicely made, tightly fit and well damped for a premium feel, with only the steering wheel buttons coming across a bit low rent. 

2019 Ford Expedition Limited 4x4
Third-row roominess and comfort is impressive. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Also, don’t look for premium composites below the beltline, Ford even finishing the glove box lid in shiny hard plastic. That might be good news for those looking to their Expeditions for hard work or play, being that the lower door panels, while hard shell plastic, appear rugged enough to sustain plenty of kicks from steel toed boots. Likewise, you won’t need to worry about grabbing hold of the A-pillar with dirty, sooty gloves or unwashed hands while swinging yourself into the driver’s seat, because Ford doesn’t wrap any of the Expedition’s roof pillars in fabric, so once again look to Lincoln’s Navigator if you’re interested in a higher level of premium pampering. 

2019 Ford Expedition Limited 4x4
The Expedition’s liftgate provides an excellent cover from inclement weather. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

The Expedition’s passenger compartment is about as spacious as you’re going to get in any class, and no different than the Navigator’s from a size perspective. My tester came with two rear buckets featuring a wide passageway in between to get to the third row. You can also tilt either bucket seat forward to access that rearmost row, which might be easier for some, but I expect smaller kids will just run through the middle. This makes it easier for parents still strapping a child seat into that second-row bucket. Nevertheless, the new Expedition is actually the first full-size SUV to incorporate tip-and-slide second row seats, so kudos to Ford for bringing this convenient feature to the largest SUV segment. No one will complain about third-row seat comfort no matter how they climb in back, because its as accommodating as any large minivan, if not more so. 

2019 Ford Expedition Limited 4x4
If you need more space behind the third row, Ford offers a considerably longer Expedition Max version of this SUV too. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

No one should complain about second-row seat comfort either, plus these lucky folks benefit from a comprehensive rear automatic HVAC and audio system panel on the backside of the front console featuring two USB ports, a three-prong household-style socket for laptops, entertainment/gaming consoles or whatever else you might want to plug in, plus buttons for the heated seats, and more. Even third-row passengers can use the aforementioned sidewall-mounted power controls for reclining their seatbacks, while they also benefit from an available USB charge point for each outboard passenger (highly unusual but wonderfully welcome), good standard overhead ventilation, and wonderful visibility out each side through large squared-off glass, not to mention from above via the massive panoramic sunroof, all helping to minimize any claustrophobic-like feelings of being stuck in the very back. 

2019 Ford Expedition Limited 4x4
Hidden storage below the cargo floor is ideal for greasy rags and other work-related gear. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Additional Expedition tech worth mentioning includes wireless device charging (if you have a smartphone new enough to make use of it), Wi-Fi hotspot capability, and rear-seat entertainment, my tester featuring a separate monitor on the backside of each front headrest. This isn’t ideal for third-row passengers, so you may get some complaints from the very back about not being able to see the movie (my recommendation is to crank up the B&O audio system and not worry about it). In total, the Expedition provides six USB ports, four 12-volt power outlets, and the single 110-volt power outlet just noted, which should be enough for most families’ needs. Lastly, Ford includes 17 cupholders for holding all those personal devices, or alternatively for keeping all occupants’ thirst quenched. 

That would be a total of eight occupants, by the way, although as noted my tester’s second-row captain’s chairs reduced the big SUV’s people hauling capacity to seven, and by seven I’m referring to seven adults. 

2019 Ford Expedition Limited 4x4
All Expedition trims include a power-folding third row, while Limited and Platinum trims power down the second row too. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

The eight-occupant layout comes standard in $53,978 base XLT trim, by the way, with other standard features including 18-inch machine-finished alloy wheels, fog lamps, black running boards, black roof rails with crossbars, Ford’s exclusive SecuriCode keyless entry keypad, Ford MyKey, illuminated entry with approach lamps, pushbutton start/stop, rear parking sensors, a leather-wrapped steering wheel rim, a windshield wiper de-icer, an eight-way powered driver’s seat, an auto-dimming rearview mirror, an overhead console with a sunglasses holder and conversation mirror, a universal garage door opener, tri-zone automatic climate control, Sync 3 infotainment with Android Auto and Apple CarPlay, a backup camera, navigation, voice activation, and 12-speaker Bang & Olufsen audio with satellite radio, with yet more standard features including powered rear quarter windows, a flip-up tailgate window, a useful cargo management system, power-folding third-row seats, Ford’s Easy Fuel capless fuel filler, a Class IV trailer hitch receiver and wiring, tire pressure monitoring, SOS Post-Crash Alert System, all the usual active and passive safety features, and much more. 

2019 Ford Expedition Limited 4x4
The Expedition provides more cargo space than the Tahoe or Yukon. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

My tester’s Limited starts at $65,288 and includes 20-inch alloys, additional chrome embellishments including chrome detailed door handles, bright stainless roof rails, LED taillights, remote engine start, passive keyless entry, power-deployable running boards in body-colour with polished stainless accents, power-folding side mirrors with driver’s side auto-dimming, ambient lighting, woodgrain appliqués, a powered steering column, power-adjustable pedals, driver-side memory, a heatable steering wheel rim, 10-way powered front seats with heat and forced ventilation, perforated leather upholstery, the aforementioned heatable second-row outboard seats with Tip-and-Slide and PowerFold (albeit a 40/20/40-split bench), the previously noted powered panoramic sunroof, a Connectivity package that includes wireless smartphone charging, a FordPass Connect 4G WiFi modem, and the two smart-charging USB ports in the third row noted earlier, plus the Limited also gets additional first/second-row and cargo area power points, a hands-free foot-activated powered tailgate, front parking sensors, blind spot monitoring with cross-traffic assist and trailer-tow monitoring, plus more. 

2019 Ford Expedition Limited 4x4
If you can’t get your life into an Expedition, you need a full-size Transit van. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

My tester also included a $5,000 302A package featuring 22-inch alloys, LED headlamps, LED fog lights, and a Driver’s Assistance Package that would otherwise cost $1,200 while adding automatic high beams, rain-sensing front wipers, adaptive cruise control with stop-and-go, Pre-Collision Assist with forward collision warning and pedestrian detection, lane keeping alert, lane keeping assist, driver alert, a Split View 360-degree parking camera, and the Enhanced Active Park Assist system with Auto Park. 

Lastly, $72,552 Platinum trim makes everything from the 302A package standard while adding its own 22-inch alloys, a unique satin-mesh front grille insert, additional satin-aluminum trim details including its mirror caps, satin-chrome door handle trim, brushed aluminum scuff plates, a similar set of multi-contour front seats as found in the Navigator including an Active Motion massage function, inflatable second-row outboard safety seatbelts, and more (all pricing was sourced from CarCostCanada, which provides full details about each trim, package and standalone option, plus otherwise difficult to find rebate info and dealer invoice pricing that could save you thousands). 

2019 Ford Expedition Limited 4x4
Ford’s 375-hp base twin-turbo Ecoboost V6 provides more torque and better economy than its closest rivals. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Considering the 2019 Chevy Tahoe starts at $59,500 with 4WD, which is $5,522 (or about 10-percent) more than the Expedition’s base price, with even the Tahoe’s base 2WD model starting higher at $56,200, the much more advanced 2019 Ford Expedition should really do a lot better than it does from a sales perspective. After all, its powertrains provide more performance plus greater efficiency, its Terrain Management four-wheel drive system is more sophisticated (originally sourced from Ford Motor’s previous Land/Range Rover ownership and since improved upon), its suspension system is fully-independent, its body shell is constructed mostly of lightweight aluminum, its third-row access is much easier and rearmost seat more accommodating, its cargo capacity is mostly larger, and the list goes on and on. If you’re in the market for a new full-size SUV, you may want to consider all of the above before choosing yet another Tahoe, Yukon or Suburban.

Mini is one of those brands that I almost completely forget exists until one of their cars is parked in my driveway, and then all of a sudden I can’t get any work done because I’m thinking about little…

2019 Mini Cooper S Convertible Road Test

2019 Mini Cooper S Convertible
The sharp looking 2019 Mini Cooper S Convertible is a barrel of laughs at speed. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Mini is one of those brands that I almost completely forget exists until one of their cars is parked in my driveway, and then all of a sudden I can’t get any work done because I’m thinking about little else. It’s not really a brand. Mini is a driving obsession… literally. 

Fortunately I don’t get many Minis each year, or I’d get nothing done. Truly, their cars are so much fun they’re addictive, especially when the one loaned out is tuned to “S” trim and its roof has been chopped off to make way for a power-retractable soft top. 

The car before you is the 2019 Mini Cooper S Convertible, upgraded with this year’s special $2,900 Starlight Blue Edition Package. This means it gets an exclusive and eye-arresting coat of Starlight Blue Metallic paint, plus a unique set of 17-inch machine-finished Rail Spoke alloy wheels with black painted pockets on 205/45 all-season runflat tires, and piano Black Line exterior trim replacing much of the chrome, including the grille surround and the headlamp/taillight surrounds, plus the side mirror caps. 

2019 Mini Cooper S Convertible
Short and stubby, but the Mini Convertible is nevertheless roomy compared to its compact drop-top rivals. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

The improvements continue with rain-sensing auto on/off LED headlamps boasting dynamic cornering capability, plus LED fog lights, piano black lacquered interior trim, dual-zone automatic climate control, a really accurate Connected Navigation Plus system within the already excellent infotainment system, great sounding Harman Kardon audio, satellite radio, attractive Carbon Black leatherette upholstery, and heatable front seats, while my tester’s only standalone option was its $1,400 automatic transmission, all of which brings the Mini Cooper S Convertible base price of $33,990 up to $38,290, plus of course freight and fees. 

To clarify, you can get into a new 2019 Mini Cooper Convertible for as little as $29,640, or you can spend the just noted higher price for my test model’s “S” trim. Then again, you can also acquire a base 3-Door hardtop for as little as $23,090. Of note, the Mini 5-Door starts at $24,390, a six-door Clubman can be had for $28,690, and the Countryman crossover starts at $31,090, again plus a destination charge and other fees. 

2019 Mini Cooper S Convertible
Classic Mini lines still look great. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

All 2019 Mini Cooper prices, including trims, options and standalone features, were sourced from CarCostCanada, where you can also get otherwise hard to find manufacturer rebate info as well as dealer invoice pricing that could save you thousands. 

Before delving into all the fun I teased at the beginning of this review, I’ve got to mention how well made Mini models are. Whether or not you’re willing to call Mini a premium brand, and it’s difficult to do so when you can get into one for just over $23k, the level of quality going into each and every Mini model is way above par, unless of course we’re comparing one to a premium subcompact or compact competitor. 

2019 Mini Cooper S Convertible
The Starlight Blue Edition Package gets exclusive metallic paint, special 17-inch Rail Spoke alloys, and plenty of piano Black Line exterior trim. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

This said, mainstream compact models have been improving in recent years, with the new Mazda3 a real standout, but like its compact sedan and hatchback rivals the 3 is significantly larger than all Minis but the Clubman and Countryman, and when comparing a regular Cooper to any mainstream subcompact rival, its build quality and drivability stands heads and shoulders higher. 

This little Cooper S Convertible, for instance, is extremely well put together, from its exterior fit to its interior finishings. The paintwork is superb and detailing fabulous, from my tester’s intricately designed LED headlights and Union Jack-imprinted taillights to its high-quality leather-wrapped steering wheel and stitched leather shift knob, not to mention the pod of primary instruments hovering over the steering column, the ever-changing ring of colour encircling the high-definition 8.8-inch infotainment display, the row of dazzling chromed toggles (and red ignition switch) on the centre stack, and the similar set of switches on the overhead console, these latter two eccentricities happily gracing every Mini model. If you’re into retrospective design and wonderful attention to detail, even to an artistic level, you’re going to love a modern-day Mini. 

2019 Mini Cooper S Convertible
Love these Union Jack infused LED taillights. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

As good as all of this is, I need to go back to that one Mini attribute that’s probably most agreeable, its on-road character. In S trim it starts with a wonderfully high-revving 16-valve twin-scroll turbocharged 2.0-litre four-cylinder engine making 189 horsepower and 207 lb-ft of torque, which is a considerable 55 horsepower and 45 lb-ft more than the entry-level Mini’s three-cylinder turbo mill. This helps the S shave 1.6 seconds from the base car’s zero to 100km/h sprint time, reducing it from 8.8 seconds to 7.2 in six-speed manual form, or 8.7 to 7.1 with its as-tested six-speed automatic. 

If you still need more speed, you can opt for a John Cooper Works (JCW) Convertible, which drops the sprint time down to 6.5 seconds via a more potent 228 horsepower version of the 2.0-litre four-cylinder engine, featuring a sizeable 236 lb-ft of torque. That will set you back a cool $41,490, but thanks to suspension upgrades including larger rims and rubber, plus additional styling and convenience features, it’s well worth it for Mini performance purists. 

2019 Mini Cooper S Convertible
Mini interiors match premium levels of refinement. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

I know, that’s not the type of fire-breathing performance to cause Honda Civic Type R owners to quake in their snug fitting Recaro race seats, but drop the top and clutch of the JCW or Cooper S Convertible consecutively and you’ll soon be having more fun than the numbers suggest, not to mention very livable fuel-efficiency thanks to a claimed 10.2 L/100km in the city, 7.4 on the highway and 9.0 combined with the manual, or 9.4 city, 7.2 highway and 8.4 combined with the as-tested autobox in upgraded S trim. If economy matters more to you than performance, the base Cooper Convertible is good for an 8.4 city, 6.3 highway and 7.5 combined rating with the manual, or 8.8, 6.8 and 7.9 with its auto. 

2019 Mini Cooper S Convertible
The pod-like primary gauges are pretty unique. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Along with the power upgrade, the move from base to Cooper S trim also means that some performance-oriented features get added, such as selectable driving modes that include default “MID”, eco “GREEN” and self-explained “SPORT”, the latter for enhanced acceleration and steering response, plus Mini improves the front seats to a more heavily bolstered sport design with heatable cushions, while hardtop versions get a panoramic sunroof, just in case going totally topless isn’t your thing. 

Sport mode does a good job of upping the Cooper S Convertible’s straight-line acceleration and improving the quick-shifting experience thereof, while torque never overpowers the front wheels, even when taking off from a corner. While I’d prefer the manual with this little wonder—a gearbox that I really enjoying rowing from cog to cog—the automatic performs well with just-noted speedy gear swapping increments and shift lever-actuated manual mode. 

2019 Mini Cooper S Convertible
Mini benefits from a BMW-quality infotainment interfaces. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Oddly there are no steering wheel mounted paddles, however (Mini will be adding paddle-shifters to a new eight-speed automatic in the Clubman and Countryman JCWs next year, with a reported 301-hp and 331 lb-ft of torque plus AWD, so hopefully we’ll eventually see them in the S as well), so I left the autobox to its own devices more often than not, being that it shifts smoothly and was therefore ideal for congested city streets. Still, when the road opened up and consecutive curves arrived I found manual mode significantly increased the fun factor, while helping to increase control. 

As with all Mini models, the Cooper S Convertible seen here gets a fully independent front strut and rear multi-link suspension system that’s capable of out-manoeuvring most front-drive challengers (previously noted Civic Type R exempted), whether taking it to the streets of a busy metropolitan area, or flinging it through the types of undulating, spiraling twists and turns performance fans love as if it’s some sort of front-wheel drive BMW. 

2019 Mini Cooper S Convertible
Mini switchgear is high in quality and really cool in a retro way. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

It is, of course. Most that follow the auto industry already know that the latest second-gen Minis share their UKL platform architectures with a handful of today’s smaller BMW models. In actual fact, UKL underpinnings are divided between UKL1 and UKL2 platforms, the first only used for the Mini brand so far, including its 3- and 5-door (F56) Hatch plus the Cooper Convertible line (F57), while the second architecture is used for bigger Minis including the Clubman (F54) and Countryman (F60) as well as the global-market BMW 1 Series Sedan (F52), 1 Series 5-door hatchback (F40), 2 Series Active Tourer (F45) MPV-style hatchback, slightly longer 2 Series Gran Tourer (F46), X1 (F48) crossover, sportier X2 (F39) crossover, and the Brilliance-BMW Zinoro (60H), a re-skinned Chinese-market crossover SUV based on the X1. 

2019 Mini Cooper S Convertible
Any shifting needs to be done via gear lever, while the dial just behind is for the infotainment system. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Being that we don’t have the 1 Series or 2 Series Active Tourer models in Canada, and I haven’t yet been able to get behind the wheel of these in my second home of Manila, Philippines, I can’t comment on the driving dynamics of these BMW models compared to their Mini counterparts, but I can’t see them being much better than anything wearing the winged badge. I can say, however, that all Countryman S models tested so far (including the new Countryman S E ALL4 plug-in hybrid) have been more capable at the limit than the current-gen BMW X1 xDrive28i I recently tested. 

Of course, the Cooper S Convertible is hardly large, its interior smallest within the Mini lineup, especially in back where its seats are best left to abbreviated adults and/or kids, not to mention the trunk that measures just 160 to 215 litres (the larger number if the top is upright and movable divider positioned higher) and can only be accessed via a narrow opening, albeit aided by a cool wagon-like fold-down tailgate that holds items before loading in, plus expandability for longer gear such as skis/snowboards via 50/50-split rear seatbacks. Small yes, but pretty flexible for passengers and cargo when compared to most drop-top challengers. 

2019 Mini Cooper S Convertible
The Cooper S gets these supportive sport seats. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Speaking of the convertible top, its “3-in-1” fabric roof design is ultra-quiet and quick to retract or put up via full automation in just 18 seconds, only requiring a tug or push (and hold) on one of the aforementioned overhead toggle switches. It first opens into a large sunroof, which can be left that way if you don’t want to go completely al fresco, or with a second push completely folds down. Repeating the process in reverse closes the top. You can open or close while driving at speeds of up to 30 km/h, so you never have to worry about not having enough time at the stoplight to start the process. You can also put the top up or down via your key fob. 

2019 Mini Cooper S Convertible
Rear seat roominess is limited, but better than having no back seats. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Unlike some of the other models in the Mini lineup (like the Clubman S or JCW that could arguably go up against other sport compacts like the VW GTI), this Cooper S Convertible really doesn’t have many direct competitors. Certainly some might choose a Mazda MX-5 or its Fiat 124 Spider variant over this British-German entry, both being sporty yet affordable options, a description that also includes Ford’s Mustang Convertible and Chevy’s Camaro Convertible, but the first pairing are two-seat roadsters and latter duo much larger, heavier vehicles rooted in American muscle car heritage, and therefore wholly different than the wee Mini. 

2019 Mini Cooper S Convertible
The smallish trunk benefits from a tailgate to help with loading, plus 50/50 split-folding rear seatbacks. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Therefore, only the VW Beetle Convertible and Fiat 500 Abarth Cabrio are true rivals, but the Beetle is not as sporty (only making 174 hp) and due to slow sales (2,077 in both coupe and convertible body styles last year) and an aging architecture has been cancelled for 2020, whereas the Italian offering is fun to drive due to its great exhaust note and lightweight city car size (it only has 160 hp, but doesn’t need more), but it takes the word “slow” to new levels when sales are factored in (269 units for all 500 trims last year, excluding the 500X), making me wonder just how long the entire Fiat brand will be sustainable in Canada or the U.S. at all (there were only 5,370 unit sales of the 500 line in the U.S. through 2018, not including the 500L or 500X). 

2019 Mini Cooper S Convertible
Top up or down, the Cooper S Convertible looks great. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

By comparison, the Mini Cooper line (made up of the 3-Door Hatch, 5-Door Hatch, Convertible and Clubman) sold 4,466 units in Canada and 26,119 in the U.S. These numbers are by no means large (VW Golf/Jetta/GTI sold 36,606 units in Canada and 133,065 in the U.S., while the Honda Civic sold 69,005 units in Canada and 325,760 in the U.S.), but they’re definitely higher than Fiat’s. Mini, a brand filled with models that should allow for good profits once options are added on, backed by the much more powerful BMW group that now utilizes the same platform architectures and engines throughout its global small car/crossover lineup, should be able to weather any future financial storms just fine (fingers crossed). 

So there you have it, a fabulous four-seat convertible with reasonable cargo capacity, premium levels of build quality, very good infotainment, great economy, and brilliantly fun performance, not to mention a certain classic retrospective British coolness, all for a pretty decent price when factoring in all the positives. For those who want to enjoy each and every moment behind the wheel, it’s hard not to recommend the Mini Cooper S Convertible.