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

2019 Alfa Romeo Stelvio Ti Sport AWD Road Test

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2019 Honda Odyssey Touring Road Test

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

You’re looking at the only car in Ford’s lineup not scheduled for cancellation within the next two years. What a bizarre thought. Many correctly guessed that Lincoln’s MKZ and Continental would…

2018 Ford Mustang GT Premium Fastback Road Test

2018 Ford Mustang GT Premium Fastback
The Mustang, shown here in as-tested GT Premium Fastback guise, is what most muscle car fans deem as the ultimate pony car. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

You’re looking at the only car in Ford’s lineup not scheduled for cancellation within the next two years. What a bizarre thought. Many correctly guessed that Lincoln’s MKZ and Continental would eventually get the axe, or for that matter Ford’s own C-Max (already gone) and Taurus, but eliminating blue-oval favourites like Focus and Fusion, not to mention Fiesta, is something few outside Ford’s inner circle would likely have considered. Yet here we are, and only time will tell whether this decision from Dearborn’s upper management is shortsighted or eventually revered as sage-like wisdom. 

Of course, I’m happy they chose to save the Mustang amid such blue-oval carnage, but don’t think I missed the irony of it being the sole car in Ford’s lineup not to wear a blue-oval badge. In fact, there’s no mention of the automaker at all, from the galloping stallion within the front grille and “5.0” engine designation on the front fenders, to the big “GT” model insignia taking centre stage at the rear, you’d be hard pressed to know its parentage if the car weren’t so legendarily Ford. 

2018 Ford Mustang GT Premium Fastback
Only ’60s-era Mustangs and possibly some of the early ’70s models look better than this newest generation. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

Likewise inside, where the same airborne steed crests the steering wheel hub, and in my particular example “RECARO” takes claim to the sculpted front sport seats, there’s no sign of the brand behind this iconic symbol of American ingenuity. 

The Mustang was the first pony car after all, and continues to lead its rivals by a wide margin in prestige and sales. In fact, it doesn’t just lead its small contingent of pony car challengers (pun intended), but out muscles every other sports up the sales chart car as well. 

2018 Ford Mustang GT Premium Fastback
The GT Fastback is one hot looking ride, especially in $550 Triple Yellow paint. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

Of course, sales leadership is nothing new for Ford, with its boldly branded F-Series pickups dominating the light truck market, its Edge and Explorer collectively controlling the mid-size crossover SUV category, its Expedition outselling everything else in the large SUV segment, its Transit on top of the commercial van industry, and its Escape consistently amongst the top three compact crossover SUVs. If you’re shaking your head in disbelief, you owe it to yourself to drive one of the above, as each is worthy of its success. 

Likewise, if you haven’t taken a Mustang for a spin in a while, you’re in for an even greater treat. And I didn’t mean spin a Mustang literally, being that it’s a lot more difficult to get the rear end sideways now that Ford has fitted a highly stable independent rear suspension (IRS) between the rear wheels. 

2018 Ford Mustang GT Premium Fastback
LED headlamps now come standard across the line. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

That change came as part of an exhaustive 2015 model year redesign, and the move caused a great deal of controversy amongst diehard Mustang fans that loved the old car’s lighter weight live rear axle and its benefit to drag racing, but for the majority of sports car fans, who’d rather go fast around corners instead of just in a straight line, it was a gift from the mechanical gods, or at least a bunch of blue-oval engineers. 

It was and still is the most hooked up Mustang in history, something I previously claimed in a 2015 Mustang GT Premium Convertible review, not to mention subsequent road tests of a 2016 Mustang Ecoboost Fastback, 2016 Mustang GT Convertible, and a 2017 Mustang GT Convertible, and something I attest to again with this 2018 Mustang GT Premium Fastback. 

2018 Ford Mustang GT Premium Fastback
These 19-inch low-gloss ebony black-painted alloys are included in the $3,700 GT Performance Package.(Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

Take note the 2018 model saw a new optional 10-speed automatic in both turbocharged 2.3-litre Ecoboost four-cylinder trims and 5.0-litre V8-powered GTs, the former of which I recently tested in 2019 Premium Fastback guise, while this GT, priced from $47,288, and the base Mustang, which starts at just $28,988, come with a six-speed manual gearbox. 

And by the way, I sourced all of my pricing at CarCostCanada, where you’ll find detailed trim, package and option pricing, as well as info on available rebates and otherwise hard to get dealer invoice pricing that could save you thousands. 

2018 Ford Mustang GT Premium Fastback
Love these classic hood vents. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

Other 2018 updates include a meaner looking new grille that melds ideally with a more aggressive hood design, while stylish LED headlights are now standard across the entire Mustang lineup. Additionally, new LED taillights provide a fresh take on the Mustang’s classic triple vertical lens design, while these are underscored with a new bumper and lower fascia. 

A number of changes improve the Mustang’s interior too, highlighted by upgraded materials quality including contrast-stitched leather-like soft-touch synthetics used for most of the dash top, each side of the centre console and much of its top surfacing, plus the door uppers, inserts and armrests, engine turned-style medium-grey metallic inlays across the entire instrument panel, some really upscale satin-metal detailing brightening key points throughout the cabin, and a new fully digital TFT primary gauge cluster. 

2018 Ford Mustang GT Premium Fastback
Here’s a car that actually needs the downforce created by its sizeable rear wing. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

The high-resolution display is plenty colourful, especially on the left dial where the temperature gauge shows a light blue for cool, aqua blue/green hue for medium and red for too hot. The same aqua gets used to highlight the area just below the tachometer needle, while just to the right an orange line represents the highest engine rev point from your most recent acceleration run (mine boasting 7,200) just ahead of all the red markings noting the engine’s no-go zone. The centre area houses a multi-information display that’s filled with functions. 

2018 Ford Mustang GT Premium Fastback
New LED taillights provide a fresh take on the Mustang’s classic triple vertical lens design. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

Ford places a sweet looking set of analogue meters on top of the centre stack for oil pressure and vacuum (in turbocharged trims it gets substituted for a boost gauge), the latter useless unless you’re mechanically inclined, but cool looking for sure. 

Just below is Ford’s Sync 3 touchscreen interface, which remains one of the better infotainment systems within the mainstream volume sector despite others catching up, complete with a clear rearview camera featuring dynamic guidelines, accurate navigation with detailed mapping, climate settings, apps and much more, while you can adjust the dual-zone automatic HVAC system’s climate settings from analogue switchgear just below too, or perform other functions from a slick row of aluminized toggles just underneath. It all melds retro and modern nicely, while all of the buttons, knobs and switches fit together well and are properly damped for a quality feel. 

2018 Ford Mustang GT Premium Fastback
The GT’s rear diffuser is stuffed full of rumbling chrome-tipped tailpipes. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

The Recaro-sourced front seats noted earlier are sensational, with excellent support in all the right places. When combined with the tilt and telescopic steering column I was able to adjust everything for near perfect comfort and control, which is critically important in a car that can go a quickly as this GT. I was actually surprised the rear seats had enough room for smaller sized adults, because most 2+2 sports cars don’t. Likewise the trunk is a decent size for a sports coupe, and includes 50/50 split-folding rear seatbacks for stowing longer cargo. 

Practicality is one of the reasons the Mustang sells so well, however, drool-worthy styling aside, most ante up to this GT for its performance benefits. Certainly the previously noted base four-cylinder turbo is plenty quick for its low entry price, with 310 horsepower and 320 lb-ft of torque on tap, the GT’s 460 horsepower and 420 lb-ft of torque is hard to argue against, nor is the soul-soothing gurgle emanating from its twin tailpipes. 

2018 Ford Mustang GT Premium Fastback
Ford is finally producing a Mustang interior refined enough to woo away performance buyers from premium brands. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

Does it make sense to buy a car just for the sound of its exhaust? If so, the Mustang GT is probably your best choice this side of an Aston Martin Vanquish S. Of course, along with its delectable sounds the GT provides insanely fun straight-line acceleration, superb high-speed stability and sensational handling. It locks into its lane like no previous pony car, Mustangs feeling a lot lighter and nimbler than their competitive stable mates that comparatively seem to overdose on muscle with less finesse, which is the key reason I’d opt for a GT over one of its rivals. This choice is personal for sure, so I can appreciate why someone might choose a Challenger or Camaro, but sales numbers speak for themselves, and I believe the Mustang keeps winning the pony car popularity contest for good reason. 

2018 Ford Mustang GT Premium Fastback
This GT Premium comes with lots of upscale door trim. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

Still, it’s not perfect. Remember that row of aluminized toggle switches on the centre stack? The rightmost one swaps driving modes from a Normal mode that defaults automatically, to Sport Plus mode that merely takes a flick of the toggle upward. One more toggle up chooses Track mode, while another is optimized for the Drag Strip, or in other words it removes all traction and stability controls. Flick the toggle upwards again and you’ll access a mode for Snow/Wet conditions, before it all goes back to Normal, and you can start all over again as desired. 

2018 Ford Mustang GT Premium Fastback
While modern and new, the Mustang’s instrument panel pulls design cues from the model’s earliest offerings. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

Sounds good so far, right? While seemingly smart on paper, in application this setup is anything but. The problem lies in execution, with Ford having chosen to only allow the system to toggle upwards. This means you’ll need to flick through all of the performance modes that remove traction and stability control when trying to optimize the driveline for slippery conditions. Crazy huh? What would happen if you were having some fun at high speeds in Sport Plus mode when coursing through a winding riverside road at lower elevations and then, when the road started to climb and snow appeared on the pavement, you needed to access Snow/Wet mode, forcing you to pass through Track and Drag Strip modes along the way? That might actually be quite dangerous. All Ford needs to do to remedy this is provide downward movement to the toggle, which would let you go from Sport Plus to Normal and then Snow/Wet mode in two easy steps. Seems like a simple enough idea to me. 

2018 Ford Mustang GT Premium Fastback
Ford has created a Mustang cockpit ideally set up for comfort and control. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

Now, regarding Dearborn’s shortsighted or sage-like decision over its car lineup. I think we can all agree that the Mustang should stay, and not just because it’s legendary, iconic, brilliantly fun to drive, fabulous to look at, and so on. As mentioned a moment ago, similar accolades will be claimed by fans of the Mustang’s key competitors, which could be reason enough to keep the Challenger and Camaro in the respective fleets of Dodge and Chevrolet, but as usual truth lies in those just noted sales numbers along with the long-term viability of the various plants that produce them. 

2018 Ford Mustang GT Premium Fastback
A new fully digital TFT gauge cluster provides a modern look and loads of functions. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

At the close of Q3 2018, year-to-date U.S. sales of this trio registered 61,619 units for the Mustang, 52,313 for the Challenger, and 39,828 for the Camaro, while Mustang deliveries in Canada were actually stronger per capita at 7,298 units, and Camaro beat out the Challenger north of the 49th with 2,320 units compared to just 1,966. 

While Canadian pony car sales don’t look too bad compared to U.S. numbers, YTD Q3 2018 Mustang sales are actually down 4.6 percent compared to the same nine months of last year, whereas Camaro deliveries have dropped by 8.0 percent and the Challenger has lost a whopping 32.0 percent of year-over-year sales. Comparing calendar year 2017 sales numbers to modern-day highs forces us back to 2005 for the Mustang when it found 10,045 new buyers in Canada, which is a 16.9 percent drop compared to 2017’s 8,348-unit tally, while comparing Camaro’s high of 4,113 units in 2010 and 2,952-unit 2017 total reveals a popularity pullback of 28.2 percent. Interestingly, 2017’s total of 3,422 units is the newest Challenger’s all-time high, which would be a good sign if it weren’t for sales south of the border. 

2018 Ford Mustang GT Premium Fastback
The centre stack is well laid out and filled with features. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

Ford sold 166,530 Mustangs in 2006 (still a far cry from the 607,568 they built in 1966), which makes its 81,866 total in 2017 seem paltry by comparison and represents a 50.8-percent pummeling over the past dozen years, while Chevy’s 88,249-unit Camaro tally in 2011 shows a less drastic fall of 23.0 percent thanks to 67,940 deliveries last year. When it comes to percentages the Challenger looks best, with its 66,365-unit all-time high merely 2.7 percent healthier than its 2017 number of 64,537. 

2018 Ford Mustang GT Premium Fastback
Ford places a sweet looking set of analogue meters on top of the centre stack for oil pressure and vacuum. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

Whether or not a pony car lives or dies in today’s SUV-crazed market might actually come down to where it’s built. The Mustang gets a pass thanks to its Flat Rock, Michigan assembly, a plant that will become even more available when the aforementioned Continental goes the way of the dodo in 2020. That Ford is planning to replace the Conti’s spot on the line in 2021 with an autonomous EV should mean there will be plenty of room for the Mustang to flourish well into the future, being that EVs are microscopically small sellers at best, but who really knows what the future will truly bring. 

2018 Ford Mustang GT Premium Fastback
Ask for the $2,000 401A package to get navigation, digital gauges and a lot more. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

As for the Camaro, its Lansing Grand River Assembly plant appears to be on shaky ground due to sharing space with two discontinued Cadillacs, the ATS and CTS, so who knows where Chevy will build it if they retool the plant for new SUVs as is being suggested, or shutter it completely as some in the rumour mill are touting. The Challenger may be in even worse shape, mind you, being that it suffers from two challenges, sharing space and underpinnings with the Chrysler 300 that most expect will be cancelled (although a recent upsurge in sales might change FCA’s mind), and being built here in Canada where very real tariff issues and trade uncertainties are causing automakers to rethink their production strategies. No doubt even Ford hopes these two muscle car competitors survive, as competition is critical in the pony car paddock. 

2018 Ford Mustang GT Premium Fastback
Switchgear quality is very good. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

With such business out of the way, all that’s left to do is hightail it down to your Ford dealer in order to snap up one of the last few 2018 Mustangs left or one of the new 2019s. Being that you’ll probably find more of the latter, don’t expect to see my tester’s Triple Yellow paint, a $550 option that’s no longer on the 2019 menu. It’s not the only colour nixed from the new model year, with Lightning Blue having made way for Velocity Blue, and beautiful $450 Royal Crimson substituted for loud and proud Need for Green, a no-cost option. 

2018 Ford Mustang GT Premium Fastback
These Recaro seats are superb. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

You can add various stripes if you want, and “upgrade” the transmission to the aforementioned 10-speed auto for either year, but take note the GT’s six-speed manual is rev-matching capable for 2019, so you’ll sound like a pro when swapping cogs. I should also mention the GT’s variable active exhaust is now available with the 2.3-litre Ecoboost four, while California Special and Bullitt trim packages add style and substance, the latter available in special Highland Green paint, just like Steve McQueen’s original. 

2018 Ford Mustang GT Premium Fastback
The rear seats are quite roomy for a sports coupe. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

I won’t go into detail about all of the higher-end performance trims for either model year, but suffice to say the sky’s almost the limit when it comes to upgrading your future Mustang, so study up and ask lots of questions when visiting your local dealer. Trust me when I say that this pony car can dramatically change its persona from trim to trim, so you’ll want to figure out which version is best for you before deciding. Have fun making up your mind.

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

2018 Lincoln Continental Reserve 3.0L AWD RSP Road Test

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2018 Kia Niro SX Touring Road Test

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2018 Toyota Highlander V6 AWD and Hybrid Road Test

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

2019 Nissan Leaf SL Road Test

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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