I first saw the original EcoSport in São Paulo, Brazil where I was trying to expand my automotive content syndication business back in 2007/2008, just before the Case-Shiller home price index reported…

2019 Ford EcoSport 2.0 SES Road Test

2019 Ford EcoSport 2.0 SES
The EcoSport is kind of cute in a “can’t help but love shitzus” sort of way, and looks best in this sporty SES trim. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

I first saw the original EcoSport in São Paulo, Brazil where I was trying to expand my automotive content syndication business back in 2007/2008, just before the Case-Shiller home price index reported the biggest price drop in its history and the U.S. housing crisis commenced and market corrections followed. The financial upheaval and concurrent industry fear wiped away most of my income in one fell swoop, therefore causing me to hightail it back to Canada in order to rescue what I could.

Back then, Brazil was one of the up-and-coming BRIC nations, and most of us should know how that bit of geopolitical market hype turned out for the South American country as well as Russia, with the two largest populations benefiting more from what global investment was available after the usual coffers temporarily dried up, finalizing in China staking claim to most of that investment once the U.S. Federal Reserve’s money-printing taps were turned on full blast. I never received any of that liquidity and most likely neither did you, or you probably wouldn’t be reading about one of Canada’s most affordable SUVs.

2019 Ford EcoSport 2.0 SES
The EcoSport’s tall profile makes for loads of interior space. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

Interestingly, we’re now poised below a bigger bubble than in 2006-2008, not only incorporating subprime mortgages and other nefarious banking instruments, but despite being devoid of qualitative fundamentals we’re witnessing record-breaking stock market growth that identically mirrors the amount of quantitative easing the aforementioned Fed is pumping into the fake economy (yes, we’ve been smack dab in the middle of QE4 since September of last year, and the Fed’s spending spree is much more generous than it ever was back in Obama’s day), which (other than naming its new electric SUV “Mustang”) will make Ford look pretty damn intelligent when the poop finally hits the fan.

What am I referring to? I’m talking about the demise of Ford’s slower selling passenger car business, the real Mustang aside, and the liberated funds invested into much stronger selling crossovers and SUVs like this relatively new EcoSport, right at a time when the majority of investors appear as bullish as bullish can be (as they always are before a crash), and plenty of mainstream pundits are calling for a major recession within the next year or so (the U.S. Treasury 10-year/three-month yield curve inverted last March, and recessions normally follow this trigger within an average of 18 months). The unprecedented debt load of every single vertical is dumbfounding to contemplate, with auto loan balances alone totalling more than $1.2T USD this year (that’s trillion).

2019 Ford EcoSport 2.0 SES
SES trim adds plenty of black trim. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

While Ford will still be globally mandated (especially in Europe and China) to invest billions into EVs like the just-noted new Mustang Mach-E, and smart to do so as its NYSE share price (sitting at $9.14 USD at the time of writing, compared to Tesla at $572.20 USD) and overall market cap (now at $36.36B USD compared to $103.14B for Tesla) reflect a supposed forward-thinking investment strategy (and the amount of U.S. taxpayer money gets pumped into NASDAQ tech stocks like Tesla, Amazon, Google, Apple, etcetera, that all directly follow the Fed’s monetary easy trajectory like Olympic-level synchronized swimmers), at least it won’t be losing money on the continually shrinking passenger car market.

Speaking of making money, Ford’s smallest SUV, having just entered our market for the 2018 model year, will soon be the oldest in its growing arsenal, thanks to the big three-row Flex heading out to pasture once the 2019 model year fades to dust. In other words, the EcoSport’s initial investment was paid off many years ago, so now any new money made is mostly profit.

2019 Ford EcoSport 2.0 SES
The EcoSport uses a version of Ford’s older grille, previously seen on the 2019 Escape and 2018 Edge models, but it still looks good. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

All of Ford’s other SUVs have been more recently refreshed or redesigned, incidentally, its crossovers including the entirely new 2020 Escape compact, the recently updated (2019–present) Edge mid-size five-passenger, and the all new 2020 Explorer three-row, while the fairly new (2018–present) Expedition full-size three-row body-on-frame SUV will be second oldest in the brand’s relatively fresh utility lineup (Ford’s luxury division Lincoln has seen a similar renewal, although it doesn’t include a subcompact luxury SUV like Lexus’ new UX, BMW’s X1, or Volvo’s XC40).

Ford will soon add two new models to its SUV fleet, including the misnamed albeit impressive Mustang Mach-E near-mid-size electric crossover, and the even more alluring (to this outdoorsy journo at least) off-road capable, Ranger-based, body-on-frame Bronco compact. Supposedly a smaller baby Bronco is being designed to go up against Jeep’s subcompact Renegade in the same way its Bronco will duel it out with the Wrangler, so SUV fans will have much more to talk about in the near future.

2019 Ford EcoSport 2.0 SES
Some nice detailing in the headlights adds sophistication to the design. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

Of course, Ford will continue producing its relatively new (to our market at least) just-noted Ranger mid-size pickup and industry best-selling F-Series trucks, not to mention its commercial market dominating Transit full-size vans, plus its classic Econoline cutaway chassis cab, and Transit Connect compact van, while the fabulous $450k GT supercar is still being handcrafted by Markham, Ontario-based auto supplier Multimatic Inc., thanks to an additional 350 units (for a limited total of 1,350) that extend its life into 2022 (which may also have something to do with Ford’s need to continue selling enough of them for competitive series sports car homologation—you’ve gotta love a brand so heavily involved in motorsport). Lastly, the Fusion (which is still ultra popular, having grown its Canadian sales by 37.8 percent last year, resulting in 8,753 units and third place in its mid-size sedan segment) will be with us for one more year before getting killed off like the FiestaFocus (along with their brilliant ST and RS performance trims—RIP) and Taurus just did (and its potent SHO model).

2019 Ford EcoSport 2.0 SES
Massive fog lamp/driving lights give the EcoSport a unique frontal look. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

Back to the Oakville, Ontario-built Flex, the single-generation crossover has been more or less unchanged since it arrived in 2008. It was an interesting experiment that was pretty daring when new and actually garnered a fairly strong following in its first full year of sales (2009) with 6,047 new owners, but having only received minor updates since introduction its consumer take-rate gradually faded away with just 2,492 finding Canadian homes last year (which incidentally was up 9.6 percent over 2018 sales, which were 13.4 percent stronger than 2017—are you sure you want to get ride of this SUV, Ford?)

When the last Flex is gone (Ford sold just 45 in December and 10 in November), this EcoSport will be the only ancient (in automotive years) blue-oval SUV left, the second-generation model you see on this page dating back to the 2013 model year (and 2012 production) in its numerous global markets, a full six years before we received it as a new offering (it’s also become quite popular in the Philippines, where I now reside part of the year, a market that’s also seen the Thailand-designed and built Ford Ranger T6 do very well in since its 2011 inception—the ASEAN-market Wildtrak version is really hot).

2019 Ford EcoSport 2.0 SES
These dark grey 17-inch alloy wheels are part of the SES upgrade. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

How has the EcoSport aged? Very well, at least for a seven year old model. Fortunately it was fairly well conceived when new, wearing Ford’s most recently abandoned design language last seen on the 2019 Escape and 2018 Edge models. This means it’s not so out of date as to warrant an immediate refresh, but Ford won’t want to wait long. According to unconfirmed reports, a new Fiesta-based subcompact crossover, positioned below the aforementioned baby Bronco, will replace the EcoSport in 2021 as a 2022 model, so we can rest assured this 2019 version and the mostly unchanged 2020 EcoSport won’t be disappearing for at least another couple of years.

I’ve got to hand it to Ford, the EcoSport has done a lot better on the sales charts than I initially guessed it would. After selling just six units in its first month of December 2017 (likely due to a lack of available units), the tiny blue-oval-badged SUV found 6,315 buyers in 2018 and 7,438 customers last year, showing a significant 17.8-percent year-over-year gain. While not bad for any car in today’s market, these results are only so-so for a new subcompact SUV.

2019 Ford EcoSport 2.0 SES
Roof rail crossbars add utility to the EcoSport’s mission. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

Consider for a moment that Nissan’s Qashqai entered the Canadian market earlier in 2017, only to amass 8,970 new customers that partial year, plus 19,662 buyers in 2018, with a slight 5.8-percent dip to 18,526 units last year, albeit that was only because the Japanese brand’s even smaller and less expensive Kicks model (the Juke’s replacement) won over a total of 16,086 subcompact SUV customers in 2019, resulting in 268.8-percent growth over its partial-year sales of 4,362 units in 2018. If you think that’s good, and it is when factoring in that Nissan led Canada’s subcompact SUV sales with a total of 34,612 unit sales through 2019, Hyundai’s new Kona went from selling 14,497 units in its first partial calendar year of 2018 to earning 25,817 new buyers last year, for a 78.1-percent gain.

2019 Ford EcoSport 2.0 SES
A sharp looking taillight design fills out the rear corners. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

Still, as dismal as the EcoSport’s success appear when compared to these much better subcompact SUV models, it’s doing better than Toyota’s relatively new C-HR that only found 7,283 buyers last year; Chevrolet’s long-in-tooth Trax that actually gained 18.6 percent year-over-year to post its second-worst-ever sales of 5,298 units; Kia’s Niro that found just 4,338 new owners, yet improved its position by 63.1 percent compared to 2018; the pricier near-premium Mini Countryman that won over just 2,275 new customers (but is priced much higher); Jeep’s previously noted Renegade that lost 44.3 percent on the sales charts to claim a rather pathetic 664 takers (hopefully the baby Bronco will do better here); and that Jeep’s brother-from-another-mother Fiat 500X that (wait for it) only managed to coax 50 wayward buyers (some of which were likely Fiat dealer principals) to drive this pretty decent little SUV off the Italian automaker’s Canadian lots. Feeling pretty frisky now, aren’t you Markham (Ford’s Canadian HQ)?

2019 Ford EcoSport 2.0 SES
Not sure about the blue and gold colour scheme, and neither was Ford so they’ve since changed the interior highlights to silver and grey. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

The EcoSport was also spitting distance away from upstaging Mitsubishi’s RVR that sold just 7,463 units last year, and came mighty close to passing by Jeep’s Compass that could only muster 7,652 new buyers. As yet unmentioned competitors in this smallest of SUV classes include the Buick Encore with 9,724 Canadian sales through 2019 (and up to $5,390 in additional incentives available right now), the Mazda CX-3 with 10,850 deliveries over the same 12 months, the Kia Soul with 11,868 examples down the road last year, the Honda HR-V with 12,985 units sold, and finally the Subaru Crosstrek with 15,184 sales, this popular model just behind the previously mentioned top three that once again (for memory’s sake) include the Kicks, Qashqai and Kona.

And if you think that’s a lot of subcompact entries doing battle, consider that Hyundai is stepping up this year with a new 2020 Venue that’s smaller than the Kona (more along the lines of Nissan’s Kicks) and starts at just $17,099, while Kia is following suit with its Kona-sized 2020 Seltos. Likewise, Volkswagen will bring us a renamed version of its South American Tarek and Chinese Tharu sometime in 2021. On top of this we can expect new versions of this segment’s oldest models to show up sporadically over the next couple of years, plus fresh new entries from brands like Toyota that blew their chance to pull in entry-level SUV buyers due to almost entirely missing the mark with the aforementioned C-HR, as well as variations on the subcompact SUV theme to arrive from brands not yet included in this category, such as Dodge and GMC. Did I miss any?

2019 Ford EcoSport 2.0 SES
The copper-orange interior highlights look good on their own, especially if you choose the same exterior colour. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

If you’re wondering why I’ve just laid out the most longwinded intro ever written ahead of a supposed new car review, it’s because the EcoSport wasn’t the most impressive new vehicle I’ve driven in recent memory, and thus I’ve been putting off my critique. Of course, considering the seven years of availability having passed since its introduction, with very few notable updates, you all should be surprised I’m not giving it both thumbs down. In fact, the EcoSport has a number of redeeming attributes, the first of which is reasonably good fuel economy thanks to standard auto start-stop technology that automatically shuts off the engine when the EcoSport would otherwise be idling in order to reduce fuel consumption and lower emissions, before restarting it when letting off the brake pedal.

This little Ford comes standard with the brand’s excellent turbocharged 1.0-litre three-cylinder that was first tested by yours truly in the Fiesta subcompact hatch. It’s a surprisingly sporty entry-level engine and good for a claimed 8.6 L/100km in the city, 8.1 on the highway and 8.4 combined, whereas this even more potent 2.0-litre four-cylinder version does well enough with an estimated Transport Canada rating of 10.2, 8.0 and 9.3 respectively.

2019 Ford EcoSport 2.0 SES
The EcoSport’s cockpit is well laid out and comfortable, but interior refinement is merely passable. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

Then again, the EcoSport falls a bit short when compared to its most efficient rivals, the Honda HR-V managing to eke out 8.4 L/100km city, 7.0 highway and 7.8 combined from its larger 1.8-litre base four-cylinder with FWD, and a respective 8.8, 7.5 and 8.2 when that engine is hooked up to all-wheel drive, while the best-selling Kona is good for a claimed 8.6 city, 7.0 highway and 7.9 combined from its four-cylinder in FWD, or 9.2, 7.8 and 8.6 when adding AWD to the same 2.0-litre base engine. How about the runner-up Qashqai and third-place Kicks? The Qashqai automatic gets a claimed 8.6 city, 7.2 highway and 8.0 combined with FWD, or 9.1, 7.6 and 8.4 with AWD, whereas the FWD-only Kicks is good for an ultra-stingy 7.7, 6.6 and 7.2. Had enough punishment yet, EcoSport?

OK, while the EcoSport’s fuel economy is good, it’s nowhere near segment best, but it does deliver in other ways. For instance, it’s fairly inexpensive in base S trim at just $22,349 plus freight and fees, with its ritzier SE, SES and Titanium trims starting at $25,449, $29,849 and $31,349 respectively, with AWD adding $2,500 to the base S and second-rung SE trim lines, and coming standard with the SES and Titanium models.

2019 Ford EcoSport 2.0 SES
The aqua-blue needles in the primary gauge cluster are attractive. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

Even better, become a CarCostCanada member and you’ll find out about additional incentives for savings up to $4,500 on this 2019 EcoSport, or alternatively Ford is offering factory leasing and financing rates from 3.99 percent on the newest 2020 model, which barely changes by the way. Check CarCostCanada’s 2019 and 2020 Ford EcoSport Canada Prices pages for more details, such as trim, package and individual option pricing (and the ability to configure/build the SUV, and all of its competitors—click any vehicle name link in this review to open a given model’s page), available rebates, factory financing and leasing rates, plus dealer invoice pricing that could save you thousands more when it comes time to negotiate.

2019 Ford EcoSport 2.0 SES
The leather-wrapped steering wheel has a good feel, switchgear is high in quality, and shift paddles a welcome surprise. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

I know that selling on price is a lousy way to make money, but I’m not actually selling the EcoSport so this is Ford’s problem. Then again, as I mentioned earlier there’s more to be had from this little runabout than relatively low running costs and a good initial deal. In fact, both the turbocharged 1.0-litre and naturally aspirated 2.0-litre direct-injected engines make for reasonably quick acceleration off the line and more than adequate highway passing power, their respective horsepower and torque ratings equaling 123 and 166 ponies apiece, plus 125 and 149 lb-ft of twist, the smaller engine making all of its torque between 1,500 and 4,500 rpm, compared to a minimum of 4,500 rpm for the doubly large mill.

What’s more, both engines only require regular unleaded in order to perform at their quoted capabilities, plus they’re not hamstrung by lacklustre continuously variable transmissions (CVTs) or power-robbing conventional automatics thanks to coming standard with Ford’s highly advanced six-speed SelectShift dual-clutch automated manual gearbox, which might not be the most reliable transmission on the market, but certainly provides the most driving enjoyment this side of an actual DIY manual. Then again it includes a set of steering wheel-mounted paddle shifters, resulting in a level of hands-on engagement few in this class can provide, plus the convenience of not being forced to shift a manual box in the city.

2019 Ford EcoSport 2.0 SES
The Sync 3 infotainment interface is hardly new, but it’s still excellent. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

Making the EcoSport even more fun to drive is a fully independent suspension setup with MacPherson struts up front and a multilink design in back, plus stabilizer bars at both ends. Ford utilizes a set of twin-tube hydraulic gas-pressurized shocks for the front wheels and progressive-rate springs with mono-tube hydraulic gas-pressurized shocks at the rear, while electric power steering provides easy-to-turn manoeuvrability in tight parking garages and around town, plus reasonably direct performance through fast-paced twisting backroads and on the open freeway. It really is a fun little SUV to drive on all road surfaces and through varying conditions, Ford’s impressive AdvanceTrac traction control with RSC (Roll Stability Control) making sure it stays shell-side up, and four-wheel discs with ABS delivering ample stopping power.

2019 Ford EcoSport 2.0 SES
The sizeable 8.0-inch display was great for this optional navigation system. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

The EcoSport’s driving dynamics would have been reason enough for almost seven and a half thousand Canadians to buy one last year, although I could understand why some might merely be smitten by its impishly cute and pudgy yet perky good looks. My third-tier SES tester wore eye-catching Lightning Blue paint and plenty of blackened trim bits (albeit not this model’s available black hood and roof decals), its sharp looking Dark Tarnish Metallic-painted 17-inch alloy wheels worthy of multiple backward glances on their own.

This said its interior colour combination was downright bizarre when factoring in my tester’s exterior paint choice, its mostly Ebony Black theme not an issue yet its copper metallic-painted trim (more suited to the EcoSport’s similar Canyon Ridge exterior colour) quite obviously chosen by a team of colour-blind product managers. I would’ve preferred a similar blue to the exterior or even simple silver/white/grey highlights, but they didn’t ask. The partial leather seat upholstery includes copper orange stripes on the stain resistant ActiveX cloth inserts for continuity’s sake, so therefore if you don’t like it, don’t buy the SES (although new versions of the SUV are said to include grey seat stripes and silver trim, so maybe those aforementioned Ford product planners were reading my mind when I was initially put off by their odd colour combining).

2019 Ford EcoSport 2.0 SES
Orange overkill? Yah, we thought so, but the EcoSport’s dual-clutch automatic is great fun. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

This would mean forgoing its sport-tuned suspension and 17-inch alloys, however, not to mention those aforementioned steering wheel-mounted paddles, plus rain-sensing wipers, an auto-dimming rearview mirror, blind spot monitoring, an 8.0-inch centre infotainment display with Ford’s Sync 3 touchscreen interface, a very accurate navigation system (that worked flawlessly during my test), decent sounding seven-speaker audio (that could use more bass response), and a handy household-style 110-volt power outlet, but many of these items can be found in the even fancier Titanium model if you really must have them.

The Sync 3 infotainment system remains very good considering how long it’s been available, making the EcoSport as up-to-date as most others in this class. Other than the extras noted, its features include the usual tablet/smartphone-style tap, swipe and pinch gesture capability (the latter especially useful when adjusting the map’s scale), Android Auto and Apple CarPlay smartphone integration, easy Bluetooth connectivity for phone use and streaming audio, voice activation, 4G LTE Wi-Fi hotspot capability, and of course the ability to play AM, FM and satellite radio. Speaking of satellite, Sirius Travel Link is included too, plus plenty of apps, while it’s all laid out in a convenient tile design with wonderful white on light blue graphics that are easy on the eyes. Ford will probably want to update the look of its Sync interface at some point, just to offer something different, but it certainly doesn’t need to.

2019 Ford EcoSport 2.0 SES
The partial leather seats in this SES model are very comfortable and the seating position was good. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

My SES tester was missing dual-zone automatic climate control, but single-zone auto HVAC systems are often as good as it gets in this segment, and its front seats are only four-way manually adjustable, another inconvenience that I didn’t particularly care about. They were inherently comfortable and supportive, plus I fit in well thanks in part to good reach from the tilt and telescopic steering wheel, making the EcoSport a winner ergonomically.

It’s roomy too, especially for tall folks. Both front and rear seats are generously accommodating, just leave the centre seatbelt in back unoccupied when four large adults are onboard. Likewise, the cargo compartment is pretty spacious thanks to 592 litres (20.9 cubic feet) of room behind the 60/40-split rear seatbacks and 1,415 litres (50.0 cu ft) when they’re laid down, but the resulting load floor is nowhere near as flat and useful as most rivals, let alone the segment’s most innovative Honda HR-V.

2019 Ford EcoSport 2.0 SES
The rear seating area is quite spacious for a subcompact SUV. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

Worse, Ford limited the ease of the EcoSport’s cargo carrying access by installing a side-swinging door, and one that squeaked annoyingly to boot. I can’t say for sure it was the door making the irritating noise, because the commotion occurred while driving, not when opening or closing it, but the squeaking sound came from the general direction of the rear door, and it’s certainly a heavy beast that puts a lot of weight on its side-mounted hinges. In fact, it was so noisy while driving slowly over bumpy pavement that it seemed as though the EcoSport was about to break apart.

At least it opens on the correct side for North American markets, unlike some others (Jeep Wrangler) that make loading from curbside near impossible, let alone dangerous if forced to step out into traffic with arms full. It opens easily due to gas struts, but you’ll need a lot of space behind in order to swing it out, so if someone happens to park too close while you’re shopping you’ll be out of luck when returning. No, give me the shelter from inclement weather that hatchbacks provide, plus their ease of use, and I’d be a lot happier. Is this a deal killer? I imagine it could be for some people, hence why no other subcompact SUV in our market swings its rear door from the side anymore (the last one to do so was the Nissan Cube, need I say more).

2019 Ford EcoSport 2.0 SES
A side-swinging cargo door? This anachronism is now an anomaly in almost any class. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

Another complaint could be interior refinement, not because of poor workmanship, but more so because it only includes a soft-touch dash top, the padded armrests being the only other pliable composite surfaces. I can live with that if you can, but some others do a better job of pampering with padded stitched leather-like instrument panel bolsters, soft front door uppers, and other niceties. At least the EcoSport’s soft synthetic dash top bends downward to the horizontal halfway mark of the instrument panel, while the rubbery surface treatment covers most of the primary gauge cluster hood too, the gauges below quite nice thanks to a large multi-info display and bright blue backlit needles.

2019 Ford EcoSport 2.0 SES
The EcoSport’s cargo area is quite roomy. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

Speaking of those stylish pointers, while bringing it back to Ford’s press fleet operators I noticed the gas gauge had somehow dropped nearly a quarter tank from full after a 20 minute commute. Normally this trip wouldn’t affect the gas gauge at all, but nevertheless I decided to top it up at the closest station to where I was dropping it off. I gave the cashier $5 thinking it would be enough, but after just $2 the pump clicked off, and when I tried to squeeze in a bit more it spilled over. After cleaning that off the paint, getting my change and slipping back into the driver’s seat I noticed the gauge was still pointing to three quarters, showing it’s not very accurate.

To summarize (finally), Ford’s EcoSport does a good job of bridging the gap between economy and performance, and therefore lives up to its bipolar name. It’s comfortable, extremely roomy, well equipped, and fairly stylish (if not a bit dated looking) inside and out, with my particular example’s annoying squeaking, and the model’s less than convenient rear cargo access, being its only negatives. Once again, the latter issue has obviously not been an issue for thousands of Canadian subcompact SUV buyers, so it might not be a problem for you, especially when factoring in the generous discounts available to those buying the 2019 model that’s already priced well.

I can guarantee you something. If you take the time to visit your neighbourhood Mazda dealer, or the Mazda stand at your local auto show, and sit inside any of its models’ Signature trim line, you’ll…

2019 Mazda CX-9 Signature Road Test

2019 Mazda CX-9 Signature
Mazda’s CX-9 is arguably one of the best looking crossover SUVs in its class, especially in top-line Signature trim. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

I can guarantee you something. If you take the time to visit your neighbourhood Mazda dealer, or the Mazda stand at your local auto show, and sit inside any of its models’ Signature trim line, you’ll be questioning why you purchased your current ride or whether or not you should continue considering the other vehicles on your shopping list.

What’s more, if you currently drive a premium brand, it’s highly possible you’ll be left wondering why you paid so much more, or alternatively if you’re driving another mainstream volume brand, you’ll likely be curious as to why the Mazda is finished so much nicer inside than your vehicle.

Mazda offers the top-tier Signature trim line in its 6 mid-size sedan, CX-5 compact crossover SUV, and this CX-9 mid-size three-row crossover SUV, and along with plenty of high-end features such as 19- to 20-inch alloy wheels, a powered steering column, a surround parking camera, front parking sensors to go along with the rear parking sensors already included, ventilated front seats, heatable rear seats, etcetera (depending on the model), Mazda adds soft, high-quality Nappa leather upholstery and genuine hardwood inlays, the CX-9 Signature being reviewed here including gorgeous Santos Rosewood trimming the centre console panel as well as each door switch panel, front to rear.

2019 Mazda CX-9 Signature
The CX-9’s elegant lines don’t only benefit the SUV’s frontal design, but it’s mighty attractive from behind too. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

Mazda doesn’t stop there, but the fabric-wrapped roof pillars get pulled up from lesser trim lines, while there’s also more soft-touch, padded surfaces throughout Mazda’s cars and SUVs than most mainstream competitors, even in their models not offered with Signature trim, so get ready to be impressed when it comes to refinement levels.

This CX-9 Signature interior, for instance, is as close to premium as mainstream volume manufacturers get. The multi-layered dash is entirely made from a padded leather-like material that extends around to the door uppers front to back. Additionally, the pliable upper portion of the dash and harder lower composite panels are separated by a metallic inlay that truly feels real, his visually extending over to the corner vent bezels and side door panels.

2019 Mazda CX-9 Signature
This big, bold satin-chrome grille really helps the CX-9 to stand out in a crowd. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

Due to its optional Snowflake White Pearl paint, my tester came standard with a deep reddish-coloured Chroma Brown Nappa leather upholstery that also visually extended to the instrument panel, lower console and door inserts, and felt extremely plush on the latter due to what felt like thick memory foam below, while the same colour brown is used for contrast stitching on the steering wheel and armrests.

Mazda applies piano black lacquer around the shifter and power window switchgear panels, the powered mirror toggle nicely finished in knurled metal just like the rotating infotainment system controller on the lower centre console. Fortunately Mazda goes easy on the shiny black plastic, a difficult substance to keep from scratching or collecting dust, but it’s very generous when it comes to brushed aluminum accents, the brand even making the power seat controls from this premium-like metallic material. Like I said earlier, Mazda’s Signature series provide a rich experience.

2019 Mazda CX-9 Signature
Full LED headlights, LED fog lamps and 20-inch alloys make quite the upscale statement. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

As far as digital advancements go the current CX-9 is ahead of some of its peers and behind others. Its primary gauge package appears like a traditional three-dial design, but with GT models and above the centre-mounted speedometer, plus the surrounding real-time fuel economy and range gauges are actually part of a 7.0-inch digital instrument cluster added this year, which is flanked by an analogue tachometer to the left, plus temp and fuel gauges on the right. This is a major change from outgoing 2016-2018 CX-9’s gauge package that included analogue gauges at the centre and left side, and a big full-colour multi-information display within the right-side bezel. Now the multi-information display sits within the analogue-style digital speedometer, and offers a full assortment of useful functions.

2019 Mazda CX-9 Signature
The LED taillights are exquisitely detailed. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

The upgraded gauge cluster is augmented by a true head-up display system that projects vital information onto the windshield. It even included a speed limit reminder, which I found quite handy.

The centre infotainment touchscreen measures a reasonably large 8.0 inches in diameter and provides a good, high-resolution display. Its fixed tablet-style design, which has it protruding upright out of the dash, is just starting to catch on as a sort of infotainment standard layout amongst mainstream competitors, making Mazda an electronics forerunner. My tester included a fabulous new dual-screen backup camera with an impressive overhead view on the right side, making parking ultra-easy when combined with its front and rear sensors, and take note that Android Auto and Apple CarPlay smartphone integration were added for 2019 as well.

2019 Mazda CX-9 Signature
If you like the CX-9’s exterior design, you’re going to love its interior. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

Also new is SiriusXM Traffic Plus and Travel Link data services with information on real-time traffic, weather conditions, fuel prices, and sports scores, while the infotainment system also includes navigation with detailed mapping, a superb 12-speaker Bose audio system with Centerpoint surround sound and AudioPilot noise compensation technologies, plus SurroundStage signal processing, satellite and HD radio, voice activation, Bluetooth phone connectivity and audio streaming, text message reading and response capability, etcetera.

2019 Mazda CX-9 Signature
The CX-9 Signature’s cabin is filled with soft-touch surfaces including Nappa leather, while the hardwood trim is real. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

Unique to Mazda, at least amongst volume brands, is its premium-like lower console-mounted control interface, comprised of a large metal-edged rotating dial, a similarly designed albeit smaller volume knob, and surrounding quick-access buttons. This is a more comfortable way to modulate the infotainment system, although you can always use the touchscreen for tablet/smartphone-like tap, swipe and pinch gestures, the latter function ideal for changing the scale on the navigation map, for instance.

As you probably just noticed, the CX-9’s current second-generation has been around since 2016, which makes its luxury brand levels of refinement all the more impressive. Truly, you’ll need to pull up in one of the just-introduced 2020 Hyundai Palisade or Kia Telluride three-row SUVs in order to show off something that measures up to the CX-9’s pampering interior (although I have yet to test the 2020 Toyota Highlander, which was already pretty good). Of note, this generation of CX-9 is a purely Mazda-made affair that rides on the brand’s advanced SkyActiv platform, unlike the first-gen CX-9 that was based on Ford’s older Edge.

2019 Mazda CX-9 Signature
New for 2019, a centrally-mounted 7.0-inch display houses the speedometer and multi-info display. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

The new chassis, which sports McPherson struts with coil springs and a stabilizer bar up front and a multi-link setup with coil springs and a stabilizer bar in back, was further enhanced for 2019 to provide an even more comfortable ride, making it the perfect companion for overcoming bumpy inner-city streets, bridge expansion joints and uneven pavement anywhere else, while it’s also flawless on the open freeway where its upgraded steering system provides better linear behaviour at high speeds, resulting in an SUV that tracks brilliantly at all times, and therefore capable of eating up hundreds of miles at a time without breaking a sweat.

2019 Mazda CX-9 Signature
The infotainment system includes a new dual-screen parking camera with a 360-degree bird’s-eye view. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

The CX-9’s dynamic pressure turbo-enhanced SkyActiv-G 2.5-litre four-cylinder engine provides plenty of passing power on the highway thanks to 250 horsepower, but also a surprising amount of get-up-and-go when taking off from standstill due to an extremely robust 320 lb-ft of torque. This is a big seven-passenger SUV after all, yet the efficient four-cylinder is all that’s needed for sporty performance around town or when the road starts to wind, and while no paddle shifters were included, unfortunately common in this class, manual mode can be selected by flicking the gear lever to the left and pulling back for upshifting or pushing forward for downshifting.

Mazda is very clear in its specifications that the engine makes full horsepower with 93 octane gasoline or higher, but I’m going to correctly guess that most journalists refill it will much cheaper 87 octane, so the engine is probably only producing the 227 horsepower claimed with the lower grade gas. This said its strong torque rating only drops by 10 lb-ft when using budget fuel, and only needs 2,000 rpm to release full twist, so I wouldn’t worry too much about thrust.

2019 Mazda CX-9 Signature
The automatic transmission only has six forward gears and no paddles for manual mode. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

Selecting Sport mode, via a metal rocker switch next to the shifter, adds snappier acceleration thanks to the six-speed transmission’s ability to hold its gears up to redline, plus it doesn’t automatically shift when it hits the solid red line at the 6,300 mark on the tachometer, but instead holds its given gear for better control through the curves. This is very rare in this class or any, and gives the CX-9 a much sportier feel than its contemporaries despite only having six forward gears, which when combined with its particularly agile suspension system, as well as its nicely weighted engine-speed-sensing variable power-assist rack-and-pinion steering, is wholly impressive.

2019 Mazda CX-9 Signature
A beautifully detailed rotating dial can be used to control the centre touchscreen, while quick-access buttons pull up popular functions. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

Mazda’s G-Vectoring Control technology carries over from the previous model, seamlessly shifting more torque to the front wheels during corner entry and then sending it rearward upon exit. I wasn’t able to notice it working away in the background, but appreciated the added stability, especially during a particularly nasty rainstorm, at which point Mazda’s i-Activ AWD made sure each of my Signature model’s 255/50R20 all-season tires were put to full use.

Important in this class, the AWD CX-9’s fuel economy is rated at 11.6 L/100km in the city, 9.1 on the highway and 10.5 combined, which despite making a lot more power than the Kia Sorento (which will only be a five-passenger model for 2020), isn’t much more consumption than the South Korean SUV’s 11.2 city, 9.0 highway and 10.2 combined rating, while the V6-powered Highlander is good for a respective Transport Canada rating of 12.1, 9.0 and 10.6. The FWD CX-9 won’t be available for 2020, by the way, so Mazda will no longer be able to claim its very thrifty fuel economy rating of 10.6 L/100km in the city, 8.4 on the highway and 9.6 combined.

2019 Mazda CX-9 Signature
The attractive 10-way powered, Nappa leather-covered driver’s seat is wonderfully comfortable. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

The CX-9’s engine gets started by a pushbutton ignition system, by the way, while interior access is provided by proximity sensing keyless entry featuring not-so-subtle black buttons on the front door handles. Mazda doesn’t go so far as to add these buttons to the rear door handles as well, as some others do, but the overall ergonomics of the driver’s position is better than many in this class. The seat provides the usual fore and aft, up and down, plus tilt and backrest functions, not to mention two-way lumbar support that just happened to fit the small of my back ideally, so no complaints here (but you may want to check this feature out for size). It proved fabulously comfortable all week long, with much credit going to the powered tilt and telescopic steering column’s generous reach.

2019 Mazda CX-9 Signature
With nice attention to detail, Mazda even aluminized the power seat controls. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

The second row seating area is roomy and extremely comfortable, while the window seats provide good lower back support. Mazda includes a nice wide folding centre armrest complete with the usual dual cupholders, plus a large interface for the automatic climate control system’s third zone on the backside of the front console, complete with switchgear for the aforementioned three-way heatable rear seats, while the outboard positions affected by the warmth easily slide out of the way for access to the third row.

Those rearmost seats include comfortable backrests, yet not a lot of space for an average sized adult’s knees and feet unless you slide the 60/40-split second row so far forward it starts getting a bit cramped. In other words, the third row is probably suitable enough for smaller adults, but ideally it’s best left to children.

2019 Mazda CX-9 Signature
The second row is spacious and comfortable. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

When the third row is upright there scarcely seems to be any room for cargo in back, although Mazda claims it can manage loads of up to 407 litres (14.4 cubic feet). Not having a need for the final row I simply folded them flat, leaving a sizeable 1,082 litres (38.2 cu ft) of cargo capacity at my beck and call. When required the second-row folds down in the usual 60/40 configuration, which while making one of the seat warmers useless when carrying four aboard and needing to stow longer items like skis longitudinally (a centre pass-through or 40/20/40-split second row would be better), does provide 2,017 litres (71.2 cu ft) of available load space. It’s a nicely finished cargo compartment too, with carpeting covering three-quarters of the way up each sidewall, plus a heavy-duty removable load floor covering a shallow carpeted hidden stowage area.

2019 Mazda CX-9 Signature
The tri-zone automatic climate control system gets a rear panel for adjusting the temperature and rear seat warmers. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

Additional storage includes a sunglasses holder in the overhead console, a large open bin ahead of the shift lever, a sizeable bin under the centre armrest, and of course the glove box, which is quite big and velvet lined no less. Yes, just more of that pampering noted earlier.

Complementing all the refinements mentioned, areas unseen are stuffed full of sound-deadening insulation, the windshield and front windows are made from noise-isolating glass, the body shell is extremely rigid and improvements have been made to the steering and suspension systems, making everything from the way its doors close to the CX-9’s overall driving dynamics feel as if it were a luxury-branded SUV, while providing an extremely quiet interior.

2019 Mazda CX-9 Signature
The third row is nicely finished, but probably best for smaller folk. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

The driver and passengers alike will be comforted in other ways too, for instance in the knowledge that the CX-9 Signature is one of the most advanced vehicles on the road when it comes to advanced driver assistance and safety systems, with all the usual active and passive safety features now joined by adaptive cruise control with stop and go, forward obstruction warning, Smart Brake Support and Smart City Brake Support autonomous emergency braking with pedestrian detection, advanced blind spot monitoring, rear cross traffic alert, lane departure warning, lane keeping assist, traffic sign recognition, new seatbelt reminders on the second- and third-row seats, plus more.

Other features that provide CX-9 Signature owners with a premium-branded experience include an electromechanical parking brake, a new frameless auto-dimming rearview mirror, new power-folding side mirrors, a Homelink garage door opener, a reworked overhead console with LED overhead and ambient lighting, plus a better designed LED room lamp control switch, while its heated leather-wrapped steering wheel with premium cross-stitched detailing is a real bonus during cold winter months.

2019 Mazda CX-9 Signature
There’s 407 litres of available space back here, which isn’t too bad for a three-row crossover. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

While the aforementioned driver’s seat is 10-way powered with memory, the CX-9 Signature also gets an eight-way power-adjustable front passenger’s seat with powered lumbar, plus rear side window sunshades and more for just $51,500 plus freight and fees, which is excellent value when comparing luxury branded crossover SUVs with similar equipment, and on par with mainstream rivals with similar features, albeit less luxury. Truly, the only item I noticed to be missing from my CX-9 experience was a panoramic sunroof, the powered moonroof overhead being more traditionally sized.

2019 Mazda CX-9 Signature
Fold the third row down and the CX-9 becomes a lot easier to live with. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

Pricing and features in mind, make sure to check all of the 2019 Mazda CX-9 trims, package and individual option prices at CarCostCanada, plus find out about any available rebates too, while you can save even more by accessing the 2019 CX-9’s dealer invoice pricing. Currently you can save up to $2,500 in additional incentives on a 2019 (at the time of writing), or up to $1,000 for the virtually unchanged 2020 model.

I’m sure you’ve seen top-line CX-9s like my tester before, so you’ll likely agree that it looks as if it could’ve rolled off the assembly line of a luxury manufacturer. Its big, stylish satin-silver grille, featuring special night illumination wrapping around its lower half, plus its full LED headlamps with auto high beams, adaptive cornering capability and auto self-leveling, not to mention its beautifully aerodynamic lower front fascia with integrated LED fog lamps, stunning 20-inch light grey high lustre alloy wheels, tastefully applied satin-chrome trim all-round, attractive LED taillights, and overall sleek, elegant lines from front to back make it a standout entry in its otherwise practical mid-size three-row crossover SUV class. Added to this, all the refined luxury, top-tier features, superb driving dynamics and full suite of advanced safety equipment make the CX-9 a very strong contender, and fully worthy of your attention.

My goodness this thing is insane! The power, the outrageous sound of the supercharged V8’s sport exhaust, and the sensation of 550 horsepower and 502 lb-ft of torque thrusting head and backside into…

2019 Jaguar F-Pace SVR Road Test

2019 Jaguar F-Pace SVR
Jaguar’s F-Pace SVR might just be the best way to get a supercar engine in an SUV body, Lamborghini Urus aside. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

My goodness this thing is insane! The power, the outrageous sound of the supercharged V8’s sport exhaust, and the sensation of 550 horsepower and 502 lb-ft of torque thrusting head and backside into the rich red and black diamond-pattern leather-skinned driver’s seat upon takeoff while hands grasp at the leather-clad sport steering wheel, there’s absolutely nothing quite like it in the compact luxury SUV class.

With a flagship SUV like this you’d think the F-Pace would be number one in its ever-burgeoning segment, and while it’s certainly top dog… er cat within Jaguar’s model hierarchy it appears premium brand buyers are more interested in easy comfort than scintillating performance. A shame. The F-Pace and most Jaguar models deserve better than they get.

2019 Jaguar F-Pace SVR
Some tasteful exterior upgrades help to separate the SVR from lesser F-Pace trims. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

First off, the F-Pace is inarguably good looking no matter which trim is being discussed, with this SVR downright stunning. I can’t think of a better looking crossover SUV, unless the origami folds of Lamborghini’s Urus are more to your liking, or the Audi Q8 that shares its underpinnings, but the Italian, at least, is in an entirely different price stratosphere, starting at $240,569 in Canada, compared to just $89,900 for the F-Pace SVR.

Certainly a base Q8 can be had for less, but that sporty looking SUV’s $82,350 entry trim merely makes 335 horsepower, and while a wonderfully comfortable city and highway cruiser it’s not even in the same performance league. The equivalent Audi would be the near 600-horsepower RS Q8, but that upcoming super-CUV will set you back at least $110k (pricing hadn’t been announced at the time of writing, and it’s a larger mid-size SUV to boot.

2019 Jaguar F-Pace SVR
The SVR’s styling upgrades also improve performance. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

Now that we’re talking competitors, Audi offers its 349-horsepower SQ5 in the compact class the F-Pace truly competes in, and while a true bahn-stormer its 5.4-second run from standstill to 100 km/h doesn’t measure up to the SVR’s 4.3-second blast, and I can knowingly guarantee (by experience) its 3.0-litre turbocharged V6 doesn’t sound anywhere near as menacing as the SVR’s 5.0-litre supercharged V8.

No, the F-Pace SVR’s truest competitor (and no doubt most popular rival due to its three-pointed star) is probably the Mercedes-AMG GLC 63 4Matic+ that makes 503 horsepower and 516 lb-ft of torque from a 4.0-litre twin-turbo V8 resulting in a sprint from zero to 100km/h in just 3.8 seconds. The Mercedes maxes out at 280 km/h (174 mph) compared to the Jaguar’s slightly quicker 283 km/h (176 mph), so they almost evenly share two key bragging rights. All you’ll need to do if you want the Merc is amortize about five percent or $4,000 into your monthly payment, the German ute starting just above $93k, that is unless you end up buying a 2020 F-Pace SVR that’s now priced at $92,000 even (which means there’s only a thousand separating these beasts).

2019 Jaguar F-Pace SVR
Love these optional 22-inch alloys and standard red performance brake calipers. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

Speaking of popular German compact CUVs, BMW’s X3 M should be on this list as well, due to 503 horsepower (in its top-tier Competition trim), 442 lb-ft of torque and 4.1 seconds from zilch to 100 km/h, all thanks to a hyper-tuned turbocharged inline-six. Top-line Competition trim will cost you $93,500 plus fees, whereas the lesser 473-hp base X3 M is only $83,200.

Incidentally, you can find pricing for everything just mentioned, including the 2019 and 2020 F-Pace at CarCostCanada, including trims, packages and standalone options, while you can also learn about valuable manufacturer rebate information, like Jaguar’s current factory leasing and financing rates from zero percent (at the time of writing). Additionally, become a member and you can access dealer invoice pricing on the cars you’re interested in buying, which means you could save you thousands when it comes time to negotiate. There’s up to $3,075 in additional incentives on 2020 models right now.

2019 Jaguar F-Pace SVR
There’s no shortage of aerodynamic aids. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

As far as those two German super SUVs go, I have yet to drive either, but I’ve tested plenty of BMW M models as well as AMG V8s and, while fabulous on their own, none sounds as malevolent as Jaguar’s supercharged V8. Sure, their acceleration numbers are better and their prices aren’t much higher, but performance enthusiasts can appreciate how important sound is to the overall driving experience. As for deciphering a few milliseconds of sprint time, that’s a lot more difficult from the seat of the pants.

Using the Mercedes-AMG for an example, the sportiest versions of the GLC and F-Pace provide nearly identical wheelbases at 2,874 millimetres (113.1 in) for the Jaguar and 2,873 mm (113.1 in) for the Mercedes, while their tracks are almost the same too, the SVR measuring 1,641 mm (64.6 in) up front and 1,654 mm (65.1 in) in the rear and the AMG spanning 1,660 mm (65.3 in) at both axles, but despite the F-Pace being 52 mm (2.0 in) longer at 4,731 mm (186.3 in), 79 mm (3.1 in) wider to the edges of side mirrors at 2,175 mm (85.6 in), and 42 mm (1.6 in) taller at 1,667 mm (65.6 in), plus having 100 litres (3.5 cubic feet) of extra cargo capacity behind the rear seats at 650 litres (22.9 cu ft), it tips the scales 67 kilograms (148 lbs) lighter at just 1,995 kg (4,398 lbs). That’s the benefit of its mostly aluminum construction over Mercedes’ mixed use of steels and alloys.

2019 Jaguar F-Pace SVR
My tester was upgraded with a devilishly red interior highlights. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

Two additional SUVs worthy of contention in this hyper-powerful compact luxury SUV class are Porsche’s Macan Turbo and Alfa Romeo’s Stelvio Quadrifoglio, the former good for 400 or 440 horsepower depending on whether buying the old 2019 or new second-generation 2020, or opting for the old model with its Performance Package (which also makes 440 horsepower), its acceleration similar to the F-Pace SVR when choosing one of the more potent options, yet its price reaching into six figures, whereas the hyperactive Italian makes 505 horsepower out of the box and sprints to 100 km/h in only 4.0 seconds, albeit with a price tag starting at $95k. Both of these SUVs are impressive, but once again their turbocharged V6 engines won’t ignite the senses like the Jag’s big, raspy V8.

2019 Jaguar F-Pace SVR
This is an impressive cockpit, with good comfort and great ergonomics. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

You’ve really got to hear it to appreciate it. Think about the sound of a chainsaw cutting through metal, without the high-pitched annoyance of the tiny, little two-stroke screamer, and you can kind of get an idea of what I’m talking about, although it’s thoroughly pleasing whereas the chainsaw through metal experience probably wouldn’t be. Either way it’s a raucous affair, especially when the exhaust button gets pressed, which allows for freer flow and thus less backpressure resulting in more snapping, crackling and popping when letting off the throttle. It’s obnoxious like an impertinent royal, yes the Prince Harry and Meghan Markle of SUVs.

While no doubt worthy of appointment to Her Royal Highness The Duchess of Sussex, Countess of Dumbarton and Baroness Kilkeel, let alone His Royal Highness The Duke of Sussex, Earl of Dumbarton and Baron Kilkeel, as the SVR’s interior is at the level of super-SUVs from the most exotic names in the industry, it’s also capable of hauling around little Prince Archie Harrison Mountbatten-Windsor in back, and a couple of his friends along with a picnic basket or two, plus some folding chairs and no doubt a safari tent stowed in the cargo compartment. In other words, the F-Pace, SVR or otherwise, is a capable family hauler with room for more cargo than a number of its compact luxury competitors.

2019 Jaguar F-Pace SVR
The all-digital 12.3-inch instrument cluster can be configured in multiple ways. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

The F-Pace SVR is also capable of light-duty off-roading (with a quick change from its optional 22-inch black-painted rims wrapped in stock 265/40 front and 295/35 rear Pirelli Scorpion Zero all-seasons to something somewhere around 18 inches with a higher sidewall and more tread grip), although it’ll be the serpentine stretches of paved highway on the way to the campground that’ll get the adrenaline flowing.

As you might suspect it’s sensational through curves, its wide track and light weight (for its size, beefy powertrain and luxury accoutrements), plus those just-noted Pirellis (even better performing Jaguar-specific P Zeros are available from tire retailers) and brilliantly tuned (read stiffer) aluminum-intensive front strut and rear multi-link underpinnings get a more buttoned down adaptive suspension setup plus a reworked electric power-steering system, for more of a super sedan feel than anything SUV-like.

2019 Jaguar F-Pace SVR
The updated infotainment touchscreen gets a much more intelligent digital interface made up of easy-to-use tiles. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

Ribbons of narrow, undulating two-lane tarmac are exactly where this SUV shines, and ironically when I prefer the extra ride height an SUV like this provides over a sports car like the F-Type SVR. Don’t get me wrong, as the F-Type remains the cat to beat through twisting backroads and racetracks alike, but when the roadway is lined with trees and sharp declines arrive more quickly than an attentive eye can discern, that extra bit of visibility certainly makes for a bit more comfort at speed, as does the more compliant suspension of the larger, heavier SUV. In such conditions, both SVRs work best when their aforementioned Dynamic driving modes are chosen over their more comforting and economical settings, this more aggressive adaptive suspension setup aiding the body against its innate tendency to pitch and roll.

2019 Jaguar F-Pace SVR
This is the infotainment system’s main performance page, a cool way to monitor its power and more. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

I didn’t drive it like this all week, of course, the fuel cost of doing so well beyond my full-time journalists’ budget, not to mention the cost of potential points and fines against my driver’s license. While I wouldn’t want to guess the latter, the former has been given a best-case-scenario estimate by Transport Canada’s reasonably accurate five-cycle testing process being 14.5 L/100km in the city, 11.0 on the highway and 12.7 combined, which is actually better than I would’ve guessed for something this powerful and wonderfully sonorous. Alfa’s most potent Stelvio gets a rating of 14.1 L/100km city, 10.4 highway and 12.4 combined, incidentally, and it’s smaller overall with a V6 engine displacing just 2.9 litres, whereas the new 2020 Macan Turbo is rated at 14.2 city, 10.1 highway and 12.0 combined. How about the GLC 63? It’s pretty thirsty at 15.0 in the city, 10.9 on the highway and 13.2 combined, but then again BMW’s X3 M is an absolute glutton at 16.6 city, 12.1 highway and 14.2 combined, that is if anyone buying into this class really cares.

2019 Jaguar F-Pace SVR
The optional carbon-fibre plus standard aluminum and leather in the SVR is finished extremely well. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

Along with the Dynamic drive mode noted earlier, which I left engaged most of the week, there’s also a Comfort mode when traversing rougher roadways or just in the mood to relax, plus an Eco mode, which I probably should’ve relied on more for the reasons stated above. The latter two driving modes allow the engine to shut off when it would otherwise be idling, saving yet more fuel while further reducing emissions. I found the large Eco screen estimating how much fuel I supposedly saved while using its greenest drive setting somewhat humourous in this hyper-fast SUV, but fortunately it includes a Performance screen is well, which is much more useful in the SVR.

2019 Jaguar F-Pace SVR
These sport seats are superb, and the upholstery detailing is exquisite. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

The SVR’s infotainment touchscreen is more or less the same as with other F-Pace models, and I have to say a big improvement over earlier examples. It’s reasonably large at 10-plus inches across, with an interface divided into three large tiles for navigation, media and phone, or whatever you choose as it can be set up for personal preference. Swipe the display to the left and another panel with nine smaller tiles appears, allowing access to most any function you need to perform. It’s simple, straightforward and therefore easy to use, with the just-noted swipe gesture control accompanied by the usual smartphone/tablet-style tap and pinch gestures, the latter most useful while using the navigation system’s maps. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto smartphone integration is included, as are myriad other features (although you’ll need to pay extra for satellite radio), this system fully up to class standards.

2019 Jaguar F-Pace SVR
A panoramic sunroof comes standard. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

Even better is the 12.3-inch digital instrument cluster that Jaguar dubs its “Interactive Driver Display.” If you want it to look like a regular two-dial primary gauge package leave it as is, but if you’d like to transform it to a big map so you can keep tabs on directions as you’re rocketing to your destination, go ahead, or alternatively you can place a single driving dial with a numeric speed readout surrounded by a traditional tachometer in the middle, plus the map to one side and something else on the other. Configure it to your heart’s content, as there’s no shortage of options to make your driving experience as convenient and colourful as possible (you can optionally change the SUV’s ambient interior colour scheme via the centre touchscreen, by the way, or project more info onto the windshield via an available head-up display).

2019 Jaguar F-Pace SVR
The outboard seats are fabulous, with excellent support and comfort. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

There’s good connectivity within the tiny centre bin, including two USB-A ports, a Micro SD card slot, and a 12-volt charger. I can’t for the life of me figure out why Jaguar hadn’t made the rubberized pad ahead of the shifter, which was ideally size for my Samsung S9, into a standard wireless charging pad, but unfortunately such was the case. You can’t even get it as an option for this 2019 model or the new 2020, so those wanting their SUV that has everything to actually have everything might want to ask your local car stereo retailer (or Jaguar dealer) if they can install one and how much it’s going to cost.

Digital extremism in mind, super-SUV buyers truly care about over-the-top interior opulence, or so it seems by the five compact luxury crossovers being loosely compared in this review. The one you personally like best will be purely up to you and your individual taste, but all present dramatic cabin designs filled with the best quality materials and state-of-the-art electronics. Having lived with various trims of each of these vehicles for weeks at a time I’ll give the overall quality nod to Porsche quickly followed by BMW and Mercedes, with Jaguar having reluctantly conceded the best interiors of its SUVs to Land Rover (the F-Pace’s fraternal twin being the Range Rover Velar that’s far and away more impressive inside), while my Stelvio tester was the only vehicle in 20 years of testing/reviewing cars that’s ever left its hood release lever in my hand after trying to view the engine (which I never saw or photographed due to this malfunction).

2019 Jaguar F-Pace SVR
The optional four-zone climate control system includes this user interface with switchgear for the heated and cooled rear seats. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

The SVR nevertheless ups interior materials quality and its sense of occasion over its lesser trims, thanks to an available black Suedecloth roofliner and pillars, plus contrast stitch premium leather just about everywhere, the bottom half my tester’s dash and centre console, plus its armrests and seat bolsters done out in a deep, rich Pimento red, while Ebony Lozenge hides covered most everything else, including the quilted leather seat inserts that featured a sort of zigzag-diamond, hourglass pattern with a subtle bit of red dye peeking through the leather’s perforated holes. It’s a captivating look, although I’d probably choose something more subdued. I love the carbon-fibre detailing elsewhere, however (an upgrade over standard textured Weave aluminum), while all the piano black lacquered surfaces are a given these days. So are brushed aluminum accents, the SVR filled with very real bits and pieces for its plentiful interior trim accents, with the cutouts in all four seats’ backrests particularly eye-catching.

2019 Jaguar F-Pace SVR
A dealmaker in any vehicle is a rear seat centre pass-through, and the F-Type’s 40/20/40-split rear seatback is even better. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

Yes, there’s a fifth seat, but it’s merely a semi-flat space, or rather a hump in between two ideally carved out window seats, simply left in place to carry an additional small adults or child when you’re forced to fit three abreast in back. I’d say the outboard positions of the F-Pace’ back seats are a bit more accommodating than in the average compact luxury SUV, which is why some keep referring to its as a mid-size. Passengers in the rear can be treated to as-tested optional quad-zone automatic climate control featuring its own comprehensive panel on the backside of the front console that’s also replete with three-way heatable or cooled seat switches, which means there’s less need to yell shotgun or sprint to the front passenger’s door, depending on how your family deals with seating hierarchy.

There will be no need to force one of those rear passengers onto the centre bump during trips to the ski hill either (which would be a dreadful waste of those rear seat warmers when they’re needed most), thanks to 40/20/40-split rear seatbacks (that can be folded via optional cargo wall levers). The 20-percent centre section folds down on its own to allow skis, snowboards, a surfboard, a stack of 2x4s or other long items down the middle while your rear passengers continue to enjoy the more comfortable heated (or cooled) window seats, exactly how it should be done in this class or any other.

2019 Jaguar F-Pace SVR
The F-Pace provides more cargo space than most compact luxury SUV competitors. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

Yes, next time you’re heading to the hills, or for that matter merely shuttling the kids to school, think about how much more comfortable, let alone quick it would be in a Jaguar F-Pace SVR. Imagine the time saved, and the look of your kids grinning from ear-to-ear as you show off your action hero driving skills. So what if your significant other is glaring with a slightly different expression, taking control of the sport exhaust button as you enter the school drop-off zone.

This is the most fun I’ve ever had in a compact luxury SUV (sorry Porsche), yet it can be highly civilized, reasonably economical and highly practical for everyday use. Those who want an SUV with the heart of a supercar need look no further than the Jaguar F-Pace SVR.

The compact class is incredibly competitive in Canada, but thanks to continually improving its exterior design, plus major strides made in interior refinement, big gains in cabin infotainment, and a diehard…

2019 Subaru Impreza 2.0i Sport 5-Door Road Test

2019 Subaru Impreza 2.0i Sport 5-Door
The Impreza 2.0i Sport 5-Door is one great looking compact sport wagon. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

The compact class is incredibly competitive in Canada, but thanks to continually improving its exterior design, plus major strides made in interior refinement, big gains in cabin infotainment, and a diehard adherence to its unique horizontally-opposed powertrain connecting through to standard all-wheel drive, Subaru has found a way to keep its Impreza thoroughly relevant when others are getting discontinued.

News of model cancellations is never good to a car enthusiast, even if the vehicle in question is a rather bland compact commuter car. After all, the same market shifting issues that caused the elimination of the Chevy Cruze and its electrified Volt is responsible for the demise of Ford’s Focus and its two sportiest trims, not to mention the fun-to-drive Alfa Romeo-based Dodge Dart a couple of years ago. And these four are only in the compact segment. Plenty of others have fallen by the wayside in the subcompact and full-size passenger car classes too, all making space for new crossover SUVs and EVs.

2019 Subaru Impreza 2.0i Sport 5-Door
The 5-Door’s sweptback rear design makes it the sportiest of the two body styles. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Subaru produces its share of crossovers, its most popular Crosstrek based on the very Impreza 5-Door being reviewed here. I’m actually a big fan of that innovative little CUV, but I’m also a proponent of smart compact wagons, which is more or less what the Impreza 5-Door is.

Call it a hatchback if you want, or a liftback if you want to make it sound sportier, but in reality the Impreza 5-Door is a wagon through and through. No doubt some in Subaru’s marketing department would rather I don’t say that, but they should be well aware that this Japanese brand has an ardent following of wagon-loving zealots. After all, the Outback is little more than a raised Legacy Wagon, the latter model no longer with us, unfortunately, but a mighty find rally car in its time, not to mention an excellent family hauler.

2019 Subaru Impreza 2.0i Sport 5-Door
LED-enhanced headlamps make for a sophisticated look. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Subaru has spiffed up the Impreza’s styling in recent years, and it really does look a lot more upscale and premium like, even in its more basic trims. This Sport tester comes with fog lamps and LED-enhanced headlights even though it’s just a mid-range model, not to mention side sill extensions, a subtle rooftop spoiler, and attractive LED taillights, while machine-finished twinned-Y-spoke 17-inch alloys with black-painted pockets round out the sporty look.

Subaru makes a 4-Door Impreza sedan as well, but I’m willing to guess the 5-Door is more popular in Canada. They both look nice and each serves a purpose as well as personal styling tastes, the sedan providing the security of a trunk, useful for those that regularly need to keep valuables locked away from prying eyes, while the latter gets the convenience of added cargo space of a hatch or liftback. The trunk can manage a load of 348 litres, which isn’t bad for a compact, but compared to the 5-Door’s 588-litre cargo hold behind the rear seats, not to mention is uninterrupted 1,565 litres of available volume when the 60/40 split-folding rear seatbacks are lowered down, it’s no contest.

2019 Subaru Impreza 2.0i Sport 5-Door
The Impreza incorporates some similar design elements to the brand’s rakish BRZ sports car. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

The car I recently tested is a 2019, and yes I’m fully aware the 2020s are already upon us and therefore this review will have a very limited shelf life. Nevertheless, those willing to choose the 2019 can access up to $2,500 in additional incentives (at the time of writing), as seen on CarCostCanada’s 2019 Subaru Impreza Canada Prices page, whereas those wanting the refreshed 2020 model can only save up to $750 in additional incentives, unless they join CarCostCanada to access dealer invoice pricing at which point they could find themselves saving thousands.

2019 Subaru Impreza 2.0i Sport 5-Door
These are some sporty looking 17-inch alloy wheels. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Subaru makes its EyeSight suite of advanced driver assistive systems standard on all Imprezas upgraded to an automatic transmission for 2020, while it’s only available in Sport and top-line Sport-tech trims for 2019. The car I tested didn’t include EyeSight, which meant it was missing pre-collision braking, pre-collision brake assist, pre-collision throttle management, lane departure warning, lane sway warning, lane keep assist, lead vehicle start alert, and adaptive cruise control. A Starlink connected services package is also available for 2020, included in most Impreza trims, while both 4- and 5-Door styling has been updated front and back.

The Impreza’s four trim lines remain the same from 2019 to 2020, and include the base Convenience, plus Touring, Sport and Sport-tech, with 2019 pricing ranging from $19,995 to $30,195 for the 4-Door and $20,895 to $31,095 for the 5-Door. Subaru leaves the base price alone for 2020, but ups some pricing in between with the new 5-Door adding $100 to the bottom line for $20,995, and top-line Sport-tech trim costing $30,795 and $31,695 for the 4- and 5-Door body styles respectively.

2019 Subaru Impreza 2.0i Sport 5-Door
A fine looking set of LED enhanced taillights. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

The 2019 Impreza Sport 5-Door model on this page retails for $25,395, this car increasing to $26,195 next year. Like the two bottom trims it can be had with a five-speed manual or optional Lineartronic continuously variable transmission (CVT) with standard steering wheel-mounted paddle shifters, the latter being how Subaru equipped my tester. As always, Subaru’s Symmetrical AWD comes standard, not only making this the sole car with standard AWD in the compact class, but one of the only vehicles to be offered with AWD in this segment at all.

2019 Subaru Impreza 2.0i Sport 5-Door
The Impreza’s interior quality will undoubtedly impress. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

To be clear, Mazda recently anted up with an AWD 3, while Toyota’s Prius can now be had with its new hybridized e-AWD system. Volkswagen offers its Golf Alltrack until they sell out (it’s sadly being cancelled after model year 2019), but it’s more of a Crosstrek competitor anyway, while the Golf R competes with Subaru’s WRX STI. There you have it, all the AWD competitors in the compact class, a very small number for sure.

Speaking of VW, it’s ironic that a relatively small Japanese brand has kept the German manufacturer’s boxer engine design alive and thriving all these years. Subaru has long claimed the horizontally opposed engine configuration as its own, only sharing it with Porsche and, occasionally, Ferrari, with this latest 2.0-litre, dual-overhead cam, 16-valve, four-cylinder making a reliable 152 horsepower and 145 lb-ft of torque via direct-injection, dual active valve control, and electronic throttle control. This is significantly stronger engine output than most competitors’ base engines. In fact, only three rivals make more power, albeit not much more, while just four put out greater torque.

2019 Subaru Impreza 2.0i Sport 5-Door
The Impreza offers up a comfortable, well organized cockpit. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

The result is strong performance from standstill all the way up to highway speeds and beyond, all of the extra torque working very well with my tester’s CVT, which provides especially smooth, linear power delivery. The paddles are useful for downshifting mid-turn, but I found the engine and transmission worked best when left to their own devices. The Impreza’s ride is very smooth too, while its agility through the corners is also typical of fully independent suspension setups, Subaru having infused a set of MacPherson struts up front and double wishbones in back, with stabilizer bars at both ends. This is a more sophisticated design than some of its challengers that use cheaper rear torsion bar suspensions, and can really be felt when pushing hard through curves covered in uneven pavement. Rather than having the rear axle bunny hop over the rough stuff, my Impreza’s 205/50R17s stayed locked on course, the little five-door certainly showing the effects of Subaru’s storied rallying heritage.

2019 Subaru Impreza 2.0i Sport 5-Door
The simple gauge cluster is nevertheless easy to read in any light. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

This was when I wished my test car had been equipped with the five-speed manual, as it would have been more fun to play with and potentially easier to extract more speed, but truth be told the paddles worked wonders when more engine revs were needed, even though they’re hooked up to a CVT. It was good enough, in fact, that I might lean towards the CVT if this were my own personal ride, not only because it would make driving life in the city a lot more agreeable, but also because the automated transmission is a lot thriftier with a claimed fuel economy rating of 8.3 L/100km city, 6.4 highway and 7.5 combined, compared to 10.1, 7.5 and 8.9 respectively for the manual.

2019 Subaru Impreza 2.0i Sport 5-Door
The centre stack sits on top of the centre dash. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

While a serious driver’s car, the Impreza is also extremely comfortable, and not just because of its just-noted ride quality. The driver’s seat offers good adjustability, but strangely no lumbar adjustment in this trim. Fortunately the seat design is inherently supportive, and thanks to excellent reach from the tilt and telescopic steering column I had no problem getting into a good position for optimal control of the leather-wrapped steering wheel and sporty metal pedals. The steering wheel is nicely shaped for a sporty, comfortable feel with the hands at the proper 9 and 3 o’clock positions, while ample switchgear on its spokes allow for control of audio, phone, cruise, and trip/multi-information display functions.

2019 Subaru Impreza 2.0i Sport 5-Door
The Impreza’s top-line 8-inch infotainment touchscreen is very good. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Unlike most rivals, the Impreza’s mostly analogue gauge cluster merely splits its dials with a colour TFT readout for speed, gear selection, real-time fuel economy, fuel level, the odometer and trip mileage. The actual multi-information display is housed in a hooded 4.2-inch colour display atop the dash. It provides a comprehensive level of information, its top half-inch or so displaying the time, interior temperature, climate control setting, and exterior temperature, while the larger bottom section can be set up based on driver preference with options including audio info, real-time fuel economy and projected range, all-wheel drive torque distribution, a row of three gauges encompassing water temp, oil temp and average speed, and more.

2019 Subaru Impreza 2.0i Sport 5-Door
The Impreza Sport can be had with a 5-speed manual or this smooth CVT. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

While the quality of graphics and screen resolution of the multi-information display has made big strides this generation, Subaru’s biggest single area of improvement over the past few years has been in-car infotainment, particularly the centre touchscreen and its many features. The move up to Sport trim increases the display from 6.3 to 8.0 inches in diameter, and it’s an extremely high-quality touchscreen with crystal clear definition, beautiful vivid colours and extremely rich contrast. The overall tile design is attractive, with big colourful “buttons” overtop a starry blue background that looks attractive and is easy to use, with the main functions being radio, media, phone, apps, settings, and Subaru’s Starlink suite of apps. There’s no navigation in Sport trim, but Apple CarPlay and Android Auto offer route guidance through your smartphone, which is likely good enough for most peoples’ needs. The apps panel includes Aha and iHeartRadio, while dual USB ports and an aux plug allow smartphone access. The backup camera is excellent too, and benefits from dynamic guidelines.

2019 Subaru Impreza 2.0i Sport 5-Door
This is a superb driver’s seat, despite not having adjustable lumbar support. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

All HVAC controls can be found just below on a dedicated interface, and in Sport trim is a single-zone automatic climate control system featuring three dials and a couple of buttons to actuate. Setting the heatable front seats is done via two rocker switches on the lower console, but even the two-way warmer’s highest settings aren’t anywhere hot enough to feel therapeutic.

There’s no heated steering wheel rim in Sport trim and no seat warmers offered in back at all, which is strange for a car that would likely be used as a family ski shuttle during winter months, but nevertheless the Impreza Sport 5-Door’s rear quarters are nicely finished, yet without secondary air vents on the backside of the front console or anywhere else.

2019 Subaru Impreza 2.0i Sport 5-Door
The rear seats are roomy and comfortable. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

It’s roomy in back, with about eight inches of space remaining ahead of my knees when seated behind the driver’s seat that was set up for my five-foot-eight, long-legged, short-torso frame, plus ample area to stretch out my legs with my feet under said driver’s seat. There’s no shortage of room side-to-side either, plus a comfortably wide folding armrest at centre with dual cupholders, and about three inches left over above my head. The outboard rear seatbacks offer good lumbar support too, so it’s easy to overlook the lack of amenities in back.

I’ve yet to mention this Sport trim’s upholstery, which is a high point thanks to a nice durable feeling fabric featuring an attractive patterned insert surrounded by grey striped bolsters with contrast stitching. Each Impreza generation improves interior refinement, with this latest fifth-gen model a wholly more hospitable place for driver and passengers front to back with respect to materials quality and design. Just look at the contrast-stitched leather-like soft-touch dash top, which is easily as good as this class gets, the impressive surfacing treatment even flowing down the right side of the centre stack and copied over to the left portion as to provide a visual balance. It’s gorgeous. The door uppers get a similar soft synthetic treatment and the armrests feel like genuine stitched leather, while Subaru adds more depth via carbon-fibre-like inlays, satin-silver/grey accents, tasteful applications of chrome and more, not to mention especially tight fitting switchgear throughout the cabin. Anyone buying into this class should be more than impressed with the Impreza’s interior.

2019 Subaru Impreza 2.0i Sport 5-Door
The Impreza 5-Door provides more cargo room than most competitors. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

I’ve mentioned cargo dimensions already, and while it sits in the middle as far as space behind the rear seatbacks and much better than average when those seats are folded, I wish Subaru had thought of including a centre pass-through for loading in longer items like skis. Of course you can squish someone into the centre position if carrying four, but the outboards seats are much more comfortable and the view out the windows more enjoyable for those in back. Subaru includes a retractable cargo cover within a solid, attractive aluminum cross-member that’s easy to pull out and store behind the first row of seats if no one is seated in the second row, or lay on the cargo floor if someone is.

All things said the Impreza 5-Door is a car I could buy and live happily with. It’s just the right size, offers up lively performance with decent fuel economy, promises strong reliability, and delivers the level of refinement and quality I’ve grown used to. Its infotainment is now as good as this class gets, and while I would’ve liked a few more features in this Sport-trimmed tester, a top-line Sport-tech model I tested a couple of years ago delivered more than enough goodies to satisfy the tech geek within. Everything considered, the Impreza wholly worthy of your attention.

There is no more competitive category in the luxury sector than the compact sport sedan segment, and therefore it’s critical for a premium brand to offer up a worthy entry. Enter the G70, the most important…

2019 Genesis G70 3.3T Sport AWD Road Test

2019 Genesis G70 3.3T Sport AWD
The G70 is one great looking compact luxury sport sedan, especially in 3.3T Sport AWD trim. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

There is no more competitive category in the luxury sector than the compact sport sedan segment, and therefore it’s critical for a premium brand to offer up a worthy entry. Enter the G70, the most important new Genesis model to surface until the fledgling luxury brand hits the market with a crossover SUV.

Genesis is Hyundai Motor Group’s new luxury brand. It’s what Lexus is to Toyota, Infiniti is to Nissan and Acura is to Honda. Each of these Japanese brands were late to the premium brand party, at least in comparison to some of the sector’s originators that have been fighting it out for most of the past century. Genesis won’t be breaking the mould like Tesla did with its lineup of electrics, the Model 3 going head-to-head with all challengers in the G70’s class, but instead the new model offers a good looking, well made, strong performing, value-packed alternative to market leaders like the BMW 3 Series, Mercedes-Benz C-Class and Audi A4, not to mention all others including the Lexus IS, Infiniti Q50, Acura TLX, Cadillac ATS, Volvo S60, Jaguar XE, and Alfa Romeo Giulia.

2019 Genesis G70 3.3T Sport AWD
There’s no drama in the design, just attractive, mostly clean lines. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

Yes, that’s a lot of rivals, and I’m not even including all the wagons, convertibles and coupes, some of the latter even sporting four doors like Audi’s A5 Sportback and BMW’s 4 Series Gran Coupe. How did the G70 do? Strictly by the numbers, Genesis sold 1,119 examples through calendar year 2019 in Canada, which is pretty impressive, even representing 15.7 percent growth over the previous partial year (the G70 went on sale in March of 2018). That already puts it ahead of a couple of key competitors, namely the Cadillac ATS, which needed a sedan and coupe to accumulate 1,032 sales yet still lost 36.1 percent from the year prior, the Alfa Romeo Giulia that plunged 52.5 percent due to just 242 deliveries through 2019, and the Jaguar XE that nosedived 72.5 percent for just 157 new buyers during the same 12 months.

2019 Genesis G70 3.3T Sport AWD
The G70’s grille looks unique and attractive, an impressive feat for a new brand. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

Achieving a comfortable four figures is an auspicious start for the three-year old brand’s first all-new model. Certainly the G90 was new when introduced along with the brand in November of 2016, but like the G80 it was derived from an older Hyundai model. The G90 started life as the Hyundai Equus, and thus could also be seen as that model’s third generation, whereas the G80 merely changed its rear badge from a stylized “H” to Genesis’ wings, it having already worn the new brand’s logo on its hood and steering wheel due to previewing the Genesis nameplate as its model designation for two generations and eight long years.

2019 Genesis G70 3.3T Sport AWD
Sport trim gets a distinctive front fascia, LED headlamps, and fog lights. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

The G70 made up the vast majority of all Genesis sales last year, 73.4 percent to be exact, due to the G80 finding just 324 new owners and the G90 a mere 82 (that’s 18th from last, incidentally, the final position held by the Kia K900 that shares underpinnings with the G90 and sold exactly zero units). Just how important the newcomer is to Genesis’ plans can’t be stressed enough, so it was good they got it right.

It’s a handsome car, with a strong aggressive stance yet styling that’s not too dramatic other than the nonfunctional front fender vents, and it’s sized exactly right to fit squarely within the compact luxury D-segment. It measures 4,685 millimetres (184.4 inches) from front to back, with a 2,835-mm (111.6-in) wheelbase, 1,850 mm (72.8 in) from side-to-side, and 1,400 mm (55.1 in) from the base of its tires to top of its arcing roof, which makes it almost identical to the C-Class and not much shorter than the 3 Series. This is the compact luxury sweet spot, compared to the Infiniti Q50 that’s quite a big longer.

2019 Genesis G70 3.3T Sport AWD
Sport trim gets special 19-inch dark alloys and Brembo brakes with bright red calipers. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

The result is a car that’s totally comfortable in both rows, yet nice, light, quick, and manoeuvrable. The driving position is excellent, with plenty of reach and rake from the tilt and telescopic steering column, while my tester’s upgraded driver’s seat was superb, with excellent leg, lower back, and lateral support. The steering wheel is nicely shaped for a comfortable grip, with paddle shifters where they need to be for quick actuation, while the pistol grip shift lever on the lower console is only there for selecting gears. A beautifully detailed knurled metal dial provides driving mode selection, the choices being Comfort, Sport, Eco, Smart and Custom, and while I tested all for posterity’s sake you can guess which one was my go-to setup.

2019 Genesis G70 3.3T Sport AWD
LED taillights come standard.

The automatic is the base G70 transmission, providing eight forward speeds and Idle Stop and Go capability that automatically shuts the engine off to save fuel and reduce emissions when it would otherwise be idling, and then quickly restarts it when lifting off the brake. The turbocharged 2.0-litre four-cylinder engine makes 252 horsepower and 260 lb-ft of torque, and is the sole engine available with a six-speed manual gearbox in its 2.0T Sport RWD trim. It’s also the only G70 without all-wheel drive and actually makes an additional 3 horsepower over its automatic-equipped siblings, the Genesis’ 2.0T Advanced AWD trim being the base model, followed by the 2.0T Elite AWD and 2.0T Prestige AWD.

2019 Genesis G70 3.3T Sport AWD
The G70’s interior will truly impress. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

Only two trims use the optional 3.3-litre V6, a 365 horsepower twin-turbocharged engine good for 376 lb-ft of torque, including the 3.3T Dynamic AWD, and this top-line 3.3T Sport AWD. This model has a nice eager exhaust note at idle, and selecting Sport mode automatically adds air to the bladders in this Sport trim’s exclusive 16-way power-adjustable driver seat’s bolsters for better lateral support, the four-way lumbar and lower cushion extension having already been positioned for ultimate comfort and control.

The G70 3.3T tears away from stoplights at a blisteringly quick rate, managing 100 km/h from standstill in the high fours, and has a wonderfully aggressive exhaust note as the engine nears its 7,000-rpm redline. The eight-speed auto provides quick, precise shifts in Sport mode, the paddles only adding to the sense of urgency, this true especially through the curves where the G70 feels light and lively, and a lot more fun to drive than the equivalent Lexus IS 350 F Sport.

2019 Genesis G70 3.3T Sport AWD
The G70’s cockpit is nicely laid out for comfort and convenience. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

Braking is strong and doesn’t fade after repeated stomps, the Sport’s four-piston front and two-piston rear high-performance Brembos doing their job. Genesis’ engineers have set this car up with superb balance, its front strut and five-link independent rear suspension never getting out of shape yet providing an amply compliant ride despite my tester’s 19-inch staggered-width alloys wrapped in 225/40 front and 255/35 rear Michelin Pilot Sport 4 summer performance rubber. Its incredible stability likely has something to do with my Sport model’s adaptive control suspension, which is a high-performance suspension control system that distributes front and rear damping forces in potentially onerous, unstable situations, helping to prevent accidents.

2019 Genesis G70 3.3T Sport AWD
The mostly analogue gauges include a 7-inch multi-info display at centre. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

Speaking of safety features, more equipped G70 trims get forward collision assist with pedestrian detection as well, plus lane departure warning and lane keeping assist, and driver attention warning, while all G70s include blind spot collision warning with lane change assist, plus rear cross-traffic collision warning.

The Variable Gear Ratio-enhanced motor-driven rack-and-pinion steering responds positively to input, yet never nervous, and the car tracks ideally at high speeds, its mechanical limited-slip differential aiding in rear wheel traction. This is a sport sedan I could drive every day, my only wish being a track so I could fully let out some steam, but even around town it wasn’t only a perfect point-and-shoot companion, but an easy car to operate in congested traffic.

2019 Genesis G70 3.3T Sport AWD
The G70’s infotainment graphics are similar to Hyundai’s, but it’s a very complete system. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

That’s when I had opportunity to enjoy its beautifully detailed interior. Everything is very well made, with the expected soft-touch surfaces above the waste, excepting the glove box lid and fascia around steering wheel. Most switchgear is high in quality, but its aluminized silver look with blue backlit lettering comes across a tad too Hyundai and not enough Genesis, as did the 8.0-inch infotainment display and graphics. It’s filled with features including Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, navigation, a multi-view camera system, Genesis Connected Services, and the list goes on, one of my favourites being a 15-speaker Lexicon audio system with Quantum Logic surround that had sensational sound quality, but most in this class offer some type of controller on the lower console to go along with the touchscreen.

2019 Genesis G70 3.3T Sport AWD
The gearshift is just for selecting D, R or N, with all shifting happening via the steering wheel shift paddles. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

The TFT multi-infotainment display ahead of the driver was highly functional too, plus nice and big at 7.0 inches across, but while bright and colourful the analogue primary gauges surrounding it were a bit surprising in today’s fully digital instrument cluster world.

Surprisingly but wonderful was the diamond-pattern quilted black and grey highlighted Nappa leather upholstery on the seats and door panels. It’s the type of rich opulence you might find in a Bentley or Aston Martin, not a compact Genesis, the seats even boasting grey piping on the side bolsters and top of each backrest. That’s part of the Sport’s standard Sport Appearance Package that also includes the driver’s power-adjustable bolsters and seat cushion extension mentioned earlier, plus aluminum pedals and black microsuede roof pillars and headliner.

2019 Genesis G70 3.3T Sport AWD
Gorgeous diamond-pattern quilting covers the inserts of the fabulous 16-way powered driver’s seat. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

The G70 was as beautifully finishing in back as up front too, and included three-way seat heaters for the outboard positions. The front seats had these as well, plus the driver had a heated steering wheel rim and two front seats benefited from three-way cooling to help overcome summer’s warmth. Of course, dual-zone auto climate control took care of cabin comfort, while the usual phone connectivity and charging ports were part of the package, including a wireless charging pad.

A corner that’s often cut by bargain luxury brands is trunk finishing, and unfortunately the G70’s dedicated cargo hold is a bit shallow and uses space-robbing hinges instead of struts. The load floor feels cheap and flimsy too, and the folding rear seatbacks are only split 60/40 with no centre pass-through, limiting the G70’s use as a ski shuttle, at least while all four seat heaters are being used.

2019 Genesis G70 3.3T Sport AWD
The rear seating area could be roomier, but it’s par for the course in this compact luxury sedan class. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

On the positive the G70 is a relative bargain compared to its German competitors, with a base price of just $42,000 plus freight and fees. Comparatively the least expensive Mercedes-Benz C-Class sedan starts at $46,100 and most affordable BMW 3 Series sedan hits the road at $49,000, while the near slowest selling Jaguar XE starts at $49,900 and least popular Alfa Romeo Giulia requires $50,445. Certainly some undercut the G70, like the Audi A4 at $39,800 and Lexus IS at $41,250, but they don’t offer anywhere near the same standard features.

You can find out about full-range pricing for each of these models at CarCostCanada (just follow the links on the car names above), including trim, packages and individual options, while you can also learn about available offers such as the zero-percent factory leasing and financing rates now provided by Genesis for 2019 and 2020 G70 models, and before you contact your Genesis dealer, or any one of the others, be sure to get your CarCostCanada membership so you’ll know the dealer invoice price before you start negotiating, as it could save you thousands.

2019 Genesis G70 3.3T Sport AWD
The trunk could be finished better, and with only 60/40-split rear seatbacks it’s flexibility is limited. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

By the way, the 2020 G70 is nearly identical to this 2019 model, other than the elimination of 3.3T Dynamic AWD trim and the introduction of a new higher-end 3.3T Prestige AWD model. The base price stays the same, but some of the other trims move up, including this Sport trim that adds $500, along with a new standard powered trunk lid, for a new retail price of $58,000.

All in all the 2019 Genesis G70 is an excellent luxury car with few drawbacks, especially for sport sedan fans that like to motor with enthusiasm. It rewards skilled drivers with wonderful straight-line performance and very predictable, capable at-the-limit handling, yet its excellent balance and the AWD models’ tendency to understeer won’t hang a novice driver out to dry either. Its interior will impress too, with comfort and eye-popping opulence, my top-line $57,500 3.3T Sport AWD really delivering across the board. All this, plus a best-in-class five-year or 100,000-km comprehensive warranty. Not too shabby.

It’s not without fault, its estimated 13.3 L/100km in the city, 9.5 on the highway and 11.6 combined fuel economy hardly thrifty (the four-cylinder with AWD gets a claimed 11.5 city, 8.7 highway and 10.3 combined), but its pros certainly outweigh its cons, so the G70 is an easy car to recommend.

Remember when the traditional SUV was supposed to die? A lot of people make a lot of predictions, but as sure as rain, or should I say as sure as snow, which we were also told would no longer be part…

2019 Toyota 4Runner TRD Pro Road Test

2019 Toyota 4Runner TRD Pro
The Toyota 4Runner TRD Pro looks best off-road. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

Remember when the traditional SUV was supposed to die? A lot of people make a lot of predictions, but as sure as rain, or should I say as sure as snow, which we were also told would no longer be part of our future in Al Gore’s wildly sensational fantasy film “An Inconvenient Truth,” both the white fluffy stuff and big, off-road capable 4x4s remain very real and ever-present, thank goodness.

In fact, our winters have been getting colder in recent years, likely caused by a solar minimum amongst other things, making vehicles that can manage sudden downfalls of deep powder all the more important. The 4Runner can do a lot more than that, as evidenced in the photo gallery above, an opportunity to venture off the beaten path rarely missed when I spend a week with such a capable companion.

2019 Toyota 4Runner TRD Pro
TRD Pro trim is best for overcoming off-road obstacles. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

Toyota started building the 4Runner the year I graduated high school, and is now well into its fifth generation that was introduced over 10 years ago. The original was little more than the pickup truck with a removable composite rear roof section, much like the original Chevy Blazer and Ford Bronco that came before, but the next version that arrived in 1989 refined the offering with a fully enclosed roof, and the rest is history.

Unlike some body-on-frame competitors that forgot their 4×4 roots in their transformation to car-based crossovers, Toyota stayed true to the 4Runner’s purposeful character and earned respect and sales for doing so. Now it’s one of few truck-based off-roaders available, making it a go-to alternative for those needing family transport yet wanting a way to access a more adventurous lifestyle.

2019 Toyota 4Runner TRD Pro
The 4Runner TRD Pro looks good from every angle. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

The 2019 model tested is being replaced by a new 2020 model, which swaps out the infotainment system with a new head unit complete with a larger 8.0-inch touchscreen, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, satellite radio and USB audio, plus the brand’s Connected Services suite. Push-button ignition gets added too, as does Toyota’s Safety Sense P bundle of advanced driver assistance features including pre-collision system with vehicle and pedestrian detection, lane departure warning and assist, automatic high beams, and adaptive cruise control.

2019 Toyota 4Runner TRD Pro
The TRD Pro gets a totally unique front fascia. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

There’s a new trim level too. Dubbed Venture, it’s all about getting out of the city and into the wild. It builds on just-above-base TRD Off-Road trim, which means it starts off with go-anywhere features like 4-Wheel Crawl Control with Multi-Terrain Select, a locking rear differential, and the Kinematic Dynamic Suspension (KDSS) upgrade, not to mention a hood scoop, plus navigation system with traffic and weather, before adding black mirror housings, trim, and badging, Predator side steps, 17-inch TRD Pro wheels, and a basket style roof rack.

That might sound exciting, and it looks pretty cool, but it’s no off-road match to the TRD Pro given to me for a week’s testing. That truck looks even more intimidating, especially in exclusive Voodoo Blue paint. Anything not blue is matte black for a sort of paramilitary appearance, visually supported by a special heritage “TOYOTA” grille, a TRD-stamped aluminum front skid plate, plenty of black accents and badging front to back, and fabulous matte black painted 17-inch alloy wheels with TRD centre caps on massive 31.5-inch Nitto Terra Grappler all-terrain tires (although my tester’s were on Bridgestone Blizzak 265/70 studless snow tires).

2019 Toyota 4Runner TRD Pro
These matte black 17-inch alloys are unique to the TRD Pro. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

It looks like it’s jacked up higher too, but there’s no mention of any change to ride height or ground clearance despite the addition of TRD-tuned front springs and TRD Bilstein high-performance shocks with rear remote reservoirs, but it probably doesn’t need much more height. An automatic disconnecting differential helps to keep the four drive wheels from fighting each other during tight turns, while its rear differential lock assists when the ground surface is extra slippery, and multi-terrain ABS comes into action when scaling a downward grade. Aforementioned Crawl Control is good for going up, down or just cruising along a low-speed stretch of flat terrain, selectable via an overhead console dial right next to the one for the Multi-Terrain Select system that makes choosing the four-wheel drive system’s best possible response over “LIGHT” to “HEAVY” terrain an easy process. Of course, getting serious will need a quick shift from “H2” or “H4” to “L4” for its low set of gears via the console-mounted 4WD Selector lever.

2019 Toyota 4Runner TRD Pro
The TRD Pro’s roof rack is ideal for carrying all types of gear. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

Its insanely capable off road, something I learned when swamping through a local 4×4 course I use whenever I have something worthy of its rutted trails and long, wide, deep muddy pools. I tested it recently with Jeep’s Wrangler Unlimited Sahara and did likewise with a Chevy Colorado ZR2 that saw brown water sloshing over its hood, plus I even proved Toyota wasn’t fooling compact crossover buyers into believing its new RAV4 Trail could actually do a bit of dirty dancing too, albeit nowhere near as capably as the others just noted, including this 4Runner TRD Pro.

2019 Toyota 4Runner TRD Pro
The 4Runner TRD Pro’s interior is well made and filled with the types of features needed in an adventure-first 4×4. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

My tester’s hood scoop never tested water, nor did it need the Tacoma TRD Pro’s snorkel, although it would’ve looked cool, and believe me I was careful not to totally soil the white and red embroidery on the special floor mats, or even get mud on the breathable leather-like Black SofTex seat upholstery, complete with red contrast stitching and red embroidered “TRD” logos on the front headrests, not that it wouldn’t be easy enough to wash off. I just keep my vehicles clean out of respect to the machinery, and an annoying fastidiousness about cleanliness.

The 4Runner TRD Pro makes easy work of most any off-road course or backcountry trail, even if there’s not much of a trail to begin with. Choose the right Multi-Terrain setting and engage Crawl Control if you need to sit/stand up high without needing to press the gas pedal, and its amazing grip will do the rest. We used to have a mechanical version of this on the family’s old Land Cruiser FJ40, which was more or less a choke that held the throttle out when applying the gas pedal wasn’t possible, and it worked wonders just like the 4Runner’s version. The FJ Cruiser had one too, a model that shared underpinnings with this much larger and more accommodating SUV, as does the global market Land Cruiser Prado and luxury-oriented Lexus GX 460.

2019 Toyota 4Runner TRD Pro
The Optitron gauges are highly legible in all lighting conditions. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

Speaking of eight-cylinder-powered 4x4s, I remember when Toyota stuffed a 4.7-litre V8 into the previous fourth-generation 4Runner. I loved that truck and its silky-smooth formidable powertrain, but I must admit to rather having the 2.8-litre turbo-diesel found in the current Prado, as it’s fuel economy would be a bonus around town and in the woods where it could trek a lot farther away from civilization than the current 4.0-litre V6. That beast chows down a gluttonous 14.3 L/100km in the city, 11.9 on the highway and 13.2 combined, although it uses a great deal more in low gear off-road. That’s really this truck’s weak point, and now that Jeep is offering its Wrangler with a turbo-diesel V6, and Chevy has one for the Colorado, it’s high time Toyota provided North American 4×4 enthusiasts with something similar from its global catalogue.

2019 Toyota 4Runner TRD Pro
The 2019 4Runner’s infotainment system is pretty good, but it gets updated for 2020. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

The 4Runner’s five-speed automatic transmission doesn’t exactly help at the pump either, but it’s a ruggedly reliable lump of machinery and certainly shifts smooth enough. This TRD Pro model adds a red-stitched leather shift knob to its console-mounted lever, almost making it feel sporty when utilizing manual mode, and to be fair to the big hunk of an SUV it manages fast-paced corners quite well, whether on pavement or off, while its ride is very compliant, appreciated as much through inner-city laneways as on the trail.

I would’ve loved it even more if it came standard with shock-absorbing seat frames like my old ‘86 LC BJ70, still my favourite Toyota to this day (diesel-powered no less), but the TRD Pro’s powered seats with two-way lumbar took care of comfort well enough, while its tilt and telescopic steering column allowed for ample reach to set up my driving position for good comfort and control.

2019 Toyota 4Runner TRD Pro
A special TRD shift lever joins carbon-fibre like trim on the centre console. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

That steering wheel rim is leather-wrapped, albeit without the red stitching, and its spokes filled with just enough buttons to make it look up-to-date. Seen through its upper section is a really eye-catching set of bright blue, red and white on black Optitron gauges featuring a small trip computer at centre; nothing too advanced, but attractive and functional.

Over on the centre stack, the centre touchscreen might be the one being replaced for 2020, but it was nevertheless decently sized, fairly high in resolution and filled with attractive graphics and plenty of functions, its backup camera devoid of active guidelines yet nice and clear (when not sprayed with mud), its navigation system accurate and map easy to read, plus its audio system just fine.

2019 Toyota 4Runner TRD Pro
The TRD Pro’s driver’s seat is comfortable and spacious, while Toyota covers the seats with its breathable SofTex leatherette. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

The 4Runner’s second row is nicely sized for most anyone, particularly if seated next to one of the windows, while its third row gets deleted for this off-road model, leaving loads of space for cargo. There’s actually 1,337 litres (47.2 cubic feet) dedicated to gear, or up to 2,540 litres (89.7 cu ft) when the 60/40-split second row is folded down, making the 4Runner an awesome camping companion or ski hill buddy.

You can get into a 2019 4Runner for $46,155 or less depending on your negotiating skills (which shouldn’t have to be that sharp this time of year), while I should also note that leasing and financing rates could be had from 1.99 percent at the time of writing according to CarCostCanada, which also provides members with money saving rebate information and dealer invoice pricing that could save you thousands. The 2020 4Runner, which starts at $48,120 due to all the new equipment I mentioned earlier, only benefits from leasing and financing rates from 4.49 percent, so the 2019 might be the way to go if you can still find what you want. If it’s this TRD Pro, you’ll need to come up with $56,580 plus freight and fees, less any discount, this being the priciest trim in the lineup.

2019 Toyota 4Runner TRD Pro
The 4Runner’s second row is roomy and comfortable. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

Money in mind, the 4Runner won’t wow its owner with fancy soft composite interior surfaces or any other premium touches, but that’s ok because it’s a tough-as-nails SUV that doesn’t need to pamper its occupants to impress. Instead, along with its killer off-road prowess, general ease of use and overall livability, it manages to beat every other similarly sized sport utility for all-important cost of ownership status by topping its “Mid-size Crossover-SUV” category in the 2019 Canadian Black Book Best Retained Value Awards, and while it didn’t do likewise in ALG’s Residual Value Awards, the Sequoia, Tacoma and Tundra did in their Fullsize Utility, Midsize Pickup and Fullsize Pickup categories respectively, so I’m guessing it wasn’t too far behind Jeep’s Wrangler in the third-party analytical firm’s Off-Road Utility segment (it won this category in 2018 after all).

2019 Toyota 4Runner TRD Pro
The 4Runner provides plenty of space for hauling big loads. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

I could go on and on with awards, but the 4Runner and Toyota have won too many to list over the years, so suffice to say you’ll be well taken care of in this dependable ute. I’d be happier than a pig in mud if this were my very own, although I’d probably rather have it in last year’s Cement Grey hue and would definitely add a TRD-sourced snorkel to its front right fender and A-pillar for dramatic effect.

Lexus’ RX and I have had a long, mostly pleasant relationship, dating back to the beginnings of my career as an automotive journalist. In fact, since first starting to write road tests of new vehicles…

2019 Lexus RX and RX L 350 and 450h Road Test

2019 Lexus RX 350 F Sport
Lexus’ RX, shown here in RX 350 F Sport form, makes a dramatic visual statement. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

Lexus’ RX and I have had a long, mostly pleasant relationship, dating back to the beginnings of my career as an automotive journalist. In fact, since first starting to write road tests of new vehicles at the turn of this century, I’ve tested, photographed and reviewed at least 15 individual RX models in every generation, state of trim, powertrain, and body style available, plus I’ve also been fortunate enough to attend a number of RX launch programs.

I once even piloted the then-new 2006 RX 400h from a waterfront hotel in Waikoloa Village (just outside of Kona), Hawaii, around the northern tip of The Big Island toward Hilo, and then inland a ways before summiting the 4,250-metre-plus (14,000-foot-plus) peak of Mauna Kea, all before heading back down the east coast, circling Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park’s 17.7-kilometer Kilauea Crater Rim Drive, and more (thoughts and prayers for all the families from Leilani Estates this time of year). That experience stamped an indelible memory on my heart, and no doubt helped forge a personal fondness for Lexus’ most popular model.

2019 Lexus RX 450h F Sport
There’s not too much visual difference between conventional and hybrid versions as seen by this RX 450h F Sport model. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

When taking in the paradisiacal coastal vistas, mountaintop views, thick tropical foliage and harshly rugged lava rock terrain of Hawaii’s amazing spectrum of climate zones, comprising 10 of the world’s 12 types, it’s good to be in a vehicle that isolates all occupants from the elements so effectively. From the dry heat of Kona to the humidity of Hilo, through the more temperate regions inland to the polar/tundra heights above, the RX never wavered from climate controlled comfort, something I’ve grown to appreciate even more with each weeklong test enjoyed over the years since. Truly, each and every time I get behind the wheel of this impressive luxury crossover SUV, I’m reminded why it’s been number one in its mid-size segment since day one.

2019 Lexus RX 350 L
The more basic RX gets a less aggressive front fascia, while this RX 350 L also includes a longer wheelbase and third row. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

It helps that Lexus defined this category together with Mercedes’ M-Class (now GLE) way back in 1997 when the original RX 300 arrived, a luxury crossover that’s held up so well I still see them on the roads in my community (not so with the first-gen ML). The RX has been around for 22 years and four generations, with the upcoming 2020 model about to bring a number of subtle styling updates and other improvements as part of its mid-cycle makeover, but despite its updates you may still want to consider getting a deal on a 2019.

Before delving into the 2019, updates for 2020 include refreshed front and rear fascias, slimmer triple-beam LED headlamps and revised taillights with new “L” shaped LEDs, redesigned 18- and 20-inch wheels, and claimed driving dynamics improvements via thicker yet lighter-weight stabilizer bars plus a firmer retuned suspension to enhance handling with new dampers that smooth ride quality. Handling in mind, new active corner braking reduces understeer and paddle shifters, now standard across the entire lineup, should enhance the driving experience, while new standard safety features include daytime bicyclist detection and low-light pedestrian detection along with Lane Tracing Assist (LTA), and lastly a revised infotainment system with new touchpad control and integrated Android Auto (a first for Lexus).

2019 Lexus RX 350 L
It’s hard to tell the difference between long-wheelbase and regular, but the rear section has been extended for greater interior room. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

Even though its brand new, CarCostCanada members can save up to $2,000 in additional incentives on the 2020 RX, while those willing to forgo some of the improvements for a discount can access up to $4,500 in incentives for a 2019 model. According to the popular website, members are saving an average of $2,777 on both models, by first learning about available manufacturer rebates that your local retailer probably won’t tell you about, and then finding out the dealer invoice price before negotiating.

2019 Lexus RX 350 F Sport
The RX 350 F Sport is the model to choose for optimal performance. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

Lexus will offer the same four RX models for 2020 as it did in 2019, including the RX 350 and RX 450h hybrid, plus the new long-wheelbase, seven-passenger RX L with both powertrains. Pricing starts at $55,350 for the 2019 RX 350, and then moves up to $64,500 for the 2019 RX 450h, $66,250 for the RX 350 L, and finally $77,600 for the RX 450 L, while the refreshed 2020 base model’s pricing expectedly rises by $700 (not bad considering all the aforementioned standard upgrades), but get this, pricing for all other trims have surprisingly been lowered by $5,700, $7,200, and $1,500 respectively due to new more affordable decontented packaging, or in other words, fewer standard features. This intelligent move makes the base long-wheelbase and base hybrid models accessible to many more luxury buyers, and still shouldn’t cause too much difficulty for Lexus retailers to sell off the remaining 2019s.

2019 Lexus RX 350 F Sport
The 2020 RX entirely updates this 2019 model’s front fascia. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

For this review I rounded up three 2019 Lexus RX models, including an RX 350, RX 450h and an RX 350 L, the two regular-wheelbase models in the Japanese luxury brand’s sportiest F Sport trim, and the latter long-wheelbase version in six-passenger Executive trim, its seat-count reduction caused by the replacement of its second-row bench with two individual buckets, while $6,050 Executive trim also adds LED illuminated aluminum front scuff plates, premium leather, a wood and leather-wrapped steering wheel rim, a head-up display, 15-speaker Mark Levinson surround sound audio, wireless device charging, 10-way power-adjustable front seats, power-recline rear seats, rear door sunshades, power folding rear seats, and a gesture-actuated power liftgate.

2019 Lexus RX 350 F Sport
The 2020 will offer new wheel designs, but 2019 RX rims are still great looking. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

F Sport trim takes a more sporting approach to styling and features as the name implies, with the former including a more aggressive front grille and fascia design, premium LED headlamps with cornering capability, a sportier set of 20-inch alloy wheels, an adaptive variable air suspension, Vehicle Dynamics Integrated Management (VDIM), special “F SPORT” branded scuff plates, a mostly digital LFA-inspired primary gauge cluster, a special steering wheel with paddle shifters and a unique shift knob, aluminum sport pedals with rubber inserts, unique performance seats covered in premium leather upholstery, plus more.

2019 Lexus RX 350 F Sport
Not the most refined in its class, the RX is nevertheless very good at pampering its occupants. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

Combining three distinct RX trims into one review provides an opportunity to not only show their unique characteristics in the massive photo gallery above, but also to help would-be buyers choose between this luxury crossover SUV’s dual personalities, one visually and dynamically more sport-oriented, and the other biased towards luxury. To be clear, the sportiest RX 350 F Sport will never challenge a BMW X5 M, Mercedes-AMG GLE 63 S Coupe (or even the GLE 43 version), Audi RS Q8 (or even an SQ8 or SQ7), Porsche Cayenne, Jaguar F-Pace SVR, Range Rover Sport (or Velar SV Dynamic), etcetera, but as far as this comfort-oriented mid-size crossover SUV goes, it’s the sportiest, and more fun to drive than any Infiniti QX60, while more or less on par with the Acura MDX, Lincoln Nautilus, and probably the new Cadillacs XT6, although I have yet to drive the latter. This said the new 2020 RX should perform better than the three I’ve tested here, but we shouldn’t expect a radical improvement through the corners as it wouldn’t make sense for Lexus to stray too far from such an obvious winning formula.

2019 Lexus RX 450h F Sport
The F Sport cabin offers a more performance-oriented look, like the name implies. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

Unlike most of the competitors noted, Lexus only provides its RX with one conventional powertrain choice, and despite once being wholly original in offering mid-size luxury SUV buyers the sole hybrid-electric available, it can now only take credit for being first. Still, no one can argue against the success Lexus has had with this comparatively simple powertrain lineup, consisting of its ubiquitous 3.5-litre V6, and the nearly as well-proven electrified version of this dependable Toyota-sourced six-cylinder engine.

2019 Lexus RX 450h F Sport
The F Sport upgrade includes this attractive digital gauge cluster. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

Despite what appear to be identical powertrains on paper, the conventional V6 used in Lexus’ RX 350 and RX 350 L produce different performance numbers, the regular wheelbase model outputting 295 horsepower and 268 lb-ft of torque and the long-wheelbase version making just 290 horsepower and 263 lb-ft of torque, while the RX 450h manages a slightly more potent internal combustion engine (ICE) and electric motor mix that nets 308 horsepower and 247 lb-ft of torque in both regular and extended body styles.

The biggest difference between these three powertrains can be seen in fuel economy, with the standard RX 350 good for a rating of 12.2 L/100km in the city, 9.0 on the highway and 10.8 combined, and the slightly modified engine in the RX 350 L managing 13.1 city, 9.4 highway and 11.1 combined. The lighter weight regular wheelbase model is thriftier when comparing the RX 450h and RX 450h L too, with the former achieving the best model’s rating at just 7.5 L/100km city, 8.4 highway and 7.9 combined, and the latter doing extremely well amongst three-row luxury SUVs with a claimed 8.1, 8.4 and 8.1 respectively.

2019 Lexus RX 350 L
The infotainment display is superb, and comes packed with features. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

The extra power provided by the motive battery, which like other all-wheel drive hybrids uses its ICE to power the front wheels and electric motor to twist the rims in back, doesn’t give the hybrid any more oomph off the line yet certainly helps it keep up despite its 160-kilo increase in curb weight. The efficiency of the hybrid’s continuously variable transmission may assist with its straight-line performance, but the eight-speed automatic in the conventionally powered RX is probably not all that more taxing and its more positive shift response makes for a sportier driving experience overall.

2019 Lexus RX 350 L
The joystick-like infotainment controller is the RX’ weakest asset, but it gets replaced for 2020. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

Enhancing engagement with both drivetrains in F Sport trim are standard paddle shifters as already noted, while this performance-oriented upgrade also gets an edgier Sport+ setting added to the base RX’ Normal, Sport, and Eco Drive Mode Select choices, plus hybrids benefit from an EV mode. The EV mode only works at very slow parking lot speeds, but it can reduce consumption while circling the mall parking lot or when stuck in bumper-to-bumper traffic, while at the other end of the performance spectrum I didn’t feel much difference when switching from Sport to Sport+, other a firmer setting from the adaptive variable air suspension.

2019 Lexus RX 350 L
Look at the gorgeous pinstriped hardwood in the RX 350 L. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

Speaking of the chassis, the RX’ fully independent MacPherson strut front and double-wishbone rear suspension setup feels a bit tauter in the F Sport than with more comfort-focused trims, while the long-wheelbase RX L felt comfortable without giving much up in the handling department, or for that matter straight-line performance (it only weighs an additional 105 kg). As mentioned earlier, all RX models provide comfort first and foremost, which is exactly what most buyers in this class want, while noise, vibration and harshness levels are kept to a minimum thanks to a wonderfully tight, rigid body structure, plenty of sound insulation, and nicely refined powertrains.

2019 Lexus RX 350 F Sport
The RX F Sport gets a sportier set of front seats, albeit only two-way powered lumbar. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

All the soft-touch composite surfaces and leather help to keep things quiet, although to be clear the RX doesn’t quite deliver the same level of over-the-top luxury as its German peers, let alone the lonely Swede in this segment. Most everything above the waist is made from the types of high quality pliable plastics expected in this class, including the glove box lid, with some surface treatments higher on the dash stitched and leather-like with padding below, but the harder composites start just above the driver’s knees and surprisingly to the left side of the steering column, not to mention on the lower door panels and lower sides of the lower centre console (the console’s top edges finished in stitched leatherette).

2019 Lexus RX 350 L
A panoramic sunroof is always appreciated. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

The two F Sport trims received attractive metallic accents across the dash, lower console and upper door panels, although I must admit I was even more impressed by the long-wheelbase model’s gorgeous hardwood inlays. While high-gloss dark hardwood in Japanese tradition, every half inch or so Lexus had laminated in wafer thin pieces of lighter hardwood resulting in an ultimately rich double pinstripe look that was best seen on the console. There’s plenty of brushed metal trim throughout the cabin, with some bits looking and feeling like the real deal and other pieces less so, but quality is generally good including each button, knob, toggle and rocker switch.

2019 Lexus RX 350 L
Our three-row RX 350 L came with captain’s chairs in place of the second-row bench. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

At first glance all three RX models seemed to have similarly sporty seats, this probably due to their contrast stitched black perforated leather, but the F Sport models had a bit more side bolstering, particularly up by the shoulders, and while they all looked good and were generally comfortable, only the 350 L with its Executive package included four-way lumbar support. Its 10-way powered front seats were excellent, causing zero complaints, but if the two-way powered lumbar in the other two hadn’t luckily met up with the small of my back I would’ve been grumbling. Don’t get me wrong, as I would’ve liked extendable cushions and adjustable side bolsters too, while some sort of massage function would also be nice, but such pampering is obviously not the RX’ mission.

2019 Lexus RX 350 L
The second row folds out of the way easily for good third-row access. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

Roominess has always been an RX strongpoint, with front and second-row seating for any size or shape with space to spare, but the new long-wheelbase model doesn’t quite measure up to most rivals when it comes to the third row. This is surprising, as a three-row crossover has been long in the making for Lexus, but even my teenage-sized five-foot-eight frame had difficulty getting comfortable. Climbing in and out is easy enough thanks to a second row that slides far enough forward for a nice, wide opening, but even after sliding that second row as far forward as I’d be comfortable with if seated there, there still wasn’t enough room for my knees when seated in the very back, while my head was rubbing up against the ceiling.

2019 Lexus RX 350 L
Access to the third row is good, but it’s best used for kids only. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

The extended-wheelbase RX L does add 77 litres of maximum cargo space, however, moving the total from 1,657 litres up to 1,580 litres, but the final row must add some height to the RX L’s cargo floor because available room behind its second row shrinks by 43 litres from 694 to 651 litres. With all seats upright the three-row RX leaves a 212-litre sliver of usable space, but it’s good for a couple of small suitcases or a golf bag if you want to work on your “A” game after dropping the kids at school.

2019 Lexus RX 350 F Sport
A centre pass-through for the second row makes the RX very flexible for passengers and cargo. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

While most of this is positive, operating the RX’ current joystick-style infotainment controller will set you back to the early days of playing Nintendo “Golf” (that was 1984 if you care to remember), hence why it’s being replaced by Lexus’ newer touchpad control for 2020. The system is functional and thanks to side entry buttons added a number of years ago is easier to use, but it feels old and clunky in a world of touch sensitivity. It includes haptic feedback to lock in prompts, which helped somewhat, but few should lament its loss. The high-definition widescreen atop the dash that displays everything is superb, mind you, and it’s hard to fault the overall functionality of the system and features, other than its lack of Android Auto for 2019 (remember, the RX gets it for 2020).

2019 Lexus RX 350 L
The long-wheelbase RX L is most accommodating for cargo with all seats lowered. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

Now that I’m talking digital interfaces, both 2019 and 2020 LX models use the same ho-hum gauge cluster in non-F Sport trims. It’s a basic analogue set consisting of two primary dials and two sub-dials, centered by a tall colour multi-information display that’s little more than a glorified trip computer. In a vehicle that’s edgy and modern in most other ways the gauges look a bit tired and dated, especially considering some RX rivals are shipping with standard digital instrument clusters or at least offer them optionally in upper trims. Of course Lexus does the same, but take note my long-wheel base Executive package enhanced RX 350 L was priced higher than the RX 350 F Sport, but didn’t get the fancier LFA-inspired digital gauge cluster, and even the upgraded version doesn’t offer the level of features provided by its competition, such as the ability to transform most of the cluster into one big map.

Thanks to the incredibly fast pace of the auto industry these days, especially when it comes to digital interfaces, it’s always easy to find fault with a vehicle that’s been on the market for a few years. Such is the case for these three RX models, and therefore the updates Lexus will provide for 2020 should appease most of those looking for progress. In summary, I don’t believe the RX is the best mid-size crossover on the market, but it covers so many bases so well, and does so with such impressive dependability, that it fully deserves its number one status.

Hold on. Subaru’s BRZ now outsells the Scion FR-S… er… the Toyota 86 by 2.5-to-one? What’s going on? Toyota has the stronger brand, right? Boy was I wrong. I was sure that rebadging Scion’s…

2019 Toyota 86 GT Road Test

2019 Toyota 86 GT
The 86 still looks great three years after its mid-cycle refresh, but despite such sharp styling it’s one of Canada’s most exclusive sports cars. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

Hold on. Subaru’s BRZ now outsells the Scion FR-S… er… the Toyota 86 by 2.5-to-one? What’s going on? Toyota has the stronger brand, right?

Boy was I wrong. I was sure that rebadging Scion’s sports car with Toyota’s much better-known logo would cause some sort of uptick in popularity, but its sales decline has been brutal over the past couple of years. In fact, since the car first became available in 2012, which began with a level of excitement from performance and tuning car enthusiasts that I hadn’t seen for a very long time and resulted in 1,470 Canadian deliveries in its first seven months, its sales have steadily dropped from a bullish 1,825 units in 2013, to 1,559 in 2014, 1,329 in 2015, 988 in 2016, 919 in 2017, and 550 in 2018, while as of November 2019 Toyota has only sold 250 units, representing a 53.3-percent drop over the same 11 months last year. Adding insult to injury, Subaru’s aforementioned BRZ, which only started edging out the 86 last year, is now sitting at 625 deliveries after 8.1 percent growth so far this year.

2019 Toyota 86 GT
It’s hard to argue against a car that looks this good, GT trim adding a sportier rear wing and much more. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

The BRZ’s recent upsurge should be an important indicator when analyzing the 86’ fall from grace. The fact is, not all sports cars are experiencing a downturn, but instead some, such as the BRZ and Mazda’s venerable MX-5, which has sold 767 examples so far this year for a 26.99-percent bump in popularity, are showing there’s renewed interest in the entry-level sports car segment, as long as its ardent customer base gets what they want.

Truth be told, Toyota’s 86 hasn’t changed much since it was refreshed for 2017 as part of its Scion FR-S transformation, and while part of me believes it doesn’t need much if any modifications, the numbers don’t lie. Truly, despite a U.S.-market Toyota spokesperson declaring last year that the 86 is here to stay for the foreseeable future, its current numbers should have the model’s handful of diehard fans feeling uncomfortable.

2019 Toyota 86 GT
Standard LED headlamps joined a new front fascia, new 17-inch alloys and other updates for the 2017 model year. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

But the quoted numbers are just for Canada, right? What about the U.S.? Sales are certainly brighter south of the 49th where they’d need about 2,500 deliveries to match Canada’s output per capita. Year-to-date Toyota’s U.S. division has seen 86 sales grow by 3.9 percent to 3,122 units, which while hardly worthy of streamers, party horns and other New Year’s noise makers, at least beat Subaru at the very same game by trouncing U.S.-spec BRZ sales by 70.5 percent due to that model’s 36.8-percent plunge to 2,203 units. How did the MX-5 “Miata” do in the States? Not well at 7,314 units, a 13.5-percent drop, but at least none of them are the Fiat 124 Spider that’s only sold 687 units as of November 2019, a 32.7-percent downward spiral from a position that some might say was already well underwater (or six feet under?). Such results make Fiat Canada’s 204-unit 124 Spider sales look awesome per capita despite a 25.8-percent hit (U.S. deliveries should be about 2,000 units by comparison), and really Fiat shouldn’t feel so bad when comparing its current 124 Spider success to the 86.

2019 Toyota 86 GT
This rear spoiler gets added to GT and SE trims. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

There’s kind of good news on the horizon for Toyota’s most affordable sports car, however, and no I’m not talking about any increase in straight-line performance, an improvement most have been calling for since the model’s inception, but rather a much-needed upgrade to its infotainment system arriving for the upcoming 2020 model year. As it is, the 2019 Toyota 86 GT you’re looking at on this page appears identical to the one I tested in 2017, other than this car’s coat Raven Black paint and the 2017 model’s now discontinued burnt orange-like Hot Lava.

2019 Toyota 86 GT
The 86′ interior was updated for 2017, and continued into 2019 unchanged, while the 2020 model gets new infotainment. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

Toyota redesigned the entire front fascia for 2017, with those changes continuing into 2019 as well. Attractively detailed standard LED headlamps were part of the upgrade, and still provide a more sophisticated appearance, while the elongated front fender vents and redesigned “86” insignia, now positioned lower on the side panel, were at least different, as were the revised taillight lenses updated with brighter LEDs.

The cabin has always been pretty decent, but the earlier FR-S examples I drove never let me inside with proximity-sensing keyless access, nor did they start with a pushbutton, keep me warm via dual-zone automatic climate control, skinned their seats in leather trimmed with suede-like Alcantara, or covered their primary instrument hoods and passenger-side dash sections in padded and stitched microsuede like this 2019 86 does, but I must say the infotainment update promised for 2020 will be welcome.

2019 Toyota 86 GT
The 86′ provides a superb driving environment, as long as you’re moving forward. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

Back in 2017, the current 6.1-inch centre touchscreen stopped paying tribute to Pioneer by upgrade its graphics to an attractive blue on black patterned background with cyan links, plus adding Toyota branding. It continues to look pretty good, but doesn’t come off as advanced as the automaker’s new Entune system, because it clearly isn’t. Other than the usual radio functions it allows for USB integration, plus it connects wirelessly via Bluetooth for talking on the phone and streaming audio, but believe it or not it doesn’t project the backup camera’s image. Instead, it blocks half of the rearview mirror’s usefulness with a tiny image that’s hardly useful at night in the rain, seeming more like a way for Toyota to satisfy regulators that now demand rearview cameras, than improve safety. I was therefore shocked to learn that the completely new 7.0-inch centre touchscreen in the 2020 86, which positively includes Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, doesn’t include the rearview camera. This means you’ll still be squinting at the mirror when backing up, which simply isn’t good enough.

2019 Toyota 86 GT
You’re looking at the backup camera, a tiny display set within the rearview mirror. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

This said, with North American sales numbers as poor as they are, should we expect any more investment in the 2020 86? Then again, are those numbers as bad as they are because Toyota hasn’t invested enough in this car? Even hindsight can’t help us answer this question, but one thing is certain, the 86 remains one of the most enjoyable cars in its class to hustle down a winding mountainside road.

I specified “down” because its Subaru-sourced 2.0-litre horizontally opposed “boxer” four-cylinder engine continues to make just 205 horsepower and 156 lb-ft of torque, which while pretty good for most cars that weigh in at just 1,252 kilos (2,760 lbs), isn’t as formidable as many of its peers. Those numbers were bumped up five points each for 2017, which was an improvement, but 2.5 and 3.3 percent upgrades respectively didn’t answered the ongoing call for more performance requested by the very same customers buying it.

2019 Toyota 86 GT
GT trims adds a 4.2-inch multi-info display with performance data to the primary gauge cluster. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

Of note, only six-speed manual (6M) equipped cars received the increased power, which came together with a reworked rear differential designed for quicker launches from standstill. Cars like my previous 2017 tester that utilize Toyota’s paddle-shift actuated six-speed automatic (6A), which incorporates a downshift rev-matching system dubbed “Dynamic Rev Management,” continued forward with the unmodified powertrain, but at least Toyota added hill start assist.

I have to admit to not minding the autobox as much as I expected, as it’s a decent transmission and a lot easier to live with around town, but this is a rear-wheel drive sports car folks, not merely a sporty looking front-drive coupe based on a compact commuter sedan, so if this were my personal ride I’d only own it with a manual gearbox.

2019 Toyota 86 GT
The 86′ 6.1-inch centre touchscreen was updated for 2017, and still works pretty well unless you want to hook up your smartphone to Apple CarPlay or Android Auto, which won’t be possible until 2020. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

Modulating the clutch and letting the revs climb right up to 7,000 rpm for maximum power is the best way to get the most out of the engine’s available power, whether taking off in a straight line or exiting a corner, and on that last note the 86 continues to be one of the nimblest chassis’ available in its price range.

It gets MacPherson gas struts up front and double wishbones in back, plus if you ante up from this GT trim line to the top-tier manual-only SE, SACHS performance dampers are included, while the already strong four-wheel discs get upgraded to Brembos and usual standard 215/45R17 summers grow to 215/40R18 Michelin Pilot Sport 4 performance tires, although my tester included Bridgestone Blizzak winters that really made it easy to slide the back end out; no bad thing.

2019 Toyota 86 GT
The standard automatic HVAC system’s controls are analogue with cool retro LCD readouts, and get upgraded to dual-zone in GT trim. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

The 2019 86 comes in base, GT and just-noted SE trims, by the way, some base model highlights not yet mentioned including a limited slip differential, auto on/off LED headlamps, heated power-adjustable side mirrors, remote keyless entry, a tilt and telescopic leather-wrapped multifunction three-spoke sport steering wheel, a leather-clad shift knob and handbrake lever, aluminum sport pedals, a trip computer/multi-info display, cruise control, variable intermittent wipers, single-zone automatic climate control, eight-speaker AM/FM audio with aux and USB inputs plus an Automatic Sound Levelizer (ASL), Bluetooth phone and streaming audio, a six-way manually adjustable driver’s seat, power windows with auto up/down all-round, dual vanity mirrors, all the usual active and passive safety equipment, and more for only $29,990 plus freight and fees.

2019 Toyota 86 GT
The notchy six-speed manual is the best way to get the most out of the 205 horsepower 2.0-litre four-cylinder “boxer” engine. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

The automatic transmission will set you back $1,200, this being the same price whether choosing a base 86 or opting for $33,260 as-tested GT trim. Of note, the GT wasn’t available when I last reviewed the 86 in 2017, with most of its features part of a Special Edition that now shares its more performance-oriented upgrades with the new SE, or TRD Special Edition. Before getting into that top-line model, GT trim provides the proximity-sensing access and pushbutton start/stop, dual-zone auto HVAC, and fancier leather/microsuede upholstery and trim mentioned earlier, those front seats also including warmers as part of this upgrade, while additional GT features include LED fog lamps, a rear spoiler with black-painted accents, a 4.2-inch TFT multi-information display with vehicle performance data, and a theft deterrent system.

2019 Toyota 86 GT
Toyota includes attractive, soft suede-like Alcantara on the instrument panel with the GT upgrade. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

Lastly, the $38,220 TRD (Toyota Racing Development) Special Edition, which once again can only be had with the manual transmission, adds a TRD aero kit, TRD performance dual exhaust, black side mirror housings, special cloth sport seats with red accents, red seatbelts, and red interior stitching to the upgraded wheel and tire package plus the suspension tweaks mentioned earlier.

Speaking of trims, packages and pricing, those interested in a 2019 86 can access up to $2,000 in additional incentives by visiting the 2019 Toyota 86 Canada Prices page at CarCostCanada, or if the new infotainment system in the 2020 model seems like the better bet, check out CarCostCanada’s 2020 Toyota 86 Canada Prices page, which will tell you how to access factory leasing and financing rates from 3.49 percent, plus other manufacturer rebate information and dealer invoice pricing that could save you thousands.

2019 Toyota 86 GT
The 86′ sport seats are ultra comfortable extremely supportive, plus get Alcantara inserts and leather bolsters in GT trim. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

The 2020 model replaces the TRD Special Edition with a new Hakone Edition, by the way, which comes painted in unique Hakone Green and rides on 17-inch bronze-coloured alloys, while the name “pays tribute to one of the greatest driving roads in the world,” says Toyota, but so far the only way to find out about it is to visit Toyota’s U.S. retail website (where I sourced this info) as the automaker’s Canadian site has no info about the 2020 86 (again, go to CarCostCanada for 2020 86 pricing, trims, etcetera).

I’ve mentioned a number of 86 competitors already, but the one that probably comes closest to matching Toyota’s sports coupe in layout is Nissan’s 370Z Coupe, and you might be surprised to learn it retails for only $30,498 in its most basic trim, and with that solves the 86’ most criticized performance issue with a 350 horsepower base 3.7-litre V6. Its tech will take you a dozen years back in time, however, so get ready to be deflated if you want hook your smartphone up to Apple CarPlay or Android Auto, or even stream a podcast via Bluetooth (the base model will only let you take calls that way), but the orange liquid crystal displays provide a cool ‘80s retro digital Seiko look if you’re into that sort of thing, and it’s hard to argue against all that straight-line power.

2019 Toyota 86 GT
The rear seats are small, but they’re better than no rear seats at all. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

Before you run down to your local Nissan store and snap up a new Z, consider that it weighs 260 kilograms (573 lbs) more and feels like it, the Nissan doesn’t come with a rear bench seat so two (small) folks will need to stay home, and the 370Z’s fuel economy is nowhere near as efficient as the 86, Toyota achieving a claimed 9.9 L/100km in the city, 7.3 on the highway and 8.7 combined with the manual or 11.3 city, 8.3 highway 9.9 highway with its automatic, and Nissan only managing 12.6 city, 9.3 highway and 11.1 combined with the Z’s six-speed manual or 13.3, 9.3 and 11.5 respectively for its seven-speed auto.

2019 Toyota 86 GT
Forget about golf bags, four rims on racing slicks can fit inside with the rear row lowered. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

Of course, most of us don’t base the purchase of a future sports car on its fuel-efficiency, but this day and age it’s certainly a bonus, while anyone with kids will appreciate those rear seats. I wouldn’t go so far as to call Toyota’s 86 practical, but it’s easier to live with than many of its two-seat competitors and its one-piece rear seatback even folds down to expand on a reasonably sized 196-litre (6.9 cubic-foot) trunk to boot. Add to that good expected reliability and the 86 is a good choice for anyone wanting a daily driver with much better performance than most anything else available under $30k.