Back in early 2017, Volvo asked us to “rediscover [our] passion in life” in a then new V90 Cross Country, yet while the Swedish automaker’s overall sales grew impressively thanks to plenty of freshly…

2019 Volvo V90 Cross Country T6 AWD Road Test

2019 Volvo V90 Cross Country T6 AWD
Volvo’s V90 Cross Country is a handsome crossover wagon that might just be ideal for those not wanting to move up to a taller SUV.

Back in early 2017, Volvo asked us to “rediscover [our] passion in life” in a then new V90 Cross Country, yet while the Swedish automaker’s overall sales grew impressively thanks to plenty of freshly redesigned models and some entirely new entries as well, Canadian buyers flocked to its full lineup of SUVs instead of this tall mid-size luxury crossover wagon.

The result is the V90 Cross Country’s cancellation in our market as of 2020, this 2019 model year being its last after just three years. Along with the V90 Cross Country’s demise is the end of the regular V90 wagon too, while the beautiful and highly competent mid-size S90 luxury sedan remains in the lineup for at least another year and hopefully longer.

2019 Volvo V90 Cross Country T6 AWD
The V90 Cross Country has unmistakable Volvo design cues, plus beefier black bumpers, wheel arches and side sills than the regular V90 wagon.

The choice to forgo a crossover wagon for a big flagship luxury sedan flies in the face of convention, with some brands, particularly Volvo’s previous parent Ford (and it’s Lincoln luxury division), eliminating cars almost entirely, but the continuation of the S90 is probably more about maintaining a premium image than adding to the bottom line, because with only 835 combined S90, V90 and V90 Cross Country sales in its peak calendar year of 2018, and merely 295 after a 65-percent plunge in 2019, none of these cars would’ve made much of a difference to Volvo Canada’s profitability.

Standard styling elements include satin-silver bumper garnishes and Volvo’s trademark Thor’s Hammer LED headlamps.

For a bit of background, the V90 Cross Country replaced two generations of XC70 from 2000 through 2016 (it was dubbed V70 XC for the first three years), and by doing so once again brought Volvo’s renowned style, respected quality, sensible pragmatism and turbocharged, supercharged four-cylinder performance to the crossover wagon segment, while upping its luxury quotient to an entirely new level of opulence.

Anyone who’s spent time in a modern-day Volvo knows exactly what I mean, especially when equipped in one of its top R-Design or Inscription trims. The V90 Cross Country doesn’t use the usual trim nomenclatures for the Canadian market, but my tester was nicely outfitted with its Premium package and therefore, together with its generous list of standard features, is quite possibly (or should I say, was quite possibly) the most luxurious crossover wagon available today.

2019 Volvo V90 Cross Country T6 AWD
The 2019 Volvo V90 Cross Country comes standard with this attractive 19-inch alloys.

Then again, Audi may have something to say about that. The German brand now offers Canadian urban adventurers their all-new 2020 A6 Allroad in the same rather uncompetitive class, and while the four-ringed contender from Ingolstadt is impressive, Gothenburg’s outgoing alternative looks and feels richer inside despite costing $12,700 less.

2019 Volvo V90 Cross Country T6 AWD
Sharply angled LED taillights are standard too.

The 2019 V90 Cross Country starts at a very reasonable $62,500 compared to the A6 Allroad’s lofty $75,200 price tag, and while Audi’s brand image is certainly more upscale than Volvo’s, and its turbocharged 3.0-litre V6 makes an additional 19 horsepower and 74 more lb-ft of torque than Volvo’s turbocharged and supercharged 2.0-litre four-cylinder that puts out 316 horsepower and 295 lb-ft of torque, the Swede is slightly more pragmatic from a fuel economy perspective, with a claimed Transport Canada rating of 11.6 L/100km in the city, 8.1 on the highway and 10.0 combined compared to 11.8 city, 9.1 highway and 10.6 combined.

2019 Volvo V90 Cross Country T6 AWD
Nice silver detailing and “CROSS COUNTRY” inscribed into the black bumper are just some of this model’s unique details.

The 250 horsepower V90 Cross Country T5 AWD was discontinued at the end of model year 2018, by the way, this previously the base model at $59,500, while the $84,900 Ocean Race T6 AWD also said goodbye to the market for 2019.  Now for 2019 there’s just one T6 AWD trim level, but the noted $3,900 Premium package does a good job of making it Inscription-like, thanks to features such as heated windshield washer nozzles, auto-dimming and power-folding side mirrors, LED interior lighting, aluminum treadplates, a heated steering wheel rim, front and rear parking sensors with graphical warnings, Park Assist Pilot semi-autonomous self-parking, a 360-degree Surround View camera system, a HomeLink universal garage door opener, four-zone automatic climate control, a cooled glove box, heatable rear outboard seats, power-folding rear seatbacks and outer head restraints, a really innovative semi-automatic cargo cover, an integrated soft safety net to separate cargo from passengers, blind spot monitoring with cross-traffic alert, and more.

2019 Volvo V90 Cross Country T6 AWD
The base V90 Cross Country’s interior is truly upscale, even for a premium luxury car.

The aforementioned $62,500 base price for the 2019 V90 Cross Country T6 AWD doesn’t include $900 for metallic paint, which is included with the Audi incidentally, but the A6 Allroad only provides black and beige leather options inside, and it’s not plush Nappa leather like Volvo’s, which can be had in four no-cost optional hues including Charcoal (black), Amber (dark beige), Maroon Brown (dark reddish brown) and Blond (light grey).

2019 Volvo V90 Cross Country T6 AWD
The dash and controls layout is superb, with everything falling ideally to hand.

It should be noted that despite appearing richly appointed my tester was far from fully loaded, as it was missing the $3,600 Luxury package with its gorgeous tailored instrument panel, sensational upgraded front seats with power-adjustable side bolsters, power-extendable lower cushions, multi-technique massage function, and cooling ventilation, plus manually retractable side window curtains in back. My test model didn’t have the $2,350 optional rear air suspension and Four-C Active Chassis upgrade either, and only had 19-inch alloys instead of $1,000 enhanced 20-inch rims, or for that matter body-colour bumpers, wheel arches and sills, $425 Metal Mesh decor inlays (although the hardwood was lovely), $250 black headliner, $1,500 graphical head-up display, $3,750 Bowers & Wilkins premium audio system (with fabulous aluminum speaker grilles), and $600 dual two-stage child booster seats integrated within the rear outboard positions, with all of the above potentially increasing the 2019 V90 Cross Country’s price by $18,375 to $80,875.

2019 Volvo V90 Cross Country T6 AWD
The V90 Cross Country’s standard digital instrument cluster is very impressive.

While that might sound like a lot for a mid-size luxury crossover wagon, consider for a moment that the 2020 Audi A6 Allroad Technik starts at $83,100 without a massage, and while it includes that brand’s fabulous “Virtual Cockpit” digital gauge package (the V90 gets a digital instrument cluster too, just not quite as configurable as the A6 Allroad’s), getting said massage, along with upgraded Valcona leather will set you back another $4,050, while adding on all of the V90’s advanced driver assistive systems will cost another $2,400. You can also add the $2,500 Dynamic package with Dynamic Steering and Dynamic All-Wheel Steering, $2,500 for Night Vision Assistant, $500 for quieter dual-pane glass, $350 for Audi Phonebox with wireless charging, another $350 for rear side airbags (some impressive stuff), and $1,000 for full body paint (already priced in to the top-tier Volvo), bringing the German model’s total to $102,650, less an expected $1,000 in additional incentives if you choose to sign up for a CarCostCanada account in order to learn everything you can before speaking to an Audi dealer (see CarCostCanada’s 2020 Audi A6 allroad Canada Prices page).

2019 Volvo V90 Cross Country T6 AWD
The tablet-style Sensus infotainment touchscreen is easy to use and full of features.

That’s $1,000 less than a Volvo dealer is prepared to slice off of the V90 Cross Country, or so says CarCostCanada on their 2019 Volvo V90 Cross Country Canada Prices page, but considerable savings aside the Volvo should really impress anyone considering either of these two fine vehicles. They’re both unquestionably handsome from the outside, and come equipped standard with all expected LED lighting tech and brushed metal accents to dazzle owners and onlookers alike. The minimalist Audi cabin is sublime, as is Volvo’s ritzier interior, their materials and build quality never in question, the only differences being a desire to appeal to varying tastes.

2019 Volvo V90 Cross Country T6 AWD
The optional overhead parking monitor is excellent.

Even before sliding into the V90 Cross Country’s enveloping driver’s seat, its high-quality gleaming metal- and leather-wrapped key fob sets the tone. This said its proximity-sensing access means it will most likely remain in your purse or pocket and not be touched at all—such a shame. Once inside, Volvo covers most surfaces with premium soft-touch synthetic or optional contrasting French-stitched leather, plus gorgeous dark oak inlays across the entire instrument panel and all doors. The fancier version gets the previously noted metal inlays instead, but truly there’s enough satin-finish aluminum trim elsewhere that more metal is hardly necessary.   

2019 Volvo V90 Cross Country T6 AWD
Those who want to row their own gears will need to do so via the V90 Cross Country’s shift lever.

Key areas below the waist are soft to the touch, not so with many premium brands such as Lexus (although they sell nothing in this class), while all pillars are nicely wrapped in the same high-quality woven material as the roof liner. The ritzy details spoken of earlier include much of the switchgear that’s downright jewellery-like. Seriously, the exquisite diamond-patterned edging around the main audio knob, plus the twisting ignition controller and scrolling drive mode selector, not to mention the beautifully formed vent knobs, are gorgeous bits of metalwork, while the digital displays are some of the best in the industry.

2019 Volvo V90 Cross Country T6 AWD
The V90 Cross Country’s interior detailing is exquisite.

Before I continue, I must say that most everything I’m talking about is standard in Canada. Volvo even includes an impressive vertical tablet-style touchscreen on the centre stack, which in my opinion is one of the best in the business. Not only is it brilliantly clear and high-definition, with nice deep and rich colours, plus as easy use of a regular smartphone or tablet, with familiar tap, swipe and pinch functions, but it’s filled with loads of capability, making it one of the most versatile infotainment systems around. I also like that it mostly doesn’t change from one Volvo model to the next, so when you’re stepping up from an XC40 to this V90 or an XC90, you’ll enjoy the same impressive infotainment experience.

2019 Volvo V90 Cross Country T6 AWD
These sport seats really hold the torso and behind in place during hard cornering.

The fully configurable digital gauge cluster is standard too, and provides a nice clear display with a slight matte finish so there’s not much glare. While configurable, I wouldn’t go so far to say it’s as versatile as Audi’s aforementioned Virtual Cockpit, being that you can’t maximize infotainment system features to turn the entire cluster into a map, for instance. Audi’s cluster reduces the primary gauges into tiny dials at each corner, whereas Volvo’s dials remain mostly full-size all the time. Still, the V90’s gauge cluster offers excellent usability in other ways, the gauges shrinking slightly when using some features in the centre-mounted multi-info display, and that area quite large and appealing with plenty of attractive graphics and most features from the infotainment system, including a detailed, colourful navigation map.

2019 Volvo V90 Cross Country T6 AWD
This massive panoramic sunroof comes standard.

As impressive as its interior is, one of the V90 Cross Country’s best attributes is the superb drivetrain noted earlier. Its 315 horsepower and 279 pound-feet of torque provide spirited V6-like performance off the line and quick response for passing manoeuvres. It’s mated to a quick-shifting eight-speed automatic with manual mode, but unfortunately no paddles to keep the fingers busy in the more comfort-oriented V90 Cross Country. Rather, those wanting to row through the gears must do so via the shift lever, which is no problem yet not as easy as leaving both hands on the wheel for maximum control. Then again, I almost never bothered to shift the autobox anyway, as it went about its duty with effortlessly quick gear changes needing no prompting.

2019 Volvo V90 Cross Country T6 AWD
The rear seating area is spacious and wholly comfortable, plus refinement is above par.

The Cross Country doesn’t provide the same level of handling sharpness as the regular V90 T6 AWD R-Design tested last year, but it certainly comes within a hair’s width of matching it. It’s 58 millimetres (2.3 inches) taller, causing its centre of gravity to raise upwards somewhat, so naturally it can’t provide the same lateral grip as the more hunkered down sport wagon, but you likely won’t notice much difference unless pushing it extremely hard, and that’s not really what the Cross Country is all about. It’s better at getting you out from within a snow-filled ski resort parking lot, or allowing for greater ease and confidence inspiring control while trekking through a muddy cottage country back road.

2019 Volvo V90 Cross Country T6 AWD
The removable cargo cover automatically lifts out of the way when opening the tailgate.

The V90 Cross Country is equipped with standard all-wheel drive, but no off-road mode, yet it manages slippery conditions well. I’d even be willing to venture into some light off-roading situations, such as overcoming small stumps and rocks on a logging road, for example, or wading through a shallow river bed, because that’s exactly what Volvo has promised is possible with this all-weather, all-season, multi-activity vehicle.

With standard roof rails on top, plus available cross-members, bike racks, overhead storage containers and more, the V90 Cross Country becomes an ideal companion for outdoor activities such as cycling, kayaking, camping, and more. Volvo provides plenty of other accessories too, such a $1,345 trailer hitch package with electronic monitoring and Trailer Stability Assist (TSA), allowing owners to take full advantage of this crossover’s capabilities.

2019 Volvo V90 Cross Country T6 AWD
A cargo divider lifts out from the floor, complete with hooks for grocery bags.

While trekking through the wilderness, or merely overcoming the unkempt lanes in most of Canada’s inner cities, you’ll enjoy a wonderful ride, the V90 Cross Country providing even more comfort than the already impressive V90 wagon. This is a car I could drive all day long and never tire of. Together with its fabulous front seats, which are superbly comfortable and provide excellent support, there’s no real reason to spend more for the fancier massaging buckets unless money is no object.

Even more importantly for me, the driver’s position is ultra-adjustable and therefore should be perfect for the majority of body types. I’m a bit shorter than average at five-feet-eight, but my legs are longer than my torso, which can cause a problem if the steering column doesn’t provide enough reach. No such issues with the V90 Cross Country, however, that provides an ideal setup for both comfort and control.

2019 Volvo V90 Cross Country T6 AWD
A webbed divider protects passengers from loose cargo that could become dangerous in an accident.

There as an incredible amount of room in back, too, with almost 10 inches in front of my knees when the driver’s seat was set up for my long-legged frame, plus five inches remained from my shoulder to the door panel, another four or so next to my hips, and about three and a half above my head. Stretching out my legs was easy, with my shoes placed underneath the driver’s seat, while comfort was increased yet more via my tester’s four-zone auto climate control that provided a useful panel for controlling each rear outboard passenger’s temperature. The heated rear seats would no doubt be appreciated for winter ski trips with the family, as would the massive standard panoramic sunroof overhead, this completely eliminating any feelings of claustrophobia that can happen for some when seated in back, but then again it seems bizarre to imagine someone feeling closed in while seated anywhere in the spacious V90 Cross Country. Aiding the V90’s open, airy experience are HVAC vents on the backside of that centre console, and more at the midpoint of each B-pillar, while LED reading lamps hover overhead. A complex centre armrest flips down between outboard passengers, complete with pop-out dual cupholders, a shallow tray, plus a lidded and lined stowage container.

2019 Volvo V90 Cross Country T6 AWD
Thin items, such as floor mats, can be stowed below the cargo floor.

The V90 Cross Country’s powered liftgate lets you into the spacious cargo area, while the aforementioned retractable cargo cover automatically lifts up and out of the way. The cargo compartment, which measures 560 litres (19.8 cubic feet) behind the rear seatbacks and about 1,530 litres (54 cu ft) when the rear row is lowered, is luxuriously finished with plush carpets all the way up the sidewalls and rear seatbacks, plus of course the floor, while below an accessorized rubber all-weather cargo mat (part of a $355 Protection package that includes floor trays for four seating positions, a centre tunnel cover, and the just-noted cargo tray), my tester’s floor included a flip-up cargo divider featuring integrated grocery bag hooks. The floor can be lifted further, exposing a shallow carpeted compartment for storing very thin items, such as the carpeted floor mats while the all-season ones are in place.

2019 Volvo V90 Cross Country T6 AWD
The centre pass-through is small, but certainly better than nothing.

Aiding versatility, the V90’s 60/40 split-folding rear seatbacks include a small, narrow centre pass-through that’s ideal for a couple of pairs of skis, or alternatively each portion of the seatback can be dropped down flat via powered release buttons attached to the cargo sidewall. These automatically flip the headrests forward too, which incidentally can be lowered from the front to aid rear visibility as well.

2019 Volvo V90 Cross Country T6 AWD
With the rear seats lower there’s plenty of cargo space available.

If you’re currently driving a four-door sedan or wagon and not quite sure if a tall, SUV-like crossover such as Volvo’s XC90 is the right way to go, this V90 Cross Country is a good alternative. All said, I’m not going to recommend it over Audi’s new A6 Allroad mentioned throughout this review, but I will go so far as say that it measures up in all ways other than high-speed performance, and possibly prestige. Then again, Volvo has been reviving its respectability as of late, and has long enjoyed its own diehard following that would consider nothing less. Comfort is arguably better in the Volvo too, and as noted earlier this V90 Cross Country is a bit stingier on fuel. In the end it will come down to personal taste, and the ability of your local Volvo dealer to find a new one still available. If your interest is piqued, I recommend calling now before it’s too late.

Story and photo credits: Trevor Hofmann

Photo Editing: Karen Tuggay

When the CX-3 arrived in May of 2015 as a 2016 model, there were 13 rivals in the subcompact crossover segment. Two others had arrived earlier that year and one more came onto the scene the following…

2019 Mazda CX-3 GT Road Test

2019 Mazda CX-3 GT
Early 2019 CX-3s look the same as those that came along later, but there are some key differences inside.

When the CX-3 arrived in May of 2015 as a 2016 model, there were 13 rivals in the subcompact crossover segment. Two others had arrived earlier that year and one more came onto the scene the following month, but interestingly four other models from that year’s 15 competitor class are no longer available today. The sporty Nissan Juke and its taller Cube compatriot were kind of replaced by the new Qashqai and newer Kicks, while the void left by the Jeep Patriot was more or less filled by the Renegade, but the Scion xB, along with its brand, is gone forever.

The Honda Element had been given the boot many years before that, whereas that automaker’s more popular HR-V arrived the same year as the CX-3, along with the just-noted Renegade and Fiat’s related 500X. Models still existing today that preceded these five include (in order of arrival) the Jeep Compass, Kia Soul (that like the Kona has an EV as well), Mitsubishi RVR, Mini Countryman, Buick Encore, Chevrolet Trax, and Subaru Crosstrek (that’s now available as a plug-in hybrid for 2020), plus more recent entries including the Qashqai, Ford EcoSport, Toyota C-HR, Kia Niro (that’s available as a plug-in hybrid and an EV too), Hyundai Kona (which includes an EV), Kicks, Hyundai Venue, Mazda CX-30, and Kia Seltos (a 2021). That’s a total of 20, with more expected from a variety of automakers.

2019 Mazda CX-3 GT
This is a late arrival 2019 CX-3 GT, and it has some upgrades worth noting.

Considering this burgeoning category the CX-3’s seventh-place standing is very good, especially when factoring in the little crossover SUV hasn’t visibly changed all that much since inception five years ago. Model year 2017 carried over from 2016 identically, but 2018 added a manual gearbox to base FWD models, retuned the suspension for more comfort, added Mazda’s G-vectoring control to improve handling, lowered interior noise, upgraded the steering wheel and instrument cluster, made the automaker’s smart city brake support low-speed automatic emergency braking standard, pulled more standard and optional i-ActivSense advanced driver assistive systems into lower trims, including full-speed smart brake support with front obstruction warning, lane departure warning, automatic high beams, adaptive cruise control, and more. 

2019 Mazda CX-3 GT
The CX-3 received minor styling updates for 2019, but you’ll need to look closely to see them.

The following model year saw Mazda modify the grille, taillights, and wheels, but changes to everything but those alloys were ultra-subtle, whereas the cabin received nicer materials along with new seats, while the lower console was redesigned to accommodate an electromechanical parking brake. Blind spot monitoring was made standard for 2019 too, while the top-line GT being reviewed here received genuine leather in place of leatherette in previous years, plus this top trim line also featured everything from the previous year’s Technology package as standard kit, which included items like satellite radio, automatic high beam assist, and lane departure warning.

2019 Mazda CX-3 GT
LED headlights with cornering capability and auto high beams are standard in GT trim.

The 2019 CX-3’s Skyactiv-G 2.0-litre four-cylinder engine gained 2 horsepower too, an increase to 148 horsepower that carries over to 2020 like the entirety of the car, incidentally, while torque stayed steady at 146 lb-ft, and continues to do so. I’m guessing it would be difficult to tell the difference between 2018 and 2019 models off the line or while passing, as an increase of 1.35 percent might only be perceptible to professional engineers testing both model years back to back, but I was happy with the previous model’s performance and therefore continue to find the CX-3 to be a fun car to drive.

2019 Mazda CX-3 GT
The GT includes tiny LED fog lamps, more exterior chrome, and larger 18-inch alloys.

The same engine is included with all trims, by the way, while base GX models once again come standard with a manual and FWD, and optional with a six-speed automatic with FWD or the brand’s i-Activ AWD. The mid-range GS is standard with the autobox and optional with AWD, while the GT gets both the auto and AWD standard. The CX-3 starts at just $21,045 plus freight and fees, whereas my fully loaded tester hits the road for $31,045. Those numbers don’t change one iota for 2020, although a CarCostCanada report will show you how to save up to $2,000 in additional incentives for the 2019 CX-3, says their 2019 Mazda CX-3 Canada Prices page, but average member savings have actually been $2,166. Take note that the 2020 Mazda CX-3 Canada Prices page claims up to $600 in additional incentives, although once again it’s showing average member savings at $2,166.

2019 Mazda CX-3 GT
Fresh new LED taillights grace each GT model.

The Skyactiv-Drive automatic gains steering wheel-mounted paddle shifters in GS and GT trims, which make the little SUV more engaging to drive quickly, while only the GT gets two-inch larger 18-inch alloys on 215/50R18 all-season tires for additional grip around fast-paced corners. Handling is good despite merely making due with a semi-independent torsion or twist beam rear suspension, although this setup is common in this smallest SUV class, while the front MacPherson strut design is also par for the course and delivers good control through quick curves, while the power-assist rack-and-pinion steering provides good directional control and fairly decent feedback.

2019 Mazda CX-3 GT
Early 2019 CX-3s had the option of Cocoa brown Nappa leather plus leatherette dash and door inserts.

Certainly there’s nothing wrong with the way the CX-3 drives, especially since Mazda improved its ride quality, and together with this increased refinement is one of the nicer interiors in its class. This is nothing new for the independent Japanese brand, and while the CX-3 doesn’t quite measure up to the new CX-30 or CX-5, let alone the near-premium CX-9, at the very least needing fabric-wrapped A-pillars plus a soft-touch dash-top and door uppers to do that, the primary instrument hood is finished in stitched leatherette for an upscale look and feel, while the centre portion of the instrument panel gets a contrast-stitched and padded leatherette bolster across its middle.

2019 Mazda CX-3 GT
The CX-3 GT delivers a truly upscale interior.

Before going any further I need to mention an interesting change taken midway through the 2019 model year. That instrument panel bolster and the door inserts were actually finished in stitched leatherette in earlier 2019 examples like my Soul Red Crystal painted tester, whereas this changed to grey Grand Luxe Suede (think soft, plush Alcantara) in the fall when I received my Snowflake White Pearl example. Now, for 2020, the suede-like material remains the only surfacing for these areas, and thanks to a massive photo gallery (just click on any photo above) you can see the difference with your own eyes.

2019 Mazda CX-3 GT
This late-2019 CX-3 GT doesn’t look quite as fancy due to a black interior, but believe us it’s just as nice.

This means if you’re eyeing up a new 2019 CX-3 at your local dealer (and plenty are still available due to somewhat sluggish sales during fall and winter plus the new challenge of COVID-19), you’ll now know why some 2019s have the leather look and others are all soft and cuddly. I personally like the suede a lot, and would choose it if the option was available due to its richer, more opulent appeal, plus it’s the newer of the two GT interior choices and therefore might bode better upon resale, but both are nice.

2019 Mazda CX-3 GT
The gauge cluster includes both analogue and digital elements.

You may also notice a change in upholstery designs, with my red tester featuring the chocolate brown and cream two-tone perforated Cocoa Nappa leather interior package that’s no longer available for 2020, and the white model getting the same perforated black leather with grey piping as you’ll find in the 2020. Mazda offers the 2020 CX-3 GT with a no-cost Pure White interior option too, just like it did in 2019, so your choices are greater with the outgoing CX-3 than with the new one, as long as you can find an example with Nappa leather. No matter which version you choose, Mazda fits leatherette bolsters to each side of the centre stack and lower console, thus making sure you won’t chafe your knees. As I’ve been saying all along, the attention to detail in the CX-3 GT is impressive.

2019 Mazda CX-3 GT
Top-line CX-3 GTs get this pop-up display that shows projected info right in the safest line of sight.

Upholsteries and trims aside, the two cars are pretty well the same other than some small details. The lovely instrument panel bolster gets visually separated from the dash above by an attractive metallic trim strip that elegantly integrates the centre vent, which would otherwise be invisible unless tilted up or down to direct air. The corner vents are circular in design, and their bezels are finished with a satin-aluminum outer ring and a piano black lacquered inner ring for the older model, this matching some other glossy black trim around the shifter and elsewhere, although the newer CX-3 GT features a glossy red inner ring that ironically would be more suitable to the older model’s red exterior.

2019 Mazda CX-3 GT
Late-arrival 2019 and 2020 GTs get this suede-like padded bolster and red rings around the air vents.

Fortunately Mazda still offers its gorgeous trademark colour in the 2020 model for the same upgrade price of $450, while my white tester’s extra paint charge was only $200. Mazda offers the exact same seven-colour pallet for 2020 as it did for this 2019 model year, and when researching Mazda Canada dealers nationwide to find out if enough 2019 CX-3s were available to warrant this review, I noticed plenty of colour options and trims.

2019 Mazda CX-3 GT
Maps and Waze mean that Android Auto is finally part of the CX-3 experience, although only in late-2019 and 2020 models.

If you’re into the luxury-look of satin-silver polished metal, the CX-3 will be an absolute delight. There’s more surrounding the wing-like analogue and digital primary gauge cluster, plus the thin twinned lower steering wheel spoke and upper door garnishes around the door pulls. Yet more metallic trim surrounds the fixed tablet-style infotainment display perched on centre dash top, while wonderful knurled metal rings dress up each of the three automatic climate control dials. Knurled metal also edges the infotainment controller on the lower console, which is surrounded by quick-access buttons for the main menu, audio system, navigation, radio favourites, and the back button, while a useful rotating volume dial gets the identical knurled metal treatment.

2019 Mazda CX-3 GT
Knurled metal rings around the auto HVAC dials, padded leatherette knee protectors, and three-way heated seats are premium-level kit.

Speaking of the infotainment system, Mazda has been cold-molasses-like slow to integrate Android Auto and Apple CarPlay into this model, which means if you’re a fan of either you’ll need to choose the updated late 2019 arrival, or of course a 2020. Yes, believe it or not the otherwise very good 7.0-inch centre touchscreen display in my early 2019, complete with navigation, Bluetooth phone connectivity with audio streaming, controls for the very good seven-speaker Bose audio system that includes satellite and HD radio, automated text message reading and responding, plus more, is devoid of these two smartphone integration apps, but the newer version includes both as seen in the photos, and therefore I hooked up the Android version that works well.

2019 Mazda CX-3 GT
The CX-3 includes this knurled metal trimmed rotating infotainment controller as well as touchscreen operation.

Features in mind, both 2019 and 2020 CX-3 GTs also include auto on/off LED headlights with adaptive cornering, auto-levelling and the aforementioned auto high beams, LED fog lamps (although they’re tiny and therefore hard to see), LED rear combination taillights with signature elements, extra chrome exterior trim, proximity-sensing keyless entry, a 10-way power driver’s seat with memory, a colour Active Driving Display (which is kind of like a head-up display), traffic sign recognition, an auto-dimming centre mirror, a powered glass sunroof, and everything already mentioned.

2019 Mazda CX-3 GT
The Cocoa Nappa is really nice if you can find an early-2019 CX-3 GT, but you’ll forgo the newer model’s psuede trim.

Notable features pulled up from lesser trims include pushbutton ignition, rain-sensing wipers, a heated leather-wrapped steering wheel, a leather-clad shift knob, a wide-angle reverse camera (without active guidelines), Aha and Stitcher internet radio functionality, two USB charging ports, three-way heatable front seats, an overhead console with a sunglasses holder, a folding rear centre armrest with integrated cupholders, a removable cargo cover, tire pressure monitoring, all the usual active and passive safety features found in this segment, and more.

2019 Mazda CX-3 GT
The classic black seats feature classy grey piping.

The just-noted 10-way powered seats and the tilt/telescopic steering provided enough adjustability to provide good comfort without forcing my long-legged frame to reach too far for its leather-wrapped rim, the latter easily one of the nicest in its class. Rear seat roominess is good for this smaller class of subcompact SUVs, with the new CX-30 (which really should have been dubbed CX-4 despite the name already being used in China) providing a little bit more room, performance and luxury for those willing to upgrade.   

2019 Mazda CX-3 GT
The rear seating area includes a folding centre armrest with integrated cupholders.

Being that the CX-30 has just arrived it’s difficult to know if it will do as well as the CX-3, but Q1 of 2020 shows the two models running neck-to-neck at 1,486 units for the older SUV and 1,420 for the new entry, and there may have been availability issues with the latter. Year-over-year Q1 comparisons show the carnage COVID-19 is inflicting to the auto industry, with the CX-3’s sales down by almost 59 percent, but believe me it’s hardly worst amongst its peers. The previously mentioned Soul is down 61 percent while the Renegade has lost 68 percent, which actually looks good when compared to the Compass that’s plunged by 71 percent. The Qashqai is even faring worse with a 74 percent drop in Q1 year-over-year sales, while the Kicks is off by 69 percent. Everything else is failing slightly better (although not necessarily with as many overall sales), but not much.

2019 Mazda CX-3 GT
CX-3 cargo capacity is fairly good when compared to smaller subcompact SUVs, measuring 504 litres (467 in the GT) behind its 60/40-split rear seatbacks.

Looking back at normal markets, the CX-3 had a very successful start, and earning the Automobile Journalist Association of Canada’s 2016 Canadian Utility Vehicle of the Year award right off the mark and rising to fourth in its class for 2016 and the same for 2017, plus an impressive third for 2018, but age dropped it to seventh last year, and now, as noted, the CX-30 may pass right on by until Mazda can provide us with an all-new CX-3. I’ll have a full review of the 2020 CX-30 coming soon, plus a review of a 2020 CX-3 GT, but until then you may want to consider a 2019, as there are plenty of savings to be had. This in mind, remember to check out CarCostCanada to save the most you possibly can.

2019 Mazda CX-3 GT
The CX-3 can stow up to 1,209 litres (1,147 in the GT) of gear when the rear seats are laid flat.

In the end, any Mazda CX-3 is a good choice in this segment, particularly if you want a stylish, sporty, refined subcompact SUV that’s easy on fuel—it’s rated at 8.8 L/100km in the city, 7.0 on the highway and 8.0 combined with its manual and FWD, 8.3 city, 6.9 highway and 7.7 combined with the automatic and FWD, or 8.6, 7.4 and 8.1 respectively with the auto and AWD. Just the same, this segment is beyond hot as covered earlier in this review. Therefore I recommend doing your homework so you’ll be 100 percent happy with your final choice. I believe once you’ve done your due diligence the CX-3 will be on your shortlist, as remains one of this segment’s best.

Story and photo credits: Trevor Hofmann

Photo Editing: Karen Tuggay

If you’re old enough to be called a boomer, or if you fall into the early gen-xer category, you might remember when wagons were the furthest from cool a car could be. Certainly there were exceptions,…

2020 Mercedes-AMG C 43 4Matic Wagon Road Test

2020 Mercedes-AMG C43 4Matic Wagon
Wagons never went out of style, and this Mercedes-AMG C 43 4Matic Wagon is easily the most appealing in its compact D-segment segment.

If you’re old enough to be called a boomer, or if you fall into the early gen-xer category, you might remember when wagons were the furthest from cool a car could be.

Certainly there were exceptions, like Chevy’s Nomad, the early ‘70s Olds Vista Cruiser my family borrowed to travel from Vancouver to California one summer, some of Volvo’s Turbo Wagons, and Mercedes’ 1979 (W123-body) 500 TE AMG that’s possibly coolest of all, but believe it or not minivans had more street cred than wagons when they arrived in the ‘80s, and when those ultimately useful monobox conveyances stopped stroking our collective ego it was up to crossover SUVs to balance the emotion-driven wants and practical needs of our busy suburban lifestyles. The thing is, to many serious car enthusiasts, the wagon never went out of style.

2020 Mercedes-AMG C43 4Matic Wagon
Good looking C-Class wagon gets plenty of aero upgrades in AMG C 43 trim.

Mercedes understands this better than any manufacturer, proven by satisfying its longstanding wagon faithful with two segment sizes and multiple trim levels that include the compact C-Class Wagon and the mid-size E-Class Wagon, plus various trims including the C 300 4Matic Wagon, the AMG C 43 4Matic Wagon being reviewed here, the E 450 4Matic Wagon, the AMG E 53 4Matic+ Wagon, and lastly the AMG E 63 S 4Matic+ Wagon.

The last one on that list is in a class of one from price to performance, its $124,200 buying a 3.3-second sprint from standstill to 100 km/h via a 603 horsepower 4.0-litre biturbo V8 as well as a whole lot of luxury, while the somewhat more sedate AMG-tuned E variant provides a similar level of luxury for its much more affordable $87,800 base price yet utilizes a turbocharged and electrically compressed 3.0-litre inline-six making 429 horsepower to push it from zero to 100 km/h in a scant 4.5 seconds.

2020 Mercedes-AMG C43 4Matic Wagon
These optional three-way LED headlights have impressive detailing.

At $60,900 the AMG C 43 4Matic Wagon is the value five-door amongst Mercedes’ go-fast AMG estate line, but despite its much more affordable price point it still delivers the goods. Its 385-horsepower 3.0-litre biturbo V6, complete with rapid-multispark ignition and high-pressure direct injection, propels it from naught to 100 km/h in a very respectable 4.8 seconds, much thanks to a near equal 384 lb-ft of torque, and the sounds its engine and exhaust make doing so are almost as entertaining as the drive itself.

2020 Mercedes-AMG C43 4Matic Wagon
These optional 19-inch alloys provide extra grip for fast-paced manoeuvres.

To be clear, there’s nothing remotely like the C 43 Wagon on the Canadian market. BMW, which has long offered its 3 and 5 Series Touring wagons, no longer sells any in Canada (at least not since last year that saw the sedan get redesigned and the wagons carryover unchanged—they’re gone for 2020), while Audi only provides its tall crossover wagon lineup consisting of the A4 and A6 Allroad, and with 248 and 335 horsepower apiece they don’t perform anywhere near as well as Mercedes’ AMGs. What about Volvo? The Chinese-owned Swedish carmaker should be commended for providing the regular-height V60 sport wagon and their raised V60 Cross Country wagon with performance from diesel, turbocharged gasoline, turbo and supercharged gasoline, plus turbo, supercharger and hybrid electric gasoline power units and horsepower ratings from 190 with the diesel to a mighty 405 hp for V60 Polestar trim (the mid-size E-segment V90 and V90 Cross Country models have been discontinued in Canada for 2020), but as innovative as it is (and it’s truly impressive) Volvo’s smooth, linear 2.0-litre turbocharged, supercharged, hybrid powertrain isn’t as in-your-face exciting as the C 43 Wagon’s raucous V6, AMG SpeedShift TCT 9-speed, and 4Matic all-wheel drive combination.

2020 Mercedes-AMG C43 4Matic Wagon
LED taillights come standard across the C-Class lineup.

The C 43 has the requisite menacing look down too. Granted it’s a lot more imposing in Black, my tester’s coat of Polar White almost saintly by comparison, but don’t let the angelic demeanor fool you. All of the matte and glossy black trim gives away its bahn-storming purpose, with highlights being its mesh front grilles, the aggressive lower front fascia with straked corner vents, the side mirror caps, the mostly glass roof and roof rails, the window trim, the deeply sculpted rear diffuser, the quad of tailpipes, and the 19-inch alloys shod with Continental ContiSportContact SSR 225/40 high performance rubber. 

2020 Mercedes-AMG C43 4Matic Wagon
There’s nothing subtle about the C 43’s rear diffuser and quad of AMG Performance exhaust pipes.

Eye-arresting LED headlights with three separate elements provide advanced style and a level of brilliance capable of turning dark nighttime side roads into near daylight, their vertical corner lamps particularly unique, while bright metal adorns the top half of each exterior door handle and a large strip spanning the back hatch, not to mention various badges including a subtle front centre grille-mounted “/////AMG” logo, two proudly declaring the “BITURBO 4MATIC” powertrain on each front fender, one boasting a larger and more prominent version of AMG’s logo and another for the car’s “C 43” nameplate on the left and right of the rear liftgate respectively, plus various Mercedes three-pointed stars at each end, on the wheel caps, etcetera.

2020 Mercedes-AMG C43 4Matic Wagon
The C 43 4Matic Wagon’s interior is exquisite.

Of course, proximity-sensing keyless entry gets you inside, where you’ll be greeted by a stunning set of sport seats finished in black perforated leather, red stitching and brushed aluminum four-point harness holes up top, not to mention a small AMG badge on the centre backrest, that is if your eyes aren’t first distracted by the exquisitely detailed doors that get even more brushed and satin-finish aluminum trim, plus drilled aluminum Burmester speaker grilles and red-stitched black leather everywhere else.

Red thread and padded leather continues to surface the dash top, even as far as the most forward portion just under the windshield, plus the instrument panel all the way down each side of the centre stack, the latter finished in gorgeous available gloss carbon fibre as it swoops down into the lower centre console that culminates into a large split centre armrest detailed out in more red-stitched soft leather.

2020 Mercedes-AMG C43 4Matic Wagon
Check out the detailing on the driver’s door panel.

Speaking of large, two oversized moonroofs give the impression of one massive panoramic sunroof without as much loss in torsional rigidity, important in such a long roofed car capable of attaining an imposed 250-km/h (155-mph) top track speed, not to mention shockingly good handling on some of my favourite semi-deserted non-track backroads, a process that, while thrilling to the nth degree, is almost downplayed by the luxuriously appointed C 43’s overall quietness. The roof pillars, finished in the same high quality cloth as the roofliner, can take some credit for calming the wind and hushing the rest of the outside world, but most of the magic is in the ultra-stiff unibody itself, plus all of the seals, insulation, engine and component mounts, etcetera. Thus only slight wind and road noises enter the cabin, allowing for more of the growling engine or alternatively the audio delights of the aforementioned optional Burmester stereo.

2020 Mercedes-AMG C43 4Matic Wagon
There isn’t a better looking interior in the D-segment, and Mercedes’ quality is superb.

You can control the volume of all 13 speakers from a beautiful knurled metal cylinder button on the right-side steering wheel spoke, this just one of the C 43’s full array of steering wheel switchgear, two of which are tiny Blackberry-style touchpads that let you scroll through the wholly impressive digital gauge cluster or the centre display. The entire wheel is a cut above, the partial Nappa leather-clad rim flattened at each side and the bottom for a really sporty look and feel, while a red top marker lines up the centre and suede-like Dinamica (think Alcantara) adds grip to the sides.

There’s more brushed and satin-finish aluminum in the C 43 than any competitor, but somehow Mercedes pulls it off with a level of retrospective steampunk tastefulness that shouldn’t make sense yet obviously does. The five circular HVAC vents on the instrument panel make the look work, the three at the centre underscored by a stunning row of knurled metal-topped brushed aluminum toggle-type switches, this only upstaged by another cylinder switch for drive mode selection of Comfort, Sport, Sport+ and Slippery settings, and a rotating dial for the infotainment system, both once again detailed out in knurled aluminum and the latter positioned below Mercedes’ trademark palm rest cum touchpad and quick access button infused controller.

2020 Mercedes-AMG C43 4Matic Wagon
This fabulous 12.3-inch digital instrument cluster is optional.

Mercedes displays are the envy of the auto industry, especially newer models that incorporate dual connected 12.3-inch screens for the primary instruments and infotainment. The current fourth-generation (W205) C-Class (S205 for the wagon), introduced in September 2014 for the 2015 model year and therefore in its seventh year of production, hasn’t been given the brand’s latest dash design yet, but its traditional hooded analogue gauge cluster (and large multi-info display) can be substituted for 12.3 inches of digital instruments when opting for the C 43’s Technology package, at which point it comes filled with all the digital wizardry the brand is now becoming renowned for. It’s as colourful as gauge clusters get, and uniquely customizable with various background designs and loads of multi-information features. It allows for a multitude of function combinations too, and can either take over the entire display with a navigation map, for instance, or just a portion thereof, working wonderfully once figured out.

2020 Mercedes-AMG C43 4Matic Wagon
AMG makes one of the most impressive sport steering wheel around.

My tester’s optional centre display, which is slightly smaller at 10.25 inches (the base model gets a 7.0-inch screen), is a fixed-tablet design propped atop the centre stack in an all too common layout these days, although its innards are pure Mercedes-Benz and therefore filled with attractive, colourful graphics and easy to scroll through ahead of choosing a function as needed, plus it comes loaded up with myriad features. Unlike many such displays the C’s isn’t a touchscreen, so all tap, pinch or swipe gesture controls need to be done via the previously noted touchpad or scrolling wheel on the lower console, or the little touch-button on the steering wheel, all of which work well enough. I prefer having use of a touchscreen as well as the other controls, mind you, or at least a larger touchpad, which is also showing up in some of Mercedes’ more recent offerings.

2020 Mercedes-AMG C43 4Matic Wagon
The centre stack is well laid out and filled with features, while genuine carbon fibre trim is optional.

That Technology package mentioned a moment ago costs $1,900 and also includes the active Multibeam LED headlights I spoke of before, and adaptive high beam assist, while all the gloss-black exterior trim noted earlier was actually part of a $1,000 AMG Night package.

Likewise, the fabulous AMG Nappa/Dinamica performance steering wheel that I went on about at length earlier is part of the $2,400 AMG Driver’s package that also includes the free-flow, four-pipe AMG performance exhaust system with push-button actuated computer-controlled vanes, the 19-inch AMG five-twin-spoke aero wheels (the base model gets 18s), an increase in top speed to the previously noted 250 km/h (155 mph), and an AMG Track Pace app that allows performance data, such as speed, acceleration, lap and sector times to be stored in the infotainment system while driving on the racetrack.

2020 Mercedes-AMG C43 4Matic Wagon
The upgraded 10.25-inch centre display gets high-definition clarity and great graphics.

For 2020 AMG Driver’s package also includes an AMG Drive Unit that features a set of F1-inspired controls below each steering wheel spoke for quickly adjusting performance settings (with integrated colour displays for confirming the selection). The left pod of switches can be assigned to functions like manual shift mode, the AMG Ride Control system’s damping modes, the three-stage ESP, and the AMG Performance Exhaust system, while the circular switch on the right selects and displays the AMG Dynamic Select driving mode.

As you can see by checking out the photo gallery and smaller images shown on this page, those cool steering wheel controls were not on my tester, which means the car photographed was actually a 2019 model. Other than this, and some small details such as dual rear USB ports as standard equipment across the entire C-Class lineup, the C 43 Wagon you’re looking at is identical to the 2020.

2020 Mercedes-AMG C43 4Matic Wagon
Touch gesture and rotating wheel controls can be executed via this console-mounted interface.

That means the $5,600 Premium package found in my tester would be the same as the one in the 2020 model, with both featuring aforementioned proximity keyless access, a touchpad controller, and the 590-watt Burmester Surround Sound audio system, plus a 360-degree surround camera system, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto smartphone integration, navigation, voice control, satellite radio, real-time traffic info, wireless phone charging, an integrated garage door opener, Mercedes’ Active Parking Assist semi-autonomous self-parking, rear side window sunshades, and a powered tailgate with foot-activated gesture control.

My tester also included the $2,700 Intelligent Drive package with its Pre-Safe Plus, Active Emergency Stop Assist, Active Brake Assist with Cross-Traffic Function, Active Steering Assist, Active Blind Spot Assist, Active Lane Change Assist, Active Lane Keeping Assist, Evasive Steering Assist, Active Distronic Distance Assist, Enhanced Stop-and-Go, Traffic Sign Assist, Active Speed Limit Assist, and Route-based Speed Adaptation.

2020 Mercedes-AMG C43 4Matic Wagon
These seats are wonderfully comfortable and wholly supportive.

I could go on and on talking about standard features and options (and the slick $250 designo red seatbelts really deserve mention), but the reality is this little C 43 is well stocked and beautifully finished, and at least as importantly it’s wicked fun to drive. Shifting into reverse to back out of my driveway caused a rearview camera with an overhead view and particularly good dynamic guidelines to pop into view, but oddly this super wagon’s automatic shifter is still on the column, making it either the most anachronistic hot hatch in existence or the smartest, being that it was always the most efficient place to house an auto shifter. It’s a completely modern electronically shifted transmission, mind you, that you pull down and up for drive and reverse as has always being the case, but pressing a button for Park is new. All manual shifts are executed via steering wheel mounted paddles, and believe me you’ll be tempted to scroll through the incredibly impressive nine-speed automatic all the time.

2020 Mercedes-AMG C43 4Matic Wagon
A two-piece panoramic sunroof provides all the overhead light plus the body rigidity a performance car needs.

AMG specifically programmed Merc’s new nine-speed to prioritize performance, which means the wider range of more closely spaced ratios shift quicker yet still plenty smooth, and the aforementioned AMG Dynamic Select system’s Comfort, Sport and Sport+ modes really make a difference. What’s more, three overdrive ratios and ECO Start/Stop that automatically shuts the engine off when it would otherwise be idling to reduce fuel consumption and minimize emissions aids efficiency, the C 43 Wagon good for a claimed 12.4 L/100km in the city, 8.9 on the highway and 10.8 combined for both 2019 and 2020.

That’s amazingly good for a vehicle with this kind of performance, not to mention one with all-wheel drive. The AMG 4Matic system has a fixed 31:69 front/rear torque split designed to optimize performance off the line and through the corners, while the latter benefits from a nicely weighted electromechanical power assist rack-and-pinion steering setup with good feel, and a standard AMG Ride Control Sport Suspension featuring three-stage damping that clings to tarmac like you’d expect an AMG-tuned Mercedes would. I even felt comfortable enough to turn the traction/stability control off for a little sideways sliding, and it was perfectly predictable and wonderful fun.

2020 Mercedes-AMG C43 4Matic Wagon
Rear seat roominess is generous.

If you’ve never driven something like the C 43 you’ll be shocked and awed, as anything with AMG badges is the stuff of legend. Braking is equally heart arresting thanks to a track-ready AMG Performance Braking system with perforated (not cross-drilled) 360 mm rotors and grey-painted four-piston fixed calipers up front, and solid 320 mm discs at the rear. The difference between perforated rotors and other manufacturer’s cross-drilled process begins at the moment of casting, where the AMG discs are cast with the holes in place so as to improve strength and heat resistance. The result is strong braking even when used too much at high speeds on curving, undulating mountainside roads. They’re the next best thing to carbon-ceramic brakes, but offer nicer day-to-day stopping performance that suits the C 43 Wagon’s overall mission ideally. 

2020 Mercedes-AMG C43 4Matic Wagon
The C 43 Wagon’s dedicated cargo area is spacious, plus 40/20/40-split seatbacks provide more convenience than average.

Yes, hooliganism aside, this family shuttle is plenty practical. It’s roomy up front with seats that are as comfortable as any in the class, while the second row provides more than enough space for most body types to stretch out. A wonderfully complex folding centre armrest adds to the comfort quotient when three’s a crowd, as it’s filled with pop-out cupholders and a shallow, felt-line bin for storing what-have-you, or alternatively the centre position can be eliminated entirely by dropping the 20-percent section of the 40/20/40-split seatback down for stowing longer cargo like skis without the need to force rear passengers into the less comfortable centre position, the usual result of less convenient 60/40-split rear seats. Those rear seatbacks fold down via two small electronic buttons too, helping to make the C 43 as easy to live with as it’s outrageously fun to drive. The end result is cargo capacity that expands from 460 litres to 1,480, which is subcompact to compact SUV levels of usability (its load capacity fits between the GLA- and new GLB-Class).

2020 Mercedes-AMG C43 4Matic Wagon
Buttons release the rear seatbacks so they drop down automatically.

So folks, if you hadn’t previously figured out that wagons are cool again, despite being a little late to the party it’s certainly not over yet. For me, this is Mercedes’ AMG wagons offer the ultimate balance between performance and practicality, combined with some of he nicest interiors in the auto industry. That they wear one of the most prestigious badges available is merely a bonus, and that Mercedes is now providing up to $5,000 in additional incentives on 2020 models is even more motivation to take a closer look.

To find out more, make sure to visit CarCostCanada’s 2020 Mercedes-Benz C-Class Canada Prices page where you can learn about all C-Class body styles, trims, packages and standalone options, plus you can build the exact model you’re interested in. Even better, a CarCostCanada membership will provide the most important information you could need before even talking to your local Mercedes-Benz retailer, including details on available manufacturer rebates, financing and leasing deals, plus you’ll learn about dealer invoice pricing so you can know exactly how far they may be willing to discount your C 43

Story and photo credits: Trevor Hofmann

Photo Editing: Karen Tuggay

News flash! Volkswagen has a lot of 2019s still available, including the fabulous Golf Alltrack. Okay, I let the cat out of the proverbial bag and now without having to read any further you know how I…

2019 Volkswagen Golf Alltrack Execline Road Test

2019 Volkswagen Golf Alltrack Execline
After only three years the Golf Alltrack has been discontinued, so check out our story and snap one up if you like it as much as we do.

News flash! Volkswagen has a lot of 2019s still available, including the fabulous Golf Alltrack.

Okay, I let the cat out of the proverbial bag and now without having to read any further you know how I feel about this impressive little crossover wagon. This said you may also now realize how disappointed I am that it was discontinued last year, with the remaining 2019s all that’s left of new inventory.

In case you’re wondering how much you can currently save on this fashionable European, CarCostCanada is reporting up to $1,500 in additional incentives, but I’m guessing you can get more off than that. Sign up for a CarCostCanada membership and you can access the 2019 Golf Alltrack’s dealer invoice price, so when you call the dealership or go online to negotiate (I wouldn’t recommend showing up at the dealership right now), you’ll know exactly how much they paid VW for it, plus you’ll know about any manufacturer rebates and financing/lease rates currently available. I seriously don’t understand why someone would consider buying a new car without first arming themselves with this treasure trove of knowledge.

2019 Volkswagen Golf Alltrack Execline
The Alltrack includes a lot of premium-level aluminum trim for a stylish look.

The Golf Alltrack is a car I’d consider owning, because it suits my personal taste and lifestyle to a tee. I find it great looking, even more so than the Golf SportWagen it’s based upon, which is also cancelled for 2020, the Alltrack’s raised height and tastefully beefy body cladding working perfectly with its long, chiseled fuselage, while all of its aluminum-like detailing, including the side mirror caps, make it look downright rich.

Like with all Golf models, the Alltrack’s most impressive attribute is its interior. Premium-like details abound, such as fabric-wrapped A-pillars, a soft-touch dash top that extends down to the midpoint of the instrument panel, the same pliable composite used for the front door uppers, an impeccably detailed leather-wrapped flat-bottom sport steering wheel with fabulously thin spokes filled with high-quality switchgear, cool grey carbon fibre-style dash and door inlays, glossy piano black surfacing in key areas, and a tasteful assortment of satin-finish aluminum accents throughout.

2019 Volkswagen Golf Alltrack Execline
The Golf Alltrack is ideal for mild off-road excursions.

The Alltrack’s monochromatic multi-information display (MID), which sits between the otherwise highly-legible primary instrument cluster, wasn’t up to standards when I last tested this car in 2017 and still isn’t. This is particularly true from a manufacturer that offers a wholly impressive full digital display in some of its other models, while most of its compact rivals provide high-resolution full-colour TFT MIDs loaded with features.

On the positive, my as-tested top-tier Alltrack Execline’s infotainment system was superb, this model and the base Highline trim replacing the old outdated 6.5-inch centre touchscreen with a state-of-the-art 8.0-inch display this year, once again filled with Apple CarPlay, Android Auto and MirrorLink smartphone integration, and a nice clear backup camera (albeit without active guidelines), while exclusive to the Execline is nicely detailed navigation mapping with very accurate GPS guidance. Additional infotainment features include voice recognition, Bluetooth phone and audio streaming connectivity, the latter controlled via an easy-to-use audio interface connecting through to a standard six-speaker audio system with satellite radio in the base Highline trim, albeit a much more expressive nine-speaker Fender system in the Execline, while additional digital panels provide access to apps, car system functions, etcetera. The display even uses proximity-sensing technology that pops hidden digital buttons up from its base when your fingers get near.

2019 Volkswagen Golf Alltrack Execline
The Alltrack’s details are very nice, and include LED headlights and 18-inch alloys in Execline trim.

Now that I’ve mentioned changes from the previous 2017 model I tested and this 2019, I should also give you a bit of history and fill you in on some additional updates made along the way. The Golf Alltrack actually came into existence for the 2017 model year, and surprisingly was updated for 2018 with new LED signature lights inside its base halogen and optional LED headlamps (depending on trim), redesigned LED taillights with their own signature look, plus other subtle changes to the front and rear fascias.

This 2019 model carried over everything from 2018, including the updated transmission choices that now consist of a base six-speed manual (VW’s six-speed DSG dual-clutch automatic with manual mode was standard initially) as well as paddle-shifters for the now optional six-speed DSG auto in Execline trim, so therefore it’s now more engaging to drive in most trims (the Highline DSG forgoes the paddles).

2019 Volkswagen Golf Alltrack Execline
These silver-tone mirror caps add a touch of class.

The 2018 model received two new colours as well, growing from seven in 2017 to nine the following year, all of which are available in both trim levels for 2019. The test model featured on this page wears one of those new colours, Peacock Green Metallic, while White Silver Metallic will likely be the more popular choice considering most everyone’s love affair with white and VW’s traditional allegiance to its Germanic silver heritage racing livery. Inside, no-cost optional Shetland beige offsets the green nicely, while Titan Black is standard.

To clarify, the previously single-trimmed model now has two trims, Highline and Execline, the former starting at $31,200 (plus freight and fees) with its manual or $1,400 more for the DSG automatic, while my tester’s Execline trim can be had for $35,270 with the manual or $36,670 as-tested, less the aforementioned incentives and any other discounts you can negotiate after learning about its dealer invoice price from CarCostCanada.

2019 Volkswagen Golf Alltrack Execline
Like all Golf models, the Alltrack provides a very refined interior.

The Execline includes one-inch larger 18-inch alloys on 225/40 all-seasons as standard equipment, plus standard LED headlights with active cornering, paddle shifters with the automatic transmission, navigation, an SD card slot, the aforementioned Fender audio system with a subwoofer (which produces great sound for the class), front sport seats, a 12-way powered driver’s seat with two-way powered lumbar (that’s superb, by the way, with excellent side bolstering), and leather upholstery.

VW also added its only optional upgrade with my tester, a $1,750 Driver Assistance Plus package that includes autonomous emergency braking with pedestrian monitoring, blindspot detection with rear cross-traffic assist, lane assist, automatic high beam control, adaptive cruise control with stop and go, plus park assist with park distance control.

2019 Volkswagen Golf Alltrack Execline
All Golf models have a well organized cockpit.

Features pulled up to Execline trim from the base Highline include standard 4Motion all-wheel drive, automatic on/off headlights with coming and leaving functions, fog lamps, silver finished side mirror caps, silver roof rails, proximity-sensing keyless access with pushbutton start/stop, rain-sensing wipers, power windows, the aforementioned leather-wrapped multifunction steering wheel, a leather-clad shift knob and handbrake lever, simulated carbon fibre decorative inlays, brushed stainless steel foot pedals, dual-zone automatic climate control, a USB port, three-way heatable front seats, a two-way powered front passenger seat (it’s eight-way manually adjustable), an auto-dimming rearview mirror, ambient lighting, LED reading lamps, illuminated vanity mirrors, a large powered panoramic sunroof with a powered sunshade made from an opaque fabric, a scrolling rear cargo cover, 12- and 115-volt charging outlets in the cargo area, 60/40 split-folding rear seatbacks with a centre pass-through, and the list goes on and on, although considering its mid-‘30k price point a heated steering and heated rear seats would be nice.

2019 Volkswagen Golf Alltrack Execline
The Alltrack’s gauge cluster is highly legible yet a bit dated, its multi-information display monochromatic and low on features in a world of colourful, comprehensive MIDs.

Mechanically, the Alltrack is identical to previous model years, utilizing Volkswagen’s well-proven turbocharged 1.8-litre four-cylinder engine that’s good for 170 horsepower and 199 lb-ft of torque. It provides strong, smooth, linear power resulting in reasonably quick takeoff and good highway passing power for this fairly light, relatively compact car, and while the all-wheel drive system doesn’t offer a low gearing range or even a locking differential, it’s excellent on rain-soaked roads, packed snow, and can even manage some lighter duty off-road situations.

2019 Volkswagen Golf Alltrack Execline
The Alltrack’s new 8.0-inch infotainment display is superb.

Transport Canada rates the Alltrack’s fuel economy at 11.1 L/100km in the city, 7.8 on the highway and 9.6 combined for the manual, and 10.7, 8.0 and 9.4 respectively for the automatic, so it’s pretty good as far as compact crossover utilities go.

The entire car rides on Volkswagen’s usual front strut and rear multi-link suspension setup, which means that its ride is very good and handling even better, this even despite a one-inch higher centre of gravity over its Golf SportWagen donor car. The ride-height lift comes from exclusive springs and shocks, while the power steering is speed-sensitive to improve feel, and it’s nicely weighted with good response and reasonably good connectivity to the road, unusual for this class, while the vented front and solid rear brake discs provide good stopping power thanks to 286 and 272 mm diameters respectively.

2019 Volkswagen Golf Alltrack Execline
The Alltrack Execline’s leather-clad sport bucket are wonderfully comfortable and supportive.

All of these attributes could be applied to the regular Golf hatchback too, but the big difference with the Alltrack or its just-noted SportWagen sibling when compared to shorter wheelbase VW alternatives is cargo space, with the two elongated models getting 368 additional litres (13.0 cubic feet) of volume behind the 60/40-split rear seatbacks and 362 (12.8 cu ft) more when they’re folded flat, the larger car’s cargo capacity measuring 861 and 1,883 litres (30.4 and 66.5 cu ft) respectively.

2019 Volkswagen Golf Alltrack Execline
The power panoramic sunroof is a fabulous addition.

Just like the regular Golf, the rear centre pass-through provides useful storage for longer cargo such as skis, allowing two rear passengers to enjoy the more comfortable window seats. I also like that Volkswagen includes levers on the side of the cargo walls for dropping the seats, and they fully fold down automatically. Another positive is the quality of the cargo cover, which is by far the best in this class. It’s a solid chunk of metal mated to high quality plastic the clicks into place like a precision instrument, and it weighs a fair bit when pulling it out too.

Volkswagen includes a shallow area under the load floor along with a space saver spare tire. There’s no powered rear hatch to make access easier when hands are full, but it was never an issue during my weeklong test. The roof rack on top is also useful too, providing you get the necessary add-ons to make the most of it. And speaking of loads, the Alltrack receives 14 additional kilograms (31 lbs) of payload capacity to go along with the added space over the regular Golf, resulting in a 459-kg (1,012-lb) maximum.

2019 Volkswagen Golf Alltrack Execline
The rear seating area is spacious and comfortable.

In case you’re wondering how it stacks up against VW’s Tiguan, the Golf Alltrack is just 73 litres (2.6 cu ft) smaller behind its rear row and actually 23 litres (0.8 litres) roomier when its rear seatbacks are laid flat, so it’s a good compact SUV alternative if you’d rather be closer to the ground to experience more traditional road car handling.

On that note I prefer driving this Golf Alltrack when compared to the new Tiguan, and find its interior more refined as well, but of course I’m well aware my personal taste doesn’t always flow in the mainstream, something made obvious by this model being discontinued while the Tiguan is becoming VW’s shining star.

2019 Volkswagen Golf Alltrack Execline
The Alltrack’s cargo capacity is about the same as a compact SUV like VW’s own Tiguan.

Tiguan sales were up 42.7 percent in calendar year 2018 to 21,449 units in Canada, but its upward surge still wasn’t enough to upstage the Golf that beat it by 28 deliveries. This said Volkswagen needs six different Golf models to achieve that number, including the regular Golf hatchback, Golf GTI, Golf R, e-Golf, Golf SportWagen, and this Golf Alltrack. Last year saw the Tiguan lose 10.2 percent to 19,250 units from its previous high, while the Golf only lost 8.4 percent to 19,668 units in 2019. Now with the Golf Alltrack and SportWagen gone from the lineup, the Tiguan has an opportunity to overtake the Golf, although the current realities of COVID-19 mean that 2020 will be far from a banner year.

Just the same, if the Golf Alltrack sounds like your idea of the perfect car/SUV compromise, I recommend first doing some research at CarCostCanada for any manufacturer rebates, financing/leasing deals, and of course dealer invoice pricing that could save you thousands, and then contacting your dealer via phone or online. Most retailers are providing home road tests of fully sanitized cars these days, so as long as you’ve prepared ahead of time, you’ll get the best deal possible. As for the Golf Alltrack, I’m quite certain you’ll love it.

Photos by Trevor Hofmann

Mazda is doing a good job of taking its brand as close to premium territory as it can without actually raising prices to the point where it has to compete directly with Audi, BMW, Mercedes and the rest…

2019 Mazda CX-5 GT AWD Road Test

2019 Mazda CX-5 GT AWD
Mazda’s CX-5 makes a good argument against paying more for a premium brand name. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Mazda is doing a good job of taking its brand as close to premium territory as it can without actually raising prices to the point where it has to compete directly with Audi, BMW, Mercedes and the rest of the luxury labeled lot.

It starts with good outward design that translates well into all sizes and body styles, the sporty CX-3 subcompact SUV looking very similar to the fresh new CX-30, as well as the compact CX-5 shown here, and largest three-row CX-9 mid-size model, and likewise for the compact 3 and mid-size 6 series car lineup, not to mention the fabulous MX-5 sports car.

Mazda calls its latest design language KODO 2.0, or in other words this is now the second-generation of its clean and elegant “art of the car” philosophy, a glimpse of which we initially saw in its sensational Vision Coupe and Kai concepts from the 2017 Tokyo Motor Show, the latter of which more or less morphed into the latest Mazda3 Sport, and is starting to affect the brand’s SUVs like this recently updated CX-5.

2019 Mazda CX-5 GT AWD
The CX-5’s styling is both sporty and elegant. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

The CX-5 has been Mazda’s compact crossover utility since it laid its Ford Escape-based Tribute to rest in 2011, the much more modern Mazda3-based design arriving in January of 2012. The second-generation model seen here came onto the scene in 2017 and integrated much more KODO 2.0 styling into its design than its predecessor, resulting in a much more upscale looking SUV.

The real premium experience happens inside, however, with details like fabric-wrapped A-pillars and a luxuriously padded dash top, upper and lower instrument panel, and door uppers front to back, and then going so far as to trim out the cabin with a tasteful supply of anodized metal accents, this beautifully brushed treatment even decorating some of the switchgear that’s sometimes finished with knurled metal detailing, not to mention real Abachi hardwood in its top-tier Signature trim line. Mine didn’t include the Signature’s dark chocolate brown Cocoa Nappa leather and trim, the latter included on the door inserts and armrests along with the seats, but its Pure White regular leather was impressive nonetheless. It all makes for a rich, upscale environment.

2019 Mazda CX-5 GT AWD
LED headlights are standard, while GT and Signature trims get more distinctive elements as well as dynamic cornering ability. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

To be clear, despite the luxurious appointments seen inside the SUV in the photos, it isn’t a Signature model, but even this mid-range (third-rung out of four) GT trim line is nicer inside than most competitors top-line trims, albeit devoid of over-the-top premium bits like the Signature’s aforementioned wood inlays that adorn the instrument and door panels, plus the satin chrome-plated glove box lever and power seat switches, higher end cross-stitching detail on the steering wheel, plusher Nappa leather upholstery, a black interior roof lining, a frameless auto-dimming rearview mirror instead of a less elegant framed one, LED illumination for the overhead console lights, vanity mirrors, front and rear room lamps and cargo area light, and a host of upscale features like a nice bright 7.0-inch LCD multi-information display at centre, a one-inch larger 8.0-inch colour touchscreen display, a 360-degree surround parking monitor, front and rear parking sensors, gunmetal finish 19-inch alloy wheels in place of the GT’s silver-finish 19s, an off-road traction assist function to improve its ability on the trail, and the quickest Skyactiv-G 2.5 T four-cylinder engine featuring a Dynamic Pressure Turbo (DPT) good for 250 horsepower (with 93 octane premium fuel or 227 with 87 octane regular) and 310 lb-ft of torque (for 2020 it gains 10 lb-ft to 320 when fuelled with 93 octane), plus paddles for the six-speed automatic transmission.

2019 Mazda CX-5 GT AWD
These 19-inch silver-painted alloys are standard with the GT. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

That’s a really potent powertrain for this class and available optionally for $2,000 in as-tested GT trim (for 2020 the GT with the turbocharged engine also gets paddles, off-road traction assist, and an 8.0-inch colour touchscreen display), although my tester came with the base non-turbo Skyactiv-G 2.5 four-cylinder with fuel-saving cylinder deactivation and no paddles on the steering wheel. So equipped it makes 187 horsepower and 186 lb-ft of torque, which is around the same as offered by the class sales leaders with their most formidable engines, while I prefer the feel of a regular automatic over those competitors’ continuously variable transmissions (CVT) any day of the week.

Of note, Mazda also offers a 2.2-litre four-cylinder turbo-diesel powerplant in top-line Signature trim that puts out 168 horsepower and 290 lb-ft of torque, the ritziest CX-5 starting at $40,950 (plus freight and fees) and topping out at $45,950 with the oil burner upgrade, so you’ll need to get the calculator out to see how long it’ll take to save $5,000 by using normally cheaper, more efficient diesel fuel. Before you do, however, make sure you check around for available examples, as the diesel feature was only available for the 2019 model year (at the time of writing there were plenty, albeit nowhere near as many as gasoline-powered variants).

2019 Mazda CX-5 GT AWD
Top-tier trims also get signature LED lighting in the rear. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

I tested it and was impressed, but as much as I like Rudolf’s invention and was plenty happy with its 8.9 L/100km city, 7.9 highway and 8.4 combined fuel economy, the much less expensive, and much quicker turbo-four achieves a very respectable claimed 10.8 city, 8.7 highway and 9.8 combined rating as it is, so it’s no wonder the diesel was discontinued. My GT tester, which comes standard with i-Activ all-wheel drive (AWD) and starts at $37,450, is good for 9.8, 7.9 and 9.0 respectively, while the same engine with FWD that comes standard with mid-range $30,750 GS trim is most efficient with a respective rating of 9.3, 7.6 and 8.5.

2019 Mazda CX-5 GT AWD
Even the refinement, quality of materials and near-premium excellence of this non-top-line GT trim will impress. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

Believe it or not there’s a fourth engine available, the 2.5-litre four found in the $27,850 base GX without cylinder deactivation, which performs just as well yet manages just 9.7 L/100km in the city, 7.8 on the highway and 8.8 combined with FWD, whereas that engine with AWD is said to consume 10.2 city, 8.2 highway and 9.3 combined. AWD is a $2,000 option in GX and GS trims, by the way, and standard with the GT and Signature.

There’s absolutely no way I’m going to itemize every feature available in each trim, not to mention the various packages, but being that I tested the GT I should go over its standard kit. Features specific to the GT that can’t be found in lesser trims (yet come standard with the Signature) include the aforementioned 19-inch alloys on 225/55 all-seasons (lower trims include 17-inch alloys on 225/65s), adaptive cornering for the headlamps, LED signatures within the headlights and taillights, LED fog lamps, LED combination tail lamps, power-folding side mirrors, plus piano black B- and C-pillar garnishes, and that’s only on the outside.

2019 Mazda CX-5 GT AWD
The CX-5’s dash design is artfully crafted and intelligently laid out. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

Proximity-sensing access lets you inside and pushbutton ignition gets things started (although the latter is standard across the line), while the primary instrument cluster is Mazda’s classic three-gauge design with a decent sized multi-information display in the right-side dial (the 7.0-inch LCD MID is standard in GT trim for 2020), and above that a really handy windshield-projected colour Active Driving Display (ADD) (head-up display) comes complete with traffic sign recognition. Additionally, a 10-way power-adjustable driver’s seat includes power lumbar support and two-way memory, while a six-way power-adjustable passenger’s seat is included too, as are three-way ventilated front seats, and three-way heatable rear outboard seats.

2019 Mazda CX-5 GT AWD
The gauges are laid out in Mazda’s sporty three-dial design. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

Back to premium-level niceties, a satin-chrome front console knee pad adds class to the front seating area, as does a fabric-lined glove box and premium stitching on the front centre console, while a powered moonroof adds natural light, a Homelink universal garage door opener adds convenience, accurate navigation got me where I was going, and a 10-speaker Bose audio system upgrade sounded great thanks to an AM/FM/HD radio, seven channels of customized equalization, SurroundStage Signal Processing, Centerpoint 2 surround sound technology, AudioPilot 2 Noise Compensation, and SiriusXM satellite radio (with a three-month complimentary service). Mazda also supplies CX-5 GT and Signature owners with SiriusXM Traffic Plus and Travel Link services (with a five-year complimentary service), as well as dual-zone automatic climate control, air vents on the backside of the front console, and more.

2019 Mazda CX-5 GT AWD
Android Auto is standard across the CX-5 line, as is Apple CarPlay. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

Some other features pulled up to the GT from lower trims include automatic headlight levelling, a front wiper de-icer, radar cruise control with stop and go, a heatable steering wheel, an additional two USB ports in the rear centre armrest, and a bevy of advanced driver assistive systems such as Smart Brake Support (SBS) with forward sensing Pedestrian Detection, Distance Recognition Support System (DRSS), Forward Obstruction Warning (FOW), Lane Departure Warning System (LDWS), Lane-keep Assist System (LAS) and High Beam Control System (HBC) from second-rung GS trim, plus auto on/off LED headlights and LED daytime running lights, LED turn signal indicators on door mirrors, rain-sensing intermittent wipers, an electronic parking brake, dual USB ports and an auxiliary audio input, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, Aha and Stitcher internet radio, SMS text messaging read and respond function, as well as all the expected active and passive safety systems from the base GX. There’s plenty more, but I’ll leave something for you to discover.

2019 Mazda CX-5 GT AWD
The sides of the lower console are padded leatherette, and that metal-edged knob just below the shifter is for controlling the infotainment system. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

The CX-5 is spacious and comfortable no matter which trim you purchase, with excellent front and rear seating, including ample room for three abreast in the rear row. Legroom and headroom is good too, while the rear outboard heaters are a nice touch, although the controls can’t be accessed if someone’s sitting in the middle position. Now that I’m griping, a bright and airy panoramic sunroof would be welcome in top-tier GT and Signature models.

2019 Mazda CX-5 GT AWD
Yes, that’s a fabric-wrapped A-pillar embellished by a beautifully detailed Bose tweeter. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

More important than that is the CX-5’s best-in-class 40/20/40 split folding rear seatbacks with convenient cargo sidewall-mounted release levers. I’m always calling for a centre pass-through and this is an even better solution, because there’s more than enough room for an entire family’s skis, poles and snowboards down the middle while boots, helmets and other gear is stowed in back with rear passengers comfortably occupying each window seat. Once again I bring up the folly of housing the rear seat warming buttons within the folding armrest, where they can’t be accessed when the centre pass-through is lowered. Hopefully Mazda will rethink this decision and relocate the rear seat heater switchgear to the door panels when the model comes up for redesign. On the positive, the CX-5 can load up to 875 litres (30.9 cubic feet) of cargo behind the rear seatbacks and 1,687 litres (59.6 cu ft) when they’re loaded flat, making it one of the roomier compact crossovers in its mainstream volume-branded class.

2019 Mazda CX-5 GT AWD
The rich looking CX-5 GT gets the no-cost option of a Pure White leather interior, and believe it or not Signature trim is even nicer. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

Mazda tops off all this roomy luxury with performance that comes very close to premium as well, although in my base GT tester I’m not referring specifically to straight-line power as much as ride and handling. The sense of quality starts with well-insulated doors and body panels, so that everything is solid feeling upon closure and nice and quiet once underway, while the ride is firm but never harsh, more akin to an Audi or BMW than a Mercedes or Lexus. Still, that translates into good manoeuvrability around town and better than average agility when pushed hard. Mazda relies on tried and tested engineering to achieve these results, its front suspension made up of MacPherson struts with coil springs and stabilizer bar, and its rear suspension incorporating an independent multi-link setup with coil springs and stabilizer bar.

2019 Mazda CX-5 GT AWD
The rear seating area is large and comfortable. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

As noted earlier, the base engine is on par with some of the class leaders’ top powerplants as far as acceleration goes, but more importantly it’s smooth and efficient, while the six-speed automatic transmission was so smooth it made me wonder if Mazda hadn’t adopted a CVT into its drivetrain. Of course, it shifts like a regular automatic when revs climb, and while this is a very good thing that performance fans will appreciate, it once again goes about its business smoothly. While the base GT doesn’t offer paddles, you can shift manually via its console-mounted gear lever, and take note Mazda does provide a Sport mode that certainly gives it more pop off the line and better passing performance, but that’s it for extra drive settings, the default mode taking care of any eco and comfort duties that a driver might otherwise want to select.

2019 Mazda CX-5 GT AWD
While initially appearing upscale, the heated rear seat controls can’t be accessed if someone is sitting in the middle or if gear is stowed through the centre pass-through. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

In summary, the 2019 Mazda CX-5 is an exceptionally good entry that should be considered seriously by anyone purchasing in its compact SUV class. The Canadian segment leader is Toyota’s RAV4 with a category-best 65,248 sales in calendar year 2019, followed closely by Honda’s CR-V with 55,859 deliveries, Ford’s Escape (all-new for 2020) at 39,504, Nissan’s Rogue at 37,530, Hyundai’s Tucson at 30,075, and the CX-5 at 27,696 unit sales. While the CX-5 might seem far down the list at first glance, keep in mind there are 14 entries in this class, and the next best-selling VW Tiguan only managed 19,250 deliveries, while the Chevrolet Equinox found just 18,503 buyers, Jeep Cherokee just 13,687, Subaru Forester only 13,059, Kia Sportage 12,637, GMC Terrain 12,023, Mitsubishi Outlander 10,701, and Mitsubishi Eclipse Cross 5,101 unit sales. What’s more, the CX-5 was one of just six models to increase its numbers year-over-year, the rest losing ground.

2019 Mazda CX-5 GT AWD
The CX-5’s 40/20/40-split rear seatback is another premium touch that makes it easier to live with than most competitors. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

Right now is a good time to buy a CX-5, because Mazda is offering up to $2,000 in additional incentives on 2019 models (and plenty of 2019s are available right across Canada), and for those wanting a 2020 CX-5, up to $1,000 in incentives. Make sure to check CarCostCanada for all the details, including itemized pricing of trims, packages and individual options, manufacturer financing/leasing deals, rebate information, and otherwise hard to get dealer invoice pricing that can help you negotiate the best possible deal. Most retailers are available by phone or online, and of course they’re motivated to sell.

All said I highly recommend the CX-5 in this class, especially for those who appreciate the finer things in life, yet would rather not have to pay a premium price.

How do factory leasing and financing rates from zero percent sound to you? That’s what Nissan is offering in order to entice you into a new 2019 Versa Note. Yes, I know the Versa Note was recently discontinued,…

2019 Nissan Versa Note SV Road Test

2019 Nissan Versa Note SV
Nissan’s Versa Note might be on its way out, but there are still plenty of new examples available and it remains a very good little car. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

How do factory leasing and financing rates from zero percent sound to you? That’s what Nissan is offering in order to entice you into a new 2019 Versa Note.

Yes, I know the Versa Note was recently discontinued, but that doesn’t mean it’s not a good car. In fact, Nissan’s second-smallest hatchback is a great little runabout that provides more interior room than most subcompact competitors. It’s just passed its best-before date, and is therefore being replaced by an all-new subcompact sedan for 2020.

If you haven’t seen the new four-door Versa yet (and you may not have as it’s only being offered in the U.S. so far), imagine a shrunken 2020 Sentra or a smaller version of the recent Altima crossed with Nissan’s newest Leaf. If you’re not sure what the Altima looks like, Nissan’s mid-size family car was recently redesigned to look like a smaller, less dramatic Maxima sedan, the latter being Nissan’s ultimately stylish flagship four-door (it really is a nice looking car), while the current second-generation Leaf was recently normalized in order to appeal to a larger audience (the first one was a bit whacky). All in all the new Versa sedan looks fresh and modern, and the outgoing Versa Note doesn’t.

2019 Nissan Versa Note SV
The Versa Note features a long wheelbase and tall roofline for impressive interior room. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

While not the latest, greatest Nissan on the block, this final Versa Note nevertheless incorporates most of the brand’s newest frontal design trends for much more attractive styling than the original version sold here, which was in fact the second-generation sold elsewhere. That car ended up replacing the even blander Versa sedan as well as the unorthodox (but brilliantly cool) Cube crossover, and actually did rather well on the sales charts when first arriving on the scene in late 2013.

2019 Nissan Versa Note SV
It’s lack of fog lamps are a clear sign this example is not a Special Edition, while its alloy wheels denote its SV designation. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

To be clear, the 12,297 Versas sold in 2013 and 13,314 delivered in 2014 were a combination of the Note hatchback and Versa sedan, the latter cancelled in Canada after the 2014 model year. Thus calendar year 2015 resulted in just 9,120 Versa Note unit sales, which by hindsight should have been celebrated as a banner 12 months being that Canadian sales slipped to 7,417 units the following year and only climbed up to 7,865 in 2017, before dropping all the way down to 5,385 examples in 2018 and only 2,369 last year.

Despite losing favour with the buying public as the years continued, which was partially due to the extremely well received Micra city car that arrived in 2014, and also because of Canadian consumers’ continued purge of cars for crossover SUVs (Nissan currently leading the market’s small SUV charge with its popular Kicks and Qashqai subcompacts and Rogue compact), the Versa Note is a well-designed four-door hatchback that delivers big in space and comfort.

2019 Nissan Versa Note SV
The Versa Note is a back to basics car, but it’s still very comfortable. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

The Note offers loftier occupants an incredible amount of headroom thanks to a tall overall design that makes it feel more like a subcompact SUV or a mini-minivan than an economy car. The seats are especially comfortable too, thanks to memory foam that really cushions and supports the backside, and the upholstery is attractive as well, with a nice blue fleck on black cloth. The driver even gets a folding armrest attached to the right-side bolster for added comfort.

2019 Nissan Versa Note SV
Although the design looks dated compared to Nissan’s newer offerings, the Versa’s cabin is well organized and reasonably well equipped. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Other nice details include a leather-wrapped steering wheel with tilt function, and some attractive satin-silver detailing on its spokes. The silver treatment circles around each HVAC vent too, plus it adorns the centre stack and surrounds the shift lever. What’s more, the gauge cluster is particularly impressive, with backlit dials and some great looking digital displays. In fact, it’s so nice that it makes the infotainment touchscreen seem dated by comparison. The truth is that the centre display does look a bit behind graphically, especially when compared to interfaces in Nissan’s newer more recently updated models, but it’s nevertheless plenty functional and easy to use, plus at 7.0 inches in diameter it’s quite large, which works well for the backup camera.

2019 Nissan Versa Note SV
This upgraded gauge cluster is a real treat for this class. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Due to the lack of telescopic steering, the Versa may not fit your body type ideally however, my long legs and short torso necessitating a seat position that was closer to the pedals than I would’ve liked, causing me to compromise with a more upright backrest than normal. I managed to get reasonably comfortable after spending some time setting it up, after which it also provided an adequate driving position for decent control.

On the positive, the rear seating area is spacious with more legroom than average for this class (Natural Resources Canada actually classifies the Versa Note as a mid-size car), so like I mentioned a moment ago, this little car (with a long wheelbase) is perfect for large people on a budget. A flip-down rear centre armrest gets filled with dual cupholders, plus there are two cupholders on the backside of the front console that are easy to access for rear passengers, while a magazine holder gets added to the backside of the front passenger’s seat.

2019 Nissan Versa Note SV
The infotainment interface is fairly old school in design, but very functional. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

The Versa Note is good for those that haul a lot of cargo as well. It includes 60/40 split-folding rear seatbacks, which is normal in this class, but unusually welcome is the fancy Divide-N-Hide adjustable cargo floor that moves up and down as needed. It’s good for stowing tall cargo when left at the bottom, or when lifted allows for a totally flat loading area once the seats are lowered. The Note’s dedicated cargo volume measures 532 litres (18.8 cubic feet) behind the rear seats, while laying the seatbacks flat results in a really generous 1,084 litres (38.3 cu ft) of maximum space.

2019 Nissan Versa Note SV
The large 7.0-inch display provides a good view from the backup camera. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

All of that spacious interior volume comes well stocked with features, but of course its content will depend on which trim you choose. Take note, Nissan dropped the model’s sportiest SR trim for 2019 and its most luxurious SL trim for 2018, but they introduced the $700 SV Special Edition package for the model’s final incarnation, which adds fog lamps, a rear rooftop spoiler and Special Edition badging to the exterior, plus proximity-sensing keyless access to get you inside and a pushbutton ignition system to turn on the engine, while the cabin includes upgraded NissanConnect infotainment with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto as well as SiriusXM satellite radio.

2019 Nissan Versa Note SV
The HVAC interface is fairly rudimentary, but it all works well. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

One glance at my tester’s lack of fog lamps and it’s easy to see that it’s not an SV Special Edition, but instead its 15-inch alloy wheels make its regular $18,398 SV designation clear (the base Note S comes with wheel covers over 15-inch steel rims). The SV also adds the impressive instrument cluster and leather-wrapped steering wheel I mentioned earlier, plus power door locks with remote keyless entry, powered windows, a continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT) as standard equipment, cruise control, a six-way manual driver’s seat (that now includes height adjustment), heatable front seats, a cargo cover, and more.

2019 Nissan Versa Note SV
SV trim comes standard with a more efficient CVT automatic. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

The $14,698 base S model is the only trim available with a five-speed manual transmission for 2019 (it came standard in the SV as well for 2018), but the CVT can be had for $1,300 more. No matter the transmission, the base model also includes power-adjustable heated side mirrors, a four-way manual driver’s seat, air conditioning, the aforementioned 7.0-inch infotainment touchscreen, Bluetooth hands-free phone connectivity with audio streaming, audio and phone switches on the steering wheel spokes, a hands-free text messaging assistant, Siri Eyes Free, aux and USB inputs on the lower console, a four-speaker audio system, and more.

2019 Nissan Versa Note SV
Two-way heated front seats make the winters more bearable. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Of course, all the expected active and passive safety features are included too, but if you want the latest advanced driver assistive systems such as collision warning with automatic emergency braking, blind spot monitoring with lane departure warning, or dynamic cruise control with Nissan’s semi-autonomous ProPILOT assist self-driving technology, it’s best to look toward one of the newer SUVs in the Japanese brand’s lineup.

The Versa Note is more traditional than those trendier utilities, and in this respect it does everything that most practical consumers need. It’s not quite as fancy or edgy as the newer Nissans, yet along with its comfortable seats, and thanks in part to its aforementioned long wheelbase it provides an extremely nice ride for its subcompact price, plus adequate performance off the line or when passing, while its CVT is very smooth if not particularly sporty.

2019 Nissan Versa Note SV
The front seats are very comfortable, but the driver’s position isn’t ideal for those with longer legs than torso and arms. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

The same 1.6-litre inline four-cylinder found in the tiny Micra puts out an identical 109 horsepower and 107 lb-ft of torque in the Note, which means the larger, heavier car doesn’t feel as enthusiastic when going about its business. Of course, the focus is more on fuel-efficiency in this class, and to that end the Versa gets a Transport Canada five-cycle fuel economy rating of 8.6 L/100km in the city, 6.6 on the highway and 7.7 combined with the manual, or 7.6 city, 6.2 highway and 7.0 combined with the CVT, which doesn’t sound all that good until comparing it to the just-mentioned Micra that when fully loaded has an identical 1,092-kilo curb weight as the base Versa Note’s starting point (the as-tested Note SV weighs in at 1,124 kg), yet nevertheless manages just 7.9 combined with its manual and 8.0 combined with its less advanced four-speed auto. A better comparison is the similarly roomy Honda Fit that’s good for 7.0 L/100km combined with its six-speed manual or just 6.5 with its most efficient CVT.

2019 Nissan Versa Note SV
The rear seating area is very spacious, and actually rated as a mid-size car. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

The Note is a tall hatchback as mentioned, so its high centre-of-gravity works against performance when pushing hard through the corners, but if you don’t mind a little body lean when trying to make up time, it manages fast-paced curves reasonably well. This said, if you’re looking for a sportier runabout and don’t mind slightly less room, the considerably less expensive Micra that I mentioned a moment ago is a very good bet. The Versa Note, on the other hand, is designed more for comfort than speed, and therefore does a great job of shuttling one to five adults around town with ease, and would likely make a decent road trip companion as well.

2019 Nissan Versa Note SV
The Versa delivers a lot of cargo space for the subcompact class. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

If you’d like to take advantage of the zero-percent financing noted earlier in this review, and think this little Nissan might suit your lifestyle and budget, I’d recommend checking out CarCostCanada’s 2019 Nissan Versa Note Canada Prices page where you can go over all trims and packages in detail, not to mention quickly scan the available colours within each trim, while also learning about the latest manufacturer rebates that could save you even more.

Best of all, however, is a CarCostCanada membership that provides access to dealer invoice pricing that could save you thousands upon purchase. All of the above is available online at CarCostCanada’s website or via a new CarCostCanada app downloadable for free from your phone’s app store. So before you call your local Nissan retailer or connect with them online (it’s probably a good idea to deal with them remotely during this time of crisis) make sure you’ve first done your homework at CarCostCanada, so you can get the best deal possible on your new Versa Note.

FYI, there are fewer new Ford Flex SUVs still available for sale than I had initially expected, although dozens are spread across most of the country. This means anyone wanting to get their hands on a…

2019 Ford Flex Limited EcoBoost V6 Road Test

2019 Ford Flex Limited EcoBoost V6
Your last chance to purchase a new Ford Flex is now, and the available discounts are major. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

FYI, there are fewer new Ford Flex SUVs still available for sale than I had initially expected, although dozens are spread across most of the country. This means anyone wanting to get their hands on a new example of this wholly unique three-row crossover utility needs to act quickly, because dealer-level discounts will be deep, plus according to CarCostCanada, Ford is offering up to $5,500 in additional incentives for this final 2019 model.

Yes, the unconventional Flex is being ushered off the stage after more than a decade of service and only a couple of years of reasonably good sales. Its first calendar year of 2009 resulted in 6,047 units down Canadian roads, and the next 12 months (2010) was good for 4,803 deliveries, but it saw lacklustre sales performance after that, with a high of just 3,268 units in 2012 and 1,789 in 2015. Strangely, year-over-year Flex sales picked up by 13.4 percent from 2017 to 2018 and 9.6 percent in 2019, so there’s still interest in this wonderfully unusual family hauler, but nevertheless its days were done as soon as the revitalized fifth-generation Explorer came on the scene in 2011 (hence the Flex’s immediate drop-off in sales that year).

2019 Ford Flex Limited EcoBoost V6
While lower to the ground than most 7-passenger crossover SUVs, the Flex’s boxy profile provides plenty of passenger and cargo room. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

For a bit of background, both the Flex and Explorer share a unibody structure based on Ford’s D4 platform architecture, which is a modified version of the original Volvo S80/XC90-sourced D3 platform. Looking back a bit further, the first D3 to wear the blue-oval was Ford’s rather bland Five Hundred sedan that quickly morphed into today’s Taurus (or should I say, yesterday’s Taurus, as it was recently discontinued as well, and therefore also benefits from up to $5,500 in additional incentives as per CarCostCanada). The Flex’s familial lineage harks back to the 2005–2007 Freestyle that was rebadged as the ill-named Taurus X for 2008–2009.

2019 Ford Flex Limited EcoBoost V6
There’s nothing else quite like a Flex, a practical SUV that performs as sportily as this example’s blacked out Appearance package suggests. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

The just noted people movers don’t get much respect anymore, yet they were comfortable, nicely sized, reasonably agile, and quite innovative for their era. Each was amongst the first domestics to use a continuously variable transmission (CVT), and the Five Hundred and Freestyle were certainly some of the largest vehicles to do so before that point (the Nissan Murano beat them by a couple of years). Interestingly Ford soon abandoned the CVT for its large vehicle lineup, choosing a six-speed automatic for all Flex and fifth-gen Explorer model years, which has proven to be a reliable transmission.

Now that we’re talking mechanicals, the Flex received two different versions of Ford’s ubiquitous 3.5-litre V6 when introduced, which still carry through to today’s model. While the base Duratec engine made 262 horsepower and 248 lb-ft of torque from onset, output grew to 287 horsepower and 254 lb-ft of torque in 2013, which moved the three-row seven-occupant SUV along at a decent clip. A 355 horsepower 3.5-litre Ecoboost V6 making 350 lb-ft of torque became optional in 2010, and that turbocharged mill transformed the somewhat sedate five-door estate wagon into a rarified sleeper, while another 10-hp bump to 365 made it one of the most potent family conveyances available from a mainstream volume brand right up to this day.

2019 Ford Flex Limited EcoBoost V6
The aging Flex doesn’t offer LED headlamps, but these HIDs light up the road well. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

That’s the version to acquire and once again the configuration I recently spent a week with, and it performed as brilliantly as it did when I first tested a similarly equipped Flex in 2016. I noticed a bit of front wheel twist when pushed hard off the line at full throttle, otherwise called torque steer, particularly when taking off from a corner, which is strange for an all-wheel drive vehicle, but it moved along quickly and was wonderfully stable on the highway, not to mention long sweeping corners and even when flung through sharp fast-paced curves thanks to its fully independent suspension setup and big, meaty 255/45R20 all-season rubber. I wouldn’t say it’s as tight as a premium SUV like Acura’s MDX, Audi’s Q7 or BMW’s X7, but we really can’t compare those three from a price perspective. Such was the original goal of the now defunct Lincoln MKT, but its styling never took off and therefore it was really only used for airport shuttle and limousine liveries.

2019 Ford Flex Limited EcoBoost V6
These glossy black 20-inch alloys are part of the $900 Appearance package. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Like the MKT and the many three-row Japanese and European crossover utilities available, the Flex is a very large vehicle, so no one should be expecting sports car-like performance. Combined with its turbo-six powerplant is the dependable SelectShift six-speed automatic mentioned earlier, and while not as advanced as the 7-, 8-, 9- and now even 10-speed automatics coming from the latest blue-oval, Lincoln and competitive products, it shifts quickly enough and is certainly smooth, plus it doesn’t hamper fuel economy as terribly as various brands’ marketing departments would have you believe. I love that Ford included paddle shifters with this big ute, something even some premium-branded three-row crossovers are devoid of yet standard with the more powerful engine (they replace the lesser engine’s “Shifter Button Activation” on the gear knob), yet the Flex is hardly short on features, especially in its top-tier Limited model.

2019 Ford Flex Limited EcoBoost V6
LED taillights come standard, but the gloss-black rear appliqué is part of the Appearance package. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

I’d recommend leaving manual mode alone if you want to achieve the best fuel economy, however, but even the most potent V6 on the Flex menu does reasonably well at 15.7 L/100km city, 11.2 highway and 13.7 combined, at least when compared to similarly powered SUVs. It’s not much worse than the base engine either, with the AWD version going through an estimated 14.7 L/100km in the city, 10.7 on the highway and 12.9 combined, and the FWD model slurping back 14.7 city, 10.2 highway and 12.7 combined.

The Flex continues to be available in base SE, mid-range SEL and top-level Limited trim lines for the 2019 model year, with the majority still not spoken for being SELs (but don’t worry, there are plenty of SE and Limited models still around too). According to CarCostCanada, where you can find all pricing and feature information about most vehicles sold into the Canadian market, the Flex starts at $32,649 (plus freight and fees) for the SE with front-wheel drive (FWD), $39,649 for the SEL with FWD, $41,649 for the SEL with AWD, and $46,449 for the Limited that comes standard with AWD. All trim lines include the base engine, but for an additional $6,800 those opting for the Limited model can access the more formidable turbo-V6 (take note that other features are thrown in for this price too).

2019 Ford Flex Limited EcoBoost V6
The Flex’s interior was impressively refined for 2009, but despite a number of updates it’s now showing its age. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

This means, for a retail price of $53,249 before adding any other features, you get a 2019 Flex Limited Ecoboost AWD that comes well equipped with all of the performance upgrades mentioned plus standard 19-inch silver-painted alloys on 235/55 all-season tires, HID headlights, fog lamps, LED taillights, a satin-aluminum grille, chromed exterior door handles, stainless steel bright beltline mouldings, a satin aluminum liftgate appliqué, a powered liftgate, bright dual exhaust tips, power-folding heatable side mirrors with memory feature and security approach lights, rain-sensing wipers, reverse parking sensors, and that’s only on the outside.

2019 Ford Flex Limited EcoBoost V6
The Flex cockpit has long been well organized, and its generous assortment of features in top-line Limited trim makes for a luxurious family hauler. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

You can use remote engine start to warm things up or cool them down before even entering the Flex Limited, plus proximity-sensing access (or Ford’s exclusive SecuriCode keypad) to get inside, pushbutton ignition to keep things running, Ford MyKey to keep things secure when valets or your kids are at the wheel, while additional interior features include illuminated entry with theatre dimming lighting, a perforated leather-wrapped steering wheel rim with a genuine hardwood inlay, Yoho maple wood grain appearance appliqués, power-adjustable foot pedals with memory, perforated leather upholstery on the first- and second-row seats, a 10-way powered driver’s seat with memory, a six-way powered front passenger seat, heatable front seats, an auto-dimming rearview mirror, an overhead console with a sunglasses holder, ambient interior lighting with seven colours including default Ice Blue plus soft blue, blue, green, purple, orange and red, plus Ford’s Sync 3 infotainment system, a great sounding 12-speaker Sony audio system, SiriusXM satellite radio, dual USB charging ports (in the front console bin), dual-zone automatic climate control, rear manual HVAC controls, four 12-volt power points, a 110-volt household-style three-prong power outlet, Blind Spot Information System (BLIS) with Cross-Traffic Alert, and more.

2019 Ford Flex Limited EcoBoost V6
Ford was far ahead of its time when introducing the Flex’s dual-screen instrument cluster. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

For such an old vehicle the Flex appears right up to date when it comes to electronics due to its Cockpit Integrated Display that houses two bright, colour, high-resolution TFT displays within the primary gauge cluster (it was way ahead of its time) while the just noted Sync 3 infotainment system is nothing to sneeze at either, thanks to a large graphically stimulating and highly functional touchscreen with ultra-fast capability and excellent usability, the functions including extremely accurate optional navigation and a very good standard backup camera with active guidelines (but an overhead 360-degree surround view camera is not available), plus standard Apple CarPlay and Android Auto smartphone connectivity, the ability to add more apps, plus much more.

2019 Ford Flex Limited EcoBoost V6
The Flex’s centre stack s well organized and packed full of features. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Over and above the list of standard Limited features it’s possible to add a $3,200 301A package that includes a heatable steering wheel rim, really comfortable 10-way powered front seats with three-way ventilation, adaptive cruise control, Collision Warning with autonomous emergency braking, and Active Park Assist semi-autonomous parking capability, but take note that all 301A features already come standard with the more potent engine, as does a unique set of 20-inch polished alloys, an engine block heater, a power-adjustable steering column, and a one-touch 50/50-split power-folding third row with tailgate seating.

You might have noticed that my tester’s wheels are hardly polished alloys, or at least they’re not silver, the glossy black 20-inch rims included as part of a $900 Appearance package that also adds a gloss-black exterior treatment to the centre grille bar, side mirror caps, and liftgate appliqué, plus Agate Black paint to the roof pillars and rooftop, while the interior gets a unique leather-wrapped steering wheel with Meteorite Black bezels, an exclusive graphic design on the instrument panel and door-trim appliqués, special leather seat upholstery with Light Earth Gray inserts and Dark Earth Gray bolsters, and floor mats with unique logo.

2019 Ford Flex Limited EcoBoost V6
Navigation is a standalone option, even with the top-tier Limited model. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

My tester’s multi-panel Vista panoramic sunroof has always been a standalone option for $1,750, while it’s still strange to see its voice-activated navigation system (with SiriusXM Traffic and Travel Link) as an individual add-on (nav systems are almost always bundled into top-tier models), while the glossy black roof rails can also be individually added for only $130, but take note you can get the roof rails (also in silver) as part of a $600 Cargo Versatility package that also combines the otherwise $500 Class III Trailer Tow package (good for up to 4,500 lbs or 2,041 kilos of trailer weight) with first- and second-row all-weather floor mats (otherwise a $150 standalone option) for a much more utile SUV.

2019 Ford Flex Limited EcoBoost V6
Despite its years, the Flex’s dual-zone climate control interface is state-of-the-art thanks to touch-sensitive switchgear. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Now that I’ve listed everything available with my tester, you can also add a refrigerated centre console for $650, or upgrade the otherwise 60/40-split second row bench seat to captain’s chairs with a centre console for just $150 (although I prefer the standard bench seat because its 40-percent section auto-folds from the rear in all trims), while $250 inflatable second-row seatbelts improve rear passenger safety, and a dual-screen rear entertainment system will add $2,100 to the bottom line.

Now that I’ve covered all of the Limited trim’s features, many of which are pulled up from base SE and mid-range SEL trims, it’s important to mention that the Flex cabin isn’t quite as refined as what you might find in the new 2020 Explorer, for instance. This said, I remember how blown away I was with its refinement when it came out, which just goes to show how far Ford and all other carmakers have come since 2009. The new Edge, for instance, which I recently tested in top-line trim, is probably better than the older Lincoln MKX, now replaced by the impressive Nautilus, whereas this Flex’s interior is a lot like the previous Edge inside.

2019 Ford Flex Limited EcoBoost V6
These upgraded 10-way powered seats, with heated and cooled cushions, are extremely comfortable. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

It gets the big, clunky, hard plastic rocker switches for the powered locks instead of the more sophisticated electronic buttons, and certainly has a lower grade of hard composites throughout the interior than more recently redesigned Ford SUVs. Then again its dash-top features a nice soft-touch surface treatment, as do the door uppers front to back, while the door inserts get the cool graphic inserts noted earlier along with nice, large padded armrests.

All said, interior space might possibly be this SUV’s most noteworthy attribute, the Flex getting its name for its combination of minivan-like seating and cargo storage capability. First, let’s get real about overall space. The Flex’s maximum load carrying capacity of 2,355 litres (83.1 cubic feet) when both rear rows are folded flat pales in comparison to the old Ford Freestar minivan’s 3,885 litres (137.2 cu ft) of total cargo volume, but it’s good as far as three-row SUVs go. The Flex provides 42 more litres (1.5 cu ft) of maximum storage than the old 2019 Explorer, for instance, which is one of the largest SUVs in its class. Then again, the 2020 Explorer manages a maximum of 2,486 litres (87.8 cu ft) with its two rear rows folded, which beats both older utes.

2019 Ford Flex Limited EcoBoost V6
The Flex’s optional multi-pane panoramic Vista sunroof really adds to its visual size when inside. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

The rear hatch powers open to expose 426 litres (15.0 cu ft) of dedicated cargo space behind the third row, which is actually 169 litres (6.0 cu ft) shy of the outgoing Explorer, but drop the second row down and the Flex almost matches the Explorer’s available capacity perfectly with 1,224 litres (43.2 cu ft) compared to 1,240 litres (43.8 cu ft). A handy feature mentioned earlier allows the third row to be folded in the opposite direction for tailgate parties, but you’ll need to make sure the headrests are extended as they might uncomfortable otherwise.

2019 Ford Flex Limited EcoBoost V6
The second-row is large, comfortable and can be swapped out for captain’s chairs with a centre console. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Total passenger volume is 4,412 litres (155.8 cu ft), which means every seating position is roomy and comfortable. Really, even third row legroom is good, while headroom is generous due to a tall roofline and the Flex’s width makes sure no one feels claustrophobic. The open-airiness of the panoramic sunroof really helps in this respect too, and its three-pane design is also smart because it provides the structural rigidity such a large vehicle like this needs. Thoughtful features I really like include the massive bottle holders in the rear door panels, which are really useful for drive-thru excursions, especially considering the grippy cupholders in the centre armrest are a bit on the small side.

2019 Ford Flex Limited EcoBoost V6
Ford doesn’t sell a minivan, so the Flex’s rear seats needed to fit large teens and adults. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

As you can probably tell, I have a soft spot for this unorthodox box of an SUV, and appreciate Ford for having the courage to build it in the first place. While it’s old and feels a bit dated inside especially, plus is missing some features I’d appreciate having such as rear outboard seat heaters and USB ports in the back, it’s hard to knock its value proposition when factoring in the potential savings. Of course, choosing this old SUV when it’s parked next to a new 2020 Explorer will be difficult, but a similarly equipped version of the latter SUV will set you back another $10k before the aforementioned discount, while Ford is only offering up to $2,000 in additional incentives on this newer vehicle (which is still pretty impressive). That’s a difference of more than $13k, so therefore choosing a fully loaded Flex might be ideal for those on more of a luxury budget.

2019 Ford Flex Limited EcoBoost V6
The third row can be powered down via buttons on the cargo wall. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Before the COVID-19 outbreak I would have recommended rushing to your dealer in order to make sure you get one of the last remaining new Flex SUVs before they’re all gone, and while they will certainly disappear in due time you’ll probably need to deal with your Ford retailer digitally these days. Nevertheless, it’s a good idea to do your homework first before making the call, so be sure to visit the 2019 Ford Flex Canada Prices page at CarCostCanada, where you can check out all the trims and pricing, plus see if there have been any updates regarding manufacturer discounts, rebates and/or financing/leasing packages, while a membership to CarCostCanada will also provide otherwise hard to get dealer invoice pricing (the price the dealer actually pays the manufacturer), which will give you the best chance possible to negotiate a great deal. Your Ford retailer will have your Flex prepared (while wearing hazmat suits, masks and gloves no doubt), after which you can simply pick it up at your convenience.

2019 Ford Flex Limited EcoBoost V6
Shown here with most of its rear seats folded, the Flex provides a lot of potential cargo space. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

So if this oddball SUV is as special to you as it is to me, I recommend taking advantage of the great model ending deals to be had. It might be an old entry amongst a plethora of seemingly more enticing new offerings, but keep in mind that its moderate popularity means that it’s remained fairly fresh despite its years (you won’t see many driving around the corner toward you or parked beside you at the mall), while its decade of availability and well-proven mechanicals make certain that reliability will be better average.

Well, I’ve done my cursory scan of Toyota Canada dealer websites, and yes in fact there are new 2019 Prius Prime models available in most provinces. This means you can still get some great discounts…

2019 Toyota Prius Prime Road Test

2019 Toyota Prius Prime
The Prius Prime offers dramatic styling that differentiates it from regular Prius models. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

Well, I’ve done my cursory scan of Toyota Canada dealer websites, and yes in fact there are new 2019 Prius Prime models available in most provinces. This means you can still get some great discounts at the retail level, plus Toyota is offering zero-percent factory leasing and financing for the 2019 model, compared to a best of 2.99 percent for the 2020. 

Like always I found this gem of info at CarCostCanada, where you can also study up on most brands and models available including the car on this page that’s found on their 2019 Toyota Prius Prime Canada Prices page, the newer version found on their 2020 Toyota Prius Prime Canada Prices page, or you can search out a key competitor like Hyundai’s latest entry found on the 2019 Hyundai IONIQ Electric Plus Canada Prices page or 2020 Hyundai IONIQ Electric Plus Canada Prices page (the former offering zero-percent factory leasing and financing, albeit the latter not quite as good at 3.49 percent). CarCostCanada also provides information about manufacturer rebates as well as dealer invoice pricing, allowing you to arrive at the dealership well equipped to work out the best deal possible.

2019 Toyota Prius Prime
Possibly the Prime’s most distinctive visual feature is a concave roof, rear window and integrated rear lip spoiler. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

If your lease is expiring amidst the COVID-19 outbreak we’re all currently enduring, or you just need a new vehicle, most dealerships are still running with full or partial staff, but the focus these days is more on service than sales. It’s not like you can go on a test drive or even sit in a car, but those wanting to take advantage of end-of-model-year deals or special financing/lease rates should try purchasing online, after which your local dealer will prep the vehicle and hand over the keys, while wearing gloves no doubt.

Being that we’re so far into the 2020 calendar year, let alone the 2020 model year, let’s talk about all the improvements made to the 2020 Prius Prime so you can decide whether to save on a 2019 or pay a little more for a 2020. For a bit of background, Toyota redesigned the regular Prius into this current fourth-generation model for the 2016 model year and added the plug-in hybrid (PHEV) Prime variant for 2017. The standard hybrid version received a fairly extensive refresh for 2019 that cleaned up its styling for more mainstream appeal, which incidentally didn’t affect the car being reviewed here, but that said the 2020 Prius Prime has been given some significant updates that we’ll overview now.

2019 Toyota Prius Prime
LED headlights, driving lights and fog lamps make this Prime Upgrade model stand out. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

For reasons I can’t quite explain, early Prius Primes came standard with gloss white interior trim on the steering wheel and shifter surround, which stood in stark contrast to the glossy black plastic everywhere else. What’s more, they fixed a large centre console between the rear outboard seats that reduced seating to four for 2019, a problem now remedied for 2020 so that the new Prime can carry five. Both issues made me wonder whether or not Toyota’s design team wasn’t initially taking notes on Chevy’s first-gen Volt, and by doing so had decided that shiny white interior plastic and a fixed rear centre console were prerequisites for plug-in hybrids. Fortunately, the Volt’s design team chose to go all black and remove the rear centre console for its second-generation design (that was much too closely aligned to the Chevy Cruze and has since been discontinued along with its non-electrified gasoline/diesel-fed platform mate), and as it appears the interior design team at Toyota followed Chevy’s lead with the same deletions for the updated 2020 Prius Prime.

2019 Toyota Prius Prime
As far as Prius alloy wheels go, this set is pretty sharp. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

Additional 2020 updates include standard Apple CarPlay, SiriusXM satellite radio, sunvisor extenders, and a new easier-to-access switchgear location for the seat warmer toggles, plus two new standard USB-A ports for rear passengers.

Trims don’t change going into 2020, with the base model once again being joined by Upgrade trim, the latter of which can be improved upon by a Technology package. According to CarCostCanada, the base price for both model years is set to $32,990 plus freight and fees, but take note that Toyota now throws in a tonneau/cargo cover for free, something that used to be part of the Technology package, thus reducing the latter package’ price from $3,125 to $3,000. This isn’t the only price that goes down for 2020, however. In fact, the Upgrade trim’s price tag drops $455 from $35,445 to $34,990, for reasons they don’t explain.

2019 Toyota Prius Prime
This photo shows the unique concave rear window well. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

Prius Prime’s Upgrade trim adds a 4.6-inch larger 11.6-inch infotainment touchscreen with navigation (that replaces the Scout GPS Link service and its three-year subscription), wireless phone charging, Softex breathable leatherette upholstery, an eight-way power driver’s seat (that replaces the six-way manual seat used in the base model), illuminated entry with a step lamp, a special smart charging lid, plus proximity-sensing keyless access for the front passenger’s door and rear hatch handle (it comes standard for the driver’s door), but take note the move to Upgrade trim deletes the Safety Connect system including its Automatic Collision Notification, Stolen Vehicle Locator, Emergency Assistance button (SOS), and Enhanced Roadside Assistance program (three-year subscription).

2019 Toyota Prius Prime
Prepare yourself for an interior that’s a lot more premium-like than past Prius models. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

The Technology package included with my tester adds fog lights, rain-sensing wipers, a really handy head-up display, an always welcome auto-dimming rearview mirror, a Homelink remote garage door opener, a great sounding 10-speaker JBL audio system, helpful front clearance parking sensors, semi-self-parking, blindspot monitoring, and rear cross-traffic alert.

It would be low hanging fruit to insert a joke right now about the need for blindspot monitoring and the equal requirement of watching your mirrors in a car that produces a mere 121 net horsepower and an unspecified amount of torque, not to mention an electronic continuously variable automatic (CVT) that’s hardly sporty, all of which might cause traffic to zip past as if it was standing still, but like with all hybrids the Prime isn’t as slow as its engine specifications suggest. Electric torque is immediate, needing no time to spool up revs like an internal combustion engine, and while all-wheel drive isn’t available with this plug-in Prius, the front wheels hook up well off the line for acceleration that’s more than adequate when taking off from stoplights, merging onto highways and passing large, slow moving highway trucks.

2019 Toyota Prius Prime
There is nothing quite like a Prius inside, thanks to a unique assortment of digital displays enhanced by an optional head-up display. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

The Prime is also quite capable through the corners, but like it’s non-plug-in Prius sibling it’s set up more for comfort than speed, with very good ride quality considering its low rolling resistance tires. What’s more, its extremely tight turning circle made it manoeuvrable in confined parking spaces. This is exactly the way most Prius owners want their car to behave, because optimizing fuel economy is the end game, after all. To that end the 2019 Prius Prime has an exceptionally good Transport Canada rating of 4.3 L/100km in the city, 4.4 on the highway and 4.3 combined, compared to 4.4 city, 4.6 highway and 4.4 combined for the regular Prius, and 4.5, 4.9 and 4.7 respectively for the AWD version. Of course, the Prime is a plug-in hybrid (PHEV) so you could theoretically drive solely on electric power if you had the patience and practical ability to recharge it every 40 kilometres or so, which is its claimed EV range.

2019 Toyota Prius Prime
This long, narrow digital gauge cluster is slanted toward the driver. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

Possibly an even greater asset is the ability to park the Prime at coveted charging stations that are almost always right next to the doors of shopping malls and other facilities. Better yet, with appropriate stickers attached to the rear bumper you can use the much faster HOV lane on your way home during rush hour traffic when alone.

Toyota follows up the Prime’s comfort-oriented luxury driving experience with a cabin that’s actually quite refined as well. Below and between a set of fabric-wrapped A pillars, the Prime gets a soft-touch dash top and instrument panel, including a sound-absorbing soft-painted composite under the windscreen, plus soft-touch front door uppers, padded door inserts front to back, and nicely furnished armrests. Toyota added some attractive metallic and piano black lacquered detailing across the instrument panel, the latter blending nicely into the extra-large optional 11.6-inch vertical touchscreen display at centre (which as noted replaces the base model’s 7.0-inch display in Upgrade trim).

2019 Toyota Prius Prime
How’s this for a digital map? The Prius’ available 11.6-inch infotainment touchscreen is really impressive. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

Before I delve into that, each Prius Prime gets an ultra-wide albeit somewhat narrow digital gauge cluster up on the dash top in the centre position, but it’s canted towards the driver with most primary functions closer to the driver than passenger, so it feels a little more driver-centric than in past versions, and certainly didn’t cause me any problem. In fact, I found it easy to glance at without having to take my eyes fully from the road, and it’s a nice gauge cluster to look at too, thanks to attractive graphics with rich colours, deep contrasts, and crisp resolution. When upgrading to the aforementioned Technology package it’s complemented by a monochromatic head-up display that can be positioned for driver height. It places key info directly ahead of the driver for optimal visibility.

2019 Toyota Prius Prime
I’ve always loved the blue-patterned shift knob, but I’ll be glad to see the glossy white interior trim gone for 2020. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

Back to the big vertical centre touchscreen, it really makes a grand statement upon entry, mimicking Tesla in some respects. It was easy to use, and featured a wonderfully large, near full-screen navigation map, while the bottom half of the screen can be temporarily used for other commands via a pop-up interface.

That Softex pleather mentioned a moment ago is actually quite nice, and truly breathes better than most synthetic hides. The driver’s seat is extremely comfortable with good lower back support that’s enhanced via two-way powered lumbar adjustment, while the side bolsters are really impressive too. The tilt and telescopic steering column also gave me ample reach, so therefore I was able to get comfortable and feel in control of the car, which hasn’t always been the case with Toyota products.

2019 Toyota Prius Prime
These top-line Softex-covered seats were extremely comfortable and very supportive. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

The steering wheel rim is pleather-wrapped too, and wonderfully soft, while it also features a heatable rim that was oh so appreciated during winter testing. The switchgear on the two side spokes was high in quality, which can be said for the rest of the car’s buttons, knobs and switches too. The quick access buttons around the outside of the infotainment system are touch-sensitive, which is a nice “touch,” sorry for the pun. Speaking of touch, I still love the electric blue digital-style shift knob that’s always been part of the Prius experience. All in all, this latest, greatest Prius is a high quality product from front to back.

2019 Toyota Prius Prime
The rear seating area gets comfortable buckets split by a fixed centre console. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

Toyota doesn’t go so far as to wrap the rear door uppers in soft-touch synthetic, but the rest of the rear cabin is finished just as nicely as that up front. This even goes for the aforementioned centre console fixed between the two rear seats, which includes some nice piano black lacquer around the cupholders as well as a comfortable centre armrest sitting atop a storage bin below. I noted its removal as a bonus for the 2020 model, but if you don’t have kids or grandchildren to shuttle, it’s a very nice feature that rear passengers will certainly appreciate. On this note, I was surprised to find individual rear buckets in back, this giving the car a much more premium look and feel than others in the class. There’s plenty of space to stretch out back there too, both for legroom and headroom, while thanks to good lower back support I was thoroughly comfortable as well. Additionally, Toyota includes a vent on the sides of each seat, which helps to cool off the rear passenger area nicely.

2019 Toyota Prius Prime
A charge cord is provided under the cargo floor. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

The cargo compartment is wide and spacious, although it’s fairly shallow due to the large battery positioned below the load floor. There’s also a small covered storage area complete with a portable charging cord hiding below the rearmost portion of that floor. The rear seats fold forward in the usual 60/40 configuration, but they sit quite a bit lower than the cargo floor so it’s not a completely flat surface. Such are some compromises often made when choosing a plug-in electric vehicle, although this point in mind the Hyundai Ioniq PHEV, the Prime’s closest competitor now that the Volt is gone, didn’t have this problem (it’s cargo floor sits a bit lower than its folded rear seatbacks, which incline slightly as with most cars in this class).

2019 Toyota Prius Prime
A large battery is mounted below the cargo floor, making it higher than the 60/40-split rear seatbacks when folded down. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

Now that I’m grumbling (although that wasn’t much of a complaint), I will never understand why the Prius has always had a beeping signal inside the car when reversing. It can only be heard from within the car, which makes it one of the strangest features ever created for any car, and serves absolutely no purpose. I mean, if you’re not aware enough to know that you put your car into reverse then you really shouldn’t be behind the wheel. The need for a beeping signal to remind when you’re in reverse is absolutely silly, and in fact it audibly interferes with the parking sensor beep, which goes off at the same time. Please, Toyota, rectify this ridiculous feature once and for all. Now that was a decent grumble.

Of course, the annoying reverse beeper hasn’t stopped the Prius from becoming the world’s best-selling hybrid-electric vehicle, and this latest incarnation fully deserves to wear the coveted blue and silver nameplate, whether in regular, AWD or PHEV form.