BMW’s X1 was the very first subcompact luxury crossover SUV ever produced, having arrived on the European scene in 2009 as a 2010 model, two years before we saw it as a 2012. Even when it showed up…

2019 BMW X1 xDrive28i Road Test

2019 BMW X1 xDrive28i
The good looking second-generation BMW X1 has struck a chord with entry-level luxury SUV buyers, making it most popular by far. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

BMW’s X1 was the very first subcompact luxury crossover SUV ever produced, having arrived on the European scene in 2009 as a 2010 model, two years before we saw it as a 2012. Even when it showed up on our shores in April of 2011, nothing else was around to compete against it, unless you consider the near-luxury Mini Countryman as a direct rival, that model having arrived in February of the same year.

Once October 2011 rolled around, the Range Rover Evoque entered the market and a new automotive category was created, but it would take another three years for Audi and Mercedes-Benz to add more variety to North America’s new subcompact luxury SUV segment with their respective Q3 and GLA-Class (unless you count the Buick Encore that arrived in 2013), plus an additional two years for Infiniti to show up with its QX30 (not that many noticed), three more for Jaguar’s E-Pace, Volvo’s XC40 and BMW’s second offering, the sportier X2, and one more for Lexus’ new UX.

2019 BMW X1 xDrive28i
The new design, introduced for the 2018 model year, is a lot more in line with its larger X3 and X5 siblings. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

More are on the way, including Alfa Romeo’s Tonale for 2022, and possibly something eventually from Acura (long rumoured to be called the CDX), but Infiniti has already cancelled its QX30 so Acura may have been wise to hold out. Then again, aforementioned Buick has done very well with its Encore, and while the brand sits at the lowest end of the premium market in price and prestige, the model’s upcoming second-generation (expected for 2020) could make an even bigger dent in the market.

2019 BMW X1 xDrive28i
Sporty yet classy styling comes standard with every X1. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

If we were to consider Buick a true luxury brand the Encore be the sales leader in this category, but with a base price of $28,400 (not even as high as the Mini Countryman’s base of $31,690) it’s not really a contender for premium status. Buick sold 10,637 Encores in 2018 and 8,322 as of October 31, 2019, which represents considerably more buyers than BMW has been able to find with its second-bestselling X1, which found 5,308 buyers in 2018 and 3,753 so far this year. The X1 starts at $41,500, however, so it’s not really a fair comparison. One is a gussied up Chevy Trax that delivers big on fuel economy and reasonably on features, but not so much on performance or refinement, and the other is a leader in all of the above (see 2019 BMW X1 pricing at CarCostCanada, where you can learn about all its packages and individual options in detail, plus find out about valuable rebate information as well as dealer invoice pricing that could save you thousands, BMW currently offering up to $2,000 in additional incentives on 2019s and $1,000 on the new 2020 model).

2019 BMW X1 xDrive28i
Our tester should’ve worn 19s, but seasonal conditions necessitated a set of 18-inch winters. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

To be fair to Buick, some of the X1’s rivals wouldn’t have initially received high marks in all the just-noted categories. Audi’s first-generation Q3 was a bit weak on performance and refinement, and honestly the original X1 was regularly criticized by pundits for cheaper interior plastics than any other BMW, my first review of this model claiming that Ford’s Escape Titanium “even offers more soft-touch interior surfaces than this X1.” I lauded the X1 for its overall solidity and performance, mind you, both important differentiators expected from premium SUVs.

2019 BMW X1 xDrive28i
Sharp lens detailing make these LED taillights stand out. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

The X1, now in its second generation and ironically having traded its lovely rear-wheel drive E91 3 Series Touring-platform (arguably its best asset) in for the aforementioned Mini Countryman’s second-gen front-wheel drive-biased UKL2 architecture (hardly a slouch either), today’s entry-level BMW SUV is a wholly different vehicle than its predecessor. It started out as a low, hunkered down, rear-wheel drive-biased AWD five-door crossover, but now it’s grown up into a much more conventionally shaped and sized subcompact luxury SUV, looking a lot more like its larger X3 and X5 siblings. Its considerable sales growth in 2016 and 2017 back up BMW’s decision to take the X1 in this new direction, and while deliveries dipped a bit in 2018 and so far this year, this probably has more to do with BMW’s introduction of the X2 than anything else, while more importantly it’s managed to remain in its number one position (amongst true subcompact luxury SUVs) even without factoring in the X2.

2019 BMW X1 xDrive28i
The X1’s interior is a cut above most rivals. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Specifically, the X1’s aforementioned year-to-date Canadian sales of 3,753 units is considerably higher than the second-place GLA’s 3,021 deliveries over the same 10 months, and likewise when compared to Lexus’ new UX that’s already taken third-place way from Audi’s Q3 with 2,374 units against 2,303. As for the success of the also-rans, Volvo’s new XC40 managed 1,690 units, Land Rover’s redesigned Range Rover Evoque secured 1,333 new buyers, BMW’s own X2 attracted 1,159 new owners, and Jaguar’s E-Pace wasn’t last (yet) with 372 customers, while Infiniti’s now discontinued QX30 brought up the rear with 93 deliveries (too bad, because it’s more than decent offering).

2019 BMW X1 xDrive28i
High quality materials join a sporty, well-appointed cockpit. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

BMW shows its dominance even more when combining X1 and X2 sales that reached 4,912 units at the close of October, and that’s even before adding in the 2,082 Countryman (should we call them Countrymen?) SUVs sold over the same three-and-a-third quarters (most of which reach into the mid-$40k range), boosting deliveries to almost 7,000 units (6,994), they almost tally up to everything Mercedes, Lexus and Audi (2, 3 and 4 in the category) can sell combined (7,698 units). Ah, the sweet smell of success.

2019 BMW X1 xDrive28i
These classic BMW dials appear to float overtop a digital background. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

The smell of my tester was leather thanks to its beautiful milk chocolate brown Mocha Dakota Leather upholstered cabin, the $950 upgrade from base leatherette requisite when opting for its pretty $895 Mediterranean Blue Metallic exterior paint (the satin aluminum silver trim across the front and rear undertrays plus the rocker panels comes standard, while optional Oyster Grey and Black leather interiors are also available with this colour). The open-pore Oak Grain wood inlays with chrome and brush-metal highlights are no-cost bonuses that make the cabin look so upscale (additional woods, brushed aluminum and piano black lacquered inlays can be had too) as are all the high-quality soft-touch composite surfaces that step the X1 up and over most rivals.

2019 BMW X1 xDrive28i
This upgraded Sport steering wheel incorporates paddle-shifters. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

To be real, Dakota leather is BMW’s lower grade hide, but Nappa and Merino aren’t offered with the X1. It’s still the real deal, however, but it can be corrected-grain or even formed from the leather split and then coated with synthetic polymer paint, with its surface artificially embossed for a grain effect. What matters is it smells right, looks good and lasts, with the X1’s seat inserts even perforated for breathability. The seats didn’t include forced ventilation or anything so fancy, but the three-way front derriere warmers heated up to therapeutic levels quickly when set to their topmost temperature, adding a coziness to the already comfortable driver’s seat.

2019 BMW X1 xDrive28i
The centre stack is well laid out and filled with features. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

The front driver and passenger four-way lumbar support isn’t standard, but rather comes as part of two available packages, the first a $3,500 upgrade dubbed Premium Package Essential that also includes power-folding side mirrors, proximity-sensing keyless Comfort Access, auto-dimming centre and side mirrors, a large panoramic sunroof, a “HiFi” audio system, and an alarm, and the second as-tested $5,900 Premium Package Enhanced including everything above plus a head-up display, a universal remote, satellite radio, navigation, BMW’s semi-autonomous Park Assistant, the BMW ConnectedDrive Services Package, and a powered liftgate.

2019 BMW X1 xDrive28i
The centre touchscreen’s tile interface let’s you choose between multiple functions readily at your fingertips. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Both packages are also available with a heatable steering wheel, plus a $1,000 Driving Assistant Plus package that adds approach warning with pedestrian alert and light city braking, lane departure warning, adaptive cruise control with stop-and-go plus traffic jam assist, high-beam assist, and speed limit info.

Now that we’re talking upgrades, my tester also included a $950 Sport Performance Package featuring a Sport automatic transmission with steering wheel-mounted paddles (worth the upgrade alone), more reactive M Sport Steering, and 19-inch alloy wheels, although my tester was smartly outfitted for this colder season and therefore included a set of 225/50R18 Continental ContiWinterContact tires on special M Sport split five-spoke alloys.

2019 BMW X1 xDrive28i
The navigation system provided very accurate route guidance, and one of the more detailed maps in the industry. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

As anyone who’s driven on winter rubber will know, performance on anything but snow or ice is compromised, and therefore my tester’s at-the-limit grip couldn’t possible measure up to the stock wheel and tire combination. This said it proved more agile than the same SUV shod in 17-inch winter tires for my 2016 X1 xDrive28i review, which were smaller due to the older model coming with 18s in base trim.

Not much else seems to have changed since then, however, which obviously (by the aforementioned sales numbers) doesn’t matter to X1 buyers, or for that matter to me. The model’s only engine, a 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder, still makes 228 horsepower and 258 lb-ft of torque, potent when sidled up beside some of its rivals, like a Lexus UX or the base Mercedes GLA, but nowhere near as energetic as the latter model in 375-horsepower AMG trim, or for that matter top-line versions of the Jaguar E-Pace, Range Rover Evoque or Volvo XC40, but once again popularity proves this isn’t an issue.

2019 BMW X1 xDrive28i
The upper row of controls are for audio and infotainment functions, while the lower interface is primary for the dual-zone auto HVAC system. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

I found it more than adequately powered, especially with Sport mode engaged, which meant the standard ZF-sourced eight-speed automatic transmission responded more immediately to shifts, whether prompted by its paddles or left to its own devices. All-wheel drive is standard, and in the wet improved grip off the line and mid-turn, while the little utility feels poised compared to some in this class, but not as agile as the aforementioned AMG GLA 45, for instance, or its predecessor that was little more than a raised 3 Series wagon. More importantly, today’s X1 is more comfortable than its predecessor and many competitors, whether the powertrain is set to more relaxed Comfort or Eco modes or not, its ride particularly good for such a compact SUV. Eco mode in mind, claimed fuel economy is even decent at 10.7 L/100km in the city, 7.5 on the highway and 9.3 combined.

2019 BMW X1 xDrive28i
The 8-speed automatic provides quick, smooth shifts. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

It’s actually one of the more well-rounded entry-level SUVs in the premium sector, and amongst the most practical. Along with the comfortable front seats, the lower cushions even including adjustable side bolsters and manual thigh extensions, the steering column provided at least four inches of reach that, together with the amply adjustable driver’s seat, allowed my long-legged, shorter-torso five-foot-eight frame to fit in ideally, optimizing both comfort and control (this is often not the case). The aforementioned four-way powered lumbar support aided comfort, especially during long hauls, while the adjustable side bolsters cupped the torso nicely and the thigh extensions added support under the knees. BMW has thought of just about everything to make the X1’s front occupants comfortable.

2019 BMW X1 xDrive28i
The front seats are two of the most comfortable in the subcompact luxury SUV class. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

The rear passenger compartment is more accommodating than you might think for a vehicle in this class too, while the outboard backrests are plenty supportive and centre position not wholly uncomfortable (normally the case with subcompacts). Two is better in back, however, allowing a wide (albeit slightly low) centre armrest with smallish pop-out cupholders to be folded down in between. When positioned behind the driver’s seat, which once again was extended further rearward than for most five-foot-eight folks, allowing approximately four inches ahead of my knees, at least another four to five above my head, plus about four next to my hips and shoulders. I certainly never felt cramped.

2019 BMW X1 xDrive28i
The optional panoramic sunroof is well worth its upgrade price. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Of course the large panoramic sunroof overhead made for a much more open and airy rear passenger experience, while the LED reading lights overhead can add light at night if those in back want to read. There were no seat heaters in back, a bit of a letdown, but on the positive the rear quarters are finished just as nicely as those up front.

The cargo compartment is nicely finished as well, with high-quality carpeting up the sides of each wall, on the cargo floor, of course, which can be removed to expose a large hidden stowage area, plus on the backsides of the ideally 40/20/40-split rear seatbacks. If you have any intention of using your future SUV for skiing, or any other type of activity that might have you carrying longer cargo down the centre with passengers in back should consider this more flexible cargo configuration. BMW provides 505 litres (17.8 cubic feet) of dedicated gear-toting space behind those seatbacks, and gives you a convenient set of levers to drop them down, resulting in a sizeable 1,550 litres (54.7 cubic feet) of total capacity.

2019 BMW X1 xDrive28i
Rear seat roominess and comfort is excellent, but it’s missing rear seat heaters. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Back in the driver’s seat, the X1’s primary instrument cluster consists of the usual two analogue dials, although they appear as if floating within a colourful digital background, which looks really nice when lit up at night. Of course that background is a multi-information display at centre, plus warning lights, info about the active cruise control and more around the outer edges.

2019 BMW X1 xDrive28i
The X1’s 40/20/40-split rear seatback is a dealmaker for active lifestyles. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Propped up at the centre leading edge of the sloping dash-top is a beautiful wide high-definition display with fabulous depth of colour and contrast, and stimulating graphics. Unlike most premium rivals that don’t include touchscreens, BMW’s display is fully capacitive, allowing tap, pinch, and swipe capabilities just like a tablet or smartphone. You can also use the traditional iDrive rotating controller and surrounding buttons on the lower console for quick control. It’s an intelligent system, expected from the brand that initiated modern infotainment way back in the early aughts, while all the functions performed flawlessly including the route guidance that got me to my destinations perfectly each time. The upgraded audio system was very good too, and included a power/volume knob and row of quick-access radio presets just below a set of HVAC vents positioned under the display, and just above a comprehensive dual-zone auto climate control interface. Everything is well laid out, adding to the X1’s all-round goodness.

As is always the case, vehicles don’t become number one in their respective classes by accident, which is why anyone contemplating a small luxury SUV should seriously consider BMW’s X1.

It would be easy to look at the Veloster as an automotive anomaly, a car that doesn’t quite fit into the compact sport coupe segment, but I prefer to think of it as a more practical sports coupe. …

2019 Hyundai Veloster Turbo Tech Road Test

2019 Hyundai Veloster Turbo Tech
Hyundai gave its innovative Veloster a ground-up redesign for 2019, and this Turbo Tech model is very impressive. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

It would be easy to look at the Veloster as an automotive anomaly, a car that doesn’t quite fit into the compact sport coupe segment, but I prefer to think of it as a more practical sports coupe. 

After all, there’s good reason only a handful of volume-branded compact sports coupes remain in today’s auto sector. Owners finally got tired of hearing complaints from family and friends trying to access their rear seats, so they bought sporty four- and five-door alternatives. Heck, even the mighty VW GTI can only be had with four doors these days, yet instead of conforming to near wagon-like levels of practicality Hyundai took a good idea that was poorly executed by GM’s Saturn division for its 1999 SC sports coupe, that saw a second rear-hinged half-door added to the driver’s side for easier back seat entry, and adapted it to the more appropriate passenger’s side with an easier to use conventional hinge on a larger three-quarter sized door. Voila! A car that looks like a coupe from the driver’s side and a particularly sleek four-door hatch from the passenger’s side.

2019 Hyundai Veloster Turbo Tech
The Veloster looks like a sleek two-door coupe from the driver’s side. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

Sales were initially quite strong in Canada, but have steadily tapered off since its first full year of 5,741 units in 2012, but thanks to a ground-up redesign for this 2019 model year the Veloster has responded with a 36.6-percent uptick to 1,295 units as of October’s close, although only 279 examples were sold during July, August and September of this year, representing a collapse of 55.1 percent compared to Q3 of 2018, so we’ll have to wait and see if 2019’s final three months fare any better. 

2019 Hyundai Veloster Turbo Tech
A rear door on the passenger’s side makes getting into the back ultra-easy. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

Before we see Hyundai transform the Veloster into a volume-branded BMW X4 in order to keep its coupe alive while the world transfers interests from cars to crossover SUVs (an interesting prospect), those who still appreciate sports coupes for their lower centre of gravity and inherently better handling should take note of the new Veloster’s change from a torsion beam rear suspension design (the old car’s Achilles heal) to a new independent multi-link setup, the update thoroughly transforming its ride and handling.

The new Veloster’s underpinnings are much more compliant than the previous model’s, providing comfortable cruising around town with less drama over rough pavement, yet the little coupe remains firm enough to feel like a sport model. Still, despite what feels like a more docile suspension setup it’s much better through the corners, especially when pushed hard over broken asphalt mid-turn, which would have upset the outgoing model. Now you can cut the apex with less concern of finding an unforeseen bump or pothole, the rear suspension now absorbing such obstacles with no rear shudder or loss of tire patch contact.

2019 Hyundai Veloster Turbo Tech
The new Veloster Turbo looks plenty sporty. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

While the Veloster comes standard with a 2.0-litre four-cylinder engine good for 147 horsepower and 132 lb-ft of torque, which drives the front wheels through a standard six-speed manual or optional six-speed automatic, my Veloster Turbo tester uses a 1.6-litre turbo-four making 201 horsepower and 195 lb-ft of torque. It still twists the front wheels through an as-tested standard six-speed manual gearbox, although those wanting automation can choose a new seven-speed dual-clutch EcoShift DCT gearbox with paddle shifters on the steering wheel. I’ve driven a six-speed version of the latter in previous Velosters (see 2016, 2015 and 2014 reviews), and it proved to be quick shifting and very engaging, so I can only imagine the new seven-speed unit is even more fun to row through the gears, but being a purist when it comes to sports cars I’d be inclined to save the $1,500 and keep the DIY transmission.

2019 Hyundai Veloster Turbo Tech
A hidden rear door handle gets you into the rear seating compartment. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

It’s a well sorted six-speed with easy, progressive clutch take-up that feels ideally suited to the torque-rich turbocharged four-cylinder. Maximum torque arrives at 1,500 rpm and continues all the way up to 4,500, while max power, arriving at 6,000 rpm, makes laying further into the throttle worthwhile. The little engine hits redline at 7,000, although it’ll spin higher if you enjoy hearing the high-pitched mechanical whine, with sport mode really improving performance along the way. Really, push the big, grey “SPORT” button to the left of the shifter and the Veloster Turbo immediately transforms from nice economical runabout to a truly enthusiastic performance car.

2019 Hyundai Veloster Turbo Tech
Available LED taillights add sophistication to the design. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

Even better, there are zero negatives when choosing the Turbo over the base Veloster at the pump, with the manual transmission resulting in 9.4 L/100km in the city, 7.1 on the highway and 8.4 combined for the base engine and an even better 9.4 city, 7.0 highway and 8.3 combined for the Turbo, while the base car’s six-speed auto is good for a claimed 9.1 city, 7.1 highway and 8.2 combined compared to just 8.5, 6.9 and 7.8 respectively for the Turbo with its seven-speed DCT. Yes, you read that right. Opt for the better performing Turbo and you’ll save on fuel, at least if you don’t bury your foot in the throttle every time you take off.

2019 Hyundai Veloster Turbo Tech
A diffuser-style rear bumper integrating dual centre tailpipes sets the Turbo apart. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

A quick drive will be more than enough for you to attest to the Veloster’s sport coupe credentials, but once again living with the car for a week reminded me of just how practical it is. The rear liftgate opens high and wide enough to stow big items, and while not as accommodating as most compact hatchbacks the dedicated cargo area measures a reasonable 565 litres (20 cubic feet), or about the size of a full-size sedan’s trunk, and a considerable increase over the old first-generation Veloster’s 440-litre (15.5 cu-ft) trunk. Of course, you can lower the rear seats to expand its usability, their divide placed at the 66/33-position instead of the usual 60/40, which makes sense for a car that only seats four. With both rear seatbacks laid flat the Veloster allows for 1,260 litres (44.5 cu ft) of gear-toting space, which is once again a significant increase over the previous model’s 982 litres (34.7 cubic feet) of maximum load carrying capacity.

2019 Hyundai Veloster Turbo Tech
The updated Veloster’s interior looks better and adds improved electronics, yet disappoints in materials quality. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

The long driver’s door and proximity-sensing keyless entry make access to the cockpit ultra-easy, and the two passenger doors means that no one needs to compromise when coming along for the ride. Sure the first rear passenger to enter needs to slide along the seat to get to the other side, making me wish Hyundai hadn’t included a fixed centre console with cupholders and a storage bin in between, but it’s not too difficult to negotiate and provides some useful functionality (a folding centre armrest would work better).

2019 Hyundai Veloster Turbo Tech
The Veloster Turbo’s cockpit impresses ergonomically. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

With the driver’s seat positioned for my five-foot-eight, long-legged, short-torso frame I had about four to five inches ahead of my knees, plus a reasonable amount of space for my feet, although it was a bit tight for my toes underneath the driver’s seat. There was plenty of space from side to side, however, plus about three inches remained above my head, so it should be roomy enough for somebody under six feet.

The two rear seats are nicely carved out for good lateral support, while their backrests push outward slightly at the lower back to improve comfort on road trips. Amenities are limited to power window switches on the left panel and rear door, while the armrests are the only padded surfaces other than the seats.

2019 Hyundai Veloster Turbo Tech
This bright, clear, mostly analogue gauge cluster is enhanced with a TFT multi-info display plus a HUD on top of its cowl. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

This is also true for the front seating compartment, incidentally, the Veloster’s almost complete lack of soft-touch surfaces disappointing. Even the dash top and instrument panel or hard plastic, but at least some of these were given a matte textured treatment, whereas each door panel, armrests aside, were entirely comprised of glossy hard composite.

The red on black sport driver’s seat is as comfortable and supportive as it looks, while its two-way powered lumbar support almost ideally met the small of my back. I was able to set up the seat to my preferences thanks to fairly long reach from the tilt and telescopic steering column, further optimizing comfort and control, while the seat warmers and heatable steering wheel rim came on quickly and strong.

2019 Hyundai Veloster Turbo Tech
The centre stack is well organized and comprised of high quality switchgear. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

Upon ignition, via a button on the centre stack to the right of the steering column, a transparent head-up display powers up out of the dash top. I must admit it was a bit distracting at first, as it’s right in the line of sight (as it should be), but when selecting sport mode it provided a nice tachometer graphic that proved helpful when pushing the engine to redline, while I grew to appreciate it for other functions too. Just below, a colour multi-information display is set without an easily legible set of analogue dials, while controls on the steering wheel spokes, plus to the left and right of the dash were high in quality, well damped, and easy to reach.

2019 Hyundai Veloster Turbo Tech
This available navigation system provides very accurate route guidance. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

Likewise for the infotainment display atop the centre stack, although the only button at its base was for the car’s hazard lights. Its quick-access switchgear can be found lower down the centre stack, between the audio system’s power/volume and tuning knobs, but I ended up using the steering wheel controls mixed with the touchscreen for most functions.

Thanks to a $3,000 Turbo Tech package, which includes the just-noted head-up display, leather upholstery, driver’s seat lumbar support, and Sport mode function noted earlier, not to mention rain-sensing wipers, rear parking sensors, and automatic climate control (with an auto defogger), my test model had a bigger 8.0-inch infotainment touchscreen with integrated navigation and a great sounding eight-speaker Infinity audio system with an external amplifier.

2019 Hyundai Veloster Turbo Tech
Hyundai offers three Veloster transmissions, with this six-speed manual still the driving purist’s choice. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

Before I get ahead of myself, the 2019 Veloster starts at $20,999 plus freight and fees, with the Turbo hitting the road at a base of $25,899. The Turbo Tech package boosts that price up to $28,899, while a $500 Performance package can be added with or without the Tech upgrade, and includes a special set of 18-inch alloy wheels on 225/40 Michelin Pilot summer-performance tires.

The base Veloster sports 18-inch alloys too, by the way, plus auto on/off headlights, LED daytime running lights, power-adjustable heated side mirrors, remote entry, a leather-wrapped heatable multifunction steering wheel, a tilt and telescopic steering column, cruise control, power windows, illuminated vanity mirrors, a sunglasses holder, filtered air conditioning, a one-inch smaller 7.0-inch infotainment touchscreen with standard Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, a rearview camera with dynamic guidelines, six-speaker audio, Bluetooth hands-free phone connectivity with audio streaming, a leather-wrapped shift knob, heated front seats, manual six-way driver and four-way front passenger seat adjustments, blindspot detection with rear cross-traffic alert, all the expected active and passive safety features, plus more.

2019 Hyundai Veloster Turbo Tech
The Turbo’s leather-covered sport seats are as comfortable and supportive as they look. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

Upgrading to the Turbo adds LED headlights, LED side mirror turn signal repeaters, LED taillights, a unique grille and extended side sills, proximity keyless access with pushbutton ignition, a 4.2-inch TFT multi-information display replacing a more conventional 3.5-inch trip computer within the gauge cluster, a large powered glass sunroof, silver vent rings, checkered dash trim, partial cloth/leather upholstery with red stitching instead of blue, leatherette door trim, red interior accents, and more.

2019 Hyundai Veloster Turbo Tech
Rear access is superb for a sport coupe. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

I could delve into available colours and more, but being that this review is being published as 2020 Velosters are arriving, you’ll need to accept what you can get if you want to take advantage of year-end discounts and zero-percent financing (the 2020 model was being offered with 0.99-percent financing at the time of writing). By the way, you can learn about these deals and more at CarCostCanada, where all pricing for trims, packages and individual options are itemized, plus info about available manufacturer rebates as well as dealer invoice pricing that could save you thousands.

2019 Hyundai Veloster Turbo Tech
The Veloster provides a nice large opening for a sport coupe, although it’s not so big when comparing compact hatchbacks. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

Something else to consider is the new Veloster N, which gets a new 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder good for a lofty 275 horsepower and 260 lb-ft of torque. It comes solely with a six-speed manual gearbox incorporating downshift rev-matching, while an electronically controlled limited slip differential helps get all that power down to the road, and an electronically controlled suspension connecting to 19-inch alloys on 235/35 Pirelli summer-performance tires maximize grip. Normal, Sport, N and Custom drive mode selections, plus a driver-adjustable active exhaust system, make this very special Veloster even more engaging, while fuel economy is still reasonably low at 10.6 L/100km in the city, 8.3 on the highway and 9.5 combined. It can all be had for a very affordable $34,999, so I urge you to take a look.

2019 Hyundai Veloster Turbo Tech
Cargo capacity is up considerably for 2019, making this the most practical Veloster yet. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

Something else to consider with the 2019, base model 2020s are no longer available with the manual transmission, which is a bit of a shame as this entry-level model is no longer a cheap fix for performance purists and custom tuners, while the new entry price rises by $1,400 to $22,399. Of course, Hyundai wouldn’t have dropped it if buyers were demanding an entry-level six-speed manual, but it’s nevertheless a negative. Soon, the only way to get a manual will be the $27,499 Turbo, so therefore budget-oriented performance fans will want to start searching for their base 2019 Veloster now. Also noteworthy, Hyundai has changed up some trim names for 2020, dropping GL and Tech from the 2019 car and adding Preferred and Luxury to the new version. The Veloster N is still available in one single trim line for the same price, but if you’re looking for it at CarCostCanada, take note it’s now a separate model for 2020.

No matter the model year or trim designation, the redesigned Veloster is wholly better than the car it replaces, with much better performance and nicely updated electronics, while it retains an ideal mix of sporty coupe styling elements and practical hatchback livability.

Toyota may have said sayonara to its Scion line a few years ago, but the youth-oriented brand’s spirit continues to live on in cars like the impressive new Corolla Hatchback. The Corolla Hatchback takes…

2019 Toyota Corolla Hatchback XSE Road Test

2019 Toyota Corolla Hatchback XSE
As good as the old Corolla iM was, the new Toyota Corolla Hatchback makes us almost forget about it completely. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

Toyota may have said sayonara to its Scion line a few years ago, but the youth-oriented brand’s spirit continues to live on in cars like the impressive new Corolla Hatchback.

The Corolla Hatchback takes over from the Corolla iM, which was previously the Scion iM, one of the industry’s best compact five-door hatchbacks from model years 2016 through 2018. It was finished to a higher level than most rivals, partly because it was actually a rebadged second-generation Auris from Europe, where they generally finish cars to higher levels than we get here. In Australasian markets this model was long dubbed Corolla Hatchback, so it only made sense to adopt the simpler, more familiar name when this new model arrived on North American shores for 2019.

While this five-door Corolla isn’t as popular as its four-door sibling, you may recognize the redesigned Hatchback’s snazzy new LED headlight-enhanced face now that the 2020 Corolla sedan is starting to show up everywhere. Both new models are high on style and big on substance, and while they’re not going to give the mighty Honda Civic a run for its money, the Corolla line will once again finish 2019 well ahead of every other compact competitor.

2019 Toyota Corolla Hatchback XSE
The Corolla Hatchback offers up a really sporty profile. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

No matter the angle, the new Corolla Hatchback looks good, something I can’t say for Honda’s five-door rival. While the Toyota has plenty of sharp angles in keeping with today’s styling preferences, its basic shape is organically flowing, something I’ll hazard to guess will stand the test of time more easily. No doubt outward design influences the Corolla’s high resale value, its second-place standing in the 2019 Canadian Black Book’s Best Retained Value Awards only beaten in the compact car class by Toyota’s own Prius, although this impressive result will also be due to the Corolla Hatchback’s superb value proposition, Vincentric having also honoured the car with its 2019 Best Value In Canada Award in the Compact Hatchback category.

2019 Toyota Corolla Hatchback XSE
Looking fabulous from all angles, the Corolla Hatchback is best in top-line XSE trim. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

A quick visit to CarCostCanada (where you can also find the latest rebate info and dealer invoice pricing that could save you thousands, plus factory leasing and financing rates that started from 0.49 percent at the time of writing) will show 2019 Corolla Hatchback pricing starting at just $20,980 plus freight and fees, which is actually $1,770 less than the old 2018 Corolla iM mentioned earlier, and believe me the redesigned model is a much better car.

Its standard auto on/off headlamps are full LEDs, compared to halogen projectors in the outgoing model, while the new taillights continue with standard LEDs. The old car’s remote entry has been upgraded with standard proximity-sensing keyless access plus pushbutton ignition, this not even available before, its classic handbrake replaced by an electric parking brake, while the compact Toyota’s advanced driver assistive systems have been upgraded from just including auto-dimming high beams, autonomous emergency braking, and lane departure alert, to now featuring frontal pedestrian and bicycle detection, lane and road departure steering assist, plus adaptive cruise control.

2019 Toyota Corolla Hatchback XSE
The Corolla’s new standard full LED headlights look sensational and provide ultra-bright light with auto-dimming high beams. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

Items like LED daytime running lights, LED turn signals integrated within the side mirror housings, a rear spoiler, fabric-wrapped A-pillars (another sign this car comes out of Toyota’s European division), piano black lacquer and metallic interior accents, a tilt and telescopic multifunction steering wheel, a 4.2-inch colour TFT multi-information display, variable intermittent wipers, an intermittent rear wiper, power windows with auto up/down all around, and cloth sport seats continue forward, as does a touchscreen infotainment system atop the centre stack with a backup camera, Bluetooth phone connectivity and audio streaming, voice recognition, and six-speaker AM/FM/USB/AUX audio, but the new 8.0-inch centre display is now a full inch larger than its predecessor and features Apple CarPlay and Android Auto smartphone integration plus Toyota’s proprietary Entune system that also comes with Entune App Suite Connect featuring traffic, weather, sports, stocks, a fuel station locator, Slacker, Yelp, and NPR One, making the new Corolla Hatchback much more modern.

2019 Toyota Corolla Hatchback XSE
These sharp looking 18-inch alloys are available with the SE Upgrade package. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

That said the old iM’s standard 17-inch alloys are now replaced with a comparatively rudimentary set of 15-inch steel rims with covers in base trim, while its leather-wrapped steering wheel rim and shift knob is now urethane, dual-zone auto climate control system now single-zone, albeit still automatic, heated front seats now optional, and the list goes on, all of these reminders that Scion (and the Corolla iM that followed) was mostly a single-trim, no options, one-size-fits-all brand, which meant its cars were always nicely equipped in “base” trim, albeit with entry-level pricing that was often a bit higher than some rivals, and there was no opportunity to add higher end features, such as larger wheels, fog lamps, upgraded instrumentation, navigation, leather upholstery, heated rear seats, etcetera.

This is not a problem for the new Corolla Hatchback, as is immediately noticeable from its front fog lamps and stunning machine-finish 18-inch alloy wheels with black painted pockets. These come standard in my tester’s top-line XSE trim, but before I delve into its details I should take you on a short tour through some of the 2019 Corolla Hatchback’s other trim packages.

2019 Toyota Corolla Hatchback XSE
LED taillights are standard, just like they were with the old Corolla iM. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

For instance, a reasonable $1,000 replaces the rev-matching six-speed manual gearbox with a Direct-Shift continuously variable transmission (CVT) featuring sequential shift mode, while its completely automated shifting also allows for an automatic upgrade to full-speed adaptive cruise control and lane tracing assist.

Both manual and CVT models can be had with one of three packages above base, including the $1,600 SE, $3,000 SE Upgrade, and the as-tested $6,000 XSE. The SE, which pushes the Corolla Hatchback’s price up to $22,580 for the manual or $23,160 with the CVT, adds 16-inch alloy wheels, some additional chrome exterior trim, a leather-wrapped steering wheel rim, a power-adjustable driver’s seat with two-way powered lumbar support, heatable front seats, a theft deterrent system, and steering wheel-mounted paddle shifters with the CVT, while the SE Upgrade package, increasing the price to $23,980 for the manual or $24,160 with the CVT, provides some heat for that steering wheel, plus adds convenient wireless device charging, blindspot monitoring, and those 18-inch alloys noted a moment ago.

2019 Toyota Corolla Hatchback XSE
The new Corolla Hatchback’s interior is much more modern than the iM’s, and just as well made. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

As for my tester’s XSE trim that starts at $26,980 with the manual and $27,980 for the CVT, and I’ve got to point out how fabulous it is that Toyota combines its sportiest, highest end trim with its most performance-oriented gearbox, it includes the LED fog lights mentioned before, a 7.0-inch TFT digital driver’s display, plus special Sport fabric upholstery with leatherette trim, dual-zone auto HVAC, Entune 3.0 Premium Audio that adds embedded navigation/route guidance to the centre touchscreen (with automatic map updates for three years), plus traffic and weather info, Entune Destination Assist (with a six-month subscription), Entune Safety Connect featuring automatic collision notification, a stolen vehicle locator, an emergency assistance (SOS) button, and enhanced roadside assistance, plus satellite radio.

2019 Toyota Corolla Hatchback XSE
The layout is excellent and seating position very good. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

A few dealer-added accessories worth getting include a dash camera for $650, a cargo liner for $155, a cargo net for $80, and doorsill plates for $250, while the Corolla Hatchback’s exterior can be dressed up with an ultra-sporty extended rear rooftop spoiler for $535.

The Corolla Hatchback’s cabin is as attractive and nicely put together as the car’s exterior, with plenty of soft-touch composites covering the dash top, the inside portion of the lower console, the front door uppers, plus the armrests side and centre. The mostly black interior motif gets highlighted by cream/grey-coloured contrast stitching in key areas, while the aforementioned sport seats feature the same thread along with a unique two-tone colour treatment thanks to a lighter grey used for their fabric inserts. The seats’ two-way warmers heat up quickly, and can be set to do so automatically each time the car is restarted, as can the heatable steering wheel that makes better equipped Corolla Hatchbacks a lot more pleasurable to live with year round.

2019 Toyota Corolla Hatchback XSE
Bright and colourful, gauge cluster visibility won’t be a problem. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

The contrast stitching doesn’t transfer over that steering wheel, but its meaty, nicely shaped sport rim feels good in the hands no matter the temperature, and the telescoping steering column provides a lot more reach than the iM’s did, allowing me to set up the driver’s seat more ideally for my long-legged, short torso body. Comfort in mind, the two-way powered lumbar support did a reasonably good job of applying pressure to the small of my back, although slightly lower would’ve been better.

Set up and ready to go, the upper half of the sport steering wheel frames a brightly lit primary instrument cluster featuring the usual array of tachometer, speedometer, fuel and temperature gauges, with the first one set up in a semicircle to the very left, the second dominating the middle position, and the latter two combined in another semicircle to the right. At the centre of the arching speedometer is the multi-info display, providing the usual types of functions a driver might need, from trip information to fuel economy, phone info to cruise control details, etcetera, all accessible via a really nice set of steering wheel controls.

2019 Toyota Corolla Hatchback XSE
The infotainment and HVAC interfaces are very well organized and easy to reach. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

The big centre display hovers above the dash like a fixed tablet, and features quick-access buttons down both sides, plus rotating power/volume and tune/scroll knobs at the bottom of each row. The touchscreen responds to tap, swipe and pinch gesture inputs quickly, this especially useful for the navigation system’s map, while screen resolution is good, aiding the clarity of the backup camera, the colours are attractive with reasonably deep contrast, and the graphics are more functionally straightforward than outright good looking. In other words, Toyota’s Entune interface looks as if a team of engineers designed it rather than a graphic artist, but it certainly works well.

2019 Toyota Corolla Hatchback XSE
The map graphics are good and route guidance accurate. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

Another carryover feature from Corolla iM to Hatchback is the independent multi-link rear suspension (IRS), something now also provided by the 2020 Corolla sedan, albeit for the first time. The two new Corollas ride on the completely different Toyota New Global Architecture (TNGA) platform architecture, so it’s not exactly the same IRS, but it nevertheless improves the Corolla’s ride and handling more than if set up with this segment’s usual torsion beam rear suspension design, while the new TNGA platform increases torsional rigidity by 60 percent, again aiding handling while also making the body and all occupants safer from impact.

The stiffer construction can certainly be felt on the road, more structural strength allowing for greater compliance from the suspension and therefore the better ride quality just noted, while the IRS also prevents secondary jarring from the rear when pushing it a bit harder over bumpy roads. This kept my tester’s 225/40R18 Bridgestones in better contact with the road below, and the more often a tire’s contact patch is touching pavement the more chance it has of making a given corner, the Corolla Hatchback much more stable through fast-paced curves than some of its peers that don’t yet offer such sophisticated rear suspension setups.

2019 Toyota Corolla Hatchback XSE
We like that Toyota provides a wireless charger further down the trim lines. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

I honestly had no complaints about the old Corolla iM’s 16-valve, DOHC, 1.8-litre four-cylinder that put out just 137 horsepower and 126 lb-ft of torque, as it was a free-revving engine that was plenty of fun to row through the gears, although the six-speed manual was more fun to play with than the easier-to-live-with CVT-S automatic, the “S” referring to Sport. Every aspect of new Corolla Hatchback’s drivetrain is a great deal more enthusiastic, however, so I’m not lamenting the loss of the iM one whit, its direct-injection 2.0-litre four-cylinder making 168 horsepower and 151 lb-ft of torque, which is 31 horsepower and 25 lb-ft of torque more than the iM, and therefore more than enough to offset the new Hatchback’s 118-kg (260-lb) gain in curb weight, to 1,388 kg (3,060 lbs).

Of course, nothing increases output better than cubic centimetres, and 200 is roughly 10 percent of added displacement, but Toyota replaces its old Valvematic system with much more sophisticated VVT-iE (Variable Valve Timing – intelligent by Electric motor), a Lexus development now trickling down to Toyota’s offerings. Basically it’s the same dual VVT-i system used in other applications, albeit with an electrically operated actuator adjusting and maintaining intake of the camshaft timing. Exhaust camshaft timing remains controlled via a hydraulic actuator. In other words, the new engine is much stronger and maintains its energy over a wider rev range.

2019 Toyota Corolla Hatchback XSE
These two-tone sport seats are very comfortable. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

As for the upgraded continuously variable transmission, usually the Achilles heel of any car attempting to be sporty, the old iM’s was good and the new Corolla Hatchback’s is ruddy brilliant. Truly, this is one of the best CVTs I’ve ever tested, with really quick, snappy shift increments when in Sport mode. What’s more, Toyota’s Direct-Shift CVT includes a whopping 10 gear ratios, which is more than any other I’ve experienced. Of course, they’re pseudo gears, but they nevertheless feel very realistic and are plenty of fun to actuate via the paddles noted earlier. Left to its own devices it’s a smooth, linear shifting CVT that most should appreciate, while it really helps to lower fuel economy.

Despite all the extra engine output and added mass noted a moment ago, the new Corolla Hatchback more than edges the old Corolla iM out when it comes to fuel economy, the new model’s claimed 7.5 L/100km city, 5.8 highway and 6.7 combined rating much thriftier than the iM’s 8.3 city, 6.5 highway and 7.5 combined rating. The new car’s manual is better on fuel too, with a rating of 8.4 L/100km in the city, 6.3 on the highway and 7.5 combined, compared to 8.8 city, 6.8 highway and 7.9 combined for the old model.

2019 Toyota Corolla Hatchback XSE
The rear seating area is comfortable, but surprisingly smaller than its predecessor’s. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

I love it when automakers provide us with a “have your cake and eat it too” experience, and for the most part that pretty well sums up this car. It’s faster and more fun to drive yet saves money at the pump, and improves most every other aspect of car ownership too, but nevertheless all that mass noted earlier, which was partially acquired by making the Corolla Hatchback 100 millimetres (3.9 inches) longer than its predecessor with a 40-mm (1.6-in) longer wheelbase, plus 30 mm (1.2 in) wider, albeit a slight 25 mm (1.0 in) lower to the ground, doesn’t add up to inches inside. In fact, while front legroom, rear headroom and rear shoulder room have been increased fractionally by 7 mm (0.3 in), 2 mm (0.1 in) and 10 mm (0.4 in) respectively, front headroom is less accommodating by 33 mm (1.3 in), front shoulder room is narrower by 10 mm (0.4 in), and rear legroom is shorter by 71 mm (2.8 in), while the dedicated cargo compartment is 14 percent smaller, shrinking from 588 litres (20.8 cubic feet) to just 504 litres (17.8 cubic feet).

2019 Toyota Corolla Hatchback XSE
Like the rear seating compartment, the cargo area is smaller than in the iM, but should still be functional enough for most peoples’ needs. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

Nevertheless, I found it roomy enough and comfortable in all outboard positions, although take into consideration that I might be long-legged but only measure five-foot-eight on a particularly elevated day, so taller folk may feel more confined. Like the iM, the Corolla Hatchback’s cargo area gets a removable carpeted load floor with a compact spare and tiny bit of stowage space below, while 60/40 split-folding rear seatbacks can be laid flat to expand its cargo capacity, although Toyota makes the size of the Hatchback’s maximum gear-hauling capability a secret, just as it did with its predecessor.

I can’t for the life of me comprehend how an automaker makes a car larger in almost every respect, yet loses interior room, unless they’ve taken a car that had already some of the highest safety accreditation it could have and made it better, and to its credit the new model achieves best-possible “Good” ratings in all IIHS categories, except for “Crash avoidance & mitigation” in which the headlights merely achieve “Acceptable” or “Marginal” ratings depending on trim or option, although it should be noted this is a U.S. agency and the U.S.-spec Corolla Hatchback isn’t identical to ours. The Corolla Hatchback actually gets a rare “G+” rating for its child seat “LATCH ease of use,” while the NHTSA gives it a 5 star safety rating.

I give the new Corolla Hatchback four stars for being a superb little compact hatch that’s big on style, build quality, features and performance, yet a bit smaller than expected on interior roominess. This said it should be high on your list if you’re considering a compact hatchback.

You’d be forgiven for not noticing, but Jeep completely overhauled its Wrangler two years ago for the 2018 model year. The 2019 model shown here was carried forward mostly unchanged, which is par for…

2019 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Sahara Road and Trail Test

2019 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Sahara
This is the new Jeep Wrangler in its long-wheelbase Unlimited body-style and most luxurious Sahara trim level. Looks good, doesn’t it? (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

You’d be forgiven for not noticing, but Jeep completely overhauled its Wrangler two years ago for the 2018 model year. The 2019 model shown here was carried forward mostly unchanged, which is par for the course with redesigned models, while it’ll mostly do likewise for the upcoming 2020 model year. I’ll cover the key changes in this review, plus give you my road and trail driving impressions, and on that last note you’ll want to peruse the gallery above for one of the most comprehensive photo sessions I’ve ever published.

Some Jeep fans are as old and storied as this iconic model, and while I wasn’t around in the early ‘40s to witness the famed Willys MB (plus the Bantam BRC 40 and Ford GP examples) in action during WWII and subsequent wars, I went 4x4ing in one as a child with my dad at the wheel and can never forget the experience. Also forever etched in my memory is a blue-decaled black 5.0-litre (304 cu-in) V8-powered CJ5 Renegade that I spent one fabulous summer with, complete with loud headers, even louder aftermarket Alpine stereo speakers hanging from the roll bar, and its soft top permanently removed. Suffice to say I’ve become a fan of this now legendary SUV, so I pay attention to all the little changes undertaken with each new model year.

2019 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Sahara
The the rear, the new Wrangler doesn’t look all that much different than the outgoing model, but the beauty is in the details. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

If you’re new to the Wrangler, and such would be understandable being that the quintessential off-roader lures in new fans with each passing year, you may not have noticed its complete ground-up redesign noted a moment ago, but diehard Jeep advocates can easily point out all of the updates. Visual changes from the 2007–2017 JK body style to the new 2018–present JL include a bolder, broader front grille, new available LED reflector headlamps, an off-road ATV-inspired front bumper (that looks much like the front bumper on the 2016 Wrangler 75th Anniversary Edition I reviewed back in the day) with available LED fog lamps, a more shapely hood (albeit not filled with the Anniversary Edition’s cool power dome and black vents or the Rubicon’s similarly vented hood design), redesigned front fenders with integrated wraparound turn signals/markers, heavily sculpted front body panels with side vents (these making up for the more conservative hood), new integrated side steps, new rear fender flares, new more creatively shaped wraparound taillights with available LED technology, a new tailgate, and a new rear bumper (that’s not as sweet looking as the one on the aforementioned 75th Anniversary Edition, but more shapely than the hunk of metal and plastic used for the previous Sahara).

2019 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Sahara
Pretty well every panel is new, while the front bumper is a real looker. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

While you might need to put the new JL next to the old JK to see the subtler differences, such as the updated tailgate, we can surmise that most every panel is new thanks to both regular wheelbase two-door and long-wheelbase four-door models being longer than their predecessors. Specifically, the 2019 Unlimited you’re looking at is 89 mm (3.5 inches) longer than the JK version overall, with a 61-mm (2.4-inch) longer wheelbase. All in all, the new Wrangler manages to look classic and contemporary at the same time, and most importantly it looks mighty good, so job well done to the Jeep design team.

Inside, it’s a much more refined SUV, with doors that slam shut with a thud, and soft touch materials used above the waste-line for the most part. The dash top and instrument panel even get some contrast-stitched leatherette that looks pretty rich, this matching the leather-wrapped steering wheel rim, the leatherette shifter boot and armrests, and the leather surfaced seats. The switchgear is impressive throughout the cabin, particularly the rugged looking audio volume and dual-zone automatic HVAC knobs on the centre stack, while the general quality of most materials and the way everything fits together has improved.

2019 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Sahara
The LED-infused headlamps are optional, while Jeep now integrated all front fenders with new turn signal/market lamps. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

As wholly complete as all of these changes sound, the Wrangler’s primary instrument cluster may have received the interior’s most comprehensive rethink, and while it might have been easier and less expensive to simply substitute its predecessor’s nearly two-dimensionally flat four-gauge layout with an even flatter fully digital display, and thus take the new Wrangler to new levels of modernity in similar fashion to how Mercedes transformed its similarly classic G-wagon from antiquated bushwhacker to digital overlord with its most recent redesign, Jeep created a complex combination of individually hooded primary dials surrounding a massive colour multi-information display (MID).

2019 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Sahara
The Sahara’s optional rims look great yet provide rugged off-road specifications. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

First factoring in that I’m the type of person who simultaneously wears a Seiko SKX007 on my left wrist and the smaller of the two Samsung Gear S3 smart watches on my right, Schwarzkopf style, in order to garner the best of both analogue and digital worlds (not that the SKX is the best, but the GS SBGA031 is too large and a Rolex Sub too pricey), I really like the new Wrangler gauge cluster’s attractive analogue design and appreciate the depth of functions found in the MID, not to mention the cool background graphics that sometimes show an image of the classic WWII GP mentioned earlier, while the tachometer and speedometer dials looks fabulous in their bright orange on black and white motif. I know that fully digital displays are all the rage right now, just like smart watches, but I believe we’ll eventually be paying more for an upgrade to analogue gauges in some high-end models, just like those of us with a weakness for horology are being asked to pay outrageous sums for high-quality mechanical watches. On that note, Jeep’s new primary instrument cluster balances analogue and digital very well. 

2019 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Sahara
New wrap-around taillights can be upgraded with LEDs. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

Those familiar with Chrysler group products (and by that I mean Chrysler, Dodge, Ram and Jeep vehicles that have often shared similar infotainment touchscreens) will already be well versed in the Wrangler’s infotainment touchscreen, which hasn’t changed all that much in function, despite growing in size and modified in shape. The previous 6.5-inch version was more rectangular and laid out horizontally, and featured a row of four buttons down each side, plus a volume/power knob to the left and USB/aux ports (under a pop-off cover) to the right, whereas the new 8.0-inch touchscreen is larger and squarer, with the only quick-access analogue switchgear found in a cluster of dials and buttons just below, mostly for controlling the aforementioned HVAC system. The rightmost dial is for scrolling/browsing and selecting infotainment content, but I found it easier to simply use the touchscreen for such functions, only using the row of external controls for the heated seats and steering wheel (although these could be found within the touchscreen as well), adjusting interior temperatures (ditto), and audio volume.

2019 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Sahara
The Wrangler Unlimited long-wheelbase is now even longer. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

The larger display provides a much-improved reverse camera with dynamic guidelines, the ability to hook up Android Auto (or Apple CarPlay) to use Google Assistant or any number of other functions, plus all the other features most infotainment systems do so well these days, such as highly accurate route guidance/navigation via a nicely laid out digital mapping system, phone setup and control, audio band and station selection, including satellite and wireless device streaming, plus plenty of apps that come preloaded or more which can be downloaded. The screen’s resolution is good, but I wouldn’t call it high-definition like most premium brands and some new mainstream SUVs, such as Chevy’s new Blazer, now provide, but let’s not get me started on that missed opportunity (albeit relative sales hit) to bring something to market capable of going head-to-head with the Wrangler and upcoming Ford Bronco.

2019 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Sahara
Off-roading? Not a problem in any Wrangler, while the new JL-bodied version is more comfortable over the rough stuff than ever before. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

That Blazer in mind, the Wrangler’s ride quality has improved so dramatically that it’s become a high point, something I would’ve never previously expected from this model. Don’t get me wrong, as the JK that I tested during its initial 2005 Lake Tahoe/Rubicon Trail international launch program made massive ride and handling strides over the 1997–2006 TJ, while that comparatively rudimentary appliance was revolutionary when stacked up against the 1987–1995 YJ, and so on down the myriad line of CJs, but this new JL is so much better than any of its predecessors that I’d actually consider owning one again, something I wouldn’t have said about the JK. The fact is, I’m getting older and wouldn’t be willing to get beat up by my daily ride. This new Wrangler is an entirely new level of comfort over its predecessors, and its suspension compliancy is matched by thoroughly improved handling sees this long-wheelbase Unlimited tracking better at high speed and easier to manoeuvre in the city and around parking lots. All round, it’s a much better SUV to live with day to day.

2019 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Sahara
The new Wrangler’s interior is a big improvement over its predecessor in every way. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

This includes better rear seats with more sculpted outboard positions, plus increased legroom due to its longer wheelbase. This second row is still capable of fitting three abreast, but it’s better if just left to two thanks to a unique folding centre armrest that houses two big rubber cupholders and a personal device holder within the headrest portion, plus a wide padded area for forearms behind.

All said this big armrest was a missed opportunity for a centre pass-through that would have made the cargo compartment much more accommodating for long loads like skis when rear passengers are aboard. The way its 60/40-split rear seatbacks are laid out causes the need to lower the narrowest section when fitting skis, poles and/or snowboards inside, and force one of your rear occupants into the middle position. It’s doable, but not ideal, which can also be said for the swinging rear door that’s still hinged on the wrong side for North American (and most global) markets.

2019 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Sahara
Jeep has given the Wrangler a complex new gauge cluster with a large colour TFT multi-info display. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

Due to the need to hang a full-size spare on its backside, the side-swinging door is an awkward setup at best, especially when realizing the simple act of flipping up the rear window for quick access requires the door to be opened first, but the top hatch comes as part of the removable roof and is therefore necessary, and the need to potentially walk out into traffic when loading gear into the cargo compartment from curbside pays respect to tradition, Jeep having always hinged its rear door on the passenger’s side. I’ve complained many times and Jeep isn’t about to change, so I merely point it out to Wrangler newcomers as a possible problem.

2019 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Sahara
The 8.0-inch infotainment touchscreen is much better and better than the old 6.5-inch system. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

On the positive, the long-wheelbase Unlimited model’s dedicated cargo space is up by 18 litres (0.6 cubic feet) to 898 litres (31.7 cu ft), while 70 litres (2.5 cu ft) have been added to its maximum capacity, now capable of swallowing up 2,050 litres (72.4 cu ft) of gear when both seatbacks lowered. This said they don’t lay as flat, but are easier to fold down and no longer gobble up rolling fruits, vegetables or sports equipment. The previous rear seats automatically popped their headrests upward and left their mechanicals exposed when folded, whereas the new ones leave the headrests in place and cover the frames and hinges with a folding carpeted panel. Such refinements are nothing new for the majority of crossover SUVs, but it’s a major breakthrough for the Wrangler that’s long stuffed in rear seats as more of an afterthought, the first Unlimited being a 250-mm (10-inch) extended two-door 2004½ TJ (LJ) with a fairly rudimentary rear bench seat. The thicker rear seat cushions cause a slight bump halfway into the load floor, but it’s a compromise most (especially rear seat passengers) should be happy to accept.

2019 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Sahara
Comfort has improved significantly, both with the seats and the Wrangler’s upgraded suspension. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

The 2019 Wrangler’s 3.6-litre Pentastar V6, eight-speed automatic transmission and part-time four-wheel drive system is a no-compromise combination, however, unless I were to try and compare it to my old CJ5’s V8, and even then I’m guessing its exhaust note would be the only clear winner in a drag race. The modern engine’s tailpipes emit a sonorous tone too, albeit much more refined than the monster truck mayhem bellowing from past memory, the smooth operating six producing 285 horsepower and 260 lb-ft of torque for quick acceleration, while the eight-speed auto’s shifts are quick yet never jarring.

2019 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Sahara
The entire Wrangler hardtop can still be taken off, while these two panels overtop front occupants can be more easily removed. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

Of note, a six-speed manual is standard, with the eight-speed auto adding $1,595 to the 2019 Wrangler Unlimited Sport S’ $40,745 (plus freight and fees) base price, with this Unlimited Sahara starting at $44,745 and the top-line Unlimited Rubicon getting a $47,745 retail price (a base two-door Wrangler S can be had for $33,695). You can also pay $2,590 for a 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder with electric assist that comes standard with the eight-speed auto, this more fuel-efficient alternative providing a bit less thrust at 270 horsepower, but more twist at 295 lb-ft of torque. I have yet to test this new engine so can’t comment, but have driven the six-speed manual and, while a very good gearbox, prefer life in this class of vehicle with an automatic, especially one as refined and quick-shifting as this eight-speed (check out all 2018, 2019 and 2020 Jeep Wrangler prices, including trims, packages and individual options, plus manufacturer rebates and dealer invoice pricing at CarCostCanada, where you can now save up to $3,500 in additional incentives on a 2020, or $4,000 on a 2019).

2019 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Sahara
Rear seat comfort and roominess is better too. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

The autobox gives the 3.6 better economy too, with a rating of 12.9 L/100km in the city, 10.2 on the highway and 11.7 combined compared to 13.8 city, 10.1 highway and 12.2 combined for the manual, while the four-cylinder option leads the pack with a claimed rating of 10.9, 10.0 and 10.5 respectively. As for the upcoming 2020 model year, Jeep will soon answer my many requests by providing its 3.0-litre V6 turbo-diesel as part of its Wrangler lineup. The engine makes 260 horsepower and a substantial 442 pound-feet of torque, while fuel economy should even be thriftier than the current 2.0-litre turbo’s results. The only complaints will come from 4×4 purists, because the diesel will only be available with this long-wheelbase Unlimited model, the more off-road capable regular-wheelbase Wrangler to remain gasoline-powered only.

2019 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Sahara
Access to the cargo area is unchanged from previous Wrangler’s, which is obviously no problem for its many fans. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

Saving the best for last, the Wrangler is the quintessential 4×4, with few rivals even trying to measure up. In fact, pickup trucks aside, the Wrangler is the only serious compact off-roader available from a mainstream volume brand, and will remain so until the Bronco arrives. Chevy and GMC stopped building their small pickup-based Blazer and Jimmy in 2005, but that little SUV never quite matched up to the Wrangler’s 4×4 capability, while Toyota’s FJ Cruiser said sayonara from our market in 2014. Likewise, Nissan’s Xterra was gone from our shores in 2015, leaving the venerable Wrangler to scoop up those 4×4 buyers it didn’t already have.

Of course, I took my Wrangler Unlimited Sahara tester to a local off-road playground I utilize regularly, and it performed flawlessly. All the mud and standing water was a cakewalk for this capable ute, reminding me that the even more robust Rubicon is probably overkill for most peoples’ needs (although it looks awesome). Once on dirt I slid the secondary low gear lever into its 4H (four-high) Part Time position, the first 4H position meant more for slippery pavement or gravel, which allowed me to cruise over the less challenging trails.

2019 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Sahara
The new rear seat folding system now covers the previously exposed seat frames, but the load floor isn’t quite as flat. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

When mucking through thick mud and deep water I engaged 4L (four-low), at which point its secondary set of gears provided all the crawling traction needed to safely, securely pull me out of most any situation. I’ve tested the JK over much more harrowing terrain, the aforementioned Rubicon Trail being one of many off-road encounters, and it always proved a reliable companion. I can only imagine how much more enjoyable Cadillac Hill would be with the new model’s improved suspension, but alas this will need to wait for a future drive, hopefully powered by the upcoming turbo-diesel.

No doubt that future Wrangler will be the best ever created, but it’ll need to be very special to beat this current model. If you haven’t driven a Wrangler in a long time, possible due to memories of harsh suspensions and hostile surroundings, I highly recommend some time well spent in this new model. Even if you tested the old JK a year or two ago and found it a bit too rough around its edges, don’t let that experience discourage you from giving the new JL a chance.

2019 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Sahara
The much more comfortable new Wrangler might be an ideal fit to your lifestyle. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

Lastly, here’s some sound business reasoning for choosing a Wrangler over any other vehicle currently available. According to ALG, the world’s best-known 4×4 has the highest residual value in Canada’s entire automotive sector, with the four-door Unlimited only losing 30-percent of its value over three years, and the two-door version’s value dropping by just 31.5-percent over the same period. On top of this, the Wrangler won the Canadian Black Book’s 2019 Best Retained Value Awards in the Compact SUV category for the 9th year in a row, while this year it achieved a new retained value record of 91 percent (Jeep also achieved the best retained value position with the Renegade in the Sub-Compact Crossover category).

This means the Wrangler doesn’t only have to be about what you want, but can also justifiably represent what you need. In other words, the Jeep Wrangler is quite possibly the most intelligent automotive choice available today.

The Outback has long been my favourite family-oriented Subaru, unless you consider the four-door WRX STI a family car. I know my son would’ve tried to convince me of its practicality, but he would have…

2019 Subaru Outback 3.6R Limited Road Test

2019 Subaru Outback 3.6R Limited
Subaru’s Outback is almost as legendary as the brand’s WRX, but for very different practical reasons. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

The Outback has long been my favourite family-oriented Subaru, unless you consider the four-door WRX STI a family car. I know my son would’ve tried to convince me of its practicality, but he would have done the same for a BRZ back in the day. Now he’s a man and while I’m still his old man, I’m also an aging man, so not surprisingly comfort is starting to matter a lot more than performance, while having somewhere to haul my stuff around is important too.

A quick glance at this mid-size crossover wagon might cause you to question whether or not it’s as roomy inside as one of its slightly taller five-seat crossover SUV competitors, such as Ford’s Edge, Hyundai’s Santa Fe, Chevy’s new Blazer or Nissan’s Murano, or even Jeep’s more 4×4-capable Grand Cherokee, but not so. While the Outback sits lower than any of the just-noted utilities, its cargo capacity, which measures 1,005 litres (35.5 cubic feet) when all seats are in use or 2,075 litres (73.3 cubic feet) when the second row is lowered, is nearly identical to the Edge, Santa Fe and Grand Cherokee, and considerably more spacious than Murano and Blazer, so there’s no practical reason to choose an alternative SUV over the Outback.

2019 Subaru Outback 3.6R Limited
The Outback might look like a wagon, but it can haul just as much as most mid-size SUVs. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

In fact, while I’d like to see a centre pass-through or an even more versatile 40/20/40-split second row in the Outback or any of its aforementioned rivals, the Outlook provides handy cargo wall-mounted levers to lower its 60/40 split-folding seatbacks down automatically, plus a nice retractable cargo cover and rugged available cargo mat, making it ideal for all types of hauling duties including winter sports.

Of course, the Outback’s standard all-wheel drive is probably its best all-season asset, its Symmetrical layout renowned for providing an even distribution of torque to each wheel and better weight distribution overall, including a lower centre of gravity thanks in part to its volume brand-exclusive horizontally-opposed “boxer” engine design. I’ve tested Outbacks since I initiated my writing career 20 years ago, and even drove the exact same one as this in white last year, and thanks in part to standard electronic traction and stability control its all-wheel drivetrain provides impressive capability no matter the road conditions, even when the white fluffy stuff surrounding my test car in the photos is on the road. It’ll climb out of much deeper snow than that, of course, something I experienced numerous times in ski hill parking lots and in winter conditions elsewhere, while its flat-four and -six engines maximize torque, which is optimal when dealing with off-road-like conditions.

2019 Subaru Outback 3.6R Limited
The rugged looking Outback can do just as much as most mid-size crossovers, and then some. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Incidentally, Subaru refreshed the Outback for 2018 and is currently launching its redesigned 2020 Outback, so if you head down to your local dealer you’ll likely see the new one sitting in the showroom and some 2019s (which are identical to the 2018s) still on the lot, the latter models still needing homes and therefore reduced in price to sell quickly. At the time of writing CarCostCanada is reporting up to $3,000 in additional incentives for 2019 Outbacks, while you can also check this website for trim, package and option prices, plus rebate information and even dealer invoice pricing that could save you thousands when it comes time to negotiate, so for this reason alone it’s a good idea to consider a 2019.

2019 Subaru Outback 3.6R Limited
LED headlamps, fog lights and machine-finished 18-inch alloys help this mid-size family hauler look refined. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Of course, the decision to choose a redesigned or outgoing model shouldn’t only be based on finances unless one’s limited budget demands, yet I still can’t see 2020 Outback buyers being wooed solely by styling as the new version hardly looks much different than the old one from the outside, despite subtle changes from front to back. See next to each other, the new one looks more refined and sleeker, but I understand why the old model’s chunkier, more rugged design would have more appeal to plenty of buyers.

Open either model’s front door and you’ll see an interior delivering more plush luxury than their exteriors let on, the new version receiving the mainstream volume sector’s biggest centre display at 11.6 inches, while it’s now positioned vertically instead of horizontally, as is done with this 2019 Outback’s generously sized 8.0-inch touchscreen. I’m not about to detail out the 2020 version right now, being that I haven’t even sat inside one yet, but I can appreciate why some would-be buyers will be anteing up just for that mammoth monitor.

2019 Subaru Outback 3.6R Limited
This is one beefy set of roof rails. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

This said I wouldn’t be at all surprised if someone chose the 2019 Outback in order to get my tester’s fabulous 3.6-litre six-cylinder engine, which is being discontinued ahead of the 2020 model. Most recently it’s been optional in top-tier Outbacks and loaded up versions of Subaru’s Legacy mid-size sedan, but as soon as I learned that the brand’s newest Ascent mid-size three-row crossover SUV wouldn’t be offering the six-cylinder variant I knew its days were numbered.

For a quick history, the flat six arrived as an option for Subaru’s 1988–1991 XT two-door sports coupe. It was based on the brand’s four-cylinder of the time, and was soon upgraded for that model’s successor, the much more appealing 1991–1996 SVX, a model that I tested and totally blew me away back in 1994. This engine was replaced by the EZ30, a ground-up redesign that was notably almost as compact as the EJ25 four-cylinder of the time, the smaller 3.0-litre version being optional in Legacy/Outback models from 2002/2001-2008/2009, and the almost identically sized yet more potent 3.6-litre EZ36 iteration added as an option for the 2009 and 2010 model years respectively. As a side note, both versions of the EZ engine were used in the new Ascent’s three-row crossover SUV predecessor, dubbed Tribeca, with the 2006-2007 variant getting the smaller variant and 2008-2014 models using the larger.

2019 Subaru Outback 3.6R Limited
The 2020 Outback’s taillights are redesigned, just like the rest of the car, but the changes are very subtle. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Enough history? I don’t normally deep dive so far into the past when it comes to engines, but when a relatively small brand makes such a big move, it seems relevant to go over some of the details. It’s also a bit of a shame. Most of us feel a need to help green our planet in some way or another, and altering the way we drive is certainly a less intrusive way than going vegetarian (not that there’s anything wrong with that), but even though 2019 to 2020 fuel economy figures show night and day savings, these don’t fully reflect real-world driving that might have a heavier right foot applied more often than not, causing a smaller four-cylinder engine to rev higher in order to extract the same performance that a larger displacement six-cylinder engine would need to for the same result.

2019 Subaru Outback 3.6R Limited
The Outback’s refined interior gets authentic looking matte hardwood and metal-like trim. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Before comparing consumption, 2019 model year engines include an entry-level 2.5-litre four-cylinder making 175 horsepower and 174 lb-ft of torque, plus the 3.6-litre H6 I’ve already covered a length except for output numbers that equal 256 horsepower and 247 lb-ft of torque. For 2020, the base 2.5i receives a complete overhaul resulting in 90 percent of its components replaced for 6 more horsepower and 2 lb-ft of additional torque, which combine for a new total of 182 horsepower and 176 lb-ft of torque, while a new optional turbocharged four-cylinder engine displaces 2.4 litres and makes an even more abundant 260 horsepower and 277 lb-ft of torque, which is a nominal increase of 4 horsepower yet a very generous 30 lb-ft of extra torque when compared to the outgoing six.

2019 Subaru Outback 3.6R Limited
The 2019 Outback is already outdated, yet it still looks great inside. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

How about efficiency? The 2019 Outback 2.5i achieves a claimed 9.4 L/100km in the city, 7.3 on the highway and 8.5 combined compared to 9.0 city, 7.1 highway and 8.0 combined for the new 2020 base engine, which is certainly an improvement. Comparing 2019 Outback 3.6R fuel economy to the new 2020 2.4i is even more dramatic, with the outgoing engine managing an estimated 12.0 L/100km city, 8.7 highway and 10.5 combined rating and the new version achieving 10.1 city, 7.9 highway and 9.0 combined.

To Subaru’s credit there doesn’t seem to be any downside with the Outback’s optional move from a six to a turbo-four, and few brands have had more experience building boosted four-cylinder engines, its WRX legendary for multiple world rally championships as well as dependability (those two normally going hand in hand), but I will miss the six-cylinder engine’s smooth, refined operation and throaty growl at takeoff.

2019 Subaru Outback 3.6R Limited
The dual-binnacle motorcycle-style gauge cluster looks fabulous. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Shifts occur via continuously variable transmission, so while it feels much like a conventional automatic swapping its cogs as required, it’s actually Subaru’s High-Torque Lineartronic CVT with an eight-speed manual mode that mimics gear changes very well, unless pushed higher up into the engine’s rev range where it doesn’t pull off the process quite as well. Subaru includes paddle shifters for more hands-on engagement, but after playing with them for testing purposes I never found the need for them again.

2019 Subaru Outback 3.6R Limited
Even the 2019 Outback Limited’s 8.0-inch display looks dated next to the new Outback’s 11.4-inch touchscreen. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

While quite quick off the line and plenty capable for passing slower moving vehicles on the highway, plus reasonably agile through fast-paced corners when pushed hard, the Outback hasn’t really been designed for performance buyers. No, this tall wagon is all about comfort, and to that end it’s best just to leave this ultra-smooth transmission in default mode and enjoy the ride, which is, by the way, superb. In fact, it has one of the most compliant suspensions in the industry, making it ideal for bumpy cottage roads and trips to the ski chalet, let alone tooling around town while running errands.

I’ve long found Subaru’s standard full-time symmetrical all-wheel drive system superior to other AWD systems I’ve tested, one of its advantages being an “X-MODE” button on the lower console that when activated controls the engine’s output, transmission shift points, the AWD system’s torque-split, plus the braking and hill descent control systems in order to overcome more challenging off-road conditions than most rivals should ever attempt. I wouldn’t go so far to say the Outback could replace a true four-wheel drive utility, but its advanced AWD and impressive 220 mm (8.7 inches) of ground clearance certainly make it more capable than most car-based crossover rivals.

2019 Subaru Outback 3.6R Limited
An electromechanical parking brake might impress some, but the AWD system’s X-Mode wows us with its capability. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

As you might imagine, I’m looking forward to getting into the 2020 Outback (next week in fact) just to see how it improves on this 2019. Obviously the larger centre touchscreen mentioned earlier in this review will be a night and day upgrade, which I’ll report on at length in a future review, but it’ll be just as interesting to see how Subaru updates the rest of the cabin. I’ll need to be especially good to beat the current Outback’s near premium levels of interior refinement, as it already boasts such niceties as fabric-wrapped A pillars, a soft-touch dash-top and instrument panel that’s contrast stitched and wraps all the way down the sides of the centre stack, padded door uppers, inserts and armrests front to back, and leather upholstery with contrast stitching in my almost top-line Limited model.

2019 Subaru Outback 3.6R Limited
The Outback’s power-adjustable driver’s seat is as comfortable as its superb ride quality. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

The leather-wrapped steering wheel looks good and feels great in the palms and fingers, its nicely carved out thumb indents adding a sportier touch. The buttons and rocker controls on the steering wheel spokes are high in quality and function well, while all of the cabin switchgear is up to snuff, particularly the audio and dual-zone automatic climate control knobs on the centre stack.

It wasn’t long ago that Subaru trailed the segment in electronic interfaces, but the brand has been taking such sizeable strides forward in this respect that as noted earlier it’s now a segment leader, and while the 2019 Outback won’t wow your neighbours like the new 2020 will, it’s still competes well next to its peers. Both models use fairly traditional primary instrument clusters featuring analogue dials to both sides and a tall, vertical multi-information display (MID) at centre, but the 2020 says sayonara to the sportier double-hooded motorcycle-style gauge design currently being used for a more conventional look that’s actually a letdown at first glance, but that said its 5.0-inch MID can now be upgraded to a full 12.3-inch digital instrument cluster.

2019 Subaru Outback 3.6R Limited
The second row is roomy and comfortable. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

That means 2019 Outback Limited and Premier trims aren’t much more intriguing ahead of the driver than base 2.5i, Convenience and Touring models, other than the base 3.5-inch MID being replaced by a much nicer colour 5.0-inch version when EyeSight gets added (more on this in a moment), but over on the centre stack it’s a different story altogether.

The 2020 base Outback comes with a 7.0-inch touchscreen, by the way, an upgrade from the 2019’s 6.5-inch centre display, while the top-line 2019 model gets a reasonably large 8.0-inch touchscreen, as mentioned earlier in this review. Unless you just stepped out of the updated car or something premium from Germany, my tester’s infotainment system looks fairly state of the art, thanks to lots of gloss black surfacing around the monitor so that it all just blends together as if it’s a giant screen, while the digital interface graphics simulate a deep blue night sky with twinkling stars for a background and colourful smartphone/tablet-like tiles for selecting functions.

2019 Subaru Outback 3.6R Limited
Vents, dual USB charge points, and two-way rear seat heaters, all within easy reach of rear passengers. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

The reverse camera system is very good, aided by dynamic guidelines, while infotainment highlights include Apple CarPlay, Android Auto and Subaru’s proprietary StarLink smartphone integration, plus the usual AM/FM/CD/MP3/WMA audio sources, as well as satellite and Aha radio, USB and aux ports, SiriusXM advanced audio services, SiriusXM Travel Link, and Bluetooth with audio streaming, all played through four speakers, while Touring trims and above include the 1.5-inch larger touchscreen along with a second USB port and two additional speakers.

I’m tempted to go into detail about trims, packages and standalone options, but it’s not like you’ll be able to order a 2019 Outback anyway. What you see will be what you get, and you’ll probably need to be quick to snag a 2019 anyway, especially one with the inline-six. This said I’d like to cover some as yet unmentioned features found in my Limited trimmed test model, which include 18-inch alloys, auto on/off steering-responsive LED headlights, fog lamps, welcome and approach lighting, proximity-sensing keyless entry, pushbutton start/stop, brushed aluminum front doorsill protectors, genuine looking matte woodgrain and silver metallic interior accents, an auto-dimming rearview mirror, auto-dimming side mirrors, a heatable steering wheel, three-way heated front seats, navigation, adaptive cruise control, a 10-way power-adjustable driver’s seat with powered lumbar support, two-way driver’s seat memory, a four-way powered front passenger seat, a Homelink garage door opener, an excellent sounding 576-watt, 12-speaker Harman/Kardon audio system, a powered moonroof, two-way heatable rear outboard seats, a powered rear liftgate, and more.

2019 Subaru Outback 3.6R Limited
This lever automatically folds the right-side rear seatback down when pulled. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Additionally, those EyeSight advanced driver assistive systems noted earlier include pre-collision braking, pre-collision brake assist, pre-collision throttle management, lane departure warning, lane sway warning, lane keeping assist, lead vehicle start alert, reverse automatic braking, adaptive cruise control, and high beam assist.

The Limited 3.6R with the EyeSight package starts at $41,395, which is $1,500 more than the Limited 3.6R without EyeSight, while that model is $3,000 more than the Limited with the four-cylinder engine. The base Outback 2.5i starts at only $29,295 by the way, while other 2019 trims include the $32,795 Touring 2.5i, and the $39,295 Premier 2.5i that comes standard with EyeSight. You can add the Eyesight package and engine upgrade to Touring trim, although the six-cylinder is the only option available to Premier customers, other than colour choices of course, but exterior paints won’t cost you any more no matter the trim.

2019 Subaru Outback 3.6R Limited
Remember, the Outback provides more cargo room than a lot of mid-size SUV rivals. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

While the 2019 Outback might range in retail price from $29,295 to $42,295, remember that CarCostCanada was claiming up to $3,000 in additional incentives at the time of writing, so be sure to check out their 2019 Subaru Outback page for more info, which also provides detailed pricing, info on the latest rebates, plus otherwise hard to get dealer invoice pricing that could save you thousands. 

As mentioned at the beginning of this review, the Outback provides mid-size SUV-levels of cargo carrying capacity, so it only makes sense there’d be no shortage of room for full-size adults up front and in back too. It’s comfortable as well, the front seats nicely shaped to provide support in all the right places, particularly at the lower back, while side-to-side bolster support is also good for this comfort-first segment. Rear seat spaciousness is generous too, especially when it comes to headroom.

2019 Subaru Outback 3.6R Limited
Try an Outlander on for size the next time you need to haul a big load. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Another bonus in back is refinement, with its surfaces and details finished just as nicely as those in the front compartment. A big, wide centre armrest folds down to an ideal height for average-sized adults, and better yet it features large cupholders with grippy rubber clasps to keep drinks secured in place. What’s more, a covered compartment on the backside of the front centre console incorporates a duo of USB charging ports as well as an auxiliary plug, while rocker switches for the aforementioned rear seat warmers sit right beside, and rear vents are housed just above. Back seat readers will appreciate the spot lamps overhead, while the door panels get nice big bottle holders.

It feels right to wrap up a Subaru Outback review on a practical note, despite how upscale its interior looks and feels, and how luxurious its smooth six-cylinder power and even smoother ride is. It’s a car that’s even better than advertised, and that’s something truly special in today’s sensationalized world. Whether you choose to go with this superb 2019 Outback or choose the updated 2020 model, I believe you’ll be fully satisfied.

Dodge is the Jolt Cola of the auto sector, or for those not old enough to remember that once revered albeit politically incorrect Coke and Tab alternative that went by the motto, “All the sugar, twice…

2019 Dodge Durango SRT Road Test

2019 Dodge Durango SRT
The Durango SRT remains one of the fastest three-row SUVs on the planet, and it looks fabulous too. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

Dodge is the Jolt Cola of the auto sector, or for those not old enough to remember that once revered albeit politically incorrect Coke and Tab alternative that went by the motto, “All the sugar, twice the caffeine!”, consider the domestic brand the automotive equivalent of an adrenaline-stoking energy drink (which the resuscitated Jolt Energy now is) amongst healthy, organic, fruity, detoxifying beverages, and then also mull over the thought (this one for the execs that eventually occupy the FCA/PSA boardroom in Amsterdam, London, Turin, Paris, Auburn Hills or wherever else they decide to meet) that if its parent automaker ever strays from this bad boy brand’s anti-establishmentarian mission it’ll be game over.

2019 Dodge Durango SRT
The Durango’s simple clean lines are offset with plenty of SRT extras. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

Why the concern? Dodge’s current parent, FCA (Fiat Chrysler Automobiles), appears to be merging with France’s PSA Group that includes Peugeot, Citroën, DS Automobiles (a relatively new luxury brand that pulls heritage from the highly advanced and iconic 1955–1975 Citroën DS) and even General Motors’ recently sold Opel and Vauxhall brands, the twosome currently rebadged versions of North American/Chinese Buick models and vice versa. If this happens it would become one of the largest auto groups in the world, including all the brands FCA currently controls, such as Fiat, Abarth (Fiat’s performance-oriented sub-brand), Fiat Professional (the vans sold under the Ram banner here), Lancia (at least what’s left of it, this once great Italian marque sadly down to one “fashion” city car now), Alfa Romeo, Maserati, and Ferrari (from a distance), Ram (a.k.a. Dodge trucks for those who missed that spin-off), Chrysler (which is now down to just two models, one of which will soon be discontinued), and lastly the always profitable Jeep line here at home and abroad (that’s 16 separate brands, incidentally). Let’s just hope Dodge doesn’t get pulled into a global homogenization program that waters down its entries to the point of irrelevance (taking advantage of economies of scale being a key driver behind automakers merging).

2019 Dodge Durango SRT
Enough ducts and scoops for you? The Durango SRT has plenty, and all functional. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

Nothing quite like the big seven-passenger Durango SRT exists outside of Dodge; even Jeep’s outrageously quick 707 horsepower Grand Cherokee SRT Trackhawk is a smaller two-row mid-size model. The Durango SRT is motivated by the same comparatively tame 475 horsepower version of FCA’s 6.4-litre (392 cubic inch) Hemi V8 that powers the regular Grand Cherokee SRT, but I promise you it’s no lightweight performer. Its 470 lb-ft of torque launches the 2,499-kilo (5,510-lb) brute from standstill to 100 km/h in just 4.6 seconds, its SRT Torqueflite eight-speed automatic performing quick shifts whether prompted by steering wheel-mounted paddles, the shift lever, or left to its own devices. It’ll continue on with a 12.9-second quarter mile, and tops out at an incredible 290 km/h (180 mph), which is the same top track speed as the Jeep Trackhawk, and otherworldly compared to most SUVs.

2019 Dodge Durango SRT
LED-enhanced dark-tinted headlamps, unique front bodywork, 20-inch alloys and Brembo brakes set the SRT apart. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

All this from a family hauler that can seat seven actual adults in complete comfort while stowing their gear in a 487-litre (17.2 cubic-foot) dedicated luggage compartment behind the third row, and towing a 3,946-kg (8,700-lb) trailer behind (which is 1,500 lbs more capable than the 5.7-litre V8-powered Durango and 2,500 lbs more than with the V6). The only knock against the Durango SRT is fuel-efficiency, which is thirsty at 18.3 L/100km in the city, 12.2 on the highway, and 15.6 combined, plus a bit less off-road capability due to slightly less ground clearance, but this said who’d want to risk ruining its low-hanging bodywork or black-painted 20-inch twinned five-spoke alloys on rocks or stumps anyway, while the three-season Pirelli Scorpion 295/45 ZRs they’re wrapped in are better suited for gripping pavement than anything too slippery.

2019 Dodge Durango SRT
Dodge’s “racetrack” style LED taillights offer up unique design and quick reacting operation. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

The SRT’s frowning black mesh grille, multi-vented hood, more aggressive lower fascia, side skirts, and unique rear bumper with fat chromed tailpipes poking through each side makes a strong visual statement that’s hard to ignore, with nothing changing since arriving on the scene in 2017 for the 2018 model year. It carried forward into 2019 unchanged, and will do likewise for 2020, with only some of the Durango’s lesser trims getting minor updates.

The current third-generation Durango came along in 2010 for the 2011 model year, by the way, and with the update brought back some of the curves that were missing from the angled second-gen model. More premium-level interior materials quality was reintroduced as well, with all trims that I’ve tested having been impressively finished. This is especially true of the SRT, which gets a suede-like Alcantara roofliner and A-pillars, plus contrast-stitched leatherette covering the entire dash top and much of the instrument panel, all the way down each side of the centre stack in fact, while the front and rear door uppers are made from a padded leather-like material, and armrests finished in a contrast-stitched leatherette. As you might expect, everything from the waistline down is made from a harder plastic, but it feels very durable and capable of managing punishment.

2019 Dodge Durango SRT
The Durango SRT provides a reasonably upscale interior for a volume-branded SUV, with some truly premium finishing treatments. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

The steering wheel is a mix of perforated and solid wrapped leather with nicely contrasted baseball stitching around its inner ring, while the spokes feature high-quality switchgear and those shift paddles noted earlier, plus Chrysler group’s trademark volume control and mode switches on its backside as well. All of the cabin’s other switchgear is well done for a mainstream volume-branded vehicle too, with the larger volume, tuning and fan speed knobs on the centre stack being chrome-trimmed and wrapped in grippy rubber.

2019 Dodge Durango SRT
The SRT’s sport steering wheel and supportive seats are backed up by plenty of performance-oriented electronic interfaces. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

The infotainment system just above incorporates a large 8.4-inch high-resolution touchscreen that works very well for all functions. I like the simplicity and straightforwardness of Chrysler group touchscreens, and I clarify those in Chrysler, Dodge and Jeep vehicles because they’re often very different than what you’ll find in other FCA brands, like Fiat, Alfa Romeo and Maserati. Screen quality aside, as the premium Italian brands use the latest high-definition displays, I like the Chrysler interfaces best, as they tend to be easier to use and more fully featured.

Along with individual displays for the audio system, auto climate controls including digital switchgear for the heatable/cooled seats and heated steering wheel, navigation with especially good mapping and easy, accurate route guidance, phone hookup and features, plus various apps, the SRT adds another display dubbed Performance Pages featuring power torque history, real-time power and torque, timers for laps etcetera, plus G-force engine and dyno gauges, as well as separate oil temp, oil pressure, coolant temp and battery voltage gauges, much of which is duplicated over on the gauge cluster-mounted multi-information display, giving this SRT a level of digital depth few others in the industry can match.

2019 Dodge Durango SRT
The gauge cluster’s centre display provides an incredible amount of functions. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

Under the centre stack is a rubberized bin that’s big enough for any smartphone. The expected 12-volt charger and AUX plug is in close proximity, plus two even more relevant charge-capable USBs, but unfortunately no wireless charging is available. There’s another 12-volt charger as well as a Blu-ray DVD player under the centre armrest, while Dodge includes a great sounding 506-watt Alpine audio system with nine amplified speakers, or an even better $1,995 optional Harman/Kardon system with 825 watts, 19 speakers and a sub.

2019 Dodge Durango SRT
The Durango SRT’s infotainment touchscreen comes packed full of features, including exclusive Performance Pages. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

The throaty sound of the SRT’s V8 makes any talk about audio equipment seem unimportant, mind you, whether it’s chugging away at idle or shaking the world around it at full roar, and the way it responds to right-foot input is dramatic for such a large utility. I wouldn’t use the term catapult do describe its takeoff, but it launches without hesitation before eclipsing any remotely legal speeds within seconds. Truly, if you need more there’s probably something wrong with the way your brain processes adrenaline, while the eight-speed auto’s ability to send its formidable power and torque to all four wheels is commendable. This beefed up gearbox provides quick and purposeful shifts, yet it’s impressively smooth even when allowing revs to rise. Its manual mode with paddles provides good hands-on engagement, which was helpful when pushing hard through corners, something the Durango SRT does effectively.

2019 Dodge Durango SRT
The SRT’s seats are ultra-comfortable, totally supportive and sized for all body types. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

The Durango’s fully independent front strut and rear multi-link suspension carries over mostly unchanged from the base SXT to this SRT, but Dodge dubs it “SRT-tuned” and adds a Bilstein adaptive damping suspension (ADS) in place of the regular model’s gas-charged, twin-tube coil-over shocks, plus it replaces the solid stabilizer bars with a set of hollow ones, the end result being a wonderfully flat stance through tight curves and good tracking at any speed. Additionally, the electric power steering is performance-tuned and braking power is increased via a set of big Brembos, making stopping power almost as dramatic as acceleration. It’s compliant suspension, general comfort, great visibility and easy manoeuvrability makes it an easy SUV to drive around town too, and thanks to not being quite as wide as a true full-size SUV, like Chevy’s Tahoe or Ford’s Expedition, it’s no problem to park in tight spaces.

2019 Dodge Durango SRT
The standard second-row captain’s chairs are almost as comfortable as those up front. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

To be clear, the Durango is a considerable 120 mm (4.7 in) narrower than the Tahoe and 104 mm (4.1 in) thinner than the Expedition, but rest assured that it measures up where it matters most from nose to tail. Its 3,045-mm (120.0-in) wheelbase is actually 99 mm (3.9 in) longer than the Tahoe’s and just 67 mm (2.6 in) shorter than the Expedition’s, which means adults fit comfortable in all seating positions.

2019 Dodge Durango SRT
Movie or games anyone? This optional rear entertainment system can provide hours and hours of family entertainment. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

Less width translates into less side-to-side room inside, of course, but it’s still plenty wide within, and should be sizeable enough for larger folks. The driver’s seat is superb, and like the others (excepting the third row) is finished with an embossed “SRT” logo on its backrest. My tester’s seats were covered in a rich looking dark “Demonic Red” with white contrast stitching to match the decorative thread elsewhere, while Dodge included perforated leather inserts to allow breathability for the ventilated seats noted earlier. The leather quality is extremely soft and premium-like, while the seat sides even feel as if they’re finished in the same quality of leather, albeit black. The instrument panel and doors are trimmed out with genuine-feeling patterned aluminum inlays for a sporty yet upscale appearance, plus ample chrome highlights brighten the cabin elsewhere. This said you can upgrade this SUV with an SRT Interior Appearance Group that replaces the aluminum inlays with genuine carbon-fibre, plus upgrades the instrument panel with a leather wrap, possibly a good way to spend $3,250.

2019 Dodge Durango SRT
The third row is roomy enough for two full-size adults in comfort, and allows easy access in and out. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

Like those up front, the SRT’s standard second-row captain’s chairs are ultra comfortable, while Dodge has fixed a nice centre console in the middle featuring two cupholders and a storage bin. Rear passengers can access a panel on the backside of the front console featuring dual charging USB ports, a 115-volt household-style three-prong socket, and switchgear for the two-way seat warmers, while a three-dial interface for controlling the tri-zone automatic climate system’s rearmost compartment can be found overhead, along with a separate panel housing an attractive set of dome and reading lights.

2019 Dodge Durango SRT
A family and cargo hauler extraordinaire. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

All of this Durango SRT goodness comes for just $73,895 plus freight and fees, incidentally, and right now CarCostCanada members are saving an average of $6,500 on all 2019 Durango trims, with up to $5,000 in incentives alone. You’ll need to go to the 2019 Durango page on CarCostCanada to learn more, at which point you can access pricing for trims, packages and individual options, plus money saving rebate info and even dealer invoice pricing that could save you thousands. It’s an excellent resource, giving new car shoppers all the info they’ll need to secure the best deal possible.

My tester was equipped with a $950 Technology Group that includes adaptive cruise control with stop-and-go, advanced brake assist, forward collision warning with active braking, plus lane departure warning and lane keeping assist, while a $2,150 rear Blu-Ray DVD entertainment system features a monitor on the backside of each front headrest, these folding upward from otherwise protected positions when not in use. A set of RCA plugs and an HDMI input can be found on the inner, upper side of each front seat, allowing external devices such as gaming consoles to be plugged in easily, all of which can turn any Durango SRT into the ultimate road trip companion.

2019 Dodge Durango SRT
With 475 hp and 470 lb-ft of torque, the Durango SRT is the perfect combination of performance and practicality. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

That’s the beauty of it. This Durango SRT is one of the strongest performing SUVs available anywhere, yet as noted earlier it seats seven adults comfortably, stows all their gear, hauls trailers and much more. It’s the perfect four-season family hauler for speed fanatics, although you’ll want to swap out its three-season rubber for some good winter performance tires come late autumn. Other than that, load up the credit card with plenty of gas money, and you’ll literally be off to the races.

Back when first driving a 2016 Sorento, I found myself reveling in its sumptuous supply of soft-touch cabin surfaces including Nappa leather, wowed by the mainstream volume-branded rarity of finding fabric-wrapped…

2019 Kia Sorento SXL Road Test

2019 Kia Sorento SXL
The Sorento could earn its top spot on the sales charts with styling alone, but it offers so much more than just good looks. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

Back when first driving a 2016 Sorento, I found myself reveling in its sumptuous supply of soft-touch cabin surfaces including Nappa leather, wowed by the mainstream volume-branded rarity of finding fabric-wrapped roof pillars all around, impressed by its large full-colour high-resolution infotainment touchscreen, surprised by its small but potent 240-horsepower 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder powertrain, and buoyed by its general goodness overall.

You’d think with not much changing since then, plus an even more potent V6 on the menu, it would remain high on my list of praiseworthy mid-size crossovers, and indeed it does except for one important detail, since testing the latest 2019 Sorento I’ve also spent a week with the all-new 2020 Telluride, so I’m no longer recommending the Sorento quite as highly for three-row crossover SUV shoppers. 

2019 Kia Sorento SXL
The refreshed 2019 Sorento gets new LED taillights, redesigned bumpers and much more. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

Granted the optional seven-seat Sorento’s price range slots in much further down Kia’s model hierarchy, starting at $32,795 for the EX 2.4 and topping off with this as-tested 3.3-litre V6-powered $49,165 SXL for 2019, compared to a new premium-level base of $44,995 and considerably higher climb up to $53,995 for the larger Telluride’s SX Limited with Nappa. As one would expect, the advent of the Telluride and expected arrival of a completely redesigned 2021 Sorento sometime next year has already resulted in Kia reshuffling the carryover 2020 Sorento’s trim lines, with the base LX FWD and this top-line SXL being axed from the lineup, so you’d better get a move on if you want either.

2019 Kia Sorento SXL
The top-line Sorento’s grille looks the same as before, but the LED headlights and lower front fascia are entirely new. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

As for what we should expect from the upcoming 2021 Sorento, it will likely follow the current-generation Hyundai Santa Fe that shares its underpinnings, the latter model now only available with two rows and a maximum of five occupants, because Kia’s parent brand has introduced its own version of the Telluride this year as well, dubbed Palisade. That new seven-passenger Hyundai starts more affordably than the Telluride, in fact, with a base price of just $38,499, so it’s likely next year’s Telluride will gain a lower-end SX trim to slot under the current base Palisade in order to provide a three-row SUV option for less affluent Kia buyers once this seven-occupant Sorento is gone. Got that?

2019 Kia Sorento SXL
These dynamic directionally-adaptive full LED headlights are standard on SX and SXL trims for 2019. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

I said earlier that not much had changed since the Sorento’s 2016 redesign, but in fact it received a mid-cycle update for 2019, featuring an ever-so subtle restyling, a new eight-speed automatic transmission for its optional 3.3-litre V6, and unfortunately the discontinuation of the 2.0-litre turbo-four that I paid tribute to at the beginning of this review (a strange move, being that most rivals are replacing their top-line six-cylinder engines with turbo fours to improve fuel economy, but likely a stopgap measure before the next-generation Sorento arrives).

Specifically, the 2.4, which makes 185 horsepower and 178 lb-ft of torque, is now used for LX FWD, LX and EX 2.4 trims, while the 3.3, good for 290 horsepower and 252 lb-ft of torque, adds strength to the LX V6, EX, EX Premium, SX, and SXL models. The six-speed automatic carries over for four-cylinder powered Sorentos, with the new eight-speed only benefiting the V6, while you may have already guessed that all trims but the LX FWD incorporate Kia’s all-wheel drive system.

2019 Kia Sorento SXL
SX and SXL trims get a smaller quad of LED fog lamps in new taller, more V-shaped chromed bezels. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

The eight-speed auto was added for its fuel economy advantages, although its ability to stay within the engine’s most formidable rev range due to shorter shift increments helps performance as well, still Kia will be touting its claimed rating of 12.5 L/100km city, 9.7 highway and 11.2 combined, which compares favourably against the 2018 Sorento V6 AWD in the city, its rating of 13.2 L/100km obviously thirstier, yet oddly doesn’t do anywhere near as well on the highway, the outgoing model achieving a more advantageous 9.3 L/100km rating. So what exactly did Kia use the new eight-speed transmission’s two final gears for? The V6 eight-speed combo is better for those that spend most of their driving time in town, and promises a 0.2 L/100km advantage in combined city/highway travel, but from a fuel economy standpoint the upgrade hardly seems worth the effort.

2019 Kia Sorento SXL
Our top-tier Sorento rolled on these gorgeous 19-inch chrome alloy wheels. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

Just in case you were questioning how well the old 2.0-litre turbo-four compared, it managed a rating of 12.3 L/100km city, 9.4 highway and 11.0 combined, whereas this engine combined with the new eight-speed automatic in the totally redesigned 2019 Hyundai Santa Fe (which rides on the same all-new platform architecture the 2021 Sorento will adopt) is rated at 12.3 city, 9.8 highway and 11.2 combined—yah, go figure.

As for the base 2.4, it manages 10.7 L/100km city, 8.2 highway and 9.5 combined with its FWD driveline, which represents a significant improvement in the city over last year’s Sorento with the same powertrain that could only muster 11.2 L/100km city, 8.3 highway and 9.9 combined despite no stated changes (so it must come down to gear ratio modifications), while the 2019 Sorento 2.4 AWD gets a claimed 11.2 L/100km city, 9.0 highway and 10.2 combined rating, compared to 11.5, 9.3 and 10.5 last year.

2019 Kia Sorento SXL
SX and SXL trims get quicker-responding LED taillights that look especially good at night. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

Speaking of claims, Kia says this 2019 Sorento includes a new grille, but I certainly can’t see any difference from the outgoing one, although the hood and lower front fascia have changed, the latter particularly noticeable at each corner where top-tier SX and SXL trims’ trademark quad of LED fog lamps have been halved in size and now combine with what appear to be slatted brake vents just below, not to mention they’re now surrounded by taller, more V-shaped chromed bezels.

2019 Kia Sorento SXL
If you haven’t experienced a Kia lately, try a top-line Sorento on for size and then compare it to luxury Japanese and American brands. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

The chrome door handles, side window surrounds and silver roof rails were part of my 2016 SX model too, but the chrome rocker mouldings, 19-inch chrome alloy wheels, and totally reworked rear bumper filled with metal brightwork too, are new. The update makes the Sorento a bit classier than the outgoing model’s sportier look, chrome often having this effect.

Also part of the 2019 makeover, revised headlamps and taillights include full LEDs at both ends in SX and SXL trims, plus LED daytime running lights embedded within the headlights and the aforementioned LED fogs. Lesser trims utilize new projector beam headlamps with LED positioning lights, projector beam fog lamps (on LX V6 trim to EX Premium), and conventional taillights in an attractive new design. Additional outer changes include new alloy wheels ranging from 17, 18 and 19 inches and shod with 235/65R17, 235/60R18 and 235/55R19 all-season tires depending on trim, plus new colours.

2019 Kia Sorento SXL
The Sorento provides more soft-touch surfaces and premium details than any mainstream competitor. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

Inside, the 2019 Sorento features a new steering wheel, a mostly digital primary gauge cluster filled with electroluminescent dials to each side of a TFT speedometer that doubles as a fully functional colour multi-information display, plus improvements to the centre stack and infotainment system, the latter now including standard Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. New optional wireless smartphone charging adds a level of convenience I happen to really appreciate, while newly available advanced driver assistance systems include lane keeping assist and driver attention warning.

The latter two safety features are only part of the top-line SXL trim line, that model also the only trim to provide forward collision-avoidance assist, which is unusual in a market that’s now starting to offer automatic emergency braking in base models, but it’s not out of the ordinary to require a move up to a mid-range trim for blind spot detection with rear cross-traffic alert, these two features standard with the Sorento’s EX model. The rest of the Sorento’s safety equipment is the usual standard fare, included right across the board.

2019 Kia Sorento SXL
The semi-digital gauge cluster gets a large high-resolution centre multi-info display that doubles as a speedometer. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

The aforementioned base LX FWD starts at just $28,295 and is therefore quite the value proposition when compared to the rest of the mid-size field that are all priced higher, especially when considering it comes standard with 17-inch alloy wheels, auto on/off headlamps, chrome door handles, a leather-wrapped multifunction heatable steering wheel, Drive Mode Select with default Comfort, Eco, Sport and Smart settings, three-way heated front seats, a 7.0-inch infotainment display with aforementioned Apple and Android smartphone integration and a backup camera, plus six-speaker audio, and the list goes on and on.

2019 Kia Sorento SXL
The centre stack consists of two interfaces, the top one housing infotainment and the lower one for dual-zone auto HVAC, etc. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

Adding AWD to the base LX increases the price by $2,300 to $30,595 yet also provides roof rails, proximity-sensing access with pushbutton ignition and a wireless phone charger, while the same trim with the V6 and AWD increases the base price by $4,500 to $35,095 and ups content to include fog lamps, a sound-reducing windshield, turn signals integrated within the side mirror caps, an auto-dimming rearview mirror, dual-zone automatic climate control with auto-defog and separate third-row fan speed/air-con adjusters, UVO Intelligence connected car services, satellite radio, an eight-way power-adjustable driver’s seat with two-way powered lumbar support, a third row for seven-occupant seating, trailer pre-wiring, plus more.

2019 Kia Sorento SXL
The highly accurate navigation system boasts nicely detailed mapping. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

For $2,300 less than the LX V6 AWD and $2,200 more than the LX AWD, four-cylinder-powered $32,795 EX 2.4 trim includes the just noted fog lights, powered driver’s seat, and seven-passenger capacity of the six-cylinder model while adding a glossy grille insert and leather upholstery, whereas the $38,665 EX with the V6 and AWD builds on both the LX V6 AWD and EX 2.4 with 18-inch machined-finish alloy wheels, an upgraded Supervision LCD/TFT instrument cluster, express up/down powered windows with obstacle detection all-round, and a household-style 110-volt power inverter, while EX Premium trim starts $2,500 higher at $41,165, yet adds such luxuries as front and rear parking sensors, power-folding side mirrors, LED interior lighting, an eight-way powered front passenger’s seat, a panoramic glass sunroof, rear door sunshades, and a powered liftgate with smart access.

2019 Kia Sorento SXL
This hidden cubby includes a wireless smartphone charger and plenty of other plug-ins. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

Those wanting to step up to a true luxury experience that rivals some premium brands can opt for the Sorento SX that, for $4,000 more than the EX Premium at $45,165, provides most everything already mentioned plus 19-inch alloys, a chrome grille, stainless steel skid plates front and back, a stainless steel exhaust tip, chromed roof rails, dynamic directionally-adaptive full LED headlights, upgraded LED fog lamps, bar type LED taillights, sound-reducing front side glass, illuminated stainless steel front door scuff plates, perforated premium leather upholstery, and a larger 8.0-inch infotainment touchscreen endowed with rich colours and deep contrast, plus crisp resolution and quick reaction to tap, pinch and swipe finger gestures. The included navigation gets nicely detailed maps and accurate route guidance, while SX trim also features superb 10-speaker Harman/Kardon premium audio, three-way ventilated front seats, heatable rear window seats, and more.

2019 Kia Sorento SXL
The leather-wrapped gear lever connects through to an all-new 8-speed automatic, while SX and SXL trims incorporate an electric parking brake. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

Lastly, the as-tested Sorento SXL costs another $4,000 for an asking price of $49,165 before freight and fees, which incidentally is still quite a bit less than most fully loaded rivals, some of which don’t even offer the level of high-grade equipment included in the previous trim, but over and above everything noted earlier this SXL adds softer Nappa leather upholstery, an electromechanical parking brake, a 360-degree surround parking camera with a split screen featuring a conventional rear view with dynamic guidelines on the left side and an overhead bird’s-eye view on the right, plus high beam assist headlights, adaptive cruise control, and more.

2019 Kia Sorento SXL
The Sorento’s top-line seats are ultra-comfortable and covered in plush Nappa leather. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

I sourced pricing for all 2019 Sorento trims, packages and standalone options from CarCostCanada, where you can also find money-saving rebate information as well as dealer invoice pricing that could save you thousands. In fact, there are up to $6,000 in additional incentives available to you on the 2019 Sorento right now, so make sure to check it out.

You’ll need to head down to your local dealership to drive the Sorento, and when you do I’m guessing you’ll be impressed. The V6 is ultra-smooth, as is the new eight-speed automatic that shifts almost seamlessly and quickly no matter the driving mode it’s set in. I left it in default Comfort mode most of the time, but Eco mode was smooth as well and ideal for saving fuel, while Sport mode allowed the engine to rev higher and the gearbox to shift quicker, while Smart mode is a best of both world’s scenario that takes note of how you’re driving, the terrain and other parameters before automatically choosing the ideal mode.

2019 Kia Sorento SXL
The panoramic sunroof provides plenty of overhead light. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

The suspension is wonderfully smooth, yet when pushed through tight corners it handles well for such a large SUV. Overall it’s on the sportier side of seven-passenger competitors, yet it’s excellent seats, pampering soft surfaces and other near-luxury qualities make it one of the more comfortable in its class.

With respect to the driver’s seat, EX trims and above get four-way powered lumbar support that will ideally apply pressure to the small of your back no matter your stature, while the LX V6 and EX 2.4 trims’ two-way lumbar is more of a hit-and-miss scenario. Interestingly, four-way lumbar isn’t even a given in the upper-crust luxury-branded mid-size SUV class, with the industry’s best-selling Lexus RX 350 only making it available with its $63,950 Luxury or $69,850 Executive packages, and not available at all if you want the model’s even pricier two F Sport upgrades, while four-way powered lumbar isn’t even available with Infiniti’s QX60. Another bonus for the Sorento is a lower driver’s seat cushion that extends outward to comfortably cup below the knees for an extra measure of support. The Nappa leather is also impressive, and in fact some of the nicest you’ll find in the mainstream volume sector.

2019 Kia Sorento SXL
Little touches like these piano black lacquered seatback appliqués really set the Sorento SXL apart. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

While the second-row is very roomy and nearly as comfortable as that up front, the Sorento’s rearmost seats are best for smaller to medium-sized kids, with the Telluride your better option if needing to transport larger teens or adults in the very back. 

Some details that are especially nice include the piano black lacquered trim pieces on the backsides of the front seats, that are rarely seen on anything this side of a Bentley or Rolls-Royce. It’s an old English luxury look not used much these days, but a quick look back at my 2019 Genesis G90 review (a car that shares underpinnings with the now discontinued—in Canada—Kia K900) where hardwood is used in the same way, helps us realize where Kia came up with the idea (you’ll need to scroll through the photos until you get to the back seat). The Sorento SXL also includes black lacquered trim on the steering wheel, dash and centre console, plus across each door, but as nice as it looks when new I’m concerned it will scratch easily as it ages.

2019 Kia Sorento SXL
Second-row roominess is generous. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

Anyone regularly loading long cargo like skis into the very back will no doubt appreciate how Kia split up the second row. Instead of the usual 60/40 divide, while takes one of the window seats out of action when the smaller portion is laid flat, the Sorento incorporates what I believe to be the best 40/20/40-split solution, which allows both rear passengers to enjoy the more comfortable and visually optimal window positions, plus the previously noted heatable rear cushions if so equipped. This feature, normally only offered by pricier European SUV makers, is a major dealmaker for me, and should be considered by those choosing an SUV for practicality.

2019 Kia Sorento SXL
If you need more third-row space than this, check out the 2020 Kia Telluride. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

I also appreciated the folding seat release levers attached to the cargo wall, which lower each side automatically. To be clear, the 20-percent centre portion needs to be done manually, this portion only dropping automatically as part of the 60-percent portion on the driver’s side, whereas some vehicles actually include three levers so each portion can drop individually, but this is still a much better system than any competitor in this class offers.

The seats drop right down and lock securely into place, resulting in a spacious, flat-loading floor that measures 2,082 litres (73.5 cu ft) behind the first row in the lowest two trims or 2,066 litres (73.0 cu ft) in the LX V6 and above, 1,099 litres (38.8 cu ft) and 1,077 litres (38.0 cu ft) respectively behind the second row, and 320 litres (11.3 cu ft) behind the third row. There’s a bit of extra storage space under the removable cargo floor, which even allows the retractable cargo cover to be securely stowed away when not in use.

2019 Kia Sorento SXL
Kia provides a handy storage area below the load floor that securely locks the retractable cargo cover away when not in use. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

It’s these types of details that make the Sorento such a cut above most competitors. This is true for many of Kia’s models, the new Telluride noted earlier especially impressive. The Korean brand often goes above and beyond its competitors, clearly setting itself apart, which is necessary for one of Canada’s newest brands. They lack the luxury of resting on their laurels, and even this well-proven Sorento, a model that’s served Canadian buyers mostly unchanged for years, proves this point as well today as it did in 2015 when generation-three arrived.

2019 Kia Sorento SXL
The Sorento’s 40/20/40-split second row could be a dealmaker for skiers or anyone else needing a more practical family hauler. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

No wonder the Sorento has maintained sales leadership amongst its three-row mid-size SUV peers, its year-to-date Q3 sales of 12,997 units well ahead of every seven-row competitor, with the next most popular Toyota Highlander at just 10,205 deliveries, Dodge Durango with 8,082, the Ford Explorer at just 6,955 (although it’s changing over to a new 2020 design this year, so we’ll cut it some slack), VW Atlas with 6,682, Honda Pilot with 5,886, Chevy Traverse with 4,669, Nissan Pathfinder with 4,564, GMC Acadia with 3,589, Mazda CX-9 with 3,166, Subaru Ascent with 3,027, and now discontinued Ford Flex with 2,418. By the way, the new 2020 Telluride has only been with us since March yet found 2,386 new buyers, while the Palisade, introduced in June, has already earned 2,369 new sales.

Count them up. That’s 15,383 (mostly) three-row mid-size sales for Kia, which is a 50-percent advantage over next-best Toyota. Not bad for a comparative upstart, and proof that combining good looking design with sound engineering and lots of bang for consumers’ bucks results in success.

Beauty is truly in the eye of the beholder, and to many a luxury car buyer it seems desire grows commensurately with the size of its grille. Enter the 2019 Avalon, which incidentally is identical to the…

2019 Toyota Avalon XSE Road Test

2019 Toyota Avalon XSE
Toyota has redesigned its full-size Avalon with an edgier new look. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

Beauty is truly in the eye of the beholder, and to many a luxury car buyer it seems desire grows commensurately with the size of its grille. Enter the 2019 Avalon, which incidentally is identical to the upcoming 2020 model, a car that’s gone from having one of the larger front grilles in the industry to now leaving very little room for anything but the grille.

The frontal aperture looks larger in as-tested base XSE trim due to a gloss-black surround instead of the top-line Limited trim’s chrome, while the deeper, inkier, glossy mesh grille inserts appear more menacing than the loftier model’s horizontal ribs. Toyota further emphasizes the XSE’s sporting nature with black side mirror housings and a black rear deck lid spoiler, small in size yet quite noticeable when the car is doused in a lighter paint finish than my tester’s lovely Brownstone metallic.

2019 Toyota Avalon XSE
A completely new rear end redesign adds a sharply angled new body-wide LED taillight. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

Even the XSE’s LED headlamps look more piercing than the Limited’s upgraded triple-beam LEDs, while its once graceful taillights have given way to a single body-wide LED infusion hovering over a thick black diffuser-style lower bumper cap bookended by a quad of circular chrome tailpipes with the XSE or two large rectangular chromed tips for the Limited. Likewise the XSE’s machine-finished 10-spoke 19-inch alloys with black-painted pockets are decidedly more aggressive looking than the upscale Limited’s shiny silver multi-spoke 18-inch rims.

With the 2019 refresh one thing is for sure, Toyota isn’t willing to idly stand by watching ever-increasing SUV popularity destroy their beloved full-size flagship luxury sedan without a fight. The new Avalon now begs to get noticed, which shows a significant turnaround from the model’s formative years when it was more content living life in the shadows.

2019 Toyota Avalon XSE
Darker colours make the Avalon’s massive new grille appear a bit smaller, but in reality it couldn’t get much bigger. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

My favourite Avalon was the 2005–2012 fourth-generation model, a truly elegant car that provided much better performance than its classy styling promised. While hardly a sport sedan, the Av has continued to improve over the years, with this fifth-gen model, particularly in base XSE trim, its most dynamic yet.

To be clear, the XSE is only base in Canada. South of the border, where Avalon sales are more than 100 times greater (Americans bought 22,453 Avalons during the first nine months of 2019, compared to just 212 over the same three quarters in Canada, despite the US only having 10 times the population), it’s offered in XLE, XLE Hybrid, XSE, Touring, Limited and Limited Hybrid trims. As anyone shopping for an Avalon knows, the hybrid isn’t offered here, Toyota having long provided this fuel-friendly alternative in Lexus’ ES line instead. The two full-size luxury sedans share all subsurface components, by the way, and thanks to even stronger sales under its premium brand (in Canada too, where the ES is only outsold 35 to 1, with 37,896 US deliveries compared to 1,081 in Canada), the Avalon continues to exist north of the 49th.

2019 Toyota Avalon XSE
These standard LED headlights aren’t as upscale as the Limited model’s triple-beam LEDs. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

The numbers above attest that you, dear reader, either digest all things automotive or, if considering purchasing, have very unique taste. Yes, the Av certainly has exclusivity going for it, an appeal that isn’t wholly price related, in that you’ll likely never see one of these pull up next to you at a stoplight, or show up in your neighbour’s driveway, unless he or she happened to like yours so much they went out and bought one of their own.

This is more likely to happen with the new generation, as it will no doubt get noticed, but the overwhelming trend is downward in this full-size volume-branded sedan category. Even the mighty Dodge Charger and Chrysler 300 pairing that saw 4,704 collective sales over the same nine months had to accept this comparatively large number was the result of a significant downward slide of 14.15 and 39.31 percent respectively, while GM’s Chevrolet Impala and Buick LaCrosse managed 2,075 total deliveries during this period for respective 16.96 and 15.13 percent downturns, which no doubt only added internal support for their upcoming discontinuation. The 710 sales of Nissan’s Maxima and mere 7.07 percent year-over-year shrinkage is downright impressive next to Toyota’s aforementioned 212 Avalon delivery total, the latter a 17.19-percent reduction, whereas all must look positively meteoric from Kia’s standpoint, its Cadenza finding just 19 buyers since January for the segment’s worst 54.76 percent YoY plunge. Shockingly Kia hasn’t cancelled the Cadenza for Canada, but in fact will introduce a totally redesigned one for 2020.

2019 Toyota Avalon XSE
Gorgeous 19-inch machine-finish alloys come standard with the Avalon XSE. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

Bravery should be rewarded, whether by manufacturer or consumer, and to the latter end buyers in this class do end up getting a lot of luxury car for their money. The $42,790 base Avalon XSE’s list of standard features includes the aforementioned LED headlamps and LED taillights, plus 235/40R19 all-season tires, proximity-sensing keyless entry, pushbutton ignition, a powered tilt and telescopic steering column, a leather-wrapped multifunction steering wheel, a 7.0-inch multi-information display, a 9.0-inch infotainment touchscreen with Entune and Apple CarPlay smartphone integration (but no Android Auto), SMS/text- and email-to-speech functions, advanced voice recognition, eight-speaker audio with satellite radio, Bluetooth streaming audio, a wireless smartphone charger, four USB charging ports, a powered moonroof, an eight-way powered driver’s seat, a six-way powered front passenger’s seat, Toyota’s Softex breathable leatherette upholstery, heatable front seats, an auto-dimming rearview mirror, a universal garage door opener, dual-zone automatic climate control, and more.

2019 Toyota Avalon XSE
The Avalon has gone from elegant to edgy. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

Entune Safety Connect is also standard, providing automatic collision notification, a stolen vehicle locator, an emergency assistance (SOS) button, and enhanced roadside assistive, while standard advanced driver assistive and safety systems include automatic high beams, adaptive cruise control, autonomous emergency braking with pedestrian detection, lane departure alert with steering assist, blind spot monitoring and rear cross-traffic alert, plus all the expected active and passive safety features including two airbags for front occupant knees, plus more.

The multi-information display just mentioned sits in the middle of a mostly analogue instrument cluster, which is nothing new, but I like that it does more than just provide the usual trip information. For instance, it also provides route guidance instructions right where you need them, while the big touchscreen atop the new centre stack might lack in the way of colour and therefore doesn’t make enough use of its high-resolution capability, but it does incorporate Toyota’s new Entune smartphone integration, which I like a lot better than Android Auto. The system lets you connect to functions, music and info like traffic conditions, fuel stations, weather forecasts, stocks and more via a variety of apps including Scout GPS, Yelp, Slacker, NPR One and more through your smartphone.

2019 Toyota Avalon XSE
The Avalon’s interior is mostly excellent. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

Those wanting more can opt for $47,790 Limited trim, which adds 235/45R18 all-season tires, the previously noted triple-beam LED headlamps, a more complex set of LED taillights, ambient interior lighting, a 10-inch colour head-up display with customizable settings, a heatable steering wheel rim, four-way powered driver’s lumbar support, driver’s memory, semi-aniline leather upholstery, ventilated front seats, heated rear outboard seats, a 360-degree surround bird’s-eye view parking monitor, navigation, a 14-speaker 1,200-watt JBL Clari-Fi surround sound audio system, Connected Services by Toyota Premium Audio, a three-year subscription to Scout GPS Link, intelligent clearance sonar (front parking sensors), automatic rear cross-traffic braking, and more.

2019 Toyota Avalon XSE
Impressive new cockpit thoroughly modernizes the new Av. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

All these features are great, but honestly some should be part of the base package. The Avalon XSE is hardly cheap at almost $43k, so why does Toyota force its very small number of interested buyers to buck up another five grand just to get a heated steering wheel? Sure, plenty of other features come with this trim too, but a warm steering wheel rim should be a prerequisite for designating the word “luxury” on any car attempting to lure in Canadian buyers. After all, our winters have been getting colder, not warmer as our news media wants us to believe (February 2019 was the coldest ever in Vancouver). Making matters worse, the Av on this page was the only car I tested in weeks without a toasty steering wheel, the others being an off-road specialty 4×4 pickup truck and a small luxury-branded car. Toyota is normally quite slow in adopting trending features, the latest Camry not offering one at all. This deficit was made worse while writing a review of a 2019 Kia Forte during the same week, which included a heated steering wheel in its most basic $16,000 model. Fortunately Toyota is starting to figure out that it’s been losing sales to upstarts like Kia, and now offers an optional heated steering wheel in the new 2020 Corolla, and will do likewise for the Camry in 2020.

2019 Toyota Avalon XSE
A large colour multi-info display sits in the middle of nice, bright, backlit analogue gauges. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

The Avalon’s interior refinement is quite good above the waist, meaning that soft, pliable composites are used across the entire dash top and both front and rear door uppers, while a softer padded and stitched surface treatment gets added along the middle portion of instrument panel, just below a beautifully textured metal-like inlay and really attractive three-dimensional metallic and black horizontal section that melds into the corner vents. The bottom half of the dash, including the glove box lid, is made from a harder plastic, as are the lower door panels, but the doors’ middle sections, below the premium-like uppers, are comprised of soft-touch synthetics, ultrasuede and stitched leatherette.

2019 Toyota Avalon XSE
The centre stack design is brilliantly executed, and wonderfully functional. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

The centre stack is mostly made up of black, glossy, glass-like surfacing, the upper section blending seamlessly into the main infotainment touchscreen, and the bottom portion housing a digital readout plus controls for the HVAC system. This doesn’t come across as upscale as the previous Avalon’s metal-finished centre stack surface treatment, the latter model’s tiny hollowed-out hockey stick-shaped switchgear absolutely stunning, albeit the new design modernizes the look and is certainly easier to use. The top portion of the centre stack appears to hover in the air, thanks to buttresses that allow access to a large wireless phone charge pad sitting below a padded retractable bin lid. The rest of the lower console is finished in stitched and padded leatherette, and is nicely detailed with satin-silver trim around the gear selector and cupholders, while this aluminized trim completely surrounds the console and centre stack as well, plus the steering wheel, much of the switchgear, and other highlights elsewhere. It’s a very attractive cabin that does a decent job of providing premium levels of luxury, even including fabric-wrapped A-pillars.

2019 Toyota Avalon XSE
A large, clear backup camera with dynamic guidelines provides a helpful rearward view. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

In case you were wondering how the Avalon measures up to the slightly smaller Camry that joins the aforementioned Lexus ES by also riding on Toyota’s TNGA-K (GA-K) platform architecture, it’s 100 millimetres (4.0 inches) longer from nose to tail, with a 50-mm (2.0-in) longer wheelbase, plus it’s also 10 mm (0.4 in) wider and fractionally lower by the same 10 mm (0.4 in). The new 2019 Avalon is also larger than the previous version, with its overall length up by 20 mm (0.8 in) to 4,980 mm (196.0 in), its wheelbase stretched by 50 mm (2.0 in) to 2,870 mm (113.0 in), its width increased by 15 mm (0.6 inches) to 1,850 mm (72.8 in), and height lower by 20 mm (0.8 in) to 1,440 mm (56.5 in), resulting in a leaner more athletic stance.

2019 Toyota Avalon XSE
With no pushbutton or dial gear selector, the Avalon’s new 8-speed auto keeps a conventional gear lever. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

The new Av backs up its dramatic new styling with more energy under the hood, its enhanced 3.5-litre V6 now put out 10 more horsepower and 17 additional lb-ft of torque for a new total of 278 and 265 respectively, while in XSE trim this improved performance is complemented by an “Engine Sound Generator” that beefs up the exhaust note artificially through the audio system when Sport mode is engaged. Before any snide comments, BMW does this with its M cars and Ford with its Mustang and Ecoboost-powered F-150 pickup trucks (plus a number of others, I’m guessing), the result being music to the ears of gearheads.

Even better, Toyota has mated its upgraded V6 with a completely new eight-speed automatic transmission (not a CVT like one of the Av’s supposedly sportier competitors), and by so doing said goodbye to its antiquated six-speed gearbox, plus they’ve add steering wheel-mounted paddle shifters to make the entire package more engaging.

2019 Toyota Avalon XSE
The XSE’s sport seats are inherently comfortable, but the driver’s 2-way powered lumbar support is a hit or miss affair. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

Underpinning the new Avalon is an extended version of the stiffer, more agile chassis that improved the newest Camry, and likewise makes the new Lexus ES more fun to live with, while the XSE’s front struts and rear multi-link setup is sport-tuned even further before being bolted to the one-inch larger 19-inch rims and rubber noted earlier.

Despite all the performance upgrades, the Avalon’s ride continues to be very comfortable, but as anyone reading about the upgrades would imagine, the comfortable ride came with a lot more capability than ever before. The extra horsepower proved enjoyable off the line and the new automatic certainly more engaging than the outgoing one, particularly with Sport mode engaged, although it still took too long for those shifts to occur, so a true sport sedan this is not. Still, this XSE handled considerably better through fast-paced curves than its already adept predecessor.

2019 Toyota Avalon XSE
Rear seat roominess is generous, and seat comfort good. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

I also found the seating position very good for a Toyota. Actually, I find Toyota improving their cars’ driving positions in most models recently tested, in that they now offer more telescopic steering column reach to complement their already good seat adjustability. This allowed me to move the Avalon’s driver’s seat rearward enough for comfortable legroom while extending the steering column amply for relative arm comfort and reasonable control, all this necessary due to my having a longer legged, shorter torso frame. I could have used more steering column extension, but the Av’s setup was passable.

This said the driver’s seat’s two-way powered lumbar support was disappointing, particularly considering competitors in this price class offer four-way powered lumbar support that better meets up with the small of my back. Still the seats were quite comfortable without using the extra lumbar support, while the rear seating area is massive, bordering on limousine-like, and comfortable as well. Likewise, the trunk is large at 456 litres (16.1 cu ft) and offers 60/40 folding access for longer items, although a centre pass-through would improve passenger/cargo flexibility even more.

2019 Toyota Avalon XSE
The Av’s big rear trunk can be extended via the usual 60/40-split rear seatbacks. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

All said I think most luxury sedan buyers that spend a little time with the new Avalon will like it. It’s well built, as most would expect from Toyota, should be reliable, is packed with most of the features one would expect in a $40k-plus car, and provides wonderfully comfortable yet surprisingly sporty performance.

What’s more, with the 2019 model year ending and the identical new 2020 Avalon soon arriving, Toyota is motivated to sell all the remaining stock, which is why you can to now save up to $2,500 in additional incentives (at the time of writing). Just go to CarCostCanada to learn more, and while you’re at it, check out both 2019 and 2020 model year pricing information, including trims, packages and individual options, and also find out about the latest rebates and even dealer invoice pricing, that puts you in charge when negotiating with your local retailer.