Anticipation. Sometimes it’s better than the real thing. Just think back to someone you fell head over heels for in junior high, only to finally go out on a date and realize they weren’t the perfect…

2019 Mazda CX-5 Signature Diesel Road Test

2019 Mazda CX-5 Signature Diesel
Did you know Mazda was offering a twin-turbo diesel-powered CX-5 last year? Some were still available at the time of writing.

Anticipation. Sometimes it’s better than the real thing. Just think back to someone you fell head over heels for in junior high, only to finally go out on a date and realize they weren’t the perfect match your idealistic imagination conjured them up to be. As we age, most of us become a little more cautious in our approach to everything, including our next best ride.

Enter the Mazda CX-5 Signature Diesel or SkyActiv-D, a compact crossover SUV that most buyers in this class never realized was even on the radar, let alone available for the 2019 model year. Amongst the auto industry media, Mazda’s upcoming turbo-diesel was a highly anticipated new powertrain in a model that’s long earned high marks, but it took longer to arrive than expected and only lasted one single model year, a shocker that’s caused some disappointment within a small following of diesel engine fans, and as I just noted, not even a whimper from most Mazda buyers.

2019 Mazda CX-5 Signature Diesel
It’s just as attractive and beautifully finished inside as the regular CX-5 thanks to top-tier Signature trim, but Mazda’s SkyActiv-D engine is more fuel efficient.

Of course, the latter group matters much more in the grand scheme of things than a tiny handful of oil-burner zealots and enthusiastic auto journalists, and to be fair to Mazda that’s now looking as if it made a major product planning error, Volkswagen’s Diesel-gate fiasco wasn’t a thing when the 100-year-old independent Japanese brand first decided to bring its SkyActiv-D to market (yes, Mazda is 17 years older than VW). As it is, the very fact the new turbo-diesel engine met Canadian regulations for the 2019 model year shows that it was cleaner than anything offered by the Germans, all of which dropped their diesel powerplants soon after the Diesel-gate scandal.

I’m speaking in past-tense because this review is coming out after the fact, although being that 2020 is one of the most unusual years we’ve ever experienced in the car industry, or any other sector for that matter, I was still able to find some of these unique 2019 CX-5s available to purchase new when perusing online.

2019 Mazda CX-5 Signature Diesel
The CX-5 Signature Diesel’s stylish design with narrow LED headlamps, tiny fog lights and attractive 19-inch alloys, truly makes a visual statement.

In this review I’m going to cover the 2019 model shown, as well as the 2020, particularly the changes moving up to the latest model year, being that there are many more 2020s available to purchase than 2019s, with or without the SkyActiv-D powertrain with respect to the latter. If you can find a 2019 model that suits your needs, you’ll be able to benefit from up to $2,500 in additional incentives, while 2020 models are only being offered with incentives up to $1,000, as per CarCostCanada’s comprehensive 2019 Mazda CX-5 Canada Prices page and 2020 Mazda CX-5 Canada Prices page. CarCostCanada’s very affordable membership provides plenty, by the way, including manufacturer rebate information, details about any available manufacturer financing and leasing deals, dealer invoice pricing info that could save you thousands, and more.

2019 Mazda CX-5 Signature Diesel
The CX-5’s distinctive LED taillights are similar to its LED headlight design.

A quick look at the just-noted 2019 Mazda CX-5 Canada Prices page will immediately show the 2.2-litre twin-turbo-diesel only being available in top-line Signature trim at a price of $45,950 plus freight and fees. Signature trim is a new for 2019 premium brand-like level that’s never previously been offered to CX-5 clientele. Other CX-5 trims include the base GX that starts at $27,850 with front-wheel drive or $29,850 with all-wheel drive, the mid-grade GS at $30,750 with FWD or $32,750 with AWD, and the previous top-line GT that starts at $37,450 and tops out at $39,450 with its 2.5-litre turbocharged gasoline with engine upgrade. GT and Signature trims include Mazda’s i-Activ all-wheel drive (AWD) as standard equipment.

2019 Mazda CX-5 Signature Diesel
The CX-5 Signature is a step above all mainstream branded competitors when it comes to luxury, thanks to soft Nappa leather and real hardwood trim.

The CX-5 Signature, available with the just-noted 2.5-litre turbo gas engine for $40,950 and the aforementioned diesel, builds on the already impressive CX-5 GT with features like LED cabin lighting, a 7.0-inch digital instrument cluster, a slick looking frameless rearview mirror, genuine Abachi hardwood inlays on the dash and door panels (yes, real wood, folks), plus dark chocolate brown Cocoa Nappa leather upholstery and trim, while items pulled up from the GT include front and rear signature lighting, adaptive headlamps, LED fog lights, power-folding side mirrors, proximity-sensing keyless entry, traffic sign recognition, dual-zone automatic climate control, navigation, a 10-speaker audio system including satellite radio, a garage door opener, leather upholstery, a 10-way power-adjustable driver’s seat and a six-way powered front passenger’s seat, plus more.

2019 Mazda CX-5 Signature Diesel
Soft-touch surfaces abound, as do beautifully finished metal accents.

Details like fabric-wrapped A pillars and luxuriously padded interior surfaces including the dash top, upper and lower instrument panel, lower console side edges, door uppers front to back and armrests side to centre go further to make the CX-5 a near-luxury experience, while Mazda also adds a tasteful assortment of anodized aluminum accents throughout the compact SUV’s cabin, with some of the brushed metal switchgear receiving rich knurled metal edging for an extremely upscale appearance. It’s pretty fancy stuff from a mainstream volume-brand, leaving some in the industry to wonder (including yours truly) whether or not Mazda is making a long play for luxury brand status.

2019 Mazda CX-5 Signature Diesel
The CX-5’s centre dial is purely digital, despite looking as if it’s merely another analogue instrument.

The diesel option fits the premium sector well too, being this engine type has mostly been sold through luxury brands (Volkswagen aside) such as Mercedes-Benz, Audi, BMW and the like, with Jaguar offering a bevy of diesel-powered models up until last year (so there are probably plenty of these around if you’re interested too) and Land Rover having only dropped the oil-burner in its Velar, yet not offering diesel-power in the one vehicle 4×4 enthusiasts would most likely want it in, the all-new 2021 Defender.

Back to Mazda’s diesel, it makes a rather meagre 168 horsepower yet a very healthy 290 lb-ft of torque; the low horsepower, high torque ratio normal for diesel powertrains. This said the same CX-5 Signature’s base gasoline-fed powerplant is good for 227 horsepower and 310 lb-ft of torque (take note, this engine has just been announced for the AWD Mazda3, and should be a real screamer in such a lightweight car), as long as you fill it with 93 octane premium fuel. If you don’t, and I can’t see most owners throwing that much cash into the ether, it puts out a commendable 250 horsepower and the same 310 lb-ft of torque, while the 2020 model gains an additional 10 lb-ft of torque to 320 lb-ft when fuelled with high-octane gas.

2019 Mazda CX-5 Signature Diesel
The centre display can be modulated via a dial and set of buttons on the lower centre console, just like with premium brands.

Drive both CX-5 powertrains back-to-back, as I’m sure many would-be CX-5 Diesel buyers would have done, and the benefits of the gasoline-powered version are immediately clear, at least from a performance perspective. Of course, opting for the diesel is more about fuel economy, and to that end it’s thriftier than its gasoline-powered counterpart, but probably not enough to cause a large volume of CX-5 buyers to choose it over the more conventional powertrain. The diesel’s claimed 8.9 L/100km city, 7.9 highway and 8.4 combined fuel economy is certainly better than the gasoline engine’s 10.8 city, 8.7 highway and 9.8 combined rating, but the extra $5,000 needed to upgrade makes any savings less reasonable.

2019 Mazda CX-5 Signature Diesel
An attractive dual-zone automatic climate control system is easy to use.

Something else to consider is the nicely equipped CX-5 GT mentioned earlier, which for $37,450 offers a lot of luxury along with an even thriftier 2.0-litre SkyActiv-G four-cylinder good for 187 horsepower and 186 lb-ft of torque, plus a claimed fuel economy rating of 9.8 L/100km in the city, 7.9 on the highway and 9.0 combined, while the same engine with front wheel drive gets 9.3, 7.6 and 8.5 respectively.

Last year I reviewed a GT with its base engine and was very pleased with its fuel economy, performance and level of luxury after my usual weeklong test, but this said I more recently spent three months with a 2020 CX-5 Signature 2.5-litre SkyActiv-G turbo and was even more enamoured, particularly with its performance and premium fittings. I’ll be sure to review it in full detail soon, although for the sake of this review I’ll only say that Mazda made the right choice in keeping its top-line gasoline engine over its even more exclusive diesel.

2019 Mazda CX-5 Signature Diesel
Knurled metal edging makes many of the CX-5 Signature’s controls look and feel very upscale.

Don’t get me wrong as the two models’ fuel economy disparity was even more pronounced during real life duty than on National Resources Canada’s downloadable Fuel Consumption Ratings spreadsheet. This was made even more obvious thanks to diesel fuel pump prices that are normally much lower than regular gasoline (let alone premium), but the biggest reason for the two models’ fuel economy disparity came down to the sportier 2.5-litre turbo-gasoline engine making the paddle-shift actuated 2020 CX-5 Signature way too much fun to merely coast along in comfortable bliss. With the knurled-metal, console-mounted rocker switch pulled rearward for Sport mode, the most potent CX-5 is a rarified dynamo amongst mostly dawdling compact crossover competitors, while the turbo-diesel version is much more sedate after its initial launch from standstill.

2019 Mazda CX-5 Signature Diesel
The CX-5 Signature’s Nappa leather covered driver’s seat is very comfortable and supportive.

Yes, the diesel-powered CX-5 provides a lot of twist from lower speeds, and I certainly never had any problem passing slower moving traffic on the highway. It just doesn’t provide the level of sporty performance as the conventionally-fuelled turbo-four, and due to the subtle yet still evident rat-a-tat-tat sound emanating from ahead of the engine firewall, it makes the CX-5 sound a bit more truck-like than the gasoline version. This will either be good or not so good depending on your preferences. I happen to like the sound of a diesel engine, so it was kind of comforting, while its standard 19-inch Gunmetal grey Signature wheels and equally large tires provided plenty of pavement adhesion when hustling it through corners.

2019 Mazda CX-5 Signature Diesel
The rear seats are comfortable and the surrounding area spacious.

Unlike the gasoline-powered Signature, the diesel doesn’t provide steering wheel paddles, so its six-speed automatic transmission isn’t quite as engaging as the gearbox I more recently tested. Yes, you heard me right, like Hyundai’s Tucson and Kia’s Sportage, the CX-5 uses a conventional six-speed automatic instead of a continuously variable transmission (CVT), which has become more commonplace in this small SUV market segment, while more complex eight-speed autoboxes are now incorporated into VW’s Tiguan and Ford’s latest Escape, and even fancier nine-speed automatics can be found in the Chevrolet Equinox, GMC Terrain and Jeep Cherokee. More gears can add problems, however, with most of the eight- and nine-speed automatics just noted commonly cited for reliability issues, making Mazda’s well-proven six-speed SkyActiv-Drive transmission a good choice for those wanting something they can rely on.

2019 Mazda CX-5 Signature Diesel
Loads of cargo space make the CX-5 a winner in its compact SUV class, but its 40/20/40-split rear seatbacks, featuring a full pass-through down the middle, are amongst the segment’s most useful.

Along with commendable handling, all second-generation CX-5 models I’ve driven so far have provided a comfortable ride, albeit firmer in the more performance-oriented Germanic sense than most competitors. This said, the SUV’s fully independent suspension was never harsh in any way, but instead felt wholly confidence-inspiring when pushed hard through circuitous two-lane roadways, and wonderfully controllable at higher speeds on the freeway. This is a crossover SUV I was able to spend many hours in at a time without discomfort, while its roominess from front to rear is very generous and therefore competitive with compact SUV challengers.

2019 Mazda CX-5 Signature Diesel
Say hello and goodbye to Mazda’s SkyActiv-D twin-turbo diesel engine, which provided good fuel economy in real world conditions.

Feel free to check out my 2019 Mazda CX-5 GT AWD Road Test for even more detail, particularly about its best-in-class 40/20/40 split-folding rear seatbacks with convenient cargo sidewall-mounted release levers, cargo measurements and more, and remember to download the free CarCostCanada app to your smartphone from the Apple Store or Google Play Store so you can get the best deal possible on this impressive compact SUV.

I won’t try to claim that I know which engine will best suit your needs, because those who already like diesels will love the short-lived SkyActiv-D, and performance fans will no doubt want the much quicker SkyActiv-G turbo, while some will prefer to save as much as possible by purchasing a more affordable trim and therefore be happy with the naturally aspirated SkyActiv-G powerplant, as I was. Either way Mazda has you covered, at least for a little while longer, unless you’re looking for a hybrid. If that’s the case, you may want to wait for Mazda’s sporty looking electric crossover just unveiled at the Tokyo auto show.

Story and photo credits: Trevor Hofmann

Photo editing: Karen Tuggay

Hyundai’s popular Accent hasn’t changed all that much since generation-five was introduced for the 2018 model year. Still, the adoption of a new brand-wide trim level naming convention for the 2019…

2019 Hyundai Accent 5-Door Ultimate Road Test

2019 Hyundai Accent 5-Door Ultimate
The Accent’s big, bold grille gives it a lot of presence, while this model’s top-line Ultimate trim adds chrome detailing, fog lights and 17-inch alloys.

Hyundai’s popular Accent hasn’t changed all that much since generation-five was introduced for the 2018 model year. Still, the adoption of a new brand-wide trim level naming convention for the 2019 version probably threw a few diehard Hyundai buyers for a loop, with the previous L, LE, GL and GLS lines being creatively redubbed Essential, Preferred and Ultimate.

The car before you would’ve been named the Accent GLS 5-Door Manual back in 2017 when the 2018 model debuted, but for 2019 was renamed the Accent Ultimate 5-Door Manual. The manual in this top-line trim won’t exist for 2020, incidentally, so being that this exact model in 2019 form was still available at the time of writing, I thought I’d tell you about it along with changes made to the new 2020 Accent, plus let you know about any potential savings on either car.

2019 Hyundai Accent 5-Door Ultimate
That’s a very aggressive rear bumper design for the subcompact commuter class.

For starters, the Accent Sedan is gone. Yes, those who love subcompact four-door sedans can no longer look to Hyundai to satiate their desires. Hyundai isn’t alone, with Toyota dropping its Mazda-built Yaris Sedan for 2020 as well, Nissan saying goodbye to its Versa Note and not bringing its redesigned Versa sedan north of the 49th, Ford killing off its entire Fiesta line that included a sedan and hatchback last year, and Chevy having done likewise with its Sonic the year before, leaving Kia’s Rio as the sole option for three-box city car buyers.

Also new, the Accent gets a fully redesigned engine for 2020, plus a new optional continuously variable transmission (CVT). Gone is this car’s very reliable 1.6-litre four-cylinder that’s good for a commendable 132 horsepower and 119 lb-ft of torque, replaced by the South Korean brand’s all-new 1.6-litre Smartstream four-cylinder engine making 120 horsepower and 113 lb-ft of torque.

2019 Hyundai Accent 5-Door Ultimate
Along with these larger 17-inch alloy wheels, the extra chrome trim, fog lamps and LED headlights are classy additions exclusive to Ultimate trim.

The new powertrain is obviously more about fuel economy than performance, having said goodbye to 12 horsepower plus 6 lb-ft of torque, and to this end it achieves an impressive 7.8 L/100km in the city, 6.1 on the highway and 7.0 combined with its base six-speed manual, or an even better 7.3 city, 6.0 highway and 6.7 combined with its most fuel-efficient CVT. It really shines when compared to the outgoing model shown here, which could only achieve a claimed rating of 8.2 city, 6.3 highway and 7.3 combined no matter whether using its six-speed manual or six-speed automatic.

Of course, the 2019 example before you really shines when taking off from a standing start or passing on the highway. True, I haven’t driven the new 2020 model yet, so Hyundai may have made up for its engine output disadvantage with shortened initial gear ratios, but I’m guessing those trading up from old to new will still find it difficult not to notice a sizeable difference in performance. Hyundai is no doubt hoping the car’s fuel economy improvements will more than make up for any accelerative shortcomings.

2019 Hyundai Accent 5-Door Ultimate
The Accent’s finer details are very nice.

This said, fewer and fewer new vehicle buyers are trading up from subcompact cars to the same type of vehicle, but instead are opting for a small SUV. Hyundai has the subcompact SUV category fully covered with its new city car-sized 2020 Venue and slightly larger Kona, the latter model introduced for 2018. The sales of these two have grown exponentially, whereas the Accent’s numbers are dropping at a relatively rapid rate. From a high of 29,751 units in 2018, and still strong Canadian sales of 23,173 in 2014, the Accent’s deliveries have steadily slumped downward from 19,371 in 2015, 19,198 in 2016, 13,073 in 2017, 9,021 in 2018 and just 5,989 in 2019.

2019 Hyundai Accent 5-Door Ultimate
Here’s a closer look at the sporty rear bumper.

As noted, small SUV sales have been the benefactors, with the Kona finding 14,497 new buyers in its first partial year (it arrived in March) of 2018 and a whopping 25,817 units throughout 2019, making it number one in its class last year, and the same over the first three months of 2020 too. The Venue is too new and the 2020 calendar year too wonky to make any sense of how it will do overall when things normalize, but if it sells anywhere near as well as the similarly sized Nissan Kicks it should rank somewhere amongst the subcompact SUV segment’s top three or four (the Venue outsold the Kicks in March and had its best sales in May, but Nissan Canada only reports its sales quarterly so we’ll need to wait a little longer to find out—I’ll tell you in my upcoming 2020 Venue and Kicks reviews). Of more importance to this review, in Q1 of 2020 the Venue outsold the Accent by about 1.6 to 1, making it easier to appreciate why Hyundai dropped the slower selling sedan variant.

2019 Hyundai Accent 5-Door Ultimate
Check out the sharp looking two-tone red and black interior.

This said there are a lot of reasons to choose the Accent over one of its taller more SUV-like brethren. I say SUV-like because most modern SUVs are little more than raised hatchbacks or wagons with chunkier, beefier styling. Some, like the Venue, don’t even offer all-wheel drive, so their buyers are opting for a more rugged go-anywhere design and a taller ride-height for better outward visibility. They give up some handing chops and oftentimes fuel economy too, but that’s ok in today’s oh-so image conscious society.

The Accent’s 2018 redesign was a major improvement over its more sheepish predecessor, its much bolder wide mouth grille adding a little Audi-like presence to this entry-level commuter. In Ultimate trim there’s more chrome bits to brighten the exterior, particularly on the front fascia that incorporates a set of fog lamps with metal brightwork bezels on each corner, while the side window belt mouldings and each of its four door handles are chromed as well. The LED headlamps with LED signature accents help spiff up this top-line trim too, as do the LED turn signals integrated within the side mirror housings, while a sporty set of 17-inch multi-spoke alloy wheels round out the look nicely, these framing a set of four-wheel disc brakes in Ultimate trim (lesser versions use rear drums).

2019 Hyundai Accent 5-Door Ultimate
The Accent’s driver cockpit is nicely organized and filled with high-quality controls.

I have to say, the Accent’s exterior styling never left me feeling as if I was living at the entry level of the market. Along with the big, bold grille is a wonderfully detailed front fascia worthy of hot hatch respect, albeit the car’s dramatically sculpted rear valance is even more eye-catching thanks to a large, body-wide black mesh grille insert resulting in a particularly aggressive look. A rear roof top spoiler gives the Accent’s profile a longer, leaner appearance, although it’s not as if they need to visually stretch this car in order to make it look longer than it actually is.

This is the largest Accent in its 18-year tenure, or at least it’s been on the Canadian market for 18 years. The Accent nameplate has been in existence longer, but here in Canada it was previously dubbed Excel, and before that Pony. I’ve driven every generation since the mid-‘80s rear-wheel drive Giorgetto Giugiaro-designed original took our market by storm, and believe me it’s come a long way (as has everything else).

2019 Hyundai Accent 5-Door Ultimate
The primary gauge cluster is nothing special, but it’s clear and easily legible.

The current 4,190-mm long Accent hatchback is 90 mm lengthier than its 18-year-old predecessor, with a 2,580-mm long wheelbase that now spans 180 mm more, while the new car’s 1,729-mm width shows its greatest growth at 109 mm from side-to-side, its 1,450 mm in height only 55 mm taller. Of course, this makes today’s subcompact more like the compacts of yesteryear, which actually means they’re better value than ever when factoring in that the Accent’s price hasn’t really gone up when compared to inflation.

The base Essential starts at just $14,949 plus freight and fees for 2020, by the way, which is quite a bit cheaper than last year’s $17,349 base price. Unusual I know, especially when factoring in the thrifty new engine, but the 2019 model came standard with a Comfort Package that’s extra with the 2020 model, the new 2020 Essential with Comfort Package now starting at $17,699. The price for the Accent’s second-rung Preferred trim has increased too, from $17,549 last year to $17,899 this year, while the as-tested Ultimate has added $1,250 from $20,049 to $21,649, but take note the new CVT auto is now standard whereas last year’s six-speed automatic was an extra (what do ya know?) $1,250 across the line.

2019 Hyundai Accent 5-Door Ultimate
The centre stack is well laid out with all the essentials, even including automatic climate control.

Another interesting point about small car value that most Canadians don’t realize is the great deal we’re getting here compared to the U.S. The base 2020 Accent south of the 49th (that just happens to be a sedan as no hatchback is offered there) is $15,295 USD, which was $20,735 CAD after calculating the exchange rate at the time of writing. Likewise, their top-line 2020 Accent Limited is $19,400 USD or $26,300 CAD, while our full-load Ultimate is once again just $21,649. We’re getting a stellar deal.

On top of this, Hyundai Canada is offering factory leasing and financing rates from zero percent on 2019 models or up to $750 in additional incentives for 2020 models according to CarCostCanada, where you can find out about available rebates, financing rates and even dealer invoice pricing that could save you thousands on your next new car purchase. They’ve even got a free mobile app to make your car shopping experience easier, so make sure to find out how their smart system can save you big time before you purchase your next car.

2019 Hyundai Accent 5-Door Ultimate
The backup camera is large, providing a good view to the back, plus it includes active guidelines.

The Accent’s larger exterior dimensions translate into a much roomier subcompact hatchback than you might have been expecting, especially when it comes to width. The seats offer plenty of adjustability as long as you’re not looking to modulate the driver’s lumbar area, which is static as is usually the case in this class. I could’ve used a more pronounced lower backrest and better side bolstering, but I can understand this is a one-seat-fits-all compromise and therefore it’s not going to match everyone’s body type ideally. The rest of its adjustments are more than adequate, however, while the tilt and telescopic steering column’s reach was particularly good, enough so that my long-legged, short-torso frame was able to feel right at home with excellent control of the wheel and pedals, not always the case in this category.

2019 Hyundai Accent 5-Door Ultimate
The six-speed manual really adds driving enjoyment, but take note that it’s gone in Ultimate trim for 2020.

Rear seat spaciousness was very good too, but take note that even in this top-line trim there’s no folding centre armrest in back. Instead, the seatbacks fold 60/40 to expand the already generous dedicated cargo area when the need to load in longer items arises. When folded the seatbacks are about four inches above the load floor, which therefore isn’t flat, but most will probably prefer that Hyundai chose to maximize available volume instead of creating a level load area when the rear seats are lowered. A spare-saver tire and some tools can be found below the load floor, while a hard-shell cargo cover hovers above, all par for the course in this segment.

2019 Hyundai Accent 5-Door Ultimate
These sport seats are really attractive and quite comfortable.

More out of the norm for this subcompact segment is the Accent 5-Door Ultimate’s tastefully sporty interior design, plus its impressive load of features. The fact you can leave its key fob in your pocket or purse when opening the door via proximity-sensing access before starting the engine with a button just goes to show how far Hyundai has gone to lift up this lower class into a more sophisticated crowd. The cabin is further enhanced with a sharp-looking two-tone red and black motif. Hyundai doesn’t go so far as to finish any surfaces with soft-touch synthetics, other than the padded leatherette armrests and of course the nicely upholstered seats, these complete with red leatherette side bolsters, red stitching and a stack of six hexagonal shapes embroidered onto their cloth backrests, all of which match the door panel inserts, the red stitching on the shifter boot, and the red baseball stitching on the inside rim of the leather-wrapped steering wheel. Once again everything mentioned impresses more than most shopping in this category will expect.

2019 Hyundai Accent 5-Door Ultimate
A powered moonroof comes standard in Ultimate trim.

The steering wheel spokes include very high-quality switchgear left and right, the toggles on the former for the audio system and surrounding buttons for audio mode control, voice activation, and connecting to the phone, whereas the latter spoke’s switches are for scrolling through the monochromatic multi-information display and cruise controls.

The gauges ahead of the driver are a simple fare, with backlit dials surrounding the just-noted multi-info display, so if you want to be impressed by a digital interface as you’ll need to look to the right at the centre stack which gets a large touchscreen infotainment display complete with Android Auto and Apple CarPlay smartphone integration, Bluetooth phone and audio streaming, regular audio functions, the latter including satellite radio, plus more.

2019 Hyundai Accent 5-Door Ultimate
Rear seat roominess and comfort is impressive.

Just below is a single-zone automatic climate control interface that’s made easy to use thanks to large dials that accept winter gloves, while below that is a row of buttons for three-way heated front seats and even a heatable steering wheel rim. At the base of the centre stack is a large bin for storing your smartphone, with connections for a USB-A charge port and an auxiliary plug.

Forward collision warning with automatic emergency braking is included in the top-line Accent, as is a powered glass sunroof, while features pulled up from lesser trims include the tilt-and-telescopic steering (an improvement over the tilt steering wheel in base trim), cruise control, front seat warmers and the 7.0-inch infotainment display noted earlier (the base model gets a 5.0-inch colour touchscreen), plus automatic on/off headlights, six-speaker audio (up from four speakers in base trim), keyless entry, and a rear seating area USB-A charging port from Preferred trim, the automatic transmission and Bluetooth mentioned before, plus power-adjustable and heated side mirrors, air conditioning and power windows from the Essential Comfort package, and lastly variable intermittent front wipers, six-way driver and four-way front passenger manually adjustable seats, plus power door locks from base Essential trim.

2019 Hyundai Accent 5-Door Ultimate
There’s plenty of cargo space, making the Accent very practical.

As noted earlier my test car came with a six-speed manual gearbox that’s no longer available in top-line Ultimate trim, this a shame to those of us who appreciate the sportier nature of a DIY transmission. The little car really comes alive with the manual, which makes the most of its aforementioned 138 horsepower. Takeoff from standstill is quick, the shifts are smooth and clutch take-up good, while braking is strong too. High-speed handling is more than adequate for the class, the Accent’s previously noted width and lower ride height (than an SUV) allowing for less body roll than you might expect. Likewise, it feels nice and stable at highway speeds, making this a car I could cruise in all day. Truly, it’s a comfortable and confidence inspiring little ride, which is no doubt a key reason it remains such a strong seller in this class.

2019 Hyundai Accent 5-Door Ultimate
Hyundai has replaced this sporty little engine with a more fuel-efficient one for 2020.

Yes, the Accent’s entry-level car category might seem like a dying breed, but all it would take to reignite interest in small, cheap commuters like this is an extended downturn in the economy, and that could very well be just around the next corner. Combined with rising fuel prices (we’re once again experiencing that too), the Accent makes a good case for itself, with the icing on its cake being a five-year, 100,000 km comprehensive warranty. I recommend you check this little car out, and remember to opt for the 2019 if your prime focus is performance, or 2020 if you’re looking to save a bit more at the pump.

 

 

Story and photo credits: Trevor Hofmann

Photo editing: Karen Tuggay

Just like any Mercedes-Benz, the new A 220 gets a lot of attention for its good looks and prestigious three-pointed star. That iconic emblem is a key reason for purchasing any Mercedes product, as it…

2020 Mercedes-Benz A 220 4Matic Road Test

2020 Mercedes-Benz A 220 4Matic
Long, low and lean, the new A 220 looks more like a four-door coupe than a traditional luxury sedan.

Just like any Mercedes-Benz, the new A 220 gets a lot of attention for its good looks and prestigious three-pointed star. That iconic emblem is a key reason for purchasing any Mercedes product, as it shows you’re either well on the way up society’s hierarchal ladder or have fully arrived. Only an affluent person can own a Mercedes-Benz after all, right? While that may have mostly been true in the past (2002-2008 C-Class 230/320 Sport Coupe aside—codenamed CL203), once you see the price of this A 220 you might start questioning that premise.

The 2020 A 220 4Matic starts at just $37,300 plus freight and fees, which is a bit of a jump from last year’s all-new model that wowed all comers at a mere $34,990, due to standard all-wheel drive in today’s version, but it’s still well within the majority of middle-class earners’ income brackets. After all, a number of similarly sized mainstream volume-branded compact models top out where the entry-level Mercedes begins, so as long as you don’t mind going without a few highfalutin features available with the A 220’s various packages, you’ll get an inherently better car.

2020 Mercedes-Benz A 220 4Matic
Despite the A 220’s sleek profile, it provides plenty of headroom front to back.

Just one look had me hooked. Yes, the A 220 is gorgeous. It looks too long, lean and low to the ground to be a compact, but indeed its 4,549 mm length, 1,796 mm width, 1,446 mm height and 2,729 mm wheelbase means that it fits within the shadow of mainstream compacts you might know better, such as Honda’s Civic, Toyota’s Corolla, Hyundai’s Elantra and Mazda’s 3 to name a handful (it’s actually shorter and taller than all of the above), while competing head-to-head more accurately in size and especially price with premium-branded sedans like Audi’s A3 and BMW’s new 2 Series Gran Coupe (although the latter model more directly targets Mercedes’ even lower, longer and wider CLA-Class), not to mention Acura’s considerably longer (than the A 220) ILX.

2020 Mercedes-Benz A 220 4Matic
It might cast a small shadow, but the A 220 is big on style.

Mercedes slaughters the premium competition on Canada’s subcompact luxury sales charts, with more than 5,000 collective A-Class (which includes the A 250 hatch as well), CLA-Class and B-Class (yes more than 300 of the now discontinued models sold last year, and another 200-plus during the first quarter of 2020) deliveries in Canada throughout calendar year 2019, compared to the next-best-selling Mini Cooper (which is a collection of body styles as well, and mostly lower priced) at just over 3,700 unit sales, the A3/A3 Cabriolet/S3 at 3,100-plus examples, the ILX at nearly 1,900 units, the 2 Series (before the new four-door model arrived) with a hair over 1,200 down the road, and BMW’s long-in-tooth i3 EV pulling in 300 new buyers. By the way, the A-Class, which was the only model in its class to see positive growth last year at just under 14.5 percent, pulled in 3,632 customers alone last year, putting it just behind the aforementioned Mini that saw its year-over-year sales slide by 17 percent.

2020 Mercedes-Benz A 220 4Matic
Hard to believe, but this classy looking three-pointed star can be yours for less than $40k.

While the A 220’s good looks and attractive pricing have no doubt helped lure in its high volume of Canadian luxury buyers, there’s a lot more to the sleek four-door sport sedan than a pretty face and affordability. First and foremost is an interior that’s oozing with style and generous with cutting edge features, some of which hit high on both marks. For instance, Mercedes’ new all-in-one instrument panel and infotainment display is digital art, not only with respect to the colourful, creatively designed and wholly functional graphics within, but also with the fixed tablet-style frame that surrounds it.

This last point highlights an important differentiator between this entry-level Mercedes and compact models from mainstream volume brands. While the A 220’s lower dash and door panel surfaces aren’t much more upscale than what you’d find in a common compact sedan like Honda’s Civic, Toyota’s Corolla, Hyundai’s Elantra or Mazda’s 3, most everything above is as good as being offered in pricier three-pointed star models, such as the C-Class and even the E-Class. Along with the eye-arresting electronic interfaces are beautifully crafted leather door inserts, rich open-pore textured hardwood on those doors and dash, while brushed aluminum accents can be found everywhere, my favourite application being the stunning jet turbine-like dash vents.

2020 Mercedes-Benz A 220 4Matic
Sharp looking LED headlamps join plenty of other distinctive design elements.

Back to that all-in-one MBUX (Mercedes-Benz User Experience) instrument cluster/infotainment display, the former integrates various screen themes such as Modern Classic, Sport, Understated and the ability to create your own themes, plus an alternative gauge cluster that changes the traditional-looking speedometer into a numeric format while using the rest of the screen for other functions such as navigation mapping, fuel consumption info, regenerative braking charge info, Eco drive setting info and more, while the latter allows for at least as much personalization.

2020 Mercedes-Benz A 220 4Matic
These 18-inch five-spoke alloys are available for just $500.

The usual infotainment features were included in my tester, such as navigation, albeit with the ability to choose an augmented reality function that shows a front camera with upcoming street names and directional indicators; an audio interface with satellite radio; the just-noted drive settings that also include Comfort, Sport and Individual modes (also adjustable via a rocker switch on the lower console); advanced driver assistive systems settings; calls, contacts and messages; a large, clear backup camera with dynamic guidelines; and more, while controlling the centre display is the most versatile in the industry.

You can simply use it like a tablet thanks to full touchscreen capability, or alternatively talk to it via Linguatronic Voice Control, one of the best voice command systems in the industry (although “Mercedes” is a bit too willing, inquisitively responding with “How can I help you?” anytime you mention her name), or provide inputs with the tiny BlackBerry-style optical trackpads on each steering wheel side spoke, or lastly utilize the lower console touchpad surrounded by large easy-to-use quick access buttons. The touchpad itself, which is the best of its kind I’ve ever tested, is ideally sensitive to the usual tap, swipe and pinch inputs, is easily within reach, and never caused me the need to divert too much attention away from the primary role of driving.

2020 Mercedes-Benz A 220 4Matic
LED taillights come standard.

This in mind, intuitively organized climate controls can be found on a slender interface just underneath the centre display screen, designed with nice readouts and a gorgeous row of knurled aluminum toggles, all sitting above a large rubberized tray for storing your smartphone, complete with inductive charging. All-round the A 220 provides a well-organized cabin that’s filled with most everything you’ll need and some things you probably won’t, but I loved the purple ambient lighting anyway.

2020 Mercedes-Benz A 220 4Matic
The available two-tone interior colour scheme looks rich.

All said I was a bit shocked with the small, delicate size and lack of density of the A 220’s steering wheel stalks, and am wondering if they’re part of the brand’s weight-saving, and therefore fuel economy and performance benefiting philosophy. To be clear, their quality is actually quite good in their detailing wonderful, but they’re so light and hollow feeling that someone who prizes substantive solidity over lightweight efficiency might think Mercedes was cutting quality corners. Truly, these are the lightest and least substantive feelings column stalks I’ve ever tested in any car. That the one on the right-side is needed for putting the transmission in drive, neutral, reverse or park makes its minimalist approach even more obvious, which is why I believe the lightweight design was about reducing mass. Even the paddle shifters feel meatier in the fingers, and then when looking around the cabin at all the ritzy aluminum detailing makes it pretty obvious there was something else at play when deciding to make its column stalks so delicate.

2020 Mercedes-Benz A 220 4Matic
Nothing in this class is as dramatically styled as the A-Class interior.

Even before touching the stalks, I was surprised at how thin the plastic was on the lower door panels, thinking at the time it must be due to weight savings as well. Their construction is excellent, and the detail that went into making them lightweight yet still strong impressive, but they don’t exactly exude a feel of premium quality. Thankfully everything above the waist is top-tier luxury kit as noted earlier, but the hard-plastic centre console could be a bit disappointing for those stepping out some of those volume-branded models mentioned earlier, which cover such areas in padded soft composites.

Overhead is a lovely console with controls for the large glass sunroof, jewel-like LED dome and reading lights, plus more. I was a bit surprised to find only the A pillars were fabric wrapped, with the B and C pillars finished in a hard-shell composite, but again this is not too uncommon in this smallest class of luxury car. What matters is that all of the components fit together well, with the various lids and doors closing with a nice firm German solidity, except for the glove box lid that’s very lightweight as well.

2020 Mercedes-Benz A 220 4Matic
Mercedes’ new MBUX digital gauge and infotainment system is in a class of one.

The light grey and black two-tone leather-covered seats are wholly comfortable with excellent side bolstering and include manually-operated lower thigh extensions, a wonderful addition. My tester also used the light grey for the door inserts, making the cabin look decidedly upmarket. Like those up front, the rear outboard seats provide good comfort thanks to nicely sculpted backrests and fairly good room for legs and feet, not to mention headroom. With the front seat set up for my long-legged, short torso five-foot-eight frame, I still had about five inches ahead of my knees and plenty of room for my feet while wearing boots, plus ample space from side-to-side. About three inches remained above my head, so taller teens and adults (just above six-feet) should fit in just fine, while the rear headrests provide excellent support and are blissfully soft as well. The folding centre armrest was slightly low for my height, but would no doubt be perfect for smaller adults or kids, and includes two pop-out cupholders that secure drinks nicely. Mercedes includes netted magazine holders behind each front seatback, plus individual vents can be found on the backside of the front console, and under that a pull-out compartment with a small bin for what-have-you as well as two USB-C charging ports. There were no rear seat heaters in this particular model, but a small panel over each side window includes LED reading lights and a tiny yet strong hook for hanging a jacket or shirt.

2020 Mercedes-Benz A 220 4Matic
The A 220’s centre stack is ideally laid out for easy use while driving.

The trunk is fairly large for a sedan of the A 220’s compact dimensions, and I love the fact that it can be expanded by a 40/20/40-split rear seatback that allows longer items such as skis to be laid down the middle while rear passengers enjoy the window seats. This is super helpful in a small car like this, because the rear centre position is a bit small compared to what you’d find in a larger car, so you want to save it for storage rather than force one of your rear passengers into the middle. Mercedes provides trunk-mounted levers for folding those seats down, while the finishing is very nice inside.

2020 Mercedes-Benz A 220 4Matic
Four driving modes come standard.

Along with all the niceties mentioned, the 2020 A 220 is packed full of standard goodies like LED headlamps, 17-inch alloy wheels, brushed or pinstriped aluminum interior trim, pushbutton ignition, MBUX infotainment including a 7.0-inch digital gauge cluster and 7.0-inch infotainment display, six-speaker audio with nice deep resonant bass plus good highs and mids, a powered driver’s seat with memory, heatable front seats, a large panoramic sunroof, forward collision warning with autonomous emergency braking, and much more.

Just to be clear, my tester also included $890 Mountain Grey Metallic paint; $500 worth of 18-inch twinned five-spoke alloys; a $3000 Premium package that adds proximity entry, power folding mirrors, larger 10.25-inch digital instrument cluster and centre displays with Android Auto and Apple CarPlay smartphone integration, voice control, wireless charging, auto dimming rearview and driver’s side mirrors, ambient lighting, a foot-activated trunk release, vehicle exit warning, and Blind Spot assist; a $1,600 Technology package adding multibeam LED headlights with Adaptive Highbeam Assist and Active Distance Assist; and a $1,000 Navigation package with a navigation system, live traffic, Mercedes’ Navigation Services, the augmented reality feature mentioned earlier, a Connectivity package, and Traffic Sign Assist.

2020 Mercedes-Benz A 220 4Matic
Mercedes offers four ways to connect to its new MBUX infotainment system, this trackpad being amongst the best in the biz.

The extras continued with a $1,900 Intelligent Drive package (new for 2020) featuring Active Brake Assist with Cross-Traffic Function, Active Emergency Stop Assist, Evasive Steering Assist, Enhanced Stop-and-Go, Active Lane Change Assist, Pre-Safe Plus, Map-Based Speed Adaptation (that uses navigation system info to modulate the car’s speed based on upcoming road conditions before even being visible to the driver), Active Lane Keeping Assist, an Advanced Driving Assistance package, Active Blind Spot Assist, Active Distance Assist Distronic, Active Steering Assist, Pre-Safe, and Active Speed Limit Assist; $900 Active Parking Assist; satellite radio for $475; and black open-pore wood trim for $250 (walnut is available for the same price); all of which added $10,515 to the 2020 A 220’s aforementioned $37,300 base price, making for a pretty ritzy little Mercedes for just $47,815 plus freight and fees.

2020 Mercedes-Benz A 220 4Matic
The A 220’s driver’s seat is superbly crafted, wholly comfortable and seriously supportive.

Believe it or not it was missing a fair bit of extra kit like the $1,500 Sport package or $2,000 Night package, available $500 19-inch alloy wheels, $250 heatable Nappa leather steering wheel, $1,500 head-up display, $650 surround parking camera, $700 12-speaker, 450-watt Burmester surround audio upgrade, $300 universal garage door opener, $450 powered front passenger’s seat with memory, and $1,200 ventilated front seats (this last feature new for 2020).

As good as the A 220’s exterior styling, interior design, execution and feature set is, its Mercedes heritage shines through even more when out on the road. Performance off the line is strong and gets even stronger in Sport mode, where shifts from its seven-speed dual-clutch automated gearbox are quick and precise, and strength from the engine is plenty enjoyable despite only offering up 188 horsepower and 221 lb-ft of torque. The 4Matic in the name means all-wheel drive is standard as noted earlier, so therefore all four of my tester’s 225/45R18 Michelins were able to bite into the tarmac simultaneously for very quick immediate response, while it held to the road wonderfully at speed, even in wet weather.

2020 Mercedes-Benz A 220 4Matic
This large panoramic sunroof comes standard.

The standard paddle shifters enhance the A 220’s performance edge when pushed hard in Sport mode, but they can also be for short shifting to save fuel. I selected Eco mode for that, where shifts are smooth and relaxed, resulting in a favourable fuel economy rating of 9.6 L/100km in the city, 7.1 on the highway or 8.5 combined. By the way, last year’s front-wheel drive model didn’t save that much more fuel with a claimed rating of 9.7 city, 6.8 highway and 8.4 combined, so the move to standard AWD hardly hurts anyone’s ongoing fuel budget.

2020 Mercedes-Benz A 220 4Matic
Rear seat roominess is excellent for this class, and refinement in back is just like up front.

Traveling slower with an eye on saving fuel is when I really appreciated the A 220’s comfortable ride, although keep in mind it’s set up with traditional German tautness, so it’s firmer than what you might find in most Japanese luxury cars, but the majority of premium buyers should find it plush enough. So driven, the A 220’s overall quietness adds its luxurious ambiance, making it the ideal compact for hushing inner-city noise and limiting buffeting wind on the highway.

If my personal money were on the line in this class, I’d choose the A 220 over its four-door subcompact luxury peers, as it delivers high marks in every way. It’s fabulous looking both outside and within, provides good tactile quality for the category, is packed full of all the features I want, is really enjoyable to drive no matter the situation, and is wholly practical as far as four-door sedans go.

2020 Mercedes-Benz A 220 4Matic
The A 220’s sizeable trunk provides a centre pass-through for optimal passenger/cargo flexibility.

Notably, I haven’t driven BMW’s new 2 Series sedan entry yet, but its four-door coupe profile won’t likely provide the same level of rear seat roominess as the A 220, and the only other two subcompact luxury competitors are Audi’s A3, that’s been with us for over seven years with only a minor facelift, and Acura’s ILX, that’s just as old, albeit with a more dramatic refresh just last year, but the Japanese entry is really a previous-generation Honda Civic with an upgraded powertrain under the heavily modified skin.

No matter which car I decided upon, however, I’d first check for any manufacturer rebates, financing and leasing deals, or other incentives at CarCostCanada, where you can also find out about detailed pricing, build your vehicle, and even access otherwise hard to get dealer invoice pricing that could save you thousands. At the time of writing the 2020 Mercedes-Benz A 220 was available with up to $750 in additional incentives, whereas any 2019 models still available could be had for up to $2,000 in incentives. Make sure to visit CarCostCanada to learn more, plus download the new CarCostCanada Mobile App at Google’s Android Play Store or Apple’s App Store so you can access this valuable information while at the dealership, where you’ll need it most.

Story and photo credits: Trevor Hofmann

Photo Editing: Karen Tuggay

Honestly, other than being rare compared to Honda Civics, Toyota Corollas, Hyundai Elantras and Mazda3s, and therefore something different to take notice of, the new Jetta never really caused me to do…

2019 Volkswagen Jetta GLI 35th Edition Road Test

2019 Volkswagen Jetta GLI 35th Edition
The Jetta GLI 35th Edition, exclusive to the 2019 model year, is one sharp looking sport sedan.

Honestly, other than being rare compared to Honda Civics, Toyota Corollas, Hyundai Elantras and Mazda3s, and therefore something different to take notice of, the new Jetta never really caused me to do a double take. It’s attractive in an inoffensive way, the new grille a bit more daring than the previous model’s horizontal slats, but compared to the initial artist’s renderings that came out ahead of the real deal in 2017, and photos that followed, it comes across a bit watered down in the metal. The new Jetta GLI, however, is a different story. In fact, I find this car quite attractive, and I’m willing to guess it might even pull eyeballs toward less expensive trims.

2019 Volkswagen Jetta GLI 35th Edition
GLI styling truly improves the conservatively styled Jetta’s overall look.

As with all GLI models thus far, the Jetta’s chrome exterior detailing has been blacked out and splashes of red added across the grille and uniquely around the outer edges of the wheels that frame big red brake calipers, plus of course the discreet GLI badges front and back, while now it now gets a set of thin, blade-like garnishes on each front fender that also feature a “35” designation as part of this 35th anniversary edition. Those otherwise grey-painted twinned-five-spoke 18-inch wheels were shod in 225/45 Hankook Kinergy GT all-season tires, not the even sportier 19s found on a Golf R, but they were still sticky enough when pushed hard.

2019 Volkswagen Jetta GLI 35th Edition
LED headlamps are standard on all GLI trims.

Before delving into performance, other notable GLI trim pieces include a strip of glossy black edging along the top portion of the grille, plus more shiny black detailing around the lower fascia’s corner vent bezels, overtop the mirror caps, on the front portion of the roof as well as the rear third section, connecting the larger sunroof panel in the middle so it all looked like one clean sheet of dark glass, and lastly for the tastefully discreet rear deck lid spoiler. It’s a really attractive car from front to back, and more importantly for me, the type of compact sport model that a mature driver doesn’t feel out of place driving.

2019 Volkswagen Jetta GLI 35th Edition
All the red GLI details are the stuff of sport compact legend.

Inside, nicely bolstered, inherently comfortable perforated leather seats with red stitching and nicely patterned inserts simultaneously look sporty and luxurious, and therefore exactly what Volkswagen fans should expect, while the steering wheel is performance perfection. It features a slightly flat bottom and ideally shaped thumb spats, plus red baseball-style stitching around the inside of the leather-wrapped rim. Volkswagen continues the car’s red performance theme with more red thread on the leather shifter boot, the centre armrest, the “GLI” portion of the “GLI 35” seat tags, plus the same logo on the embroidered floor mats and stainless steel treadplates.

2019 Volkswagen Jetta GLI 35th Edition
The GLI 35 Edition’s 18-inch alloys are particularly handsome.

Of course, there’s plenty of satin-silver aluminum around the cabin too, the aforementioned steering wheel featuring more than its share, foot pedals aside, plus plenty on the centre stack and lower console as well. Some faux carbon-fibre trim and inky piano black surfacing adorns the dash and upper door panels, the former completely soft to the touch thanks to a premium-level rubberized composite along the entire top and ahead of the front passenger, with the latter finished similarly to the front door uppers, as are the door inserts and armrests.

2019 Volkswagen Jetta GLI 35th Edition
These front fender garnishes really spiff up the GLI 35’s exterior design.

All of this sounds great, but I’m going to guess most eyes will be pulled more quickly towards the fully digital gauge cluster, which boasts an Audi-like Virtual Cockpit design dubbed Digital Cockpit in VW-speak. Like in the pricier German brand’s cars, the GLI’s Digital Cockpit features a “VIEW” button on the steering wheel that turns the gauge package into a multi-function display, even capable of placing the centre-mounted infotainment system’s navigation map directly in front of the driver where it’s most needed. It can do the same with most functions, making it one of the most impressive electronic features available in the mainstream volume-branded sector.

2019 Volkswagen Jetta GLI 35th Edition
The roof looks all glass, but it’s painted gloss-black front and back.

The just-noted centre display is a large eight-inch touchscreen featuring premium-like high-definition resolution, plus brilliant graphics with rich colours and contrasts, and like the gauge cluster it comes loaded with functions like tablet-style tap, pinch and swipe features, Android Auto, Apple CarPlay, and Mirror Link for integrating your smartphone, audio, navigation, app, driving mode and fuel-saving eco interfaces, plus a performance driving component with a lap timer and more.

2019 Volkswagen Jetta GLI 35th Edition
Sharp looking LED taillights complete the rear design.

I was surprised, however, that active guidelines weren’t included as part of the rear parking monitor, especially in this top-tier trim, and my tester even included the $995 ($1,005 for 2020) optional Advanced Driver Assistive Systems (ADAS) package featuring a multi-function camera with a distance sensor. This bundle also includes Light Assist automatic high beam control, adaptive cruise control with stop and go, Front Assist autonomous emergency braking, Side Assist blind spot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert, and the Lane Assist lane keeping system.

2019 Volkswagen Jetta GLI 35th Edition
Dual chrome-tipped exhaust bookend a black rear diffuser.

Just below is a three-dial dual-zone automatic climate control interface that looks good, is easy to use and functions well, plus along with three-way heatable front seats that can be controlled from this panel as well, are three-way ventilated cushions for making summer months more bearable. Just one powered and infotainment-connected USB-A port hangs above a rubber-based wireless device charger, which is big enough for the largest of smartphones, all of which tucks in behind the gearlever and its U-shaped collection of switches, including an electromechanical parking brake, buttons for turning off the traction control and auto stop/start system, plus a driving mode selector that lets you choose between Eco, Comfort, Normal, Sport and Custom settings.

2019 Volkswagen Jetta GLI 35th Edition
The Jetta GLI cabin is a mix of Mamma Mia and meh.

Just above, a sunglass holder sits in the overhead console, the latter also housing switchgear to open the large powered moonroof that includes an attractive opaque fabric sunscreen with an aluminum front section that looks especially upscale.

2019 Volkswagen Jetta GLI 35th Edition
The cockpit is the GLI interior’s best asset.

This said the GLI, which at $32,445 for the manual-shift model or $33,845 for this DSG-equipped version, doesn’t exactly come cheap, so much is expected as far as fit, finish, materials quality and general refinement goes, but if you were to spend some time in any Golf GTI, for instance, and then decide you needed a trunk instead of a hatch to mitigate security risks, per se, you just might be disappointed. To be clear, the entry-level Golf GTI starts at $30,845, which is $850 less than the $31,695 base Jetta GLI, but the Mexican-built hatch pulls the fabric-wrapped A pillars already standard in less expensive Golfs up to the sportier variant, unlike the any Jetta, which are built alongside the Golf at VW’s Puebla, Mexico assembly plant as well, while all the plastic below the waist, and some of the chest-height surfaces are pretty basic hard composites.

2019 Volkswagen Jetta GLI 35th Edition
Much like with Audi, the GLI’s digital gauge cluster allows the multi-info display to take over the entire screen.

Yes, I know the Jetta is a compact model, but now that competitors from Japan and Korea are delivering much higher materials quality, particularly top-line versions of the new Mazda3, Toyota Corolla and even Kia’s Forte that I drove just before this GLI, and factoring in that VW used to offer the most premium-like cabins in the mainstream volume-branded sector, this Jetta GLI was a bit of letdown. The new Forte comes in a sporty GT trim now, by the way, which competes directly with this GLI, yet unlike its rival from VW, the Kia’s inside rear door panels are finished with the same high-quality soft-touch detailing as those up front, while the German brand didn’t even bother including a padded insert at all, and instead formed its door panel solely from hard plastic, making its rear compartment one of the least appealing to look at or touch in this class or any.

2019 Volkswagen Jetta GLI 35th Edition
The 8-inch infotainment touchscreen includes some performance apps.

Heatable outboard seats were a nice feature, but the interface surrounding the buttons used to turn them on was as low-rent as you’re likely to see in this segment. The seats themselves were nice, thanks to the same red-stitched perforated leather as those up front, and nicely carved out bucket-style outer positions that should hold rear passengers in place during spirited driving. A fairly large flip-down rear armrest gets a pair of cupholders integrated within (or is that a trio?), but unlike previous Jettas there’s no centre pass-through for stowing skis or other long cargo. Instead, when needing to expand on the dedicated cargo area’s already generous 510 litres, the 60/40 split-folding rear seatbacks will force one of the rear passengers into the less comfortable centre position. This is mostly par for the course in this class, however, it’s just that VW stood out before, and still does when opting for a Golf.

2019 Volkswagen Jetta GLI 35th Edition
The dual-zone auto HVAC interface is VW’s usual good design.

Volkswagen more than makes up for such shortcomings with the GLI’s on-road experience, however, this sport sedan being one of, if not the most engaging entry within its mainstream volume compact four-door segment. The 228 horsepower 2.0-litre turbo-four puts out plenty of torque at 258 lb-ft (up 18 hp and 51 lb-ft of torque over its predecessor), resulting in some difficulty keeping the front wheels from spinning during spirited takeoff (if it was only available, VW’s 4Motion all-wheel drive would help in this respect), while the new seven-speed dual-clutch automated gearbox feels even quicker through the paddle-actuated gears than the old six-speed DSG, albeit with the added benefit of a taller final gear for improved fuel economy (9.3 L/100km city, 7.2 highway and 8.4 combined for the as-tested auto or 9.6, 7.3 and 8.5 respectively for the manual) and (theoretically) a higher top speed.

2019 Volkswagen Jetta GLI 35th Edition
Now that’s one massive phone charging pad.

Ripping off zero to 100km/h in 5.8 seconds it’s one quick Jetta, while Sport mode really adds to the experience. It’s nothing like the Golf R or equivalent super sport compacts such as Subie’s WRX STI or (RIP) Mitsu’s EVO, but it respectably puts otherwise sporty alternatives like Mazda’s 3 GT to shame in a straight line, and even makes the once-mighty Civic Si seem as if it’s dawdling off the line. Wheel slip during takeoff aside, the Jetta GLI proved unflappable through high-speed corners, even when broken tarmac threatened to upset the rear end, but thanks to a fully independent suspension with a multilink setup in the rear, a move up from the regular Jetta’s comparatively remedial torsion-beam rear suspension. Instead, the inside rear suspension absorbed the jarring pothole and ensuing thump with ease, allowing the tire’s sizeable contact patch to maintain full traction and hook up as I exited the corner. Try that in a regular Jetta and things might get very out of shape, not to mention the Mazda3 I noter earlier (although I must say the Japanese compact manages such situations surprisingly well and combines AWD with its own G-Vectoring Plus to make up for some of its torsion-beam shortcomings).

2019 Volkswagen Jetta GLI 35th Edition
The new 7-speed DSG is superbly quick shifting and very smooth.

This said, back more pedestrian speeds (or rather while stopped during parking manoeuvres), I experienced something that’s never happened to me before. When I came to a stop to park the auto start/stop system automatically cut off the engine, which is not unusual in itself, but when I quickly decided to reverse so as not to be park too close to the car in front of me the engine wouldn’t restart when in reverse. I had to shift it back into “P” and then dab the throttle in order to reignite the engine, at which point I could shift back into reverse to back up. Very strange. It worked perfectly through the rest of the week, mind you, as did the entire car.

2019 Volkswagen Jetta GLI 35th Edition
The GLI 35’s comfortable leather-clad seats are wonderfully supportive.

The aforementioned $32,445 (manual) and $33,845 (DSG) base prices meant the 2019 GLI 35 is nicely equipped, with features not yet mentioned including fog lights, LED headlamps, proximity-sensing access with pushbutton ignition, rain-sensing wipers, an auto-dimming rearview mirror, a formidable eight-speaker BeatsAudio system with a sub, a powered driver’s seat with two-way power lumbar and three-position memory, plus more. This feature set and all previously noted equipment remains intact for 2020, by the way, so therefore those that find a new 2019 are basically buying the same car for less.

2019 Volkswagen Jetta GLI 35th Edition
The rear seats are great and outboard seat heaters nice, but the cheap hard plastic door panels don’t measure up.

This in mind, take note that VW Canada is offering up to $3,000 in additional incentives on 2019 models that were still available at the time of writing, while the new 2020 GLI, which as just-noted is unchanged other than for the loss of this 35th Edition (for obvious reasons), can be had with up to $1,000 in additional incentives, although average CarCostCanada (where the following information was found) member savings were $2,500 for the 2020. Check out CarCostCanada’s 2020 and 2019 Volkswagen Jetta Canada Prices pages to learn about available manufacturer rebates, leasing and financing specials, and dealer invoice pricing that could save you even more, plus make sure download the free CarCostCanada app from the Google Play Store and Apple iTunes store.

2019 Volkswagen Jetta GLI 35th Edition
The trunk is generously proportioned at 510 litres.

Although the latest Jetta doesn’t exactly light my fire in lesser trims, this new Jetta GLI is a step ahead in many respects, particularly when it comes to styling, straight-line performance and interior electronics. I’d like to see VW improve some of the materials used inside for a more refined cabin, but this probably won’t bother you too much while driving anyway, unless you’re trying to impress someone riding in back. Then again, at least your father-in-law will appreciate the comfort of the GLI’s independent rear suspension, excellent seats and decent legroom while he’s complaining about all the cheap plastic.

Story and photo credits: Trevor Hofmann

Photo Editing: Karen Tuggay

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

2019 Volvo V90 Cross Country T6 AWD Road Test

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Story and photo credits: Trevor Hofmann

Photo Editing: Karen Tuggay

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

2019 Mazda CX-3 GT Road Test

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Story and photo credits: Trevor Hofmann

Photo Editing: Karen Tuggay

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

2020 Mercedes-AMG C 43 4Matic Wagon Road Test

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Story and photo credits: Trevor Hofmann

Photo Editing: Karen Tuggay

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

2019 Volkswagen Golf Alltrack Execline Road Test

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photos by Trevor Hofmann