This is one badass truck. Chevy got the proportions perfect, and along with the Colorado ZR2’s rugged looking styling and beefed up suspension, the General’s most popular brand has created one hell…

2019 Chevrolet Colorado ZR2 Road Test

2019 Chevrolet Colorado ZR2
Great looking Chevrolet Colorado ZR2 is even more intimidating when covered in mud. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

This is one badass truck. Chevy got the proportions perfect, and along with the Colorado ZR2’s rugged looking styling and beefed up suspension, the General’s most popular brand has created one hell of an off-road race replica. 

Of course, the Colorado ZR2 wasn’t first to this category, and it won’t be the last. Depending on your viewpoint, the Dodge Power Wagon might have been the street-capable off-road race truck initiator, but modern-day enthusiasts will look to the 2010 Ford F-150 SVT Raptor as the segment-busting leader when it comes to OEM custom 4x4s. Not only did it set new standards from assembly line to off-road capability, but the blue-oval development team behind it almost completely changed up the model’s styling so that it came across like a totally separate model. 

2019 Chevrolet Colorado ZR2
The ZR2, just before it get bathed in hood-high brown water and mud galore. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

For reasons only Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA) can answer, Dodge no longer makes trucks, but the newish spinoff Ram brand answered back with its 2016 to present 1500 Rebel, which is a more aggressively styled take on previous Power Wagons, while Toyota has more recently anted up with its Tundra and Tacoma TRD Pro models, the latter even featuring an ultra-cool snorkel-like air intake that makes it look as if it can literally swim its way across rivers, through mud holes, or any other type of deep, liquid deterrent. I’d be remiss not to draw attention to the new 2020 Jeep Gladiator too, which might be the most capable off-roader in the class (it’s certainly endowed with worthy heritage), while also delivering payload and trailering capabilities that define it as a true pickup truck. 

2019 Chevrolet Colorado ZR2
The ZR2 manages pavement well too. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

Other honourable mentions include Chevy’s redesigned Silverado that now comes with a Trail Boss package featuring a two-inch lift kit. It delivers a bit more capability than GMC Sierra Elevation trim, but it’s mostly a cosmetic exercise as there’s not much else to overcome rocks, stumps, bogs and other off-road impediments, while Nissan offers its geriatric Frontier and fresher Titan models in tougher Pro-4X trims, plus Honda antes up with the Ridgeline Black Edition… ah, yah, whatever. 

Only the Gladiator Rubicon and Tacoma TRD Pro appear as dedicated to storming the wild frontier as the Raptor, or for that matter this ZR2 (the GMC Canyon doesn’t provide anything to go head-to-head with the ZR2), the Chevy even more so with its special Bison upgrade package, but all deserve mention (including the Asian-market 2018 to present Ford Ranger Raptor that’s become very popular amongst well-heeled 4×4 fans across the Pacific). 

2019 Chevrolet Colorado ZR2
Say hello to the turbo-diesel powered ZR2. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

Of course, the one big differentiator between all trucks mentioned is size, the Raptor, Rebel (plus the Power Wagon), Tundra and Silverado/Sierra being full-size trucks, while the Tacoma, Ranger, Frontier and this Colorado (plus the Canyon) are compact, or more accurately, mid-size pickups. Another significant difference is powertrains, and being that this review is for a mid-size entrant I’ll focus on its key competitors, with most rivals sporting four-cylinder and (when suited up to compete off-road) V6 gasoline-powered mills and the two GM mid-size trucks doing likewise, plus adding a high-torque, fuel-efficient turbo-diesel variant. 

2019 Chevrolet Colorado ZR2
It looks great from all angles. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

Let’s take a look at the ZR2’s available powerplants and how they measure up against its two most credible rivals, the Jeep Gladiator and Toyota Tacoma TRD Pro, and after that take a look at some features that make the ZR2 and its competitors more capable off the beaten path. First off, I tested the ZR2 with both engines, starting with the Deepwood Green Metallic painted version (it looks grey) that’s actually a 2018 (I’ll comment on the differences later in this review). This optional colour was discontinued for 2019, but the brilliant 2.8-litre Duramax turbo-diesel four-cylinder behind its blackened grille wasn’t. It’s good for 181 horsepower and a best-in-class 369 lb-ft of torque from just 2,000 rpm, and comes mated to a capable and robust six-speed automatic gearbox. 

2019 Chevrolet Colorado ZR2
And all colours… (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

Fuel economy is rated at 12.5 L/100km in the city, 10.7 on the highway and 11.7 combined, which is impressive for the class, but maybe not thrifty enough to justify its hefty $4,090 upgrade charge, unless you happen to put a lot of distance between trade-ins, or require the diesel’s much improved efficiency to travel deeper into the woods than gasoline-powered truck owners dare tread, or its tractor-like torque for said wilderness treks. 

Between the front wheel wells of the $495 optional Kinetic Blue Metallic painted 2019 ZR2 is the standard 3.6-litre V6 that’s good for a sizeable 308 horsepower and 275 lb-ft of torque, the latter from 4,000 rpm. Like with the Duramax turbo-diesel, the V6 drives the rear axle or both via part-time four-wheel drive, although the standard transmission is an efficient eight-speed automatic. The combination results in a claimed 15.0 L/100km city, 13.0 highway and 14.1 combined fuel economy rating, thanks in part to cylinder deactivation under light loads, but of course this pales in comparison to the oil burner. 

2019 Chevrolet Colorado ZR2
The ZR2 gets a blackened grill for a sportier look. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

By comparison the Gladiator solely uses FCA’s ubiquitous 3.6-litre V6 making 285 horsepower and 260 lb-ft of torque, which is down by a significant 23-hp and 15 lb-ft of torque when pitted against the ZR2’s base engine, while it pushes that power through a six-speed manual (there’s no manual offered with the ZR2) or an eight-speed auto, plus part-time 4WD, and is rated between 10.4 and 14.1 L/100km city/highway combined depending on trims; whereas the Tacoma TRD Pro comes standard with Toyota’s well-seasoned 3.5-litre V6 capable of 276 hp and 265 lb-ft of torque, which is 32 hp and 10 lb-ft less capable than the ZR2’s V6. It comes mated to a six-speed manual or a six-speed auto plus part-time 4WD, and achieves a city/highway combined fuel economy rating that ranges between 11.9 and 12.9 L/100km depending on transmissions and cab configurations. 

2019 Chevrolet Colorado ZR2
A black power dome adds more aggression to the ZR2’s hood. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

Of course, all V6 engines outpace the Duramax turbo-diesel’s 181 horsepower by a considerable margin, which is immediately noticeable on the road when testing Colorado models back-to-back, but its 109, 104 and 94 lb-ft torque advantage over the Gladiator, Tacoma and Chevy’s own ZR2 V6 respectively, makes the diesel optimal off-road, and of course its 11.7 combined fuel-efficiency advantage can only be beaten by one Gladiator trim (and I’d be surprised to see the FCA V6 win in a real-world comparo). 

There are other important factors that come into play when off-roading, ground clearance, front and rear overhangs, and wheelbase being paramount. The Tacoma offers up the shortest wheelbase at 3,236 mm (127.4 in), yet its 5,392 mm (212.3 in) overall length means that its overhangs are more exaggerated, which means it will be less prone to get hung up when going over an obstacle, but more likely to drag its front or rear bumper when climbing up or down a steep grade. The Colorado bridges the gap with a relatively short wheelbase at 3,258 mm (128.3 in), and the shortest overall length at 5,347 mm (210.5 in), while the Gladiator has a surprisingly long wheelbase at 3,487 mm (137.3 in) and stretches a full 5,537 mm (218.0 in) from nose to tail. 

2019 Chevrolet Colorado ZR2
The oil burner gets a “DURAMAX DIESEL” insignia along each side of its power dome. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

Full disclosure: of the three trucks covered in this review, I’ve only tested the ZR2 and an older 2017 Tacoma TRD Pro (it now includes the aforementioned snorkel and a few other upgrades). As also noted, I spent a week in a 2018 ZR2 with the Duramax Turbo-Diesel, and a week in a 2019 version with the V6, mostly on pavement in town and in suburban, rural areas, but also getting dirty in mud and muck with both, and deep into hood-high water most recently with the latter. I 4x4ed the Taco and it performed well, but considering how far back that was I’d rather spend time with an updated version before commenting. 

2019 Chevrolet Colorado ZR2
Abbreviated bumpers, fender flares and skid plates make for a purposeful looking 4×4. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

As for the Gladiator, which I hope to get into this summer, it boasts a disconnecting front sway bar (something first seen with the Ram Power Wagon and now also found in the Rebel), plus a Wrangler-sourced solid front axle that’s preferred over the ZR2’s (and most every other modern pickups’) independent front suspension by most 4×4 purists. Again, I’ll defer comment to a future test. 

Like the initial 2017 Colorado ZR2 and the grey-green 2018 turbo-diesel version shown in this review, the latest 2019 model gets a substantial boost in ride height and therefore ground clearance that’s up by 50 mm (2.0 inches), while any negatives to high-speed handling are offset by a 90-mm (3.5-inch) increase in front and rear track, new stiffer cast-iron lower front control arms, and special 8- by 17-inch alloy wheels cushioned by 31-inch Goodyear Duratrac off-road rubber. Additionally, a new 1.0-inch-diameter solid anti-roll bar replaces the usual 1.5-inch hollow one, which improves suspension articulation, while leaving the best for last are special Multimatic DSSV Position Sensitive Spool Valve Damping Performance shocks designed for cushioning the otherwise jarring impacts of rocks, roots and other obstacles you might find along an ungraded back road or trail (incidentally, the TRD Pro uses Fox-sourced shocks, which are also highly recommended). 

2019 Chevrolet Colorado ZR2
Here’s a closer look at the ZR2’s standard 17-inch alloys. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

Easier to see are skid plates below and tubular rocker extensions at each side, both designed to protect vulnerable components and bodywork, but the ZR2 is even more noticeable to passersby thanks to its all-business matte black grille and even beefier black hood dome that serve no purpose but looking good, rugged black bumpers that get chopped down a couple of notches to improve approach and departure angles, and more muscular black fender flares that make way for those just-noted meaty tires. 

2019 Chevrolet Colorado ZR2
Peek behind the wheels and you can see the bright yellow Multimatic shocks. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

I took both ZR2s to a local 4×4 playground I use often, only about five minutes from my home. It gave me good opportunity to test it out on some trails that are nowhere near as tough as this truck is, but still fairly intimidating without a spotting crew to guide me through. During the first mostly dry run I was able to hang the rear-mounted spare tire up on a couple of grassy knolls while exiting deep ruts, and also scaled some steep grades, bounced through some oscillating ruts and bumps that left tires hanging in midair, but more so proved that its suspension is firm enough for stability yet plenty absorbent for comfort. 

It was the rainy and muddy during the second mid-winter stint at the same location, which made for more fun, those steep grades now requiring me to lock both front and rear differentials (just like the Gladiator can, but alas not so with the Tacoma that only offers a rear locker) to scale with ease, no doubt helped by its grippy Goodyear Wrangler all-terrain rubber. A 50-foot puddle caught me a bit by surprise when the front end slipped into some deep ruts and the dirty water rushed over the hood and onto the windshield, my tired old heart racing for a moment as I kept a steady foot on the throttle, but the tires gripped and the ZR2 carried me confidently to the other side. The TRD Pro’s snorkel would’ve been comforting in such circumstances, but the ZR2 didn’t need it, at least this time around. 

2019 Chevrolet Colorado ZR2
Subtle decals denote the Colorado ZR2’s nomenclature. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

I’d like to try the ZR2 with the Bison package noted earlier, which only comes in Red Hot paint (I’d like it better if you could choose paint colours), gets a unique grille with “CHEVROLET” written across in block letters (not unlike the Raptor’s bold “FORD” emblazoned grille), special AEV (American Expedition Vehicles) front and rear bumpers (the one up front capable of accepting a winch), beefy black extended fender flares, unique 17-inch AEV alloy wheels, fog lamps, contoured front and rear floor liners, and about 90 kilos (200 lbs) of ultra-strong boron steel AEV skid plates (front, transfer case, fuel tank, and rear differential) to better protect its vitals, all for $6,980. 

2019 Chevrolet Colorado ZR2
The Colorado’s interior is roomy and comfortable. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

Still, the regular ZR2 is plenty capable all on its own, and quite impressive from a styling standpoint. I find the regular Colorado a bit tame looking compared to most rivals, particularly the new Gladiator and Tacoma, but the ZR2’s bulging domed matte black louvered hood, redesigned matte black front bumpers and rear bumpers, exposed skid plates, robust tubular rocker protectors, and other trim upgrades make it look a lot tougher. Peer behind the machine-finished 17-inch alloys with black-painted pockets and you can just see the yellow Multimatic shocks, unless they’re covered in mud. 

Unfortunately, no side steps help shorter than average folks like me climb up inside, and there aren’t any Corner Steps on the back bumper to aid access to the bed either, the only complaints I have, but it looks fabulous and these special bumpers serve the truck’s pure off-road purpose very well. 

2019 Chevrolet Colorado ZR2
The driver’s cockpit is nicely organized and finished to a higher level than you might expect. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

Once up in the comfortable albeit rudimentarily powered driver’s seat, enjoying a view allowed by especially good sightlines in every direction, the V6 is by far the engine to choose if fuel economy isn’t as important as accelerative performance. It jumps off the line and keeps up the pace right past legal highway speeds, whereas the diesel is just as motivated from standstill initially, yet doesn’t maintain the same level of enthusiasm as revs rise. That’s ok for diesel fans like me, because it feels like a work truck capably going about its business, and it pays dividends at the pump, as noted earlier, but those who want more of a sport truck will appreciate the V6. 

Fortunately the Colorado ZR2 handles just as well no matter the engine choice. Even with its jacked-up suspension, or possibly because of it, the ride is reasonably smooth and comfortable, unless going over curbs. Those slightly more rigid Multimatic shocks that work so well off-road help reduce body roll at higher speeds on pavement too, so therefore the ZR2 is surprisingly agile through twisting fast-paced corners, unless trying to go faster than anything so top-heavy and obviously 4×4-focused was designed to go. Braking is decent too, but once again don’t be silly. The ZR2 hits the scales at 1,987 kilos (4,381 lbs), and more when upgraded with the aforementioned Bison package, so keep this in consideration when judging stopping distances. 

2019 Chevrolet Colorado ZR2
The well organized gauge cluster is easy to read in any light. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

I only pushed it hard for testing purposes, and no matter what surfaces I drove over or speeds I attained, those comfortable seats noted earlier always adequately supported me. I especially appreciated the lateral support provided by large side bolsters, which stopped me sliding sideways on what could have otherwise been slippery leather upholstery. It was dyed in the usual black shade, by the way, but highlighted with a red embroidered “2” as part of the otherwise black “ZR2” insignia on the headrests. The ZR2 steering wheel gets no such name recognition, but it’s leather as well, and made of a particular soft and comfortable variety, with nice baseball-style stitching for enhancing grip. I’d call it more of a sport steering wheel than the usual truck type, as it could just as easily be found in a performance car despite featuring four spokes, and thanks to a standard tilt and telescoping steering column with excellent reach, the overall ZR2’s overall ergonomics are excellent. This means I was able to sit upright, comfortably, with the steering wheel perfectly positioned for my long-legged, short torso, five-foot-eight, slight-build body type, safely and comfortably with my hands at the optimal nine and three positions, further allowing excellent reach to the pedals and great visibility all around. 

2019 Chevrolet Colorado ZR2
Almost all Colorado trims get this 8.0-inch touchscreen for 2019, and it’s an especially good system. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

Likewise, the rear seat of this Crew Cab, short box (the ZR2 is also available in the Extended Cab, long box configuration) provides good roominess for adults (or kids) of all sizes. When the front seat was set up for my just noted body, I still had about five inches ahead of my knees and plenty of space for my feet, plus another three to four inches above my head, and five inches from my shoulders and hips to the door panel, plus I’d estimate there was still room enough for a smaller person in the middle. When three’s a crowd in back, you can pull down a wide, comfortable centre armrest filled with large cupholders that include rubber grips to fasten cups or bottles in place. Other nice features in the rear compartment include twin USB ports and a 12-volt device charger. 

2019 Chevrolet Colorado ZR2
The HD centre display includes a standard HD backup camera with active guidelines. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

If a need to keep your gear dry and safe from theft arises, the rear seat headrests flip forward and backrests fold flat so you can lay what-have-you on top, or alternatively you can lift the seat cushion upwards to expose a hidden compartment below, this including all the tools you might need for lowering the spare tire and then removing the flat before bolting on said spare. 

To be clear, seats and leatherette armrests aside, Chevy doesn’t include any fancy soft-touch surface treatments in back, but up front the dash top gets nice soft paint to help absorb some of the sound and make it more appealing to fingertips, as does the instrument panel. I should also point out this isn’t the fanciest version of Chevy’s Colorado, because it’s optimized for off-road, but it’s certainly good enough for this class of truck. Chevy has included some nice metallic trim around the centre stack and lower console, as well as the door handles and armrests. The inner door handles are chromed, as are the insides of some of the rotating knobs on the centre stack. 

2019 Chevrolet Colorado ZR2
This row of toggles includes the two switches for selecting front and rear differential locks. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

A highly legible primary gauge cluster is shielded well from sunlight and filled with the usual tachometer on the left and speedometer to the right. Fuel and temp meters fill the top centre position, while just below is a reasonably sized 4.2-inch high-resolution colour multi-information display that provides ample information for the class. You can control it via an arrow button pad on the right steering wheel spoke, which pulls up a bright menu of multicoloured functions including info, audio, phone, navigation, options, and more, while the navigation feature provides directions within the gauge cluster where they’re easier to see without removing eyes from the road as often, with the detailed mapping coming up on the large 8.0-inch infotainment touchscreen atop the centre stack (this larger display is now standard in all Colorado trims except for the base WT or Work Truck that still does pretty well with a new 7.0-inch touchscreen). 

2019 Chevrolet Colorado ZR2
Spacious, comfortable leather-clad seats come standard with the ZR2. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

That touchscreen comes standard with Chevy’s nicely laid-out, bright, and colourful HD menu display that appears inspired by Apple’s iPhone, which is a good thing, while it can be made to look even more iPad like by hooking up standard Apple CarPlay, or alternatively Android Auto that doesn’t look anywhere near was nice. At least Chevy gives you these smartphone connectivity alternatives, while it also features an audio system that’s easy to connect up to your phone via Bluetooth wireless streaming, plus you also have the option of satellite radio, and all the usual AM/FM/HD sources. 

I found the navigation system very accurate and associated mapping incredibly detailed and easy to figure out. My only problem were directions that told me when to turn, such as 50 metres or 150 metres from the point I was at, were a tad too small to see and only monochromatic, not colour. I would rather have them pop up larger on the screen in a more visible colour while saying something like “In 50 meters turn right”. The infotainment system also received text messages and provided some stock responses so that I could communicate that I was driving and would contact later. Other apps include OnStar, traffic info, even one for shopping, which I don’t recommend while driving. 

2019 Chevrolet Colorado ZR2
The rear seating compartment is accommodating. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

Along with navigation and an excellent HD backup camera with dynamic guidelines (albeit not one as 4×4-friendly as the Gladiator’s, which sports front and rear trail cams that can even be cleaned via the touchscreen), plus some of the other features already mentioned, this truck comes with a device charging pad positioned just ahead of the centre armrest (standard with Z71 trim and above), plus a USB port inside the armrest if your phone needs a wire. Chevy provides two more USB ports (one for the new USB C-type charger) as well as an aux port and an available SD card reader within another storage bin just under the centre stack, so you and your devices should be well taken care of. Lastly, the Colorado gets a second microphone mounted closer to the front passenger to improve Bluetooth hands-free voice quality, while I personally really appreciated the ZR2’s heatable steering wheel rim during some cold mornings, this now standard on all trims above the LT. 

2019 Chevrolet Colorado ZR2
Lowering the seatbacks creates a flat loading surface for your gear. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

On that note, standard ZR2 features include GM’s excellent heatable front seats, which not only warm the lower cushion and backrest, but can be set to only heat the latter, which works well for those of us with lower back problems that just want a little temporary relief. On that note, this truck gets single-zone auto HVAC, not the usual dual-zone setup offered by the top-line Tacoma and Gladiator. I think most can live with that shortcoming, while this particular model also doesn’t include pushbutton start or proximity-sensing access. It didn’t have a sunroof either, which might be a bone of contention for those choosing the Jeep for its removable roof, but I couldn’t care less as it’s not something I normally use. The only kind of sunroof I really like are the big panoramic ones anyway, so I say if you’re not going to go all the way, don’t bother at all. I like the padded sunglasses holder in the overhead console, and the reading lights are fine, but take note they’re not LEDs. On the positive, the rearview mirror is an auto-dimming unit, and along with OnStar it features a button for voice activation as well as an SOS telematics button that lets you call for help if needed. 

2019 Chevrolet Colorado ZR2
Lifting up the lower rear seat squab reveals a handy stowage area. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

A row of toggles can be found on the centre stack, including stability control off, a bed light, hill descent control, an exhaust brake that’s helpful when trailering, a hazard light, and finally two individual switches for the separate front and rear differential locks mentioned earlier. 

Having just mentioned trailering, the ZR2’s towing capacity is rated at 2,268 kilos (5,000 lbs) no matter the engine, while its payload is 500 kilograms (1,100 lbs) with the four-door short-bed or 528 kg (1,164 lbs) with the extended-cab long-bed, while the Taco TRD Pro is good for a 2,900-kg (6,400-lb) tow rating and a payload of 454 kg (1,000 lbs), and the Gladiator in its most ZR2-fighting Rubicon trim can tow up to 2,040 kg (4,500 lbs) and manage of payload of up to 544 kg (1,200 lbs) with the manual, or tow 3,175 kg (7,000 lbs) of trailer and carry 526 kg (1,160 lbs) on its back with the auto. 

2019 Chevrolet Colorado ZR2
Nicely finished bed provides plenty of hauling capability, but there are no steps to get inside. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

I won’t bore you with all the ZR2’s comfort and convenience features, which are readily available on Chevy’s retail website or at CarCostCanada where I sourced all the 2019 Colorado’s pricing information including trims, packages and standalone options, not to mention money-saving rebate info and dealer invoice pricing, but suffice to say it’s very well equipped from just $46,100 for the Extra Cab or $47,600 for the Crew Cab, plus freight and fees of course. 

So which Colorado ZR2 powertrain would I rather have? Being that I keep my vehicles for longer than average, I’d likely opt for the Duramax turbo-diesel, as the extra initial expense would more than likely be recouped by lower running costs over time. I’d also be tempted to spend more for the optional Bison package, because the key reason for stepping up to this truck is its 4×4 prowess, so further protecting vital components underneath only makes sense. I’d also spring for an aftermarket snorkel, if only because it looks so good. Other than that, this Colorado ZR2 is the Raptor for mid-size truck buyers, at least until Ford brings its Ranger Raptor to North American markets.

Back in January of 2014 at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit while introducing the FT-1 (Future Toyota) concept, which was the styling inspiration behind the new Supra sports car,…

2019 Toyota C-HR Limited Road Test

2019 Toyota C-HR Limited
The new C-HR certainly lives up to Toyota president Akio Toyoda’s new credo of “no boring cars.” (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Back in January of 2014 at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit while introducing the FT-1 (Future Toyota) concept, which was the styling inspiration behind the new Supra sports car, Toyota president Akio Toyoda issued a companywide decree for, “no more boring cars,” and the C-HR before you is now a good example of what he was requesting, at least when it comes to design. So what do you think? Does it have Toyoda-san’s desire for “style that stirs peoples’ emotions and makes them say ‘I want to drive this’?” 

The 63-year-old grandson of Toyota group’s founder, Kiichiro Toyoda, likely approves as he was in charge when the C-HR was initially being drawn up, signed off on those designs, and gave the go-ahead for the production model before you, and remains in charge of the corporation today, so therefore reaps the rewards for a job well done, or alternatively pays any penalties for missing the mark. 

2019 Toyota C-HR Limited
Here it is from a more aggressive angle, showing off its aggressive front detailing and this Limited model’s sporty alloy wheels. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

I’ll reserve comment on CH-R styling, first because my opinion is irrelevant, you’re the buyer after all, so only you should be deciding what appeals to your eyes, and secondly because I’ve already admitted to liking Nissan’s Juke, which is about as polarizing a design as any to ever grace Canadian roads. In other words, my taste isn’t your taste, so feel free to like what you like, and choose not to buy what you don’t. 

What matters more is Toyota finally filling the subcompact SUV segment with some sort of entry, and I give them kudos for bravery, being that most having already succeeded here did so by leaning toward practicality over originality. That Toyota showed up with a sportier looking, smaller than average entry, and therefore putting styling ahead of practicality, was certainly a surprise. 

2019 Toyota C-HR Limited
There’s nothing subtle about the new C-HR, which will either work for you or not. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

A quick look at the segment sales leaders clearly shows that passenger/cargo roominess and flexibility is king, with models like the Honda HR-V, Kia Soul, and Subaru Crosstrek dominating up until last year, and newcomers like the Nissan Qashqai and Hyundai Kona finding even stronger sales more recently due to their pragmatic approach and more. It’s as if the new C-HR picked up where the now discontinued Nissan Juke left off (that latter SUV replaced by the new Kicks, which is selling well), albeit without the top-line Juke’s impressive performance. Performance may also be a key ingredient for the Mazda CX-3’s formidable Canadian sales, plus arguably attractive styling. 

The C-HR is now in its second model year after arriving on the scene in May of 2017, and is quite a nice subcompact SUV. My tester was outfitted in new Limited trim, which reaches to a higher level than last year’s XLE that I previously tested and reviewed, and I must say it combines mostly comfortable operation with the majority of its peers’ high-level features, reasonably strong performance, and excellent fuel economy. 

2019 Toyota C-HR Limited
LED headlights are standard. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Interior refinement is a C-HR strongpoint, but I wouldn’t go so far as to say it overachieves when compared to longstanding competitors like the aforementioned CX-3 in its top-line GT trim, which is really spectacular, even when using this Limited model as Toyota’s standard-bearer. Top of the goodies list is a padded and stitched leatherette dash-top, which includes a large bolster that spans from the right side of the instrument panel to the passenger’s door, while a similar albeit smaller padded piece gets fitted to the left side of the gauge cluster. The door uppers receive the same high-quality soft touch composite surfacing, while the armrests are even softer and more comfortable. 

2019 Toyota C-HR Limited
The C-HR’s details are really nice when viewed up close and personal. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

If piano black lacquered plastic is your thing, you’ll be overjoyed with all of the shiny, inky stuff found in this tiny Toyota SUV. I personally would like to see less, and not because of its addition to interior styling, but rather that it tends to attract dust like a magnet and scratch all too easily. Better, the door inserts and lower panels are finished in a diamond-textured hard plastic that’s like nothing else I’ve ever seen in the car industry, looking good and appearing durable. More importantly it doesn’t feel cheap like this segment’s usual glossy hard plastic, plus the tiny diamonds complement the even more unusual assortment of diamond-shaped dimples carved into the roofliner above. 

2019 Toyota C-HR Limited
These hidden rear door handles provide an unusual way to get inside. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Before delving into any additional C-HR interior styling and quality issues, I should point out this 2019 C-HR received some significant upgrades that should help it find more buyers than last year’s model, starting with a new base LE trim level that chops over a $1,000 from the 2018 C-HR’s base price. Still, $23,675 is hardly as affordable as some of the sales leaders mentioned earlier, the Qashqai now starting at just $20,198 (only $200 more than last year despite getting loads of new features), and the new Nissan Kicks arriving as the category’s best bargain at just $17,998. This said its list of standard features is generous to say the least, so keep reading if you want some more detail about that. 

Another factor going against the C-HR’s success is the much larger and more accommodating Nissan Rogue costing a mere $3k and change more, while the all-new 2019 RAV4 starts at just $27,790 (find new vehicle pricing for all makes and models including the C-HR and RAV4 at CarCostCanada, with detailed info on trims, packages and options, plus otherwise hard to get rebate info and dealer invoice pricing that could save you thousands). 

2019 Toyota C-HR Limited
The C-HR’s interior is quite upscale, especially in Limited trim. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

On the positive, the base C-HR LE includes Toyota’s new Entune 3.0 infotainment system that I happen to love. This includes a larger 8.0-inch touchscreen and supports Apple CarPlay smartphone integration (if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em), and Toyota’s excellent in-house smartphone integration app. I like the Entune phone app much more than Android Auto, both when using it on my Samsung S9 and within the car’s interface. Better yet, the big new display now incorporates the C-HR’s backup camera for a much clearer and safer rear view, which previously was a tiny monitor crammed into the rearview mirror, and thus hardly useful at all. 

Entune smartphone integration also includes the ability to link the Scout GPS app to the centre display for navigation maps and routing, which proved easy to operate and very accurate, while Entune App Suite Connect boasts separate apps for traffic, weather, Slacker, Yelp, sports, stocks, fuel and NPR One, although I’m not sure if anyone in Canada will care much about the latter U.S.-specific National Public Radio station. 

2019 Toyota C-HR Limited
The dash layout is nice, with everything close and easy to reach. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Some additional standard features found on the base C-HR LE worth mentioning include automatic high beam headlights, adaptive cruise control, remote access, an acoustic glass windshield, auto up/down powered windows all around, a leather-wrapped shift knob, a 4.2-inch TFT multi-information display within the gauge cluster, an auto-dimming rearview mirror, illuminated vanity mirrors, dual-zone auto climate control, six-speaker audio, the piano black lacquered instrument panel trim noted earlier, fabric upholstery, front sport seats, 60/40-split rear seatbacks, a cargo cover, autonomous emergency braking with pedestrian detection, lane departure alert with steering assist, all the usual active and passive safety features including a driver’s knee airbag and rear side thorax airbags, plus more, which is a very generous entry-level assortment of features that should put to rest any criticisms about its base price being higher than some rivals. 

2019 Toyota C-HR Limited
We like the sporty gauge cluster, while the colour multi-info display at centre is useful. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Last year’s sole XLE trim level is pretty well carryover for 2019, other than its higher $25,725 price and the new Entune 3.0 Audio Plus system, with its larger display, noted earlier. Additionally, XLE trim gets automatic collision notification, a stolen vehicle locator, an emergency assistance SOS button, and enhanced roadside assistance, with yet more features including 17-inch alloy wheels, a leather-wrapped steering wheel rim, upgraded cloth upholstery, heatable front seats (which are normally standard fare in Canada), and two-way powered lumbar support for the driver’s seat. 

An XLE Premium package, which pushes the price up to $27,325, adds 18-inch alloy wheels, proximity-sensing access with pushbutton ignition, heated power-folding side mirrors with puddle lamps, blindspot monitoring with rear cross traffic alert, and lane change assist. 

2019 Toyota C-HR Limited
The new standard 8-inch touchscreen is a big improvement over last year’s centre display, especially now that the rearview camera is integrated within. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

As noted earlier in this review, also new for 2019 is this as-tested $28,775 top-line Limited trim, which adds rain-sensing wipers, a very useful windshield wiper de-icer (especially after the past two ultra-cold winters), ambient interior lighting, and nicely textured leather upholstery in black or brown. 

While the two new trim levels and upgraded infotainment system are improvements over last year’s C-HR, the 2.0-litre four-cylinder engine might leave some potential buyers (especially those coming out of the aforementioned Juke) feeling like its performance doesn’t measure up to its sporty exterior design due to just 144 horsepower and 139 lb-ft of torque, a lone continuously variable transmission (CVT) with a focus on fuel economy rather than get-up-and-go, plus no all-wheel drive option, front-drive being the only driveline configuration available. 

2019 Toyota C-HR Limited
Entune 3.0 includes a Scout GPS app that lets you set up navigation coordinates on your phone (shown) before displaying them on the C-HR’s touchscreen. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Then again if you’re looking for a sporty looking SUV with great fuel economy the C-HR’s claimed 8.7 L/100km city, 7.5 highway and 8.2 combined Transport Canada rating might be just what your inflation deflated, carbon tax inflated personal budget demands. 

Also a positive, the C-HR’s wide stance and low profile make it inherently well balanced, resulting in handling that mostly meets Toyoda-san’s never boring ideals. Once again it’s no CX-3, or Kona for that matter, but its MacPherson strut front and double-wishbone/trailing arm rear suspension setup is more than adequate for coursing through a serpentine back road at a speedy pace, while its ride quality is amongst the best in this class. 

2019 Toyota C-HR Limited
Limited trim’s texture leather upholstery is a nice upgrade, while the C-HR’s seats are comfortable. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

While we’re talking comfort, the front seats are superb, and its driving position is much better for my body type than some other Toyota models. My legs are longer than my torso, so therefore I normally need to push my seat farther rearward than someone else measuring five-foot-eight, before adjusting the steering column as far back as can be. Unfortunately, some Toyotas simply don’t fit me due to a lack of telescopic steering column reach, so I was once again happy to be reminded that the C-HR provides a highly adjustable tilt and telescopic steering wheel, which provided me all the comfort and control needed. 

Even pushing the driver’s seat far enough rearward for my longish legs, I still had about four inches from the front seatback to my knees, plus about three inches above my head (approximately two inches less than up front), which should help taller passengers feel right at home. I also enjoyed enough space from side to side in all outboard positions. 

2019 Toyota C-HR Limited
The rear seating area isn’t the largest in the class, but should be ample for most body types. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Strangely, there’s still no folding centre armrest in back, but at least Toyota provides cupholders at armrest level in the rear door panels. Fortunately the C-HR’s rear seats are quite comfortable, particularly for the lower back. Then again I didn’t appreciate rear seat visibility out the side window, the SUV’s oddly shaped doors forcing rear passengers to look directly into a black panel when turning their heads. This makes me question whether kids will like riding in back, even when seated in a booster.  

Another concern you may want to question is cargo roominess. The C-HR’s sloping rear liftgate cuts into vertical space, resulting in a scant 538 litres (19.0 cubic feet) of capacity behind the rear seatback, which lags behind the segment leaders. Of course you can fold the C-HR’s 60/40-split rear seatbacks down for a much more accommodating 1,031 litres (36.4 cu ft) of available space, but once again it’s nowhere near the largest in this class. 

2019 Toyota C-HR Limited
The C-HR falls a bit short on cargo space, but most should find it suitable enough. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

I hate to leave any review on a negative, so I’ll point out that the C-HR managed an impressive five-star safety rating from the NHTSA, and thanks to Toyota’s good name should provide reliable service throughout its tenure. Yes, I know that’s nowhere near the level of excitement that Mr. Toyoda would likely want to hear from a review of one his newest products, but some vehicles were built more for comfort, convenience, efficiency and dependability than speed, handling or wow factor, and that should certainly be reason enough to consider a new C-HR for your personal ride.

I must admit… I really like Volvo. Particularly new, reinvented Volvo, since the Swedish luxury brand completely reimagined its place within the luxury sector in 2015 with the launch of the 2016 XC90,…

2019 Volvo XC40 T5 AWD R-Design Road Test

2019 Volvo XC40 T5 AWD R-Design
The new XC40 provides a funkier alternative to Volvo’s normally elegant design language, but this fun attitude fits within the subcompact luxury SUV segment perfectly. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

I must admit… I really like Volvo. Particularly new, reinvented Volvo, since the Swedish luxury brand completely reimagined its place within the luxury sector in 2015 with the launch of the 2016 XC90, from its styling, interior design and quality, to its electronics, advanced drivetrains, performance, and of course safety. Volvo is leading its more commercially relevant competitors in almost every respect, and it’s seeing success because of it. 

I’m not going to pretend that all of its new models are enjoying the fruits of its labours in abundance, mind you, but lacklustre market response to its 90-series cars is hardly an isolated phenomenon within the ebbing sedan and wagon market. After all, where the S90, V90 and V90 Cross Country only managed a collective 835 sales in Canada last year, they beat Genesis (Hyundai’s new luxury brand), Maserati, Jaguar, Acura and Infiniti in the mid-size luxury E-segment, and repeated the feat over the first three months of 2019 too. 

2019 Volvo XC40 T5 AWD R-Design
R-Design trim means the roof gets painted black and other trim bits are blackened too. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Volvo is stronger when it comes to sales numbers in crossover SUV territory, but its XC60 only trounced Lincoln, Alfa Romeo, Jaguar and Cadillac last year, while getting extremely close to one-upping Infiniti, a performance it couldn’t quite repeat over Q1 of 2019 due to losing ground against Cadillac, Infiniti and Lincoln, while gaining market share on Porsche. The XC90 is stronger in the mid-size luxury SUV class, having overpowered Jaguar, Porsche, Tesla, Range Rover, Land Rover, and Maserati throughout 2018, although it only outsold Range Rover, Tesla, Land Rover, and Maserati as of March 31, 2019. This said the XC90 is doing pretty well for a vehicle that’s four years into its lifecycle. 

2019 Volvo XC40 T5 AWD R-Design
R-Design trim adds a unique grille with a glossy black surround. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

And how about the new XC40? This subcompact luxury SUV, winner of the 2018 European Car of the Year, opens up totally new opportunities for Volvo, and does so in a market segment that’s hardly filled out with competitors. Despite arriving just partway through the year, the XC40 outpaced Jaguar’s E-Pace and Infiniti’s QX30 (the latter discontinued for 2019), and did so by a very wide margin, more than doubling deliveries of the former and tripling the latter. It was actually nudging up against Range Rover’s Evoque as well, but stayed far from contention when compared to Audi’s Q3, Mercedes’ GLA, and BMW’s class-leading X1/X2 combination. Still, it was a worthy effort from a new entry that was only on the market for the latter half of the year. 

2019 Volvo XC40 T5 AWD R-Design
Like with all new Volvos, the XC40 sports standard “Thor’s Hammer” LED headlamps, upgraded with active-bending ability in R-Design trim. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

How about 2019? Over the first three months of this year the XC40 has found five and a half times more buyers than the Infiniti QX30 (again, a model being phased out), almost five times as many as the Jaguar E-Pace, hundreds more than the Range Rover Evoque, has surpassed BMW’s X2 sales, and is within shooting range of Mercedes’ GLA. We’ll have to watch and see if Volvo’s upward trajectory in this class continues, but I believe if more people learn about this impressive little SUV, the more chance it has of succeeding. 

So let’s run down the list of attributes I mentioned at the beginning of this review, starting with styling. Other than looking a bit too much like Jeep’s arguably handsome new Compass, the XC40 offers up a standout design, especially in its two-tone colour combinations. I tested a base Momentum model that I’ll cover in a future review, dipped in a lovely light pastel Amazon Blue paint with a white roof, and it caused more rubbernecking than anything else I’ve driven in this class. My Crystal White Pearl Metallic painted R-Design, showing off a standard black roof like all R-Design models, drew nearly as much attention, and would be my choice due to its slightly more masculine, sportier look. 

2019 Volvo XC40 T5 AWD R-Design
The XC40 R-Design’s lower front fascia details are nicely executed. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Inside, the XC40 provides all of the upscale luxury expected in a premium-labeled entry SUV, no matter the trim. The front roof pillars are fabric-wrapped, the dash-top and top halves of the door skins are finished in soft-touch composite, the armrests are padded with stitched leatherette, while the insides of the door pockets are actually carpeted, plus they’re large enough to accept a 15-inch laptop and a drink bottle. Back to the soft pliable surfacing, there’s none below the waistline, including the centre console that gets some soft paint for consolation, this above carpeting that wraps around the lower portion, while overhead there’s a high-quality woven roofliner framing a massive panoramic glass sunroof with a powered translucent sunshade. 

2019 Volvo XC40 T5 AWD R-Design
These 20-inch alloys are optional, with the standard R-Design wheels measuring 19 inches, and base and Inscription models equipped with 18s. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

The dash design is typical modern Volvo, which means tasteful with minimal clutter, although it’s been given a funky twist including cool retro-like vertical satin silver metal vents next to the centre stack and each corner, adorned by attractive textured aluminum inlays across the instrument panel and doors. All of the satin silver trim is exquisitely crafted, particularly the knurled metal grips on the rotating vent actuators, and the similar treatment given to the audio system’s main volume control knob, while all of the switchgear is easily up to others in this class and surpasses some. 

Likewise, the R-Design’s exclusive contrast stitched perforated leather-wrapped and metal adorned sport steering wheel is beautifully finished, while a similar treatment is given to the electronic shift lever, not to mention the stunning leather and suede-like Nubuck upholstered seats, which are joined by sporty metal foot pedals to make this the obvious choice for those who want to flex a little muscle while running their urban errands. 

2019 Volvo XC40 T5 AWD R-Design
These trademark L-shaped LED taillights could only come from Volvo. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Those seats are extremely comfortable and feature good side bolstering as well as extendable lower cushions that cup nicely under the knees, plus the rear seating area is ultra-generous, even fitting in large six-foot-plus passengers with room to spare. Volvo provides rear occupants with a flip-down armrest in the middle, which doubles as a centre pass-through when the otherwise 60/40-split rear seatbacks are folded flat to accommodate longer cargo in the equally sizeable and wonderfully flexible cargo area, which incidentally measures 586 litres (20.7 cubic feet) when the rear seats are in use, and 917 litres (32.4 cubic feet) when lowered. 

Making matters easier, they lower via a control panel of powered release switches on the passenger’s side cargo wall, while adding yet more utility is a cargo floor that folds in half and sits vertically with three handy grocery bag hooks on top, or alternatively can be swiveled into a small parcel shelf. I tested the former out on the way home from shopping and they worked fabulously. 

2019 Volvo XC40 T5 AWD R-Design
The XC40’s doors close with the solidity of a much larger luxury SUV, while Volvo’s smallest also gets an impressively finished interior. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Speaking of handy, the XC40 also includes a foldout hook from the glove box, a removable waste bin within the centre console, an available storage box under the driver’s seat cushion, a parking pass holder on the left side of the inner windshield, plus gas card slots to the left of the driver’s knee. Additionally, ahead of the centre console is a large compartment for stowing a big smartphone with sunglasses or what-have-you to each side, the base of which optionally doubles as an inductive device charger, plus sidled up beside a 12-volt charger there are two USB ports within the compartment as well, one solely for charging and the other for connecting to the Apple CarPlay- and Android Auto-infused infotainment system just above (there are three USB ports altogether). Yes, this little SUV is as convenient as they come, and really should win an award for thoughtfulness. 

2019 Volvo XC40 T5 AWD R-Design
Like the exterior, the XC40’s interior offers up a funkier take on the brand’s normally well-executed design. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Such hidden standard items might go unnoticed unless your Volvo sales or service rep points them out, but it’ll be difficult to miss the configurable colour TFT digital gauge cluster staring you in the face upon climbing inside. It’s large and bright at 12.3-inches in diameter, high in definition, and filled with features including an available navigation map that expands to fill most of the multi-information display portion in the middle. No direct competitor delivers anything anywhere near as good in standard trim, with most not even offering the a digital gauge option at all, giving Volvo the lead in electronic interfaces. 

This said, I haven’t even mentioned the brand’s award-winning nine-inch vertical centre touchscreen, which comes closer to resembling an iPad- or Samsung-style tablet than anything else in the category. No matter whether you’re purchasing this entry-level SUV or the full-tilt XC90, Volvo doesn’t differentiate between its Sensus systems, meaning you get the best they have to offer, and it’s truly superb. Like a tablet it ideally responds to touch gestures such as tap, swipe and pinch, and does so for many more functions than the usual navigation map. In fact, adjusting the temperature settings for the as-tested upgraded dual-zone automatic climate control system results in tall readouts popping onto either side of the display, letting you slide your finger up and down to choose your individual comfort zone. 

2019 Volvo XC40 T5 AWD R-Design
A standard 12.3-inch digital gauge cluster, with the ability to display full navigation mapping at centre, sets the XC40 apart from all challengers. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

The Sensus touchscreen also allows control of all audio functions including streaming Bluetooth, satellite radio, 4G LTE Wi-Fi, and more, while it’s easy to connect your phone, whether doing so by Bluetooth or plugging it in for the aforementioned Apple and Android apps. It’s an elegantly designed interface that’s easily one of the best in its class, and should be easy to operate for anyone used to a modern-day smartphone. 

Also on the centre stack, a narrow row of high-quality switchgear can be found just below the main touchscreen for quick access to key HVAC controls, a couple of audio controls including the aforementioned metal-edged volume knob, plus the hazard lights, and to the very right a drive mode selector with Eco, Comfort, Dynamic, Off-road and Individual settings, the Off-road setting incidentally not available with base Momentum trim. 

2019 Volvo XC40 T5 AWD R-Design
Volvo’s 9-inch Sensus touchscreen is the most tablet-like infotainment system in the industry, shown here with its temperature setting panel expanded. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

As noted just before, navigation isn’t standard, but rather a standalone $1,000 add-on, yet the standard list is nevertheless long and includes most everything already mentioned plus LED headlamps, roof rails, remote engine start, pushbutton ignition, a leather-wrapped multi-function steering wheel, an electromechanical parking brake, rain-sensing wipers, an auto-dimming rearview mirror, automatic climate control, voice activation, heated front seats, a powered driver’s seat with four-way lumbar support and memory, genuine aluminum inlays, plus a host of active safety gear like forward collision warning with automatic emergency braking, lane departure warning and mitigation, etcetera, enough to earn it a best-possible Top Safety Pick + rating from the IIHS (the only SUV in its subcompact segment to do so), all for just $39,500 plus freight and fees, which makes it one of the most affordable vehicles in its luxury class with standard all-wheel drive. 

2019 Volvo XC40 T5 AWD R-Design
The overhead camera is superb. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

The as-tested R-Design, which starts at $44,100, includes all items noted previously as well as a one-inch larger set of 19-inch alloy wheels (although my tester wore optional 20s) attached to a sport suspension, plus a unique grille treatment, black skid plates, black mirror caps, gloss-black exterior trim, and the aforementioned black roof top, as well as active bending headlights, fog lamps, a rectangular set of exposed dual tailpipes (the base model’s are hidden), special aluminum front treadplates, upgraded carpets, better interior illumination, dual-zone auto climate control, a powered front passenger’s seat, cushion extensions for both front seats, a panoramic glass sunroof, black fabric pillars and roofliner (instead of light beige), an aluminum cargo sill protector, etcetera. 

My tester also had a $1,750 Premium Package featuring the inductive phone charger, the underseat storage box and grocery bag holders mentioned earlier, plus headlight washers, auto-dimming power-retractable side mirrors, heated wiper blades, a heatable steering wheel, heated rear outboard seats, a powered tailgate, and Blind Spot Information System with Cross Traffic Alert. 

2019 Volvo XC40 T5 AWD R-Design
The centre pad within a cubby on the lower console doubles as a wireless charger. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

On top of this was a $2,000 Premium Plus Package including a 360-degree overhead Surround View parking camera, a HomeLink universal garage door opener, adaptive cruise control, Volvo’s Pilot Assist semi-autonomous Driver Assistance System, semi-autonomous Park Assist Pilot with Park Assist Front and Rear (a hands-on self-driving system that helps to ease highway driving quite well), and a 12-volt power outlet in the cargo area; plus Volvo added the previously noted $1,000 navigation system, as well as $950 worth of great sounding 600-watt, 14-speaker Harmon-Kardon audio. 

Prior to its brand-wide revamp initiated in 2015, Volvo started to upgrade past models with a new lineup of innovative powertrains. Unlike any other luxury brand, or any other major automaker for that matter, the Chinese-owned Swedish company chose to base its entire model line on one 2.0-litre four-cylinder engine using turbocharging in base form, both turbocharging and supercharging in mid-range trims, and, debuting with the XC90 for 2016, a turbocharged, supercharged and plug-in electric version boasting 400 horsepower and 400 lb-ft of torque. 

2019 Volvo XC40 T5 AWD R-Design
The eight-speed automatic transmission’s shift knob is a nicely sculpted array of leather and metal. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

While a 400-horsepower XC40 sounds like a barrel of fun, a February 2019 announcement stated the plug-in variant slated for Volvo’s smallest SUV would in fact be the completely new 184-net-kW (247-net-hp) T5 Twin Engine with 328 net-lb-ft of torque thanks to an electric motor and a 1.5-litre three-cylinder gasoline-powered engine driving the front wheels. This should be followed closely by a version of the XC40 incorporating an even thriftier T4 Twin Engine, although we’ll likely only receive the more potent PHEV in North America. Additionally, Volvo announced in March that it will reveal a full-electric version of the XC40 before the end of 2019, as part of a push toward having half of its global sales made up of full-electric vehicles by 2025. 

2019 Volvo XC40 T5 AWD R-Design
Comfortable and accommodating, the XC40’s driving position is excellent, and the R-Design’s seat upholstery plush and luxurious. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

For the time being, Volvo’s second-most popular model worldwide (behind the XC60) receives a standard 2.0-litre turbocharged engine making 248 horsepower and 258 lb-ft of torque, which drives all wheels via an eight-speed automatic transmission. This said a new 2.0-litre turbo-four designated T4, capable of 187 horsepower and 221 lb-ft of torque and coming standard with the same eight-speed auto and AWD, will be the base powerplant in Momentum trim for 2020, with R-Design and Inscription trims including the T5 engine, featuring 248 horsepower and 258 lb-ft of torque, as standard kit. 

I can’t speak for the upcoming T4, but my tester’s T5 powertrain is an ideal match for the lightweight XC40, resulting in a fast-paced, fun-to-drive subcompact crossover SUV. Of course, it’s hardly the most formidable in its class, Jaguar’s E-Pace and Range Rover’s Evoque R-Dynamic models bringing 296 horsepower apiece to the segment, BMW’s X2 M35i stepping up with 302 horsepower, and Mercedes’ blisteringly quick AMG GLA 45 holding the category title with 375 horsepower. 

2019 Volvo XC40 T5 AWD R-Design
The R-Design gets a large panoramic sunroof, that really opens up the interior. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Still, the XC40 immediately jumps off the line, its eight-speed autobox a bit annoying when moving into Drive or Reverse as it needs two taps to do so, but once underway it shifts with nice, snappy increments, especially when its sportiest “Dynamic” drive mode is selected and my R-Design model’s paddle shifters are engaged, and it feels nice and planted while doing so. 

No doubt my tester’s lower profile 20-inch tires played a role where rubber meets the road, not to mention its sport-tuned suspension setup, which otherwise is fully independent with aluminium double wishbones up front and a unique integral-link design that includes a lightweight composite transverse leaf spring at the rear. Hence it hooked up well enough through the corners, something I enjoyed when making up for lost time around town, as well as during a couple of fully engaged test sessions in the countryside. 

2019 Volvo XC40 T5 AWD R-Design
The rear seating compartment is spacious and comfortable too. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

You sit up nice and high, which is ideal for visibility, and while this should negate at-the-limit handling it’s not destabilizing at all, but rather my XC40 R-Design felt confidence-inspiring when pushed hard, only leaning slightly when asking more from it than most owners ever would. Fortunately braking is quite good, whether feathering the front discs to set up a corner or jamming down hard on all four during a panic situation, it responded with poise. 

Its ride quality is very good for such a small SUV, the XC40 feeling more substantive overall than its size should allow, and I don’t believe there’s much if any difference in suspension comfort from models with 18-inch wheels and a regular “Dynamic” suspension than the sport setup wearing 20s. Volvo offers an adaptive Four-C Chassis for $1,000, but honestly I don’t think it’s needed. 

2019 Volvo XC40 T5 AWD R-Design
The XC40’s cargo compartment should be large enough for most peoples’ needs, plus th rear seats include a handy pass-through in the middle. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

All in all the XC40 feels like a bigger and more substantive SUV than it really is, its doors and hatch closing with impressive solidity, plus it’s quiet and feels well-built when encountering road imperfections such as broken pavement, potholes, bumps, etcetera. 

Fuel economy, rated at 10.3 L/100km in the city, 7.5 on the highway and 9.0 combined, only looks poor if putting it up against something much less powerful and front-wheel drive like Lexus’ new UX (only 169 horsepower and 151 lb-ft of torque) that gets 7.2 combined in non-hybrid form. In fact, the XC40’s combined city/highway rating is identical to the Mercedes GLA 250 4Matic, better than the BMW X1 that can only manage 9.3 combined, noticeably ahead of the base Jaguar E-Pace P250’s rating of 9.8 combined, and a big improvement over Audi’s new Q3 that’s rated at just 10.6 combined. If anyone cares, the XC40 is even thriftier than the comparatively anemic yet still most capable (153-hp) full-load Buick Encore AWD that can only manage 9.1 L/100km combined. Of note, most of those above, including the XC40, benefit from auto start/stop technology that shuts the engine off when it would otherwise be idling, especially helpful in improving air quality. 

2019 Volvo XC40 T5 AWD R-Design
The XC40 has plenty of thoughtful convenience touches, including this folding floor that doubles as a grocery bag holder. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

I don’t think Volvo will mind if I end this review on such a positive note. The fact is, after a weeklong test I haven’t found much to fault the new XC40 on, but rather I feel it’s one of the better compact luxury SUVs now available. You may have heard me say this before about something different, but keep in mind that most new models improve with each new generation, and in the case of the XC40, which allowed Volvo a completely clean slate to build upon, it’s been extremely well executed. 

Thanks to a quiet, comfortable ride with better than average handling, strong straight-line performance mixed with impressive efficiency, a comfortable, accommodating, and superbly crafted cabin filled with thoughtful touches that make life more convenient, plus value that’s hard to argue against, the XC40 is a clear winner that should attract plenty of new customers into the Swedish brand’s fold, and that bodes well for Volvo’s long-term future.

The Infiniti Q50 has been one of few sport-luxury sedans that found continued success despite the unprecedented onslaught of crossover luxury SUVs, at least before Q1 of 2019. Last year, Canadian premium…

2019 Infiniti Q50 Signature Edition Road Test

2019 Infiniti Q50 Signature Edition
With each new generation, Infiniti’s Q50 looks better and better. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

The Infiniti Q50 has been one of few sport-luxury sedans that found continued success despite the unprecedented onslaught of crossover luxury SUVs, at least before Q1 of 2019. Last year, Canadian premium car shoppers said their unceremonious goodbyes to the BMW 3 Series, which saw its sales drop by 19.5 percent, and the Audi A4, that lost 20.3 percent, while Acura’s TLX, Cadillac’s ATS, and Jaguar’s XE gave up even more ground, but the Q50 actually grew its sales by 6.8 percent throughout 2018. 

Over the past few months, however, Q50 sales have gone off the deep end with a 36.3 percent downturn, and while this is no doubt cause for concern by the powers that be at the company’s Hong Kong headquarters, it’s still not as bad as BMW’s 3 that lost 37.7 percent compared to Q1 of 2018, and Audi’s A4 that’s seen 39.9 percent of deliveries taken off its order books. Even Mercedes-Benz’ mighty C-Class has fallen by 34.5 percent, while Lexus IS deliveries (which were down 10.9 percent in 2018) have now plummeted by 45.5 percent, and Jaguar XE sales are currently nose-diving by a staggering 78.1 percent (its sales were only off by 27.8 percent last year). 

2019 Infiniti Q50 Signature Edition
The Q50 has a curvaceous body that looks especially nice from the rear. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

I suppose I should stop tapping away at the keys right now and point you to my review of the impressive new Infiniti QX50 compact luxury SUV instead, but in all seriousness, 2,576 Canadians purchased the Q50 sport-luxury sedan during 2018, plus an additional 517 over the first three months of 2019, so I can think of plenty of good reasons to continue writing this review. In fact, I find the Q50 one of the smartest choices in the compact luxury D-segment, even if this category isn’t exactly filled with optimism these days. 

As a bit of a backgrounder, Infiniti gave the Q50 a mid-cycle update for the 2018 model year, refreshing its grille, front fascia, headlamps, taillights, rear bumper design and more, so it continues forward into 2019 unchanged from a visual perspective, except for a new Canadian-exclusive “I-LINE” styling treatment that now comes standard with the renamed I-Line Red Sport 400 model. 

2019 Infiniti Q50 Signature Edition
LED headlamps with LED daytime running lights come standard. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Infiniti chose the new I-Line nomenclature from the words “Inspired Line,” and just like eyeliner it blackens the grille surround similarly to last year’s gloss-black fog light bezels and diffuser-like rear bumper cap, while the spoiler on top of the trunk lid also gets an upgrade to high-gloss carbon-fibre, plus new “custom imported” glossy black 19-inch alloys trim out the lower regions. Possibly more important, I-Line trim helps to visually differentiate the sportiest 400-horsepower Q50 from lower trims within the lineup, an intelligent move when factoring in the $7,700 leap from the already fast 300 horsepower Q50 3.0T Sport. 

Of note, both 300 and 400 horsepower Q50 models utilize the same turbocharged 3.0-litre V6 engine, albeit with unique components and tuning. Engines in mind, an even bigger change for 2019 is the discontinuation of the Mercedes-Benz-sourced 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder from the Canadian market, although it continues to make 208 horsepower in other world markets, including the U.S. 

2019 Infiniti Q50 Signature Edition
With all the fine lower front fascia detailing, it would be a reasonable mistake to mistake this Signature Edition for one of the top-line Sport models. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Back here at home, both V6 engines use Infiniti’s advanced seven-speed automatic gearbox with manual shift mode and downshift rev-matching capability, the latter a rare and wonderfully fun enhancement to the Q50’s overall strong performance, while the Japanese luxury brand’s “Intelligent” rear-biased all-wheel drive also remains standard. 

Fuel efficiency has seen improvements since Infiniti replaced the naturally aspirated 3.7-litre V6 with the new 700-cc smaller turbocharged 3.0-litre engines, but now that the four-cylinder is no longer available the model’s base fuel economy, which measured 10.7 L/100km city, 8.6 highway and 9.7 combined last year, no longer sits amongst class leaders. Still, the new as-tested base 3.0-litre’s rating of 12.4 city, 8.7 highway and 10.8 combined remains competitive amongst six-cylinder rivals. 

Such practical elements covered, I should also point out that the 2019 Q50 now includes standard predictive forward collision warning and forward emergency braking, which certainly is a step in the right direction for helping the Q50 to eventually achieve an IIHS Top Safety Pick + rating. 

2019 Infiniti Q50 Signature Edition
These 19-inch alloys are standard with Signature Edition and Sport trims. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

With the 2.0-litre four now gone for 2019, Q50 3.0T Luxe AWD trim replaces the Q50 2.0T Luxe AWD, with the base price commensurately moving up $5,000 to $44,995 plus destination and fees, which just happens to be last year’s entry price for the V6. The Q50 3.0T Signature Edition being reviewed here starts just a hair higher at $46,495, while the upper mid-range of the model lineup gets filled by the previously mentioned $48,495 Q50 3.0T Sport AWD, whereas the $56,195 I-Line Red Sport 400 ends up on the top spot. This said all trims are very affordable when factoring in everything that’s on offer. 

By the way, each price noted is available in detail, along with trim, package and option information, from CarCostCanada, where you can also source money saving manufacturer rebate info and otherwise difficult to get dealer invoice pricing that could save you thousands. 

2019 Infiniti Q50 Signature Edition
The badge on the back gives this “Signature Edition” away. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Although mentioning the word “base” a moment ago, nothing about Q50’s twin-turbocharged V6 is remotely basic. To be clear, no rival offers a 300-horsepower base engine, or the direct-injected mill’s near equally impressive 295 lb-ft of torque. I’ve sung praises about this talented V6 before, plus gone on ad nauseum with respect to the seven-speed automatic and all-wheel drive setup it’s mated to, so rather than pore too much attention on the numerous technological advancements that make this combo worthy of your full attention, I’ll lay down a more experiential tone. 

For starters, the base engine feels even quicker off the line than those figures suggest, although those 300 and 295 output numbers are hardly insignificant. It just has more full-throttle jump from standstill than the majority of similarly rated cars, this probably due to the engine’s twin-turbochargers delivering most of that twist from only 1,600 rpm all the way to 5,200 rpm, which is considerably sooner in the rev range than a normally aspirated mill would be capable of, with a wider torque band as well. 

2019 Infiniti Q50 Signature Edition
All Q50s provide a very upscale, luxury experience inside. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Those turbos spin at speeds of up to 240,000 rpm, incidentally, a thought I just can’t get my brain to comprehend, especially considering their almost silent operation and complete reliability. Also worth mentioning, the mostly aluminum and therefore lightweight V6 has been on the Wards “10 Best Engines” winner list since it was created, just as its 3.7-litre and 3.5-litre predecessors were, so I’m not alone with my accolades. 

Push the “START/STOP ENGINE” button just next to the gauge cluster and it purrs into action, a subtle rasp from the dual exhaust noting that this is no four-banger. Flick the “DRIVE MODE” toggle switch on the lower centre console to “SPORT” instead of “STANDARD” (SNOW, ECO and PERSONAL modes are included too), pull the contrast-stitched leather-wrapped shifter rearward into “D” and then over slightly for manual mode, and prepare yourself to shift via the gear lever as steering wheel-mounted paddles are only available with the 3.0T Sport and I-Line Sport 400 trims. No issue here, as I’ve been shifting stick for longer than I care to say. Then again, I’d appreciate having paddle-shifters too, but obviously Infiniti sees the Luxe and Signature Edition as its luxury-focused models, in spite of their quick response to throttle input and dynamic handling. 

2019 Infiniti Q50 Signature Edition
The Q50 instrument panel is well made and filled with top-tier features. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

This Signature Edition wears the same standard 245/40R19 all-season run-flat performance rubber as the Sport model, but as it was my test car purposely featured winter M+S tires that without doubt impacted its lateral grip on dry sections of roadway. Just the same Infiniti didn’t go cheap on its winter tires, skinning the standard triple-five-spoke alloys in Pirelli Sottozero 3s, which showed such prowess through wet and snowy conditions that nothing nearing the likes of an SUV was at all necessary. In fact, it was so good at managing wet Left Coast snow that this Q50 quickly became my default ride for a very cold and soggy Vancouver week, while it was not only a great help in overcoming inclement weather, but its wonderfully reactive steering, wholly capable suspension, and smooth, comfortable ride made each stint behind the wheel a joy. 

2019 Infiniti Q50 Signature Edition
No digital gauge cluster here, but the Q50’s analogue dials are easy to read in any light. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Of note, additional Signature Edition upgrades include the same performance-oriented exterior design details as found on the Sport, such as a sharp-edged glossy black lip front spoiler and similarly black fog light bezels, as well as a slightly less aggressive variation on the black and body-colour diffuser-infused rear bumper theme noted earlier, while each mid-range model also utilizes of an identical set of silver-painted 19-inch alloy rims, which is an improvement over base Luxe trim’s 18-inch alloy wheels and 225/50 all-season run-flat performance tires. 

Finally, both mid-range Q50 trims get silver “S” badges on each front fender, but oddly the Signature Edition includes a special rear deck spoiler just above its own scripted “Signature” badge, but the Sport model doesn’t get a spoiler at all, although it does receive a silver “S” insignia beside its Q50 badge. 

2019 Infiniti Q50 Signature Edition
The Q50’s standard dual stack of infotainment displays is easy to use and highly functional. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Slide inside and you’ll quickly see that Signature Edition and Sport trims also share identical Sport Type seats featuring driver’s power lumbar and powered torso bolsters, plus manual thigh extensions for both front seats. The driver’s seat was thoroughly comfortable and provided superb lateral support, which is always appreciated when slinging such a capable car through fast-paced curves. Additionally, the Signature Edition’s Kacchu aluminum decorative inlays mentioned earlier are also found in the Sport model, a bonus as they look fabulous and feel substantive. 

Almost every other feature not yet mentioned is shared between the base Q50 Luxe model and the Signature Edition, which means the Q50 Signature Edition receives standard automatic LED headlamps with LED daytime running lights, LED fog lights and front turn signals, LED brake lamps, aluminum “INFINITI” branded tread plates, proximity keyless access, pushbutton start/stop, Infiniti’s “InTuition” for storing climate, audio and driving preferences within each “Intelligent Key”, welcome lamps on the front outer door handles, rain-sensing wipers, an auto-dimming centre mirror, a universal remote for your garage, micro-filtered two-zone automatic climate control, an Infiniti InTouch dual-display infotainment system featuring a bright, high-resolution 8.0-inch upper monitor and an equally clear and colourful 7.0-inch lower touchscreen, a reverse camera, Bluetooth phone and audio streaming, decent sounding six-speaker AM/FM/CD/MP3/satellite audio with HD playback, RDS and speed-sensitive volume control, dual USB chargers, a heated steering wheel rim (that truly responds quickly), heatable front seats (almost heating up a fast), power front seats, a power glass sunroof, plus more. 

2019 Infiniti Q50 Signature Edition
The top monitor displays the navigation system, rearview camera and more. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Notably, along with the move up to the base V6 engine a variety of features that were previously optional now come standard, such as remote engine start, Infiniti’s precise InTouch route guidance/navigation system with lane guidance and 3D building graphics, the Infiniti InTouch Services suite of digital alerts and remote services, voice recognition for audio, SMS text messaging and vehicle info, power-adjustable lumbar for the driver, and 60/40-split rear seatbacks with a handy pass-through down the middle. 

Moving upward in trims from this Signature Edition, the only significant improvements to the previously noted Sport model are performance oriented, with upgrades including the steering wheel-mounted paddle shifters I spoke of before, a special sport-tuned dynamic digital suspension, and an identical set of sport brakes as found on the Red Sport 400, which incorporate four-piston front and two-piston rear calipers, while the two sportiest Q50 models also include an exclusive set of front seat-mounted side-impact airbags. 

2019 Infiniti Q50 Signature Edition
The bottom display is a touchscreen for accessing audio, climate and other functions. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Features in mind, items not available with this Signature Edition include optional electronic power steering with the Sport model, while Infiniti’s exclusive drive-by-wire Direct Adaptive Steering (DAS) system can be had with all trims except for the Signature Edition. The same can be said for the auto-leveling adaptive front lighting system (AFS) with high beam assist, the power-adjustable steering column with memory, the Around View Monitor (AVM) with Moving Object Detection (MOD), the top-line 16-speaker Bose Performance audio system featuring Centerpoint technology, front and rear parking sonar, adaptive cruise control with full speed range, distance control assist, blindspot monitoring, blindspot intervention, lane departure warning and prevention with active lane control, and backup collision intervention with rear cross-traffic alert. 

2019 Infiniti Q50 Signature Edition
This elegant knurled metal rotating dial is for controlling the top display. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Some features that are not available with the Signature Edition, are optional with the Sport, and come standard with the Red Sport 400 include auto-dimming exterior mirrors with reverse link and memory, plus Infiniti’s advanced climate control system with auto-recirculation, Plasmacluster air purifier and grape polyphenol filter. 

This puts the Q50 Signature Edition in a unique value position, by including much of the Sport trim’s features yet limiting choices to colours, which are identical to the five provided for the Sport, including Liquid Platinum silver, Graphite Shadow grey, Black Obsidian, Majestic White, and the beautiful deep Iridium Blue coating my test car; as well as interior themes, which just like with Sport trim come in Graphite (black) and Stone (grey). By the way, the base model’s interior can also be had in Wheat (tan), while available dark-stained gloss maple hardwood gives off a more traditional luxury ambiance. Additionally, those who move up to sportier Q50 trims lose the option of base Pure White and optional Mocha Almond (brown metallic) exterior paint, but the base model doesn’t offer Iridium Blue, while Red Sport 400 customers have the option of Dynamic Sunstone Red. 

2019 Infiniti Q50 Signature Edition
The Q50’s seven-speed automatic is truly and advanced gearbox. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Features aside, all Q50 trims are finished to a very high level. My test model included stitched leather across the dash top, instrument panel, both sides of the lower console, and the upper two-thirds of each door panel, while the glove box lid boasts a high-quality soft composite too. The materials are superb as well, from that leather surfacing to the finely upholstered premium leather seats, to the gorgeous Kacchu aluminum inlays, the plentiful satin silver accents, and other surface areas, while all switchgear looks good with nice tightly spaced fitment, and feels substantial with proper luxury-level damping. 

2019 Infiniti Q50 Signature Edition
The Sport Style driver’s seat provides powered lumbar, torso bolsters, and manual thigh extensions. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

The Q50 is quiet too, whether rushing around town or speeding down the freeway, while it’s ideally spacious for all occupants. Adding size and roominess to a given market segment has long been part of Infiniti’s value proposition, and in the case of the Q50 it comes close to mid-size proportions when compared to a number of D-segment competitors. This benefits larger folk more than someone measuring a mere five-foot eight like me, but my longer legs and shorter torso often make it difficult to set up a comfortable driving position in other cars. Not so with the Q50, which provides extensive reach from the tilt and telescopic steering column, which when combined with the multi-adjustable driver’s seat allowed for optimal comfort and control. Improving on that, the power-adjustable lumbar support ideally fit the small of my back, the powered side bolsters snuggly kept me in place during hard cornering, and the thigh support adjusters nicely cupped under my knees. 

2019 Infiniti Q50 Signature Edition
The rear seating area is roomy and comfortable. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

As usual, I took the opportunity to sit behind my preset driver’s seat to find out how roomy the rear quarters are, and am happy to report that the rear left-side seat provided approximately five inches in front of my knees, a lot of space for my big winter boots below the driver, plus ample room side-to-side, while I had about three inches above my head, meaning six-foot-plus passengers should fit in back just fine. Rear passengers are treated to accommodations that are just as nice as the front compartment, with features including a flip-down armrest with cupholders at centre, overhead reading lamps, plus a set of air vents on the back of the front centre console. 

Trunk volume should be amply sized for most owners too, but its 382 litres (13.5 cubic feet) isn’t as large as some others in this segment. I’d prefer the European-style 40/20/40 split-folding rear seatback configuration too, rather than the Q50’s 60/40 division, but the rear pass-through is probably large enough for two or three pairs of skis, which may work well enough depending if skiing is your thing, or whether or not you ever load in long cargo. 

2019 Infiniti Q50 Signature Edition
The Q50 provides plenty of passenger and cargo flexibility. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

No car is perfect, but honestly the Q50 competes very well in this class, and easily deserves your earnest attention. On top of its list of virtues is value, which is always an important consideration, while Infiniti also has a very good record of dependability, makes beautiful interiors, provides arguably attractive styling, and has long been the go-to Japanese brand for performance. In the end, Infiniti will no doubt be more than happy to sell you a QX50 crossover SUV if you need more cargo capacity, but those who want the better performance of a low-slung sport sedan will appreciate that this Q50 continues to serve such purposes. Either way, Infiniti has you covered.

Don’t let looks deceive you. Even though the Qashqai’s design has remained exactly the same throughout its first three model years, especially when seen in its official launch colour of Monarch Orange,…

2019 Nissan Qashqai SL Platinum Road Test

2019 Nissan Qashqai SL Platinum
The 2019 Nissan Qashqai looks great in Monarch Orange, the original launch colour for the 2017 model. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

Don’t let looks deceive you. Even though the Qashqai’s design has remained exactly the same throughout its first three model years, especially when seen in its official launch colour of Monarch Orange, this 2019 model received plenty of important new upgrades. 

The list of improvements starts with advanced driver assistive systems such as Intelligent Emergency Braking (IEB), Blind Spot Warning (BSW), Rear Cross Traffic Alert (RCTA), and Nissan’s smart Rear Door Alert (RDA) system, that latter reminding if something or someone has been left in the back seat, while other additions include a new standard NissanConnect infotainment touchscreen that grows to 7.0 inches across the line, and boasts standard Apple CarPlay and Android Auto smartphone integration, satellite radio, live navigation, plus mobile apps and services. The latest entry-level Qashqai also features a second USB port within the centre console, plus Nissan’s convenient Divide-N-Hide cargo system in back. If that news isn’t good enough, take note that Nissan managed to add all of this content while only increasing the price by $200, to $20,198. 

2019 Nissan Qashqai SL Platinum
Designed mostly for pavement, the Qashqai is quite capable of light-duty off-roading, even in its fanciest SL Platinum trim. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

That increase in price isn’t responsible for the Qashqai no longer being the most affordable subcompact SUV in Canada, however, the blame for that clearly laid on Nissan’s own $18,298 Kicks. Now the Japanese automaker has more small utilities in its lineup than any mainstream rival, all three of which are amongst their segments’ top sellers. 

The Qashqai’s low base price doesn’t mean that it comes up short on features either, its standard menu filled with goodies like projector headlights, LED daytime running lamps, heatable powered door mirrors with LED turn signals, powered windows and door locks, the latter connected to a switchblade-style remote, an electronic parking brake (which strangely reverts to a foot-actuated type on S CVT and SV CVT trims), a tilt and telescopic steering column, a colour TFT multi-information display (MID), variable intermittent wipers, sun visors with extensions and vanity mirrors, sunglasses storage in the overhead console, micro-filtered air conditioning, a backup camera that’s now easier to view due to the bigger infotainment display, Bluetooth phone connectivity with streaming audio, text message reading and responding capability, Siri Eyes Free, a four-speaker AM/FM/CD/MP3/WMA audio system with illuminated steering wheel buttons, speed-sensitive volume, Radio Data System (RDS), two-way Quick Comfort heatable front seats (that truly heat up quickly), a rear-seat centre armrest, a cargo cover, six cargo tie-down hooks, tire pressure monitoring with Easy Fill Tire Alert, all the usual passive and active safety and security features, and more. 

2019 Nissan Qashqai SL Platinum
The SL Platinum package adds these stylish LED headlamps. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

Just like before, the Qashqai continues into 2019 with three trim lines, including the previously noted entry-level S model, plus the SV and SL, the former two offering optional AWD and the latter making it standard. That top-tier trim is how my test model was dressed up, replete with an even more upscale Platinum package, but before I unwrap all this upgrade entails I should point out that the $26,198 SV might be an even better option for those not willing the pay for the premium-like features in my SL. 

The SV boasts sharp looking 17-inch alloy wheels, these replacing the base set of 16-inch steel rims with covers, plus automatic headlamps, fog lights, remote start, proximity keyless entry, pushbutton start/stop, auto high beams, rear parking sonar, illumination added to the vanity mirrors, a powered glass sunroof, a heated leather-wrapped steering wheel, a leather-clad shifter knob, cruise control, two additional stereo speakers, two-zone auto HVAC, rear passenger ventilation, and more, while a host of new advanced safety features are included too, like enhanced autonomous Intelligent Emergency Braking with Pedestrian Detection, Lane Departure Warning (LDW) with Intelligent Lane Intervention, and Rear Intelligent Braking (R-IEB). 

2019 Nissan Qashqai SL Platinum
SL trim includes these sporty machine-finished 19-inch alloys with black painted pockets. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

The top-tier SL model I was testing starts at $31,398, but even for this reasonable sum it looks and feels like a small luxury utility due to big standard 19-inch alloys, roof rails, the electronic parking brake once again (this is the only trim that combines it with the CVT), an Intelligent Around View Monitor, navigation, voice recognition, SiriusXM Traffic and Travel Link, leather upholstery, an eight-way powered driver’s seat with two-way lumbar, and a front driver’s seatback pocket, while new to the SL’s standard features list is Intelligent Cruise Control (ICC), Moving Object Detection (MOD) to improve the R-IEB, and the ProPilot Assist semi-automated self-driving system that helps to maintain a given lane while easing highway driving stress. 

As I noted earlier, my test model also included the $2,000 SL Platinum package that provides LED headlamps for seeing much farther down the road at night, an auto-dimming rearview mirror, a Homelink universal remote, wonderful sounding nine-speaker Bose audio, and NissanConnect Services, the latter a bundle filled up with mobile apps designed to enhance everyday life with your Qashqai. 

2019 Nissan Qashqai SL Platinum
The Qashqai is roomy and well finished for its paltry price, especially in top-line SL Platinum trim. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

Of note, all the 2019 Qashqai prices mentioned in this review, including trims, packages and individual options, were sourced from CarCostCanada, where you can also find rebate information and dealer invoice pricing that could save you thousands of dollars when purchasing a new vehicle. 

Together with the full load of features the Qashqai provides in each trim, the cabin is surprisingly upscale. Last year I tested a base S model, and was impressed with its refinement for only $20k, but this SL Platinum is much fancier. The dash top is soft to the touch and the front door uppers are formed from a nice padded composite, these being common surface treatments no matter the trim chosen, but as mentioned earlier the attractive perforated leather upholstery with contrast stitching can’t be had outside of this SL. Such is the case for the leatherette-wrapped padding with contrast stitching found on the lower centre console, that also serves to protect you and your front passenger’s inside knees from rubbing up against what would otherwise be a harder plastic surface, and it’s great looking too. 

2019 Nissan Qashqai SL Platinum
The well organized, nicely made cabin provides a lot of high-end goodies in SL Platinum trim. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

Some additional SL highlights include piano black lacquered inlays on the instrument panel, the centre stack, around the shift lever, and each door panel front to back, while this was accented nicely by a narrow strip of satin-silver metal-look trim. Nissan adds more satin-silver detailing on the steering wheel spokes and the shifter, before splashing chrome throughout the rest of the interior to bring a bit of sparkle to key components. 

Sitting in the driver’s seat, the leather-covered steering wheel feels good in the hands, while the similarly clad shift knob connects through to Nissan’s Xtronic CVT (continuously variable transmission), which joins up to an energetic 2.0-litre four-cylinder engine capable of 141 horsepower and 147 lb-ft of torque. The CVT will probably be the choice of most Qashqai buyers, but I tested the six-speed manual last year and was happily surprised. It’s a sporty feeling manual that provides plenty of go-fast performance, whereas the CVT tested here is best for cruising at more relaxed speeds, the Qashqai SL pretty good at smoothing out road wrinkles, quieting outside commotions, and comforting all aboard. 

2019 Nissan Qashqai SL Platinum
The colour TFT multi-information display comes standard across the Qashqai line. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

CVTs are often criticized for lacking any sort of sporting capability, but after testing three Qashqais with this automated gearbox, and a whole host of additional Nissan models with variations on this CVT’s theme, I found it ideally suited to SUV life. Of course, it hardly provides the kind of get-up-and-go as the manual, in fact buzzing annoyingly when getting hard on the throttle thanks to any CVT’s natural inclination to hold higher than required revs for longer than needed, but fortunately the shift lever’s manual mode is even better for relieving performance than adding it. Shifting up at such moments provides instant relief from the high-revving engine (which can get a bit noisy when left for too long at high revs), dropping the revs and bringing peace and quiet. The process eventually occurs all on its own, but why would anyone want to wait? At regular daily speeds the transmission was best left in Drive, at which point it delivers smooth, capable performance. 

2019 Nissan Qashqai SL Platinum
This 7-inch touchscreen is now standard in all Qashqai trims, and can even be kitted out with an overhead parking camera. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

This said the Qashqai moves along quickly enough without the need to force it hard, while its ride quality is good for the small SUV segment due to a long wheelbase that’s based on a version of the same chassis architecture and fully independent suspension as the larger Rogue SUV, which incorporates struts up front and a multi-link setup in the rear, plus stabilizer bars at both ends. This means, even with my tester’s larger 225/45R19 all-season tires, the Qashqai ideally balances all the firmness required for its impressive road holding with plenty of comfort. Additionally, its four-wheel disc brakes bring speed to a standstill plenty fast, aided by Intelligent Engine Braking that becomes standard with SV and SL trims. 

On top of this, the Qashqai is a miser on fuel, with an estimated five-cycle rating of 10.0 L/100km in the city, 8.1 on the highway and 9.2 combined when FWD is mated up to the manual gearbox; 8.6 city, 7.2 highway and 8.0 combined with FWD and the CVT; or 9.1, 7.6 and 8.4 with the CVT and AWD. With today’s ever-increasing pump prices, the Qashqai can certainly be a relief to the budget. 

2019 Nissan Qashqai SL Platinum
Great looking leather-appointed front seats are very comfortable and supportive. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

Of course it may be a bit less efficient when filled up with people and gear, and trust me the Qashqai can hold a lot of both. With respect to the latter, the little ute can stow 648 litres (22.9 cubic feet) of cargo behind its back seats when they’re upright, which is extremely good for this segment, while those standard 60/40 split-folding seatbacks open up a maximum of 1,730 litres (61.1 cubic feet) of gear-toting space when laid flat, and that’s about as good as it gets in this class. 

Regarding passenger space and overall comfort, the front seats are nicely sculpted, cupping the backside perfectly, while I found the driver’s seating position excellent for my five-foot-eight frame, providing all the adjustability I needed thanks to being complemented by a tilt and telescoping steering wheel that I was able to pull close enough for ideal comfort and control, this not always the case due to my long-legged, shorter torso body type. 

2019 Nissan Qashqai SL Platinum
The rear seating area is roomy and comfy. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

I would’ve appreciated more seat heater comfort, however, as the setup provided just one “HI” and one “LO” setting, which sometimes made it too hot or not warm enough, reason enough for three-way systems being the industry norm. Still, it’s difficult to criticize too harshly in this price-sensitive segment, especially when the Qashqai does everything else so well. 

This said you won’t find any such cushion warmers in the back, but those rear outboard seats are nevertheless very comfortable and capable of holding big teens and adults. As per normal, I positioned the driver’s seat as I would when behind the wheel and sat in the back seat, which left approximately five inches in front of my knees, as well as another four inches above my head, or enough space for a six-foot-plus passenger. There’s more than ample width too, best when two are aboard, but possible for three, while my shoulder and hips had about three to four inches left next to the door. 

2019 Nissan Qashqai SL Platinum
Cargo space is very generous for the class. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

The rear seating area isn’t quite as nicely appointed as that up front, particularly where soft-touch door uppers would otherwise be found, but the door panel armrests are well padded with stitched leatherette covers, and the folding centre armrest is comfortable while its dual cupholders are practical. Nissan also adds a twin set of air vents to the backside of the front console, helpful when wanting to the keep the windows closed. 

Spacious for most families, empty-nesters or active lifestyle couples including their gear, the Qashqai is a well-made, generously outfitted, and an enjoyable SUV to drive, delivering a lot more than its reasonable price promises, plus it continues paying dividends long after the honeymoon period is over, due to superb fuel-efficiency. No wonder the Qashqai sells better than most of its subcompact peers, all of which are reasons enough to recommend it highly.

“And now for something completely different.” Yes, it seems fitting to quote one great British icon in support of another, yet sad as it may seem for those of us weaned on big, luxurious four-door…

2019 Jaguar XF S Road Test

2019 Jaguar XF S
The Jaguar XF S is one hot looking mid-size luxury-sport sedan. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

“And now for something completely different.” Yes, it seems fitting to quote one great British icon in support of another, yet sad as it may seem for those of us weaned on big, luxurious four-door sedans and estate wagons (not to mention Monty Python’s Flying Circus), cars like Jaguar’s XF are becoming few and far between these days. 

The Coventry, UK-based premium brand grew legendary with the forever-beautiful Mk II and ultimately elegant XJ Series I, II and III that followed, not to mention the B-Type, C-Type and E-Type sports cars that were the inspiration behind today’s sensational F-Type, but times are tough for all but a few luxury sedans these days. Jaguar designers Ian Callum and Adam Hatton did a stellar job reinvigorating the XJ nameplate back in 2009, the of which I personally witnessed seen while descending the escalator to baggage claim at Pearson International, literally causing my jaw to drop in dumbfounded adoration, but that was a decade ago and as much as I still love the big, beautiful and surprisingly agile machine, the full-size luxury F-segment hasn’t exactly stood still while Jaguar decides what to do for an encore. 

2019 Jaguar XF S
The XF is long and lean, and looks great with all the chrome bits blacked out. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Meanwhile, the second-generation mid-size E-segment XF being reviewed here arrived in 2015 as a 2016 model, once again designed by the Scottish-born Callum, and then less than a year later, in June of 2016, Jaguar introduced the compact D-segment XE to Canadians (a 2020 refresh was just revealed) for the 2017 model, a car also penned by the Royal College of Art graduate. He does have a way with sculpted aluminum panels and composites, the XF’s slippery shape achieving Jaguar’s best aerodynamics thanks to a drag coefficient of 0.26. Each is beautiful, and therefore receives steady compliments from enthusiasts who appreciate special cars made by an even more endearing brand, but thumbs up and nods of appreciation from fans hardly pay the bills. 

2019 Jaguar XF S
As pretty from its backside as it is up front. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

I went over Jaguar’s sales in detail as part of an “In Our Garage” story published in March, so feel free to head on over there to read more if such dry commentary is your thing. Suffice to say the first three months of 2019 have been abominable for all but one of the entire luxury sector’s full-size luxury sedans, with the XJ losing the most ground (68.8 percent) compared to the same initial quarter last year (albeit with most others close behind), while the XE (78.1 percent) was the biggest loser within its compact D-Segment, and XF, surprise, surprise (ok, no surprise), lost the most sales (62.7 percent) in its mid-size E-Segment. Rather than leaving Jaguar faithful crying into their refill bottles of mineral oil (previous generation XJ owners will appreciate the jab), take heart that the F-Pace grew its market share (15.5 percent) over Q1 of 2019 while many rivals lost ground, and the new I-Pace electric found new buyers too, leaving the E-Pace to retreat less territory (7.1 percent) than some competitors. 

2019 Jaguar XF S
The original Ian Callum design looks stunning, while the glossy black chrome adds a menacing touch. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

This said, if you’re the type of buyer who prefers to follow the crowd, then an XF, or any other Jaguar model, probably isn’t for you, yet then again if you’re into exclusivity, and appreciate being one of few anywhere in Canada to own something as wholly unique as the car shown here on this page, you may want to take a closer look at a brand that still takes pride in delivering plenty of old school charm together with formidable performance and highly advanced technologies. 

The latter issue is actually improved upon for this 2019 model year, with all XF trims incorporating Jaguar’s updated 10.0-inch InControl Touch Pro infotainment touchscreen, which provides much more area to enjoy its totally new more minimalist graphics (the British red telephone booth and other scenes are gone), easier viewing rear parking camera, more detailed navigation mapping, and many other improvements. If the simpler more sophisticated interface is not your cup of tea, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto smartphone integration give it a reskin when hooked up to your device while adding proprietary features. Being an Android user I prefer Jaguar’s stock system, which includes features like navigation and voice recognition in the XF’s second-rung Prestige trim and above. 

2019 Jaguar XF S
These sophisticated LED headlamps come standard. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

On a more luxurious note, Jaguar’s ultra-rich Suedecloth now comes standard for the roof pillars and headliner no matter the XF trim chosen, as does a set of aluminum treadplates with illuminated Jaguar branding, plus rich premium carpeted floor mats, sporty metal foot pedals, classy chromed power seat switchgear, and a classic looking frameless auto-dimming rearview mirror that I happen to love. 

Standard features and other XF trims in mind, this 2019 model includes the $59,100 Premium trim, $64,500 Prestige, and $67,800 R-Sport when choosing the 247 horsepower base 2.0-litre direct-injection turbocharged four-cylinder; $67,000 Prestige, $70,300 R-Sport, $72,300 300 SPORT and $79,100 Portfolio with the 296 horsepower version of the same gasoline-powered engine; $66,500 Prestige and $69,800 R-Sport with the 180 horsepower 2.0-litre four-cylinder diesel; and lastly $75,300 for my tester’s 380 horsepower 3.5-litre supercharged V6-powered model’s sole S trim. Take note, all prices, trims, packages and standalone options can be found at CarCostCanada, where you can also save thousands by learning about available rebates and otherwise hard to find dealer invoice pricing. 

2019 Jaguar XF S
All of the XF S details look marvellous. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Recent news of Jaguar losing money by the bucket loads might have something to do with the amazing number of unique powertrains and trims available (and I haven’t touched on options yet) in a car that only sold 173 units in Canada last year. It would’ve been difficult enough when it made 494 deliveries in 2017, or for that matter reached its sales pinnacle in 2016 with 542 down Canadian roads, but such diversity will be hard to maintain if Jaguar plans to keep providing this model in Canada. Similarly in the US, a country roughly 10 times the population of Canada and supposedly experiencing the best economy it ever has (don’t worry Jaguar, we know that’s not true), Jaguar sold 4,704 XFs in 2018, down from 9,278 units the year prior. 

2019 Jaguar XF S
Love these 20-inch alloys. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

While the diversity of XF engines is generous to say the least, all trims incorporate a quick-shifting yet smooth operating ZF-sourced eight-speed electronic automatic transmission with an ultra-cool rotating gear selector that automatically powers up from its otherwise flush position on the lower centre console upon startup, as well as paddle shifter-actuated Jaguar Sequential Shift manual mode for hands-on engagement, and all-wheel drive for four-season grip. 

Further aiding command of the road, all trims include Jaguar Drive Control with Standard, Eco, Dynamic (sport), and Rain/Ice/Snow driving modes, which makes a significant difference to comfort, performance and everything in between, while Torque Vectoring by Braking (TVBB), and hill launch assist help drivers master any road condition. 

2019 Jaguar XF S
The black glass roof is a sure sign of a big sunroof below. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Making my XF S tester even more fun to drive was Adaptive Surface Response (AdSR) plus Configurable Dynamics and Adaptive Dynamics that let you choose personal engine, suspension, steering, and transmission settings, all of which dramatically change the way the car responds to inputs, from a comfortable cruiser to a seriously reactive sport sedan. 

Along with everything already mentioned, the top-line XF S being reviewed receives stronger 350-mm front brake discs and red calipers all-round, and 20-inch alloy wheels, these improving both performance and styling, while the latter gets upgraded with a special “S” body kit that incorporates a sports front bumper, gloss black side sills and rear valance, plus a discrete rear deck lid spoiler. Inside, the XF S incorporates unique metal sill finishers with “S” branding, really attractive Dark Hex aluminum inlays on the instrument panel, a soft leather-like Luxtec-wrapped dash top, ultra-comfortable and supportive “S” embossed 18-way power-adjustable sport seats, and more. 

2019 Jaguar XF S
Simple, elegant LED taillights provide quick response when getting hard on the brakes. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Additional XF S features not yet mentioned include proximity-sensing access, pushbutton ignition, an acoustic layer windshield, automatic headlights, rain-sensing wipers, an electromechanical parking brake, a power-adjustable steering column, auto-dimming, power-folding, heatable side mirrors with approach lights and puddle lamps, memory for those mirrors as well as the front seats, front seat heaters, mood lighting, a Homelink garage door opener, a rearview camera, navigation with detailed mapping, InControl Apps, Pro Services, Bluetooth telephone connectivity with audio streaming, a USB charge port, dual-zone automatic climate control, front and rear parking sensors, etcetera. 

What’s more, along with all the expected active and passive safety features the XF S comes standard with autonomous emergency braking, lane keeping assist, blindspot monitoring, closing vehicle sensing, reverse traffic monitoring, driver condition monitoring, and more. 

2019 Jaguar XF S
Nice sporty looking exhaust, but the 380-hp F-Pace sounds a lot more exciting than this XF S. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

On top of the all these standard XF S items my test model was upgraded to include $670 worth of gorgeous Rossello Red paint; a stunning set of $770 gloss-black twinned five-spoke alloys; a $460 Black package with a gloss black mesh grille and surround, gloss black side vents and the same treatment for the trunk garnish; a $2,200 Comfort and Convenience package with a hyperactive gesture control for that trunk’s powered deck lid (keep reading for the sordid details below); as well as soft closing doors, three-way active ventilated front seats, and heatable rear outboard seats; a $1,030 Technology package with 12.3-inch digital gauge cluster, Pro Services, and a CD/DVD player; a $3,680 Driver Assistance package with a 360-degree surround camera, a forward facing camera, 360-degree Park Distance Control, Park Assist semi-autonomous self-parking, adaptive cruise control with Queue Assist, blindspot assist, and traffic sign recognition with an intelligent speed limiter; a head-up display for $1,330; a heated windshield and heated washer jets for $410; plus satellite and HD radio for $210. 

2019 Jaguar XF S
Not the most refined interior in its class, but still every bit a luxurious Jaguar. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

All that was missing in order fully load up this particular XF S was a $2,230 Premium Interior Upgrade package boasting four-zone auto climate control with an air quality sensor and automatic air re-circulation, a lockable cooled glove box, manual side window sunshades, a powered rear sunshade, and configurable interior mood lighting; plus optional interior décor trim (the carbon fibre would’ve been sweet); yet even as tested the base XF S model’s asking price of $75,300 moves up by $10,550 to $85,850 plus freight and fees (again, check out CarCostCanada for more detail). 

As good as all of this sounds, and the XF arguably delivers a great deal of value for the money asked, we need to face the reality that Germany leads this category by a country mile for good reason (as does Tesla for a different cult-like electrified rationale), and despite Jaguar investing quid upon quid by the bucketful into the XF’s lightweight and ultra-rigid bonded and riveted aluminum body shell, that I happen to think is one of the more attractive in its class, plus as noted earlier, offering more engine options than the majority of rivals (albeit no longer a supercharged V8… sigh), it would need to perform barrel rolls on the spot if it truly wanted to get noticed by mid-size E-segment luxury sedan buyers. 

2019 Jaguar XF S
The XF provides a nicely organized cockpit. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

This seems a good time to mention that the XF is finished to a higher degree of refinement than the smaller, more affordable XE, my tester’s luxuriously appointed Ebony leather and Light Oyster grey contrast-stitched cabin also showing off beautiful Grey Figured Ebony veneer inlays, but while the larger car is more refined than the smaller one, hardly an unusual scenario, I’m not going to go so far as to say the XF is segment-leading when it comes to fit, finish, materials quality, digital interfaces, features, roominess, etcetera. It’s very good in all of the above respects, however, and due to offering a wholly unique look and feel, plus a very different driving experience than any rival it deserves your attention. 

2019 Jaguar XF S
Jaguar’s fully digital gauge cluster is worth the upgrade. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Similar to the compact XE and its larger full-size XJ sibling, the XF feels smaller, lighter and more engaging than most in its class, its aforementioned 380 horsepower V6 responding with snappy enthusiasm that’s no doubt attributed to its healthy displacement and noted supercharger. This means all 332 lb-ft of torque come on strong right from the get-go, while its aforementioned standard all-wheel drive eliminates wheel spin no matter the road conditions, and the eight-speed automatic flicks through gears like Swiss clockwork… or rather British clockwork; the XF is more Bremont meets Christopher Ward with some classic Roger Smith thrown in for good measure, rather than anything with the marketing power of a Rolex or grail-like wow factor of Vacheron Constantin. 

2019 Jaguar XF S
Now all XF trims come standard with Jaguar’s new and improved 10.0-inch touchscreen. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

That’s the challenge, as good as the XF is, it’s up against the Rolex Datejust of the car industry, Mercedes’ E-Class, not to mention the BMW 5 Series, aka Omega Speedmaster, or for that matter the IWC Big Pilot, or rather Audi A6. Enough wristwatch comparos? Either way, I’m sure you get the gist. You’ll need to be a serious watch nerd to know about Bremont, Christopher Ward or Roger Smith, and while I probably should have compared the Germans to Teutonic watch brands such as Nomos, Glashütte Original and A. Lange & Söhne, my point was more about brand power than source of mechanicals and manufacture. 

2019 Jaguar XF S
The rotating gear selector powers up out of the centre console upon startup. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

The truth is, no matter how entertaining and informative I try to make this review out to be, you’re one of a very small number of Canadian consumers showing any interest in this car at all. It’s partially a sign of the crossover SUV times, which is recently being borne out by the success of Jaguar’s own E-Pace, F-Pace and new I-Pace EV, as noted, but as I suggested earlier, it also has a lot due to with Jaguar’s declining fortunes overall. 

This doesn’t stop the XF from being an excellent car that’s great fun to drive, its strong straight-line performance, that’s good for a sprint from standstill to 100km/h of just 5.3 seconds in as-tested S trim (albeit with an exhaust note that was a bit too muted even in Dynamic sport mode to keep me smiling), combining with the agile handling and superb ride quality of a lightweight double-wishbone front and integral link rear suspension, ideal for pounding through compressed serpentine stretches of tarmac at heroic speeds, let alone relaxing quietly and comfortably down the freeway or tooling through town. The XF S is a be-all and do-all sport-luxury sedan, capable of mixing it up in a barroom melee with the Bavarians one minute, and quiet, thoughtful contemplation after a night in Tokyo’s Roppongi district the next. 

2019 Jaguar XF S
Comfortable, supportive seats and plenty of room. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

This said it wasn’t without fault, my top-line model devoid of remote engine start from the key fob (they have it available on their smartphone-downloadable InControl Remote App, but iTunes and Play Store complainants say it works sporadically at best), therefore not allowing me to pre-warm the cabin in winter or pre-chill in summer. Speaking of temperatures, I don’t like that there’s no auto mode for the heated seats. They needed to be turned on each and every time I climbed into the car, as did the heatable steering wheel, and there’s only one extremely hot temperature setting for that latter feature. What else? How about an overhead sunglasses holder that wouldn’t fit my small-sized wire rim Ray-Ban aviators. I had to flip them upside down to get them inside and close the lid, which means their lenses rubbed against the inner lid. Looking downward, corner vents that silently whisk into visibility via powered covers are cool, but all the hard plastic used for the glove box lid, lower dash surfacing, console, and lower door panels isn’t. 

2019 Jaguar XF S
The rear seating area is spacious and comfortable too. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Lastly, a convenience feature I found quite inconvenient was the powered trunk lid that regularly opened up whenever I walked beside it. Other manufacturers fitted with this type of hands-free trunk access, like Hyundai and its Genesis luxury brand, require that you stand behind the rear bumper for three seconds in order to activate the automatic trunk lid, but the XF’s trunk kept opening when walking past with key fob in pocket, without provocation. One time, after parking at a shopping mall, the trunk popped open while walking around the backside of the car to leave. This exposed all of my valuables to the prying eyes of anyone nearby who might potentially want them for themselves, a security risk for sure. A second time, I left the engine running for less than a minute while dropping off a package at one of the offices I deal with regularly (they have a private parking lot and entrance), and once again when walking past the rear bumper the trunk automatically opened. It did it again when walking around to pump gas, making this the most annoying automatic trunk opening system ever. 

2019 Jaguar XF S
The XF’s trunk is extremely large and versatile. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Speaking of pumping gas, the XF gets a claimed Transport Canada fuel economy rating of 12.0 L/100km in the city, 8.4 on the highway and 10.4 combined, which is really quite good for such a powerful and sizeable luxury sedan, although take note those willing to sacrifice some performance for better efficiency can opt for the previously noted turbo-diesel that achieves an amazing 7.8 city, 5.8 highway and 6.9 combined. Diesel is often quite a bit cheaper than gasoline too, and let’s you drive farther per tank. 

Back to that trunk, I should mention that it’s generously sized at 541 litres (19.1 cubic feet), and can be expanded further via a 40/20/40-divided rear seatback that makes passenger/cargo flexibility as good as this class gets. 

2019 Jaguar XF S
A 40/20/40 rear split allows long cargo down the middle and passengers to each side. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

The front and rear seats are roomy too, much thanks to a stretch to the car’s wheelbase when the second-generation was introduced. Now, there’s 1,055 mm of legroom up front and 957 mm in back, so no one should complain about cramped quarters and, due to well-designed, supportive seats at all corners, all (even tall John Cleese types) should be totally comfortable. 

So, all you luxury buyers who dance to the beat of different drummers, the Jaguar XF might just be your ideal ride. It’s not perfect, but such charming character would be impossible to achieve without the need to excuse a few flaws. All-round, the XF is an impressive mid-size sport-luxury sedan that delivers strongly on most points, and its updated infotainment system makes it even more compelling. 

Yes, the XF is something completely different, suitable even for Monty Python royalty.

So what do you think? Can the case be made for a person actually opting for a regular WRX over a WRX STI that isn’t price-related? After spending a week behind the wheel of a 2019 WRX Sport-tech RS…

2019 Subaru WRX Sport-tech RS Road Test

2019 Subaru WRX Sport-tech RS
Subaru updated WRX styling for 2018, and the design continues into 2019 unchanged, including this Sport-tech RS model. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

So what do you think? Can the case be made for a person actually opting for a regular WRX over a WRX STI that isn’t price-related? After spending a week behind the wheel of a 2019 WRX Sport-tech RS I say absolutely, and my tester wasn’t even fitted with its automatic transmission. 

Availability of the automatic is a key regular WRX differentiator when comparing it to the more potent STI, the latter only useful to those who know how to row through the gears of a manual shifter. This means that anyone using their WRX as daily, who wants a more convenient, relaxed drive when commuting, along with the legendary model’s high level of performance, whether charging up serpentine mountainside roads amid weekend getaways or merely pushing the envelope through cloverleaf-style highway entrances and exits on their way to or home from work, can spend just $1,300 more to do so with all regular WRX trims, excepting this specific WRX Sport-tech RS, which is only available with said six-speed manual transmission. 

2019 Subaru WRX Sport-tech RS
The WRX’ muscular fenders and other go-fast styling details have been mostly the same since its 2015 redesign. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

To clarify, you can get a 2019 WRX Sport-tech with an automatic, but the RS designation will need to be swapped out for EyeSight. It’s not as if Subaru brands the car with RS or EyeSight anyway, other than via the roof-height all-seeing-eyes behind its windshield, plus on its website and internal order sheet of course, and it also should be noted the Sport-tech EyeSight isn’t identical to the Sport-tech RS, transmission choice aside, but each model’s similarities should be close enough for those who want a compromise between pure performance and ease of daily use. 

Before deep diving into all that makes each trim unique, and by so doing listing RS and EyeSight features in comparison to other WRX trims, I’d like to detail out my particular Sport-tech RS test model. First off, I couldn’t be happier with the Subaru Canada press communication team’s choice of World Rally Blue Pearl as an exterior colour, which while identical to the Sport-tech RS I reviewed last year, at least almost, is still one of my favourites due to an eye-searing blue hue that is based in the Japanese brand’s significant motorsport heritage, being very close to Subaru’s World Rally Championship winning race team’s livery. 

2019 Subaru WRX Sport-tech RS
The regular WRX uses a smaller rear spoiler than the STI for a more subtle look, but its rear diffuser and quad tailpipes still look formidable. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

All good and well, but why would Subaru give me a seemingly identical WRX test car within a given year? That’s simple: Subaru updated the 2019 model’s centre-mounted infotainment display. A critically important feature in any new vehicle these days, the WRX touchscreen is now the same as in other updated models across the Subaru lineup (new 2020 Legacy and Outback aside), or in other words wholly improved with a totally redesigned graphic interface that’s much better looking. For starters it features a bright, smartphone/tablet-style array of colourful digital buttons hovering within floating 3D tiles, on what I can only describe as a dark blue night sky-like background (complete with stars). I like the design and appreciated how fast the new interface responds to input, and while I no longer use an iPhone and therefore could not enjoy what appears like a much more appealing Apple CarPlay interface, iOS integration now comes standard on all WRX trims, as does Android Auto that worked very well with my Samsung S9, if not quite as graphically stimulating. 

2019 Subaru WRX Sport-tech RS
How’s that for a hood scoop? Of course, this is a WRX so it’s fully functional. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Sport-tech trim features a half-inch larger than base 7.0-inch display that once again bookends the screen with rows of touch-sensitive quick access buttons, including Home, Map and Apps on the left side and Info just above two sets of track-seeking arrows to the right side. Near-field communication (NFC) is also incorporated for faster phone connectivity (if your smartphone includes it), while other features include a Micro SD card slot, HD radio, navigation mapping and routing, a rearview camera with active guidelines, and more. I found it easier to use, plus the display’s clarity and depth of colour was superb, matching the best on offer in the mainstream industry, and easily surpassing a number of competitive systems. 

Infotainment system aside, this WRX Sport-tech RS and its non-STI siblings move into 2019 unchanged, meaning they continue to show off last year’s attractive styling enhancements, chassis upgrades, and additional refinements, as well as new safety features. Let me explain. 

2019 Subaru WRX Sport-tech RS
Completely new frontal styling makes a big difference to the WRX design. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

With respect to its outer design, Subaru refreshed the front grille and bumper of the WRX for 2018, as well as the interior door trim, while a new electroluminescent primary gauge package incorporated a nicely sorted new high-resolution colour TFT display. What’s more, the 5.9-inch colour multi-information display atop the dash received new graphical updates too, which look really attractive. This performance-oriented interface, with placement and functions that hark back to ancillary analogue turbo, temp and oil pressure gauges of the past, is totally unique to the segment too, and adds that bespoke allure to the WRX that can’t be found in competitors’ sports models. 

Additionally, passengers in back received a new flip-down centre armrest with integrated cupholders last year, while all occupants still benefit from lower noise, vibration and harshness levels, aiding audio system enjoyment as well as more easily understood conversations. Lastly, a retuned suspension provided improvements to ride quality, while a stronger battery strengthened the electrical system. 

2019 Subaru WRX Sport-tech RS
The Sport-tech RS’ gunmetal grey alloys look stunning, but the flared fenders with engine vents and chromed garnishes are even more eye-catching. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Back to styling, I like what Subaru has done with the grille, particularly its blackened borders and black mesh insert, but the racing-spec-style multi-component lower front fascia with its matte black centre vent looks even better, as do the bigger, squarer, matte black fog light bezels to each side, while the four twinned five-spoke gunmetal grey-painted cast aluminum alloy wheels on 245/40 Dunlop SP Sport Maxx RT performance rubber are stunning, these encircled by sporty red brake calipers that are as racy as this class gets. Of note, base and Sport models come fitted with grey 15-spoke 17-inch alloys on the same tires, albeit sized at 235/45. 

Everything already mentioned, together with all of the other features upgraded for 2018, such as the larger front hood scoop, reworked headlights, and rally car-inspired matte black rear diffuser integrating four chrome tailpipe finishers, as well as all items seemingly pulled up from the 2015-2017 model that preceded, including the coke-bottle fenders with open engine vents trimmed with cool chrome “WRX” garnishes, the subtle rear trunk lid spoiler (which I appreciate more than the STI’s massive wing—the smaller lip spoiler can be had with the STI as well) and more, look sensational. 

2019 Subaru WRX Sport-tech RS
The WRX’ rear diffuser and quad of chromed tailpipes makes a sporty statement. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Also continuing forward into 2019, all regular WRX models feature Subaru’s excellent 2.0-litre direct-injection twin-scroll turbocharged boxer four, producing a generous 268-horsepower and 258 lb-ft of torque. While still a fair ways from the STI’s 310 horsepower and 290 lb-ft of torque, the regular WRX mill is still very strong in its class, especially when factoring in that the car starts at just $29,995 plus destination and fees, or $38,995 in as-tested Sport-tech RS trim, which is considerably more affordable than the STI’s $41,995 base price, or that model’s more directly comparable STI Sport-tech that hits the road at $47,295. It’s also important to factor in that the majority of similarly priced competitors don’t provide the same levels of performance, which we should also consider includes Subaru’s standard Symmetrical-AWD, aiding all types of driving in Canada’s ever-cooling, and seemingly much longer winters, so the WRX makes a strong case to Canadian sports car fans, even if it is more of a sport sedan. 

2019 Subaru WRX Sport-tech RS
This is the most refined WRX ever made, getting very close to a premium-level sport sedan. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

As mentioned above, a six-speed manual comes standard, but take note the optional automatic is actually a CVT (Continuously Variable Transmission), normally nothing to brag about amongst performance enthusiasts. Still, continuously variable transmissions have improved a lot over the years, and the WRX’ Sport Lineartronic version is actually very good thanks to an engaging set of steering wheel paddle shifters that actuate both six- and eight-speed manual modes, plus Subaru Intelligent Drive (SI-DRIVE). I realize that it might be difficult for some to accept the inclusion of a CVT in the WRX, but after experiencing this drivetrain two years ago I was surprised in all the right ways. Of course, I personally wouldn’t choose the autobox route, but then again I wouldn’t cut anyone to the core for doing so either. 

2019 Subaru WRX Sport-tech RS
Sport-tech RS trim provides a lot of sporty upgrades, but this year’s big improvement is the centre touchscreen. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

With respect to the as-tested manual transmission, it received a redesigned shift lever, improved shifting feel, and refined clutch feel as part of the 2018 redesign, with the result being a shifter that’s still smooth and accurate, and a clutch that’s nicely weighted with ideal take-up, plus is more responsive without any grabby side effects. 

On that note there’s zero change in straight-line performance from the identically powered 2018 car, with the manual model still claiming a 5.4-second sprint from standstill to 100km/h, and the CVT remaining respectable at 5.9 seconds for the same feat. Of course neither will get an STI owner excited, but nevertheless I thoroughly enjoyed my week with the car, happy with its power off the line and rapidity up to highway speeds (and a little beyond). On that note, CVT owners can boast about a higher 240-km/h top-speed over the manually equipped car, which can only manage 232 km/h due to a shorter final gear. 

2019 Subaru WRX Sport-tech RS
The WRX includes easy-to-read analogue gauges with a nice, large multi-info display at centre. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

As stated in my 2018 WRX Sport-tech RS review, the modifications made were mostly focused on refinements, including better steering feel and a more comfortable, compliant ride that doesn’t compromise at-the-limit road-holding. Truly, I could have cared less about ride quality when I was younger, even driving a raised Jeep CJ-5 on big knobby tires (and massive Alpine speakers hanging off the roll bar) at one point (the fabric roof was rarely attached during the summer), but as I age, like so many WRX owners have, comfort matters more. As it is, the new and improved WRX was a joy during daily jaunts around the city, where I end up driving most of the time, but then again when I took the opportunity to push it to its limits on a few favourite back roads it was every bit the super sedan I’ve enjoyed on multiple occasions over the years. In fact, I’d say it’s even better, because its more compliant suspension, which still remains quite firmly sprung compared to most others in this class, and fully independent, of course, allowed better control over rough patches of pavement that probably would have unsettled the more rigid previous generation. 

2019 Subaru WRX Sport-tech RS
Subaru provides the WRX with a unique dual-display infotainment setup. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

An area of weakness is fuel economy, which might be surprising to those who choose the WRX for its compact size and supposed four-cylinder efficiency. While an improvement over the STI’s official rating of 14.3 L/100km in the city, 10.7 on the highway and 12.7 combined, the regular WRX is still a bit voracious at 12.6 L/100km city, 9.6 highway and 11.2 combined with its standard manual transmission, or 11.3 city, 8.5 highway and 10.0 combined with the optional CVT. You won’t have to look very hard to find a more formidable competitor with thriftier economy, so Subaru will likely want to address this issue when it updates the 2.0-litre boxer at some point in the future. 

2019 Subaru WRX Sport-tech RS
The top-screen is more of a multi-information display, providing performance functions as well as other important info. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

I suppose I should ask if you really care about fuel efficiency. I imagine those in Vancouver, who were recently paying upwards of $1.85 per litre for 91-octane unleaded (the recommended fuel) might be more averse, but WRX owners in Edmonton, Alberta, who were only paying $1.30 or so for the same litre of mid-grade gas, might not give a rat’s butt. 

Either way the WRX remains practical, with seating for up to five in relative comfort, plus a sizeable enough trunk, when compared to most sports cars at least, which measures 340 litres (12.0 cubic feet), and benefits from 60/40-split rear seatback expandability. That trunk might also matter more to those who live in more crime-ridden Canadian cities, as it provides better security than a hatchback, which is more often than not the body style of choice in this class. 

Speaking of competitors, the WRX’ cabin quality once again impressed. The instrument panel is mostly comprised of a premium soft-touch synthetic material, even stretching across the entire dash top and downward to the halfway point of the centre stack, while all door uppers are comfortably padded too, front to back. Likewise, Subaru adds nice quilted leatherette door inserts with red stitching, and soft, elbow-friendly armrests with the same rosy thread. 

2019 Subaru WRX Sport-tech RS
The WRX’ new touchscreen interface is really attractive, and ultra-easy to use. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

The WRX’ contrast stitching brings up an important point about taste. Subaru, in its experience and wisdom in this category, and understanding that its WRX is now targeting a wider spectrum of age groups than ever, kept its splashes of red interior highlights to a tasteful minimum, making for an attractively sporty cabin design that’s not overly garish. This is in sharp contrast to some rivals, such as Honda’s Civic Type R, which is a brilliant performance car, but hard on the eyes. As it is, the red thread in the WRX Sport-tech RS also adorns the door inserts, leather-wrapped steering wheel, shifter boot, and the side bolsters of each seat, which are also trimmed in a thick strip of crimson leather, this nicely contrasting the rest of the seats’ black leather and suede-like microfibre upholstery. Additionally, Subaru adds a great looking horseshoe-shaped ring of red piping around the mid-portion of the seats, which frame white-embroidered “RECARO” logos, the latter perfectly matching yet more red piping on the headrests above. Finishing things off is an instrument panel inlay that does a good job of mimicking carbon fibre. 

2019 Subaru WRX Sport-tech RS
Subaru updated the WRX shifter and linkage last year, and it’s now smoother and more refined. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Of course, other than with the STI the interior just outlined is specifically for my tester’s Sport-tech RS (and one special edition) trim, while a variety of additional WRX models are worthy of your investigation too. Together with the aforementioned $29,998 base trim, as well as the $39,095 Sport-tech EyeSight noted earlier, you can also consider Sport trim at $33,195, and this Sport-tech model without the $2,300 RS upgrade for just $36,495. 

What’s more, a new $40,995 雷雨 Raiu Edition joined the fray for 2019, painted in a self proclaimed Cool Grey Khaki hue that I happen to love. It boasts a number of STI-style exterior styling upgrades including a sportier front lip spoiler, wider side skirts, and the gigantic rear deck lid wing spoiler, as well as a sizeable set of 19-inch alloy wheels framing the STI’s yellow-painted Brembo six-pot front and two-pot rear brake calipers over ventilated and cross-drilled discs. The 雷雨 Raiu Edition also includes the Subaru Rear/Side Vehicle Detection System (SRVD) as standard, which features blindspot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert and lane change assist, while it also comes with a powered glass sunroof, a 10-way power-adjustable driver’s seat with powered lumbar support, and racy red seatbelts adorning the Ultrasuede seats noted a moment ago. 

2019 Subaru WRX Sport-tech RS
The Sport-tech RS powered front seats are fabulous, thanks to leather, ultrasuede, and their inherently good Recaro design. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

By the way, all the 2019 WRX trim, package and option pricing used in this review was sourced from CarCostCanada, where you’ll also find information about available manufacturer rebates and otherwise difficult to find dealer invoice pricing that could save you thousands. 

Back to the WRX Sport-tech RS, it features stronger Jurid brake pads that bite down on the standard 316 mm front and 286 mm rear discs via those red brake calipers mentioned a moment ago, while inside the cabin you’ll get the ultra-luxe black and red partial-leather and microsuede upholstery also noted. The driver’s seat is just eight-way powered, but as mentioned it’s a much more inherently supportive Recaro sport seat, as is the front passenger’s, so most won’t complain. I certainly didn’t, finding it fabulously comfortable and wholly supportive, especially when pushing the WRX through fast-paced corners. 

2019 Subaru WRX Sport-tech RS
The rear seating area is accommodating enough for three across, and finished to the same high standard as the front. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Along with everything already mentioned, Sport-tech trim adds proximity keyless entry with pushbutton start/stop, the bigger 7.0-inch central touchscreen featuring the upgraded interface mentioned earlier, as well as Subaru’s StarLink app, additional apps like Yelp, Best Parking, Glympse, SiriusXM Traffic and Travel Link with weather, sports and stock market information, great sounding 320-watt nine-speaker Harman/Kardon audio, and dual USB inputs. 

Features included with my Sport-tech RS tester that can also be found in Sport trim include wiper-integrated auto on-off LED headlamps with new steering-responsive cornering capability, LED fog lights, LED turn signals within the side mirrors, welcome lighting, the smaller rear deck lid spoiler mentioned before, plus the previously noted powered moonroof and SRVD blindspot safety system. 

2019 Subaru WRX Sport-tech RS
While not the largest trunk in the segment, the WRX offers more secured space than most sports cars, plus 60/40-split rear seatbacks. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Finally, 2019 WRX base trim items found with my Sport-tech RS included a high-performance quad-tipped exhaust system, integrated roof rack brackets, a windshield wiper de-icer, a really sporty leather-clad and red-stitched multifunction flat-bottom steering wheel, auto climate control, heated front seats, StarLink smartphone integration (including Aha radio), a reverse camera, an AM/FM/CD/MP3/WMA/satellite radio, Bluetooth phone connectivity with streaming audio, an aux connection, USB ports, voice activation, etcetera. 

Being that the Sport-tech RS model comes standard with a manual, it doesn’t get Subaru’s EyeSight suite of advanced driver assistive systems, but I should still go over everything featured with the EyeSight upgrade, such as auto high beams, adaptive cruise control, lead vehicle start alert, pre-collision braking, pre-collision brake assist, pre-collision throttle management, reverse automatic braking, lane departure warning, lane sway warning, and lane keeping assist. 

2019 Subaru WRX Sport-tech RS
It’s a WRX, so we just have to show you under the hood where its wonderful 2.0-litre turbo-four boxer resides. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

When equipped with all of the above the WRX achieves a best-possible IIHS Top Safety Pick + rating, and believe me the “+” portion of this commendation is very hard to get in the WRX’ small car class, only shared with three rival mainstream volume brands, none being a direct competitor to this go-fast Subie. I was even more impressed to find out that four Subaru models earn this IIHS Top Safety Pick + rating within the WRX small car category, which is a better result than any other brand. 

Also notable, Subaru has more vehicles receiving the top-most IIHS “+” rating than any competitor, completely topping the mid-size class, and represented in every segment it compete in, BRZ aside (a car it designed and builds with Toyota), resulting in eight total models. Speaking of Toyota, how does it fare? Only two of Toyota’s namesake models are rated as highly, while Honda had just had one, and Nissan didn’t have any models achieving safest IIHS status. This impressive safety claim is therefore as good as it gets, especially when combined with the all-weather safety of Subaru’s standard Symmetrical all-wheel drive. 

I’m not going to end this review by claiming a score of 10-out-of-10 for Subaru’s WRX, particularly due to its fuel economy, but suffice to say it’s impressive in most every other way, and as suitable to daily driving as it is for cleaning up at weekend autocross events or those wonderfully memorable days on the track. Of course, you’ll need to pray a WRX STI doesn’t show up, but for those on more of a budget, or city slicker who’d rather not shift for themselves, the regular WRX is an excellent choice, particularly when dressed up in Sport-tech RS trim.

The fact that you’re reading this means you’re probably fully aware what an Acura MDX is, but it’s quite possible you’ve never heard of A-Spec. Don’t worry, because you’re far from alone.…

2019 Acura MDX A-Spec Road Test Review

2019 Acura MDX A-Spec
Acura has given its MDX a sporty optional A-Spec trim upgrade for 2019, and we think it looks great while playing in the dirt. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

The fact that you’re reading this means you’re probably fully aware what an Acura MDX is, but it’s quite possible you’ve never heard of A-Spec. Don’t worry, because you’re far from alone. Basically, A-Spec is a performance trim offered across the entire Acura lineup that, depending on the model in question, may or may not include any actual go-fast sport-oriented upgrades. As for the MDX A-Spec, which is new for this 2019 model year, it’s purely a styling exercise. 

Fortunately the new A-Spec enhancements result in a very attractive bit of SUV kit, including gloss-black and darkened chrome trimmings for the grille, headlamps, window surrounds, and rear rooftop spoiler, plus a more aggressive frontal apron, painted front and rear lower skid plates, body-colour door handles, body-coloured rocker panels, bigger exhaust pipes, and a gorgeous set of 20-inch 10-spoke Shark Grey alloys on lower profile 265/45 all-seasons. That rubber might seem like the only upgrade that could possibly improve the MDX’ performance, but it should be noted these are the same as used on this SUV’s most luxuriously adorned Elite model. 

2019 Acura MDX A-Spec
Nice and long, the MDX has plenty of room for its three accommodating rows, as well as loads of cargo. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Sliding into any one of the MDX seven seats means that you’ll inevitably have to pass over one of four A-Spec-embossed metal treadplates, while the upgraded cabin also features a unique primary gauge package that’s been brightened with additional red highlights. The latter gets framed by a thicker A-Spec-branded sport steering wheel that’s partially wrapped in grippy dimpled leather, while just below are sporty metal foot pedals. The console between the driver and front passenger gets special carbon-look detailing, and the sport seats flanking it are either covered in a sensational “Rich Red” upholstery or, in the case of my test model, special black leather with high-contrast stitching, plus plush perforated black suede-like Alcantara inserts. 

2019 Acura MDX A-Spec
A-Spec trim blackens trim that’s otherwise chrome, paints out other areas in body colour, and beefs up the rear bumper cap. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

So what do you think? I, for one, like what Acura has done to spiff up this aging yet still worthy luxury SUV. The exterior changes add some fresh new life to what is still a good looking package, while the interior mods are as easy on the eyes as they’re tactilely pleasurable (especially the Alcantara), but let’s be clear, none of this does much to modernize an instrument panel layout that has slowly been freefalling into the realms of classic, retrospective designs. 

2019 Acura MDX A-Spec
The MDX A-Spec’s frontal design gets black chrome and gloss-black detailing along with a bolder lower front fascia. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Of course, I’m not talking about the MDX’ downright radical, left-field, but now that I’m used to it, perfectly functional and kind-of-cool lower console-mounted pushbutton gear selector, which should never be exchanged for RDX version that takes up much too much valuable space on its centre stack, or for that matter the entry-level crossover’s new rotating drive mode selector that’s equally inefficient in its size and placement and therefore forced the need to position the otherwise superb tablet-style infotainment display atop the dash instead of closer to the driver where it could otherwise be actuated via touch gestures for easier use, instead of a complex touchpad that should only be an extra add-on to complement the overall infotainment package, we all have to admit the MDX two-tiered display setup is pretty outdated. 

2019 Acura MDX A-Spec
Like with all Acura models, the MDX receives standard Jewel Eye LED headlamps. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Why two centre tiers? Unlike the new RDX, that fits a fairly large multi-information display (MID) between two analogue dials within the primary package (although a fully digital cluster would be more competitive in top trims), the MDX gets a tall, narrow MID with simple colour graphics and minimal info ahead of the driver, and sends other MID info to the larger 8.0-inch top monitor on the centre stack. You can access the usual info from a rotating/push dial just under the second display below, while the top screen defaults to the navigation map when not in reverse, at which point an excellent multi-angle backup camera with active guidelines comes into play; the available 360-degree surround parking monitor can only be had with the previously noted top-line Elite model. This leaves more easily reached 7.0-inch touchscreen for audio and climate control adjustment, etcetera. 

2019 Acura MDX A-Spec
An attractive set of triple-stacked LED fog lamps enhance the lower fascia design. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Before I start getting hate mail for beating up on the MDX’ obviously aging infotainment system, a problem that many other brands are dealing with as their various models attempt to stay fresh and intriguing while undergoing the same old two- to three-year refresh, and four- to five-year redesigned cycles as have been used for decades, some of Acura’s competitors have done a better job of staying ahead of the digital curve and are therefore reaping the rewards of doing so. 

2019 Acura MDX A-Spec
The A-Spec’s exclusive dark grey 20-inch alloys look fabulous, but the tires are identical to those used in the more luxurious Elite trim, so don’t add a performance advantage. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

We’ll have to wait and see what Acura brings to the table, or more specifically the instrument panel when the all-new redesigned MDX surfaces sometime before 2020 or 2021 (so far there has been no official launch announcement), but as you can tell from my RDX comments (which is otherwise one of the best crossover SUVs in its compact luxury class), I’d rather Acura choose a different infotainment direction for the next-gen MDX. 

2019 Acura MDX A-Spec
The LED taillights come standard across the MDX line, but the A-Spec badge is exclusive, of course. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

All grumbling aside, the current MDX infotainment system works well enough, and even includes such advanced features as Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, Bluetooth phone connectivity with audio streaming, Siri Eyes Free, SMS text message and email reading functionality, satellite radio, four USB charge-capable ports, and more, plus as noted my A-Spec tester also had an accurate navigation system with detailed mapping and voice recognition, this pulled up from the MDX’ mid-range Tech trim line, which also provided superb 10-speaker ELS Studio surround sound audio, hard disk drive (HDD) media storage, AcuraLink subscription services, and more. 

2019 Acura MDX A-Spec
The A-Spec uses many of the same high-quality materials as found in the regular MDX, but adds plush suede-like Alcantara to the door inserts and seat upholstery. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

As usual with any Acura model, I feel tempted to list out as many features as possible, because this helps you to appreciate just how good the brand’s value proposition is, but this time around I’ll try to keep my babbling to a minimum and just detail the more important highlights such as LED fog lamps, auto-dimming power-folding outside mirrors, perimeter/approach puddle lamps, keyless entry buttons for the rear doors, and cooled/ventilated front seats as additions to the $60,490 A-Spec features menu, while additional items sourced from the Tech model include sun position detection for the climate control, front and rear parking sonar, and Blind Spot Information (BSI) with rear cross-traffic alert. s

2019 Acura MDX A-Spec
The MDX hasn’t changed the look of its instrument panel for a very long time, but the Alcantara seat inserts are brand new for 2019. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Advanced driver assistance systems in mind, each and every MDX trim comes standard with the Japanese luxury brand’s AcuraWatch suite of safety and convenience features, including Forward Collision Warning (FCW), Collision Mitigation Braking System (CMBS), Lane Departure Warning (LDW), Lane Keeping Assist (LKAS), Road Departure Mitigation (RDM), and Adaptive Cruise Control (ACC) with low-speed follow. 

2019 Acura MDX A-Spec
A small colour display gets surrounded by conventional analogue dials. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Finally, some key features sourced from the $54,390 base MDX for my tester’s A-Spec trim include the brand’s signature Jewel Eye LED headlamps with automatic high beams, attractive LED tail lamps, sound-deadening acoustic front glass, a remote engine starter, proximity-sensing front access, pushbutton start/stop, ambient cabin lighting, memory for the standard power-adjustable steering column, side mirrors, and auto climate control system, an electric parking brake, a power-operated glass sunroof with shade, a HomeLink universal garage door opener, an auto-dimming centre mirror, driver recognition, a heatable steering wheel rim, transmission paddle shifters, rain-sensing wipers, tri-zone front and rear auto HVAC, Active Noise Control (ANC), Active Sound Control (ASC), heatable 12-way power-adjustable front seats with four-way powered lumbar, a power liftgate, a 1,588-kilo towing capacity (or 2,268 kilograms with the available towing package), plus more. 

2019 Acura MDX A-Spec
The A-Spec’s metal pedal upgrade even spiff up the “dead pedal” foot rest on the very left. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Of note, all of the 2019 Acura MDX trim, package, and options pricing shown in this review were sourced from CarCostCanada, where you can also find helpful rebate information as well as dealer invoice pricing that could save you thousands, so make sure to check click here to save the most money possible when purchasing your next car, truck or SUV. 

2019 Acura MDX A-Spec
The MDX’ two-tiered infotainment setup delivers a lot of screen space for the money, but while functional the system is now beyond dated. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

So far in this review, I’ve criticized the MDX for some of its mostly digital shortcomings, but I have to admit that it’s still enjoyable to drive and very comfortable, no matter where you’re seated. It’s also finished quite well considering its age, particularly in A-Spec trim. Some of this model’s interior upgrades include the aforementioned sport steering wheel, which feels really good in the fingers thanks to a thick, meaty, textured leather rim and well-sculpted spats for each thumb, while the interior is also filled with an attractive combination of satin-silver aluminum trim accents and other premium-finish inlays. Additionally, Acura lays on a heavy dose of premium-quality pliable composites across the dash, each door upper, and most everywhere else including the glove box lid, with just a small section of the instrument panel below the driver’s knees, plus each side of the lower centre console, and the bottom portion of each door panel, finished in harder, less premium types of plastic. Just above, however, are some of the plushest Alcantara door inserts in the business, this exclusive to my A-Spec model. 

2019 Acura MDX A-Spec
The top screen defaults to this navigation map, and while the display isn’t the sharpest the route guidance is very accurate. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

I was happy to be reminded that the MDX’ driver’s seat includes the four-way powered lumbar mentioned earlier, helping to add just the right amount of pressure in just the right spot for reducing back pain, and only wish all automakers would do likewise, while the comfortable driver’s seat also provided plenty of the usual adjustments this category offers, yet I would have also liked the under-leg support provided by a lower cushion extension, and being that this model is Acura’s sportiest large SUV, a set of adjustable side torso bolsters would be handy too. Unfortunately, even the front seats in A-Spec trim don’t keep one’s backside in place very firmly when tackling corners, but on the positive the side bolsters should provide comfort for those on the larger size. 

2019 Acura MDX A-Spec
The top screen is adjusted via these controls, the rotating dial used for scrolling, +/- functions, etc. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Not only comfortable, the MDX provides excellent visibility all around, making it easy to operate in all types of traffic situations, but before delving into its driving dynamics, I should mention how much room this SUV offers. Having set up the driver’s seat for my five-foot-eight, long-legged, short-torso frame I still had plenty of room when seated in the second row just behind. That second-row easily slides fore and aft to make more room if needed, but even with it pulled all the way forward I still had a couple of inches of air ahead of my knees and room enough for my feet while shod in winter boots, plus when that second-row seat was pushed all the way back it was downright limousine-like. 

2019 Acura MDX A-Spec
The lower touchscreen accesses audio and HVAC functions plus more, and works well enough. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

With the second-row all the way rearward, the MDX’ rearmost row is probably only good for smaller adults or children, but after sliding the middle row forward I had plenty of room and those just mentioned winter boots slotted nicely underneath. I can’t call the third row comfortable, but it should be adequate for kids and mid-size teens, which is makes the MDX more utile than many in this class. Those in the very back shouldn’t get claustrophobic either, thanks to a set of side windows and a decent view out the front, while cupholders and nice reading lamps provide a good atmosphere for long trips. Climbing out from the very back is fairly easy as well, only needing you to press a button on the back of the second-row seat that immediately slides it forward, but this said it’s not the largest throughway to enter or exit from, so take care if you’re past teenage years. 

2019 Acura MDX A-Spec
The MDX’ pushbutton gear selector takes up a fair bit of room on the console, but it uses space better than the new RDX system. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Back in second row, a handy climate control panel is added to the backside of the front centre console for rear passenger comfort, while Acura also provides two USB device chargers below. I would’ve liked to see a set of second-row seat heaters, but these only come in top-tier Elite trim; c’est la vie. 

2019 Acura MDX A-Spec
The A-Spec’s Alcantara seat inserts aid grip, which is helpful as the side bolsters aren’t very aggressive. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

The powered rear liftgate opens to a properly finished cargo area featuring chrome tie-down hooks and nice, high-end carpeting up the sidewalls and on the seatbacks, while a sharp looking aluminum tread plate pretties up the rear doorsill. It’s adequately roomy too, with 447 litres (15.8 cubic feet) of gear-toting space behind the third row, and a useful underfloor compartment too. Folding the 50/50-split rear seats down is easy enough, but smaller folk might want Acura to add a power option in the upcoming redesign. Dropping the second row down is a manual affair as well, and while it’s easy enough you’ll need to walk around to the side doors to do so. Cargo capacity grows from 1,230 litres (43.4 cu ft) aft of the upright second-row seats to 2,575 litres (90.9 cu ft) when all are laid flat, but take heed that no middle pass-through is available for longer cargo such as skis, meaning the MDX’ European rivals do a more comprehensive job of providing passenger/cargo flexibility. 

2019 Acura MDX A-Spec
Special 12-way adjustability with 4-way lumbar make the MDX A-Spec front seats very comfortable. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

As for the MDX powertrain, it’s probably the most experienced in its segment, which is a bonus if you’re looking for well-proven reliability, or a bane if you want the latest under-hood technology. Acura’s SOHC 3.5-litre V6 has been around since 2014, and while producing a decent 290 horsepower and 267 lb-ft of torque when compared to mainstream volume branded SUVs, doesn’t exactly light a fire under your seat when getting hard on the throttle when compared to some key competitors, like Audi’s 333-horepower supercharged Q7 and BMW’s 335-hp turbocharged X5, plus plenty of others, and making this issue even more pronounced is the fact the older 2007 to 2013 second-gen MDX used a 200-cc larger 3.7-litre variation on the same V6 theme that was 10 horsepower and 3 lb-ft of torque stronger for max output of 300 hp and 270 lb-ft, which means the MDX has kind of been in reverse when it comes to straight-line performance. 

2019 Acura MDX A-Spec
Just a classic front moonroof in the MDX, with no panoramic option available. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Softening the backhanded blow in 2013, when the current 2014 powertrain was introduced, was the nine-speed ZF automatic transmission still doing an admirable job of swapping cogs. While hardly producing lightning-quick shifts, even in Sport mode, it was certainly more fun to flick through the paddles than the previous six-speed unit, and I must say it’s wonderfully smooth about its business, while Acura’s torque-vectoring SH-AWD, standard with the MDX, even makes slippery road conditions confidence-inspiring. 

2019 Acura MDX A-Spec
Second-row room, comfort and adjustability is good. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

I took the MDX up a local mountain road and was thoroughly impressed by its ability through thick, mucky snow, the white fluffy stuff having departed long before I arrived. I can only imagine how well it would work if Acura had provided some winter tires instead, but the 265/ 45R20 Michelin Latitude Alpin all-seasons circling the dark grey alloys mentioned earlier, did a fine job just the same.  

Likewise for the MDX’ capable suspension, which while set up with more focus on compliant comfort than edgy performance, is easily up to fast-paced cornering through circuitous backroads, but it’s even better at high-speed cruising down the freeway thanks to its superbly sorted fully independent suspension that tracks brilliantly while providing an excellent ride. 

2019 Acura MDX A-Spec
Third row access is easy to operate, but there’s not much room to slip behind. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

The Sport mode just mentioned comes as part of a drive mode selector that also offers Comfort and Normal settings, plus the ability to stay in a chosen mode even after shutting off the engine and returning later. So therefore, if you’re the type of driver that leaves their SUV in Sport mode all the time, Acura has you covered without any extra fuss, and likewise for those who place Comfort higher on their priority list. 

2019 Acura MDX A-Spec
Once inside there’s plenty of space in the very back for small adults or kids. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Now that I’m on to more practical subjects, the MDX’ fuel-efficiency is quite good for this class, despite its large V6 engine. This might be due to its relatively stress-free life compared to what a turbo-four would need to do if pushing such a large, weighty SUV, the as-tested MDX A-Spec hitting the scales at 1,945 kg (4,288 lbs). The engine also features some impressive technologies including direct-injection, i-VTEC, Variable Cylinder Management (VCM) that turns off one row of cylinders when not being pushed hard, auto idle stop/start that reduces consumption and emissions even more, and the nine-speed autobox that’s tweaked to minimize engine revs, all helping this A-Spec model to achieve a Transport Canada rating of 12.2 L/100km city, 9.5 highway and 11.0 combined, which is just a bit more than every other MDX trim that get rated at 12.2 city, 9.0 highway and 10.8 combined. Speaking of fuel economy, I just recently retested the MDX Sport Hybrid, which, due to an innovative two-motor hybrid-electric powertrain, is rated at 9.1 L/100km in the city, 9.0 on the highway and 9.0 combined. I’ll make sure to review this top-line MDX soon, so please come back for the rest of this SUV’s story. 

2019 Acura MDX A-Spec
Cargo capacity is an MDX strength. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Back to the conventionally powered MDX, I must admit to still enjoying my time behind the wheel. It’s not the fastest, best handling or most advanced crossover SUV in the luxury sector, but quick and agile enough, and offers up an excellent ride with superb comfort all-round. It’s the type of SUV you can drive all day and never tire of, and that’s just the kind of luxury I like living with day in and day out. On top of this, 2019 A-Spec trim brings a sporty new look and other refinements to the well-proven MDX package, so I wouldn’t be surprised to see a number of these nicely outfitted models in better Canadian neighbourhoods this year.