For many in Canada, Volkswagen is more of an afterthought when considering a new vehicle. Last year it sat 12th amongst mainstream volume brands in sales volume, with the lion’s share of new deliveries…

2021 Volkswagen Jetta Execline Road Test

2021 Volkswagen Jetta Execline
The latest Jetta continues forward with Volkswagen’s longstanding theme of understated good looks.

For many in Canada, Volkswagen is more of an afterthought when considering a new vehicle. Last year it sat 12th amongst mainstream volume brands in sales volume, with the lion’s share of new deliveries going to Ford (at 232,194 units), Toyota (196,882), Honda (146,582), Hyundai (133,059) and Chevrolet (111,741), although only the Asian brands offer anything in the compact car class, so therefore this segment’s sales hierarchy looks a lot different when comparing both brand popularity and individual model success.

Last year, Volkswagen was the fourth best-selling brand in this category (at 23,665 units) when combining Golf (13,113), Jetta (10,552) and Beetle (460) deliveries, with the Golf placing sixth amongst individual models, the Jetta seventh, and the Beetle way down in 17th, which incidentally was second to last being that it wasn’t the only car being discontinued (Chevy’s Volt found its last nine buyers in 2020 too).

2021 Volkswagen Jetta Execline
There’s nothing about the Jetta’s design thet anyone should find offensive, while it actually includes plenty of premium Audi styling cues.

As for the first two quarters of 2021, the Beetle was dead last after just three units were shuffled off to future collectors, while the placement of the Golf and Jetta remained the same with 5,707 and 5,618 examples sold respectively. The big change in the segment comes from Nissan’s new Sentra that’s now right behind the Jetta with 5,004 deliveries to its credit, whereas Subaru’s Impreza and WRX/STI lost significant ground due to just 1,724 and 1,548 respective units down the road, which is probably due to an all-new WRX/STI soon debuting for 2022, plus a new Impreza (and Crosstrek) to follow for 2023.

2021 Volkswagen Jetta Execline
LED headlamps with unique character illumination add class to this compact sedan.

Others losing steam in this segment include Hyundai’s Ioniq that only sold 1,538 units compared to Toyota’s Prius at 3,107, but the Korean brand’s Ioniq Electric is set to be replaced by the much more intriguing Ioniq 5 in the fall, while Nissan’s all-electric Leaf just seems to be withering on the vine with just 639 sales to its name, although 2022 will see a substantially lower price that should boost interest. Additionally, Hyundai’s Veloster will only come in super-quick N trim for 2022, probably the result of the rest of the line not getting much action, verified by only 328 deliveries, and finally the slowest selling car in this class is Honda’s Insight hybrid, which at a mere 193 unit-sales is getting slaughtered by other HEVs that sell for thousands less.

2021 Volkswagen Jetta Execline
Execline trim comes with LED fog lamps and exclusive 17-inch Tornado alloys wrapped in 205/55 all-season tires.

With the Puebla, Mexico-built Golf leaving our market after this year, Volkswagen will likely take a major negative hit in this segment too, falling behind others that focus more on reliability and comfort over perceived performance, although to be clear, Golf GTI and Golf R models will remain, as will the entire Jetta lineup, including its sportiest GLI variant.

It’s difficult to say if the Jetta will be able to take up the slack on its own, being that other five-door alternatives like the new 2022 Civic Hatchback, the Corolla Hatchback, the Kia Forte 5, the Mazda3 Sport, the Impreza 5-Door, and some other stragglers noted a moment ago, could fill in VW’s entry-level hatchback void. Of course, the German brand will hope such buyers will ante up for its new Taos subcompact crossover SUV, which is sized similarly, or the slightly larger compact Tiguan, while the all-new ID.4 kind of fills the void left by the Golf Alltrack (more on that car in a moment), albeit with an all-electric twist.

2021 Volkswagen Jetta Execline
Here’s a closer look at the standard 17-inch Tornado rims and 205/55 Bridgestone rubber.

With all of that business out of the way, why choose a 2021 Jetta, or for that matter the 2022 model that shouldn’t change by much? Compared to the 2019 version, which was the first year of this seventh-generation body style, the 2021 infuses VW’s new MIB3 infotainment software into an interface that looks pretty well identical, although it’s the system beneath the graphics that matters most, thanks to including wireless App-Connect, enhanced voice recognition, USB-C charging, upgrades to the navigation system, and SiriusXM with 360L streaming and satellite content, while a wireless charging pad now sits on the lower console below in as-tested Execline trim.

Tornado alloys wrapped in 205/55
LED taillights are nothing new these days, but the Jetta’s are a tasteful design.

As for choosing a Jetta over one of its four-door competitors, that will come down to a lot of factors including styling, its Germanic feel, and on that note, its performance. Of course, the GLI is the Jetta version to drive if you’ve got a passion for going fast, but this said all Jettas have usually tended to be more engaging than most of their Asian alternatives. Performance has been a priority for the brand since the Golf/Rabbit arrived on our shores in 1975, with the sportier GTI variant hitting the market in 1979, three years before our American friends received theirs.

The Jetta, which back then was basically a two-door Rabbit with a trunk, arrived here in 1980, and quickly became our best-selling European import. A wagon (always a personal favourite) was introduced at the turn of the millennium for the Golf’s fourth and fifth generations, although that baton was dubbed SportWagen when passed over to the seventh-gen Golf line, and even ended up being offered as a soft-roading crossover dubbed Alltrack that featured some SUV-like bodywork and raised ground clearance in an attempt to take on Subaru’s Crosstrek.

2021 Volkswagen Jetta Execline
The Jetta Execline’s interior is a mix of very impressive electronics, mostly good switchgear, soft-touch surfaces in key areas, and more hard plastic than we’d like.

While wagon fans (including yours truly) still lament the loss of both Jetta and Golf variants, there’s a lot to love about the sedan, especially in top-tier Execline trim. The four-door’s styling has received mixed reviews, but that’s hardly unusual in this entry-level class. Honda is undergoing the same type of scrutiny with its new 2022 Civic after the brand followed its usual two steps forward, one step back routine (it’s as if there’s a tug-of-war between styling progressives and conservatives resulting in each side winning out every other generation), while Toyota appears to have hit the sweet spot with its latest Corolla, although the sharply chiseled new Hyundai Elantra is giving both of these top-sellers a run for their design money.

2021 Volkswagen Jetta Execline
The Jetta is well laid out for performance driving, its steering wheel easily best-in-class.

The other Korean, Kia’s Forte, continues to look attractively conservative and thus places fourth in this class, just ahead of Mazda’s rakish 3 that’s probably the closest competitor to the Jetta and Golf due to its performance-oriented personality, this possibly why the smaller, independent brand’s compact hatchback and sedan models sit so close to the Golf and Jetta on the aforementioned sales chart.

Moving inside, the Jetta is a tour de force when it comes to electronics. The just-noted infotainment system is very good, thanks to a high-definition gloss touchscreen, attractive graphics, an easy-to-understand layout and quick response to inputs, not to mention real analogue knobs for the power/volume and tuning/scrolling functions, plus it’s one of the only touchscreens in the industry to feature proximity-sensing capability, which means that bringing your hand towards the display causes a row of digital buttons to automatically pop up even before your finger touches the screen. It’s a really cool effect, but it’s also useful because, when those buttons automatically disappear, the entire display is made larger for whatever function you’re using.

2021 Volkswagen Jetta Execline
Execline trim provides this fully configurable 10.25-inch Digital Cockpit instrument cluster, which is by far best in this compact segment.

Of course, the infotainment system comes filled with all the expected features, including Android Auto and Apple CarPlay smartphone integration, and control of the decent sounding Beats Audio system, complete with eight speakers and a sub, but I must say the backup camera is a bit subpar for a top-line model in this segment, not for its clarity, which is excellent, but rather for not including dynamic guidelines.

2021 Volkswagen Jetta Execline
Press a steering wheel-mounted button and the Digital Cockpit’s regular looking gauges completely transform into a highly useful map.

Nevertheless, the Jetta Execline’s fully configurable 10.25-inch Digital Cockpit instrument cluster, that’s exclusive to Execline trim and the top-level GLI, is in another world compared to anything else offered in this class. Certainly, others include fully digital gauge packages in upper trims, one that I recently drove being the 2021 Elantra in top-line Ultimate dress, but like the new 2022 Civic’s take on this tech, its navigation map wasn’t capable of filling the entire screen like Volkswagen’s. I know that’s not the end-all, be-all of functions, but just like this feature wowed me in Audi’s Virtual Cockpit before, it once again had me mesmerized in the Jetta, even providing the ability to zoom in and out from a button on the right-side steering wheel spoke. The active display does more than just that, of course, offering up a smaller map with surrounding info in another mode, plus a particularly colourful duo of circular gauges in its default setting, not to mention plenty of other features in numerous configurations.

2021 Volkswagen Jetta Execline
Additionally digital instrument cluster layouts are available.

Framing the gauge cluster is another VW favourite, the Jetta’s flat-bottom sport steering wheel, which is one of the nicest in its segment thanks to a meaty soft leather-covered rim with wonderfully form-fitting thumb spats to each side and grippy baseball-style stitching around the inner ring, plus thin spokes filled with high-quality switchgear, while those spokes are dressed up with a tasteful splash of aluminized brightwork and piano black lacquered surfaces.

2021 Volkswagen Jetta Execline
The infotainment system was updated for this year, resulting in much quicker response times and other improvements.

Yet more satin-finish accents and inky black highlights can be found throughout the rest of the cabin, but it’s not overdone like some rivals from the east. I prefer to call the Jetta’s interior purposeful rather than austere, but I’m sure some will find the mostly muted black interior a tad conservative, bright and colourful displays aside.

This said, most of the pliable composite surfaces that made earlier (pre-2010) Jettas feel like premium rides have been eliminated, only leaving a rubberized soft-touch dash top and upper instrument panel, plus equally pampering front door uppers. The only model in this class with less appealing plastics is the Elantra that doesn’t even offer soft door uppers up front, but we’re not exactly comparing D-segment luxury sedans here. The clear differentiator is Volkswagen’s choice of hard plastics south of the waste line, other than the comfortable padded leatherette used for the door inserts and armrest, as well as the centre armrest overtop the console bin, which are nicely padded in plush leatherette.

2021 Volkswagen Jetta Execline
The backup camera is clear and bright, but where are the moving guidelines?

The front seats, on the other hand, are firmer than any in this class and most in the entire industry, which is a bit unusual considering the Jetta Execline’s comfort-oriented mission. I’d normally never complain about cushion firmness, but the Jetta’s seem designed by someone who dreams on a tatami mat. These things go beyond just firm, with a lower cushion that actually became quite uncomfortable on longer stints during my weeklong test.

2021 Volkswagen Jetta Execline
The dual-zone automatic climate control interface is simple and straightforward, just like it should be, but the dials were a bit wiggly.

Oddly, GLIs, GTIs, and even Golf Rs that I tested previously never felt this way, but at least the Jetta’s side bolsters were excellent, while the six-way power-adjustment on its driver’s side (the front passenger gets no such luxuries), with two-way powered lumbar support that met the small of my back ideally, plus three-way memory no less, came to the rescue as best it could, as did the soft perforated leather that provided an exit strategy for forced ventilation, which kept me cool when otherwise ready to fume about my aching back. Their heatable capability was even more useful in this situation, as my driver’s seat warmed to near therapeutic temperatures in order to ease two inflamed ischia. More on the positive, better than average reach and rake from the tilt and telescopic steering column made for a great driving position, while the steering wheel rim in Execline trim is also heatable, as are the rear outboard seats.

2021 Volkswagen Jetta Execline
The Jetta’s 8-speed auto is superb, plus most of the lower console switchgear is good too.

Also positive, my tester’s rear outboard seats were truly superb, with more of a bucket-like feel than any others I’ve experienced in this class, thanks to excellent side bolstering that really wrapped all around my backside. The same can be said for the lower cushions, which provided a little more padding than the driver’s seat, or so they felt. VW includes a nice and wide flip-down armrest with integrated cupholders in the middle position, so together with the door armrests the rear outboard seating area is comfortable for both forearms.

2021 Volkswagen Jetta Execline
The front seats are filled with functions, but the cushions are much too firm.

As for space, I had about half-a-foot in front of my knees and plenty of room to stretch out my legs, with feet under the front seats when the driver’s position was set for my long-legged, short-torso five-foot-eight frame. Additionally, I had about three-and-a-half inches left over above my head, plus plenty of space next to my shoulders and hips. I’m not sure if the Jetta is best-in-class for rear seat roominess, but I’m guessing it’s very close. Volkswagen should be commended for this, but unfortunately the rear compartment’s finishing was less appealing than most in this category, including the expected hard plastic door upper, but also hard plastic door inserts that are almost never part of the package. At least the powered sunroof overhead was almost panoramic, helping to visually open the car up to more natural light.

2021 Volkswagen Jetta Execline
A very large powered glass sunroof borders on panoramic, while providing welcoming natural light front and back.

Like the rear passenger compartment, the trunk is large at almost 400 litres (14.1 cu ft), while the lid lifts up high and out of the way, but be careful to push it all the way up, because if you leave it down even slightly it will fall and smack you in the head, which happened to me once during my test. Also different from most Volkswagens, the Jetta only offers 60/40 split-folding rear seatbacks instead of the usual 40/20/40-split used in the Golf and other VW products. This limits the usability of the trunk when going skiing, for instance, especially if rear passengers want to enjoy the aforementioned seat warmers, but such is the same for most of the Jetta’s peers.

2021 Volkswagen Jetta Execline
Rear seat access and roominess is very good for the class.

Leaving the best for last, I set the dual-zone automatic climate control system to 21.5C via outer rings wrapping large circular dials that wiggled a bit too much for my liking, their digital readouts bookending a row of nicely damped buttons that included those needed for warming buttocks and backside, after which I turned the fuel-saving auto start-stop system off and the drive mode setting from Normal to Sport, disregarding Eco and Custom, the lower-console mounted buttons for these rather sloppy and noisy, unfortunately, unlike the nice and tight aluminized ignition button and little electromechanical brake lever found nearby. I then slotted the eight-speed automatic’s gear lever into “D” for drive before shoving it over to the right to “S” for manual shift mode, and let the Jetta’s impressive 1.4-litre turbo-four spool up as much of its 147 horsepower and 184 lb-ft of torque as possible before launching from standstill.

2021 Volkswagen Jetta Execline
The rear seats were more comfortable than those up front, plus provided surprisingly good side bolstering.

It’s the torque that matters most in this little mill, with all of its available twist from just 1,400 rpm, while the gearbox is quick-shifting and very smooth, only needing a set of steering wheel paddles to make it more engaging. These come with the GLI, incidentally, along with a much faster-shifting seven-speed dual-clutch transmission, while its 2.0-litre turbocharged four puts out a much more energetic 228 horsepower and 258 lb-ft of torque, resulting in a zero to 100 km/h sprint time of just 6.6 seconds compared to 8.7 for the Jetta Execline, although opting for the more comfort-oriented Jetta pays of at the pump.

2021 Volkswagen Jetta Execline
The Jetta’s trunk isn’t shy on volume.

Driving more modestly in Eco mode results in 8.0 L/100km in the city, 6.0 on the highway and 7.1 combined in the Jetta Execline, whereas the automated transmission in the GLI is only good for a claimed 9.7 city, 7.0 highway and 8.5 combined. The GLI can be had with a six-speed manual too, by the way, which is identically quick and exactly as efficient with fuel, while the regular Jetta with its base six-speed manual (not available in the Execline) manages just 7.9 city, 5.8 highway and 6.9 combined for truly stingy operation, plus it reportedly takes exactly the same amount of time to arrive at 100 km/h from standstill as my automatic-equipped tester.

Better than its straight-line performance, the Jetta Execline provides a nicely weighted, electrically assisted rack and pinion steering system resulting in good handling for the class, despite incorporating a less-than-ideal semi-independent torsion beam rear suspension setup. The front suspension uses independent Macpherson struts, par for the course in just about any segment, but only the GLI gets an upgrade to a multi-link rear suspension design, which is much better for absorbing pavement irregularities and therefore keeping rubber on the road where it can apply traction.

2021 Volkswagen Jetta Execline
A spare-saver tire and tools can be found below the cargo floor.

Comparatively, even Honda’s most basic Civic LX comes standard with a fully independent suspension including a rear multi-link rear setup, as does Toyota’s simplest Corolla L, and Nissan’s cheapest Sentra S, while Subaru’s least expensive Impreza with Convenience trim uses independent double wishbones, which aid comfort yet are more durable for heavier loads, and easier for tuners to tweak, not to mention easy for technicians to adjust for wheel alignment. What about the Golf? Unlike the Jetta, the most affordable Golf Comfortline gets the more sophisticated multi-link rear suspension setup, so while that model is still available it remains the go-to car for lower end VW performance enthusiasts, a worthwhile investment for just $1,500 more.

2021 Volkswagen Jetta Execline
How we wish the Jetta’s rear folding seats were divided in a 40/20/40 configuration, so longer items like skis could be stowed down the middle.

As you may have noticed I left out plenty of Jetta competitors when comparing suspension designs, so it’s only fair to add that the Elantra, Forte, and Mazda3 utilize a similar rear torsion beam setup, which is prized for reducing cost and improving rear packaging, the latter sometimes resulting in increased cargo capacity.

In the end, the Jetta is a good car that deserves its success, however middling that may be. It hits high in some areas, such as roominess and advanced electronics, but doesn’t really match up in interior plastics quality, front seat comfort, and overall performance, the rear end getting skittish when pushed hard around curves over rough pavement, something the Civic and Corolla, for instance, don’t do.

2021 Volkswagen Jetta Execline
The Jetta’s tiny 1.4-litre turbocharged four-cylinder provides decent performance and good fuel economy.

If it were my money and a VW was the target brand, I’d opt for a Golf every day of the week, due to its sharper styling, much better interior quality (even including cloth A pillars), wholly improved handling, and the increased usability (albeit less security) of its rear hatch. To think this model is on its way out is criminal, but it’s not Volkswagen’s fault that Canadians aren’t buying as many cars these days as they used to, instead opting for crossover SUVs more often than not. At least we’ll still have the fabulous GTI and Golf R, while as noted the Jetta GLI is a credible performance car as well.

The 2021 Jetta starts at a very reasonable $21,595 in Comfortline trim with its six-speed manual, while my Execline model is available from $28,995. Good news, Volkswagen is currently offering up to $1,000 in additional no-haggle incentives, while CarCostCanada members were averaging $1,527 in savings at the time of writing, thanks to their ability to access dealer invoice pricing that can save you thousands at the time of purchase. Make sure to find out how a CarCostCanada membership can help save you money when purchasing your next new car, and remember to download their free app from the Apple Store or Google Play Store, plus check out the 2021 Volkswagen Jetta Canada Prices page to find out pricing for all the Jetta’s other trim lines, including the GLI.

Review and photos by Trevor Hofmann

If I loved Toyota’s Highlander Hybrid any more, it would be a Hyundai Palisade hybrid. I jest, of course, because I really like the Highlander. In fact, if I had to choose, it would be difficult to…

2021 Toyota Highlander Hybrid Limited Road Test

2021 Toyota Highlander Hybrid Limited
Toyota’s latest Highlander Hybrid looks fabulous in top-line Limited trim, especially in this gorgeous Opulent Amber paint.

If I loved Toyota’s Highlander Hybrid any more, it would be a Hyundai Palisade hybrid. I jest, of course, because I really like the Highlander. In fact, if I had to choose, it would be difficult to decide between this time-tested Toyota and either the Palisade or Kia’s equally good Telluride, which have both been lauded as two of the best in their class right now by almost everyone in the automotive press, although neither can be had with a fuel-sipping electrified drivetrain.

That matters a lot, especially with the average price for a litre of regular fuel hovering around $1.70 per litre in my area. Most anyone buying into the family hauler sector is constrained by a budget, so saving at the pump can be the difference of buying little Liam and Emma brand new runners or making a detour to the thrift store just in case they have something “pre-loved” available in the right sizes, or maybe buyers in this $40-$50k class can relate more to a choice between purchasing bulk chicken legs and rib eye steaks for Sunday’s BBQ. Either way, my point is clear, especially at a time when all types of meats have become much more expensive due to run-away government spending and the resultant inflationary problems, amongst other issues driving up the prices of foods and consumer items.

2021 Toyota Highlander Hybrid Limited
The Highlander is for those who like sleeker, more car-like SUVs, because it flies in the face of the new blocky, upright trend offered by some rivals like Kia’s Telluride.

Toyota’s three-row antidote to this reality check equals 6.6 L/100km in the city, 6.8 on the highway and 6.7 combined for the Highlander Hybrid, while Hyundai and Kia alternatively claim 12.3, 9.6, and 11.1, or 12.6, 9.7 and 11.3 for the equivalent all-wheel drive versions of the Palisade or Telluride respectively. Based on these numbers, the South Korean-sourced three-row competitors are almost twice as expensive on fuel, and while it would be fairer to compare them to the conventional V6-powered Highlander, which is still easier on the wallet at 11.8 city, 8.6 highway and 10.3 combined, that’s not the SUV I drove for this particular test week.

2021 Toyota Highlander Hybrid Limited
The new Highlander’s grille pulls cues from the previous 2014-2016 third-gen version, although includes a unique winged badge at centre.

There’s really nothing that compares with the Highlander Hybrid. Certainly, other automakers produce electrified SUVs in the mid-size class, the Ford Explorer Hybrid being one that also features three rows of passenger capacity, but nevertheless the much newer blue-oval entry only targets a rather so-so fuel economy rating of 10.1 L/100km city, 9.0 highway and 9.6 combined, which is way off the mark set by Toyota. To put that into perspective, Kia’s new Sorento is capable of almost the same fuel economy without the complexity of a hybrid-electric powertrain, its claimed rating a respective 10.1, 9.2 and 9.7 in base form, or 11.1, 8.4 and 9.9 with its potent turbo-four, and this Korean comes in hybrid form in the U.S. (hopefully soon in Canada).

2021 Toyota Highlander Hybrid Limited
LED headlamps are now standard across the line.

Speaking of the Korean competition, Canada’s car market does include the electrified Hyundai Santa Fe that gets a better rating than Ford’s mid-size hybrid at 7.1 L/100km city, 7.9 highway and 7.4 combined, but due to only having two rows of seats it’s not a direct competitor to either the Explorer Hybrid or Highlander Hybrid being reviewed here, so it will only matter to those that don’t really need the extra rear row of seats and extended cargo capacity. The only other HEV in the mid-size SUV class is Toyota’s own Venza, which is more or less a shortened, lighter version of the Highlander Hybrid under a very different skin, which is why it gets class-leading fuel economy at 5.9 city, 6.4 highway, and 6.1 combined.

2021 Toyota Highlander Hybrid Limited
Toyota spent a lot of effort designing the details, much of which gets upgraded in Limited trim.

If fuel efficiency were the only reason to choose a Venza or Highlander Hybrid I could understand why so many buyers do, but as you may have guessed there’s so much more that make these two SUVs worthy of your consideration that I’d be remiss to stop writing here. Of course, I’ll leave any more comments about the Venza to a future review, and instead solely focus on the Highlander Hybrid in its as-tested top-line $54,150 Limited form, which is one of three trim levels that also include the $45,950 base LE and $48,450 mid-range XLE.

2021 Toyota Highlander Hybrid Limited
Toyota adds 20-inch wheels to the Limited model, while the Platinum package adds a different set of 20-inch alloys.

At the time of writing, Toyota is offering factory leasing and financing rates from 2.69 percent, incidentally, while CarCostCanada members are currently saving an average of $2,655 according to their 2021 Toyota Highlander Canada Prices page. Make sure to find out how CarCostCanada’s affordable membership can save you thousands off your next new vehicle purchase, and remember to also download their free app from the Google Play Store or Apple Store so you can have all of their money-saving information and membership features on your smartphone when you need them most.

On an interesting note, when it debuted in 2000 the Highlander became the first mid-size car-based crossover SUV ever created, other than Subaru’s smaller two-row Outback, which continues to be more of a classic station wagon-type crossover than anything resembling a conventional sport utility. Toyota was also first with a hybridized SUV, the Highlander Hybrid having arrived on the scene way back in 2005 in a refreshed version of the original body style.

2021 Toyota Highlander Hybrid Limited
Sharply angled LED taillights highlight the rear design.

Two model years later, Toyota once again added a hybrid option to the second-generation Highlander from 2008 through 2013, after which they didn’t skip an electronic beat when the Highlander moved into its third and fourth generations, right up until today’s model. With such longevity in the hybrid sector, it’s no wonder Toyota achieves the mid-size SUV segment’s best fuel economy ratings, not to mention one of the more enviable of reliability ratings and resale value rankings.

2021 Toyota Highlander Hybrid Limited
Limited trim provides a very upscale interior, although you might also be surprised with how nice the base Highlander is inside.

In the most recent 2021 J.D. Power Vehicle Dependability Study, the Highlander came in second behind Kia’s Sorento, which is impressive for both considering the 23 unique models that contest in this class, not including the three new 2022 Jeeps (Grand Cherokee L, Wagoneer and Grand Wagoneer) and one discontinued Dodge (Journey). The Kia and Toyota brands place third and fourth overall in this study, incidentally, plus first and second amongst mainstream volume brands (Lexus and Porsche are first and second overall), again, an extremely impressive result, albeit not unusual for the two Japanese brands.

Similarly, the Highlander placed third behind the Sorento and Dodge Durango in the same analytical firm’s 2020 Initial Quality Study, while even more interesting (and useful), Dashboard-Light.com gave the Highlander an “Exceptional” reliability score of 94.2, which amongst mid-size SUVs is only beaten by (once again) the FJ Cruiser at 98 (the 4Runner only scored 89 for third), this study combining the scores of models over a 20-year period, with the most reliable Highlanders actually being the most recent two generations, each scoring perfect 100s.

2021 Toyota Highlander Hybrid Limited
The Highlander’s new dash layout is truly unique.

What about all-important resale/residual values? These say more about what you’ll actually end up paying for a vehicle over the duration of ownership than its initial price, so the fact the Highlander placed second to Toyota’s 4Runner in Canadian Black Book’s 2020 and 2019 Best Retained Value Awards, plus third in 2018 and 2017, the latter only because Toyota’s FJ Cruiser pushed the 4Runner and Highlander down a notch each, means you’ll likely retain more of your initial investment in a Highlander than any other crossover SUV.

2021 Toyota Highlander Hybrid Limited
The Highlander Hybrid comes with a 7.0-inch digital display inside its mostly analogue gauge cluster.

This testament to its value proposition is further backed up by J.D. Power’s 2021 ALG Residual Value Awards, in which the Highlander earned highest retained value in its “Midsize Utility Vehicle—3rd Row Seating” category. Additionally, Vincentric’s 2021 Best Value in America Awards placed the Highlander Hybrid on top of its “Hybrid SUV/Crossover” category, while the RAV4 Hybrid won this sector in Canada.

Styling plays a part in holding resale values, and to that end most Highlanders have benefited from attractive designs that still look good after years and even decades. I’ve recently seen first-generation models fixed up to look like off-roaders thanks to much more interest in off-grid living and camping, which of course necessitates all types of 4x4s for exploring the wild unknown. Overlanding, as it’s now called, has even caused Lexus to create a dedicated off-road variant of its Land Cruiser Prado-based GX 460, the one-off exercise named GXOR Concept, and while sales of this impressive yet unpopular model would likely double or triple if they actually built something similar (Lexus Canada had only sold 161 GX 460s up to the halfway mark of this year), it’s probably not in the cards.

2021 Toyota Highlander Hybrid Limited
Limited features an 8.0-inch centre touchscreen, but a 12.3-inch version is available with Platinum trim.

What is very real indeed, is a fourth-generation Highlander that’s returned to more of a rugged, classic SUV design, pulling more visual cues up from my personal favourite 2014–2016 third-generation variant than that model’s 2017–2019 refresh, which featured one of the largest grilles ever offered on a Toyota vehicle, seemingly inspired by the just-noted Lexus brand. This move should help prop up aforementioned residual values of early third-gen models too, although this probably wasn’t part of Toyota’s plan, making that Highlander a good long-term used car bet, if the current chip shortage hasn’t made it impossible to still get one for a decent price.

2021 Toyota Highlander Hybrid Limited
The infotainment system comes filled with plenty of features, including this animated graphic showing hybrid energy flow.

Suffice to say, the Highlander is one of my favourite new SUVs from a styling standpoint, and if sales are anything to go by (and they usually are), I’m not alone in my admiration. The Highlander was the only mid-size SUV in Canada to surpass five figures over the first six months of 2021, with 10,403 sales to its credit, followed by the perennial best-selling Ford Explorer with 8,359 deliveries over the same two quarters.

Even more impressive, Toyota sold 144,380 Highlanders by the year’s halfway mark in the U.S., while the second-best-selling Explorer only managed 118,241 units. There’s no way for us to easily tell how many of these sales (or lack thereof) were affected by the chip shortage, with Ford having been particularly hard hit in this crisis thus far. Recent news of Toyota preparing to halt up to 40 percent of its new vehicle production in September, for the same reason, will no doubt impact Q3 totals, and may be a reason for you to act quickly if you want to purchase a new Highlander.

2021 Toyota Highlander Hybrid Limited
The standard back-up camera included moving guidelines, but a move up to Platinum trim adds an overhead bird’s eye view.

The Explorer outsold the Highlander in the U.S. last year, with 226,215 units to 212,276, which still left them one and two in the segment, but Toyota was ahead in Canada last year at 16,457 units to 15,283 Explorers, leaving them second and fourth, with both being outsold by Jeep’s current Cherokee and Hyundai’s Santa Fe that managed third (of course, the Highlander and Explorer were still one and two amongst three-row mid-size SUVs).

2021 Toyota Highlander Hybrid Limited
Automatic tri-zone climate control comes standard, as does this handy shelf for stowing your smartphone, complete with a handy pass-through for charging cords.

There are a lot reasons why the Highlander earns such loyalty year in and year out, many of which I’ve already covered, but the model’s interior execution certainly took a big leap forward when the third-generation arrived, which no doubt kept owners happy long after its new car smell faded away. That older model featured such niceties as fabric-wrapped A-pillars and a soft-touch dash top and door uppers, plus more pliable composite surfaces elsewhere, as well as additional features like perforated leather upholstery, a heatable steering wheel, three-way heated and cooled front seats, an 8.0-inch centre touchscreen (large for the time), tri-zone automatic climate control with a separate rear control interface, an auto-dimming rearview mirror, a HomeLink transceiver, dynamic cruise control, clearance and backup sensors, LED ambient interior lighting, a panoramic glass sunroof, rear window sunshades, blind spot monitoring, lane departure warning, rear cross traffic alert, a pre-collision system, and much more, these items becoming more commonplace in this segment now, but not as much back then.

2021 Toyota Highlander Hybrid Limited
An attractive glossy ash-grey woodgrain covers the lower console surround.

Of course, the 2021 Highlander Hybrid Limited comes with all of the above and more. For starters, its interior touchpoints use improved-quality materials and an even more upscale design, my tester’s including rich chocolate brown across the dash top, door uppers and lower dash and door panels, plus a cream-coloured hue for a padded mid-dash bolster, as well as the door inserts and armrests, the padded centre console edges that keep inner knees from chafing, the centre armrest, and the seats. Additionally, the former brown colour features copper-coloured contrast stitching, while the latter creamy tone uses a contrasting dark brown thread (except the seats).

2021 Toyota Highlander Hybrid Limited
The centre armrest’s storage bin lid smartly slides rearward, exposing a wireless charging pad, which unfortunately might not be big enough to fit larger devices.

My 2014 Highlander Hybrid Limited included some chocolate brown elements too, but these were mostly hard plastic highlights, while the rest of its mostly tan leather interior was complemented by the usual chrome- and satin-finish metallic accents, plus medium-tone woodgrain in a nice matte finish. My 2021 example, on the other hand, boasted even more faux metal, albeit in a satiny titanium finish, with the most notable application of this treatment being a large section that spanned the dash ahead of the front passenger before forking off to surround the main touchscreen. It’s a dramatic design statement for sure, while Toyota’s choice of woodgrain looked like more of a light brownish/grey ash with a gloss finish, covering most of the lower console and trimming the tops of each door.

2021 Toyota Highlander Hybrid Limited
The Highlander Hybrid Limited’s driver’s seat is inherently comfortable, but its two-way powered lumbar support might not fit the small of your back ideally.

Updated Highlander Hybrid Limited features now include LED low/high beam headlamps with automatic high beams, LED fog lights, LED mirror-mounted turn signals, LED puddle lamps that project a “Highlander” logo onto the road below, and LED taillights, plus 20-inch alloys instead of 19s, an electromechanical parking brake in place of the old foot-operated one, a much more vibrant primary gauge cluster featuring a large 7.0-inch colour TFT multi-information display instead of the old vertically rectangular unit that was really more of a colourful trip computer, a higher resolution glossy centre display with updated (albeit mostly monochromatic) graphics, which still only measures 8.0 inches and continues to benefit from two rows of physical buttons down each side for quick access to key functions, plus dials for power/volume and tuning/scrolling, while inside that infotainment system is Apple CarPlay and Android Auto smartphone integration.

2021 Toyota Highlander Hybrid Limited
A powered panoramic glass sunroof provides plenty of sunlight from front to back.

There are now three USB ports located in a cubby at the base of the centre stack, instead of just one, and they still feed up through a slot to a mid-dash shelf, although now that shelf is split into two, including a separate one for the front passenger. A rubberized tray just below the USB chargers is large enough for most any smartphone, but I kept mine in a wireless charger found on a flip-up tray in the storage bin under the centre armrest. I’ve heard some folks complain that the wireless charging tray is too small for their devices, and being that it fit my Samsung S9 perfectly with its case on probably means that any of the larger plus-sized phones won’t fit. Toyota will want to address problem, because most people I know have larger phones than my aging S9.

Two more USB ports can be found on the backside of the front console for rear passengers, incidentally, while there’s also a three-prong household-style plug for charging laptops, external DVD players, game consoles, etcetera. If you want second-row seat warmers in back, you’ll need to move up to the Highlander Hybrid’s Platinum package, which increases the price by $2,300, but provides a lot of extra features that I’ll mention in a minute.

2021 Toyota Highlander Hybrid Limited
The roomy second-row seating area includes a standard bench for more total positions than the optional captain’s chairs.

If you want to communicate with those in back, Toyota now includes Driver Easy Speak together with a conversation mirror that doubles as a sunglasses holder in the overhead console, similar to the one found in the old model. Also new, a Rear Seat Reminder lets you know if you’ve left something or someone in the back seat when leaving the vehicle.

Additional advanced driver safety and convenience features standard in top-line Limited trim include Full-Speed Range Dynamic Radar Cruise Control, Front-to-Front Risk Detection, Pre-Collision System with Pedestrian Detection and Bicycle Detection, Intelligent Clearance Sonar with Rear Cross Traffic Brake, Lane Departure Alert with Steering Assist, Left Turn Intersection Support, Risk Avoidance (Semi-Automated Emergency Steering to Avoid Pedestrian, Bicyclist or Vehicle), and Lane Tracing Assist.

2021 Toyota Highlander Hybrid Limited
Each side of the second row slides forward and out of the way, providing easy access to the third row.

The biggest change in this latest Highlander Hybrid, however, is found behind its sportier new winged grille, because Toyota smartly chose to say goodbye to its more potent 3.5-litre V6-powered Hybrid Synergy Drive system, which made a net 280-horsepower from its dual electric motor-assisted drivetrain, and hello to a much more fuel-friendly 2.5-litre-powered alternative that once again uses two electric motors, including a separate one in the rear for eAWD. The electric motor now powering the front wheels is more capable thanks to 19 additional horsepower, resulting in a maximum of 186, although the rear one is down 14 horsepower for a total of 54, leaving the new model’s net horsepower at 243.

2021 Toyota Highlander Hybrid Limited
The Highlander’s third row is spacious and comfortable for this class.

In the end, Toyota managed to squeeze the aforementioned 6.6 L/100km in the city, 6.8 on the highway and 6.7 combined out of the new power unit, compared to 6.8 city, 7.2 highway and 7.0 combined in the old one. And yes, that does seem like a lot of reconfiguring for just a few L/100km difference, but more importantly this drivetrain is now being used in the two-row mid-size Venza and the Sienna minivan, which are no longer available with conventional powertrains. Additionally, the decision to focus the Highlander Hybrid more on fuel economy leaves the V6-powered hybrid drivetrain to Lexus’ more premium RX 450h, which now benefits from stronger performance than its Toyota-badged equivalent.

2021 Toyota Highlander Hybrid Limited
The Highlander Hybrid offers up 453 litres of dedicated cargo space behind the third row.

As you can probably appreciate, the new powertrain doesn’t have quite the same amount of punch off the line as the old one, but its performance deficiency isn’t all that noticeable, while it’s electronically-controlled CVT is still as smooth as ever. Smooth is the ideal descriptor of the Highlander Hybrid’s ride quality and overall refinement as well, a quality that likely lines up with most buyers in this class. This in mind, there are no paddle shifters on the steering wheel, but Sport mode really does make a difference off the line, and fast-paced handling is plenty good for this class, the Limited model’s 235/55R20 all-season tires no doubt making a difference when it comes to road-holding.

2021 Toyota Highlander Hybrid Limited
You can stow up to 1,370 litres of gear behind the second row, but some sort of centre pass-through would have been appreciated for longer items like skis.

As good as the hybrid is, the conventionally-powered Highlander will be the go-to model for those wanting more performance, as it provides a standard 3.5-litre V6 with 295 horsepower and 263 lb-ft of torque, plus its quick-shifting eight-speed automatic transmission is a real joy to put through its paces. This said, we’re back at the big six-cylinder’s fuel economy that’s nowhere near as efficient at 10.3 L/100km combined, so stepping up to the hybrid makes perfect sense, especially in my part of Canada where a recent temporary low of $1.65 per litre for regular unleaded had me peeling off the road in order to top up my 2021 Hyundai Santa Fe tester, after waiting in a line of likeminded consumers to do so (more on that SUV in a future review).

2021 Toyota Highlander Hybrid Limited
With all the seats folded flat, the Highlander Hybrid can accommodate up to 2,387 litres of what-have-you.

The 2021 Highlander Hybrid’s premium over its solely internal combustion-powered equivalent is just $2,000, or at least that’s the case when comparing the base Hybrid LE AWD ($45,950) to the regular LE AWD ($43,950), although there’s still a less expensive V6-powered L trim that brings the Highlander’s actual base price down to $40,450 plus freight and fees (interestingly, the 2014 base Highlander Hybrid was more expensive at $43,720). The same $2,000 price gap is found amongst conventionally-powered and hybridized Limited trims.

I’d certainly be willing to pay another $2,300 for the Highlander’s aforementioned Platinum package, which incidentally includes second-row captain’s chairs to go along with the rear butt warmers, plus reverse auto-tilting side mirrors, a head-up display, rain-sensing wipers, a 360-degree bird’s eye surround parking camera, a larger 12.3-inch infotainment touchscreen, a digital display system for the rearview mirror (you can use either the regular or digital version by flicking a switch), and a number of styling tweaks, all for $56,450, but I also wish Toyota included a couple useful extras like auto-dimming side mirrors, a powered tilt and telescopic steering column (the worked with memory), and four-way powered lumbar support for the front seats, features many rivals provide.

2021 Toyota Highlander Hybrid Limited
A shallow compartment can be found under the cargo floor, including a place to store the retractable cargo cover when not in use.

The driver’s seat was nevertheless extremely comfortable, other than its two-way powered lumbar support hitting the small of my back slightly high. Others might find it too low, and being that it only moves in and out, it’s always going to be a hit or miss affair. Otherwise, most body types should find the front seats more than adequate, while the non-powered tilt and telescopic steering wheel provides plenty of rearward reach, which meant my long-legged, short-torso frame was both comfortable and in full control.

Second-row roominess is about as good as this class gets too, with seats that could only be made more comfortable if the regular Highlander’s heatable captain’s chairs were offered, but they easily flip forward and out of the way for accessing the rearmost third row, which I found quite spacious and comfortable for the class, albeit missing USB charging ports.

2021 Toyota Highlander Hybrid Limited
A new 2.5-litre four-cylinder engine provides most of the energy for the Highlander Hybrid’s updated drivetrain, assisted by a new 186-hp front electric motor and 54-hp rear motor, resulting in a net 243-hp and eAWD.

There’s a total of 453 litres of dedicated cargo space behind that rear row, by the way, or 1,370 litres behind the second row when the third row’s 60/40-split backrests are folded forward, while 2,387 litres of space can be had behind the first row when the 60/40-split second row is lowered. That’s a lot of cargo capacity, but I would’ve liked to see Toyota utilize the 40/20/40-configured second-row seat from Lexus’ RX instead of this one, as it would allow for longer items, such as skis, to be stowed down the middle while second-row passengers were more comfortably positioned to either side.

So, while Toyota’s Highlander Hybrid Limited is not perfect, it’s easily one of the best available in its three-row mid-size crossover segment. Factoring in its enviable dependability and best-in-class residual value, it’s hard to argue against it, and therefore would be my choice, despite how good the two aforementioned Korean upstarts are. Now it’s just a matter of locating one before the chip shortage dries up availability.

Review and photos by Trevor Hofmann

The Murano has been with us for a long time, at least as far as crossovers are concerned. Sports car nameplates like Corvette, SL, 911 and Mustang date back to the mid-‘50s and ‘60s, while economy…

2021 Nissan Murano Platinum AWD Road Test

2021 Nissan Murano Platinum AWD
Nissan refreshed its mid-size Murano for 2019, but the basic design is going on eight years old and therefore could use an update.

The Murano has been with us for a long time, at least as far as crossovers are concerned.

Sports car nameplates like Corvette, SL, 911 and Mustang date back to the mid-‘50s and ‘60s, while economy cars have a couple of old-timers in their midst too, particularly the Corolla and Civic that have been with us since 1968 and 1973 respectively. The oldest mid-size sedan still available is Honda’s Accord, which dates back to 1976, while BMW’s 3 Series holds title to the most seasoned compact luxury car name, having arrived in 1975, and Mercedes’ S-Class the most experienced premium four-door model of all, hailing from ’72.

Interestingly, two of the three oldest automotive names still in use denote SUVs, specifically Toyota’s Land Cruiser (albeit not in our market) that arrived in 1951, and Chevy’s Suburban that goes all the way back to 1935, making it the oldest surviving nameplate of all—the second-oldest vehicle name, incidentally, is Ford’s venerable F-Series that began life in 1948.

2021 Nissan Murano Platinum AWD
Long, low and lean, and taller in back that its sleek design appears, the Murano provide a lot of interior room.

Excluding car-based unibody or integrated-frame models that started life as traditional body-on-frame SUVs, such as Jeep’s Wagoneer that helped initiate the sport utility craze way back in 1963, Chevy’s full-size Blazer that soon followed up in ‘68, Jeep’s Cherokee that took on the K5 in 1974 (along with GMC’s Jimmy that together with the Blazer more directly targeted Ford’s Bronco—the latter first arriving in 1965, with the full-size variant showing up in 1977), the just-noted blue-oval brand’s Explorer that became the go-to soccer mom conveyance in 1982, Jeep’s Grand Wagoneer that added a surprising amount of luxury to the original Wagoneer in 1984, Nissan’s Pathfinder that challenged the two-year-old Toyota 4Runner in 1985, Honda’s Passport that was nothing more than a rebadged Isuzu Rodeo (without the hilarious Joe Isuzu ads) in 1993, Hyundai’s Santa Fe that hit Canadian roads and trails in 2000, Kia’s Sorento that did likewise in 2002, the Grand Cherokee that successfully pulled in the premium SUV crowd in 1992, and the Dodge Durango (which currently shares the GC’s unibody underpinnings) that was a big hit in 1997, plus at the smaller end of the spectrum Kia’s Sportage that arrived on U.S. shores (with some pretty funny TV ads of its own) in 1993, yet wasn’t available in Canada until the end of the last millennia along with the entire Kia brand, the earliest purely crossover names I can think of that are still in existence have to be Toyota’s RAV4 and Subaru’s Outback, which both entered our market in 1994, with the Honda CR-V showing up a year later, the Subaru Forester in 1997, and the Ford Escape in 2000.

2021 Nissan Murano Platinum AWD
The Murano remains one of the sportiest looking crossovers in its class.

OK, I admit that intro was even long for my standards, not to mention one of the lengthiest run-on sentences I’ve written since, I don’t know, last week? Anyway, to get back to the plot, Nissan’s Murano, which dates back to 2002, is a time-tested name amongst mid-size crossover SUV forerunners, only pre-dated by Toyota’s Highlander that arrived two years earlier. Now that we’ve ventured so far down this rabbit hole, you might as well know that Honda’s Pilot entered the picture in 2003, Ford’s Edge, GMC’s Acadia and Mazda’s CX-9 showed up in 2006, while Chevy’s Traverse and the Toyota Venza arrived in 2008, with everything else no more than a decade old. Plenty of crossover names have come and gone too, but don’t worry, I’ll leave those for another look down memory lane at some point in the not-too-distant future.

2021 Nissan Murano Platinum AWD
Nissan updated most of the Murano’s front fascia a few years ago, but the changes were nevertheless subtle to all but previous owners.

I was on the Murano’s original Canadian press launch back in 2002, by the way, and I think it’s fair to say that it thoroughly impressed most of the auto scribes who drove it around Vancouver’s Fraser Valley on that cloudy day. It was one of, if not the first mid-size SUV with a continuously variable transmission that I’d ever driven (although not the first all-wheel drive vehicle with a CVT, that being my dad’s mid-‘80s Subaru Justy). Nowadays, an SUV with a CVT is hardly novel, but combined with its 245 horsepower 3.5-litre V6, standard all-wheel drivetrain, and nicely sorted chassis, it made for smooth yet sporty performance, while its styling really pushed boundaries for the time.

That first-generation Murano lasted just five model years, from 2003 to 2007, and while the second-gen Murano was better in every way, I didn’t find the styling as alluring during its heyday, but looking back its design probably aged better. Once again, powered solely by a 3.5-litre V6 (at least in our market), and mated to a CVT with standard AWD (plus FWD in the U.S.), albeit upgraded by 20 horsepower to 265, it was a force to be reckoned with in its two-row mid-size class, but after six model years, from 2009 to 2014, Nissan smartly updated it to the current design, which truly was as eye-popping when it came out as the original in the early aughts.

2021 Nissan Murano Platinum AWD
Auto on/off LED headlights with high beam assist come standard across the Murano line.

Now, seven years later, or eight if we include the upcoming 2022 model that will see no significant changes, the Murano is somewhat dated. Don’t get me wrong, as it’s still an attractive utility that remains sleeker and more progressive looking than many in its segment, but thanks to styling trends that are diverting away from sinuous curves and other types of organic forms to more abrupt angles combined with complex folds and creases, time has a way of making anything look old. Why Nissan has chosen to leave the Murano so long between updates, other than a subtle mid-cycle refresh that you’d need to be an owner to notice, is anyone’s guess, but this certainly hasn’t helped it remain near the top of the sales charts.

2021 Nissan Murano Platinum AWD
Fog lamps are standard, but the 20-inch alloy wheels on 235/55R20 all-season tires are exclusive to Platinum trim.

After six months of 2021, the Murano sits in fourth place amongst dedicated two-row crossover SUVs due to just 3,691 Canadian deliveries, which isn’t a bad ranking considering all the competition in this segment, not to mention all the challenges the automotive market has been facing over the past two years, but it’s a far cry from the success enjoyed in previous years, 2017 its best year ever at 15,120 unit-sales. Then again, when factoring in mid-size models that provide three rows, the Murano plunges to 12th place in the mid-size SUV segment. That’s a long downward slide from third in the two-row class and fifth overall in 2016, which at least in part shows the importance of regular redesigns.

So far this year, the top-selling model in the entire mid-size crossover SUV segment is Toyota’s Highlander with 10,403 units down the road, while Ford’s Explorer comes in second with 8,359 deliveries. Third is Hyundai’s Santa Fe with 7,514 new customers to its credit, while Jeep’s Grand Cherokee (arguably more of a true 4×4) is a close fourth at 7,234 units. I could go on, but it’s easy to see that Nissan’s five-occupant contender now lags far behind these front-runners, therefore a replacement is long past due.

2021 Nissan Murano Platinum AWD
These powered and heated exterior mirrors with LED turn signal indicators come standard on all Muranos.

Of course, the Murano was never a top-three player solely due to styling. Its single 3.5-litre V6, which was considered a no-cost bonus when pump prices were lower, is hardly the most fuel-efficient these days either, the AWD variant that I most recently tested achieving a less-than-ideal rating of 12.0 L/100km in the city, 8.5 on the highway and 10.4 combined, although at least now there’s a base FWD version in Canada for those wanting to reduce both initial and ongoing costs, thanks to a slight mileage improvement to 11.7, 8.3 and 10.2 respectively. How does that compare to others in the class?

2021 Nissan Murano Platinum AWD
AWD models feature a standard panoramic glass sunroof.

It’s actually not that bad when sidled up to the segment-leading Highlander, at least when compared to its base 3.5-litre V6 that’s rated at 10.3 L/100km combined, but that model is available with a hybrid drivetrain as well, which allows for a much more appealing 6.7 L/100km estimated rating, plus the new five-passenger Venza, which is only available as a hybrid and targets the Murano more directly, ekes out a shockingly good 6.1 L/100km rating. The base Santa Fe isn’t as thrifty as the Venza at 9.1 L/100km combined, while the same SUV with AWD is rated at 9.9, but a new hybridized version is good for 7.4 combined (just how Toyota makes its Venza and Highlander Hybrid so efficient is anyone’s guess?). A more common comparison might be Ford’s Edge, which while doing better on the sales charts (despite the blue-oval brand’s especially difficult time allocating microchips), only slightly edges the Murano out when it comes to fuel economy at 9.8 for the FWD model and 10.0 with AWD.

2021 Nissan Murano Platinum AWD
The Murano’s standard LED taillights make an distinctive design at night.

Interestingly, the Murano was available as a hybrid in the U.S. market for one single model year, 2016, but Nissan didn’t have high hopes for the electrified model, with expectations of selling just 600 units, or about one percent of all the V6-powered Muranos sold the year prior. As it was, Nissan’s U.S. division had a stellar 12 months in 2016 with 86,953 Murano deliveries, but I’m guessing the take-rate on the Murano Hybrid was even worse than hoped for, because it was killed off before most potential buyers even found out it existed. At 8.1 L/100km combined (reached by converting its 29-mpg combined EPA rating), its fuel economy wasn’t as good as Toyota’s hybrid SUVs either, which might be why would-be buyers didn’t take the bait, but its combination of a supercharged 2.5-litre four-cylinder engine, electric motor, and lithium-ion battery pack certainly sounds intriguing.

2021 Nissan Murano Platinum AWD
The Murano might be going on eight years of age, but its interior remains one of the most luxurious in its mid-size mainstream volume-branded class.

Moving inside, a feature that especially ages badly in this modern age is in-car electronics, and to be kind the Murano could use an update to its primary gauge cluster and infotainment system. The former is actually pretty good, having received a big, colourful multi-information display back when this third-gen version was new. Of course, the graphics require some attention and the screen’s resolution isn’t exactly high-definition, but most users shouldn’t be put off, and it’s certainly packed full of useful features. This said, some of the Murano’s rivals are sporting fully digital driving displays that can even be configured for personal style and info, with some Korean models even integrating monitors that automatically project rear-facing cameras onto the display when using the turn signals, but the Murano’s electroluminescent dials to either side of the MID are wonderfully bright and easy to read in any lighting condition, plus they look really good.

2021 Nissan Murano Platinum AWD
The Murano provides a nice, bright, inviting interior that really ups the luxury ante, bordering on premium.

As for the centre display, it’s a nice, straightforward touchscreen measuring a reasonable 8.0 inches and appearing unchanged over the past seven or so years, which of course is way too long for any user interface to go without a significant update. Again, its resolution is not up to today’s standards, and graphics, while colourful, are a bit remedial, plus its response times to inputs aren’t exactly the quickest. All the expected features are either standard or available, even including Apple CarPlay and Android Auto smartphone integration. My tester included a helpful overhead parking camera too, as well as a very accurate navigation system, which comes standard in all trims above base, while as-tested Platinum trim adds SiriusXM-powered NissanConnect Services for improving in-car safety, security and convenience.

2021 Nissan Murano Platinum AWD
The instrument cluster is pretty impressive for the Murano’s age, with a nice, large, colourful multi-information display at centre.

Where the Murano continues to shine despite its age is in near premium levels of materials quality. Truly, it’ll make you wonder why Nissan didn’t just badge it with Infiniti’s logo, thanks to thickly padded fabric wrapping around each roof pillar, a soft composite dash top, an even nicer padded leatherette instrument hood complete with contrast stitching, the same high-quality surfacing used for the dash on the door uppers front to back, nicely padded door panels that stay pliable all the way down to the very bottom of the doors, yet more padded leatherette used around the outer edges of the centre console, and gorgeous diamond-quilted leather upholstery with breathable perforations covering the seats from front to back.

2021 Nissan Murano Platinum AWD
The Murano’s centre stack is intelligently laid out and wholly functional, but the styling of its buttons, dials and other controls comes across a tad dated.

Nissan finished my tester’s cabin in a rich looking ivory-cream hue dubbed Cashmere, which while a tad challenging to keep clean, looked absolutely gorgeous (a more chocolaty Mocha colour is also available). While the hides on the seats were very real, and soft semi-aniline leather to boot, the matte-finish woodgrain inlays across the dash, centre console, centre armrest, plus door panels only looked and felt authentic, attributes that can also be lauded upon the satin-finish silver accents and chrome detailing found throughout the entire interior.

There’s a premium level of solidity to the Murano too, which few in this class measure up to. This likely comes from unseen features, such as thick insulation used within the doors and under the floor, not to mention overhead within the roof liner and outer panel, plus the bulkheads separating the engine compartment from passengers, etcetera. It all comes together to create a wonderful hush that once again feels more like what one would expect from an Infiniti, rather than a Nissan. In fact, this fully-loaded Murano comes close to matching the dearly-departed Infiniti QX70, a vehicle I particularly liked, especially due to its diamond-pattern upholstery.

2021 Nissan Murano Platinum AWD
The optional dual-screen parking camera is very nice, but feel free to check out the gallery if you want to see how old-school the centre touchscreen looks.

The Murano Platinum’s seats are wonderfully comfortable too, and provide plenty of accommodation for larger body types. Nevertheless, my smallish five-foot-eight frame also fit in well, while the power steering column was able to reach far enough rearward to provide a good seating position for my somewhat awkward long-legged, short-torso body type, thus allowing for optimal comfort and control.

When seated behind the driver’s seat that, as just noted was setup for my relatively longish legs, I had plenty of room for legs and feet, this being a key benefit that comes when choosing a five-passenger utility over most competitors with three rows, as the rearmost row can often compromise second-row spaciousness. There was ample room from side-to-side in back too, plus more than enough headroom for taller folk.

2021 Nissan Murano Platinum AWD
The Murano’s CVT is smooth and linear, but sporty it’s not, as there’s no manual mode at all.

Likewise, the Murano’s cargo compartment is sizeable thanks to the SUV’s long, low and lean profile design being more of an optical illusion than actually incorporating a radically raked rear hatch. This is partially created by the Murano’s floating roof design, which melds fluidly into a blackened rear rooftop spoiler. All said, Nissan’s two-row mid-sizer provides 941 litres of dedicated cargo space, whereas lowering both its 60/40-split rear seatbacks, via handy levers located on both sides of the cargo wall, results in 1,890 litres of total cargo volume. That should be more than enough for most families’ needs, but of course Nissan provides its three-row Pathfinder for those who require more. The only improvement I’d make to this setup for the next-generation Murano is to divide the rear seats into a 40/20/40 configuration, which provides space down the middle for longer items like skis while both rear passengers enjoy the more comfortable window seats, not to mention warmed cushions if so equipped.

2021 Nissan Murano Platinum AWD
Surprisingly, this aging SUV incorporates very advanced USB-C charging ports, along with USB-A connectors, auxiliary inputs and 12-volt chargers, but no wireless device charging pad.

The Murano Platinum does provide two-way rear seat heaters in those outboard positions, incidentally, plus USB-A and -C charging outlets on the backside of the front console, along with a set of HVAC vents. A centre armrest can be folded down when only two are in back, filled with large cupholders and a small storage tray. Also benefiting rear passengers is a panoramic glass sunroof overhead, which stretches all the way back for a wonderfully open and airy ambiance that elevates the luxury experience to (dare I once again say) a premium level.

Features in mind, the Platinum model’s leather-wrapped steering wheel rim is heatable, and the front seats heated or cooled via two metal-edged rotating dials on the lower console, including three settings per function. Additionally, powered USB-A and -C ports can be found on the base of the centre stack just ahead, right between the ignition button and a 12-volt charger. There is no wireless charging pad, however, a downer for those of us who live with such conveniences at home.

2021 Nissan Murano Platinum AWD
The Platinum’s matte woodgrain trim is really well done, feeling and looking authentic.

Another negative, the HVAC system, which sits just above on the centre stack, is only dual-zone in a market that sometimes offers three zones or more with rear controls in its loftiest trims, but the Murano’s simple twin-dial and multi-button interface design is easy to sort out and works well, while just above, an overhead console boasts LED illumination as well as a much-appreciated sunglasses holder.

Other Platinum features (some of which are pulled up from lesser trims) include auto on/off LED headlights with high beam assist, fog lamps, redundant LED turn signals within the side mirror housings, LED taillights, roof rails, remote start, proximity key, a motion-activated powered liftgate, front illuminated aluminum kick plates, adjustable ambient interior lighting, an auto-dimming rearview mirror, a HomeLink garage door opener, front and rear parking sensors, adaptive cruise control, hands-free text messaging, a great sounding Bose audio system with 11 speakers and two subwoofers, satellite radio, an eight-way powered driver’s seat with two-way power lumbar, a four-way powered front passenger seat, driver-side memory for the seat, steering column and mirrors, and a haptic steering wheel that vibrates in order to alert a driver of impending danger.

2021 Nissan Murano Platinum AWD
The Murano Platinum’s front seats look gorgeous and feel good too, with numerous adjustments resulting in a good driving position.

This brings up the Murano’s advanced safety features, which for 2021 include Intelligent Forward Collision Warning, Moving Object Detection, Intelligent Emergency Braking with Pedestrian Detection, Rear Cross Traffic Alert, Rear Intelligent Emergency Braking, Blind Spot Warning, Lane Departure Warning, Intelligent Lane Departure Intervention, Intelligent Driver Alertness, Traffic Sign Recognition, and Rear Door Alert.

Speaking of highly advanced features, the Murano’s parking brake is not one of them. Then again, I can remember back to the days you needed to reach down and pull a lever under the dash to unlatch the emergency brake of automatic-equipped cars, which made the first time I was able to merely press my left foot down to release an engaged parking brake pedal a newfound luxury. Of course, this was in an era that a tap from one’s right foot switched the high beams on and off, so we should best leave such “technologies” in the past, as I’m sure Nissan will eventually do with the Murano’s old-school parking brake pedal.

2021 Nissan Murano Platinum AWD
Check out the Murano’s big panoramic sunroof from inside.

All the other pedals work as expected, the rightmost one quite adequately thanks to 260 horsepower and 240 lb-ft of torque from the aforementioned 3.5-litre V6, and yes, I’m aware that’s 5 horsepower less than the previous second-gen Murano, not to mention 8 lb-ft less torque. What’s that about? It’s probably a fuel-efficiency issue, although it’s possible Nissan merely provided a more accurate reading of an engine that actually made the same output. Either way, it’s more than enough to get this 1,873-kilo (4,129-lb) SUV up to highway speeds quickly.

2021 Nissan Murano Platinum AWD
The rear seats are roomy and comfortable.

It’s a smooth engine too, especially combined to its velvety CVT, but keep in mind there’s no way to shift “gears”, and Nissan doesn’t offer a Sport mode to make the experience any more exciting. The transmission does simulate automatic shifts well, however, mimicking a regular autobox, and once again it’s a highly efficient design that pays off at the pump, while it’s proven to provide good dependability over the long haul.

Like the drivetrain, the Murano’s fully-independent front strut and rear multi-link suspension is smooth and comfortable, adding to the premium feel I keep going on and on about, while its handling is easily up to the majority of mid-size crossovers on the market, and better than some.

2021 Nissan Murano Platinum AWD
Rear seating amenities include USB-C and -A charging ports, plus two-way heaters for the outboard positions.

That’s the thing. If this current Murano was alternatively an all-new model this year, complete with up-to-date electronics, an electromechanical parking brake, and a few other modernizations, it would probably fly out of Nissan’s showrooms. It’s that good, and to my eyes at least, remains a very attractive offering. The problem is it’s going on eight years old, and there’s no way an automaker can maintain customer loyalty without updating its most important models regularly.

Last year’s compact Rogue was getting a bit long-in-the-tooth before being updated this year too, but the new one is superb (more about my week with that SUV coming soon), while I’m guessing the upcoming 2022 Pathfinder redesign will impress just as well (its fourth-generation predecessor went back farther than the current Murano). That model’s new nine-speed automatic transmission bodes well for the next-gen Murano ditching its CVT as well, so good things are in store for this SUV at some point in the future. Let’s hope it’s sooner than later.

2021 Nissan Murano Platinum AWD
The Murano’s dedicated cargo space is generous at 941 litres.

As it is, Nissan is offering up to $3,300 in additional incentives for a new 2021 Murano, while CarCostCanada members have been saving an average of $4,300 after first finding out about its dealer invoice price, and then using that money-saving information to negotiate their best deal (find out how there system can save you thousands, and be sure to download their free app as well). With a decent discount the Murano becomes an attractive offering, especially considering that AWD versions start at $40,098, plus freight and fees. The base Murano S FWD, on the other hand, is the model’s loss leader thanks to a $34,098 starting point, while just above the just-noted SV AWD is the third-rung $43,898 SL AWD, plus the $45,098 Midnight Edition AWD (which basically blackens out most of the bright metal trim and wheels), and finally this $46,898 top-line Platinum AWD. None of these prices are unreasonable when factoring in the high level of refinement and quality provided, but a healthy discount is probably needed to pull in buyers that might otherwise look across the street at Toyota’s Venza, which starts at $38,490 with a hybrid drivetrain and AWD, or something similar.

2021 Nissan Murano Platinum AWD
The 60/40-split rear seatbacks fold down easily via handy release levers on the cargo walls.

So, should you buy a new Murano? Again, with a decent discount, go ahead. It should be a reliable SUV, being that Nissan has had plenty of time to get it right, but then again, the Murano doesn’t place in first, second or even third in any of the latest third-party analytical firms’ dependability studies, and hasn’t won any of the most recent residual value awards either. Some of the above only show one winner while others show runners up too, with the Canadian Black Book’s 2020 Best Retained Value Awards putting Toyota’s 4Runner on top, the same brand’s Highlander in second, and Mazda’s CX-9 in third, plus J.D. Power’s 2021 ALG Residual Value Awards featuring Honda’s Passport atop its “Midsize Utility Vehicle—2nd Row Seating” category, which might mean a well-cared-for pre-owned Murano could be a better bet.

Hopefully Nissan will have a new Murano available sometime next year for the 2023 model year, which will allow me to sing praises to it as easily as can for the new Rogue, but I’ll guess you’re not here to contemplate new models we know nothing about yet. Until then, choose wisely.

Review and photos by Trevor Hofmann

Mercedes was a forerunner in the subcompact luxury class with its B-Class MPV back in 2005. The practical little runabout provided a higher level of interior quality and better overall solidity than more…

2021 Mercedes-Benz A 250 4Matic Hatch Road Test

2021 Mercedes-Benz A 250 4Matic Hatch
Mercedes’ A 250 4Matic Hatch is one of the sportiest cars in its subcompact luxury class, at least before AMG gets their hands on it.

Mercedes was a forerunner in the subcompact luxury class with its B-Class MPV back in 2005. The practical little runabout provided a higher level of interior quality and better overall solidity than more mainstream volume-branded small cars of the era, and therefore quickly became a hit here in Canada. No doubt many miss that intelligently designed people mover, but this said far fewer seem saddened by its loss than are now buying into its replacement, the much more universally appealing A-Class.

Mercedes brought its stylish four-door A 220 sedan and A 250 Hatch to market three years ago for the 2019 model year, and it quickly became the entry-level luxury sector’s most popular model, unless we’re including Mini’s Cooper (that edged the A out by 67 units in 2019) as a true premium-level car. Nevertheless, the A-Class, together with its sportier CLA sibling, dominate the subcompact luxury car segment, and believe me it’s not difficult to understand why.

2021 Mercedes-Benz A 250 4Matic Hatch
Featuring classic five-door hatchback lines, the A 250 combines a sporty look with plenty of practicality.

I’ve driven all of the above, and therefore can attest to the many improvements Mercedes has brought to the fledgeling entry-level luxury sector. I say fledgeling because most premium brands continue to ignore it completely, instead focusing on entry-level crossover SUVs. Including the upright Mini hatchback and comparatively long, low and sleek CLA, only seven models occupy this smaller subcompact arena, the Cooper and A-Class followed by Audi’s A3 (and derivatives), BMW’s 2 Series, Acura’s ILX, and BMW’s i3, the latter of which probably fits more ideally into a separate entry-level electric luxury car category that doesn’t really exist yet.

2021 Mercedes-Benz A 250 4Matic Hatch
An available Sport Package upgrades the grille, lower front fascia and while, plus plenty of interior features.

The latter list is based on their sales volume in calendar year 2020, by the way, and on that note, I expected the much less expensive four-door Gran Coupé body-style would give BMW’s 2 Series line a solid leg up the segment’s sales chart order last year, but it didn’t even manage to outpace the aging Audi A3, which never even received a 2021 version to boost sales at the end of last year, due to soon being replaced for 2022.

That last car in mind makes me wonder why Audi doesn’t believe it can sell the hatchback version of its A3 in North America, while Mercedes obviously can. Sedans have long done better in the U.S. market, but there’s a place for arguably sportier looking and definitely more practical liftbacks, that is unless trunk security is a big issue in your city. Property crime is rampant in my town, especially from cars, but I’d still prefer a hatch over a sedan for general convenience’ sake, especially when loading it full of gear.

2021 Mercedes-Benz A 250 4Matic Hatch
The sharper more aggressive front fascia and corner vents are part of an optional Sport Package, as are the 18-inch AMG alloys.

Fortunately, I was able to test the A 220 4Matic late last year, plus this slightly quicker A 250 4Matic Hatch, and AMG versions of both (those two reviews are shortly forthcoming), and while I might find it difficult to choose from the four, opting for Mercedes over the others wouldn’t be as difficult a decision. After all, along with their good looks, fabulous interior design, and impressive all-round performance, they scored highest amongst their Compact Luxury Car classmates in AutoPacific’s latest 2021 Vehicle Satisfaction Award (VSA), after doing the same in that third-party analytical firm’s 2020 Ideal Vehicle Awards (IVA) study.

2021 Mercedes-Benz A 250 4Matic Hatch
Gotta love these twinned five-spoke alloy rims wrapped in 225/45R18 Michelin Primacy MXM4 all-season rubber.

Likewise, Vincentric (another third-party analytical firm) awarded the A 220 4Matic with the Best Fleet Value in Canada in its Luxury Compact segment, and they even include larger compacts within this category, such as Mercedes’ own C-Class and BMW’s 3 Series. Speaking of holding value, the Canadian Black Book gave similar accolades to the just-noted C-Class in their 2020 “Best Retained Value” Award (2021 hasn’t been revealed yet) that, like Vincentric, includes subcompacts as well, so that honour should rub off a bit on its little A-Class brother’s shoulders, but then again BMW’s 2 Series is said to have held onto most of its “investment” in the Premium Compact Car category of J.D. Power’s 2021 Canada ALG Residual Value Awards, while that firm’s 2021 Vehicle Dependability Study (VDS) puts the most affordable Bimmer on top of its Small Premium Car segment too.

2021 Mercedes-Benz A 250 4Matic Hatch
The A-Class’ interior is a cut above all competitors when it comes to style.

I obviously need to call BMW in order to book a test drive, hopefully in the newish Gran Coupé, which I must admit is one great looking sport sedan, plus if it drives anywhere near as well as the M2 I tested previously, it has to be a serious contender in this class. Of course, BMW has yet to offer anything so practical in the entry-level sector with its sportiest M badge, something Mercedes has been doing with its AMG division for as long as its CLA has been in existence (model year 2014), so kudos to the F1-inspired mega-luxury brand for bestowing power on the masses so early. Audi followed shortly thereafter with its S3 for 2015 and RS 3 for 2018, while it took BMW until model year 2016 to arrive with its M2, which to this day remains available in two-door Coupe form only.

2021 Mercedes-Benz A 250 4Matic Hatch
The A 250’s cockpit is just like the A 220’s, although this example features the optional dual-display MBUX driver’s display and infotainment touchscreen that come as part of the Premium Package.

Just how I fell down this subcompact luxury/performance car rabbit hole and remained trapped inside for so long, says a lot about my undisciplined personality, but suffice to say Mercedes’ go-fast attitude trickles down to its more fuel-conscious trim lines. Before delving into the exact A 250 Hatch shown on this page, it might interest you to know about the various trims and how they all fit together to form the most diverse lineup in the subcompact luxury car segment.

For starters, the A 220 sedan receives a 188-horsepower version of Mercedes’ 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder engine that’s good for 221 lb-ft of torque, driving all four wheels through a quick-shifting yet smooth-operating seven-speed dual-clutch automated gearbox. The A 250 Hatch ups the ante with a much more potent spin on the same engine, enhanced with 221 horsepower and 258 lb-ft of torque, which just happens to be the same output as found in the base CLA 250 4Matic.

2021 Mercedes-Benz A 250 4Matic Hatch
Just look at the crisp high-definition graphics and beautifully deep colours the MBUX system provides, in a driver’s display that’s very configurable.

While all this sounds great, take note of the AMG A 35’s claimed output of 302 horsepower and 295 lb-ft of torque, regardless of sedan or hatchback body styles, while the AMG CLA 45 puts out a staggering 382 horsepower and 354 lb-ft of torque. That one I must drive, as it comes mighty close to the M2’s 405 horsepower and 406 lb-ft of torque, yet as already noted does so in a much more livable four-door package.

Coming back to earth, the A 250 Hatch is a very spirited daily driver, that not only puts fun back into the weekly commute, but combines that with a bit of thrifty pragmatism at the pump thanks to an estimated fuel economy rating of 9.4 L/100km in the city, 6.8 on the highway, and 8.2 combined when driving modestly in Eco mode. Surprisingly, that rating makes it more efficient than the less powerful A 220, which nevertheless sips fuel at the fairly easy rate of 9.6 L/100km city, 6.9 highway and 8.4 combined, which either means the A 250 Hatch provides a best-of-all-world’s performance/efficiency scenario, or Canada’s five-cycle testing method is somehow out of whack.

2021 Mercedes-Benz A 250 4Matic Hatch
The centre stack is highlighted by the other half of the colourful MBUX display, although the gorgeous aluminum air vents are definitely vying for attention.

The two AMG-powered A-Class models are pretty stingy on fuel too, by the way, with identical ratings of 9.5 combined, while the quickest CLA isn’t much thirstier at 10.3 combined, that latter giving some buyers reason enough to choose the Merc over the comparatively gluttonous M2, which slurps up 12.6 L/100km of pricey premium. Don’t get me wrong, because I absolutely love the M2, but something more practical as a daily driver would be a necessity in my life.

Enter the A 250 4Matic Hatch, what I think is the ideal balance of luxury, spaciousness, and performance in this class, all for a reasonable price. It sneaks under the $40k threshold at $39,900, albeit before adding freight and fees (plus options you’ll definitely want), yet after subtracting up to $1,000 in additional factory incentives, according to CarCostCanada’s 2021 Mercedes-Benz A-Class Canada Prices page.

2021 Mercedes-Benz A 250 4Matic Hatch
It’s difficult to imagine anyone feeling let down by Mercedes’ MBUX infotainment system, making it easily worth the $2,950 price hike for the Premium Package alone, although it comes with much more.

The A 220 4Matic sedan, incidentally, is available for $2,100 less at a price of $37,800, plus identical fees and minus the same discounts, although an affordable CarCostCanada membership will provide you with dealer invoice pricing that you can use to negotiate a better price, as proven by its members’ A-Class savings that currently average $3,350. Check out how membership benefits work, and be sure to download their free app from the Google Play Store or Apple Store so you can have all their info on your device when needed.

While we’re talking pricing, both AMG A 35 models start at $49,800, also fair for all the added performance, features and styling upgrades, so don’t count this one out before doing the requires maths to see if you can fit one into your budget. This said, I would totally understand if someone chose an A 250 hatch instead, being that its straight-line performance is more than adequate, handling prowess excellent, and overall refinement easily up to premium standards.

2021 Mercedes-Benz A 250 4Matic Hatch
The infotainment display is a touchscreen, at least until the backup camera takes over. It features active guidelines, proximity warnings, and an available overhead view.

I’ll let you decide how you feel about its exterior styling, as it’s a personal taste issue, but for what it’s worth I love the way this car, and the rest of the A-Class lineup looks. Its sport grille pulls on classic Mercedes design cues going all the way back to “Silver Arrows” race cars of the 1950s, the W196 Streamliner a personal favourite, which, along with an open-wheel variant, helped the three-pointed star brand sweep the Formula One World Championships in 1954 and ’55 by claiming victory at the old high-speed Monza, Italy track (with its fabulous high-banked curves) in Streamlined Type Monza bodywork (they had more flexible regulations back then), with two legends, Juan Manuel Fangio and Stirling Moss, at the wheel.

I love Mercedes’ storied history, something you really can’t put a price on. Sure, Asian luxury brands provide some nice premium alternatives, but few marques come close to offering up what Mercedes has in store, no matter the premium segment they’re competing in. For an example, Porsche’s brilliant 911 GT2 RS (991.2) only recently unseated the phenomenal AMG GT Black Series’ fastest production car lap record on the famed Nürburgring Nordschleife race track, and I’m willing to bet Mercedes will be back to once again contest single-lap bragging rights at some point in the near future, while it should also be noted the German automaker (with help from Brackley) has owned the top spot in F1 for seven consecutive years running.

2021 Mercedes-Benz A 250 4Matic Hatch
This lower console-mounted touchpad with surrounding switchgear allows for redundant control of the infotainment system.

Back at the Nürburgring, a current A 45 S 4Matic+ (W177) was piloted around the 20.8-km course in October of 2019, managing a respectable time of 7:48.80 minutes, which while not quite as quick as the GT Black Series that ran the ‘Ring in just 6:43.616 in order to earn fastest production car status back in November of 2020, makes me ponder how much fun this A 250 4Matic would be on a closed course.

Alas, no opportunity arose for me to take this little liftback to my local raceway, not that the 2-km, nine-turn road course is anything to get particularly excited about, especially when considering all the circuitous mountainside roads located throughout my area. Thus, my weeklong test of this A 250 4Matic Hatch, which included a dedicated day-trip, was most enjoyable, which of course included a few stints that hovered slightly over posted speeds for short durations.

2021 Mercedes-Benz A 250 4Matic Hatch
These sport seats provide superb comfort and good support, plus plenty of adjustability for an excellent driving position.

The engine’s aforementioned output gives the A 250 good power off the line, resulting in a claimed zero to 100 km/h time of 6.2 seconds (which is 1.5 seconds slower than the A 35 Hatch, in case you were wondering), while its dual-clutch gearbox, complete with steering wheel paddles and a very engaging Dynamic Sport mode, shortens input reaction times to make the most of the drivetrain and nicely sorted chassis setup.

To be clear, Sport mode doesn’t make any changes to the front strut and rear multi-link suspension’s pre-set characteristics, which is already lowered slightly from the A 220 sedan. My tester, which rode on 225/45R18 Michelin Primacy MXM4 all-season rubber encircling four gorgeous AMG-branded five-spoke alloys, was noticeably sharper in most every other way, which certainly seemed to enhance its overall performance through corners. Braking is strong too, and totally controllable, even when clamping down hard from high speeds, something I was able to do repeatedly with very little fade.

2021 Mercedes-Benz A 250 4Matic Hatch
Kudos to Mercedes for the extendable driver’s seat cushion that nicely cups below the knees for additional comfort.

The other three modes are Eco, Comfort, and Individual, the first one being where I left it more often than not in order to minimize fuel consumption, the second a default mode it automatically reverted to at start up, and the final fourth setting allowing some personal choice between performance parameters. Eco and Comfort modes transform the compact hatch into a fairly refined city commuter and highway cruiser, although to be frank this isn’t the most cosseting of suspensions in the class. You will feel the road below, something Mercedes drivers openly appreciate, but I didn’t find it as firm as a similarly optioned 2 Series.

Driving more casually gives opportunity to appreciate the A 250’s beautiful interior. I know BMW does a good job with quality, as does Audi, all the Germans being leaps and bounds ahead of the sole Japanese contender in this class, but Mercedes is the absolute king of bling inside. The A-Class has a drop-dead gorgeous cabin, starting with its two-in-one MBUX digital gauge cluster/infotainment touchscreen that provides such brilliantly crisp and sensationally colourful graphics it’ll take your breath away.

2021 Mercedes-Benz A 250 4Matic Hatch
Overhead is a very large powered glass sunroof, shedding light on the A 250’s impressive interior.

The driver’s display allows each user to choose a design that suits their personal style, all of which are more vibrant than anything I’ve seen from the competition. The integrated multi-information display is as full of functions as anything in this class too, providing loads of discoverable options to keep the love alive long after the initial excitement of purchase might otherwise subside.

The attached infotainment display is a touchscreen, as noted, and therefore fully capable of tablet-like tap, swipe and pinch gesture controls, depending on the function being used. I should also note that Mercedes provides a redundant infotainment controller on the lower console that’s easier to reach when sitting back in the driver’s seat. It includes a touchpad that works identically to the touchscreen, other than providing haptic feedback, plus is surrounded by a number of quick-access switchgear for immediate access to regularly used functions. Yet more infotainment redundancy can be found on the steering wheel spokes, so Mercedes has you covered no matter how you want to integrate with the MBUX system.

2021 Mercedes-Benz A 250 4Matic Hatch
The rear seating area is spacious and accommodating for the subcompact luxury class, plus can be filled with premium features.

The infotainment monitor is just as high in definition as the driver’s display, by the way, and includes all the expected features when moving up through Mercedes’ checklist of options. What this means is you’ll need to spend more to get features that might come standard in cars from the Asian brands, such as Android Auto and Apple CarPlay smartphone integration which, believe it or not, come as part of the $2,950 Premium Package.

There’s a lot more in that package that you’ll most likely want, including a wireless device charger, proximity-sensing keyless access, ambient lighting, an auto-dimming centre mirror and driver’s side mirror, power-folding exterior mirrors, blind spot assist, vehicle exit warning, live traffic info, a Connect 20 Mid audio upgrade, and get this, a digital instrument cluster, 10.25-inch central media display, and MBUX extended functions, such as an automatic front camera that warns of stationary obstacles (even cars ahead when pulling up to a stoplight), or a similar feature that does the same thing when a pedestrian is walking across a crosswalk. This said, the ultra-wide combined displays I made such a fuss about earlier, are not standard.

2021 Mercedes-Benz A 250 4Matic Hatch
Dedicated cargo capacity is very accommodating and nicely finished.

This I didn’t know before writing this review, because I’ve never seen the alternative. In fact, just try to look through online images for a photo of a base model with analogue gauges and a separate display screen and you probably won’t be able to locate anything, something I did at length in multiple search tools. Even Mercedes doesn’t show this interior when configuring an A 250 on their retail website, this base car always showing the upgraded instrument panel photo in its interior gallery. It’s as if it didn’t exist at all. I’m guessing the Premium Package is chosen by each and every dealer, because who’d want an A-Class without it? It’s a smart way to get the advertised retail price below $40k, but probably not reflective of anything you’re going to find on the lot. I suppose you could order one if you really wanted to remain analogue.

Navigation is optional too, which is normal for this class. The $1,000 augmented reality-enhanced upgrade provides live traffic information as well, plus traffic sign assist, while a $1,600 Technology Package adds active Multibeam LED headlights with adaptive high beams, and Distronic active distance assist.

2021 Mercedes-Benz A 250 4Matic Hatch
The 40/20/40 split-folding rear seatbacks allow for plenty of storage configurations, a personal favourite being the ability to stow longer items, like skis, down the middle while two rear passengers enjoy the more comfortable window seats.

Advanced driver aids and safety equipment in mind, a $1,900 Intelligent Drive Package adds Distronic active distance assist separately, plus active speed limit assist, map-based speed adaptation, enhanced automated stop-and-go, active brake assist with cross-traffic function, active emergency stop assist, active blind spot assist, active steering assist, evasive steering assist, active lane change assist, and active lane keeping assist.

Should I go on? Maybe it’s better if you go to Mercedes’ retail site to build this car yourself, or for that matter over to the CarCostCanada page I mentioned earlier, where you can configure it similarly, right down to the wide array of $890 to $2,500 optional paint colours.

Before departing completely from the options menu, I should probably point out that the AMG-style wheels noted before are in fact part of a $1,500 Sport Package that also changes up the grille with a chromed diamond-block insert, plus it modifies the lower front fascia with a more aggressive AMG design featuring attractive metallic accents. Inside, your feet will rest upon special AMG floor mats when they’re not pressing down on a set of AMG brushed stainless steel sport pedals, while your backside settles in to upgraded sport front seats and your hands grip a much nicer sport steering wheel wrapped in fine Nappa leather, the aluminum shift paddles on its backside part of this package as well. A bit more ($2,000) will swap the Sport Package out for an all-black Night Package, if a more menacing look is your thing.

2021 Mercedes-Benz A 250 4Matic Hatch
Below the cargo floor, are items for fixing a flat and a shallow area for hiding valuables from prying eyes.

The steering wheel rim can be heatable for an additional $250, or for $1,200 more the just-noted front seats can be climate cooled to reduce perspiration during hot summer months. Other extras include a $450 powered front passenger seat with memory, a $300 universal remote, a $650 overhead parking camera, a $1,500 head-up display, a $900 active parking assist system, a $700 Burmester audio upgrade with 12 speakers and 450 watts of power (that would be high on my list, despite the regular audio system sounding just fine), $450 for satellite radio, and more. A car with all of these options and a simple metallic paint will add about $17,000 to the base model’s list price, resulting in about $57k before any discount, which is more or less the level of top-tier pricing you’ll find with most of the A 250 Hatch’s rivals.

What you won’t find with any of these are the interior details hinted at earlier, the dual-display MBUX system only part of the car’s wow factor. The stunning five circular HVAC vents on the dash are eye-arresting enough, their brushed aluminum finish looking like a quintet of retro jet engines. Likewise, knurled metal trim bits adorn some of the key buttons, knobs and toggles, while plenty of other interior accents are finished in aluminum or aluminized composite. If the little A 250’s interior doesn’t titillate your senses, I’m afraid you’ve lost your love for cars, or at least modern, tech-filled conveyances.

2021 Mercedes-Benz A 250 4Matic Hatch
An engine worth celebrating, particularly if you’re moving up from the 188-hp A 220, thanks to a much more energizing 221-hp.

If you’re more into taller SUVs than classically shaped cars, most everything that makes the A 250 4Matic great can be had in the GLA 250 4Matic, so keep that in mind while shopping. Likewise, the A-Class’ general styling, on the outside and inside, is much like its larger brethren, although the C-Class never received Mercedes’ dual MBUX display, and will soon skip right past that infotainment era for the 2022 model year, which introduces a new version of the system featuring individual driving and media interfaces, the latter a lot larger and closer to the driver, thus negating the redundant lower console-mounted touchpad and controls that come as part of an upgraded A-Class and so many other models in Mercedes’ lineup.

Eventually we’ll see how this next chapter in interior design plays out in future A-Class models, but until then, today’s A remains the most advanced subcompact luxury car on the planet (when so equipped). So, if you’re in the market for an entry-level premium car, you’ve really got to check the A-Class out in person.

Review and photos by Trevor Hofmann

In the burgeoning subcompact SUV segment, one model stands above them all. Kia’s Kona only arrived on the scene in March of 2018, but in only its first partial year it rose to sales prominence in Canada,…

2021 Hyundai Kona 1.6T AWD Ultimate Road Test

2021 Hyundai Kona 1.6T AWD Ultimate
Hyundai’s Kona is one sweet looking ride, especially as-tested in top-line 1.6T AWD Ultimate trim.

In the burgeoning subcompact SUV segment, one model stands above them all. Kia’s Kona only arrived on the scene in March of 2018, but in only its first partial year it rose to sales prominence in Canada, placing third in its class, and even then, it was a mere 42 units behind the next most popular Subaru Crosstrek.

Nissan’s Qashqai was number one that year, but it would quickly lose this status during the following 12 months when the Kona’s sales increased by a staggering 78-percent to 25,817 examples, dwarfing the next-best-selling Qashqai’s 18,526-unit total. Calendar year 2020 saw another bump up the sales charts to 31,733 deliveries, with the best-of-the-rest Crosstrek managing a very respectable 22,161 units, albeit still about a third, or 9,572 deliveries behind, while today, the impressive little Kona is on its way to approximately the same sales results for 2021, once again leading the pack in popularity with 15,715 examples down the road after six months.

2021 Hyundai Kona 1.6T AWD Ultimate
Funky, fun and forward-looking, the Kona is fortunately not too whacky and weird, like some small SUVs that have come before.

Why such dominance? One look should immediately give it away. This little ute is a knockout, combining plenty of unorthodox styling cues, but doing so in a way that’s appealing to most buyers in the entry-level SUV marketplace. Up front and centre it features Hyundai’s unique hexagonal grille, although its bold, assertive design is surrounded by some rather fun styling features, including a narrow slat just above, two slim bi-functional LED headlamps with active cornering lights positioned high above the front fenders to each side (projectors are standard below Ultimate trim), some beefy blocks of matte grey/black composite just under those, which are integrated with squarish metallic bezels that look like sporty brake vents, and house LED driving lights inside.

2021 Hyundai Kona 1.6T AWD Ultimate
The Kona has plenty of interesting design elements arounds its big, open grille.

A sporty lower lip spoiler filled with fog lamps sits below everything, the blackened matte material joining up with thick, meaty grey/black fender extensions that circle each wheel cut-out, while more of the darkened trim spans the rocker panels, other than a thin strip of metal-look trim that sits on top.

Hyundai continues a similar look at back, where a thin trip of black trim on the fourth pillar forms a floating roof design that follows the rear window down to an elegant set of horizontally-positioned LED taillights, all of which sit above another blocky cluster of black-cladding that frames backup and reflector lamps before forming into a big black and grey diffuser-style rear bumper.

2021 Hyundai Kona 1.6T AWD Ultimate
Slim bi-functional LED headlamps with active cornering lights, exclusive to Ultimate trim, are positioned high above the front fenders.

It might sound to some as if I’m describing a mix of the more controversially styled fifth-generation Jeep Cherokee, available from 2014 to 2018, and Nissan’s ultimately whacky Juke (that I honestly kind of like), but it all works so well that it’s sparked zero controversy at all.

My top-line Kona Ultimate AWD tester added a set of 18-inch machine-finished alloy rims with gray-painted pockets (shared with lesser Trend trim), wrapped around 235/45 Goodyear Eagle Touring all-season rubber. Its Blue Lagoon paintwork borders on radical, but somehow still comes across as tasteful with the Kona, while all the just-noted dark matte grey body cladding across the bottom actually features a slightly glossed up metallic look in Ultimate trim. Some of the metallic bits mentioned a moment ago are partially exclusive to top-line trim too, while the metallic brightwork edging the front grille can also be found on the Trend model.

2021 Hyundai Kona 1.6T AWD Ultimate
Along with the LED headlights, the silver trim and the larger 18-inch machine-finished alloy wheels come standard on Ultimate trim.

Climb inside, and the Kona continues its expressive attitude, albeit with a dose of upscale refinement. Hyundai mixes dark greys on most surfaces with light grey tones that almost border on white, for the mid-section of the dash and door uppers, while the seats are surfaced in more of a medium grey.

The light grey is dimpled for a nice textured effect, and finished in soft-touch synthetic along the dash facing, while Hyundai utilizes a nice soft paint to make the door uppers a bit more appealing, if not more comfortable for those that rest their elbows on the side window sills. The rest of the interior plastics are harder, although they’re comprised of good, solid-feeling composites and seem as if they’re designed to put up with abuse over the long haul, while the cabin’s overall design is very appealing.

2021 Hyundai Kona 1.6T AWD Ultimate
These LED taillights are standard across the entire Kona range.

This is especially true of its details, such as the nice leather-wrapped sport steering wheel that includes comfortable thumb spats and elegantly thin spokes dotted with high-quality switchgear, some of the toggles even aluminized. The stalks behind the steering wheel are very high in quality too, while all of the buttons, knobs and toggles throughout the interior are tightly fitted and well damped, despite not being always made from particularly dense composites.

The primary instrument cluster is mostly a backlit analogue design (for now… keep reading), although a narrow, vertical 4.2-inch TFT Supervision multi-information display sits in the middle of the tachometer and speedometer, adding a bit of colour for highlighting key functions. Better yet, a useful head-up display system sits overtop on the dash, projecting key info in the driver’s line of sight where it’s safer to pay attention to.

2021 Hyundai Kona 1.6T AWD Ultimate
The Kona Ultimate provides a two-tone grey interior that’s quite upscale for the subcompact SUV class.

Over to the right, the centre stack is nicely laid out, with the usual fixed tablet-style infotainment display on top, seeming to stick up and out of the dash. The 8.0-inch touchscreen (up an inch from lesser trims) is flanked by two rows of buttons and dials, nothing new here, but I like the way Hyundai has design the pod-like controls, which are all backlit for easy use at night.

The user interface itself is not up to Hyundai’s newer standards, with older graphics and a matte screen, but it’s still easy to use and filled with functions. Android Auto and Apple CarPlay smartphone integration come standard, as does an accurate navigation system in Ultimate trim, while the backup camera includes helpful active guidelines. The Infinity audio system offers good sound quality, ideally suited to my favourite SiriusXM satellite radio stations, or alternatively one of the many podcasts I regularly listen too, the latter streamed via Bluetooth (which incidentally includes voice command).

2021 Hyundai Kona 1.6T AWD Ultimate
The Kona boasts a well laid out cockpit that’s stock full of features in Ultimate trim.

USB ports for smartphone integration and/or charging can be found at the base of the centre stack, along with dual 12-volt chargers, although you might find the Ultimate’s exclusive wireless charging pad more to your liking, a real bonus in this entry-level segment.

Separating the two-shelf phone storage/charging area from the infotainment display is a simple, straightforward single-zone automatic climate control interface comprised of two dials and a digital display, the left knob for temperature settings and the right one for fan speeds, this non-manual system only found on the Kona’s Ultimate trim, while a row of quick-access HVAC buttons sits just below.

2021 Hyundai Kona 1.6T AWD Ultimate
The mostly analogue gauge cluster is bright and attractive for the class.

The three-way front seat heater controls are located on the lower console, right in front of a separate button for turning the heatable steering wheel rim on and off, and not far away from two separate buttons for hill descent control and rear parking sensors (this last item exclusive to Ultimate trim), not to mention the gear lever at centre, complete with a leather-clad knob and boot.

Now that we’re talking mechanicals, the shifter sends commands down to a sporty seven-speed Dual Clutch Transmission (DCT), standard in all AWD models. Right next to the shifter in these three trims, that include Trend, Luxury and as-tested Ultimate, is another button for four-wheel drive lock, which really helps when trying to get unstuck from the snow, mud or out of any other type of slippery situation, while a Drive Mode button on the opposite side of the console lets you swap between default, Eco and Sport settings, the latter really increasing the fun factor.

2021 Hyundai Kona 1.6T AWD Ultimate
A bit old school yet still totally functional and filled with all the most important features, the Kona’s top-line 8.0-inch display does the job.

To that end, Hyundai gives its AWD models a little more oomph from a 1.6-litre turbocharged four-cylinder, this engine making 175 horsepower and 195 lb-ft torque compared to the base 2.0-litre mill’s 146 horsepower and 132 lb-ft. The former powerplant is sporty for this tiny tyke class, but I won’t go so far to say that it sounds sporty, at least not all the time due to a slightly anemic exhaust note when driven slowly, but put your foot into the throttle and a nice growly tone accompanies its brisk acceleration.

In this way, the Kona 1.6T AWD kind of fills the shoes of the aforementioned Juke, which in Nismo AWD-form, or better yet the even more potent Nismo RS, was one seriously zippy performer thanks to 215 horsepower and 210 lb-ft of torque driving a reasonably sophisticated AWD system via a six-speed manual gearbox. That little screamer was killed off five years ago, however, leaving this top-line Kona as one of the segment’s most aggressive performers.

2021 Hyundai Kona 1.6T AWD Ultimate
A wireless device charger was a pleasant surprise, Hyundai having long been ahead of the curve when it comes to adopting new technologies.

It moves off the line with plenty of chutzpa, although strangely Hyundai forgot to fit a set of paddles to the sporty steering wheel in order to provide any hands-on entertainment. It’s certainly shiftable via the gear lever, which merely takes a leftward flick of the wrist to actuate, but folks these days, myself included, would rather flick away in the upper regions of the cockpit. We’ll see if Hyundai addresses this in the model’s forthcoming refresh, or for that matter updates this model’s handbrake with an electromechanical one, although this last point isn’t an issue for me.

At least the gearbox allows the engine to rev right up to redline before it automatically shifts, this working best in Sport mode, of course, but shifts are truly quicker than most in this class no matter the mode you’re in, due to its dual-clutch design. It’s smooth when doing so too, thus a best-of-both-worlds scenario, while its claimed fuel economy rating is about the same as the less powerful engine when optimized with AWD, at 9.0 L/100km in the city, 8.0 on the highway and 8.6 combined, compared to 9.2, 7.8 and 8.6 respectively for the 2.0 AWD. The base 2.0 FWD Kona, incidentally, gets an estimated 8.6 L/100km city, 7.0 highway and 7.9 combined rating.

2021 Hyundai Kona 1.6T AWD Ultimate
The leather-wrapped shift knob controls a very advanced 7-speed dual-clutch automated gearbox.

Possibly most important in this class is ride quality and overall comfort, which the Kona provides in spades. Of course, this is a small SUV, so don’t expect Palisade levels of poshness or quietude, but within this class it’s a refinement superstar, and therefore ideal for everything from inner-city commutes to fast-paced highway road trips, with a little serpentine action thrown in the middle just for fun. Yes, this little ute provides good grip around such circuitous corners for an overall fun experience, which made it my go-to vehicle during its test week.

2021 Hyundai Kona 1.6T AWD Ultimate
The Kona Ultimate’s seats are excellent, and driving position very good too.

Another reason the Kona sells well is overall practicality, this a critical factor that even mighty Toyota is only starting to figure out with its upcoming Corolla Sport Cross (the CH-R’s cargo capacity is miniscule). Settling into the Kona Ultimate’s perforated leather-covered eight-way power-adjustable driver’s seat, which includes two-way powered lumbar and hides that have a particularly upscale feel, I couldn’t help but be impressed by its substantive bolsters that ideally enveloped my backside. All around, it provided the ideal amount of comfort, plus good, firm support, almost Germanic in its design. The tilt and telescopic steering column’s reach and rake was superb too, easily finding a good driving position for my short-torso, long-legged frame, which is not always possible in this class or others.

2021 Hyundai Kona 1.6T AWD Ultimate
A powered glass sunroof is always nice.

No one should feel claustrophobic up front either, thanks to lofty headroom and plenty of shoulder space, while the same can also be said for rear occupants that offer no shortage of room for legs and feet. The Kona seats three abreast, although two adults in back is best, with the centre armrest folded down to maximize comfort and provide a place for drinks. The outboard seatbacks offer decent lower back support, but other than that, rear creature comforts are nowhere near up to the levels of Ultimate trims in Hyundai’s larger SUV lineup—although the netted magazine holders on the backsides of the front seats are nice.

2021 Hyundai Kona 1.6T AWD Ultimate
The rear seating area is roomy and the outboard seatbacks very comfortable with good lower support.

Features in mind, Ultimate trim does come well-equipped for this class, with items like solar front glass, rear privacy glass, rain-sensing wipers, powered and timer-heated exterior mirrors, proximity-sensing keyless access with pushbutton start/stop, a multifunctional auto-dimming centre mirror, a HomeLink universal transceiver, an overhead console integrating a nice padded sunglasses holder and reading lights, plus controls for the powered glass sunroof, lidded and lit vanity mirrors in the front sun visors, plus more.

Advanced safety technologies found in top-tier Ultimate trim include Forward Collision-Avoidance Assist with Pedestrian Detection, Blind-Spot Collision Warning, Lane Change Assist, Lane Keeping Assist, Rear Cross-Traffic Collision Warning, and Driver Attention Warning, while High Beam Assist and Adaptive Cruise Control make the Kona much easier to live with on long commutes and trips.

2021 Hyundai Kona 1.6T AWD Ultimate
The Kona’s dedicated cargo area measures a generous 544 litres.

My tester included a handy cargo net attached to all four chromed tie-down hooks at each corner, while the substantive cargo floor is both removable and capable of being raised to match the same level as the seatbacks when folded. Hyundai provides a shallow divided container just below, made from a solid-feeling foam, which is also removable, and when lifted exposes the spare tire below. Likewise, the hard-shell tonneau cover can be removed easily. Expanding on the 544-litre dedicated luggage area are rear seatbacks that fold in the usual 60/40 configuration, which when laid flat via latches on the seat tops makes a sizeable 1,296 litres.

2021 Hyundai Kona 1.6T AWD Ultimate
This shallow tray sits atop the spare tire under the cargo floor.

To be honest, due to styling alone the Kona has long been a personal favourite in this class, but after a week behind the wheel I can truly say the rest of the package attests to its popularity. It does everything a subcompact SUV should and more, so it will likely remain on top until some other manufacturer comes up with something that checks off more boxes for similar pricing.

Money in mind, the most basic Kona in Essential trim starts at $21,299 plus freight and fees, while Preferred trim can be had for $23,049, and AWD adds $2,000 to either. The Kona Trend, which comes standard with AWD, starts at $26,899, while Luxury trim does likewise for $27,999. The special Urban Edition, which gets upgraded to the 1.6-litre turbo-four AWD powertrain, is available from $28,049, while the Limited Edition also features the upgraded engine for $28,049. Finally, the as-tested Ultimate can be had from $32,299. On a side note, Hyundai makes the FWD-only Kona Electric, which ranges from $43,699 in Preferred trim to $49,199 for the Ultimate, less government rebates, depending where you live. I’ll be covering this one in a separate review soon.

2021 Hyundai Kona 1.6T AWD Ultimate
With a sizeable 1,296 litres to its credit when both 60/40-split rear seatbacks are lowered, the Kona is quite accommodating for gear.

Of note, Hyundai is currently offering up to $5,000 in additional incentives for the 2021 Kona Electric, or up to $1,000 in incentives for conventionally-powered 2021 Kona models, while CarCostCanada members are saving an average of $2,157 when purchasing the latter SUV. To find out how you can access dealer invoice pricing and learn about other CarCostCanada benefits, such as factory leasing and financing rates, check out how their affordable membership works, plus be sure to download their free app from the Apple Store or Google Play Store so you can have all of their valuable info and features at your fingertips when you’re ready to negotiate.

Before signing off, it’s important for you to know the 2022 Kona will see a fairly dramatic styling refresh from the outside in, including a wider, shallower grille, new headlamps and driving lights, a deeper front fascia, plus changes to the rear lighting elements, bumper, and more. Inside, a new dash design offers an optional digital gauge cluster, while available heated rear seats will give rear passengers more to celebrate on cold mornings. Atop the centre stack, an 8.0-inch infotainment touchscreen will be standard, with the upgraded version stretching to 10.3 inches. Lastly, a sportier N Line trim will soon vie for most entertaining subcompact performance SUV credentials, thanks to a 195-horsepower version of the same 1.6-litre turbo-four used in today’s top-line Kona. Details on this last upgrade are not yet available, so we’ll keep you posted.

Review and photos by Trevor Hofmann

Is there a meaner looking sports car available anywhere? OK, an argument can be made for some multiple-six-figure sports and supercars, but within the more affordable mainstream volume-branded sector,…

2021 Dodge Challenger R/T Scat Pack 392 Widebody Road Test

2021 Dodge Challenger R/T Scat Pack 392 Widebody
The Challenger R/T Scat Pack 392’s Widebody design and beefier wheel and tire package makes this sensational super coupe look better than ever.

Is there a meaner looking sports car available anywhere? OK, an argument can be made for some multiple-six-figure sports and supercars, but within the more affordable mainstream volume-branded sector, the Challenger is one tough looking customer.

Of course, Dodge follows up the Challenger’s menacing appearance with a range of powertrains that borders on the otherworldly. There’s nothing particularly exciting about its base 3.6-litre V6, except for the ability of a budget-conscious buyer being able to get into this fabulous looking car for just $36,265 (plus freight and fees), the SXT and GT models’ 303 horsepower and 268 lb-ft of torque just barely capable of making their respective 1,750-kilo (3,858-lb) and 1,772-kg (3,907-lb) curb weights feel sporty. It gets even more challenging to do so when all-wheel drive is added to the mix, due to the just-noted models’ curb weights bumped up to 1,840 kg (4,057 lbs) and 1,847 kg (4,072 lbs) apiece, but muscle car fans wanting more get-up-and-go can always opt for a V8.

2021 Dodge Challenger R/T Scat Pack 392 Widebody
Long, lean, and, well, not that low, the reincarnated Challenger combines a sleek coupe shape with a very roomy interior.

RT trim is the most affordable way to get into Dodge’s 5.7-litre Hemi, which is good for a healthy 372 horsepower and 400 lb-ft of torque through the rear wheels, while only adding 117 kg (258 lbs) to the rear-wheel drive GT. The mind-blowing SRT Hellcat, on the other hand, and downright insane Hellcat Redeye make concerns about mass less of an issue, at least in a straight line. The former makes a sensational 717 horsepower and 656 lb-ft of torque from a 6.2-litre supercharged Hemi V8, while the latter puts out an absolutely outrageous 797 horsepower and 707 lb-ft of torque from a higher output version of the same engine, both of which are available in either the Challenger’s regular body style or the Widebody design introduced for 2018.

2021 Dodge Challenger R/T Scat Pack 392 Widebody
The Challenger is the Harley-Davidson of road cars, especially in R/T Scat Pack 392 Widebody form.

The R/T Scat Pack 392, also available in both body styles, splits the difference between the regular R/T and Hellcat with a 6.4-litre supercharged Hemi V8 making 485 horsepower and 475 lb-ft of torque, an engine that adequately compensates for the car’s 1,924 kg (4,242 lb) curb weight by launching it from standstill to 100 km/h in about four seconds before attaining a top track speed of 273 km/h (170 mph). My Scat Pack 392 Widebody tester adds a bit more mass, 33 kg (73 lbs) to be exact, resulting in 1,957 kg (4,314 lb), but once again this additional weight more than makes up for itself in handling performance, thanks to meatier 305/35 ZR-rated Pirelli P Zero rubber on 20×11-inch Devil’s Rim forged aluminum wheels, which compare well against the regular Scat Pack 392’s 245/45ZR20 performance tires.

2021 Dodge Challenger R/T Scat Pack 392 Widebody
Challenger R/T Scat Pack 392s feature an upgraded performance hood with dual heat extractors.

To be clear, Widebody Challengers only add a competition suspension with active damping, plus fender flares to allow for beefier tires, which means the track of both body styles maintains a sizeable 1,610 mm (63 in) up front and 1,621 mm (64 in) in back. All that extra rubber combines ideally with the 392’s well-sorted independent short/long arm front and multi-link rear suspension setup, making for mostly confidence-inspiring stability through fast-paced corners.

Mostly? I won’t lie, this isn’t a car for the faint of heart. What I mean is, you’ll be able to feel the Challenger’s transitional weight when flinging it through sharp curves, and while much of that mass is up front, therefore causing a tendency for the car to understeer, or push out at the front, unless getting too hard on the throttle mid-corner and breaking rear grip, it’s the exact opposite of the performance spectrum than something extremely lightweight, like the Alfa Romeo 4C (also under the Stellantis group umbrella).

Challenger R/T Scat Pack 392 Widebody
The standard automatic halogen headlamps do a decent job lighting up the road at night.

This said, I pushed my Challenger R/T Scat Pack 392 Widebody tester hard around some very tight sets of mountainside curbs and never had an issue. It actually feels pretty well balanced, with that just-mentioned slight tendency to push out at the front wheels in fact confidence-inspiring, as it informs a driver of its breaking point before it’s too late, and due to this feedback, much attributed to the car’s electrically-assisted rack and pinion steering system, I was able to instantly compensate by applying a bit of input at the wheel to make the rear step out ever so slightly. So, it’s not that this car can’t perform with the best in this pony car crowd, but instead it comes down to the sensation of its mass transitioning from side-to-side so obviously, that might make some drivers feel a bit uneasy.

Challenger R/T Scat Pack 392 Widebody
Just in case you’ve never seen these up close, each centre halo LED accent light surrounds a gaping air duct.

Of course, Dodge provides all of the latest traction and stability control functions, which help to keep the rear end in check if it were to suddenly let go, while the big fat Brembos at each corner provide plenty of stopping power with very little fade, so my only advice to new owners would be to keep the traction and stability control systems on as you gradually get familiar with those breaking points, and then when finally ready to test its boundaries, make sure it’s not on a circuitous canyon road with a rock wall on one side and cliff on the other. A local autocross course in a parking lot, where you’ll only be destroying orange cones might be a better idea, but I digress.

Challenger R/T Scat Pack 392 Widebody
The Widebody boasts 20×11-inch Devil’s Rim forged aluminum wheels wrapped in 305/35 ZR-rated Pirelli P Zero performance tires.

I’ve delved pretty deep into this review without mentioning anything about the Challenger’s transmission choices, so here goes: all V6-powered Challengers are only available with an eight-speed automatic dubbed TorqueFlite, a name that’s been used for branding all of Chrysler group’s in-house autoboxes since 1956 (when it replaced the two-speed PowerFlite), but this unit, and all eight-speeds currently available from Chrysler, Dodge, Jeep, or Ram, are in fact rebranded versions of the ZF 8HP, albeit built under licence at Chrysler’s Kokomo, Indiana casting plant since 2013.

Incidentally, the first vehicle in the four-brand lineup to receive ZF’s 8HP was the 2011 Chrysler 300, but it soon expanded to the 2012 Dodge Charger, 2013 Jeep Grand Cherokee and 2013 Ram 1500, and now encompasses all vehicles in the four brands’ ranges using longitudinally-mounted V6 or V8 engines in RWD and AWD applications (hybrid transmissions included).

Challenger R/T Scat Pack 392 Widebody
Classic racing stripes and a subtle rear deck lid spoiler seem as if they’re pulled directly off of a ’70s Challenger.

To say this was a good decision would be a massive understatement, as most familiar with the multitude of multi-speed automatic gearboxes on the market would claim ZF’s 8HP as the best compromise between quick-shifting performance and overall smooth-operating civility, not to mention superb reliability. The aforementioned four brands have sold well over one million vehicles equipped with the TorqueFlite eight-speed, and thanks to said dependability and just how thoroughly engaging it is use, especially when employing its Sport mode along with manual mode and its steering wheel-mounted paddle shifters, I can attest that it’s a key reason you should consider the Challenger over its competitors. Then again, you might want to opt for the available six-speed manual, a gearbox I thoroughly enjoyed in a 2015 Challenger R/T 392 Scat Pack Shaker, way back in the day.

Challenger R/T Scat Pack 392 Widebody
These retrospective looking taillights are actually modern LEDs.

As yet one more side-note, I can’t just mention Sport mode without adding that it turns off the traction control (and includes a warning in the gauge cluster), so those who aren’t accredited professional drivers may want to put some track or autocross time into learning the car’s boundaries before doing so (as noted a few minutes ago). This said, you can modify Sport mode from the infotainment system, by entering the Apps page, then the Drive Mode Set-Up button, then Sport-Mode Set-Up, at which point you can reconfigure Sport mode to include traction control. This means you can use most of the power without constantly lighting up the rear tires at takeoff, or overcooking them when applying too much throttle in tight corners.

Challenger R/T Scat Pack 392 Widebody
Allowing a wide berth for these extra-long doors, the Challenger stays true to its original form.

You can do the same to decrease engine response and the transmission’s high-performance shifting mode, but I can’t think of many applications I’d want to do that, or for that matter disengage the paddles, which is also possible. Likewise, you can make Sport mode’s more direct steering-feel less engaging via either Normal or Comfort modes, which hardly makes sense either, but I suppose it’s nice to have the option. These features are helpful in default mode, however, where you can leave engine/transmission in normal mode while making sure the paddles are still working, plus leave traction control on, and steering in mid-range Normal mode.

2021 Dodge Challenger R/T Scat Pack 392 Widebody
Up close and comfortable, the Challenger R/T Scat Pack 392 Widebody provides excellent driver positioning.

You can quickly review your personalized setup on the Performance Control page within the infotainment system’s Performance Pages section, the latter being a real bonus as it’s filled with active graphical info designed to get the most out of your driving experience, including digital coolant temp, oil temp, and oil pressure gauges on page one, boost pressure, air fuel ratio, intercooler coolant temp, and intake air temp gauges (plus battery voltage and trans temperature for the automatic) on page two, a timer page for keeping track of your reaction time off the line, as well as lap times and more (you can save this info to a USB to review on another device later), a g-force page for graphically displaying the amount of lateral and longitudinal force (current and best) your car is experiencing through curves, and an engine page for horsepower, torque and engine related info.

2021 Dodge Challenger R/T Scat Pack 392 Widebody
A flat-bottom leather-wrapped steering wheel frames a gorgeous gauge cluster filled with a 7.0-inch configurable multi-info display.

Right next to the Drive Mode button is one for “LAUNCH” control, a feature that’ll make sure driver error doesn’t impede any future drag races. After setting it up in the infotainment system by going to the same Performance Control page used for reviewing your personalized driving mode setup, go to the Launch RPM Set-Up page, set your launch revs between 1,500 and 3,500 rpm (you can also set the Shift Light rpm on this page), and then activate the Launch mode. Next, press your left foot hard on the brake to hold the car in place, floor the throttle with your right foot, and then release the brake, after which Launch control takes care of the rest, automatically optimizing traction and wheel spin balance along the way.

2021 Dodge Challenger R/T Scat Pack 392 Widebody
All Challengers above the base model provide an 8.4-inch centre touchscreen filled with useful functions.

Just be smart about launching your Challenger R/T Scat Pack 392 on public roads. It’s a sure-fire way to get a ticket or worse, and remember, if the steering wheel isn’t straight, or you don’t completely floor the throttle, it’ll automatically kick out of launch mode and you’ll be on your own. If you want to deactivate the program manually, you can do so within the same performance page, and it goes without saying you should be in Sport mode to get the most out of Launch mode. Just in case you’re sitting in a six-speed manual-equipped car while reading this review, launch mode works the same, but instead of releasing the brake pedal you’ll be releasing the clutch. The only difference is in setup, where you’ll be setting your engine revs between 2,000 and 4,500 rpm.

2021 Dodge Challenger R/T Scat Pack 392 Widebody
The ZF-sourced 8-speed automatic is an especially well-engineered piece of machinery, and reason enough to choose the Challenger over its rivals.

As far as non-performance equipment goes, all Challengers come well-equipped with items like automatic halogen headlamps featuring halo LED accent lighting, LED taillights, proximity access and pushbutton ignition, a 7.0-inch full-colour customizable in-cluster driving display (set between two gorgeous analog dials), a tire pressure monitoring display, a centre touchscreen (7.0 inches for the base model and 8.4 inches for all other trims), Apple CarPlay and Android Auto smartphone integration, two USB ports, six-speaker audio, a leather-wrapped steering wheel (flat-bottomed in the Widebody) and shift knob, dual-zone automatic climate control, an auto-dimming rearview mirror, a 10-way powered driver’s seat with four-way lumbar adjust, and much more.

2021 Dodge Challenger R/T Scat Pack 392 Widebody
The Challenger R/T Scat Pack 392 Widebody’s seats are fabulous, especially upgraded with faux suede.

Moving up through the trims will provide exterior upgrades like larger wheels and tires, an SRT front splitter, fog lamps, a functional hood scoop (or performance hood with dual heat extractors for the 392), active exhaust (V8 only), remote start (with the automatic), paddle shifters, bright metal foot pedals, heated front seats and steering wheel rim (that get quite toasty), cooled seats, navigation, a 276-watt amplifier (in the 392), satellite radio, and more, while options include a powered glass sunroof, Harman Kardon or Alpine audio, etcetera, plus loads of packages.

My Challenger R/T Scat Pack 392 tester reached near-premium levels of interior finishing too, with soft-touch surfaces almost everywhere. Even the front roof pillars are wrapped in plush Alcantara-like pseudo-suede, the same as used for the perforated seat inserts. This came as part of the Carbon & Suede Interior Package, the psuede also covering the roof liner, while the carbon fibre trim looks fabulous.

2021 Dodge Challenger R/T Scat Pack 392 Widebody
Rear roominess and comfort is very good as far as sport coupes go.

Those seats are wonderfully comfortable, with excellent side bolstering. The driver’s seat has superb adjustability, including the four-way power lumbar support noted above, which is highly unusual in this class, and not even available in some entry-level luxury models from brands like Lexus. The driver’s position is excellent too, with generous reach from the upgraded powered tilt and telescopic steering wheel, plus there’s plenty of room for larger drivers.

Rear spaciousness isn’t quite as good as the four-door Charger sedan, but there’s not all that much difference between the two cars. Headroom is actually better than you might expect, despite the narrow side windows, although rear passengers might feel a bit claustrophobic due to small rear quarter windows, but they won’t be uncomfortable. Dodge includes a flip-down centre armrest with dual cupholders, standard across the line, while the trunk is fairly large, but access is not all that easy due to a high lift-over. The rear seats fold down in the usual 60/40 configuration, making the near full-size coupe quite practical.

2021 Dodge Challenger R/T Scat Pack 392 Widebody
A high lift-over might make trunk access a bit challenging for shorter folks.

Yes, there are a lot of reasons to love the Challenger, especially when putting out the kind of power my tester came with. It might be big, bold, brash and some might say brutish looking, but it’s wonderfully refined inside and surprisingly easy to live with.

Sure, it’s a glutton on fuel, although its eight-speed auto helps reduce its claimed 15.9-L/100km city rating to a pretty decent 9.6 on the highway, leaving its combined rating at an estimated 13.1 L/100km. With fuel prices rising that might matter to some, but most buyers nevertheless love their Challengers. In fact, the Challenger won its “Sports/Sporty Car” category in AutoPacific’s 2020 Ideal Vehicle Awards, which recognize vehicles that best meet owners’ expectations. It also achieved runner-up status alongside the Mustang in the Canadian Black Book’s 2020 Best Retained Value Awards, so you’ll be able to hold on to more of your money when it’s time to sell.

2021 Dodge Challenger R/T Scat Pack 392 Widebody
Now that’s one fabulous looking, sounding and driving supercharged V8.

Of note, Dodge is providing 2021 Challenger buyers factory leasing and financing rates from 3.49 percent, while CarCostCanada members are saving an average of $2,250 upon purchase, thanks to acquiring dealer invoice pricing information before negotiating their deal. Check out CarCostCanada to find out how their system works, and remember to download their free app from the Google Play Store or Apple Store, so you can have all their valuable info on hand when visiting your Dodge dealer, or when checking out any other brand.

While the base model starts at just over $36k, as noted earlier in this review, the Challenger R/T Scat Pack 392 will set you back $54,465 (plus freight and fees), a very reasonable price considering all the performance and refinement included. My R/T Scat Pack 392 Widebody pushed the price up to $62,465, still a good deal for such an impressive car, and significantly less than the $79,215 Hellcat. The top-line Hellcat Redeye Widebody costs a cool $105,215, incidentally, but once again, for a muscle car that’ll take off like a supercar, it’s hard to beat both literally and from a value perspective.

Review and photos by Trevor Hofmann

As far as subcompact hatchbacks go, Chevy’s Bolt is la crème de la crème. Some time ago I might have said something similar about Ford’s Fiesta ST when referring to straight-line performance and…

2021 Chevrolet Bolt EV Premier Road Test

2021 Chevrolet Bolt EV Premier
Now in its fifth year of availability, albeit not without updates, the Bolt EV still looks fresh for its subcompact class.

As far as subcompact hatchbacks go, Chevy’s Bolt is la crème de la crème. Some time ago I might have said something similar about Ford’s Fiesta ST when referring to straight-line performance and handling, or Honda’s Fit as far as cargo carrying capability, but those two, like so many others in this class, are gone, leaving a shrinking subcompact market segment that’s now a mere shadow of what it once was only a few short years ago.

Fortunately, the current 2021 Bolt includes a few crossover-like styling cues, such as roof rails plus some thick black cladding around its wheel cutouts and rocker panels, as well as an ever-so-slightly raised stance, so it kind of qualifies for subcompact SUV status. Either way, the tiny rocket would probably beat the aforementioned Fiesta ST off the line, let alone a Mini Cooper JCW, while the impressive load of features in my top-level Premier model comes close to promoting it to premium status.

2021 Chevrolet Bolt EV Premier
The Bolt features a long wheelbase that improves legroom as well as high-speed stability and ride comfort.

By all accounts it’s a rather unassuming looking hatchback, not unlike the Spark and Sonic that came before. It’s sized more like the latter car, but provides a sleeker, more windswept look than the now discontinued Chevy subcompact, and certainly more road presence than the tiny little Spark, which has now taken over the mantle of Canada’s most affordable new car from Nissan’s cancelled Micra and Mitsubishi’s slightly pricier Mirage.

2021 Chevrolet Bolt EV Premier
The Bolt gets plenty of crossover SUV-like styling details, such as roof rails, black lower body cladding, and Chevy’s floating rear roof pillar design.

Having only arrived in 2017, the Bolt has quickly taken over sales chart superiority in the subcompact segment, with last year’s 4,026 Canadian deliveries clearly outpacing the category’s second-best-selling Kia Rio that only managed to find 3,868 buyers, a far cry from the 15,601 new owners it earned in 2013, a year that saw Hyundai’s Accent in first with 18,884 sales. Interestingly, 2013 wasn’t even the Accent’s most successful year, with 2008 notching up 29,751 unit-sales, this being the highest number of sales that a vehicle in this class has ever managed over a calendar year in Canada. The entire segment didn’t even break 16,000 deliveries in 2020, incidentally, and if it wasn’t for the Bolt, it probably wouldn’t have come close to that number. Looking back now, it’s bizarre to fathom that Canada’s subcompact category almost hit 100,000 units in 2014.

2021 Chevrolet Bolt EV Premier
The Bolt’s standard auto on/off HID headlamps can be had with available automatic high-beams.

Of course, the Bolt has about as much in common with today’s Kia Rio or Nissan Versa (the only two mainstream volume-branded subcompact models left) as a BMW 3 Series. Sure, it might be sized like the little Korean and Japanese models, but it’s plug-in battery-powered and therefore priced more like the Bavarian luxury sedan. In fact, you can buy the Bimmer for $48 less (not factoring in dealer discounts or government subsidies); the 330e plug-in hybrid starting at $44,950, compared to the base Bolt LT’s starting price of $44,998.

2021 Chevrolet Bolt EV Premier
Sporty machine-finished 17-inch alloy wheels with painted pockets come standard across the line.

My Bolt Premier tester will set you back $50,298, including its vibrant Oasis Blue paint, this standout hue of blue being one of two standard colours including Summit White, while Silver Ice Metallic (exclusive to this trim), Nightfall Grey Metallic, Mosaic Black Metallic, Kinetic Blue Metallic, Cayenne Orange Metallic, and Slate Grey Metallic cost $495 extra, and Cajun Red Tintcoat is slightly more at $595.

You’ll need to pay $750 more for a Driver Confidence II package if you want to get following distance indicator, forward collision alert, automatic emergency braking with front pedestrian braking, lane keep assist with lane departure warning, and IntelliBeam automatic high beams, items normally standard in this price range, thus pushing the base price up over $51,000, while Chevy also offers a 120-volt charging cord for $850, plus aluminum sill plates for $155, a number of carpeted and all-weather floor and cargo mats, an interior protection package, a cargo net, and the list goes on.

2021 Chevrolet Bolt EV Premier
The Bolt’s charging port is up front next to the driver’s door where it’s easy to access.

Notably, Chevy is currently offering up to $1,000 in additional incentives, while the average discount achieved by CarCostCanada members is $2,125, thanks to their ability to access dealer invoice pricing before negotiations. Find out how an affordable CarCostCanada membership can help you save thousands too, plus remember to download their free smartphone app from the Google Play Store or Apple Store.

2021 Chevrolet Bolt EV Premier
Standard LED taillights make a nice visual statement at night.

While the price of entry is staggeringly high for the Bolt’s subcompact class, its base sticker costing more than twice as much as the most expensive 2021 Kia Rio 5-Door EX Premium, keep in mind that base models qualify for the federal government’s $5,000 rebate, while BC offers another $5,000 rebate (my total rebate was shown as $8,000 after configuring) and residents of Quebec a maximum of $8,000 (check with each jurisdiction for eligibility), so other than the fact that these incentives are paid by regular Canadian taxpayers (many of which are poor folk barely managing to keep making payments on their Sparks, Micras and Mirages, let alone bus passes), it can significantly reduce the cost of EV ownership.

2021 Chevrolet Bolt EV Premier
The Bolt Premier’s interior is nicely designed with impressive digital displays, but it’s materials quality can’t measure up to conventionally-powered cars costing tens of thousands less.

The totally redesigned 2022 Bolt starts at just $38,198, by the way, or $40,198 for the slightly larger Bolt EUV (see my full news coverage here), so even well-optioned variants should slide under the government’s $45,000 maximum for rebate qualification.

With or without the just-noted extras, the Bolt Premier’s cabin is very inviting, with a lot of light and medium grey colour tones combined with orange stitching on the perforated two-tone leather seats. It’s a sporty look that nicely matches the little electric car’s spunky character.

2021 Chevrolet Bolt EV Premier
The driver’s position is excellent, and dash layout a real treat for digital savvy drivers.

Most eye-catching is the digital gauge cluster and large infotainment touchscreen, the former bright, colourful and filled mostly with primary driving information, albeit featuring a useful multi-information display at centre. The main touchscreen on the centre stack was bright and colourful too, plus extremely well-organized with most of the features new car buyers expect these days, such as Android Auto and Apple CarPlay, as well as all the usual audio features like SiriusXM satellite radio and Bluetooth streaming. Redundant controls are included for the single-zone auto climate system too, plus in-depth pages for powertrain efficiencies.

2021 Chevrolet Bolt EV Premier
The Bolt’s fully-digital gauge cluster is stunning and highly utile.

Considering the lofty price, I found it odd that no navigation system was included, especially now that some electric cars provide sophisticated navigation equipment that effectively maps out range and finds the nearest public charging location. Of course, you’ll be able to use your smartphone’s navigation via the aforementioned Google and Apple apps for directions, even if these don’t include the types of EV-specific functions $50k should provide. Fortunately, the just-noted audio system is a good enough distraction to lessen any range anxiety that might develop by not knowing where to hook up, while the moving guideline-enhanced backup camera with its separate overhead view will make slotting into the EV charger’s parking spot a near effortless experience when you’ve finally located one.

2021 Chevrolet Bolt EV Premier
The centre stack is well laid out and easy to use.

Charging is almost a non-issue, by the way, thanks to so much range that you might find yourself blasting up and down the highway just to see if you can drain it, like I did for part of my test. In fact, I drove it most of the week without the need to charge, but take note that larger batteries need longer to top up. Chevy claims about 40 km of range per hour of charging on a 240-volt system, which you can purchase for your home or find elsewhere in shopping mall parking lots, public building parking, or private charging resellers like ChargePoint or Flo, while a public-access DC fast charger only needs 30 minutes on the plug to generate up to 145 km of range.

2021 Chevrolet Bolt EV Premier
The large centre display is filled with useful features.

Max range on a full charge is 417 km, although this is an estimate that depends on plenty of factors, from the load you’re carrying (including bodies and cargo), exterior temperature (colder weather means less range), driving style (if you’re stomping on the throttle all the time, or putting on a lot of highway miles, you’ll dramatically reduce distance to empty), plus more.

Yes, the “tiny rocket” descriptor I used at the beginning of this review says it all, the Bolt lives up to its name and then some. Jabbing right foot to the floor results in seriously neck-snapping straight-line acceleration, the direct result of all the big battery’s 66-kWh capacity and the immediacy of an electric motor’s power delivery, especially one putting out 200 horsepower and 266 lb-ft of torque. With Sport mode engaged (which really does make a difference), it’s 0.2 seconds quicker off the line than the long-gone Fiesta ST, by the way, the Bolt launching from standstill to 100 km/h in just 6.5 seconds, but its 1,616-kilo (3,563-lb) curb weight is just too much to make it as agile through the corners as the 1,234 kg (2,721 lb) blue-oval hatchback.

2021 Chevrolet Bolt EV Premier
The split-screen parking monitor, complete with an overhead bird’s-eye view, makes parking ultra-easy.

It holds its own nonetheless, and provides a more comfortable ride, which no doubt matters more to the majority of EV buyers. On that note, I left it in one-pedal mode most of the time, what you get by pulling the gear lever rearward to its L position. This allows you to drive by just using the throttle; what might otherwise be called the gas pedal in a conventional vehicle, or we could call it the go-pedal if you prefer. So set, braking is mostly automatic via electric motor drag when lifting the right foot. It’s an incredibly smooth operator, much better, in fact, than any previous system like this I’ve used. Normally there’s too much braking power, causing everyone’s heads to bob back and forth uncomfortably when pressing and lifting off the go-pedal, but the Bolt was really smooth and easy to modulate.

2021 Chevrolet Bolt EV Premier
Simply pull the electronic shift lever rearward to “L” in order to engage one-pedal drive mode, which will do most of the braking for you automatically.

Chevy also provides a paddle on the left side of the steering wheel that effectively does the same when it comes to braking, so if you prefer to have less rolling resistance for a more traditional feel when driving around, you can just leave it in drive and use the steering wheel paddle to brake when needed. Of course, there’s a big brake pedal in the usual spot, just in case you need to stop quickly.

The steering wheel rim next to braking paddle is heatable, incidentally, while the Bolt Premier’s three-way heated front seats were capable of therapeutic levels of warmth. Additionally, a wireless device charger was integrated within the lower centre console, purposely tucked away so drivers won’t be tempted to glance down at an incoming message when on the road. Chevy made sure that texts can be viewed and responded to (via stock answers) on the centre display, so there’s less need to touch it while driving. Two USB-A connectors and a powered auxiliary port can be found right beside the wireless charging pad, while another two USB-A charging points are located on the backside of the front console for rear passengers.

2021 Chevrolet Bolt EV Premier
Chevy didn’t include a power-adjustable driver’s seat, but it was very comfortable just the same.

In case you were wondering if the Bolt Premier’s $50k-plus retail price buys you lavish levels of luxurious finishings, Chevy wasn’t feeling generous when applying the types of soft-touch synthetic surfaces found in cars costing upwards of $30,000. Instead, it gets a small rubber armrest on each door panel, plus a more comfortable padded leatherette one in the middle. I found the seats excellent, offering good support all around, but surprisingly they’re not powered. Should we chalk that up to environmentally conscious weight savings?

2021 Chevrolet Bolt EV Premier
The rear passenger area has impressive legroom and headroom, plus heated outboard seats.

Along with the manual seats and lack of navigation, my top-line Bolt was also missing a sunroof, and just in case you didn’t notice me mention it above, the automatic HVAC system only has one single zone. Some of these items can be found in similarly sized subcompact hatchbacks sold in the low $20,000s, so when it comes to these creature comforts, at least, be prepared to pay more for less.

Of course, the majority the money goes towards the big battery pack and electrical drive system that makes driving it so much fun, and so ultimately efficient. It’s also roomy, especially for legroom and headroom. Chevy designed it with a long wheelbase to accommodate the battery, which spans the entire floor, from the front foot well to rearmost portion of the back seat. The end result is a noticeable improvement in legroom over its subcompact peers, while head space in this class is almost always open and airy. This said it’s narrower than compacts like Chevy’s old Cruze and Volt, but not by much, while it’s a lot wider than the little Spark, so there’s more room for elbows and knees.

2021 Chevrolet Bolt EV Premier
The rear hatch lifts up high out of the way, and the dedicated storage are is quite large for the class.

The driver’s position fit my long-legged, short-torso body ideally, with excellent reach from the tilt and telescopic steering wheel, while most rear passengers should be able to stretch their legs out to some extent, due to feet slotting easily underneath the front seat. A nice large folding armrest can be found at the centre of the rear row, while heated seats are included in back too. There’s decent storage as well, with 1,603 litres (56.6 cu ft) available when the 60/40-split rear seatbacks are folded flat, making this a very practical little electric. Chevy even includes a removable cargo floor for fitting in taller cargo or stowing belongings below, one item of which was the aforementioned 120-volt household-style charge cord that can be used at home while waiting for a 240-volt system to be installed.

2021 Chevrolet Bolt EV Premier
A 60/40-split rear seatback increases cargo carrying capacity to 1,603 litres, while the floor is removable for hiding valuables or fitting in tall items.

So that’s the 2021 Chevy Bolt from front to back, with a little sales info and road testing to spice things up in between. If you’re looking for the best deal on a subcompact hatchback it’s probably not the car for you, but if you want the most advanced small hatch on the market, not to mention one of the more affordable new electric cars available, it’s a very good choice that I can’t help but recommend. Its overall performance is strong, range superb, infotainment technology impressive, overall livability great for the small car sector, and overall design appealing for a car in its class.

The all-new 2022 model will remedy a significant portion of my pricing complaint, so if you’re considering one of these outgoing 2021 models, make sure to aggressively push for a final price that comes closer to matching the much more affordable new version. If your Chevy dealer can’t do that, you should probably choose a 2022.

Review and photos by Trevor Hofmann

There’s nothing better than driving a model’s base trim if you want to find out how good its basic elements are, so let me be clear, BMW’s X3 xDrive30i is one very good compact luxury SUV. It arrived…

2021 BMW X3 xDrive30i Road Test

2021 BMW X3 xDrive30i
BMW’s X3 still looks good after all these years, even in base xDrive30i trim.

There’s nothing better than driving a model’s base trim if you want to find out how good its basic elements are, so let me be clear, BMW’s X3 xDrive30i is one very good compact luxury SUV.

It arrived for 2018 and hasn’t changed much since, only adding automated emergency braking, forward-collision warning, and parking sensors as standard equipment for 2019, plus LED headlamps with cornering lights and navigation standard for 2020 (along with the option of a new plug-in hybrid xDrive30e variant), and finally SiriusXM satellite radio, Android Auto smartphone connectivity (which was never offered previously), lane-departure warning, and blind-spot monitoring as standard for 2021. There have been a few other small details changed along the way, such as paint colours and some minor interior trim bits, but it’s mostly been the exact same SUV for the past five years.

2021 BMW X3 xDrive30i
Although the X3 looks sleek compared to some of its rivals, BMW also makes the even sportier X4.

This said, 2022 will bring some significant styling updates as part of a mid-cycle refresh, including a squarer grille to align it more cohesively with BMW’s latest design philosophy, plus new LED headlamps, updated taillights, revised front and rear bumpers, new wheel designs, and massaged exhaust tips. All mechanicals remain the same, other than the plug-in hybrid xDrive30e that will be discontinued.

Changes inside will include an updated centre stack and lower console, now featuring a standard 10.3-inch digital gauge cluster as well as an identically sized infotainment display at centre, with a 12.3-inch option for each. A number of secondary controls have been moved around and modified, making it almost seem like an all-new model, but make no mistake, the crossover you see here is basically the same SUV you’ll be buying next year, other than styling and electronics.

2021 BMW X3 xDrive30i
These 20-inch alloys are optional, but the LED headlights and LED fogs are standard.

Then again, it may have better interior quality. This will take a personal deep-dive in order to verify, but then again, the current X3 is so well finished inside and out that I’d question BMW’s ability to make it much better. Certainly, they could spend Rolls-Royce dollars and blow us all away, but so far not many competitors can touch BMW’s interior quality in the X3’s $50k price point.

To be clear, the X3 xDrive30i starts at $52,550 plus freight and fees, which is a bit more than most of its peers. In fact, the only competitive luxury SUVs priced higher than the X3 are Tesla’s Model Y at $55,000, Alfa Romeo’s Stelvio at $55,190, Porsche’s Macan at $57,800, Jaguar’s F-Pace at $60,350, and Land Rover’s Range Rover Velar at $63,500, plus some of the coupe-like compact utes including BMW’s own X4, as well as a number of all-electric rivals.

2021 BMW X3 xDrive30i
BMW provides some very nice exterior details.

Pricing in this class is all over the map, incidentally, with the cheapest entry being Buick’s Envision at $35,998, if it really does qualify as a true compact luxury SUV competitor. But Cadillac’s XT4 does, of course, and it’s priced a mere $100 higher at $36,098, making the price gap between most affordable and priciest a shocking $27,400. The X3’s more popular competitors’ window stickers come closer to the $50k mid-point, mind you, with the segment’s best-selling rival in 2020 being the $44,505 Acura RDX, followed by the $46,550 Audi Q5 (that includes sales of the sportier $55,400 Q5 Sportback), plus the $49,900 Mercedes-Benz GLC (its sales totals also including the $53,900 GLC Coupe), and finally the $47,100 Lexus NX, putting the X3 in fifth place last year.

2021 BMW X3 xDrive30i
The X3 incorporates one of the best quality interiors in its compact luxury SUV class.

The X3 has dropped down to sixth so far in 2021 (it stays fifth when including X4 sales), thanks to Q2 sales of 3,120 units, and Tesla’s Model Y managing 3,200 deliveries, although with perfectly even totals of 1,600 sales per quarter it’s difficult to believe the U.S. tech firm’s numbers. There’s been some shuffling on top too, with 2021 Q2 totals placing the Q5 well into the lead with 5,702 deliveries, followed by the GLC with 3,806, NX with 3,619, and finally last year’s top-selling RDX with just 3,456, but these standings could very well change before the year is out, plus this by no means speaks to each model’s popularity, being that many automakers are having problems producing at full capacity due to chip shortages.

2021 BMW X3 xDrive30i
Most surfaces are soft to the touch, including the lower dash and glove box lid.

In the US, incidentally, the X3 was number one in 2020 with 59,777 deliveries, followed by the NX with 55,784, RDX with 52,785, GLC with 52,626, and Q5 with 50,435, while the Q5 has jumped right up behind the X3 so far this year thanks to 33,566 unit-sales compared to 36,273 respectively. This said, the Model Y had more than doubled X3 sales as of June’s end, with a total of 76,429 units (and the U.S. division’s numbers appear legit).

Maintaining best-selling status amongst gasoline-powered internal combustion engine offerings (including a PHEV) in the U.S., and top-five in Canada (or fourth including the X4) is impressive no matter what factors have been at play, and this despite a higher-than-average base price. Model Y aside, the Stelvio (at 487 units), Macan (at 2,283), F-Pace (at 1,446), and Velar (at 1,339) sell in much smaller numbers, so the X3 may just be one of the more profitable models in the class.

2021 BMW X3 xDrive30i
A digital gauge cluster with plenty of preconfigured layouts comes standard.

I, for one, would be willing to pay significantly more for its superb interior, which includes one of the best driving positions and driver’s seats in the category, plus the X3’s impressive driving dynamics. The latter has always been a BMW hallmark, but it’s not necessarily because of engine performance in xDrive30i trim. The 2.0-litre turbo-four puts out a reasonable 248 horsepower and 258 lb-ft of torque in this base model, which makes it good for spirited 6.3-second sprints from standstill to 100 km/h, and a top track speed of 210 km/h (130 mph), but it’s by no means class-leading when it comes to straight-line performance.

2021 BMW X3 xDrive30i
The centre stack is well organized, and all the switchgear is top-notch.

I’ve long known BMW to be conservative with all performance specs, however, and can honestly say it felt quicker off the line than its official claimed time, but either way its eight-speed automatic shifts smoothly overall, plenty quick in Sport mode, was even more engaging when using its steering wheel-mounted paddles, and certainly couldn’t achieve the model’s 10.2 L/100km city, 8.2 highway and 9.3 combined fuel economy rating when driving so aggressively.

2021 BMW X3 xDrive30i
The top-line Ultimate package includes this very handy overhead parking camera.

Driven moderately in its most economical mode the X3 xDrive30i actually ties the Q5 45 TFSI Quattro for thriftiest base all-wheel drive model in the segment, with both models’ key GLC rival second-to-last due to a rather thirsty 10.0 L/100km combined rating. Buick’s more powerful Envision AWD comes in second at 9.5 combined, followed by AWD versions of the Stelvio at 9.6, NX, new Genesis GV70, and XT4 at 9.7, F-Pace and Lincoln Corsair at 9.8, RDX and Volvo XC60 at 9.9, Velar at 10.5, Infiniti QX50 at 10.8, Macan at 11.3, and Land Rover Discovery Sport at 11.5 combined. Yes, the competition is tight, but bragging rights are bragging rights, and BMW deserves credit for making such a great driver so easy on fuel.

2021 BMW X3 xDrive30i
Wireless charging is always appreciated, optional as part of the $4,500 Premium Package Essential and also included in the as-tested Ultimate package.

Now that we’re talking practicalities, I’ve only mentioned how well the X3 handles, without commenting on its excellent ride quality. It truly is a comfortable city conveyance, even with my tester’s uprated 20-inch alloys on 245/45 Pirellis. Likewise, it can eat up highway miles easier than most in this size class, its adaptive cruise control flawless at maintaining a desired speed no matter the weather or topography.

the $4,500 Premium Package Essential
All of the 8-speed automatic’s drive modes are easily selectable from buttons to the left of the gear lever.

It’s just such moments that the aforementioned near-best-in-class driver’s seat and overall top-notch driving position proved this SUV worthy of its increased price, the tilt and telescopic steering wheel reaching rearward enough to provide ideal comfort and control, despite my long-legged, short-torso body type. The rim of that wheel is wrapped in a very high-grade leather, plus is heatable for keeping fingers warm mid-winter, while the seat leather feels higher in grade than some competitive hides, despite being the most basic in BMW’s line.

2021 BMW X3 xDrive30i
This is one of the most comfortable and supportive driver’s seats in the compact luxury SUV segment.

The Bavarian automaker provided an attractive leather-like soft-touch synthetic across the entire dash top too, which was beautifully stitched together with contrasting thread. My X3 received the same surfacing for the door uppers, inserts and armrests, albeit these last items were even more padded for added comfort, while the door inlays were finished in a nicely textured aluminum. There was no shortage of aluminized trim elsewhere, not to mention piano black lacquered composite across the lower console, of all places, where it will be more likely to attract dust and scratches (this is not one of my favourite trends), but nonetheless the workmanship is as good as this class gets, and overall solidity and refinement bar none.

2021 BMW X3 xDrive30i
All of the X3’s upgrade packages include this stunning panoramic sunroof.

All the roof pillars are fabric-wrapped, with the only weakness being hard plastic used for the lower door panels, but this is par for the course in the X3’s compact luxury SUV segment. Then again, the entire lower dash is soft synthetic, which is unusually good for this segment, even including the sides of the centre console, making it nicer for larger folk whose knees might otherwise chafe.

The rear compartment is almost as comfortable as up front, with ample room in all directions, plus the same level of fit, finish and materials quality. My well-equipped model provided plenty of back seat toys too, some for warming derrieres, others shading eyes from sunlight, and yet one more for providing additional sun if desired, the latter two achieved via side window sunshades and a big panoramic glass sunroof.

2021 BMW X3 xDrive30i
The rear seating area is roomy, comfortable and can be filled with top-tier luxury features.

On that note, my tester was upgraded with the $12,100 Ultimate Package, which includes the extra-large sunroof as well as a proximity-sensing entry system, ambient lighting, universal remote, and wireless device charging, these otherwise found in the $4,500 Premium Package Essential upgrade; plus the head-up display, wonderful sounding Harman/Kardon surround audio system, four-way powered lumbar support, heated rear outboard seats, rear sunshades, storage compartment package, and more from the $6,500 Premium Package Enhanced; while ultimately adding adaptive full LED headlights with High Beam Assistant, Parking Assistant Plus with a 360-degree overhead surround monitor, Driving Assistant Plus, BMW Gesture Control, adjustable rear seats, and more.

2021 BMW X3 xDrive30i
The X3’s dedicated cargo area is large and accommodating, but the retractable cargo cover is heavy and difficult to remove.

This package pushed the price of my X3 xDrive30i over $65k, with a few items not mentioned included as well, but take note that BMW is providing up to $2,000 in additional incentives right now, with CarCostCanada members saving an average of $2,181 thanks to learning about the X3’s dealer invoice pricing before negotiation. Find out how the CarCostCanada system can work for you, and be sure to download their free app from the Google Play Store or Apple Store before you start shopping, so you can have all of their critical info at your fingertips when you need it most.

2021 BMW X3 xDrive30i
The cargo cover can be locked into place under the floor, while a large hidden compartment provides storage of valuables.

BMW electronics are some of the best available, by the way, with my X3 featuring high-definition displays and bright, colourful graphics that never ceased to delight. As expected, the primary gauges were digital and fully configurable, while the centre display is a nice widescreen tablet-style design featuring a convenient, easy-to-use tile layout.

At the opposite end of the SUV, you may have noticed me mention a storage compartment package when previously listing out options. The upgrade, amongst other items, includes really useful aluminum rails in the cargo compartment for lashing down large items. Of course, the usual tie-down latches can be found in the rearmost cargo compartment’s four corners, plus a small netted stowage area to the left, and best of all, an extremely deep hidden compartment below the rigid cargo floor, along with a spot to lock down the retractable cargo cover when not in use. This is a hefty piece of German handiwork, by the way, and takes a fair bit of strong-armed finesse to remove.

2021 BMW X3 xDrive30i
Ideally configured 40/20/40-split rear seatbacks can be laid flat via levers on the cargo area sidewalls, while an optional storage compartment package adds aluminum rails for lashing down larger items.

The X3’s dedicated stowage area is reasonably generous for the class, measuring 813 litres (29 cu ft), but keep in mind that it grows to 1,775 litres (62.7 cu ft) when lowering the rear seatbacks via convenient release levers on each sidewall. I’m an even bigger fan of the large centre pass-through provided by the rear seat’s 40/20/40-split configuration, which allows for longer belongings like skis to be stuffed down the middle while both rear passengers enjoy the benefit of those previously mentioned butt warmers.

If an over-engineered cargo cover is all I can find to complain about, it’s obvious that BMW has done a very good job engineering this much-loved SUV. The X3’s overall build quality is excellent, finishing impressive, feature set right up at the top of this category, and overall drivability in a class of few. No wonder it still sells so well after all these years.

Review by Trevor Hofmann

Photos by Karen Tuggay