I’ve got to admit, Honda’s hybrid and full-electric strategy has long baffled the mind. Despite being second in the world and first in North America amongst modern-day hybrid makers, the Japanese…

2021 Honda Insight Touring Road Test

2021 Honda Insight Touring
Most people will agree that Honda’s Insight is a good looking car.

I’ve got to admit, Honda’s hybrid and full-electric strategy has long baffled the mind. Despite being second in the world and first in North America amongst modern-day hybrid makers, the Japanese brand’s combined love affair with impractical two-seat electrified sport coupes and hybrid five-passenger sedans, the latter providing real sales success stories, has left them with a much smaller slice of the alternative fuels market than they most likely would’ve enjoyed if they’d devoted all of their wired investment into highly marketable projects.

2021 Honda Insight Touring
Thanks to its more conservative taillights, the Insight will likely be more aesthetically pleasing to some than today’s Civic.

I’m going to guess that Honda’s best-selling electron-infused effort to date is the Civic Hybrid, just because of the sheer number of them I’ve seen on the road over the past decade-plus, although the brand never parsed out hybrid sales numbers from Civics using their conventional powertrains, so only those on the inside know for sure (please tell me I’m wrong, Honda). In fact, the decision to add a hybrid power unit to Canada’s most popular car was so smart that Toyota finally copied them with its latest Corolla Hybrid, a model that now partners the hybrid sector’s long-time best-selling Prius in the compact segment (just a quick note to let you know the new Sienna minivan, only available as a hybrid, just surpassed the Prius as the number-one hybrid seller in the US, not to mention the best-selling minivan).

2000 Honda Insight
It’s two-seat impracticality might not have been the only reason Honda’s first-generation Insight didn’t find as many buyers as the original four-door Prius.

Mentioning the Prius pulls memories of a particularly poorly planned successor to Honda’s original Insight, or at least most buyers thought so, as did I after initially testing it. While the first-generation 1999–2006 Insight needs to be slotted into the impractical two-seat electrified sport coupe category I noted a moment ago, the second-gen 2009–2014 Insight came across like an embarrassing admission of the first car’s failure. Honda came as close to copying the second-generation Prius as it could without being sued for plagiarism, but the rather bland hatchback didn’t look as good or go as well as its key rival. To be fair, it was the best-selling car overall in Japan for the month of April, 2009 (three months after going on sale), besting Honda’s own Fit for top spot, but North American buyers were never so enthusiastic. I could only get excited about its fuel economy at the time, which admittedly was superb.

2010 Honda Insight Hybrid
Honda’s second-gen Insight was easily more palatable to the masses than the original, but its similarity to Toyota’s second-gen Prius caused some criticism at the time.

After a reasonable five-year stint (2011–2016) playing around with another impractical two-seat electrified sport coupe dubbed CR-Z, a stylish runabout that I happened to like a lot, yet not enough buyers with real money agreed, the third-gen Insight arrived as a more attractive (in my opinion) Civic Hybrid, sans the name (an initial image of the new 2022 Civic shows the brand is leaning toward a more conservative design approach).

At first, I considered Honda’s choice of rebadging what’s little more than a hybridized Civic with the Insight nameplate as a stroke of genius (don’t ask me for marketing advice), but as it soon became apparent by the lack of Insights on the roads around my hybrid-infused Vancouver homeland (Honda chose the 2018 Vancouver International Auto Show for its launch, after all), it hasn’t been a hit.

2016 Honda CR-Z
Honda’s CR-Z was a real looker, but limiting occupancy to two made its target market very small.

It seems, much as Honda wants to keep the Insight legacy alive, or maybe just shine a prettier light on it, the comparatively obscure moniker’s historical relevance is no match for household name recognition (and another key issue I’ll go into more detail about later). As noted earlier, only Honda has the internal data to compare the percentage of Insights and Civic sedans it sells now to Civic Hybrid and conventionally-powered Civic sedans it sold in the past, but as stated at the beginning of this review, my guess is the old Civic Hybrid made a much bigger impact on the brand’s small car sales chart.

Enough about Honda’s hybrid duopoly of Civic and Accord success stories and insightful missteps, mind you, because the question that matters more is whether or not the latest Insight is any good. Of course, being based on the Civic can only mean that it’s inherently an excellent car, so therefore adding Honda’s well-proven hybrid drivetrain to the mix can only make it better from a fuel-efficiency standpoint, or at least that’s what I deduced after a week behind the wheel.

2021 Honda Insight Touring
LED headlamps join LED fog lights for a very advanced lighting package.

The powertrain consists of a 1.5-litre Atkinson-cycle internal combustion engine (ICE), an electric propulsion motor, and a 60-cell lithium-ion battery, with the end result being an enthusiastic 151 net horsepower and an even heartier 197 lb-ft of torque. Claimed fuel economy is 4.6 L/100km in the city, 5.3 on the highway, and 4.9 combined, which is exemplary when comparing it to most conventionally powered sedans in its compact category. Even the thriftiest version of Honda’s Civic sedan is downright thirsty when viewed side-by-side, its rating of 7.9 L/100km city, 6.1 highway and 7.1 combined stacking up well against competitors, yet not so impressive next to the Insight. Then again, sidle up Toyota’s aforementioned Corolla Hybrid beside to the Insight and its 4.4 city, 4.5 highway and 4.5 combined rating edges it out.

2021 Honda Insight Touring
Some Insight styling details are similar to those on the mid-size Accord.

Of course, even hybrids aren’t all about fuel economy. Straight-line performance matters too, as does handling, refinement, style, etcetera. Before venturing away from driving dynamics, I have to mention how wonderfully smooth the Insight’s drivetrain is. It uses a continuously variable transmission, which is par for the course across most of the Civic line, and not uncommon amongst competitors too, Corolla included, so as long as driven calmly it’s pure bliss.

Step into the throttle with Sport mode engaged and it moves along quickly enough too, but the CVT keeps the engine at higher revs for longer than a conventional automatic would, and therefore produces more noise and harshness. I’m willing to guess most hybrid drivers don’t deep dive into the go-pedal all that often, however, so this probably won’t be a big issue. It certainly wasn’t for the duration of my test week, as I drove it in its default Comfort, Econ and EV settings more often than not.

2021 Honda Insight Touring
The Insight’s five-spoke alloys were obviously designed with aerodynamics in mind.

On Honda’s side, the Insight’s all-electric mode is much more useful than the EV modes in Toyota’s Corolla or non-plug-in Prius, as it can actually be used at city speeds without automatically switching into hybrid mode, or in other words have the ICE kick back in. Unless moving up to one of Toyota’s plug-in Prime models, their ICEs automatically turn on at around 20 km/h, making it impossible to drive around town on electric power alone.

Some of my city’s poorly paved streets made me grateful for the Insight’s well sorted suspension, incidentally, as the ride is very good for its compact dimensions. This is partially due to an independent rear suspension setup, which is ideal for soaking up bumps and ruts no matter the speed, not to mention keeping the rear of the car from hopping around when driving quickly through imperfect asphalt mid-corner. Yes, it handles quite well, with the Insight’s battery weight hidden under the rear seat for a low centre of gravity.

2021 Honda Insight Touring
Insight Touring buyers get plenty of premium touches.

You’ll be wanting to use the previously noted Sport mode for such situations, but don’t expect to manually row a gear lever through stepped intervals to so, because you won’t find any such thing. Instead, the Insight lets you swap “cogs” via much more engaging steering wheel paddles, while using Honda’s pushbutton gear selector for PRND, complete with a pull switch for reverse. It looks clean and elegant, plus saves airspace above for uninhibited access to centre stack controls, yet leaves more than enough room nearby on the lower console for stowing a large smartphone.

2021 Honda Insight Touring
Honda hasn’t shown rear photos of its new 2022 Civic yet, but we’d be pleased if its taillights looked similar to the Insight’s LED lenses.

The latter includes a rubberized tray, plus a couple of USB charging ports and a 12-volt charger just ahead, these items forming the base of the centre stack that continues to be well organized and filled with plenty of useful features, such as an attractive dual-zone automatic climate control interface, integrating a strip of quick-access buttons for the three-way heatable front seats and more. It’s all topped off by the same big 8.0-inch touchscreen Civic owners will be all too familiar with, incorporating attractive, colourful, easy-to-use graphics that are laid out in a convenient tile format, with functions such as Android Auto and Apple CarPlay smartphone connectivity, an accurate navigation system in my Touring trimmed tester, and an engine/battery power flow indicator that can be fun to watch.

2021 Honda Insight Touring
The Insight Touring provides a more luxurious interior than most cars in its compact mainstream class.

For those unfamiliar (which would include those trading up from a base second-gen Insight, or those still driving base Civic Hybrids from the same era), the display works like a smartphone or tablet, letting you tap, pinch, or swipe to perform various functions, while Honda has also lined each side with some quick access buttons. On the left is a one for the home screen, plus another for the return or back function, one for swapping between day and night screens, two more for scrolling between radio stations or tracks, and lo and behold an actual volume knob that I used more often than the redundant one on the left-side steering wheel spoke.

2021 Honda Insight Touring
If you’re familiar with today’s Civic, you’ll feel right at home in the Insight.

Honda lights up the name of each feature so they’ll be easy to see at night, but this caused me to press the name instead of the little black button below when getting acclimatized, my mind seemingly pre-programmed for touch-sensitive controls these days. Some will be ok with this unorthodox analogue setup, while others, like yours truly, will wonder why Honda didn’t choose larger buttons with integrated backlit names, but being that this was my only criticism after a week on the road, I say they’re batting 300.

The primary instruments are fully digital, with those on the right housing a speedometer and gas gauge, and the left portion of the cluster featuring a multi-information display filled with helpful hybrid info, including a battery charge indicator. Switchgear on the steering wheel spokes control the MID, and I must say they’re very well made and ideally fitted in place, just like all the buttons, knobs and rockers throughout the rest of the cabin. These include controls on the overhead console too, which houses a set of incandescent reading lights, an emergency assist button, a HomeLink garage door opener, and a rocker switch for the regularly sized powered glass sunroof.

2021 Honda Insight Touring
The Insight’s gauge cluster is fully digital.

Following this high-quality theme, the Insight’s interior comes close to Acura ILX levels of fit, finish, and materials quality. The dash top, for instance, consists of a really impressive soft-touch synthetic surface treatment, while a padded and French-stitched leatherette bolster ahead of the front passenger continues over the entire instrument panel all the way down the side of the centre stack, which made it a shame that Honda didn’t finish the driver’s area to the same impressive level. Each side of the lower console is done just as nicely, however, matching the sliding centre armrest. Additionally, the front door uppers receive the same high-quality treatment as the dash top, while the door inserts get a similar stitched leatherette to the instrument panel bolster. It all looks very upscale, with refinement that’s on an entirely new level for Honda’s compact offerings.

2021 Honda Insight Touring
Honda’s infotainment interface is well organized and easy to use, while its 8.0-inch size is large for the class.

The driver’s seat is up to Honda’s usual high standards too, with plenty of support and good adjustability, while the tilt and telescopic steering column provides ample reach and rake, not always the case with some competitors regarding the former. I couldn’t make mention of the steering wheel without adding that it’s thick, meaty, and shaped like it came out of a performance car, or one of Honda’s impractical two-seat electrified sport coupes (I know I’m going to get hate mail from all those CR-Z fans out there, but don’t slay me for pointing out the fact that an otherwise good car wasn’t exactly a runaway sales success).

2021 Honda Insight Touring
The hybrid power flow graphics are fun to watch.

Much like the spacious front seating area, the rear passenger compartment is roomy and comfortable, seemingly on par with the regular Civic. Likewise, the trunk could also be from a Civic, and even includes storage space under the cargo floor for random items. Honda stows the car’s tire repair pump in this location, a requirement for fixing flats as no spare tire is included. The segment’s usual 60/40 split-folding rear seatback configuration expands the trunk’s usefulness when needed, growing it from 416 litres (14.7 cu ft) to who knows how much (but ample for skis and boards) when lowered.

2021 Honda Insight Touring
Honda’s navigation system accuracy has long been very good.

Yes, the Insight is a spacious, comfortable four-door sedan with a very practical, secure trunk, plus a good performance and fuel economy compromise, along with an impressively crafted interior with excellent electronics, and in my opinion, very attractive styling. If rebadged with the Civic Hybrid name, I think it would sell better than it does, simply because everyone knows someone with a Civic. This said, don’t let any negative connotations about old Insights dissuade you from buying the current model. In fact, if you can get one for the right price, I’d highly recommend it, and I’d also recommend that Honda get even more practical with future hybrids, like possibly a CR-V Hybrid for the Canadian market?

2021 Honda Insight Touring
Honda’s innovative pushbutton gear selector necessitates manual shifting via paddles on the steering wheel.

It’s hard to understand why Honda allowed others to hybridize the SUV segment before they got around to it, but unfathomably there’s still nothing in their Canadian lineup to compete with electrified versions of the Toyota RAV4, Hyundai Tucson, Ford Escape and others, an especially odd predicament for the Japanese brand to find itself in when considering the CR-V is built right here in Canada.

The problem is reportedly due to Honda’s inability to build an electrified version in its Alliston, Ontario plant, and unwillingness to procure one from its U.S. manufacturing division (according to multiple sources quoting Honda Canada VP of marketing and sales, Jean-Marc Leclerc, selling a CR-V Hybrid here would simply not be profitable). They don’t seem to be having much trouble selling CR-Vs as it is, but the latest RAV4 has taken over top spot in the segment, possibly due at least partially to its past regular hybrid and current plug-in Prime variants.

2021 Honda Insight Touring
Econ and Sport modes work effectively, while Honda’s EV mode allows full electric mobility at city speeds.

Until the powers that be at Honda choose to take on hybrid challengers within Canada’s fastest growing compact SUV segment, the only two electrified vehicles in the lineup will remain this Insight, the larger mid-size Accord Hybrid, and the brand’s rather unusual looking Clarity Plug-in Hybrid (good luck trying to find one of those on the road). All three are sedans, with the latter two approximately the same size and therefore somewhat redundant (I’d argue they would have done better with an Accord plug-in). Again, Honda’s electrification strategy remains a mystery. At least the Insight and Accord hybrids are straightforward in design and four-door functionality, with either being a good choice for those desiring a sedan body style. If only there were more buyers for this type of vehicle these days.

2021 Honda Insight Touring
The Insight Touring’s leather-clad seats are comfortable and supportive.

To wrap it up, as of April’s close, Honda has delivered a grand total of 15,629 CR-Vs so far this year, which sounds quite good until noting Toyota’s 23,585 RAV4 sales total, of which I’m willing to guess (again) about 25 percent were hybrids (electrified vehicle sales have been surging in Canada over the past two years, and RAV4 Hybrid sales were already at 22 percent in 2019). Canada’s third best-selling vehicle is Honda’s Civic, by the way, with 10,884 units down the road so far in 2021, while the previously mentioned Corolla is a close fourth at 10,788 YTD sales to its credit.

Even if the Corolla Hybrid only managed 15 percent of that model’s total sales, it would have achieved more than 1,500 deliveries since the beginning of the year, which totally destroys Insight deliveries of just 132 units over the same four months, and sadly that’s after seeing 1.5 percent year-over-year sales growth. It can’t be the styling, as it’s easily as attractive as the current Civic sedan, and more so in my opinion, so therefore, while my argument for name recognition might factor in to some extent, it probably has everything to do with acquisition costs from Honda’s Greensburg, Indiana plant, the same facility that makes the CR-V Hybrid.

2021 Honda Insight Touring
Second row roominess is similar to that in the Civic sedan, because the motive battery is stowed under the rear seat.

This results in a starting price of $28,490 plus freight and fees, which is $3,400 more expensive than Toyota’s Corolla Hybrid that begins at just $25,090. Ouch! The Touring trimmed model I tested is even dearer at $32,190, and this car isn’t much better (if at all) than a top-level Corolla Hybrid with its Premium package, that will only set its owner back $27,090 (plus destination and dealer charges). That’s $5,100 more affordable than the Insight, hence the lost sales numbers. No wonder Honda isn’t willing to add its U.S.-made CR-V Hybrid to the mix, as there’s obviously a serious problem making a business case for U.S.-produced hybrids in Canada.

2021 Honda Insight Touring
The Insight’s trunk is sized similarly to the Civic too.

Honda produces its Accord Hybrid in Marysville, Ohio, incidentally, a model that seems to suffer from the same problem, with a base price of $35,805 compared to the Toyota Camry Hybrid’s entry window sticker of $30,790. Likewise, the top-line Accord Hybrid Touring is available from $42,505, whereas the optimally loaded Camry Hybrid XLE is a mere $39,690.

Moving forward, Honda Canada will need to address this issue, at least with the models it can. By rejigging their Alliston assembly plant, they should be able to sell many more CR-V Hybrids than any other electrified model currently on offer, although the business case for doing so may not make sense in a market that’s only about 10 percent of America’s size.

2021 Honda Insight Touring
The cargo compartment can be expanded for longer items via 60/40 split-folding rear seatbacks, not always the case with hybrids.

Such a scenario might be justifiable if they chose to produce the Insight right next to the Civic, that’s also built in the Alliston facility, or even better, create a new Civic Hybrid model that doesn’t require the extra expense of unique body panel stampings. It certainly wouldn’t be the first time Honda offered a Canadian-specific Civic, although that model was under the Acura EL nameplate.

No doubt Honda’s Canadian division has thought through numerous hybrid and electric strategies, as choosing the right one will be critical to its future success. Waiting for a fully electric alternative will put them at risk of losing ground in Canada’s electrified car industry overall, which really isn’t an option considering that the HEV, PHEV and EV industry is growing faster north of the 49th than it is south of the border, and also factoring in that all of its competitors are already selling or in the process of ramping up multiple hybrid and pure electric production vehicles. As it is, Honda Canada is only discussing the possibility of a CR-V Hybrid, and then only as part of the model’s upcoming generation.

2021 Honda Insight Touring
The heart of the Insight is Honda’s 1.5-litre gasoline engine and hybrid drive system.

Yes, even after all these years, Honda’s global electrification strategy is anything but cohesive. Nevertheless, the Insight is a very good car that could provide you with a lot of happiness behind the wheel. The automaker is attempting to sweeten the deal with incentives up to $1,000 on 2021 models or $1,600 off 2020 models (yes, there’s no shortage of new 2020s still available), but this is countered by Toyota’s factory leasing and financing rates from 0.49 percent on the Corolla Hybrid, with average CarCostCanada member savings of $1,937 when factoring in the knowledge gained by their dealer invoice pricing advantage.

Make sure to find out about every CarCostCanada membership benefit, plus remember to download their free app from the Google Play Store or the Apple Store, and choose your next car wisely. You could do a lot worse than purchasing a new Honda Insight, although the asking price might be a bit steep despite its exclusivity.

Review and photos by Trevor Hofmann

Fuel cell vehicles have been around a while. The first one I drove was Ford’s Focus FCV way back in 2005, which was developed as part of a joint initiative between the blue-oval brand along with Daimler-Benz…

2021 Hyundai Nexo Hydrogen Fuel-Cell Road Test

2021 Hyundai Nexo Hydrogen Fuel-Cell
It’s easy to see how the Nexo’s grille design inspired the new Tucson’s front fascia. Of course, the Nexo is about as advanced as SUVs get, so other than width and height, that’s where similarities to the 2022 Tucson end.

Fuel cell vehicles have been around a while. The first one I drove was Ford’s Focus FCV way back in 2005, which was developed as part of a joint initiative between the blue-oval brand along with Daimler-Benz and Ballard Engineering, the latter bringing the hydrogen fuel-cell tech to the table. After driving that car, and realizing it felt totally normal other than its relatively silent electric propulsion (electrics weren’t very common back then), I believed hydrogen was the way of the future. How wrong was I? At least for the short-term.

It took a decade and a half for me to experience another hydrogen fuel-cell vehicle, mostly because of the incredible challenges of installing any sort of hydrogen infrastructure to facilitate refuelling. That car was the outgoing Toyota Mirai, which was followed soon after by a week in this Hyundai Nexo. Fortunately, Vancouver’s Lower Mainland has three new H2-capable public stations where owners of these vehicles can fill up. This now allows for sales, leases and rentals (Greater Vancouver Lyft drivers can now rent a Mirai for weeks at a time) of Toyota’s mid-size sedan and Hyundai’s slightly larger than compact crossover SUV.

2021 Hyundai Nexo Hydrogen Fuel-Cell
The Nexo is significantly longer than the compact Tucson.

So, what happened to Ford and Mercedes? Considering they were two of the first manufacturers to dabble in hydrogen-powered vehicles, it seems strange they’ve mostly left the technology behind. Other producers have come and gone too, while some are still developing hydrogen fuel-cell cars, but haven’t brought them to market (or at least, our market). Honda, for instance, offers an H2 version of its Clarity sedan in the US (we just got the plug-in hybrid), and it’s only $379 USD per month (about $475 CAD at the time of writing) after a small down-payment.

2021 Hyundai Nexo Hydrogen Fuel-Cell
Offering up a clean, attractive design, no one should be offended by Hyundai’s hydrogen-powered SUV.

If the Clarity was a pure EV it would be a steal, considering how much you can save by not having to fill the tank (recharging off peak hours is significantly less than pumping gas or H2), but hydrogen doesn’t come cheap, so (without attempting any calculations, which would be near impossible with the information available) buying into the technology is not going to save you any money at the pump.

Living with a hydrogen fuel-cell-powered vehicle is more about the convenience of not having to wait for hours to recharge its electric drive motor (it took me about five minutes to refill), plus the environmental benefits of the just-noted (local) zero-emissions powertrain. Only water vapour leaves the tailpipe, so it’s no more polluting during its use than an electric vehicle.

2021 Hyundai Nexo Hydrogen Fuel-Cell
The slender LED headlamps are enhanced by a thin strip of connecting light, plus powerful lamps below.

Just for some fun history, I should point out that Mazda was actually the first major player to take part in the hydrogen game. Not afraid of investing in alternative powertrains, the Japanese brand’s 1991 HR-X Hydrogen Wankel Rotary didn’t use a fuel-cell, but certainly burned H2. Others on the H2 history list include boutique (Morgan) as well as household name brands, from both mainstream and luxury carmakers all across the world, with Hyundai’s initial hydrogen foray being the 2001 Santa Fe FCEV, which was quickly followed up with the 2004 Tucson FCEV. The two SUVs received generational updates, which makes Hyundai one of only a small assortment of brands keeping the hydrogen dream alive.

2021 Hyundai Nexo Hydrogen Fuel-Cell
All in all, the Nexo’s 19-inch five-spoke alloys are quite normal for a dedicated hydrogen-fuelled vehicle.

The majority of early adapters turned to gasoline-electric hybrids and full plug-in EVs instead, with Hyundai also producing its Ioniq Electric compact hatchback, Kona Electric subcompact crossover, and soon, its Ionic 5 compact crossover, plus a number of hybrids as well.

Respect needs to go out to Hyundai for shaping most of its alternative fuel vehicles in the more popular SUV body style, making them much more likely to find buyers than Toyota and Honda, which have also invested millions into H2 tech, yet house such advancements in a waning automotive commodity. No doubt it made sense for Toyota and Honda to stuff their H2 powerplants in four-door, three-box bodies, especially when considering the popularity of their mid-size Camry and Accord sedans when the respective Mirai and Clarity were in their development stages, but doubling down on this for the second-gen Mirai, arriving this year, seems odd, while alternatively Hyundai’s market insight to have stuck with SUVs appears very forward thinking.

2021 Hyundai Nexo Hydrogen Fuel-Cell
The door handles power out when needing to get inside, after which they lock away flush into the door panels to aid aerodynamics.

Hyundai went further by targeting compact buyers, which are more plentiful globally, plus extending the Nexo’s wheelbase to mid-size lengths in order to make sure its second-row legroom and cargo capacity allowed for optimal space. To that end, the Nexo is 190 mm (7.5 in) longer than the outgoing Tucson, albeit the same width and height. It’s not only more practical, but the extra length provides a better ride, improves high-speed tracking, and looks leaner and therefore arguably better than it would have if shorter.

2021 Hyundai Nexo Hydrogen Fuel-Cell
The Nexo’s clear taillight lenses and matte grey paint scheme make this photo look as if it was taken in black and white.

I’m not going to say it looks better than the much more sharply angled 2022 Tucson that was recently introduced, mind you, which is a particularly eye-catching crossover SUV, but I like the Nexo’s flowing grille and LED headlamp combination, plus its extremely smooth lines front to back, and cool matte grey paint. Some interesting details include Land Rover-inspired pop-out door handles that help keep the body lines flush to improve its coefficient of drag, as well as a thin accent strip between grille and hood that lights up at night. The 19-inch five-spoke alloys look pretty good too, maybe because they aren’t as aerodynamically-flush as some grotesquely wind-cheating wheels of the past.

2021 Hyundai Nexo Hydrogen Fuel-Cell
Hyundai’s Nexo offers up a roomy, comfortable, well-made cabin.

Inside, the Nexo lives up to its (partial) name, by transitioning Hyundai’s SUV lineup into the future, or at least it did when this model debuted two years ago. It features a similar dual-display instrument cluster/infotainment system as Mercedes’ MBUX (which it has just left behind with the introduction of its new S- and C-Class models). It includes a digital gauge package to the left and touchscreen on the right, the former monitor’s multi-information display controllable via steering wheel-mounted switchgear. Comparison to Merc’s MBUX is difficult to avoid, and while I’m not going to say Hyundai’s is better, I can’t help but laud the South Korean brand for integrating left and right rear-facing cameras within, these projecting live images onto the cluster when applying the turn signals (now becoming common in Hyundai and Kia vehicles).

2021 Hyundai Nexo Hydrogen Fuel-Cell
Ahead of the driver is an advanced dual-display gauge cluster/infotainment touchscreen, plus myriad buttons on the sloped lower console.

Unexpectedly, the pewter-coloured centre stack is as much of a look back to yesteryear as all the digital screens are modernistic, albeit in a quaint, busy for the sake of being busy kind of way, as if Hyundai was attempting to fill my mind with memories of the mid-1980s, when I made mixed tapes on my old Nakamichi tape deck from LPs on my B&O Beogram 4000 turntable. Those that appreciate quick access to functions will like the Nexo console setup, while the SUV’s audio system sound quality wasn’t as potent as my old home system, which was powered by a ‘70s-era Luxman L-504 amp and finished off with a set of Boston Acoustics A400 speakers, but it easily overcame Hyundai’s quiet electric powertrain.

2021 Hyundai Nexo Hydrogen Fuel-Cell
Anyone who’s driving a modern-day Mercedes-Benz will appreciate where Hyundai was going with this dual-display setup.

Selecting P, N, D or R is as easy as pushing a button, which engages the Nexo’s 120-kW (161 hp) electric motor, complemented by 291 lb-ft of ever-willing torque. The motive motor pulls power from a 40-kWh battery, but only twists the front wheels, as no all-wheel drive option is available despite its SUV profile.

As noted earlier, the 95-kW fuel-cell stack allows electricity production on the fly, resulting in mobile electrical powerplant, of sorts. Recharging is therefore continuous, as long as there’s hydrogen in the tank, and the EPA claims you’ll be able to extract about 570 to 610 km (355 to 380 miles) after refilling, depending on conditions.

Other than the quick refuelling process, the rest of the Nexo driving experience is just like an electric vehicle, although the usual silence is interrupted by a slight vacuum sucking sound when pressing hard on the go-pedal. I only did this for testing purposes, however, so most of the time it was blissfully quiet, aforementioned tunes aside.

2021 Hyundai Nexo Hydrogen Fuel-Cell
The gauge cluster is purely digital, and filled with functions.

Still, when I needed a fast getaway the Nexo delivered, and likewise when passing laggards on the highway. Even better, it was ultra-smooth doing so, Hyundai’s engineers obviously prizing refinement ahead of excitement. By my own completely unscientific Seiko quartz chronograph calculations, I managed to sprint from zero to 100 km/h in a wee bit over eight and a half seconds, which is about half a second quicker than Hyundai achieved, although I imagine the difference has more to do with my unscientific methods combined with their usual conservative estimates. This won’t impress any Tesla owners either way (or Chevy Bolt owners for that matter), but it certainly doesn’t hold up traffic when merging onto the highway.

2021 Hyundai Nexo Hydrogen Fuel-Cell
Hyundai uses a convenient tile layout for sorting through infotainment features, one of which provides fuel-cell drive system info.

A more pleasant surprise occurred when veering off of a local four-lane freeway onto a curving two-lane backroad that snakes along a winding river near my home. This is where Hyundai’s engineering team appears to have taken advantage of the Nexo’s low centre of gravity, this provided by installing all the heavy equipment (battery included) under the floorboards. It feels truly hooked up around fast-paced corners, and its electrically assisted rack and pinion steering setup was surprisingly responsive for this class of vehicle.

2021 Hyundai Nexo Hydrogen Fuel-Cell
This overhead parking camera certainly improved visibility.

Better yet was the Nexo’s ride quality, much thanks to a traditional Macpherson strut front and multi-link rear suspension design, along with good tuning. Despite its ability to hustle around corners at a brisk rate, potholes, frost-heaves, bridge expansion joints and other intrusive road imperfections did little to impact driver or occupants, resulting in one of the best ride/handling compromises in the compact crossover SUV segment, and this while rolling on sizeable 245/45HR19 all-season tires.

The Nexo comes across as solid and well-made too, with zero body groans despite having a glass sunroof overhead, and nominal wind or road noise to mar the peaceful experience within. Once again, it was surprisingly refined for its compact SUV segment.

2021 Hyundai Nexo Hydrogen Fuel-Cell
The lower console is a busy affair, but once acclimatized you should have no problem finding what you need.

This focus on refinement is probably why Hyundai didn’t provide a sport selection amongst its driving modes. Alternatively, the Normal setting becomes the default for performance, while Eco mode smooths out the edges even more, and by doing so maximizes all the tiny droplets of compressed hydrogen from its trio of 52-litre H2 tanks. The Nexo’s drive mode selector can be found on the lower console next to the infotainment system’s quick access switchgear, by the way, all of which butt up against the previously noted quad of transmission buttons, so finding it should be easy enough after getting acclimatized.

2021 Hyundai Nexo Hydrogen Fuel-Cell
The driver’s seat provides good comfort and support, plus an excellent view out all windows.

This said, the steering wheel paddles aren’t for shifting gears. Instead, the left one is for simultaneously applying the brakes and sending regenerative kinetic braking energy to the battery. You can bring the Nexo to a full stop just by applying this paddle, as long as the SUV isn’t rolling too quickly, plus the strongest of its three settings needs to be chosen first. That’s the job of the paddle on the right, plus eliminating any rolling resistance by easing off the regenerative brakes. Similar systems are included in most electric cars, so anyone familiar with this EV technology will feel right at home in the hydrogen-powered Hyundai.

2021 Hyundai Nexo Hydrogen Fuel-Cell
Rear seat occupants get outboard seat heaters and a folding centre armrest.

Something else similar to EVs is the impressive load of features found in each Nexo, these helping to offset the rather high prices EV and H2 buyers need to pay in order go green. Along with the excellent digital gauge cluster and infotainment touchscreen mentioned a while ago, my Nexo tester included a 360-surround overhead camera system, accurate navigation with detailed mapping, Android Auto and Apple CarPlay smartphone integration, wireless charging, and more.

What about luxury finishings? Now that Hyundai has expanded to include its premium Genesis brand, we shouldn’t expect cloth-wrapped roof pillars and soft-touch synthetics below the belt-line, but the entire dash top is made from a nice pliable plastic, as are the front and even the rear door uppers, along with the door inserts and armrests.

2021 Hyundai Nexo Hydrogen Fuel-Cell
Dedicated cargo space is good considering all the hydrogen technology housed below.

I appreciated the heated steering wheel rim as well, while the inherently comfortable power-adjustable driver’s seat was not only three-way heatable, but provided three-way cooling too, not to mention two-way lumbar support that managed to press against my lower spine in just the right spot to alleviate stress.

Additionally, those in back should be comfortable thanks to generous legroom and reasonable width for the class. I think three could sit across the rear bench in a pinch, but I’d rather be back there with just one more passenger so I could enjoy an outboard seat heater and the folding centre armrest with dual integrated cupholders. There’s only one three-prong household-style power outlet on the backside of the front console, however (not that I’ve ever seen more), and no USB ports in the rear, so it’s possible that aft passengers will end up squabbling about device charging.

2021 Hyundai Nexo Hydrogen Fuel-Cell
A shallow compartment is good for stowing valuables.

Fortunately, the Nexo’s dedicated cargo volume is pretty good at 850 litres (30 cu ft), while it’s expandable to 1,600 litres (56.5 cu ft) via 60/40-split rear seatbacks. This said, a 40/20/40 division would’ve been better, as owners could lay longer items like skis down the middle, while rear passengers enjoy the aforementioned heatable window seats. A mostly level load floor aids usefulness, plus Hyundai includes a bit more storage underneath a carpeted lid.

If you’re used to the high prices of EVs, you’d better sit down and buckle up before I mention the Nexo’s sticker shocker. This mainstream brand-badged compact SUV starts at a whopping $71,000 plus freight and fees, which will certainly be a deal-killer for anyone that hasn’t already priced out a $52,000 Tesla Model Y, or for that matter Hyundai’s own $41,599 Ioniq Electric. Truly, the Nexo is purely for early adopters who want to own something completely unique, and are willing to put up with very few places to fill up.

2021 Hyundai Nexo Hydrogen Fuel-Cell
The Nexo’s 60/40-split rear seatback provides additional cargo space when needed.

You may already be aware that Vancouver is an anomaly when it comes to retail hydrogen refuelling stations. It’s been a hotbed of H2 development for decades (more specifically the suburb of Burnaby), so having an unfair share of H2 stations per capita makes sense. One is in North Vancouver, close to where Toyota houses its local press fleet. I’m quite sure this is just a coincidence, the real reason for the location more likely being its relative proximity to Whistler, BC, a popular destination spot that’s well within the Nexo or Mirai’s round-trip range. It’s also found in the same city as the Hydrogen Technology and Energy Corporation, HTEC being the developer, manufacturer and installer of hydrogen refuelling pump/station hardware, and responsible for setting up the H2 islands around the city, including a Shell station in Vancouver, close to the airport (YVR) and my home.

2021 Hyundai Nexo Hydrogen Fuel-Cell
Under the hood, Hyundai’s fuel-cell stack looks a lot like a regular combustion engine thanks to a conventional shroud overtop.

As for the rest of Canada, a fourth station is currently being built on Vancouver Island, with a fifth set to open in Kelowna, BC. After that you’ll need to put your H2-powered vehicle on a train if you want to fill up in Quebec City (about 4,800 km away). More are planned, but for the time being it appears that hydrogen is more of a west coast thing.

Speaking of the left, there are 43 hydrogen refuelling stations in California, with the only other two available in the US found in Connecticut and Hawaii (forget the train trip for that final location). Again, there are plans to expand the H2 network in the US, with a supposed “hydrogen highway” eventually connecting California and BC’s H2 infrastructure along the US I-5. Being that this has been bantered about for decades, its ETA is anyone’s guess, but with powerhouses like Hyundai and Toyota behind the technology, some form of a hydrogen-powered future is probable.

2021 Hyundai Nexo Hydrogen Fuel-Cell
Ready to be the first on your block (or your city) to own a hydrogen-powered SUV?

To find out about Nexo trim levels, including the $73,500 Ultimate version tested, plus all the standard and optional features, check out the 2021 Hyundai NEXO Canada Prices page on CarCostCanada, while you can compare this one to the 2020 version that didn’t offer a base Preferred trim line (strange name as I’d prefer to have the Ultimate), and was priced $500 lower. Also, you can research the other models mentioned in this story by following the links connected to their names. Learn more about how a CarCostCanada membership can save you money when purchasing your next new vehicle, by keeping you up to date on manufacturer rebates, factory leasing and financing deals, and most importantly, by providing dealer invoice pricing that can save you thousands when negotiating. Also, remember to download the free CarCostCanada app from the Google Play Store or Apple Store, so you’ll have all this vital info when you need it most.

Story and photos by Trevor Hofmann

What matters most to you in a performance car? Zero to 100 km/h? Top speed? Handling? The ideal mix of everything? Most will give the nod to the latter, wanting a perfect combination of acceleration,…

2021 Alfa Romeo Stelvio Quadrifoglio Road Test

2021 Alfa Romeo Stelvio Quadrifoglio
Alfa Romeo’s Stelvio Quadrifoglio might look somewhat understated, but once behind the wheel it’s anything but.

What matters most to you in a performance car? Zero to 100 km/h? Top speed? Handling? The ideal mix of everything?

Most will give the nod to the latter, wanting a perfect combination of acceleration, ultimate speed and road-holding, and to be fair this is probably best with respect to road cars and performance SUVs. Still, achieving a high mark in every category requires compromise all-round, yet

when an SUV is as good as Alfa Romeo’s Stelvio Quadrifoglio it’s not exactly like you’re going to feel let down.

In fact, it’s tied for fastest off the line in its compact luxury SUV class (with Mercedes-AMG’s GLC 63 S), comes close to tying for the segment’s top track speed (BMW’s X3 M Competition beats it by 1.6 km/h), and holds more track lap records than any SUV currently made. About the only thing it can’t do is beat a Jeep Wrangler up Cadillac Hill.

2021 Alfa Romeo Stelvio Quadrifoglio
Few SUVs are as fast for any amount of money, but the Stelvio Quadrifoglio starts under $100k.

That Alfa Romeo is infused with more racing pedigree than most of its competitors doesn’t hurt matters either, the brand even fielding a Formula One team, which can’t be said for all of its key competitors except Mercedes-AMG—Aston Martin’s larger and much pricier DBX isn’t a direct competitor.

That hardly matters, however, as the DBX only bests the Stelvio Quadrifoglio in terminal velocity, managing 291 km/h (181 mph) compared to 283 (176), the one parameter most of us will never attempt to verify. The little Italian is dominant from standstill to 100 km/h, leaving the Brit behind like it’s standing still, the two brands’ official 0-100 km/h times claimed to be 3.8 seconds to 4.5. That’s not even remotely close.

2021 Alfa Romeo Stelvio Quadrifoglio
The golf course might look tempting, but the Stelvio Quad has the power to lure you back to pavement quickly.

No doubt Aston will follow up this first foray into family hauling with a more formidable version of the DBX, just like Porsche provides its Cayenne Turbo S E-Hybrid and Bentley defies physics with the Bentayga Speed, but for the time being we can’t deny the numbers, and the Stelvio Quad even beats these bad boys off the line. To be very clear, it’s not the quickest SUV of all. That honour is bestowed upon Lamborghini’s Urus, capable of whisking past the 100 km/h mark in just 3.4 seconds, while independent testers are even claiming faster sprint times.

2021 Alfa Romeo Stelvio Quadrifoglio
Some nice detailing on the lower front fascia helps to visual set this all-powerful Stelvio apart from its peers.

Such is true for all of the above and the bevy of ultra-fast SUVs not yet mentioned, such as the Dodge Durango SRT (4.6s to 100km/h and a 250km/h/155mph top speed), the Mercedes-AMG GLA 45 (4.5 and 250/155), the Rolls-Royce Cullinan Black Badge (4.5 and 250/155), the Porsche Macan Turbo (4.5 and 269/167), the Range Rover Velar SV Autobiography Dynamic Edition (4.5 and 273/170), the Range Rover Sport SVR (4.5s and 291/181 respectively), the Jaguar F-Pace SVR (4.3 and 250/155), the Mercedes-AMG GLE 63 S (3.9 and 280/174), the BMW X5 M Competition (3.9 and 285/177), the Maserati Levante Trofeo (3.9 and 301/187), the Audi RS Q8 (3.9 and 306/190), the Ford Mustang Mach-E GT (3.7 and 209/130), the Tesla Model Y Performance (3.7 and 217/135), the Durango SRT Hellcat (3.7 and 289/180), the Jeep Grand Cherokee Trackhawk (3.7 and 289/180), and the Tesla Model X Performance (2.8 and 262/163). The BMW X3 M Competition gets to 100 km/h in 4.2 seconds, by the way, while the Bentayga Speed and Cayenne Turbo S E-Hybrid need a respective 4.0 seconds and 3.8 seconds to complete the same feat.

2021 Alfa Romeo Stelvio Quadrifoglio
The hood features these gorgeous louvres to each side.

I won’t pretend that jamming my right foot down on the Quad’s pedal when first away from stoplights wasn’t fun, especially when factoring the sensational audio track that accompanied the G-forces slapping my backside into the ideally shaped leather- and Alcantara-covered driver’s sport seat, but for me a vehicle’s performance matters more through the curves than merely in a straight line.

2021 Alfa Romeo Stelvio Quadrifoglio
These stunning cloverleaf-style wheels and 20-inch P Zero rubber make for a gripping on-road experience.

Believe me, I tried to go slow. I really did. I somewhat succeeded in maintaining the posted limit around town and on rural freeways, where I know evil radar gun-toting fun-suckers lay in waiting, but failed miserably when past my city’s suburbanites and within its wilder valley region, where perfectly paved patches of ultimately straight tarmac stretch diagonally across farmland to join tiny communities with circuitous secondary backroads and faster-paced connecting highways. This is where the Stelvio Quadrifoglio was born to rule, and where I became enamoured with its shockingly quick capabilities.

Rotate the Quad’s DNA drive mode selector to the “d” position for a sportier Dynamic range, or twist it one position farther for “RACE” mode, resulting in even greater intensity (just why Alfa uses both lowercase and uppercase designations for this dial is anyone’s guess, but it disturbs my inner need for grammatic equilibrium), and get ready for outrageous speed and one of the most delectable crackling and popping exhaust systems anywhere.

2021 Alfa Romeo Stelvio Quadrifoglio
These might be the best sounding tailpipe quartet in SUV existence.

Alfa shoes the Stelvio Quad in 255/45R20 front and 285/40R20 rear Pirelli P Zero performance tires that can hang onto most any type of manmade road surface, these combining ideally with a wonderfully sorted chassis that defies the SUV’s top-heavy profile. Don’t get me wrong, as its roofline is relatively low as far as sport utilities go, but it’s no sport wagon either.

2021 Alfa Romeo Stelvio Quadrifoglio
If Ferrari made an SUV (and they don’t yet), this is what you might expect the interior to look like.

The driving position is excellent, combining a partially squared-off leather-clad sport steering wheel that’s just large enough to feel substantive without being cumbersome, with thumb spats ideally formed and a long set of alloy paddles just behind, fitted to the steering column rather than the wheel, so they’re always where you expect them to be. That column’s tilt and reach are ample too, the latter joining good seat adjustability for fitting my long-legged, short-torso body, resulting in optimal control and good comfort overall.

No wonder Alfa’s bevy of professional drivers had no problem besting track lap times across the world, the Stelvio Quadrifoglio leading all SUVs at Silverstone (2:31.6), Donington Park (1:21.1), and the Indy Circuit at Brands Hatch (55.9), although in fairness I need to make sure you know that its record-setting 7:51.7-minute lap around the Nürburgring Nordschleife was broken after only a few months by the previously mentioned GLC 63 S, the Merc managing just 7.49.369 minutes.

2021 Alfa Romeo Stelvio Quadrifoglio
The Stelvio Quadrifoglio’s interior will impress.

Both are quicker around the 20.832-km mountainside track than the next-best Porsche Cayenne Turbo S, mind you, which managed a respectable 7:59.7 minutes just the same, or for that matter a Range Rover Sport SVR that could only lap the course in 8:14 minutes. Until one of the aforementioned VW-underpinned super-SUVs (Urus, RS Q8, Bentayga Speed, or Cayenne S E-Hybrid) choose to take on the wee compacts, they’ll remain the undisputed kings of the “Green Hell”.

2021 Alfa Romeo Stelvio Quadrifoglio
This classic mostly analogue gauge cluster harkens back to classic Alfa Romeo designs.

Back to being unreasonably fair, Lamborghini’s Urus took the Stelvio Q’s title away at one of my personal favourite race tracks, Laguna Seca. The 641-hp raging bull pulled off a 1:40.9-minute single lap compared to the Stelvio’s 1:43.5-minute stint, which is impressive until we start comparing bang for the buck.

Yes, the 2021 Alfa Romeo Stelvio Quadrifoglio starts at only $98,995, compared to $285,000 for Lambo’s SUV. The hyper-fast Merc-AMG GLC will set you back $94,900, incidentally, while a W12-infused Bentayga will cost you even more than the Urus. A happy medium might be the super-quick Audi at $126,500, but that’s still a lot of extra coin for slower straight-line speed and a bit more at the top end. Of course, there’s a lot more to any of these SUVs than pure performance, but this said the top-tier Stelvio will hardly have you feeling like you’re living in the slums.

2021 Alfa Romeo Stelvio Quadrifoglio
The new infotainment display makes a big difference in every respect.

No matter which premium branded super SUV you choose, its interior comes complete with all the contrast-stitched hides, plush faux suede, brushed and polished aluminum, and high-gloss carbon-fibre weave you can handle, not to mention premium soft-touch composites where the above materials can’t be added, the Stelvio Quadrifoglio no exception. Anyone joining you in the passenger’s seat will be impressed, with its interior design and beautifully crafted build quality.

2021 Alfa Romeo Stelvio Quadrifoglio
Glossy carbon-fibre trim joins loads of aluminum, leather and Alcantara psuede for a truly luxe experience.

Additionally, I was pleasantly surprised to experience a much-improved infotainment display in this test model, compared to one used in a four-cylinder Stelvio driven previously. It’s more intuitive graphically, making it easier to use, while it’s also more customizable due to a drag and drop tile/widget layout. It can do anything its rivals can, as well as compile performance stats via a number of “pages” displaying boost, torque, lateral Gs, and more.

While I’ve really liked some of the fully digital displays offered by Alfa’s competitors, I can’t say I was disappointed to see a set of analogue dials housed within sporty circular shrouds, not unlike the beautiful dual-gauge clusters found in the marque’s collectable classics. The speedometer and tachometer flanked a large high-definition multi-information display at centre, filled with loads of useful info, so it was as modern as it needed to be, but that nod to the past is always appreciated in a brand with as much rich history as Alfa Romeo.

2021 Alfa Romeo Stelvio Quadrifoglio
The driver’s seat is superb in every respect, and the driver’s position excellent.

As impressive as the Stelvio Quadrifoglio’s beautifully finished interior and insane performance is, I’d be remiss for not mentioning anything about its practical attributes. This is an SUV after all, and thus it comes with a comfortable, accommodating second row featuring three seatbelts abreast, plus window seat warmers with three temperature settings, dual USB-A charging ports on the backside of the front console, excellent rear ventilation found just above, plus overall rear finishings as well executed as those up front. Likewise, the cargo compartment is as nicely finished as its compact luxury SUV segment gets, plus it’s large enough for most peoples’ needs and made even bigger via ultra-useful 40/20/40 split-folding rear seats. Alfa even includes an intelligently engineered aluminum track system for tying down your belongings, which is a good thing when considering the lateral Gs those items may be forced to deal with.

2021 Alfa Romeo Stelvio Quadrifoglio
Rear seat roominess is generous, the features impressive, finishing very good, and comfort above par.

Although we’re well into the 2021 model year, there’s a pretty good chance that 2020 models may be available and this SUV hasn’t changed at all in its top-line Quadrifoglio trim, which means you can save about $2,800 right off the top, due to the latest version going up in price by that amount since last year. Alfa Romeo is offering factory leasing and financing rates from zero percent on either model year, while CarCostCanada can provide additional info about any available manufacturer rebates, as well as dealer invoice pricing to help you pay the lowest possible price when negotiating. Find out how their system works, and also be sure to download their free app from the Apple Store or Google Play Store in order to have such critical information on your phone when you need it most.

2021 Alfa Romeo Stelvio Quadrifoglio
The practical Stelvio provides 40/20/40-split rear seatbacks for optimal cargo flexibility.

As I went over in detail earlier, the Stelvio Quadrifoglio is up against plenty of high-performance competitors, but only Lamborghini’s Urus completely outguns it. Mercedes’ quickest GLC is a better match and should be considered, but its twin-turbo V8 won’t provide the higher-pitched aural edginess as Alfa’s 2.9-litre twin-turbo V6, which will be less appealing to some (including yours truly). There’s also the standard features and options issue, with the Stelvio Quadrifoglio mostly loaded except for about $4k worth of extras, compared to the AMG GLC 63 S that starts a bit lower, but can be configured with more than $26k of options that mostly come standard from Alfa. All of a sudden the Stelvio Quadrifoglio looks like a really good deal, even though once you’ve driven it you probably won’t care what it costs.

Story and photos by Trevor Hofmann

What do you get when you combine a Camaro and a Traverse? No, I wasn’t going to say Caverse or Tamaro, as fun as such word games are (not), but if you guessed Blazer (the title might’ve given it away)…

2021 Chevrolet Blazer RS Road Test

2021 Chevrolet Blazer RS
It’s easy to see the Camaro’s influence in the new Chevrolet Blazer RS’s styling.

What do you get when you combine a Camaro and a Traverse? No, I wasn’t going to say Caverse or Tamaro, as fun as such word games are (not), but if you guessed Blazer (the title might’ve given it away) you’d be right.

Of course, any comparisons to the Camaro are relegated to the new Blazer’s outlandish styling, especially in sportiest RS trim, along with the top-line models’ 3.6-litre V6, which combine for one of the hottest looking and fastest crossover SUVs in the mainstream volume sector.

What it’s not is, um, a Blazer, or at least not in the traditional sense. Unlike in other markets where the similarly named Trailblazer is a now non-conventional body-on-frame truck-based SUV that shares its underpinnings and body shell hard points with the Isuzu mu-X, our Blazer is a similarly sized crossover SUV based on Chevy’s new(ish) C1XX platform architecture shared with the GMC Acadia and Cadillac XT5, plus the aforementioned Traverse, Buick Enclave and Caddy XT6 in extended form, and via the car-designated E2XX platform, the Chevy Malibu, various now discontinued Buick Regal models, and Cadillac XT4 (as well as the defunct Chevy Impala and Buick Lacrosse in extended P2XX form). Got that?

2021 Chevrolet Blazer RS
The Blazer RS’ blackened trim and big black 21-inch alloys give it a sportier look than every competitor.

While that 2.8-litre turbo-diesel-powered Trailblazer is a go-anywhere rock crawler, river runner, mud-spewer, etcetera capable of negotiating the nether-regions of the Grand Canyon (possible via the Diamond Creek road that departs from the town of Peach Springs, Arizona located on the famed Route 66, incidentally), mated to a solidly built six-speed automatic that drives a part-time 4WD system, the new Blazer RS is more of a canyon carver sporting a detuned version of the aforementioned Camaro V6, a new nine-speed autobox, and standard AWD.

This is where I start grumbling about an opportunity lost, especially egregious now that FoMoCo fanatics are whooping it up over the all-new Bronco lineup, and the Jeep faithful are forever laughing in the faces of disenfranchised bowtie fanboys crying in their herbal tea at the loss of the once great Blazer nameplate.

2021 Chevrolet Blazer RS
As the saying goes, the devil is in the details, but the new Blazer RS is downright mephistophelian.

Sure, the General still makes a body-on-frame SUV, but for many the full-size Chevy Tahoe/GMC Yukon are too big, these Silverado/Sierra related SUVs actually the spiritual successors of the original 1969–1994 Blazer K5/Jimmy. The ‘70s fuel crisis and call to go small that followed, resulted in the compact pickup-based 1983–2005 S-10 Blazer and S-15 Jimmy, which were sized more along the lines of the current Wrangler and Bronco, this now being the 4×4 sweet spot due to off-road manoeuvrability, agility and the ability to drive farther into wilderness on a tank of fuel. But where is the Blazer? It’s taking the kids to school and running mall errands.

2021 Chevrolet Blazer RS
Sporty enough for you? It sure looks hot, but those dual exhausts are tuned more for allowing babies to sleep in the back seat than stirring the souls of muscle car fans.

It’s not like 4×4-capable SUVs aren’t popular these days. They’re selling well and doing their best to enhance brand images that, trucks aside, are somewhat soft around their edges now that most SUVs are car-based. Like this Blazer, the majority aren’t even attempting to look like traditional sport utilities anymore, let alone claim any off-road territory. Those who read my ramblings regularly know that I’d never normally complain about this soft-ute scenario, because some truly spectacular performance-oriented car-based utilities have been introduced in recent years, but diluting a classic 4×4 name like Blazer to grocery-getter status is almost as bad as slapping the Camaro badge on an electric crossover! Yup, I’m talking to you Mustang Mach-E.

2021 Chevrolet Blazer RS
The Blazer RS interior combines quality materials and refinement with a uniquely sporty character.

At least the Blazer RS kind of looks like a Camaro, especially in its raciest red colour scheme. Love it or lump it, no one can argue against its ability to pull eyeballs, but don’t expect its squared-off dual exhaust to rumble like a ZL1, let alone an LT1 with the V6 upgrade. The Blazer’s version of Chevy’s 3.6-litre six doesn’t make 335 horsepower and 284 lb-ft of torque either, although in this bread-and-butter class its 308 hp and 270 ft-lb are nothing to sneeze at, resulting in a respectable sprint of about 6.5 seconds from zero to 100 km/h. Sure, that’s still 0.5 seconds shy of Ford’s Edge ST, but you look faster standing still in the Chevy.

That in mind, be grateful we don’t get the U.S.-spec 2.5-litre four as our base engine, that mill only churning out 193 horsepower and 188 lb-ft of torque. Instead, our entry-level Blazer powerplant is more or less the same 2.0-litre turbo-four found in the base Camaro (see a pattern here?), pushing out 227 ponies and 258 lb-ft instead of 275 and 295 respectively in the less muscular version of Chevy’s muscle car. This is where I probably shouldn’t mention that the 2.0-litre turbo in Ford’s base Edge is good for 250 horsepower and 275 lb-ft of torque, but I never was very good at holding back things I shouldn’t say.

2021 Chevrolet Blazer RS
The well laid out Blazer RS instrument panel gets plenty of red highlights to help it stand out from its peers.

The just-noted Ford gets an eight-speed automatic throughout its range, which is impressive, but kudos to Chevy for going one step further by mating both Blazer engines to a fancy new nine-speed autobox. It gets no paddles, mind you, even in its sportiest RS trim, leaving those who want to get frisky a little thumb-actuated rocker switch on the shifter knob that, truth be told, isn’t any more engaging than slapping the entire gear lever back and forth. Fortunately, the transmission shifts effortlessly if not quickly, but even with its racy looks I don’t see most owners rowing through their Blazer RS gears as if this SUV were a Le Mans-spec’d Corvette C7.R.

2021 Chevrolet Blazer RS
The Blazer RS gauge cluster features a high resolution 8.0-inch multi-info display.

As noted earlier, all RS trimmed Blazers come standard with all-wheel drive in Canada, and I like that it’s a part-time system that can be driven solely by the front wheels when rear traction is not needed, helping save money at the pump, where V6-powered Blazers get a claimed 13.1 L/100km in the city, 9.4 on the highway and 11.4 combined. When all wheels are required, simply turn a rotating knob on the lower console from “x2” to “x4” and you won’t be slip-sliding away any longer. Another twist of the dial engages sport mode, while mountain and towing modes are also included.

2021 Chevrolet Blazer RS
The Blazer’s vertical tablet-style infotainment touchscreen is a class act.

With sport mode engaged, the V6-equipped Blazer really pulls strongly from standstill, almost fully living up to the performance promised by its neck-snapping styling. The transmission’s two-second-plus shift intervals will quickly tame any unbridled enthusiasm, which is likely why no paddles were included, but the gearbox kicks down nicely for passing purposes and very real power is ever-present, this a real bonus through the corners was well.

Yes, the RS, complete with nice meaty 265/45R21 Continental CrossContact all-seasons, did a good job carving up the local country backroads, always remaining planted in its lane even when pushed hard, and not leaning over as much as most in this class. Still, its well-sorted suspension never got too harsh, defaulting to compliance as a vehicle in this family class should.

2021 Chevrolet Blazer RS
Chevy’s 9-speed automatic is wonderfully smooth, but it’s not very sporty. A rocker switch on the shift knob is used for manual shift mode.

Comfort is king in the SUV sector, and nowhere is this more obvious than the new Blazer RS’ cabin. Sure, its interior styling does its best to pull off a five-seat Camaro look, but Chevy isn’t fooling anyone, which is a good thing. Let’s face it, as impressive as the Camaro is as a muscle car, it’s not designed for hauling families. That’s the Blazer’s first priority, and it does a better job of this than anything else.

It’s wide and long for a five-seater, with ample cabin space for large folks front to rear, not to mention cargo aplenty in back. It gets the usual 60/40-split rear seatbacks for expanding its gear-toting capacity, so should serve most buyers’ needs to a tee.

2021 Chevrolet Blazer RS
Blazer RS seats are comfortable and supportive, while the SUV’s seating position should be good for most body types.

It’s also quite luxurious for the class, with no shortage of soft-touch surfacing throughout, Chevy continuing the black on red exterior theme with a red on black motif inside, including the circular dash-mounted HVAC bezels, the perforated leather seats, the piping and contrast stitching on those seats and elsewhere, and even a little “RS” badge on the shift knob. The interior further gets a tasteful assortment of bright and brushed metallic trim too, with its general fit, finish, materials quality up to par with others in this class.

Better than many, however, is the Blazer’s collection of electronic displays, this being a criterion that Chevy deserves high marks. The gauge cluster isn’t fully digital, but the 8.0-inch multi-information display at centre is brilliantly executed with clear, high resolution quality, nice brightly coloured graphics, and a serious assortment of functions. The main infotainment touchscreen at dash-central is even better, mostly because of its simple, straightforward yet highly attractive graphics and all-round ease-of-use. It also comes packed full of features, including Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, an accurate navigation system, a clear rearview camera, and more.

2021 Chevrolet Blazer RS
Rear seat roominess is generous.

Additional RS features included a large panoramic glass sunroof overhead, a heatable steering wheel and heated front seats, dual-zone auto HVAC, a hands-free power liftgate, a sportier grille, and all the blackened exterior trim noted before.

In the end, the new Blazer RS is either going to rock your world or leave you wondering what Chevy was even thinking, there is no middle ground. I like the brand’s boldness in this regard, and on that note the Blazer name is theirs, and they can do with it what they want, Chevy 4×4 loyalists be damned. You’ve got to respect that kind of bravado, good choice or bad.

2021 Chevrolet Blazer RS
There’s no shortage of cargo space in back.

Base Blazer LT pricing starts at $37,198 plus freight and fees, with the as-tested RS model available from $46,698. Sales of all trims have been quite strong, so obviously it has targeted the Canadian market well and deserves the success it’s achieving.

Discover up to $1,000 in additional Blazer incentives by visiting CarCostCanada, where you can gain access to the latest manufacturer financing and leasing deal info, find out about any manufacturer rebates, and best off all get dealer invoice pricing that can save you thousands. Also, download the free CarCostCanada app to have all of this key info and more at your fingertips all the time. Make sure to check out how the CarCostCanada system works, so you can save big on this new Blazer or any other new car, truck or SUV sold in Canada.

by Trevor Hofmann

Perfect? No. Excellent? Yes. That’s it. I’m done. How I wish it were that easy to summarize a week with one of the most impressive compact sedans ever produced by a mainstream volume brand. I’d…

2020 Mazda3 GT Road Test

2020 Mazda3 GT i-ACTIV AWD
The great looking Mazda3 could win fans over on appearances alone, but its goodness goes way deeper than that.

Perfect? No. Excellent? Yes. That’s it. I’m done.

How I wish it were that easy to summarize a week with one of the most impressive compact sedans ever produced by a mainstream volume brand. I’d call it the most impressive compact sedan ever produced by a mainstream volume brand, but I haven’t driven the new 2021 turbo or 100th Anniversary Edition yet, so I’ll curb my enthusiasm until these two hit my driveway.

After making such grandiose claims of superiority, I should probably mention that I’ve undergone similar weeklong tests with multiple new examples of Honda’s best-selling Civic, Toyota’s second-most-popular Corolla, Hyundai’s third-place Elantra (which is being updated for 2021) and additional compact sedans from other makers, so my impressions come from a place of experience, however biased they may be.

2020 Mazda3 GT i-ACTIV AWD
The 3’s side panels are so dramatically indented it looks as if they’ve been broadsided by a perfectly smooth-faced car.

We all have brand and model biases formed over years of ownership, or in my case 20-plus years of testing. This said, I try to limit any biases that might be based on the good or poor brand PR staff communications I’ve received over the years (although, in full disclosure, Mazda’s professionalism has been amongst the best in recent years), only sharing my thoughts on all aspects of the vehicle in question, its expected dependability, and its relevance in the marketplace.

First off (or maybe second off), the Mazda3 competitors named above are arguably the very best iterations of each model ever made, and very good cars overall. In fact, I’m sure you’d be happy with any of this segment’s top four, as well as most others on offer in this segment. I’m just saying you might be happier with the Mazda3, especially when comparing fully loaded variants.

The 3 sedan’s tasteful rear styling shouldn’t be offensive to anyone.

The test model shown here is Mazda’s top-line 3 sedan for 2020 in GT trim, albeit not with its i-Activ all-wheel drive system. Yet more full disclosure means I need to clarify the car driven was actually a 2019 model that I wasn’t able to review until now, but in all fairness the only visible updates to this GT were darkened 18-inch alloy wheels. Reviewing this 2019 model as a 2020 allows me to comment on this change along with others, both of which segue nicely into the various 2021 upgrades.

Your opinion of this car will no doubt be influenced by its styling, so let’s get that out of the way immediately. If you prefer smaller grille designs Mazda’s compact might not be for you, but then again, most seem to agree the brand’s large heptagonal air intake is attractively shaped and tastefully integrated into the design, nicely fitting the 3’s overall look without appearing overbearing or out of place. I especially like the way its outermost chrome edges frame the lower inside corner and bottom edge of each LED headlamp, and appreciate the simple elegance of the car’s lower front fascia.

2020 Mazda3 GT i-ACTIV AWD
The 3’s grille is very big, but it nevertheless fits this compact model’s design perfectly.

Interestingly, the Mazda3 looks widest of all the competitors mentioned above, at least to my eyes, yet it’s the second narrowest of the four, albeit only by a handful of millimeters. Sometimes this effect is created by lowering a car’s height, but in fact the 3’s roofline is 20 mm taller than the Corolla and Elantra, and reaches 39 mm higher than the lowest Civic. The 3’s styling makes it look wider, which is the result of good design, while its greater length from nose to tail lends to its sleek side profile.

2020 Mazda3 GT i-ACTIV AWD
The sharply pointed Mazda3 grille extensions underscore the GT’s sporty LED headlamps nicely.

Deeply carved door panels do their part too, the dramatic depth of their indent almost making the 3 look as if it’s been sideswiped ever so neatly (check out my photo of the car’s side profile in the gallery and you’ll see what I mean). The car’s rear styling is neat and tidy too, with a slender pair of LED taillights, visually supported by an uncluttered rear apron and sporty set of circular chromed tailpipes. The rear design might not win points for uniqueness, but it scores high marks when it comes to understated good taste.

Much the same can be said about the 3’s cabin when it comes to tastefulness, although to be fair it gains some strong character points too. The dash, which is completely covered in a high-grade soft composite, seems to float above the instrument panel as it flows over the primary gauge cluster and wraps around the infotainment display, its outer edges meeting albeit not melding into the front door uppers made from the same material. These swoop downward from the front to rear of each door, starting out almost entirely flat and rounding downward as they grow thicker. Unusually, the 3’s inner rear door panels duplicate those up front, complete with pliable uppers, a feature normally only found in luxury branded models in this compact class.

2020 Mazda3 GT i-ACTIV AWD
These 18-inch alloys were given a light-grey tone for 2020.

Just below each soft-touch door upper is a thickly padded leather-like bolster with stylish French-stitched seams down the middle, an attractive and luxurious feature that’s also found just under the aforementioned floating dash. It visually envelopes the entire interior, even more so when combined with finished in contrasting Pure White leatherette to match an upgrade that also includes white leather seat upholstery. The 3 looks particularly stylish when finished in this two-tone motif, although it can be a bit challenging to keep clean. The 3 Sport gets the same optional treatment in Garnet Red, by the way, as does the previously noted 100th Anniversary model. I should also point out that the lower front console’s top edges receive similar stitched and padded leatherette to protect the inside knees, although these are always finished in black.

2020 Mazda3 GT i-ACTIV AWD
These signature LED taillights are exclusive to the GT sedan.

The GT’s leather-covered seats feature perforated inserts for breathability, while most of their bolsters are a solid leather like the beautifully crafted steering wheel rim and each top portion of the horizontal spokes, not to mention the shifter knob and boot. Both the steering wheel spokes and shifter feature gorgeous satin-aluminum detailing too, the latter really chunky and solid feeling. The high-grade metallic trim is in fact a theme throughout the entire cabin, highlighted by drilled aluminum speaker grilles for the great-sounding Bose audio system.

2020 Mazda3 GT i-ACTIV AWD
The Mazda3 GT’s interior quality is arguably best-in-class, with plenty of soft-touch surfaces, metallic accents and leathers.

While those latter items aren’t exactly unique, the thin aluminum accent spanning most of the instrument panel, even striking through the dual-zone automatic climate control system interface, is pure industrial art. This line of brightwork underscores the centre vents as well, culminating in C-shaped (at least on the driver’s side) flourishes that wrap around the corner vents. Suffice to say there’s plenty to keep an owner in love with a 3 GT long after the honeymoon is over, which is exactly why most premium buyers spend more for a luxury brand.

All said, Mazda is not a luxury brand, with pricing for the 2020 3 sedan starting well under $20k, and the front-wheel drive version of my top-line trim priced much below Acura’s ILX, a sedan that’s front-drive only and starts at $30,490. In fact, even after increasing in price by $300 from 2019 to 2020, thanks to proximity-sensing keyless entry made standard (previously part of the Premium upgrade package), the Mazda3 GT with its automatic only came to $26,500, nearly $4,000 less than the ILX (which is really an upgraded previous-generation Honda Civic under the metal), whereas the GT with i-ACTIV AWD (that only comes with an automatic) went up $100 to $30,500 this year, a near identical price to the front-drive-only ILX. By the way, the 2020 GT Premium now includes a sharp-looking frameless centre mirror, as well as the updated alloy wheels mentioned earlier.

2020 Mazda3 GT i-ACTIV AWD
The 12-speaker Bose audio system not only provides impressive sound quality, but also includes these gorgeous drilled aluminum speaker grilles.

Also take note, the Mazda3 GT i-ACTIV AWD goes up to $32,200 for 2021, an increase of $1,700 due to features being made standard that were only previously found in the Premium upgrade package, such as a 10-way powered driver’s seat with power lumbar support and memory that also links to the side mirrors, leather upholstery, a navigation system, and tech features including SiriusXM satellite radio (with a three-month trial subscription), plus SiriusXM Traffic Plus and Travel Link (with a complimentary five-year trial subscription), and lastly Traffic Sign Recognition. Incidentally, the front-wheel drive GT auto moves up by $2,000 to $28,500 for the same reasons.

2020 Mazda3 GT i-ACTIV AWD
The 3 combines uniquely attractive interior design with excellent materials quality.

As noted earlier, there’s also been the addition of a new 2021 turbocharged GT AWD model that’s a mere $700 pricier at $32,900, so you might want to wait for that, and this upgrade in mind, Mazda dealers may want to consider how many non-turbo GTs they bring into inventory, being that soon these less potent 3s will probably only appeal to fuel-stingy commuters that want the creature comforts of a GT.

Some additional GT features include the 12-speaker Bose audio system noted earlier, plus advanced keyless entry, paddle shifters on automatic-equipped models, adaptive cornering for the auto-levelling LED signature headlamps, signature LED taillights, and 18-inch alloys, while the new Premium package includes glossy black front grille, a front wiper de-icer, an auto-dimming driver’s side mirror, reverse tilt-down on both exterior mirrors, a frameless centre mirror with auto-dimming, a HomeLink garage door transceiver, a head-up display, a 360-degree overhead parking monitor, front and rear parking sensors, emergency automatic braking for reversing, and traffic jam assist.

2020 Mazda3 GT i-ACTIV AWD
While the gauge cluster appears like three dials, the one at centre is actually part of a digital multi-information display.

The GT isn’t the only Mazda3 sedan to get a price boost in 2021, with the base GX model increasing from $18,000 to $20,500 thanks to standard 16-inch alloy wheels, body-colour power-actuated side mirrors with integrated LED turn signals, manual air conditioning, heatable front seats, cruise control, and advanced blind spot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert, all previously only available with the Convenience package, while yet more new 2021 standard 3 gear includes auto on/off headlights and rain-sensing wipers. Of note, the same model with the automatic goes up by $2,500 as well.

2020 Mazda3 GT i-ACTIV AWD
The main infotainment interface is high in resolution for crisp, clear graphics, and filled with features in GT trim.

Mid-range GS trim remains the most affordable way to get all of Mazda’s i-Activsense safety features, including adaptive cruise control with stop and go, automatic high beams, automatic emergency braking with pedestrian detection, lane departure warning and lane keeping assist, plus driver attention alert. The GS increases in price by $200 to $22,900 for 2021.

Finally, a new 100th Anniversary Edition based on turbocharged GT i-ACTIV AWD trim approaches premium compact levels at $36,100, so you’ll have to be a real serious Mazda fan to pay the extra $3,200 needed to partake. For that money you’ll get special Snowflake White Pearl exterior paint, aforementioned Garnet Red leather upholstery and accents inside (normally reserved for the 3 Sport), red carpets and mats, the latter including unique 100th Anniversary embroidery, plus the same logo stamped onto the headrests, the key fob, the wheel centre caps, and each front fender.

2020 Mazda3 GT i-ACTIV AWD
The 3’s main display is smaller than some, at least in height, and it’s not a touchscreen, making it solely controlled from a set of dials and buttons on the lower console.

I should also mention that both 2020 and 2021 Mazda3s are being offered with up to $750 in additional incentives according to CarCostCanada, where you can find out about all the latest manufacturer leasing and financing deals, rebate information, and best of all, dealer invoice pricing that can save you thousands when purchasing a new vehicle. Check out how the CarCostCanada system works, and make sure to download their free app so you can have all this important information on your smartphone when you need it most.

Of note, the five-door Mazda3 Sport gets similar year-by-year updates and price hikes, except for the base model that only increases by $200 from 2019 through 2021 due to including most of the standard features mentioned above from inception, and therefore already retailing for thousands more than 2019 and 2020 versions of the base sedan. The 100th Anniversary Edition hatchback pushes this Mazda3 model into a new near-premium price point of $37,100 too, but I won’t say anything more about the five-door Sport body style as I’ll be reviewing it separately.

2020 Mazda3 GT i-ACTIV AWD
Some of the 3 GT’s switchgear detailing is exquisitely crafted, like the knobs on the dual-zone automatic climate control interface.

Sportiness in mind, however, both Mazda3 models are available with three Skyactiv-G engine choices, all of which are fun to drive, although the new turbo dusts off distant memories of the late-great Mazdaspeed3. That engine, which makes 250 horsepower and a whopping 320 lb-ft of torque, will be covered in an upcoming review as well, being that I haven’t even driven it yet, so I’ll keep my comments to the 2.0-litre variant that makes 155 horsepower and 150 lb-ft of torque in base trim, and the non-turbo 2.5 that’s good for a respective 186 units apiece.

Performance from these two naturally aspirated engines haven’t changed since 2019, and there’s actually plenty to like about the base engine, which incidentally can only be had with GX manual and auto trims, plus GS manual trims for 2021, and comes standard with the base GX and all non-AWD versions of the GS in 2020. Its main selling point is fuel efficiency, good for a claimed 8.7 L/100km city, 6.4 highway and 7.7 combined when hooked up to the six-speed manual or 8.4, 6.6 and 7.6 respectively when mated to the six-speed auto (note, the Mazda3 doesn’t include a continuously variable transmission/CVT like most competitors, so while it may give up some thrift compared to rivals, it arguably improves drivability).

2020 Mazda3 GT i-ACTIV AWD
The lower console, surfaced mostly in shiny piano black, features a well made leather-clad shift knob and boot, lots of aluminized trim, a rocker switch for Sport mode, an electromechanical parking brake, and infotainment controls.

The 2.5-litre four, standard with the GS auto, all non-turbo AWD models, and the GT for 2021, makes a noticeable difference in performance without sacrificing much in fuel economy at 8.8 L/100km city, 6.6 highway and 7.8 combined with FWD or a respective 7.0, 9.2 and 8.2 with AWD.

Paddle shifters make the most of the Skyactiv-Drive automatic, especially in sport mode, and let me say it really doesn’t need more than six forward speeds, except maybe for marketing purposes. There’s something wonderful (and reliable) about a simple six-speed auto, and considering I was testing compacts with four- and five-speed automatics when I started out in this business, this is still a comparatively advanced transmission. As noted, Mazda incorporates its Skyactiv technologies, which they say combine all the advantages of conventional automatics, CVTs and dual-clutch gearboxes together—one big fat claim.

2020 Mazda3 GT i-ACTIV AWD
The 3 GT’s perforated leather upholstered seats are both comfortable and supportive, while the car’s driving position is ideal for all body types.

For starters, the Skyactiv-Drive autobox incorporates a significantly widened lock-up range to improve torque transfer efficiency while realizing a direct driving feel that Mazda reports as being the equivalent to a manual transmission, whereas fuel efficiency is improved by four to seven percent compared to the brand’s older non-Skyactiv automatic. While I can’t prove any of this from the wheel, it was certainly thrifty throughout my weeklong drive and responded well to input, shifting quickly and, like I mentioned a moment ago, a lot more positively than any CVT I’ve ever used (although the Corolla Hatchback’s CVT is surprisingly good).

Likewise, the Mazda3’s suspension ideally balances comfort and performance, but it goes about this in a surprisingly unsophisticated way. To be fair, the brand’s engineers chose to keep a simpler torsion-beam rear suspension in play rather than adopt an independent multi-link setup in back, and not just because it would save money that could be used elsewhere. First and foremost, it’s lighter, whereas the more straightforward design is easier to tune for the desired results. What you get is a smooth riding suspension that transitions to quick, fast-paced inputs nicely, only getting a bit unsettled when hammered through really bad patches of pavement at high speeds, mid-turn. This is where a multi-link design works better, but all said I found the 3’s torsion-beam setup hard to fault, even when pushed hard over broken road surfaces.

2020 Mazda3 GT i-ACTIV AWD
The overhead console includes every performance car fans’ favourite feature, a sunglasses holder.

Fortunately, Mazda has isolated the 3’s passenger compartment so that most bumps, potholes and bridge expansion joins don’t translate to discomfort within. The body structure feels tight and solid, plus it seems as if this car gets a lot more sound-deadening insulation between outer and inner door panels than its key competitors. Again, it feels more 3 Series than Corolla in this respect, no offence to Toyota, or maybe more A-Class and A3-like, but either way resulting in that premium-like experience I’ve been going on and on about.

The 3’s driving position is similarly impressive, with enough reach from its tilt and telescopic steering column to make my long-legged, short-torso frame feel right at home, and certainly more in control than when piloting the Corolla, which needs more steering wheel extension for people shaped like me. The driver’s seat was a perfect fit too, its two-way power-adjustable lumbar support even pushing up against the small of my back where I need it most.

2020 Mazda3 GT i-ACTIV AWD
The rear door panels are finished as nicely as those up front, which is unusual in all the best ways.

When seated just behind in the second row, the driver’s seat having been set up for a guy that measures five feet, eight inches tall with (once again) longish legs, and backrest canted rearward marginally, I benefited from approximately five inches of knee space to the seatback ahead, which is pretty good for this class, and no shortage of foot space below. The aforementioned taller than average roof height resulted in about three inches of room for growth above my head, while side-to-side space was more than adequate for two adults, along with reasonable room for a third when required.

Rear seat accoutrements include a fold-down centre armrest with two integrated cupholders, and that’s it. No heatable rear outboard seats, and even stranger, no air vents or USB charge ports on the backside of the front console. This is only odd due to Mazda finishing off all rear surfaces as nicely as those up front, as noted earlier in this review.

2020 Mazda3 GT i-ACTIV AWD
The rear seating area is both comfortable and roomy, but it comes up short on premium-like features.

As for this sedan’s trunk, it’s about average in size for this class at 358 litres, and includes expandability via the segment’s usual 60/40 split-folding rear seatbacks. If Mazda wanted to appeal even more to the premium crowd, 40/20/40-split rear seats, or at least a centre pass-through would help, this potentially a dealmaker for outdoor sports enthusiasts who might choose an all-wheel drive 3 over a competitor thanks to its all-weather traction, especially if they can fit their skis safely inside with four occupants onboard.

I wouldn’t mention this for a car in this class if Mazda wasn’t already one of the only mainstream manufacturers to provide 40/20/40-split rear seatbacks in its compact CX-5 SUV, meaning they’ve proven to understand how important passenger/cargo flexibility is to their buyers.

I wouldn’t call that last issue a complaint, but I do have a few negatives to bring up with the Mazda3 GT. For starters, I found the sensitivity of the auto braking and lane change alerts a bit annoying, but not as much as the nagging digital voice’s constant speed limit announcements. If this had been my personal car, I would’ve quickly found a way to turn that feature off.

2020 Mazda3 GT i-ACTIV AWD
This dual cupholder-infused folding armrest is one of the only features found in the 3’s rear seating area.

Also, the dual auto HVAC system was more difficult to set to a comfortable temperature than what I normally experience in other brands. I therefore chose 20C so it wasn’t overly hot, but take note 20.5C was already uncomfortably warm. This means there was no middle ground, with 20C being on the cool side and 20.5C requiring the windows powered down a crack. I ended up setting it to 20C and using the three-way heated seats to keep my backside warm, not to mention the heatable steering wheel rim.

I’d also like to see Mazda improve the otherwise handy radio volume/tuner knob on the lower console, which rotates for the former and can be modulated from side-to-side for the latter. It works perfectly for changing AM/FM stations, but scrolling through satellite stations requires a tedious multi-step process within the infotainment system’s audio interface, each and every time you want to do so. I ended up saving my favourite stations to a list accessible from the star button just next to the volume/tuner knob, so at least a shortcut method has been provided, but I’d like to see some sort of improvement for tuning in satellite stations just the same.

You might find my little complaints more annoying to read than these issues actually are in real life, this probable after factoring in just how excellent the Mazda3 is in every other respect. If I were buying in this class, this car would be right at the top of my list and probably get the nod, albeit with that new turbocharged engine upgrade and potentially the Sport body style.

It’s hard to argue against a car that recently won the 2020 World Car Design of the Year award after all, let alone took top honours in AJAC’s 2020 Canadian Car of the Year earlier, and the 2019 Women’s World Car of the Year before that, while earning an IIHS Top Safety Pick+ award is an accolade worth mentioning too. All that aside, I like its styling, love its interior design and materials quality, find it comfortably accommodating, appreciate its expected reliability, and always enjoy spending time in its driver’s seat. In other words, I highly recommend the Mazda3.

Story and photos by Trevor Hofmann

Everyone knows Lexus SUVs are amongst the most reliable in the luxury sector, but just one look at Audi’s Q8 and I don’t give a rip. Certainly, today’s RX is an attractive crossover that deserves…

2020 Audi Q8 Technik 55 TFSI Quattro Road Test

2020 Audi Q8 Technik 55 TFSI Quattro
Audi’s Q8 is one of the sportiest looking SUVs in its class, but it’s also a totally practical daily driver.

Everyone knows Lexus SUVs are amongst the most reliable in the luxury sector, but just one look at Audi’s Q8 and I don’t give a rip. Certainly, today’s RX is an attractive crossover that deserves its place atop the sales heap, but the Q8 is downright gorgeous, which can’t be said about the majority of utility vehicles this side of a Lamborghini Urus. It’s no coincidence, therefore, that the ultra-hot Lambo shares much of its underpinnings with the top-tier Audi, not to mention Porsche’s Cayenne Coupe and, through its Q7 roots, Bentley’s Bentayga, too.

Yes, I just named two of today’s five available exotic SUVs, and while the Cayenne might not be considered exotic, it arguably sits higher in the ultra-premium pecking order than anything from BMW, Mercedes-Benz and, yes, Audi. The rest of the super-SUV segment is made up by Maserati’s Levante (that’s only exotic because Ferrari’s upcoming Purosangue hasn’t arrived yet), Aston Martin’s DBX, and the Rolls-Royce Cullinan, in order of exclusivity. Two out of five super-SUVs, all based on the Q7/Q8 (which is actually VW’s MLB platform) is impressive to say the least, so therefore we need to agree that the comparatively affordable Q8 Technik 55 TFSI Quattro shown here plays in a rarified, prestigious crowd.

2020 Audi Q8 Technik 55 TFSI Quattro
The Q8’s sharp lines look great from front to back.

Speaking of affordable, the Q8’s price hasn’t changed much over the three years it’s been available, with CarCostCanada showing a base sticker of $81,200 in 2019, $82,350 in 2020, and $82,550 for the upcoming 2021 model. Even better, Audi is currently offering up to $4,000 in additional incentives for 2020 and 2021 models, so keep that in mind while perusing this review.

The Q8 was introduced for the 2019 model year, incidentally, and except for a handful of tech features that have made their way to base Progressiv trim in newer versions, 2019, 2020 and 2021 models pretty well the same. Fortunately, the Q8 Technik being reviewed here included most everything Audi had on offer when tested, and thus all that’s available for 2021.

2020 Audi Q8 Technik 55 TFSI Quattro
Audi has sharpened its grille over the years, so that it’s now bigger, wider, deeper and bolder than ever before.

You wouldn’t be alone if you’re wondering how the Q8 fits into Audi’s SUV lineup, because in effect it’s the two-row, five-seat version of the three-row, seven-occupant Q7, yet costs more. Audi seems to be targeting sportier SUV variants like BMW’s X6 and Mercedes’ GLE Coupe, even though the Q8 is only slightly less practical than the just-noted German brands’ respective X5 and more upright GLE, not to mention the five-passenger Lexus RX mentioned a moment ago.

Specifically, the Q8’s 605 litres of dedicated cargo volume is down 90 litres when compared to the RX, although at 1,719 litres total it has 140 additional litres of gear-toting space than the Japanese alternative when their rear seats are folded flat. Likewise, the Q8 has 40 litres less area behind its second row than the X5 and 25 more than the X6, although gets pragmatically walloped by a sizeable 328 litres when laying the bigger BMW’s seats down. Still, it’s 194 litres more accommodating than the X6 when fully optimized. As for Mercedes’ GLE and GLE Coupe entries, they’re both more commodious in the cargo area, with the former up 85 litres behind the second row and 336 litres when those seats are lowered, and the latter improving on the Q8 by 45 litres and 1 litre respectively.

2020 Audi Q8 Technik 55 TFSI Quattro
Gorgeous lighting details, the Q8’s LEDs are more than just attractive.

How did I go from comparing the Q8 and Lamborghini’s Urus to talking about cargo carrying mundanities? I might as well of started off talking about fuel economy, which is (I can’t help myself) rated at 13.8 L/100km city, 11.7 highway and 12.7 combined. Now that I’ve completely lost your interest, my boring, pragmatic point is that despite being on a more performance-focused mission than, say, the Q7 that comes standard with a 248-horsepower turbo-four in base trim and can’t be had with the Q8’s top-line 591-horsepower RS powertrain, my sporty looking tester’s 335-horsepower V6 hardly challenges anything from Sant’Agata Bolognese.

2020 Audi Q8 Technik 55 TFSI Quattro
Going all-black is fashionable these days, and Audi’s Q8 delivers.

With 369 lb-ft of torque available, the 3.0-litre V6-powered Q8 is quick, mind you, or at least quicker than most will require more often than not, and if you absolutely must have more when needed, Audi offers the 500 horsepower SQ8 that puts 568 lb-ft of torque down to tarmac, and the already mentioned RS Q8 that incidentally puts out a formidable 590 lb-ft.

The most potent variety is good for a 3.8-second run to 100 km/h, which in fact mirrors the straight-line performance produced by Bentley’s W12-powered Bentayga, but still comes up 0.2 seconds shy of the Urus’ 3.6-second run. This said, if you can tell the difference from the seat of your pants I’ll be impressed. As for the mid-range SQ8, it’s good for a 4.3-second rip from standstill to 100 km/h, while Audi claims 6.0 seconds for the same feat in my tester’s 55 TFSI Quattro configuration. That’s pretty damn fast for a luxury SUV, by the way, so while this is the slowpoke of this very speedy bunch, it’s by no means a snail.

2020 Audi Q8 Technik 55 TFSI Quattro
Audi provides plenty of OEM upgrades that can make your Q8 as practical as possible.

Part of the go-fast equation is ZF’s well-proven eight-speed automatic that does double-duty in the Q7 as well as plenty of other luxury models in and out of the Audi family. It’s as effortlessly smooth during everyday driving and as brilliantly quick-shifting when pushed hard as in the Q7, while Quattro continues Audi’s all-wheel drive leadership with sensational traction no matter the road conditions. The Q8 includes Comfort, Auto, Dynamic (sport), Individual and Off Road “drive select” modes too, the sportiest of which make the most of the SUV’s direct electromechanical steering setup and capably tuned five-link front and rear suspension design, resulting in a luxury crossover that’s as comfortably docile as required, or as entertaining as most could want, at least this side of a more performance-oriented trim.

2020 Audi Q8 Technik 55 TFSI Quattro
These edgy LED taillights almost look as sharp during the day as they do when lit up at night.

Truly, as enjoyable as I found the Q8 to drive, this base model is more about comfort than speed. This is immediately noticeable when looking inside, where one of the industry’s most attractive interior designs is joined by Audi’s renowned materials quality and build execution. Like the Q8’s exterior styling, the cabin features a stylish array of sharply shaped soft and hard surfaces organized within a horizontal layout that visually enhances the SUV’s width, resulting in a very spacious look, feel and reality; the expansive panoramic sunroof overhead doesn’t hurt matters either.

2020 Audi Q8 Technik 55 TFSI Quattro
That’s a plank of warm open-pore hardwood on the door panel, and there’s more inside making the Q8’s cabin very inviting.

My tester’s interior was mostly charcoal grey except for large sections of piano black surfacing across the instrument panel and lower console, which melded perfectly with various integrated electronic displays, plus the warming addition of some brown to the otherwise grey-stained open-pore hardwood inlays found on the outside of the same lower console as well as the doors.

While hardly the type of traditional warmth still provided by some luxury brands, the Q8’s cabin is far from austere, helped out significantly by Audi’s usual tastefully applied aluminum accents and the just-noted electronic screens, which colourfully brighten the gauge cluster and centre stack.

2020 Audi Q8 Technik 55 TFSI Quattro
The Q8’s interior is as well made as it’s good looking.

Not just high in resolution, these are clear, colourful, graphically stimulating high-definition displays filled with functionality, starting with Audi’s “Virtual Cockpit,” a fully digital gauge cluster that’s like no other, and followed up by two touchscreens on the centre stack, the main infotainment interface up top and a smaller secondary unit dedicated to the heating and ventilation system below.

I’ve gone on at length about Audi’s Virtual Cockpit in previous reviews going back years, initially blown away with its “VIEW” button-actuated capability of expanding multi-information features to encompass the entire display, except for tiny primary driving dials that remain in each lower corner. Now, a number of competitors provide similar functionality, but Audi’s remains one of the slickest operators for its ease of use and ample personalization capability.

2020 Audi Q8 Technik 55 TFSI Quattro
Audi’s “Virtual Cockpit” allows the multi-information display to take over the entire display (see the gallery for more).

I especially like expanding the navigation map within that gauge cluster, as it’s not only an eye-popping conversation starter when friends are riding along, but really helpful when wanting to focus on the road ahead. Better yet, utilizing a larger multi-information display for such functions frees the main infotainment display for front passenger use, while the HVAC controls are always close at hand.

Certainly, the latter effect is much the same as with cars that keep analogue HVAC controls in similar positions, but the Q8’s slick-looking, nicely organized interface modernizes the entire experience, while also preventing coffee spills and food crumbs from slipping between the cracks of buttons, knobs and switches, therefore maintaining a cleaner and more hygienic environment.

2020 Audi Q8 Technik 55 TFSI Quattro
The main infotainment touchscreen provides a comprehensive assortment of features amidst a logically laid out interface with stunning graphics.

By the way, the aforementioned “drive select” modes are incorporated into a narrow, touch-sensitive strip just below the HVAC interface, which also includes a button for cancelling traction and stability control, switching on the hazard lights, and choosing defog/defrost settings. This switchgear, and all others in the Q8’s tidy cabin, is extremely well made.

Such attention to detail is expected from Audi, as is interior comfort. Number one with me is a vehicle’s driving position, because my legs are longer than my torso, so once I’ve moved my seat rearward enough to accommodate the former, I need more reach from the telescopic steering column than some vehicle’s offer in order to comfortably hold onto the rim of the wheel, without cranking my seatback to a near vertical position. This is critical for control too, because the ability to lay one’s wrist over the top of the wheel is optimal, allowing relaxed, bent elbows when the hands are positioned at the 9 and 3 o’clock positions. To make a short story long, the Q8’s driving position is near perfect, making it the perfect companion for all situations.

2020 Audi Q8 Technik 55 TFSI Quattro
A separate HVAC touchscreen melds into the Q8’s nicely organized lower console.

The driver’s seat also included plenty of adjustments, including a lower cushion that could be extended to cup below the knees, one of my favourite features, while along with the usual fore/aft, up/down, recline, and four-way lumbar, was a comprehensive massage feature providing wave, pulse, stretch, relaxation, shoulder, and activation modes, plus a trio of intensity levels, while the usual three-way warming cushions were accompanied by three-temperature cooling.

When my seat was pushed back far enough to accommodate my long-legged five-foot-eight frame, I still had ample room overhead, which makes sense being that Ingolstadt’s team of product planners live amongst a relatively tall Germanic population. Likewise, for all other directions, of course, not to mention the SUV’s rear quarters that are very generous as well. In fact, I could almost fully stretch out in back, which is unusually good even for the luxury class.

2020 Audi Q8 Technik 55 TFSI Quattro
These are two of the more comfortable and supportive front seats in the class.

When the third passenger stays home, rear occupants benefit from a wide, comfortable fold-down centre armrest, complete with dual cupholders, as well as power-operated side sunshades that can both be modulated at either side of the cabin. The climate control system is four-zone, so Audi provides another touch-capacitive control interface on the backside of the front console, complete with switches for the rear outboard seat warmers, all of which sit just under a set of HVAC vents that combine with one more on the rear of each B-pillar.

I spoke about cargo capacity at the beginning of this review, so at the risk of banging on about even more dimensional specs, suffice to say it should be roomy enough for most peoples’ needs while providing an extremely well-finished, fully-carpeted compartment with an attractive aluminum protective plate on the door sill, bright metal tie-down hoops, and a neat little webbed storage area, while the seatbacks are configured in the optimal 40/20/40 split-folding configuration, allowing longer items like skis to be stored down the middle while rear passengers enjoy the more comfortable heated window seats.

2020 Audi Q8 Technik 55 TFSI Quattro
The Q8’s rear quarters are very spacious.

The top-line 2020 Q8 Technik 55 TFSI Quattro trim I tested starts at $90,200 plus freight and fees, which was a big move up from the previous year’s price of $88,800, but not quite as dear as the $91,200 needed for a 2021 model. I suppose needed is not quite the right word, being that once again Audi is providing $4,000 in incentives for those wise enough to take advantage, with all of the information needed to do so found on either CarCostCanada’s 2020 Audi Q8 Canada Prices page or the 2021 Audi Q8 Canada Prices page.

2020 Audi Q8 Technik 55 TFSI Quattro
Lots of cargo space, plus the flexibility of 40/20/40-split rear seatbacks.

Incidentally, CarCostCanada’s ultra-affordable membership provides inside information about any available manufacturer rebate, all manufacturer financing and leasing deals, as well as dealer invoice pricing that gives you a significant edge when negotiating your deal. Be sure to find out how it works, and while you’re at it download the free CarCostCanada app so you can have all the most critical info you need at your fingertips when shopping for your Q8, or any other new car, truck or SUV.

This said, the Q8 is a good place to start shopping. From its handsome design and beautifully finished interior, to its strong performance and many practical elements, such as its strong set of standard and optional features, its superb comfort front to back, and its all-round generous accommodations, the Q8 is hard to beat.

Story by Trevor Hofmann

Photos by Karen Tuggay

Want a great deal on one of the best cars currently available? Mercedes-Benz is offering up to $7,500 in additional incentives on the outgoing 2020 E-Class, and some quick research shows there are still…

2020 Mercedes-Benz E 450 4Matic Road Test

2020 Mercedes-Benz E 450 4Matic
Mercedes has made some significant changes to the 2021 E-Class, but the 2020 model is still a very handsome luxury sedan.

Want a great deal on one of the best cars currently available? Mercedes-Benz is offering up to $7,500 in additional incentives on the outgoing 2020 E-Class, and some quick research shows there are still some new ones available.

Mercedes has given the 2021 E-Class a refresh, updating the entire front fascia with a fresh, sporty take on the brand’s classic open oval, replacing the 2020 model’s horizontal slats with vertical dividers, while adding redesigned LED headlamps to each side. Updates to the lower front intakes are more subtle, but evident, as are changes to the car’s side profile, my E 450 4Matic tester swapping blackened window surrounds for bright metal and vice versa for the door handle trim. Of course, the wheels are new, but not because the 2020 rims were any less attractive.

2020 Mercedes-Benz E 450 4Matic
Changes to the 2021 model’s rear design are even more dramatic than those up front.

Unlike most refreshes, the 2021 E-Class sedan’s taillights were dramatically updated, swapping out the 2020 model’s large, somewhat droopy ovoid clusters for a sharp new set of horizontally positioned lenses, these now cutting into the trunk lid, while the rest of the car’s hind end looks much the same as its predecessor, excepting some bright metal trim visually tying its tailpipes together. The modifications really make a difference to the E sedan’s looks, taking it from attractive to downright stunning, and bringing it up to date with other recently redesigned Mercedes’ sedans in the lineup, particularly the entry-level A-Class.

Moving inside, the German luxury brand added a new steering-wheel design and its latest MBUX infotainment system, enhancing what was already a very good interface, while additional advanced driver-assistance technology has been added to the mix too.

2020 Mercedes-Benz E 450 4Matic
These gorgeous alloys would look great on any car.

Lastly, the E 450 model says goodbye to its twin-turbo V6 for an entirely new turbocharged inline-six, which is a surprising move back in engine configurations for a brand that once solely made its six-cylinder engines in linear form. Inline six-cylinder engines are inherently smoother than V6s, which should bode well for enhanced refinement levels, not that the V6 is anything to harshly criticize. I should also mention that the 2021 model year sees the E 350e plug-in hybrid enter the fray, providing strong performance, improved fuel economy and the ability to utilize high-occupancy lanes during rush hour (depending on the regulations in your market).

2020 Mercedes-Benz E 450 4Matic
The new 2021 E’s horizontal taillights are a big improvement over these ovoid lenses.

I realize now that calling the 2021 E-Class a refresh is probably an understatement, as it’s more of a full redesign, at least in E 450 guise. Still, it’s most the same under the skin and inside, and to be fair to this 2020 version, little was needed to smarten up its interior. It starts with the most technologically impressive gauge cluster and infotainment combinations in the industry, Mercedes’ aforementioned MBUX display. Nothing looks anywhere near as advanced, with the only negative I could find being my personal need to spend less time in front of smartphone, tablet and TV screens.

The two conjoined displays are graphically stimulating, bright and colourful, high in definition, and impressively configurable, the left-side primary instrument and multi-information combo controllable via steering wheel switchgear, and one on the right incorporating modulated by way of lower console controls. I’d personally appreciate being able to tap, swipe and pinch directly on the display, but I also like having a set of remote dials and buttons closer at hand. As it is, the system’s only touch capacitive capability is atop the rotating dial, which was actually very effective.

2020 Mercedes-Benz E 450 4Matic
The 2021 model’s interior includes fewer changes, and frankly didn’t need any at all.

Infotainment features are wide and diverse, some highlights including a dual-screen backup/overhead parking camera, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto smartphone integration, accurate navigation, satellite radio, myriad car setting functions including the adjustment of various coloured mood lighting, HVAC control including plenty of seat adjustments and multiple massage settings, and the list goes on.

2020 Mercedes-Benz E 450 4Matic
The E’s interior is simultaneously opulent and and advanced, with beautiful design made from the highest quality materials, plus some of the best electronic displays around.

Those seats are fabulous, as you might expect from the planet’s best-selling mid-size luxury car. Mercedes has always made superbly supportive and comfortable driver’s seats, even going back to my old ’72 280SE (how I loved that car). It comes complete with three-way heating, three-way cooling, a powered headrest, an extendable lower cushion, and powered side bolsters that can be set to automatically increase support to the opposite side in which you’re turning, plus all the usual fore and aft, up and down, and recline controls. It’s even possible to adjust the front passenger’s seat from the driver’s side switchgear, including its lower cushion extension and all other functions. That’s pretty amazing.

The driving position is excellent too, with ample reach from the tilt and telescopic steering wheel, not always the case which can be a problem for some body types (like mine). The seats’ leatherwork is beautifully crafted, as are all the open-grain hardwood inlays across the dash, console and door panels, while other niceties include a tasteful assortment of satin-finish aluminum and inky piano black lacquered trim in key areas around the cabin.

2020 Mercedes-Benz E 450 4Matic
The highly configurable primary gauge cluster is graphically stimulating.

Gorgeous dark brown leather covered the entire dash top and door uppers too, with wonderful beige cream stitching. It was really a feast for cappuccino starved eyes. That Mercedes chose to emulate Rolex’ first-generation Explorer for the E’s dash-mounted clock is perfectly fitting, the circular time-teller following a similarly round interior theme dominated by a row of aluminum-trimmed air vents across the dash, and drilled aluminum speaker grilles (complete with a centre “f” hole that fans of the Gibson ES 335, Guild Country Gentleman, and similar hollow-body guitars will adore) for the sensational Burmester audio system. Truly, everything about the E 450’s interior was impeccably made from the best materials, even including the overhead console and rubberized sunglasses holder, the switches for the LED reading lights, and the rocker switch for the large dual pane powered panoramic sunroof and shade.

2020 Mercedes-Benz E 450 4Matic
The infotainment display’s detail is incredible.

Of course, all roof pillars are fabric wrapped, while each door panel is soft to the touch all the way down to their bottoms. The sides of the centre console are pliable too, so as not to chafe the knees. Unlike some lesser models, the E-Class goes all the way with luxury, not matching the S-Class, of course, but getting very close.

This is true for rear seat occupants too, yet while the S-Class is certainly more accommodating and more luxurious, the E won’t doesn’t leave anyone wanting for too much more. There should be ample legroom, headroom, and width for most body types, and three-way heatable outboard seats were included in my tester as well. So was excellent venting from the backside of the front console, this hovering above a pop-out panel revealing two USB-A ports and a 12-volt charger, while a folding centre armrest includes a set of complex extendable cupholders as well as a lidded storage compartment under its padded cushion.

2020 Mercedes-Benz E 450 4Matic
Massage anyone? The E 450’s front seats are extremely comfortable and relaxing.

That armrest is attached to a foldable backing that, once lowered, provides a large pass-through from the trunk, ideal for longer cargo such as skis. The seats can be lowered in the usual 60/40 configuration after that, although should really be referred to as a 40/20/40 split. That trunk is nicely finished, by the way, as anyone who’s spent time with a Mercedes should expect.

Back up front, I found myself searching online to figure out how to heat up the steering wheel rim. The switch can be found on the end of the tilt and telescopic power steering column stalk. Just give it a twist and it even warms all the way around. The three-way heated driver’s seat was easier to source, as it’s right on the door panel above the seat controls that incidentally include three-way memory functions.

2020 Mercedes-Benz E 450 4Matic
This is some of the automotive industry’s best open-pore hardwood, while the cluster of dial, touchpad and buttons controls the infotainment system.

I started my driving impressions with warmth because getting comfortable is what the E 450 is mostly about, at least initially. Following this theme, the E’s ride is cloud-like. I hesitate using the word cloud because it denotes the feeling of floating, which reminds me of a particularly nauseating ride to Amsterdam’s Schiphol airport as a child, in the back of a Netherlands taxi cab.

Of course, like most European taxis at that time, it was a Mercedes-Benz, similar to the one I expressed my love for earlier in this review. If you know anything about that drive, you’ll have memory of the plentiful dikes that need to be passed over along the way. Unfortunately, my dear brother wasn’t paying attention to the road ahead and the numerous dikes we repeatedly floated over and became violently car sick. Truly, that Merc’s suspension was much more pillowy than the domestic cars we’d grown up with in Canada. Those were car bodies on truck chassis, so it was safe to say we had never experienced anything this smooth before. I think the same could be said for anyone that’s never driven a mid- to full-size Mercedes-Benz car, and may be one of the key reasons a luxury buyer might consider purchasing one of the brand’s cars over their SUVs, not that the SUVs are particularly harsh.

2020 Mercedes-Benz E 450 4Matic
The E 450’s nighttime light show is really quite dramatic.

While comfortable beyond measure, the E 450 4Matic also provides shocking good grip when pushed hard around fast-paced corners, no matter the weather conditions. Much of my weeklong test including wet road surfaces, although we also had a day of snow thrown in for good measure. Fortunately, I also experienced this E-Class in the dry, which allows me to attest to the fact this E 450 can manage everything thrown at it with grace and composure. I’d venture to say it’s one of the most well-rounded luxury sedans I’ve ever driven, and I’ve been behind the wheel of most.

2020 Mercedes-Benz E 450 4Matic
Prepare yourself for some of the best seats in the auto industry.

Much of that driving prowess comes from the aforementioned powertrain, which provides impressive forward thrust thanks to the six cylinders mentioned earlier. This 2020 model’s engine featured the outgoing V configuration, which is still a force to be reckoned with thanks to 362 horsepower and 369 lb-ft of torque from a twin-turbocharged 3.0-litre V6. To be very clear, output hasn’t changed one iota despite the move to a 3.0-litre inline six for 2021, although due to the inclusion of EQ Boost, a 48-volt mild-hybrid assist system featuring a starter/generator that makes 21 horsepower and 184 pound-feet of torque on its own.

Therefore, the new power unit is significantly more efficient, with the 2020 model good for a claimed fuel economy rating of 12.5 L/100 city, 9.1 highway and 11.0 combined, and the 2021 car estimated at 10.4 city, 7.8 highway and 9.2 combined. That’s a massive gain, so the step up to the 2021 model is worthwhile for those trying to eke out the most from every drop of premium unleaded, not to mention lessen their environmental impact.

2020 Mercedes-Benz E 450 4Matic
The dual-pane panoramic sunroof really opens up the E 450’s interior.

We can be certain the aluminized toggle switch on the lower console wasn’t set to Dynamic sport mode when achieving those numbers in either car, while the E 450 includes a Sport Plus mode as well. The latter turns it into a ferocious beast with a much more exhilarating exhaust growl and more of a necessity to use its paddle shifters for swapping gears, at which point it automatically blips the throttle upon downshifts. It’s like a Jekyll and Hyde personality change, transforming from an absolutely relaxed luxury liner to I really edgy, thoroughly engaging performer. The regular sport mode simply tightens the E’s responses, enhancing transmission shifts albeit upshifting and downshifting without holding a given gear as stubbornly, and while it blips the throttle too, it doesn’t noticeably stiffen the chassis. Default Comfort mode is comfortably, quiet, and Eco mode automatically shuts the engine off when it would otherwise be idling, something done less often in Comfort mode. All said it’s one of the more intelligent transmissions on offer.

2020 Mercedes-Benz E 450 4Matic
Rear seating comfort and support is second to none.

That line pretty well sums up the entire car. It’s one of the more intelligent cars in its class, and it’s probably one of the smarter purchases from a resale value perspective too. I just happen to like it a lot, and would choose an E-Class over any direct competitor. New 2021 model’s styling upgrades and more efficient powertrain makes it even more enticing, although the potential savings on the 2020 might make sense for you too. You’ll need to move fast to take advantage of the latter, however, and connect with CarCostCanada to sort out the savings.

2020 Mercedes-Benz E 450 4Matic
The trunk is accommodating and made more so by ultra-convenient 40/20/40 split-folding rear seatbacks.

The average CarCostCanada member has been saving about $6,000 on either 2020 or 2021 E-Class models, although Mercedes is only currently offering up to $1,500 in additional incentives for the 2021. Download the free CarCostCanada app to access all the savings on your smartphone, and make sure to check out how their system works here. You’ll gain access to info on all available manufacturer rebates, factory finance and leasing deals, plus dealer invoice pricing that can really make a difference when negotiating. It’s an absolute no-brainer no matter what you’re buying, while the segment’s best-selling Mercedes-Benz E-Class makes a lot of sense too.

Review and photos: Trevor Hofmann

After doing an exhaustive preview of the 2021 G80 M3 Sedan and G82 M4 Coupe that introduced the brand’s polarizing new bucktooth grille design, which BMW quickly followed up by revealing their near…

2020 BMW 440i Coupe and Cabriolet Road Test

2020 BMW 440i Coupe
Some might think the outgoing 4 Series looks old compared to the radically styled new one, but we consider it a modern-day classic.

After doing an exhaustive preview of the 2021 G80 M3 Sedan and G82 M4 Coupe that introduced the brand’s polarizing new bucktooth grille design, which BMW quickly followed up by revealing their near equally maligned regular 4 Series G22, G23 and G26 Coupe, Cabriolet and Gran Coupe five-door liftback, I thought it would be fitting to say so-long to the lovely 2013-2020 F32, F33 and F36 Coupe, Cabriolet and Gran Coupe 4 Series trio that most BMW fans have now grown even fonder of.

Unfortunately, I didn’t have a 2020 Gran Coupe available for this review, so instead I’ll point you back to a 2015 BMW 428i xDrive I previously reviewed, and on that note the two cars featured in this road test are actually 2019 models that fell between the cracks, so allow me some creative license as these two were not fundamentally changed from model years 2019 to 2020, and reviewing them now allows the opportunity to point out where aesthetic updates and trim modifications were made.

2020 BMW 440i Cabriolet
The Coupe and this Cabriolet take on different personas, the hard-top being sportier and the drop-top oh-so classy.

This last point is fairly easy, with the only changes made from 2019 to 2020 being colour options, the Coupe losing Glacier Silver and Melbourne Red metallics and thus reducing its exterior colour count to two standard solid shades and three metallic options. The same seven interior motifs are available, and there are no changes with its myriad option packages. The Cabriolet loses its alternative black mirror caps in base trim (at least from the factory) and drops the same two hues as the Coupe, but adds a new metallic called Sunset Orange, while swapping Tanzanite Blue for Tanzanite Blue II. Lastly, the Gran Coupe eliminates Glacier Silver too (it didn’t have Melbourne Red), while adding Aventurine Red II Metallic, plus it trades the same two Tanzanite hues while swapping Frozen Silver for Frozen Dark Grey. And that’s it.

2020 BMW 440i Coupe
Unfortunately, classic Glacier Silver is no longer available.

My two testers were painted in $895 optional Glacier Silver and Estoril Blue metallics, by the way, the latter getting plenty of looks with the top down thanks to beautifully contrasting Ivory White leather clad interior. It’s hard to believe that BMW no longer offers three of its sportiest models in Germany’s official racing livery, but the brand was never part of the silver arrows era anyway, its chosen colour in motorsport always being white with mostly blue accents. It nevertheless looks good in classic silver, especially with the blackened trim and wheels.

2020 BMW 440i Cabriolet
The Cabriolet’s retractable hard-top looks just as nice as the Coupe’s fixed roof, but it does take on a look of its own.

Both testers were near fully loaded, being 440i powered and xDrive controlled. Base 4 Series models come with the 430i powerplant, which denotes BMW’s 2.0-litre turbo-four with 248 horsepower and 258 lb-ft of torque, resulting in lively performance albeit par for the course in this class, whereas 440i models receive the automaker’s turbocharged 3.0-litre inline-six good for a much more spirited 326 horsepower and 332 lb-ft of torque. The only model available without all-wheel drive is the 440i Coupe, but a quick glance at the back of my tester reveals the BMW’s “xDrive” emblem, which meant mine was not one of these rare rear-drive beasts.

2020 BMW 440i Coupe
Full LED headlamps come standard, and look fabulous.

Much to my chagrin, BMW didn’t include its wonderful six-speed manual in either car, although it is (was) available in the 440i Coupe (only). Was? Yes, this time of year you’ll need to take whatever you can get, meaning snap up a rear- or all-wheel drive 440i Coupe with a manual if you can find one, because there are obviously no more factory orders for this now updated car, and only M4s will offer manuals hereafter.

2020 BMW 440i Cabriolet
The 4 Series’ sporty front fascia still looks sharp after all these years.

Alas, BMW has abandoned both the manual transmission and silver, no less at a time when we should all be considering investing in precious metals. What could be next? I’ll point you to my exhaustive overview of the new M3 and M4 for some of those details, at which point you’ll clearly appreciate that the German brand’s twin-kidney grille remains at large for 2021, or rather larger than life, which, I reiterate, is a good reason any available 2020 models will be hot commodities right about now. Let’s face it, while BMW deserves kudos for bravery, its significant stretch from conservatism hasn’t been universally praised to say the least.

2020 BMW 440i Coupe
These optional alloys look sensational, contrasting nicely with the silver paint.

I, for one, happen to love these two cars’ styling, and might even appreciate the outgoing Gran Coupe more. They’re all elegantly balanced designs with classic BMW cues as well as more visual muscle than any predecessors, plus they combine the most impressively crafted interiors, highest levels of technology, and best overall performance offered in any non-M-branded compact BMW ahead of the new 2021 models.

2020 BMW 440i Cabriolet
The 4 Series’ LED taillights are an attractive design, as are the new 2021 cars’ rear lamps.

The 440i’s cabin is at a level of quality and refinement above most everything in this class. Along with the expected soft-touch synthetic surfaces normally found in this segment, BMW covered the entire dash-top and door uppers of the Cabriolet in rich, high-quality French-stitched leather, while the door panels received gorgeous white diamond-pattern leather inserts. The Coupe was less opulently attired, preferring a sportier black on black interior with a regular pliable composite dash and a tighter diamond pattern for its leather door inserts. Either way, both 4 Series doors wore premium soft-touch surfaces right to their very bottoms.

2020 BMW 440i Coupe
The 440i Coupe’s interior is traditional black, the only way many BMW faithful want their car’s cabin.

Both cars’ seats were exquisitely detailed in perforated hides, the Coupe’s even sporting contrasting light grey piping and stitching, whereas the Cabriolet’s creamy leather was sewn together with black thread. Plenty of satin-finished aluminum and piano black lacquered trim highlighted key areas in both models, while the instrument panel, lower console and doors were enhanced with a tasteful array of glossy dark hardwood in the Cabriolet and ideally suited patterned aluminum inlays for the Coupe. The switchgear in both cabins was once again of the highest quality, BMW cutting zero corners in this respect.

2020 BMW 440i Cabriolet
This Cabriolet’s interior is anything but conventional as far as BMWs go, but it certainly turned smiling heads.

Moving up to 2021 4 Series models will allow for a fully digital primary gauge cluster, which for some will be a worthwhile expense, and while I’ve enjoyed playing around with such devices from other brands, I’d have no issue staying put with the outgoing 4’s mostly analogue dials. They’re classic BMW kit after all, with a small full-colour, high resolution multi-information display at centre, but all infotainment features, such as navigation mapping, audio details, phone queries, car setup functions, parking camera, etcetera are best done from the widescreen display atop the centre stack.

2020 BMW 440i Coupe
The 4 Series dash layout is ideally organized and made from the best materials.

Again, there are more advanced infotainment systems in the industry, particularly in the new 4 Series, but this setup is easy on the eyes, fully featured and responds to inputs more than fast enough. I like BMW’s tile layout that allows finger swiping from function to function or modulation from the console-mounted rotating iDrive controller and surround quick-access buttons. This is well sorted and should be easy for anyone to learn how to use, given some time and practice.

2020 BMW 440i Cabriolet
A closer look shows a cockpit where everything falls precisely to hand.

Tooling around town is a wholly different experience depending on which model you purchase. The 440i Cab made for a wonderful winter reprieve, almost causing me to feel as if summer was back and the good times of evening drinks on patio bistros were around the corner. Yes, that thought might seem masochistic to contemplate amid our current health crisis, but personal luxury cars like this 4 Series Coupe and Convertible are ideal for getting away from all the madness, whether during your daily commute or on a weekend retreat. The well-insulated retractable hard-top made it feel coupe-like as well, and it takes barely a moment to lower, plus can be done while on the move.

2020 BMW 440i Coupe
All 2020 4 Series receive this mostly analogue gauge cluster, which works well and looks classically BMW.

Getting off the line and ahead of packed traffic is no issue when the “440i” emblem is stamped on the rear deck lid, each car’s ability to shoot forward from standstill smile inducing to say the least. Then again, the 430i Coupe doesn’t give up much forward momentum, scooting from zero to 100 km/h in just 5.8 seconds compared to the all-wheel drive Coupe’s 4.9 and rear-drive version’s 5.1 seconds. Yes, four-wheel traction matters more than the extra 39 kilos of curb weight, but mass does cut into the 200-kilogram heavier Cabriolet’s performance with less energetic times of 6.4 and 5.4 seconds for the 430i and 440i variants respectively. The Gran Coupe merely adds 0.1 seconds to each all-wheel drive Coupe sprint, resulting in 5.9 and 5.0 seconds from 430i to 440i. All 4 Series models are limited to a 210-km/h (130-mph) top speed.

2020 BMW 440i Coupe
The infotainment display is extremely well designed and easy to use.

Likewise, I could feel the Cabriolet’s heft in the corners, but not so much that it became unwieldy. In fact, if I had never driven the Coupe before I’d be wholly satisfied, as its handling is wonderfully predictable and oh-so capable when coursing through serpentine stretches at high speeds. The Coupe is just that much better, its lighter curb weight and stiffer body structure providing a more playful attitude that seems to always want to please.

2020 BMW 440i Coupe
Both cars’ front seats were wonderfully supportive and wholly comfortable.

This side of an M4, the only way to make the 440i Coupe better would’ve been the six-speed manual, but the eight-speed auto was impressive as far as commuter transmissions go, shifting quickly in its sportiest mode, when the steering wheel-mounted paddles came into play, yet smooth all the time.

Likewise, both cars’ suspensions soaked up road imperfections well, and never unsettled my forward trajectory, even when pushing hard over some poorly paved sections of curving backroad. They were a pleasure to drive around town too, their comfortable seats, both featuring extendable lower cushions, wonderfully supportive.

2020 BMW 440i Cabriolet
The Cabriolet’s rear seats aren’t as roomy as the Coupe’s or Gran Coupes, but will do the job in a pinch.

The Cabriolet is about as practical as this class gets in back, which isn’t all that much, but the Coupe offers room enough for two adults and the Gran Coupe more so. The same goes for cargo space that ranges from 220 litres in the Cab to 445 litres in either hard-top car, while all cars get a 40/20/40 split-folding rear seat with a particularly wide and accommodating centre pass-through.

2020 BMW 440i Coupe
The Coupe’s trunk is more spacious than the Cabriolet’s.

Now that I’m being pragmatic, fuel economy is actually quite good in all of the 4 Series models, the best being the base 430i Coupe and Grand Coupe that share a 10.2 L/100km city, 7.2 highway and 8.8 combined rating, whereas the 430i Cab is good for a claimed 10.6 city, 7.3 highway and 9.1 combined. The thriftiest six-cylinder 4 Series is the rear-drive automatic 440i Coupe at 11.2 L/100km in the city, 7.3 on the highway and 9.4 combined, followed by the both the 440i xDrive auto Coupe and Gran Coupe with ratings of 11.4 city, 7.6 highway and 9.7 combined. The 440i Cab achieves a respective 11.8, 7.9 and 10.0, and lastly the two manually-driven Coupes come in at 12.8, 8.8 and 11.0 for the rear-drive model and 13.0, 8.5 and 11.0 for the xDrive version. All require pricier premium fuel, but that’s par for the course with German luxury vehicles.

2020 BMW 440i Cabriolet
You can lift the divider up and out of the way to make the Cabriolet’s trunk roomier when the top is up.

Now that I’ve lulled you to sleep, I should wake you up by mentioning that BMW is currently offering up to $10,500 in additional incentives for 2020 4 Series models, one of the most aggressive discounts I’ve ever seen offered by any manufacturer on any car, so you might want to head over to the CarCostCanada 2020 BMW 4 Series Canada Prices page to learn more. You can build each model right down to their 20-plus options and aforementioned colours, plus you can learn about any manufacturer leasing and financing deals, available rebates and dealer invoice pricing that will give you a major edge when negotiating your deal. Find out how the CarCostCanada system works, and make sure to download their free app so you can have all of this critical info with you when you’re at the dealership.

2020 BMW 440i Cabriolet
All 4 Series get a 40/20/40 split-folding rear seat with a massive centre pass-through for loading long cargo.

I can’t look into the future to guess whether or not the new 2021 4 Series models will eventually be accepted by pre-owned BMW buyers in order to predict their future resale values, because it really will take some time for fans of the brand to make up their collective minds. I don’t even want to think too far ahead regarding my own future tastes, but I can say for sure this most recent 4 Series design has weathered the test of time well. I see it as a future classic, and would be more inclined to pick one of these sure bets up instead of risking my investment on its unorthodox replacement. All I can say is, get one while you can.

Story and photos by Trevor Hofmann