The mid-size crossover SUV segment has more than blown wide open in recent years, with every mainstream volume manufacturer now in the game and most making sure their entries are as fresh and advanced…

2019 Subaru Ascent Premier Road Test

2019 Subaru Ascent Premier
The new 2019 Ascent combines all of the many trademark Subaru attributes that fans of the brand have grown to love, into a much larger and more accommodating package. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

The mid-size crossover SUV segment has more than blown wide open in recent years, with every mainstream volume manufacturer now in the game and most making sure their entries are as fresh and advanced as possible. 

Before the new 2019 Ascent arrived on the scene last fall, Subaru had been out of this market segment for a half decade. Its previous mid-size crossover, the 2005 to 2014 Tribeca, impressed in plenty of ways except for styling and third-row spaciousness, so Subaru made sure its Ascent was large enough and easier on the eyes. 

Despite two-row crossover SUVs leading the mid-size sector in individual sales, Subaru already has the compact five-seat Forester and the mid-size Outback tall wagon, both very successful models, so therefore the Japanese brand made the choice to address those with larger families and a need for more gear-toting space. Others have done likewise, with Honda having made its three-row Pilot available for 17 years before its all-new two-row Passport showed up this summer, so maybe we’ll see a larger five-seat Subaru SUV at some point in the future. 

2019 Subaru Ascent Premier
The mid-size, three-row Ascent is the longest Subaru ever produced, and one of the longer crossover SUVs in its class. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Until then, the North American-exclusive Ascent is configured for eight occupants in standard trim and seven with its optional second-row captain’s chairs, the latter setup being how Subaru outfitted my top-line Premier test model. It’s not a small SUV, measuring 4,998 millimetres (196.8 inches) front to back with a 2,890-mm (113.8-inch) wheelbase, while its overall height reaches 1,819 mm (71.6 inches) tall including its standard roof rails. Additionally, it spans 2,176 mm (85.6 inches) wide with its side mirrors extracted, while its track measures 1,635 mm (64.4 inches) up front and 1,630 mm (64.2 inches) at the rear. 

To put it into perspective, the new Ascent is 48 mm (1.9 inches) shorter than the mid-size three-row SUV category’s best-selling Ford Explorer, albeit with a 24-mm (0.9-inch) longer wheelbase, while some might also be surprised to find out the new Subaru is 42 mm (1.6 inches) taller than the big blue-oval utility. The only Explorer measurements to exceed the Ascent span from side-to-side, which see Ford’s SUV stretching a sizeable 119 mm (4.7 inches) wider with 66 and 71 mm (2.6 and 2.8 inches) more front and rear track respectively. It should be noted the Explorer is one of the mid-size segment’s largest SUVs. 

2019 Subaru Ascent Premier
The Ascent provides handsome styling from front to back. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Comparing the new Ascent to other top-sellers shows that it’s longer, wider and taller than the Toyota Highlander and Kia Sorento (but shorter than the new Kia Telluride, with a shorter wheelbase and less width), longer and taller than the Honda Pilot and Hyundai Santa Fe XL (which is now outgoing, but it’s a fraction longer than the new Hyundai Palisade as well, although its wheelbase isn’t nor its width), wider and taller than the Nissan Pathfinder, merely wider than the Dodge Durango, and only taller than the Volkswagen Atlas. 

By the way, that was only a partial list of the Ascent’s three-row mid-size crossover SUV challengers, the full list (from best-selling to least during the first three quarters of 2018) including the Explorer, Sorento, Highlander, Atlas, Pilot, Durango, Pathfinder, Chevrolet Traverse, Santa Fe XL, Dodge Journey, GMC Acadia, Mazda CX-9, and Ford Flex, plus the just-noted new Palisade and Telluride (which are too new to categorize by sales numbers, but should do well). 

2019 Subaru Ascent Premier
The top-line Ascent Premier offers up some really nice styling details. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Even more important than exterior size is passenger volume and cargo space, which for the Ascent measure 4,347 litres (153.5 cubic feet) for the former and 2,449 litres (86.5 cu ft) for the latter when both rear rows are folded flat. Those numbers are just for the most basic of Ascent trims, incidentally, which also measures 1,345 litres (47.5 cu ft) behind the 60/40-split second row and 504 litres (17.8 cu ft) behind the 60/40-split third row, while all other trims are half a litre less commodious at 2,435 litres (86.0 cu ft) behind the first row, 1,331 litres (47.0 cu ft) aft of the second row, and 498 litres (17.6 cu ft) in the very back. 

These figures compare well against key competitors, with the Ascent’s passenger volume even greater than the Explorer’s, and its standard eight-occupant seating configuration a rarity in the class, while the big Subaru’s maximum cargo capacity makes it one of the segment’s most accommodating too. Also important, rear passenger access is made easier thanks to second-row doors that open to 75 degrees. 

2019 Subaru Ascent Premier
Distinctive taillights help set the Ascent apart from its many rivals. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Being that the Ascent is a Subaru SUV, it includes standard full-time Symmetrical AWD, which has long proven to be one of the more capable all-wheel drive systems available. Its initial advantage starts with more evenly balanced weight distribution thanks to a longitudinally-mounted engine and transmission, its competitors’ AWD setups derived from FWD chassis architectures that house transversely-mounted motors, plus Subaru’s horizontally-opposed flat “boxer” engine allows for a lower centre of gravity, which improves handling and packaging. 

Additionally, Symmetrical AWD applies more torque to the wheels with the most grip, and it’s done in such a way that traction not only improves when taking off from standstill in slippery conditions, but it also benefits overall control at higher speeds. This results in an SUV that’s plenty capable no matter the road or trail surface it’s traveling over, while its standard X-mode off-road system, complete with hill descent control, plus its generous 220 millimetres (8.66 inches) of ground clearance for overcoming obstacles, snow banks, etcetera, makes it better than the crossover SUV average for tackling rougher situations. 

2019 Subaru Ascent Premier
The Ascent’s X-Mode off-road system performs well in the mud and muck. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

During our off-road test, all we needed to do was press the X-Mode button on the lower console and it responded almost as well as the low gearing range of a truck-based 4×4. You can hear the electronic traction and stability control systems going to work as it was searching for traction, and it went up some very steep, slippery, muddy patches that I would’ve normally only attempted with something with a bull-low gear set, like a Jeep Wrangler or Toyota 4Runner. 

On that note the Ascent provides one of the nicest rides in its class too, something I really appreciated when off-pavement, but I won’t go so far as to say it’s the sportiest or best handling in this three-row category. It’s still capable of coursing through winding backcountry two-lane roads at a decent clip, but don’t expect it to increase your adrenaline levels unless high-speed body lean is your idea of a good time. 

2019 Subaru Ascent Premier
SUVs always look best when covered in dirt! (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

The new SUV utilizes the Subaru Global Platform (SGP), which combines rigid yet lightweight unibody construction with a fully independent MacPherson strut front and double-wishbone rear suspension setup, enhanced further by a stabilizer bar mounted directly to the body at the rear and electric rack and pinion steering up front. It all rolls on 18-inch silver five-spoke alloys shod with 245/60 all-seasons in the Ascent’s two lower trims, and 20-inch machine-finished high-gloss split-spoke rims on 245/50 rubber for the two upper trims, my tester benefiting from the latter. 

And yes, good road-holding is important in an SUV that gets up and goes as quickly as the Ascent. Its horizontally-opposed 2.4-litre turbocharged four-cylinder engine provides strong performance off the line and plenty of passing power too, thanks to 260 horsepower and 277 lb-ft of torque, the latter maximized between 2,000 and 4,800 rpm, but I found it best when driven in a more relaxed manner where the powertrain was wonderfully smooth and didn’t use a lot of fuel. 

2019 Subaru Ascent Premier
If you include black, the Ascent Premier has a three-tone interior that looks fabulous. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Subaru claims 11.6 L/100km in the city, 9.0 on the highway and 10.4 combined for the new Ascent, compared to 12.0, 8.7 and 10.5 respectively for the larger displacement 3.6-litre H-6 in the considerably smaller Outback. Considering new four-cylinder produces 4 more horsepower and 30 additional lb-ft of torque than that now aging flat-six, we’ll more than likely see this smaller, much more efficient turbocharged engine in a future Outback as well. 

The Ascent also compares well against the base 2.3-litre turbo-four-powered Explorer that gets an estimated 13.1 city, 9.2 highway and 11.4 combined, although the Ford makes considerably more power, while the most efficient version of Toyota’s Highlander V6 AWD actually performs impressively with an almost identical rating to the Ascent, of 11.7, 8.8 and 10.4 respectively. Needless to say the Ascent competes at the pump very well considering its performance and size. 

2019 Subaru Ascent Premier
The Ascent’s cockpit provides all the comfort and features owners in this class need. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Aiding efficiency is the Ascent’s High-torque Lineartronic CVT, the continuously variable transmission not only thrifty but also ideal for mid-size crossover SUV applications due to smooth, linear power delivery. Subaru adds a standard set of steering wheel paddle shifters to improve driver engagement, along with a pseudo eight-speed manual mode that does a pretty good job of mimicking a regular transmission’s gear changes while featuring fairly sporty driving characteristics as well as standard Active Torque Vectoring to increase grip at high speeds. Subaru first introduced this advanced CVT for its WRX performance car, and while not set up to respond as sharply as it would in its world rally-inspired sport sedan, it still does a great job of combining positive, smooth shifts with minimal fuel consumption. 

2019 Subaru Ascent Premier
We were surprised not to find a fully digital gauge cluster in the top-line Ascent. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Unlike many of the Ascent’s mid-size rivals, its AWD is standard and powertrain a one-size-fits-all affair, no matter the trim level. On that note, the 2019 Ascent can be had in Convenience, Touring, Limited and Premier grades, with standard Convenience features not already mentioned including auto on/off halogen headlights, LED daytime running lights, roof rails, a 4.2-inch colour TFT multi-information display, three-zone automatic climate control, 6.5-inch touchscreen infotainment with Android Auto and Apple CarPlay smartphone connectivity, a rearview camera, six-speaker audio, satellite radio, three-way heated front seats, an eight-way power-adjustable driver’s seat, second-row USB ports, a total of 19 cup and bottle holders, and more for just $35,995 plus freight and fees. 

Each and every 2019 Ascent trim also includes standard Subaru EyeSight driver assist technologies such as adaptive cruise control with lead vehicle start assist, pre-collision braking, pre-collision brake assist, pre-collision throttle management, lane departure warning, lane sway warning, and lane keeping assist, while all the expected active and passive safety features come standard too. 

2019 Subaru Ascent Premier
The Ascent’s centre stack is logically laid out and filled with functionality. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

For $40,995 in eight-passenger trim or $41,495 with second-row captain’s chairs, which reduces the total seat count to seven, Ascent Touring trim adds the Subaru Rear/Side Vehicle Detection (SRVD) system that includes blind spot detection, lane change assist, rear cross-traffic alert and reverse automatic braking, as well as unique machine-finished five-spoke 18-inch alloys, body-colour side mirrors with integrated LED turn signals and approach lighting, LED fog lamps, a sportier rear bumper cap with integrated tailpipe cutouts, proximity keyless access, pushbutton ignition, front door courtesy lights, chrome inner door handles, a Homelink garage door opener, a windshield wiper de-icer, auto-dimming rearview and side mirrors, a leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob, larger 8.0-inch touchscreen infotainment, premium cloth upholstery, a powered panoramic sunroof, magazine pockets on the front seatbacks, second-row climate controls, third-row reading lights, a rear cargo cover, a powered liftgate, a transmission oil cooler, trailer stability control, and pre-wiring for a trailer hitch that increases towing capacity to 2,270 kg (5,000 lbs). 

2019 Subaru Ascent Premier
Subaru breaks wth tradition by including a multi-information display atop the centre dash. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Limited trim, starting at $46,495 in standard eight-passenger layout or $46,995 in its seven-passenger configuration with second-row captain’s chairs, adds the larger 20-inch alloys mentioned earlier, plus steering-responsive full low/high beam LED headlights with automatic high beam assist, black and ivory soft-touch interior surfaces, a heatable steering wheel, an upgraded gauge cluster with chrome bezels and light blue needles (in place of red), and a 6.3-inch colour multifunction display atop the dash that shows the time, temperature and dynamic features such as an inclinometer, while a navigation system with detailed mapping is included within the infotainment display, as is SiriusXM Traffic, whereas additional Limited features include a 14-speaker 792-watt Harman/Kardon audio system, a 10-way power-adjustable driver seat upgraded to include powered lumbar support and cushion length adjustment, driver’s seat and side-mirror memory, a four-way power-adjustable front passenger seat, leather upholstery, two-way heatable second-row outboard seats, integrated rear door sunshades, third-row USB ports, and more. 

2019 Subaru Ascent Premier
The backup camera is bright and clear, but where is the 360-degree overhead cam? (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Top-tier Premier trim, which comes fully equipped at $49,995, even including standard captain’s chairs, adds an upgraded high-gloss black grille insert, satin-finish side mirror caps, chrome exterior door handles, rain-sensing wipers, ambient interior lighting, a front-view camera, a Smart Rearview Mirror with an integrated rear-view camera, woodgrain inlays, brown perforated leather upholstery, ventilated front seats, a 120-volt power outlet on the rear centre console, and more. 

Incidentally, all 2019 Subaru Ascent pricing was sourced from CarCostCanada, where you can also find detailed pricing on trims, packages and standalone options for every other new model sold in Canada, plus otherwise hard to get rebate information and dealer invoice pricing that could save you thousands. 

2019 Subaru Ascent Premier
The navigation system worked well, as did all other features in the excellent infotainment touchscreen. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

As for interior accommodations and finishings, the dash top in our Ascent Premier was mostly covered in a leather-look soft-to-the-touch synthetic, featuring stylish stitching across the middle in front of the passenger. Just below is a handy shelf that’s similar to the Highlander’s in function, while more leather-like composite, also stitched with real thread, supports that shelf across the lower portion of the dash before visually melding into the door panels, this surface treatment in a lovely ivory colour. The black and ivory colour theme is nicely complemented by brown armrests in the same tone as the aforementioned brown leather seats, while Premier trim also includes woodgrain inlays that don’t even try to look or feel genuine despite having a slight matte finish. I should also mention that elbow-pampering soft-touch door uppers can be found front and back, but don’t expect fabric-wrapped roof pillars as on some other mainstream mid-size SUVs. 

2019 Subaru Ascent Premier
Yes, your eyes aren’t deceiving you. Subaru even lights up the cupholders with LEDs. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

The primary instruments are nicely done, but this top-line model does not include a full digital gauge cluster, a feature that’s starting to show up in many of the Ascent’s recently new or redesigned competitors, such as the Volkswagen Atlas and Hyundai Palisade. Just the same, the dials’ blue needles are a nice touch instead of the usual red found in lower trims, while the vertical TFT multi-information display includes a nice graphic of the SUV’s backside with taillights that light up when you press the brake. It’s kind of fun to watch, but this display is even more useful for reminding drivers they may have left something, someone or some pet in the rear seating compartment by notifying via a visual alert and audio alarm chime, as well as other functions. 

2019 Subaru Ascent Premier
The driver’s seat is superbly comfortable and very adjustable. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

This said the larger multi-information display atop the dash goes to work when the aforementioned EyeSight ADAS systems are put into action, with really attractive and detailed graphics, while this display also provides speed limit information, navigation system info, an inclinometer and other off-road features, and more. 

Just below on the centre stack, the Ascent gets Subaru’s beautiful new high-resolution 3D-like infotainment touchscreen that we first enjoyed in the new Forester and WRX models. It’s a giant step up in visual attractiveness and functionality, getting all of the features and apps noted previously while I listed off standard and optional items, while responding to input quickly and reliably. 

2019 Subaru Ascent Premier
How’s that for a sunroof? This panoramic glass roof really brightens the interior. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Speaking of quick response times, the heated steering wheel rim and three-way heatable front seats come on quickly and remain hot as well, instead of slowly cooling off like so many others are programmed to. The switch for steering wheel heat is logically located just under the right-side spoke where it’s easy to find, while the adaptive cruise control system, activated via buttons just above, works perfectly in both high-speed and stop-and-go situations. Similarly, the lane departure system held the Ascent in place when cruising down the freeway, but it tended to bounce off the lines instead of maintaining the centre of a given lane when my hands weren’t on the wheel (not that I recommend driving without hands on the wheel, but I was testing the system out). 

2019 Subaru Ascent Premier
The optional second-row captain’s chairs are very comfortable. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Speaking of technologies, the Ascent Premier’s centre mirror gets pretty close to mirroring a sophisticated smartphone or tablet. It does double-duty as a backup camera when a switch just below is flicked rearward, whereas pulling that lever forward causes it to revert to a regular auto-dimming mirror. Less sophisticated yet also appreciated, the Ascent’s handy sunglasses holder doubles as a conversation mirror. 

The seats are extremely comfortable and wide, good for large people yet also accommodating for my five-foot-eight medium-build body type. With the driver’s seat set up for my long-legged, short-torso frame, meaning that it was pushed farther rearward than it would be with some other people of my stature, I still had no problem comfortably reaching the steering wheel when the column was extended as far back as possible, plus when walking around to the second row and climbing in directly behind the driver’s seat I found the rear passenger accommodations very spacious and comfortable. In fact, there was about 10 inches of nothing between my knees and the front seatback, plus more than enough room to move my head and shoulders around. 

2019 Subaru Ascent Premier
The third row is surprisingly roomy. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Even more amazing, with the middle row pushed as far back as possible I still had ample room in the third row. To be clear, my knees were touching the second-row seatbacks, so moving those seats forward a smidge would’ve made it easier to move around in the very back, but I had close to three inches over my head, meaning the third row could be used for average-sized adults, even when larger adults are sitting in the first two rows. 

As noted earlier, there’s a fair bit of room behind the rearmost seats for gear, this space about as large as a full-size sedan’s trunk, while below the load floor there’s another compartment for stowing what-have-you along with the retractable cargo cover when not in use. Folding the 60/40-split third row down is a little bit awkward, but it works well enough. First you’ll need to manually slide the headrests into the seatbacks, and then tug a strap on top of the seats before pushing the seats forward. To get them back up, just pull the longer strap that’s attached to the cargo floor/seatback. The second row folds down by first unlatching it, so you can slide it forward, and then unlatching a second release at which point you can slide them back if you want to match up each side. There’s certainly a lot of space for luggage or building materials, but the captain’s chairs don’t form a very flat loading surface. I’m guessing it would work better with the standard bench seat, so if you’re doing a lot of hauling you may want to purchase one of the Ascent’s lesser trims. 

2019 Subaru Ascent Premier
The Ascent is big on cargo room. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

As far as purchasing an Ascent at all, I think Subaru has done a very good job with its second-ever mid-size SUV. First, it looks like a Subaru, albeit on steroids, and should be attractive to those buying into this category, while its overall size and ability to haul plenty of passengers in comfort plus loads of cargo should appeal to all but those looking for a full-size utility. The Ascent’s fit and finish is quite good for the class, electronics very good, standard and optional features set impressive, performance and fuel economy compromise spot on, and overall feeling of quality more than up to par. Therefore if you like Subaru and you need to add space and utility to your mobility, the Ascent is well worth your time and attention.

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

2019 Subaru WRX Sport-tech RS Road Test

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

As you may have noticed, orange is all the rage as far as fashion colours go. This works well for me because I happen to like most mixtures of red and yellow, but sometimes a brand takes their pumpkin,…

2019 Subaru Forester Sport Road Test

2019 Subaru Forester Sport
Subaru has redesigned its popular Forester for 2019, and added this new orange-trimmed Sport model. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

As you may have noticed, orange is all the rage as far as fashion colours go. This works well for me because I happen to like most mixtures of red and yellow, but sometimes a brand takes their pumpkin, ochre, tangerine, or fire hue too far, resulting in a styling faux pas. 

It’s not the thick orange striping along the otherwise matte black lower exterior panels that puts me off the new 2019 Forester Sport, but rather the metallic orange dash vents and orange painted shifter surround that assault my senses. I wish they’d just left it at orange contrasting thread. 

This said the new fifth-generation Forester is a big step up over its predecessor, and while Sport trim wouldn’t be my first choice due to orange overload, they’ve got plenty of other trims and colour choices to pick from. What’s more, this new 2019 model has been thoroughly redesigned around the new Subaru Global Platform (SGP), which has resulted in greater refinement, capability and dynamic performance, plus more interior roominess. 

2019 Subaru Forester Sport
The new Forester is longer and roomier than the model it replaces. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

The new Forester is now 15 millimetres (0.6 inches) longer from front to back at 4,625 mm (182.1 inches), with 30 mm (1.2 inches) more wheelbase at 2,670 mm (105.1 inches), while it’s also 21 mm (0.8 inches) wider including its mirrors at 2,052 mm (80.8 inches), or 20 mm (0.8 inches) wider not including its mirrors at 1,815 mm (71.4 inches). Its front and rear track has widened too, now up 20 and 15 mm (0.8 and 0.6 inches) respectively to 1,565 and 1,570 mm (61.6 and 61.8 inches), which, along with the Forester’s other dimensional and mechanical changes has caused a one-metre (3.3-foot) larger curb to curb turning circle of 5.4 metres (17.7 feet). 

2019 Subaru Forester Sport
Along with the orange highlights, the Sport gets glossy black accents where chrome would otherwise brighten. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

Despite maintaining its minimum ground clearance at 220 mm (8.6 inches), the new Forester is actually 5 mm (0.2 inches) lower in height than its predecessor with its roof rails included at 1,730 mm (68.1 inches), while its base curb weight has increased by just 26 kilograms (57.3 lbs) at 1,569 kilos (3,459 lbs) when compared to the previous model with its optional CVT, which is now standard. Still, the fully loaded 2019 Forester Premier now weighs in at 1,630 kg (3,593 lbs), which actually makes this top-line model a surprising 56 kg (123.4 lbs) lighter than the ritziest version of the 2018 model in spite of its greater size. 

2019 Subaru Forester Sport
The Sport gets a glossy black version of the new Forester’s redesigned grille. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

Along with a more spacious passenger compartment that can really be felt when seated inside, the new Forester improves cargo capacity by 29 litres (1.0 cubic-foot) behind the 60/40 split-folding rear seatbacks in base trim, from 974 to 1,003 litres (34.4 to 35.4 cubic feet), and by 40 litres (1.4 cubic feet) in base trim when those seats are laid flat, from 2,115 to 2,155 litres (74.7 to 76.1 cubic feet). When the optional sunroof is added, which encroaches slightly on overhead space, the difference from old to new grows to 43 litres (1.5 cubic feet) behind the rear seatbacks, from 892 to 935 litres (31.5 to 33.0 cubic feet), and 68 litres (2.4 cubic feet) when those rear seats are lowered, from 1,940 to 2,008 litres (68.5 to 70.9 cubic feet). This is a significant improvement that can really make a difference when faced with a large load of gear. 

2019 Subaru Forester Sport
All 2019 Forester trims come standard with full LED headlamps. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

Back up front, the driver’s seat is quite comfortable and included two-way powered lumbar support that matched up well to the small of my back, while the driving position is excellent with plenty of rake and reach from the tilt and telescopic steering column. In Sport trim the steering wheel gets a nice leather-wrapped rim with orange stitching, its spokes filled with nicely organized controls that even include an “S#” mode for enhancing performance, or alternatively adaptive cruise control switchgear for a more relaxed highway driving experience. 

2019 Subaru Forester Sport
The Sport gets unique corner vents and a sharp looking set of dark metallic 18-inch alloy wheels. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

A whole host of Subaru EyeSight advanced driver assistance systems come standard with the Forester Sport and other top trim levels, these including pre-collision braking, pre-collision brake assist, pre-collision throttle management, lead vehicle start alert, lane departure warning, lane sway warning, lane keep assist, reverse automatic braking, and just noted adaptive cruise control. 

But I’m getting ahead of myself. The 2019 Forester starts at $27,995, which while $2,000 more than last year’s base model now includes standard LED headlamps, a stylishly advanced safety technology that previously required a move up to Limited trim in order to partake, and one that’s still optional with most of its rivals including the totally redesigned 2019 RAV4 and recently redesigned Honda CR-V—the Mazda CX-5 already comes standard with LED headlights, as does the refreshed 2019 Jeep Cherokee. The Forester’s include automatic on/off as well, so you won’t always have to remember to turn them on and off manually, this standard feature part of last year’s Convenience upgrade, while new standard automatic climate control gets pulled up from the 2018 model’s Touring trim. 

2019 Subaru Forester Sport
Black and orange highlights are everywhere on this sporty halloween special. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

Also positive, a new electromechanical parking brake replaces the old handbrake, freeing up space between the front seats and modernizing the driving experience, while auto vehicle hold now replaces the old hill holder system that previously only came with the manual transmission, the latter now discontinued as noted earlier. Now that Subaru’s Lineartronic continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT) is standard across the line, its impressive X-Mode off-road system with Hill Descent Control, and SI-Drive drive mode selector are now standard too. 

2019 Subaru Forester Sport
The taillight’s black strikethrough is normally finished in chrome. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

Together with the CVT and Subaru’s much praised Symmetrical full-time all-wheel drive system that remains standard, all 2019 Foresters get a new direct-injection enhanced 2.5-litre four-cylinder boxer engine that’s good for 182 horsepower and 176 lb-ft of torque, resulting in a 12-horsepower and 2-lb-ft gain over last year’s identically sized base engine. 

The upgraded drivetrain now includes an auto start/stop system that automatically shuts off the engine when it would otherwise be idling, helping reduce emissions while improving fuel economy, but my tester’s wasn’t without fault. In fact, it was by far the roughest idle-stop system I’ve ever experienced, jerking the steering wheel sideways and even jarring my arm once when doing so. To be clear it didn’t go into fits and spats every time it engaged, but rather shut off and started up smoothly more often than not. Nevertheless, once in awhile it was a demon possessed, so I think Subaru will want to sort it out. 

2019 Subaru Forester Sport
The new Forester presents a roomier and more refined interior than its predecessor. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

On the positive, the sometimes spastic auto start/stop system helped the 2019 Forester achieve 0.2 L/100km savings in combined city/highway driving despite the increase in performance, from 9.2 L/100km city, 7.4 highway and 8.4 combined in the old model to 9.0 city, 7.2 highway and 8.2 combined in the new one. 

This said, a major source of disappointment for the 2019 model isn’t with this improved base powertrain, but rather the discontinuation of Subaru’s wonderful 2.0-litre turbocharged engine upgrade that previously put out 250 horsepower and 258 lb-ft of torque yet still managed a relatively thrifty 10.2 L/100km city, 8.6 highway and 9.5 combined fuel economy rating. True, few vehicles in this class offer such a formidable optional engine, but it was nevertheless an important differentiator in a market segment that’s highly competitive. 

2019 Subaru Forester Sport
The new Sport gets orange interior highlights that might not be to everyone’s tastes. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

As it is, the 2019 Forester is more about comfort than speed. This philosophy certainly hasn’t hurt market leaders like the Honda CR-V or Toyota RAV4 in years past (although recent updates mean they’re both more formidable in a straight line than the Forester), but even with the aforementioned S# sport mode engaged, an exclusive Forester Sport feature that provides more immediate throttle response, there’s nary a hint of WRX in Subie’s little family hauler. Therefore, with performance now of secondary importance the focus is on efficiency, comfort and practicality, all of which are Forester strengths. 

2019 Subaru Forester Sport
The attractive gauge cluster features a large, colour trip computer at centre. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

We’ve covered efficiency, leaving us with a really smooth ride and even smoother Lineartronic CVT. It’s hard to knock a CVT in this type of vehicle. Its simple, reliable design and creamy power delivery is perfect for tooling around town, whirring down the highway, or trekking across a countryside gravel road, and when combined with the Forester’s fully independent front strut and double-wishbone rear suspension setup it’s comfortable over most any road surface. Handling is plenty capable too, and braking is strong, especially in Sport, Limited and Premier trims that come upgraded with 316 by 30 mm front discs. The new Forester is really a nicely balanced compact SUV.

2019 Subaru Forester Sport
A smartly sorted centre stack comes filled with functionality. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

Trims in mind, the 2019 Forester is now available in base 2.5i, Convenience, Touring, Sport, Limited and Premier grades. Along with everything already mentioned, the base model includes standard power-adjustable heated side mirrors, variable intermittent wipers, steering wheel controls, cruise control, filtered air conditioning, a backup camera with dynamic guidelines, Bluetooth with audio streaming, StarLink smartphone integration with Aha radio, HD and satellite radio, two USB ports/iPod interfaces, an aux input, heatable front seats, roof rails, the usual active and passive safety features including an airbag for the driver’s knees, plus more. 

2019 Subaru Forester Sport
This dash-top-mounted multi-information display, controlled via steering wheel switchgear, boasts wonderful graphics and useful features. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

Of note, the standard infotainment touchscreen is now 0.3 inches larger in diameter at 6.5 inches, and also features standard Apple CarPlay and Android Auto smartphone connectivity that wasn’t even optional before. 

Standard features are even more generous in second-rung Convenience trim, which for $30,295 includes everything from the base model plus fog lamps, a rear rooftop spoiler, 17-inch alloys replacing the standard 17-inch steel wheels with covers, a windshield wiper de-icer, silver finish interior accents, chrome interior door handles, a leather-wrapped steering wheel, paddle shifters, a colour TFT multi-information display within the gauge cluster, a 6.3-inch colour multi-function display atop the dash that’s controllable via steering wheel-mounted switchgear, two more stereo speakers for a total of six, dual-zone automatic climate control (the base model’s auto HVAC is single-zone), sunvisor extensions, illuminated vanity mirrors, premium cloth upholstery, a 10-way powered driver’s seat with lumbar support, a flip-down rear centre armrest with integrated cupholders, etcetera. 

2019 Subaru Forester Sport
The 8.0-inch touchscreen incorporates full-colour album artwork within the satellite radio interface. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

For $1,500 more you can add the EyeSight suite of advanced driver assistance systems noted earlier, an upgrade package that also includes proximity-sensing keyless access, pushbutton ignition, and a retractable cargo cover. 

Incidentally, EyeSight not only comes standard with my Sport tester, but it’s included as standard in all grades above the two lowest trims. This means the $32,995 Touring model gets EyeSight too, plus everything already mentioned as well as automatic high beam assist, a large power-sliding glass sunroof with a sunshade, and a powered tailgate with memory function. 

2019 Subaru Forester Sport
Just enough orange for you? Or does this Forester Sport model take the passionate colour a bit too far? (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

Above this, the as-tested Sport model, plus the Limited and Premier trims get a new two-mode X-Mode off-road system that’s capable of even greater go-anywhere prowess thanks to separate settings for snow and dirt, as well as deep snow and mud. Of course, I had to take it to my favourite local off-road play area for a little bushwhacking and it performed extremely well for this class. This said there aren’t many true 4x4s in the compact SUV segment anymore, leaving the new Forester’s off-road capability somewhere between the very capable Jeep Cherokee and everything else. 

2019 Subaru Forester Sport
These comfortable Forester Sport seats include stylish fabric inserts and attractive orange stitching. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

Back to features, the top three trims improve safety further via standard steering responsive headlights and Subaru’s Side/Rear Vehicle Detection (SRVD) system, while each model also includes a leather shift knob plus a new 8.0-inch touchscreen that adds an inch to the diameter of last year’s top-line infotainment display. Once again the interface includes Apple CarPlay and Android Auto where there wasn’t such advanced smartphone connectivity last year, while these upper trims also get dual rear USB ports for a new total of four, plus A/C ducts on the backside of the centre console, and reclining rear seats. 

2019 Subaru Forester Sport
That’s one big powered glass sunroof overhead. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

As mentioned earlier, all-new $34,995 Sport trim is the visual standout of the 2019 Forester lineup, whether that’s a positive or negative in your view. Along with all the orange it gets a unique gloss black grille, special front corner grilles, a larger rear spoiler, a blackened trim strip that runs across the rear liftgate before striking through the taillights, and a unique rear under-guard. The Sport also features exclusive dark metallic 18-inch alloys, while LED daytime running lights, vertically stacked LED fog lamps and LED turn signals integrated within the mirror caps add to its upmarket appeal. 

2019 Subaru Forester Sport
The second-row offers more legroom and comfortable, supportive seats. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

I should also make mention of $37,695 Limited trim despite this review being mostly about the Sport. The Limited eliminates the Sport’s performance upgrades yet keeps most of its convenience and luxury improvements, while adding unique 18-inch 10-spoke bright-finish machined alloy wheels, a premium grille, chrome detailing around the fog lamp bezels and side windows, auto-dimming side mirrors with approach lighting and reverse tilt (the latter item a Subaru first), an auto-dimming rearview mirror with an integrated compass, chrome trimmed primary gauges, a heatable steering wheel rim, GPS navigation, SiriusXM Traffic and Travel Link with weather, sports and stock market information, an eight-speaker, 440-watt Harman Kardon audio system with an eight-channel amplifier, leather upholstery in black or platinum, silver contrast stitching throughout, driver’s seat memory, heatable rear outboard seats, and one-touch folding rear seatbacks. 

2019 Subaru Forester Sport
Second-rung Convenience trim with the EyeSight upgrade adds this useful retractable cargo cover. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

Lastly, for just $1,800 more you can opt for $39,495 Premier trim, a new top-of-the-line model that pushes the Forester up into luxury SUV levels of style and refinement. Premier trim once again includes the vertical LED fog lamps from the Sport within unique satin-silver trimmed bezels, as well as special aluminum-look satin-silver trim on the front fascia, side mirror caps, roof rail posts, side sills, and rear bumper. Additionally, exclusive 18-inch five-spoke machined alloy wheels combine with chromed exterior door handles and a stainless steel rear bumper step pad to spiff up the look further. 

2019 Subaru Forester Sport
Lift up the cargo floor and you’ll find storage space, including a handy spot for stowing the cargo cover. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

Inside, the Forester Premier features exclusive brown leather upholstery that I really like, plus an eight-way power-adjustable front passenger seat, while Subaru’s brand new DriverFocus driver fatigue and distracted driving mitigation system uses facial recognition to detect drowsiness or distraction. 

By the way, all of the trim details and prices were verified at CarCostCanada, where you can also find dealer invoice pricing that could save you thousands when negotiating with your Subaru dealer, plus they have rebate information on any discounts that might be available to you. 

No matter the trim, all of the 2019 Forester’s features come in a cabin that boasts improved style, refinement and attention to detail, from additional soft-touch surfaces to some really nice dark satin metallic accents. Subaru even adds soft padded leatherette sides to the lower centre stack and console, the result being a wonderfully upscale look and feel. The geometric grey fabric used for the Sport’s door panel and seat upholstery is attractive, and I really like the orange contrast stitching throughout the interior. 

2019 Subaru Forester Sport
The new 2019 Forester provides more rear cargo space than in previous generations. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

The analogue gauge cluster is bright and easily legible, with a large, colourful albeit straightforward multi-information display at centre, the latter complemented by a much larger and more complex MID atop the centre dash, that’s fully functional and filled with great looking high-resolution graphics. It even includes a trio of default meters for water and oil temperatures, plus average speed. Likewise the upgraded infotainment system is the best ever offered in a Forester, with bright, attractive graphics including album artwork when using satellite radio, wonderful depths of contrast and colour, and excellent resolution quality. All of the aforementioned functions worked well too. 

2019 Subaru Forester Sport
The new one-size-fits-all 2.5-litre boxer engine might be a letdown for those that loved the old 2.0-litre turbo, but it’s a bonus for most Forester buyers. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

This last comment really sums up the entire 2019 Forester. The Sport may not be as fun to drive as last year’s top-line turbocharged model, but when compared to the previous base powertrain, which sold in much greater numbers, it’s a significant step forward, while the rest of this compact SUV is better in every way. This said it’s up against some formidable challengers, but Subaru’s faithful are as loyal as loyal can be, meaning that it should be able to hold onto most of its regular clientele while also growing its base. 

Early numbers show that it’s off to a good start, with December 2018 sales up 30 percent over the same month in 2017, while year-over-year sales are up 6 percent. Factoring in that Subaru sold the outgoing 2018 Forester for most of last year and it’s clear the new model is bolstering the bottom line, as it should be, so its onward and upward for this much improved model. Yes, the new Forester is easy to recommend, even in Sport trim, but make sure to keep a set of polarized sunglasses nearby for guarding against orange overwhelm.

We’ve got something mega in our garage this week, or at least the all-new 2019 Ascent is big for Subaru.  Having arrived here over the summer, the North American-exclusive, three-row, mid-size crossover…

2019 Subaru Ascent Premier

2019 Subaru Ascent Premier
The all-new Ascent is one very big Subaru, and this three-row crossover SUV is in our garage this week. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

We’ve got something mega in our garage this week, or at least the all-new 2019 Ascent is big for Subaru. 

Having arrived here over the summer, the North American-exclusive, three-row, mid-size crossover SUV is configured for eight occupants in standard trim and seven with optional second-row captain’s chairs, the latter setup being how Subaru’s communications team outfitted our tester. 

In case you weren’t aware, Subaru has been down the mid-size crossover SUV road before, and I’m not talking about the Outback that not only continues to outsell all tall wagon competitors, but is the best-selling of its kind in history. The model I’m referring to was the 2005 to 2014 Tribeca, which was nicely finished and very competent from a performance standpoint, yet suffered from frontal styling that wasn’t accepted by the masses and a third row that was cramped at best, whereas the new Ascent pulls design cues from Subaru’s highly successful current Forester and Outback, albeit with a larger grille and a longer, taller profile, while it’s anything but short on size. 

2019 Subaru Ascent Premier
Long enough for three rows of seats plus cargo, but can it fit adults in all positions? Check back soon to find out… (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

The Ascent measures 4,998 millimetres (196.8 inches) front to back with a 2,890-mm (113.8-inch) wheelbase, while it stands 1,819 mm (71.6 inches) tall including its standard roof rails. Additionally, it spans 2,176 mm (85.6 inches) wide with its side mirrors extracted, while its track measures 1,635 mm (64.4 inches) up front and 1,630 mm (64.2 inches) at the rear. 

2019 Subaru Ascent Premier
Good looking Ascent should appeal to long-time Subaru fans and newcomers alike. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

To put this into perspective, the new Ascent is 48 mm (1.9 inches) shorter than the mid-size three-row SUV category’s best-selling Ford Explorer, albeit with a 24-mm (0.9-inch) longer wheelbase, while some might also be surprised to find out the new Subaru is 42 mm (1.6 inches) taller than the big blue-oval utility. The only Explorer measurements to exceed the Ascent relate to width, which show Ford’s SUV a considerable 119 mm (4.7 inches) wider with 66 / 71 mm (2.6 / 2.8 inches) more front / rear track respectively. This said the Explorer is one of the mid-size segment’s largest SUVs. 

Comparing the new Ascent to other top-sellers shows that it’s longer, wider and taller than the Toyota Highlander and Kia Sorento, longer and taller than the Honda Pilot and Hyundai Santa Fe XL, wider and taller than the Nissan Pathfinder, merely wider than the Dodge Durango, and only taller than the Volkswagen Atlas. 

2019 Subaru Ascent Premier
Subaru has left its whacky grille designs in the past, allowing for a much more acceptable new 2019 Ascent. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

By the way, that was only a partial list of the Ascent’s three-row mid-size crossover SUV challengers, the full list (from best-selling to least during the first three quarters of 2018) including the Explorer, Sorento, Highlander, Atlas, Pilot, Durango, Pathfinder, Chevrolet Traverse, Santa Fe XL, Dodge Journey, GMC Acadia, Mazda CX-9, and Ford Flex. 

Of more importance than mere outward size is passenger volume and cargo space, which for the Ascent measure 4,347 litres (153.5 cubic feet) for the former and 2,449 litres (86.5 cu ft) for the latter when both rear rows are laid flat. That cargo number is just for the most basic of Ascent trims, by the way, which also measures 1,345 litres (47.5 cu ft) behind the 60/40-split second row and 504 litres (17.8 cu ft) behind the 60/40-split third row, while all other trims are half a litre less commodious at just 2,435 litres (86.0 cu ft) of gear behind the first row, 1,331 litres (47.0 cu ft) behind the second row, and 498 litres (17.6 cu ft) behind the third row. 

2019 Subaru Ascent Premier
Steering-responsive full low/high beam LED headlights with automatic high beam assist come standard in Limited and Premier trims. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

These figures compare well against key rivals, with Ascent passenger volume even exceeding the Explorer’s and its standard eight-occupant seating configuration a rarity in the class, while the big Subaru’s maximum cargo capacity is amongst the segment’s most accommodating too. Also important, rear passenger access is made easier due to rear doors that open to 75 degrees. 

Being a Subaru SUV the Ascent includes standard full-time Symmetrical AWD, which has proven to be one of the more capable available. Its initial advantage starts with more evenly balanced weight distribution thanks to a longitudinally-mounted engine and transmission, its competitors chassis architectures derived from FWD models housing transversely-mounted motors, while Subaru’s horizontally-opposed flat “boxer” engine allows for a lower centre of gravity. 

2019 Subaru Ascent Premier
The Ascent’s standard X-mode, hill descent control, and 220 mm of ground clearance aid in off-road use. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

Furthermore, Symmetrical AWD applies more torque to the wheels with the most grip, which is not only designed to enhance traction when taking off but to improve overall control at speed, so in theory the Ascent should be plenty capable no matter the road or trail surface it’s traveling over, while its standard X-mode off-road system, complete with hill descent control, and its generous 220 millimetres (8.66 inches) of ground clearance for overcoming obstacles, snow banks, etcetera, should make easy work of the rough stuff. We’ll let you know just how capable the Ascent is in our upcoming road test review, and of course give you a full report on its on-pavement driving dynamics too. 

2019 Subaru Ascent Premier
Premier trim means woodgrain trim, brown soft-touch surfaces and perforated leather, plus more. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

Power comes from a new turbocharged 2.4-litre four-cylinder engine, which as noted is once again a horizontally opposed design. It makes a healthy 260 horsepower and 277 lb-ft of torque, the latter maximized between 2,000 and 4,800 rpm. Subaru will likely use this engine as a replacement for its aging 3.6-litre H-6 in top-line Outback trims too, being that the new four-cylinder produces 4 more horsepower and 30 additional lb-ft of torque than the six. 

Of course, at 11.6 L/100km city and 9.0 highway for the new 2.4-litre four when used for in the Ascent, compared to 12.0 and 8.7 respectively for the larger displacement H-6 in the Outback, the smaller engine would be much more efficient in the Outback as well. Of note, both four and six cylinder engines use variations of Subaru’s High-torque Lineartronic CVT (Continuously Variable Transmission), considered to be one of the more efficient types of transmissions available and ideal for mid-size crossover SUV applications thanks to smooth, linear power delivery. 

2019 Subaru Ascent Premier
The Ascent Premier is hardly short on digital interfaces or features. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

With the Ascent, Subaru adds a standard set of steering wheel paddle shifters to improve driver engagement, along with an eight-speed manual mode featuring sportier driving characteristics and standard Active Torque Vectoring, first introduced on the WRX and WRX STI performance models, so expect us to report something positive about its driving dynamics when we deliver our full review. 

2019 Subaru Ascent Premier
These seats look comfortable, but you’d better come back for the full review to find out how well Subaru sorts out ergonomics. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

Likewise, expect some insight on the Japanese brand’s car-like ride and handling claim that comes from the Ascent’s use of the new Subaru Global Platform (SGP), which combines rigid yet lightweight unibody construction with a fully independent MacPherson strut front and double-wishbone rear suspension system, enhanced further by a stabilizer bar mounted directly to the body at the rear and electric rack and pinion steering up front. This all rolls on 18-inch silver five-spoke alloys on 245/60 all-seasons with the Ascent’s two lower trims and 20-inch machine-finished high-gloss split-spoke rims on 245/50 rubber for the two upper trims, my tester benefiting from the latter. 

2019 Subaru Ascent Premier
Touring trim adds a powered panoramic sunroof for an open, airy, light-filled cabin. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

On that note, the 2019 Ascent can be had in Convenience, Touring, Limited and Premier trims, with standard Convenience features not already mentioned including auto on/off halogen headlights, LED daytime running lights, roof rails, a 4.2-inch colour TFT multi-information display, three-zone automatic climate control, 6.5-inch touchscreen infotainment with Android Auto and Apple CarPlay smartphone connectivity, a rearview camera, six-speaker audio, satellite radio, three-way heated front seats, an eight-way power-adjustable driver’s seat, second-row USB ports, a total of 19 cup and bottle holders, and more for just $35,995 plus freight and fees. 

All 2019 Ascent trims also include standard Subaru EyeSight driver assist technologies that include adaptive cruise control with lead vehicle start assist, pre-collision braking, pre-collision brake assist, pre-collision throttle management, lane departure warning, lane sway warning, and lane keeping assist, while all the expected active and passive safety features come standard as well. 

2019 Subaru Ascent Premier
Enough second-row seating for you? Don’t worry, a standard 2nd-row bench seat provides seating for eight. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

For $40,995 in eight-passenger trim or $41,495 with second-row captain’s chairs, which reduces the total seat count to seven, Ascent Touring trim adds the Subaru Rear/Side Vehicle Detection (SRVD) system that includes blind spot detection, lane change assist, rear cross-traffic alert and reverse automatic braking, as well as unique machine-finished five-spoke 18-inch alloys, body-colour side mirrors with integrated LED turn signals and approach lighting, LED fog lamps, a sportier rear bumper cap with integrated tailpipe cutouts, proximity keyless access, pushbutton ignition, front door courtesy lights, chrome inner door handles, a Homelink garage door opener, a windshield wiper de-icer, auto-dimming rearview and side mirrors, a leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob, larger 8.0-inch touchscreen infotainment, premium cloth upholstery, a powered panoramic sunroof, magazine pockets on the front seatbacks, second-row climate controls, third-row reading lights, a rear cargo cover, a powered liftgate, a transmission oil cooler, trailer stability control, and pre-wiring for a trailer hitch that increases towing capacity to 2,270 kg (5,000 lbs). 

2019 Subaru Ascent Premier
The third row looks larger than the Tribeca’s, but can it fit adults comfortably and how does access measure up? (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

Limited trim, available for $46,495 in the eight-passenger layout and $46,995 in the seven-passenger configuration, adds the larger 20-inch alloys mentioned earlier, plus steering-responsive full low/high beam LED headlights with automatic high beam assist, black and ivory soft-touch interior surfaces, a heatable steering wheel, an upgraded gauge cluster with chrome bezels and light blue needles (in place of red), and a 6.3-inch colour multifunction display atop the dash that shows the time, temperature and dynamic features such as an inclinometer, while a navigation system with detailed mapping is included within the infotainment display, as is SiriusXM Traffic, whereas additional Limited features include a 14-speaker 792-watt Harman/Kardon audio system, a 10-way power-adjustable driver seat upgraded to include powered lumbar support and cushion length adjustment, driver’s seat and side-mirror memory, a four-way power-adjustable front passenger seat, leather upholstery, two-way heatable second-row outboard seats, integrated rear door sunshades, third-row USB ports, and more. 

2019 Subaru Ascent Premier
Rear cargo space looks good, but do the seats fold flat when lowered? Check out our upcoming review to find out… (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

Top-line Premier trim, which comes fully equipped at $49,995, even including standard captain’s chairs, adds an upgraded high-gloss black grille insert, satin-finish side mirror caps, chrome exterior door handles, rain-sensing wipers, ambient interior lighting, a front-view camera, a Smart Rearview Mirror with an integrated rear-view camera, woodgrain inlays, brown perforated leather upholstery, ventilated front seats, a 120-volt power outlet on the rear centre console, and more. 

All 2019 Subaru Ascent pricing was sourced from CarCostCanada, where you can also find detailed pricing on trims, packages and standalone options for every other new model sold in Canada, plus otherwise hard to get rebate information and dealer invoice pricing that could save you thousands. 

Our review will specifically focus on the Ascent Premier model we’re testing this week, and of course be more biased and experiential, covering our personal views on styling, interior fit, finish and materials quality, its features and how well they work, the SUV’s overall livability compared to others it competes against, how it drives on and off the road, plus more. So make sure to come back for our no holds barred 2019 Subaru Ascent Premier road test review…

It only seems like we reviewed the 2018 WRX yesterday and all of a sudden the 2019 version is back in our garage, while once again our tester is equipped with its standard six-speed manual gearbox and…

2019 Subaru WRX Sport-tech RS

2019 Subaru WRX STI Sport-tech
Subaru’s updated 2019 WRX doesn’t change anything in the way of styling from last year, unless by styling we’re talking about the graphics within its new infotainment touchscreen. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

It only seems like we reviewed the 2018 WRX yesterday and all of a sudden the 2019 version is back in our garage, while once again our tester is equipped with its standard six-speed manual gearbox and gussied up in near top-line Sport-tech RS trim. Subaru even doused its sheetmetal in the same World Rally Blue Pearl paint, a personal favourite for its vibrant hue as well as its historic motorsport pedigree.

Why a near identical WRX within a year? Because Subaru has changed up what is becoming one of the most important features in any new vehicle, its infotainment system. Most notable are completely new graphics that we think are much more attractive. They’re highlighted by colourful smartphone/tablet-style candy drop digital buttons on a night sky-like blue 3D background, while Apple CarPlay and Android Auto phone integration are now part of both base and top-tier systems. Our tester features the latter, the touchscreen still measuring 7.0 inches diagonally for a half-inch gain over the base display, and once again getting touch-sensitive quick access buttons down each side, which include Home, Map and Apps to the left and Info just above two sets of track seeking arrows on the right. Of course, we’ll go into more detail as part of the forthcoming road test review, but suffice to say it also includes near-field communication (NFC) for faster phone connectivity, a Micro SD card slot, HD radio, new glossy black topped audio knobs, navigation, a rearview camera with dynamic guidelines, and more.

2019 Subaru WRX STI Sport-tech
Last year’s styling updates made a great looking sport compact even more enticing. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

The rest of this WRX Sport-tech RS and its non-STI compatriots remain unchanged, which means it still features last year’s styling updates, chassis tweaks, and various refinements, not to mention its new safety features and single modified drivetrain component. What are we talking about?

Last year Subaru reworked the front grille and bumper design, as well as the interior door trim, while the driver received a revised electroluminescent primary gauge cluster with a high-resolution colour TFT centre display. The 5.9-inch colour multi-information dash-top display got a graphics redo too, and it’s stunning. Additionally, rear passengers received a fold-down centre armrest with integrated cupholders, while all occupants benefited from reduced interior noise, a retuned suspension, and a stronger battery.

2019 Subaru WRX STI Sport-tech
This is one mean looking air induction system. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

Styling specifics included a totally refreshed grille featuring new blackened borders and a black mesh insert, as well as a racing-spec-style multi-component lower front fascia with a matte black centre vent, not to mention larger reshaped matte black fog lamp bezels, while the entire package now rolls on an assortment of new dark alloy wheels depending on trim.

Base and Sport models were fitted with gunmetal grey-painted 15-spoke 17-inch alloys on 235/45 Dunlop SP Sport Maxx RT rubber, while as-tested Sport-tech trim received a larger set of twinned five-spoke 18-inch cast aluminum wheels on the same Dunlops measuring 245/40 front and rear, all of which carries over to 2019.

2019 Subaru WRX STI Sport-tech
Sport-tech trim gets these 18-inch dark gunmetal rims on 45/40 R18 97W Dunlop SP Sport Maxx RT rubber. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

Likewise the massive hood scoop, coke-bottle fenders with integrated engine vents bearing chromed “WRX” appliques, subtle rear deck lip spoiler, and race-inspired matte black rear diffuser with quad chromed tailpipes were pulled forward into 2018 intact, and remain the same this year.

2019 Subaru WRX STI Sport-tech
The low-profile spoiler is standard with Sport and Sport-tech trims. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

Also carryover, the non-STI WRX variants once again get Subaru’s 2.0-litre direct-injection twin-scroll turbocharged boxer four, making a considerable 268-horsepower and 258 lb-ft of torque. Of course the brand’s legendary Symmetrical-AWD comes standard, while connecting engine to driveline is a standard six-speed manual or optional Sport Lineartronic continuously variable transmission with steering wheel paddles, plus quick-shifting six- and eight-speed manual modes and Subaru Intelligent Drive (SI-DRIVE). Some will find it hard to accept the words WRX and CVT being used in the same sentence let alone within the same car, but after testing it in 2017 we were impressed. More important to WRX purists, the manual gearbox received a new shift lever along with improved shifter and clutch feel last year, so we’ll once again report on this in the upcoming review.

2019 Subaru WRX Sport-tech RS
Previous WRX STI interiors were all business, but Sport-tech trim adds a level of luxury never available before the 2018 refresh. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

The WRX is quite efficient despite its potent performance with a claimed rating of 12.6 L/100km in the city, 9.6 on the highway and 11.2 combined when mated to its standard manual gearbox, or 11.3 city, 8.5 highway and 10.0 combined with the CVT, these numbers unchanged from last year.

Straight-line performance is identical to the 2018 model too, with the manual still capable of 5.4 seconds from standstill to 100km/h, and the automatic good for 5.9 seconds, whereas the CVT actually beats the manual’s 232-km/h top speed by 8 km/h for a nice round total of 240.

2019 Subaru WRX STI Sport-tech
Subaru updated the WRX’ 5.9-inch dash-top multi-info display last year. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

Something WRX fans of all stripes will appreciate is no changes in pricing from 2018 to 2019, meaning the base WRX continues forward with an MSRP of just $29,995, while Sport trim is priced at $33,195 and the Sport-tech at $36,495, the latter available with the as-tested manual-only RS package that was new last year and once again pulled into 2019 for an extra $2,300. Alternatively, last year’s new $1,300 EyeSight upgrade remains solely available with the CVT, while that autobox adds $1,300 no matter which trim you choose it in. More powerful STI models excluded, the WRX Sport-tech with EyeSight is the most expensive WRX combination at $39,095 plus freight and fees, whereas my Sport-tech RS tester started at $38,795.

2019 Subaru WRX Sport-tech RS
Subaru has invested a lot into the WRX’ new infotainment touchscreen. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

Something WRX fans of all stripes will appreciate is no changes in pricing from 2018 to 2019, meaning the base WRX continues forward with an MSRP of just $29,995, while Sport trim is priced at $33,195 and the Sport-tech at $36,495, the latter available with the as-tested manual-only RS package that was new last year and once again pulled into 2019 for an extra $2,300. Alternatively, last year’s new $1,300 EyeSight upgrade remains solely available with the CVT, while that autobox adds $1,300 no matter which trim you choose it in. More powerful STI models excluded, the WRX Sport-tech with EyeSight was the most expensive WRX combination last year at $39,095 plus freight and fees, whereas my Sport-tech RS tester started at $38,795. 

2019 Subaru WRX Sport-tech RS
Automatic climate control is alway appreciated. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

Second-most expensive? Yes, for 2019 Subaru has combined some of the STI’s styling features with regular WRX running gear in a new $40,995 雷雨 Raiu Edition that only comes in an exclusive Cool Grey Khaki colour. Its just noted STI-style exterior detailing includes a sharper front lip spoiler, extended side skirts and a large wing spoiler, plus 19-inch alloys framing the STI’s yellow-painted Brembo six-pot front and two-pot rear brake calipers over ventilated and cross-drilled rotors. Additional 雷雨 Raiu Edition features include the Subaru Rear/Side Vehicle Detection System (SRVD) featuring blindspot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert and lane change assist, a powered moonroof, a 10-way powered driver’s seat including powered lumbar support, and red seatbelts throughout.

2019 Subaru WRX Sport-tech RS
Subaru refined the WRX’ six-speed manual last year. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

Incidentally, we sourced all trim, package and option pricing at CarCostCanada, where you’ll also find information about available rebates and otherwise hard to find dealer invoice pricing that could save you thousands.

Last year I posed the WRX Sport-tech with EyeSight as the safest compact in its class, and I still feel the same thanks to its superb handling that allows for near unparalleled accident avoidance no matter the road or trail surface condition, this of course aided by its aforementioned all-wheel drivetrain with active torque vectoring, while it also gets multi-mode vehicle dynamics control, plus a full slate of standard active and passive safety features. For Subie fans that are more safety- and convenience-oriented than purely out for performance, the just noted EyeSight package adds automatic high beams, adaptive cruise control, lead vehicle start alert, pre-collision braking, pre-collision brake assist, pre-collision throttle management, reverse automatic braking, lane departure warning, lane sway warning, and lane keeping assist. So equipped the WRX earns a best-possible IIHS Top Safety Pick Plus rating.

2019 S2019 Subaru WRX Sport-tech RS ubaru WRX STI Sport-tech
These luxuriously upholstered Recaro sport seats feature leather and microsuede. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

As for the WRX Sport-tech RS on this page, uprated Jurid brake pads clamp down on a standard set of 316 mm front and 286 mm rear rotors via red brake calipers, while the interior gets luxurious black and red partial-leather/ultrasuede upholstery, the driver’s perch downgraded from 10-way power to just eight adjustments due to much more inherently supportive Recaro sport seats.

Additionally, my tester’s Sport-tech trim added proximity-sensing keyless access with pushbutton ignition, the larger 7.0-inch touchscreen filled with updated system graphics noted earlier, Subaru’s StarLink app, additional apps such as Yelp, Best Parking, Glympse, plus SiriusXM Traffic and Travel Link with weather, sports and stock market info, as well as a 320-watt nine-speaker Harman/Kardon audio system with two USB ports.

2019 Subaru WRX Sport-tech RS
Seating for three in the back seats has always made the WRX a particularly practical sports car. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

Features pulled up from Sport trim include wiper-integrated automatic LED headlights with new steering-responsive cornering, LED fog lamps, LED turn signals integrated into the side mirror caps, welcome lighting, a rear deck lid spoiler, a 10-way powered driver’s seat, a powered glass sunroof, and the aforementioned SRVD blindspot safety upgrade.

Lastly, features pulled up to Sport-tech trim from the base model include a quad-tipped high-performance exhaust system, integrated roof rack brackets, a windshield wiper de-icer, a leather-wrapped and red-stitched multifunction flat-bottom sport steering wheel, single-zone automatic climate control, heatable front seats, StarLink smartphone integration (including Aha radio), a backup camera, AM/FM/CD/MP3/WMA radio, satellite radio, Bluetooth phone connectivity with audio streaming, aux and USB ports, voice activation, and more.

We’ll be deep diving into the upgraded 7.0-inch infotainment system in our upcoming review, as this is the big change for 2019, while of course you’ll get all of the seat-of-the-pants action too. Until then, enjoy our full photo set above…