Toyota may have said sayonara to its Scion line a few years ago, but the youth-oriented brand’s spirit continues to live on in cars like the impressive new Corolla Hatchback. The Corolla Hatchback takes…

2019 Toyota Corolla Hatchback XSE Road Test

2019 Toyota Corolla Hatchback XSE
As good as the old Corolla iM was, the new Toyota Corolla Hatchback makes us almost forget about it completely. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

Toyota may have said sayonara to its Scion line a few years ago, but the youth-oriented brand’s spirit continues to live on in cars like the impressive new Corolla Hatchback.

The Corolla Hatchback takes over from the Corolla iM, which was previously the Scion iM, one of the industry’s best compact five-door hatchbacks from model years 2016 through 2018. It was finished to a higher level than most rivals, partly because it was actually a rebadged second-generation Auris from Europe, where they generally finish cars to higher levels than we get here. In Australasian markets this model was long dubbed Corolla Hatchback, so it only made sense to adopt the simpler, more familiar name when this new model arrived on North American shores for 2019.

While this five-door Corolla isn’t as popular as its four-door sibling, you may recognize the redesigned Hatchback’s snazzy new LED headlight-enhanced face now that the 2020 Corolla sedan is starting to show up everywhere. Both new models are high on style and big on substance, and while they’re not going to give the mighty Honda Civic a run for its money, the Corolla line will once again finish 2019 well ahead of every other compact competitor.

2019 Toyota Corolla Hatchback XSE
The Corolla Hatchback offers up a really sporty profile. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

No matter the angle, the new Corolla Hatchback looks good, something I can’t say for Honda’s five-door rival. While the Toyota has plenty of sharp angles in keeping with today’s styling preferences, its basic shape is organically flowing, something I’ll hazard to guess will stand the test of time more easily. No doubt outward design influences the Corolla’s high resale value, its second-place standing in the 2019 Canadian Black Book’s Best Retained Value Awards only beaten in the compact car class by Toyota’s own Prius, although this impressive result will also be due to the Corolla Hatchback’s superb value proposition, Vincentric having also honoured the car with its 2019 Best Value In Canada Award in the Compact Hatchback category.

2019 Toyota Corolla Hatchback XSE
Looking fabulous from all angles, the Corolla Hatchback is best in top-line XSE trim. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

A quick visit to CarCostCanada (where you can also find the latest rebate info and dealer invoice pricing that could save you thousands, plus factory leasing and financing rates that started from 0.49 percent at the time of writing) will show 2019 Corolla Hatchback pricing starting at just $20,980 plus freight and fees, which is actually $1,770 less than the old 2018 Corolla iM mentioned earlier, and believe me the redesigned model is a much better car.

Its standard auto on/off headlamps are full LEDs, compared to halogen projectors in the outgoing model, while the new taillights continue with standard LEDs. The old car’s remote entry has been upgraded with standard proximity-sensing keyless access plus pushbutton ignition, this not even available before, its classic handbrake replaced by an electric parking brake, while the compact Toyota’s advanced driver assistive systems have been upgraded from just including auto-dimming high beams, autonomous emergency braking, and lane departure alert, to now featuring frontal pedestrian and bicycle detection, lane and road departure steering assist, plus adaptive cruise control.

2019 Toyota Corolla Hatchback XSE
The Corolla’s new standard full LED headlights look sensational and provide ultra-bright light with auto-dimming high beams. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

Items like LED daytime running lights, LED turn signals integrated within the side mirror housings, a rear spoiler, fabric-wrapped A-pillars (another sign this car comes out of Toyota’s European division), piano black lacquer and metallic interior accents, a tilt and telescopic multifunction steering wheel, a 4.2-inch colour TFT multi-information display, variable intermittent wipers, an intermittent rear wiper, power windows with auto up/down all around, and cloth sport seats continue forward, as does a touchscreen infotainment system atop the centre stack with a backup camera, Bluetooth phone connectivity and audio streaming, voice recognition, and six-speaker AM/FM/USB/AUX audio, but the new 8.0-inch centre display is now a full inch larger than its predecessor and features Apple CarPlay and Android Auto smartphone integration plus Toyota’s proprietary Entune system that also comes with Entune App Suite Connect featuring traffic, weather, sports, stocks, a fuel station locator, Slacker, Yelp, and NPR One, making the new Corolla Hatchback much more modern.

2019 Toyota Corolla Hatchback XSE
These sharp looking 18-inch alloys are available with the SE Upgrade package. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

That said the old iM’s standard 17-inch alloys are now replaced with a comparatively rudimentary set of 15-inch steel rims with covers in base trim, while its leather-wrapped steering wheel rim and shift knob is now urethane, dual-zone auto climate control system now single-zone, albeit still automatic, heated front seats now optional, and the list goes on, all of these reminders that Scion (and the Corolla iM that followed) was mostly a single-trim, no options, one-size-fits-all brand, which meant its cars were always nicely equipped in “base” trim, albeit with entry-level pricing that was often a bit higher than some rivals, and there was no opportunity to add higher end features, such as larger wheels, fog lamps, upgraded instrumentation, navigation, leather upholstery, heated rear seats, etcetera.

This is not a problem for the new Corolla Hatchback, as is immediately noticeable from its front fog lamps and stunning machine-finish 18-inch alloy wheels with black painted pockets. These come standard in my tester’s top-line XSE trim, but before I delve into its details I should take you on a short tour through some of the 2019 Corolla Hatchback’s other trim packages.

2019 Toyota Corolla Hatchback XSE
LED taillights are standard, just like they were with the old Corolla iM. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

For instance, a reasonable $1,000 replaces the rev-matching six-speed manual gearbox with a Direct-Shift continuously variable transmission (CVT) featuring sequential shift mode, while its completely automated shifting also allows for an automatic upgrade to full-speed adaptive cruise control and lane tracing assist.

Both manual and CVT models can be had with one of three packages above base, including the $1,600 SE, $3,000 SE Upgrade, and the as-tested $6,000 XSE. The SE, which pushes the Corolla Hatchback’s price up to $22,580 for the manual or $23,160 with the CVT, adds 16-inch alloy wheels, some additional chrome exterior trim, a leather-wrapped steering wheel rim, a power-adjustable driver’s seat with two-way powered lumbar support, heatable front seats, a theft deterrent system, and steering wheel-mounted paddle shifters with the CVT, while the SE Upgrade package, increasing the price to $23,980 for the manual or $24,160 with the CVT, provides some heat for that steering wheel, plus adds convenient wireless device charging, blindspot monitoring, and those 18-inch alloys noted a moment ago.

2019 Toyota Corolla Hatchback XSE
The new Corolla Hatchback’s interior is much more modern than the iM’s, and just as well made. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

As for my tester’s XSE trim that starts at $26,980 with the manual and $27,980 for the CVT, and I’ve got to point out how fabulous it is that Toyota combines its sportiest, highest end trim with its most performance-oriented gearbox, it includes the LED fog lights mentioned before, a 7.0-inch TFT digital driver’s display, plus special Sport fabric upholstery with leatherette trim, dual-zone auto HVAC, Entune 3.0 Premium Audio that adds embedded navigation/route guidance to the centre touchscreen (with automatic map updates for three years), plus traffic and weather info, Entune Destination Assist (with a six-month subscription), Entune Safety Connect featuring automatic collision notification, a stolen vehicle locator, an emergency assistance (SOS) button, and enhanced roadside assistance, plus satellite radio.

2019 Toyota Corolla Hatchback XSE
The layout is excellent and seating position very good. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

A few dealer-added accessories worth getting include a dash camera for $650, a cargo liner for $155, a cargo net for $80, and doorsill plates for $250, while the Corolla Hatchback’s exterior can be dressed up with an ultra-sporty extended rear rooftop spoiler for $535.

The Corolla Hatchback’s cabin is as attractive and nicely put together as the car’s exterior, with plenty of soft-touch composites covering the dash top, the inside portion of the lower console, the front door uppers, plus the armrests side and centre. The mostly black interior motif gets highlighted by cream/grey-coloured contrast stitching in key areas, while the aforementioned sport seats feature the same thread along with a unique two-tone colour treatment thanks to a lighter grey used for their fabric inserts. The seats’ two-way warmers heat up quickly, and can be set to do so automatically each time the car is restarted, as can the heatable steering wheel that makes better equipped Corolla Hatchbacks a lot more pleasurable to live with year round.

2019 Toyota Corolla Hatchback XSE
Bright and colourful, gauge cluster visibility won’t be a problem. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

The contrast stitching doesn’t transfer over that steering wheel, but its meaty, nicely shaped sport rim feels good in the hands no matter the temperature, and the telescoping steering column provides a lot more reach than the iM’s did, allowing me to set up the driver’s seat more ideally for my long-legged, short torso body. Comfort in mind, the two-way powered lumbar support did a reasonably good job of applying pressure to the small of my back, although slightly lower would’ve been better.

Set up and ready to go, the upper half of the sport steering wheel frames a brightly lit primary instrument cluster featuring the usual array of tachometer, speedometer, fuel and temperature gauges, with the first one set up in a semicircle to the very left, the second dominating the middle position, and the latter two combined in another semicircle to the right. At the centre of the arching speedometer is the multi-info display, providing the usual types of functions a driver might need, from trip information to fuel economy, phone info to cruise control details, etcetera, all accessible via a really nice set of steering wheel controls.

2019 Toyota Corolla Hatchback XSE
The infotainment and HVAC interfaces are very well organized and easy to reach. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

The big centre display hovers above the dash like a fixed tablet, and features quick-access buttons down both sides, plus rotating power/volume and tune/scroll knobs at the bottom of each row. The touchscreen responds to tap, swipe and pinch gesture inputs quickly, this especially useful for the navigation system’s map, while screen resolution is good, aiding the clarity of the backup camera, the colours are attractive with reasonably deep contrast, and the graphics are more functionally straightforward than outright good looking. In other words, Toyota’s Entune interface looks as if a team of engineers designed it rather than a graphic artist, but it certainly works well.

2019 Toyota Corolla Hatchback XSE
The map graphics are good and route guidance accurate. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

Another carryover feature from Corolla iM to Hatchback is the independent multi-link rear suspension (IRS), something now also provided by the 2020 Corolla sedan, albeit for the first time. The two new Corollas ride on the completely different Toyota New Global Architecture (TNGA) platform architecture, so it’s not exactly the same IRS, but it nevertheless improves the Corolla’s ride and handling more than if set up with this segment’s usual torsion beam rear suspension design, while the new TNGA platform increases torsional rigidity by 60 percent, again aiding handling while also making the body and all occupants safer from impact.

The stiffer construction can certainly be felt on the road, more structural strength allowing for greater compliance from the suspension and therefore the better ride quality just noted, while the IRS also prevents secondary jarring from the rear when pushing it a bit harder over bumpy roads. This kept my tester’s 225/40R18 Bridgestones in better contact with the road below, and the more often a tire’s contact patch is touching pavement the more chance it has of making a given corner, the Corolla Hatchback much more stable through fast-paced curves than some of its peers that don’t yet offer such sophisticated rear suspension setups.

2019 Toyota Corolla Hatchback XSE
We like that Toyota provides a wireless charger further down the trim lines. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

I honestly had no complaints about the old Corolla iM’s 16-valve, DOHC, 1.8-litre four-cylinder that put out just 137 horsepower and 126 lb-ft of torque, as it was a free-revving engine that was plenty of fun to row through the gears, although the six-speed manual was more fun to play with than the easier-to-live-with CVT-S automatic, the “S” referring to Sport. Every aspect of new Corolla Hatchback’s drivetrain is a great deal more enthusiastic, however, so I’m not lamenting the loss of the iM one whit, its direct-injection 2.0-litre four-cylinder making 168 horsepower and 151 lb-ft of torque, which is 31 horsepower and 25 lb-ft of torque more than the iM, and therefore more than enough to offset the new Hatchback’s 118-kg (260-lb) gain in curb weight, to 1,388 kg (3,060 lbs).

Of course, nothing increases output better than cubic centimetres, and 200 is roughly 10 percent of added displacement, but Toyota replaces its old Valvematic system with much more sophisticated VVT-iE (Variable Valve Timing – intelligent by Electric motor), a Lexus development now trickling down to Toyota’s offerings. Basically it’s the same dual VVT-i system used in other applications, albeit with an electrically operated actuator adjusting and maintaining intake of the camshaft timing. Exhaust camshaft timing remains controlled via a hydraulic actuator. In other words, the new engine is much stronger and maintains its energy over a wider rev range.

2019 Toyota Corolla Hatchback XSE
These two-tone sport seats are very comfortable. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

As for the upgraded continuously variable transmission, usually the Achilles heel of any car attempting to be sporty, the old iM’s was good and the new Corolla Hatchback’s is ruddy brilliant. Truly, this is one of the best CVTs I’ve ever tested, with really quick, snappy shift increments when in Sport mode. What’s more, Toyota’s Direct-Shift CVT includes a whopping 10 gear ratios, which is more than any other I’ve experienced. Of course, they’re pseudo gears, but they nevertheless feel very realistic and are plenty of fun to actuate via the paddles noted earlier. Left to its own devices it’s a smooth, linear shifting CVT that most should appreciate, while it really helps to lower fuel economy.

Despite all the extra engine output and added mass noted a moment ago, the new Corolla Hatchback more than edges the old Corolla iM out when it comes to fuel economy, the new model’s claimed 7.5 L/100km city, 5.8 highway and 6.7 combined rating much thriftier than the iM’s 8.3 city, 6.5 highway and 7.5 combined rating. The new car’s manual is better on fuel too, with a rating of 8.4 L/100km in the city, 6.3 on the highway and 7.5 combined, compared to 8.8 city, 6.8 highway and 7.9 combined for the old model.

2019 Toyota Corolla Hatchback XSE
The rear seating area is comfortable, but surprisingly smaller than its predecessor’s. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

I love it when automakers provide us with a “have your cake and eat it too” experience, and for the most part that pretty well sums up this car. It’s faster and more fun to drive yet saves money at the pump, and improves most every other aspect of car ownership too, but nevertheless all that mass noted earlier, which was partially acquired by making the Corolla Hatchback 100 millimetres (3.9 inches) longer than its predecessor with a 40-mm (1.6-in) longer wheelbase, plus 30 mm (1.2 in) wider, albeit a slight 25 mm (1.0 in) lower to the ground, doesn’t add up to inches inside. In fact, while front legroom, rear headroom and rear shoulder room have been increased fractionally by 7 mm (0.3 in), 2 mm (0.1 in) and 10 mm (0.4 in) respectively, front headroom is less accommodating by 33 mm (1.3 in), front shoulder room is narrower by 10 mm (0.4 in), and rear legroom is shorter by 71 mm (2.8 in), while the dedicated cargo compartment is 14 percent smaller, shrinking from 588 litres (20.8 cubic feet) to just 504 litres (17.8 cubic feet).

2019 Toyota Corolla Hatchback XSE
Like the rear seating compartment, the cargo area is smaller than in the iM, but should still be functional enough for most peoples’ needs. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

Nevertheless, I found it roomy enough and comfortable in all outboard positions, although take into consideration that I might be long-legged but only measure five-foot-eight on a particularly elevated day, so taller folk may feel more confined. Like the iM, the Corolla Hatchback’s cargo area gets a removable carpeted load floor with a compact spare and tiny bit of stowage space below, while 60/40 split-folding rear seatbacks can be laid flat to expand its cargo capacity, although Toyota makes the size of the Hatchback’s maximum gear-hauling capability a secret, just as it did with its predecessor.

I can’t for the life of me comprehend how an automaker makes a car larger in almost every respect, yet loses interior room, unless they’ve taken a car that had already some of the highest safety accreditation it could have and made it better, and to its credit the new model achieves best-possible “Good” ratings in all IIHS categories, except for “Crash avoidance & mitigation” in which the headlights merely achieve “Acceptable” or “Marginal” ratings depending on trim or option, although it should be noted this is a U.S. agency and the U.S.-spec Corolla Hatchback isn’t identical to ours. The Corolla Hatchback actually gets a rare “G+” rating for its child seat “LATCH ease of use,” while the NHTSA gives it a 5 star safety rating.

I give the new Corolla Hatchback four stars for being a superb little compact hatch that’s big on style, build quality, features and performance, yet a bit smaller than expected on interior roominess. This said it should be high on your list if you’re considering a compact hatchback.

Beauty is truly in the eye of the beholder, and to many a luxury car buyer it seems desire grows commensurately with the size of its grille. Enter the 2019 Avalon, which incidentally is identical to the…

2019 Toyota Avalon XSE Road Test

2019 Toyota Avalon XSE
Toyota has redesigned its full-size Avalon with an edgier new look. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

Beauty is truly in the eye of the beholder, and to many a luxury car buyer it seems desire grows commensurately with the size of its grille. Enter the 2019 Avalon, which incidentally is identical to the upcoming 2020 model, a car that’s gone from having one of the larger front grilles in the industry to now leaving very little room for anything but the grille.

The frontal aperture looks larger in as-tested base XSE trim due to a gloss-black surround instead of the top-line Limited trim’s chrome, while the deeper, inkier, glossy mesh grille inserts appear more menacing than the loftier model’s horizontal ribs. Toyota further emphasizes the XSE’s sporting nature with black side mirror housings and a black rear deck lid spoiler, small in size yet quite noticeable when the car is doused in a lighter paint finish than my tester’s lovely Brownstone metallic.

2019 Toyota Avalon XSE
A completely new rear end redesign adds a sharply angled new body-wide LED taillight. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

Even the XSE’s LED headlamps look more piercing than the Limited’s upgraded triple-beam LEDs, while its once graceful taillights have given way to a single body-wide LED infusion hovering over a thick black diffuser-style lower bumper cap bookended by a quad of circular chrome tailpipes with the XSE or two large rectangular chromed tips for the Limited. Likewise the XSE’s machine-finished 10-spoke 19-inch alloys with black-painted pockets are decidedly more aggressive looking than the upscale Limited’s shiny silver multi-spoke 18-inch rims.

With the 2019 refresh one thing is for sure, Toyota isn’t willing to idly stand by watching ever-increasing SUV popularity destroy their beloved full-size flagship luxury sedan without a fight. The new Avalon now begs to get noticed, which shows a significant turnaround from the model’s formative years when it was more content living life in the shadows.

2019 Toyota Avalon XSE
Darker colours make the Avalon’s massive new grille appear a bit smaller, but in reality it couldn’t get much bigger. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

My favourite Avalon was the 2005–2012 fourth-generation model, a truly elegant car that provided much better performance than its classy styling promised. While hardly a sport sedan, the Av has continued to improve over the years, with this fifth-gen model, particularly in base XSE trim, its most dynamic yet.

To be clear, the XSE is only base in Canada. South of the border, where Avalon sales are more than 100 times greater (Americans bought 22,453 Avalons during the first nine months of 2019, compared to just 212 over the same three quarters in Canada, despite the US only having 10 times the population), it’s offered in XLE, XLE Hybrid, XSE, Touring, Limited and Limited Hybrid trims. As anyone shopping for an Avalon knows, the hybrid isn’t offered here, Toyota having long provided this fuel-friendly alternative in Lexus’ ES line instead. The two full-size luxury sedans share all subsurface components, by the way, and thanks to even stronger sales under its premium brand (in Canada too, where the ES is only outsold 35 to 1, with 37,896 US deliveries compared to 1,081 in Canada), the Avalon continues to exist north of the 49th.

2019 Toyota Avalon XSE
These standard LED headlights aren’t as upscale as the Limited model’s triple-beam LEDs. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

The numbers above attest that you, dear reader, either digest all things automotive or, if considering purchasing, have very unique taste. Yes, the Av certainly has exclusivity going for it, an appeal that isn’t wholly price related, in that you’ll likely never see one of these pull up next to you at a stoplight, or show up in your neighbour’s driveway, unless he or she happened to like yours so much they went out and bought one of their own.

This is more likely to happen with the new generation, as it will no doubt get noticed, but the overwhelming trend is downward in this full-size volume-branded sedan category. Even the mighty Dodge Charger and Chrysler 300 pairing that saw 4,704 collective sales over the same nine months had to accept this comparatively large number was the result of a significant downward slide of 14.15 and 39.31 percent respectively, while GM’s Chevrolet Impala and Buick LaCrosse managed 2,075 total deliveries during this period for respective 16.96 and 15.13 percent downturns, which no doubt only added internal support for their upcoming discontinuation. The 710 sales of Nissan’s Maxima and mere 7.07 percent year-over-year shrinkage is downright impressive next to Toyota’s aforementioned 212 Avalon delivery total, the latter a 17.19-percent reduction, whereas all must look positively meteoric from Kia’s standpoint, its Cadenza finding just 19 buyers since January for the segment’s worst 54.76 percent YoY plunge. Shockingly Kia hasn’t cancelled the Cadenza for Canada, but in fact will introduce a totally redesigned one for 2020.

2019 Toyota Avalon XSE
Gorgeous 19-inch machine-finish alloys come standard with the Avalon XSE. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

Bravery should be rewarded, whether by manufacturer or consumer, and to the latter end buyers in this class do end up getting a lot of luxury car for their money. The $42,790 base Avalon XSE’s list of standard features includes the aforementioned LED headlamps and LED taillights, plus 235/40R19 all-season tires, proximity-sensing keyless entry, pushbutton ignition, a powered tilt and telescopic steering column, a leather-wrapped multifunction steering wheel, a 7.0-inch multi-information display, a 9.0-inch infotainment touchscreen with Entune and Apple CarPlay smartphone integration (but no Android Auto), SMS/text- and email-to-speech functions, advanced voice recognition, eight-speaker audio with satellite radio, Bluetooth streaming audio, a wireless smartphone charger, four USB charging ports, a powered moonroof, an eight-way powered driver’s seat, a six-way powered front passenger’s seat, Toyota’s Softex breathable leatherette upholstery, heatable front seats, an auto-dimming rearview mirror, a universal garage door opener, dual-zone automatic climate control, and more.

2019 Toyota Avalon XSE
The Avalon has gone from elegant to edgy. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

Entune Safety Connect is also standard, providing automatic collision notification, a stolen vehicle locator, an emergency assistance (SOS) button, and enhanced roadside assistive, while standard advanced driver assistive and safety systems include automatic high beams, adaptive cruise control, autonomous emergency braking with pedestrian detection, lane departure alert with steering assist, blind spot monitoring and rear cross-traffic alert, plus all the expected active and passive safety features including two airbags for front occupant knees, plus more.

The multi-information display just mentioned sits in the middle of a mostly analogue instrument cluster, which is nothing new, but I like that it does more than just provide the usual trip information. For instance, it also provides route guidance instructions right where you need them, while the big touchscreen atop the new centre stack might lack in the way of colour and therefore doesn’t make enough use of its high-resolution capability, but it does incorporate Toyota’s new Entune smartphone integration, which I like a lot better than Android Auto. The system lets you connect to functions, music and info like traffic conditions, fuel stations, weather forecasts, stocks and more via a variety of apps including Scout GPS, Yelp, Slacker, NPR One and more through your smartphone.

2019 Toyota Avalon XSE
The Avalon’s interior is mostly excellent. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

Those wanting more can opt for $47,790 Limited trim, which adds 235/45R18 all-season tires, the previously noted triple-beam LED headlamps, a more complex set of LED taillights, ambient interior lighting, a 10-inch colour head-up display with customizable settings, a heatable steering wheel rim, four-way powered driver’s lumbar support, driver’s memory, semi-aniline leather upholstery, ventilated front seats, heated rear outboard seats, a 360-degree surround bird’s-eye view parking monitor, navigation, a 14-speaker 1,200-watt JBL Clari-Fi surround sound audio system, Connected Services by Toyota Premium Audio, a three-year subscription to Scout GPS Link, intelligent clearance sonar (front parking sensors), automatic rear cross-traffic braking, and more.

2019 Toyota Avalon XSE
Impressive new cockpit thoroughly modernizes the new Av. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

All these features are great, but honestly some should be part of the base package. The Avalon XSE is hardly cheap at almost $43k, so why does Toyota force its very small number of interested buyers to buck up another five grand just to get a heated steering wheel? Sure, plenty of other features come with this trim too, but a warm steering wheel rim should be a prerequisite for designating the word “luxury” on any car attempting to lure in Canadian buyers. After all, our winters have been getting colder, not warmer as our news media wants us to believe (February 2019 was the coldest ever in Vancouver). Making matters worse, the Av on this page was the only car I tested in weeks without a toasty steering wheel, the others being an off-road specialty 4×4 pickup truck and a small luxury-branded car. Toyota is normally quite slow in adopting trending features, the latest Camry not offering one at all. This deficit was made worse while writing a review of a 2019 Kia Forte during the same week, which included a heated steering wheel in its most basic $16,000 model. Fortunately Toyota is starting to figure out that it’s been losing sales to upstarts like Kia, and now offers an optional heated steering wheel in the new 2020 Corolla, and will do likewise for the Camry in 2020.

2019 Toyota Avalon XSE
A large colour multi-info display sits in the middle of nice, bright, backlit analogue gauges. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

The Avalon’s interior refinement is quite good above the waist, meaning that soft, pliable composites are used across the entire dash top and both front and rear door uppers, while a softer padded and stitched surface treatment gets added along the middle portion of instrument panel, just below a beautifully textured metal-like inlay and really attractive three-dimensional metallic and black horizontal section that melds into the corner vents. The bottom half of the dash, including the glove box lid, is made from a harder plastic, as are the lower door panels, but the doors’ middle sections, below the premium-like uppers, are comprised of soft-touch synthetics, ultrasuede and stitched leatherette.

2019 Toyota Avalon XSE
The centre stack design is brilliantly executed, and wonderfully functional. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

The centre stack is mostly made up of black, glossy, glass-like surfacing, the upper section blending seamlessly into the main infotainment touchscreen, and the bottom portion housing a digital readout plus controls for the HVAC system. This doesn’t come across as upscale as the previous Avalon’s metal-finished centre stack surface treatment, the latter model’s tiny hollowed-out hockey stick-shaped switchgear absolutely stunning, albeit the new design modernizes the look and is certainly easier to use. The top portion of the centre stack appears to hover in the air, thanks to buttresses that allow access to a large wireless phone charge pad sitting below a padded retractable bin lid. The rest of the lower console is finished in stitched and padded leatherette, and is nicely detailed with satin-silver trim around the gear selector and cupholders, while this aluminized trim completely surrounds the console and centre stack as well, plus the steering wheel, much of the switchgear, and other highlights elsewhere. It’s a very attractive cabin that does a decent job of providing premium levels of luxury, even including fabric-wrapped A-pillars.

2019 Toyota Avalon XSE
A large, clear backup camera with dynamic guidelines provides a helpful rearward view. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

In case you were wondering how the Avalon measures up to the slightly smaller Camry that joins the aforementioned Lexus ES by also riding on Toyota’s TNGA-K (GA-K) platform architecture, it’s 100 millimetres (4.0 inches) longer from nose to tail, with a 50-mm (2.0-in) longer wheelbase, plus it’s also 10 mm (0.4 in) wider and fractionally lower by the same 10 mm (0.4 in). The new 2019 Avalon is also larger than the previous version, with its overall length up by 20 mm (0.8 in) to 4,980 mm (196.0 in), its wheelbase stretched by 50 mm (2.0 in) to 2,870 mm (113.0 in), its width increased by 15 mm (0.6 inches) to 1,850 mm (72.8 in), and height lower by 20 mm (0.8 in) to 1,440 mm (56.5 in), resulting in a leaner more athletic stance.

2019 Toyota Avalon XSE
With no pushbutton or dial gear selector, the Avalon’s new 8-speed auto keeps a conventional gear lever. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

The new Av backs up its dramatic new styling with more energy under the hood, its enhanced 3.5-litre V6 now put out 10 more horsepower and 17 additional lb-ft of torque for a new total of 278 and 265 respectively, while in XSE trim this improved performance is complemented by an “Engine Sound Generator” that beefs up the exhaust note artificially through the audio system when Sport mode is engaged. Before any snide comments, BMW does this with its M cars and Ford with its Mustang and Ecoboost-powered F-150 pickup trucks (plus a number of others, I’m guessing), the result being music to the ears of gearheads.

Even better, Toyota has mated its upgraded V6 with a completely new eight-speed automatic transmission (not a CVT like one of the Av’s supposedly sportier competitors), and by so doing said goodbye to its antiquated six-speed gearbox, plus they’ve add steering wheel-mounted paddle shifters to make the entire package more engaging.

2019 Toyota Avalon XSE
The XSE’s sport seats are inherently comfortable, but the driver’s 2-way powered lumbar support is a hit or miss affair. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

Underpinning the new Avalon is an extended version of the stiffer, more agile chassis that improved the newest Camry, and likewise makes the new Lexus ES more fun to live with, while the XSE’s front struts and rear multi-link setup is sport-tuned even further before being bolted to the one-inch larger 19-inch rims and rubber noted earlier.

Despite all the performance upgrades, the Avalon’s ride continues to be very comfortable, but as anyone reading about the upgrades would imagine, the comfortable ride came with a lot more capability than ever before. The extra horsepower proved enjoyable off the line and the new automatic certainly more engaging than the outgoing one, particularly with Sport mode engaged, although it still took too long for those shifts to occur, so a true sport sedan this is not. Still, this XSE handled considerably better through fast-paced curves than its already adept predecessor.

2019 Toyota Avalon XSE
Rear seat roominess is generous, and seat comfort good. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

I also found the seating position very good for a Toyota. Actually, I find Toyota improving their cars’ driving positions in most models recently tested, in that they now offer more telescopic steering column reach to complement their already good seat adjustability. This allowed me to move the Avalon’s driver’s seat rearward enough for comfortable legroom while extending the steering column amply for relative arm comfort and reasonable control, all this necessary due to my having a longer legged, shorter torso frame. I could have used more steering column extension, but the Av’s setup was passable.

This said the driver’s seat’s two-way powered lumbar support was disappointing, particularly considering competitors in this price class offer four-way powered lumbar support that better meets up with the small of my back. Still the seats were quite comfortable without using the extra lumbar support, while the rear seating area is massive, bordering on limousine-like, and comfortable as well. Likewise, the trunk is large at 456 litres (16.1 cu ft) and offers 60/40 folding access for longer items, although a centre pass-through would improve passenger/cargo flexibility even more.

2019 Toyota Avalon XSE
The Av’s big rear trunk can be extended via the usual 60/40-split rear seatbacks. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

All said I think most luxury sedan buyers that spend a little time with the new Avalon will like it. It’s well built, as most would expect from Toyota, should be reliable, is packed with most of the features one would expect in a $40k-plus car, and provides wonderfully comfortable yet surprisingly sporty performance.

What’s more, with the 2019 model year ending and the identical new 2020 Avalon soon arriving, Toyota is motivated to sell all the remaining stock, which is why you can to now save up to $2,500 in additional incentives (at the time of writing). Just go to CarCostCanada to learn more, and while you’re at it, check out both 2019 and 2020 model year pricing information, including trims, packages and individual options, and also find out about the latest rebates and even dealer invoice pricing, that puts you in charge when negotiating with your local retailer.

Have you seen the 2020 Toyota Highlander? It’s not available to purchase yet, having only debuted at the New York International Auto Show in April, but a quick glance shows that Toyota’s crossover…

2019 Toyota Highlander Hybrid Limited Road Test

2020 Toyota Highlander
Now that you’ve seen the upcoming 2020 Toyota Highlander, how do you like it? (Photo: Toyota)

Have you seen the 2020 Toyota Highlander? It’s not available to purchase yet, having only debuted at the New York International Auto Show in April, but a quick glance shows that Toyota’s crossover SUV division is abandoning its recent Lexus-inspired grandiosity in favour of a subtler approach, much like the 2014 through 2016 Highlander did. 

You might remember that Toyota redesigned the Highlander for the 2014 model year, giving it a lot more character and much more refinement inside, while increasing the maximum seat count from seven to eight, and then after enjoying much success with this newfound mid-size crossover formula the automaker replaced the simpler Toyota truck-inspired front grille and fascia for a ritzier chromed up look just three years later for the 2017 model year, which honestly hadn’t hurt sales until recently. 

2019 Toyota Highlander Hybrid Limited
The 2019 Toyota Highlander, shown here in as-tested Hybrid Limited trim, offers up a ritzy, chrome-laden look. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

I’m not a fan of all the glitz and glam adorning the face of this otherwise clean, uncluttered and straightforward family hauler (it still looks quite nice from the rear), but possibly due to its new façade and likely more so because of the automotive market’s general adoption of crossover SUVs in place of cars, Canadian sales were up by 17.70 percent from calendar years 2016 to 2017, although they dropped by 4.06 percent last year and over the first half of 2019 have slipped another 17.70 percent (bizarre that the model’s fall from grace so far this year is in perfect sync with its growth two years ago). 

So why, in a market that’s supposedly turning away from traditional cars to crossovers and SUVs, has the Highlander been losing so much ground? Another glance at the stats shows it’s not alone, at least amongst mid-size SUV sales that have fallen by 7.66 percent from calendar years 2017 to 2018. In fact, of the 24 crossovers and SUVs currently selling into the mid-size volume segment (including raised wagons like Subaru’s Outback, two-row crossover SUVs like Hyundai’s Santa Fe, three-row crossover SUVs like this Highlander, and traditional body-on-frame SUVs like Toyota’s 4Runner), eight saw positive growth and 10 experienced a swing in the negative direction, with another five seeing only growing due to being completely new models. 

2019 Toyota Highlander Hybrid Limited
The Highlander is certainly looks fit and handsome from the rear. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

If you’re wondering how the Highlander fits into the scheme of things, here’s a breakdown ranked in order of popularity with calendar year 2019 Q2 sales and growth/shrinkage rates shown in parentheses: Ford Edge at 8,709 units (+9.05); Hyundai Santa Fe at 8,225 (-11.51); Jeep Grand Cherokee 8,033 (+26.94); Kia Sorento at 6,965 (+0.32); Chevrolet Blazer 6,812 (sales started in January 2019); Nissan Murano 5,062 (-8.00); Toyota Highlander 4,985 (-17.70); Dodge Durango 4,900 (+54.14); Subaru Outback 4,212 (-4.77); Ford Explorer at 4,100 (-45.14 due to a model changeover); Volkswagen Atlas 3,679 (+14.01%); Honda Pilot 3,477 (+22.43); Toyota 4Runner 3,398 (+10.18%); Nissan Pathfinder 2,597 (-10.63); Chevrolet Traverse 2,443 (-16.36); GMC Acadia 1,956 (-3.88%); Ford Flex 1,812 (+115.71, shocking, I know); Subaru Ascent 1,721 (sales started in January 2019); Mazda CX-9 1,573 (-7.58); Dodge Journey 1,488 (-39.19); Kia Telluride 1,072 (sales began in March 2019); Honda Passport 921 (sales started in February 2019); Hyundai Palisade 180 (sales began in June 2019); Volkswagen Touareg 17 (-96.91 because it’s a discontinued model). 

2019 Toyota Highlander Hybrid Limited
The top half of the grille is attractive. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Don’t expect to see all of these models in the same order at year’s end, thanks to redesigns (the new Explorer should be closer to it’s previous third place, and the aforementioned 2020 Highlander will no doubt get a boost too) and all-new models swelling the ranks (the new Blazer’s sales are impressive), but the leading brands will likely maintain their leadership for good reason, and one of those leaders has long been Toyota. 

Being the last year of this well-seasoned third-generation K-platform-based (XU50) Highlander (the new model will ride on the GA-K version of the Toyota New Global Architecture/TNGA), Toyota hasn’t done much to lure in additional buyers. In fact, it’s only added an optional set of LED fog lamps in place of last year’s halogens, which look almost identical from a distance. 

2019 Toyota Highlander Hybrid Limited
Here’s shot of those circular fog lights that now use LEDs. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Toyota loaned me a 2019 Highlander Hybrid Limited for my weeklong test, by the way, in the exact same Celestial Silver Metallic and Black perforated leather combination as last year’s version, a model I reviewed in detail along with a lovely “Ooh La La Rouge Mica” (that’s really the name) painted conventionally powered 2018 Highlander Limited (both models get the LED fog light upgrade this year). 

Updates aside, I still find it shocking that Toyota is the only mainstream volume brand to offer optional electrification in this mid-size class, being that most key competitors have had hybrid drivetrains within their given lineups for decades (although I’ll give Chrysler a shout-out for its Pacifica Hybrid plug-in because it’s at least spacious enough to compete). More power to Toyota, as this Highlander Hybrid remains the most fuel efficient mid-size crossover SUV available, at a time when our country is experiencing our highest pump prices ever, and no end to the budget gouging in sight if our various governments continue to have any say. 

2019 Toyota Highlander Hybrid Limited
Get ready to be impressed by the Highlander’s interior, which is one of the nicest in this mid-size SUV class. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Claimed 2019 Highlander Hybrid ratings are 8.1 L/100km in the city, 8.5 on the highway and 8.3 combined, compared to 12.0 city, 8.9 highway and 10.6 combined for the most similarly equipped mid-range XLE and top-line Limited trims with the conventionally-powered V6, AWD, and upgraded auto start/stop system. 

Before showing you all competitive model Transport Canada fuel economy numbers, it’s important to note that both Highlander models offer a lot more standard power. Where the majority of rivals come standard with four-cylinder engines, the regular Highlander now uses a 3.5-litre V6 good for 295 horsepower and 263 lb-ft of torque, driving either the front wheels in LX trim, or all four in LX AWD, XLE and Limited trims, via an eight-speed automatic with available auto idle start/stop, whereas the Highlander Hybrid uses the same engine running the more efficient Atkinson-cycle yet, thanks to its potent electric motor/battery combination, makes 306 net horsepower and an undisclosed (but more than sufficient) amount of torque, which ramps up near immediately due to 100 percent of electrified twist arriving instantaneously. 

2019 Toyota Highlander Hybrid Limited
All instruments are nicely laid out and the fit, finish and tactile quality of all switchgear is very good. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

From the list of three-row competitors above, the most efficient (when compared with AWD and auto start/stop if available) rival is Kia’s Sorento at 11.2 L/100km city, 9.0 highway and 10.2 combined, but the Sorento is quite a bit smaller than the Highlander and, like its platform-sharing Hyundai Santa Fe that is no longer available with three rows so as to make way for the brand new Palisade, Kia buyers looking for more passenger and cargo room will likely move up to the Telluride. 

Just the same, after the Sorento the thriftiest three-row mid-size SUVs are as follows: GMC Acadia: 11.3 L/100km city, 9.4 highway and 10.5 combined; Mazda CX-9 at 11.6, 9.1 and 10.5 respectively; Highlander V6 at 12.0, 8.9 and 10.6; Nissan Pathfinder at 12.1, 8.9 and 10.7; Honda Pilot at 12.4, 9.3 and 11.0; Hyundai Palisade at 12.3, 9.6 and 11.1; Kia Telluride at 12.5, 9.6 and 11.2; Dodge Durango at 12.7, 9.6 and 11.3; Ford Explorer at 13.1, 9.2 and 11.4; Chevrolet Traverse at 13.7, 9.5 and 11.8; Volkswagen Atlas at 13.8, 10.2 and 12.2; Dodge Journey at 14.5, 10.0 and 12.4; Ford Flex at 14.7, 10.7 and 12.9; and Toyota 4Runner at 14.3, 11.9 and 13.2 respectively. 

2019 Toyota Highlander Hybrid Limited
The gauge cluster is bright, colourful and filled with useful hybrid-related info. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

The only mid-size (kind of) crossover SUV that comes close to the Highlander Hybrid as far as fuel economy goes, albeit with only two rows, five passengers, and much less cargo capacity or power is the four-cylinder equipped Subaru Outback, which still comes up short at 9.4 L/100km city, 7.3 highway and 8.5 combined, while more closely sized, but still two-row, five-passenger and four-cylinder equipped options that improve on the V6-powered Highlander’s fuel-efficiency include the base Ford Edge at 11.4 city, 8.3 highway and 10.0 combined; the Hyundai Santa Fe at 11.2, 8.7 and 10.1 respectively; and the Nissan Murano at 11.7, 8.5 and 10.3; while just for the sake of finishing the list, the new similarly smaller Honda Passport is rated at 12.5, 9.8 and 11.3 respectively; the new Chevrolet Blazer at 12.7, 9.5 and 11.3, while finally the Jeep Grand Cherokee gets a 12.7, 9.6 and 11.3 respective rating. 

2019 Toyota Highlander Hybrid Limited
The overhead parking camera was as step up from last year’s regular rearview camera. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

The electromechanical portion of the Highlander Hybrid’s drivetrain is made up of two permanent magnet synchronous motors, one for driving the front wheels and the other for those in the rear, plus a sealed nickel-metal hydride (Ni-MH) traction battery. Yes, no lithium-ion battery for this now classic Hybrid Synergy Drive hybrid system, but that’s not a bad thing. Consider for a moment that NiMH batteries have been in automotive use since the original Prius went on sale in 1997, and plenty of Prius taxis can be found running around Canadian cities with more than a million kilometres on their original battery packs. NiMH batteries have a proven track record, plus older batteries can be rebuilt using newer modules, as they’ve basically been the same since 2001. 

2019 Toyota Highlander Hybrid Limited
The leather upholstered driver’s seat was wonderfully comfortable. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

The only negative with the Highlander Hybrid, at least from a driving perspective, is the replacement of the regular model’s eight-speed automatic with an electronically controlled continuously variable transmission (ECVT), but it’s only an issue when pushing the SUV harder through fast-paced backroads than you will likely ever do. Around town and on the highway both transmissions are wonderfully smooth and easy to get along with, while Toyota gives the ECVT a fairly conventional feel thanks to stepped ratios that mimic a traditional automatic, as well as a sequential shift mode when wanting to get sporty, or merely downshift for engine-braking. 

2019 Toyota Highlander Hybrid Limited
Second-row roominess is more than adequate. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

As for the Hybrid’s all-wheel drive system, it worked well enough in the rain and even in the mountaintop snow I was able to locate during my test week. Toyota has had a baker’s dozen of years to perfect this basic system, moving up from the original 2006 Highlander Hybrid’s 3.3-litre V6 to the current 3.5-litre version, but other than that sticking with this tried and true drivetrain formula, and I’ve never had an issue pulling myself out of sticky or slippery situations, snow banks included. 

Breaking the $50k barrier (at $50,950 plus freight and fees) the 2019 Highlander Hybrid doesn’t come cheap in base XLE trim, while this full-load Limited version hits the road for an even loftier $57,260, but then again a similarly optioned 2019 Chevrolet Traverse High Country comes in at an even pricier $60,100, and the only slightly more upscale 2019 Buick Enclave Avenir will set you back a stratospheric $62,100, and they don’t even offer hybrid drivetrains, so maybe the Highlander Hybrid Limited isn’t so expensive after all. 

2019 Toyota Highlander Hybrid Limited
Third row comfort is more than adequate for smaller folk. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

By the way, make sure to check out CarCostCanada for detailed pricing of all cars just mentioned, including trims, packages and options, plus money saving rebate info and dealer invoice pricing that could save you thousands, whether purchasing the new 2019 Highlander, 2019 Chevy Traverse, 2019 Buick Enclave, or any other mid-size crossover SUV (I’ve got them all linked above if you’d like to know more). 

This is where I’d normally go into detail about those trims, packages and options just noted, but it makes more sense to link to my 2018 Toyota Highlander V6 AWD and Hybrid Road Test review and you can read all about it, because, as mentioned earlier, nothing at all has changed from 2018 to 2019 other than those LED fog lamps. 

2019 Toyota Highlander Hybrid Limited
Cargo space is identical in conventional and Hybrid powered Highlanders. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Suffice to say this is a really impressive SUV, with plenty of power, a wonderful ride, decent enough handling, near premium levels of interior quality that even include woven cloth wrapped around all eight roof pillars and plenty of soft-touch surfacing, a nice colourful gauge cluster filled with the types of hybrid controls expected from a partially electric vehicle, a reasonably good centre touchscreen that’s now only overshadowed because of Toyota’s excellent new Entune infotainment interface, comfortable seating from front to back, loads of cargo space, a great reliability record, and superb fuel economy. 

The only reason not to consider the 2019 Highlander Hybrid is the same factor for getting one sooner than later, the new 2020 Highlander Hybrid that will show up later this year. It promises to be a step up in styling, refinement and performance, which might give pause to anyone buying this tried and tested model, but that said the current version is not only well proven, it should also be easier for your to get a significant discount. Once again, check out CarCostCanada for any rebate info, while it’s always a good idea to find out what the dealer pays for the vehicle you want in order to negotiate the best deal possible.

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

2019 Toyota C-HR Limited Road Test

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Toyota’s 86 hasn’t changed much since being refreshed for 2017 as part of its Scion FR-S transformation, but it hardly needs any modification. In fact, when its many diehard fans caught wind that…

2019 Toyota 86 GT

2019 Toyota 86 GT
Toyota’s 86 is still one of the best performance car value’s around. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann, Canadian Auto Press)

Toyota’s 86 hasn’t changed much since being refreshed for 2017 as part of its Scion FR-S transformation, but it hardly needs any modification. In fact, when its many diehard fans caught wind that it might be getting axed due to ever-slowing sales, the deafening outcry caused a U.S.-market Toyota spokesperson to declare that it’s here to stay for the foreseeable future. 

“As [Toyota president] Akio Toyoda said at the reveal of the 2020 Supra, Toyota is committed to building exciting vehicles, including sports cars. The 86 has been in the Toyota family since 2013 and the plan is that it will continue to be a part of Toyota’s sports car line-up.” 

2019 Toyota 86 GT
The 86 still has beautiful lines, despite getting on in years. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann, Canadian Auto Press)

A quick look at sale numbers makes it easy to understand why many were in doubt of its future, with 2017 to 2018 calendar year-over-year deliveries down 40.2 percent in Canada, which was only outdone—to the negative—by Fiat’s 124 Spider that saw a decline of 52.7 percent, while the 86’ near identical Subaru BRZ saw its sales drop by 23.3 percent, but then again it didn’t have as far to fall. Those two models actually switched places for the first time at the close of 2018, with more Canadians choosing the BRZ than 86, the final tally being 604 for Subaru and 550 for Toyota. This last number might not seem like much when compared to the 1,825 FR-S coupes Scion sold in its first full year of 2013, but once again considering that it hasn’t changed all that much since it debuted just prior, and then factoring in that all car sales have taken a beating against the growth of crossover SUVs, the 86 is actually holding up quite well. 

2019 Toyota 86 GT
Toyota added these standard LED headlamps for its 2017 refresh. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann, Canadian Auto Press)

Incidentally, the entire front fascia was modified for 2017, and its nicely detailed LED headlamps added for a more sophisticated look. Another change saw the front fender vent elongated and the “86” insignia redesigned and placed lower on the side panel, while revised taillight lenses filled with LEDs modernized the seven-year-old model’s look. 

The interior has always been pretty nice, but the 2013, 2014 and 2015 model year FR-S examples I drove never let me inside with proximity-sensing keyless access, started via pushbutton, kept me warm via dual-zone automatic climate control, skinned their seats in leather trimmed with microsuede, or covered their primary instrument hoods and passenger-side dash sections in padded and stitched microsuede like this 2019 86, while this new model boasts other improvements as well. 

2019 Toyota 86 GT
Make sure to return for our full road test review, but until then check the photo gallery above for loads of detailed images… (Photo: Trevor Hofmann, Canadian Auto Press)

Certainly there are some that petition Toyota for more power, but this lightweight 1,252-kilo (2,760-lb) rear-drive sports coupe makes the most of its 205 horsepower and 156 lb-ft of torque with one of the nimblest chassis’ in its price range. 

Make sure to come back for our full road test review to be reminded of why sports car enthusiasts the world over keep the Toyota 86 close to their hearts, even if fewer are anteing up with $30k of their own to take one home. We’d certainly love to keep ours for as long as Toyota would let us.

If you feel like we do, check out CarCostCanada to learn about exact pricing for each trim, package and option, plus don’t forget to check if there are any rebates, and make sure to find out about the 86’s dealer invoice pricing that will help you get the best price when negotiating with your local Toyota dealer…