Remember the Venza? Toyota was fairly early to the mid-size crossover utility party with its 2009–2015 Venza, a tall five-door wagon-like family hauler that was a lot more like a CUV (Crossover Utility…

Toyota revises Venza nameplate for new mid-size hybrid SUV

2021 Toyota Venza
Toyota will soon bring its Venza back from the dead, and it’s one slick looking mid-size crossover SUV.

Remember the Venza? Toyota was fairly early to the mid-size crossover utility party with its 2009–2015 Venza, a tall five-door wagon-like family hauler that was a lot more like a CUV (Crossover Utility Vehicle) or tall wagon than an SUV. Despite decent sales for its first four years, and Toyota’s need for a mid-size five-passenger crossover SUV, the Japanese brand discontinued it without a replacement after six years on the market.

Fortunately for Toyota and all who appreciate the brand for its excellent reliability and better than average resale values, the Toyota Venza will make its return to the Canadian market for the 2021 model year as a new mid-size utility, with standard all-wheel drive and an even more unexpected standard hybrid drivetrain.

2021 Toyota Venza
The Venza’s mid-size two-row SUV segment is even more important to do well in than the larger three-row class.

With the Venza, Toyota is following through on its commitment to electrify its entire lineup by 2025, this new hybrid joined by a completely redesigned Sienna for 2021, which will also be available exclusively with a hybrid electric drivetrain. Other Toyota vehicles sold with the brand’s full hybrid drive system include the iconic Prius, now with available with AWD-e four-season control, the Corolla Hybrid, the Camry Hybrid, the RAV4 Hybrid, and the Highlander Hybrid, while the Prius Prime offers plug-in capability and 100-percent electric mobility for short commuting distances at city and highway speeds, plus last but hardly least is the Mirai fuel-cell electric that’s powered by hydrogen.

2021 Toyota Harrier
Look familiar? This is the 2021 Toyota Harrier (check the gallery for more past photos of this model).

Since the original Venza’s departure, Toyota has lacked a two-row crossover SUV in the mid-size segment (the 4Runner is an off-road capable 4×4 that competes more directly against Jeep’s Wrangler Unlimited), which means that it’s been missing out on one of the more lucrative categories in the industry. Arch-rival Ford, for instance, sells its Edge in this class, along with the ultra-popular three-row Explorer that goes up against Toyota’s Highlander. The Edge was number one in Canada’s mid-size SUV class last year with 19,965 deliveries compared to the Highlander’s 13,811 new buyers. Collectively the Edge and Explorer were good for 29,632 sales during 2019, which is an impressive sales lead yet, but this doesn’t factor in that 2019 was a particularly bad year for the larger Ford due to the slow rollout of its redesigned 2020 model. Ford claimed the problem had to do with production issues, but either way the result was a disastrous 47-percent plunge in year-over-year Canadian deliveries.

1999 Toyota Harrier
The 1999 Toyota Harrier was nearly identical to the first-gen Lexus RX.

As it is there are five two-row mid-size SUVs that regularly sell better than the Highlander in Canada’s mid-size segment, with Ford’s Edge joined by the Hyundai Santa Fe (now only available with two rows due to the new Palisade) that sold 18,929 units in 2019, the Jeep Grand Cherokee that pulled in 18,659 new buyers last year, the Kia Sorento (now only sold with two rows due to the new Telluride) that was good for 16,054 sales during the same 12 months, and the entirely new Chevrolet Blazer that found 15,210 Canadian owners in 2019. When Nissan finally redesigns its Murano it’ll probably attract more buyers than the larger Highlander too, being that its 12,000 deliveries aren’t all that far behind the bigger Toyota and five-seat crossover SUVs mostly do better than seven- and eight-seat variants, so the new 2021 Venza will soon fill a sizeable void in the brand’s SUV lineup.

2009 Toyota Venza
The original Venza offered premium-like interior quality when it arrived for 2009.

Choosing to only offer a hybrid drivetrain is a bold move for Toyota, but as long as pricing is competitive it should be well received. After all, Toyota initiated the modern-day hybrid market segment with its original 1998 Prius (2001 in Canada), and its various hybrid-electric drivetrains have garnered bulletproof reputations for reliability along with plenty of praise for their fuel economy.

While official Transport Canada five-cycle fuel economy figures have yet to be announced, the new 2021 Venza has been estimated by Toyota to achieve 5.9 L/100km in combined city and highway driving. Active grille shutters, which automatically open and close electronically to provide system cooling or enhanced aerodynamics as needed, help Toyota achieve this impressive number. All said it should become the most fuel-efficient mid-size SUV in Canada when available, and if pump prices continue to rise across the country, as they have been recently, it could very well be a strong selling point.

2021 Toyota Venza
The new Venza incorporates active vent shutters in order to reduce aerodynamic drag.

For a bit more background, the original Venza shared its underpinnings with the Japanese domestic market Toyota Harrier (amongst other Toyota/Lexus products like the Camry and Highlander), which was even more closely aligned with our Lexus RX (the first-gen Harrier was sold here as the barely disguised 1999–2003 Lexus RX 300). The five-plus years without the Venza in this country, spanning from 2016 until now, saw a third-generation Harrier come and go in Japan, while the fourth-gen Harrier is now nearly identical to the new 2021 Venza.

2021 Toyota Venza
The Venza will only be offered with a hybrid drivetrain including electric all-wheel drive.

Those familiar with Toyota’s 2.5-litre Atkinson-cycle four-cylinder hybrid powertrain used in the Camry Hybrid, RAV4 Hybrid and Highlander Hybrid (plus the Avalon Hybrid in the U.S.) will be happy to hear the new Venza hybrid will utilize the same well-proven powertrain, as will the redesigned 2021 Sienna mentioned earlier. In Venza form the powertrain’s combined system output equals 219 horsepower, which makes it identical to the RAV4 Hybrid while more potent than the Camry Hybrid (208 hp) and not quite as formidable as the Highlander Hybrid (240 hp).

2021 Toyota Venza
The new Venza’s narrow horizontal light bar takes full advantage of the packaging benefits of LED technology.

The updated Toyota Hybrid System II uses a new lighter lithium-ion battery that also improves performance, while the Venza’s two electric motors deliver strong near-immediate torque as well as advanced Electronic On-Demand All-Wheel Drive, the rear-mounted motor powering the back wheels when slippage occurs during takeoff or on slippery road surfaces. The drive system can divert up to 80 percent of motive force to the rear wheels, in fact, although take note the system is designed to utilize the front wheels most often in order to limit fuel usage.

To this end Toyota includes an Eco mode that “changes the throttle and environmental logic” to maximize efficiencies says Toyota, but both Normal and Sport modes, the former “ideal for everyday driving” and the latter sharpening “throttle response,” are also part of the package, while an EV mode will allow limited use of all-electric battery power at “low speeds for short distances,” just like with other non-plug-in Toyota hybrid models.

2021 Toyota Venza
The Venza will be available with a fully digital gauge cluster.

Toyota says the Venza’s regenerative brakes, which capture electricity caused by braking friction before rerouting it to the SUV’s electrical system, provide greater control than in previous iterations, and can actually be employed for a “downshifting” effect via the sequential gear lever’s manual mode. Each downward shift increases regenerative braking in steps, which “fosters greater control when driving in hilly areas,” adds Toyota, while the hybrid system also improves ride comfort by “finely controlling the drive torque to suppress pitch under acceleration and deceleration.” This is called differential torque pre-load, and is especially useful when starting off or cornering on normal or slippery roads. The feature also helps enhance steering performance at higher speeds, plus straight-line stability and controllability on rough roads. Toyota is also employing new Active Cornering Assist (ACA) electronic brake vectoring in order to minimize understeer and therefore enhance driving dynamics further.

2021 Toyota Venza
This 12.9-inch infotainment touchscreen upgrade incorporates all of the latest tech.

The new Venza rides on the Toyota New Global Architecture K (TNGA-K) platform architecture that also underpins the 2018–present Camry, 2019–present Avalon, 2019–present RAV4, 2020 Highlander, and new 2021 Sienna, plus the 2019–present Lexus ES and future Lexus NX and RX SUVs, which in a press release is promised to deliver an “intuitive driving experience” with “greater driving refinement” including “comfortable urban and highway performance” plus “predictable handling, and low noise, vibration, and harshness (NVH)” levels. The new platform incorporates extensive high-strength steel for a more rigid construction that improves the front strut and rear multi-link suspension’s ride comfort and handling, not to mention safety overall.

2021 Toyota Venza
Touch-sensitive capacitive centre-stack switchgear comes with the upgraded infotainment system.

The 2021 Venza LE rolls on 18-inch multi-spoke two-tone alloy wheels, while XLE and Limited come standard with 19-inch multi-spoke super chrome finished alloy wheels.

Take a peek inside a near loaded Venza XLE or top-tier Limited and along with sophisticated touch-sensitive capacitive controls that replace physical buttons on the centre stack you’ll likely first notice the premium-sized 12.3-inch centre infotainment touchscreen, but even the standard 8.0-inch centre display in the base LE is large for an entry-level head unit.

2021 Toyota Venza
Most new Toyotas offer handy wireless device charging, and the Venza will be no different.

The larger uprated system features a premium 12-channel, 1,200-watt, nine-speaker (with a sub) JBL audio system that Toyota describes as “sonically gorgeous,” as well as embedded navigation with Destination Assist and switchable driver or front passenger operation, while both systems include Android Auto (including Google Assistant) and Apple CarPlay (with Siri) smartphone integration, plus Bluetooth wireless connectivity, and the list goes on.

Speaking of cool tech, a fully digital instrument cluster is optional, as is a 10-inch colour head-up display unit that projects key info (such as vehicle speed, hybrid system details, and TSS 2.0 safety and driver assist functions) onto the windscreen, while an electronic rearview mirror with auto-dimming capability and an integrated HomeLink universal remote provides a more expansive view out the back, especially helpful if rear passengers or cargo is blocking the rearward view. The mirror can be switched between conventional and digital operation by the flick of a switch, while parking can be further enhanced by a move up to Limited trim that also incorporates an overhead camera system dubbed Panoramic View Monitor. The standard camera gets “projected path” active guidelines as well as an available “rear camera cleaning system [that] sprays washer fluid to clear away water droplets, mud, snow, and snow-melting road treatments from the lens,” says Toyota.

2021 Toyota Venza
The new Venza interior’s materials quality and refinement appears very good for the class.

Toyota is also leading most competitors by making wireless phone charging available on the majority of its models, so therefore this handy feature will be optional on the Venza, while additional upgrades include ventilated seats, a proximity-sensing Smart Key System that works on all four doors as well as the liftgate, the latter also providing hands-free powered operation, while plenty more features are available.

On the subject of more, an innovative new feature dubbed “Star Gaze” is a fixed electrochromic panoramic glass roof capable of switching between transparent and frosted modes within a single second via a switch on the overhead console. Toyota says the frosted mode “brightens the interior while reducing direct sunlight, giving the cabin an even more open, airy, and inviting feeling.”

2021 Toyota Venza
Toyota describes the optional JBL audio system as “sonically gorgeous.”

All Venza trims come standard with Toyota’s TSS 2.0 suite of advanced safety and driver assistive features including pre-collision system and automatic emergency braking with pedestrian and cyclist detection, blindspot monitoring, lane departure assist, rear cross-traffic alert, lane tracing assist, automatic high beam assist, and full-speed adaptive cruise control.

As far as interior roominess goes, expect a passenger compartment similarly sized to the first two rows in a Highlander, which makes it more accommodating than the RAV4. The Venza’s dedicated cargo compartment measures 1,027 litres (36.2 cubic feet) behind the rear seatbacks, which is in fact 32 litres (1.1 cu ft) less than the RAV4’s 1,059-litre (37.4 cu-ft) capacity behind the second row, and 1,010 litres (35.6 cu ft) less than the Highlander when its third-row is lowered.

The 2021 Venza will arrive in Toyota Canada dealerships this summer with pricing to be announced closer to its on-sale date.

Story credits: Trevor Hofmann

Photo credits: Toyota

No other automaker has sold more hybrid electric vehicles than Toyota, the brand having initiated the electrification revolution way back in 1997, and now it’s surpassed 15 million units globally. It…

Toyota passes 15-millionth hybrid vehicle sales milepost

2020 Toyota Prius AWD-e
The Prius, now available with AWD, has been the world’s best-selling hybrid since day one.

No other automaker has sold more hybrid electric vehicles than Toyota, the brand having initiated the electrification revolution way back in 1997, and now it’s surpassed 15 million units globally.

It took three years to get a slightly updated version of the first-generation Prius to North America in 2000, but four generations and some interesting side roads later (notably the subcompact Prius c hatchback and tall wagon-like Prius v) Toyota’s dedicated Prius hybrid has long become legend. It has sold more examples than any other electrified car in history, but Toyota has plenty of additional hybrids to its name.

2020 Toyota RAV4 Hybrid
The RAV4 Hybrid will be available in plug-in Prime form for 2021.

Along with the plug-in Prius Prime that allows for more EV-only range, Toyota most recently added the all-new 2020 Corolla Hybrid to its gasoline-electric lineup, while the Camry Hybrid has long been popular with those needing a larger sedan. We don’t get the Avalon Hybrid here in Canada, but the RAV4 Hybrid more than makes up for the large luxury sedan’s loss, and next year it arrives as the 2021 RAV4 Prime plug-in too, whereas the Highlander Hybrid remains the only electrified mid-size SUV available in the mainstream volume-branded sector. Additionally, Toyota offers one of the only hydrogen fuel cell-powered vehicles available today, its innovative Mirai taking the hybrid-electric concept into completely new territory.

2020 Toyota Corolla Hybrid
The new Corolla Hybrid should sell very well.

Of note, Toyota’s 15-million hybrid milestone was partially made up by its Lexus luxury division, which adds seven more gasoline-electric models to Toyota’s namesake range of eight, including (in order of base price) the entry-level UX 250h subcompact crossover SUV, the NX 300h compact SUV, the ES 300h mid-size sedan, the the RX 450h mid-size SUV, the RX 450h L three-row mid-size SUV, the LC 500h personal sport-luxury coupe, and finally Lexus’ flagship LS 500h full-size luxury sedan (Lexus previously offered the HS 250h compact sedan, the CT 200h compact hatchback and the GS 450h mid-size sport sedan).

2020 Lexus UX 250h
Lexus has always been strong on hybrids, and its all-new UX 250h is starting to sell well.

While 15 hybrid models from two brands is impressive, outside of Canada Toyota and Lexus provide 44 unique hybrid vehicles, while hybrids made up 52 percent of Toyota’s overall volume in Europe last year. What’s more, Toyota accounts for 80 percent of all hybrid sales globally.

Despite recently dropping the Prius v and Prius c models, Toyota shows no signs of slowing down hybrid integration, or continuing to develop its hydrogen fuel cell and full electric programs moving forward. Back in June last year, Toyota Executive Vice President Shigeki Terashi announced that half of the automaker’s global sales would be electrified by 2025, which is five years more aggressive than previously planned. This would likely be a mix of hybrid (HEV), plug-in hybrid (PHEV), and fully electric (BEV) vehicles, but Terashi was clear to point out that an entirely new line of BEVs would be designed for global consumption, and while Toyota had previously spoken of 2020 for the launch of its first BEV, our current global health problem and concurring financial challenges will likely interfere with this plan.

Story credit: Trevor Hofmann

Photo credits: Toyota

Well, I’ve done my cursory scan of Toyota Canada dealer websites, and yes in fact there are new 2019 Prius Prime models available in most provinces. This means you can still get some great discounts…

2019 Toyota Prius Prime Road Test

2019 Toyota Prius Prime
The Prius Prime offers dramatic styling that differentiates it from regular Prius models. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

Well, I’ve done my cursory scan of Toyota Canada dealer websites, and yes in fact there are new 2019 Prius Prime models available in most provinces. This means you can still get some great discounts at the retail level, plus Toyota is offering zero-percent factory leasing and financing for the 2019 model, compared to a best of 2.99 percent for the 2020. 

Like always I found this gem of info at CarCostCanada, where you can also study up on most brands and models available including the car on this page that’s found on their 2019 Toyota Prius Prime Canada Prices page, the newer version found on their 2020 Toyota Prius Prime Canada Prices page, or you can search out a key competitor like Hyundai’s latest entry found on the 2019 Hyundai IONIQ Electric Plus Canada Prices page or 2020 Hyundai IONIQ Electric Plus Canada Prices page (the former offering zero-percent factory leasing and financing, albeit the latter not quite as good at 3.49 percent). CarCostCanada also provides information about manufacturer rebates as well as dealer invoice pricing, allowing you to arrive at the dealership well equipped to work out the best deal possible.

2019 Toyota Prius Prime
Possibly the Prime’s most distinctive visual feature is a concave roof, rear window and integrated rear lip spoiler. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

If your lease is expiring amidst the COVID-19 outbreak we’re all currently enduring, or you just need a new vehicle, most dealerships are still running with full or partial staff, but the focus these days is more on service than sales. It’s not like you can go on a test drive or even sit in a car, but those wanting to take advantage of end-of-model-year deals or special financing/lease rates should try purchasing online, after which your local dealer will prep the vehicle and hand over the keys, while wearing gloves no doubt.

Being that we’re so far into the 2020 calendar year, let alone the 2020 model year, let’s talk about all the improvements made to the 2020 Prius Prime so you can decide whether to save on a 2019 or pay a little more for a 2020. For a bit of background, Toyota redesigned the regular Prius into this current fourth-generation model for the 2016 model year and added the plug-in hybrid (PHEV) Prime variant for 2017. The standard hybrid version received a fairly extensive refresh for 2019 that cleaned up its styling for more mainstream appeal, which incidentally didn’t affect the car being reviewed here, but that said the 2020 Prius Prime has been given some significant updates that we’ll overview now.

2019 Toyota Prius Prime
LED headlights, driving lights and fog lamps make this Prime Upgrade model stand out. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

For reasons I can’t quite explain, early Prius Primes came standard with gloss white interior trim on the steering wheel and shifter surround, which stood in stark contrast to the glossy black plastic everywhere else. What’s more, they fixed a large centre console between the rear outboard seats that reduced seating to four for 2019, a problem now remedied for 2020 so that the new Prime can carry five. Both issues made me wonder whether or not Toyota’s design team wasn’t initially taking notes on Chevy’s first-gen Volt, and by doing so had decided that shiny white interior plastic and a fixed rear centre console were prerequisites for plug-in hybrids. Fortunately, the Volt’s design team chose to go all black and remove the rear centre console for its second-generation design (that was much too closely aligned to the Chevy Cruze and has since been discontinued along with its non-electrified gasoline/diesel-fed platform mate), and as it appears the interior design team at Toyota followed Chevy’s lead with the same deletions for the updated 2020 Prius Prime.

2019 Toyota Prius Prime
As far as Prius alloy wheels go, this set is pretty sharp. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

Additional 2020 updates include standard Apple CarPlay, SiriusXM satellite radio, sunvisor extenders, and a new easier-to-access switchgear location for the seat warmer toggles, plus two new standard USB-A ports for rear passengers.

Trims don’t change going into 2020, with the base model once again being joined by Upgrade trim, the latter of which can be improved upon by a Technology package. According to CarCostCanada, the base price for both model years is set to $32,990 plus freight and fees, but take note that Toyota now throws in a tonneau/cargo cover for free, something that used to be part of the Technology package, thus reducing the latter package’ price from $3,125 to $3,000. This isn’t the only price that goes down for 2020, however. In fact, the Upgrade trim’s price tag drops $455 from $35,445 to $34,990, for reasons they don’t explain.

2019 Toyota Prius Prime
This photo shows the unique concave rear window well. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

Prius Prime’s Upgrade trim adds a 4.6-inch larger 11.6-inch infotainment touchscreen with navigation (that replaces the Scout GPS Link service and its three-year subscription), wireless phone charging, Softex breathable leatherette upholstery, an eight-way power driver’s seat (that replaces the six-way manual seat used in the base model), illuminated entry with a step lamp, a special smart charging lid, plus proximity-sensing keyless access for the front passenger’s door and rear hatch handle (it comes standard for the driver’s door), but take note the move to Upgrade trim deletes the Safety Connect system including its Automatic Collision Notification, Stolen Vehicle Locator, Emergency Assistance button (SOS), and Enhanced Roadside Assistance program (three-year subscription).

2019 Toyota Prius Prime
Prepare yourself for an interior that’s a lot more premium-like than past Prius models. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

The Technology package included with my tester adds fog lights, rain-sensing wipers, a really handy head-up display, an always welcome auto-dimming rearview mirror, a Homelink remote garage door opener, a great sounding 10-speaker JBL audio system, helpful front clearance parking sensors, semi-self-parking, blindspot monitoring, and rear cross-traffic alert.

It would be low hanging fruit to insert a joke right now about the need for blindspot monitoring and the equal requirement of watching your mirrors in a car that produces a mere 121 net horsepower and an unspecified amount of torque, not to mention an electronic continuously variable automatic (CVT) that’s hardly sporty, all of which might cause traffic to zip past as if it was standing still, but like with all hybrids the Prime isn’t as slow as its engine specifications suggest. Electric torque is immediate, needing no time to spool up revs like an internal combustion engine, and while all-wheel drive isn’t available with this plug-in Prius, the front wheels hook up well off the line for acceleration that’s more than adequate when taking off from stoplights, merging onto highways and passing large, slow moving highway trucks.

2019 Toyota Prius Prime
There is nothing quite like a Prius inside, thanks to a unique assortment of digital displays enhanced by an optional head-up display. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

The Prime is also quite capable through the corners, but like it’s non-plug-in Prius sibling it’s set up more for comfort than speed, with very good ride quality considering its low rolling resistance tires. What’s more, its extremely tight turning circle made it manoeuvrable in confined parking spaces. This is exactly the way most Prius owners want their car to behave, because optimizing fuel economy is the end game, after all. To that end the 2019 Prius Prime has an exceptionally good Transport Canada rating of 4.3 L/100km in the city, 4.4 on the highway and 4.3 combined, compared to 4.4 city, 4.6 highway and 4.4 combined for the regular Prius, and 4.5, 4.9 and 4.7 respectively for the AWD version. Of course, the Prime is a plug-in hybrid (PHEV) so you could theoretically drive solely on electric power if you had the patience and practical ability to recharge it every 40 kilometres or so, which is its claimed EV range.

2019 Toyota Prius Prime
This long, narrow digital gauge cluster is slanted toward the driver. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

Possibly an even greater asset is the ability to park the Prime at coveted charging stations that are almost always right next to the doors of shopping malls and other facilities. Better yet, with appropriate stickers attached to the rear bumper you can use the much faster HOV lane on your way home during rush hour traffic when alone.

Toyota follows up the Prime’s comfort-oriented luxury driving experience with a cabin that’s actually quite refined as well. Below and between a set of fabric-wrapped A pillars, the Prime gets a soft-touch dash top and instrument panel, including a sound-absorbing soft-painted composite under the windscreen, plus soft-touch front door uppers, padded door inserts front to back, and nicely furnished armrests. Toyota added some attractive metallic and piano black lacquered detailing across the instrument panel, the latter blending nicely into the extra-large optional 11.6-inch vertical touchscreen display at centre (which as noted replaces the base model’s 7.0-inch display in Upgrade trim).

2019 Toyota Prius Prime
How’s this for a digital map? The Prius’ available 11.6-inch infotainment touchscreen is really impressive. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

Before I delve into that, each Prius Prime gets an ultra-wide albeit somewhat narrow digital gauge cluster up on the dash top in the centre position, but it’s canted towards the driver with most primary functions closer to the driver than passenger, so it feels a little more driver-centric than in past versions, and certainly didn’t cause me any problem. In fact, I found it easy to glance at without having to take my eyes fully from the road, and it’s a nice gauge cluster to look at too, thanks to attractive graphics with rich colours, deep contrasts, and crisp resolution. When upgrading to the aforementioned Technology package it’s complemented by a monochromatic head-up display that can be positioned for driver height. It places key info directly ahead of the driver for optimal visibility.

2019 Toyota Prius Prime
I’ve always loved the blue-patterned shift knob, but I’ll be glad to see the glossy white interior trim gone for 2020. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

Back to the big vertical centre touchscreen, it really makes a grand statement upon entry, mimicking Tesla in some respects. It was easy to use, and featured a wonderfully large, near full-screen navigation map, while the bottom half of the screen can be temporarily used for other commands via a pop-up interface.

That Softex pleather mentioned a moment ago is actually quite nice, and truly breathes better than most synthetic hides. The driver’s seat is extremely comfortable with good lower back support that’s enhanced via two-way powered lumbar adjustment, while the side bolsters are really impressive too. The tilt and telescopic steering column also gave me ample reach, so therefore I was able to get comfortable and feel in control of the car, which hasn’t always been the case with Toyota products.

2019 Toyota Prius Prime
These top-line Softex-covered seats were extremely comfortable and very supportive. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

The steering wheel rim is pleather-wrapped too, and wonderfully soft, while it also features a heatable rim that was oh so appreciated during winter testing. The switchgear on the two side spokes was high in quality, which can be said for the rest of the car’s buttons, knobs and switches too. The quick access buttons around the outside of the infotainment system are touch-sensitive, which is a nice “touch,” sorry for the pun. Speaking of touch, I still love the electric blue digital-style shift knob that’s always been part of the Prius experience. All in all, this latest, greatest Prius is a high quality product from front to back.

2019 Toyota Prius Prime
The rear seating area gets comfortable buckets split by a fixed centre console. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

Toyota doesn’t go so far as to wrap the rear door uppers in soft-touch synthetic, but the rest of the rear cabin is finished just as nicely as that up front. This even goes for the aforementioned centre console fixed between the two rear seats, which includes some nice piano black lacquer around the cupholders as well as a comfortable centre armrest sitting atop a storage bin below. I noted its removal as a bonus for the 2020 model, but if you don’t have kids or grandchildren to shuttle, it’s a very nice feature that rear passengers will certainly appreciate. On this note, I was surprised to find individual rear buckets in back, this giving the car a much more premium look and feel than others in the class. There’s plenty of space to stretch out back there too, both for legroom and headroom, while thanks to good lower back support I was thoroughly comfortable as well. Additionally, Toyota includes a vent on the sides of each seat, which helps to cool off the rear passenger area nicely.

2019 Toyota Prius Prime
A charge cord is provided under the cargo floor. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

The cargo compartment is wide and spacious, although it’s fairly shallow due to the large battery positioned below the load floor. There’s also a small covered storage area complete with a portable charging cord hiding below the rearmost portion of that floor. The rear seats fold forward in the usual 60/40 configuration, but they sit quite a bit lower than the cargo floor so it’s not a completely flat surface. Such are some compromises often made when choosing a plug-in electric vehicle, although this point in mind the Hyundai Ioniq PHEV, the Prime’s closest competitor now that the Volt is gone, didn’t have this problem (it’s cargo floor sits a bit lower than its folded rear seatbacks, which incline slightly as with most cars in this class).

2019 Toyota Prius Prime
A large battery is mounted below the cargo floor, making it higher than the 60/40-split rear seatbacks when folded down. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

Now that I’m grumbling (although that wasn’t much of a complaint), I will never understand why the Prius has always had a beeping signal inside the car when reversing. It can only be heard from within the car, which makes it one of the strangest features ever created for any car, and serves absolutely no purpose. I mean, if you’re not aware enough to know that you put your car into reverse then you really shouldn’t be behind the wheel. The need for a beeping signal to remind when you’re in reverse is absolutely silly, and in fact it audibly interferes with the parking sensor beep, which goes off at the same time. Please, Toyota, rectify this ridiculous feature once and for all. Now that was a decent grumble.

Of course, the annoying reverse beeper hasn’t stopped the Prius from becoming the world’s best-selling hybrid-electric vehicle, and this latest incarnation fully deserves to wear the coveted blue and silver nameplate, whether in regular, AWD or PHEV form.

In case you hadn’t heard, the Prius C was discontinued as 2019 came to a close, with no 2020 models being built. There are still 2019s available, albeit in short supply, plus plenty of low mileage demos…

2019 Toyota Prius C Technology Road Test

2019 Toyota Prius C Technology
The smart looking 2019 Toyota Prius C looks good in both of its trim lines, although the extras added to this Technology model look great. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

In case you hadn’t heard, the Prius C was discontinued as 2019 came to a close, with no 2020 models being built. There are still 2019s available, albeit in short supply, plus plenty of low mileage demos and pre-owned examples (I searched across the country and found the majority of new ones in the GTA and greater Montreal areas), while the model’s highly efficient hybrid electric drivetrain plus many of its other components will continue being produced into the future for a number of alternative Toyota models.

Toyota is currently offering Prius C buyers factory leasing and financing rates from zero percent, plus all of the examples I found were heavily discounted, while on top of these two reasons it’s also an excellent subcompact runabout, all making a review of a 2019 model relevant despite being so far into the 2020 calendar year. I also want to say goodbye to a car that I particularly like. I consider its loss a step backwards for those of us who appreciate highly efficient small cars that are still plenty of fun to drive.

2019 Toyota Prius C Technology
The Prius C’s rear design is particularly attractive. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

To be clear, the Prius C never reached the enjoyment levels of Toyota’s fun-loving Echo Hatchback RS, the modern interpretation of that 2004–2005 classic being another Canadian-exclusive hatch (with respect to North American markets at least), the now discontinued albeit still available 2019 Nissan Micra, but I liked it more than the current automatic-equipped Yaris. The older Echo Hatch and current Micra are very close dimensionally, but take note the Yaris (which was the Echo Hatchback’s replacement for 2006) has grown considerably in size and weight (after two generations) since its comparatively simple predecessor.

2019 Toyota Prius C Technology
Technology trim adds LED headlights, fog lamps and 15-inch alloy wheels. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

The Prius C actually shares its Toyota B platform architecture with the Yaris, but this said its measurements are slightly different. Specifically, the Prius C’s 2,550-millimetre (100.4-inch) wheelbase is 40 mm (1.6 in) longer than the Japanese automaker’s conventionally powered subcompact hatch, and its 4,059-mm (159.8-in) length makes it a significant 114 mm (4.5 in) longer from front to rear. What’s more, the Prius C’s 1,715-mm (67.5-in) width puts it at 20 mm (0.8 in) wider, while its 1,491-mm (58.7-in) height sees it lose 9 mm (0.3 in) from the base of its tires to the tip of its rooftop.

2019 Toyota Prius C Technology
Technology trim updates the taillights with LEDs. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

Of course, due to the C’s well-proven Hybrid Synergy Drive powertrain that not only consists of a 1.5-litre Atkinson-cycle four-cylinder internal combustion engine (ICE) with variable valve timing and an exhaust heat recovery system, which probably weighs something close to the 1.5-litre four in the outgoing 2019 Yaris Hatchback (the new 2020 Yaris Hatchback is a rebadged Mazda2 that’s otherwise unavailable here), but also adds a 19-kWh nickel metal-hydride battery, a 45kW (60 hp) electric motor, and an auto start/stop system (that shuts the engine off when it would otherwise be idling and automatically restarts when lifting off the brake), all of which increase this small car’s weight significantly.

2019 Toyota Prius C Technology
The Prius C’s interior is quite refined for its subcompact class, especially in Technology trim. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

A similarly equipped 2019 Yaris SE 5-Door Hatchback with its antiquated four-speed automatic hits the scales at just 1,050 kilos (2,335 lbs), compared to 1,147 kg (2,529 lbs) for the Prius C, resulting in 97 kg (214 lbs) of extra mass, while its 99 net horsepower rating (the combination of a 73 horsepower ICE and the aforementioned electric motor) is slightly down on the regular Yaris’ 106 horses, yet the electric motor’s 125 lb-ft of instant torque, combined with the ICE’s 82 lb-ft of more latent twist, plus the lack of mechanical drag from the Prius C’s continuously variable transmission, more than makes up for its increased girth.

2019 Toyota Prius C Technology
The 2019 Toyota Prius C Technology includes a soft-padded instrument panel ahead of the front passenger. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

Yes it took me a while to get back here, but the Prius C is fun to drive. Its acceleration is surprisingly energetic and its chassis feels just as nimble as the Yaris thanks to a battery that sits quite low, while I’d say the hybrid’s ride quality is even better. It’s a refined little subcompact, with a relatively quiet interior even at highway speeds, and pretty decent comfort over rough inner-city alleyways.

It would be wrong to complain about the fuel economy with either of these cars, the Yaris Hatchback auto plenty efficient at 7.9 L/100km in the city, 6.8 highway and 7.4 combined, but the Prius C’s 5.1 L/100km rating, no matter where it’s being driven, is superb.

2019 Toyota Prius C Technology
The primary instruments are placed on top middle of the dash. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

Toyota updated the Prius C for the 2018 model year, and I really liked the changes made to a vehicle that already looked good. Compared to the radical styling of its older, bigger brother, the reworked C is a bit more conservative, including redesigned front and rear fascias plus new LED headlamps, LED taillights, updated wheel covers and optional alloys, whereas the interior received a new steering wheel, updated primary gauge cluster, and a revised centre stack. The updated infotainment system included a standard backup camera, this necessary to comply with then-new Canadian regulations that mandated the technology for safety reasons.

2019 Toyota Prius C Technology
The centre stack is well organized and infotainment system very complete in Technology trim. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

Safety in mind, the updated hybrid included Toyota’s Safety Sense C suite of advanced driver assistive systems as standard equipment, incorporating automatic high beams, pre-collision warning, and lane departure alert. Additionally, the standard Prius C airbag count is nine instead of the usual six, whereas a direct tire pressure monitoring system became part of the base package.

2019 Toyota Prius C Technology
Toyota introduced a much better infotainment interface for 2018. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

Features in mind, Toyota dropped the Prius C’s base model for 2019 and pushed the price up from $21,990 to $22,260 plus freight and dealer fees, but for just $270 they added everything from the previous year’s $900 Upgrade package that included a plush synthetic leather instrument panel, premium upholstery, additional driver seat adjustments, cruise control, two more stereo speakers for a total of six, a rear centre console box, and a cargo cover, to an already generous supply of standard gear including power-adjustable heatable side mirrors, a tilt and telescopic steering column, steering wheel controls for the audio and HVAC systems, a 4.2-inch in-cluster multi-information display, single-zone automatic climate control, a 6.1-inch colour touchscreen infotainment interface, Bluetooth connectivity, an outside temperature gauge, and more.

2019 Toyota Prius C Technology
The front seats are roomy and comfortable, plus upholstered in Toyota’s leather-like SofTex in Technology trim. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

When searching around for new models still available for sale I noticed a nice mix of both trim levels, by the way, the Technology model I tested swapping out the base 15-inch steel wheels with covers for a nice set of 15-inch alloys, and the premium cloth seats as replaced with Toyota’s Softex breathable leatherette upholstery, while additional Technology upgrades include LED fog lamps, proximity-sensing keyless access with pushbutton ignition, Touch Tracer controls on the upgraded synthetic leather-clad steering wheel, a navigation system with detailed mapping, advanced voice recognition, Gracenote connectivity, satellite radio, heatable front seats, a powered moonroof, and more. The Prius C Technology starts at $27,090, which is an increase of just $140 from last year, representing great value for a hybrid. Factoring in the discounts I saw while cruising the interweb, the zero percent financing Toyota is offering, and any other manufacturer rebates available, snapping up a Prius C while you can makes good sense.

2019 Toyota Prius C Technology
The rear seating area is quite spacious for the subcompact class. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

By the way, I found out about the financing rate and pricing at CarCostCanada, where trims, packages and individual option pricing is itemized on most every car available in Canada, plus manufacturer rebate info, financing deals and even dealer invoice pricing that gives you the edge when it comes time to negotiate your deal.

The car that likely killed the Prius C is the all-new 2020 Corolla Hybrid that starts at a very reasonable $24,790, and is inarguably a better vehicle. Then again if you really need a hatchback Toyota will be happy to sell you its larger 2020 Prius, its starting price not too much higher at $28,550 and now available with eAWD, whereas a 2020 Prius Prime plug-in can be had for $32,990, this model qualifying for some governmental rebates. The Camry Hybrid continues into 2020 as well, available from $31,550, while Toyota’s electrified crossover SUV lineup includes the recently redesigned 2020 RAV4 Hybrid from $32,350, and the all-new 2020 Highlander Hybrid from $45,490.

2019 Toyota Prius C Technology
Maximum cargo capacity is quite generous. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

Yes, even without the Prius C they’ve probably got hybrids covered pretty well, although a new RAV4 Prime plug-in will arrive later this year for 2021, while the visually challenging Mirai fuel cell electric, which ended production last year, will arrive this fall with attractive new duds and other upgrades.

As for finally coming to market with a plug-in battery electric vehicle (BEV) like Nissan’s popular Leaf, in June of last year Toyota announced an ambitious plan to include 10 new models worldwide arriving over the first half of the 2020s, all based on a single e-TNGA platform. By 2025 the automaker says that all models will include an electrified variant (at least a hybrid).

Until then, it might be a good idea to grab a great deal on a 2019 Prius C. It’s an excellent little car with impressive fuel economy, good refinement, a roomy interior, and Toyota’s unparalleled reputation for building dependable hybrids.

Remember when the traditional SUV was supposed to die? A lot of people make a lot of predictions, but as sure as rain, or should I say as sure as snow, which we were also told would no longer be part…

2019 Toyota 4Runner TRD Pro Road Test

2019 Toyota 4Runner TRD Pro
The Toyota 4Runner TRD Pro looks best off-road. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

Remember when the traditional SUV was supposed to die? A lot of people make a lot of predictions, but as sure as rain, or should I say as sure as snow, which we were also told would no longer be part of our future in Al Gore’s wildly sensational fantasy film “An Inconvenient Truth,” both the white fluffy stuff and big, off-road capable 4x4s remain very real and ever-present, thank goodness.

In fact, our winters have been getting colder in recent years, likely caused by a solar minimum amongst other things, making vehicles that can manage sudden downfalls of deep powder all the more important. The 4Runner can do a lot more than that, as evidenced in the photo gallery above, an opportunity to venture off the beaten path rarely missed when I spend a week with such a capable companion.

2019 Toyota 4Runner TRD Pro
TRD Pro trim is best for overcoming off-road obstacles. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

Toyota started building the 4Runner the year I graduated high school, and is now well into its fifth generation that was introduced over 10 years ago. The original was little more than the pickup truck with a removable composite rear roof section, much like the original Chevy Blazer and Ford Bronco that came before, but the next version that arrived in 1989 refined the offering with a fully enclosed roof, and the rest is history.

Unlike some body-on-frame competitors that forgot their 4×4 roots in their transformation to car-based crossovers, Toyota stayed true to the 4Runner’s purposeful character and earned respect and sales for doing so. Now it’s one of few truck-based off-roaders available, making it a go-to alternative for those needing family transport yet wanting a way to access a more adventurous lifestyle.

2019 Toyota 4Runner TRD Pro
The 4Runner TRD Pro looks good from every angle. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

The 2019 model tested is being replaced by a new 2020 model, which swaps out the infotainment system with a new head unit complete with a larger 8.0-inch touchscreen, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, satellite radio and USB audio, plus the brand’s Connected Services suite. Push-button ignition gets added too, as does Toyota’s Safety Sense P bundle of advanced driver assistance features including pre-collision system with vehicle and pedestrian detection, lane departure warning and assist, automatic high beams, and adaptive cruise control.

2019 Toyota 4Runner TRD Pro
The TRD Pro gets a totally unique front fascia. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

There’s a new trim level too. Dubbed Venture, it’s all about getting out of the city and into the wild. It builds on just-above-base TRD Off-Road trim, which means it starts off with go-anywhere features like 4-Wheel Crawl Control with Multi-Terrain Select, a locking rear differential, and the Kinematic Dynamic Suspension (KDSS) upgrade, not to mention a hood scoop, plus navigation system with traffic and weather, before adding black mirror housings, trim, and badging, Predator side steps, 17-inch TRD Pro wheels, and a basket style roof rack.

That might sound exciting, and it looks pretty cool, but it’s no off-road match to the TRD Pro given to me for a week’s testing. That truck looks even more intimidating, especially in exclusive Voodoo Blue paint. Anything not blue is matte black for a sort of paramilitary appearance, visually supported by a special heritage “TOYOTA” grille, a TRD-stamped aluminum front skid plate, plenty of black accents and badging front to back, and fabulous matte black painted 17-inch alloy wheels with TRD centre caps on massive 31.5-inch Nitto Terra Grappler all-terrain tires (although my tester’s were on Bridgestone Blizzak 265/70 studless snow tires).

2019 Toyota 4Runner TRD Pro
These matte black 17-inch alloys are unique to the TRD Pro. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

It looks like it’s jacked up higher too, but there’s no mention of any change to ride height or ground clearance despite the addition of TRD-tuned front springs and TRD Bilstein high-performance shocks with rear remote reservoirs, but it probably doesn’t need much more height. An automatic disconnecting differential helps to keep the four drive wheels from fighting each other during tight turns, while its rear differential lock assists when the ground surface is extra slippery, and multi-terrain ABS comes into action when scaling a downward grade. Aforementioned Crawl Control is good for going up, down or just cruising along a low-speed stretch of flat terrain, selectable via an overhead console dial right next to the one for the Multi-Terrain Select system that makes choosing the four-wheel drive system’s best possible response over “LIGHT” to “HEAVY” terrain an easy process. Of course, getting serious will need a quick shift from “H2” or “H4” to “L4” for its low set of gears via the console-mounted 4WD Selector lever.

2019 Toyota 4Runner TRD Pro
The TRD Pro’s roof rack is ideal for carrying all types of gear. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

Its insanely capable off road, something I learned when swamping through a local 4×4 course I use whenever I have something worthy of its rutted trails and long, wide, deep muddy pools. I tested it recently with Jeep’s Wrangler Unlimited Sahara and did likewise with a Chevy Colorado ZR2 that saw brown water sloshing over its hood, plus I even proved Toyota wasn’t fooling compact crossover buyers into believing its new RAV4 Trail could actually do a bit of dirty dancing too, albeit nowhere near as capably as the others just noted, including this 4Runner TRD Pro.

2019 Toyota 4Runner TRD Pro
The 4Runner TRD Pro’s interior is well made and filled with the types of features needed in an adventure-first 4×4. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

My tester’s hood scoop never tested water, nor did it need the Tacoma TRD Pro’s snorkel, although it would’ve looked cool, and believe me I was careful not to totally soil the white and red embroidery on the special floor mats, or even get mud on the breathable leather-like Black SofTex seat upholstery, complete with red contrast stitching and red embroidered “TRD” logos on the front headrests, not that it wouldn’t be easy enough to wash off. I just keep my vehicles clean out of respect to the machinery, and an annoying fastidiousness about cleanliness.

The 4Runner TRD Pro makes easy work of most any off-road course or backcountry trail, even if there’s not much of a trail to begin with. Choose the right Multi-Terrain setting and engage Crawl Control if you need to sit/stand up high without needing to press the gas pedal, and its amazing grip will do the rest. We used to have a mechanical version of this on the family’s old Land Cruiser FJ40, which was more or less a choke that held the throttle out when applying the gas pedal wasn’t possible, and it worked wonders just like the 4Runner’s version. The FJ Cruiser had one too, a model that shared underpinnings with this much larger and more accommodating SUV, as does the global market Land Cruiser Prado and luxury-oriented Lexus GX 460.

2019 Toyota 4Runner TRD Pro
The Optitron gauges are highly legible in all lighting conditions. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

Speaking of eight-cylinder-powered 4x4s, I remember when Toyota stuffed a 4.7-litre V8 into the previous fourth-generation 4Runner. I loved that truck and its silky-smooth formidable powertrain, but I must admit to rather having the 2.8-litre turbo-diesel found in the current Prado, as it’s fuel economy would be a bonus around town and in the woods where it could trek a lot farther away from civilization than the current 4.0-litre V6. That beast chows down a gluttonous 14.3 L/100km in the city, 11.9 on the highway and 13.2 combined, although it uses a great deal more in low gear off-road. That’s really this truck’s weak point, and now that Jeep is offering its Wrangler with a turbo-diesel V6, and Chevy has one for the Colorado, it’s high time Toyota provided North American 4×4 enthusiasts with something similar from its global catalogue.

2019 Toyota 4Runner TRD Pro
The 2019 4Runner’s infotainment system is pretty good, but it gets updated for 2020. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

The 4Runner’s five-speed automatic transmission doesn’t exactly help at the pump either, but it’s a ruggedly reliable lump of machinery and certainly shifts smooth enough. This TRD Pro model adds a red-stitched leather shift knob to its console-mounted lever, almost making it feel sporty when utilizing manual mode, and to be fair to the big hunk of an SUV it manages fast-paced corners quite well, whether on pavement or off, while its ride is very compliant, appreciated as much through inner-city laneways as on the trail.

I would’ve loved it even more if it came standard with shock-absorbing seat frames like my old ‘86 LC BJ70, still my favourite Toyota to this day (diesel-powered no less), but the TRD Pro’s powered seats with two-way lumbar took care of comfort well enough, while its tilt and telescopic steering column allowed for ample reach to set up my driving position for good comfort and control.

2019 Toyota 4Runner TRD Pro
A special TRD shift lever joins carbon-fibre like trim on the centre console. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

That steering wheel rim is leather-wrapped, albeit without the red stitching, and its spokes filled with just enough buttons to make it look up-to-date. Seen through its upper section is a really eye-catching set of bright blue, red and white on black Optitron gauges featuring a small trip computer at centre; nothing too advanced, but attractive and functional.

Over on the centre stack, the centre touchscreen might be the one being replaced for 2020, but it was nevertheless decently sized, fairly high in resolution and filled with attractive graphics and plenty of functions, its backup camera devoid of active guidelines yet nice and clear (when not sprayed with mud), its navigation system accurate and map easy to read, plus its audio system just fine.

2019 Toyota 4Runner TRD Pro
The TRD Pro’s driver’s seat is comfortable and spacious, while Toyota covers the seats with its breathable SofTex leatherette. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

The 4Runner’s second row is nicely sized for most anyone, particularly if seated next to one of the windows, while its third row gets deleted for this off-road model, leaving loads of space for cargo. There’s actually 1,337 litres (47.2 cubic feet) dedicated to gear, or up to 2,540 litres (89.7 cu ft) when the 60/40-split second row is folded down, making the 4Runner an awesome camping companion or ski hill buddy.

You can get into a 2019 4Runner for $46,155 or less depending on your negotiating skills (which shouldn’t have to be that sharp this time of year), while I should also note that leasing and financing rates could be had from 1.99 percent at the time of writing according to CarCostCanada, which also provides members with money saving rebate information and dealer invoice pricing that could save you thousands. The 2020 4Runner, which starts at $48,120 due to all the new equipment I mentioned earlier, only benefits from leasing and financing rates from 4.49 percent, so the 2019 might be the way to go if you can still find what you want. If it’s this TRD Pro, you’ll need to come up with $56,580 plus freight and fees, less any discount, this being the priciest trim in the lineup.

2019 Toyota 4Runner TRD Pro
The 4Runner’s second row is roomy and comfortable. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

Money in mind, the 4Runner won’t wow its owner with fancy soft composite interior surfaces or any other premium touches, but that’s ok because it’s a tough-as-nails SUV that doesn’t need to pamper its occupants to impress. Instead, along with its killer off-road prowess, general ease of use and overall livability, it manages to beat every other similarly sized sport utility for all-important cost of ownership status by topping its “Mid-size Crossover-SUV” category in the 2019 Canadian Black Book Best Retained Value Awards, and while it didn’t do likewise in ALG’s Residual Value Awards, the Sequoia, Tacoma and Tundra did in their Fullsize Utility, Midsize Pickup and Fullsize Pickup categories respectively, so I’m guessing it wasn’t too far behind Jeep’s Wrangler in the third-party analytical firm’s Off-Road Utility segment (it won this category in 2018 after all).

2019 Toyota 4Runner TRD Pro
The 4Runner provides plenty of space for hauling big loads. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

I could go on and on with awards, but the 4Runner and Toyota have won too many to list over the years, so suffice to say you’ll be well taken care of in this dependable ute. I’d be happier than a pig in mud if this were my very own, although I’d probably rather have it in last year’s Cement Grey hue and would definitely add a TRD-sourced snorkel to its front right fender and A-pillar for dramatic effect.