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.

Hold on. Subaru’s BRZ now outsells the Scion FR-S… er… the Toyota 86 by 2.5-to-one? What’s going on? Toyota has the stronger brand, right? Boy was I wrong. I was sure that rebadging Scion’s…

2019 Toyota 86 GT Road Test

2019 Toyota 86 GT
The 86 still looks great three years after its mid-cycle refresh, but despite such sharp styling it’s one of Canada’s most exclusive sports cars. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

Hold on. Subaru’s BRZ now outsells the Scion FR-S… er… the Toyota 86 by 2.5-to-one? What’s going on? Toyota has the stronger brand, right?

Boy was I wrong. I was sure that rebadging Scion’s sports car with Toyota’s much better-known logo would cause some sort of uptick in popularity, but its sales decline has been brutal over the past couple of years. In fact, since the car first became available in 2012, which began with a level of excitement from performance and tuning car enthusiasts that I hadn’t seen for a very long time and resulted in 1,470 Canadian deliveries in its first seven months, its sales have steadily dropped from a bullish 1,825 units in 2013, to 1,559 in 2014, 1,329 in 2015, 988 in 2016, 919 in 2017, and 550 in 2018, while as of November 2019 Toyota has only sold 250 units, representing a 53.3-percent drop over the same 11 months last year. Adding insult to injury, Subaru’s aforementioned BRZ, which only started edging out the 86 last year, is now sitting at 625 deliveries after 8.1 percent growth so far this year.

2019 Toyota 86 GT
It’s hard to argue against a car that looks this good, GT trim adding a sportier rear wing and much more. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

The BRZ’s recent upsurge should be an important indicator when analyzing the 86’ fall from grace. The fact is, not all sports cars are experiencing a downturn, but instead some, such as the BRZ and Mazda’s venerable MX-5, which has sold 767 examples so far this year for a 26.99-percent bump in popularity, are showing there’s renewed interest in the entry-level sports car segment, as long as its ardent customer base gets what they want.

Truth be told, Toyota’s 86 hasn’t changed much since it was refreshed for 2017 as part of its Scion FR-S transformation, and while part of me believes it doesn’t need much if any modifications, the numbers don’t lie. Truly, despite a U.S.-market Toyota spokesperson declaring last year that the 86 is here to stay for the foreseeable future, its current numbers should have the model’s handful of diehard fans feeling uncomfortable.

2019 Toyota 86 GT
Standard LED headlamps joined a new front fascia, new 17-inch alloys and other updates for the 2017 model year. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

But the quoted numbers are just for Canada, right? What about the U.S.? Sales are certainly brighter south of the 49th where they’d need about 2,500 deliveries to match Canada’s output per capita. Year-to-date Toyota’s U.S. division has seen 86 sales grow by 3.9 percent to 3,122 units, which while hardly worthy of streamers, party horns and other New Year’s noise makers, at least beat Subaru at the very same game by trouncing U.S.-spec BRZ sales by 70.5 percent due to that model’s 36.8-percent plunge to 2,203 units. How did the MX-5 “Miata” do in the States? Not well at 7,314 units, a 13.5-percent drop, but at least none of them are the Fiat 124 Spider that’s only sold 687 units as of November 2019, a 32.7-percent downward spiral from a position that some might say was already well underwater (or six feet under?). Such results make Fiat Canada’s 204-unit 124 Spider sales look awesome per capita despite a 25.8-percent hit (U.S. deliveries should be about 2,000 units by comparison), and really Fiat shouldn’t feel so bad when comparing its current 124 Spider success to the 86.

2019 Toyota 86 GT
This rear spoiler gets added to GT and SE trims. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

There’s kind of good news on the horizon for Toyota’s most affordable sports car, however, and no I’m not talking about any increase in straight-line performance, an improvement most have been calling for since the model’s inception, but rather a much-needed upgrade to its infotainment system arriving for the upcoming 2020 model year. As it is, the 2019 Toyota 86 GT you’re looking at on this page appears identical to the one I tested in 2017, other than this car’s coat Raven Black paint and the 2017 model’s now discontinued burnt orange-like Hot Lava.

2019 Toyota 86 GT
The 86′ interior was updated for 2017, and continued into 2019 unchanged, while the 2020 model gets new infotainment. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

Toyota redesigned the entire front fascia for 2017, with those changes continuing into 2019 as well. Attractively detailed standard LED headlamps were part of the upgrade, and still provide a more sophisticated appearance, while the elongated front fender vents and redesigned “86” insignia, now positioned lower on the side panel, were at least different, as were the revised taillight lenses updated with brighter LEDs.

The cabin has always been pretty decent, but the earlier FR-S examples I drove never let me inside with proximity-sensing keyless access, nor did they start with a pushbutton, keep me warm via dual-zone automatic climate control, skinned their seats in leather trimmed with suede-like Alcantara, or covered their primary instrument hoods and passenger-side dash sections in padded and stitched microsuede like this 2019 86 does, but I must say the infotainment update promised for 2020 will be welcome.

2019 Toyota 86 GT
The 86′ provides a superb driving environment, as long as you’re moving forward. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

Back in 2017, the current 6.1-inch centre touchscreen stopped paying tribute to Pioneer by upgrade its graphics to an attractive blue on black patterned background with cyan links, plus adding Toyota branding. It continues to look pretty good, but doesn’t come off as advanced as the automaker’s new Entune system, because it clearly isn’t. Other than the usual radio functions it allows for USB integration, plus it connects wirelessly via Bluetooth for talking on the phone and streaming audio, but believe it or not it doesn’t project the backup camera’s image. Instead, it blocks half of the rearview mirror’s usefulness with a tiny image that’s hardly useful at night in the rain, seeming more like a way for Toyota to satisfy regulators that now demand rearview cameras, than improve safety. I was therefore shocked to learn that the completely new 7.0-inch centre touchscreen in the 2020 86, which positively includes Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, doesn’t include the rearview camera. This means you’ll still be squinting at the mirror when backing up, which simply isn’t good enough.

2019 Toyota 86 GT
You’re looking at the backup camera, a tiny display set within the rearview mirror. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

This said, with North American sales numbers as poor as they are, should we expect any more investment in the 2020 86? Then again, are those numbers as bad as they are because Toyota hasn’t invested enough in this car? Even hindsight can’t help us answer this question, but one thing is certain, the 86 remains one of the most enjoyable cars in its class to hustle down a winding mountainside road.

I specified “down” because its Subaru-sourced 2.0-litre horizontally opposed “boxer” four-cylinder engine continues to make just 205 horsepower and 156 lb-ft of torque, which while pretty good for most cars that weigh in at just 1,252 kilos (2,760 lbs), isn’t as formidable as many of its peers. Those numbers were bumped up five points each for 2017, which was an improvement, but 2.5 and 3.3 percent upgrades respectively didn’t answered the ongoing call for more performance requested by the very same customers buying it.

2019 Toyota 86 GT
GT trims adds a 4.2-inch multi-info display with performance data to the primary gauge cluster. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

Of note, only six-speed manual (6M) equipped cars received the increased power, which came together with a reworked rear differential designed for quicker launches from standstill. Cars like my previous 2017 tester that utilize Toyota’s paddle-shift actuated six-speed automatic (6A), which incorporates a downshift rev-matching system dubbed “Dynamic Rev Management,” continued forward with the unmodified powertrain, but at least Toyota added hill start assist.

I have to admit to not minding the autobox as much as I expected, as it’s a decent transmission and a lot easier to live with around town, but this is a rear-wheel drive sports car folks, not merely a sporty looking front-drive coupe based on a compact commuter sedan, so if this were my personal ride I’d only own it with a manual gearbox.

2019 Toyota 86 GT
The 86′ 6.1-inch centre touchscreen was updated for 2017, and still works pretty well unless you want to hook up your smartphone to Apple CarPlay or Android Auto, which won’t be possible until 2020. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

Modulating the clutch and letting the revs climb right up to 7,000 rpm for maximum power is the best way to get the most out of the engine’s available power, whether taking off in a straight line or exiting a corner, and on that last note the 86 continues to be one of the nimblest chassis’ available in its price range.

It gets MacPherson gas struts up front and double wishbones in back, plus if you ante up from this GT trim line to the top-tier manual-only SE, SACHS performance dampers are included, while the already strong four-wheel discs get upgraded to Brembos and usual standard 215/45R17 summers grow to 215/40R18 Michelin Pilot Sport 4 performance tires, although my tester included Bridgestone Blizzak winters that really made it easy to slide the back end out; no bad thing.

2019 Toyota 86 GT
The standard automatic HVAC system’s controls are analogue with cool retro LCD readouts, and get upgraded to dual-zone in GT trim. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

The 2019 86 comes in base, GT and just-noted SE trims, by the way, some base model highlights not yet mentioned including a limited slip differential, auto on/off LED headlamps, heated power-adjustable side mirrors, remote keyless entry, a tilt and telescopic leather-wrapped multifunction three-spoke sport steering wheel, a leather-clad shift knob and handbrake lever, aluminum sport pedals, a trip computer/multi-info display, cruise control, variable intermittent wipers, single-zone automatic climate control, eight-speaker AM/FM audio with aux and USB inputs plus an Automatic Sound Levelizer (ASL), Bluetooth phone and streaming audio, a six-way manually adjustable driver’s seat, power windows with auto up/down all-round, dual vanity mirrors, all the usual active and passive safety equipment, and more for only $29,990 plus freight and fees.

2019 Toyota 86 GT
The notchy six-speed manual is the best way to get the most out of the 205 horsepower 2.0-litre four-cylinder “boxer” engine. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

The automatic transmission will set you back $1,200, this being the same price whether choosing a base 86 or opting for $33,260 as-tested GT trim. Of note, the GT wasn’t available when I last reviewed the 86 in 2017, with most of its features part of a Special Edition that now shares its more performance-oriented upgrades with the new SE, or TRD Special Edition. Before getting into that top-line model, GT trim provides the proximity-sensing access and pushbutton start/stop, dual-zone auto HVAC, and fancier leather/microsuede upholstery and trim mentioned earlier, those front seats also including warmers as part of this upgrade, while additional GT features include LED fog lamps, a rear spoiler with black-painted accents, a 4.2-inch TFT multi-information display with vehicle performance data, and a theft deterrent system.

2019 Toyota 86 GT
Toyota includes attractive, soft suede-like Alcantara on the instrument panel with the GT upgrade. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

Lastly, the $38,220 TRD (Toyota Racing Development) Special Edition, which once again can only be had with the manual transmission, adds a TRD aero kit, TRD performance dual exhaust, black side mirror housings, special cloth sport seats with red accents, red seatbelts, and red interior stitching to the upgraded wheel and tire package plus the suspension tweaks mentioned earlier.

Speaking of trims, packages and pricing, those interested in a 2019 86 can access up to $2,000 in additional incentives by visiting the 2019 Toyota 86 Canada Prices page at CarCostCanada, or if the new infotainment system in the 2020 model seems like the better bet, check out CarCostCanada’s 2020 Toyota 86 Canada Prices page, which will tell you how to access factory leasing and financing rates from 3.49 percent, plus other manufacturer rebate information and dealer invoice pricing that could save you thousands.

2019 Toyota 86 GT
The 86′ sport seats are ultra comfortable extremely supportive, plus get Alcantara inserts and leather bolsters in GT trim. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

The 2020 model replaces the TRD Special Edition with a new Hakone Edition, by the way, which comes painted in unique Hakone Green and rides on 17-inch bronze-coloured alloys, while the name “pays tribute to one of the greatest driving roads in the world,” says Toyota, but so far the only way to find out about it is to visit Toyota’s U.S. retail website (where I sourced this info) as the automaker’s Canadian site has no info about the 2020 86 (again, go to CarCostCanada for 2020 86 pricing, trims, etcetera).

I’ve mentioned a number of 86 competitors already, but the one that probably comes closest to matching Toyota’s sports coupe in layout is Nissan’s 370Z Coupe, and you might be surprised to learn it retails for only $30,498 in its most basic trim, and with that solves the 86’ most criticized performance issue with a 350 horsepower base 3.7-litre V6. Its tech will take you a dozen years back in time, however, so get ready to be deflated if you want hook your smartphone up to Apple CarPlay or Android Auto, or even stream a podcast via Bluetooth (the base model will only let you take calls that way), but the orange liquid crystal displays provide a cool ‘80s retro digital Seiko look if you’re into that sort of thing, and it’s hard to argue against all that straight-line power.

2019 Toyota 86 GT
The rear seats are small, but they’re better than no rear seats at all. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

Before you run down to your local Nissan store and snap up a new Z, consider that it weighs 260 kilograms (573 lbs) more and feels like it, the Nissan doesn’t come with a rear bench seat so two (small) folks will need to stay home, and the 370Z’s fuel economy is nowhere near as efficient as the 86, Toyota achieving a claimed 9.9 L/100km in the city, 7.3 on the highway and 8.7 combined with the manual or 11.3 city, 8.3 highway 9.9 highway with its automatic, and Nissan only managing 12.6 city, 9.3 highway and 11.1 combined with the Z’s six-speed manual or 13.3, 9.3 and 11.5 respectively for its seven-speed auto.

2019 Toyota 86 GT
Forget about golf bags, four rims on racing slicks can fit inside with the rear row lowered. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

Of course, most of us don’t base the purchase of a future sports car on its fuel-efficiency, but this day and age it’s certainly a bonus, while anyone with kids will appreciate those rear seats. I wouldn’t go so far as to call Toyota’s 86 practical, but it’s easier to live with than many of its two-seat competitors and its one-piece rear seatback even folds down to expand on a reasonably sized 196-litre (6.9 cubic-foot) trunk to boot. Add to that good expected reliability and the 86 is a good choice for anyone wanting a daily driver with much better performance than most anything else available under $30k.

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.