With the Genesis Coupe now long gone, and Genesis itself becoming a standalone luxury brand, this completely redesigned 2019 Veloster becomes the only dedicated sports model in Hyundai’s lineup.  That’s…

2019 Hyundai Veloster Turbo Tech

2019 Hyundai Veloster Turbo Tech
Hyundai fully redesigned its Veloster for 2019, and we’ve got a top-line Turbo Tech in our garage. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann, Canadian Auto Press)

With the Genesis Coupe now long gone, and Genesis itself becoming a standalone luxury brand, this completely redesigned 2019 Veloster becomes the only dedicated sports model in Hyundai’s lineup. 

That’s a pretty heavy weight for this little front-drive compact to carry, but it continues to walk with a swagger of confidence thanks to truly unique styling that preserves the original model’s unorthodox hatchback shape and its most identifiable feature, the long driver’s door that makes it look like a regular sports coupe from one side, and the extra rear passenger’s side door that allows easier access to the back seats. 

2019 Hyundai Veloster Turbo Tech
With one door on the driver’s side and two for passengers, the Veloster continues to strike a unique profile. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann, Canadian Auto Press)

Yet there’s no way you’ll mistake the Veloster for a compact sedan or even a regular hatchback when one whizzes by, its third door sneakily hiding its handle in the rearmost section of the side glass surround as if doubling as a tiny quarter window, while the car’s general shape is much longer, lower and leaner, and its rear liftback design much more vertical and dramatically styled than the average compact commuter car. 

2019 Hyundai Veloster Turbo Tech
The Turbo gets some special grille and lower fascia detailing to set it apart from its normally aspirated sibling. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann, Canadian Auto Press)

Of course, other than providing plenty of room up front and a fairly accommodating rear passenger compartment the Veloster is anything but the compact class average, yet its much more practical design makes it one of the more pragmatic choices amongst compact sports coupes, albeit this list has been dwindling in recent years and now disparate at best with only the Honda Civic Coupe available in three regular trims plus the sportier Si, plus the rear-wheel drive Subaru BRZ and Toyota 86 twins, and finally the soon to be discontinued VW Beetle. Certainly there are other sporty four- and five-door compacts from the legendary VW GTI/Golf R and Subaru WRX/STI to Ford’s Fiesta and Focus ST and RS models, the latter blue ovals already slated for cancellation, while a handful of mainstream volume brands still off larger performance cars, but the days of compact sport coupes seem numbered. 

2019 Hyundai Veloster Turbo Tech
This hidden rear door handle gets passengers into the back seats. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann, Canadian Auto Press)

Reason enough for the Veloster to break the rules with its three-door body style (or four-door if you include the hatch), but rest assured its underpinnings are comparatively straightforward. It comes standard with a 2.0-litre base four-cylinder engine good for 147 horsepower and 132 lb-ft of torque, which drives the front wheels through a standard six-speed manual or optional six-speed automatic, whereas the Veloster Turbo model in our garage this week is 400 cubic centimetres smaller a just 1.6 litres yet puts out a much more energetic 201 horsepower and 195 lb-ft of torque. It still drives the front wheels through a standard six-speed manual gearbox, but those wanting automation can option up to a quick-shifting seven-speed dual-clutch gearbox with paddle shifters on the steering wheel. 

2019 Hyundai Veloster Turbo Tech
The Turbo comes very well equipped in standard guise, but our tester also includes a nicely outfitted Tech package. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann, Canadian Auto Press)

Our tester includes the manual as we’d prefer if it were staying with us longer than a week, plus it also gets a $3,000 available Turbo Tech package featuring a powered head-up display system with a Sport mode function, rain-sensing wipers, rear parking sensors, automatic climate control with an auto defogger, a larger 8.0-inch infotainment touchscreen with integrated navigation, eight-speaker Infinity audio with an external amplifier, leather upholstery, and two-way powered driver seat lumbar support. 

2019 Hyundai Veloster Turbo Tech
The Tech package includes a larger 8-inch touchscreen with navigation. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann, Canadian Auto Press)

Another $500 provides an upgrade to the Performance package that adds unique 18-inch alloy wheels on 225/40 Michelin Pilot summer-performance tires, while all of the above was added to a Veloster Turbo that already comes standard with LED headlights, LED side mirror turn signal repeaters, LED taillights, a unique grille and extended side sills, proximity-sensing keyless access with pushbutton ignition, a 4.2-inch TFT multi-information display replacing a more conventional 3.5-inch trip computer within the gauge cluster, a powered glass sunroof, silver vent rings, checkered dash trim, partial cloth/leather upholstery with red stitching instead of blue, leatherette door trim, red interior accents, and more. 

2019 Hyundai Veloster Turbo Tech
These sporty leather seats come as part of the Tech package. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann, Canadian Auto Press)

Of course, Turbo trim pulls up plenty of features from the base model mentioned earlier, including auto on/off headlights, LED daytime running lights, power-adjustable heated side mirrors, remote entry, a leather-wrapped heatable multifunction steering wheel, a tilt and telescopic steering column, cruise control, power windows, illuminated vanity mirrors, a sunglasses holder, filtered air conditioning, a one-inch smaller 7.0-inch infotainment touchscreen with standard Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, a rearview camera with dynamic guidelines, six-speaker audio, Bluetooth hands-free phone connectivity with audio streaming, a leather-wrapped shift knob, heated front seats, manual six-way driver and four-way front passenger seat adjustments, blindspot detection with rear cross-traffic alert, all the expected active and passive safety features, plus more. 

2019 Hyundai Veloster Turbo Tech
The Veloster looks like a sports coupe, but it’s practical like a 4-door hatchback. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann, Canadian Auto Press)

Before moving on from trims and features, Hyundai now offers the even more capable Veloster N for 2019, boasting a 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder good for a meaty 275 horsepower and 260 lb-ft of torque. It comes standard with a six-speed manual transmission featuring downshift rev-matching, an electronically controlled limited slip differential for getting power down to the road, an electronically controlled suspension attached to unique 19-inch alloy wheels on 235/35 Pirelli summer-performance tires for maximizing lateral grip, Normal, Sport, N and Custom drive mode selections, a driver-adjustable active exhaust system, and more. 

2019 Hyundai Veloster Turbo Tech
The Veloster provides a decently sized cargo hold plus the versatility of 60/40 split-folding rear seatbacks. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann, Canadian Auto Press)

This $34,999 model gets unique styling details including some red paintwork along its lower extremities and the option of Chalk White, Phantom Black and exclusive Performance Blue (more of a baby blue) exterior colours, plus inside it features blue-stitched N exclusive cloth sport seats and other upgrades. 

2019 Hyundai Veloster Turbo Tech
Come back soon for the full review to find out how well this little Veloster Turbo hauls… (Photo: Trevor Hofmann, Canadian Auto Press)

Base Veloster and Veloster Turbo trims are much more affordable, the former starting at just $20,999 plus freight and fees, and the latter for only $25,899. You can add the conventional automatic to the base model for another $1,300, whereas the more performance-oriented dual-clutch automated gearbox ups the Turbo’s price by $1,500. This meant my almost fully featured test model came to $29,399, just shy of a fully loaded Veloster Turbo Tech DCT’s $30,399 list price. To get full 2019 Veloster pricing details include models, trims and options, not to mention detailed rebate info and dealer invoice pricing that could save you thousands, make sure to check out CarCostCanada. 

A standard 2019 Veloster upgrade that deserves the most attention of all is a change from a torsion beam rear suspension design to a new independent multi-link setup, which should theoretically improve comfort as well as high-speed stability over uneven road surfaces. We’ll be sure to cover this and plenty more in our upcoming road test review, but until it gets published make sure to check out our comprehensive photo gallery above…

Lexus is in the unique position of offering the North American luxury market two premium sedans nearly identical in size and more or less the same shape, within an auto sector that’s shunning four-door…

2019 Lexus ES 300h

2019 Lexus ES 300h
Lexus redesigned its popular ES series luxury sedan for 2019, and we’ve got the ES 300h hybrid in our garage. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann, Canadian Auto Press)

Lexus is in the unique position of offering the North American luxury market two premium sedans nearly identical in size and more or less the same shape, within an auto sector that’s shunning four-door three-box designs faster than you can say SUV. 

Rather than nix at least one of them like so many of its rivals are doing, the preeminent Japanese luxury brand soldiers into 2019 with the sportier and more upscale GS 350 AWD, unchanged since 2015, and the ES 350 and ES 300h hybrid completely redesigned for its seventh generation, this latter set of models hot on the heels of the all-new fifth-generation Toyota Avalon that shares underpinnings. 

2019 Lexus ES 300h
The new ES 300h gets much more dramatic styling front to back. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann, Canadian Auto Press)

No matter whether trimmed out as a base ES 350, upgraded with more athletic ES 350 F Sport duds, or delivered in classy as-tested ES 300h guise, Lexus’ front-drive four-door now adds an entirely new level of visual drama to its outward design. Its trademark spindle grille is larger and considerably more expressive, its origami-inspired LED headlight clusters more complex with sharper edges, its side profile longer and sleeker with a more pronounced front overhang and a swoopier sweep to its C pillars that now taper downward over a shorter, taller trunk lid, while its rear end styling is more aggressively penned due to a much bigger crescent-shaped spoiler that hovers above expansive triangular wrap-around LED taillights. 

2019 Lexus ES 300h
This is one of the most expansive spindle grilles in Lexus’ lineup, while its standard LED headlamps are razor sharp. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann, Canadian Auto Press)

The overall design toys with the mind, initially flowing smoothly from the grille rearward, overtop the hood and down each sculpted side, but then it culminates into a clamor of dissonant creases, folds and cutlines at back. Still, it comes together quite well overall, and certainly won’t conjure any of the model’s previous criticisms about yawn-inducing styling. 

Similar can be said of the interior, but instead of sharp edges the cabin combines myriad horizontal planes and softer angles with higher-grade materials than the outgoing ES, not to mention a few design details pulled from the LFA supercar, particularly the black knurled metal pods hanging off each side of the primary instrument hood, the left one for turning off the traction control, and the knob to the right for scrolling between Normal, Eco and Sport modes. 

2019 Lexus ES 300h
The big rear spoiler looks like it could’ve been inspired by the 2nd-gen E63 2003–2010 BMW 6 Series coupe. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann, Canadian Auto Press)

Between those unorthodox pods is a standard digital gauge cluster that once again was inspired by the LFA supercar and plenty of lesser Lexus road cars since, while the infotainment display at dash central measures a minimum of 8.0 inches up to a sizeable 12.3 inches, yet both look even larger due to all the extra black glass bordering each side, the left portion hiding a classic LED-backlit analogue clock underneath. 

Better yet, when opting for the as-tested ES 300h hybrid the infotainment interface now comes standard with Apple CarPlay for those who’d rather not integrate their smartphone via Lexus’ proprietary Enform system. This said Enform is arguably more comprehensive and easier to use than Android Auto, which is not included anyway, while standard Enform 2.0 apps include info on fuel prices, traffic incidents, weather, sports, and stocks, plus it’s also bundled with Scout GPS Link, Slacker, Yelp, and more. 

2019 Lexus ES 300h
Lexus really upped the ES interior, especially when equipped with the Premium package that adds a 12.3-inch infotainment display. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann, Canadian Auto Press)

The 2019 ES 300h also gets an updated Remote Touch Interface trackpad controller on the lower console, which allows gesture controls like tap, pinch and swipe, while other standard features include 17-inch alloy wheels, Bi-LED headlamps, LED taillights, proximity-sensing keyless access with pushbutton ignition, a leather-wrapped steering wheel, rain-sensing wipers, an auto-dimming rearview mirror, a rearview camera with dynamic guidelines, 10-speaker audio with satellite radio, a deodorizing, dust and pollen filtered dual-zone automatic climate control system, 10-way powered front seats with both three-way heat and ventilation, NuLuxe breathable leatherette upholstery, all the usual active and passive safety equipment including 10 airbags, plus much more. 

2019 Lexus ES 300h
This digital gauge cluster comes standard. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann, Canadian Auto Press)

Safety in mind, the new ES 300h comes standard with the Lexus Safety System+ 2.0 that features an autonomous emergency braking pre-collision system with pedestrian and bicycle detection, plus lane departure alert with steering assist and road edge detection, new Lane Tracing Assist (LTA) automated lane guidance, automatic high beams, and full-speed range adaptive cruise control, all for just $47,000 plus freight and fees, which is only $2,000 more than the conventionally powered base ES 350. 

The aforementioned 12.3-inch infotainment display comes as part of an optional $3,800 Premium package that also adds blindspot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert, reverse tilting side mirrors, front and rear parking sensors, a heatable steering wheel, front seat and side mirror memory, navigation with extremely detailed mapping, and Enform Destination Assist that provides 24/7 live assistance for finding destinations or points of interest. 

2019 Lexus ES 300h
This left-side LFA-inspired pod controller is for turning off the traction control. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann, Canadian Auto Press)

Alternatively you can opt for the even more comprehensive $10,600 Luxury package that combines everything from the Premium package with 18-inch alloy wheels, Tri-LED headlamps, Qi-compatible wireless smartphone charging, full leather upholstery, and a powered rear window sunshade. 

Instead, the as-tested $14,500 Ultra Luxury package builds on the Luxury package with unique 18-inch noise reduction alloy wheels, ambient interior lighting, a 10-inch head-up display, a 360-degree surround parking monitor, 17-speaker Mark Levinson premium audio, softer semi-aniline leather upholstery, rear door sunshades, and a touch-free gesture control powered trunk lid. 

2019 Lexus ES 300h
The new ES 300h’ driver’s seat looks comfortable, but are the ergonomics good for all body types? Come back for a full review to find out… (Photo: Trevor Hofmann, Canadian Auto Press)

By the way, to get all 2019 Lexus ES 350 and ES 300h pricing details including trims, package and options, plus important rebate information and dealer invoice pricing that could save you thousands, be sure to visit CarCostCanada.

Needless to say this $61,500 model is the most luxuriously equipped Lexus ES 300h to date, but you’ll need to wait for our full road test review to find out just how nice it is inside, plus how its upgraded Hybrid Synergy Drive power unit performs compared to the outgoing version, whether its fancy Sport mode does anything worth talking about, if its fully independent suspension is sportier than the old ES 300h’s setup, let alone as comfortable, and if its fuel economy is any thriftier. Of course, we won’t hold back our criticisms, so make sure to come back soon for our full review…

Kia is no stranger to electrified vehicles. It currently offers the Optima Hybrid in both regular and plug-in varieties, the fully electric Soul EV that’s just been redesigned for 2019, so therefore…

2018 Kia Niro SX Touring Road Test

2018 Kia Niro SX Touring
Looking like a tall wagon with some SUV-like black cladding across its baseline, the Kia Niro hybrid is an impressive subcompact crossover SUV. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

Kia is no stranger to electrified vehicles. It currently offers the Optima Hybrid in both regular and plug-in varieties, the fully electric Soul EV that’s just been redesigned for 2019, so therefore nobody should be surprised to see the new Niro subcompact crossover show up in HEV guise. 

The surprise is its dedicated hybrid powertrain. Yes, that means it isn’t offered with conventional gasoline-only propulsion at all. This is reason enough for it being compared to the Toyota Prius, with some even considering it a Prius competitor. While such may be true in the context of its hybrid drivetrain, directly challenging the Prius is really the job of Hyundai’s equally dedicated Ioniq, which while sharing the same fully independent underpinnings, the identical 1.6-litre Kappa III four-cylinder Atkinson-cycle powerplant, a duplicate of its six-speed dual-clutch automated transmission, and direct copies of its electrified components, the Ioniq is shaped more like a traditional hatchback, is quite a bit longer, and sits a lot lower to the ground overall. 

2018 Kia Niro SX Touring
The Niro’s clean lines might only offend someone by being completely inoffensive. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

Instead, the shorter, taller Niro is sized almost identically to the new Toyota C-HR and slightly longer Nissan Qashqai, which are two of the larger subcompact SUVs available. This said the Niro is quite wide, coming closer to matching Subaru’s Crosstrek. Either way the Niro fits nicely within this smallest of SUV categories, which is an ideal place for a new hybrid to reside as it provides an excellent opportunity for sales growth. 

2018 Kia Niro SX Touring
SX Touring trim means LED-enhanced HID headlamps, larger 18-inch alloy wheels and more. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

You’ll have to decide for yourself if the thick matte black trim around the wheel cutouts and additional slabs of black protective trim skirting the rest of the Niro’s lower extremities provide enough SUV-like machismo for its Kia-applied crossover categorization, or whether its satin-silver roof rails and other exterior detailing enhance or detract from that effect. Likewise, you’ll need to take it for a drive to find out if its slightly raised ride height allows enough visibility of the road ahead and surrounding area to make you feel like you’re at the wheel of a sport utility, but then again the popularity of the aforementioned Qashqai, which is now the subcompact crossover SUV segment’s best-selling model and hardly anymore truck-like, proves that tough, rugged styling and a tall profile aren’t the only elements of success in this class. 

2018 Kia Niro SX Touring
These sharp looking LED taillights come standard in EX trim and above. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

SUV-ness aside, the idea of combining a small crossover with a hybrid drivetrain is pretty smart. It’s hardly an original ideal, Toyota having found plenty of success implementing this formula with in its larger RAV4 Hybrid in the compact SUV category, and Mitsubishi slightly less so with its similarly sized Outlander PHEV, but the Niro is a first for the smaller entry-level subcompact SUV segment, and the fact that it’s the first dedicated hybrid within the crossover SUV sector is actually groundbreaking. 

2018 Kia Niro SX Touring
The Niro SX Touring provides a much more upscale interior than most will expect from a mainstream volume brand. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

Another thing the Niro has going for it is price. A base 2018 Niro L can be had for as little as $24,995 plus freight and fees (see full 2018 Niro pricing at CarCostCanada, plus money saving rebate info and dealer invoice pricing that could save you thousands), which is quite reasonable even without factoring in its hybrid drivetrain that normally costs thousands over a given model’s conventionally powered alternative. Still, you get this super-efficient HEV in base trim with standard 16-inch alloy wheels, perimeter/approach lights, auto on/off projector headlamps, LED DRLs, LED positioning lights, fog lamps, splash guards, variable intermittent wipers, a tilt and telescopic steering column, a heatable leather-wrapped multifunction steering wheel, a large colour TFT multi-info display, distance pacing adaptive cruise control, a leather-clad shift knob, illuminated vanity mirrors, filtered dual-zone automatic climate control with auto defog, three-way heated front seats, an overhead sunglasses holder, cloth upholstery, chrome/metal-look interior accents, a cargo net, a hill holder, individual tire pressure monitoring, a perimeter alarm, all the usual active and passive safety features including a driver’s knee airbag, and more. 

2018 Kia Niro SX Touring
The SX Touring gets a lot of luxury, electronic and convenience upgrades over less trims. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

Continuing with the Niro’s impressive value theme, base L trim also comes standard with a 7.0-inch infotainment touchscreen featuring a rearview camera, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto smartphone integration, six-speaker audio, AM/FM/MP3/satellite radio, Bluetooth phone connectivity with audio streaming, USB and aux ports, etcetera. 

If you want more than mere base trim, and most Canadians do, the $27,595 Niro EX adds LED turn signals onto an upgraded set of power-folding side mirrors, sharp looking and quicker responding LED taillights, those roof rails mentioned earlier, plus proximity-sensing access with a pushbutton ignition, an auto-dimming rearview mirror, rear parking sensors, a wireless phone charger, upgraded cloth and leather upholstery, piano black lacquered interior trim, coloured console and door panel inlays, satin chrome inner door handles, a folding rear centre armrest, rear climate ventilation, a cargo cover, an under floor storage tray, and more. 

2018 Kia Niro SX Touring
This partially digital gauge cluster comes standard across the entire Niro line. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

If you think that’s good, a tiny hop up to the $29,195 EX Premium adds a powered glass sunroof, an eight-way power-adjustable driver’s seat with two-way powered lumbar, and blind spot detection with rear cross-traffic alert. 

Leaving the best to the last, my top-line $32,995 Niro SX Touring included most everything already mentioned as well as better looking 18-inch alloys, brighter HID headlamps, aeroblade wipers, “niro” inscribed metal door sill treadplates, alloy sport pedals, a larger 8.0-inch touchscreen with a navigation system featuring detailed mapping, front parking sensors, a great sounding eight-speaker Harman/Kardon audio system, stylish perforated leather upholstery, a household-style 110-volt power inverter, driver’s seat memory, ventilated front seats, heatable rear seats, emergency autonomous braking, lane departure warning, lane keeping assist, stop and go added to the distance pacing adaptive cruise control, driver attention alert, and more. It all comes in a really nicely finished cabin that’s suited up more impressively than some premium branded subcompact crossover SUVs, highlighted by a high-quality soft-touch synthetic dash top and door uppers. 

2018 Kia Niro SX Touring
The centre stack is well laid out for easy of use and features high quality switchgear. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

My Graphite painted Niro SX Touring looked stealth compared to those coated in Ocean Blue or Temptation Red, while other exterior colours include a darker, greyer Gravity Blue, Espresso brown, Snow White Pearl, and Aurora Black, with all SX Touring models receiving black leather upholstery within an all-black interior. Of course it’s not completely black inside, thanks to sporty white contrast stitching throughout, and two above average quality high-resolution electronic displays ahead of the driver and another on the centre stack, these filled with deep, rich colours and attractive graphics. 

2018 Kia Niro SX Touring
Accurate navigation with detailed mapping comes standard in a larger 8.0-inch touchscreen when moving up to the top-tier Touring SX. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

Before I delve into these interfaces, the Niro SX Touring driver’s seat is comfortable and the all-round view is quite good thanks to a reasonably tall ride height, the Niro bridging the aforementioned gap between crossover SUV and tall wagon quite well. The previously noted power seat controls provided plenty of adjustment and the fore-and-aft-only powered lumbar support fit my lower back ideally, as did the entire backrest. Comfort in mind, the steering column offers a lot of telescopic reach, which I happen to appreciate because this benefits my long-legged, shorter torso five-foot-eight body type, while there’s also plenty of rake. 

2018 Kia Niro SX Touring
Unlike most hybrids, the Niro features a sporty, quick-shifting 6-speed dual-clutch transmission. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

The nicely shaped leather-wrapped and black-lacquer adorned steering wheel looks and feels sportier than I expected for a hybridized SUV too, and it comes filled with high quality switchgear including easy-to-use rockers for various functions, particularly for scrolling through and selecting features within the full-colour dual-screen multi-information display mentioned earlier, these defaulting to hybrid-specific info. The analogue gauges are brightly backlit too, with the entire cluster very good looking. 

The centre stack mounted infotainment interface noted earlier features familiar tablet-style tap, pinch and swipe touchscreen gesture controls, a very clear and easy to see backup camera with active guidelines, navigation with a nicely detailed map and accurate route guidance, plenty of useful apps, and once again unique hybrid info that even goes so far as to show how well you’ve been driving via a dot matrix-style tree which grows more foliage when driven more efficiently. 

2018 Kia Niro SX Touring
The Niro SX Touring’s beautifully sculpted leather-clad sport seats are very comfortable and fully supportive. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

It showed my real-time fuel economy averaging 5.9 L/100km, but to clarify I really wasn’t trying to drive efficiently during my final stint, as I need to get the Niro home quickly. It’s useful info just the same, while eco-geeks will likely enjoy the graphic energy flow display even more. This said I’ll deep dive into fuel economy as I get further into this review, because I don’t want to get pulled out of the Niro’s impressive interior just yet, and I need to preamble the powertrain before that. 

Having set the driver’s seat up for my aforementioned small-to-medium-build frame, I slid into the back seat more easily than I would in a lower car thanks to its taller ride height, and found a lot of space to move around and get comfortable in. In fact, there were four to five inches between my knees and the front seatback, plus even more above my head, while you shouldn’t have any problem seating three adults side-by-side, although two would be more comfortable. 

2018 Kia Niro SX Touring
A powered glass sunroof comes standard with EX Premium trim and above. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

As expected in a crossover SUV albeit not always true of electrified cars, the Niro provides a sizeable cargo hold measuring 635 litres (22.4 cubic feet) behind the 60/40-split rear seatbacks and 1,789 litres (63 cubic feet) when they’re folded flat, which is actually much better than average for the subcompact SUV class. The loading area is nice and wide too, while a folding cargo floor reveals a hidden cargo organizer below, useful for storing valuables, tools or other items you may want to keep separated from everything else. 

Back in the driver’s seat, a quick press of the dash-mounted button ignites the engine and you’re off to the races. The direct injection-enhanced four-cylinder internal combustion engine (ICE) displaces 1.6 litres resulting in 104 horsepower, but when factoring in the 32-kW (43-horsepower) permanent magnet synchronous electric motor it’s good for 139 net horsepower. Even better, the electric motor adds 86.5 lb-ft of more immediate twist to the ICE’s 108.5 lb-ft of torque, with the combined effect totaling 195 lb-ft of net torque from 4,000 rpm. 

2018 Kia Niro SX Touring
The rear seating area is roomy and the outboard positions very comfortable. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

That’s a lot of get up and go for a subcompact SUV, but the inclusion of the quick-shifting six-speed dual-clutch automated transmission I mentioned earlier (not the humdrum CVT found in most hybrids) makes the Niro feel even sportier. It’s such a great gearbox that I was longing for a set of steering-wheel mounted paddle shifters, but at least Sportmatic manual mode can be actuated via the gear lever, and it works well enough. 

Another driveline feature I would’ve liked to see is AWD, but despite the Niro targeting the subcompact SUV market the placement of its 1.56-kWh rear-mounted lithium-polymer battery means it won’t be getting all-wheel drive anytime soon if at all. Still, news that Hyundai-Kia is developing in-wheel e-AWD technology gives me hope that it’s not totally out of the question at some point in the future. 

2018 Kia Niro SX Touring
The Niro’s cargo compartment is not only accommodating for a hybrid, it’s one of the largest in the subcompact SUV class. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

Some time ago I would’ve said that AWD is a subcompact SUV prerequisite, but it’s long been excluded from the very popular Kia Soul and now can’t be had with the aforementioned Toyota C-HR either, so I suppose AWD isn’t as critical in this category as I initially figured it would be, and the Niro’s fuel economy is so good many won’t care one whit about extra rear-wheel traction. 

Driving this point home is a great story worth repeating. The Niro was barely born when it earned a Guinness World Book of Record’s entry thanks to Wayne Gerdes and co-driver Robert Winger using just 4.1 tanks of gas while driving their Niro EX 5,979 km (3,715 miles) from Los Angeles to New York City, the key number being an average of 3.1 L/100km (76.6 U.S. mpg). No doubt they were using hypermiling techniques to achieve such incredible efficiency, as the Niro EX trim’s five-cycle Transport Canada rating is a more conservative 4.6 L/100km in the city, 5.1 on the highway and 4.8 combined. The base LX is claimed to do even better with a 4.5 L/100km city, 4.8 highway and 4.7 combined rating, whereas the as-tested SX Touring is good for an estimated 5.1 city, 5.8 highway and 5.4 combined. 

2018 Kia Niro SX Touring
Below the cargo floor is this handy hidden storage tray. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

Like other hybrids Kia uses regenerative braking to recoup kinetic energy, as well as auto start/stop to save fuel that would otherwise be wasted while idling, while standard Drive Mode Select provides an Eco mode to increase efficiencies and therefore reduce emissions further. I actually left it in this greenest of settings for most of my test week due to a generally stingy personal nature, but I must say its alternative Sport mode makes for a more enjoyable driver’s car, providing that extra punch off the line required for quicker takeoff and more confident highway passing. 

I was actually surprised at how well the Niro drove. Let’s face it. While attractive, its somewhat conservative tall wagon styling prepared me for more of a sheepish experience than running with the wolves, but its formidable power, superb transmission, and nicely dialed in front strut, rear multi-link suspension rolling on meaty as-tested 225/45R18 rubber combined for good balance through the corners, while the ride is smooth and once again comfortable. Its lightweight yet rigid construction, made with plenty of high-strength steel and aluminum, adds to its Euro-inspired feel, while its nice taut ride was never rough, the Niro striking a good compromise between sport and comfort that most should appreciate. 

That last sentence really sums up my entire weeklong experience. I can’t see many disagreeing with Kia’s new Niro, nor its very attractive value proposition. It’s a great little crossover that’s wonderfully comfortable, fully accommodating, filled with premium features, and best of all it delivers record-breaking fuel economy yet doesn’t feel at all like a hybrid. In other words, the Niro is a lot of fun to drive. Whether you’re looking for a good small SUV or a fuel-efficient dedicated hybrid, consider the Niro. It’s a best of both worlds offering that shouldn’t be looked over.

Toyota redesigned the Highlander for the 2014 model year, giving it much more character and impressive refinement inside, while upping the maximum seat count from seven to eight, and then after just three…

2019 Toyota Highlander Hybrid Limited

2019 Toyota Highlander Hybrid Limited
Except for new LED fog lamps, Toyota’s Highlander Hybrid Limited remains unchanged for 2019. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann, Canadian Auto Press)

Toyota redesigned the Highlander for the 2014 model year, giving it much more character and impressive refinement inside, while upping the maximum seat count from seven to eight, and then after just three years they replaced the simpler truck-inspired front grille and fascia for a ritzier chromed up look that certainly hasn’t hurt sales. 

Its popularity within its mid-size crossover SUV segment grew from eighth in the 2016 calendar year, when the updated model was introduced, to seventh the following year, while after three quarters of 2018 it’s risen to fifth overall and just third amongst its dedicated three-row peers. 

2019 Toyota Highlander Hybrid Limited
The Highlander is still one of the better looking mid-size crossover SUVs from the rear.

Obviously Toyota sees no reason to change much for 2019, so the full-load Limited model in our garage this week only gets a nice new set of LED fog lamps. This is true for both the conventionally powered model and our Highlander Hybrid tester, the latter being the only mid-size SUV within the mainstream volume sector to be offered with a hybrid-electric powertrain. 

Think about that for a moment. SUVs are taking over the entire automotive market, and electrification is supposedly our future, but only Toyota offers a hybridized mid-size SUV. Like so many things in life, this doesn’t make a lot of sense. Kudos to Toyota, mind you, that’s been leading the way for more than a dozen years. 

2019 Toyota Highlander Hybrid Limited
Here’s a slightly closer look at the new LED fog lights, plus the Limited model’s dark chrome five-spoke alloy wheels.

Hybridization means Toyota swaps out its standard 295-horsepower 3.5-litre V6 for the same engine running on a more efficient Atkinson cycle, which when mated to two permanent magnet synchronous electric motors, one for driving the front wheels and the other for those in the rear, plus a sealed nickel-metal hydride (Ni-MH) traction battery, results in 306 horsepower and an undisclosed amount of torque that’s no doubt more than the 263 lb-ft provided by the gasoline-only variant. 

2019 Toyota Highlander Hybrid Limited
The Highlander Hybrid offers up a nicely finished interior in top-line Limited trim. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

Additionally, the regular Highlander’s advanced eight-speed automatic is replaced by an electronically controlled continuously variable transmission (ECVT) with stepped ratios to mimic the feel of a traditional gearbox, plus a sequential shift mode for getting sporty or merely downshifting while engine-braking, and as sure as rain (or should I say snow this time of year) its aforementioned all-wheel drivetrain takes care of slippery situations. 

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

2019 Toyota Highlander Hybrid Limited
Put yourself in the driver’s seat in our upcoming road test review…

By the way, check out CarCostCanada for detailed pricing of trims, packages and options, plus money saving rebate info and dealer invoice pricing that could save you thousands, whether purchasing the new 2019 Highlander, 2019 Chevy Traverse, 2019 Buick Enclave, or any other mid-size crossover SUV. 

I’ll go into much more detail in my upcoming 2019 Highlander Hybrid Limited review, so for now enjoy our comprehensive photo gallery above and be sure to come back soon for my full road test…

Thanks to General Motors, the mid-size pickup truck market is once again starting to heat up. Toyota was hardly contested in this market for far too long, but GM reintroduced its Chevrolet Colorado and…

2018 GMC Canyon 4WD Crew Cab SLE All Terrain Road Test

2018 GMC Canyon 4WD Crew Cab SLE All Terrain
GMC’s Canyon offers up a striking design, especially when upgraded to sporty 4WD Crew Cab SLE All Terrain trim. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

Thanks to General Motors, the mid-size pickup truck market is once again starting to heat up. Toyota was hardly contested in this market for far too long, but GM reintroduced its Chevrolet Colorado and GMC Canyon twins in 2015 and has steadily been gaining back market share ever since. 

In fact, after just a year of availability the two trucks combined for 12,652 sales, and by so doing snuck right past the Tacoma’s 12,618. That gap widened in 2017 with 14,320 GM mid-size truck deliveries and just 12,454 for Toyota, while as of September 30 this year the General managed to sell 12,702 Colorados and Canyons compared to Toyota’s tally of 10,703 Tacomas, so as long as the final quarter of 2018 follows suit it should be another banner year for these two domestic pickups. 

2018 GMC Canyon 4WD Crew Cab SLE All Terrain
The Canyon’s good looks wrap right around the entire truck. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

Just in case you forgot (as most people did), Honda and Nissan sell trucks in this segment too. Still, despite an impressive second-generation Ridgeline the motorcycle company that initially started out selling a pickup truck was only able to lure in 3,169 new buyers over the same nine months of 2018, while Nissan, one of the originators of the compact pickup category, could only rally 3,071 of its faithful troops around its Frontier. 

Nissan hasn’t redesigned its Frontier pickup in so long it should be facing child abandonment charges, but the segment’s previous shabby chic offering, Ford’s Ranger, will soon be with us again, albeit much larger, thoroughly modernized and no doubt capable of taking on the top three. What’s more, FCA, the parent company of the Dodge brand that gave up on the Dakota, finally showed the new Wrangler-based Gladiator in production trim at the LA auto show, so this warming small truck market might soon be boiling over. 

2018 GMC Canyon 4WD Crew Cab SLE All Terrain
These complex headlight clusters add a touch of sophistication to the Canyon’s form and function. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

Again, we can thank GM for sticking its neck out with the Colorado and Canyon, because if it weren’t for these two the others wouldn’t have had verified proof that mid-size trucks were still worth investing in, only that buyers were waiting for some decent product to arrive. 

Decent is an understatement with respect to the Colorado and Canyon, mind you. Just look at this GMC Canyon in its 4WD Crew Cab SLE All Terrain setup. I think its design is fabulous, and I always enjoy spending time behind the wheel, especially when its class-exclusive turbo-diesel four-cylinder powerplant is powering all four wheels. Honestly, this is the type of engine Toyota should be putting into its Tacoma, not to mention Ford and Nissan whenever replacements to their pickups arrive. 

2018 GMC Canyon 4WD Crew Cab SLE All Terrain
Satin-silver trim, fog lamps and sharp looking alloy wheels make this mid-range pickup look like top-of-the-line. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

I spend a lot of time in and around Metro Manila, Philippines, my second home (Antipolo City to be exact), and have witnessed all the diesel trucks on offer. The Ford Ranger mentioned earlier is easily one of the best looking pickups there or anywhere, also diesel powered, whereas the Asian-spec Navara is the truck Nissan should’ve imported to North America along with its fuel-efficient turbo-diesel powerplant. The Philippine-market Toyota pickup is dubbed Hilux and diesel-powered as well, while Chevy also sells a diesel-powered Colorado in the Philippines, although the rebadged Isuzu D-Max isn’t even close to North America’s Colorado. 

Duramax Diesel power is the first reason I’d recommend our Canadian-spec Canyon or Colorado to truck buyers here, even over the Tacoma. Some Canadians might pretend that fuel economy isn’t as big an issue now as it was before the oil crash, but a quick study of our current economic situation will show that it’s even more important to find economical transportation now than it was then, especially in a smaller, less-expensive pickup class that’s likely being purchased for financial reasons first and foremost. 

2018 GMC Canyon 4WD Crew Cab SLE All Terrain
These rugged side steps provide a helpful leg up as well as protection to the lower body panels. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

Only this past summer regular 97 octane rose to more than $1.60 per litre in my part of the country, and even our current $1.30 to $1.40 per litre range isn’t exactly cheap. In fact, our new low is considerably higher than just before the bottom fell out of big oil. What’s more, the majority of Canadians should be well aware how these low oil prices hit our collective Canadian gross domestic product (GDP) bottom line, not to mention the wallets of many Canadians’ personally, plenty which come from parts of the country where pickup trucks are a larger percentage of the market, such as Alberta, so it’s probably not a good time to be loose and easy with our fuel budgets. 

2018 GMC Canyon 4WD Crew Cab SLE All Terrain
The GMC Canyon separates itself from the Chevy Colorado by these unique taillights, amongst other exclusive styling details. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

As for where the Canyon and Colorado fit within the overall scheme of things, let’s face the fact that most truck buyers would rather own a full-size Sierra or Silverado than anything mid-size. Bigger trucks deliver more space, comfort, performance and functionality, albeit at a higher price. This need to target entry-level pickup buyers is exactly why the smaller Colorado and Canyon exist, but before I go on let’s make sure we’re both perfectly clear about why these two trucks are succeeding in a market segment where others have failed miserably: they’re sensational. 

I can’t speak for anyone else, but as noted a moment ago I happen to think both trucks look great. I’m a bit more partial to the Canyon than the Colorado, unless the latter is upgraded to new ZR2 off-road race truck spec. Interestingly, styling matters at least as much amongst pickup truck owners as sports car zealots, buyers in this most utile of auto sectors wooed by rugged designs that appear like they could trek across seemingly impassable terrain as if they were domesticated equivalents of an M1A2 Abrams tank, or in the case of this smaller pickup something along the lines of the now-discontinued M551 Sheridan. 

2018 GMC Canyon 4WD Crew Cab SLE All Terrain
The Canyon provides an attractive, high-quality interior with room for up to five. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

Adding an oil-burning variant only ups their go-anywhere character, the 2.8-litre Duramax turbo-diesel under my 2018 Canyon 4WD Crew Cab SLE All Terrain tester’s sculpted hood capable of a stump-pulling 369 lb-ft of torque from just 2,000 rpm, not to mention a very efficient 12.1 L/100km in the city, 8.3 on the highway and 10.4 combined when configured for 4WD, or an even more impressive 10.8 city, 8.0 highway and 9.6 combined with RWD. By the way, it makes 181 horsepower at 3,400 rpm too, but that number isn’t quite as important in pickup truck circles, where useable towing twist is king for some and the ability to delve deeper into the wilderness on a single tank of fuel reigns supreme for others. 

2018 GMC Canyon 4WD Crew Cab SLE All Terrain
This nicely laid out cabin provides excellent driver ergonomics. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

The Canyon’s tow rating ranges from 2,449 to 2,812 kg kilos (5,400 to 6,200 lbs), while diesel models are equipped with an exhaust brake and an integrated trailer brake controller. Additionally, SLE trim gets trailering assist guidelines added to the otherwise standard backup camera, plus a Tow/Haul mode that raises transmission upshift points for more power when needed, and also raises downshift points so you can use the engine for compression braking. What’s more, an optional Trailering Package adds an automatic locking rear differential, a 50.8-mm receiver hitch, four- and seven-pin connectors, a seven-wire harness with independent fused trailering circuits, a seven-way sealed connector to hook up parking lamps, backup lamps, right and left turn signals, an electric brake lead, a battery and a ground.

2018 GMC Canyon 4WD Crew Cab SLE All Terrain
The 4.2-inch colour TFT multi-info display at centre has crystal clear resolution. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

All of that aforementioned torque sounds like it should make for blistering performance off the line, and while the diesel-powered Canyon 4×4 initially jumps forward with enthusiasm it’s not capable of spine tingling acceleration after that. Still, it’s hardly embarrassing on a highway onramp, moves fast enough to get you into trouble in the city or on the highway if you’re not paying attention, and is more than capable of passing motorhomes and big highway trucks when required. The diesel’s standard six-speed automatic downshifts quickly and is plenty smooth as well, but it could use with another gear or two on its way up to higher speeds. 

When off-road, shifting into 4WD high or low is as easy as possible, only taking the twist of a rotating knob next to the driver’s left knee. It’s a fully automated system, not forcing you to get out and lock the hubs, of course, but also not requiring a secondary lever to engage its low gear set, while crawling over rough terrain is this little truck’s forte. 

2018 GMC Canyon 4WD Crew Cab SLE All Terrain
The infotainment interface’s iPhone-influenced candy drop buttons are wonderfully colourful and easy to see in any light. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

As you might expect by looking at its beefy suspension, my tester’s ride was firm when rock crawling as well as when bouncing down inner-city lanes, but it was hardly punishing. A larger truck like the Sierra offers more compliance due to its heavier weight, but certainly this smaller 4×4 was pleasant enough. Likewise, handling and high-speed stability is good for the class, with the Canyon fully capable when the road starts to wind and an enjoyable highway cruiser, but once again the larger Sierra delivers more in this respect. 

The Canyon’s leisurely pace makes it all the easier to enjoy its impressive cabin, and it really is quantum leap above anything GM offered in this class before, and even a step above most competitors. SLE trim offers a mix of premium-level soft-touch surfaces and harder plastics, the latter common in pickup trucks, while the softer detailing includes an upscale padded leatherette with red stitching covering the left and right sides of the dash top as well as much of the instrument panel, whereas the lower dash and door panels are made from the more durable hard stuff. 

2018 GMC Canyon 4WD Crew Cab SLE All Terrain
The 6-speed standard automatic with the base 2.5L four and the 2.8L turbo-diesel isn’t as advanced as the 8-speed that comes with the 3.6L V6. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

Ahead of the driver, a digital and analogue gauge cluster features a fairly large 4.2-inch full-colour TFT multi-information display at centre that’s filled with useful features and superb graphics, while over on the centre stack is GMC’s new IntelliLink infotainment interface, which has become one of the best in the mainstream volume sector. It’s upgraded to the Canyon’s larger 8.0-inch touchscreen in SLE trim, and is easy to operate thanks to nice big ovoid Apple iPhone-style candy drop buttons in various bright colours and the ability to use tablet-style tap, pinch and swipe finger gestures. 

This test truck didn’t include optional navigation with detailed mapping, but GMC includes the very useful OnStar turn-by-turn route guidance system, while the SLE’s infotainment interface was also loaded up with standard Apple CarPlay and Android Auto smartphone connectivity (although these are even included on the base model’s now larger 7.0-inch infotainment display this year), a decent audio system featuring satellite radio and Bluetooth streaming (a Bose system is optional), text messaging, and of course plenty of car settings. Some buttons below the touchscreen allow quick access to radio, media and audio functions, plus the home screen, while a nicely sorted single-zone automatic climate control interface is set up in the old school button and knob style just below. 

2018 GMC Canyon 4WD Crew Cab SLE All Terrain
The front seats look great and provide excellent comfort with good lower back support. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

On that note, switchgear for GM’s excellent heatable seats can be found just under the HVAC system on a separate interface, these being especially good because they allow the ability to heat both lower and backrest cushions separately, or just the backrest alone, while just above these is a row of toggle switches for trailering, turning off the stability control, the bed light, hill descent control, and the hazard lights. 

A traditional lever gets used for shifting gears, with a plus/minus rocker switch on the knob for rowing through the cogs manually with your thumb. This means no paddle shifters are included, which is the case for most pickup trucks, but the steering wheel is nevertheless a nice sporty design with leather around the rim and more red stitching, while the switchgear on each spoke is very nice with rubberized buttons. The column is tilt and telescopic as well, whereas the seats are powered with fore/aft, up/down, and two-way powered lumbar support adjustments. Only the backrest needs manual actuation, which didn’t make one difference to me over my weeklong test. 

2018 GMC Canyon 4WD Crew Cab SLE All Terrain
Other than seatbacks that are a bit too upright, only really tall folks will complain about being seated in back. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

The upgraded upholstery features both smooth and textured leatherette around the edges with a comfortable cloth in the centre, plus “ALL TERRAIN” combined with a mountain graphic stamped on the backrests. Considering SLE is hardly top of the line, it’s all pretty impressive. 

The rear bench seat gets the same styling high-level treatment, and the outboard positions are quite comfortable other than having somewhat upright backrests due to space limitations. When the driver’s seat was set for my five-foot-eight frame I had about five inches available ahead of my knees when seated behind, so limousine-like wouldn’t be the term I’d use to describe the Canyon Crew Cab’s roominess, but most should still find it spacious enough, especially for this class. 

2018 GMC Canyon 4WD Crew Cab SLE All Terrain
The rear bench seat’s backrest folds flat to provide a good cargo hold. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

The rear seatback can also be flattened for a handy load surface, or alternatively you can pull up the lower bench for stowing taller cargo you might want to keep out of the bed behind to protect from weather or theft, while lifting the seat also allows access to things stored underneath. I only wish GM had split the seat 60/40 for more passenger/cargo flexibility, but it’s hardly a deal-killer. 

A deal-maker, and perhaps a pickup truck game-changer that I absolutely must highlight, is the CornerStep-infused rear bumper, an intelligent design that adds handy toe cutouts to the corners of the back bumper to ease smaller statured and/or maturing folk up onto the cargo bed with more grace and less potential bodily harm, the latter especially relevant when wet weather transforms the otherwise tiny rounded nubs at each corner of every competitive truck’s rear bumper into a slippery accident waiting to happen. I love these, and really appreciated how easy this makes it for climbing onto the bed when the tailgate is lowered. 

2018 GMC Canyon 4WD Crew Cab SLE All Terrain
These rear bumper-integrated CornerSteps come standard, and truly make access to the bed easy. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

Now that I’m talking features I’m realizing that I’ve neglected to go into detail regarding my tester’s standard kit, so over and above the equipment I’ve already mentioned my diesel-powered Canyon 4WD Crew Cab SLE All Terrain was nicely outfitted with 17-inch alloys, a Z71 off-road suspension, skid plates, body-colour bumpers, side steps, remote start, four USB ports, OnStar 4G LTE and Wi-Fi, a sliding rear window, a tow package, and more for an as-tested price of $47,988 plus freight and fees. Of note, the base Canyon starts at just $23,310, but you can spend considerably more than my tester’s nicely equipped tally for a fully loaded version, especially if venturing into top-line Denali trim (to see all 2018 GMC Canyon trims, packages and options, plus rebate info and dealer invoice pricing that could save you thousands, visit CarCostCanada now). 

2018 GMC Canyon 4WD Crew Cab SLE All Terrain
The Canyon can manage heavy payloads and even heftier trailers. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

There’s a lot more I could say, but maybe it’s best to leave something special for you to personally discover. The Canyon is an impressive truck, and totally worthy of all the attention it’s getting from its ever increasing fan base. I recommend the turbo-diesel, but the base Canyon comes with what on paper seems like a reasonably strong 200 horsepower 2.5-litre four-cylinder and six-speed automatic combo, while upper trims can be had with a formidable 308 horsepower 3.6-litre V6 mated to an advanced eight-speed automatic. I’ve tested the latter and really enjoyed the extra power and smooth shifting gearbox, but in the end you’ll need to figure out which powertrain, transmission, driveline setup, body style and trim level you need for yourself, because GMC offers myriad options. This ability to fully personalize your ride really sets the Canyon, and its Colorado sibling apart from any rival, its three distinct engine options at the heart and core of this philosophy. More really is better, and GMC offers the most. Enough said.

Most everyone expected Toyota to enter the subcompact SUV segment at some point, but showing up with a sportier, smaller than average entry, and therefore putting styling ahead of practicality was surprising…

2019 Toyota C-HR Limited

2019 Toyota C-HR Limited
Toyota has added a new top-line Limited trim to its sporty looking C-HR subcompact crossover SUV for 2019. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

Most everyone expected Toyota to enter the subcompact SUV segment at some point, but showing up with a sportier, smaller than average entry, and therefore putting styling ahead of practicality was surprising to all. 

After all, the segment sales leaders make it clear that passenger/cargo roominess and flexibility is king, with models like the Honda HR-V, Kia Soul, Mazda CX-3 and Subaru Crosstrek dominating up until this year, and newcomers like the Nissan Qashqai and Hyundai Kona finding strong sales due to their pragmatic approach and more. It’s as if the new C-HR picked up where the now discontinued Nissan Juke left off (that latter SUV replaced by the new Kicks), albeit without the Juke’s stellar performance. 

2019 Toyota C-HR Limited
Rich looking $225 Ruby Flare Pearl paint can only be had with XLE or Limited trims, while the $795 Ruby Flare Pearl / Black Roof option is exclusive to the upgraded XLE Premium and Limited. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

C-HR sales haven’t exactly been abysmal, that dejected title belonging to the Fiat 500X that only managed 69 sales over the first nine months of 2018 (with 548 Canadian sales for the entire brand so far this year, Fiat’s days are likely numbered in the North American markets), while Jeep’s Renegade hasn’t been tearing up the sales charts either with just 1,000 units down the road, but the C-HR’s 5,188 deliveries (placing it eighth out of 13 models that have been available all year) are nowhere near as strong as the new Hyundai Kona’s 10,852 units (and it’s only been available since March), while the aforementioned Qashqai has been killing it with 14,755 sold as of the close of Q3 2018. Crosstrek deliveries remain strong at 11,147 units over the same nine months, while the CX-3 was at 10,207 sales, the Soul at 9,226, and the long-in-tooth HR-V at 8,155 deliveries (a refreshed 2019 HR-V should help matters moving forward). Should we call the C-HR a rare sales dud from Toyota? The Japanese brand certainly appears to have missed the mark, but that doesn’t mean it’s a poor choice for those who don’t need as much interior space. 

2019 Toyota C-HR Limited
These stylish 18-inch alloys come standard with XLE Premium and Limited trims. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

In fact the new C-HR, now in its second model year after arriving on the scene in May of 2017, is quite a nice subcompact SUV. I won’t go into just how nice in this garage segment of this 2019 C-HR Limited version, but suffice to say it combines mostly comfortable cruising with the majority of its peers’ high-level features, reasonably good performance and excellent fuel economy. 

The 2019 C-HR gets some significant changes that should help it find more buyers, starting with a new base LE trim level that chops over a $1,000 from the 2018 model’s base price. Still, $23,675 is hardly as affordable as some of the sales leaders mentioned earlier, the Qashqai still only available in 2018 trim yet its 2019 counterpart shouldn’t sell for much more than its current $19,998 base price despite the new Nissan Kicks arriving as the segment’s best bargain at just $17,998. Another factor against the C-HR’s success is the fact you can get into the much larger and more accommodating Nissan Rogue for about $3k more than the base C-HR, while the all-new 2019 RAV4 starts at just $27,790 (find new vehicle pricing for all makes and models including the C-HR and RAV4 at CarCostCanada, with detailed info on trims, packages and options, plus otherwise hard to get rebate info and dealer invoice pricing that could save you thousands). 

2019 Toyota C-HR Limited
Limited trim adds rain-sensing wipers, a windshield de-icer, ambient lighting, and leather upholstery in black or brown. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

That base C-HR LE gets Toyota’s new Entune 3.0 infotainment system, which now utilizes a larger 8.0-inch touchscreen and supports Apple CarPlay smartphone integration (if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em). Even better, the new display now incorporates the C-HR’s backup camera, which instead was fitted within the rearview mirror in last year’s model and therefore ruddy useless. 

Entune also includes the ability to link a Scout GPS smartphone app to the centre display for navigation purposes, plus Entune App Suite Connect that features separate apps for traffic, weather, Slacker, Yelp, sports, stocks, fuel and NPR One, although I don’t know how the latter U.S.-specific National Public Radio station will do anyone in Canada much good.  

2019 Toyota C-HR Limited
This impressive 8-inch touchscreen is standard, as is Toyota’s superb new Entune 3.0 smartphone integration and Apple CarPlay. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

Additional base features worth noting include automatic high beam headlights, adaptive cruise control, remote access, an acoustic glass windshield, auto up/down powered windows all around, a leather-wrapped shift knob, a 4.2-inch TFT multi-information display within the gauge cluster, an auto-dimming rearview mirror, illuminated vanity mirrors, dual-zone auto climate control, six-speaker audio, piano black lacquered instrument panel trim, fabric upholstery, front sport seats, 60/40-split rear seatbacks, a cargo cover, autonomous emergency braking with pedestrian detection, lane departure alert with steering assist, all the usual active and passive safety features including a driver’s knee airbag and rear side thorax airbags, plus more. 

Last year’s sole XLE trim level is mostly carryover for 2019 other than its higher $25,725 price and new Entune 3.0 Audio Plus that features the larger touchscreen while including automatic collision notification, a stolen vehicle locator, an emergency assistance SOS button, and enhanced roadside assistance, with additional features including 17-inch alloy wheels, a leather-wrapped steering wheel rim, upgraded cloth upholstery, heatable front seats, and two-way powered lumbar support for the driver’s seat. 

2019 Toyota C-HR Limited
These leather-covered front bucket seats look like they’re from a sports car, not an entry-level SUV. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

The $27,325 XLE Premium package adds 18-inch alloys, proximity-sensing access with pushbutton ignition, heated power-folding side mirrors with puddle lamps, blindspot monitoring with rear cross traffic alert, and lane change assist. 

Also new for 2019 is as-tested $28,775 top-line Limited trim that adds rain-sensing wipers, a handy windshield wiper de-icer, ambient interior lighting, and leather upholstery in black or brown. 

2019 Toyota C-HR Limited
Enough cargo room for you? Come back for our full review to find out what we think… (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

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

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

I’ll talk more about real-world fuel economy and seat-of-the-pants driving dynamics in my upcoming road test review, and of course ramble on ad nauseum about driver’s seat ergonomics, rear seat spaciousness and comfort, storage space, and new Entune 3.0 infotainment, plus I’ll go on at length regarding the touchy-feely points of this Limited model’s interior quality, so make sure to come back for the full 2019 Toyota C-HR Limited review…

Do you remember that zany TV ad that saw a family pulling up to a national park gatekeeper’s booth in their 2014 Toyota Highlander, only to have him say to the father and driver, “Is this the new…

2018 Toyota Highlander V6 AWD and Hybrid Road Test

2018 Toyota Highlander V6 AWD Limited
The Highlander received a much bolder chrome-laden grille for 2017 that carries forward on this 2018 model. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

Do you remember that zany TV ad that saw a family pulling up to a national park gatekeeper’s booth in their 2014 Toyota Highlander, only to have him say to the father and driver, “Is this the new Toyota Highlander?” followed by, “Ever look at the stars through your moonroof? Ever wish upon them?” And then, “It has a V6 engine right? Is it powerful? Do you think I’m powerful?” (If you don’t remember it, or how the 2014-2016 Highlander looks, I’ve included it at the bottom of this page). There were other humourously uncomfortable questions asked too, but when all was said and done the ad did a great job of creating interest in the new Highlander and this family’s “own little world” within, while giving most of us a good chuckle too. 

2018 Toyota Highlander Hybrid Limited
Both the conventionally powered Highlander V6 AWD and Highlander Hybrid look the same, and especially nice in top-line Limited trim. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

Fortunately for Toyota the money wasn’t wasted, as those who owned Highlanders, and newcomers alike, went back to their local retailer to satisfy their curiosity and the SUV they found more than measured up. In fact, the Toyota’s mid-size crossover SUV has been on a steady growth trajectory since 2013 when that third-generation Highlander was introduced in Canada, growing 11.6 percent that calendar year, 27.5 percent in 2014, 6.8 percent the year after, 24.5 percent last year, and with sales that were nudging up against last year’s record total by the close of September this year, it’s already on target for another new high. 

Almost as important to Toyota, during this growth cycle the Highlander has gone from eighth most popular in its mid-size SUV segment in 2012 to fifth so far this year, while it’s now actually third when compared to dedicated three-row competitors, only outsold by the Kia Sorento and Ford Explorer. 

2018 Toyota Highlander V6 AWD Limited
The Highlander’s rear design has mostly been carried over since 2014. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

I certainly can understand why it’s grown in numbers and popularity. Since day one I’ve been impressed, and while it’s seen steady improvements when it comes to features and technology advancements over the past five model years, plus a significant refresh that replaced its sportier Toyota truck-inspired grille with a classier chrome clad design that now extends deeper and wider into the front fascia in near Lexus-like grandeur, its core goodness remains. 

What do I like? I must admit the more truckish grille worked better for me, but the mid-cycle makeover is hardly a turnoff and its side profile and rear quarters remain mostly unchanged and therefore amongst the best looking in this category to my eyes, but it’s the Highlander’s interior that woos me most ardently, especially in as-tested Limited trim. 

2018 Toyota Highlander Hybrid Limited
Only the colour makes these two look different. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

To be clear, I spent my first week with the conventionally powered 2018 Highlander V6 AWD Limited and another seven days in the Highlander Hybrid Limited, both top-line versions of basically the same SUV with different drivetrains. 

These high-style models continue to offer a more premium experience than most mid-size crossover SUVs in the mainstream volume sector, with upscale touches like a full soft-touch dash top that not only wraps down to the halfway point of the instrument panel, but gets followed up with a nicely finished padded leatherette what-have-you tray that spans from the left side of the centre stack all the way across to the passenger’s door panel. Toyota even finishes off the eight roof pillars with fabric, uncommon but certainly welcome in this class. 

2018 Toyota Highlander V6 AWD Limited
That’s one deep, bold and bright Lexus-inspired grille. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

Additional appreciated details include satin-silver trim in key areas, nice grey woodgrain inlays across the dash and door panels, some attractive chocolate brown detailing on the dash and door plastics, as well as the same tasty hue used for the seat upholstery’s contrast stitching. 

Those seats are perforated leather and very comfortable, the Highlander being one of my favourite Toyotas as far as ergonomics go. The power-adjustable lower seat squab extends further than some others, tucking nicely below the knees, and while its two-way powered lumbar support doesn’t quite find the ideal position in the small of my back, it was closer than the Lexus NX I drove the week before. I also appreciated that the telescopic steering wheel has more forward travel than some other Toyota models, which allowed me to set up the steering for better comfort, control and safety, the rim nicely finished in stitched leather and ideally shaped for performance driving, which was oddly appreciated and totally unexpected. 

2018 Toyota Highlander V6 AWD Limited
Limited models get smoked headlamp surrounds that play nicely against the LED DRLs pulled up from XLE trim. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

What a perfect segue into driving dynamics, but before I start talking about power delivery, handling and ride quality I wanted to mention a few other interior points. For starters, the Highlander’s switchgear is on par with others in the class, meaning it fits together tightly and is well damped for a premium feel, with only the hollowness of the composites used a bit on the low rent side. 

Then again much of the infotainment system’s buttons are touch-sensitive, while the display itself is large and high in resolution. This said it pales in comparison to the new Camry’s Entune interface, visually because of the latter car’s glossy display finish and upgraded graphics, and functionally due to its impressive new proprietary smartphone connectivity that blows away Android Auto, in my opinion. Back to the Highlander Limited, the touchscreen is matte in finish and its depth of contrast not all that good. In fact, it was completely illegible due to glare at certain angles on bright sunny days, but to be honest it even looked quite faded in the shade. Also, the display almost completely disappeared when wearing polarized sunglasses, something touchscreens with richer colour quality and greater depth of contrast don’t do. 

2018 Toyota Highlander V6 AWD Limited
A nice set of 19-inch dark chrome-clad alloy wheels spiff up the Limited model’s lower extremities. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

The Highlander Limited gets a narrow strip of tri-zone automatic climate controls just below the centre touchscreen, and while they were easy enough to use I found it difficult to find the right temperature for comfort in cold weather. As it was, 23 degrees Celsius was much too hot and 21 just right. The problem? Most competitors’ vehicles need to be set to 23 or 24 degrees in order to maintain a normal 20 to 21, so kudos to Toyota for being so annoyingly accurate. 

Improving on the Highlander Limited’s HVAC system is a heated steering wheel rim, multi-temperature heatable and ventilated front seats with separate scrolling controllers on the lower console, and two-way heated outboard second-row seats, while yet more exclusive Limited trim features not yet mentioned include 19-inch dark chrome-clad alloy wheels, smoked headlamp surrounds, puddle lamps under the side mirrors, chrome trimmed roof rails, scripted aluminum front treadplates, LED ambient interior lighting, auto up/down for all the powered windows, rain-sensing wipers, front and rear parking sensors, a dynamic surround parking camera with a bird’s eye overhead view, a great sounding 12-speaker JBL Synthesis audio system, memory for the driver’s seat and side mirrors, second-row captain’s chairs with a folding centre console, a household-style 120-volt power outlet, a powered panoramic glass sunroof with a powered sunshade, and blindspot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert. 

2018 Toyota Highlander V6 AWD Limited
These taillights have always looked good. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

While that’s a lot of gear, Limited trim also features items pulled up from lesser mid-range XLE trim, including LED daytime running lights, fog lamps, proximity-sensing keyless access with pushbutton ignition, an auto-dimming rearview mirror, a universal garage door opener, a leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob, a higher grade of simulated leatherette door trim, a 4.2-inch colour TFT colour multi-information display, a larger 8.0-inch touchscreen with navigation (the base model gets a 6.0-inch display audio system), Driver EasySpeak, advanced voice recognition, SMS text-to-speech and email-to-speech, satellite radio, an eight-way power-adjustable driver’s seat with the aforementioned power-extendable lower cushion and powered lumbar, a four-way powered front passenger’s seat, second-row side window sunshades, a flip-up rear hatch window, a powered rear liftgate, a retractable cargo cover that smartly locks into place under the cargo floor when not in use, and auto start/stop that shuts off the engine to save fuel when it would otherwise be idling (standard with the Hybrid). 

2018 Toyota Highlander V6 AWD Limited
The Limited gets a black leather-upholstered cabin with splashes of tasteful chocolate brown, grey woodgrain and satin-silver. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

Additionally, key standard features pulled up from base LE trim to the Limited include multifunctional steering wheel controls, illuminated vanity mirrors, Siri Eyes Free, a massive centre console bin with a nice simulated leather sliding lid, cargo area tie-down rings, underfloor storage in the cargo area, and all the expected active and passive safety features including a driver’s knee airbag. 

Adding to your family’s security and your convenience, even the most basic Highlander LE with front-wheel drive comes with a wide assortment of advanced driver assistive systems as part of Toyota’s standard Safety Sense P package, featuring a front pre-collision system with autonomous emergency braking including pedestrian detection, lane departure alert with steering assist, full speed dynamic cruise control, and automatic high beams, the latter items capable enough for a Top Safety Pick rating from the U.S. Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), while it also gets a five-star overall safety rating from the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). Still, a sobering thought shows its five stars are only achieved in one category when it comes to crash tests, notably the front passenger side test, with the front driver side and overall front crash tests managing just four stars apiece. 

2018 Toyota Highlander V6 AWD Limited
The logically laid out high-quality Limited cabin gets luxury touches, loads of features and decent ergonomics. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

The regular Highlander and Hybrid models differ when it comes to some of the just noted trims as well as the features within each, specifically by the omission of an LE trim with the Hybrid and this electrified model’s elimination of Safety Sense P in its most basic XLE trim. The Hybrid XLE is also missing rain-sensing wipers and a USB audio port, although both include four USB charge points. 

Of note, the driver’s seat isn’t the only comfortable chair in the Highlander’s cabin thanks to my Limited trim tester’s standard second-row captain’s chairs that provide good lower back and thigh support, individual fore and aft manual adjustment, reclining capability, and separate inside folding armrests. With the driver’s seat set to my five-foot-eight height I had at least 10 inches ahead of my knees when seated in the second-row bucket after it was moved all the way rearward, plus more than enough for my feet and another four to five inches above my head, as well as loads of side to side space. Alternatively, when pushing my second-row seat all the way forward so that it clicked into its last notch I had about three inches in front of my knees and still reasonable space for my feet, this position best for maximizing third-row roominess. 

2018 Toyota Highlander Hybrid Limited
The Hybrid gets some unique HEV info within its bright and colourful gauge cluster. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

When equipped with its optional second second-row captain’s chairs there are two ways to get into the Highlander’s third row. First, between those two seats is a foldable console filled with two cupholders and a small tray, useful for life on the road and conveniently foldable. Dropping this to one side, an easy process, allows for a narrow walkway between the seats that makes it easier for smaller kids to climb in and out of very back. Otherwise you’ll need to push those second-row seats forward via levers on each side of the lower cushions, which allows them to tilt and slide forward before providing ample access for larger kids and adults. 

2018 Toyota Highlander V6 AWD Limited
The navigation mapping is good and directions accurate, but the matte display reflects too much glare to be seen in bright light. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

The third row was sizeable enough for my five-foot-eight medium-build frame, leaving about three inches over my head, plenty of elbowroom, and enough space below the second-row seats that my winter boots fit underneath without a problem. This said my knees were forced quite high as the rear floor is raised somewhat, but the seating position was livable and the cushioning quite comfortable. Toyota provides a couple of cupholders to each side, plus vents and reading lights overhead, making it a better than average third row for two larger kids or three on the smaller side. 

2018 Toyota Highlander V6 AWD Limited
Comfortable front seats only get two-way powered lumbar, but the lower seat squabs extend forward. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

As you might expect in a mid-size SUV with three rows, cargo space is generous when the final row is laid flat. With the 50/50-split rearmost seatbacks upright there’s only 391 litres (13.8 cubic feet) available, plus the underfloor stowage mentioned a moment ago, but drop these down and the Highlander’s usability grows to a very usable 1,198 litres (42.3 cubic feet), while walking around to the side doors to lower the second row allows a total of 2,356 litres (83.2 cubic feet). Capacities are identical in both regular and electrified models, with only the base Highlander LE gaining 14 litres (0.5 cubic feet) more when all the seats are lowered, while that trim and the XLE without its SE upgrade package get a more accommodative second-row bench seat resulting in an eight-occupant layout compared to seven passengers max in the other trims. 

If you have plans to tow a camp trailer or small boat during your summer vacation or use a utility trailer for maintenance and gardening at home or for work, the regular Highlander can pull up to 2,268 kilograms (5,000 lbs) when equipped with a hitch, and the Hybrid is good for 1,588 kilos (3,500 lbs). 

2018 Toyota Highlander V6 AWD Limited
Heated and ventilated seats are always appreciated. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

I must admit to never having the opportunity to tow a modern-day Highlander, but I can attest to its impressive driving dynamics. First and foremost, both Limited models delivered the smoothest of rides, completely absorbing otherwise intrusive bumps and seeming to float over deep holes and ruts in the city and on the highway. While traveling at higher freeway speeds both were once again wonderfully smooth and totally stable, while braking is strong and progressive, even with the Hybrid’s regenerative system in play. 

2018 Toyota Highlander V6 AWD Limited
Second-row captain’s chairs with a foldable centre console come standard with Limited trim. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

This came in especially useful when four lanes become two, the highway started wind and I didn’t feel like slowing down. Such moments show the strong and week points of any vehicle, and while I wouldn’t go so far as to call either Highlander a canyon carver, both were quite capable of keeping quick pace through curving mountain roads, and never had me feeling concerned for loss of control. 

The two powertrains also provide strong straight-line performance thanks to a direct-injected 3.5-litre V6 engine with variable valve timing, with the conventional design making 295-horsepower and 263 lb-ft of torque and the Hybrid’s slightly less responsive Atkinson-cycle version sporting 306 net horsepower and undisclosed twist that’s likely greater than the latter the conventional setup, as it feels noticeably quicker off the line. 

2018 Toyota Highlander V6 AWD Limited
An airy panoramic glass sunroof is even enjoyable in winter. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

On that note I like the feel of the regular Highlander’s more traditional eight-speed automatic more than the Hybrid’s continuously variable transmission, although the CVT features stepped ratios for a normal feel when not pushing too hard. This meant that 99 percent of the time I couldn’t tell much of a difference, as they’re both as smooth in operation as this model’s suspension, but on the occasion I chose to pick up the throttle and get moving the eight-speed auto provided a more sporting experience, aided by an SUV that’s 130 kilos (286 lbs) lighter at 2,100 kilograms (4,630 lbs) compared to 2,230 kg (4,916 lbs) for the Hybrid. Still, that’s not much extra baggage for a hybrid powertrain, batteries and electric motors often weighing considerably more than that. 

2018 Toyota Highlander V6 AWD Limited
The second-row seats tilt forward and slide out of the way for easy third-row access. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

The Highlander Hybrid’s V6 is actually tuned to maximize efficiency, with its extra motive thrust coming from a pair of permanent magnet synchronous electric motors, one for pulling with the front wheels and another for pushing with those in the rear, their energy derived from a sealed Nickel-Metal Hydride (Ni-MH) traction battery. It doesn’t need to be plugged in, but then again it won’t drive very far on electric power alone, and certainly not quickly when it does. 

Both Highlander all-wheel drive systems do a good job of managing slippery road surfaces, even when faced with snow and icy conditions. Of course, all the usual active safety systems like ABS with brake force distribution and brake assist, traction and stability control and more come in to help both base front-wheel and optional all-wheel drive systems, making either Highlander an excellent choice for trekking up the mountain to find snow mid-winter or heading to the cottage for summer vacation. 

2018 Toyota Highlander V6 AWD Limited
The third row is roomy and comfortable. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

The biggest differentiator between the two SUVs will be during just such occasions, or particularly when filling up their tanks along the way. The regular Highlander is rated at a very reasonable 11.8 L/100km in the city, 8.7 on the highway and 10.3 combined with its standard front-wheel drivetrain, or 12.1 city, 9.0 highway and 10.6 combined with AWD, whereas the ultra-thrifty Highlander Hybrid gets a claimed 8.1 L/100km city, 8.5 highway and 8.3 combined for the best fuel efficiency in the mainstream mid-size SUV segment. 

The only question left to ask is whether the significant fuel savings are worth the extra $6,000 for the less-equipped $50,950 Highlander Hybrid XLE. If you want electrification and your budget isn’t compromised I’d recommend moving one step upward to the as-tested $56,955 Hybrid Limited, being that you’ll be spending the same $6k extra and you’ll be getting all of the same features found on the regular Highlander Limited, which incidentally starts at $50,945. Either way you’ll be enjoying a lot of SUV for the money, with refinement venturing closer to the premium sector than any previous Highlander. 

2018 Toyota Highlander V6 AWD Limited
There’s no shortage of cargo space with all rear seats folded flat. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

I should also point out the conventionally powered Highlander XLE AWD starts at $44,945, while the base LE FWD and LE AWD models spoken of previously are available from just $36,450 and $38,945 respectively (you can find all 2018 Highlander pricing at CarCostCanada here and pricing for the 2019 Highlander here, plus check out their money saving rebate info and dealer info pricing). You can likely get a pretty sweet deal on a 2018 this time of year, and changes to the 2019 model are minimal, with the LE getting a revised black rocker panel down each side, the XLE’s SE upgrade package becoming its own standalone trim line with new LED fog lamps and a black SE grille, darkened headlight surrounds, plus black SE badges, and lastly the Highlander Hybrid Limited also upgraded with LED fog lamps. 

If you can live without some of these improvements and still find the 2018 Highlander you want, go for it. You’ll get an excellent SUV for a decent discount and in three, four or five years time enjoy a better than average resale value. It’s hard to argue against that. 

And it’s hard to argue against a good laugh too, so click on the video below to enjoy that crazy TV ad for the 2014 Toyota Highlander I told you about before:

 

 

Nissan has taken a very different tack by normalizing its second-generation Leaf, which is both good and a bit of a shame. Don’t mistake me for being negative about its more familial design direction,…

2019 Nissan Leaf SL Road Test

2019 Nissan Leaf SL
The sharp looking second-generation Nissan Leaf takes on an entirely new more sophisticated personality. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

Nissan has taken a very different tack by normalizing its second-generation Leaf, which is both good and a bit of a shame. Don’t mistake me for being negative about its more familial design direction, because the first version’s whacky styling almost made a balloon look square, but much if not all of the initial model’s whimsy is now gone, replaced by a slick, efficient, business-first compact. 

I like the look. With the Leaf’s original Dr. Seuss-inspired styling now relegated to EV history, a design that must have fully appealed to the plug-in masses that snapped it up faster than any EV before, a matured interpretation of the monobox design is all crisp, clean creases of trademark V-motion, floating C-pillar, Z-like taillight Nissan goodness, a sharp contrast to the ovoid Leaf of yore. 

2019 Nissan Leaf SL
The new Leaf’s wedge-like profile makes it much sportier than the outgoing model. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

Alas, open the tiny hood just above that new V-shaped grille and the old car’s beautifully detailed metal “engine” cover with blue and chrome “NISSAN zero Emission” branding is gone, replaced by a much more advanced 110kW electric motor topped off with a much less inspiring black plastic cover, the branding now simply stating its “NISSAN” maker. 

Yes, the electric vehicle industry is growing up, and with its maturation our once fun and funky Leaf teenager is becoming an older, more responsible adult. This said there’s much good that can be said for a more conservative approach when it comes to car design, especially when factoring in the need for aesthetic longevity, which translates into higher resale values due to greater appeal within the used market. 

2019 Nissan Leaf SL
A rooftop spoiler, diffuser-style rear bumper cap and Z-like taillights make the Leaf stand out. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

That new 110kW motor may do even more to bolster pre-owned Leaf values than styling, thanks to a lot more get-up-and-go and much greater range. Imperially that number reads 147 horsepower, a 40 hp gain over its predecessor, while torque is up 30 lb-ft to a much more motivating 236. 

A more potent 40kWh Li-ion battery now powers the uprated motor, a 16kWh improvement over the previous generation without any increase in physical size. This means it can now travel up to 241 kilometres on a single charge compared to just 172 km for the old model, and this 69-km extension makes all the difference in the world. 

2019 Nissan Leaf SL
Nissan refers to its now trademark grille design as “V motion”. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

Depending on the length of your commute or the complexity of your errand list, the new Leaf lets you drive around for days without recharging. What’s more, the range anxiety some might have experienced with the outgoing model should be all but gone, as long as you top it up well before the little blue battery graphic shows a need. 

Replenishing from near empty takes about seven hours from a 240-volt charger or more than an entire day when hooked up to a regular 120-volt household socket. I recommend you purchase a proper Level 2 charger so you can fill up overnight, or you’ll be making a lot more impromptu stops at retail outlet charging stations than your schedule may allow for. Then again, if you can find a Level 3 DC fast-charging station you’ll be able to fill it from near zero to 80 percent in about 40 minutes, while recharging to 80 percent is always significantly quicker than trying to top it off the final 20 percent, no matter which charging process you’re using. 

2019 Nissan Leaf SL
LED headlamps with LED signature DRLs come standard. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

Fortunately, owning a plug-in allows for some front-of-the-line exclusivity when it comes to parking spots. In my city the majority of shopping malls, big box stores, hotels, and government buildings offer free charging for their greenest customers, and more often than not these specialized parking spots are located right next to the front doors of their establishments, providing a level of VIP convenience to EV ownership. 

Livability in mind, the Leaf has always been roomy and comfortable. The new one is not noticeably improved for occupants or cargo, with the latter measuring a fairly generous 668 litres (23.6 cubic feet) with the 60/40-split rear seatbacks upright and 849 litres (30.0 cubic feet) when they’re folded. What’s more, there’s no battery awkwardly protruding into the cargo area like some other EVs, with the Leaf SL’s load floor nice and flat other than a smallish Bose Acoustic Wave System boombox butting up against the rear seatbacks, the seven-speaker audio upgrade making the most of the otherwise near silent Leaf interior. 

2019 Nissan Leaf SL
A closer look shows some very nice Leaf detailing. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

The Leaf cabin is certainly quiet thanks to a lack of engine and exhaust notes, the wind rushing past and the road below the only noticeable aural intrusions, and the latter two variables are kept to a hush thanks to ample sound-deadening insulation, plenty of plush surfaces, and soft-touch composites on the dash-top and door uppers, resulting in a fairly refined environment for this class. Of course, such should be expected of a compact hatchback costing upwards of $36,798 (check out CarCostCanada for all 2019 Nissan Leaf pricing including trims, options, rebate info and even dealer invoice pricing), a seemingly steep price until considering the smaller Chevrolet Bolt starts at a cool $44,400. 

2019 Nissan Leaf SL
These sporty 17-inch alloys wrapped in 215/50 low resistance all-season tires are standard with SV and SL trims. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

Even with provincial rebates of up to $5,000 in BC and $8,000 in Quebec (Ontario no longer offers a plug-in incentive program), that’s a lot of coin for a vehicle class that normally starts well under $20,000, whereas the Leaf’s second-rung SV trim will set you back $40,698, and the top-line as-tested SL rings in a total of $42,698. Again, that’s chump change compared to the top-tier Bolt’s $49,300, while a similarly sized BMW i3 I recently tested topped $70k. 

You can bet that both the BMW and Bolt come fitted with leather seats and plenty more, but so does the Leaf SL. In fact, the SL’s partially perforated leather upholstery was ultra-luxe thanks to a two-tone black and grey design, the latter comprised of the same microfibre-like Bio Suede PET cloth used for the two lower trims’ upholstery, while plenty of blue contrasting thread was joined by the same stitching on the armrests, all complemented with blue accented graphics in the gauge cluster and infotainment touchscreen, not to mention a cool blue glowing gear selector. 

2019 Nissan Leaf SL
These sharp looking Z-inspired taillights are really nice. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

The seats are plenty comfortable too, with decent two-way powered lumbar support that seemed to fit the small of my back quite well, but much to my surprise and disappointment the otherwise beautifully finished leather-wrapped, flat-bottom steering wheel has a standard heatable rim but no telescopic capability, only moving up and down marginally via its tilt feature. This posed a problem when trying to get comfortable and maintain best possible control, as I had to stretch my arms too far to reach the steering wheel rim when the pedals were set up for my admittedly long-legged, short-torso five-foot-eight body. 

The rear seating area is fairly roomy, albeit it’s still easy to tell you’re in a compact car. I had about five inches ahead of my knees and plenty of room for my feet when the driver’s seat was set up for my aforementioned height, although the latter isn’t raised up very high so it was difficult to get my shoes underneath when wanting to stretch out my legs. Likewise, the Leaf only provided about two and a half inches above my head, and it’s pretty narrow side-to-side with about three inches to the door panel from my outside shoulder and hip. There’s also no folding centre armrest in back, while my next gripe isn’t really a complaint, but more of a “What were they smoking?” oddity, in that the outboard rear passengers will need to reach forward to the sides of each front seat bolster in order to turn on their two-way cushion warmers. 

2019 Nissan Leaf SL
Just in case you forgot… (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

Some might also find hauling larger cargo items challenging too, because the load floor doesn’t even come close to lining up with the 60/40-split rear seatbacks when lowered. This latter point is a tradeoff that I’d be willing to live with due to all of the extra stowage space within that deep loading area, and I must say it really works well when hauling taller, fragile items like plants, but a moveable shelf system would provide a best of both world’s scenario when requiring a larger, flatter load floor. 

Now that I’m complaining, the cargo compartment isn’t finished any nicer than you’d find in a $15,000 hatchback, while when back up in front I’m forced to point out fewer pliable plastic surfaces than I’d like in any car, let alone one that hardly comes cheap, but I don’t want to totally thrash on a car that does so many other things well, particularly its digital interfaces. 

2019 Nissan Leaf SL
The new Leaf’s interior is a mix of pleasant surprises and surprising shortcomings. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

Before getting into the good, I might as well tell you about the big yellow “Warning: Malfunction See Owners Manual” alert that kept taking over the multi-information display throughout my weeklong drive, especially because the graphic included showed two cars crashing. Restarting the car seemed to reboot the system so that the warning disappeared for a time, but it kept coming back annoyingly, showing something needed attention. 

That warning graphic showed up on a 7.0-inch high-resolution colour TFT display that makes up the left two-thirds of the aforementioned gauge cluster, an attractive package filled with blue, green and white eco info plus more, whereas the right-side speedometer is analogue yet circled with the same stylish aqua blue hue. 

2019 Nissan Leaf SL
The Leaf’s cockpit looks great, but its steering wheel unacceptably offers no telescopic reach adjustment. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

Over on the centre stack is a large 7.0-inch tablet-style touchscreen on SV and SL trims (the base audio display is 5.0 inches) complete with quick-access switchgear to each side and a couple of traditional rotating knobs that came in very handy for adjusting the audio volume and scrolling through the infotainment system’s various functions, not to mention pushing to make audio sound adjustments. The graphics are attractive, and depth of contrast quite good for having a more fingerprint-friendly matte finish, plus the system is easy to operate and responds quickly to tap, pinch and swipe gestures, the navigation mapping especially reactive and the GPS guidance very accurate. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto smartphone integration is standard, as is a smartphone app that lets owners monitor their Leaf’s charging status, schedule a future charging time, find recharging stations, pre-heat/cool the interior, and more. 

2019 Nissan Leaf SL
This mostly digital gauge cluster is a real treat for the eyes. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

A unique bowtie-shaped single-zone automatic climate control interface sits just below in all trims, while standard two-way front seat heater switches are included within a collection of buttons that also house a 12-volt charger, USB and aux ports, and the car’s illuminated start-stop ignition button. Giving it a press brings the Leaf to life, with the only choices left being the option of default or Eco mode, and selection of the E-Pedal before releasing the electromechanical parking brake (that’s strangely not standard) and taking to the streets. 

The E-Pedal is essentially the Leaf’s fourth driving mode, after default “D” for drive and “B” for increased regenerative braking, the latter two found by pulling the gear selector to the left and rearward once and then twice respectively, while Eco mode dulls response to throttle input and helps to eke out a little more range when driven economically. The new E-Pedal is more of an automated B-mode, in that it immediately applies regenerative braking when lifting off the throttle. It can be a little disconcerting at first, because it feels as if some mischievous gremlin is getting hard on the brakes without your consent, nearly bringing the Leaf to a full stop if you don’t get back on the throttle, but once familiarized it performs well and quite smoothly, while helping to recharge the battery effectively. 

2019 Nissan Leaf SL
A closer look at the standard 7.0-inch TFT display that makes up the left two-thirds of the primary instruments, and the analogue speedometer to the right. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

B-mode still exists because some owners prefer recharging their battery manually, and to that end truly skilled drivers can probably get more kinetic charging from B-mode than the E-Pedal, or at least they claim to in forums, but those new to the Leaf lifestyle might be better off leaving the E-Pedal on and Eco mode engaged when trying to extract the most from a depleting battery. Nissan claims the E-Pedal is good for 90 percent of driving requirements, with the regular brake pedal only needed for the other 10 percent, and if used this way the Leaf won’t need its brake pads replaced very often. 

As long as Eco mode is turned off, throttle response is quite strong, especially when compared to conventional internal combustion engine-powered compacts. It won’t accelerate faster than a Bolt, which is a comparative pocket rocket, but it certainly won’t cause any disgruntled honking from behind. 

2019 Nissan Leaf SL
The Leaf’s nicely laid out centre stack is filled with an impressive infotainment touchscreen and automatic climate control. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

The ride is firm, this probably due to its standard Michelin Energy Saver low roll resistance tires, but it’s hardly punishing. Roughly finished inner-city streets, irregular pavement on the highway and bridge expansion joints will be immediately noticeable, but the suspension has a reasonable amount of compliance for such a small hatchback, and as noted the seats are comfortable. 

The previous Leaf wasn’t exactly sporty, so I was pleasantly surprised that the new version handles quite well, at least as far as small hatchbacks go this side of a Golf GTI, while it’s nice and stable at high speeds. To get more from the battery you’ll probably want to leave it in Eco mode at speeds under 120 km/h, while I found the default Drive position better for higher speeds, as it coasts more effortlessly. 

2019 Nissan Leaf SL
The SL includes split-screen parking camera with a 360-degree overhead view. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

Speaking of effortless highway driving, the Leaf offers the option of Nissan’s new ProPILOT Assist semi-autonomous self-driving in SV trims and above. It combines the Leaf’s all-speed adaptive cruise control with steering assist so you can let your hands off the wheel for short durations while traveling down the highway. While I found it more of a novelty, it helps keep the Leaf centered within its lane and is kind of fun to use. 

Automatic high beams are also standard on the Leaf’s two upper trims, as is Intelligent Lane Intervention, Blind Spot Warning with Rear Cross Traffic Alert, and Pedestrian Detection for the otherwise standard Automatic Emergency Braking system, while Driver Attention Alert that warns of drowsiness is standard with the SL. 

2019 Nissan Leaf SL
Love this blue glowing shifter! (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

I found the automatic emergency braking system’s warning system worked very well, mostly because it didn’t flash its big orange warning very often. It only lit up when I was getting too close too fast, exactly like it should. Likewise, lane keep assist gently tugged the Leaf back into place when it started to leave its lane or I tried to nudge it into an adjacent lane that already had a car occupying it. 

Now that I’ve started talking trims and features, the base Leaf S includes a generous supply of standard equipment such as the aforementioned heated steering wheel, heated front and rear seats, while the standard Leaf package also incorporates a battery heater, auto on/off LED headlamps with LED signature DRLs, proximity-sensing keyless access with pushbutton ignition, cruise control, a rearview monitor, Bluetooth phone connectivity with audio streaming, text message reading and response, four-speaker audio, satellite radio, and all the usual active and passive safety features. 

2019 Nissan Leaf SL
The black leather is perforated and the grey strip and bolster trim is microfibre-like Bio Suede PET cloth. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

Moving up to SV trim adds the previously noted advanced driver assist systems, the electromechanical parking brake, the larger infotainment touchscreen with navigation and voice recognition, ProPILOT Assist, NissanConnect EV telematics, a hybrid heater system, 17-inch alloy wheels on 215/50 all-seasons (the base steel wheels are 16s wrapped in 205/55s), fog lamps, an auto-dimming rearview mirror, a Homelink universal garage door opener, six-speaker audio, an eight-way powered driver’s seat with powered lumbar support, and a cargo cover, while the top-tier SL gains all the extras already mentioned plus LED turn signals integrated into the side mirror housings, Nissan’s very helpful 360-degree Intelligent Around View Monitor, and the impressive seven-speaker Bose audio upgrade noted earlier. 

2019 Nissan Leaf SL
The rear seat is reasonably size for the Leaf’s compact class. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

On a side note, I was glad to see a sunglasses holder in the overhead console, and yes it’s still marred by an oversized nosepiece holder that oddly doesn’t fit normal eyeglasses causing them to flop around within, but it’s better than nothing. I also appreciated LEDs used for the overhead reading lights up front. There are no rear reading lights in the rear, however, and the centre dome lamp is an old-school incandescent bulb, plus there’s no sunroof available at all, an issue that might bother some folks in need of light therapy during dark, cloudy days. Its unavailability may possibly be a weight saving issue, but when automakers are forced to compromise to such levels when going electric, it’s reasonable that some consumers just won’t go. 

Yet to Nissan’s credit plenty of Canadian consumers are buying into the Leaf lifestyle, the thought of never again being gouged by greedy oil companies and greedier provincial governments too fantastical to pass up. I must admit that I’d rather plug in than pump, and as of Q3 2018 there have been exactly 10,000 Canadians that have chosen likewise. 

2019 Nissan Leaf SL
The rear cargo hold is very deep, but a movable shelf would help flatten the floor for large items. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

The Leaf’s popularity has grown exponentially since it launched in 2011, with its first year of sales only resulting in 170 deliveries, its second calendar year just a bit more at 240, and the following years following suit with 470 units sold in 2013, 1,085 in 2014, 1,233 in 2015, 1,375 in 2016, a dip to 946 in 2017 due to the new model changeover, and now, wait for it, 4,481 new second-generation Leafs sold in the only first nine months of 2018 (believe it or not this hodgepodge of numbers actually added up to an even 10,000). 

That’s significant growth, and a great deal more per capita than Nissan’s U.S. division has achieved this year. They were only able to sell 10,686 units over the same three quarters, resulting in 2018 sales numbers that may not even reach half of the Leaf’s 2014 high of 30,200 units, showing Canadians are serious about their EVs (spurred on by much higher fuel costs. How such poor U.S. results will impact investment in the Leaf and other Nissan EVs in the future is anyone’s guess, but at the very least the Japanese brand can also take a deep bow for creating the best-selling electric car of all time, with more than 300,000 Leafs delivered globally since inception. 

2019 Nissan Leaf SL
If you’re considering a plug-in for your next car, put the value-focused Leaf high on your list. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

In the end, the new Leaf is hardly perfect, but it’s a considerable improvement over the quirky original and is apparently much more acceptable to Canadian EV buyers. Even considering the new Leaf’s 1.9 Le/100km city and 2.4 highway fuel economy equivalent rating, the $20k or so surcharge over a similarly sized and equipped conventionally powered compact hatchback will keep it and all other EVs in the fringe, however, especially in markets where provincial rebates aren’t offered, selling in similar numbers to performance-oriented sport compacts like the VW GTI/Type R, Subaru WRX/STI, and others. 

After all, going electric requires the same level of enthusiasm and even greater financial and personal dedication than most performance car fans put into their rides, so it only makes sense for the target market to remain niche at best.