I can guarantee you something. If you take the time to visit your neighbourhood Mazda dealer, or the Mazda stand at your local auto show, and sit inside any of its models’ Signature trim line, you’ll…

2019 Mazda CX-9 Signature Road Test

2019 Mazda CX-9 Signature
Mazda’s CX-9 is arguably one of the best looking crossover SUVs in its class, especially in top-line Signature trim. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

I can guarantee you something. If you take the time to visit your neighbourhood Mazda dealer, or the Mazda stand at your local auto show, and sit inside any of its models’ Signature trim line, you’ll be questioning why you purchased your current ride or whether or not you should continue considering the other vehicles on your shopping list.

What’s more, if you currently drive a premium brand, it’s highly possible you’ll be left wondering why you paid so much more, or alternatively if you’re driving another mainstream volume brand, you’ll likely be curious as to why the Mazda is finished so much nicer inside than your vehicle.

Mazda offers the top-tier Signature trim line in its 6 mid-size sedan, CX-5 compact crossover SUV, and this CX-9 mid-size three-row crossover SUV, and along with plenty of high-end features such as 19- to 20-inch alloy wheels, a powered steering column, a surround parking camera, front parking sensors to go along with the rear parking sensors already included, ventilated front seats, heatable rear seats, etcetera (depending on the model), Mazda adds soft, high-quality Nappa leather upholstery and genuine hardwood inlays, the CX-9 Signature being reviewed here including gorgeous Santos Rosewood trimming the centre console panel as well as each door switch panel, front to rear.

2019 Mazda CX-9 Signature
The CX-9’s elegant lines don’t only benefit the SUV’s frontal design, but it’s mighty attractive from behind too. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

Mazda doesn’t stop there, but the fabric-wrapped roof pillars get pulled up from lesser trim lines, while there’s also more soft-touch, padded surfaces throughout Mazda’s cars and SUVs than most mainstream competitors, even in their models not offered with Signature trim, so get ready to be impressed when it comes to refinement levels.

This CX-9 Signature interior, for instance, is as close to premium as mainstream volume manufacturers get. The multi-layered dash is entirely made from a padded leather-like material that extends around to the door uppers front to back. Additionally, the pliable upper portion of the dash and harder lower composite panels are separated by a metallic inlay that truly feels real, his visually extending over to the corner vent bezels and side door panels.

2019 Mazda CX-9 Signature
This big, bold satin-chrome grille really helps the CX-9 to stand out in a crowd. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

Due to its optional Snowflake White Pearl paint, my tester came standard with a deep reddish-coloured Chroma Brown Nappa leather upholstery that also visually extended to the instrument panel, lower console and door inserts, and felt extremely plush on the latter due to what felt like thick memory foam below, while the same colour brown is used for contrast stitching on the steering wheel and armrests.

Mazda applies piano black lacquer around the shifter and power window switchgear panels, the powered mirror toggle nicely finished in knurled metal just like the rotating infotainment system controller on the lower centre console. Fortunately Mazda goes easy on the shiny black plastic, a difficult substance to keep from scratching or collecting dust, but it’s very generous when it comes to brushed aluminum accents, the brand even making the power seat controls from this premium-like metallic material. Like I said earlier, Mazda’s Signature series provide a rich experience.

2019 Mazda CX-9 Signature
Full LED headlights, LED fog lamps and 20-inch alloys make quite the upscale statement. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

As far as digital advancements go the current CX-9 is ahead of some of its peers and behind others. Its primary gauge package appears like a traditional three-dial design, but with GT models and above the centre-mounted speedometer, plus the surrounding real-time fuel economy and range gauges are actually part of a 7.0-inch digital instrument cluster added this year, which is flanked by an analogue tachometer to the left, plus temp and fuel gauges on the right. This is a major change from outgoing 2016-2018 CX-9’s gauge package that included analogue gauges at the centre and left side, and a big full-colour multi-information display within the right-side bezel. Now the multi-information display sits within the analogue-style digital speedometer, and offers a full assortment of useful functions.

2019 Mazda CX-9 Signature
The LED taillights are exquisitely detailed. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

The upgraded gauge cluster is augmented by a true head-up display system that projects vital information onto the windshield. It even included a speed limit reminder, which I found quite handy.

The centre infotainment touchscreen measures a reasonably large 8.0 inches in diameter and provides a good, high-resolution display. Its fixed tablet-style design, which has it protruding upright out of the dash, is just starting to catch on as a sort of infotainment standard layout amongst mainstream competitors, making Mazda an electronics forerunner. My tester included a fabulous new dual-screen backup camera with an impressive overhead view on the right side, making parking ultra-easy when combined with its front and rear sensors, and take note that Android Auto and Apple CarPlay smartphone integration were added for 2019 as well.

2019 Mazda CX-9 Signature
If you like the CX-9’s exterior design, you’re going to love its interior. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

Also new is SiriusXM Traffic Plus and Travel Link data services with information on real-time traffic, weather conditions, fuel prices, and sports scores, while the infotainment system also includes navigation with detailed mapping, a superb 12-speaker Bose audio system with Centerpoint surround sound and AudioPilot noise compensation technologies, plus SurroundStage signal processing, satellite and HD radio, voice activation, Bluetooth phone connectivity and audio streaming, text message reading and response capability, etcetera.

2019 Mazda CX-9 Signature
The CX-9 Signature’s cabin is filled with soft-touch surfaces including Nappa leather, while the hardwood trim is real. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

Unique to Mazda, at least amongst volume brands, is its premium-like lower console-mounted control interface, comprised of a large metal-edged rotating dial, a similarly designed albeit smaller volume knob, and surrounding quick-access buttons. This is a more comfortable way to modulate the infotainment system, although you can always use the touchscreen for tablet/smartphone-like tap, swipe and pinch gestures, the latter function ideal for changing the scale on the navigation map, for instance.

As you probably just noticed, the CX-9’s current second-generation has been around since 2016, which makes its luxury brand levels of refinement all the more impressive. Truly, you’ll need to pull up in one of the just-introduced 2020 Hyundai Palisade or Kia Telluride three-row SUVs in order to show off something that measures up to the CX-9’s pampering interior (although I have yet to test the 2020 Toyota Highlander, which was already pretty good). Of note, this generation of CX-9 is a purely Mazda-made affair that rides on the brand’s advanced SkyActiv platform, unlike the first-gen CX-9 that was based on Ford’s older Edge.

2019 Mazda CX-9 Signature
New for 2019, a centrally-mounted 7.0-inch display houses the speedometer and multi-info display. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

The new chassis, which sports McPherson struts with coil springs and a stabilizer bar up front and a multi-link setup with coil springs and a stabilizer bar in back, was further enhanced for 2019 to provide an even more comfortable ride, making it the perfect companion for overcoming bumpy inner-city streets, bridge expansion joints and uneven pavement anywhere else, while it’s also flawless on the open freeway where its upgraded steering system provides better linear behaviour at high speeds, resulting in an SUV that tracks brilliantly at all times, and therefore capable of eating up hundreds of miles at a time without breaking a sweat.

2019 Mazda CX-9 Signature
The infotainment system includes a new dual-screen parking camera with a 360-degree bird’s-eye view. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

The CX-9’s dynamic pressure turbo-enhanced SkyActiv-G 2.5-litre four-cylinder engine provides plenty of passing power on the highway thanks to 250 horsepower, but also a surprising amount of get-up-and-go when taking off from standstill due to an extremely robust 320 lb-ft of torque. This is a big seven-passenger SUV after all, yet the efficient four-cylinder is all that’s needed for sporty performance around town or when the road starts to wind, and while no paddle shifters were included, unfortunately common in this class, manual mode can be selected by flicking the gear lever to the left and pulling back for upshifting or pushing forward for downshifting.

Mazda is very clear in its specifications that the engine makes full horsepower with 93 octane gasoline or higher, but I’m going to correctly guess that most journalists refill it will much cheaper 87 octane, so the engine is probably only producing the 227 horsepower claimed with the lower grade gas. This said its strong torque rating only drops by 10 lb-ft when using budget fuel, and only needs 2,000 rpm to release full twist, so I wouldn’t worry too much about thrust.

2019 Mazda CX-9 Signature
The automatic transmission only has six forward gears and no paddles for manual mode. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

Selecting Sport mode, via a metal rocker switch next to the shifter, adds snappier acceleration thanks to the six-speed transmission’s ability to hold its gears up to redline, plus it doesn’t automatically shift when it hits the solid red line at the 6,300 mark on the tachometer, but instead holds its given gear for better control through the curves. This is very rare in this class or any, and gives the CX-9 a much sportier feel than its contemporaries despite only having six forward gears, which when combined with its particularly agile suspension system, as well as its nicely weighted engine-speed-sensing variable power-assist rack-and-pinion steering, is wholly impressive.

2019 Mazda CX-9 Signature
A beautifully detailed rotating dial can be used to control the centre touchscreen, while quick-access buttons pull up popular functions. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

Mazda’s G-Vectoring Control technology carries over from the previous model, seamlessly shifting more torque to the front wheels during corner entry and then sending it rearward upon exit. I wasn’t able to notice it working away in the background, but appreciated the added stability, especially during a particularly nasty rainstorm, at which point Mazda’s i-Activ AWD made sure each of my Signature model’s 255/50R20 all-season tires were put to full use.

Important in this class, the AWD CX-9’s fuel economy is rated at 11.6 L/100km in the city, 9.1 on the highway and 10.5 combined, which despite making a lot more power than the Kia Sorento (which will only be a five-passenger model for 2020), isn’t much more consumption than the South Korean SUV’s 11.2 city, 9.0 highway and 10.2 combined rating, while the V6-powered Highlander is good for a respective Transport Canada rating of 12.1, 9.0 and 10.6. The FWD CX-9 won’t be available for 2020, by the way, so Mazda will no longer be able to claim its very thrifty fuel economy rating of 10.6 L/100km in the city, 8.4 on the highway and 9.6 combined.

2019 Mazda CX-9 Signature
The attractive 10-way powered, Nappa leather-covered driver’s seat is wonderfully comfortable. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

The CX-9’s engine gets started by a pushbutton ignition system, by the way, while interior access is provided by proximity sensing keyless entry featuring not-so-subtle black buttons on the front door handles. Mazda doesn’t go so far as to add these buttons to the rear door handles as well, as some others do, but the overall ergonomics of the driver’s position is better than many in this class. The seat provides the usual fore and aft, up and down, plus tilt and backrest functions, not to mention two-way lumbar support that just happened to fit the small of my back ideally, so no complaints here (but you may want to check this feature out for size). It proved fabulously comfortable all week long, with much credit going to the powered tilt and telescopic steering column’s generous reach.

2019 Mazda CX-9 Signature
With nice attention to detail, Mazda even aluminized the power seat controls. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

The second row seating area is roomy and extremely comfortable, while the window seats provide good lower back support. Mazda includes a nice wide folding centre armrest complete with the usual dual cupholders, plus a large interface for the automatic climate control system’s third zone on the backside of the front console, complete with switchgear for the aforementioned three-way heatable rear seats, while the outboard positions affected by the warmth easily slide out of the way for access to the third row.

Those rearmost seats include comfortable backrests, yet not a lot of space for an average sized adult’s knees and feet unless you slide the 60/40-split second row so far forward it starts getting a bit cramped. In other words, the third row is probably suitable enough for smaller adults, but ideally it’s best left to children.

2019 Mazda CX-9 Signature
The second row is spacious and comfortable. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

When the third row is upright there scarcely seems to be any room for cargo in back, although Mazda claims it can manage loads of up to 407 litres (14.4 cubic feet). Not having a need for the final row I simply folded them flat, leaving a sizeable 1,082 litres (38.2 cu ft) of cargo capacity at my beck and call. When required the second-row folds down in the usual 60/40 configuration, which while making one of the seat warmers useless when carrying four aboard and needing to stow longer items like skis longitudinally (a centre pass-through or 40/20/40-split second row would be better), does provide 2,017 litres (71.2 cu ft) of available load space. It’s a nicely finished cargo compartment too, with carpeting covering three-quarters of the way up each sidewall, plus a heavy-duty removable load floor covering a shallow carpeted hidden stowage area.

2019 Mazda CX-9 Signature
The tri-zone automatic climate control system gets a rear panel for adjusting the temperature and rear seat warmers. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

Additional storage includes a sunglasses holder in the overhead console, a large open bin ahead of the shift lever, a sizeable bin under the centre armrest, and of course the glove box, which is quite big and velvet lined no less. Yes, just more of that pampering noted earlier.

Complementing all the refinements mentioned, areas unseen are stuffed full of sound-deadening insulation, the windshield and front windows are made from noise-isolating glass, the body shell is extremely rigid and improvements have been made to the steering and suspension systems, making everything from the way its doors close to the CX-9’s overall driving dynamics feel as if it were a luxury-branded SUV, while providing an extremely quiet interior.

2019 Mazda CX-9 Signature
The third row is nicely finished, but probably best for smaller folk. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

The driver and passengers alike will be comforted in other ways too, for instance in the knowledge that the CX-9 Signature is one of the most advanced vehicles on the road when it comes to advanced driver assistance and safety systems, with all the usual active and passive safety features now joined by adaptive cruise control with stop and go, forward obstruction warning, Smart Brake Support and Smart City Brake Support autonomous emergency braking with pedestrian detection, advanced blind spot monitoring, rear cross traffic alert, lane departure warning, lane keeping assist, traffic sign recognition, new seatbelt reminders on the second- and third-row seats, plus more.

Other features that provide CX-9 Signature owners with a premium-branded experience include an electromechanical parking brake, a new frameless auto-dimming rearview mirror, new power-folding side mirrors, a Homelink garage door opener, a reworked overhead console with LED overhead and ambient lighting, plus a better designed LED room lamp control switch, while its heated leather-wrapped steering wheel with premium cross-stitched detailing is a real bonus during cold winter months.

2019 Mazda CX-9 Signature
There’s 407 litres of available space back here, which isn’t too bad for a three-row crossover. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

While the aforementioned driver’s seat is 10-way powered with memory, the CX-9 Signature also gets an eight-way power-adjustable front passenger’s seat with powered lumbar, plus rear side window sunshades and more for just $51,500 plus freight and fees, which is excellent value when comparing luxury branded crossover SUVs with similar equipment, and on par with mainstream rivals with similar features, albeit less luxury. Truly, the only item I noticed to be missing from my CX-9 experience was a panoramic sunroof, the powered moonroof overhead being more traditionally sized.

2019 Mazda CX-9 Signature
Fold the third row down and the CX-9 becomes a lot easier to live with. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

Pricing and features in mind, make sure to check all of the 2019 Mazda CX-9 trims, package and individual option prices at CarCostCanada, plus find out about any available rebates too, while you can save even more by accessing the 2019 CX-9’s dealer invoice pricing. Currently you can save up to $2,500 in additional incentives on a 2019 (at the time of writing), or up to $1,000 for the virtually unchanged 2020 model.

I’m sure you’ve seen top-line CX-9s like my tester before, so you’ll likely agree that it looks as if it could’ve rolled off the assembly line of a luxury manufacturer. Its big, stylish satin-silver grille, featuring special night illumination wrapping around its lower half, plus its full LED headlamps with auto high beams, adaptive cornering capability and auto self-leveling, not to mention its beautifully aerodynamic lower front fascia with integrated LED fog lamps, stunning 20-inch light grey high lustre alloy wheels, tastefully applied satin-chrome trim all-round, attractive LED taillights, and overall sleek, elegant lines from front to back make it a standout entry in its otherwise practical mid-size three-row crossover SUV class. Added to this, all the refined luxury, top-tier features, superb driving dynamics and full suite of advanced safety equipment make the CX-9 a very strong contender, and fully worthy of your attention.

Can you just imagine future Subaru Outback ads? Subaru versus the mountain goat, only once the all-electric Outback is up on top of the mountain it will need to plug into a diesel generator in order to…

Subaru announces plans to go 100 percent electric by the mid-2030s

2020 Subaru Ascent
The Ascent, introduced last year, will likely receive a hybrid powertrain in the near future. (Photo: Subaru)

Can you just imagine future Subaru Outback ads? Subaru versus the mountain goat, only once the all-electric Outback is up on top of the mountain it will need to plug into a diesel generator in order to get back down. Advantage goat.

The oft-heard term, “Get woke, go broke” comes to mind when a niche automaker like Subaru announces plans to toss away its most notable brand identity trait, the horizontally opposed “boxer” engine, in order to appease the green crowd and align with some global governments’ impending regulations to eventually ban internal combustion engines.

At a time when the current U.S. administration is loosening new vehicle emissions restrictions, the European Union, China and other markets are tightening them, on vehicles at least (Europe will soon be celebrating new fossil fuel pipelines from Russia and China is seemingly building coal-fired power plants—to fuel said electric cars—faster than anyone can count).

2020 Subaru Crosstrek
The Crosstrek will probably be one of the first Subaru models to receive the brand’s new hybrid powertrain, because it already has an ownership base ready to trade up from. (Photo: Subaru)

It makes sense that Subaru would want to continue being able to sell into these markets after internal combustion engines are banned, and therefore is planning to electrify its lineup. The process will begin with the introduction of a hybrid-electric drivetrain powering key models, its source for hybrid technology coming from Toyota, which owns 16.5-percent of Fuji Heavy Industries (FHI), Subaru’s parent company. The short-lived 2014-2016 Subaru Crosstrek Hybrid was this union’s first project, but it didn’t find enough marketplace interest to remain viable.

2020 Subaru Forester
The Forester would be ideal for a hybrid powertrain, as it could go up against the compact SUV segment’s top-selling RAV4 Hybrid. (Photo: Subaru)

Currently important to those in charge of Subaru is the retention of its distinctive brand character traits, which have long included the aforementioned horizontally opposed engine configuration, as well as standard all-wheel drive for most of its models (the Toyota co-developed BRZ sports car only comes with rear-wheel drive). The previous Crosstrek Hybrid, for instance, used Toyota’s hybrid technologies together with Subaru’s 2.0-litre boxer engine, thus making it perform and sound just like other models wearing the idiosyncratic alternative brand’s six-starred blue-oval badge. What Subaru doesn’t want is simple badge engineering, like Toyota has done many times (including the Subaru-powered albeit co-developed Scion FR-S/Toyota 86, the Mazda2-based Yaris Sedan, etcetera), as the niche automaker would run the risk of diluting its very unique brand image.

2020 Subaru Impreza
An Impreza hybrid could go up against the new Toyota Corolla Hybrid and Honda’s Insight. (Photo: Subaru)

“Although we’re using Toyota technology, we want to make hybrids that are distinctly Subaru,” said the brand’s chief technology officer, Tetsuo Onuki, to Reuters news agency. “It’s not only about reducing CO2 emissions. We need to further improve vehicle safety and the performance of our all-wheel drive.” 

While Onuki made a point of mentioning that all-wheel drive will continue to be an important differentiator with future Subaru models, the inclusion of AWD is becoming more commonplace amongst its competitors. Both Nissan and Mazda recently introduced redesigned passenger cars with optional AWD (Nissan’s Altima makes AWD standard in Canada), and while Subaru’s trademarked “Symmetrical AWD” is considered by many to provide better traction than most rival AWD systems, whether or not its even delivery of power can be achieved as effectively when hooked up to a solely electric power unit will remain to be seen. As it is, plenty of electric vehicles now offer AWD, so Subaru’s current traction advantage may not be as novel in 15 years time, making it just another brand when its current crop of boxer engines are no longer available.

2020 Subaru Legacy
The Legacy was recently redesigned, but we’ll have to wait and see if the mid-size sedan segment improves sales before guessing whether or not we’ll see a hybrid version in the near future. (Photo: Subaru)

EVs in mind, Subaru and Toyota are currently co-developing an electric powertrain, which will result in at least one electric vehicle apiece at some undefined point this decade, with additional models expected. Subaru claims that hybrid- and pure electric-powered models will represent at least 40 percent of its annual global production by 2030, with all hybrids discontinued within another half decade or so.

Ten years is a long time in the automotive sector, let alone any consumer vertical, and much can happen in battery technology development, the introduction and/or development of alternative fuels, car/ride sharing development, etcetera, not to mention geopolitical developments (not all of which may be positive) that could easily force changes to Subaru’s plans.

2020 Subaru Outback
The Outback was redesigned for 2020, and would be ideal for hybrid conversion. (Photo: Subaru)

The win-win for Subaru is garnering green accolades now without much action initially being taken, making its owners feel as if their brand of choice is righteously marching toward utopia within a decade and a half, but the reality is an ultimate target that’s so far off into the future that it represents little if no real commitment, other than the likelihood of a new hybrid model or two within the next couple of years, plus at least one EV.

Notably, Subaru isn’t alone in making such all-electric future plans, with General Motors (in 2018) having pitched a U.S. national environmental program designed to motivate all automakers to transform at least 25 percent of their lineups to zero-emissions vehicles; Ford stepping up with an $11.5-billion spending program to result in more than a dozen new hybrids and EVs by 2022; Toyota (as part of its Environmental Challenge 2050 program) vowing to reduce vehicle life-cycle emissions by 25 percent or more by 2030, while targeting 2050 for the elimination of all carbon emissions; Mercedes-Benz claiming that half of its non-commercial passenger car lineup will be electric by 2030, plus full carbon neutrality will arrive within the next two decades.

2020 Subaru WRX
What would an electric WRX drive like? Or maybe a hybrid drivetrain? The prospects are interesting to contemplate. (Photo: Subaru)

Volvo might be the world’s most progressive automaker thanks to its promise to make half of its passenger cars wholly electric by 2025, that each cars’ life-cycle carbon footprint will be reduced by 40 percent by the same year, that the carbon output of its entire global operations (including suppliers) will be reduced by 25 percent by 2025 as well, and lastly with a plan to use a minimum of 25-percent recycled materials in its vehicle production when that same year arrives.

While some may chalk up the majority of these plans as politically correct grandstanding, we all can feel confident that Subaru is currently selling the Greatest Outback Of All Time (G.O.O.A.T.), with the term “all time” likely including its Outback EV of the future.

2020 Subaru BRZ
Will the brilliant BRZ sports car still be around in 10 or 15 years? We doubt it, but Subaru might have an all-new electric sports car. (Photo: Subaru)

Incidentally, the Outback mid-size crossover is Subaru Canada’s third most popular model with 10,972 unit sales during calendar year 2019, behind the brand’s best-selling Crosstrek subcompact crossover SUV that found 15,184 new buyers, and Forester compact SUV with 13,059 new sales last year. Additional Subaru models include the Impreza compact sedan and hatchback with 9,065 deliveries in 2019, the Ascent mid-size three-row crossover SUV with 4,139 new buyers, the rally-inspired WRX/STI sport sedan with 2,707 new sales, the Legacy mid-size sedan with 1,752 customers last year, and the previously-noted BRZ compact sports coupe with 647 buyers during the same 12 months. Check out full pricing, including trims, packages and individual options at CarCostCanada, plus learn about available rebate info, special financing/lease rates and dealer invoice pricing that could save you thousands.

Also, make sure to check our photo gallery above for Subaru Canada’s current 2020 lineup of new models, as well as the videos below showing its humourous the new G.O.A.T. (#GOOAT) TV ad, as well as a slightly longer behind the scenes “meet the goat” backgrounder.

 

All-New 2020 Subaru Outback – #GOOAT (0:30):

 

All-New 2020 Subaru Outback – Behind-The-Goat #GOOAT (0:53):

 

My goodness this thing is insane! The power, the outrageous sound of the supercharged V8’s sport exhaust, and the sensation of 550 horsepower and 502 lb-ft of torque thrusting head and backside into…

2019 Jaguar F-Pace SVR Road Test

2019 Jaguar F-Pace SVR
Jaguar’s F-Pace SVR might just be the best way to get a supercar engine in an SUV body, Lamborghini Urus aside. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

My goodness this thing is insane! The power, the outrageous sound of the supercharged V8’s sport exhaust, and the sensation of 550 horsepower and 502 lb-ft of torque thrusting head and backside into the rich red and black diamond-pattern leather-skinned driver’s seat upon takeoff while hands grasp at the leather-clad sport steering wheel, there’s absolutely nothing quite like it in the compact luxury SUV class.

With a flagship SUV like this you’d think the F-Pace would be number one in its ever-burgeoning segment, and while it’s certainly top dog… er cat within Jaguar’s model hierarchy it appears premium brand buyers are more interested in easy comfort than scintillating performance. A shame. The F-Pace and most Jaguar models deserve better than they get.

2019 Jaguar F-Pace SVR
Some tasteful exterior upgrades help to separate the SVR from lesser F-Pace trims. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

First off, the F-Pace is inarguably good looking no matter which trim is being discussed, with this SVR downright stunning. I can’t think of a better looking crossover SUV, unless the origami folds of Lamborghini’s Urus are more to your liking, or the Audi Q8 that shares its underpinnings, but the Italian, at least, is in an entirely different price stratosphere, starting at $240,569 in Canada, compared to just $89,900 for the F-Pace SVR.

Certainly a base Q8 can be had for less, but that sporty looking SUV’s $82,350 entry trim merely makes 335 horsepower, and while a wonderfully comfortable city and highway cruiser it’s not even in the same performance league. The equivalent Audi would be the near 600-horsepower RS Q8, but that upcoming super-CUV will set you back at least $110k (pricing hadn’t been announced at the time of writing, and it’s a larger mid-size SUV to boot.

2019 Jaguar F-Pace SVR
The SVR’s styling upgrades also improve performance. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

Now that we’re talking competitors, Audi offers its 349-horsepower SQ5 in the compact class the F-Pace truly competes in, and while a true bahn-stormer its 5.4-second run from standstill to 100 km/h doesn’t measure up to the SVR’s 4.3-second blast, and I can knowingly guarantee (by experience) its 3.0-litre turbocharged V6 doesn’t sound anywhere near as menacing as the SVR’s 5.0-litre supercharged V8.

No, the F-Pace SVR’s truest competitor (and no doubt most popular rival due to its three-pointed star) is probably the Mercedes-AMG GLC 63 4Matic+ that makes 503 horsepower and 516 lb-ft of torque from a 4.0-litre twin-turbo V8 resulting in a sprint from zero to 100km/h in just 3.8 seconds. The Mercedes maxes out at 280 km/h (174 mph) compared to the Jaguar’s slightly quicker 283 km/h (176 mph), so they almost evenly share two key bragging rights. All you’ll need to do if you want the Merc is amortize about five percent or $4,000 into your monthly payment, the German ute starting just above $93k, that is unless you end up buying a 2020 F-Pace SVR that’s now priced at $92,000 even (which means there’s only a thousand separating these beasts).

2019 Jaguar F-Pace SVR
Love these optional 22-inch alloys and standard red performance brake calipers. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

Speaking of popular German compact CUVs, BMW’s X3 M should be on this list as well, due to 503 horsepower (in its top-tier Competition trim), 442 lb-ft of torque and 4.1 seconds from zilch to 100 km/h, all thanks to a hyper-tuned turbocharged inline-six. Top-line Competition trim will cost you $93,500 plus fees, whereas the lesser 473-hp base X3 M is only $83,200.

Incidentally, you can find pricing for everything just mentioned, including the 2019 and 2020 F-Pace at CarCostCanada, including trims, packages and standalone options, while you can also learn about valuable manufacturer rebate information, like Jaguar’s current factory leasing and financing rates from zero percent (at the time of writing). Additionally, become a member and you can access dealer invoice pricing on the cars you’re interested in buying, which means you could save you thousands when it comes time to negotiate. There’s up to $3,075 in additional incentives on 2020 models right now.

2019 Jaguar F-Pace SVR
There’s no shortage of aerodynamic aids. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

As far as those two German super SUVs go, I have yet to drive either, but I’ve tested plenty of BMW M models as well as AMG V8s and, while fabulous on their own, none sounds as malevolent as Jaguar’s supercharged V8. Sure, their acceleration numbers are better and their prices aren’t much higher, but performance enthusiasts can appreciate how important sound is to the overall driving experience. As for deciphering a few milliseconds of sprint time, that’s a lot more difficult from the seat of the pants.

Using the Mercedes-AMG for an example, the sportiest versions of the GLC and F-Pace provide nearly identical wheelbases at 2,874 millimetres (113.1 in) for the Jaguar and 2,873 mm (113.1 in) for the Mercedes, while their tracks are almost the same too, the SVR measuring 1,641 mm (64.6 in) up front and 1,654 mm (65.1 in) in the rear and the AMG spanning 1,660 mm (65.3 in) at both axles, but despite the F-Pace being 52 mm (2.0 in) longer at 4,731 mm (186.3 in), 79 mm (3.1 in) wider to the edges of side mirrors at 2,175 mm (85.6 in), and 42 mm (1.6 in) taller at 1,667 mm (65.6 in), plus having 100 litres (3.5 cubic feet) of extra cargo capacity behind the rear seats at 650 litres (22.9 cu ft), it tips the scales 67 kilograms (148 lbs) lighter at just 1,995 kg (4,398 lbs). That’s the benefit of its mostly aluminum construction over Mercedes’ mixed use of steels and alloys.

2019 Jaguar F-Pace SVR
My tester was upgraded with a devilishly red interior highlights. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

Two additional SUVs worthy of contention in this hyper-powerful compact luxury SUV class are Porsche’s Macan Turbo and Alfa Romeo’s Stelvio Quadrifoglio, the former good for 400 or 440 horsepower depending on whether buying the old 2019 or new second-generation 2020, or opting for the old model with its Performance Package (which also makes 440 horsepower), its acceleration similar to the F-Pace SVR when choosing one of the more potent options, yet its price reaching into six figures, whereas the hyperactive Italian makes 505 horsepower out of the box and sprints to 100 km/h in only 4.0 seconds, albeit with a price tag starting at $95k. Both of these SUVs are impressive, but once again their turbocharged V6 engines won’t ignite the senses like the Jag’s big, raspy V8.

2019 Jaguar F-Pace SVR
This is an impressive cockpit, with good comfort and great ergonomics. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

You’ve really got to hear it to appreciate it. Think about the sound of a chainsaw cutting through metal, without the high-pitched annoyance of the tiny, little two-stroke screamer, and you can kind of get an idea of what I’m talking about, although it’s thoroughly pleasing whereas the chainsaw through metal experience probably wouldn’t be. Either way it’s a raucous affair, especially when the exhaust button gets pressed, which allows for freer flow and thus less backpressure resulting in more snapping, crackling and popping when letting off the throttle. It’s obnoxious like an impertinent royal, yes the Prince Harry and Meghan Markle of SUVs.

While no doubt worthy of appointment to Her Royal Highness The Duchess of Sussex, Countess of Dumbarton and Baroness Kilkeel, let alone His Royal Highness The Duke of Sussex, Earl of Dumbarton and Baron Kilkeel, as the SVR’s interior is at the level of super-SUVs from the most exotic names in the industry, it’s also capable of hauling around little Prince Archie Harrison Mountbatten-Windsor in back, and a couple of his friends along with a picnic basket or two, plus some folding chairs and no doubt a safari tent stowed in the cargo compartment. In other words, the F-Pace, SVR or otherwise, is a capable family hauler with room for more cargo than a number of its compact luxury competitors.

2019 Jaguar F-Pace SVR
The all-digital 12.3-inch instrument cluster can be configured in multiple ways. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

The F-Pace SVR is also capable of light-duty off-roading (with a quick change from its optional 22-inch black-painted rims wrapped in stock 265/40 front and 295/35 rear Pirelli Scorpion Zero all-seasons to something somewhere around 18 inches with a higher sidewall and more tread grip), although it’ll be the serpentine stretches of paved highway on the way to the campground that’ll get the adrenaline flowing.

As you might suspect it’s sensational through curves, its wide track and light weight (for its size, beefy powertrain and luxury accoutrements), plus those just-noted Pirellis (even better performing Jaguar-specific P Zeros are available from tire retailers) and brilliantly tuned (read stiffer) aluminum-intensive front strut and rear multi-link underpinnings get a more buttoned down adaptive suspension setup plus a reworked electric power-steering system, for more of a super sedan feel than anything SUV-like.

2019 Jaguar F-Pace SVR
The updated infotainment touchscreen gets a much more intelligent digital interface made up of easy-to-use tiles. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

Ribbons of narrow, undulating two-lane tarmac are exactly where this SUV shines, and ironically when I prefer the extra ride height an SUV like this provides over a sports car like the F-Type SVR. Don’t get me wrong, as the F-Type remains the cat to beat through twisting backroads and racetracks alike, but when the roadway is lined with trees and sharp declines arrive more quickly than an attentive eye can discern, that extra bit of visibility certainly makes for a bit more comfort at speed, as does the more compliant suspension of the larger, heavier SUV. In such conditions, both SVRs work best when their aforementioned Dynamic driving modes are chosen over their more comforting and economical settings, this more aggressive adaptive suspension setup aiding the body against its innate tendency to pitch and roll.

2019 Jaguar F-Pace SVR
This is the infotainment system’s main performance page, a cool way to monitor its power and more. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

I didn’t drive it like this all week, of course, the fuel cost of doing so well beyond my full-time journalists’ budget, not to mention the cost of potential points and fines against my driver’s license. While I wouldn’t want to guess the latter, the former has been given a best-case-scenario estimate by Transport Canada’s reasonably accurate five-cycle testing process being 14.5 L/100km in the city, 11.0 on the highway and 12.7 combined, which is actually better than I would’ve guessed for something this powerful and wonderfully sonorous. Alfa’s most potent Stelvio gets a rating of 14.1 L/100km city, 10.4 highway and 12.4 combined, incidentally, and it’s smaller overall with a V6 engine displacing just 2.9 litres, whereas the new 2020 Macan Turbo is rated at 14.2 city, 10.1 highway and 12.0 combined. How about the GLC 63? It’s pretty thirsty at 15.0 in the city, 10.9 on the highway and 13.2 combined, but then again BMW’s X3 M is an absolute glutton at 16.6 city, 12.1 highway and 14.2 combined, that is if anyone buying into this class really cares.

2019 Jaguar F-Pace SVR
The optional carbon-fibre plus standard aluminum and leather in the SVR is finished extremely well. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

Along with the Dynamic drive mode noted earlier, which I left engaged most of the week, there’s also a Comfort mode when traversing rougher roadways or just in the mood to relax, plus an Eco mode, which I probably should’ve relied on more for the reasons stated above. The latter two driving modes allow the engine to shut off when it would otherwise be idling, saving yet more fuel while further reducing emissions. I found the large Eco screen estimating how much fuel I supposedly saved while using its greenest drive setting somewhat humourous in this hyper-fast SUV, but fortunately it includes a Performance screen is well, which is much more useful in the SVR.

2019 Jaguar F-Pace SVR
These sport seats are superb, and the upholstery detailing is exquisite. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

The SVR’s infotainment touchscreen is more or less the same as with other F-Pace models, and I have to say a big improvement over earlier examples. It’s reasonably large at 10-plus inches across, with an interface divided into three large tiles for navigation, media and phone, or whatever you choose as it can be set up for personal preference. Swipe the display to the left and another panel with nine smaller tiles appears, allowing access to most any function you need to perform. It’s simple, straightforward and therefore easy to use, with the just-noted swipe gesture control accompanied by the usual smartphone/tablet-style tap and pinch gestures, the latter most useful while using the navigation system’s maps. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto smartphone integration is included, as are myriad other features (although you’ll need to pay extra for satellite radio), this system fully up to class standards.

2019 Jaguar F-Pace SVR
A panoramic sunroof comes standard. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

Even better is the 12.3-inch digital instrument cluster that Jaguar dubs its “Interactive Driver Display.” If you want it to look like a regular two-dial primary gauge package leave it as is, but if you’d like to transform it to a big map so you can keep tabs on directions as you’re rocketing to your destination, go ahead, or alternatively you can place a single driving dial with a numeric speed readout surrounded by a traditional tachometer in the middle, plus the map to one side and something else on the other. Configure it to your heart’s content, as there’s no shortage of options to make your driving experience as convenient and colourful as possible (you can optionally change the SUV’s ambient interior colour scheme via the centre touchscreen, by the way, or project more info onto the windshield via an available head-up display).

2019 Jaguar F-Pace SVR
The outboard seats are fabulous, with excellent support and comfort. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

There’s good connectivity within the tiny centre bin, including two USB-A ports, a Micro SD card slot, and a 12-volt charger. I can’t for the life of me figure out why Jaguar hadn’t made the rubberized pad ahead of the shifter, which was ideally size for my Samsung S9, into a standard wireless charging pad, but unfortunately such was the case. You can’t even get it as an option for this 2019 model or the new 2020, so those wanting their SUV that has everything to actually have everything might want to ask your local car stereo retailer (or Jaguar dealer) if they can install one and how much it’s going to cost.

Digital extremism in mind, super-SUV buyers truly care about over-the-top interior opulence, or so it seems by the five compact luxury crossovers being loosely compared in this review. The one you personally like best will be purely up to you and your individual taste, but all present dramatic cabin designs filled with the best quality materials and state-of-the-art electronics. Having lived with various trims of each of these vehicles for weeks at a time I’ll give the overall quality nod to Porsche quickly followed by BMW and Mercedes, with Jaguar having reluctantly conceded the best interiors of its SUVs to Land Rover (the F-Pace’s fraternal twin being the Range Rover Velar that’s far and away more impressive inside), while my Stelvio tester was the only vehicle in 20 years of testing/reviewing cars that’s ever left its hood release lever in my hand after trying to view the engine (which I never saw or photographed due to this malfunction).

2019 Jaguar F-Pace SVR
The optional four-zone climate control system includes this user interface with switchgear for the heated and cooled rear seats. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

The SVR nevertheless ups interior materials quality and its sense of occasion over its lesser trims, thanks to an available black Suedecloth roofliner and pillars, plus contrast stitch premium leather just about everywhere, the bottom half my tester’s dash and centre console, plus its armrests and seat bolsters done out in a deep, rich Pimento red, while Ebony Lozenge hides covered most everything else, including the quilted leather seat inserts that featured a sort of zigzag-diamond, hourglass pattern with a subtle bit of red dye peeking through the leather’s perforated holes. It’s a captivating look, although I’d probably choose something more subdued. I love the carbon-fibre detailing elsewhere, however (an upgrade over standard textured Weave aluminum), while all the piano black lacquered surfaces are a given these days. So are brushed aluminum accents, the SVR filled with very real bits and pieces for its plentiful interior trim accents, with the cutouts in all four seats’ backrests particularly eye-catching.

2019 Jaguar F-Pace SVR
A dealmaker in any vehicle is a rear seat centre pass-through, and the F-Type’s 40/20/40-split rear seatback is even better. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

Yes, there’s a fifth seat, but it’s merely a semi-flat space, or rather a hump in between two ideally carved out window seats, simply left in place to carry an additional small adults or child when you’re forced to fit three abreast in back. I’d say the outboard positions of the F-Pace’ back seats are a bit more accommodating than in the average compact luxury SUV, which is why some keep referring to its as a mid-size. Passengers in the rear can be treated to as-tested optional quad-zone automatic climate control featuring its own comprehensive panel on the backside of the front console that’s also replete with three-way heatable or cooled seat switches, which means there’s less need to yell shotgun or sprint to the front passenger’s door, depending on how your family deals with seating hierarchy.

There will be no need to force one of those rear passengers onto the centre bump during trips to the ski hill either (which would be a dreadful waste of those rear seat warmers when they’re needed most), thanks to 40/20/40-split rear seatbacks (that can be folded via optional cargo wall levers). The 20-percent centre section folds down on its own to allow skis, snowboards, a surfboard, a stack of 2x4s or other long items down the middle while your rear passengers continue to enjoy the more comfortable heated (or cooled) window seats, exactly how it should be done in this class or any other.

2019 Jaguar F-Pace SVR
The F-Pace provides more cargo space than most compact luxury SUV competitors. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

Yes, next time you’re heading to the hills, or for that matter merely shuttling the kids to school, think about how much more comfortable, let alone quick it would be in a Jaguar F-Pace SVR. Imagine the time saved, and the look of your kids grinning from ear-to-ear as you show off your action hero driving skills. So what if your significant other is glaring with a slightly different expression, taking control of the sport exhaust button as you enter the school drop-off zone.

This is the most fun I’ve ever had in a compact luxury SUV (sorry Porsche), yet it can be highly civilized, reasonably economical and highly practical for everyday use. Those who want an SUV with the heart of a supercar need look no further than the Jaguar F-Pace SVR.

Guessing which vehicles will take home the annual North American Car, Utility and Truck of the Year awards is easier some years than others, but most industry experts had 2020’s crop of winners chosen…

Chevrolet, Kia and Jeep win 2020 North American Car, Utility and Truck of the Year

2020 Chevrolet Corvette Stingray
The entirely new mid-engine 2020 Chevrolet Corvette Stingray has won the North American Car of the Year. (Photo: Chevrolet)

Guessing which vehicles will take home the annual North American Car, Utility and Truck of the Year awards is easier some years than others, but most industry experts had 2020’s crop of winners chosen long before this week’s announcement.

The actual name of the award is the North American Car and Truck of the Year (NACTOY) despite now having three categories covering passenger cars, a sport utility vehicles and pickup trucks.

Just 50 automotive journalists make up the NACTOY jury, from print, online, radio and broadcast media in both the United States and Canada, with the finalists presented in the fall and eventual winners awarded each year at the North American International Auto Show (NAIAS) in Detroit, although this year’s presentation was changed to a separate event at Detroit’s TCF Center (formerly known as Cobo Hall/Cobo Center) due to the 2020 NAIAS moving its dates forward to June 7-20 this year. The NACTOY awards were first presented in 1994, with the Utility Vehicle category added in 2017.

2020 Chevrolet Corvette Stingray
The new Corvette promises supercar performance and exotic cachet for a pauper’s price. (Photo: Chevrolet)

Of note, nomination requirements include completely new vehicles, total redesigns, or significant refreshes. In other words, the nominated vehicle needs to be something most consumers would consider new to the market or substantially different from a model’s predecessor. Also important, the finalists earned their top-three placement by judging their segment leadership, innovation, design, safety, handling, driver satisfaction and value for money.

The selection process started in June last year, with the vehicle eligibility determined after three rounds of voting. NACTOY used the independent accounting firm Deloitte LLP to tally the votes and kept them secret until the envelopes were unsealed on stage by the organization’s President, Lauren Fix, Vice President, Chris Paukert, and Secretary-Treasurer, Kirk Bell.

2020 Chevrolet Corvette Stingray
The new Corvette’s interior appears much more upscale than previous generations. (Photo: Chevrolet)

The finalists in the “Car” category included the Chevrolet Corvette, Hyundai Sonata and Toyota Supra, with the final winner being the new seventh-generation mid-engine Corvette, a total game changer for the model and sports car category. Interestingly, it’s been six years since a sports car won the passenger car category, so kudos to Chevy for creating something so spectacular it couldn’t be ignored, while Toyota and Hyundai should also be commended for their excellent entries.

“A mid-engine Corvette was a huge risk for Chevy’s muscle-car icon. They nailed it. Stunning styling, interior, and performance for one-third of the cost of comparable European exotics,” said Henry Payne, auto critic for The Detroit News.

2020 Kia Telluride
The new 2020 Kia Telluride is as close to premium as any mainstream volume branded SUV has ever been, Hyundai Palisade aside. (Photo: Kia)

The “Utility Vehicle” finalists included the Hyundai Palisade, Kia Telluride and Lincoln Aviator, with most industry insiders believing one of the two South Korean entries (which are basically the same vehicle under the skin, a la Chevrolet Traverse/GMC Acadia) would take home the prize, and lo and behold the Kia Telluride earned top marks.

“The Telluride’s interior layout and design would meet luxury SUV standards, while its refined drivetrain, confident driving dynamics and advanced technology maintain the premium experience,” said Karl Brauer, Executive Publisher at Cox Automotive. “Traditional SUV brands take note: there’s a new star player on the field.”

2020 Jeep Gladiator
The new 2020 Jeep Gladiator is everything we all love about the Wrangler with the added convenience of a pickup truck bed. (Photo: Jeep)

Lastly, “Truck” of the year finalists included the new to us Ford Ranger, the entirely new Jeep Gladiator, and the Ram HD (Heavy Duty) 2500 and 3500, with the sensational new Gladiator getting the highest marks. Incidentally, you’d need to look all the way back to 1999 to find a Jeep that won its category, that model being the Grand Cherokee.

“What’s not to like about a pickup truck with not only a soft-top removable roof but even removable doors? If you want massive cargo-hauling capability or the ability to tow 10,000 pounds, buy something else,” said longtime automotive journalist John Voelcker. “The eagerly awaited Gladiator is a one-of-a-kind truck, every bit the Jeep its Wrangler sibling is … but with a pickup bed. How could you possibly get more American than that?”

Of note, NACTOY is an independent, non-profit organization, with elected officers and funding by dues-paying journalist members.

Find out more about the 2020 Chevrolet Corvette, 2020 Kia Telluride and 2020 Jeep Gladiator at CarCostCanada, where you can get trim, package and individual option pricing, plus rebate info and even dealer invoice pricing that could save you thousands. While the Corvette is not yet available, you can get up to $1,000 in additional incentives on the new Telluride, and factory leasing and financing rates from 4.09 percent for the new Gladiator. Make sure to check CarCostCanada for more.

The compact class is incredibly competitive in Canada, but thanks to continually improving its exterior design, plus major strides made in interior refinement, big gains in cabin infotainment, and a diehard…

2019 Subaru Impreza 2.0i Sport 5-Door Road Test

2019 Subaru Impreza 2.0i Sport 5-Door
The Impreza 2.0i Sport 5-Door is one great looking compact sport wagon. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

The compact class is incredibly competitive in Canada, but thanks to continually improving its exterior design, plus major strides made in interior refinement, big gains in cabin infotainment, and a diehard adherence to its unique horizontally-opposed powertrain connecting through to standard all-wheel drive, Subaru has found a way to keep its Impreza thoroughly relevant when others are getting discontinued.

News of model cancellations is never good to a car enthusiast, even if the vehicle in question is a rather bland compact commuter car. After all, the same market shifting issues that caused the elimination of the Chevy Cruze and its electrified Volt is responsible for the demise of Ford’s Focus and its two sportiest trims, not to mention the fun-to-drive Alfa Romeo-based Dodge Dart a couple of years ago. And these four are only in the compact segment. Plenty of others have fallen by the wayside in the subcompact and full-size passenger car classes too, all making space for new crossover SUVs and EVs.

2019 Subaru Impreza 2.0i Sport 5-Door
The 5-Door’s sweptback rear design makes it the sportiest of the two body styles. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Subaru produces its share of crossovers, its most popular Crosstrek based on the very Impreza 5-Door being reviewed here. I’m actually a big fan of that innovative little CUV, but I’m also a proponent of smart compact wagons, which is more or less what the Impreza 5-Door is.

Call it a hatchback if you want, or a liftback if you want to make it sound sportier, but in reality the Impreza 5-Door is a wagon through and through. No doubt some in Subaru’s marketing department would rather I don’t say that, but they should be well aware that this Japanese brand has an ardent following of wagon-loving zealots. After all, the Outback is little more than a raised Legacy Wagon, the latter model no longer with us, unfortunately, but a mighty find rally car in its time, not to mention an excellent family hauler.

2019 Subaru Impreza 2.0i Sport 5-Door
LED-enhanced headlamps make for a sophisticated look. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Subaru has spiffed up the Impreza’s styling in recent years, and it really does look a lot more upscale and premium like, even in its more basic trims. This Sport tester comes with fog lamps and LED-enhanced headlights even though it’s just a mid-range model, not to mention side sill extensions, a subtle rooftop spoiler, and attractive LED taillights, while machine-finished twinned-Y-spoke 17-inch alloys with black-painted pockets round out the sporty look.

Subaru makes a 4-Door Impreza sedan as well, but I’m willing to guess the 5-Door is more popular in Canada. They both look nice and each serves a purpose as well as personal styling tastes, the sedan providing the security of a trunk, useful for those that regularly need to keep valuables locked away from prying eyes, while the latter gets the convenience of added cargo space of a hatch or liftback. The trunk can manage a load of 348 litres, which isn’t bad for a compact, but compared to the 5-Door’s 588-litre cargo hold behind the rear seats, not to mention is uninterrupted 1,565 litres of available volume when the 60/40 split-folding rear seatbacks are lowered down, it’s no contest.

2019 Subaru Impreza 2.0i Sport 5-Door
The Impreza incorporates some similar design elements to the brand’s rakish BRZ sports car. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

The car I recently tested is a 2019, and yes I’m fully aware the 2020s are already upon us and therefore this review will have a very limited shelf life. Nevertheless, those willing to choose the 2019 can access up to $2,500 in additional incentives (at the time of writing), as seen on CarCostCanada’s 2019 Subaru Impreza Canada Prices page, whereas those wanting the refreshed 2020 model can only save up to $750 in additional incentives, unless they join CarCostCanada to access dealer invoice pricing at which point they could find themselves saving thousands.

2019 Subaru Impreza 2.0i Sport 5-Door
These are some sporty looking 17-inch alloy wheels. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Subaru makes its EyeSight suite of advanced driver assistive systems standard on all Imprezas upgraded to an automatic transmission for 2020, while it’s only available in Sport and top-line Sport-tech trims for 2019. The car I tested didn’t include EyeSight, which meant it was missing pre-collision braking, pre-collision brake assist, pre-collision throttle management, lane departure warning, lane sway warning, lane keep assist, lead vehicle start alert, and adaptive cruise control. A Starlink connected services package is also available for 2020, included in most Impreza trims, while both 4- and 5-Door styling has been updated front and back.

The Impreza’s four trim lines remain the same from 2019 to 2020, and include the base Convenience, plus Touring, Sport and Sport-tech, with 2019 pricing ranging from $19,995 to $30,195 for the 4-Door and $20,895 to $31,095 for the 5-Door. Subaru leaves the base price alone for 2020, but ups some pricing in between with the new 5-Door adding $100 to the bottom line for $20,995, and top-line Sport-tech trim costing $30,795 and $31,695 for the 4- and 5-Door body styles respectively.

2019 Subaru Impreza 2.0i Sport 5-Door
A fine looking set of LED enhanced taillights. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

The 2019 Impreza Sport 5-Door model on this page retails for $25,395, this car increasing to $26,195 next year. Like the two bottom trims it can be had with a five-speed manual or optional Lineartronic continuously variable transmission (CVT) with standard steering wheel-mounted paddle shifters, the latter being how Subaru equipped my tester. As always, Subaru’s Symmetrical AWD comes standard, not only making this the sole car with standard AWD in the compact class, but one of the only vehicles to be offered with AWD in this segment at all.

2019 Subaru Impreza 2.0i Sport 5-Door
The Impreza’s interior quality will undoubtedly impress. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

To be clear, Mazda recently anted up with an AWD 3, while Toyota’s Prius can now be had with its new hybridized e-AWD system. Volkswagen offers its Golf Alltrack until they sell out (it’s sadly being cancelled after model year 2019), but it’s more of a Crosstrek competitor anyway, while the Golf R competes with Subaru’s WRX STI. There you have it, all the AWD competitors in the compact class, a very small number for sure.

Speaking of VW, it’s ironic that a relatively small Japanese brand has kept the German manufacturer’s boxer engine design alive and thriving all these years. Subaru has long claimed the horizontally opposed engine configuration as its own, only sharing it with Porsche and, occasionally, Ferrari, with this latest 2.0-litre, dual-overhead cam, 16-valve, four-cylinder making a reliable 152 horsepower and 145 lb-ft of torque via direct-injection, dual active valve control, and electronic throttle control. This is significantly stronger engine output than most competitors’ base engines. In fact, only three rivals make more power, albeit not much more, while just four put out greater torque.

2019 Subaru Impreza 2.0i Sport 5-Door
The Impreza offers up a comfortable, well organized cockpit. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

The result is strong performance from standstill all the way up to highway speeds and beyond, all of the extra torque working very well with my tester’s CVT, which provides especially smooth, linear power delivery. The paddles are useful for downshifting mid-turn, but I found the engine and transmission worked best when left to their own devices. The Impreza’s ride is very smooth too, while its agility through the corners is also typical of fully independent suspension setups, Subaru having infused a set of MacPherson struts up front and double wishbones in back, with stabilizer bars at both ends. This is a more sophisticated design than some of its challengers that use cheaper rear torsion bar suspensions, and can really be felt when pushing hard through curves covered in uneven pavement. Rather than having the rear axle bunny hop over the rough stuff, my Impreza’s 205/50R17s stayed locked on course, the little five-door certainly showing the effects of Subaru’s storied rallying heritage.

2019 Subaru Impreza 2.0i Sport 5-Door
The simple gauge cluster is nevertheless easy to read in any light. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

This was when I wished my test car had been equipped with the five-speed manual, as it would have been more fun to play with and potentially easier to extract more speed, but truth be told the paddles worked wonders when more engine revs were needed, even though they’re hooked up to a CVT. It was good enough, in fact, that I might lean towards the CVT if this were my own personal ride, not only because it would make driving life in the city a lot more agreeable, but also because the automated transmission is a lot thriftier with a claimed fuel economy rating of 8.3 L/100km city, 6.4 highway and 7.5 combined, compared to 10.1, 7.5 and 8.9 respectively for the manual.

2019 Subaru Impreza 2.0i Sport 5-Door
The centre stack sits on top of the centre dash. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

While a serious driver’s car, the Impreza is also extremely comfortable, and not just because of its just-noted ride quality. The driver’s seat offers good adjustability, but strangely no lumbar adjustment in this trim. Fortunately the seat design is inherently supportive, and thanks to excellent reach from the tilt and telescopic steering column I had no problem getting into a good position for optimal control of the leather-wrapped steering wheel and sporty metal pedals. The steering wheel is nicely shaped for a sporty, comfortable feel with the hands at the proper 9 and 3 o’clock positions, while ample switchgear on its spokes allow for control of audio, phone, cruise, and trip/multi-information display functions.

2019 Subaru Impreza 2.0i Sport 5-Door
The Impreza’s top-line 8-inch infotainment touchscreen is very good. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Unlike most rivals, the Impreza’s mostly analogue gauge cluster merely splits its dials with a colour TFT readout for speed, gear selection, real-time fuel economy, fuel level, the odometer and trip mileage. The actual multi-information display is housed in a hooded 4.2-inch colour display atop the dash. It provides a comprehensive level of information, its top half-inch or so displaying the time, interior temperature, climate control setting, and exterior temperature, while the larger bottom section can be set up based on driver preference with options including audio info, real-time fuel economy and projected range, all-wheel drive torque distribution, a row of three gauges encompassing water temp, oil temp and average speed, and more.

2019 Subaru Impreza 2.0i Sport 5-Door
The Impreza Sport can be had with a 5-speed manual or this smooth CVT. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

While the quality of graphics and screen resolution of the multi-information display has made big strides this generation, Subaru’s biggest single area of improvement over the past few years has been in-car infotainment, particularly the centre touchscreen and its many features. The move up to Sport trim increases the display from 6.3 to 8.0 inches in diameter, and it’s an extremely high-quality touchscreen with crystal clear definition, beautiful vivid colours and extremely rich contrast. The overall tile design is attractive, with big colourful “buttons” overtop a starry blue background that looks attractive and is easy to use, with the main functions being radio, media, phone, apps, settings, and Subaru’s Starlink suite of apps. There’s no navigation in Sport trim, but Apple CarPlay and Android Auto offer route guidance through your smartphone, which is likely good enough for most peoples’ needs. The apps panel includes Aha and iHeartRadio, while dual USB ports and an aux plug allow smartphone access. The backup camera is excellent too, and benefits from dynamic guidelines.

2019 Subaru Impreza 2.0i Sport 5-Door
This is a superb driver’s seat, despite not having adjustable lumbar support. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

All HVAC controls can be found just below on a dedicated interface, and in Sport trim is a single-zone automatic climate control system featuring three dials and a couple of buttons to actuate. Setting the heatable front seats is done via two rocker switches on the lower console, but even the two-way warmer’s highest settings aren’t anywhere hot enough to feel therapeutic.

There’s no heated steering wheel rim in Sport trim and no seat warmers offered in back at all, which is strange for a car that would likely be used as a family ski shuttle during winter months, but nevertheless the Impreza Sport 5-Door’s rear quarters are nicely finished, yet without secondary air vents on the backside of the front console or anywhere else.

2019 Subaru Impreza 2.0i Sport 5-Door
The rear seats are roomy and comfortable. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

It’s roomy in back, with about eight inches of space remaining ahead of my knees when seated behind the driver’s seat that was set up for my five-foot-eight, long-legged, short-torso frame, plus ample area to stretch out my legs with my feet under said driver’s seat. There’s no shortage of room side-to-side either, plus a comfortably wide folding armrest at centre with dual cupholders, and about three inches left over above my head. The outboard rear seatbacks offer good lumbar support too, so it’s easy to overlook the lack of amenities in back.

I’ve yet to mention this Sport trim’s upholstery, which is a high point thanks to a nice durable feeling fabric featuring an attractive patterned insert surrounded by grey striped bolsters with contrast stitching. Each Impreza generation improves interior refinement, with this latest fifth-gen model a wholly more hospitable place for driver and passengers front to back with respect to materials quality and design. Just look at the contrast-stitched leather-like soft-touch dash top, which is easily as good as this class gets, the impressive surfacing treatment even flowing down the right side of the centre stack and copied over to the left portion as to provide a visual balance. It’s gorgeous. The door uppers get a similar soft synthetic treatment and the armrests feel like genuine stitched leather, while Subaru adds more depth via carbon-fibre-like inlays, satin-silver/grey accents, tasteful applications of chrome and more, not to mention especially tight fitting switchgear throughout the cabin. Anyone buying into this class should be more than impressed with the Impreza’s interior.

2019 Subaru Impreza 2.0i Sport 5-Door
The Impreza 5-Door provides more cargo room than most competitors. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

I’ve mentioned cargo dimensions already, and while it sits in the middle as far as space behind the rear seatbacks and much better than average when those seats are folded, I wish Subaru had thought of including a centre pass-through for loading in longer items like skis. Of course you can squish someone into the centre position if carrying four, but the outboards seats are much more comfortable and the view out the windows more enjoyable for those in back. Subaru includes a retractable cargo cover within a solid, attractive aluminum cross-member that’s easy to pull out and store behind the first row of seats if no one is seated in the second row, or lay on the cargo floor if someone is.

All things said the Impreza 5-Door is a car I could buy and live happily with. It’s just the right size, offers up lively performance with decent fuel economy, promises strong reliability, and delivers the level of refinement and quality I’ve grown used to. Its infotainment is now as good as this class gets, and while I would’ve liked a few more features in this Sport-trimmed tester, a top-line Sport-tech model I tested a couple of years ago delivered more than enough goodies to satisfy the tech geek within. Everything considered, the Impreza wholly worthy of your attention.

There is no more competitive category in the luxury sector than the compact sport sedan segment, and therefore it’s critical for a premium brand to offer up a worthy entry. Enter the G70, the most important…

2019 Genesis G70 3.3T Sport AWD Road Test

2019 Genesis G70 3.3T Sport AWD
The G70 is one great looking compact luxury sport sedan, especially in 3.3T Sport AWD trim. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

There is no more competitive category in the luxury sector than the compact sport sedan segment, and therefore it’s critical for a premium brand to offer up a worthy entry. Enter the G70, the most important new Genesis model to surface until the fledgling luxury brand hits the market with a crossover SUV.

Genesis is Hyundai Motor Group’s new luxury brand. It’s what Lexus is to Toyota, Infiniti is to Nissan and Acura is to Honda. Each of these Japanese brands were late to the premium brand party, at least in comparison to some of the sector’s originators that have been fighting it out for most of the past century. Genesis won’t be breaking the mould like Tesla did with its lineup of electrics, the Model 3 going head-to-head with all challengers in the G70’s class, but instead the new model offers a good looking, well made, strong performing, value-packed alternative to market leaders like the BMW 3 Series, Mercedes-Benz C-Class and Audi A4, not to mention all others including the Lexus IS, Infiniti Q50, Acura TLX, Cadillac ATS, Volvo S60, Jaguar XE, and Alfa Romeo Giulia.

2019 Genesis G70 3.3T Sport AWD
There’s no drama in the design, just attractive, mostly clean lines. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

Yes, that’s a lot of rivals, and I’m not even including all the wagons, convertibles and coupes, some of the latter even sporting four doors like Audi’s A5 Sportback and BMW’s 4 Series Gran Coupe. How did the G70 do? Strictly by the numbers, Genesis sold 1,119 examples through calendar year 2019 in Canada, which is pretty impressive, even representing 15.7 percent growth over the previous partial year (the G70 went on sale in March of 2018). That already puts it ahead of a couple of key competitors, namely the Cadillac ATS, which needed a sedan and coupe to accumulate 1,032 sales yet still lost 36.1 percent from the year prior, the Alfa Romeo Giulia that plunged 52.5 percent due to just 242 deliveries through 2019, and the Jaguar XE that nosedived 72.5 percent for just 157 new buyers during the same 12 months.

2019 Genesis G70 3.3T Sport AWD
The G70’s grille looks unique and attractive, an impressive feat for a new brand. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

Achieving a comfortable four figures is an auspicious start for the three-year old brand’s first all-new model. Certainly the G90 was new when introduced along with the brand in November of 2016, but like the G80 it was derived from an older Hyundai model. The G90 started life as the Hyundai Equus, and thus could also be seen as that model’s third generation, whereas the G80 merely changed its rear badge from a stylized “H” to Genesis’ wings, it having already worn the new brand’s logo on its hood and steering wheel due to previewing the Genesis nameplate as its model designation for two generations and eight long years.

2019 Genesis G70 3.3T Sport AWD
Sport trim gets a distinctive front fascia, LED headlamps, and fog lights. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

The G70 made up the vast majority of all Genesis sales last year, 73.4 percent to be exact, due to the G80 finding just 324 new owners and the G90 a mere 82 (that’s 18th from last, incidentally, the final position held by the Kia K900 that shares underpinnings with the G90 and sold exactly zero units). Just how important the newcomer is to Genesis’ plans can’t be stressed enough, so it was good they got it right.

It’s a handsome car, with a strong aggressive stance yet styling that’s not too dramatic other than the nonfunctional front fender vents, and it’s sized exactly right to fit squarely within the compact luxury D-segment. It measures 4,685 millimetres (184.4 inches) from front to back, with a 2,835-mm (111.6-in) wheelbase, 1,850 mm (72.8 in) from side-to-side, and 1,400 mm (55.1 in) from the base of its tires to top of its arcing roof, which makes it almost identical to the C-Class and not much shorter than the 3 Series. This is the compact luxury sweet spot, compared to the Infiniti Q50 that’s quite a big longer.

2019 Genesis G70 3.3T Sport AWD
Sport trim gets special 19-inch dark alloys and Brembo brakes with bright red calipers. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

The result is a car that’s totally comfortable in both rows, yet nice, light, quick, and manoeuvrable. The driving position is excellent, with plenty of reach and rake from the tilt and telescopic steering column, while my tester’s upgraded driver’s seat was superb, with excellent leg, lower back, and lateral support. The steering wheel is nicely shaped for a comfortable grip, with paddle shifters where they need to be for quick actuation, while the pistol grip shift lever on the lower console is only there for selecting gears. A beautifully detailed knurled metal dial provides driving mode selection, the choices being Comfort, Sport, Eco, Smart and Custom, and while I tested all for posterity’s sake you can guess which one was my go-to setup.

2019 Genesis G70 3.3T Sport AWD
LED taillights come standard.

The automatic is the base G70 transmission, providing eight forward speeds and Idle Stop and Go capability that automatically shuts the engine off to save fuel and reduce emissions when it would otherwise be idling, and then quickly restarts it when lifting off the brake. The turbocharged 2.0-litre four-cylinder engine makes 252 horsepower and 260 lb-ft of torque, and is the sole engine available with a six-speed manual gearbox in its 2.0T Sport RWD trim. It’s also the only G70 without all-wheel drive and actually makes an additional 3 horsepower over its automatic-equipped siblings, the Genesis’ 2.0T Advanced AWD trim being the base model, followed by the 2.0T Elite AWD and 2.0T Prestige AWD.

2019 Genesis G70 3.3T Sport AWD
The G70’s interior will truly impress. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

Only two trims use the optional 3.3-litre V6, a 365 horsepower twin-turbocharged engine good for 376 lb-ft of torque, including the 3.3T Dynamic AWD, and this top-line 3.3T Sport AWD. This model has a nice eager exhaust note at idle, and selecting Sport mode automatically adds air to the bladders in this Sport trim’s exclusive 16-way power-adjustable driver seat’s bolsters for better lateral support, the four-way lumbar and lower cushion extension having already been positioned for ultimate comfort and control.

The G70 3.3T tears away from stoplights at a blisteringly quick rate, managing 100 km/h from standstill in the high fours, and has a wonderfully aggressive exhaust note as the engine nears its 7,000-rpm redline. The eight-speed auto provides quick, precise shifts in Sport mode, the paddles only adding to the sense of urgency, this true especially through the curves where the G70 feels light and lively, and a lot more fun to drive than the equivalent Lexus IS 350 F Sport.

2019 Genesis G70 3.3T Sport AWD
The G70’s cockpit is nicely laid out for comfort and convenience. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

Braking is strong and doesn’t fade after repeated stomps, the Sport’s four-piston front and two-piston rear high-performance Brembos doing their job. Genesis’ engineers have set this car up with superb balance, its front strut and five-link independent rear suspension never getting out of shape yet providing an amply compliant ride despite my tester’s 19-inch staggered-width alloys wrapped in 225/40 front and 255/35 rear Michelin Pilot Sport 4 summer performance rubber. Its incredible stability likely has something to do with my Sport model’s adaptive control suspension, which is a high-performance suspension control system that distributes front and rear damping forces in potentially onerous, unstable situations, helping to prevent accidents.

2019 Genesis G70 3.3T Sport AWD
The mostly analogue gauges include a 7-inch multi-info display at centre. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

Speaking of safety features, more equipped G70 trims get forward collision assist with pedestrian detection as well, plus lane departure warning and lane keeping assist, and driver attention warning, while all G70s include blind spot collision warning with lane change assist, plus rear cross-traffic collision warning.

The Variable Gear Ratio-enhanced motor-driven rack-and-pinion steering responds positively to input, yet never nervous, and the car tracks ideally at high speeds, its mechanical limited-slip differential aiding in rear wheel traction. This is a sport sedan I could drive every day, my only wish being a track so I could fully let out some steam, but even around town it wasn’t only a perfect point-and-shoot companion, but an easy car to operate in congested traffic.

2019 Genesis G70 3.3T Sport AWD
The G70’s infotainment graphics are similar to Hyundai’s, but it’s a very complete system. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

That’s when I had opportunity to enjoy its beautifully detailed interior. Everything is very well made, with the expected soft-touch surfaces above the waste, excepting the glove box lid and fascia around steering wheel. Most switchgear is high in quality, but its aluminized silver look with blue backlit lettering comes across a tad too Hyundai and not enough Genesis, as did the 8.0-inch infotainment display and graphics. It’s filled with features including Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, navigation, a multi-view camera system, Genesis Connected Services, and the list goes on, one of my favourites being a 15-speaker Lexicon audio system with Quantum Logic surround that had sensational sound quality, but most in this class offer some type of controller on the lower console to go along with the touchscreen.

2019 Genesis G70 3.3T Sport AWD
The gearshift is just for selecting D, R or N, with all shifting happening via the steering wheel shift paddles. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

The TFT multi-infotainment display ahead of the driver was highly functional too, plus nice and big at 7.0 inches across, but while bright and colourful the analogue primary gauges surrounding it were a bit surprising in today’s fully digital instrument cluster world.

Surprisingly but wonderful was the diamond-pattern quilted black and grey highlighted Nappa leather upholstery on the seats and door panels. It’s the type of rich opulence you might find in a Bentley or Aston Martin, not a compact Genesis, the seats even boasting grey piping on the side bolsters and top of each backrest. That’s part of the Sport’s standard Sport Appearance Package that also includes the driver’s power-adjustable bolsters and seat cushion extension mentioned earlier, plus aluminum pedals and black microsuede roof pillars and headliner.

2019 Genesis G70 3.3T Sport AWD
Gorgeous diamond-pattern quilting covers the inserts of the fabulous 16-way powered driver’s seat. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

The G70 was as beautifully finishing in back as up front too, and included three-way seat heaters for the outboard positions. The front seats had these as well, plus the driver had a heated steering wheel rim and two front seats benefited from three-way cooling to help overcome summer’s warmth. Of course, dual-zone auto climate control took care of cabin comfort, while the usual phone connectivity and charging ports were part of the package, including a wireless charging pad.

A corner that’s often cut by bargain luxury brands is trunk finishing, and unfortunately the G70’s dedicated cargo hold is a bit shallow and uses space-robbing hinges instead of struts. The load floor feels cheap and flimsy too, and the folding rear seatbacks are only split 60/40 with no centre pass-through, limiting the G70’s use as a ski shuttle, at least while all four seat heaters are being used.

2019 Genesis G70 3.3T Sport AWD
The rear seating area could be roomier, but it’s par for the course in this compact luxury sedan class. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

On the positive the G70 is a relative bargain compared to its German competitors, with a base price of just $42,000 plus freight and fees. Comparatively the least expensive Mercedes-Benz C-Class sedan starts at $46,100 and most affordable BMW 3 Series sedan hits the road at $49,000, while the near slowest selling Jaguar XE starts at $49,900 and least popular Alfa Romeo Giulia requires $50,445. Certainly some undercut the G70, like the Audi A4 at $39,800 and Lexus IS at $41,250, but they don’t offer anywhere near the same standard features.

You can find out about full-range pricing for each of these models at CarCostCanada (just follow the links on the car names above), including trim, packages and individual options, while you can also learn about available offers such as the zero-percent factory leasing and financing rates now provided by Genesis for 2019 and 2020 G70 models, and before you contact your Genesis dealer, or any one of the others, be sure to get your CarCostCanada membership so you’ll know the dealer invoice price before you start negotiating, as it could save you thousands.

2019 Genesis G70 3.3T Sport AWD
The trunk could be finished better, and with only 60/40-split rear seatbacks it’s flexibility is limited. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

By the way, the 2020 G70 is nearly identical to this 2019 model, other than the elimination of 3.3T Dynamic AWD trim and the introduction of a new higher-end 3.3T Prestige AWD model. The base price stays the same, but some of the other trims move up, including this Sport trim that adds $500, along with a new standard powered trunk lid, for a new retail price of $58,000.

All in all the 2019 Genesis G70 is an excellent luxury car with few drawbacks, especially for sport sedan fans that like to motor with enthusiasm. It rewards skilled drivers with wonderful straight-line performance and very predictable, capable at-the-limit handling, yet its excellent balance and the AWD models’ tendency to understeer won’t hang a novice driver out to dry either. Its interior will impress too, with comfort and eye-popping opulence, my top-line $57,500 3.3T Sport AWD really delivering across the board. All this, plus a best-in-class five-year or 100,000-km comprehensive warranty. Not too shabby.

It’s not without fault, its estimated 13.3 L/100km in the city, 9.5 on the highway and 11.6 combined fuel economy hardly thrifty (the four-cylinder with AWD gets a claimed 11.5 city, 8.7 highway and 10.3 combined), but its pros certainly outweigh its cons, so the G70 is an easy car to recommend.

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

2019 Toyota 4Runner TRD Pro Road Test

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Genesis, Hyundai’s luxury division, just revealed new images of an all-new premium crossover SUV designed to go up against the Lexus RX, BMW X5, Mercedes-Benz GLE and other mid-size luxury utilities,…

Genesis reveals first images of new luxury SUV dubbed GV80

2021 Genesis GV80
Say hello to the all-new Genesis GV80, the first SUV for Hyundai’s fledgling luxury brand. (Photo: Genesis)

Genesis, Hyundai’s luxury division, just revealed new images of an all-new premium crossover SUV designed to go up against the Lexus RX, BMW X5, Mercedes-Benz GLE and other mid-size luxury utilities, and by first glance it certainly looks up to the task.

The GV80, as it will be called when it goes on sale globally later this year, wears a bigger, bolder modified version of Genesis’ new five-sided grille introduced to a production model on the brand’s redesigned 2020 G90 flagship sedan, plus it carries a number of other styling cues from that full-size four-door including horizontal LED-enhanced Quad Lamp headlights and wraparound tail lamps, as well as side vents on the front fenders. The basic design was formed from the GV80 Concept that launched at the 2017 New York International Auto Show, but we have to say it looks much better in production trim than prototype.

2021 Genesis GV80
Are they paying tribute to Cadillac with its five-sided grille? It certainly looks good, but might be too close to the crested-wreath for comfort. (Photo: Genesis)

“GV80 allows us to expand our definition of Athletic Elegance design language to a new typology, while retaining sublime proportionality and sophistication of form,” said Luc Donckerwolke, Executive Vice President, Chief Design Officer of Hyundai Motor Group.

Genesis calls its design language Athletic Elegance, and while this descriptor comes off as a bit generic the SUV’s overall presence is anything but. Its grille is reminiscent of Cadillac, however, only lacking a big crested-wreath shield in the middle, which might put it at odds with the General and American patriots that feel an allegiance to their domestic luxury marque. Genesis even unabashedly names the GV80’s foremost feature the “Crest Grille” and claims it as a “signature Genesis design element,” but in fairness a lot of brands have tried to put their own spin on this type of pentagonal grille design in the past, including Acura and Honda. No one should argue against any other GV80 design element or its overall look, and to that end Genesis would probably rather have us focusing on its trademark headlamps.

2021 Genesis GV80
Its Quad Lamp LED headlights certainly look distinctive. (Photo: Genesis)

“The Quad Lamp, our design signature, introduces an unmistakable visual impression completely unique to Genesis,” said Sang Yup Lee, Senior Vice President, Head of Genesis Design. They feature a “G-Matrix pattern” that was “inspired by beautiful orchids seen when diamonds are illuminated by light,” said the brand in a press release, mentioning the wheel design was similarly inspired.

Most everyone who’s entered a new Genesis product has been impressed by its quality of workmanship, and the GV80 should be no exception. The brand says its new SUV “focuses on the beauty of open space, characteristic of the elegant South Korean architectural aesthetic,” and we’re just glad the brand’s designers weren’t inspired by K-Pop fashion. In all seriousness the new GV80 does provide a beautiful interior design, once again reminiscent of the elegant, well-built 2020 G90 cabin, although its instrument panel more traditional with an arcing gauge cluster hood and more conventional fixed tablet-style infotainment display atop the centre dash, although the horizontal theme continues with strong, steady lines made from a slim set of air vents ahead of the front passenger, a well sorted touchscreen climate control interface atop a gently sloping centre console, and more. A “jewel-like” rotating dial appears to be the modus operandi for selecting gears, making for a cleaner, more sophisticated look, while rich hardwoods, leathers and aluminized metals appear at least on par with its competition.

2021 Genesis GV80
The GV80 has a nice, sleek side profile, and eye-catching design elements like front fender vents. (Photo: Genesis)

The GV80 rides on an all-new rear-wheel drive chassis and will be available with either rear- or optional all-wheel drivetrains in the U.S., although it will likely only come with AWD in the Canadian market. If the new SUV drives similarly to other Genesis products, it should be a formidable performer as well as a commendable luxury ride, balancing sport and comfort similarly to Mercedes and Audi.

The GV80 is a mid-size model capable of seating seven occupants in three rows, although it will also be offered as a two-row five-seat SUV. True to the “V” in its name, which stands for “versatility”, we should expect competitive passenger space and a roomy cargo area. 

2021 Genesis GV80
The interior looks stunning and appears very well made. (Photo: Genesis)

The Hyundai Motor Group made a bold move to enter a completely new brand into an already full luxury marketplace back in late 2016, and it hasn’t exactly been easy going. Its initial two car lineup, made up of the G80 mid-size sedan (previously the Hyundai Genesis Sedan) and G90 full-size sedan (Hyundai Equus), since augmented with the G70 compact luxury sedan in 2018, has made impressive headway on the sales charts yet still lags well behind luxury leaders. This was no doubt planned for, as were initially slower sales due to its passenger car lineup, which means the brand has a lot riding on its first SUV. The GV80 could potentially outsell all other Genesis models combined if the histories of rival brands are repeated, which could point the upstart Korean luxury marque on the road to success.