Every luxury brand has models that sell in volume and therefore provide necessary income and hopefully profits, while most also have one or more image vehicle that increases visibility of the entire model…

2019 Lexus LC 500h Road Test

2019 Lexus LC 500h
The Lexus LC 500h makes a dramatic visual statement that looks like nothing else on the road. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Every luxury brand has models that sell in volume and therefore provide necessary income and hopefully profits, while most also have one or more image vehicle that increases visibility of the entire model lineup and, in theory, causes people to buy into the make. On rare occasion a model achieves both, but such is not the case with the beautiful new Lexus LC. 

Putting things into perspective, the LC could actually be considered a runaway success when compared to Lexus’ previous image car. The LFA was purposely limited to just 500 units worldwide over two model years built between 2010 and 2012, 10 of which came to Canada. By comparison the LC, which was introduced in 2017 as a 2018 model, is selling like gangbusters with seven examples finding well-heeled Canadian customers last month alone, and nine the month before. In total, Lexus delivered 55 LCs over the first seven months of 2019, which makes it the second slowest selling model in the Japanese luxury brand’s lineup, just ahead of the LS (with 51 units) but not the slowest selling sport-luxury car in Canada. 

2019 Lexus LC 500h
The rear end design is almost as visually arresting as the front. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

That honour goes to the Maserati GranTurismo that only found 14 new buyers so far this year, while the LC is also doing better than Acura’s NSX that only has 17 units sold, not to mention the Nissan GT-R’s tally of 36, and the Audi R8’s 54. Still, Mercedes-Benz sold 99 SL-Class models year-to-date, BMW’s 8 Series earned 160 new owners thus far, Jaguar’s F-Type found 181 buyers, Merc’s AMG GT pulled in a surprising 258 (considering it starts at $170k), and Porsche’s 911 won over 587. Making matters more interesting, that Porsche sales total represents a 31.74-percent drop in popularity compared to the same seven months last year, due to a lull in availability ahead of the all-new 2020 model arriving now. 

2019 Lexus LC 500h
The headlamp clusters are downright bizarre, but they fit ideally with the rest of the design. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

The 911 wasn’t the only sports car to lose ground on this list either, the R8 falling a catastrophic 70.97 percentage points from grace, the GranTurismo losing 48.15 percent, this LC have been knocked down by 48.11 percent, F-Type sales dropping by 29.30 percent, the GT-R down some 21.74 percent, and the SL having dipped by 16.10 percent. Only the AMG GT grew its year-to-date sales, by 55.42 percent, with the 8 Series too new to compare. You might also get a kick out of learning that Lexus’ parent brand Toyota sold 66 new $65k-plus Supra models during its first month of availability in July, which you’ll now know is more than every LC sold so far this year. 

2019 Lexus LC 500h
These beautiful 21-inch alloys come standard with the 500h. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

There are other cars competing in this class, but some, like the BMW i8 and Mercedes S-Class Coupe, combine their numbers with other models in their respective lineups (the i3 and S-Class Sedan in these cases), whereas the Aston Martin DB11, Bentley Continental GT and Rolls-Royce Wraith are in a slightly different league when it comes to pricing. Ford sold three Markham, Ontario-built GTs and Dodge even notched one up for the Viper, incidentally, but the former is a purposely low-volume supercar and the latter went out of production two years ago, so the unsteady trickle of deliveries shouldn’t count. A bit further down the pricing hierarchy is Chevy’s Corvette that totaled 840 units year-to-date, and it’s a foregone conclusion the slightly pricier mid-engine C8 will soon fly out of GM showrooms, which will make it even more difficult for very good cars like this LC to find sales traction. 

2019 Lexus LC 500h
An upgrade on the regular LC 500, this carbon fibre roof is standard equipment with the LC 500h hybrid. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

When sales don’t stack up, it’s always important to point out that a given car’s popularity isn’t necessarily a reflection of its overall goodness. As one might expect, the very fact the LC is a Lexus is reason enough to give it respect, and other than the most recently introduced fourth-generation LS luxury sedan, the second model to use the Toyota New Global Architecture (TNGA), specifically TNGA-L (GA-L) underpinnings, the LC is easily the best Lexus ever made. 

The initial draw has to be styling. The LC takes the brand’s spindle grille to new widths and depths, but the design gets even more radical to each side, with headlamps that look like some sort of mechanical set of alien-implanted growths, yet the lit areas are actually quite small and filled with tightly grouped trios of LEDs (which Lexus had to reinvent in order to fit within such a small cluster). All of the abstract irregularities are just glossed over black trim, other than the Nike swoosh-style “arrowhead” daytime running lights just below. 

2019 Lexus LC 500h
The otherwise flush door handles pop out like those on a Jaguar F-Type or most any modern Aston Martin. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

The LC design continues rearward with additional modern-day Lexus trademark elements, such as the blackened C-pillar “floating roof” effect with nice polished nickel detailing, far-reaching pronged taillights that more or less mirror the supposed “L-shaped” headlamps while infused with 80 individual LEDs per side and sharing design elements with the aforementioned LS (not to mention the Toyota Prius and Camry XSE). Each element might appear a bit bizarre on its own, but the entire package comes together in one surprisingly elegant and undeniably beautiful cohesive whole. 

Come to think of it I almost never comment on styling, unless the designer got something especially right or incredibly wrong. In the LC’s case, the Newport Beach, California-based Calty Design Research centre’s team, led by studio chief Ian Cartabiano, with Edward Lee responsible for the jaw-dropping exterior and William Chergosky plus Ben Chang in charge of the interior, the LF-LC Concept that inspired it couldn’t have been more right. It was miraculously transformed from awe-inspiring prototype to equally stunning LC 500 and LC 500h reality with only minor outer modifications made, the end result quite possibly the closest a production model has ever been to resembling its concept car roots. 

2019 Lexus LC 500h
The LC’s stylized taillights incorporate 80 individual LEDs. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

The road-going LC’s interior was completely redesigned, albeit kept the general theme including an LFA-inspired pod-like digital gauge cluster, a horizontally shaped instrument panel with a recessed widescreen centre display, a cockpit-style driver’s compartment that’s semi-enclosed by a buttress-type centre stack extension doubling as a front passenger grab-handle in the production model, a flowing set of downward-swept suede-like alcantara door panel inserts, deeply sculpted, heavily bolstered front sport seats, similarly styled rear sport bucket seats, and more. All the effort spent was immediately rewarded by placement on Wards Auto 10 Best Interiors list when the car came on the scene in the spring of 2017, and I have to agree that it’s a wonderfully artful design that provides all the luxuries and digital modernity expected in a personal sports-luxury coupe starting at $102,750 in 2019 LC 500 form and $103,050 in just-arriving 2020 trim, or alternatively at $118,850 with the as-tested 2019 LC 500h electrified powertrain, or $118,950 as a 2020 500h model (see all Lexus LC 500 and 500h pricing at CarCostCanada for both the 2019 and 2020 model years, plus find out about available rebates as well as dealer invoice pricing that could save you thousands).

2019 Lexus LC 500h
The LC’s interior is so good it immediately earned placement on Wards Auto’s top 10. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Nothing significant changes from 2019 to 2020, only the elimination of a special $14,800 Inspiration Series package with Flare Yellow semi-aniline leather upholstery (etcetera) for the LC 500 model, and the addition of a new Bespoke White interior theme for the conventionally powered car as well. No matter which powertrain you choose all six exterior colours remain identical, with Infrared the only optional paint at just $650, while the three remaining interiors are also carried over. 

A key reason my 3.5-litre V6-powered hybrid LC 500h tester is pricier than its 5.0-litre V8-powered LC 500 sibling, despite the latter upping horsepower by 113 ponies and without doubt providing a more tantalizing exhaust note, plus fitted with a quicker-shifting, more engaging gearbox than the hybrid’s E-CVT (electronic continuously variable transmission), is equipment, the 500h coming standard with everything from the Performance package that would otherwise cost an LC 500 buyer $13,500 more. 

2019 Lexus LC 500h
The cabin pulls plenty of design cues from the concept. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

The list of upgrades includes four-wheel active variable gear ratio steering, a Torsen limited slip differential, 21-inch forged alloy wheels on Michelin performance tires instead of the standard 20-inch set, a carbon fibre roof in place of the standard glass panel, an active rear spoiler, carbon fibre reinforced polymer scuff plates, an alcantara headliner, upgraded sport seats, and an eight-way power-adjustable driver’s seat instead of the usual 10-way unit, plus lane change assist added to a long list of standard advanced driver assistive systems on both models that include a pre-collision system with autonomous emergency braking, lane departure alert with steering assist, blindspot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert, automatic high beams, and dynamic cruise control. 

2019 Lexus LC 500h
The quality of materials is excellent, and layout optimizing comfort and the driving position. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

I should point out a shortlist of standard luxury and convenience highlights while I’m at it, these including LED cornering lights to go along with the triple-LED headlamps noted earlier, a cool credit card-sized smart key to let you inside via proximity sensing, a head-up display to go along with the fully digital gauge cluster mentioned before, power-folding side mirrors, a heatable steering wheel rim that actually lets you adjust the temperature, a powered steering column that works with the front seat memory, cooled front seats (plus heat of course), semi-automated self-parking, and much, much more. 

Also standard is a 10.3-inch high-resolution centre display featuring a regular backup camera with dynamic guidelines, accurate navigation, Apple CarPlay smartphone connectivity (but no Android Auto), superb 13-speaker Mark Levinson high resolution surround audio, satellite radio, dual USB ports, traffic and weather info, Lexus’ Enform App Suite 2.0 with Slacker, Yelp, Sports, Stocks, and Fuel apps, Enform Destination Assist with a one-year subscription, and the Enform Safety Connect suite containing Automatic Collision Notification, a Stolen Vehicle Locator, an Emergency Assistance button (SOS), and Enhanced Roadside Assistance with a four-year subscription. 

2019 Lexus LC 500h
The digital instrument cluster mirrors that on the LFA supercar, as well as others used on Lexus models since. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

The display is too far away to reach easily, so Lexus provides its Remote Touch Interface 2.0 touchpad on the lower console, and it works easily enough after some getting used to. A few quick-access buttons and audio controls surround the pad, making it perfectly acceptable yet hardly my favourite infotainment system. Fortunately there are plenty of other reasons to like the LC. 

Despite being based on the same platform architecture as Lexus’ big LS sedan, the LC is a fraction of the size in every dimension except width. It reaches across an extra 20 mm (0.8 in) at 1,920 mm (75.6 in), and you can sense its spaciousness in shoulder room once seated next to a passenger, but its wheelbase is 255 mm (10.0 in) shorter at 2,870 mm (113.0 in), and overall length a whopping 475 mm (18.7 in) less grand, while its obvious height difference is reduced by 116 mm (4.5 in). 

2019 Lexus LC 500h
These cool control nubs poke out each side of the pod-like instrument cluster. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

So what’s the closest rival in size and interior roominess? Before comparing measurements I initially thought of the S-Class Coupe being that it’s top of the personal luxury range at Mercedes, but the mid-size E-Class Coupe is actually a lot larger than the LC in every dimension except (once again) width. The LC is actually closer to cars like BMW’s i8 and Aston Martin’s DB11, with a bit more wheelbase, length and height than the exotic looking German and truly rarified Brit, but less width this time. 

The longer wheelbase and length means that four adults can fit inside, although I’d recommend smaller folks in back. I’m just five-foot-eight with taller legs than torso, and I had to bend my neck all the way over to the side in order to fit within, with my head still rubbing up against the rear glass. The seats were comfortable, and there was plenty of room for my legs and feet, not to mention my shoulders and hips, so it was a shame that even medium sized adults can’t fit in back. As for the trunk, it’s a bit smaller in this hybrid model, measuring 132 litres (4.7 cu ft) instead of 153 litres (5.4 cu ft), so you might be forced to stuff one set of golf clubs into that otherwise kids-only back seat. 

2019 Lexus LC 500h
The LC gets a horizontal dash theme that comes close to resembling its concept car roots. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

And yes, to those reading who don’t understand this market, the number of golf bags that can be stowed in the trunk of a personal luxury coupe is much more important than mere performance, which, together with rear seat room, may be reason enough that sales haven’t caught on as much as they could have. Let’s be clear, the LC is not a pure performance car, especially in hybrid trim, but rather a luxurious personal coupe that also goes quickly. In this respect it’s a lot like the just-noted i8, in that it drives beautifully and handles corners brilliantly, but it’s really a luxury car. As for comfort, the suede-like alcantara covered driver’s seat was as feel-good supportive as any in this class, plus wonderfully adjustable and replete with enough side bolstering for all but my most enthusiastic rally-type antics. 

2019 Lexus LC 500h
The infotainment display is good, but not the segment’s best. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

I was initially scheduled to spend a week in both models, but someone did something naughty to the regular LC 500 just before I was to receive it, so instead of experiencing its 467 horsepower and 398 lb-ft of torque firsthand, not to mention its reportedly quick-shifting 10-speed automatic, I was shuffled into something else that week, never to see the LC 500 again. This said, not too many weeks later I was able to get into this LC 500h, which comparatively makes a more modest 354 horsepower and an unknown amount of torque from its V6/electric combination, but I have to say it feels a lot more energetic than the numbers claim. 

2019 Lexus LC 500h
Strange that there’s no overhead camera. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

The internal combustion portion of this hybrid power unit only makes 295 horsepower and 257 lb-ft of torque, which is actually less than the same engine puts out in Toyota’s Camry, but before we slag this top-tier Lexus for using such a pedestrian mill, take note that a more highly strung version puts out 430 reliable horsepower in the mid-engine Lotus Evora, so it’s in good company at least. Of course, the lithium-ion battery and electric motor fulfill their fast-forward purpose as well, the latter good for 177 horsepower and 221 lb-ft of torque, for a combined 472 horsepower and, well, let’s not bother because net horsepower and net torque don’t exactly work that way, which is why Lexus officially claims 354 horsepower and other sources are estimating about 370 lb-ft of twist at the rear wheels. I think they’re being extremely conservative in this estimate, being that the conventionally powered V8 sprints from standstill to 100km/h in 5.1 seconds and the hybrid a mere 0.5 seconds slower at 5.6, and that’s despite weighing 77 kilos (170 lbs) more at 2,012 kg (4,436 lbs) for the 500h to 1,935 kg (4,266 lbs) for the 500. 

2019 Lexus LC 500h
A conventional shift lever doesn’t even hint at the sophisticated E-CVT below. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

In order to maximize either model’s fun factor, choose the Drive Mode Select system’s most engaging Sport S+ setting, which may not be as extreme as the sportiest mode in a BMW M car, or a Lexus RC F for that matter, but it certainly allows the engine to rev higher and prompts quicker shifts from the large metal steering wheel-mounted paddles. I have to admit Sport S+ became my go-to position for getting through town quickly, particularly because the engine makes such vicious snarling noises, especially when revs ramp up, and “gear changes” are a lot more direct. 

2019 Lexus LC 500h
The upgraded sport seats feature alcantara inserts and good side bolstering. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

And yes, in case you were wondering, this may just be the best continuously variable transmission I’ve ever tested, but despite its impressive 10-speed Simulated Shift Control technology, which actually incorporates a conventional multi-gear transmission within, it still has some latent CVT tendencies, which means that even in its sportiest mode the shifts can come so quickly between intervals, albeit without all the snappy positive engagement from a sport-tuned automatic or dual-clutch automated gearbox, that it seems like nothing’s really happened at all, plus the engine tends to whine up and down with a bit of the old rubber band effect in between. This means serious performance fans will want to get the LC with its V8, leaving those wanting to make some sort of environmental statement opting for the hybrid, because I really can’t see anyone spending $100,000-plus for a personal sports coupe caring one whit about how much they pay at the pump. 

2019 Lexus LC 500h
Access to the rear is pretty good. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

The LC 500h’s estimated fuel economy is impressive, however, at 9.0 L/100km in the city, 7.1 on the highway and 8.1 combined compared to 15.1 city, 9.5 highway and 12.6 combined for the LC 500; bragging rights to all but Tesla warriors. 

I imagine the lighter weight LC 500 adds more agility through fast-paced corners than the LC 500h, but this long, wide, low and relatively large coupe is nevertheless a great handling car, taking up a couple of tons of real estate yet able to manage curves with deft precision. This is its forte, the LC providing the same kind of relaxed high-speed confidence found in a big Mercedes coupe, yet with its own Japanese premium flair. Its ideally balanced chassis is expectedly easy on the backside too, with a ride that’s a lot more comfortable than its big wheels and low-slung bodywork suggest, while its also wonderfully quiet when its driving mode is switched to one of its less formidable settings, Comfort, Eco and Sport also on the menu. 

2019 Lexus LC 500h
The back seats are comfortable, but there’s not enough headroom for regular sized adults. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

At the end of the week the LC 500h is a sensational car, but numbers don’t lie. As good as it is, the people have spoken. Even in the US, where Lexus is one of the strongest luxury brands available, the LC has only found 764 buyers since the first of January, which is a bit better than in Canada per capita, but hardly anything to get excited about. Word of a new more performance-oriented LC F arriving later this year could cause some much-needed interest to return to the nameplate, as will an attractive convertible version that’s starting to show up on the interweb, but then again the lovely LC may just end up as another image-building car, helpful for raising Lexus’ well respected name up to higher, pricier levels of the premium market, yet not capable of making a profit on its own. 

2019 Lexus LC 500h
The LC’s trunk is pretty small, and shrinks further in hybrid form. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

This said the LC makes for a wonderfully exclusive piece of automotive art that managed to attract more attention from passersby than many pricier cars with more prestigious branding, having garnered more longing stares, pointing fingers and open mouths of astonishment than I could count, not to mention a completely overcome German tourist who just had to get his photo taken beside it. Still, unlike the usual exotic hardware that causes such adoration, the LC still provides a high level of reliable performance, a standout feature for sure. If you’re looking for something breathtakingly beautiful that’s completely different from anything else on the road, I highly recommend the Lexus LC.

To anyone interested in purchasing a sport sedan from a premium brand or something from the even sportier four-door coupe category, Porsche’s Panamera needs no introduction. It’s one of, if not the…

2019 Porsche Panamera 4S Road Test

2019 Porsche Panamera 4S
The second-generation Panamera has definitely improved styling with arguably better proportions all-round. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

To anyone interested in purchasing a sport sedan from a premium brand or something from the even sportier four-door coupe category, Porsche’s Panamera needs no introduction. It’s one of, if not the sportiest ways to get around with four doors, while its elegantly raked rear liftback makes it one of the more practical entries in its category too. 

This relatively new market sector has expanded considerably since Mercedes-Benz launched the CLS-Class 15 years ago, with the original Panamera first to compete in 2009, the Audi A7 and Aston Martin Rapide following in 2010, and BMW finally showing up with its 6 Series Gran Coupe in 2012. Ideally timed with the latter Bavarian model’s imminent demise and the upcoming 2020 8 Series Gran Coupe’s arrival, Mercedes is now tripling down in this low-slung viertürig segment with a new higher-priced GT 4-Door Coupe model that will soon join up with the recently redesigned second-generation CLA and third-gen CLS, so it’s not as if this category’s expansion is slowing, at least when it comes to entries. As for sales, it remains stronger than the more traditional luxury sedan segment. 

2019 Porsche Panamera 4S
The Panamera looks more like the iconic 911 Carrera Coupe from the rear than any other Porsche model. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

While some low-volume offerings have spiced things up along the way, such as the limited production (120 units) Rapide-based 2015 to 2016 Lagonda Taraf that was priced at a cool $1 million-plus, possibly even more interesting is the success of smaller entries from Mercedes, BMW and Audi that have pulled the sleek body style down market almost as far as VW’s CC (now the much more appealing Arteon) and Kia’s stronger selling Stinger. 

Bridging the massive gap between the $40k range and one million-plus, Lamborghini has long toyed with the idea of launching something in this sector, the stunning Estoque concept ruthlessly teasing the supercar world with production rumours for years, while talk of a more rakishly penned Bentley four-door has been circulating the interweb for almost as long. Both make loads of sense being they could utilize the Panamera’s underpinnings and hard points, Bentley already sharing Volkswagen Group’s MSB architecture for the new Continental and Flying Spur, but for the time being those in the $300,000-plus crowd will need to remain satisfied with a fully loaded Panamera. 

2019 Porsche Panamera 4S
These optional 21-inch alloys make the near full-size Panamera look smaller than it actually is. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

And yes, if you completely load up a top-line Panamera Turbo S E-Hybrid Executive you’ll be paying in excess of $320k, and its glossy black SportDesign Package enhanced exterior will wear an exclusive colour with matching wheels, its upgraded interior will boast softer, plusher leather nearly everywhere that’s not already covered with hardwood or carbon fibre, and every technology will be included. 

I drove a regular wheelbase version of that new for 2018 model last year (check out the four-model review here), the Turbo S E-Hybrid outrageously quick thanks to a once unfathomable (for a hybrid) 680 (net) horsepower, while I put last year’s new wagon-like Sport Turismo body style through its paces as well (again, see it here), albeit that car was motivated by the very same 440-horsepower twin-turbo V6 powerplant found in the Panamera 4S seen on this page. 

2019 Porsche Panamera 4S
The current model’s LED taillights are elegantly sharp, not unlike the 911s. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Moving into 2019, other than small pricing bumps across the line nothing has changed with any of the cars mentioned thus far, the version shown here exactly as it was for the 2017 model year when the second-generation Panamera arrived on the scene. This said, 2019 hasn’t been without additions to the Panamera lineup, thanks to a special 453-horsepower twin-turbocharged 4.0-litre V8-powered GTS model now slotting between this 4S and the Panamera Turbo in both price and performance (see my overview of the 2019 Panamera GTS here), the car I’m reviewing now starting at $119,600, the new GTS at $147,400, and the Turbo at $174,200. 

Unfortunately no GTS was available at the time of testing, leaving me with the first-world problem of this less potent 4S. Still, it produces 110 more ponies than the 330-horsepower base Panamera (read my review of this model here), and sends them to all four wheels, hence the “4” in its designation. The gurgling exhaust note is sensational in Sport mode, crackling and popping at liftoff, although rest assured its Jekyll and Hyde personality provides luxurious quietude when the drive mode selector is set to default.

2019 Porsche Panamera 4S
Porsche made dramatic upgrades to the Panamera’s interior, and now it’s one of the industry’s best. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Its seemingly perfect balance between serene opulence and raucous tomfoolery is the Panamera’s best asset, no other four-door providing its ground-hugging sports car like performance along with such a rarified level of highbrow pampering. It bucks against today’s ride ‘em high SUV trend, Porsche offering its Cayenne (see a 2019 Cayenne Buyer’s Guide overview here), new Cayenne Coupe, and Macan for those wanting performance with a view, the Panamera instead coming across like the ultimate gentrified SoCal low-rider without the hopping and bopping suspension. 

That’s the thing. It slices through fast-paced corners like nothing so large has ever been able to before, yet its ride quality is surprisingly smooth. Whether suffering through inner-city laneways, inundated with poorly paved railroad crossings and ill-engineered bridge expansion joints, or tackling a circuitous back road filled with broken tarmac, the Panamera provides plenty of suspension travel for soaking up the worst bumps and ruts without getting unsettled. Of course its compliance or firmness depends on the trim and wheel options chosen, but I’ve driven every grade besides the new GTS, and all combine racetrack-worthy performance with a level of comfort I’d be happy to live with daily. 

2019 Porsche Panamera 4S
The Panamera’s cockpit is wonderfully designed and filled with state-of-the-art tech. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

My test model’s optional Satin Platinum finished 21-inch alloys on 275/35 front and 315/30 rear Pirelli Cinturato P7 performance rubber are the largest on offer, so it wasn’t as if I was temporarily whisked away on the velvet carpet ride of the base 4S model’s standard 19s, the exact same 265/45 front and 295/40 rear ZRs used for the most entry-level of Panameras, incidentally, which can be had for just $99,300. 

That more luxury-oriented model might not be the quickest in the line, but it still provides a spirited 5.7-second sprint from standstill to 100 km/h or 5.5 seconds with the available Sport Chrono Package, while my tester reduces such stoplight shenanigans, er… such professionally sanctioned launch tests on privately owned drag strips to just 4.4 or 4.2 seconds respectively. Likewise the 4S continues charging onward and upward to 160 km/h in just 10.3 seconds, shaving 3.3 seconds from the base model’s zero to 160 km/h time, all before topping out at 289 km/h, an amazing 25 km/h faster terminal track velocity than the entry Panamera. 

2019 Porsche Panamera 4S
It might look like a classic five-dial Porsche gauge cluster, but only the centre ring is analogue. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

As exciting as all this sounds there are still much quicker Panameras on offer, the new GTS doing the initial deed in 4.1 seconds, the Turbo blasting past in just 3.8 seconds, and the Turbo S E-Hybrid needing a mere 3.4, while top speeds rise commensurately, the latter model capable of 310 km/h if you can find a track with a long enough straight to test it on, but suffice to say this Panamera 4S performs better than most sport sedans, its new eight-speed dual-clutch PDK gearbox delivering quick, smooth, paddle-actuated shifts, and torque-vectoring all-wheel drive maintaining awe-inspiring grip in all weather conditions, while it looks just as sensational when blurring past at high speeds as when cruising through town. 

As I glossed over earlier, the inky black exterior accents don’t come standard, but my tester’s darkened trim contrasted the white paint beautifully. Satin silver and/or bright metal embellishment is the norm, or alternatively you can paint out the mirror caps, door handles, badges, etcetera, in glossy black. Inside, the possibilities are nearly limitless, but the Panamera’s incredibly fine attention to high-quality details, including the best of composites and leathers, optional woods, aluminum or carbon fibre, and digital interfaces that are so high in resolution it’s as if you can stick your hand right into the depths of their beautifully deep, rich contrasted screens and graphically illustrated artistry. 

2019 Porsche Panamera 4S
The infotainment touchscreen’s resolution is incredibly clear. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Yes, this is as good as digitization gets in the automotive realm, whether staring at the classic five-dial Porsche instrument cluster, its centre circle being the only analogue component in an otherwise colourful array of displays, the left-side screen for more driving related information and the one on the right being a comprehensive multi-information unit, or alternatively letting your fingers do the walking over the wide centre infotainment touchscreen, which comes close to 3D when viewing the navigation map. All the expected gesture controls make this as easy to use as a smartphone or tablet, and speaking of your personal device of choice it now syncs up to either Apple CarPlay or Android Auto, while providing all of the functions expected in this class including an as-tested overhead camera that, together with audible and visual fore and aft sensors, makes parking much easier. 

2019 Porsche Panamera 4S
The Panamera’s seats are superb. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Most controls on the sloping centre console are touch sensitive, requiring a subtle push and click to engage. All the switchgear feels extremely high in quality, a real solid piece of work. The surrounding surface is relatively easy to keep clean thanks to a black glass-like smartphone treatment, although the piano black lacquered trim found throughout my tester, especially the section on the ashtray at the very base of that lower console, was always covered in muck, dust and what have you. Fortunately you can opt for any number of surface treatment substitutes that look cleaner even when dirty, although there’s something to be said for being able to easily see what needs cleaning for the sake of keeping things sanitary. 

Ahead of the driver is one of the best leather-wrapped sport steering wheels in the industry. I love the narrow spokes, hollowed out for an even lighter, more sporting look, while the integrated buttons and scrolling knurled metal dials are superbly crafted with wonderful tight fitment and ideal damping. As usual the heated steering wheel button hides within the base of the third spoke, a smart design for sure, albeit some might find it easy to switch on or off when spinning the wheel. This said it comes on automatically when starting up, or likewise stays off, depending on its settings. 

2019 Porsche Panamera 4S
Rear seating space is good as far as four-door coupes go, and if you need more Porsche offers a long-wheelbase Executive version. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

My tester included three-way heated and cooled front seats, plus a fabulous optional 710-watt 15-speaker (including sub) Bose Centerpoint 14-channel surround audio system that only gets upstaged by the 1,455-watt 22-speaker (including a 400-watt active sub) Burmester 3D High-End Surround system (I’ve tested this before and it’s out of this world). This said my test model did not include the aforementioned Sport Chrono Package, so therefore was shy 0.2 seconds of sprint time (not that I noticed), plus its centre dash top-mounted clock merely provided a lovely looking black face with white numerals and indices, rather than the chronometer version with digital displays used for lap timing, et al. 

2019 Porsche Panamera 4S
The optional full rear console really improves back seat convenience and comfort. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Then again, thanks to a full rear console with a massive high-definition touchscreen of its own, plus three-way heated rear seat switchgear, dual rear automatic climate controls for a four-way system front to back, powered-side and rear window sunshades, plus a massive dual-pane panoramic sunroof overhead, not to mention the model’s usual snug fitting bucket seats that are as comfortable and supportive behind as they are up front, I’m not sure whether I would’ve rather driven or been chauffeured in my particular test model, but not requiring the funds or available friend for the latter I enjoyed a quiet sojourn in back while taking notes, and otherwise took care of all driving duties without complaint. 

2019 Porsche Panamera 4S
The rear liftgate adds to the Panamera’s everyday liveability. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Let’s be reasonable here. The Panamera is now so good in every way it’s impossible to find much fault. Certainly the rear seating area is not as accommodating as an S-Class, but no matter which Panamera model I’ve tested, I’ve never had a problem fitting comfortably within, and remember that Porsche offers the longer-wheelbase Executive version for those who occasionally transport larger family members or friends, which means you don’t have to give up gorgeous design and ultimate performance in order to maintain a practical lifestyle. 

That last point pretty well sums up the Porsche Panamera, and with such a wide variety of trims, packages and options, all available to review in detail at CarCostCanada, where you can also find out about available manufacturer rebates as well as dealer invoice pricing that could save you thousands, the 2019 Panamera offers something for nearly every sport-luxury car buyer.

Strange, but only a year after this smart little Golf Alltrack crossover wagon came to market, Volkswagen changed things up for 2018. The Alltrack before you is a 2019, a mostly carryover model that didn’t…

2019 Volkswagen Golf Alltrack Execline

2019 Volkswagen Golf Alltrack Execline
Volkswagen made a number of changes to the Golf Alltrack’s styling last year, but they were subtle to say the least. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

Strange, but only a year after this smart little Golf Alltrack crossover wagon came to market, Volkswagen changed things up for 2018. The Alltrack before you is a 2019, a mostly carryover model that didn’t look updated to my eyes at all until I started comparing the photos I took earlier this week against a 2017 model I reviewed toward the end of that year. 

Most noticeable are the LED signatures within the halogen or LED headlamps, depending on trim, plus the redesigned LED taillights, but VW says it modified the front and rear bumpers too, although I can’t tell the difference. Even the front and rear fascia trim looks identical, not to mention all the detailing down the sides. 

The colour is different from the car I reviewed in 2017, this Peacock Green Metallic version looking comparatively subdued next to my previous tester’s bright Tornado Red, while the 2017 car’s Titan Black innards have been swapped out for Shetland beige. 

2019 Volkswagen Golf Alltrack Execline
The Alltrack is a good looking crossover wagon, especially in Execline trim that adds larger wheels. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

The Golf Alltrack’s interior received upgrades from model year 2017 to 2018 as well, including a six-speed manual gearbox for those who enjoy shifting for themselves, or alternatively paddle-shifters with the optional six-speed automatic, while the most dramatic addition was a new state-of-the-art 8.0-inch centre touchscreen replacing the old outdated looking 6.5-inch unit. The new system incorporates the expected (and mandated) backup camera with the unexpected omission of dynamic guidelines, plus Android Auto, Apple CarPlay and MirrorLink smartphone integration, and plenty of interfaces for the standard six-speaker audio system with satellite radio, Bluetooth phone and audio streaming connectivity, voice recognition, additional apps, car systems, and more. It even uses proximity-sensing technology to expose digital buttons when your hand gets near. 

2019 Volkswagen Golf Alltrack Execline
VW added new halogen and LED headlights (shown) last year. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

Other standard features include 4Motion all-wheel drive, 17-inch alloy wheels on 205/55 all-season tires, automatic headlights with coming and leaving functions, fog lamps, silver finished side mirror caps, silver roof rails, proximity-sensing keyless access with pushbutton start/stop, rain-sensing wipers, cruise control, power windows, a leather-wrapped multifunction steering wheel, a leather-clad shift knob and handbrake lever, simulated carbon fibre decorative inlays, brushed stainless steel foot pedals, dual-zone automatic climate control, a USB port, three-way heatable and two-way powered front seats (they’re eight-way manually adjustable), leatherette upholstery, an auto-dimming rearview mirror, ambient lighting, LED reading lamps, illuminated vanity mirrors, a large powered panoramic sunroof with a powered sunshade made from an opaque fabric, a scrolling rear cargo cover, 12- and 115-volt charging outlets in the cargo area, 60/40 split-folding rear seatbacks with a centre pass-through, and the list goes on and on. 

2019 Volkswagen Golf Alltrack Execline
VW upgraded the centre touchscreen to 8.0 inches last year too. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

The base Highline model starts at just $31,200 with the manual or $1,400 more for the automatic (check out CarCostCanada for the latest prices on trims, packages and individual options, plus manufacturer rebate info and dealer invoice pricing that could save you thousands), while the car in our garage this week has been upgraded to Execline trim, which starts at $35,270, and features standard 18-inch alloys on 225/40 all-seasons, LED headlights with active cornering lamps, paddle shifters with the automatic transmission, navigation with detailed mapping, an SD card slot, a Fender audio system with a subwoofer, front sport seats, a 12-way powered driver’s seat with two-way powered lumbar, and leather upholstery. 

2019 Volkswagen Golf Alltrack Execline
Execline trim includes standard navigation. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

VW also included the only optional upgrade, a $1,750 Driver Assistance Plus package that adds autonomous emergency braking with pedestrian monitoring, blindspot detection with rear cross-traffic assist, lane assist, automatic high beam control, adaptive cruise control with stop and go, plus park assist with park distance control. 

The Alltrack is mechanically identical to previous model years, sporting Volkswagen’s well-proven turbocharged 1.8-litre four-cylinder engine making 170 horsepower and 199 lb-ft of torque. The transmission is VW’s dual-clutch automated gearbox, and the all-wheel drive system doesn’t offer any low gearing or even a locking diff, so it’s suited more for rain, snow and light-duty off-road. Transport Canada estimated fuel economy numbers are 11.1 L/100km in the city, 7.8 on the highway and 9.6 combined for the manual, and 10.7, 8.0 and 9.4 respectively for the automatic. 

2019 Volkswagen Golf Alltrack Execline
This massive powered panoramic sunroof comes standard across the line. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

The suspension is Volkswagen’s usual front strut and rear multi-link design, but not all cars in the compact class offer the latter so it’s a bonus for sure, while the shocks are exclusive to the Alltrack due to its one-inch ride-height lift over its Golf SportWagen donor car. The power steering is speed-sensitive to improve feel, while the vented front and solid rear brake discs measure 286 and 272 mm respectively. 

The big difference with the Alltrack or the just-noted SportWagen when compared to regular Golf hatchbacks is cargo space, with the two elongated models getting 368 additional litres (13.0 cubic feet) of volume behind the 60/40-split rear seatbacks and 362 (12.8) more when they’re folded flat, the larger car’s cargo capacity measuring 861 and 1,883 litres (30.4 and 66.5 cu ft) respectively. The Alltrack even gets an extra 14 kilos (31 lbs) of additional payload capacity to go along with the added space, resulting in a 459 kg (1,012 lbs) maximum. 

Of course, I’ll talk about how livable, refined and enjoyable (or not) everything is in my upcoming road test review, so stay tuned…

It seems every time I’ve had opportunity to get behind the wheel of Kia’s new Stinger something has come up. Either the car was damaged by a wayward journo or got decommissioned before I could get…

2019 Kia Stinger GT-Line Road Test

2019 Kia Stinger GT-Line
The Kia Stinger GT-Line makes a dramatic pose, and this is on the base model. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

It seems every time I’ve had opportunity to get behind the wheel of Kia’s new Stinger something has come up. Either the car was damaged by a wayward journo or got decommissioned before I could get my hands on it, the latter usually due to me being out of town, but just a few days back from my regular winter sojourn in the tropics has me eyeing up a lovely California Red painted Stinger GT-Line in my driveway. 

As premium as this car looks, complete with standard automatic dual-function LED headlights, LED daytime running lights, LED positioning lights, body-wide bar-type LED taillights, cool dark chrome exterior trim with the same dark chrome used for the side mirror caps, these additionally adorned with LED signal repeaters, not to mention sharp looking 18-inch machine-finished alloy rims on 225/45 rubber, plus chromed dual exhaust and more, it’s hard to believe this GT-Line is actually the model’s most basic of trims. 

2019 Kia Stinger GT-Line
The Stinger’s four-door coupe design is totally different than anything else in the mid-size sedan class. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

Of course the Stinger starts at a fairly substantive $39,995 plus freight and fees, but despite its somewhat bargain basement Kia nameplate it borders closer to premium territory than most anything else in the mid-size class. And yes, the Stinger is a mid-size sedan. I’ve seen some refer to it as a compact because it rides on the same underpinnings as the Genesis G70, which is a compact luxury competitor that goes up against the BMW 3 Series, Mercedes-Benz C-Class, Audi A4, etcetera, but despite having similar wheelbase lengths at 2,910 mm (114.4 in) to 2,835 mm (111.6 in), both longer than the Kia Optima’s 2,805-mm (110.4-in) wheelbase, the Stinger’s 4,830 mm (190.2 in) overall length stretches 145 mm (5.7 in) farther than the G70, and only comes in 20 mm (0.8 in) shorter than the Optima. 

2019 Kia Stinger GT-Line
LED headlamps, 18-inch alloys and plenty of sporty design detailing come standard. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

Likewise, at 1,870 mm (73.6 in) the Stinger is 20 mm (0.8 in) wider than the G70 and 10 mm (0.4 in) narrower than the Optima, while its height measures 1,400 mm (55.1 in), which is identical to the G70 and 70 mm (2.7 in) lower than the Optima. Those still wanting to call the Stinger a compact will need to take note that it measures a full 190 mm (7.5 in) longer than the Forte sedan (a fairly large compact) with a 210-mm (8.2-in) longer wheelbase, while it’s also 70 mm (2.7 in) wider. In other words, it’s clearly a mid-size model, with a longer wheelbase and more width than the Toyota Camry and Honda Accord too, albeit slightly less overall length and height. 

2019 Kia Stinger GT-Line
The LED headlights offer up plenty of eye-candy inside. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

Its long, low and wide dimensions lend to its four-door coupe-like stance, a sporty profile that’s backed up by dramatic styling and a pampering cabin, at least for its mainstream volume brand status. This isn’t Kia’s first foray into premium territory either, nor is it the South Korean brand’s most lavish. Look no further than the Mercedes S-Class/BMW 7 Series-sized K900 for such pretensions, a car that might only be upstaged for all out luxury by the Volkswagen Phaeton amongst non-premium brands, but like that outlandish VeeDub the K900 didn’t gain enough sales traction to merit continued availability in Canada, and therefore is now finished in our market (it’s still available south of the 49th mind you). 

2019 Kia Stinger GT-Line
These hood “vents” aren’t functional, but they look great. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

While the K900 was truly impressive, it was nowhere near as viable in Canada as this Stinger, which is considerably more affordable, targets a more popular market segment, and focuses more on performance than luxury. In fact, amongst its mid-size competitors I would’ve previously said it comes closest to targeting the Dodge Charger than anything else available, until the Volkswagen Arteon arrived earlier this year. The Arteon, which is based on the European Passat, has effectively replaced the old CC four-door coupe. Other than being smaller and mostly lighter in weight than the near full-size domestic challenger, the two near identically sized and similarly powered imports are basically going after the same performance-oriented buyer (in the Stinger’s base trim at least), although with a single-trim base price $8k higher than the Stinger the new Arteon is pushing quite a bit further into the premium market. 

2019 Kia Stinger GT-Line
Black chrome mirror caps add a custom look. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

Incidentally, the Stinger’s curb weight ranges from 1,729 – 1,782 kilos (3,812 – 3,929 lbs) with its as-tested 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder, or 1,873 – 1,889 kg (4,129 – 4,165 lbs) with its optional V6, while the Arteon weighs in at 1,748 kg (3,854 lbs) and the Charger hits the scales at 1,823–1,980 kg (4,021–4,530 lbs). While lighter than the Dodge, the all-wheel drive Kia and VW models are nevertheless quite a bit heavier than the aforementioned mid-size front-drivers, giving the Stinger, at least (I’ve yet to test the Arteon, which is booked for late August), a more substantive and therefore premium feel. 

2019 Kia Stinger GT-Line
There’s more black chrome throughout the rest of the Stinger design, while these base wheels are stunning. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

It really does reach to a higher level inside, with luxury brand details such as fabric-wrapped A, B and C roof pillars, a soft-touch dash with a really nicely finished padded instrument panel, plus soft door uppers front and back. All of the switchgear is nicely fitted with good damping, some even aluminized for an upscale look and impressive feel, while the perforated leather is certainly good for a base model from a volume brand. 

Now that I’m talking features, standard kit includes a heatable leather-wrapped flat-bottom sport steering wheel that’s sized ideally for performance and feels good in the hands, plus a leather and chrome adorned shift knob (ditto), piano black interior trim, comfortable and supportive heated eight-way power-adjustable front seats with four-way powered lumbar, an auto-dimming rearview mirror, power-folding side mirrors, dual-zone automatic climate control, LED interior lighting, ambient mood lighting, and a 7.0-inch touchscreen that’s really my only point of contention, being that it’s a bit small and doesn’t fit flush within its fixed upright mounting and therefore looks outdated. 

2019 Kia Stinger GT-Line
The LED taillights extend across the Stinger’s entire backside. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

It incorporates the usual rearview camera, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto smartphone integration, and Kia’s exclusive UVO Intelligence connected car services bundle, while the nine-speaker audio is pretty decent for a base system, even including standard satellite radio, and the wireless phone charger is a mighty impressive standard item too. 

A proximity-sensing key fob gets you inside and a silver metallic button ignites the engine, again all standard kit, while the electromechanical parking brake releases automatically. The aforementioned backup camera joins standard rear parking sensors and rear cross-traffic alert to make sure the Stinger’s glittering paint remains scratch free, the latter item packaged together with standard blindspot detection. Once facing forward, simply choose the most fitting Drive Mode Select setting from Smart, Eco, Comfort, Sport or Custom, leave the eight-speed Sportmatic automatic transmission in Drive or slot the lever into manual mode to make the most of the standard steering wheel paddles, which is the best way to get all 255 horsepower and 260 lb-ft of torque out of the direct-injected turbocharged 2.0-litre four-cylinder. 

2019 Kia Stinger GT-Line
Kia carries the Stinger’s sharp looking exterior design into the interior where build quality and refinement are also very good. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

It’s just the base powertrain, but thanks to 100-percent of its torque coming on at just 1,400 rpm, and all four wheels engaging the tarmac simultaneously the base Stinger pulls strongly from standstill right up to highway speeds and beyond. Its dual exhaust makes a nice rorty note, complementing the engine’s sonorous tone, the Stinger providing an enjoyable audio track to go along with its rapid acceleration. Certainly the base engine isn’t as intensely satisfying as the optional twin-turbo 3.3-litre V6, that beast making 365 horsepower and 376 lb-ft of torque (no optional powertrain is offered in the Arteon), but the turbo-four is a compromise I’d be happy to live with, especially when factoring in its much friendlier fuel economy of 11.1 L/100km in the city, 8.1 on the highway and 9.7 combined, compared to 13.6, 9.6 and 11.8 for the V6 respectively, both incidentally aided by auto start/stop technology. 

2019 Kia Stinger GT-Line
Most of the interior’s upper half is soft touch, while all the roof pillars are fabric-wrapped. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

The last thing you’ll be thinking about when coursing down a circuitous mountainside road is fuel efficiency, the Stinger’s fully independent MacPherson strut front and multi-link rear suspension setup, with gas shocks and dynamic dampers, tautly sprung for a firm ride that grips like a sports car, yet despite this athleticism it’s hardly punishing, the suspension plenty compliant. 

Braking is strong too, four-cylinder models utilizing 320 mm (12.6 in) vented discs up front and 314 mm (12.4 in) solid rotors in the rear, with the upgraded powerplant receiving a more robust Brembo braking system featuring 350 mm (13.8 in) vented discs in front and 340 mm (13.4 in) vented discs in back. 

2019 Kia Stinger GT-Line
The base model gets a simpler instrument cluster, but it works well. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

The Stinger’s long, lean shape not only splits the air easily for maximizing high-speed aerodynamics, it also provides a decent amount of rear headroom (about three inches above my five-foot-eight frame) while lending itself nicely to non-traditional cargo access, at least for the mid-size sedan segment. Where the Optima and most everything else in the class use a conventional lidded trunk, the Stinger follows the raked liftback lead provided by four-door coupe forerunners such as Audi’s A5/A7 Sportback, BMW’s 4 Series, Porsche’s Panamera, Aston Martin’s Rapide, and back down to reality, the Arteon, this Kia’s sizeable opening making the most from 660 litres (23.3 cu ft) of capacity behind the rear seats, or for that matter expanding on the rearmost volume to a total of 1,158 litres (40.9 cu ft) when those 60/40 split seatbacks are folded down. 

2019 Kia Stinger GT-Line
The base 7.0-inch touchscreen was a bit disappointing. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

Yes, the Stinger is as practical to live with as it’s great to look at, wonderful to drive, and impressively finished. I’ll need to spend a week with the new Arteon to see if its higher price brings anything more than a German label, but its interior detailing will need to be mighty impressive to upstage this base Stinger GT-Line, and if recent experience with the Passat is anything to go by it may fall a bit short. With all options added the Arteon hits the road at just over $53k, which is more than even the highest priced GT Limited 20th Anniversary Edition of the Stinger that slots in at $51,495 and comes with special 19-inch alloy wheels, carbon-fibre inlays, red Nappa leather upholstery, plus red-stitched “Stinger” floor mats, whereas the mid-range GT starts at $44,995 and the regular GT Limited at $49,995 (check out the prices of all 2019 Stinger trims, packages and options at CarCostCanada, plus find out how you can save hundreds and even thousands through manufacturer rebates as well as dealer invoice pricing). 

2019 Kia Stinger GT-Line
These leather-clad sport seats are comfortable and supportive. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

These latter two trims get unique 19-inch wheels, an upgraded suspension with Dynamic Stability Damping Control (DSDC), sound-reducing front side door glass, auto-dimming side mirrors, stainless steel door scuff plates, stainless steel sport pedals, carbon-fibre-like inlays (replacing the piano black interior trim), shift-by-wire transmission control (which replaces the base model’s shift-by-cable system) a powered tilt and telescopic steering column, driver’s side memory, an under-floor storage tray, a large “full-width” sunroof, a gesture-control powered liftgate, and a luggage net. 

2019 Kia Stinger GT-Line
The rear seating area provides plenty of space in all directions. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

Lastly, the top-line GT Limited adds exclusive cornering headlamps, rain-sensing wipers, aluminum finish décor trim (in place of the carbon-fibre), a black headliner, a 7.0-inch Supervision LCD/TFT instrument cluster, a head-up display (HUD) unit, a HomeLink universal garage door opener, premium Nappa leather upholstery, ventilated front seats, heatable rear outboard seats, an upgraded driver’s seat with a four-way “air cell” lumbar support system, power-adjustable bolsters, and a powered lower cushion extension, a one-inch larger 8.0-inch centre touchscreen (that should be standard) with a 360-degree surround camera monitoring system and navigation, a 15-speaker Harman Kardon audio upgrade, adaptive cruise control, autonomous emergency braking (that’s normally standard), lane keeping assist, and driver attention alert. 

2019 Kia Stinger GT-Line
The Stinger’s convenient liftback adds to its overall livability. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

So there you have it, another great car from a brand that deserves much more respect and success than it gets. Year-over-year sales of the Stinger have dropped off a bit over the first half of 2019, down 14.38 percent with 750 units down Canadian roads, but it’s getting pretty close to the Optima that’s (yikes) down 44.67 percent over the same two quarters at 872 deliveries. In case you’re wondering how it measures up to regular front-drive mid-size models, the Camry kills in this class with 8,586 unit sales over the same period (up 12.87 percent), while the Accord came in second with 5,837 deliveries (down 9.71 percent). As for the Arteon, it only found 184 customers so far this year, but it only went on sale this spring so we’ll have to wait in order to find out how well it does. The Passat, incidentally, only sold 474 units through Q2, which put it down 75.55 percent year-over-year. 

2019 Kia Stinger GT-Line
The Stinger’s load carrying capacity is impressive. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

Of the 14 models competing in the mid-size class (Stinger and Arteon included, and Charger considered a full-size/large car), nine have lost ground, one hasn’t been around long enough to quantify, and four have increased sales, while the Stinger’s small drop in popularity is much less worrisome than most peers, and more resultant of the entire segment’s downturn than disinterest in the car itself. I experienced just the opposite during my test week, with plenty of long smiling stares and positive nods as I drove by. The Stinger gets plenty of respect, and over the long haul should do a lot to raise Kia’s overall brand image. If you’re in the market for a great looking, sporty four-door with the practicality of a hatch, you should take a long look and a quick ride in the Kia Stinger.

If you don’t know about the all-new eighth-generation 2020 Porsche 911 yet, where have you been hiding? It was introduced at the Los Angeles Auto Show back in November of 2018, while the Cabriolet arrived…

Porsche adds base Carrera Coupe and Cabriolet to 2020 911 lineup

2020 Porsche 911 Carrera Cabriolet
The new base 2020 911 Carrera Cabriolet looks much the same as the Carrera S that was shown in January, which is a very good thing. (Photo: Porsche)

If you don’t know about the all-new eighth-generation 2020 Porsche 911 yet, where have you been hiding? It was introduced at the Los Angeles Auto Show back in November of 2018, while the Cabriolet arrived at Detroit’s North American International Auto Show in January. Those two cars we first saw seven and nine months ago, however, were mid-range Carrera S models, so it was high time Porsche released images and info about its base Carrera Coupe and Cabriolet. 

The formidable S will soon arrive with 443 horsepower and 390 lb-ft of torque, resulting in 3.7 seconds from zero to 100km/h for the C2S and 3.6 seconds for the C4S, or 3.5 and 3.4 seconds respectively when the Sport Chrono Package is added, but take note that while the new base Carrera isn’t as intensely capable off the line it’s still a force to be reckoned with. 

2020 Porsche 911 Carrera Coupe
This 911 Carrera Coupe certainly doesn’t look like a “base” model. (Photo: Porsche)

The new 911 Carrera Coupe and Cabriolet share the same basic 3.0-litre horizontally opposed twin-turbocharged six-cylinder engine, but it features a different set of turbochargers for a more conservative yet still considerable 379 horsepower and 331 lb-ft of torque. Take note these new numbers add 9 horsepower over the outgoing 2019 model, resulting in standstill to 100km/h in just 4.2 seconds or 4.0 with its Sport Chrono Package, which is a big step up from the outgoing base Carrera that could only manage 4.6 or 4.2 seconds respectively. 

In an unusual move, at least for Porsche, the new 911 Carrera will initially only be available with the brand’s new eight-speed dual-clutch PDK gearbox, which is up one gear from the outgoing automatic. This upgraded transmission was originally announced with the Carrera S that also won’t see its seven-speed manual arrive until later in the model year. 

2020 Porsche 911 Carrera Cabriolet
The Cabriolet’s stop top is larger in order to cover a more accommodating interior. (Photo: Porsche)

The new 2020 Carrera Coupe maxes out at 293 km/h (182 mph), which is identical to the outgoing 2019 model and slightly below the new 2020 Carrera S Coupe that tops out at 306 and 308 km/h (190 and 191 mph) with and without the Chrono Sport Package respectively. The Cabriolet, on the other hand, will be capable of a 291-km/h (181-mph) top speed, its ability to nearly keep up with the hardtop version due to magnesium surface elements dubbed “bows” integrated within the redesigned fabric roof’s structure that prevent “ballooning” at high speeds. 

Incidentally, that soft top, which is now larger in order to snuggly fit over a more accommodating cabin, can open and close while driving at speeds of up to 50 km/h (30 mph), and takes just 12 seconds to fully perform this function due to revised hydraulics, a process that also powers an electrically extendable wind deflector to keep gusts of air from discomforting the driver and front passenger. 

2020 Porsche 911 Carrera Cabriolet
Get ready for a larger, roomier cabin with better technology and more luxury. (Photo: Porsche)

Below that well insulated top, the new 911 Carreras get a totally updated interior with a big 10.9-inch high-definition centre touchscreen, while new driving tech includes Porsche’s exclusive Wet Mode that allows for more control during inclement weather to improve safety. 

While all features just noted are standard with the Carrera S, the new base model will receive a smaller set of uniquely designed 19-inch alloy wheels on 235/40 ZR performance tires in front as well as a larger set of 20-inch alloy rims wearing 295/35 ZR rubber at the back. What’s more, the regular Carrera’s 330-millimetre brake discs are also smaller than the Carrera S rotors, these pressed down on via black-painted four-piston monobloc fixed calipers, whereas the base model’s exhaust system features special individual tailpipe covers. 

2020 Porsche 911 Carrera Cabriolet
Porsche’s dual-clutch PDK automated transmission, which moves up from 7 to 8 forward speeds, is standard off the mark. (Photo: Porsche)

So far Transport Canada hasn’t provided fuel economy figures for the upcoming 2020 911 models, but Porsche is claiming that its new base Coupe and Cabriolet will be good for 9.0 and 9.2 L/100km city/highway combined respectively on the New European Driving Cycle (NEDC). 

Fortunately Porsche has announced Canadian prices, with a significant increase over the outgoing model’s $104,000 base price to $111,000, while the Cabriolet’s entry price has increased from $118,100 to $125,600. Porsche is no doubt banking on the two new models’ many improvements justifying those $7,000 and $7,500 price increases, one of which is the standard PDK automatic (prices may be reduced when a manual arrives), but it will be interesting to see how more value-driven competitors, such as the new 526-horsepower mid-engine C8 Corvette, which will start here in Canada at just $69,998, will eat into 911 sales. 

Nevertheless, the 2020 Porsche 911 Carrera Coupe and Cabriolet can be ordered now and will be delivered early next year, while all-wheel drive versions will be available soon. While you’re waiting to get yours, make sure to enjoy the complete photo gallery above and the lone video below: 

The new 911 Carrera Coupé and 911 Carrera Cabriolet. (1:00):

Bentley only just launched its third-generation Continental GT, and now they’ve got us thinking about what might be coming down the pike in a decade and a half.  The Bentley EXP 100 GT “reimagines…

Gorgeous Bentley EXP 100 GT shows what an electrified future looks like

2019 Bentley EXP 100 GT Concept
The EXP 100 GT, shown here at its introduction, actually features an illuminated grille. (Photo: Bentley)

Bentley only just launched its third-generation Continental GT, and now they’ve got us thinking about what might be coming down the pike in a decade and a half. 

The Bentley EXP 100 GT “reimagines the Grand Tourer for the world of 2035,” says the ultra-luxury brand’s press release, with a new take on the Continental GT’s elegant long-hooded, sweptback, two-door profile, complete with a massive backlit grille, dazzling circular headlamps, and ornately detailed eye-like OLED taillights, its plentiful body panels featuring special Compass “exterior paint made from recycled rice husks,” says Bentley. 

Where the front end could only be a modern-day Bentley, the car’s rear design is longer and more pointed than anything we’ve seen from the brand since its ‘50s era R-Type Continental, extending this avant-garde carbon-fibre and aluminum-clad prototype to a lengthy 5.8 metres (19.0 feet) for what should be superb legroom front to rear, while occupants of this 2.4-metre (7.9-foot) wide mega-coupe certainly won’t be rubbing shoulders either. 

2019 Bentley EXP 100 GT Concept
Nothing screams exotic like scissor doors. (Photo: Bentley)

The “100” in the EXP 100 GT’s name, incidentally, pays direct reference to Bentley’s 100th anniversary, W. O. Bentley’s namesake firm having started business in 1919 at Cricklewood, North London, while the Volkswagen-owned brand is now located some 267 km (166 miles) northwest in Crewe, Cheshire, England. 

“Today, on our Centenary, we demonstrate our vision of the future of our Marque, with the Bentley EXP 100 GT – a modern and definitive Grand Tourer designed to demonstrate that the future of luxury mobility is as inspirational and aspirational as the last 100 years,” said Adrian Hallmark, Bentley Chairman and CEO. “Bentley has, and will continue to enhance and enrich every single journey and the lives of every single person who travels in, or has the honour to be a part of creating our extraordinary products.” 

2019 Bentley EXP 100 GT Concept
Its rear overhang is lengthy to say the least, adding to the car’s elegant lines. (Photo: Bentley)

As pretty as the EXP 100 GT is, it’s much more than merely a design exercise, but rather a cornucopia of advanced future-think hardware and software. It’s 100-percent electric, a given with far-off concepts these days, but then again its four-motor wheel-integrated “Next Generation Traction Drive” powertrain includes torque vectoring and makes an incredible 1,100 pound-feet of torque (1,500 Nm), resulting in a zero to 100km/h sprint time of “less than 2.5 seconds” claims Bentley, much thanks to its aforementioned lightweight materials that help keep its weight down to just 1,900 kilograms (4,189 lbs) (considerably less than the current base Continental GT’s 2,244-kg/4,947-lb curb weight), while its maximum range should top 700 kilometres (435 miles), as long as cruising speeds are kept far lower than its terminal velocity of 300 km/h (186 mph). 

2019 Bentley EXP 100 GT Concept
The OLED tail lamps should be plenty bright in any light. (Photo: Bentley)

The EXP 100 GT will include “future battery technology” with “intelligent power and charge management” that will allow “five times the conventional energy density,” says Bentley, while recharging the battery from near empty to 80 percent of capacity will only take 15 minutes. Of note, charging is automatically taken care of via the advanced artificial intelligence (AI) infused Bentley Personal Assistant, a do-all system designed to make the most of every journey. 

“The Bentley EXP 100 GT represents the kind of cars we want to make in the future,” said Stefan Sielaff, Director of Design. “Like those iconic Bentleys of the past, this car connects with its passengers’ emotions and helps them experience and safeguard the memories of the really extraordinary journeys they take.” 

2019 Bentley EXP 100 GT Concept
Bentley is up to its usual magic inside, but all materials are sustainable and sourced from unusual materials. (Photo: Bentley)

“Whether driving or being driven autonomously” (Bentley promising its car of the future will be capable of both), the EXP 100 GT’s interior is every bit as sumptuously attired as Crewe’s current creations and those from its storied past. With seating for two or four, the big coupe gets all the leather, fabrics, glass, wood and metal anyone familiar with Bentley expects, except that the Bridge of Weir alternative-material hides are actually made from 100-percent bio-based winemaking byproducts, thus saving a handful of Herefords from the slaughterhouse, while its embroidered door panels are made by London-based Hand and Lock using “traditional techniques that date back to 1767 and are used on Royal and Military Dress uniforms,” its electronic interfaces covered with Cumbrian crystal, its sustainable peat bog-, lake- and river-sourced Copper Infused Riverwood harking back half a myriaannum (5,000 years), and its metal being genuine aluminum and copper, the combination apparently paying tribute to an alloy created by the aforementioned founder for his BR1 Aero engine piston, which played a significant role in securing the air theatre during World War 1. 

2019 Bentley EXP 100 GT Concept
Not your average roof, this clear greenhouse provides natural and synthesized light. (Photo: Bentley)

Bentley sheds both harvested natural light and synthesized light on the EXP 100 GT’s interior via “an innovative glass roof embedded with prisms that collect light and transfer it into the cabin using fibre optics,” while all occupants’ feet will rest upon British Farmed Wool carpets, and embroidered cotton interior surfaces also help to create a more sustainable atmosphere. 

The seats use intelligent, adaptable biometrics configured in three different ways, their positions dependent on whether you’re driving or being driven. Biometric sensors monitor the automatic climate control system too, plus the passenger position, and exterior environmental conditions in order to provide ultimate comfort, while biometric sensors embedded throughout the interior track eye and head movements, blood pressure, plus more in order to deliver a level of in-car comfort that far exceeds anything currently available. The cabin can even be automatically aerated with a refreshing sandalwood and moss fragrance. 

2019 Bentley EXP 100 GT Concept
Leather from winemaking byproducts? As long as is doesn’t raise our blood alcohol levels we approve. (Photo: Bentley)

Whether or not we’ll see this particular Bentley coupe by 2035 is anyone’s guess, although it should be noted that carmakers need to plan their models far into the future in order to arrive when needed, so something similar may actually be in process. We certainly wouldn’t complain if Bentley offered us a production EXP 100 GT like this to test in 15 or so years, with or without all of this concept’s innovatively sustainable features. 

The EXP 100 GT is a vision of dramatic beauty that would be welcomed to car enthusiasts in any era, and possibly more true to its brand heritage than the all-electric, fully autonomous two-box SUV/MPV they’ll likely show up with by that time. 

Until we truly find out what’s in the AI-dealt carbon-fibre cards, check out our complete gallery above as well as the four videos Bentley supplied below. 

Bentley EXP 100 GT Concept Car Reveal Highlights | Bentley (0:49):

 

Bentley EXP 100 GT Concept car reveal Livestream | Bentley (28:49):

 

The Bentley EXP 100 GT: The Future of Grand Touring | Bentley (2:52):

 

24 Hours to go before Bentley reveals the Future of Grand Touring | Bentley (0:41):

 

An off-road Lexus? To some this might sound like an oxymoron, but in reality two of Lexus’ priciest luxury SUVs started life as ultra-capable go-anywhere Toyota Land Cruisers.  The Land Cruiser name…

Lexus reveals rugged GXOR Concept at FJ Summit

2019 Lexus GXOR Concept
The GXOR Concept shows Lexus in a much more adventurous light, and could make the slow-selling GX 460 much more appealing. (Photo: Lexus)

An off-road Lexus? To some this might sound like an oxymoron, but in reality two of Lexus’ priciest luxury SUVs started life as ultra-capable go-anywhere Toyota Land Cruisers. 

The Land Cruiser name is legendary, and in many markets considered a premium sub-brand of the world’s second-largest automaker. While most Canadians conjuring mental images of iconic Land Cruisers will look back to the now classic 1960–1984 FJ40 series, the larger and longer 1967–1980 FJ55 followed by the much more popular 1980–1989 BJ60, or the most recent 2008–present J200 that does double-duty as the Lexus LX 570, the model shown here is based on the 2009–present J150, or Land Cruiser Prado. 

2019 Lexus GXOR Concept
The GXOR gets plenty of off-road gear to overcome treacherous terrain, plus an ultra-rugged tent trailer. (Photo: Lexus)

Known North American luxury consumers as the Lexus GX 460, this somewhat long-in-tooth albeit still very capable mid-size three-row 4×4 also shared underpinnings with the current Toyota 4Runner and FJ Cruiser (the latter no longer available in North America) in its previous third-generation J120 design (2002–2009), which should help anyone familiar with those no-holds-barred SUVs believe in this Lexus’ off-road prowess. 

It’s no wonder, therefore, that 4×4 enthusiasts looking to add luxury to their off-road lifestyle have opted for the GX 460, so now Lexus is paying homage to these faithful fans with this special creation, and even giving them partial credit for bringing the new GXOR Concept to life. 

2019 Lexus GXOR Concept
Lexus should consider selling this tent trailer too. (Photo: Lexus)

“Concept vehicles are typically created to generate excitement for the enthusiasts, but sometimes, it’s the enthusiasts and their vehicles that give life to the concept,” stated Lexus. “The Lexus GXOR Concept (GX Off-Road) is fueled by the passionate Lexus GX owners that have discovered and embraced the SUV’s perfect combination of ultimate luxury and unrivaled off-road capability.” 

No wonder the Japanese luxury brand chose to launch the new GXOR Concept at the annual FJ Summit in Ouray, Colorado, the 12th of such events having taken place from July 17–21 this year. Similar in concept to a Jeep Jamboree, the FJ Summit provides an opportunity for Toyota 4×4 owners to test their personal driving skills as well as their Toyota/Lexus 4×4’s prowess on challenging trails, gives classes taught by experienced off-road instructors in order to hone those driving skills, and much more. 

2019 Lexus GXOR Concept
All-terrain tires, a lifted suspension, and full skid plates below make for one capable 4×4. (Photo: Lexus)

Despite the GX 460’s impressive capability off-road, and its passionate group of diehard followers, its popularity with the general SUV-buying public has faded in recent months and years, with Q2 2019 sales down 25.41 percent compared to the same six months last year, resulting in only 138 buyers for last place in the mid-size luxury SUV segment (other than the now discontinued Lincoln MKT), while all 12 months of 2018 only found 376 customers after a high of 662 units in 2015. 

To be fair, plenty of competitors have been losing ground this year, with Q2 2019 Tesla Model X sales off by 30.00 percent for 840 units, Audi Q7 deliveries down 36.13 percent to 1,674 units (possibly due to the new Q8’s arrival), the Mercedes-Benz GLS-Class dropping 36.66 percent to 762 units, and the same German luxury brand’s GLE-Class plummeting by 42.00 percent to 2,413 units. Even the mighty Lexus RX (and new long-wheelbase RX L) saw a sales drop of 8.50 percent through Q1 and Q2, but its 3,982 deliveries kept it well in front of the entire mid-size luxury SUV pack. 

2019 Lexus GXOR Concept
The cargo compartment gets filled with Goose Gear custom drawers and containers plus a slide-out National Luna fridge. (Photo: Lexus)

To put the GX’ 2018 calendar year sales of 376 units and 2015 high of 662 units into perspective, Lexus sold 9,329 RX crossovers last year, which was its second-best result after a high of 9,402 units in 2017. The RX also outsold Lexus’ next-most-popular NX compact luxury crossover, which had its best sales of 7,859 units last year. Hence, anything that could potentially spur on GX sales would be helpful. 

Enter the GXOR, which while only a concept makes the luxury model’s 4×4 credentials clear to those who might not be in the know, while its ardent fans could potentially build something similar from all of this prototype’s available aftermarket components. 

2019 Lexus GXOR Concept
The GXOR’s roof rack is loaded with off-road goodies. (Photo: Lexus)

On that note, the GXOR’s plentiful upgrades include a custom CBI Stealth front bumper with an integrated Warn 9.5 XPS winch, a Safari snorkel for feeding air to the engine while wading through deep water, Lexus F Sport 18-inch alloys wrapped in General Tire Grabber X3 275/70 all-terrain rubber, a raised Icon 2.5 CDC suspension with remote reservoirs plus billet control arms with delta joints, full underbody armour skid plate protection, CBI frame sliders, a Redarc Tow-Pro brake controller, and lastly an EEZI-AWN K9 roof rack that comes complete with a Rigid 50 LED front light bar, a 160-watt Overland solar panel power supply, Alu-Box storage cases, and Maxtrax recovery boards. 

Inside, the GXOR Concept keeps the GX 460’s already luxurious finishings while adding an Icom 5100A ham radio up front for remote communication, whereas the cargo area is partially filled with a Goose Gear custom drawer system featuring storage compartments and a slide-out National Luna refrigerator. 

2019 Lexus GXOR Concept
The GXOR gets an Icon 2.5 CDC suspension system featuring remote reservoirs as well as billet control arms with delta joints. (Photo: Lexus)

Finally, the GXOR Concept is shown towing a Patriot Campers X1H trailer featuring a power-operated pop-up tent, a hot water system, and more, while its electrical components are powered via the just-noted solar panel. 

On that note, Lexus doesn’t say whether or not the GXOR Concept’s 4.6-litre V8 keeps the production model’s 301 horsepower and 329 lb-ft of torque or receives some performance upgrades, but it certainly should be strong enough to haul the hefty looking trailer either way. 

2019 Lexus GXOR Concept
Lexus should consider offering a dealer-installed GXOR kit. (Photo: Lexus)

“To all of the GX enthusiasts that use their rigs to escape on epic adventures, and proudly share the #GXOR, this concept build is for you,” added Lexus to its GX 460’s fan base. “Thank you for inspiring us to Experience Amazing.” 

As with all concepts and prototypes, the question of potential GXOR production needs to be addressed. Considering how successful Mercedes-Benz has been with its rugged G-Class, and similarly how Land Rover Defender enthusiasts have been getting excited about that model’s upcoming arrival, something like this GXOR Concept could find reasonable sales traction if offered in production trim, or at least as a dealer-installed kit. The latter would allow retailers to modify unsold GX 460s, which might bring some much-needed attention to the model. 

Until this happens (or doesn’t), enjoy our complete gallery of GXOR Concept photos above, plus a video that Lexus provided below. Also, to find out how affordable the 2019 Lexus GX 460 is, check out CarCostCanada where you can see complete pricing of trims, packages and individual options, plus learn about available rebates and dealer invoice pricing that could save you thousands. 

Lexus GXOR | GX Off-road Concept Build (2:45):

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

2019 Toyota Highlander Hybrid Limited Road Test

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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