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

Toyota passes 15-millionth hybrid vehicle sales milepost

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Story credit: Trevor Hofmann

Photo credits: Toyota

The Sonata has been with us for a long time, 31 years in fact. During those three-plus decades we’ve seen truly expressive designs offset by comparatively safe styling exercises, and it seems to have…

2019 Hyundai Sonata Ultimate Road Test

2019 Hyundai Sonata Ultimate
Last year’s refresh transformed a rather bland Sonata into this very alluring mid-size four-door. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

The Sonata has been with us for a long time, 31 years in fact. During those three-plus decades we’ve seen truly expressive designs offset by comparatively safe styling exercises, and it seems to have done better with the latter. 

Looking back, the 1998–2004 fourth and 2009–2014 sixth generations were especially daring, while the comparatively conservative 2004–2009 fifth-gen model was nevertheless so modestly attractive it sold well too. I tested all of the above and was impressed with each, plus I had the latter car in V6-powered top-line trim as a long-term tester for more than a year, experiencing zero problems and thoroughly enjoying its comfort and performance, as my weekly blog-style updates attested. It’s no wonder I’ve been a proponent of the car ever since. 

2019 Hyundai Sonata Ultimate
The Sonata’s exterior design is more elegant than sporty, but Ultimate trim’s alloy wheels, blackened trim and rear diffuser give it an edgier look. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

The current 2014–2019 seventh-generation Sonata is, of course, the best one yet, but up until a rather thorough 2018 mid-cycle refresh it was one of the least inspiring visually. Don’t get me wrong, the 2014–2017 version was still a reasonably attractive mid-size four-door family sedan, but calling its update a facelift doesn’t do the level of cosmetic reconstruction justice. 

The identical 2018 and 2019 Sonata models featured a completely modified grille that left the previous sharply edged six-sided design behind, replaced by a much more fluid shape that has helped move Hyundai away from the new Genesis luxury brand, the latter having kept much of the old grille design up until the new 2020 G90’s diamond-shaped look. The Sonata’s stylish new grille gets flanked by attractive headlights filled with ovoid projector beams (or as-tested LEDs) and LED daytime running lights, all of which hover over an eye-catching six-pack of vertical LED fog lights. 

2019 Hyundai Sonata Ultimate
The Sonata’s big new grille previewed a new look designed to separate Hyundai from its premium Genesis brand. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

The Sonata’s sportiest Ultimate trim (shown here in the photos) boasts cool dark chrome edging around an otherwise black gloss mesh grille insert, plus more darkened chrome on the lower fascia and the headlamp bezels, which uniquely flow rearward along the front fenders and the car’s entire shoulder line before curving up and around the rear quarter windows ahead of meeting up at the base of the A pillars. This signature detail was first used with the sixth-generation Sonata back in 2009, and will once again help make the upcoming 2020 model look special. That 2020 Sonata incorporates many of the design elements shown on this attractive 2019 model, but adds drama and size, while its rear styling is completely reworked. 

2019 Hyundai Sonata Ultimate
LED headlights come standard on Luxury and Ultimate trims. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Hyundai continues with the darkened chrome trim while adding its fair share of gloss-black accents to this Sonata Ultimate, its front fog lamp surrounds ideally matching the sporty diffuser-style rear bumper, all topped off by the panoramic sunroof’s deep, inky glass and the high-gloss black roof that combine into one all-black mass. I must admit, the 2018 refresh turned a rather boring Sonata into a superb looking mid-size family hauler. 

It needs to be good looking in order to survive, of course. It’s up against some very strong competitors such as the new Toyota Camry, a car that could even be called seductive in its edgiest XSE trim, not to mention the newest Honda Accord that antes up with its most premium-level design yet, plus the new Nissan Altima improves styling while providing standard all-wheel drive, as well as a whole host of other brands trying to lure in mid-size sedan buyers with performance models and/or economical hybrid/plug-in alternatives, while Hyundai’s sister-brand Kia and Germany’s Volkswagen are complementing their more traditional Optima (the Sonata’s platform-mate) and Passat offerings with sportier four-door coupe variants called Stinger and Arteon respectively, and despite all these interesting and impressive choices most new car consumers are looking to the crossover SUV segment for their next ride. 

2019 Hyundai Sonata Ultimate
This vertical six-pack of LED fog lamps looks brilliant, especially at night. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

How is this SUV enthusiasm affecting mid-size sedan sales? Of the 14 currently available in Canada, just four found more year-over-year buyers through the first nine months of 2019, and this Sonata wasn’t amongst them. The category-leading Camry’s 11,579 unit sales were up 4.18 percent since the third quarter of 2019 ended, but this market growth is hardly notable next to the third-place Ford Fusion’s 33.43-percent increase, but it only managed 7,280 total deliveries. The other two bright lights are actually nominal players when it comes to overall numbers, with Honda’s Clarity plug-in hybrid showing a 12.37-percent gain to 890 sales, and Buick’s Regal experiencing an amazing 48.71-percent uptick to 635 units down the road. 

2019 Hyundai Sonata Ultimate
The top-line Ultimate’s wheels are only 18s, but nevertheless the car handles better than competitors with larger rims and rubber. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Ultimate losers include VW’s aforementioned Passat that’s decreased its year-over-year unit sales by 78.24 percent, resulting in only 570 sold, while Kia’s Optima didn’t do much better thanks to delivering just 1,363 examples for a 52.09-percent decline. Others, such as the Altima, fell 43.34 percent for a 2,568-unit downturn, and that’s despite its all-new design, while the Mazda6 plunged 42.76 percent to 1,130 units. Comparing some of these numbers shouldn’t leave Hyundai feeling too bad about its Sonata that only managed 3,346 deliveries for a 14.18-percent reversal, this actually leaving the car in fifth place behind the Camry, Accord, Fusion and Malibu, albeit still more popular than the Altima, Optima, Subaru Legacy, Stinger, Mazda6, Clarity, Regal, Passat, and Arteon. Some brands might’ve let out a collective sigh of relief upon Ford’s announcement that its Fusion would soon be discontinued without replacement, but the thought of why they’re ditching the segment altogether may be too sobering to provide any hope of market gains. 

2019 Hyundai Sonata Ultimate
These sharp looking LED taillights come standard across the Sonata line. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Everything said so far in mind, this road test review is more of an adieu to the outgoing 2019 Sonata ahead of the entirely new 2020 model arriving, which will allow some of us to pay tribute to the car that helped define Hyundai’s new design direction, while more serious folk decide whether or not they’ll take one home. I’ve got a great deal of good to say about this specific Sonata Ultimate, with the styling and sales portion of my review now moving inside, where this particular four-door gets an impressive cabin filled up with premium-like finishings and more standard features than you’ll likely find in the majority of rivals noted above. 

2019 Hyundai Sonata Ultimate
The Sonata’s interior is starting to look a bit dated, especially when compared to the 2020 model about to replace it, but it’s well made and fully featured. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

No shortage of premium-quality, soft-touch synthetics can be found throughout the interior, joined by beautifully textured metallic inlays and brushed aluminized accents, not to mention glossy piano black detailing to match all the exterior trim mentioned earlier. A medium-grey cabin motif boasts stylish perforated leather seat upholstery in an identical medium-grey shade, with light-grey piping highlighting each bolster to match the same colour of contrast stitching found along those bolsters as well as the door panel inserts, shifter boot, and baseball-stitched, black leather-wrapped, flat-bottom sport steering wheel. 

The steering wheel looks sporty enough, and thanks to a thick padded rim, ergonomically shaped thumb spats, and an overall substantive weightiness makes its driver feel as if piloting a now classic Genesis Coupe than anything family oriented, not that you couldn’t stuff a fairly sizeable kid or two into the back of that four-seat liftback. The placement of the shift paddles is near perfect, truly enhancing the driving experience overall. It’s all combined with more than enough steering column rake and reach to, together with the eight-way power-adjustable driver’s seat (with two-way powered lumbar), provide my long-legged and short-torso five-foot-eight body with complete comfortable and total control, unlike some in this class that don’t fit me in as ideally. 

2019 Hyundai Sonata Ultimate
The Sonata’s cockpit is very well laid out, with everything in easy reach. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

This in mind, Toyota’s new Camry XSE was sharing commuting and errand duties with the Sonata Ultimate during the same week, which by looks alone seems to be the sportiest mid-size four-door on today’s market. It’s a big improvement over the outgoing Camry in every way, including steering column reach, but nevertheless it doesn’t fit my frame as well. Additionally, the Camry XSE’s steering wheel doesn’t look or feel as sporty, or allow as much control as this Sonata Ultimate. I’m not griping, because Toyota has done a very good job with the new Camry’s cabin, with finishing that’s more refined and an overall design that’s slightly more premium-like than this top-line Sonata, but when talking real performance, the Japanese brand’s mid-sizer couldn’t hold a candle to this Korean. What’s more, the steering wheel in the Sonata is heated from the mid-range trim upward, while the Camry doesn’t even make a heatable steering wheel available. 

2019 Hyundai Sonata Ultimate
A classic dual-dial gauge cluster features a simple yet clear multi-info display at centre. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

One of the most notable differences between the Camry XSE and Sonata Ultimate are the front seats. The latter model offers up two of the best sport seats in the mid-size sedan class, that aren’t only embossed with slick “Turbo” lettering on their backrests and finished with all the attractive upgrades noted earlier, but were designed with deep side bolstering that holds buttocks and backside firmly in place during aggressive manoeuvring. If you want to stay planted in the Camry’s driver’s seat while attempting the same lateral Gs you’ll need to hang onto something other than the steering wheel, as Toyota’s driver’s seat leaves you perched on top rather than within. The Camry’s seats weren’t very comfortable either, not even in the luxuriously appointed XLE model, but the Sonata Ultimate’s seats are fabulously supportive. The Sonata’s three-temperature front seat warmers heat up faster and more potently than the Camry’s too, plus Hyundai provides three-position front seat ventilation as well, this not available in any 2019 Camry (Toyota will add optional ventilated front seats for 2020). 

2019 Hyundai Sonata Ultimate
A nicely shaped sport steering wheel and paddles help separate Sport and Ultimate trims from more luxury-oriented Sonata models. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

The Sonata’s rear outboard seats offer two-way seat heaters too, in mid-range Preferred trim and above, plus their seatbacks are similarly carved for comfort and support, but not so much as to render the centre position unfit for a third passenger. My tester’s retractable side window sunshades, standard in Luxury and Ultimate trims, are also not available with the Camry, while the Sonata’s rear occupants benefit from a bevy of additional features such as LED overhead reading lights, dual air vents, a big folding centre armrest with integrated cupholders, large bottle holders in the door pockets, plus more. A panoramic sunroof, standard on Luxury and Ultimate trims, adds more light to the rear passenger compartment too, although even less equipped trims are hardly dark inside thanks to good side window visibility. 

2019 Hyundai Sonata Ultimate
The Sonata lays its controls out in a more conventional centre stack than some of its rivals, but it all works well. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Rear seat roominess is a Sonata strongpoint too, thanks to a lot of knee space, ample legroom that allowed me to stretch my legs out almost completely while shod in winter boots, and about four to five inches from hips and shoulders to the door panels, while approximately three and a half inches remained over my head, so therefore taller passengers should fit in back without issue. 

The trunk is quite big at 462 litres (16.3 cubic feet), while you can open its lid by pressing a button on the dash or automatically by standing aft of the Sonata with the ignition off and proximity-sensing key in pocket. The trunk is nicely detailed out with carpeting all the way up each sidewall, including the inner lid, plus each side of the 60/40-split seatbacks fold down via pull-tabs. 

2019 Hyundai Sonata Ultimate
The navigation system’s map is very detailed, thanks to a high-resolution touchscreen display. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

All of the items noted thus far came standard in my top-tier Ultimate tester, including its sporty looking 18-inch double-five-spoke alloys encircled by 235/45R18 Michelin all-season rubber (replacing 16- or 17-inch Kumho tires), the front two directed by a special rack-mounted motor-driven power steering (R-MDPS) system featuring a dual-pinion steering rack, while a trim-exclusive twin-scroll turbocharged and direct-injected 2.0-litre four-cylinder engine with dual continuously variable valve timing and two-stage variable induction produces 245 horsepower and 260 lb-ft of torque (this engine replaces the base 2.4-litre four-cylinder with 185 hp and 178 lb-ft of torque), and an eight-speed automatic transmission with manual mode and steering wheel-mounted shift paddles (instead of a six-speed automatic with no paddles on lesser trims) enhance performance. Additionally, Ultimate trim includes the upgraded leather sport seats mentioned before, and the eye-catching textured metallic inlays, the construction of which Hyundai refers to as the 3D Three-dimensional Overlay Method (T.O.M). 

2019 Hyundai Sonata Ultimate
The backup camera’s image is big and bright, plus includes dynamic guidelines to ease parking. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

I decided to make a more detailed list of key features than usual because Hyundai’s value proposition has always been a good way to judge its cars against rivals, and when factoring in that the 2019 Sonata Ultimate retails for only $37,199 (plus destination and fees), it becomes hard to argue against. A similarly powered Camry with less features, incidentally, tops $41,000, about $4,000 or 10 percent more than this top-line Sonata, while its base price is also a couple of thousand higher. The base Sonata Essential starts at $24,899, while Hyundai has up to $2,000 in additional incentives available at the time of writing, according to CarCostCanada, where you can also find pricing details for almost every car sold in Canada, including trims, packages and individual features, as well as rebate info and dealer invoice pricing that could save you thousands. 

2019 Hyundai Sonata Ultimate
Aluminized audio and HVAC controls add a quality look and feel. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Additional features pulled up to Ultimate trim from the $34,899 Luxury model include the previously noted LED headlights with adaptive cornering and automatic high beams, ventilated front seats, rear sunshades and powered panoramic sunroof, plus aluminum scuff plates, chrome inner door handles, an electromechanical parking brake, an auto-dimming rearview mirror, a HomeLink garage door opener, a six-way powered front passenger seat, driver’s seat and side mirror memory, an 8.0-inch high-resolution centre touchscreen with navigation, great sounding 400-watt nine-speaker Infinity audio, always appreciated wireless charging, rear seat HVAC ducts, reverse park distance warning, driver attention warning, adaptive cruise control with stop-and-go, forward collision warning with pedestrian detection, and lane departure warning with lane keeping assist. 

2019 Hyundai Sonata Ultimate
Three-way cooled front seats add to the Sonata Ultimate’s premium experience. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Items pulled up to Unlimited trim from the mid-range $28,799 Preferred model include the stitched pleather door inserts, heatable steering wheel, rear seat warmers, and proximity-sensing trunk release noted earlier, plus dual-zone automatic climate control, satellite radio (including the rooftop shark antenna), remote engine start, and BlueLink connectivity, while the second-rung $27,699 Essential Sport donates its sport grille, dark chrome and sportier exterior trim, sport suspension, LED taillights, front door handle welcome lighting, proximity keyless entry, sport-type Supervision instrument cluster with a 4.2-inch TFT LCD multi-function display (within the otherwise analogue primary gauge cluster), paddle shifters, eight-way powered driver’s seat, and aluminum pedals. 

2019 Hyundai Sonata Ultimate
Its two 12-volt chargers, aux plug and single USB port make the Sonata’s age obvious, but its wireless charging pad is one modern-day advantage we wouldn’t want to live without. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Finally, standard items pulled up to Ultimate trim from the base Essential model include auto on/off headlights, LED daytime running lights, power-adjustable heated side mirrors with integrated LED turn signals, a leather-wrapped multifunction steering wheel, speed-sensitive variable intermittent wipers, heated front seats, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto smartphone integration, Bluetooth with audio streaming, filtered air conditioning, blind spot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert, the usual active and passive safety features, and much more. It really is a lot of car for thousands less than most competitors. 

2019 Hyundai Sonata Ultimate
The Sonata Ultimate’s 8-speed automatic aids performance and efficiency. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Being that I’ve been comparing to the Sonata to Toyota’s Camry, the Japanese mid-sizer offers up a more advanced gauge cluster-mounted multi-information display, featuring a larger, more organically shaped screen that wraps around the outside of each analogue dial, plus it’s filled with more features. Nevertheless, the Sonata’s is bright, clear and not short on many functions. The Sonata’s centre stack comes across a bit more vertical and therefore more traditional than the Camry’s as well, but this has more to do with end of lifecycle issues than any lack of technical prowess at Hyundai (the 2020 Sonata’s 12.3-inch display will be a big step above the Camry’s, by the way, plus my upcoming Nexo and Palisade stories will provide even more proof of Hyundai’s infotainment leadership). The Sonata’s touchscreen sits high on the centre stack between two vents, and it’s a very clear, high-resolution display with excellent depth of colour and good graphics. It boasts a quick operating system too, and it’s generally easy to figure out, no matter the function. 

2019 Hyundai Sonata Ultimate
These are two of the best sport seats in the mid-size sedan class, and they’re comfortable too. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

The quality of Sonata switchgear is also excellent, especially those on the steering wheel and centre stack, the latter finished with a nice aluminized treatment on two tiers of interfaces. The top tier is for audio and infotainment systems, whereas the bottom one is for the HVAC system and its various functions, plus the heated/cooled seats and heatable steering wheel. Below this is a rubberized tray for your phone that doubles as a wireless charger, while additional connectivity can be found just above on a panel featuring two 12-volt chargers, a USB port and aux plug (expect more USBs and less of the others in the 2020 redesign). 

2019 Hyundai Sonata Ultimate
No one in the back seat with feel claustrophobic thanks to this big panoramic sunroof. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Back to the thick paddle-infused flat-bottom steering wheel and well-bolstered driver’s seat, the Sonata Ultimate feels a lot sportier than the Camry XSE I tested, even without having a V6 under the hood. The top-line Camry is about a second and a half quicker off the line (the 6.0 seconds compared to 7.3, give or take a tenth or two), as long as you can stop the front wheels from spinning, but straight-line acceleration is hardly the only performance criterion, or for that matter the most important one in my books. The 2.0-litre turbo moved the Sonata off the line quickly enough, while its eight-speed auto shifted with much snappier increments than the Camry’s eight-speed, especially when its Drive Mode Select system was switched from Comfort, past Eco, into Sport mode, these adjusting steering, engine, and transmission responses. The free-revving top-line Sonata powertrain is a lot more fun when pushed hard, and its lighter weight over the front wheels results in easier, quicker turn-in with less understeer. 

2019 Hyundai Sonata Ultimate
Rear seat roominess is generous, and comfort good. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

This is probably why the Sonata Ultimate takes to corners more aggressively than the Camry XSE. Truly, Sonata Ultimate handling is a black and white differentiator, the Hyundai feeling crisp and reacting sharply, with the Toyota pushing its front end past the edge of its lane when driven at similar high speeds through the same stretch of tarmac, not to mention becoming much more unsettled at its back end. The one felt confidence inspiring and the other out of its league, and this was despite having one-inch larger 19-inch alloys on 235/40 all seasons on the Camry. Mix in driver’s seat superiority and it’s really no contest, the Sonata Ultimate so much more engaging we might as well be comparing a BMW 5 Series to a Lexus ES 350. 

2019 Hyundai Sonata Ultimate
You can’t get rear window sunshades on a Camry, helping set the Sonata apart. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

The Sonata Ultimate also gets high marks for fuel economy thanks to a claimed rating of 10.4 L/100 km in the city, 7.4 on the highway and 9.1 combined compared to the Camry XSE’s 10.7 city, 7.4 highway and 9.2 combined rating, but to be fair I need to point out that Toyota’s use of an eight-speed automatic throughout the range helps its less potent four-cylinder models eke out as little as 8.1 city, 5.7 highway and 6.9 combined, compared to the Sonata 2.4’s best rating of 9.2, 6.8 and 8.1 respectively. 

2019 Hyundai Sonata Ultimate
The 2020 Camry will finally offer rear seat warmers, but they’re available in the Sonata now. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

More negatives? It wanting to use the auto trunk opening function when the Sonata is already unlocked it won’t open, and being that there’s no button in back you’ll need to walk around to the driver’s door, open it, and push the button on the dash. The Camry provides a button on the trunk that works by proximity sensing whether the doors are unlocked or not. Another Camry bonus includes heated front seats that come on automatically upon startup, or not, depending on how you left them. You’ll need to set the Sonata’s heated seats each time you restart. 

2019 Hyundai Sonata Ultimate
The Sonata’s trunk is large. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Plenty of other qualities help keep the Camry atop the mid-size sedan segment’s hierarchy, and I’ll cover these in an upcoming full-line road test review, while there are a number of other credible contenders in this class, as noted earlier, but you shouldn’t buy any of the Sonata’s competitors without spending time behind its wheel, especially if performance is high on your list of new car attributes.

Mid-size sedan sales may be on a downward trend, but the once dominant market segment still makes up a significant portion of most mainstream brands’ sales volumes, so therefore they remain a critically…

New 2019 Nissan Altima adds standard AWD to Canadian mid-size sedan segment

2019 Nissan Altima
The 2019 Altima arrives with a bold new take on Nissan’s trademark Vmotion grille. (Photo: Nissan)

Mid-size sedan sales may be on a downward trend, but the once dominant market segment still makes up a significant portion of most mainstream brands’ sales volumes, so therefore they remain a critically important ingredient for overall success. 

To put this in perspective, Nissan sold 16.7 percent more Altima mid-size sedans than Sentra compact four-doors in the U.S. last year, with 254,996 examples of the former and 218,451 of the latter delivered. Here in Canada the numbers are reversed at 6,626 for the Altima and 13,883 for the Sentra, but the larger, pricier car is more profitable, so it nevertheless remains an important model in the lineup. 

2019 Nissan Altima
If the new Altima’s styling doesn’t make enough of a dramatic statement on its own, the announcement of standard AWD will. (Photo: Nissan)

Like many in this segment, Altima numbers have taken a hit in recent years. In fact, they’ve been steadily sliding for decades, the mid-size Nissan having lost 64.2 percent in sales volume over the past decade and a half, 36.8 percent of which was only in the last five years. 

That’s almost as long as the current fifth-generation Altima has been with us, its production starting in May of 2012. The mid-size four-door received a dramatic facelift for the 2016 model year, adapting the brand’s new Vmotion grille and other stylish improvements, but three more years of availability means the time for change has come once again. 

2019 Nissan Altima
This exciting redesign makes the 2019 Altima one of the sportiest looking in its segment. (Photo: Nissan)

Enter the 2019 Nissan Altima, a much bolder looking mid-size four-door sedan that should please fans of the nameplate that have been looking forward to an update. It now wears Nissan’s Vmotion 2.0 grille, which is a reshaped version of the now trademark Nissan grille design. Basically the “V” shape of the new Altima’s grille has been flattened on the bottom to form more of a “U”, just like other recent Nissan redesigns. Also, following current trends that grille has grown to epic proportions, giving the car a grander, more premium look. 

2019 Nissan Altima
The new Altima includes a floating roof design like its larger Maxima sibling. (Photo: Nissan)

Additionally, new LED headlamps and taillights look sharper and more sophisticated, while the rear C-pillars feature a narrow glossy black strip for a floating roof effect, similar to that on the brand’s flagship Maxima luxury sedan. From front to back the new look is hardly subtle, but it was tastefully penned so should be widely accepted by Altima owners and newcomers alike.

2019 Nissan Altima
The Altima’s rear styling isn’t as dramatic as its frontal design, yet it’s still plenty attractive. (Photo: Nissan)

The updated model is 25 mm (1.0 in) longer, 23 mm (0.9 in) wider and 28 mm (1.1 in) lower than the car it replaces, giving it a sportier stance all-round, while its wheelbase has grown by 48 mm (1.9 in). The sleek sheetmetal helps Nissan achieve a slippery 0.26 coefficient of drag, improving highway fuel economy while reducing wind noise, plus its larger dimensions provide more interior room all-round. Additionally, the wheels have been pushed farther to each corner, adding to its athletic appearance while theoretically providing more stability at high speed and a better ride, but we’ll have to wait for a test drive before confirmation. 

2019 Nissan Altima
The 2019 Altima effectively plays on the current big grille design trend. (Photo: Nissan)

That should happen shortly after the updated Altima arrives this fall, at which point we’ll also be able to advise on its reportedly quieter, smoother and more efficient 2.5-litre four-cylinder engine, now 9 horsepower and 3 lb-ft of torque stronger than the outgoing engine at 182 horsepower and 178 lb-ft; its revised Xtronic CVT that gets an expanded lock-up area for improved fuel economy, plus available paddle shifters; and its standard all-wheel drive. 

2019 Nissan Altima
Standard AWD should be appealing to Canadians who live in colder climates. (Photo: Nissan)

Yes, for the first time ever the 2019 Altima won’t be available with front-wheel drive, at least not in Canada. This is a bold move for the brand’s Canadian division, but it certainly separates it from most competitors that don’t offer AWD at all. 

Dubbed Intelligent AWD, it features an advanced torque split design that automatically distributes power from 100 percent up front and zero at the rear, all the way to an even division of 50 percent front to rear. The bias depends on road conditions and resulting wheel slippage, with the default being front-wheel drive to save fuel. Nissan says the new AWD system works seamlessly with the Altima’s standard limited-slip differential too, plus its Hill Start Assist system. 

2019 Nissan Altima
Stylish LED taillights also react faster than incandescent bulbs, making the new Altima safer. (Photo: Nissan)

Currently, Ford offers AWD with its 2.0-litre Ecoboost engine, found optionally in its near-premium trimmed Titanium and Platinum non-hybrid models, plus standard on its performance-oriented Fusion Sport, a 325 horsepower beast that’s a bit of an anomaly in this mostly fuel-efficiency focused segment, while the Subaru Legacy is the only mid-size sedan entrant to provide standard AWD, and it’s a minor player in Canada’s market with last year’s volume sitting at just 2,451 units compared to the Altima’s 6,626, let alone the Honda Accord’s 13,504 deliveries and the Toyota Camry’s 14,574. 

2019 Nissan Altima
The new Altima includes standard LED headlamps, allowing for brighter forward illumination. (Photo: Nissan)

The Subie actually brings up the rear in this 10 model strong segment, but Nissan no doubt isn’t feeling too proud about besting its fellow countryman, because it only sits sixth in sales, with the (soon to be cancelled) Ford Fusion in third with 9,736 deliveries in 2017, the Chevrolet Malibu in fourth with 8,152, and the Hyundai Sonata in fifth with 7,827. Amongst the stragglers is the Kia Optima with 4,496 down the road last year, Volkswagen Passat (and CC) with 4,145, Chrysler 200 (no longer available) with 2,842, and Mazda 6 with 2,541. Time will tell if all the changes made to the new Altima will push it further up the sales chart, but a quick tour of the interior makes its prospects look promising. 

2019 Nissan Altima
The 2019 Altima has a much cleaner, more minimalist interior than the outgoing one. (Photo: Nissan)

Nissan promises a sporty yet sophisticated cabin that replaces traditional chrome embellishment with matte chrome accents and satin finishes, while there’s a bit less of each than with previous Altima models for a more modern look. This said it’s not a breakthrough design, but instead features a lower dash top resulting in an airier, more open ambience, the entire instrument panel tastefully minimalist, seeming to naturally flow from one element to the next. 

2019 Nissan Altima
The new Altima appears to have a large, roomy cockpit, ideal for all sizes of driver. (Photo: Nissan)

Likewise it’s almost completely devoid of clutter, with most centre stack controls housed in a large 8.0-inch fixed tablet-style infotainment touchscreen protruding upward from the dash top, this complete with Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, a rearview camera, and more. A nicely sorted dual-zone automatic climate control interface sits on its own just below, while the driver gets a dedicated full-colour 7.0-inch TFT multi-information display within the gauge cluster. 

2019 Nissan Altima
An 8.0-inch infotainment touchscreen will be standard, complete with Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, a backup camera and more. (Photo: Nissan)

Nissan says it put special emphasis on giving all of the Altima’s switches and controls “an intuitive, effortless feel and natural operation,” so we’re looking forward to experiencing the result of this concentrated effort, while the NASA-inspired Zero Gravity seats have our curiosity piqued as well. Nissan claims these are especially good at providing long driving range comfort thanks to dual-density foam, plus some extra bolstering is said to improve support while driving around town. 

2019 Nissan Altima
The 2019 Altima will once again make use of Nissan’s advanced continuously variable transmission. (Photo: Nissan)

Something else that sets the Altima apart from key rivals is Nissan’s ProPilot Assist semi-autonomous driving technology. To be clear, ProPilot Assist doesn’t turn your Altima into a self-driving autonomous vehicle, but instead helps to keep drivers in the middle of a chosen lane by adjusting the steering automatically, has the ability to navigate stop-and-go traffic, and maintains set speeds and distances to vehicles ahead, simply by pressing two buttons. Basically, all you need to do is activate the system and then set the adaptive cruise control, at which point the Altima will steer itself as long as your hands are still touching the wheel. 

2019 Nissan Altima
The new model’s longer wheelbase provides more legroom. (Photo: Nissan)

Of note, Canadian Altima buyers won’t yet have the option of Nissan’s new variable compression turbocharged 2.0-litre four-cylinder, or VC-Turbo that can vary its compression ratio from 8:1 to 14:1 through an innovative system that can alter the piston throw inside the cylinder, resulting in 248 horsepower and 273 lb-ft of torque when fuel with premium unleaded. Why the negative news? Because this highly advanced engine is only mated to the model’s front-wheel drivetrain, and so far no AWD option is available outside of Infiniti’s new QX50. As you may have guessed it’s available as an Altima option south of the 49th, as is AWD, their base model being our 2.5-litre four mated to FWD. 

2019 Nissan Altima
The rear seating area appears very roomy. (Photo: Nissan)

Both markets will receive the same standard front MacPherson strut and rear multi-link suspension setup, plus identical electric power steering systems, featuring new dual steering pinions for improved precision, while an upscale set of monotube rear shocks improves damping. 

We won’t know about standard features, trims and pricing until closer to launch, or for that matter anything to do with options and packages, but we can expect the same eight-way powered driver’s seat as offered to our American friends, plus standard fabric and optional leather upholstery, heated front seats, LED headlights, a Bose audio upgrade, available navigation, a powered moonroof, and more, while a bevy of advanced driver assistance systems will likely include forward-collision warning, automatic emergency braking, blindspot monitoring, active lane control, adaptive cruise control, and more. 

Stay tuned for a more detailed report as the fall of 2018 draws near.

Tokyo – Automotive Linux Summit – Wednesday May 31, 2017 – Toyota Motor Corp announced that the new 2018 Toyota Camry will be sold in the United States with an infotainment system called…

Toyota Announces a Linux Based Infotainment System for the 2018 Toyota Camry

Tokyo – Automotive Linux Summit – Wednesday May 31, 2017 – Toyota Motor Corp announced that the new 2018 Toyota Camry will be sold in the United States with an infotainment system called the Entune 3.0 that runs on Automotive Grade Linux.

Automotive Grade Linux, also known as AGL, is an open source software platform based on Linux, specifically designed for automobiles. Ten global car manufacturers including Mazda, Ford, Jaguar, Land Rover, Honda and Mitsubishi already use it. The purpose of the initiative is to work with other car companies to try and speed up innovation for vehicle applications. Automakers will have the ability to fully customize the applications without having to rely on Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.

When a manufacturer develops a new car it requires around 100 million lines of computer code. Approximately 70 percent of it is generic. This means the remaining 30 percent is customized to the specific model. The amount of coding required is one reason why vehicle development takes so long. It doesn’t stop there however, the code needs to be constantly updated and refined to ensure proper operation. The largest vice for current and past infotainment systems in vehicles is how quickly they become outdated. According to a press release by Toyota VP Keiji Yamamoto the AGL platform gives, “greater connectivity and new functionalities at a pace that is more consistent with consumer technology.”

By working with open source software such as AGL, changes can be made more rapidly and don’t require a manufacturer to write 100 million lines of new code every single time an adjustment needs to be made.

Working with companies like Ford, Mazda, Mitsubishi, and Suzuki will help Toyota minimize costs and development time. Toyota says the partnership can also help create an industry standard that can operate all internal devices such as music, media and navigation. The collaboration with AGL may also allow future integration of technologies such as autonomous driving functions and integrated car services.

Toyota is reducing its dependency on third party companies like Apple and Alphabet (Google/Android Auto) to have greater control of their products. Another reason for Toyota and other car manufacturers to change is to gain control of all the user data. AGL will store all user data that would otherwise be recorded by Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.

Competitive and innovative infotainment systems are more important now than ever before, and moving to AGL is a bold step for Toyota. If the open source collaboration succeeds, don’t be surprised if other car companies like Audi and Volvo jump ship from Apple and Alphabet.

Remember when the Camry was the poster child for conservatively shaped mobile wallflowers? Its soul mission seemed to be: provide roomy, comfortable, reliable transportation to people who purposely want…

2017 Toyota Camry Hybrid XLE

2017 Toyota Camry Hybrid XLE
The 2017 Toyota Camry Hybrid has had sportier lines since its 2015 refresh, along with a much larger maw. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

Remember when the Camry was the poster child for conservatively shaped mobile wallflowers? Its soul mission seemed to be: provide roomy, comfortable, reliable transportation to people who purposely want to attract as little attention as possible.

Camry owners can’t fly under the radar anymore. The only four-door sedan with a more conspicuous grille is the slightly larger Toyota Avalon (although not for long as the 2018 Camry will boast the ultimate dog catcher) that shares much of the Camry’s componentry, but the mainstream family sedan’s flashy new attitude certainly hasn’t eroded sales.

2017 Toyota Camry Hybrid XLE
I must admit to missing the previous model’s more interesting taillights, but the current design is clean and uncluttered. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

Last year the Camry remained number one in its class in both the U.S. and Canada, and by a considerable margin. Certainly sales in the mid-size family sedan segment have been slowing in recent years, the Camry falling victim to crossover SUV growth that includes the ever more popular Toyota Highlander, a mid-size SUV that also shares underpinnings with this bestselling sedan, but the Camry is still king of cars… no scratch that… king of family vehicles (including trucks not sold for commercial purposes).

2017 Toyota Camry Hybrid XLE
Complex headlamps, deep grille, sculpted fascia, vertical DRLs, and big chromed alloys, this Camry is no wallflower. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

Toyota sold 404,301 Camrys in Canada and the U.S. last year, compared to just 204,343 Highlanders, and 2016 was a particularly poor year for the four-door sedan. By comparison, Camry sales for calendar year 2015 totaled 446,160 in the two jurisdictions, while Highlanders only accounted for 169,327 units. 2014? A few more Camrys at 446,851 units compared to considerably less Highlanders at 155,876.

2017 Toyota Camry Hybrid XLE
The Camry Hybrid’s cabin has come a long way since 2007, in style, materials quality, and execution. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

That’s not quite the high of 2007 which witnessed 501,326 Camrys leave Toyota’s Georgetown, Kentucky production facility, a year that saw just 132,930 Highlanders roll off the assembly line in Kurate-gun, Japan (production has since moved to Princeton, Indiana, other than the Highlander Hybrid that’s now built in Miyawaka City, Japan), which shows what we all now know, the current upward trend is in favour of SUVs instead of mid-size sedans, but whether or not the two vehicle types’ sales numbers will eventually even out is anyone’s guess.

2017 Toyota Camry Hybrid XLE
Hybrid info is on the left and within the colour multi-info display at centre. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

While the Camry was nearly twice as popular as the Highlander in North America’s two northernmost countries last year, this isn’t at all the case in Canada. In fact, Camry just barely edged out Highlander with 15,683 deliveries compared to 12,964. And 2016 was the Highlander’s best year ever, whereas Camry rode its biggest wave in 2007 with more than twice as many sales at 28,218 units.

2017 Toyota Camry Hybrid XLE
The large touchscreen infotainment system includes the usual backup camera, navigation, audio, phone, and system features, plus exclusive hybrid info. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

Compacts are much stronger here than in the U.S. (at the close of Q1, 2017, the Camry was the fifth most popular vehicle in the States and 28th in Canada), where the Corolla led Toyota Canada’s four-door sedan sales with 45,626 units last year (currently fifth most popular in Canada and seventh in the U.S.), and the RAV4 led the entire compact SUV segment as well as every other Toyota model with 49,103 deliveries (currently tenth in Canada and eighth in the U.S.).

2017 Toyota Camry Hybrid XLE
Use this for extracting more performance or more fuel economy. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

So why should Toyota Canada bother giving me a Camry Hybrid to drive and tell you all about? Of course, 15,000-plus Camry sales is nothing to sneeze at, and the Hybrid adds the positive element of greening society, something that Toyota’s been trying to do since introducing its Prius in 2000, and the first Camry Hybrid in March of 2006 for the 2007 model year.

I was on that launch program, part of which included side-by-side drag races against conventionally powered four-cylinder Camrys down an airport runway on Toronto Island (not during spring floodwaters, mind you). The Camry Hybrids came out ahead as you might expect, the exercise helping to dispel a common belief that HEVs were boring to drive.

2017 Toyota Camry Hybrid XLE
Sportier looking seats than Camry Hybrids used to receive. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

At the time I noted the 2007 Camry “HV” (the abbreviation then used by Toyota for Hybrid Vehicle, since globally standardized to HEV) sprinted to 100km/h in under nine seconds thanks to 187 net horsepower; provided city and highway mileage of 5.7 L/100km (remember that our old two-cycle rating system was haplessly inaccurate); and had a starting price of $31,900; so other than the styling, a much more refined interior with more features, and a starting price of (are you sitting down?) $29,770, some $2.1k less than a decade ago, not much has changed.

2017 Toyota Camry Hybrid XLE
Rear seat roominess has long been a Camry attribute, whether conventionally powered or electrified. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

Granted, performance has improved thanks to an updated 2.5-litre Atkinson Cycle four-cylinder internal combustion engine (ICE) that, when combined with the same Hybrid Synergy Drive technology that incorporates an identical 105-kW rating for its permanent magnet electric motor and nickel-metal hydride (NiMH) battery combination, is rated at 200 net horsepower now, an increase of 13 horsepower since inception.

2017 Toyota Camry Hybrid XLE
What about trunk space? Smaller? Less flexible? Check back for our review to find out. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

While older tech than Lithium-ion (Li-ion), NiMH batteries have served Toyota well over the years; powering some Prius taxi cabs more than a million kilometers before needing replacement. Despite the power upgrade and a change by Transport Canada to a new more realistic five-cycle testing method, the 2017 Camry Hybrid’s fuel economy is actually better than the 2007 model in the city at 5.6 L/100km, and not much worse on the highway (on paper) at 6.2 L/100km (I’m sure it’s improved for real; its combined rating is 5.9 L/100km, incidentally), while the car itself is miles more impressive.

2017 Toyota Camry Hybrid XLE
Toyota’s Hybrid Synergy Drive system is the stuff of HEV legend. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

I’m not just talking about its styling (I’m more of a “fan” of the current generation’s pre-facelift 2012–2015 model anyway), but more so of the attention to detail Toyota spent on interior design and quality, plus the way it drives. As you’ll know by now, I won’t discuss either point here in this abbreviated “Garage” review, but will be sure to fill you in on the experiential details in my upcoming road test.

For now, enjoy the photos and prepare for the good, the bad and the ugly of this popular electrified four-door (ok, there really is no bad and ugly about the Camry Hybrid, but it’s hard to pass up an opportunity to mention one of my favourite Westerns and the best Clint movie).

As for what will happen to you if you don’t take advantage of the great fuel economy and advantageous pricing of the 2017 Camry Hybrid, as Blondie once said, “If you do that, you’ll always be poor… just like the crazy rat that you are.”