After the Italian-American conglomerate Fiat Chrysler Automobiles and France’s PSA Group morphed into Stellantis last year, all 16 brands were promised enough funding to prove their viability as money-making…
After the Italian-American conglomerate Fiat Chrysler Automobiles and France’s PSA Group morphed into Stellantis last year, all 16 brands were promised enough funding to prove their viability as money-making enterprises. This, at a time when many industry critics were predicting some of the less profitable brands’ demise, such as Lancia in Europe and Chrysler in North America, should allow the creation of some significant contenders.
Where the second-generation 300 is now almost a dozen years old, making it geriatric in automotive lifecycles (as much as we still like it), the minivan threesome came to market in 2016, and therefore has six years under its collective belt. Therefore, Chrysler’s freshest product is already beyond its due date, while the brand’s overall image is so weak that it felt the need to “reintroduce” itself in the “2022 Chrysler Airflow | Our First Battery-Electric Vehicle” video below.
Airflow concept points Chrysler in a new crossover EV-based direction
All said, Chrysler has a long, storied history worthy of delving into, if not preserving in the modern day. The brand has long been a leader in automotive electrification as well, thanks to the world’s first plug-in hybrid minivan, so segueing into a full EV seems natural for Chrysler, and the realization of something like the new Airflow concept would not only deliver such a clean, green alternative, but also give the winged brand the crossover SUV it’s long needed.
Other than a short three model-year stint with a more upscale version of the Dodge Durango dubbed Aspen (MY 2007–2009), we need to look way back to the original Pacifica (MY 2004–2008) for a Chrysler-badged crossover, that near-luxury model somewhat ahead of its time, albeit short-sightedly short-lived as well. The automaker, which had its once-full coffers run dry by Mercedes during the DaimlerChrysler era, has been limping away on life support over the past decade, possibly making this new Airflow, which is likely close to the production model, a make-it-or-break it scenario.
Airflow concept points Chrysler in a new crossover EV-based direction
The Airflow concept was introduced last January at the Consumer Electronic Show (CES) in Las Vegas. It’s sized similarly to Ford’s very popular Mustang Mach-E crossover, which itself was designed to go head-to-head with entry-level versions of Tesla’s mid-size Model X. Whether eventually dubbed Airflow or not, Stellantis has promised a new mid-size Chrysler crossover EV for 2024 as a 2025 model.
Although we know little about the new Airflow concept’s details, Chrysler made clear that its powertrain consists of front and rear electric motors that make 201 horsepower apiece, and while Chrysler has yet to provide specific output numbers, the new prototype boasts all-wheel drive along with a large battery pack mounted below the floor.
Scroll through the press images in the gallery and you’ll see one that suggests a 118.0-kWh battery, plus a range of 400 miles (644 km). During the launch, Chrysler added that the range will be between 350 and 400 miles (217 and 644 km), which could be translated to mean that two or more output levels will be offered, the lesser capability for a base model. This said, being that Stellantis is an Amsterdam, Netherlands-based corporation, we can’t be certain this estimate corresponds to the U.S. EPA cycle or not, but at least the latter number appears to be within acceptable EV market expectations.
Airflow combines Chrysler’s penchant for elegant luxury with loads of new-edge tech
Inside, the Airflow appears roomy enough for four adults to stretch out comfortably, the second-row seats divided into individual floating buckets with a large floating console in between (the production model may see a rear bench in lower trims), while the crossover’s overall design layout lends to an even greater air of spaciousness, thanks to a wide, horizontal dash layout that visually extends into dark grey door uppers to encircle the cabin. This is dramatically offset by the concept’s white and bright metal interior colour scheme, enhanced further by an extremely long front windshield and open, airy glass roof overhead.
The details of that wide dash design are even more notable, being that the entire surface appears to be a combination of inky black glass/composite and touch-sensitive digital interfaces, one even ahead of the front passenger. The large driver’s display is fully digital too, of course, and extends outwards to the left of what is normally the main gauge cluster with controls for interior temperatures plus driver’s seat heating and cooling, whereas the large centre screen is complemented by an additional display further down the centre stack, this showing navigation mapping and seat controls in the supplied images.
Chrysler claims the Airflow’s driver display and infotainment touchscreens incorporate a completely new system dubbed STLA cockpit and STLA Brain respectively, and all feature over-the-air update capability. No doubt the latest backend technology will make these systems quick and responsive, while Chrysler’s older demographic will insist on a user-friendly digital environment, so therefore the choice to mirror a smartphone/tablet experience with simple touchscreens makes more sense than complicated knobs and buttons, or even more complex touchpads.
Elegant Airflow interior appears practical too
Rear passengers haven’t been left out of the infotainment loop either, thanks to large horizontal touchscreens filled with entertainment prompts on the backsides of each front seat, while a handy pull-out cargo shelf provides easy loading and unloading of the spacious luggage compartment.
Back up front, Chrysler’s usual rotating gear selector is perched atop the lower centre console. It features a start/stop ignition button on top and beautifully faceted crystal sides, while the fact that it’s connected to an electric powertrain means it only needs to be turned clockwise for Drive or counter-clockwise for Reverse, plus likely pushed in the centre when parked.
Also important for this class of car, the upcoming Chrysler crossover will feature Level 3 autonomous driving capability, the feature named STLA AutoDrive. Such will allow it to compete directly with the Tesla Model X, new Cadillac Lyriq, and others that are touting similarly advanced autonomy.
Styling is key to the Chrysler EV’s success
Of course, if buyers don’t like what they see from the outside they probably won’t ever step inside, so getting the upcoming Chrysler crossover’s exterior styling right is critical for success. For this reason, we’ve included every available image of this concept in the photo gallery above, plus included two videos below, so you can judge their efforts for yourself.
While arguably a bit generic from the front end, at least when compared to something as bold as the 300 sedan, the Airflow’s uncluttered, minimalist design represents a clear departure for the Auburn Hills-based brand. It’s obviously not trying to flex any pseudo macho muscle, like so many other wannabe off-roaders that are merely less convenient minivans under the skin, so something along the lines of the Airflow should appeal to those looking for a classy, upscale, near-luxury alternative to pricier crossover EVs like the aforementioned Tesla and Caddy, as well as Jaguar’s I-Pace, the latter sharing a similar roofline.
Pricing in mind, the Airflow will probably need to undercut Ford’s more performance-oriented Mach E in order to lure in new buyers, but such is the effect of relegating the Chrysler brand to “minivan company” status.
Classy crossover features sporty alloy wheels and beautifully complex lighting elements
Back to the Airflow at hand, its twinned six-spoke wheels are massive at 22 inches, and quite aggressively styled when compared to the rest of the vehicle, while the frontal lighting elements include narrow eye-like LEDs up top and triple-stacked sets of LED fogs at each corner down below. At the other end, the single-piece taillight cluster encompasses the entire width of the body, and while infused with attractive LED lighting elements at each corner, houses unique white “AIRFLOW” lettering at centre. Remove that name, however, and the entire SUV might be mistaken for Porsche’s Cayenne Coupe from behind, but at least its design team kept the Airflow in good company.
All said, there’s once again nothing distinctively “Chrysler” about this new crossover, so, while undeniably good looking, the Airflow could easily get lost in a barrage of new crossover EVs slated to hit the market over the next few years.
Entire Chrysler lineup to be fully electric within six years
Looking into the future, Chrysler will most likely continue forward with its various minivans, as this trio fills a market niche only otherwise serviced by handful of Asian brands. The Grand Caravan and Pacifica models remain quite popular too, so EV variants of both will need to surface in order to meet Chrysler’s goal of being fully electric by 2028.
After that, future Chrysler models are only known to Stellantis’ inner circle, and as noted earlier, the success of the new Airflow will determine which market segments, if any, get the nod. Both smaller compact and larger three-row Chrysler crossovers are likely bets, but competing directly in these highly competitive categories is a daunting prospect.
The sheer volume of buyers choosing these segments make them impossible to ignore, but Chrysler may choose to boldly break the mold with something altogether different, just like the brand once did in years past with innovative models the 2005–present 300 sedan and the similarly ground-breaking cab-forward LH-based 300M (and Concorde) that came before, plus the previous Sebring/200 Convertible that filled an open-top niche, the shockingly successful (at least initially) PT Cruiser that completely rewrote the book on affordable compact conveyances, and of course the original 1934–1937 Airflow that helped change the way the world looked at automotive aerodynamics.
Until some more concepts arrive, however, the upcoming Airflow EV is Chrysler’s “Hail Mary pass”, a vehicle that absolutely must succeed for the beleaguered brand to continue. As enthusiasts, we’ve got our fingers crossed.
2022 Chrysler Airflow | Our First Battery-Electric Vehicle (3:16):
2022 CES | Chrysler Airflow Reveal (12:22):
Story credits: Trevor Hofmann
Photo credits: Chrysler
Porsche is bringing its Platinum Edition back to the Cayenne lineup for 2022, after three years off the market. The 2016–2018 trim level was popular in its day, and by all accounts should be even more…
Unlike the previous version, which was only available in one body style, the updated Platinum Edition can now be had in both the regular Cayenne and the more recently added Cayenne Coupe, plus it’s now available with three different V6 powertrains, including the 335-horsepower base model, the 455-hp E-Hybrid, and the 405-hp S trim.
Satin-silver details plus extra standard features combine for an upscale design
Unique Platinum Edition features include special satin-finish Platinum paint on key trim areas, such as the front fascia air intake slats, the headlight bezels, the exclusive 21-inch RS Spyder Design wheels, the “PORSCHE” lettering across the centre portion of the rear LED tail lamp, and the model designation just underneath. Additionally, the Platinum Edition gets sporty black side window garnishes and blackened sport exhaust pipes.
Of note, standard colours include solid white and black, while available metallics are Jet Black, Carrara White, Mahogany, Moonlight Blue, and Chalk, with the latter grey tone being a higher-priced special colour.
Platinum Edition boasts unique interior trim plus a number of key upgrades
When entering the Platinum Edition you’ll need to step over an aluminum door sill etched with the scripted “Platinum Edition” logo, while other niceties include special textured aluminum inlays as well as silver trim, plus Chalk-coloured seat belts.
The Platinum Edition also benefits from standard LED headlights with the cornering-capable Dynamic Light System (PDLS), plus a set of eight-way-powered leather sport seats featuring embossed Porsche crests in the front and rear outboard headrests. Additionally, the Platinum Edition adds a modern analogue clock to the dash-top, plus a Bose surround-sound stereo system, ambient lighting, privacy glass, and last but hardly least, a panoramic sunroof.
A reasonable price bump for all the added style and features
Pricing for the 2022 Platinum Edition begins at $92,800 for the base Cayenne model and $97,500 for the same engine with the Cayenne Coupe, while package upgrade starts at $109,100 in the regular Cayenne when powered by the E-Hybrid drivetrain, or $110,500 when this engine is matched to the Coupe. Lastly, the Cayenne S starts at $109,300, while the Cayenne S Coupe can be had for $112,000.
Porsche is adding a new “T” trim line to its most popular Macan model for 2023, and it looks to be an ideal combination of fuel-efficiency and agility.
The Macan, which was updated midway through 2021 for the current 2022 model year, gets refreshed exterior styling as well as an updated interior. Key details inside include a new centre stack and console, incorporating a 10.9-inch touchscreen filled with a fully-networked Porsche Communication Management (PCM) infotainment interface up top, plus a stylish glass-like interface with touch-sensitive switchgear below.
Macan T adds special styling details
The new 2023 Macan T adds some nice exterior and interior design details such as Agate Grey metallic trim elements outside, specifically on the front fascia, mirror caps, side blades (which also include “Macan T” script), the rooftop spoiler, and the rear bumper cap, plus glossy black exterior window trim and exhaust pipes, as well as Dark Titanium 20-inch Macan S alloy wheels and the choice of 13 plain, metallic and special colours.
Stepping inside reveals “Macan T” branded black aluminum door sill plates, a multifunction GT steering wheel featuring a heated leather-wrapped rim (that can optionally be covered in Race-Tex), and heatable eight-way powered sport seats with grey pinstriped Sport-Tex centre panels and embossed Porsche crests on the front headrests. This exclusive upholstery is based on the Macan’s Black leather package, and therefore features silver stitching on the seat bolsters, headrests, and steering wheel rim.
Up until now the “T” designation has never been used outside of Porsche’s 718 and 911 sports cars lines, and due to this the Macan T is the first Porsche with steel suspension components to bear the name, plus the first four-door model to do so. T, which stands for Touring in Porsche-speak, was originally used for the 1968 911 T, but now is a trim level that designates lightweight, affordable performance, particularly emphasizing handling dynamics.
To this end the new Macan T’s suspension is lowered by 15 mm and comes standard with Porsche Active Suspension Management (PASM), although take note that a further 10 mm drop can be achieved by opting for the brand’s adaptive air suspension. Porsche Traction Management (PTM) all-wheel drive is also standard, which is expected, but it receives more rear torque bias in the Macan T in order to improve at-the-limit cornering. Additional standard features include stiffer front anti-roll bars and specific chassis tuning that Porsche says is “the perfect suspension for the vehicle and powertrain.” Additionally, those opting for the Macan T’s available Porsche Torque Vectoring Plus system will find that it’s been further retuned to enhance performance through tight, fast-paced curves.
Upgraded powertrain is identical to entry-level 2022 Macan
As part of its 2022 refresh, the base four-cylinder engine received a bump up from 248 horsepower to 261 hp, and 273 lb-ft of torque to 295 lb-ft, which translates into much stronger get-up-and-go. In fact, the model’s zero to 100 km/h sprint time has been reduced by 0.2 seconds, from 6.7 seconds to 6.5 in the new model, while base models upgraded with the Sport Chrono package see their sprint times drop from 6.4 seconds to 6.2. The Macan T comes standard with the Sport Chrono package, so it benefits from quicker acceleration, while its top track speed is limited to 232 km/h.
Along with the Sport Chrono package is a dash-top mounted stopwatch/lap timer, plus a convenient steering wheel-mounted Sport Response button that makes switching between drive modes quick and easy. This can be used to shorten the shift increments of its standard seven-speed dual-clutch automated Porsche’s Doppelkupplung (PDK) transmission, the latter standard across the entire Macan line.
Speaking of alternative Macan models, those wanting more straight-line performance can choose the revised 348-hp 2022 Macan S that hightails it from zero to 100 km/h in only 4.8 seconds, while the latest 434-hp Macan GTS blasts from standstill to the same speed in just 4.5 seconds, which incidentally was the previous Macan Turbo’s sprint time.
Macan T slots in between base Macan and Macan S trims
The Macan GTS costs a cool $85,500, by the way, which is fair value considering its performance and Porsche pedigree, while the Macan S will set owners back a much more affordable $70,600. The new Macan T will fit right in between the S and base model, the latter of which starts at just $58,500, plus it benefits from the four-cylinder engine’s considerably lower running costs when it comes to fuel-efficiency. Currently we only have the base model’s numbers of 12.2 L/100km in the city, 10.2 on the highway and 11.3 combined, but these shouldn’t change in its transition to T trim, whereas the 2022 Macan S is rated at 13.1 in the city, 9.6 on the highway and 11.5 combined, and GTS at 13.5 city, 10.5 highway and 12.2 combined.
Macan T pricing and detailed ordering info will be announced early this spring, but take note that all of the other models mentioned can currently be had with factory leasing and financing rates from zero percent. Check out CarCostCanada’s 2022 Porsche Macan Canada Prices page for more detailed info, plus the ability to price out each Macan trim including options on their configuration tool. CarCostCanada will also keep you apprised of any other manufacturer deals, like rebates, if you become a member, and you’ll always have access to dealer invoice pricing info, which can help you save thousands when negotiating your next new vehicle deal. In fact, CarCostCanada members are saving an average of $1,250 when purchasing the new Macan, impressive considering how tight inventories are these days, so be sure to check out how their system works and definitely download their free app from the Google Play store or Apple Store.
Dare forward: the new Porsche Macan T (0:54):
Story credits: Trevor Hofmann
Photo credits: Porsche
Honda is calling 2022 the “Year of the Crossover,” partially due to 2021 being the year of their 11th-generation Civic, but more specifically because of two very important upcoming SUV releases. Top…
Honda is calling 2022 the “Year of the Crossover,” partially due to 2021 being the year of their 11th-generation Civic, but more specifically because of two very important upcoming SUV releases. Top of the list will be a complete redesign of Honda’s best-selling CR-V, expected later this year as a 2023 model, but the smaller 2023 HR-V that’s teased here in two artist’s renderings, is at least as critical for its entry-level gateway position.
The subcompact crossover SUV class has gained a lot of traction in recent years, growing from just eight models in 2010, to a shocking 27 now, and while the current HR-V is no longer the segment’s top-seller, it’s done very well for a design that’s been around for almost a decade with only one mid-cycle refresh.
To be clear, the HR-V arrived to the Canadian market in June of 2015, but it was already two years old and in its second-generation. Amazingly, despite arriving halfway through the year, it managed second in sales for the category, only beaten by Kia’s Soul, while it narrowly missed the top spot by just 301 units in 2016. Calendar year 2017 saw the HR-V rise right up to the top with 14,149 deliveries, but that triumph was quickly quelled when Nissan’s ultra-affordable Qashqai hit the streets in 2018, followed by the current sales-leading Hyundai Kona that sold a whopping 25,817 units in 2019, plus 31,733 in 2020 (despite the health crisis). What’s more, even though a microchip shortage caused calamity through last year’s auto production, the Kona nearly equaled 2020 results with a total of 31,101 units down Canadian roads in 2021.
Comparatively, the aging HR-V placed sixth in Canada’s subcompact crossover segment last year, with 11,616 deliveries, allowing it to narrowly edge out the smaller Hyundai Venue that found 11,548 buyers, plus the Mazda CX-30 that managed a strong 11,407 unit-sales. Additionally, it fell marginally behind Nissan’s Qashqai that overtook its Japanese rival with 11,972 examples sold. The second-place Subaru Crosstrek attracted more subcompact SUV buyers than the HR-V as well, with 23,342 unit-sales, while the third-ranking Nissan Kicks did likewise with 18,750 deliveries. Finally, the Kia Seltos managed fourth thanks to 14,436 new owners in 2021. While it might appear as if HR-V sales are much below average, keep in mind that it still outsold 19 mainstream volume-branded subcompact SUV competitors, which is no small feat.
A much better HR-V story gets told south of our border, mind you, where Honda was able to sell a staggering 137,090 units last year, which is almost 10,000 more than the U.S. subcompact SUV segment’s next-best-selling Crosstrek. Exactly how they upped year-over-year sales by more than 63 percent in 2021 is anyone’s guess outside of the brand’s inner circle, and it wasn’t only because the model took a slight dive in 2020. In fact, sales were up more than 38 percent from 2019, but it may have come down to available microchips in a market that made many vehicles hard to get.
Being that the second-generation HR-V was based on the back of the now discontinued (in North America) entry-level Fit hatchback, it was always much more accommodating than its diminutive dimensions let on. Just like the Fit, the HR-V boasts an extremely low cargo floor, plus an ultra-flexible 60/40-split rear “Magic Seat” that comes with backrests that fold down in the traditional way for carrying larger cargo loads, plus lower cushions that flip upwards, pickup truck style, for stowing taller items on the second-row passenger compartment’s floor. The innovative packaging allows it to compete with larger subcompact models like the Qashqai, Crosstrek, Seltos, CX-30 and new Toyota Corolla Cross, despite being externally sized more closely to the Kona, Kicks and Toyota C-HR. This makes it significantly larger than a Venue, incidentally, the smallest crossover currently available in our market.
If you happen to follow global automotive news you might already realize Honda debuted the updated Japanese Domestic Market version of the HR-V in 2021. It’s named Vezel in Japan, while the same SUV replaced the first-generation HR-V in Europe. That new model features an identical 2,610 mm (102.8 in) wheelbase as the outgoing model and our current HR-V, plus approximately the same overall length of 4,330 mm (170.5 in), the previous generation spanning 4,295 to 4,335 mm (169.1 to 170.7 in) from nose to tail depending on markets and trims. It’s just 20 mm (0.8 in) wider too, at 1,790 mm (70.5 in), and slightly lower overall at 1,580 to 1,590 mm (62.2 to 62.6 in) when compared to 1,605 to 1,610 mm (63.2 to 63.4 in) for the previous model, the latter difference likely dependant on tire choices.
This said, our second-generation HR-V (the third-generation globally) will be North American-specific and therefore won’t necessarily share the Japanese/European model’s platform. Instead, there’s a greater chance we’ll see it riding on a version of Civic/Insight and CR-V underpinnings, not to mention the new Acura Integra (a.k.a. ILX), which means it should receive a stronger powertrain, plus possibly the option of a sportier and/or fuel-friendly hybrid model too, as well as the continuation of Honda’s Real Time all-wheel drive.
Currently, our 2022 HR-V is available with front- and all-wheel drivetrains, while employing Honda’s 1.8-litre inline four-cylinder engine and continuously variable transmission (CVT) across the line. The engine is good for 141 horsepower and 127 lb-ft of torque no matter the trim, and as verified by the HR-V’s continued popularity it’s been potent enough for most peoples’ needs.
Probably more important than performance in this class is efficiency, and to that end today’s HR-V gets a claimed five-cycle rating of 8.4 L/100km in the city, 7.0 on the highway and 7.8 combined with FWD, plus 8.8 city, 7.5 highway and 8.2 combined with AWD, and lastly 9.1, 7.7 and 8.5 respectively with the sportier AV7 version of the same transmission, which makes it fairly stingy for the segment.
It’s difficult to say if Honda will be able to maintain the second-generation’s miserly ways with a larger 2.0-litre powertrain if incorporated into the design, especially considering the subcompact SUV will also grow in size and weight, but that 200-cc larger engine is rated at 7.7 L/100km city, 6.0 highway and 6.9 combined in the 2022 Civic Sedan, which also uses a CVT and FWD, so there’s no reason to think it will be much thirstier in a slightly taller crossover. That engine also puts out a much more suitable 158 horsepower and 138 lb-ft of torque, which should more than make up for the renewed 2023 HR-V’s size and weight gain.
Other possibilities include a hybrid variant, at least in markets where Honda can make a viable business case for selling one. Unfortunately, infinitesimal Insight sales in Canada, due to higher pricing than electrified competitors, plus no CR-V Hybrid availability at all, make it appear that moving large numbers of hybrids hasn’t been Honda Canada’s priority in recent years, a shame considering how well it once did with the Civic Hybrid.
Still, it only makes sense the Japanese brand will eventually want to put forth a serious hybrid or electric challenger North of the 49th (Accord Hybrid aside). After all, despite our relatively small population, Canada remains the 13th largest automotive market globally. If Honda does choose to sell a hybrid variant into North America, they’d have the option of the 129-horsepower electrified drivetrain currently offered to European HR-V customers, or the 151-hp setup provided in our Insight sedan, the latter probably more suitable to buyers in our market.
All said, it’s impossible to know if a larger HR-V will return more sales than the current model. Of course, redesigns normally produce an immediate spike in activity, but being that we have so many brands selling multiple models into this class, and the sales results of their smaller and larger models vary dramatically, we need to believe that Honda has based its decision to produce a larger HR-V on extensive market research, because changing up their highly successful subcompact SUV formula poses a significant risk. What’s more, if Honda isn’t able to integrate its versatile Magic Seat system into the new design, usable cargo space may not increase. Loyal HR-V owners will be collectively hoping they do.
When it comes to styling, what we can gather from the artist’s rendering is a vastly more appealing crossover SUV, even discounting the added width, tire/wheel sizes and other visual tricks artists play when rendering prototype vehicles. The upcoming HR-V appears to be a sportier, tougher looking crossover, with an attractive new grille design that seems to frown instead of smile. This more menacing theme has worked well for Toyota trucks and SUVs, while the C-shaped glossy-black corner vents are so similar to the outgoing Acura RDX’ (pre-facelift) that one has to assume we’ll also be getting a spin-off for Honda’s luxury brand. An ADX with the Civic’s optional 180-horsepower turbocharged engine, anyone? How about an optional 200-hp Type S? Its powertrain could easily be pulled from the Civic Si. That would give the Lexus UX a run for its money.
The rendering’s rear styling shows enlarged taillight clusters bearing some semblance to the current model’s design, not to mention a respectful nod to past Civic models, particularly the eighth-generation sedan. It’s also easy to see additional Acura influences on the backside of the new HR-V, so it will be interesting to find out how the finished product looks.
As for the interior, small crossover SUVs are often where automakers let their proverbial hair down in order to have some fun. Just the same, Honda did no such thing with the domestic-market Vezel, which gets a fairly staid, conservative dash design, featuring only the slightest bit of creativity around the centre stack (see the gallery for photos).
In the end, these two renderings only serve to tell us that an “all-new HR-V will launch in North America this year,” further promising to be both “sporty and versatile,” or so says the two-line press release. Thankfully, we shouldn’t have to wait very long to find out.
Story credits: Trevor Hofmann
Photo credits: Honda
Two weeks of living with two trims of Kia’s latest Seltos, and it’s now easy for me to understand why this little crossover has become such a popular option in the subcompact SUV segment. The Seltos…
Two weeks of living with two trims of Kia’s latest Seltos, and it’s now easy for me to understand why this little crossover has become such a popular option in the subcompact SUV segment.
The Seltos came out of nowhere in 2020, only to rise up to fourth overall in a category with no less than 22 offerings last year (it’s grown to 25 since). This just might be unprecedented success, and is especially impressive when considering that Kia already offers the eighth-placed Soul and 18th most popular Niro. The Soul, incidentally, is available in regular internal combustion or electric variants, whereas the Niro comes with conventional, plug-in hybrid, or EV powertrains. The Seltos is only gasoline-powered so far, which says a lot about our current purchasing habits when contrasted against the direction our various governments and many special interest groups are pointing us in, although hybrid and/or EV powertrains will likely follow thanks to shared architecture with the Hyundai Kona Electric.
Hyundai-Kia’s B-SUV platform (that’s formed off the back of the Rio’s K2 platform) is a major Seltos positive, as the Kona, in regular or EV form, a good SUV to share underpinnings with considering its number-one position in segment sales, with a lead of nearly one-third over the next-most-popular Subaru Crosstrek.
The Canadian numbers were 31,733 to 22,161 units in 2020, while the third-place Nissan Kicks managed 14,149 deliveries, and fourth-place Seltos came close to achieving podium placement with 13,016 sold examples of its own. It skipped right by some category diehards too, such as Honda’s (somewhat long-in-tooth) HR-V that was only able to pull in 12,068 sales, Nissan’s Qashqai at 11,074 units, Hyundai’s Venue with 10,740 deliveries, and the Soul with 9,869. The rest are all in the four figures, some like Jeep’s Renegade and Fiat’s 500X (basically the same SUV under very different skins) only capable of finding 362 and 35 respective buyers apiece.
To be clear, the subcompact crossover SUV segment is really split up into two parts, with the Seltos slightly larger than some of those just mentioned, particularly Nissan’s Kicks and Hyundai’s Venue. While most expect something smaller to arrive in Kia’s lineup soon, along the lines of the truly subcompact Venue, the $21,295 Soul claims that spot for now, despite being almost identical to the Seltos in cabin size and cargo capacity. Your reasons for choosing either will come down to personal styling preferences, plus the $23,395 Seltos’ more modern dash layout, how the two drive (electrically-enhanced included), and possibly the need to save a couple of thousand for a non-EV Soul, whereas the significantly smaller Venue is better suited to four occupants and much less gear, albeit for considerably less initial money (with a base of $18,199) and better ongoing fuel economy (I covered the 2021 Venue here).
It might also be helpful to understand some of the industry trends, and particularly how Hyundai and Kia fit in with respect to this. The macro trend sees car buyers migrating to crossover SUVs, and to that end Hyundai now uses its Venue as the most affordable gateway into its brand, having discontinued its subcompact Accent 5 Door hatchback after the 2020 model year (and Accent sedan before that). Kia, on the other hand, still sells its Rio 5 Door, having only dropped the four-door sedan version of this car after 2020, and by so doing makes sure that its conquest pathway is much more affordable. Where Hyundai is now asking $3,250 more for a Venue than it was for an Accent, Kia is able to pull in buyers with budgets of $17,295 (which admittedly is much pricier than the previous $15,495 2020 Rio 5-Door or even more affordable $14,845 2019 Rio sedan—notably the 2020 Rio sedan wasn’t available in cheaper LX trim at all, causing that year’s base LX+ sedan to start at $18,045), and a 5- to 10-percent difference is a lot when on a tight budget.
Comparatively to either the Rio or Venue, the Seltos might seem like a luxury SUV. First off, it appears more upscale from the outside than either, with a sportier character than the cute, albeit somewhat awkward looking Hyundai; the Venue’s big grille on a small SUV styling won’t be for everyone. The Seltos’ lines are comparatively clean, uncluttered, and, to my eyes at least, attractive, starting with a wide, relatively narrow front grille opening, and expanding outward via stepped headlamp clusters, which include a set of unique-looking LEDs in top-level trims. A tight, tidy rear design incorporates a good helping of metal brightwork and optional LED tail lamps, while attractive 16-, 17- and 18-inch alloy wheels can be found across the entire line.
Specifically, the 16-inch alloys are only included with the base Seltos SX FWD model, meaning the move up to SX AWD pushes wheel-size out another inch. All other trims include standard AWD, while the wheels remain 17 inches in diameter right up to the SX Turbo, that gets gorgeous machine-finished 18s with cool red-accented centre caps, although the mid-range EX Premium (one step above the EX) includes a sharp set of machine-finished 17-inch rims.
The two models I tested over a back-to-back two-week stint included EX and SX trims, the former featuring the more fuel-economy-oriented Atkinson-cycle enhanced 2.0-litre four-cylinder engine making 146 horsepower and 132 lb-ft of torque, while mated to a continuously variable transmission (CVT). The latter, on the other hand, came standard with the brand’s 1.6-litre direct-injection Turbo, resulting in a more spirited 175 horsepower and 195 lb-ft of torque, plus a much quicker shifting seven-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission. These two very unique trims gave me a good feel for what Kia has on offer across the entire Seltos range.
The lesser EX model is seen here in Neptune Blue, with its 17-inch grey-painted twinned five-spoke alloys, whereas the top-line SX Turbo wears Lunar Orange, along with the sportier 18-inch rims I mentioned a moment ago. Both are premium paints that incur a reasonable $250 upcharge, this being the same for all eight colour options except base Onyx black.
Rather than pore over feature details, all of which you can look up for yourself on the automaker’s retail website, I’ll cover some of those items I particularly appreciated and/or found lacking in my test models, plus share my experiential notes, continuing from previous exterior styling comments over to thoughts about the interior, especially its more conventional hooded instrument panel layout and tablet-style infotainment display than the more premium Mercedes-like dual-screen setup found in the recently updated mid-size Sorento and upcoming (slightly larger than its predecessor) compact 2023 Sportage (which looks similar to what I’ve already tested in the 2022 Hyundai Tucson).
The more futuristic dash design appears to be the way Kia is going, having even updated its various looks and functionality since the fabulous Telluride that I covered a few months ago. Instead, the Seltos’ dash layout appears more like the Niro’s and other older models. It’s highly utile, with a nicely shrouded hood shading dual analogue dials bookending a 3.5-inch, colour multi-information display in the EX, and larger, more versatile 7.0-inch Supervision LCD/TFT display in the SX. The former provides visual indication that the automatic high beams are active, something I really appreciated, plus dynamic cruise control info, while latter does both and much more.
Still, after experiencing Kia’s newer design layout in other models, I the current iteration comes across a tad dated, despite being complemented by a very helpful head-up display (HUD) system that projects key info onto the windshield ahead of the driver, something not seen too often in this class. For reference, I find the same when comparing a similarly-sized Mercedes GLB to anything in its class, not that the German and Korean models should be compared in any other way, especially when it comes to pricing.
The Seltos does provide a very refined interior for the subcompact SUV class, however, with my EX-tester even including the same perforated Sofino faux-leather seat upholstery as my top-tier SX Turbo, which I initially thought was the real deal. The EX didn’t include the SX’ powered driver’s seat, mind you, or its two-way powered lumbar support, but was comfortable nonetheless, as were the two crossovers’ shared leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob, although the EX model’s gloss-black dash facing wasn’t quite as upscale as the SX trim’s padded and stitched leatherette bolster, which even extends under the larger centre display as well as to the left side of the primary gauge binnacle and steering column—good to see you get something for the extra coin.
There are more upgrades, of course, despite EX and SX models sharing the just-noted gloss-black trim on the steering wheel spokes, lower centre console surfacing, and door inlays, as well as identical single-zone automatic climate control interfaces, solar glass front windows, and chromed grille insert, satin chrome beltline trim, and aforementioned LED taillights (that transition from incandescent bulbs in EX trim), not to mention unseen but important (to some) features like Blind-spot Collision Avoidance Assist (in place of the base model’s Blind-spot Collision Warning), Lane Keep Assist, Lane Follow Assist, and Rear Cross-Traffic Collision Avoidance Assist (in place of the LX’ simpler Rear Cross-traffic Alert), as well as a raft of features pulled up from base LX trim.
Somehow, I completely lost track of detailing the Seltos’ interior refinement, not even mentioning both models’ stylish satin silver trim that helped make me feel as if I was in a much more upscale SUV than its aforementioned pricing should allow, or for that matter its nicely stitched leatherette gearshift boot, softly padded leatherette side and centre armrests (front to back for the former and covering a handy storage bin for the latter), while the folding rear centre armrest, filled with the usual twin cupholders, is exclusive to EX and SX trims. Lacking, sadly, were soft-touch door uppers in either trim or row, the two models’ identical inner door skins leaving me somewhat disappointed due to Kia having spoiled me to expect more from entry-level models than other brands, which admittedly don’t necessarily upgrade their equivalent rides to such high levels of luxury either.
Some features that differentiate both the SX and EX Premium from the regular EX trim include the previously noted LED headlights and LED fog lamps, the upgraded instrument cluster, auto-dimming rearview mirror, multi-directional power-adjustable front seats and two-way powered lumbar support for the driver’s seat, plus three-way air-cooled front seats to go along with all lesser models’ three-way heatable front cushions, and the EX (and above) heated steering wheel rim, not to mention warming outboard rear positions for the EX Premium and SX models, as well as a larger and much improved 10.25-inch infotainment touchscreen (instead of the 8.0-inch base display) with integrated navigation and UVO Intelligence-connected car services, along with Satellite radio, a wireless phone charger, adaptive cruise control with Highway Drive Assist (a Level 2 advanced semi-autonomous “self-driving” assistance system designed for limited-access highways), an electromechanical parking brake, Advanced forward collision-avoidance assist (improving on the EX trim’s Forward collision-avoidance assist), ambient mood lighting, a rear cargo privacy cover, and more.
I should say more about the upgraded infotainment touchscreen, plus the smaller one found in the EX and below, specifically that both are very good and include Apple CarPlay, plus Android Auto smartphone integration. My somewhat outdated Samsung S9 hooked up to the latter easily and working flawlessly throughout both test weeks, whereas the SX’ exclusive navigation system was also easy to use and completely accurate. The general look of the displays should be attractive to most, while both backup cameras were bright, clear and included moving guidelines.
A powered glass sunroof hovered above front occupants in both models, with controls found on an attractive overhead console, this even including LED reading laps complemented by another set of LED overhead lights in back.
Aforementioned wheel upgrades and HUD aside, the SX gains exclusive chromed door handles, rain sensing wipers, bright metal interior door handles, and possibly best of all, an eight-speaker Bose premium sound system that includes four door-mounted speakers, a centre speaker, two door-mounted tweeters, and a separate subwoofer, all of which are powered by an external amp. The sound was very good for the class, and thanks to the satellite radio upgrade mentioned earlier, was capable of being tested via many music genres.
As noted earlier, both trims’ driver seats were comfortable, with an edge to the SX due to its adjustable lumbar, while the Seltos’ driving position is excellent, even for my long-legged, short-torso frame. The tilt and telescopic steering column had enough rearward reach to provide comfort with more than enough control, and I certainly had ample space in all directions for movement.
Likewise, in the back, where both trims’ seats were comfortable, and plenty of legroom, head space and side-to-side roominess could be found. Cargo capacity is good for the class too, with 752 dedicated litres (26.5 cubic feet), as well as 1,778 litres (62.8 cu ft) when both sides of its 60/40-split rear seatbacks are folded (mostly) flat.
Back up in the driver’s seat, I won’t go so far as to say the Seltos EX was particularly quicker than its base competition off the line, but it felt sportier through the curves than most rivals. Even this lower powered model included a slick rotating drive mode selector next to the gear lever for choosing regular Normal mode, an auto-select Smart mode, and Sport mode capabilities, all of which provided unique characteristics that were easily definable. Of course, all of this was heightened when at the wheel of the more potent SX, especially transmission response, which reacted faster to inputs than almost anything else in the class.
This is where your personal priorities will be exposed, aforementioned upgrades aside, because the two SUVs offer very different driving experiences. I found myself more relaxed in the EX, or at least I was less likely to dig my right foot into the throttle, because the result was less rewarding. Certainly, it got up and went with little hesitation and progressed through the gears fast enough for some spirited driving, even spinning right up to its 6,500-rpm rev limiter before making surprisingly convincing “pseudo” shifts, but by nature a CVT focuses more on fuel-efficiency than rapid, satisfying acceleration. Nevertheless, Kia could differentiate these trims even further by including paddle-shifters with the SX… just saying.
The dual-clutch gearbox and more powerful turbocharged engine didn’t overly impact efficiency either, or at least the SX was stingy enough for me at 9.4 L/100km city, 7.9 highway and 8.7 combined, compared to 8.8 city, 7.6 highway and 8.2 combined with the EX (or LX AWD), or 8.2, 7.1 and 7.7 respectively for the LX FWD. All in all, the SX’ level of performance should make the move upmarket worthwhile those who can afford a little extra investment.
As with everything else in this class, the various drive modes don’t impact the Seltos’ suspension setup, which, while fine for everyday driving, might hold you back a bit when pushing fast and hard through winding terrain, where the EX felt a bit more unsettled than the SX. This was probably, at least partially due to the difference in rolling rubber, the lesser model’s 215/55R17 Kumho Solus all-seasons not quite as grippy as the larger-diameter 235/45R18 Kumho Majesty tires (have to wonder where they came up with that name).
What matters more in this class, however, is ride quality, which was very good for both trims. In fact, I’d be quite happy with either as my daily driver. I found the previously noted self-driving mode was a bit more relaxing during highway excursions too, and I was pleasantly surprised to find anything so technologically advanced in this category at all, although it should be noted others in this segment are stepping up with similar systems.
Still, it remains easy to understand why Kia’s Seltos is selling so well. It’s a great looking little crossover SUV, is well made, impressively finished, well-featured in every trim, attractively priced, plenty efficient, and even fairly fun to drive with its mid-range powertrain, plus downright fun when upgraded to the SX. Add to this its two-year, 40,000-km longer-than-average (mostly) bumper-to-bumper warranty, spanning five years or 100,000 km, and it’s an easier decision.
Truly, the most difficult choice in this class might come down to this Seltos or its Hyundai Kona cousin (with a similar warranty), proving the South Korean automaker understands the benefits of creating its own competition. When push comes to shove, both SUVs are more than worthy of your attention. I’d recommend looking over some of the others in this class too, but for the time being these are leading the back for good reason.
Review and photos by Trevor Hofmann
In the automotive industry, especially the premium sector, there’s no set formula a brand can simply follow in order to find success. Lexus and Infiniti both arrived on the North American luxury scene…
In the automotive industry, especially the premium sector, there’s no set formula a brand can simply follow in order to find success. Lexus and Infiniti both arrived on the North American luxury scene around the same time in 1989, about three years after Acura, but Lexus has achieved far greater overall sales success than the other two Japanese marques.
Last year, Lexus sold 23,793 new vehicles into the Canadian market and 275,042 units in the U.S., while Acura sold 16,712 and 136,982 cars and crossovers respectively, but Infiniti found just 5,786 and 79,503 buyers. Where Lexus placed fourth in both markets, and Acura a respectable fifth and seventh, Infiniti only managed 12th out of 17 luxury brands (including Buick and Mini, but not Maserati, Bentley, etcetera).
The same scenario has played out in separate segments, where Lexus’ RX has dominated in the two-row mid-size SUV arena and Acura’s MDX amongst three-row mid-size utilities, whereas the latter brand’s RDX has mostly topped the Canadian sales charts in the compact luxury SUV class, although in the US it’s dropped down the podium thanks to Lexus’ NX that sat in second place as of the close of 2020.
Infiniti should be given a shout out for helping to initiate the subcompact luxury SUV category along with Mercedes-Benz, the two brand’s codeveloping the GLA and QX30, but alas the latter left the market after 2019, just when Lexus swooped in to sweep up the spoils with its tiny UX. That ultra-angled utility now sits third in the Canadian subcompact luxury SUV segment and sixth in the U.S., behind Buick’s Encore and Audi’ Q3 in the northern jurisdiction, plus the just-noted GLA, Volvo’s XC40, and Mercedes’ slightly larger GLB in the mostly southern nation.
Acura has yet to offer anything in this class, which is odd considering Mini and Jaguar, two of the slower selling brands in the premium sector, do. Even Alfa Romeo will enter the fray with their Tonale next year, so we may eventually see a CDX, as the rumour-mill has been calling it, at some point in the future. As it is, the Encore, Q3 and UX are followed by the BMW X1, XC40, GLB, Mini Countryman, GLA, Range Rover Evoque, the coupe-like BMW X2, and the Jaguar E-Pace. As for others that might come down the pipeline, Cadillac is enjoying a reasonable take-rate for its larger compact XT4, so an XT3 could potentially be based on Buick’s slightly larger new Encore GX, and we’ve got to expect that Hyundai’s upstart Genesis brand will want in on some of this action too.
This is becoming the entry-level gateway for many luxury brands, after all. Lexus gave up on its smallest CT 200h hatchback back in 2017, only leaving the Germans (including Mini) and Acura’s beleaguered ILX to fight over the remaining scraps, so it’s either join the subcompact luxury SUV party or hope you’ll manage to snag up-and-coming premium customers that bypass the subcompact sector altogether. That’s a choice most are finding too risky to take, hence the quick buildup of new offerings in this relatively new category, despite significantly lower sales than larger compact SUVs.
At first glance, it’s difficult to tell the UX shares underpinnings with Toyota’s CH-R, but of course a lot of cars and SUVs utilize the Japanese automaker’s TNGA-C platform architecture, including the Corolla and Prius. Where the CH-R is swoopy and curvaceous, the UX is all angles and sharp creases, plus its big spindle grille could never be mistaken for anything but a Lexus. A menacing set of LED headlamps, complete with Lexus’ checkmark signatures, hover above vertical corner vents for some sportiness, while at the rear, even more angular taillights appear as if they’re being stretched apart by a narrowing strip of LEDs at centre.
This seems as good a point as any to point out that I tested two different UX trims, both featuring Lexus’ electrified 250h AWD running gear, the Nebula Grey Pearl (more of a taupe) example featuring the regular body style and the Ultra White version dressed up with Lexus’ more performance-oriented F Sport design details. Rather than thinking that one is lesser than the other, I found the regular one classier and the F Sport, well, sportier, so your choice will come down to personal taste.
If you just want the sportier styling, Lexus makes a basic $2,000 F Sport Series 1 package available that adds a larger, more aggressive F SPORT front grille, LED fog lights and cornering lamps, as well as 18-inch F SPORT alloy wheels to the outside, and on the inside a digital primary gauge cluster, a three-spoke F SPORT steering wheel with paddle shifters, an F SPORT shift knob, active sound control that mimics shifts to make it feel like the continuously variable transmission is changing gears, special Nuluxe (breathable leatherette) F Sport seat upholstery (mine done out in two-tone Circuit Red), plus eight-way power-adjustable driver and front passenger sport seats.
If you want the same look with more goodies, the $8,800 F Sport Series 2 package includes all of the above before adding triple-beam LED adaptive headlamps, driver’s seat and side mirror memory with reverse auto-tilt, a full TFT instrument cluster, a head-up display that projects key info onto the windshield ahead of the driver, an auto-dimming rearview mirror, navigation with Destination Assist embedded within a larger 10.3-inch infotainment display that also includes Enform Remote, Enform Safety Connect, and Enform Service Connect, as well as a wireless device charging pad, an eight-speaker audio upgrade, a remote garage door opener, and a gesture-controlled (kick motion) powered rear liftgate.
The white UX 250h in the photos came with the latter package, while the taupe-coloured one included a $5,300 Luxury package that added many of the same features, such as the seat and mirror memory, head-up display, wireless charging, auto-dimming centre mirror, garage door opener, upgraded display with navigation and Enform functions, improved stereo, and gesture/powered rear hatch, plus on top of these it also came with a special Washi instrument panel design, a wallet-sized smart key, and Lexus’ Intuitive Parking Assist with Auto Braking, a.k.a. self-parking. My tester’s fabulous looking “Glazed Caramel” seat, dash bolster and door armrest upholstery is only available with the Luxury package too, an upgrade that really makes the interior look rich compared to the regular all-black colourway.
Speaking of all-black, the only other package Lexus is offering UX customers for 2021 is an $1,100 upgrade dubbed Black Line Special Edition, which rides the current wave of blackened trim replacing otherwise chrome accents (or in this case, mostly black, as there’s still some metal brightwork blinging up the side mirrors, side window surrounds, and branding/badging), with glossy black being added to the grille surround, wheels, and roof rails, plus the mirror caps that remain black even if choosing a non-black (or Caviar, as Lexus calls it) exterior colour, while inside it gets blue stitching around the inside of the black leather-wrapped steering wheel, and yet more blue accents elsewhere, while Lexus includes LED headlights with auto high beams for this package as well.
Attested by the sales numbers noted earlier, I’m not alone in liking the way this little SUV looks, either on the outside or from inside the cabin. The protruding instrument hood is bookended by the same types of control pods first used in Lexus’ now legendary LFA supercar, the one of the left for turning off the traction/stability control, and the right-side knob for switching between Normal, Sport, and Eco driving modes (the EV mode is a separate button found on the lower centre console). The instruments under the hood are digital, as noted above, so only similar to the LFA, from a design perspective, while the widescreen display atop the dash is a real feast for the eyes, thanks to the organic way Lexus laid it out, to the beautifully detailed colour graphics on the high-definition monitor itself.
It’s not a touchscreen, as it would be a bit too far to reach for most drivers, but Lexus has upgraded the old lower centre console-mounted joystick-style Remote Touch Interface with the newer RTI 2.0 touchpad that I prefer more, if only because it looks more up-to-date and takes up less space. It works well enough too, but then again, I’d rather have the option of a touchscreen, because, like most people, that’s what I’m used to.
The backup camera is excellent, thanks to the big, high-definition display and active guidelines, while the array of quick-access buttons and dials around the front portion of the centre armrest, just behind the trackpad, is an innovative way to search through and select infotainment features, of which there are plenty. Navigation is included in upper trims, of course, although I prefer using Android Auto via my smartphone, which is included with the UX, as is Apple CarPlay. A colourful array of climate controls show up on the centre display too, and while you can modulate them there, I appreciate the narrow strip of quick-access buttons just below on the centre stack, while a second row of switches incorporates buttons for the three-way heatable front seats and two-way heated steering wheel rim.
Overall, the UX is an enjoyable place to spend time, from the interior’s aesthetics to its overall comfort and roominess. The driver’s seat is generously adjustable and the powered steering column provides ample reach and rake that should allow for a good seating position no matter your body type, which isn’t always the case for my long-legged, short-torso frame. The seatback provided decent lower support too, the same for both cars, other than the two-way powered lumbar support that didn’t quite meet up to the small of my back. The F Sport’s front seats were certainly bolstered more effectively up by the shoulders, however, yet they’re designed to fit a wider backside than mine, so they’d probably do more to keep a larger person in place during fast cornering than me.
Despite the F Sport’s steering wheel looking sportier and receiving textured leather for its lower two-thirds, both rims felt equally thick and padded and therefore good in my hands, with identically comfortable thumb to optimize control. Of course, I preferred the paddles attached to the F Sport’s wheel more than merely shifting via the console-mounted gear lever on more luxuriously appointed UX, but honestly, I drove these little SUVs conservatively throughout each two-week stint, other than for testing purposes, so I doubt I would end up missing the paddles all that often if this were my regular daily driver.
Instead of taking advantage of this perfect segue into the UX’ driving dynamics, I best finish off my tour of the cabin, particularly how the rear seating area measured up to my average-sized (for a teenager) five-foot-eight stature. For starters, I wouldn’t try stuffing three adults into the second row, unless they’re smaller folk, but there should be plenty of space for two in all directions, no matter their shape or size. They shouldn’t be thrown around if you decide to get enthusiastic behind the wheel either, thanks to good bolstering in the outboard positions. They’re comfortable too, with decent lower back support, plus a wide armrest filled with cupholders folds down at centre to improve things more. Two USB charging ports can be found on the backside of the front console, just below a set of HVAC vents, but that’s it for rear seat luxuries.
As far as touchy-feely surfaces go, the entire dash-top is made from a pliable composite and includes a wonderfully upscale stitched and leather-wrapped section that visually flows all the way from the left side of the gauge cluster, under the centre display, to right side of the dash. This is joined by a padded section just below, ahead of the front passenger, which perfectly matches the back half of the door uppers and inserts. The front portion of those door uppers are finished in the same premium composite as the front dash section, which Lexus also finished the edges of the centre console in a really soft, plush leatherette to protect the inside knees of larger occupants from chafing. Other niceties include cloth-wrapped A pillars and touch-sensitive LED overhead lamps, while all of the switchgear was made from a high-grade dense plastic, with tight fitment and good damping. I was surprised, however, to learn that the rear door uppers were finished in hard plastic, which just isn’t good enough for this class, plus rear seat heaters aren’t available either.
The cargo compartment is luxurious enough too, with a nice quality of carpeting in all the expected places, plus chromed tie-down hooks at each corner, but Lexus didn’t go so far to add stainless steel sill plates. They did upgrade the 2021 UX 250h’s cargo floor with an adjustable section, however, which adds 141 litres (5 cu ft) to its dedicated volume, increasing from 481 (17) to 623 litres (22 cu ft). When folding the 60/40-split rear seats down, available stowage space increases to 1,231 litres (43.5 cu ft), but this brings up one of my lone complaints, the lack of a centre pass-through or even better 40/20/40 rear seat configuration.
I should also mention that all UX trims now come standard with blind-spot monitoring and rear cross-traffic alert as part of the Lexus Safety System 2.0 for 2021, which also includes the brand’s Pre-Collision System with Pedestrian Detection and Bicycle Detection, Lane Departure Alert with Steering Assist and Road Edge Detection, Lane Tracing Assist (LTA), All-Speed Range Dynamic Radar Cruise Control, and Automatic High Beam assisted headlamps.
Even before being upgraded, the 2020 UX received a five-star rating from the U.S. NHTSA (there was no info for the 2021 model), but the IIHS gave it Top Safety Pick status, with best-possible “G” (for good) ratings in all categories except for the headlights that received a worst-possible “P” (for poor) result due to excessive glare when using the low beams around sharp corners, plus only fair nighttime visibility scores in both sharp and gradual corners. I certainly didn’t notice any negatives after dark, but I’m not about to argue with America’s Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. The only utility in this class to earn higher Top Safety Pick Plus status was Volvo’s XC40, while Buick’s Encore GX was the only competitor to match the UX, albeit with a mixture of “A” (for acceptable) and “M” (for Moderate) headlight and child seat LATCH results. All others didn’t receive either Top Safety Pick honour, so kudos to Lexus for being much better than average.
Straight-line performance and at-the-limit handling aren’t better than average, however, but ride quality, quietness and other types of refinements are near the top, which means Lexus has managed to give its smallest, entry-level model a level of driving comfort and poise that comes near to matching the larger compact NX. The 250h is the UX you’ll want to own if the traction benefits of all-wheel drive are important to you, incidentally, thanks to an electric motor driving the rear wheels that automatically adjusts the torque-split between both front and rear axles. This improves handling when accelerating and cornering, especially when driving on slippery roads, plus it makes the UX easier to get off the line. The base UX 200 utilizes a front-wheel drivetrain, by the way, so the hybrid is really the way to go for both performance and fuel economy.
Regarding the former, the base UX 200 slots a 169-horsepower 2.0-litre four-cylinder engine behind its gaping grille, while the 250h gets a net horsepower rating of 181. As noted earlier, a CVT transmits torque to the front axle, resulting in power delivery that’s smooth and linear, rather than aggressive. Then again, the aforementioned active sound control made the F Sport version sound more exciting, and Sport mode (standard across the line) elevated performance parameters, improving shift response, but all said, this is probably the type of SUV best left in Eco mode more often than not, because that’s how you’ll eke out its impressive 5.7 L/100 city, 6.2 highway and 6.0 combined fuel economy rating, which gives the hybrid a significant edge over the base UX’ 8.0 city, 6.3 highway and 7.2 combined results.
This efficiency makes the UX 250h easy to live with, but the little luxury SUV’s resale value might pad your wallet even more when it comes time to trade-in or sell. It was deemed best-in-class in the “Premium Subcompact Utility Vehicle” category of J.D. Power’s 2021 Canada ALG Residual Value Awards, while it also came out on top in the “Luxury Compact SUV/Crossover” segment of Vincentric’s Best Value in Canada Awards.
Also notable, the UX was the highest ranked “Small Premium SUV” in J.D. Power’s 2021 Initial Quality Study, and tied for runner-up in the same third-party analytical firm’s 2021 U.S. Automotive Performance, Execution and Layout (APEAL) Study, while Lexus topped J.D. Power’s 2021 Vehicle Dependability Study, and is also the most reliable luxury brand according to Consumer Reports.
If that’s not enough to interest you in a new UX, consider that Lexus least expensive model starts below the $40k threshold, at $38,450 (plus freight and fees), which is the mid-point in this class, once again if we include Buick and Mini as luxury brands. The Encore starts at just $24,998, which really doesn’t qualify it for premium status in base form, but the price rises to more than $35k when loaded up, while the Encore GX can easily be optioned past $40k. The Countryman, on the other hand, starts at $32,990 and can be upgraded to almost $60k, so it definitely qualifies as a luxury contender. In fact, a fully loaded UX 250h, which starts at $40,250, doesn’t even break $50k, at $40,090 (plus freight and fees), while Lexus was throwing in up to $1,000 in additional incentives at the time of writing, as per CarCostCanada’s 2021 Lexus UX Canada Prices page.
Important for 2022, Lexus will eliminate the base UX 200 trim, causing the base price to rise to $40,700, so we’ll need to see how this impacts sales. I’m guessing not too much, because it this FWD variant wouldn’t be getting the axe if it sold well. If you’d rather have the initial savings of the less expensive UX, however, you’ll need to act quickly, if any are still available.
Whether you go for a 2021 UX or a 2022, you’ll be getting a very comfortable, well-appointed and efficient subcompact luxury SUV. It’s got to be one of the easiest vehicles to drive in any class, and thanks to its diminutive dimensions it’s even easier to park. If you, your partner, or child is learning to drive, or if they simply feel uncomfortable wielding a big, heavy utility around the city, yet appreciate the outward visibility gained from a small SUV’s ride height, this little Lexus is a very good choice. Of course, the UX can be seen as a smart decision for all the other reasons outlined in this review too, therefore it’s easy to recommend.
Review and photos by Trevor Hofmann
Interestingly, Mazda does much better per capita in Canada than the U.S., but this may be changing. It seems recent chip shortages and supply chain logistics problems have caused some shoppers to look…
Interestingly, Mazda does much better per capita in Canada than the U.S., but this may be changing. It seems recent chip shortages and supply chain logistics problems have caused some shoppers to look away from the brands they normally buy in order to get anything at all, which is allowing the automakers that planned ahead, or just got lucky, to scoop up new customers they may have never otherwise had the chance to acquire.
During July, a month that saw the U.S. automotive selling rate fall to an estimated 14.8 million units, according to Automotive News, the lowest since July of last year, Mazda sales leapt 36 percent upwards, leading every other brand. Even mighty Toyota was in Mazda’s sales growth shadow, albeit hardly doing poorly with gains of 33 percent, while Hyundai-Kia managed 29 percent, Volvo 19 percent, and Honda 8 percent. It wasn’t smiles all around the auto sector last month, however, with Subaru down 2.6 percent, and Ford, which until recently was the mightiest of all, tumbling 42 percent (all other automakers only report quarterly sales in the U.S.).
This positive momentum comes after a year that saw Mazda grow its sales by 0.19 percent, which while miniscule as far as numbers go, was nevertheless monstrous compared to every other brand selling into the U.S, all of which ended up in the negative last year. Consider that Kia saw the least downside with a 4.75 percentage drop in sales, while GMC lost 8.79 percent, Hyundai 9.66 percent, Volkswagen 10.02 percent, Chevrolet 11.12 percent, Toyota 11.86 percent, Subaru 12.59 percent, Jeep 13.86 percent, Ford 15.9 percent, Honda 16.61 percent, Nissan 33.25 percent, and Dodge a whopping 36.78 percent. Fiat’s 53.23-percent decline was worse still, but they have many more problems than any of the carmakers mentioned, plus they don’t compete in the CX-9’s market segment, so therefore on that note I chose to leave all mainstream volume brands that don’t offer a mid-size crossover SUV out of this equation.
If you think Mazda’s sales were strong in July, they’ve done even better year-to-date thanks to deliveries being up by more than 45 percent. July 2021 actually tallied up a second-best result for Mazda, but it achieved best-ever deliveries for the MX-5 (since 2006 no less), the CX-30, the CX-5, and this CX-9 being reviewed here. That’s impressive in a market that’s having trouble allocating vehicles at all, and especially so for two models that aren’t exactly spring chickens in their respective categories.
Today’s CX-5, while still in my opinion one of the best crossover SUVs available in the compact class, is nevertheless going on six years in its current second-generation design, while the CX-9, also in its second-generation, will soon move into its eighth year of availability without a mid-cycle refresh, compared to the first-generation that saw two facelifts over nine years. Kudos to Mazda for its Kodo design philosophy (not to be mistaken for my tester’s Kuro trim line), the latest iteration having certainly stood the test of time. I can appreciate the need for something new for the sake of being new, but the CX-9, or any of the other cars and crossovers in Mazda’s lineup, are hardly short on attractive styling, so a redesign isn’t quite as critical as it was for, say, Nissan’s outgoing Pathfinder.
This may be one reason the CX-9 currently sits alongside the Toyota Highlander as a runner up in the latest Canadian Black Book 2020 Best Retained Value Awards. In their “Mid-size Crossover-SUV” category, the two crossovers were only beat out by Toyota’s 4Runner, a body-on-frame SUV that really doesn’t compete with either, which means the Highlander and CX-9 are your best bets to hold on to more of your hard-earned money over the long haul.
This is one of the reasons I often recommend the CX-9, and all Mazda vehicles for that matter. Another reason, which probably aids in resale value as well, is interior refinement and materials quality, which Mazda has long executed better than most in this class. To be clear, others are starting to catch up with respect to the CX-9, a problem that would arise for any vehicle that’s been around so long, but regular updates, including genuine Santos Rosewood inlays along with quilted and piped Nappa leather in top-line Signature and 100th Anniversary trims, have gone a long way to enrich the CX-9 experience to near-premium levels when compared to less opulently attired competitors, while the specific Kuro Edition shown here, is more about blackening some metal brightwork and adding cool paint colours, while maintaining similar levels of luxury.
Ok, to be clear, while cool, black isn’t exactly unique, although Jet Black Mica is definitely more eye-catching than if it were dipped in plain old non-metallic ink. Then again, the Kuro model’s sole $200 colour option, Polymetal Grey Metallic, is both cool and unique, and much to my delight ended up decorating my weeklong tester. On that note, this Kuro Edition looks a lot fresher and more alluring than the regular CX-9, thanks to all the gloss-metallic-black trim mentioned a moment ago, which includes a sportier grille insert, mirror housings, and painted wheels, the latter in a twinned five-spoke design that measure 20 inches in diameter and come shod in 255/50 all-season tires.
Inside, it’s all Garnet Red leather upholstery (although black leather will also be available for 2021.5) over dark greys and blacks with some red stitching used to decorate the inner rim of the steering wheel, shifter boot, lower console surround and armrests, while some of the inky coloured surfaces were finished in piano black lacquered composite, suitable for the sporty theme, plus a stylish grey tone highlighted the dash front. The density of latter inlays seems as if they were made from a solid substance like wood, going even further to enhance the CX-9’s feeling of quality.
Of course, satin-finish aluminum-look accents join metal brightwork trim to bling up the design, all of which is complemented by high-quality workmanship and plenty of luxury details, such as fabric-wrapped A pillars, all the expected soft-touch surfaces and a couple of unexpected ones too, like the sides of the lower front console that are padded in leatherette to protect inside knees from chafing, and while the seat leather might not be ultra-rich Nappa that’s used in both Signature and 100th Anniversary trims, it’s still softer and suppler than plenty of others in this category.
Features are plentiful too. In fact, the Kuro is almost as well loaded up with goodies as the Signature, only lacking the trim upgrades mentioned multiple times already, as well as some visual enhancements such as satin-finish highlights where the Kuro uses metallic black and grey, as well as a better-looking frameless centre mirror, and exterior front grille illumination that’s pretty trick at night.
Both models incorporate most of the base GS model’s equipment too, of which some items worth mentioning include auto-on/off and auto-levelling LED headlights with auto high beams, LED daytime running lights, LED rear combination tail lights, rain-sensing wipers, noise-isolating windshield and front side glass, pushbutton start/stop, a leather-wrapped steering wheel rim and shift knob, an electromechanical parking brake, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto smartphone integration, two USB-A ports and an auxiliary input up front, SMS text message capability, tri-zone automatic climate control, three-way heatable front seats, and much more.
Kuro, Signature and 100th Anniversary models also include adaptive headlamps, LED fog lights, LED front and rear signature lighting, bright-finish lower body trim, piano black-finished exterior B and C pillars, a front wiper de-icer, power-folding side mirrors, and i-Activ AWD on the outside, while LED courtesy lamps light up all four doors (as well as for the front door pull handles and power window switches inside), and proximity-sensing remote entry gets driver and occupants inside.
That’s where the driver is greeted with a sporty albeit traditional looking three-binnacle gauge cluster filled with a large 7.0-inch LCD multi-information display, plus a head-up display on top of the dash that projects key info onto the windshield. It’s all framed by a heated steering wheel with ample rake and reach for most body types to feel both comfortable and in control, at least once they adjust the 10-way powered driver’s seat that even includes four-way powered lumbar, as well as two-way memory.
An eight-way power-adjustable front passenger’s seat with powered lumbar makes life better for anyone alongside, while both front occupants will enjoy the three-way ventilated seats, wireless device charger (that points a given phone’s screen away from the driver so as not to distract, but is a bit awkward to load into place), illuminated vanity mirrors, and a powered glass sunroof (Mazda doesn’t yet offer a panoramic glass roof).
Adaptive cruise control with stop and go (standard for 2021.5) benefits the driver alone, as does a Homelink universal transceiver, a 9.0-inch centre display (the 2021.5 comes standard with a 10.25-inch display that links through to new Mazda Connect Infotainment system, while that system’s unavailability for the first half of the year was the real reason for the big screen’s late introduction and point-five model year designation), not to mention a 360-degree surround parking monitor, an auto-dimming rearview mirror, front and rear parking sensors, plus a navigation system that mistakenly took me down a side road next to my home to a gated overpass that would’ve otherwise been impassable if not for my locals-only remote (see the photo gallery). The CX-9’s navigation worked flawlessly other than that, while I especially like how a full screen pictograph of an upcoming intersection’s sign automatically appears on the display when approaching, showing all available lanes while using an active arrow for pointing out the one you need to follow. The clearly defined colour graphics are especially helpful when sorting out complicated intersections.
All will appreciate the LED dome and reading lights overhead, plus the great sounding 12-speaker Bose audio system with Centerpoint 2 surround and SiriusXM satellite radio, while exclusive to those in back are two additional USB-A ports (apiece) in the second and third rows, plus a rear climate control interface, retractable second-row window sunshades, and heatable second-row captain’s chairs (that bookend a fixed rear centre armrest with integrated storage in 2021.5 models).
A hands-free powered liftgate provides access to 407 litres of dedicated cargo space, while lowering the 50/50-split rearmost seatbacks (via manual levers on the lower seatbacks) opens up luggage capacity up to 1,082 litres. There’s a total cargo volume of 2,017 litres when both rows are folded flat, but keep in mind the 2021.5 model’s second-row fixed centre console will get in the way when loading building materials or other large items (not that you can fit a four-by-eight sheet of Gyproc or plywood in back anyway).
Speaking of interior space, while the CX-9 isn’t the largest three-row crossover SUV on the market, it’s not the smallest either, fitting nicely in between the Chevrolet Traverse and Toyota Highlander, leaving its rearmost row sizeable enough for big kids and smaller adults, while second-row seating is very spacious and comfortable for all sizes and shapes.
Still, despite not being smallest, the CX-9 is a bit lighter than most of its rivals, which translates into good performance from a smaller 2.5-litre turbocharged four-cylinder engine that puts out a modest 250-horsepower when using 93 octane fuel (which most people will never do, due to high pump prices), or 227 horsepower with regular 87 octane gas. Torque matters more when hauling masses of people and cargo, however, and to that end the diminutive mill has you covered with 320 lb-ft of twist when using the pricier fuel, or 310 on the “cheap” stuff.
It certainly feels powerful off the line, although I must admit to driving solo most of the week, and only ever having a single passenger along for the ride every now and then. The CX-9’s ride is smooth and comforting too, and it’s plenty quiet inside as well, with very little wind, drivetrain or tire noise. Mazda includes a Sport mode for sharpening the six-speed automatic’s reflexes, which when slotting the gear lever into its manual position and utilizing the steering wheel-mounted paddle shifters, which are exclusive to Kuro trim and above, transforms the relatively large family hauler into a veritable “sport” utility. Of course, transitional weight tries to upset the fun, the CX-9 nowhere near as agile as the wonderfully tossable CX-5 (which incidentally can be had with the same powerplant for even quicker acceleration), but the larger Mazda lives up to the brand’s performance-oriented tradition quite well nonetheless.
That six-speed automatic might initially sound like a negative to some, but I must admit that I found driving an SUV with fewer forward gears than more modern designs hardly noticeable. Certainly, it would impact fuel economy, but then again, Mazda provides a lot more fuel-saving technologies than most of its peers, which is probably why it achieves a relatively thrifty claimed rating of 11.6 L/100km in the city, 9.1 on the highway, and 10.5 combined. Then again, a more advanced eight- or nine-speed autobox might help matters, being that the eight-speed-equipped Highlander AWD achieves an estimated 10.3 combined with its big 3.5-litre V6, although the Traverse AWD is rated at 11.8 combined despite housing a nine-speed auto under its centre console cowling.
On the positive, there’s something to be said for the CX-9’s quick, positive, snappy shifts, especially when compared with some automaker’s slushy CVTs, while Mazda’s six-speed has also been around long enough to earn credibility as a reliability leader. In fact, Mazda is number one in Consumer Reports latest auto reliability auto rankings, with 83 points compared to second-place Toyota’s 74. According to the popular magazine and consumer rating service, Mazda and Toyota regularly vie for top position, while the brand is also above average in the latest J.D. Power and Associates 2021 Vehicle Dependability Study.
The 2021 CX-9 also gets a five-star safety rating from the U.S. NHTSA, allowing for a best-possible Top Safety Pick+ rating as well, an impressive feat that some in this class, including the aforementioned Traverse, Ford’s Edge, Hyundai’s Santa Fe, plus Kia’s Sorento and Telluride, don’t achieve, while others can’t even manage to attain the latter group’s regular Top Safety Pick (without the plus) ranking.
Reasons for the top score include the CX-9’s sophisticated active LED headlamps, as well as standard advanced driver assistance features like Smart Brake Support Front, Smart City Brake Support Front, Distance Recognition Support System, Forward Obstruction Warning, Pedestrian Detection, Rear Cross Traffic Alert, Advanced Blind Spot Monitoring, Lane Departure Warning, and Lane-keep Assist, while trims including the Kuro Edition and above also add Smart City Brake Support Rear, Driver Attention Alert, and Traffic Sign Recognition.
As tested, a 2021 CX-9 Kuro Edition can be had for $50,300 plus freight and fees, while that price increases by $300 for the 2021.5 model year (well worth the price increase for the new infotainment system alone). Base GS trim, on the other hand, starts at a nice even $40,000, whereas Signature and 100th Anniversary trims will set you back $52,000 and $53,350 respectively.
In the end, the CX-9 is a good example of a well-designed crossover SUV lasting the test of time. Of course, plenty of minor updates and particularly nice trim additions, like this Kuro Edition, have helped keep it mostly current. There’s no news on a redesign yet, but plenty of rumours are targeting a release next year as a 2023 model. We’ll have to wait and see, but knowing Mazda, this 2021 should continue holding onto its value even when the new one arrives. That’s a key reason the CX-9 is easy to recommend.
Review and photos by Trevor Hofmann
The Murano has been with us for a long time, at least as far as crossovers are concerned. Sports car nameplates like Corvette, SL, 911 and Mustang date back to the mid-‘50s and ‘60s, while economy…
The Murano has been with us for a long time, at least as far as crossovers are concerned.
Sports car nameplates like Corvette, SL, 911 and Mustang date back to the mid-‘50s and ‘60s, while economy cars have a couple of old-timers in their midst too, particularly the Corolla and Civic that have been with us since 1968 and 1973 respectively. The oldest mid-size sedan still available is Honda’s Accord, which dates back to 1976, while BMW’s 3 Series holds title to the most seasoned compact luxury car name, having arrived in 1975, and Mercedes’ S-Class the most experienced premium four-door model of all, hailing from ’72.
Interestingly, two of the three oldest automotive names still in use denote SUVs, specifically Toyota’s Land Cruiser (albeit not in our market) that arrived in 1951, and Chevy’s Suburban that goes all the way back to 1935, making it the oldest surviving nameplate of all—the second-oldest vehicle name, incidentally, is Ford’s venerable F-Series that began life in 1948.
Excluding car-based unibody or integrated-frame models that started life as traditional body-on-frame SUVs, such as Jeep’s Wagoneer that helped initiate the sport utility craze way back in 1963, Chevy’s full-size Blazer that soon followed up in ‘68, Jeep’s Cherokee that took on the K5 in 1974 (along with GMC’s Jimmy that together with the Blazer more directly targeted Ford’s Bronco—the latter first arriving in 1965, with the full-size variant showing up in 1977), the just-noted blue-oval brand’s Explorer that became the go-to soccer mom conveyance in 1982, Jeep’s Grand Wagoneer that added a surprising amount of luxury to the original Wagoneer in 1984, Nissan’s Pathfinder that challenged the two-year-old Toyota 4Runner in 1985, Honda’s Passport that was nothing more than a rebadged Isuzu Rodeo (without the hilarious Joe Isuzu ads) in 1993, Hyundai’s Santa Fe that hit Canadian roads and trails in 2000, Kia’s Sorento that did likewise in 2002, the Grand Cherokee that successfully pulled in the premium SUV crowd in 1992, and the Dodge Durango (which currently shares the GC’s unibody underpinnings) that was a big hit in 1997, plus at the smaller end of the spectrum Kia’s Sportage that arrived on U.S. shores (with some pretty funny TV ads of its own) in 1993, yet wasn’t available in Canada until the end of the last millennia along with the entire Kia brand, the earliest purely crossover names I can think of that are still in existence have to be Toyota’s RAV4 and Subaru’s Outback, which both entered our market in 1994, with the Honda CR-V showing up a year later, the Subaru Forester in 1997, and the Ford Escape in 2000.
OK, I admit that intro was even long for my standards, not to mention one of the lengthiest run-on sentences I’ve written since, I don’t know, last week? Anyway, to get back to the plot, Nissan’s Murano, which dates back to 2002, is a time-tested name amongst mid-size crossover SUV forerunners, only pre-dated by Toyota’s Highlander that arrived two years earlier. Now that we’ve ventured so far down this rabbit hole, you might as well know that Honda’s Pilot entered the picture in 2003, Ford’s Edge, GMC’s Acadia and Mazda’s CX-9 showed up in 2006, while Chevy’s Traverse and the Toyota Venza arrived in 2008, with everything else no more than a decade old. Plenty of crossover names have come and gone too, but don’t worry, I’ll leave those for another look down memory lane at some point in the not-too-distant future.
I was on the Murano’s original Canadian press launch back in 2002, by the way, and I think it’s fair to say that it thoroughly impressed most of the auto scribes who drove it around Vancouver’s Fraser Valley on that cloudy day. It was one of, if not the first mid-size SUV with a continuously variable transmission that I’d ever driven (although not the first all-wheel drive vehicle with a CVT, that being my dad’s mid-‘80s Subaru Justy). Nowadays, an SUV with a CVT is hardly novel, but combined with its 245 horsepower 3.5-litre V6, standard all-wheel drivetrain, and nicely sorted chassis, it made for smooth yet sporty performance, while its styling really pushed boundaries for the time.
That first-generation Murano lasted just five model years, from 2003 to 2007, and while the second-gen Murano was better in every way, I didn’t find the styling as alluring during its heyday, but looking back its design probably aged better. Once again, powered solely by a 3.5-litre V6 (at least in our market), and mated to a CVT with standard AWD (plus FWD in the U.S.), albeit upgraded by 20 horsepower to 265, it was a force to be reckoned with in its two-row mid-size class, but after six model years, from 2009 to 2014, Nissan smartly updated it to the current design, which truly was as eye-popping when it came out as the original in the early aughts.
Now, seven years later, or eight if we include the upcoming 2022 model that will see no significant changes, the Murano is somewhat dated. Don’t get me wrong, as it’s still an attractive utility that remains sleeker and more progressive looking than many in its segment, but thanks to styling trends that are diverting away from sinuous curves and other types of organic forms to more abrupt angles combined with complex folds and creases, time has a way of making anything look old. Why Nissan has chosen to leave the Murano so long between updates, other than a subtle mid-cycle refresh that you’d need to be an owner to notice, is anyone’s guess, but this certainly hasn’t helped it remain near the top of the sales charts.
After six months of 2021, the Murano sits in fourth place amongst dedicated two-row crossover SUVs due to just 3,691 Canadian deliveries, which isn’t a bad ranking considering all the competition in this segment, not to mention all the challenges the automotive market has been facing over the past two years, but it’s a far cry from the success enjoyed in previous years, 2017 its best year ever at 15,120 unit-sales. Then again, when factoring in mid-size models that provide three rows, the Murano plunges to 12th place in the mid-size SUV segment. That’s a long downward slide from third in the two-row class and fifth overall in 2016, which at least in part shows the importance of regular redesigns.
So far this year, the top-selling model in the entire mid-size crossover SUV segment is Toyota’s Highlander with 10,403 units down the road, while Ford’s Explorer comes in second with 8,359 deliveries. Third is Hyundai’s Santa Fe with 7,514 new customers to its credit, while Jeep’s Grand Cherokee (arguably more of a true 4×4) is a close fourth at 7,234 units. I could go on, but it’s easy to see that Nissan’s five-occupant contender now lags far behind these front-runners, therefore a replacement is long past due.
Of course, the Murano was never a top-three player solely due to styling. Its single 3.5-litre V6, which was considered a no-cost bonus when pump prices were lower, is hardly the most fuel-efficient these days either, the AWD variant that I most recently tested achieving a less-than-ideal rating of 12.0 L/100km in the city, 8.5 on the highway and 10.4 combined, although at least now there’s a base FWD version in Canada for those wanting to reduce both initial and ongoing costs, thanks to a slight mileage improvement to 11.7, 8.3 and 10.2 respectively. How does that compare to others in the class?
It’s actually not that bad when sidled up to the segment-leading Highlander, at least when compared to its base 3.5-litre V6 that’s rated at 10.3 L/100km combined, but that model is available with a hybrid drivetrain as well, which allows for a much more appealing 6.7 L/100km estimated rating, plus the new five-passenger Venza, which is only available as a hybrid and targets the Murano more directly, ekes out a shockingly good 6.1 L/100km rating. The base Santa Fe isn’t as thrifty as the Venza at 9.1 L/100km combined, while the same SUV with AWD is rated at 9.9, but a new hybridized version is good for 7.4 combined (just how Toyota makes its Venza and Highlander Hybrid so efficient is anyone’s guess?). A more common comparison might be Ford’s Edge, which while doing better on the sales charts (despite the blue-oval brand’s especially difficult time allocating microchips), only slightly edges the Murano out when it comes to fuel economy at 9.8 for the FWD model and 10.0 with AWD.
Interestingly, the Murano was available as a hybrid in the U.S. market for one single model year, 2016, but Nissan didn’t have high hopes for the electrified model, with expectations of selling just 600 units, or about one percent of all the V6-powered Muranos sold the year prior. As it was, Nissan’s U.S. division had a stellar 12 months in 2016 with 86,953 Murano deliveries, but I’m guessing the take-rate on the Murano Hybrid was even worse than hoped for, because it was killed off before most potential buyers even found out it existed. At 8.1 L/100km combined (reached by converting its 29-mpg combined EPA rating), its fuel economy wasn’t as good as Toyota’s hybrid SUVs either, which might be why would-be buyers didn’t take the bait, but its combination of a supercharged 2.5-litre four-cylinder engine, electric motor, and lithium-ion battery pack certainly sounds intriguing.
Moving inside, a feature that especially ages badly in this modern age is in-car electronics, and to be kind the Murano could use an update to its primary gauge cluster and infotainment system. The former is actually pretty good, having received a big, colourful multi-information display back when this third-gen version was new. Of course, the graphics require some attention and the screen’s resolution isn’t exactly high-definition, but most users shouldn’t be put off, and it’s certainly packed full of useful features. This said, some of the Murano’s rivals are sporting fully digital driving displays that can even be configured for personal style and info, with some Korean models even integrating monitors that automatically project rear-facing cameras onto the display when using the turn signals, but the Murano’s electroluminescent dials to either side of the MID are wonderfully bright and easy to read in any lighting condition, plus they look really good.
As for the centre display, it’s a nice, straightforward touchscreen measuring a reasonable 8.0 inches and appearing unchanged over the past seven or so years, which of course is way too long for any user interface to go without a significant update. Again, its resolution is not up to today’s standards, and graphics, while colourful, are a bit remedial, plus its response times to inputs aren’t exactly the quickest. All the expected features are either standard or available, even including Apple CarPlay and Android Auto smartphone integration. My tester included a helpful overhead parking camera too, as well as a very accurate navigation system, which comes standard in all trims above base, while as-tested Platinum trim adds SiriusXM-powered NissanConnect Services for improving in-car safety, security and convenience.
Where the Murano continues to shine despite its age is in near premium levels of materials quality. Truly, it’ll make you wonder why Nissan didn’t just badge it with Infiniti’s logo, thanks to thickly padded fabric wrapping around each roof pillar, a soft composite dash top, an even nicer padded leatherette instrument hood complete with contrast stitching, the same high-quality surfacing used for the dash on the door uppers front to back, nicely padded door panels that stay pliable all the way down to the very bottom of the doors, yet more padded leatherette used around the outer edges of the centre console, and gorgeous diamond-quilted leather upholstery with breathable perforations covering the seats from front to back.
Nissan finished my tester’s cabin in a rich looking ivory-cream hue dubbed Cashmere, which while a tad challenging to keep clean, looked absolutely gorgeous (a more chocolaty Mocha colour is also available). While the hides on the seats were very real, and soft semi-aniline leather to boot, the matte-finish woodgrain inlays across the dash, centre console, centre armrest, plus door panels only looked and felt authentic, attributes that can also be lauded upon the satin-finish silver accents and chrome detailing found throughout the entire interior.
There’s a premium level of solidity to the Murano too, which few in this class measure up to. This likely comes from unseen features, such as thick insulation used within the doors and under the floor, not to mention overhead within the roof liner and outer panel, plus the bulkheads separating the engine compartment from passengers, etcetera. It all comes together to create a wonderful hush that once again feels more like what one would expect from an Infiniti, rather than a Nissan. In fact, this fully-loaded Murano comes close to matching the dearly-departed Infiniti QX70, a vehicle I particularly liked, especially due to its diamond-pattern upholstery.
The Murano Platinum’s seats are wonderfully comfortable too, and provide plenty of accommodation for larger body types. Nevertheless, my smallish five-foot-eight frame also fit in well, while the power steering column was able to reach far enough rearward to provide a good seating position for my somewhat awkward long-legged, short-torso body type, thus allowing for optimal comfort and control.
When seated behind the driver’s seat that, as just noted was setup for my relatively longish legs, I had plenty of room for legs and feet, this being a key benefit that comes when choosing a five-passenger utility over most competitors with three rows, as the rearmost row can often compromise second-row spaciousness. There was ample room from side-to-side in back too, plus more than enough headroom for taller folk.
Likewise, the Murano’s cargo compartment is sizeable thanks to the SUV’s long, low and lean profile design being more of an optical illusion than actually incorporating a radically raked rear hatch. This is partially created by the Murano’s floating roof design, which melds fluidly into a blackened rear rooftop spoiler. All said, Nissan’s two-row mid-sizer provides 941 litres of dedicated cargo space, whereas lowering both its 60/40-split rear seatbacks, via handy levers located on both sides of the cargo wall, results in 1,890 litres of total cargo volume. That should be more than enough for most families’ needs, but of course Nissan provides its three-row Pathfinder for those who require more. The only improvement I’d make to this setup for the next-generation Murano is to divide the rear seats into a 40/20/40 configuration, which provides space down the middle for longer items like skis while both rear passengers enjoy the more comfortable window seats, not to mention warmed cushions if so equipped.
The Murano Platinum does provide two-way rear seat heaters in those outboard positions, incidentally, plus USB-A and -C charging outlets on the backside of the front console, along with a set of HVAC vents. A centre armrest can be folded down when only two are in back, filled with large cupholders and a small storage tray. Also benefiting rear passengers is a panoramic glass sunroof overhead, which stretches all the way back for a wonderfully open and airy ambiance that elevates the luxury experience to (dare I once again say) a premium level.
Features in mind, the Platinum model’s leather-wrapped steering wheel rim is heatable, and the front seats heated or cooled via two metal-edged rotating dials on the lower console, including three settings per function. Additionally, powered USB-A and -C ports can be found on the base of the centre stack just ahead, right between the ignition button and a 12-volt charger. There is no wireless charging pad, however, a downer for those of us who live with such conveniences at home.
Another negative, the HVAC system, which sits just above on the centre stack, is only dual-zone in a market that sometimes offers three zones or more with rear controls in its loftiest trims, but the Murano’s simple twin-dial and multi-button interface design is easy to sort out and works well, while just above, an overhead console boasts LED illumination as well as a much-appreciated sunglasses holder.
Other Platinum features (some of which are pulled up from lesser trims) include auto on/off LED headlights with high beam assist, fog lamps, redundant LED turn signals within the side mirror housings, LED taillights, roof rails, remote start, proximity key, a motion-activated powered liftgate, front illuminated aluminum kick plates, adjustable ambient interior lighting, an auto-dimming rearview mirror, a HomeLink garage door opener, front and rear parking sensors, adaptive cruise control, hands-free text messaging, a great sounding Bose audio system with 11 speakers and two subwoofers, satellite radio, an eight-way powered driver’s seat with two-way power lumbar, a four-way powered front passenger seat, driver-side memory for the seat, steering column and mirrors, and a haptic steering wheel that vibrates in order to alert a driver of impending danger.
This brings up the Murano’s advanced safety features, which for 2021 include Intelligent Forward Collision Warning, Moving Object Detection, Intelligent Emergency Braking with Pedestrian Detection, Rear Cross Traffic Alert, Rear Intelligent Emergency Braking, Blind Spot Warning, Lane Departure Warning, Intelligent Lane Departure Intervention, Intelligent Driver Alertness, Traffic Sign Recognition, and Rear Door Alert.
Speaking of highly advanced features, the Murano’s parking brake is not one of them. Then again, I can remember back to the days you needed to reach down and pull a lever under the dash to unlatch the emergency brake of automatic-equipped cars, which made the first time I was able to merely press my left foot down to release an engaged parking brake pedal a newfound luxury. Of course, this was in an era that a tap from one’s right foot switched the high beams on and off, so we should best leave such “technologies” in the past, as I’m sure Nissan will eventually do with the Murano’s old-school parking brake pedal.
All the other pedals work as expected, the rightmost one quite adequately thanks to 260 horsepower and 240 lb-ft of torque from the aforementioned 3.5-litre V6, and yes, I’m aware that’s 5 horsepower less than the previous second-gen Murano, not to mention 8 lb-ft less torque. What’s that about? It’s probably a fuel-efficiency issue, although it’s possible Nissan merely provided a more accurate reading of an engine that actually made the same output. Either way, it’s more than enough to get this 1,873-kilo (4,129-lb) SUV up to highway speeds quickly.
It’s a smooth engine too, especially combined to its velvety CVT, but keep in mind there’s no way to shift “gears”, and Nissan doesn’t offer a Sport mode to make the experience any more exciting. The transmission does simulate automatic shifts well, however, mimicking a regular autobox, and once again it’s a highly efficient design that pays off at the pump, while it’s proven to provide good dependability over the long haul.
Like the drivetrain, the Murano’s fully-independent front strut and rear multi-link suspension is smooth and comfortable, adding to the premium feel I keep going on and on about, while its handling is easily up to the majority of mid-size crossovers on the market, and better than some.
That’s the thing. If this current Murano was alternatively an all-new model this year, complete with up-to-date electronics, an electromechanical parking brake, and a few other modernizations, it would probably fly out of Nissan’s showrooms. It’s that good, and to my eyes at least, remains a very attractive offering. The problem is it’s going on eight years old, and there’s no way an automaker can maintain customer loyalty without updating its most important models regularly.
Last year’s compact Rogue was getting a bit long-in-the-tooth before being updated this year too, but the new one is superb (more about my week with that SUV coming soon), while I’m guessing the upcoming 2022 Pathfinder redesign will impress just as well (its fourth-generation predecessor went back farther than the current Murano). That model’s new nine-speed automatic transmission bodes well for the next-gen Murano ditching its CVT as well, so good things are in store for this SUV at some point in the future. Let’s hope it’s sooner than later.
As it is, Nissan is offering up to $3,300 in additional incentives for a new 2021 Murano, while CarCostCanada members have been saving an average of $4,300 after first finding out about its dealer invoice price, and then using that money-saving information to negotiate their best deal (find out how there system can save you thousands, and be sure to download their free app as well). With a decent discount the Murano becomes an attractive offering, especially considering that AWD versions start at $40,098, plus freight and fees. The base Murano S FWD, on the other hand, is the model’s loss leader thanks to a $34,098 starting point, while just above the just-noted SV AWD is the third-rung $43,898 SL AWD, plus the $45,098 Midnight Edition AWD (which basically blackens out most of the bright metal trim and wheels), and finally this $46,898 top-line Platinum AWD. None of these prices are unreasonable when factoring in the high level of refinement and quality provided, but a healthy discount is probably needed to pull in buyers that might otherwise look across the street at Toyota’s Venza, which starts at $38,490 with a hybrid drivetrain and AWD, or something similar.
So, should you buy a new Murano? Again, with a decent discount, go ahead. It should be a reliable SUV, being that Nissan has had plenty of time to get it right, but then again, the Murano doesn’t place in first, second or even third in any of the latest third-party analytical firms’ dependability studies, and hasn’t won any of the most recent residual value awards either. Some of the above only show one winner while others show runners up too, with the Canadian Black Book’s 2020 Best Retained Value Awards putting Toyota’s 4Runner on top, the same brand’s Highlander in second, and Mazda’s CX-9 in third, plus J.D. Power’s 2021 ALG Residual Value Awards featuring Honda’s Passport atop its “Midsize Utility Vehicle—2nd Row Seating” category, which might mean a well-cared-for pre-owned Murano could be a better bet.
Hopefully Nissan will have a new Murano available sometime next year for the 2023 model year, which will allow me to sing praises to it as easily as can for the new Rogue, but I’ll guess you’re not here to contemplate new models we know nothing about yet. Until then, choose wisely.