When considering a compact SUV, it’s essential to compare offerings from both domestic and international car manufacturers. This helps make a well-informed choice, striking the right balance between performance, space, efficiency and value. Today, we compare the 2024 Chevrolet Equinox, 2023 Ford Escape, 2023 Toyota RAV4 and the 2024 Honda CR-V.
Performance and Efficiency
2024 Chevrolet Equinox:
Engine: Turbocharged Gas I4, producing 175 hp @ 5800 RPM and 203 lb-ft torque between 2000-4000 RPM.
Fuel Efficiency: EnerGuide Estimate for the highway is 7.9 L/100 km.
Emissions: 207 G/km of CO2.
Transmission: 6-speed automatic.
2023 Ford Escape:
Engine: Intercooled Turbo Premium Unleaded I-3, delivering 180 hp @ 6000 RPM and 199 lb-ft torque @ 3000 RPM.
Fuel Efficiency: EnerGuide Estimate for the highway is 6.9 l/100 km.
Emissions: 197 G/km of CO2.
Transmission: 8-speed automatic with OD.
2023 Toyota RAV4:
Engine: 2.5 Litre, 4-Cylinder, DOHC with Dual Variable Valve Timing, generating 203 hp @ 6,600 rpm and 184 lb-ft torque.
Fuel Efficiency: EnerGuide Estimate for the highway is 6.3 L/100 km.
Emissions: Not Available.
Transmission: CVT with OD.
2024 Honda CR-V:
Engine: Intercooled Turbo Regular Unleaded I-4, 190 hp @ 6000 RPM and 179 lb-ft torque @ 1700 RPM.
Fuel Efficiency: EnerGuide Estimate for the highway is 7.6 L/100 km (estimated).
Emissions: Not Available.
Transmission: CVT with OD.
Interior and Comfort
Both the Ford Escape and Chevrolet Equinox impress with their spacious interiors, boasting passenger volumes of 104 ft³ and 103.5 ft³, respectively. On the other hand, the Toyota RAV4 provides a slightly more compact ambiance with 98.9 ft³, while the Honda CR-V matches the Equinox and the Escape with 103.5 ft³.
Cargo and Utility
Regarding space, the Honda CR-V leads the pack with a sizable cargo volume of 39.3 ft³ up to the second seat. Following closely are the Ford Escape at 37.5 ft³ and the Toyota RAV4 at 37.4 ft³. The Chevrolet Equinox offers slightly lesser space at 29.9 ft³.
As for towing capacities, the Ford Escape comes out on top with a capacity of 2000 lbs. The RAV4 and CR-V follow with 1750 lbs and 1499 lbs, respectively. The Equinox’s towing capacity remains unspecified.
Incentives & Financing
Incentives and financing options can make a significant difference in your purchasing decision:
2024 Chevrolet Equinox: Finance incentives range between 5.49%-6.19% for 36 to 84 months. Lease incentives are at 8.9% for 24 to 60 months.
2023 Ford Escape: Finance incentives span from 1.99% to 3.99% for 36 to 84 months, and lease incentives are set at 3.99% for 24 to 60 months.
2023 Toyota RAV4: Finance incentives begin at 7.29%, going up to 7.79% for 24 to 84 months. Lease incentives range from 6.29%-8.39% for 24 to 60 months.
It should be obvious that the interest rate assigned to your finance or lease agreement is going to impact your monthly payments in a very significant way. Click on the name of each of these vehicles to check out the latest offers available at CarCostCanada®.
Each SUV in this comparison brings a unique set of attributes. While the Chevrolet Equinox and Ford Escape shine with their spacious interiors and robust performance, the Toyota RAV4 stands out for its unmatched fuel efficiency. The Honda CR-V, on the other hand, offers a harmonious blend of performance and space.
Your final choice should reflect which attributes align best with your needs and preferences.
If I loved Toyota’s Highlander Hybrid any more, it would be a Hyundai Palisade hybrid. I jest, of course, because I really like the Highlander. In fact, if I had to choose, it would be difficult to decide between this time-tested Toyota and either the Palisade or Kia’s equally good Telluride, which have both been lauded as two of the best in their class right now by almost everyone in the automotive press, although neither can be had with a fuel-sipping electrified drivetrain.
That matters a lot, especially with the average price for a litre of regular fuel hovering around $1.70 per litre in my area. Most anyone buying into the family hauler sector is constrained by a budget, so saving at the pump can be the difference of buying little Liam and Emma brand new runners or making a detour to the thrift store just in case they have something “pre-loved” available in the right sizes, or maybe buyers in this $40-$50k class can relate more to a choice between purchasing bulk chicken legs and rib eye steaks for Sunday’s BBQ. Either way, my point is clear, especially at a time when all types of meats have become much more expensive due to run-away government spending and the resultant inflationary problems, amongst other issues driving up the prices of foods and consumer items.
Toyota’s three-row antidote to this reality check equals 6.6 L/100km in the city, 6.8 on the highway and 6.7 combined for the Highlander Hybrid, while Hyundai and Kia alternatively claim 12.3, 9.6, and 11.1, or 12.6, 9.7 and 11.3 for the equivalent all-wheel drive versions of the Palisade or Telluride respectively. Based on these numbers, the South Korean-sourced three-row competitors are almost twice as expensive on fuel, and while it would be fairer to compare them to the conventional V6-powered Highlander, which is still easier on the wallet at 11.8 city, 8.6 highway and 10.3 combined, that’s not the SUV I drove for this particular test week.
There’s really nothing that compares with the Highlander Hybrid. Certainly, other automakers produce electrified SUVs in the mid-size class, the Ford Explorer Hybrid being one that also features three rows of passenger capacity, but nevertheless the much newer blue-oval entry only targets a rather so-so fuel economy rating of 10.1 L/100km city, 9.0 highway and 9.6 combined, which is way off the mark set by Toyota. To put that into perspective, Kia’s new Sorento is capable of almost the same fuel economy without the complexity of a hybrid-electric powertrain, its claimed rating a respective 10.1, 9.2 and 9.7 in base form, or 11.1, 8.4 and 9.9 with its potent turbo-four, and this Korean comes in hybrid form in the U.S. (hopefully soon in Canada).
Speaking of the Korean competition, Canada’s car market does include the electrified Hyundai Santa Fe that gets a better rating than Ford’s mid-size hybrid at 7.1 L/100km city, 7.9 highway and 7.4 combined, but due to only having two rows of seats it’s not a direct competitor to either the Explorer Hybrid or Highlander Hybrid being reviewed here, so it will only matter to those that don’t really need the extra rear row of seats and extended cargo capacity. The only other HEV in the mid-size SUV class is Toyota’s own Venza, which is more or less a shortened, lighter version of the Highlander Hybrid under a very different skin, which is why it gets class-leading fuel economy at 5.9 city, 6.4 highway, and 6.1 combined.
If fuel efficiency were the only reason to choose a Venza or Highlander Hybrid I could understand why so many buyers do, but as you may have guessed there’s so much more that make these two SUVs worthy of your consideration that I’d be remiss to stop writing here. Of course, I’ll leave any more comments about the Venza to a future review, and instead solely focus on the Highlander Hybrid in its as-tested top-line $54,150 Limited form, which is one of three trim levels that also include the $45,950 base LE and $48,450 mid-range XLE.
On an interesting note, when it debuted in 2000 the Highlander became the first mid-size car-based crossover SUV ever created, other than Subaru’s smaller two-row Outback, which continues to be more of a classic station wagon-type crossover than anything resembling a conventional sport utility. Toyota was also first with a hybridized SUV, the Highlander Hybrid having arrived on the scene way back in 2005 in a refreshed version of the original body style.
Two model years later, Toyota once again added a hybrid option to the second-generation Highlander from 2008 through 2013, after which they didn’t skip an electronic beat when the Highlander moved into its third and fourth generations, right up until today’s model. With such longevity in the hybrid sector, it’s no wonder Toyota achieves the mid-size SUV segment’s best fuel economy ratings, not to mention one of the more enviable of reliability ratings and resale value rankings.
In the most recent 2021 J.D. Power Vehicle Dependability Study, the Highlander came in second behind Kia’s Sorento, which is impressive for both considering the 23 unique models that contest in this class, not including the three new 2022 Jeeps (Grand Cherokee L, Wagoneer and Grand Wagoneer) and one discontinued Dodge (Journey). The Kia and Toyota brands place third and fourth overall in this study, incidentally, plus first and second amongst mainstream volume brands (Lexus and Porsche are first and second overall), again, an extremely impressive result, albeit not unusual for the two Japanese brands.
Similarly, the Highlander placed third behind the Sorento and Dodge Durango in the same analytical firm’s 2020 Initial Quality Study, while even more interesting (and useful), Dashboard-Light.com gave the Highlander an “Exceptional” reliability score of 94.2, which amongst mid-size SUVs is only beaten by (once again) the FJ Cruiser at 98 (the 4Runner only scored 89 for third), this study combining the scores of models over a 20-year period, with the most reliable Highlanders actually being the most recent two generations, each scoring perfect 100s.
What about all-important resale/residual values? These say more about what you’ll actually end up paying for a vehicle over the duration of ownership than its initial price, so the fact the Highlander placed second to Toyota’s 4Runner in Canadian Black Book’s 2020 and 2019 Best Retained Value Awards, plus third in 2018 and 2017, the latter only because Toyota’s FJ Cruiser pushed the 4Runner and Highlander down a notch each, means you’ll likely retain more of your initial investment in a Highlander than any other crossover SUV.
This testament to its value proposition is further backed up by J.D. Power’s 2021 ALG Residual Value Awards, in which the Highlander earned highest retained value in its “Midsize Utility Vehicle—3rd Row Seating” category. Additionally, Vincentric’s 2021 Best Value in America Awards placed the Highlander Hybrid on top of its “Hybrid SUV/Crossover” category, while the RAV4 Hybrid won this sector in Canada.
Styling plays a part in holding resale values, and to that end most Highlanders have benefited from attractive designs that still look good after years and even decades. I’ve recently seen first-generation models fixed up to look like off-roaders thanks to much more interest in off-grid living and camping, which of course necessitates all types of 4x4s for exploring the wild unknown. Overlanding, as it’s now called, has even caused Lexus to create a dedicated off-road variant of its Land Cruiser Prado-based GX 460, the one-off exercise named GXOR Concept, and while sales of this impressive yet unpopular model would likely double or triple if they actually built something similar (Lexus Canada had only sold 161 GX 460s up to the halfway mark of this year), it’s probably not in the cards.
What is very real indeed, is a fourth-generation Highlander that’s returned to more of a rugged, classic SUV design, pulling more visual cues up from my personal favourite 2014–2016 third-generation variant than that model’s 2017–2019 refresh, which featured one of the largest grilles ever offered on a Toyota vehicle, seemingly inspired by the just-noted Lexus brand. This move should help prop up aforementioned residual values of early third-gen models too, although this probably wasn’t part of Toyota’s plan, making that Highlander a good long-term used car bet, if the current chip shortage hasn’t made it impossible to still get one for a decent price.
Suffice to say, the Highlander is one of my favourite new SUVs from a styling standpoint, and if sales are anything to go by (and they usually are), I’m not alone in my admiration. The Highlander was the only mid-size SUV in Canada to surpass five figures over the first six months of 2021, with 10,403 sales to its credit, followed by the perennial best-selling Ford Explorer with 8,359 deliveries over the same two quarters.
Even more impressive, Toyota sold 144,380 Highlanders by the year’s halfway mark in the U.S., while the second-best-selling Explorer only managed 118,241 units. There’s no way for us to easily tell how many of these sales (or lack thereof) were affected by the chip shortage, with Ford having been particularly hard hit in this crisis thus far. Recent news of Toyota preparing to halt up to 40 percent of its new vehicle production in September, for the same reason, will no doubt impact Q3 totals, and may be a reason for you to act quickly if you want to purchase a new Highlander.
The Explorer outsold the Highlander in the U.S. last year, with 226,215 units to 212,276, which still left them one and two in the segment, but Toyota was ahead in Canada last year at 16,457 units to 15,283 Explorers, leaving them second and fourth, with both being outsold by Jeep’s current Cherokee and Hyundai’s Santa Fe that managed third (of course, the Highlander and Explorer were still one and two amongst three-row mid-size SUVs).
There are a lot reasons why the Highlander earns such loyalty year in and year out, many of which I’ve already covered, but the model’s interior execution certainly took a big leap forward when the third-generation arrived, which no doubt kept owners happy long after its new car smell faded away. That older model featured such niceties as fabric-wrapped A-pillars and a soft-touch dash top and door uppers, plus more pliable composite surfaces elsewhere, as well as additional features like perforated leather upholstery, a heatable steering wheel, three-way heated and cooled front seats, an 8.0-inch centre touchscreen (large for the time), tri-zone automatic climate control with a separate rear control interface, an auto-dimming rearview mirror, a HomeLink transceiver, dynamic cruise control, clearance and backup sensors, LED ambient interior lighting, a panoramic glass sunroof, rear window sunshades, blind spot monitoring, lane departure warning, rear cross traffic alert, a pre-collision system, and much more, these items becoming more commonplace in this segment now, but not as much back then.
Of course, the 2021 Highlander Hybrid Limited comes with all of the above and more. For starters, its interior touchpoints use improved-quality materials and an even more upscale design, my tester’s including rich chocolate brown across the dash top, door uppers and lower dash and door panels, plus a cream-coloured hue for a padded mid-dash bolster, as well as the door inserts and armrests, the padded centre console edges that keep inner knees from chafing, the centre armrest, and the seats. Additionally, the former brown colour features copper-coloured contrast stitching, while the latter creamy tone uses a contrasting dark brown thread (except the seats).
My 2014 Highlander Hybrid Limited included some chocolate brown elements too, but these were mostly hard plastic highlights, while the rest of its mostly tan leather interior was complemented by the usual chrome- and satin-finish metallic accents, plus medium-tone woodgrain in a nice matte finish. My 2021 example, on the other hand, boasted even more faux metal, albeit in a satiny titanium finish, with the most notable application of this treatment being a large section that spanned the dash ahead of the front passenger before forking off to surround the main touchscreen. It’s a dramatic design statement for sure, while Toyota’s choice of woodgrain looked like more of a light brownish/grey ash with a gloss finish, covering most of the lower console and trimming the tops of each door.
Updated Highlander Hybrid Limited features now include LED low/high beam headlamps with automatic high beams, LED fog lights, LED mirror-mounted turn signals, LED puddle lamps that project a “Highlander” logo onto the road below, and LED taillights, plus 20-inch alloys instead of 19s, an electromechanical parking brake in place of the old foot-operated one, a much more vibrant primary gauge cluster featuring a large 7.0-inch colour TFT multi-information display instead of the old vertically rectangular unit that was really more of a colourful trip computer, a higher resolution glossy centre display with updated (albeit mostly monochromatic) graphics, which still only measures 8.0 inches and continues to benefit from two rows of physical buttons down each side for quick access to key functions, plus dials for power/volume and tuning/scrolling, while inside that infotainment system is Apple CarPlay and Android Auto smartphone integration.
There are now three USB ports located in a cubby at the base of the centre stack, instead of just one, and they still feed up through a slot to a mid-dash shelf, although now that shelf is split into two, including a separate one for the front passenger. A rubberized tray just below the USB chargers is large enough for most any smartphone, but I kept mine in a wireless charger found on a flip-up tray in the storage bin under the centre armrest. I’ve heard some folks complain that the wireless charging tray is too small for their devices, and being that it fit my Samsung S9 perfectly with its case on probably means that any of the larger plus-sized phones won’t fit. Toyota will want to address problem, because most people I know have larger phones than my aging S9.
Two more USB ports can be found on the backside of the front console for rear passengers, incidentally, while there’s also a three-prong household-style plug for charging laptops, external DVD players, game consoles, etcetera. If you want second-row seat warmers in back, you’ll need to move up to the Highlander Hybrid’s Platinum package, which increases the price by $2,300, but provides a lot of extra features that I’ll mention in a minute.
If you want to communicate with those in back, Toyota now includes Driver Easy Speak together with a conversation mirror that doubles as a sunglasses holder in the overhead console, similar to the one found in the old model. Also new, a Rear Seat Reminder lets you know if you’ve left something or someone in the back seat when leaving the vehicle.
Additional advanced driver safety and convenience features standard in top-line Limited trim include Full-Speed Range Dynamic Radar Cruise Control, Front-to-Front Risk Detection, Pre-Collision System with Pedestrian Detection and Bicycle Detection, Intelligent Clearance Sonar with Rear Cross Traffic Brake, Lane Departure Alert with Steering Assist, Left Turn Intersection Support, Risk Avoidance (Semi-Automated Emergency Steering to Avoid Pedestrian, Bicyclist or Vehicle), and Lane Tracing Assist.
The biggest change in this latest Highlander Hybrid, however, is found behind its sportier new winged grille, because Toyota smartly chose to say goodbye to its more potent 3.5-litre V6-powered Hybrid Synergy Drive system, which made a net 280-horsepower from its dual electric motor-assisted drivetrain, and hello to a much more fuel-friendly 2.5-litre-powered alternative that once again uses two electric motors, including a separate one in the rear for eAWD. The electric motor now powering the front wheels is more capable thanks to 19 additional horsepower, resulting in a maximum of 186, although the rear one is down 14 horsepower for a total of 54, leaving the new model’s net horsepower at 243.
In the end, Toyota managed to squeeze the aforementioned 6.6 L/100km in the city, 6.8 on the highway and 6.7 combined out of the new power unit, compared to 6.8 city, 7.2 highway and 7.0 combined in the old one. And yes, that does seem like a lot of reconfiguring for just a few L/100km difference, but more importantly this drivetrain is now being used in the two-row mid-size Venza and the Sienna minivan, which are no longer available with conventional powertrains. Additionally, the decision to focus the Highlander Hybrid more on fuel economy leaves the V6-powered hybrid drivetrain to Lexus’ more premium RX 450h, which now benefits from stronger performance than its Toyota-badged equivalent.
As you can probably appreciate, the new powertrain doesn’t have quite the same amount of punch off the line as the old one, but its performance deficiency isn’t all that noticeable, while it’s electronically-controlled CVT is still as smooth as ever. Smooth is the ideal descriptor of the Highlander Hybrid’s ride quality and overall refinement as well, a quality that likely lines up with most buyers in this class. This in mind, there are no paddle shifters on the steering wheel, but Sport mode really does make a difference off the line, and fast-paced handling is plenty good for this class, the Limited model’s 235/55R20 all-season tires no doubt making a difference when it comes to road-holding.
As good as the hybrid is, the conventionally-powered Highlander will be the go-to model for those wanting more performance, as it provides a standard 3.5-litre V6 with 295 horsepower and 263 lb-ft of torque, plus its quick-shifting eight-speed automatic transmission is a real joy to put through its paces. This said, we’re back at the big six-cylinder’s fuel economy that’s nowhere near as efficient at 10.3 L/100km combined, so stepping up to the hybrid makes perfect sense, especially in my part of Canada where a recent temporary low of $1.65 per litre for regular unleaded had me peeling off the road in order to top up my 2021 Hyundai Santa Fe tester, after waiting in a line of likeminded consumers to do so (more on that SUV in a future review).
The 2021 Highlander Hybrid’s premium over its solely internal combustion-powered equivalent is just $2,000, or at least that’s the case when comparing the base Hybrid LE AWD ($45,950) to the regular LE AWD ($43,950), although there’s still a less expensive V6-powered L trim that brings the Highlander’s actual base price down to $40,450 plus freight and fees (interestingly, the 2014 base Highlander Hybrid was more expensive at $43,720). The same $2,000 price gap is found amongst conventionally-powered and hybridized Limited trims.
I’d certainly be willing to pay another $2,300 for the Highlander’s aforementioned Platinum package, which incidentally includes second-row captain’s chairs to go along with the rear butt warmers, plus reverse auto-tilting side mirrors, a head-up display, rain-sensing wipers, a 360-degree bird’s eye surround parking camera, a larger 12.3-inch infotainment touchscreen, a digital display system for the rearview mirror (you can use either the regular or digital version by flicking a switch), and a number of styling tweaks, all for $56,450, but I also wish Toyota included a couple useful extras like auto-dimming side mirrors, a powered tilt and telescopic steering column (the worked with memory), and four-way powered lumbar support for the front seats, features many rivals provide.
The driver’s seat was nevertheless extremely comfortable, other than its two-way powered lumbar support hitting the small of my back slightly high. Others might find it too low, and being that it only moves in and out, it’s always going to be a hit or miss affair. Otherwise, most body types should find the front seats more than adequate, while the non-powered tilt and telescopic steering wheel provides plenty of rearward reach, which meant my long-legged, short-torso frame was both comfortable and in full control.
Second-row roominess is about as good as this class gets too, with seats that could only be made more comfortable if the regular Highlander’s heatable captain’s chairs were offered, but they easily flip forward and out of the way for accessing the rearmost third row, which I found quite spacious and comfortable for the class, albeit missing USB charging ports.
There’s a total of 453 litres of dedicated cargo space behind that rear row, by the way, or 1,370 litres behind the second row when the third row’s 60/40-split backrests are folded forward, while 2,387 litres of space can be had behind the first row when the 60/40-split second row is lowered. That’s a lot of cargo capacity, but I would’ve liked to see Toyota utilize the 40/20/40-configured second-row seat from Lexus’ RX instead of this one, as it would allow for longer items, such as skis, to be stowed down the middle while second-row passengers were more comfortably positioned to either side.
So, while Toyota’s Highlander Hybrid Limited is not perfect, it’s easily one of the best available in its three-row mid-size crossover segment. Factoring in its enviable dependability and best-in-class residual value, it’s hard to argue against it, and therefore would be my choice, despite how good the two aforementioned Korean upstarts are. Now it’s just a matter of locating one before the chip shortage dries up availability.
Review and photos by Trevor Hofmann
Anticipation. Sometimes it’s better than the real thing. Just think back to someone you fell head over heels for in junior high, only to finally go out on a date and realize they weren’t the perfect…
Anticipation. Sometimes it’s better than the real thing. Just think back to someone you fell head over heels for in junior high, only to finally go out on a date and realize they weren’t the perfect match your idealistic imagination conjured them up to be. As we age, most of us become a little more cautious in our approach to everything, including our next best ride.
Enter the Mazda CX-5 Signature Diesel or SkyActiv-D, a compact crossover SUV that most buyers in this class never realized was even on the radar, let alone available for the 2019 model year. Amongst the auto industry media, Mazda’s upcoming turbo-diesel was a highly anticipated new powertrain in a model that’s long earned high marks, but it took longer to arrive than expected and only lasted one single model year, a shocker that’s caused some disappointment within a small following of diesel engine fans, and as I just noted, not even a whimper from most Mazda buyers.
Of course, the latter group matters much more in the grand scheme of things than a tiny handful of oil-burner zealots and enthusiastic auto journalists, and to be fair to Mazda that’s now looking as if it made a major product planning error, Volkswagen’s Diesel-gate fiasco wasn’t a thing when the 100-year-old independent Japanese brand first decided to bring its SkyActiv-D to market (yes, Mazda is 17 years older than VW). As it is, the very fact the new turbo-diesel engine met Canadian regulations for the 2019 model year shows that it was cleaner than anything offered by the Germans, all of which dropped their diesel powerplants soon after the Diesel-gate scandal.
I’m speaking in past-tense because this review is coming out after the fact, although being that 2020 is one of the most unusual years we’ve ever experienced in the car industry, or any other sector for that matter, I was still able to find some of these unique 2019 CX-5s available to purchase new when perusing online.
In this review I’m going to cover the 2019 model shown, as well as the 2020, particularly the changes moving up to the latest model year, being that there are many more 2020s available to purchase than 2019s, with or without the SkyActiv-D powertrain with respect to the latter. If you can find a 2019 model that suits your needs, you’ll be able to benefit from up to $2,500 in additional incentives, while 2020 models are only being offered with incentives up to $1,000, as per CarCostCanada’s comprehensive 2019 Mazda CX-5 Canada Prices page and 2020 Mazda CX-5 Canada Prices page. CarCostCanada’s very affordable membership provides plenty, by the way, including manufacturer rebate information, details about any available manufacturer financing and leasing deals, dealer invoice pricing info that could save you thousands, and more.
A quick look at the just-noted 2019 Mazda CX-5 Canada Prices page will immediately show the 2.2-litre twin-turbo-diesel only being available in top-line Signature trim at a price of $45,950 plus freight and fees. Signature trim is a new for 2019 premium brand-like level that’s never previously been offered to CX-5 clientele. Other CX-5 trims include the base GX that starts at $27,850 with front-wheel drive or $29,850 with all-wheel drive, the mid-grade GS at $30,750 with FWD or $32,750 with AWD, and the previous top-line GT that starts at $37,450 and tops out at $39,450 with its 2.5-litre turbocharged gasoline with engine upgrade. GT and Signature trims include Mazda’s i-Activ all-wheel drive (AWD) as standard equipment.
The CX-5 Signature, available with the just-noted 2.5-litre turbo gas engine for $40,950 and the aforementioned diesel, builds on the already impressive CX-5 GT with features like LED cabin lighting, a 7.0-inch digital instrument cluster, a slick looking frameless rearview mirror, genuine Abachi hardwood inlays on the dash and door panels (yes, real wood, folks), plus dark chocolate brown Cocoa Nappa leather upholstery and trim, while items pulled up from the GT include front and rear signature lighting, adaptive headlamps, LED fog lights, power-folding side mirrors, proximity-sensing keyless entry, traffic sign recognition, dual-zone automatic climate control, navigation, a 10-speaker audio system including satellite radio, a garage door opener, leather upholstery, a 10-way power-adjustable driver’s seat and a six-way powered front passenger’s seat, plus more.
Details like fabric-wrapped A pillars and luxuriously padded interior surfaces including the dash top, upper and lower instrument panel, lower console side edges, door uppers front to back and armrests side to centre go further to make the CX-5 a near-luxury experience, while Mazda also adds a tasteful assortment of anodized aluminum accents throughout the compact SUV’s cabin, with some of the brushed metal switchgear receiving rich knurled metal edging for an extremely upscale appearance. It’s pretty fancy stuff from a mainstream volume-brand, leaving some in the industry to wonder (including yours truly) whether or not Mazda is making a long play for luxury brand status.
The diesel option fits the premium sector well too, being this engine type has mostly been sold through luxury brands (Volkswagen aside) such as Mercedes-Benz, Audi, BMW and the like, with Jaguar offering a bevy of diesel-powered models up until last year (so there are probably plenty of these around if you’re interested too) and Land Rover having only dropped the oil-burner in its Velar, yet not offering diesel-power in the one vehicle 4×4 enthusiasts would most likely want it in, the all-new 2021 Defender.
Back to Mazda’s diesel, it makes a rather meagre 168 horsepower yet a very healthy 290 lb-ft of torque; the low horsepower, high torque ratio normal for diesel powertrains. This said the same CX-5 Signature’s base gasoline-fed powerplant is good for 227 horsepower and 310 lb-ft of torque (take note, this engine has just been announced for the AWD Mazda3, and should be a real screamer in such a lightweight car), as long as you fill it with 93 octane premium fuel. If you don’t, and I can’t see most owners throwing that much cash into the ether, it puts out a commendable 250 horsepower and the same 310 lb-ft of torque, while the 2020 model gains an additional 10 lb-ft of torque to 320 lb-ft when fuelled with high-octane gas.
Drive both CX-5 powertrains back-to-back, as I’m sure many would-be CX-5 Diesel buyers would have done, and the benefits of the gasoline-powered version are immediately clear, at least from a performance perspective. Of course, opting for the diesel is more about fuel economy, and to that end it’s thriftier than its gasoline-powered counterpart, but probably not enough to cause a large volume of CX-5 buyers to choose it over the more conventional powertrain. The diesel’s claimed 8.9 L/100km city, 7.9 highway and 8.4 combined fuel economy is certainly better than the gasoline engine’s 10.8 city, 8.7 highway and 9.8 combined rating, but the extra $5,000 needed to upgrade makes any savings less reasonable.
Something else to consider is the nicely equipped CX-5 GT mentioned earlier, which for $37,450 offers a lot of luxury along with an even thriftier 2.0-litre SkyActiv-G four-cylinder good for 187 horsepower and 186 lb-ft of torque, plus a claimed fuel economy rating of 9.8 L/100km in the city, 7.9 on the highway and 9.0 combined, while the same engine with front wheel drive gets 9.3, 7.6 and 8.5 respectively.
Last year I reviewed a GT with its base engine and was very pleased with its fuel economy, performance and level of luxury after my usual weeklong test, but this said I more recently spent three months with a 2020 CX-5 Signature 2.5-litre SkyActiv-G turbo and was even more enamoured, particularly with its performance and premium fittings. I’ll be sure to review it in full detail soon, although for the sake of this review I’ll only say that Mazda made the right choice in keeping its top-line gasoline engine over its even more exclusive diesel.
Don’t get me wrong as the two models’ fuel economy disparity was even more pronounced during real life duty than on National Resources Canada’s downloadable Fuel Consumption Ratings spreadsheet. This was made even more obvious thanks to diesel fuel pump prices that are normally much lower than regular gasoline (let alone premium), but the biggest reason for the two models’ fuel economy disparity came down to the sportier 2.5-litre turbo-gasoline engine making the paddle-shift actuated 2020 CX-5 Signature way too much fun to merely coast along in comfortable bliss. With the knurled-metal, console-mounted rocker switch pulled rearward for Sport mode, the most potent CX-5 is a rarified dynamo amongst mostly dawdling compact crossover competitors, while the turbo-diesel version is much more sedate after its initial launch from standstill.
Yes, the diesel-powered CX-5 provides a lot of twist from lower speeds, and I certainly never had any problem passing slower moving traffic on the highway. It just doesn’t provide the level of sporty performance as the conventionally-fuelled turbo-four, and due to the subtle yet still evident rat-a-tat-tat sound emanating from ahead of the engine firewall, it makes the CX-5 sound a bit more truck-like than the gasoline version. This will either be good or not so good depending on your preferences. I happen to like the sound of a diesel engine, so it was kind of comforting, while its standard 19-inch Gunmetal grey Signature wheels and equally large tires provided plenty of pavement adhesion when hustling it through corners.
Unlike the gasoline-powered Signature, the diesel doesn’t provide steering wheel paddles, so its six-speed automatic transmission isn’t quite as engaging as the gearbox I more recently tested. Yes, you heard me right, like Hyundai’s Tucson and Kia’s Sportage, the CX-5 uses a conventional six-speed automatic instead of a continuously variable transmission (CVT), which has become more commonplace in this small SUV market segment, while more complex eight-speed autoboxes are now incorporated into VW’s Tiguan and Ford’s latest Escape, and even fancier nine-speed automatics can be found in the Chevrolet Equinox, GMC Terrain and Jeep Cherokee. More gears can add problems, however, with most of the eight- and nine-speed automatics just noted commonly cited for reliability issues, making Mazda’s well-proven six-speed SkyActiv-Drive transmission a good choice for those wanting something they can rely on.
Along with commendable handling, all second-generation CX-5 models I’ve driven so far have provided a comfortable ride, albeit firmer in the more performance-oriented Germanic sense than most competitors. This said, the SUV’s fully independent suspension was never harsh in any way, but instead felt wholly confidence-inspiring when pushed hard through circuitous two-lane roadways, and wonderfully controllable at higher speeds on the freeway. This is a crossover SUV I was able to spend many hours in at a time without discomfort, while its roominess from front to rear is very generous and therefore competitive with compact SUV challengers.
Feel free to check out my 2019 Mazda CX-5 GT AWD Road Test for even more detail, particularly about its best-in-class 40/20/40 split-folding rear seatbacks with convenient cargo sidewall-mounted release levers, cargo measurements and more, and remember to download the free CarCostCanada app to your smartphone from the Apple Store or Google Play Store so you can get the best deal possible on this impressive compact SUV.
I won’t try to claim that I know which engine will best suit your needs, because those who already like diesels will love the short-lived SkyActiv-D, and performance fans will no doubt want the much quicker SkyActiv-G turbo, while some will prefer to save as much as possible by purchasing a more affordable trim and therefore be happy with the naturally aspirated SkyActiv-G powerplant, as I was. Either way Mazda has you covered, at least for a little while longer, unless you’re looking for a hybrid. If that’s the case, you may want to wait for Mazda’s sporty looking electric crossover just unveiled at the Tokyo auto show.
Story and photo credits: Trevor Hofmann
Photo editing: Karen Tuggay
Hyundai’s popular Accent hasn’t changed all that much since generation-five was introduced for the 2018 model year. Still, the adoption of a new brand-wide trim level naming convention for the 2019…
Hyundai’s popular Accent hasn’t changed all that much since generation-five was introduced for the 2018 model year. Still, the adoption of a new brand-wide trim level naming convention for the 2019 version probably threw a few diehard Hyundai buyers for a loop, with the previous L, LE, GL and GLS lines being creatively redubbed Essential, Preferred and Ultimate.
The car before you would’ve been named the Accent GLS 5-Door Manual back in 2017 when the 2018 model debuted, but for 2019 was renamed the Accent Ultimate 5-Door Manual. The manual in this top-line trim won’t exist for 2020, incidentally, so being that this exact model in 2019 form was still available at the time of writing, I thought I’d tell you about it along with changes made to the new 2020 Accent, plus let you know about any potential savings on either car.
For starters, the Accent Sedan is gone. Yes, those who love subcompact four-door sedans can no longer look to Hyundai to satiate their desires. Hyundai isn’t alone, with Toyota dropping its Mazda-built Yaris Sedan for 2020 as well, Nissan saying goodbye to its Versa Note and not bringing its redesigned Versa sedan north of the 49th, Ford killing off its entire Fiesta line that included a sedan and hatchback last year, and Chevy having done likewise with its Sonic the year before, leaving Kia’s Rio as the sole option for three-box city car buyers.
Also new, the Accent gets a fully redesigned engine for 2020, plus a new optional continuously variable transmission (CVT). Gone is this car’s very reliable 1.6-litre four-cylinder that’s good for a commendable 132 horsepower and 119 lb-ft of torque, replaced by the South Korean brand’s all-new 1.6-litre Smartstream four-cylinder engine making 120 horsepower and 113 lb-ft of torque.
The new powertrain is obviously more about fuel economy than performance, having said goodbye to 12 horsepower plus 6 lb-ft of torque, and to this end it achieves an impressive 7.8 L/100km in the city, 6.1 on the highway and 7.0 combined with its base six-speed manual, or an even better 7.3 city, 6.0 highway and 6.7 combined with its most fuel-efficient CVT. It really shines when compared to the outgoing model shown here, which could only achieve a claimed rating of 8.2 city, 6.3 highway and 7.3 combined no matter whether using its six-speed manual or six-speed automatic.
Of course, the 2019 example before you really shines when taking off from a standing start or passing on the highway. True, I haven’t driven the new 2020 model yet, so Hyundai may have made up for its engine output disadvantage with shortened initial gear ratios, but I’m guessing those trading up from old to new will still find it difficult not to notice a sizeable difference in performance. Hyundai is no doubt hoping the car’s fuel economy improvements will more than make up for any accelerative shortcomings.
This said, fewer and fewer new vehicle buyers are trading up from subcompact cars to the same type of vehicle, but instead are opting for a small SUV. Hyundai has the subcompact SUV category fully covered with its new city car-sized 2020 Venue and slightly larger Kona, the latter model introduced for 2018. The sales of these two have grown exponentially, whereas the Accent’s numbers are dropping at a relatively rapid rate. From a high of 29,751 units in 2018, and still strong Canadian sales of 23,173 in 2014, the Accent’s deliveries have steadily slumped downward from 19,371 in 2015, 19,198 in 2016, 13,073 in 2017, 9,021 in 2018 and just 5,989 in 2019.
As noted, small SUV sales have been the benefactors, with the Kona finding 14,497 new buyers in its first partial year (it arrived in March) of 2018 and a whopping 25,817 units throughout 2019, making it number one in its class last year, and the same over the first three months of 2020 too. The Venue is too new and the 2020 calendar year too wonky to make any sense of how it will do overall when things normalize, but if it sells anywhere near as well as the similarly sized Nissan Kicks it should rank somewhere amongst the subcompact SUV segment’s top three or four (the Venue outsold the Kicks in March and had its best sales in May, but Nissan Canada only reports its sales quarterly so we’ll need to wait a little longer to find out—I’ll tell you in my upcoming 2020 Venue and Kicks reviews). Of more importance to this review, in Q1 of 2020 the Venue outsold the Accent by about 1.6 to 1, making it easier to appreciate why Hyundai dropped the slower selling sedan variant.
This said there are a lot of reasons to choose the Accent over one of its taller more SUV-like brethren. I say SUV-like because most modern SUVs are little more than raised hatchbacks or wagons with chunkier, beefier styling. Some, like the Venue, don’t even offer all-wheel drive, so their buyers are opting for a more rugged go-anywhere design and a taller ride-height for better outward visibility. They give up some handing chops and oftentimes fuel economy too, but that’s ok in today’s oh-so image conscious society.
The Accent’s 2018 redesign was a major improvement over its more sheepish predecessor, its much bolder wide mouth grille adding a little Audi-like presence to this entry-level commuter. In Ultimate trim there’s more chrome bits to brighten the exterior, particularly on the front fascia that incorporates a set of fog lamps with metal brightwork bezels on each corner, while the side window belt mouldings and each of its four door handles are chromed as well. The LED headlamps with LED signature accents help spiff up this top-line trim too, as do the LED turn signals integrated within the side mirror housings, while a sporty set of 17-inch multi-spoke alloy wheels round out the look nicely, these framing a set of four-wheel disc brakes in Ultimate trim (lesser versions use rear drums).
I have to say, the Accent’s exterior styling never left me feeling as if I was living at the entry level of the market. Along with the big, bold grille is a wonderfully detailed front fascia worthy of hot hatch respect, albeit the car’s dramatically sculpted rear valance is even more eye-catching thanks to a large, body-wide black mesh grille insert resulting in a particularly aggressive look. A rear roof top spoiler gives the Accent’s profile a longer, leaner appearance, although it’s not as if they need to visually stretch this car in order to make it look longer than it actually is.
This is the largest Accent in its 18-year tenure, or at least it’s been on the Canadian market for 18 years. The Accent nameplate has been in existence longer, but here in Canada it was previously dubbed Excel, and before that Pony. I’ve driven every generation since the mid-‘80s rear-wheel drive Giorgetto Giugiaro-designed original took our market by storm, and believe me it’s come a long way (as has everything else).
The current 4,190-mm long Accent hatchback is 90 mm lengthier than its 18-year-old predecessor, with a 2,580-mm long wheelbase that now spans 180 mm more, while the new car’s 1,729-mm width shows its greatest growth at 109 mm from side-to-side, its 1,450 mm in height only 55 mm taller. Of course, this makes today’s subcompact more like the compacts of yesteryear, which actually means they’re better value than ever when factoring in that the Accent’s price hasn’t really gone up when compared to inflation.
The base Essential starts at just $14,949 plus freight and fees for 2020, by the way, which is quite a bit cheaper than last year’s $17,349 base price. Unusual I know, especially when factoring in the thrifty new engine, but the 2019 model came standard with a Comfort Package that’s extra with the 2020 model, the new 2020 Essential with Comfort Package now starting at $17,699. The price for the Accent’s second-rung Preferred trim has increased too, from $17,549 last year to $17,899 this year, while the as-tested Ultimate has added $1,250 from $20,049 to $21,649, but take note the new CVT auto is now standard whereas last year’s six-speed automatic was an extra (what do ya know?) $1,250 across the line.
Another interesting point about small car value that most Canadians don’t realize is the great deal we’re getting here compared to the U.S. The base 2020 Accent south of the 49th (that just happens to be a sedan as no hatchback is offered there) is $15,295 USD, which was $20,735 CAD after calculating the exchange rate at the time of writing. Likewise, their top-line 2020 Accent Limited is $19,400 USD or $26,300 CAD, while our full-load Ultimate is once again just $21,649. We’re getting a stellar deal.
On top of this, Hyundai Canada is offering factory leasing and financing rates from zero percent on 2019 models or up to $750 in additional incentives for 2020 models according to CarCostCanada, where you can find out about available rebates, financing rates and even dealer invoice pricing that could save you thousands on your next new car purchase. They’ve even got a free mobile app to make your car shopping experience easier, so make sure to find out how their smart system can save you big time before you purchase your next car.
The Accent’s larger exterior dimensions translate into a much roomier subcompact hatchback than you might have been expecting, especially when it comes to width. The seats offer plenty of adjustability as long as you’re not looking to modulate the driver’s lumbar area, which is static as is usually the case in this class. I could’ve used a more pronounced lower backrest and better side bolstering, but I can understand this is a one-seat-fits-all compromise and therefore it’s not going to match everyone’s body type ideally. The rest of its adjustments are more than adequate, however, while the tilt and telescopic steering column’s reach was particularly good, enough so that my long-legged, short-torso frame was able to feel right at home with excellent control of the wheel and pedals, not always the case in this category.
Rear seat spaciousness was very good too, but take note that even in this top-line trim there’s no folding centre armrest in back. Instead, the seatbacks fold 60/40 to expand the already generous dedicated cargo area when the need to load in longer items arises. When folded the seatbacks are about four inches above the load floor, which therefore isn’t flat, but most will probably prefer that Hyundai chose to maximize available volume instead of creating a level load area when the rear seats are lowered. A spare-saver tire and some tools can be found below the load floor, while a hard-shell cargo cover hovers above, all par for the course in this segment.
More out of the norm for this subcompact segment is the Accent 5-Door Ultimate’s tastefully sporty interior design, plus its impressive load of features. The fact you can leave its key fob in your pocket or purse when opening the door via proximity-sensing access before starting the engine with a button just goes to show how far Hyundai has gone to lift up this lower class into a more sophisticated crowd. The cabin is further enhanced with a sharp-looking two-tone red and black motif. Hyundai doesn’t go so far as to finish any surfaces with soft-touch synthetics, other than the padded leatherette armrests and of course the nicely upholstered seats, these complete with red leatherette side bolsters, red stitching and a stack of six hexagonal shapes embroidered onto their cloth backrests, all of which match the door panel inserts, the red stitching on the shifter boot, and the red baseball stitching on the inside rim of the leather-wrapped steering wheel. Once again everything mentioned impresses more than most shopping in this category will expect.
The steering wheel spokes include very high-quality switchgear left and right, the toggles on the former for the audio system and surrounding buttons for audio mode control, voice activation, and connecting to the phone, whereas the latter spoke’s switches are for scrolling through the monochromatic multi-information display and cruise controls.
The gauges ahead of the driver are a simple fare, with backlit dials surrounding the just-noted multi-info display, so if you want to be impressed by a digital interface as you’ll need to look to the right at the centre stack which gets a large touchscreen infotainment display complete with Android Auto and Apple CarPlay smartphone integration, Bluetooth phone and audio streaming, regular audio functions, the latter including satellite radio, plus more.
Just below is a single-zone automatic climate control interface that’s made easy to use thanks to large dials that accept winter gloves, while below that is a row of buttons for three-way heated front seats and even a heatable steering wheel rim. At the base of the centre stack is a large bin for storing your smartphone, with connections for a USB-A charge port and an auxiliary plug.
Forward collision warning with automatic emergency braking is included in the top-line Accent, as is a powered glass sunroof, while features pulled up from lesser trims include the tilt-and-telescopic steering (an improvement over the tilt steering wheel in base trim), cruise control, front seat warmers and the 7.0-inch infotainment display noted earlier (the base model gets a 5.0-inch colour touchscreen), plus automatic on/off headlights, six-speaker audio (up from four speakers in base trim), keyless entry, and a rear seating area USB-A charging port from Preferred trim, the automatic transmission and Bluetooth mentioned before, plus power-adjustable and heated side mirrors, air conditioning and power windows from the Essential Comfort package, and lastly variable intermittent front wipers, six-way driver and four-way front passenger manually adjustable seats, plus power door locks from base Essential trim.
As noted earlier my test car came with a six-speed manual gearbox that’s no longer available in top-line Ultimate trim, this a shame to those of us who appreciate the sportier nature of a DIY transmission. The little car really comes alive with the manual, which makes the most of its aforementioned 138 horsepower. Takeoff from standstill is quick, the shifts are smooth and clutch take-up good, while braking is strong too. High-speed handling is more than adequate for the class, the Accent’s previously noted width and lower ride height (than an SUV) allowing for less body roll than you might expect. Likewise, it feels nice and stable at highway speeds, making this a car I could cruise in all day. Truly, it’s a comfortable and confidence inspiring little ride, which is no doubt a key reason it remains such a strong seller in this class.
Yes, the Accent’s entry-level car category might seem like a dying breed, but all it would take to reignite interest in small, cheap commuters like this is an extended downturn in the economy, and that could very well be just around the next corner. Combined with rising fuel prices (we’re once again experiencing that too), the Accent makes a good case for itself, with the icing on its cake being a five-year, 100,000 km comprehensive warranty. I recommend you check this little car out, and remember to opt for the 2019 if your prime focus is performance, or 2020 if you’re looking to save a bit more at the pump.