Good news! The VW van is actually coming back, and it looks like this visual blast from the past design might also be one of the most practical competitors in the all-electric space. But before delving…
Good news! The VW van is actually coming back, and it looks like this visual blast from the past design might also be one of the most practical competitors in the all-electric space. But before delving into the details, some history.
The original 1949–2013 Volkswagen Van, as it was simply called in our market (specifically the old-school version with the rounded edges, otherwise known as the T1 and T2), was also dubbed the Kombi in Brazil, where it was produced from 1957 until finally being put to rest in 2013. Additionally, it was called the Bulli at home in Germany, where it ruled the family roost until the larger, squarer Vanagon (T3) arrived in 1979, and has been on the comeback trail at least as long as this journalist has been covering the automotive sector.
The Transporter wasn’t just a Jason Statham movie franchise
Before too much confusion transpires, Volkswagen didn’t stop building its T (Transporter) series of vans when the T3 departed. After that incredibly accommodating model enjoyed a reasonably popular run as a family conveyance here in North America, it was replaced by the front-engine, water-cooled T4 in 1990, which also graced our roads with the Eurovan nameplate. After a fairly long stint on our side of the Atlantic, VW Canada discontinued the Eurovan in place of the embarrassingly rebadged Dodge Caravan dubbed Routan (2009–2014) that the automaker probably hopes we’ll forever forget (sorry, VW).
No doubt, many T series-faithful, that never accepted DaimlerChrysler’s watered-down facsimile of the real deal, would love to get their hands on the all-new 2022 Multivan T7 that debuted last June, but we most likely won’t see that sizeable model unless Volkswagen decides to enter something larger in our commercial sector (can you imagine how the RV aftermarket would go wild with this near full-size family hauler?).
VW microbus has been the comeback kid for decades
Back to the comeback, a very enticing Microbus concept debuted in 2001, causing everyone already in love with the New Beetle to salivate over the possibility of a much more accommodating retro alternative, but alas it never materialized. A decade later the 2011 Bulli electric concept arrived to less fanfare. It probably would’ve hit the EV market too soon to have had any serious sales success if produced anyway, although the all-electric BUDD-e van that showed up in 2016 might’ve found more traction. None of that matters now that the ID. Buzz, introduced last month, has been slated for production this year as a 2023 model, in Europe at least.
The ID. Buzz looks more like that 2001 Microbus than any concept since, although it houses front lighting elements similar to those found on the current all-electric ID.4 compact SUV, even including a thin LED light strip that connects the two headlamps. The taillight cluster is one single unit too, but the circular “VW” badge isn’t integrated within the centre reflector strip on the Buzz like with the 4, instead positioned on its own just below in traditional microvan fashion.
Only one 201 hp rear-drive version has been shown so far
This said, the ID. Buzz we’re looking at is a European version, so our variant may see some slight changes. The 82 kWh (net) base battery pack, which doesn’t use cobalt, and the entry-level power unit shouldn’t change, however, as its 201 horsepower and 229 lb-ft of torque should be enough for budget-conscious families, although it’s possible VW will leave this powertrain in Europe where an EV’s ability to travel long distances isn’t quite as critical. On that note, VW hasn’t announced any range estimates for this new power unit, only saying it’ll propel the ID. Buzz up to an electronically limited top speed of 145 km/h (90 mph). Fortunately, Volkswagen promises powertrain upgrades for both markets, which will likely include all-wheel drive. That model should be popular here, so stay tuned.
As for underpinnings, the ID. Buzz utilizes the same MEB platform architecture as the ID.4. In its Buzz application, it will be offered with two wheelbases, the longer for a seven-seat option, although VW only shared wheelbase measurements of the standard model that spans 2,988 mm (117.6 in). This makes the Buzz’ shortest wheelbase a significant 223 mm (8.8 in) longer than the ID.4’s wheelbase, while the new van stretches 4,712 mm (185.5 in) from nose to tail no matter which wheelbase is chosen, which is 128 mm (5.0 in) greater than VW’s crossover EV.
ID. Buzz Cargo van might make an ideal camper
Additionally, both ID. Buzz body styles measure 1,985 mm (78.1 in) wide without the side mirrors, while the new van is also 1,937 mm (76.3 in) tall. Of note, just like T series vans, an ID. Buzz Cargo van will be offered as well. It will be fractionally taller at 1,938 mm, thanks to a heavier duty chassis.
Volkswagen claims up to 1,121 litres (39.5 cu ft) of cargo capacity behind the rear seats of the two-row version, or 3,900 litres (137.7 cu ft) behind the first row with the passenger van’s rear seats removed, or you’re filling up the cargo van. The latter, incidentally, gets a front bench seat for up to three abreast, just like the original.
Could a modern-day VW “Westfalia” be in the cards? We can only hope. The ability to tread softly into the woods or desert with AWD via an all-electric powertrain is tantalizing, although we’d recommend a potent solar charging unit on top.
ID. Buzz interior looks positively appetizing
Inside, the ID. Buzz cargo van is more business-like, with mostly muted grey tones other than the very colourful and large digital displays (the standard digital cockpit measures 10 inches diagonally, while the centre-mounted infotainment system is 10 inches in base trim and up to 12 inches, with navigation, optionally), whereas the passenger van carries the exterior’s “organically based” colour scheme into the cabin.
Yummy looking lemony Lime Yellow and downright festive Energetic Orange interiors were chosen for the press photos, with both looked totally “fab” thanks in part to all the cream-coloured surfaces surrounding the body-colour dash and door trim. Bay Leaf Green and Candy White (the only non-metallic base colour) are on the “menu” too, as are Mono Silver and Starlight Blue (also available in two-tone) amongst metallics, plus Deep Black featuring a pearl effect.
The colourful door panels continue rearward to the side-sliders, while the seat upholstery is shown in a cream recycled leatherette, in the yellow model, and burnt orange cloth made from reclaimed and recycled plastics in the orange model.
Gear selection in the original vans was done from a classic stick on the floor, but the new model utilizes a column shifter in order to free up space on the modular centre console. In the ID. Buzz’ press release, VW expends a lot of ink describing the various USB ports and cupholders, which are aplenty due to its family orientation, but safety is a key selling point in this sector as well.
Safety and convenience are key in the family class
To that end, VW promises all the usual driver assist and safety systems, of course, including an updated version of the brand’s Travel Assist, now featuring automated lane changes at highway speed, plus the ability to manage autonomous driving on country roads without centre markings.
Both ID. Buzz and ID. Buzz Cargo models will be built by Volkswagen Commercial Vehicles in Hanover, German, with production on target to start during the first half of 2022, advanced sales taking place in May, and European deliveries beginning in the third quarter of this year. The North American debut of the long-wheelbase Buzz will occur sometime next year, with sales following in 2024. The long-wheelbase van will also be offered in Europe, but so far VW has said nothing about offering the regular-wheelbase, five- (and also six-) person model here.
Now, check out the World Premiere of the ID. Buzz, with actor Ewan McGregor sharing his love of the Beetle and impressions of the new ID. Buzz:
Story credits: Trevor Hofmann
Photo credits: Volkswagen
The mid-size sedan might be a dying breed, especially in Canada where they’ve never been as popular as compact four-doors and hatchbacks, but Hyundai hasn’t given up on it like some others in this…
The mid-size sedan might be a dying breed, especially in Canada where they’ve never been as popular as compact four-doors and hatchbacks, but Hyundai hasn’t given up on it like some others in this class. In fact, the Sonata was given a complete eighth-generation redesign for the 2020 model year, so therefore its seriously menacing new face carried forward unchanged into 2021, and will so once again for 2022.
Menacing yes, but that’s not to say I don’t like the look. As seen on this as-tested Sonata Hybrid Ultimate, which gets more chrome than some other Sonata trims, such as the sporty new N Line variant, and particularly when that grille is surrounded by Hampton Grey paint that comes across as more of a champagne-taupe in some lighting conditions, the snarly look is almost soft and approachable. Whether you find it intensely angry or just purposefully intent, the new Sonata does appear consequential, and when push comes to shove it should be, because it’s doing the serious work of minimizing its eco-footprint while maximizing range and performance.
The Sonata Hybrid’s fuel economy is superb at 5.3 L/100km in the city, 4.6 on the highway and 5.0 even combined. It’s even a smidge better than similarly-equipped Toyota Camry Hybrids that come rated at 5.3 L/100km city, 5.0 highway and 5.1 combined (the Camry Hybrid’s base LE trim does better at 4.9, 4.8 and 4.9 respectively), and considerably more efficient than the Honda Accord Hybrid that gets a 5.3 city, 5.7 highway and 5.5 combined rating.
Even more surprising was the Sonata Hybrid’s acceleration and all-round performance, especially when the net numbers showed just 192 horsepower and 139 lb-ft of torque. It certainly felt more potent off the line than these figures suggest, plus thanks to steering wheel-mounted paddle shifters, its six-speed automatic transmission was quite engaging as well.
The Sonata Hybrid responds eagerly when pushed hard through corners too, plus it tracks confidently at high speeds in any condition, including on wet, slippery roads. It even remained stable when yanked aggressively toward the centre median by a large puddle, something much-needed and often appreciated in my city’s mostly wet winter weather.
Additionally, the button-operated gear selector is one of the best electronic transmission controllers I’ve tested, as it’s laid out intuitively and can all be actuated without moving the hand very far. Unlike some others (I’m speaking to you Honda/Acura), Hyundai’s quickly became second-nature, never leaving me mentally stranded in dumbfounded, panic-stricken overwhelm when coming up short of a turning circle-deprived U-turn with traffic approaching.
Interestingly, the electromechanical parking brake doesn’t automatically release when skipping a step and simply putting the car into Drive ahead of hitting the throttle, which is normally how these things work. I guess Hyundai felt it was best to err on e-brake safety, so be prepared to flick the switch manually each time you set out.
A two-way memory driver’s seat will automatically adjust you or your significant other back into your chosen position at the press of a single button, mind you, and I must say the driver’s positioning was superb overall. It comes complete with plenty of reach from the manually-operated tilt-and-telescopic steering column, while the seat itself was blissfully comfortable, despite only providing two-way lumbar support.
Both front seats get amped up with three-way heating and/or cooling, however, while the heated steering wheel rim put out near finger-scorching warmth—Hyundai may want to consider allowing drivers to tone it down a bit by adding a dual-mode temperature setting. Speaking of warmth, a dual-zone automatic climate control system made it easy to maintain an ideal level of cabin air comfort, while the centre stack-mounted interface was easy to sort out.
Now that I’m on the subject of instrument panel interfaces, there’s no shortage of digital displays inside this top-tier Hyundai. For starters, the only hint to things analogue about the gauge cluster is the nicely designed graphical nod to yesteryear’s circular speedometer and tachometer dials, with the division between both comes filled with a multi-information display-style assortment of functions. The display quality is very high in definition, while its reaction to inputs is instantaneous, and its feature set good for the class.
Being a hybrid, my tester included an animated energy-flow graphic at centre when the car was set to Eco mode, with surrounding colours being a mix of aqua-green and blues when so set, but everything glowed red in Sport mode, not that choosing the fiery hue was a particularly original thing for Hyundai to do (hey designers, how about orange or yellow just to separate your cars from the masses?). This said, Hyundai leaves a version of its Eco metre on the right-side dial no matter which drive mode the car is set to, with the Smart setting a personal favourite, being that it feels ready and waiting to either drive as frugally as possible more often than not, or as quickly as possible when called upon.
Hyundai added rear-facing cameras below the Sonata’s side mirrors last year, which project a live image onto the left- or right-side primary gauge cluster dials when engaging either turn signal. This is an absolutely brilliant feature that more competitors should adopt, but so far Hyundai, plus its Kia and Genesis sibling brands, are the only ones to offer it simultaneously with advanced driver technologies such as blind-spot monitoring, or lane change warning and intervention.
Of note, Honda was actually first with a turn signal-activated rear camera system dubbed LaneWatch, which I raved about when more readily available, but recently the Japanese brand has been phasing it out in favour of blind-spot monitoring. Kudos to Hyundai for created an even better dual-sided camera system (Honda’s was only added to their cars’ passenger-side blind-spot), and then making it available alongside all of its advanced driver assistance and safety features.
A glance to the right shows a centre display that’s as high in definition as the digital gauge cluster, which means it’s impressive as well. It’s about the same size too, and utilizes a touchscreen-controlled scrolling tile system that features three large tiles at startup. These can be organised as per preferences, with the stock setup including a navigation map on the left, audio functions in the middle, and fuel economy readouts to the right. Hyundai also includes some touch-sensitive buttons down each side of the display, plus a volume knob. I would’ve appreciated a tuning/scrolling knob (usually on the right) as well, and considering this car is probably targeting a more mature crowd than most others in Hyundai’s lineup, I’m guessing an analogue dial for tuning in radio stations or changing tracks would be appreciated by more folks than just me.
The navigation system worked faultlessly during my multiple-week test, and the audio system impressed even more, not only filling the car with streaming media and satellite radio, both of which I use all the time, but its sound quality was very good for this class.
I was also happy to see a wireless charging pad at the base of the centre stack, plus USB charge points for the wired crowd, not to mention the availability of Android Auto or Apple CarPlay, the former having become my go-to smartphone connectivity tool as of late. The charging pad wasn’t working when I first got the car, but I was able to set it up easily via the infotainment system’s settings page, where I found countless cool personalization possibilities as well.
Looking upward, there’s an attractive overhead console, but no moonroof. That’s an unusual site in this class, but maybe more fitting in a car that’s partially powered by a motive battery, Hyundai replaced the traditional moonroof with a non-translucent glass solar roof. That’s right, the cool glass section on the front half of the Sonata Hybrid’s outer roof is only visible when outside of the vehicle, and while the lack of a sunroof wasn’t much of an issue for me, it was a very strange omission after 20-plus years of testing cars, and one I can imagine some may be totally put off by. After all, the only cars without sunroofs have long been cheap, base models, which this Sonata Hybrid Ultimate is not.
Along with the aforementioned comfortable front seats that included all the usual adjustments in this class, the cabin provided very impressive finishing. The dash top was mostly softish composite, except for the shroud overtop the instrument cluster and the very front portion of the dash under the windshield (some might call this the back portion), which alternatively gets a textured, soft-painted composite.
Even better, to the left and right of the dash top’s sloping section, plus around the centre display, nicely stitched and padded leatherette added an element of luxury. There’s more of this highfalutin stuff elsewhere too, particularly on the door panels front and back, plus the just-noted soft-painted surfacing gets used for additional touchpoints as well. Lastly, some of the mainstream sector’s usual hard-shell plastic can be found in the interior’s lower regions, but it’s nicely textured and seems well put together, as does everything else in the cabin.
Rear seat legroom is excellent, while the backrests and lower cushions are very comfortable. A large, wide armrest folds down from centre, featuring the usual dual integrated cupholders, plus outboard rear passengers also get two-way heatable seats, with switchgear next to each power window controller on the door armrests. Lastly, a USB-A charging port can be found on the backside of the front centre console, just below a set of heat/air vents.
The Sonata Hybrid’s trunk is identically sized to the regular Sonata’s cargo area too, this not having always been the case with hybrid models due to rear-bulkhead-mounted battery packs (the old Ford Fusion Hybrid’s battery was quite intrusive). It’s therefore quite spacious at 453 litres (16.0 cu ft), while the trunk’s usefulness can be expanded upon with the usual 60/40 split rear seatbacks.
At the time of publishing, Hyundai had yet to update its retail site with 2022 Sonata Hybrid information, which probably means 2021 models are still available. Either way, CarCostCanada had and still has 2022 and 2021 model year details, so suffice to say the 2022 is pretty well identical to its predecessor, other than the addition of new Shimmering Silver optional paint to go along with the same five upgraded hues that were also available last year. All six optional colours add $200 to the bottom line, whereas Hyper White is the only standard shade, and therefore the only way you can get a 2022 Sonata Hybrid for $40,649 (plus freight and fees), before negotiating a discount that is.
When putting pen to paper, so to speak, Hyundai was offering up to $2,000 in additional incentives, although most CarCostCanada members were saving an average of $1,500, thanks to knowledge of these incentives as well as having dealer invoice pricing info on hand when negotiating. All said, the 2022 Sonata Hybrid is $450 pricier than the 2021, the latter still starting at $40,199. Both model years are only available in one Ultimate trim, which means there are no options other than just-noted colours.
So, if you’re looking for a luxuriously appointed mid-size sedan with an impressive balance of efficiency and performance, you should seriously consider Hyundai’s Sonata Hybrid. If you don’t mind being greeted by a menacing frown each morning, I can promise it’ll deliver plenty of smiles throughout the rest of each day.
by Trevor Hofmann
If you’ve been mostly at home with your children, like so many Canadians in recent months, you can breathe a sigh of relief that Porsche has taken the time to develop a new Porsche 4Kids website that’ll…
If you’ve been mostly at home with your children, like so many Canadians in recent months, you can breathe a sigh of relief that Porsche has taken the time to develop a new Porsche 4Kids website that’ll keep your little (and bigger) ones entertained for hours, and maybe even days.
Porsche4kids.com has plenty of fun online games, cool challenge videos plus virtual Porsche museum tours, a children’s fitness program, a dad jokes section (the kids will love them too), and a page for downloading additional games such as scattergories, and crafts like a build-it-yourself paper 911, fill-in-the-talk-bubble comic strips, colouring pages of everyone’s favourite road-going and Formula E Porsche models, plus more.
You and your kids will be guided through the Porsche 4Kids website by two animated characters named Tom Targa and Tina Turbo (you can even download their employee name tags and print them out), while real Porsche employees help in the museum tour and more. Additionally, once this pent-up-at-home era is history, your family can join Tina and Tom at one of the Porsche 4Kids Game Stations (consider them mobile science/driving/amusement parks) in Germany (and in some other countries too).
The Porsche 4Kids website is really fun for the entire family, as it was developed for children aged 5 to 13 years, plus teenagers, their parents and grandparents (this writer had plenty of fun resourcing the story), so be sure to check out Porsche4kids.com to learn more.
Story credit: Trevor Hofmann
Photo credits: Porsche
FYI, there are fewer new Ford Flex SUVs still available for sale than I had initially expected, although dozens are spread across most of the country. This means anyone wanting to get their hands on a…
FYI, there are fewer new Ford Flex SUVs still available for sale than I had initially expected, although dozens are spread across most of the country. This means anyone wanting to get their hands on a new example of this wholly unique three-row crossover utility needs to act quickly, because dealer-level discounts will be deep, plus according to CarCostCanada, Ford is offering up to $5,500 in additional incentives for this final 2019 model.
Yes, the unconventional Flex is being ushered off the stage after more than a decade of service and only a couple of years of reasonably good sales. Its first calendar year of 2009 resulted in 6,047 units down Canadian roads, and the next 12 months (2010) was good for 4,803 deliveries, but it saw lacklustre sales performance after that, with a high of just 3,268 units in 2012 and 1,789 in 2015. Strangely, year-over-year Flex sales picked up by 13.4 percent from 2017 to 2018 and 9.6 percent in 2019, so there’s still interest in this wonderfully unusual family hauler, but nevertheless its days were done as soon as the revitalized fifth-generation Explorer came on the scene in 2011 (hence the Flex’s immediate drop-off in sales that year).
For a bit of background, both the Flex and Explorer share a unibody structure based on Ford’s D4 platform architecture, which is a modified version of the original Volvo S80/XC90-sourced D3 platform. Looking back a bit further, the first D3 to wear the blue-oval was Ford’s rather bland Five Hundred sedan that quickly morphed into today’s Taurus (or should I say, yesterday’s Taurus, as it was recently discontinued as well, and therefore also benefits from up to $5,500 in additional incentives as per CarCostCanada). The Flex’s familial lineage harks back to the 2005–2007 Freestyle that was rebadged as the ill-named Taurus X for 2008–2009.
The just noted people movers don’t get much respect anymore, yet they were comfortable, nicely sized, reasonably agile, and quite innovative for their era. Each was amongst the first domestics to use a continuously variable transmission (CVT), and the Five Hundred and Freestyle were certainly some of the largest vehicles to do so before that point (the Nissan Murano beat them by a couple of years). Interestingly Ford soon abandoned the CVT for its large vehicle lineup, choosing a six-speed automatic for all Flex and fifth-gen Explorer model years, which has proven to be a reliable transmission.
Now that we’re talking mechanicals, the Flex received two different versions of Ford’s ubiquitous 3.5-litre V6 when introduced, which still carry through to today’s model. While the base Duratec engine made 262 horsepower and 248 lb-ft of torque from onset, output grew to 287 horsepower and 254 lb-ft of torque in 2013, which moved the three-row seven-occupant SUV along at a decent clip. A 355 horsepower 3.5-litre Ecoboost V6 making 350 lb-ft of torque became optional in 2010, and that turbocharged mill transformed the somewhat sedate five-door estate wagon into a rarified sleeper, while another 10-hp bump to 365 made it one of the most potent family conveyances available from a mainstream volume brand right up to this day.
That’s the version to acquire and once again the configuration I recently spent a week with, and it performed as brilliantly as it did when I first tested a similarly equipped Flex in 2016. I noticed a bit of front wheel twist when pushed hard off the line at full throttle, otherwise called torque steer, particularly when taking off from a corner, which is strange for an all-wheel drive vehicle, but it moved along quickly and was wonderfully stable on the highway, not to mention long sweeping corners and even when flung through sharp fast-paced curves thanks to its fully independent suspension setup and big, meaty 255/45R20 all-season rubber. I wouldn’t say it’s as tight as a premium SUV like Acura’s MDX, Audi’s Q7 or BMW’s X7, but we really can’t compare those three from a price perspective. Such was the original goal of the now defunct Lincoln MKT, but its styling never took off and therefore it was really only used for airport shuttle and limousine liveries.
Like the MKT and the many three-row Japanese and European crossover utilities available, the Flex is a very large vehicle, so no one should be expecting sports car-like performance. Combined with its turbo-six powerplant is the dependable SelectShift six-speed automatic mentioned earlier, and while not as advanced as the 7-, 8-, 9- and now even 10-speed automatics coming from the latest blue-oval, Lincoln and competitive products, it shifts quickly enough and is certainly smooth, plus it doesn’t hamper fuel economy as terribly as various brands’ marketing departments would have you believe. I love that Ford included paddle shifters with this big ute, something even some premium-branded three-row crossovers are devoid of yet standard with the more powerful engine (they replace the lesser engine’s “Shifter Button Activation” on the gear knob), yet the Flex is hardly short on features, especially in its top-tier Limited model.
I’d recommend leaving manual mode alone if you want to achieve the best fuel economy, however, but even the most potent V6 on the Flex menu does reasonably well at 15.7 L/100km city, 11.2 highway and 13.7 combined, at least when compared to similarly powered SUVs. It’s not much worse than the base engine either, with the AWD version going through an estimated 14.7 L/100km in the city, 10.7 on the highway and 12.9 combined, and the FWD model slurping back 14.7 city, 10.2 highway and 12.7 combined.
The Flex continues to be available in base SE, mid-range SEL and top-level Limited trim lines for the 2019 model year, with the majority still not spoken for being SELs (but don’t worry, there are plenty of SE and Limited models still around too). According to CarCostCanada, where you can find all pricing and feature information about most vehicles sold into the Canadian market, the Flex starts at $32,649 (plus freight and fees) for the SE with front-wheel drive (FWD), $39,649 for the SEL with FWD, $41,649 for the SEL with AWD, and $46,449 for the Limited that comes standard with AWD. All trim lines include the base engine, but for an additional $6,800 those opting for the Limited model can access the more formidable turbo-V6 (take note that other features are thrown in for this price too).
This means, for a retail price of $53,249 before adding any other features, you get a 2019 Flex Limited Ecoboost AWD that comes well equipped with all of the performance upgrades mentioned plus standard 19-inch silver-painted alloys on 235/55 all-season tires, HID headlights, fog lamps, LED taillights, a satin-aluminum grille, chromed exterior door handles, stainless steel bright beltline mouldings, a satin aluminum liftgate appliqué, a powered liftgate, bright dual exhaust tips, power-folding heatable side mirrors with memory feature and security approach lights, rain-sensing wipers, reverse parking sensors, and that’s only on the outside.
You can use remote engine start to warm things up or cool them down before even entering the Flex Limited, plus proximity-sensing access (or Ford’s exclusive SecuriCode keypad) to get inside, pushbutton ignition to keep things running, Ford MyKey to keep things secure when valets or your kids are at the wheel, while additional interior features include illuminated entry with theatre dimming lighting, a perforated leather-wrapped steering wheel rim with a genuine hardwood inlay, Yoho maple wood grain appearance appliqués, power-adjustable foot pedals with memory, perforated leather upholstery on the first- and second-row seats, a 10-way powered driver’s seat with memory, a six-way powered front passenger seat, heatable front seats, an auto-dimming rearview mirror, an overhead console with a sunglasses holder, ambient interior lighting with seven colours including default Ice Blue plus soft blue, blue, green, purple, orange and red, plus Ford’s Sync 3 infotainment system, a great sounding 12-speaker Sony audio system, SiriusXM satellite radio, dual USB charging ports (in the front console bin), dual-zone automatic climate control, rear manual HVAC controls, four 12-volt power points, a 110-volt household-style three-prong power outlet, Blind Spot Information System (BLIS) with Cross-Traffic Alert, and more.
For such an old vehicle the Flex appears right up to date when it comes to electronics due to its Cockpit Integrated Display that houses two bright, colour, high-resolution TFT displays within the primary gauge cluster (it was way ahead of its time) while the just noted Sync 3 infotainment system is nothing to sneeze at either, thanks to a large graphically stimulating and highly functional touchscreen with ultra-fast capability and excellent usability, the functions including extremely accurate optional navigation and a very good standard backup camera with active guidelines (but an overhead 360-degree surround view camera is not available), plus standard Apple CarPlay and Android Auto smartphone connectivity, the ability to add more apps, plus much more.
Over and above the list of standard Limited features it’s possible to add a $3,200 301A package that includes a heatable steering wheel rim, really comfortable 10-way powered front seats with three-way ventilation, adaptive cruise control, Collision Warning with autonomous emergency braking, and Active Park Assist semi-autonomous parking capability, but take note that all 301A features already come standard with the more potent engine, as does a unique set of 20-inch polished alloys, an engine block heater, a power-adjustable steering column, and a one-touch 50/50-split power-folding third row with tailgate seating.
You might have noticed that my tester’s wheels are hardly polished alloys, or at least they’re not silver, the glossy black 20-inch rims included as part of a $900 Appearance package that also adds a gloss-black exterior treatment to the centre grille bar, side mirror caps, and liftgate appliqué, plus Agate Black paint to the roof pillars and rooftop, while the interior gets a unique leather-wrapped steering wheel with Meteorite Black bezels, an exclusive graphic design on the instrument panel and door-trim appliqués, special leather seat upholstery with Light Earth Gray inserts and Dark Earth Gray bolsters, and floor mats with unique logo.
My tester’s multi-panel Vista panoramic sunroof has always been a standalone option for $1,750, while it’s still strange to see its voice-activated navigation system (with SiriusXM Traffic and Travel Link) as an individual add-on (nav systems are almost always bundled into top-tier models), while the glossy black roof rails can also be individually added for only $130, but take note you can get the roof rails (also in silver) as part of a $600 Cargo Versatility package that also combines the otherwise $500 Class III Trailer Tow package (good for up to 4,500 lbs or 2,041 kilos of trailer weight) with first- and second-row all-weather floor mats (otherwise a $150 standalone option) for a much more utile SUV.
Now that I’ve listed everything available with my tester, you can also add a refrigerated centre console for $650, or upgrade the otherwise 60/40-split second row bench seat to captain’s chairs with a centre console for just $150 (although I prefer the standard bench seat because its 40-percent section auto-folds from the rear in all trims), while $250 inflatable second-row seatbelts improve rear passenger safety, and a dual-screen rear entertainment system will add $2,100 to the bottom line.
Now that I’ve covered all of the Limited trim’s features, many of which are pulled up from base SE and mid-range SEL trims, it’s important to mention that the Flex cabin isn’t quite as refined as what you might find in the new 2020 Explorer, for instance. This said, I remember how blown away I was with its refinement when it came out, which just goes to show how far Ford and all other carmakers have come since 2009. The new Edge, for instance, which I recently tested in top-line trim, is probably better than the older Lincoln MKX, now replaced by the impressive Nautilus, whereas this Flex’s interior is a lot like the previous Edge inside.
It gets the big, clunky, hard plastic rocker switches for the powered locks instead of the more sophisticated electronic buttons, and certainly has a lower grade of hard composites throughout the interior than more recently redesigned Ford SUVs. Then again its dash-top features a nice soft-touch surface treatment, as do the door uppers front to back, while the door inserts get the cool graphic inserts noted earlier along with nice, large padded armrests.
All said, interior space might possibly be this SUV’s most noteworthy attribute, the Flex getting its name for its combination of minivan-like seating and cargo storage capability. First, let’s get real about overall space. The Flex’s maximum load carrying capacity of 2,355 litres (83.1 cubic feet) when both rear rows are folded flat pales in comparison to the old Ford Freestar minivan’s 3,885 litres (137.2 cu ft) of total cargo volume, but it’s good as far as three-row SUVs go. The Flex provides 42 more litres (1.5 cu ft) of maximum storage than the old 2019 Explorer, for instance, which is one of the largest SUVs in its class. Then again, the 2020 Explorer manages a maximum of 2,486 litres (87.8 cu ft) with its two rear rows folded, which beats both older utes.
The rear hatch powers open to expose 426 litres (15.0 cu ft) of dedicated cargo space behind the third row, which is actually 169 litres (6.0 cu ft) shy of the outgoing Explorer, but drop the second row down and the Flex almost matches the Explorer’s available capacity perfectly with 1,224 litres (43.2 cu ft) compared to 1,240 litres (43.8 cu ft). A handy feature mentioned earlier allows the third row to be folded in the opposite direction for tailgate parties, but you’ll need to make sure the headrests are extended as they might uncomfortable otherwise.
Total passenger volume is 4,412 litres (155.8 cu ft), which means every seating position is roomy and comfortable. Really, even third row legroom is good, while headroom is generous due to a tall roofline and the Flex’s width makes sure no one feels claustrophobic. The open-airiness of the panoramic sunroof really helps in this respect too, and its three-pane design is also smart because it provides the structural rigidity such a large vehicle like this needs. Thoughtful features I really like include the massive bottle holders in the rear door panels, which are really useful for drive-thru excursions, especially considering the grippy cupholders in the centre armrest are a bit on the small side.
As you can probably tell, I have a soft spot for this unorthodox box of an SUV, and appreciate Ford for having the courage to build it in the first place. While it’s old and feels a bit dated inside especially, plus is missing some features I’d appreciate having such as rear outboard seat heaters and USB ports in the back, it’s hard to knock its value proposition when factoring in the potential savings. Of course, choosing this old SUV when it’s parked next to a new 2020 Explorer will be difficult, but a similarly equipped version of the latter SUV will set you back another $10k before the aforementioned discount, while Ford is only offering up to $2,000 in additional incentives on this newer vehicle (which is still pretty impressive). That’s a difference of more than $13k, so therefore choosing a fully loaded Flex might be ideal for those on more of a luxury budget.
Before the COVID-19 outbreak I would have recommended rushing to your dealer in order to make sure you get one of the last remaining new Flex SUVs before they’re all gone, and while they will certainly disappear in due time you’ll probably need to deal with your Ford retailer digitally these days. Nevertheless, it’s a good idea to do your homework first before making the call, so be sure to visit the 2019 Ford Flex Canada Prices page at CarCostCanada, where you can check out all the trims and pricing, plus see if there have been any updates regarding manufacturer discounts, rebates and/or financing/leasing packages, while a membership to CarCostCanada will also provide otherwise hard to get dealer invoice pricing (the price the dealer actually pays the manufacturer), which will give you the best chance possible to negotiate a great deal. Your Ford retailer will have your Flex prepared (while wearing hazmat suits, masks and gloves no doubt), after which you can simply pick it up at your convenience.
So if this oddball SUV is as special to you as it is to me, I recommend taking advantage of the great model ending deals to be had. It might be an old entry amongst a plethora of seemingly more enticing new offerings, but keep in mind that its moderate popularity means that it’s remained fairly fresh despite its years (you won’t see many driving around the corner toward you or parked beside you at the mall), while its decade of availability and well-proven mechanicals make certain that reliability will be better average.
I love it when an automaker makes my job easy. For 2019, which has actually been a stopgap model year for Volkswagen’s Passat before the current version gives way to the second-generation of this special…
I love it when an automaker makes my job easy. For 2019, which has actually been a stopgap model year for Volkswagen’s Passat before the current version gives way to the second-generation of this special North American-built car, it only comes in one fully loaded Wolfsburg Edition trim line, which certainly reduces my need for research. Now I can focus more on the fun stuff, like styling, interior design and quality, how comfortable it is, what it’s like to drive, and so on.
It’s been around since 1972 in some form or another, arriving to North American markets a year later. Named Passat in Europe since inception, the initial Giorgetto Giugiaro-designed Audi-esque four-door fastback and wagon were dubbed Dasher here, and then Quantum for its similarly four-ring inspired second generation. The B3 finally took on the Passat nameplate, but as much as I liked that car, especially in 2.8-litre VR6 form, and the B4 that followed, the 270 horsepower 4.0-litre W8-motivated B5 with all-wheel drive was my personal favourite, and amongst the first Passats I got to know as a fledgling automotive scribe back in the early aughts.
That’s when VW rivalled Audi for performance and interior refinement, the unabashedly bold Phaeton luxury sedan showing up the following year with 335-horsepower V8 and 420-horsepower W12 powerplants plus $96,500 and $126,790 base prices respectively, and soon after that the 309-horsepower Touareg V10 TDI delivering a mind-blowing (for the time) 553 lb-ft of torque. Back then Volkswagen came closer to premium status than any other mainstream volume brand, and while today’s VW-badged vehicles still provide some upscale features not often offered amongst rivals, such as minimalist design, fabric-wrapped roof pillars (but only the A-pillars now), fully digital high-definition primary instrument clusters, and rear seat centre pass-throughs (or even better 40/20/40-split rear seatbacks), soft-touch surfaces are unfortunately less common, plus key switchgear is often hollow and cheap feeling, and chassis’ aren’t always fully independent (the new Jetta once again uses a torsion beam rear suspension, unlike the mostly IRS-equipped cars it competes against).
It certainly looks nice in this lovely Tourmaline Blue Metallic paint, one of six standard exterior colours available this year, including the usual white, black, grey and silver shades plus gorgeous Fortana Red Metallic, while the sportier R-Line exterior trim package comes standard this year, as do auto on/off LED headlamps with LED daytime running lights, LED taillights, and a stylish set of silver-painted twin-five-spoke 19-inch Salvador alloy rims wrapped in 235/40 all-season tires, and that’s just what we can see on the outside.
It looks downright rich inside, thanks to my tester’s beautiful cream-like Cornsilk Beige cabin motif (the interior comes in black and grey too, depending on exterior colours), with the dash top, door uppers and carpets done out in black for contrast. The horizontally ribbed leather seats look completely high-end, while splashes of textured metal, brushed aluminum and chrome are tastefully applied, as is de rigueur piano black lacquered plastic surface treatments on the superbly crafted steering wheel’s spokes, on the centre stack surrounding the infotainment and HVAC interfaces (albeit the latter not quite as impressive due to loose, wiggly knobs), continuing down to the lower console, and glitzing up the rear seating area vent panel on the backside of the front console, which also houses a USB-A charge port and three-way rear outboard seat warming buttons.
Heatable rear seats and all of the high-end features already mentioned in a $32,995 mid-size sedan? That’s right, it’s a pretty decent deal made even better thanks to a $2,000 no-questions-asked discount right off the top, which is an end of the model year, goodbye, so-long, don’t let the door hit you on your way out kind of send-off to a model that’s served its purposes relatively well over the past nine or so years. You can learn all about this rebate and any other available savings by visiting CarCostCanada, and while you’re there make sure to read up on dealer invoice pricing that makes it easier than ever to get the best deal possible.
Additional standard features include proximity-sensing keyless access with pushbutton ignition, a leather-wrapped multifunction steering wheel with paddle shifters, a colour multi-information display with a trip computer, a leather-clad shift knob and handbrake lever, brushed stainless steel pedals, rain-sensing wipers, heated washer nozzles, dual-zone automatic climate control, an auto-dimming rearview mirror, a powered glass sunroof, front sport seats, three-way heatable front seats to go along with those in back, an eight-way power-adjustable driver’s seat with two-way powered lumbar support, driver’s seat and side mirror memory, LED reading lights in the front and rear, an Easy Open trunk lid, 60/40 split-folding rear seatbacks with a centre armrest and pass-through down the middle, and much more.
A smallish albeit proximity-sensing (yes, a row of digital controls pops up when your hand gets near) 6.33-inch centre touchscreen provides quick response times and clean, simple, high-resolution (albeit unimaginative) graphics, plus the usual tap, swipe and pinch gesture controls that work ideally with the standard navigation system’s map, while additional infotainment features include Android Auto, Apple CarPlay and MirrorLink smartphone integration, plus Bluetooth, voice control, an SD card slot, and a pretty poor rearview camera image with the top portion of the display actually cut off by what seems like an hallucinogenic psilocybin-induced semicircle that might be more distracting than helpful, plus there aren’t any dynamic guidelines let alone an overhead 360-degree view.
The Fender premium audio system was fairly good, and included six speakers and a subwoofer, plus satellite radio, a CD player, USB audio input/charging (but only one in this big car), and more. While the Passat’s infotainment system has most of the right ingredients, swapping my keys for a new 2020 GTI at the end of the week made its much larger touchscreen an obvious improvement, its incredible resolution, plus its superior depth of contrast and colour, having me looking forward to the new 2020 Passat’s system.
A lid at the base of the centre stack lifts to expose a rubber tray for storing your personal device, but it wasn’t large enough for my average-sized smartphone, so I suppose I was happy no wireless charging pad was connected to it either. Instead, the aforementioned USB and an aux port sit beside a 12-volt charger, while the row of switches next to the shift lever just behind included a button for front and rear parking sensors and another for the semi-autonomous self parking system, plus four dummy buttons that made me feel like this particular model was missing a lot of equipment. For instance, there was no heated steering wheel, a shame considering how impressive the flat-bottom leather-wrapped rim and its array of high-quality switchgear was, plus the leather front seats weren’t ventilated.
Then again, the Passat’s list of standard safety features is impressive, with autonomous emergency braking, blindspot detection with rear cross-traffic alert, lane assist, adaptive cruise control, driver assistance, park distance control and park assist leaving little to be desired, but it’s the way all of these systems worked that I liked more. Sometimes advanced driver assistive systems can be overly sensitive, engaging too early or misreading a given situation and then reacting when they shouldn’t, all of which could potentially cause a driver to turn them off, but after hardly noticing they were there during my weeklong drive, the Passat’s lane keeping assist system kept me locked next to the white lane when I tried veering off the highway without my turn signal on. While a bit annoying, I immediately became grateful that the system only came into play when needed, and it worked very well.
I noted earlier that Volkswagen’s interior materials quality isn’t quite as good as it used to be, but I’d best explain this in detail with respect to this Passat. It’s mostly on par with key rivals, although from a brand that previously was way above average when it comes to soft-touch padded surface treatments and other refinements, it’s now below average. This said the quality of pliable composites used on the dash top and door uppers is above par, but before sounding too positive, the lower dash and glove box lid, the sides of the centre stack, and the lower door panels are a lower than average grade of hard plastic. And there’s the rub. Some areas are finished so well that the Passat’s in a class of one, yet other details seem more suited to an entry-level subcompact.
The powertrain poses an equal dichotomy, in that it measures up to most competitors’ base engines, yet finds itself stuffed into the bay of a near-premium offering. It makes sense that VW chose the car’s more fuel-efficient 2.0-litre four-cylinder as its sole offering instead of last year’s optional 3.6-litre V6, being that the latter engine wasn’t a popular upgrade, but in a market segment that often provides engine options with well over 200 horsepower the Passat’s 174 ponies and 184 lb-ft of torque aren’t exactly going to excite the masses, on paper at least.
In reality, all that torque arrives at just 1,500 rpm, so it feels a lot sportier off the line than the numbers suggest. The front wheels are fed power through a tried and tested six-speed automatic transmission, with the aforementioned paddle-shifters providing plenty of hands-on engagement, important because the mid-size four-door manages fast-paced curves a bit better than most family sedans. A fully independent front strut and rear multi-link suspension setup with stabilizer bars at both ends makes sure it grips tarmac decisively, but despite better than average handling its ride is still plenty compliant, providing a bit more firmness than most Japanese, Korean and domestic mid-size sedans, but never unpleasantly rough or jarring.
All this and it gets reasonably good fuel economy at 9.3 L/100km in the city, 6.5 on the highway and 8.1 combined, another reason VW opted for the four instead of the six. Add to this a near comprehensive four-year or 80,000 km warranty, and the Passat starts looking like a very intelligent buy.
Practical issues in mind, the Passat’s front seating area is sizeable enough for large occupants, and the driver’s seat is comfortable albeit slightly firmer than average. It gets fore and aft two-way lumbar support that just happened to meet the small of my back perfectly, while the lower cushion reached far enough forward to almost completely cup under my knees. Rear seat roominess is even more generous and dutifully comfortable in the outboard positions, while the trunk is larger than average at 450 litres (15.9 cubic feet), plus its 60/40-split rear seatbacks are made even more agreeable to passengers and long cargo by including the aforementioned pass-through right down the centre. This could be a dealmaker for skiers preferring to keep their boards securely locked inside when not strapped onto their boots.
As for whether the 2019 Passat Wolfsburg Edition’s many attributes cause it to be a dealmaker for you or not, you’ll never know unless you try one on for size. The fact so few are on the road compared to Camrys, Accords and literally every other mainstream mid-size sedan currently available (Volkswagen sold just 570 Passats YTD as of Q3 2019, compared to 11,579 Camrys and 9,089 Accords, with the only car in the class selling fewer units being VW’s own Arteon with just 288 deliveries so far this year), will set you completely apart from the crowd as you’re arriving in style, and some may even mistake it for something premium, like an Audi. I begrudgingly continue to like it, not because it’s particularly better than anything else, but more so because I’m a sucker for European-badged exclusivity and contrarily root for the underdog more often than not.
Here’s hoping the new 2020 Passat improves on this outgoing model’s weaknesses while keeping its many attributes, so it can truly be hoisted above all others the way its predecessors could. This said if VW chose cut corners in order to bring pricing down, and by so doing didn’t make the upcoming redesign more refined and premium-like inside than this passing generation, the Passat will unfortunately continue on as an also-ran, garnering very little interest and eventually disappearing from our continent. That would be a shame.
Subaru has just introduced a redesigned 2020 Legacy mid-size sedan with new styling, updated engines, and a revised interior, but outward changes are so subtle you’d be forgiven for mixing up the new…
Subaru has just introduced a redesigned 2020 Legacy mid-size sedan with new styling, updated engines, and a revised interior, but outward changes are so subtle you’d be forgiven for mixing up the new 2020 with this 2019 model. So why write about a 2019 Legacy when the 2020 is already on the way? Subaru retailers still have new 2019 models available, and these can be had for very good deals.
According to CarCostCanada at the time of writing, you can save up to $3,000 in additional incentives on a 2019 Legacy, and that’s over and above any further discount you manage to personally procure. A first step would be to visit CarCostCanada where you can learn about pricing details, including trims, packages and individual options, while you can also find out about rebates and dealer invoice pricing that could save you thousands.
Subaru refreshed its Legacy mid-size sedan for the 2018 model year, and therefore this 2019 version remains unchanged. The model tested for this review was in mid-range $31,695 Sport trim, which sits above the base $24,995 2.5i CVT, $28,295 Touring, and $29,795 Touring with Subaru’s EyeSight package of advanced driver assistive systems, which includes automatic high beams, adaptive cruise control, automatic emergency braking, rear proximity warning with reverse automatic braking, blind spot detection, lane departure warning and lane keeping assist, but Sport trim (that comes standard with EyeSight) is still more affordable than the $33,795 Limited 2.5i and $36,795 Limited 3.6R (also standard with the EyeSight package).
The “2.5i” and “3.6R” designations refer to standard and optional engines respectively, with the latter having been discontinued for the 2020 Legacy and Outback crossover wagon, incidentally, replaced by the more potent 2.4-litre turbocharged four-cylinder introduced in last year’s Ascent mid-size SUV. Compared to this year’s 3.6-litre horizontally-opposed six-cylinder, which is good for 256 horsepower and 247 lb-ft of torque, the new four makes 260 horsepower and 277 lb-ft of torque, while the base 2.5-litre four-cylinder found in this Legacy Sport and all other Legacy trims, which produces 175 horsepower and 174 lb-ft of torque, gets 90 percent of its components replaced for 2020 resulting in an additional 6 horsepower (for 182) and 2 lb-ft of torque (for 176), a nominal difference off the line yet noticeable at the pump.
The 2019 Legacy 2.5i achieves a claimed 9.3 L/100km on the highway, 7.0 in the city and 8.2 combined compared to 8.8 city, 6.7 highway and 7.7 combined for the new 2020 base engine. Comparing 2019 Legacy 3.6R fuel economy to the new 2020 2.4i is even more dramatic, with the outgoing engine managing an estimated 11.9 L/100km city, 8.3 highway and 10.3 combined rating and the new version achieving 9.9 city, 7.3 highway and 8.5 combined. The Legacy’s standard all-wheel drive means its base powertrain isn’t quite as thrifty as its mostly front-wheel drive competitors, but the differences are nominal, while both its old 3.6R and new 2.4i are much more efficient than the Camry’s available V6, for example.
Rather than delve too deeply into the differences between the new 2020 Legacy and this current 2019 model, I’ll touch on a few key issues as part of this road test review and keep some of the other details for a future review of the redesigned car. As noted in the beginning of this review, styling updates are so minor I’d hesitate calling it a refresh. In fact, Subaru Canada doesn’t mention anything about styling in its 2020 Legacy press release, an unusual tack, but I imagine this is good news for those who liked the previous design, and should help this current sixth-generation model maintain its resale/residual values. I find both models handsome enough and sportier looking than some rivals, while Subaru clearly isn’t trying to woo would-be buyers with anything too extroverted, like Toyota is with its new Camry XSE.
The Legacy’s wallflower appearance may be one reason its sales are so low, the 1,298 units Subaru sold after Q3 2019 just a hair over 11-percent of the 11,579 Camrys delivered during the same nine months. Still, it’s not last, the Legacy outselling Kia’s Stinger, Mazda’s 6, Honda’s Clarity plug-in, Buick’s Regal, Volkswagen’s Passat, and the same German brand’s new Arteon four-door coupe, while coming very close to Kia’s Optima. This leaves it eighth out of 14 challengers, which really isn’t too shabby. Then again, the Legacy’s numbers pale in comparison to Subaru’s own Outback that sold 7,756 units over the same three quarters, the tall crossover wagon basically the same car under the skin.
Fortunately, sales success doesn’t necessarily reflect how good or bad a given vehicle is, and other than being slightly smaller than most of its mid-size sedan rivals, it shows no disadvantages. Subaru has an enviable record, achieving “Best Overall” brand status in Consumer Reports’ latest 2019 Annual Report on Car Performance, Reliability, Satisfaction and Safety, not to mention tied in the “Best Road Test Score Mainstream” category with Chrysler. Subaru was above average in J.D. Power’s latest 2019 Vehicle Dependability Study too, albeit below average in the same organization’s 2019 Initial Quality Study. This said the 2019 Legacy was rated best for “Mid-Size” sedan consumers in Vincentric’s latest “Best Value In Canada” awards, as did the Outback in its segment.
No doubt interior quality gave the Legacy a leg up with the various third-party analytical firms’ rating programs, its premium-like padded composite dash top and instrument panel stitched across its lower edge with a classic Subaru blue thread, while that blue stitching also trims the inside rim of the leather-clad sport steering wheel, all the armrests, and the leather-like bolsters of the otherwise light grey textured fabric seats. Additionally, some very authentic-looking glossy carbon-fibre inlays accent the instrument panel and door uppers, butting up against some attractive satin-silver metallic trim, while gloss-black and matte-finish black composites join yet more satin-finish and chromed metal accents. Subaru details out both front and rear door uppers in the same luxurious padded composite as the dash, and wraps each A-pillar in fabric for an extra level of pampering and sound deadening.
Despite the new 2020 model providing a fresh new interior highlighted by a massive 11.6-inch vertical display that looks like it’s been pulled right out of a Tesla (other than the new base model that makes do with a 7.0-inch touchscreen), this 2019 version still looks up to date. In fact, its 8.0-inch touchscreen (uprated from the 6.5-inch screen in the 2019 base model) looks pretty state of the art when compared to most competitors thanks to a large glossy black surrounding panel that juts out of the central dash as if it’s one big screen. The display itself provides a rich blue background complete with graphical stars, overlaid by colourful tablet-style tiles for each function. The backup camera is excellent, and includes dynamic guidelines, while on top of standard infotainment features like Apple CarPlay, Android Auto and Subaru’s proprietary StarLink smartphone integration, other features include AM/FM/CD/MP3/WMA plus satellite and Aha radio, a USB and aux port, SiriusXM advanced audio services, SiriusXM Travel Link, Bluetooth with audio streaming, and four-speaker audio, while Touring and above trims include the larger display plus another USB port and two more speakers.
If you want navigation, a better 576-watt, 12-speaker Harmon/Kardon audio system, as well as a heatable steering wheel rim, heated rear seats, leather upholstery, 18-inch alloy wheels and more you’ll need to move up to the aforementioned Limited model, while features pulled up to my Sport tester from lesser trims include a 10-way power-adjustable driver’s seat with two-way powered lumbar support (that did a pretty good job of lining up with the small of my back), cruise control, and heated front seats from the base model, dual-zone automatic climate control, a power glass sunroof, and fog lights from Touring trim, plus proximity-sensing keyless entry with pushbutton ignition and a 5.0-inch LCD multi-information display (within the gauge cluster) from the Touring model with EyeSight.
Special Legacy Sport features include 18-inch machine-finish alloys with black-painted pockets, steering-responsive LED headlights, a glossy black grille surround, satin-silver side mirror housings, side sill extensions with chrome mouldings, and a diffuser-style rear bumper cap with big chrome-tipped tailpipes at each corner, but take note this value priced Sport model won’t be available with the 2020 redesign. The new car’s sportiest trim pulls its GT designation from the past, and suitably comes standard with the quicker 2.4i engine in a new Premier trim as well as a renewed Limited model.
Once again Subaru’s renowned symmetrical full-time all-wheel drive with active torque vectoring comes standard, and makes a big difference to how this car drives in slippery and even dry conditions. Let’s not forget Subaru honed its symmetrical AWD system through decades of World Rally Championship contention and still produces the legendary WRX that brought home so many titles. The Legacy was rallied too, by the way, in Group A from 1989 through 1993, although its single race win during its final year was nowhere near as glorious as the Impreza’s three championships, yet how many other mid-size sedan nameplates even have one WRC win to their credit? To save you time looking it up, exactly none.
As you might expect, the Legacy Sport is amongst the mid-size sedan segment’s more enjoyable cars to drive, not specifically for its straight-line speed, which would really benefit from the WRX STI’s 310-horsepower mill, but it gets up and goes quickly enough for most peoples’ needs and similarly to other base drivetrains in this class, while its Lineartronic CVT makes for smooth sailing all the way from standstill to highway speeds and beyond. Subaru includes a set of paddle shifters to enhance the process, and while allowing for hands-on engagement via six preset ratios that feel fairly close to the stepped gears in a conventional automatic when not pushing too hard, the transmission doesn’t provide the type of snappy gear changes found in most conventional automatics. I used them more for downshifting, the process giving this CVT a sportier feel and the benefit of engine braking, while upshifting early can save fuel in a regular automatic, but I doubt it makes much if any difference with a continuously variable transmission.
A CVT’s design can help smooth out a vehicle’s ride as well, and it may very well do so for the Legacy Sport that provides comfort first and foremost. Its ride quality is truly superb, yet the car holds its own through the corners as well thanks to a well-sorted fully independent MacPherson strut front and unequal length (short/long arm) double wishbone rear suspension setup, not to mention 225/50R18 Goodyear Eagle LS all-seasons connecting car to pavement. It really feels confidence inspiring when pushed through tight, fast-paced curves, while it’s just as adept at darting in and out of congested traffic or widening its gait on an open freeway.
The comfortable driver’s seat should provide ample adjustability for most body types, my short-torso five-foot-eight frame having no problem reaching the top of steering wheel when its tilt and telescopic column was extended all the way rearward. This means my seat was set farther back than most people my height would, but this didn’t hamper rear seat legroom enough to cause any problem.
Sitting directly behind, I had nearly 12 inches between my knees and the backside of the front seat, plus room enough to completely stretch out my legs when my winter boot-shod feet were positioned underneath. Likewise, I had plenty of space to each side, allowing a comfortably wide armrest with dual integrated cupholders to be folded down in between, while about three inches was left over above my head, which means a six-foot-plus rear passenger should fit quite comfortably in back. As far as rear seat amenities go, two USB charging points are offered, but only the centre dome lamp provided light for those wanting to read a conventional book.
The trunk is quite spacious at 425 litres (15 cu ft), and features the usual 60/40-split rear seatbacks that can be released by pull-handles under the bulkhead. I’ll make my usual plea for a centre pass-through or better yet, a three-way 40/20/40 rear seatback split, so skis can be placed down the middle while both (potentially heated) rear window seats can be put into use, because this would make the Legacy an even better snow shuttle than it already is. This said, not many challengers in this class offer the rear-row flexibility I’m looking for, so it will hardly be a deal-breaker, other than causing yet more buyers to look to the mid-size crossover SUV sector for their next ride.
So there you have it. Even the outgoing 2019 Legacy is well worth your attention, especially for those needing or wanting four-wheel traction as winter approaches, the only other cars in this class to offer standard all-wheel drive being the new Altima, Stinger and Arteon, but the latter two are actually four-door coupes targeting a near-luxury demographic, with the Optima and Passat serving the convention mid-size sedan buyer. Buick’s Regal makes AWD optional, but it’s a much pricier alternative too. There’s a good argument for Subaru’s rally-proven Symmetrical AWD over any others, and many of its additional attributes, including all the industry accolades noted earlier, make the Legacy an intelligent alternative in a Canadian market that’s preparing for a snowier than normal 2019/2020 winter, or so says The Old Farmer’s Almanac. Not being forced to chain up mid-winter is reason enough to choose AWD, and the Legacy is a smart choice.
Have you seen the 2020 Toyota Highlander? It’s not available to purchase yet, having only debuted at the New York International Auto Show in April, but a quick glance shows that Toyota’s crossover…
Have you seen the 2020 Toyota Highlander? It’s not available to purchase yet, having only debuted at the New York International Auto Show in April, but a quick glance shows that Toyota’s crossover SUV division is abandoning its recent Lexus-inspired grandiosity in favour of a subtler approach, much like the 2014 through 2016 Highlander did.
You might remember that Toyota redesigned the Highlander for the 2014 model year, giving it a lot more character and much more refinement inside, while increasing the maximum seat count from seven to eight, and then after enjoying much success with this newfound mid-size crossover formula the automaker replaced the simpler Toyota truck-inspired front grille and fascia for a ritzier chromed up look just three years later for the 2017 model year, which honestly hadn’t hurt sales until recently.
I’m not a fan of all the glitz and glam adorning the face of this otherwise clean, uncluttered and straightforward family hauler (it still looks quite nice from the rear), but possibly due to its new façade and likely more so because of the automotive market’s general adoption of crossover SUVs in place of cars, Canadian sales were up by 17.70 percent from calendar years 2016 to 2017, although they dropped by 4.06 percent last year and over the first half of 2019 have slipped another 17.70 percent (bizarre that the model’s fall from grace so far this year is in perfect sync with its growth two years ago).
So why, in a market that’s supposedly turning away from traditional cars to crossovers and SUVs, has the Highlander been losing so much ground? Another glance at the stats shows it’s not alone, at least amongst mid-size SUV sales that have fallen by 7.66 percent from calendar years 2017 to 2018. In fact, of the 24 crossovers and SUVs currently selling into the mid-size volume segment (including raised wagons like Subaru’s Outback, two-row crossover SUVs like Hyundai’s Santa Fe, three-row crossover SUVs like this Highlander, and traditional body-on-frame SUVs like Toyota’s 4Runner), eight saw positive growth and 10 experienced a swing in the negative direction, with another five seeing only growing due to being completely new models.
Don’t expect to see all of these models in the same order at year’s end, thanks to redesigns (the new Explorer should be closer to it’s previous third place, and the aforementioned 2020 Highlander will no doubt get a boost too) and all-new models swelling the ranks (the new Blazer’s sales are impressive), but the leading brands will likely maintain their leadership for good reason, and one of those leaders has long been Toyota.
Being the last year of this well-seasoned third-generation K-platform-based (XU50) Highlander (the new model will ride on the GA-K version of the Toyota New Global Architecture/TNGA), Toyota hasn’t done much to lure in additional buyers. In fact, it’s only added an optional set of LED fog lamps in place of last year’s halogens, which look almost identical from a distance.
Toyota loaned me a 2019 Highlander Hybrid Limited for my weeklong test, by the way, in the exact same Celestial Silver Metallic and Black perforated leather combination as last year’s version, a model I reviewed in detail along with a lovely “Ooh La La Rouge Mica” (that’s really the name) painted conventionally powered 2018 Highlander Limited (both models get the LED fog light upgrade this year).
Updates aside, I still find it shocking that Toyota is the only mainstream volume brand to offer optional electrification in this mid-size class, being that most key competitors have had hybrid drivetrains within their given lineups for decades (although I’ll give Chrysler a shout-out for its Pacifica Hybrid plug-in because it’s at least spacious enough to compete). More power to Toyota, as this Highlander Hybrid remains the most fuel efficient mid-size crossover SUV available, at a time when our country is experiencing our highest pump prices ever, and no end to the budget gouging in sight if our various governments continue to have any say.
Claimed 2019 Highlander Hybrid ratings are 8.1 L/100km in the city, 8.5 on the highway and 8.3 combined, compared to 12.0 city, 8.9 highway and 10.6 combined for the most similarly equipped mid-range XLE and top-line Limited trims with the conventionally-powered V6, AWD, and upgraded auto start/stop system.
Before showing you all competitive model Transport Canada fuel economy numbers, it’s important to note that both Highlander models offer a lot more standard power. Where the majority of rivals come standard with four-cylinder engines, the regular Highlander now uses a 3.5-litre V6 good for 295 horsepower and 263 lb-ft of torque, driving either the front wheels in LX trim, or all four in LX AWD, XLE and Limited trims, via an eight-speed automatic with available auto idle start/stop, whereas the Highlander Hybrid uses the same engine running the more efficient Atkinson-cycle yet, thanks to its potent electric motor/battery combination, makes 306 net horsepower and an undisclosed (but more than sufficient) amount of torque, which ramps up near immediately due to 100 percent of electrified twist arriving instantaneously.
From the list of three-row competitors above, the most efficient (when compared with AWD and auto start/stop if available) rival is Kia’s Sorento at 11.2 L/100km city, 9.0 highway and 10.2 combined, but the Sorento is quite a bit smaller than the Highlander and, like its platform-sharing Hyundai Santa Fe that is no longer available with three rows so as to make way for the brand new Palisade, Kia buyers looking for more passenger and cargo room will likely move up to the Telluride.
Just the same, after the Sorento the thriftiest three-row mid-size SUVs are as follows: GMC Acadia: 11.3 L/100km city, 9.4 highway and 10.5 combined; Mazda CX-9 at 11.6, 9.1 and 10.5 respectively; Highlander V6 at 12.0, 8.9 and 10.6; Nissan Pathfinder at 12.1, 8.9 and 10.7; Honda Pilot at 12.4, 9.3 and 11.0; Hyundai Palisade at 12.3, 9.6 and 11.1; Kia Telluride at 12.5, 9.6 and 11.2; Dodge Durango at 12.7, 9.6 and 11.3; Ford Explorer at 13.1, 9.2 and 11.4; Chevrolet Traverse at 13.7, 9.5 and 11.8; Volkswagen Atlas at 13.8, 10.2 and 12.2; Dodge Journey at 14.5, 10.0 and 12.4; Ford Flex at 14.7, 10.7 and 12.9; and Toyota 4Runner at 14.3, 11.9 and 13.2 respectively.
The only mid-size (kind of) crossover SUV that comes close to the Highlander Hybrid as far as fuel economy goes, albeit with only two rows, five passengers, and much less cargo capacity or power is the four-cylinder equipped Subaru Outback, which still comes up short at 9.4 L/100km city, 7.3 highway and 8.5 combined, while more closely sized, but still two-row, five-passenger and four-cylinder equipped options that improve on the V6-powered Highlander’s fuel-efficiency include the base Ford Edge at 11.4 city, 8.3 highway and 10.0 combined; the Hyundai Santa Fe at 11.2, 8.7 and 10.1 respectively; and the Nissan Murano at 11.7, 8.5 and 10.3; while just for the sake of finishing the list, the new similarly smaller Honda Passport is rated at 12.5, 9.8 and 11.3 respectively; the new Chevrolet Blazer at 12.7, 9.5 and 11.3, while finally the Jeep Grand Cherokee gets a 12.7, 9.6 and 11.3 respective rating.
The electromechanical portion of the Highlander Hybrid’s drivetrain is made up of two permanent magnet synchronous motors, one for driving the front wheels and the other for those in the rear, plus a sealed nickel-metal hydride (Ni-MH) traction battery. Yes, no lithium-ion battery for this now classic Hybrid Synergy Drive hybrid system, but that’s not a bad thing. Consider for a moment that NiMH batteries have been in automotive use since the original Prius went on sale in 1997, and plenty of Prius taxis can be found running around Canadian cities with more than a million kilometres on their original battery packs. NiMH batteries have a proven track record, plus older batteries can be rebuilt using newer modules, as they’ve basically been the same since 2001.
The only negative with the Highlander Hybrid, at least from a driving perspective, is the replacement of the regular model’s eight-speed automatic with an electronically controlled continuously variable transmission (ECVT), but it’s only an issue when pushing the SUV harder through fast-paced backroads than you will likely ever do. Around town and on the highway both transmissions are wonderfully smooth and easy to get along with, while Toyota gives the ECVT a fairly conventional feel thanks to stepped ratios that mimic a traditional automatic, as well as a sequential shift mode when wanting to get sporty, or merely downshift for engine-braking.
As for the Hybrid’s all-wheel drive system, it worked well enough in the rain and even in the mountaintop snow I was able to locate during my test week. Toyota has had a baker’s dozen of years to perfect this basic system, moving up from the original 2006 Highlander Hybrid’s 3.3-litre V6 to the current 3.5-litre version, but other than that sticking with this tried and true drivetrain formula, and I’ve never had an issue pulling myself out of sticky or slippery situations, snow banks included.
Breaking the $50k barrier (at $50,950 plus freight and fees) the 2019 Highlander Hybrid doesn’t come cheap in base XLE trim, while this full-load Limited version hits the road for an even loftier $57,260, but then again a similarly optioned 2019 Chevrolet Traverse High Country comes in at an even pricier $60,100, and the only slightly more upscale 2019 Buick Enclave Avenir will set you back a stratospheric $62,100, and they don’t even offer hybrid drivetrains, so maybe the Highlander Hybrid Limited isn’t so expensive after all.
By the way, make sure to check out CarCostCanada for detailed pricing of all cars just mentioned, including trims, packages and options, plus money saving rebate info and dealer invoice pricing that could save you thousands, whether purchasing the new 2019 Highlander, 2019 Chevy Traverse, 2019 Buick Enclave, or any other mid-size crossover SUV (I’ve got them all linked above if you’d like to know more).
This is where I’d normally go into detail about those trims, packages and options just noted, but it makes more sense to link to my 2018 Toyota Highlander V6 AWD and Hybrid Road Test review and you can read all about it, because, as mentioned earlier, nothing at all has changed from 2018 to 2019 other than those LED fog lamps.
Suffice to say this is a really impressive SUV, with plenty of power, a wonderful ride, decent enough handling, near premium levels of interior quality that even include woven cloth wrapped around all eight roof pillars and plenty of soft-touch surfacing, a nice colourful gauge cluster filled with the types of hybrid controls expected from a partially electric vehicle, a reasonably good centre touchscreen that’s now only overshadowed because of Toyota’s excellent new Entune infotainment interface, comfortable seating from front to back, loads of cargo space, a great reliability record, and superb fuel economy.
The only reason not to consider the 2019 Highlander Hybrid is the same factor for getting one sooner than later, the new 2020 Highlander Hybrid that will show up later this year. It promises to be a step up in styling, refinement and performance, which might give pause to anyone buying this tried and tested model, but that said the current version is not only well proven, it should also be easier for your to get a significant discount. Once again, check out CarCostCanada for any rebate info, while it’s always a good idea to find out what the dealer pays for the vehicle you want in order to negotiate the best deal possible.
I said this before and I’ll say it again, the new Accord is the most attractive car in its midsize sedan class, and one of the best looking to ever be sold in this segment. Not only that, I find it…
I said this before and I’ll say it again, the new Accord is the most attractive car in its midsize sedan class, and one of the best looking to ever be sold in this segment. Not only that, I find it better looking than a lot of premium-branded sedans, and wouldn’t doubt that some who might have never purchased in this class before will now consider doing so solely because it exists.
This scenario may have played out on Canada’s sales charts last year, with the Accord being the only mid-size sedan to see growth from January 2018 through December’s end. OK, its archrival Toyota Camry barely escaped the red by growing a scant 0.1 percent over the same 12-month period, but Accord deliveries were up 2.4 percent during an era that’s seen the mid-size sedan decimated by crossover SUV popularity. This last point was evidenced by other Accord competitors seeing their market shares eroded significantly, the next best-selling Chevy Malibu’s sales down 16.3 percent, followed by the Fusion dropping 34.8 percent, the Nissan Altima lower by 21.4 percent, the Hyundai Sonata by 33.6 percent, Kia Optima by 27.5 percent, Volkswagen Passat by 29.5 percent, Mazda6 by 9.8 percent, and Subaru Legacy down by 28.1 percent. That’s an unbelievable level of mid-size sedan carnage, but the new Accord solely rose above it all.
Of course, there’s a lot more to the 10th-generation Accord than just good looks. There’s an equally attractive interior filled with premium levels of luxury and leading edge electronics, plus dependable engineering borne from decades of production and non-stop refinements. The first hybrid drivetrain was introduced as an option to the seventh-generation Accord way back in 2005, skipped a generation and then came back as an option with the ninth-gen Accord in 2013, and now it’s here again.
As with previous iterations, the latest Accord Hybrid looks much the same as the conventionally powered model, which I appreciate because it’s not trying too hard to stand out and keeps the Accord’s attractive styling intact. Truly, the only noticeable difference is a removal of tailpipe finishers, the Hybrid featuring some discrete chrome trim in their place. Chrome in mind, both no-name Hybrid and Hybrid Touring trims feature the same chrome exterior details as the regular Accord’s EX-L and above trims, Sport model excluded.
Touring upgrades that aren’t as noticeable include full LED headlamps that feature light emitting diodes for the high as well as the low beams, plus unique signature LED elements around the outside of the headlamp clusters, chrome-trimmed door handles, and the availability of no-cost as-tested Obsidian Blue Pearl exterior paint instead of standard Crystal Black Pearl or $300 White Orchid Pearl, the only two shades offered with the base model.
Now that we’ve got the obvious visual changes from base Hybrid to Hybrid Touring trims out of the way, the top-line model also replaces Honda’s exclusive LaneWatch blind spot display system with a Blind Spot Information (BSI) and Rear Cross Traffic Monitor system, while adding adaptive dampers to improve handling, rain-sensing wipers, a head-up display (HUD), an auto-dimming rearview mirror, passenger side mirror reverse gear tilt-down, a HomeLink garage door remote, a powered moonroof, front and rear parking sensors, navigation, voice recognition, satellite and HD radio capability, HondaLink subscription services, wireless device charging, an AT&T Wi-Fi hotspot, driver’s seat memory, a four-way powered front passenger’s seat, a heatable steering wheel rim, perforated leather upholstery, ventilated front seats, heated rear outboard seats, and more for $40,090 plus freight and fees.
Incidentally, I sourced 2019 Honda Accord Hybrid pricing from CarCostCanada, which not only breaks everything down into trims, packages and standalone options, but also provides information about available rebates as well as dealer invoice pricing that could save you thousands.
Additionally, items pulled up to the Hybrid Touring from base $33,090 Hybrid trim include unique aerodynamically designed machine-finished 17-inch alloy wheels, auto-on/off headlight control with automatic high beams, LED fog lamps, LED taillights, a remote engine starter, proximity-sensing keyless access with pushbutton ignition, a leather-wrapped multifunction steering wheel, a 7.0-inch colour TFT multi-information display within the primary gauge cluster, dual-zone automatic climate control, an 8.0-inch infotainment touchscreen with tablet-style tap, swipe and pinch gesture controls, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto smartphone integration, a multi-angle rearview camera with dynamic guidelines, Bluetooth phone connectivity with streaming audio, near field communication (NFC), 452-watt audio with 10 speakers including a subwoofer, two front and two rear USB charging ports, SMS text message and email reading functionality, Wi-Fi tethering, overhead sunglasses storage, a 12-way powered driver’s seat with four-way powered lumbar support, heatable front seats, the HondaLink Assist automatic emergency response system, plus all the expected active and passive safety features including front knee airbags.
Some safety features that might not be expected include the standard Honda Sensing suite of advanced driver assistance systems, incorporating Adaptive Cruise Control (ACC) with Low-Speed Follow, Collision Mitigation Braking System (CMBS), Forward Collision Warning (FCW), Lane Departure Warning (LDW), Road Departure Mitigation (RDM), Lane Keeping Assist System (LKAS), and traffic sign recognition, this being enough to earn the regular Accord a Top Safety Pick from the IIHS when equipped with its upgraded headlights, while all Accord trims get a best-possible five stars from the NHTSA.
The long list of Accord Hybrid Touring features comes in a cabin that exudes quality and refinement, thanks to premium-level soft synthetic surfacing on most surfaces above the waste, authentic looking matte woodgrain inlays spanning the instrument panel and door panels, tastefully applied satin-silver accents throughout, supple leather upholstery on the seats, door inserts and armrests, padded and stitched leatherette trim along the sides of the lower console, the front portion protecting the inside knees of driver and front passenger from chafing, and some of the highest quality digital displays in the class.
Immediately impressive is the brightly lit primary instrument package that looks like a giant LCD panel at first glance, but in fact houses a digital display within its left two-thirds while integrating an analogue speedometer to the right. The screen on the left is filled with hybrid-specific info by default, but you can scroll through numerous other functions via steering wheel controls, resulting in a very useful multi-info display.
Likewise you can project key info onto the windshield via the HUD by using another steering wheel button, the system showing graphical information for route guidance, the adaptive cruise control system and more up high where you can see it without taking your eyes off the road.
Over on the top portion of the centre stack, Honda’s new infotainment interface has become a personal favourite amongst mainstream volume brands, thanks to high definition displays, wonderful depth of colour and contrast, plus fabulous graphics, the elegantly arranged tile system easy to figure out and plenty attractive to look at. Being a hybrid, a number of cool animated graphic sections are included, while the navigation system’s mapping was excellent and route guidance easy to input and precisely accurate, plus the backup camera was equally clear and dynamic guidelines helpful. Yes, I would’ve appreciated an overhead 360-degree bird’s-eye view, but the ability to see a variety of views thanks to its multi-angle design, no matter the trim, is a bonus that others in the class don’t offer.
The final digital display is Honda’s dual-zone automatic climate control interface, which is attractively designed in a narrow, neatly organized, horizontal row that includes an LCD centre display, three knurled metal-edged rotating knobs, and a variety of high-quality buttons for the HVAC system and heated/ventilated front seats.
I should mention that all of the Accord Hybrid Touring’s switchgear was excellent, and much of it beautifully finished with aforementioned satin-silver detailing, while the audio system knobs got the same grippy and stylish knurled metal treatment as those used for the HVAC interface. Much of the design shows an artistically flair too, particularly the recessed speaker grille behind the fixed tablet style display atop the dash, and the 3D effect used to raise the top buttons on the HVAC interface above those below.
At the very base of the centre stack is a little cubby filled with a 12-volt power outlet, a charged/connected USB port and a wireless charging pad that’s large enough for big smartphones like the Samsung Note series. Interestingly Honda has done away with the classic old auxiliary plug, replacing it with near field communication (NFC) as noted earlier, and three more USBs, the second one found within the centre storage bin under the armrest, which includes another 12-volt charger as well. The bin has a nice removable tray as well, which feels very high in quality and is rubberized so that it doesn’t rattle around like so many others in this class. This is just one of many details that let you know the Accord’s quality is above average.
The leather seats are nicely styled with perforations the three-way forced ventilation noted earlier. The driver’s was extremely comfortable, with good side support for this segment and excellent lower back support. On that note I was surprised that Honda not only includes a power-adjustable lumbar support with fore and aft control, but it’s a four-way system that also moves up and down to ideally position itself within the small of your back. That’s unusual in this class, even when compared to some premium models like the Lexus ES 350 and more directly comparative ES 300h hybrid that only include two-way powered lumbar. Likewise for the Toyota Camry and Camry Hybrid, plus a few others in this segment that don’t measure up either.
The seating position is good, probably on par with the aforementioned Camry, but I must say neither is excellent when it comes to adjustability. Their steering columns don’t offer enough reach, forcing me to power my seat too close to the pedals in order to achieve optimal comfort and control of the steering wheel. We’re all made differently, and I happen to have longer legs than torso. The compromise was a more upright seatback than I would have otherwise liked, but doing so allowed ample control and decent comfort, so this is how I drove all week.
Controlling the gear selector is a lot easier, although if you’re not familiar with Honda’s new assemblage of buttons and pull levers it’ll take some getting used to. The Accord Hybrid comes standard with the complex selector, and while it might be a bit confusing at first try I recommend giving it a little time before getting flustered. I’ve had a lot of opportunity to use this system in a variety of Honda models, the new Odyssey and Pilot immediately coming to mind, while it’s similar to the system used in new Acura models, so now I don’t swear at it when trying to find reverse in the middle of a U-turn. Other than the pull lever-type electromechanical parking brake found at its rearmost section, it consists of three pushbuttons, for park, neutral and drive, and another pull lever for reverse. I almost never use neutral, simplifying the process further, so it’s a tug on the lever for reverse and a simple press of the large centre button for drive or park, that’s it.
Next to the parking brake there’s another set of buttons for Sport, Econ and EV modes, plus a brake hold button. I left it in Econ mode most of the time and EV mode whenever it would allow, because this is what hybrids are all about, saving fuel and minimizing emissions and cost. This said the Accord Hybrid is one of the thriftiest vehicles I’ve driven all year, only costing me $24 after a week’s worth of very thorough use, and that’s when gas was priced at an outrageous $1.55 per litre. At today’s slightly more agreeable prices it would allow even more savings, its claimed 5.0 L/100km city, 5.0 highway and 5.0 combined fuel economy rating one of the best in the non-plug-in industry.
So what’s all the mechanical and electrically charged wizardry behind its superb fuel economy? A unique two-motor hybrid powertrain joins an efficient 2.0-litre Atkinson-cycle four-cylinder engine to provide the Accord Hybrid with a class leading total system output of 212 horsepower, while its electric drive motor puts 232 lb-ft of near instantaneous torque down to the front wheels.
To clarify, one of the electric motors drives the front wheels, while a smaller secondary motor serves mainly as a generator, providing electric current to the drive motor in order to supplement or replace power from the battery during lighter loads, such as cruising. The second motor also starts the engine that in-turn adds torque to the wheels, but it’s never used as the motive driving force for those wheels.
Additionally, the car’s Electric-Continuously Variable Transmission, or E-CVT, removes any need for a conventional automatic transmission, or even a traditional belt/chain-operated continuously variable transmission (CVT), both of which inherently rob performance and efficiencies from the powertrain. Instead, Honda’s E-CVT drives the front wheels directly through four fixed drive ratio gearsets, without the need to shift gears or vary a planetary ratio. This means there is no “rubber-band” effect when accelerating as experienced in regular CVTs, or in other words the engine is never forced to maintain steady high rpms until road speed gradually catches up, this process causing a much-criticized audible “droning” effect with other CVT-equipped cars. Honda claims its direct-drive technology benefits from 46 to 80 percent less friction than a conventional automatic transmission, depending on the drive mode.
What’s more, you can choose between three standard propulsion modes as well, including electric-only (providing the 6.7-kWh lithium-ion battery is charged sufficiently), gasoline-only, or blended gas and electric (hybrid).
Despite my favouritism for Econ and EV modes, Sport mode worked very well, making itself immediately known after engaging at a stoplight by bringing the engine back to life from its auto start/stop mode, and then boosting acceleration significantly at takeoff. A set of standard steering wheel paddles improves the driving experience further, although flicking the right-side shifter to upshift while accelerating does nothing perceptible, this because the paddles are primarily for downshifting during deceleration. Therefore, tugging on the left paddle when braking, or pretty much any other time, causes a gear ratio drop that really comes in handy when wanting to engine brake or recharge down a steep hill, or when setting up for a corner.
And I must say the Accord Hybrid handles brilliantly for a car in this class. Really, the only vehicle in this segment with more agility around curves is the latest Mazda6 and possibly the Ford Fusion Sport, and these by the narrowest of margins, with Accord Hybrid seeming to dance away from its closest competitors, including the Toyota Camry Hybrid XSE that I tested earlier this year, which is the sportiest version of that car.
The Accord Hybrid handles long, sweeping high-speed corners well too, while its ability to cruise smoothly on the highway is as good as this class gets. It’s underpinned by the same fully independent front strut and rear multi-link suspension as the conventionally powered Accord, while my tester was once again outfitted with the upgraded adaptive dampers for a little more at-the-limit control and enhanced ride quality. This gives it a wonderfully compliant setup where ever you’re likely to drive, whether soldiering over bumpy back alleys, fast tracking across patchwork pavement, or negotiating wide bridge expansion joints, all of which were experienced during my test week.
My only complaint were front parking sensors that continually went off in regular traffic, highlighting an image of the car’s frontal area on the touchscreen when vehicles were merely pulling up beside me in the adjacent lane. I’ve encountered this problem with a few other cars over the past couple of years, and it’s always annoying. I pressed the parking sensor button off and on again, which remedied the problem until it happened again after a couple of days, at which point I rebooted the system the same way and never had to deal with it again.
This foible and the aforementioned lack of telescopic steering reach aside, the Accord Hybrid was a dream to live with. The rear seating area, a key reason many buy into this class, is as spacious as the regular Accord and more so than many in this segment. With the driver’s seat set up for my five-foot-eight medium-build frame, which as noted was set further back than average due to my longer legs, I was left with nearly a foot from my knees to the backrest ahead, plus so much room for my feet that I was able to completely stretch out my legs and move my shoes around underneath the front seat. Really, its rear legroom comes close to many full-size sedans. Likewise, there’s plenty of headroom at about three and a half inches, plus more than enough shoulder and hip space at about four to five inches for the former and five-plus for the latter.
This said I was disappointed that Honda finished off the rear door uppers in hard plastic. They’re not alone in this respect, but others do a better job pampering rear occupants. The previously noted Mazda6, for instance, at least in its top-line Signature trim level that I tested last year, which incidentally uses genuine hardwood inlays throughout, finishes the rear door panels as nicely as those up front, making it closer to premium status than anything else in its class. In most other respects the Accord nudges up against premium levels of luxury too, including excellent rear ventilation from a centre panel on the backside of the front console that also houses two USB charge points, while the outboard seats are three-way heatable as noted earlier, and there’s a nice big armrest that flips down from the centre position at exactly the right height for adult elbow comfort, or at least it was perfect for me. Honda fits two big deep cupholders within that armrest, which should do a pretty good job of holding drinks in place.
The trunk is sizeable too at 473 litres (16.7 cubic feet), which is exactly the same dimensions as the regular Accord, plus it’s also extendable via the usual 60/40 split-folding rear seatbacks. This said there are still some hybrids that don’t allow much expandable storage due to batteries fitted within the rear bulkhead, so I can’t really complain that Honda doesn’t include a centre pass-through like Volkswagen’s Passat, which would allow rear passengers to enjoy the heated window seats after a day on the slopes. On the positive, a handy styrofoam compartment resides below the trunk’s load floor, ideal for stowing a first aid kit or anything else you’d like to have close at hand. It comes loaded up with an air compressor that could potentially get you to a repair shop if needed, but I’d personally prefer a spare tire so I could make it farther if damage to the tire doesn’t allow it to hold air.
So is this the best hybrid in the mid-size class? The new Accord Hybrid would certainly get my money. It looks fabulous, delivers big inside, and provides all the luxury-level features most will want, plus it drives brilliantly and delivers superb fuel economy, while Honda’s experience building electrified powertrains should make it plenty reliable.