The Goodwood Festival of Speed, based in Chichester, West Sussex, has become the U.K.’s must-go annual event for everything automotive. This year’s weekend extravaganza, held from June 23-26, provided…
The Goodwood Festival of Speed, based in Chichester, West Sussex, has become the U.K.’s must-go annual event for everything automotive. This year’s weekend extravaganza, held from June 23-26, provided the perfect opportunity for Porsche to release its sensational new LMDh class race car as well.
The new LMDh class, which was co-created by the International Motor Sports Association (IMSA) in the U.S., Automobile Club de l’Ouest (ACO) in France, and the Paris-based motorsports regulating and sanctioning body Fédération Internationale de l’Automobile (FIA), will hit the track next year as part of the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship (U.S.) and the FIA World Endurance Championship (Europe), with Porsche’s new 963 joining LMDh competitors from Acura, Alpine, BMW, Cadillac, and Lamborghini.
963 project an international affair thanks to American and Canadian ties
The new 963 will be fielded by Mooresville, N.C.’s Penske Motorsport, one of the best-known names in motorsport. Porsche and Penske previously partnered up from 2005 to 2008, driving the Stuttgart-brand’s RS Spyder in bright yellow DHL colours as part of the LMP2 sports car class. This time, however, the 963 will wear Porsche Motorsport’s traditional red, white, and black livery.
The new 963’s chassis comes from Multimatic in Markham, Ontario, Canada, while the power unit destined to hit top speeds on Le Mans’ Mulsanne Straight or around turn 12 and past the finish line of the Daytona International Speedway will be 100-percent pure Porsche, making the new 963 an international project.
That hybrid power unit is an in-house-produced electrified V8, boasting a lineage that goes back to Porsche’s 918 Spyder hybrid supercar, which itself is based on the aforementioned RS Spyder. The 918 saw the internal combustion (ICE) portion of its power unit grow from 3.4 litres (in the RS) to 4.6 litres, which is exactly the same displacement as found in the new 963, although the updated V8 ups the performance ante with twin turbos instead of the street car’s natural aspiration. The end result is 670 horsepower, which makes it slightly less potent than the maximum allowed output in the new LMDh class.
Strong lineup of Porsche works drivers to target victories and championship
Development driver Frédéric Makowiecki has already driven the 963 some 8,000 test kilometres (4,900 miles), and now Penske Motorsport utilize a team of eight Porsche works drivers for sim and track testing, which will include Dane Cameron, Matt Campbell, Michael Christensen, Kévin Estre, Mathieu Jaminet, André Lotterer, Felipe Nasr, and Laurens Vanthoor. After testing is complete, Team Penske will see how it holds up in a non-competitive outing at the 8 Hours of Bahrain in November, thanks to the FIA allowing 2023 entries to run non-ranked races at 2022 events.
The Bahrain race will no doubt be critical for real world testing purposes and important for team building too, but Team Penske will need to wait until January 21 to 23 at the 24 Hours of Daytona for the 963’s first opportunity to achieve points, at which time Porsche has also promised to offer 963 customer cars.
To clarify, the customers in question are independent racing teams capable of competing in the same FIA-sanctioned events, not Porsche enthusiasts hoping for a modified 963 road car.
Story credits: Trevor Hofmann
Photo credits: Porsche
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
In the automotive industry, especially the premium sector, there’s no set formula a brand can simply follow in order to find success. Lexus and Infiniti both arrived on the North American luxury scene…
In the automotive industry, especially the premium sector, there’s no set formula a brand can simply follow in order to find success. Lexus and Infiniti both arrived on the North American luxury scene around the same time in 1989, about three years after Acura, but Lexus has achieved far greater overall sales success than the other two Japanese marques.
Last year, Lexus sold 23,793 new vehicles into the Canadian market and 275,042 units in the U.S., while Acura sold 16,712 and 136,982 cars and crossovers respectively, but Infiniti found just 5,786 and 79,503 buyers. Where Lexus placed fourth in both markets, and Acura a respectable fifth and seventh, Infiniti only managed 12th out of 17 luxury brands (including Buick and Mini, but not Maserati, Bentley, etcetera).
The same scenario has played out in separate segments, where Lexus’ RX has dominated in the two-row mid-size SUV arena and Acura’s MDX amongst three-row mid-size utilities, whereas the latter brand’s RDX has mostly topped the Canadian sales charts in the compact luxury SUV class, although in the US it’s dropped down the podium thanks to Lexus’ NX that sat in second place as of the close of 2020.
Infiniti should be given a shout out for helping to initiate the subcompact luxury SUV category along with Mercedes-Benz, the two brand’s codeveloping the GLA and QX30, but alas the latter left the market after 2019, just when Lexus swooped in to sweep up the spoils with its tiny UX. That ultra-angled utility now sits third in the Canadian subcompact luxury SUV segment and sixth in the U.S., behind Buick’s Encore and Audi’ Q3 in the northern jurisdiction, plus the just-noted GLA, Volvo’s XC40, and Mercedes’ slightly larger GLB in the mostly southern nation.
Acura has yet to offer anything in this class, which is odd considering Mini and Jaguar, two of the slower selling brands in the premium sector, do. Even Alfa Romeo will enter the fray with their Tonale next year, so we may eventually see a CDX, as the rumour-mill has been calling it, at some point in the future. As it is, the Encore, Q3 and UX are followed by the BMW X1, XC40, GLB, Mini Countryman, GLA, Range Rover Evoque, the coupe-like BMW X2, and the Jaguar E-Pace. As for others that might come down the pipeline, Cadillac is enjoying a reasonable take-rate for its larger compact XT4, so an XT3 could potentially be based on Buick’s slightly larger new Encore GX, and we’ve got to expect that Hyundai’s upstart Genesis brand will want in on some of this action too.
This is becoming the entry-level gateway for many luxury brands, after all. Lexus gave up on its smallest CT 200h hatchback back in 2017, only leaving the Germans (including Mini) and Acura’s beleaguered ILX to fight over the remaining scraps, so it’s either join the subcompact luxury SUV party or hope you’ll manage to snag up-and-coming premium customers that bypass the subcompact sector altogether. That’s a choice most are finding too risky to take, hence the quick buildup of new offerings in this relatively new category, despite significantly lower sales than larger compact SUVs.
At first glance, it’s difficult to tell the UX shares underpinnings with Toyota’s CH-R, but of course a lot of cars and SUVs utilize the Japanese automaker’s TNGA-C platform architecture, including the Corolla and Prius. Where the CH-R is swoopy and curvaceous, the UX is all angles and sharp creases, plus its big spindle grille could never be mistaken for anything but a Lexus. A menacing set of LED headlamps, complete with Lexus’ checkmark signatures, hover above vertical corner vents for some sportiness, while at the rear, even more angular taillights appear as if they’re being stretched apart by a narrowing strip of LEDs at centre.
This seems as good a point as any to point out that I tested two different UX trims, both featuring Lexus’ electrified 250h AWD running gear, the Nebula Grey Pearl (more of a taupe) example featuring the regular body style and the Ultra White version dressed up with Lexus’ more performance-oriented F Sport design details. Rather than thinking that one is lesser than the other, I found the regular one classier and the F Sport, well, sportier, so your choice will come down to personal taste.
If you just want the sportier styling, Lexus makes a basic $2,000 F Sport Series 1 package available that adds a larger, more aggressive F SPORT front grille, LED fog lights and cornering lamps, as well as 18-inch F SPORT alloy wheels to the outside, and on the inside a digital primary gauge cluster, a three-spoke F SPORT steering wheel with paddle shifters, an F SPORT shift knob, active sound control that mimics shifts to make it feel like the continuously variable transmission is changing gears, special Nuluxe (breathable leatherette) F Sport seat upholstery (mine done out in two-tone Circuit Red), plus eight-way power-adjustable driver and front passenger sport seats.
If you want the same look with more goodies, the $8,800 F Sport Series 2 package includes all of the above before adding triple-beam LED adaptive headlamps, driver’s seat and side mirror memory with reverse auto-tilt, a full TFT instrument cluster, a head-up display that projects key info onto the windshield ahead of the driver, an auto-dimming rearview mirror, navigation with Destination Assist embedded within a larger 10.3-inch infotainment display that also includes Enform Remote, Enform Safety Connect, and Enform Service Connect, as well as a wireless device charging pad, an eight-speaker audio upgrade, a remote garage door opener, and a gesture-controlled (kick motion) powered rear liftgate.
The white UX 250h in the photos came with the latter package, while the taupe-coloured one included a $5,300 Luxury package that added many of the same features, such as the seat and mirror memory, head-up display, wireless charging, auto-dimming centre mirror, garage door opener, upgraded display with navigation and Enform functions, improved stereo, and gesture/powered rear hatch, plus on top of these it also came with a special Washi instrument panel design, a wallet-sized smart key, and Lexus’ Intuitive Parking Assist with Auto Braking, a.k.a. self-parking. My tester’s fabulous looking “Glazed Caramel” seat, dash bolster and door armrest upholstery is only available with the Luxury package too, an upgrade that really makes the interior look rich compared to the regular all-black colourway.
Speaking of all-black, the only other package Lexus is offering UX customers for 2021 is an $1,100 upgrade dubbed Black Line Special Edition, which rides the current wave of blackened trim replacing otherwise chrome accents (or in this case, mostly black, as there’s still some metal brightwork blinging up the side mirrors, side window surrounds, and branding/badging), with glossy black being added to the grille surround, wheels, and roof rails, plus the mirror caps that remain black even if choosing a non-black (or Caviar, as Lexus calls it) exterior colour, while inside it gets blue stitching around the inside of the black leather-wrapped steering wheel, and yet more blue accents elsewhere, while Lexus includes LED headlights with auto high beams for this package as well.
Attested by the sales numbers noted earlier, I’m not alone in liking the way this little SUV looks, either on the outside or from inside the cabin. The protruding instrument hood is bookended by the same types of control pods first used in Lexus’ now legendary LFA supercar, the one of the left for turning off the traction/stability control, and the right-side knob for switching between Normal, Sport, and Eco driving modes (the EV mode is a separate button found on the lower centre console). The instruments under the hood are digital, as noted above, so only similar to the LFA, from a design perspective, while the widescreen display atop the dash is a real feast for the eyes, thanks to the organic way Lexus laid it out, to the beautifully detailed colour graphics on the high-definition monitor itself.
It’s not a touchscreen, as it would be a bit too far to reach for most drivers, but Lexus has upgraded the old lower centre console-mounted joystick-style Remote Touch Interface with the newer RTI 2.0 touchpad that I prefer more, if only because it looks more up-to-date and takes up less space. It works well enough too, but then again, I’d rather have the option of a touchscreen, because, like most people, that’s what I’m used to.
The backup camera is excellent, thanks to the big, high-definition display and active guidelines, while the array of quick-access buttons and dials around the front portion of the centre armrest, just behind the trackpad, is an innovative way to search through and select infotainment features, of which there are plenty. Navigation is included in upper trims, of course, although I prefer using Android Auto via my smartphone, which is included with the UX, as is Apple CarPlay. A colourful array of climate controls show up on the centre display too, and while you can modulate them there, I appreciate the narrow strip of quick-access buttons just below on the centre stack, while a second row of switches incorporates buttons for the three-way heatable front seats and two-way heated steering wheel rim.
Overall, the UX is an enjoyable place to spend time, from the interior’s aesthetics to its overall comfort and roominess. The driver’s seat is generously adjustable and the powered steering column provides ample reach and rake that should allow for a good seating position no matter your body type, which isn’t always the case for my long-legged, short-torso frame. The seatback provided decent lower support too, the same for both cars, other than the two-way powered lumbar support that didn’t quite meet up to the small of my back. The F Sport’s front seats were certainly bolstered more effectively up by the shoulders, however, yet they’re designed to fit a wider backside than mine, so they’d probably do more to keep a larger person in place during fast cornering than me.
Despite the F Sport’s steering wheel looking sportier and receiving textured leather for its lower two-thirds, both rims felt equally thick and padded and therefore good in my hands, with identically comfortable thumb to optimize control. Of course, I preferred the paddles attached to the F Sport’s wheel more than merely shifting via the console-mounted gear lever on more luxuriously appointed UX, but honestly, I drove these little SUVs conservatively throughout each two-week stint, other than for testing purposes, so I doubt I would end up missing the paddles all that often if this were my regular daily driver.
Instead of taking advantage of this perfect segue into the UX’ driving dynamics, I best finish off my tour of the cabin, particularly how the rear seating area measured up to my average-sized (for a teenager) five-foot-eight stature. For starters, I wouldn’t try stuffing three adults into the second row, unless they’re smaller folk, but there should be plenty of space for two in all directions, no matter their shape or size. They shouldn’t be thrown around if you decide to get enthusiastic behind the wheel either, thanks to good bolstering in the outboard positions. They’re comfortable too, with decent lower back support, plus a wide armrest filled with cupholders folds down at centre to improve things more. Two USB charging ports can be found on the backside of the front console, just below a set of HVAC vents, but that’s it for rear seat luxuries.
As far as touchy-feely surfaces go, the entire dash-top is made from a pliable composite and includes a wonderfully upscale stitched and leather-wrapped section that visually flows all the way from the left side of the gauge cluster, under the centre display, to right side of the dash. This is joined by a padded section just below, ahead of the front passenger, which perfectly matches the back half of the door uppers and inserts. The front portion of those door uppers are finished in the same premium composite as the front dash section, which Lexus also finished the edges of the centre console in a really soft, plush leatherette to protect the inside knees of larger occupants from chafing. Other niceties include cloth-wrapped A pillars and touch-sensitive LED overhead lamps, while all of the switchgear was made from a high-grade dense plastic, with tight fitment and good damping. I was surprised, however, to learn that the rear door uppers were finished in hard plastic, which just isn’t good enough for this class, plus rear seat heaters aren’t available either.
The cargo compartment is luxurious enough too, with a nice quality of carpeting in all the expected places, plus chromed tie-down hooks at each corner, but Lexus didn’t go so far to add stainless steel sill plates. They did upgrade the 2021 UX 250h’s cargo floor with an adjustable section, however, which adds 141 litres (5 cu ft) to its dedicated volume, increasing from 481 (17) to 623 litres (22 cu ft). When folding the 60/40-split rear seats down, available stowage space increases to 1,231 litres (43.5 cu ft), but this brings up one of my lone complaints, the lack of a centre pass-through or even better 40/20/40 rear seat configuration.
I should also mention that all UX trims now come standard with blind-spot monitoring and rear cross-traffic alert as part of the Lexus Safety System 2.0 for 2021, which also includes the brand’s Pre-Collision System with Pedestrian Detection and Bicycle Detection, Lane Departure Alert with Steering Assist and Road Edge Detection, Lane Tracing Assist (LTA), All-Speed Range Dynamic Radar Cruise Control, and Automatic High Beam assisted headlamps.
Even before being upgraded, the 2020 UX received a five-star rating from the U.S. NHTSA (there was no info for the 2021 model), but the IIHS gave it Top Safety Pick status, with best-possible “G” (for good) ratings in all categories except for the headlights that received a worst-possible “P” (for poor) result due to excessive glare when using the low beams around sharp corners, plus only fair nighttime visibility scores in both sharp and gradual corners. I certainly didn’t notice any negatives after dark, but I’m not about to argue with America’s Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. The only utility in this class to earn higher Top Safety Pick Plus status was Volvo’s XC40, while Buick’s Encore GX was the only competitor to match the UX, albeit with a mixture of “A” (for acceptable) and “M” (for Moderate) headlight and child seat LATCH results. All others didn’t receive either Top Safety Pick honour, so kudos to Lexus for being much better than average.
Straight-line performance and at-the-limit handling aren’t better than average, however, but ride quality, quietness and other types of refinements are near the top, which means Lexus has managed to give its smallest, entry-level model a level of driving comfort and poise that comes near to matching the larger compact NX. The 250h is the UX you’ll want to own if the traction benefits of all-wheel drive are important to you, incidentally, thanks to an electric motor driving the rear wheels that automatically adjusts the torque-split between both front and rear axles. This improves handling when accelerating and cornering, especially when driving on slippery roads, plus it makes the UX easier to get off the line. The base UX 200 utilizes a front-wheel drivetrain, by the way, so the hybrid is really the way to go for both performance and fuel economy.
Regarding the former, the base UX 200 slots a 169-horsepower 2.0-litre four-cylinder engine behind its gaping grille, while the 250h gets a net horsepower rating of 181. As noted earlier, a CVT transmits torque to the front axle, resulting in power delivery that’s smooth and linear, rather than aggressive. Then again, the aforementioned active sound control made the F Sport version sound more exciting, and Sport mode (standard across the line) elevated performance parameters, improving shift response, but all said, this is probably the type of SUV best left in Eco mode more often than not, because that’s how you’ll eke out its impressive 5.7 L/100 city, 6.2 highway and 6.0 combined fuel economy rating, which gives the hybrid a significant edge over the base UX’ 8.0 city, 6.3 highway and 7.2 combined results.
This efficiency makes the UX 250h easy to live with, but the little luxury SUV’s resale value might pad your wallet even more when it comes time to trade-in or sell. It was deemed best-in-class in the “Premium Subcompact Utility Vehicle” category of J.D. Power’s 2021 Canada ALG Residual Value Awards, while it also came out on top in the “Luxury Compact SUV/Crossover” segment of Vincentric’s Best Value in Canada Awards.
Also notable, the UX was the highest ranked “Small Premium SUV” in J.D. Power’s 2021 Initial Quality Study, and tied for runner-up in the same third-party analytical firm’s 2021 U.S. Automotive Performance, Execution and Layout (APEAL) Study, while Lexus topped J.D. Power’s 2021 Vehicle Dependability Study, and is also the most reliable luxury brand according to Consumer Reports.
If that’s not enough to interest you in a new UX, consider that Lexus least expensive model starts below the $40k threshold, at $38,450 (plus freight and fees), which is the mid-point in this class, once again if we include Buick and Mini as luxury brands. The Encore starts at just $24,998, which really doesn’t qualify it for premium status in base form, but the price rises to more than $35k when loaded up, while the Encore GX can easily be optioned past $40k. The Countryman, on the other hand, starts at $32,990 and can be upgraded to almost $60k, so it definitely qualifies as a luxury contender. In fact, a fully loaded UX 250h, which starts at $40,250, doesn’t even break $50k, at $40,090 (plus freight and fees), while Lexus was throwing in up to $1,000 in additional incentives at the time of writing, as per CarCostCanada’s 2021 Lexus UX Canada Prices page.
Important for 2022, Lexus will eliminate the base UX 200 trim, causing the base price to rise to $40,700, so we’ll need to see how this impacts sales. I’m guessing not too much, because it this FWD variant wouldn’t be getting the axe if it sold well. If you’d rather have the initial savings of the less expensive UX, however, you’ll need to act quickly, if any are still available.
Whether you go for a 2021 UX or a 2022, you’ll be getting a very comfortable, well-appointed and efficient subcompact luxury SUV. It’s got to be one of the easiest vehicles to drive in any class, and thanks to its diminutive dimensions it’s even easier to park. If you, your partner, or child is learning to drive, or if they simply feel uncomfortable wielding a big, heavy utility around the city, yet appreciate the outward visibility gained from a small SUV’s ride height, this little Lexus is a very good choice. Of course, the UX can be seen as a smart decision for all the other reasons outlined in this review too, therefore it’s easy to recommend.
Review and photos by Trevor Hofmann
If I loved Toyota’s Highlander Hybrid any more, it would be a Hyundai Palisade hybrid. I jest, of course, because I really like the Highlander. In fact, if I had to choose, it would be difficult to…
If I loved Toyota’s Highlander Hybrid any more, it would be a Hyundai Palisade hybrid. I jest, of course, because I really like the Highlander. In fact, if I had to choose, it would be difficult to decide between this time-tested Toyota and either the Palisade or Kia’s equally good Telluride, which have both been lauded as two of the best in their class right now by almost everyone in the automotive press, although neither can be had with a fuel-sipping electrified drivetrain.
That matters a lot, especially with the average price for a litre of regular fuel hovering around $1.70 per litre in my area. Most anyone buying into the family hauler sector is constrained by a budget, so saving at the pump can be the difference of buying little Liam and Emma brand new runners or making a detour to the thrift store just in case they have something “pre-loved” available in the right sizes, or maybe buyers in this $40-$50k class can relate more to a choice between purchasing bulk chicken legs and rib eye steaks for Sunday’s BBQ. Either way, my point is clear, especially at a time when all types of meats have become much more expensive due to run-away government spending and the resultant inflationary problems, amongst other issues driving up the prices of foods and consumer items.
Toyota’s three-row antidote to this reality check equals 6.6 L/100km in the city, 6.8 on the highway and 6.7 combined for the Highlander Hybrid, while Hyundai and Kia alternatively claim 12.3, 9.6, and 11.1, or 12.6, 9.7 and 11.3 for the equivalent all-wheel drive versions of the Palisade or Telluride respectively. Based on these numbers, the South Korean-sourced three-row competitors are almost twice as expensive on fuel, and while it would be fairer to compare them to the conventional V6-powered Highlander, which is still easier on the wallet at 11.8 city, 8.6 highway and 10.3 combined, that’s not the SUV I drove for this particular test week.
There’s really nothing that compares with the Highlander Hybrid. Certainly, other automakers produce electrified SUVs in the mid-size class, the Ford Explorer Hybrid being one that also features three rows of passenger capacity, but nevertheless the much newer blue-oval entry only targets a rather so-so fuel economy rating of 10.1 L/100km city, 9.0 highway and 9.6 combined, which is way off the mark set by Toyota. To put that into perspective, Kia’s new Sorento is capable of almost the same fuel economy without the complexity of a hybrid-electric powertrain, its claimed rating a respective 10.1, 9.2 and 9.7 in base form, or 11.1, 8.4 and 9.9 with its potent turbo-four, and this Korean comes in hybrid form in the U.S. (hopefully soon in Canada).
Speaking of the Korean competition, Canada’s car market does include the electrified Hyundai Santa Fe that gets a better rating than Ford’s mid-size hybrid at 7.1 L/100km city, 7.9 highway and 7.4 combined, but due to only having two rows of seats it’s not a direct competitor to either the Explorer Hybrid or Highlander Hybrid being reviewed here, so it will only matter to those that don’t really need the extra rear row of seats and extended cargo capacity. The only other HEV in the mid-size SUV class is Toyota’s own Venza, which is more or less a shortened, lighter version of the Highlander Hybrid under a very different skin, which is why it gets class-leading fuel economy at 5.9 city, 6.4 highway, and 6.1 combined.
If fuel efficiency were the only reason to choose a Venza or Highlander Hybrid I could understand why so many buyers do, but as you may have guessed there’s so much more that make these two SUVs worthy of your consideration that I’d be remiss to stop writing here. Of course, I’ll leave any more comments about the Venza to a future review, and instead solely focus on the Highlander Hybrid in its as-tested top-line $54,150 Limited form, which is one of three trim levels that also include the $45,950 base LE and $48,450 mid-range XLE.
On an interesting note, when it debuted in 2000 the Highlander became the first mid-size car-based crossover SUV ever created, other than Subaru’s smaller two-row Outback, which continues to be more of a classic station wagon-type crossover than anything resembling a conventional sport utility. Toyota was also first with a hybridized SUV, the Highlander Hybrid having arrived on the scene way back in 2005 in a refreshed version of the original body style.
Two model years later, Toyota once again added a hybrid option to the second-generation Highlander from 2008 through 2013, after which they didn’t skip an electronic beat when the Highlander moved into its third and fourth generations, right up until today’s model. With such longevity in the hybrid sector, it’s no wonder Toyota achieves the mid-size SUV segment’s best fuel economy ratings, not to mention one of the more enviable of reliability ratings and resale value rankings.
In the most recent 2021 J.D. Power Vehicle Dependability Study, the Highlander came in second behind Kia’s Sorento, which is impressive for both considering the 23 unique models that contest in this class, not including the three new 2022 Jeeps (Grand Cherokee L, Wagoneer and Grand Wagoneer) and one discontinued Dodge (Journey). The Kia and Toyota brands place third and fourth overall in this study, incidentally, plus first and second amongst mainstream volume brands (Lexus and Porsche are first and second overall), again, an extremely impressive result, albeit not unusual for the two Japanese brands.
Similarly, the Highlander placed third behind the Sorento and Dodge Durango in the same analytical firm’s 2020 Initial Quality Study, while even more interesting (and useful), Dashboard-Light.com gave the Highlander an “Exceptional” reliability score of 94.2, which amongst mid-size SUVs is only beaten by (once again) the FJ Cruiser at 98 (the 4Runner only scored 89 for third), this study combining the scores of models over a 20-year period, with the most reliable Highlanders actually being the most recent two generations, each scoring perfect 100s.
What about all-important resale/residual values? These say more about what you’ll actually end up paying for a vehicle over the duration of ownership than its initial price, so the fact the Highlander placed second to Toyota’s 4Runner in Canadian Black Book’s 2020 and 2019 Best Retained Value Awards, plus third in 2018 and 2017, the latter only because Toyota’s FJ Cruiser pushed the 4Runner and Highlander down a notch each, means you’ll likely retain more of your initial investment in a Highlander than any other crossover SUV.
This testament to its value proposition is further backed up by J.D. Power’s 2021 ALG Residual Value Awards, in which the Highlander earned highest retained value in its “Midsize Utility Vehicle—3rd Row Seating” category. Additionally, Vincentric’s 2021 Best Value in America Awards placed the Highlander Hybrid on top of its “Hybrid SUV/Crossover” category, while the RAV4 Hybrid won this sector in Canada.
Styling plays a part in holding resale values, and to that end most Highlanders have benefited from attractive designs that still look good after years and even decades. I’ve recently seen first-generation models fixed up to look like off-roaders thanks to much more interest in off-grid living and camping, which of course necessitates all types of 4x4s for exploring the wild unknown. Overlanding, as it’s now called, has even caused Lexus to create a dedicated off-road variant of its Land Cruiser Prado-based GX 460, the one-off exercise named GXOR Concept, and while sales of this impressive yet unpopular model would likely double or triple if they actually built something similar (Lexus Canada had only sold 161 GX 460s up to the halfway mark of this year), it’s probably not in the cards.
What is very real indeed, is a fourth-generation Highlander that’s returned to more of a rugged, classic SUV design, pulling more visual cues up from my personal favourite 2014–2016 third-generation variant than that model’s 2017–2019 refresh, which featured one of the largest grilles ever offered on a Toyota vehicle, seemingly inspired by the just-noted Lexus brand. This move should help prop up aforementioned residual values of early third-gen models too, although this probably wasn’t part of Toyota’s plan, making that Highlander a good long-term used car bet, if the current chip shortage hasn’t made it impossible to still get one for a decent price.
Suffice to say, the Highlander is one of my favourite new SUVs from a styling standpoint, and if sales are anything to go by (and they usually are), I’m not alone in my admiration. The Highlander was the only mid-size SUV in Canada to surpass five figures over the first six months of 2021, with 10,403 sales to its credit, followed by the perennial best-selling Ford Explorer with 8,359 deliveries over the same two quarters.
Even more impressive, Toyota sold 144,380 Highlanders by the year’s halfway mark in the U.S., while the second-best-selling Explorer only managed 118,241 units. There’s no way for us to easily tell how many of these sales (or lack thereof) were affected by the chip shortage, with Ford having been particularly hard hit in this crisis thus far. Recent news of Toyota preparing to halt up to 40 percent of its new vehicle production in September, for the same reason, will no doubt impact Q3 totals, and may be a reason for you to act quickly if you want to purchase a new Highlander.
The Explorer outsold the Highlander in the U.S. last year, with 226,215 units to 212,276, which still left them one and two in the segment, but Toyota was ahead in Canada last year at 16,457 units to 15,283 Explorers, leaving them second and fourth, with both being outsold by Jeep’s current Cherokee and Hyundai’s Santa Fe that managed third (of course, the Highlander and Explorer were still one and two amongst three-row mid-size SUVs).
There are a lot reasons why the Highlander earns such loyalty year in and year out, many of which I’ve already covered, but the model’s interior execution certainly took a big leap forward when the third-generation arrived, which no doubt kept owners happy long after its new car smell faded away. That older model featured such niceties as fabric-wrapped A-pillars and a soft-touch dash top and door uppers, plus more pliable composite surfaces elsewhere, as well as additional features like perforated leather upholstery, a heatable steering wheel, three-way heated and cooled front seats, an 8.0-inch centre touchscreen (large for the time), tri-zone automatic climate control with a separate rear control interface, an auto-dimming rearview mirror, a HomeLink transceiver, dynamic cruise control, clearance and backup sensors, LED ambient interior lighting, a panoramic glass sunroof, rear window sunshades, blind spot monitoring, lane departure warning, rear cross traffic alert, a pre-collision system, and much more, these items becoming more commonplace in this segment now, but not as much back then.
Of course, the 2021 Highlander Hybrid Limited comes with all of the above and more. For starters, its interior touchpoints use improved-quality materials and an even more upscale design, my tester’s including rich chocolate brown across the dash top, door uppers and lower dash and door panels, plus a cream-coloured hue for a padded mid-dash bolster, as well as the door inserts and armrests, the padded centre console edges that keep inner knees from chafing, the centre armrest, and the seats. Additionally, the former brown colour features copper-coloured contrast stitching, while the latter creamy tone uses a contrasting dark brown thread (except the seats).
My 2014 Highlander Hybrid Limited included some chocolate brown elements too, but these were mostly hard plastic highlights, while the rest of its mostly tan leather interior was complemented by the usual chrome- and satin-finish metallic accents, plus medium-tone woodgrain in a nice matte finish. My 2021 example, on the other hand, boasted even more faux metal, albeit in a satiny titanium finish, with the most notable application of this treatment being a large section that spanned the dash ahead of the front passenger before forking off to surround the main touchscreen. It’s a dramatic design statement for sure, while Toyota’s choice of woodgrain looked like more of a light brownish/grey ash with a gloss finish, covering most of the lower console and trimming the tops of each door.
Updated Highlander Hybrid Limited features now include LED low/high beam headlamps with automatic high beams, LED fog lights, LED mirror-mounted turn signals, LED puddle lamps that project a “Highlander” logo onto the road below, and LED taillights, plus 20-inch alloys instead of 19s, an electromechanical parking brake in place of the old foot-operated one, a much more vibrant primary gauge cluster featuring a large 7.0-inch colour TFT multi-information display instead of the old vertically rectangular unit that was really more of a colourful trip computer, a higher resolution glossy centre display with updated (albeit mostly monochromatic) graphics, which still only measures 8.0 inches and continues to benefit from two rows of physical buttons down each side for quick access to key functions, plus dials for power/volume and tuning/scrolling, while inside that infotainment system is Apple CarPlay and Android Auto smartphone integration.
There are now three USB ports located in a cubby at the base of the centre stack, instead of just one, and they still feed up through a slot to a mid-dash shelf, although now that shelf is split into two, including a separate one for the front passenger. A rubberized tray just below the USB chargers is large enough for most any smartphone, but I kept mine in a wireless charger found on a flip-up tray in the storage bin under the centre armrest. I’ve heard some folks complain that the wireless charging tray is too small for their devices, and being that it fit my Samsung S9 perfectly with its case on probably means that any of the larger plus-sized phones won’t fit. Toyota will want to address problem, because most people I know have larger phones than my aging S9.
Two more USB ports can be found on the backside of the front console for rear passengers, incidentally, while there’s also a three-prong household-style plug for charging laptops, external DVD players, game consoles, etcetera. If you want second-row seat warmers in back, you’ll need to move up to the Highlander Hybrid’s Platinum package, which increases the price by $2,300, but provides a lot of extra features that I’ll mention in a minute.
If you want to communicate with those in back, Toyota now includes Driver Easy Speak together with a conversation mirror that doubles as a sunglasses holder in the overhead console, similar to the one found in the old model. Also new, a Rear Seat Reminder lets you know if you’ve left something or someone in the back seat when leaving the vehicle.
Additional advanced driver safety and convenience features standard in top-line Limited trim include Full-Speed Range Dynamic Radar Cruise Control, Front-to-Front Risk Detection, Pre-Collision System with Pedestrian Detection and Bicycle Detection, Intelligent Clearance Sonar with Rear Cross Traffic Brake, Lane Departure Alert with Steering Assist, Left Turn Intersection Support, Risk Avoidance (Semi-Automated Emergency Steering to Avoid Pedestrian, Bicyclist or Vehicle), and Lane Tracing Assist.
The biggest change in this latest Highlander Hybrid, however, is found behind its sportier new winged grille, because Toyota smartly chose to say goodbye to its more potent 3.5-litre V6-powered Hybrid Synergy Drive system, which made a net 280-horsepower from its dual electric motor-assisted drivetrain, and hello to a much more fuel-friendly 2.5-litre-powered alternative that once again uses two electric motors, including a separate one in the rear for eAWD. The electric motor now powering the front wheels is more capable thanks to 19 additional horsepower, resulting in a maximum of 186, although the rear one is down 14 horsepower for a total of 54, leaving the new model’s net horsepower at 243.
In the end, Toyota managed to squeeze the aforementioned 6.6 L/100km in the city, 6.8 on the highway and 6.7 combined out of the new power unit, compared to 6.8 city, 7.2 highway and 7.0 combined in the old one. And yes, that does seem like a lot of reconfiguring for just a few L/100km difference, but more importantly this drivetrain is now being used in the two-row mid-size Venza and the Sienna minivan, which are no longer available with conventional powertrains. Additionally, the decision to focus the Highlander Hybrid more on fuel economy leaves the V6-powered hybrid drivetrain to Lexus’ more premium RX 450h, which now benefits from stronger performance than its Toyota-badged equivalent.
As you can probably appreciate, the new powertrain doesn’t have quite the same amount of punch off the line as the old one, but its performance deficiency isn’t all that noticeable, while it’s electronically-controlled CVT is still as smooth as ever. Smooth is the ideal descriptor of the Highlander Hybrid’s ride quality and overall refinement as well, a quality that likely lines up with most buyers in this class. This in mind, there are no paddle shifters on the steering wheel, but Sport mode really does make a difference off the line, and fast-paced handling is plenty good for this class, the Limited model’s 235/55R20 all-season tires no doubt making a difference when it comes to road-holding.
As good as the hybrid is, the conventionally-powered Highlander will be the go-to model for those wanting more performance, as it provides a standard 3.5-litre V6 with 295 horsepower and 263 lb-ft of torque, plus its quick-shifting eight-speed automatic transmission is a real joy to put through its paces. This said, we’re back at the big six-cylinder’s fuel economy that’s nowhere near as efficient at 10.3 L/100km combined, so stepping up to the hybrid makes perfect sense, especially in my part of Canada where a recent temporary low of $1.65 per litre for regular unleaded had me peeling off the road in order to top up my 2021 Hyundai Santa Fe tester, after waiting in a line of likeminded consumers to do so (more on that SUV in a future review).
The 2021 Highlander Hybrid’s premium over its solely internal combustion-powered equivalent is just $2,000, or at least that’s the case when comparing the base Hybrid LE AWD ($45,950) to the regular LE AWD ($43,950), although there’s still a less expensive V6-powered L trim that brings the Highlander’s actual base price down to $40,450 plus freight and fees (interestingly, the 2014 base Highlander Hybrid was more expensive at $43,720). The same $2,000 price gap is found amongst conventionally-powered and hybridized Limited trims.
I’d certainly be willing to pay another $2,300 for the Highlander’s aforementioned Platinum package, which incidentally includes second-row captain’s chairs to go along with the rear butt warmers, plus reverse auto-tilting side mirrors, a head-up display, rain-sensing wipers, a 360-degree bird’s eye surround parking camera, a larger 12.3-inch infotainment touchscreen, a digital display system for the rearview mirror (you can use either the regular or digital version by flicking a switch), and a number of styling tweaks, all for $56,450, but I also wish Toyota included a couple useful extras like auto-dimming side mirrors, a powered tilt and telescopic steering column (the worked with memory), and four-way powered lumbar support for the front seats, features many rivals provide.
The driver’s seat was nevertheless extremely comfortable, other than its two-way powered lumbar support hitting the small of my back slightly high. Others might find it too low, and being that it only moves in and out, it’s always going to be a hit or miss affair. Otherwise, most body types should find the front seats more than adequate, while the non-powered tilt and telescopic steering wheel provides plenty of rearward reach, which meant my long-legged, short-torso frame was both comfortable and in full control.
Second-row roominess is about as good as this class gets too, with seats that could only be made more comfortable if the regular Highlander’s heatable captain’s chairs were offered, but they easily flip forward and out of the way for accessing the rearmost third row, which I found quite spacious and comfortable for the class, albeit missing USB charging ports.
There’s a total of 453 litres of dedicated cargo space behind that rear row, by the way, or 1,370 litres behind the second row when the third row’s 60/40-split backrests are folded forward, while 2,387 litres of space can be had behind the first row when the 60/40-split second row is lowered. That’s a lot of cargo capacity, but I would’ve liked to see Toyota utilize the 40/20/40-configured second-row seat from Lexus’ RX instead of this one, as it would allow for longer items, such as skis, to be stowed down the middle while second-row passengers were more comfortably positioned to either side.
So, while Toyota’s Highlander Hybrid Limited is not perfect, it’s easily one of the best available in its three-row mid-size crossover segment. Factoring in its enviable dependability and best-in-class residual value, it’s hard to argue against it, and therefore would be my choice, despite how good the two aforementioned Korean upstarts are. Now it’s just a matter of locating one before the chip shortage dries up availability.
Review and photos by Trevor Hofmann
Remember the Venza? Toyota was fairly early to the mid-size crossover utility party with its 2009–2015 Venza, a tall five-door wagon-like family hauler that was a lot more like a CUV (Crossover Utility…
Remember the Venza? Toyota was fairly early to the mid-size crossover utility party with its 2009–2015 Venza, a tall five-door wagon-like family hauler that was a lot more like a CUV (Crossover Utility Vehicle) or tall wagon than an SUV. Despite decent sales for its first four years, and Toyota’s need for a mid-size five-passenger crossover SUV, the Japanese brand discontinued it without a replacement after six years on the market.
Fortunately for Toyota and all who appreciate the brand for its excellent reliability and better than average resale values, the Toyota Venza will make its return to the Canadian market for the 2021 model year as a new mid-size utility, with standard all-wheel drive and an even more unexpected standard hybrid drivetrain.
With the Venza, Toyota is following through on its commitment to electrify its entire lineup by 2025, this new hybrid joined by a completely redesigned Sienna for 2021, which will also be available exclusively with a hybrid electric drivetrain. Other Toyota vehicles sold with the brand’s full hybrid drive system include the iconic Prius, now with available with AWD-e four-season control, the Corolla Hybrid, the Camry Hybrid, the RAV4 Hybrid, and the Highlander Hybrid, while the Prius Prime offers plug-in capability and 100-percent electric mobility for short commuting distances at city and highway speeds, plus last but hardly least is the Mirai fuel-cell electric that’s powered by hydrogen.
Since the original Venza’s departure, Toyota has lacked a two-row crossover SUV in the mid-size segment (the 4Runner is an off-road capable 4×4 that competes more directly against Jeep’s Wrangler Unlimited), which means that it’s been missing out on one of the more lucrative categories in the industry. Arch-rival Ford, for instance, sells its Edge in this class, along with the ultra-popular three-row Explorer that goes up against Toyota’s Highlander. The Edge was number one in Canada’s mid-size SUV class last year with 19,965 deliveries compared to the Highlander’s 13,811 new buyers. Collectively the Edge and Explorer were good for 29,632 sales during 2019, which is an impressive sales lead yet, but this doesn’t factor in that 2019 was a particularly bad year for the larger Ford due to the slow rollout of its redesigned 2020 model. Ford claimed the problem had to do with production issues, but either way the result was a disastrous 47-percent plunge in year-over-year Canadian deliveries.
As it is there are five two-row mid-size SUVs that regularly sell better than the Highlander in Canada’s mid-size segment, with Ford’s Edge joined by the Hyundai Santa Fe (now only available with two rows due to the new Palisade) that sold 18,929 units in 2019, the Jeep Grand Cherokee that pulled in 18,659 new buyers last year, the Kia Sorento (now only sold with two rows due to the new Telluride) that was good for 16,054 sales during the same 12 months, and the entirely new Chevrolet Blazer that found 15,210 Canadian owners in 2019. When Nissan finally redesigns its Murano it’ll probably attract more buyers than the larger Highlander too, being that its 12,000 deliveries aren’t all that far behind the bigger Toyota and five-seat crossover SUVs mostly do better than seven- and eight-seat variants, so the new 2021 Venza will soon fill a sizeable void in the brand’s SUV lineup.
Choosing to only offer a hybrid drivetrain is a bold move for Toyota, but as long as pricing is competitive it should be well received. After all, Toyota initiated the modern-day hybrid market segment with its original 1998 Prius (2001 in Canada), and its various hybrid-electric drivetrains have garnered bulletproof reputations for reliability along with plenty of praise for their fuel economy.
While official Transport Canada five-cycle fuel economy figures have yet to be announced, the new 2021 Venza has been estimated by Toyota to achieve 5.9 L/100km in combined city and highway driving. Active grille shutters, which automatically open and close electronically to provide system cooling or enhanced aerodynamics as needed, help Toyota achieve this impressive number. All said it should become the most fuel-efficient mid-size SUV in Canada when available, and if pump prices continue to rise across the country, as they have been recently, it could very well be a strong selling point.
For a bit more background, the original Venza shared its underpinnings with the Japanese domestic market Toyota Harrier (amongst other Toyota/Lexus products like the Camry and Highlander), which was even more closely aligned with our Lexus RX (the first-gen Harrier was sold here as the barely disguised 1999–2003 Lexus RX 300). The five-plus years without the Venza in this country, spanning from 2016 until now, saw a third-generation Harrier come and go in Japan, while the fourth-gen Harrier is now nearly identical to the new 2021 Venza.
Those familiar with Toyota’s 2.5-litre Atkinson-cycle four-cylinder hybrid powertrain used in the Camry Hybrid, RAV4 Hybrid and Highlander Hybrid (plus the Avalon Hybrid in the U.S.) will be happy to hear the new Venza hybrid will utilize the same well-proven powertrain, as will the redesigned 2021 Sienna mentioned earlier. In Venza form the powertrain’s combined system output equals 219 horsepower, which makes it identical to the RAV4 Hybrid while more potent than the Camry Hybrid (208 hp) and not quite as formidable as the Highlander Hybrid (240 hp).
The updated Toyota Hybrid System II uses a new lighter lithium-ion battery that also improves performance, while the Venza’s two electric motors deliver strong near-immediate torque as well as advanced Electronic On-Demand All-Wheel Drive, the rear-mounted motor powering the back wheels when slippage occurs during takeoff or on slippery road surfaces. The drive system can divert up to 80 percent of motive force to the rear wheels, in fact, although take note the system is designed to utilize the front wheels most often in order to limit fuel usage.
To this end Toyota includes an Eco mode that “changes the throttle and environmental logic” to maximize efficiencies says Toyota, but both Normal and Sport modes, the former “ideal for everyday driving” and the latter sharpening “throttle response,” are also part of the package, while an EV mode will allow limited use of all-electric battery power at “low speeds for short distances,” just like with other non-plug-in Toyota hybrid models.
Toyota says the Venza’s regenerative brakes, which capture electricity caused by braking friction before rerouting it to the SUV’s electrical system, provide greater control than in previous iterations, and can actually be employed for a “downshifting” effect via the sequential gear lever’s manual mode. Each downward shift increases regenerative braking in steps, which “fosters greater control when driving in hilly areas,” adds Toyota, while the hybrid system also improves ride comfort by “finely controlling the drive torque to suppress pitch under acceleration and deceleration.” This is called differential torque pre-load, and is especially useful when starting off or cornering on normal or slippery roads. The feature also helps enhance steering performance at higher speeds, plus straight-line stability and controllability on rough roads. Toyota is also employing new Active Cornering Assist (ACA) electronic brake vectoring in order to minimize understeer and therefore enhance driving dynamics further.
The new Venza rides on the Toyota New Global Architecture K (TNGA-K) platform architecture that also underpins the 2018–present Camry, 2019–present Avalon, 2019–present RAV4, 2020 Highlander, and new 2021 Sienna, plus the 2019–present Lexus ES and future Lexus NX and RX SUVs, which in a press release is promised to deliver an “intuitive driving experience” with “greater driving refinement” including “comfortable urban and highway performance” plus “predictable handling, and low noise, vibration, and harshness (NVH)” levels. The new platform incorporates extensive high-strength steel for a more rigid construction that improves the front strut and rear multi-link suspension’s ride comfort and handling, not to mention safety overall.
The 2021 Venza LE rolls on 18-inch multi-spoke two-tone alloy wheels, while XLE and Limited come standard with 19-inch multi-spoke super chrome finished alloy wheels.
Take a peek inside a near loaded Venza XLE or top-tier Limited and along with sophisticated touch-sensitive capacitive controls that replace physical buttons on the centre stack you’ll likely first notice the premium-sized 12.3-inch centre infotainment touchscreen, but even the standard 8.0-inch centre display in the base LE is large for an entry-level head unit.
The larger uprated system features a premium 12-channel, 1,200-watt, nine-speaker (with a sub) JBL audio system that Toyota describes as “sonically gorgeous,” as well as embedded navigation with Destination Assist and switchable driver or front passenger operation, while both systems include Android Auto (including Google Assistant) and Apple CarPlay (with Siri) smartphone integration, plus Bluetooth wireless connectivity, and the list goes on.
Speaking of cool tech, a fully digital instrument cluster is optional, as is a 10-inch colour head-up display unit that projects key info (such as vehicle speed, hybrid system details, and TSS 2.0 safety and driver assist functions) onto the windscreen, while an electronic rearview mirror with auto-dimming capability and an integrated HomeLink universal remote provides a more expansive view out the back, especially helpful if rear passengers or cargo is blocking the rearward view. The mirror can be switched between conventional and digital operation by the flick of a switch, while parking can be further enhanced by a move up to Limited trim that also incorporates an overhead camera system dubbed Panoramic View Monitor. The standard camera gets “projected path” active guidelines as well as an available “rear camera cleaning system [that] sprays washer fluid to clear away water droplets, mud, snow, and snow-melting road treatments from the lens,” says Toyota.
Toyota is also leading most competitors by making wireless phone charging available on the majority of its models, so therefore this handy feature will be optional on the Venza, while additional upgrades include ventilated seats, a proximity-sensing Smart Key System that works on all four doors as well as the liftgate, the latter also providing hands-free powered operation, while plenty more features are available.
On the subject of more, an innovative new feature dubbed “Star Gaze” is a fixed electrochromic panoramic glass roof capable of switching between transparent and frosted modes within a single second via a switch on the overhead console. Toyota says the frosted mode “brightens the interior while reducing direct sunlight, giving the cabin an even more open, airy, and inviting feeling.”
All Venza trims come standard with Toyota’s TSS 2.0 suite of advanced safety and driver assistive features including pre-collision system and automatic emergency braking with pedestrian and cyclist detection, blindspot monitoring, lane departure assist, rear cross-traffic alert, lane tracing assist, automatic high beam assist, and full-speed adaptive cruise control.
As far as interior roominess goes, expect a passenger compartment similarly sized to the first two rows in a Highlander, which makes it more accommodating than the RAV4. The Venza’s dedicated cargo compartment measures 1,027 litres (36.2 cubic feet) behind the rear seatbacks, which is in fact 32 litres (1.1 cu ft) less than the RAV4’s 1,059-litre (37.4 cu-ft) capacity behind the second row, and 1,010 litres (35.6 cu ft) less than the Highlander when its third-row is lowered.
The 2021 Venza will arrive in Toyota Canada dealerships this summer with pricing to be announced closer to its on-sale date.
Story credits: Trevor Hofmann
Photo credits: Toyota
No other automaker has sold more hybrid electric vehicles than Toyota, the brand having initiated the electrification revolution way back in 1997, and now it’s surpassed 15 million units globally. It…
No other automaker has sold more hybrid electric vehicles than Toyota, the brand having initiated the electrification revolution way back in 1997, and now it’s surpassed 15 million units globally.
It took three years to get a slightly updated version of the first-generation Prius to North America in 2000, but four generations and some interesting side roads later (notably the subcompact Prius c hatchback and tall wagon-like Prius v) Toyota’s dedicated Prius hybrid has long become legend. It has sold more examples than any other electrified car in history, but Toyota has plenty of additional hybrids to its name.
Along with the plug-in Prius Prime that allows for more EV-only range, Toyota most recently added the all-new 2020 Corolla Hybrid to its gasoline-electric lineup, while the Camry Hybrid has long been popular with those needing a larger sedan. We don’t get the Avalon Hybrid here in Canada, but the RAV4 Hybrid more than makes up for the large luxury sedan’s loss, and next year it arrives as the 2021 RAV4 Prime plug-in too, whereas the Highlander Hybrid remains the only electrified mid-size SUV available in the mainstream volume-branded sector. Additionally, Toyota offers one of the only hydrogen fuel cell-powered vehicles available today, its innovative Mirai taking the hybrid-electric concept into completely new territory.
Of note, Toyota’s 15-million hybrid milestone was partially made up by its Lexus luxury division, which adds seven more gasoline-electric models to Toyota’s namesake range of eight, including (in order of base price) the entry-level UX 250h subcompact crossover SUV, the NX 300h compact SUV, the ES 300h mid-size sedan, the the RX 450h mid-size SUV, the RX 450h L three-row mid-size SUV, the LC 500h personal sport-luxury coupe, and finally Lexus’ flagship LS 500h full-size luxury sedan (Lexus previously offered the HS 250h compact sedan, the CT 200h compact hatchback and the GS 450h mid-size sport sedan).
While 15 hybrid models from two brands is impressive, outside of Canada Toyota and Lexus provide 44 unique hybrid vehicles, while hybrids made up 52 percent of Toyota’s overall volume in Europe last year. What’s more, Toyota accounts for 80 percent of all hybrid sales globally.
Despite recently dropping the Prius v and Prius c models, Toyota shows no signs of slowing down hybrid integration, or continuing to develop its hydrogen fuel cell and full electric programs moving forward. Back in June last year, Toyota Executive Vice President Shigeki Terashi announced that half of the automaker’s global sales would be electrified by 2025, which is five years more aggressive than previously planned. This would likely be a mix of hybrid (HEV), plug-in hybrid (PHEV), and fully electric (BEV) vehicles, but Terashi was clear to point out that an entirely new line of BEVs would be designed for global consumption, and while Toyota had previously spoken of 2020 for the launch of its first BEV, our current global health problem and concurring financial challenges will likely interfere with this plan.
Story credit: Trevor Hofmann
Photo credits: Toyota
Every luxury brand has models that sell in volume and therefore provide necessary income and hopefully profits, while most also have one or more image vehicle that increases visibility of the entire model…
Every luxury brand has models that sell in volume and therefore provide necessary income and hopefully profits, while most also have one or more image vehicle that increases visibility of the entire model lineup and, in theory, causes people to buy into the make. On rare occasion a model achieves both, but such is not the case with the beautiful new Lexus LC.
Putting things into perspective, the LC could actually be considered a runaway success when compared to Lexus’ previous image car. The LFA was purposely limited to just 500 units worldwide over two model years built between 2010 and 2012, 10 of which came to Canada. By comparison the LC, which was introduced in 2017 as a 2018 model, is selling like gangbusters with seven examples finding well-heeled Canadian customers last month alone, and nine the month before. In total, Lexus delivered 55 LCs over the first seven months of 2019, which makes it the second slowest selling model in the Japanese luxury brand’s lineup, just ahead of the LS (with 51 units) but not the slowest selling sport-luxury car in Canada.
That honour goes to the Maserati GranTurismo that only found 14 new buyers so far this year, while the LC is also doing better than Acura’s NSX that only has 17 units sold, not to mention the Nissan GT-R’s tally of 36, and the Audi R8’s 54. Still, Mercedes-Benz sold 99 SL-Class models year-to-date, BMW’s 8 Series earned 160 new owners thus far, Jaguar’s F-Type found 181 buyers, Merc’s AMG GT pulled in a surprising 258 (considering it starts at $170k), and Porsche’s 911 won over 587. Making matters more interesting, that Porsche sales total represents a 31.74-percent drop in popularity compared to the same seven months last year, due to a lull in availability ahead of the all-new 2020 model arriving now.
The 911 wasn’t the only sports car to lose ground on this list either, the R8 falling a catastrophic 70.97 percentage points from grace, the GranTurismo losing 48.15 percent, this LC have been knocked down by 48.11 percent, F-Type sales dropping by 29.30 percent, the GT-R down some 21.74 percent, and the SL having dipped by 16.10 percent. Only the AMG GT grew its year-to-date sales, by 55.42 percent, with the 8 Series too new to compare. You might also get a kick out of learning that Lexus’ parent brand Toyota sold 66 new $65k-plus Supra models during its first month of availability in July, which you’ll now know is more than every LC sold so far this year.
There are other cars competing in this class, but some, like the BMW i8 and Mercedes S-Class Coupe, combine their numbers with other models in their respective lineups (the i3 and S-Class Sedan in these cases), whereas the Aston Martin DB11, Bentley Continental GT and Rolls-Royce Wraith are in a slightly different league when it comes to pricing. Ford sold three Markham, Ontario-built GTs and Dodge even notched one up for the Viper, incidentally, but the former is a purposely low-volume supercar and the latter went out of production two years ago, so the unsteady trickle of deliveries shouldn’t count. A bit further down the pricing hierarchy is Chevy’s Corvette that totaled 840 units year-to-date, and it’s a foregone conclusion the slightly pricier mid-engine C8 will soon fly out of GM showrooms, which will make it even more difficult for very good cars like this LC to find sales traction.
When sales don’t stack up, it’s always important to point out that a given car’s popularity isn’t necessarily a reflection of its overall goodness. As one might expect, the very fact the LC is a Lexus is reason enough to give it respect, and other than the most recently introduced fourth-generation LS luxury sedan, the second model to use the Toyota New Global Architecture (TNGA), specifically TNGA-L (GA-L) underpinnings, the LC is easily the best Lexus ever made.
The initial draw has to be styling. The LC takes the brand’s spindle grille to new widths and depths, but the design gets even more radical to each side, with headlamps that look like some sort of mechanical set of alien-implanted growths, yet the lit areas are actually quite small and filled with tightly grouped trios of LEDs (which Lexus had to reinvent in order to fit within such a small cluster). All of the abstract irregularities are just glossed over black trim, other than the Nike swoosh-style “arrowhead” daytime running lights just below.
The LC design continues rearward with additional modern-day Lexus trademark elements, such as the blackened C-pillar “floating roof” effect with nice polished nickel detailing, far-reaching pronged taillights that more or less mirror the supposed “L-shaped” headlamps while infused with 80 individual LEDs per side and sharing design elements with the aforementioned LS (not to mention the Toyota Prius and Camry XSE). Each element might appear a bit bizarre on its own, but the entire package comes together in one surprisingly elegant and undeniably beautiful cohesive whole.
Come to think of it I almost never comment on styling, unless the designer got something especially right or incredibly wrong. In the LC’s case, the Newport Beach, California-based Calty Design Research centre’s team, led by studio chief Ian Cartabiano, with Edward Lee responsible for the jaw-dropping exterior and William Chergosky plus Ben Chang in charge of the interior, the LF-LC Concept that inspired it couldn’t have been more right. It was miraculously transformed from awe-inspiring prototype to equally stunning LC 500 and LC 500h reality with only minor outer modifications made, the end result quite possibly the closest a production model has ever been to resembling its concept car roots.
The road-going LC’s interior was completely redesigned, albeit kept the general theme including an LFA-inspired pod-like digital gauge cluster, a horizontally shaped instrument panel with a recessed widescreen centre display, a cockpit-style driver’s compartment that’s semi-enclosed by a buttress-type centre stack extension doubling as a front passenger grab-handle in the production model, a flowing set of downward-swept suede-like alcantara door panel inserts, deeply sculpted, heavily bolstered front sport seats, similarly styled rear sport bucket seats, and more. All the effort spent was immediately rewarded by placement on Wards Auto 10 Best Interiors list when the car came on the scene in the spring of 2017, and I have to agree that it’s a wonderfully artful design that provides all the luxuries and digital modernity expected in a personal sports-luxury coupe starting at $102,750 in 2019 LC 500 form and $103,050 in just-arriving 2020 trim, or alternatively at $118,850 with the as-tested 2019 LC 500h electrified powertrain, or $118,950 as a 2020 500h model (see all Lexus LC 500 and 500h pricing at CarCostCanada for both the 2019 and 2020 model years, plus find out about available rebates as well as dealer invoice pricing that could save you thousands).
Nothing significant changes from 2019 to 2020, only the elimination of a special $14,800 Inspiration Series package with Flare Yellow semi-aniline leather upholstery (etcetera) for the LC 500 model, and the addition of a new Bespoke White interior theme for the conventionally powered car as well. No matter which powertrain you choose all six exterior colours remain identical, with Infrared the only optional paint at just $650, while the three remaining interiors are also carried over.
A key reason my 3.5-litre V6-powered hybrid LC 500h tester is pricier than its 5.0-litre V8-powered LC 500 sibling, despite the latter upping horsepower by 113 ponies and without doubt providing a more tantalizing exhaust note, plus fitted with a quicker-shifting, more engaging gearbox than the hybrid’s E-CVT (electronic continuously variable transmission), is equipment, the 500h coming standard with everything from the Performance package that would otherwise cost an LC 500 buyer $13,500 more.
The list of upgrades includes four-wheel active variable gear ratio steering, a Torsen limited slip differential, 21-inch forged alloy wheels on Michelin performance tires instead of the standard 20-inch set, a carbon fibre roof in place of the standard glass panel, an active rear spoiler, carbon fibre reinforced polymer scuff plates, an alcantara headliner, upgraded sport seats, and an eight-way power-adjustable driver’s seat instead of the usual 10-way unit, plus lane change assist added to a long list of standard advanced driver assistive systems on both models that include a pre-collision system with autonomous emergency braking, lane departure alert with steering assist, blindspot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert, automatic high beams, and dynamic cruise control.
I should point out a shortlist of standard luxury and convenience highlights while I’m at it, these including LED cornering lights to go along with the triple-LED headlamps noted earlier, a cool credit card-sized smart key to let you inside via proximity sensing, a head-up display to go along with the fully digital gauge cluster mentioned before, power-folding side mirrors, a heatable steering wheel rim that actually lets you adjust the temperature, a powered steering column that works with the front seat memory, cooled front seats (plus heat of course), semi-automated self-parking, and much, much more.
Also standard is a 10.3-inch high-resolution centre display featuring a regular backup camera with dynamic guidelines, accurate navigation, Apple CarPlay smartphone connectivity (but no Android Auto), superb 13-speaker Mark Levinson high resolution surround audio, satellite radio, dual USB ports, traffic and weather info, Lexus’ Enform App Suite 2.0 with Slacker, Yelp, Sports, Stocks, and Fuel apps, Enform Destination Assist with a one-year subscription, and the Enform Safety Connect suite containing Automatic Collision Notification, a Stolen Vehicle Locator, an Emergency Assistance button (SOS), and Enhanced Roadside Assistance with a four-year subscription.
The display is too far away to reach easily, so Lexus provides its Remote Touch Interface 2.0 touchpad on the lower console, and it works easily enough after some getting used to. A few quick-access buttons and audio controls surround the pad, making it perfectly acceptable yet hardly my favourite infotainment system. Fortunately there are plenty of other reasons to like the LC.
Despite being based on the same platform architecture as Lexus’ big LS sedan, the LC is a fraction of the size in every dimension except width. It reaches across an extra 20 mm (0.8 in) at 1,920 mm (75.6 in), and you can sense its spaciousness in shoulder room once seated next to a passenger, but its wheelbase is 255 mm (10.0 in) shorter at 2,870 mm (113.0 in), and overall length a whopping 475 mm (18.7 in) less grand, while its obvious height difference is reduced by 116 mm (4.5 in).
So what’s the closest rival in size and interior roominess? Before comparing measurements I initially thought of the S-Class Coupe being that it’s top of the personal luxury range at Mercedes, but the mid-size E-Class Coupe is actually a lot larger than the LC in every dimension except (once again) width. The LC is actually closer to cars like BMW’s i8 and Aston Martin’s DB11, with a bit more wheelbase, length and height than the exotic looking German and truly rarified Brit, but less width this time.
The longer wheelbase and length means that four adults can fit inside, although I’d recommend smaller folks in back. I’m just five-foot-eight with taller legs than torso, and I had to bend my neck all the way over to the side in order to fit within, with my head still rubbing up against the rear glass. The seats were comfortable, and there was plenty of room for my legs and feet, not to mention my shoulders and hips, so it was a shame that even medium sized adults can’t fit in back. As for the trunk, it’s a bit smaller in this hybrid model, measuring 132 litres (4.7 cu ft) instead of 153 litres (5.4 cu ft), so you might be forced to stuff one set of golf clubs into that otherwise kids-only back seat.
And yes, to those reading who don’t understand this market, the number of golf bags that can be stowed in the trunk of a personal luxury coupe is much more important than mere performance, which, together with rear seat room, may be reason enough that sales haven’t caught on as much as they could have. Let’s be clear, the LC is not a pure performance car, especially in hybrid trim, but rather a luxurious personal coupe that also goes quickly. In this respect it’s a lot like the just-noted i8, in that it drives beautifully and handles corners brilliantly, but it’s really a luxury car. As for comfort, the suede-like alcantara covered driver’s seat was as feel-good supportive as any in this class, plus wonderfully adjustable and replete with enough side bolstering for all but my most enthusiastic rally-type antics.
I was initially scheduled to spend a week in both models, but someone did something naughty to the regular LC 500 just before I was to receive it, so instead of experiencing its 467 horsepower and 398 lb-ft of torque firsthand, not to mention its reportedly quick-shifting 10-speed automatic, I was shuffled into something else that week, never to see the LC 500 again. This said, not too many weeks later I was able to get into this LC 500h, which comparatively makes a more modest 354 horsepower and an unknown amount of torque from its V6/electric combination, but I have to say it feels a lot more energetic than the numbers claim.
The internal combustion portion of this hybrid power unit only makes 295 horsepower and 257 lb-ft of torque, which is actually less than the same engine puts out in Toyota’s Camry, but before we slag this top-tier Lexus for using such a pedestrian mill, take note that a more highly strung version puts out 430 reliable horsepower in the mid-engine Lotus Evora, so it’s in good company at least. Of course, the lithium-ion battery and electric motor fulfill their fast-forward purpose as well, the latter good for 177 horsepower and 221 lb-ft of torque, for a combined 472 horsepower and, well, let’s not bother because net horsepower and net torque don’t exactly work that way, which is why Lexus officially claims 354 horsepower and other sources are estimating about 370 lb-ft of twist at the rear wheels. I think they’re being extremely conservative in this estimate, being that the conventionally powered V8 sprints from standstill to 100km/h in 5.1 seconds and the hybrid a mere 0.5 seconds slower at 5.6, and that’s despite weighing 77 kilos (170 lbs) more at 2,012 kg (4,436 lbs) for the 500h to 1,935 kg (4,266 lbs) for the 500.
In order to maximize either model’s fun factor, choose the Drive Mode Select system’s most engaging Sport S+ setting, which may not be as extreme as the sportiest mode in a BMW M car, or a Lexus RC F for that matter, but it certainly allows the engine to rev higher and prompts quicker shifts from the large metal steering wheel-mounted paddles. I have to admit Sport S+ became my go-to position for getting through town quickly, particularly because the engine makes such vicious snarling noises, especially when revs ramp up, and “gear changes” are a lot more direct.
And yes, in case you were wondering, this may just be the best continuously variable transmission I’ve ever tested, but despite its impressive 10-speed Simulated Shift Control technology, which actually incorporates a conventional multi-gear transmission within, it still has some latent CVT tendencies, which means that even in its sportiest mode the shifts can come so quickly between intervals, albeit without all the snappy positive engagement from a sport-tuned automatic or dual-clutch automated gearbox, that it seems like nothing’s really happened at all, plus the engine tends to whine up and down with a bit of the old rubber band effect in between. This means serious performance fans will want to get the LC with its V8, leaving those wanting to make some sort of environmental statement opting for the hybrid, because I really can’t see anyone spending $100,000-plus for a personal sports coupe caring one whit about how much they pay at the pump.
The LC 500h’s estimated fuel economy is impressive, however, at 9.0 L/100km in the city, 7.1 on the highway and 8.1 combined compared to 15.1 city, 9.5 highway and 12.6 combined for the LC 500; bragging rights to all but Tesla warriors.
I imagine the lighter weight LC 500 adds more agility through fast-paced corners than the LC 500h, but this long, wide, low and relatively large coupe is nevertheless a great handling car, taking up a couple of tons of real estate yet able to manage curves with deft precision. This is its forte, the LC providing the same kind of relaxed high-speed confidence found in a big Mercedes coupe, yet with its own Japanese premium flair. Its ideally balanced chassis is expectedly easy on the backside too, with a ride that’s a lot more comfortable than its big wheels and low-slung bodywork suggest, while its also wonderfully quiet when its driving mode is switched to one of its less formidable settings, Comfort, Eco and Sport also on the menu.
At the end of the week the LC 500h is a sensational car, but numbers don’t lie. As good as it is, the people have spoken. Even in the US, where Lexus is one of the strongest luxury brands available, the LC has only found 764 buyers since the first of January, which is a bit better than in Canada per capita, but hardly anything to get excited about. Word of a new more performance-oriented LC F arriving later this year could cause some much-needed interest to return to the nameplate, as will an attractive convertible version that’s starting to show up on the interweb, but then again the lovely LC may just end up as another image-building car, helpful for raising Lexus’ well respected name up to higher, pricier levels of the premium market, yet not capable of making a profit on its own.
This said the LC makes for a wonderfully exclusive piece of automotive art that managed to attract more attention from passersby than many pricier cars with more prestigious branding, having garnered more longing stares, pointing fingers and open mouths of astonishment than I could count, not to mention a completely overcome German tourist who just had to get his photo taken beside it. Still, unlike the usual exotic hardware that causes such adoration, the LC still provides a high level of reliable performance, a standout feature for sure. If you’re looking for something breathtakingly beautiful that’s completely different from anything else on the road, I highly recommend the Lexus LC.
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.