Acura is smartly bringing back one of its most revered nameplates for 2023, and simultaneously ditching a three-letter moniker that never managed to garner as much devoted loyalty. The ILX has long been…
e compact sedan capable of running alongside the smallest offerings from Europe’s, Asia’s and the U.S.’ biggest luxury players, thanks to a combination of the previous ninth-generation (2012–2015) Honda Civic Si underpinnings and 2.4-litre engine with a much more sophisticated eight-speed dual-clutch automated gearbox. Certainly, the compact four-door has needed a redesign for years, so therefore sales have waned, but along with a significant update for 2023, Acura has blessed it with a much more endearing name.
Along with the new designation, a much-needed restyling, and a host of other improvements, the new 2023 Integra receives a base price of $34,350 (plus freight and PDI) that’s closer to upper trims of the outgoing ILX, which currently ranges from $31,400 to $36,800.
Integra roots go back 37 years
The ILX has already been with us for a decade, although it was given two facelifts in 2016 and 2019, the first one upgrading the drivetrain to its current iteration, and last one being a more dramatic visual departure, in that it received the brand’s latest “Diamond Pentagon” grille. Plenty of additional upgrades were made to each iteration as well, including the model’s sportiest A-Spec trim added to the latter.
Before the ILX, Canadians wanting an entry-level Acura had the option of the 2006–2011 CSX, which was exclusive to our market, albeit with styling shared with the Honda’s domestic-market Civic, while once again it shared plenty of parts with Honda’s Civic Si, albeit only in Type-S trim (beginning in 2007).
The CLX replaced the Canadian-exclusive 1997–2005 EL, which was more of a gussied up Civic in that it offered no performance option, yet nevertheless managed to accumulate 51-percent of Acura Canada’s sales in its first year and remain the Canadian division’s best-selling model from 1997 to 2003.
Up until 1996 the point of entry into the Acura brand was this article’s subject namesake Integra, or at least the inspiration for the name, which started life in 1986 and therefore joined the mid-size Accord-based Legend as one of the Japanese luxury brand’s initial two launch models.
Following Acura tradition by riding on affordable Honda Civic underpinnings
Like that original Integra, the renewed 2023 version is based on Honda’s ultra-popular Civic, although back in the mid ‘80s Acura had a Civic Coupe (and hatchback) to utilize for two-door hard-points, whereas the most recent 11th-generation Civic is only available in four-door sedan and five-door hatchback body styles.
Understandably, fans of the original Integra were disappointed when the new 2023 model showed up as a five-door hatchback in prototype form and once again in production trim, despite early first-, second- and third-generation Integras being sold as four-door sedans (plus four-door pillared hardtops) and five-door liftbacks, not only as three-door liftbacks, often referred to coupes (the fourth-gen Integra, which only came in three-door liftback form, was known as the RSX here).
Five-door Integra makes sense in today’s market
Old Integras are most collectable in sportier looking three-door form, which, by the hubbub of controversy surrounding the new Integra’s initial announcement, must have been how many fans initially imagined the majorly-hyped new version before it came out. Looking across the auto mall at Ford, disgruntled Acura enthusiasts might just want to be grateful the new Integra isn’t a crossover SUV (looking at your Mustang Mach-E).
With no three-door model in the Civic lineup, and the need to base the Integra on an existing body style, it makes sense Acura chose the liftback option to pay tribute to the luxury brand’s past. Doing so also results in the sportiest of its two Civic donor platforms, plus better access to the cargo area than the outgoing ILX’ trunk.
High-revving Honda Si engine making way for more efficient 1.5-litre turbo-four
Those who love the high-revving 2.4-litre ILX engine might be disappointed that its replacement loses 900 cubic centimetres, but take heart because the new Civic-sourced 1.5-litre unit is much more efficient (which matters these days) and utilizes a turbo to produce more output overall at 200 horsepower and 192 lb-ft of torque, compared to 201 horsepower and 180 lb-ft for the ILX.
Where the outgoing engine has been both lauded and criticized for its quick-spinning, peaky performance, with serious enthusiasts loving its mechanical audio track and intense accelerative VTEC forces in the upper rev-range, it was always a bit too sporting for some. After all, the current ILX, and soon this new Integra, need to serve as Acura’s entry-level product for all.
Therefore, the new model’s more subdued engine note and broader, more automatic-friendly torque band, which ranges from 1,800 to 5,000 rpm, should make it much more enjoyable with the eight-speed dual-clutch automated gearbox, not to mention easier to drive casually around town, while max power can still be found at a lofty 6,000 rpm, or 800 rpm lower than the ILX, meaning that those wanting to rev the engine out will still have an adrenaline inducing, VTEC-enhanced soundtrack to draw upon. That this engine is also used in today’s Civic Si is just another nod to both the ILX’ past and previous Integra’s, et al.
Acura incorporates fabulous six-speed manual transmission from Civic Si
Where the outgoing ILX was not available with a manual transmission (odd considering the Civic Si that donated its 2.4-litre four only was offered with a six-speed manual), the new Integra can now be had with a six-speed DIY gearbox in top-line Elite A-Spec trim at no extra charge, with both the manual and automatic models starting at $42,550, while positioned between base and Elite A-Spec trims is the regular A-Spec at $37,050. According to Acura, the six-speed manual is a “segment-exclusive” feature (sad, but true), which could cause plenty of traditional performance enthusiasts to flock to this front-wheel drive model, despite rear-wheel drive normally being the configuration of choice for the go-fast crowd.
Then again, Honda’s Civic is quite possibly the best-handling front-driver ever created, in 306-horsepower 10th-generation Type R trim at least (the new one is expected later this year as a 2023 model, incidentally), so the automaker knows a thing or two about maximizing handling prowess in this less-than-optimal layout.
Making the most of its dynamic chassis design is a standard sport-tuned suspension, plus the Elite A-Spec adds an Adaptive Damper System that provides even more control of the road below. Likewise, the Elite A-Spec model features a customizable Individual mode for its Integrated Dynamics System, with the rest of the Integra’s trim lines coming standard with the usual Comfort, Normal, and Sport driving modes.
Impressive top-level technologies included
So far, no Tech trim (currently top-of-the-line with the ILX) will be offered, which kind of makes sense being that all 2023 Integras will feature a standard configurable 10.2-inch digital driver’s display, dubbed Acura Precision Cockpit. Then again, a head-up display unit is optional with the Elite A-Spec package, as is a higher-end 9.0-inch infotainment touchscreen featuring wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto smartphone integration. The just-noted wireless capability of its smartphone integration will once again make this package’s Qi-compatible wireless charging pad something useful (it isn’t when forced to plug-in for smartphone integration), while this top-tier upgrade also includes a 16-speaker ELS STUDIO 3D audio system.
Back to standard kit, the Integra’s advanced safety features include a special set of driver and passenger airbags that were “designed to control head rotation in a crash,” says Acura, while rear seat airbags are also included. What’s more, a new single-camera AcuraWatch system boasts enhanced Traffic Jam Assist (TJA) and Traffic Sign Recognition (TSR). Lastly, a one-year free trial of AcuraLink services will also be included across the line, also incorporating the brand’s Security and Remote packages at no extra cost.
All Integra trims come standard with best-in-class roominess
According to Acura, the Integra also promises class-leading rear legroom and cargo volume (the latter partially due to its convenient hatchback design), which are two bonuses the ILX couldn’t boast of.
After all is said and done, it’s difficult to criticize Acura for making a much better ILX and then rebranding it with a legendary name. Calling this five-door model an Integra brought it much more press than merely making it the second-generation ILX, while badging it with a memorable moniker also pulls on the heartstrings while making it easier to bring up in conversation with friends. Just ask anyone not seriously into cars what an ILX is, and you’ll get a stunned look. Do the same for the new Integra, and while you might get a quizzical, doe-eyed gaze, you’re also more likely to receive a curious response. A name like Integra is more easily embedded in one’s memory too, aiding Acura’s marketing efforts, while reducing its spend. Overall, it just makes sense.
Introducing the Next-Gen Integra (0:30):
Next Generation 2023 Acura Integra Debut Featuring Pierre Gasly (1:02):
2023 Acura Integra Production Model Walkaround (6:02):
Story credits: Trevor Hofmann
Photo credits: Acura
Mercedes was a forerunner in the subcompact luxury class with its B-Class MPV back in 2005. The practical little runabout provided a higher level of interior quality and better overall solidity than more…
Mercedes was a forerunner in the subcompact luxury class with its B-Class MPV back in 2005. The practical little runabout provided a higher level of interior quality and better overall solidity than more mainstream volume-branded small cars of the era, and therefore quickly became a hit here in Canada. No doubt many miss that intelligently designed people mover, but this said far fewer seem saddened by its loss than are now buying into its replacement, the much more universally appealing A-Class.
Mercedes brought its stylish four-door A 220 sedan and A 250 Hatch to market three years ago for the 2019 model year, and it quickly became the entry-level luxury sector’s most popular model, unless we’re including Mini’s Cooper (that edged the A out by 67 units in 2019) as a true premium-level car. Nevertheless, the A-Class, together with its sportier CLA sibling, dominate the subcompact luxury car segment, and believe me it’s not difficult to understand why.
I’ve driven all of the above, and therefore can attest to the many improvements Mercedes has brought to the fledgeling entry-level luxury sector. I say fledgeling because most premium brands continue to ignore it completely, instead focusing on entry-level crossover SUVs. Including the upright Mini hatchback and comparatively long, low and sleek CLA, only seven models occupy this smaller subcompact arena, the Cooper and A-Class followed by Audi’s A3 (and derivatives), BMW’s 2 Series, Acura’s ILX, and BMW’s i3, the latter of which probably fits more ideally into a separate entry-level electric luxury car category that doesn’t really exist yet.
The latter list is based on their sales volume in calendar year 2020, by the way, and on that note, I expected the much less expensive four-door Gran Coupé body-style would give BMW’s 2 Series line a solid leg up the segment’s sales chart order last year, but it didn’t even manage to outpace the aging Audi A3, which never even received a 2021 version to boost sales at the end of last year, due to soon being replaced for 2022.
That last car in mind makes me wonder why Audi doesn’t believe it can sell the hatchback version of its A3 in North America, while Mercedes obviously can. Sedans have long done better in the U.S. market, but there’s a place for arguably sportier looking and definitely more practical liftbacks, that is unless trunk security is a big issue in your city. Property crime is rampant in my town, especially from cars, but I’d still prefer a hatch over a sedan for general convenience’ sake, especially when loading it full of gear.
Fortunately, I was able to test the A 220 4Matic late last year, plus this slightly quicker A 250 4Matic Hatch, and AMG versions of both (those two reviews are shortly forthcoming), and while I might find it difficult to choose from the four, opting for Mercedes over the others wouldn’t be as difficult a decision. After all, along with their good looks, fabulous interior design, and impressive all-round performance, they scored highest amongst their Compact Luxury Car classmates in AutoPacific’s latest 2021 Vehicle Satisfaction Award (VSA), after doing the same in that third-party analytical firm’s 2020 Ideal Vehicle Awards (IVA) study.
Likewise, Vincentric (another third-party analytical firm) awarded the A 220 4Matic with the Best Fleet Value in Canada in its Luxury Compact segment, and they even include larger compacts within this category, such as Mercedes’ own C-Class and BMW’s 3 Series. Speaking of holding value, the Canadian Black Book gave similar accolades to the just-noted C-Class in their 2020 “Best Retained Value” Award (2021 hasn’t been revealed yet) that, like Vincentric, includes subcompacts as well, so that honour should rub off a bit on its little A-Class brother’s shoulders, but then again BMW’s 2 Series is said to have held onto most of its “investment” in the Premium Compact Car category of J.D. Power’s 2021 Canada ALG Residual Value Awards, while that firm’s 2021 Vehicle Dependability Study (VDS) puts the most affordable Bimmer on top of its Small Premium Car segment too.
I obviously need to call BMW in order to book a test drive, hopefully in the newish Gran Coupé, which I must admit is one great looking sport sedan, plus if it drives anywhere near as well as the M2 I tested previously, it has to be a serious contender in this class. Of course, BMW has yet to offer anything so practical in the entry-level sector with its sportiest M badge, something Mercedes has been doing with its AMG division for as long as its CLA has been in existence (model year 2014), so kudos to the F1-inspired mega-luxury brand for bestowing power on the masses so early. Audi followed shortly thereafter with its S3 for 2015 and RS 3 for 2018, while it took BMW until model year 2016 to arrive with its M2, which to this day remains available in two-door Coupe form only.
Just how I fell down this subcompact luxury/performance car rabbit hole and remained trapped inside for so long, says a lot about my undisciplined personality, but suffice to say Mercedes’ go-fast attitude trickles down to its more fuel-conscious trim lines. Before delving into the exact A 250 Hatch shown on this page, it might interest you to know about the various trims and how they all fit together to form the most diverse lineup in the subcompact luxury car segment.
For starters, the A 220 sedan receives a 188-horsepower version of Mercedes’ 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder engine that’s good for 221 lb-ft of torque, driving all four wheels through a quick-shifting yet smooth-operating seven-speed dual-clutch automated gearbox. The A 250 Hatch ups the ante with a much more potent spin on the same engine, enhanced with 221 horsepower and 258 lb-ft of torque, which just happens to be the same output as found in the base CLA 250 4Matic.
While all this sounds great, take note of the AMG A 35’s claimed output of 302 horsepower and 295 lb-ft of torque, regardless of sedan or hatchback body styles, while the AMG CLA 45 puts out a staggering 382 horsepower and 354 lb-ft of torque. That one I must drive, as it comes mighty close to the M2’s 405 horsepower and 406 lb-ft of torque, yet as already noted does so in a much more livable four-door package.
Coming back to earth, the A 250 Hatch is a very spirited daily driver, that not only puts fun back into the weekly commute, but combines that with a bit of thrifty pragmatism at the pump thanks to an estimated fuel economy rating of 9.4 L/100km in the city, 6.8 on the highway, and 8.2 combined when driving modestly in Eco mode. Surprisingly, that rating makes it more efficient than the less powerful A 220, which nevertheless sips fuel at the fairly easy rate of 9.6 L/100km city, 6.9 highway and 8.4 combined, which either means the A 250 Hatch provides a best-of-all-world’s performance/efficiency scenario, or Canada’s five-cycle testing method is somehow out of whack.
The two AMG-powered A-Class models are pretty stingy on fuel too, by the way, with identical ratings of 9.5 combined, while the quickest CLA isn’t much thirstier at 10.3 combined, that latter giving some buyers reason enough to choose the Merc over the comparatively gluttonous M2, which slurps up 12.6 L/100km of pricey premium. Don’t get me wrong, because I absolutely love the M2, but something more practical as a daily driver would be a necessity in my life.
Enter the A 250 4Matic Hatch, what I think is the ideal balance of luxury, spaciousness, and performance in this class, all for a reasonable price. It sneaks under the $40k threshold at $39,900, albeit before adding freight and fees (plus options you’ll definitely want), yet after subtracting up to $1,000 in additional factory incentives, according to CarCostCanada’s 2021 Mercedes-Benz A-Class Canada Prices page.
While we’re talking pricing, both AMG A 35 models start at $49,800, also fair for all the added performance, features and styling upgrades, so don’t count this one out before doing the requires maths to see if you can fit one into your budget. This said, I would totally understand if someone chose an A 250 hatch instead, being that its straight-line performance is more than adequate, handling prowess excellent, and overall refinement easily up to premium standards.
I’ll let you decide how you feel about its exterior styling, as it’s a personal taste issue, but for what it’s worth I love the way this car, and the rest of the A-Class lineup looks. Its sport grille pulls on classic Mercedes design cues going all the way back to “Silver Arrows” race cars of the 1950s, the W196 Streamliner a personal favourite, which, along with an open-wheel variant, helped the three-pointed star brand sweep the Formula One World Championships in 1954 and ’55 by claiming victory at the old high-speed Monza, Italy track (with its fabulous high-banked curves) in Streamlined Type Monza bodywork (they had more flexible regulations back then), with two legends, Juan Manuel Fangio and Stirling Moss, at the wheel.
I love Mercedes’ storied history, something you really can’t put a price on. Sure, Asian luxury brands provide some nice premium alternatives, but few marques come close to offering up what Mercedes has in store, no matter the premium segment they’re competing in. For an example, Porsche’s brilliant 911 GT2 RS (991.2) only recently unseated the phenomenal AMG GT Black Series’ fastest production car lap record on the famed Nürburgring Nordschleife race track, and I’m willing to bet Mercedes will be back to once again contest single-lap bragging rights at some point in the near future, while it should also be noted the German automaker (with help from Brackley) has owned the top spot in F1 for seven consecutive years running.
Back at the Nürburgring, a current A 45 S 4Matic+ (W177) was piloted around the 20.8-km course in October of 2019, managing a respectable time of 7:48.80 minutes, which while not quite as quick as the GT Black Series that ran the ‘Ring in just 6:43.616 in order to earn fastest production car status back in November of 2020, makes me ponder how much fun this A 250 4Matic would be on a closed course.
Alas, no opportunity arose for me to take this little liftback to my local raceway, not that the 2-km, nine-turn road course is anything to get particularly excited about, especially when considering all the circuitous mountainside roads located throughout my area. Thus, my weeklong test of this A 250 4Matic Hatch, which included a dedicated day-trip, was most enjoyable, which of course included a few stints that hovered slightly over posted speeds for short durations.
The engine’s aforementioned output gives the A 250 good power off the line, resulting in a claimed zero to 100 km/h time of 6.2 seconds (which is 1.5 seconds slower than the A 35 Hatch, in case you were wondering), while its dual-clutch gearbox, complete with steering wheel paddles and a very engaging Dynamic Sport mode, shortens input reaction times to make the most of the drivetrain and nicely sorted chassis setup.
To be clear, Sport mode doesn’t make any changes to the front strut and rear multi-link suspension’s pre-set characteristics, which is already lowered slightly from the A 220 sedan. My tester, which rode on 225/45R18 Michelin Primacy MXM4 all-season rubber encircling four gorgeous AMG-branded five-spoke alloys, was noticeably sharper in most every other way, which certainly seemed to enhance its overall performance through corners. Braking is strong too, and totally controllable, even when clamping down hard from high speeds, something I was able to do repeatedly with very little fade.
The other three modes are Eco, Comfort, and Individual, the first one being where I left it more often than not in order to minimize fuel consumption, the second a default mode it automatically reverted to at start up, and the final fourth setting allowing some personal choice between performance parameters. Eco and Comfort modes transform the compact hatch into a fairly refined city commuter and highway cruiser, although to be frank this isn’t the most cosseting of suspensions in the class. You will feel the road below, something Mercedes drivers openly appreciate, but I didn’t find it as firm as a similarly optioned 2 Series.
Driving more casually gives opportunity to appreciate the A 250’s beautiful interior. I know BMW does a good job with quality, as does Audi, all the Germans being leaps and bounds ahead of the sole Japanese contender in this class, but Mercedes is the absolute king of bling inside. The A-Class has a drop-dead gorgeous cabin, starting with its two-in-one MBUX digital gauge cluster/infotainment touchscreen that provides such brilliantly crisp and sensationally colourful graphics it’ll take your breath away.
The driver’s display allows each user to choose a design that suits their personal style, all of which are more vibrant than anything I’ve seen from the competition. The integrated multi-information display is as full of functions as anything in this class too, providing loads of discoverable options to keep the love alive long after the initial excitement of purchase might otherwise subside.
The attached infotainment display is a touchscreen, as noted, and therefore fully capable of tablet-like tap, swipe and pinch gesture controls, depending on the function being used. I should also note that Mercedes provides a redundant infotainment controller on the lower console that’s easier to reach when sitting back in the driver’s seat. It includes a touchpad that works identically to the touchscreen, other than providing haptic feedback, plus is surrounded by a number of quick-access switchgear for immediate access to regularly used functions. Yet more infotainment redundancy can be found on the steering wheel spokes, so Mercedes has you covered no matter how you want to integrate with the MBUX system.
The infotainment monitor is just as high in definition as the driver’s display, by the way, and includes all the expected features when moving up through Mercedes’ checklist of options. What this means is you’ll need to spend more to get features that might come standard in cars from the Asian brands, such as Android Auto and Apple CarPlay smartphone integration which, believe it or not, come as part of the $2,950 Premium Package.
There’s a lot more in that package that you’ll most likely want, including a wireless device charger, proximity-sensing keyless access, ambient lighting, an auto-dimming centre mirror and driver’s side mirror, power-folding exterior mirrors, blind spot assist, vehicle exit warning, live traffic info, a Connect 20 Mid audio upgrade, and get this, a digital instrument cluster, 10.25-inch central media display, and MBUX extended functions, such as an automatic front camera that warns of stationary obstacles (even cars ahead when pulling up to a stoplight), or a similar feature that does the same thing when a pedestrian is walking across a crosswalk. This said, the ultra-wide combined displays I made such a fuss about earlier, are not standard.
This I didn’t know before writing this review, because I’ve never seen the alternative. In fact, just try to look through online images for a photo of a base model with analogue gauges and a separate display screen and you probably won’t be able to locate anything, something I did at length in multiple search tools. Even Mercedes doesn’t show this interior when configuring an A 250 on their retail website, this base car always showing the upgraded instrument panel photo in its interior gallery. It’s as if it didn’t exist at all. I’m guessing the Premium Package is chosen by each and every dealer, because who’d want an A-Class without it? It’s a smart way to get the advertised retail price below $40k, but probably not reflective of anything you’re going to find on the lot. I suppose you could order one if you really wanted to remain analogue.
Navigation is optional too, which is normal for this class. The $1,000 augmented reality-enhanced upgrade provides live traffic information as well, plus traffic sign assist, while a $1,600 Technology Package adds active Multibeam LED headlights with adaptive high beams, and Distronic active distance assist.
Advanced driver aids and safety equipment in mind, a $1,900 Intelligent Drive Package adds Distronic active distance assist separately, plus active speed limit assist, map-based speed adaptation, enhanced automated stop-and-go, active brake assist with cross-traffic function, active emergency stop assist, active blind spot assist, active steering assist, evasive steering assist, active lane change assist, and active lane keeping assist.
Should I go on? Maybe it’s better if you go to Mercedes’ retail site to build this car yourself, or for that matter over to the CarCostCanada page I mentioned earlier, where you can configure it similarly, right down to the wide array of $890 to $2,500 optional paint colours.
Before departing completely from the options menu, I should probably point out that the AMG-style wheels noted before are in fact part of a $1,500 Sport Package that also changes up the grille with a chromed diamond-block insert, plus it modifies the lower front fascia with a more aggressive AMG design featuring attractive metallic accents. Inside, your feet will rest upon special AMG floor mats when they’re not pressing down on a set of AMG brushed stainless steel sport pedals, while your backside settles in to upgraded sport front seats and your hands grip a much nicer sport steering wheel wrapped in fine Nappa leather, the aluminum shift paddles on its backside part of this package as well. A bit more ($2,000) will swap the Sport Package out for an all-black Night Package, if a more menacing look is your thing.
The steering wheel rim can be heatable for an additional $250, or for $1,200 more the just-noted front seats can be climate cooled to reduce perspiration during hot summer months. Other extras include a $450 powered front passenger seat with memory, a $300 universal remote, a $650 overhead parking camera, a $1,500 head-up display, a $900 active parking assist system, a $700 Burmester audio upgrade with 12 speakers and 450 watts of power (that would be high on my list, despite the regular audio system sounding just fine), $450 for satellite radio, and more. A car with all of these options and a simple metallic paint will add about $17,000 to the base model’s list price, resulting in about $57k before any discount, which is more or less the level of top-tier pricing you’ll find with most of the A 250 Hatch’s rivals.
What you won’t find with any of these are the interior details hinted at earlier, the dual-display MBUX system only part of the car’s wow factor. The stunning five circular HVAC vents on the dash are eye-arresting enough, their brushed aluminum finish looking like a quintet of retro jet engines. Likewise, knurled metal trim bits adorn some of the key buttons, knobs and toggles, while plenty of other interior accents are finished in aluminum or aluminized composite. If the little A 250’s interior doesn’t titillate your senses, I’m afraid you’ve lost your love for cars, or at least modern, tech-filled conveyances.
If you’re more into taller SUVs than classically shaped cars, most everything that makes the A 250 4Matic great can be had in the GLA 250 4Matic, so keep that in mind while shopping. Likewise, the A-Class’ general styling, on the outside and inside, is much like its larger brethren, although the C-Class never received Mercedes’ dual MBUX display, and will soon skip right past that infotainment era for the 2022 model year, which introduces a new version of the system featuring individual driving and media interfaces, the latter a lot larger and closer to the driver, thus negating the redundant lower console-mounted touchpad and controls that come as part of an upgraded A-Class and so many other models in Mercedes’ lineup.
Eventually we’ll see how this next chapter in interior design plays out in future A-Class models, but until then, today’s A remains the most advanced subcompact luxury car on the planet (when so equipped). So, if you’re in the market for an entry-level premium car, you’ve really got to check the A-Class out in person.
Review and photos by Trevor Hofmann
When an automaker creates a sports car as immediately classic as the now legendary 240Z, it’s often all downhill from there. It’s like the band that has a top-10 hit on their first album, and never…
When an automaker creates a sports car as immediately classic as the now legendary 240Z, it’s often all downhill from there. It’s like the band that has a top-10 hit on their first album, and never achieves the same level of musical genius again. Could the next Z be the one that finally outdoes the original?
Sometimes we forget that Nissan (then Datsun in North America) had already experienced relative success with another great sports car before the 240Z arrived in 1969. In fact, the 1965–1970 1600 roadster (and predecessors), named Fairlady in Japan and raced in SRL 2000 form by actor Paul Newman at the very beginning of his motorsport career, was the 240Z’s (Fairlady Z’s) predecessor despite looking nothing like it. Where the 1600 roadster looked and performed similarly to British and Italian sports cars of the era such as the MGB, Triumph TR4/TR5, Alfa Romeo Duetto/Spider and Fiat Spider, the 240Z left every other entry-level competitor in the visual and literal dust, and became an instant hit because of it.
The Zs that followed gained displacement to overcome pollution equipment and therefore weren’t quite as appealing, while the 280ZX added luxury and weight, a scenario that continued to play out with the 300ZX, although the second-generation 300ZX was absolutely gorgeous and extremely powerful for the era, and is therefore considered by many as the best Z since the 240. This said the 350Z was lauded for styling and performance when it arrived, while the 370Z added more luxury and weight, and has kind of worn out its welcome after 12 years on the market. This brings us to the here and now, with hopes that the yellow beast before us all is a thinly disguised seventh-gen Z.
The Z Proto, as it’s called, appears more than just a concept. The name Proto is short for prototype after all, which outside of sports car racing circles means a near production ready concept designed to test the waters before a full introduction. Nissan has a history of near-production concepts, which bodes well for this car becoming the new 400Z, as netizen pundits are calling it.
Nissan has been teasing the next-gen Z for quite a while, first with a teaser video showing the car in silhouette a few months ago. This caused quite the stir, with many expecting a production-ready car to appear, but alas we only have a concept, albeit a nicely fleshed out one at that. The Z Proto looks like it could easily be a production model, from its graceful lines that pay greater respect to the original than any Z since the ‘70s, to its fully formed interior that continues forward with many of the key design elements that have always been part of Nissan’s much-loved super coupe.
From the front, the Z Proto immediately reminds of the early 240, 260 and 280 Z cars, particularly the blocky, rectangular grille that seems to pay tribute to a popular mod of the era which saw owners removing the thin chromed front bumper (this practice became even more popular amongst 280Z owners due to its larger safety regulated front bumper), but also shares similar sizing to the current 370Z’s frontal opening. Just the same, this has been the new Proto Z’s most criticized design element, with some thinking it’s just too big and square.
The Proto’s elegantly formed hood plays off early Zs too, but with a much wider domed centre section that begins farther rearward after a more pronounced crease down the middle. The ovoid headlights are entirely new, however, sharing some circular symmetry with the first Z, particularly the daytime running lights that are supposed to represent the circular reflection of the transparent headlamp fairings used on Japanese-domestic-market (JDM) models (and aftermarket upgraded North American cars). Their flush glass-covered sealed beam look is more in-line with the fourth-generation Z32, mind you, which incidentally housed the Z’s first Xenon HIDs as part of its 1998 makeover, but the new concept uses LED technology.
The Z Proto’s roofline, rear quarters and hatch, on the other hand, pull cues from a variety of eras, albeit mostly from the ‘70s due to moving most of its visual weight to the rear, which sees nicely upswept quarter windows as well as pillars with integrated “Z” logos, paying direct homage to first-generation models. This said, the rear lighting elements and back panel garner more influence from both the refreshed 1987-1989 Z31 and all Z32 300ZX models thanks to their large, horizontal taillight treatments, while the entire car is a major departure from both 350Z and 370Z models, necessary to provide a fresh approach to such an outdated model.
For those wanting a return to what arguably made the original 240Z a great car to drive, its superb power to weight ratio, the Z Proto’s five-inch longer body won’t be good news unless Nissan constructs it from lightweight metals and composites. Doing so, of course, would drive the price up substantially, which means we’re only likely to see the same types of high-strength steels and alloys used in the platform-sharing Infiniti Q60’s body structure, with any exotic materials allocated to the much pricier GT-R.
The new Z Proto measures 4,381 mm (172.5 in) long, 1,849 mm (72.8 in) wide, incidentally, which is exactly the same width as the Q60, plus it’s 1,310 mm (51.6 in) tall. We can expect a production version to use at least as much aluminum for its body panels as the current 370Z, which gets a lightweight hood, door skins and hatch. Aluminum suspension components will make the grade too, the current Z already using an aluminum-alloy front subframe, engine cradle, and forged aluminum control arms (upper and lower in the rear), steering knuckle, radius rod, and wheel carrier assembly.
Within that just-noted engine cradle will be Nissan’s impressive twin-turbo 3.0-litre VR30DDTT engine, an advanced power unit that delivers superb performance and much better fuel economy than the 3.7-litre V6 currently in use. It comes in two states of tune in the Q60, including 300 and 400 horsepower variants, with most pundits expecting a 400Z nameplate to accompany the most potent version. This said it would be an unusual move to limit the upcoming Z to just the top-line engine, as a 300Z’s lower price point would allow for many more sales, while a potential 300ZX could denote available all-wheel drive, currently standard in Canada in the Q60, while provide an ideal marketing connection to the aforementioned historical Z models. A six-speed manual is shown in the concept, nothing new here, while it’s possible the new Z will debut more forward gears for the automatic, which currently houses seven.
As has mostly been the case through the decades, the new Z Proto’s interior is heavily influenced by first-gen Z cars, albeit with modern-day refinement and technology that far surpass today’s model. A key giveaway includes the sport steering wheel with its classic circular centre pad endowed with a “Z” logo instead of Nissan’s usual crest, but fans will appreciate the trio of driver-canted ancillary gauges atop the centre dash even more. Along with the usual oil pressure and voltmeter dials, the Z Proto replaces the current model’s digital clock with a boost gauge, a nod to the twin-turbo V6 housed just ahead.
The digital gauge cluster and large high-definition infotainment touchscreen are the most notable improvements over all predecessors, the former necessary for respect in this segment, and allowing for much more driver usability due to the ability to incorporate sophisticated performance readouts, while the latter should come equipped with all the usual modern amenities including Android Auto and Apple CarPlay smartphone integration, a big, clear backup camera with the possible option of a 360-degree overhead bird’s-eye view, and more.
The three rotating dials used for the heating and ventilation system strangely don’t appear to provide dual-zone capability, but it is automatic so this version is at least up to par with the current car.
Speaking of the current car, the Z Proto’s side-window defog vents on the outside corners of the dash, and its uniquely shaped door handles with integrated air vents, appear directly pulled from today’s Z, a strange choice if the brand wants to wholly differentiate the upcoming model from the one it replaces.
The seats look fabulous, but such can be said for the current model’s top-tier Recaros too, all of which help to make the new Z Proto appear like a production model in waiting. Then again Nissan is calling it a “development study vehicle,” so we shouldn’t get our hopes up too high, even though the 2001 Z Concept ended up looking a lot like the 2003 350Z. Reports claim the production vehicle has been signed off and development is well under way, but so far we haven’t been given a launch timeline. Considering today’s Z is now the oldest generation of any model sold in Canada, they may want to get a move on.
Ahead of the 2021 Arteon four-door coupe virtual world première set for June 24th, Volkswagen has released one image containing two artist’s renderings of the forthcoming model, one of which clearly shows an elongated wagon-like body style similar in concept to Porsche’s Panamera Sport Turismo (see a full road test review of all Panamera models here).
While exciting news for five-door sport wagon fans in Europe, take note the new Arteon Shooting Brake, as it’s called, won’t be available in North American markets. Instead, Canada and the U.S. will only get the refreshed first-generation Arteon in its four-door fastback body style, which means the German automaker will have less opportunity to pull this model up from its sales doldrums.
Yes, as attractive as today’s Arteon is, the sleek sport sedan has been relegated to niche status in Canada. Sales during calendar year 2019 totalled just 456 units (although deliveries started partway through the year in March), which left it dead last in the volume-branded mainstream mid-size sedan segment. The Passat, its more conventional and much less expensive four-door sedan stable mate, finished one step ahead with 672 examples sold, and take note this happened well before 2020’s tumultuous health, economic and social woes shook up the market.
This last point in mind, over the first three months of 2020 (all that’s been reported so far, and mostly before we were hit by hard times) the Arteon’s numbers were even worse with just 81 Canadian buyers (which if extrapolated over four quarters would equal 324 sales), although the new 2020 Passat found 523 new owners during the first three months of the year (theoretically equaling 2,092 unit sales over four quarters), a clear sign that Canadians like the new 2020 model’s ground up redesign.
At first glance, the Passat’s positive initial 2020 sales results could bode well for the upcoming Arteon mid-cycle makeover, health, social and especially economic issues aside, but the current 2020 Arteon is already a stunner, and while the artist’s rendering appears longer, lower and wider with much larger wheels, typical of such cartoonish drawings, if one were to squeeze it back into reality the update should actually look much like the current car other than a slightly modified grille and lower front fascia, plus similarly mild modifications most likely applied to the rear.
The Arteon’s interior is currently the best Volkswagen has on offer, and while we shouldn’t expect wholesale changes, VW is promising to integrate its latest modular infotainment matrix 3 (MIB3) system for faster application processing, improved connectivity, greater overall functionality, and better entertainment.
Volkswagen will also introduce more intelligent assist systems, such as “Travel Assist” semi-autonomous or “highly assisted driving.” Like other hands-on-the-wheel self-correcting driver assist systems currently offered by other manufacturers, Travel Assist has been designed specifically for long-distance highway use, with the Arteon capable of “steering, acceleration and braking up to speeds of 130 mph [210 km/h],” said Volkswagen in a press release, albeit “under the control of the driver.”
All of this could push the cost of the already pricey Arteon higher, however, the current version of this low-slung sport sedan hitting the road just a hair’s breadth under $50k ($49,960 plus fees to be exact), which is without doubt a key reason its sales are slow.
Kia’s Stinger, the only other four-door coupe in the mainstream volume-branded mid-size sedan segment, found 1,569 Canadian buyers last year, however, while walking away with 2019 Canadian Car of the Year honours, but this similarly sleek alternative is a considerable $5,000 less expensive and comes equipped with stronger base and optional performance as well as more features.
Right now it’s possible to lower a new 2019 Arteon’s base price to match the Stinger’s window sticker, mind you, with up to $5,000 in additional incentives available from Volkswagen, while the German automaker is offering factory leasing and financing rates from zero percent for the 2020 Arteon. Not to be outdone, Kia is offering the same $5,000 in additional incentives on any 2019 Stingers still in stock or up to $4,000 in additional incentives for the 2020 Stinger, so take you pick. Learn more about these deals as well as available manufacturer rebates and otherwise difficult to source dealer invoice pricing at CarCostCanada. Also, make sure to download the new free CarCostCanada app from Google Play Store or the Apple iTunes store.
More detailed information about the 2021 Arteon, and the Euro-market Arteon Shooting Brake, will follow the upcoming world première later this month.
Story credit: Trevor Hofmann
Photo credits: Volkswagen
In case you hadn’t heard, the Prius C was discontinued as 2019 came to a close, with no 2020 models being built. There are still 2019s available, albeit in short supply, plus plenty of low mileage demos…
In case you hadn’t heard, the Prius C was discontinued as 2019 came to a close, with no 2020 models being built. There are still 2019s available, albeit in short supply, plus plenty of low mileage demos and pre-owned examples (I searched across the country and found the majority of new ones in the GTA and greater Montreal areas), while the model’s highly efficient hybrid electric drivetrain plus many of its other components will continue being produced into the future for a number of alternative Toyota models.
Toyota is currently offering Prius C buyers factory leasing and financing rates from zero percent, plus all of the examples I found were heavily discounted, while on top of these two reasons it’s also an excellent subcompact runabout, all making a review of a 2019 model relevant despite being so far into the 2020 calendar year. I also want to say goodbye to a car that I particularly like. I consider its loss a step backwards for those of us who appreciate highly efficient small cars that are still plenty of fun to drive.
To be clear, the Prius C never reached the enjoyment levels of Toyota’s fun-loving Echo Hatchback RS, the modern interpretation of that 2004–2005 classic being another Canadian-exclusive hatch (with respect to North American markets at least), the now discontinued albeit still available 2019 Nissan Micra, but I liked it more than the current automatic-equipped Yaris. The older Echo Hatch and current Micra are very close dimensionally, but take note the Yaris (which was the Echo Hatchback’s replacement for 2006) has grown considerably in size and weight (after two generations) since its comparatively simple predecessor.
The Prius C actually shares its Toyota B platform architecture with the Yaris, but this said its measurements are slightly different. Specifically, the Prius C’s 2,550-millimetre (100.4-inch) wheelbase is 40 mm (1.6 in) longer than the Japanese automaker’s conventionally powered subcompact hatch, and its 4,059-mm (159.8-in) length makes it a significant 114 mm (4.5 in) longer from front to rear. What’s more, the Prius C’s 1,715-mm (67.5-in) width puts it at 20 mm (0.8 in) wider, while its 1,491-mm (58.7-in) height sees it lose 9 mm (0.3 in) from the base of its tires to the tip of its rooftop.
Of course, due to the C’s well-proven Hybrid Synergy Drive powertrain that not only consists of a 1.5-litre Atkinson-cycle four-cylinder internal combustion engine (ICE) with variable valve timing and an exhaust heat recovery system, which probably weighs something close to the 1.5-litre four in the outgoing 2019 Yaris Hatchback (the new 2020 Yaris Hatchback is a rebadged Mazda2 that’s otherwise unavailable here), but also adds a 19-kWh nickel metal-hydride battery, a 45kW (60 hp) electric motor, and an auto start/stop system (that shuts the engine off when it would otherwise be idling and automatically restarts when lifting off the brake), all of which increase this small car’s weight significantly.
A similarly equipped 2019 Yaris SE 5-Door Hatchback with its antiquated four-speed automatic hits the scales at just 1,050 kilos (2,335 lbs), compared to 1,147 kg (2,529 lbs) for the Prius C, resulting in 97 kg (214 lbs) of extra mass, while its 99 net horsepower rating (the combination of a 73 horsepower ICE and the aforementioned electric motor) is slightly down on the regular Yaris’ 106 horses, yet the electric motor’s 125 lb-ft of instant torque, combined with the ICE’s 82 lb-ft of more latent twist, plus the lack of mechanical drag from the Prius C’s continuously variable transmission, more than makes up for its increased girth.
Yes it took me a while to get back here, but the Prius C is fun to drive. Its acceleration is surprisingly energetic and its chassis feels just as nimble as the Yaris thanks to a battery that sits quite low, while I’d say the hybrid’s ride quality is even better. It’s a refined little subcompact, with a relatively quiet interior even at highway speeds, and pretty decent comfort over rough inner-city alleyways.
It would be wrong to complain about the fuel economy with either of these cars, the Yaris Hatchback auto plenty efficient at 7.9 L/100km in the city, 6.8 highway and 7.4 combined, but the Prius C’s 5.1 L/100km rating, no matter where it’s being driven, is superb.
Toyota updated the Prius C for the 2018 model year, and I really liked the changes made to a vehicle that already looked good. Compared to the radical styling of its older, bigger brother, the reworked C is a bit more conservative, including redesigned front and rear fascias plus new LED headlamps, LED taillights, updated wheel covers and optional alloys, whereas the interior received a new steering wheel, updated primary gauge cluster, and a revised centre stack. The updated infotainment system included a standard backup camera, this necessary to comply with then-new Canadian regulations that mandated the technology for safety reasons.
Safety in mind, the updated hybrid included Toyota’s Safety Sense C suite of advanced driver assistive systems as standard equipment, incorporating automatic high beams, pre-collision warning, and lane departure alert. Additionally, the standard Prius C airbag count is nine instead of the usual six, whereas a direct tire pressure monitoring system became part of the base package.
Features in mind, Toyota dropped the Prius C’s base model for 2019 and pushed the price up from $21,990 to $22,260 plus freight and dealer fees, but for just $270 they added everything from the previous year’s $900 Upgrade package that included a plush synthetic leather instrument panel, premium upholstery, additional driver seat adjustments, cruise control, two more stereo speakers for a total of six, a rear centre console box, and a cargo cover, to an already generous supply of standard gear including power-adjustable heatable side mirrors, a tilt and telescopic steering column, steering wheel controls for the audio and HVAC systems, a 4.2-inch in-cluster multi-information display, single-zone automatic climate control, a 6.1-inch colour touchscreen infotainment interface, Bluetooth connectivity, an outside temperature gauge, and more.
When searching around for new models still available for sale I noticed a nice mix of both trim levels, by the way, the Technology model I tested swapping out the base 15-inch steel wheels with covers for a nice set of 15-inch alloys, and the premium cloth seats as replaced with Toyota’s Softex breathable leatherette upholstery, while additional Technology upgrades include LED fog lamps, proximity-sensing keyless access with pushbutton ignition, Touch Tracer controls on the upgraded synthetic leather-clad steering wheel, a navigation system with detailed mapping, advanced voice recognition, Gracenote connectivity, satellite radio, heatable front seats, a powered moonroof, and more. The Prius C Technology starts at $27,090, which is an increase of just $140 from last year, representing great value for a hybrid. Factoring in the discounts I saw while cruising the interweb, the zero percent financing Toyota is offering, and any other manufacturer rebates available, snapping up a Prius C while you can makes good sense.
By the way, I found out about the financing rate and pricing at CarCostCanada, where trims, packages and individual option pricing is itemized on most every car available in Canada, plus manufacturer rebate info, financing deals and even dealer invoice pricing that gives you the edge when it comes time to negotiate your deal.
The car that likely killed the Prius C is the all-new 2020 Corolla Hybrid that starts at a very reasonable $24,790, and is inarguably a better vehicle. Then again if you really need a hatchback Toyota will be happy to sell you its larger 2020 Prius, its starting price not too much higher at $28,550 and now available with eAWD, whereas a 2020 Prius Prime plug-in can be had for $32,990, this model qualifying for some governmental rebates. The Camry Hybrid continues into 2020 as well, available from $31,550, while Toyota’s electrified crossover SUV lineup includes the recently redesigned 2020 RAV4 Hybrid from $32,350, and the all-new 2020 Highlander Hybrid from $45,490.
Yes, even without the Prius C they’ve probably got hybrids covered pretty well, although a new RAV4 Prime plug-in will arrive later this year for 2021, while the visually challenging Mirai fuel cell electric, which ended production last year, will arrive this fall with attractive new duds and other upgrades.
As for finally coming to market with a plug-in battery electric vehicle (BEV) like Nissan’s popular Leaf, in June of last year Toyota announced an ambitious plan to include 10 new models worldwide arriving over the first half of the 2020s, all based on a single e-TNGA platform. By 2025 the automaker says that all models will include an electrified variant (at least a hybrid).
Until then, it might be a good idea to grab a great deal on a 2019 Prius C. It’s an excellent little car with impressive fuel economy, good refinement, a roomy interior, and Toyota’s unparalleled reputation for building dependable hybrids.
The compact class is incredibly competitive in Canada, but thanks to continually improving its exterior design, plus major strides made in interior refinement, big gains in cabin infotainment, and a diehard…
The compact class is incredibly competitive in Canada, but thanks to continually improving its exterior design, plus major strides made in interior refinement, big gains in cabin infotainment, and a diehard adherence to its unique horizontally-opposed powertrain connecting through to standard all-wheel drive, Subaru has found a way to keep its Impreza thoroughly relevant when others are getting discontinued.
News of model cancellations is never good to a car enthusiast, even if the vehicle in question is a rather bland compact commuter car. After all, the same market shifting issues that caused the elimination of the Chevy Cruze and its electrified Volt is responsible for the demise of Ford’s Focus and its two sportiest trims, not to mention the fun-to-drive Alfa Romeo-based Dodge Dart a couple of years ago. And these four are only in the compact segment. Plenty of others have fallen by the wayside in the subcompact and full-size passenger car classes too, all making space for new crossover SUVs and EVs.
Subaru produces its share of crossovers, its most popular Crosstrek based on the very Impreza 5-Door being reviewed here. I’m actually a big fan of that innovative little CUV, but I’m also a proponent of smart compact wagons, which is more or less what the Impreza 5-Door is.
Call it a hatchback if you want, or a liftback if you want to make it sound sportier, but in reality the Impreza 5-Door is a wagon through and through. No doubt some in Subaru’s marketing department would rather I don’t say that, but they should be well aware that this Japanese brand has an ardent following of wagon-loving zealots. After all, the Outback is little more than a raised Legacy Wagon, the latter model no longer with us, unfortunately, but a mighty find rally car in its time, not to mention an excellent family hauler.
Subaru has spiffed up the Impreza’s styling in recent years, and it really does look a lot more upscale and premium like, even in its more basic trims. This Sport tester comes with fog lamps and LED-enhanced headlights even though it’s just a mid-range model, not to mention side sill extensions, a subtle rooftop spoiler, and attractive LED taillights, while machine-finished twinned-Y-spoke 17-inch alloys with black-painted pockets round out the sporty look.
Subaru makes a 4-Door Impreza sedan as well, but I’m willing to guess the 5-Door is more popular in Canada. They both look nice and each serves a purpose as well as personal styling tastes, the sedan providing the security of a trunk, useful for those that regularly need to keep valuables locked away from prying eyes, while the latter gets the convenience of added cargo space of a hatch or liftback. The trunk can manage a load of 348 litres, which isn’t bad for a compact, but compared to the 5-Door’s 588-litre cargo hold behind the rear seats, not to mention is uninterrupted 1,565 litres of available volume when the 60/40 split-folding rear seatbacks are lowered down, it’s no contest.
The car I recently tested is a 2019, and yes I’m fully aware the 2020s are already upon us and therefore this review will have a very limited shelf life. Nevertheless, those willing to choose the 2019 can access up to $2,500 in additional incentives (at the time of writing), as seen on CarCostCanada’s 2019 Subaru Impreza Canada Prices page, whereas those wanting the refreshed 2020 model can only save up to $750 in additional incentives, unless they join CarCostCanada to access dealer invoice pricing at which point they could find themselves saving thousands.
Subaru makes its EyeSight suite of advanced driver assistive systems standard on all Imprezas upgraded to an automatic transmission for 2020, while it’s only available in Sport and top-line Sport-tech trims for 2019. The car I tested didn’t include EyeSight, which meant it was missing pre-collision braking, pre-collision brake assist, pre-collision throttle management, lane departure warning, lane sway warning, lane keep assist, lead vehicle start alert, and adaptive cruise control. A Starlink connected services package is also available for 2020, included in most Impreza trims, while both 4- and 5-Door styling has been updated front and back.
The Impreza’s four trim lines remain the same from 2019 to 2020, and include the base Convenience, plus Touring, Sport and Sport-tech, with 2019 pricing ranging from $19,995 to $30,195 for the 4-Door and $20,895 to $31,095 for the 5-Door. Subaru leaves the base price alone for 2020, but ups some pricing in between with the new 5-Door adding $100 to the bottom line for $20,995, and top-line Sport-tech trim costing $30,795 and $31,695 for the 4- and 5-Door body styles respectively.
The 2019 Impreza Sport 5-Door model on this page retails for $25,395, this car increasing to $26,195 next year. Like the two bottom trims it can be had with a five-speed manual or optional Lineartronic continuously variable transmission (CVT) with standard steering wheel-mounted paddle shifters, the latter being how Subaru equipped my tester. As always, Subaru’s Symmetrical AWD comes standard, not only making this the sole car with standard AWD in the compact class, but one of the only vehicles to be offered with AWD in this segment at all.
To be clear, Mazda recently anted up with an AWD 3, while Toyota’s Prius can now be had with its new hybridized e-AWD system. Volkswagen offers its Golf Alltrack until they sell out (it’s sadly being cancelled after model year 2019), but it’s more of a Crosstrek competitor anyway, while the Golf R competes with Subaru’s WRX STI. There you have it, all the AWD competitors in the compact class, a very small number for sure.
Speaking of VW, it’s ironic that a relatively small Japanese brand has kept the German manufacturer’s boxer engine design alive and thriving all these years. Subaru has long claimed the horizontally opposed engine configuration as its own, only sharing it with Porsche and, occasionally, Ferrari, with this latest 2.0-litre, dual-overhead cam, 16-valve, four-cylinder making a reliable 152 horsepower and 145 lb-ft of torque via direct-injection, dual active valve control, and electronic throttle control. This is significantly stronger engine output than most competitors’ base engines. In fact, only three rivals make more power, albeit not much more, while just four put out greater torque.
The result is strong performance from standstill all the way up to highway speeds and beyond, all of the extra torque working very well with my tester’s CVT, which provides especially smooth, linear power delivery. The paddles are useful for downshifting mid-turn, but I found the engine and transmission worked best when left to their own devices. The Impreza’s ride is very smooth too, while its agility through the corners is also typical of fully independent suspension setups, Subaru having infused a set of MacPherson struts up front and double wishbones in back, with stabilizer bars at both ends. This is a more sophisticated design than some of its challengers that use cheaper rear torsion bar suspensions, and can really be felt when pushing hard through curves covered in uneven pavement. Rather than having the rear axle bunny hop over the rough stuff, my Impreza’s 205/50R17s stayed locked on course, the little five-door certainly showing the effects of Subaru’s storied rallying heritage.
This was when I wished my test car had been equipped with the five-speed manual, as it would have been more fun to play with and potentially easier to extract more speed, but truth be told the paddles worked wonders when more engine revs were needed, even though they’re hooked up to a CVT. It was good enough, in fact, that I might lean towards the CVT if this were my own personal ride, not only because it would make driving life in the city a lot more agreeable, but also because the automated transmission is a lot thriftier with a claimed fuel economy rating of 8.3 L/100km city, 6.4 highway and 7.5 combined, compared to 10.1, 7.5 and 8.9 respectively for the manual.
While a serious driver’s car, the Impreza is also extremely comfortable, and not just because of its just-noted ride quality. The driver’s seat offers good adjustability, but strangely no lumbar adjustment in this trim. Fortunately the seat design is inherently supportive, and thanks to excellent reach from the tilt and telescopic steering column I had no problem getting into a good position for optimal control of the leather-wrapped steering wheel and sporty metal pedals. The steering wheel is nicely shaped for a sporty, comfortable feel with the hands at the proper 9 and 3 o’clock positions, while ample switchgear on its spokes allow for control of audio, phone, cruise, and trip/multi-information display functions.
Unlike most rivals, the Impreza’s mostly analogue gauge cluster merely splits its dials with a colour TFT readout for speed, gear selection, real-time fuel economy, fuel level, the odometer and trip mileage. The actual multi-information display is housed in a hooded 4.2-inch colour display atop the dash. It provides a comprehensive level of information, its top half-inch or so displaying the time, interior temperature, climate control setting, and exterior temperature, while the larger bottom section can be set up based on driver preference with options including audio info, real-time fuel economy and projected range, all-wheel drive torque distribution, a row of three gauges encompassing water temp, oil temp and average speed, and more.
While the quality of graphics and screen resolution of the multi-information display has made big strides this generation, Subaru’s biggest single area of improvement over the past few years has been in-car infotainment, particularly the centre touchscreen and its many features. The move up to Sport trim increases the display from 6.3 to 8.0 inches in diameter, and it’s an extremely high-quality touchscreen with crystal clear definition, beautiful vivid colours and extremely rich contrast. The overall tile design is attractive, with big colourful “buttons” overtop a starry blue background that looks attractive and is easy to use, with the main functions being radio, media, phone, apps, settings, and Subaru’s Starlink suite of apps. There’s no navigation in Sport trim, but Apple CarPlay and Android Auto offer route guidance through your smartphone, which is likely good enough for most peoples’ needs. The apps panel includes Aha and iHeartRadio, while dual USB ports and an aux plug allow smartphone access. The backup camera is excellent too, and benefits from dynamic guidelines.
All HVAC controls can be found just below on a dedicated interface, and in Sport trim is a single-zone automatic climate control system featuring three dials and a couple of buttons to actuate. Setting the heatable front seats is done via two rocker switches on the lower console, but even the two-way warmer’s highest settings aren’t anywhere hot enough to feel therapeutic.
There’s no heated steering wheel rim in Sport trim and no seat warmers offered in back at all, which is strange for a car that would likely be used as a family ski shuttle during winter months, but nevertheless the Impreza Sport 5-Door’s rear quarters are nicely finished, yet without secondary air vents on the backside of the front console or anywhere else.
It’s roomy in back, with about eight inches of space remaining ahead of my knees when seated behind the driver’s seat that was set up for my five-foot-eight, long-legged, short-torso frame, plus ample area to stretch out my legs with my feet under said driver’s seat. There’s no shortage of room side-to-side either, plus a comfortably wide folding armrest at centre with dual cupholders, and about three inches left over above my head. The outboard rear seatbacks offer good lumbar support too, so it’s easy to overlook the lack of amenities in back.
I’ve yet to mention this Sport trim’s upholstery, which is a high point thanks to a nice durable feeling fabric featuring an attractive patterned insert surrounded by grey striped bolsters with contrast stitching. Each Impreza generation improves interior refinement, with this latest fifth-gen model a wholly more hospitable place for driver and passengers front to back with respect to materials quality and design. Just look at the contrast-stitched leather-like soft-touch dash top, which is easily as good as this class gets, the impressive surfacing treatment even flowing down the right side of the centre stack and copied over to the left portion as to provide a visual balance. It’s gorgeous. The door uppers get a similar soft synthetic treatment and the armrests feel like genuine stitched leather, while Subaru adds more depth via carbon-fibre-like inlays, satin-silver/grey accents, tasteful applications of chrome and more, not to mention especially tight fitting switchgear throughout the cabin. Anyone buying into this class should be more than impressed with the Impreza’s interior.
I’ve mentioned cargo dimensions already, and while it sits in the middle as far as space behind the rear seatbacks and much better than average when those seats are folded, I wish Subaru had thought of including a centre pass-through for loading in longer items like skis. Of course you can squish someone into the centre position if carrying four, but the outboards seats are much more comfortable and the view out the windows more enjoyable for those in back. Subaru includes a retractable cargo cover within a solid, attractive aluminum cross-member that’s easy to pull out and store behind the first row of seats if no one is seated in the second row, or lay on the cargo floor if someone is.
All things said the Impreza 5-Door is a car I could buy and live happily with. It’s just the right size, offers up lively performance with decent fuel economy, promises strong reliability, and delivers the level of refinement and quality I’ve grown used to. Its infotainment is now as good as this class gets, and while I would’ve liked a few more features in this Sport-trimmed tester, a top-line Sport-tech model I tested a couple of years ago delivered more than enough goodies to satisfy the tech geek within. Everything considered, the Impreza wholly worthy of your attention.
It would be easy to look at the Veloster as an automotive anomaly, a car that doesn’t quite fit into the compact sport coupe segment, but I prefer to think of it as a more practical sports coupe. …
It would be easy to look at the Veloster as an automotive anomaly, a car that doesn’t quite fit into the compact sport coupe segment, but I prefer to think of it as a more practical sports coupe.
After all, there’s good reason only a handful of volume-branded compact sports coupes remain in today’s auto sector. Owners finally got tired of hearing complaints from family and friends trying to access their rear seats, so they bought sporty four- and five-door alternatives. Heck, even the mighty VW GTI can only be had with four doors these days, yet instead of conforming to near wagon-like levels of practicality Hyundai took a good idea that was poorly executed by GM’s Saturn division for its 1999 SC sports coupe, that saw a second rear-hinged half-door added to the driver’s side for easier back seat entry, and adapted it to the more appropriate passenger’s side with an easier to use conventional hinge on a larger three-quarter sized door. Voila! A car that looks like a coupe from the driver’s side and a particularly sleek four-door hatch from the passenger’s side.
Sales were initially quite strong in Canada, but have steadily tapered off since its first full year of 5,741 units in 2012, but thanks to a ground-up redesign for this 2019 model year the Veloster has responded with a 36.6-percent uptick to 1,295 units as of October’s close, although only 279 examples were sold during July, August and September of this year, representing a collapse of 55.1 percent compared to Q3 of 2018, so we’ll have to wait and see if 2019’s final three months fare any better.
Before we see Hyundai transform the Veloster into a volume-branded BMW X4 in order to keep its coupe alive while the world transfers interests from cars to crossover SUVs (an interesting prospect), those who still appreciate sports coupes for their lower centre of gravity and inherently better handling should take note of the new Veloster’s change from a torsion beam rear suspension design (the old car’s Achilles heal) to a new independent multi-link setup, the update thoroughly transforming its ride and handling.
The new Veloster’s underpinnings are much more compliant than the previous model’s, providing comfortable cruising around town with less drama over rough pavement, yet the little coupe remains firm enough to feel like a sport model. Still, despite what feels like a more docile suspension setup it’s much better through the corners, especially when pushed hard over broken asphalt mid-turn, which would have upset the outgoing model. Now you can cut the apex with less concern of finding an unforeseen bump or pothole, the rear suspension now absorbing such obstacles with no rear shudder or loss of tire patch contact.
While the Veloster comes standard with a 2.0-litre four-cylinder engine good for 147 horsepower and 132 lb-ft of torque, which drives the front wheels through a standard six-speed manual or optional six-speed automatic, my Veloster Turbo tester uses a 1.6-litre turbo-four making 201 horsepower and 195 lb-ft of torque. It still twists the front wheels through an as-tested standard six-speed manual gearbox, although those wanting automation can choose a new seven-speed dual-clutch EcoShift DCT gearbox with paddle shifters on the steering wheel. I’ve driven a six-speed version of the latter in previous Velosters (see 2016, 2015 and 2014 reviews), and it proved to be quick shifting and very engaging, so I can only imagine the new seven-speed unit is even more fun to row through the gears, but being a purist when it comes to sports cars I’d be inclined to save the $1,500 and keep the DIY transmission.
It’s a well sorted six-speed with easy, progressive clutch take-up that feels ideally suited to the torque-rich turbocharged four-cylinder. Maximum torque arrives at 1,500 rpm and continues all the way up to 4,500, while max power, arriving at 6,000 rpm, makes laying further into the throttle worthwhile. The little engine hits redline at 7,000, although it’ll spin higher if you enjoy hearing the high-pitched mechanical whine, with sport mode really improving performance along the way. Really, push the big, grey “SPORT” button to the left of the shifter and the Veloster Turbo immediately transforms from nice economical runabout to a truly enthusiastic performance car.
Even better, there are zero negatives when choosing the Turbo over the base Veloster at the pump, with the manual transmission resulting in 9.4 L/100km in the city, 7.1 on the highway and 8.4 combined for the base engine and an even better 9.4 city, 7.0 highway and 8.3 combined for the Turbo, while the base car’s six-speed auto is good for a claimed 9.1 city, 7.1 highway and 8.2 combined compared to just 8.5, 6.9 and 7.8 respectively for the Turbo with its seven-speed DCT. Yes, you read that right. Opt for the better performing Turbo and you’ll save on fuel, at least if you don’t bury your foot in the throttle every time you take off.
A quick drive will be more than enough for you to attest to the Veloster’s sport coupe credentials, but once again living with the car for a week reminded me of just how practical it is. The rear liftgate opens high and wide enough to stow big items, and while not as accommodating as most compact hatchbacks the dedicated cargo area measures a reasonable 565 litres (20 cubic feet), or about the size of a full-size sedan’s trunk, and a considerable increase over the old first-generation Veloster’s 440-litre (15.5 cu-ft) trunk. Of course, you can lower the rear seats to expand its usability, their divide placed at the 66/33-position instead of the usual 60/40, which makes sense for a car that only seats four. With both rear seatbacks laid flat the Veloster allows for 1,260 litres (44.5 cu ft) of gear-toting space, which is once again a significant increase over the previous model’s 982 litres (34.7 cubic feet) of maximum load carrying capacity.
The long driver’s door and proximity-sensing keyless entry make access to the cockpit ultra-easy, and the two passenger doors means that no one needs to compromise when coming along for the ride. Sure the first rear passenger to enter needs to slide along the seat to get to the other side, making me wish Hyundai hadn’t included a fixed centre console with cupholders and a storage bin in between, but it’s not too difficult to negotiate and provides some useful functionality (a folding centre armrest would work better).
With the driver’s seat positioned for my five-foot-eight, long-legged, short-torso frame I had about four to five inches ahead of my knees, plus a reasonable amount of space for my feet, although it was a bit tight for my toes underneath the driver’s seat. There was plenty of space from side to side, however, plus about three inches remained above my head, so it should be roomy enough for somebody under six feet.
The two rear seats are nicely carved out for good lateral support, while their backrests push outward slightly at the lower back to improve comfort on road trips. Amenities are limited to power window switches on the left panel and rear door, while the armrests are the only padded surfaces other than the seats.
This is also true for the front seating compartment, incidentally, the Veloster’s almost complete lack of soft-touch surfaces disappointing. Even the dash top and instrument panel or hard plastic, but at least some of these were given a matte textured treatment, whereas each door panel, armrests aside, were entirely comprised of glossy hard composite.
The red on black sport driver’s seat is as comfortable and supportive as it looks, while its two-way powered lumbar support almost ideally met the small of my back. I was able to set up the seat to my preferences thanks to fairly long reach from the tilt and telescopic steering column, further optimizing comfort and control, while the seat warmers and heatable steering wheel rim came on quickly and strong.
Upon ignition, via a button on the centre stack to the right of the steering column, a transparent head-up display powers up out of the dash top. I must admit it was a bit distracting at first, as it’s right in the line of sight (as it should be), but when selecting sport mode it provided a nice tachometer graphic that proved helpful when pushing the engine to redline, while I grew to appreciate it for other functions too. Just below, a colour multi-information display is set without an easily legible set of analogue dials, while controls on the steering wheel spokes, plus to the left and right of the dash were high in quality, well damped, and easy to reach.
Likewise for the infotainment display atop the centre stack, although the only button at its base was for the car’s hazard lights. Its quick-access switchgear can be found lower down the centre stack, between the audio system’s power/volume and tuning knobs, but I ended up using the steering wheel controls mixed with the touchscreen for most functions.
Thanks to a $3,000 Turbo Tech package, which includes the just-noted head-up display, leather upholstery, driver’s seat lumbar support, and Sport mode function noted earlier, not to mention rain-sensing wipers, rear parking sensors, and automatic climate control (with an auto defogger), my test model had a bigger 8.0-inch infotainment touchscreen with integrated navigation and a great sounding eight-speaker Infinity audio system with an external amplifier.
Before I get ahead of myself, the 2019 Veloster starts at $20,999 plus freight and fees, with the Turbo hitting the road at a base of $25,899. The Turbo Tech package boosts that price up to $28,899, while a $500 Performance package can be added with or without the Tech upgrade, and includes a special set of 18-inch alloy wheels on 225/40 Michelin Pilot summer-performance tires.
The base Veloster sports 18-inch alloys too, by the way, plus auto on/off headlights, LED daytime running lights, power-adjustable heated side mirrors, remote entry, a leather-wrapped heatable multifunction steering wheel, a tilt and telescopic steering column, cruise control, power windows, illuminated vanity mirrors, a sunglasses holder, filtered air conditioning, a one-inch smaller 7.0-inch infotainment touchscreen with standard Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, a rearview camera with dynamic guidelines, six-speaker audio, Bluetooth hands-free phone connectivity with audio streaming, a leather-wrapped shift knob, heated front seats, manual six-way driver and four-way front passenger seat adjustments, blindspot detection with rear cross-traffic alert, all the expected active and passive safety features, plus more.
Upgrading to the Turbo adds LED headlights, LED side mirror turn signal repeaters, LED taillights, a unique grille and extended side sills, proximity keyless access with pushbutton ignition, a 4.2-inch TFT multi-information display replacing a more conventional 3.5-inch trip computer within the gauge cluster, a large powered glass sunroof, silver vent rings, checkered dash trim, partial cloth/leather upholstery with red stitching instead of blue, leatherette door trim, red interior accents, and more.
I could delve into available colours and more, but being that this review is being published as 2020 Velosters are arriving, you’ll need to accept what you can get if you want to take advantage of year-end discounts and zero-percent financing (the 2020 model was being offered with 0.99-percent financing at the time of writing). By the way, you can learn about these deals and more at CarCostCanada, where all pricing for trims, packages and individual options are itemized, plus info about available manufacturer rebates as well as dealer invoice pricing that could save you thousands.
Something else to consider is the new Veloster N, which gets a new 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder good for a lofty 275 horsepower and 260 lb-ft of torque. It comes solely with a six-speed manual gearbox incorporating downshift rev-matching, while an electronically controlled limited slip differential helps get all that power down to the road, and an electronically controlled suspension connecting to 19-inch alloys on 235/35 Pirelli summer-performance tires maximize grip. Normal, Sport, N and Custom drive mode selections, plus a driver-adjustable active exhaust system, make this very special Veloster even more engaging, while fuel economy is still reasonably low at 10.6 L/100km in the city, 8.3 on the highway and 9.5 combined. It can all be had for a very affordable $34,999, so I urge you to take a look.
Something else to consider with the 2019, base model 2020s are no longer available with the manual transmission, which is a bit of a shame as this entry-level model is no longer a cheap fix for performance purists and custom tuners, while the new entry price rises by $1,400 to $22,399. Of course, Hyundai wouldn’t have dropped it if buyers were demanding an entry-level six-speed manual, but it’s nevertheless a negative. Soon, the only way to get a manual will be the $27,499 Turbo, so therefore budget-oriented performance fans will want to start searching for their base 2019 Veloster now. Also noteworthy, Hyundai has changed up some trim names for 2020, dropping GL and Tech from the 2019 car and adding Preferred and Luxury to the new version. The Veloster N is still available in one single trim line for the same price, but if you’re looking for it at CarCostCanada, take note it’s now a separate model for 2020.
No matter the model year or trim designation, the redesigned Veloster is wholly better than the car it replaces, with much better performance and nicely updated electronics, while it retains an ideal mix of sporty coupe styling elements and practical hatchback livability.
Toyota may have said sayonara to its Scion line a few years ago, but the youth-oriented brand’s spirit continues to live on in cars like the impressive new Corolla Hatchback. The Corolla Hatchback takes…
Toyota may have said sayonara to its Scion line a few years ago, but the youth-oriented brand’s spirit continues to live on in cars like the impressive new Corolla Hatchback.
The Corolla Hatchback takes over from the Corolla iM, which was previously the Scion iM, one of the industry’s best compact five-door hatchbacks from model years 2016 through 2018. It was finished to a higher level than most rivals, partly because it was actually a rebadged second-generation Auris from Europe, where they generally finish cars to higher levels than we get here. In Australasian markets this model was long dubbed Corolla Hatchback, so it only made sense to adopt the simpler, more familiar name when this new model arrived on North American shores for 2019.
While this five-door Corolla isn’t as popular as its four-door sibling, you may recognize the redesigned Hatchback’s snazzy new LED headlight-enhanced face now that the 2020 Corolla sedan is starting to show up everywhere. Both new models are high on style and big on substance, and while they’re not going to give the mighty Honda Civic a run for its money, the Corolla line will once again finish 2019 well ahead of every other compact competitor.
No matter the angle, the new Corolla Hatchback looks good, something I can’t say for Honda’s five-door rival. While the Toyota has plenty of sharp angles in keeping with today’s styling preferences, its basic shape is organically flowing, something I’ll hazard to guess will stand the test of time more easily. No doubt outward design influences the Corolla’s high resale value, its second-place standing in the 2019 Canadian Black Book’s Best Retained Value Awards only beaten in the compact car class by Toyota’s own Prius, although this impressive result will also be due to the Corolla Hatchback’s superb value proposition, Vincentric having also honoured the car with its 2019 Best Value In Canada Award in the Compact Hatchback category.
A quick visit to CarCostCanada (where you can also find the latest rebate info and dealer invoice pricing that could save you thousands, plus factory leasing and financing rates that started from 0.49 percent at the time of writing) will show 2019 Corolla Hatchback pricing starting at just $20,980 plus freight and fees, which is actually $1,770 less than the old 2018 Corolla iM mentioned earlier, and believe me the redesigned model is a much better car.
Its standard auto on/off headlamps are full LEDs, compared to halogen projectors in the outgoing model, while the new taillights continue with standard LEDs. The old car’s remote entry has been upgraded with standard proximity-sensing keyless access plus pushbutton ignition, this not even available before, its classic handbrake replaced by an electric parking brake, while the compact Toyota’s advanced driver assistive systems have been upgraded from just including auto-dimming high beams, autonomous emergency braking, and lane departure alert, to now featuring frontal pedestrian and bicycle detection, lane and road departure steering assist, plus adaptive cruise control.
Items like LED daytime running lights, LED turn signals integrated within the side mirror housings, a rear spoiler, fabric-wrapped A-pillars (another sign this car comes out of Toyota’s European division), piano black lacquer and metallic interior accents, a tilt and telescopic multifunction steering wheel, a 4.2-inch colour TFT multi-information display, variable intermittent wipers, an intermittent rear wiper, power windows with auto up/down all around, and cloth sport seats continue forward, as does a touchscreen infotainment system atop the centre stack with a backup camera, Bluetooth phone connectivity and audio streaming, voice recognition, and six-speaker AM/FM/USB/AUX audio, but the new 8.0-inch centre display is now a full inch larger than its predecessor and features Apple CarPlay and Android Auto smartphone integration plus Toyota’s proprietary Entune system that also comes with Entune App Suite Connect featuring traffic, weather, sports, stocks, a fuel station locator, Slacker, Yelp, and NPR One, making the new Corolla Hatchback much more modern.
That said the old iM’s standard 17-inch alloys are now replaced with a comparatively rudimentary set of 15-inch steel rims with covers in base trim, while its leather-wrapped steering wheel rim and shift knob is now urethane, dual-zone auto climate control system now single-zone, albeit still automatic, heated front seats now optional, and the list goes on, all of these reminders that Scion (and the Corolla iM that followed) was mostly a single-trim, no options, one-size-fits-all brand, which meant its cars were always nicely equipped in “base” trim, albeit with entry-level pricing that was often a bit higher than some rivals, and there was no opportunity to add higher end features, such as larger wheels, fog lamps, upgraded instrumentation, navigation, leather upholstery, heated rear seats, etcetera.
This is not a problem for the new Corolla Hatchback, as is immediately noticeable from its front fog lamps and stunning machine-finish 18-inch alloy wheels with black painted pockets. These come standard in my tester’s top-line XSE trim, but before I delve into its details I should take you on a short tour through some of the 2019 Corolla Hatchback’s other trim packages.
For instance, a reasonable $1,000 replaces the rev-matching six-speed manual gearbox with a Direct-Shift continuously variable transmission (CVT) featuring sequential shift mode, while its completely automated shifting also allows for an automatic upgrade to full-speed adaptive cruise control and lane tracing assist.
Both manual and CVT models can be had with one of three packages above base, including the $1,600 SE, $3,000 SE Upgrade, and the as-tested $6,000 XSE. The SE, which pushes the Corolla Hatchback’s price up to $22,580 for the manual or $23,160 with the CVT, adds 16-inch alloy wheels, some additional chrome exterior trim, a leather-wrapped steering wheel rim, a power-adjustable driver’s seat with two-way powered lumbar support, heatable front seats, a theft deterrent system, and steering wheel-mounted paddle shifters with the CVT, while the SE Upgrade package, increasing the price to $23,980 for the manual or $24,160 with the CVT, provides some heat for that steering wheel, plus adds convenient wireless device charging, blindspot monitoring, and those 18-inch alloys noted a moment ago.
As for my tester’s XSE trim that starts at $26,980 with the manual and $27,980 for the CVT, and I’ve got to point out how fabulous it is that Toyota combines its sportiest, highest end trim with its most performance-oriented gearbox, it includes the LED fog lights mentioned before, a 7.0-inch TFT digital driver’s display, plus special Sport fabric upholstery with leatherette trim, dual-zone auto HVAC, Entune 3.0 Premium Audio that adds embedded navigation/route guidance to the centre touchscreen (with automatic map updates for three years), plus traffic and weather info, Entune Destination Assist (with a six-month subscription), Entune Safety Connect featuring automatic collision notification, a stolen vehicle locator, an emergency assistance (SOS) button, and enhanced roadside assistance, plus satellite radio.
A few dealer-added accessories worth getting include a dash camera for $650, a cargo liner for $155, a cargo net for $80, and doorsill plates for $250, while the Corolla Hatchback’s exterior can be dressed up with an ultra-sporty extended rear rooftop spoiler for $535.
The Corolla Hatchback’s cabin is as attractive and nicely put together as the car’s exterior, with plenty of soft-touch composites covering the dash top, the inside portion of the lower console, the front door uppers, plus the armrests side and centre. The mostly black interior motif gets highlighted by cream/grey-coloured contrast stitching in key areas, while the aforementioned sport seats feature the same thread along with a unique two-tone colour treatment thanks to a lighter grey used for their fabric inserts. The seats’ two-way warmers heat up quickly, and can be set to do so automatically each time the car is restarted, as can the heatable steering wheel that makes better equipped Corolla Hatchbacks a lot more pleasurable to live with year round.
The contrast stitching doesn’t transfer over that steering wheel, but its meaty, nicely shaped sport rim feels good in the hands no matter the temperature, and the telescoping steering column provides a lot more reach than the iM’s did, allowing me to set up the driver’s seat more ideally for my long-legged, short torso body. Comfort in mind, the two-way powered lumbar support did a reasonably good job of applying pressure to the small of my back, although slightly lower would’ve been better.
Set up and ready to go, the upper half of the sport steering wheel frames a brightly lit primary instrument cluster featuring the usual array of tachometer, speedometer, fuel and temperature gauges, with the first one set up in a semicircle to the very left, the second dominating the middle position, and the latter two combined in another semicircle to the right. At the centre of the arching speedometer is the multi-info display, providing the usual types of functions a driver might need, from trip information to fuel economy, phone info to cruise control details, etcetera, all accessible via a really nice set of steering wheel controls.
The big centre display hovers above the dash like a fixed tablet, and features quick-access buttons down both sides, plus rotating power/volume and tune/scroll knobs at the bottom of each row. The touchscreen responds to tap, swipe and pinch gesture inputs quickly, this especially useful for the navigation system’s map, while screen resolution is good, aiding the clarity of the backup camera, the colours are attractive with reasonably deep contrast, and the graphics are more functionally straightforward than outright good looking. In other words, Toyota’s Entune interface looks as if a team of engineers designed it rather than a graphic artist, but it certainly works well.
Another carryover feature from Corolla iM to Hatchback is the independent multi-link rear suspension (IRS), something now also provided by the 2020 Corolla sedan, albeit for the first time. The two new Corollas ride on the completely different Toyota New Global Architecture (TNGA) platform architecture, so it’s not exactly the same IRS, but it nevertheless improves the Corolla’s ride and handling more than if set up with this segment’s usual torsion beam rear suspension design, while the new TNGA platform increases torsional rigidity by 60 percent, again aiding handling while also making the body and all occupants safer from impact.
The stiffer construction can certainly be felt on the road, more structural strength allowing for greater compliance from the suspension and therefore the better ride quality just noted, while the IRS also prevents secondary jarring from the rear when pushing it a bit harder over bumpy roads. This kept my tester’s 225/40R18 Bridgestones in better contact with the road below, and the more often a tire’s contact patch is touching pavement the more chance it has of making a given corner, the Corolla Hatchback much more stable through fast-paced curves than some of its peers that don’t yet offer such sophisticated rear suspension setups.
I honestly had no complaints about the old Corolla iM’s 16-valve, DOHC, 1.8-litre four-cylinder that put out just 137 horsepower and 126 lb-ft of torque, as it was a free-revving engine that was plenty of fun to row through the gears, although the six-speed manual was more fun to play with than the easier-to-live-with CVT-S automatic, the “S” referring to Sport. Every aspect of new Corolla Hatchback’s drivetrain is a great deal more enthusiastic, however, so I’m not lamenting the loss of the iM one whit, its direct-injection 2.0-litre four-cylinder making 168 horsepower and 151 lb-ft of torque, which is 31 horsepower and 25 lb-ft of torque more than the iM, and therefore more than enough to offset the new Hatchback’s 118-kg (260-lb) gain in curb weight, to 1,388 kg (3,060 lbs).
Of course, nothing increases output better than cubic centimetres, and 200 is roughly 10 percent of added displacement, but Toyota replaces its old Valvematic system with much more sophisticated VVT-iE (Variable Valve Timing – intelligent by Electric motor), a Lexus development now trickling down to Toyota’s offerings. Basically it’s the same dual VVT-i system used in other applications, albeit with an electrically operated actuator adjusting and maintaining intake of the camshaft timing. Exhaust camshaft timing remains controlled via a hydraulic actuator. In other words, the new engine is much stronger and maintains its energy over a wider rev range.
As for the upgraded continuously variable transmission, usually the Achilles heel of any car attempting to be sporty, the old iM’s was good and the new Corolla Hatchback’s is ruddy brilliant. Truly, this is one of the best CVTs I’ve ever tested, with really quick, snappy shift increments when in Sport mode. What’s more, Toyota’s Direct-Shift CVT includes a whopping 10 gear ratios, which is more than any other I’ve experienced. Of course, they’re pseudo gears, but they nevertheless feel very realistic and are plenty of fun to actuate via the paddles noted earlier. Left to its own devices it’s a smooth, linear shifting CVT that most should appreciate, while it really helps to lower fuel economy.
Despite all the extra engine output and added mass noted a moment ago, the new Corolla Hatchback more than edges the old Corolla iM out when it comes to fuel economy, the new model’s claimed 7.5 L/100km city, 5.8 highway and 6.7 combined rating much thriftier than the iM’s 8.3 city, 6.5 highway and 7.5 combined rating. The new car’s manual is better on fuel too, with a rating of 8.4 L/100km in the city, 6.3 on the highway and 7.5 combined, compared to 8.8 city, 6.8 highway and 7.9 combined for the old model.
I love it when automakers provide us with a “have your cake and eat it too” experience, and for the most part that pretty well sums up this car. It’s faster and more fun to drive yet saves money at the pump, and improves most every other aspect of car ownership too, but nevertheless all that mass noted earlier, which was partially acquired by making the Corolla Hatchback 100 millimetres (3.9 inches) longer than its predecessor with a 40-mm (1.6-in) longer wheelbase, plus 30 mm (1.2 in) wider, albeit a slight 25 mm (1.0 in) lower to the ground, doesn’t add up to inches inside. In fact, while front legroom, rear headroom and rear shoulder room have been increased fractionally by 7 mm (0.3 in), 2 mm (0.1 in) and 10 mm (0.4 in) respectively, front headroom is less accommodating by 33 mm (1.3 in), front shoulder room is narrower by 10 mm (0.4 in), and rear legroom is shorter by 71 mm (2.8 in), while the dedicated cargo compartment is 14 percent smaller, shrinking from 588 litres (20.8 cubic feet) to just 504 litres (17.8 cubic feet).
Nevertheless, I found it roomy enough and comfortable in all outboard positions, although take into consideration that I might be long-legged but only measure five-foot-eight on a particularly elevated day, so taller folk may feel more confined. Like the iM, the Corolla Hatchback’s cargo area gets a removable carpeted load floor with a compact spare and tiny bit of stowage space below, while 60/40 split-folding rear seatbacks can be laid flat to expand its cargo capacity, although Toyota makes the size of the Hatchback’s maximum gear-hauling capability a secret, just as it did with its predecessor.
I can’t for the life of me comprehend how an automaker makes a car larger in almost every respect, yet loses interior room, unless they’ve taken a car that had already some of the highest safety accreditation it could have and made it better, and to its credit the new model achieves best-possible “Good” ratings in all IIHS categories, except for “Crash avoidance & mitigation” in which the headlights merely achieve “Acceptable” or “Marginal” ratings depending on trim or option, although it should be noted this is a U.S. agency and the U.S.-spec Corolla Hatchback isn’t identical to ours. The Corolla Hatchback actually gets a rare “G+” rating for its child seat “LATCH ease of use,” while the NHTSA gives it a 5 star safety rating.
I give the new Corolla Hatchback four stars for being a superb little compact hatch that’s big on style, build quality, features and performance, yet a bit smaller than expected on interior roominess. This said it should be high on your list if you’re considering a compact hatchback.