Honda is calling 2022 the “Year of the Crossover,” partially due to 2021 being the year of their 11th-generation Civic, but more specifically because of two very important upcoming SUV releases. Top of the list will be a complete redesign of Honda’s best-selling CR-V, expected later this year as a 2023 model, but the smaller 2023 HR-V that’s teased here in two artist’s renderings, is at least as critical for its entry-level gateway position.
The subcompact crossover SUV class has gained a lot of traction in recent years, growing from just eight models in 2010, to a shocking 27 now, and while the current HR-V is no longer the segment’s top-seller, it’s done very well for a design that’s been around for almost a decade with only one mid-cycle refresh.
To be clear, the HR-V arrived to the Canadian market in June of 2015, but it was already two years old and in its second-generation. Amazingly, despite arriving halfway through the year, it managed second in sales for the category, only beaten by Kia’s Soul, while it narrowly missed the top spot by just 301 units in 2016. Calendar year 2017 saw the HR-V rise right up to the top with 14,149 deliveries, but that triumph was quickly quelled when Nissan’s ultra-affordable Qashqai hit the streets in 2018, followed by the current sales-leading Hyundai Kona that sold a whopping 25,817 units in 2019, plus 31,733 in 2020 (despite the health crisis). What’s more, even though a microchip shortage caused calamity through last year’s auto production, the Kona nearly equaled 2020 results with a total of 31,101 units down Canadian roads in 2021.
Comparatively, the aging HR-V placed sixth in Canada’s subcompact crossover segment last year, with 11,616 deliveries, allowing it to narrowly edge out the smaller Hyundai Venue that found 11,548 buyers, plus the Mazda CX-30 that managed a strong 11,407 unit-sales. Additionally, it fell marginally behind Nissan’s Qashqai that overtook its Japanese rival with 11,972 examples sold. The second-place Subaru Crosstrek attracted more subcompact SUV buyers than the HR-V as well, with 23,342 unit-sales, while the third-ranking Nissan Kicks did likewise with 18,750 deliveries. Finally, the Kia Seltos managed fourth thanks to 14,436 new owners in 2021. While it might appear as if HR-V sales are much below average, keep in mind that it still outsold 19 mainstream volume-branded subcompact SUV competitors, which is no small feat.
A much better HR-V story gets told south of our border, mind you, where Honda was able to sell a staggering 137,090 units last year, which is almost 10,000 more than the U.S. subcompact SUV segment’s next-best-selling Crosstrek. Exactly how they upped year-over-year sales by more than 63 percent in 2021 is anyone’s guess outside of the brand’s inner circle, and it wasn’t only because the model took a slight dive in 2020. In fact, sales were up more than 38 percent from 2019, but it may have come down to available microchips in a market that made many vehicles hard to get.
Being that the second-generation HR-V was based on the back of the now discontinued (in North America) entry-level Fit hatchback, it was always much more accommodating than its diminutive dimensions let on. Just like the Fit, the HR-V boasts an extremely low cargo floor, plus an ultra-flexible 60/40-split rear “Magic Seat” that comes with backrests that fold down in the traditional way for carrying larger cargo loads, plus lower cushions that flip upwards, pickup truck style, for stowing taller items on the second-row passenger compartment’s floor. The innovative packaging allows it to compete with larger subcompact models like the Qashqai, Crosstrek, Seltos, CX-30 and new Toyota Corolla Cross, despite being externally sized more closely to the Kona, Kicks and Toyota C-HR. This makes it significantly larger than a Venue, incidentally, the smallest crossover currently available in our market.
If you happen to follow global automotive news you might already realize Honda debuted the updated Japanese Domestic Market version of the HR-V in 2021. It’s named Vezel in Japan, while the same SUV replaced the first-generation HR-V in Europe. That new model features an identical 2,610 mm (102.8 in) wheelbase as the outgoing model and our current HR-V, plus approximately the same overall length of 4,330 mm (170.5 in), the previous generation spanning 4,295 to 4,335 mm (169.1 to 170.7 in) from nose to tail depending on markets and trims. It’s just 20 mm (0.8 in) wider too, at 1,790 mm (70.5 in), and slightly lower overall at 1,580 to 1,590 mm (62.2 to 62.6 in) when compared to 1,605 to 1,610 mm (63.2 to 63.4 in) for the previous model, the latter difference likely dependant on tire choices.
This said, our second-generation HR-V (the third-generation globally) will be North American-specific and therefore won’t necessarily share the Japanese/European model’s platform. Instead, there’s a greater chance we’ll see it riding on a version of Civic/Insight and CR-V underpinnings, not to mention the new Acura Integra (a.k.a. ILX), which means it should receive a stronger powertrain, plus possibly the option of a sportier and/or fuel-friendly hybrid model too, as well as the continuation of Honda’s Real Time all-wheel drive.
Currently, our 2022 HR-V is available with front- and all-wheel drivetrains, while employing Honda’s 1.8-litre inline four-cylinder engine and continuously variable transmission (CVT) across the line. The engine is good for 141 horsepower and 127 lb-ft of torque no matter the trim, and as verified by the HR-V’s continued popularity it’s been potent enough for most peoples’ needs.
Probably more important than performance in this class is efficiency, and to that end today’s HR-V gets a claimed five-cycle rating of 8.4 L/100km in the city, 7.0 on the highway and 7.8 combined with FWD, plus 8.8 city, 7.5 highway and 8.2 combined with AWD, and lastly 9.1, 7.7 and 8.5 respectively with the sportier AV7 version of the same transmission, which makes it fairly stingy for the segment.
It’s difficult to say if Honda will be able to maintain the second-generation’s miserly ways with a larger 2.0-litre powertrain if incorporated into the design, especially considering the subcompact SUV will also grow in size and weight, but that 200-cc larger engine is rated at 7.7 L/100km city, 6.0 highway and 6.9 combined in the 2022 Civic Sedan, which also uses a CVT and FWD, so there’s no reason to think it will be much thirstier in a slightly taller crossover. That engine also puts out a much more suitable 158 horsepower and 138 lb-ft of torque, which should more than make up for the renewed 2023 HR-V’s size and weight gain.
Other possibilities include a hybrid variant, at least in markets where Honda can make a viable business case for selling one. Unfortunately, infinitesimal Insight sales in Canada, due to higher pricing than electrified competitors, plus no CR-V Hybrid availability at all, make it appear that moving large numbers of hybrids hasn’t been Honda Canada’s priority in recent years, a shame considering how well it once did with the Civic Hybrid.
Still, it only makes sense the Japanese brand will eventually want to put forth a serious hybrid or electric challenger North of the 49th (Accord Hybrid aside). After all, despite our relatively small population, Canada remains the 13th largest automotive market globally. If Honda does choose to sell a hybrid variant into North America, they’d have the option of the 129-horsepower electrified drivetrain currently offered to European HR-V customers, or the 151-hp setup provided in our Insight sedan, the latter probably more suitable to buyers in our market.
All said, it’s impossible to know if a larger HR-V will return more sales than the current model. Of course, redesigns normally produce an immediate spike in activity, but being that we have so many brands selling multiple models into this class, and the sales results of their smaller and larger models vary dramatically, we need to believe that Honda has based its decision to produce a larger HR-V on extensive market research, because changing up their highly successful subcompact SUV formula poses a significant risk. What’s more, if Honda isn’t able to integrate its versatile Magic Seat system into the new design, usable cargo space may not increase. Loyal HR-V owners will be collectively hoping they do.
When it comes to styling, what we can gather from the artist’s rendering is a vastly more appealing crossover SUV, even discounting the added width, tire/wheel sizes and other visual tricks artists play when rendering prototype vehicles. The upcoming HR-V appears to be a sportier, tougher looking crossover, with an attractive new grille design that seems to frown instead of smile. This more menacing theme has worked well for Toyota trucks and SUVs, while the C-shaped glossy-black corner vents are so similar to the outgoing Acura RDX’ (pre-facelift) that one has to assume we’ll also be getting a spin-off for Honda’s luxury brand. An ADX with the Civic’s optional 180-horsepower turbocharged engine, anyone? How about an optional 200-hp Type S? Its powertrain could easily be pulled from the Civic Si. That would give the Lexus UX a run for its money.
The rendering’s rear styling shows enlarged taillight clusters bearing some semblance to the current model’s design, not to mention a respectful nod to past Civic models, particularly the eighth-generation sedan. It’s also easy to see additional Acura influences on the backside of the new HR-V, so it will be interesting to find out how the finished product looks.
As for the interior, small crossover SUVs are often where automakers let their proverbial hair down in order to have some fun. Just the same, Honda did no such thing with the domestic-market Vezel, which gets a fairly staid, conservative dash design, featuring only the slightest bit of creativity around the centre stack (see the gallery for photos).
In the end, these two renderings only serve to tell us that an “all-new HR-V will launch in North America this year,” further promising to be both “sporty and versatile,” or so says the two-line press release. Thankfully, we shouldn’t have to wait very long to find out.
Story credits: Trevor Hofmann
Photo credits: Honda
In the automotive industry, especially the premium sector, there’s no set formula a brand can simply follow in order to find success. Lexus and Infiniti both arrived on the North American luxury scene…
In the automotive industry, especially the premium sector, there’s no set formula a brand can simply follow in order to find success. Lexus and Infiniti both arrived on the North American luxury scene around the same time in 1989, about three years after Acura, but Lexus has achieved far greater overall sales success than the other two Japanese marques.
Last year, Lexus sold 23,793 new vehicles into the Canadian market and 275,042 units in the U.S., while Acura sold 16,712 and 136,982 cars and crossovers respectively, but Infiniti found just 5,786 and 79,503 buyers. Where Lexus placed fourth in both markets, and Acura a respectable fifth and seventh, Infiniti only managed 12th out of 17 luxury brands (including Buick and Mini, but not Maserati, Bentley, etcetera).
The same scenario has played out in separate segments, where Lexus’ RX has dominated in the two-row mid-size SUV arena and Acura’s MDX amongst three-row mid-size utilities, whereas the latter brand’s RDX has mostly topped the Canadian sales charts in the compact luxury SUV class, although in the US it’s dropped down the podium thanks to Lexus’ NX that sat in second place as of the close of 2020.
Infiniti should be given a shout out for helping to initiate the subcompact luxury SUV category along with Mercedes-Benz, the two brand’s codeveloping the GLA and QX30, but alas the latter left the market after 2019, just when Lexus swooped in to sweep up the spoils with its tiny UX. That ultra-angled utility now sits third in the Canadian subcompact luxury SUV segment and sixth in the U.S., behind Buick’s Encore and Audi’ Q3 in the northern jurisdiction, plus the just-noted GLA, Volvo’s XC40, and Mercedes’ slightly larger GLB in the mostly southern nation.
Acura has yet to offer anything in this class, which is odd considering Mini and Jaguar, two of the slower selling brands in the premium sector, do. Even Alfa Romeo will enter the fray with their Tonale next year, so we may eventually see a CDX, as the rumour-mill has been calling it, at some point in the future. As it is, the Encore, Q3 and UX are followed by the BMW X1, XC40, GLB, Mini Countryman, GLA, Range Rover Evoque, the coupe-like BMW X2, and the Jaguar E-Pace. As for others that might come down the pipeline, Cadillac is enjoying a reasonable take-rate for its larger compact XT4, so an XT3 could potentially be based on Buick’s slightly larger new Encore GX, and we’ve got to expect that Hyundai’s upstart Genesis brand will want in on some of this action too.
This is becoming the entry-level gateway for many luxury brands, after all. Lexus gave up on its smallest CT 200h hatchback back in 2017, only leaving the Germans (including Mini) and Acura’s beleaguered ILX to fight over the remaining scraps, so it’s either join the subcompact luxury SUV party or hope you’ll manage to snag up-and-coming premium customers that bypass the subcompact sector altogether. That’s a choice most are finding too risky to take, hence the quick buildup of new offerings in this relatively new category, despite significantly lower sales than larger compact SUVs.
At first glance, it’s difficult to tell the UX shares underpinnings with Toyota’s CH-R, but of course a lot of cars and SUVs utilize the Japanese automaker’s TNGA-C platform architecture, including the Corolla and Prius. Where the CH-R is swoopy and curvaceous, the UX is all angles and sharp creases, plus its big spindle grille could never be mistaken for anything but a Lexus. A menacing set of LED headlamps, complete with Lexus’ checkmark signatures, hover above vertical corner vents for some sportiness, while at the rear, even more angular taillights appear as if they’re being stretched apart by a narrowing strip of LEDs at centre.
This seems as good a point as any to point out that I tested two different UX trims, both featuring Lexus’ electrified 250h AWD running gear, the Nebula Grey Pearl (more of a taupe) example featuring the regular body style and the Ultra White version dressed up with Lexus’ more performance-oriented F Sport design details. Rather than thinking that one is lesser than the other, I found the regular one classier and the F Sport, well, sportier, so your choice will come down to personal taste.
If you just want the sportier styling, Lexus makes a basic $2,000 F Sport Series 1 package available that adds a larger, more aggressive F SPORT front grille, LED fog lights and cornering lamps, as well as 18-inch F SPORT alloy wheels to the outside, and on the inside a digital primary gauge cluster, a three-spoke F SPORT steering wheel with paddle shifters, an F SPORT shift knob, active sound control that mimics shifts to make it feel like the continuously variable transmission is changing gears, special Nuluxe (breathable leatherette) F Sport seat upholstery (mine done out in two-tone Circuit Red), plus eight-way power-adjustable driver and front passenger sport seats.
If you want the same look with more goodies, the $8,800 F Sport Series 2 package includes all of the above before adding triple-beam LED adaptive headlamps, driver’s seat and side mirror memory with reverse auto-tilt, a full TFT instrument cluster, a head-up display that projects key info onto the windshield ahead of the driver, an auto-dimming rearview mirror, navigation with Destination Assist embedded within a larger 10.3-inch infotainment display that also includes Enform Remote, Enform Safety Connect, and Enform Service Connect, as well as a wireless device charging pad, an eight-speaker audio upgrade, a remote garage door opener, and a gesture-controlled (kick motion) powered rear liftgate.
The white UX 250h in the photos came with the latter package, while the taupe-coloured one included a $5,300 Luxury package that added many of the same features, such as the seat and mirror memory, head-up display, wireless charging, auto-dimming centre mirror, garage door opener, upgraded display with navigation and Enform functions, improved stereo, and gesture/powered rear hatch, plus on top of these it also came with a special Washi instrument panel design, a wallet-sized smart key, and Lexus’ Intuitive Parking Assist with Auto Braking, a.k.a. self-parking. My tester’s fabulous looking “Glazed Caramel” seat, dash bolster and door armrest upholstery is only available with the Luxury package too, an upgrade that really makes the interior look rich compared to the regular all-black colourway.
Speaking of all-black, the only other package Lexus is offering UX customers for 2021 is an $1,100 upgrade dubbed Black Line Special Edition, which rides the current wave of blackened trim replacing otherwise chrome accents (or in this case, mostly black, as there’s still some metal brightwork blinging up the side mirrors, side window surrounds, and branding/badging), with glossy black being added to the grille surround, wheels, and roof rails, plus the mirror caps that remain black even if choosing a non-black (or Caviar, as Lexus calls it) exterior colour, while inside it gets blue stitching around the inside of the black leather-wrapped steering wheel, and yet more blue accents elsewhere, while Lexus includes LED headlights with auto high beams for this package as well.
Attested by the sales numbers noted earlier, I’m not alone in liking the way this little SUV looks, either on the outside or from inside the cabin. The protruding instrument hood is bookended by the same types of control pods first used in Lexus’ now legendary LFA supercar, the one of the left for turning off the traction/stability control, and the right-side knob for switching between Normal, Sport, and Eco driving modes (the EV mode is a separate button found on the lower centre console). The instruments under the hood are digital, as noted above, so only similar to the LFA, from a design perspective, while the widescreen display atop the dash is a real feast for the eyes, thanks to the organic way Lexus laid it out, to the beautifully detailed colour graphics on the high-definition monitor itself.
It’s not a touchscreen, as it would be a bit too far to reach for most drivers, but Lexus has upgraded the old lower centre console-mounted joystick-style Remote Touch Interface with the newer RTI 2.0 touchpad that I prefer more, if only because it looks more up-to-date and takes up less space. It works well enough too, but then again, I’d rather have the option of a touchscreen, because, like most people, that’s what I’m used to.
The backup camera is excellent, thanks to the big, high-definition display and active guidelines, while the array of quick-access buttons and dials around the front portion of the centre armrest, just behind the trackpad, is an innovative way to search through and select infotainment features, of which there are plenty. Navigation is included in upper trims, of course, although I prefer using Android Auto via my smartphone, which is included with the UX, as is Apple CarPlay. A colourful array of climate controls show up on the centre display too, and while you can modulate them there, I appreciate the narrow strip of quick-access buttons just below on the centre stack, while a second row of switches incorporates buttons for the three-way heatable front seats and two-way heated steering wheel rim.
Overall, the UX is an enjoyable place to spend time, from the interior’s aesthetics to its overall comfort and roominess. The driver’s seat is generously adjustable and the powered steering column provides ample reach and rake that should allow for a good seating position no matter your body type, which isn’t always the case for my long-legged, short-torso frame. The seatback provided decent lower support too, the same for both cars, other than the two-way powered lumbar support that didn’t quite meet up to the small of my back. The F Sport’s front seats were certainly bolstered more effectively up by the shoulders, however, yet they’re designed to fit a wider backside than mine, so they’d probably do more to keep a larger person in place during fast cornering than me.
Despite the F Sport’s steering wheel looking sportier and receiving textured leather for its lower two-thirds, both rims felt equally thick and padded and therefore good in my hands, with identically comfortable thumb to optimize control. Of course, I preferred the paddles attached to the F Sport’s wheel more than merely shifting via the console-mounted gear lever on more luxuriously appointed UX, but honestly, I drove these little SUVs conservatively throughout each two-week stint, other than for testing purposes, so I doubt I would end up missing the paddles all that often if this were my regular daily driver.
Instead of taking advantage of this perfect segue into the UX’ driving dynamics, I best finish off my tour of the cabin, particularly how the rear seating area measured up to my average-sized (for a teenager) five-foot-eight stature. For starters, I wouldn’t try stuffing three adults into the second row, unless they’re smaller folk, but there should be plenty of space for two in all directions, no matter their shape or size. They shouldn’t be thrown around if you decide to get enthusiastic behind the wheel either, thanks to good bolstering in the outboard positions. They’re comfortable too, with decent lower back support, plus a wide armrest filled with cupholders folds down at centre to improve things more. Two USB charging ports can be found on the backside of the front console, just below a set of HVAC vents, but that’s it for rear seat luxuries.
As far as touchy-feely surfaces go, the entire dash-top is made from a pliable composite and includes a wonderfully upscale stitched and leather-wrapped section that visually flows all the way from the left side of the gauge cluster, under the centre display, to right side of the dash. This is joined by a padded section just below, ahead of the front passenger, which perfectly matches the back half of the door uppers and inserts. The front portion of those door uppers are finished in the same premium composite as the front dash section, which Lexus also finished the edges of the centre console in a really soft, plush leatherette to protect the inside knees of larger occupants from chafing. Other niceties include cloth-wrapped A pillars and touch-sensitive LED overhead lamps, while all of the switchgear was made from a high-grade dense plastic, with tight fitment and good damping. I was surprised, however, to learn that the rear door uppers were finished in hard plastic, which just isn’t good enough for this class, plus rear seat heaters aren’t available either.
The cargo compartment is luxurious enough too, with a nice quality of carpeting in all the expected places, plus chromed tie-down hooks at each corner, but Lexus didn’t go so far to add stainless steel sill plates. They did upgrade the 2021 UX 250h’s cargo floor with an adjustable section, however, which adds 141 litres (5 cu ft) to its dedicated volume, increasing from 481 (17) to 623 litres (22 cu ft). When folding the 60/40-split rear seats down, available stowage space increases to 1,231 litres (43.5 cu ft), but this brings up one of my lone complaints, the lack of a centre pass-through or even better 40/20/40 rear seat configuration.
I should also mention that all UX trims now come standard with blind-spot monitoring and rear cross-traffic alert as part of the Lexus Safety System 2.0 for 2021, which also includes the brand’s Pre-Collision System with Pedestrian Detection and Bicycle Detection, Lane Departure Alert with Steering Assist and Road Edge Detection, Lane Tracing Assist (LTA), All-Speed Range Dynamic Radar Cruise Control, and Automatic High Beam assisted headlamps.
Even before being upgraded, the 2020 UX received a five-star rating from the U.S. NHTSA (there was no info for the 2021 model), but the IIHS gave it Top Safety Pick status, with best-possible “G” (for good) ratings in all categories except for the headlights that received a worst-possible “P” (for poor) result due to excessive glare when using the low beams around sharp corners, plus only fair nighttime visibility scores in both sharp and gradual corners. I certainly didn’t notice any negatives after dark, but I’m not about to argue with America’s Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. The only utility in this class to earn higher Top Safety Pick Plus status was Volvo’s XC40, while Buick’s Encore GX was the only competitor to match the UX, albeit with a mixture of “A” (for acceptable) and “M” (for Moderate) headlight and child seat LATCH results. All others didn’t receive either Top Safety Pick honour, so kudos to Lexus for being much better than average.
Straight-line performance and at-the-limit handling aren’t better than average, however, but ride quality, quietness and other types of refinements are near the top, which means Lexus has managed to give its smallest, entry-level model a level of driving comfort and poise that comes near to matching the larger compact NX. The 250h is the UX you’ll want to own if the traction benefits of all-wheel drive are important to you, incidentally, thanks to an electric motor driving the rear wheels that automatically adjusts the torque-split between both front and rear axles. This improves handling when accelerating and cornering, especially when driving on slippery roads, plus it makes the UX easier to get off the line. The base UX 200 utilizes a front-wheel drivetrain, by the way, so the hybrid is really the way to go for both performance and fuel economy.
Regarding the former, the base UX 200 slots a 169-horsepower 2.0-litre four-cylinder engine behind its gaping grille, while the 250h gets a net horsepower rating of 181. As noted earlier, a CVT transmits torque to the front axle, resulting in power delivery that’s smooth and linear, rather than aggressive. Then again, the aforementioned active sound control made the F Sport version sound more exciting, and Sport mode (standard across the line) elevated performance parameters, improving shift response, but all said, this is probably the type of SUV best left in Eco mode more often than not, because that’s how you’ll eke out its impressive 5.7 L/100 city, 6.2 highway and 6.0 combined fuel economy rating, which gives the hybrid a significant edge over the base UX’ 8.0 city, 6.3 highway and 7.2 combined results.
This efficiency makes the UX 250h easy to live with, but the little luxury SUV’s resale value might pad your wallet even more when it comes time to trade-in or sell. It was deemed best-in-class in the “Premium Subcompact Utility Vehicle” category of J.D. Power’s 2021 Canada ALG Residual Value Awards, while it also came out on top in the “Luxury Compact SUV/Crossover” segment of Vincentric’s Best Value in Canada Awards.
Also notable, the UX was the highest ranked “Small Premium SUV” in J.D. Power’s 2021 Initial Quality Study, and tied for runner-up in the same third-party analytical firm’s 2021 U.S. Automotive Performance, Execution and Layout (APEAL) Study, while Lexus topped J.D. Power’s 2021 Vehicle Dependability Study, and is also the most reliable luxury brand according to Consumer Reports.
If that’s not enough to interest you in a new UX, consider that Lexus least expensive model starts below the $40k threshold, at $38,450 (plus freight and fees), which is the mid-point in this class, once again if we include Buick and Mini as luxury brands. The Encore starts at just $24,998, which really doesn’t qualify it for premium status in base form, but the price rises to more than $35k when loaded up, while the Encore GX can easily be optioned past $40k. The Countryman, on the other hand, starts at $32,990 and can be upgraded to almost $60k, so it definitely qualifies as a luxury contender. In fact, a fully loaded UX 250h, which starts at $40,250, doesn’t even break $50k, at $40,090 (plus freight and fees), while Lexus was throwing in up to $1,000 in additional incentives at the time of writing, as per CarCostCanada’s 2021 Lexus UX Canada Prices page.
Important for 2022, Lexus will eliminate the base UX 200 trim, causing the base price to rise to $40,700, so we’ll need to see how this impacts sales. I’m guessing not too much, because it this FWD variant wouldn’t be getting the axe if it sold well. If you’d rather have the initial savings of the less expensive UX, however, you’ll need to act quickly, if any are still available.
Whether you go for a 2021 UX or a 2022, you’ll be getting a very comfortable, well-appointed and efficient subcompact luxury SUV. It’s got to be one of the easiest vehicles to drive in any class, and thanks to its diminutive dimensions it’s even easier to park. If you, your partner, or child is learning to drive, or if they simply feel uncomfortable wielding a big, heavy utility around the city, yet appreciate the outward visibility gained from a small SUV’s ride height, this little Lexus is a very good choice. Of course, the UX can be seen as a smart decision for all the other reasons outlined in this review too, therefore it’s easy to recommend.
Review and photos by Trevor Hofmann
As far as subcompact hatchbacks go, Chevy’s Bolt is la crème de la crème. Some time ago I might have said something similar about Ford’s Fiesta ST when referring to straight-line performance and…
As far as subcompact hatchbacks go, Chevy’s Bolt is la crème de la crème. Some time ago I might have said something similar about Ford’s Fiesta ST when referring to straight-line performance and handling, or Honda’s Fit as far as cargo carrying capability, but those two, like so many others in this class, are gone, leaving a shrinking subcompact market segment that’s now a mere shadow of what it once was only a few short years ago.
Fortunately, the current 2021 Bolt includes a few crossover-like styling cues, such as roof rails plus some thick black cladding around its wheel cutouts and rocker panels, as well as an ever-so-slightly raised stance, so it kind of qualifies for subcompact SUV status. Either way, the tiny rocket would probably beat the aforementioned Fiesta ST off the line, let alone a Mini Cooper JCW, while the impressive load of features in my top-level Premier model comes close to promoting it to premium status.
By all accounts it’s a rather unassuming looking hatchback, not unlike the Spark and Sonic that came before. It’s sized more like the latter car, but provides a sleeker, more windswept look than the now discontinued Chevy subcompact, and certainly more road presence than the tiny little Spark, which has now taken over the mantle of Canada’s most affordable new car from Nissan’s cancelled Micra and Mitsubishi’s slightly pricier Mirage.
Having only arrived in 2017, the Bolt has quickly taken over sales chart superiority in the subcompact segment, with last year’s 4,026 Canadian deliveries clearly outpacing the category’s second-best-selling Kia Rio that only managed to find 3,868 buyers, a far cry from the 15,601 new owners it earned in 2013, a year that saw Hyundai’s Accent in first with 18,884 sales. Interestingly, 2013 wasn’t even the Accent’s most successful year, with 2008 notching up 29,751 unit-sales, this being the highest number of sales that a vehicle in this class has ever managed over a calendar year in Canada. The entire segment didn’t even break 16,000 deliveries in 2020, incidentally, and if it wasn’t for the Bolt, it probably wouldn’t have come close to that number. Looking back now, it’s bizarre to fathom that Canada’s subcompact category almost hit 100,000 units in 2014.
Of course, the Bolt has about as much in common with today’s Kia Rio or Nissan Versa (the only two mainstream volume-branded subcompact models left) as a BMW 3 Series. Sure, it might be sized like the little Korean and Japanese models, but it’s plug-in battery-powered and therefore priced more like the Bavarian luxury sedan. In fact, you can buy the Bimmer for $48 less (not factoring in dealer discounts or government subsidies); the 330e plug-in hybrid starting at $44,950, compared to the base Bolt LT’s starting price of $44,998.
My Bolt Premier tester will set you back $50,298, including its vibrant Oasis Blue paint, this standout hue of blue being one of two standard colours including Summit White, while Silver Ice Metallic (exclusive to this trim), Nightfall Grey Metallic, Mosaic Black Metallic, Kinetic Blue Metallic, Cayenne Orange Metallic, and Slate Grey Metallic cost $495 extra, and Cajun Red Tintcoat is slightly more at $595.
You’ll need to pay $750 more for a Driver Confidence II package if you want to get following distance indicator, forward collision alert, automatic emergency braking with front pedestrian braking, lane keep assist with lane departure warning, and IntelliBeam automatic high beams, items normally standard in this price range, thus pushing the base price up over $51,000, while Chevy also offers a 120-volt charging cord for $850, plus aluminum sill plates for $155, a number of carpeted and all-weather floor and cargo mats, an interior protection package, a cargo net, and the list goes on.
While the price of entry is staggeringly high for the Bolt’s subcompact class, its base sticker costing more than twice as much as the most expensive 2021 Kia Rio 5-Door EX Premium, keep in mind that base models qualify for the federal government’s $5,000 rebate, while BC offers another $5,000 rebate (my total rebate was shown as $8,000 after configuring) and residents of Quebec a maximum of $8,000 (check with each jurisdiction for eligibility), so other than the fact that these incentives are paid by regular Canadian taxpayers (many of which are poor folk barely managing to keep making payments on their Sparks, Micras and Mirages, let alone bus passes), it can significantly reduce the cost of EV ownership.
With or without the just-noted extras, the Bolt Premier’s cabin is very inviting, with a lot of light and medium grey colour tones combined with orange stitching on the perforated two-tone leather seats. It’s a sporty look that nicely matches the little electric car’s spunky character.
Most eye-catching is the digital gauge cluster and large infotainment touchscreen, the former bright, colourful and filled mostly with primary driving information, albeit featuring a useful multi-information display at centre. The main touchscreen on the centre stack was bright and colourful too, plus extremely well-organized with most of the features new car buyers expect these days, such as Android Auto and Apple CarPlay, as well as all the usual audio features like SiriusXM satellite radio and Bluetooth streaming. Redundant controls are included for the single-zone auto climate system too, plus in-depth pages for powertrain efficiencies.
Considering the lofty price, I found it odd that no navigation system was included, especially now that some electric cars provide sophisticated navigation equipment that effectively maps out range and finds the nearest public charging location. Of course, you’ll be able to use your smartphone’s navigation via the aforementioned Google and Apple apps for directions, even if these don’t include the types of EV-specific functions $50k should provide. Fortunately, the just-noted audio system is a good enough distraction to lessen any range anxiety that might develop by not knowing where to hook up, while the moving guideline-enhanced backup camera with its separate overhead view will make slotting into the EV charger’s parking spot a near effortless experience when you’ve finally located one.
Charging is almost a non-issue, by the way, thanks to so much range that you might find yourself blasting up and down the highway just to see if you can drain it, like I did for part of my test. In fact, I drove it most of the week without the need to charge, but take note that larger batteries need longer to top up. Chevy claims about 40 km of range per hour of charging on a 240-volt system, which you can purchase for your home or find elsewhere in shopping mall parking lots, public building parking, or private charging resellers like ChargePoint or Flo, while a public-access DC fast charger only needs 30 minutes on the plug to generate up to 145 km of range.
Max range on a full charge is 417 km, although this is an estimate that depends on plenty of factors, from the load you’re carrying (including bodies and cargo), exterior temperature (colder weather means less range), driving style (if you’re stomping on the throttle all the time, or putting on a lot of highway miles, you’ll dramatically reduce distance to empty), plus more.
Yes, the “tiny rocket” descriptor I used at the beginning of this review says it all, the Bolt lives up to its name and then some. Jabbing right foot to the floor results in seriously neck-snapping straight-line acceleration, the direct result of all the big battery’s 66-kWh capacity and the immediacy of an electric motor’s power delivery, especially one putting out 200 horsepower and 266 lb-ft of torque. With Sport mode engaged (which really does make a difference), it’s 0.2 seconds quicker off the line than the long-gone Fiesta ST, by the way, the Bolt launching from standstill to 100 km/h in just 6.5 seconds, but its 1,616-kilo (3,563-lb) curb weight is just too much to make it as agile through the corners as the 1,234 kg (2,721 lb) blue-oval hatchback.
It holds its own nonetheless, and provides a more comfortable ride, which no doubt matters more to the majority of EV buyers. On that note, I left it in one-pedal mode most of the time, what you get by pulling the gear lever rearward to its L position. This allows you to drive by just using the throttle; what might otherwise be called the gas pedal in a conventional vehicle, or we could call it the go-pedal if you prefer. So set, braking is mostly automatic via electric motor drag when lifting the right foot. It’s an incredibly smooth operator, much better, in fact, than any previous system like this I’ve used. Normally there’s too much braking power, causing everyone’s heads to bob back and forth uncomfortably when pressing and lifting off the go-pedal, but the Bolt was really smooth and easy to modulate.
Chevy also provides a paddle on the left side of the steering wheel that effectively does the same when it comes to braking, so if you prefer to have less rolling resistance for a more traditional feel when driving around, you can just leave it in drive and use the steering wheel paddle to brake when needed. Of course, there’s a big brake pedal in the usual spot, just in case you need to stop quickly.
The steering wheel rim next to braking paddle is heatable, incidentally, while the Bolt Premier’s three-way heated front seats were capable of therapeutic levels of warmth. Additionally, a wireless device charger was integrated within the lower centre console, purposely tucked away so drivers won’t be tempted to glance down at an incoming message when on the road. Chevy made sure that texts can be viewed and responded to (via stock answers) on the centre display, so there’s less need to touch it while driving. Two USB-A connectors and a powered auxiliary port can be found right beside the wireless charging pad, while another two USB-A charging points are located on the backside of the front console for rear passengers.
In case you were wondering if the Bolt Premier’s $50k-plus retail price buys you lavish levels of luxurious finishings, Chevy wasn’t feeling generous when applying the types of soft-touch synthetic surfaces found in cars costing upwards of $30,000. Instead, it gets a small rubber armrest on each door panel, plus a more comfortable padded leatherette one in the middle. I found the seats excellent, offering good support all around, but surprisingly they’re not powered. Should we chalk that up to environmentally conscious weight savings?
Along with the manual seats and lack of navigation, my top-line Bolt was also missing a sunroof, and just in case you didn’t notice me mention it above, the automatic HVAC system only has one single zone. Some of these items can be found in similarly sized subcompact hatchbacks sold in the low $20,000s, so when it comes to these creature comforts, at least, be prepared to pay more for less.
Of course, the majority the money goes towards the big battery pack and electrical drive system that makes driving it so much fun, and so ultimately efficient. It’s also roomy, especially for legroom and headroom. Chevy designed it with a long wheelbase to accommodate the battery, which spans the entire floor, from the front foot well to rearmost portion of the back seat. The end result is a noticeable improvement in legroom over its subcompact peers, while head space in this class is almost always open and airy. This said it’s narrower than compacts like Chevy’s old Cruze and Volt, but not by much, while it’s a lot wider than the little Spark, so there’s more room for elbows and knees.
The driver’s position fit my long-legged, short-torso body ideally, with excellent reach from the tilt and telescopic steering wheel, while most rear passengers should be able to stretch their legs out to some extent, due to feet slotting easily underneath the front seat. A nice large folding armrest can be found at the centre of the rear row, while heated seats are included in back too. There’s decent storage as well, with 1,603 litres (56.6 cu ft) available when the 60/40-split rear seatbacks are folded flat, making this a very practical little electric. Chevy even includes a removable cargo floor for fitting in taller cargo or stowing belongings below, one item of which was the aforementioned 120-volt household-style charge cord that can be used at home while waiting for a 240-volt system to be installed.
So that’s the 2021 Chevy Bolt from front to back, with a little sales info and road testing to spice things up in between. If you’re looking for the best deal on a subcompact hatchback it’s probably not the car for you, but if you want the most advanced small hatch on the market, not to mention one of the more affordable new electric cars available, it’s a very good choice that I can’t help but recommend. Its overall performance is strong, range superb, infotainment technology impressive, overall livability great for the small car sector, and overall design appealing for a car in its class.
The all-new 2022 model will remedy a significant portion of my pricing complaint, so if you’re considering one of these outgoing 2021 models, make sure to aggressively push for a final price that comes closer to matching the much more affordable new version. If your Chevy dealer can’t do that, you should probably choose a 2022.
Review and photos by Trevor Hofmann
Honda has been a strong player in the subcompact crossover market for decades, although only chose to bring such models to North American markets when our desire for more affordable SUVs firmly took root.…
Honda has been a strong player in the subcompact crossover market for decades, although only chose to bring such models to North American markets when our desire for more affordable SUVs firmly took root.
Those of us that like small, useful crossovers owe thanks to early adopters, such as Honda Element that blazed the trail in 2003. Others followed, like Jeep’s Compass and Patriot in 2006, Nissan’s Cube and Juke in 2009 and 2010 respectively, and the Scion (Toyota) xB that arrived here in 2011, albeit joined the element in the U.S. for 2003. Suzuki’s Samurai actually dates all the way back to 1985, but it (and the Vitara that followed) was a true 4×4 and therefore doesn’t really fit into this crossover segment that often doesn’t even offer all-wheel drive.
Being that AWD is optional and standard on my tester’s Sport trim line, the HR-V isn’t relegated amongst the subcompact SUV segment’s FWD-only alternatives, which are quickly replacing subcompact hatchbacks, but just the same it effectively ousted the once-popular Fit as Honda’s subcompact ride of choice.
The two, in fact, have a lot in common. Both share platform architectures and other unseen components, plus most noticeably their innovative 60/40-split “Magic Seats” system in back, that’s long provided class-leading storage in their respective categories. This last attribute, along with their overall comfort, reasonable performance, impressive fuel economy, and expected reliability, are why I’ve probably recommended them more than any other two cars in their classes.
Honda isn’t alone in discontinuing its subcompact car, by the way. In fact, this once dozen-or-so-strong segment has been whittled down to just three cars, or five when including 2020 models still loitering around unsold on dealer lots. A smattering of new Fits are probably on that list, so for those wanting to save big on a similarly sized car with near identical functionality, may want to take advantage of a $16,390 (plus freight and fees) starting price, plus factory leasing and financing rates from zero percent according to CarCostCanada (whose members having been saving an average of $1,000 when purchasing a new Fit due to their access of dealer invoice pricing info and more).
Honda provides the HR-V in three trims for 2021, including LX, which is available in both FWD or AWD, the latter starting at $27,500, plus as-tested Sport, which as noted earlier comes standard with AWD for $30,500, and finally Touring that starts at $33,700 and also features standard AWD.
With the only available options for each trim being dealer-added accessories and $300 metallic paint colours, my tester finished in eye-catching Orange Burst Metallic, I might as well get such extras out of the way before delving into standard features. With respect to the latter, base LX trim includes 17-inch alloy wheels on 215/55 all-season tires, a front wiper de-icer, heated and powered side mirrors, remote access, heatable front seats, single-zone automatic climate control, a multi-angle rearview parking camera, a centre display with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto smartphone integration, a 160-watt four-speaker stereo, and more, including those fabulous Magic Seats mentioned earlier.
All HR-Vs come with the Honda Sensing suite of advanced safety and convenience technologies too, such as Forward Collision Warning (FCW), Collision Mitigation Braking System (CMBS), Lane Departure Warning (LDW), Lane Keeping Assist System (LKAS), Road Departure Mitigation (RDM), Adaptive Cruise Control (ACC), and automatic high beams, plus of course all the usual active and passive safety gear.
Adding AWD to the LX brings nothing more to the trim line, but moving up to the HR-V Sport makes a big difference visually thanks to much sportier looking machine-finished 17-inch alloys with black painted pockets, plus a glossy black surface treatment added to the grille insert, revised front lip spoiler, wheel cut-out and rocker panel extensions, rear bumper and more. Front fog lamps continue the performance theme, as does a chrome exhaust tip in back, while the mirror caps receive integrated LED turn indicators, and the roof becomes more useful due to silver rails at each side and a black glass moonroof in the middle.
That powered glass sunroof is a lot more enjoyable from the inside, where it sheds light on a special leather-wrapped steering wheel with attached paddle shifters above, and chrome-accented sport pedals below, not to mention another zone for the auto HVAC system, two more speakers and 20 additional watts of power for the audio system, Active Noise Cancellation (ANC) to help maintain a hushed sense of serenity from the outside world, and possible best of all, proximity-sensing entry for easier access.
Touring trim replaces the wheels’ black paint with a shade of medium grey, swaps out the halogen projector-beam headlights with LEDs and simple auto-off system with auto-on/off, reverts the grille insert to the base LX’ dark chrome hue, paints the Sport’s gloss-black exterior trim elements in body-colour, and adds rain-sensing wipers, leather for the shift knob and seating surfaces, ups the infotainment system with navigation plus HD and satellite radio, and tops everything off with an auto-dimming rearview mirror.
All HR-Vs come standard with Honda’s i-VTEC-enhanced 1.8-litre naturally aspirated four-cylinder engine making 141 horsepower and 127 lb-ft of torque, resulting in amply spirited performance off the line and a cruising speed that’s considerably faster than the posted limits. The aforementioned paddle shifters are good for downshifting to hold a “gear” when coursing through corners, something the HR-V does quite well despite its torsion-beam rear suspension, although I must admit to being more comfortable recommending this little ute for buyers who rate practicality over performance.
To that end it provides one of the more compliant suspension setups in the class, capable of absorbing any city’s or countryside’s pavement irregularities with grace and composure thanks in part to amplitude reactive dampers, while eking out a pretty decent fuel economy rating of 9.1 L/100km city, 7.7 highway and 8.5 combined. You’ll need to engage the HR-V’s standard Eco Assist system and drive modestly if you want to attain such numbers, but thanks in part to an efficient continuously variable transmission (CVT) it’s easily doable.
If those numbers seem a bit high, the LX FWD is stingier at 8.4 L/100km in the city, 7.0 on the highway and 7.8 combined, while the same base trim with AWD gets a respective rating of 8.8, 7.5 and 8.2. Some in this class do better, but then again others aren’t quite as miserly. You should also keep in mind that most manufacturers provide more than one model in this burgeoning subcompact SUV category, with many that are smaller than the HR-V, while a few brands include hybrid-electric and full-EV variants as well, which, while initially more expensive, are much thriftier to drive.
Of course, now that this rapidly growing segment includes more than two dozen entries, compared to just 14 when the HR-V arrived in June of 2015, choosing the exact one to serve your needs has become more complicated. This said, despite the HR-V being three years into its fairly comprehensive mid-cycle refresh, and seven years into this second-generation body style (we never saw the first-gen model), its strong fifth-place position on 2020’s subcompact SUV sales chart should help you understand what a superb little runabout it truly is.
The interior has always been finished well, with a premium-like soft composite surrounding the centre display and bolster ahead of the front passenger, plus unique woven black fabric one-piece door uppers and inserts with comfortable padding underneath. The material almost looks like a black denim, but it’s softer and appears more like the cloth used for the roof-liner above. I like the look and the feel, as its plush and easy on arms and elbows. The door panels’ armrests are large and covered in a stitched leatherette, these mirroring the centre armrest and looking much like the sides of lower centre console, which while more rubber-like in feel, protect the inside knees of both front occupants.
Unlike most vehicles in this class, Honda finishes the rear door panels as nicely as those up front, including the same high-quality fabric for the door uppers. This is a big deal, because most competitors downgrade the rear seating areas. This said, don’t expect to find outboard seat warmers in back, or any other luxury touches, but you won’t care as soon as you start playing with the magical seats that I keep going on and on about.
Need to stow a bike (without its front wheel) upright inside? Simply flip the rear cushions upward, pickup truck style, and an otherwise difficult challenge becomes as easy as walking it in. So configured, the second-row floor is ideal for transporting tall potted plants as well, or any other unwieldy cargo, while the dedicated luggage compartment benefits from a lower load floor than most rivals as well, even with the rear seatbacks are folded flat. Combined with its tall roofline, the HR-V’s maximum cargo capacity is cavernous at 1,583 litres in Sport trim, while this model measures 657 litres behind the rear seats.
Back up front, the primary gauge cluster consists of a large centre speedometer, a digital tachometer to the left, and a multi-information display to the right, although the latter is more of a digital display providing oil, fuel, and odometer info. Its legibility is excellent in all lighting conditions, and adding a bit of fun to the functionality, a ring around the
Being that the gauge cluster’s multi-info display is simple, the switchgear on the steering wheel spokes is for controlling the audio system, changing settings on the centre display, engaging and modulating the adaptive cruise control system, and more, while Honda includes some extra switches below those spokes for additional cruise control adjustments, plus answering calls and using the voice command system.
The high-resolution infotainment touchscreen is large, bright and colourful, with attractive graphics and a totally up-to-date look. Honda updated this for the HR-V’s 2019 remake, and made sure to include a physical dial for adjusting audio volume and turning the system on and off. The backup camera is large and clear, while its multi-angle view really assists when trying to get close to the curb without scratching the wheels. I had no issue connecting my phone via Bluetooth or listening to favourite podcasts through streaming audio, while setting up Android Auto was easy and worked well.
As for the dual-zone auto HVAC system noted earlier, you won’t be able to miss its large interface resting just below on the centre stack. It includes nice big digital readouts and its buttons are touch-sensitive for a truly upscale feel. Controls for the two-way heated front seats are included on this panel as well, while its high-gloss black finish seems to flow downwards onto the lower centre console where inky piano black lacquer covers most of the top surface and much of the shifter knob and electromechanical parking brake pull-tab, just like it does on the lower steering wheel spokes and each paddle shifter. It’s a nice look, but this type of surface treatment often scratches too easily and collects dust something awful. On the positive, Honda provides plenty of bright metallic accenting around the cabin too, which should wear well.
The small overhead console isn’t much to write home about, but its two incandescent reading lights brighten the interior well when needed, and power sunroof switch works as required. Much better is the fabric used for the seat upholstery, which covers its bolsters with a similar cloth to the door panels, plus adds an attractively textured and dappled darker black material to the seat inserts.
The HR-V’s driving position is excellent, with good adjustability from the seat and even better reach from the tilt and telescopic steering column. The backrest provides excellent lower back support and the bolsters are even good for keeping body in place during hard cornering. Likewise, rear seats are comfortable, while as you might expect given the HR-V’s cargo capacity, rear passenger roominess is superb for this class.
All summed up, I can’t help but recommend the HR-V once again, because it does everything a small SUV should, plus is more practical than anything else in the class. That’s probably why the Canadian Black Book ranks the HR-V highest for retained value in its Sub-Compact Crossover category, this possibly the single most important reason you should consider purchasing one. All in all, it’s hard to wrong with an HR-V.
Review and photos by Trevor Hofmann
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.
Buick might be the world’s most global brand. Yes, Buick, General Motors’ problem child that only continues to exist due to its relevance in China. Granted, it’s been part of the Chinese market…
Buick might be the world’s most global brand. Yes, Buick, General Motors’ problem child that only continues to exist due to its relevance in China. Granted, it’s been part of the Chinese market since emperors ruled, while the brand more recently positioned itself well as a purveyor of true premium products that suited Chinese market tastes to a tee, both stylistically and luxuriously, but China isn’t the only reason Buick can claim such jet-setting status.
The Regal GS (see the latest version here) I most recently reviewed, for instance, was designed cooperatively by GM’s German and Australian divisions, with input from its Chinese and North American operations, and assembled in Rüsselsheim, Germany, and Shanghai, China, for the Chinese market, the latter factory also producing the LaCrosse that I tested and reviewed way back in 2017 (see the 2019 LaCrosse here), although our version of Buick’s flagship sedan is built in GM’s Detroit/Hamtramck Assembly.
Even more exotic, the compact Envision crossover SUV (see the updated version here) I covered the same year, while related to the Chevrolet Equinox and GMC Terrain, was mostly designed and produced in China, and is actually the first mass-produced vehicle to follow that Chinese production path (not without ever-changing regulation challenges).
The only American-made vehicle to remain under the Buick brand after the LaCrosse is discontinued later this year will be the mid-size three-row Enclave SUV (see the redesigned Enclave here), produced in Lansing, Michigan. Even the upcoming mid-size five-passenger Envoy, based on the new Chevy Blazer, will likely hail from GM’s Coahuila, Mexico facility, where the Blazer is currently built, but it’s possible the new Enspire, slated to fit between the Encore and Envision, will be built at the GM Fairfax plant in Kansas, being that initial plans to bring it over from China aren’t looking as appealing as they once did.
Lastly, the Encore being reviewed here is the product of GM’s South Korean enterprise that resulted from taking over Daewoo, and is built in Bupyeong-Gu, Incheon alongside the Chevy Trax, which is virtually the same vehicle under the skin.
The Encore will be completely redesigned for 2020, although we won’t see it until spring. The current model hasn’t changed noticeably since it was given a thorough and attractive refresh for 2017, with its basic underpinnings remaining unchanged since it first came on the scene in 2012. I’ve tested it all the way through the years, and always enjoyed it for what it was and still is, a comfortable yet surprisingly quick, highly fuel-efficient, well-featured, roomy little urban runabout with decent all-season capabilities.
For the reasons just stated, I think the Encore is one of the smarter vehicles to buy in its subcompact near luxury class, at least for those of us who prefer a bit of premium pampering. The 2019 model starts at a mere $26,400 plus freight and fees, and tops out at just over $41k with all options and most useful accessories added, which is where most others in the luxury subcompact SUV class start off, but to be fair to the BMW X1, Mercedes-Benz GLA, Audi Q3 et al, the little Buick is not fully in this class.
First off, it’s a Buick, and outside of China the name doesn’t conjure up as much prestige as Cadillac, which unfortunately doesn’t wow the neighbours as much as one of those just-noted German brands, or for that matter Lexus. Lexus just entered this market with a model that more closely targets the type of comfort/efficiency-first buyer that the Encore attracts, and the UX has quickly run up the sales charts to displace Audi’s Q3 in third behind the BMW X1 and Mercedes-Benz GLA-Class, or fourth if we include the Encore in this list, but once again it’s priced closer to mainstream volume-branded subcompact SUVs than anything in the luxury sector, so it would be unfair to do so.
Just the same, with 10,637 Encores sold in Canada last year it continues to do pretty well in the mainstream sector too, placing fifth out of 17 volume-branded subcompact SUVs in 2018, with all others priced cheaper, excepting the near-luxury Mini Countryman that starts at $31,690 and reaches over $50k before adding accessories. That top-line Mini is one of the best performing subcompact SUVs at any price, however, where Buick’s buyers are more interested in comfort, quietness, and fuel efficiency, as noted earlier.
If you hadn’t already noticed, the Encore is small. In fact, it’s smaller than both Countryman generations, the older Mini not as large as the current one, and smaller than all premium-branded subcompact SUVs. Nevertheless, it’s larger than Honda’s HR-V, Kia’s Soul, Ford’s EcoSport and a few other mainstream subcompact SUVs, while it’s smaller than Nissan’s Qashqai, Toyota’s C-HR and Jeep’s Compass, in fact sized closer to Mitsubishi’s RVR, Nissan’s Kicks and Hyundai’s Kona, and almost identically to Jeep’s Renegade and Mazda’s CX-3. Yet it’s tall, so much so that few will run out of headroom, while its available cargo capacity is surprisingly generous.
With all seats lowered the Encore can haul up to 1,371 litres (48.4 cubic feet) of gear, and the 60/40-split rear seats lay flatter than most rivals thanks to a folding process requiring each lower rear cushion to be flipped forward first, before manually lowering each headrest, and then tucking each backrest in behind. The process is a bit more labourious than most competitors, but the final result makes it well worth the effort. Buick dedicates 532 litres (18.8 cubic feet) to cargo behind those rear seats, which is about as much as a full-size sedan’s trunk. Even better, for those moments when you need to transport something really long and awkward, like some extra 2x4s for the extension you’re building or that perfect area rug you saw at the country fair or garage sale, you can lay the front seatback flat as well for up to 2.4 metres (8.0 ft) of extra storage. The Encore’s passenger/cargo flexibility truly makes it a practical companion to ease daily life.
If you want something easy to drive, with excellent sightlines in all directions thanks to a tall ride height and large greenhouse, you can’t get much better than the Encore. Its ride is very good, a Buick trademark, soaking up road irregularities with ease, while its MacPherson strut front and compound crank (torsion beam) rear suspension proved agile enough too, not so much as some of its fully independent sprung premium competitors, but easily up to most of its volume-branded rivals. Buick’s QuietTuning makes a real difference when it comes to reducing road and wind noise, of course, thanks in part to standard active noise cancellation, but it also adds to the Encore’s feel of quality, this process requiring more insulation than average, which results in a sense of solidity and better than average workmanship.
Buick can outfit your Encore with front-wheel drive or all-wheel drive, the latter costing $2,000 and therefore boosting the base model’s price up to $28,400, while the standard 1.4-litre turbocharged four-cylinder engine can have its sequential multi-port fuel injection replaced with Spark Ignition Direct Injection (SIDI), which raises output from 138 to 153 horsepower and torque from 148 lb-ft to 177, and its six-speed automatic transmission upgraded to include Start-Stop technology that shuts the engine off when it would otherwise be idling, and automatically restarts it when the brake pedal is let off, all for just $1,030 extra.
My tester included both upgrades and the combination made a massive difference off the line (especially in the wet), when powering up to highway speeds, when exiting corners and during passing manoeuvres, transforming the feel of the little SUV from a eco-commuter SUV into a feisty little pocket rocket. With a curb weight of 1,386 kilos (3,056 lbs) the AWD model doesn’t need a lot of power to get moving, while its overall lightness makes the Encore easy to slot through congested city traffic too, not to mention it helps keep fuel costs down.
Transport Canada rates the base FWD model at 9.4 L/100km in the city, 7.8 on the highway and 8.7 combined, while the same engine with AWD is good for 9.9 city, 8.1 highway and 9.1 combined. Offsetting the extra power of SIDI with auto idle-stop actually reduces overall fuel use to 8.9 city, 7.5 highway and 8.3 combined with the FWD model or 9.4, 7.9 and 8.8 respectively with the top-line AWD SIDI version, making this upgrade a true “have your cake and eat it too” scenario.
The automatic gearbox, which shifts nicely and is a lot more enjoyable to drive than a continuously variable transmission or CVT, especially when factoring in the thumb-actuated rocker switch that allows for do-it-yourself manual mode after pulling the shift lever to its rearmost position, adds sporty feel to the driving experience, albeit only a little. Rev too high and the engine is a bit on the buzzy side, normal in this class amongst entry-level SUVs. Interestingly, the transmission will hold its gear in manual mode without shifting if you so desire, which does add an element of sportiness that most of its competitors don’t allow for, but all said the Encore is best enjoyed at a more relaxed pace, where it makes the most of its compliant ride and overall comfort.
The Encore includes one throwback feature that shows its age, a well-made, sturdy handbrake lever between the two front seats, that’s not leather-wrapped incidentally. It’ll likely give way to an electromechanical one for the next-generation Encore, but I certainly didn’t mind seeing it there and almost used it all week without noticing.
While the handbrake is a non-issue, the rake and reach of the Encore’s tilt and telescopic steering column is a definite bonus. It allowed me to set up the driver’s position ideally for my long-legged, shorter torso five-foot-eight body, that, when matched up with its power-actuated driver’s seat, resulted in a comfortable driving position that also left me fully in control. To be clear, only the lower cushion is powered with the backrest needing manual recline, while the two-way powered lumbar support just happened to meet the small of my back quite well. This said it might not line up with your lower back, or at least not the way you like it, so you may want to check this feature during your test drive. Hopefully Buick will offer four-way lumbar adjustment in the upcoming 2020 model.
As mentioned, those front seats are very comfortable, the driver’s even providing a minivan-style folding armrest, but other than their Shale beige leather upholstery (Ebony black or Brandy wine are available too) and nice contrast stitching there’s nothing fancy about them. For instance, there’s no forced ventilation or even perforations in the leather to cool off during summer, but the three-way seat warmers were downright therapeutic in there hottest setting, and the heatable steering wheel could be set up to automatically turn on with the ignition. I love that, and only wish the seats would do likewise.
Buick simplified the Encore for 2019, with Preferred, Sport Touring and Essence trims, the base model including 18-inch alloy wheels, proximity-sensing keyless access with pushbutton ignition, a large 8.0-inch infotainment touchscreen incorporating a rearview camera with active guidelines, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, and many other features, while additional standard features include a hard cargo cover and 10 airbags to go along with other passive and active safety features, while the move up to $28,400 Sport Touring trim adds fog lamps, a rear rooftop sport spoiler, and remote engine start.
My tester was outfitted in top-tier $31,700 Essence trim, albeit with AWD and the upgraded engine so its base increased to $34,730. Essence features include a heated steering wheel rim, heated (front) leather-upholstered seats with driver’s memory, an auto-dimming rearview mirror, a universal garage door opener, and side blind zone alert with rear cross-traffic alert.
The last two items can be had in the two lesser trims as part of a Safety Package, along with a three-prong household-style 120-volt power outlet located at the rear of the centre console, while my Essence trimmed tester was upgraded with the $1,110 New Safety Package II incorporating the above items as well as forward collision alert, lane departure warning, rain-sensing wipers, an air ionizer, plus front and rear parking assist. It also featured the $3,050 Experience Buick Plus Package, which first removes $650 because it includes everything in the just-noted New Safety Package II, while adding special seven-spoke 18-inch chromed aluminum wheels, a navigation system, and a powered glass sunroof.
It all made for a nice little subcompact luxury utility, with a better interior than you’ll find in most non-premium rivals and only slightly short from achieving the interior finishing of the true luxury set. Details like fabric-wrapped A-pillars set it apart, while its soft-touch dash top and door uppers, both front and back, are nicer than average too, as is the beautifully padded and stitched leatherette instrument panel bolster that begins to the left of the primary gauge cluster before visually continuing below the centre touchscreen and then widening as it crosses ahead of the front passenger.
The dash looks elegant and provides a good background for the instruments, the gauge cluster traditional in layout, with an analogue tachometer to the left and speedometer to the right, plus the usual gas and temperature gauges hovering over a nice full-colour multi-information display that’s quite comprehensive in its capability, albeit not a more modern fully digital gauge cluster as offered by a number of premium brands.
A sporty, thick, nicely shaped steering wheel frames the gauges elegantly, while the leather it’s wrapped in feels very upscale. The attractive satin-silver trim that’s added to the lower portion of the wheel feels cool to the touch and therefore comes off as genuine aluminum. There’s more on the instrument panel as well as chromed door handles to bling things up, as well as some de rigueur piano black lacquer tastefully applied in key areas.
The centre touchscreen shows off Buick’s latest interface design that mimics Chevy’s impressive system layout, albeit with fewer colours and a more sophisticated looking blue on black look. Both work well, with this one providing accurate navigation, easy to use audio functions, a good backup camera with aforementioned active guidelines, plus more, but there was no overhead camera option, which was a bit disappointing in this class and price point. Also disappointing was its lack of wireless smartphone charging capability (aren’t we getting spoiled), but I suppose it wouldn’t have been easy to fit one in as the rubberized tray provided at the base of the centre stack wasn’t even large enough to fit my medium-sized Samsung S9 smartphone. Yes, this SUV’s age does show through here and there, but at least there were USB charge ports close by, not to mention an auxiliary input and 12-volt charger.
I imagine Buick will take care of wireless charging and the other shortcomings I’ve mentioned thus far in the upcoming second-generation Encore, but they don’t need to update the dual-zone automatic climate control interface, which uses traditional buttons and knobs for all functions, resulting in an easier process than being forced to hunt around for the same features in an infotainment interface.
I’ve allowed myself to get a bit more granular with this review than I planned to, but the Encore deserves this attention to detail. It might be an old model on its way out, but this little Buick represents very good value in every respect, which is no doubt why it sells so well. You can choose to wait until spring 2002 for the new one, which will likely improve on this aging Encore in every way, or you can opt for tried and tested.
No doubt Buick would be happy no matter which of these two choices you make, but to sway you towards the 2019 they’re offering up to $5,390 in additional incentives. To learn more, check out CarCostCanada where you can find pricing on all trims, packages and individual options, plus information on available manufacturer rebates and otherwise hard to get dealer invoice pricing.
BMW’s X1 was the very first subcompact luxury crossover SUV ever produced, having arrived on the European scene in 2009 as a 2010 model, two years before we saw it as a 2012. Even when it showed up…
BMW’s X1 was the very first subcompact luxury crossover SUV ever produced, having arrived on the European scene in 2009 as a 2010 model, two years before we saw it as a 2012. Even when it showed up on our shores in April of 2011, nothing else was around to compete against it, unless you consider the near-luxury Mini Countryman as a direct rival, that model having arrived in February of the same year.
Once October 2011 rolled around, the Range Rover Evoque entered the market and a new automotive category was created, but it would take another three years for Audi and Mercedes-Benz to add more variety to North America’s new subcompact luxury SUV segment with their respective Q3 and GLA-Class (unless you count the Buick Encore that arrived in 2013), plus an additional two years for Infiniti to show up with its QX30 (not that many noticed), three more for Jaguar’s E-Pace, Volvo’s XC40 and BMW’s second offering, the sportier X2, and one more for Lexus’ new UX.
More are on the way, including Alfa Romeo’s Tonale for 2022, and possibly something eventually from Acura (long rumoured to be called the CDX), but Infiniti has already cancelled its QX30 so Acura may have been wise to hold out. Then again, aforementioned Buick has done very well with its Encore, and while the brand sits at the lowest end of the premium market in price and prestige, the model’s upcoming second-generation (expected for 2020) could make an even bigger dent in the market.
If we were to consider Buick a true luxury brand the Encore be the sales leader in this category, but with a base price of $28,400 (not even as high as the Mini Countryman’s base of $31,690) it’s not really a contender for premium status. Buick sold 10,637 Encores in 2018 and 8,322 as of October 31, 2019, which represents considerably more buyers than BMW has been able to find with its second-bestselling X1, which found 5,308 buyers in 2018 and 3,753 so far this year. The X1 starts at $41,500, however, so it’s not really a fair comparison. One is a gussied up Chevy Trax that delivers big on fuel economy and reasonably on features, but not so much on performance or refinement, and the other is a leader in all of the above (see 2019 BMW X1 pricing at CarCostCanada, where you can learn about all its packages and individual options in detail, plus find out about valuable rebate information as well as dealer invoice pricing that could save you thousands, BMW currently offering up to $2,000 in additional incentives on 2019s and $1,000 on the new 2020 model).
To be fair to Buick, some of the X1’s rivals wouldn’t have initially received high marks in all the just-noted categories. Audi’s first-generation Q3 was a bit weak on performance and refinement, and honestly the original X1 was regularly criticized by pundits for cheaper interior plastics than any other BMW, my first review of this model claiming that Ford’s Escape Titanium “even offers more soft-touch interior surfaces than this X1.” I lauded the X1 for its overall solidity and performance, mind you, both important differentiators expected from premium SUVs.
The X1, now in its second generation and ironically having traded its lovely rear-wheel drive E91 3 Series Touring-platform (arguably its best asset) in for the aforementioned Mini Countryman’s second-gen front-wheel drive-biased UKL2 architecture (hardly a slouch either), today’s entry-level BMW SUV is a wholly different vehicle than its predecessor. It started out as a low, hunkered down, rear-wheel drive-biased AWD five-door crossover, but now it’s grown up into a much more conventionally shaped and sized subcompact luxury SUV, looking a lot more like its larger X3 and X5 siblings. Its considerable sales growth in 2016 and 2017 back up BMW’s decision to take the X1 in this new direction, and while deliveries dipped a bit in 2018 and so far this year, this probably has more to do with BMW’s introduction of the X2 than anything else, while more importantly it’s managed to remain in its number one position (amongst true subcompact luxury SUVs) even without factoring in the X2.
Specifically, the X1’s aforementioned year-to-date Canadian sales of 3,753 units is considerably higher than the second-place GLA’s 3,021 deliveries over the same 10 months, and likewise when compared to Lexus’ new UX that’s already taken third-place way from Audi’s Q3 with 2,374 units against 2,303. As for the success of the also-rans, Volvo’s new XC40 managed 1,690 units, Land Rover’s redesigned Range Rover Evoque secured 1,333 new buyers, BMW’s own X2 attracted 1,159 new owners, and Jaguar’s E-Pace wasn’t last (yet) with 372 customers, while Infiniti’s now discontinued QX30 brought up the rear with 93 deliveries (too bad, because it’s more than decent offering).
BMW shows its dominance even more when combining X1 and X2 sales that reached 4,912 units at the close of October, and that’s even before adding in the 2,082 Countryman (should we call them Countrymen?) SUVs sold over the same three-and-a-third quarters (most of which reach into the mid-$40k range), boosting deliveries to almost 7,000 units (6,994), they almost tally up to everything Mercedes, Lexus and Audi (2, 3 and 4 in the category) can sell combined (7,698 units). Ah, the sweet smell of success.
The smell of my tester was leather thanks to its beautiful milk chocolate brown Mocha Dakota Leather upholstered cabin, the $950 upgrade from base leatherette requisite when opting for its pretty $895 Mediterranean Blue Metallic exterior paint (the satin aluminum silver trim across the front and rear undertrays plus the rocker panels comes standard, while optional Oyster Grey and Black leather interiors are also available with this colour). The open-pore Oak Grain wood inlays with chrome and brush-metal highlights are no-cost bonuses that make the cabin look so upscale (additional woods, brushed aluminum and piano black lacquered inlays can be had too) as are all the high-quality soft-touch composite surfaces that step the X1 up and over most rivals.
To be real, Dakota leather is BMW’s lower grade hide, but Nappa and Merino aren’t offered with the X1. It’s still the real deal, however, but it can be corrected-grain or even formed from the leather split and then coated with synthetic polymer paint, with its surface artificially embossed for a grain effect. What matters is it smells right, looks good and lasts, with the X1’s seat inserts even perforated for breathability. The seats didn’t include forced ventilation or anything so fancy, but the three-way front derriere warmers heated up to therapeutic levels quickly when set to their topmost temperature, adding a coziness to the already comfortable driver’s seat.
The front driver and passenger four-way lumbar support isn’t standard, but rather comes as part of two available packages, the first a $3,500 upgrade dubbed Premium Package Essential that also includes power-folding side mirrors, proximity-sensing keyless Comfort Access, auto-dimming centre and side mirrors, a large panoramic sunroof, a “HiFi” audio system, and an alarm, and the second as-tested $5,900 Premium Package Enhanced including everything above plus a head-up display, a universal remote, satellite radio, navigation, BMW’s semi-autonomous Park Assistant, the BMW ConnectedDrive Services Package, and a powered liftgate.
Both packages are also available with a heatable steering wheel, plus a $1,000 Driving Assistant Plus package that adds approach warning with pedestrian alert and light city braking, lane departure warning, adaptive cruise control with stop-and-go plus traffic jam assist, high-beam assist, and speed limit info.
Now that we’re talking upgrades, my tester also included a $950 Sport Performance Package featuring a Sport automatic transmission with steering wheel-mounted paddles (worth the upgrade alone), more reactive M Sport Steering, and 19-inch alloy wheels, although my tester was smartly outfitted for this colder season and therefore included a set of 225/50R18 Continental ContiWinterContact tires on special M Sport split five-spoke alloys.
As anyone who’s driven on winter rubber will know, performance on anything but snow or ice is compromised, and therefore my tester’s at-the-limit grip couldn’t possible measure up to the stock wheel and tire combination. This said it proved more agile than the same SUV shod in 17-inch winter tires for my 2016 X1 xDrive28i review, which were smaller due to the older model coming with 18s in base trim.
Not much else seems to have changed since then, however, which obviously (by the aforementioned sales numbers) doesn’t matter to X1 buyers, or for that matter to me. The model’s only engine, a 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder, still makes 228 horsepower and 258 lb-ft of torque, potent when sidled up beside some of its rivals, like a Lexus UX or the base Mercedes GLA, but nowhere near as energetic as the latter model in 375-horsepower AMG trim, or for that matter top-line versions of the Jaguar E-Pace, Range Rover Evoque or Volvo XC40, but once again popularity proves this isn’t an issue.
I found it more than adequately powered, especially with Sport mode engaged, which meant the standard ZF-sourced eight-speed automatic transmission responded more immediately to shifts, whether prompted by its paddles or left to its own devices. All-wheel drive is standard, and in the wet improved grip off the line and mid-turn, while the little utility feels poised compared to some in this class, but not as agile as the aforementioned AMG GLA 45, for instance, or its predecessor that was little more than a raised 3 Series wagon. More importantly, today’s X1 is more comfortable than its predecessor and many competitors, whether the powertrain is set to more relaxed Comfort or Eco modes or not, its ride particularly good for such a compact SUV. Eco mode in mind, claimed fuel economy is even decent at 10.7 L/100km in the city, 7.5 on the highway and 9.3 combined.
It’s actually one of the more well-rounded entry-level SUVs in the premium sector, and amongst the most practical. Along with the comfortable front seats, the lower cushions even including adjustable side bolsters and manual thigh extensions, the steering column provided at least four inches of reach that, together with the amply adjustable driver’s seat, allowed my long-legged, shorter-torso five-foot-eight frame to fit in ideally, optimizing both comfort and control (this is often not the case). The aforementioned four-way powered lumbar support aided comfort, especially during long hauls, while the adjustable side bolsters cupped the torso nicely and the thigh extensions added support under the knees. BMW has thought of just about everything to make the X1’s front occupants comfortable.
The rear passenger compartment is more accommodating than you might think for a vehicle in this class too, while the outboard backrests are plenty supportive and centre position not wholly uncomfortable (normally the case with subcompacts). Two is better in back, however, allowing a wide (albeit slightly low) centre armrest with smallish pop-out cupholders to be folded down in between. When positioned behind the driver’s seat, which once again was extended further rearward than for most five-foot-eight folks, allowing approximately four inches ahead of my knees, at least another four to five above my head, plus about four next to my hips and shoulders. I certainly never felt cramped.
Of course the large panoramic sunroof overhead made for a much more open and airy rear passenger experience, while the LED reading lights overhead can add light at night if those in back want to read. There were no seat heaters in back, a bit of a letdown, but on the positive the rear quarters are finished just as nicely as those up front.
The cargo compartment is nicely finished as well, with high-quality carpeting up the sides of each wall, on the cargo floor, of course, which can be removed to expose a large hidden stowage area, plus on the backsides of the ideally 40/20/40-split rear seatbacks. If you have any intention of using your future SUV for skiing, or any other type of activity that might have you carrying longer cargo down the centre with passengers in back should consider this more flexible cargo configuration. BMW provides 505 litres (17.8 cubic feet) of dedicated gear-toting space behind those seatbacks, and gives you a convenient set of levers to drop them down, resulting in a sizeable 1,550 litres (54.7 cubic feet) of total capacity.
Back in the driver’s seat, the X1’s primary instrument cluster consists of the usual two analogue dials, although they appear as if floating within a colourful digital background, which looks really nice when lit up at night. Of course that background is a multi-information display at centre, plus warning lights, info about the active cruise control and more around the outer edges.
Propped up at the centre leading edge of the sloping dash-top is a beautiful wide high-definition display with fabulous depth of colour and contrast, and stimulating graphics. Unlike most premium rivals that don’t include touchscreens, BMW’s display is fully capacitive, allowing tap, pinch, and swipe capabilities just like a tablet or smartphone. You can also use the traditional iDrive rotating controller and surrounding buttons on the lower console for quick control. It’s an intelligent system, expected from the brand that initiated modern infotainment way back in the early aughts, while all the functions performed flawlessly including the route guidance that got me to my destinations perfectly each time. The upgraded audio system was very good too, and included a power/volume knob and row of quick-access radio presets just below a set of HVAC vents positioned under the display, and just above a comprehensive dual-zone auto climate control interface. Everything is well laid out, adding to the X1’s all-round goodness.
As is always the case, vehicles don’t become number one in their respective classes by accident, which is why anyone contemplating a small luxury SUV should seriously consider BMW’s X1.
Back in January of 2014 at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit while introducing the FT-1 (Future Toyota) concept, which was the styling inspiration behind the new Supra sports car,…
Back in January of 2014 at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit while introducing the FT-1 (Future Toyota) concept, which was the styling inspiration behind the new Supra sports car, Toyota president Akio Toyoda issued a companywide decree for, “no more boring cars,” and the C-HR before you is now a good example of what he was requesting, at least when it comes to design. So what do you think? Does it have Toyoda-san’s desire for “style that stirs peoples’ emotions and makes them say ‘I want to drive this’?”
The 63-year-old grandson of Toyota group’s founder, Kiichiro Toyoda, likely approves as he was in charge when the C-HR was initially being drawn up, signed off on those designs, and gave the go-ahead for the production model before you, and remains in charge of the corporation today, so therefore reaps the rewards for a job well done, or alternatively pays any penalties for missing the mark.
I’ll reserve comment on CH-R styling, first because my opinion is irrelevant, you’re the buyer after all, so only you should be deciding what appeals to your eyes, and secondly because I’ve already admitted to liking Nissan’s Juke, which is about as polarizing a design as any to ever grace Canadian roads. In other words, my taste isn’t your taste, so feel free to like what you like, and choose not to buy what you don’t.
What matters more is Toyota finally filling the subcompact SUV segment with some sort of entry, and I give them kudos for bravery, being that most having already succeeded here did so by leaning toward practicality over originality. That Toyota showed up with a sportier looking, smaller than average entry, and therefore putting styling ahead of practicality, was certainly a surprise.
A quick look at the segment sales leaders clearly shows that passenger/cargo roominess and flexibility is king, with models like the Honda HR-V, Kia Soul, and Subaru Crosstrek dominating up until last year, and newcomers like the Nissan Qashqai and Hyundai Kona finding even stronger sales more recently due to their pragmatic approach and more. It’s as if the new C-HR picked up where the now discontinued Nissan Juke left off (that latter SUV replaced by the new Kicks, which is selling well), albeit without the top-line Juke’s impressive performance. Performance may also be a key ingredient for the Mazda CX-3’s formidable Canadian sales, plus arguably attractive styling.
The C-HR is now in its second model year after arriving on the scene in May of 2017, and is quite a nice subcompact SUV. My tester was outfitted in new Limited trim, which reaches to a higher level than last year’s XLE that I previously tested and reviewed, and I must say it combines mostly comfortable operation with the majority of its peers’ high-level features, reasonably strong performance, and excellent fuel economy.
Interior refinement is a C-HR strongpoint, but I wouldn’t go so far as to say it overachieves when compared to longstanding competitors like the aforementioned CX-3 in its top-line GT trim, which is really spectacular, even when using this Limited model as Toyota’s standard-bearer. Top of the goodies list is a padded and stitched leatherette dash-top, which includes a large bolster that spans from the right side of the instrument panel to the passenger’s door, while a similar albeit smaller padded piece gets fitted to the left side of the gauge cluster. The door uppers receive the same high-quality soft touch composite surfacing, while the armrests are even softer and more comfortable.
If piano black lacquered plastic is your thing, you’ll be overjoyed with all of the shiny, inky stuff found in this tiny Toyota SUV. I personally would like to see less, and not because of its addition to interior styling, but rather that it tends to attract dust like a magnet and scratch all too easily. Better, the door inserts and lower panels are finished in a diamond-textured hard plastic that’s like nothing else I’ve ever seen in the car industry, looking good and appearing durable. More importantly it doesn’t feel cheap like this segment’s usual glossy hard plastic, plus the tiny diamonds complement the even more unusual assortment of diamond-shaped dimples carved into the roofliner above.
Before delving into any additional C-HR interior styling and quality issues, I should point out this 2019 C-HR received some significant upgrades that should help it find more buyers than last year’s model, starting with a new base LE trim level that chops over a $1,000 from the 2018 C-HR’s base price. Still, $23,675 is hardly as affordable as some of the sales leaders mentioned earlier, the Qashqai now starting at just $20,198 (only $200 more than last year despite getting loads of new features), and the new Nissan Kicks arriving as the category’s best bargain at just $17,998. This said its list of standard features is generous to say the least, so keep reading if you want some more detail about that.
Another factor going against the C-HR’s success is the much larger and more accommodating Nissan Rogue costing a mere $3k and change more, while the all-new 2019 RAV4 starts at just $27,790 (find new vehicle pricing for all makes and models including the C-HR and RAV4 at CarCostCanada, with detailed info on trims, packages and options, plus otherwise hard to get rebate info and dealer invoice pricing that could save you thousands).
On the positive, the base C-HR LE includes Toyota’s new Entune 3.0 infotainment system that I happen to love. This includes a larger 8.0-inch touchscreen and supports Apple CarPlay smartphone integration (if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em), and Toyota’s excellent in-house smartphone integration app. I like the Entune phone app much more than Android Auto, both when using it on my Samsung S9 and within the car’s interface. Better yet, the big new display now incorporates the C-HR’s backup camera for a much clearer and safer rear view, which previously was a tiny monitor crammed into the rearview mirror, and thus hardly useful at all.
Entune smartphone integration also includes the ability to link the Scout GPS app to the centre display for navigation maps and routing, which proved easy to operate and very accurate, while Entune App Suite Connect boasts separate apps for traffic, weather, Slacker, Yelp, sports, stocks, fuel and NPR One, although I’m not sure if anyone in Canada will care much about the latter U.S.-specific National Public Radio station.
Some additional standard features found on the base C-HR LE worth mentioning include automatic high beam headlights, adaptive cruise control, remote access, an acoustic glass windshield, auto up/down powered windows all around, a leather-wrapped shift knob, a 4.2-inch TFT multi-information display within the gauge cluster, an auto-dimming rearview mirror, illuminated vanity mirrors, dual-zone auto climate control, six-speaker audio, the piano black lacquered instrument panel trim noted earlier, fabric upholstery, front sport seats, 60/40-split rear seatbacks, a cargo cover, autonomous emergency braking with pedestrian detection, lane departure alert with steering assist, all the usual active and passive safety features including a driver’s knee airbag and rear side thorax airbags, plus more, which is a very generous entry-level assortment of features that should put to rest any criticisms about its base price being higher than some rivals.
Last year’s sole XLE trim level is pretty well carryover for 2019, other than its higher $25,725 price and the new Entune 3.0 Audio Plus system, with its larger display, noted earlier. Additionally, XLE trim gets automatic collision notification, a stolen vehicle locator, an emergency assistance SOS button, and enhanced roadside assistance, with yet more features including 17-inch alloy wheels, a leather-wrapped steering wheel rim, upgraded cloth upholstery, heatable front seats (which are normally standard fare in Canada), and two-way powered lumbar support for the driver’s seat.
An XLE Premium package, which pushes the price up to $27,325, adds 18-inch alloy wheels, proximity-sensing access with pushbutton ignition, heated power-folding side mirrors with puddle lamps, blindspot monitoring with rear cross traffic alert, and lane change assist.
As noted earlier in this review, also new for 2019 is this as-tested $28,775 top-line Limited trim, which adds rain-sensing wipers, a very useful windshield wiper de-icer (especially after the past two ultra-cold winters), ambient interior lighting, and nicely textured leather upholstery in black or brown.
While the two new trim levels and upgraded infotainment system are improvements over last year’s C-HR, the 2.0-litre four-cylinder engine might leave some potential buyers (especially those coming out of the aforementioned Juke) feeling like its performance doesn’t measure up to its sporty exterior design due to just 144 horsepower and 139 lb-ft of torque, a lone continuously variable transmission (CVT) with a focus on fuel economy rather than get-up-and-go, plus no all-wheel drive option, front-drive being the only driveline configuration available.
Then again if you’re looking for a sporty looking SUV with great fuel economy the C-HR’s claimed 8.7 L/100km city, 7.5 highway and 8.2 combined Transport Canada rating might be just what your inflation deflated, carbon tax inflated personal budget demands.
Also a positive, the C-HR’s wide stance and low profile make it inherently well balanced, resulting in handling that mostly meets Toyoda-san’s never boring ideals. Once again it’s no CX-3, or Kona for that matter, but its MacPherson strut front and double-wishbone/trailing arm rear suspension setup is more than adequate for coursing through a serpentine back road at a speedy pace, while its ride quality is amongst the best in this class.
While we’re talking comfort, the front seats are superb, and its driving position is much better for my body type than some other Toyota models. My legs are longer than my torso, so therefore I normally need to push my seat farther rearward than someone else measuring five-foot-eight, before adjusting the steering column as far back as can be. Unfortunately, some Toyotas simply don’t fit me due to a lack of telescopic steering column reach, so I was once again happy to be reminded that the C-HR provides a highly adjustable tilt and telescopic steering wheel, which provided me all the comfort and control needed.
Even pushing the driver’s seat far enough rearward for my longish legs, I still had about four inches from the front seatback to my knees, plus about three inches above my head (approximately two inches less than up front), which should help taller passengers feel right at home. I also enjoyed enough space from side to side in all outboard positions.
Strangely, there’s still no folding centre armrest in back, but at least Toyota provides cupholders at armrest level in the rear door panels. Fortunately the C-HR’s rear seats are quite comfortable, particularly for the lower back. Then again I didn’t appreciate rear seat visibility out the side window, the SUV’s oddly shaped doors forcing rear passengers to look directly into a black panel when turning their heads. This makes me question whether kids will like riding in back, even when seated in a booster.
Another concern you may want to question is cargo roominess. The C-HR’s sloping rear liftgate cuts into vertical space, resulting in a scant 538 litres (19.0 cubic feet) of capacity behind the rear seatback, which lags behind the segment leaders. Of course you can fold the C-HR’s 60/40-split rear seatbacks down for a much more accommodating 1,031 litres (36.4 cu ft) of available space, but once again it’s nowhere near the largest in this class.
I hate to leave any review on a negative, so I’ll point out that the C-HR managed an impressive five-star safety rating from the NHTSA, and thanks to Toyota’s good name should provide reliable service throughout its tenure. Yes, I know that’s nowhere near the level of excitement that Mr. Toyoda would likely want to hear from a review of one his newest products, but some vehicles were built more for comfort, convenience, efficiency and dependability than speed, handling or wow factor, and that should certainly be reason enough to consider a new C-HR for your personal ride.