Until recently, the most you could pay for an Acura MDX (less destination and dealer prep fees) was $69,400 when upgraded with an optional colour, which is only $1,090 less than the technologically advanced…
The new Type S, which arrives at Canadian dealerships next month for a starting price of $79,000 ($81,500 with destination fees included), boasts plenty of upgrades worthy of the extra coin, particularly an engine that boasts 65 more horsepower and 87 lb-ft of additional torque, resulting in a total of 355 horsepower and 345 lb-ft, while the sporty new model also includes an Active Exhaust system to make it sound as quick as it goes.
The engine remains 3.0 litres in displacement, but the MDX’ 10-speed automatic transmission has been upgraded with stronger internal components, plus quicker shifting capability, and rev-matched downshifts, whereas a performance-tuned version of Acura’s Super-Handling All-Wheel Drive (SH-AWD) makes the best use of the high-performance tires below.
The upgraded MDX Type S rides on unique 21-inch twinned five-spoke rims with black painted pockets and self-sealing all-season rubber, while hidden behind those wheels are Brembo brakes incorporating large 363-mm front rotors with four-piston fixed calipers, enhancing stopping power.
Maintaining stability under braking and through the corners is an Acura-first adaptive air suspension boasting three different damping profiles specific to the Type S. Acura’s Integrated Dynamics System has been updated too, now including Type S-exclusive Sport+ and ride height-increasing Lift modes. While all this sounds ultra-sporty, keeping the family comfortable is critical in this three-row luxury SUV class, so rest assured Acura also promised “a smooth, comfortable ride” in their press release.
Those wanting even more luxury can opt for the $4,000 Ultra Package, which pushes the MDX Type S’ price up to $83,000 ($85,500 with destination). The top-tier package comes with 16-way power-adjustable front seats featuring nine massage settings, as well as quilted leather upholstery throughout, and a 1,000-watt ELS Studio 3D surround audio system infused with 25 speakers, including special LED illuminated doors speakers, PrecisionDrive carbon fibre speakers, and CenterParquet.
With respect to styling, all 2022 MDX Type S models receive a revised front fascia, which is highlighted by an open-surface Diamond Pentagon grille designed to improve engine cooling. A unique Type S-exclusive front splitter trims off the front lower section, while a special Type S rear diffuser comes filled with four exhaust outlets.
Interestingly, Mazda does much better per capita in Canada than the U.S., but this may be changing. It seems recent chip shortages and supply chain logistics problems have caused some shoppers to look…
Interestingly, Mazda does much better per capita in Canada than the U.S., but this may be changing. It seems recent chip shortages and supply chain logistics problems have caused some shoppers to look away from the brands they normally buy in order to get anything at all, which is allowing the automakers that planned ahead, or just got lucky, to scoop up new customers they may have never otherwise had the chance to acquire.
During July, a month that saw the U.S. automotive selling rate fall to an estimated 14.8 million units, according to Automotive News, the lowest since July of last year, Mazda sales leapt 36 percent upwards, leading every other brand. Even mighty Toyota was in Mazda’s sales growth shadow, albeit hardly doing poorly with gains of 33 percent, while Hyundai-Kia managed 29 percent, Volvo 19 percent, and Honda 8 percent. It wasn’t smiles all around the auto sector last month, however, with Subaru down 2.6 percent, and Ford, which until recently was the mightiest of all, tumbling 42 percent (all other automakers only report quarterly sales in the U.S.).
This positive momentum comes after a year that saw Mazda grow its sales by 0.19 percent, which while miniscule as far as numbers go, was nevertheless monstrous compared to every other brand selling into the U.S, all of which ended up in the negative last year. Consider that Kia saw the least downside with a 4.75 percentage drop in sales, while GMC lost 8.79 percent, Hyundai 9.66 percent, Volkswagen 10.02 percent, Chevrolet 11.12 percent, Toyota 11.86 percent, Subaru 12.59 percent, Jeep 13.86 percent, Ford 15.9 percent, Honda 16.61 percent, Nissan 33.25 percent, and Dodge a whopping 36.78 percent. Fiat’s 53.23-percent decline was worse still, but they have many more problems than any of the carmakers mentioned, plus they don’t compete in the CX-9’s market segment, so therefore on that note I chose to leave all mainstream volume brands that don’t offer a mid-size crossover SUV out of this equation.
If you think Mazda’s sales were strong in July, they’ve done even better year-to-date thanks to deliveries being up by more than 45 percent. July 2021 actually tallied up a second-best result for Mazda, but it achieved best-ever deliveries for the MX-5 (since 2006 no less), the CX-30, the CX-5, and this CX-9 being reviewed here. That’s impressive in a market that’s having trouble allocating vehicles at all, and especially so for two models that aren’t exactly spring chickens in their respective categories.
Today’s CX-5, while still in my opinion one of the best crossover SUVs available in the compact class, is nevertheless going on six years in its current second-generation design, while the CX-9, also in its second-generation, will soon move into its eighth year of availability without a mid-cycle refresh, compared to the first-generation that saw two facelifts over nine years. Kudos to Mazda for its Kodo design philosophy (not to be mistaken for my tester’s Kuro trim line), the latest iteration having certainly stood the test of time. I can appreciate the need for something new for the sake of being new, but the CX-9, or any of the other cars and crossovers in Mazda’s lineup, are hardly short on attractive styling, so a redesign isn’t quite as critical as it was for, say, Nissan’s outgoing Pathfinder.
This may be one reason the CX-9 currently sits alongside the Toyota Highlander as a runner up in the latest Canadian Black Book 2020 Best Retained Value Awards. In their “Mid-size Crossover-SUV” category, the two crossovers were only beat out by Toyota’s 4Runner, a body-on-frame SUV that really doesn’t compete with either, which means the Highlander and CX-9 are your best bets to hold on to more of your hard-earned money over the long haul.
This is one of the reasons I often recommend the CX-9, and all Mazda vehicles for that matter. Another reason, which probably aids in resale value as well, is interior refinement and materials quality, which Mazda has long executed better than most in this class. To be clear, others are starting to catch up with respect to the CX-9, a problem that would arise for any vehicle that’s been around so long, but regular updates, including genuine Santos Rosewood inlays along with quilted and piped Nappa leather in top-line Signature and 100th Anniversary trims, have gone a long way to enrich the CX-9 experience to near-premium levels when compared to less opulently attired competitors, while the specific Kuro Edition shown here, is more about blackening some metal brightwork and adding cool paint colours, while maintaining similar levels of luxury.
Ok, to be clear, while cool, black isn’t exactly unique, although Jet Black Mica is definitely more eye-catching than if it were dipped in plain old non-metallic ink. Then again, the Kuro model’s sole $200 colour option, Polymetal Grey Metallic, is both cool and unique, and much to my delight ended up decorating my weeklong tester. On that note, this Kuro Edition looks a lot fresher and more alluring than the regular CX-9, thanks to all the gloss-metallic-black trim mentioned a moment ago, which includes a sportier grille insert, mirror housings, and painted wheels, the latter in a twinned five-spoke design that measure 20 inches in diameter and come shod in 255/50 all-season tires.
Inside, it’s all Garnet Red leather upholstery (although black leather will also be available for 2021.5) over dark greys and blacks with some red stitching used to decorate the inner rim of the steering wheel, shifter boot, lower console surround and armrests, while some of the inky coloured surfaces were finished in piano black lacquered composite, suitable for the sporty theme, plus a stylish grey tone highlighted the dash front. The density of latter inlays seems as if they were made from a solid substance like wood, going even further to enhance the CX-9’s feeling of quality.
Of course, satin-finish aluminum-look accents join metal brightwork trim to bling up the design, all of which is complemented by high-quality workmanship and plenty of luxury details, such as fabric-wrapped A pillars, all the expected soft-touch surfaces and a couple of unexpected ones too, like the sides of the lower front console that are padded in leatherette to protect inside knees from chafing, and while the seat leather might not be ultra-rich Nappa that’s used in both Signature and 100th Anniversary trims, it’s still softer and suppler than plenty of others in this category.
Features are plentiful too. In fact, the Kuro is almost as well loaded up with goodies as the Signature, only lacking the trim upgrades mentioned multiple times already, as well as some visual enhancements such as satin-finish highlights where the Kuro uses metallic black and grey, as well as a better-looking frameless centre mirror, and exterior front grille illumination that’s pretty trick at night.
Both models incorporate most of the base GS model’s equipment too, of which some items worth mentioning include auto-on/off and auto-levelling LED headlights with auto high beams, LED daytime running lights, LED rear combination tail lights, rain-sensing wipers, noise-isolating windshield and front side glass, pushbutton start/stop, a leather-wrapped steering wheel rim and shift knob, an electromechanical parking brake, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto smartphone integration, two USB-A ports and an auxiliary input up front, SMS text message capability, tri-zone automatic climate control, three-way heatable front seats, and much more.
Kuro, Signature and 100th Anniversary models also include adaptive headlamps, LED fog lights, LED front and rear signature lighting, bright-finish lower body trim, piano black-finished exterior B and C pillars, a front wiper de-icer, power-folding side mirrors, and i-Activ AWD on the outside, while LED courtesy lamps light up all four doors (as well as for the front door pull handles and power window switches inside), and proximity-sensing remote entry gets driver and occupants inside.
That’s where the driver is greeted with a sporty albeit traditional looking three-binnacle gauge cluster filled with a large 7.0-inch LCD multi-information display, plus a head-up display on top of the dash that projects key info onto the windshield. It’s all framed by a heated steering wheel with ample rake and reach for most body types to feel both comfortable and in control, at least once they adjust the 10-way powered driver’s seat that even includes four-way powered lumbar, as well as two-way memory.
An eight-way power-adjustable front passenger’s seat with powered lumbar makes life better for anyone alongside, while both front occupants will enjoy the three-way ventilated seats, wireless device charger (that points a given phone’s screen away from the driver so as not to distract, but is a bit awkward to load into place), illuminated vanity mirrors, and a powered glass sunroof (Mazda doesn’t yet offer a panoramic glass roof).
Adaptive cruise control with stop and go (standard for 2021.5) benefits the driver alone, as does a Homelink universal transceiver, a 9.0-inch centre display (the 2021.5 comes standard with a 10.25-inch display that links through to new Mazda Connect Infotainment system, while that system’s unavailability for the first half of the year was the real reason for the big screen’s late introduction and point-five model year designation), not to mention a 360-degree surround parking monitor, an auto-dimming rearview mirror, front and rear parking sensors, plus a navigation system that mistakenly took me down a side road next to my home to a gated overpass that would’ve otherwise been impassable if not for my locals-only remote (see the photo gallery). The CX-9’s navigation worked flawlessly other than that, while I especially like how a full screen pictograph of an upcoming intersection’s sign automatically appears on the display when approaching, showing all available lanes while using an active arrow for pointing out the one you need to follow. The clearly defined colour graphics are especially helpful when sorting out complicated intersections.
All will appreciate the LED dome and reading lights overhead, plus the great sounding 12-speaker Bose audio system with Centerpoint 2 surround and SiriusXM satellite radio, while exclusive to those in back are two additional USB-A ports (apiece) in the second and third rows, plus a rear climate control interface, retractable second-row window sunshades, and heatable second-row captain’s chairs (that bookend a fixed rear centre armrest with integrated storage in 2021.5 models).
A hands-free powered liftgate provides access to 407 litres of dedicated cargo space, while lowering the 50/50-split rearmost seatbacks (via manual levers on the lower seatbacks) opens up luggage capacity up to 1,082 litres. There’s a total cargo volume of 2,017 litres when both rows are folded flat, but keep in mind the 2021.5 model’s second-row fixed centre console will get in the way when loading building materials or other large items (not that you can fit a four-by-eight sheet of Gyproc or plywood in back anyway).
Speaking of interior space, while the CX-9 isn’t the largest three-row crossover SUV on the market, it’s not the smallest either, fitting nicely in between the Chevrolet Traverse and Toyota Highlander, leaving its rearmost row sizeable enough for big kids and smaller adults, while second-row seating is very spacious and comfortable for all sizes and shapes.
Still, despite not being smallest, the CX-9 is a bit lighter than most of its rivals, which translates into good performance from a smaller 2.5-litre turbocharged four-cylinder engine that puts out a modest 250-horsepower when using 93 octane fuel (which most people will never do, due to high pump prices), or 227 horsepower with regular 87 octane gas. Torque matters more when hauling masses of people and cargo, however, and to that end the diminutive mill has you covered with 320 lb-ft of twist when using the pricier fuel, or 310 on the “cheap” stuff.
It certainly feels powerful off the line, although I must admit to driving solo most of the week, and only ever having a single passenger along for the ride every now and then. The CX-9’s ride is smooth and comforting too, and it’s plenty quiet inside as well, with very little wind, drivetrain or tire noise. Mazda includes a Sport mode for sharpening the six-speed automatic’s reflexes, which when slotting the gear lever into its manual position and utilizing the steering wheel-mounted paddle shifters, which are exclusive to Kuro trim and above, transforms the relatively large family hauler into a veritable “sport” utility. Of course, transitional weight tries to upset the fun, the CX-9 nowhere near as agile as the wonderfully tossable CX-5 (which incidentally can be had with the same powerplant for even quicker acceleration), but the larger Mazda lives up to the brand’s performance-oriented tradition quite well nonetheless.
That six-speed automatic might initially sound like a negative to some, but I must admit that I found driving an SUV with fewer forward gears than more modern designs hardly noticeable. Certainly, it would impact fuel economy, but then again, Mazda provides a lot more fuel-saving technologies than most of its peers, which is probably why it achieves a relatively thrifty claimed rating of 11.6 L/100km in the city, 9.1 on the highway, and 10.5 combined. Then again, a more advanced eight- or nine-speed autobox might help matters, being that the eight-speed-equipped Highlander AWD achieves an estimated 10.3 combined with its big 3.5-litre V6, although the Traverse AWD is rated at 11.8 combined despite housing a nine-speed auto under its centre console cowling.
On the positive, there’s something to be said for the CX-9’s quick, positive, snappy shifts, especially when compared with some automaker’s slushy CVTs, while Mazda’s six-speed has also been around long enough to earn credibility as a reliability leader. In fact, Mazda is number one in Consumer Reports latest auto reliability auto rankings, with 83 points compared to second-place Toyota’s 74. According to the popular magazine and consumer rating service, Mazda and Toyota regularly vie for top position, while the brand is also above average in the latest J.D. Power and Associates 2021 Vehicle Dependability Study.
The 2021 CX-9 also gets a five-star safety rating from the U.S. NHTSA, allowing for a best-possible Top Safety Pick+ rating as well, an impressive feat that some in this class, including the aforementioned Traverse, Ford’s Edge, Hyundai’s Santa Fe, plus Kia’s Sorento and Telluride, don’t achieve, while others can’t even manage to attain the latter group’s regular Top Safety Pick (without the plus) ranking.
Reasons for the top score include the CX-9’s sophisticated active LED headlamps, as well as standard advanced driver assistance features like Smart Brake Support Front, Smart City Brake Support Front, Distance Recognition Support System, Forward Obstruction Warning, Pedestrian Detection, Rear Cross Traffic Alert, Advanced Blind Spot Monitoring, Lane Departure Warning, and Lane-keep Assist, while trims including the Kuro Edition and above also add Smart City Brake Support Rear, Driver Attention Alert, and Traffic Sign Recognition.
As tested, a 2021 CX-9 Kuro Edition can be had for $50,300 plus freight and fees, while that price increases by $300 for the 2021.5 model year (well worth the price increase for the new infotainment system alone). Base GS trim, on the other hand, starts at a nice even $40,000, whereas Signature and 100th Anniversary trims will set you back $52,000 and $53,350 respectively.
In the end, the CX-9 is a good example of a well-designed crossover SUV lasting the test of time. Of course, plenty of minor updates and particularly nice trim additions, like this Kuro Edition, have helped keep it mostly current. There’s no news on a redesign yet, but plenty of rumours are targeting a release next year as a 2023 model. We’ll have to wait and see, but knowing Mazda, this 2021 should continue holding onto its value even when the new one arrives. That’s a key reason the CX-9 is easy to recommend.
Review and photos by Trevor Hofmann
If I loved Toyota’s Highlander Hybrid any more, it would be a Hyundai Palisade hybrid. I jest, of course, because I really like the Highlander. In fact, if I had to choose, it would be difficult to…
If I loved Toyota’s Highlander Hybrid any more, it would be a Hyundai Palisade hybrid. I jest, of course, because I really like the Highlander. In fact, if I had to choose, it would be difficult to decide between this time-tested Toyota and either the Palisade or Kia’s equally good Telluride, which have both been lauded as two of the best in their class right now by almost everyone in the automotive press, although neither can be had with a fuel-sipping electrified drivetrain.
That matters a lot, especially with the average price for a litre of regular fuel hovering around $1.70 per litre in my area. Most anyone buying into the family hauler sector is constrained by a budget, so saving at the pump can be the difference of buying little Liam and Emma brand new runners or making a detour to the thrift store just in case they have something “pre-loved” available in the right sizes, or maybe buyers in this $40-$50k class can relate more to a choice between purchasing bulk chicken legs and rib eye steaks for Sunday’s BBQ. Either way, my point is clear, especially at a time when all types of meats have become much more expensive due to run-away government spending and the resultant inflationary problems, amongst other issues driving up the prices of foods and consumer items.
Toyota’s three-row antidote to this reality check equals 6.6 L/100km in the city, 6.8 on the highway and 6.7 combined for the Highlander Hybrid, while Hyundai and Kia alternatively claim 12.3, 9.6, and 11.1, or 12.6, 9.7 and 11.3 for the equivalent all-wheel drive versions of the Palisade or Telluride respectively. Based on these numbers, the South Korean-sourced three-row competitors are almost twice as expensive on fuel, and while it would be fairer to compare them to the conventional V6-powered Highlander, which is still easier on the wallet at 11.8 city, 8.6 highway and 10.3 combined, that’s not the SUV I drove for this particular test week.
There’s really nothing that compares with the Highlander Hybrid. Certainly, other automakers produce electrified SUVs in the mid-size class, the Ford Explorer Hybrid being one that also features three rows of passenger capacity, but nevertheless the much newer blue-oval entry only targets a rather so-so fuel economy rating of 10.1 L/100km city, 9.0 highway and 9.6 combined, which is way off the mark set by Toyota. To put that into perspective, Kia’s new Sorento is capable of almost the same fuel economy without the complexity of a hybrid-electric powertrain, its claimed rating a respective 10.1, 9.2 and 9.7 in base form, or 11.1, 8.4 and 9.9 with its potent turbo-four, and this Korean comes in hybrid form in the U.S. (hopefully soon in Canada).
Speaking of the Korean competition, Canada’s car market does include the electrified Hyundai Santa Fe that gets a better rating than Ford’s mid-size hybrid at 7.1 L/100km city, 7.9 highway and 7.4 combined, but due to only having two rows of seats it’s not a direct competitor to either the Explorer Hybrid or Highlander Hybrid being reviewed here, so it will only matter to those that don’t really need the extra rear row of seats and extended cargo capacity. The only other HEV in the mid-size SUV class is Toyota’s own Venza, which is more or less a shortened, lighter version of the Highlander Hybrid under a very different skin, which is why it gets class-leading fuel economy at 5.9 city, 6.4 highway, and 6.1 combined.
If fuel efficiency were the only reason to choose a Venza or Highlander Hybrid I could understand why so many buyers do, but as you may have guessed there’s so much more that make these two SUVs worthy of your consideration that I’d be remiss to stop writing here. Of course, I’ll leave any more comments about the Venza to a future review, and instead solely focus on the Highlander Hybrid in its as-tested top-line $54,150 Limited form, which is one of three trim levels that also include the $45,950 base LE and $48,450 mid-range XLE.
On an interesting note, when it debuted in 2000 the Highlander became the first mid-size car-based crossover SUV ever created, other than Subaru’s smaller two-row Outback, which continues to be more of a classic station wagon-type crossover than anything resembling a conventional sport utility. Toyota was also first with a hybridized SUV, the Highlander Hybrid having arrived on the scene way back in 2005 in a refreshed version of the original body style.
Two model years later, Toyota once again added a hybrid option to the second-generation Highlander from 2008 through 2013, after which they didn’t skip an electronic beat when the Highlander moved into its third and fourth generations, right up until today’s model. With such longevity in the hybrid sector, it’s no wonder Toyota achieves the mid-size SUV segment’s best fuel economy ratings, not to mention one of the more enviable of reliability ratings and resale value rankings.
In the most recent 2021 J.D. Power Vehicle Dependability Study, the Highlander came in second behind Kia’s Sorento, which is impressive for both considering the 23 unique models that contest in this class, not including the three new 2022 Jeeps (Grand Cherokee L, Wagoneer and Grand Wagoneer) and one discontinued Dodge (Journey). The Kia and Toyota brands place third and fourth overall in this study, incidentally, plus first and second amongst mainstream volume brands (Lexus and Porsche are first and second overall), again, an extremely impressive result, albeit not unusual for the two Japanese brands.
Similarly, the Highlander placed third behind the Sorento and Dodge Durango in the same analytical firm’s 2020 Initial Quality Study, while even more interesting (and useful), Dashboard-Light.com gave the Highlander an “Exceptional” reliability score of 94.2, which amongst mid-size SUVs is only beaten by (once again) the FJ Cruiser at 98 (the 4Runner only scored 89 for third), this study combining the scores of models over a 20-year period, with the most reliable Highlanders actually being the most recent two generations, each scoring perfect 100s.
What about all-important resale/residual values? These say more about what you’ll actually end up paying for a vehicle over the duration of ownership than its initial price, so the fact the Highlander placed second to Toyota’s 4Runner in Canadian Black Book’s 2020 and 2019 Best Retained Value Awards, plus third in 2018 and 2017, the latter only because Toyota’s FJ Cruiser pushed the 4Runner and Highlander down a notch each, means you’ll likely retain more of your initial investment in a Highlander than any other crossover SUV.
This testament to its value proposition is further backed up by J.D. Power’s 2021 ALG Residual Value Awards, in which the Highlander earned highest retained value in its “Midsize Utility Vehicle—3rd Row Seating” category. Additionally, Vincentric’s 2021 Best Value in America Awards placed the Highlander Hybrid on top of its “Hybrid SUV/Crossover” category, while the RAV4 Hybrid won this sector in Canada.
Styling plays a part in holding resale values, and to that end most Highlanders have benefited from attractive designs that still look good after years and even decades. I’ve recently seen first-generation models fixed up to look like off-roaders thanks to much more interest in off-grid living and camping, which of course necessitates all types of 4x4s for exploring the wild unknown. Overlanding, as it’s now called, has even caused Lexus to create a dedicated off-road variant of its Land Cruiser Prado-based GX 460, the one-off exercise named GXOR Concept, and while sales of this impressive yet unpopular model would likely double or triple if they actually built something similar (Lexus Canada had only sold 161 GX 460s up to the halfway mark of this year), it’s probably not in the cards.
What is very real indeed, is a fourth-generation Highlander that’s returned to more of a rugged, classic SUV design, pulling more visual cues up from my personal favourite 2014–2016 third-generation variant than that model’s 2017–2019 refresh, which featured one of the largest grilles ever offered on a Toyota vehicle, seemingly inspired by the just-noted Lexus brand. This move should help prop up aforementioned residual values of early third-gen models too, although this probably wasn’t part of Toyota’s plan, making that Highlander a good long-term used car bet, if the current chip shortage hasn’t made it impossible to still get one for a decent price.
Suffice to say, the Highlander is one of my favourite new SUVs from a styling standpoint, and if sales are anything to go by (and they usually are), I’m not alone in my admiration. The Highlander was the only mid-size SUV in Canada to surpass five figures over the first six months of 2021, with 10,403 sales to its credit, followed by the perennial best-selling Ford Explorer with 8,359 deliveries over the same two quarters.
Even more impressive, Toyota sold 144,380 Highlanders by the year’s halfway mark in the U.S., while the second-best-selling Explorer only managed 118,241 units. There’s no way for us to easily tell how many of these sales (or lack thereof) were affected by the chip shortage, with Ford having been particularly hard hit in this crisis thus far. Recent news of Toyota preparing to halt up to 40 percent of its new vehicle production in September, for the same reason, will no doubt impact Q3 totals, and may be a reason for you to act quickly if you want to purchase a new Highlander.
The Explorer outsold the Highlander in the U.S. last year, with 226,215 units to 212,276, which still left them one and two in the segment, but Toyota was ahead in Canada last year at 16,457 units to 15,283 Explorers, leaving them second and fourth, with both being outsold by Jeep’s current Cherokee and Hyundai’s Santa Fe that managed third (of course, the Highlander and Explorer were still one and two amongst three-row mid-size SUVs).
There are a lot reasons why the Highlander earns such loyalty year in and year out, many of which I’ve already covered, but the model’s interior execution certainly took a big leap forward when the third-generation arrived, which no doubt kept owners happy long after its new car smell faded away. That older model featured such niceties as fabric-wrapped A-pillars and a soft-touch dash top and door uppers, plus more pliable composite surfaces elsewhere, as well as additional features like perforated leather upholstery, a heatable steering wheel, three-way heated and cooled front seats, an 8.0-inch centre touchscreen (large for the time), tri-zone automatic climate control with a separate rear control interface, an auto-dimming rearview mirror, a HomeLink transceiver, dynamic cruise control, clearance and backup sensors, LED ambient interior lighting, a panoramic glass sunroof, rear window sunshades, blind spot monitoring, lane departure warning, rear cross traffic alert, a pre-collision system, and much more, these items becoming more commonplace in this segment now, but not as much back then.
Of course, the 2021 Highlander Hybrid Limited comes with all of the above and more. For starters, its interior touchpoints use improved-quality materials and an even more upscale design, my tester’s including rich chocolate brown across the dash top, door uppers and lower dash and door panels, plus a cream-coloured hue for a padded mid-dash bolster, as well as the door inserts and armrests, the padded centre console edges that keep inner knees from chafing, the centre armrest, and the seats. Additionally, the former brown colour features copper-coloured contrast stitching, while the latter creamy tone uses a contrasting dark brown thread (except the seats).
My 2014 Highlander Hybrid Limited included some chocolate brown elements too, but these were mostly hard plastic highlights, while the rest of its mostly tan leather interior was complemented by the usual chrome- and satin-finish metallic accents, plus medium-tone woodgrain in a nice matte finish. My 2021 example, on the other hand, boasted even more faux metal, albeit in a satiny titanium finish, with the most notable application of this treatment being a large section that spanned the dash ahead of the front passenger before forking off to surround the main touchscreen. It’s a dramatic design statement for sure, while Toyota’s choice of woodgrain looked like more of a light brownish/grey ash with a gloss finish, covering most of the lower console and trimming the tops of each door.
Updated Highlander Hybrid Limited features now include LED low/high beam headlamps with automatic high beams, LED fog lights, LED mirror-mounted turn signals, LED puddle lamps that project a “Highlander” logo onto the road below, and LED taillights, plus 20-inch alloys instead of 19s, an electromechanical parking brake in place of the old foot-operated one, a much more vibrant primary gauge cluster featuring a large 7.0-inch colour TFT multi-information display instead of the old vertically rectangular unit that was really more of a colourful trip computer, a higher resolution glossy centre display with updated (albeit mostly monochromatic) graphics, which still only measures 8.0 inches and continues to benefit from two rows of physical buttons down each side for quick access to key functions, plus dials for power/volume and tuning/scrolling, while inside that infotainment system is Apple CarPlay and Android Auto smartphone integration.
There are now three USB ports located in a cubby at the base of the centre stack, instead of just one, and they still feed up through a slot to a mid-dash shelf, although now that shelf is split into two, including a separate one for the front passenger. A rubberized tray just below the USB chargers is large enough for most any smartphone, but I kept mine in a wireless charger found on a flip-up tray in the storage bin under the centre armrest. I’ve heard some folks complain that the wireless charging tray is too small for their devices, and being that it fit my Samsung S9 perfectly with its case on probably means that any of the larger plus-sized phones won’t fit. Toyota will want to address problem, because most people I know have larger phones than my aging S9.
Two more USB ports can be found on the backside of the front console for rear passengers, incidentally, while there’s also a three-prong household-style plug for charging laptops, external DVD players, game consoles, etcetera. If you want second-row seat warmers in back, you’ll need to move up to the Highlander Hybrid’s Platinum package, which increases the price by $2,300, but provides a lot of extra features that I’ll mention in a minute.
If you want to communicate with those in back, Toyota now includes Driver Easy Speak together with a conversation mirror that doubles as a sunglasses holder in the overhead console, similar to the one found in the old model. Also new, a Rear Seat Reminder lets you know if you’ve left something or someone in the back seat when leaving the vehicle.
Additional advanced driver safety and convenience features standard in top-line Limited trim include Full-Speed Range Dynamic Radar Cruise Control, Front-to-Front Risk Detection, Pre-Collision System with Pedestrian Detection and Bicycle Detection, Intelligent Clearance Sonar with Rear Cross Traffic Brake, Lane Departure Alert with Steering Assist, Left Turn Intersection Support, Risk Avoidance (Semi-Automated Emergency Steering to Avoid Pedestrian, Bicyclist or Vehicle), and Lane Tracing Assist.
The biggest change in this latest Highlander Hybrid, however, is found behind its sportier new winged grille, because Toyota smartly chose to say goodbye to its more potent 3.5-litre V6-powered Hybrid Synergy Drive system, which made a net 280-horsepower from its dual electric motor-assisted drivetrain, and hello to a much more fuel-friendly 2.5-litre-powered alternative that once again uses two electric motors, including a separate one in the rear for eAWD. The electric motor now powering the front wheels is more capable thanks to 19 additional horsepower, resulting in a maximum of 186, although the rear one is down 14 horsepower for a total of 54, leaving the new model’s net horsepower at 243.
In the end, Toyota managed to squeeze the aforementioned 6.6 L/100km in the city, 6.8 on the highway and 6.7 combined out of the new power unit, compared to 6.8 city, 7.2 highway and 7.0 combined in the old one. And yes, that does seem like a lot of reconfiguring for just a few L/100km difference, but more importantly this drivetrain is now being used in the two-row mid-size Venza and the Sienna minivan, which are no longer available with conventional powertrains. Additionally, the decision to focus the Highlander Hybrid more on fuel economy leaves the V6-powered hybrid drivetrain to Lexus’ more premium RX 450h, which now benefits from stronger performance than its Toyota-badged equivalent.
As you can probably appreciate, the new powertrain doesn’t have quite the same amount of punch off the line as the old one, but its performance deficiency isn’t all that noticeable, while it’s electronically-controlled CVT is still as smooth as ever. Smooth is the ideal descriptor of the Highlander Hybrid’s ride quality and overall refinement as well, a quality that likely lines up with most buyers in this class. This in mind, there are no paddle shifters on the steering wheel, but Sport mode really does make a difference off the line, and fast-paced handling is plenty good for this class, the Limited model’s 235/55R20 all-season tires no doubt making a difference when it comes to road-holding.
As good as the hybrid is, the conventionally-powered Highlander will be the go-to model for those wanting more performance, as it provides a standard 3.5-litre V6 with 295 horsepower and 263 lb-ft of torque, plus its quick-shifting eight-speed automatic transmission is a real joy to put through its paces. This said, we’re back at the big six-cylinder’s fuel economy that’s nowhere near as efficient at 10.3 L/100km combined, so stepping up to the hybrid makes perfect sense, especially in my part of Canada where a recent temporary low of $1.65 per litre for regular unleaded had me peeling off the road in order to top up my 2021 Hyundai Santa Fe tester, after waiting in a line of likeminded consumers to do so (more on that SUV in a future review).
The 2021 Highlander Hybrid’s premium over its solely internal combustion-powered equivalent is just $2,000, or at least that’s the case when comparing the base Hybrid LE AWD ($45,950) to the regular LE AWD ($43,950), although there’s still a less expensive V6-powered L trim that brings the Highlander’s actual base price down to $40,450 plus freight and fees (interestingly, the 2014 base Highlander Hybrid was more expensive at $43,720). The same $2,000 price gap is found amongst conventionally-powered and hybridized Limited trims.
I’d certainly be willing to pay another $2,300 for the Highlander’s aforementioned Platinum package, which incidentally includes second-row captain’s chairs to go along with the rear butt warmers, plus reverse auto-tilting side mirrors, a head-up display, rain-sensing wipers, a 360-degree bird’s eye surround parking camera, a larger 12.3-inch infotainment touchscreen, a digital display system for the rearview mirror (you can use either the regular or digital version by flicking a switch), and a number of styling tweaks, all for $56,450, but I also wish Toyota included a couple useful extras like auto-dimming side mirrors, a powered tilt and telescopic steering column (the worked with memory), and four-way powered lumbar support for the front seats, features many rivals provide.
The driver’s seat was nevertheless extremely comfortable, other than its two-way powered lumbar support hitting the small of my back slightly high. Others might find it too low, and being that it only moves in and out, it’s always going to be a hit or miss affair. Otherwise, most body types should find the front seats more than adequate, while the non-powered tilt and telescopic steering wheel provides plenty of rearward reach, which meant my long-legged, short-torso frame was both comfortable and in full control.
Second-row roominess is about as good as this class gets too, with seats that could only be made more comfortable if the regular Highlander’s heatable captain’s chairs were offered, but they easily flip forward and out of the way for accessing the rearmost third row, which I found quite spacious and comfortable for the class, albeit missing USB charging ports.
There’s a total of 453 litres of dedicated cargo space behind that rear row, by the way, or 1,370 litres behind the second row when the third row’s 60/40-split backrests are folded forward, while 2,387 litres of space can be had behind the first row when the 60/40-split second row is lowered. That’s a lot of cargo capacity, but I would’ve liked to see Toyota utilize the 40/20/40-configured second-row seat from Lexus’ RX instead of this one, as it would allow for longer items, such as skis, to be stowed down the middle while second-row passengers were more comfortably positioned to either side.
So, while Toyota’s Highlander Hybrid Limited is not perfect, it’s easily one of the best available in its three-row mid-size crossover segment. Factoring in its enviable dependability and best-in-class residual value, it’s hard to argue against it, and therefore would be my choice, despite how good the two aforementioned Korean upstarts are. Now it’s just a matter of locating one before the chip shortage dries up availability.
Review and photos by Trevor Hofmann
Comparisons between Kia’s Telluride and Hyundai’s Palisade are starting to sound a lot like folks my age bantering about Chevy Blazer and GMC Jimmy preferences back in the ‘70s, with some liking…
Comparisons between Kia’s Telluride and Hyundai’s Palisade are starting to sound a lot like folks my age bantering about Chevy Blazer and GMC Jimmy preferences back in the ‘70s, with some liking Chevy’s subtler grille design more than GMC’s bolder iteration, or vice versa. I hear this type of talk a lot in chats about the two South Korean SUVs, and more often than not the Telluride gets two thumbs up when it comes to styling.
To be clear, I talk more often to gents about such things than ladies, and we should all know by now how important a women’s decision is in the buying process, especially in the family-friendly three-row crossover category. This might have something to do with the Palisade outselling the Telluride by more than two to one in Canada last year, Hyundai’s numbers reaching 7,279 units compared to just 3,474 deliveries for Kia. The divide is narrowing for 2021, with Hyundai growing Palisade sales to 4,037 examples during the first two quarters, and Kia stepping up with 2,531 Telluride deliveries.
Looking at these numbers, we can’t underestimate the power of the Hyundai brand in Canada, compared to Kia which got a much later start. While Hyundai arrived here in 1984, it only took two years to enter the U.S. market. Kia, on the other hand, didn’t travel north of the 49th until 1999, a full six years after a solid head start in the U.S. Kia has certainly been gaining ground over the past 20 years, but it’s always been a case of playing catchup in both markets.
Interestingly, despite only being on the market for a bit over two years, the Telluride is already outselling the Acadia, its three-row competitor from aforementioned GMC. To clarify how significant this is, the Acadia has been on the market since 2006, giving it a 13-year advantage, while 2021 saw a bolder new face thanks to a mid-cycle refresh. To be fair to the General, the second-generation Acadia is now in its fifth year of availability, although it should also be noted that the Telluride is currently on track to beat the newest Acadia’s best year of sales. As it is right now, Kia’s largest offering is outselling a whole host of similarly sized three-row rivals, from Nissan’s Pathfinder to Subaru’s Ascent.
This said, the two Korean automakers took a different styling direction with the Telluride and Palisade than those just mentioned. They’re designs are more upright and squared off, making them appear more like traditional body-on-frame SUVs than sleek, car-like crossovers. This is even truer for the Telluride, which completes its chunky design with a rectangular front grille, squarish stacked LED headlamps, and a sharply angled lower front fascia, while its blocky side profile culminates in a similarly rectangular-shaped liftgate that’s bookended by two vertical taillights curving inward elegantly as they rise up from the rear bumper. It’s at once rugged and refined, providing a best of both worlds image that’s not unlike something from Range Rover, and just like that British icon the Telluride only gets better upon closer inspection.
Its side window trim, for instance, feels as if it’s made from highly polished billet nickel, similar in fact to Lexus’ application of its bright metal window dressing. Kia just calls it “satin chrome,” so it’s probably not made from nickel, but either way these are some of the nicest window surrounds in the industry.
Inside, the A and B pillars are fabric-wrapped with the same high-quality woven material used for my SX Limited trim’s headliner, which itself is hollowed out from dual glass sunroofs, these including a regular moonroof up front and a large panoramic one in back. The look and feel of everything above the shoulders is premium, including the overhead console that houses switchgear to open the just-noted sunroofs and their powered fabric shades, plus the LED reading lights and buttons for activating the standard UVO Intelligence connected car services and emergency assistance system. A second overhead console can be found in between the two sunroofs, this one housing larger LED dome lights as well as controls for the automatic climate system’s third zone.
Moving downward, the dash top is finished in a nice rubberized soft-touch synthetic, with what feels like real stitching, while the same pliable composite is used for the front and rear door uppers. Below these is the closest reproduction of matte finish hardwood I’ve ever seen, with a substantive density that really had me questioning whether it was real or not (I checked, it isn’t).
No shortage of satin silver trim brightens up much of the rest of the cabin, plus a reasonable amount of piano black lacquered plastic, although this inky surface treatment was only kept to the lower console. This, however, is strange, because the lower console is the most likely place to get scratched, so it would be much better for Kia to come up with a less scratch-prone surface treatment for this high-use area.
At least this central divider is bordered by stitched leatherette-wrapped grab handles for the driver and front passenger, these also housing switchgear for the three-way heated and ventilated front seats. The console itself is filled with a wireless charging pad, two USB-A ports and a 12-volt charger hidden below a pop-up door, while a leather-wrapped and skirted shift lever rests ahead of a purposeful looking metal-edged rotating Drive/Terrain mode selector, complete with Comfort, Eco, Sport, Smart, Snow, Mud and Sand modes that are capable of tackling all sorts of driving situations, while a bunch of quick-access driving function buttons surround the electromechanical parking brake lever just behind.
The rest of the Telluride’s instruments are well organized, with my SX Limited tester’s primary gauge cluster comprised of two conventional analogue dials surrounding temperature and fuel sub-dials, centered by a large comprehensive multi-information display in full colour. This MID’s most unique feature is the live projection of two rear-facing cameras that completely eliminate blind spots upon applying the turn signals. Honda and Acura have long offered a right-side camera that displays on the larger centre infotainment screen, but only in models that don’t include their lane-change warning system. Kia, on the other hand, provides both technologies simultaneously to make double sure the adjacent lane is clear from traffic. On top of this, literally, is a head-up display, exclusive to SX Limited trim.
The Telluride’s centre infotainment display is a touch-sensitive widescreen that’s wonderfully easy to use and filled with attractive graphics in a tile-style layout. You can swipe it back and forth for additional features, plus use smartphone and tablet-style pinch gestures for specific functions including the navigation map, which just happens to be the default selection on the menu’s left-side tile. Audio system info can be found on the menu’s centre tile, while Hyundai’s proprietary “Driver Talk” rear passenger communication system is set to the right, while owners can customize the tiles in system setup if this default assortment doesn’t suit their personal requirements, and believe me there’s a lot of options to choose from.
Infotainment features not yet mentioned include Android Auto and Apple CarPlay smartphone integration, a voice memo, driving info, media, and more, while just below the touchscreen is a row of satin-metallic finished quick access buttons for the navigation system’s map, route guidance setup, the radio, media functions like satellite radio and Bluetooth audio, seek and track functions, favourites, and vehicle setup. Just under this is a dual-zone automatic HVAC interface that includes some switchgear for the third rear zone, plus a button for the heatable steering wheel that would no doubt keep its leather-wrapped rim toasty warm in winter, but being that I tested this SUV mid-summer, the top of the wheel already felt as if it was on fire after being parked.
That steering wheel spokes are filled with high-quality satin-finish metal and piano black switchgear, some of which include knurled-metal rocker switches for performing functions like adjusting the audio volume to answering the phone, or applying the adaptive cruise control and using the multi-information display. Likewise, the door panel-mounted power window and mirror controls are made from high-quality materials, with good fitment and nice damping, a theme that carries through the entire cabin. The doors’ lower panels, which are made from a harder composite, feature attractive metal-rimmed Harman Kardon speaker grilles, while the sound emanating from within is even more impressive.
My SX Limited’s six-way powered driver’s seat was comfortable and its positioning superb, with plenty of rake and reach from the tilt and telescopic steering wheel, which oddly is not powered despite Kia having provided memory in this near top-tier trim (only an all-black Nightsky edition costs more, and includes all of the same features as the SX Limited). I thought maybe the top-line Hyundai Palisade would provide a powered steering column, but not so for that SUV either.
Nevertheless, the driver’s seat includes a powered lower cushion extension for comfortably cupping under the knees, plus two-way powered lumbar support that met the small of my back nicely, while the driving position is excellent as noted, this not always the case for my long-legged, short-torso frame, but I felt comfortable and fully in control at all times. The seats provide excellent lower back support and plenty of comforting padding all-round, with reasonable side bolstering too. I believe they’ll be good for most body types, plus the Telluride should be roomy enough for almost anyone.
Like most Kia models, the Telluride’s rear passengers are treated just as nicely as those up front. The finishings are much the same, with near identical door panels, other than manual window shades in back, plus other niceties are added such as leather and mesh pockets in the backsides of the front seats, hooks for a garbage bag or what-have-you, and USB-A charging ports for each rear passenger on the sides of each front seat. The rear outboard seats cool and heat in SX Limited trim too, while the backside of the front centre console provides a 12-volt charger along with a household-style 110-volt power outlet.
Look upward and you’ll see an HVAC vent directly in front of each outboard passenger, while the aforementioned overhead lights and auto climate controls are within easy reach in the middle of the ceiling.
A large, comfortable armrest, complete with dual cupholders, splits the two outboard passengers when the centre position is unoccupied, this made from the same supple Nappa leather as used for the seat surfaces throughout the interior. Making it easier to slide onto those soft leather seats is a large grab handle on the B-pillar, something not always included with competitors.
To access the third row, simply push an electronic release button on the top side of the second-row seatback, after which the entire seat automatically slides forward with plenty of room to climb inside with ease. The third row is very comfortable, with seats that wrap around one’s back and good support in the lower regions, plus this compartment is truly roomy, even when second-row passengers are given more than enough space to move around ahead. In fact, I could easily sit in the very back with room for my feet underneath the second-row seats, plus about three inches above my head and more than enough room from side-to-side, complemented by nice views through the side quarter windows, along with a separate USB-A plug and two cupholders on each side. The rearmost driver-side passenger even has an extra spot for storage, while there are separate overhead vents for each third-row occupant too, as well as some ambient lights so no one feels lost in the dark.
Additionally, the dedicated cargo area behind the rear seats is spacious at 601 litres (21.2 cu ft), and includes a section below the rigid cargo floor for stowing more items out of sight. The 60/40-split third row is easy to fold down, first by automatically dropping the headrests with pull-tabs, and then by a set of buttons on the left side of the cargo wall, just above another 12-volt charger. This opens up 1,304 litres (46 cu ft) of nearly flat cargo space, while lowering the second row provides a maximum cargo volume of 2,455 litres (86.7 cu ft). Of course, the liftgate is powered, opening quickly enough, plus Kia has even gone so far as to finish off the cargo door sill with a polished stainless-steel guard.
As you might expect, the Telluride is more about comfort than speed, and therefore all occupants will appreciate the superb ride that complements those comfortable seats I just spoke about. It’s relatively hefty at 1,970 to 2,018 kilos (4,343 to 4,449 lbs), depending on trim, but nevertheless it’s fairly quick off the line thanks to a strong 3.8-litre V6 that’s good for 291 horsepower and 262 lb-ft of torque, plus a smooth-shifting eight-speed automatic that’s quick to respond to input.
Fuel economy is not great at 12.6 L/100km in the city, 9.7 on the highway and 11.3 combined, especially when compared to the non-hybrid Toyota Highlander’s 11.8 city, 8.6 highway and 10.3 combined rating, but it’s not as thirsty as some in this class either.
On more of a positive, the Telluride handles corners well, within reason of course. Again, it’s primarily built for comfort, but can manage sharp curves with confidence and is especially poised over rough pavement and gravel, my SX Limited tester including a self-leveling rear suspension along with 20-inch alloys encircled by 245/50R20 all-season tires. Its 5,000-lb (2,268-kg) towing capacity means it’s also good for small boats and campers, always important in this family SUV sector.
Additional standard SX Limited features not yet mentioned include rain-sensing wipers and LED taillights, while items pulled up from second-rung SX trim include the just-noted 20-inch wheels, the rear portion of the aforementioned dual-pane sunroof, and the rear sunshades, plus a hot-stamped satin chrome grille, satin chrome door handles, satin chrome beltline trim, a set of high-gloss side mirror caps, anodized roof rails, silver-painted skid plates, single-to-twin exhaust tips, metal door scuff plates, metal-finished foot pedals, ambient mood lighting, the 7.0-inch Supervision LCD/TFT instrument cluster with blind-spot view monitor noted earlier (which replaces a 3.5-inch cluster display), a 360-degree surround parking monitor, front parking sensors, and the fabulous sounding Harman Kardon audio system noted before.
Lastly, some standard Telluride EX features pulled up to SX Limited trim include LED headlamps with high beam assist, LED daytime running lights and positioning lamps, LED fog lights, a solar glass windshield and solar front side windows, the aforementioned front moonroof, automatic power-folding side mirrors with integrated LED turn signals, plus the leather-clad steering wheel and shift knob noted earlier, as well as the superb faux woodgrain trim, tri-zone auto climate control with automatic defog, the 10.25-inch centre touchscreen with navigation, HD and satellite radio, the wireless charger and all of the other phone connectivity features mentioned before, a smart key with pushbutton start/stop, smart cruise control, an auto-dimming centre mirror, a HomeLink garage door opener, express up/down powered windows, and a powered liftgate.
Kia also includes a whole host of advanced safety and convenience features such as Forward Collision-Avoidance assist (FCA), Lane Follow Assist (LFA), Blind-spot Collision Avoidance Assist (BCA), Rear Cross-Traffic Collision Avoidance Assist (RCTCAA), and Highway Drive Assist (HDA), plus a Driver Attention Alert system (DAA), safe exit assist system, rear occupant alert, rear parking sensors, and seven airbags including one for the driver’s knees.
All of these standard features don’t come cheap, causing the base Telluride EX to start at a fairly lofty $46,195 plus freight and fees, but keep in mind that competitors with similar features are priced in this range, and sometimes higher. On that note, the Telluride SX can be had from $51,195, while my SX Limited tester starts at $54,695, with the blackened Nightsky edition just $1,000 more at $55,695.
Summing up the 2021 Kia Telluride, it’s not only a great looking mid-size SUV, but a good choice for those who want a premium-level experience without spending luxury brand pricing. It drives very well, delivers supreme comfort, and comes as well equipped as anything in its segment, while Kia backs up all of its new models with a class-leading five-year or 100,000 km comprehensive warranty. For these reasons and more, the new Telluride has earned its place amongst my favourite three-row SUVs, making it 100-percent worthy of your attention.
Review and photos by Trevor Hofmann
I’ve rarely heard anyone say anything negative about Buick’s styling, at least not during the most recent decade. The brand combines a conservatively classy look with some elegantly sporty elements,…
I’ve rarely heard anyone say anything negative about Buick’s styling, at least not during the most recent decade. The brand combines a conservatively classy look with some elegantly sporty elements, resulting in clean, classic and mature design that mostly stands the test of time.
The recently discontinued Regal, a car I covered in its sportiest GS trim in 2019, is a good case in point. Few four-door sedans in its mid-size segment looked anywhere near as good, not to mention drove as well, but alas it’s gone the way of the dodo due to cars in this class falling out of favour with consumers. Ditto for the arguably better looking Regal TourX that was never offered in Canada, yet made five-door fanboys like me a tad jealous of my American friends. I should probably mention the 2016-2019 Cascada as well, a sharp looking Opel-designed four-seat convertible that remained south of the 49th as well.
The Regal ended its official tour of duty last year, although anyone interested can probably still find new 2020 models kicking around. That won’t be so easy if you’re looking to buy a new full-size Lacrosse, which ended production the same year as the just-noted Cascada, in 2019. It was another great looking four-door that drove well, especially on the wide-open highway, while the 2012–2017 Verano was Buick’s quiet, comfortable and reasonably quick answer to an entry-level compact luxury conundrum nobody had asked anything about since its forgettable Skylark predecessor drove off into the sunset back in last century.
I just finished a weeklong test of that model today, and it left such an impression that I came straight back to write a news story about the refreshed 2022 Enclave that will soon replace the very model you’re looking at here. Don’t worry, as plenty of 2021 Enclaves are still available, and without doubt Buick will tempt you with a deal that’s too good to pass up if you like what the current model has to offer.
When the Lacrosse left the scene back in 2019, the Enclave became Buick’s de facto flagship. I know, the thought of a large family hauler as a luxury brand’s most coveted model probably sounds a bit strange to those of us that have followed the automotive industry for decades, but we might as well get used to the idea, because big luxury sedans aren’t exactly flying off showroom floors these days.
Joining Buick, Cadillac also said goodbye to its largest CT6 sedan last year, while Lincoln dropped its near full-size Continental as well as its mid-size MKZ in 2020. Acura also dumped its mid-size RLX at the end of the same year, while Infiniti finally halted Q70 and Q70L production at the close of 2019, and Jaguar sadly said so long to its beloved XJ during last decade’s penultimate year too, and followed that up by discontinuing its compact XE last year.
Sorry to stir the tears, but most readers of this review won’t likely be crying about a shortage of low-slung sedans anyway. Today’s low interest rates are certainly keeping the wolves from entering through the front door, but be certain that automakers around the globe are preparing for survival of the fittest when those same rates are hiked upward to stave off inflation. Therefore, they might as well kill off the slow sellers and make better bets on more popular SUVs ahead of what would otherwise be certain carnage.
Until Buick arrives with a two-row mid-size crossover to fight it out against the regular-sized Lexus RX, as well as Lincoln’s two-row mid-size Nautilus, base versions of the new Genesis GV80, and the list goes on (such a model that should really be in their lineup to take the brand to the next level), the three-row Enclave is where sizeable enough profits can be found to keep Buick in the black.
At a starting point of $48,398 (plus freight and fees), the Enclave is clearly not going solely up against mainstream volume brands, especially when considering Infiniti’s QX60 is right alongside with a base price of $48,995. These numbers are only slightly less than where a conventionally-powered Highlander ends up when everything Toyota has to offer gets added on, or for that matter a Hyundai Palisade in its top-tier Ultimate Calligraphy trim. Honestly, those two would provide serious competition for this Enclave and others in its entry-level luxury class, if consumers chose to shop them against each other, but sometimes luxury is a mindset, and to that end Buick owns a bit more real estate in Banbury-Don Mills than Pickering, albeit certainly not much if any in Bridle Path.
The photos of this Enclave were fittingly taken in North Delta, by the way, a nicer suburb just west of Surrey, which for those not from the area is Vancouver’s version of Scarborough. Before getting lambasted for mentioning the latter two cities in what could be imagined as derogatory, there’s much good on offer from both, and a lot of visible wealth in nicely developed clusters. Still, everyone knows Surrey isn’t West Van or Southwest Marine Drive, just like Scarborough isn’t Rosedale or Forest Hill. Likewise, most everyone can appreciate that your new Enclave Avenir has more in common with the just-noted Toyota and Hyundai SUVs than a Mercedes-Maybach GLS 600 or a Range Rover SV Autobiography.
Back to the here and now, changes to the 2022 Enclave only impact the front and rear fascias, wheels, and trim, with Buick combining design cues from the arguably more attractive Chinese version with the best of this 2021 model in order to arrive at another classically conservative luxury SUV option. To be clear, Buick has only shown photos of the top-tier 2022 Enclave Avenir so far, while the 2021 Enclave shown in this review wears the brand’s humblest Essence trim line. To be clearer still, this one is priced $3,000 dearer at $51,398 due to having all-wheel drive, and it also shows off a particularly attractive $1,495 Sport Touring upgrade package that adds a sportier black mesh grille, glossy Pitch Dark Night lower accent colouring, and upgraded 20-inch alloys.
Just the addition of AWD means a similarly equipped Enclave costs more than its Infiniti equivalent that comes standard with four-wheel propulsion, but I’m not going to even poke my head down any sort of comparison rabbit hole in this highly competitive class. Suffice to say the Enclave Essence is equipped with most features an entry-level luxury buyer should need, albeit not everything they’d want, hence the minimalist name, with key items including 18-inch alloy wheels, auto on/off LED headlights, heatable power-folding side mirrors, and more.
The more is found inside, where proximity-sensing entry will allow you to closer inspect its pushbutton ignition, auto-dimming rearview mirror, 4.2-inch colour multi-information display, 8.0-inch colour touchscreen infotainment system with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, 10-speaker Bose audio, 4G LTE Wi-Fi hotspot, universal home remote, power tilt and telescopic steering column, heatable leather-wrapped steering wheel rim, Safety Alert driver’s seat that vibrates as a warning, perforated leather upholstery, three-way heated and ventilated power-adjustable front seats with four-way powered lumbar, two-way driver memory, tri-zone automatic climate control with rear controls, heated second-row captain’s chairs for seven-person occupancy (a second-row bench for eight is available), power-folding 60/40-split third row, hands-free powered liftgate, 120-volt power outlet, remote start, and much more.
Standard as well, all Enclaves boast the Buick Driver Confidence Plus package of advanced driver assistive and safety tech that includes a Following Distance Indicator, Forward Collision Alert, and Rear Cross Traffic Alert with Automatic Emergency Braking and Front Pedestrian Braking, plus Lane Departure Warning with Lane Keep Assist, Side Blind Zone Alert with Lane Change Alert, front and rear Park Assist, and IntelliBeam auto high beam assist headlamps.
As the Enclave’s long list of base features should let on, you won’t feel like you’re slumming it in this Buick. In fact, even this entry-level model provides fabric-wrapped A, B and C pillars, plus a higher quality of soft-touch synthetic on the dash top and front-to-rear door uppers than I can remember in previous iterations. It’s even nicer across the instrument panel facing, plus the lower section of the IP ahead of the front passenger that continues underneath the infotainment touchscreen and along the right side of the lower centre console. This surface treatment is beautifully stitched and finished in a supple leatherette up and down, while the left side of the centre console is padded nicely to protect one’s inner knee from chafing, plus it also extends down to the armrest. These areas were finished in a lovely caramel brown in my tester, in order to match the seats and door inserts that were also nicely stitched, with the former featuring perforated leather inserts.
The seat leather is softer than many at this price point too, while those previously noted warming front cushions heat to near therapeutic levels. Speaking of warmth, the climate control interface, while appearing somewhat rudimentary, did its job well, and besides, your eyes will more likely gravitate to the colour touchscreen overtop, which is one of the easiest to use in the industry.
I’ve been a big fan of General Motors’ infotainment systems for some time, and while I like Chevy’s more Apple-inspired jelly-drop interface even more than the classier Buick design, they both make ample use of a full colour palette and work identically. This version responded quickly to inputs, which was especially notable when moving the navigation map around with my fingertips (it didn’t skip a beat). GM navigation has never let me down either, so kudos to the tech department, while the backup camera was clear and complete with moving guidelines, plus the standard Bose audio system was excellent.
The Enclave’s primary gauges, on the other hand, are about as basic as such clusters get, and a bit of a letdown visually. Sure, the chrome trimmed analogue dials are nice, these to each side of chrome-edged gas and engine temp meters above, but the smallish multi-info display is housed in a square shape that makes it appear like an aftermarket add-on, while competitors have made things worse by showing up with entirely digital primary clusters that show virtual dials one minute, and then transform into giant maps when using the navigation system, or alternatively integrate rear-facing camera monitors that automatically show the SUV’s blind spot when flicking the turn signal. At least the Enclave’s steering wheel that frames it all is superb, with soft leather and a nice sporty feel, while the switchgear on each spoke is high in quality and works well.
The overhead console just above looks a bit like yesteryear too, but it’s functional and includes a sunglasses holder, plus LED reading lights and switches for the garage door opener, OnStar, SOS, and more. There’s no power sunroof button, because this base model doesn’t have a sunroof, and I must admit it’s a strange omission in any new car these days, and especially odd looking when the roof is this long.
Sitting in the driver’s seat, the manual tilt and telescopic steering wheel offers plenty of reach, which worked well for my long-legged, short-torso body type, while the seats were quite comfortable, albeit with hardly any lateral side support, so if you’re planning to push hard through the corners, you’ll need to find something other than the steering wheel to hang on to. I only mention this because the Enclave handles very well, especially with the 20-inch wheel and 255/55 tire upgrade from the package mentioned earlier, so I recommend looking further up the trim line to find something with sportier, more sculpted seat bolsters.
Likewise, the backrests on the Enclave Essence model’s second-row captain’s chairs are nearly flat too, but if rear passengers fold down their centre armrests they should be just fine when you’re having some fun on the way to the cottage. They’re generally comfortable seats, with ample legroom when slid all the way back. Second-row amenities include the aforementioned rear climate control panel and seat warming switchgear on the backside of the front console, where you’ll also find a set of USB chargers, albeit no air vents. Those are smartly integrated within the roof, which is the case for third-row passengers as well, and likewise for the LED reading lights.
Those in the very back get USB charging points to each side as well, while reasonably large rear quarter windows provide good outward visibility for rear passengers. The rearmost seats are comfortable enough too, while the aft compartment is generously roomy overall. There’s reasonable space for legs and feet, at least if those sitting in the second-row seats pull them forward a bit, while it’s also easy to flip those seats up and out of the way for third-row ingress and egress, only requiring a simple tug on a handle atop the backrest, while another lever below flips them down for storage.
They fold fairly flat too, as does the third row, providing loads of cargo space for almost anything you could want to haul. I was able to carry a double-wide Ikea Pax wardrobe system for a friend, along with its glass sliding doors, and there was room to spare thanks to 2,764 available litres when both rows are lowered, 1,642 litres behind the second row, or 668 litres of dedicated cargo volume behind the third row.
Even fully loaded, the Enclave should be strong off the line, thanks to a potent 3.6-litre V6 good for 310 horsepower and 266 lb-ft of torque. It comes mated to a nine-speed automatic that not only helps to cheat the pump with a commendable fuel economy rating of 13.0 L/100km in the city, 9.1 on the highway and 11.2 combined with FWD, or 13.6, 9.6 and 11.8 respectively as tested with AWD thanks in part to standard idle start/stop, but it provides absolutely seamless, smooth shifts, but then again if you engage manual mode, which requires a shift into the “L” position (that really makes no sense at all), its steering wheel-mounted paddle shifters help transform this calm and sedate traveling companion into a much sportier SUV than initially expected. In fact, BMW doesn’t even go so far as to hold its utility’s engines at redline before upshifting, so kudos to Buick for giving the Enclave such enjoyable performance. The V6 makes a notable growl too, although don’t take that to mean it sounds particularly sporty.
Of course, being a Buick the Enclave’s ride is extremely good. The driver and passengers are also well isolated from the elements outside when traveling at slower city speeds, with very little notable road noise. This is why I was a bit surprised by all the wind buffeting at highway speeds, the auditory kerfuffle so evident that I even made sure to check if all the windows were closed tight. This was an unexpected sensation from a brand that prides itself in providing vehicles with tomblike silent interiors, making me guess that upper trims are given an extra dose of Buick’s “Quiet Tuning” technologies.
This brings us back to the Enclave’s sub-$50k starting price, which is very affordable for a three-row luxury crossover SUV. It actually measures up pretty well to many that cost thousands more, but simultaneously might find itself a bit lacking when put side-by-side with some of the top trims produced by more common volume brands (for more competitive pricing information, be sure to check out my news story on the 2022 Enclave, which links to information about all luxury competitors as well).
Buick just took the wraps off its refreshed 2022 Enclave, and fans of the brand should be pleased with what they see. There’s nothing revolutionary about the design, with most styling cues pulled from…
Buick just took the wraps off its refreshed 2022 Enclave, and fans of the brand should be pleased with what they see. There’s nothing revolutionary about the design, with most styling cues pulled from its second-generation predecessor that arrived in 2017 as a 2018 model, and from the Chinese version that launched two years later for the 2020 mode year.
Fortunately, the outgoing Enclave was already an attractive crossover SUV, and the Chinese version even more so. Therefore, this mid-cycle makeover only grows the Enclave’s grille to give it even more premium presence, updates the headlamps and taillights for more fluid integration into the design, and sharpens the front and rear bumpers to add some visual width, resulting in even more premium appeal that Buick no doubt hopes will lure prospective buyers away from other brands’ three-row luxury SUV offerings.
Back down to earth, the updated Enclave’s new standard suite of advanced driving assistance and safety technologies, dubbed Driver Confidence Plus, features forward collision warning plus automatic emergency braking with pedestrian detection, blind-spot monitoring and lane departure warning with lane keeping assist, rear parking assist, rear cross-traffic alert, and finally automatic high beam assistance.
The Enclave’s sole powertrain offering remains a 310 horsepower 3.6-litre V6 mated to an advanced nine-speed automatic transmission and optional all-wheel drive (the base Essence AWD starts $3,000 higher, at $51,398), while top-line Avenir trim features an adaptive suspension.
Off to a very good start, the totally redesigned 2022 Acura MDX has taken home a best-possible Top Safety Pick + rating from the U.S. Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS).
The MDX garnered a Top Safety Pick + ranking by achieving “GOOD” ratings in all its crashworthiness tests, including the demanding passenger-side small overlap test. The MDX also earned a “SUPERIOR” rating for its Collision Mitigation Braking System (CMBS), plus “GOOD” for its standard JewelEye LED headlamps.
A full assortment of standard AcuraWatch advanced driver assistive and automated safety technologies allowed the MDX to earn such high marks, including the just-noted CMBS, plus Adaptive Cruise Control with Low-Speed Follow and Road Departure Mitigation.
Acura is already offering up to $1,000 in additional incentives on the new 2022 MDX, while CarCostCanada members purchasing new 2020 models (no 2021 model was offered) are experiencing average savings of more than $6,000. The Japanese luxury brand is also offering factory leasing and financing rates from zero percent on 2020 models.
Find out how a CarCostCanada membership can save you thousands when purchasing your next new vehicle, by informing you about all the latest manufacturer offers, and by providing you with dealer invoice pricing that can keep thousands in your wallet when it comes time to negotiate your deal. Also, make sure to download their free app, so you can always have the most critical car buying info close at hand in order to save as much money as possible.
Story credits: Trevor Hofmann
Photo credits: Acura
Would you rather ride around in a Carnival or a Sedona? While a Carnival sounds like a lot more fun, it may depend on where you’re driving, as many Arizona residents might want their chosen city to…
Would you rather ride around in a Carnival or a Sedona? While a Carnival sounds like a lot more fun, it may depend on where you’re driving, as many Arizona residents might want their chosen city to be displayed on their vehicle.
This said, Kia Sedona owners may not have a choice if they choose to trade up to the brand’s fourth-generation minivan when it arrives later this year as a 2022 model, or so claims a VIN decoder published by the Sedona Forum, which sourced its information from the NHTSA.
The mid-size three-row van, set to debut with an entirely new look that says goodbye to the current model’s comparatively conservative front fascia and more fluid lines all-round, and hello to a much more angled, distinctive and upscale design, may be adopting the Carnival nameplate in order to maintain global continuity, which helps a brand make the most of advertising market bleed and more.
Someone watching an NBA basketball game in Asia, for instance (a regular occurrence in some countries), might not realize that the Kia Sedona shown on the HD scoreboard is in fact their market’s Carnival, or alternatively that the Carnival seen by North American F1 fans on electronic billboards around the upcoming Saudi Arabian Grand Prix at the new Jeddah Street Circuit is actually their Sedona (not that any of these marketing campaigns actually exist). Kia did something similar years ago by aligning the name of their Canadian-market Magentis mid-size sedan (the basis for the Sedona, incidentally) with the U.S.-specific Optima, and more recently rebadged this car the K5 in both markets in order to align with the newly redesigned model’s global marketing push.
The van debuted last June in Kia’s home market of South Korea, showing off its sharp new styling and a completely redesigned, more luxurious interior to go along with it. The ultra-plush Hi Limousine variant, boasting business class-seating and premium level refinement, won’t likely enter our market, but the current Sedona raised the bar significantly in the North American minivan segment when it arrived for the 2015 model year, and has steadily been improved since, so we can expect to be impressed with its top-line trims when they arrive.
Initial photos show available twin-screen digital displays that join a configurable gauge cluster and multi-information display up with an extremely large centre-mounted infotainment touchscreen, similarly in concept to Mercedes-Benz with its MBUX system, while the model incorporates a knurled metal-edged rotating gear selector on the lower console, similar to Hyundai and Genesis (and Kia K5) models, putting an end to the traditional gear lever that’s still being used in today’s Sedona.
This will continue to control an eight-speed automatic transmission, connecting through to a 3.5-litre V6 engine making 294 horsepower and 261 pound-feet of torque, which is a significant bump up from the current model’s 276 hp and 248 lb-ft. Other markets will also have the option of a 2.5-litre turbocharged four-cylinder gasoline-powered model, and a 2.2-litre turbo-diesel, the latter good for 202 horsepower and 325 lb-ft of torque, but no one should expect that mill here.
Kia doesn’t offer an all-wheel drive Sedona variant at this time, and it looks as if this will be the case for the Carnival as well, based on information from the aforementioned NHTSA documents and an update by South Korean auto portal Autocast, which also reports that no gasoline-electric hybrid version will be offered either. This will be seen as a negative by environmentally-focused buyers, especially considering Toyota’s new Sienna is only offered with a hybrid power unit that includes standard all-wheel drive. Additionally, Chrysler has long offered a plug-in hybrid Pacifica with real EV driving capability, not to mention an AWD powertrain in its conventionally-powered model.
We can expect details about the Canadian-spec 2022 Carnival to surface sometime this spring, at which point we’ll know more about how this intriguing new entry will stack up against the recently redesigned Toyota Sienna and Honda Odyssey, plus the always strong-selling Stellantis group—FCA (Fiat Chrysler Automobiles) and Peugeot—vans, now including a Chrysler rebranded, entry-level version of the pricier Pacifica minivan dubbed Grand Caravan in order to gain some name recognition advantage from one of Canada’s best-selling nameplates (this model is called Voyageur in the U.S., which ironically pays no heed to the market-bleed concern noted earlier).