If you were looking for some edgy styling updates to go along with the new 2022 IS 500 F Sport Performance model’s 472-horsepower V8 engine upgrade, this probably isn’t going to be your next ride. Unless Lexus decides to push out an even more aggressive IS F trim before an all-new model arrives in a couple of years, this IS 500 F Sport is the brand’s new four-door muscle car now that the mid-size GS F (and the entire GS line) has departed.
As it is, Lexus refreshed the entire IS line for 2021, and therefore sees no need to bulk up the elegant compact luxury model’s bodywork with extra scoops, whale-tail wings, or any other types of go-fast add-ons to attract more buyers, although they did slightly widen the fenders. Thus, this only marginally muscled up saloon might be the best new sleeper on the strip.
The sharply angled four-door wears a broadened version of Lexus’ now fully acceptable spindle grille, fully blackened out of course, its corners complete with a revised set of multi-lens LED headlamps that don’t dazzle with as much bright metalwork within either. The lower front fascia is deep and divided too, with nice black vertical brake vents to each side (or at least they look like brake vents), while the hood overtop gets a fabulous dome at centre to make way for the 5.0-litre V8 stuffed below.
All IS trims received the same body sculpting down the sides, extended fenders aside, with even the two-tone mirror housings identical to those found on lesser models. Likewise, for the rear end’s UX-inspired LED taillights, which feature a narrow reflector strip visually tying them together. A subtle spoiler hovers over top, and again it’s no different than what you’d find on a regular IS, while the diffuser-infused lower bumper cap is only a departure because of the extra two vertically stacked exhaust tips poking through.
As it is, the IS 300 and IS 350 are already the sportiest Lexus sedans available, so they were mostly de-chromed before this IS 500 arrived. In fact, some 2021 trims are even darker due to grey-painted alloys, the V8-powered model’s 10-spoke, 19-inch Enkei lightweight wheels finished in glittering metal, just like the chromed “L” badges at each end and aforementioned exhaust pipes. The IS 500’s most obvious differentiators are darkened side window trim bits instead of Lexus’ usual polished nickel.
All of the interior changes are from the usual F Sport order sheet too, including black “F SPORT” insignias on the door sill plates and steering wheel, the latter which is heatable and leather-clad, of course, while the metal gas pedal, brake pedal and dead pedal have been upgraded to F Sport specifications too. The startup animation in the mostly-digital gauge cluster’s multi-information display is special to the IS 500, mind you, and serves as a quick reminder of the menacing power available at from a little right foot application.
Along with its 472 horsepower, Lexus’ big V8 puts 395 lb-ft of torque down to the rear wheels, which is almost as much output as found in the gorgeous LC 500 sports coupe and convertible, this IS version actually increasing horsepower by a single digit while dropping a mere three lb-ft of twist. Either way it represents a serious improvement over the next-best IS 350 that only sends 311 horsepower and 280-lb-ft of torque to the ground below. Even the mighty 2014 IS F, as impressive as that super sedan was for its time, wouldn’t be able to compete at 416 horsepower and 371 lb-ft of torque. Of note, the only major change other than widening the front fenders was the need to move the radiator forward to accommodate the larger engine.
If you’re shopping in this category, a handful of challengers are worth mentioning, including the Alfa Romeo Giulia Quadrifoglio that puts out a mind-blowing 505 horsepower and 443 lb-ft of torque; the BMW M3 that pretty well created this super-fast sedan segment and still offers up competitive performance thanks to a 473-horsepower turbo-six in base form or 503-hp Competition trim; the Mercedes-AMG tuned C-Class that comes in 385-hp AMG C 43 form, 469-hp AMG C 63 guise, and lastly with 503-hp AMG C 63 S tuning.
Unfortunately, Audi doesn’t offer an RS version of its directly competitive compact luxury sedan, but four-ringed buyers can option up from the 349-hp S4 to similarly sized RS 5 Sportback that makes 444 hp (the A5 Sportback is Audi’s version of BMW’s 4 Series Grand Coupe (none are available for 2021), albeit the Bavarians don’t provide an M version of what is arguably their prettiest four-door). Additionally, Cadillac is set to enter this category with its new 2022 CT4-V Blackwing, which gets a standard manual gearbox, rear-wheel drive, and 472-horsepower worth of twin-turbo V6.
A few honourable mentions include the Volvo S60 Polestar Engineered model that puts out 415 hp from a turbocharged, supercharged and plug-in-hybridized four-cylinder (and can also be had in V60 wagon form); and the Infiniti Q50 Red Sport 400 that puts out 400 hp, as its name implies. This story would be incomplete without noting the top-tier Tesla Model 3, which is good for 480 electrified horsepower, plus 471 lb-ft of instantaneous torque.
As noted earlier, the IS 500 pushes all of power down to the rear wheels through the same swift-shifting eight-speed Sport Direct automatic transmission as used in the model’s V6-powered rear-drive IS models. It also features Custom, Sport S and Sport S+ engine and transmission mode settings, with the latter adjusting EPS steering assist and shock damping force as well. The end result of a good driver utilizing the most sport-oriented settings is 4.6 seconds from zero to 100 km/h, no doubt accompanied by “ferocious” sounds from the four tailpipes that “perfectly amplify the new V8 engine,” or so said Lexus in a press release.
Bridling all that power is Lexus’ standard Dynamic Handling Package, which also underpins the US-specification IS 350 RWD F Sport (AWD is standard north of the 49th). The upgrade boasts an Adaptive Variable suspension setup featuring Yamaha rear performance shocks plus a Torsen limited-slip differential, while the IS 500’s standard braking system is improved with two-piece 14-inch aluminum rotors up front and 12.7-inch discs in the rear, while special cooling ducts help to enhance performance at the limit. Despite the upgraded equipment and larger engine, the new IS 500 only adds five kilos to the IS 350 AWD F Sport’s curb weight, mostly because of its rear-drive layout, the V8-powered model hitting the scale at 1,765 kilograms.
If someone were to ask you to name a serious sport sedan a few will probably come to mind in an instant. At the lower end of the four-door performance spectrum the VW GLI and Subaru WRX might immediately come to mind, but within premium circles BMW has been the go-to, go-fast brand for longer than any competitor this side of Maserati, and ‘60s era Quattroportes were astronomically priced. It was BMW that brought super-sedan performance to the masses, with the M5 initiating the entire category.
Sadly I’ve never owned an M5, although I came mighty close to purchasing a mid-‘90s E34 back in ’96. It was beautiful, brilliantly quick, and garnered near-exotic levels of respect amongst those who knew. These days the M5 is legend, with no one questioning why you’d want sports car performance in mid-size five-seater. Now that I’m thinking of it, the world we live in now seems to revere high-end sport sedans as if they were supercars, with most buyers in this class gravitating to taller super-SUVs like BMW’s own X5 M and X6 M.
As fabulous as BMW’s sportiest crossovers may be, I’ll take an M5 any day of the week. As it is, I’ve owned everything from a mid-‘70s Bavaria to a late-‘80s E34 525i and plenty of roundel-badged models in between, with none as entertaining as any M5, but fortunately I’ve been able to spend weeks at a time in BMW’s best sport sedan since the fabulous V8-powered E39 arrived on the scene, and must admit the Bavarians certainly know how to make a big four-door sedan move down the road quickly.
Looking back, the M5 first mentioned made a mere 340 horsepower, which seemed unfathomable when compared to the first M5’s 256 hp, but if lined up beside the comparatively otherworldly 600-plus horsepower M5 available now, it might as well have been a Camry (said with respect to Toyota’s impressive new Camry TRD). The 2020 M5 hits 100 km/h from standstill in a blisteringly quick 3.4 seconds, although if that’s not quite fast enough a Competition model will knock another 0.1 second off the clock for a 3.3-second sprint to the same speed. Either time makes it fastest amongst every direct competitor.
It takes more than mere straight-line speed to make a full-fledged sport sedan, of course, but fortunately the M5 earned its legendary status by managing corners with adroit agility, and the new model is no exception to the accepted rule. In fact, it feels easier than the previous F10-bodied M5 to fling through corners, albeit not quite as light and tossable as the now classic E39 referred to earlier. The now standard carbon fibre roof panel slices about 45 kilos (100 lbs) from the very top of the car, helping to lower its centre of gravity, while the car’s rear-biased all-wheel drive does more than just help out on slippery road conditions, making even drying pavement more controllable.
Likewise, the new F90 M5’s eight-speed gearbox shifts a helluvalot faster than you might expect from a conventional automatic, but if you want it to perform its duties even quicker, bright red “M1” and “M2” buttons on the steering wheel spokes can instantly trigger pre-set sport modes as well as personalized settings for your specific driving style. For instance, I was able to combine a more compliant suspension setup mixed with quicker shifts and higher engine revs for the M1 position, ideal for zipping down bumpy backroads that would cause a stiffer setup to be airborne more often than optimal, while I set the M2 switch for a more firmly sprung suspension with even faster D3 shifting speed, not to mention the DSC system turned off, perfect for smooth stretches of asphalt. The two buttons allowed me to immediately switch between settings as smoother or rougher sections of pavement approached, necessary for making time on the patchwork quilt of backcountry roads in my area.
During my various performance tests, I never attempted to prove the M5’s 305 km/h (190 mph) top speed, as you may have guessed, this more of a bragging right than anything potentially possible on Canadian roads or even any publicly available tracks I know of, but suffice to say it’s more than capable of shredding your license if you try anything so silly. I’m more about straightening ribbons of circuitous two-laners anyway, something the M5 executed with greater ease than anything so luxuriously appointed, accommodatingly sized, and accordingly hefty should be capable of. Fortunately, along with the speed this Bimmer delivers a wonderfully comfortable ride and superb refinement, especially when it came to blocking out wind and road noise.
Don’t worry, plenty of delectable sound emanated from ahead of the firewall (as well as the audio system’s speakers, artificially), the turbo-V8 never letting my ears mistake it for one of the car’s less potent sixes, yet when not pushing it for all it was worth the serene cabin allowed for full enjoyment of the just-noted 16-speaker, 1,400-watt, 10-amplified-channel Bowers and Wilkins surround sound audio system, even more impressive when turned down for calmer, ambient pieces as when cranked up.
Speaking of a fully engaged experience, the new M5 features a fully digital gauge cluster, albeit wrapped up in an analogue design. To achieve this, BMW encircles the tachometer and speedometer displays with beautiful aluminum rings, and while this doesn’t allow navigation map, per se, to completely cover the screen, does provide a unique look with an amply large multi-info display at centre. The MID is filled with utile functions, all controllable via steering wheel switchgear, while the cluster’s graphics and resolution quality is superb.
Looking to the right, the centre-mounted infotainment touchscreen is excellent, although be forewarned it gets better for the new 2021 model, increasing in size by more than two inches for a new diameter of 12.3 inches. And yes, it’s a touchscreen, thus providing the usual smartphone- and tablet-like finger gesture controls. Still, BMW lets those who’d rather control its iDrive system with easier-to-reach lower console-mounted switchgear do so, a spin of a rotating dial or the press of nearby quick-access buttons often preferable to tapping, swiping or pinching.
Also important, the BMW delivers one of the best quality cabins in the M5’s super-sedan class too, thanks to high-end materials and impressive attention to detail. The aforementioned Bowers and Wilkins audio system featured gorgeous aluminum speaker grilles, these combined with no shortage of beautiful metalwork elsewhere in the interior. Some accents were finished in brushed aluminum while others glistened like chrome, although my favourite upgrades were the high-gloss carbon-fibre surface treatments and stunning stitched leatherwork.
Much of that leather can be found on the M5’s sensational front seats, which were two-tone light grey and charcoal in my tester, with perforated inserts and solid tops on the lower bolsters. Brightly coloured M5 appliques enhance each headrest, a fitting garnish for these comfortable, supportive and fully adjustable buckets, the lower cushions even extendable. Gone are the days that BMW limited rear seating to just two, the accommodating 2020 M5 sporting a wide bench seat with a folding centre armrest housing pop-out cupholders, while detailing in back is as good as that up front. The rear seats can be folded in the optimal 40/20/40 configuration too, allowing long cargo such as skis to fit down the middle while two rear passengers enjoy the more comfortable, heated window seats.
The current M5 has been quite popular over its three-year tenure, much thanks to its eye-catching styling. This said the 2021 will get a refresh that may turn off some lovers of this version, due to a larger more rectangular grille, updated headlamps and taillights, and a few other design tweaks. Those not impressed with the updates should snap a 2020 up while they can, although take note there’s currently no penalty for choosing the 2021. In fact, our 2020 BMW M5 Canada Prices page shows up to $1,500 in additional incentives for both model years. Additionally, make sure to check out how the CarCostCanada system works, and while you’re at it visit the Apple Store or Google Play Store to download our free app, where you can learn about any available financing and leasing deals, manufacturer rebates, and dealer invoice pricing for any car you’re interested in, even while perusing your local dealer’s lot.
You can get into the 2020 M5 for $115,300 (plus freight and fees) and the more powerful 617 horsepower Competition version for $123,000, whereas the 2021 M5 will only be available in Competition trim, albeit with a slightly less expensive $121,000 listed price. Performance remains the same, which means the M5 blasts into 2021 as one of the quickest four-door sedans available anywhere. That it’s so well built, nicely equipped and easy to live with is just a bonus.
Thank you Volkswagen. You’ve made my job so much easier today. While researching the 2019 Passat for this review, I learned that it’s only available in a single, solitary, one-size-fits-all trim line for this stopgap year, the Wolfsburg Edition getting very close to last year’s top-tier Passat Highline (which replaced the Execline from 2016). This allows me to spend more time on other details such as styling, cabin quality, comfort, driving dynamics, etcetera.
The Giorgetto Giugiaro-designed Passat (originally named Dasher in our market) has been with us since 1973, initially delivering an upscale Audi-inspired look in five-door hatchback and wagon body styles, the former replaced by a regular sport/luxury sedan dubbed for its second B2 generation. The B3 redesign that arrived in 1988 finally applied the Euro nameplate to North American models, and while I really liked this third-gen Passat, particularly in its most potent VR6 trim, as well as the B4 that followed, my heart went out to the 270 hp 4.0-litre W8-powered AWD B5 version most earnestly. Earlier B5s were also the first Passats I tested as an automotive journalist newbie in the early 2000s, back when this German brand impressed me like no other.
That was a time when Volkswagen was comparable to Audi for its performance and overall refinement, the amazing Bentley-based Phaeton luxury sedan arriving the following year with a choice of 335-horsepower V8 or 420-horsepower W12 behind its unassuming grille, not to mention $96,500 and $126,790 respective prices, while not long after that the brand’s 309-hp Touareg V10 TDI was on the scene, putting out a shocking 553 lb-ft of torque. Volkswagen appeared to be vying for luxury brand status during those years, a strategy that kind of made sense in Europe where parent automaker VW AG also owned lesser brands Skoda and Seat to pull in entry-level buyers, but not here where the iconic Beetle manufacturer was known more for economy cars.
By comparison, today’s VW-branded cars and crossover SUVs still deliver some premium features not often available with every competitor, like cloth-covered roof pillars (albeit only the A pillars these days), full high-definition TFT primary gauge clusters, and the convenience of a rear seat centre pass-through for stowing long cargo (or better yet, 40/20/40 split-folding rear seats), soft pliable composite surfaces aren’t as plentiful, switches, knobs and buttons can now be less dense and therefore cheaper feeling, and rear suspension systems aren’t necessarily independent anymore (unlike most rivals that are now IRS-equipped, the latest Jetta has reverted to using a rear torsion beam setup).
I think the Passat looks good though, particularly in my tester’s attractive Tourmaline Blue Metallic. It’s one of six exterior paints for 2019, which include white, black, grey and silver, plus a beautiful Fortana Red Metallic, all no-cost options, while sporty R-Line outer trim comes standard this year too. Additional standard features include automatic on/off LED headlights with LED daytime running lamps, LED tail lights, and fabulous looking silver-painted twinned five-spoke 19-inch Salvador alloy wheels encircling 235/40 all-seasons, and that’s just on the outside.
To my eyes the cabin looks even better due to VW’s communications team choosing gorgeous Cornsilk Beige for my test car’s interior (it can be had in black or grey as well, depending on the exterior colour chosen), the creamy colour offset by a contrasting black dash top, door uppers and carpets. VW has been producing this rich light beige and black interior motif for decades, including the horizontal ribbing on the leather seat upholstery. It looks sensational, complemented by sophisticated looking textured metal, brushed aluminum, chrome and piano black lacquer elsewhere.
Standard features include proximity keyless entry with pushbutton start/stop, a leather-wrapped multifunction steering wheel rim with shift paddles, a colour multi-information display/trip computer, a leather-wrapped shift knob and handbrake lever, brushed stainless steel foot pedals, rain-sensing windshield wipers, heatable washer nozzles, two-zone automatic climate control, an auto-dimming centre mirror, a power sunroof, three-way heated front sport seats, an eight-way powered driver seat with two-way power lumbar, driver’s side memory, heatable rear seats, front and back LED reading lamps, an Easy Open trunk, 60/40-split rear seatbacks with a centre armrest and centre pass-through, plus more for $32,995.
That seems like a reasonably good deal already, but it gets better due to a $2,000 no-haggle discount that comes as a parting gift of sorts. Find out about this discount and any other rebates right here at CarCostCanada, and while you’re learning more you can also access dealer invoice pricing, which will make it as easy as possible to meet your budget requirements.
I should also go into some detail about the Passat’s infotainment system, which measures 6.33 inches and even includes proximity sensing, which means a row of digitized buttons rise up from the bottom of the touchscreen when your fingers get near. While the display is relatively small compared to most competitors’ top-line systems, it process info quickly, includes tablet-style tap, swipe and pinch gesture functions, which are especially useful when using the route guidance-system’s map, and even includes MirrorLink smartphone integration, along with the usual Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. Bluetooth is also standard, of course, with audio streaming for listening to music or podcasts from your personal device, while additional standard infotainment features include voice activation, an SD card slot, and one of the worst backup camera systems I’ve used in a long time. Why? Much of the display’s top section was cut off in a semicircular due to a wide-angle lens that was probably trying to provide more visibility, but it actually made things a lot worse, plus VW didn’t include active guidelines either.
The six-speaker Fender premium audio system is good enough for this class, however, with nice deep bass from its subwoofer, while satellite radio stations came in clearly, the inclusion of a CD player will be appreciated by many, and the single USB audio/charging port made me grateful VW wasn’t still trying to promote Apple, although I’m hoping the next-generation has a few more. Speaking of new, the I hopped into the latest 2020 GTI after giving the Passat keys back and am now hopeful that its considerably larger touchscreen, along with its superb resolution and excellent depth of contrast and colour make it into the 2020 Passat, or something similar.
Moving downward on the centre stack, past the HVAC interface that incidentally suffered from loose rotating dials, there’s a lidded compartment for stowing and charging a smartphone. It has a rubberized base, like usual, but oddly it wasn’t big enough for my average-sized phone, which kind of made me glad VW hadn’t installed a wireless charging pad. It did include the just noted USB-A port and as well as an auxiliary connection next to an old-school 12-volt plug, so you should be able to charge multiple devices at any given time (with the help of an aftermarket USB adapter).
Close by, to each side of the shift lever, is a row of “buttons”, or at least they all look like buttons. One deactivated the front and rear parking sonar, while another turned on the semi-autonomous self-parking system, but the other four were merely dummy buttons that made the car look as if it was missing some key features. I noticed it was devoid of a heatable steering wheel, something I appreciate on cold winter mornings, a problem made worse when the flat-bottom leather-wrapped sport steering wheel in question is so incredibly good. The front seats weren’t ventilated either, a function I’m getting more and more used to finding in top-line competitors’ trims.
The Passat’s standard menu of safety enhancements impresses, however, with items like automatic emergency braking, blind spot monitoring with rear cross-traffic warning, lane keeping assist, adaptive cruise control, driver assistance, park distance control and park assist adding enough high technology to the driving experience as to almost forget about those missing buttons. Better yet, the way these systems chose not to intervene until absolutely necessary had me liking the Passat even more. No one likes over-sensitive technology, especially with respect to safety equipment capable of taking over the wheel, and fortunately the Passat’s were hardly noticeable throughout my test week. It was only when I tried to exit the highway without using my turn signal that the side-assist system fixated on the white line, pulling me back into my lane. I quickly turned my blinker on and was able to move over, and no doubt could have forced it over if I’d wanted to, but VW gets high marks for making advanced driver assistance systems that are only there when absolutely necessary.
Previously in this review I mentioned that Volkswagen’s cabin materials aren’t as high in quality now as they used to be, so I should probably go into some more detail about how this affects the Passat. For the most part it’s equal to most competitors, but this makes the car seem less than ok being that it was much better than average years ago. Right up until this US-made seventh-generation model arrived nine years ago, the Passat provided a much greater percentage of premium-level soft padded surfaces than any rival, but now it’s noticeably below average. It’s as if VW AG, the parent company, didn’t want its namesake brand stealing any sales from Audi, so therefore purposely made the Passat’s interior worse than it needed to be, just to be sure. To be clear, some parts are extremely good, like the soft composites used for the dash top and door uppers, but the lower dash panels and glove box lid, plus the centre stack sides and lower door panels are made from lower grade hard plastics, and upstaged by most competitors. This leaves some areas better than average and others not quite measuring up, and depending on whether you see your glass half full or half empty, you’ll either be thrilled with all that’s good or left feeling flat about the car’s weaknesses.
I felt much the same about the Passat’s sole 2.0-litre four-cylinder engine. Its 174 horsepower and 184 lb-ft of torque comes close to matching most rivals’ base powerplants, but it’s hardly a base model despite the aforementioned discount. Last year’s 3.6-litre V6 upgrade provided an option for those wanting more, but no such luck for this year’s performance fans. Fortunately its modest torque figure feels stronger than it looks, probably due to arriving at its maximum at only 1,500 rpm, so takeoff is fairly energetic off the line and there’s ample passing power for most manoeuvres, but a model that once offered 4Motion all-wheel drive now solely gets driven by those up front, and the transmission that sends the engines output to the front wheels only has six forward speeds, which might have been a big deal fifteen years ago, but doesn’t sound all that advanced when put up against today’s eight- and nine-speed automatics.
The 2020 Passat will remedy the latter problem with an eight-speed of its own, but no AWD or manual transmission for that matter, two features enthusiasts would love to see, but the current model’s paddle shifters got everything out of the engine it had to give, just like the future one will make the most of even more available torque, resulting in a really enjoyable car to drive.
I appreciated the extra control, because this mid-size family hauler can dance with more grace than most four-door sedans in this class, even at high speeds. Of course its suspension is fully independent, with struts up front and a multi-link setup in back, plus a stabilizer bar at each end, and it’s all very well sorted for a bit more grip at the limit and better balance than the segment average. It will understeer when pushed too far, which is a good thing in this category, and its ride should keep all aboard happy, despite being slightly firmer than average.
Fuel-efficiency is quite good at 9.3 L/100km city, 6.5 highway and 8.1 combined, no doubt why Volkswagen chose the four-cylinder for this model’s sole power unit in place of the V6. Such practicality in mind, you won’t need to worry about anything that might go wrong with the Passat for a year longer than most rivals thanks to an almost comprehensive four-year or 80,000 km warranty, although it’s powertrain warranty is shorter than average by a year or 20,000 km.
Now that we’re being pragmatic, the Passat’s front seats and surrounding area is amply roomy for big folks, while the driver’s seat is comfortable, but like the suspension it’s a bit firmer than most in this class. It features two-way powered lumbar support that just so happened to ideally match up to the small of my back, while its lower cushion stretched forward enough to support nicely below the knees.
The rear seating compartment is roomier still, and plenty comfortable, while a 450-litre (15.9 cubic-foot) trunk should be more than adequate for most owners’ needs, especially when considering its 60/40 split-folding rear seatbacks have the advantage of a centre pass-through for loading in longer items like skis.
These are some of the 2019 Passat’s worthy attributes that I hope are carried forward into the new model, but in the same breath I’m also wishing Volkswagen steps up with more competitive interior quality so that it at least matches the refinement of this segment’s sales leaders. After all, it’s the slowest selling mid-size four-door sedan in Canada by a long shot, so arriving in today’s highly competitive marketplace with a lukewarm update wouldn’t be the best of ideas. Let’s hope they get it right. Until then, the 2019 Passat does some things very well and others not so much, but it’s currently priced right and the deal could be made even sweeter by finding out its dealer invoice price here on CarCostCanada before talking to your local Volkswagen retailer.
Model year 2019 marks three decades of Lexus ES availability, and while the car’s primary purpose hasn’t changed one iota, today’s seventh generation wouldn’t be recognizable by those who created the original.
The comparatively humble ES 250 was brought to market in 1989, and made no bones about its even more proletariat Toyota Camry roots. It was actually rushed to market so Lexus wouldn’t be a one-model brand, the full-size LS 400 making up the other half of the lineup. The ES, which was actually based on the Japanese market Camry Prominent/ Vista, was a good looking, well built, and fairly potent V6-powered mid-size luxury sedan, and thanks to that did reasonably well considering the all-new brand behind it.
Lexus has produced six ES generations since that first example, releasing this latest version last year for 2019, and while each new update improved upon its predecessor, this new model is by far the most dramatic to look at, most refined inside, and best to drive.
Lexus has done such a great job of pulling the ES upmarket, that it’s going to be a lot harder to justify having two mid-size sedans in its lineup. The two cars look pretty similar and are quite close in size, with the new ES’ wheelbase a mere 20 millimetres (0.8 inches) longer at 2,870 mm (113.0 in), and 4,960 mm (195.3 in) of nose-to-tail length more of a stretch due to another 110 mm (4.3 in). The ES is also 25 mm (1.0 in) wider than the GS, spanning 1,865 mm (73.4 in) from mirror to mirror, but at 1,445 mm (56.9 in) tall it’s 10 mm (0.4 in) lower in height, the ES’ long, wide and low design giving it stylish proportions that are arguably more attractive than the sportier, pricier GS.
To be fair, the GS not only provides stronger performance, especially through curves but also off the line, and particularly in fully tuned GS F trim that’s good for 467 horsepower, but it feels more substantive overall due to 66 kg (145 lbs) of extra curb weight in base trim and 185 kg (408 lbs) of added heft as a hybrid, plus a rear wheel-drive architecture shared with the smaller IS series sedan and coupe, a more rigid, sport-tuned suspension design, and other enhancements justifying its significantly pricier window sticker.
On that note the 2019 Lexus GS ranges between $63,800 and just over $100,000, compared to only $45,000 to $61,500 for the ES (check out pricing for all new and past models right here at CarCostCanada, including trims, packages and separate options, plus find out about rebate information as well as dealer invoice pricing that could save you thousands).
Behind the big new ES grille is a 302 horsepower version of Lexus/Toyota’s well-proven 3.5-litre V6, those numbers down a mere 9 horsepower and 13 lb-ft of torque from the base GS engine, yet 34 hp and 19 lb-ft of torque more capable than the outgoing ES 350, while Lexus now joins it up to an eight-speed automatic transmission instead of the six-speed gearbox found in the 2018 ES 350 and this year’s pricier GS.
The ES 300h hybrid, which starts at $47,000, now gets an improved 176 horsepower 2.5-litre four-cylinder engine with 163 lb-ft of torque, plus a 67 horsepower (50 kW) electric motor and 29.1-kWh nickel-metal hydride (NiMH) battery, resulting in 215 net horsepower and an undisclosed amount of torque (the outgoing ES 300h’ net torque rating was 206 lb-ft). This fourth-generation Hybrid Synergy Drive system once again features a wonderfully smooth electronically controlled continuously variable transmission that works well in its luxury role, while minimizing fuel consumption.
Fuel efficiency is the ES 300h’ strongpoint thanks to an amazing 5.5 L/100km city, 5.2 highway and 5.3 combined rating, which despite the aforementioned performance improvement makes last year’s 5.8, 6.1 and 5.9 respective ES 300h rating look merely so-so by comparison.
The 2019 ES 300h also does better than Lincoln’s MKZ Hybrid, the domestic luxury sedan only capable of 5.7 L/100km in the city, 6.2 on the highway and 5.9 combined, while some additional comparisons worth noting include the regular ES 350 that manages a respectable 10.6 in the city, 7.2 on the highway and 9.1 combined, the same car with its F Sport styling enhancements that’s capable of 10.9, 7.5 and 9.4, and the regular GS 350 AWD with its 12.3, 9.1 and 10.9 rating. Last year’s GS 450h hybrid managed a fairly decent 8.0 in the city, 6.9 on the highway and 7.5 combined, incidentally, but it’s no longer offered so this point is moot unless you can still source a new one or don’t mind living with a pre-owned version.
Finding a used GS might be a tad difficult being that they’re rare beasts. In fact, Lexus has only managed to deliver 82 examples in Canada up to August 31st of this year, compared to 1,445 ES units. This latter tally is actually the mid-size luxury sedan category’s second-best result, behind Mercedes’ E/CLS-Class, plus it’s also the segment’s best growth at 55.54 percent over the same initial eight months of 2018. Only two challengers saw any positive growth at all, including the same E/CLS-Class (that also includes a coupe and convertible) that saw its sales increase by 1.24 percent, plus the Audi A6 and A7 with 18.87 and 24.28 percent growth respectively, but these two models were only able to find 441 and 430 new buyers each so far this year.
Just in case you were questioning, the GS (with sales down 43.84 percent) didn’t find itself in last place thanks to Jaguar’s XF having nosedived some 52.89 percent with just 57 deliveries, while Acura’s RLX did even worse with just 40 sales after a drop of 24.53 percent, and finally Infiniti’s Q70 only sliding down by 2.56 percent but nevertheless managing just 38 units down the road. Purely from a percentage perspective, the mid-size sedan segment’s biggest loser is Lincoln’s Continental that lost 56.88 percent over the same eight months, whereas the car that came closest to entering positive territory but narrowly missing out was the G80 from Hyundai’s new Genesis brand with a slip of just 0.44 percent (sales information sourced from GoodCarBadCar.net).
Such sales carnage in mind, it would be easy to forgive Lexus for eventually dropping the GS in favour of the ES, and while I’d personally be a bit glum after learning the brilliantly fun GS F was gone, I’d certainly support a CEO that chose to make good, sound business decisions over one simply wanting another super-fast sport sedan in the lineup. I know there’s a reasonably good case for having image cars in a brand’s fleet, but Lexus is already losing money with its sensational LC coupe, and that bit of low-slung eye-candy does a lot more to bolster Lexus’ brand image than a four-door sedan very few will ever see. So let’s pay attention to what Lexus does with these two models as we approach the upcoming decade.
One thing’s for certain, the ES will continue to fulfill its unique calling in the luxury marketplace for years to come, and on top of that will soon have fewer challengers. The previously noted Continental is slated for cancellation, as is Lincoln’s more directly competitive MKZ that’s also offered as a hybrid electric. Cadillac will soon drop its front-wheel drive XTS and CTS luxury four-door models, whereas deliveries of its newer CT6 sedan are so slow they hardly rate. The only rivals not yet mentioned include BMW’s 5 Series, Volvo’s newish S90, and Tesla’s aging Model S, while some in the ES’ market might also consider Buick’s LaCrosse (also to be discontinued soon), Chrysler’s 300 (likely to be phased out), and possibly the impressive Kia Stinger, plus big mainstream luxury sedans like Toyota’s own Avalon that shares underpinnings with the ES, and finally Nissan’s Maxima, which also gets close to premium levels of performance and quality without a pricier premium nameplate.
Just the same, the ES has sold in bigger numbers than most of these potential rivals despite its Lexus badge and often-pricier window sticker, and this brand new redesigned model should keep momentum up for many years to come. As mentioned before, the ES 350 and ES 300h hybrid are totally redesigned for 2019, and no matter whether it’s trimmed in base ES 350 form, enhanced with cooler ES 350 F Sport styling, or clothed in classy as-tested ES 300h togs, Lexus’ front-wheel drive four-door now provides a completely new level of visual drama to its exterior design.
Lexus’ trademark spindle grille is bigger and much more expressive, while its origami-inspired LED headlamp clusters are more complex with sharper edges. Its side profile is longer and sleeker too, with a more pronounced front overhang and a swoopier sweep to its C pillars that now taper downward over a shorter, taller rear deck lid. Its hind end styling is more aggressive too, thanks to a much larger crescent-shaped spoiler that hovers above big triangular wrap-around LED tail lamps.
The overall design plays with one’s mind, initially flowing smoothly from the front grille rearward, overtop the hood and down each sculpted side, before culminating into a clamour of dissonant creases, folds and cutlines at back. It all comes together well nevertheless, and certainly won’t cause anyone to utter the types of criticisms about yawn inducing styling that previous ES models endured.
I could say the same about the new ES cabin, which instead of showing sharp edges now combines plenty of horizontal planes and softer angles with higher-grade materials than the outgoing model, not to mention a few design details pulled from the LFA supercar, such as the black knurled metal pods protruding from each side of the instrument hood, the left one for shutting off traction control, and the knob on the right for choosing Normal, Eco or Sport modes.
In between these unusual pods is a standard digital instrument cluster that once again finds inspiration in the LFA supercar, plus plenty of lesser Lexus models since. This one provides real-time energy monitoring via a nice flowing graphic just to the left of the speedometer, while the big infotainment display over to the right, on top of the centre stack, measures 8.0 inches at the least, up to 12.3 inches as-tested, yet both look larger thanks to all the black glass bordering each side. The left portion hides a classic LED-backlit analogue clock, carrying on a Lexus tradition I happen to love. The high-definition display includes stylish graphics and deep, rich contrasting colours, plus it responds to inputs quickly.
When choosing the as-tested ES 300h hybrid, the infotainment system now features standard Apple CarPlay, but I recommend integrating your smartphone to Lexus’ own Enform connectivity system. Enform is arguably more comprehensive and easier to use than the Android Auto interface my Samsung S9 is forced to use, although Android isn’t included anyway, while the list of standard Enform 2.0 apps includes fuel price updates, traffic incident details, and info on weather, sports, stocks, etcetera, while it’s also bundled with the Scout GPS Link navigation system, Slacker, Yelp, and more.
The new ES 300h also includes a new Remote Touch Interface trackpad controller on the lower console, which allows you to use smartphone/tablet-like gesture controls such as tap, pinch and swipe, and it works much better than previous versions, with more accurate responses, particularly when inputting via taps. Additional standard features include 17-inch alloy wheels, Bi-LED headlights, LED tail lamps, proximity keyless entry with pushbutton start/stop, a leather-wrapped steering wheel rim, rain-sensing windshield wipers, an auto-dimming centre mirror, a rearview camera with dynamic guidelines, a 10-speaker audio system with satellite radio, a deodorizing, dust and pollen filtered two-zone auto HVAC system, comfortable 10-way power-adjustable front seats with three-way heat and three-way forced cooling, NuLuxe breathable leatherette upholstery, all the usual active and passive safety equipment including 10 airbags, plus plenty more.
Speaking of standard safety, the new ES 300h includes Lexus Safety System+ 2.0 that boasts autonomous emergency braking with pedestrian and bicycle detection, lane departure alert with steering assist and road edge detection, new Lane Tracing Assist (LTA) automated lane guidance, auto high beams, and full-speed range adaptive cruise control.
The just-mentioned 12.3-inch infotainment display is part of an available $3,800 Premium package that also includes blind spot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert, reverse tilting mirrors, front and rear parking sonar, a heated steering wheel rim (which along with the heatable front seats turns on automatically upon startup), front seat and side mirror memory, a navigation system with ultra-detailed mapping and accurate route guidance, plus Enform Destination Assist that includes 24/7 live assistance for finding destinations or points of interest.
Alternatively, you may want to opt for the even more comprehensive $10,600 Luxury package that includes everything from the Premium package while adding 18-inch alloy wheels, extremely bright Tri-LED headlamps, an always appreciated wireless smartphone charger, leather upholstery, and a powered rear window sunshade.
Finally, the $14,500 Ultra Luxury package found on my tester combines everything in the Luxury package with a special set of 18-inch noise-reduction alloys, soft glowing ambient interior lighting, a really helpful 10-inch head-up display unit, an overhead surround-view parking camera system that makes parking a breeze, a fabulous sounding 17-speaker Mark Levinson premium audio system, softer semi-aniline leather upholstery, rear door sunshades, and a touch-free gesture control powered trunk lid.
This $61,500 ES 300h was the most luxuriously equipped version of this car I’ve ever tested, while along with its resplendent interior it totally stepped up its all-round performance as well. Like with previous generations its ride quality cannot be faulted, with this newest version actually improving thanks to revisions to its fully independent front strut and rear multi-link suspension system. Newly developed Dynamic Control Shocks now feature an auxiliary valve next to the main damper valve so as to respond more quickly to smaller movements. The front suspension was reworked too, aiding both comfort and stability, while rear trailing arm and stabilizer bar mounting point adjustments helped minimize body lean during hard cornering, all of which resulted in an ES that feels a lot more agile through tight, twisting corners.
Yes, this latest ES 300h is actually a lot of fun to drive. Lexus even included a set of steering wheel paddles for swapping the continuously variable transmission’s simulated gears. It mimics the feel of real gears fairly well when set to Sport mode, while this edgier setting also increases torque at low speeds for better acceleration, and places a tachometer right in the middle of the digital gauge cluster. Owners concerned more about economical or environmental issues may prefer Eco mode, which helps to reduce fuel consumption and lower emissions, whereas EV mode allows the ES 300h to crawl silently through parking lots, slow moving traffic, and other low speed situations for short periods of time.
Another efficiency enhancer is new Auto Glide Control, which lets the ES to coast more freely upon throttle lift-off, instead of being slowed automatically via the automatic regenerative braking system.
No matter how fast or slow you’re traveling, the slippery ES is extremely quiet due to a doubling of structural adhesive, which improves NVH levels, while it also features sound-deadening front fender liners and underbody covers, plus insulation covering 93 percent of the new ES 300h’s floor pan, which is a significant increase when compared to the outgoing model’s 68 percent of floor pan coverage.
The previously noted battery, which is now positioned below the rear seat instead of the trunk, is smaller than the one used in last year’s hybrid, but impressively it’s more powerful. Its new location not only improves front/rear balance, but also allows for more cargo space. In fact, the ES 300h’ trunk is now identically sized to the conventionally powered ES 350 at 473 litres (16.7 cu ft). The redesign provides access for a centre pass-through too, which is large enough for skis or other long items, so therefore rear passengers can now enjoy the more comfortable outboard seats, which are incidentally even nicer than the previous model’s rear seats.
All interior finishings are better than the outgoing model’s appointments, by the way, with the improvements including higher quality soft synthetic surfacing, plus more of it. The lower door panels remain hard shell plastic, as do the sides of the centre console, but most everything else is soft to the touch. I like that Lexus positioned its wireless device charger below the armrest within the centre console bin, as my phone was less of a distraction.
Additionally, all switchgear has been improved over previous generations, with some notable details including those cool metal pods I mentioned earlier, which stick out each side of the instrument cluster, plus the tiny round metal buttons on the centre stack are nicely finished, these used for controlling the radio, media, and seek/track functions. The temperature control switches are particularly stylish and well made too, and, while not switchgear, the Mark Levinson-branded speaker grilles and surrounds on the upper door panels are really attractive as well. The hardwood trim feels real because it is, and comes in Striated Black, Linear Dark Mocha or Linear Espresso, while the metallic accents are nicely finished and not overdone.
I’ve spent plenty of weeks behind the wheel of various Lexus ES generations over the past 20 years or so, in both conventionally powered and electrified forms, and now that I’ve spent yet another seven days with this entirely new 2019 ES 300h I can confidently predict that ES lovers will without doubt like this version best. It incorporates all the ES qualities you’ve grown to appreciate, yet steps up every aspect of quality, refinement and performance. Truly, this is one of the best entry-level luxury sedans I’ve ever tested.
Porsche’s Panamera is a sport sedan like no other. Certainly there are a number of low-slung four-door coupes within the premium sector, but the Panamera is longer, wider and lower than most, and looks as close to the iconic 911 Carrera than any other car on the road.
The four-door coupe category is still relatively new, but it’s expanding while other segments are contracting. Mercedes-Benz created this segment along with the CLS-Class 15 years ago, five years before the Panamera became its first competitor in 2009. Audi’s A7 and Aston Martin’s Rapide quickly followed in 2010, a fair bit before BMW showed up in 2012 with its 6 Series Gran Coupe. Perfectly timed with the latter Bavarian model’s cancellation and the new 2020 8 Series Gran Coupe’s arrival, Mercedes will soon deliver a four-door coupe triple threat thanks to the all-new higher-priced (and clearly named) GT 4-Door Coupe, which will soon join the recently updated second-generation CLA-Class and third-gen CLS, so it’s not as if growth in this category is slowing, or at least sales aren’t falling off as quickly as they are amongst more traditional luxury sedans.
Some notable four-door coupe mentions at higher and lower levels of the auto market include the limited production (120 units) Aston Martin Rapide-based 2015 to 2016 Lagonda Taraf, which was gorgeous to my eyes at least, but priced at a stratospherically $1 million-plus, while possibly more interesting has been the success of smaller entries, including the just-noted Mercedes-Benz CLA-Class, the BMW 4 Series Gran Coupe, and the Audi A5 Sportback, which have pulled this rakish body type down-market nearly as far as the Volkswagen Arteon (previously the CC) and Kia Stinger.
Returning to the loftier price bracket, Lamborghini has been teasing us with a potential production model along the lines of the beautiful 2008 Estoque concept for more than a decade (I think it would’ve been a strong seller), while Bentley hasn’t stopped talking up the possibility of an even sleeker sport sedan. Otherworldly to some, these two models could actually be sensible business cases due to their Volkswagen group ownership and familial connection to this very Panamera. Bentley, for one, already uses the same VW AG-created MSB architecture found under this Panamera for its new Continental GT coupe and convertible plus its Flying Spur sedan, a version of which could also be modified to work with a future Estoque.
It’s not like this would be an unusual move, with the Bentley Bentayga and Lamborghini Urus sharing underpinnings with the Porsche Cayenne and new Cayenne Coupe respectively, not to mention the Audi Q7, Q8 and new global market Volkswagen Touareg (that we no longer get here), but as exciting as it might be for these exotic players to dip their toes in the four-door coupe waters, buyers who want to spend $300,000-plus in this class, yet still requiring a reliable option, have no other choice but a loaded up Panamera.
And yes, if you check off every 2019 Panamera Turbo S E-Hybrid Executive box on Porsche’s online configurator you’ll be paying north of $320k, which will provide you with an optional exclusive colour, the car’s largest set of 21-inch alloys coated in the same exclusive paint choice, an upgraded interior with the highest quality of leathers covering almost every possible surface that’s not already trimmed in hardwood or carbon-fibre, plus all available technologies.
The Panamera Turbo S E-Hybrid was new for 2018, and thanks to Porsche I was able to drive it along with a number of other new and updated models last year. The version I tested featured the regular sloped trunk lid and normal non-extended wheelbase, and it was mind-blowingly fast thanks to 680 net horsepower. I also tested last year’s entirely new Sport Turismo wagon, that I happen to like best, although that car’s drivetrain was identical to the Panamera 4S shown right here in this review, and therefore made 440-horsepower from a 2.9-litre twin-turbo V6.
Bringing all things Panamera up to 2019 speed, no changes have been made to any of the models mentioned in this review so far, other than minor increases to pricing across the line, the car on this page precisely as it was for the 2017 model year when the second-generation Panamera was introduced. This said 2019 hasn’t been without improvements to the Panamera line, thanks to the addition of a 453-horsepower twin-turbo 4.0-litre V8-powered GTS model that now slots between this 4S and the Panamera Turbo in both performance and price. The car I’m reviewing here starts at $119,600, by the way, while the new GTS can be had for $147,400, and the Turbo for $174,200.
No GTS was available at the time of testing, unfortunately, but I was truly okay having another stint in a 4S. It makes 110 more horsepower than the 330-horsepower base Panamera after all, and uses all four wheels for added grip. The snarling exhaust note is fabulous in Sport mode, crackling and popping when lifting off the throttle, but rest assured that the fiercer Hyde side of its personality becomes a docile Jekyll when the drive mode selector is moved over to its default setting.
The Panamera’s ideal balance between opulent luxury and outrageous performance is its best asset. No other four-door combines its level of sports car-like agility with such impressively detailed interior finishings. Its low-slung bodywork bucks against today’s taller SUV trend; Porsche providing its Macan and Cayenne for folks who want go-fast performance with a better view of the road.
The Panamera manoeuvres through serpentine corners like nothing so sizeable has ever been able to before, yet its ride is impressively smooth. Whether enduring inner-city laneways, overcoming inadequately paved railroad crossings and aging bridge expansion joints, or coursing down a circuitous backcountry road inundated with broken asphalt, the Panamera offers ample suspension travel for dealing with the worst bumps and potholes without becoming unsettled. Its compliance and/or firmness depends on the trim and wheel options chosen, of course, but I’ve driven every grade on offer other than the new GTS, and all provide track-worthy performance with comfort levels that I’d be more than satisfied to live with for all regular commutes and errand runs, let alone weekend getaways.
My test car’s optional Satin Platinum finished 21-inch alloy wheels on 275/35 front and 315/30 rear Pirelli Cinturato P7 performance tires are the biggest available, so it wasn’t like I was cossetted with the base 4S model’s 19s, which are identical to the most entry-level of Panamera’s 265/45 front and 295/40 rear ZRs, by the way, a car that can be had for only $99,300 plus freight and fees.
That base Panamera in mind, it’s hardly a slouch thanks to a 5.7-second launch from zero to 100km/h, or 5.5 seconds with its available Sport Chrono Package, whereas my 4S tester can do the deed in a mere 4.4 seconds in standard trim or 4.2 seconds with its Sport Chrono Package. The 4S also blasts past 160km/h in only 10.3 seconds, slicing 3.3 seconds off of the base trim’s zero to 160km/h time, all ahead of a terminal velocity of 289km/h, a stunning 25km/h faster on the track than the most basic Panamera.
As phenomenally fun as all this high-speed action sounds, there are plenty of quicker Panameras available. The new GTS, for instance, can hit 100km/h from standstill in only 4.1 seconds, while the Turbo blasts past the mark in a scant 3.8 seconds, and finally the sensational Turbo S E-Hybrid needs just 3.4 seconds to charge past 100km/h. Top speeds increase similarly, with the Turbo S E-Hybrid capable of a lofty 310 km/h, but when compared to the majority of sport sedans even this Panamera 4S performs better.
Its new eight-speed twin-clutch PDK transmission delivers fast, smooth, paddle-activated shifts, and torque-vectoring all-wheel drive maintains the chassis’ awesome adhesion to tarmac no matter the weather or road conditions, while I must also say it looks just as eye-arresting when blurring past at high speed as it does when cruising around town.
As mentioned earlier, glossy black exterior trim isn’t standard, but nevertheless my test car’s darkened accents were an attractive contrast against its white paint. Normally the Panamera gets satin silver and/or bright metal detailing, but on the other hand you can also have the mirror caps, door handles, badges, etcetera painted in gloss black.
This said the possibilities are almost limitless inside, but each Panamera’s incredibly fine attention to detail is what makes its interior stand out above many peers, such as all of the industry’s best composites and leathers, available hardwoods, aluminum or carbon-fibre inlays, plus digital interfaces that are so brilliantly high in definition that it seems like you can dip your fingers right into the depths of their fabulously rich contrasted displays and graphically illustrated imagery.
Yes, the Panamera provides some of the best digital displays available, whether ogling the classic Porsche-style five-dial instrument cluster, its centre ring being the only analogue component in an otherwise wonderfully colourful arrangement of screens, the one on the left for driving-related info and the right-side monitor incorporating a comprehensive multi-information display including mapping for the route guidance system.
Alternatively you can choose to view that map over on the long, horizontal infotainment display atop the centre stack, which looks nearly three-dimensional when doing so. All the usual touchscreen gesture controls make this as simple to use as a smartphone or tablet, and speaking of your phone it also syncs with Apple CarPlay or Android Auto, while providing all of the types of functions expected in this class including an as-tested surround camera system that, together with audible and visual front and rear sonar, makes parking a lot easier.
The majority of controls on the raked centre console are touch-sensitive, needing only a slight push and click to engage. All the buttons, knobs and switches feel very high in quality too, the Panamera’s interior second to none for quality construction. The console’s surrounding surface treatment is glossy black, but nevertheless it’s quite easy to keep clean due to a glass-like smartphone material, although the piano black lacquered detailing found elsewhere in my tester’s cabin, particularly a section on the ashtray at the very base of that centre console, was always covered in grime, dust, etcetera. On the positive you don’t have to opt for piano black, but can choose one of many options that will keep the cabin looking tidier even when dirty, although it should be said there’s absolutely nothing wrong with being able to see what needs cleaning for the sake of sanitation.
Fortunately the leather-clad sport steering wheel, where my hands were most of the time, had no such yucky buildup of filth. Instead, I was greeted to one of the best of its type in the industry. Its narrow spokes are elegant, hollowed out at centre for an even lighter, more performance-oriented appearance, while its integrated buttons and scrolling knurled-metal dials are well crafted with especially tight fitment and good damping. As per usual, the button for the heatable rim is hidden within the base of the lowest spoke, an intelligent design for sure, but some may find it too easy to turn on or off when spinning the wheel. I like that it automatically turns on when starting the car, or likewise stays off, depending on the way you’ve set it up.
Features in mind, my test car came stocked up with three-way heated and ventilated front seats, plus a superb optional 710-watt 15-speaker Bose Centerpoint 14-channel surround sound stereo upgrade, which should only be shown the door if going for the 1,455-watt 22-speaker Burmester 3D High-End Surround system (I’ve tested this top-line system before and it’s amazing). As good as the audio performance was, my tester didn’t include the previously noted Sport Chrono Package, so it was 0.2 seconds slower off the line (not that I could notice), and the clock on top of the dash only featured an attractive looking black dial with white numerals and indices, instead of the upgraded chronometer version with both analogue and digital readouts.
Still, due to including an available full rear console incorporating a large high-definition touchscreen, three-way heatable seat switches, twin rear auto climate controls resulting in a four-way auto HVAC system front to rear, powered side and rear window sunshades, plus a large two-pane panoramic moonroof above, not to mention the Panamera’s usual set of ideally shaped sport bucket rear seats that are as comfortable and supportive as those up front, I might have been just as happy being chauffeured as I was driving, but as life has it I didn’t have the means (or an available friend) to do the driving, so I simply enjoyed my nice quiet rest in the back seat while taking notes.
To be clear, the second-gen Panamera is now so excellent in every way that it’s near impossible to find much to complain about. Of course there’s not as much room in the rear as a 7 Series or S-Class, but providing limousine levels of roominess is hardly the Panamera’s purpose. Truth be told, no matter the model tested I have never been uncomfortable in back, and let’s not forget that Porsche would be more than happy to provide you with a longer-wheelbase Executive body style if driving around larger passengers is part of your routine, which means that you won’t have to say goodbye to beautiful design and sensational performance just to maintain a practical lifestyle.
And that’s the gist of the Panamera. Thanks to its wide variety of trims, packages and options, all of which are viewable right here on CarCostCanada, where you can also learn about manufacturer rebates and dealer invoice pricing that could save you thousands, this four-door Porsche provides something for almost every sport/luxury car shopper.
Let me guess, that even if you live in one of Canada’s more established neighbourhoods you don’t often lay eyes on a Jaguar XF, let alone a lot of XE or XJ sedans. While once prolific in luxury crowds, four-door cars from Coventry are becoming rare sightings indeed.
Thanks to the stunningly beautiful Mk II and extremely elegant XJ Series I, II and III that followed, not to mention the B-Type, C-Type and E-Type sports cars that were inspirational for today’s sensational F-Type, the Jaguar brand grew legendary, but this day and age it seems that luring luxury customers into anything lower to the ground than a crossover SUV is becoming much more difficult, and it’s not for a lack of styling.
When the current XJ was completely reimagined for 2009, its wholly original, beautifully proportioned design set the stage for an entirely new lineup of Jaguar sedans and crossovers, but other than the latter lineup of SUVs, which are selling fairly well, it hasn’t exactly followed that bases-loaded homerun with an encore hit.
The second-generation mid-size E-segment XF being reviewed here arrived in 2015 as a 2016 model, and is beautifully sculpted too. Like the XJ and almost every Jaguar vehicle it’s formed from aluminum panels and composites, but only the XF can claim the brand’s best-ever drag coefficient of 0.26.
So it’s beautiful, lightweight and hails from an iconic brand, but that still doesn’t make it popular. It almost seems as if you need to be a curator of curious collectibles before stepping up and taking ownership of a car like the XF, but then again exclusivity has its privileges. It’s not like you’ll see one driving down the neighbourhood lane every day, or every other week for that matter. Crowd pleasers won’t like this one whit, but those who choose to be unique in order to stand out from that crowd will find the XF’s rarity a bonus. After all, while the XF is scarce, it’s hardly unusual in the way it goes about pleasing driver and occupants, combining a high level of old school charm with strong performance and plenty of highly advanced tech gear.
Jaguar actually improved the XF’s technology for this 2019 model, so that all XF trims now incorporate the brand’s updated 10.0-inch InControl Touch Pro infotainment touchscreen, which provides a larger display area to appreciate its completely new and wholly simpler graphics package (the classic red British telephone box ahead of a pastoral background and other scenes are now gone), easier visibility of the rearview camera, greater detail of the navigation mapping, plus plenty of other enhancements. If the more minimalist, arguably more sophisticated digital interface is not up to your standards, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto smartphone integration provide a new look when attached to your device, plus add proprietary features. Being that I’ve been an Android convert for the past few years (after getting fed up with lame iPhone batteries) I chose to use Jaguar’s stock system that’s much more appealing to look at. Incidentally, features like navigation and voice recognition are available in the XF’s second-rung Prestige trim and above.
Moving from tech to luxury, Jaguar’s super-soft Suedecloth is now standard on all XF roof pillars and headliners, as are aluminum treadplates with illuminated Jaguar branding, plus premium carpeted floor mats, metal foot pedals, chromed power seat switchgear, and a classy looking frameless auto-dimming rearview mirror.
Speaking of standard, the base 2019 XF is the $59,100 Premium, while other trims include the $64,500 Prestige, and $67,800 R-Sport when opting for the 247 horsepower 2.0-litre direct-injection turbo four-cylinder; the $67,000 Prestige, $70,300 R-Sport, $72,300 300 SPORT and $79,100 Portfolio when choosing the 296 horsepower version of the same gasoline-powered mill; the $66,500 Prestige and $69,800 R-Sport when hooked up to the 180 horsepower 2.0-litre four-cylinder diesel; and finally $75,300 for my tester’s 380 horsepower 3.5-litre supercharged V6-powered model’s sole S trim. These prices and trims, incidentally, plus packages and standalone options can be found right here at CarCostCanada, where you can also choose to save thousands by learning about available rebates and otherwise difficult to access dealer invoice pricing.
The diversity of available XF engines is actually quite amazing and rare, but all of these engines focus their energies on one tried and tested eight-speed automatic gearbox, no matter the trim. The quick yet smooth transmission boasts an innovative rotating gear selector that automatically powers upwards after startup from an otherwise flush placement on the lower console between the front seats, this system requiring standard paddle shifters for utilizing the Jaguar Sequential Shift manual mode, while all-wheel drive is also standard.
Further improving control no matter the driving situation, all XF trims come fitted with Jaguar Drive Control featuring Standard, Eco, Dynamic (sport), and Rain/Ice/Snow driving modes, each making a considerable difference to comfort, performance and all of the above, while Torque Vectoring by Braking (TVBB), and hill launch assist further aid drivers in mastering most road conditions.
Specific to my XF S tester, Adaptive Surface Response (AdSR) plus Configurable Dynamics and Adaptive Dynamics allow the choice of personal engine, suspension, steering, and transmission settings. All made a big difference to how this Jaguar responded to inputs, from being a comfortable, relaxed luxury car one moment, to a seriously responsive sports sedan the next.
Together with all items already noted, the top-tier XF S shown on this page receives beefier 350-mm front brake rotors and red calipers all around, as well as 20-inch alloy wheels, the latter upgrade improving performance and styling measurably.
Staying on the styling theme, the XF S also receives a unique “S” body kit that dresses up the car with a sportier front bumper, glossy black side sills and a gloss-black rear valance, plus a subtle rear deck spoiler. When stepping inside you’ll bypass special metal treadplates finished with unique “S” branding, while great looking Dark Hex aluminum inlays improve the instrument panel, rich Luxtec leatherette covers the dash top, and superbly comfortable, ultra-supportive “S” embossed 18-way powered sports seats ensconce driver and front passenger.
On top of everything already mentioned, the XF S also includes proximity keyless entry, pushbutton start/stop, an acoustic layer windshield, auto on/off headlamps, rain-sensing wipers, an electronic parking brake, a powered tilt and telescopic steering wheel, auto-dimming, power-folding, heated side mirrors with approach lamps and puddle lights, memory for those mirrors as well as the front seats, front seat warmers, mood lighting, a universal garage door opener, a backup camera, navigation, InControl Apps, Pro Services, Bluetooth phone and audio streaming, a USB port, two-zone auto HVAC, front and rear parking sonar, and more.
Additionally, along with the segment’s usual active and passive safety systems, the XF S arrives standard with autonomous emergency braking, lane keeping assist, blindspot monitoring, closing vehicle sensing, reverse traffic monitoring, driver condition monitoring, etcetera.
Over and above the standard XF S items already listed, my test car was upgraded to include a stunning Rossello Red paint job for $670; beautiful glossy black twinned five-spoke alloy wheels for $770; a special Black package featuring a glossy black mesh grille insert and surround, glossy black side vents, and the same inky treatment for the trunk garnish for $460; a Comfort and Convenience package for $2,200 that adds a overly excitable gesture-control system for the trunk’s powered lid (I’ll explain this in a moment); plus soft closing doors, three-way active cooled/ventilated front seats, and heated rear seats; a Technology package for $1,030 featuring a 12.3-inch digital gauge cluster, Pro Services, and a CD/DVD changer; a Driver Assistance package for $3,680 incorporating an overhead surround camera system, a forward-facing camera, 360-degree Park Distance Control, Park Assist semi-autonomous self-parking, dynamic cruise control with Queue Assist, blindspot assist, and traffic sign recognition with an intelligent speed limiter; a $1,330 head-up display system; a $410 heated windshield and heated washer jets package; plus $210 satellite and HD radio.
Only the $2,230 Premium Interior Upgrade package was missing or my XF S would be deemed fully loaded, the improvement otherwise adding four-zone auto HVAC with an air quality sensor and auto air re-circulation, plus a cooled glove box, side window sunshades, a powered rear sunshade, and configurable mood lighting; plus I might have enjoyed one of the optional interior décor trims more too, particularly the carbon fibre; yet even the way Jaguar provided it, the XF S was sensational and its asking price of $85,850 quite reasonable, this $10,550 more than the base XF S.
All of the features just noted are fastened to a lightweight and extremely rigid bonded and riveted aluminum body shell that I happen find extremely attractive, while the interior is very well made from some of the industry’s nicest leathers, woods and metals. My test car featured an Ebony (aka black) leather and Light Oyster (grey) contrast-stitched cabin that also boasted gorgeous Grey Figured Ebony veneers throughout. While impressive, especially when compared to Jaguar’s smaller XE sedan, I won’t go so far as to claim that the XF leads its class when it comes to fit, finish, materials quality, digital interface supremacy, feature superiority, ultimate roominess, or any other superlative. Still, it gets a good grade for all noted categories, while its completely unique look, feel, and overall impressive performance warrants your undivided attention.
Just like the more compact XE and full-size XJ, the XF actually drives like a smaller, lighter and more engaging car than its long, mid-size dimensions suggest, and most competitors can offer. Its previously noted 380 horsepower V6 responds with immediate energy that’s easily attributed to its sizeable displacement and aforementioned supercharger, which helps all 332 lb-ft of torque hit the ground running from launch, while its standard all-wheel drive makes wheel spin yesterday’s news in snow, rain or dry conditions, and the aforementioned ZF eight-speed clicks through its cogs with speed and precision.
The XF’s performance is its key calling card, from its steady, formidable (albeit exhaust-muted) 5.3-second zero-to-100km/h straight-line acceleration, to its sublime handling and excellent ride that’s brought about by a lightweight double-wishbone front suspension and integral link rear setup, the combination perfect for pushing the envelope through hard-pressed switchbacks at unmentionable speeds, or alternatively hauling down the highway or taxiing through town at more relaxed paces. The XF S is a sport-luxury sedan that can do it all.
This said I had a few issues with my test car, particularly the fact that my top-tier model didn’t even include remote engine start on the otherwise fancy key fob. It’s available as part of the InControl Remote App you can download onto your smartphone, but there were plenty of disgruntled iTunes and Play Store owners who said it only worked 25-30 percent of the time, and being that I only tested it for a week and was never even informed of the app prior to the test so I could download it, wasn’t able to pre-warm the interior in winter (or hypothetically pre-chill the cabin in summer).
Temperature settings in mind, I didn’t appreciate not having an auto mode for the heatable seats and steering wheel. Each needed to be switched on upon startup, and Jaguar only includes one ultra-hot setting for the steering wheel rim, forcing me to turn it on and off throughout my drive.
Another quibble focuses on the overhead sunglasses holder that doesn’t even properly fit smallish wire rim glasses like my Ray-Ban aviators. I had to turn them upside down in order to stuff them inside and shut it closed, which meant their lenses were left rubbing against the harder side of the lid.
On a more positive note, the dash corner vents whisk open in wonderful silence, which is equally cool to how the gear selector rises into place, but all the hard plastic found on the glove box lid, lower dash surfacing, console, and lower door panels didn’t impress anywhere near as well.
Finally I get to that trunk lid I mentioned earlier in the review. Hyperactive might be a better term than overly excitable, but either way it was a convenience feature gone wrong. Let me explain: Basically it opens up whenever anyone with the key fob in purse or pocket walks past. Other carmakers that use this type of hands-free trunk opener, such as Hyundai and its Genesis luxury division, cause you to stand next to the back bumper for at least three seconds before it activates the automatic trunk lid, but my XF tester’s trunk kept popping open immediately upon sensing the key fob. Once, after pulling up at a shopping centre, the trunk sprang open as I walked past on my way toward the mall. Unfortunately this gave a nice preview of my valuables to any miscreant eyes nearby, which is certainly a security risk. Another time I kept the engine running (for less than a minute) while delivering something to an office I have regular business with (don’t worry, their parking lot/entrance is totally private), and voila, while walking past the XF’s backside the trunk lid popped open once again. It performed the annoying ritual while pumping gas too, and on other occasions.
Fuel in mind, the XF achieves a Transport Canada rating of 12.0 L/100km city, 8.4 highway and 10.4 combined, which is actually pretty decent for such an enthusiastic drivetrain strapped to such as generously proportioned luxury sedan, although I must point out that buyers willing to forgo some accelerative force for thriftier economy can choose the aforementioned turbo-diesel that gets a superb 7.8 city, 5.8 highway and 6.9 combined rating. Diesel is often significantly cheaper than gasoline too, and allows you to drive greater distances per tankful.
While that trunk kept popping open I was continually reminded just how large it is. It measures a generous 541 litres (19.1 cubic feet), and better yet provides ultra-convenient 40/20/40 split-folding rear seats that let you lay longer items like skis down the middle while outboard rear passengers enjoy the more comfortable, warmer window seats.
The XF is spacious for front and rear occupants as well, this due to a wheelbase that was lengthened considerably when the second-gen car arrived. By the numbers you’ll have 1,055 mm of legroom in front while your rear passengers will benefit from 957 mm, so you shouldn’t hear complaints from tagalongs when it comes to roominess.
At the end of my weeklong test I wouldn’t say I was in love with the 2019 XF S, but certainly grew to appreciate its many qualities despite its few quirks. Yes, it’s nowhere near perfect, but its larger touchscreen and other improvements make it better than ever, while its performance was excellent for all but those (like me) that have experienced this car with a supercharged V8. That in mind, I’d consider the XF even more seriously with one of its four-cylinder alternatives, for its economical and environmental benefits. Either way, Jaguar has most bases covered with the XF, making it a credible choice in this highly competitive mid-size luxury category.
Since arriving on the subcompact luxury scene six years ago, the Mercedes-Benz CLA has been in a constant sparring session with Audi’s A3, but when the challenger from Ingolstadt said so long to its conventionally-powered five-door hatchback and we all said hello to an entirely new four-door sport sedan, the four-ringed brand has enjoyed a slight sales lead over its sporty four-door coupe competitor.
Of course, M-B and Audi aren’t the only two battling it out for entry-level premium car customers, with Mercedes’ very own B-Class MPV luring in plenty each year from its faithful following, not to mention Acura with its ILX sedan, BMW with its 2 Series coupe and convertible, etcetera, but the problems facing this class aren’t as simple as a handful of rivals doing their best to one-up each other anymore, but rather getting noticed in a luxury market that’s a lot more about SUVs than anything that hugs the pavement so closely.
For this reason we’ve all got to give Mercedes a round of applause (or maybe a standing ovation) for courageously hitting back with myriad car models in most every luxury segment while others are fleeing. In fact, Mercedes will soon offer more models within the subcompact luxury sector than some competitors have cars, period. Perhaps we can chalk this up to being in the automotive industry longer than any rival, a reality that provided experience through plenty of changes in market sentiment, or possibly it’s just plain stubbornness, but whatever the reason, this German brand not only offers six sedans, two wagons, seven coupes, and six convertibles for a total of 21 different body styles you can purchase right here in Canada, right now, but on top of these the Stuttgart-based marque will be adding the A-Class sedan later this year, bumping its car count up to 22, a mind-blowing pavement-hugging lineup in an auto market that’s supposedly only purchasing high-riding SUVs these days.
Of course Mercedes-Benz, Canada’s number one-selling luxury automotive retailer, is capable of filling nearly every niche anyone can conjure up because of its enviable brand equity. Build it and they will come, or so the paraphrased saying goes, and for the most part it’s true. Just look at this subcompact luxury car sector that most brands aren’t even participating in. Mercedes’ B-Class has been attracting entry-level buyers since 2005 when it arrived as a 2006 model, while the same Canadian M-B retailers have been selling the CLA since 2013 (check out pricing and more for the current CLA-Class right here on CarCostCanada now), and the new A-Class hatchback since January.
Through the first two months of 2019, Mercedes’ collective subcompact luxury sales (including the B-Class) tallied up to 606 units, which dwarfed the 350 Audi A3s sold into the same market, let alone BMW that only managed to sell 139 2 Series and i3 models during the same two months, and as noted we haven’t even seen sales from the lower priced M-B A-Class sedan kick in, or for that matter this entirely new CLA four-door coupe that will hit the streets this fall, building on a success story that’s been pretty impressive so far.
“With the first CLA we celebrated a huge success by selling some 750,000 vehicles and created a totally new segment with a four-door coupe in the compact class,” says Britta Seeger, Member of the Board of Management of Daimler AG, responsible for Mercedes-Benz Cars Marketing & Sales.
Interestingly, more than two thirds of Canadian CLA buyers were new to Mercedes during that model’s peak sales stint, while it’s also critical to point out that these new M-B owners were seven years younger than the brand’s usual average age of clientele. Later this year Canadians will be given the choice of four recently updated or completely new subcompact models (five if you divide the A-Class into its current hatchback and upcoming sedan body types), with this CLA being the most expressive, and sportiest in the collection, and plenty of these newfound Mercedes owners will more than likely stay with the brand when it comes time to trade in and escalate up to fancier more profitable models within the lineup, as their income increases with age and experience.
“The new CLA is even more emotional and sportier than its predecessor,” continued Seeger. “Coupled with new operating systems, it sets a new benchmark for the entire class.”
There’s a very big reason Mercedes chose the Las Vegas’ Consumer Electronics Show (CES) to debut its new CLA last January, the massive Mercedes-Benz User Experience (MBUX) infotainment interface that, together with its integrated digital instrument cluster, spans much of the car’s instrument panel, but its attractive new styling caused more of an initial crowd.
Most should agree the new CLA looks more mature due to its seemingly stern forward-slanting sport grille design, which Mercedes claimed is “reminiscent of a shark’s nose” in its press release. Found in front of a lengthier hood highlighted by sculpted “powerdomes”, the new grille is bookended by a more angular set of LED Multibeam headlights incorporating 18 individually-controllable LED elements, all hovering above a more intricately detailed lower front apron.
Additionally, the new CLA boasts muscled up side panels with flared fenders, while its entire roofline has been positioned farther toward the rear for a more traditional GT design. The more conventional look continues at the back thanks to a rectangular trunk cutout between totally new LED tail lamps that, like the lenses up front, are narrower and laid out higher and more horizontally for a wider overall appearance. Not only fresher and arguably better looking, the extensively wind tunnel-tested 2020 CLA is now much slicker through the air resulting in a 0.23 coefficient of drag.
“As a four-door coupe, the new CLA intrigues with its puristic, seductive design and sets new standards in the design DNA of ‘sensual purity’. It impresses with its perfect proportions reflecting the first design sketch: a long, stretched hood, a compact greenhouse, a wide track with exposed wheel arches and our typical GT rear with a strong distinctive ‘Coke-bottle shoulder’,” said Gorden Wagener, Chief Design Officer of Daimler AG. “In short, the CLA Coupe has the potential to become a modern design icon.”
The updated CLA’s interior is obviously focused on a younger customer, the vivid orange highlights of the show car and sizeable conjoined digital displays right out of the iPad, Surface and Galaxy Tab playbooks. The fixed-freestanding widescreen combination includes a gauge cluster to the left, which removes the need for an instrument hood altogether, and an infotainment touchscreen to the right, the latter controlled by Mercedes’ trademark palm-rest and new touchpad (the scrolling wheel is gone) on the lower console.
Do-it-yourself shifting comes via a set of paddles behind the 9 and 3 o’clock positions of the beautifully detailed leather-clad flat-bottom sport steering wheel, while above the previously noted infotainment controller is an elegantly thin climate control interface. Lastly, if that mammoth display didn’t first tug at your eyeballs, the stunning turbine-style circular HVAC ducts across the dash certainly should have.
Back to the mother of all in-car electronic interfaces, which was actually introduced in the new A-Class a year ago and E-Class before that, the graphically stimulating multi-information display and surrounding digital dials sits next to Mercedes new high-resolution MBUX infotainment system as noted earlier. Along with fully customizable displays, Augmented Reality navigation that reportedly provides a much more realistic mapping system plus more, the new system’s computing power is greatly enhanced over the CLA’s outgoing system, and even features software that can “learn and respond to natural speech,” said Mercedes-Benz.
If you’ve ever struggled to get a voice activation system to understand your prompts you may be glad to hear this next bit of news, because M-B’s new voice assistant is said to communicate more closely to Amazon Alexa, with the simple prompt of “Hey Mercedes” leading to more capability than any other in-car voice system offered thus far. What’s more, it’s intelligent enough to recognize the speech patterns of the individual asking the question, even when others are engaged in a different conversation.
“The latest version of voice control for MBUX – the Mercedes-Benz User Experience – can be experienced in the new CLA. For example, the voice assistant ‘Hey Mercedes’ is able to recognize and answer considerably more complex queries,” said Sajjad Khan, Member of the Divisional Board of Mercedes-Benz Cars for CASE and Head of Digital Vehicle & Mobility. “What’s more, the voice assistance no longer gets confused by other passenger’s conversations. Instead it only responds to the commands of the person who last said ‘Hey Mercedes’ to activate the system.”
Additionally, Mercedes says their new MBUX voice assistant can even recognize and respond to more complex indirect questions, such as “Find Italian restaurants with at least four stars that are open for lunch but exclude pizza shops,” for example. It can also manage a greater assortment of subjects, with other press release-cited examples including “Hey Mercedes, How did the Toronto Raptors play?” when referencing sports news, or “How has the Apple share price performed compared to Microsoft?” for its take on business news. If you need a quick calculation, MBUX can do that for you too, with the example given being, “What is the square roof of 9?” while Mercedes provided the questions “How big is Texas?” and “What is the fat content of avocados?” for the general knowledge category.
While some potential buyers may ante up for the new CLA just to for MBUX alone, plenty of others will appreciate the car’s larger overall size. It now measures 48 millimetres (1.9 inches) longer at 4,688 mm (184.5 in), while its wheelbase has been stretched by 30 mm (1.2 in) at 2,729 mm (107.4 in). Additionally, it spans 53 mm (2.1 in) wider at 1,830 mm (72.0 in) without the side mirrors, and finally its roofline is 2 mm (0.1 in) lower at 1,439 mm (56.6 in).
As you can guess it’s more accommodating inside, but while those up front enjoy 17 mm (0.6 in) of additional headroom, and rear passengers get 3 mm (0.1 in) more space overhead, whereas shoulder room has been improved by 9 mm (0.3 in) up front and 22 mm (0.8 in) in the rear, plus front to rear elbow room grows by 35 and 44 mm (1.4 and 1.7 in) respectively, front legroom has actually shrunken by one millimetre, while legroom in the back seat lengthens by just a single millimetre as well.
The cargo compartment is smaller too, but just by 10 litres (0.3 cubic feet) to a still-sizeable 460 litres (16.2 cu ft), while on the positive the new CLA’s squarer trunk lid width increases by a whopping 262 mm (10.3 in), plus the load floor was widened by 113 mm (4.4 in) wider and deepened by 24 mm (0.9 in).
Lift the opening at the other end and you’ll once again find a 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder engine underneath, and while Mercedes hasn’t shared performance figures for its most affordable CLA 250 variant yet, it will likely measure up to the new A 250 Hatchback, which makes 221 horsepower and 258 lb-ft of torque for a 13 horsepower gain and identical twist. Putting power down to the front wheels or 4MATIC all-wheel drive is Mercedes’ in-house 7G-DCT twin-clutch automated gearbox, with a beefed up version of the transmission and standard AWD expected to be included in the (finger’s crossed) AMG variant, the current performance model good for 375 horsepower and 350 lb-ft of torque.
An increased dimension not yet mentioned is track width, which is up a healthy 63 mm (2.5 in) at the front wheels and 55 mm (2.1 in) in the rear, while the CLA also benefits from a lower centre of gravity, all of which should combine for a big improvement in overall performance. Additional chassis improvements include a Direct-Steer system and hydromounts up front, while the rear suspension includes a decoupled multi-link axle that reduces NVH, plus bigger stabilizer bars for reducing body roll. Lastly, 18-inch wheels shod in 225/45 tires should come standard, while 19-inch alloys wearing 225/40 rubber will be available.
And what about advanced driver assistance and safety systems? Standard with the CLA will be Active Brake Assist, while Active Lane Keep Assist, which helps to centre drivers within their lane and prevents them from unexpectedly veering off the road, will be optional by choosing the Intelligent Drive Package that also incorporates Pre-Safe Plus with rear traffic warning and an automatic backup braking system.
Also notable, the Intelligent Drive Package, which debuted in Mercedes’ flagship S-Class, can pilot the CLA autonomously in certain circumstances, but Mercedes is quick to point out that this semi-autonomous system still needs “cooperative driver support,” or at least it will until its many advanced functions are allowed to work on their own.
Produced in Kecskemét, Hungary, the redesigned 2020 Mercedes-Benz CLA should help increase Mercedes’ command of the subcompact luxury car market when it joins the new A-Class sedan for autumn 2019 availability (find new A-Class Sedan and Hatchback pricing and more right here on CarCostCanada now), not to mention the A-Class Hatchback, GLA-Class subcompact crossover SUV and who knows what else (but according to Mercedes more are coming), and by so doing secure an entirely new generation of three-pointed star devotees.
Let’s face it. If a given compact luxury car isn’t stamped with a three-pointed star, a set of four intertwined rings, or a blue and white roundel it’s going to have a difficult time getting noticed anywhere in Canada. Mercedes-Benz’ C-Class, Audi’s A4 and A5, plus BMW’s 3 and 4 Series pretty much own this highly contested market segment, which therefore leaves a slew of bit players squabbling over leftovers, but then again the models just noted are no longer the premium sector powerhouse combination they once were.
Now the majority in this class are beleaguered by their own compact luxury crossover SUV brilliance, or more specifically, despite year-over-year sales of the BMW X3, for instance, being up a sizeable 48.6-percent from calendar year 2017 to 2018, deliveries of the once bellwether 3 Series were down 19.5 percent last year, and the significantly lower volume 4 Series off by 5.4 percent during the same 12 months.
Not every D-segment car bled red ink, mind you, with the just noted C-Class up by 6.5 percent, the Infiniti Q50 gaining 6.8 percent of additional ground, and Audi’s A5 improving its sales by an astonishing 25 percent, albeit after a complete overhaul relieved pent-up demand. As you may imagine, some other some rivals experienced a great deal more contraction than the BMW 3 Series during 2018, including the Lexus RC that saw its sales plummet by a shocking 37.9 percent, plus the Jaguar XE which fell by 27.8 percent, the Cadillac ATS that was off some 25.4 percent, the Acura TLX that dropped 25.2 percent, the Infiniti Q60 which was under water by 24.2 percent, and the Audi A4 having slipped backward by a surprising 20.3-percent.
Such massive losses make the two Volvo 60 series models’ slight downturn of 5.1 percent appear much less significant, and to shed yet more light on why they dropped in year-over-year popularity, the V60 sport wagon experienced such amazing growth from 2016 through 2017 (the old S60 sedan was part of these numbers as well) at 99.7 percent, dipping slightly the following year was inevitable.
Still, measuring success in this segment has less to do with modest gains in sales percentages as it does with sales volume, and to that end both 60-series Volvos were only able to lure in 1,245 Canadian buyers collectively through all of 2018, which pales in comparison to the 11,556 C-Class sedans, coupes, convertibles and wagons sold into this country, or the 10,173 Audi A4 sedans and crossover wagons, that number also including A5 convertibles plus two- and four-door coupes, and lastly the 9,733 BMW 3 Series sedans and wagons, and 4 Series’ convertibles plus two- and four-door coupes.
All others were a far cry less popular, with Infiniti’s two models combining for 3,424 units, the duo of Lexus cars (excluding the ES) managing to attract just 3,163 takers, the Acura TLX earning only 2,397 deliveries, and the soon to be discontinued Cadillac ATS luring in 1,615 new buyers, while far below the Volvo 60 series cars was the new Genesis G70 that found 967 new owners, the Jaguar XE with 571 out the showroom door, and finally the Alfa Romeo Giulia with just 510 units down the road.
Such talk might possibly cause you to forget about any other D-segment brands than Mercedes, BMW and Audi, but I recommend taking a step back and considering some of the others on offer, because just being popular doesn’t necessarily translate into better. In fact, you may find the new 2019 Volvo S60 matches your personal taste and fulfills your lifestyle to a much greater degree.
There was once a time that Volvo was respected first and foremost for safety, followed by stalwart durability, and while such worthy traits are still high on the luxury brand’s list of attributes, the former most recently verified by IIHS Top Safety Pick and Top Safety Pick Plus ratings for two of its more recently redesigned models, as well as its host of standard advanced driver assistance features such as Driver Alert Control, automatic front collision warning, full low- and high-speed autonomous emergency braking, steering support, Run-Off Road Mitigation, lane keeping assist, and Oncoming Lane Mitigation, plus all the expected active and passive safety items, even including a driver’s knee airbag, front whiplash protection, and pyrotechnical seatbelt pretensioners in all seating positions, there’s a lot more to the brand’s desirability now than ever before.
Before getting into that, I wanted to point out what Oncoming Lane Mitigation is referring to. If the new S60 sedan’s sensors detect a head-on collision, the new oncoming braking system will automatically activate full braking force a mere two-tenths of a second before impact, resulting in vehicle speed reduction of 10 km/h before impact, says Volvo, which could potentially save lives, or at least minimize injuries.
On top of the S60’s list of non-safety and durability attributes is styling, but this said I’m not going to delve into design very much this time around, because the new model’s full LED “Thor’s Hammer” headlamps have been discussed ad nauseum in all of my recent Volvo road tests and news stories, as have the “hook” or C-shaped LED tail lamps now framing the backside of Volvo’s two new sedans. My personal preference with respect to overall styling leans more toward the sportier S60 when put up against the previously reviewed S90, but I think both Volvo four-door models look great, measuring up to, and in some ways surpassing their aforementioned rivals.
So how does the new S60 fit into its D-segment dimensionally? It’s been given a dose of steroids compared to the second-generation 2010–2018 model it replaces, now measuring 133 millimetres (5.2 inches) longer from front to back at 4,761 millimetres (187.4 inches), while its wheelbase has been lengthened by 96 mm (3.8 in) to 2,872 mm (113.1 in). This said the new car’s width is down some 15 mm (0.6 in) to just 1,850 mm (72.8 in), plus its roofline has been lowered by 53 mm (2.1 in).
Rear legroom is the direct benefactor of the longer wheelbase, resulting in a back seating area that’s much more spacious than it was before, with room to move around and wonderfully comfortable outboard seats boasting superb lumbar support. The comfort quotient is even more pronounced up front, where my R-Design trimmed tester was fitted with six-way power contoured sport seats featuring four-way power-adjustable lumbar that easily found my lower back’s sweet spot. What’s more, the driver’s seat includes a power-activated extendable squab that ideally cupped under my knees for even more support and comfort. Standard two-way memory made it easy to get back to a previously chosen seat setting, but one of my favourite R-Design seat features was the Fine Nappa leather covering all positions from front to back, highlighted by sporty contrast stitching that matched yet more off-white thread throughout the rest of the cabin.
As sharp as the seats look I don’t think they’ll be first to grab your attention when sitting behind the wheel, because the S60 R-Design interior is so impressive you’ll be more likely to get distracted by its contemporary yet classically luxurious take on design, not to mention all the brilliantly detailed metal accents and plush surfaces.
Unique to the R-Design is a three-spoke leather-wrapped sport steering wheel, metal sport pedals, R-Design branded floor mats, and R-Design etched metal door sills, while additional interior highlights include a black headliner, a large 12.3-inch TFT gauge package, a sizeable vertically-positioned centre touchscreen featuring Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, navigation, and more, plus four-zone automatic climate control with nicely sorted rear controls, and the list goes on. I really like the R-Design’s unique Metal Mesh accents, and some of that switchgear mentioned earlier is downright jewel-like, particularly the sparkling ignition dial and rotating drive mode selector cylinder, the latter of which let’s you choose between Comfort, Eco and Dynamic settings. Truly, the eye-arresting opulence found in the new 2019 S60, which mirrors most new Volvo models, will be sure to wow anyone moving up from their old S60, let alone one of the cars it competes against.
As mentioned in my V6 sport wagon review, I was fortunate enough to have it in my possession for three weeks over the Christmas holidays. It was kitted out in top-tier Inscription guise, which while a bit pricier than this R-Design, whether we’re talking that V60 or this S60, doesn’t get many more features. Inscription trim is simply a more luxuriously styled version of any Volvo model, whereas the R-Design designation reveals sport themed styling and performance, which leaves the Momentum as the base entry-level model, albeit very nice just the same.
I expect Volvo will make its T8 AWD Polestar performance trim available for the S60 sometime soon as well, which in other models includes a plug-in hybrid powertrain that’s good for 400 horsepower and 400 lb-ft of torque thanks to its internal combustion engine being this S60 R-Design’s turbocharged and supercharged 2.0-litre four-cylinder.
Both R-Design and Inscription models come standard with this top-line T6 AWD powertrain, while this potent combination is made optional with Momentum trim, which otherwise comes with Volvo’s standard T5 FWD powertrain in base guise. The lesser engine features the same 2.0-litre four-cylinder engine sans the supercharger, resulting in 250 horsepower and 258 lb-ft of torque, whereas the T6 AWD provides a more robust 316 horsepower and 295 lb-ft of torque.
Each powertrain is made standard with automatic idle start/stop, a technology that helps minimize tailpipe emissions while reducing fuel consumption by temporarily killing the engine while the car is standing still idling. Together with a number of other efficiency features it helps the T5 FWD model receive a rating of 9.9 L/100km in the city, 6.6 on the highway and 8.4 combined, while this T6 AWD version is capable of 11.1 in the city, 7.3 on the highway and 9.4 combined.
I don’t know about you, but I was a lot more interested in how the S60 R-Design drove than how little fuel I could get away with using, despite what seem like never-ending fuel price increases in my part of the world. Rest assured that it’s a lot more fun to pilot down a twisting two-lane country back road than my V60 Inscription tester was, not that the stylish sport wagon was a slouch by any sense of the imagination. Still, the S60 felt quicker in a straight line, thanks to fast-reacting all-wheel drive making the most of its sticky optional 235/40R19 Pirelli all-season rubber. Those meaty tires immediately found grip, allowing the potent little 2.0-litre powerplant to ramp up speed quickly, its eight-speed automatic gearbox an ideal compatriot, especially with Dynamic sport mode engaged. Despite its quick-shifting capability, the transmission was wonderfully smooth, while its steering wheel paddle shifters provided enough go-fast connectivity to keep my fingers in play. Adding to the fun, the S60 R-Design’s exhaust creates sonorous notes from behind when the throttle is pegged, yet is otherwise silent like the car’s well-insulated cabin. Truly, the S60 R-Design does a nice balancing act between sport and luxury.
Likewise, the S60 R-Design does a commendable job straightening curves, due partially to lowered sport suspension that includes firmer shocks for stiffer, flatter handling through quick corners, resulting in a stable, predictable sport sedan even when hurled nonchalantly into hairpin curves, some of these corners off-camber and surfaced with uneven tarmac. I’ve taken some of the S60’s challengers through these sections and not all proved as agile, the S60 R-Design not getting unglued when flung back and forth through continual left, right, and left turns either.
If you weren’t aware, the new S60 sits on Volvo’s SPA, a.k.a. it’s Scalable Product Architecture, which underscores the brand’s S90 luxury flagship sedan as well as the majority of its new models. SPA features aluminum double wishbones up front and a unique integral link design in back, the latter incorporating a transverse lightweight composite leaf spring. Additionally, the S60 includes driver-selectable low, medium and high personal power steering settings to aid feel, while the car’s brakes are a good match to its handling prowess and accelerative force, providing good binding power when stomped upon, as well as smooth progression no matter how hard, or soft, the centre pedal is pressed. Still, as capable as the S60 R-Design was at heightening my senses when extracting its full performance potential, it always kept its luxury sedan roots intact due to impressive ride quality and the superbly comfortable driver’s seat noted earlier.
Ride and handling in mind, the S60 R-Design, priced at $52,400 plus freight and fees, normally rolls on 18-inch alloy wheels, while yet unmentioned features pulled up from its $42,400 base Momentum T5 FWD trim include rain-sensing wipers, Road Sign Information (RSI), an auto-dimming centre mirror, a powered panoramic sunroof, a Clean Zone Air Quality system, a humidity sensor, rear parking sensors, a backup camera with active guidelines, voice recognition, two USB ports, Bluetooth connectivity with streaming audio, Volvo On-Call featuring remote start and vehicle tracking, a 170-watt 10-speaker audio system, Sirius/XM satellite radio, heatable front seats with aforementioned driver’s side memory, a 120-volt three-pronged household-style power outlet in the rear console, power-folding rear seat headrests, plus more on the inside, while the exterior features dual chromed tailpipes across the entire line, plus this model gets a special R-Design front grille, auto high beams and active bending for the LED headlamps, fog lamps with active bending, glossy black exterior trim (including the side mirror housings), puddle lamps under the door handles, proximity keyless entry, etcetera.
I particularly liked my test car’s beautiful coat of Fusion Red Metallic paint, an option well worth the extra $900. It’s one of five available colours and a single no-cost standard Black Stone hue, while all R-Design trimmed cars receive a Charcoal black interior theme. If you were to choose the base Momentum, the exterior paint selection grows to seven colours and available interior themes widen as well, while the Inscription upgrade gives you a choice of eight outer colours yet fewer cabin combinations, but take note the Momentum model’s upgradable upholstery options don’t cost anything at all when moving up to Inscription trim.
The previously lauded 19-inch alloys were a $1,000 improvement by the way, while my tester’s additional options included a graphical head-up display that projected key info, such as route guidance directions, onto the windscreen for just $1,150; while its Bowers & Wilkins stereo came with 15 sensational speakers and 1,100 watts of over-lording power, making it a great way to spend $3,750.
Additional extras included a Climate Package with heated Aquablades windshield wipers, a heatable steering wheel, and heated rear seats for $1,250; a Convenience Package sporting Volvo’s superb Pilot Assist semi-autonomous drive system, Adaptive Cruise Control, and a Homelink garage door opener plus compass integrated into the centre mirror for $1,500; and lastly a Vision Package incorporating a wonderfully useful 360-degree surround parking camera, easy-to-operate Park Assist Pilot semi-autonomous self parking, always appreciated front parking sensors, even more welcome auto-dimming power-retracting side mirrors, plus blindspot monitoring with rear cross traffic alert for $1,800.
Those curious about the S60 Inscription should note that it includes almost all of the R-Design model’s features for just $53,900, except for the sporting items spoken of earlier in this review. Unique to this model is an elegant chrome waterfall-style front grille, bright metal window surrounds, special 10-spoke 18-inch alloys, gorgeous matte Driftwood Décor interior trim, a tailored dash top and instrument panel featuring more stitched soft padded surfaces than other models, whereas the seats are upholstered in rich perforated Nappa leather, and come ventilated up front.
By the way, all pricing was pulled from right here at CarCostCanada, where you can also source individual trim, package, and standalone option pricing, plus rebate information and money-saving dealer invoice pricing that’s otherwise hard to get.
Speaking of hard, the new S60 made it difficult to find anything to gripe about, but I would’ve appreciated somewhere to stow my sunglasses, and there wasn’t enough room on the lower console to rest my Samsung S9, which was likely part of this company’s safety-first plan from the onset, so I probably shouldn’t complain. I nevertheless placed it in one of the S60’s two cupholders, which are otherwise covered under a beautifully detailed retractable lid, with the other cupholder was amply large to securely hold a sizeable water bottle that almost never leaves my side.
I should also note that the trunk, which at 391 litres (13.8 cubic feet) is average for this segment, was big enough for all of my daily gear, but its 60/40 split-folding rear seatbacks only included a centre pass-through instead of a more accommodating 40/20/40 opening, so while I could probably fit a couple of sets of skinny skis through I wouldn’t be able to squeeze in a duo of fat powder boards or enough skis for four passengers. Still, even this narrow pass-through is a big improvement over most of its Japanese challengers that simply provide 60/40-split seatbacks with nary a centre slot to be seen at all.
In summary, if you’re contemplating a car in the compact luxury D-segment you should seriously consider this all-new Volvo, as the S60 is now a commendable contender that provides attractive styling, serious performance, leading-edge technology, impressive safety, and a level of comfort that really needs to be experience to be appreciated.
What’s more, the new S60 is totally unique in this class, which has to account for something, right? After all, who wants to be seen in a car that everyone else drives? I certainly appreciated not witnessing exact duplicates of my ride passing by day in and day out, and enjoyed the quick head-turns and positive smiles my S60 R-Design tester received throughout my test week. Truly, if I were in this market, I’d have a hard time turning this wonderful car down, but alas, like most everyone else these days I’m trying to decide between SUVs. What can I say? I’m a product of the times. If instead you’re into something more exclusive, check out this all-new Volvo S60. I highly recommend it.