CarCostCanada

2021 Honda Insight Hybrid Touring Road Test

2021 Honda Insight Hybrid Touring
We think Honda’s Insight is a great looking compact sedan, especially in top-line Touring trim.

After first spending a week with Honda’s then-new Insight in its top-line Touring trim a couple of years ago, I really felt the Japanese automaker had a winner on its hands.

The compact sedan’s conservative good looks should have appealed to an even greater number of consumers than the edgier Civic it shares underpinnings and hard points with. Even better (to my eyes at least), its classy front fascia pulled some grille details over from the larger Accord mid-size sedan, while its tidier taillights stopped short of wrapping overtop most of the trunk lid.

2021 Honda Insight Hybrid Touring
This rich red metallic colour doesn’t provide enough contrast to show how nicely sculpted the Insight’s rear taillights are.

Don’t get me wrong, as the outgoing Civic was a styling tour de force when it arrived in 2015 as a 2016 model, but the more subdued Insight gave… ahem… insight to the Civic’s future design direction, particularly at the hind end where those just-noted taillights look like positive precursors to those on the much more conventional 2022 Civic sedan.

Still, as it was and still is, Honda failed to properly launch this 2019–present Insight within Canada, where it suffers incredibly slow sales, not even surpassing 500 units last year. In fact, the dismal number was 496, while the first quarter of 2021 has seen just 91 examples roll out of Honda showrooms. When compared to the Civic’s class-leading 50,805 sales-total in 2020, and 7,158 units delivered during Q1 of this year, which puts the Insight just under 1 percent of Civic deliveries during 2020, and nearly 1.3 percent for Q1 of 2021, Honda’s dedicated compact hybrid can only be seen as a complete dud. But why?

2021 Honda Insight Hybrid Touring
The Insight borrows from the Civic and Accord for a particularly attractive frontal design.

After all, the two models’ sales ratio in the U.S. is much better, although still not anywhere near as evenly weighted as I initially expected, with the Insight finding 15,932 buyers south of the 49th in 2020, and 3,859 as of the end of March this year, compared to 261,225 Civics sold last year and 55,903 for Q1 of 2021. That represents 6.1 percent of Civic sales in 2020 and 6.9 percent for the first three months of 2021, which probably isn’t even good enough to justify any sort of business case for keeping the model alive.

2021 Honda Insight Hybrid Touring
A rear-facing camera provides a clear view of the Insight’s blind spot when changing lanes.

It comes down to pricing. With a base price of $28,490 (plus freight and fees), the Insight finds itself $3,400 more expensive than the Toyota Corolla Hybrid, which starts at only $25,090. If the Insight were 10-percent more car it might make sense, but, as I already pointed out, consumers have spoken load and clear with their wallets, plus I’ve personally driven both, and that’s not the case.

My Insight tester’s top-line Touring trim was even pricier at $32,190, and once again it wasn’t any more appealing than the top-tier Corolla Hybrid with its Premium package, which costs just $27,090. This means Canadian Insight Touring buyers will need to take a $5,100 hit just to see a stylized “H” badging in all the usual places, a questionable bonus they obviously don’t desire all that much.

2021 Honda Insight Hybrid Touring
These taillights are the epitome of good taste.

So why would Honda sabotage its chances of winning over important Canadian hybrid buyers just ahead of the entire market turning to electric vehicles (whether we want to or not)? Obviously, Honda’s Canadian division would love to import the Insight (or for that matter the CR-V Hybrid, which is currently not available here) for less money, but their American affiliate that produces it, can’t seem to make it cheap enough.

2021 Honda Insight Hybrid Touring
Step right in to an interior that’s finished closer to premium levels than the Civic.

Honda does bring us the Accord Hybrid, however, but the Marysville, Ohio-built mid-size sedan doesn’t do as well as Toyota’s Camry Hybrid for similar reasons. Its base price is $35,805, whereas the Camry Hybrid is advertised at $30,790, and similarly to the Insight’s fancier Touring trim line, the top-level Accord Hybrid Touring starts at a lofty $42,505, which compares poorly to a fully loaded Camry Hybrid XLE that’s priced at only $39,690.

2021 Honda Insight Hybrid Touring
A soft-touch dash top joins even softer padded leatherette over many other surfaces.

It doesn’t take a economics major to figure out that Honda Canada needs to deal with this problem if it wants to grow hybrid sales, but so far no Alliston assembly plant upgrades have been announced. If Honda Canada were able to produce the CR-V Hybrid north of the 49th, it might be able to compete with Toyota’s RAV4 Hybrid (although not the plug-in RAV4 Prime) or Hyundai’s new Tucson Hybrid, but coming up with a business case to put such a plan into action might not make any sense in our market, which is just 10 percent of America’s population.

2021 Honda Insight Hybrid Touring
The Insight’s cockpit is very well laid out, plus roomy and comfortable.

Even if such a plan made sense, the very fact Honda’s Insight is a dedicated hybrid with a number of totally unique body panels and trim, puts the smaller of these two Japanese automakers at another disadvantage. Where Toyota can theoretically produce its Corolla Hybrid at multiple plants without modifying major body stamping equipment, Honda would need to upgrade more than just the drivetrain portions of any alternative assembly plants to allow for more Insight production.

2021 Honda Insight Hybrid Touring
The stitched and padded leatherette bolster ahead of the front passenger is especially upscale.

Currently, the Insight is built at Honda Manufacturing of Indiana in Greensburg, which also produces the Civic and previously pushed out the popular Civic Hybrid. If, alternatively, Honda chose to create a hybridized version of the new Civic, its many global assembly plants that are already pushing out versions of its venerable compact sedan could adapt more easily to hybrid production. Applying this (admittedly theoretical) logic to Canada’s Alliston assembly plant, might mean a Civic Hybrid could be built for Canadian consumption, thus resolving Honda’s inability to move many Insights in the great white north. As it is, Honda is fast losing its electrification edge in our market.

2021 Honda Insight Hybrid Touring
The fully digital gauge cluster is a nice touch.

All said, is the Insight any good? Absolutely. If you’ve made it this far into this review, you’ll already know this Insight is nothing less than a gussied up Civic sedan, which everyone should appreciate is a very good compact car. It’s so good in fact, it consistently outsells every other car made, and we should all remember that the audience is always right (at least by “Who Wants To Be A Millionaire” standards).

2021 Honda Insight Hybrid Touring
All the steering wheel switchgear is very impressive.

Behind its large, blackened grille opening is Honda’s well-proven 1.5-litre Atkinson-cycle internal combustion engine (ICE) and electric motor assistant, the latter powered by a 60-cell lithium-ion battery. All totalled up, the combination makes 151 net horsepower and an even stronger 197 lb-ft of torque. While off-the-line performance and passing power is certainly important, in the Insight’s compact class, hybrids are more about fuel economy, and the Insight delivers with a claimed rating of 4.6 L/100km city, 5.3 highway, and 4.9 combined, which will be good enough to wow most Civic owners that can only manage to eke out 7.9 L/100km in the city, 6.1 on the highway and 7.1 combined when driving the model’s most efficient variant. Still, Toyota’s previously noted Corolla Hybrid is not only less expensive at the time of purchase, but keeps giving at the pump with an estimated rating of 4.4 L/100km in the city, 4.5 on the highway and 4.5 combined. Ouch!

2021 Honda Insight Hybrid Touring
We should commend Honda for sticking to its performance principles, despite these paddle shifters not being as useful in a hybrid as they’d be in a high-powered Civic.

Still, a small number of Canadian consumers, who are faithful to Honda and therefore willing to pay more initially and continually, choose the Insight over the Corolla Hybrid, or for that matter the all-new Hyundai Elantra Hybrid, which incidentally improves on both Japanese models’ fuel economy thanks to a claimed rating of 4.5 L/100km in the city, 4.2 on the highway and 4.4 combined, plus adds insult to injury with a starting price of just $24,699 and arguably more attractive (or at least fresher) styling. So, for those willing to pay more for less of what hybrids are supposed to be about, the Insight delivers extremely smooth operation from its continuously variable transmission (CVT), an equally calming ride and a well-organized, reasonably high-quality interior.

2021 Honda Insight Hybrid Touring
Honda does infotainment very well, and the Insight’s 8.0-inch touchscreen is no exception.

Before delving into the latter, the just-noted CVT isn’t designed for performance enthusiasts, so Civic Si buyers need not apply, but rather becomes annoyingly buzzy when pushing hard on the throttle for extended periods. Of course, such driving negates the car’s purpose, so I can’t see many Insight buyers doing so very often. I merely did for testing purposes, and have long experienced similar results from other CVT-equipped models in the class, such as the Corolla Hybrid. Nevertheless, despite its economy-first mission, Honda decided to include a Sport setting along with its expected Comfort, Econ and EV powertrain modes, which really says a lot about the much-loved brand itself.

2021 Honda Insight Hybrid Touring
Touring trim features upscale features like navigation.

Another positive advantage benefiting Insight buyers over those living with a Corolla Hybrid, is an EV mode that allows traveling at posted city speeds, something not possible in any non-plug-in Toyota hybrid that engages its ICE over 20 km/h. While enjoyable to run around town in near silent bliss, this feature doesn’t necessarily aid fuel-efficiency, as pointed out earlier, so it won’t like matter to most buyers.

2021 Honda Insight Hybrid Touring
The hybrid systems power flow meter is fun to watch.

As for that smooth suspension, it really is good. My city’s streets are mostly agreeable, although like in any urban area there are roadways that desperately need upkeep and only limited funds and workers to maintain them. Despite its compact size, the Insight’s relatively long wheelbase and nicely tuned fully independent suspension made bumpy patches of tarmac easier to endure, while simultaneously providing capable road-holding when choosing to rev out its noisy powertrain. Fortunately, the much of the Insight’s motive mass hides below the rear seat, which aids its centre of gravity, providing decent handling characteristics. Again, Civic Si enthusiasts need not apply, but hybrid buyers would be pleasantly surprised if they chose to test one out.

2021 Honda Insight Hybrid Touring
The dual-zone auto HVAC interface is nicely done.

For such situations, the aforementioned Sport mode is ideal, enhanced by the ability to use steering wheel-mounted paddles to shift its CVT through a number of artificially stepped “gears”. Those who prefer shifting with a traditional gear lever are out of luck, because Honda infused the Insight’s lower console with its pushbutton gear selector. I’m just fine with that thanks to those paddle-shifters, and honestly, I only used the latter for one short stint throughout my weeklong test, due to the harshness of the drivetrain when doing so. Again, while its cool that Honda added DIY paddles, they’re not all that useful in a car like this, making me wonder if the investment might have been better spent on something else, or possibly eliminated altogether in order to lower the price?

2021 Honda Insight Hybrid Touring
Plenty of power sources keep external devices charged.

As for the pushbutton (and pull-tab for reverse) gear selector, it looks appropriately modern and frees up arm space above the console, which otherwise is fitted with a big rubberized tray for holding your oversized smartphone. Honda includes two USB charge points plus a 12-volt power supply just above, all of which come together at the base of a centre stack that’s also laid out well, with a stylish dual-zone auto HVAC interface, a slim strip of switchgear for turning on the three-way heated front seats, recirculating air, and defog/defrost functions.

2021 Honda Insight Hybrid Touring
Honda’s nicely organized gear selector is a bonus.

The centre stack is topped off with a large enough 8.0-inch touchscreen, which will be all-too familiar to current Civic owners. It features colourful, user friendly digital controls that are organized in an attractive tile design, with some of its functions being Apple CarPlay and Android Auto smartphone connectivity, a navigation system (in my Touring tester) that proved very accurate, a fun-to-watch engine/battery power flow indicator, audio functions for a great sounding stereo, and the list goes on.

2021 Honda Insight Hybrid Touring
Sport mode in a hybrid? Yes, Honda stays true to its sporting core, even when focused on fuel-efficiency.

Of course, the display uses smartphone- or tablet-like finger gestures, so you can tap, swipe or pinch to your heart’s content, while Honda also framed this touchscreen with some useful switches for accessing key info quickly. The left-side row features a button for the home screen, plus one for returning back to the previous function, and another for transitioning between day and night modes. There are also two for browsing radio stations or MP3 tracks, while a rotating volume knob joins a volume controller on the left-hand steering wheel spoke. All of the infotainment system’s quick-access buttons receive backlit names just underneath, but makes sense until using them at night, when pressing the lighted name does nothing at all. Instead, you need to press the little, narrow button on top of the name, which is invisible in the dark. Yah, not the smartest application of an otherwise intelligent concept.

2021 Honda Insight Hybrid Touring
The Insight Touring model’s driver’s seat is superb.

The Insight’s primary instrument experience is all positive, on the other hand. Honda was early to adopt a fully digital driver’s display, the arching cluster incorporating a multi-information display (MID) featuring useful hybrid info, such as a battery charge indicator, on the left, and a speedometer and gas gauge combo to the right. Well-made, smartly organized steering wheel switchgear controls the MID, which is par for the course with Honda products. Above everything is an overhead console integrating two incandescent reading lights, plus an emergency assist button, a HomeLink remote garage door opener, and the usual powered moonroof rocker switch. And yes, I would have rather seen an oversized glass sunroof in place of the Insight’s smallish opening, but some electrified cars don’t offer sunroofs at all, so I’d best not complain.

2021 Honda Insight Hybrid Touring
Regular-sized moonroofs seem so average these days.

Back to positives, the Insight’s cabin approaches Acura ILX levels of fit, finish, and materials quality, with a dash top surfaced in nice pliable composites, plus a padded and French-stitched leather-like bolster ahead of the front passenger that flows across the instrument panel and down the sides of the centre stack. Certainly, I would’ve appreciated if Honda had finished the driver’s compartment as nicely as the front passenger’s, but at least both sides of the lower console gets the same soft-touch pampering treatment, which perfectly matches the sliding armrest in the middle.

2021 Honda Insight Hybrid Touring
The rear seating area is comfortable and spacious.

The front door uppers get the same premium covering as the dash top, by the way, while the door inserts just below receive a similar stitched leatherette to that on the instrument panel bolster. Most everything looks and feels like it was produced by an entry-level luxury brand, like Acura, but I should say that Honda isn’t alone in raising the level of refinement in its compact models.

2021 Honda Insight Hybrid Touring
The folding centre armrest is comfortable, but the cupholders are too small.

Honda has produced some of the better seats in the industry for a long time, however, and this Insight Touring’s driver’s perch is no exception. It provided excellent inherent support and no shortage of adjustability, resulting in a very comfortable office chair, while the tilt and telescopic steering column just ahead proved extendable enough to reach my shorter arms and torso when the lower cushion was pushed back far enough to make room for my longish legs. This ideal driver setup is not always possible from other compact models, and would be something I’d be willing to spend hundreds if not thousands for, so kudos to Honda for getting this right.

2021 Honda Insight Hybrid Touring
Rear seat heaters are always welcome.

Along with excellent positioning, my tester’s steering wheel rim felt nice and meaty, with comfortable indents for thumbs and an overall performance-oriented feel. It’s as if Honda pulled it out the aforementioned Civic Si, rather than something designed to blissfully cruise past gas stations. All-round, the cockpit area is comfortable, spacious and lends a sense of control, which is exactly what most in this class are looking for.

2021 Honda Insight Hybrid Touring
The Insight’s trunk offers plenty of room for life’s gear.

Rear passengers should be nearly as comfortable, and despite not covering the tops of each window sill with soft-touch synthetic like those up front, the rest of the door panels were near duplicates, and a reasonably large armrest topped off by unreasonably small cupholders made things comfier for those stuck in back. Likewise, two-way rear seat warmers added wintertime heat to the outboard cushions, but there were no air vents next to the rocker switches on the backside of the front console or anywhere else in back, nor for that matter reading lights overhead.

2021 Honda Insight Hybrid Touring
A centre pass-through would be nice, but to be fair, most of the Insight’s hybrid competitors don’t offer much more than this.

The trunk’s 416-litre (14.7 cu-ft) volume should be large enough for most peoples’ needs, while extra gear can be placed below the cargo floor if small enough. This is where Honda stows the Insight’s tire repair pump, which is necessary for fixing a flat, being that no spare is offered. Expanding on the trunk’s usefulness are 60/40-split rear seatbacks, and no centre pass-through for loading longer items such as skis down the middle.

2021 Honda Insight Hybrid Touring
While not the most efficient in its class, the Insight’s powertrain should provide good reliability.

If an Insight seems like the car for you, keep in mind that Honda is currently offering up to $1,000 in additional incentives. You can learn more about this discount on our 2021 Honda Insight Canada Prices page, which also provides comparative trim pricing, plus the ability to build the car with all available options. While you’re there, be sure to check out how the CarCostCanada system works, so you can utilize dealer invoice pricing to save even more when negotiating your best deal, plus download the free CarCostCanada app so you can have all of this valuable information on-hand when you need it most, whether at a Honda dealership pushing for a more agreeable Insight price, or walking across the street to a Toyota or Hyundai dealer in order to check out their electrified Corolla and Elantra offerings.

Review and photos by Trevor Hofmann

CarCostCanada

Redesigned Mercedes C-Class ups style and technology for 2022

2022 Mercedes-Benz C 300 4Matic
Mercedes’ new 2022 C-Class sedan pulls many design cues from the smaller A-Class four-door, and looks all the better for it.

It’s finally the C’s time to shine. As part of a thorough fifth-generation C-Class redesign, the new model will bypass first-gen MBUX electronics to be second in the lineup to feature Mercedes’ entirely new separated digital gauge cluster display and infotainment touchscreen.

That’s probably the biggest 2022 C-Class news, next to the updated model’s completely new sheet metal, mostly because the latter could’ve easily been guessed by looking at the recently updated fourth-generation A-Class sedan that debuted in 2018.

2022 Mercedes-Benz C 300 4Matic
The new C’s side styling is less curvaceous than its predecessor, but the lines are clean and attractive just the same.

The new (W206) C-Class is the A’s obvious bigger brother, at least when the two model’s sedans are placed side-by-side. The A can be had in a sporty hatch as well, while the C is offered in coupe, convertible and wagon body styles. We’ve only seen the sedan and wagon thus far, and sadly the latter car won’t make the journey across the Atlantic later this year, news that no doubt has fans of low-slung, elongated five-door Mercs feeling woeful.

2022 Mercedes-Benz C 300 4Matic
Possibly the most noticeable change to the 2022 C-Class sedan is in the rear, where new taillights dress up the design.

At least the new C four-door should put a smile on those who prefer keeping their cargo snuggly secured away in a locked trunk, as it’s one very stylish sedan. It boasts Mercedes’ new frowning oval grille (the previous sport grille was turned up at its ends, resulting in a happier countenance), also seen on the just-noted A-Class, plus the leaner looking CLA. Moving outward, a new set of more sharply angled Performance LED headlamps stretch farther around each front fender, while a reworked lower front fascia comes across cleaner for a more minimalist approach. Additionally, the hood incorporates a pair of sinuous character lines, pulling memories of the ‘50s-era 300 SL, which is certainly no bad thing.

2022 Mercedes-Benz C 300 4Matic Wagon
Unfortunately, there won’t be a 2022 C 300 4Matic Wagon in Canada.

Peering down each side, Mercedes abandoned the outgoing C sedan’s gracefully penned beltline crease, which used to sweep downward through the rear door ahead of disappearing under its handle. This said, the new model appears more slab-sided, although the lower crease remains, which kicks upward as it moves rearward.

Quite possibly the most obvious differentiator between old and new Cs are the taillights, the latest iteration featuring two-piece triangular lenses that wrap horizontally around the rear flanks, compared to the outgoing model’s less distinctive ovoid lamps. Look no further than the A-Class sedan for their inspiration. Finally, the new C-Class gets fresh sets of 18- and 19-inch alloys, along with a revised palette of exterior paint colours.

2022 Mercedes-Benz C 300 4Matic
The new C-Class will come standard with Mercedes’ second-gen MBUX infotainment system.

Those lured to a new car via modernized electronics may have already flocked to Mercedes in recent years, being that the brand’s two-in-one MBUX driving/infotainment display has been second to none (except for Hyundai/Kia that adopted a similar design for many of their latest models). As noted earlier, Mercedes is skipping over the initial MBUX system for an altogether different approach to design and functionality. Instead, it will keep a similar fixed tablet-style display for the car’s primary gauge cluster, but will host the majority of infotainment info on a much larger individual display in a more conventional location, a bit lower on the centre stack, which should be easier to reach for some drivers. Anyone moving from the current C’s analogue dial and digital multi-information setup to the new all-electronic layout shouldn’t be put off, but some elevating their lifestyle from an A-Class may be chagrined after getting used to the first-gen MBUX design. Then again, if new design is good enough for Merc’s full-size S-Class flagship, it should be acceptable for C-Class users, the smaller sedan being the second car in the Stuttgart-brand’s lineup to complete rework its entire instrument panel layout.

2022 Mercedes-Benz C 300 4Matic
The digital gauge cluster is now a separate entity, but its functionality should be at least as good as the first-gen MBUX driver’s display.

The centre display is an elegantly crafted bit of electronica, particularly how it appears to seamlessly meld into a high-gloss carbon fibre weave surface treatment as it curves into the lower console, save for a thin strip of bisecting analogue buttons. The larger display is a touchscreen, just like the outgoing C’s smaller monitor and Merc’s first-gen MBUX unit, the extra digital acreage necessary now that a console-mounted touchpad is nowhere to be seen. Fans of minimalism will like how it looks, but others who preferred a best-of-both-worlds approach will probably complain.

2022 Mercedes-Benz C 300 4Matic
The new infotainment display is much larger than the outgoing version, and controlled by the touchscreen and steering wheel switchgear.

According to Mercedes, the new display integrates haptic feedback for more fingertip feedback, while updating the system software now takes place over-the-air. Mercedes has included mention biometric authentication too, via either voice command or fingerprint scanning, while touching the scanner will initiate pre-selected memory adjustments to the driver seat, radio station, etcetera. The ability to purchase apps (and no doubt additional items in the future) from the Mercedes Me store can be done via fingerprint scanning too, while the C’s new head-up display utilizes augmented reality to project real-time visuals on the windshield in front of the driver.

2022 Mercedes-Benz C 300 4Matic
Look ma, no touchpad and rotating dial. The C-Class does away with Mercedes’ secondary infotainment controls.

Not only the driver benefits from new C’s improvements, by the way. Everyone aboard should appreciate the added comfort from its increase width and length. Both front and rear passengers should have more space for their legs and shoulders at their disposal, which is critical in a category that includes a few rivals boasting almost mid-size dimensions.

For those put off by the larger car when parking, a rear-wheel steering system should make the process easier. Additionally, the C 300 4Matic model gets some major tech upgrades under the hood, such as a standard 48-volt integrated starter-generator (ISG), a.k.a. a mild hybrid drive system. It combines with Mercedes’ potent 2.0-litre four-cylinder engine and nine-speed automatic transmission, for a total of 255 horsepower and 295 lb-ft of torque. The electric motor is responsible for 20 of those horses, plus 147 lb-ft of additional twist, but despite its boost in output the new car is a tad slower than the outgoing model off the line. Of course, the changes are more about fuel-efficiency, the hybrid drivetrain joined by driveline drag reducing gliding capability, plus a kinetic energy recovery system.

2022 Mercedes-Benz C 300 4Matic
Expect Mercedes’ usual high-quality and impressive comfort.

Strangely, we won’t see the plug-in hybrid version, which reportedly has an EV range of 100 km between charges (maybe it’s reserved for Germany’s taxi fleets), so any hopes of scoring any front-of-business reserved plug-in parking spots when at the wheel of a C-Class need to be dashed, or for that matter blasting past rush-hour traffic in the HOV lane.

2022 Mercedes-Benz C 300 4Matic
The new C 300 4Matic will come standard with a 48-volt mild hybrid-enhanced powertrain.

Mercedes has made no announcements of ultra-potent six- or eight-cylinder AMG-tuned C-Class models either, but instead we’re hearing reports of electrically-assisted four-cylinder variants, possibly similar to Volvo’s T8 and Polestar Engineered power units. The difference between regular and AMG hybrid Cs will come down to tuning, with the former prioritizing fuel economy and the latter focused on performance.

Of course, the new C-Class will also include all the expected driver assistive systems, including sign and red-light recognition, and steering assistance to help drivers maintain a chosen lane up to 210 km/h, where legally permitted.

2022 Mercedes-Benz C 300 4Matic
With styling like this, the C-Class will remain a segment leader.

As noted earlier, we can expect the new 2022 C 300 4Matic arrive in Canadian dealerships later this year, but we’ll have to wait a little longer for pricing and trim details. For the time being, Mercedes is providing up to $5,500 in additional incentives on the 2021 C-Class models, while CarCostCanada members are currently saving an average of $3,950.

To learn more about how to save money with your CarCostCanada membership, check out our “How it Works” page. Members receive info about manufacturer leasing and financing deals when available, plus factory rebates when available, as well as dealer invoice pricing that can help you save thousands when negotiating over a new vehicle. Also, be sure to download the our free app from the Google Play store or Apple store too, so you can access all this critical money-saving info on your smartphone.

The C-Class: Rapid-Fire Questions to Dirk Fetzer (1:07):

The New C-Class Sedan: An Intelligent Comfort Zone (0:49):

The New C-Class Sedan: A Connected Comfort Zone (0:56):

Story credits: Trevor Hofmann

Photo credits: Mercedes-Benz

CarCostCanada

Mini chooses radical mid-cycle makeover for 2022

2022 Mini Cooper 3-Door
Mini is giving its 2022 3-Door, 5-Door and Convertible models a big update for 2022, and not without controversy.

New Mini Hatch and Convertible models are on the way, and while change is good, not everyone will like what they see.

We’ve had the current Mini design with us for nearly eight years now, so a redesign is long overdue. Still, we’ll only get a mid-cycle refresh for the 2022 model year, with a thorough ground-up redesign expected at some point in the next few years. Then again, Mini might have you questioning your beliefs if you’re currently thinking major updates only happen when a car gets completely revamped.

2022 Mini Cooper S 3-Door
The new Cooper S’ front end certainly looks more aggressive.

Like so many other model updates in recent years, the new 2022 Mini Hatch and Convertible have grown their grille size, the result easier to see on more basic Cooper and Cooper S trims than with the brand’s much sportier John Cooper Works (JCW) iteration, because the more affordable models feature a big body-colour bumper section within their grilles, and the top-tier version gets a completely blacked-out mesh grille insert, plus a much more intimidating lower front fascia, which is also finished in matte black.

Another visual departure replaces the cars’ classic round fog lights with narrow vertical creases, modernizing the Mini look yet not paying homage to its storied past, an unusual move for a retrospective brand. These appear like brake ducts instead of anything to house lighting elements, while the headlamp clusters now integrate the fog lights. The aforementioned JCW now grows out these corner vent/brake ducts, and could be said to look all the better for it.

2022 Mini Cooper S 5-Door
The roomy 5-Door model gets all the updates too.

It’s nevertheless unlikely Mini’s risky new forward-thinking design language will be all that acceptable to long-time fans of the brand, despite a press release attesting to the new design’s “purist look”. Those two words are referring to a grille surround that’s a bit closer to the original car’s shape than anything offered since the brand’s 2001 remake, but other than this loosely hexagonal borderline, the ovoid headlamp clusters to each side, and the car’s curvy shape overall, very little pulls from Mini’s storied past.

2022 Mini Cooper S Convertible
Changes to the sides and rear are much less noticeable.

It’s difficult to say now, but it’s possible Mini’s new front fascia may become just as controversial as the tall, vertical “twin kidney” grille found on the front of BMW’s new 3 and 4 Series models. BMW, which owns and produces Mini, has created just a hubbub of discontent amongst its diehard ownership base, that aftermarket producers are already creating replacement front fascias with arguably better looking (smaller and more discreet) grille openings, which means the German automaker could inadvertently be creating a secondary market for its Mini line as well.

No doubt it has been difficult for Mini’s various design teams to update its lineup over the decades, being that it’s such an iconic brand. Volkswagen had similar challenges with its Beetle, no doubt, but they chose subtle changes that worked well, at least until they recently canceled the nameplate. Up until now, Mini has risen to the challenge admirably, but it’s possible, in a quest to expand the brand to a larger group of potentially new buyers, they’ve gone too far with the latest update.

2022 Mini Cooper S Convertible
Changes to the 2022 Mini interiors are minor.

Where the new Mini’s frontal design shows most of the changes, the car’s side profile and rear styling look more akin to the outgoing model, with updates to the former including “side scuttle” fender garnishes now featuring thin LED light strips for turn signal repeaters, and the latter portion only getting a revised bumper cap that no longer includes rear fog lamps or reflectors. Mini is also offering an optional Multitone Roof, which features a stylish gradient effect mixing Soul Blue, Pearly Aqua and Jet Black.

2022 Mini Cooper S Convertible
A new digital instrument cluster modernizes the driving experience.

A new standard digital instrument cluster is the only noticeable update inside. It was first seen on the Mini Cooper SE plug-in hybrid and sportiest John Cooper Works GP model. The steering wheel is new as well, and warmer thanks to a heated rim. Additionally, the car’s centre air vents have now been better integrated within the dash panel.

An 8.8-inch infotainment touchscreen now comes standard in every new Mini Hatch and Convertible too. It provides modernized graphics and enhanced features, such as standard satellite radio and Apple CarPlay, although the more popular Google Android smartphone platform has yet to get full device integration through its Android Auto system. Fortunately, lane-departure warning will be standard for 2022, while the car’s adaptive cruise control system will include stop-and-go capability. Finally, Mini has reworked the interior’s ambient lighting system.

2022 Mini Cooper S Convertible
An updated infotainment enhance interior livability.

As for under-the-hood mechanicals, Mini Canada continues forward with a standard six-speed manual gearbox for 2022, while its fast-shifting 7-speed dual-clutch automated gearbox remains optional, with steering wheel paddles of course.

Likewise, engine output is once again rated at 134 horsepower and 164 lb-ft of torque for Mini Canada’s base Cooper model, this strong for an efficient 1.5-litre turbocharged three-cylinder. The 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder in the Cooper S moves into 2022 unchanged too, continuing to make 189 horsepower and 207 lb-ft of torque, while the same engine in the JCW puts out 228 horsepower and 236 lb-ft. Lastly, the plug-in SE once again boasts 181 horsepower and 199 lb-ft of torque.

2022 Mini John Cooper Works Convertible
We think the new Mini John Cooper Works looks best.

2022 model year pricing hasn’t been announced yet, but production started last month so we should receive details soon. If we were to venture a guess, all of the just-noted improvements to standard trims will likely increase base prices modestly.

Alternatively, those that take a look at the new 2022 Mini and instead want a 2021 version, or perhaps even a new 2020 model if you can still find the colour and features you want, should take note that the British carmaker is currently offering up to $1,500 in additional incentives for the former and $3,000 from the latter, as per our 2021 Mini 3 Door Canada Prices page and 2020 Mini 3 Door Canada Prices page, while average CarCostCanada member savings equals a sizeable $10,000. Similarly, Mini is offering up to $1,500 in additional incentives from 2021 and 2020 Convertibles, and up to $2,500 in incentives on 2021 and 2020 5-Door models.

CarCostCanada members can access key information about all the latest factory rebates, manufacturer financing and leasing rates, plus best of all, dealer invoice pricing that can save you thousands during negotiations. Be sure to learn how a CarCostCanada membership can save you money, and remember to download the free CarCostCanada app from the Apple Store or Google Play Store.

Story credits: Trevor Hofmann

Photo credits: Mini

CarCostCanada

Toyota Venza comes back from six-year hiatus with hybrid electric power

2021 Toyota Venza
Toyota will bring back its Venza nameplate for 2021, but it will be a taller more SUV-like crossover than the previous version.

Sometimes automakers make choices that don’t seem to make much sense at the time, but for reasons we outsiders will never know, vehicles get cancelled that really should have lived on.

The 2009–2015 Venza was one such vehicle, a five-occupant mid-size crossover SUV that, while a bit more wagon-like than utility, due to Toyota already offering its rugged, truck-based, off-road capable five-passenger 4Runner, nevertheless filled an important void in the brand’s North American lineups.

Thanks to fairly good initial sales, Toyota would’ve arguably found more traction if it had chosen to bring back a redesign after four to five or years or so, rather than cancel it after six. At least the Japanese brand has a recognizable nameplate to fall back on now that it’s ready to reenter one of the more profitable auto segments. The new Toyota Venza will therefore launch in Canada as a 2021 model, starting this summer. 

While standard with all-wheel drive, more unexpectedly is the announcement of a standard hybrid drivetrain. This follows Toyota’s commitment to electrify its entire lineup by 2025, and therefore the new Venza will be joined by a wholly redesigned 2021 Sienna that will only be available with a hybrid electric drivetrain as well.

2009 Toyota Venza
The original 2009-2016 Venza was ahead of its time.

Additional Toyota vehicles sold with the automaker’s full hybrid drive system include the now legendary Prius, also with available with new AWD-e four-season capability, plus the new Corolla Hybrid, the Camry Hybrid, the RAV4 Hybrid, and the Highlander Hybrid, while the Prius Prime offers plug-in, 100 percent electric (EV) motive power for short distances at city as well as highway speeds, plus last but not least is the Mirai hydrogen fuel-cell-powered EV.

Since the first-generation Venza was discontinued, Toyota hasn’t offered a two-row, five-passenger crossover SUV in the mid-size class. As noted the iconic 4Runner remains a 4×4-capable off-roader competing more directly with Jeep’s Wrangler and soon Ford’s new Bronco, so it won’t attract the same kind of soft-roader clientele. Ford in mind, its Edge will be one of the Venza’s direct competitors, while the even more popular three-row Explorer will continue to duke it out against Toyota’s recently redesigned Highlander. Of note, the Edge was the best-selling mid-size SUV in calendar year 2019 thanks to 19,965 sales, compared to the Highlander that only found 13,811 new Canadian owners. What’s more, Ford sold 29,632 Edge and Explorer models collectively last year, and that impressive sales lead doesn’t even factor in that 2019 was a terrible year for the Explorer due to Ford’s slow rollout of the all-new 2020 version. Ford claimed that production issues were at fault, but either way year-over-year Explorer sales were down 47 percent plunge in Canada during 2019, so we can expect the disparity in Ford’s mid-size SUV sales lead to grow even more in 2020 (overall sale will be down, however, due to COVID-19).

2021 Toyota Harrier
The 2021 Toyota Harrier looks very similar to the new Venza.

As of December 31, 2019, five two-row mid-size SUVs sold better than the Highlander in the Canadian mid-size SUV segment. The Edge was followed by Hyundai’s Santa Fe (which is now available solely as a five-passenger model due to the new three-row Palisade) that found 18,929 new customers last year, whereas Jeep’s Grand Cherokee attracted 18,659 new owners in 2019. Kia’s Sorento (now also sold with just two rows thanks to Kia’s new Telluride) also beat Highlander sales with 16,054 deliveries down the road during the same 12 months, while Chevy’s all-new Blazer sold 15,210 units last year. Nissan only sold 12,000 Muranos in 2019, but when this model finally gets a redesign it will probably find more takers than the three-row Highlander too, so it’s clear that the new 2021 Venza critically important for Toyota.

Toyota is taking a significant risk by only offering a single hybrid drivetrain, particularly because this choice will undoubtedly make the Venza more expensive to build and sell than rivals’ gasoline-powered counterparts, but it nevertheless should be well received by those wanting to save fuel and reduce pollutants. A recent spike in fuel prices may make some Canadians more open to spending more on a hybrid powertrain, but even with pump prices higher now than in recent months they remain relatively low when compared to the last couple of years.

There should be no fears about Toyota hybrid reliability, mind you, as the brand initiated the entire market segment with its first-generation Prius in 1997 (in 2000 as a 2001 model here in Canada) and garnered an enviable reputation for near bulletproof dependability for all of its various hybrid-electric drivetrains.

1999 Toyota Harrier
The original 1999 Toyota Harrier looks almost identical to the Lexus RX 300 of the same era.

No Transport Canada five-cycle fuel economy figures have been announced yet, but Toyota estimates the new 2021 Venza to manage a combined city and highway rating of 5.9 L/100km, which will make it the most fuel-efficient vehicle in its class. Of note, the brand employs active grille shutters in order to minimize drag, aiding fuel economy at highway speeds.

The original Venza shared its platform architecture with the Japanese domestic market (JDM) Toyota Harrier, amongst other Toyota/Lexus products such as the Camry and Highlander. The Harrier was even more closely aligned with our Lexus RX (particularly the first-generation Harrier that was barely disguised when it debuted as the 1999 Lexus RX 300). Over the five-plus-year period that Toyota didn’t offer the Venza in Canada, covering 2016 until today, a third-gen Harrier came and went in the JDM, but now that we have photos of both the fourth-gen Harrier and the new 2021 Venza it’s easy to see the similarities between these two vehicles.

Toyota will use its well-proven 2.5-litre Atkinson-cycle four-cylinder hybrid powertrain for the new 2021 Venza and upcoming 2021 Sienna, this drivetrain also powering the Camry Hybrid, RAV4 Hybrid and Highlander Hybrid (as well as the Avalon Hybrid in the U.S. market). The powertrain’s combined system output is 219 horsepower, making it identical to the 2020 RAV4 Hybrid, although more powerful than the Camry Hybrid that only puts out 208 hp, and not as potent as the new 2020 Highlander Hybrid that makes a total of 240 hp.

2015 Toyota Harrier
A version of this 2015 Toyota Harrier could’ve been our Venza if Toyota had decided to keep the model in the North American markets.

The new Toyota Hybrid System II drivetrain incorporates a lighter lithium-ion battery that improves efficiency as well as performance. Like the RAV4 Hybrid and Highlander Hybrid, the Venza receives two electric motors that provide maximum torque almost immediately at takeoff. The rear motor provides motive power to the rear wheels, which Toyota calls Electronic On-Demand All-Wheel Drive. The rear-mounted motor only engages when the back wheels experience slippage, at which point the drive system can appropriate up to 80 percent of system torque to the wheels behind. This said the system defaults to front-wheel drive so as to minimize fuel usage, and only uses its rear wheels when necessary.

Speaking of fuel savings, the Venza includes an Eco mode that “changes the throttle and environmental logic” to enhance overall efficiencies, states Toyota in a press release, while Normal and Sport modes (the former “ideal for everyday driving” and the latter sharpening “throttle response”) also come standard, whereas an EV mode allows limited use of full electric motive power at “low speeds for short distances,” just like Toyota provides with its other non-plug-in hybrid models.

2021 Toyota Venza
The new 2021 Venza offers slick, premium styling.

Toyota claims the new 2021 Venza’s regenerative braking system, which captures otherwise lost electricity caused by kinetic brake friction and then reroutes it to the model’s electrical system, provides better control than in previous hybrid generations, and in fact can be used for “downshifting” via the sequential gear lever’s manual shift mode. Each downshift increases the regenerative system’s braking force in steps, which “fosters greater control when driving in hilly areas,” says Toyota, while the hybrid system also benefits ride comfort by “finely controlling the drive torque to suppress pitch under acceleration and deceleration.” Toyota calls this differential torque pre-load, and it’s particularly useful when taking off from a corner or managing curves on both normal and slippery road surfaces. This feature also aids steering performance at higher speeds, plus it improves straight-line stability and controllability on rougher road surfaces. Additionally, Toyota incorporates new Active Cornering Assist (ACA) electronic brake vectoring into the Venza so as to minimize understeer and thus improve handling yet further.

The new 2021 Venza is built on the Toyota New Global Architecture K (TNGA-K) platform that also underpins the 2018–present Camry, 2019–present Avalon, 2019–present RAV4, 2020 Highlander, and the redesigned 2021 Sienna, not to mention the 2019–present Lexus ES and upcoming Lexus NX and RX replacements. In a press release Toyota states that the TNGA-K architecture helps the Venza deliver an “intuitive driving experience” with “greater driving refinement,” including “comfortable urban and highway performance” and “predictable handling, plus low noise, vibration, and harshness (NVH).” The new Venza features extensive high-strength steel for a more rigid body structure that helps improve its front strut and rear multi-link suspension’s ride quality and handling, plus its overall safety.

2021 Toyota Venza
Toyota will offer a fully digital gauge cluster in top trims.

The new base Venza LE rides on an 18-inch set of multi-spoke two-tone alloy wheels, whereas XLE and Limited trims arrive standard with a set of 19-inch multi-spoke super chrome finished alloys.

Inside the cabin, the near top-line Venza XLE and the fully-loaded Limited model get advanced touch-sensitive capacitive controls on their centre stack instead of the LE’s physical buttons, although you’ll probably notice the big 12.3-inch centre infotainment touchscreen first. This said even the base model’s 8.0-inch centre display is big for an entry-level model.

The Venza’s larger upgraded infotainment system receives a 1,200-watt, 12-channel, nine-speaker (with sub) JBL audio system that Toyota claims to be “sonically gorgeous,” plus embedded navigation with Destination Assist comes standard too. The new nav system features switchable driver or front passenger operation, while both systems include smartphone integration from Apple CarPlay, which comes complete with its Siri voice control system, as well as Android Auto with its Google Assistant, while Bluetooth wireless connectivity is also included.

2021 Toyota Venza
A large 12.9-inch infotainment touchscreen will make the Venza ultra advanced.

Advanced technologies in mind, the Venza will make a fully digital instrument cluster available in upper trims, not to mention a 10-inch colour head-up display that will project key information, like vehicle speed, the hybrid system’s details, and TSS 2.0 safety and driver assist functions, onto the windscreen ahead of the driver, while an electronic rearview mirror with an auto-dimming function plus a HomeLink garage door opener will provide a clearer rear view, which will be especially helpful when rear passengers and/or luggage is interrupting rearward vision. The electronic rearview mirror only needs the flick of a switch to go from conventional to digital operation.

When moving up to Limited trim, parking lot safety is further improved via a 360-degree bird’s-eye view from a surround camera system that Toyota calls its Panoramic View Monitor. The standard camera gets “projected path” active guidelines as well as an available “rear camera cleaning system [that] sprays washer fluid to clear away water droplets, mud, snow, and snow-melting road treatments from the lens,” says Toyota.

Wireless phone charging is another area Toyota leads most rivals, so it’s no surprise the Venza makes this handy feature available, while additional options include ventilated front seats, proximity Smart Key for all four doors plus the tailgate (the latter also providing hands-free powered operation), plus more.

2021 Toyota Venza
Upper trims receive touch-capacitive controls on the centre stack.

More in mind, new “Star Gaze” is a fixed electrochromic panoramic glass roof that can instantly switch between transparent and frosted modes by flicking a switch on the overhead console. Toyota claims the frosted mode “brightens the interior while reducing direct sunlight, giving the cabin an even more open, airy, and inviting feeling.”

What’s more, each Venza trim comes standard with Toyota’s TSS 2.0 suite of advanced safety and driver assistance features such as pre-collision system and automatic emergency braking with pedestrian and cyclist detection, blind spot monitoring, lane departure assist, rear cross-traffic alert, lane tracing assist, automatic high beams, and full-speed adaptive cruise control.

As for interior roominess, we can expect the Venza’s passenger compartment to be similar in size to the first and second row of the new Highlander that as noted earlier shares underpinnings, which should make it more accommodating than the current RAV4. It’s possible to carry up to 1,027 litres (36.2 cubic feet) of cargo behind the rear seats, which is oddly 32 litres (1.1 cu ft) less than what you’ll find in a compact RAV4, that model good for 1,059 litres (37.4 cu ft) of dedicated cargo space, while the Highlander provides 1,010 litres (35.6 cu ft) more space when its third row laid flat.

Pricing for the 2021 Venza will be announced closer its summer arrival date.

Story credits: Trevor Hofmann

Photo credits: Toyota

CarCostCanada

Toyota sells 15-million hybrid vehicles

2020 Toyota Prius Prime
Toyota has expanded the Prius lineup to include the uniquely styled plug-in Prime.

Plenty of carmakers build hybrid vehicles, but none has been as successful at partial electrification as Toyota. Of course, it had a head start, creating the entire sector in 1997 with the launch of its original Prius. Now, 23 years later, Toyota has filled the world with more than 15 million hybrid vehicles, while accounting for 80 percent of all hybrid sales globally.

An updated version of that first-generation Prius arrived in Canada for 2000, and now that model is well into its fourth generation and an automotive icon. No other hybrid electric car has sold anywhere near as well as the Prius, plus Toyota has a number of other hybrids to its credit as well.

2020 Toyota Corolla Hybrid
The new Corolla Hybrid makes a lot of sense and should sell well.

While the full-size Prius v (for volume) was discontinued in 2017 and subcompact Prius c was cancelled last year, the plug-in Prius Prime is pointing Toyota in a more fully electrified direction. That model, which gets unique styling and the ability to drive at regular city and even highway speeds under full electric power, will be joined by a plug-in RAV4 Prime for 2021, which should be even more popular.

Speaking of popular, Toyota added a Corolla Hybrid to the gasoline-electric fleet for 2020, this model now going head-to-head against Honda’s Insight, which is little more than a restyled Civic hybrid, whereas the Camry Hybrid remains popular with those who require a bigger sedan.

2020 Toyota Camry Hybrid
The Camry Hybrid remains popular.

Toyota doesn’t offer its full-size Avalon Hybrid in Canada, but the aforementioned RAV4 Prime currently comes as a RAV4 Hybrid too, and its popularity will make sure no one in Canada is lamenting the loss of Toyota’s big flagship four-door sedan. Another SUV worth considering is the near-full-size Highlander Hybrid that’s oddly the only mid-size SUV available in the mainstream sector with a hybrid powertrain. Last but hardly least, Toyota offers fleet buyers one of the only hydrogen fuel cell-powered vehicles available, the one-of-a-kind Mirai taking the hybrid concept into a totally new direction.

2020 Toyota Highlander Hybrid
Hard to believe that a competitor has never offered anything to rival Toyota’s Highlander Hybrid.

Notably, a considerable number of the 15 million hybrids sold under Toyota’s umbrella wore the Lexus badge, the Japanese automaker’s luxury division adding seven additional gasoline-electric models to the namesake brand’s eight. Starting from the least expensive is the entry-level UX 250h subcompact crossover, which is followed by the NX 300h compact crossover, the ES 300h mid-size luxury sedan, the RX 450h mid-size crossover SUV, the longer three-row RX 450h L, the LC 500h personal sport-luxury coupe, and lastly the Lexus LS 500h full-size sedan flagship (gone are the HS 250h, CT 200h and GS 450h).

2020 Toyota RAV4 Hybrid
The RAV4 Hybrid will soon be available with a plug-in Prime drivetrain.

If you think that 15 hybrid models from two brands is an impressive accomplishment, considering for a moment that Toyota and Lexus sell 44 unique hybrid vehicles outside of Canada, while hybrids combined for 52 percent of Toyota’s overall sales volume in Europe last year.

So what does the future hold? Toyota plans to increase hybrid integration into more models moving forward, while continuing to develop its hydrogen fuel cell and full electric programs too. Toyota Executive Vice President Shigeki Terashi announced in June 2019 that half of the carmaker’s global sales would be electrified by 2025. Expect a combination of hybrid (HEV), plug-in hybrid (PHEV) and fully electric (BEV) vehicles, and with that latter category in mind, Terashi pointed out that an entirely new line of full electrics would be designed for international consumption.

Story credit: Trevor Hofmann

Photo credits: Toyota

CarCostCanada

2019 Toyota Prius Prime Road Test

2019 Toyota Prius Prime
Toyota has given all of its Prius models more style, with the Prime getting its most dramatic design.

As usual I’ve scanned the many Toyota Canada retail websites and found plenty new 2019 Prius Prime examples to purchase, no matter which province I searched. What this means is a good discount when talking to your local dealer, combined with Toyota’s zero-percent factory leasing and financing rates for 2019 models, compared to a best-possible 2.99-percent for the 2020 version.

As always I searched this information out right here on CarCostCanada, where you can also learn about most brands and models available, including the car on this page, which is found on our 2019 Toyota Prius Prime Canada Prices page. The newer version is found on our 2020 Toyota Prius Prime Canada Prices page, by the way, or you can search out a key competitor such as the Hyundai Ioniq, found on the 2019 Hyundai IONIQ Electric Plus Canada Prices page or 2020 Hyundai IONIQ Electric Plus Canada Prices page (the former offers a zero-percent factory leasing and financing deal, while the latter isn’t quite as good a deal at 3.49 percent). CarCostCanada also provides info about manufacturer rebates and dealer invoice pricing, which arm you before arriving at the dealership so you can get the best possible deal.

2019 Toyota Prius Prime
Nothing looks like a Prius Prime from behind.

While these pages weren’t created with the latest COVID-19 outbreak in mind, and really nothing was including the dealerships we use to test cars and purchase them, some who are reading this review may have their lease expiring soon, while others merely require a newer, more reliable vehicle (on warranty). At the time of writing, most dealerships were running with full or partial staff, although the focus seems to be more about servicing current clientele than selling cars. After all, it’s highly unlikely we can simply go test drive a new vehicle, let alone sit in one right now, but buyers wanting to take advantage of just-noted deals can purchase online, after which a local dealer would prep the vehicle before handing over the keys (no doubt while wearing gloves).

Back to the car in question, we’re very far into the 2020 calendar year, not to mention the 2020 model year, but this said let’s go over all the upgrades made to the 2020 Prius Prime so that you can decide whether to save a bit on a 2019 model or pay a little extra for the 2020 version. First, a little background info is in order. Toyota redesigned the regular Prius into its current fourth-generation iteration for the 2016 model year, and then added this plug-in hybrid (PHEV) Prime for the 2017 model year. The standard hybrid Prius received many upgrades for 2019, cleaning up styling for more of a mainstream look (that didn’t impact the version being reviewed now, by the way), but the latest 2020 Prius Prime was given a number of major updates that I’ll go over now.

2019 Toyota Prius Prime
LED headlamps, driving lights and fog lamps look distinctive.

Interestingly (in other words, what were they thinking?), pre-refreshed Prius Prime models came with glossy white interior trim on the steering wheel spokes and shift lever panel, which dramatically contrasted the glossy piano black composite found on most other surfaces. Additionally, Toyota’s Prius Prime design team separated the rear outboard seats with a big fixed centre console, reduced a potential five seats to just four for the 2019 model year. Now, for 2020, the trim is all black shiny plastic and the rear seat separator has been removed, making the Prime much more family friendly. What’s more, the 2020 improves also include standard Apple CarPlay, satellite radio, a sunvisor extender, plus new more easily accessible seat heater buttons, while two new standard USB-A charging ports have been added in back.

Moving into the 2020 model year the Prime’s trim lineup doesn’t change one iota, which means Upgrade trim sits above the base model once again, while the former can be enhanced with a Technology package. The base price for both 2019 and 2020 model years is $32,990 (plus freight and fees) as per the aforementioned CarCostCanada pricing pages, but on the positive Toyota now gives you cargo cover at no charge (it was previously part of the Technology package). This reduces the Technology package price from $3,125 to $3,000, a $125 savings, and also note that this isn’t the only price drop for 2020. The Upgrade trim’s price tag is $455 lower in fact, from $35,445 to $34,990, but Toyota doesn’t explain why. Either way, paying less is a good thing.

2019 Toyota Prius Prime
The Prime gets a unique concave roof, rear window and rear spoiler.

As for the Prius Prime’s Upgrade package, it includes a 4.6-inch bigger 11.6-inch infotainment touchscreen that integrates a navigation system (and it also replaces the Scout GPS Link service along with its 3-year subscription), a wireless phone charger, Softex breathable leatherette upholstery, an 8-way powered driver seat (which replaces the 6-way manual seat from the base car), illuminated entry (with step lights), a smart charging lid, and proximity keyless entry for the front passenger’s door and rear liftgate handle (it’s standard on the driver’s door), but interestingly Upgrade trim removes the Safety Connect system along with its Automatic Collision Notification, Stolen Vehicle Locator, Emergency Assistance button (SOS), and Enhanced Roadside Assistance program (three-year subscription).

My tester’s Technology package includes fog lamps, rain-sensing windshield wipers, a helpful head-up display unit, an always appreciated auto-dimming centre mirror, a Homelink remote garage door opener, impressive 10-speaker JBL audio, useful front parking sensors, semi-self-parking, blind spot monitoring, and rear cross-traffic alert.

2019 Toyota Prius Prime
The Prius interior is much improved over previous generations, especially in top-tier Upgrade trim with the Technology package.

You might think an appropriate joke would be to specify the need for blind spot monitoring (not to mention paying close attention to your mirrors) in a car that only makes 121 net horsepower plus an unspecified amount of torque from its hybrid power unit, plus comes with an electronic continuously variable automatic (CVT) that’s not exactly performance-oriented (to be kind), all of which could cause the majority of upcoming cars to blast past as if it was only standing still, but as with most hybrids the Prime is not as lethargic as its engine specs suggest. The truth is that electric torque comes on immediately, and although AWD is not available with the plug-in Prius Prime, its front wheels hooked up nicely at launch resulting in acceleration that was much more than needed, whether sprinting away from a stoplight, merging onto a highway, or passing big, slower moving trucks and buses.

2019 Toyota Prius Prime
All Prius trims include a wide, narrow digital instrument cluster, but the 11.6-inch centre display comes with Upgrade trim.

The Prius Prime is also handy through curves, but then again, just like it’s non-plug-in Prius compatriot, it was designed more for comfort than all-out speed, with excellent ride quality despite its fuel-efficient low rolling resistance all-season tires. Additionally, its ultra-tight turning radius made it easy to manoeuvre in small spaces. Of course, this is how the majority of Prius buyers want their cars to behave, because getting the best possible fuel economy is prime goal. Fortunately the 2019 Prius Prime is ultra-efficient, with a claimed rating of 4.3 L/100km city, 4.4 highway and 4.3 combined, compared to 4.4 in the city, 4.6 on the highway and 4.4 combined for the regular Prius, and 4.5 city, 4.9 highway and 4.7 for the AWD variant. This said the Prime is a plug-in hybrid that’s theoretically capable of driving on electric power alone, so if you have the patience and trim to recharge it every 40 km or so (its claimed EV-only range), you could actually pay nothing at all for fuel.

I might even consider buying a plug-in just to get the best parking spots at the mall and other popular stores, being that most retailers put their charging stations closest to their front doors. Even better, when appropriate stickers are attached to the Prime’s rear bumper it’s possible to use the much more convenient (and faster) high-occupancy vehicle (HOV) lane when driving alone during rush hour traffic.

2019 Toyota Prius Prime
A closer look shows how massive the navigation system’s map looks.

The Prime’s comfort-oriented driving experience combines with an interior that’s actually quite luxurious too. Resting below and in between cloth-wrapped A-pillars, the Prime receives luxuriously padded dash and instrument panel surfacing, including sound-absorbing soft-painted plastic under the windshield and comfortably soft front door uppers, plus padded door inserts front and back, as well as nicely finished door and centre armrests. Toyota also includes stylish metal-look accents and shiny black composite trim on the instrument panel, the latter melding perfectly into the super-sized 11.6-inch vertical touchscreen infotainment display, which as previously mentioned replaces the base Prime’s 7.0-inch touchscreen when moving up to Upgrade trim.

Ahead of delving into the infotainment system’s details, all Prius Primes receive a wide, narrow digital gauge package at dash central, although it is slanted toward the driver with the majority of functions closer to the driver than the front passenger. I found it easy enough to look at without the need to remove my eyes from the road, and appreciated its stylish graphics with bright colours, deep and rich contrasts, plus high resolution. When you upgrade to the previously noted Technology package, you’ll benefit from a head-up display as well, which can positioned for a driver’s height, thus placing important information exactly where it’s needed on the windscreen.

2019 Toyota Prius Prime
The Prius driver’s seat is very comfortable, and is covered with Toyota’s exclusive Softex breathable leatherette.

The aforementioned vertical centre touchscreen truly makes a big impression when climbing inside, coming close to Tesla’s ultra-sized tablets. I found it easy enough to use, and appreciated its near full-screen navigation map. The bottom half of the screen transforms into a pop-up interface for making commands, that automatically hides away when not in use.

Always impressive is Toyota’s proprietary Softex leatherette upholstery, which actually breathes like genuine hides (appreciated during hot summer months). Also nice, the driver’s seat was ultra comfortable with excellent lower back support that gets improved upon by two-way power lumbar support, while its side bolsters held my backside in place during hard cornering as well. The Prime’s tilt and telescopic steering column gave me ample reach too, allowing me to get totally comfortable while feeling in control of the car. To be clear, this isn’t always possible with Toyota models.

2019 Toyota Prius Prime
The rear seats are comfortable and roomy, while a fixed centre console remains part of the 2019 offering.

I should mention that the steering wheel rim is not wrapped in leather, but rather more of Toyota’s breathable Softex. It’s impressively soft, while also featuring a heated rim that was so nice during my winter test week. High quality switchgear could be found on its 9 and 3 o’clock spokes, while all other Prius Prime buttons, knobs and controls were well made too. I particularly liked the touch-sensitive quick access buttons surrounding the infotainment display, while the cool blue digital-patterned shift knob, which has always been part of the Prius experience, still looks awesome. All said the new Prius Prime is very high in quality.

Take note that Toyota doesn’t finish the rear door uppers in a plush padded material, but at least everything else in rear passenger compartment is detailed out as nicely as the driver’s and front passenger’s area. Even that previously note rear centre console is a premium-like addition, including stylish piano black lacquered trim around the cupholders and a nicely padded centre armrest atop a storage bin. While many will celebrate its removal for 2020, those who don’t have children or grandkids might appreciate its luxury car appeal. Likewise, I found its individual rear bucket seats really comfortable, making the most of all the Prime’s rear real estate. Yes, there’s a lot of room to stretch out one’s legs, plus adequate headroom for taller rear passengers, while Toyota also adds vent to the sides of each rear seat, aiding cooling in back.

2019 Toyota Prius Prime
The rear cargo floor sits very high due to the battery below.

Most should find the Prius Prime’s cargo hold adequately sized, as it’s quite wide, but take note that it’s quite shallow because of the large battery below the load floor. It includes a small stowage area under the rearmost portion of that floor, filled with a portable charging cord, but the 60/40-split rear seats are actually lower than the cargo floor when dropped down, making for an unusually configured cargo compartment. Of course, we expect to make some compromises when choosing a plug-in hybrid, but Hyundai’s Ioniq PHEV doesn’t suffer from this issue, with a cargo floor that rests slightly lower than its folded seatbacks.

If you think I was just complaining, let me get a bit ornery about the Prius’ backup beeping signal. To be clear, a beeping signal would be a good idea if audible from outside the car, being that it has the ability to reverse in EV mode and can therefore be very quiet when doing so, but the Prius’ beeping sound is only audible from inside, making it totally useless. In fact, it’s actually a hindrance because the sound interferes with the parking sensor system’s beeping noise, which goes off simultaneously. I hope Toyota eventually rights this wrong, because it’s the silliest automotive feature I’ve ever experienced.

2019 Toyota Prius Prime
The battery causes an uneven load floor when the rear seats are folded.

This said the Prius’ ridiculous reverse beeper doesn’t seem to slow down its sales, this model having long been the globe’s best-selling hybrid-electric car. It truly is an excellent vehicle that totally deserves to don the well-respected blue and silver badge, whether choosing this PHEV Prime model or its standard trim.

Story and photo credits: Trevor Hofmann

CarCostCanada

2019 Mini Cooper Countryman S E ALL4 Road Test

2019 Mini Cooper Countryman S E ALL4
The Countryman is in its second-generation, but still looks every bit a Mini.

There are certain market segments an automaker wants to do well in. Obviously, higher end models like large sedans, SUVs and sports cars present the opportunity for higher profits, and are therefore important to any brand’s bottom line, while larger compact and mid-size models are critical for volume, but if you’re not able to pull buyers into the fold early on, when they’re moving up from pre-owned to new, or from a mainstream volume brand to luxury, then it’s more difficult to sell those higher end models later on. Or at least that’s the theory.

One might say BMW group owns the subcompact luxury SUV category in Canada. After all, together with the segment’s most popular X1, which found 4,420 entry-level luxury buyers last year, this Mini Countryman that was good for 2,275 slightly less affluent up-and-comers, and the sportiest (and priciest) BMW X2 that earned 1,383 new customers of its own, its total of 8,078 units sales more than doubled what Audi or Mercedes-Benz could deliver in Canada last year.

2019 Mini Cooper Countryman S E ALL4
It looks small from a distance, but the Countryman is actually quite roomy inside.

While BMW would no doubt like to eventually pull Mini customers up into its namesake brand, and some now doubt do make the progression, it really exists on its own. What I mean is that Mini has a completely unique character that car enthusiasts aspire to, and not kept around merely as a gateway brand. If a Mini owner was fortunate enough to trade in their Countryman for a larger, pricier SUV, they might just as well choose a Range Rover Velar instead of an X3 or X5. Then again, it’s probably just as likely they’ll stick with their Mini, choosing instead to move up within the brand to a John Cooper Works trim level or maybe even this top-line Countryman S E ALL4 plug-in hybrid.

The Countryman was one of the first subcompact luxury SUVs on the market, arriving way back in 2010. Mini made major improvements for its 2017 redesign, so now this second-generation model has been with us for four years if we include the 2020 model. If you looked at a 2020 and this outgoing 2019 model you wouldn’t be able to notice many changes. Some wheel designs have been changed, a normal occurrence every now and then, with the big updates found under the skin, and then only impacting buyers wanting a manual transmission. Yes, it’s been axed for 2020, mostly because Mini’s U.S. division swapped it out for a standard seven-speed dual-clutch automated gearbox in front-wheel drive models not available here, so it’s almost entirely the previously optional eight-speed automatic across the Countryman line in Canada, whether DIY enthusiasts like it or not.

2019 Mini Cooper Countryman S E ALL4
This Countryman S E ALL4 came as-tested with LED headlights, LED fog lamps, and 18-inch alloy wheels.

Almost entirely? Yes, the very Countryman S E ALL4 hybrid on this page uses a six-speed Steptronic automatic driving the front wheels via a 136-horsepower 1.5-litre three-cylinder Twin Power Turbo engine. The ALL4 in the name designation denotes all-wheel drive, but unlike the other ALL4s in the Countryman lineup, this model’s rear wheels are solely powered by an 88-horsepower (65kW) synchronous e-motor via electricity stored in a 7.6 kWh Li-Ion battery.

Like with most all-wheel drive systems, power can be apportioned front or back, with the wheels in the rear employed fully in EV mode, or partially when the Countryman detects front slippage and needs more traction. That means it feels as if you’re driving a regular hybrid, with each axle using its motive power sources seamlessly as needed, all working together harmoniously via Mini’s drivetrain management system. The S E ALL4’s electric-only range is a mere 19 km after a complete charge, but who’s counting.

2019 Mini Cooper Countryman S E ALL4
Mini interiors combine fun retro character traits with high-quality premium materials and finishing.

Not even 20 km? Ok, that is pretty minuscule, and many of my colleagues are reporting real world results of 12 and 13 km. Thank goodness Mini made another change to the Countryman line for 2020, a larger batter for a 30-percent gain in EV range for 29 km in total. While this will hardly cause BMW i3 fans to shift allegiances, the added range allows the Countryman S E ALL4 to be used as a regular commuter without the need to recharge until you get to work, as long as your daily commute falls within most peoples’ average. If you really want to go green you can stop along the way for more energy, and it won’t take too much time for the new 10-kWh battery to recharge.

It’s probably not a good idea to use EV mode all the way to work if you need to take the highway, unless it’s bumper to bumper all the way. While the Countryman S E ALL4 can achieve speeds of up to 125 km/h with just its e-motor, you’ll drain the battery in minutes if you try. Instead, you can use its hybrid mode on the highway (up to 220 km/h if you’re feeling frisky) and switch back to EV mode when traveling slower, which maximizes a given charge. The regenerative brakes help to charge up the battery when coming to stops or going downhill, doing their part to maximize zero emissions driving.

2019 Mini Cooper Countryman S E ALL4
The Countryman’s cockpit is ideally set up for both comfort and performance driving.

I made the point of recharging the battery whenever possible during my weeklong test. I’d grab a coffee at McDonalds and give it a quick charge outside, drop by the local mall and do likewise, and one time stayed a little longer at Ikea’s restaurant in order to fully top it up, plus of course I charged it overnight. Being that it takes quite a bit of effort to find somewhere in public to charge it that’s not being used, the novelty quickly wears off when the battery runs out of juice in a matter of 20 or 30 minutes. Still, its fuel economy is good even when not charging it up all the time, with an 8.4 L/100km rating in the city, 8.8 on the highway and 8.6 combined. Plugging it in more often can give you an equivalent rating of 3.6 L/100km combined city/highway, however, so it’s obviously worth going through the hassle.

At least as important for any Mini, the Countryman S E ALL4 is fun to drive. I can’t think of many hybrid SUVs that include a manual mode shifter, let alone a Sport mode (that actually does something), but all you need to do is slide the switch at the base of the gearbox to the left and this PHEV shoots away from a stoplight with plenty of energy, taking about seven seconds to reach 100 km/h thanks to a total of 221 net horsepower and 284 pound-feet of torque (the electric motor puts out an immediate 122 lb-ft of twist by itself), and while it can’t quite achieve the 301-hp John Cooper Work’s Countryman’s ability to get off the line, the JCW managing just over 6 seconds to 100 km/h, this 1,791-kilo cute ute still feels quick enough.

2019 Mini Cooper Countryman S E ALL4
The Countryman’s centre display is high-resolution, graphically stimulating and packed full of features.

The S E ALL4 is even more sporting around fast-paced curves, with the kind of high-speed handling expected from a Mini. It’s not as firmly sprung as a JCW, but then again it provides a more comfortable ride. Likewise, the Countryman S E ALL4 is a complete pleasure on the freeway, tracking well at high-speed and excellent at overcoming unexpected crosswinds, my test model’s meaty 225/50R18 all-season tires providing a sizeable contact patch with the tarmac below.

A fabulously comfortable driver’s seat made longer stints behind the wheel easy on the back, my test model’s boasting superb inherent support for the lower back and thighs, with the former benefiting from four-way lumbar support and the latter from a manually extendable lower cushion to cup under the knees (love that). It’s spacious too, both up front and in the rear, with the back seats roomy enough for big adults as long as the centre position stays unoccupied. A wide armrest folds down from middle, housing the expected twin cupholders, while two vents on the backside of the front console keep fresh air flowing. A 12-volt charger has me wondering when Mini plans to modernize with USB charging ports, while no rear seat heaters were included in this trim. At least there was a wonderfully large power panoramic glass sunroof up above, making the Countryman’s smallish dimensions feel bigger and more open.

2019 Mini Cooper Countryman S E ALL4
The centre stack controls are very well done, particularly the row of toggles at the bottom.

I’ve read/heard a number of critics complain about the Countryman not offering enough cargo space, however, but this little Mini’s cargo compartment design has me sold. Of course it’s relatively small compared to a larger compact or mid-size luxury utility, which is par for the course when choosing a Mini, its dimensions measuring 487 litres behind the rear seatback and 1,342 litres when lowered, but it’s the folding centre section I appreciate most. This allows longer items like skis to be laid down the middle while rear passengers enjoy the more comfortable window seats. The Countryman’s 40/20/40 rear seat split is the most convenient in the industry, while the seats’ folding mechanism feels very well made with everything clicking together solidly. The rear compartment is finished well too, with high quality carpets most everywhere. It all helps Mini make its argument for premium status.

Some buyers don’t consider Mini a premium brand, while those in the know place it alongside (or slightly below) BMW, at least when it comes to the Bavarian automaker’s entry-level models, like the X1. Of course, the X1 xDrive28i starts at a lofty $42,100 when compared to the $31,090 Countryman, but this fully loaded S E ALL4 plug-in hybrid, featuring upgrades like the previously noted sunroof, plus LED cornering headlights and fog lamps, a head-up display, navigation, real-time traffic info, superb Harman/Kardon audio, a wireless device charger, and more, will set you back more than $50k (the S E ALL4’s base price is $44,390), so Mini is in the same league. This pricing spread makes it clear that Mini sits well above most other mainstream volume branded subcompact SUVs, which range in price from $18,000 for the most basic to $35,000 for something fancier in full dress. 

2019 Mini Cooper Countryman S E ALL4
This is one of the best driver’s seats in the subcompact luxury SUV class.

By the way, you can find out all about 2019 and 2020 Mini Countryman pricing right here on CarCostCanada, with details about trims, packages and individual options included, plus you can also access money saving manufacturer rebate info, the latest deals on financing, and best of all dealer invoice pricing that could help you save you thousands when it comes time to negotiate. CarCostCanada provides all this and more for every volume mainstream and luxury model available in Canada, so make sure to go there first before stepping into a dealership.

2019 Mini Cooper Countryman S E ALL4
The Countryman’s rear seating area is spacious and comfortable.

The base S E ALL4 is well equipped too, by the way, including 18-inch alloy wheels on run-flat tires, puddle lamps, a keyless toggle start/stop switch, a sporty leather-wrapped steering wheel rim, well bolstered sport seats with leatherette upholstery, adaptive cruise control, park distance control, two-zone automatic climate control, a large high-definition centre touchscreen with excellent graphics, and more.

Additionally, all of the high-end features just mentioned are housed in an interior that’s finished to premium levels, or at least it’s premium for this compact luxury SUV category. This means it includes fabric-wrapped roof pillars and plenty of pliable composite surfaces, while the switchgear is nicely made too, not to mention brilliantly retrospective with respect to the chromed toggles on the centre stack and overhead console.

2019 Mini Cooper Countryman S E ALL4
A flexible cargo configuration makes the Countryman especially useful.

All in all, the Countryman S E ALL4 might be a fuel-efficient hybrid, but it’s also a Mini, which means it lives up to the performance expectations the British brand’s loyal followers want, while also providing a high level of style, luxury, features, roominess, and more. That it’s possible to drive emissions-free over short distances is a bonus, as is access to your city’s high occupancy vehicle (HOV) lanes, plug-in parking spots closer to the entrance of shopping malls, stores, etcetera, and better than average fuel economy whether using EV mode or just its hybrid setup. It’s a bit pricey, but the Countryman S E ALL4 delivers a lot for the money asked.

Story and photo credits: Trevor Hofmann

CarCostCanada

2019 Toyota Prius C Technology Road Test

2019 Toyota Prius C Technology
The Prius C remains a good looking subcompact hatch thanks to its 2018 refresh.

Toyota Canada stopped providing individual sales figures for its smallest hybrid back in 2017, even though the numbers weren’t much lower than in previous years. The car had been available for over five years without many updates after all, so deliveries probably should’ve slowed even more, but those of us outside of Toyota’s inner circle will never know how far they fell.

I have to admit to being curious about how the 2018 model year refresh impacted those sales results when it arrived during the same year, but unfortunately a “Prius Family” category was created for monthly Prius, Prius plug-in, Prius V and Prius C sales statistics in Canada, which meant learning how far sales had fallen through 2017, 2018 and the C’s final year of 2019, in order to question why Toyota discontinued it, became difficult.

Its cancellation may have nothing to do with sales, mind you. The Prius C shared underpinnings with the 2019 (and previous) Toyota Yaris subcompact hatchback, both having ridden on the Toyota B platform, and with the Toyota-built Vitz-based Yaris no longer available in North American markets at the close of 2019, this model now replaced by a Mazda2-based Yaris hatchback in Canada and the U.S. for 2020 (and as a Yaris sedan exclusively south of the 49th), it was probably a good idea to say sayonara to the Prius C as well.

2019 Toyota Prius C Technology
Large LED taillights, a narrow rear window, a sporty bumper and sharp alloy wheels make the 2019 Prius C Technology stand out.

Yes, I know about the new 2020 Yaris Hybrid offered in Japan and other world markets, and I’m well aware of the even more compelling 250-plus horsepower 2020 Yaris GR (Gazoo Racing), which could’ve completely taken over from Ford’s fabulous little Fiesta ST (RIP) if Toyota had chosen to go bold, so let’s hope the new 2020 Yaris Hatchback is more enticing than the Mazda2 was when it couldn’t gain much sales traction during its mostly forgettable summer of 2010 through winter of 2016 run.

As for the outgoing 2019 Prius C, it’s a very good car now in short supply. New 2019 models are still around, plus plenty of low mileage demos and pre-owned examples. I know this because I searched across most of Canada to find the majority of new C’s in the Greater Toronto Area and in Greater Montreal (there were no new ones left in Vancouver, as they were probably scooped up by the British Columbia Automobile Association’s Evo Car Share program that primarily uses the Prius C), while the model’s highly efficient hybrid electric drivetrain will continue being produced in the aforementioned (JDM) 2020 Yaris Hybrid and upcoming (for Asia and Europe) C-HR Hybrid.

2019 Toyota Prius C Technology
LED headlamps, fog lights, and 15-inch alloys come standard with Technology trim.

Back to the here and now, Toyota Canada is currently trying to lure in prospective 2019 Prius C buyers with zero-percent factory lease and financing rates, while all of the examples I found online were seriously discounted. These are two good reasons to consider a Prius C, but I should also point out (this being a road test review) that the little hybrid is a great little subcompact car too, all of which makes a fresh new review of this 2019 model relevant, even though we’re already so far into the 2020 calendar year (what happened to the new year?). On this note I’d like to say so long to a car that I actually enjoy spending time in, and consider its demise saddening for those of us who enjoy the fun-to-drive nature, easy manoeuvrability, and excellent efficiency of small cars.

The Yaris is a fun car to drive too, which makes sense being that both models ride on Toyota’s B platform architecture. It also makes sense for their exterior measurements not to be all that different, with the Prius C’s wheelbase stretching 40 mm (1.6 in) more than the Yaris’ to 2,550 millimetres (100.4 inches), and its overall length a significant 114 mm (4.5 in) longer from nose to tail at 4,059 mm (159.8 in). Additionally, the Prius C’s 1,715-mm (67.5-in) width makes it 20 mm (0.8 in) wider, while its 1,491-mm (58.7-in) height is actually 9 mm (0.3 in) shorter from the road surface to the topmost point of its roof.

2019 Toyota Prius C Technology
The Prius C’s cockpit places the primary instruments atop the centre dash.

Thanks the Prius C’s renowned Hybrid Synergy Drive powertrain, which consists of a 1.5-litre Atkinson-cycle four-cylinder internal combustion engine, or ICE, incorporating variable valve timing plus an exhaust heat recovery system, a 19-kWh nickel metal-hydride battery, a 45kW (60 hp) electric motor, and auto start/stop that automatically turns the engine off when it would otherwise be idling, before restarting it upon brake pedal left-off. While the C’s ICE likely weighs similarly to the 1.5-litre four in the Yaris, all of the other gear adds a quite a bit of mass to this subcompact car. In fact, a similarly equipped 2019 Yaris SE 5-Door Hatchback with its antiquated four-speed automatic hitting the scales at just 1,050 kilos (2,335 lbs) compared to 1,147 kg (2,529 lbs) resulting in 97 kg (214 lbs), while its 99 net horsepower rating (the combination of a 73 horsepower ICE and the aforementioned electric motor) is slightly down on the regular Yaris’ 106 horses, but the electric motor’s 125 lb-ft of instant torque, combined with the ICE’s 82 lb-ft, plus the lack of mechanical drag from the Prius C’s continuously variable transmission, more than makes up for its increased mass.

Remember way back at the beginning of this review when I mentioned the Prius C is fun to drive? It’s plenty quick off the line and quite agile through fast-paced curves, feeling much the same as the sporty Yaris hatchback, but this hybrid’s ride quality might even be better. It’s actually quite refined, with a reasonably quiet cabin, even at high speeds, and good comfort over rougher pavement like inner-city laneways and bridge expansion joints.

2019 Toyota Prius C Technology
The update centre touchscreen is a big improvement, and includes navigation in Technology trim.

As you might expect the Prius C is ultra-respectful at the pump too. Transport Canada rates it at 5.1 L/100km for both city and highway driving (and therefore combined too), which compares well to all rivals including Toyota’s own Yaris Hatchback that manages 7.9 L/100km city, 6.8 highway and 7.4 combined. 

The car in front of you is in its second model year since a major refresh, and I particularly like the changes made to a car that was already pretty decent looking. When compared to the outrageous styling of its bigger, elder brother, the regular Prius, this refreshed C is more conservative. It features new front and rear fascias including revised LED headlights and reworked LED tail lamps, plus renewed wheel covers and available alloys, while the cabin was updated with a new steering wheel, revised primary instrument cluster, and a renewed centre stack. The new infotainment touchscreen includes a standard rearview camera, this necessary to comply with then-new regulations that mandate backup cameras for safety’s sake.

2019 Toyota Prius C Technology
The Prius C incorporates the Prius’ trademark blue shift knob.

Speaking of staying safe, 2018 and 2019 Prius Cs incorporate Toyota’s Safety Sense C suite of advanced driver assistive systems as standard equipment, including automatic high beams, pre-collision warning, and lane departure alert. Additionally, the Prius C has nine airbags instead of the usual six, while direct tire pressure monitoring is now part of the base package.

As far as features go, Toyota eliminated the Prius C’s base model for 2019, which pushed the price up from $21,990 to $22,260 (plus freight and fees), but for only $270 they added everything from the previous year’s $900 Upgrade package including soft synthetic leather to the instrument panel, premium fabric upholstery, additional driver seat adjustments, cruise control, two more stereo speakers (totalling six), a rear centre console box, and a cargo cover to an ample assortment of standard equipment such as power-adjustable heated side mirrors, tilt and telescopic steering, steering wheel audio and HVAC controls, a 4.2-inch multi-information display, single-zone auto climate control, 6.1-inch touchscreen infotainment, Bluetooth, an exterior temperature gauge, etcetera.

2019 Toyota Prius C Technology
The Prius C’s driver’s seat is comfortable and supportive, plus covered in Toyota’s leather-like SoftTex upholstery in Technology trim.

During my search for new Prius Cs still available for sale I noticed a good mix of both trim levels, the Technology model shown on this page replacing the base car’s 15-inch steel wheels with covers for an attractive set of 15-inch alloy wheels, and the fabric upholstery swapped out for Toyota’s Softex breathable leatherette. Additionally, Technology trim enhancements include LED fog lights, proximity keyless entry with pushbutton start/stop, more sophisticated Touch Tracer controls on the much nicer synthetic leather-wrapped steering wheel, navigation, voice recognition, Gracenote connectivity, satellite radio, heated front seats, a power glass sunroof, plus more.

The 2019 Prius C Technology can be had for $27,090, which is an increase of just $140 from last year, representing great value when compared to any new hybrid. This becomes even more of deal when factoring in all the discounts I saw while searching online, not to mention the zero-percent financing Toyota is currently offering, and any other manufacturer rebates that may be available, so seriously consider snapping up a new Prius C before they’re all gone.

2019 Toyota Prius C Technology
The Prius C’s roomy rear quarters provide comfortable accommodations for most body types.

Incidentally, I sourced the financing rate and pricing right here on CarCostCanada’s 2019 Toyota Prius c Canada Prices page. CarCostCanada provides trim, package and individual option pricing on every mainstream car, SUV and truck sold in Canada, plus manufacturer rebate info, details about financing, and best of all, dealer invoice pricing that will give you an advantage when it comes time to negotiate your deal.

Interestingly, the Toyota model that probably put the final nail in the Prius C’s coffin is the entirely new 2020 Corolla Hybrid, which can be had for a reasonable $24,790 (plus destination and fees). It’s arguably a better car, but this said if you truly want or need a hatchback I can only imagine Toyota would be happy to put you into its bigger 2020 Prius, its entry price arriving at $28,550, and now optional with eAWD. The 2020 Prius Prime plug-in hybrid (PHEV) is available from $32,990 (take note that the Prime qualifies for some government rebates), while additional electrified Toyotas include the 2020 Camry Hybrid at $31,550, 2020 RAV4 Hybrid from $32,350, and the completely redesigned 2020 Highlander Hybrid from $45,490.

2019 Toyota Prius C Technology
The Prius C doesn’t give up much to Toyota’s own Yaris when it comes to cargo space.

Even without the Prius C, Toyota has a lot of hybrids on offer, but take note that a new RAV4 Prime plug-in will hit the Canadian market later this year, while the awkwardly styled Mirai fuel cell electric vehicle that ended production last year is set to arrive later this year in renewed form as well, and the photos I’ve seen were much easier on the eyes.

With respect to Toyota’s plans for plug-in battery electric vehicles (BEV), such as the Nissan Leaf, in June of 2019 Toyota announced a plan to add 10 new BEV models to its worldwide fleet during the first half of this current decade, all based on a single e-TNGA platform. By 2025 the Japanese company says that each of its models will include an electrified variant, so even something like the new Supra sports car will offer a hybrid drivetrain. This is bound to become very interesting. 

Until all of these innovative new models hit the market, you might want to take advantage of the great deals to be had on this 2019 Prius C, however, as it’s a very good little car that provides superb fuel economy, decent levels of refinement, a fairly spacious cabin, plus Toyota’s impressive reputation for producing durable electrified vehicles.

Story and photo credits: Trevor Hofmann

CarCostCanada

Subaru plans a 100-percent electric lineup within 15 years

2020 Subaru Crosstrek
The Crosstrek will likely to be first to adopt Subaru’s upcoming hybrid drivetrain, as it already has a built-in ownership base ready to trade up.

With the current U.S. administration loosening new vehicle emissions restrictions, it might not seem prudent to announce an all-electric vehicle strategy, but the European Union, China and many other markets are tightening emissions regulations, with respect to vehicles at least. Europe will soon be warming its homes and powering businesses with new fossil fuel pipelines from Russia, while China seems to be building coal-fired electric power plants (to no doubt fuel such electric cars) faster than anyone can keep count.

This said it only makes sense that Subaru would want to continue selling into these markets once internal combustion engines (ICE) are no longer allowed, thus it’s planning to soon offer battery power to its lineup, with the eventual result being 100-percent electric.

2020 Subaru Crosstrek
A Forester hybrid would be ideal to go up against Toyota’s popular RAV4 Hybrid.

The electrification process will start off with a new hybrid-electric drivetrain with motive electric components sourced from Toyota, which holds 16.5-percent of Fuji Heavy Industries (FHI) stock (Subaru’s parent company). The 2014-2016 Subaru Crosstrek Hybrid was the first hybrid-electric project the two automakers undertook, but with few buyers it was cancelled after just three years.

A move to hybrids and then electric powertrains is a risky move for any automaker, with the risk even greater for small, niche brands like Subaru. The quirky brand has made a name for practical yet fun-to-drive cars and crossover SUVs powered by its unorthodox horizontally opposed “boxer” engine. While other brands like Volkswagen, with its Type 1 Beetle, Type 2 van, Type 3 and 4 sedan/coupe/wagon, and Type 14/Type 34 Karmann Ghia, or Porsche with its 911/912, 914 and 718 models, and even Ferrari with its 1973-1976 Berlinetta Boxer, 1976-1984 BB 512, 1984-1991 Testarossa, 1991-1994 512 TR and 1994-1996 F512 M), have offered this unique engine type as well, the Italian supercar maker and VW no longer do, while Porsche only provides it in its sports car range which makes up much fewer sales than its sedan and SUV lineup.

2020 Subaru Ascent
The Ascent could use a boost of electrified power.

Speaking of model lineups, the best-selling Subaru in Canada last year was the Crosstrek subcompact crossover SUV at 15,184 units, followed by the Forester compact SUV with 13,059 deliveries, the Outback mid-size five-passenger crossover with 10,972 new sales, the Impreza compact sedan and hatchback with 9,065 new buyers, the Ascent mid-size seven-passenger crossover SUV with 4,139 new sales, the WRX/STI performance sedan with 2,707 new customers, the Legacy mid-size sedan at 1,752 clients, and the BRZ compact sports coupe with 647 new sales last year. To find out more about these cars and crossover SUVs, including their trim, package and individual option pricing, plus available rebate information, financing/leasing promotions, and dealer invoice pricing that could save you thousands, click directly on their names.

2020 Subaru Impreza
Would an Impreza Hybrid b a good competitor for Honda’s Insight or Toyota’s new Corolla Hybrid?

All of the unique models just mentioned makes it clear that retaining as much of its distinctive brand character as possible while moving into the brave new world of automotive electrification is important for Subaru, yet the horizontally opposed engine configuration will eventually have to go if it’s plans for full electrification materialize. Fortunately all-wheel drive (AWD being standard with most of its models) can stay for both its future hybrid and electric cars and SUVs.

The short-lived Crosstrek Hybrid came standard with AWD, while incorporating Toyota’s hybrid technologies and Subaru’s 2.0-litre boxer engine. This allowed it to perform and sound like other Subaru models, keeping its brand identity intact. Subaru doesn’t want badge-engineered cars in its lineup, such as the Toyota/Subaru co-developed Subaru BRZ/Scion FR-S/Toyota 86, or for that matter the Yaris Sedan that was merely a Mazda2 with a Toyota front fascia and Toyota badging. Doing something similar with such a niche automaker would run the risk of diluting its hard-won brand image.

2020 Subaru Outback
An electrified Outback sounds perfect for its market base, especially if it can be plugged in.

“Although we’re using Toyota technology, we want to make hybrids that are distinctly Subaru,” commented the brand’s chief technology officer, Tetsuo Onuki, to Reuters news agency. “It’s not only about reducing CO2 emissions. We need to further improve vehicle safety and the performance of our all-wheel drive.”

While Onuki-san was clear to point out that all-wheel drive would continue as a key Subaru character trait while it adapted to hybrid and electric technologies, AWD is becoming more common with its main rivals. Nissan and Mazda recently introduced redesigned passenger cars with optional AWD (the Mazda3 now providing an AWD alternative to Subaru’s Impreza, while Nissan’s Altima now makes AWD standard in Canada and therefore becomes a key rival to Subaru’s mid-size Legacy), and even though Subaru’s trademarked “Symmetrical AWD” is believed to be more capable in inclement conditions than challengers’ AWD systems, it’s not known if its even power delivery can be achieved effectively with an electric powertrain. What’s more, AWD often comes standard with electric vehicles, so it’s quite likely the AWD traction advantage Subaru cars currently enjoy won’t be unique in 15 years, making the Japanese automaker no more unique than any other brand.

2020 Subaru WRX
How would a hybridized WRX perform? Or how about a purely electric WRX STI?

On the subject of electric vehicles, Subaru and Toyota are in the process of co-developing an electric powertrain that will result in an electric vehicle per brand sometime this decade, with additional models to follow. Subaru is saying that hybrid and fully electric models will make up 40 percent or more of its annual worldwide production by 2030, with the hybrids no longer available five or so years after that.

In today’s fast-paced world, particularly in the automotive sector, 2030 is a long way off, and of course a lot can happen with respect to battery development, advancements in other alternative fuels, progress with car/ride sharing, etcetera, as well as geopolitical concerns that are completely out of an automaker’s influence (much of which can be negative), so changes to Subaru’s plans will be more than likely.

2020 Subaru BRZ
Will there still be a BRZ around in 10 to 15 years? We hope so, or something even more exciting.

This said, the positive for Subaru is its ability to garner green accolades right now without having to take much initial action, which can make its customers feel as if their chosen brand is well on its way toward electrification, yet the ultimate target is so far off into the future that its long-term plans can be changed anytime along the way. Of course, some new hybrid models are likely within the next few years, plus at least one EV, so there is forward progress being made. 

It should be noted that Subaru isn’t alone in making such long-term electrification plans, with GM having pitched a U.S. national environmental program in 2018 designed to motivate all carmakers to make at least 25 percent of their lineups into zero-emissions vehicles; Ford introducing $11.5 billion worth of new spending toward a dozen new hybrid and EV models by 2022; Toyota, as part of its Environmental Challenge 2050 program, pledging to lower vehicle life-cycle emissions by 25 percent plus by 2030, while targeting 2050 for eliminating 100-percent of their carbon emissions; Mercedes-Benz vowing to make at least half of its passenger car lineup electric by 2030, plus achieve full carbon neutrality within the next two decades.

2020 Subaru Outback
Subaru may want to change up its Outback media photos if it’s planning an electrified version, as high-voltage and water don’t mix well.

Volvo may be vying to become the world’s greenest automaker, however, due to its commitment for half of its passenger cars to become electric by 2025, plus also make sure each cars’ life-cycle carbon footprint is reduced by 40 percent in five years time as well. It also wants the carbon output of its entire global operations (including suppliers) to be lowered by 25 percent by 2025, and finally has a plan to use a minimum of 25-percent recycled materials in its vehicle production by this very same year.

While Subaru’s plans aren’t quite as ambitious as Volvo’s, the Japanese automaker’s announcement marks a major step for such a niche automaker, and could be seen as a significant risk if electric vehicle take rates don’t improve enough to overcome investment costs.

Story credits: Trevor Hofmann 

Photo credits: Subaru

CarCostCanada

2019 Volvo XC90 T6 AWD Inscription Road Test

2019 Volvo XC90 T6 AWD Inscription Road Test
The XC90 is one of the very best luxury SUVs on the road, especially in top-tier Inscription trim.

Even though the Volvo XC90 is deep into its fourth model year, you’ll have trouble finding a more impressively detailed or more opulently appointed mid-size luxury crossover SUV. The big three-row Swede is impeccably finished, especially when upgraded to its most luxurious Inscription trim line, which is just the way it was most recently presented to me.

This was the fourth second-generation XC90 I’ve tested, and the second Inscription model, the other two in sportier R-Design trim. Of these, two were equipped with the 316 horsepower mid-range powertrain and the other two matched up with the considerably more motivating 400 horsepower plug-in hybrid configuration. This said, I hadn’t driven the less potent drivetrain since 2016, when this model was completely overhauled with an all-new LED headlight-infused, ultra-clean design language plus a level of bejeweled luxury Volvo had never ventured into. The result was an automaker pulled back from near death (before its August, 2010 takeover by Hangzhou, Zhejiang, China-based Zhejiang Geely Holding Group), to one of relative financial health.

2019 Volvo XC90 T6 AWD Inscription Road Test
Stylish from all angles, it’s no wonder the XC90 sells so well.

Volvo’s Canadian sales more than doubled in the final quarter of 2015 when the 2016 XC90 arrived, from 10,964 vehicles during October, November and December 2014 to 22,507 cars and SUVs in Q4 of 2015, while the XC90’s deliveries jumped from 427 examples in calendar year 2014 to a total of 957 throughout 2015 and a phenomenal 2,951 in 2016. Amazingly, after a slight pullback in 2017 the growth continued with 3,059 XC90 sales in calendar year 2018, making the brand’s largest vehicle its most popular last year.

Interestingly, the new second-gen XC90 has found more Canadian luxury buyers each year than the XC60, and yes I’m talking about the totally new, wholly redesigned second-generation XC60 that went into production in March of 2017. The smaller five-passenger compact luxury SUV had consistently outsold Volvo’s much bigger three-row mid-size crossover before both models’ remakes, which is in-line with what most brands experience due to the affordability of the smaller SUVs.

The phenomenon is made even more unusual when factoring in that the new XC60 comes closer to matching the XC90’s high-level materials quality, overall refinement, superb digital interfaces, and varied choice of powertrains than any competitive brand, and that opting for the lesser model would actually leave about $13k in the pockets of would-be purchasers at the lowest end of both cars’ trim lines, and nearly $12k for top-tier Inscription T8 eAWD Plug-In Hybrid models.

2019 Volvo XC90 T6 AWD Inscription Road Test
All XC90s feature standard LED headlamps.

Why would this occur? Volvo knows its customers better than I, and their marketing department hasn’t shared anything specific to this issue, but it seems as if its Canadian base prefers larger, more substantive, pricier vehicles, which should certainly have everyone at the company’s Richmond Hill, Ontario headquarters smiling, not to mention its growing retailer base.

While not the largest in its segment, the XC90 is clearly a mid-size three-row luxury crossover SUV. It measures 4,950 mm (194.9 inches) from nose to tail, with a 2,984-mm (117.5-inch) wheelbase, plus it’s 2,140 mm (84.3 inches) from side-to-side, including its exterior mirrors, while it’s 1,775 mm (69.9 inches) from the base of its tires to the top of its roof rails. It also provides a sizeable 237 mm (9.3 inches) of ground clearance, which certainly doesn’t hurt when trudging through deep snow.

2019 Volvo XC90 T6 AWD Inscription Road Test
The XC90 Inscription’s interior is stunning, particularly its high-quality materials and fine attention to fit and finish.

The XC90’s generous dimensions make it more than just roomy inside. I first learned this when climbing inside the 2016 Volvo XC90 T6 AWD R-Design noted earlier, and confirmed it fully during a road trip in the 2017 XC90 T8 Twin Engine eAWD Inscription. My partner and I left Vancouver, drove up, over and down the Coquihalla Highway, and then up, over and down the 97C connector to Kelowna, BC during a wonderfully warm autumn in 2016, and while only two of us enjoyed this weekend getaway we carried a reasonable amount of cargo (including late season Okanagan fruit, preserves and wine) in the XC90’s 1,183-litre (41.8 cubic-foot) cargo hold, the volume available after dropping the third row into the floor.

If I owned an XC90 (or any three-row SUV) this is how I’d leave the seats set up most of the time, as the kids are now grown and have no need the third row. Yes it would be a shame to waste those nicely shaped individual bucket seats, each of which can easily accommodate my five-foot-eight, medium-build frame quite comfortably, making me wish Volvo configured it as a less expensive two-row model with additional under-floor storage, but no such luck.

2019 Volvo XC90 T6 AWD Inscription Road Test
A fully digital instrument cluster comes standard.

As it is, the XC90 gets a decently sized 447-litre (15.8 cubic-foot) dedicated cargo hold aft of the third row, which expands to 2,427 litres (85.6 cubic feet) when both rear rows are laid flat. Even better, its second row can be folded in thirds so rear passengers can enjoy the more comfortable, optionally heated window seats while skis or other types of long items are loaded in between. I wish Volvo had added a pass-through for the third row as well, but that’s probably asking too much. As it is, the XC90 is one of the more flexible luxury SUVs from a passenger/cargo perspective.

As it has throughout its four-year tenure, the 2019 XC90 can be had in Momentum, R-Design and Inscription trims, the base model starting at $59,750 (plus freight and fees), the mid-range model beginning at $69,800, and top-line available from $71,450. Speaking of threes, this model also lets you choose from all of the brand’s 2.0-litre, four-cylinder power units, starting with the T5 AWD that’s only available in Momentum trim and simply uses a turbocharger to produce 250 horsepower and 258 lb-ft of torque. Above this is the T6 AWD in my tester that adds a supercharger to the mix for a total of 316 horsepower and 295 lb-ft of torque, while at the top of the Volvo heap is the T8 eAWD “Twin Engine” hybrid system that combines a 60-kW electric motor and externally charge-able plug-in battery for a maximum of 400 net horsepower and 472 net lb-ft of torque.

2019 Volvo XC90 T6 AWD Inscription Road Test
Volvo’s tablet-style Sensus infotainment touchscreen is award-winning.

As for pricing, moving up to the T6 in Momentum trim will add $4,250 to the bottom line, while the Momentum T8 adds another $10,950. Alternatively you’ll be charged $12,650 in either R-Design or Inscription trims when moving from T6 to T8 power units, although take note you can save up to $5,000 in additional 2019 XC90 incentives right now by visiting the 2019 Volvo XC90 Canada Prices page right here at CarCostCanada, where you’ll also be able to get all the pricing details about trims, packages and individual options, plus manufacturer rebate information and otherwise difficult to find dealer invoice prices.

Along with standard all-wheel drive (as noted by all the “AWD” designations in the trim names), each XC90 powertrain comes mated up to an efficient eight-speed Geartronic automatic transmission with auto start/stop that automatically shuts the engine off when it would otherwise be idling, and restarts it when lifting your foot from the brake pedal. Obviously that autobox is set up differently in conventionally powered models to the hybrid, but the driveline is even more unique in when factoring in eAWD, which leaves the internal combustion engine to power the front wheels and aforementioned electric motor to rotate those in back.

2019 Volvo XC90 T6 AWD Inscription Road Test
This Inscription model’s woodwork is second to none.

Unlike early hybrid systems, the XC90’s T8 powertrain can also be driven solely on electric power at regular speeds, although with about 30 kilometres of EV range available you’ll probably need to rely on its gasoline-fed engine for supplemental energy when the battery drains, unless your commutes and/or errand runs cover short distances with as little highway driving as possible. Nevertheless, if you manage to keep your enthusiasm bridled and not dig into all of its 400 horsepower, the XC90 T8’s claimed 10.1 L/100km city, 8.8 highway and 9.5 fuel economy rating makes it one of the thriftiest SUVs in its class. Alternatively, the conventionally powered T5 and T6 powertrains are good for 11.3 L/100km in the city, 8.5 on the highway and 10.0 combined for the former and 12.1 city, 8.9 highway and 10.7 combined for the latter, which are very impressive as well.

Yes, my T6 tester was the least efficient XC90, but compared to Lexus’ conventionally powered three-row RX 350 L it’s an absolute fuel miser, the Japanese luxury utility good for 11.1 L/100km combined. Then again Lexus makes a hybrid version that’s stingier than the XC90 T8, eking by at just 8.1 combined, while Acura’s regular MDX is rated at 10.8 L/100km combined and its hybrid at 9.0 in a mix of city/highway driving.

2019 Volvo XC90 T6 AWD Inscription Road Test
Automotive jewelry? Volvo supplies some dazzling details.

Amazingly these are the only electrified models in the mid-size, three-row luxury segment, but the XC90 T6’s efficiency still improves on Infiniti’s QX60 (10.9 combined), Audi’s Q7 (11.0 combined), Buick’s Enclave (11.9), Mercedes-Benz’s GLS (13.2), BMW’s X7 (10.8), Land Rover’s gasoline-powered Discovery (13.0), the 2020 Cadillac XT6 (11.5), and the 2020 Lincoln Aviator (11.6), with the only non-hybrid vehicle to beat it in this class being the just-noted Discovery when mated up to its turbo-diesel, a rare beast these days, yet capable of 10.4 L/100km combined city/highway.

I know for a fact the XC90 T6 is much quicker off the line than that Disco oil burner, however, not to mention most other entry-level models on this list (I used base models when comparing fuel economy numbers), while there’s absolutely no contest when comparing acceleration between hybrids. Truly, put your foot into the XC90 T6 AWD’s throttle and it’s hard to believe there’s a 2.0-litre four-cylinder mill pushing and pulling this big SUV forward, the little turbocharged, supercharged and direct-injected mill needing just 6.5 seconds to zip from standstill to 100 km/h. That makes the T6 1.4 seconds quicker to 100 km/h than the base T5 that crosses the same time line in 7.9 seconds, plus it’s less than a second (0.9) slower than the T8 that blasts the hefty Volvo from zero to 100km/h in a mere 5.6 seconds.

2019 Volvo XC90 T6 AWD Inscription Road Test
The XC90’s front seats are superb.

The T6 AWD doesn’t only look fast by the numbers, it feels even quicker when sprinting away from a stoplight or passing on the highway, while it also does a good job of hustling through corners. I’m not going to go so far as to say it can out-manoeuvre one of the aforementioned Germans on a tight, circuitous test track, but it’ll easily run rings around most of the others while delivering one of the smoothest, most compliant rides in its category, combined with one of the best driver’s seats in the business.

Before falling into the trap of listing out every single XC90 feature Volvo offers (click through to my 2018 XC90 R-Design review for this info, as I cover all trims and the 2019 model hasn’t notably changed), let’s just say Volvo’s mid-size SUV provides a good value proposition, especially when factoring in the superbly crafted interior I mentioned at the beginning of this review. Truly, the XC90 Inscription gets one of most luxuriously appointed cabins available south of a Bentley Bentayga, and to be honest, much of the Swedish utility’s switchgear is made from denser (and therefore higher quality) composites than the big British ute, whereas every one of the XC90’s digital displays is beyond compare (I should mention here that Bentley will update the Bentayga with much-needed new infotainment for 2020).

2019 Volvo XC90 T6 AWD Inscription Road Test
Even adults can fit into the very back.

In front of the XC90’s driver is a completely digital gauge package capable of adding navigation mapping/route guidance to its centre multi-information section, where it can also house most of the infotainment system’s other functions, as well as the usual trip, fuel economy, etcetera info. Volvo’s award-winning Sensus infotainment system sits on the centre stack, its vertical, tablet-style touchscreen one of my favourites to use and its feature set replete with everything found in rival systems. Its overhead camera provides incredible detail, climate control interface some of the coolest temperature setting sliders around, and other functions right at the top of this segment, while its audio panel connected through to a sensational sounding $3,250 optional Bowers & Wilkins stereo featuring 1,400 watts of power and 19 speakers.

2019 Volvo XC90 T6 AWD Inscription Road Test
The 30/30/30-split second row makes the XC90 highly flexible for passengers and cargo.

That upgraded stereo boasts a beautiful set of drilled aluminum speaker grilles on each door, plus a small circular tweeter atop the dash, but you’ll need to look back to the photo gallery for my 2018 XC90 tester to see what was missing, a stunning Orrefors crystal and polished metal shift knob. Remember I said that nothing below a Bentley comes close to this XC90? You really need to see and feel the gorgeous diamond-patterned metal edges of the rotating multi-function centre stack controller first-hand to appreciate how exquisitely crafted it is, or for that matter twist the similarly ornate lower console-mounted engine start/stop switch and cylinder-shaped scrolling drive mode selector, while the matte-finish hardwood found on the scrolling bin lids that surround the just-noted switchgear and shifter, plus the instrument panel and doors, is otherworldly. It’s difficult to argue against my Inscription trimmed tester’s contrast-stitched padded leather upholstery either, which can be found on nearly every other surface that’s not already covered in high-quality pliable composite materials. I’m not saying Volvo’s competitors don’t do a good job of detailing out their mid-size SUVs’ interiors, it’s just that the XC90 provides such a rare sense of occasion that few of its rivals can measure up.

Therefore, the next time a Volvo XC90 pulls up beside you, maybe nod with the same level of reverence shown to a Rolls-Royce Cullinan, Bentley Bentayga or Range Rover Autobiography, because it’s providing a similar level of opulent luxury while going much further to mitigate fossil fuel consumption and reduce emissions. That it can be had for a five-figure sum shows that its owners are pretty savvy too, which might be worth even greater respect.

Story credit: Trevor Hofmann

Photo credits: Karen Tuggay