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.
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.
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.
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.
“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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
Model year 2019 marks three decades of Lexus ES availability, and while the car’s primary purpose hasn’t changed one iota, today’s seventh generation wouldn’t be recognizable by those who created the original.
The comparatively humble ES 250 was brought to market in 1989, and made no bones about its even more proletariat Toyota Camry roots. It was actually rushed to market so Lexus wouldn’t be a one-model brand, the full-size LS 400 making up the other half of the lineup. The ES, which was actually based on the Japanese market Camry Prominent/ Vista, was a good looking, well built, and fairly potent V6-powered mid-size luxury sedan, and thanks to that did reasonably well considering the all-new brand behind it.
Lexus has produced six ES generations since that first example, releasing this latest version last year for 2019, and while each new update improved upon its predecessor, this new model is by far the most dramatic to look at, most refined inside, and best to drive.
Lexus has done such a great job of pulling the ES upmarket, that it’s going to be a lot harder to justify having two mid-size sedans in its lineup. The two cars look pretty similar and are quite close in size, with the new ES’ wheelbase a mere 20 millimetres (0.8 inches) longer at 2,870 mm (113.0 in), and 4,960 mm (195.3 in) of nose-to-tail length more of a stretch due to another 110 mm (4.3 in). The ES is also 25 mm (1.0 in) wider than the GS, spanning 1,865 mm (73.4 in) from mirror to mirror, but at 1,445 mm (56.9 in) tall it’s 10 mm (0.4 in) lower in height, the ES’ long, wide and low design giving it stylish proportions that are arguably more attractive than the sportier, pricier GS.
To be fair, the GS not only provides stronger performance, especially through curves but also off the line, and particularly in fully tuned GS F trim that’s good for 467 horsepower, but it feels more substantive overall due to 66 kg (145 lbs) of extra curb weight in base trim and 185 kg (408 lbs) of added heft as a hybrid, plus a rear wheel-drive architecture shared with the smaller IS series sedan and coupe, a more rigid, sport-tuned suspension design, and other enhancements justifying its significantly pricier window sticker.
On that note the 2019 Lexus GS ranges between $63,800 and just over $100,000, compared to only $45,000 to $61,500 for the ES (check out pricing for all new and past models right here at CarCostCanada, including trims, packages and separate options, plus find out about rebate information as well as dealer invoice pricing that could save you thousands).
Behind the big new ES grille is a 302 horsepower version of Lexus/Toyota’s well-proven 3.5-litre V6, those numbers down a mere 9 horsepower and 13 lb-ft of torque from the base GS engine, yet 34 hp and 19 lb-ft of torque more capable than the outgoing ES 350, while Lexus now joins it up to an eight-speed automatic transmission instead of the six-speed gearbox found in the 2018 ES 350 and this year’s pricier GS.
The ES 300h hybrid, which starts at $47,000, now gets an improved 176 horsepower 2.5-litre four-cylinder engine with 163 lb-ft of torque, plus a 67 horsepower (50 kW) electric motor and 29.1-kWh nickel-metal hydride (NiMH) battery, resulting in 215 net horsepower and an undisclosed amount of torque (the outgoing ES 300h’ net torque rating was 206 lb-ft). This fourth-generation Hybrid Synergy Drive system once again features a wonderfully smooth electronically controlled continuously variable transmission that works well in its luxury role, while minimizing fuel consumption.
Fuel efficiency is the ES 300h’ strongpoint thanks to an amazing 5.5 L/100km city, 5.2 highway and 5.3 combined rating, which despite the aforementioned performance improvement makes last year’s 5.8, 6.1 and 5.9 respective ES 300h rating look merely so-so by comparison.
The 2019 ES 300h also does better than Lincoln’s MKZ Hybrid, the domestic luxury sedan only capable of 5.7 L/100km in the city, 6.2 on the highway and 5.9 combined, while some additional comparisons worth noting include the regular ES 350 that manages a respectable 10.6 in the city, 7.2 on the highway and 9.1 combined, the same car with its F Sport styling enhancements that’s capable of 10.9, 7.5 and 9.4, and the regular GS 350 AWD with its 12.3, 9.1 and 10.9 rating. Last year’s GS 450h hybrid managed a fairly decent 8.0 in the city, 6.9 on the highway and 7.5 combined, incidentally, but it’s no longer offered so this point is moot unless you can still source a new one or don’t mind living with a pre-owned version.
Finding a used GS might be a tad difficult being that they’re rare beasts. In fact, Lexus has only managed to deliver 82 examples in Canada up to August 31st of this year, compared to 1,445 ES units. This latter tally is actually the mid-size luxury sedan category’s second-best result, behind Mercedes’ E/CLS-Class, plus it’s also the segment’s best growth at 55.54 percent over the same initial eight months of 2018. Only two challengers saw any positive growth at all, including the same E/CLS-Class (that also includes a coupe and convertible) that saw its sales increase by 1.24 percent, plus the Audi A6 and A7 with 18.87 and 24.28 percent growth respectively, but these two models were only able to find 441 and 430 new buyers each so far this year.
Just in case you were questioning, the GS (with sales down 43.84 percent) didn’t find itself in last place thanks to Jaguar’s XF having nosedived some 52.89 percent with just 57 deliveries, while Acura’s RLX did even worse with just 40 sales after a drop of 24.53 percent, and finally Infiniti’s Q70 only sliding down by 2.56 percent but nevertheless managing just 38 units down the road. Purely from a percentage perspective, the mid-size sedan segment’s biggest loser is Lincoln’s Continental that lost 56.88 percent over the same eight months, whereas the car that came closest to entering positive territory but narrowly missing out was the G80 from Hyundai’s new Genesis brand with a slip of just 0.44 percent (sales information sourced from GoodCarBadCar.net).
Such sales carnage in mind, it would be easy to forgive Lexus for eventually dropping the GS in favour of the ES, and while I’d personally be a bit glum after learning the brilliantly fun GS F was gone, I’d certainly support a CEO that chose to make good, sound business decisions over one simply wanting another super-fast sport sedan in the lineup. I know there’s a reasonably good case for having image cars in a brand’s fleet, but Lexus is already losing money with its sensational LC coupe, and that bit of low-slung eye-candy does a lot more to bolster Lexus’ brand image than a four-door sedan very few will ever see. So let’s pay attention to what Lexus does with these two models as we approach the upcoming decade.
One thing’s for certain, the ES will continue to fulfill its unique calling in the luxury marketplace for years to come, and on top of that will soon have fewer challengers. The previously noted Continental is slated for cancellation, as is Lincoln’s more directly competitive MKZ that’s also offered as a hybrid electric. Cadillac will soon drop its front-wheel drive XTS and CTS luxury four-door models, whereas deliveries of its newer CT6 sedan are so slow they hardly rate. The only rivals not yet mentioned include BMW’s 5 Series, Volvo’s newish S90, and Tesla’s aging Model S, while some in the ES’ market might also consider Buick’s LaCrosse (also to be discontinued soon), Chrysler’s 300 (likely to be phased out), and possibly the impressive Kia Stinger, plus big mainstream luxury sedans like Toyota’s own Avalon that shares underpinnings with the ES, and finally Nissan’s Maxima, which also gets close to premium levels of performance and quality without a pricier premium nameplate.
Just the same, the ES has sold in bigger numbers than most of these potential rivals despite its Lexus badge and often-pricier window sticker, and this brand new redesigned model should keep momentum up for many years to come. As mentioned before, the ES 350 and ES 300h hybrid are totally redesigned for 2019, and no matter whether it’s trimmed in base ES 350 form, enhanced with cooler ES 350 F Sport styling, or clothed in classy as-tested ES 300h togs, Lexus’ front-wheel drive four-door now provides a completely new level of visual drama to its exterior design.
Lexus’ trademark spindle grille is bigger and much more expressive, while its origami-inspired LED headlamp clusters are more complex with sharper edges. Its side profile is longer and sleeker too, with a more pronounced front overhang and a swoopier sweep to its C pillars that now taper downward over a shorter, taller rear deck lid. Its hind end styling is more aggressive too, thanks to a much larger crescent-shaped spoiler that hovers above big triangular wrap-around LED tail lamps.
The overall design plays with one’s mind, initially flowing smoothly from the front grille rearward, overtop the hood and down each sculpted side, before culminating into a clamour of dissonant creases, folds and cutlines at back. It all comes together well nevertheless, and certainly won’t cause anyone to utter the types of criticisms about yawn inducing styling that previous ES models endured.
I could say the same about the new ES cabin, which instead of showing sharp edges now combines plenty of horizontal planes and softer angles with higher-grade materials than the outgoing model, not to mention a few design details pulled from the LFA supercar, such as the black knurled metal pods protruding from each side of the instrument hood, the left one for shutting off traction control, and the knob on the right for choosing Normal, Eco or Sport modes.
In between these unusual pods is a standard digital instrument cluster that once again finds inspiration in the LFA supercar, plus plenty of lesser Lexus models since. This one provides real-time energy monitoring via a nice flowing graphic just to the left of the speedometer, while the big infotainment display over to the right, on top of the centre stack, measures 8.0 inches at the least, up to 12.3 inches as-tested, yet both look larger thanks to all the black glass bordering each side. The left portion hides a classic LED-backlit analogue clock, carrying on a Lexus tradition I happen to love. The high-definition display includes stylish graphics and deep, rich contrasting colours, plus it responds to inputs quickly.
When choosing the as-tested ES 300h hybrid, the infotainment system now features standard Apple CarPlay, but I recommend integrating your smartphone to Lexus’ own Enform connectivity system. Enform is arguably more comprehensive and easier to use than the Android Auto interface my Samsung S9 is forced to use, although Android isn’t included anyway, while the list of standard Enform 2.0 apps includes fuel price updates, traffic incident details, and info on weather, sports, stocks, etcetera, while it’s also bundled with the Scout GPS Link navigation system, Slacker, Yelp, and more.
The new ES 300h also includes a new Remote Touch Interface trackpad controller on the lower console, which allows you to use smartphone/tablet-like gesture controls such as tap, pinch and swipe, and it works much better than previous versions, with more accurate responses, particularly when inputting via taps. Additional standard features include 17-inch alloy wheels, Bi-LED headlights, LED tail lamps, proximity keyless entry with pushbutton start/stop, a leather-wrapped steering wheel rim, rain-sensing windshield wipers, an auto-dimming centre mirror, a rearview camera with dynamic guidelines, a 10-speaker audio system with satellite radio, a deodorizing, dust and pollen filtered two-zone auto HVAC system, comfortable 10-way power-adjustable front seats with three-way heat and three-way forced cooling, NuLuxe breathable leatherette upholstery, all the usual active and passive safety equipment including 10 airbags, plus plenty more.
Speaking of standard safety, the new ES 300h includes Lexus Safety System+ 2.0 that boasts autonomous emergency braking with pedestrian and bicycle detection, lane departure alert with steering assist and road edge detection, new Lane Tracing Assist (LTA) automated lane guidance, auto high beams, and full-speed range adaptive cruise control.
The just-mentioned 12.3-inch infotainment display is part of an available $3,800 Premium package that also includes blind spot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert, reverse tilting mirrors, front and rear parking sonar, a heated steering wheel rim (which along with the heatable front seats turns on automatically upon startup), front seat and side mirror memory, a navigation system with ultra-detailed mapping and accurate route guidance, plus Enform Destination Assist that includes 24/7 live assistance for finding destinations or points of interest.
Alternatively, you may want to opt for the even more comprehensive $10,600 Luxury package that includes everything from the Premium package while adding 18-inch alloy wheels, extremely bright Tri-LED headlamps, an always appreciated wireless smartphone charger, leather upholstery, and a powered rear window sunshade.
Finally, the $14,500 Ultra Luxury package found on my tester combines everything in the Luxury package with a special set of 18-inch noise-reduction alloys, soft glowing ambient interior lighting, a really helpful 10-inch head-up display unit, an overhead surround-view parking camera system that makes parking a breeze, a fabulous sounding 17-speaker Mark Levinson premium audio system, softer semi-aniline leather upholstery, rear door sunshades, and a touch-free gesture control powered trunk lid.
This $61,500 ES 300h was the most luxuriously equipped version of this car I’ve ever tested, while along with its resplendent interior it totally stepped up its all-round performance as well. Like with previous generations its ride quality cannot be faulted, with this newest version actually improving thanks to revisions to its fully independent front strut and rear multi-link suspension system. Newly developed Dynamic Control Shocks now feature an auxiliary valve next to the main damper valve so as to respond more quickly to smaller movements. The front suspension was reworked too, aiding both comfort and stability, while rear trailing arm and stabilizer bar mounting point adjustments helped minimize body lean during hard cornering, all of which resulted in an ES that feels a lot more agile through tight, twisting corners.
Yes, this latest ES 300h is actually a lot of fun to drive. Lexus even included a set of steering wheel paddles for swapping the continuously variable transmission’s simulated gears. It mimics the feel of real gears fairly well when set to Sport mode, while this edgier setting also increases torque at low speeds for better acceleration, and places a tachometer right in the middle of the digital gauge cluster. Owners concerned more about economical or environmental issues may prefer Eco mode, which helps to reduce fuel consumption and lower emissions, whereas EV mode allows the ES 300h to crawl silently through parking lots, slow moving traffic, and other low speed situations for short periods of time.
Another efficiency enhancer is new Auto Glide Control, which lets the ES to coast more freely upon throttle lift-off, instead of being slowed automatically via the automatic regenerative braking system.
No matter how fast or slow you’re traveling, the slippery ES is extremely quiet due to a doubling of structural adhesive, which improves NVH levels, while it also features sound-deadening front fender liners and underbody covers, plus insulation covering 93 percent of the new ES 300h’s floor pan, which is a significant increase when compared to the outgoing model’s 68 percent of floor pan coverage.
The previously noted battery, which is now positioned below the rear seat instead of the trunk, is smaller than the one used in last year’s hybrid, but impressively it’s more powerful. Its new location not only improves front/rear balance, but also allows for more cargo space. In fact, the ES 300h’ trunk is now identically sized to the conventionally powered ES 350 at 473 litres (16.7 cu ft). The redesign provides access for a centre pass-through too, which is large enough for skis or other long items, so therefore rear passengers can now enjoy the more comfortable outboard seats, which are incidentally even nicer than the previous model’s rear seats.
All interior finishings are better than the outgoing model’s appointments, by the way, with the improvements including higher quality soft synthetic surfacing, plus more of it. The lower door panels remain hard shell plastic, as do the sides of the centre console, but most everything else is soft to the touch. I like that Lexus positioned its wireless device charger below the armrest within the centre console bin, as my phone was less of a distraction.
Additionally, all switchgear has been improved over previous generations, with some notable details including those cool metal pods I mentioned earlier, which stick out each side of the instrument cluster, plus the tiny round metal buttons on the centre stack are nicely finished, these used for controlling the radio, media, and seek/track functions. The temperature control switches are particularly stylish and well made too, and, while not switchgear, the Mark Levinson-branded speaker grilles and surrounds on the upper door panels are really attractive as well. The hardwood trim feels real because it is, and comes in Striated Black, Linear Dark Mocha or Linear Espresso, while the metallic accents are nicely finished and not overdone.
I’ve spent plenty of weeks behind the wheel of various Lexus ES generations over the past 20 years or so, in both conventionally powered and electrified forms, and now that I’ve spent yet another seven days with this entirely new 2019 ES 300h I can confidently predict that ES lovers will without doubt like this version best. It incorporates all the ES qualities you’ve grown to appreciate, yet steps up every aspect of quality, refinement and performance. Truly, this is one of the best entry-level luxury sedans I’ve ever tested.
Luxury automakers have some models that sell in high volumes, thus providing much needed income and profits, others they’d like to do better, and one or two image vehicles that increase brand visibility and hopefully cause prospective buyers to choose something more affordable and/or practical in the lineup. Once in a while a vehicle achieves both objectives, but such isn’t the case with the stunning new Lexus LC 500 and LC 500h.
Lexus leans on its NX and RX compact and mid-size crossover SUVs for mass volume, and hopes its new UX will soon add to its popularity. To lesser extent its sedans add volume too, especially the compact IS and mid-size ES, but its GS mid-size performance sedan and beautiful LS full-size luxury sedan don’t do well at all, while its RC sports coupe struggles too. Lexus also offers a GX mid-size sport utility that hardly gets noticed, but its LX full-size SUV pulls respectable numbers from a market segment that’s smaller by nature, albeit profitable, actually managing to pull itself up to sixth place within the Lexus lineup, right behind the just-noted EX.
By comparison, the LC could be seen as a runaway success next to the LFA, Lexus’ previous image car. That near-exotic sport model was purposely limited to a mere 500 examples globally over two model years between 2010 and 2012, of which 10 came to Canada. The LC, on the other hand, after launching in 2017 for the 2018 model year, is closer to a sales homerun thanks to seven units driven out of Lexus Canada dealerships last month alone, not to mention nine the month before that. Altogether, Lexus sold 55 LC 500 and 500h models through the first seven months of this year, making it second-to-last for popularity in Japanese premium brand’s arsenal, right next to the last-place LS and its lacklustre 51-unit total. On the positive, the LC was hardly the slowest selling sport/luxury car in the country.
Poorest of the poor goes to the rather rich Maserati GranTurismo, which found just 14 takes this year so far, while this LC also improved on the Acura NSX’ 17-unit tally, plus the Nissan GT-R’s total of 36, and the 54 Audi R8 examples sold. Nevertheless, Mercedes-Benz found 99 SL-Class customers so far this year, while BMW pulled in 160 buyers for its all-new 8 Series, Jaguar attracted 181 newcomers to its latest F-Type, Mercedes wowed everyone with 258 AMG GT deliveries (superb sales for a $170k car), and Porsche won over 587 new clients for its outgoing 2019 911. Interestingly, that last number (587, not 2019 or 911) represented a 31.74-percent downgrade in popularity for the quintessential Porsche sports car when compared to the first seven months of 2018, due to most customers waiting for the completely redesigned 2020 911 that’s now in the midst of arriving.
Incidentally, the iconic Porsche wasn’t the only sports car to lose sales, with the R8 plummeting some 70.97 percent, the GranTurismo plunging 48.15 percent, this LC deep diving 48.11 percent, the F-Type caving 29.30 percent, the GT-R pulling back 21.74 percent, and the SL dipping 16.10 percent. The AMG GT was the only car in its glass to gained year-over-year sales, up 55.42 percent over the same seven months, while the new 8 Series will need to wait a year for comparison. I also got a kick out of learning that Lexus’ parent brand, Toyota, found 66 new $65k-plus Supra buyers during the same period.
Of course, other cars compete in this class, but some, such as the BMW i8 and Mercedes-Benz S-Class Coupe, have their sales numbers combined with other models in their respective lines (the i8 paired up with the i3, and the S-Class Coupe with the S-Class Sedan), while the Aston Martin DB11, Bentley Continental GT, and Rolls-Royce Wraith are much pricier models. Blue-oval fans will appreciate hearing that Ford found three customers for its Markham, Ontario-assembled mid-engine GT supercar, while Dodge even pulled in one lucky buyer for its now two-year deceased Viper, and speaking of American supercars, the Corvette pulled in 840 new clients so far this year, and I’m willing to bet the slightly more expensive mid-engine C8 will shortly be flying out of Chevy showrooms, making it even harder for great cars like the LC to gain any sales traction.
When a car doesn’t gain much popularity, like this LC, I find it a good idea to point out that not doing well on the sales chart doesn’t necessarily reflect its good qualities or bad issues. The way I see it, the very fact it’s a Lexus should bring it respect, and other than the aforementioned fourth-generation LS luxury sedan, which incidentally is only the second model to ride on Toyota’s New Global Architecture or TNGA (specifically TNGA-L or GA-L), the LC is by far the most impressive Lexus ever created.
Its greatest asset has to be its styling. The LC takes the Lexus’ trademark spindle grille to new depths and widths, but the look becomes even more abstract to each corner, with headlights that seem as if they’re alien-implanted mechanical growths, albeit the actual lighted areas are small and filled with threesomes of neatly stacked LED bulbs. All the unusual appendages are just glossy black trim, other than the “arrowhead” daytime running lights just underneath.
More Lexus trademark styling cues can be found toward the rear, with the LC’s C-pillars getting a similar blacked-out “floating roof” design to that found on other models such as the previously noted RX SUV. It’s further adorned with premium polished nickel brightwork, while sharply edged tail lamp prongs closely resemble the so-called “L-shaped” headlights, albeit infused with 80 separate LEDs per corner instead of just three. Lexus shares some of the LC’s taillight design with the previously noted LS sedan, not to mention the iconic Toyota Prius and category topping Camry in its XSE trim line. While each element appears a bit strange on its own, the package on the whole melds together in one wonderfully elegant and intensely attractive whole.
You know something? I almost never comment on styling, unless the design team managed to get something especially right or horribly wrong. Fortunately the Newport Beach, California-based Calty Design Research centre’s team got the LC very right. We can thank studio boss Ian Cartabiano, as well as Edward Lee who was responsible for the sensational exterior design, plus William Chergosky and Ben Chang where were in charge of the interior, albeit not specifically of the LC, but rather the LF-LC Concept that inspired it. The LC was near perfectly transformed from jaw-dropping prototype to equally gorgeous LC 500 and LC 500h production models with hardly a change made to the exterior design, the final result quite possibly the nearest any road-going model has ever resembled its conceptual beginnings.
The production LC’s cabin underwent a total redesign, mind you, although it maintained some of the concept’s general styling cues including its LFA-like pod-shaped digital gauge cluster, its horizontally penned instrument panel incorporating a recessed widescreen centre infotainment display, its driver-centric cockpit that’s partially enclosed by a buttress-type centre console extension that doubles as a front-passenger grab-handle in the production car, the downward-flowing alcantara suede door panels, the deeply bolstered set of front sport seats, the similarly styled sport buckets in back, plus more.
Lexus’ effort was quickly rewarded by the LC’s placement on the WardsAuto 10 Best Interiors list after it arrived in 2017, and I certainly can’t argue against that. It’s a fresh, contemporary design that deliveries big on refinement, luxury and high-tech wizardry, all of which should be expected at its $102,750 starting point in 2019 LC 500 trim, or $103,050 in upcoming 2020 form, or alternatively $118,850 as the 2019 LC 500h hybrid shown on this page, or $118,950 in 2020 LC 500h trim (learn about Lexus LC 500 and 500h pricing right here on CarCostCanada for both the 2019 and 2020 model years, plus find out about available rebates as well as dealer invoice pricing that could save you thousands).
There are no major changes from the 2019 model year to 2020, except for cancelation of the $14,800 Inspiration Series package with Flare Yellow semi-aniline leather upholstery and more for the LC 500, plus a new Bespoke White interior theme that’s also added to the conventionally powered model. All six exterior colours remain the same no matter the powertrain, with Infrared being the sole paint option at $650, whereas all three remaining interior colour themes continue forward as well.
In case you were wondering, Lexus priced my 3.5-litre V6-powered hybrid LC 500h test model higher than the 5.0-litre V8-powered LC 500 version, despite adding 113 horsepower to the eight-cylinder engine, and no doubt providing a more dramatic exhaust note, plus fitting it with a faster shifting, more engaging gearbox than the hybrid’s electronic continuously variable transmission (E-CVT), because of all the extra features that come standard, starting with the regular LC 500’s $13,500 Performance package.
This means that four-wheel active variable gear ratio steering is standard, as is a Torsen limited slip differential, a set o f 21-inch forged alloy wheels on Michelin performance tires (that replace standard 20s), a carbon-fibre roof panel instead of a standard glass roof, an active rear spoiler, carbon-fibre reinforced polymer kick plates, an alcantara suede headliner, more heavily bolstered sport seats, and an eight-way powered driver’s seat in place of the LC 500’s base 10-way design, and lane change assist, which gets added to a comprehensive menu of standard driver assistive technology on both trims including a pre-collision system with autonomous emergency braking, lane departure alert with steering assist, blind spot monitoring with rear cross traffic alert, auto high beams, and adaptive cruise control.
This is a good time to run over a shortlist of standard convenience and luxury highlights, including LED cornering lamps within the triple-LED headlight clusters mentioned before, a tidy little credit card-sized intelligent key for cabin access via proximity sensing, a head-up display unit to go along with the full digital gauge package noted earlier, power-folding outside mirrors, a heated steering wheel that even allows for temperature adjustment, a power-adjustable steering column that connects through to the front seat memory, ventilated front seats (plus, of course, heatable front seats), partially-automated self-parking, etcetera, etcetera.
Additionally, a 10.3-inch high-resolution centre display comes standard too, complete with a dynamic guideline-infused backup camera, a navigation system with very accurate route guidance, Apple CarPlay smartphone integration (yes, Android Auto users are out of luck), a brilliant 13-speaker Mark Levinson high resolution surround-sound audio system, satellite radio, two USB ports, traffic and weather information, the Lexus Enform App Suite 2.0 featuring Slacker, Yelp, Sports, Stocks, plus Fuel apps, the Enform Destination Assist app with a single-year subscription, and Enform Safety Connect with Automatic Collision Notification, a Stolen Vehicle Locator, an Emergency Assistance / SOS button, and Enhanced Roadside Assistance with a four-year subscription.
You’d need to stretch a long way in order to touch the centre display, so Lexus doesn’t bother with a touchscreen at all. Instead, the brand’s Remote Touch Interface touchpad gets added to the lower console, and while it works well enough once acclimatized, thanks to some quick-access buttons and audio controls around the touchpad, I can’t say it’s my favourite infotainment system. On the positive, there were many other reasons to appreciate this LC.
For one, it’s pretty large and fairly roomy, at least up front. As noted earlier, it’s based Toyota’s TNGA-L platform architecture, which is the same as the full-size LS luxury sedan, but take note the LC is quite a bit smaller unless measuring width. It spans across an additional 20 mm (0.8 in) at 1,920 mm (75.6 in), and you’ll immediately notice how spacious it is from side-to-side, especially if someone’s sitting next to you. The LC’s wheelbase is abbreviated by 255 mm (10.0 in) to 2,870 mm (113.0 in), however, whereas its nose-to-tail length is a significant 475 mm (18.7 in) shorter, plus it’s nowhere near as tall, the LC lower by 116 mm (4.5 in).
As for how it measures up to its competition, it’s not only a lot smaller than Mercedes’ S-Class Coupe, the LC is actually smaller than the German brand’s mid-size E-Class Coupe too, except for its width. The Lexus comes closer to the BMW i8 and Aston Martin DB11 in overall dimensions, with slightly greater wheelbase, length and height than the shapely German and more exotically branded Brit, but a bit less width this time around.
The LC’s longer length and wheelbase results in a car that can house four adults, but I’d make sure you don’t try to stuff someone too tall into the rear seats. I’m only five-foot-eight with longer legs than torso, but I was forced to kink my neck over to the side in order to fit in, with my head still pushing up against the back glass. The seats are comfortable enough, and I had enough space for my legs and feet, plus my shoulders and hips, which made it a shame that medium-sized adults won’t be able to ride in the rear.
How about trunk space? The LC 500h is smaller than the non-hybrid LC 500, providing just 132 litres (4.7 cu ft) instead of 153 (5.4 cu ft), so therefore you’ll need to stow a second set of clubs in the rear seating area when taking a friend along to the golf course.
Just in case you don’t fully understand the personal luxury coupe market segment, being able to take more than one set of golf bags to the course that is a critically important make-or-break factor, so it’s quite possible that, together with its lack of rear seat room, LC sales are being hurt by its lacklustre practicality. This Lexus isn’t a pureblooded performance car anyway, particularly in as-tested hybrid form, but instead is a luxurious personal coupe that just happens to ramp up speed quickly and manage corners with deft prowess. This makes the LC more like BMW’s i8 than anything else in the class. It takes off well enough and handles like a well-mannered sports car, but it’s built more for luxury than slaying the cones on weekend autocross course. When it comes to comfort, its suede-like alcantara-clad driver’s seat provides wrap-around comfort and good support all over, while was fully adjustable and complete with ample side bolstering for keeping me in place during aggressive manoeuvres.
Initially I was scheduled for a week in both the LC 500 and 500h, but someone did something naughty to the V8-powered version just ahead of receiving it, so instead of enjoying its 467 horsepower and 398 lb-ft of torque firsthand, not to mention its reportedly quick-shifting 10-speed automatic, I was moved into something else for that week, never to experience the LC 500 at all. Sad as that may be, soon I got into this LC 500h, which is a bit more docile with just 354 horsepower at the rear wheels, but it still felt plenty potent under full throttle.
The V6 portion of its hybrid power unit makes just 295 horsepower and 257 lb-ft of torque, which is in fact less than the same engine produces in the Toyota Camry XSE, but before I criticize Lexus for utilizing such a seemingly plebian engine in its most alluring model, consider that a more tautly strung version of this mill makes 430 reliable horsepower in the mid-engine Lotus Evora, so at least it’s in well respected company.
Of course, the lithium-ion battery and electric motor fulfill their torque-rich purpose too, the latter capable of a near immediate 177 horsepower and 221 lb-ft of torque, for a net 472 horsepower and, er, well let’s not even try to calculate its combined internal combustion and electric output, because net horsepower and net torque don’t exactly compute that way. Lexus officially estimates 354 horsepower while other testers are claiming approximately 370 lb-ft of torque. I believe they’re being ultra-conservative, being that the regular V8 shoots from zero to 100km/h in 5.1 seconds and this hybrid takes just 0.5 seconds longer resulting in a sprint time of 5.6, and this is despite the 500h adding 77 kilos (170 lbs) to its 2,012-kg (4,436-lb) curb weight over the 1,935-kg (4,266-lb) 500.
No matter which model you’re driving, make sure to choose the standard Drive Mode Select system’s most entertaining Sport S+ setting, which may not be as edgy as the sportiest mode in one of BMW’s M cars, or Lexus’ own RC F for that matter, but it nevertheless provides higher engine revs between shifts ahead of swapping cogs faster than it otherwise would. Lexus includes a set of large metal steering wheel-mounted paddle-shifters for the latter, which worked ideally in Sport mode as well, but unlike most cars I test I actually kept it in Sport S+ mode more often than not. Along with its increased performance and better feel, the rorty noises emanating from the engine bay and exhaust pipes were downright addictive, particularly when revs rise, and the transmission’s “gear changes” felt considerably more direct.
This was one of the most engaging continuously variable transmissions I’ve ever tested, although even factoring in its sophisticated 10-speed Simulated Shift Control technology, which includes a conventional-type multi-gear box within, it can’t completely eradicate all CVT tendencies. Yes, even in its sportiest drive mode its shifts come on so fast between intervals, albeit without the expected positive engagement otherwise experienced in most sport-tuned automatics and dual-clutch automated gearboxes, that it’s almost like nothing has happened at all, plus the V6 makes a habit of whining up and down with the same rubber band effect in between. In a nutshell, if you’re a serious performance fan you’ll want to opt for the V8-powered LC 500, which leaves folks who want to make their environmental mark choosing this hybrid, because let’s face it, anyone paying $100,000-plus for a personal luxury coupe isn’t going to care about saving fuel for the sake of saving dollars.
On that note, the LC 500h’s claimed fuel economy rating is very good for the class, coming in at 9.0 L/100km city, 7.1 highway and 8.1 combined, compared to 15.1 in the city, on the 9.5 highway and 12.6 combined for the regular LC 500.
No doubt the lighter LC 500 aids agility through fast curves when compared to the LC 500h, but either way the long, wide, low and fairly large coupe is a great handler, taking up plenty of real estate yet able to manage corners with precise skill. This is its strength, the LC delivering the same type of relaxed high-speed confidence-inspiring stability found in a big Mercedes-Benz coupe, yet with its own Japanese luxury flair. Its wonderfully balanced chassis is nice and easy on one’s backside too, with ride quality that’s much more comfortable than its large wheels, performance tires, and sporty low-slung design suggests, while its also serenely quiet when the aforementioned driving mode selector is switched from Sport+ or Sport to Comfort or Eco.
There’s no question whether the Lexus LC is worthy of a premium luxury coupe buyer’s attention or not, but no matter what I think its sales numbers don’t lie. As impressive as this car is, the people have spoken and the result is less than ideal. Even in the U.S., where Lexus is amongst the strongest selling luxury brands, the LC only attracted 764 sales since the January 1, 2019, which slightly better per capita than here in Canada, but nothing to get excited about either. Talk about a new stronger performing LC F model arriving later this year or early next could help pull more eyeballs toward this somewhat forgotten nameplate, as will an stylish new convertible version that’s beginning to be teased online, but who knows? The beautiful LC might just end up as another image-building car that never enjoys much sales traction, good for making Lexus’ well-respected brand name even more desirable, but incapable of making profits on its own.
All said, the LC makes for an especially exclusive example of rolling artwork, which i must say caused more attention from passersby than plenty of pricier cars with more prestigious branding that I’ve driven this year, pulling more long stares, causing more pointing fingers, and resulting in more gaping mouths from astonished onlookers than I was able to count, not to mention an unabashedly overcome German tourist that just had to have me take a photo of him next to it.
Unlike the types of exotic machinery that normally cause such an emotional outpouring, mind you, the LC provides impressively dependable performance as well, which just might be the type of priceless feature that makes owning one worthwhile. If you’d like something undeniably beautiful, that’s also totally unique in the premium marketplace, look no farther than this Lexus LC. Whether suited up in V8-powered 500 or 500h hybrid trim, it’s one thoroughly impressive personal luxury coupe.
What do you think of the new 2020 Highlander? It was introduced a few months ago at the New York auto show and will go on sale in December this year, just in time for Christmas (or Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, Saturnalia, and Omisoka, take your pick). It pulls plenty of styling cues from what I think is the better looking 2014 through 2016 version of the third-generation Highlander currently available, the newer 2017 through (as-tested) 2019 variation a bit too over-the-top when it comes to its chrome-laden mega-grille for my tastes, but to each his, her or hir own. I find the 2020 much more attractive, and believe it will serve both Toyota and the Highlander’s faithful well for years to come.
That 2014 Highlander I just referenced was a major milestone in Toyota design and refinement, its interior wholly impressive. The Matt Sperling-designed model, which saw its maximum seat count grow from seven to eight in base trim, found greater success due to its more rugged Toyota truck-inspired grille and lower fascia combo, while this fancier Lexus look hasn’t fared quite as well, hence (I’m guessing) the move back to simpler, cleaner, more classic lines.
Probably due more because of the auto market’s general move from cars to crossover SUVs, Highlander sales grew by 17.70 percent from 2016 to 2017 in Canada, but then deliveries eased 4.06 percent through 2018 before plunging by a whopping 17.70 percent (strangely the exact number the model gained two years ago) over the first six months of 2019. In a market that’s constantly being touted as SUV crazy, why has Toyota seen such a downturn in Highlander popularity? Could it be styling?
Before jumping to conclusions, a deeper look at the entire mid-size crossover SUV segment’s sales chart shows the Highlander as far from alone in this downward slide. In fact, this entire class experienced a 7.66 percent decline from 2017 to 2018. Specifically, of the 24 crossovers/SUVs now selling into the mid-size volume segment (including tall wagons such as the Subaru Outback, two-row crossovers like the Hyundai Santa Fe, three-row models like this Highlander, and traditional body-on-frame SUVs like the Toyota 4Runner), just 8 saw upward growth while 10 swung to the negative, while another five only grew because they were totally new and had no 2018 sales to be compared to.
I wouldn’t expect to see all of these models slotting into the same order by year’s end, due to redesigns (the new Explorer should regain much of its lost ground, as it was third last year, while the 2020 Highlander should receive a nice bump too, albeit during the following calendar year) and totally new models should help swell the ranks (Chevy’s new Blazer sales are very strong), but the leading brands will probably maintain their leadership for reasons we all know too well, one of these top sellers being this very Toyota Highlander.
For the remainder of the year Toyota’s mid-size crossover success hinges on the current Highlander, which should be able to hold its own well enough. The well-proven model didn’t get a lot of help from its product planning team, however, with just one itty-bitty upgrade to wow prospective buyers. That’s right, a lone set of LED fog lights replacing previous halogens is the sole excitement for 2019, and Toyota didn’t even change their shape from circular to anything else (stars would’ve been fun).
I had a 2019 Highlander Hybrid Limited on loan for my weeklong test, incidentally, oddly coated in identical Celestial Silver Metallic paint and outfitted in the same perforated Black leather as a 2018 model tested late last year and reviewed at length along with an even richer looking Ooh La La Rouge Mica coloured Limited model with the regular old non-hybrid V6 behind its grandiose grille (minus this year’s fancy LED fog lamps).
Improvements aside, I continue to be amazed that Toyota remains the sole mainstream volume automotive brand to provide a hybridized mid-size crossover SUV, being that the majority of key challengers have offered hybrid powertrains in other models for years (I should really lend a nod to Chrysler for its impressively advanced Pacifica Hybrid plug-in right about now, as it’s roomy enough to be added to the list despite not being an SUV). Kudos to Toyota, this Highlander Hybrid being by far the most fuel-efficient vehicle in its class in an unprecedented era of government taxation resulting in the highest fuel prices Canada has ever experienced.
Transport Canada rates the 2019 Highlander Hybrid at 8.1 L/100km city, 8.5 highway and 8.3 combined, which compares well to 12.0 city, 8.9 highway and 10.6 combined for mid-range XLE and top-line Limited variations on the conventionally-powered Highlander theme, which also include AWD plus an upgrade to fuel-saving auto start/stop technology.
Both regular Highlander and Highlander Hybrid models provide considerably more standard power in their base trims than the majority of peers that get four-cylinder engines at their points of entry. For starters, regular Highlanders feature a 3.5-litre V6 capable of 295 horsepower and 263 lb-ft of torque, which drives the front wheels in base LX trim or all four wheels in LX AWD, XLE or Limited trims. An efficient eight-speed automatic transmission has the option of idle start/stop, this fuel-saving technology having originally been standard equipment with Toyota’s first hybrid models.
Of course, auto start/stop comes standard in the new Highlander Hybrid as well, this model utilizing the same 3.5-litre V6, albeit running on a more efficient Atkinson-cycle, while its electric motor/battery combination makes for more get-up-and go, 306 net horsepower to be exact, plus an undisclosed (but certainly more potent) increase in torque.
From the list of mid-size Highlander challengers noted earlier, the most fuel-efficient three-row, AWD competitor is the Kia Sorento with a rating of 11.2 L/100km in the city, 9.0 on the highway and 10.2 combined, but the Sorento is substantially smaller than the Highlander and, like the Hyundai Santa Fe that’s no longer available with three rows in order to make way for the new Palisade, Kia buyers wanting more passenger and cargo space will probably move up to the new 2020 Telluride.
This said, following the Sorento (in order of thriftiest to most guzzling) this three-row mid-size SUV segment’s offerings include the GMC Acadia at 11.3 L/100km city, 9.4 highway and 10.5 combined; the Mazda CX-9 at 11.6, 9.1 and 10.5 respectively; the Highlander V6 at 12.0, 8.9 and 10.6 (you’ll see here that it does pretty well even in none-hybrid form); the Nissan Pathfinder at 12.1, 8.9 and 10.7; Honda’s Pilot at 12.4, 9.3 and 11.0; Hyundai’s Palisade at 12.3, 9.6 and 11.1; Kia’s Telluride at 12.5, 9.6 and 11.2; the Dodge Durango at 12.7, 9.6 and 11.3; the Ford Explorer at 13.1, 9.2 and 11.4; Chevy’s Traverse at 13.7, 9.5 and 11.8; VW’s Atlas at 13.8, 10.2 and 12.2; the (how is it possible it’s still alive?) Dodge Journey at 14.5, 10.0 and 12.4; the (ditto) Ford Flex at 14.7, 10.7 and 12.9; and finally the fabulous (I’m so glad it’s still alive) Toyota 4Runner at 14.3, 11.9 and 13.2 respectively.
For those that don’t need a third row yet are thinking of buying the Highlander anyway (I almost always leave the third row down in SUVs like this as it’s easier for moving quick loads of whatever), a quick comparo against two-row competitors (again from the list above) shows the four-cylinder Subaru Outback as the best of the rest from a fuel economy perspective (it’s nowhere near as roomy for cargo of course) at 9.4 L/100km in the city, 7.3 on the highway and 8.5 combined (yet that’s still not as thrifty as the Highlander Hybrid), while more similar in size albeit still not as capable for toting gear and only four-cylinder-powered are the base Ford Edge at 11.4 city, 8.3 highway and 10.0 combined; the Hyundai Santa Fe at 11.2, 8.7 and 10.1 respectively; and the Nissan Murano at 11.7, 8.5 and 10.3.
Only because my OCD tendencies would cause me distress if not included I’ll finish off the list of potential rivals with the new two-row Honda Passport (that doesn’t measure up to the conventionally-powered Highlander’s fuel economy) with a rating of 12.5 city, 9.8 highway and 11.3 combined; the new Chevrolet Blazer at 12.7, 9.5 and 11.3 respectively, and lastly the Jeep Grand Cherokee at 12.7, 9.6 and 11.3.
The electrified portion of the Highlander Hybrid’s powertrain is made up of two permanent magnet synchronous motors, the first powering the front wheels and the second for those in back (making AWD), while a sealed nickel-metal hydride (Ni-MH) traction battery takes care of power storage. Toyota has eschewed newer, more common lithium-ion battery technology for this version of its Hybrid Synergy Drive system (it uses lighter Li-Ion tech for other battery applications), and it’s hard to argue against their long-term dependability as Toyota has used Ni-MH batteries in its Prius since that car hit the streets in 1997. Prius taxicabs have become legendary for reliability and durability, many eclipsing a million-plus kilometres without exchanging or rebuilding their batteries, while the latter is possible due to current NiMH modules being identical in size to those introduced with the 2001 Prius.
If I can point to something negative, and then only negligibly, the regular model’s eight-speed automatic is more enjoyable to drive than the Hybrid’s electronically controlled continuously variable transmission (ECVT). Still, I’m kind of splitting hairs because I only noticed this when pushing harder than I would normally do in a family SUV like this. Under normal conditions, such as driving around the city or cruising down an open freeway the ECVT is brilliantly smooth and even quite nice to flick through the “gears” thanks to sequential shifting capability via stepped ratios that copy the feel of a conventional automatic transmission.
The Highlander Hybrid’s electric all-wheel drive system works well too, both on rainy streets and also in a snow packed parking lot I managed to find up on a local ski hill. Its prowess through slippery situations makes sense, as Toyota’s been perfecting this drivetrain since the first 2006 Highlander Hybrid arrived on the scene, and after spending week’s at a time with all of its variations through its entire tenure I’ve certainly never experienced any problem that it couldn’t pull me and my family out of.
With a price of $50,950 (plus destination and fees) in base XLE trim the 2019 Highlander Hybrid isn’t inexpensive, while this top-line Limited is even pricier at $57,260, but it’s certainly not the loftiest price in this class. For instance, a similarly equipped 2019 Chevrolet Traverse High Country starts at a whopping $60,100, while the only slightly more premium-like 2019 Buick Enclave Avenir hits the road at $62,100, neither of which provides any type of hybrid electrification at all. I don’t know about you, but the Highlander Hybrid Limited’s price is starting to look quite reasonable.
Incidentally, pricing for all crossover SUVs mentioned in this review can be found right here at CarCostCanada, including their various trims, packages and standalone options, while you can also find money saving rebate information and really useful dealer invoice pricing that could save you thousands (for your convenience I’ve turned the name of each model mentioned in this review into a link to its pricing page).
In essence, despite the current Highlander’s age you could do a lot worse in this segment. It provides plenty of power, a comfortable ride, good road manners, near premium interior quality that even includes fabric-wrapped roof pillars from front to back, as well as soft-touch surface treatments galore, an attractive colour-filled primary instrument cluster (that includes loads of unique hybrid controls), a decent centre-stack infotainment interface that only looks dated because of Toyota’s superb new Entune touchscreen, a spacious, comfortable three-row passenger compartment, tons of cargo capacity, excellent expected reliability, and awesome fuel economy.
I suppose the only reason I can give you not to choose a 2019 Highlander Hybrid over one of its competitors is the upcoming 2020 Highlander Hybrid, although now that the new one is on the way you’ll probably be able to get a much better deal on this outgoing 2019. You’ll need to look at your own budget and then decide how you want to proceed, but either way don’t forget to use CarCostCanada for rebate info and dealer invoice pricing, so you can get the best possible deal.
Volvo has been seriously upping its game over the past few years, with an entirely redesigned lineup of highly competitive premium models, and even an entirely new “Polestar” all-electric performance-luxury brand that’s designed to go head-to-head against Tesla.
Bridging the gap is “Polestar Engineered”, a performance division responsible for tuning Volvo’s regular crop of luxury cars. Late last year we saw the result of its engineering prowess, the S60 T8 Polestar Engineered that sold out so quickly we hardly realized it came and went, but it set the stage for two additional models we think will fare equally well, the upcoming 2020 V60 T8 Polestar Engineered and XC60 T8 Polestar Engineered.
“At Volvo Car Canada, we are very excited about the addition of the new Polestar Engineered products in our portfolio,” said Alexander Lvovich, Managing Director, Volvo Car Canada Ltd. “Polestar always played a special role in the Volvo business in Canada, as in the last 2 years we achieved one of the highest levels of Polestar optimized product sales in the world. We plan to fully capitalize on this upcoming opportunity to strengthen both Volvo and Polestar brands in Canada.”
Like last year’s S60 variant, the new Polestar Engineered cars once again use Volvo’s turbocharged, supercharged and electrified T8 Twin-Engine Plug-in Hybrid powertrain, which is specially tuned to produce 415 horsepower and 494 lb-ft of torque, 15 horsepower and 22 lb-ft of torque more than the regular T8 AWD power unit.
Updates to powertrain software allow torque to arrive earlier for quicker throttle response, while more of that power gets sent to the wheels in back for better all-round performance. To clarify, along with the boosted 2.0-litre four-cylinder engine, the T8 drivetrain utilizes two electric motors (one up front and one in the rear), with a battery that’s both plug-in for pure electric driving over short distances, plus gasoline-electric hybrid powered.
Together with its rear-wheel biased handling, the new Polestar Engineered models received stiffer body structures from an Öhlins-designed front strut bar that allows for “more precise and responsive control,” according to a Volvo Canada press release, while Öhlins also provided a set of adjustable dampers that utilize special dual flow valves, which respond more “quickly to road imperfections.”
What’s more, six-piston Brembo calipers, painted gold in Polestar tradition, improve braking performance, while sets of lightweight 19-inch forged alloy wheels, unique to each of the three Polestar Engineered S60, V60 and XC60 models, add aggressive character while providing more air to cool those beefier brakes.
If you were hoping for aggressive aero upgrades, ducts and hood scoops plus other boy racer visual performance statements, the Polestar Engineered models take a subtler approach that should appeal to more mature clientele, with the only additional exterior modifications being high-gloss black for the grille, flared wheel arches, black chrome exhaust finishers, and small Polestar emblems front and rear.
Likewise, the new models’ cabins will receive a unique leather-wrapped sport steering wheel and shifter knob, metal mesh aluminum décor trim, gold seatbelts, special charcoal-coloured Nappa leather and “open-grid” textile seat upholstery, plus more.
The new 2020 V60 and XC60 T8 Polestar Engineered models will arrive this summer, but if you hope to own one you’ll need to contact your local Volvo dealer now, because if the S60 version is any indication to go by they’ll be snapped up quickly.
I said this before and I’ll say it again, the new Accord is the most attractive car in its midsize sedan class, and one of the best looking to ever be sold in this segment. Not only that, I find it better looking than a lot of premium-branded sedans, and wouldn’t doubt that some who might have never purchased in this class before will now consider doing so solely because it exists.
This scenario may have played out on Canada’s sales charts last year, with the Accord being the only mid-size sedan to see growth from January 2018 through December’s end. OK, its archrival Toyota Camry barely escaped the red by growing a scant 0.1 percent over the same 12-month period, but Accord deliveries were up 2.4 percent during an era that’s seen the mid-size sedan decimated by crossover SUV popularity. This last point was evidenced by other Accord competitors seeing their market shares eroded significantly, the next best-selling Chevy Malibu’s sales down 16.3 percent, followed by the Fusion dropping 34.8 percent, the Nissan Altima lower by 21.4 percent, the Hyundai Sonata by 33.6 percent, Kia Optima by 27.5 percent, Volkswagen Passat by 29.5 percent, Mazda6 by 9.8 percent, and Subaru Legacy down by 28.1 percent. That’s an unbelievable level of mid-size sedan carnage, but the new Accord solely rose above it all.
Of course, there’s a lot more to the 10th-generation Accord than just good looks. There’s an equally attractive interior filled with premium levels of luxury and leading edge electronics, plus dependable engineering borne from decades of production and non-stop refinements. The first hybrid drivetrain was introduced as an option to the seventh-generation Accord way back in 2005, skipped a generation and then came back as an option with the ninth-gen Accord in 2013, and now it’s here again.
As with previous iterations, the latest Accord Hybrid looks much the same as the conventionally powered model, which I appreciate because it’s not trying too hard to stand out and keeps the Accord’s attractive styling intact. Truly, the only noticeable difference is a removal of tailpipe finishers, the Hybrid featuring some discrete chrome trim in their place. Chrome in mind, both no-name Hybrid and Hybrid Touring trims feature the same chrome exterior details as the regular Accord’s EX-L and above trims, Sport model excluded.
Touring upgrades that aren’t as noticeable include full LED headlamps that feature light emitting diodes for the high as well as the low beams, plus unique signature LED elements around the outside of the headlamp clusters, chrome-trimmed door handles, and the availability of no-cost as-tested Obsidian Blue Pearl exterior paint instead of standard Crystal Black Pearl or $300 White Orchid Pearl, the only two shades offered with the base model.
Now that we’ve got the obvious visual changes from base Hybrid to Hybrid Touring trims out of the way, the top-line model also replaces Honda’s exclusive LaneWatch blind spot display system with a Blind Spot Information (BSI) and Rear Cross Traffic Monitor system, while adding adaptive dampers to improve handling, rain-sensing wipers, a head-up display (HUD), an auto-dimming rearview mirror, passenger side mirror reverse gear tilt-down, a HomeLink garage door remote, a powered moonroof, front and rear parking sensors, navigation, voice recognition, satellite and HD radio capability, HondaLink subscription services, wireless device charging, an AT&T Wi-Fi hotspot, driver’s seat memory, a four-way powered front passenger’s seat, a heatable steering wheel rim, perforated leather upholstery, ventilated front seats, heated rear outboard seats, and more for $40,090 plus freight and fees.
Incidentally, I sourced 2019 Honda Accord Hybrid pricing right here at CarCostCanada, which not only breaks everything down into trims, packages and standalone options, but also provides information about available rebates as well as dealer invoice pricing that could save you thousands.
Additionally, items pulled up to the Hybrid Touring from base $33,090 Hybrid trim include unique aerodynamically designed machine-finished 17-inch alloy wheels, auto-on/off headlight control with automatic high beams, LED fog lamps, LED taillights, a remote engine starter, proximity-sensing keyless access with pushbutton ignition, a leather-wrapped multifunction steering wheel, a 7.0-inch colour TFT multi-information display within the primary gauge cluster, dual-zone automatic climate control, an 8.0-inch infotainment touchscreen with tablet-style tap, swipe and pinch gesture controls, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto smartphone integration, a multi-angle rearview camera with dynamic guidelines, Bluetooth phone connectivity with streaming audio, near field communication (NFC), 452-watt audio with 10 speakers including a subwoofer, two front and two rear USB charging ports, SMS text message and email reading functionality, Wi-Fi tethering, overhead sunglasses storage, a 12-way powered driver’s seat with four-way powered lumbar support, heatable front seats, the HondaLink Assist automatic emergency response system, plus all the expected active and passive safety features including front knee airbags.
Some safety features that might not be expected include the standard Honda Sensing suite of advanced driver assistance systems, incorporating Adaptive Cruise Control (ACC) with Low-Speed Follow, Collision Mitigation Braking System (CMBS), Forward Collision Warning (FCW), Lane Departure Warning (LDW), Road Departure Mitigation (RDM), Lane Keeping Assist System (LKAS), and traffic sign recognition, this being enough to earn the regular Accord a Top Safety Pick from the IIHS when equipped with its upgraded headlights, while all Accord trims get a best-possible five stars from the NHTSA.
The long list of Accord Hybrid Touring features comes in a cabin that exudes quality and refinement, thanks to premium-level soft synthetic surfacing on most surfaces above the waste, authentic looking matte woodgrain inlays spanning the instrument panel and door panels, tastefully applied satin-silver accents throughout, supple leather upholstery on the seats, door inserts and armrests, padded and stitched leatherette trim along the sides of the lower console, the front portion protecting the inside knees of driver and front passenger from chafing, and some of the highest quality digital displays in the class.
Immediately impressive is the brightly lit primary instrument package that looks like a giant LCD panel at first glance, but in fact houses a digital display within its left two-thirds while integrating an analogue speedometer to the right. The screen on the left is filled with hybrid-specific info by default, but you can scroll through numerous other functions via steering wheel controls, resulting in a very useful multi-info display.
Likewise you can project key info onto the windshield via the HUD by using another steering wheel button, the system showing graphical information for route guidance, the adaptive cruise control system and more up high where you can see it without taking your eyes off the road.
Over on the top portion of the centre stack, Honda’s new infotainment interface has become a personal favourite amongst mainstream volume brands, thanks to high definition displays, wonderful depth of colour and contrast, plus fabulous graphics, the elegantly arranged tile system easy to figure out and plenty attractive to look at. Being a hybrid, a number of cool animated graphic sections are included, while the navigation system’s mapping was excellent and route guidance easy to input and precisely accurate, plus the backup camera was equally clear and dynamic guidelines helpful. Yes, I would’ve appreciated an overhead 360-degree bird’s-eye view, but the ability to see a variety of views thanks to its multi-angle design, no matter the trim, is a bonus that others in the class don’t offer.
The final digital display is Honda’s dual-zone automatic climate control interface, which is attractively designed in a narrow, neatly organized, horizontal row that includes an LCD centre display, three knurled metal-edged rotating knobs, and a variety of high-quality buttons for the HVAC system and heated/ventilated front seats.
I should mention that all of the Accord Hybrid Touring’s switchgear was excellent, and much of it beautifully finished with aforementioned satin-silver detailing, while the audio system knobs got the same grippy and stylish knurled metal treatment as those used for the HVAC interface. Much of the design shows an artistically flair too, particularly the recessed speaker grille behind the fixed tablet style display atop the dash, and the 3D effect used to raise the top buttons on the HVAC interface above those below.
At the very base of the centre stack is a little cubby filled with a 12-volt power outlet, a charged/connected USB port and a wireless charging pad that’s large enough for big smartphones like the Samsung Note series. Interestingly Honda has done away with the classic old auxiliary plug, replacing it with near field communication (NFC) as noted earlier, and three more USBs, the second one found within the centre storage bin under the armrest, which includes another 12-volt charger as well. The bin has a nice removable tray as well, which feels very high in quality and is rubberized so that it doesn’t rattle around like so many others in this class. This is just one of many details that let you know the Accord’s quality is above average.
The leather seats are nicely styled with perforations the three-way forced ventilation noted earlier. The driver’s was extremely comfortable, with good side support for this segment and excellent lower back support. On that note I was surprised that Honda not only includes a power-adjustable lumbar support with fore and aft control, but it’s a four-way system that also moves up and down to ideally position itself within the small of your back. That’s unusual in this class, even when compared to some premium models like the Lexus ES 350 and more directly comparative ES 300h hybrid that only include two-way powered lumbar. Likewise for the Toyota Camry and Camry Hybrid, plus a few others in this segment that don’t measure up either.
The seating position is good, probably on par with the aforementioned Camry, but I must say neither is excellent when it comes to adjustability. Their steering columns don’t offer enough reach, forcing me to power my seat too close to the pedals in order to achieve optimal comfort and control of the steering wheel. We’re all made differently, and I happen to have longer legs than torso. The compromise was a more upright seatback than I would have otherwise liked, but doing so allowed ample control and decent comfort, so this is how I drove all week.
Controlling the gear selector is a lot easier, although if you’re not familiar with Honda’s new assemblage of buttons and pull levers it’ll take some getting used to. The Accord Hybrid comes standard with the complex selector, and while it might be a bit confusing at first try I recommend giving it a little time before getting flustered. I’ve had a lot of opportunity to use this system in a variety of Honda models, the new Odyssey and Pilot immediately coming to mind, while it’s similar to the system used in new Acura models, so now I don’t swear at it when trying to find reverse in the middle of a U-turn. Other than the pull lever-type electromechanical parking brake found at its rearmost section, it consists of three pushbuttons, for park, neutral and drive, and another pull lever for reverse. I almost never use neutral, simplifying the process further, so it’s a tug on the lever for reverse and a simple press of the large centre button for drive or park, that’s it.
Next to the parking brake there’s another set of buttons for Sport, Econ and EV modes, plus a brake hold button. I left it in Econ mode most of the time and EV mode whenever it would allow, because this is what hybrids are all about, saving fuel and minimizing emissions and cost. This said the Accord Hybrid is one of the thriftiest vehicles I’ve driven all year, only costing me $24 after a week’s worth of very thorough use, and that’s when gas was priced at an outrageous $1.55 per litre. At today’s slightly more agreeable prices it would allow even more savings, its claimed 5.0 L/100km city, 5.0 highway and 5.0 combined fuel economy rating one of the best in the non-plug-in industry.
So what’s all the mechanical and electrically charged wizardry behind its superb fuel economy? A unique two-motor hybrid powertrain joins an efficient 2.0-litre Atkinson-cycle four-cylinder engine to provide the Accord Hybrid with a class leading total system output of 212 horsepower, while its electric drive motor puts 232 lb-ft of near instantaneous torque down to the front wheels.
To clarify, one of the electric motors drives the front wheels, while a smaller secondary motor serves mainly as a generator, providing electric current to the drive motor in order to supplement or replace power from the battery during lighter loads, such as cruising. The second motor also starts the engine that in-turn adds torque to the wheels, but it’s never used as the motive driving force for those wheels.
Additionally, the car’s Electric-Continuously Variable Transmission, or E-CVT, removes any need for a conventional automatic transmission, or even a traditional belt/chain-operated continuously variable transmission (CVT), both of which inherently rob performance and efficiencies from the powertrain. Instead, Honda’s E-CVT drives the front wheels directly through four fixed drive ratio gearsets, without the need to shift gears or vary a planetary ratio. This means there is no “rubber-band” effect when accelerating as experienced in regular CVTs, or in other words the engine is never forced to maintain steady high rpms until road speed gradually catches up, this process causing a much-criticized audible “droning” effect with other CVT-equipped cars. Honda claims its direct-drive technology benefits from 46 to 80 percent less friction than a conventional automatic transmission, depending on the drive mode.
What’s more, you can choose between three standard propulsion modes as well, including electric-only (providing the 6.7-kWh lithium-ion battery is charged sufficiently), gasoline-only, or blended gas and electric (hybrid).
Despite my favouritism for Econ and EV modes, Sport mode worked very well, making itself immediately known after engaging at a stoplight by bringing the engine back to life from its auto start/stop mode, and then boosting acceleration significantly at takeoff. A set of standard steering wheel paddles improves the driving experience further, although flicking the right-side shifter to upshift while accelerating does nothing perceptible, this because the paddles are primarily for downshifting during deceleration. Therefore, tugging on the left paddle when braking, or pretty much any other time, causes a gear ratio drop that really comes in handy when wanting to engine brake or recharge down a steep hill, or when setting up for a corner.
And I must say the Accord Hybrid handles brilliantly for a car in this class. Really, the only vehicle in this segment with more agility around curves is the latest Mazda6 and possibly the Ford Fusion Sport, and these by the narrowest of margins, with Accord Hybrid seeming to dance away from its closest competitors, including the Toyota Camry Hybrid XSE that I tested earlier this year, which is the sportiest version of that car.
The Accord Hybrid handles long, sweeping high-speed corners well too, while its ability to cruise smoothly on the highway is as good as this class gets. It’s underpinned by the same fully independent front strut and rear multi-link suspension as the conventionally powered Accord, while my tester was once again outfitted with the upgraded adaptive dampers for a little more at-the-limit control and enhanced ride quality. This gives it a wonderfully compliant setup where ever you’re likely to drive, whether soldiering over bumpy back alleys, fast tracking across patchwork pavement, or negotiating wide bridge expansion joints, all of which were experienced during my test week.
My only complaint were front parking sensors that continually went off in regular traffic, highlighting an image of the car’s frontal area on the touchscreen when vehicles were merely pulling up beside me in the adjacent lane. I’ve encountered this problem with a few other cars over the past couple of years, and it’s always annoying. I pressed the parking sensor button off and on again, which remedied the problem until it happened again after a couple of days, at which point I rebooted the system the same way and never had to deal with it again.
This foible and the aforementioned lack of telescopic steering reach aside, the Accord Hybrid was a dream to live with. The rear seating area, a key reason many buy into this class, is as spacious as the regular Accord and more so than many in this segment. With the driver’s seat set up for my five-foot-eight medium-build frame, which as noted was set further back than average due to my longer legs, I was left with nearly a foot from my knees to the backrest ahead, plus so much room for my feet that I was able to completely stretch out my legs and move my shoes around underneath the front seat. Really, its rear legroom comes close to many full-size sedans. Likewise, there’s plenty of headroom at about three and a half inches, plus more than enough shoulder and hip space at about four to five inches for the former and five-plus for the latter.
This said I was disappointed that Honda finished off the rear door uppers in hard plastic. They’re not alone in this respect, but others do a better job pampering rear occupants. The previously noted Mazda6, for instance, at least in its top-line Signature trim level that I tested last year, which incidentally uses genuine hardwood inlays throughout, finishes the rear door panels as nicely as those up front, making it closer to premium status than anything else in its class. In most other respects the Accord nudges up against premium levels of luxury too, including excellent rear ventilation from a centre panel on the backside of the front console that also houses two USB charge points, while the outboard seats are three-way heatable as noted earlier, and there’s a nice big armrest that flips down from the centre position at exactly the right height for adult elbow comfort, or at least it was perfect for me. Honda fits two big deep cupholders within that armrest, which should do a pretty good job of holding drinks in place.
The trunk is sizeable too at 473 litres (16.7 cubic feet), which is exactly the same dimensions as the regular Accord, plus it’s also extendable via the usual 60/40 split-folding rear seatbacks. This said there are still some hybrids that don’t allow much expandable storage due to batteries fitted within the rear bulkhead, so I can’t really complain that Honda doesn’t include a centre pass-through like Volkswagen’s Passat, which would allow rear passengers to enjoy the heated window seats after a day on the slopes. On the positive, a handy styrofoam compartment resides below the trunk’s load floor, ideal for stowing a first aid kit or anything else you’d like to have close at hand. It comes loaded up with an air compressor that could potentially get you to a repair shop if needed, but I’d personally prefer a spare tire so I could make it farther if damage to the tire doesn’t allow it to hold air.
So is this the best hybrid in the mid-size class? The new Accord Hybrid would certainly get my money. It looks fabulous, delivers big inside, and provides all the luxury-level features most will want, plus it drives brilliantly and delivers superb fuel economy, while Honda’s experience building electrified powertrains should make it plenty reliable.
Story credits: Trevor Hofmann, Canadian Auto Press