If you’re looking for a large family SUV with three rows of seating and you also want it to be hybrid you pretty much have two choices: the Toyota Highlander Hybrid, and the subject of this review, the Ford Explorer Hybrid.

Both of these near full-size SUVs are on a mission to save you money at the pumps. But both go about it quite differently.

If absolute efficiency is your main criteria, the Toyota will serve you well. However, if passing power and the largest towing capacity are what you need, the Ford would likely fare better.

I found the Explorer to be a bit of a mixed bag, one that I wanted to like more than I did, mainly because I dig the way it looks. I feel the Explorer’s evolutionary styling has reached a high point with this latest iteration. Its slim headlamps, commanding grille, wide stance, and muscular proportions strike a great balance between elegance and utility and would fare just as well at the valet as it would on the school run. And if you aren’t keen on advertising the greenness of your vehicle, you’d be happy to note that it took me a few minutes to spot the tiny little hybrid badge on the rear liftgate, so telling this apart from your run-of-the-mill Explorer is virtually impossible for all but the most knowledgeable.

The cabin on the other hand is a bit of a letdown with a sombre design, some poorly fitted trim pieces, and a tacked on infotainment screen that looks like an afterthought. More expensive trims come with an even larger, rather goofy-looking portrait-oriented screen, making me happy that my tester wasn’t equipped with it.

There are good things, though, like a myriad of thoughtful storage cubbies, ample room to move about, including in the third row where my 6-foot frame was able to fit just fine, a large cargo area, and generally excellent ergonomics with plenty of physical buttons and knobs so you don’t need to dive into the infotainment to do something like turn on the heated seats, or the A/C.

2021 Ford Explorer Hybrid

The Hybrid powertrain is available exclusively on the Limited Trim so it comes well equipped out of the box with intelligent 4WD, 20-inch wheels, voice-activated navigation, a terrain management system with multiple drive modes, 360 degree camera, wireless charge pad, remote start, and a heated steering wheel. You also get standard second-row captain’s chairs and a power-folding third row.

Ford’s Co-Pilot 360 driver assistance is also standard and it includes adaptive cruise control, lane centering, evasive steering assist, and speed sign recognition.

You’ll pay quite a bit for all this with a base price of $53,799 representing quite a premium over a base level Highlander Hybrid, although the Ford does give you more content.

Where the Toyota uses a 4-cylinder and a CVT, Ford ups the ante with a 3.3-litre V6, and a 10-speed automatic transmission. An electric motor sandwiched in between the engine and transmission provides extra power and torque. The Highlander uses a trio of small motors including one on the rear axle for electric all-wheel drive. The Explorer uses a real mechanical AWD system.

With a combined power output of 318 hp and 322 lb-ft of torque, the Explorer Hybrid feels downright muscular with a great exhaust note and chunky power delivery that you wouldn’t expect from a hybrid. A 1.5 kWh battery pack provides electric operation for short distances at lower speeds and under light throttle usage.

The problem here is that the Explorer is a heavy vehicle and that small battery pack can only do so much, so you’ll be dipping into gasoline power more often than not. I try to drive hybrids like I do their gas-only counterparts and with the Explorer Hybrid my mixed road driving netted a rather disappointing 14L/100 km. With about 60 per cent of that on city streets, your experience might vary but the Highlander Hybrid I drove a few months prior used just 7L/100km, exactly half the fuel the Explorer did. And that’s really hard to ignore.

2021 Ford Explorer Hybrid

It’s an enjoyable drive, though, with an abundance of torque, whisper-quiet operation, and a comfortable and planted ride. The rear-biased 4WD system is also excellent on a snowy road, and even equipped with an all-season tire, the Explorer felt confident and controllable. That’s still not an excuse for not fitting a real set of winter tires, as traction is still limited. 4WD might get you going faster, but it doesn’t make an ounce of difference when it comes to slowing back down.

If there’s one thing that gets in the way of the driving experience, it’s the 10-speed automatic and its clunky shifts, more obvious at low speeds. I found it indecisive and prone to gear hunting, getting downright confused as to what gear it should be in under certain scenarios.

There’s a lot of good things about the Explorer and I feel given time it will be a much better overall product than it is right now. You should definitely not dismiss it because it’s a very good family vehicle, the tech is easy to use and works really well, and if you’re familiar with Ford products you’ll probably really like it.

I would, however, recommend against the hybrid. The base turbocharged 4-cylinder is just as powerful and only slightly less efficient. Natural Resources Canada actually rates its fuel consumption lower on the highway. And it will even tow more.

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Buying a used plug-in hybrid electric vehicle (PHEV) in Ontario could be $2,000 more expensive by the end of this weekend, as two privately funded $1,000 rebates available for used PHEV buyers will expire by this Sunday at 11:59pm, though the rebates will remain for buyers looking for a pre-owned battery-electric vehicle on March 1st and beyond.

Program administrators Plug ‘N Drive announced the changes Thursday on the plugndrive.ca site. The current program offers any used plug-in vehicle buyer in Ontario with a $1,000 rebate when taking a one-hour EV seminar online by the non-profit EV organization, and another $1,000 if the EV buyer also takes any running internal combustion engine (ICE) vehicle off the road.

“This is a privately funded rebate and the funder made the decision,” said Cara Clairman, founder and CEO of Plug ‘N Drive. “He wants to focus his funding on fully electric (vehicles), where the environmental benefit is greatest, which is his prerogative.”

Meanwhile in Nova Scotia, the new provincial government announced on Wednesday that it will introduce EV rebates for both new and used plug-in vehicles: $3,000 for new vehicles, $2,000 off for used EVs, and a $500 rebate for e-bikes.

Recently elected Premier Iain Rankin announced said it was key to bring electric vehicles to the province and will apply to plug-in vehicles up to $55,000.

“The rebates will apply starting today,” Rankin said, in his first announcement as Premier, with further details on this and further energy efficiency measures with homes to be released in the next month, he said. “We looked at programs in other provinces, and this complements the federal government rebate program,” with a similar price cap of $55,000.

Rankin also said he committed during his campaign to expand EV fast-charging infrastructure in commercial businesses as well, in hopes of increasing EV uptake in the province.

Nova Scotia becomes the fourth province to currently offer an EV rebate, after Quebec ($8,000), BC ($3,000) and the Yukon ($5,000); the current provincial government in Ontario cancelled its EV rebate soon after it was elected in 2018. Not counting Ontario’s privately funded EV rebates through Plug ‘N Drive, Nova Scotia becomes the second province after Quebec (which offered up to a $4,000 rebate starting in 2019) to offer a provincial rebate on used electric vehicles.

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It’s sayonara to Yaris, Fit and Micra, auf Wiedersehen to the Beetle, jalga to the Accent and adieu/so long to the Fiesta.

Robert Karwel, senior manager, Power Information Network (PIN) Canada, knows why the subcompact market – b-seg – is thinning out and he doesn’t mince words.

“The outlook for b-seg cars is grim, as there are not many models left to choose from. Canadian customers have voted with their wallets; they went up to an SUV variant, or, they went to the used vehicle market, perhaps the nearly-new CPO market,” Karwel said. “That is why we don’t foresee the subcompact car market coming back anytime soon.”

He went on to say that the automakers who used to be in the market aren’t mourning the passing of the b-seg cars even though many cars like the Yaris and Micra were solid sellers. Why? Because car buyers have left the market. They moved on up to subcompact SUVs, which offer more content and features and above all more space. And the automakers have the models to fit their needs.

“It’s all a demand-driven equation,” Karwel added.

The latest segment level data the PIN has indicates that the subcompact share of the Canadian retail car market shrank to 1.6 per cent for the year ending 2020. This is down 0.8 points from 2.4 per cent in 2019.

“To put it into perspective, that puts b-seg cars in 11th place for segment popularity and below Intermediate Luxury Utility at the next largest segment with 2.5 per cent retail share,” Karwel continued.

Where have all the customers gone?

“That’s not hard to guess,” said Karwell.

PIN stats show the fastest growing segment in 2020 was the Subcompact SUV. It increased its share from 2019 by over two full percentage points and is now the fifth largest segment in Canada.

Then he peers into the PIN crystal ball: “We predict it will overtake Intermediate Utility for fourth place sometime in 2021.”

PIN data shows that Canadian car buyers have been moving to bigger vehicles for years. The tide hit a high of 84 per cent light body truck penetration this past December.

New products

Karwel said that despite the pandemic, automakers have been putting new product such as the Trailblazer, Encore, Kicks, CX-30, Kona, Steltos into dealers’ showrooms to keep up with consumer demand.

“All nameplates that did not exist even just less than two years ago. In total we count about 16 nameplates,” he added. “Contrast that to subcompact car with five models, and some of those are on the way out.”

He pointed to sticker prices: the average pre-incentive price for a b-seg car in 2020 was about $19,000. But for a b-seg utility it was $29,000.

“That is a vast difference at that price level, but long-term financing options, low APR (annual percentage rate) and leasing, including 60 months have been able to keep payments within a tolerable level.”

Kia swims against the tide

2020 was a nightmare year for most automakers and their dealers, but not for Kia and its dealers. Kia declared 2020 a record year with eight months – January, February, June, July, August, September, October and December – of record sales.

August was Kia’s best-ever sales month in the automaker’s 20-year Canadian history: 8,780 units sold (an increase of 15 per cent YoY). In total, car buyers drove 72,452 Kias off dealer lots. Top models were the Forte and Sorento, and newcomer Seltos.

So, on the strength of sales numbers like those, the automaker is confident it needn’t pull out of the b-seg market. Kia continues to offer the Rio5. But it concedes that b-seg stalwarts like the Rio4 sedan and hatchback don’t attract customers anymore. So they are out of the lineup.

Going with the Rio5 offers a smaller – though still roomy – and less expensive answer to the SUVs.

“It’s important for Kia to have a diverse model line-up that fills different needs in many categories – particularly since there continues to remain interest from customers in the subcompact segment,” said Elias El-Achhab, COO at Kia Canada.

“With the option of the Rio 5-door as well as the Forte and Forte 5, Kia continues to offer excellent options to customers looking for well-equipped entry-level models.”

El-Achhab added those customers are largely Millennials who are attracted to the European-influenced design along with the wide range of safety and technology features.

Solid sales

Looks like going against the flow is paying off.

Starting price for the 2021 model with automatic transmission is $19,035. But that comes with wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility. The price tag on the Chevrolet Spark starts at $11,798, but 1LCVT is $16,198. The Mitsubishi Mirage at $15,551. But add a CVT and the price tag is $16,751.


El-Achab added sales figures confirm the vehicle is priced right. “The Rio remains a popular product in Quebec specifically with more than 2,000 units sold annually in Quebec in the past five years.”

“Nationally, we’ve seen a 10.3 per cent increase in sales for January 2021 versus 2020, so the product is off to a great start this year.”

Lawrence Papoff is a former editor of Canadian AutoWorld magazine and continuing contributor to the magazine.

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The upcoming 2022 Hyundai Ioniq 5 all-electric crossover was revealed early this morning that will be the Korean company’s technological showcase for its modular battery electric platform that will usher in a family of new-generation line of Ioniq vehicles, while the current Ioniq hatchback and Kona EV models will continue on as more entry-level plug-in products.

The mid-size Ioniq 5 will come in rear-wheel drive form, with all-wheel drive optional, said Hyundai Canada officials in an online briefing about upcoming products planned to arrive in 2021. This will include plug-in hybrid versions of the all-new ’21 Santa Fe and the upcoming 2022 Tucson slated to arrive this spring, a compact SUV that will be sold in a long-wheelbase version for all of North America.

Hyundai Canada president Don Romano said the compact Tucson will be roughly the same size as the Ioniq 5, which the company is calling a mid-size crossover. Official specs peg the Ioniq 5 as only five millimetres longer than the Tucson, but with a much longer wheelbase for the BEV of 3,000mm versus 2,756mm for the Tucson. That should translate to much more passenger room for the wider (by 26mm) and sharply creased Ioniq 5.

However, even though the five-seat Ioniq 5 will offer an additional 24 litres of cargo room in the front trunk, and a healthy 531 litres of cargo space behind the second-row seat (1,591 litres when folded), the gas and hybrid Tucson easily tops those cargo numbers at 1,096 litres and 2,274 litres, respectively. The Tuscon PHEV will offer slightly less cargo room (903 litres, and 1,846 litrers seats down) than the similar gas and hybrid versions, and of course much less electric range than the Ioniq 5 – though not disclosed yet, will be in the double digits, not 400 km-plus of the Ioniq 5.

The exact amount of range available from the Ioniq 5 will depend on the battery selected, and perhaps on whether equipped with rear- or AWD. The standard range model comes with a 58 kWh battery, while a 77.4 kWh model will also be available in North America that Hyundai says will offer up to 470-480 km, although that’s using the WLTP (Worldwide Harmonized Light Vehicle Test Procedure) rating.

This means it will likely achieve a rating of 420-430 km of range in top trim using the more realistic Natural Resources Canada/EPA ratings by the time it arrives in North America this fall, given that the Kona EV was also originally rated at 470 km by Hyundai using the WLTP standard, and it is now rated at 415 km of range in Canada.

The Ioniq 5 will come with rear-wheel drive in the base model, with a 168 hp (125 kW) motor that offers a healthy 258 lb-ft of torque (350 Nm) and a 0-100 km/h time of 8.5 seconds, the slowest of the Ioniq 5 variants. Opting for all-wheel drive also adds more power, with the addition of a second motor to the front wheels that adds up to a total 232 hp (173 kW) and a V8-like 446 lb-ft of torque. This version will run you from rest to highway speed in 6.1 seconds, said Hyundai.

The larger 77.4 kWh battery combined with rear-drive will be the one for those looking for that max 420 km-plus range. Opting for all-wheel drive will usher in its most powerful 302 hp (225 kW) dual motor version, which will run it from 0 to 100 km/h in 5.2 seconds, according to Hyundai.

But perhaps the speediest aspect of the Ioniq 5 is its charging speed, especially at its expected mainstream price point – not disclosed yet, but expected to line up to BEV rivals such as the Ford Mustang Mach-E and the upcoming Volkswagen ID.4. Both of those offer between 125 and 150 kW max quick charging speeds, and while the Ioniq 5’s exact kilowatt figure remains undisclosed, Hyundai says that on CCS DC quick chargers rated at 350 kW, the Ioniq 5 can charge from 10 per cent to 80 per cent in a blazing 18 minutes.

Or more impressively, add 100 km of range in just five minutes.

2022 Hyundai Ioniq 5

This is Porsche Taycan territory here, which maxes out at a 270 kW quick charging speed, but in a luxury sports car that costs well into six figures. Going by Mustang Mach-E starting prices, the Ioniq 5 seems likely to start at closer to $50,000, though efforts may be made to sneak the starting price under the $45,000 level that would make it eligible for the national $5,000 EV rebate in Canada.

“This will be an 800-volt (super quick charging) crossover in what happens to be the biggest segment of the market,” said Romano.

Inside, the Ioniq 5 will offer two large digital screens, one in front of the driver in a futuristic binnacle-less layout, as well as a larger one above the floating centre instrument panel, since the gear selector is behind the steering wheel. A movable console in between the front seats offers elbow rests as well as storage underneath, and can also be moved rearward to offer rear passengers access to a wireless phone charger and cupholders.

The front seats also offer cushy business class-style reclining seats, including lower leg supports on both sides, while the rear seats can also move forward and back to prioritize rear legroom and cargo space as needed.

The Ioniq 5 will also offer a Vehicle-to-Load (V2L) capability that can supply up to 3.6 kW of power, which can power high-power equipment or even other EVs with the proper converter, though these converters have proven rare and relatively expensive up until now.

Though the advanced Ioniq 5 will no doubt be the most futuristic of the bunch, Hyundai will introduce three all-new plug-in crossovers to Canada this year, plus regular hybrid versions of the Santa Fe, Tucson and its popular Elantra compact car in 2021. The Kona and Kona EV will also receive a freshening for 2022, and is expected to arrive this spring, with a sleeker front end and a switch away from the dimpled front fascia the most noticeable change.

Story compiled using information provided by the manufacturer

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Mitsubishi Motor Sales of Canada announced that the 2021 Mitsubishi Outlander Plug-in Hybrid Electric Vehicle (PHEV) crossover will arrive in dealerships at the end of March with a starting price of $44,198.

The 2021 Mitsubishi Outlander comes with a 2.4-litre engine that produces 126 hp and 149 lb-ft of torque. Where the earlier Outlander had a 60kW rear-axle-mounted electric motor, the new 2021 Mitsubishi Outlander has a 70kW motor that increases the combined total system output to 221 hp, up 31 hp from the previous model. The main battery has also been given a boost, from the earlier 12.0 kW/h to 13.8 kW/h producing an increased range from 35 km to 39 km for a total combined range of 509 km.

The Outlander PHEV comes standard with DC Fast Charging capabilities allowing a charge to 80 per cent in 25 minutes. The Outlander PHEV can be charged with a standard home outlet at with the supplied charging cable, through brake generation and through Charge Mode that uses the gasoline engine to charge the battery

Added to this new 2021 Mitsubishi Outlander are Sport and Snow driving modes. These are paired with the optimized Active Yaw Control (AYC), anti-lock braking system (ABS) and Active Stability Control (ASC) with Traction Control (TCL) to provide better control and handling for the driver.

The 2021 Outlander PHEV is available in four trim levels: SE, Limited Edition (LE), SEL and GT, and all come with standard S-AWC all-wheel drive. Pricing for the different trims are:

Outlander PHEV Trim Level MSRP
SEL S-AWC $44,198
LE S-AWC $45,698
SEL S-AWC $47,698
GT S-AWC $52,198

The 2021 Outlander PHEV continues to be eligible for federal and provincial incentives where applicable.

Story compiled using information provided by the manufacturer

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Lexus have proven that they mean business with the introduction of their new 2022 IS 500 F SPORT Performance.

Shoehorned under the hood is a five-litre naturally aspirated V-8 engine that produces a powerful 472 hp and 395 lb-ft of torque. All the power is put down to the rear wheels via the same eight-speed Sport Direct automatic transmission found in the lesser IS 300 and IS 350 RWD siblings. This combination propels it to 100 km/h in 4.5 seconds while emanating a “ferocious” sound from its dual-stacked tailpipes – well, that how Lexus describe it.

There hasn’t been much exterior design change from the IS 350 F SPORT but to be able to accommodate the much larger powertrain the engineers have had to move the radiator forward as well as extending the front fenders, bumper and, most notably, added a raised hood with a large 2-inch bulge that helps contain the big V-8.  Also added to differentiate it from its siblings are Enkei 19-inch lightweight wheels as well as an updated lower rear diffuser that helps accentuate the stacked, quad exhaust system. A dark chrome window trim is new as well as a black IS F SPORT rear lip spoiler. The only exterior badging to set this apart is only having the Lexus logo and IS 500 is small lettering on the trunk.

First Look 2022 Lexus IS 500

Also included as standard is an updated version of Lexus Safety System+ that includes a plethora of safety and convenience systems that incorporates an enhanced Pre-Collision System that includes an updated lens camera and radar that now expands the response range and helps the vehicle to better detect bicycles and pedestrians in daylight or low-light conditions.

To help control all the power the IS 500 comes with the same Dynamic Handling Package found on the IS 350 RWD F Sport that includes Adaptive Variable suspension with a Yamaha rear performance dampers and a Torsen limited-slip differential that help to enhance handling and performance. Bringing the car to a halt has now been improved with the addition of larger 14-inch two-piece aluminum rotors up front and 12.7-inch rotors in the rear both being kept cool by adding more aerodynamic enhancements.

The cabin has been dressed up with F Sport badging on the leather-wrapped steering wheel and door scuff plates with IS F Sport footrest accelerator and brake pedals being added as standard.

The 2022 Lexus IS 500 F Sport Performance will only be made available in North America and should be available in dealers in the Fall with pricing and colour choices being made available closer to roll out.

Story compiled using information provided by the manufacturer

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Kia Canada used its Virtual Auto Show Experience to debut its 2022 Kia Carnival.

The 2022 Kia Carnival will come in five trim levels – LX, LX+, EX, EX+ and SX – and will start at $34,495. It is expected to hit dealerships this spring.

2022 Kia Carnival will come with a 3.5-litre V6 engine and an 8-speed automatic transmission. It will sport an SUV-inspired design – similar to the new Sorento and the Seltos – with a sculpted character line that connects the front and rear lamps for a seamless and bold design. Added touches are a metallic bumper garnish, strong wheel arches, available black and chrome door moldings, two-toned mirrors and a chrome-finished C-pillar.

Sitting inside this new 2022 Kia Carnival the driver will be greeted by a panoramic dashboard display connected to a 12.3-inch TFT LCD cluster and a 12.3-inch ANV display. The infotainment system will provide wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto connectivity, wireless smartphone charging, and paired with an available Bose Premium Sound System.

2022 Kia Carnival

Two interior colours are available: Black with available Martian Brown leather, and available 3D HydroGrafic trim and premium stitching details. Also available will be power-adjustable VIP Lounge Seats, complete with heated or air-cooled seats, leg rests and headrests in the SX trim.

There has been no compromise in safety as the 2022 Kia Carnival will come with: Lane Keeping and Following Assist; Smart Cruise Control with available Highway Driving Assist; Driver Attention Warning; Parking Distance Warning; Forward Collision-Avoidance Assist with available Junction Turning; and available Blind-Spot View Monitor.

Story compiled using information provided by the manufacturer

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The world’s premier road tourer – the Honda Gold Wing – has been tweaked for 2021 with improved passenger comforts, increased luggage capacity and platform-wide updates including changes to seating, infotainment and trim styling.

Most of my Gold Wing experiences have been on the fifth generation GL1800s that spanned the 2001-2017 eras. There were occasional upgrades but every year I’d joke that I just needed to test the latest colour. And we’d trek to the Maritimes or Hatteras or down the Blue Ridge to the Dragon’s Tail, around the Great Lakes or to whatever long haul destination struck our fancy, always relying on the constants of bulletproof reliability, touring accommodation and smoothly effortless power.

After years of speculation, Honda did eventually unveil a new 2018 Honda Gold Wing model lineup that was lighter, tighter and featured a renewed sporty demeanour, courtesy of an impressive 40 kg weight trim.

Some of the 2018 features at the time included:

• An updated design – edgier, less rounded, lower and swept back with 11.8 per cent improved aerodynamics, electric windscreen and LED lighting

• New, more compact, 6.2 kg lighter 1,833 cc DOHC engine

• New six-speed manual or seven-speed DCT with Walking Mode forward/reverse

• New radially-mounted six-piston dual front brake calipers with bigger 320 mm rotors

• New double-wishbone front-suspension & Pro-link rear

• Electronically-controlled suspension

• Throttle-by-wire with multiple riding modes

• Honda Selectable Torque Control (HSTC) and Hill Start Assist

• Smart Key and Apple CarPlay via seven-inch multi-info TFT display screen

Of course, not all was perfect in Honda paradise. Some Wingers whined about the weight trim’s collateral damage, like the four litre reduction in fuel tank size (21 litres). But an up to 20 per cent improvement in fuel economy made the point moot by enabling the same 400 km range potential.

Also, compared to the previous version that riding buddies often referred to as “the Hondapotamous”, the new leaner and slightly meaner Gold Wing Tour tightened luggage space by more than 20 per cent, with the smaller sidecases reduced to 30 litres each (-10 litres) and the top box down to 50 litres (-15 litres).

Responding to the customer blowback, the 2021 Honda Gold Wing restores some of that luggage capacity and also finds other features to add or upgrade. Recent sixth-gen Gold Wing tweaks had already included navigation software updates, reshaped passenger grab handles, new blacked-out components, updated suspension settings, a saddlebag-mounted USB charger and standard fog lights for all Tour models.

First Look: 2021 Honda Gold Wing

Now, the new 2021 model changes include:

• An enlarged top trunk on Gold Wing Tour, 48 mm wider, 46 mm taller and 34 mm longer, adding 10 litres of storage (60 litres vs. 50 litres), so the trunk can fit two XXL helmets or added luggage

• Passenger backrest is 30 mm taller with five mm thicker foam and a lean angle shifted from 17º to 24.5º for a more relaxed riding position

• Resurfaced seat on Gold Wing Tour and Gold Wing features premium suede-like cover

• Gold Wing seat includes coloured piping for added colour contrasts

• Android Auto capability joins Apple CarPlay integration

• New 55 watt speakers replace 25 watt speakers for richer midrange sound (Gold Wing Tour includes two speakers at the front fairing and two at the trunk, while Gold Wing features two speakers at the front)

• Automatic volume-adjustment level optimized

• Navigation software updated to include speed-limit information and four map colour options

• XM radio antenna now standard

For 2021, models include the Gold Wing ($27,899) and Gold Wing DCT ($29,099) bagger models, both available in Mat Ballistic Black Metallic, the Gold Wing Tour ($32,199) and Gold Wing Tour DCT ($33,399) available in Gunmetal/Mat Black and, finally, the Gold Wing Tour DCT Airbag version ($35,999) coming in Candy Ardent Red/Black two-tone.

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This new version will be more powerful than it predecessor, featuring a newly-developed 2.0-litre engine that will give drivers 255 hp, and will come equipped with a second-generation integrated starter-generator (ISG) that will provide an additional 20 hp and 147 lb-ft more of torque. A tuned 9G-TRONIC transmission will provide drivers with smoother gearshifts and stronger acceleration.

The exterior is updated as well, with an accentuated ‘catwalk’ line that will stretch the entire length of this C-Class Sedan, and which will highlight the 18- to 19-onch wheels. The classic grille that comes with the C-Class will feature a central star, with the Spot Package to feature a diamond grille with a star designed in chrome. Three new paint finishes – spectral blue, high-tech silver and opalite white – have been added to the colour range.

The interior of the new C-Class will come with a dashboard that will be divided into an upper and lower section, with both the dashboards and the central display tilted towards the driver. A freestanding high-resolution LCD screen will be available in 10.25-inch or a 12.3-inch version. The seats of the new C-Class will come with a special design that uses layers and enveloping surfaces to create the visual impression of lightness. The head restraints are redesigned and are attached to the backrest with a sealed piece of trim under which the adjustment mechanism is located.

A man-made leather dashboard that features Nappa-look beltlines is also available for the C-Class when selected with Sport Package.

Like the S-Class, this new C-Class will come with the automaker’s second generation Mercedes-Benz User Experience (MBUX) system for the vehicle’s infotainment systems and an improved voice assistant, and will also come with over-the-air updates as well.

All information for this news item has been provided by the vehicle maker.

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I’m feeling a sense of déjà vu here regarding the Subaru Crosstrek, and for good reason, as I reviewed the 2020 Crosstrek Limited last summer.

So, to avoid repeating myself, here I am going to focus primarily on what’s new for 2021. And there’s plenty to discuss.

For context, however, a few basics. The subcompact Crosstrek crossover is based on the same general architecture as the Impreza sedan and hatch and was all-new as a second-gen model in 2018. It’s a big seller, ranking in the top three in Subaru sales in both Canada and the United states.

For 2021, Subaru is throwing a fair bit of change at the Crosstrek, although you’d be hard-pressed to notice them just by looking at this car and the 2020 if they were parked side by side.

I’ll get to the changes shortly, but first an update on the Crosstrek line in Canada. The subject of this review, the Outdoor, is a new trim slotting into the mid-range of the lineup. There are five main grades available, eight if you include those equipped with EyeSight, Subaru’s suite of safety tech. Changes for ’21 that impact the entire line are modest – slightly revised front grille, new wheel designs, deletion of sunshine orange exterior finish – but there’s a lot happening with the Outdoor.

If the Outdoor name being affixed to a Subaru seems familiar that’s because the Outback is offered in Outdoor XT trim and both are governed by a similar philosophy: unique, rugged styling and more power. In the case of the Crosstrek, the base 2.0-litre flat four-cylinder engine (152 hp / 145 lb-ft.) has been swapped out in favour of a 2.5-litre flat four (182 hp / 176 lb-ft.) that serves as the base powerplant in the Legacy and Outback. The Outdoor and range-topping Limited are the only two Crosstreks available with the 2.5.

On the styling front, the Outdoor is separated from its stable mates via unique 17-inch painted aluminum wheels, squareish wheel arch cladding and dynamic yellow and gun-metallic interior accents. It is also the only model available in plsma yellow pearl, a new exterior finish that has featured prominently in Crosstrek marketing.

As for content, the Outdoor offers a healthy list of standard equipment, including dual mode X-MODE with hill descent control and SI Drive, front view and Subaru rear/side vehicle detection system, Android Auto / Apple CarPlay integration, heated front seats, heated steering wheel and EyeSight driver assist technology with lane centring assist.

Review 2021 Subaru Crosstrek

And, of course, Subaru’s Symmetrical Full-Time All-Wheel Drive System is standard issue with the Outdoor, as it is for all Crosstreks. Of note, the only transmission available with the 2.5 is a CVT, but if you want to row your own, a 6-speed manual is available with Convenience, Touring and Sport models.

My tester, finished in dark blue pearl, sports a two-tone grey interior with a synthetic seating material that Subaru calls all-weather soft-touch. Crosstrek is embroidered onto the face of the front seats and I can report that they are indeed soft to the touch and seem well-suited to clean up, although I didn’t perform any testing. The Outdoor is the only Crosstrek model to offer this seating option.

Otherwise, the interior offers a high degree of comfort and convenience with plenty of room and good sightlines thanks to its boxy proportions and big greenhouse design. Some features are notably absent, including embedded navigation and a sunroof, but if they are musts, the Limited offers both. I should note Android Auto worked seamlessly with my phone and the Outdoor’s eight-inch multimedia display.

When I wrote about the 2020 Crosstrek I said I thought it could use more power, and I feel that situation has now been rectified. The extra power from the 2.5 makes a noticeable difference in a car the size of a Crosstrek and I think it will find favour with intenders in the segment. Peak output is located relatively high in the rev range but is still accessible and gives the Outdoor a more sporting character.

Review 2021 Subaru Crosstrek

This Crosstrek is faster, both off the line and at speed, and feels more responsive which should broaden its appeal. It’s still a four-banger, so it gets noisy under load, but most four-cylinder engines are like that. It didn’t bother me much. Same goes for the CVT, which I don’t love given its rubber-band feel but find acceptable given the overall strengths of the package.

Other impressions from the previous Crosstrek test have been reinforced: helpful and unobtrusive tech such as EyeSight, spacious and well-executed interior and a proven AWD system. Improved performance can now be added to the list.

Bottom line, I think the take rate for the Outdoor will be high. It wouldn’t surprise me if it becomes a volume seller. More power, combined with a healthy amount of standard kit for just under $30K? Sign me up.

The vehicle was provided to the writer by the automaker. Content and vehicle evaluations were not subject to approval.

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