Canada’s 10 best-selling luxury vehicles in 2019

Canada’s 10 best-selling luxury vehicles in 2019
2019 was not a particularly kind year to much of Canada’s luxury vehicle sector. It’s a fact made most evident by the tumbling demand at Canada’s three top premium brands: Mercedes-Benz, BMW and Audi. Sales at the big German luxury players were down by more than 8,000 units, the kind of losses that more than cancel out healthy gains from Lexus, Volvo and Lincoln.

Out-maneuvered by Tesla, once-dominant cars like the BMW 3 Series, Mercedes-Benz C-Class and Audi A4 are afterthoughts for many luxury-car buyers who prefer an all-electric future.

This marketplace shift, whether it persists once established premium players get on board with their own fleet of EVs, is only part of the luxury sector’s modern transformation. More than two-thirds of premium auto brand sales, 68 per cent, are now SUVs/crossovers. That figure has skyrocketed northward from 40 per cent over the course of the last decade.

The result is a list of Canada’s 10 top-selling luxury vehicles that features seven utility vehicles and only three cars; including six of the top seven vehicles.

Canada’s small luxury cars were big sellers for premium brands in 2019

Yet even the vehicles on this list that are struggling to match their historic levels of demand remain wildly popular compared with the output of luxury cars in past decades. Hardly exclusive, 2019’s 10 best-selling premium brand vehicles all sell more often than vehicles such as the Hyundai Sonata, Honda Fit and Nissan Altima, while the leading premium duo finished 2019 with more sales than the Kia Soul, Toyota Tundra , Ford Explorer, Honda Odyssey, Subaru Impreza, Toyota 4Runner and Nissan Sentra.

In other words, they’re common. They’re normal. They’re everywhere.

They are the 10 most popular luxury brand vehicles in Canada in 2019.

Historically either the No. 1 premium vehicle in Canada or a strong candidate for the top position, the BMW 3 Series is now not even the No. 1 or No. 2 vehicle in BMW’s lineup. With its X family of utility vehicles, BMW has positioned itself to reap the rewards of the anti-car movement, while the 3 Series suffered the consequences. 3 Series volume has fallen by more than half since 2013.

If they seemed out of character for the Bavarian automaker in 1999, SUVs are now central to the success of BMW. The X5 started it all two decades ago, and it’s now part of a seven-member family that produces two-thirds of BMW Canada’s sales.

Canada’s top-selling premium vehicle as recently as 2017, the C-Class now faces the same market pressures as mainstream cars: customers want to sit up higher in vehicles that resemble station wagons of yore.

It seems to matter not that the C-Class is commonly equipped with 4Matic all-wheel drive, nor does it appear to matter that Mercedes-Benz Canada offers a wagon version of the C. (Mercedes-Benz USA does not.) The C-Class is fading fast.

With its position as Lexus’ entry-level utility vehicle now filled by the more affordable UX, the aging NX couldn’t maintain 2018’s record pace in 2019. Sales dipped 3 per cent, equal to a modest 19-unit monthly decline over the course of the year. Combined, the NX, UX and RX produce 75 per cent of Lexus volume in Canada. Sales of the brand’s other models combined to fall 7 per cent in 2019, yet total Lexus sales were up 6 per cent.

While sales of its teammate, the 3 Series, have collapsed over the last few years, the X3 has repetitively grown its sales. 2019’s year-over-year growth was modest, but it was the X3’s fourth consecutive year of sales expansion in Canada. Annual sales of BMW’s second-ever utility vehicle, now in its third generation, have grown 86 per cent since 2015.

While dominant south of the border – the Lexus RX outsells its nearest utility vehicle rival by 1.5-to-1 – the RX is merely a huge success in Canada. Granted, the RX’s Canadian volume wasn’t bolstered by the long-awaited arrival of a three-row L version in 2019. Sales of the top-selling Lexus actually declined with the expanded lineup.

The RX nevertheless plays a pivotal role for Canada’s fourth-ranked premium brand, which saw its share of the luxury market grow by a full point to 11 per cent in 2019.

What are the benefits of introducing an all-new completely revamped model in a crowded marketplace? The RDX has an answer to that question. Its bigger sibling, the MDX, spent 2019 in its third-gen variant’s sixth model year, and sales fell 15 per cent; and 24 per cent since 2014.

The RDX, on the other hand, is an all-new vehicle, and sales ballooned. 2019 was the best year ever for the RDX, and Canadian volume was up 48 per cent compared with half a decade ago.

At an Audi brand that saw its sales fall 9 per cent, the brand’s most popular model likewise suffered a 9-per-cent year-over-year decline in 2019. In 2018, the Q5 was No. 1 among premium brand vehicles. Prior to last year’s drop, annual Q5 volume had virtually doubled in Canada since 2012.

Yet while the Q5’s decline was noteworthy, both given the overall market’s more modest decline and the strength of the luxury SUV sector, Audi fared much worse in other corners of the market. The A4, which prior to the Q5 was Audi’s dominant nameplate, tumbled 30 per cent to 3,917 units in 2019.

After a one-year hiatus, a Mercedes-Benz would once again sit atop the luxury vehicle leaderboard in Canada were it not for a Silicon Valley upstart. But unlike 2017, it’s not the C-Class, sales of which tumbled 37 per cent since 2017.

Rather, the Mercedes-Benz GLC leapfrogged the Audi Q5 to become Canada’s top-selling premium utility vehicle in 2019. Operating as the best-seller for Canada’s top-selling luxury brand, the GLC won’t have it quite so easy in 2020. The new GLB is earning positive reviews, and for less money than the GLC, the GLB offers an occasional-use third row.

The Tesla Model 3’s knack for wreaking havoc on established players in the luxury car sphere – with certain help, incidentally, from gas-fired SUVs and crossovers – is part of the Model 3’s appeal. It is, in modern parlance, a “disruptor.” And as much as it’s trendy and fashionable, the Model 3 is also distinctly positioned as an anti-establishment contender.

Estimates for Model 3 sales in Canada run the gamut, but if we take Electric Mobility Canada’s Q1, Q2 and Q3 totals (13,370) and then extrapolate, it’s likely that more than 17,000 Model 3s were sold in Canada in 2019. Unlike other brands, Tesla does not transparently report monthly or quarterly model-specific and market-specific sales figures.
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