I promised myself not to harp on Ford for giving up on the midsize pickup truck market segment eight or so years ago, because they know how much that decision has cost them better than any critic, so…

2020 Ford Ranger XLT SuperCrew 4×4 Road Test

2020 Ford Ranger XLT SuperCrew 4x4
The Ranger is a great looking truck, even without some of the more rugged trims offered in foreign markets.

I promised myself not to harp on Ford for giving up on the midsize pickup truck market segment eight or so years ago, because they know how much that decision has cost them better than any critic, so let’s just say it’s great to have them back as a key competitor to Toyota’s Tacoma, Chevy’s Colorado, GMC’s Canyon, Jeep’s new Gladiator (the latter of which more than makes up for the loss of the Dakota that Dodge/Ram should nevertheless bring back as well), Honda’s Ridgeline, and (speaking of not investing in this market for the past decade) Nissan’s Frontier.

2020 Ford Ranger Wildtrak
This Wildtrak has been the sportiest Ranger trim available in some global markets over the past five or so years (more photos of the Wildtrak in the gallery).

This said, when first laying eyes on it in the Philippines about five years ago, I quickly understood why Ford chose not to initially import this Australian-designed and Thailand/South Africa/Argentina/Nigeria/Vietnam-built third-generation (fourth-gen to us) Ranger T6 to its North American markets. The mid-size truck is big. Instead of completely retooling the previous Ranger’s St. Paul, Minnesota and Edison, New Jersey assembly plants to accept the entirely new design, Ford felt it could fill the outgoing Ranger’s void with a lower priced F-150. This was true to a point, but the lack of a small truck to suit differing tastes also opened up a hole in Ford’s lineup that was quickly filled by the trucks mentioned above.

2020 Ford Ranger Raptor
For obvious reasons, plenty of North American blue-oval fans are trying to persuade Ford to sell its global-market Ranger Raptor here (more photos of the Raptor in the gallery).

To be clear, the new mid-size Ranger, while considerably larger than the old compact one, is nevertheless dwarfed by even the smallest 13th-generation F-150, a truck that will soon be replaced by the 2021 14th-gen version that grows a bit larger in some dimensions. As it currently is, the 2020 F-150 SuperCab 4×4 with its 6.5-foot box measures 536 mm (21.1 in) lengthier with a 462-mm (18.2-in) longer wheelbase, 167 mm (6.6 in) wider, and about 155 mm (6.1 in) taller than a similarly configured 2020 Ranger SuperCab 4×4, while the F-150 SuperCrew takes up even more real estate comparably.

2020 Ford Ranger XLT SuperCrew 4x4
The Canadian-spec Ranger, showing here in mid-range XLT SuperCrew 4×4 trim, provides a rugged appearance and a lot of value.

Our Canadian-spec Ranger T6 measures 5,354 mm (210.8 in) long with a 3,221-mm (126.8-in) wheelbase, 1,862 mm (73.3 in) wide without mirrors, and a respective 1,806/1,816 mm (71.1/71.5 in) tall for the SuperCab/SuperCrew, by the way, which is actually a smidge shorter than the best-selling Tacoma (and a lot shorter than the long-wheelbase Toyota pickup), plus its narrower albeit a hair’s height taller, so it’s not like the Ranger T6 isn’t an ideal fit for the North American mid-size pickup truck market, now or back in 2011 when it debuted throughout the rest of the world.

2020 Ford Ranger XLT SuperCrew 4x4
The tough mid-size pickup can haul heavier loads than some competitors.

The Ranger is Ford’s primary pickup in most global markets, unlike here in North America where F-Series trucks dominate all blue-oval deliveries, not to mention the production of all competitive pickups. The current third-gen global Ranger, that’s now built in Wayne, Michigan, and available to us as of model year 2019, is actually a nicely facelifted version of a Ranger T6 introduced back in 2015, so even this refreshed truck is no spring chicken.

2020 Ford Ranger XLT SuperCrew 4x4
The Sport Appearance package darkens some exterior trim for more performance-oriented styling.

Still, the current third-gen Tacoma has been around a while too (it arrived in 2015), so it’s not like the Ranger, updated the same year, feels in any way outdated, while its powertrain was totally revamped for its 2019 debut in North America. Looking back, the first version that caught my eye was the particularly attractive Ranger Wildtrak found in Asian markets (check out the Wildtrak in the gallery above), but most will probably see the newer Ranger Raptor as the model’s most desirable trim. So far Ford of Canada hasn’t announced this smaller Raptor for our market (we’ve got more Ranger Raptor photos in the gallery), leaving us with base XL, mid-range as-tested XLT, and top-tier Lariat trims.

2020 Ford Ranger XLT SuperCrew 4x4
Only the top-line Ranger Lariat gets LED headlamps, these XLT lights composed of halogen bulbs.

My test truck was an XLT SuperCrew 4×4 in eye-catching Lightning Blue paint, which when optioned up with an available Sport Appearance package and FX4 Off-Road package, looked mighty good, if not as aggressive as the two foreign models. The Sport Appearance package adds a darkened grille surround and Magnetic-Painted (dark-grey) 17-inch alloy wheels to the exterior, plus a leather-clad steering wheel and shifter to the interior, plus power-folding side mirrors and an auto-dimming rearview mirror inside. These are both included in the 302A package, incidentally, while a Bed Utility package added the drop-in bedliner and 12-volt in-bed power adaptor, and an FX4 package added those sweet looking red and grey/black decals on the rear sides of the box.

2020 Ford Ranger XLT SuperCrew 4x4
The FX4 package adds rugged skid plates to key areas, necessary for protection when off-roading.

Of course, there’s a great deal more to the FX4 package than a couple of cool stickers, such as specially tuned off-road monotube shocks, a set of rugged 265/56 Hankook Dynapro AT-M tires, an electronically locking rear differential, Trail Control, that lets you set a given speed between 1 and 30 km/h to crawl over rugged terrain via throttle and braking management, and a Terrain Management System that, via Grass, Gravel/Snow, Mud/Ruts, or Sand modes, utilizes all of the Ranger’s off-road technologies to overcome light to extreme trail surfaces. Additionally, the FX4 package includes a steel front bash plate below the front bumper, plus skid plates cover the electric power steering system, the transfer case, and the fuel tank. Lastly, the FX4 package lets the Ranger’s driver monitor pitch, roll and steering angle info from inside.

2020 Ford Ranger XLT SuperCrew 4x4
These darkened 17-inch rims come as part of the Sport Appearance package.

Setting the Ranger 4×4’s high and/or low gearing ratios is ultra-easy thanks to a rotating dial on the lower console next to the standard SelectShift 10-speed automatic’s shift lever. Yes, we counted correctly. The Ranger comes standard with 10 forward gears, which is the most offered in its class. This, along with standard auto start-stop that turns the engine off when it would otherwise be idling, provides the Ranger with segment-leading 11.8 city, 9.8 highway and 10.9 L/100km fuel economy too, which is mighty impressive.

2020 Ford Ranger XLT SuperCrew 4x4
A stylish front fender plate denotes the Ranger’s trim levels.

We shouldn’t expect this kind of economy when off-road, but it should still allow you to go deeper into the woods (or desert) than its non-diesel competitors, which is saying something. What’s more, its 226 mm (8.9 inches) of ground clearance, while not as lofty as the Tacoma’s 239-mm (9.4-in) capability, should get you over most rocks and roots, while its 28.7/25.4-degree approach/departure angles will likely do the same through deep ruts and muddy swamps (the Tacoma’s approach/departure are a respective 29 or 32 to 23 degrees front to rear, depending on trim).

2020 Ford Ranger XLT SuperCrew 4x4
4×4 fans will want to order the FX4 package, which adds a lot more than just these stylish decals.

All of this suspension travel results in a comfortable ride, at least as far as body-on-frame trucks go. It feels pretty tight through fast-paced corners too, again as far as pickups are concerned, not exactly the best for snaking quickly through the slalom. Still, the Ranger’s standard 2.3-litre turbocharged EcoBoost four-cylinder is a blast off the line and anywhere else you step on it, thanks to 270 horsepower and 310 lb-ft of torque, the former a bit less than the Tacoma’s power output yet the latter substantially more.

2020 Ford Ranger XLT SuperCrew 4x4
The Ranger XLT’s interior is nicely put together.

The aforementioned 10-speed autobox runs through its gears quickly enough, allowing for good performance all-round, and I have to say it was smoother in this Ranger than in a turbo-four Mustang I previously tested, while the rocker switch integrated onto the shift knob was once again a good way to manually swap cogs.

Activating the Sport setting is the best way to improve performance, this allowing higher engine revs between shifts for stronger acceleration, while the transmission even held onto its chosen gear when hitting redline, very unusual yet a welcome feature when pushing the limit on pavement, not to mention holding a given gear when off-road.

2020 Ford Ranger XLT SuperCrew 4x4
Nice silver trim and attractive cloth seats add some sporty class to the XLT interior.

In order to maintain its sporty feel and ultimate safety through fast-paced corners, Ford employs Curve Control that detects when a driver enters a turn too quickly, and then adjusts the Ranger’s speed by reducing engine torque, adding braking and increasing stability control automatically. This feature might make you feel a bit more comfortable when lending your truck to a teenage child or employee.

2020 Ford Ranger XLT SuperCrew 4x4
Hardly a new design for Ford, the Ranger XLT’s instrument cluster is nevertheless advanced for the mid-size pickup truck segment.

Together with that nice ride mentioned a moment ago, the Ranger XLT 4×4 I tested provided impressive comfort and plenty of interior room front to back. The model in question came with Ford’s largest SuperCrew cab, which includes regular full-size doors in the rear, as well as more second-row legroom. A smaller SuperCab body is standard Ranger fare, with both configurations available in XL and XLT trims, and the top-line Lariat only offered with as a SuperCrew.

The smaller SuperCab has a longer six-foot bed, incidentally, while my as-tested SuperCrew uses a five-foot bed. Also important is the Ranger’s 707-kilogram (1,560-lb) payload, which is much better than the Tacoma’s 425- to 520-kg (937- to 1,146-lb) payload rating, as is the Ranger’s 7,500 lbs (3,402 kg) of towing capacity, which beats the Toyota by 502 kg (1,107 lbs). Trailer sway control is standard, by the way.

2020 Ford Ranger XLT SuperCrew 4x4
Ford’s Sync3 touchscreen interface is still advanced compared to many competitors, despite being around for a long time as far as infotainment systems go.

Speaking of standard, the base Ranger XL SuperCab starts at $32,159 plus freight and fees, which is an increase of $1,090 from the same model in 2019, while an XLT SuperCab can now be had for $36,529 or $38,329 for the as-tested XLT SuperCrew, but seeing a price increase of $890 since last year. Lastly, the Lariat SuperCrew is now available from $42,619, which is only an increase of $230.

2020 Ford Ranger XLT SuperCrew 4x4
The display gets inverted for nighttime operation.

Incidentally, CarCostCanada is showing factory leasing and financing rates from 0.99 percent on their 2020 Ford Ranger Canada Prices page, plus up to $4,000 in additional incentives on 2019 models. Before speaking with your local Ford retailer, make sure to check CarCostCanada to learn more about available rates from all brands, plus manufacturer rebates and even dealer invoice pricing that could save you thousands. Also, make sure to download the free CarCostCanada app from Google Play Store or the Apple Store so you can access all of their valuable information anytime and anywhere you need it.

2020 Ford Ranger XLT SuperCrew 4x4
The infotainment system’s graphics look great and its functions are ultra-easy to use.

The Ranger’s pricing structure compares very well to this year’s Tacoma, incidentally, which has rocketed up in price by $5,625 from $31,825 last year to a new base of $37,450 for the 2020 Access Cab and $38,450 for the 2020 Double Cab, due to losing its 4×2 drivetrain in Canada, while its top-line Limited trim starts at $50,750. Yes, the Japanese truck is in an entirely different pricing league, but give the Ranger a little more time (plus King Ranch, Platinum, Limited and/or Raptor versions) and it will likely catch up.

2020 Ford Ranger XLT SuperCrew 4x4
The shifter gets a manual-mode button on its knob, while choosing 4H or 4L is as easy as twisting a console-mounted dial.

As it is, the current Lariat model adds exterior chrome detailing, LED headlights, and front parking sensors to the XLT’s rear ones, as well as passive keyless access with a pushbutton ignition system, illuminated vanity mirrors, a universal garage door opener, three-way heated front seats with eight-way power, leather upholstery, etcetera.

Features as yet unmentioned on the XLT include 17-inch alloy wheels (in place of 16-inch steel rims from the base model), fog lights, carpeting with carpeted floor mats (the base XL truck’s flooring is rubber), six-speaker audio, auto high beams, lane keeping assist, and more, while a Technology package adds navigation and adaptive cruise control.

2020 Ford Ranger XLT SuperCrew 4x4
The Ranger XLT’s driver’s seat is comfortable and supportive, while its driver positioning is excellent.

As for the base XL, notable features include auto on/off headlamps, a four-speaker stereo, a USB charge port, 4G LTE Wi-Fi connectivity, a capless fuel filler, plus a pre-collision system with automatic emergency braking and blind spot warning with rear cross-traffic alert.

While only a mid-range truck, my Ranger XLT tester offered up a well put together interior with comparably good fit and finish. If you’re wondering whether this praise includes pampering padded leatherette or even soft-touch synthetic surface treatments, don’t look any further than the armrests and seat upholstery, the latter finished in a woven black fabric dressed up with sporty cream-coloured contrast stitching.

2020 Ford Ranger XLT SuperCrew 4x4
The SuperCrew’s rear passenger compartment is roomy and comfortable for average sized adults.

The driver’s seat featured two-way powered lumbar support that actually fit the small of my back ideally, a rare occasion for sure, while the Ranger XLT’s overall driving position was very good thanks to more than ample reach from the tilt and telescopic steering column. It includes a comfortably cushy leather-clad rim, while all controls fell easily to hand.

As is the case with all competitors, the Ranger utilizes a cluster of backlit analogue gauges for optimal visibility no matter the exterior light. The differentiator are its aqua-blue pointers that look particularly refreshing, while a high-resolution, full-colour 4.2-inch multi-information display beats most rivals when it comes to wow factor and functionality.

2020 Ford Ranger XLT SuperCrew 4x4
The rear lower seat cushion flips up to make room for cargo.

Speaking of dash flash, a strip of pewter-tone trim brightens up the dash on each side of those primary instruments and ahead of the front passenger, not to mention the upper door panels, while the just-mentioned gauge pointers nicely match the soft blue background of Ford’s 8.0-inch Sync 3 infotainment touchscreen atop the centre stack of this XLT and Lariat models. Even after all the years Ford has offered this system, I still find it graphically attractive and quite advanced due to tablet-like tap, swipe and pinch gesture capability, the inclusion of Android Auto and Apple CarPlay smartphone integration, and myriad audio features such as satellite radio, Bluetooth audio streaming, etcetera, while my test model included a navigation system that got me where I was going more than once, plus XM travel link, dual-zone automatic climate control, and a reverse parking camera with dynamic guidelines.

2020 Ford Ranger XLT SuperCrew 4x4
An available drop-in cargo liner will keep the bed’s paint scratch free.

Now that we’re looking rearward, the Ranger SuperCrew’s second row of seats is certainly roomier than in the SuperCab, and therefore quite comfortable, especially in the window seats, but this mid-range model isn’t as well featured as some rival trucks. I’m not talking about a lack of rear seat warmers, these normally only offered in top-line trims, but Ford doesn’t even provide rear air vents. At least XLT and Lariat owners receive a pair of USB-A charge points on the rear panel of the front centre console, plus a handy 110-volt household-style power outlet.

2020 Ford Ranger XLT SuperCrew 4x4
The Ranger’s standard 2.3-litre turbo-four simultaneously makes this truck the sportiest and most fuel-efficient in the mid-size class.

Then again, my Ranger XLT didn’t come standard with integrated bumper steps for climbing up on the bed, such as those provided on GM’s trucks, but you can pay extra for a really nice kick-down step from the blue-oval accessories catalogue, an item high on my list of extras for sure.

Although a long time coming, I think the wait was worth it. Yes, that means I have no problem recommending the Ranger to anyone looking for a mid-size pickup truck, as it looks and feels well made, has excellent electronic interfaces, is roomy and comfortable, and is plenty of fun to drive. I think Ford would be wise to bring the sportier Ranger Raptor to our market too, plus other more luxurious models in order to price it higher and attract more premium buyers, but they’ve got a relative hit on their hands as it is, so we’ll need to wait to see how they want to play our market. I’m betting they’ll quickly expand the Ranger range and give sport truck and luxury buyers what they want, instead of potentially losing profits to mid-size truck competitors.

Review and photos: Trevor Hofmann

Photo editing: Karen Tuggay

FYI, there are fewer new Ford Flex SUVs still available for sale than I had initially expected, although dozens are spread across most of the country. This means anyone wanting to get their hands on a…

2019 Ford Flex Limited EcoBoost V6 Road Test

2019 Ford Flex Limited EcoBoost V6
Your last chance to purchase a new Ford Flex is now, and the available discounts are major. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

FYI, there are fewer new Ford Flex SUVs still available for sale than I had initially expected, although dozens are spread across most of the country. This means anyone wanting to get their hands on a new example of this wholly unique three-row crossover utility needs to act quickly, because dealer-level discounts will be deep, plus according to CarCostCanada, Ford is offering up to $5,500 in additional incentives for this final 2019 model.

Yes, the unconventional Flex is being ushered off the stage after more than a decade of service and only a couple of years of reasonably good sales. Its first calendar year of 2009 resulted in 6,047 units down Canadian roads, and the next 12 months (2010) was good for 4,803 deliveries, but it saw lacklustre sales performance after that, with a high of just 3,268 units in 2012 and 1,789 in 2015. Strangely, year-over-year Flex sales picked up by 13.4 percent from 2017 to 2018 and 9.6 percent in 2019, so there’s still interest in this wonderfully unusual family hauler, but nevertheless its days were done as soon as the revitalized fifth-generation Explorer came on the scene in 2011 (hence the Flex’s immediate drop-off in sales that year).

2019 Ford Flex Limited EcoBoost V6
While lower to the ground than most 7-passenger crossover SUVs, the Flex’s boxy profile provides plenty of passenger and cargo room. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

For a bit of background, both the Flex and Explorer share a unibody structure based on Ford’s D4 platform architecture, which is a modified version of the original Volvo S80/XC90-sourced D3 platform. Looking back a bit further, the first D3 to wear the blue-oval was Ford’s rather bland Five Hundred sedan that quickly morphed into today’s Taurus (or should I say, yesterday’s Taurus, as it was recently discontinued as well, and therefore also benefits from up to $5,500 in additional incentives as per CarCostCanada). The Flex’s familial lineage harks back to the 2005–2007 Freestyle that was rebadged as the ill-named Taurus X for 2008–2009.

2019 Ford Flex Limited EcoBoost V6
There’s nothing else quite like a Flex, a practical SUV that performs as sportily as this example’s blacked out Appearance package suggests. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

The just noted people movers don’t get much respect anymore, yet they were comfortable, nicely sized, reasonably agile, and quite innovative for their era. Each was amongst the first domestics to use a continuously variable transmission (CVT), and the Five Hundred and Freestyle were certainly some of the largest vehicles to do so before that point (the Nissan Murano beat them by a couple of years). Interestingly Ford soon abandoned the CVT for its large vehicle lineup, choosing a six-speed automatic for all Flex and fifth-gen Explorer model years, which has proven to be a reliable transmission.

Now that we’re talking mechanicals, the Flex received two different versions of Ford’s ubiquitous 3.5-litre V6 when introduced, which still carry through to today’s model. While the base Duratec engine made 262 horsepower and 248 lb-ft of torque from onset, output grew to 287 horsepower and 254 lb-ft of torque in 2013, which moved the three-row seven-occupant SUV along at a decent clip. A 355 horsepower 3.5-litre Ecoboost V6 making 350 lb-ft of torque became optional in 2010, and that turbocharged mill transformed the somewhat sedate five-door estate wagon into a rarified sleeper, while another 10-hp bump to 365 made it one of the most potent family conveyances available from a mainstream volume brand right up to this day.

2019 Ford Flex Limited EcoBoost V6
The aging Flex doesn’t offer LED headlamps, but these HIDs light up the road well. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

That’s the version to acquire and once again the configuration I recently spent a week with, and it performed as brilliantly as it did when I first tested a similarly equipped Flex in 2016. I noticed a bit of front wheel twist when pushed hard off the line at full throttle, otherwise called torque steer, particularly when taking off from a corner, which is strange for an all-wheel drive vehicle, but it moved along quickly and was wonderfully stable on the highway, not to mention long sweeping corners and even when flung through sharp fast-paced curves thanks to its fully independent suspension setup and big, meaty 255/45R20 all-season rubber. I wouldn’t say it’s as tight as a premium SUV like Acura’s MDX, Audi’s Q7 or BMW’s X7, but we really can’t compare those three from a price perspective. Such was the original goal of the now defunct Lincoln MKT, but its styling never took off and therefore it was really only used for airport shuttle and limousine liveries.

2019 Ford Flex Limited EcoBoost V6
These glossy black 20-inch alloys are part of the $900 Appearance package. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Like the MKT and the many three-row Japanese and European crossover utilities available, the Flex is a very large vehicle, so no one should be expecting sports car-like performance. Combined with its turbo-six powerplant is the dependable SelectShift six-speed automatic mentioned earlier, and while not as advanced as the 7-, 8-, 9- and now even 10-speed automatics coming from the latest blue-oval, Lincoln and competitive products, it shifts quickly enough and is certainly smooth, plus it doesn’t hamper fuel economy as terribly as various brands’ marketing departments would have you believe. I love that Ford included paddle shifters with this big ute, something even some premium-branded three-row crossovers are devoid of yet standard with the more powerful engine (they replace the lesser engine’s “Shifter Button Activation” on the gear knob), yet the Flex is hardly short on features, especially in its top-tier Limited model.

2019 Ford Flex Limited EcoBoost V6
LED taillights come standard, but the gloss-black rear appliqué is part of the Appearance package. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

I’d recommend leaving manual mode alone if you want to achieve the best fuel economy, however, but even the most potent V6 on the Flex menu does reasonably well at 15.7 L/100km city, 11.2 highway and 13.7 combined, at least when compared to similarly powered SUVs. It’s not much worse than the base engine either, with the AWD version going through an estimated 14.7 L/100km in the city, 10.7 on the highway and 12.9 combined, and the FWD model slurping back 14.7 city, 10.2 highway and 12.7 combined.

The Flex continues to be available in base SE, mid-range SEL and top-level Limited trim lines for the 2019 model year, with the majority still not spoken for being SELs (but don’t worry, there are plenty of SE and Limited models still around too). According to CarCostCanada, where you can find all pricing and feature information about most vehicles sold into the Canadian market, the Flex starts at $32,649 (plus freight and fees) for the SE with front-wheel drive (FWD), $39,649 for the SEL with FWD, $41,649 for the SEL with AWD, and $46,449 for the Limited that comes standard with AWD. All trim lines include the base engine, but for an additional $6,800 those opting for the Limited model can access the more formidable turbo-V6 (take note that other features are thrown in for this price too).

2019 Ford Flex Limited EcoBoost V6
The Flex’s interior was impressively refined for 2009, but despite a number of updates it’s now showing its age. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

This means, for a retail price of $53,249 before adding any other features, you get a 2019 Flex Limited Ecoboost AWD that comes well equipped with all of the performance upgrades mentioned plus standard 19-inch silver-painted alloys on 235/55 all-season tires, HID headlights, fog lamps, LED taillights, a satin-aluminum grille, chromed exterior door handles, stainless steel bright beltline mouldings, a satin aluminum liftgate appliqué, a powered liftgate, bright dual exhaust tips, power-folding heatable side mirrors with memory feature and security approach lights, rain-sensing wipers, reverse parking sensors, and that’s only on the outside.

2019 Ford Flex Limited EcoBoost V6
The Flex cockpit has long been well organized, and its generous assortment of features in top-line Limited trim makes for a luxurious family hauler. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

You can use remote engine start to warm things up or cool them down before even entering the Flex Limited, plus proximity-sensing access (or Ford’s exclusive SecuriCode keypad) to get inside, pushbutton ignition to keep things running, Ford MyKey to keep things secure when valets or your kids are at the wheel, while additional interior features include illuminated entry with theatre dimming lighting, a perforated leather-wrapped steering wheel rim with a genuine hardwood inlay, Yoho maple wood grain appearance appliqués, power-adjustable foot pedals with memory, perforated leather upholstery on the first- and second-row seats, a 10-way powered driver’s seat with memory, a six-way powered front passenger seat, heatable front seats, an auto-dimming rearview mirror, an overhead console with a sunglasses holder, ambient interior lighting with seven colours including default Ice Blue plus soft blue, blue, green, purple, orange and red, plus Ford’s Sync 3 infotainment system, a great sounding 12-speaker Sony audio system, SiriusXM satellite radio, dual USB charging ports (in the front console bin), dual-zone automatic climate control, rear manual HVAC controls, four 12-volt power points, a 110-volt household-style three-prong power outlet, Blind Spot Information System (BLIS) with Cross-Traffic Alert, and more.

2019 Ford Flex Limited EcoBoost V6
Ford was far ahead of its time when introducing the Flex’s dual-screen instrument cluster. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

For such an old vehicle the Flex appears right up to date when it comes to electronics due to its Cockpit Integrated Display that houses two bright, colour, high-resolution TFT displays within the primary gauge cluster (it was way ahead of its time) while the just noted Sync 3 infotainment system is nothing to sneeze at either, thanks to a large graphically stimulating and highly functional touchscreen with ultra-fast capability and excellent usability, the functions including extremely accurate optional navigation and a very good standard backup camera with active guidelines (but an overhead 360-degree surround view camera is not available), plus standard Apple CarPlay and Android Auto smartphone connectivity, the ability to add more apps, plus much more.

2019 Ford Flex Limited EcoBoost V6
The Flex’s centre stack s well organized and packed full of features. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Over and above the list of standard Limited features it’s possible to add a $3,200 301A package that includes a heatable steering wheel rim, really comfortable 10-way powered front seats with three-way ventilation, adaptive cruise control, Collision Warning with autonomous emergency braking, and Active Park Assist semi-autonomous parking capability, but take note that all 301A features already come standard with the more potent engine, as does a unique set of 20-inch polished alloys, an engine block heater, a power-adjustable steering column, and a one-touch 50/50-split power-folding third row with tailgate seating.

You might have noticed that my tester’s wheels are hardly polished alloys, or at least they’re not silver, the glossy black 20-inch rims included as part of a $900 Appearance package that also adds a gloss-black exterior treatment to the centre grille bar, side mirror caps, and liftgate appliqué, plus Agate Black paint to the roof pillars and rooftop, while the interior gets a unique leather-wrapped steering wheel with Meteorite Black bezels, an exclusive graphic design on the instrument panel and door-trim appliqués, special leather seat upholstery with Light Earth Gray inserts and Dark Earth Gray bolsters, and floor mats with unique logo.

2019 Ford Flex Limited EcoBoost V6
Navigation is a standalone option, even with the top-tier Limited model. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

My tester’s multi-panel Vista panoramic sunroof has always been a standalone option for $1,750, while it’s still strange to see its voice-activated navigation system (with SiriusXM Traffic and Travel Link) as an individual add-on (nav systems are almost always bundled into top-tier models), while the glossy black roof rails can also be individually added for only $130, but take note you can get the roof rails (also in silver) as part of a $600 Cargo Versatility package that also combines the otherwise $500 Class III Trailer Tow package (good for up to 4,500 lbs or 2,041 kilos of trailer weight) with first- and second-row all-weather floor mats (otherwise a $150 standalone option) for a much more utile SUV.

2019 Ford Flex Limited EcoBoost V6
Despite its years, the Flex’s dual-zone climate control interface is state-of-the-art thanks to touch-sensitive switchgear. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Now that I’ve listed everything available with my tester, you can also add a refrigerated centre console for $650, or upgrade the otherwise 60/40-split second row bench seat to captain’s chairs with a centre console for just $150 (although I prefer the standard bench seat because its 40-percent section auto-folds from the rear in all trims), while $250 inflatable second-row seatbelts improve rear passenger safety, and a dual-screen rear entertainment system will add $2,100 to the bottom line.

Now that I’ve covered all of the Limited trim’s features, many of which are pulled up from base SE and mid-range SEL trims, it’s important to mention that the Flex cabin isn’t quite as refined as what you might find in the new 2020 Explorer, for instance. This said, I remember how blown away I was with its refinement when it came out, which just goes to show how far Ford and all other carmakers have come since 2009. The new Edge, for instance, which I recently tested in top-line trim, is probably better than the older Lincoln MKX, now replaced by the impressive Nautilus, whereas this Flex’s interior is a lot like the previous Edge inside.

2019 Ford Flex Limited EcoBoost V6
These upgraded 10-way powered seats, with heated and cooled cushions, are extremely comfortable. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

It gets the big, clunky, hard plastic rocker switches for the powered locks instead of the more sophisticated electronic buttons, and certainly has a lower grade of hard composites throughout the interior than more recently redesigned Ford SUVs. Then again its dash-top features a nice soft-touch surface treatment, as do the door uppers front to back, while the door inserts get the cool graphic inserts noted earlier along with nice, large padded armrests.

All said, interior space might possibly be this SUV’s most noteworthy attribute, the Flex getting its name for its combination of minivan-like seating and cargo storage capability. First, let’s get real about overall space. The Flex’s maximum load carrying capacity of 2,355 litres (83.1 cubic feet) when both rear rows are folded flat pales in comparison to the old Ford Freestar minivan’s 3,885 litres (137.2 cu ft) of total cargo volume, but it’s good as far as three-row SUVs go. The Flex provides 42 more litres (1.5 cu ft) of maximum storage than the old 2019 Explorer, for instance, which is one of the largest SUVs in its class. Then again, the 2020 Explorer manages a maximum of 2,486 litres (87.8 cu ft) with its two rear rows folded, which beats both older utes.

2019 Ford Flex Limited EcoBoost V6
The Flex’s optional multi-pane panoramic Vista sunroof really adds to its visual size when inside. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

The rear hatch powers open to expose 426 litres (15.0 cu ft) of dedicated cargo space behind the third row, which is actually 169 litres (6.0 cu ft) shy of the outgoing Explorer, but drop the second row down and the Flex almost matches the Explorer’s available capacity perfectly with 1,224 litres (43.2 cu ft) compared to 1,240 litres (43.8 cu ft). A handy feature mentioned earlier allows the third row to be folded in the opposite direction for tailgate parties, but you’ll need to make sure the headrests are extended as they might uncomfortable otherwise.

2019 Ford Flex Limited EcoBoost V6
The second-row is large, comfortable and can be swapped out for captain’s chairs with a centre console. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Total passenger volume is 4,412 litres (155.8 cu ft), which means every seating position is roomy and comfortable. Really, even third row legroom is good, while headroom is generous due to a tall roofline and the Flex’s width makes sure no one feels claustrophobic. The open-airiness of the panoramic sunroof really helps in this respect too, and its three-pane design is also smart because it provides the structural rigidity such a large vehicle like this needs. Thoughtful features I really like include the massive bottle holders in the rear door panels, which are really useful for drive-thru excursions, especially considering the grippy cupholders in the centre armrest are a bit on the small side.

2019 Ford Flex Limited EcoBoost V6
Ford doesn’t sell a minivan, so the Flex’s rear seats needed to fit large teens and adults. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

As you can probably tell, I have a soft spot for this unorthodox box of an SUV, and appreciate Ford for having the courage to build it in the first place. While it’s old and feels a bit dated inside especially, plus is missing some features I’d appreciate having such as rear outboard seat heaters and USB ports in the back, it’s hard to knock its value proposition when factoring in the potential savings. Of course, choosing this old SUV when it’s parked next to a new 2020 Explorer will be difficult, but a similarly equipped version of the latter SUV will set you back another $10k before the aforementioned discount, while Ford is only offering up to $2,000 in additional incentives on this newer vehicle (which is still pretty impressive). That’s a difference of more than $13k, so therefore choosing a fully loaded Flex might be ideal for those on more of a luxury budget.

2019 Ford Flex Limited EcoBoost V6
The third row can be powered down via buttons on the cargo wall. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Before the COVID-19 outbreak I would have recommended rushing to your dealer in order to make sure you get one of the last remaining new Flex SUVs before they’re all gone, and while they will certainly disappear in due time you’ll probably need to deal with your Ford retailer digitally these days. Nevertheless, it’s a good idea to do your homework first before making the call, so be sure to visit the 2019 Ford Flex Canada Prices page at CarCostCanada, where you can check out all the trims and pricing, plus see if there have been any updates regarding manufacturer discounts, rebates and/or financing/leasing packages, while a membership to CarCostCanada will also provide otherwise hard to get dealer invoice pricing (the price the dealer actually pays the manufacturer), which will give you the best chance possible to negotiate a great deal. Your Ford retailer will have your Flex prepared (while wearing hazmat suits, masks and gloves no doubt), after which you can simply pick it up at your convenience.

2019 Ford Flex Limited EcoBoost V6
Shown here with most of its rear seats folded, the Flex provides a lot of potential cargo space. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

So if this oddball SUV is as special to you as it is to me, I recommend taking advantage of the great model ending deals to be had. It might be an old entry amongst a plethora of seemingly more enticing new offerings, but keep in mind that its moderate popularity means that it’s remained fairly fresh despite its years (you won’t see many driving around the corner toward you or parked beside you at the mall), while its decade of availability and well-proven mechanicals make certain that reliability will be better average.

I first saw the original EcoSport in São Paulo, Brazil where I was trying to expand my automotive content syndication business back in 2007/2008, just before the Case-Shiller home price index reported…

2019 Ford EcoSport 2.0 SES Road Test

2019 Ford EcoSport 2.0 SES
The EcoSport is kind of cute in a “can’t help but love shitzus” sort of way, and looks best in this sporty SES trim. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

I first saw the original EcoSport in São Paulo, Brazil where I was trying to expand my automotive content syndication business back in 2007/2008, just before the Case-Shiller home price index reported the biggest price drop in its history and the U.S. housing crisis commenced and market corrections followed. The financial upheaval and concurrent industry fear wiped away most of my income in one fell swoop, therefore causing me to hightail it back to Canada in order to rescue what I could.

Back then, Brazil was one of the up-and-coming BRIC nations, and most of us should know how that bit of geopolitical market hype turned out for the South American country as well as Russia, with the two largest populations benefiting more from what global investment was available after the usual coffers temporarily dried up, finalizing in China staking claim to most of that investment once the U.S. Federal Reserve’s money-printing taps were turned on full blast. I never received any of that liquidity and most likely neither did you, or you probably wouldn’t be reading about one of Canada’s most affordable SUVs.

2019 Ford EcoSport 2.0 SES
The EcoSport’s tall profile makes for loads of interior space. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

Interestingly, we’re now poised below a bigger bubble than in 2006-2008, not only incorporating subprime mortgages and other nefarious banking instruments, but despite being devoid of qualitative fundamentals we’re witnessing record-breaking stock market growth that identically mirrors the amount of quantitative easing the aforementioned Fed is pumping into the fake economy (yes, we’ve been smack dab in the middle of QE4 since September of last year, and the Fed’s spending spree is much more generous than it ever was back in Obama’s day), which (other than naming its new electric SUV “Mustang”) will make Ford look pretty damn intelligent when the poop finally hits the fan.

What am I referring to? I’m talking about the demise of Ford’s slower selling passenger car business, the real Mustang aside, and the liberated funds invested into much stronger selling crossovers and SUVs like this relatively new EcoSport, right at a time when the majority of investors appear as bullish as bullish can be (as they always are before a crash), and plenty of mainstream pundits are calling for a major recession within the next year or so (the U.S. Treasury 10-year/three-month yield curve inverted last March, and recessions normally follow this trigger within an average of 18 months). The unprecedented debt load of every single vertical is dumbfounding to contemplate, with auto loan balances alone totalling more than $1.2T USD this year (that’s trillion).

2019 Ford EcoSport 2.0 SES
SES trim adds plenty of black trim. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

While Ford will still be globally mandated (especially in Europe and China) to invest billions into EVs like the just-noted new Mustang Mach-E, and smart to do so as its NYSE share price (sitting at $9.14 USD at the time of writing, compared to Tesla at $572.20 USD) and overall market cap (now at $36.36B USD compared to $103.14B for Tesla) reflect a supposed forward-thinking investment strategy (and the amount of U.S. taxpayer money gets pumped into NASDAQ tech stocks like Tesla, Amazon, Google, Apple, etcetera, that all directly follow the Fed’s monetary easy trajectory like Olympic-level synchronized swimmers), at least it won’t be losing money on the continually shrinking passenger car market.

Speaking of making money, Ford’s smallest SUV, having just entered our market for the 2018 model year, will soon be the oldest in its growing arsenal, thanks to the big three-row Flex heading out to pasture once the 2019 model year fades to dust. In other words, the EcoSport’s initial investment was paid off many years ago, so now any new money made is mostly profit.

2019 Ford EcoSport 2.0 SES
The EcoSport uses a version of Ford’s older grille, previously seen on the 2019 Escape and 2018 Edge models, but it still looks good. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

All of Ford’s other SUVs have been more recently refreshed or redesigned, incidentally, its crossovers including the entirely new 2020 Escape compact, the recently updated (2019–present) Edge mid-size five-passenger, and the all new 2020 Explorer three-row, while the fairly new (2018–present) Expedition full-size three-row body-on-frame SUV will be second oldest in the brand’s relatively fresh utility lineup (Ford’s luxury division Lincoln has seen a similar renewal, although it doesn’t include a subcompact luxury SUV like Lexus’ new UX, BMW’s X1, or Volvo’s XC40).

Ford will soon add two new models to its SUV fleet, including the misnamed albeit impressive Mustang Mach-E near-mid-size electric crossover, and the even more alluring (to this outdoorsy journo at least) off-road capable, Ranger-based, body-on-frame Bronco compact. Supposedly a smaller baby Bronco is being designed to go up against Jeep’s subcompact Renegade in the same way its Bronco will duel it out with the Wrangler, so SUV fans will have much more to talk about in the near future.

2019 Ford EcoSport 2.0 SES
Some nice detailing in the headlights adds sophistication to the design. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

Of course, Ford will continue producing its relatively new (to our market at least) just-noted Ranger mid-size pickup and industry best-selling F-Series trucks, not to mention its commercial market dominating Transit full-size vans, plus its classic Econoline cutaway chassis cab, and Transit Connect compact van, while the fabulous $450k GT supercar is still being handcrafted by Markham, Ontario-based auto supplier Multimatic Inc., thanks to an additional 350 units (for a limited total of 1,350) that extend its life into 2022 (which may also have something to do with Ford’s need to continue selling enough of them for competitive series sports car homologation—you’ve gotta love a brand so heavily involved in motorsport). Lastly, the Fusion (which is still ultra popular, having grown its Canadian sales by 37.8 percent last year, resulting in 8,753 units and third place in its mid-size sedan segment) will be with us for one more year before getting killed off like the FiestaFocus (along with their brilliant ST and RS performance trims—RIP) and Taurus just did (and its potent SHO model).

2019 Ford EcoSport 2.0 SES
Massive fog lamp/driving lights give the EcoSport a unique frontal look. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

Back to the Oakville, Ontario-built Flex, the single-generation crossover has been more or less unchanged since it arrived in 2008. It was an interesting experiment that was pretty daring when new and actually garnered a fairly strong following in its first full year of sales (2009) with 6,047 new owners, but having only received minor updates since introduction its consumer take-rate gradually faded away with just 2,492 finding Canadian homes last year (which incidentally was up 9.6 percent over 2018 sales, which were 13.4 percent stronger than 2017—are you sure you want to get ride of this SUV, Ford?)

When the last Flex is gone (Ford sold just 45 in December and 10 in November), this EcoSport will be the only ancient (in automotive years) blue-oval SUV left, the second-generation model you see on this page dating back to the 2013 model year (and 2012 production) in its numerous global markets, a full six years before we received it as a new offering (it’s also become quite popular in the Philippines, where I now reside part of the year, a market that’s also seen the Thailand-designed and built Ford Ranger T6 do very well in since its 2011 inception—the ASEAN-market Wildtrak version is really hot).

2019 Ford EcoSport 2.0 SES
These dark grey 17-inch alloy wheels are part of the SES upgrade. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

How has the EcoSport aged? Very well, at least for a seven year old model. Fortunately it was fairly well conceived when new, wearing Ford’s most recently abandoned design language last seen on the 2019 Escape and 2018 Edge models. This means it’s not so out of date as to warrant an immediate refresh, but Ford won’t want to wait long. According to unconfirmed reports, a new Fiesta-based subcompact crossover, positioned below the aforementioned baby Bronco, will replace the EcoSport in 2021 as a 2022 model, so we can rest assured this 2019 version and the mostly unchanged 2020 EcoSport won’t be disappearing for at least another couple of years.

I’ve got to hand it to Ford, the EcoSport has done a lot better on the sales charts than I initially guessed it would. After selling just six units in its first month of December 2017 (likely due to a lack of available units), the tiny blue-oval-badged SUV found 6,315 buyers in 2018 and 7,438 customers last year, showing a significant 17.8-percent year-over-year gain. While not bad for any car in today’s market, these results are only so-so for a new subcompact SUV.

2019 Ford EcoSport 2.0 SES
Roof rail crossbars add utility to the EcoSport’s mission. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

Consider for a moment that Nissan’s Qashqai entered the Canadian market earlier in 2017, only to amass 8,970 new customers that partial year, plus 19,662 buyers in 2018, with a slight 5.8-percent dip to 18,526 units last year, albeit that was only because the Japanese brand’s even smaller and less expensive Kicks model (the Juke’s replacement) won over a total of 16,086 subcompact SUV customers in 2019, resulting in 268.8-percent growth over its partial-year sales of 4,362 units in 2018. If you think that’s good, and it is when factoring in that Nissan led Canada’s subcompact SUV sales with a total of 34,612 unit sales through 2019, Hyundai’s new Kona went from selling 14,497 units in its first partial calendar year of 2018 to earning 25,817 new buyers last year, for a 78.1-percent gain.

2019 Ford EcoSport 2.0 SES
A sharp looking taillight design fills out the rear corners. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

Still, as dismal as the EcoSport’s success appear when compared to these much better subcompact SUV models, it’s doing better than Toyota’s relatively new C-HR that only found 7,283 buyers last year; Chevrolet’s long-in-tooth Trax that actually gained 18.6 percent year-over-year to post its second-worst-ever sales of 5,298 units; Kia’s Niro that found just 4,338 new owners, yet improved its position by 63.1 percent compared to 2018; the pricier near-premium Mini Countryman that won over just 2,275 new customers (but is priced much higher); Jeep’s previously noted Renegade that lost 44.3 percent on the sales charts to claim a rather pathetic 664 takers (hopefully the baby Bronco will do better here); and that Jeep’s brother-from-another-mother Fiat 500X that (wait for it) only managed to coax 50 wayward buyers (some of which were likely Fiat dealer principals) to drive this pretty decent little SUV off the Italian automaker’s Canadian lots. Feeling pretty frisky now, aren’t you Markham (Ford’s Canadian HQ)?

2019 Ford EcoSport 2.0 SES
Not sure about the blue and gold colour scheme, and neither was Ford so they’ve since changed the interior highlights to silver and grey. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

The EcoSport was also spitting distance away from upstaging Mitsubishi’s RVR that sold just 7,463 units last year, and came mighty close to passing by Jeep’s Compass that could only muster 7,652 new buyers. As yet unmentioned competitors in this smallest of SUV classes include the Buick Encore with 9,724 Canadian sales through 2019 (and up to $5,390 in additional incentives available right now), the Mazda CX-3 with 10,850 deliveries over the same 12 months, the Kia Soul with 11,868 examples down the road last year, the Honda HR-V with 12,985 units sold, and finally the Subaru Crosstrek with 15,184 sales, this popular model just behind the previously mentioned top three that once again (for memory’s sake) include the Kicks, Qashqai and Kona.

And if you think that’s a lot of subcompact entries doing battle, consider that Hyundai is stepping up this year with a new 2020 Venue that’s smaller than the Kona (more along the lines of Nissan’s Kicks) and starts at just $17,099, while Kia is following suit with its Kona-sized 2020 Seltos. Likewise, Volkswagen will bring us a renamed version of its South American Tarek and Chinese Tharu sometime in 2021. On top of this we can expect new versions of this segment’s oldest models to show up sporadically over the next couple of years, plus fresh new entries from brands like Toyota that blew their chance to pull in entry-level SUV buyers due to almost entirely missing the mark with the aforementioned C-HR, as well as variations on the subcompact SUV theme to arrive from brands not yet included in this category, such as Dodge and GMC. Did I miss any?

2019 Ford EcoSport 2.0 SES
The copper-orange interior highlights look good on their own, especially if you choose the same exterior colour. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

If you’re wondering why I’ve just laid out the most longwinded intro ever written ahead of a supposed new car review, it’s because the EcoSport wasn’t the most impressive new vehicle I’ve driven in recent memory, and thus I’ve been putting off my critique. Of course, considering the seven years of availability having passed since its introduction, with very few notable updates, you all should be surprised I’m not giving it both thumbs down. In fact, the EcoSport has a number of redeeming attributes, the first of which is reasonably good fuel economy thanks to standard auto start-stop technology that automatically shuts off the engine when the EcoSport would otherwise be idling in order to reduce fuel consumption and lower emissions, before restarting it when letting off the brake pedal.

This little Ford comes standard with the brand’s excellent turbocharged 1.0-litre three-cylinder that was first tested by yours truly in the Fiesta subcompact hatch. It’s a surprisingly sporty entry-level engine and good for a claimed 8.6 L/100km in the city, 8.1 on the highway and 8.4 combined, whereas this even more potent 2.0-litre four-cylinder version does well enough with an estimated Transport Canada rating of 10.2, 8.0 and 9.3 respectively.

2019 Ford EcoSport 2.0 SES
The EcoSport’s cockpit is well laid out and comfortable, but interior refinement is merely passable. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

Then again, the EcoSport falls a bit short when compared to its most efficient rivals, the Honda HR-V managing to eke out 8.4 L/100km city, 7.0 highway and 7.8 combined from its larger 1.8-litre base four-cylinder with FWD, and a respective 8.8, 7.5 and 8.2 when that engine is hooked up to all-wheel drive, while the best-selling Kona is good for a claimed 8.6 city, 7.0 highway and 7.9 combined from its four-cylinder in FWD, or 9.2, 7.8 and 8.6 when adding AWD to the same 2.0-litre base engine. How about the runner-up Qashqai and third-place Kicks? The Qashqai automatic gets a claimed 8.6 city, 7.2 highway and 8.0 combined with FWD, or 9.1, 7.6 and 8.4 with AWD, whereas the FWD-only Kicks is good for an ultra-stingy 7.7, 6.6 and 7.2. Had enough punishment yet, EcoSport?

OK, while the EcoSport’s fuel economy is good, it’s nowhere near segment best, but it does deliver in other ways. For instance, it’s fairly inexpensive in base S trim at just $22,349 plus freight and fees, with its ritzier SE, SES and Titanium trims starting at $25,449, $29,849 and $31,349 respectively, with AWD adding $2,500 to the base S and second-rung SE trim lines, and coming standard with the SES and Titanium models.

2019 Ford EcoSport 2.0 SES
The aqua-blue needles in the primary gauge cluster are attractive. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

Even better, become a CarCostCanada member and you’ll find out about additional incentives for savings up to $4,500 on this 2019 EcoSport, or alternatively Ford is offering factory leasing and financing rates from 3.99 percent on the newest 2020 model, which barely changes by the way. Check CarCostCanada’s 2019 and 2020 Ford EcoSport Canada Prices pages for more details, such as trim, package and individual option pricing (and the ability to configure/build the SUV, and all of its competitors—click any vehicle name link in this review to open a given model’s page), available rebates, factory financing and leasing rates, plus dealer invoice pricing that could save you thousands more when it comes time to negotiate.

2019 Ford EcoSport 2.0 SES
The leather-wrapped steering wheel has a good feel, switchgear is high in quality, and shift paddles a welcome surprise. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

I know that selling on price is a lousy way to make money, but I’m not actually selling the EcoSport so this is Ford’s problem. Then again, as I mentioned earlier there’s more to be had from this little runabout than relatively low running costs and a good initial deal. In fact, both the turbocharged 1.0-litre and naturally aspirated 2.0-litre direct-injected engines make for reasonably quick acceleration off the line and more than adequate highway passing power, their respective horsepower and torque ratings equaling 123 and 166 ponies apiece, plus 125 and 149 lb-ft of twist, the smaller engine making all of its torque between 1,500 and 4,500 rpm, compared to a minimum of 4,500 rpm for the doubly large mill.

What’s more, both engines only require regular unleaded in order to perform at their quoted capabilities, plus they’re not hamstrung by lacklustre continuously variable transmissions (CVTs) or power-robbing conventional automatics thanks to coming standard with Ford’s highly advanced six-speed SelectShift dual-clutch automated manual gearbox, which might not be the most reliable transmission on the market, but certainly provides the most driving enjoyment this side of an actual DIY manual. Then again it includes a set of steering wheel-mounted paddle shifters, resulting in a level of hands-on engagement few in this class can provide, plus the convenience of not being forced to shift a manual box in the city.

2019 Ford EcoSport 2.0 SES
The Sync 3 infotainment interface is hardly new, but it’s still excellent. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

Making the EcoSport even more fun to drive is a fully independent suspension setup with MacPherson struts up front and a multilink design in back, plus stabilizer bars at both ends. Ford utilizes a set of twin-tube hydraulic gas-pressurized shocks for the front wheels and progressive-rate springs with mono-tube hydraulic gas-pressurized shocks at the rear, while electric power steering provides easy-to-turn manoeuvrability in tight parking garages and around town, plus reasonably direct performance through fast-paced twisting backroads and on the open freeway. It really is a fun little SUV to drive on all road surfaces and through varying conditions, Ford’s impressive AdvanceTrac traction control with RSC (Roll Stability Control) making sure it stays shell-side up, and four-wheel discs with ABS delivering ample stopping power.

2019 Ford EcoSport 2.0 SES
The sizeable 8.0-inch display was great for this optional navigation system. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

The EcoSport’s driving dynamics would have been reason enough for almost seven and a half thousand Canadians to buy one last year, although I could understand why some might merely be smitten by its impishly cute and pudgy yet perky good looks. My third-tier SES tester wore eye-catching Lightning Blue paint and plenty of blackened trim bits (albeit not this model’s available black hood and roof decals), its sharp looking Dark Tarnish Metallic-painted 17-inch alloy wheels worthy of multiple backward glances on their own.

This said its interior colour combination was downright bizarre when factoring in my tester’s exterior paint choice, its mostly Ebony Black theme not an issue yet its copper metallic-painted trim (more suited to the EcoSport’s similar Canyon Ridge exterior colour) quite obviously chosen by a team of colour-blind product managers. I would’ve preferred a similar blue to the exterior or even simple silver/white/grey highlights, but they didn’t ask. The partial leather seat upholstery includes copper orange stripes on the stain resistant ActiveX cloth inserts for continuity’s sake, so therefore if you don’t like it, don’t buy the SES (although new versions of the SUV are said to include grey seat stripes and silver trim, so maybe those aforementioned Ford product planners were reading my mind when I was initially put off by their odd colour combining).

2019 Ford EcoSport 2.0 SES
Orange overkill? Yah, we thought so, but the EcoSport’s dual-clutch automatic is great fun. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

This would mean forgoing its sport-tuned suspension and 17-inch alloys, however, not to mention those aforementioned steering wheel-mounted paddles, plus rain-sensing wipers, an auto-dimming rearview mirror, blind spot monitoring, an 8.0-inch centre infotainment display with Ford’s Sync 3 touchscreen interface, a very accurate navigation system (that worked flawlessly during my test), decent sounding seven-speaker audio (that could use more bass response), and a handy household-style 110-volt power outlet, but many of these items can be found in the even fancier Titanium model if you really must have them.

The Sync 3 infotainment system remains very good considering how long it’s been available, making the EcoSport as up-to-date as most others in this class. Other than the extras noted, its features include the usual tablet/smartphone-style tap, swipe and pinch gesture capability (the latter especially useful when adjusting the map’s scale), Android Auto and Apple CarPlay smartphone integration, easy Bluetooth connectivity for phone use and streaming audio, voice activation, 4G LTE Wi-Fi hotspot capability, and of course the ability to play AM, FM and satellite radio. Speaking of satellite, Sirius Travel Link is included too, plus plenty of apps, while it’s all laid out in a convenient tile design with wonderful white on light blue graphics that are easy on the eyes. Ford will probably want to update the look of its Sync interface at some point, just to offer something different, but it certainly doesn’t need to.

2019 Ford EcoSport 2.0 SES
The partial leather seats in this SES model are very comfortable and the seating position was good. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

My SES tester was missing dual-zone automatic climate control, but single-zone auto HVAC systems are often as good as it gets in this segment, and its front seats are only four-way manually adjustable, another inconvenience that I didn’t particularly care about. They were inherently comfortable and supportive, plus I fit in well thanks in part to good reach from the tilt and telescopic steering wheel, making the EcoSport a winner ergonomically.

It’s roomy too, especially for tall folks. Both front and rear seats are generously accommodating, just leave the centre seatbelt in back unoccupied when four large adults are onboard. Likewise, the cargo compartment is pretty spacious thanks to 592 litres (20.9 cubic feet) of room behind the 60/40-split rear seatbacks and 1,415 litres (50.0 cu ft) when they’re laid down, but the resulting load floor is nowhere near as flat and useful as most rivals, let alone the segment’s most innovative Honda HR-V.

2019 Ford EcoSport 2.0 SES
The rear seating area is quite spacious for a subcompact SUV. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

Worse, Ford limited the ease of the EcoSport’s cargo carrying access by installing a side-swinging door, and one that squeaked annoyingly to boot. I can’t say for sure it was the door making the irritating noise, because the commotion occurred while driving, not when opening or closing it, but the squeaking sound came from the general direction of the rear door, and it’s certainly a heavy beast that puts a lot of weight on its side-mounted hinges. In fact, it was so noisy while driving slowly over bumpy pavement that it seemed as though the EcoSport was about to break apart.

At least it opens on the correct side for North American markets, unlike some others (Jeep Wrangler) that make loading from curbside near impossible, let alone dangerous if forced to step out into traffic with arms full. It opens easily due to gas struts, but you’ll need a lot of space behind in order to swing it out, so if someone happens to park too close while you’re shopping you’ll be out of luck when returning. No, give me the shelter from inclement weather that hatchbacks provide, plus their ease of use, and I’d be a lot happier. Is this a deal killer? I imagine it could be for some people, hence why no other subcompact SUV in our market swings its rear door from the side anymore (the last one to do so was the Nissan Cube, need I say more).

2019 Ford EcoSport 2.0 SES
A side-swinging cargo door? This anachronism is now an anomaly in almost any class. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

Another complaint could be interior refinement, not because of poor workmanship, but more so because it only includes a soft-touch dash top, the padded armrests being the only other pliable composite surfaces. I can live with that if you can, but some others do a better job of pampering with padded stitched leather-like instrument panel bolsters, soft front door uppers, and other niceties. At least the EcoSport’s soft synthetic dash top bends downward to the horizontal halfway mark of the instrument panel, while the rubbery surface treatment covers most of the primary gauge cluster hood too, the gauges below quite nice thanks to a large multi-info display and bright blue backlit needles.

2019 Ford EcoSport 2.0 SES
The EcoSport’s cargo area is quite roomy. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

Speaking of those stylish pointers, while bringing it back to Ford’s press fleet operators I noticed the gas gauge had somehow dropped nearly a quarter tank from full after a 20 minute commute. Normally this trip wouldn’t affect the gas gauge at all, but nevertheless I decided to top it up at the closest station to where I was dropping it off. I gave the cashier $5 thinking it would be enough, but after just $2 the pump clicked off, and when I tried to squeeze in a bit more it spilled over. After cleaning that off the paint, getting my change and slipping back into the driver’s seat I noticed the gauge was still pointing to three quarters, showing it’s not very accurate.

To summarize (finally), Ford’s EcoSport does a good job of bridging the gap between economy and performance, and therefore lives up to its bipolar name. It’s comfortable, extremely roomy, well equipped, and fairly stylish (if not a bit dated looking) inside and out, with my particular example’s annoying squeaking, and the model’s less than convenient rear cargo access, being its only negatives. Once again, the latter issue has obviously not been an issue for thousands of Canadian subcompact SUV buyers, so it might not be a problem for you, especially when factoring in the generous discounts available to those buying the 2019 model that’s already priced well.

With an all-new 2020 Escape already showing up at Canada’s blue-oval dealerships, it’s time to say goodbye to a third-generation Escape that’s been with us since 2013. The version seen here was…

2019 Ford Escape Titanium 2.0L Ecoboost Road Test

2019 Ford Escape Titanium 2.0L Ecoboost
We can say goodbye to the 2017-2019 Escape’s generally handsome design now that an all-new model has arrived for 2020. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

With an all-new 2020 Escape already showing up at Canada’s blue-oval dealerships, it’s time to say goodbye to a third-generation Escape that’s been with us since 2013. The version seen here was dramatically refreshed to look more like its larger Edge sibling for 2017, and it’s served its many owners well since then.

Of course, with a redesign arriving there’s opportunity to save money on the outgoing 2019 model, and being that it’s still so very good, and that plenty of Ford retailers still have various trims new in stock, you may want to consider your options. At the time of writing, CarCostCanada was reporting $1,200 in additional incentives over and above any personal discount you can work out with your friendly local sales manager, which is a great conversation starter you can back up further by knowing the 2019 Escape’s actual dealer invoice price before arriving at the dealership. The best way to do this is by going to CarCostCanada where you can also discover the various features and prices of each trim, options package and individual upgrade. You can also check out pricing and features for the new 2020 Escape and even last year’s 2018 model, making CarCostCanada a vital resource when buying a new vehicle.

2019 Ford Escape Titanium 2.0L Ecoboost
Changes to rear styling were more subtle for 2017, with Ford choosing to keep its attractive design mostly intact. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

The top-line 2019 Escape Titanium you’re looking at has changed one iota since introduced in 2016, as witnessed by my 2017 Ford Escape Titanium AWD Road Test, a compact crossover SUV that was virtually identical to this new one, even down to its Ingot Silver exterior colour. Don’t worry, as smart as silver or white is for resale values (more people buy these shades than any other), Ford offers this 2019 model in seven additional colours, with some of the standard no-cost hues even quite vibrant such as Sedona Orange and Lightning Blue, while $450 Ruby Red and $550 White Platinum look downright rich.

2019 Ford Escape Titanium 2.0L Ecoboost
The Titanium gets exclusive use of these HID headlamps with LED signature lighting. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

I can’t say I liked this 2017-2019 grille design as much as its 2013-2016 predecessor, which was totally unique and even futuristic looking when it debuted. I remember how taken aback I was, not sure what to think initially yet warming up to it quickly enough, so that it quickly became my favourite small SUV. I understand why Ford changed up the look, both from a prospective customer’s need for something new and a requirement to visually align its SUV lineup, but for reasons not necessarily related to styling the Escape has lost a little ground to the now top-selling Toyota RAV4 and Honda CR-V in recent years.

2019 Ford Escape Titanium 2.0L Ecoboost
These 18-inch alloys are unique to Titanium trim, but the fog lamps get pulled up from below. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Only four years ago the Escape was number one in this class, a position it had held for years. In fact, look back a bit further and the Escape nearly doubled annual sales of the RAV4 and CR-V, but it’s been on a steady slide downhill since this refresh, from a high of 52,198 units in 2014 to 47,726 in 2015, the last time it topped the category, falling to 46,661 deliveries in 2016 when the RAV4 leapt to number one, and then 47,880 sales in 2017 when both the RAV4 and CR-V passed the 50,000 threshold. The two Japanese branded SUVs kept luring in more and more new customers in 2018 when each models’ sales neared 55k, but the Escape only managed 43,587 deliveries that year, while at the close of September 2019 the Escape only pulled in 30,817 new buyers to the CR-V’s 43,464 and RAV4’s 49,473, the redesigned Toyota on target for another record year.

2019 Ford Escape Titanium 2.0L Ecoboost
These great looking taillights were redesigned for the 2017-2019 model. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

While this 2019 Escape is starting to show its age, especially when put beside that new RAV4 and the entirely new 2020 Escape that Ford hopes will inspire its once loyal customer base to come back to the domestic brand, it’s still a very good compact SUV that can be had for considerable savings. You won’t have your choice of colours, while available trims will come down to what’s left in stock, but with such a wide variety to choose from there’s bound to be something you’ll like.

At the start of this 2019 model year the Escape was available in base $26,399 S trim, as a $29,349 SE and $30,849 SEL, the latter designation added this year, and finally top-line $37,699 Titanium. The Titanium comes standard with all-wheel drive, while the SE and SEL can be had with AWD for an extra $1,500, and the S is only available in front-wheel drive.

2019 Ford Escape Titanium 2.0L Ecoboost
Despite its years, the Escape Titanium provides a nicely finished cabin with up-to-date electronics. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

If this wasn’t confusing enough, the Escape offers the choice of three gasoline-fueled four-cylinder engines, and strangely not one of them is electrified despite this model being first to market an SUV hybrid. The base model labours forward with Ford’s dozen-year-old 2.5-litre mill making 168 horsepower and 170 lb-ft of torque, which are respectable numbers for a base model, but most Escape buyers will pay a bit more for one of the brand’s turbocharged Ecoboost engines, the 1.5-litre making 179 horsepower and 177 lb-ft of torque and standard in SE and SEL trims, and the 2.0-litre version good for a very spirited 245 horsepower and 275 lb-ft of torque, this one standard with as-tested Titanium trim and available with the SE and SEL. So as you can likely imagine, just what you’ll find at your local Ford retailer will be anyone’s guess, although if you’ve got your heart set on a particular trim powered by a specific engine they can phone around to other dealers on your behalf.

2019 Ford Escape Titanium 2.0L Ecoboost
The driving position is excellent, and controls fall easily to hands and feet. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

At least the Escape’s sole six-speed SelectShift automatic makes your choice of transmission easier, which is two speeds less impressive than the new 2020 model’s eight-speed automatic, but the outgoing gearbox is proven reliable and certainly capable enough when fitted to either Ecoboost engine. The 2020 Escape will get the 1.5-litre turbo-four as standard equipment, with auto start-stop technology no less, which shuts the engine off when it would otherwise be idling, while the 2.0-litre continues to provide a performance option in a compact SUV class that’s in dire need of some excitement.

2019 Ford Escape Titanium 2.0L Ecoboost
Sporty motorcycle-style enclosures shield the primary instruments from outside light, while a large multi-info display remains one of the best in this class. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Speaking of drivetrain options, the long lost Escape Hybrid I previously complained about not being available is finally back for 2020, which is great news for those willing and able to spend more for better air quality, let alone saving some money on fuel.

While Ford isn’t providing fuel economy numbers for the new 2020 Escape just yet, the 2019 model does quite well in all trims. The 1.5-litre is the best choice for those on a budget, with the FWD version achieving a claimed 10.2 L/100km in the city, 7.8 on the highway and 9.1 combined rating, and that engine with AWD good for an estimated 11.2 city, 8.4 highway and 9.9 combined. The FWD-only base S, on the other hand, does pretty well despite its age with a rating of 11.0 city, 8.0 highway and 9.6 combined, and finally the top-tier AWD-only Titanium is extremely thrifty considering all the performance available, with a claimed rating of 11.5 city, 8.7 highway and 10.2 combined.

2019 Ford Escape Titanium 2.0L Ecoboost
Ford’s Sync 3 infotainment system is still very good, providing quick response to input and loads of top-tier features. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Looking past the 2019 model’s aging body style and just as classic interior design, its quality of materials, fit and finish, and general goodness is hard to argue against. Even its electronic interfaces are better than a number of more recently redesigned competitors, its primarily analogue gauge cluster filled with a very crisp, clear and colourful high-resolution multi-information display at centre, and its centre stack-mounted Sync 3 infotainment touchscreen soldiering on as one of the more graphically attractive and easy to use, not to mention wholly functional. It’s incorporated Android Auto and Apple CarPlay smartphone integration longer than most rival systems, while its navigation/route guidance is amongst the sector’s more accurate, the system’s tap, pinch, and swipe gesture controls working ideally with the nicely detailed map, and dynamic guideline-equipped backup camera easy on the eyes. There’s much more to it, such as Bluetooth streaming audio, mobile apps, voice control, a WiFi hotspot, 911 assist, etcetera, so only those looking for premium-level options like overhead surround cameras and Near Field Communication (NFC) short-range wireless connectivity will find themselves wanting.

2019 Ford Escape Titanium 2.0L Ecoboost
The route guidance system is accurate and easy to input, while you can use the touchscreen’s tap, swipe and pinch gesture controls to adjust the map. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

The centre display provides all the expected audio functions too, like AM/FM/satellite radio plus MP3 and WMA compatibility, but no HD radio, although the 10-speaker Sony system it all plays through is very good for this class. Some quick access controls sit on an angled interface just below the touchscreen, this just above a large user-friendly dual-zone automatic climate control panel, all the kind of premium equipment expected in a luxury brand, and the Escape’s top-tier Titanium trim line. Still, compared to some competitors that have digitized these controls under touch sensitive interfaces, the Escape’s look pretty dated, but a tiny pull switch for engaging the electromechanical parking brake makes it clear that Ford did everything it could to keep this model current.

2019 Ford Escape Titanium 2.0L Ecoboost
The dual-zone auto HVAC interface looks a bit dated, but no fear as the new 2020 version is wholly modernized. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Advancements in mind, my tester featured a $2,500 optional Safe and Smart + Roof Package including a panoramic sunroof, rain-sensing wipers, automatic high beams, adaptive cruise control, forward collision warning with automatic brake support, blind spot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert, plus lane departure warning with lane keeping assist. A number of these features are also available as part of a separate package in the two mid-range trims, so you don’t need to go full tilt with a Titanium model in order to benefit from these advanced driver assistive systems.

2019 Ford Escape Titanium 2.0L Ecoboost
The electric parking brake is a bit of modernity next to this old school six-speed automatic gearbox. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

I’m not going to bother going into each and every standard and optional feature with this SUV, because as explained earlier it’s now a WYSIWYG affair, but over and above everything already mentioned this Titanium includes 18-inch alloy wheels, HID headlights with LED signature lighting, a heatable steering wheel, leather upholstery, an auto-dimming centre mirror, front parking sensors, a 110-volt household-style power outlet, a foot gesture-controlled hands-free liftgate and plenty more, while highlights pulled up from lesser trims include extra chrome exterior trim, a leather-wrapped steering wheel, a powered liftgate, rear parking sensors and more from the SEL; fog lamps, body-colour exterior details, proximity-sensing keyless access with pushbutton ignition, Ford’s exclusive keyless entry keypad, one-touch up/down power windows all around, a 10-way power-adjustable driver’s seat, dual-zone auto HVAC, heated front seats plus more from the SE; and finally auto on/off headlamps, a windshield wiper de-icer, remote engine start, keyless remote entry, MyKey, variable intermittent wipers, powered windows, air conditioning, an overhead console with sunglasses holder, SOS Post-Crash Alert System, all the usual airbags including one for the driver’s knees, and much more from the base S model.

2019 Ford Escape Titanium 2.0L Ecoboost
The driver’s seat is comfortable and easy to set up for maximum comfort and control. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Some Escape Titanium materials quality highlights include a mostly soft-touch dash top that nicely wraps all the way around the infotainment controls before crossing over to the front door uppers. The door inserts and armrests are nicely padded too, as is the centre armrest/bin lid, while at least the mid-door panel niceties extend into the rear seating area as well, but that’s about it for soft synthetic pampering. Ford spiffs up the instrument panel with some piano black lacquered trim that extends across the dash and down each side of the centre stack, while a tasteful assortment of aluminized accents added a bit of brightness to my tester’s mostly black cabin, but other than a touch of blue and red for the temperature controls, the lovely aqua blue needles within the gauge cluster, the dark blue and sky blue backgrounds used for the multi-info display and centre touchscreen respectively, this Escape won’t exactly stimulate one’s colour-craved senses.

2019 Ford Escape Titanium 2.0L Ecoboost
The panoramic sunroof is optional, but well worth the extra coin. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

The leather upholstery is nice, and features what looks like cream-coloured contrast stitching, while the driver’s seat is plenty comfortable and the SUV’s driving position much better than some others in this class. In fact, I’d call its ergonomics excellent thanks to a tilt and telescopic steering column with enough rearward reach to make my long-legged, short-torso frame feel right at home. This isn’t always the case, as anyone who reads my reviews regularly will know, but you’ll be hard pressed to find a competitor with as much driver adjustment as this Escape. Visibility is excellent all-round too.

2019 Ford Escape Titanium 2.0L Ecoboost
Rear seat roominess, comfort and amenities are good, although we would’ve liked heated outboard seats. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

The rear seating area is spacious and reasonably comfortable too, especially if positioned in the outboard window seats, but take note you don’t exactly sit in the seats, but rather on top of them, and there’s not much lateral support at all. Fortunately, taller teens will have no problem fitting in thanks to reclining seatbacks, while the folding armrest at centre improves comfort and provides a place for drinks. Rear ventilation can be found on the backside of the front console, where the aforementioned 110-volt outlet features a more useful three-pronged socket. I was surprised not to see heatable seats in back, especially in this top-of-the-line model, but those wanting such luxuries can ante up for Lincoln’s MKC, soon to be renamed Corsair, which is basically a 2019 Escape Titanium with more glitz and glamour.

2019 Ford Escape Titanium 2.0L Ecoboost
A three-prong household-style 110-volt power outlet is a nice surprise in back. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

The rear hatch powers up out of the way via foot-activated gesture control as noted earlier, revealing a sizeable 964 litres (34.0 cubic feet) of cargo space behind the 60/40-split rear seatbacks, or 1,925 litres (68.0 cu ft) when these are lowered. I’d prefer a 40/20/40-split, or even a centre pass-through to provide room for longer items like skis down the middle while rear passengers enjoy the more comfortable and scenic window seats, but such configurations are rare outside of the premium sector, so this can hardly be seen as a deal-breaker. Ford doesn’t include any mechanisms for automatically folding the rear seats down while loading in cargo either, unlike some rivals, but on the positive a flap drops down to cover the gap between seatbacks and cargo floor so smaller items don’t slip between the cracks, so to speak, and the expanded cargo area does provide a fairly flat load floor.

2019 Ford Escape Titanium 2.0L Ecoboost
There’s plenty of room behind the rear seats, but we would’ve liked a centre pass-through. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Before it starts sounding like I’m beating up on this poor old Escape, the fact of the matter is it remains a very good compact crossover SUV with the best performance in its class by far. Its arguably old school transmission might be short a couple of gears compared to some competitors (and its own replacement), but it goes about its business with a level of smooth refinement that would make a JATCO engineer proud, although my tester’s steering wheel-mounted paddle shifters combined with a manual mode affecting real gears makes it a lot more enjoyable to drive than most competitors that are now using continuously variable transmissions (hence the JATCO reference, which is one of the world’s largest suppliers of CVTs). The Escape’s shifts are comparatively crisp and quick, resulting in a much more engaging experience than any of its top challengers, all of which use CVTs.

2019 Ford Escape Titanium 2.0L Ecoboost
The Escape is generous with cargo room with all seats folded, plus the load floor is nice and flat. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

On this sportiness theme, a slightly firmer suspension means the Escape Titanium isn’t the smoothest riding model in its compact SUV class. It’s hardly rough or uncomfortable, but you’ll notice each bump and road imperfection in a fairly pronounced manner, unlike a RAV4 or CR-V that better isolate driver and passengers, but keep in mind the Escape Titanium’s more capable driving dynamics will have you smiling at speed on a winding back road. Of note, all Escapes incorporate torque-vectoring control and Curve Control that senses if you’re going to fast when entering a corner and, if so, automatically slows you down via throttle reduction and anti-lock braking.

2019 Ford Escape Titanium 2.0L Ecoboost
Those wanting to save money on a very good compact SUV will be served well by the 2019 Escape. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

That pretty well sums up the 2019 Escape, particularly in Titanium trim. It remains a solid competitor that’s stood the test of time because it was well conceived in the first place, and would be a good choice for someone who’d rather save money than be seen in the most modern compact SUV currently available. I can’t say whether or not its replacement will be worth paying more for as I haven’t even sat in it, but it make gains mechanically and now offers a hybrid, plus its infotainment systems appear to have made a step upward as well. This is important, because it will need to last for six years as well if Ford plans to follow its past upgrade schedule, which is one year longer than its main rivals. Now we’ll have to see how well it does against the RAV4, CR-V and an ever-improving crop of compact SUVs.

If you like the current Ford Explorer, or more accurately the outgoing Explorer, now is the time to act. The version I’m referring to is the unabashedly Range Rover-inspired fifth-generation introduced…

2019 Ford Explorer Limited 4×4 Road Test

2019 Ford Explorer Limited 4x4
This 2019 Explorer is the last of a breed, the redesigned 2020 model currently ushering in a new era for Ford’s ultra-popular mid-size SUV. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

If you like the current Ford Explorer, or more accurately the outgoing Explorer, now is the time to act. The version I’m referring to is the unabashedly Range Rover-inspired fifth-generation introduced in 2010 for the 2011 model year, and it’s now being replaced by an entirely new 2020 model that’s quickly making this well-seasoned SUV sort of forgettable, just like most ground-up redesigns of decade-old vehicles do. 

Let’s be reasonable, the sport utility on this page isn’t exactly a spring chicken, so it was beyond time to send it to pasture. What’s more, it rides on the Ford D4 platform that dates back to the 2004 Five Hundred/Taurus family sedan (a low point for the once-great designer J Mays, the Five Hundred looking geriatric when it was brand knew) and 2007 Freestyle/Taurus X (I was on the private Five Hundred unveiling as part of a Mercury event, and the Five Hundred and Freestyle launch trips), and that D4 architecture actually dates back to the 1999 Volvo S80 (P2 architecture), introduced the year before (Ford purchased Volvo in 1999). The D4 has served blue oval product planners very well since then, underpinning a couple of US-only Mercurys (RIP), the Lincoln MKS and MKT, and Ford’s Flex. 

2019 Ford Explorer Limited 4x4
Three mid-cycle updates have kept the fifth-generation Explorer fresh throughout its nine-year tenure. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Despite its age the 2019 Explorer remains a very handsome and mostly up-to-date SUV. As its styling has developed over the years, it has taken on more Ford DNA and eschewed its once copycat Range Rover look, which is a good thing as it was important for the American brand to proudly display its own identity rather than aping a premium image pulled from a brand once owned. I particularly like the look of this Limited model, as it’s chrome-enhanced exterior features large 20-inch alloys and plenty of other styling upgrades, yet it’s still less optioned out when compared to its pricier siblings, making its design ideally clean and elegant. 

2019 Ford Explorer Limited 4x4
Last year’s styling update nicely revised the front fascia. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

This generation of Explorer has served Ford and ultimately its loyal owner base well throughout its nine-year tenure, with a number of exterior styling updates, new powertrains, and improved infotainment interfaces keeping it fresh and modern. Every time I spend a week with one I’m reminded why it’s so incredibly popular, with Canadian sales consistently in the top three or four amongst mid-size SUVs and number one as far as three-row entries go, but despite looking good, delivering strong performance, and providing all the features buyers in this class expect, it’s starting to show its age in other ways, particularly some of the rubberized soft-touch and harder composite materials chosen inside. 

2019 Ford Explorer Limited 4x4
LED signature lamps enhance the look of the headlamp clusters, which also feature LED low beams. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

The 2019 Explorer shown on this page looks identical to last year’s refreshed 2018 model, that version a subtler styling update of the more comprehensive 2016 mid-cycle makeover. Of course, Ford changed up the wheels and plenty of features since then, but it’s pretty much the same under the skin. 

Three engines are available, starting with Ford’s standard 2.3-litre Ecoboost that makes a healthy 280 horsepower and 310 lb-ft of torque, this turbocharged four-cylinder followed up by a 3.5-litre Ti-VCT V6 good for 290 horsepower and 255 lb-ft of torque for $1,000 extra (interestingly the opposite of last year’s powertrain lineup that made this comparatively old-school V6 standard), its advantage being towing capacity that moves up from 2,000 pounds standard and 3,000 lbs maximum (907 and 1,360 kilos), depending on the inclusion of its Class II tow package or not, to 2,000 and 5,000 lbs (907 and 2,268 kilos), the latter with its Class III trailering upgrade, which are the same tow ratings given to the top-line turbocharged 3.5-litre Ecoboost that turns this family workhorse into a fiery thoroughbred thanks to 365 horsepower and 350 lb-ft of torque. 

2019 Ford Explorer Limited 4x4
All trims include LED taillights. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

My tester was trimmed out in $46,034 Limited grade, one above the new base XLT that now starts at $39,448 (last year’s no-name front-drive base model is history, along with its more affordable $34,899 entry price), these two versions offering the first two engine choices, whereas $49,683 Sport and $55,379 Platinum trims come solely with the more formidable powertrain (check out CarCostCanada for all 2019 Ford Explorer pricing including trims, packages and individual options, plus available rebates and dealer invoice pricing that could save you thousands). 

2019 Ford Explorer Limited 4x4
Ford’s handy SecuriCode entry keypad let’s you leave your keys in the car when at the beach or out for a hike, and get back inside with a passcode. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Fortunately for me and my wallet Ford left my tester with its base powertrain, its standard engine providing good economy at 13.1 L/100km in the city, 9.2 on the highway and 11.4 combined, which is great for such a large, capable and powerful SUV, and much better than the normally aspirated V6 engine’s rating of 14.5 city, 10.6 highway and 12.7 combined, and infinitely easier on the budget than the V6 Ecoboost’s V8-like 15.2, 10.9 and 13.2 respectively. You’ll need to fill it with 93-octane premium fuel to achieve those numbers with both Ecoboost engines, by the way, but not so with the lesser V6, so real-life running costs between the base and mid-range engines are probably very close. 

2019 Ford Explorer Limited 4x4
The Explorer’s interior isn’t quite up to the refinement levels of some rivals, but it’s still very good and well equipped. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Before you start comparing the Explorer’s base fuel economy with its challengers you’ll need to factor in that this SUV now comes standard with Ford’s Intelligent 4WD, not front-wheel drive like it used to in Canada, and most competitors still do. Along with its standard 4WD, the Explorer also features the domestic brand’s Range Rover-like Terrain System that manages all types of on- and off-road surfaces, simply by its driver turning a console-mounted dial. Not a serious 4×4 like Ford’s own full-size Expedition, the Explorer nevertheless is quite capable over light- and even medium-duty trails by using its Snow, Gravel, Grass Mode, Sand Mode, or Mud, Rut Mode terrain management selections, optimized by standard Hill Descent Control and the SUV’s regular traction and stability control systems, while default Normal Mode is optimal for everyday use. 

2019 Ford Explorer Limited 4x4
The cockpit is nicely laid out, plus spacious and comfortable. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Off-road capability in mind, the Explorer rides higher than most crossover SUVs in the mid-size segment, feeling more like a true truck-based utility, yet as mentioned earlier in this review it’s based on a regular unibody platform architecture. This helps it maintain a tight, rigid body structure, something that’s noticeable as soon as bumps, dips and other road surface irregularities try to impede forward momentum, the result of Ford’s fine tuning over the years, as well as its inherently stable independent front strut and rear multi-link suspension design that comes complete with a 32-mm stabilizer bar up front and a 22-mm one in the rear, all providing an excellent balance of ride quality and handling. 

2019 Ford Explorer Limited 4x4
The gauge cluster gets one large colour multi-info display per side. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

The as-tested Explorer Limited is no lightweight, hitting the scales at 2,066 kg (4,556 lbs) despite only harnessing its base 2.3-litre Ecoboost, but the previously noted thrust and twist figures make for a powerful punch off the line, and the sole six-speed automatic transmission is certainly a good match to the engine, not to mention much more proven than all the new eight-, nine- and even 10-speed autoboxes showing up on the market these days; the redesigned 2020 Explorer getting the latter. I found the six-speed shifted smoothly and positively, aided by a thumb rocker switch on the shift knob for manual mode, and therefore I’d have no problem with its performance for reliability tradeoff. 

2019 Ford Explorer Limited 4x4
There’s certainly nothing wrong with the Explorer’s on-screen electronics. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Comfort is one of the Explorer’s greatest assets, and it comes with room to spare. It seats seven in standard trim or six with its second-row captain’s chairs, the latter providing an easy passageway for kids to climb through, which can be helpful if you’ve got a child strapped into a booster or safety seat. My tester seated three abreast comfortably in the second row, the outboard positions benefiting from two-way heatable cushions with switchgear located on the backside of the front centre console next to a manual HVAC interface, two USB charge ports and a three-prong household-style 110-volt socket, while each 60/40-split side of seats flip forward almost completely out of the way when needing to access the third row. The two rearmost passengers should be comfortable enough unless particularly tall, with my five-foot-eight frame finding room enough in all directions. 

2019 Ford Explorer Limited 4x4
The centre stack features a large, bright and colourful touchscreen display with great graphics and loads of functionality. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Those 50/50 split folding third-row seats can be lowered into the deep luggage well via available power controls on the cargo wall, and they stow much like they would in a high-end minivan (something Ford no longer sells), while the second-row seats need to be manually lowered via the rear side doors. When completely laid flat the Explorer’s cargo capacity expands from 595 litres (21.0 cubic feet) behind the third row, or 1,240 litres (43.9 cubic feet) behind the second row, to a maximum of 2,313 litres (81.7 cubic feet) behind the first row. That’s pretty sizeable, and easily on par with most three-row competitors. 

2019 Ford Explorer Limited 4x4
The navigation system is very accurate and easy to use. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Back up front, the Explorer Limited’s 10-way powered driver’s seat should be comfortable for the majority of body types, with a good inherent design and plenty of adjustments including four-way powered lumbar support and memory. The powered steering column provides plenty of reach, which allowed me to set up my driving position for optimal comfort and control, while the majority of buttons, knobs and switches across the instrument panel and console were within easy reach. 

2019 Ford Explorer Limited 4x4
Limited trim includes a 7-speaker Sony audio system that sounds great. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

The centre touchscreen comes filled with Ford’s excellent Sync 3 infotainment interface. Its white and black (and sometimes maroon) on light blue graphics continue to look fresh and attractive, and it remains fairly fast reacting if not the highest in resolution compared to some newer systems in more recently updated models offered by competitors as well as Ford itself, such as the new 2020 Explorer. Still, despite its matte display, which helps limit fingerprint smudges, it’s bright and clear, unlike some rival interfaces that are so washed out you can’t see any details on a sunny day due to glare. For instance, I found it near impossible to read a 2019 Toyota Highlander’s centre display in certain lighting conditions (which incidentally was not yet equipped with Toyota’s latest Entune system), and it became even worse when wearing my polarized sunglasses. In the Explorer this is not a problem. 

2019 Ford Explorer Limited 4x4
The six-speed automatic transmission can be manually shifted via this rocker switch on the shift knob. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

The quality of all Explorer switchgear is certainly up to par with others this class too, some of it actually quite special. The rotating audio dial, for instance, features knurled metal-look edging that gives it a premium appearance and feel, while I was also impressed with the woodgrain trim’s density, this spanning the dash and each door panel, and I love the way the satin-finish aluminum accents wrap around the wood before butting up against each piece of door trim. It would’ve been better if said sections of decorative dash and door inlays matched up with each other, these pieces not aligned properly during assembly (see photos 28 and 29 in the gallery), but Ford should get kudos for the quality of materials and overall design just the same (you can request that your dealer properly hangs the doors at the point of sale, so all the interior trim bits line up better). 

2019 Ford Explorer Limited 4x4
Ford’s Terrain System let’s you choose an optimal setting to tackle all types of road and trail surfaces. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

The woodgrain and metallic trim is standard, while over and above features already mentioned the base XLT also comes with LED signature lighting around the otherwise automatic LED low-beam headlamps, plus LED fog lamps, LED taillights, 18-inch alloy wheels on 245/60 all-season tires, silver roof rails, Ford’s Easy Fuel capless refueling filler, remote engine start, proximity keyless access with pushbutton ignition, Ford’s SecuriCode entry keypad, MyKey, forward and reverse parking sensors, a leather-wrapped multi-function steering wheel, a leather-clad shift knob, an eight-way powered driver’s seat, heated front seats, an auto-dimming rearview mirror, Ford’s Sync 3 infotainment with a rearview camera, seven-speaker AM/FM/MP3 audio with satellite radio, FordPass Connect with a Wi-Fi Hotspot, a media hub with a smart-charging USB and four 12-volt power points (two in the first row, one in the second row, and one in the cargo area), filtered dual-zone automatic temperature control, blind spot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert, and much more. 

2019 Ford Explorer Limited 4x4
The seats are large, comfortable and very adjustable. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Also standard is an amply strong body shell and enough safety equipment to achieve an NHTSA 5-star crash safety rating, while Ford also offers a new (last year) $1,000 Safe and Smart Package that includes rain-sensing wipers, automatic high beams, adaptive cruise control, forward collision warning with brake support, and lane-keeping assist. 

2019 Ford Explorer Limited 4x4
The dual-pane panoramic sunroof really opens up the interior. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Ford added the Safe and Smart Package to my Limited tester, which otherwise gets upgraded with a fair bit of extra chrome trim outside, two-inch larger 20-inch alloys on 255/50 rubber, power-folding side mirrors with integrated LED turn signals, ambient interior lighting, a heatable steering wheel rim, a powered tilt and telescopic steering column, a universal garage door opener, standard perforated leather upholstery featuring three-way forced ventilation and memory (that also controls the mirrors and steering column), a 10-way powered front passenger seat, a 180-degree split-view front parking camera, voice-activated navigation with SiriusXM Traffic and Travel Link, a hands-free foot-activated powered liftgate, great sounding 12-speaker Sony audio, the 110-volt AC power outlet, heated second-row seats, and power-folding third row I mentioned earlier, plus Ford added a $1,750 dual-pane powered panoramic sunroof overhead, all of which kept this particular Explorer below the $50k threshold, including its destination charge. 

2019 Ford Explorer Limited 4x4
Second-row seating is very roomy. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Plenty of additional options and packages are available, including a $1,500 XLT Desert Copper Package that adds special 20-inch alloys, chromed side mirrors, and black/copper leather upholstery to the entry-level XLT trim; plus the $1,600 XLT Sport Appearance Package with special “EXPLORER” block lettering on the lip of the hood, unique Magnetic Metallic-painted (black) 20-inch rims, additional exterior accents painted in the Magnetic Metallic hue, black roof rails, “EXPLORER” embroidered front floor mats, special door trim panels with Fire Orange contrast stitching, exclusive black leather upholstery with perforated Miko inserts, Foxfire scrim and the same Fire Orange contrast stitching, etcetera. 

2019 Ford Explorer Limited 4x4
The second-row seats tumble forward for easy access to the third row. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

My Limited tester could have included a $2,900 301A package that includes the Safe and Smart Package plus a set of Multicontour front seats with Active Motion massage, enhanced active park assist, and exclusive inflatable rear outboard safety belts. 

As for aforementioned Sport trim, the much more powerful and notably sophisticated looking model replaces any exterior chrome with high-gloss black trim, including the mirror caps and door handles, plus adds a unique blackout treatment to the headlamps and taillights, while also adding its own set of black 20-inch alloys, upgrades the cabin to include perforated leather seating with red stitching and an enhanced Sony audio system with Clear Phase and Live Acoustics, while including all of the Limited trim’s features as well as the Safe and Smart Package as standard. 

2019 Ford Explorer Limited 4x4
There’s a surprising amount of room in the very back. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Lastly, top-tier Platinum trim includes everything already mentioned except for replacing all of the black trim with satin-chrome silver and adding a set of quad tailpipes to its backside, this variation on the Explorer theme being the most Range Rover-esque from a design perspective, but nevertheless a very sharp looking family hauler. The Explorer Platinum also makes the twin-panel moonroof standard, adds power-adjustable foot pedals and active park assist, plus upgrades the interior with Ash Swirl hardwood trim bordered by genuine aluminum accents as well as rich Nirvana (not the band) leather upholstery featuring micro-perforations and quilted bolsters. Also included are the massaging Multicontour front seats from the previously noted 301A package, an upgraded instrument cluster, a leather-covered instrument panel and door uppers, more leather over the door and centre console armrests, a special headliner, and active noise reduction. 

2019 Ford Explorer Limited 4x4
Cargo space is not a problem. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Certainly the Platinum would’ve been a nicer ride than my Limited-trimmed tester, but for about $6k less it was still very good looking, enjoyable to drive, fuel-efficient, loaded with luxury features, incredibly accommodating from front to back, and pretty well finished inside, give or take a couple of unaligned trim bits. 

All in all the outgoing 2019 Explorer is still a great three-row SUV that no doubt can be had for quite a bargain now that it’s life-cycle is ending and an all-new Explorer is in the midst of launching.