Until recently, the most you could pay for an Acura MDX (less destination and dealer prep fees) was $69,400 when upgraded with an optional colour, which is only $1,090 less than the technologically advanced…
The new Type S, which arrives at Canadian dealerships next month for a starting price of $79,000 ($81,500 with destination fees included), boasts plenty of upgrades worthy of the extra coin, particularly an engine that boasts 65 more horsepower and 87 lb-ft of additional torque, resulting in a total of 355 horsepower and 345 lb-ft, while the sporty new model also includes an Active Exhaust system to make it sound as quick as it goes.
The engine remains 3.0 litres in displacement, but the MDX’ 10-speed automatic transmission has been upgraded with stronger internal components, plus quicker shifting capability, and rev-matched downshifts, whereas a performance-tuned version of Acura’s Super-Handling All-Wheel Drive (SH-AWD) makes the best use of the high-performance tires below.
The upgraded MDX Type S rides on unique 21-inch twinned five-spoke rims with black painted pockets and self-sealing all-season rubber, while hidden behind those wheels are Brembo brakes incorporating large 363-mm front rotors with four-piston fixed calipers, enhancing stopping power.
Maintaining stability under braking and through the corners is an Acura-first adaptive air suspension boasting three different damping profiles specific to the Type S. Acura’s Integrated Dynamics System has been updated too, now including Type S-exclusive Sport+ and ride height-increasing Lift modes. While all this sounds ultra-sporty, keeping the family comfortable is critical in this three-row luxury SUV class, so rest assured Acura also promised “a smooth, comfortable ride” in their press release.
Those wanting even more luxury can opt for the $4,000 Ultra Package, which pushes the MDX Type S’ price up to $83,000 ($85,500 with destination). The top-tier package comes with 16-way power-adjustable front seats featuring nine massage settings, as well as quilted leather upholstery throughout, and a 1,000-watt ELS Studio 3D surround audio system infused with 25 speakers, including special LED illuminated doors speakers, PrecisionDrive carbon fibre speakers, and CenterParquet.
With respect to styling, all 2022 MDX Type S models receive a revised front fascia, which is highlighted by an open-surface Diamond Pentagon grille designed to improve engine cooling. A unique Type S-exclusive front splitter trims off the front lower section, while a special Type S rear diffuser comes filled with four exhaust outlets.
Comparisons between Kia’s Telluride and Hyundai’s Palisade are starting to sound a lot like folks my age bantering about Chevy Blazer and GMC Jimmy preferences back in the ‘70s, with some liking Chevy’s subtler grille design more than GMC’s bolder iteration, or vice versa. I hear this type of talk a lot in chats about the two South Korean SUVs, and more often than not the Telluride gets two thumbs up when it comes to styling.
To be clear, I talk more often to gents about such things than ladies, and we should all know by now how important a women’s decision is in the buying process, especially in the family-friendly three-row crossover category. This might have something to do with the Palisade outselling the Telluride by more than two to one in Canada last year, Hyundai’s numbers reaching 7,279 units compared to just 3,474 deliveries for Kia. The divide is narrowing for 2021, with Hyundai growing Palisade sales to 4,037 examples during the first two quarters, and Kia stepping up with 2,531 Telluride deliveries.
Looking at these numbers, we can’t underestimate the power of the Hyundai brand in Canada, compared to Kia which got a much later start. While Hyundai arrived here in 1984, it only took two years to enter the U.S. market. Kia, on the other hand, didn’t travel north of the 49th until 1999, a full six years after a solid head start in the U.S. Kia has certainly been gaining ground over the past 20 years, but it’s always been a case of playing catchup in both markets.
Interestingly, despite only being on the market for a bit over two years, the Telluride is already outselling the Acadia, its three-row competitor from aforementioned GMC. To clarify how significant this is, the Acadia has been on the market since 2006, giving it a 13-year advantage, while 2021 saw a bolder new face thanks to a mid-cycle refresh. To be fair to the General, the second-generation Acadia is now in its fifth year of availability, although it should also be noted that the Telluride is currently on track to beat the newest Acadia’s best year of sales. As it is right now, Kia’s largest offering is outselling a whole host of similarly sized three-row rivals, from Nissan’s Pathfinder to Subaru’s Ascent.
This said, the two Korean automakers took a different styling direction with the Telluride and Palisade than those just mentioned. They’re designs are more upright and squared off, making them appear more like traditional body-on-frame SUVs than sleek, car-like crossovers. This is even truer for the Telluride, which completes its chunky design with a rectangular front grille, squarish stacked LED headlamps, and a sharply angled lower front fascia, while its blocky side profile culminates in a similarly rectangular-shaped liftgate that’s bookended by two vertical taillights curving inward elegantly as they rise up from the rear bumper. It’s at once rugged and refined, providing a best of both worlds image that’s not unlike something from Range Rover, and just like that British icon the Telluride only gets better upon closer inspection.
Its side window trim, for instance, feels as if it’s made from highly polished billet nickel, similar in fact to Lexus’ application of its bright metal window dressing. Kia just calls it “satin chrome,” so it’s probably not made from nickel, but either way these are some of the nicest window surrounds in the industry.
Inside, the A and B pillars are fabric-wrapped with the same high-quality woven material used for my SX Limited trim’s headliner, which itself is hollowed out from dual glass sunroofs, these including a regular moonroof up front and a large panoramic one in back. The look and feel of everything above the shoulders is premium, including the overhead console that houses switchgear to open the just-noted sunroofs and their powered fabric shades, plus the LED reading lights and buttons for activating the standard UVO Intelligence connected car services and emergency assistance system. A second overhead console can be found in between the two sunroofs, this one housing larger LED dome lights as well as controls for the automatic climate system’s third zone.
Moving downward, the dash top is finished in a nice rubberized soft-touch synthetic, with what feels like real stitching, while the same pliable composite is used for the front and rear door uppers. Below these is the closest reproduction of matte finish hardwood I’ve ever seen, with a substantive density that really had me questioning whether it was real or not (I checked, it isn’t).
No shortage of satin silver trim brightens up much of the rest of the cabin, plus a reasonable amount of piano black lacquered plastic, although this inky surface treatment was only kept to the lower console. This, however, is strange, because the lower console is the most likely place to get scratched, so it would be much better for Kia to come up with a less scratch-prone surface treatment for this high-use area.
At least this central divider is bordered by stitched leatherette-wrapped grab handles for the driver and front passenger, these also housing switchgear for the three-way heated and ventilated front seats. The console itself is filled with a wireless charging pad, two USB-A ports and a 12-volt charger hidden below a pop-up door, while a leather-wrapped and skirted shift lever rests ahead of a purposeful looking metal-edged rotating Drive/Terrain mode selector, complete with Comfort, Eco, Sport, Smart, Snow, Mud and Sand modes that are capable of tackling all sorts of driving situations, while a bunch of quick-access driving function buttons surround the electromechanical parking brake lever just behind.
The rest of the Telluride’s instruments are well organized, with my SX Limited tester’s primary gauge cluster comprised of two conventional analogue dials surrounding temperature and fuel sub-dials, centered by a large comprehensive multi-information display in full colour. This MID’s most unique feature is the live projection of two rear-facing cameras that completely eliminate blind spots upon applying the turn signals. Honda and Acura have long offered a right-side camera that displays on the larger centre infotainment screen, but only in models that don’t include their lane-change warning system. Kia, on the other hand, provides both technologies simultaneously to make double sure the adjacent lane is clear from traffic. On top of this, literally, is a head-up display, exclusive to SX Limited trim.
The Telluride’s centre infotainment display is a touch-sensitive widescreen that’s wonderfully easy to use and filled with attractive graphics in a tile-style layout. You can swipe it back and forth for additional features, plus use smartphone and tablet-style pinch gestures for specific functions including the navigation map, which just happens to be the default selection on the menu’s left-side tile. Audio system info can be found on the menu’s centre tile, while Hyundai’s proprietary “Driver Talk” rear passenger communication system is set to the right, while owners can customize the tiles in system setup if this default assortment doesn’t suit their personal requirements, and believe me there’s a lot of options to choose from.
Infotainment features not yet mentioned include Android Auto and Apple CarPlay smartphone integration, a voice memo, driving info, media, and more, while just below the touchscreen is a row of satin-metallic finished quick access buttons for the navigation system’s map, route guidance setup, the radio, media functions like satellite radio and Bluetooth audio, seek and track functions, favourites, and vehicle setup. Just under this is a dual-zone automatic HVAC interface that includes some switchgear for the third rear zone, plus a button for the heatable steering wheel that would no doubt keep its leather-wrapped rim toasty warm in winter, but being that I tested this SUV mid-summer, the top of the wheel already felt as if it was on fire after being parked.
That steering wheel spokes are filled with high-quality satin-finish metal and piano black switchgear, some of which include knurled-metal rocker switches for performing functions like adjusting the audio volume to answering the phone, or applying the adaptive cruise control and using the multi-information display. Likewise, the door panel-mounted power window and mirror controls are made from high-quality materials, with good fitment and nice damping, a theme that carries through the entire cabin. The doors’ lower panels, which are made from a harder composite, feature attractive metal-rimmed Harman Kardon speaker grilles, while the sound emanating from within is even more impressive.
My SX Limited’s six-way powered driver’s seat was comfortable and its positioning superb, with plenty of rake and reach from the tilt and telescopic steering wheel, which oddly is not powered despite Kia having provided memory in this near top-tier trim (only an all-black Nightsky edition costs more, and includes all of the same features as the SX Limited). I thought maybe the top-line Hyundai Palisade would provide a powered steering column, but not so for that SUV either.
Nevertheless, the driver’s seat includes a powered lower cushion extension for comfortably cupping under the knees, plus two-way powered lumbar support that met the small of my back nicely, while the driving position is excellent as noted, this not always the case for my long-legged, short-torso frame, but I felt comfortable and fully in control at all times. The seats provide excellent lower back support and plenty of comforting padding all-round, with reasonable side bolstering too. I believe they’ll be good for most body types, plus the Telluride should be roomy enough for almost anyone.
Like most Kia models, the Telluride’s rear passengers are treated just as nicely as those up front. The finishings are much the same, with near identical door panels, other than manual window shades in back, plus other niceties are added such as leather and mesh pockets in the backsides of the front seats, hooks for a garbage bag or what-have-you, and USB-A charging ports for each rear passenger on the sides of each front seat. The rear outboard seats cool and heat in SX Limited trim too, while the backside of the front centre console provides a 12-volt charger along with a household-style 110-volt power outlet.
Look upward and you’ll see an HVAC vent directly in front of each outboard passenger, while the aforementioned overhead lights and auto climate controls are within easy reach in the middle of the ceiling.
A large, comfortable armrest, complete with dual cupholders, splits the two outboard passengers when the centre position is unoccupied, this made from the same supple Nappa leather as used for the seat surfaces throughout the interior. Making it easier to slide onto those soft leather seats is a large grab handle on the B-pillar, something not always included with competitors.
To access the third row, simply push an electronic release button on the top side of the second-row seatback, after which the entire seat automatically slides forward with plenty of room to climb inside with ease. The third row is very comfortable, with seats that wrap around one’s back and good support in the lower regions, plus this compartment is truly roomy, even when second-row passengers are given more than enough space to move around ahead. In fact, I could easily sit in the very back with room for my feet underneath the second-row seats, plus about three inches above my head and more than enough room from side-to-side, complemented by nice views through the side quarter windows, along with a separate USB-A plug and two cupholders on each side. The rearmost driver-side passenger even has an extra spot for storage, while there are separate overhead vents for each third-row occupant too, as well as some ambient lights so no one feels lost in the dark.
Additionally, the dedicated cargo area behind the rear seats is spacious at 601 litres (21.2 cu ft), and includes a section below the rigid cargo floor for stowing more items out of sight. The 60/40-split third row is easy to fold down, first by automatically dropping the headrests with pull-tabs, and then by a set of buttons on the left side of the cargo wall, just above another 12-volt charger. This opens up 1,304 litres (46 cu ft) of nearly flat cargo space, while lowering the second row provides a maximum cargo volume of 2,455 litres (86.7 cu ft). Of course, the liftgate is powered, opening quickly enough, plus Kia has even gone so far as to finish off the cargo door sill with a polished stainless-steel guard.
As you might expect, the Telluride is more about comfort than speed, and therefore all occupants will appreciate the superb ride that complements those comfortable seats I just spoke about. It’s relatively hefty at 1,970 to 2,018 kilos (4,343 to 4,449 lbs), depending on trim, but nevertheless it’s fairly quick off the line thanks to a strong 3.8-litre V6 that’s good for 291 horsepower and 262 lb-ft of torque, plus a smooth-shifting eight-speed automatic that’s quick to respond to input.
Fuel economy is not great at 12.6 L/100km in the city, 9.7 on the highway and 11.3 combined, especially when compared to the non-hybrid Toyota Highlander’s 11.8 city, 8.6 highway and 10.3 combined rating, but it’s not as thirsty as some in this class either.
On more of a positive, the Telluride handles corners well, within reason of course. Again, it’s primarily built for comfort, but can manage sharp curves with confidence and is especially poised over rough pavement and gravel, my SX Limited tester including a self-leveling rear suspension along with 20-inch alloys encircled by 245/50R20 all-season tires. Its 5,000-lb (2,268-kg) towing capacity means it’s also good for small boats and campers, always important in this family SUV sector.
Additional standard SX Limited features not yet mentioned include rain-sensing wipers and LED taillights, while items pulled up from second-rung SX trim include the just-noted 20-inch wheels, the rear portion of the aforementioned dual-pane sunroof, and the rear sunshades, plus a hot-stamped satin chrome grille, satin chrome door handles, satin chrome beltline trim, a set of high-gloss side mirror caps, anodized roof rails, silver-painted skid plates, single-to-twin exhaust tips, metal door scuff plates, metal-finished foot pedals, ambient mood lighting, the 7.0-inch Supervision LCD/TFT instrument cluster with blind-spot view monitor noted earlier (which replaces a 3.5-inch cluster display), a 360-degree surround parking monitor, front parking sensors, and the fabulous sounding Harman Kardon audio system noted before.
Lastly, some standard Telluride EX features pulled up to SX Limited trim include LED headlamps with high beam assist, LED daytime running lights and positioning lamps, LED fog lights, a solar glass windshield and solar front side windows, the aforementioned front moonroof, automatic power-folding side mirrors with integrated LED turn signals, plus the leather-clad steering wheel and shift knob noted earlier, as well as the superb faux woodgrain trim, tri-zone auto climate control with automatic defog, the 10.25-inch centre touchscreen with navigation, HD and satellite radio, the wireless charger and all of the other phone connectivity features mentioned before, a smart key with pushbutton start/stop, smart cruise control, an auto-dimming centre mirror, a HomeLink garage door opener, express up/down powered windows, and a powered liftgate.
Kia also includes a whole host of advanced safety and convenience features such as Forward Collision-Avoidance assist (FCA), Lane Follow Assist (LFA), Blind-spot Collision Avoidance Assist (BCA), Rear Cross-Traffic Collision Avoidance Assist (RCTCAA), and Highway Drive Assist (HDA), plus a Driver Attention Alert system (DAA), safe exit assist system, rear occupant alert, rear parking sensors, and seven airbags including one for the driver’s knees.
All of these standard features don’t come cheap, causing the base Telluride EX to start at a fairly lofty $46,195 plus freight and fees, but keep in mind that competitors with similar features are priced in this range, and sometimes higher. On that note, the Telluride SX can be had from $51,195, while my SX Limited tester starts at $54,695, with the blackened Nightsky edition just $1,000 more at $55,695.
Summing up the 2021 Kia Telluride, it’s not only a great looking mid-size SUV, but a good choice for those who want a premium-level experience without spending luxury brand pricing. It drives very well, delivers supreme comfort, and comes as well equipped as anything in its segment, while Kia backs up all of its new models with a class-leading five-year or 100,000 km comprehensive warranty. For these reasons and more, the new Telluride has earned its place amongst my favourite three-row SUVs, making it 100-percent worthy of your attention.
Review and photos by Trevor Hofmann
Off to a very good start, the totally redesigned 2022 Acura MDX has taken home a best-possible Top Safety Pick + rating from the U.S. Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS). The MDX garnered a…
Off to a very good start, the totally redesigned 2022 Acura MDX has taken home a best-possible Top Safety Pick + rating from the U.S. Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS).
The MDX garnered a Top Safety Pick + ranking by achieving “GOOD” ratings in all its crashworthiness tests, including the demanding passenger-side small overlap test. The MDX also earned a “SUPERIOR” rating for its Collision Mitigation Braking System (CMBS), plus “GOOD” for its standard JewelEye LED headlamps.
A full assortment of standard AcuraWatch advanced driver assistive and automated safety technologies allowed the MDX to earn such high marks, including the just-noted CMBS, plus Adaptive Cruise Control with Low-Speed Follow and Road Departure Mitigation.
Acura is already offering up to $1,000 in additional incentives on the new 2022 MDX, while CarCostCanada members purchasing new 2020 models (no 2021 model was offered) are experiencing average savings of more than $6,000. The Japanese luxury brand is also offering factory leasing and financing rates from zero percent on 2020 models.
Find out how a CarCostCanada membership can save you thousands when purchasing your next new vehicle, by informing you about all the latest manufacturer offers, and by providing you with dealer invoice pricing that can keep thousands in your wallet when it comes time to negotiate your deal. Also, make sure to download their free app, so you can always have the most critical car buying info close at hand in order to save as much money as possible.
Story credits: Trevor Hofmann
Photo credits: Acura
The health crisis has caused mayhem in many industries, and while the auto sector hasn’t been hit as hard as travel and hospitality, it’s definitely taken its toll. This reality, while bad for many…
The health crisis has caused mayhem in many industries, and while the auto sector hasn’t been hit as hard as travel and hospitality, it’s definitely taken its toll. This reality, while bad for many manufacturers and their independent retailers, poses some opportunity for those that want to make a deal.
Many Volkswagen dealers, in fact, have new, non-demo 2019 models available. Yes, I realize we’re entering the 2021 model year, and even the “peoples’ car” brand is advertising 2021 versions of its cars, but that doesn’t change the fact that many 2019 vehicles remain unsold.
Believe it or not, one of such vehicles is the mid-size three-row Atlas crossover SUV, a relatively new model that’s received a lot of praise from pundits like me, and reasonably good sales. Nevertheless, some dealers have multiple new 2019 Atlas models in their inventory, which is reason enough for VW to offer up to $6,000 in additional incentives on models like the top-line $54,975 Atlas V6 4Motion Execline R Line being reviewed here, shows CarCostCanada on their 2019 Volkswagen Atlas Canada Prices page (find out more about CarCostCanada here and remember to download their free app from the Apple Store and Google Play Store).
They’re also reporting up to $700 in incentives on the subtly refreshed 2021 Atlas, so there’s even a small discount available despite these having just arriving on retailer lots, but the big money is on the 2019, as Volkswagen and its dealers are highly motivated to get rid of this nearly two-year old SUV.
To be clear, VW Canada never imported the 2020 Atlas from Chattanooga, Tennessee where it’s built, but instead received its allotment of all-new five-passenger 2020 Atlas Cross Sport models, while allowing nationwide inventory of the larger seven-passenger version to slowly sell off. Seeing that 2019s are still available, this was a very smart move.
Moving into 2021, VW has given the Atlas a deeper grille that now includes a third bright metal-like crossbar, plus new LED headlamps, and fresh front and rear fascias that add 75 millimeters (2.9 in) to the SUV’s overall length. Inside, the steering wheel is new while contrast stitching is added to higher end trims with leather. Mechanically, all-wheel drive is now standard across the line, and the base turbocharged four-cylinder engine is more widely available.
As you might imagine, the 2021 Atlas’ starting price is considerably higher now that it comes standard with AWD, the new MSRP being $40,095 (plus freight and fees) for its base Trendline trim, compared to $36,740 for this same trim line in the 2019 model year, a difference of $3,355. Comfortline, Highline and Execline trims are still available, all of which are priced higher except for Highline, which now comes standard with the aforementioned 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder. Just-above-base Comfortline trim continues to offer both engines, but the entry-level 2021 Trendline can now only be had with the turbo-four, while 2021 Execline trim continues to come standard with the 3.6-litre V6.
I won’t go into much more detail about the 2021, because, frontal styling, new steering wheel and some contrast-coloured thread aside, it doesn’t appear to have changed much from this outgoing model. This is no bad thing, however, as its first two model years were well received. I tested a 2018 and this 2019, the first version experiencing a couple of teething problems including a broken second-row sliding seat handle. Otherwise it was an exceptionally good SUV that I enjoyed spending a week with, just like the even more luxuriously appointed 2019 model.
I was surprised by all the positive comments I received from friends and even passersby during my test week, all shocked that VW would produce anything so big and truck-like, the latter when it comes to styling at least, but I quickly reminded all that the old beloved Vanagon and front-engine T5 van (which were available here a long time ago) weren’t exactly small, and pretty boxy as well, so the Atlas mostly fits into the brand’s DNA. I think they made a good choice from a styling perspective, as the majority of today’s crossover SUV buyers seem to want a rugged looking utility, the Atlas’ bulky fender flairs and ample chrome doing a fine job of relaying visual toughness.
Inside, even without the 2021 updates, the Atlas provides a nice ambience, with wide open spaces and no shortage of attractive design elements. This is especially true in my tester’s top-tier Execline trim that came with cream-coloured perforated leather upholstery, woodgrain and satin-silver accents, plus loads of impressive display screens including a fully digital and brightly coloured instrument cluster, along with a large centre touchscreen display.
Before I get too far into this review, I need to mention what I see as the elephant in VW’s garage. Where Volkswagen was once the go-to mainstream volume brand for those of us who prefer premium-like interior quality and finishings, this is no longer the case. Some of the Atlas’ details are excellent, like the steering wheel, that’s one of the best in its class as far as the way it feels in the hands as per to leather quality and shape, plus its overall sporty design, while no one should complain about the SUV’s front seats that are Germanic in their firmness and therefore wonderfully supportive, but VW is now falling short by failing to nail the interior refinement details that used to make them reign supreme, such as fabric-wrapped roof pillars, plus the tactile quality of plastics used below the waistline, and in some cases even above.
The dash-top is a rubberized black synthetic, which is reasonably good, but the woodgrain on the dash and doors feels cheap and hollow, similar to what GM used to offer years ago. The same can be said for the metallic trim that surrounds it, which only feels a little bit denser due to being closer to the trim piece’s outer extremities and therefore strengthened by its complex construction. Volkswagen does add padded leather inserts on the doors, and does a decent job with the armrests, but that’s it for soft-touch surfaces. The lower doors and lower portion of the dash and centre stack are all made from hard plastic, and while most is finished with a matte semi-soft paint, it’s nowhere near up to the levels offered by others in this class.
For instance, just after my weeklong Atlas test, I spent another week in an almost loaded Kia Telluride SX, plus the week after that I drove Hyundai’s Palisade, and must say that both are as close to premium products as anything ever offered by mainstream brands. The former even wrapped both A and B pillars in the same high-quality fabric used for the roof liner, while the latter does so with a plush suede-like material. Additionally, Kia’s faux wood felt so dense and realistic I had to verify that it wasn’t real. Likewise, the interior metals are excellent and feel genuine, while even the exterior metal surrounding the windows felt like Lexus’ polished nickel.
Volkswagen does a better job when it comes to gauge clusters and infotainment, but only when compared to the Kia. Hyundai’s fully digital cluster in the Palisade includes side-view cameras within its outer “dials” when changing lanes, a wonderfully useful safety feature on such a large vehicle, while Kia does similar, albeit places the image within the multi-information display between conventional analogue dials.
All said, I’m not about to bash Volkswagen for having one of the best digital driver displays in the industry. It actually comes very close to matching the Audi Virtual Cockpit, which I consider to be one of the best in the industry. I especially like how VW’s display reduces the size of its analogue-style speedometer and tachometer to the size of wristwatch faces as it fills the entire screen with a given infotainment function, such as navigation directions complete with full digital mapping.
The centre touchscreen is also amongst the best in the business, with superb high-resolution quality including beautiful depth of contrast and superb colours, as well as excellent graphics and speedy actuation. It’s filled with all the features you might expect in this class, such as aforementioned navigation, a large, clear and useful backup camera, full climate control and audio functions, the latter system including Bluetooth streaming and satellite radio capability, plus Apple CarPlay and Android Auto smartphone connectivity, etcetera.
The Atlas’ switchgear is fairly good overall, but the rotating outer dials around the tri-zone automatic climate control interface were wiggly and sloppy, something I didn’t find on the just-noted Kia or Hyundai, or for that matter the majority of their competitors.
Now that I’ve once again mentioned the two South Koreans, it should be noted that both fully loaded SUVs are less expensive than the Atlas, but not by much. The Telluride SX that I tested just after the Atlas was quite a bit more approachable at only $49,995, but since then a fancier 2021 Telluride SX Limited with Nappa leather was added to the lineup, increasing its retail price to $54,695 before discount. That’s a nominal difference of $280, incidentally, so make sure to drive both the Kia and VW when it comes time to buy. The top-tier 2020 Palisade Ultimate would now be the least expensive of the bunch at $54,199, but the $54,699 2021 Ultimate Calligraphy just happens to be $5 more than the priciest Telluride. Either way I recommend spending some time with this one as well, not to mention Toyota’s latest Highlander and Mazda’s CX-9 that deserve high praise in this class too.
My Atlas tester’s heatable steering wheel rim was nice, and the driving position superb. The tilt and telescopic steering column reaches far enough rearward to provide the type of control and comfort I required, due to having a body with proportionally longer legs than torso. The seats were comfortable too, with good lower back support.
Additionally, the rear seating area is very accommodating, even for those in the third row that received comfortable backrests and ample space for feet under the upgraded second-row captain’s chairs in my test model. Those individual second-row chairs allowed space in between to access the rearmost seats, making life easier when kids are aboard. There’s a place for what-have-you plus cupholders to each side, and also good you’ll find third-row vents in the C pillars so rear passengers won’t feel claustrophobic. This in mind, the rear side quarter windows are easy to see out of, and Volkswagen also includes reading lights overhead. I can’t see any child or average-sized person complaining about the Atlas’ rearmost compartment, even during a long trip.
Back to the second-row seating area, VW includes ventilation on the backside of the front console, as well as a digital display for the SUV’s automatic rear temperature control system’s third zone. The only negative about the Atlas’ otherwise excellent HVAC system is that the aforementioned Telluride and Palisade offer quad-zone auto climate control systems. They also make heated and cooled second-row seats available, whereas this VW only included three-way warmers in back, plus the South Korean models get USB charging ports in the third row, this important feature found only in the Atlas’ first and second rows.
Volkswagen provides a powered rear door to access the large cargo area, par for the course in this class, which impressively measures 583 litres (20.6 cubic feet) behind the third row, 1,571 litres (55.5 cu ft) behind the second row, and 2,741 litres (96.8 cu ft) when all seats are folded flat.
Lifting up the load floor exposes the usual tire changing equipment and a subwoofer for the audio system, but unexpectedly appreciated was a handy storage location for the retractable cargo cover when not in use. The 50/50-split third row folds down easily and provides a flat loading floor, and while you’ll eventually get a nice, mostly flat loading floor from lowering the second-row seats as well, you’ll be forced to walk around to the side doors in order to do so. The Kia and Hyundai competitors provide power-folding rear seats.
As you may have guessed, Volkswagen delivers in spades when taking the Atlas out on the road. The brand has long been respected for endowing its vehicles German performance characteristics at a budget price, and to that end the big SUV’s 3.6-litre V6 really gets up and goes thanks to 276 horsepower and 266 lb-ft of torque mated to a smooth and snappy eight-speed automatic transmission. Still, that’s not quite as much oomph as the Telluride and Palisade’s V6, which puts out 291 horsepower and 262 lb-ft of torque while also conjoined to an eight-speed automatic, and while all three SUVs sport all-wheel drive, the South Koreans weigh about 300 lbs less, so they feel a bit more engaging off the line.
That extra weight may be contributing to the Atlas’ less appealing fuel economy, which at a claimed 13.7 L/100km in the city, 10.1 on the highway and 12.1 combined is a bit thirstier than the two Koreans’ 12.3 city, 9.6 highway and 11.1 combined ratings. All of these estimates pale in comparison to the Subaru Ascent’s 11.6 city, 9.0 highway and 10.4 combined rating, mind you, not to mention the Toyota Highlander’s respective 11.7, 8.6 and 10.3 rating, plus the Mazda CX-9’s phenomenal rating of 10.6, 8.4 and 9.6.
The Atlas’ handling is better than most in this class, however, prompting me to call this the driver’s SUV of the three-row bunch. This is where its German engineering pays off, even without as much power, and while the two Koreans and most others in this class should keep up through the curves without much effort, the Atlas feels better then pushed hard. Nevertheless, I noticed more interior noise in the Volkswagen than others, and I’m not necessarily talking about road and wind noise, but instead what seemed like the sound of plastic panels chafing up against each other when traveling over rougher roads.
To be fair, Volkswagen may have exorcised out some of the gremlins that plagued my tester since introducing the Atlas, so I’ll need to spend a week with a new one in order to learn how it measures up. I certainly appreciate the way it drives, can give it two thumbs way up for exterior styling and interior design, was impressed with its spacious, comfortable cabin, and truly like its advanced electronics, but some tactile and very real quality issues lowered its score, as well as a number of convenience and luxury features that were missing compared to rivals.
All in all, the Atlas is a solid first effort in the highly competitive three-row SUV segment, and I look forward to experiencing any improvements in the new 2021. As far as buying a 2019 model goes, the deep discount now available could make it very worthwhile.
Story and photos by Trevor Hofmann
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…
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Genesis, Hyundai’s luxury division, just revealed new images of an all-new premium crossover SUV designed to go up against the Lexus RX, BMW X5, Mercedes-Benz GLE and other mid-size luxury utilities,…
Genesis, Hyundai’s luxury division, just revealed new images of an all-new premium crossover SUV designed to go up against the Lexus RX, BMW X5, Mercedes-Benz GLE and other mid-size luxury utilities, and by first glance it certainly looks up to the task.
The GV80, as it will be called when it goes on sale globally later this year, wears a bigger, bolder modified version of Genesis’ new five-sided grille introduced to a production model on the brand’s redesigned 2020 G90 flagship sedan, plus it carries a number of other styling cues from that full-size four-door including horizontal LED-enhanced Quad Lamp headlights and wraparound tail lamps, as well as side vents on the front fenders. The basic design was formed from the GV80 Concept that launched at the 2017 New York International Auto Show, but we have to say it looks much better in production trim than prototype.
“GV80 allows us to expand our definition of Athletic Elegance design language to a new typology, while retaining sublime proportionality and sophistication of form,” said Luc Donckerwolke, Executive Vice President, Chief Design Officer of Hyundai Motor Group.
Genesis calls its design language Athletic Elegance, and while this descriptor comes off as a bit generic the SUV’s overall presence is anything but. Its grille is reminiscent of Cadillac, however, only lacking a big crested-wreath shield in the middle, which might put it at odds with the General and American patriots that feel an allegiance to their domestic luxury marque. Genesis even unabashedly names the GV80’s foremost feature the “Crest Grille” and claims it as a “signature Genesis design element,” but in fairness a lot of brands have tried to put their own spin on this type of pentagonal grille design in the past, including Acura and Honda. No one should argue against any other GV80 design element or its overall look, and to that end Genesis would probably rather have us focusing on its trademark headlamps.
“The Quad Lamp, our design signature, introduces an unmistakable visual impression completely unique to Genesis,” said Sang Yup Lee, Senior Vice President, Head of Genesis Design. They feature a “G-Matrix pattern” that was “inspired by beautiful orchids seen when diamonds are illuminated by light,” said the brand in a press release, mentioning the wheel design was similarly inspired.
Most everyone who’s entered a new Genesis product has been impressed by its quality of workmanship, and the GV80 should be no exception. The brand says its new SUV “focuses on the beauty of open space, characteristic of the elegant South Korean architectural aesthetic,” and we’re just glad the brand’s designers weren’t inspired by K-Pop fashion. In all seriousness the new GV80 does provide a beautiful interior design, once again reminiscent of the elegant, well-built 2020 G90 cabin, although its instrument panel more traditional with an arcing gauge cluster hood and more conventional fixed tablet-style infotainment display atop the centre dash, although the horizontal theme continues with strong, steady lines made from a slim set of air vents ahead of the front passenger, a well sorted touchscreen climate control interface atop a gently sloping centre console, and more. A “jewel-like” rotating dial appears to be the modus operandi for selecting gears, making for a cleaner, more sophisticated look, while rich hardwoods, leathers and aluminized metals appear at least on par with its competition.
The GV80 rides on an all-new rear-wheel drive chassis and will be available with either rear- or optional all-wheel drivetrains in the U.S., although it will likely only come with AWD in the Canadian market. If the new SUV drives similarly to other Genesis products, it should be a formidable performer as well as a commendable luxury ride, balancing sport and comfort similarly to Mercedes and Audi.
The GV80 is a mid-size model capable of seating seven occupants in three rows, although it will also be offered as a two-row five-seat SUV. True to the “V” in its name, which stands for “versatility”, we should expect competitive passenger space and a roomy cargo area.
The Hyundai Motor Group made a bold move to enter a completely new brand into an already full luxury marketplace back in late 2016, and it hasn’t exactly been easy going. Its initial two car lineup, made up of the G80 mid-size sedan (previously the Hyundai Genesis Sedan) and G90 full-size sedan (Hyundai Equus), since augmented with the G70 compact luxury sedan in 2018, has made impressive headway on the sales charts yet still lags well behind luxury leaders. This was no doubt planned for, as were initially slower sales due to its passenger car lineup, which means the brand has a lot riding on its first SUV. The GV80 could potentially outsell all other Genesis models combined if the histories of rival brands are repeated, which could point the upstart Korean luxury marque on the road to success.
Dodge is the Jolt Cola of the auto sector, or for those not old enough to remember that once revered albeit politically incorrect Coke and Tab alternative that went by the motto, “All the sugar, twice…
Dodge is the Jolt Cola of the auto sector, or for those not old enough to remember that once revered albeit politically incorrect Coke and Tab alternative that went by the motto, “All the sugar, twice the caffeine!”, consider the domestic brand the automotive equivalent of an adrenaline-stoking energy drink (which the resuscitated Jolt Energy now is) amongst healthy, organic, fruity, detoxifying beverages, and then also mull over the thought (this one for the execs that eventually occupy the FCA/PSA boardroom in Amsterdam, London, Turin, Paris, Auburn Hills or wherever else they decide to meet) that if its parent automaker ever strays from this bad boy brand’s anti-establishmentarian mission it’ll be game over.
Why the concern? Dodge’s current parent, FCA (Fiat Chrysler Automobiles), appears to be merging with France’s PSA Group that includes Peugeot, Citroën, DS Automobiles (a relatively new luxury brand that pulls heritage from the highly advanced and iconic 1955–1975 Citroën DS) and even General Motors’ recently sold Opel and Vauxhall brands, the twosome currently rebadged versions of North American/Chinese Buick models and vice versa. If this happens it would become one of the largest auto groups in the world, including all the brands FCA currently controls, such as Fiat, Abarth (Fiat’s performance-oriented sub-brand), Fiat Professional (the vans sold under the Ram banner here), Lancia (at least what’s left of it, this once great Italian marque sadly down to one “fashion” city car now), Alfa Romeo, Maserati, and Ferrari (from a distance), Ram (a.k.a. Dodge trucks for those who missed that spin-off), Chrysler (which is now down to just two models, one of which will soon be discontinued), and lastly the always profitable Jeep line here at home and abroad (that’s 16 separate brands, incidentally). Let’s just hope Dodge doesn’t get pulled into a global homogenization program that waters down its entries to the point of irrelevance (taking advantage of economies of scale being a key driver behind automakers merging).
Nothing quite like the big seven-passenger Durango SRT exists outside of Dodge; even Jeep’s outrageously quick 707 horsepower Grand Cherokee SRT Trackhawk is a smaller two-row mid-size model. The Durango SRT is motivated by the same comparatively tame 475 horsepower version of FCA’s 6.4-litre (392 cubic inch) Hemi V8 that powers the regular Grand Cherokee SRT, but I promise you it’s no lightweight performer. Its 470 lb-ft of torque launches the 2,499-kilo (5,510-lb) brute from standstill to 100 km/h in just 4.6 seconds, its SRT Torqueflite eight-speed automatic performing quick shifts whether prompted by steering wheel-mounted paddles, the shift lever, or left to its own devices. It’ll continue on with a 12.9-second quarter mile, and tops out at an incredible 290 km/h (180 mph), which is the same top track speed as the Jeep Trackhawk, and otherworldly compared to most SUVs.
All this from a family hauler that can seat seven actual adults in complete comfort while stowing their gear in a 487-litre (17.2 cubic-foot) dedicated luggage compartment behind the third row, and towing a 3,946-kg (8,700-lb) trailer behind (which is 1,500 lbs more capable than the 5.7-litre V8-powered Durango and 2,500 lbs more than with the V6). The only knock against the Durango SRT is fuel-efficiency, which is thirsty at 18.3 L/100km in the city, 12.2 on the highway, and 15.6 combined, plus a bit less off-road capability due to slightly less ground clearance, but this said who’d want to risk ruining its low-hanging bodywork or black-painted 20-inch twinned five-spoke alloys on rocks or stumps anyway, while the three-season Pirelli Scorpion 295/45 ZRs they’re wrapped in are better suited for gripping pavement than anything too slippery.
The SRT’s frowning black mesh grille, multi-vented hood, more aggressive lower fascia, side skirts, and unique rear bumper with fat chromed tailpipes poking through each side makes a strong visual statement that’s hard to ignore, with nothing changing since arriving on the scene in 2017 for the 2018 model year. It carried forward into 2019 unchanged, and will do likewise for 2020, with only some of the Durango’s lesser trims getting minor updates.
The current third-generation Durango came along in 2010 for the 2011 model year, by the way, and with the update brought back some of the curves that were missing from the angled second-gen model. More premium-level interior materials quality was reintroduced as well, with all trims that I’ve tested having been impressively finished. This is especially true of the SRT, which gets a suede-like Alcantara roofliner and A-pillars, plus contrast-stitched leatherette covering the entire dash top and much of the instrument panel, all the way down each side of the centre stack in fact, while the front and rear door uppers are made from a padded leather-like material, and armrests finished in a contrast-stitched leatherette. As you might expect, everything from the waistline down is made from a harder plastic, but it feels very durable and capable of managing punishment.
The steering wheel is a mix of perforated and solid wrapped leather with nicely contrasted baseball stitching around its inner ring, while the spokes feature high-quality switchgear and those shift paddles noted earlier, plus Chrysler group’s trademark volume control and mode switches on its backside as well. All of the cabin’s other switchgear is well done for a mainstream volume-branded vehicle too, with the larger volume, tuning and fan speed knobs on the centre stack being chrome-trimmed and wrapped in grippy rubber.
The infotainment system just above incorporates a large 8.4-inch high-resolution touchscreen that works very well for all functions. I like the simplicity and straightforwardness of Chrysler group touchscreens, and I clarify those in Chrysler, Dodge and Jeep vehicles because they’re often very different than what you’ll find in other FCA brands, like Fiat, Alfa Romeo and Maserati. Screen quality aside, as the premium Italian brands use the latest high-definition displays, I like the Chrysler interfaces best, as they tend to be easier to use and more fully featured.
Along with individual displays for the audio system, auto climate controls including digital switchgear for the heatable/cooled seats and heated steering wheel, navigation with especially good mapping and easy, accurate route guidance, phone hookup and features, plus various apps, the SRT adds another display dubbed Performance Pages featuring power torque history, real-time power and torque, timers for laps etcetera, plus G-force engine and dyno gauges, as well as separate oil temp, oil pressure, coolant temp and battery voltage gauges, much of which is duplicated over on the gauge cluster-mounted multi-information display, giving this SRT a level of digital depth few others in the industry can match.
Under the centre stack is a rubberized bin that’s big enough for any smartphone. The expected 12-volt charger and AUX plug is in close proximity, plus two even more relevant charge-capable USBs, but unfortunately no wireless charging is available. There’s another 12-volt charger as well as a Blu-ray DVD player under the centre armrest, while Dodge includes a great sounding 506-watt Alpine audio system with nine amplified speakers, or an even better $1,995 optional Harman/Kardon system with 825 watts, 19 speakers and a sub.
The throaty sound of the SRT’s V8 makes any talk about audio equipment seem unimportant, mind you, whether it’s chugging away at idle or shaking the world around it at full roar, and the way it responds to right-foot input is dramatic for such a large utility. I wouldn’t use the term catapult do describe its takeoff, but it launches without hesitation before eclipsing any remotely legal speeds within seconds. Truly, if you need more there’s probably something wrong with the way your brain processes adrenaline, while the eight-speed auto’s ability to send its formidable power and torque to all four wheels is commendable. This beefed up gearbox provides quick and purposeful shifts, yet it’s impressively smooth even when allowing revs to rise. Its manual mode with paddles provides good hands-on engagement, which was helpful when pushing hard through corners, something the Durango SRT does effectively.
The Durango’s fully independent front strut and rear multi-link suspension carries over mostly unchanged from the base SXT to this SRT, but Dodge dubs it “SRT-tuned” and adds a Bilstein adaptive damping suspension (ADS) in place of the regular model’s gas-charged, twin-tube coil-over shocks, plus it replaces the solid stabilizer bars with a set of hollow ones, the end result being a wonderfully flat stance through tight curves and good tracking at any speed. Additionally, the electric power steering is performance-tuned and braking power is increased via a set of big Brembos, making stopping power almost as dramatic as acceleration. It’s compliant suspension, general comfort, great visibility and easy manoeuvrability makes it an easy SUV to drive around town too, and thanks to not being quite as wide as a true full-size SUV, like Chevy’s Tahoe or Ford’s Expedition, it’s no problem to park in tight spaces.
To be clear, the Durango is a considerable 120 mm (4.7 in) narrower than the Tahoe and 104 mm (4.1 in) thinner than the Expedition, but rest assured that it measures up where it matters most from nose to tail. Its 3,045-mm (120.0-in) wheelbase is actually 99 mm (3.9 in) longer than the Tahoe’s and just 67 mm (2.6 in) shorter than the Expedition’s, which means adults fit comfortable in all seating positions.
Less width translates into less side-to-side room inside, of course, but it’s still plenty wide within, and should be sizeable enough for larger folks. The driver’s seat is superb, and like the others (excepting the third row) is finished with an embossed “SRT” logo on its backrest. My tester’s seats were covered in a rich looking dark “Demonic Red” with white contrast stitching to match the decorative thread elsewhere, while Dodge included perforated leather inserts to allow breathability for the ventilated seats noted earlier. The leather quality is extremely soft and premium-like, while the seat sides even feel as if they’re finished in the same quality of leather, albeit black. The instrument panel and doors are trimmed out with genuine-feeling patterned aluminum inlays for a sporty yet upscale appearance, plus ample chrome highlights brighten the cabin elsewhere. This said you can upgrade this SUV with an SRT Interior Appearance Group that replaces the aluminum inlays with genuine carbon-fibre, plus upgrades the instrument panel with a leather wrap, possibly a good way to spend $3,250.
Like those up front, the SRT’s standard second-row captain’s chairs are ultra comfortable, while Dodge has fixed a nice centre console in the middle featuring two cupholders and a storage bin. Rear passengers can access a panel on the backside of the front console featuring dual charging USB ports, a 115-volt household-style three-prong socket, and switchgear for the two-way seat warmers, while a three-dial interface for controlling the tri-zone automatic climate system’s rearmost compartment can be found overhead, along with a separate panel housing an attractive set of dome and reading lights.
All of this Durango SRT goodness comes for just $73,895 plus freight and fees, incidentally, and right now CarCostCanada members are saving an average of $6,500 on all 2019 Durango trims, with up to $5,000 in incentives alone. You’ll need to go to the 2019 Durango page on CarCostCanada to learn more, at which point you can access pricing for trims, packages and individual options, plus money saving rebate info and even dealer invoice pricing that could save you thousands. It’s an excellent resource, giving new car shoppers all the info they’ll need to secure the best deal possible.
My tester was equipped with a $950 Technology Group that includes adaptive cruise control with stop-and-go, advanced brake assist, forward collision warning with active braking, plus lane departure warning and lane keeping assist, while a $2,150 rear Blu-Ray DVD entertainment system features a monitor on the backside of each front headrest, these folding upward from otherwise protected positions when not in use. A set of RCA plugs and an HDMI input can be found on the inner, upper side of each front seat, allowing external devices such as gaming consoles to be plugged in easily, all of which can turn any Durango SRT into the ultimate road trip companion.
That’s the beauty of it. This Durango SRT is one of the strongest performing SUVs available anywhere, yet as noted earlier it seats seven adults comfortably, stows all their gear, hauls trailers and much more. It’s the perfect four-season family hauler for speed fanatics, although you’ll want to swap out its three-season rubber for some good winter performance tires come late autumn. Other than that, load up the credit card with plenty of gas money, and you’ll literally be off to the races.
Back when first driving a 2016 Sorento, I found myself reveling in its sumptuous supply of soft-touch cabin surfaces including Nappa leather, wowed by the mainstream volume-branded rarity of finding fabric-wrapped…
Back when first driving a 2016 Sorento, I found myself reveling in its sumptuous supply of soft-touch cabin surfaces including Nappa leather, wowed by the mainstream volume-branded rarity of finding fabric-wrapped roof pillars all around, impressed by its large full-colour high-resolution infotainment touchscreen, surprised by its small but potent 240-horsepower 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder powertrain, and buoyed by its general goodness overall.
You’d think with not much changing since then, plus an even more potent V6 on the menu, it would remain high on my list of praiseworthy mid-size crossovers, and indeed it does except for one important detail, since testing the latest 2019 Sorento I’ve also spent a week with the all-new 2020 Telluride, so I’m no longer recommending the Sorento quite as highly for three-row crossover SUV shoppers.
Granted the optional seven-seat Sorento’s price range slots in much further down Kia’s model hierarchy, starting at $32,795 for the EX 2.4 and topping off with this as-tested 3.3-litre V6-powered $49,165 SXL for 2019, compared to a new premium-level base of $44,995 and considerably higher climb up to $53,995 for the larger Telluride’s SX Limited with Nappa. As one would expect, the advent of the Telluride and expected arrival of a completely redesigned 2021 Sorento sometime next year has already resulted in Kia reshuffling the carryover 2020 Sorento’s trim lines, with the base LX FWD and this top-line SXL being axed from the lineup, so you’d better get a move on if you want either.
As for what we should expect from the upcoming 2021 Sorento, it will likely follow the current-generation Hyundai Santa Fe that shares its underpinnings, the latter model now only available with two rows and a maximum of five occupants, because Kia’s parent brand has introduced its own version of the Telluride this year as well, dubbed Palisade. That new seven-passenger Hyundai starts more affordably than the Telluride, in fact, with a base price of just $38,499, so it’s likely next year’s Telluride will gain a lower-end SX trim to slot under the current base Palisade in order to provide a three-row SUV option for less affluent Kia buyers once this seven-occupant Sorento is gone. Got that?
I said earlier that not much had changed since the Sorento’s 2016 redesign, but in fact it received a mid-cycle update for 2019, featuring an ever-so subtle restyling, a new eight-speed automatic transmission for its optional 3.3-litre V6, and unfortunately the discontinuation of the 2.0-litre turbo-four that I paid tribute to at the beginning of this review (a strange move, being that most rivals are replacing their top-line six-cylinder engines with turbo fours to improve fuel economy, but likely a stopgap measure before the next-generation Sorento arrives).
Specifically, the 2.4, which makes 185 horsepower and 178 lb-ft of torque, is now used for LX FWD, LX and EX 2.4 trims, while the 3.3, good for 290 horsepower and 252 lb-ft of torque, adds strength to the LX V6, EX, EX Premium, SX, and SXL models. The six-speed automatic carries over for four-cylinder powered Sorentos, with the new eight-speed only benefiting the V6, while you may have already guessed that all trims but the LX FWD incorporate Kia’s all-wheel drive system.
The eight-speed auto was added for its fuel economy advantages, although its ability to stay within the engine’s most formidable rev range due to shorter shift increments helps performance as well, still Kia will be touting its claimed rating of 12.5 L/100km city, 9.7 highway and 11.2 combined, which compares favourably against the 2018 Sorento V6 AWD in the city, its rating of 13.2 L/100km obviously thirstier, yet oddly doesn’t do anywhere near as well on the highway, the outgoing model achieving a more advantageous 9.3 L/100km rating. So what exactly did Kia use the new eight-speed transmission’s two final gears for? The V6 eight-speed combo is better for those that spend most of their driving time in town, and promises a 0.2 L/100km advantage in combined city/highway travel, but from a fuel economy standpoint the upgrade hardly seems worth the effort.
Just in case you were questioning how well the old 2.0-litre turbo-four compared, it managed a rating of 12.3 L/100km city, 9.4 highway and 11.0 combined, whereas this engine combined with the new eight-speed automatic in the totally redesigned 2019 Hyundai Santa Fe (which rides on the same all-new platform architecture the 2021 Sorento will adopt) is rated at 12.3 city, 9.8 highway and 11.2 combined—yah, go figure.
As for the base 2.4, it manages 10.7 L/100km city, 8.2 highway and 9.5 combined with its FWD driveline, which represents a significant improvement in the city over last year’s Sorento with the same powertrain that could only muster 11.2 L/100km city, 8.3 highway and 9.9 combined despite no stated changes (so it must come down to gear ratio modifications), while the 2019 Sorento 2.4 AWD gets a claimed 11.2 L/100km city, 9.0 highway and 10.2 combined rating, compared to 11.5, 9.3 and 10.5 last year.
Speaking of claims, Kia says this 2019 Sorento includes a new grille, but I certainly can’t see any difference from the outgoing one, although the hood and lower front fascia have changed, the latter particularly noticeable at each corner where top-tier SX and SXL trims’ trademark quad of LED fog lamps have been halved in size and now combine with what appear to be slatted brake vents just below, not to mention they’re now surrounded by taller, more V-shaped chromed bezels.
The chrome door handles, side window surrounds and silver roof rails were part of my 2016 SX model too, but the chrome rocker mouldings, 19-inch chrome alloy wheels, and totally reworked rear bumper filled with metal brightwork too, are new. The update makes the Sorento a bit classier than the outgoing model’s sportier look, chrome often having this effect.
Also part of the 2019 makeover, revised headlamps and taillights include full LEDs at both ends in SX and SXL trims, plus LED daytime running lights embedded within the headlights and the aforementioned LED fogs. Lesser trims utilize new projector beam headlamps with LED positioning lights, projector beam fog lamps (on LX V6 trim to EX Premium), and conventional taillights in an attractive new design. Additional outer changes include new alloy wheels ranging from 17, 18 and 19 inches and shod with 235/65R17, 235/60R18 and 235/55R19 all-season tires depending on trim, plus new colours.
Inside, the 2019 Sorento features a new steering wheel, a mostly digital primary gauge cluster filled with electroluminescent dials to each side of a TFT speedometer that doubles as a fully functional colour multi-information display, plus improvements to the centre stack and infotainment system, the latter now including standard Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. New optional wireless smartphone charging adds a level of convenience I happen to really appreciate, while newly available advanced driver assistance systems include lane keeping assist and driver attention warning.
The latter two safety features are only part of the top-line SXL trim line, that model also the only trim to provide forward collision-avoidance assist, which is unusual in a market that’s now starting to offer automatic emergency braking in base models, but it’s not out of the ordinary to require a move up to a mid-range trim for blind spot detection with rear cross-traffic alert, these two features standard with the Sorento’s EX model. The rest of the Sorento’s safety equipment is the usual standard fare, included right across the board.
The aforementioned base LX FWD starts at just $28,295 and is therefore quite the value proposition when compared to the rest of the mid-size field that are all priced higher, especially when considering it comes standard with 17-inch alloy wheels, auto on/off headlamps, chrome door handles, a leather-wrapped multifunction heatable steering wheel, Drive Mode Select with default Comfort, Eco, Sport and Smart settings, three-way heated front seats, a 7.0-inch infotainment display with aforementioned Apple and Android smartphone integration and a backup camera, plus six-speaker audio, and the list goes on and on.
Adding AWD to the base LX increases the price by $2,300 to $30,595 yet also provides roof rails, proximity-sensing access with pushbutton ignition and a wireless phone charger, while the same trim with the V6 and AWD increases the base price by $4,500 to $35,095 and ups content to include fog lamps, a sound-reducing windshield, turn signals integrated within the side mirror caps, an auto-dimming rearview mirror, dual-zone automatic climate control with auto-defog and separate third-row fan speed/air-con adjusters, UVO Intelligence connected car services, satellite radio, an eight-way power-adjustable driver’s seat with two-way powered lumbar support, a third row for seven-occupant seating, trailer pre-wiring, plus more.
For $2,300 less than the LX V6 AWD and $2,200 more than the LX AWD, four-cylinder-powered $32,795 EX 2.4 trim includes the just noted fog lights, powered driver’s seat, and seven-passenger capacity of the six-cylinder model while adding a glossy grille insert and leather upholstery, whereas the $38,665 EX with the V6 and AWD builds on both the LX V6 AWD and EX 2.4 with 18-inch machined-finish alloy wheels, an upgraded Supervision LCD/TFT instrument cluster, express up/down powered windows with obstacle detection all-round, and a household-style 110-volt power inverter, while EX Premium trim starts $2,500 higher at $41,165, yet adds such luxuries as front and rear parking sensors, power-folding side mirrors, LED interior lighting, an eight-way powered front passenger’s seat, a panoramic glass sunroof, rear door sunshades, and a powered liftgate with smart access.
Those wanting to step up to a true luxury experience that rivals some premium brands can opt for the Sorento SX that, for $4,000 more than the EX Premium at $45,165, provides most everything already mentioned plus 19-inch alloys, a chrome grille, stainless steel skid plates front and back, a stainless steel exhaust tip, chromed roof rails, dynamic directionally-adaptive full LED headlights, upgraded LED fog lamps, bar type LED taillights, sound-reducing front side glass, illuminated stainless steel front door scuff plates, perforated premium leather upholstery, and a larger 8.0-inch infotainment touchscreen endowed with rich colours and deep contrast, plus crisp resolution and quick reaction to tap, pinch and swipe finger gestures. The included navigation gets nicely detailed maps and accurate route guidance, while SX trim also features superb 10-speaker Harman/Kardon premium audio, three-way ventilated front seats, heatable rear window seats, and more.
Lastly, the as-tested Sorento SXL costs another $4,000 for an asking price of $49,165 before freight and fees, which incidentally is still quite a bit less than most fully loaded rivals, some of which don’t even offer the level of high-grade equipment included in the previous trim, but over and above everything noted earlier this SXL adds softer Nappa leather upholstery, an electromechanical parking brake, a 360-degree surround parking camera with a split screen featuring a conventional rear view with dynamic guidelines on the left side and an overhead bird’s-eye view on the right, plus high beam assist headlights, adaptive cruise control, and more.
I sourced pricing for all 2019 Sorento trims, packages and standalone options from CarCostCanada, where you can also find money-saving rebate information as well as dealer invoice pricing that could save you thousands. In fact, there are up to $6,000 in additional incentives available to you on the 2019 Sorento right now, so make sure to check it out.
You’ll need to head down to your local dealership to drive the Sorento, and when you do I’m guessing you’ll be impressed. The V6 is ultra-smooth, as is the new eight-speed automatic that shifts almost seamlessly and quickly no matter the driving mode it’s set in. I left it in default Comfort mode most of the time, but Eco mode was smooth as well and ideal for saving fuel, while Sport mode allowed the engine to rev higher and the gearbox to shift quicker, while Smart mode is a best of both world’s scenario that takes note of how you’re driving, the terrain and other parameters before automatically choosing the ideal mode.
The suspension is wonderfully smooth, yet when pushed through tight corners it handles well for such a large SUV. Overall it’s on the sportier side of seven-passenger competitors, yet it’s excellent seats, pampering soft surfaces and other near-luxury qualities make it one of the more comfortable in its class.
With respect to the driver’s seat, EX trims and above get four-way powered lumbar support that will ideally apply pressure to the small of your back no matter your stature, while the LX V6 and EX 2.4 trims’ two-way lumbar is more of a hit-and-miss scenario. Interestingly, four-way lumbar isn’t even a given in the upper-crust luxury-branded mid-size SUV class, with the industry’s best-selling Lexus RX 350 only making it available with its $63,950 Luxury or $69,850 Executive packages, and not available at all if you want the model’s even pricier two F Sport upgrades, while four-way powered lumbar isn’t even available with Infiniti’s QX60. Another bonus for the Sorento is a lower driver’s seat cushion that extends outward to comfortably cup below the knees for an extra measure of support. The Nappa leather is also impressive, and in fact some of the nicest you’ll find in the mainstream volume sector.
While the second-row is very roomy and nearly as comfortable as that up front, the Sorento’s rearmost seats are best for smaller to medium-sized kids, with the Telluride your better option if needing to transport larger teens or adults in the very back.
Some details that are especially nice include the piano black lacquered trim pieces on the backsides of the front seats, that are rarely seen on anything this side of a Bentley or Rolls-Royce. It’s an old English luxury look not used much these days, but a quick look back at my 2019 Genesis G90 review (a car that shares underpinnings with the now discontinued—in Canada—Kia K900) where hardwood is used in the same way, helps us realize where Kia came up with the idea (you’ll need to scroll through the photos until you get to the back seat). The Sorento SXL also includes black lacquered trim on the steering wheel, dash and centre console, plus across each door, but as nice as it looks when new I’m concerned it will scratch easily as it ages.
Anyone regularly loading long cargo like skis into the very back will no doubt appreciate how Kia split up the second row. Instead of the usual 60/40 divide, while takes one of the window seats out of action when the smaller portion is laid flat, the Sorento incorporates what I believe to be the best 40/20/40-split solution, which allows both rear passengers to enjoy the more comfortable and visually optimal window positions, plus the previously noted heatable rear cushions if so equipped. This feature, normally only offered by pricier European SUV makers, is a major dealmaker for me, and should be considered by those choosing an SUV for practicality.
I also appreciated the folding seat release levers attached to the cargo wall, which lower each side automatically. To be clear, the 20-percent centre portion needs to be done manually, this portion only dropping automatically as part of the 60-percent portion on the driver’s side, whereas some vehicles actually include three levers so each portion can drop individually, but this is still a much better system than any competitor in this class offers.
The seats drop right down and lock securely into place, resulting in a spacious, flat-loading floor that measures 2,082 litres (73.5 cu ft) behind the first row in the lowest two trims or 2,066 litres (73.0 cu ft) in the LX V6 and above, 1,099 litres (38.8 cu ft) and 1,077 litres (38.0 cu ft) respectively behind the second row, and 320 litres (11.3 cu ft) behind the third row. There’s a bit of extra storage space under the removable cargo floor, which even allows the retractable cargo cover to be securely stowed away when not in use.
It’s these types of details that make the Sorento such a cut above most competitors. This is true for many of Kia’s models, the new Telluride noted earlier especially impressive. The Korean brand often goes above and beyond its competitors, clearly setting itself apart, which is necessary for one of Canada’s newest brands. They lack the luxury of resting on their laurels, and even this well-proven Sorento, a model that’s served Canadian buyers mostly unchanged for years, proves this point as well today as it did in 2015 when generation-three arrived.
Count them up. That’s 15,383 (mostly) three-row mid-size sales for Kia, which is a 50-percent advantage over next-best Toyota. Not bad for a comparative upstart, and proof that combining good looking design with sound engineering and lots of bang for consumers’ bucks results in success.