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.
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.
The mid-size crossover SUV segment has more than blown wide open in recent years, with every mainstream volume manufacturer now in the game and most making sure their entries are as fresh and advanced…
The mid-size crossover SUV segment has more than blown wide open in recent years, with every mainstream volume manufacturer now in the game and most making sure their entries are as fresh and advanced as possible.
Before the new 2019 Ascent arrived on the scene last fall, Subaru had been out of this market segment for a half decade. Its previous mid-size crossover, the 2005 to 2014 Tribeca, impressed in plenty of ways except for styling and third-row spaciousness, so Subaru made sure its Ascent was large enough and easier on the eyes.
Despite two-row crossover SUVs leading the mid-size sector in individual sales, Subaru already has the compact five-seat Forester and the mid-size Outback tall wagon, both very successful models, so therefore the Japanese brand made the choice to address those with larger families and a need for more gear-toting space. Others have done likewise, with Honda having made its three-row Pilot available for 17 years before its all-new two-row Passport showed up this summer, so maybe we’ll see a larger five-seat Subaru SUV at some point in the future.
Until then, the North American-exclusive Ascent is configured for eight occupants in standard trim and seven with its optional second-row captain’s chairs, the latter setup being how Subaru outfitted my top-line Premier test model. It’s not a small SUV, measuring 4,998 millimetres (196.8 inches) front to back with a 2,890-mm (113.8-inch) wheelbase, while its overall height reaches 1,819 mm (71.6 inches) tall including its standard roof rails. Additionally, it spans 2,176 mm (85.6 inches) wide with its side mirrors extracted, while its track measures 1,635 mm (64.4 inches) up front and 1,630 mm (64.2 inches) at the rear.
To put it into perspective, the new Ascent is 48 mm (1.9 inches) shorter than the mid-size three-row SUV category’s best-selling Ford Explorer, albeit with a 24-mm (0.9-inch) longer wheelbase, while some might also be surprised to find out the new Subaru is 42 mm (1.6 inches) taller than the big blue-oval utility. The only Explorer measurements to exceed the Ascent span from side-to-side, which see Ford’s SUV stretching a sizeable 119 mm (4.7 inches) wider with 66 and 71 mm (2.6 and 2.8 inches) more front and rear track respectively. It should be noted the Explorer is one of the mid-size segment’s largest SUVs.
Comparing the new Ascent to other top-sellers shows that it’s longer, wider and taller than the Toyota Highlander and Kia Sorento (but shorter than the new Kia Telluride, with a shorter wheelbase and less width), longer and taller than the Honda Pilot and Hyundai Santa Fe XL (which is now outgoing, but it’s a fraction longer than the new Hyundai Palisade as well, although its wheelbase isn’t nor its width), wider and taller than the Nissan Pathfinder, merely wider than the Dodge Durango, and only taller than the Volkswagen Atlas.
By the way, that was only a partial list of the Ascent’s three-row mid-size crossover SUV challengers, the full list (from best-selling to least during the first three quarters of 2018) including the Explorer, Sorento, Highlander, Atlas, Pilot, Durango, Pathfinder, Chevrolet Traverse, Santa Fe XL, Dodge Journey, GMC Acadia, Mazda CX-9, and Ford Flex, plus the just-noted new Palisade and Telluride (which are too new to categorize by sales numbers, but should do well).
Even more important than exterior size is passenger volume and cargo space, which for the Ascent measure 4,347 litres (153.5 cubic feet) for the former and 2,449 litres (86.5 cu ft) for the latter when both rear rows are folded flat. Those numbers are just for the most basic of Ascent trims, incidentally, which also measures 1,345 litres (47.5 cu ft) behind the 60/40-split second row and 504 litres (17.8 cu ft) behind the 60/40-split third row, while all other trims are half a litre less commodious at 2,435 litres (86.0 cu ft) behind the first row, 1,331 litres (47.0 cu ft) aft of the second row, and 498 litres (17.6 cu ft) in the very back.
These figures compare well against key competitors, with the Ascent’s passenger volume even greater than the Explorer’s, and its standard eight-occupant seating configuration a rarity in the class, while the big Subaru’s maximum cargo capacity makes it one of the segment’s most accommodating too. Also important, rear passenger access is made easier thanks to second-row doors that open to 75 degrees.
Being that the Ascent is a Subaru SUV, it includes standard full-time Symmetrical AWD, which has long proven to be one of the more capable all-wheel drive systems available. Its initial advantage starts with more evenly balanced weight distribution thanks to a longitudinally-mounted engine and transmission, its competitors’ AWD setups derived from FWD chassis architectures that house transversely-mounted motors, plus Subaru’s horizontally-opposed flat “boxer” engine allows for a lower centre of gravity, which improves handling and packaging.
Additionally, Symmetrical AWD applies more torque to the wheels with the most grip, and it’s done in such a way that traction not only improves when taking off from standstill in slippery conditions, but it also benefits overall control at higher speeds. This results in an SUV that’s plenty capable no matter the road or trail surface it’s traveling over, while its standard X-mode off-road system, complete with hill descent control, plus its generous 220 millimetres (8.66 inches) of ground clearance for overcoming obstacles, snow banks, etcetera, makes it better than the crossover SUV average for tackling rougher situations.
During our off-road test, all we needed to do was press the X-Mode button on the lower console and it responded almost as well as the low gearing range of a truck-based 4×4. You can hear the electronic traction and stability control systems going to work as it was searching for traction, and it went up some very steep, slippery, muddy patches that I would’ve normally only attempted with something with a bull-low gear set, like a Jeep Wrangler or Toyota 4Runner.
On that note the Ascent provides one of the nicest rides in its class too, something I really appreciated when off-pavement, but I won’t go so far as to say it’s the sportiest or best handling in this three-row category. It’s still capable of coursing through winding backcountry two-lane roads at a decent clip, but don’t expect it to increase your adrenaline levels unless high-speed body lean is your idea of a good time.
The new SUV utilizes the Subaru Global Platform (SGP), which combines rigid yet lightweight unibody construction with a fully independent MacPherson strut front and double-wishbone rear suspension setup, enhanced further by a stabilizer bar mounted directly to the body at the rear and electric rack and pinion steering up front. It all rolls on 18-inch silver five-spoke alloys shod with 245/60 all-seasons in the Ascent’s two lower trims, and 20-inch machine-finished high-gloss split-spoke rims on 245/50 rubber for the two upper trims, my tester benefiting from the latter.
And yes, good road-holding is important in an SUV that gets up and goes as quickly as the Ascent. Its horizontally-opposed 2.4-litre turbocharged four-cylinder engine provides strong performance off the line and plenty of passing power too, thanks to 260 horsepower and 277 lb-ft of torque, the latter maximized between 2,000 and 4,800 rpm, but I found it best when driven in a more relaxed manner where the powertrain was wonderfully smooth and didn’t use a lot of fuel.
Subaru claims 11.6 L/100km in the city, 9.0 on the highway and 10.4 combined for the new Ascent, compared to 12.0, 8.7 and 10.5 respectively for the larger displacement 3.6-litre H-6 in the considerably smaller Outback. Considering new four-cylinder produces 4 more horsepower and 30 additional lb-ft of torque than that now aging flat-six, we’ll more than likely see this smaller, much more efficient turbocharged engine in a future Outback as well.
The Ascent also compares well against the base 2.3-litre turbo-four-powered Explorer that gets an estimated 13.1 city, 9.2 highway and 11.4 combined, although the Ford makes considerably more power, while the most efficient version of Toyota’s Highlander V6 AWD actually performs impressively with an almost identical rating to the Ascent, of 11.7, 8.8 and 10.4 respectively. Needless to say the Ascent competes at the pump very well considering its performance and size.
Aiding efficiency is the Ascent’s High-torque Lineartronic CVT, the continuously variable transmission not only thrifty but also ideal for mid-size crossover SUV applications due to smooth, linear power delivery. Subaru adds a standard set of steering wheel paddle shifters to improve driver engagement, along with a pseudo eight-speed manual mode that does a pretty good job of mimicking a regular transmission’s gear changes while featuring fairly sporty driving characteristics as well as standard Active Torque Vectoring to increase grip at high speeds. Subaru first introduced this advanced CVT for its WRX performance car, and while not set up to respond as sharply as it would in its world rally-inspired sport sedan, it still does a great job of combining positive, smooth shifts with minimal fuel consumption.
Unlike many of the Ascent’s mid-size rivals, its AWD is standard and powertrain a one-size-fits-all affair, no matter the trim level. On that note, the 2019 Ascent can be had in Convenience, Touring, Limited and Premier grades, with standard Convenience features not already mentioned including auto on/off halogen headlights, LED daytime running lights, roof rails, a 4.2-inch colour TFT multi-information display, three-zone automatic climate control, 6.5-inch touchscreen infotainment with Android Auto and Apple CarPlay smartphone connectivity, a rearview camera, six-speaker audio, satellite radio, three-way heated front seats, an eight-way power-adjustable driver’s seat, second-row USB ports, a total of 19 cup and bottle holders, and more for just $35,995 plus freight and fees.
Each and every 2019 Ascent trim also includes standard Subaru EyeSight driver assist technologies such as adaptive cruise control with lead vehicle start assist, pre-collision braking, pre-collision brake assist, pre-collision throttle management, lane departure warning, lane sway warning, and lane keeping assist, while all the expected active and passive safety features come standard too.
For $40,995 in eight-passenger trim or $41,495 with second-row captain’s chairs, which reduces the total seat count to seven, Ascent Touring trim adds the Subaru Rear/Side Vehicle Detection (SRVD) system that includes blind spot detection, lane change assist, rear cross-traffic alert and reverse automatic braking, as well as unique machine-finished five-spoke 18-inch alloys, body-colour side mirrors with integrated LED turn signals and approach lighting, LED fog lamps, a sportier rear bumper cap with integrated tailpipe cutouts, proximity keyless access, pushbutton ignition, front door courtesy lights, chrome inner door handles, a Homelink garage door opener, a windshield wiper de-icer, auto-dimming rearview and side mirrors, a leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob, larger 8.0-inch touchscreen infotainment, premium cloth upholstery, a powered panoramic sunroof, magazine pockets on the front seatbacks, second-row climate controls, third-row reading lights, a rear cargo cover, a powered liftgate, a transmission oil cooler, trailer stability control, and pre-wiring for a trailer hitch that increases towing capacity to 2,270 kg (5,000 lbs).
Limited trim, starting at $46,495 in standard eight-passenger layout or $46,995 in its seven-passenger configuration with second-row captain’s chairs, adds the larger 20-inch alloys mentioned earlier, plus steering-responsive full low/high beam LED headlights with automatic high beam assist, black and ivory soft-touch interior surfaces, a heatable steering wheel, an upgraded gauge cluster with chrome bezels and light blue needles (in place of red), and a 6.3-inch colour multifunction display atop the dash that shows the time, temperature and dynamic features such as an inclinometer, while a navigation system with detailed mapping is included within the infotainment display, as is SiriusXM Traffic, whereas additional Limited features include a 14-speaker 792-watt Harman/Kardon audio system, a 10-way power-adjustable driver seat upgraded to include powered lumbar support and cushion length adjustment, driver’s seat and side-mirror memory, a four-way power-adjustable front passenger seat, leather upholstery, two-way heatable second-row outboard seats, integrated rear door sunshades, third-row USB ports, and more.
Top-tier Premier trim, which comes fully equipped at $49,995, even including standard captain’s chairs, adds an upgraded high-gloss black grille insert, satin-finish side mirror caps, chrome exterior door handles, rain-sensing wipers, ambient interior lighting, a front-view camera, a Smart Rearview Mirror with an integrated rear-view camera, woodgrain inlays, brown perforated leather upholstery, ventilated front seats, a 120-volt power outlet on the rear centre console, and more.
Incidentally, all 2019 Subaru Ascent pricing was sourced from CarCostCanada, where you can also find detailed pricing on trims, packages and standalone options for every other new model sold in Canada, plus otherwise hard to get rebate information and dealer invoice pricing that could save you thousands.
As for interior accommodations and finishings, the dash top in our Ascent Premier was mostly covered in a leather-look soft-to-the-touch synthetic, featuring stylish stitching across the middle in front of the passenger. Just below is a handy shelf that’s similar to the Highlander’s in function, while more leather-like composite, also stitched with real thread, supports that shelf across the lower portion of the dash before visually melding into the door panels, this surface treatment in a lovely ivory colour. The black and ivory colour theme is nicely complemented by brown armrests in the same tone as the aforementioned brown leather seats, while Premier trim also includes woodgrain inlays that don’t even try to look or feel genuine despite having a slight matte finish. I should also mention that elbow-pampering soft-touch door uppers can be found front and back, but don’t expect fabric-wrapped roof pillars as on some other mainstream mid-size SUVs.
The primary instruments are nicely done, but this top-line model does not include a full digital gauge cluster, a feature that’s starting to show up in many of the Ascent’s recently new or redesigned competitors, such as the Volkswagen Atlas and Hyundai Palisade. Just the same, the dials’ blue needles are a nice touch instead of the usual red found in lower trims, while the vertical TFT multi-information display includes a nice graphic of the SUV’s backside with taillights that light up when you press the brake. It’s kind of fun to watch, but this display is even more useful for reminding drivers they may have left something, someone or some pet in the rear seating compartment by notifying via a visual alert and audio alarm chime, as well as other functions.
This said the larger multi-information display atop the dash goes to work when the aforementioned EyeSight ADAS systems are put into action, with really attractive and detailed graphics, while this display also provides speed limit information, navigation system info, an inclinometer and other off-road features, and more.
Just below on the centre stack, the Ascent gets Subaru’s beautiful new high-resolution 3D-like infotainment touchscreen that we first enjoyed in the new Forester and WRX models. It’s a giant step up in visual attractiveness and functionality, getting all of the features and apps noted previously while I listed off standard and optional items, while responding to input quickly and reliably.
Speaking of quick response times, the heated steering wheel rim and three-way heatable front seats come on quickly and remain hot as well, instead of slowly cooling off like so many others are programmed to. The switch for steering wheel heat is logically located just under the right-side spoke where it’s easy to find, while the adaptive cruise control system, activated via buttons just above, works perfectly in both high-speed and stop-and-go situations. Similarly, the lane departure system held the Ascent in place when cruising down the freeway, but it tended to bounce off the lines instead of maintaining the centre of a given lane when my hands weren’t on the wheel (not that I recommend driving without hands on the wheel, but I was testing the system out).
Speaking of technologies, the Ascent Premier’s centre mirror gets pretty close to mirroring a sophisticated smartphone or tablet. It does double-duty as a backup camera when a switch just below is flicked rearward, whereas pulling that lever forward causes it to revert to a regular auto-dimming mirror. Less sophisticated yet also appreciated, the Ascent’s handy sunglasses holder doubles as a conversation mirror.
The seats are extremely comfortable and wide, good for large people yet also accommodating for my five-foot-eight medium-build body type. With the driver’s seat set up for my long-legged, short-torso frame, meaning that it was pushed farther rearward than it would be with some other people of my stature, I still had no problem comfortably reaching the steering wheel when the column was extended as far back as possible, plus when walking around to the second row and climbing in directly behind the driver’s seat I found the rear passenger accommodations very spacious and comfortable. In fact, there was about 10 inches of nothing between my knees and the front seatback, plus more than enough room to move my head and shoulders around.
Even more amazing, with the middle row pushed as far back as possible I still had ample room in the third row. To be clear, my knees were touching the second-row seatbacks, so moving those seats forward a smidge would’ve made it easier to move around in the very back, but I had close to three inches over my head, meaning the third row could be used for average-sized adults, even when larger adults are sitting in the first two rows.
As noted earlier, there’s a fair bit of room behind the rearmost seats for gear, this space about as large as a full-size sedan’s trunk, while below the load floor there’s another compartment for stowing what-have-you along with the retractable cargo cover when not in use. Folding the 60/40-split third row down is a little bit awkward, but it works well enough. First you’ll need to manually slide the headrests into the seatbacks, and then tug a strap on top of the seats before pushing the seats forward. To get them back up, just pull the longer strap that’s attached to the cargo floor/seatback. The second row folds down by first unlatching it, so you can slide it forward, and then unlatching a second release at which point you can slide them back if you want to match up each side. There’s certainly a lot of space for luggage or building materials, but the captain’s chairs don’t form a very flat loading surface. I’m guessing it would work better with the standard bench seat, so if you’re doing a lot of hauling you may want to purchase one of the Ascent’s lesser trims.
As far as purchasing an Ascent at all, I think Subaru has done a very good job with its second-ever mid-size SUV. First, it looks like a Subaru, albeit on steroids, and should be attractive to those buying into this category, while its overall size and ability to haul plenty of passengers in comfort plus loads of cargo should appeal to all but those looking for a full-size utility. The Ascent’s fit and finish is quite good for the class, electronics very good, standard and optional features set impressive, performance and fuel economy compromise spot on, and overall feeling of quality more than up to par. Therefore if you like Subaru and you need to add space and utility to your mobility, the Ascent is well worth your time and attention.
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…
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Have you seen the 2020 Toyota Highlander? It’s not available to purchase yet, having only debuted at the New York International Auto Show in April, but a quick glance shows that Toyota’s crossover…
Have you seen the 2020 Toyota Highlander? It’s not available to purchase yet, having only debuted at the New York International Auto Show in April, but a quick glance shows that Toyota’s crossover SUV division is abandoning its recent Lexus-inspired grandiosity in favour of a subtler approach, much like the 2014 through 2016 Highlander did.
You might remember that Toyota redesigned the Highlander for the 2014 model year, giving it a lot more character and much more refinement inside, while increasing the maximum seat count from seven to eight, and then after enjoying much success with this newfound mid-size crossover formula the automaker replaced the simpler Toyota truck-inspired front grille and fascia for a ritzier chromed up look just three years later for the 2017 model year, which honestly hadn’t hurt sales until recently.
I’m not a fan of all the glitz and glam adorning the face of this otherwise clean, uncluttered and straightforward family hauler (it still looks quite nice from the rear), but possibly due to its new façade and likely more so because of the automotive market’s general adoption of crossover SUVs in place of cars, Canadian sales were up by 17.70 percent from calendar years 2016 to 2017, although they dropped by 4.06 percent last year and over the first half of 2019 have slipped another 17.70 percent (bizarre that the model’s fall from grace so far this year is in perfect sync with its growth two years ago).
So why, in a market that’s supposedly turning away from traditional cars to crossovers and SUVs, has the Highlander been losing so much ground? Another glance at the stats shows it’s not alone, at least amongst mid-size SUV sales that have fallen by 7.66 percent from calendar years 2017 to 2018. In fact, of the 24 crossovers and SUVs currently selling into the mid-size volume segment (including raised wagons like Subaru’s Outback, two-row crossover SUVs like Hyundai’s Santa Fe, three-row crossover SUVs like this Highlander, and traditional body-on-frame SUVs like Toyota’s 4Runner), eight saw positive growth and 10 experienced a swing in the negative direction, with another five seeing only growing due to being completely new models.
Don’t expect to see all of these models in the same order at year’s end, thanks to redesigns (the new Explorer should be closer to it’s previous third place, and the aforementioned 2020 Highlander will no doubt get a boost too) and all-new models swelling the ranks (the new Blazer’s sales are impressive), but the leading brands will likely maintain their leadership for good reason, and one of those leaders has long been Toyota.
Being the last year of this well-seasoned third-generation K-platform-based (XU50) Highlander (the new model will ride on the GA-K version of the Toyota New Global Architecture/TNGA), Toyota hasn’t done much to lure in additional buyers. In fact, it’s only added an optional set of LED fog lamps in place of last year’s halogens, which look almost identical from a distance.
Toyota loaned me a 2019 Highlander Hybrid Limited for my weeklong test, by the way, in the exact same Celestial Silver Metallic and Black perforated leather combination as last year’s version, a model I reviewed in detail along with a lovely “Ooh La La Rouge Mica” (that’s really the name) painted conventionally powered 2018 Highlander Limited (both models get the LED fog light upgrade this year).
Updates aside, I still find it shocking that Toyota is the only mainstream volume brand to offer optional electrification in this mid-size class, being that most key competitors have had hybrid drivetrains within their given lineups for decades (although I’ll give Chrysler a shout-out for its Pacifica Hybrid plug-in because it’s at least spacious enough to compete). More power to Toyota, as this Highlander Hybrid remains the most fuel efficient mid-size crossover SUV available, at a time when our country is experiencing our highest pump prices ever, and no end to the budget gouging in sight if our various governments continue to have any say.
Claimed 2019 Highlander Hybrid ratings are 8.1 L/100km in the city, 8.5 on the highway and 8.3 combined, compared to 12.0 city, 8.9 highway and 10.6 combined for the most similarly equipped mid-range XLE and top-line Limited trims with the conventionally-powered V6, AWD, and upgraded auto start/stop system.
Before showing you all competitive model Transport Canada fuel economy numbers, it’s important to note that both Highlander models offer a lot more standard power. Where the majority of rivals come standard with four-cylinder engines, the regular Highlander now uses a 3.5-litre V6 good for 295 horsepower and 263 lb-ft of torque, driving either the front wheels in LX trim, or all four in LX AWD, XLE and Limited trims, via an eight-speed automatic with available auto idle start/stop, whereas the Highlander Hybrid uses the same engine running the more efficient Atkinson-cycle yet, thanks to its potent electric motor/battery combination, makes 306 net horsepower and an undisclosed (but more than sufficient) amount of torque, which ramps up near immediately due to 100 percent of electrified twist arriving instantaneously.
From the list of three-row competitors above, the most efficient (when compared with AWD and auto start/stop if available) rival is Kia’s Sorento at 11.2 L/100km city, 9.0 highway and 10.2 combined, but the Sorento is quite a bit smaller than the Highlander and, like its platform-sharing Hyundai Santa Fe that is no longer available with three rows so as to make way for the brand new Palisade, Kia buyers looking for more passenger and cargo room will likely move up to the Telluride.
Just the same, after the Sorento the thriftiest three-row mid-size SUVs are as follows: GMC Acadia: 11.3 L/100km city, 9.4 highway and 10.5 combined; Mazda CX-9 at 11.6, 9.1 and 10.5 respectively; Highlander V6 at 12.0, 8.9 and 10.6; Nissan Pathfinder at 12.1, 8.9 and 10.7; Honda Pilot at 12.4, 9.3 and 11.0; Hyundai Palisade at 12.3, 9.6 and 11.1; Kia Telluride at 12.5, 9.6 and 11.2; Dodge Durango at 12.7, 9.6 and 11.3; Ford Explorer at 13.1, 9.2 and 11.4; Chevrolet Traverse at 13.7, 9.5 and 11.8; Volkswagen Atlas at 13.8, 10.2 and 12.2; Dodge Journey at 14.5, 10.0 and 12.4; Ford Flex at 14.7, 10.7 and 12.9; and Toyota 4Runner at 14.3, 11.9 and 13.2 respectively.
The only mid-size (kind of) crossover SUV that comes close to the Highlander Hybrid as far as fuel economy goes, albeit with only two rows, five passengers, and much less cargo capacity or power is the four-cylinder equipped Subaru Outback, which still comes up short at 9.4 L/100km city, 7.3 highway and 8.5 combined, while more closely sized, but still two-row, five-passenger and four-cylinder equipped options that improve on the V6-powered Highlander’s fuel-efficiency include the base Ford Edge at 11.4 city, 8.3 highway and 10.0 combined; the Hyundai Santa Fe at 11.2, 8.7 and 10.1 respectively; and the Nissan Murano at 11.7, 8.5 and 10.3; while just for the sake of finishing the list, the new similarly smaller Honda Passport is rated at 12.5, 9.8 and 11.3 respectively; the new Chevrolet Blazer at 12.7, 9.5 and 11.3, while finally the Jeep Grand Cherokee gets a 12.7, 9.6 and 11.3 respective rating.
The electromechanical portion of the Highlander Hybrid’s drivetrain is made up of two permanent magnet synchronous motors, one for driving the front wheels and the other for those in the rear, plus a sealed nickel-metal hydride (Ni-MH) traction battery. Yes, no lithium-ion battery for this now classic Hybrid Synergy Drive hybrid system, but that’s not a bad thing. Consider for a moment that NiMH batteries have been in automotive use since the original Prius went on sale in 1997, and plenty of Prius taxis can be found running around Canadian cities with more than a million kilometres on their original battery packs. NiMH batteries have a proven track record, plus older batteries can be rebuilt using newer modules, as they’ve basically been the same since 2001.
The only negative with the Highlander Hybrid, at least from a driving perspective, is the replacement of the regular model’s eight-speed automatic with an electronically controlled continuously variable transmission (ECVT), but it’s only an issue when pushing the SUV harder through fast-paced backroads than you will likely ever do. Around town and on the highway both transmissions are wonderfully smooth and easy to get along with, while Toyota gives the ECVT a fairly conventional feel thanks to stepped ratios that mimic a traditional automatic, as well as a sequential shift mode when wanting to get sporty, or merely downshift for engine-braking.
As for the Hybrid’s all-wheel drive system, it worked well enough in the rain and even in the mountaintop snow I was able to locate during my test week. Toyota has had a baker’s dozen of years to perfect this basic system, moving up from the original 2006 Highlander Hybrid’s 3.3-litre V6 to the current 3.5-litre version, but other than that sticking with this tried and true drivetrain formula, and I’ve never had an issue pulling myself out of sticky or slippery situations, snow banks included.
Breaking the $50k barrier (at $50,950 plus freight and fees) the 2019 Highlander Hybrid doesn’t come cheap in base XLE trim, while this full-load Limited version hits the road for an even loftier $57,260, but then again a similarly optioned 2019 Chevrolet Traverse High Country comes in at an even pricier $60,100, and the only slightly more upscale 2019 Buick Enclave Avenir will set you back a stratospheric $62,100, and they don’t even offer hybrid drivetrains, so maybe the Highlander Hybrid Limited isn’t so expensive after all.
By the way, make sure to check out CarCostCanada for detailed pricing of all cars just mentioned, including trims, packages and options, plus money saving rebate info and dealer invoice pricing that could save you thousands, whether purchasing the new 2019 Highlander, 2019 Chevy Traverse, 2019 Buick Enclave, or any other mid-size crossover SUV (I’ve got them all linked above if you’d like to know more).
This is where I’d normally go into detail about those trims, packages and options just noted, but it makes more sense to link to my 2018 Toyota Highlander V6 AWD and Hybrid Road Test review and you can read all about it, because, as mentioned earlier, nothing at all has changed from 2018 to 2019 other than those LED fog lamps.
Suffice to say this is a really impressive SUV, with plenty of power, a wonderful ride, decent enough handling, near premium levels of interior quality that even include woven cloth wrapped around all eight roof pillars and plenty of soft-touch surfacing, a nice colourful gauge cluster filled with the types of hybrid controls expected from a partially electric vehicle, a reasonably good centre touchscreen that’s now only overshadowed because of Toyota’s excellent new Entune infotainment interface, comfortable seating from front to back, loads of cargo space, a great reliability record, and superb fuel economy.
The only reason not to consider the 2019 Highlander Hybrid is the same factor for getting one sooner than later, the new 2020 Highlander Hybrid that will show up later this year. It promises to be a step up in styling, refinement and performance, which might give pause to anyone buying this tried and tested model, but that said the current version is not only well proven, it should also be easier for your to get a significant discount. Once again, check out CarCostCanada for any rebate info, while it’s always a good idea to find out what the dealer pays for the vehicle you want in order to negotiate the best deal possible.