Only slightly ahead of the U.S.’ annual of 4th July 4th celebrations (not to mention our Canada Day on July 1), Porsche unveiled its new 911 Carrera GTS Cabriolet America Edition. Of course, the new limited model also celebrates the red, white and blue market, with exclusive paint, badges, and interior detailing.
Being that we’re talking Porsche, the current naming convention would be Guards Red with Pure White for the special 911’s exterior accents, which include a thick set of rocker stripes boasting classic “America” script on the front portion of each door panel, as well as white nameplate lettering on the rear deck lid, while white-painted RS Spyder Design alloy wheels feature red pin-striping on the edges of their rims. The exterior paint is Azure Blue, incidentally, completing the look.
America Edition has become a Porsche sports car tradition
Just in case you were thinking the America Edition is something new, the market targeted tradition goes back 70 years. Porsche initially designed a special 356 America Roadster to interest American sports car buyers in 1952, and then did something similar with the 911 (964) Cabriolet back in 1992 as the 964 America Roadster. Once again, the now classic America Edition gets applied to a 2023 911, and while no red and white edition will be available to Canadians north of the 49th, we do have the opportunity to purchase this red, white and blue variant.
“The brand celebrates its heritage with this exclusive 911 model that brings us back to roots of the legendary 356 America Roadster from 70 years ago,” said Marc Ouayoun, president and CEO Porsche Cars Canada, Ltd. “We are delighted to be able to also extend the offer to our Canadian clientele, even if in very limited numbers.”
The “very limited numbers” Ouayoun mentioned total 130 units overall, divided into 115 examples sold into the U.S., and just 15 made available in Canada.
Special America Edition based on super-quick 911 Carrera GTS Cabriolet
The new America Edition, which was unveiled at the 2022 Porsche Parade in Poconos, PA, is based on the brilliantly fast 911 Carrera GTS Cabriolet, which means its twin-turbo 3.0-litre horizontally opposed six-cylinder engine makes a robust 473 horsepower and 420 lb-ft of torque. All of that grunt goes down to the rear wheels via Porsche’s seven-speed manual gearbox, while helper springs were added to the rear axle before the standard upgrade to Porsche Active Suspension Management (PASM) Sport lowered the ride height by 10 mm (0.4 in), enhancing handling further.
The standard menu grows to include the Sport Chrono Package as well, plus a sport exhaust system, while rear axle steering and Porsche Ceramic Composite Brakes (PCCB) are offered as options, the latter increasing stopping performance over the regular cast iron brakes, which are comprised of 408/380 mm front/rear rotors with six- and four-piston black-painted aluminium calipers respectively.
Unique interior highlights make America Edition stand out
Once you step over exclusive “1952 – 1992 – 2022 – 70 Years America Roadster” scuff plates, your eyes will likely notice a bright red vertical stripe at the top centre of the leather-wrapped sport steering wheel. Additional interior upgrades include baseball-style Guards Red and light Pebble Grey two-tone cross-stitched thread running across the dash top and door uppers, as well as two-tone French-stitched detailing to each side of the shifter, which fasten the boot into place. The latter also garnishes each side of the centre armrest, plus there’s a custom leather key fob holster for sliding the upgraded Azure Blue key into.
A special set of ribbed sport seats also gets the red and white treatment, albeit with twinned rows of alternating colours. Porsche follows the stylish theme over to the rear jump seat cushions, while back up front, bold red “911” block letters are embroidered into the front headrests. As if that weren’t enough, red stitching binds the leather of the steering wheel rim together around the inside, plus the seatbelts and webbed seatback releases are also done out in bring red. Notably, some of these the above features come as part of an optional extended interior package, but I wouldn’t lose any sleep about which features are standard or optional, because we can’t imagine Porsche Canada would import any 911 Carrera GTS Cabriolet America units being shipped without this option package.
North American driving passion is why America Edition exists
“Passion for driving a Porsche runs deep in the United States,” stated Kjell Gruner, Porsche Cars North America President and CEO. “In particular, there is something special about hitting the road in an open top 911 with a manual transmission that fits perfectly here. This is also the perfect time to add another ‘America’ model to our story as we look back on 70 years since the 356 America Roadster and 30 years since the 964 America Roadster.”
Canadians wanting a new 2023 911 Carrera GTS Cabriolet America Edition might find that the “very limited” order book is filled already, despite the special model’s $206,190 base price (214,750 with the extended interior package), although it never hurts to contact your local Porsche retailer to make sure. Who knows? Maybe someone cancelled their order due to a sudden shortage of Bitcoin.
If I loved Toyota’s Highlander Hybrid any more, it would be a Hyundai Palisade hybrid. I jest, of course, because I really like the Highlander. In fact, if I had to choose, it would be difficult to decide between this time-tested Toyota and either the Palisade or Kia’s equally good Telluride, which have both been lauded as two of the best in their class right now by almost everyone in the automotive press, although neither can be had with a fuel-sipping electrified drivetrain.
That matters a lot, especially with the average price for a litre of regular fuel hovering around $1.70 per litre in my area. Most anyone buying into the family hauler sector is constrained by a budget, so saving at the pump can be the difference of buying little Liam and Emma brand new runners or making a detour to the thrift store just in case they have something “pre-loved” available in the right sizes, or maybe buyers in this $40-$50k class can relate more to a choice between purchasing bulk chicken legs and rib eye steaks for Sunday’s BBQ. Either way, my point is clear, especially at a time when all types of meats have become much more expensive due to run-away government spending and the resultant inflationary problems, amongst other issues driving up the prices of foods and consumer items.
Toyota’s three-row antidote to this reality check equals 6.6 L/100km in the city, 6.8 on the highway and 6.7 combined for the Highlander Hybrid, while Hyundai and Kia alternatively claim 12.3, 9.6, and 11.1, or 12.6, 9.7 and 11.3 for the equivalent all-wheel drive versions of the Palisade or Telluride respectively. Based on these numbers, the South Korean-sourced three-row competitors are almost twice as expensive on fuel, and while it would be fairer to compare them to the conventional V6-powered Highlander, which is still easier on the wallet at 11.8 city, 8.6 highway and 10.3 combined, that’s not the SUV I drove for this particular test week.
There’s really nothing that compares with the Highlander Hybrid. Certainly, other automakers produce electrified SUVs in the mid-size class, the Ford Explorer Hybrid being one that also features three rows of passenger capacity, but nevertheless the much newer blue-oval entry only targets a rather so-so fuel economy rating of 10.1 L/100km city, 9.0 highway and 9.6 combined, which is way off the mark set by Toyota. To put that into perspective, Kia’s new Sorento is capable of almost the same fuel economy without the complexity of a hybrid-electric powertrain, its claimed rating a respective 10.1, 9.2 and 9.7 in base form, or 11.1, 8.4 and 9.9 with its potent turbo-four, and this Korean comes in hybrid form in the U.S. (hopefully soon in Canada).
Speaking of the Korean competition, Canada’s car market does include the electrified Hyundai Santa Fe that gets a better rating than Ford’s mid-size hybrid at 7.1 L/100km city, 7.9 highway and 7.4 combined, but due to only having two rows of seats it’s not a direct competitor to either the Explorer Hybrid or Highlander Hybrid being reviewed here, so it will only matter to those that don’t really need the extra rear row of seats and extended cargo capacity. The only other HEV in the mid-size SUV class is Toyota’s own Venza, which is more or less a shortened, lighter version of the Highlander Hybrid under a very different skin, which is why it gets class-leading fuel economy at 5.9 city, 6.4 highway, and 6.1 combined.
If fuel efficiency were the only reason to choose a Venza or Highlander Hybrid I could understand why so many buyers do, but as you may have guessed there’s so much more that make these two SUVs worthy of your consideration that I’d be remiss to stop writing here. Of course, I’ll leave any more comments about the Venza to a future review, and instead solely focus on the Highlander Hybrid in its as-tested top-line $54,150 Limited form, which is one of three trim levels that also include the $45,950 base LE and $48,450 mid-range XLE.
On an interesting note, when it debuted in 2000 the Highlander became the first mid-size car-based crossover SUV ever created, other than Subaru’s smaller two-row Outback, which continues to be more of a classic station wagon-type crossover than anything resembling a conventional sport utility. Toyota was also first with a hybridized SUV, the Highlander Hybrid having arrived on the scene way back in 2005 in a refreshed version of the original body style.
Two model years later, Toyota once again added a hybrid option to the second-generation Highlander from 2008 through 2013, after which they didn’t skip an electronic beat when the Highlander moved into its third and fourth generations, right up until today’s model. With such longevity in the hybrid sector, it’s no wonder Toyota achieves the mid-size SUV segment’s best fuel economy ratings, not to mention one of the more enviable of reliability ratings and resale value rankings.
In the most recent 2021 J.D. Power Vehicle Dependability Study, the Highlander came in second behind Kia’s Sorento, which is impressive for both considering the 23 unique models that contest in this class, not including the three new 2022 Jeeps (Grand Cherokee L, Wagoneer and Grand Wagoneer) and one discontinued Dodge (Journey). The Kia and Toyota brands place third and fourth overall in this study, incidentally, plus first and second amongst mainstream volume brands (Lexus and Porsche are first and second overall), again, an extremely impressive result, albeit not unusual for the two Japanese brands.
Similarly, the Highlander placed third behind the Sorento and Dodge Durango in the same analytical firm’s 2020 Initial Quality Study, while even more interesting (and useful), Dashboard-Light.com gave the Highlander an “Exceptional” reliability score of 94.2, which amongst mid-size SUVs is only beaten by (once again) the FJ Cruiser at 98 (the 4Runner only scored 89 for third), this study combining the scores of models over a 20-year period, with the most reliable Highlanders actually being the most recent two generations, each scoring perfect 100s.
What about all-important resale/residual values? These say more about what you’ll actually end up paying for a vehicle over the duration of ownership than its initial price, so the fact the Highlander placed second to Toyota’s 4Runner in Canadian Black Book’s 2020 and 2019 Best Retained Value Awards, plus third in 2018 and 2017, the latter only because Toyota’s FJ Cruiser pushed the 4Runner and Highlander down a notch each, means you’ll likely retain more of your initial investment in a Highlander than any other crossover SUV.
This testament to its value proposition is further backed up by J.D. Power’s 2021 ALG Residual Value Awards, in which the Highlander earned highest retained value in its “Midsize Utility Vehicle—3rd Row Seating” category. Additionally, Vincentric’s 2021 Best Value in America Awards placed the Highlander Hybrid on top of its “Hybrid SUV/Crossover” category, while the RAV4 Hybrid won this sector in Canada.
Styling plays a part in holding resale values, and to that end most Highlanders have benefited from attractive designs that still look good after years and even decades. I’ve recently seen first-generation models fixed up to look like off-roaders thanks to much more interest in off-grid living and camping, which of course necessitates all types of 4x4s for exploring the wild unknown. Overlanding, as it’s now called, has even caused Lexus to create a dedicated off-road variant of its Land Cruiser Prado-based GX 460, the one-off exercise named GXOR Concept, and while sales of this impressive yet unpopular model would likely double or triple if they actually built something similar (Lexus Canada had only sold 161 GX 460s up to the halfway mark of this year), it’s probably not in the cards.
What is very real indeed, is a fourth-generation Highlander that’s returned to more of a rugged, classic SUV design, pulling more visual cues up from my personal favourite 2014–2016 third-generation variant than that model’s 2017–2019 refresh, which featured one of the largest grilles ever offered on a Toyota vehicle, seemingly inspired by the just-noted Lexus brand. This move should help prop up aforementioned residual values of early third-gen models too, although this probably wasn’t part of Toyota’s plan, making that Highlander a good long-term used car bet, if the current chip shortage hasn’t made it impossible to still get one for a decent price.
Suffice to say, the Highlander is one of my favourite new SUVs from a styling standpoint, and if sales are anything to go by (and they usually are), I’m not alone in my admiration. The Highlander was the only mid-size SUV in Canada to surpass five figures over the first six months of 2021, with 10,403 sales to its credit, followed by the perennial best-selling Ford Explorer with 8,359 deliveries over the same two quarters.
Even more impressive, Toyota sold 144,380 Highlanders by the year’s halfway mark in the U.S., while the second-best-selling Explorer only managed 118,241 units. There’s no way for us to easily tell how many of these sales (or lack thereof) were affected by the chip shortage, with Ford having been particularly hard hit in this crisis thus far. Recent news of Toyota preparing to halt up to 40 percent of its new vehicle production in September, for the same reason, will no doubt impact Q3 totals, and may be a reason for you to act quickly if you want to purchase a new Highlander.
The Explorer outsold the Highlander in the U.S. last year, with 226,215 units to 212,276, which still left them one and two in the segment, but Toyota was ahead in Canada last year at 16,457 units to 15,283 Explorers, leaving them second and fourth, with both being outsold by Jeep’s current Cherokee and Hyundai’s Santa Fe that managed third (of course, the Highlander and Explorer were still one and two amongst three-row mid-size SUVs).
There are a lot reasons why the Highlander earns such loyalty year in and year out, many of which I’ve already covered, but the model’s interior execution certainly took a big leap forward when the third-generation arrived, which no doubt kept owners happy long after its new car smell faded away. That older model featured such niceties as fabric-wrapped A-pillars and a soft-touch dash top and door uppers, plus more pliable composite surfaces elsewhere, as well as additional features like perforated leather upholstery, a heatable steering wheel, three-way heated and cooled front seats, an 8.0-inch centre touchscreen (large for the time), tri-zone automatic climate control with a separate rear control interface, an auto-dimming rearview mirror, a HomeLink transceiver, dynamic cruise control, clearance and backup sensors, LED ambient interior lighting, a panoramic glass sunroof, rear window sunshades, blind spot monitoring, lane departure warning, rear cross traffic alert, a pre-collision system, and much more, these items becoming more commonplace in this segment now, but not as much back then.
Of course, the 2021 Highlander Hybrid Limited comes with all of the above and more. For starters, its interior touchpoints use improved-quality materials and an even more upscale design, my tester’s including rich chocolate brown across the dash top, door uppers and lower dash and door panels, plus a cream-coloured hue for a padded mid-dash bolster, as well as the door inserts and armrests, the padded centre console edges that keep inner knees from chafing, the centre armrest, and the seats. Additionally, the former brown colour features copper-coloured contrast stitching, while the latter creamy tone uses a contrasting dark brown thread (except the seats).
My 2014 Highlander Hybrid Limited included some chocolate brown elements too, but these were mostly hard plastic highlights, while the rest of its mostly tan leather interior was complemented by the usual chrome- and satin-finish metallic accents, plus medium-tone woodgrain in a nice matte finish. My 2021 example, on the other hand, boasted even more faux metal, albeit in a satiny titanium finish, with the most notable application of this treatment being a large section that spanned the dash ahead of the front passenger before forking off to surround the main touchscreen. It’s a dramatic design statement for sure, while Toyota’s choice of woodgrain looked like more of a light brownish/grey ash with a gloss finish, covering most of the lower console and trimming the tops of each door.
Updated Highlander Hybrid Limited features now include LED low/high beam headlamps with automatic high beams, LED fog lights, LED mirror-mounted turn signals, LED puddle lamps that project a “Highlander” logo onto the road below, and LED taillights, plus 20-inch alloys instead of 19s, an electromechanical parking brake in place of the old foot-operated one, a much more vibrant primary gauge cluster featuring a large 7.0-inch colour TFT multi-information display instead of the old vertically rectangular unit that was really more of a colourful trip computer, a higher resolution glossy centre display with updated (albeit mostly monochromatic) graphics, which still only measures 8.0 inches and continues to benefit from two rows of physical buttons down each side for quick access to key functions, plus dials for power/volume and tuning/scrolling, while inside that infotainment system is Apple CarPlay and Android Auto smartphone integration.
There are now three USB ports located in a cubby at the base of the centre stack, instead of just one, and they still feed up through a slot to a mid-dash shelf, although now that shelf is split into two, including a separate one for the front passenger. A rubberized tray just below the USB chargers is large enough for most any smartphone, but I kept mine in a wireless charger found on a flip-up tray in the storage bin under the centre armrest. I’ve heard some folks complain that the wireless charging tray is too small for their devices, and being that it fit my Samsung S9 perfectly with its case on probably means that any of the larger plus-sized phones won’t fit. Toyota will want to address problem, because most people I know have larger phones than my aging S9.
Two more USB ports can be found on the backside of the front console for rear passengers, incidentally, while there’s also a three-prong household-style plug for charging laptops, external DVD players, game consoles, etcetera. If you want second-row seat warmers in back, you’ll need to move up to the Highlander Hybrid’s Platinum package, which increases the price by $2,300, but provides a lot of extra features that I’ll mention in a minute.
If you want to communicate with those in back, Toyota now includes Driver Easy Speak together with a conversation mirror that doubles as a sunglasses holder in the overhead console, similar to the one found in the old model. Also new, a Rear Seat Reminder lets you know if you’ve left something or someone in the back seat when leaving the vehicle.
Additional advanced driver safety and convenience features standard in top-line Limited trim include Full-Speed Range Dynamic Radar Cruise Control, Front-to-Front Risk Detection, Pre-Collision System with Pedestrian Detection and Bicycle Detection, Intelligent Clearance Sonar with Rear Cross Traffic Brake, Lane Departure Alert with Steering Assist, Left Turn Intersection Support, Risk Avoidance (Semi-Automated Emergency Steering to Avoid Pedestrian, Bicyclist or Vehicle), and Lane Tracing Assist.
The biggest change in this latest Highlander Hybrid, however, is found behind its sportier new winged grille, because Toyota smartly chose to say goodbye to its more potent 3.5-litre V6-powered Hybrid Synergy Drive system, which made a net 280-horsepower from its dual electric motor-assisted drivetrain, and hello to a much more fuel-friendly 2.5-litre-powered alternative that once again uses two electric motors, including a separate one in the rear for eAWD. The electric motor now powering the front wheels is more capable thanks to 19 additional horsepower, resulting in a maximum of 186, although the rear one is down 14 horsepower for a total of 54, leaving the new model’s net horsepower at 243.
In the end, Toyota managed to squeeze the aforementioned 6.6 L/100km in the city, 6.8 on the highway and 6.7 combined out of the new power unit, compared to 6.8 city, 7.2 highway and 7.0 combined in the old one. And yes, that does seem like a lot of reconfiguring for just a few L/100km difference, but more importantly this drivetrain is now being used in the two-row mid-size Venza and the Sienna minivan, which are no longer available with conventional powertrains. Additionally, the decision to focus the Highlander Hybrid more on fuel economy leaves the V6-powered hybrid drivetrain to Lexus’ more premium RX 450h, which now benefits from stronger performance than its Toyota-badged equivalent.
As you can probably appreciate, the new powertrain doesn’t have quite the same amount of punch off the line as the old one, but its performance deficiency isn’t all that noticeable, while it’s electronically-controlled CVT is still as smooth as ever. Smooth is the ideal descriptor of the Highlander Hybrid’s ride quality and overall refinement as well, a quality that likely lines up with most buyers in this class. This in mind, there are no paddle shifters on the steering wheel, but Sport mode really does make a difference off the line, and fast-paced handling is plenty good for this class, the Limited model’s 235/55R20 all-season tires no doubt making a difference when it comes to road-holding.
As good as the hybrid is, the conventionally-powered Highlander will be the go-to model for those wanting more performance, as it provides a standard 3.5-litre V6 with 295 horsepower and 263 lb-ft of torque, plus its quick-shifting eight-speed automatic transmission is a real joy to put through its paces. This said, we’re back at the big six-cylinder’s fuel economy that’s nowhere near as efficient at 10.3 L/100km combined, so stepping up to the hybrid makes perfect sense, especially in my part of Canada where a recent temporary low of $1.65 per litre for regular unleaded had me peeling off the road in order to top up my 2021 Hyundai Santa Fe tester, after waiting in a line of likeminded consumers to do so (more on that SUV in a future review).
The 2021 Highlander Hybrid’s premium over its solely internal combustion-powered equivalent is just $2,000, or at least that’s the case when comparing the base Hybrid LE AWD ($45,950) to the regular LE AWD ($43,950), although there’s still a less expensive V6-powered L trim that brings the Highlander’s actual base price down to $40,450 plus freight and fees (interestingly, the 2014 base Highlander Hybrid was more expensive at $43,720). The same $2,000 price gap is found amongst conventionally-powered and hybridized Limited trims.
I’d certainly be willing to pay another $2,300 for the Highlander’s aforementioned Platinum package, which incidentally includes second-row captain’s chairs to go along with the rear butt warmers, plus reverse auto-tilting side mirrors, a head-up display, rain-sensing wipers, a 360-degree bird’s eye surround parking camera, a larger 12.3-inch infotainment touchscreen, a digital display system for the rearview mirror (you can use either the regular or digital version by flicking a switch), and a number of styling tweaks, all for $56,450, but I also wish Toyota included a couple useful extras like auto-dimming side mirrors, a powered tilt and telescopic steering column (the worked with memory), and four-way powered lumbar support for the front seats, features many rivals provide.
The driver’s seat was nevertheless extremely comfortable, other than its two-way powered lumbar support hitting the small of my back slightly high. Others might find it too low, and being that it only moves in and out, it’s always going to be a hit or miss affair. Otherwise, most body types should find the front seats more than adequate, while the non-powered tilt and telescopic steering wheel provides plenty of rearward reach, which meant my long-legged, short-torso frame was both comfortable and in full control.
Second-row roominess is about as good as this class gets too, with seats that could only be made more comfortable if the regular Highlander’s heatable captain’s chairs were offered, but they easily flip forward and out of the way for accessing the rearmost third row, which I found quite spacious and comfortable for the class, albeit missing USB charging ports.
There’s a total of 453 litres of dedicated cargo space behind that rear row, by the way, or 1,370 litres behind the second row when the third row’s 60/40-split backrests are folded forward, while 2,387 litres of space can be had behind the first row when the 60/40-split second row is lowered. That’s a lot of cargo capacity, but I would’ve liked to see Toyota utilize the 40/20/40-configured second-row seat from Lexus’ RX instead of this one, as it would allow for longer items, such as skis, to be stowed down the middle while second-row passengers were more comfortably positioned to either side.
So, while Toyota’s Highlander Hybrid Limited is not perfect, it’s easily one of the best available in its three-row mid-size crossover segment. Factoring in its enviable dependability and best-in-class residual value, it’s hard to argue against it, and therefore would be my choice, despite how good the two aforementioned Korean upstarts are. Now it’s just a matter of locating one before the chip shortage dries up availability.
Review and photos by Trevor Hofmann
Comparisons between Kia’s Telluride and Hyundai’s Palisade are starting to sound a lot like folks my age bantering about Chevy Blazer and GMC Jimmy preferences back in the ‘70s, with some liking…
Comparisons between Kia’s Telluride and Hyundai’s Palisade are starting to sound a lot like folks my age bantering about Chevy Blazer and GMC Jimmy preferences back in the ‘70s, with some liking Chevy’s subtler grille design more than GMC’s bolder iteration, or vice versa. I hear this type of talk a lot in chats about the two South Korean SUVs, and more often than not the Telluride gets two thumbs up when it comes to styling.
To be clear, I talk more often to gents about such things than ladies, and we should all know by now how important a women’s decision is in the buying process, especially in the family-friendly three-row crossover category. This might have something to do with the Palisade outselling the Telluride by more than two to one in Canada last year, Hyundai’s numbers reaching 7,279 units compared to just 3,474 deliveries for Kia. The divide is narrowing for 2021, with Hyundai growing Palisade sales to 4,037 examples during the first two quarters, and Kia stepping up with 2,531 Telluride deliveries.
Looking at these numbers, we can’t underestimate the power of the Hyundai brand in Canada, compared to Kia which got a much later start. While Hyundai arrived here in 1984, it only took two years to enter the U.S. market. Kia, on the other hand, didn’t travel north of the 49th until 1999, a full six years after a solid head start in the U.S. Kia has certainly been gaining ground over the past 20 years, but it’s always been a case of playing catchup in both markets.
Interestingly, despite only being on the market for a bit over two years, the Telluride is already outselling the Acadia, its three-row competitor from aforementioned GMC. To clarify how significant this is, the Acadia has been on the market since 2006, giving it a 13-year advantage, while 2021 saw a bolder new face thanks to a mid-cycle refresh. To be fair to the General, the second-generation Acadia is now in its fifth year of availability, although it should also be noted that the Telluride is currently on track to beat the newest Acadia’s best year of sales. As it is right now, Kia’s largest offering is outselling a whole host of similarly sized three-row rivals, from Nissan’s Pathfinder to Subaru’s Ascent.
This said, the two Korean automakers took a different styling direction with the Telluride and Palisade than those just mentioned. They’re designs are more upright and squared off, making them appear more like traditional body-on-frame SUVs than sleek, car-like crossovers. This is even truer for the Telluride, which completes its chunky design with a rectangular front grille, squarish stacked LED headlamps, and a sharply angled lower front fascia, while its blocky side profile culminates in a similarly rectangular-shaped liftgate that’s bookended by two vertical taillights curving inward elegantly as they rise up from the rear bumper. It’s at once rugged and refined, providing a best of both worlds image that’s not unlike something from Range Rover, and just like that British icon the Telluride only gets better upon closer inspection.
Its side window trim, for instance, feels as if it’s made from highly polished billet nickel, similar in fact to Lexus’ application of its bright metal window dressing. Kia just calls it “satin chrome,” so it’s probably not made from nickel, but either way these are some of the nicest window surrounds in the industry.
Inside, the A and B pillars are fabric-wrapped with the same high-quality woven material used for my SX Limited trim’s headliner, which itself is hollowed out from dual glass sunroofs, these including a regular moonroof up front and a large panoramic one in back. The look and feel of everything above the shoulders is premium, including the overhead console that houses switchgear to open the just-noted sunroofs and their powered fabric shades, plus the LED reading lights and buttons for activating the standard UVO Intelligence connected car services and emergency assistance system. A second overhead console can be found in between the two sunroofs, this one housing larger LED dome lights as well as controls for the automatic climate system’s third zone.
Moving downward, the dash top is finished in a nice rubberized soft-touch synthetic, with what feels like real stitching, while the same pliable composite is used for the front and rear door uppers. Below these is the closest reproduction of matte finish hardwood I’ve ever seen, with a substantive density that really had me questioning whether it was real or not (I checked, it isn’t).
No shortage of satin silver trim brightens up much of the rest of the cabin, plus a reasonable amount of piano black lacquered plastic, although this inky surface treatment was only kept to the lower console. This, however, is strange, because the lower console is the most likely place to get scratched, so it would be much better for Kia to come up with a less scratch-prone surface treatment for this high-use area.
At least this central divider is bordered by stitched leatherette-wrapped grab handles for the driver and front passenger, these also housing switchgear for the three-way heated and ventilated front seats. The console itself is filled with a wireless charging pad, two USB-A ports and a 12-volt charger hidden below a pop-up door, while a leather-wrapped and skirted shift lever rests ahead of a purposeful looking metal-edged rotating Drive/Terrain mode selector, complete with Comfort, Eco, Sport, Smart, Snow, Mud and Sand modes that are capable of tackling all sorts of driving situations, while a bunch of quick-access driving function buttons surround the electromechanical parking brake lever just behind.
The rest of the Telluride’s instruments are well organized, with my SX Limited tester’s primary gauge cluster comprised of two conventional analogue dials surrounding temperature and fuel sub-dials, centered by a large comprehensive multi-information display in full colour. This MID’s most unique feature is the live projection of two rear-facing cameras that completely eliminate blind spots upon applying the turn signals. Honda and Acura have long offered a right-side camera that displays on the larger centre infotainment screen, but only in models that don’t include their lane-change warning system. Kia, on the other hand, provides both technologies simultaneously to make double sure the adjacent lane is clear from traffic. On top of this, literally, is a head-up display, exclusive to SX Limited trim.
The Telluride’s centre infotainment display is a touch-sensitive widescreen that’s wonderfully easy to use and filled with attractive graphics in a tile-style layout. You can swipe it back and forth for additional features, plus use smartphone and tablet-style pinch gestures for specific functions including the navigation map, which just happens to be the default selection on the menu’s left-side tile. Audio system info can be found on the menu’s centre tile, while Hyundai’s proprietary “Driver Talk” rear passenger communication system is set to the right, while owners can customize the tiles in system setup if this default assortment doesn’t suit their personal requirements, and believe me there’s a lot of options to choose from.
Infotainment features not yet mentioned include Android Auto and Apple CarPlay smartphone integration, a voice memo, driving info, media, and more, while just below the touchscreen is a row of satin-metallic finished quick access buttons for the navigation system’s map, route guidance setup, the radio, media functions like satellite radio and Bluetooth audio, seek and track functions, favourites, and vehicle setup. Just under this is a dual-zone automatic HVAC interface that includes some switchgear for the third rear zone, plus a button for the heatable steering wheel that would no doubt keep its leather-wrapped rim toasty warm in winter, but being that I tested this SUV mid-summer, the top of the wheel already felt as if it was on fire after being parked.
That steering wheel spokes are filled with high-quality satin-finish metal and piano black switchgear, some of which include knurled-metal rocker switches for performing functions like adjusting the audio volume to answering the phone, or applying the adaptive cruise control and using the multi-information display. Likewise, the door panel-mounted power window and mirror controls are made from high-quality materials, with good fitment and nice damping, a theme that carries through the entire cabin. The doors’ lower panels, which are made from a harder composite, feature attractive metal-rimmed Harman Kardon speaker grilles, while the sound emanating from within is even more impressive.
My SX Limited’s six-way powered driver’s seat was comfortable and its positioning superb, with plenty of rake and reach from the tilt and telescopic steering wheel, which oddly is not powered despite Kia having provided memory in this near top-tier trim (only an all-black Nightsky edition costs more, and includes all of the same features as the SX Limited). I thought maybe the top-line Hyundai Palisade would provide a powered steering column, but not so for that SUV either.
Nevertheless, the driver’s seat includes a powered lower cushion extension for comfortably cupping under the knees, plus two-way powered lumbar support that met the small of my back nicely, while the driving position is excellent as noted, this not always the case for my long-legged, short-torso frame, but I felt comfortable and fully in control at all times. The seats provide excellent lower back support and plenty of comforting padding all-round, with reasonable side bolstering too. I believe they’ll be good for most body types, plus the Telluride should be roomy enough for almost anyone.
Like most Kia models, the Telluride’s rear passengers are treated just as nicely as those up front. The finishings are much the same, with near identical door panels, other than manual window shades in back, plus other niceties are added such as leather and mesh pockets in the backsides of the front seats, hooks for a garbage bag or what-have-you, and USB-A charging ports for each rear passenger on the sides of each front seat. The rear outboard seats cool and heat in SX Limited trim too, while the backside of the front centre console provides a 12-volt charger along with a household-style 110-volt power outlet.
Look upward and you’ll see an HVAC vent directly in front of each outboard passenger, while the aforementioned overhead lights and auto climate controls are within easy reach in the middle of the ceiling.
A large, comfortable armrest, complete with dual cupholders, splits the two outboard passengers when the centre position is unoccupied, this made from the same supple Nappa leather as used for the seat surfaces throughout the interior. Making it easier to slide onto those soft leather seats is a large grab handle on the B-pillar, something not always included with competitors.
To access the third row, simply push an electronic release button on the top side of the second-row seatback, after which the entire seat automatically slides forward with plenty of room to climb inside with ease. The third row is very comfortable, with seats that wrap around one’s back and good support in the lower regions, plus this compartment is truly roomy, even when second-row passengers are given more than enough space to move around ahead. In fact, I could easily sit in the very back with room for my feet underneath the second-row seats, plus about three inches above my head and more than enough room from side-to-side, complemented by nice views through the side quarter windows, along with a separate USB-A plug and two cupholders on each side. The rearmost driver-side passenger even has an extra spot for storage, while there are separate overhead vents for each third-row occupant too, as well as some ambient lights so no one feels lost in the dark.
Additionally, the dedicated cargo area behind the rear seats is spacious at 601 litres (21.2 cu ft), and includes a section below the rigid cargo floor for stowing more items out of sight. The 60/40-split third row is easy to fold down, first by automatically dropping the headrests with pull-tabs, and then by a set of buttons on the left side of the cargo wall, just above another 12-volt charger. This opens up 1,304 litres (46 cu ft) of nearly flat cargo space, while lowering the second row provides a maximum cargo volume of 2,455 litres (86.7 cu ft). Of course, the liftgate is powered, opening quickly enough, plus Kia has even gone so far as to finish off the cargo door sill with a polished stainless-steel guard.
As you might expect, the Telluride is more about comfort than speed, and therefore all occupants will appreciate the superb ride that complements those comfortable seats I just spoke about. It’s relatively hefty at 1,970 to 2,018 kilos (4,343 to 4,449 lbs), depending on trim, but nevertheless it’s fairly quick off the line thanks to a strong 3.8-litre V6 that’s good for 291 horsepower and 262 lb-ft of torque, plus a smooth-shifting eight-speed automatic that’s quick to respond to input.
Fuel economy is not great at 12.6 L/100km in the city, 9.7 on the highway and 11.3 combined, especially when compared to the non-hybrid Toyota Highlander’s 11.8 city, 8.6 highway and 10.3 combined rating, but it’s not as thirsty as some in this class either.
On more of a positive, the Telluride handles corners well, within reason of course. Again, it’s primarily built for comfort, but can manage sharp curves with confidence and is especially poised over rough pavement and gravel, my SX Limited tester including a self-leveling rear suspension along with 20-inch alloys encircled by 245/50R20 all-season tires. Its 5,000-lb (2,268-kg) towing capacity means it’s also good for small boats and campers, always important in this family SUV sector.
Additional standard SX Limited features not yet mentioned include rain-sensing wipers and LED taillights, while items pulled up from second-rung SX trim include the just-noted 20-inch wheels, the rear portion of the aforementioned dual-pane sunroof, and the rear sunshades, plus a hot-stamped satin chrome grille, satin chrome door handles, satin chrome beltline trim, a set of high-gloss side mirror caps, anodized roof rails, silver-painted skid plates, single-to-twin exhaust tips, metal door scuff plates, metal-finished foot pedals, ambient mood lighting, the 7.0-inch Supervision LCD/TFT instrument cluster with blind-spot view monitor noted earlier (which replaces a 3.5-inch cluster display), a 360-degree surround parking monitor, front parking sensors, and the fabulous sounding Harman Kardon audio system noted before.
Lastly, some standard Telluride EX features pulled up to SX Limited trim include LED headlamps with high beam assist, LED daytime running lights and positioning lamps, LED fog lights, a solar glass windshield and solar front side windows, the aforementioned front moonroof, automatic power-folding side mirrors with integrated LED turn signals, plus the leather-clad steering wheel and shift knob noted earlier, as well as the superb faux woodgrain trim, tri-zone auto climate control with automatic defog, the 10.25-inch centre touchscreen with navigation, HD and satellite radio, the wireless charger and all of the other phone connectivity features mentioned before, a smart key with pushbutton start/stop, smart cruise control, an auto-dimming centre mirror, a HomeLink garage door opener, express up/down powered windows, and a powered liftgate.
Kia also includes a whole host of advanced safety and convenience features such as Forward Collision-Avoidance assist (FCA), Lane Follow Assist (LFA), Blind-spot Collision Avoidance Assist (BCA), Rear Cross-Traffic Collision Avoidance Assist (RCTCAA), and Highway Drive Assist (HDA), plus a Driver Attention Alert system (DAA), safe exit assist system, rear occupant alert, rear parking sensors, and seven airbags including one for the driver’s knees.
All of these standard features don’t come cheap, causing the base Telluride EX to start at a fairly lofty $46,195 plus freight and fees, but keep in mind that competitors with similar features are priced in this range, and sometimes higher. On that note, the Telluride SX can be had from $51,195, while my SX Limited tester starts at $54,695, with the blackened Nightsky edition just $1,000 more at $55,695.
Summing up the 2021 Kia Telluride, it’s not only a great looking mid-size SUV, but a good choice for those who want a premium-level experience without spending luxury brand pricing. It drives very well, delivers supreme comfort, and comes as well equipped as anything in its segment, while Kia backs up all of its new models with a class-leading five-year or 100,000 km comprehensive warranty. For these reasons and more, the new Telluride has earned its place amongst my favourite three-row SUVs, making it 100-percent worthy of your attention.
Review and photos by Trevor Hofmann
Few sports car concepts excited the motoring masses like the original Porsche Boxster prototype did when debuting at the Detroit auto show in 1993, and not many cars introduced 25 years ago have been…
Few sports car concepts excited the motoring masses like the original Porsche Boxster prototype did when debuting at the Detroit auto show in 1993, and not many cars introduced 25 years ago have been as successful, or are even around anymore.
In order to mark the occasion, Porsche has made a new 2021 718 Boxster 25 Years edition available for order now. The new model combines classic design elements from the original concept with the myriad upgrades found on the sportiest version of today’s 718 variant, resulting in a much more modern yet very classy little two-seat roadster.
For those who like the classic look of a traditional sports car, the new 25 Years edition will be all upside, until they find out that it’s limited to only 1,250 units. Alas, you’ll need to be ultra-quick to claim yours, especially if you want to choose the metallic silver version that’s most closely related to the original Boxster show car.
The new 2021 version comes in three colours, black and white also on the menu, but gold highlights complement the front fascia, side engine vents, and “25” year insignia fixed to the rear bumper cap beside to the usual “Boxster” script. Porsche sprayed the gorgeous set of five-spoke alloys in gold too, while the race-inspired aluminum gas cap unfortunately hides from view beneath a cover, instead of being fully exposed like the original.
Just like the original Boxster, the new commemorative model’s powered fabric roof is finished in a deep red and boasts embossed “Boxster 25” script on each front outside section so that it’s displayed when folded down. This rich red colour makes up the majority of the interior, which includes unique leatherwork and special red carpeting. What’s more, the dash trim inlay on the passenger’s side provides a base for this special edition model’s “Boxster 25” plaque, which comes with 0000/1250 numbering, while another “Boxster 25” badge adorns each floor mat.
The new 718 Boxster 25 Years provides a sharp contrast to the car that underpins it, Porsche’s 718 Boxster GTS 4.0 that’s blackened all of the usual bright and brushed metal bits, including the wheels. At the heart of both cars is a 911 GT3-inspired naturally aspirated 4.0-litre flat-six good for 394 horsepower and 309 lb-ft of torque when mated to the standard six-speed manual, 317 lb-ft of twist when hooked up to the seven-speed dual-clutch automated PDK.
With its Sport Chrono Package that paddle-shift actuated transmission will get up and go from standstill to 100 km/h in 4.0 seconds flat, while the DIY shifter will take 0.5 seconds longer to achieve the same feat. Likewise, the manually shifted 718 drop-top moves off the line to 160 km/h in 9.2 seconds, whereas the PDK version once again slices a half second from the same sprint for an 8.7-second time, all ahead of respective top track speeds of 293 and 288 km/h.
The GTS 4.0, 25 Years and all 718 Boxster models for that matter, rival the mighty 911 when it comes to performance, especially when it comes to handling, and out-manoeuvre their competitors as well, which is one of the reasons the entry-level Porsche has had so much success over the decades. Such steady sales chart performance is rare amongst its sports car contemporaries, with the number of discontinued rivals littering the automotive landscape.
Names like XLR (or Allanté) won’t likely be offered on the new market again, while other premium drop-tops to fall by the wayside include Buick’s 1990-1991 Reatta Convertible, Volvo’s 1996–2013 C70, Chrysler’s 2004–2008 Crossfire, Tesla’s 2008–2012 Roadster, and Mini’s 2012–2015 Roadster (the regular convertible is still available). Not all of these were two-seat roadsters, and some didn’t compete directly with the Boxster, but that doesn’t mean there haven’t been casualties amongst the entry-level Porsche’s more direct challengers.
The Boxster was introduced in 1996, just three years after Alfa Romeo’s classic Spider was eliminated from our continent. The stylish German was joined that year by Mercedes’ SLK, both of which followed BMW’s Z3 that initiated the compact luxury two-seat roadster renaissance a year earlier. Audi’s TT followed in 1998, combining for Teutonic dominance in the segment. After initial popularity and a relatively successful three-generation run overall, the TT will be discontinued at the end of its current model cycle, this move following the SLC (the SLK’s successor) being dropped at the end of 2020.
BMW’s Z4 (the Z3’s successor) will be the only luxury roadster nameplate that remains when the SLC disappears, 718 Boxster aside, but the wholly new fourth-gen model now shares components with Toyota’s Supra, so it’s not fully German, let alone European. The latter comment is a nod to Jaguar’s F-Type, a slightly larger rival that entered the market in 2013 and was fully updated for 2021, competing with the Boxster in its entry-level turbo-four and V6 variants.
Those wanting to get their hands on a new 718 Boxster 25 Years shouldn’t expect to get a discount, although the special financing rate should be available. You’ll need to apply it to a pricier 718 Boxster however, the usual $96,900 base price of Porsche’s GTS 4.0 raised to $106,500 when adding all the 25 Years updates. Anyone serious about purchasing should stop reading and call their local retailer now, leaving the rest of us to enjoy the complete photo gallery above and four videos below.
Boxster 25 Years: Walkaround (6:29):
Boxster 25 Years: Forever Young (1:37):
The Boxster at 25: An Homage to its Inception (4:59):
To say that Toyota’s Tacoma is merely king of the mid-size pickup truck hill is a complete understatement. In reality, it’s king of every single hill it climbs up on, from sales success and dependability…
To say that Toyota’s Tacoma is merely king of the mid-size pickup truck hill is a complete understatement. In reality, it’s king of every single hill it climbs up on, from sales success and dependability dominance, to repeated residual value prowess, the Tacoma sits on top of pretty well every metric is competes in. Above that, it’s easily one of the best-looking trucks in the segment, at least equal in interior and driving refinement to its peers, legendarily capable off-road, supported by more aftermarket suppliers than any competitor, as well as a deep well of OEM TRD parts, backed up by more years of truck heritage than any Japanese rival, and thanks to all of the above the “Taco”, as owners like to call it, is beloved by a massive diehard fanbase the world over.
Such street and trail cred could cause an automaker to merely ride on the coattails of a model’s good name, but fortunately for the Tacoma, Toyota has steadily improved it over the 25 years it’s been available, or 52 years if we also count its predecessor that was simply named “Pickup”. Toyota’s truck heritage goes further back than that, however, its 1935 G1 even predating the Toyota brand name, due to being developed under a then-new automotive division established within the Toyoda Automatic Loom company, while its first compact pickup was the Toyopet SB produced in 1947. The earliest Toyota truck you’ll likely find in North America is the Stout that arrived here in 1964, but most enthusiasts will only be familiar with the first five generations of the now classic Pickup, along with the following three generations of Tacoma.
Enough history, what matters is the Tacoma we have here and now. Until 2024 rolls around, when the current model is expected to arrive in redesigned form, today’s 2020 Tacoma is as attractive as mid-size trucks get. The model tested was dressed up in Limited trim, which is as premium as this model gets at $50,750 (plus freight and fees). You won’t be in the cheap seats with the base Tacoma 4×4 Access Cab SR either, thanks to a starting price of $37,450, with the same standard trim in the full four-door Double Cab body style costing just $1,000 more at $38,450.
That’s how Toyota delivered mine, although my Tacoma 4×4 Double Cab V6 Limited trimmed version came with the one-foot stubbier five-foot short bed in back, which is how most owners buy this truck. I have to say, as classy as this Limited model is, I prefer the tougher looking TRD Pro I spent a week with last year, although instead of a trim line in that latter truck, it’s actually a $13,495 package that gets added on top of the $43,240 TRD Off-Road trim line, meaning it actually was thousands more than the more luxurious Limited I’m reviewing here.
While all that’s interesting (at least to me), what matters more right now are changes made to the 2020 Tacoma, such as the integration of a new infotainment system that measures 8.0 inches in all trims and package upgrades other than in the base SR that’s 7.0 inches, while featuring Apple CarPlay, Android Auto and Amazon Alexa, not to mention new optional multi-terrain and bird’s-eye view cameras for off-roading. The Toyota Safety Sense P (TSS-P) suite of active safety features was made standard across the entire range too, not that this would affect this top-line Limited model, which previously standard with features like Pre-Collision System with Pedestrian Detection, Lane Departure Alert with Sway Warning System, Automatic High Beams and High-Speed Dynamic Radar Cruise Control (DRCC).
For folks who want a smaller luxury truck, this Tacoma Limited is ideal. Along with standard LED headlights, LED DRLs and fog lamps, plus a tasteful assortment of bright metal bits on the outside, including a classy new grille design, chrome taillamp inserts, and a fresh set of silver-finish 18-inch alloys, access to the Limited model’s interior now includes an upgraded proximity-sensing Smart Key system for the passenger door, which leads to more premium-like materials as well as a new standard Panoramic View Monitor (PVM) for the driver.
Some of those materials include a leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob, leather seat surfaces, pushbutton ignition, really helpful front and rear parking sensors, an equally useful overhead parking camera, a great sounding seven-speaker JBL audio setup, and a somewhat awkwardly named “Connected Services by Toyota Premium Audio with Remote” system that includes embedded navigation with Destination Assist, Remote Connect, plus Service and Connect.
The new Limited’s finishings are nicer than I remember previous iterations being. It features an attractive padded leatherette bolster ahead of the front passenger, plus padded leatherette half-door uppers that flow downward to become inserts overtop comfortable armrests front and back. This was never supposed to be a luxurious truck, but the Limited’s leather seat upholstery is plenty nice, with a sharp-looking square pattern embossed into each cushion’s centre panel. Additionally, the leather on the steering wheel includes grippy, perforated hides to each side, plus regular smooth skins on the top and bottom. There’s a good assortment of satin-finish metallic accents too, brightening key details, resulting in a truck that’s a cut above every other Tacoma trim as well as many rivals, without losing any of this pickup’s legendary rugged, purposeful, tool-like status.
As mentioned a moment ago, the biggest improvement for 2020 is the infotainment system, which now looks as thoroughly modern as anything else in Toyota’s lineup. I like that it still includes rotating dials for power/volume and tuning/scrolling, plus a row of analogue buttons down each side that provide quick access to key features. The interface itself shows Toyota’s latest Entune design, which is mostly made up of grey tones with splashes of colour when highlighting important info or audio graphics. It’s a totally understated design, but I have to say I like it a lot more now, after many weeks of testing in other Toyota models, than I initially did. It reliably responds to prompts quickly, its route guidance is easy to set up and accurate, and it just works well all-round. I also love that this truck has wireless device charging, Toyota having been ahead of the curve with this ultra-convenient feature.
Then again, I don’t understand why Toyota advertises telescopic steering and only allows about an inch worth of reach extension. Fortunately, Toyota has recognized this problem and therefore started extending the telescopic reach of its steering wheels to fit more body types, so we’ll need to see how they do with future Tacomas. At least the leather-wrapped rim is nicely finished, and the switchgear on each spoke highly functional, as are the buttons, knobs, toggles and rocker switches throughout the rest of the cabin.
Other than the steering column’s telescopic shortcomings, the eight-way power-adjustable driver’s seat is comfortable and the overall layout of cockpit controls is very good, as is the rear seating area as far as roominess goes, where I found plenty of leg and foot room, good space overhead and from side-to-side, plus good back support from the outboard seats. Leather seat surfaces aside, there’s not much in back to give rear passengers a “Limited” experience, due to Toyota missing the opportunity to install a rear centre armrest as well as rear HVAC vents, let alone any USB charging ports or heatable outboard seats, resulting in fairly stark accommodations.
The lower rear cushions flip forward to expose handy lidded cargo compartments, however, plus they fold down for securely stowing larger items on top, a process that unveils yet more storage space in behind. Of course, the Tacoma’s outer box is best for heavier hauling. It’s spray-on lined bed is capable of carrying between 1,095 and 1,285 lbs (497 and 583 kilos) of payload, depending on trim, although its usefulness is somewhat negated by not providing standard corner steps like GM’s trucks include, to help older guys like me rise the occasion (although your dealer can bolt on a retractable one from the TRD catalogue), but Toyota does provide this model with a standard cab-mounted bed lamp to assist during nighttime loading, while a 400-watt (120V) cargo bed power outlet is really helpful when using the tailgate as a makeshift outdoor workbench.
I should also mention the Tacoma is an excellent hauler, thanks to an available hitch that can help it trailer up to 6,500 lbs (2,950 kg) when upgraded with its aforementioned tow package. That’s not quite as strong as some in this class, the Gladiator capable of up to 7,650 lbs (3,469 kg) on its hitch, but it should be sufficient for most owners’ needs.
Load or not, the Tacoma Limited rides nicely for a midsize pickup truck, especially one with rear leaf springs, with on-pavement handling about average for the class. Honda’s Ridgeline is the clear winner of the latter, but its slowest-in-class sales clearly show this isn’t a critical factor amongst mid-size truck buyers, a much more important one being off-road prowess.
In this regard, the Tacoma is legend, evidenced by the sheer number of in-house TRD and aftermarket 4×4 parts available to enthusiasts, not to mention the countless Taco off-roading clubs, desert race truck entries, etcetera. Chevy’s 4×4-focused Colorado ZR2 or Jeep’s new Wrangler-based Gladiator (especially in Rubicon, desert-rated Mojave or mountain-focused High Altitude trims) probably put up the most serious off-road challenge against Toyota’s Tacoma TRD Pro, at least until the Raptor-ized Ford Ranger arrives in a few years, or for that matter the ZR2-version of GMC’s Canyon that’s rumoured to be due around the same time, and of course, we’ll need to see how the expected updated Nissan Frontier does in the wild when in shows up a bit sooner than the last two, outfitted in its sportiest PRO-4X guise no doubt, but this Limited-trimmed Tacoma is no slouch off the beaten path either.
While I’ve tested the current Frontier over gravel and rock, through mud, sand and water, and plenty of other obstacles years back, it’s now so old that only diehard Nissan fans would even consider it against a modern-day Tacoma, and even then, it would probably be a financially-based decision, but instead the hardly freshly minted Taco provides superb 4×4 chops with many more advancements than its once arch-rival. It made easy work of a favourite off-road course, although to be clear my local town’s government had since closed down the best part, another sliver of fun-loving nature turned over to developers for yet more waterfront condos. Nevertheless, I drove it over what remained, and while there were no deeply rutted mud trenches to dig itself out of, or miniature lakes to drive through, there was plenty of gravel, sand and other opportunities to get unstuck. Of course, it was a cakewalk for the Tacoma, even in plusher Limited trim, only requiring me to get out for photos (instead of testing the depth of those just-noted lakes, like I was forced to do on previous excursions).
I’m comfortable letting the Tacoma’s reputation fend for itself for this review, not to mention the many opportunities I’ve previously taken to test out the model’s mettle in its backcountry element. Similarly, I’m willing to let third-party analytical firms toot Toyota’s horn when it comes to dependability, all of which place the Japanese company at or near the top of the auto industry, while as importantly the Tacoma regularly hovers above its peers where it can matter most, resale and residual values that truly tell how much you end up paying for a vehicle over time.
To be specific, the Tacoma earned top marks in Vincentric’s Best Value in Canada Awards for its “Small/Mid-Size Pickup” class in the Consumer category, the number one choice in the “Midsize Pickup” segment of J.D. Power’s 2021 Canada ALG Residual Value Awards, and the highest possible ranking in the “Small Pick-up” category of Canadian Black Book’s (CBB) 2020 Best Retained Value Awards.
One of the reasons the Tacoma holds its value so strongly throughout the years, the just-noted reliability of its well-proven powertrain. My tester’s top-line trim starts with Toyota’s venerable 3.5-litre DOHC V6 featuring VVT-I technology, which does a pretty good job of balancing performance and fuel economy with the dependability that fans of the Japanese brand appreciate. It makes a formidable 278-horsepower and 265 lb-ft of torque, up 119 hp and 85 lb-ft of twist over the truck’s base 2.7-litre DOHC four-cylinder, while both come mated to an electronically controlled six-speed automatic transmission (ECT-i) as standard equipment. Depending on trim, a six-speed manual can be optioned for six-cylinder models, while part-time four-wheel drive is standard on all trims above the base truck that offers rear-wheel drive in its most affordable form.
The Tacoma’s fuel economy rated at a claimed 12.1 L/100km city, 10.1 highway and 11.2 combined in the latter 2WD trim, while the same truck in 4WD gets a 12.7 L/100km city, 10.6 highway and 11.7 combined rating. Lastly, larger, heavier Double Cab variants like my tester are said to be capable of 13.8 L/100km in the city, 11.7 on the highway and 12.9 combined, with my Limited model measuring up to these estimates when driving modestly. While these numbers are not best-in-class, no doubt due in part to the just-mentioned six-speed autobox, that component’s verifiable reliability, as well as the build quality of the entire drivetrain, makes a little more fuel used over the duration of its lifecycle worth it to most buyers.
To put that last point into perspective, 12,536 Canadians purchased a new Tacoma in 2019, while 2020 has been looking like it will be even stronger for Toyota’s entry-level pickup. The only automaker to beat Toyota in this segment last year was General Motors that managed a cool 14,067 collective units from both its Chevy and GMC brands, although if we’re measuring individual models against each other the Colorado only managed second with 8,531 examples sold throughout 2019, and the Canyon a mere fourth with 5,536 buyers to its name. As you might have guessed, the Ranger was third with 6,603 sales last year, the Frontier fifth with 3,723, the Ridgeline sixth with 3,405, and finally the Gladiator was seventh and last with 3,050 deliveries, although that rather pricey newbie only entered the market last year, so it wasn’t available for the entire 12 months.
Despite Toyota having some strong competitors in this market, which will only become fiercer once updated rivals arrive, I believe the Tacoma will become even more popular in the coming years, while others in the class struggle to win over new buyers. Market share is critical in the pickup truck sector, something Toyota has learned in reverse when it comes to selling its full-size Tundra, and the Taco has earned faithful fans like no other. For that reason, it’s my best bet in the class over the long haul, and reason enough for you to either maintain your loyalty or choose it over one of its challengers.
To find out more about all Tacoma trim levels, including pricing (with a complete configurator to build out all available features) check out CarCostCanada’s 2020 Toyota Tacoma Canada Prices page, plus make sure to click on any of the links above to check out all of the Tacoma’s competitors along with other vehicles mentioned in this review. A CarCostCanada membership can help you save thousands off of your next new vehicle purchase thanks to accessing dealer invoice pricing before you start negotiating, plus members can gain additional valuable information. Find out how the CarCostCanada system works, and be sure to download their free app from the Google Play Store or Apple Store while you’re at it.
Review 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.
The Outback has long been my favourite family-oriented Subaru, unless you consider the four-door WRX STI a family car. I know my son would’ve tried to convince me of its practicality, but he would have…
The Outback has long been my favourite family-oriented Subaru, unless you consider the four-door WRX STI a family car. I know my son would’ve tried to convince me of its practicality, but he would have done the same for a BRZ back in the day. Now he’s a man and while I’m still his old man, I’m also an aging man, so not surprisingly comfort is starting to matter a lot more than performance, while having somewhere to haul my stuff around is important too.
A quick glance at this mid-size crossover wagon might cause you to question whether or not it’s as roomy inside as one of its slightly taller five-seat crossover SUV competitors, such as Ford’s Edge, Hyundai’s Santa Fe, Chevy’s new Blazer or Nissan’s Murano, or even Jeep’s more 4×4-capable Grand Cherokee, but not so. While the Outback sits lower than any of the just-noted utilities, its cargo capacity, which measures 1,005 litres (35.5 cubic feet) when all seats are in use or 2,075 litres (73.3 cubic feet) when the second row is lowered, is nearly identical to the Edge, Santa Fe and Grand Cherokee, and considerably more spacious than Murano and Blazer, so there’s no practical reason to choose an alternative SUV over the Outback.
In fact, while I’d like to see a centre pass-through or an even more versatile 40/20/40-split second row in the Outback or any of its aforementioned rivals, the Outlook provides handy cargo wall-mounted levers to lower its 60/40 split-folding seatbacks down automatically, plus a nice retractable cargo cover and rugged available cargo mat, making it ideal for all types of hauling duties including winter sports.
Of course, the Outback’s standard all-wheel drive is probably its best all-season asset, its Symmetrical layout renowned for providing an even distribution of torque to each wheel and better weight distribution overall, including a lower centre of gravity thanks in part to its volume brand-exclusive horizontally-opposed “boxer” engine design. I’ve tested Outbacks since I initiated my writing career 20 years ago, and even drove the exact same one as this in white last year, and thanks in part to standard electronic traction and stability control its all-wheel drivetrain provides impressive capability no matter the road conditions, even when the white fluffy stuff surrounding my test car in the photos is on the road. It’ll climb out of much deeper snow than that, of course, something I experienced numerous times in ski hill parking lots and in winter conditions elsewhere, while its flat-four and -six engines maximize torque, which is optimal when dealing with off-road-like conditions.
Incidentally, Subaru refreshed the Outback for 2018 and is currently launching its redesigned 2020 Outback, so if you head down to your local dealer you’ll likely see the new one sitting in the showroom and some 2019s (which are identical to the 2018s) still on the lot, the latter models still needing homes and therefore reduced in price to sell quickly. At the time of writing CarCostCanada is reporting up to $3,000 in additional incentives for 2019 Outbacks, while you can also check this website for trim, package and option prices, plus rebate information and even dealer invoice pricing that could save you thousands when it comes time to negotiate, so for this reason alone it’s a good idea to consider a 2019.
Of course, the decision to choose a redesigned or outgoing model shouldn’t only be based on finances unless one’s limited budget demands, yet I still can’t see 2020 Outback buyers being wooed solely by styling as the new version hardly looks much different than the old one from the outside, despite subtle changes from front to back. See next to each other, the new one looks more refined and sleeker, but I understand why the old model’s chunkier, more rugged design would have more appeal to plenty of buyers.
Open either model’s front door and you’ll see an interior delivering more plush luxury than their exteriors let on, the new version receiving the mainstream volume sector’s biggest centre display at 11.6 inches, while it’s now positioned vertically instead of horizontally, as is done with this 2019 Outback’s generously sized 8.0-inch touchscreen. I’m not about to detail out the 2020 version right now, being that I haven’t even sat inside one yet, but I can appreciate why some would-be buyers will be anteing up just for that mammoth monitor.
This said I wouldn’t be at all surprised if someone chose the 2019 Outback in order to get my tester’s fabulous 3.6-litre six-cylinder engine, which is being discontinued ahead of the 2020 model. Most recently it’s been optional in top-tier Outbacks and loaded up versions of Subaru’s Legacy mid-size sedan, but as soon as I learned that the brand’s newest Ascent mid-size three-row crossover SUV wouldn’t be offering the six-cylinder variant I knew its days were numbered.
For a quick history, the flat six arrived as an option for Subaru’s 1988–1991 XT two-door sports coupe. It was based on the brand’s four-cylinder of the time, and was soon upgraded for that model’s successor, the much more appealing 1991–1996 SVX, a model that I tested and totally blew me away back in 1994. This engine was replaced by the EZ30, a ground-up redesign that was notably almost as compact as the EJ25 four-cylinder of the time, the smaller 3.0-litre version being optional in Legacy/Outback models from 2002/2001-2008/2009, and the almost identically sized yet more potent 3.6-litre EZ36 iteration added as an option for the 2009 and 2010 model years respectively. As a side note, both versions of the EZ engine were used in the new Ascent’s three-row crossover SUV predecessor, dubbed Tribeca, with the 2006-2007 variant getting the smaller variant and 2008-2014 models using the larger.
Enough history? I don’t normally deep dive so far into the past when it comes to engines, but when a relatively small brand makes such a big move, it seems relevant to go over some of the details. It’s also a bit of a shame. Most of us feel a need to help green our planet in some way or another, and altering the way we drive is certainly a less intrusive way than going vegetarian (not that there’s anything wrong with that), but even though 2019 to 2020 fuel economy figures show night and day savings, these don’t fully reflect real-world driving that might have a heavier right foot applied more often than not, causing a smaller four-cylinder engine to rev higher in order to extract the same performance that a larger displacement six-cylinder engine would need to for the same result.
Before comparing consumption, 2019 model year engines include an entry-level 2.5-litre four-cylinder making 175 horsepower and 174 lb-ft of torque, plus the 3.6-litre H6 I’ve already covered a length except for output numbers that equal 256 horsepower and 247 lb-ft of torque. For 2020, the base 2.5i receives a complete overhaul resulting in 90 percent of its components replaced for 6 more horsepower and 2 lb-ft of additional torque, which combine for a new total of 182 horsepower and 176 lb-ft of torque, while a new optional turbocharged four-cylinder engine displaces 2.4 litres and makes an even more abundant 260 horsepower and 277 lb-ft of torque, which is a nominal increase of 4 horsepower yet a very generous 30 lb-ft of extra torque when compared to the outgoing six.
How about efficiency? The 2019 Outback 2.5i achieves a claimed 9.4 L/100km in the city, 7.3 on the highway and 8.5 combined compared to 9.0 city, 7.1 highway and 8.0 combined for the new 2020 base engine, which is certainly an improvement. Comparing 2019 Outback 3.6R fuel economy to the new 2020 2.4i is even more dramatic, with the outgoing engine managing an estimated 12.0 L/100km city, 8.7 highway and 10.5 combined rating and the new version achieving 10.1 city, 7.9 highway and 9.0 combined.
To Subaru’s credit there doesn’t seem to be any downside with the Outback’s optional move from a six to a turbo-four, and few brands have had more experience building boosted four-cylinder engines, its WRX legendary for multiple world rally championships as well as dependability (those two normally going hand in hand), but I will miss the six-cylinder engine’s smooth, refined operation and throaty growl at takeoff.
Shifts occur via continuously variable transmission, so while it feels much like a conventional automatic swapping its cogs as required, it’s actually Subaru’s High-Torque Lineartronic CVT with an eight-speed manual mode that mimics gear changes very well, unless pushed higher up into the engine’s rev range where it doesn’t pull off the process quite as well. Subaru includes paddle shifters for more hands-on engagement, but after playing with them for testing purposes I never found the need for them again.
While quite quick off the line and plenty capable for passing slower moving vehicles on the highway, plus reasonably agile through fast-paced corners when pushed hard, the Outback hasn’t really been designed for performance buyers. No, this tall wagon is all about comfort, and to that end it’s best just to leave this ultra-smooth transmission in default mode and enjoy the ride, which is, by the way, superb. In fact, it has one of the most compliant suspensions in the industry, making it ideal for bumpy cottage roads and trips to the ski chalet, let alone tooling around town while running errands.
I’ve long found Subaru’s standard full-time symmetrical all-wheel drive system superior to other AWD systems I’ve tested, one of its advantages being an “X-MODE” button on the lower console that when activated controls the engine’s output, transmission shift points, the AWD system’s torque-split, plus the braking and hill descent control systems in order to overcome more challenging off-road conditions than most rivals should ever attempt. I wouldn’t go so far to say the Outback could replace a true four-wheel drive utility, but its advanced AWD and impressive 220 mm (8.7 inches) of ground clearance certainly make it more capable than most car-based crossover rivals.
As you might imagine, I’m looking forward to getting into the 2020 Outback (next week in fact) just to see how it improves on this 2019. Obviously the larger centre touchscreen mentioned earlier in this review will be a night and day upgrade, which I’ll report on at length in a future review, but it’ll be just as interesting to see how Subaru updates the rest of the cabin. I’ll need to be especially good to beat the current Outback’s near premium levels of interior refinement, as it already boasts such niceties as fabric-wrapped A pillars, a soft-touch dash-top and instrument panel that’s contrast stitched and wraps all the way down the sides of the centre stack, padded door uppers, inserts and armrests front to back, and leather upholstery with contrast stitching in my almost top-line Limited model.
The leather-wrapped steering wheel looks good and feels great in the palms and fingers, its nicely carved out thumb indents adding a sportier touch. The buttons and rocker controls on the steering wheel spokes are high in quality and function well, while all of the cabin switchgear is up to snuff, particularly the audio and dual-zone automatic climate control knobs on the centre stack.
It wasn’t long ago that Subaru trailed the segment in electronic interfaces, but the brand has been taking such sizeable strides forward in this respect that as noted earlier it’s now a segment leader, and while the 2019 Outback won’t wow your neighbours like the new 2020 will, it’s still competes well next to its peers. Both models use fairly traditional primary instrument clusters featuring analogue dials to both sides and a tall, vertical multi-information display (MID) at centre, but the 2020 says sayonara to the sportier double-hooded motorcycle-style gauge design currently being used for a more conventional look that’s actually a letdown at first glance, but that said its 5.0-inch MID can now be upgraded to a full 12.3-inch digital instrument cluster.
That means 2019 Outback Limited and Premier trims aren’t much more intriguing ahead of the driver than base 2.5i, Convenience and Touring models, other than the base 3.5-inch MID being replaced by a much nicer colour 5.0-inch version when EyeSight gets added (more on this in a moment), but over on the centre stack it’s a different story altogether.
The 2020 base Outback comes with a 7.0-inch touchscreen, by the way, an upgrade from the 2019’s 6.5-inch centre display, while the top-line 2019 model gets a reasonably large 8.0-inch touchscreen, as mentioned earlier in this review. Unless you just stepped out of the updated car or something premium from Germany, my tester’s infotainment system looks fairly state of the art, thanks to lots of gloss black surfacing around the monitor so that it all just blends together as if it’s a giant screen, while the digital interface graphics simulate a deep blue night sky with twinkling stars for a background and colourful smartphone/tablet-like tiles for selecting functions.
The reverse camera system is very good, aided by dynamic guidelines, while infotainment highlights include Apple CarPlay, Android Auto and Subaru’s proprietary StarLink smartphone integration, plus the usual AM/FM/CD/MP3/WMA audio sources, as well as satellite and Aha radio, USB and aux ports, SiriusXM advanced audio services, SiriusXM Travel Link, and Bluetooth with audio streaming, all played through four speakers, while Touring trims and above include the 1.5-inch larger touchscreen along with a second USB port and two additional speakers.
I’m tempted to go into detail about trims, packages and standalone options, but it’s not like you’ll be able to order a 2019 Outback anyway. What you see will be what you get, and you’ll probably need to be quick to snag a 2019 anyway, especially one with the inline-six. This said I’d like to cover some as yet unmentioned features found in my Limited trimmed test model, which include 18-inch alloys, auto on/off steering-responsive LED headlights, fog lamps, welcome and approach lighting, proximity-sensing keyless entry, pushbutton start/stop, brushed aluminum front doorsill protectors, genuine looking matte woodgrain and silver metallic interior accents, an auto-dimming rearview mirror, auto-dimming side mirrors, a heatable steering wheel, three-way heated front seats, navigation, adaptive cruise control, a 10-way power-adjustable driver’s seat with powered lumbar support, two-way driver’s seat memory, a four-way powered front passenger seat, a Homelink garage door opener, an excellent sounding 576-watt, 12-speaker Harman/Kardon audio system, a powered moonroof, two-way heatable rear outboard seats, a powered rear liftgate, and more.
Additionally, those EyeSight advanced driver assistive systems noted earlier include pre-collision braking, pre-collision brake assist, pre-collision throttle management, lane departure warning, lane sway warning, lane keeping assist, lead vehicle start alert, reverse automatic braking, adaptive cruise control, and high beam assist.
The Limited 3.6R with the EyeSight package starts at $41,395, which is $1,500 more than the Limited 3.6R without EyeSight, while that model is $3,000 more than the Limited with the four-cylinder engine. The base Outback 2.5i starts at only $29,295 by the way, while other 2019 trims include the $32,795 Touring 2.5i, and the $39,295 Premier 2.5i that comes standard with EyeSight. You can add the Eyesight package and engine upgrade to Touring trim, although the six-cylinder is the only option available to Premier customers, other than colour choices of course, but exterior paints won’t cost you any more no matter the trim.
While the 2019 Outback might range in retail price from $29,295 to $42,295, remember that CarCostCanada was claiming up to $3,000 in additional incentives at the time of writing, so be sure to check out their 2019 Subaru Outback page for more info, which also provides detailed pricing, info on the latest rebates, plus otherwise hard to get dealer invoice pricing that could save you thousands.
As mentioned at the beginning of this review, the Outback provides mid-size SUV-levels of cargo carrying capacity, so it only makes sense there’d be no shortage of room for full-size adults up front and in back too. It’s comfortable as well, the front seats nicely shaped to provide support in all the right places, particularly at the lower back, while side-to-side bolster support is also good for this comfort-first segment. Rear seat spaciousness is generous too, especially when it comes to headroom.
Another bonus in back is refinement, with its surfaces and details finished just as nicely as those in the front compartment. A big, wide centre armrest folds down to an ideal height for average-sized adults, and better yet it features large cupholders with grippy rubber clasps to keep drinks secured in place. What’s more, a covered compartment on the backside of the front centre console incorporates a duo of USB charging ports as well as an auxiliary plug, while rocker switches for the aforementioned rear seat warmers sit right beside, and rear vents are housed just above. Back seat readers will appreciate the spot lamps overhead, while the door panels get nice big bottle holders.
It feels right to wrap up a Subaru Outback review on a practical note, despite how upscale its interior looks and feels, and how luxurious its smooth six-cylinder power and even smoother ride is. It’s a car that’s even better than advertised, and that’s something truly special in today’s sensationalized world. Whether you choose to go with this superb 2019 Outback or choose the updated 2020 model, I believe you’ll be fully satisfied.
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.