Few vehicles ever earn “icon” status. They’re either not around long enough, or their manufacturers change them so dramatically from their original purpose that only the name remains.
Case in point, Chevy’s new car-based Blazer family hauler compared to Ford’s go-anywhere Bronco. One is a complete departure from the arguably iconic truck-based original, whereas the other resurrects a beloved nameplate with new levels of on- and off-road prowess.
Land Rover has done something similar with its new Defender, yet due to radically departing from the beloved 1990-2016 first-generation Defender 90 and 110 models’ styling (which was based on the even more legendary 1948-1958 Series I, 1958-1961 Series II, 1961-1971 Series IIA, and 1971-1990 Series III) it runs the risk of losing the nameplate’s iconic status.
In fact, a British billionaire eager to cash in on Land Rover’s possible mistake is building a modernized version of the classic Defender 110 for those with deep pockets, dubbed the Ineos Grenadier (Ineos being the multinational British chemical company partly owned by said billionaire, Jim Ratcliffe). That the Grenadier was partly developed and is being produced by Magna Steyr in its Graz, Austria facility, yes, the same Magna Steyr that builds the Mercedes-Benz G-Class being tested here, is an interesting coincidence, but I digress. The more important point being made is that Mercedes’ G-Class never needed resurrecting. Like Jeep’s Wrangler, albeit at a much loftier price point, the G-wagon has remained true to its longstanding design and defined purpose from day one, endowing it with cult-like status.
The G-Class was thoroughly overhauled for the 2019 model year, this being the SUV’s second generation despite more than 40 years of production, so as you can likely imagine, changes to this 2020 model and the upcoming 2021 version are minimal. The same G 550 and sportier AMG G 63 trims remain available, but the more trail-specified 2017-2018 G 550 4×4 Squared, as well as the more pavement-performance focused 2016-2018 AMG G 65 haven’t been offered yet, nor for that matter has the awesome six-wheel version, therefore we’ll need to watch and wait to see what Mercedes has in store.
The 2019 exterior updates included plenty of new body panels, plus revised head and tail lamp designs (that aren’t too much of a departure from the original in shape and size), and lastly trim modifications all-round. The model’s squared-off, utilitarian body style remains fully intact, which is most important to the SUV’s myriad hardcore fans.
While I’m supposed to be an unbiased reporter, truth be told I’m also a fan of this chunky off-roader. In fact, I’m actually in the market for a diesel-powered four-door Geländewagen (or a left-hand drive, long-wheelbase Toyota Land Cruiser 70 Series diesel in decent shape), an earlier version more aligned with my budget restraints and less likely to cause tears when inevitably scratching it up off-road. Of course, if personal finances allowed me to keep the very G 550 in my possession for this weeklong test, I’d be more than ok with that too, as it’s as good as 4×4-capable SUVs get.
While first- to second-generation G-Class models won’t be immediately noticeable to casual onlookers, step inside and the differences are dramatic. The new model features a totally new dash design and higher level of refinement overall, including the brand’s usual jewel-like metalwork trim, and bevy of new digital interfaces that fully transform its human/machine operation. Your eyes will likely lock onto Mercedes’ new MBUX digital instrument cluster/infotainment touchscreen first, which incorporates dual 12.3-inch displays within one long, horizontal, glass-like surface.
The right-side display is a touchscreen, but can alternatively be controlled by switchgear on the lower centre console, while the main driver display can be modulated via an old Blackberry-style micro-pad on the left steering wheel spoke. Together, the seemingly singular interface is one of my industry favourites, not only in functionality, which is superb, but from a styling perspective as well.
The majority of other interior switchgear is satin-silver-finished or made from knurled aluminum, resulting in a real sense of occasion, which while hardly new for Mercedes is a major improvement for the G-Class. Likewise, the drilled Burmester surround sound speaker grilles are some of the prettiest available anywhere, as are the deep, rich open-pore hardwood inlays that envelope the primary gauge cluster/infotainment binnacle, the surface of the lower console, and the trim around the doors’ armrests.
The G isn’t devoid of hard composites, but centre console side panels that don’t quite meet pricey expectations aren’t enough to complain about, particularly when the SUV’s door panel and seat upholstery leatherwork is so fine. My test model’s interior also featured beautiful chocolate brown details that contrasted its sensational blue exterior paint well.
Driver’s seat bolstering is more than adequate, as are the chair’s other powered adjustments, the only missing element being an adjustable thigh support extension. Still, its lower cushion cupped below my knees nicely enough, which, while possibly a problem for drivers on the short side, managed my five-foot-eight frame adequately. At least the SUV’s four-way powered lumbar support applied the right amount of pressure to the exact spot on my lower back requiring relief, as it should for most body types. Likewise, the G 550’s tilt and telescopic steering column provided plenty of reach, resulting in a near perfect driving position despite my short-torso, long-legged body.
As part of the redesign, Mercedes increased rear seat legroom to allow taller passengers the ability to stretch out in comfort. What’s more, those back seats are nearly as supportive as the ones in front, other than the centre position that’s best left for smaller adults or kids.
All of this refinement is hardly inexpensive, with the base 2020 G 550 priced at $147,900 plus freight and fees, and the 2021 version starting at an even heftier $154,900. This said, our 2020 and 2021 Mercedes-Benz G-Class Canada Prices pages are currently reporting factory leasing and financing rates from zero-percent, which could go far in making a new G-Class more affordable. The zero-interest rate deal seems to apply to the $195,900 2020 G 63 AMG as well, plus the $211,900 2021 G 63 AMG, so it might make sense to buy this SUV on credit and invest the money otherwise spent (I’m guessing commodities are a good shot considering government promises of infrastructure builds, inflated currencies, runaway debt, market bubbles, etcetera, but in no way take my miscellaneous ramblings as investment advice).
Anytime or anywhere in mind, the G 550 can pretty well get you everywhere in Canada, anytime of the year. There’s absolutely no need to expend more investment to buy aftermarket off-road components when at the wheel of this big Merc, as it can out-hustle most any other 4×4-capable SUV on the market. While I would’ve liked even more opportunities to shake the G-Class out on unpaved roads, I certainly enjoyed the number of instances I did so, and can attest to their greatness off the beaten path. I’ve waded them over rock-strewn hills, negotiated them around jagged canyon walls and between narrow treed trails, coaxed them through fast-paced rivers and muddy marshes, and even felt their tires slip when dipped into soft, sandy stretches of beach, so my desire to own one comes from experience. Just the same I didn’t want to risk damaging my G 550 test model’s stylish 14-spoke alloys on pavement-spec 275/50 Pirelli Scorpion Zero rubber, so I kept this example on the street.
The G 550’s ride was sublime even with these lower-profile performance tires, which goes to show that car-based unibody designs don’t really improve ride quality, as much as at-the-limit handling. The G-Class’ frame is rigid after all, as is its body structure, while its significant suspension travel only aids ride compliance. Therefore, it made the ideal city companion, its suspension nearly eliminating the types of ruts and bridge expansion joints that intrude on the comfort levels of lesser SUVs, while its extreme height provides excellent visibility all around.
Those who spend more time on the open highway shouldn’t be wary of the G 550 either, as its ride continued to please and high-speed stability inspired confidence. I would’ve loved to have been towing an Airstream Flying Cloud in back to test its 7,000-lb rating (and given me more comfort than my tent), but I’m sure it can manage the load well, especially when factoring in its 2,650-kg (5,845-lb) curb weight.
Despite that heft, the G 550 performs fairly well when cornering, the previously noted Pirellis proving to be a good choice for everyday driving. I’ve previously driven the AMG-tuned G 63 on road and track, so the G 550’s abilities didn’t blow me away, but it certainly handles curves better than its blocky, brick-like shape alludes.
Braking is strong for such a big, heavy ute too, and while the G 550’s 416-horsepower 4.0-litre, twin-turbocharged V8 can’t send it from standstill to 100 km/h at the same 4.5-second rate as the 577-hp G 63, its 5.9 seconds for the same feat is nonetheless respectable, its 450 lb-ft of torque, quick-shifting eight-speed automatic, and standard four-wheel drive aiding the process perfectly, not to mention a very engaging Sport mode.
Engaging might not be the best word for it, mind you. In fact, I found the G 550’s Sport mode a bit too aggressive for my tastes, bordering on uncomfortable. It helps the big SUV shoot off the line with aggression, but the sheer force of it all snapped my head back into the seat’s pillowy headrests too often for comfort’s sake, but only when trying to move off the line in particularly quick fashion. When first feathering the throttle, as I usually drive, and then shortly thereafter dipping into it for stronger acceleration, it worked fine. I wish Mercedes’ had integrated a smoother start into the SUV’s firmware, but the requirement to use skill in order to get the most out of it was kind of nice too. All said, at the end of such tests I just left it in Eco mode for blissfully smooth performance and better economy.
Fuel sipping in mind, no amount of technology this side of turbo-diesel power (how I miss those days) can make this brute eco-friendly, with Transport Canada’s fuel economy rating measuring 18.0 L/100km city, 14.1 highway, and 16.3 combined. It’s not worse than some other full-size, V8-powered utilities, nor does it thirst for pricier premium fuel, but this might be an issue for those with a greener conscious.
Speaking of pragmatic issues, the G-Class is a bit short on cargo capacity when comparing to some of those full-size SUV rivals just noted, especially American branded alternatives such as the Cadillac Escalade and Lincoln Navigator. Then again, the G fares better when measuring up to similarly equipped European luxury utes, with the 1,079-litre (38.1 cu-ft) dedicated cargo area a sizeable 178 litres (6.3 cu ft) greater than the full-size Range Rover’s maximum luggage volume. Interestingly, both luxury SUV’s load-carrying capacity is an identical 1,942 litres (68.6 cu ft), which is ample in my books.
After my week with Mercedes’ top-line SUV, I can’t complain. Certainly, I would’ve liked a larger sunroof or, even better, something along the lines of the Jeep Wrangler Unlimited’s new Sky One-Touch Power Top that turns the entire rooftop into open air while still maintaining solid sides and back with windows, but this might weaken the G’s body structure and limit its 4×4 prowess. I also would’ve liked a wireless phone charger, and would have one installed if this was my personal ride.
Hopefully my next G-Class tester will be more suitable to wilderness forays, possibly as an updated gen-2 G 550 4×4²? Previous examples included portal axles like Mercedes’ fabulously capable Unimog, but in just about every other respect I was thoroughly impressed with this well-made luxury utility, and glad Mercedes stayed true to this model’s iconic 4×4 heritage. To me, the G-Glass is the ultimate on-road, off-road compromise, and I’d own one if money allowed.
Exactly why Ford chose to offer this fabulous mid-size truck in nearly every other market than Canada and the U.S. for eight years before bringing it here is difficult to surmise, but rather than beat them up for handing their previous lead in this market segment off to competitors like Toyota’s Tacoma and General Motors’ Chevy Colorado and GMC Canyon, let’s celebrate that Dearborn’s decision makers finally came to their senses.
They’re not alone after all, the powers that be in Auburn Hills still waffling on whether or not to bring back the once class-leading Dakota (it was supposed to be here by now, but crickets). Maybe the final decision is stuck in Fiat’s Turin sede centrale or possibly les bonnes gens du Groupe PSA— Citroën, DS, Peugeot et Vauxhall-Opel—in Rueil-Malmaison), the leadership of semi-domestic automaker having been in regular flux, but either way the Ram Dakota seems to be a no-brainer, while on the other hand Nissan’s 16 year-old Frontier is an automotive zombie that should’ve mercifully been put down or replaced a decade ago.
Despite Nissan trudging along in the mid-size pickup segment during all the years Ford escaped (the Frontier still sells better than Honda’s Ridgeline, which is a sad testament to its Japanese rival), the two automakers actually share similar short-term small truck histories. Two years after Ford killed its then 14-year old third-generation compact Ranger in its domestic market in 2012, and introduced the current third-gen T6 to international buyers in 2011, Nissan offered up a redesigned Navarro to international customers. That attractive model was good enough to serve as the base for Mercedes-Benz’s now-defunct X-Class pickup as well as Renault’s Alaskan (not to mention Dongfeng’s oddly named Rich 6), but for some reason Nissan’s North American operations couldn’t figure out a way to bring it here, and alas they’ve been marginalized out of contention.
Nissan and its Frontier don’t have anywhere near the name brand recognition, marketing clout, or dealership real estate to relaunch a new small truck, whereas Ford had unwittingly built up an army of ready and willing loyalists that quickly pushed the 2019 Ranger into high volume Canadian sales of 6,603 units, slotting into third place after the Tacoma that managed 12,536 deliveries throughout calendar year 2019, and the Colorado with 8,531 (when GM’s Chevy and GMC sales are combined it was number one with 14,067 units down the road last year. That’s pretty decent for its first year (and a partial-year at that), boding well for even greater future success.
It also says a lot for the truck’s initial design. After all, it’s no spring chicken, having arrived on international markets nine years ago and only undergoing a refresh for last year’s introduction. Compare this to the full-size F-150, which probably gets more updates than any other model in Ford’s lineup, plus trim levels and special editions infinitum, and the Ranger’s initial showing on 2019’s sales charts is pretty impressive (although it has a long way to go before nudging the F-Series off its top pedestal that saw 145,210 examples delivered in 2019). Even both GM trucks couldn’t touch that (they totaled 94,683 units), just barely passing Ram’s 89,593-unit pickup total.
The new Ranger fits into the mid-size pickup truck segment ideally, being that it’s quite a bit larger than the old compact version and significantly smaller than the F-150. By the numbers, the 2020 F-150 SuperCab 4×4 with its 6.5-foot box is 536 mm (21.1 in) longer with 462 mm (18.2 in) more wheelbase, plus 167 mm (6.6 in) wider, and about 155 mm (6.1 in) taller than a similarly optioned 2020 Ranger SuperCab 4×4, whereas the F-150 SuperCrew is a whole lot bigger.
Specifically, the Ranger is 5,354 mm (210.8 in) long with a 3,221-mm (126.8-in) wheelbase, 1,862 mm (73.3 in) wide (without mirrors), and 1,806 or 1,816 mm (71.1 or 71.5 in) tall for the SuperCab or SuperCrew, which makes it slightly shorter than the aforementioned Tacoma (and much shorter than the long-wheelbase Toyota), while its also narrower and a smidge taller.
My tester was in XLT SuperCrew 4×4 trim and attractive Lightning Blue paint, which when combined with an available Sport Appearance package and FX4 Off-Road package, looked great, if not as ruggedly handsome as the Ranger Wildtrak if first saw in Asia, and the newer international-spec Ranger Raptor I’ve only seen in celluloid form (and hopefully here at some point in the near future).
The domestic-market Sport Appearance package includes a darker grille surround and Magnetic-Painted (dark-grey) 17-inch alloys, as well as a leather-wrapped steering wheel and shifter. Power-folding side mirrors and an auto-dimming rearview mirror are included too, with the latter two also part of the 302A package, while a Bed Utility package adds a drop-in bedliner and 12-volt in-bed power adaptor, and the FX4 package provided my tester’s stylish red and grey/black decals to the rear corners of the box.
There’s quite a bit more to the FX4 package than two decals, like uniquely tuned off-road monotube shocks, tough 265/56 Hankook Dynapro AT-M tires, an electronically locking rear differential, Trail Control that allows you to set a given speed between 1 and 30 km/h to crawl over rugged terrain via throttle and brake management, and a Terrain Management System that, via Grass, Gravel/Snow, Mud/Ruts, or Sand settings, utilizes the Ranger’s many off-road technologies to lay waste to all types of trails, from light-duty to extreme. What’s more, the FX4 package features a steel front bash plate under the front bumper, and skid plates covering the electric power steering system, transfer case, and fuel tank. Finally, the FX4 package provides pitch, roll and steering angle monitoring from the driver’s seat.
Unlike some 4x4s, setting the Ranger’s high/low gearing ratios requires no tugging on secondary shift levers, but rather only needs the subtle twist of a rotating dial on the lower console next to the shift lever. When set to its most capable off-road setting, you shouldn’t have any problem overcoming all types of rocks, roots and what-have-you, thanks to 226 mm (8.9 inches) of ground clearance, plus approach and departure angles equalling 28.7 and 25.4 degrees. For reference, the Tacoma offers more ground clearance at 239 mm (9.4 in), while its approach/departure angles range from 29 or 32 degrees up front to 23 degrees in back.
The Ranger’s generous suspension travel provides a comfortable ride for a truck, and I must admit it felt quite good through high-speed corners too, within reason. Even better, the new Ranger’s powertrain is really fun to dig your right foot into, and the 10-speed gearbox (with more forward speeds than any competitor) was plenty smooth and quick shifting, even providing a rocker switch on the side of the shift knob for flicking through the gears manually.
If things are sounding sporty, that wasn’t by accident. Ford increases performance further via a Sport setting that allows the engine’s revs to rise higher between shifts, while the transmission even holds onto a given gear when the engine arrives at redline, welcomingly unusual.
Helping add to that sporty feeling through corners, plus improving at-the-limit safety, Ford utilizes Curve Control for detecting when a driver enters a curve too quickly, and then makes automatic adjustments to the Ranger’s speed by lowering engine torque, adding braking power, and increasing the stability control function.
Along with that easy-going ride I spoke of a moment ago, my Ranger XLT 4×4 tester provided good comfort and sizeable cabin space from front to rear. The SuperCrew cab is the Ranger’s largest, and features regular front-hinged doors in back, plus additional rear legroom than the smaller base SuperCab model. Both configurations are available in XL and XLT trims, while the top-line Lariat is only offered as a SuperCrew.
The base SuperCab body style includes a longer six-foot bed, while my SuperCrew tester had a shorter five-foot bed. The Ranger is good for 707 kilos (1,560 lbs) of payload too, which is considerably better than the Tacoma’s 425- to 520-kg (937- to 1,146-lb) payload maximum. This same scenario plays out for towing capacity as well, with the Ranger capable of 7,500 lbs (3,402 kg) of trailer compared to the Toyota’s 502-kg (1,107-lb) rating. Trailer sway control is standard with the Ranger, too.
Without a trailer in tow, and being mindful of your right foot it’s possible to achieve a class-leading fuel economy rating of 11.8 L/100km in the city, 9.8 on the highway and 10.9 combined, this partially thanks to standard auto start-stop that shuts the engine off when it would otherwise be idling.
The base Ranger XL SuperCab starts at $32,159, by the way, plus freight and fees of course, which makes it $1,090 pricier than the same model last year, while the XLT SuperCab now starts at $36,529. The as-tested XLT SuperCrew sees an increase of $890 since last year for a new price of $38,329, while the top-line Lariat SuperCrew only goes up by $230 for a new price of $42,619.
As for features, the 2020 Ranger Lariat adds more chrome detailing to the exterior, plus LED headlamps, front parking sensors (to the rear sensors already on the XLT), proximity-sensing entry, pushbutton start/stop, illuminated vanity mirrors, a universal remote, three-way heatable front seats with eight-way powered adjustment, leather upholstery, and more.
Yet unmentioned features on the XLT include 17-inch alloys (instead of the 16-inch steel wheels found on the base XL model), fog lamps, carpeting and carpeted floor mats (the base truck gets rubber flooring), a six-speaker stereo, automatic high beams, lane keep assist, plus more, while you can add a Technology package featuring a navigation system and adaptive cruise control.
Finally, the base XL includes auto on/off headlamps, a four-speaker audio system, a USB charging port, 4G LTE Wi-Fi, a capless fuel filler, and a pre-collision system that includes automatic emergency braking along with blind spot warning and rear cross-traffic alert.
Although my Ranger XLT test model was only a mid-range offering, it was nicely finished inside and well-constructed. The seat and armrest upholstery was a nice woven black cloth with creamy-grey contrast stitching for a sporty effect, while interior trim included the usual assortment of brushed and bright metallic surfaces, but no padded soft-touch synthetics.
The front seats are comfortable, with the driver’s featuring two-way power lumbar support that fit the small of my back nicely, while I found my XLT’s driving position good due to plenty of reach from the tilt and telescopic steering column. The steering wheel gets a comfortably soft leather-wrapped rim, and all interior controls were within easy reach. s
The Ranger’s instrument cluster is mostly analogue with nicely backlit needles and indices, the former sporting an attractive aqua-blue colour for dramatic effect, while a full-colour, high-resolution 4.2-inch multi-information display is more advanced than the majority of Ford’s competitors.
The just-noted gauge cluster needles match up with the sky-blue background of Ford’s 8.0-inch Sync 3 centre touchscreen nicely, this upgraded system coming standard in XLT and Lariat trims. While this system has been on the market for many years, it’s still a good-looking layout that works well. It even includes Apple CarPlay and Android Auto smartphone integration, plus loads of audio features including satellite radio and Bluetooth streaming, while my tester featured an accurate navigation system, as well as XM travel link, a dual-zone automatic climate control system, and a backup camera with active guidelines.
Looking rearward, my Ranger SuperCrew tester’s rear bench seat was plenty spacious and adequately comfortable, particularly in the outboard positions, but it didn’t include the types of features I expected to see, not even rear air vents. XLT and Lariat buyers can expect two USB-A charge ports on the backside of the front centre console, as well as a convenient 110-volt household-style power outlet.
The Ranger is devoid of those handy integrated bumper steps found on GM trucks, that are really useful for climbing up on the bed, but fortunately my test model featured a kick-down step from Ford’s accessories catalogue that worked very well.
All in all, I really like Ford’s new Ranger. It looks good and comes across as a rugged, well-made mid-size truck. Its cabin is roomy and comfortable, includes very good electronics, and it’s really fun to drive. Ford should start offering some higher priced trim levels to compete with the Tacoma’s Limited, for instance, not to mention bring us the aforementioned Ranger Raptor that could go head-to-head with the Tacoma TRD Pro and Colorado ZR2. Even now, however, the Ranger’s three trim levels offer a lot of variety with competitive pricing, and should do even better on the sales charts as would-be buyers learn about their availability.
Want to drive an icon? Or maybe you’re just satisfied with a car-based crossover that’s little more than a tall station wagon with muscled-up, matte-black fender flares? I thought not. You wouldn’t be here if you merely wanted a grocery-getter, unless those groceries happen to necessitate a fly rod or hunting rifle to acquire.
Toyota’s 4Runner is idea for such excursions, and makes a good family shuttle too. I’d call it a good compromise between city slicker and rugged outdoorsman, but it’s so amazingly capable off-road it feels like you’re not compromising anything at all, despite having such a well put together interior, complete with high-end electronics and room to spare.
To be clear, I’m not trying to say the 4Runner is the most technically advanced 4×4 around, because it’s actually somewhat of a throwback when it comes to mechanicals. Under the hood is Toyota’s tried and true 4.0-litre V6 that’s made 270 horsepower and 278 lb-ft of torque since 2010, when this particular 4Runner generation arrived on the scene. That engine was merely an update of a less potent version of the same mill, which was eight years old at the time. The five-speed automatic it’s still joined up with hails from 2004, so mechanically the 4Runner is more about wholly proven reliability than leading edge sophistication, resulting in one of the more dependable 4x4s currently available, as well as best in the “Mid-size Crossover/SUV” class resale value according to The Canadian Black Book’s 2019 evaluation. Still, while the 4Runner might seem like a blast to the past when it comes to mechanicals, this ends as soon as we start talking about off-road technologies.
I’m not talking about the classic second shift lever that sits next to the auto shifter on the lower centre console, this less advanced than most other 4x4s on the market that simply need the twist of a dash- or console-mounted dial to engage their four-wheel drive systems’ low ratio gears. The 4Runner’s completely mechanical setup first takes a tug rearward to shift it from H2 (rear-wheel drive) to H4 (four-wheel drive, high), which gives the SUV more traction in inclement weather or while driving on gravel roads, but doesn’t affect the speed at which you can travel. You’ll need to push the same lever to the right and then forward in a reverse J-pattern when wanting to venture into the wild yonder, this engaging its 4L (four-wheel drive, low) ratio, thus reducing its top speed to a fast crawl yet making it near invincible to almost any kind of terrain thrown at it.
My test trail of choice featured some deeply rutted paths of dried mud, lots of soft, slippery sand, and plenty of loose rock and gravel, depending on the portion of my short trek. For overcoming such obstacles, Toyota provides its Active Trac (A-TRAC) brake lock differential that slows a given wheel when spinning and then redirects engine torque to a wheel with traction, while simultaneously locking the electronic rear differential. The controls for this function can be found in the overhead console, which also features a dial for engaging Crawl Control that maintains a steady speed without the need to have your right foot on the gas pedal. This means you’re free to “stand” up in order to see over crests or around trees that would otherwise be in your way. Crawl Control offers five throttle speeds, while also applying brake pressure to maintain its chosen speed while going downhill.
Moving up the 4×4 sophistication ladder is the 4Runner’s Multi-Terrain Select system, which can be dialed into one of four off-road driving modes that range from “LIGHT” to “HEAVY” including “Mud, Sand, Dirt”, “Loose Rock”, “Mogul”, and “Rock”. Only the lightest mud, sand and dirt setting can be used in H4, with the three others requiring a shift to L4.
Fancy electronics aside, the 4Runner is able to overcome such obstacles due to 244 millimeters (9.6 inches) of ground clearance and 33/26-degree approach/departure angles, while I also found its standard Hill Start Assist Control system is as helpful when taking off from steep inclines when off-pavement as it is on the road. In the event you get hung up on something underneath, take some confidence in the knowledge that heavy-duty skid plates will protect the engine, front suspension and transfer case from damage.
While I personally experienced no problem when it came to ground clearance, my Venture Edition tester came with a set of standard Predator side steps that could get in the way of protruding rocks, stumps or even crests. They hang particularly low, and while helpful when climbing inside (albeit watch your shins), might play interference.
For $55,390 plus freight and fees, the Venture Edition also includes blacked out side mirrors, door handles (that also include proximity-sensing access buttons), a rooftop spoiler, a windshield wiper de-icer, mudguards, and special exterior badges. Inside, all-weather floor mats join an auto-dimming rearview mirror, HomeLink garage door remote controls, a powered glass sunroof, a front and a rear seating area USB port, a household-style 120-volt power outlet in the cargo area, active front headrests, eight airbags, and Toyota’s Safety Sense P suite of advanced driver assistance systems, including an automatic Pre-Collision System with Pedestrian Detection, Lane Departure Alert, Automatic High Beams, and Dynamic Radar Cruise Control. Options not already mentioned include a sliding rear cargo deck with an under-floor storage compartment.
The Venture Edition also features an awesome looking Yakima MegaWarrior Rooftop Basket, which allows for extra cargo carrying capacity on top of the SUV. While really useful for camping trips and the like, it’s tall and can make parking in urban garages a bit tight to say the least. In fact, you may not be able to park in some closed cover parking lots due to height restrictions, the basket increasing the already tall 4Runner Venture Edition’s ride height by 193 mm (7.6 in) from 1,816 mm (71.5 in) to 2,009 mm (79.09 in). The basket itself measures 1,321 millimetres (52 inches) long, 1,219 mm (48 in) wide, and 165 mm (6.5 in) high, so it really is a useful cargo hold when heading out on a long haul.
Heading out on the highway in mind, my Venture Edition tester’s 17-inch TRD alloys and 265/70 Bridgestone Dueller H/T mud-and-snow tires did as good a job of managing off-road terrain as they held to the pavement, making them a good compromise for both scenarios. In such situations you’ll no doubt appreciate another standard Venture Edition feature, Toyota’s Kinetic Dynamic Suspension System (KDSS) that reduces body lean by up to 50 percent at high speed. This is important in a body-on-frame SUV that’s primarily designed for off-road, and thus comes with lots of wheel travel and a relatively soft suspension that’s easy on the backside through rough terrain. It’s a heavy beast too, weighing in at 2,155 kg (4,750 lbs), so KDSS really makes a difference on the highway, especially when the road gets twisty and you want to keep up with (and even exceed) the flow of traffic. It’s actually pretty capable through curves thanks to an independent double-wishbone front suspension and a four-link rear setup, plus stabilizer bars at both ends, but don’t expect it to stand on its head like Thatcher Demko did on the Canuck’s recent Vegas Golden Knights’ playoff run, or you’ll likely be hung upside down like the rest of the Vancouver team were when physicality overcame reality.
Physicality in mind, the 4Runner’s powered driver seat was very comfortable during my weeklong test, even when off-road. I was able to adjust the seat and tilt/telescopic steering wheel to a near ideal position for my somewhat oddly proportioned long-legged, short-torso five-foot-eight frame, allowing comfortable yet fully controlled operation, which hasn’t always been the case in every Toyota product, and some other brands’ I should add.
It’s also comforting its other four seats, the Venture Edition standard for five occupants while other 4Runner trims offer three rows and up to seven passengers. I’ve tested the latter before, and let’s just say they’re best left to kids or very small adults, although this five-seat model provides plenty of leg, hip, shoulder and head room in every position.
Even without the noted basket on top, the 4Runner provides 1,336 litres (47.2 cu ft) of cargo space behind its second row of seats, which I found more than ample for carrying all my gear. I tested it during the summer so didn’t find reason to use the 20-percent centre pass-through portion of its ultra-handy 40/20/40-split rear seatbacks, but this would be a dealmaker for me and my family due to our penchant for skiing. When all three sections of the rear seat are lowered the 4Runner offers up to 2,540 litres (89.7 cu ft) of max storage, which again is very good, while the weight of said payload can be up to 737 kg (1,625 lbs). Also important in this class, all 4Runners can manage trailers up to 2,268 kg (5,000 lbs) and come standard with a receiver hitch and wiring harness with four- and seven-pin connectors.
You won’t be able to achieve the 4Runner’s claimed 14.8 L/100km city fuel economy rating when fully loaded with gear and trailer, mind you, or for that matter its 12.5 L/100km highway rating or 13.8 combined estimate. My tester was empty other than yours truly and sometimes one additional passenger, so I had no problem matching its potential efficiency when going light on the throttle and traveling over mostly flat, paved terrain in 2H (two-wheel drive, high). If it seems thirsty to you, consider that it only uses regular fuel and will give you back much of its fuel costs in its aforementioned resale/residual value when it comes time to sell, as well as dependability when out of warranty.
One of the reasons the 4Runner holds its value is lack of change, although Toyota wholly improved this 2020 model’s infotainment system for a much better user experience and lots of advanced features. The 8.0-inch touchscreen incorporates Android Auto, Apple CarPlay, Amazon Alexa and more, while I found its Dynamic Navigation with detailed mapping very accurate. The stock audio system decent as well, standard satellite radio providing the depth of music variety I enjoy (I’m a bit eclectic when it comes to tunes), while the backup camera only offers stationary “projected path” graphic indicators to show the way, but the rear parking sensors made up for this big time. Additional infotainment functions include Bluetooth phone connectivity, a helpful weather page, traffic condition info and apps, meaning that it really lacks nothing you’ll need.
The primary instruments are somewhat more dated in appearances and functionality, but they still do the job. The Optitron analogue dials offer backlit brightness for easily legibility no matter the outside lighting conditions, and the multi-information display in the middle includes the usual assortment of useful features.
My 4Runner Venture Edition interior’s fit, finish and general materials quality was actually better than I expected, leaving me pleasantly surprised. All of its switchgear felt good, even the large dash-mounted knobs, which previously felt too light and generally substandard, are now more solid and robust. Tolerances are tight for the other buttons and switches too, and therefore should satisfy any past 4Runner owner.
The overall look of the dash and door panels is rectangular, matching the SUV’s boxy exterior style. That will probably be seen as a good thing by most traditionalists, its utilitarian appeal appreciated by yours truly, at least. I was surprised to see faux carbon fibre-style trim on the lower console, and found the dark glossy metallic grey surfacing chosen for the centre stack, dash trim and door panel accents better than shiny piano black plastic when it comes to reducing dust and scratches. Padded and red stitched leatherette gets added to the front two-thirds of those door panels, by the way, the same material as used for the side and centre armrests, while Toyota adds the red thread to the SofTex-upholstered seat side bolsters too, not to mention some flashy red “TRD” embroidery on the front headrests. Again, I think most 4Runner fans should find this Venture Edition plenty luxurious, unless they’re stepping out of a fully loaded Limited model.
Being that we’re so close to the 2021 model arriving, take note it will arrive with standard LED headlamps, LED fog lights, and special Lunar Rock exterior paint, while new black TRD alloys will soon get wrapped in Nitto Terra Grappler A/T tires for better off-road traction. Additionally, Toyota has retuned the 2021 model’s dampers to improve isolation when on the trail. Word has it a completely new 4Runner is on the way for 2022, so keep this in mind when purchasing this 2020 or one of the upgraded 2021 models.
Not to long ago people were calling for the traditional SUV to die. GM cancelled Hummer, Ford said goodbye to the Excursion, and a number of 4×4-capable sport utilities were converted to car-based crossovers in order to appeal to a larger audience. While the general public has certainly eschewed rugged off-roaders as well as passenger cars for crossover SUVs, there’s certainly a healthy niche for true 4x4s.
The 4Runner has been at the centre of this mix, and has been doing so as long as I’ve been out of school. Yes, the 4Runner came into existence the year I graduated in 1981, and is now well into its fifth generation, which was introduced more than a decade ago. The original 4Runner was little more than the pickup truck with a removable composite roof, much like the original Chevy Blazer and second-gen Ford Bronco that came before, but the next version that came in 1989 included a full roof, and the rest of the story is now history.
Over the years Toyota has stayed true to the 4Runner’s off-road-capable character and garnered respect and steady sales for doing so. Now it’s one of a mere handful of truck-based SUVs available, making it high on the shopping list for consumers needing family transportation yet wanting something that can provide more adventure when called upon.
The 2019 model being reviewed here is currently being replaced by a new 2020 model, which changes up the infotainment system with a new larger 8.0-inch touchscreen, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, satellite radio and USB audio, plus the brand’s Connected Services suite. Push-button ignition gets added too, as does Toyota’s Safety Sense P bundle of advanced driver assistance features including pre-collision system with vehicle and pedestrian detection, lane departure warning and assist, automatic high beams, and dynamic radar cruise control.
A new Venture trim level gets added as well, which builds on just-above-base TRD Off-Road trim. This means it begins with 4×4 features like 4-Wheel Crawl Control with Multi-Terrain Select, a locking rear differential, and the Kinematic Dynamic Suspension (KDSS) upgrade, while it also gets a hood scoop plus a navigation system with traffic and weather, all before adding black mirror caps, trim, and badging, Predator side steps, 17-inch TRD Pro alloy wheels, and a basket style roof rack.
All of that sounds pretty impressive, but serious off-roaders will still want the TRD Pro that I tested for a week. Not only does it look a lot tougher, particularly in its exclusive Voodoo Blue paint scheme with matte black trim, but it also gets a unique heritage “TOYOTA” grille, a TRD-stamped aluminum front skid plate, a whole lot of black accents and badges nose to tail, and superb looking matte black 17-inch alloys with TRD centre caps on massive 31.5-inch Nitto Terra Grappler all-terrain tires (my tester’s rubber was a set of Bridgestone Blizzak 265/70 studless snow tires).
Overcoming obstacles is aided via TRD-tuned front springs and TRD Bilstein high-performance shocks with rear remote reservoirs, while the 4Runner TRD Pro also gets an automatic disconnecting differential to overcome the really rough stuff, as does its rear differential lock if the ground is slippery, and multi-terrain ABS when it’s a downward grade.
Previously noted Crawl Control is ideal for going up, down or just motoring along a low-speed stretch of horizontal terrain, and is selectable via a dial on the overhead console next to a similar dial for the Multi-Terrain Select system that makes choosing the four-wheel drive system’s best possible response over “LIGHT” to “HEAVY” terrain an easy process. Of course, overcoming a really challenging trail will require shifting from “H2” or “H4” to “L4” to engage the 4Runner’s lower set of gears via the console-mounted 4WD Selector lever.
This SUV is an amazingly good 4×4, something I was reminded of when trudging through a local off-road course I use whenever I have something worthy of its rutted trails and long, deep swampy pools. I recently tested Jeep’s Wrangler Unlimited Sahara through this course, and did likewise with a Chevrolet Colorado ZR2 turbo-diesel that had mucky water splashing over its hood. Heck, I even proved that Toyota wasn’t trying pull one over on compact crossover buyers with its new RAV4 Trail, that can actually hold its own through this mud-fest, although I didn’t push it anywhere near as hard as the others just mentioned, or this 4Runner TRD Pro.
My 4Runner test model’s hood scoop never tasted water, incidentally, nor did it ever require the Tacoma TRD Pro’s cool looking snorkel, and trust me, I was careful not to muck up the white and red embroidered floor mats, or even soil the breathable leather-like Black SofTex seat upholstery, highlighted by red contrast stitching and red embroidered “TRD” logos on the front headrests I should add. It would have been easy enough to wash off, but I keep my test vehicles clean out of respect to the machinery.
This 4Runner TRD Pro makes it easy to drive through most any 4×4 course or wayward trail, even if there’s not much drive down. Simply choose the best Multi-Terrain setting and engage Crawl Control if you think you’ll want to push yourself up higher in the driver’s seat in order to see over a ridge, which would make it so you couldn’t modulate the gas pedal. Alternatively you can use it in order to relax your right foot, like a cruise control for ultra-slow driving. We had a mechanical version of this on my dad’s old Land Cruiser FJ40, which was basically a choke that held the throttle out, and it worked wonders just like the 4Runner’s modernized version. The now discontinued FJ Cruiser had one too, a model that shared its platform with this much bigger and more spacious SUV, as does the global market Land Cruiser Prado and Lexus GX 460.
V8-powered 4x4s in mind, I remember when Toyota offered the fourth-generation 4Runner with a 4.7-litre V8. I really liked that truck and its smooth, potent powertrain, but I’d rather have the 2.8-litre turbo-diesel found in the current Prado, as it’s fuel economy would be advantageous in the city and on the highway, let alone in the wilderness where it could 4×4 a lot farther from civilization than the current 4.0-litre V6. Yes, the 4Runner’s big six-cylinder drinks healthily to put it kindly, with a rating of 14.3 L/100km city, 11.9 highway and 13.2 combined, while it goes through even more regular unleaded in low gear while off-roading. That’s this SUV’s only major weakness, and now that Jeep is bringing its Wrangler to our market with a turbo-diesel, and the aforementioned Chevy Colorado gets one too, it’s might be time for Toyota to provide Canadian off-road enthusiasts an oil burner from its global parts bin.
Another weakness at the pump is the 4Runner’s five-speed automatic transmission, but on the positive it’s rugged and reliable so it’s hard to complain, while shifts smoothly. The TRD Pro adds red stitching to the leather shift knob, almost making this gearbox feel sporty when engaging its manual mode, and I should also commend this heavyweight contender for managing the curves fairly well, no matter if it’s on tarmac or gravel, while its ride quality is also quite good, something I appreciated as much in town as I did on the trail.
I would have appreciated the 4Runner even more if it included shock-absorbing seats like my old ‘86 Land Cruiser BJ70, but the TRD Pro’s power-actuated seats with two-way powered lumbar managed comfort decently enough, while the SUV’s tilt and telescoping steering column provided enough reach to set up my driving position for comfort and control.
The steering wheel’s rim is wrapped in leather, but doesn’t get the nice red stitching from the shift knob, yet its spokes are filled with all the most important buttons. Framed through its upper section, the Optitron primary gauge cluster is a comprised of truly attractive blues, reds and whites on black with a small trip computer at centre.
At dash central, the infotainment touchscreen may be getting replaced for the 2020 model year, but the one in this 2019 4Runner was certainly sized large enough for my needs, plus was reasonably high-resolution and packed full of stylish graphics and loads of functions. Its reverse camera lacked active guidelines, but was quite clear, while the navigation system’s route guidance was accurate and its mapping system easy to read, plus the audio system was pretty good as well.
The 4Runner’s window seats are comfortable and the entire second row amply sized for most any body type, but the TRD Pro model’s third row gets axed, leaving plenty of room for gear. There’s in fact 1,337 litres of space behind the 60/40-split second row, or up to 2,540 litres it’s lowered, making the 4Runner ideal for those that regularly haul tools or other types of equipment, campers, skiers, etcetera.
You can buy a new 2019 4Runner for $46,155 or less (depending on your negotiating chops), while leasing and financing rates can be had from 1.99 percent (or at least they could at the time of writing, according to the 2019 Toyota 4Runner Canada Prices page here at CarCostCanada). CarCostCanada also provides its members with money saving rebate info and dealer invoice pricing that could save you thousands, so be sure to purchase a membership before you head to the dealer. As for the 2020 4Runner, which starts at $48,120 thanks to the new equipment I detailed out before, only has leasing and financing rates from 4.49 percent as seen on the CarCostCanada 2020 Toyota 4Runner Canada Prices page, so the 2019 may be the smart choice for those on a budget. If you’re after this TRD Pro, you’ll be forced to find $56,580 plus freight and fees (less discount), and take note this is the most expensive 4Runner trim available.
Yes this is luxury brand territory, and the 4Runner won’t try to dazzle you with soft-touch interior plastics or any other pampering premium treatments, but this should be okay because it’s a rugged, off-road capable 4×4 that shouldn’t need to pamper its passengers to impress them. Instead, together with its superb off-road-worthiness, overall ease of use and general livability, the 4Runner achieves top placement in the 2019 Canadian Black Book Best Retained Value Awards for its “Mid-size Crossover-SUV” category. I don’t know about you, but this matters more to me than pliable interior composite surfaces.
In the end, the 4Runner remains one of my favourite SUVs. It does most everything it needs to well, and is one of the better off-roaders available for any money. That suits my outdoor lifestyle to a tee.
Jeep redesigned its popular Wrangler 4×4 for 2018, so as is usually the case for the following model year this 2019 variant remains unchanged, although the upcoming 2020 model will get a significant powertrain upgrade that may cause some who’ve never considered it before to reconsider. Interested? Keep reading.
Jeep produced the Wrangler’s JK body style from 2007 to 2017, and it’s been one of the most successful models in the entire Chrysler/FCA group since then. Now, the new 2018 to present JL version features a bigger, bolder, broader seven-slot grille, plus new optional LED reflector headlights, an ATV-like front bumper (which looks a lot like the one used for the 2016 Wrangler 75th Anniversary Edition I covered way back then) with optional LED fog lights, a shapelier hood (although not pumped up with the Anniversary Edition’s muscular power dome and blackened vents or the Rubicon’s similarly awesome hood design), restyled front fenders with new wraparound turn signals, heavily sculpted front body panels with black engine vents, new integrated side steps, fresh new rear fender flares, new wraparound taillights with optional LEDs, a new side-swinging tailgate, and a redesigned rear bumper (that’s not as cool looking as 75th Anniversary Edition’s, but definitely more attractive than the block of metal and black plastic found on the old Sahara).
While those not following everything Jeep may want to park a new JL next to the old JK in order to see the subtler differences, such as the just-noted redesigned tailgate, it’s reasonable to surmise that most of the new Wrangler’s exterior panels have been changed in order to accommodate its longer regular and long Unlimited wheelbases. Specifically, the 2019 Unlimited on this page is 89 mm (3.5 inches) longer than the old JK model, with a 61-mm (2.4-inch) longer wheelbase, while the regular wheelbase version grows in length as well. Overall, the new Wrangler appears classic and contemporary simultaneously, and even more important, it looks good.
Also critical, the new Wrangler is considerably more refined inside, with doors that shut with a solid thunk, and pliable soft-touch composite surfaces used most everywhere above the waste. The dash top and instrument panel even use some padded and contrast-stitched leatherette that matches the leather-clad steering wheel rim, plus the leatherette shifter boot and armrests, and the genuine leather seat upholstery. All the buttons, knobs and switches used through the cabin are impressive too, specifically the big audio volume and dual-zone automatic climate control knobs on the centre stack, while Jeep has improved the general quality of most materials as well as the way everything fits together.
As good as all of these changes are, the Wrangler’s gauge cluster might generate the cabin’s biggest wow factor. First, let’s be clear that it’s not a fully digital instrument panel, which would’ve probably been easier and less expensive to create, considering how two-dimensionally flat the previous four-gauge design was, and how easy it would’ve been to merely install a 12.3-inch display, fill it with graphics (not that this is simple) and call it a day. Instead, Jeep shaped two motorcycle-style individually hooded primary dials, bookended by a large colour multi-information display (MID). It looks great, and provides most of the digital tech today’s buyers are looking for, even including army green background graphics highlighted by a WW2 (Willys) GP. The tach and speedometer dials look superb in their orange on black and white design, and everything functions well.
The outgoing 6.5-inch rectangular centre touchscreen has also been replaced, but this time with a fully digital design incorporating no buttons or knobs at either side of the display. Instead, the new 8.0-inch square touchscreen offers some quick-access analogue switchgear on a cluster of dials and buttons positioned underneath, these used mostly for controlling heating and ventilation. The big dial on the very right is for scrolling or browsing through infotainment functions, and while some might find this useful I mostly tapped, swiped and pinched the touchscreen as required (sounds more exciting than it was), only making use of external controls for heating the seats and steering wheel (although you can do this via the touchscreen too), adjusting cabin temperatures (ditto), and the audio system’s volume.
The bigger display area results in a much better backup camera, which once again uses active guidelines for slotting into parking spaces, while the ability to hook up Android Auto or Apple CarPlay is a bonus. The system incorporates most other functions available these days, like accurate navigation, easy phone setup and use, audio selection that includes satellite radio and wireless streaming, and a number of apps that come preloaded or can be downloaded. The display’s resolution is quite good, but it’s not as crisp and clear as you’ll find in the majority of premium brands, and a few new mainstream competitors like Chevrolet’s Blazer.
The car-based Blazer in mind, the new Wrangler delivers its best ride quality yet. In fact, it’s now something I’d brag about, rather than complain of while rubbing the small of back and nether regions. To be clear, the JK I tested on its initial 2005 Lake Tahoe/Rubicon Trail press launch showed major ride and handling improvements when compared to its 1997 to 2006 TJ predecessor, while that SUV was wholly more comfortable than the 1987 to 1995 YJ, and so on with respect to the many CJs (Civilian Jeeps) that came before (I used to drive a V8-powered CJ5 Renegade in the early ‘80s), but this new JL-bodied Wrangler is so much nicer to live with than any of its forebears that I’d now consider owning one, something I still wouldn’t have said about the JK. The reality is I’m aging, and therefore wouldn’t be willing to be discomforted by my daily commuter. The new Wrangler, however, completely changes everything with suspension compliancy that’s matched by much-improved cornering capability, better high-speed tracking, easier manoeuvrability around town and in tight parking lots, etc. All around, this Wrangler is a much, much better SUV to live with.
This new livability includes improved rear seating, with deeper sculpted outboard positions that offer up more lower back support, while the increased wheelbase provides more second-row legroom. Three passengers continue to fit across the rear seat, although I’m going to guess only smaller folks will truly be comfortable in the middle. Also, with only two in back the centre folding armrest, incorporating two big rubberized cupholders and a personal device holder, can be lowered for even more comfort and convenience.
This said, not hollowing out a section behind that armrest for a rear-seat pass-through was an opportunity missed by Jeep, because now you’ll need to expend money for a lockable rooftop compartment for stowing longer items such as skis and snowboards, if you want two rear passengers to enjoy as much comfort as possible. This is doable, but it’s not the best solution, although this is also true for the majority of Jeep competitors.
Another complaint is the Wrangler’s swinging rear door, which remains hinged on the wrong side for North American, and most global markets. A conventional liftgate is out of the question for two reasons, 1) the removable roof, and 2) the 4×4 requirement of a full-size spare tire on its backside. What’s not required is a set of hinges on the passenger side, which means that loading the rear cargo compartment from curbside becomes awkward at best, potentially causing you to step in traffic to do so. Me complaining about this issue won’t be anything new to regular readers or those in charge of Jeep (that are listening), but it may be important to newbies considering a Wrangler for the first time.
A more positive cargo compartment issue is increased volume, the long-wheelbase Unlimited’s dedicated luggage area now increased by 18 litres (0.6 cubic feet) to 898 litres (31.7 cu ft), while maximum capacity has grown by 70 litres (2.5 cu ft) to a new grand total of 2,050 litres (72.4 cu ft) with both seatbacks laid flat. Laid flat is probably a misrepresentation, however, as there’s now an incline from the base of the seatbacks to the front portion of the extended cargo area, although another positive is the ease in which they’re now lowered, plus new panels that hide the previously exposed seat frames and other mechanical bits when laid down. These panels stop smaller items from rolling below, but these conveniences have been taken for granted by crossover SUV owners for years. Still, it’s a serious upgrade for the Wrangler, and, in my opinion, well worth the slightly uneven load floor.
At the other end of my 2019 Wrangler Unlimited Sahara tester was FCA’s 3.6-litre Pentastar V6, conjoined to an eight-speed automatic transmission and part-time four-wheel drive. While not quite as sonorous as my old CJ5’s 304 cubic-inch V8 (that included a rather loud set of aftermarket headers), the V6 produces a nice soundtrack of its own, and provides plenty of forward energy thanks to 285 horsepower and 260 lb-ft of torque, while the automatic transmission’s shift increments are quick and smooth.
A six-speed manual comes standard, incidentally, with the eight-speed auto tacking $1,595 onto the 2019 Wrangler Unlimited Sport S’ $40,745 (plus freight and fees) price tag, while this Unlimited Sahara starts at $44,745, and the top-line Unlimited Rubicon can be had for a retail price of $47,745 (a base two-door Wrangler S starts at $33,695). Alternatively, Wrangler buyers can pay $2,590 for a 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder engine featuring electric assist, which makes 15 horsepower less at 270, although 35 lb-ft of torque more at 295. This upgrade is standard with the eight-speed automatic, and is claimed to achieve much better fuel economy than the V6 (see all 2018, 2019 and 2020 Jeep Wrangler prices, including trims, packages and individual options, plus manufacturer rebates and dealer invoice pricing right here on CarCostCanada, where you can now save up to $3,500 in additional incentives on a 2020, or $4,000 on a 2019).
By the numbers, the base Wrangler Unlimited’s V6 and six-speed manual combo is rated at 13.8 L/100km city, 10.1 highway and 12.2 combined, whereas the same engine with the eight-speed auto uses a claimed 12.9 city, 10.2 highway and 11.7 combined. As for the four-cylinder turbo, its 10.9 city, 10.0 highway and 10.5 combined rating is by far the best right now, but it may only hold this title for a short duration as the upcoming 2020 Wrangler will soon offer FCA’s ultra-efficient 3.0-litre V6 turbo-diesel, while it will hardly be short on output thanks to 260 horsepower and 442 pound-feet of torque. I can imagine the Wrangler’s many dedicated 4×4 fans salivating at the prospect of this engine right now, diesels long being optimal off-road, but take note it will only be available in the long-wheelbase Unlimited body, while the more off-pavement capable regular-wheelbase Wrangler will continue to only be powered by gasoline engines.
Off-roading in mind, today’s more refined Wrangler still has few direct competitors. In fact, pickup trucks aside, the Wrangler is the only serious off-roader available in the mainstream volume-branded compact class, and will likely remain so until the all-new Ford Bronco arrives on the scene. The General’s compact pickup-based Chevy Blazer and GMC Jimmy duo was killed off in 2005, while Toyota’s Land Cruiser Prado-based FJ Cruiser hightailed it out of our market in 2014. Following suit, the very capable Nissan Xterra departed in 2015, leaving the popular Wrangler alone in its unique segment.
As is only right, I tested the Wrangler Unlimited Sahara at a favourite 4×4 haunt and it performed as ideally as you might expect. In fact, all the thick mud and big pools of standing water were easy for this capable utility to muck and wade through, making me wonder if the ultra-rugged Rubicon is more than most Wrangler buyers require. Once off-pavement I slotted the secondary low gear lever into its 4H Part Time position to tackle the semi-rough stuff, which provided quick travel over less challenging terrain.
Diving deep into the big puddles and digging into some of the more abyss-like ruts caused me to stop and engage 4L (four-low), however, which made traversing all of the truly difficult terrain a breeze as well. While a decent test track considering its close proximity to my home, I’ve driven the old JK on the Rubicon Trail and other difficult courses and enjoyed both the challenge of negotiating trails I’d likely never try on my own, and doing so in such an amazingly agile 4×4, while I can only imagine how much more enjoyable it would be to scale Cadillac Hill atop the new Wrangler’s improved suspension, let alone doing so while being pushed via a turbo-diesel V6.
If all the improvements already mentioned aren’t enough to get you into the driver’s seat of a new Wrangler, this SUV makes smart business sense too. According to ALG, the Wrangler has the highest residual value of any model in Canada, with the four-door Unlimited version only dropping by an average of 30-percent after three years of use, and the two-door model only losing 31.5 percent. What’s more, the Wrangler also earned the Canadian Black Book’s 2019 Best Retained Value Award in the Compact SUV category for the ninth year in a row, while it achieved a new retained value record of 91 percent for 2019 (Jeep’s smaller car-based Renegade placed first in its Sub-Compact Crossover segment too).
What this means for those still sitting on the fence, is that Jeep’s Wrangler no longer needs any justification. It’s about having your cake and eating it too, or in other words getting what you want and making the smartest choice simultaneously. Don’t you wish all decisions were so easy?
When first hearing news that Jeep would be cancelling its boxy Patriot and keeping its somewhat sleeker Compass, I wasn’t happy. It’s not that I loved the Patriot in any great way, but it was a lot more intriguing than the first-gen Compass, at least to me, plus it provided a bit of off-road capability. In spite of my silent opposition, Jeep followed through by discontinuing the Patriot in 2017, but the totally new second-generation Compass that followed that year as a 2018 model quickly made up for any concern, thanks to much more appealing lines, a wholly upgraded interior and a significant improvement in drivetrain specs.
The first-generation Compass was actually available for a full decade, from 2006 to 2016, with just one major facelift in 2011. That’s when Jeep transformed it from its Liberty/Wrangler-esque styling roots to a much classier Grand Cherokee wannabe, at least up front, but this entirely new second-gen Compass adopts even more design cues from the since-revised and very attractive Grand Cherokee, resulting in a great looking compact crossover SUV. I can’t continue one without noting how much the rear end of this SUV looks like the new Volvo XC40, but in fairness to Jeep the shapely Compass arrived a full year before the new entry-level XC40, so therefore it’s more likely that Jeep influenced Volvo instead.
Of course, Jeep has made impressions on luxury brands before. Anyone claiming Mercedes’ G-Class (Gelandewagen) paid no homage to Jeep’s iconic CJ/Wrangler (plus Land Rover’s Series 1/11/111/Defender and Toyota’s Land Cruiser J40/70) when it arrived in 1979 isn’t being fully honest, and with respect to this new Compass, it’s not only premium in styling, but does a decent job of mimicking a compact luxury utility inside as well.
You’ll want to move up from my tester’s just-above-base North trim to a Trailhawk, Limited or High Altitude model in order to get some of the more luxurious finishings, but this second-rung example has a nicely finished cabin nonetheless. Its dash top and most of the instrument panel is soft to the touch, wrapping all the way around the infotainment touchscreen before spanning the front door uppers. The door inserts get a nice supple padded leatherette treatment too, similar to the armrests that also boast attractive cream and copper dual-tone contrast stitching to match the same on the leather-wrapped steering wheel, shifter boot, and seat upholstery.
Those seats include stylish hexagonal-pattern black fabric inserts and leatherette bolsters, plus are quite comfortable due to a good inherent design and four-way power lumbar support. Yes, you heard me right, this hardly loaded compact Jeep gets an eight-way powered driver’s seat with four-way lumbar, this latter feature not always included with some premium brands’ offerings.
The little Jeep also gets high-quality switchgear, with the standard two-zone automatic climate control system’s main dials trimmed in chrome with rubber grips, while my Compass tester included a separate HVAC interface within its upgraded 8.4-inch touchscreen that allowed me to swipe up and down for temperature settings, not to mention adjust the two-way front seat heaters and super-hot heated steering wheel rim.
The centre touchscreen provides many more functions, including plenty of entertainment choices from the usual AM/FM radio bands to HD as well as satellite radio, not to mention Bluetooth streaming audio, while the optional navigation system provided accurate route guidance and nicely detailed mapping, the standard Android Auto smartphone integration hooked up to my Samsung S9 easily (Apple CarPlay is standard too), a nice big reverse camera with active guidelines made parking a breeze, etcetera.
Yet more $29,645 Compass North trim features include 17-inch aluminum wheels wrapped in 225/60 all-season tires, automatic headlamps, fog lamps with cornering capability, body-coloured side mirrors and door handles, bright daylight opening mouldings, black roof rails, deep-tint sunscreen glass, proximity keyless entry, LED ambient interior lighting, and illuminated vanity mirrors, while features pulled up from the $26,150 base Sport model just below include an electric parking brake, pushbutton start/stop, heated and powered side mirrors, powered windows, tilt and telescopic steering, cruise control, a six-speaker audio system, an aux input and USB connectivity/charging port, a second-row USB charger, a 115-volt household-style power outlet, two 12-volt chargers, a forward folding front passenger seat, a capless fuel filler, hill start assist, tire pressure monitoring, a block heater, and the list goes on.
The previously noted eight-way powered driver’s seat is optional, as are the heated front seats and steering wheel rim, and the 1.4-inch larger 8.4-inch infotainment touchscreen with navigation, while my test model also boasted a really impressive, fully featured, high-resolution 7.0-inch digital gauge cluster between the otherwise analogue dials, a windshield wiper de-icer, rain-sensing wipers, an auto-dimming centre mirror, rear parking sonar, blindspot monitoring with rear cross-traffic warning, remote start, heavy-duty all-weather floor mats, a full-size spare tire, a Class III tow package, and more.
The standard quad-halogen headlamps can be upgraded to bi-xenon HIDs with LED signatures, while LED taillights can also be added, as can a set of 18-inch alloys on 225/55 all-season tires, an upgraded audio system with Alpine speakers, a two-pane panoramic sunroof, plus a powered liftgate, while the Compass’ convenience and safety can be enhanced by opting for adaptive cruise control with stop and go, automatic high-beam headlamp control, forward collision warning with active braking, advanced brake assist, and lane departure warning with lane keeping assist, and this is merely North trim.
You can also get the Compass in $30,940 Altitude trim, which ups the ante with glossed black 18-inch alloy wheels, yet more glossy black exterior trim including a black-painted roof, plus auto on/off headlights, nicer upholstery, a set of dual exhaust tips, and additional changes, while the $31,640 Upland model includes the 17-inch off-road alloy wheels found on the aforementioned Trailhawk model, as well as its unique front fascia, front skid plate, tow hooks, and other styling upgrades.
The full $34,145 Trailhawk model includes an off-road package with a unique raised uprated suspension setup, plus off-road tires encircling the just-mentioned 17-inch alloys, underbody skid plates, hill descent control, the previously noted 7.0-inch digital gauge cluster display and 8.4-inch centre touchscreen as standard, rain-sensing wipers, ambient-lighted cupholders, and leather upholstery.
Limited trim, which starts at $36,145, builds on the more car-like Altitude trim, adding the aforementioned remote start system, the windshield wiper de-icer, heated front seats, and heated steering wheel as standard equipment, plus it includes a 12-way power driver’s seat, whereas the top-line $38,340 High Altitude model features the HID headlights, LED taillights and navigation system as standard equipment, while also adding 19-inch wheels and tires, plus perforated leather upholstery (learn more about 2020 Jeep Compass pricing, including trims, packages and options, plus make sure to research available rebates and dealer invoice pricing that could save you thousands, right here on CarCostCanada).
No matter which trim line you choose, the 2020 Compass is quite spacious for its subcompact crossover SUV designation. It provides lots of room in the front, plus plenty of driver’s seat adjustability, with good reach from the telescopic steering column, providing me with an ideal driving position, while there’s more headroom than most anyone should ever require.
Once I’d set my driver’s seat up for my long-legged, short-torso body type, a process that forced me to slide it further back than most people measuring my five-foot-eight height would normally need to, I nevertheless had approximately six inches in front of my knees when seated directly behind in the second row. I also had about four inches above my head, plus another four next to my hips and shoulders, while the Compass includes a comfortably wide folding armrest in the middle. The window seats are comfortable with decent lower back support, and the aforementioned rear seat amenities, which also included good air circulation through vents on the backside of the front console, aided rear seat relaxation.
The luggage compartment features the usual carpeting on the floor and seatbacks, plus four chrome tie-down rings, and the usual 60/40 split-folding rear seats that grow cargo capacity from 770 litres (27.2 cubic feet) to 1,693 litres (39.8 cu ft). This is up 127 litres (4.5 cu ft) from the old version of this SUV when the seats are left in place, yet it’s 82 litres (2.9 cu ft) less accommodating when they’re laid flat.
Repositioning myself in the driver’s seat, I saw no Eco or Sport driving modes to eke out better mileage or drive the most performance from the Compass’ standard 2.4-litre Tigershark MultiAir four-cylinder engine, or for that matter its three drivetrains. The engine makes 180 horsepower and 175 lb-ft of torque, potent for its subcompact SUV segment, while fuel consumption depends on whether it’s mated up to the base front-wheel drive, six-speed manual combination (10.4 L/100km city, 7.3 highway and 9.0 combined), front-wheel drive with the six-speed auto (10.6 city, 7.6 highway and 9.3 combined), which also features auto stop/start that automatically shuts the engine off when it would otherwise be idling, or four-wheel drive with its nine-speed auto (10.8 city, 7.8 highway and 9.5 combined) that also boasts idle stop/start. Only Sport trim offers the manual, with the Sport, North and Altitude models allowing for the option of front-wheel drive with the six-speed automatic, while all trims can be had with the 4WD, nine-speed configuration, which is standard on Upland models and above.
The Compass is wonderfully fun to drive, especially when equipped with my tester’s steering wheel paddle-actuated nine-speed automatic. It’s plenty quick off the line, the little turbocharged four providing loads of torque for a good kick in the pants at launch and no slowing as speed ramps up. Fast-paced cornering is good too, while the little Compass provides a nice compliant ride even over imperfect pavement. It boasts a fully independent suspension with rear struts instead of a multi-link setup (or trailing arm), so as to allow for more travel while 4x4ing.
And it’s true, the little Compass is a reasonably good off-roader. Jeep’s Selec-Terrain drive mode system comes standard, providing Auto, Snow, Sand and Mud settings, the latter proving to be quite capable when put through its paces in a dirty, muddy, watery off-road playground near my home. I would’ve rather had a Trailhawk for such activities, its slight suspension lift and more suitable tires no doubt aiding grip while traversing more challenging obstacles, but nevertheless the Compass North crawled over some fairly difficult medium-duty trails including ankle-deep wading through a number of sizeable mud puddles, allowing me to bring it back home in one piece.
The only problem I experienced during my weeklong test had to do with its highly advanced optional nine-speed automatic gearbox, which while very smooth and quite refined in its taller ratios, plus enjoyable thanks to its sporty rev-matching capability, was sometimes far from smooth when starting out. When pressing the throttle it hesitated slightly, resulting in an uncomfortable slap in the back that was followed by a mechanical clunk when taking off.
Even worse, the Compass was my first and only test vehicle to stall when restarting from its idle stop/start mode. I was waiting at a stoplight with the engine automatically shut down, when the light turned green and, upon taking my foot off the brake nothing happened. I immediately dabbed the gas pedal to get things going, yet the engine only attempted a start before petering out while in Drive. After looking at the controls in dumbfounded dismay, I returned my foot to the brake, shifted back into Park, pushed the start button, once again shifted into Drive, and then waited too long (as if the transmission was slipping) for it to clunk into first gear before moving again. I wasn’t happy. In fact, a line of thankfully patient drivers was behind me, no doubt all wondering how this pathetic person purchased their driver’s license.
After some digging online, I learned that Jeep’s ZF-sourced nine-speed automatic has been causing myriad problems for the brand in this Compass and other models, particularly the Cherokee, going back years, and the near exact story I just told you was reiterated by a number of frustrated Compass customers on the U.S. NHTSA website, even as recently as August 2019.
The sad thing is I truly like this SUV, so therefore I don’t want to end the story with such a dire problem. After all, it’s a great looking little unit, offers up an attractive, well-made interior that’s stock full of upscale features, is priced quite well, is wonderfully practical, and thoroughly enjoyable to drive (when the transmission works properly). I can easily recommend its manual and six-speed automatic front-wheel drive trims, but until I’ve spent some time in a couple of trouble-free testers I hesitate as much as this test car’s nine-speed automatic when recommending one of its pricier models.
If you’re a fan of Ford’s Explorer, particularly the outgoing version that’s currently being replaced by an entirely new 2020 model, it’s time to do something about it. The unashamedly Range Rover-esque fifth-generation model that launched in 2010 for the 2011 model year, is still a viable alternative to more modern machines, if not the hippest seven-seater on the block.
Yes, this 2019 Explorer is well beyond its due date. In fact, its Ford D4 platform actually harks back to the 2004 Five Hundred/Taurus family sedan and 2007 Freestyle/Taurus X crossover SUV, and that D4 architecture was pulled from underneath a 1999 Volvo S80, which arrived the year before. Other D4-based models included some US-exclusive Mercurys, Lincoln’s MKS and MKT, plus Ford’s own Flex.
Even though this 2019 Explorer is hardly a spring chicken, it remains particularly good looking and reasonably up-to-date inside. Ford has modified its styling over the past decade, the more recent examples utilizing a greater amount of Ford DNA than earlier versions, therefore eschewing its much maligned Range Rover copycat persona. I really like the look of my tester’s Limited trim, as it’s chrome-adorned outer design boasts big 20-inch alloy wheels and a number of other styling upgrades, leaving a clean and uncluttered appearance that isn’t at all overdone.
Thanks to the numerous styling updates, improved powertrains, and updated infotainment systems that have kept the Explorer fairly fresh and mostly modern, each week that I’ve spent with one reminds me why it’s so amazingly popular. Canadians consistently push this three-row Ford up to third or fourth place in its mid-size SUV category, and number one if we’re talking three-row rivals, yet in spite of looking fine, anteing up plenty of performance, and delivering the types of features those buying into this segment expect, it’s more than starting to show its age when it comes to rubberized soft-touch composites and harder plastics inside.
The 2019 Explorer I recently drove looks identical to the mildly refreshed 2018 model, which was actually a subtle styling upgrade of the more wholesale 2016 mid-cycle makeover. Ford redid the alloy wheels as well as upgraded some of its features since then, but it’s more or less the same SUV under the sheet metal.
A trio of powerplants is up for grabs, beginning with the Dearborn, Michigan-based brand’s standard, and this model’s as-tested 2.3-litre Ecoboost four-cylinder that puts out a generous 280 horsepower and 310 lb-ft of torque. This engine can be substituted with a 3.5-litre Ti-VCT V6 that makes 10 horsepower more at 290, yet only 255 lb-ft of torque for an extra $1,000, with the advantage of more towing capability, which improves from 2,000 pounds in standard trim or 3,000 lbs maximum (907 or 1,360 kg), depending on whether or not its Class II tow package has been added, to 2,000 or 5,000 lbs (907 or 2,268 kg), the latter number reflecting the Explorer V6 model’s Class III trailering upgrade. These are identical trailering ratings given to the top-tier turbocharged 3.5-litre Ecoboost V6 that transforms this friendly workhorse into a rip-snorting thoroughbred thanks to 365 horsepower and 350 lb-ft of torque.
My test model was outfitted in its second-rung Limited grade, which starts at $46,034 instead of the base XLT’s $39,448 window sticker. Yes, that means Ford has dropped its front-wheel drive base model for 2019, along with its more reachable $34,899 price point. The XLT and Limited use the first two engines noted a moment ago, whereas the $49,683 Sport and $55,379 Platinum models only offer the more potent turbo-V6 (make sure to check out all the 2019 Ford Explorer pricing details right here at CarCostCanada, including trims, packages and individual options, plus available rebates and dealer invoice pricing that could save you thousands).
I was glad that Ford provided its base powertrain in my tester, because this four-cylinder engine combines good performance with great economy, the latter rating being 13.1 L/100km city, 9.2 highway and 11.4 combined compared to 14.5 city, 10.6 highway and 12.7 combined for the mid-grade V6. At least the top-line V6 Ecoboost engine provides plenty of get-up-and-go in lieu of its near V8-like fuel-efficiency of 15.2 L/100km in the city, 10.9 on the highway and 13.2 combined, but I’m still glad I was refueling the Ecoboost turbo-four. Also, you’re required to top up both Ecoboost engines with 93-octane premium-grade gas in order to achieve those just-noted numbers, but not with the mid-range V6, therefore actual running costs between the base turbo-four and second-rung V6 engines are likely very similar.
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 still does in the U.S., like most competitors continue to do.
Together with standard 4WD, all Explorers include Ford’s Range Rover-style Terrain System too, which is capable of managing all kinds of on- and off-road conditions. All that’s required is a twist of its console-mounted dial, and while it’s not a go-anywhere 4×4 like Ford’s own full-size Expedition or the upcoming Bronco, the Explorer is still very capable over light and even medium duty trails when using its Snow, Gravel, Grass Mode, Sand Mode, or Mud, Rut Mode selections, made even better via standard Hill Descent Control and the usual traction and stability control systems, while it’s best left in default Normal Mode the rest of the time.
Like a true off-road capable SUV, the Explorer sits taller than most crossover SUVs in its mid-size class, providing a more truck-like experience, but as noted before it is based on a conventional unibody platform. This means that its body structure stays tight and rigid, an easily noticeable trait that’s much appreciated when dealing with bumps, potholes and other annoyances. This has much to do with the amount of fine-tuning done by Ford’s engineering team over the past decade, because the Freestyle I first tested a dozen years ago never felt as composed. Both sit atop a well-sorted independent MacPherson strut front suspension and multi-link rear design, plus a 32-mm front stabilizer bar and 22-mm one in back, all of which provides an impressive ride quality and handling balance.
My as-tested Explorer Limited also had significant mass to contend with, its curb weight being a significant 2,066 kilograms (4,556 pounds) even with its lightest 2.3-litre turbo-four under-hood, but the aforementioned horsepower and torque numbers made sure it still delivered strong acceleration off the line, up to highway speeds and beyond, while its six-speed automatic gearbox (the only transmission offered) matches the engine well. The more remedial transmission should provide better reliability than all the competitive eight-, nine- and 10-speed autoboxes too, the latter count corresponding with the number of forward gears offered in the new 2020 Explorer, incidentally. I found the 2019 Explorer’s six-speed automatic swapped cogs with a steady smoothness and plenty of positive action when pushing hard, the latter enhanced with a thumb rocker switch on the shift knob when wanting to engage manual mode, so I would have zero issues with four less gears if it proved to be a more dependable transmission long-term.
Speed is one thing, but in the family-hauling SUV world comfort is king. Fortunately the Explorer provides comfort in spades, not to mention room to spare. It can manage up to seven occupants in standard trim or six when outfitted with second-row captain’s chairs. My tester’s standard configuration allowed for three-abreast seating across the second row without discomfort, the outboard positions benefiting from two-way heat for warming rear derrieres during the cold winter months. Two buttons on the backside of the front centre console turn them on or off, these placed beside a manual rear temperature control panel that also houses dual USB charging ports, plus a three-prong 110-volt household-style AC charger.
For accessing the third row, each 60/40-split side of the second row can be flipped forward and out of the way, allowing for a lot of access space, while those relegated to the very back should definitely be comfortable unless they’re taller than average. My five-foot-eight medium-build body fit in nicely, with more than enough room in each direction.
The 50/50 split-folding rearmost seats can be dropped down into a deep luggage well when not in use, by available power controls on the cargo wall no less. They stow away similarly to how they would in a high-end minivan, but you’ll need to walk around to the side doors in order to lay the second-row seats flat. When done you’ll end up with a lot of room to carry life’s belongings, the Explorer’s available cargo volume expanding from 595 litres (21.0 cubic feet) behind the third row, or 1,240 litres (43.9 cubic feet) aft of the second row, to a total of 2,313 litres (81.7 cubic feet) behind the first row. That’s an impressive load when compared to its three-row challengers.
Back in the driver’s seat, the Explorer Limited’s main chair is 10-way powered and should therefore be comfortable for most shapes and sizes, even including four-way powered lumbar support for locating the ideal position to add pressure on the small of the back. The power-adjustable steering column provides loads of reach too, which made it easy to set up a driving position that optimized both comfort and control, while all buttons, knobs and dials on the instrument panel were easy enough to reach.
That included the centre touchscreen, which includes Ford’s superb Sync 3 infotainment interface. Granted, it’s not as modern as more recently updated models in this class, the new Explorer included, but its white and black (and sometimes wine) on light blue graphics remain fresh and good looking, while the system continues to be relatively quick to respond to inputs, if not providing the best resolution currently available. Its matte display minimizes fingerprints, plus it is bright and easy to read, and therefore better than some competitive displays that wash out in sunlight. For example, a 2019 Toyota Highlander’s centre display nearly impossible to see in due to glare (a model not yet upgraded with Toyota’s newest and much improved Entune infotainment system), and it was worse when donning my polarized sunglasses. In the Explorer this is not an issue.
All of the Explorer’s switchgear is on par with others in its segment, some even better. The rotating audio knob, for instance, is edged in knurled metal that adds a premium feel and look. The cabin’s woodgrain inlays are really dense and authentic feeling too, these running across the instrument panel as well as each door, while I really like the way Ford surrounded the wood in satin-finish aluminum, the two metal trim sections meeting where the dash ends and door panel begins. It would’ve looked much better if they aligned more evenly, the doors obviously not hung properly during assembly (see photos 28 and 29 in the gallery for a clear view), but Ford should get bonus points for the quality of these trim pieces and the Explorer’s overall good interior design (I’m guessing you can ask your local dealer to rehang the doors if the Explorer you’re buying suffers from the same problem).
The just-noted wood and metal inlays come standard, while base XLT features not yet mentioned include LED signature lighting enhancing the otherwise auto LED low-beam headlights, plus LED fog lights, LED tail lamps, 18-inch alloys on 245/60 all-seasons, silver roof rails, Ford’s Easy Fuel capless fuel filler, remote start, proximity access with pushbutton start/stop, Ford’s SecuriCode keypad on the B-pillar, MyKey, forward and reverse parking sonar, a leather-wrapped multi-function steering wheel, a leather-wrapped shift knob, an eight-way power-adjustable driver’s seat, heatable front seats, an auto-dimming centre mirror, Ford’s Sync 3 infotainment touchscreen with a backup camera, a seven-speaker AM/FM/MP3 audio system with satellite radio, FordPass Connect with a Wi-Fi Hotspot, a media hub that includes 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 two-zone auto HVAC, blindspot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert, and plenty more.
The Explorer’s rigid body shell is standard too, plus enough safety gear to achieve an NHTSA 5-star crash rating, while Ford also makes a new (last year) $1,000 Safe and Smart Package available that adds rain-sensing windshield wipers, auto high beams, dynamic cruise control, forward collision warning with brake support, and lane-keeping assist.
That Safe and Smart Package was added to my Limited tester, which otherwise gets more standard chrome exterior trim, unique 20-inch alloys riding on 255/50 tires, power-folding outside mirrors with integrated LED turn indicators, ambient interior lights, a heated steering wheel, a power-adjustable tilt and telescopic steering column, a universal garage door opener, perforated leather upholstery with three-way cooling and memory (that also memorizes mirror and steering column settings), a 10-way power-adjustable front passenger seat, a 180-degree split-view front parking camera, a voice-activated navigation system that includes SiriusXM Traffic and Travel Link, a hands-free foot-activated power liftgate, an excellent sounding 12-speaker Sony audio system, the 110-volt AC power outlet, heatable second-row seats, and power-folding third row I noted earlier, plus Ford included a $1,750 two-pane powered panoramic sunroof above, all of which kept my Explorer tester under $50k, including destination fees.
Ford offers a number of additional options and packages too, such as a $1,500 XLT Desert Copper Package that includes unique 20-inch alloy wheels, chrome side mirrors, and black/copper leather upholstery to base XLT trim; and the $1,600 XLT Sport Appearance Package that features “EXPLORER” block letters on the hood, special Magnetic Metallic-painted (black) 20-inch alloys, exterior accents painted in Magnetic Metallic, black roof rails, “EXPLORER” enhanced front floor mats, upgraded door panels highlighted with Fire Orange contrast stitching, black leather upholstery with perforated Miko inserts, Foxfire scrim and the same Fire Orange contrast stitching, plus more.
Ford could have upgraded my Limited tester with a $2,900 301A package as well, which features the Safe and Smart Package as well as a set of Multicontour front seats with Active Motion massage, active park assist, and inflatable rear outboard safety belts.
As for the previously noted Sport trim line, other than the much more potent turbo-V6 it receives cool looking glossy black exterior trim most everywhere chrome was before, including the mirror housings and outer door handles, while also adding a special blackout treatment to the headlights and tail lamps, while also including its own set of blackened 20-inch rims, upgrades the cabin including perforated leather upholstery with red stitching, plus an improved Sony audio system with Clear Phase and Live Acoustics, while all of the Limited trim’s features are included too, plus the Safe and Smart Package.
Finally, top-line Platinum trim gets everything already noted except for the Sport model’s black exterior trim and special interior details. Instead it features satin-chrome on the outside, plus a sporty quad of chromed tailpipes, resulting in the most Range Rover-like Explorer from an exterior design perspective. Nevertheless it’s a very attractive family hauler, complete with power-adjustable pedals, a standard twin-panel moonroof, active park assist, and exclusive Ash Swirl wood inlays edged in real aluminum, plus Nirvana leather upholstery featuring micro-perforations and rich quilted side bolsters.
Platinum trim also includes the massaging Multicontour seats from the aforementioned 301A package, an upgraded gauge cluster, a leather-clad instrument panel and door uppers, additional leather covering the door and centre console armrests, a unique headliner, and active noise reduction.
The Platinum would have made for a more enjoyable week than my Limited test model for sure, but if I were purchasing the $6k difference would cause me some pause. Either way the Explorer still looks great, is really nice to drive, is good on fuel when outfitted with its turbo-four, comes loaded with luxury goodies, is ultra accommodating for passengers and cargo, and is nicely finished too (not including those misaligned trim pieces).
All said, the soon to be discontinued fifth-generation Explorer remains an excellent three-row crossover SUV that any price-sensitive buyer should consider now that dealers are ready to sharpen their pencils. Sure it’s going to look a bit old next to the all-new 2020 model, but it’s a tried and tested utility that should provide years of hassle-free service, and that’s a luxury that might make it an ideal choice.
Ford’s latest Expedition is one great looking full-size SUV, but I’m certain that once you’ve fully read my comprehensive review you’ll be a lot more impressed at what lies beneath its handsome new face and boldly shaped body lines.
Just like generations past, this new fourth-generation Expedition rides on the same body-on-frame platform as the F-Series pickup truck, albeit this time around it’s based on the new T-Platform that underpins the highly advanced, lightweight aluminum-bodied blue-oval workhorse you’ve heard so much about for the last few years.
This full-size Ford SUV received a ground-up redesign for model year 2018, and like the just-noted F-Series it now benefits from its own mostly aluminum skin. The stylish design sits atop a high-strength lightweight boron steel and aluminium frame that further reduces its curb weight by 44 kilograms to 90 kg (depending on trim) when compared its predecessor, or 135 kg when stretched to long-wheelbase Expedition Max lengths, but despite its considerable weight loss the redesigned SUV is more than 100 mm longer than the outgoing version in regular wheelbase form, and 28 mm lengthier in its larger Max body style, while its wheelbase is stretched by almost 90 mm for the regular-length model and 15 mm with the Max, plus it gains more than 25 mm from side to side.
This new regular-wheelbase Expedition’s increased size, plus its lightweight aluminum design are good reasons to consider it over the full-size SUV segment’s best-selling Chevrolet Tahoe/GMC Yukon duo, while all of these truck-based SUVs are more often chosen over their unibody car-based crossover counterparts due to passenger carrying capability and their load hauling/trailering mastery, so additional size is a very good thing in this class.
This newest Expedition’s bigger dimensions allow for an even roomier interior than the previous generation’s sizeable proportions, while the cargo area grows to a maximum of 2,962 litres in regular length, or 3,439 litres with the Expedition Max, the latter providing 477 litres of additional luggage space than the regular Expedition. This means you can load in 4×8 sheets of building material with the tailgate shut.
Some of the Expedition’s additional cargo dimensions include 1,627 litres behind the second row of the regular wheelbase, and 2,077 litres behind that in the Max, or alternatively 1,800 and 2,254 litres respectively for the same area when the second row is slid all the way forward, while lastly it measures 546 litres and 972 litres behind the regular- and long-wheelbase models’ third row respectively, or 593 and 1,019 litres in their rearmost compartments when the third row is fully upright.
By the way, both second- and third-row seatbacks can be powered upwards and downwards individually from a set of rocker switches on the left-side cargo wall, which is a truly helpful feature in such a big SUV. I should mention here that the two powered rows are only standard with Limited and Platinum trims, whereas this PowerFold feature only benefits the third row in the base XLT model. All rows fold completely flat no matter the trim, however, so you’ll be able to fit all types of cargo inside, while having a better chance of keeping them upright en route.
Compared to the Tahoe/Yukon and Suburban/Yukon XL it’s easy to see the Expedition and Expedition Max are considerably more accommodating, with the GM utilities’ shorter wheelbase model’s 2,682 litres of maximum cargo space shy by a shocking 280 litres, its 1,464-litre capacity aft of its second row falling short by 163 litres, and its 433 litres of luggage space behind the third row off by 160 litres.
As for the Suburban, its 3,446 litres of total luggage volume is actually 7 litres larger than the Max’s maximum (which is more or less a wash), while the 2,172 litres behind its second row make it less accommodating by 82 litres, although the big GM climbs back with 94 litres of additional storage space behind the third row due to 1,113 litres of total cargo capacity.
If trailering is more important to your needs, you’ll be happy to learn that the regular wheelbase Expedition shown here can now tow up to 4,218 kilos (9,300 lbs) when outfitted with its $1,400 Heavy-Duty Trailer Tow Package (the base model is good for 4,173 kg or 9,200 lbs with the same upgrade), which is better than its predecessor by 45 kg (100 lbs), plus these numbers are best-in-class by a significant margin. Standard towing features include trailer sway control, which works together with AdvanceTrac traction control and Roll Stability Control (RSC) in order to maintain best-possible command of both SUV and trailer.
Again, putting the Expedition up against the current Tahoe/Yukon shows 3,900 kg (8,600 lbs) of towing capacity, but that’s with the two GM models’ strongest rear-wheel drive layout. The Expedition comes standard with four-wheel drive in Canada, requiring us to compare it to both Tahoe and Yukon 4×4 models that can still only manage 3,810 kg (8,400 lbs) apiece, a whopping 408 kg (900 lbs) less capable than the base Expedition. The Expedition Max tromps all over the Suburban/Yukon XL duo too, its towing maximum of 4,082 kg (9,000 lbs) much more convincing than the two GM utilities’ 3,765 litres (8,300 lbs) in two-wheel drive or 3,629 kg (8,000 lbs) in more directly competitive four-wheel drive. The obvious advantage goes to Ford and its Expedition.
A good reason for the Expedition’s trailering prowess comes down to its updated twin-turbocharged 3.5-litre Ecoboost V6, which is now good for a robust 375 horsepower and 470 lb-ft of torque in base XLT and mid-range Limited trims, the latter version shown here on this page, while an even more formidable version makes 400 horsepower and 480 lb-ft of torque when stuffed under the hood of the top-line Platinum model. These two different versions of this well-proven Ford powerplant come mated to a completely new 10-speed automatic transmission that, improved upon via standard idle start/stop technology capable of automatically turning off the engine when it would otherwise be idling, and then immediately restarting it when lifting your foot from the brake, delivers much greater fuel-efficiency than the previous Expedition.
Once again, comparing the Tahoe/Yukon twins shows a 20-horsepower and 87-lb-ft disadvantage for GM when its two utilities are outfitted with their base 5.3-litre V8 engines, both of which join up with a dependable yet less advanced six-speed automatic transmission, whereas the top-tier GM engine is a gargantuan 6.2-litre V8 that interestingly mates up to a version of the identical 10-speed automatic used for the Expedition (both Ford and GM intelligently developed this sophisticated transmission in unison so as to save costs), this combination allowing for 20 more horsepower than the top-level Ecoboost engine, but alas 20 lb-ft less torque.
Notably, the Expedition’s 10-speed gearbox truly reduces fuel economy, something I witnessed firsthand during my weeklong test. In fact, I had no problem nearing Transport Canada’s official rating of 14.1 L/100km in the city, 10.6 on the highway and 12.5 combined when I eased up on the gas pedal, which compares favourably against the heavier steel-bodied 2017 Expedition that labored along with a comparatively archaic six-speed automatic (just like the current base GM utes) and therefore could only manage 15.9 L/100km in the city, 12.0 on the highway and 14.2 combined in regular length guise. This new lightweight Expedition is much more fuel-friendly than the 2019 Tahoe 4×4’s best rating too, that model only good for 15.8 L/100km in the city, 11.1 on the highway and 13.7 combined, despite the Expedition’s much greater power advantage.
Similarly, the long-wheelbase 2019 Expedition Max enjoys a rating of just 14.7 L/100km in the city, 11.2 on the highway and 13.1 combined, beating its steel-bodied predecessor that could only manage a 16.1, 12.2 and 14.3 rating respectively, whereas the best rating a new Suburban/Yukon XL 4×4 can do is just 16.8 L/100km in the city, 11.3 on the highway and 14.3 combined, which is worse than the previous Expedition Max when driven around town. Also interesting, there’s no noted difference in fuel efficiency when comparing the base 375-hp Ecoboost engine to the more potent 400-hp version, but not so for the larger optional 6.2-litre V8 in the GM utilities that experience a slight increase in consumption to 16.4 L/100km city, 10.7 highway and 13.8 combined, or 17.1, 11.3 and 14.5 respectively.
Together with standard four-wheel drive, the latest Expedition also comes with a version of the Explorer’s terrain management system, which allows a choice of driving styles, plus the capability of maximizing traction on all types of road and trail surfaces, and the ability to set this SUV up to either tow a trailer, or have the Expedition towed behind an even larger vehicle like an RV, all from a rotating dial on the console.
I spent most of my time with the Expedition on pavement, and while doing so found its standard V6 enjoyably smooth, but interestingly a nice V8-like soundtrack complemented the experience. Stomp on the gas pedal and it feels even better than most V8s thanks to all the horsepower and torque noted earlier, so I must admit this would be my personal choice in this segment, unless Ford chose to offer a Powerstroke diesel in the Expedition at some point in the future—fingers crossed.
I think the new 10-speed automatic might be even smoother than the V6. In fact, if it weren’t for all the upward and downward shifts I’d be questioning whether Ford had stuffed a continuously variable gearless box into its transmission housing, but then again it responds much better than a CVT would digging deep into the throttle, at which point it provides nice quick downshifts, albeit never deviating from its silky-smooth demeanor. Also, I never once tried to defeat the auto idle start/stop system mentioned earlier, as it always shut down quickly at stoplights and restarted without hesitation, so why not benefit from the fuel savings?
You might be starting to notice a rather smooth theme as this review moves along, and to that end the Expedition’s suspension is no different. It soaks up dips, bumps and other types of road irregularities no matter the surface below or surrounding weather conditions, and was therefore wonderfully through town, on the highway and most everywhere else, even when testing on a few gravel roads and unkempt trails. I personally think the Expedition is at its best on the freeway, where it’s ability to cruise comfortably all day long is hard to beat, this skill made all the more enjoyable thanks to a capable dynamic cruise control system. This is where I also appreciated the Expedition’s very low road and wind noise.
Another positive is the Expedition’s performance around edgier curves, this partially due to a fully independent multi-link rear suspension setup that especially adds confidence over rough pavement mid-corner. Unlike the Expedition, all directly competitive GM utilities use a comparatively old-school non-independent solid rear axle design.
Despite its size, the Expedition was fairly agile through busy city traffic, this aided by the superb visibility granted by a tall ride-height. Parallel parking downtown, or for that matter trying to find a large enough space in a parking garage, can be a bit challenging, yet most people I know that own one of these full-size SUVs also have a smaller car for zipping around town. If you’re reading this from a rural area, just ignore my inner-city ramblings, as you’ll rarely need to worry about this problem.
Together with the Expedition’s impressive performance and luxurious ride comes an interior that’s improved so significantly since its previous generation that I was truly questioning whether Ford still needed its Lincoln Navigator, at least before spending a week with the latter. Yes, the new Navigator has come a long way too, thanks to real hardwood and plenty of premium materials all around, which more than make up for the $12k or so price premium required to step up to a similarly equipped model. I wouldn’t need all the highfalutin trim in my family hauler, but rather found my Expedition Limited test model wonderfully comfortable.
In fact, its driver’s seat that was about as supportive as this full-size segment gets, only including two-way lumbar support, but to Ford’s credit it powered in and out precisely where it was needed to fill the small of my back, so you won’t hear any complaints from me. I also found the seat’s lower cushion cupped nicely under my knees, but it made me wonder whether those with shorter legs might find this uncomfortable.
Looking back to Expedition Limited materials quality in the cabin, Ford finished off most of the dash top in an attractive, soft-touch stitched and padded leatherette, and continued with this premium material around the sides of the primary gauge cluster, on a separate horizontal strip ahead of the front passenger, and across the tops of the door uppers front and back, while each armrest was well padded too.
My Limited model’s woodgrain was treated to an authentic looking matte finish, but I have to say Ford didn’t even attempt to make it feel like the real deal. I suppose this is how Ford has detailed out the Expedition since inception, so I doubt anyone will complain, and besides if you want a more luxurious version you can always move up to the new Navigator as I noted before. One item I appreciate more in the Expedition than in the Navigator is its knurled metal rotating gear selector, which is much more intuitive than the newest Lincoln’s row of pushbuttons.
Next to the rotating gear selector is a smaller knurled metal dial for choosing drive modes, filled with Normal, Eco, Sport, Tow/Haul, Mud and Ruts, Sand, and Grass/Gravel/Snow settings. I slotted it into Normal mode most of the time, but found Eco mode just as good for driving through town amid congested traffic, while I’m guessing it helped at the pump too.
Eco mode slows the 10-speed automatic’s shift increments and doesn’t let it hold gears as long, amongst other functions, while when sprinting quickly off the line it still provided plenty of punch. Sport mode, on the other hand, doesn’t allow the auto start-stop function to work and therefore won’t save as much fuel, but the engine was always ready to get up and go from standstill, while the transmission’s shift points were higher within the engine’s rev range, resulting in stronger straight-line acceleration. Also notable, with Sport mode set yet while driving more relaxed, the transmission didn’t merely hold a given gear for no apparent reason, and thus keep engine revs too high. This proved the new 10-speed is a lot smarter than many other multi-speed transmissions I’ve driven.
Also good, the gauge cluster’s tachometer dial includes a well-conceived vertical readout showing all 10 gears moving up and down in a cool digital graphic as they slot into place. The two analogue dials bookend a large 8.0-inch standard multi-information display that’s ultra-high in resolution, filled with a stunning array of stylish graphics that wow eyeballs with beautiful contrast and depths of colour. Its functions include an off-road status panel featuring an inclinometer and more, plus a real-time fuel-economy average gauge that displayed a scary 18.3 L/100km while I was taking these notes (which was fortunately not my average throughout the test week), a comprehensive trip mileage panel, some engine information including driving hours and idle hours (my test model showed 209 total hours, of which 63 were idling, so it’s easy to see the need for an idle start-stop system in a vehicle like this), a turbo boost gauge, plus more.
If you haven’t familiarized yourself with Ford’s Sync 3 infotainment touchscreen system then I’m guessing you haven’t read many of my other Ford reviews, because I’ve been an advocate of this system since it debuted a number of years ago. I won’t say it’s still the best in the mainstream volume sector, but I believe it once was and now remains one of the best infotainment systems around, continuing into this latest Expedition with its great looking sky-blue, grey and white minimalist graphics plus easy to understand commands, as well as its bucket-load of useful features that include superbly accurate navigation and, in the case of my test model, a wonderfully helpful parking camera with a regular reverse screen and a separate overhead view.
Impressively, each and every Expedition trim comes standard with sensational 12-speaker Bang & Olufsen audio, while this system’s controls are once again comprised of knurled metal dials and tight-fitting buttons. The HVAC system’s controls are equally well designed, featuring temperature readouts within the middle of each dial. Almost all of the Expedition’s switchgear is well made, tightly fitted with minimal spacing, and damped well for a premium experience, with only its steering wheel buttons feeling a bit on the low-rent side.
I wouldn’t go searching for premium-level composite materials below the interior’s beltline either, because Ford didn’t even finish the glove box lid in a padded plastic, but chose a shiny hard shell covering instead. I can imagine some owners might be happier with such hard and more durable plastics, especially along the lower door panels, these feeling rugged enough to withstand kicks aplenty. You won’t need to worry about getting the A-pillar dirty from sooty gloves or unwashed hands either, as Ford didn’t wrap it, or any of the Expedition’s pillars, in fabric. Those wanting a more premium experience should once again be looking up to the Lincoln Navigator.
This said the Expedition’s passenger compartment is every bit as spacious as the Navigator’s, or for that matter any other SUV in the full-size class. My test model featured second-row bucket seats instead of the usual three-position bench, with the former providing a wide thoroughfare in between so that children can climb into the rearmost row. Alternatively, you can tilt either bucket forward to access the third row, which might be handier if used by larger teens or adults. The Expedition is actually first in the full-size SUV segment to include this type of a tip-and-slide second-row feature, incidentally—impressive. Also good is a third row that’s at least as comfortable and accommodating as any minivan.
Second-row comfort is even better, plus the fortunate two or three enjoying the Expedition’s mid-section have control of a comprehensive rear automatic HVAC and audio system panel attached to the back of the front console. It includes two USB ports, a three-prong 110-volt household-type plug for a laptop, entertainment/gaming device or whatever else you may want to keep charged up, as well as switchgear for the heatable seats, etcetera. Meanwhile, those third-row passengers noted a moment ago have the ability to use the sidewall-mounted power-folding seat controls to recline their backrests, while they can also plug in devices via optional USB charge points, will benefit from excellent air vents overhead, and enjoy clear views out each large side window, while a gigantic panoramic sunroof provides natural light from above.
Some Expedition technology worth noting includes an available wireless device charger (if you have a smartphone new enough to make use of it), Wi-Fi hotspot capability, and rear-seat entertainment, my tester boasting a monitor on the backside of each front headrest. All in all the Expedition offers up six USB ports, four 12-volt power outlets, and the 110-volt socket just mentioned, while Ford also provides a whopping 17 cupholders throughout.
The base XLT model, starting at $53,978 and set up for eight occupants, gets a lot of standard equipment including a set of 18-inch machine-finished alloys, fog lights, black running boards, black roof rails with black crossbars, Ford’s unique SecuriCode entry keypad, MyKey, an illuminated entry system with approach lamps, pushbutton ignition, rear parking sonar, a leather-clad steering wheel, a windshield wiper de-icer, an eight-way power-adjustable driver’s seat, an auto-dimming centre mirror, a sunglasses holder and conversation mirror within the overhead console, a universal garage door opener, tri-zone auto climate control, the aforementioned Sync 3 infotainment system with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, a reverse camera system, navigation with detailed mapping, voice control, the 12-speaker Bang & Olufsen audio system mentioned before, satellite radio, power rear quarter windows, flip-up tailgate glass, a cargo management system, power-folding third-row seatbacks, a capless Easy Fuel filler, a Class IV trailer hitch receiver with wiring, tire pressure monitoring, the SOS Post-Crash Alert system, all the normal active and passive safety systems, plus a great deal more.
As-tested Limited trim begins at $65,288 and features 20-inch alloy wheels, a few more chrome exterior trim highlights such as the fog lamp bezels and door handles, bright stainless steel roof rails, LED tail lamps, a remote engine starter, proximity-sensing keyless access, power-deployable running boards in body-colour with polished stainless steel trim, power-folding exterior mirrors with auto-dimming on the driver’s side, ambient interior lighting, the previously noted woodgrain inlays, a power-adjustable steering column, powered foot pedals, driver’s memory, a heated steering wheel, 10-way power-adjustable front seats with heated and ventilated cushions, perforated leather upholstery, the heated second-row outboard seats with Tip-and-Slide and PowerFold capability noted earlier (albeit laid out in a 40/20/40-split bench design), the powered panoramic sunroof, a Connectivity package including the aforementioned wireless smartphone charging, plus a FordPass Connect 4G WiFi modem, and the two smart-charging USB ports in the third row, plus Limited trim also includes yet more first- and second-row (plus cargo area) power points, a foot-activated motion-sensing powered liftgate, front parking sonar, blindspot monitoring with cross-traffic assist, trailer-tow monitoring, etcetera.
My test model was upgraded with a $5,000 302A package too, enhancing the wheels to 22 inches, adding LED headlights, plus LED fog lamps, and a comprehensive Driver’s Assistance Package that would otherwise cost an additional $1,200 yet adds auto high beams, rain-sensing wipers, dynamic cruise control with stop-and-go, forward collision warning, pre-collision assist autonomous braking and pedestrian detection, lane keeping warning and mitigation, driver alert, the dual-screen surround parking camera noted before, and an enhanced self-parking system.
As mentioned earlier, Platinum trim is top-of-the-line and at $72,552 it includes everything from the 302A package as well as another set of 22-inch alloys, a special satin-finish mesh grille insert, more satin-aluminum exterior detailing such as the mirror housings and door handle accents, upscale brushed aluminum scuff plates on the doorsills, multi-contour front seats like those used for the Navigator (even featuring Active Motion massage), second-row safety seatbelts that self-inflate during an accident, plus more.
Take note that all pricing was sourced right here on CarCostCanada, where you’ll find full detailed information about trims, packages and standalone options, as well as otherwise hard to find rebate information and dealer invoice pricing that could save you thousands.
While there was once a time when $54k to $72k might have seemed like a lot to pay for nothing more than a truck-based SUV, Ford has changed all that with an Expedition that reaches far above its predecessors and most anything else this side of the luxury class, and I must say makes all of its aforementioned GM competitors look like they’re lacking by comparison. When realizing the Tahoe, Yukon, Suburban and Yukon XL all start higher in price than the Expedition, and then factoring in Ford’s more potent and efficient powertrains, more advanced (Land/Range Rover-derived) Terrain Management 4×4 system, more sophisticated fully-independent suspension, lightweight aluminum body, easier third-row access, greater cargo capacity, etcetera, etcetera, there’s no way that combined 2018 calendar year sales of the four GM utilities should be more than four times higher (11,629 Tahoes, Yukons, Suburbans and Yukon XLs to 2,798 Expeditions). It seems that Ford has made up a little ground over the first five months of 2019, with 2,007 deliveries compared to 4,617 unit sales of the GM utes, but the Expedition should still be doing better.
Of course, Ford shouldn’t feel too badly. Its Expedition isn’t suffering from the Nissan Armada’s hardly noticeable 321 unit January through May sales total, or the Toyota Sequoia’s even weaker 248 deliveries over the same five months, while the Explorer is now so good that word is bound to get out to Tahoe, Suburban and Yukon owners that won’t want to feel shortchanged when it comes time to trade in their current rides. We’ll just have to wait to see how GM answers back when it comes time to update the fourth-generation of these four utilities in 2020. Until then, the Ford Expedition is the best this full-size mainstream volume-branded segment has to offer.
The Colorado ZR2 is one wicked looking pickup truck. Chevrolet got the design just right, and together with its beefy styling and rugged suspension, GM’s most popular brand has brought one impressive off-road race replica to market.
To be clear, Chevy wasn’t first to this market sector and certainly won’t be the final entry. While there are probably others I should mentioned, Dodge’s Power Wagon was one of the street-capable off-road race truck initiators, although today’s 4×4 fans will likely point to the 2010 Ford F-150 SVT Raptor as first on the scene, as far as OEM custom off-roaders go.
Fiat Chrysler Automobiles’ (FCA) Ram brand has tried to answer back with its 2016 to present 1500 Rebel, which is much like previous Power Wagons with bolder frontal styling, while Toyota arrived a few years ago with its Tundra and Tacoma TRD Pro packages, the latter recently adding a snorkel-style air intake that makes it appear like it can swim across rivers, through mud holes, or any other deep, liquid barrier.
Right about now I should also draw your attention to the fresh new 2020 Jeep Gladiator, which when suited up in Rubicon trim might be the most credible 4×4 in the mid-size pickup category (it’s definitely has good roots), while delivering payload and trailering capacities that compete well too.
While I’m covering all of these trail-rated cargo (and family) haulers I need to mention Chevrolet’s recently re-skinned Silverado that can be specified in new Trail Boss trim with a two-inch lift kit, improving off-road capability over its GMC Sierra Elevation cousin, but other than this the Trail Boss is mostly about cosmetics, whereas Nissan offers tough Pro-4X trims on its aging Frontier and more up-to-date Titan half-ton and heavy-half Titan XD models. Lastly, Honda offers its Ridgeline with a Black Edition and… well… it’s no CRF250X, let alone ZR2 rival.
The Gladiator Rubicon and Tacoma TRD Pro are the only mid-size ZR2 competitors capable of whacking through the wilderness (GMC’s Canyon doesn’t provide anything quite as 4×4-worthy), and the Chevy can be made even more capable with its Bison upgrade package, yet all of the above deserve comment (including the 2018 to present Ford Ranger Raptor that’s now getting snapped up by wealthier off-road enthusiasts in Asia).
Obviously size matters, with the North American Raptor, the Rebel (Power Wagon), the Tundra, and the Silverado/Sierra fraternal twins being full-size models, and the Tacoma, Ranger, Frontier, and this Colorado (plus the Canyon) more compact in their mid-size proportions.
Another big differentiator is the powertrains on offer, and being that this review is about a mid-size model I’ll focus on its key rivals, with most incorporating four-cylinder and (when equipped to compete off the beaten path) V6 gasoline-powered engines. The two GM mid-size trucks do likewise, but they also buck tradition by adding a high-torque, fuel-efficient turbo-diesel mill.
So, let’s focus in on the standard and optional ZR2 powertrains and how each measures up when compared to its Jeep and Toyota challengers, and then factor in some of their 4×4-related features. For starters, I spent a week with each engine, starting with a greyish Deepwood Green Metallic painted one that’s in fact a 2018 model (I’ll talk about the differences later in this review). This optional colour was cancelled for 2019, but the superb 2.8-litre Duramax turbo-diesel four-cylinder under its bulging hood remains. It makes 181 horsepower and a best-in-segment 369 lb-ft of torque from a mere 2,000 rpm, and comes paired to a strong six-speed automatic transmission.
It’s fuel-efficient compared to rivals thanks to a 12.5 L/100km city, 10.7 highway and 11.7 combined Transport Canada rating, but whether or not its stingy enough to justify its lofty $4,090 price tag will depend on the number of years and kilometres you plan to employ its service, or if you really want to take advantage of its efficiency for travelling farther into the wild yonder than gasoline-powered 4×4 owners dare go, or if you appreciate the tractability of its massive torque when trekking into said wilderness more than the immediate power its V6 offers.
Behind the blackened grille of the Kinetic Blue Metallic painted (a $495 option) 2019 ZR2 is the standard 3.6-litre V6 that produces 308 horsepower and 275 lb-ft of torque from 4,000 rpm. Just like the diesel, the V6 powers the rear axle or both diffs via part-time four-wheel drive, but unlike the diesel the standard engine’s gearbox is an even more economical eight-speed unit. The combo results in an estimated 15.0 L/100km in the city, 13.0 on the highway and 14.1 combined, partly due to cylinder deactivation when less performance is needed, and while decent it’s hardly the GM engine of choice for driving past pumps.
The Gladiator, on the other hand, only comes with FCA’s 3.6-litre V6, which makes 285 horsepower and 260 lb-ft of torque. That’s off by 23 horsepower and 15 lb-ft when compared to the base ZR2 V6, although it offers up a standard six-speed manual (no such luck with the ZR2) or alternatively an eight-speed auto, plus part-time 4WD, and comes with a Transport Canada rating that ranges between 10.4 and 14.1 L/100km city/highway combined depending on trims and transmissions.
As for the Tacoma TRD Pro, it’s standard with Toyota’s well-proven 3.5-litre V6 that puts out 276 horsepower and 265 lb-ft of torque, which is down some 32 horsepower and 10 lb-ft of torque on the V6-powered ZR2, and mates up to a six-speed manual or a six-speed auto plus part-time 4WD, while achieving city/highway combined fuel economy ranging from 11.9 to 12.9 L/100km, depending on transmissions and cabs.
All of the above V6s will outrun the Duramax turbo-diesel by significant margins, something I immediately noticed when setting out in the 2019 Colorado, but the advantage of the diesel’s 109, 104 and 94 lb-ft of torque advantage when compared to the Gladiator, Tacoma and ZR2 V6 respectively, gives the diesel big advantages on the trail, plus of course its 11.7 city/highway combined fuel economy that can only be beaten by one single Gladiator trim (and I’d be shocked to witness the FCA V6 winning out in real-world back-to-back tests).
Engine torque is important when off-road, but there are other factors that are even more important when leaving pavement, such as ground clearance, front and rear overhangs, and wheelbase length to name a few. The Tacoma provides the shortest wheelbase at 3,236 mm (127.4 in), but its 5,392-mm (212.3-in) nose-to-tail length means its overhangs are more pronounced, resulting in a truck that won’t hang up as easily when scaling sharp crests or other obstacles, but will probably scrape its front and rear bumpers when approaching a steep incline or levelling off after a radical decline. By comparison, the Colorado’s wheelbase is nearly as short at 3,258 mm (128.3 in), but improves on approach and departure angles with the shortest overall length of 5,347 mm (210.5 in), whereas the Gladiator has the longest wheelbase by far at 3,487 mm (137.3 in), plus it measures a limousine-like 5,537 mm (218.0 in) from front to back (ok, not quite as long as a limo, but you get my drift).
To clarify, I’ve only tested the 2018 and 2019 ZR2 models plus a 2017 Tacoma TRD Pro (it now includes the aforementioned snorkel and a number of other improvements), so I can’t offer a full critique of the latest TRD Pro or the Gladiator. As noted earlier, I had a version of the 2018 ZR2 with the Duramax Turbo-Diesel for a week, plus spent a week with a 2019 V6-powered variant, and mostly drove them around town and within suburban, rural areas on tarmac, but also took both out on the trail, the latter deep diving in hood-high standing water. I tested the previous Tacoma off-road too, and I had no trouble negotiating the chosen trail, but being a different location and a long time ago (two years is eons in vehicle development time), a direct comparo wouldn’t be fair.
On that note I hope to test a Gladiator Rubicon this summer, and you can bet I’ll be getting it as dirty as possible when I do. It features a disconnecting front sway bar to help with articulation (something I first experienced in a Ram Power Wagon, and is now also part of the Ram 1500 Rebel upgrade), plus it uses the Wrangler’s solid front axle that’s considered an improvement over the independent front suspensions used by the ZR2 and most other modern pickup trucks. Of course, I’ll make sure to use experiences from my ZR2 tests as part of my future Gladiator review.
Like the first 2017 Colorado ZR2 and the greenish-grey 2018 turbo-diesel model partially reviewed here, the newest 2019 ZR2 receives the same substantial increase in ride height, and therefore gets the same 50-mm (2.0-inch) increase in ground clearance, while any high-speed handling negatives are offset by 90 mm (3.5 inches) of increased front and rear track, plus stiffer new cast-iron lower front control arms, and a unique set of 8- by 17-inch alloy wheels wrapped in 31-inch Goodyear Duratrac off-road rubber.
What’s more, a 1.0-inch-diameter solid anti-roll bar replaces the usual 1.5-inch hollow one, improving suspension articulation, while last but hardly least are special Multimatic DSSV Position Sensitive Spool Valve Damping Performance shocks that help cushion the otherwise jarring impacts of rocks, roots and other obstacles you might find along an ungraded back road or trail (the TRD Pro utilizes Fox-sourced shocks, by the way, which are rated highly as well).
The skid plates below and tubular rocker extensions at each side are easier to see, both having been designed to protect vulnerable components beneath as well as low hanging bodywork, but the ZR2’s matte black grille and even more aggressive black domed hood make it even more noticeable to onlookers, not to mention its rugged black bumpers that get abbreviated at each corner to improve approach and departure angles, and extended black fender flares that make room for its all-terrain rubber.
The local 4×4 park chosen is one I test trucks and SUVs on regularly, so I’m familiar with its plentiful obstacles. While difficult for many presumed off-roaders, most of its challenges are a cakewalk for the ZR2, but were still intimidating without a spotting crew to guide me through. During the diesel’s mostly dry afternoon I was able to drag the rear-mounted spare tire over some deep rutted knolls plus up and down some steep terrain, once again finding ground at the rear (but not the front), while I was able to lift the left rear into midair and leave it there spinning (a silly thing some 4×4 fans do for kicks), and while there was a lot more skill remaining in this truck than my dirt playground could not fully extract, I was able to prove that the ZR2 is capable enough for serious off-road duty, yet still plenty comfortable.
The second off-road adventure with the 2019 ZR2 came mid-winter, on a particularly cold and rainy day. Rain means mud at best and massive pools of standing water at worst (or maybe best, depending on how you look at it). The steep grades that were child’s play before required locking both front and rear differentials now (just like with the Gladiator, albeit not so with the Taco TRD Pro that only includes lockers at the rear), but doing so allowed easy control all the way up and all the way down. Even better, partway into a 50-foot puddle my heart started to race when the truck’s front end slipped deeper into a set of ruts, forcing dirty water across the top of the hood and even onto the windshield, but a steady foot on the throttle allowed the meaty tires to keep momentum up, and the ZR2 pulled me to the other side without fanfare (other than my pounding heart). At that point I was wishing I’d had the TRD Pro’s snorkel, but obviously the ZR2 didn’t need it, this time around at least.
The thought of swamping an engine (which would void the warranty) makes the $6,980 need for the ZR2’s Bison package seem cheap. Of course, the Bison package wouldn’t have necessarily helped in this situation (it really should include a snorkel, if not just for style points), and I can’t say I’d want the ZR2 in Red Hot paint (I’d rather have the option of colours), but it gets design points for its bold “CHEVROLET” emblazoned grille (similar to the Raptor’s “FORD” grille replacement), unique AEV (American Expedition Vehicles) front and rear bumpers (the one up front capable of accepting a winch), the beefier black extended fender flares, special 17-inch AEV alloy wheels, fog lights, contoured front and rear floor liners, and about 90 kilograms (200 lbs) of super-strong boron steel AEV skid plates (front, transfer case, fuel tank, and rear differential) to better protect its vital components.
Of course, the ZR2 is still extremely capable without Bison upgrades, and quite a standout in the styling department too. The regular Colorado a bit tame to my eyes, at least when compared to most competitors, specifically the latest Tacoma and new Gladiator, but the ZR2’s bulging domed matte black louvered hood, redesigned matte black front bumpers and rear bumpers, exposed skid plates, robust tubular rocker protectors, and other trim upgrades give it a tougher look. Look beyond the machine-finished 17-inch alloy wheels with black-painted pockets and you’ll be able to see the bright yellow Multimatic dampers, unless they’re covered in dirt.
The ZR2’s lack of side steps might look good and not hang up on protruding trail debris, but it hampers access for shorter folk like me. There aren’t any Corner Steps on the back bumper to provide a leg up to the bed either, these issues being the only complaints I have against this special model.
Once inside I enjoyed the view provided by the aforementioned ride height and the Colorado’s inherently great sightlines in all directions. This helps in traffic, of course, possibly even giving you the edge needed to find your way up to the front of the pack. There’s where you’ll enjoy V6 performance, the larger of the two being a good choice for those wanting power over fuel efficiency. The V6 delivers a decided jump off the line and then keeps up the pace right up to legal highway speeds and beyond, while the diesel only jumps off the line initially, and simply can’t maintain the same level of forward thrust as its revs rise. This will be just find for diesel enthusiasts like me, because the engine helps it feel more like a work truck capably going about its business, and of course it pays big dividends when it comes time to fill up.
Colorado ZR2 buyers won’t have to make a choice about handling, fortunately, because both engines manage corners equally well. Even with its increased suspension, or possibly because of it, the ride is fairly smooth and quite comfortable, unless jumping curbs. Those slightly firmer Multimatic dampers, which work so very well off-road, also help to reduce body roll at higher speeds on pavement, resulting in a truck that’s surprisingly athletic through high-speed serpentine curves, unless you’re attempting to go quicker than anything so top-heavy and obviously 4×4-focused is supposed to go. Braking is pretty good too, but once again we shouldn’t get in over our heads. The ZR2 weighs in at 1,987 kg (4,381 lbs), and more when upgraded with the aforementioned Bison package, so judge stopping distances accordingly.
As per usual I only pushed the ZR2 hard during testing, and no matter the surfaces driven over or the speeds attained, the driver’s seat was comfortable and supportive. I especially appreciated the lateral support provided by its big side bolsters, which stopped me sliding sideways on what could have otherwise been slippery leather.
The upholstery was dyed black as usual, albeit highlighted with a red embroidered “2” as part of the otherwise black “ZR2” insignia on the headrests. The ZR2’s steering wheel receives no such name recognition, but it has a meaty rim that’s wrapped in soft and comfortable leather, with grippy baseball-style stitching in the middle. Other than its four-spoke design it appears more like the type of sport steering wheel you’d find in a performance car, and thanks to the generous reach of its standard tilt and telescoping steering column I fit in perfectly. I was able to sit upright with the steering wheel perfectly positioned for my long-legged, short torso, five-foot-eight, slight-build body, safely and comfortably with my hands at the optimal nine and three o’clock positions, further allowing an easy reach to the pedals below and once again, great visibility all-round.
The rear seating area of this Crew Cab, short box configured ZR2 (the ZR2 can also be had with an Extended Cab and a long box) is roomy for adults (and kids) of all shapes and sizes. When the driver’s seat was positioned for my height, there was still about five inches in front of my knees and more than enough room for my feet, plus I had another three to four inches over my head, and five inches from my shoulders and hips to the door, plus I’d guess you could seat a smaller person comfortably between the two outboard positions. With only two in back, more comfort can be accessed via a wide centre armrest filled with large cupholders that include rubber grips to hold cups or bottles in place. Other handy features include twin rear USB ports and a 12-volt charger.
If you want to keep your gear dry and safe from theft, the rear seat headrests fold forward and the backrests tumble flat so you can lay your belongings on top, or instead you can lift the lower seat cushion up to expose a storage compartment underneath, this complete with every tool you’ll need to lower the spare tire from below the bed and then change the wheel.
Seats and armrests aside, the ZR2 doesn’t offer any soft, pliable composite surface treatments in the rear, but back up front the dash top receives a nice soft paint to absorb sound and make it more appealing to touch, as does much of the instrument panel. It should also be noted this isn’t the priciest trim in Chevy’s Colorado fleet, due to being optimized primarily for off-road purposes, but it was certainly nice enough for this class of truck. On the positive are some attractive metal-like accents around the centre stack and lower console, plus the door handles and armrests. The door handles inside are chromed too, as are the centres of some knobs on the centre stack.
The primary gauge cluster is legible in all lighting conditioned thanks to bright background lighting and good shielding from sunlight. It’s filled with the usual tachometer to the left and speedometer on the right, with a fuel gauge and engine temperature meter topping off a fairly large 4.2-inch high-resolution colour multi-information display just below at centre.
The latter is controlled with a pad of four arrows on the right-side steering wheel spoke, which when pushed provides a bright menu of multicoloured functions including info, audio, phone, navigation, options, and more, while the navigation system provides directions within the gauge cluster’s multi-info display where they can be seen more easily without removing eyes too far from the road ahead, with more detailed mapping shown on the large 8.0-inch infotainment touchscreen over on the centre stack (this 8.0-inch display is now standard with all Colorado trims except the base Work Truck or WT that still does ok with its new 7.0-inch touchscreen).
That larger touchscreen includes Chevy’s well laid-out, bright, and colourful HD menu display that seems as if it was inspired by Apple’s iPhone/iPad, which I think is a good thing, but if you want something even more inline with Cupertino you can plug your phone into a specified USB to access the standard Apple CarPlay app, or alternatively Android Auto (although I don’t like it anywhere near was much). I’m glad that Chevy gives us these smartphone connectivity alternatives, while also featuring an audio system that can be easily connected to a phone with Bluetooth wireless streaming, or alternatively you can listen to satellite radio, plus all the classic AM/FM/HD radio stations.
The navigation system worked well, with accurate routing and nicely detailed mapping that was easy enough to sort out. I only wished that it warned me of a turn sooner, but instead it gave instant notice and even then the directions were in black and white and fairly small, making them hard to make out. Larger, brighter and in colour would’ve been ideal, and saying something like “Turn right in 50 meters”. I liked that the infotainment system received text messages and provided a number of stock responses for communicating safely while driving, while other useful apps include OnStar, traffic info, and shopping (not sure about that last one while driving though).
Along with navigation, the ZR2 includes a fabulous high-definition backup camera with active guidelines (but in need to inform you the Gladiator’s reportedly has front and rear trail cams that can even be cleaned via the infotainment system), with some other standard ZR2 features including a phone charging pad placed just in front of the centre armrest (standard with Z71 trim and above), plus a USB port inside the armrest if your phone needs wired power. Chevrolet also provides two more USB ports (one supporting new USB C-type devices) and an aux port, plus an available SD card reader, within another storage bin at the base of the centre stack, allowing you and your devices to be well cared for. Finally, the latest Colorado includes a second microphone mounted closer to the front passenger to improve the voice quality of Bluetooth hands-free connected phones, while a personal favourite had nothing to do with connectivity, but rather the ZR2’s heated steering wheel that warmed my hands on some cold winter mornings, this now standard with all trims above the LT.
Speaking of warmth, standard ZR2 features include GM’s superb heated front seats that not only warm up the lower cushion and backrest together, but can be adjusted to only heat the latter, which is great for people like me who occasionally suffer from lower back pain and just want some temporary relief. This in mind, the ZR2 only includes single-zone automatic climate control, not the expected dual-zone design provided to top-line versions of the Tacoma and Gladiator.
I think most of us could live without such a luxury, but I really appreciate having proximity-sensing entry and a pushbutton ignition system. The ZR2 doesn’t get a sunroof either, which might bother those wowed by Jeep’s removable roof. I appreciated the padded sunglasses holder on the overhead console, and the reading lights were decent enough, but they’re only incandescent lamps, not LEDs. The centre mirror is auto-dimming, however, plus along with OnStar it includes a button for voice activation as well as an “SOS” one to reach out for help when required.
A row of useful switches can be found on the centre stack too, including one for turning off the stability control, plus a bed light, hill descent control, an exhaust brake that’s useful when towing, a hazard light, and finally two individual toggles for the front and rear differential locks noted before.
Trailering in mind, the ZR2’s towing capacity is rated at 2,268 kilos (5,000 lbs) no matter which engine is being used, while its payload is a sizeable 500 kilograms (1,100 lbs) with the four-door short-bed or 528 kg (1,164 lbs) with the extended-cab long-bed. The Tacoma TRD Pro, on the other hand, is capable of a 2,900-kg (6,400-lb) tow rating and a payload of 454 kg (1,000 lbs), whereas the Gladiator Rubicon (the closest to the ZR2) can trailer up to 2,040 kg (4,500 lbs) and haul a payload of up to 544 kg (1,200 lbs) with the manual, or drag 3,175 kg (7,000 lbs) of trailer weight or carry 526 kg (1,160 lbs) on its backside when equipped with its automatic.
You may have noticed that I haven’t covered all of the ZR2’s comfort and convenience features in this review, but take note they’re easily available on the Chevrolet retail website or right here at CarCostCanada, where I sourced all 2019 Colorado pricing info including trims, packages and standalone options, not to mention money-saving rebate info and dealer invoice pricing. Suffice to say it’s well equipped for its $46,100 Extra Cab base price, or $47,600 when opting for the Crew Cab, plus freight and fees of course.
No matter the Colorado ZR2 powertrain you choose, you’ll be getting a well-designed mid-size pickup truck that can overcome nearly any obstacle on or off the road. I’d opt for the diesel with the Bison upgrade and find an aftermarket snorkel, but hey, it’s easy to say that without following through on a payment plan. It’s great that Chevy provides so many options, allowing plenty of opportunity to personalize.