2019 Dodge Durango SRT Road Test

2019 Dodge Durango SRT
The Durango SRT is a best of all worlds SUV. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

I once had a girlfriend that hated fur. She wasn’t long out of college where she’d been influenced by well-meaning animal rights advocates, and therefore wouldn’t even consider wearing something made from the skins of little rodents. Having spent way too much time up north where humans have used animal furs to keep warm for eons, I had no such misgivings, so I took her downstairs to one of my spare bedrooms that was filled with long mink, sable, fox and yet other valuable fur coats that I was in the process of selling for a client, and proceeded to wrap her in each of them. Seeing her initial disdain immediately transform into guilty pleasure was something I’ll never forget, making me wish I had a radical environmentalist to take for a spin in the latest Dodge Durango SRT.

I can just imagine the Greta-like sneer turning into a devilish giggle before all-out laughter started mixing in fear as the big, bellowing, brutish, anti-green SUV guzzled back gas as quickly as Elizabeth May downs drinks at press gallery dinners; yes, the Durango SRT is that corruptible. Then again, it’s not as Mephistophelian as Jeep’s ridiculously fast 707 horsepower Grand Cherokee SRT Trackhawk. Instead, the Durango SRT gets motivated by the same comparatively sedate 6.4-litre (392 cubic inch) Hemi V8 that motivates the regular Grand Cherokee SRT, although tame as it may seem this 475 horsepower mill is no lightweight.

2019 Dodge Durango SRT
While the Durango SRT i equipped with AWD, it’s more of a street performance than off-road warrior. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

With a formidable 470 lb-ft of torque going down to all wheels, the 2,499-kilo (5,510-lb) beast launches from zero to 100 km/h in just 4.6 seconds, its SRT Torqueflite eight-speed automatic transmission delighting with quick shifts all the way from standstill to highway speeds and beyond, whether actuated by its steering wheel paddles, console-mounted shift lever, or simply left to do its own thing. What’s more, it will continue forward with a 12.9-second quarter mile time, and keeps going to a top track speed of 290 km/h (180 mph), which is equal to the Jeep Trackhawk, and in an entirely different universe when compared to other so-called “performance” SUVs.

And to think all of this go-fast goodness resides in a practical three-row family hauler that seats seven adults in total comfort while stowing their luggage in a big 487-litre (17.2 cubic-foot) dedicated rear cargo compartment, and can even tow a 3,946-kilo (8,700-lb) trailer (which is 1,500 lbs more weight than the 5.7-litre V8-powered Durango can tow, and 2,500 lbs more than the V6).

The only Durango SRT negative is fuel economy, which is more than a tad thirsty at a claimed 18.3 L/100km city, 12.2 highway, and 15.6 combined, plus slightly less off-road ability due to a bit less ground clearance, and this said who would want to ruin the SRT’s extended bodywork or 20-inch double-five-spoke black-painted alloy wheels on stumps or rocks anyway, the SUV’s three-season Pirelli Scorpion 295/45 ZRs much more suited to gripping asphalt as it is.

2019 Dodge Durango SRT
The Durango SRT has no shortage of functional scoops and vents on its hood. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

The SRT’s black mesh grille is turned down in a menacing frown, while its tri-vented hood, aggressive lower fascia, extended side skirts, and chrome dual tailpipe-infused rear bumper makes a strong visual statement that’s impossible to ignore. Nothing has changed since the Durango SRT arrived in 2017 as a 2018 model, and it’s been carried forward into 2019 unchanged too, plus will so again for the 2020 model year, with only the Durango’s lower trims getting small improvements.

As a backgrounder, the third-generation Durango arrived in 2010 for the 2011 model year, and along with the complete redesign were plenty of curves to help us forget the less loved, ultra-angled second-generation model, and remind us of the muscular Dakota-based SUV that brought Dodge into the mid-size SUV fold way back in 1997 (when are you bringing back the Dakota, Dodge… er Ram?).

Plenty of premium-like cabin materials were brought back as well, with each trim that I have tested being very well finished. Such is particularly true of this SRT, which receives a rich microfibre/suede-style Alcantara covering for its roofliner and A pillars, plus contrast-stitched leatherette over the entire dash top and most of the instrument panel, even down the sides of the centre stack, while both front and back door uppers are made from a padded leather-like synthetic, and armrests detailed out in contrast-stitched leatherette. As anyone familiar with this class likely expects, all surfaces from the waist downward are constructed from hard composites, but it all looks good and feels durable enough.

2019 Dodge Durango SRT2019 Dodge Durango SRT
These sizeable 20-inch rims and Brembo performance brakes are very capable. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

The steering wheel feels even better thanks to a combination of perforated and solid leathers, this ideally contrasted with baseball-style stitching around the inside of the rim for added grip, while each spoke features a nicely organized, well-made set of controls plus the paddle-shifters mentioned before, as well as Chrysler group’s novel audio volume control and mode switches on the backside of those spokes. The rest of this Durango’s buttons, knobs and toggles are well executed for its mainstream mission too, with the big volume, tuning and fan-speed dials on the centre stack trimmed in chrome edged in rubber for extra grip.

Just above, the infotainment touchscreen measures a very sizeable 8.4 inches in diameter, features a fairly high-resolution display and is really easy to use. I appreciate the simplicity of Chrysler group touchscreens, specifically those found in Chrysler, Dodge and Jeep models as they’re quite different than those offered by Fiat, Alfa Romeo and Maserati. The two premium Italian brands definitely provide higher definition, the Alfa Stelvio I most recently tested equipped with a very impressive (albeit smaller) display, but this Durango SRT interface is more straightforward and extremely well equipped.

2019 Dodge Durango SRT
The Durango SRT’s interior is a mix of mainstream and premium quality features and materials. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

Together with individual displays for audio, automatic climate controls (that include digital buttons for the heated/ventilated front seats and heatable steering wheel), navigation system (that features nicely detailed maps and accurate route guidance), phone connectivity and features, plus various apps, the SRT adds its own set of Performance Pages displaying power torque history, real-time power and torque, timers for laps (and more), as well as G-force engine and dyno gauges, separate oil temperature, oil pressure, coolant temperature and battery voltage gauges, many of which are duplicated over on the primary instrument cluster’s multi-info display, providing this SUV with a level of digital capability few rivals come close to matching.

I appreciated having somewhere close by to stow my smartphone when not in use, Dodge providing is a rubberized pad at the base of the centre stack that should be large enough for most any device. Still, I was disappointed to learn there was no wireless charger underneath the rubberized pad, but instead an old-school 12-volt charge point and aux plug resides above, plus two much more useful (for my needs) USB chargers. An additional 12-volt charger and a Blu-Ray DVD changer can be found below the centre armrest/lid, while the standard 506-watt, nine-speaker Alpine stereo is impressive, as is the even nicer 825-watt, 19-speaker, $1,995 Harman/Kardon system.

2019 Dodge Durango SRT
The Durango SRT’s gauge cluster multi-information display is one of the most comprehensive in the industry. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

Then again, the deep, resonating sound of the Durango SRT’s Hemi V8 makes such audio equipment discussion seem a bit irrelevant, whether it’s thumping like a big Harley at idle or disrupting world order at full throttle, while its reactions to prods from the right foot are much more immediate than expected from such a big SUV. It doesn’t exactly jump off the line, but it’s hardly listless either, launching from standstill without any hesitation before distancing itself from legal speeds, all within seconds.

The upgraded eight-speed automatic does a great job of putting all that power down to the wheels, all the while providing smooth, quick shifts. I left it to its own devices more often than not, although when trying to extract as much performance as possible its paddle-actuated manual mode proved ideal, particularly when diving into deep, fast-paced curves, the big Durango SRT’s agility in the corners downright baffling.

2019 Dodge Durango SRT
A large touchscreen is filled with features, and the tri-zone automatic HVAC system is easy to use. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

You might actually be surprised at the Durango’s handling overall, even lesser trims plenty of fun when the road starts to wind, but rest assured the SRT takes things up a notch or three. The SRT utilizes the same fully independent front strut and rear multi-link suspension as all Durangos, but Dodge tweaks it with some “SRT-tuned” components like a Bilstein adaptive damping suspension (ADS) instead of the regular SUV’s gas-charged, twin-tube coil-over shocks, and hollow stabilizer bars in place of solid ones, the result being a flatter stance when pushed hard through tight serpentine stretches, and excellent high-speed tracking. What’s more, the Durango’s electric power steering gets special tuned while stopping performance is enhanced with a set of powerful Brembo brakes, resulting in binding power that’s almost as exciting as accelerative forces. A compliant suspension setup, good visibility all-round, and ample manoeuvrability makes for an easy driving SUV through town as well, and due to less width than most full-size SUVs, such as the Chevrolet Tahoe or Ford Expedition, the Durango is less of a problem to park.

To clarify, the Durango is 120 millimetres (4.7 inches) thinner than the Tahoe and 104 mm (4.1 in) narrower than the Expedition, but rest assured that it delivers size where it matters most. In fact, its 3,045-mm (120.0-in) wheelbase is 99 mm (3.9 in) lengthier than the Tahoe’s, and a mere 67 mm (2.6 in) shorter than the Expedition’s wheelbase, which means that can fit adults comfortably into all three rows.

2019 Dodge Durango SRT
The Durango SRT’s seats are very comfortable and supportive. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

Of course, this means there’s a bit less interior room from side-to-side, but it’s still plenty wide within, and should be spacious enough for full-size folks. The driver’s seat is excellent, and like the others (other than the rearmost row) gets an “SRT” logo imprinted on its backrest. My tester’s seats were coloured in attractive “Demonic Red” with white contrast stitching to match the decorative thread used elsewhere around the cabin, while the seats’ centre inserts are perforated for adequate natural and forced ventilation. The leather itself is ultra-soft and therefore feels very upscale, while the seats’ side panels even felt as if they were trimmed in the same high quality hides, albeit in black. The instrument panel and doors get attractive patterned-aluminum inlays that feel like the real deal, while additional chrome embellishment brightens other key points around the cabin. If you want a bit more bling, you can opt for the SRT Interior Appearance Group that swaps out the aluminum inlays for real carbon-fibre while upgrading the instrument panel with a luxurious leather wrap, which might be a fine way to spend $3,250.

Like the front seats, the SRT’s standard second-row captain’s chairs are really comfortable and quite supportive all-round, while Dodge has added a useful centre console in between housing a set of cupholders and a stowage bin below the armrest. Second-row occupants can also access a panel on the rear portion of the front console incorporating two USB charge points, a three-prong household-style 115-volt charge plug, and toggles for two-way seat heaters, plus overhead there’s a three-dial interface for controlling the tri-zone auto HVAC system’s third zone, plus with a separate set of dome and reading lamps.

2019 Dodge Durango SRT
The standard second-row captain’s chairs are nearly as comfortable as those up front. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

You can acquire the 2019 Dodge Durango SRT for only $73,895 plus freight and fees, while CarCostCanada members are currently saving an average of $6,500 on all 2019 Durango trims, with up to $5,000 in available incentives alone. You’ll want to check out the 2019 Durango page right here at CarCostCanada to find out more, at which point you can see trim, package and individual option pricing, as well as money saving rebate info and dealer invoice pricing that could save you thousands.

My test model was also equipped with a $950 Technology Group that adds adaptive cruise control with stop-and-go, advanced brake assist, forward collision warning with active braking, plus lane departure warning and lane keeping assist, while a $2,150 rear Blu-Ray DVD entertainment system boasts two screens that can be flipped upward from the backside of each front headrest. Dodge includes a set of RCA plugs plus an HDMI input on the inner, upper side of each front seat, providing connection for external devices like game consoles, all capable of turning the Durango SRT into the ideal choice for a family road trip.

2019 Dodge Durango SRT
The Durango’s third row is ultra-spacious and there’s still room for cargo in behind. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

And there lies the beauty of this one-of-a-kind SUV. The Durango SRT is easily one of the fastest seven-passenger SUVs available, yet it’s comfortable for all, is capable of carrying a full load of passenger as well as their stuff, can tow a big trailer with ease, and do plenty more. I’d go so far to say it’s the best possible choice for fast-paced Canadian families, but you’ll need to exchange its three-season performance tires for a set of proper winters at some point in the fall (or sooner if you live on the Prairies), at which point it might be the ultimate ski resort parking lot doughnut machine.

 

Story and photo credits: Trevor Hofmann

2019 Kia Sorento SXL Road Test

2019 Kia Sorento SXL
Kia updated the Sorento’s styling for 2019, making big changes to the lower front fascia. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

Have you ever driving a Kia? Even sat inside one? If it was way back at the turn of the millennium it might not have been the best of experiences. Even Kia doesn’t promote its past in detail, the Korean brand celebrating its twentieth anniversary in Canada with limited edition models of its impressive Soul compact crossover and Stinger mid-size four-door coupe, but hardly paying tribute to the forgettable Sephia, Spectra and Magentis.

Those cars offered nothing better than their competitors, and certainly nothing new, instead relying on low pricing to pull in new buyers. Today’s Kia, however, builds vehicles you want to own in spite of their more renowned rivals, but first you’ll need to give them a chance, and that’s exactly what I’m recommending mid-size crossover SUV buyers do with the Sorento.

I’ve driven every Sorento generation, even the first 2002 model as part of its initial Canadian press launch, a vehicle that so impressed me I recommended it to my brother who kept his for nearly a decade. The redesigned 2010 model went from body-on-frame SUV to car-based crossover and therefore improved drivability as well as refinement, not to mention styling, while the 2016 model upped all of the above to entirely new levels. 

2019 Kia Sorento SXL
New LED taillights and a completely reworked rear bumper mark the changes from behind. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

My 2016 Sorento tester wasn’t even in top-line trim, yet I found myself awestruck by its shocking supply of soft-touch interior surfaces, blown away from finding cloth-wrapped roof pillars all-round, impressed with its sizeable full-colour high-resolution touchscreen infotainment system, wowed by its diminutive yet formidable 240-horsepower 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder engine, and simply satisfied by its overall goodness.

With not much changing over the past four years, plus an even more capable V6 on the options menu, one might think it would’ve remained high on my list of highly recommended mid-size crossover SUVs, and so it does except for one considerable detail, since testing this most recent 2019 Sorento I’ve also spent a week with the completely new 2020 Telluride, so I’m no longer recommending the Sorento quite as highly for seven-passenger crossover buyers.

To be clear, the seven-passenger Sorento’s price range slots in considerably further down Kia’s model hierarchy, beginning at $32,795 for the EX 2.4 and topping out with the 3.3-litre V6-powered $49,165 SXL on this page, which is hardly in the same class as the Telluride that starts at $44,995 and tops out at $53,995 for its SX Limited with Nappa. As expected, the recent arrival of the Telluride and next year’s forecast redesign of the 2021 Sorento have already resulted in a reshuffle of the mostly carryover 2020 Sorento’s trims, with today’s base LX FWD model and this top-tier SXL soon to be discontinued.

2019 Kia Sorento SXL
LED headlights, LED fog lamps and chromed 19-inch alloys depict this Sorento’s top-line status. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

So what about that upcoming 2021 Sorento? I expect it to follow in the tracks of the recently redesigned fourth-generation Hyundai Santa Fe that utilizes the same platform that the new Sorento will ride on, the former SUV only available with two rows and a maximum of five passengers for 2019, due to Hyundai now having a version of the Telluride all its own for 2020, named Palisade. The new Palisade is actually priced lower than the Telluride at $38,499, so we can expect the future 2021 Telluride to grow its trim line down-market with an SX model to slot below today’s base Palisade so as to provide a seven-passenger crossover option for more mainstream Kia shoppers after this seven-place Sorento gets cancelled.

Previously in this review I said that little had changed since the Sorento’s 2016 redesign, but it should be noted this 2019 model underwent a fairly extensive refresh, albeit somewhat more subtle with respect to styling. The big news is a new eight-speed automatic gearbox for its available 3.3-litre V6, and sadly the elimination of the aforementioned 2.0-litre turbo-four (an odd removal, being that the majority of challengers are swapping out their optional V6s for turbocharged fours in order to improve fuel-efficiency, but I’m guessing a stopgap ahead of the next-gen Sorento).

2019 Kia Sorento SXL
These LED taillights are standard on SX and SXL models. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

As it is, the 2.4, which produces 185 horsepower and 178 lb-ft of torque, now gets used for LX FWD, LX and EX 2.4 models, whereas the 3.3, making a maximum of 290 horsepower and 252 lb-ft of torque, adds performance to LX V6, EX, EX Premium, SX, and SXL trims. The six-speed autobox is the sole transmission with four-cylinder powered Sorentos, while the two extra gears only benefit the six-cylinder engine. As you may have guessed already, all trims excepting the LX FWD get all-wheel drive.

As with all modern-day multi-speed automatics fuel-efficiency is the main benefactor, but they also help an engine maintain peak output thanks to shorter shift increments, therefore improving performance. Nevertheless, the upgraded Sorento’s claimed fuel economy rating of 12.5 L/100km city, 9.7 highway and 11.2 combined isn’t as efficient at speed as the outgoing six-speed automatic and V6/AWD combination that received a rating of 9.3 highway. In the city, however, where most of us spend the majority of our driving time, the old model’s 13.2 L/100km rating means the new version is much thriftier, while the new eight-speed helps V6-powered Sorentos achieve a less significant 0.2 L/100km advantage.

In case you were wondering how much better the previous 2.0-litre turbocharged four with its six-speed automatic might compare against a new Sorento with the same engine and eight-speed, the old model’s rating of 12.3 L/100km city, 9.4 highway and 11.0 combined is actually better than the new eight-speed automatic in the totally redesigned 2019 Hyundai Santa Fe, which can only manage 12.3 city, 9.8 highway and 11.2 combined. That Santa Fe, incidentally, rides on the same all-new platform architecture as the next Sorento. 

2019 Kia Sorento SXL
The Sorento’s cabin gets closer to premium level execution than most of its rivals. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

With respect to the base 2.4 that’s available in the here and now, Kia claims 10.7 L/100km in the city, 8.2 on the highway and 9.5 combined with FWD, representing a big improvement in city driving over last year’s Sorento with the same powertrain, which could only manage 11.2 L/100km city, 8.3 highway and 9.9 combined despite zero changes (gear ratio mods?), while the 2019 Sorento 2.4 AWD achieves a rating of 11.2 L/100km city, 9.0 highway and 10.2 combined, compared to 11.5, 9.3 and 10.5 last year.

If you found yourself scratching your head over some of those fuel economy figures, a quick glance at the refreshed 2019 Sorento might also leave you wondering exactly what was changed stylistically. For instance, the new grille looks exactly like the old grille, as does the hood that’s supposedly changed too, but the lower front fascia is entirely new, the latter very noticeable on SX and SXL trims that previously had four larger LED fog lamps at each corner instead of the new half-sized combinations, the sections below now filled with what appear to be slatted brake vents, plus they’re now framed within taller, V-shaped chrome bezels.

The chromed door handles, chromed side window surrounds, and silver roof rails were part of my aforementioned 2016 SX tester as well, but the chromed side mouldings, 19-inch chrome alloys, and completely redesigned back bumper, which is now packed full of bright metal detailing, are all new. The updates make the Sorento classier than the pre-updated SUV’s sportier design, chrome embellishment normally having such an effect.

2019 Kia Sorento SXL
A partially digital gauge cluster includes a centre multi-info display that doubles as the speedometer. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

The 2019 refresh also provides renewed headlights and tail lamps infused with LEDs at both ends in SX and SXL trims, plus LED daytime running lights within the headlights, as well as LED fog lamps. Lower trims feature revised projector beam headlamps with LED positioning lamps, plus projector beam fog lights (on LX V6 to EX Premium trims), and conventional taillights with stylish new lenses. New colours join the usual assortment of updated alloy rims in 17-, 18- and 19-inch diameters wearing 235/65R17, 235/60R18 and 235/55R19 all-season rubber, depending on trim.

Moving inside, the 2019 Sorento gets an updated steering wheel, a new instrument cluster with bright electroluminescent analogue gauges to each side of a large digital speedometer that doubles as a comprehensive multi-information display, and a renewed centre with an updated infotainment touchscreen with Android Auto, Apple CarPlay and more. My favourite new convenience is the available wireless charging pad, although the new optional lane keeping assist and driver attention warning systems could prove even more important.

2019 Kia Sorento SXL
A large high-resolution touchscreen and dual-zone auto climate control combine for a comprehensive assortment of premium-level features. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

Those two safety upgrades are part of top-tier SXL trim, this model also providing forward collision-avoidance assist, a feature that’s now beginning to be included as standard equipment in competitive base models, but it’s not unusual to force an upward move to a mid-range trim for blindspot detection with rear cross-traffic alert, these two upgrades standard with the Sorento EX. The rest of the Sorento’s safety equipment is the segment’s normal standard fare, and therefore is included in all trims.

The previously noted base Sorento LX FWD starts at only $28,295 plus freight and fees, and is therefore an impressive value when put up against every other mid-size SUV, particularly when factoring in that it comes standard with 17-inch alloys, auto on/off headlights, chromed door handles, a heated and leather-clad multifunction steering wheel, Drive Mode Select with Comfort, Eco, Sport and Smart settings, three-way heatable front seats, a 7.0-inch centre display with the Apple and Android smartphone integration mentioned earlier, plus a backup camera, six-speaker audio, and plenty more.

2019 Kia Sorento SXL
The top-tier surround camera combines with front and rear sensors to make parking ultra-easy. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

Including all-wheel drive with the base LX model increases its window sticker by $2,300, the $30,595 trim also providing roof rails, proximity entry with pushbutton start/stop and the aforementioned wireless phone charger, while the same trim with the V6 and AWD increases the Sorento’s price by $4,500 to $35,095, while upping content to include fog lights, a sound-reducing windscreen, turn signals within the exterior mirror housings, an auto-dimming centre mirror, two-zone auto HVAC with auto-defog and separate third-row fan speed/air-conditioning adjustment, UVO Intelligence connected car services, satellite radio, an eight-way powered driver’s seat with two-way powered lumbar support, a third row for a total of seven passengers, trailer pre-wiring, and more.

At $2,300 less than the LX V6 AWD, and $2,200 more than the LX AWD, the four-cylinder-powered $32,795 EX 2.4 gets the just mentioned fog lamps, powered driver’s seat, and three-row layout of the V6-powered model, while also adding a gloss-black grille insert and leather seat surfaces, while the $38,665 EX with the V6 and AWD builds on both the LX V6 AWD and EX 2.4 models with 18-inch machined-finish alloys, a nicer Supervision LCD/TFT gauge cluster, express up and down power windows with obstacle detection all around, and a household-style 110-volt device charger, while the EX Premium starts $2,500 higher at $41,165 and adds front and rear parking sonar, power-folding outside mirrors, LED interior lights, an eight-way powered front passenger seat, a panoramic glass sunroof, rear door sunshades, and a power tailgate with smart gesture access.

2019 Kia Sorento SXL
These are some of the best seats in the mainstream mid-size SUV class, made even nicer with Nappa leather upholstery. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

Sorento buyers wanting a near-premium experience can choose SX trim that, for $45,165, $4,000 more than the EX Premium, includes most everything already mentioned as well as 19-inch alloy wheels, a chromed grille, stainless steel skid plates front and rear, a stainless exhaust tip, chrome roof rails, dynamic directionally-adaptive full LED headlamps, upgraded LED fog lights, bar type LED tail lamps, sound-reducing front side glass, illuminated stainless steel door scuff plates up front, perforated premium leather upholstery, plus a bigger 8.0-inch high-resolution infotainment touchscreen boasting rich colours and deep contrasts as well as quick reaction to tap, pinch and swipe finger inputs.

Additionally, the navigation system provides nice detailed mapping and accurate route guidance, while SX trim also includes an excellent 10-speaker Harman/Kardon premium audio system, ventilated front seats that keep backsides cool during summer heat, heated rear outboard seats that do the opposite in winter’s cold, plus more.

2019 Kia Sorento SXL
Everyone loves a panoramic sunroof, and the Sorento’s is particularly large. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

Finally, my as-tested Sorento SXL adds an additional $4,000 to the tally resulting in a maximum retail price of $49,165, which is considerably less than most fully equipped competitors, some that don’t offer the same level of luxury-grade features than LX trim, but this SXL is better yet thanks to even plusher Nappa leather upholstery, an electromechanical parking brake, a surround parking camera with a divided screen that includes a regular rearview camera with dynamic guidelines to the left and a 360-degree bird’s-eye view to the right, as well as high beam assist headlamps, adaptive cruise control, plus more.

All pricing was sourced right here on CarCostCanada, including trims, packages and standalone options for 2019 and 2020 model (not to mention 2018s, just in case you’re curious), while money-saving rebate info and dealer invoice pricing can add thousands to your potential savings. Actually, at the time of writing there were up to $6,000 in additional incentives available, so it’s well worth checking out.

2019 Kia Sorento SXL
The second row is spacious and comfortable. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

Of course, you’ll need to check in at your local Kia dealership to drive a new Sorento, and if you choose to I’m quite certain you’ll be impressed. The V6 is very smooth, as is the new eight-speed automatic that swaps gears almost seamlessly and quickly no matter the drive mode selected. I mostly kept it in its default Comfort mode, but Eco was smooth too, and good for saving fuel, whereas Sport mode let the engine rev higher and gearbox shift quicker than it otherwise would, making the most of the powerful V6. Smart mode pays attention to your driving style, the terrain and other factors before automatically choosing the best mode for a given situation, optimizing performance, comfort or economy.

Also good, the Sorento’s fully independent suspension is blissfully smooth too, although when pushed hard through fast-paced curves it manages well for such a big crossover utility. All in all the Sorento should be considered a sportier option than most of its seven-seat SUV rivals, but it’s superb seats, luxuriously soft surface treatments, and generous supply of premium-level features make it amongst the most comfortable in its segment.

2019 Kia Sorento SXL
The third row is sizeable enough for smaller folk, but those needing to haul a full load of adults should consider the new Telluride. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

Speaking of comfort, EX trims and above include four-way powered lumbar support that ideally applied pressure to the small of my back, while the LX V6 and EX 2.4 models’ two-way lumbar can’t be adjusted as personally. Of note, four-way lumbar isn’t always provided in the lower or upper classes, with Lexus forcing its RX 350 customers to pay $63,950 for a Luxury package or $69,850 for the Executive model before receiving optimal lower back support, with none of the model’s F Sport buyers getting such comfort at all, whereas Infiniti’s QX60 clients are completely out of luck no matter how much they’re willing to pay. An additional Sorento bonus is a driver’s seat squab that extends forward to add support under the knees, while the Nappa leather is amongst the best you’ll likely find in the entire volume-branded mid-size SUV class.

The second-row of seats is plenty spacious and almost as comfortable and supportive as the two seats up front, but the Sorento’s third row is probably best left for smaller- to medium-sized children, the Telluride now a better choice when the need to carry a full load of large teens or adults.

2019 Kia Sorento SXL
Storage under the cargo floor is made more useful thanks to its ability to securely lock the retractable tonneau cover in place when not in use. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

A few particularly upscale trim details include curving black lacquered appliqués on the backside of each front seat, something that I’ve rarely seen in anything less than a Bentley or Rolls-Royce. It’s an olde British take on luxury that isn’t often used these days, although a quick glance back at a previously covered 2019 Genesis G90 (which shares underpinnings with the dearly departed—from Canada—Kia K900) helps us put a finger on where Kia came up with the concept (scroll back through the photos for the same idea in hardwood). Sorento SXL trim also includes black lacquer on the steering wheel spokes, instrument panel and lower centre console surface, plus highlighting each door panel, although as attractive as it looks when brand new, I’m concerned it’ll scratch as it ages.

Those loading longer items such as skis into the cargo hold will appreciate that Kia has split the second row in the unusually ideal 40/20/40 configuration, allowing both rear passengers to enjoy the more comfortable and visually optimal window seats, not to mention the aforementioned heatable rear seats if equipped. This is a dealmaker for me, and usually only found in pricier European SUVs. I also liked the convenience of cargo wall-mounted levers that dropped each side of the second-row down automatically, right to the point of locking safely into place, this resulting in a large, flat loading floor that measures 2,082 litres (73.5 cu ft) in the bottom two trims or 2,066 litres (73.0 cu ft) in LX V6 trim and above behind the first row, 1,099 litres (38.8 cu ft) and 1,077 litres (38.0 cu ft) respectively behind the second row, and 320 litres (11.3 cu ft) behind the third row. There’s some extra storage space below the cargo floor, which even lets you stow the retractable cargo cover securely away when not being used.

2019 Kia Sorento SXL
Passenger/cargo flexibility is a Sorento strong point. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

It’s such details that make the Sorento so good, Kia’s rare attitude of going above and beyond that’s so wonderfully unique in the mainstream marketplace. They don’t have the luxury of resting on their laurels, so they work harder at impressing you than most Japanese peers, and definitely more so than the Americans. I always thought their global motto, “The Power to Surprise” was kind of hokey, but it really does make sense to those experienced with to their products. The Sorento, now Canada’s best-selling (mostly) seven-passenger SUV, is really that good. As for the Telluride, it’ll blow you away.

 

Story and photo credits: Trevor Hofmann

2019 Ford Escape Titanium 2.0L Ecoboost Road Test

2019 Ford Escape Titanium 2.0L Ecoboost
The third-generation Escape might be on its way out, but it’s still a very strong competitor. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Now that the entirely redesigned 2020 Escape is arriving at Ford’s Canadian retailers, we’d better say a final goodbye to the third-generation Escape that’s done a very good job of serving the automaker as well as many of its loyal fans for the past six or so years. This outgoing version underwent a dramatic mid-cycle upgrade for the 2017 model year, and now the blue-oval brand has brought something new to contemplate in the compact crossover class.

For some, the best reason to get excited about a redesigned model is the opportunity to save money on the old one, and being that this 2019 Escape is still an excellent SUV, and that Ford retailers continue to have some in stock, such options should be considered. During my research for this review, which included pricing and features info found right here at CarCostCanada, I learned that $1,200 in additional incentives was available at the time of writing, and that’s over and above any personal discount you might be able to negotiate with your local retailer, and while this knowledge will certainly help when you begin to talk business, CarCostCanada also provides dealer invoice pricing that could save you even more. 

2019 Ford Escape Titanium 2.0L Ecoboost
The design has aged well, particularly from behind. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

A quick glance at CarCostCanada’s 2019 Escape page will show that it’s unchanged from the 2018 model. The 2018 is identical to the 2017 model as well, with respect to all trims but the SEL that arrived last year. If you want more clarity, take a look at my 2017 Ford Escape Titanium AWD Road Test that shows an identical SUV to my 2019 tester, even down to their Ingot Silver colour. Of course, Ford provides the choice of seven additional colours for 2019 buyers, with no-cost options including vibrant alternatives like Sedona Orange and Lightning Blue, while $450 Ruby Red and $550 White Platinum give the Escape a premium-like upscale demeanour.

This 2017-2019 Escape’s grille design didn’t work for me as much as its 2013-2016 forebear did, the latter a completely original and even futuristic look when introduced. I remember how it initially turned my head, not really certain what to think at first, yet warming up to its unusual design quickly. It made sense that Ford needed to change the design, both because of a need for something new and the automaker’s requirement to visually align its crossover SUV lineup (the Escape took design elements from the Edge of the era), but nevertheless Escape sales have slowed somewhat in recent years, with the Toyota RAV4 and Honda CR-V now owning first and second respectively, not necessarily due to styling mind you.

2019 Ford Escape Titanium 2.0L Ecoboost2019 Ford Escape Titanium 2.0L Ecoboost
Titanium trim adds HID headlamps with LED signatures, plus unique 18-inch alloys. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Just four years ago the Escape was the compact SUV segment’s bestseller, a spot it had been holding for years. In fact, looking a couple of years further back shows the Escape nearly doubling the RAV4 and CR-V’s yearly sales, but it’s been on a downward trajectory ever since its mid-cycle refresh, from a high of 52,198 sales in 2014 to 47,726 in 2015, which incidentally was the last time it topped the category. It fell further to 46,661 units in 2016, when the RAV4 jumped up to first place, and then in 2017 it managed a bit more to 47,880 examples, but the RAV4 and CR-V grew their sales even more, both passing 50,000 units. The two Japanese SUVs kept pulling in more and more new buyers through 2018 too, when each models’ deliveries neared 55,000 units, yet the Escape could only muster 43,587 sales that year, while at the close of Q3 2019 Ford’s little SUV that could managed just 30,817 new customers to the CR-V’s 43,464 and RAV4’s 49,473, the completely redesigned Toyota targeting yet another banner year.

Truly, the Escape is beginning to show its age, particularly when sidled up next to the new RAV4, not to mention when placed beside the totally redesigned 2020 Escape that Ford hopes will cause its once much stronger customer base to return, but the outgoing model is nevertheless a very competent compact SUV that should be available for big time savings. Of course, you may not have many options when it comes to exterior paint, while a choice of trims will be decided by remaining stock, which means you should probably get a move on if you want something specific.

2019 Ford Escape Titanium 2.0L Ecoboost
Simple, elegant styling lasts the test of time. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

When model year 2019 began, the Escape was available in base $26,399 S trim, as $29,349 SE and $30,849 SEL models (the latter designation added this year as noted earlier), and finally in top-line $37,699 Titanium trim. The Titanium gets all-wheel drive standard, whereas AWD is available with the SE and SEL for an additional $1,500, and the S only comes with front-wheel drive.

If your not confused yet, just wait as the 2019 Escape provides the choice of three gasoline-fed four-cylinder engines, and oddly not a one is electrified despite this model being first to market with a hybrid. Base S trim still uses Ford’s 12-year-old 2.5-litre four that’s good for 168 horsepower and 170 lb-ft of torque, although despite these being respectable output numbers most Escape buyers will ante up for one of the automaker’s turbocharged Ecoboost engines, which include a 1.5-litre mill capable of 179 horsepower and 177 lb-ft of torque, standard in SE and SEL trims, and a 2.0-litre version making a very energetic 245 horsepower and 275 lb-ft of torque, this one standard with my Titanium tester and available with mid-range SE and SEL models. Therefore, as you can probably imagine, your local Ford dealer won’t have all combinations available in the exact colour you want, but hopefully you’ll be able to find something that mixes and matches enough of the features you’re looking for to make you happy, even if that retailer needs to call around to get something from another dealer.

2019 Ford Escape Titanium 2.0L Ecoboost
Despite its age, the Escape Titanium provides impressive refinement. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

As if trying to make a complicated problem easier, the Escape won’t force you to choose between alternative transmissions, as its six-speed SelectShift automatic is the only way it comes. The new 2020 model’s automatic ups the gear count to eight, but the 2019 Escape’s gearbox has proven to be dependable and is very capable when mated up to either Ecoboost engine. That 2020 model receives the 1.5-litre turbocharged four standard, by the way, with auto start-stop that turns the engine off when it would otherwise be idling, while the 2.0-litre turbo-four in my 2019 tester remains the go-to performance option.

Drivetrain alternatives in mind, remember when I questioned why Ford no longer offered an Escape Hybrid? It seems others within the company have asked the same (and no doubt customers too), which resulted in a 2020 Escape Hybrid. Ford isn’t offering fuel economy figures for the new hybrid or any 2020 Escapes just yet, but the 2019 model being reviewed here does fairly well no matter the trim. The tiny 1.5-litre is your best choice from a budgeting perspective, with the FWD version rated at an estimated 10.2 L/100km city, 7.8 highway and 9.1 combined, while that engine with AWD gets a claimed 11.2, 8.4 and 9.9 respectively. As for the FWD-only base S, I think it’s pretty thrifty considering its age, its estimated rating at 11.0 city, 8.0 highway and 9.6 combined, while the top-line AWD-only Titanium does very well despite its zippy acceleration with a rating of 11.5 city, 8.7 highway and 10.2 combined.

2019 Ford Escape Titanium 2.0L Ecoboost
The Escape cockpit is well laid out. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Seeing past this 2019 model’s aging body and equally classic cabin design, the fit, finish, quality of materials and general goodness of its interior is more than decent. Even Ford’s electronic interfaces overshadow some of its more recently redesigned rivals, particularly the bright, colourful, well-defined high-resolution multi-information display at the centre of its primary gauge cluster, the outer dials mostly analogue, while the brand’s much respected Sync 3 infotainment system fills the Escape Titanium’s centre touchscreen. It’s particularly good looking thanks to modern sky blue, white and grey graphics, plus its ultra-user-friendly and wonderfully functional. Ford was one of the first manufacturers to adopt Apple CarPlay and Android Auto smartphone integration, while the system’s route guidance is accurate and navigation mapping excellent, the screens tablet-style tap, pinch, and swipe gesture controls perfectly suited for adjusting the map. Safety is improved via its standard dynamic guideline-enhanced rearview camera, while extra tech includes Bluetooth audio streaming, mobile apps, voice control, a WiFi hotspot, 911 assist, and more.

You can adjust the audio system from the centre display as well, plus it comes packed with AM/FM/satellite radio, plus MP3 and WMA compatibility, although no HD radio, but Titanium trim’s 10-speaker Sony audio system is excellent for this compact segment. A number of quick-access buttons and knobs are angled into a panel just under the centre touchscreen, which also sits above a big, easy-to-use two-zone automatic HVAC interface, all being the types of premium features expected in a luxury brand, as well as the Escape’s top-level Titanium trim line. Nevertheless, compared to some rivals that have digitized these controls under touch-sensitive black glass-like panels, the Escape’s HVAC setup looks outdated, although the little pull tab for engaging the electric parking brake makes everyone clear that Ford did all it could to keep this SUV up-to-date.

2019 Ford Escape Titanium 2.0L Ecoboost
The Escape’s large high-resolution multi-info display was so ahead of its time that it’s now current technology. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Speaking of advanced features, my test model boasted a $2,500 available Safe and Smart + Roof Package with features such as a panoramic glass sunroof, rain-sensing windshield wipers, auto high beams, adaptive cruise control, forward collision warning with automatic braking, blindspot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert, as well as lane departure warning with lane keeping assist. Some of these items are also made available in a separate package when choosing one of the two mid-range models, so therefore you don’t have to go all the way up to top-line Titanium in order to experience high-level safety and convenience.

All of this detail in mind, I’m not about to delve into all standard and optional features with this outgoing SUV, because you’re not going to be able to order one this late in the game anyway. Still, other than the features already noted, Titanium trim adds 18-inch alloys, bi-Xenon HID headlamps with LED signatures, a heated steering wheel rim, an auto-dimming rearview mirror, front parking sonar, leather upholstery, a 110-volt power outlet, a foot-operated hands-free tailgate, plus more, while highlight items pulled from lower trims include additional chrome accents outside, a leather-clad steering wheel inside, a powered liftgate, rear parking sonar and more from SEL trim; fog lights, body-coloured exterior trim, proximity keyless entry with pushbutton start/stop, a combination lock entry keypad, one-touch up/down powered windows all-round, a 10-way powered driver’s seat, two-zone auto HVAC, heatable front seats and more from the SE; plus finally auto on/off headlights, a windshield wiper de-icer, remote start, keyless entry, MyKey, variable intermittent windshield wipers, power windows, air conditioning, an overhead console with a sunglasses holder, SOS Post-Crash Alert, all the expected airbags including one for the driver’s knees, and plenty more from the base S model.

2019 Ford Escape Titanium 2.0L Ecoboost
Ford’s Sync 3 infotainment system remains very impressive. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

A few highlights regarding Escape Titanium materials quality include an almost completely soft synthetic dash top that wraps all the way around the infotainment system’s control. This premium treatment softens the front door uppers too, while front and rear door inserts and armrests are finished even more comfortably, as is the centre armrest.

Ford beautifies the instrument panel with black lacquered surfacing that stretches to the right and left of the centre stack before reaching downward to each side, while this model also gets tasteful application of aluminum-look detailing, all of which added some glitz to my tester’s otherwise black interior. Certainly colour is included, but the two digital displays aside its small dashes of blue and red are relegated to the temperature knobs and the stylish baby blue instrument needles in the gauge package.

The seats look good, highlighted by what appears to be cream or light grey thread for a sporty contrast against black leather. I really appreciated the driver seat’s comfort level, particularly because of its adjustments, and the long reach and rake from the Escape’s manual tilt and telescopic steering column. As many who read my reviews know, my long-legged and short-torso body type doesn’t fit ideally into some manufacturer’s products, but such is not the case with the Escape. In fact, I think you’ll find it difficult to round up a challenger that provides more driver adjustment, while visibility is very good in all directions as well.

2019 Ford Escape Titanium 2.0L Ecoboost
Comfort, roominess, and premium materials set the Escape Titanium apart. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

As usual I took the time to sit in back, where I found sizeable, comfortable accommodations. This said one doesn’t exactly sit within each outboard seat, but instead on top of them, so there’s not a lot of lateral support. Fortunately, relatively tall folk won’t have a problem with legroom or headroom as both are in large supply, while reclining the rear seatbacks can provide more of the latter. A folding centre armrest improves comfort further, while providing two cupholders for drinks. Also good, Ford makes sure passengers in back get ample ventilation via vents on the front console’s rear panel, this also housing the previously noted 110-volt power outlet, which incidentally comes with a third grounding socket for three-pronged plugs (not always the case). I was disappointed that Ford didn’t offer heated rear seats, particularly in this top-tier trim, but anyone wanting these types of premium accoutrements can opt for the Lincoln MKC (renamed Corsair for 2020), which is a 2019 Escape Titanium under all the luxury trappings.

The tailgate powers up by waving your foot under the back bumper, and once opened reveals a large 964-litre (34.0 cubic-foot) cargo hold aft of the 60/40 split-folding rear seats. Dropping these down provides up to 1,925 litres (68.0 cu ft) of gear-toting space, but on this note I’d much rather have more convenient 40/20/40 split-folding rear seats, or even a pass-through down the middle, because I like to ski and don’t want to leave my boards locked up in a less secure rooftop-mounted carrier. With a pass-through, both kids can enjoy the more comfortable and scenic outboard rear seats, while I get peace of mind when chowing down in the cafeteria or restaurant later. Still, this feature is ultra-rare in the mainstream volume-branded SUV sector, so while I complain (regularly), it probably wouldn’t be a dealmaker unless I liked the rest of the SUV as much as something else on the market that offered it. Absent features in mind, there are no levers on the cargo walls for automatically folding down the rear seatbacks, unlike a few competitors, but in order to be positive I’ll mention a handy flap the falls down over the gap between the seats and cargo floor in order to stop small items from slipping between the cracks, so to speak, and also good, the lengthened cargo floor is quite flat compared to most others.

2019 Ford Escape Titanium 2.0L Ecoboost
Rear seat accommodations are more than adequate. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Just in case you’re beginning to think I’m getting too harsh with the old Escape, rest assured that it remains a very impressive compact SUV in most respects, and best in class when talking performance. Its transmission can be criticized for falling short of two or even three gears now that others in the class offer eight- and nine-speed automatics (including the 2020 Escape with the former, as noted), but the 2019 Escape’s six-speed autobox is amply smooth, refined and well-proven, plus my tester’s steering paddles provided a lot more engagement than most CVT-infused challengers do. Yes, all of SUVs mentioned so far use continuously variable transmissions, as do a number of others in the segment, and while highly efficient these also deliver continuous noise at high revs, as well as continual boredom when pushed hard. Instead, the Escape’s manual mode shifts genuine gears in comparatively quick and precise fashion, making Ford’s compact SUV a great deal more fun to drive fast.

Speaking of going fast, all Escape trims include torque-vectoring control as well as Curve Control, the latter capable of sensing if you’re driving to fast while entering a corner, and if so, automatically slowing you down via throttle reduction and the anti-lock brakes. I certainly didn’t notice anything going on in the background, and I pushed it very hard for testing purposes, so this electronic safety net is only intrusive when it needs to be.

2019 Ford Escape Titanium 2.0L Ecoboost
No shortage of cargo space in back. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Then again, my Escape Titanium’s slightly firmer suspension and larger tires meant it wasn’t the smoothest riding SUV in its category. I wouldn’t call it harsh in the slightest, however, or uncomfortable at all, but I noticed more bumps and road imperfections than in the RAV4 or CR-V, which isolate occupants from pavement irregularities better. Still, this Escape Titanium will leave you smiling when pushed hard on a circuitous mountainside or riverside road, which is one of those difficult to quantify benefits that I happen to find priceless.

So there you have it, the outgoing 2019 Escape is well worth your attention. It continues to be a strong challenger despite its age, because it was so well engineered way back when. I think it’s still a smart choice for those wanting to keep their monthly budget in check, but can appreciate why someone might want to step up to the more advanced 2020 Escape or something else entirely. This said I can’t say for sure if its replacement will be worthy of more coin, as I haven’t even sat behind the wheel, but its mechanical improvements, including the new hybrid option, as well as its infotainment gains, appear well worth the upgrade. It’ll come down to personal priorities, like everything in life, so take some confidence in knowing you’ll be well taken care of with either new or old Escape.

Story credit: Trevor Hofmann

Photo credit: Karen Tuggay

2019 Infiniti QX60 Sensory Road Test

2019 Infiniti QX60 Sensory
There are no visual changes for the 2019 QX60, but it still looks mighty attractive. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Back in the day, badge engineering was mostly a domestic issue. Certainly there were some instances of entry-level European brands sharing underpinnings with a luxury marque, but few would call an Audi Fox, which rode on the back of Volkswagen’s “mid-size” Dasher, a luxury car. The practice was more common in North America where full-size Chevy and Pontiac sedans were unabashedly transformed into Buicks and Cadillacs by grafting on new front and rear clips, stamping new sheetmetal, and gussying up their cabins with leather, faux woodgrain and chrome, but little else, which was probably why no one thought anything about luxury newcomers Acura, Lexus and Infiniti doing likewise when they arrived on the scene in the ‘80s. While these Japanese premium brands have now mostly done away with this exercise as they’ve gained more prestige, some hangers on still survive, like Infiniti’s QX60. 

We can point fingers at others, like Lexus’ ES series that rests on the comfortable Toyota K platform, the same as Toyota’s Avalon, which also carries the RX and Highlander, not to mention the Camry mid-size sedan, Sienna minivan, and now discontinued Venza mid-size crossover, while Audi still shares plenty of its platform architectures with VW (and Bentley, amongst others), BMW with Mini, Alfa Romeo with Jeep, and so on, but most aren’t as obvious as Infiniti with the QX60 and Nissan’s Pathfinder. 

2019 Infiniti QX60 Sensory
The 20-inch alloys included with the Sensory package adds visual flair and performance benefits. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Truly, few premium models come closer to mimicking their mainstream volume-branded donor platform as the QX60 and Pathfinder, but to be fair to Infiniti the similarities aren’t easily seen outside. The luxury brand’s most accommodating crossover SUV incorporates its trademark grille and animal-like LED headlights up front, plus its curvy rear quarter window, and its more shapely wrap-around LED taillights, while the Nissan appears a lot more like a traditional truck-based SUV since it was refreshed for 2017. 

No, the most noticeable similarities are found inside, where the two SUVs are near duplicates in design, layout, and overall goodness. Did you notice how I did that? No doubt you thought I was going to slam the QX60 for not measuring up to the luxury class, but despite a desire to see more differentiation between QX60 and Pathfinder interiors, they’re both very good at providing what customers in this family segment want and require, the Infiniti simply offering more when it comes to the choice and quality of materials, plus other niceties. 

2019 Infiniti QX60 Sensory
The QX60 interior mimics the Nissan Pathfinder’s a bit too closely, but it’s materials quality and finishing is good. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

For starters, the QX60’s dash top, instrument panel fascia, glove box lid, lower console sides, and front door panels, from top to bottom, are covered in high-quality soft synthetics, while the Pathfinder is the king of hard plastics, covering each of these surfaces with low rent composites except for (oddly) the front door panels that receive the full soft-touch treatment too. The QX60 also moves these improvements into the rear passenger compartment, offering pliable rear door uppers, whereas hard shell plastic covers the Pathfinder’s inner door panels. What’s more, Infiniti covers each roof pillar in padded cloth too, while unlike some competitors Nissan doesn’t even wrap the front pillars. 

Being a luxury brand, Infiniti makes other QX60 upgrades too, like replacing the Pathfinder’s faux woodgrain with genuine maple hardwood, covering the seats with high-grade leather featuring hourglass quilting on their inserts and contrasting piping around their outer edges, or at least this was the case with my tester’s top-tier Sensory trim, but the old-school electronic interfaces are near identical other than their digital branding and graphic design, the driver’s gauge package is the same except for Infiniti’s unique purple coloured theme within the dials and serrated metallic surrounds, this motif also carried over to the centre display, which just happens to not yet include Apple CarPlay or Android Auto smartphone integration, and while all the switchgear that controls these interfaces (plus everything else) are fairly unique and nicer in the more upscale QX60, they’re organized in mostly the same way. 

2019 Infiniti QX60 Sensory
The interior design hasn’t changed in years, but it’s highly functional and nicely laid out. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Together with the beautiful hardwood and soft leather, the $4,200 Sensory package includes three-way ventilation to the standard heated front seats, while second-row outboard positions get heated and the rearmost third row includes a powered folding return to make cargo hauling easier, while getting to that is made more convenient due to a motion activated powered tailgate. All seven QX60 occupants will likely appreciate the wide open feeling of the power panoramic sunroof up above, which comes complete with power sunshades, while they should also like this Sensory model’s 15-speaker surround-sound Bose audio upgrade, which uses digital 5.1-channel decoding, while all should also like the Advanced Climate Control System (ACCS) that includes auto-recirculation, a plasmacluster air purifier and a grape polyphenol filter. Lastly, the Sensory package enhances the QX60’s styling and road-holding with a special set of 15-spoke 20-inch alloy wheels on 235/55 all-season rubber. 

Those wanting the Sensory package need to first add the $5,000 Essential package and $4,800 ProActive package, the first including remote start, entry/exit assist for the driver’s seat and steering wheel, rain-sensing windshield wipers, reverse-tilt side mirrors, two-way powered lumbar support for the driver’s seat, two-way driver’s memory with an Enhanced Intelligent Key, a 13-speaker Bose audio system, leather upholstery, Infiniti InTouch infotainment with navigation, lane guidance, and 3D building graphics, voice recognition, an Around View parking monitor with Moving Object Detection, front and rear parking sonar, SiriusXM Traffic, plus more. 

2019 Infiniti QX60 Sensory
Classic two-dial layout gets a nice colour multi-information display at centre. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

The ProActive package adds auto-dimming side mirrors, headlight high beam assist, full-speed range adaptive cruise control, distance control assist, active trace control, lane departure warning and prevention, blindspot intervention, backup collision intervention, front pre-crash seatbelts, and Infiniti’s exclusive Eco Pedal. 

All of this premium equipment gets added to a QX60 that’s already nicely equipped in base Pure trim, a well-priced competitor at just $48,695, due to features like auto on/off LED headlights, LED daytime running lamps, LED fog lights, LED tail lamps, roof rails, power-folding side mirrors with integrated turn signals, proximity keyless entry, pushbutton start/stop, a heated leather-clad steering wheel rim, a power tilt and telescopic steering column, an eight-way powered driver’s seat, a six-way powered front passenger’s seat, an auto-dimming rearview mirror, a universal remote garage door opener, a (normal sized front) powered moonroof, micro-filtered three-zone auto HVAC, an 8.0-inch centre touchscreen with a reverse camera, SMS/email display, satellite radio, three USB charge ports, a power rear tailgate, predictive forward collision warning, forward emergency braking with pedestrian detection, blindspot warning, etcetera (see all 2019 and 2020 Infiniti QX60 pricing right here at CarCostCanada, with details about trims, packages and individual options, plus don’t forget to look up special manufacturer rebate info and dealer invoice pricing that could save you thousands). 

2019 Infiniti QX60 Sensory
A nicely organized centre stack has stood the test of time, while features are plentiful. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Many of these features are available with the Pathfinder, by the way, so it isn’t like top-level trims of the Nissan-branded utility aren’t up to snuff, especially when compared to their true mainstream competitors, but as it should Infiniti takes its feature allotment up a notch or two. Fortunately, not much differentiation in mechanicals is needed to remain popular, where both SUVs use the same direct-injected 3.5-litre V6 and continuously variable transmission, the latter featuring nearly real feeling stepped gear ratios. It’s one of the better CVTs available today, and ideally suited to the QX60’s comfort-oriented mission. Take note, however, that all-wheel drive comes standard with the QX60 and is optional with more basic Pathfinder trims. 

Performance off the line and during passing manoeuvres is good thanks to 295 horsepower and 270 lb-ft of torque, which is 11 horsepower and 11 lb-ft more than the Pathfinder, while the CVT gets a manual mode for more spirited engagement. Additionally, Infiniti provides driving modes with default (a best of all worlds compromise), Sport (that makes adjustments to the engine and transmission to enhance performance), Eco (that adjusts engine and transmission responses to improve fuel economy), and Snow (that controls engine output to reduce wheel spin) settings, compared to the Pathfinder that only offers the choice of 2WD, AUTO, and LOCK for its “i-4×4” Intelligent 4WD system. The Pathfinder’s 4WD settings are no doubt best off the beaten path, as would be its 7.0 inches of ground clearance compared to 6.5 inches for the QX60, but Infiniti’s design is more useful for combatting slippery conditions on pavement. 

2019 Infiniti QX60 Sensory
Real maple hardwood adds a touch of elegance throughout the QX60 cabin. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

And how is fuel economy impacted? The QX60 does very well with an estimated rating of 12.5 L/100km city, 9.0 highway and 10.9 combined, while a fully loaded Pathfinder with AWD can manage a claimed 12.4 city, 9.2 highway and 11.0 combined.  

Both QX60 and Pathfinder models ride on an identical fully independent suspension setups too, constructed of struts up front and a multi-link system in back, plus fore and aft stabilizer bars and coil springs, but this sameness aside the Infiniti feels more solid and substantive than the more affordable alternative. It likely comes down to some of the previously noted soft surfaces and additional sound deadening materials subduing interior noise, vibration, and harshness, not that the Pathfinder I tested recently was harsh in any way. Either way, the QX60 is more upscale, as it should be. 

This more substantive presence, and suspension tuning, makes for a smoother and more comfortable ride as well, but truly both SUVs coddle their passengers well, no matter the road below, while these two can manage fast-paced curves reasonably well too, as long as no one gets unrealistically overenthusiastic. 

2019 Infiniti QX60 Sensory
The otherwise comfortable driver’s seat would have been better with 4-way lumbar support. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

A QX60 disappointment is lumbar support, because its two-way in-and-out design (which is identical to the Pathfinder’s) simply doesn’t cut it in the premium sector. They at least should’ve made a four-way system available, because the way it is now makes it so you’ll either receive ideal pressure just where you want it, or not, the latter being reality for my five-foot-eight body type. A four-way system provides upward/downward adjustment so as to meet up with the lower backs of all types of bodies.

Two-way lumbar support aside, the driver’s seat is fairly comfortable and should be amply big in order to satisfy for most owner’s needs, while the 60/40-split second-row bench seat is plenty accommodating too, due to loads of space to each side plus fore and aft adjustability. Infiniti installed a comfortable armrest with integrated cupholders in the middle, making it a good place to idle away the hours. The QX60’s rearmost row isn’t the biggest or the smallest in this mid-size luxury segment, but it should be ample for all but large teenagers and adults. Better yet, the QX60 provides the same innovative second-row seat folding mechanism to access that third row as the Pathfinder, which allows a child safety seat to remain installed (without the child strapped in) when sliding it forward and out of the way. 

2019 Infiniti QX60 Sensory
Second- and third-row roominess is good. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Safety seats in mind, the needs more child seat latches, especially in the very back, but on the positive the Nissan/Infiniti Rear Door Alert system is really smart. It uses door sequence logic, together with a message alert within the gauge cluster, plus multiple horn beeps, to cause its driver to check the rear compartment after parking and shutting off the ignition. It’s an important step towards reducing and hopefully eliminating child and pet injuries and deaths after being left behind in the summer heat of parked vehicles. 

The QX60 is also accommodating for cargo, with a total of 447 litres (15.8 cubic feet) available aft of the third row (this area made even more functional due to a stowage compartment under the load floor), 1,155 litres (40.8 cubic feet) behind the 50/50-split third row via powered switches mounted on each cargo wall, and 2,166 litres (76.5 cubic feet) of total cargo space available when the 60/40-split second-row seats are folded forward via manual levers on their sides. Some competitors also make automated second-row seats available, but this setup should work well enough for most. 

2019 Infiniti QX60 Sensory
Plenty of room for cargo here. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

After all is said and done the QX60 is getting on in years, but aging doesn’t necessarily translate into outdated. True, its cabin electronics could use updating and, as noted earlier, I’d appreciate less obvious ties to its Pathfinder cousin, but it’s attractive from the outside in, has been finished with good quality materials, drives quite well, and provides seven-occupant luxury and plenty of practicality for an affordable price when compared to its closest premium rivals. Of note, this 2019 version is no different than the 2020 model that’s starting to arrive now, other than all the packages outlined in this review transforming into four trim levels, plus some new option packages. 

This said a complete redesign isn’t far off, and expected to arrive in 2020 as a 2021 model, but if you need to upgrade now you’ll be well taken care of with this 2019 QX60, or the new 2020 version. 

Story credit: Trevor Hofmann 

Photo credit: Karen Tuggay

2019 Subaru Ascent Premier Road Test

2019 Subaru Ascent Premier
The new 2019 Subaru Ascent is one great looking mid-size family hauler. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

To say the mid-size crossover SUV category is growing would be quite the understatement. In fact, when brands might have once been satisfied with one single entry in either the two- or three-row sectors, now we’re seeing separate models addressing various families’ requirements, and then unique trim levels targeting luxury, sport, and off-road oriented buyers. If you’re a volume manufacturer, or even a niche player, trying to find success without a mid-size SUV in the lineup is like a company selling it wares without using social media. It’s not going to happen. 

Prior to the new 2019 Ascent arrived on the market last autumn, Subaru had been AWOL from this critically important segment since its previous mid-size crossover, the 2005 to 2014 Tribeca, went out of production. That SUV was impressive for a number of reasons, particularly its premium-like refinement, but its styling and third-row spaciousness left would-be buyers searching elsewhere. After five years of contemplation, and no doubt designing and product planning, Subaru is back with a three-row mid-size crossover SUV that won’t disappoint anyone when it comes to size, plus it looks pretty good too. 

Even though two-row crossover SUVs lead the mid-size sector in individual sales, Subaru already does well with its compact five-seat Forester and mid-size Outback crossover wagon, so it made sense for them to target larger families and those requiring more cargo space. They’re not alone, Honda having sold its three-row Pilot for 17 years ahead its new two-row Passport arriving this summer, so possibly we’ll see a bigger five-seat Subaru SUV at some point too. 

2019 Subaru Ascent Premier
What do you think? Does its styling appeal to your senses? (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Until that happens, the North American-exclusive Ascent seats eight in standard form or seven with its optional second-row captain’s chairs, the latter configuration being how Subaru equipped my top-tier Premier tester. It’s a sizeable SUV, stretching 4,998 millimetres (196.8 inches) nose to tail with a 2,890-mm (113.8-inch) wheelbase, while its overall height stands 1,819 mm (71.6 inches) tall including its standard roof rails. What’s more, it measures 2,176 mm (85.6 inches) wide with its side mirrors extracted, plus its track spans 1,635 mm (64.4 inches) up front and 1,630 mm (64.2 inches) at the rear. 

Putting this into perspective, the new Ascent is 48 mm (1.9 inches) shorter than the mid-size three-row SUV category’s top-selling Explorer, albeit with a 24-mm (0.9-inch) longer wheelbase, and some might be surprised to learn that the new Subaru SUV also stands 42 mm (1.6 inches) taller than the big Ford. The only Explorer dimension to exceed the Ascent is width that sees Ford’s SUV 119 mm (4.7 inches) wider, with 66 and 71 mm (2.6 and 2.8 inches) more respective front and rear track too. Considering the Explorer is one of the mid-size segment’s biggest crossover SUVs, Subaru now has something equally large so that no one gets left behind. 

When comparing the new Ascent to other sales leaders, it’s longer, wider and taller than the Toyota Highlander and Kia Sorento (albeit shorter than the new Kia Telluride, with a shorter wheelbase and less width), longer and taller than the Honda Pilot and Hyundai Santa Fe XL (which is currently in its final days, but take note it’s slightly longer than the new Hyundai Palisade too, but its wheelbase isn’t, nor its width), wider and taller than the Nissan Pathfinder, merely wider than the Dodge Durango, and only taller than the Volkswagen Atlas. 

2019 Subaru Ascent Premier
The finer details in Premier trim are very impressive. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

That was only a partial list of the Ascent’s three-row mid-size crossover SUV challengers, incidentally, the full list (from top-selling to poorest faring during the first three quarters of 2018) being the Explorer, Sorento, Highlander, Atlas, Pilot, Durango, Pathfinder, Chevrolet Traverse, Santa Fe XL, Dodge Journey, GMC Acadia, Mazda CX-9, and Ford Flex, while the just-mentioned Palisade and Telluride are too new to categorize by sales numbers. 

While exterior size is one thing, passenger volume and cargo space is another, and much more important for making decisions. The Ascent provides 4,347 litres (153.5 cubic feet) of passenger volume and 2,449 litres (86.5 cu ft) for cargo when both rear rows are folded down. Those numbers are just for the most basic of Ascent trims, incidentally, which also measures 1,345 litres (47.5 cu ft) behind the 60/40-split second row and 504 litres (17.8 cu ft) behind the 60/40-split third row, while all other trims are half a litre less commodious at 2,435 litres (86.0 cu ft) behind the first row, 1,331 litres (47.0 cu ft) aft of the second row, and 498 litres (17.6 cu ft) in the very back. 

These numbers compare well against key rivals, with the Ascent’s passenger volume even greater than the Explorer’s, and its standard eight-occupant seating layout a rarity in the class, while the big Subaru’s max cargo volume makes it one of the segment’s largest too. Also helpful, rear passengers gain easier access due to back doors that open up to 75 degrees. 

2019 Subaru Ascent Premier
The Ascent even looks good covered in mud, and performs well off-road too. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

As with most Subaru models, the Ascent comes standard with full-time Symmetrical AWD, which has long proven to be amongst the more capable of all-wheel drive systems available. Its first advantage is more evenly balanced weight distribution thanks to a longitudinally mounted engine and transmission, compared to the AWD designs of competitors that mostly derive them from FWD chassis architectures incorporating transverse-mounted engines. Subaru’s horizontally opposed flat “boxer” engine also let the designers place it lower in the chassis resulting in a lower centre of gravity, which aids packaging and handling. 

The Symmetrical AWD design automatically applies additional torque to the wheels with the most grip, and it’s done in such a way that traction not only improves when taking off from standstill in slippery conditions, but it also benefits overall control at higher speeds. This means the Ascent is very capable on all types of roads and trail surfaces, while its standard X-mode off-road system, together with hill descent control, as well as a sizeable 220 millimetres (8.66 inches) of ground clearance for overcoming rocks and stumps, snow banks, etcetera, makes it better for tackling tough terrain than most other crossover SUVs. 

Of course I had to off-road it, and when facing the mud and muck I pressed the X-Mode button on the lower console and let it do the rest while I pointed it where I wanted to go. Amazingly it responded almost as well as the bull low gearing range of a truck-based 4×4, although the sound of all the electronic systems, such as traction and stability control, working away in the background as it climbed some very steep, ultra slippery, deeply rutted and just plain yucky sections of trail I would have normally only tried when at the wheel of a Jeep Wrangler, Toyota 4Runner, or something more dedicated to mucking it up, was out of the ordinary. 

2019 Subaru Ascent Premier
Premier trim’s three-tone black, ivory and brown interior colour theme looks amazing. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Fortunately the Ascent took care of my backside thanks to one of the nicer rides in the mid-size class, but I wouldn’t say it’s the sportiest feeling or best handling in this three-row category. It’s fully capable of being pushed hard through a twisting back road at a fast clip, but keep in mind this Subie was clearly designed for comfort before speed. 

It rides on the new Subaru Global Platform (SGP) architecture, which combines a strong yet lightweight unibody construction with a fully independent MacPherson strut front and double-wishbone rear suspension, improved further with a stabilizer bar mounted directly to the body at the rear and an electric rack and pinion steering setup in front. It all rolls on 18-inch silver five-spoke alloys shod with 245/60 all-seasons in the Ascent’s two lower trims, and 20-inch machine-finished high-gloss split-spoke rims on 245/50 rubber for the two upper trims, my test model benefiting from the latter. 

High-speed stability is important with an SUV that moves off the line as quickly as the Ascent. Its horizontally opposed 2.4-litre turbocharged four-cylinder makes 260 horsepower and 277 lb-ft of torque, the latter from 2,000 to 4,800 rpm, but I enjoyed it best when not pushing too hard, which bought out the powertrain’s wonderfully smooth character and minimized fuel usage. 

2019 Subaru Ascent Premier
Most Subaru buyers probably won’t care that a fully digital gauge cluster isn’t on the menu. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Subaru estimates a Transport Canada five-cycle fuel economy rating of 11.6 L/100km city, 9.0 highway and 10.4 combined for the Ascent, compared to 12.0 city, 8.7 highway and 10.5 combined for the larger 3.6-litre H-6 in the much smaller Outback. The new four actually makes 4 more horsepower and 30 additional lb-ft of torque than the flat-six, by the way, so we’ll probably be seeing this smaller, more efficient turbocharged motor in a future Outback too. 

Now that we’re making fuel economy comparisons, the Ascent looks good when put up against the base Explorer’s 2.3-litre turbocharged four that can only manage a claimed 13.1 L/100km in the city, 9.2 on the highway and 11.4 combined, but it should be said the blue-oval SUV makes a lot more power, whereas the thriftiest Toyota Highlander V6 AWD actually does quite well against both the Ford and Subaru SUVs at 11.7 city, 8.8 highway and 10.4 combined. All in all, the Ascent can hold its own at the pump. 

Helping the Ascent achieve its impressive efficiency is Subaru’s High-torque Lineartronic CVT, continuously variable transmissions not only economical but also ideal for this type of large family-oriented vehicle thanks to its smooth, linear power delivery. Subaru includes standard steering wheel paddles to enhance driver engagement, along with a faux eight-speed manual shift mode that does a decent job of faking a regular automatic transmission’s gear changes while providing reasonably sporty driving characteristics, while standard Active Torque Vectoring increases high-speed traction. This advanced CVT was first introduced with Subaru’s WRX sport sedan, and while not optimized to swap cogs as quickly as in the World Rally Championship-bred performance car, it nevertheless combines positive, smooth operation while minimizing running costs. 

2019 Subaru Ascent Premier
This multi-information display sits atop the dash. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Compared to most of the Ascent’s mid-size competitors that come standard with FWD, AWD is standard and there’s only one powertrain on offer, from the base model to top-of-the-line. Trims in mind, the 2019 Ascent is available in Convenience, Touring, Limited and Premier grades, with its standard Convenience features including auto on/off halogen headlamps, LED daytime running lights (DRL), roof rails, a 4.2-inch colour TFT multi-information display, tri-zone auto HVAC, a 6.5-inch touchscreen infotainment system with Android Auto and Apple CarPlay smartphone connectivity, a backup camera, a six-speaker audio system with satellite radio, three-way heatable front seats, an eight-way powered driver’s seat, USB ports for the second row, 19 cup and bottle holders, plus more for only $35,995 plus destination. 

Also impressive, all 2019 Ascent trims includes standard Subaru EyeSight driver assist technologies like adaptive cruise control with lead vehicle start assist, pre-collision braking, pre-collision brake assist, pre-collision throttle management, lane departure warning, lane sway warning, and lane keeping assist, while all the expected active and passive safety features come standard as well. 

Moving up through the line, second-rung Touring trim starts at $40,995 in its eight-passenger configuration or $41,495 when the second-row captain’s chairs are added, the latter reducing the total number of seats to seven. The Touring model also includes the Subaru Rear/Side Vehicle Detection (SRVD) system that features blind spot detection, lane change assist, rear cross-traffic alert and reverse automatic braking, plus this trim also includes a special set of machine-finished five-spoke 18-inch alloy wheels, body-coloured side mirrors with integrated LED turn signals and approach lights, LED fog lights, a sportier looking rear bumper design featuring integrated tailpipe cutouts, proximity-sensing keyless entry, pushbutton start/stop, front door courtesy lamps, chromed inner door handles, a universal garage door opener, a windshield wiper de-icer, auto-dimming centre and sideview mirrors, a leather-clad steering wheel and shift knob, a bigger 8.0-inch centre touchscreen, more upscale fabric upholstery, a power panoramic sunroof, magazine pockets on the front seatbacks, climate controls for the second row passengers, reading lights for third row passengers, a retractable cargo cover, a power-operated tailgate, a transmission oil cooler, trailer stability control, and pre-wiring for a trailer hitch that increases towing capability to 2,270 kilos (5,000 lbs). 

2019 Subaru Ascent Premier
You’ll likely be impressed with the infotainment touchscreen. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Next on the Ascent’s trim menu is the Limited, which starts at $46,495 in its standard eight-passenger configuration or $46,995 when set up for seven passengers, and adds the larger 20-inch alloy wheels noted before, plus steering-responsive full low/high beam LED headlamps with auto high beams, black and ivory soft-touch interior surfaces, a heated steering wheel rim, a nicer looking primary gauge package with chrome bezels and blue needles (instead of red), plus a 6.3-inch colour multifunction display on top of the centre dash that shows the time, temperature and dynamic functions including an inclinometer, while a navigation system gets added to the infotainment display, as does SiriusXM Traffic. Additional Limited trim features include 14-speaker 792-watt Harman/Kardon audio, a 10-way powered driver’s seat enhanced with powered lumbar support and lower cushion length adjustability, driver’s seat and side-mirror memory, a four-way powered front passenger seat, leather upholstery, two-way heated second-row seats, integrated rear door sunshades, third-row USB ports, plus more. 

My tester’s Premier trim is top of the line yet at $49,995 it’s still very affordable, especially within a class that often exceeds the $50k threshold before adding options. The Ascent Premier comes fully equipped as is, including a special high-gloss black grille insert, satin-finish side mirror housings, chromed exterior door handles, rain-sensing windshield wipers, ambient interior lighting, a front-view camera, a Smart Rearview Mirror with an integrated rearview camera, woodgrain inlays, brown perforated leather upholstery, ventilated front seats, standard captain’s chairs for the second row, a 120-volt power outlet on the rear centre console, plus more. 

2019 Subaru Ascent Premier
Comfort is king in the Ascent’s accommodating driver’s seat. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

By the way, all 2019 Subaru Ascent prices were sourced right here on CarCostCanada, where you can also find detailed pricing on trims, packages and standalone options for every other new car, truck, van and crossover SUV sold in Canada, plus rebate information and dealer invoice pricing that could save you thousands. 

Along with all the right features is a really nicely finished cabin that’s large and comfortable from front to back. Some noteworthy details include a leather-like soft-touch dash top enhanced with attractive stitching ahead of the front passenger, while just below is a useful shelf unpinned by a really nice bolster covered in more stitched leatherette, albeit ivory coloured for a truly distinct look. This wraps around lower portion of the instrument panel before matching up to more ivory bolstering on the door panels, although Subaru goes a step further by introducing a dark brown for the armrests that matches the previously noted brown leather seat upholstery. Premier trim also features matte-finish faux wood trim, but honestly it doesn’t come close to looking or feeling real. Last but not least, Subaru takes care of everyone’s elbows with soft padded synthetic door uppers front to back, but doesn’t go so far as to wrap any of the roof pillars in cloth like some others in the class. 

2019 Subaru Ascent Premier
Second-row roominess is excellent. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Speaking of not measuring up to the best this class has to offer, I was surprised to learn this top-line model doesn’t come with a fully digital gauge cluster, this advanced feature showing up on many of the Ascent’s recently redesigned or new competitors, like Volkswagen’s Atlas and Hyundai Palisade. Still, the dials’ blue needles were a nice addition instead of the usual red found in lower trims, while the vertical TFT multi-information display features a cool graphic of the SUV’s backside with taillights that light up when pressing the brake. It’s fun to watch, but even better this display notifies drivers via visual alert and audio chime that they may have left something, a young child, or possibly a pet in the back seat. 

The bigger multi-information display on top of the dash is used more for Subaru’s EyeSight advanced driver assistance systems, with attractive, detailed graphics, while this display also provides speed limit information, navigation system info, an inclinometer and other off-road features, plus more. 

Just underneath, Subaru’s impressive new high-resolution 3D-like infotainment touchscreen really wows the eyes as it provides a bevy of useful functions. It includes all the features and apps noted earlier, plus it responds to inputs quickly and reliably. 

2019 Subaru Ascent Premier
Even the third row is roomy enough for adults. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Fast responses in mind, the heatable steering wheel warms up quickly and remains hot as well, as do the heated front and rear seats, which I appreciate more than those that slowly cool off after a few minutes of maximum strength. I often use heated seats for therapeutic reasons, soothing an aching lower back, and the last thing I want is to keep fiddling with a temperature control switch. Speaking of switches, the button for heated steering wheel is smartly positioned just below the right-side spoke where it’s easy to locate, while the adaptive cruise control system, actuated via a set of buttons just above, worked ideally during high-speed and stop-and-go driving. Likewise, the lane departure system held the Ascent in place when cruising down the freeway, but rather than maintain the centre of a given lane it bounced off the lines when I purposely didn’t pay attention in order to test its capability. 

A really impressive technology is the Ascent Premier’s auto-dimming centre mirror that does double-duty as a backup camera when activated. Also helpful is the Ascent’s sunglasses holder that doubles as a rear conversation mirror. 

2019 Subaru Ascent Premier
There’s plenty of space for cargo with all the seats folded down. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

The Ascent’s driver’s seat was ultra-comfortable and quite wide, so it should be ideally shaped for big people, but it fit my five-foot-eight medium-build body type well too. When that front seat was positioned for my long-legged, short-torso frame, which means I had it pushed farther rearward than someone my height normally would, a far reaching telescopic steering wheel allowed for a comfortable driving position that left me in complete control. What’s more, when the seat was set up this way I still had plenty of room just behind in the second row seat, with approximately 10 inches of available space ahead of my knees and ample for me feet, plus loads for my hips and shoulders as well as more than enough over my head. 

I was even more impressive with the third row. Just for fun I slid the second row as far back as possible and then climbed rearward, via a walkway that provided more than enough room. When seated in the very back my knees were rubbing up against the second-row seatbacks, but moving those seats forward a touch remedied the situation to the point that I had plenty of space in both rear rows. Really, there were three-plus inches above my head in the very back, which means average-size adults should fit in no problem, even while larger adults are seated just ahead. 

2019 Subaru Ascent Premier
The retractable cargo cover neatly stows away under the cargo floor. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

As I mentioned before, the Ascent provides a full load of cargo space behind the third row. In fact, it’s similar that found in a full-size sedan’s trunk, while below that load floor is a hidden compartment for storing smaller items plus the retractable cargo cover when not being used. Lowering the 60/40-split third row is slightly awkward, first needing the headrests to be manually pushed down into the seatbacks, and then requiring a tug on a strap hanging off the top of the seats, before pushing those seats down. Pulling them back up merely needs a tug on a longer strap attached to the cargo floor/seatback. As for the second row, it lays down by first unlatching it, so you can slide it forward, and then unlatching a second release at which point you can slide them back if you want to line up each side. There’s plenty of space for luggage and/or building sheets, but I must say the captain’s chairs don’t result in a particularly flat loading area. I imagine the standard bench seat would work better, so you may want to purchase one of the Ascent’s lower trims if you’re planning to do a lot of load hauling. 

Purchasing in mind, you should feel safe buying an Ascent, even though it hasn’t been around very long. Subaru has a good track record for reliability and longevity, and after a week with this example I believe the automaker has done a very good job engineering and assembling its first-ever near full-size SUV. 

Story credit: Trevor Hofmann 

Photo credit: Karen Tuggay

2019 Chevrolet Equinox AWD Premier Road Test

2019 Chevrolet Equinox AWD Premier Road Test
We tested the 2019 Equinox in two flavours, including its base 1.5-litre turbo-four (shown here) and its 1.6-litre turbo-diesel. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

It’s easy to point the finger at Volkswagen for ridding us of the diesel, but they weren’t the only German automaker to cheat environmental regulations in order to legitimize their oil burners. Now we can thank General Motors for staying the diesel engine’s execution, at least temporarily. 

Yes, no sooner am I reporting on the General’s wonderful 1.6-litre turbo-diesel powerplant and it’s already being discontinued from the 2020 Equinox lineup, relegated back to mid-size pickup truck duty. This means you’d better act fast if you want to own a new 2019 Equinox Diesel. 

You may not know that Hyundai and Mazda promised diesel powertrains of their own for this very 2019 model year, but they’ve probably seen the fading light of diesel’s demise in this new “woke” era, with Hyundai recently introducing a number of all-electric SUVs, one even fueled with hydrogen. Trying to refuel that fuel cell model at Vancouver’s only hydrogen station might pose a problem unless you happen to live five minutes away like I do, but I’d still rather have the go-anywhere efficiency of a diesel. 

Recently I spent a week with 1.5-litre turbo-four gasoline-powered Equinox Premium (the white one in the photos), and after that another week with the same trim with the turbo-diesel I’ve been blabbing on about (the blue version), while I’ve yet to spend a minute with the most compact crossover SUV’s most potent 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder. 

2019 Chevrolet Equinox AWD Premier Road Test
Is blue more your style? The Equinox provides plenty of colour options, not to mention loads of trims and even three engines. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

The entry-level engine might initially appear a bit on the weak side thanks to only 170 horsepower and 203 lb-ft of torque available, at least on paper, but it was more than sufficient for this fairly lightweight compact crossover, plus it’s ultra friendly to those keeping tabs on their budgets due to a claimed Transport Canada fuel economy rating of 9.2 L/100km city, 7.3 highway and 8.3 combined in FWD trim, or 9.3 city, 7.8 highway and 8.6 combined with its optional AWD. 

The available 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder, which features AWD as standard equipment, should provide those looking for excitement with thrills aplenty thanks to 252 horsepower and 260 lb-ft of torque, but despite the impressive nine-speed automatic it comes mated to, which adds up to three extra gears over the two less potent engines’ six-speed automatic transmissions, the more advanced drivetrain manages only 10.9 L/100km in the city, 8.3 on the highway and 9.7 combined. 

Incidentally, all models come standard with auto stop/start, which instantly turns off the engine when the Equinox comes to a full stop, and then automatically restarts it when lifting off the brake pedal, the process helping reduce emissions and fuel usage. 

2019 Chevrolet Equinox AWD Premier Road Test
It’s a smart looking SUV, no matter the trim. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

All in all, the above numbers are really quite decent when comparing them to competitors with similar performance, but both gasoline-fueled models don’t come close to matching the fuel economy of the Equinox Diesel, that gets an 8.5 L/100km city, 6.0 highway (6.1 with AWD) and 7.4 combined claimed rating. Then again, line those numbers up next to the new Toyota RAV4 Hybrid’s figures and the Chevy almost looks gluttonous, what with a mere 5.8 L/100km of city consumption, plus 6.3 on the highway and 6.0 combined, plus the Japanese model’s $32,090 entry price is about a thousand cheaper than the least expensive Equinox LT FWD model, which starts at $33,100. It’s $6,400 more than the $26,700 base Equinox LS as well, and $5,300 less than the $38,400 Equinox AWD Premier Diesel shown on this page. All-wheel drive adds $2,400 to the base LS price, incidentally, while the sportier Equinox AWD 2.0 Premier is available from $37,900. 

I should mention that all the quoted prices above don’t include the destination charge or any other fees, but you can check such details plus all the prices of trims, packages and individual options right here on CarCostCanada, where we also provide you the latest manufacturer rebates (especially helpful during year-end clear-outs) as well as dealer invoice pricing that could easily save you thousands. 

2019 Chevrolet Equinox AWD Premier Road Test
LED headlights and taillights are available, plus these optional 19-inch alloys. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Now that we’re talking savings, Mitsubishi’s Outlander PHEV is the compact SUV class’s most efficient model by a long shot, but with a base price of $43,498 (before government rebates) it’s a lot more expensive, which makes GM’s duo of diesels the most efficient non-electrified crossover pairing in the compact crowd. Combine that with diesel pump pricing that’s usually a lot lower than regular unleaded, and it should save you money if you drive enough. It should be noted the 2.0-litre turbo is thriftier than a number of similarly powerful compact crossovers too, so big marks to GM for offering so many engine and transmission options, plus making them all better than average when it comes to fuel economy. 

I have to admit to preferring the diesel-turbo to the base gasoline-powered turbo-four, both from a performance and efficiency perspective. The diesel might only put out 137 horsepower, but it delivers a much stronger 240 lb-ft of torque down, and like the base engine it’s all available from just 2,000 rpm. 

Also impressive, the Equinox’ AWD system aids fuel economy even more. Unlike the majority of SUVs in this class that use full-time AWD systems, or employ a viscous-type coupling that causes the rear wheels to engage automatically, GM’s SUVs use the front wheels to drive until traction becomes a problem, at which point a warning appears within the instrument cluster and you’re recommended to switch over to AWD by pressing a button on the lower centre console. I first questioned whether or not my Equinox was fitted with AWD when my front tires kept breaking traction during takeoff, this due to all of the diesel’s rubber-smoking torque, but after noticing the AWD button and then putting it into action, no more squealing tires. 

2019 Chevrolet Equinox AWD Premier Road Test
The interior is really refined, and there’s no shortage of standard and available features. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Another bonus was the base six-speed automatic, which while down a couple of gears from some others in this class, including the aforementioned 2.0-litre turbo-four, was nevertheless very responsive. You can even row through the gears by flicking a rocker switch on top of the shift knob with your thumb, which is an unusual but welcome alternative to shifting the whole gear lever or pulling on a set of steering wheel-mounted paddle shifters (now that I mentioned that, don’t try to shift by pulling the buttons on the backside of the Equinox’ steering wheel, as you’ll probably just swap radio stations). Back to that six-speed, I never found it lacking gears, as each engine provided plenty of torque over very wide rev ranges, and the transmission shifted nice and smooth no matter whether I was doing so manually or leaving it to its own devices. 

The Equinox also has a nice smooth suspension, which is par for the course when talking about GM products, other than performance-first models like the Corvette Z06. Back to the compact crossover SUV segment, the Equinox takes to corners well too, easily providing a level of smile-inducing sporty performance. It feels light in weight, nimble, and plenty of fun through the curves, plus it’s great at zipping in and out of heavy inner-city traffic, or just cruising down the freeway. 

2019 Chevrolet Equinox AWD Premier Road Test
The centre stack is well laid out, and infotainment touchscreen amongst the segment’s best. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

I was able to take in the Equinox Premier’s impressive interior better during more relaxed stints behind the wheel, however. It’s finished to a higher degree than some of its key rivals, a quality factor that immediately becomes noticeable when closing the driver’s door. It just feels more solid and better built than a number of its tinnier challengers, with this refinement continuing throughout the cabin. For instance, both smooth and perforated patterned and contrast-stitched leatherette covers the entire instrument panel, while tastefully applied aluminum-like accents dress up the steering wheel, the primary gauge cluster, each dash vent, the centre stack switchgear, and the lower console controls. 

A weakness is the amount of pliable interior plastics, but Chevy does cover each armrest plus much of the door inserts and uppers in a padded, contrast-stitched leatherette, while it finishes off the rest of those door uppers in a synthetic soft paint that also is used for dressing up the dash top and much of the instrument panel, plus the top edges of the centre stack and lower console. To clarify, this isn’t the type of paint that eventually peels off, but instead it is permanently bonded to the plastic and therefore provides a nicer texture than the usual hard shell plastic found in this class. 

Pushing such premium touches yet further upstream is a truly nice set of steering wheel switchgear, my test model even featuring a heated steering wheel rim as well as adaptive cruise control, while some of the buttons at hand actuated the colour multi-information display in the otherwise analogue gauge package, this incorporating a digital readout for traffic sign info, plus a back seat reminder that detects whether or not you opened the rear doors before departing on your journey, and when arriving warns that something or someone might have been left in the rear passenger compartment. 

2019 Chevrolet Equinox AWD Premier Road Test
This best-in-industry parking camera lets you watch the curb and road simultaneously, plus much more. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Lastly, the Equinox tops off its centre stack with a truly impressive infotainment touchscreen. I really like the clear and elegantly simple circular graphics and bright colours used for the main menu interface, which look modern, fresh and are easy to sort out. Chevy has created one of the best infotainment systems in the mainstream industry, and while some competitors might offer larger touchscreens, this eight-inch system is brilliantly sharp thanks to excellent resolution, and provides deep, rich colours with superb contrast. The navigation system’s map is clear and easy to read, while inputting addresses is easy, plus the route guidance was totally accurate each time I used it. I only wish the satellite radio interface showed album cover graphics, but that was hardly a deal-breaker. 

The Equinox infotainment system also includes Android Auto and Apple CarPlay smartphone integration, plus one of the best 360-degree parking monitors I’ve ever experienced. From its default mode, which makes the “bird’s-eye” view surround camera smaller and puts it to the left of the display with a bigger rearview camera along with its dynamic guidelines to the right, it can be switched up to a full reverse camera with dynamic guidelines, or instead provide a different view of that same backup camera, an overhead view of that rear camera, or alternatively a weird frontal view that actually seems as if the SUV is being filmed from a drone hovering slightly ahead and above. There are simultaneous views of the curb and road, ultra-close-ups of the front, plus more. This camera kept me spellbound for at least an hour. By the way, both this top-tier camera system and the entry-level version were upgraded for image quality this year. 

2019 Chevrolet Equinox AWD Premier Road Test
Great seats and a superb driving position made for a comfortable daily driver. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Just below the infotainment display is a two-zone auto HVAC interface that’s nicely organized and attractive, but my favourite set of buttons activated the three-way heatable and/or cooled front seats, the second of these items rarely available in this category, but really appreciated for keeping backside dry and cool during summer’s heat. 

Follow the centre stack down to its base and you’ll find a sizeable compartment with a rubberized floor that’s ideal for a big smartphone. Chevy included a wireless charging pad, always convenient, plus the Equinox went from one regular USB-A port to a set of USBs, one for the usual A plug and another for new USB-C connectors, which is what my Samsung S9 uses. An aux plug and 12-volt charger come standard as well, while two additional USB charging ports can be found in a bin under the front centre armrest. 

Glance upward and you’ll find an overhead console housing a sunglasses holder, LED reading lights, plus controls for OnStar, SOS, etcetera, plus of course switchgear for the panoramic sunroof and its powered sunshade. I love big glass roofs like this, because they shed plenty of light inside, brightening the entire vehicle’s ambience. 

2019 Chevrolet Equinox AWD Premier Road Test
Now that’s a nice sunroof! (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Of course, none of this would matter if the Equinox wasn’t comfortable, and to that end it provided plenty of room for my medium-build five-foot-eight body, as well as an excellent driving position that gave me total support and kept me in full control. Such isn’t always the case. In fact, some rivals’ tilt and telescopic steering won’t reach far enough rearward to compensate for my need to pull the driver’s seat far enough rearward for my longer than average legs (for a five-foot-eight person at least). 

What’s more, when my driver’s seat was set up for my long-legged short torso body type, I still had about eight inches of room for my knees when sitting behind in the second row, and plenty of space from side to side plus about two inches over my head. The panoramic sunroof noted a moment ago pushed the surrounding roof area down a couple of inches than it would have if not included, but not a problem for me. 

As far as rear seat features go, the Equinox Premier gets a set of LED reading lights on both sides, two additional USB-A charging ports (new for 2019), a regular household-style three-prong 120-volt socket, and the best rear seat heaters I’ve ever tried out, in that their three-way controls adjust the lower cushion and the backrest temperatures, or just the back alone. I don’t think you’ll hear a lot of complaints from the kiddos, but being that the rear seatbacks are divided 60/40 with no centre pass-through, active families that ski will be forced to play rock, paper, scissors for the heated side. 

2019 Chevrolet Equinox AWD Premier Road Test
Plenty of room back here. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

I like that Chevy incorporates levers on the cargo wall for folding those rear seatbacks down automatically. Just pull on them once and the seats drop down quickly, expanding the already sizeable 847-litre (29.9 cu-ft) dedicated cargo area to a really big 1,809 litres (63.9 cu ft). 

Being just a year into its lifecycle, the 2019 Equinox looks identical to the 2018 model, but nevertheless GM has put a great deal of effort into rejigging trims and packages. To begin, a new Lights and Bright package is available with the second-rung LT, adding a chromed grille surround, LED headlights and tail lamps, as well as a special set of 19-inch alloys. Front-drive LT models no longer include a standard leather-clad shift knob, however, but it’s now part of an upgrade package. 

My test model did feature a $2,995 Driver Confidence and Convenience II package, mind you, which is exclusive to Premier trim and includes the 360-degree parking monitor mentioned before, plus auto high beams, dynamic cruise control with stop-and-go, autonomous emergency braking with pedestrian detection, lane keeping assist, a safety alert seat that vibrates when veering out of your lane or causing any other number of issues, a heated steering wheel, an eight-way powered front passenger seat with power lumbar, and the cooled driver and front passenger seats, plus the heatable rear seats mentioned earlier. 

You can also get the Driver Confidence II or Driver Convenience II packages separately, while my tester wore a no-cost set of 19-inch five-spoke alloy wheels. I won’t go into detail about all the options available, but suffice to say that anyone wanting to personalize their Equinox won’t have a problem.  

2019 Chevrolet Equinox AWD Premier Road Test
Cargo? Not a problem. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

On that note my test model included a $1,305 Infotainment II package as well, featuring the aforementioned panoramic sunroof, a navigation system, a seven-speaker Bose audio system, HD radio, and a different set of 19-inch alloys, while some Premier trim highlights include LED headlamps and taillights, chromed door handles and mirror housings, an auto-dimming rearview mirror and auto-dimming outside mirrors, a leather-clad steering wheel rim, a colour multi-information display, a universal garage door opener, two-zone auto climate control, an 8.0-inch infotainment touchscreen (the base model gets a 7.0-inch display), wireless smartphone charging, rear parking assist, blind spot warning with rear cross-traffic alert, a hands-free power tailgate, and more. 

If you’re not convinced the Equinox is worthy of your attention by now, you’ve already made up your mind on something else. If you’re still on the fence, however, or just starting to search, make sure to include this impressive compact crossover SUV on your list. Just remember, however, that the diesel option will be cancelled soon, so claim yours if you like the idea of driving seriously far on a single tank of fuel. No matter the engine the Equinox is a good choice. 

Story credit: Trevor Hofmann 

Photo credit: Karen Tuggay

Porsche adds 670 hp plug-in hybrid drivetrain to 2020 Cayenne and Cayenne Coupe

2020 Porsche Cayenne Turbo S E-Hybrid
The new 670-hp Cayenne Turbo S E-Hybrid can sprint from 0-100km/h in just 3.6 seconds. (Photo: Porsche)

Porsche introduced its completely redesigned third-generation Cayenne for model year 2018, and as is normally the case for the Stuttgart, Germany-headquartered luxury brand, has been continually expanding the mid-size crossover SUV line with new trim levels ever since. 

From the modest yet still energetic 335 horsepower base V6 up to the rip-roaring 541 horsepower Turbo, with the 434 horsepower Cayenne S and 455 net horsepower Cayenne E-Hybrid plug-in in between, the Cayenne portfolio is wide and diverse, but now, taking its cue from last year’s Panamera, Porsche is about to add a much more formidable 670 net horsepower (541 hp from the Internal Combustion Engine/ICE and 134 hp from the electric motor) Turbo S E-Hybrid model to its mid-size SUV lineup. 

The premium brand’s performance-tuned eight-speed Tiptronic S automatic gearbox comes as standard equipment, as does the Porsche Traction Management (PTM) active all-wheel drive system with an electronically variable, map-controlled multi-plate clutch, plus an automatic brake differential (ABD) and anti-slip regulation (ASR). 

2020 Porsche Cayenne Turbo S E-Hybrid
Both the conventional Cayenne and the new Cayenne Coupe can be had in Turbo S E-Hybrid trim. (Photo: Porsche)

The new plug-in hybrid powertrain will be the top-level trim on the regular Cayenne as well as the new Cayenne Coupe, the latter (in lesser trims) expected to arrive at Porsche Canada dealerships soon, and along with heaps of electrified and twin-turbo 4.0-litre V8 horsepower it makes a shocking 663 lb-ft of combined torque (567 lb-ft from the ICE and 295 lb-ft from the electric motor), making the new model capable of blasting from zero to 100 km/h in just 3.8 seconds with its standard Sport Chrono Package, or 3.6 seconds with its available Lightweight Sport Package, all ahead of achieving a terminal velocity of 295 km/h (183.3 mph). 

Being that it’s a plug-in hybrid (PHEV), the Cayenne Turbo S E-Hybrid’s completely charged 14.1 kWh battery is reportedly good for zero-local-emissions commutes and errand runs over short durations thanks to a maximum EV range of about 40 kilometres. The lithium-ion battery, which hides below the cargo compartment floor, takes a mere 6 hours to fully recharge when connected to a 230-volt Level 2 household charging station, but Porsche claims that a 400-volt supercharger is capable of reducing charge times to only 2.4 hours. 

Additionally, owners can download a smartphone app that can remotely monitor the Cayenne Turbo S E-Hybrid’s charging process, plus the same app can pre-condition the auto climate control system and other features before the owner returns, similarly to how a remote engine start system can do likewise, but the Cayenne PHEV app only utilizes the battery for ancillary power, rather than the gasoline-portion of the SUV’s powertrain. 

2020 Porsche Cayenne Turbo S E-Hybrid
The Cayenne Turbo S E-Hybrid needs just 2.4 hours to completely recharge on a 400-volt supercharger. (Photo: Porsche)

Those not yet familiar with Porsche’s all-new Cayenne Coupe should know that it gets a 20-millimetre roofline drop featuring a reworked front windshield framed within a shallower set of A pillars, plus much more tapered rear side windows, completely remoulded rear side doors, redesigned rear quarter panels, and a new rear bumper, with the latter composite panel also getting a new integrated license plate holder. This results in a small 19-mm (0.7-inch) increase to overall width, which when combined together with its just-noted lower ride height makes for an even more aggressive stance than the regular Cayenne. 

A few more Cayenne Coupe improvements include a special adaptive rear spoiler, individual rear bucket-style sport seats divided by a shallow centre console storage bin, and a standard 2.16-cubic-metre fixed glass panoramic moonroof that can be cloaked from sunlight by an integrated roller-type shade, or optionally the roof panel can be made from lightweight carbon-fibre. 

The all-new 2020 Cayenne Turbo S E-Hybrid, which is available to order now with deliveries expected early next year, will set you back another $40,400 over the already pricey 2019 Cayenne Turbo, at $182,200 plus freight and fees, this more than twice the price of a base 2019 Cayenne that’s available from only $76,700. As for the new Cayenne Turbo S E-Hybrid Coupe, its $187,100 retail price is $39,100 loftier than the 2019 Cayenne Turbo Coupe, and likewise is more than double that of the $86,400 base Cayenne Coupe. Interestingly, both Cayenne Turbo S E-Hybrid and Cayenne Turbo S E-Hybrid Coupe perform identically.  

2020 Porsche Cayenne Turbo S E-Hybrid
The new Cayenne’s interior is beautifully crafted from some of the industry’s best materials. (Photo: Porsche)

Incidentally, you can find detailed 2020 Porsche Cayenne pricing right here on CarCostCanada, including its various trims, packages and individual options, plus you can also save big by learning about available rebates and even source dealer invoice pricing that could keep thousands more in your wallet. 

If you want to get your hands on either new Porsche model, make sure to contact your local dealer as quickly as possible, and while you’re waiting make sure to enjoy the sole video the German automaker provided below. 

 

The new Cayenne Turbo S E-Hybrid Coupé: A master of balance (1:00):

Story credits: Trevor Hofmann  

Photo credits: Porsche

2019 Ford Explorer Limited 4×4 Road Test Review

2019 Ford Explorer Limited 4x4
The outgoing 2019 Ford Explorer remains a great looking crossover SUV despite its age. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

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. 

2019 Ford Explorer Limited 4x4
The Explorer is considered a large SUV, as it can fit seven adults and still has room for cargo. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

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. 

2019 Ford Explorer Limited 4x4
The LED headlamps, signature lights and fog lamps are standard, but the 20-inch alloys are exclusive to this Limited trim. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

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. 

2019 Ford Explorer Limited 4x4
The Explorer’s LED taillights are standard. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

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. 

2019 Ford Explorer Limited 4x4
The Explorer isn’t quite as refined as some newcomers, but it’s impressive for its age and comes well equipped. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

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.

2019 Ford Explorer Limited 4x4
The Explorer’s gauge cluster gets two large multi-info displays. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

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. 

2019 Ford Explorer Limited 4x4
The large Sync 3 infotainment touchscreen comes filled with features. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

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). 

2019 Ford Explorer Limited 4x4
Limited trim’s Sony audio sounds really good. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

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. 

2019 Ford Explorer Limited 4x4
Ford’s Terrain management system provides the right drive mode for almost any situation. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

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. 

2019 Ford Explorer Limited 4x4
The front seating area is spacious and comfortable. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

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. 

2019 Ford Explorer Limited 4x4
Both second- and third-row seats are comfortable and roomy. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

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. 

Story credit: Trevor Hofmann 

Photo credit: Karen Tuggay

2019 Hyundai Santa Fe 2.0T Ultimate Turbo AWD Road Test

2019 Hyundai Santa Fe 2.0T Ultimate Turbo AWD Road Test
The new 2019 Santa Fe’s look is sharp and unique, really standing out from the rest of the mid-size SUV crowd. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

With Genesis now taking its place amongst more established premium brands, having initially pulled two of the South Korean namesake automaker’s most premium models (the Genesis sedan/G80 and Equus/G90) with it before adding one of its own (the new G70), Hyundai now appears to be working hard at differentiating its styling from the very luxury brand it created, while also keeping its look unique from in-house rival Kia, which shares underpinnings with most models across its lineup. 

I believe they’ve done a good job thus far. Comparing the two brands’ mid-size sport utility offerings, the third-generation Hyundai Santa Fe and the current Kia Sorento looks as different as Toyota’s Highlander and Honda’s Pilot, yet they share plenty of components and therefore have saved costs in production and development. 

That third-generation Santa Fe is mostly gone, however, replaced by the all-new 2019 Santa Fe shown on this page. I say mostly only because the long-wheelbase three-row Santa Fe XL still exists, currently selling alongside the new 2020 Hyundai Palisade, at least until stock dries up. The Palisade is a radical departure from the Santa Fe XL in styling and execution, and so is the completely redesigned Santa Fe. 

2019 Hyundai Santa Fe 2.0T Ultimate Turbo AWD Road Test
Not quite as dramatic from the rear, the redesigned model is still very handsome. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

The new grille design is big, deep and totally distinctive, while the new Santa Fe’s innovative frontal lighting, comprised of narrow LED strips up top and tightly grouped clusters of secondary driving lights below, is now showing up on the brand’s latest designs, including the entry-level Kona and that top-tier Palisade just noted. 

Sizes in mind, not everyone agrees on the Santa Fe’s segment categorization. Its first generation was more compact than mid-size, but over the years it grew to the point that its third-generation model was sized closer to the majority of mid-size five-passenger crossover SUVs, coming very close to matching the length, width and height of the Ford Edge, for instance. 

The new one has grown yet again, measuring 4,770 millimetres (187.8 inches) from nose-to-tail and 1,890 mm (74.4 in) from side-to-side, which means that it’s 246 mm (9.7 in) longer than the Ford Escape compact SUV, yet only 9 mm (0.3 in) shorter than the Edge, while it is 52 mm (2.0 in) wider than the former Ford and just 38 mm (1.5 in) narrower than the latter. As for an in-house comparison, the new 2019 Santa Fe is a full 70 mm (2.7 in) longer and 10 mm (0.4 in) wider than the outgoing 2018 model, this upping interior volume. So therefore, while I have long deemed the Santa Fe a mid-size crossover SUV, now no one should categorize it differently. 

2019 Hyundai Santa Fe 2.0T Ultimate Turbo AWD Road Test
Hyundai certainly has its own trademark grille design now, that’s very different from the Genesis design and nothing like Kia’s. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

The Santa Fe has been with us for almost 20 years, and has always enjoyed extremely strong sales in Canada. In fact, it once again placed top of the mid-size SUV heap last year thanks to 24,040 deliveries, which put it well ahead of the second-place Edge just mentioned, the five-seat Ford only managing to coax 19,156 Canadian buyers over to its side last year. Santa Fe sales success isn’t a new phenomenon either, with the model holding first place in this category for as long as I’ve collected records (yes, I’ve actually kept running tabs on Canadian and US vehicle sales for more than 10 years). 

I won’t go into too much detail about the new Santa Fe’s exterior design, only to say that it had a tough act to follow, and that I think they’ve done a good job with the new fourth-gen styling. As for the 2019 Santa Fe’s interior design, quality, fit, finish, and more, I’m quite certain you’ll be impressed. It’s one of the most luxurious crossover SUVs in its segment, with more pliable soft-touch surfaces than the majority of challengers, the entire mid-portion of its dash-top made up of stitched and padded composite that looks like real leather, this high level of finishing continuing downward with a similar surface treatment on the lower console sides, each door panel armrest, as well as the door inserts. 

2019 Hyundai Santa Fe 2.0T Ultimate Turbo AWD Road Test
The Santa Fe’s design details are nicely done, especially in top-tier Ultimate trim that provide these sporty 19-inch alloys. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

Moving upward, each front and rear door upper receives high-quality premium soft-touch composite surfacing too, with the Santa Fe’s only hard plastic including the most forward section of the dash top, the oval instrument binnacle surround, a small section on the door panels, all of the lower door panels, plus the lower instrument panel. Being that these surfaces are not often touched, most mainstream volume carmakers do the same, and considering how nicely Hyundai has detailed out the mesh metal-look décor inlays that wrap around the upper edge of the instrument panel into the doors front to rear, plus the attractive variation on that metal-look theme seen lower down on those door panels, which are actually speaker grills for the top-line Infinity sound system, I believe it’s okay they didn’t go over the top with soft, pliable composites. 

Along with all the lovely metal trim just mentioned, Hyundai also includes plenty of satin-finish aluminum-look highlights throughout the Santa Fe’s cabin. Specifically, the gauge cluster gets circled in metal brightwork, while a similar treatment gets applied it to some of the steering wheel’s switchgear, and to the tablet-style infotainment touchscreen, plus the dash vents, the two-zone auto HVAC interface, the gear selector, the door pulls, the attractively finished power window switches and side mirror controller, etcetera. 

2019 Hyundai Santa Fe 2.0T Ultimate Turbo AWD Road Test
Like the LED headlights up front, these LED taillights are reserved for top-line Ultimate trim. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

As impressive as all of the above is, the first thing that caught my eye when sliding behind the wheel of my top-line Santa Fe Ultimate was its luxuriously finished, thoroughly unique headliner. Looks like denim, but not blue jeans. Instead, the soft material is dyed light beige with browner flecks within. It looks really nice, plus Hyundai uses it to all of the Santa Fe’s roof pillars from front to rear, which is unheard of in this mainstream segment. 

The distinctive roofliner is used for the large panoramic sunroof’s powered sunshade too, which can be opened by pressing a double-duty button that also tilts or slides back the glass to let air circulate from above. The overhead console includes buttons for LED reading lamps too, while it also contains a sunglasses holder that’s as nicely finished inside as the headliner is on the outside. 

2019 Hyundai Santa Fe 2.0T Ultimate Turbo AWD Road Test
Check out one of the most luxuriously finished, best equipped SUVs in the mainstream mid-size class. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

Notably, the new 2019 Santa Fe includes some updated trim line names, beginning with the base Essential model, which can be upgraded to Preferred, Preferred Turbo, Luxury, and finally as-tested Ultimate trim. The base Essential model, which starts at $28,999, includes a host of standard features such as heated front seats, a heatable steering wheel rim, 7.0-inch touchscreen infotainment with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto smartphone integration, a reverse camera with dynamic guidelines, two USB charging ports, Bluetooth, auto on/off projector headlamps with LED accents, fog lights, 17-inch alloy wheels, chrome and body-colour exterior detailing, a leather-wrapped steering rim wheel and shift knob, two-way powered driver’s lumbar support, 60/40 split folding rear seatbacks with recline, an electric parking brake with auto hold, Drive Mode Select with Comfort, Smart, and Sport modes, plus a lot more (make sure to check out all the pricing details right here on CarCostCanada, plus learn more about available rebates and make sure you find out about dealer invoice pricing before you buy, because it could save you thousands). 

2019 Hyundai Santa Fe 2.0T Ultimate Turbo AWD Road Test
Most everything you see in the creamy white beige colour is padded soft-touch. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

Hyundai’s suite of SmartSense advanced driver assistive systems pump the Santa Fe price up to $30,199, and include automatic high beam assist, dynamic cruise control with stop-and-go, forward collision alert and mitigation with pedestrian detection, lane keeping assist, plus Driver Attention Warning. 

Adding all-wheel drive will increase the price by $2,000 in Essential trim, or AWD comes standard with the $35,099 Preferred model, at which point all of the SmartSense features get included too, plus blindspot detection, rear cross-traffic alert with collision avoidance, a rear occupant alert system that remembers if you opened a back door before driving and then reminds you that someone or something may still be in back when exiting, and finally safe exit assist that warns of traffic at your side when opening your door. 

2019 Hyundai Santa Fe 2.0T Ultimate Turbo AWD Road Test
The upgraded gauge cluster is really well organized and brilliantly colourful. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

Additional Preferred trim features include 18-inch alloy wheels, turn signals added to reshaped side mirror housings, proximity-sensing keyless entry, pushbutton start/stop, an auto-dimming centre mirror, rear parking sonar, a universal garage door opener, two-zone auto climate control with a CleanAir Ionizer, Predictive Logic and auto defog, BlueLink smartphone telematics, satellite radio, an eight-way power driver’s seat, fore and aft sliding seats in the rear, etcetera. Notably the Santa Fe’s 2.4-litre base engine is still standard in Preferred trim, but you now have the $2,000 option of a 2.0-litre turbo-four. 

Things get a lot nicer when upping the ante to the $41,899 Luxury model, which gets the turbocharged engine upgrade as well as standard AWD, plus darkened chrome exterior door handles, special door scuff plates, LED interior lighting, a 7.0-inch TFT LCD multi-information display within the gauge cluster, the previously noted power panoramic sunroof, a Surround View parking monitor, the deluxe cloth roofliner I went on and on about before, leather console moulding, memory, four-way powered lumbar support and an extendable lower cushion for the driver’s seat, an eight-way powered front passenger’s seat, perforated leather upholstery, cooled front seats, heated rear seats, second-row side window sunshades, a smart liftgate, etcetera. 

2019 Hyundai Santa Fe 2.0T Ultimate Turbo AWD Road Test
The centre touchscreen is 8 inches in top trims, and amongst the highest in resolution available in this category. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

Finally, my tester’s $44,999 Ultimate trim featured pretty well everything from the Luxury model as well as 19-inch alloy wheels, satin-silver exterior trim and door handles, LED headlamps, LED fog lights, LED taillights, rain-sensing windshield wipers, a head-up display that projects key information onto the windscreen in front of the driver, a bigger 8.0-inch infotainment touchscreen featuring navigation and traffic flow info including incident data via HD radio, plus 12-speaker 630-watt Infinity audio with QuantumLogic Surround sound and Clari-Fi music restoration technology, a wireless charging pad, plus more. 

The Santa Fe’s two engines are carried forward from last year, but both receive new variable valve timing for quicker response and fuel economy improvements. The base 2.4-litre four-cylinder engine still makes 185 horsepower and 178 lb-ft of torque, whereas the top-tier 2.0-litre turbo-four increases output to 235 horsepower and 260 lb-ft of torque. Those in the know will no doubt have noticed that this new upgraded powerplant is actually down by 5 horsepower, but as you might expect it’s not noticeable. In fact, the new Santa Fe feels quite a bit faster than the old model due to a more advanced eight-speed automatic transmission replacing the outdated six-speed cog-swapper, the new version also getting standard auto start/stop that turns off the engine when it would otherwise be idling, so as to reduce emissions and save on fuel. 

2019 Hyundai Santa Fe 2.0T Ultimate Turbo AWD Road Test
The 8-speed automatic is very smooth and quick shifting too, while it includes standard auto start/stop to save fuel. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

Fuel economy is thus improved, with the 2.4 FWD base model now given a rating of 10.8 L/100km city, 8.0 highway and 9.6 combined, compared to the outgoing model’s respective 11.1 city, 8.6 highway and 10.0 combined. The same 2.4-litre engine with AWD is now capable of a claimed 11.2 L/100km city, 8.7 highway and 10.1 combined compared to 12.0, 9.1 and 10.7 respectively with last year’s version, while this year’s 2.0-litre turbocharged engine is rated at 12.3 L/100km in the city, 9.8 on the highway and 11.2 combined instead of 12.5, 9.6 and 11.2 respectively for last year’s version. I found it surprising that all the gains, particularly the new eight-speed auto and auto start/stop system, didn’t make a difference in combined city/highway economy, but it’s probably still a positive when factoring in that most driving is done in the city. 

Front-wheel drive is better for economy, but due to weather conditions most Canadians upgrade to all-wheel drive in this class. To that end, the Santa Fe’s HTRAC AWD system is quite sophisticated, as it sends most of engine torque to the front wheels in order to save fuel unless a slippery road surface needs additional traction in the rear, but this said you can apportion power to the front or back by choosing one of the available driving modes. Comfort mode, for instance, splits front/rear torque by a ratio of about 70/30 for all-weather stability, whereas Eco mode points more to the front wheels, Sport mode directs up to 50 percent to the rear wheels, and Smart mode varies all of the above as required. 

2019 Hyundai Santa Fe 2.0T Ultimate Turbo AWD Road Test
The Santa Fe Ultimate’s seats look comfortable and they are, made even better thanks to 4-way powered lumbar support. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

Like the third-generation Santa Fe, the new version integrates a fully independent suspension with MacPherson struts up front and a multi-link design in back, plus stabilizer bars at each end to improved road holding. Steering comes by a motor-driven powered rack and pinion system, feeling even more responsive than the old Sport’s system, while the suspension provided better at-the-limit handling as well as a nicer ride. I’m quite not sure how Hyundai provided such a compliant chassis while allowing for such impressive agility, but so it is. My tester even had the top-line 19-inch rims and lower-profile 235/55 all-season rubber, so it wasn’t as if its wheel/tire package was providing any extra cushioning, but I never once felt uncomfortable through my weeklong drive. 

As I noted before, the updated turbocharged engine makes slightly less power than the previous one, but it never felt any less sporting when taking off from a standstill. The eight-speed automatic was nice and smooth, as expected from a modern multi-speed autobox, and shifted through the gears quickly enough too, while I should also note the Santa Fe’s Drive Mode Integrated Control System made the most of all of these components, especially in Sport mode that allows revs to increase between shifts, provides faster engagement, enhances throttle response, sharpens the steering feel, and as mentioned earlier, apportions up to 50 percent of the AWD system’s torque to the rear wheels, but honestly I left it in Smart mode most of the time because it creates a best-of-all-worlds scenario with the Eco mode’s fuel savings, Comfort mode’s smoother drivability, and Sport mode’s driver engagement, all depending on driving style. 

2019 Hyundai Santa Fe 2.0T Ultimate Turbo AWD Road Test
The rear seating area is comfortable and accommodating. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

Family vehicles always compromise performance and comfort, mind you, which is the way it should be due to preferences of the majority of buyers in this class. The 10-way powered driver’s seat was wholly comfortable, its four-way power lumbar adjustment easily locating the small of my back. Cooling air can be blown through the perforations in the leather upholstery to keep derrieres cool in the summer’s heat, a comforting feature for sure, and there’s loads of room up front too. It’s spacious behind as well, made even more accommodating thanks to seat recliners that bend a long way backward, while the second row’s fore and aft sliding base allows for more cargo space when needed. 

The interior of this five-seat Santa Fe measures 4,151 litres (146.6 cubic feet), whereas its total cargo volume is a generous 1,016 litres (35.9 cubic feet) aft of the second row and 2,019 litres (71.3 cubic feet) when those 60/40-split seatbacks are laid flat, a process that’s easier thanks to power release buttons attached to the cargo wall. This said, being that I’m a skier, I would have rather had 40/20/40-split rear seatbacks, or at least a centre pass-through, particularly in a vehicle with heated rear seats that can’t fully be used when 40-percent the rear seats are lowered to accommodate ski gear. Hyundai may want to reconsider this problem (as should many other carmakers) for the Santa Fe’s next mid-cycle upgrade. 

2019 Hyundai Santa Fe 2.0T Ultimate Turbo AWD Road Test
Cargo capacity is not a problem. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

Still, the new 2019 Santa Fe is once again amongst the best five-passenger crossover SUVs on the market, so anyone considering a vehicle in this class should take one for a test drive. 

Story credit: Trevor Hofmann 

Photo credit: Trevor Hofmann

Lexus shows off ultra-tough GXOR Concept 4×4 at FJ Summit in Colorado

2019 Lexus GXOR Concept
Lexus shows us just how rugged and tough the otherwise luxurious LX 460 can be in the new GXOR Concept. (Photo: Lexus)

A Lexus 4×4? The thought of bashing through the woods, plunging knee-deep into streams and marshes, or powering over sand dunes in a wood- and leather-swathed Lexus might not compute to some, but in fact two of the Japanese luxury brand’s most expensive models are based on rugged Toyota Land Cruiser SUVs. 

Land Cruisers are the stuff of legend, and in many markets around the world they’re considered premium models due to lofty prices, luxurious interiors, and near unlimited capability. This said, when the majority of Canadians think “Land Cruiser,” icons such as the Jeep Wrangler-like FJ40 (1960–1984), long-wheelbase FJ55 (1967–1980), slightly newer BJ60 (1980–1989), and possibly the more recent J200 (2008–present) come to mind, the latter doing double-duty as the Lexus LX 570, but the modified Lexus GX 460 shown here is based on the J150 (2009–present), otherwise known as the Land Cruiser Prado. 

Despite being on the road for a decade, the GX 460 remains an intensely capable three-row mid-size sport utility. In fact, its third-generation J120 (2002–2009) predecessor shared a body-on-frame platform with today’s Toyota 4Runner as well as yesterday’s FJ Cruiser (the latter still available in other markets), which only adds to its off-road credibility. 

2019 Lexus GXOR Concept
The GXOR is the ideal way to get away from it all. (Photo: Lexus)

It makes sense that 4×4 fans wanting to add more luxury to their off-road lifestyles have chosen the GX 460, and therefore it’s also no wonder that Lexus is now paying tribute to these faithful enthusiasts with this unique prototype SUV. 

“Concept vehicles are typically created to generate excitement for the enthusiasts, but sometimes, it’s the enthusiasts and their vehicles that give life to the concept,” said Lexus in a press release. “The Lexus GXOR Concept (GX Off-Road) is fueled by the passionate Lexus GX owners that have discovered and embraced the SUV’s perfect combination of ultimate luxury and unrivaled off-road capability.” 

Lexus chose to launch the new GXOR Concept at the annual FJ Summit in Ouray, Colorado, the 12th consecutive event having taken place on the weekend of July 17–21, 2019. Similar to Jeep’s Jamborees, each FJ Summit provides opportunities for Toyota SUV owners to gain skills from experienced off-road instructors and then test their driving prowess along with their personal Toyota/Lexus 4×4’s capability on challenging off-road trails. 

While the GX 460 is an impressive SUV both on and off pavement, sales have struggled over the past months and years. During the past six months the model’s year-over-year deliveries dropped by 25.41 percent, resulting in just 138 new owners and last place within its mid-size luxury SUV class (other than the discontinued Lincoln MKT, which came in dead last), while calendar year 2018 resulted in just 376 new buyers, after an all-time high of 662 sales throughout 2015. 

2019 Lexus GXOR Concept
The GXOR gets one of the best equipped roof racks ever. (Photo: Lexus)

The GX 460 isn’t alone, however, because so far this year many competitors are having difficulty maintaining previous sales numbers. For instance, Tesla Model X deliveries fell 30.00 percent to 840 units during the first six months of 2019, while the Audi Q7 dropped by 36.13 percent to 1,674 units; the Mercedes-Benz GLS-Class lost 36.66 percent to 762 unit sales; and Mercedes’ GLE-Class nosedived by a whopping 42.00 percent to 2,413 deliveries. Even the best-selling Lexus RX experienced a sales decline of 8.50 percent during the first half of 2019, although its tally of 3,982 units made sure it maintained a comfortable lead over the rest of the mid-size luxury SUV field. 

Adding perspective, the GX 460’s 376 2018 calendar year sales and best-ever result of 662 deliveries in 2015 pales in comparison to said Lexus RX, which found 9,329 buyers last year and 9,402 in 2017. Of note, the RX outsold Lexus’ NX compact luxury crossover too, which found 7,859 customers last year. So in a nutshell, any reasonably inexpensive way to increase GX sales should be welcome. 

The new GXOR Concept fits that bill, because it merely builds on an existing model by adding aftermarket components that could theoretically be installed at the dealer level. What’s more, this concept heightens the GX 460’s off-road credentials, making clear to those who may not be in the know that it’s no lightweight car-based crossover. 

2019 Lexus GXOR Concept
A specially upgraded suspension is specifically designed for tackling the wilderness. (Photo: Lexus)

This in mind, the GXOR Concept’s aftermarket upgrades include a custom CBI Stealth front bumper sporting a hidden Warn 9.5 XPS winch, a Safari snorkel that provides air to the engine’s intake when wading through deep water, a set of Lexus F Sport 18-inch alloy wheels circled in General Tire Grabber X3 275/70 all-terrain tires, a jacked-up Icon 2.5 CDC suspension system featuring remote reservoirs as well as billet control arms with delta joints, a complete set of underbody armour skid plates, CBI frame sliders, a Redarc Tow-Pro brake controller, and finally an EEZI-AWN K9 roof rack carrying a Rigid 50 LED light bar, a 160-watt Overland solar panel power supply, Alu-Box storage cases, and lastly a set of Maxtrax recovery boards. 

Climb inside and you’ll find the same luxurious interior that GX 460 owners enjoy all the time, although Lexus has upgraded the cockpit with an Icom 5100A ham radio for those forays into the wild that take you away from the cellular grid, while the cargo compartment gets filled up with Goose Gear custom drawers sporting storage containers as well as a slide-out National Luna fridge. 

Lastly, hanging onto the GXOR Concept’s backside is a Patriot Campers X1H trailer boasting a powered pop-up tent, a hot water system, plus plenty more, while the solar panel mentioned a moment ago powers all of its electric components. 

2019 Lexus GXOR Concept
Goose Gear custom drawers with storage containers fill up the cargo area, as does a slide-out National Luna fridge. (Photo: Lexus)

This in mind, Lexus isn’t saying if the GXOR Concept’s 4.6-litre V8 keeps its production-specified 301 horsepower and 329 lb-ft of torque or is tuned for even stronger performance, but it either way would be more than ample for pulling the hefty trailer just noted. 

“To all of the GX enthusiasts that use their rigs to escape on epic adventures, and proudly share the #GXOR, this concept build is for you,” continued Lexus to GX enthusiasts. “Thank you for inspiring us to Experience Amazing.” 

So will the GXOR Concept make it to production? Despite being a radical departure for Lexus, something similar actually makes a lot of sense. Mercedes-Benz has been undeniably successful with its terrain-conquering G-Class, and most expect Land Rover’s upcoming Defender to be a fairly strong seller as well, yet it might make more sense for the Japanese luxury brand to offer the GXOR as a dealer-installed kit instead of a factory model. Doing so would allow Lexus to utilize all of the GXOR’s aftermarket suppliers, with the final product providing a way for retailers to bring some much-needed attention to their unsold GX 460 stock, as well as attracting an entirely new customer base to the brand. 

2019 Lexus GXOR Concept
This awesome tent trailer is supplied by Patriot Campers. (Photo: Lexus)

While you’re waiting for your very own GXOR to arrive (which honestly might never happen), make sure to watch it in action below. Additionally, you might also want to find out just how affordable the 2019 Lexus GX 460 is in stock trim, so check out our 2019 Lexus GX Canada Prices page where you can peruse complete pricing that includes trims, packages and individual options, as well as available rebates and dealer invoice pricing that could save you thousands when it comes time to negotiate. 

 

Lexus GXOR | GX Off-road Concept Build (2:45):

Story credits: Trevor Hofmann 

Photo credits: Lexus