CarCostCanada

2019 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Sahara Road and Trail Test

2019 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Sahara
The Wrangler has come a long way since its JL-body redesign. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

Jeep redesigned its popular Wrangler 4×4 for 2018, so as is usually the case for the following model year this 2019 variant remains unchanged, although the upcoming 2020 model will get a significant powertrain upgrade that may cause some who’ve never considered it before to reconsider. Interested? Keep reading.

Jeep produced the Wrangler’s JK body style from 2007 to 2017, and it’s been one of the most successful models in the entire Chrysler/FCA group since then. Now, the new 2018 to present JL version features a bigger, bolder, broader seven-slot grille, plus new optional LED reflector headlights, an ATV-like front bumper (which looks a lot like the one used for the 2016 Wrangler 75th Anniversary Edition I covered way back then) with optional LED fog lights, a shapelier hood (although not pumped up with the Anniversary Edition’s muscular power dome and blackened vents or the Rubicon’s similarly awesome hood design), restyled front fenders with new wraparound turn signals, heavily sculpted front body panels with black engine vents, new integrated side steps, fresh new rear fender flares, new wraparound taillights with optional LEDs, a new side-swinging tailgate, and a redesigned rear bumper (that’s not as cool looking as 75th Anniversary Edition’s, but definitely more attractive than the block of metal and black plastic found on the old Sahara).

2019 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Sahara
Few SUVs provide as much off-road capability as the Wrangler. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

While those not following everything Jeep may want to park a new JL next to the old JK in order to see the subtler differences, such as the just-noted redesigned tailgate, it’s reasonable to surmise that most of the new Wrangler’s exterior panels have been changed in order to accommodate its longer regular and long Unlimited wheelbases. Specifically, the 2019 Unlimited on this page is 89 mm (3.5 inches) longer than the old JK model, with a 61-mm (2.4-inch) longer wheelbase, while the regular wheelbase version grows in length as well. Overall, the new Wrangler appears classic and contemporary simultaneously, and even more important, it looks good.

Also critical, the new Wrangler is considerably more refined inside, with doors that shut with a solid thunk, and pliable soft-touch composite surfaces used most everywhere above the waste. The dash top and instrument panel even use some padded and contrast-stitched leatherette that matches the leather-clad steering wheel rim, plus the leatherette shifter boot and armrests, and the genuine leather seat upholstery. All the buttons, knobs and switches used through the cabin are impressive too, specifically the big audio volume and dual-zone automatic climate control knobs on the centre stack, while Jeep has improved the general quality of most materials as well as the way everything fits together.

2019 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Sahara
New lighting elements make for the most noticeable changes. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

As good as all of these changes are, the Wrangler’s gauge cluster might generate the cabin’s biggest wow factor. First, let’s be clear that it’s not a fully digital instrument panel, which would’ve probably been easier and less expensive to create, considering how two-dimensionally flat the previous four-gauge design was, and how easy it would’ve been to merely install a 12.3-inch display, fill it with graphics (not that this is simple) and call it a day. Instead, Jeep shaped two motorcycle-style individually hooded primary dials, bookended by a large colour multi-information display (MID). It looks great, and provides most of the digital tech today’s buyers are looking for, even including army green background graphics highlighted by a WW2 (Willys) GP. The tach and speedometer dials look superb in their orange on black and white design, and everything functions well.

The outgoing 6.5-inch rectangular centre touchscreen has also been replaced, but this time with a fully digital design incorporating no buttons or knobs at either side of the display. Instead, the new 8.0-inch square touchscreen offers some quick-access analogue switchgear on a cluster of dials and buttons positioned underneath, these used mostly for controlling heating and ventilation. The big dial on the very right is for scrolling or browsing through infotainment functions, and while some might find this useful I mostly tapped, swiped and pinched the touchscreen as required (sounds more exciting than it was), only making use of external controls for heating the seats and steering wheel (although you can do this via the touchscreen too), adjusting cabin temperatures (ditto), and the audio system’s volume.

2019 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Sahara
Great looking wrap-around taillights come with optional (as shown) LEDs. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

The bigger display area results in a much better backup camera, which once again uses active guidelines for slotting into parking spaces, while the ability to hook up Android Auto or Apple CarPlay is a bonus. The system incorporates most other functions available these days, like accurate navigation, easy phone setup and use, audio selection that includes satellite radio and wireless streaming, and a number of apps that come preloaded or can be downloaded. The display’s resolution is quite good, but it’s not as crisp and clear as you’ll find in the majority of premium brands, and a few new mainstream competitors like Chevrolet’s Blazer.

The car-based Blazer in mind, the new Wrangler delivers its best ride quality yet. In fact, it’s now something I’d brag about, rather than complain of while rubbing the small of back and nether regions. To be clear, the JK I tested on its initial 2005 Lake Tahoe/Rubicon Trail press launch showed major ride and handling improvements when compared to its 1997 to 2006 TJ predecessor, while that SUV was wholly more comfortable than the 1987 to 1995 YJ, and so on with respect to the many CJs (Civilian Jeeps) that came before (I used to drive a V8-powered CJ5 Renegade in the early ‘80s), but this new JL-bodied Wrangler is so much nicer to live with than any of its forebears that I’d now consider owning one, something I still wouldn’t have said about the JK. The reality is I’m aging, and therefore wouldn’t be willing to be discomforted by my daily commuter. The new Wrangler, however, completely changes everything with suspension compliancy that’s matched by much-improved cornering capability, better high-speed tracking, easier manoeuvrability around town and in tight parking lots, etc. All around, this Wrangler is a much, much better SUV to live with.

2019 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Sahara
The new Wrangler’s cabin is better in every way. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

This new livability includes improved rear seating, with deeper sculpted outboard positions that offer up more lower back support, while the increased wheelbase provides more second-row legroom. Three passengers continue to fit across the rear seat, although I’m going to guess only smaller folks will truly be comfortable in the middle. Also, with only two in back the centre folding armrest, incorporating two big rubberized cupholders and a personal device holder, can be lowered for even more comfort and convenience.

This said, not hollowing out a section behind that armrest for a rear-seat pass-through was an opportunity missed by Jeep, because now you’ll need to expend money for a lockable rooftop compartment for stowing longer items such as skis and snowboards, if you want two rear passengers to enjoy as much comfort as possible. This is doable, but it’s not the best solution, although this is also true for the majority of Jeep competitors.

2019 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Sahara
It probably would’ve been cheaper for Jeep to provide a fully digital gauge cluster than this complex semi-analogue one. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

Another complaint is the Wrangler’s swinging rear door, which remains hinged on the wrong side for North American, and most global markets. A conventional liftgate is out of the question for two reasons, 1) the removable roof, and 2) the 4×4 requirement of a full-size spare tire on its backside. What’s not required is a set of hinges on the passenger side, which means that loading the rear cargo compartment from curbside becomes awkward at best, potentially causing you to step in traffic to do so. Me complaining about this issue won’t be anything new to regular readers or those in charge of Jeep (that are listening), but it may be important to newbies considering a Wrangler for the first time.

A more positive cargo compartment issue is increased volume, the long-wheelbase Unlimited’s dedicated luggage area now increased by 18 litres (0.6 cubic feet) to 898 litres (31.7 cu ft), while maximum capacity has grown by 70 litres (2.5 cu ft) to a new grand total of 2,050 litres (72.4 cu ft) with both seatbacks laid flat. Laid flat is probably a misrepresentation, however, as there’s now an incline from the base of the seatbacks to the front portion of the extended cargo area, although another positive is the ease in which they’re now lowered, plus new panels that hide the previously exposed seat frames and other mechanical bits when laid down. These panels stop smaller items from rolling below, but these conveniences have been taken for granted by crossover SUV owners for years. Still, it’s a serious upgrade for the Wrangler, and, in my opinion, well worth the slightly uneven load floor.

2019 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Sahara
The larger 8-inch centre touchscreen provides a much clearer backup camera. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

At the other end of my 2019 Wrangler Unlimited Sahara tester was FCA’s 3.6-litre Pentastar V6, conjoined to an eight-speed automatic transmission and part-time four-wheel drive. While not quite as sonorous as my old CJ5’s 304 cubic-inch V8 (that included a rather loud set of aftermarket headers), the V6 produces a nice soundtrack of its own, and provides plenty of forward energy thanks to 285 horsepower and 260 lb-ft of torque, while the automatic transmission’s shift increments are quick and smooth.

A six-speed manual comes standard, incidentally, with the eight-speed auto tacking $1,595 onto the 2019 Wrangler Unlimited Sport S’ $40,745 (plus freight and fees) price tag, while this Unlimited Sahara starts at $44,745, and the top-line Unlimited Rubicon can be had for a retail price of $47,745 (a base two-door Wrangler S starts at $33,695). Alternatively, Wrangler buyers can pay $2,590 for a 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder engine featuring electric assist, which makes 15 horsepower less at 270, although 35 lb-ft of torque more at 295. This upgrade is standard with the eight-speed automatic, and is claimed to achieve much better fuel economy than the V6 (see all 2018, 2019 and 2020 Jeep Wrangler prices, including trims, packages and individual options, plus manufacturer rebates and dealer invoice pricing right here on CarCostCanada, where you can now save up to $3,500 in additional incentives on a 2020, or $4,000 on a 2019).

2019 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Sahara
Get ready for an entirely new level of Wrangler comfort and convenience. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

By the numbers, the base Wrangler Unlimited’s V6 and six-speed manual combo is rated at 13.8 L/100km city, 10.1 highway and 12.2 combined, whereas the same engine with the eight-speed auto uses a claimed 12.9 city, 10.2 highway and 11.7 combined. As for the four-cylinder turbo, its 10.9 city, 10.0 highway and 10.5 combined rating is by far the best right now, but it may only hold this title for a short duration as the upcoming 2020 Wrangler will soon offer FCA’s ultra-efficient 3.0-litre V6 turbo-diesel, while it will hardly be short on output thanks to 260 horsepower and 442 pound-feet of torque. I can imagine the Wrangler’s many dedicated 4×4 fans salivating at the prospect of this engine right now, diesels long being optimal off-road, but take note it will only be available in the long-wheelbase Unlimited body, while the more off-pavement capable regular-wheelbase Wrangler will continue to only be powered by gasoline engines.

Off-roading in mind, today’s more refined Wrangler still has few direct competitors. In fact, pickup trucks aside, the Wrangler is the only serious off-roader available in the mainstream volume-branded compact class, and will likely remain so until the all-new Ford Bronco arrives on the scene. The General’s compact pickup-based Chevy Blazer and GMC Jimmy duo was killed off in 2005, while Toyota’s Land Cruiser Prado-based FJ Cruiser hightailed it out of our market in 2014. Following suit, the very capable Nissan Xterra departed in 2015, leaving the popular Wrangler alone in its unique segment.

2019 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Sahara
Rear seat roominess and comfort has improved dramatically. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

As is only right, I tested the Wrangler Unlimited Sahara at a favourite 4×4 haunt and it performed as ideally as you might expect. In fact, all the thick mud and big pools of standing water were easy for this capable utility to muck and wade through, making me wonder if the ultra-rugged Rubicon is more than most Wrangler buyers require. Once off-pavement I slotted the secondary low gear lever into its 4H Part Time position to tackle the semi-rough stuff, which provided quick travel over less challenging terrain.

Diving deep into the big puddles and digging into some of the more abyss-like ruts caused me to stop and engage 4L (four-low), however, which made traversing all of the truly difficult terrain a breeze as well. While a decent test track considering its close proximity to my home, I’ve driven the old JK on the Rubicon Trail and other difficult courses and enjoyed both the challenge of negotiating trails I’d likely never try on my own, and doing so in such an amazingly agile 4×4, while I can only imagine how much more enjoyable it would be to scale Cadillac Hill atop the new Wrangler’s improved suspension, let alone doing so while being pushed via a turbo-diesel V6.

2019 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Sahara
More cargo space and easier folding rear seatbacks, but the load floor is not as flat. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

If all the improvements already mentioned aren’t enough to get you into the driver’s seat of a new Wrangler, this SUV makes smart business sense too. According to ALG, the Wrangler has the highest residual value of any model in Canada, with the four-door Unlimited version only dropping by an average of 30-percent after three years of use, and the two-door model only losing 31.5 percent. What’s more, the Wrangler also earned the Canadian Black Book’s 2019 Best Retained Value Award in the Compact SUV category for the ninth year in a row, while it achieved a new retained value record of 91 percent for 2019 (Jeep’s smaller car-based Renegade placed first in its Sub-Compact Crossover segment too).

What this means for those still sitting on the fence, is that Jeep’s Wrangler no longer needs any justification. It’s about having your cake and eating it too, or in other words getting what you want and making the smartest choice simultaneously. Don’t you wish all decisions were so easy?

Story and photo credits: Trevor Hofmann

CarCostCanada

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

CarCostCanada

2019 Porsche Panamera 4S Road Test

2019 Porsche Panamera 4S Road Test
The new 2nd-generation Panamera is arguably a more attractive design than the original. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Porsche’s Panamera is a sport sedan like no other. Certainly there are a number of low-slung four-door coupes within the premium sector, but the Panamera is longer, wider and lower than most, and looks as close to the iconic 911 Carrera than any other car on the road. 

The four-door coupe category is still relatively new, but it’s expanding while other segments are contracting. Mercedes-Benz created this segment along with the CLS-Class 15 years ago, five years before the Panamera became its first competitor in 2009. Audi’s A7 and Aston Martin’s Rapide quickly followed in 2010, a fair bit before BMW showed up in 2012 with its 6 Series Gran Coupe. Perfectly timed with the latter Bavarian model’s cancellation and the new 2020 8 Series Gran Coupe’s arrival, Mercedes will soon deliver a four-door coupe triple threat thanks to the all-new higher-priced (and clearly named) GT 4-Door Coupe, which will soon join the recently updated second-generation CLA-Class and third-gen CLS, so it’s not as if growth in this category is slowing, or at least sales aren’t falling off as quickly as they are amongst more traditional luxury sedans. 

2019 Porsche Panamera 4S Road Test
The Panamera is the sportiest of four-door coupes currently available, and beautifully proportioned front to back. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Some notable four-door coupe mentions at higher and lower levels of the auto market include the limited production (120 units) Aston Martin Rapide-based 2015 to 2016 Lagonda Taraf, which was gorgeous to my eyes at least, but priced at a stratospherically $1 million-plus, while possibly more interesting has been the success of smaller entries, including the just-noted Mercedes-Benz CLA-Class, the BMW 4 Series Gran Coupe, and the Audi A5 Sportback, which have pulled this rakish body type down-market nearly as far as the Volkswagen Arteon (previously the CC) and Kia Stinger. 

Returning to the loftier price bracket, Lamborghini has been teasing us with a potential production model along the lines of the beautiful 2008 Estoque concept for more than a decade (I think it would’ve been a strong seller), while Bentley hasn’t stopped talking up the possibility of an even sleeker sport sedan. Otherworldly to some, these two models could actually be sensible business cases due to their Volkswagen group ownership and familial connection to this very Panamera. Bentley, for one, already uses the same VW AG-created MSB architecture found under this Panamera for its new Continental GT coupe and convertible plus its Flying Spur sedan, a version of which could also be modified to work with a future Estoque. 

2019 Porsche Panamera 4S Road Test
Everything but the glossy black trim and the 21-inch alloys are standard Panamera 4S fare. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

It’s not like this would be an unusual move, with the Bentley Bentayga and Lamborghini Urus sharing underpinnings with the Porsche Cayenne and new Cayenne Coupe respectively, not to mention the Audi Q7, Q8 and new global market Volkswagen Touareg (that we no longer get here), but as exciting as it might be for these exotic players to dip their toes in the four-door coupe waters, buyers who want to spend $300,000-plus in this class, yet still requiring a reliable option, have no other choice but a loaded up Panamera. 

And yes, if you check off every 2019 Panamera Turbo S E-Hybrid Executive box on Porsche’s online configurator you’ll be paying north of $320k, which will provide you with an optional exclusive colour, the car’s largest set of 21-inch alloys coated in the same exclusive paint choice, an upgraded interior with the highest quality of leathers covering almost every possible surface that’s not already trimmed in hardwood or carbon-fibre, plus all available technologies. 

2019 Porsche Panamera 4S Road Test
Get ready to be impressed with the Panamera’s beautifully finished interior. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

The Panamera Turbo S E-Hybrid was new for 2018, and thanks to Porsche I was able to drive it along with a number of other new and updated models last year. The version I tested featured the regular sloped trunk lid and normal non-extended wheelbase, and it was mind-blowingly fast thanks to 680 net horsepower. I also tested last year’s entirely new Sport Turismo wagon, that I happen to like best, although that car’s drivetrain was identical to the Panamera 4S shown right here in this review, and therefore made 440-horsepower from a 2.9-litre twin-turbo V6. 

Bringing all things Panamera up to 2019 speed, no changes have been made to any of the models mentioned in this review so far, other than minor increases to pricing across the line, the car on this page precisely as it was for the 2017 model year when the second-generation Panamera was introduced. This said 2019 hasn’t been without improvements to the Panamera line, thanks to the addition of a 453-horsepower twin-turbo 4.0-litre V8-powered GTS model that now slots between this 4S and the Panamera Turbo in both performance and price. The car I’m reviewing here starts at $119,600, by the way, while the new GTS can be had for $147,400, and the Turbo for $174,200. 

2019 Porsche Panamera 4S Road Test
Sitting in the driver’s seat feels like a roomy sports car. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

No GTS was available at the time of testing, unfortunately, but I was truly okay having another stint in a 4S. It makes 110 more horsepower than the 330-horsepower base Panamera after all, and uses all four wheels for added grip. The snarling exhaust note is fabulous in Sport mode, crackling and popping when lifting off the throttle, but rest assured that the fiercer Hyde side of its personality becomes a docile Jekyll when the drive mode selector is moved over to its default setting. 

The Panamera’s ideal balance between opulent luxury and outrageous performance is its best asset. No other four-door combines its level of sports car-like agility with such impressively detailed interior finishings. Its low-slung bodywork bucks against today’s taller SUV trend; Porsche providing its Macan and Cayenne for folks who want go-fast performance with a better view of the road. 

2019 Porsche Panamera 4S Road Test
It looks like a traditional Porsche gauge cluster, but it’s mostly digital. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

The Panamera manoeuvres through serpentine corners like nothing so sizeable has ever been able to before, yet its ride is impressively smooth. Whether enduring inner-city laneways, overcoming inadequately paved railroad crossings and aging bridge expansion joints, or coursing down a circuitous backcountry road inundated with broken asphalt, the Panamera offers ample suspension travel for dealing with the worst bumps and potholes without becoming unsettled. Its compliance and/or firmness depends on the trim and wheel options chosen, of course, but I’ve driven every grade on offer other than the new GTS, and all provide track-worthy performance with comfort levels that I’d be more than satisfied to live with for all regular commutes and errand runs, let alone weekend getaways. 

My test car’s optional Satin Platinum finished 21-inch alloy wheels on 275/35 front and 315/30 rear Pirelli Cinturato P7 performance tires are the biggest available, so it wasn’t like I was cossetted with the base 4S model’s 19s, which are identical to the most entry-level of Panamera’s 265/45 front and 295/40 rear ZRs, by the way, a car that can be had for only $99,300 plus freight and fees. 

2019 Porsche Panamera 4S Road Test
The right side of the gauge cluster can be used for route guidance. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

That base Panamera in mind, it’s hardly a slouch thanks to a 5.7-second launch from zero to 100km/h, or 5.5 seconds with its available Sport Chrono Package, whereas my 4S tester can do the deed in a mere 4.4 seconds in standard trim or 4.2 seconds with its Sport Chrono Package. The 4S also blasts past 160km/h in only 10.3 seconds, slicing 3.3 seconds off of the base trim’s zero to 160km/h time, all ahead of a terminal velocity of 289km/h, a stunning 25km/h faster on the track than the most basic Panamera. 

As phenomenally fun as all this high-speed action sounds, there are plenty of quicker Panameras available. The new GTS, for instance, can hit 100km/h from standstill in only 4.1 seconds, while the Turbo blasts past the mark in a scant 3.8 seconds, and finally the sensational Turbo S E-Hybrid needs just 3.4 seconds to charge past 100km/h. Top speeds increase similarly, with the Turbo S E-Hybrid capable of a lofty 310 km/h, but when compared to the majority of sport sedans even this Panamera 4S performs better. 

2019 Porsche Panamera 4S Road Test
Check out the stunning graphics. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Its new eight-speed twin-clutch PDK transmission delivers fast, smooth, paddle-activated shifts, and torque-vectoring all-wheel drive maintains the chassis’ awesome adhesion to tarmac no matter the weather or road conditions, while I must also say it looks just as eye-arresting when blurring past at high speed as it does when cruising around town. 

As mentioned earlier, glossy black exterior trim isn’t standard, but nevertheless my test car’s darkened accents were an attractive contrast against its white paint. Normally the Panamera gets satin silver and/or bright metal detailing, but on the other hand you can also have the mirror caps, door handles, badges, etcetera painted in gloss black. 

This said the possibilities are almost limitless inside, but each Panamera’s incredibly fine attention to detail is what makes its interior stand out above many peers, such as all of the industry’s best composites and leathers, available hardwoods, aluminum or carbon-fibre inlays, plus digital interfaces that are so brilliantly high in definition that it seems like you can dip your fingers right into the depths of their fabulously rich contrasted displays and graphically illustrated imagery. 

2019 Porsche Panamera 4S Road Test
The front seats are ideally comfortable and supportive. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Yes, the Panamera provides some of the best digital displays available, whether ogling the classic Porsche-style five-dial instrument cluster, its centre ring being the only analogue component in an otherwise wonderfully colourful arrangement of screens, the one on the left for driving-related info and the right-side monitor incorporating a comprehensive multi-information display including mapping for the route guidance system. 

Alternatively you can choose to view that map over on the long, horizontal infotainment display atop the centre stack, which looks nearly three-dimensional when doing so. All the usual touchscreen gesture controls make this as simple to use as a smartphone or tablet, and speaking of your phone it also syncs with Apple CarPlay or Android Auto, while providing all of the types of functions expected in this class including an as-tested surround camera system that, together with audible and visual front and rear sonar, makes parking a lot easier. 

2019 Porsche Panamera 4S Road Test
A dual-pane panoramic sunroof sheds light on the beautifully finished cabin. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

The majority of controls on the raked centre console are touch-sensitive, needing only a slight push and click to engage. All the buttons, knobs and switches feel very high in quality too, the Panamera’s interior second to none for quality construction. The console’s surrounding surface treatment is glossy black, but nevertheless it’s quite easy to keep clean due to a glass-like smartphone material, although the piano black lacquered detailing found elsewhere in my tester’s cabin, particularly a section on the ashtray at the very base of that centre console, was always covered in grime, dust, etcetera. On the positive you don’t have to opt for piano black, but can choose one of many options that will keep the cabin looking tidier even when dirty, although it should be said there’s absolutely nothing wrong with being able to see what needs cleaning for the sake of sanitation. 

Fortunately the leather-clad sport steering wheel, where my hands were most of the time, had no such yucky buildup of filth. Instead, I was greeted to one of the best of its type in the industry. Its narrow spokes are elegant, hollowed out at centre for an even lighter, more performance-oriented appearance, while its integrated buttons and scrolling knurled-metal dials are well crafted with especially tight fitment and good damping. As per usual, the button for the heatable rim is hidden within the base of the lowest spoke, an intelligent design for sure, but some may find it too easy to turn on or off when spinning the wheel. I like that it automatically turns on when starting the car, or likewise stays off, depending on the way you’ve set it up. 

2019 Porsche Panamera 4S Road Test
The rear seating area is spacious enough for most body types. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Features in mind, my test car came stocked up with three-way heated and ventilated front seats, plus a superb optional 710-watt 15-speaker Bose Centerpoint 14-channel surround sound stereo upgrade, which should only be shown the door if going for the 1,455-watt 22-speaker Burmester 3D High-End Surround system (I’ve tested this top-line system before and it’s amazing). As good as the audio performance was, my tester didn’t include the previously noted Sport Chrono Package, so it was 0.2 seconds slower off the line (not that I could notice), and the clock on top of the dash only featured an attractive looking black dial with white numerals and indices, instead of the upgraded chronometer version with both analogue and digital readouts. 

Still, due to including an available full rear console incorporating a large high-definition touchscreen, three-way heatable seat switches, twin rear auto climate controls resulting in a four-way auto HVAC system front to rear, powered side and rear window sunshades, plus a large two-pane panoramic moonroof above, not to mention the Panamera’s usual set of ideally shaped sport bucket rear seats that are as comfortable and supportive as those up front, I might have been just as happy being chauffeured as I was driving, but as life has it I didn’t have the means (or an available friend) to do the driving, so I simply enjoyed my nice quiet rest in the back seat while taking notes. 

2019 Porsche Panamera 4S Road Test
Got stuff? The Panamera can haul a reasonable amount of life’s gear. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

To be clear, the second-gen Panamera is now so excellent in every way that it’s near impossible to find much to complain about. Of course there’s not as much room in the rear as a 7 Series or S-Class, but providing limousine levels of roominess is hardly the Panamera’s purpose. Truth be told, no matter the model tested I have never been uncomfortable in back, and let’s not forget that Porsche would be more than happy to provide you with a longer-wheelbase Executive body style if driving around larger passengers is part of your routine, which means that you won’t have to say goodbye to beautiful design and sensational performance just to maintain a practical lifestyle. 

And that’s the gist of the Panamera. Thanks to its wide variety of trims, packages and options, all of which are viewable right here on CarCostCanada, where you can also learn about manufacturer rebates and dealer invoice pricing that could save you thousands, this four-door Porsche provides something for almost every sport/luxury car shopper. 

Story credit: Trevor Hofmann 

Photo credit: Karen Tuggay

CarCostCanada

2019 Kia Forte EX Limited Road Test Review

2019 Kia Forte EX Limited
Kia knows a thing or two about style, this made very apparent with the new Forte. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

I must admit to really liking the new 2019 Forte sedan’s styling, as its lines are clean and modern instead of abstract like the more visually complicated Honda Civic or new 2020 Toyota Corolla. It’s not that I don’t like the latter two cars, but generally find the Forte easier on the eyes, and believe if placed in a row next to the two other cars with badges were removed, would be chosen more often than not. 

Of course, the Civic and Corolla were highly successful long before their current designs were known, because they’ve always been very good cars, while their current shapes are obviously acceptable enough to the Canadian masses or they wouldn’t sit one and two in popularity, both selling within Canada’s top-ten, including trucks, crossover SUVs and vans. I just happen to like the Forte’s visual design more than these two segment leaders. 

The Forte’s styling strengths include a longer looking, leaner, lower, more sweptback profile, which doesn’t require as much plastic body cladding to make more appealing. It does get a number of stylistic enhancements from front to rear, but I found the sporty bits on my top-tier Forte EX Limited improved its overall look instead of detracting from it. 

2019 Kia Forte EX Limited
Clean, attractive lines come standard, although the Forte is shown here in EX Limited trim. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

It starts off with Kia’s chrome-edged, glossed-black notched oval grille at centre, which hovers above more glossy black-detailed air induction venting within the lower front fascia, which gets highlighted by nicely angled corner vents housing rectangular LED fog lights. A truly interesting set of “X” accented LED headlights are positioned above, offsetting conventionally shaped taillights at the other end, these infused with interestingly patterned LEDs. There’s a thin strip of reflective material spanning the two rear lamps, while just above on the rear deck lid is an integrated spoiler that no doubt aids aerodynamics. The rear bumper is formed into a diffuser-like shape, but I can pretty well guarantee it does nothing to improve airflow, although its inky black paint looks sporty enough, and matches the gloss-black triangular bezels at each corner, housing rear fog and backup lights. Lastly, my Forte tester rolled on sweet looking 17-inch double-five-spoke machined alloy wheels with black pockets. 

The new Forte is even more impressive inside, besting the outgoing model as well as a number of compact rivals. Like its exterior design, its cabin comes across more tastefully conservative than some in this class that offer up less serious, funkier atmospheres. It’s also quite refined, with much of the upper dash and instrument panel finished in premium-like soft-touch composites. This pliable application covers the front door uppers, door inserts and armrests too, the latter items also transferring to the rear passenger compartment. It’s a really upscale environment, but I won’t go so far as to say the Forte is nicer than its competitors with respect to materials quality, fit and finish, etcetera, but they were one of the first brands to include such premium-like niceties to the compact segment. As it is, most of the Forte’s challengers’ interiors are now up to snuff. 

2019 Kia Forte EX Limited
Kia does details very well, not overwhelming the design, but instead enhancing it. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Adding to my EX Limited model’s refinement quotient are perforated leatherette seats that feel a lot more like genuine hides than most rivals pull off, the aeration, incidentally, necessary for my tester’s three-way ventilation up front. This top-line trim also includes rear outboard seat heating, while three-temperature front seat heating is standard across the line, as is a leather-wrapped heatable steering wheel rim. 

Yes, that wasn’t a typo. The Forte comes standard with a leather-clad, heated steering wheel. I want you to consider for a moment, that Toyota’s much pricier Camry doesn’t even offer Canadians such a highfalutin option, even when fully loaded. Optioning out a Camry would add almost $24k to the Forte’s $17,195 base MT MSRP, or alternatively $13k to this $28,065 Forte EX Limited, yet no heated steering wheel, plus it would also not provide cooled front seats or heated rear seats (be sure to learn about all 2019 Kia Forte pricing, including trim levels, packages and options, right here at CarCostCanada, plus don’t forget that you can save a lot by finding out about available rebates and dealer invoice pricing, also available right here at CarCostCanada). 

After the last few Canadian winters, I would certainly rather live with a heated steering wheel than a cold leather rim first thing in the morning (if only they could find a way to heat the shifter knob too), and it would be nicer for my rear passengers to warm their behinds, just like my front passenger and I were able to. I enjoy cooling my butt mid-summer too, so if you’re like me, consider a Forte for such comforting features (and also take note that the 2020 Corolla sedan provides a heated steering wheel as part of an upgrade package, but then again no cooled front seats or heatable rear cushions). 

2019 Kia Forte EX Limited
The graphic work on the LED taillights is very nice. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Back to the 2019 Forte’s upgrades, Kia improved its automatic shifter with a great looking leather-wrapped and satin-silver knob design, while a stitched-leatherette skirt tapers outward as it meets up against yet more satin-silver surfacing. My Forte used this stylish silver treatment for its steering wheel spokes as well, plus some decorative trim across the instrument panel and the corner vent bezels, not to mention the inside door handles and power window/side mirror switchgear decoration, and lastly the thumb release button on the manual handbrake. 

Say what? Agreed, a complete ground-up redesign that doesn’t come standard with an electric parking brake seems a tad old school this day and age, but truthfully it didn’t bother me one iota during my extended two-week test. Actually, I only noticed it on my last day when taking notes. Kia left this technological anachronism in the new design because of the car’s standard six-speed manual transmission, a gearbox that I only wished was available in my top-line trim, or at least in a dedicated sport model like Kia’s sister company Hyundai offers with its 200-horsepower Elantra Sport, a serious Civic Si rival that also improves its suspension and styling. 

News flash (well, not exactly news as it was introduced last November): Kia will introduce a new Forte GT for the 2020 model year that’s pretty well an Elantra Sport in black-oval drag, and it looks fabulous with its 18-inch rims and even sportier design details, while it should drive brilliantly if it’s anything like the Elantra Sport, that I raved about in my road test review last year. Along with the 201-hp 1.6-litre turbo-four and short-throw six-speed manual gearbox (or optional paddle shift-actuated seven-speed dual-clutch automatic), it’ll get a sport-tuned fully independent suspension with a multi-link setup in the rear. Soon Kia will have the same kind of Civic Si Sedan fighter it’s always needed, along with a new five-door Forte5 GT. 

2019 Kia Forte EX Limited
Kia delivers a high-quality Forte interior that’s packed full of standard and optional features. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

As it is, this 2019 Forte only comes with one engine, a 2.0-litre four-cylinder making 147 horsepower and 132 lb-ft of torque. It’s a fairly competitive mill in this category, but other manufacturers provide a lot more variety and (until the 2020 model debuts) will therefore attract a greater number of performance, and/or green buyers. Toyota, for instance, offers up the choice of three engines in its latest 2020 Corolla sedan, including a hybrid, while Honda’s Civic Sedan offers three powerplants as well, the aforementioned Si boasting 205 horsepower, while the Insight, which is a Civic Hybrid other than mild styling revisions and a new name, features gasoline-electric hybridization as well. 

Interestingly, the outgoing second-gen Forte four-door provided Canadians with two engines, the more advanced direct-injected version of the current model’s 2.0-litre four-cylinder, previously named “2.0 GDI”, no longer available despite its more engaging 164 horsepower and 151 lb-ft of torque. I initially thought we’d see this more formidable engine as a late arrival, possibly when the redesigned Forte5 showed up, but a quick visit to the “Upcoming Vehicles” section of the automaker’s Canadian retail site makes evident this all-new five-door hatch will go on sale this fall as a 2020 model, and shows no sign of the sportier GDI engine. Instead it will get the sedan’s “2.0L MPI” engine in base trim and the same optional 1.6-litre turbo-four used in the gen-two 2018 model (which is still available, by the way), good for 201 horsepower, 195 lb-ft of torque, and mated to the same paddle-shifted seven-speed twin-clutch automatic as noted above. 

2019 Kia Forte EX Limited
This supervision LCD/TFT primary instrument cluster comes standard with second-rung EX trim. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

All this said, Kia’s reasoning behind simplifying the Forte’s engine lineup has to come down to 2018 calendar year sales that only reached 14,399 units (including the Forte5), this dropping some 12.1 percent from the previous year. If it pulled in more buyers, like the Corolla’s 48,796 customers throughout 2018, and the 69,005 Canadians who opted for the Civic over the same 12 months, Kia might even go back to offering a two-door sports coupe like they used to. 

Right about now I should make note of Hyundai Elantra sales as well (which will soon be all-new for 2020), as it far outpaces the Forte’s numbers at 41,784 through 2018, and that was a 9.4-percent decline from 2017. 

I expect another reason Kia chose its solo engine for 2019 is price related, both at the onset of the initial sale and afterwards at the pump. Canadians are ultra price-sensitive in this small car category, which would negatively impact sales if the more powerful engine caused the Forte’s price range to jump higher. What’s more, if the 2.0 GDI was the car’s sole offering its fuel economy wouldn’t measure up to the best in this class, and therefore would hamper acceptance of the entire Forte line. 

2019 Kia Forte EX Limited
The new eight-inch infotainment touchscreen is excellent. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Instead, the 2.0 MPI engine being used is considerably more efficient, with a glance back at 2018 Transport Canada fuel economy numbers showing a rating of 8.0 L/100km city, 6.1 highway and 7.1 combined, alongside the more potent GDI’s respective rating of 9.4, 6.8 and 8.3. That would’ve been a big gap to overcome. 

Also notable, Kia’s made a lot of headway with the 2.0 MPI engine’s fuel economy in the new 2019 model too, with a new Transport Canada rating of 8.6 L/100km in the city, 6.4 on the highway and 7.6 combined when suited up in six-speed manual base trim, compared to 9.4, 6.8 and 8.3 respectively in the previous year. Additionally, the Forte’s completely new Hyundai/Kia-designed continuously variable transmission (CVT) is easier on fuel when put up against last year’s six-speed automatic, with the new model getting a 7.7 L/100km city, 5.9 highway and 6.9 combined rating, and the outgoing car only good for 8.0 in the city, 6.1 on the highway and 7.1 combined. 

This CVT, dubbed Intelligent Variable Transmission (IVT), adds $2,500 to the Forte’s base LX trim and comes standard with all other models. It does a pretty good a job of putting power down to the front wheels, which is high praise for any CVT incidentally, this one of the best of its kind in my opinion, and easily good enough for a compact car that makes comfort its first priority. 

2019 Kia Forte EX Limited
Two-zone auto HVAC is standard on EX Premium trim. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

The Forte is quick enough off the line and plenty smooth as well, its engine and transmission offering up nice linear performance, with untoward noise, vibration and harshness kept to a minimum. Kia includes a slew of Drive Mode Select settings including Normal, Eco, Sport and Smart, the latter being where I left it most of the time thanks to its ability to automatically adjust between each mode in order to optimize fuel economy and performance. 

Along with the Forte’s smooth powertrain is a comfortable ride, while its cornering prowess is quite responsive considering its rather low-rent torsion beam rear suspension setup. By comparison the Civic and new 2020 Corolla incorporate independent multi-link rear suspension systems, which give them an edge when pushed even harder over broken pavement, especially mid-turn, but just the same I found the Forte nimble enough for most high-speed handling situations, while its undercarriage was wonderfully compliant over rougher pavement in a straight line. The upcoming GT should be even better. 

Maintaining control in all weather conditions is this segment’s usual assortment of active safety equipment, including electronic stability and traction control, while some other near-standard features (when upgrading to the CVT) include Forward Collision-Avoidance Assist (FCA), Lane Keeping Assist (LKA), and Driver Attention Alert (DAA). 

2019 Kia Forte EX Limited
Cooled seats? Yah baby, you can’t get that on a Corolla. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Both manual and CVT endowed LX models also get auto on/off projector headlights, splash guards, body-colour mirror housings and door handles, heated outside mirrors, the heated leather-clad steering wheel rim noted earlier, heatable front seats, air conditioning, a truly impressive new tablet-style 8.0-inch touchscreen display with tap, pinch, and swipe gesture controls (plus really quick response to inputs), Apple CarPlay and Android Auto smartphone connectivity, a backup camera with helpful active guidelines, an AM/FM/MP3 radio, Bluetooth hands-free with steaming audio, USB inputs, cruise control, Hill-Assist Control (HAC), 60/40-split rear seatbacks that fold down to make the 434-litre (15.3 cu-ft) trunk more accepting of longer cargo like skis, plus more. 

Those who want alloy wheels can upgrade to $20,995 EX trim, which replace the base model’s 15-inch steel wheels and covers with sharp looking 16-inch machine-finished rims, while this trim grade also receives LED headlights, LED DRLs, LED positioning lamps, side mirror turn signals, a glossy black grille treatment with chromed accents, chromed window surrounds, aeroblade windshield wipers, a chromed exhaust finisher, the satin-chrome interior door handles noted earlier, a supervision LCD/TFT primary gauge cluster, a wireless smartphone charger, rear climate vents, a folding rear centre armrest, tire pressure monitoring, Blind Spot Detection (BSD) with Rear Cross Traffic Alert (RCTA), etcetera. 

2019 Kia Forte EX Limited
Kia’s “SOFINO” leatherette upholstery feels real, and the seats are comfortable. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Moving up to $22,495 EX+ trim adds everything above plus 17-inch machined alloys, LED tail lamps, LED interior lights, plus a powered glass sunroof, while $25,065 EX Premium trim further adds High Beam Assist (HBA) to the previously mentioned LED headlamps, as well as proximity-sensing keyless entry, pushbutton start/stop, dynamic cruise control, an eight-way powered driver’s seat, “SOFINO” leatherette upholstery, two-zone auto HVAC, XM/SIRIUS satellite radio, UVO Intelligence connected car services, Advanced Forward Collision-Avoidance Assist (FCA), a proximity-sensing trunk lid that automatically opens when someone with a key fob stands behind the car for three seconds, plus more. 

Finally, my $28,065 EX Limited test model came standard with all of the above plus those ventilated front and heated rear seats noted before, as well as an enhanced multimedia infotainment interface with very accurate and user-friendly navigation, and lastly an impressive Harman/Kardon premium audio upgrade. 

The driver’s seat was very comfortable for this class, while its two-way powered lumbar support thankfully fit the small of my back perfectly. Even better, when I adjusted the Forte’s standard tilt and telescoping steering column to fit my long-legged five-foot-eight frame, I was left comfortably in control. This isn’t always the case no matter the class of car, particularly with Toyota models, including the now outgoing 2019 Corolla. That car didn’t allow for enough telescopic steering column reach, either leaving the pedals too close or steering wheel uncomfortably far away, but fortunately I had no such issues with this Forte sedan. 

2019 Kia Forte EX LimitedAfter setting up the driver’s seat for my body type, I sat directly behind in order to test rear seat roominess. The result was loads of space for my feet, plus about five inches in front of my knees, another three and a half or so over my head, about five beside my outer shoulder, and four next to my hip. In other words, the Forte provides a lot of room for rear passengers, and plenty of comfort too. 

The rear centre armrest was nicely positioned for my arm and included the usual dual cupholders, while a webbed magazine pocket behind the front passenger seat looked nicer than the bare seatback ahead of my legs. Still, I could hardly complain about not having a webbed magazine pocket behind the driver’s seat thanks to my butt and backside being warm and comfortable from those seat warmers noted earlier, plus I also appreciated the small rear quarter windows that allowed for a bit more light and outward visibility than some cars in this class provide. 

2019 Kia Forte EX Limited
The Forte provides plenty of trunk space, plus the ability to extend it via 60/40-split rear seatbacks. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

That’s a nice positive thought to leave the 2019 Kia Forte review on, isn’t it? While not best in class due to a lack of optional power and less capable rear suspension, it’s easily the best Forte four-door ever created. These shortcomings help keep pricing nice and low, however, plus allow Kia to offer plenty of comfort-oriented features that I’d rather have in a city car anyway. The Forte also doesn’t come up short on styling, space, comfort or safety, and let’s remember that Forte buyers who want stronger performance can choose the old Forte5 and soon will have the GT and redesigned 5 for options. 

Kia will soon have its bases covered two renewed body styles and truly sporty variants of both, while today’s 2019 Forte sedan makes an excellent case for affordable commuting comfort. 

Story credit: Trevor Hofmann 

Photo credit: Karen Tuggay

CarCostCanada

2019 Jaguar XF S Road Test Review

2019 Jaguar XF S
It’s hard to argue against the 2019 Jaguar XF S’ styling. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Let me guess, that even if you live in one of Canada’s more established neighbourhoods you don’t often lay eyes on a Jaguar XF, let alone a lot of XE or XJ sedans. While once prolific in luxury crowds, four-door cars from Coventry are becoming rare sightings indeed. 

Thanks to the stunningly beautiful Mk II and extremely elegant XJ Series I, II and III that followed, not to mention the B-Type, C-Type and E-Type sports cars that were inspirational for today’s sensational F-Type, the Jaguar brand grew legendary, but this day and age it seems that luring luxury customers into anything lower to the ground than a crossover SUV is becoming much more difficult, and it’s not for a lack of styling. 

When the current XJ was completely reimagined for 2009, its wholly original, beautifully proportioned design set the stage for an entirely new lineup of Jaguar sedans and crossovers, but other than the latter lineup of SUVs, which are selling fairly well, it hasn’t exactly followed that bases-loaded homerun with an encore hit. 

The second-generation mid-size E-segment XF being reviewed here arrived in 2015 as a 2016 model, and is beautifully sculpted too. Like the XJ and almost every Jaguar vehicle it’s formed from aluminum panels and composites, but only the XF can claim the brand’s best-ever drag coefficient of 0.26. 

2019 Jaguar XF S
Gorgeous from all angles. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

So it’s beautiful, lightweight and hails from an iconic brand, but that still doesn’t make it popular. It almost seems as if you need to be a curator of curious collectibles before stepping up and taking ownership of a car like the XF, but then again exclusivity has its privileges. It’s not like you’ll see one driving down the neighbourhood lane every day, or every other week for that matter. Crowd pleasers won’t like this one whit, but those who choose to be unique in order to stand out from that crowd will find the XF’s rarity a bonus. After all, while the XF is scarce, it’s hardly unusual in the way it goes about pleasing driver and occupants, combining a high level of old school charm with strong performance and plenty of highly advanced tech gear. 

Jaguar actually improved the XF’s technology for this 2019 model, so that all XF trims now incorporate the brand’s updated 10.0-inch InControl Touch Pro infotainment touchscreen, which provides a larger display area to appreciate its completely new and wholly simpler graphics package (the classic red British telephone box ahead of a pastoral background and other scenes are now gone), easier visibility of the rearview camera, greater detail of the navigation mapping, plus plenty of other enhancements. If the more minimalist, arguably more sophisticated digital interface is not up to your standards, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto smartphone integration provide a new look when attached to your device, plus add proprietary features. Being that I’ve been an Android convert for the past few years (after getting fed up with lame iPhone batteries) I chose to use Jaguar’s stock system that’s much more appealing to look at. Incidentally, features like navigation and voice recognition are available in the XF’s second-rung Prestige trim and above. 

2019 Jaguar XF S
Sharp lines, stunning curves, LED headlights, 20-inch alloys, the XF S has it all. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Moving from tech to luxury, Jaguar’s super-soft Suedecloth is now standard on all XF roof pillars and headliners, as are aluminum treadplates with illuminated Jaguar branding, plus premium carpeted floor mats, metal foot pedals, chromed power seat switchgear, and a classy looking frameless auto-dimming rearview mirror. 

Speaking of standard, the base 2019 XF is the $59,100 Premium, while other trims include the $64,500 Prestige, and $67,800 R-Sport when opting for the 247 horsepower 2.0-litre direct-injection turbo four-cylinder; the $67,000 Prestige, $70,300 R-Sport, $72,300 300 SPORT and $79,100 Portfolio when choosing the 296 horsepower version of the same gasoline-powered mill; the $66,500 Prestige and $69,800 R-Sport when hooked up to the 180 horsepower 2.0-litre four-cylinder diesel; and finally $75,300 for my tester’s 380 horsepower 3.5-litre supercharged V6-powered model’s sole S trim. These prices and trims, incidentally, plus packages and standalone options can be found right here at CarCostCanada, where you can also choose to save thousands by learning about available rebates and otherwise difficult to access dealer invoice pricing. 

The diversity of available XF engines is actually quite amazing and rare, but all of these engines focus their energies on one tried and tested eight-speed automatic gearbox, no matter the trim. The quick yet smooth transmission boasts an innovative rotating gear selector that automatically powers upwards after startup from an otherwise flush placement on the lower console between the front seats, this system requiring standard paddle shifters for utilizing the Jaguar Sequential Shift manual mode, while all-wheel drive is also standard. 

2019 Jaguar XF S
The LED taillight design is tastefully discrete. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Further improving control no matter the driving situation, all XF trims come fitted with Jaguar Drive Control featuring Standard, Eco, Dynamic (sport), and Rain/Ice/Snow driving modes, each making a considerable difference to comfort, performance and all of the above, while Torque Vectoring by Braking (TVBB), and hill launch assist further aid drivers in mastering most road conditions. 

Specific to my XF S tester, Adaptive Surface Response (AdSR) plus Configurable Dynamics and Adaptive Dynamics allow the choice of personal engine, suspension, steering, and transmission settings. All made a big difference to how this Jaguar responded to inputs, from being a comfortable, relaxed luxury car one moment, to a seriously responsive sports sedan the next. 

Together with all items already noted, the top-tier XF S shown on this page receives beefier 350-mm front brake rotors and red calipers all around, as well as 20-inch alloy wheels, the latter upgrade improving performance and styling measurably. 

2019 Jaguar XF S
The XF S interior wins on design and most materials, but comes up a bit short due to hard plastic surfaces. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Staying on the styling theme, the XF S also receives a unique “S” body kit that dresses up the car with a sportier front bumper, glossy black side sills and a gloss-black rear valance, plus a subtle rear deck spoiler. When stepping inside you’ll bypass special metal treadplates finished with unique “S” branding, while great looking Dark Hex aluminum inlays improve the instrument panel, rich Luxtec leatherette covers the dash top, and superbly comfortable, ultra-supportive “S” embossed 18-way powered sports seats ensconce driver and front passenger. 

On top of everything already mentioned, the XF S also includes proximity keyless entry, pushbutton start/stop, an acoustic layer windshield, auto on/off headlamps, rain-sensing wipers, an electronic parking brake, a powered tilt and telescopic steering wheel, auto-dimming, power-folding, heated side mirrors with approach lamps and puddle lights, memory for those mirrors as well as the front seats, front seat warmers, mood lighting, a universal garage door opener, a backup camera, navigation, InControl Apps, Pro Services, Bluetooth phone and audio streaming, a USB port, two-zone auto HVAC, front and rear parking sonar, and more. 

Additionally, along with the segment’s usual active and passive safety systems, the XF S arrives standard with autonomous emergency braking, lane keeping assist, blindspot monitoring, closing vehicle sensing, reverse traffic monitoring, driver condition monitoring, etcetera. 

2019 Jaguar XF S
The cockpit and dash certainly looks good, and the driver setup is excellent. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Over and above the standard XF S items already listed, my test car was upgraded to include a stunning Rossello Red paint job for $670; beautiful glossy black twinned five-spoke alloy wheels for $770; a special Black package featuring a glossy black mesh grille insert and surround, glossy black side vents, and the same inky treatment for the trunk garnish for $460; a Comfort and Convenience package for $2,200 that adds a overly excitable gesture-control system for the trunk’s powered lid (I’ll explain this in a moment); plus soft closing doors, three-way active cooled/ventilated front seats, and heated rear seats; a Technology package for $1,030 featuring a 12.3-inch digital gauge cluster, Pro Services, and a CD/DVD changer; a Driver Assistance package for $3,680 incorporating an overhead surround camera system, a forward-facing camera, 360-degree Park Distance Control, Park Assist semi-autonomous self-parking, dynamic cruise control with Queue Assist, blindspot assist, and traffic sign recognition with an intelligent speed limiter; a $1,330 head-up display system; a $410 heated windshield and heated washer jets package; plus $210 satellite and HD radio. 

Only the $2,230 Premium Interior Upgrade package was missing or my XF S would be deemed fully loaded, the improvement otherwise adding four-zone auto HVAC with an air quality sensor and auto air re-circulation, plus a cooled glove box, side window sunshades, a powered rear sunshade, and configurable mood lighting; plus I might have enjoyed one of the optional interior décor trims more too, particularly the carbon fibre; yet even the way Jaguar provided it, the XF S was sensational and its asking price of $85,850 quite reasonable, this $10,550 more than the base XF S. 

2019 Jaguar XF S
The fully digital gauge package is very well done. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

All of the features just noted are fastened to a lightweight and extremely rigid bonded and riveted aluminum body shell that I happen find extremely attractive, while the interior is very well made from some of the industry’s nicest leathers, woods and metals. My test car featured an Ebony (aka black) leather and Light Oyster (grey) contrast-stitched cabin that also boasted gorgeous Grey Figured Ebony veneers throughout. While impressive, especially when compared to Jaguar’s smaller XE sedan, I won’t go so far as to claim that the XF leads its class when it comes to fit, finish, materials quality, digital interface supremacy, feature superiority, ultimate roominess, or any other superlative. Still, it gets a good grade for all noted categories, while its completely unique look, feel, and overall impressive performance warrants your undivided attention. 

Just like the more compact XE and full-size XJ, the XF actually drives like a smaller, lighter and more engaging car than its long, mid-size dimensions suggest, and most competitors can offer. Its previously noted 380 horsepower V6 responds with immediate energy that’s easily attributed to its sizeable displacement and aforementioned supercharger, which helps all 332 lb-ft of torque hit the ground running from launch, while its standard all-wheel drive makes wheel spin yesterday’s news in snow, rain or dry conditions, and the aforementioned ZF eight-speed clicks through its cogs with speed and precision. 

2019 Jaguar XF S
Jaguar updated its centre stack with this standard 10-inch touchscreen for 2019, complete with a new graphic interface. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

The XF’s performance is its key calling card, from its steady, formidable (albeit exhaust-muted) 5.3-second zero-to-100km/h straight-line acceleration, to its sublime handling and excellent ride that’s brought about by a lightweight double-wishbone front suspension and integral link rear setup, the combination perfect for pushing the envelope through hard-pressed switchbacks at unmentionable speeds, or alternatively hauling down the highway or taxiing through town at more relaxed paces. The XF S is a sport-luxury sedan that can do it all. 

This said I had a few issues with my test car, particularly the fact that my top-tier model didn’t even include remote engine start on the otherwise fancy key fob. It’s available as part of the InControl Remote App you can download onto your smartphone, but there were plenty of disgruntled iTunes and Play Store owners who said it only worked 25-30 percent of the time, and being that I only tested it for a week and was never even informed of the app prior to the test so I could download it, wasn’t able to pre-warm the interior in winter (or hypothetically pre-chill the cabin in summer). 

Temperature settings in mind, I didn’t appreciate not having an auto mode for the heatable seats and steering wheel. Each needed to be switched on upon startup, and Jaguar only includes one ultra-hot setting for the steering wheel rim, forcing me to turn it on and off throughout my drive. 

2019 Jaguar XF S
The XF is roomy and comfortable. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Another quibble focuses on the overhead sunglasses holder that doesn’t even properly fit smallish wire rim glasses like my Ray-Ban aviators. I had to turn them upside down in order to stuff them inside and shut it closed, which meant their lenses were left rubbing against the harder side of the lid. 

On a more positive note, the dash corner vents whisk open in wonderful silence, which is equally cool to how the gear selector rises into place, but all the hard plastic found on the glove box lid, lower dash surfacing, console, and lower door panels didn’t impress anywhere near as well. 

Finally I get to that trunk lid I mentioned earlier in the review. Hyperactive might be a better term than overly excitable, but either way it was a convenience feature gone wrong. Let me explain: Basically it opens up whenever anyone with the key fob in purse or pocket walks past. Other carmakers that use this type of hands-free trunk opener, such as Hyundai and its Genesis luxury division, cause you to stand next to the back bumper for at least three seconds before it activates the automatic trunk lid, but my XF tester’s trunk kept popping open immediately upon sensing the key fob. Once, after pulling up at a shopping centre, the trunk sprang open as I walked past on my way toward the mall. Unfortunately this gave a nice preview of my valuables to any miscreant eyes nearby, which is certainly a security risk. Another time I kept the engine running (for less than a minute) while delivering something to an office I have regular business with (don’t worry, their parking lot/entrance is totally private), and voila, while walking past the XF’s backside the trunk lid popped open once again. It performed the annoying ritual while pumping gas too, and on other occasions. 

2019 Jaguar XF S
You can really stretch out in the comfortable back seats. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Fuel in mind, the XF achieves a Transport Canada rating of 12.0 L/100km city, 8.4 highway and 10.4 combined, which is actually pretty decent for such an enthusiastic drivetrain strapped to such as generously proportioned luxury sedan, although I must point out that buyers willing to forgo some accelerative force for thriftier economy can choose the aforementioned turbo-diesel that gets a superb 7.8 city, 5.8 highway and 6.9 combined rating. Diesel is often significantly cheaper than gasoline too, and allows you to drive greater distances per tankful. 

While that trunk kept popping open I was continually reminded just how large it is. It measures a generous 541 litres (19.1 cubic feet), and better yet provides ultra-convenient 40/20/40 split-folding rear seats that let you lay longer items like skis down the middle while outboard rear passengers enjoy the more comfortable, warmer window seats. 

The XF is spacious for front and rear occupants as well, this due to a wheelbase that was lengthened considerably when the second-gen car arrived. By the numbers you’ll have 1,055 mm of legroom in front while your rear passengers will benefit from 957 mm, so you shouldn’t hear complaints from tagalongs when it comes to roominess. 

2019 Jaguar XF S
That’s one big trunk. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

At the end of my weeklong test I wouldn’t say I was in love with the 2019 XF S, but certainly grew to appreciate its many qualities despite its few quirks. Yes, it’s nowhere near perfect, but its larger touchscreen and other improvements make it better than ever, while its performance was excellent for all but those (like me) that have experienced this car with a supercharged V8. That in mind, I’d consider the XF even more seriously with one of its four-cylinder alternatives, for its economical and environmental benefits. Either way, Jaguar has most bases covered with the XF, making it a credible choice in this highly competitive mid-size luxury category. 

Story credit: Trevor Hofmann 

Photo credit: Karen Tuggay

CarCostCanada

2019 Honda Pilot Touring Road Test Review

2019 Honda Pilot Touring
Looking better than ever, we really like what Honda has done with its 2019 Pilot. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Other than a few unusual offerings like the Element, Crosstour, and current Civic Hatchback/R, Honda’s styling normally resides in the conservative camp, and when it comes to mid-cycle makeovers that conservatism is downright mossbacked. Still, despite mere evolutionary changes made from the 2016-2018 third-generation Pilot to the latest iteration, introduced last year for 2019, it looks a lot better than it used to. 

It starts a more aggressive looking traditional SUV-type grille above a bolder front bumper and fascia, all of which are bookended by beautiful new trademark full LED headlamps in my tester’s top-tier Touring trim line. By the way, all Pilots now come with LED headlights, but those lower down the desirability scale only incorporate LEDs within their low beams and therefore appear more conventional when put side-by-side with the vertical elements inside the Touring model’s more sophisticated looking full LEDs. 

When viewed from the rear, new LED taillights are standard across the entire Pilot line, plus a new rear bumper incorporates the same satin-silver-coloured skid plates as those up front, with most trims. Of note, both the base Pilot and Canada-exclusive Black Edition get black skid plates front to rear, albeit the former are matte finished and the latter glossy black. Speaking of trim highlights, the Touring model features chromed door handles and sporty new 20-inch alloy wheels, helping to make it much more upscale than other trims in the lineup, and plenty attractive when placed beside its mid-size crossover SUV peers. 

2019 Honda Pilot Touring
Subtle changes have made a big difference. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Along with the refresh, Honda made some important mechanical changes to help refine Touring and Black Edition models, particularly by revising their standard auto start-stop system, making it turn off and restart the engine faster and smoother. This upgrade will hopefully cause owners to keep the start-stop system engaged, which will certainly help improve fuel economy and reduce emissions. I certainly never experienced any problems with the system throughout my weeklong test drive, in fact hardly noticing its operation at all. 

Additionally, Honda reportedly refined the two top models’ standard nine-speed automatic transmission, which, like the auto start/stop system, worked perfectly throughout my test week. In fact, I’d go so far as to say it’s better than ever, providing truly smooth and effortless shifts when both driving in the city and operating at highway speeds, while also downshifting with nice, quick, snappy precision when performing passing maneuvers. Owners of lesser Pilot trims, which include the base LX plus mid-range EX and EX-L Navi models, get a very well-proven six-speed automatic transmission, which remains unchanged moving into 2019. 

Unlike the Pilot’s gearbox duality, all trim levels incorporate one single 24-valve, SOHC 3.5-litre V6 engine, which despite having already served Honda well for more than a decade, other than small updates, continues to make a potent combination of 280 horsepower and 262 lb-ft of torque, thanks in part to direct-injection and i-VTEC, while its Active Control Engine Mount (ACM) system aids refinement further by reducing noise, vibration and harshness. 

2019 Honda Pilot Touring
The Touring gets full LED headlamps and 20-inch alloys. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Also standard, all Canadian-spec Pilots include Honda’s Intelligent Variable Torque Management (i-VTM4) AWD, which together with the Japanese brand’s Intelligent Traction Management System, helps provide immediate grip at takeoff for smooth yet quick response. What’s more, this energetic straight-line performance was enhanced by a fully independent suspension that felt nimbler through quick corners, while its ride quality was completely comfortable all the time, only becoming slightly unsettled when I pushed it further than most owners would for testing purposes, and then only when the road below exposed crumbling, uneven pavement. 

Truth be told, I don’t try to imitate Red Bull-Honda Racing F1 driver Max Verstappen all that often (but would love to have his skill), especially when piloting a large SUV, but normally apply available eco modes before keeping to a more moderate pace. Such practices are rewarding with the Pilot, thanks to the auto start/stop system mentioned before, plus the engine’s Variable Cylinder Management (VCM) system that shuts off a bank of cylinders under lighter loads to further improve fuel economy, my tester achieving a commendable 11.3 L/100km during my mostly flat city street test week, which is very close to Transport Canada’s estimated rating of 12.4 L/100km city, 9.3 highway and 11.0 combined. I haven’t driven the six-speed version since it was the only transmission offered in this SUV, prior to the third-gen redesign, so I can’t attest to its claimed rating of 13.0 L/100km city, 9.3 highway and 11.3 combined. Still, both sets of numbers are impressive when factoring in just how large this three-row SUV is. 

I also didn’t test the Pilot with a trailer in tow, but Honda claims that both transmissions equal the same 1,588 kilograms (3,500 lbs) tow rating in standard guise, or 2,268 kg (5,000 lbs) with the upgraded towing package. 

2019 Honda Pilot Touring
This nicely designed instrument panel is about average for the class when it comes to materials quality. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Now that I’m talking about moving gear, the Pilot has long been one of the more accommodating SUV’s in its class when it comes to luggage space. Behind the third row is a plentiful 524 litres (18.5 cubic feet), or 510 litres (18.0 cubic feet) with my Touring tester and the near identically equipped Black Edition. Lower that 60/40 split-folding third row down and cargo carrying capacity expands to 1,583 litres (55.9 cubic feet) no matter the trim level, while it available stowage space ranges from 3,072 to 3,092 litres (108.5 to 109.2 cubic feet) when all of its rear seatbacks are laid flat, but it’s important to note that a centre section of load floor is missing when equipped with second-row captain’s chairs. I like how some manufacturers attach a foldout carpeted extension to the back of one seat in order to remedy this problem, but no such luck with the Pilot. If this were mine, I’d keep a piece of plywood handy for hauling big loads. 

On the positive the centre console isn’t so tall that it protrudes into the loading area, a problem with some luxury utes, but then again it’s barely raised above the floor, so will be a bit of a stretch for smaller occupants to reach when trying to use the cupholders. The good news is this console and the sliding/reclining captain’s chairs to each side aren’t standard with Touring trim (they are with the Black Edition), but instead replace a three-seat bench that ups total occupancy from seven to eight. The seating arrangement you choose will come down to the age/size of your kids or if you regularly bring adults along for the ride, because the rear captain’s chairs are definitely more comfortable than the outboard seats on the bench. 

I won’t go into detail about the Black Edition in this review, but suffice to say it’s outfitted almost identically to seven-passenger Touring trim. As for my $52,690 Touring tester, it list of standard items includes the full LED headlamps noted earlier, plus power-folding and auto-dimming sideview mirrors, blue ambient interior lighting, acoustic glass for the front windows, rain-sensing windshield wipers, a pushbutton gear selector, cooled front seats, a large panoramic glass sunroof, a superb 600-watt audio system featuring 11 speakers and a sub plus 5.1 Surround, a wireless device charger, a new Honda CabinTalk in-car PA (that really works), HondaLink Subscription Services, Wi-Fi, the “How much Farther?” application, rear entertainment, an HDMI input jack, a 115-volt household-style power outlet in back, blindspot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert, plus more. 

2019 Honda Pilot Touring
The big TFT display within the gauge cluster makes it seem almost totally digital. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Features added to Touring trim from the lesser EX-L Navi model include an acoustic windshield, memory-linked side mirrors with reverse tilt-down, a heated steering wheel, a four-way power front passenger seat, a navigation system with detailed mapping, HD and satellite radio, front and rear parking sonar, heated outboard second-row seats, one-touch third-row access (that’s really easy to operate whether entering or trying to get out from the rearmost seat), second-row side window shades, a power liftgate, etcetera, while features sourced from the EX model include LED fog lamps, LED repeaters in the side mirror housings, roof rails, illuminated vanity mirrors, a Homelink universal remote, a leather-clad steering wheel, plus 10-way power and memory for the driver’s seat. 

Finally, I need to also make mention of some standard LX features pulled up to Touring trim (the base Pilot LX starting at just $41,290), including remote engine start, proximity keyless entry, pushbutton start, a windshield de-icer, a conversation mirror that doubles for sunglasses storage, three-zone auto HVAC, heated front seats, HondaLink Assist Automatic Emergency Response System, etcetera (all prices are sourced right here on CarCostCanada, where you can also find all the latest rebate info as well as dealer invoice pricing that could save you thousands). 

What’s more, each and ever Pilot gets a nice, big 7.0-inch TFT multi-information display within its primary gauge package, boasting attractive high-resolution colour graphics, simple operation via steering spoke-mounted switchgear, and plenty of useful functions, while over on the centre stack is an 8.0-inch fixed tablet-style touchscreen that’s even more comprehensively equipped with functionality. It gets a user-friendly multi-coloured tile design that looks as if it was inspired by Apple products, and fittingly includes Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, Bluetooth with streaming audio, a fabulous multi-angle rearview camera with dynamic guidelines, plus more. 

2019 Honda Pilot Touring
The Pilot is comfortable no matter where you’re seated. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Honda also gives the Pilot a comprehensive list of standard advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS) including auto high beams, adaptive cruise control, Forward Collision Warning, Collision Mitigation Braking, Lane Departure Warning with Lane Keeping Assist, plus Road Departure Mitigation, which, when upgraded with Touring trim’s cornering low- and high-beam full LED headlamps, allows a best-possible Top Safety Pick + rating from the IIHS. Additionally, all Pilot trims earn a five-star safety rating from the NHTSA. 

Just in case you’re starting to think that a team of publicity reps from Honda wrote this review, my weeklong test wasn’t wholly positive. For starters, even my top-line Pilot Touring tester wasn’t as impressively finished inside as some direct competitors, due to more hard plastic than I would have liked. Honda does cover the dash top in a soft synthetic, and adds a nice bolster across the instrument panel ahead of the front passenger, which extends above the centre touchscreen, while the front door uppers are also soft to the touch, ideal for pampering elbows, plus the door inserts and armrests are plush as well, of course, but oddly the door uppers in back aren’t as nicely finished, and Honda doesn’t wrap any roof pillars in cloth either, like some rivals do. 

The seat upholstery is very upscale though, with driver’s perch particularly comfortable despite only providing two-way powered lumbar that didn’t fit the small of my back very well, and therefore remained unused by yours truly. Seats in mind, both second and third rows were very comfortable, the rearmost seating area even roomy enough for adults. I had ample legroom for my five-foot-eight frame, plus about three to four inches ahead of my knees when the second row was pulled rearward as far as it would go, and plenty of space overhead. 

2019 Honda Pilot Touring
Third-row seating is amongst the most accommodating in this class. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

If you thought I was done griping, take note that I have issue with a foot-operated parking brake in a vehicle that does everything else to make a person think it’s been flown here from the future. Yes, this anachronism (I don’t like foot-operated parking brakes) flies in the face of one of the more advanced looking electronic gear selectors available on planet earth (standard with the nine-speed), so where is the electronic parking brake that should be attached? I’ll be waiting for Honda to solve this problem in an upcoming redesign, and remain unimpressed that it wasn’t dealt with sooner. 

All of this complaining might cause a person to believe I’m not a fan of Honda’s updated Pilot, but this couldn’t be further from the truth. Yes, I’d like to see some changes made as noted, but such hopes for improvement hardly mean that the 2019 Pilot didn’t impress on the whole. In fact, I really enjoyed my time with Honda’s largest vehicle. It was a pleasure to drive, easy to live with, and nice to look at, exactly what is needed from a three-row family hauler. 

Story credit: Trevor Hofmann 

Photo credit: Karen Tuggay