CarCostCanada

2020 Toyota 4Runner Venture Edition Road Test

2020 Toyota 4Runner Venture Edition
The new 2020 Toyota 4Runner Venture Edition is one of the model’s most off-road-capable trims.

Want to drive an icon? Or maybe you’re just satisfied with a car-based crossover that’s little more than a tall station wagon with muscled-up, matte-black fender flares? I thought not. You wouldn’t be here if you merely wanted a grocery-getter, unless those groceries happen to necessitate a fly rod or hunting rifle to acquire.

Toyota’s 4Runner is idea for such excursions, and makes a good family shuttle too. I’d call it a good compromise between city slicker and rugged outdoorsman, but it’s so amazingly capable off-road it feels like you’re not compromising anything at all, despite having such a well put together interior, complete with high-end electronics and room to spare.

2020 Toyota 4Runner Venture Edition
The Venture Edition gets all of Toyota’s 4×4 tech and fewer luxury items to keep its price more competitive.

To be clear, I’m not trying to say the 4Runner is the most technically advanced 4×4 around, because it’s actually somewhat of a throwback when it comes to mechanicals. Under the hood is Toyota’s tried and true 4.0-litre V6 that’s made 270 horsepower and 278 lb-ft of torque since 2010, when this particular 4Runner generation arrived on the scene. That engine was merely an update of a less potent version of the same mill, which was eight years old at the time. The five-speed automatic it’s still joined up with hails from 2004, so mechanically the 4Runner is more about wholly proven reliability than leading edge sophistication, resulting in one of the more dependable 4x4s currently available, as well as best in the “Mid-size Crossover/SUV” class resale value according to The Canadian Black Book’s 2019 evaluation. Still, while the 4Runner might seem like a blast to the past when it comes to mechanicals, this ends as soon as we start talking about off-road technologies.

2020 Toyota 4Runner Venture Edition
Despite its trail credentials, all 4Runners provide a fairly smooth, comfortable ride.

I’m not talking about the classic second shift lever that sits next to the auto shifter on the lower centre console, this less advanced than most other 4x4s on the market that simply need the twist of a dash- or console-mounted dial to engage their four-wheel drive systems’ low ratio gears. The 4Runner’s completely mechanical setup first takes a tug rearward to shift it from H2 (rear-wheel drive) to H4 (four-wheel drive, high), which gives the SUV more traction in inclement weather or while driving on gravel roads, but doesn’t affect the speed at which you can travel. You’ll need to push the same lever to the right and then forward in a reverse J-pattern when wanting to venture into the wild yonder, this engaging its 4L (four-wheel drive, low) ratio, thus reducing its top speed to a fast crawl yet making it near invincible to almost any kind of terrain thrown at it.

2020 Toyota 4Runner Venture Edition
The 2021 4Runner gets standard LED headlamps and beefier off-road rubber on some 4×4-focused models.

My test trail of choice featured some deeply rutted paths of dried mud, lots of soft, slippery sand, and plenty of loose rock and gravel, depending on the portion of my short trek. For overcoming such obstacles, Toyota provides its Active Trac (A-TRAC) brake lock differential that slows a given wheel when spinning and then redirects engine torque to a wheel with traction, while simultaneously locking the electronic rear differential. The controls for this function can be found in the overhead console, which also features a dial for engaging Crawl Control that maintains a steady speed without the need to have your right foot on the gas pedal. This means you’re free to “stand” up in order to see over crests or around trees that would otherwise be in your way. Crawl Control offers five throttle speeds, while also applying brake pressure to maintain its chosen speed while going downhill.

2020 Toyota 4Runner Venture Edition
The Venture Edition gets these robust steel side steps as standard, which offer a lift up to the tall seating positions, but be sure to watch your shins.

Moving up the 4×4 sophistication ladder is the 4Runner’s Multi-Terrain Select system, which can be dialed into one of four off-road driving modes that range from “LIGHT” to “HEAVY” including “Mud, Sand, Dirt”, “Loose Rock”, “Mogul”, and “Rock”. Only the lightest mud, sand and dirt setting can be used in H4, with the three others requiring a shift to L4.

Fancy electronics aside, the 4Runner is able to overcome such obstacles due to 244 millimeters (9.6 inches) of ground clearance and 33/26-degree approach/departure angles, while I also found its standard Hill Start Assist Control system is as helpful when taking off from steep inclines when off-pavement as it is on the road. In the event you get hung up on something underneath, take some confidence in the knowledge that heavy-duty skid plates will protect the engine, front suspension and transfer case from damage.

2020 Toyota 4Runner Venture Edition
This handy cargo basket adds versatility until you need to park the 4Runner in some covered garages.

While I personally experienced no problem when it came to ground clearance, my Venture Edition tester came with a set of standard Predator side steps that could get in the way of protruding rocks, stumps or even crests. They hang particularly low, and while helpful when climbing inside (albeit watch your shins), might play interference.

For $55,390 plus freight and fees, the Venture Edition also includes blacked out side mirrors, door handles (that also include proximity-sensing access buttons), a rooftop spoiler, a windshield wiper de-icer, mudguards, and special exterior badges. Inside, all-weather floor mats join an auto-dimming rearview mirror, HomeLink garage door remote controls, a powered glass sunroof, a front and a rear seating area USB port, a household-style 120-volt power outlet in the cargo area, active front headrests, eight airbags, and Toyota’s Safety Sense P suite of advanced driver assistance systems, including an automatic Pre-Collision System with Pedestrian Detection, Lane Departure Alert, Automatic High Beams, and Dynamic Radar Cruise Control. Options not already mentioned include a sliding rear cargo deck with an under-floor storage compartment.

2020 Toyota 4Runner Venture Edition
Fit and finish quality is evident in the 4Runner’s well organized cabin, while some surfaces are padded and stitched as well.

The Venture Edition also features an awesome looking Yakima MegaWarrior Rooftop Basket, which allows for extra cargo carrying capacity on top of the SUV. While really useful for camping trips and the like, it’s tall and can make parking in urban garages a bit tight to say the least. In fact, you may not be able to park in some closed cover parking lots due to height restrictions, the basket increasing the already tall 4Runner Venture Edition’s ride height by 193 mm (7.6 in) from 1,816 mm (71.5 in) to 2,009 mm (79.09 in). The basket itself measures 1,321 millimetres (52 inches) long, 1,219 mm (48 in) wide, and 165 mm (6.5 in) high, so it really is a useful cargo hold when heading out on a long haul.

2020 Toyota 4Runner Venture Edition
Some nice pewter-coloured inlays, plus glossy metallic black and even carbon-like surfaces, dress up the dash, console and door panels.

Heading out on the highway in mind, my Venture Edition tester’s 17-inch TRD alloys and 265/70 Bridgestone Dueller H/T mud-and-snow tires did as good a job of managing off-road terrain as they held to the pavement, making them a good compromise for both scenarios. In such situations you’ll no doubt appreciate another standard Venture Edition feature, Toyota’s Kinetic Dynamic Suspension System (KDSS) that reduces body lean by up to 50 percent at high speed. This is important in a body-on-frame SUV that’s primarily designed for off-road, and thus comes with lots of wheel travel and a relatively soft suspension that’s easy on the backside through rough terrain. It’s a heavy beast too, weighing in at 2,155 kg (4,750 lbs), so KDSS really makes a difference on the highway, especially when the road gets twisty and you want to keep up with (and even exceed) the flow of traffic. It’s actually pretty capable through curves thanks to an independent double-wishbone front suspension and a four-link rear setup, plus stabilizer bars at both ends, but don’t expect it to stand on its head like Thatcher Demko did on the Canuck’s recent Vegas Golden Knights’ playoff run, or you’ll likely be hung upside down like the rest of the Vancouver team were when physicality overcame reality.

2020 Toyota 4Runner Venture Edition
Not the most technologically advanced gauge cluster in the industry, but the 4Runner’s is certainly one of the easiest to see in all lighting conditions.

Physicality in mind, the 4Runner’s powered driver seat was very comfortable during my weeklong test, even when off-road. I was able to adjust the seat and tilt/telescopic steering wheel to a near ideal position for my somewhat oddly proportioned long-legged, short-torso five-foot-eight frame, allowing comfortable yet fully controlled operation, which hasn’t always been the case in every Toyota product, and some other brands’ I should add.

It’s also comforting its other four seats, the Venture Edition standard for five occupants while other 4Runner trims offer three rows and up to seven passengers. I’ve tested the latter before, and let’s just say they’re best left to kids or very small adults, although this five-seat model provides plenty of leg, hip, shoulder and head room in every position.

2020 Toyota 4Runner Venture Edition
The 4Runner’s centre stack is well designed with high-quality switchgear and an excellent new infotainment system.

Even without the noted basket on top, the 4Runner provides 1,336 litres (47.2 cu ft) of cargo space behind its second row of seats, which I found more than ample for carrying all my gear. I tested it during the summer so didn’t find reason to use the 20-percent centre pass-through portion of its ultra-handy 40/20/40-split rear seatbacks, but this would be a dealmaker for me and my family due to our penchant for skiing. When all three sections of the rear seat are lowered the 4Runner offers up to 2,540 litres (89.7 cu ft) of max storage, which again is very good, while the weight of said payload can be up to 737 kg (1,625 lbs). Also important in this class, all 4Runners can manage trailers up to 2,268 kg (5,000 lbs) and come standard with a receiver hitch and wiring harness with four- and seven-pin connectors.

2020 Toyota 4Runner Venture Edition
Upgraded 2020 4Runner infotainment now includes Apple CarPlay, Android Auto and plenty of other useful features.

You won’t be able to achieve the 4Runner’s claimed 14.8 L/100km city fuel economy rating when fully loaded with gear and trailer, mind you, or for that matter its 12.5 L/100km highway rating or 13.8 combined estimate. My tester was empty other than yours truly and sometimes one additional passenger, so I had no problem matching its potential efficiency when going light on the throttle and traveling over mostly flat, paved terrain in 2H (two-wheel drive, high). If it seems thirsty to you, consider that it only uses regular fuel and will give you back much of its fuel costs in its aforementioned resale/residual value when it comes time to sell, as well as dependability when out of warranty.

2020 Toyota 4Runner Venture Edition
The little knob behind the main shift lever is for selecting 4H and 4L.

One of the reasons the 4Runner holds its value is lack of change, although Toyota wholly improved this 2020 model’s infotainment system for a much better user experience and lots of advanced features. The 8.0-inch touchscreen incorporates Android Auto, Apple CarPlay, Amazon Alexa and more, while I found its Dynamic Navigation with detailed mapping very accurate. The stock audio system decent as well, standard satellite radio providing the depth of music variety I enjoy (I’m a bit eclectic when it comes to tunes), while the backup camera only offers stationary “projected path” graphic indicators to show the way, but the rear parking sensors made up for this big time. Additional infotainment functions include Bluetooth phone connectivity, a helpful weather page, traffic condition info and apps, meaning that it really lacks nothing you’ll need.

2020 Toyota 4Runner Venture Edition
Most of Toyota’s high-tech 4×4 functions can be controlled via this overhead console.

The primary instruments are somewhat more dated in appearances and functionality, but they still do the job. The Optitron analogue dials offer backlit brightness for easily legibility no matter the outside lighting conditions, and the multi-information display in the middle includes the usual assortment of useful features.

My 4Runner Venture Edition interior’s fit, finish and general materials quality was actually better than I expected, leaving me pleasantly surprised. All of its switchgear felt good, even the large dash-mounted knobs, which previously felt too light and generally substandard, are now more solid and robust. Tolerances are tight for the other buttons and switches too, and therefore should satisfy any past 4Runner owner.

2020 Toyota 4Runner Venture Edition
The front seats are comfortable and driver’s seating position very good.

The overall look of the dash and door panels is rectangular, matching the SUV’s boxy exterior style. That will probably be seen as a good thing by most traditionalists, its utilitarian appeal appreciated by yours truly, at least. I was surprised to see faux carbon fibre-style trim on the lower console, and found the dark glossy metallic grey surfacing chosen for the centre stack, dash trim and door panel accents better than shiny piano black plastic when it comes to reducing dust and scratches. Padded and red stitched leatherette gets added to the front two-thirds of those door panels, by the way, the same material as used for the side and centre armrests, while Toyota adds the red thread to the SofTex-upholstered seat side bolsters too, not to mention some flashy red “TRD” embroidery on the front headrests. Again, I think most 4Runner fans should find this Venture Edition plenty luxurious, unless they’re stepping out of a fully loaded Limited model.

2020 Toyota 4Runner Venture Edition
Rear seat roominess in this two-row 4Runner is excellent.

Being that we’re so close to the 2021 model arriving, take note it will arrive with standard LED headlamps, LED fog lights, and special Lunar Rock exterior paint, while new black TRD alloys will soon get wrapped in Nitto Terra Grappler A/T tires for better off-road traction. Additionally, Toyota has retuned the 2021 model’s dampers to improve isolation when on the trail. Word has it a completely new 4Runner is on the way for 2022, so keep this in mind when purchasing this 2020 or one of the upgraded 2021 models.

2020 Toyota 4Runner Venture Edition
Cargo space? No problem. The centre pass-through makes the 4Runner ultra-convenient.

Also worthwhile to keep in mind is Toyota factory leasing and financing on this 2020 4Runner from 3.99 percent, or zero-percent factory leasing and financing on 2019 models if you can locate one. Check out 2019 and 2020 Toyota 4Runner Canada Prices pages to find out more, and remember that a CarCostCanada membership won’t only notify you of available financing and leasing rates, but also provides available rebate information as well as all-important dealer invoice pricing that can save you thousands when negotiating your next new vehicle purchase. Download the free CarCostCanada app from the Apple Store or Google Store to make sure you have all this critical info available whenever you need it. After all, why should you pay more if you don’t have to?

Story and photo credits: Trevor Hofmann

Photo editing: Karen Tuggay

CarCostCanada

2019 Ford Flex Limited EcoBoost V6 Road Test

2019 Ford Flex Limited EcoBoost V6
The 2019 Ford Flex is the last of a breed, yet all trims are still available.

If you’ve been reading my latest reviews here, you’ll know that I scour Canada’s retail auto network before putting fingers to the keyboard, as it wouldn’t make much sense to write about a new vehicle that’s no longer available. As it is, plenty of 2019 Ford Flex examples are still very much available despite being a discontinued model, so for those enamoured with its unusual good looks I recommend paying attention.

I’m guessing your local Ford dealer will be happy to give you a great deal on a Flex if he happens to have one still available, while CarCostCanada is claiming up to $5,500 in additional incentives for this final 2019 model.

The Flex has been in production for more than 10 years, and while it initially got off to a pretty good start in Canada with 6,047 units sold in calendar year 2009, 2010 quickly saw annual deliveries slide to 4,803 examples, followed by a plunge to 2,862 units in 2011, a climb up to 3,268 in 2012, and then another drop to 2,302 in 2013, 2,365 in 2014, a low of 1,789 in 2015, a boost to 2,587 in 2016, and 2,005 in 2017. Oddly, year-over-year sales grew by 13.4 percent to 2,273 units in 2018 to and by 9.6 percent to 2,492 deliveries in 2019, which means three-row crossover SUV buyers are still interested in this brilliantly unorthodox family mover, but it obviously wasn’t enough to make Dearborn commit to a redesign, and in hindsight this makes perfect sense because three-row blue-oval buyers have made their choice clear by gobbling up the big Explorer in to the point that it’s one of the best selling SUVs in its class.

2019 Ford Flex Limited EcoBoost V6
The boxy three-row mid-size crossover SUV has a lot of room inside.

The Flex and the outgoing 2011–2019 Explorer share a unibody structure that’s based on Ford’s D4 platform, and that architecture is a modified version of the original Volvo S80/XC90-sourced D3 platform. Going back further, the first D3 to wear a blue oval badge was Ford’s rather nondescript Five Hundred sedan, which was quickly redesigned into the sixth-generation 2010–2019 Taurus and only cancelled recently, thus you can save you up to $5,500 in additional incentives on a Taurus as well (see our 2019 Ford Taurus Canada Prices page to find out more). If you want to trace the Flex back to its roots, check out the 2005–2007 Freestyle that was renamed Taurus X for 2008–2009.

Those older Ford crossovers never got the respect they deserved, because they were comfortable, well proportioned, good performers for their time, and impressively innovative during that era too. The Freestyle was the first domestic SUV to use a continuously variable transmission (CVT), at least as far as I can remember, and it was one of the biggest vehicles to do so up that point (Nissan edged Ford out with its Murano by a couple of years). Interestingly, Ford soon stopped using CVTs in its large vehicles, instead choosing a six-speed automatic for the Flex and the fifth-generation Explorer, which is a good thing as it has been a very dependable gearbox.

2019 Ford Flex Limited EcoBoost V6
All the black trim comes as part of a $900 Appearance package.

Mechanicals in mind, the Flex continues to use the same two versions of Ford’s popular 3.5-litre V6 that were offered in the original model. To be clear, the base Duratec engine, which produced 262 horsepower and 248 lb-ft of torque before 2013, after which output increased to 287 horsepower and 254 lb-ft of torque. The base engine pushes the three-row seven-passenger crossover along at a reasonably good pace, but the turbocharged 3.5-litre Ecoboost V6 that became optional in 2010 turned it into a veritable flyer thanks to 355 horsepower and 350 lb-ft of torque, while an additional 10 horsepower to 365 has kept it far ahead of the mainstream volume branded pack right up to this day.

That’s the version to acquire and once again the configuration I recently spent a week with, and it performed as brilliantly as it did when I first tested a similarly equipped Flex in 2016. I noticed a bit of front wheel twist when pushed hard off the line at full throttle, otherwise called torque steer, particularly when taking off from a corner, which is strange for an all-wheel drive vehicle, but it moved along quickly and was wonderfully stable on the highway, not to mention long sweeping corners and even when flung through sharp fast-paced curves thanks to its fully independent suspension setup and big, meaty 255/45R20 all-season rubber. I wouldn’t say it’s as tight as a premium SUV like Acura’s MDX, Audi’s Q7 or BMW’s X7, but we really can’t compare those three from a price perspective. Such was the original goal of the now defunct Lincoln MKT, but its styling never took off and therefore it was really only used for airport shuttle and limousine liveries.

2019 Ford Flex Limited EcoBoost V6
The headlamps are only HIDs, but these taillights use LED technology.

Like the MKT and the many three-row Japanese and European crossover utilities available, the Flex is a very large vehicle, so no one should be expecting sports car-like performance. Combined with its turbo-six powerplant is the dependable SelectShift six-speed automatic mentioned earlier, and while not as advanced as the 7-, 8-, 9- and now even 10-speed automatics coming from the latest blue-oval, Lincoln and competitive products, it shifts quickly enough and is certainly smooth, plus it doesn’t hamper fuel economy as terribly as various brands’ marketing departments would have you believe. I love that Ford included paddle shifters with this big ute, something even some premium-branded three-row crossovers are devoid of yet standard with the more powerful engine (they replace the lesser engine’s “Shifter Button Activation” on the gear knob), yet the Flex is hardly short on features, especially in its top-tier Limited model.

The transmission is probably best left to its own devices if you want to get the most out of a tank of fuel no matter which engine you choose, and to that end the Ecoboost V6 is the least efficient at 15.7 L/100km in the city, 11.2 on the highway and 13.7 combined, but this said it’s not that much thirstier than the base engine and its all-wheel drivetrain that uses a claimed 14.7 city, 10.7 highway or 12.9 combined, which itself is only slightly less efficient than the base FWD model that gets a rating of 14.7, 10.2 and 12.7 respectively.

2019 Ford Flex Limited EcoBoost V6
The Flex cabin is a bit dated, but it’s quality is good and technology mostly up-to-date.

The 2019 Flex comes in base SE, mid-range SEL and top-tier Limited trims, according to the 2019 Ford Flex Canada Prices page found right here on CarCostCanada. This is where you can see all the pricing and feature information available for the Flex and most other vehicles sold in Canada. The 2019 Flex is available from $32,649 plus freight and fees for the SE with FWD, $39,649 for the SEL with FWD, $41,649 for the SEL with AWD, and $46,449 for the Limited that comes standard with AWD. All trims come standard with the base engine, but the Limited can be upgraded with the more powerful turbocharged V6 for an extra $6,800 (it includes other upgrades too).

Before adding additional options the retail price of a 2019 Flex Limited Ecoboost AWD is $53,249, and along with its aforementioned performance enhancements it gets everything standard with the regular Limited model, such as 19-inch silver-painted alloy wheels wrapped with 235/55 all-season tires, HID headlamps, fog lights, LED tail lamps, a satin-aluminum grille, chrome door handles, bright stainless steel beltline mouldings, a satin aluminum liftgate appliqué, a powered liftgate, bright dual exhaust tips, power-folding heated side mirrors with memory and security approach lights, rain-sensing wipers, reverse parking sonar, and I’ve only talked about the exterior.

2019 Ford Flex Limited EcoBoost V6
The driving environment is spacious, comfortable and nicely organized.

Ford provides remote start to warm it up in winter or cool it down in summer, all ahead of even getting inside, while access comes via a keyless proximity system or the automaker’s exclusive SecuriCode keypad. Likewise, pushbutton start/stop keeps the engine purring, Ford MyKey maintains a level of security when a valet or one of your children is behind the wheel, while additional interior features include illuminated entry with theatre dimming lighting, a perforated leather-clad steering wheel rim with real hardwood inlays, Yoho maple wood grain inlays, power-adjustable pedals with memory, perforated leather upholstery for the first- and second-row seat upholstery, a 10-way power driver’s seat with memory, a six-way power front passenger’s seat, heated front seats, an auto-dimming centre mirror, an overhead sunglasses holder, ambient interior lighting with seven colours that include (default) Ice Blue, as well as soft blue, blue, green, purple, orange and red, plus Ford’s Sync 3 infotainment system, excellent sounding 12-speaker Sony audio, satellite radio, two USB charging ports in the front console bin, two-zone auto climate control, rear manual HVAC controls, four 12-volt power points, a 110-volt household-style three-prong power outlet, blind spot information with cross-traffic alert, and more.

2019 Ford Flex Limited EcoBoost V6
The dual-screen colour TFT gauge cluster was way ahead of its time when introduced a decade ago.

For a ten year old design, the Flex looks fairly up to date as far as electronics go, thanks to its Cockpit Integrated Display that incorporates two high-resolution displays within the primary instrument cluster (it was far ahead of its time back in 2009), while the just-mentioned Sync 3 infotainment touchscreen is still impressive too, due to updates through the years. It incorporates a big, graphically attractive and well-equipped display with quick-reacting functionality plus good overall usability, its features including accurate available navigation as well as a very good standard backup camera with active guidelines, albeit no overhead camera even in its topmost trim. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto smartphone connectivity is standard, however, plus the ability to download more apps, etcetera.

On top of the Limited trim’s standard features a $3,200 301A package can be added with features such as a heated steering wheel, truly comfortable 10-way power-adjustable front seats with three-way cooling, dynamic cruise control, Collision Warning with autonomous emergency braking, and Active Park Assist semi-autonomous parking capability, but note that all of the 301A features come standard already when choosing the more powerful engine, as does a special set of 20-inch polished alloy wheels, a powered steering column, a one-touch 50/50-split power-folding third row with tailgate seating, and an engine block heater.

2019 Ford Flex Limited EcoBoost V6
Ford’s Sync3 infotainment interface is very attractive and intelligently designed.

As you may already noticed, my tester’s wheels are gloss-black 20-inch alloys that come as part of a $900 Appearance package which also includes additional inky exterior treatments to the centre grille bar, side mirror housings, and rear liftgate appliqué, plus it adds Agate Black paint to the roof and pillars, while the cabin receives a special leather-clad steering wheel featuring Meteorite Black bezels, plus an unique graphic design on the instrument panel and door-trim appliqués, special leather seat upholstery with Light Earth Gray inserts and Dark Earth Gray bolsters, as well as floor mats with a unique logo.

My test model’s Vista panoramic multi-panel glass roof has always been an individual option, adding $1,750 to this 2019 model, but I found it a bit odd that voice-activated navigation (with SiriusXM Traffic and Travel Link) as a standalone add-on (navigation systems usually bundled as part of a high-level trim line), while the gloss-black roof rails can also be individually added for just $130, but the roof rails, which are also available in silver, come as part of a $600 Cargo Versatility package too, which combines the otherwise $500 Class III Trailer Tow package (capable of up to 4,500 lbs or 2,041 kg of trailer weight) with first- and second-row all-weather floor mats (otherwise a $150 option), resulting in more four-season practicality.

2019 Ford Flex Limited EcoBoost V6
The two-zone auto HVAC interface uses state-of-the-art touch-sensitive controls.

Over and above items included in my test model, it’s also possible to add a refrigerated centre console for $650, second-row captain’s chairs with a centre console for just $150 (but I prefer the regular bench seat as the smaller portion of its 60/40-split configuration can be auto-folded from the rear), inflatable second-row seatbelts for $250 (which enhance rear passenger safety), and two-screen (on the backs of the front headrests) rear entertainment for $2,100.

Of course, many of the Limited trim’s features get pulled up from base SE and mid-range SEL trims, both being well equipped for their price ranges too, I should also mention that the Flex’s interior isn’t quite as refined as what you’d find in a new 2020 Explorer with the same options, per say. Then again I remember how impressed I was with the Flex’s refinement when it arrived 10 or so year ago, which really goes to show how far Ford has come in a decade, not to mention all of the other mainstream brands. The latest Edge, for example, which I tested in its top-tier trim recently, is likely better than the old Lincoln MKX, now replaced by the much-improved Nautilus, whereas the Flex’s cabin is more like the old Edge inside.

2019 Ford Flex Limited EcoBoost V6
This Flex boasts 10-way powered front seats with heated and cooled cushions for supreme comfort.

Therefore you’ll have to be ok with good quality albeit somewhat dated details, such as its large, clunky, hollow plastic power lock switches instead of Ford’s newer models’ more upscale electronic buttons, while there’s a lower grade of hard plastic surfaces throughout the interior too. This said its dash-top receives a fairly plush composite covering, as does each door upper from front to back, whereas the door inserts have always been given a nifty graphic appliqué, just above big padded armrests.

As you might imagine, the Flex is roomy inside. In fact, its predecessor was designed to replace the Freestar minivan back in 2007, so it had to have minivan-like seating and cargo functionality. This said the Flex’s maximum cargo volume of 2,355 litres (83.1 cubic feet) when both all rear seats are tumbled down doesn’t come close to the brand’s once-popular minivan that managed a total of 3,885 litres (137.2 cu ft) of luggage volume in its day, but it’s generously proportioned for a mid-size crossover. In fact, the Flex can manage 42 additional litres (1.5 cu ft) of total storage space than the outgoing 2019 Explorer, which was one of the biggest SUVs in its three-row segment. That said the new 2020 Explorer offers up to 2,486 litres (87.8 cu ft) of maximum cargo capacity, which improves on both of Ford’s past SUVs (Flex included).

2019 Ford Flex Limited EcoBoost V6
The second row is ultra-comfortable and limousine-like for legroom, while the third row is large enough for adults.

The rear liftgate powers upward to reveal 426 litres (15.0 cu ft) of dedicated luggage space aft of the rearmost seats, which is in fact 169 litres (6.0 cu ft) less than in the old Explorer, but if you lower the second row the Flex nearly matches the past Explorer’s cargo capacity with 1,224 litres (43.2 cu ft) compared to 1,240 litres (43.8 cu ft). A nifty feature noted before allows the final row to be powered in the opposite direction for tailgate parties, incidentally, but make sure to extend the headrests for optimal comfort.

Total Flex passenger volume is 4,412 litres (155.8 cu ft), which results in a lot of room in all seating positions, plus plenty of comfort. Truly, even third row legroom is pretty decent, while headroom is lofty everywhere inside thanks to a high roofline. Ford made sure there was enough space from side-to-side too, this due to a vehicle that’ quite wide. The aforementioned panoramic sunroof adds to the feeling of openness as well, and its three-pane construction is pretty intelligent as it allows for better structural rigidity than one large opening, which is particularly important for a vehicle with such a large, flat roof. Additional thoughtful features include large bottle holders within the rear door panels, these wholly helpful at drive-thrus.

2019 Ford Flex Limited EcoBoost V6
The innovative multi-pane panoramic Vista sunroof provides loads of light while maintaining the big Flex’s structural rigidity.

I’m guessing you can tell I like this unusual box on wheels, and must admit to appreciating Ford for its initial courage when bringing the Flex to market and its willingness to keep it around so long. I know it’s outdated, particularly inside, plus it’s missing a few features that I’d like to see, such as outboard rear seat warmers and USB charging ports in the second row, but it’s difficult to criticize its value proposition after factoring in the potential savings Ford has on the table. I’m sure that opting for this somewhat antiquated crossover might be questionable after seeing it parked beside Ford’s latest 2020 Explorer, but keep in mind that a similarly equipped version of the latter utility will cost you another $10,000 or so before any discounts, while the domestic manufacturer is only providing up to $2,000 in additional incentives for this newer SUV. That’s a price difference of more than $13,000, so therefore a fully loaded Flex might make a lot of sense for someone looking for a budget-minded luxury utility.

2019 Ford Flex Limited EcoBoost V6
There’s no shortage of storage space in a Flex.

A month or so ago, before we all became aware of the COVID-19 outbreak, I would’ve probably recommended for those interested in buying a new Flex to rush over to their local dealer and scoop one up before they all disappeared forever, and while they certainly will be gone at some point this year I recommend you find one online like I did, and contact the respective dealership directly via phone or email. Still, doing your homework before making the call or sending the message is a good idea, so make sure to visit our 2019 Ford Flex Canada Prices page first, where you can learn about every trim and price, plus find out if any new manufacturer discounts, rebates and/or financing/leasing packages have been created, while don’t forget that a membership to CarCostCanada provides otherwise difficult to access dealer invoice pricing (which is the price the retailer actually pays the manufacturer for the vehicle). This will provide you the opportunity to score the best-possible deal during negotiation. After that, your Ford dealer will ready your new Flex for delivery.

So therefore if this unorthodox crossover utility is as appealing to you as to me, I recommend you take advantage of the tempting model-ending deal mentioned earlier. The Flex might be an aging SUV amongst the plethora of more advanced offerings, but don’t forget that this aging crossover still comes across as fresh thanks to its moderate popularity (you won’t see a lot of them driving around your city), while its long well-proven tenure means that it should be more dependable than some of its newer competitors.

Story credit: Trevor Hofmann

Photo credits: Karen Tuggay

CarCostCanada

2019 Kia Sorento SXL Road Test

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Story and photo credits: Trevor Hofmann

CarCostCanada

2019 Subaru Ascent Premier Road Test

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Story credit: Trevor Hofmann 

Photo credit: Karen Tuggay

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