If you purchased a brand new, fully-loaded Acura MDX last year, you would’ve paid a maximum of $69,400, plus freight, fees and taxes, or about $1,100 less than the much more advanced MDX Sport Hybrid when last available in 2020. Now, however, two new trims are pushing the 2022 MDX’ price up to and beyond the $80k threshold, but nevertheless we think a lot of Canadian luxury utility buyers will be willing to part with $10k more in order to take home the sportier Type S variant.
The new 2022 Acura MDX Type S, which is now available from $79,000 (or $81,500 including destination fees), adds a number of key upgrades that are well worth the extra cost. Specifically, the Type S gets a more potent engine good for 65 additional horsepower and 87 lb-ft of extra torque, which results in a grand total of 355 hp and 345 lb-ft of twist, while the performance-focused family hauler also features an Active Exhaust system in order to make it sound as fast as it is.
There’s no change in engine displacement, but the 10-speed automatic transmission connected to that 3.0-litre V6 has been beefed up inside, plus enhanced with quicker shifting gear increments, and rev-matched downshifts. What’s more, a performance-tuned version of the Japanese luxury brand’s Super-Handling All-Wheel Drive (SH-AWD) system optimizes the uprated high-performance rubber underneath.
Those tires are special self-sealing all seasons, wrapping around a set of 21-inch twinned five-spoke alloys boasting black-painted pockets, and visible through those rims are aggressive Brembo brakes that incorporate big 363-mm front discs with four-piston fixed calipers.
Acura’s first-ever adaptive air suspension helps maintain stability under braking as well as mid-corner, thanks to three unique damping profiles exclusive to the MDX Type S. The brand’s Integrated Dynamics System was improved as well, with special Sport+ and ride height-increasing Lift modes. As exciting as all this sounds, let’s not forget the three-row crossover SUV is a family-first shuttle after all, a point Acura wanted to keep clear by mentioning in their press release that even this sporty Type S will provide “a smooth, comfortable ride.”
Type S buyers wanting more luxury can ante up for the Ultra Package that, for $4,000 more includes 16-way powered front seats with nine massage settings, plus quilted leather upholstery, and a 1,000-watt ELS Studio 3D surround-sound audio system boasting 25 speakers that include LED-illuminated door speakers, high-performance PrecisionDrive carbon-fibre speakers, and CenterParquet. This package increases the price of the MDX Type S by $4,000 to $83,000 (or $85,500 with destination), which is well into German luxury SUV territory.
As far as external visuals go, the 2022 MDX Type S receives a modified front fascia featuring an open-surface Diamond Pentagon grille design for enhanced engine cooling, while an exclusive front splitter sets the front lower section apart from lesser MDX trims. Additionally, the rear diffuser gets the Type S treatment too, thanks to four exhaust outlets.
Want to drive an icon? Or maybe you’re just satisfied with a car-based crossover that’s little more than a tall station wagon with muscled-up, matte-black fender flares? I thought not. You wouldn’t be here if you merely wanted a grocery-getter, unless those groceries happen to necessitate a fly rod or hunting rifle to acquire.
Toyota’s 4Runner is idea for such excursions, and makes a good family shuttle too. I’d call it a good compromise between city slicker and rugged outdoorsman, but it’s so amazingly capable off-road it feels like you’re not compromising anything at all, despite having such a well put together interior, complete with high-end electronics and room to spare.
To be clear, I’m not trying to say the 4Runner is the most technically advanced 4×4 around, because it’s actually somewhat of a throwback when it comes to mechanicals. Under the hood is Toyota’s tried and true 4.0-litre V6 that’s made 270 horsepower and 278 lb-ft of torque since 2010, when this particular 4Runner generation arrived on the scene. That engine was merely an update of a less potent version of the same mill, which was eight years old at the time. The five-speed automatic it’s still joined up with hails from 2004, so mechanically the 4Runner is more about wholly proven reliability than leading edge sophistication, resulting in one of the more dependable 4x4s currently available, as well as best in the “Mid-size Crossover/SUV” class resale value according to The Canadian Black Book’s 2019 evaluation. Still, while the 4Runner might seem like a blast to the past when it comes to mechanicals, this ends as soon as we start talking about off-road technologies.
I’m not talking about the classic second shift lever that sits next to the auto shifter on the lower centre console, this less advanced than most other 4x4s on the market that simply need the twist of a dash- or console-mounted dial to engage their four-wheel drive systems’ low ratio gears. The 4Runner’s completely mechanical setup first takes a tug rearward to shift it from H2 (rear-wheel drive) to H4 (four-wheel drive, high), which gives the SUV more traction in inclement weather or while driving on gravel roads, but doesn’t affect the speed at which you can travel. You’ll need to push the same lever to the right and then forward in a reverse J-pattern when wanting to venture into the wild yonder, this engaging its 4L (four-wheel drive, low) ratio, thus reducing its top speed to a fast crawl yet making it near invincible to almost any kind of terrain thrown at it.
My test trail of choice featured some deeply rutted paths of dried mud, lots of soft, slippery sand, and plenty of loose rock and gravel, depending on the portion of my short trek. For overcoming such obstacles, Toyota provides its Active Trac (A-TRAC) brake lock differential that slows a given wheel when spinning and then redirects engine torque to a wheel with traction, while simultaneously locking the electronic rear differential. The controls for this function can be found in the overhead console, which also features a dial for engaging Crawl Control that maintains a steady speed without the need to have your right foot on the gas pedal. This means you’re free to “stand” up in order to see over crests or around trees that would otherwise be in your way. Crawl Control offers five throttle speeds, while also applying brake pressure to maintain its chosen speed while going downhill.
Moving up the 4×4 sophistication ladder is the 4Runner’s Multi-Terrain Select system, which can be dialed into one of four off-road driving modes that range from “LIGHT” to “HEAVY” including “Mud, Sand, Dirt”, “Loose Rock”, “Mogul”, and “Rock”. Only the lightest mud, sand and dirt setting can be used in H4, with the three others requiring a shift to L4.
Fancy electronics aside, the 4Runner is able to overcome such obstacles due to 244 millimeters (9.6 inches) of ground clearance and 33/26-degree approach/departure angles, while I also found its standard Hill Start Assist Control system is as helpful when taking off from steep inclines when off-pavement as it is on the road. In the event you get hung up on something underneath, take some confidence in the knowledge that heavy-duty skid plates will protect the engine, front suspension and transfer case from damage.
While I personally experienced no problem when it came to ground clearance, my Venture Edition tester came with a set of standard Predator side steps that could get in the way of protruding rocks, stumps or even crests. They hang particularly low, and while helpful when climbing inside (albeit watch your shins), might play interference.
For $55,390 plus freight and fees, the Venture Edition also includes blacked out side mirrors, door handles (that also include proximity-sensing access buttons), a rooftop spoiler, a windshield wiper de-icer, mudguards, and special exterior badges. Inside, all-weather floor mats join an auto-dimming rearview mirror, HomeLink garage door remote controls, a powered glass sunroof, a front and a rear seating area USB port, a household-style 120-volt power outlet in the cargo area, active front headrests, eight airbags, and Toyota’s Safety Sense P suite of advanced driver assistance systems, including an automatic Pre-Collision System with Pedestrian Detection, Lane Departure Alert, Automatic High Beams, and Dynamic Radar Cruise Control. Options not already mentioned include a sliding rear cargo deck with an under-floor storage compartment.
The Venture Edition also features an awesome looking Yakima MegaWarrior Rooftop Basket, which allows for extra cargo carrying capacity on top of the SUV. While really useful for camping trips and the like, it’s tall and can make parking in urban garages a bit tight to say the least. In fact, you may not be able to park in some closed cover parking lots due to height restrictions, the basket increasing the already tall 4Runner Venture Edition’s ride height by 193 mm (7.6 in) from 1,816 mm (71.5 in) to 2,009 mm (79.09 in). The basket itself measures 1,321 millimetres (52 inches) long, 1,219 mm (48 in) wide, and 165 mm (6.5 in) high, so it really is a useful cargo hold when heading out on a long haul.
Heading out on the highway in mind, my Venture Edition tester’s 17-inch TRD alloys and 265/70 Bridgestone Dueller H/T mud-and-snow tires did as good a job of managing off-road terrain as they held to the pavement, making them a good compromise for both scenarios. In such situations you’ll no doubt appreciate another standard Venture Edition feature, Toyota’s Kinetic Dynamic Suspension System (KDSS) that reduces body lean by up to 50 percent at high speed. This is important in a body-on-frame SUV that’s primarily designed for off-road, and thus comes with lots of wheel travel and a relatively soft suspension that’s easy on the backside through rough terrain. It’s a heavy beast too, weighing in at 2,155 kg (4,750 lbs), so KDSS really makes a difference on the highway, especially when the road gets twisty and you want to keep up with (and even exceed) the flow of traffic. It’s actually pretty capable through curves thanks to an independent double-wishbone front suspension and a four-link rear setup, plus stabilizer bars at both ends, but don’t expect it to stand on its head like Thatcher Demko did on the Canuck’s recent Vegas Golden Knights’ playoff run, or you’ll likely be hung upside down like the rest of the Vancouver team were when physicality overcame reality.
Physicality in mind, the 4Runner’s powered driver seat was very comfortable during my weeklong test, even when off-road. I was able to adjust the seat and tilt/telescopic steering wheel to a near ideal position for my somewhat oddly proportioned long-legged, short-torso five-foot-eight frame, allowing comfortable yet fully controlled operation, which hasn’t always been the case in every Toyota product, and some other brands’ I should add.
It’s also comforting its other four seats, the Venture Edition standard for five occupants while other 4Runner trims offer three rows and up to seven passengers. I’ve tested the latter before, and let’s just say they’re best left to kids or very small adults, although this five-seat model provides plenty of leg, hip, shoulder and head room in every position.
Even without the noted basket on top, the 4Runner provides 1,336 litres (47.2 cu ft) of cargo space behind its second row of seats, which I found more than ample for carrying all my gear. I tested it during the summer so didn’t find reason to use the 20-percent centre pass-through portion of its ultra-handy 40/20/40-split rear seatbacks, but this would be a dealmaker for me and my family due to our penchant for skiing. When all three sections of the rear seat are lowered the 4Runner offers up to 2,540 litres (89.7 cu ft) of max storage, which again is very good, while the weight of said payload can be up to 737 kg (1,625 lbs). Also important in this class, all 4Runners can manage trailers up to 2,268 kg (5,000 lbs) and come standard with a receiver hitch and wiring harness with four- and seven-pin connectors.
You won’t be able to achieve the 4Runner’s claimed 14.8 L/100km city fuel economy rating when fully loaded with gear and trailer, mind you, or for that matter its 12.5 L/100km highway rating or 13.8 combined estimate. My tester was empty other than yours truly and sometimes one additional passenger, so I had no problem matching its potential efficiency when going light on the throttle and traveling over mostly flat, paved terrain in 2H (two-wheel drive, high). If it seems thirsty to you, consider that it only uses regular fuel and will give you back much of its fuel costs in its aforementioned resale/residual value when it comes time to sell, as well as dependability when out of warranty.
One of the reasons the 4Runner holds its value is lack of change, although Toyota wholly improved this 2020 model’s infotainment system for a much better user experience and lots of advanced features. The 8.0-inch touchscreen incorporates Android Auto, Apple CarPlay, Amazon Alexa and more, while I found its Dynamic Navigation with detailed mapping very accurate. The stock audio system decent as well, standard satellite radio providing the depth of music variety I enjoy (I’m a bit eclectic when it comes to tunes), while the backup camera only offers stationary “projected path” graphic indicators to show the way, but the rear parking sensors made up for this big time. Additional infotainment functions include Bluetooth phone connectivity, a helpful weather page, traffic condition info and apps, meaning that it really lacks nothing you’ll need.
The primary instruments are somewhat more dated in appearances and functionality, but they still do the job. The Optitron analogue dials offer backlit brightness for easily legibility no matter the outside lighting conditions, and the multi-information display in the middle includes the usual assortment of useful features.
My 4Runner Venture Edition interior’s fit, finish and general materials quality was actually better than I expected, leaving me pleasantly surprised. All of its switchgear felt good, even the large dash-mounted knobs, which previously felt too light and generally substandard, are now more solid and robust. Tolerances are tight for the other buttons and switches too, and therefore should satisfy any past 4Runner owner.
The overall look of the dash and door panels is rectangular, matching the SUV’s boxy exterior style. That will probably be seen as a good thing by most traditionalists, its utilitarian appeal appreciated by yours truly, at least. I was surprised to see faux carbon fibre-style trim on the lower console, and found the dark glossy metallic grey surfacing chosen for the centre stack, dash trim and door panel accents better than shiny piano black plastic when it comes to reducing dust and scratches. Padded and red stitched leatherette gets added to the front two-thirds of those door panels, by the way, the same material as used for the side and centre armrests, while Toyota adds the red thread to the SofTex-upholstered seat side bolsters too, not to mention some flashy red “TRD” embroidery on the front headrests. Again, I think most 4Runner fans should find this Venture Edition plenty luxurious, unless they’re stepping out of a fully loaded Limited model.
Being that we’re so close to the 2021 model arriving, take note it will arrive with standard LED headlamps, LED fog lights, and special Lunar Rock exterior paint, while new black TRD alloys will soon get wrapped in Nitto Terra Grappler A/T tires for better off-road traction. Additionally, Toyota has retuned the 2021 model’s dampers to improve isolation when on the trail. Word has it a completely new 4Runner is on the way for 2022, so keep this in mind when purchasing this 2020 or one of the upgraded 2021 models.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
Lexus will refresh its top-selling RX mid-size crossover luxury SUV for 2020, so therefore I rounded up three 2019 examples as a sort of sayonara to the outgoing version. The changes aren’t dramatic, but most of those who’ve lived with this popular model should be happy with everything they’ve done.
Now that I’ve teased your curious mind, the 2020 RX updates include new front and rear fascias, slimmer triple-beam LED headlights and reworked tail lamps with fresh “L” shaped LED elements, new 18- and 20-inch alloy wheels, and promised improvements in driving dynamics thanks to thicker yet lighter stabilizer bars as well as a tauter retuned suspension system designed to benefit handling via new dampers that also enhance ride quality.
Also new, the addition of active corner braking is said to reduce understeer, while paddle shifters, which are standard across the RX lineup for 2020, should allow for more hands-on engagement. Lexus has also increased standard safety features with daytime bicyclist detection and low-light pedestrian detection as well as Lane Tracing Assist (LTA), while finally the infotainment system has been updated with a new lower console-mounted touchpad controller, and, a first for Lexus, Android Auto smartphone integration has been added to its standard features set.
Despite the 2020 RX being a completely new model, CarCostCanada members can still save up to $2,000 in additional incentives, while those ok forgoing some of the upgrades in order to get a discount can access up to $4,500 in incentives on a 2019. CarCostCanada members are actually saving an average of $2,777 on both 2019 and 2020 models, first by learning about available manufacturer rebates that your local retailer might rather keep for themselves, and then by finding out about a given model’s dealer invoice price before starting the negotiation.
The same four RX models will be available for 2020, which include the RX 350 and RX 450h hybrid, plus the new extended-wheelbase, three-row RX L with either powertrain. The RX continues to represent good value in its class with a base price of just $55,350 for the entry-level 2019 RX 350, while the 2019 RX 450h starts at $64,500, the RX 350 L at $66,250, and lastly the RX 450 L at $77,600. The refreshed 2020 base model’s pricing rises by $700, which isn’t too bad when factoring in all the previously mentioned standard improvements, but interestingly pricing for all other trims have been lowered by $5,700, $7,200, and $1,500 respectively thanks to more affordable decontented packaging. This smart move down market makes the base long-wheelbase and base hybrid models accessible to many more potential buyers.
Of the three 2019 RX models gathered together for this review, the two regular length models came in Lexus’ performance-focused F Sport trim, and the longer model in six-passenger Executive trim. As you might expect, the second row bench seat of this particular example was swapped out for two individual buckets, while the $6,050 upgrade also includes LED illuminated aluminum front scuff plates, premium leather upholstery, a hardwood and leather-wrapped steering wheel, a head-up display, a 15-speaker Mark Levinson surround sound audio system, a wireless device charger, 10-way power-adjustable front seats, power-recline rear seats, rear door sunshades, power-folding rear seats, and a gesture-controlled powered tailgate.
As the name implies, F Sport trim takes a more sporting approach to styling and features, with the former including more aggression in the front grille and fascia design, upgraded LED headlights with cornering capability, sportier 20-inch alloy rims, an adaptive variable air suspension, Vehicle Dynamics Integrated Management (VDIM), unique “F SPORT” branded scuff plates, a mostly digital primary instrument cluster, a sport steering wheel with paddles and a special shift knob, aluminum sport pedals with rubber inserts, performance seats, premium leather upholstery, and more.
As has long been the case, Lexus offers the RX with both conventional and hybrid electric powertrains, housing a 3.5-litre V6 under the hood in both instances. Interestingly, the regular and long-wheelbase models powered solely by the internal combustion engine (ICE) put out different numbers, with the RX 350 good for 295 horsepower and 268 lb-ft of torque, and the RX 350 L only making 290 horsepower and 263 lb-ft of torque. The RX 450h, on the other hand, makes more power at 308, yet comes up a bit weaker for torque at just 247 lb-ft.
You might not mind that weakness when it comes time to fill up, however, as the RX 450h gets a claimed fuel economy rating of just 7.5 L/100km in the city, 8.4 on the highway and 7.9 combined with its regular wheelbase, or 8.1 city, 8.4 highway and 8.1 combined when extended. The RX 350 and RX 350 L, on the other hand, manage 12.2 L/100km city, 9.0 highway and 10.8 combined in two-row trim, or 13.1, 9.4 and 11.1 respectively with its third row installed.
Like most all-wheel drive hybrids, the RX 450h powers its front wheels with the ICE and rears via an electric motor, but its 160-kg of added curb weight doesn’t allow its extra power to lend an advantage off the line. The hybrid’s CVT (continuously variable transmission) doesn’t seem to help in this respect either, although it probably doesn’t hamper straight-line acceleration, yet the conventionally powered model’s eight-speed automatic delivers a more engaging driving experience that I prefer, especially when mated up with paddle shifters.
As mentioned, those paddles come as part of the F Sport upgrade, as does a special Sport+ driving mode. It gets added to the base RX model’s Normal, Sport, and Eco drive mode settings, while the hybrid models get an EV mode to eke out better mileage. EV mode only stays engaged at slow parking lot speeds however, so don’t expect to be able to drive it around town unless you’re slowed to a crawl. At the other end of the performance spectrum, I couldn’t feel a lot of difference between Sport to Sport+ modes, other than firmness added via the adaptive variable air suspension, that is.
Ride and handling in mind, the RX’ fully independent MacPherson strut front and double-wishbone rear suspension feels a bit firmer in the F Sport than with more comfort-focused trims all around, while the extended-wheelbase RX L was comfortable without giving up too much when it came to carving corners. Either way the RX is a lot more about comfort than performance, which is why Lexus went to such lengths to reduce noise, vibration and harshness levels by creating a very rigid body structure, being generous with sound insulation, and making sure its powertrains are well refined.
Soft-touch surfaces and leather help to reduce NVH too, yet as good as the RX is when it comes to materials quality it doesn’t quite measure up to the three Germans and sole Swede in this class. Above the waste it’s mostly high-quality pliable composites, glove box lid included, while some surfaces on the dash leather-like with stitching and padding, but surprisingly, just to the left of the steering column, harder plastics prevail, these also found on the lower portions of the dash, centre console (that otherwise has its top edges finished in stitched leatherette) and door panels.
Both F Sport trims received stylish metallic inlays across the dash, lower console and upper doors, but I was wowed even further when seeing the extended-wheelbase model’s beautiful hardwood trim. Most was a high-gloss dark hardwood, but every half-inch or so there were thin pieces of lighter hardwood laminated within for a gorgeous double pinstripe appearance. Lexus won’t shortchange you on brushed metal trim either, with some of it appearing authentic and other areas not so much, but interior build quality is generally quite good, including the buttons, knobs, toggles and rocker switches.
All three RX models appeared to have similarly sporty seat designs, or at least they did at first glance. This may have been due to their contrast-stitched black perforated leather coverings, but upon closer inspection both F Sport models’ seats received a bit more side bolstering, aiding lateral support when pushing harder through curves. While all looked great and were comfortable overall, only the longer 350 L with its Executive package upgrade featured four-way lumbar support. These 10-way powered front seats were therefore very good, but if the two-way powered lumbar in the F Sport models hadn’t met up with the small of my back I would’ve certainly been complaining.
Fortunately the RX has always provided plenty of space front to back, with the second row near limousine-like, but the recently added long-wheelbase RX L isn’t in the same league to most three-row competitors. You’d think after all the years Lexus has been planning to introduce a three-row SUV they’d immediately get it right, but even my five-foot-eight body had trouble fitting in comfortably. Getting in and out is plenty easy due to a second row that slides far enough forward for a large opening, but even after moving the second row as far forward as possible before I’d become uncomfortable if seated there, I still didn’t have enough room for my knees when seated in the third row, whereas my head rubbed up against the roofliner.
It’s hard to argue against the RX L’s extra 77 litres of cargo space when all seatbacks are folded flat, mind you, shifting the maximum from 1,657 litres up to 1,580, but I’m guessing the last row adds a bit of height to the RX L’s cargo floor, because space behind its second row is down some 43 litres, from 694 litres in the regular wheelbase model to 651. With all seats in use both six- and seven-passenger RX Ls leave 212 litres of free space in the very back, which is good enough for some small suitcases or a golf bag.
Reading over my notes from all three weeklong RX tests, my biggest complaint was clearly the infotainment system. Not the screen up top that’s actually very impressive, but rather the joystick-style controller on the lower console. Lexus replaces this with its newer touchpad control for 2020, so kudos to them for finally modernizing an aging system, but those hoping to buy a 2019 will want to test out both systems before taking the plunge. It’s a functional system, made better by side entry buttons, but it simply feels antiquated in this world of touch-sensitivity. Haptic feedback locks in its various prompts, helping with the user experience, but this will be true of the new touchpad design so I can’t see many sorry for the joystick’s departure. As just noted, the high-definition display hovering above is excellent, while it’s also difficult to find fault with the overall functionality of the infotainment system itself, nor its features and functions, but Android phone users should be reminded that Android Auto smartphone integration won’t be available until next year.
Digital interfaces in mind, I was surprised to find out that the RX’ uninspiring standard instrument cluster carries forward for 2020. It’s about as basic as analogue gauges get for this class, consisting of a large speedometer and tachometer plus two sub-dials for engine temperature and fuel, centered by a tall, narrow full-colour multi-information display that’s really more like a trip computer. The package looks tired and dated in a vehicle as edgy and modern as the RX, particularly when factoring in that a number of RX challengers now come with standard digital instruments, or at the very least offer them as options. Of course, Lexus provides a mostly digital cluster optionally too, but only with the F Sport. My long-wheelbase RX 350 L tester had the most basic gauge cluster, even when optioned out with the Executive package, at it was priced higher than the RX 350 F Sport. This said, even the upgraded LFA-inspired digital gauges don’t provide the ability to transform most of the cluster into a big map, like Audi’s Q7 and some others, which is a bit of a letdown in this class.
It’s probably not fair to harp to harshly on Lexus’ RX, being that it’s been with us for some time and is only about to go through a mid-cycle refresh. After all, the auto industry moves at an amazingly fast pace when it comes to digital interfaces. What should matter more is everything else the RX does so very well, and the fact that so many Canadians believe it’s the best way to spend their mid-size luxury SUV dollar. Good looking, refined, efficient, luxurious, reliable and priced well, it’s hard to argue against any RX model.
Back in the day, badge engineering was mostly a domestic issue. Certainly there were some instances of entry-level European brands sharing underpinnings with a luxury marque, but few would call an Audi Fox, which rode on the back of Volkswagen’s “mid-size” Dasher, a luxury car. The practice was more common in North America where full-size Chevy and Pontiac sedans were unabashedly transformed into Buicks and Cadillacs by grafting on new front and rear clips, stamping new sheetmetal, and gussying up their cabins with leather, faux woodgrain and chrome, but little else, which was probably why no one thought anything about luxury newcomers Acura, Lexus and Infiniti doing likewise when they arrived on the scene in the ‘80s. While these Japanese premium brands have now mostly done away with this exercise as they’ve gained more prestige, some hangers on still survive, like Infiniti’s QX60.
We can point fingers at others, like Lexus’ ES series that rests on the comfortable Toyota K platform, the same as Toyota’s Avalon, which also carries the RX and Highlander, not to mention the Camry mid-size sedan, Sienna minivan, and now discontinued Venza mid-size crossover, while Audi still shares plenty of its platform architectures with VW (and Bentley, amongst others), BMW with Mini, Alfa Romeo with Jeep, and so on, but most aren’t as obvious as Infiniti with the QX60 and Nissan’s Pathfinder.
Truly, few premium models come closer to mimicking their mainstream volume-branded donor platform as the QX60 and Pathfinder, but to be fair to Infiniti the similarities aren’t easily seen outside. The luxury brand’s most accommodating crossover SUV incorporates its trademark grille and animal-like LED headlights up front, plus its curvy rear quarter window, and its more shapely wrap-around LED taillights, while the Nissan appears a lot more like a traditional truck-based SUV since it was refreshed for 2017.
No, the most noticeable similarities are found inside, where the two SUVs are near duplicates in design, layout, and overall goodness. Did you notice how I did that? No doubt you thought I was going to slam the QX60 for not measuring up to the luxury class, but despite a desire to see more differentiation between QX60 and Pathfinder interiors, they’re both very good at providing what customers in this family segment want and require, the Infiniti simply offering more when it comes to the choice and quality of materials, plus other niceties.
For starters, the QX60’s dash top, instrument panel fascia, glove box lid, lower console sides, and front door panels, from top to bottom, are covered in high-quality soft synthetics, while the Pathfinder is the king of hard plastics, covering each of these surfaces with low rent composites except for (oddly) the front door panels that receive the full soft-touch treatment too. The QX60 also moves these improvements into the rear passenger compartment, offering pliable rear door uppers, whereas hard shell plastic covers the Pathfinder’s inner door panels. What’s more, Infiniti covers each roof pillar in padded cloth too, while unlike some competitors Nissan doesn’t even wrap the front pillars.
Being a luxury brand, Infiniti makes other QX60 upgrades too, like replacing the Pathfinder’s faux woodgrain with genuine maple hardwood, covering the seats with high-grade leather featuring hourglass quilting on their inserts and contrasting piping around their outer edges, or at least this was the case with my tester’s top-tier Sensory trim, but the old-school electronic interfaces are near identical other than their digital branding and graphic design, the driver’s gauge package is the same except for Infiniti’s unique purple coloured theme within the dials and serrated metallic surrounds, this motif also carried over to the centre display, which just happens to not yet include Apple CarPlay or Android Auto smartphone integration, and while all the switchgear that controls these interfaces (plus everything else) are fairly unique and nicer in the more upscale QX60, they’re organized in mostly the same way.
Together with the beautiful hardwood and soft leather, the $4,200 Sensory package includes three-way ventilation to the standard heated front seats, while second-row outboard positions get heated and the rearmost third row includes a powered folding return to make cargo hauling easier, while getting to that is made more convenient due to a motion activated powered tailgate. All seven QX60 occupants will likely appreciate the wide open feeling of the power panoramic sunroof up above, which comes complete with power sunshades, while they should also like this Sensory model’s 15-speaker surround-sound Bose audio upgrade, which uses digital 5.1-channel decoding, while all should also like the Advanced Climate Control System (ACCS) that includes auto-recirculation, a plasmacluster air purifier and a grape polyphenol filter. Lastly, the Sensory package enhances the QX60’s styling and road-holding with a special set of 15-spoke 20-inch alloy wheels on 235/55 all-season rubber.
Those wanting the Sensory package need to first add the $5,000 Essential package and $4,800 ProActive package, the first including remote start, entry/exit assist for the driver’s seat and steering wheel, rain-sensing windshield wipers, reverse-tilt side mirrors, two-way powered lumbar support for the driver’s seat, two-way driver’s memory with an Enhanced Intelligent Key, a 13-speaker Bose audio system, leather upholstery, Infiniti InTouch infotainment with navigation, lane guidance, and 3D building graphics, voice recognition, an Around View parking monitor with Moving Object Detection, front and rear parking sonar, SiriusXM Traffic, plus more.
The ProActive package adds auto-dimming side mirrors, headlight high beam assist, full-speed range adaptive cruise control, distance control assist, active trace control, lane departure warning and prevention, blindspot intervention, backup collision intervention, front pre-crash seatbelts, and Infiniti’s exclusive Eco Pedal.
All of this premium equipment gets added to a QX60 that’s already nicely equipped in base Pure trim, a well-priced competitor at just $48,695, due to features like auto on/off LED headlights, LED daytime running lamps, LED fog lights, LED tail lamps, roof rails, power-folding side mirrors with integrated turn signals, proximity keyless entry, pushbutton start/stop, a heated leather-clad steering wheel rim, a power tilt and telescopic steering column, an eight-way powered driver’s seat, a six-way powered front passenger’s seat, an auto-dimming rearview mirror, a universal remote garage door opener, a (normal sized front) powered moonroof, micro-filtered three-zone auto HVAC, an 8.0-inch centre touchscreen with a reverse camera, SMS/email display, satellite radio, three USB charge ports, a power rear tailgate, predictive forward collision warning, forward emergency braking with pedestrian detection, blindspot warning, etcetera (see all 2019 and 2020 Infiniti QX60 pricing right here at CarCostCanada, with details about trims, packages and individual options, plus don’t forget to look up special manufacturer rebate info and dealer invoice pricing that could save you thousands).
Many of these features are available with the Pathfinder, by the way, so it isn’t like top-level trims of the Nissan-branded utility aren’t up to snuff, especially when compared to their true mainstream competitors, but as it should Infiniti takes its feature allotment up a notch or two. Fortunately, not much differentiation in mechanicals is needed to remain popular, where both SUVs use the same direct-injected 3.5-litre V6 and continuously variable transmission, the latter featuring nearly real feeling stepped gear ratios. It’s one of the better CVTs available today, and ideally suited to the QX60’s comfort-oriented mission. Take note, however, that all-wheel drive comes standard with the QX60 and is optional with more basic Pathfinder trims.
Performance off the line and during passing manoeuvres is good thanks to 295 horsepower and 270 lb-ft of torque, which is 11 horsepower and 11 lb-ft more than the Pathfinder, while the CVT gets a manual mode for more spirited engagement. Additionally, Infiniti provides driving modes with default (a best of all worlds compromise), Sport (that makes adjustments to the engine and transmission to enhance performance), Eco (that adjusts engine and transmission responses to improve fuel economy), and Snow (that controls engine output to reduce wheel spin) settings, compared to the Pathfinder that only offers the choice of 2WD, AUTO, and LOCK for its “i-4×4” Intelligent 4WD system. The Pathfinder’s 4WD settings are no doubt best off the beaten path, as would be its 7.0 inches of ground clearance compared to 6.5 inches for the QX60, but Infiniti’s design is more useful for combatting slippery conditions on pavement.
And how is fuel economy impacted? The QX60 does very well with an estimated rating of 12.5 L/100km city, 9.0 highway and 10.9 combined, while a fully loaded Pathfinder with AWD can manage a claimed 12.4 city, 9.2 highway and 11.0 combined.
Both QX60 and Pathfinder models ride on an identical fully independent suspension setups too, constructed of struts up front and a multi-link system in back, plus fore and aft stabilizer bars and coil springs, but this sameness aside the Infiniti feels more solid and substantive than the more affordable alternative. It likely comes down to some of the previously noted soft surfaces and additional sound deadening materials subduing interior noise, vibration, and harshness, not that the Pathfinder I tested recently was harsh in any way. Either way, the QX60 is more upscale, as it should be.
This more substantive presence, and suspension tuning, makes for a smoother and more comfortable ride as well, but truly both SUVs coddle their passengers well, no matter the road below, while these two can manage fast-paced curves reasonably well too, as long as no one gets unrealistically overenthusiastic.
A QX60 disappointment is lumbar support, because its two-way in-and-out design (which is identical to the Pathfinder’s) simply doesn’t cut it in the premium sector. They at least should’ve made a four-way system available, because the way it is now makes it so you’ll either receive ideal pressure just where you want it, or not, the latter being reality for my five-foot-eight body type. A four-way system provides upward/downward adjustment so as to meet up with the lower backs of all types of bodies.
Two-way lumbar support aside, the driver’s seat is fairly comfortable and should be amply big in order to satisfy for most owner’s needs, while the 60/40-split second-row bench seat is plenty accommodating too, due to loads of space to each side plus fore and aft adjustability. Infiniti installed a comfortable armrest with integrated cupholders in the middle, making it a good place to idle away the hours. The QX60’s rearmost row isn’t the biggest or the smallest in this mid-size luxury segment, but it should be ample for all but large teenagers and adults. Better yet, the QX60 provides the same innovative second-row seat folding mechanism to access that third row as the Pathfinder, which allows a child safety seat to remain installed (without the child strapped in) when sliding it forward and out of the way.
Safety seats in mind, the needs more child seat latches, especially in the very back, but on the positive the Nissan/Infiniti Rear Door Alert system is really smart. It uses door sequence logic, together with a message alert within the gauge cluster, plus multiple horn beeps, to cause its driver to check the rear compartment after parking and shutting off the ignition. It’s an important step towards reducing and hopefully eliminating child and pet injuries and deaths after being left behind in the summer heat of parked vehicles.
The QX60 is also accommodating for cargo, with a total of 447 litres (15.8 cubic feet) available aft of the third row (this area made even more functional due to a stowage compartment under the load floor), 1,155 litres (40.8 cubic feet) behind the 50/50-split third row via powered switches mounted on each cargo wall, and 2,166 litres (76.5 cubic feet) of total cargo space available when the 60/40-split second-row seats are folded forward via manual levers on their sides. Some competitors also make automated second-row seats available, but this setup should work well enough for most.
After all is said and done the QX60 is getting on in years, but aging doesn’t necessarily translate into outdated. True, its cabin electronics could use updating and, as noted earlier, I’d appreciate less obvious ties to its Pathfinder cousin, but it’s attractive from the outside in, has been finished with good quality materials, drives quite well, and provides seven-occupant luxury and plenty of practicality for an affordable price when compared to its closest premium rivals. Of note, this 2019 version is no different than the 2020 model that’s starting to arrive now, other than all the packages outlined in this review transforming into four trim levels, plus some new option packages.
This said a complete redesign isn’t far off, and expected to arrive in 2020 as a 2021 model, but if you need to upgrade now you’ll be well taken care of with this 2019 QX60, or the new 2020 version.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.