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    • DRIVEN: 2020 Subaru Ascent Premium (AWD 2.4 turbo) HIGHS: -Finally, what the market was looking for, a worthwhile Subaru entry into the 3 row crossover segment.  And packaging, size wise, styling, just about perfect for Subaru -2.4 engine can snarl, nice go juice, and the CVT is actually fairly responsive.  Moves out well, or at least feels like it does.  Makes the Ascent feel sporty actually. -As mentioned above, packaging is just about perfect for Subaru.  It might be considered a tweener, but it does not feel hulking or girthy...and it still will be garagable for many of those folks that would shop import brands.  Cabin width not as wide as a Traverse, noticeably so...but conversely feels like a nice size upgrade from an Outback.  Maybe if you try to have three in the second row its a concern but otherwise should be ok.  Plenty of comfort remains and the third row is decent sized for leg room.  This may be the sweet spot size of a 3 row for many customers. -Cloth seats were attractive and did feel nice at the bottom. -Simple clean dash layout, noticeably signature Subaru.  Some interesting trim.   -Open and airy feel inside the cabin, and likewise visibility out.  In particular in front it doesn't feel significantly larger in front then a Forester or Outback. -Carlike ride and handling.  At least in line with the sort of current expectations of a Subaru / Toyota / Honda type of customer.  And reasonably quiet inside. -Nothing particularly egregious, and entirely in line with Subaru and Japanese car in general brand character.  If you are a Subaru fan, this is your manna, this should EXCITE you. LOWS: ...all that said (above) -A few times I caught the CVT with its pants down and it went into slow response / rubber bandy mode. -Dash, to me, did feel plain and basic (and that also is entirely in character for a Subaru).  I will go on record saying that a Traverse is nicer inside and much more interesting.  -Steering felt light and numb enough that I can't say it was anything besides decent.  All while being a huge upgrade in steering compared to other Subarus I have driven the last few years.  It is very much improved compared to those.  And the suspension was composed enough in the Ascent that it didn't bounce and bob and weave like I had when i drove a Forester before. -I didn't dissect the cargo area greatly but I do think maybe it is down a little bit in terms of usable dimensions compared to say, a Traverse or Atlas....probably as useful or more useful than an Acadia. -At the end of the day, apart from the kind of lively powertrain, the whole rest of the vehicle is MILQUETOAST.  Which, if you are a Subaru fan, should EXCITE you.  I mean, I think a Santa Fe may be more appealing emotionally.  I was expecting something to feed the soul here, there is nothing.  How they made it still feel lifeless while still miraculously making this vastly improved over other Subarus, must have required special skill. SUMMARY: At the end of the day, a perfectly innocuous but highly useful device that absolutely fulfills the Subaru brand character while at the same time borders on being something equal to the NPC version of an automobile.  And some will absolutely love that.  While superbly capable, I think I VASTLY prefer my GM's or even the VW Atlas.  Seek those out instead if you want ANY personality in your 3 row family hauler.        
    • DRIVEN: 2020 Ford Explorer XLT 2.3 Ecoboost 4WD   MSRP 39,770 HIGHS:  -Complete redesign is sharp looking in the flesh, while still familiar and identifiable as an Explorer at the same time -Size was not sacrificed in the redesign, the Explorer is still a nice large vehicle in a time where EPA pressures are forcing smaller vehicles. -New RWD architecture dramatically improves space efficiency and driving feel all at the same time.  That combination almost never has been able to exist before.  Truly a complete beneficial ground up redesign. -2.3 Ecoboost now mated to new 10 speed automatic has nice pep and verve for most drivers, sounds good and smooth and refined enough.  New 10 speed worked real well. -Wow, what a change in the view out the hood.  Short front end (how did they do that with a RWD chassis?) and it drops away from line of sight such that your view out the front is open and airy and very easy to see what is going on; really quite awesome as far as that goes.  Fairly good visibility back and sides for an SUV otherwise compared to some others. -LOTS of ergonomic and interior packaging improvements.  The front seats are now farther apart and give a feel of a wider cabin, partially due to much thinner doors.  The seats themselves, while a bit shy of support are typical Ford spacious for wide MUHRICAN bottoms.  Even the base cloth feels of good quality.  The new gauge cluster is very nice, big upgrade over typical Ford (and this the base cluster).  The touch screen is nicely located and responsive and good looking.  The climate controls are simple and nicely within reach.  There is a nice wide console / armrest and a handy slot for phone or pens right below the touch screen.  Easy and get in the rear two seats and move around the cabin.  What a nice change overall in interior environment from past Fords, while still easily feeling like a Ford. -Trunk behind third row has neat flip up for a lower, flatter floor for your grocery bags (like other competitors do).  Not as big behind row 3 as maybe some others, but overall cargo capacity seems just fine. -OK, RWD fans, yes this drives like a RWD vehicle...you feel pushed.  I am not used to that anymore but the feel is such that those who like the feel of RWD, here you go.  A big difference in feel between the 2019 and 2020. -Overall the chassis, ride, etc, the overall feel of the vehicle is that of a rugged, large, solid, sturdy ride.  And decent steering feel.  This does not feel completely like a truck or completely like a typical crossover SUV / car.  It is something inbetween and I think drivers who have been looking forward to this new RWD chassis will like this.  This vehicle feels like it would handle rural and rugged environments better than some other typical competitors.  Perhaps this also partly why this is Ford's new police vehicle. LOWS: -These new Fords coming out this year its been discussed that they may have cheap interior bits.  There is some of that going on here.  The door and dash plastics seem like they might be very thin and the graining I think would come off more expensive looking if the quality of the plastic were better.  We don't always expect much from Ford anyways for interior quality so this may not be terribly egregious anyways.  If i compare it to the Traverse, I don't think you can say the Ford has better interior material quality.  The Traverse IMO may still have the better interior. -The 2.3 engine while working for most people I think there will be plenty of folks drawn to the Explorer because of the RWD chassis, I might recommend they try the ST version with the high power v6....or the upcoming hybrid.  If you like this vehicle and plan to invest in one long term you might see payback in owner satisfaction by upping for the more powerful options.  I do think overall the feel of a six or even 8 cylinder motor would be more at home in this new ride. -While as i said above, that Ford did a good job with the design, it almost already feels old to me.  It is so familiar looking that while still looking new is actually a bit tough for average people to pick out next to the 2019 (which i drove side by side before this).  Color and model may help you get a unique looking Explorer, just keep that in mind.  I guess the evolutionary styling works for Subaru etc.   -Seats could have been more supportive IMO.  I just think automakers are paring away so much at every gram of weight that items like the seats keep getting pared down so they don't feel as solid as maybe they could. -Notice I said above RWD fans will probably like the ride and handling of the Explorer.  I think those that like something more carlike may not care for the somewhat trucky feel.  This will be personal preference.  In addition, the vehicle may feel too large to some.  Also, personal preference.  It felt heavy, not really agile or athletic. SUMMARY: A bellweather, a successful reinvention and repositioning of the Explorer more back to its roots and slightly a bit out of the mainstream of a crossover market segment it purposely worked to fit into with the previous generation.  With its reinvention, it is a breath of fresh air into what has turned into a 'me too' segment.  Still, apart from some typical Ford cheapness inside, this brand new design should sell like hotcakes and please old and new Explorer fans alike.  I see this design carrying on for 8-10 years and being a big profit center for Ford.  My own personal rating is a B+ for interior cheapness and as I prefer the carlike FWD feel of some of the competition, but overall I give big props to Ford for going back to what fits into the Explorer brand character in what will be a hugely successful new design.    
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