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The 2023 Ford Explorer is well built and has good value for its price.Courtesy of manufacturer

The lease on our Subaru Outback is up in two months. It is our third Subaru and second Outback. We have two young kids, but occasionally find ourselves wishing we had a third row, even if it is a small one, so we can drive more kids when we carpool to activities. An Outback with a rear-facing third row, like some station wagons used to have, would be the perfect solution. We would like to ideally not pay that much more per month than we pay for our car now, which has a suggested price in the mid-$40,000 range and we lease for $511 a month.

We like to ski, so value all-wheel drive. A plug-in hybrid would be nice, but we don’t drive much so it would take a long time to recoup the initial extra cost in fuel savings. The obvious option is the Subaru Ascent, but that is mostly because Subaru will make it easy to change cars when the Ascent is ready and we will get a loyalty discount on the lease rate. What do you recommend? – Jordan, Ontario

Petrina Gentile: Because Jordan is a loyal Subaru driver, let’s start with his first option – getting a three-row Ascent from the same family. It would make it easier when the lease on his Outback is up.

Mark Richardson: It’s not a bad choice, and it’s a safe choice, too. Stick with what you know and the dealership you like and you’ll probably be happy. The Ascent will cost more than the smaller Outback, of course, but if Jordan’s not bothered about bells and whistles, the basic Ascent is priced at about $43,000, plus taxes.

Gentile: The Ascent also comes with all-wheel-drive as standard. It has good towing capacity and excellent outward visibility. The third row is a bit cramped for adults, but his kids would be fine riding back there if they’re not yet fully grown.

Richardson: Actually, the best thing about having a third row is being able to separate two children into the two rows. They often get along much better if they don’t have to sit beside each other. Even more so if they’re facing opposite directions, but I don’t think any manufacturer offers those rear-facing seats any more.

Gentile: No, thankfully not. Those rear-facing seats always made me sick, anyways. Front-facing seats are way better.

Richardson: The more recent rear-facing seats were not designed for safe use while driving, just when parked as a place to sit for a picnic or a tailgate party. But putting the Ascent aside for the moment, my next stop would be at a Ford dealership to check out the Explorer. It’s a similar price at around $45,000, with similar features.

Gentile: Really? I wouldn’t go the route of an Explorer. It’s a bit outdated and the third-row seats aren’t comfortable, especially for adults. I prefer the look, drive, feel, and roominess of a Hyundai Palisade instead.

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Full-time all-wheel drive, an X-Mode and 220-millimetres of ground clearance give the 2023 Subaru Ascent more rough-road capability than many rivals.Jeremy Sinek/The Globe and Mail

Richardson: The third-row seats are never comfortable on a mid-sized SUV, but if they’re only used occasionally and for kids, that’s not such a big deal. Don’t dismiss the Explorer so quickly. It’s well built and good value for its price. Less expensive than the Hyundai too, which starts at around $50,000.

Gentile: But the Hyundai is value-packed and even the base model comes with more safety and convenience features than the Explorer. It’s more stylish too, in my opinion.

Richardson: Sure it has more features, it’s $5,000 more expensive. So is the Kia Telluride that’s built on the same platform. You shouldn’t be so quick to put people over budget.

Gentile: The manufacturer’s suggested retail price (MSRP), before additional fees, on a 2023 Palisade is $47,999; the Explorer is $45,340. It’s not much more, but you get way more features in the base-model Palisade than an Explorer, which at that price is a rear-wheel-drive model. You have to move up the model lineup in an Explorer to get many of the same features on a base-model Palisade.

Richardson: I did the math on the makers’ website configurators. The cheapest Explorer is $53,715 including Ontario taxes and a standing $3,000 discount, while the cheapest Palisade is $59,275 – both way over Jordan’s budget. Those websites are great for being prepared before walking into the dealership. It’s too bad you can’t just make the entire purchase online, like with Tesla and Genesis.

Gentile: So, what’s the configuration for a Subaru Ascent, with an MSRP of $44,572, so we can compare apples to apples?

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The Hyundai Palisade has received a mild makeover for 2023.Jeremy Sinek/The Globe and Mail

Richardson: The final price on Subaru’s own configurator for the least expensive Ascent, after all Ontario taxes are included, is $50,366. Jordan wants to lease, however, and the interest rates go up with the longer leases. Whatever term he chooses will cost him more than $700 a month right now with Subaru’s interest rates, though it doesn’t account for the lower interest rates offered as a loyalty incentive. Subaru offers one per cent and that helps bring the monthly cost down.

Gentile: It will still be more than he’s paying now at just over $500 a month for his Outback. But times have changed. It’s an expensive monthly payment, especially if the lease term is up to 60 months, or five years.

Richardson: And also, it’s expensive to walk away at the end with no collateral. A lease is a fancy rental fee, while financing helps you own the vehicle and its equity.

Gentile: Exactly. But with young kids, Jordan might want the flexibility of moving to a new model with the latest safety technology and features every few years.

Richardson: I think we’re telling him to stick with what he knows and where he’s happy, and where he already has some bargaining power, aren’t we?

Gentile: Yes. You got it. Jordan, go for the Subaru Ascent. It has everything you want – all-wheel drive, three rows of seats and a loyalty lease discount that’ll surely pay off in the long term.

What car should you buy? Write to Mark and Petrina at and use ‘What car’ as as part of your subject line. Emails with different subject lines may not be answered.

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