Puns are the worst, aren’t they? But we live in a digital world where the clickbait game is strong, and we’re competing against it. The Ford Explorer faces a similarly daunting challenge (as do all SUVs) in creating a distinctive impression within a class that is inundated with redundancies.
Sports Utility Vehicles have become less about the “sports” and more about the “utility.” With families as the primary demographic, SUV designers have the unenviable task of anticipating the varying demands of families of all sizes, and family members of all ages. The result tends to be a kitchen-sink mentality, cramming everything in, then fitting each of those elements around various seating configurations. “We need to seat six, have cargo space and have some rear entertainment!” I get it; after all, you have to get half of Stephanie’s soccer team (and their gear) to practice, and Mikey’s going to scream all the way there and back, unless he gets to watch “Ant Man” for the 472nd time. The problem is the broad strokes approach limits true refinement, and many SUVs have become uninspired, and simplistic slabs whose interiors look like an episode of hoarders.
If this has become the expectation of SUV offerings, how does the Ford Explorer rate against it? Fairly well, actually. While Ford’s other crossover offerings (such as the Escape, Edge, and Flex) have varying levels of success in terms of “standing out,” the Explorer has the luxury of a longer evolution. The payoff is a versatility and a wealth of configurations, helping to side-step the bland “me-too” holes that others have fallen into.
Starting at $31,660 MSRP, the Ford Explorer is available in five different trim levels: the base level, XLT, Limited, Sport, and Platinum. As mentioned above, a variety of configuration options make the Explorer even more diverse, allowing it to range from near-basic to near-luxury. And if you’re considering the top-of-the-line Platinum, you can expect the price tag to start around $53,235 MSRP.
One of the core strengths of today’s Explorer is that its design remains faithful to its roots. As a body-on-frame SUV, it still looks like a classic “truck-inspired” SUV, as opposed to the “wagon-inspired” trend seen in most crossover designs. Still the “little brother” of the Expedition, it conveys a rugged feel that you just don’t get from the likes of the Edge.
But, that’s not to say that it is without its refinements. The front fascia and lighting configuration are very much “of the now,” and the recessed body contouring and window design prevent it from appearing too classic.
In terms of power, the Explorer serves up a few different options, all of which are paired with a six-speed automatic transmission. Starting with the base and XLT trims, a 3.5-liter V6 kicks things off strong, delivering 290 horsepower and 255 lbs-ft of torque. Offering an estimated 21mpg (combined), the Explorer rests competently among the competition. Optional among those trims is a turbocharged 2.3-liter four-cylinder. Offering improved fuel economy, power takes a predictable hit, serving up 280 horsepower and 310 lbs-ft of torque. This engine comes standard on the Limited trim, although you retain the option of the V6, which would certainly be our recommendation.
For the Sport and Platinum trims, you get a ballsy payoff in a turbocharged 3.5-liter V6. Serving up 365 horses and 360 lbs-ft of torque, there is very little not to like. And with the AWD Sport’s inclusion of sport-suspension, the Explorer gains some versatility that sets it apart from the other trim levels.
With surprising acceleration for a vehicle of its size (0-60 mph in 6.3 seconds), the Explorer doesn’t disappoint. Competent braking and deceptively impressive maneuverability only serve to enhance its all-around performance strength.
A base expectation of any three-row crossover would be an overall roominess to the cabin and, in this regard, the Explore does not disappoint. With spacious front-row seating, and the optional inclusion of second-row captain’s chairs, the Explorer speaks to comfort. Headroom and elbow-space are significant, and third-row seating is still suitable for full-sized adults (although better suited for children).
Fabricated from a nice selection of soft, quality materials, the design is both welcoming and aesthetically pleasing. The curvature of the cabin integrates seamlessly with a minimalist dashboard and console, confirming a clear overall vision. The only notable downside is a reduction in driver visibility due to the window configuration, then again that’s hardly uncommon in crossover SUVs of this size.
Rest assured, in terms of cabin design and comfort, the Explorer will not disappoint. The cargo area (being the third row) may not provide the most storage space in the segment, but it is far from “lacking” (and plenty for the demands of most).
The cabin experience of the Explorer is further enhanced by the available technologies offered within. From the base model, the Bluetooth enabled infotainment system is built around a 4.2-inch display screen and a six-speaker sound system. While this is nothing revolutionary, it provides a strong foundation when combined with the Ford Sync (voice-activated interface).
It takes a step up to the Limited trim to see further enhancements, but even those are limited to upgrading to an 8-inch touchscreen and a nine-speaker sound system.
The Platinum trim comes with a panoramic sunroof and jacks the sound up with a 12-speaker Sony audio system, but the enhancements are limited to more comfort and safety-centric amenities. That said, the park assist is helpful based on the reduction in visibility resulting from the overall cabin design.
Worth considering is the inclusion of the Class III Trailer Tow Package, and the Explorer is equipped to tow up to 5,000 LBS, depending on the engine configuration selected.
Regardless of the trim you choose to explore (I typed that without even realizing it), the Explorer measures up confidently against its competition. While it ma