The popularity of crossovers and SUVs as daily transportation often eludes me, but it's tough to argue with their functionality if you've got a sizable brood and a vacation ahead of you. I drove this 2013 Ford Explorer Limited from the greater Detroit area to the Outer Banks of North Carolina with a quick stop in Cleveland to pick up additional family. Overall impression? After driving 1,900+ miles in a single week, it's hard to imagine there are many vehicles better suited to the task than this Ford.
- I drove 11+ hours straight twice in one week, with absolutely zero backaches to report from anyone – impressive.
- Interior fit-and-finish and material choices shade those of most rivals, and options like cooled seats, second-row seatbelt airbags and power-folding third row are impressive.
- Loaded with four people and a cargo hold full of beach gear, the 3.5-liter V6 had enough muscle (290 horsepower, 255 pound-feet of torque) through the mountains of Pennsylvania, but I can't help but wonder how it'd feel if we were towing something.
- Ride and handling balance is very well judged, electric power steering accurate
- MyFord Touch is powerful and offers serious configurability, but a slow touchscreen and overly complex interface hurts usability.
- Kodiak Brown paint is great – very rich. Can look black or root beer depending on light.
- Terrain Management is killer – when it works. We bombed around in Sand Mode along the Atlantic ocean dunes full-up with seven people for over an hour (we were one of the only unibodies we saw out of perhaps a hundred vehicles). Then the all-wheel-drive system unexpectedly turned itself off and we ground to a halt, nearly axle-deep. No sign of overheating, the system simply displayed that all-wheel drive was off, and rotating the knob wouldn't coax it back on. After turning the Explorer off and letting it sit for a few minutes, I restarted it and we were back in business. It never malfunctioned again.
- Sand gets everywhere – even atop the engine and caked in the door sills. Two hours of cleaning and all is well.
- Aside from the Honda Odyssey, the Ford Explorer appears to be the Outer Banks' Official Family Vacation Vehicle. They're everywhere.
- Overall fuel efficiency for 1,900+ miles was 20.2 miles per gallon – bang on with what the cluster display indicated. EPA ratings call for 17 city/23 highway/19 combined. Considering a full load, PA's mountains, traffic, a couple of hours throwing sand around and the fact that the driver gave absolutely zero consideration to efficiency, we were quite pleased.