2015 Explorer New Car Test Drive
Ford Explorer is among the best seven-passenger sport-utility vehicles available. It delivers the function and family-friendly features of a minivan with the rugged appeal of an SUV.
New for 2013 was an Explorer Sport trim with a twin-turbocharged version of Ford's 3.5-liter V6 engine, a sport-tuned suspension and all-wheel-drive. Using Premium gas, Explorer Sport makes up to 365 horsepower and 350 pound-feet of torque. A number of advancements introduced on the Sport edition were added to regular 2014 Explorers.
For 2015, a new optional appearance package for the SLT edition promises sport-inspired design details, including black bodyside cladding, 20-inch machined aluminum wheels, and leather-trimmed heated seats with suede inserts. Entry-level models now ride on 18-inch aluminum wheels.
Explorer gets major revisions for the 2016 model year.
Options on Explorer Limited models include a lane departure warning system, heated steering wheel, and a power tilt-and-telescoping steering column. All 2015 Explorer models come standard with a front-passenger knee airbag.
This current generation of the Ford Explorer, introduced for 2011, features a one-piece, unibody design rather than a ladder-type truck frame with a separate, bolted on body. The result is more car-like driving dynamics, as well as significant weight savings, which translates to better fuel economy.
Powering all 2015 Ford Explorer models except the Sport is 3.5-liter V6 that makes 290 horsepower and 255 pound-feet of torque, paired with a 6-speed automatic transmission. Front-wheel drive is standard, four-wheel drive is optional. Although the Explorer does not come with low-range gearing, 4WD versions of the Explorer get Ford's Terrain Management system, which allows the driver to select from four modes for optimal traction in a variety of driving environments. It also includes hill start assist and hill descent control.
Fuel economy with the base V6 engine on front-wheel-drive Explorer models is an EPA-estimated 17/24 mpg City/Highway, or 17/23 mpg City/Highway on 4WD models.
Even with regular all-season tires, the Explorer will blast through sand or traverse deep ditches and steep hills, no problem. We know. We did it. And it has the smoothest ride we've encountered over such terrain.
For maximum fuel economy, front-wheel-drive versions of the 2015 Ford Explorer can be equipped with an optional 2.0-liter, four-cylinder EcoBoost engine. Making 240 horsepower and 270 pound-feet of torque, it delivers an EPA-estimated 20/28 mpg City/Highway.
The 2.0 EcoBoost is sufficiently powerful, and acceptable if mileage is the absolute priority. Still, depending on gas prices and how many miles you drive, it can take time to recover the 2.0-liter engine's $1,000 up-front cost in fuel savings. We prefer the standard 290-horspower V6 with its smooth, strong acceleration.
Explorer's chassis is super rigid, which not only makes for great crash-test scores, but also a quiet cabin, excellent ride quality and solid handling that belies the Explorer's considerable size.
Inside, there is plenty of legroom in the second row, real space for passengers in the third, and up to 80.7 cubic-feet of cargo space. It can be reconfigured in seconds, with split rear seats that fold with a button on each side and bounce back up with the pull of a lever. The interior is smartly styled and well finished. The materials and build quality are quite good.
The base Explorer comes well equipped. The upgraded Limited trim is leather-upholstered, with heated-seats and offered with premium audio, navigation and rear-seat DVD entertainment. The MyFordTouch interface is optional, but can be cumbersome and at least a little annoying.
Other SUVs to consider in this class include the Buick Enclave, Chevrolet Traverse, Dodge Durango, GMC Acadia, Honda Pilot or Mazda CX-9. All provide similar or slightly better cargo space, but lack the history and cachet of the Explorer nameplate.
The 2015 Ford Explorer comes in four variants: Base, LXT, Limited and Sport. All models except the Sport come with a choice front-wheel drive or four-wheel-drive and are powered by a 3.5-liter V6 engine that makes 290 hp and 255 pound-feet of torque. Fuel economy is an EPA-estimated17/24 mpg City/Highway and 17/23 mpg City/Highway on 4WD models. An optional 2.0-liter Ecoboost inline-four-cylinder engine is optional on these same models, which produces 240 hp and 270 lb.-ft. of torque with an EPA-estimated 20/28 mpg City/Highway.
Explorer ($30,600) and Explorer 4WD ($32,600) come standard with fabric upholstery, air conditioning, a six-way power driver seat with manual recline, a tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel with audio controls, power windows, locks and outside mirrors, a trip computer, 60/40 split-folding second-row seats, 50/50 split third-row seats, a six-speaker audio system with single CD player and auxiliary audio jack, rear privacy glass, roof rails and 17-inch steel wheels with wheel covers. Options include a tow package ($570) and a Sync with MyFord pakage ($295), which adds voice activation, Bluetooth and SiriusSX Satellite radio capability with a six-month subscription.
Explorer XLT ($32,900) and XLT 4WD ($34,900) add a leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob, Ford's Sync voice activation with satellite radio capability, a USB audio port, a keyless entry touchpad on the driver's door, automatic headlamps, rear parking sensors and 18-inch alloy wheels.
Explorer Limited ($38,100) and Limited 4WD ($40,100) get leather upholstery, heated front seats, dual-zone automatic climate control, a 12-speaker Sony audio system with HD radio, power adjustable pedals with memory, a cargo net, a rearview camera, remote start, a 110-volt outlet, 20-inch painted aluminum wheels, and the MyFordTouch touchscreen interface. Options include second-row captain's chairs and a 301A package that bundles ventilated front seats, an eight-way power passenger seat, heated steering wheel with power tilt-and-telescoping function, navigation, a power-folding third-row seat and a power liftgate.
Explorer Sport ($42,670) come standard with four-wheel drive and is powered by a twin-turbocharged 3.5-liter V6 that makes 365 hp and 350 lb.-ft. of torque (using Premium fuel). EPA fuel economy estimates are 16/22 mpg City/Highway. Standard features include sport front seats with fabric upholstery, unique interior and exterior trim, and many of the standard features found on the Limited model.
Safety features include Ford's Curve Control, which monitors vehicle speed going into a corner and applies braking to individual wheels as needed, as well as MyKey, which allows owners to set limits for vehicle speed and stereo volume. Other standard safety features include front side airbags, side curtain airbags, a front passenger knee airbag, stability control, traction control and trailer sway control. Optional safety features include a blind spot warning system with cross-traffic alert on Explorer XLT models and above. Limited and Sport models also get an available lane-departure warning and keeping system, as well as forward collision warning.