2018 Explorer New Car Test Drive
The Ford Explorer, about the same size as a Honda Pilot or Chevy Traverse, has made a graceful transition to from a rear-wheel-drive to a front-wheel-drive family hauler (with all-wheel drive available). Though not as rugged as it used to be, it is a mid-size crossover SUV that can tow 5000 pounds and carry seven people, and has a vast 81 cubic feet of cargo space with the seats folded flat.
The current generation began with model year 2011, with its transition from traditional SUV to car-based crossover, and was last revised for 2016. Mechanically, it's long in the tooth, but there is no question the styling holds up; if anything the Explorer looks classier than those crossovers chasing edges.
Base engine is a 3.5-liter V6 used in other Fords, from Flex to Fusion. It makes 290 horsepower and 255 pound-feet of torque, and can accelerate the Explorer to 60 miles per hour in about 8.5 seconds, using the standard 6-speed automatic transmission.
Front-wheel drive is standard, all-wheel drive is available.
The popular EcoBoost four-cylinder 2.3-liter turbo is available on some models, standard on Explorer Limited AWD. It's the same engine that's in the Mustang and Lincoln MKC. It makes 280 horsepower and 310 pound-feet of torque, and is way better than the V6, starting with its exhaust note.
Offering high performance is the twin-turbocharged 3.5-liter V6 making 365 horsepower and 350 pound-feet of torque; it comes with Explorer Platinum and Explorer Sport AWD models. If they made an Explorer SHO it would have this engine. The Explorer Sport with this twin-turbo V6 gets 20-inch wheels, bigger brakes and a stiffer chassis. It can't run with a Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT, but delivers respectable acceleration performance.
The twin-turbo V6 gets an EPA-rated 18 mpg Combined city and highway, just two miles per gallon less than the base V6, at 20 mpg Combined. The EcoBoost turbo four-cylinder rates 22 mpg, but many EcoBoost owners report that their mileage doesn't achieve the EPA rating.
The Explorer earns five stars in its NHTSA crash rating in every category except rollover, but SUVs never ace that one. With the IIHS, the Explorer got top scores in the moderate-front overlap, side impact and roof strength tests, but only Marginal in the small-overlap crash test, which relatively few ace.
The Ford Explorer ($31,990) comes standard with the 3.5-liter V6 engine, front-wheel drive, cloth upholstery, air conditioning.
All-wheel drive is available for all models. Front-wheel drive is standard.
Explorer XLT ($34,020) and XLT AWD ($36,170) upgrade with 18-inch wheels, keyless ignition, satellite radio, navigation, and 10-way power driver's seat.
Explorer Limited ($42,090) features leather seating, 20-inch wheels, heated steering wheel, interior ambient lighting, heated and cooled front seats, heated second row, power folding third row, 12-speaker Sony sound system. Limited AWD models come with the 2.3-liter turbo engine.
Explorer Sport ($45,950) and Platinum ($53,940) get the 3.5-liter EcoBoost V6 and all-wheel drive.
There's a Sport Appearance Package for lower trims, rendering a more aggressive look with 20-inch wheels, a gray grille insert and black cladding, black roof rack, and gray leather seating with gray suede accents and contrast stitching. (Prices are MSRP and do not include destination charge.).