Ford’s smallest 7-seater SUV is still a good one, but it’s probably looking over its shoulder at the competition.
Review and photos by Tom Sedens
Pricing: 2018 Ford Explorer
Base price (XLT trim): $41,999
Options: $450 ruby red metallic paint; $1,200 Equipment Group 202A; $150 floor liners; $500 power liftgate; $1,750 twin panel moonroof; $210 roof rack crossbars; $2,100 dual DVD headrest screens; $500 Class III trailer two package; $1,500 XLT appearance package; $1,195 safe and smart package; $1,100 tech feature bundle;
A/C tax: $100
Price as tested: $54,544
Ford introduced this generation of Explorer in 2011, which is a very long time ago when it comes to a model’s lifespan. There have been a few updates and refreshes along the way, but on the whole, this is still the same vehicle as it was then. And there’s nothing wrong with it – it has aged pretty well.
The sleek (for an SUV) exterior is one we’ve become very accustomed to seeing on our streets with the wrap-around side glass in the rear becoming part of the signature look. My review Explorer’s red paint was stunning in the sun, and the handsome black 20-inch rims are part of an appearance package.
The Explorer’s cabin still looks good, but the styling is getting a bit tired these days. It felt a bit dark in there (the cheap-feeling brightwork in the middle does little to cheer things up), and materials are mid-grade by today’s standards. There are plenty of soft-touch surfaces but the competition recently marched past this interior. The heated seats are comfortable, but not very well bolstered. I like Ford’s SYNC 3 system – the touchscreen has a simple interface and handles your phone, navigation, stereo system (which sounded fine) and vehicle settings.
The Explorer has a back-up camera and parking sensors all around. Much of my review vehicle’s driver assistance technology came from the optional safe and smart package which includes lane departure alert and lane keep assist, adaptive cruise control and collision warning, blind spot monitoring and automatic high beams.
This may seem nitpicky but I’m mentioning it because it drove me nuts every single time I drove it – the Explorer’s deal pedal is the worst thing ever. It’s approximately half the size of my shoe sole, and the front wheel well cuts into the space where you should be able to safely rest your foot.
Second and Third Row Seats
Here the second row is a bench with three seats – it has decent headroom, although less than I expected. The second sunroof overhead is nice. Second row passengers get a flip-down cupholder, a 12V charging plug and a manual climate control system – all located at the back of the centre console. There is also an optional entertainment system which adds two screens, each with their own DVD player, wireless headphones, RCA, USB and additional headphone plugs. This is an expensive and unnecessary option – my kids couldn’t have cared less and used their own devices for a short road trip we went on.
The seats fold forward, but we couldn’t figure out a way to slide/tilt them forward for easy access to the third row. The third row has two seats nestled between the wheel wells. Leg room is limited and it would not be a comfortable place for adults for any kind of longer drive.
I like that Ford provides a number of places to put my stuff. The bin at the front of the console is hidden under a flip-up lid and has USB and 12V plugs, although its size limits its usefulness somewhat. A bigger bin resides under the armrest lid.
A power trunklid opens to reveal the large 595L trunk which felt quite useful even with the third row in use, thanks to a nice deep well. That space grows to a huge, flat 1243L behind the second row.
Under the Hood
No surprises here – it’s the same old 3.5L V6 (putting out 290 HP and 255 lb.ft of torque) mated to a 6-speed automatic transmission and all-wheel drive. Ford rates this configuration at 13.9/9.8 L/100 km city/hwy. We averaged 12.7 L/100 km which isn’t bad for a vehicle this size.
The base engine provides enough jam for daily driving and it always felt powerful enough. Explorer’s all-wheel drive system is definitely front-wheel drive based as you could feel it slip there first, but even with all-season tires, it held its own in several snowfalls we had. The Terrain Management mode allows you to choose from different driving modes – Normal, Mud/Rut, Sand and Snow/Gravel/Grass – and there is a hill-descent mode too for all those people who are going to take their Explorers off-roading. *crickets*
The SUV rides nicely and the handling is fine, although it starts feeling very tall when you throw it into the corners – that’s not a knock on the Explorer and pretty common in this category. We found the Explorer to be reasonably quiet around town, although the road noise really picked up at highway speeds. Visibility out of the vehicle is mostly good unless you’re using the third row – this necessitates sliding up those tombstone-sized headrests and they block a good portion of your rear view.
The Explorer has a tow mode and can tow 5000 pounds (2267 kg).
WAF (Wife Approval Factor) was pretty high. She said she liked how easy it was to drive and that it “still looks good”.
I agree – the Explorer is still a nice vehicle with a great starting price point. But it isn’t as fresh as it was when we first met this generation around 2011 and it gets expensive in a hurry when you start ticking off option boxes. Keep in mind that my XLT trim is near the bottom – you can still go up to the Limited, the Sport or the Platinum from here. And when you’re looking at nearly $55,000 before tax as per my review Explorer, I’m going to guess the consumer is also having a very close look at the competition. Although slightly smaller, loaded Toyota Highlanders or Honda Pilots come in at thousands less and their third rows are no less (or more) useful. The closest competition is probably domestic in the form of GM’s triplets, all of which are new for this year – the Chevy Traverse, the GMC Acadia and the Buick Enclave. They can also get pricey but boast useful third rows if that’s a concern.
Ford has been knocking things out of the park with SUVs over the last couple of generations, and if you’re OK to wait, it is expected that the 2020 Explorer will arrive in 2019 as an all-new model which is sure to be exciting news.
Disclosure: Vehicle was provided by Ford Canada.
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