One of the original SUVs, the Ford Explorer has been providing family transportation for nearly 25 years. Today’s 2015 model, the largest and most luxurious yet, provides three rows of seating, three different engine choices, decent cargo space for the kids and their stuff and a sleek and handsome profile. As such, this Ford is certainly a good fit for almost any family’s garage.
Driving the Explorer on a daily basis is pleasant, thanks to its quiet interior and cozy ride. You’ll also likely be pleased with the interior’s high-quality materials and big collection of standard and optional features. For power, the standard V6 should be good for most owners, but Ford also offers a couple of engine options, which is unusual for this class. For enhanced fuel economy, there’s a turbocharged 4-cylinder that will get you an EPA-estimated 23 miles per gallon combined. Or, for faster acceleration and stronger performance when towing, there’s a turbocharged V6 on the Explorer Sport model.
Unfortunately, there are some things that this tenured professor of SUV University doesn’t do extremely well. While some crossovers have mastered the ability to drive smaller than they are, the Explorer is a bit the opposite and feels bulky and difficult to see out of and park. The interior isn’t very roomy for this class of vehicle, either. Headroom in the second row is limited, and legroom in the optional third row isn’t enough for anyone other than small children. Cargo capacity is adequate, but you’ll be able to fit more stuff inside most other comparable rivals.
Luckily, there is no dearth of options in this segment. The Toyota Highlander is efficient, powerful and very comfortable. As such, it’s one of our top picks. The Dodge Durango features a high-quality interior, along with some great user-friendly tech features. Also worth checking out is the roomier 2015 Chevrolet Traverse (or its twin, the GMC Acadia), the sporty Mazda CX-9 or Ford’s own wagonlike Flex. Overall, we think the SUVS.com "B" rated 2015 Ford Explorer is a respectable choice that can provide you with the right kind of utility and some extra style, but it’s worth looking around in this ever-expanding segment before you make up your mind.
The 2015 Ford Explorer has a very smooth drive quality on the highway, with good composure that gets only a little busier with the Limited model’s 20-inch wheels over broken pavement. It’s also particularly quiet on the inside, an added benefit for any highway journey. It handles securely in typical driving situations, but overall, it feels larger and less maneuverable than similarly sized rivals.
The same is true of the Explorer Sport, but thanks to its sport-tuned suspension and steering, it reacts more quickly to inputs and generally imparts greater driver confidence. And while the Sport gives up a bit of that cushy drive quality, the drive is still well within the realm of acceptability for this class of vehicle.
The Sport also comes with the turbocharged V6, which offers V8-like acceleration. But the reality is that the base V6 is powerful enough in most situations. The turbocharged 4-cylinder engine is a viable option, too. It may seem a bit small for an SUV this large, but it provides adequate acceleration for daily use and, of course, better fuel mileage than you’d get with the V6.
The 2015 Ford Explorer is a large three-row crossover SUV available in four trim levels: base, XLT, Limited and Sport.
Standard equipment includes 18-inch alloy wheels, automatic headlights, rear privacy glass, roof rails, cruise control, full power accessories, air-conditioning, a 60/40-split second-row seat, 50/50-split third-row seat, a six-way power driver seat (manual recline), a tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel, a 4.2-inch display screen and a six-speaker sound system with a CD player and an auxiliary sound jack.
The XLT adds upgraded brakes, foglights, rear parking sensors, a leather-wrapped steering wheel, a keyless entry code pad, Bluetooth phone and sound connectivity, Sync (Ford’s voice-activated phone/entertainment interface), a six-way power front passenger seat, satellite radio and a USB port.
For the XLT, the Equipment Group 201A package adds a rearview camera, dual-zone automatic climate control, a nine-speaker sound system and the Driver Connect package, which includes an auto-dimming rearview mirror, an 8-inch touchscreen display (MyFord Touch), two USB ports, an SD card reader and upgraded Sync functionality. The 202A package includes all of the 201A equipment, plus leather upholstery, heated front seats and an eight-way power driver seat with power-adjustable lumbar. With the 202A package equipped, the Appearance package becomes available, and it adds 20-inch alloy wheels, body-colored door handles, leather seats with suede inserts and unique floor mats.
The Limited gets the XLT 202A’s equipment, plus 20-inch wheels, keyless ignition and entry, remote engine start, driver memory settings, power-adjustable pedals, a 110-volt power outlet and a 12-speaker Sony sound system with HD radio. Optional for the Limited is the 301A package, which includes a power liftgate, a power-folding operation for the third-row seat, an eight-way power passenger seat, a heated and power tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel, ventilated front seats and a navigation system.
To this, the 302A package adds xenon headlights, automatic high-beam control, automatic windshield wipers, an automatic parallel-parking system, lane-departure and lane-keeping assist, a blind-spot warning system, rear cross-traffic alert and inflatable seatbelts for second-row outboard passengers. Adaptive cruise control with frontal-collision warning and brake priming is a stand-alone option. When the 2.0-liter turbocharged engine is equipped, the 302A package becomes the 303A package, but the equipment is the same.
The Explorer Sport is equipped similarly to the Limited, but some of the Limited’s standard features are optional here. You get different 20-inch wheels, a sport-tuned suspension, front sport seats (with extra lateral bolstering) and unique interior and exterior trim details. The Sport’s 401A package adds keyless ignition and entry, a power liftgate, 110-volt outlet, a front power passenger seat, driver memory settings, power-adjustable pedals, navigation system, ventilated front seats, a power-adjustable and heated steering wheel and the Limited’s optional safety features. The adaptive cruise control is again optional.
Other options for the XLT, Limited and Sport include a dual-panel sunroof, second-row captain’s chairs and a rear-seat entertainment system with dual headrest-mounted displays.
Considering the price, the Explorer’s interior is pretty well-trimmed. Materials are attractive and luxurious, with a soft-touch dashboard and precise-feeling controls. The front seats are very supportive, and the cabin is particularly quiet as well.
The optional MyFord Touch interface contributes to the premium vibe, as it adds a high-resolution display screen (plus two additional screens for the gauge cluster) and touch-sensitive sound and climate "buttons." We haven’t been fond of this system in the past, as it was often slow to respond to inputs. However, ongoing year-to-year system improvements have made a difference, and in our most recent tests, MyFord Touch worked reasonably well. We also continue to like the usefulness of the Sync voice commands. That said, some competitor infotainment systems are still easier to use.
The Explorer has 80 cubic feet of maximum cargo space, making it less spacious than the Dodge Durango and well below the Chevrolet Traverse and GMC Acadia. The third row is short on legroom and will fit only small children. The Explorer’s second-row seats may be a bit disappointing for families as well, as there’s not as much room to install rear-facing child safety seats — something you’d expect to do with ease in a car of this size. And while the Explorer has the commanding drive height expected in an SUV, its thick roof pillars and tall dash limit outward visibility. Even with all of the available parking aids, it’s a handful in tight spaces.
Every 2015 Ford Explorer comes standard with stability and traction control, trailer sway control, front-seat side airbags, side curtain airbags, a front passenger knee airbag and MyKey, which allows parents to specify limits for car speed and stereo volume. The Explorer’s stability control system also includes Ford’s Curve Control, which can monitor speed carried into a corner and decelerate if necessary.
Rear parking sensors are standard on all but the base Explorer. A rearview camera is standard on the Limited and Sport and optional on the XLT. The Limited and Sport can also be had with impending frontal-collision warning and brake priming (bundled with the adaptive cruise control), lane-departure warning and lane-keeping assist, a blind-spot warning system (with rear-cross traffic alert) and inflatable seatbelts for second-row outboard passengers.
In SUVS brake testing, both the 4WD Explorer XLT and the Limited V6 stopped from 60 miles per hour in 118 feet — a good performance for a large crossover SUV. Meanwhile, the 4-cylinder Explorer XLT did it in 130 feet, which is longer than average for this class.
In government crash tests, the Explorer earned a five-star rating (out of a possible five) for overall crash protection, with five stars for total front-impact protection and five stars for total side-impact protection. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety gave its top score of "Good" for the Explorer’s performance in moderate-overlap frontal-offset, side-impact and roof-strength tests. It received the second-lowest rating of "Marginal" in the small-overlap frontal-offset test. Its seatbelts and head restraints earned a "Good" rating for whiplash protection in rear impacts.
The 2015 Ford Explorer lineup offers a wide range of powertrains, allowing one to prioritize performance or fuel economy. As such, EPA fuel economy estimates range from fair to fairly impressive.
All 2015 Ford Explorers, except for the Sport, come standard with a 3.5-liter V6 engine. It produces 290 horsepower and 255 pound-feet of torque and is paired with a 6-speed automatic transmission. With this engine, you have your choice of front-wheel drive or optional four-wheel drive (there is no low-range gearing). Four-wheel-drive models get hill descent control, hill start assist and Ford’s Terrain Management System, a selectable four-mode system that optimizes traction electronically for different conditions.
In SUVS testing, a four-wheel-drive Explorer Limited with the base V6 accelerated from zero to 60 miles per hour in 8.4 seconds, while a lighter 4WD XLT model was slightly faster at 8.1 seconds — these are average times for a large crossover SUV. A front-drive V6 Explorer returns an EPA-estimated 20 miles per gallon combined (17 city/24 highway), and four-wheel drive lowers mileage to a still-respectable 19 miles per gallon combined (17/23). We managed to earn 20 miles per gallon on SUVS.com’s 120-mile evaluation route.
Optional on all front-wheel-drive Ford Explorers is the turbocharged 2.0-liter 4-cylinder engine making 240 hp and 270 lb-ft of torque. It also uses the 6-speed automatic transmission. In SUVS testing, a four-cylinder-equipped Explorer went from zero to 60 miles per hour in 9.1 seconds, which is on the slow side for the class. Fuel economy, however, is much more extraordinary at 23 miles per gallon combined (20 city/28 highway).
The Explorer Sport is 4WD only, and it comes with a turbocharged 3.5-liter V6 engine and the 6-speed automatic. The turbo V6 puts out 365 hp and 350 lb-ft of torque, and the EPA estimates it will return 18 miles per gallon combined (16 city/22 highway).
Properly equipped, an Explorer with either of the V6 engines can haul 5,000 pounds. With the 2.0-liter turbocharged engine, max towing capacity is only 2,000 pounds.
Upscale cabin; abundant high-tech features; cozy ride; fuel-efficient turbocharged 4-cylinder engine; strong turbocharged V6.
The 2015 Ford Explorer isn’t as versatile or roomy as some other large, three-row crossover SUVs, but is still a respectable pick in this class, thanks to its high-end cabin and long list of advanced features.