In its late-20th-century heyday, the Ford Explorer outsold both the Toyota Camry and the Honda Accord. As far as consumers were concerned, its taller drive height, spacious cargo hold and all-weather versatility made it the perfect family vehicle. Unfortunately, the rollover accident scare during the summer of 2000 cast a pall over the Explorer nameplate and turned off potential buyers despite the fact that the third-generation model (2002-present) was a much safer car — and roomier to boot. Sales eventually recovered with the help of incentives and positive word of mouth, but these days the Explorer has a lot more competition. In addition to its many truck-based peers, numerous car-based crossover SUVs now occupy this price range, and many of them are just as family-friendly as the Explorer while offering better fuel economy and more upscale accommodations.This doesn’t mean the 2007 Ford Explorer wouldn’t be a good choice, especially if you need three rows of usable seating in a midsize SUV body. Ford made substantial upgrades to the Explorer for the 2006 model year that refined its already extraordinary road manners. We consider it one of the best-handling truck-based SUVs on the market, and its smooth, quiet highway drive makes it a natural road trip candidate.A long list of standard equipment doesn’t hurt either, and important safety features like front-seat side airbags, first- and second-row side curtain airbags and AdvanceTrac stability control are all included. Some buyers might lament the fact that the side curtain airbags don’t extend back to the third row, but the Explorer offers an additional feature that many of its competitors don’t have: Roll Stability Control. Pioneered by Volvo, this system uses a gyro sensor to identify a potential rollover situation and activates AdvanceTrac to try to avoid it.Other than its typically low resale value, the Ford Explorer’s main weakness regards its engine output. The base V6 engine makes just 210 horsepower, a low number for this class, and the engine isn’t especially refined. The optional V8 is smoother and puts up more extraordinary numbers — 292 hp, 300 pound-feet of torque — but lacks the bottom-end pull of competitors’ V8s and, increasingly, their V6s as well.For buyers who aren’t concerned about having the quickest SUV in the neighborhood, the 2007 Ford Explorer offers an extraordinary package. It’s cozy enough to use for carpool duty during the week, yet rugged enough to handle a 7000-pound trailer or the dirt trail to the cabin on the weekend. Although we encourage family-minded buyers to check out the many alternatives in this price range, including car-based utes, wagons and minivans, Ford’s Explorer remains a solid pick for those who need the capability of a traditional SUV.
Any Explorer is a joy to drive, as truck-based SUVs go. Taking much of the credit for this praise is the rear independent suspension, which provides a smooth drive and keeps the wheels planted on rough pavement. Steering is surprisingly responsive and the brakes inspire confidence through a firm and progressive pedal. Power from either the V6 or V8 engine is adequate, though most buyers will prefer the V8’s extra helping of low-end torque and refinement.
A four-door midsize SUV, the 2007 Ford Explorer is available in XLT, Eddie Bauer and Limited trim levels. The XLT seats five and comes with 16-inch alloy wheels, air-conditioning, a CD stereo with an input jack for MP3 players, cruise control and full power accessories. Eddie Bauer models provide two-tone paint, 17-inch alloy wheels, running boards, leather upholstery, a power adjustable driver seat, heated front seats, faux wood interior trim and an auto-dimming rearview mirror. The top-line Limited comes with monochromatic paint, 18-inch alloy wheels, dual-zone automatic climate control (with a separate rear air conditioner), a manually folding third-row seat (for seven-passenger capacity), a power front passenger seat, seat memory for the driver, an upgraded sound system with an in-dash CD changer and steering-wheel-mounted controls, a leather-wrapped steering wheel and heated exterior mirrors.Major options include a third-row seat (with or without a power-fold feature), second-row captain’s chairs, a navigation system, a rear seat DVD entertainment system, a sunroof, Sirius satellite radio and a Class III/IV towing package.
Last year’s upgrades provided a cosmetic makeover for the Explorer’s traditionally bland cabin. Materials quality is still mediocre, but a sharp set of gauges, a shapely steering wheel and gear selector, and various two-tone color schemes make this workaday SUV feel a little more upscale than before. It’s feasible to carry two adults in the third-row seats, but choosing the third-row option slightly reduces the available cargo space and results in a not-quite-flat load floor. Seven-passenger Explorers max out at 83.7 cubic feet of cargo space, while five-passenger versions offer 85.8 cubic feet. Notably, the 60/40 sections of the second-row bench seat recline only if your Explorer has a third-row seat. The “quad seating” option on Eddie Bauer and Limited models drops passenger capacity to six and places reclining captain’s chairs in the second row with a storage console between them.
All major safety equipment is standard on the 2007 Ford Explorer, including four-wheel antilock disc brakes, a stability control system, front seat-mounted side airbags, first- and second-row side curtain airbags (optional on the XLT) and a tire-pressure monitoring system. The stability control system includes an important feature called Roll Stability Control (RSC), which uses a gyro sensor to calculate the SUV’s roll speed and angle. If RSC determines a rollover is imminent, it activates the regular stability control to help avoid it. A reverse parking-sensing system is standard on the Limited and optional on other trims. Oddly, adjustable pedals are available on the XLT and Eddie Bauer but not the Limited, because they’re incompatible with its seat memory feature. Optional on all Explorers is a heated windshield, a worthwhile item for families who take wintertime road trips.The Ford Explorer earned a perfect five stars in all frontal- and side-impact crash tests conducted by the NHTSA, as well as the top rating of “Good” in IIHS’ frontal-offset crash testing.
The base engine is a 4.0-liter V6 good for 210 hp and 254 lb-ft of torque. Optional on all models is a 4.6-liter V8 engine with 292 hp and 300 lb-ft of torque. A 5-speed automatic transmission is standard with the V6 engine, and the V8 comes matched to a 6-speed automatic. Buyers have their choice of two-wheel drive or a four-wheel-drive system (with a push-button transfer case) with either engine. Properly equipped, a V8 2WD Explorer can haul 7300 pounds. A 4WD Explorer equipped with the V8 takes about 9 seconds to reach 60 mph. For comparison, a V8-equipped Toyota 4Runner can perform this feat in the mid 7-second range, as can a Nissan Pathfinder, which only comes with a V6.
Excellent drive and handling characteristics for a truck-based SUV, spacious and quiet interior with user-friendly layout, standard stability control system and integrated rollover sensor.
Although engine performance is mediocre, the midsize 2007 Ford Explorer deserves consideration from anyone shopping for a traditional SUV, thanks to its superb road manners, long list of safety features and usable seating in all three rows.