The Explorer is a midsize SUV that offers a unique blend of comfort, performance, and off-road capability. There are three engine options, five trims, and an available Intelligent 4WD system that help the Explorer fit your budget. A smooth ride, stylish exterior, and solid performance make the Explorer an attractive American SUV.
Considering many competitors offer more features at the Explorer’s entry level prices, the base and XLT models don’t offer much value per dollar. It’s in the top two premium trims: the Sport and Platinum models that the Explorer really shines. The cabins are well-finished and the twin turbo V6 offers class-leading performance. The Range Rover-esque exterior and off-road traction management system offer an excellent alternative to the real deal, which will cost you at least ten thousand more up front and thousands more in maintenance costs. If you think of the Explorer as a budget Rover, the pros and cons begin to tip heavily in Ford’s favor.
There are three available engines on the Ford Explorer. The base model is equipped with 3.5 Liter Duratec V6 with variable cam timing that makes 290 horsepower @ 6,000 rpm and 255 lb-ft of torque @ 4,000 rpm, probably enough power for most and is also available on the XLT trim. The XLT and Limited trims receive the 2.3 Liter EcoBoost inline 4 cylinder that makes 280 horsepower @ 5,600 rpm and a whopping 310 lb-ft of torque @ 3,000 rpm. The increased torque makes this engine the more sensible choice for everyday driving, as it is more efficient as has a wider power band. Finally, the Sport and Platinum trims receive a 3.5 Liter EcoBoost twin turbo V6 that produces 365 horsepower @5,500 rpm and 350 lb-ft of torque @ 3,500 rpm.
Those numbers rival many of the V8s on the market and will never leave you in need of more power. The latter is good for a 5.8-second jaunt to sixty, better than many midsize SUVs. The 6-speed automatic transmission all engines are paired with does an adequate job of power delivery but many competitors are now offering smarter 8-speed and 9-speed automatics. Both turbo charged engines have wide power bands that make the transmission more livable. The Top engine is rated for towing up to 5,000lbs, enough for a small trailer or boat. The Platinum trim receives a class III trailering package standard. This engine achieves an EPA rating of 16 mpg city and 27 mpg highway, while the 3.5L V6 gets 17 mpg city and 24 mpg highway. The 2.3L EcoBoost receives the best fuel economy at 19 mpg city and 27 mpg highway.
The Explorer’s ride is comfortable and quiet with composed handling and good brakes. The Sport and Platinum trims receive sport tuned suspension that makes the Explorer much agiler, if a bit less comfortable. It’s a trade off we prefer, but you may not. It depends on the driving dynamics you’re looking for. We found the terrain management system useful for amateur off-roading(read: a friend’s ranch road), but it’s hardly the right choice if you’ll be doing serious offroading. However, the system does perform admirably in the snow, so it’s worth a look for those of you who have long winters with slippery roads. While not the best all around performer in the midsize segment, the Explorer has an impressive list of attributes that place it near the top of the list.
Truth be told, the base and XLT model interiors are rather bland. The patterned cloth-trimmed seats in the XLT are the worst offenders, they look dated and unrefined. As you move up to the Sport trim and higher, things improve drastically. There is a soft-touch leather-trimmed dash with contrast stitching, leather seats with contrast stitching. The Platinum trim has exceptional multi-contour front seats with quilted leather seats worthy of luxury denotation.
These trims also receive the SYNC 3 infotainment system that is infinitely better than the base SYNC. It includes Apple Carplay and Siri Eyes Free standard. It’s best when paired with the optional 500 watt Sony sound system. Ford brought back manual controls, making the system more driver friendly than before. Perhaps one of the coolest features is the available Park Assist system that will park and pull out for you, reviewers claim the system works flawlessly. Rear row seating will be a disappointment for families who need to use a car seat, expect a tight fit even with the front row all the way forward.
The third row is barely useable for small children with the second-row bench selected, and slightly improved by second-row buckets though this will reduce overall seating to six. The 21 cubic feet behind the third row is above average for the segment, while the 43.9 with the third row down and 81.7 with both down are about average for the segment. The power folding third row and hands free liftgate options make loading and unloading much easier. The Explorer’s interior quality varies with the width of its price range. Cheaper models are sparsely equipped, while top trims have some of the nicest interiors in the segment. Chances are, there is an Explorer that’s just right for your budget.
“Is that a Range Rover?” If you buy the latest generation Ford Explorer, 2011 or newer, be prepared to hear that question A LOT! Thank Jim Holland, the former chief engineer at Land Rover who led the fifth generation Explorer design team. We agree this Explorer bears resemblance to the Range Rover Sport, with its unibody construction and eye catching LED signature lighting. Topped off with 18in or 20in aluminum wheels and rugged looking skid plates the Explorer looks like a budget Range Rover, and that’s not a bad thing. Especially considering the Explorer costs significantly less and will spend far fewer days in the shop, the Explorer just might be the best bargain in the looks department of any mid-size SUV.
The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety has not fully crash tested the 2017 model but has in the past. The Explorer receives top ratings in all but the small front overlap test category. Like the smaller Escape and Edge, the front airbags have a gap between them large enough for the driver’s head to slide between and hit the dash, as evidenced by the IIHS video. Furthermore, the IIHS rates the headlights as poor and the optional front crash prevention technology as basic, the lowest rating. The NHTSA is more optimistic and offers a 5-star overall safety rating, with the only 4-star rating in the rollover category, common for all SUVs. Due to the airbag design flaw, we can’t recommend the Explorer as an exceptionally safe vehicle as there are higher performing alternatives in this category.
Consumer Reports offers a 2 out of 5 predicted reliability rating for the Ford Explorer based on its rather spotty historical reliability, though it has improved dramatically since the 2011 redesign. The 2017 Explorer is subject to 2 National Highway Traffic Safety Administration recalls, one for a driver’s seat that will not adequately restrain the occupant in the event of the crash. The second is for an oil leak from an improperly brazed turbocharger oil supply line that increases the risk of fire. Both problems can be remedied for free by your local Ford dealer.
JD Power awards a 3 out of 5 predicted reliability score, indicating about average reliability. Further research revealed few known issues with recent model year Explorers. A common complaint is cooling system failure. The problem can be fixed with a simple PCM software update, so ensure your Explorer has received this update. Otherwise, radiator failure can be both common and costly. Another problem is constantly fluctuating A/C fan speed changing constantly in single and dual-zone climate control models. This is a simple fix as well, requiring replacement of the control unit behind the glove box which takes minutes to replace.
All models through 2012 were affected by a troublesome loss of oil pressure that could be caused by a number of different issues. Be sure to have your engine carefully inspected when buying a used model. Overall, we think the Ford Explorer is more reliable than the ratings given, and we’d recommend recent model years as above average when it comes to reliability.
Since the Explorer covers a $22,000 dollar wide price range, we’ve selected two competitors to compete with the Explorer. Lower trims are best matched by the Honda Pilot that offers above average driving dynamics and more utility than the Explorer, while the Dodge Durango delivers Hemi V8 grunt at a price competitive with the higher trims. The Pilot is about as quick to sixty as the lower trimmed Explorer, somewhere in the low six-second range. However, the pilot is nimbler and provides a more agile handling experience and is easier to maneuver about parking lots and such. The interior in the Honda is much better than the lower trimmed Explorers and offers more second and third-row legroom than any of the Explorer trims.
The Explorer’s SYNC and SYNC 3 infotainment systems are better than the Honda’s, which can be both unresponsive and unintuitive to navigate. The Honda makes up for the difference with a multi-angle rearview camera and standard push button start. The Honda receives higher safety ratings and has far superior advanced safety features, which are available on lower trims, unlike the explorer. The Honda can also seat up to eight, while Explorer seats a maximum of 7. We think the Pilot provides better value for your dollar than the Explorer at lower trim levels, but there’s no denying the Explorers intriguing design that makes it hard to pass up. While the Explorer looks like a baby Range Rover, the Durango looks like an overgrown muscle car. We think it’s one of the best looking SUVs on the road. The R/T model starts around $40k and features a 5.7 Liter Hemi V8 at the same price point the Explorer features a twin turbo V6. Despite the 2.2L increase in displacement, both make about the same horsepower: 360 to the V6’s 365. The V8 makes 40 more lb-ft of torque but needs to as the Durango weighs a few hundred more pounds. Like the Explorer Sport, the Durango R/T receives sport tuned suspension. The Dodge does it better and you’ll be hard pressed to find a better handling 3 row SUV, this side of an Audi Q7.
The Explorer Sport and Platinum are a few tenths quicker to sixty though, as the torque differential isn’t enough to make up for the difference in heft. However, the interior space in the Durango is significantly better than the Explorer, with comfortable accommodation for six adults. There’s more cargo capacity and increased towing capacity as well. If you need to tow, the V8 Durango is much better than the Explorer with a capacity of up to 7,400lbs. One weak spot worth mentioning is the Durango’s brakes which are much worse than the Explorer’s, we think Dodge should add larger brakes to the R/T model. Admittedly, the interior of the R/T is not quite as upscale feeling as the Sport and Platinum Explorers, but the optional red leather does add some muscle car flair. All things considered, we’d probably choose the Explorer for its everyday livability, but if we had a large family or needed to tow, we’d choose the Durango R/T.
The base Explorer has an MSRP of $31,660 equipped with a 3.5L TI-VCT V6, 18in painted aluminum wheels, cloth seating for seven, Ford SYNC infotainment system, six speaker audio system, EXPLORER embossed front and rear scuff plates, roof rack with side rails, and a steering wheel with cruise control and secondary audio controls. The 2.3L EcoBoost is available for $495, while intelligent 4WD costs $2,150.
The XLT trim starts at 33,775 and equips unique cloth-trimmed seating, SiriusXM satellite radio, intelligent access with push button start, reverse sensing system, fog lamps, upgraded grille, LED signature lighting, upgraded mirrors, and SecuriCode keyless entry keypad.
The 2.3L EcoBoost is available for $495, while intelligent 4WD costs $2,150. The 201A equipment group costs $2,110 and equips unique cloth seating, air filtration system, rear climate control, Ford SYNC, cargo management system, easy fuel capless fuel filler, daytime running lights, cruise control, leather-wrapped shift knob, MyKey, LED signature lighting, SecuiCode keyless entry, upgraded suspension, and front passenger knee airbag. The 202A Equipment group costs $4,680 and provides all the above plus a rearview camera, reverse sensing system, acoustic glass, window tint, automatic LED headlamps, dual chrome exhaust tips, and a leather-wrapped steering wheel.
The Limited trim equips the 2.3L EcoBoost Inline 4, 20” painted aluminum wheels, PowerFold third row, perforated leather-trimmed 1st and 2nd row seats, heated first and second row, Sony premium audio system with 12 speakers, voice-activated navigation, 110V power outlet, ambient lighting, heated steering wheel, power adjustable pedals and steering wheel, leather-wrapped steering wheel, SYNC 3 infotainment system, universal garage door opener, upgraded grille, hands free power liftgate, upgraded mirrors, dual chrome exhaust tips, and chrome roof rack rails for $41,675.
The 3.5L V6 with variable cam timing is available for $300, while intelligent 4WD is available for $2,150. The 301A Equipment Group supplies blind spot information system, inflatable rear outboard seatbelts, auto-dimming driver mirror, enhanced active park assist, lane keep assist, rain-sensing wipers, auto high-beam headlights, and multi-contour front seats with Active Motion for $3,000. The 303A Equipment Group adds the same features as 301A plus a 3.51 non-limited slip rear axle for the same price, $3k.
The $45,355 Sport trim adds a 3.5L EcoBoost engine, Hill Descent Control, Terrain Management System, sport-tuned independent front and rear suspension, 20in machined aluminum wheels with painted pockets, unique perforated leather-trimmed heated seating with red accent stitching, lighted front scuff plates, fascia-integrated dual exhaust tips, gloss black grille, EXPLORER badge on hood, upgraded gloss black mirrors and door handles, inflatable rear outboard safety belts, and LED taillamps with blackout treatment. The 401A equipment group adds blind spot monitoring, inflatable rear safety belts, auto-dimming driver’s side mirror, premium 500 watt Sony audio system, power adjustable pedals and steering column, heated and cooled front seats, ambient lighting, 110V power outlet, dual 2nd-row smart charging USB ports, remote control front windows, and universal garage door opener.
For $53,235, the Platinum trim adds 20” bright machined face with tarnished dark painted pockets, Leather with quilted inserts, “Platinum” embroidered multi-contour front seats, premium 500-watt Sony sound system, adaptive cruise control, collision warning with brake support, blind spot information system, cross-traffic alert, twin-panel moonroof, active park with pull out assist, platinum branded floor mats, lane departure warning, lane keep assist, auto high beams, satin chrome grille, satin chrome mirrors, and rain-sensing wipers.