Sharing its new car-based platform with the Taurus sedan, the redesigned Ford Explorer moves squarely into the crossover realm, pitting it against competitors like the Toyota Highlander, Honda Pilot and Chevrolet Traverse.
Fuel economy improves, thanks to a smaller V-6 and an available turbocharged four-cylinder. Without last year's optional V-8, however, towing capacity drops to a crossover-competitive 5,000 pounds. Front-wheel drive and three rows of seats are standard; all-wheel drive with Ford's new Terrain Management System is optional. Ford's MyFord Touch system, with touch-sensitive controls similar to those in the restyled Edge crossover, is also optional.
Trim levels include the base, XLT and Limited. All three come with the V-6; the turbo four-cylinder will be optional on front-wheel-drive models.
Styled similarly to the new Edge, the Explorer measures a few inches longer but much wider — up more than 5 inches — than its predecessor. The effect makes for a squatter, more carlike stance. The headlights and taillights arch inward at the top, and the grille uses Ford's familiar three-bar design. It's gray on base models, silver on the XLT and body-colored on the Limited.
Seventeen-inch steel wheels and black plastic side moldings are standard on base models. The XLT adds body-colored door handles, painted black mirrors and 18-inch alloy wheels. The Limited has body-colored mirrors and 20-inch alloys.
The Explorer's dashboard can come outfitted with touch-sensitive controls and LCD gauge screens. It's part of a MyFord Touch package that's optional on the XLT and standard on the Limited. MyFord Touch puts, among other things, an LCD screen on each side of the speedometer. Drivers can configure what information — from a virtual tachometer to music and navigation information — goes on those screens.
With a second-row bench seat, seating capacity is seven. Second-row captain's chairs, optional on the Limited, reduce capacity to six. The third row folds down in a 50/50 split, with available power folding seats on the Limited. Other available features include leather upholstery, heated and cooled front seats, and a dual-panel moonroof.
Fold all the seats down and the Explorer's 80.7 cubic feet of maximum cargo volume is down 3 cubic feet from last year. Competing crossovers have more space.
Under the Hood
The Explorer's standard 3.5-liter V-6 makes 290 horsepower and 255 pounds-feet of torque; it works with front- or all-wheel drive. On front-wheel-drive models, the optional turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder makes 237 hp and 250 pounds-feet of torque. Ford says gas mileage with the V-6 has improved significantly over last year's 4.0-liter V-6, while the turbo four-cylinder posts comparable mileage to a V-6 family sedan.
Standard with the Explorer's all-wheel drive is Ford's new Terrain Management System. Similar to systems employed by Land Rover — albeit without Land Rover's automated suspension adjustments — Terrain Management System adapts drivetrain settings to suit one of four environments: pavement, snow, sand or mud. Drivers simply pick the icon on a console knob that matches the conditions outside.
Towing capacity with the V-6 is 5,000 pounds. With the four-cylinder, it drops to 2,000 pounds.
Antilock brakes, side curtain airbags and an electronic stability system with Ford's Roll Stability Control are standard. The stability system employs Ford's new Curve Control, which aims to cut speed should a driver head too fast into a corner.
Options include adaptive cruise control with forward collision warning and inflatable rear seat belts. An industry first, the seat belts aim to spread crash forces across the body by deploying an airbag-like inflation device during a forward collision. They are located in the second-row outboard seats — a location Ford deemed best due to the likelihood of young children or elderly passengers, who stand to gain the most from the inflatable belts, sitting there.
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