Several mechanical changes introduced last year for the Explorer Sport trickle down to all models, including larger brakes, a larger brake master cylinder, and solid steering-rack mounts that improve steering feel. Heated second-row seats and adaptive cruise control with forward collision warning join the options list for Limited models. There are also two new paint colors, sunset and dark side...
The Ford Explorer has come a long way since it launched in 1990. The current generation, the first to use unibody construction, debuted for 2011 with a modern design, heaps of technology, and a more carlike driving experience. The Explorer still has available four-wheel-drive, a 5000-pound tow rating, and an electronic terrain management dial with off-road mode, but it's clearly a crossover for the suburbs rather than the sand dunes. Although it is one of Ford's most popular models, the three-row Explorer doesn't sell nearly as well as the two-row Escape. However, its greater size and capabilities ensure it remains an important part of the Ford lineup.
Now in its fourth year, this generation of the Ford Explorer remains an attractive choice in the crowded and competitive three-row crossover segment. The standard engine is a 3.5-liter V-6 that is smooth and powerful enough to satisfy the majority of buyers. An optional 2.0-liter EcoBoost four-cylinder sacrifices a little bit of power and returns better fuel economy than the V-6, but it is only available with front-wheel drive. Drivers who need or want more power can pick the Explorer Sport, which has a 365-hp, 3.5-liter twin-turbo V-6, as well more aggressive bodywork, 20-inch wheels, and sportier programming for the standard all-wheel-drive system. However, it is expensive and returns the lowest fuel economy of any Explorer.
Despite its size and weight, the Ford Explorer drives very well, if without excitement. The steering is well weighted and the standard six-speed automatic transmission is smooth, although the suspension can feel floaty. We previously criticized the Explorer for weak brakes and poor pedal feel, but Ford has addressed both issues for 2014 by upgrading the entire braking system. In our latest three-row crossover comparison test, we faulted the Explorer's cramped interior and meager visibility. Thick roof pillars and a high beltline make it difficult to see out of the car, while wide door sills hurt ease of entry. Moreover, the interior feels smaller than the large exterior dimensions would suggest -- space in the second and third rows of seats is tight. Ultimately, the Ford Explorer lost out against the Honda Pilot in our first round of comparison testing voting.
The Explorer's long list of available features includes a panoramic sunroof, a self-parking system, adaptive cruise control, and more. Safety gadgets include inflatable rear seatbelts, a feature called Curve Control that slows the Explorer if it's entering a turn too quickly, a backup camera, lane-departure warning, trailer sway control, and blind-spot monitors. Even after multiple software updates, the optional MyFord Touch infotainment system remains difficult to use and unreliable, so we'd avoid it if possible.
- Chevrolet Traverse
- Honda Pilot
- Jeep Grand Cherokee
- Nissan Pathfinder