Ford Explorer is among the best seven-passenger sport-utility vehicles available. It delivers the function and family-friendly features of a minivan with the rugged appeal of an SUV.
New for 2013 was an Explorer Sport trim with a twin-turbocharged version of Ford’s 3.5-liter V6 engine, a sport-tuned suspension and all-wheel-drive. Using Premium gas, Explorer Sport makes up to 365 horsepower and 350 pound-feet of torque. A number of advancements introduced on the Sport edition were added to regular 2014 Explorers.
For 2015, a new optional appearance package for the SLT edition promises sport-inspired design details, including black bodyside cladding, 20-inch machined aluminum wheels, and leather-trimmed heated seats with suede inserts. Entry-level models now ride on 18-inch aluminum wheels.
Explorer gets major revisions for the 2016 model year.
Options on Explorer Limited models include a lane departure warning system, heated steering wheel, and a power tilt-and-telescoping steering column. All 2015 Explorer models come standard with a front-passenger knee airbag.
This current generation of the Ford Explorer, introduced for 2011, features a one-piece, unibody design rather than a ladder-type truck frame with a separate, bolted on body. The result is more car-like driving dynamics, as well as significant weight savings, which translates to better fuel economy.
Powering all 2015 Ford Explorer models except the Sport is 3.5-liter V6 that makes 290 horsepower and 255 pound-feet of torque, paired with a 6-speed automatic transmission. Front-wheel drive is standard, four-wheel drive is optional. Although the Explorer does not come with low-range gearing, 4WD versions of the Explorer get Ford’s Terrain Management system, which allows the driver to select from four modes for optimal traction in a variety of driving environments. It also includes hill start assist and hill descent control.
Fuel economy with the base V6 engine on front-wheel-drive Explorer models is an EPA-estimated 17/24 mpg City/Highway, or 17/23 mpg City/Highway on 4WD models.
Even with regular all-season tires, the Explorer will blast through sand or traverse deep ditches and steep hills, no problem. We know. We did it. And it has the smoothest ride we’ve encountered over such terrain.
For maximum fuel economy, front-wheel-drive versions of the 2015 Ford Explorer can be equipped with an optional 2.0-liter, four-cylinder EcoBoost engine. Making 240 horsepower and 270 pound-feet of torque, it delivers an EPA-estimated 20/28 mpg City/Highway.
The 2.0 EcoBoost is sufficiently powerful, and acceptable if mileage is the absolute priority. Still, depending on gas prices and how many miles you drive, it can take time to recover the 2.0-liter engine’s $1,000 up-front cost in fuel savings. We prefer the standard 290-horspower V6 with its smooth, strong acceleration.
Explorer’s chassis is super rigid, which not only makes for great crash-test scores, but also a quiet cabin, excellent ride quality and solid handling that belies the Explorer’s considerable size.
Inside, there is plenty of legroom in the second row, real space for passengers in the third, and up to 80.7 cubic-feet of cargo space. It can be reconfigured in seconds, with split rear seats that fold with a button on each side and bounce back up with the pull of a lever. The interior is smartly styled and well finished. The materials and build quality are quite good.
The base Explorer comes well equipped. The upgraded Limited trim is leather-upholstered, with heated-seats and offered with premium audio, navigation and rear-seat DVD entertainment. The MyFordTouch interface is optional, but can be cumbersome and at least a little annoying.
Other SUVs to consider in this class include the Buick Enclave, Chevrolet Traverse, Dodge Durango, GMC Acadia, Honda Pilot or Mazda CX-9. All provide similar or slightly better cargo space, but lack the history and cachet of the Explorer nameplate.