Explorer Takes Ford To Familiar Territory

Back in the day Ford sold a gazillion Explorers. It threatened to top the F-150 pickup as the best selling truck a couple of times. It seemed that every business, every family wanted one.

Then came the problems. Somehow, Firestone tires were beginning to blowout on Explorers — only on Explorers it seemed. There were a few more mechanical problems — and many lawsuits — and sales began to slide. The Explorer was also getting long in the tooth. Most manufacturers had either caught up or passed Ford.

That’s the past. There is an all-new Explorer which is fresh in its appearance and approach. It may not regain the sales mojo it had in the early ‘90s but it certainly has its swagger back.

Let’s start with the styling. The Explorer is a fresh sheet of paper design. It’s clean and uncluttered, looking far more modern than the stodgy design it replaces. There is a hint of Land Rover (Ford once owned the luxury mark) in the grill and around the C-pillar.

There are also many changes under this body, unibody that is. The Explorer is no longer truck based. I believe this platform is based on the Flex, which is more car-like. This, along with a retuned and tweaked suspension gives the Explorer a more subtle ride. Also new is the engine. It’s a 290 horsepower V6 which offers nearly the power of the old V8 but fuel efficiency of a V6. It’s smooth, quiet and powerful. You lose some towing capacity but very few people were towing anything that was really heavy with an Explorer. Those that need something more torquey can move up to the Expedition.

The four wheel drive system is now selectable with a dial. I didn’t use it but a in the north told me it handled winter like a champ. Snow was the Explorer’s friend. Ice didn’t seem as nasty either, he said.

On the road the Explorer is what you would expect from a modern design. There’s hardly any wind or tire noise which makes the cabin inviting. The handling is much better and the steering felt right. Brakes? Fine. Acceleration? Good. Ride quality? Smooth without being pillowy.

Problems? Well, yes. The drive train and suspension are first rate. Even the fit and finish is really, really good, as well as the interior styling. The problem sits in the middle of the dash and is the thing called MyFordTouch. It’s what you get when you go for the upgraded infotainment system. Inventive it is, problem free it ain’t. I’ve sampled this system in many Ford’s and never had the problems of which some other journalists have complained. Until the Explorer. The radio froze on a station and wouldn’t move, nor would it play. After pushing every button I touched the portion of the screen with the artist information and it worked again. It worked so well it wouldn’t turn off — even when I switched off the vehicle. I restarted the vehicle and turned it off. Radio off, no problem.

Or so I thought. The center stack wouldn’t illuminate the next day. Nothing. OK, it’s time to call someone. Maybe the system reads minds because something started downloading and it worked again, and without a problem for the rest of the loan.

That experience aside, I like the Explorer a bunch. There’s much more room with the third row of seats. You can outfit it with just about anything you want. Mine was the XLT model with almost every box checked on the wish list. That will cost you close to $43,000 but it seems worth every cent.

There’s much competition still. GM has the Acadia and Enclave. Toyota’s 4Runner is bigger and Hyundai and Kia are in the mix now. Even Dodge has fired back with a new Durango. The Explorer is now ready to fight it out with these and others.

cross@alldaytech.com

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