The Explorer is offered in base, XLT, Limited and Platinum models, but no matter the model, it comes with three well-designed rows of seating and room for up to seven (the second row comes with two bucket seats for adults). While the third row is kid-sized, it's easier to fold than those on just about any other model, thanks to the simple, single-button power-folding system. Parents will also note that LATCH fasteners for child seats are included in the second-row outboard positions. Both the second and third rows flip forward, giving a cavernous 81 cubic-feet of cargo space.
The base engine is a 3.5L V6 that produces 290 horsepower and 255 pound-feet of torque, with EPA ratings of 17 mpg city and 25 mpg highway. The optional 2.3L EcoBoost 4-cylinder makes a healthy 270 horsepower and 300 pound-feet of torque, and fuel economy is best in class at 20 mpg city and 28 mpg highway.
The 4-wheel-drive system in the Explorer is available with both engines, and it is designed with the urban driving done by most Explorer owners in mind. The system includes a Terrain Management system that cleverly recalibrates the system for snow, sand or mud when needed. With 4-wheel drive, there's also Hill Descent Control, to help maintain composure on steep, slippery slopes.
Standard equipment on the Explorer is more extensive than what's found in most mainstream-brand vehicles. Cruise control, a media hub system, four 12-volt powerpoints, capless fuel-filling and the MyKey control/monitoring feature are all standard on the base model, while optional or standard goodies on the upper XLT or Limited trims include dual-zone climate control; remote start; power-folding, heated side-view mirrors; reverse sensing; ambient lighting, adjustable pedals, a rearview camera system, push-button start and a 110-volt AC outlet. The top-of-the-line Platinum trim includes quilted leather seating, brush aluminum accents, and ash wood inlays.
MyFord Touch combines a host of vehicle, information and entertainment functions in an interface that appears a bit like that of iPads or other tablet computers. The system works together with Ford's Sync interface to interact seamlessly -- and with voice commands -- with media players, smartphones and music on USB sticks.
All Explorers include both Roll Stability Control and Curve Control sophisticated stability control systems. Safety Canopy side-curtain airbags also cover all three rows and an SOS Post-Crash System helps alert authorities if the airbags deploy. Safety-related tech features on the Explorer include adaptive cruise control with a collision warning system that includes brake support as well as a Blind Spot Information System with cross-traffic alert.
Excellent Ride Quality
World-class Safety Features
EcoBoost Engine Provides Good Mileage
For 2016, Ford has increased the optional EcoBoost four-cylinder engine from 2.0 liters to 2.3 liters. The result is a gain of 30 horsepower and 30 pound-feet of torque -- to 270 hp and 300 lb-ft, respectively over 2015. Fuel economy remains unchanged, with best-in-class 28 mpg returned on the highway. More importantly, Explorers fitted with that engine can now be optioned with four-wheel drive and a tow package, which were previously unavailable with the EcoBoost. Aesthetically, the Explorer has freshened exterior styling and a slightly revised interior. Finally, a new Platinum trim adds several luxury features, including quilted leather seating, brush aluminum accents and ash wood inlays.
The Ford Explorer has been rated one of the safest utility vehicles at any size or price; it's the first vehicle in the world to offer rear inflatable seatbelts. Curve control -- a more advanced version of electronic stability control -- is also a Ford exclusive. Ford's MyKey system helps parents manage the teen drivers in the family.
The Explorer also stands out for being one of the "greenest" choices available. Ford claims best-in-class gas mileage for non-hybrids and notes that the Explorer EcoBoost will go 20 percent farther on a gallon of gas than the Honda Pilot.