For nearly 20 years, the Explorer was a truck-based SUV with body-on-frame construction. But the fifth-generation Explorer made the switch to a car-like unibody in 2011. Since then, Ford has added a couple of engine options—turbocharged 4- and 6-cylinder engines as well as the standard naturally aspirated 6-cylinder—but in general, the Explorer has received only minor styling tweaks and equipment changes since its introduction.
The present-day Explorer might not be as rugged as its predecessors, but it sure handles, rides, and steers better. It feels secure rounding corners, with surprisingly little body roll for a tall vehicle, and the suspension soaks up pavement irregularities with aplomb.
The steering gives decent feedback and requires just the right amount of effort. The optional twin-turbo EcoBoost V6 provides V8-like oomph when pulling away from a stoplight and is tow rated up to 5,000 pounds. The cabin stays church quiet, even over harsh tarmac, and is beautifully finished. The handsome exterior has styling reminiscent of Land Rover, once a Ford subsidiary.
Alas, all is not flawless. Rear vision is abysmal (it’s a good thing a rearview camera is standard). There are three rows of seats, but the third row requires acrobatics to reach and is better suited for kids. And advanced safety features, such as forward automatic emergency braking and lane-keeping assist, are available only on the top trim level or as extra-cost options. Finally, the EcoBoost V6 is pretty thirsty (18 mpg in combined city/highway driving), though the 4-cylinder provides a 15 percent improvement in fuel economy.
Nonetheless, the latest Explorer is well regarded enough to remain a best seller. Look for a total redesign in the sixth-gen Explorer, due for model year 2020.
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Model years: 2011–2019
Vehicle layout: Midsize SUV, 3.5-liter V6 (365 hp), 6-speed automatic, AWD
MSRP: $33,360 (base), $55,160 (well equipped)
MPG, city/hwy/combined: 16/22/18
Crash-test ratings: NHTSA: 5 stars overall. IIHS: moderate overlap front, side, roof: good; small overlap front: marginal for the driver, poor for the passenger
Basic warranty: 3 years/36,000 miles
Spare tire: Temporary spare
Final assembly: United States