2008 Ford Explorer Review

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The Car Connection Expert Review

Marty Padgett Marty Padgett Editorial Director
July 23, 2008

As the perennial best-selling truck-based SUV, the Ford Explorer is still the one to beat.

Editors from TheCarConnection.com have recently driven different 2008 Ford Explorer models with V-6 and V-8 powertrains. Additionally, TheCarConnection.com's editors have also reviewed the latest articles on the Ford Explorer in order to write this inclusive review. These experiences enable TheCarConnection.com to offer you a definitive opinion on this mid-size SUV. This review from TheCarConnection.com also compares the 2008 Explorer with other SUVs to give you solid, unbiased advice even when other reviews present conflicting opinions.

You'd need to be an older driver to remember a time when our highways and byways weren't clogged with tall SUVs. The SUV craze started a few years after the minivan boom began, and most experts credit Jeep with building the first modern SUV (the 1984 Cherokee) and Ford with making it popular (the 1991 Explorer).

The 2008 Ford Explorer is now in its fourth generation, which is easily the best Explorer yet. The latest major change came with the 2006 model year, when the entire SUV was modernized and improved in just about every conceivable area.

Today, the 2008 Ford Explorer slots in above the Escape, Edge, and Taurus X, but below the full-size Expedition. Many consider the Explorer a mid-size SUV, but make no mistake, like drink cups at fast food joints, this mid-size SUV is pretty large even if it's not called as such. The wheelbase is 113.7 inches with an overall length of just over 16 feet. Towing capabilities of this body-on-frame design is an impressive 7,120 pounds.

Review continues below

The 2008 Ford Explorer is available in base XLT, Eddie Bauer, and Limited trim levels, and as either two- or four-wheel-drive configurations. For Ford, 2008 is the year they added the SYNC system, which uses Bluetooth and a touchscreen to control communications and entertainment systems (iPod jacks were already standard on all audio systems). New 20-inch wheels and a capless fuel filler system are also new items for 2008, but are subject to late availability. Voice activation is now offered on the Explorer's navigation system, and importantly, side curtain airbags have been made standard on all Explorers.

A 210-horsepower 4.0-liter V-6 is the standard engine for the Explorer, while an available 4.6-liter V-8 powerplant provides 292 horsepower and comes with a six-speed automatic transmission. The V-6 gets a five-speed automatic. There's a choice of Ford's ControlTrac four-wheel drive or full-time all-wheel drive if you want extra traction. The AdvanceTrac system with roll stability control is also standard. Performance in government crash tests was excellent.

Editors of TheCarConnection.com have been impressed with their exposure to the 2008 Ford Explorer. It's put together nicely, and the interior of recent Ford Trucks has been the best the company has produced. Details like the trim rings around the gauges and the surprisingly well-designed interior door handle releases show that somebody at Ford is paying attention. The exterior styling is clean and uncluttered.

The driving position is comfortable, and while the 2008 Ford Explorer drives like a truck, it's stable and pretty responsive for something that weighs 5,000 pounds. Some of the credit goes to the Explorer's independent rear suspension. However, if you're looking for something closer to what a sedan might deliver, many crossovers ride more smoothly than the Explorer.

Editors from TheCarConnection.com found the V-6 engine noisier than the V-8, as the smaller engine had to work harder to keep the Explorer hustling along. As expected, mileage wasn't anything to crow about. That clean exterior shape certainly helped keep wind noise to a minimum.

Feature-wise, the 2008 Ford Explorer offers just about anything a buyer might want in an SUV, including a rear-seat DVD entertainment system and a power-folding third-row seat (which increases the Explorer's seating capacity to seven).

The Jeep Grand Cherokee is a worthy competitor to the 2008 Explorer if you don't need the extra room the Ford provides. The Jeep, as one can still expect, is far better than the Explorer off road.

With Ford's improvements, don't write off the Explorer because of quality concerns. This truck is designed and built to run among the best of the best, which is why one can compare it to the mid-size SUVs from Honda, Nissan, and Toyota. Generally, these imports do have a slightly higher-quality feel to their interiors, but the Ford outgrunts them all in terms of maximum capabilities.

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2008 Ford Explorer

Styling

The 2008 Ford Explorer has uncluttered style, inside and out.

The 2008 Ford Explorer’s five-door SUV styling is clean and uncluttered, while the interior is one of the finest Ford’s put in a truck yet.

With over 5.5 million Explorers sold, Car and Driver writes that Ford Explorers "are so ubiquitous--and so conservatively styled--that few of us even see them anymore" and likens the Ford Explorer 2008 to "the vehicular equivalent of a pair of khaki Dockers." All of the 2008 Ford Explorer's three trims, which Edmunds lists as "XLT, Eddie Bauer and Limited trim levels," feature largely similar external styling, with the only real differences being different-size wheels and "a chrome four-bar grille" on the XLT versus the "chrome three-bar grille" on the Eddie Bauer and Limited models, according to Cars.com. Kelley Blue Book says that both grilles are "inspired by Ford's F-150 pickup," but overall "the 2008 Ford Explorer remains a very obvious descendant of the first Explorer that materialized some 17 years ago."

The interiors of recent Ford Trucks have been the best the company has produced. Details like the trim rings around the gauges and the surprisingly well-designed interior door handle releases show that somebody at Ford is paying attention. Inside the Ford Explorer, 2008 brings an interior that scores well overall with reviewers. Kelley Blue Book writes that the all-around styling of the interior is "more angular" on this Ford Explorer 2008 than on previous models, which most reviewers appreciate. Other than those few gripes, the 2008 Ford Explorer wins praise from Edmunds for its "user-friendly layout" and "sharp two-tone color schemes" that "make this workaday SUV feel a little more upscale."

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2008 Ford Explorer

Performance

The 2008 Ford Explorer is far from the quickest SUV around, but it tows, rides, and handles as well as or better than most competitors.

While the 2008 Ford Explorer drives like a truck, it's stable and pretty responsive for something that weighs 5,000 pounds. However, if you're looking for a something closer to what a sedan might deliver, many crossovers ride more smoothly than the Explorer.

Two underhood options are available on the 2008 Ford Explorer: a "revised 4.0-liter V6 engine" that Kelley Blue Book says makes "210 horsepower" and "254 lb.-ft. of torque," while those in need of more power can turn to a "4.6-liter V8 engine with 292 hp and 300 lb-ft of torque," according to Edmunds. Reviews read by TheCarConnection.com show that neither engine is particularly impressive in terms of acceleration, with ForbesAutos describing the V-6 as "barely adequate." Edmunds calls the engine performance on the Ford Explorer "mediocre" and says that the engines are "weak" when "compared to competing SUVs," thanks in part to the fact that "a 4WD Explorer equipped with the V8 takes a mediocre 9 seconds to reach 60 mph."

Pairing up with the available engines are two transmissions on the Ford Explorer 2008 lineup, one for each engine type. Edmunds says "a five-speed automatic transmission is standard with the V6 engine," while "the V8 comes matched to a six-speed automatic" and "either engine can be equipped with a choice of two-wheel-drive or a four-wheel-drive system." Reviews of the transmissions are much more positive than those of the engine performance, as ConsumerGuide writes that six-speed "changes gears smoothly and delivers quick part-throttle downshifts for fine around-town response." Car and Driver adds "the six-speed is a godsend during passing maneuvers and on long uphill slogs, where, with a little practice, you can elicit a single-gear kickdown."

The five-speed automatic that pairs with the V-6 helps the Ford Explorer "tow up to 5,395 pounds," according to Cars.com, which is nearly 2,000 pounds less than the V-8 but impressive nonetheless. Motor Trend notes that "properly equipped Explorers achieve a maximum tow rating of 7290 pounds," which Edmunds calls a "healthy tow rating" and ForbesAutos says is "sufficient for pulling a boat or trailer of moderate size."

Editors from TheCarConnection.com find the V-6 engine noisier than the V-8, as the smaller engine has to work harder to keep the Explorer hustling along. As expected, mileage isn't anything to crow about. The EPA estimates that 2WD Explorers return 14 mpg city and 20 mpg highway with the V-6, and 13/20 mpg with the V-8, while both engines offer 13 mpg city and 19 mpg highway in 4WD mode. During their test period, ConsumerGuide reviewers find that "a 2WD V8 Limited averaged 15.1 mpg, with 4WD, 15.0 mpg."

Traditional truck-based SUVs, such as the Ford Explorer, are not typically praised for their handling, but the Ford Explorer 2008 lineup manages to impress reviewers with both its ride and steering. While ConsumerGuide finds that there is "some body lean in turns and delayed reaction in quick directional changes," overall the "steering feel is responsive and accurate." Kelley Blue Book adds "the 2008 Ford Explorer is noticeably smoother and more stable out on the highway than past versions." Edmunds summarizes the performance of the 2008 Ford Explorer by saying that it is "a relative joy to drive compared to other truck-based SUVS" and further notes "the brakes inspire confidence through a firm and progressive pedal."

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2008 Ford Explorer

Comfort & Quality

The 2008 Ford Explorer offers one of the most comfortable, quietest rides in SUV Town.

Reviewers—including those from TheCarConnection.com--are impressed with the comfort and space afforded by the 2008 Ford Explorer.

On the 2008 Ford Explorer, Edmunds writes that "the XLT seats five" and the "top-line Explorer Limited" adds "a manually folding third-row seat (for seven-passenger capacity)," and ConsumerGuide says that the front of the Ford Explorer 2008 offers "plenty of room on comfortable seats." In the back, Kelley Blue Book finds that "the second row is available in three seating configurations and the third row offers a power folding feature." Passenger space for those in the rear seats is pretty good, and Edmunds says that "it's feasible to carry two adults in the third-row seats," while extra space is available on the Limited models thanks to "the 'quad seating' option" that they say "drops passenger capacity to six and places reclining captain's chairs in the second row with a storage console between them." With the standard bench seat in place in the second row of the Ford Explorer, ConsumerGuide says that "three adults can squeeze across in the roomy 2nd row," and "legroom is tight only with the front seats fully aft."

The large interior dimensions of the Ford Explorer 2008 models help with more than just passenger room, as they also allow for generous cargo space, at least in the rear. ConsumerGuide rates the 2008 Ford Explorer above the class average in terms of cargo room, writing "second- and 3rd-row seats fold nearly flat for ample cargo room, but leave gaps large enough for smaller items to fall through." On the plus side, they add "the optional power folding 3rd row is a real convenience." In terms of hard cargo numbers, Edmunds says "seven-passenger Ford Explorers max out at 83.7 cubic feet of cargo space, while five-passenger versions offer 85.8 cubic feet." Inside the cabin, Cars.com finds that "an overhead storage console" bumps up available storage space, but otherwise, ConsumerGuide writes "interior storage is meager."

Interior materials quality on the Ford Explorer 2008 receives mixed reviews. While Edmunds contends that "the Explorer's materials quality remains mediocre," other reviewers, such as those at ConsumerGuide, assert that the "interior materials feel solid." One area where the reviewers all agree on is the excellence of the 2008 Ford Explorer's build quality. ConsumerGuide says "assembly quality has been good on all models" that they've tested. ConsumerGuide, though, also points out "the transmission shift lever prevents easy access to climate controls" and the "turn signal stalk is mounted at an awkward angle."

One of the benefits of solid build quality is sound suppression, and reviewers also unanimously agree that the 2008 Ford Explorer stands out as a quiet ride. Car and Driver counts the 2008 Ford Explorer as "among the quietest body-on-frame SUVs extant," and Kelley Blue Book says that its makes "for easy conversation between occupants in separate rows." ConsumerGuide adds that the Ford Explorer is "among the quieter SUVs of any type," noting "wind and road noise are well-muffled," as is "noise over bumps."

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2008 Ford Explorer

Safety

Drivers of the 2008 Ford Explorer can take comfort in the excellent crash-test ratings and long list of standard safety features.

No matter where you turn for information on the safety credentials of the 2008 Ford Explorer, one thing is clear: Ford engineers have made safety a priority on the Ford Explorer.

The 2008 Ford Explorer has been tested by both crash-test authorities in the United States, and the results are impressive. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) subjected the Ford Explorer 2008 to its full range of crash tests and has awarded it a perfect five-star rating for both driver and passenger protection during front impacts, as well as five stars for side impact protection on both sides of the vehicle.

The 2008 Ford Explorer also scores well with the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), which awards its highest rating, "good," for frontal offset impact protection. The IIHS also bestows its second-highest rating, "acceptable," for side impact protection. Motor Trend observes, "not all of the Ford Explorer's competitors can match the SUV's five-star front and side crash test ratings."

Edmunds writes that "all major safety equipment is standard on the 2008 Ford Explorer," and that standard equipment list is quite long. ForbesAutos reviewers are pleased to find that "Ford's AdvanceTrac stability control system with Roll Stability Control is standard," and they note that the system "provides added road-holding abilities, especially around sharp curves." Cars.com adds that "seat-mounted side-impact airbags, a tire pressure monitoring system and a five-level front-passenger sensing system" are all included, and "a 4-inch-thick foam block installed between the exterior and interior front-door panels helps manage side-impact forces on occupants' hips."

One safety aspect that shouldn't be ignored but is sometimes forgotten by automotive reviewers is driver visibility. On the Ford Explorer 2008, ConsumerGuide writes that "outward visibility is hindered some by thick roof pillars, but the 2nd- and 3rd-row headrests fold to reduce obstruction." While the 2008 Ford Explorer doesn't offer a rear-facing camera, Motor Trend notes that it does have an optional "reverse sensing system" that should aid drivers during parking lot and towing maneuvers.

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2008 Ford Explorer

Features

The 2008 Ford Explorer is equipped with enough entertaining and practical features, plus the unmatched SYNC system.

The features list on the 2008 Ford Explorer, both standard and optional, is enough to put a smile on just about any driver's face. The Ford Explorer is packed full of brag-worthy features both inside and out.

The standard features on the 2008 Ford Explorer are numerous. The base-trim XLT offers "cruise control, air-conditioning, a CD/MP3 stereo with an auxiliary input jack and full power accessories," according to Edmunds, while "Eddie Bauer models provide two-tone paint, 17-inch alloy wheels," plus "heated front seats [and] Ford SYNC connectivity." The SYNC feature is also standard on Ford Explorer Limited trims, and it receives generous praise in reviews read by TheCarConnection.com. ForbesAutos writes, "SYNC makes it possible to operate multiple devices, from cell phone to an iPod, on a hands-free basis." In the 2008 Ford Explorer Limited trim, Cars.com declares, "heated front seats, a power passenger seat, dual-zone automatic temperature control and a six-CD player with MP3 capability are standard."

The available standard features are impressive on the Ford Explorer 2008 lineup, but the options list is where things go from good to great. Beginning with the less exciting options, Edmunds says that "rear-seat climate control and upgraded stereo" are available on the XLT and Eddie Bauer trims. More noteworthy is the available "rear DVD entertainment system," which ForbesAutos says will keep passengers entertained on long drives in the Ford Explorer 2008, and ConsumerGuide adds a "navigation system" that "includes Audiophile AM/FM radio w/in-dash 6-disc CD/MP3 changer" is available to help you reach your destination. ConsumerGuide also writes that an available Sun and Sirius package will add a "power sunroof [and] satellite radio" to the Ford Explorer 2008.

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