2010 Ford Explorer Review

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Bengt Halvorson Bengt Halvorson Deputy Editor
December 5, 2009

For a truck-based SUV, the Ford is versatile and capable, with a great interior and a number of safety and entertainment features. For a smoother ride, consider a car-based SUV instead.

The editors of TheCarConnection.com have driven the Ford Explorer in several different trims and bring you firsthand observations and buying advice here in a brief Bottom Line assessment. Additionally, TheCarConnection.com has looked at what other professionals have said and included it as part of a comprehensive Full Review.

Back in the early 1990s, the Ford Explorer quickly became one of the most popular family vehicles. Thankfully Ford has kept the Explorer reasonably up-to-date; the current version of the Explorer, introduced in 2006, is the best one yet in terms of promising trucklike towing and hauling ability, while still also allowing comfortable and safe transport. That said, it must also be acknowledged that today there are also better options for a roomy, versatile family vehicle.

In the Ford lineup, the 2010 Ford Explorer is just below the Expedition and ahead of the Taurus X, Flex, Edge, and Escape in terms of exterior size and capabilities. While the Explorer is technically classified as a mid-size SUV, it can still seat up to seven passengers and tow an impressive 7,285 pounds.

The standard drivetrain for the Ford Explorer is a 210-horsepower, 4.0-liter V-6 matched with a five-speed automatic. There is an optional 292-horsepower, 4.6-liter V-8 powerplant that comes with a six-speed automatic transmission. Both engines come with standard rear-wheel drive, but can be mated with a choice of Ford's ControlTrac four-wheel-drive system or full-time all-wheel drive if you need extra grip.
The V-6 engine in the 2010 Explorer is far noisier and less refined than the V-8, as the smaller engine has an aged design that must work harder to keep the Explorer hustling along. Like its Ford Explorer Sport Trac sibling, the Explorer's V-8 with the six-speed transmission manages to get superior fuel economy numbers than the V-6 model. Meanwhile, that clean exterior shape certainly helps keep wind noise to a minimum.

Review continues below

Along with tougher off-road capability and higher tow ratings, people still buy this type of SUV for its versatility and the high seating position. The 2010 Ford Explorer delivers on most of these counts. It's not very off-road-capable, but it's a good choice for towing a small boat or trailer of ATVs. Meanwhile, the ride is smoother than that of other truck-based utes, and the independent rear suspension adds to its stability and responsive handling, but make no mistake. Editors of TheCarConnection.com are impressed with the interior quality of the Ford Explorer. If you want a more carlike ride, there are many crossovers to consider. For more versatility, there is also Ford's Explorer Sport Trac, which adds a cargo bed to the Explorer.

Safety-wise, the AdvanceTrac (electronic stability control) system with roll stability control comes as standard, and performance in government crash tests is good. There is also a standard Trailer Sway control feature that works with the AdvanceTrac and Roll Stability systems to keep trailers under control during towing.

Ford brings the Explorer into the 2010 model year with the familiar base XLT, Eddie Bauer, and Limited trim levels. Last year's XLT Sport package returns for the 2010 lineup as well. Feature-wise, the 2010 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). Also available is the next -generation voice-activated navigation system with Sirius Travel Link.

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2010 Ford Explorer

Styling

The 2010 Ford Explorer's styling is clean and uncluttered, while the interior impresses reviewers with its layout and attention to detail.

The 2010 Ford Explorer mates classic SUV exterior styling that's clean and uncluttered with fantastic interior design—although some reviewers feel the Explorer has become so common that it is basically ubiquitous.

Noting that more than 5.5 million Explorers have been sold, Car and Driver reports that Ford Explorers "are so ubiquitous—and so conservatively styled—that few of us even see them anymore" and likens the Ford Explorer to "the vehicular equivalent of a pair of khaki Dockers."

All of the 2010 Ford Explorer's three trims are generally similar on the outside. The only real variations are 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 both grilles are "inspired by Ford's F-150 pickup," but overall the Explorer "remains a very obvious descendant of the first Explorer that materialized some 17 years ago."

On the inside, reviewers are impressed by the attention to detail that Ford puts into the Explorer's interior, such as the trim rings around the gauges and the surprisingly well-designed interior door handle releases. While the interior is largely unchanged for 2010, it is still an impressive offering from the Blue Oval. Kelley Blue Book notes that the all-around styling of the interior is "more angular" on this generation of Explorer than on previous models, which most reviewers appreciate. The Ford Explorer also 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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2010 Ford Explorer

Performance

For a truck-based SUV, the 2010 Ford Explorer rides, handles, and tows better than most of its competitors—though it doesn’t provide the nimbler feel of some newer crossover SUVs.

Along with tougher off-road capability and higher tow ratings, people still buy this type of SUV for its versatility and the high seating position. The 2010 Ford Explorer delivers on most of these. It's not very off-road-capable, but it's a good choice for towing a small boat or trailer of ATVs. Meanwhile, the ride is smoother than that of other truck-based utes, and the independent rear suspension adds to its stability and responsive handling, but make no mistake. Editors of TheCarConnection.com have been impressed with the interior quality of the Ford Explorer.

Once again, two powertrain options are available on the 2010 Ford Explorer: a 210-horsepower, 4.0-liter V-6, or a 292-horsepower, 4.6-liter V-8. Reviews read by TheCarConnection.com show that neither engine is particularly impressive in terms of acceleration, and editors from TheCarConnection.com note that the V-6 engine is noisier than the V-8, as it has to work harder to keep the Explorer hustling along.  Edmunds calls the engine performance on the Ford Explorer "mediocre" and says that the engines are "weak" when "compared to competing SUVs." Edmunds also notes "a 4WD Explorer equipped with the V-8 takes a mediocre 9 seconds to reach 60 mph."

Pairing up with the available engines are two transmissions on the Ford Explorer 2010 lineup, one for each engine type. Edmunds says "a five-speed automatic transmission is standard with the V-6 engine," while "the V-8 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." While engine performance isn't exactly anything to brag about for Ford, reviews of the transmissions are much more positive. ConsumerGuide notes that the 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."
Towing capability is dependent on which engine choice buyers make. 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 states that "properly equipped Explorers achieve a maximum tow rating of 7,285 pounds," which Edmunds calls a "healthy tow rating."

As expected, mileage on the chunky Explorer isn't anything to crow about, and TheCarConnection.com editors experience lower mileage with the V-6 than with the V-8. 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 V-8 Limited averaged 15.1 mpg, with 4WD, 15.0 mpg."

A truck-based SUV such as the Ford Explorer is rarely praised on the basis of vehicle dynamics, but the Ford Explorer lineup manages to impress reviewers with both its ride and steering. While ConsumerGuide detects "some body lean in turns and delayed reaction in quick directional changes," overall the "steering feel is responsive and accurate." Edmunds characterizes the performance of the 2010 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." Kelley Blue Book adds that the 2010 "Ford Explorer is noticeably smoother and more stable out on the highway than past versions."

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2010 Ford Explorer

Comfort & Quality

Although materials quality garners mixed reviews, most journalists find the 2010 Explorer to be comfortable and roomy. Impressive build quality also helps keep the cabin quiet and pleasant.

Thanks to its boxy body style, the 2010 Ford Explorer affords an impressively large interior overall, while good build quality places the Explorer among the quietest vehicles in its class. The Explorer’s ride is also more buttoned-down than that of most truck-based SUVs, which often tend to be choppy on anything but smooth roads.

Regarding the 2010 Ford Explorer, Edmunds states that "the XLT seats five" and the "top-line Explorer Limited" adds "a manually folding third-row seat (for seven-passenger capacity)," while ConsumerGuide says that the front of the Ford Explorer 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 admirable, and Edmunds contends 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 "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 notes that "three adults can squeeze across in the roomy 2nd row," and "legroom is tight only with the front seats fully aft."

While the Ford Explorer is big on passenger room, this is not at the expense of cargo space, which is generous in the rear. ConsumerGuide rates the 2010 Ford Explorer above the class average in terms of cargo room, reporting "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 the technical cargo space, 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." Cars.com, however, finds that "an overhead storage console" bumps up available storage space, but otherwise, ConsumerGuide notes "interior storage is meager."

Interior material-quality on the Ford Explorer 2010 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." If materials-quality divides reviewers, Ford's build quality offers them a point of consensus, with most reviews impressed by this aspect of the Explorer.  ConsumerGuide says "assembly quality has been good on all models" that they've tested. ConsumerGuide, though, also points out that "the transmission shift lever prevents easy access to climate controls" and the "turn signal stalk is mounted at an awkward angle"—both issues that plague the Explorer's Sport Trac sibling as well.

Thanks to the above-average build quality of the 2010 Ford Explorer, interior cabin noise is impressively good. 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." Car and Driver counts the Ford Explorer "among the quietest body-on-frame SUVs extant," and Kelley Blue Book says that it makes "for easy conversation between occupants in separate rows."

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2010 Ford Explorer

Safety

The 2010 Ford Explorer might have a truck-based layout that’s no longer in favor, but Ford has done a good job keeping its safety features up to snuff.

When it comes to safety, Ford's engineers make the 2010 Ford Explorer a particularly safe vehicle, though its safety performance could be improved in some areas.

Last year's mechanically identical Ford Explorer was tested by both crash-test authorities in the United States, and the results are, for the most part, impressive. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) subjected the Ford Explorer to its full range of crash tests and 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 Ford Explorer also scores well with the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), which awards its highest rating, "good," for frontal offset impact protection. Unlike NHTSA, however, the IIHS bestows only its second-highest rating of "acceptable" for side impact protection. Nevertheless, Motor Trend observes, that "not all of the Ford Explorer's competitors can match the SUV's five-star front and side crash test ratings."

TheCarConnection.com's editors also note that Ford includes its Trailer Sway control system as standard to help keep trailers stable. 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, ConsumerGuide warns that "outward visibility is hindered some by thick roof pillars, but the 2nd- and 3rd-row headrests fold to reduce obstruction." While the 2010 Ford Explorer doesn't offer a rear-facing camera, there are some aftermarket options available. Motor Trend also notes that the Explorer does have an optional "reverse sensing system" that should aid drivers during parking lot and towing maneuvers, but won't exactly help them see directly behind them.

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2010 Ford Explorer

Features

With a long list of standard features in most of its trim levels, the 2010 Ford Explorer also has some interesting options available for personalization—but remember, those options can add up to a large chunk of money if you get reckless.  

Like other Ford models, the features list on the 2010 Ford Explorer, both standard and optional, is extensive enough to keep most people satisfied.  Ford brings the Explorer into the 2010 model year with the familiar base XLT, Eddie Bauer, and Limited trim levels. Last year's XLT Sport package returns for the 2010 lineup as well.

Feature-wise, the 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). Also available is the next-generation voice-activated navigation system with Sirius Travel Link.

The standard features on the 2010 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." In the 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 SYNC feature is also standard on Ford Explorer Limited trims, and reviews read by TheCarConnection.com lavish it with praise.

The 2010 Ford Explorer also boasts some exciting options in the higher trim levels, as well as some more useful ones for the lower trim levels. Edmunds says that "rear-seat climate control and upgraded stereo" are available on the XLT and Eddie Bauer trims. Other options include a DVD entertainment system and a navigation system with upgraded audio and six-disc changer. ConsumerGuide reports that an available Sun and Sirius package will bring a "power sunroof [and] satellite radio" to the Ford Explorer.

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