- A crossover with some SUV style
- Excellent head and shoulder room
- Fun handling for a crossover starts with steering
- Not much dirt under its nails
- A steep learning curve for MyFord Touch
- Turbo four's an extra-cost option
The Ford Explorer trades some trail-riding and towing for on-road driving lessons, and comes out fluent.
The Ford Explorer may be one of the most familiar sport-utility vehicles in the universe, but it's hardly a rugged SUV anymore. We call it a crossover vehicle--a wagon with car-based running gear, and some off-road ability, but more emphasis on family-hauling and all-weather ability.
That sea change makes today's Explorer the most suited yet to how most drivers actually use it. Gas mileage is better than ever, and so is handling. On the infotainment front, the Explorer has more navigation, audio, and connectivity options than any Ford of just a few years ago--rivaled only by its archrival, the trail-ready Grand Cherokee.
The Explorer still looks reassuringly ute-like, though its rounded corners and subtle details register on a carlike plane, while the interior does its best impression of a Taurus sedan. Today's Explorer can carry up to seven passengers, and adults will be fine in the front five seats, with truly excellent head and shoulder room. It sits taller than Ford's own Flex, and access to the third-row seat is tight. Cargo space comes within a few cubic feet, though, and the Explorer's utility doesn't seem diminished at all with time--if anything, the power-folding seats and power tailgate have made it easier to stuff with big-box finds.
The Explorer's performance has been totally transformed in this generation, buttoned down to sport-wagon standards. There's a base V-6 and six-speed automatic with front-wheel drive that delivers benign and predictable handling, with all-wheel drive as an option. Experimenting with the optional (and more expensive) turbo four is best left to those who don't carry people or their heavier possessions very often. The grunty Explorer Sport? It's quicker than any V-8 Explorer in the past, and makes for a swifter, tauter, more appealing driving machine than Ford's own Taurus SHO, with better visibility and interior room to boot.
Since it shares running gear with the likes of the Flex, even the Taurus, the new Explorer can't quite hit the trails with the likes of the Grand Cherokee. That leaves it more equipped to excel at on-road handling, which it does convincingly with quick steering and terrific ride control that's due in equal part to an independent suspension and its still-substantial curb weight.
The Explorer is happiest when it's behaving on the highway--but it's more than willing to get a little dirty when you want to, with a Terrain Management system that controls stability and other systems to limit wheelspin while maintaining a 5000-pound towing capacity. It's definitely Explorer Lite compared to the distant past, but it's still quite capable, in the wider view.The Explorer is one of the safest vehicles Ford builds, with inflatable rear seat belts and rearview cameras and blind-spot detectors. It also woos gearheads of another kind with MyFord Touch, the convoluted but promising system that uses voice, button or touchscreen control to govern infotainment and other vehicle functions.
And in truth, the 2013 Ford Explorer does what the wide majority of us want to do in a crossover. It makes plenty of room for lots of people, or lots of stuff, and it does it much more efficiently than it ever did in the past. It holds on to those mud-running bona fides too--even if they probably were only ever weekend ambitions for most of their suburban owners.