- Stocky SUV look, in a crossover
- Lots of passenger space
- Great ride quality
- Good gas mileage for its three rows
- Not much ruggedness under it all
- Steep learning curve for MyFord Touch
- Lower-power turbo four costs more
- Middle seat needs a lift
The 2014 Ford Explorer does build on its heritage, but on-road fluency and passenger comfort are clearly at center stage.
The 2014 Ford Explorer, now in its fourth year as a large crossover utility vehicle, continues to be both one of the best-known U.S. nameplates and a strong seller among those who need seven seats and a lot of interior volume. The original high-volume SUV for Ford has evolved, along with American family needs, and today the Explorer share much of its underpinnings with Ford's big sedans, as well as the Ford Flex large wagon. That might not be the right stuff if you need to cross the Rubicon it's just right for all-weather family transit.
The Explorer offers plenty of room for lots of people, or lots of stuff, and it does it much more efficiently than it did in previous generations based on trucks. And it still retains some mud-running bona fides too--even if they probably were only ever weekend ambitions for most of their suburban owners. Simply put, for almost everything a family would throw at the 2014 Ford Explorer, it does it better than before--and it does what the wide majority of us need to do in a crossover.
In style, the Explorer doesn't turn away too abruptly from the past. Inside it does its best impression of a Taurus sedan in look and feel, albeit a little more upright. Performance is buttoned-down, almost to sport-wagon standards, with predictable, benign handling and available all-wheel drive. The 3.5-liter V-6 that's offered through most of the lineup is plenty quick, while the front-wheel-drive Explorer with an EcoBoost four is best kept for those who seldom if ever take advantage of this vehicles spacious seating. The Explorer Sport is a different personality--very quick, taut, and faster than any V-8 Explorer of the past; it's a crossover extension of the Taurus SHO, essentially.
The 2014 Ford Explorer has one of the most spacious interiors on the market--especially if you judge it by passenger space. Up to seven passengers can fit, and five adults will be fine in the front two rows. Getting into the third row is a little tougher than it is for the Ford Flex, as the Explorer sits taller. Every inch of this interior seems to be designed with family use in mind, and a power tailgate and power-folding seats are there to make it more convenient.
Those carlike underpinnings mean that the 2014 Explorer can't quite hit the trails with the likes of the Grand Cherokee. But on-the-road handling is its forte, and it has quick, well-weighted steering plus terrific ride control, thanks to its substantial curb weight and an independent suspension. Highway miles truly are its friend.
That doesn't preclude it from getting dirty now and then. A Terrain Management system controls stability and other systems to limit wheelspin while maintaining a 5,000-pound towing capacity. It's definitely Explorer Lite compared to the distant past, but it's still quite capable, in the wider view.Going by safety, 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. For 2014, second-row heated seats and adaptive cruise control are newly available on the Limited, and automatic headlamps have been made standard.