- Great ride quality
- Good gas mileage for its three rows
- Stocky SUV look, in a crossover
- Lots of passenger space
- Not much ruggedness under it all
- Middle seat needs a lift
- Lower-power turbo four costs more
- Steep learning curve for MyFord Touch
The 2015 Ford Explorer has a historic name, but it's a much more comfortable, road-worthy vehicle than it ever was in the past.
The Ford Explorer has evolved from mega-popular, rugged small utility vehicle, into a practical, spacious crossover with room for the entire family.
It's become less truck-like in its current form, exchanging its trail-rated suspension for something more manageable in daily use. The current generation of Explorer shares many components with Ford's large sedans, as well as the Ford Flex. While that doesn't do much for off-road use, it certainly benefits the comfort for driver and passengers alike.
New for 2015, the Explorer XLT offers a new sport appearance package that includes a different grille, wheel set, and heated/leather seats. (We've also seen the 2016 Explorer, which adopts a new 2.3-liter turbo four and adds a Platinum model.)
The 2015 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.
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 2015, second-row heated seats and adaptive cruise control are newly available on the Limited, and automatic headlamps have been made standard.
Simply put, for almost everything that a family would throw at the 2015 Ford Explorer, it does it better than before, and it 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.
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.
Those carlike underpinnings mean that the 2015 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.