Ford's new take on its hallowed nameplate is a new family favorite: it's more nimble, more attractive, more efficient, and far more tech-inclined than before. For starters, it carries over the seven-passenger seating from the last generation, but the new Explorer feels more spacious and more comfortable than before. It's not quite as large as Ford's seven-seat Flex, at least in interior width, but the Explorer's five prime seating locations have lots of head and leg room to spare.
The front seats are particularly fine, and are surrounded by lots of cubbies and bins for small items; the rear bench could tilt less at the front of the cushion, but it's an easy fit for three children across, or even a pair of car seats. Even the third-row seat is acceptably big for bigger kids, though adults won't want to spend much time back there.
In terms of safety, the new Explorer has absolute authority among big crossovers. It's a Top Safety Pick by the standards of the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), and comes with a host of standard features including all the usual airbags, anti-lock brakes and stability control. The options are even more impressive: there's a blind-spot warning system with cross-traffic alerts, to shed some light on the Explorer's fairly big blind spots, and a new rear-seat inflatable seatbelt that's a first in the class. The mirrors are large and so are the glass areas, for good visibility.
The features list is also tailored for families. The usual satellite radio, Bluetooth and DVD entertainment systems are available, and so is a pair of USB ports, which allow you to plug your 3G dongle into the car, turning it into a wireless hotspot. A power third-row seat, moonroof, and active park assist are optional. On more expensive trims, the Ford MyTouch system replaces knobs and switches with an LCD screen and steering-wheel controls; the system uses those wheel controls or voice commands to direct audio, phone and navigation functions, and it's a system that not every driver will find easy to use. Improvements to screen readability are coming for the 2013 model year, and are expected to be available as a firmware update to older versions.