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2012 Ford Explorer Comfort & Quality

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The 2012 Ford Explorer can't match its own sibling, the Flex, for ground-hugging, long-wheelbase space that makes it a snap to carry people and cargo. However, the Explorer's seating and cargo space are laid out pretty well, with huge headroom available and flexible seating for all the missions a family might have in mind.

The front seats fall into the latest Ford mold, and thank goodness for that. They have softer cushions and active headrests that don't protrude too much, correcting a problem with Ford's first pass at those safety devices in the 2009-2010 Flex and Lincoln MKT. The console doesn't intrude on knee room, and neither do the door panels--and head room soars overhead, even when the optional sunroof is specified.

The 2012 Ford Explorer seats as many as seven people with room to spare, though it's a taller package that's less easy to climb into than the lower Flex.

In the back seat, it's equally spacious for adults looking up. The sunroof still leaves about four inches of space for six-footers, and once they've climbed inside, there's little doubt the Explorer is wider than before, by up to about five inches. Two adults will fit with ease, and with room for a small kid between them to spare on versions with a middle bench seat. However, the bottom cushion of the second-row seat needs some work. It dips at its front edge, and it's a bit short--and doesn't have the slide feature you'll find in a Chevy Equinox. A pair of buckets can be ordered for the second row, and have the same cozy feel as those up front--without the optional ventilation, though.

The third-row seat is pretty cramped for adults, but it's more than adequate for children, who can climb into the narrow space created when you flip the middle row forward via an easy lever.

For cargo duty, the Explorer comes with a fold-away third-row seat, power-operated if you want. With 21 cubic feet of space with the third row occupied by people, the storage space is fairly large, and lined with durable if inexpensive-looking plastic. Power or fold the back seat and the middle seats, and the Explorer lays bare 81 cubic feet of cargo volume--almost all of it available for big, flat packages, since the seats fold nearly flat and wear an invulnerable grade of carpeting on their backs.

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