With the last-generation Explorer, Ford styled a sophisticated crossover vehicle that really was a more workmanlike truck beneath the sheetmetal. This time around, it's trucked up a softer shape to do the opposite--to make the carlike Explorer look more like the utes of the past.
Either way, the Explorer nails the finer points while still speaking that particular SUV dialect of straight lines and square angles, with a modernist fillip or two, here or there. Trace the lines around its sheetmetal, and you'll see the genetic material it's carried since the name was new in 1991. Big glass and tall body sides meet up in front with a three-bar grille like the ones on an F-150, and even on the rear end, the tailgate avoids the cardinal sin of crossovers--looking too much like a minivan. The look telegraphs "SUV" more than you'd think was possible from a vehicle that has more in common with the Taurus SHO than it does with the Expedition, even if the perforated grille pieces and winged taillamps do seem to cross over into car territory.
The Explorer's cockpit does away with truck stuff for good. Early Explorers had miserable, plasticky interiors, which got better as it was groomed upmarket. This time, Ford says Audi and BMW are in its crosshairs--and the Explorer delivers, in almost the same way the Flex and F-150 do. The cabin's a knockout, smoothing off transitions between dissimilar plastics and putting the curvy goodness into an interior that could have been confused for a shoe-store stockroom, in the past. That it manages to be more handsome than the cluttered, confusing Audi Q7 dash is a big achievement--nevermind the ungainly dashes in the Honda Pilot and Toyota Highlander. It's up there with the Jeep Grand Cherokee and Dodge Durango in tailored good looks, with maybe a half-degree more of the contemporary in its win column, thanks to those exclamation points of metallic plastic on the center stack.