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PERFORMANCE | 7 out of 10
relative joy to drive compared to other truck-based SUVS
Smooth ride with respectable handling
Explorers can be equipped with rear- or four-wheel drive
People buy SUVs for their versatility and their high seating position. The 2009 Ford Explorer delivers on both. The ride has improved over the years and the independent rear suspensions adds to its stability and responsive handling, but make no mistake—the Explorer is based on a truck platform and rides as such. If you want a more car-like ride, there are many crossovers to consider.
Pairing up with the available engines are two transmissions on the Ford Explorer 2009 lineup, one for each engine type. Edmunds says "a five-speed automatic transmission is standard with the V-6 engine," while "the V-8 comes matched to a six-speed automatic" and "either engine can be equipped with a choice of two-wheel-drive or a four-wheel-drive system." Reviews of the transmissions are much more positive than those of the engine performance, as ConsumerGuide notes that six-speed "changes gears smoothly and delivers quick part-throttle downshifts for fine around-town response." Car and Driver adds "the six-speed is a godsend during passing maneuvers and on long uphill slogs, where, with a little practice, you can elicit a single-gear kickdown."
Two underhood options are available on the 2009 Ford Explorer: a "revised 4.0-liter V6 engine" that Kelley Blue Book says makes "210 horsepower" and "254 lb.-ft. of torque," while those in need of more power can turn to a "4.6-liter V8 engine with 292 hp and 300 lb-ft of torque," according to Edmunds. Reviews read by TheCarConnection.com show that neither engine is particularly impressive in terms of acceleration, with ForbesAutos describing the V-6 as "barely adequate." Edmunds calls the engine performance on the Ford Explorer "mediocre" and says the engines are "weak" when "compared to competing SUVs," thanks in part to the fact that "a 4WD Explorer equipped with the V-8 takes a mediocre 9 seconds to reach 60 mph."
The five-speed automatic that pairs with the V-6 helps the Ford Explorer "tow up to 5,395 pounds," according to Cars.com, which is nearly 2,000 pounds less than the V-8 but impressive nonetheless. Motor Trend notes that "properly equipped Explorers achieve a maximum tow rating of 7,285 pounds," which Edmunds calls a "healthy tow rating" and ForbesAutos says is "sufficient for pulling a boat or trailer of moderate size."
Editors from TheCarConnection.com note that the V-6 engine is noisier than the V-8, as it has to work harder to keep the Explorer hustling along. As expected, mileage isn't anything to crow about, and TheCarConnection.com editors experienced lower mileage with the V-6 than with the V-8. The EPA estimates that 2WD Explorers return 14 mpg city and 20 mpg highway with the V-6, and 13/20 mpg with the V-8, while both engines offer 13 mpg city and 19 mpg highway in 4WD mode. During their test period, ConsumerGuide reviewers find that "a 2WD V-8 Limited averaged 15.1 mpg, with 4WD, 15.0 mpg."
Traditional truck-based SUVs, such as the Ford Explorer, are not typically praised for their handling, but the Ford Explorer 2009 lineup manages to impress reviewers with both its ride and steering. While ConsumerGuide finds that there is "some body lean in turns and delayed reaction in quick directional changes," overall the "steering feel is responsive and accurate." Kelley Blue Book adds "the 2009 Ford Explorer is noticeably smoother and more stable out on the highway than past versions." Edmunds characterizes the performance of the 2009 Ford Explorer as "a relative joy to drive compared to other truck-based SUVS" and further notes "the brakes inspire confidence through a firm and progressive pedal."
The 2009 Ford Explorer doesn’t provide the frisky feel of some newer crossover SUVs, but it rides, handles, and tows better than most of its competitors.