The widely popular Ford Explorer has been with us since 1990 and is now in its fifth generation, so few vehicles in this class are quite as well developed. In the US, it’s been the best-selling SUV for an amazing 25 years. In its early years, you could buy both two-door and four-door models but as time went by, SUV buyers showed a marked preference for four doors for maximum practicality. Many automakers had two-door SUVs in earlier times, but almost none remain and the only available one that springs to mind right now is the Range Rover Evoque, variant.
The Explorer has been built on a crossover platform since 2010 after initial years as a body-on-frame design. Though it’s now a unibody product, it’s still regarded as a “proper SUV” thanks to its rugged build and easy-to-use all-wheel drive system. The current Explorer shares its platform with the Ford Flex and Lincoln MKT. Although it’s close to a go-anywhere truck and perfectly happy on most trails, it’s very comfortable on the highway with a surprisingly refined feel for a utility vehicle. Explorers are widely used by law enforcement agencies, including the Richmond RCMP. For those customers, Ford Fleet builds a Special Service Vehicle version.
The 2017 Explorer packs in more smart technology and comfort than earlier models and the XLT Sport Appearance Package is close to the top of the line and probably the one many buyers will go for. This is a great looking vehicle and at first glance, often reminds me of some Range Rover variants. It’s very rugged-looking and is thankfully free of the styling gimmicks that mar some products in this class. It looks clean and capable with a purposeful stance and an upscale appearance. The exterior was completely refreshed last year. Buyers can select versions with two or three rows of seats.
Like some of its rivals, there are lots of available and very tempting extras, including such goodies as a hands-free, foot-activated tailgate (more useful than might be imagined), heated steering wheel, inflatable first and second row seat belts, front and rear cameras, auto parking, smart-charging USB ports, a lane-keeping system and numerous other fascinating and practical upgrades. Even so, a basic Explorer is a very well equipped and desirable vehicle.
Engine choices include a very thrifty but surprisingly peppy 2.3-litre EcoBoost four-cylinder with 280-horsepower and two 3.5-litre V-6s, one with 365-horsepower and the other with 290. All engines are mated to a six-speed Select Shift automatic transmission. My personal favourite would be the four-cylinder, which many drivers would guess was a V-6 when they tried it. The Explorer is not available now with a V-8 engine and frankly, it doesn’t particularly need one.
The interior presents a great ambiance for driver and passengers and is exceptionally well finished, as is the exterior bodywork. Everyone sits nice and high with a great view of the surrounding area, which is one of the reasons SUVs are so popular. As you go up in trim levels, the level of luxury obviously increases and when the top levels are chosen, it’s right up there with most luxury import nameplates.
Driving my Explorer, which incidentally, was very easy to get in and out of and impressively roomy inside, I couldn’t honestly think of a good reason to go for a posher nameplate. Explorers offer a lot for the money and have one of the best parts and service operations in the industry behind them.
SPECS AT A GLANCE…
BODY STYLE: Four-door
ENGINE: 2.3-litre four-cylinder plus two; 3.5-litre V-6s
TRANSMISSION: Six speed automatic
TOWING CAPACITY: 5,000-lbs (V-6)
FUEL ECONOMY: 13-litres/100 km combined (V-6)
PRICE: From $34,499