By: Larry Printz
Having been around for a quarter century, the very first Explorers are eligible for antique car shows. They’ve been around so long, you may not even remember when they weren’t here. After all, the Ford Explorer has long been the ultimate in cul-de-sac couture. And no wonder; its appeal isn’t all that different from the automotive behemoths of the 1970s. Park one in front of your McMansion and its style, size, and price testifies to your attainment of the American dream, living the good life with a wife, 2.3 kids, a dog, a house, and a mortgage. And you own the vehicle to prove it. It is very much the mobile family room.
That said, you could be excused for fleetingly confusing the impeccably handsome 2017 Ford Explorer for some new Land Rover, a company Ford once owned. It’s a look that folks at the blue oval have been massaging since the Explorer’s 2011 redesign and 2014 and 2016 facelifts. What you may not know is that its platform is the same one used for the Ford Taurus, Ford Flex, Lincoln MKT and is borrowed from the previous-generation Volvo XC90 – another company Ford once owned.
What’s under the hood
As before, the Explorer is offered in five escalating trim levels: Base, XLT, Limited, Sport, and Platinum fitted with front-wheel- or all-wheel-drive. The first three models are powered by Ford’s familiar 290-horsepower double-overhead-cam 3.5-liter V6 and six-speed automatic transmission. It’s rated at 290 horsepower and 255 foot-pounds of torque and good for towing 5,000 pounds of your favorite play toy. If you need more torque, you might want to opt for a smaller engine. At 280 horsepower, Ford’s 2.3-liter EcoBoost four-cylinder powerplant produces 10 fewer horses, but generates a healthier 310 foot-pounds of torque. Nevertheless, it’s only rated to tow 3,000 pounds, so this engine is better for fuel economy than yanking anything heavy. The engine worth springing for is the one found on Sport and Platinum models: a state-of-the-art 3.5-liter twin-turbocharged EcoBoost V6 generating 365 horsepower and 350 foot-pounds of torque. You not only get power and fuel efficiency; you’ll also get 5,000 pounds of towing capacity.
What it’s like to drive
The Explorer’s all-weather capability is perfect for commuting from your home cul-de-sac to your office park cul-de-sac. If you’re like most Americans, you’ll never indulge in hard-core off-road activities such as slogging through muck or scampering over boulders. So the Explorer all-wheel-drive system’s lack of ability to lock into four-wheel-drive high or low isn’t that big of a deal. Its rear wheels receive power when the front wheels slide, thanks to its useful terrain management system. Similar to the one used on Land Rover, it furnishes four traction modes: normal, mud, sand and snow. Selecting a mode is as simple as turning a dial on the center console. The system includes Hill Descent Control, which usefully provides engine braking when descending a hill.
This vehicle's mass endows it with a reassuringly solid feel not unlike that of a sublime luxury car. It’s unabashedly comfy and quiet, with an accommodating ride that rarely reminds you of the nation’s deteriorating arteries. But the Explorer’s wide body and significant weight lends it a cumbersome feel while participating in the rush hour grand prix. Unfortunately, it seems larger than it is.
Yet this Ford stays predictably planted when navigating corners, thanks to Curve Control, which senses if the driver is trying to turn too quickly thorough a turn. If so, engine power is reduced and the inside brakes are applied slowing the vehicle by up to 10 mph in one second.
Other safety goodies include adaptive cruise control and collision warning with brake support and roll stability control. And if this vehicle feels too unwieldy to park, Active Park Assist can aid in parallel and perpendicular parking. For additional parking assistance, you’ll appreciate the front and rear cameras with washers, as well as front- and rear-obstacle detection.
The inside story
Climb aboard and you’ll discover that the front seats are comfortable, although the seat bottom cushion is short. Thankfully, Ford equips the Explorer with power adjustable pedals that, along with a memory driver’s seat, have saved many a marriage. The second row seats sit lower, and the third row is still best used for children or, better yet, folded down for increased storage.
As you’d expect, there are a boatload of comfort and convenience options sure to please any hedonist, including heated and cooled front seats as well as a heated steering wheel. There’s also dual-zone electronic climate control, a 12-speaker Sony audio system, and Ford’s Sync Infotainment system with MyFord Touch. Of course you can get a moonroof, but you’re more likely to desire the hands-free power liftgate, which opens the rear cargo hatch with a sweep of your foot beneath the rear bumper. It’s handy when your hands are full, even if you look a little foolish as you hop about on one foot with your arms full.
What’s new for 2017
If all of this sounds familiar, it should be.
Aside from some additional safety gear, the only change for 2017 is a new XLT Sport Appearance Package, a $1,595 option. This dresses your Explorer XLT in spiffy 20-inch painted wheels with matching color on its grille, mirror caps, rear appliqué, bumper covers, and contrasted with a black body-side cladding and roof rack. Inside, the package redecorates the cabin with leather-trimmed seats with dark gray suede inserts and contrast stitching, suede door trim panel inserts, and Explorer logo floor mats.
Having been a part of the landscape for decades, the Ford Explorer has matured into a high-tech family cruiser from its origins as a tarted-up truck. Its striking styling, all weather traction, and spacious three-row cabin ensure the Explorer’s place of price in America's suburban subdivisions.
*New 2017 Ford Explorer FWD, Stk#HGA42979: MSRP $16,903, Lease for $287 per month for 39 months with $2,000 due at signing, 10,500 miles/year, Lease end value $16,374. Must nance with Ford Motor Credit Company to receive some factory savings. Lessee pays tax, title, license and $299 dealer documentation fees. No security deposit required. Offer ends 5/01/17.